About Me, Catholic Spirituality, deliverance, spiritual warfare, yoga

Yoga: a cautionary tale

April 25, 2017

(If you’re reading in a feed reader, you may need to click through to the actual site to access links)

A caveat and a bit of a personal anecdote to kick things off in what I am certain will be a robust discussion about the activity behind suburban America’s favorite eponymous pants: I used to practice yoga, probably just as casually and non-spiritually as the next girl, and while I never had a punchcard or a regular spot in a studio class, I’ve participated in various classes over the years at rec centers, gyms, and from the relative discomfort of my own neck-craning laptop perched on couch in living room.

So I write this coming from a place of personal experience. And more on that at the end. But I wanted to introduce myself as someone who very innocently and very typically encountered yoga in a Seventeen magazine pullout as a teenager and dabbled in various iterations of it in the ensuing years.

And also, please please hear this: I am not writing this out of a desire to condemn anyone. I have plenty of friends who practice yoga, and I offer this piece as an examination of the concerns and potential dangers inherent within. I am not sitting here clutching my pearls and scanning through my friends list to see who was doing the devil’s stretches at Lifetime Fitness last weekend. This is meant to inform and spark conversation and deeper thought, not to start a brawl. If you had asked me a few years ago what my opinions on yoga were, I would have been confused. Was it necessary to have an opinion? (The priest I spoke with while I was preparing this piece told me yoga hadn’t even been on his radar until he was called by his bishop to begin working in healing and deliverance ministry five years ago. He got interested pretty quickly after seeing firsthand some of the effects.)

So I know it’s a process, and that some of you are going to read this and eye roll me hard, or slam your laptop closed in disgust or amusement.

And that’s okay.

I’m not on a crusade to change anybody’s mind here today. I’m just here to tell my story.

I knew I wanted to dig deeper and get some authoritative answers on the matter (at least as far as that’s possible in our skeptical internet age) because few topics are more divisive or more fraught with crazy online (and offline), and any time there’s such a kerfuffle of feeling I can’t help but wonder, why exactly is this such a thing?

Why the strong feelings? I’ve met plenty of people who don’t care for golf, but I’ve yet to see any kind of case being mounted against the potential evils of the putting green. And I’ve yet to hear anyone warning against the potential spiritual dangers of Pilates or kickboxing.

So what is it about yoga?

First, a little backstory. Historically, Yoga is considered to be a Hindu spiritual discipline (though some scholars debate whether it predates Hinduism. Nevertheless, Hinduism popularized the practice and considers it theirs) and an expression of worship of various deities. (In the Hindu sacred texts, scholars identify thirty three million different gods, some of whom are represented and worshiped in the various yoga positions.)

There are some fundamental differences between Hinduism and Christianity. Let’s focus on the big ones. The most basic differences are polytheism (many gods) vs. monotheism (one God), and annihilation of self for the pursuit of oneness with creation vs. a God who annihilated Himself to give Himself fully to His creatures.

The big question that always marks the yoga debate is, of course, if yoga has historically been a spiritual practice from another religion, can it be adopted and adapted in a way that strips the spiritual meaning and leaves behind only the physical exercises?

For that question, I turned to a priest who spends a good portion of his time doing deliverance ministry (and occasionally assisting on exorcism cases. Did you know every diocese has an actual exorcist assigned to serve the faithful?) and some real life testimonies from people who have practiced yoga, including yours truly.

I hope you will prayerfully and critically consider what you read here today, and that you’ll allow yourself to be challenged – perhaps to an uncomfortable level – by the idea that things may not always be what they seem. And I trust that we will all behave ourselves in the combox and on social media, even if we come to different conclusions. It took me several years to come to my own conclusions on yoga, and I respect that we are all in different places and on different timelines.

I lobbed my first question to Fr. Michael wanting to start at the beginning. Namely, does the Catholic Church have anything to say about yoga? He directed me first to a pontifical document born from a joint effort of the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue: Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life. It came to be under then Cardinal Ratzinger’s (now Papa B) watch, and I’d never heard of it, and it is absolutely fascinating. From section 2.1:

“Some of the traditions which flow into New Age are: ancient Egyptian occult practices, Cabbalism, early Christian gnosticism, Sufism, the lore of the Druids, Celtic Christianity, mediaeval alchemy, Renaissance hermeticism, Zen Buddhism, Yoga and so on.”

And again in section 2.134:

“Yoga, zen, transcendental meditation and tantric exercises are thought to lead to an experience of self-fulfilment or enlightenment.”

Okay, so it would appear that the Church lumps yoga in with New Age spirituality. But what about my kind of yoga? You know, the benign kind practiced at 24 Hour Lifestyle or my kid’s school? Fr. Michael asked if I really believed that my intentions could strip the inherent meaning away from a thing. He made the analogy of going to Mass as a nonbeliever, mimicking the poses of genuflecting, making the sign of the cross, and perhaps even doing so out of a desire to mock the Mass. “Would it change what was happening on the altar? Isn’t there some spiritual reality taking place there, whether or not the nonbeliever admits to it?”

Well, yeah. Yeah, I suppose there is. I had to admit he had a point. But I have a lot of friends who practice decidedly non-spiritual yoga, sweating it out in studios where not a hint of Hinduism exists, whether in their fellow classmates or the instructor.

Okay, I get it, there’s some controversy about the more spiritual side of yoga – I can imagine some of you thinking – but if you’d ever been in that class I take at my gym, you’d see that it was 100% about stretching, about sweating, about relaxing, about stress relief and a cleared mind.

Which brought me to a second question: So what about a purely physical form of yoga, when all parties involved are truly seeking and practicing exercise alone? 

His answer remained firm. That you can’t alter the intrinsic meaning of something simply by willing it to be different. Our physical bodies express spiritual realities, which is at the heart of St. John Paul II’s message of the Theology of the Body. You can’t lovingly punch someone in the face, no matter how earnestly you believe that you are punching out of love and gentleness.

I knew his take wasn’t going to be a popular one, so I asked a follow up question: could someone practicing yoga with absolutely zero intention of worshiping a false god or engaging in any alternative non-Christian spirituality still be negatively affected by practicing?

The answer was, unequivocally, “yes.”

I knew from my own experience that it would be, but I was curious to hear his accounts of other people who had experienced ill effects of completely benign participation in non-spiritual yoga.

He reminded me that in his opinion, there was no such thing as non-spiritual yoga.

Okay, next question then: What makes yoga different from other cultural practices or arts that the Church has adopted and “baptized.” like certain holiday traditions and music forms?

“It’s different because it’s Hinduism.” It’s not a Christmas tree. It’s not a matter of integrating a beautiful cultural tradition or art form into Christian worship, it is worship. Of other gods. And there is one God, and He is the God of Isaac and Abraham and His only begotten Son is Jesus Christ. To practice another form of worship is to break the First Commandment.

Heavy stuff, right? And if it’s true, then why have I never heard it from my pastor?

I asked Father Michael that same question, and he told me that if I’d asked him about yoga 5 years ago, he probably wouldn’t have had an opinion on it. It wasn’t until he started practicing deliverance ministry that he realized the impact of yoga on people’s souls, and the dangers that it was introducing into their lives. “It wasn’t even on my radar, as a priest, five years ago. And I’d bet it isn’t on most priest’s radars, if they’ve never seen stuff like this.”

At this point I feel that it might be helpful to include a bit of my own story, since what we’re getting into is perhaps unfamiliar territory for much of my audience. Deliverance ministry is a kind of catch all term for anything from attending an Unbound retreat to working in a one-on-one capacity with a priest and a prayer team to address deeper spiritual affliction, up to and even including demonic oppression.

Most people are familiar with exorcisms and demonic harassment, if only on a pop cultural level. What is less well known is that demonic harassment and oppression – not possession – are also afflictions which people can suffer from, whether from the result of past involvement in the occult or from being cursed. I’m sure this is verging on the fantastical for some of you, but yes, in the 21st century the Catholic Church still very much affirms the reality of our Enemy – the Devil – and his capacity to inflict injury on human beings.

But where does yoga fit into this?

Well, in my own story, it fit in almost as an afterthought, a forgotten experience from the ancient past (college days, precisely) only coming to light after months of praying with a priest and team of prayer ministers through some heavy stuff in my family history. (I won’t go into all that detail here, but perhaps at another time.) I hadn’t practiced yoga in years. The last time I did was during my second pregnancy, using a prenatal yoga DVD at home for workouts. I don’t remember having any strong reaction or “aha” moment indicating that I needed to stop. I just started to notice more and more chatter in the news and in books I was reading that made me start to wonder if maybe something about it was off, and then I decided, eh, better safe than sorry. So I tossed the DVD and switched to Pilates. (Though of course, stretching in a way that resembles some yoga poses out of the context of yoga is a different matter entirely. I stretch before bed most nights in a position that looks very much like child’s pose, but it’s just me, stretching my body. Context is key here.)

Now in the ensuing years, I’ve read a lot about yoga. I’ve read various commentary (some more reliable than others) attributed to Fr. Gabriele Amorth, the now deceased former chief exorcist of the Diocese of Rome, where he is explicit in identifying yoga with demonic activity. I’ve read the aforementioned Vatican document and have discovered a handful of other sources, including this 1989 Vatican document: Letter to the Bishops on some aspects of Christian Meditation, which mentions yoga in an endnote.

But I still feel a hesitation, a sheepishness in putting this out there. I mean, the Church doesn’t seem to have spoken super clearly and with one voice on the matter. Go to a different priest and you’ll get a different answer. Plenty of people practice yoga every week and are doing just fine…

And yet. I can’t help but think that perhaps there are other people out there who, like me, never had any intention of worshiping false gods or putting anything into their hearts other than Jesus, and have still been – are still being – harmed by this.

So I’m going to tell you my story.

When I was a sophomore at CU Boulder, I took a yoga class at the rec center there. It may have even been a single class, if my memory serves me. And though I’d taken various classes before, both in person and by video, there was something a little different about this one. The instructor was into it. There was a tangible spiritual presence in the room, detectable even to a borderline pagan like 19-year-old me. I distinctly remember him beginning to chant towards the end of the class and immediately starting to pray Hail Mary’s in my mind. I may have been a falling away Catholic at that point in my life, but I was still aware enough to perceive that there was a malevolent element present in that class, and that when the instructor was calling out poses and chanting meditations, he was worshipping something. And it wasn’t God.

I never went back to that class and to be honest, I haven’t thought about it for more than a decade. But during one of our last prayer sessions with the priest who was leading us through deliverance prayers, he looked at me and asked if I had ever practiced yoga. I was a little surprised, but I figured it was a lucky guess since I was a 34 year old white girl living in Denver, and I said yes.

There is a spirit afflicting you that has some kind of affiliation with eastern spirituality, some kind of curse associated with yoga. Does anything come to mind when you think back on times when you’ve practiced yoga in the past?

Immediately my mind flashed back to the rec center at CU, to the instructor chanting, and to my visceral reaction of interior defensive Hail Marys. I offered Father my recollections and he nodded, “yep, that’s it. Let’s break that attachment.”

(Now, if you’ve no familiarity with spiritual warfare, deliverance prayer, or healing ministry, I’ll link to some resources at the end of this ever-lengthening piece. But hang with me for a minute longer.)

And so, in Jesus’ name, we did. We renounced any attachment and broke any curse surrounding that encounter, and there was an immediate and perceptive lightness in the atmosphere of the church where we were praying. Even my husband, sitting beside me, and the members of the prayer team sitting in chairs to either side of us, could perceive it. Father smiled at me and nodded, “that was something big.”

Something big, and yet something that I had scarcely remembered, had never thought about since the day it happened, and had not consented to in any way. How could this be?

I asked Father as we were walking to the parking lot afterwards about that, how I could be negatively influenced by something that I hadn’t agreed to in any way, hadn’t entered into with any intention of participation.

He said that when there are spiritual dangers present, there is always a risk of becoming afflicted through some kind of opening, the enemy prowling about like a roaring lion and all that. He asked me “would you say you were in a state of grace that day, or was there an opening in your life where the Enemy could have gained a foothold?

I blushed, because, well, college. Where to even begin? Sufficient to say no, I was not in a state of grace. Far from it. And that would prove, in my case, to be the danger.

The months since this experience have been marked by a new lightness of heart, a deeper awareness of the movements of the Holy Spirit, and a much larger appetite for prayer and spiritual reading. It’s almost as if I was fighting a persistent, mild allergy to prayer before, to reading the Scriptures, even to the Mass. I had to force myself, drag myself. I didn’t hear the Lord, and I was angry about it.

Well, I can hear Him, now. And it’s making all the difference in the world. And I want that for every person on this planet.

If sharing this story can be helpful to even one person, then it will have been worth it. Even if I look like a total idiot.

I’ll leave it at this for today: Pray about it on your own. Speak with a trusted spiritual director or your pastor. Read the documents I linked to and spend some time in Adoration. Ask Him what His thoughts are on the matter. And maintain your spiritual defenses. A battle rages around us, whether we realize it or not.

I heard a priest say at the end of a talk on spiritual warfare and defense: “Jesus wants your whole heart. If there’s a chance that something else has a piece of it – even a small piece – wouldn’t you want to take that territory back for Him? Jesus wants your whole heart.”

(Some people have emailed saying they’re having trouble with the links throughout this piece, so I’ve included them all here in order of appearance:)

About Me, coffee clicks, reading, technology

Weekend clickbait + a few good books (and seeking reading recommendations)

April 21, 2017

Working on some far more interesting stuff to regale you with next week, but for now the combination of nap-boycotting babies and a few extra nephews running around has my writing brain turned into mush for the day. Plus, did I mention I went off coffee to experiment with getting a better handle on energy levels/insomnia? Color me sheepish. As one intrepid reader pointed out on Facebook, #mamaneedsdecaf. Which is accurate. (and which is also gross. High hopes for some of the recommendations you guys left me this morning.)

Anyway, I’ve read a couple great pieces this week that I wanted to pass along, and one interview that YOU ALL MUST WATCH – play it in another browser if it doesn’t open in Safari for you. Thanks to Hallie (who was also kind enough to invite me onto her Sirius XM show yesterday – link coming soon) for bringing it to my faltering attention.

And this one. Okay, yeah, I know it’s an ad campaign (and those granola bars, from what I recall from my swim team days, are terrible. Not a hint of chocolate) but it is a poignant truth they hit upon. I am always wracking my brain for ways to get my kids to do stuff outside, even when the weather isn’t great, and I realize that a lot of what keeps me turning to PBS Kids is that I don’t want them to mess up the house or get dirty. Which is sick. I’m really trying to be more intentional about giving them direction to play messily, independently, and boisterously outside, and not clenching my cheeks in terror when they scramble up a tree or jump a fence to grab a ball. Or jump into the wading pool filled with melting ice and mud. With shoes on. I will say that as I detach more and more from my phone and from the endless consumption of entertainment (even if, as is often the case for us grown ups, we cleverly disguise it from ourselves as “news” or “research”) I have more authority to refer them back outside, or down to the basement. Or … you get the picture. Because I also am reading something or mopping something or prepping dinner or helping another kid, so I don’t lack all credibility in their eyes, waving them off with my eyes glued to my phone, telling them and myself that mommy needs a break.

I’ve been reading more these past 3 weeks because, sorry dead horse, gonna hit you one more time, I HAVE TIME. It just still feels kind of miraculous. I have time to read, to write for pleasure, to write for deadlines, and to make dinner. Okay the last one is a lie, but that’s just because cooking is not my favorite. Give me all the laundry and vacuuming and take all my meal prep and dishes.

A few good titles:

The Year of Living Danishly. I’m a huuuuuge sucker for cultural immersion memoirs. Heck, I might write one myself one day. And this one did not disappoint. There are some nasty details about the sexual habits of the author’s new countrymen, but if you can skim past the grosser parts (mostly in one chapter, you’ll know it when you get there) this book was a fascinating look at a part of the world I know very little about. It was also a sobering glimpse into a completely secularized state, and the ensuing effects on the family, mental health, and child development. Without meaning to, the author painted a fairly grim picture of Scandinavia in those regards. But a really enjoyable book overall. Made me want to go to IKEA and start fresh with white walls and bleached pine floors and so many candles.

Waking the Dead. This is one of John Eldridge’s lesser known titles (at least I’d never heard of it) but it is spectacular. I would put it on a must read list of modern Christian writing, along with Unbound and Be Healed.

The Benedict Option. You know the one – that book that everyone is talking about without having read it first? Yeah, you’re gonna want to read this one for yourself, and then form your own opinions. I found Dreher to be surgically precise in his assessment of the cultural climate, and it was not at all what I was expecting from him. Plus, he interviews one of my all time favorite bloggers in it, and spends a good deal of time talking about Italy and Italians. What’s not to like?

The Magnolia Story. Hi, I’m a sucker for the Gainses. Can’t stop, won’t stop. It’s a sweet book, and Jojo was, at one time, more neurotic than I’d ever imagined. Which gives me hope. 4 stars.

Okay, so apparently I don’t read fiction. Haha. I just have the hardest time finding something that doesn’t blow up in my face with a gruesome murder plot or lascivious sex scene a quarter of the way into the book. I’ve learned that there’s actually a thing for what I am, I’m an HSP, and therefore, I can’t handle violence (especially sexual violence) or intense sex scenes or anything – definitely anything – involving a child’s death/kidnapping/torture.

So, at least I know I’m not alone in my crazy. But I am rather alone in my pickings from modern fiction. I’ve read pretty much everything on the best seller’s lists that fits into my scrawny little acceptable category, at least I think, but if you’d got something besides the past two year’s glut of WWII bestsellers or Miss Prim, I’m all ears.

Have a great weekend!

And hey, we’re still within the Octave, so Happy Easter!

About Me, ditching my smartphone, mental health, mindfulness, reality check, social media, technology

Smartphone detox: the first fortnight

April 17, 2017

Today marks 2 weeks since my dramatic public breakup with my littlest mother’s helper and I wanted to do a little post op, as much for my future self as for any curious readers as to how it’s going.

So how’s it going?

In a word, swell. But it is incomplete yet. I haven’t bitten the bullet and grabbed the flip phone yet, because its actually costs money, as some of you intrepid souls pointed out, to reinvest in a new device and find a plan that isn’t crazy expensive. The problem I’m running up against is that the providers who do carry dumb phones (and I’m leaning towards Charity Mobile at this point) seem to assume that if you want one, you don’t also want a lot of minutes or texting data. However, in my case, I vv much do want those things. Especially now that Voxer is relegated to an awkward to use desktop app, I’m finding myself using more minutes than before, not fewer.

So, in the meantime, I’ve made do by stripping down my already basic Samsung Galaxy J7 (a cut-rate Galaxy iteration compatible with my current carrier, Boost Mobile, which runs on the Sprint network. Coverage is so-so, phone itself does get a bit hot (but not anymore as there are no apps running! The battery life isn’t great. Or, rather, wasn’t. Now that I’m not using it for anything but talking and texting, I’m only plugging it in every 3 days or so. What?! I used to struggle to make it to 8 pm without draining the battery to zero. Crazy, I tell you.) which was $80 at Best Buy during a Black Friday sale, and is $30/month with unlimited talk and text. Which is hard to beat.

So how do you make a smartphone dumb? Well, I’m not the most tech literate person, but I was able to delete or uninstall almost all of the factory-installed apps, plus those I’d added myself. Then I untethered my email and delated the gmail app, turned off location and wifi, and, voila, a fairly dumb phone.

Of course, the big caveat being that at any moment, I can undo all these things and endow myself once again with phenomenal cosmic powers, which, in a moment of poor planning and weakness last week en route to a doctor’s appointment in an unfamiliar town, I did, for the sake of using google maps to guide me in for a smooth landing.

I think that if I were a better moderator and not a dyed in the wool abstainer, this intentionally stripped down still secretly smart phone would actually be a decent long term solution for me, but I know me, and I know that 4 months or 4 weeks from now, whether checking in late for a flight and in search of a boarding pass or simply passing the time in car line, I may very well cave and go back to using the internet on it.

But, for you more more temperate folk out there, I think that stripping down your existing phone could be a valuable exercise in detachment and time-reclamation and a good half measure towards getting away from the addiction to the device. Plus, super cost effective.

So, what have I learned in 2 weeks without tapping, scrolling, browsing? A couple things, the first of which has been most surprising.

And that is? I have a lot more time than I realized. I have enough time to make meals at home. I have enough time to keep mostly on top of my housework. I have enough time to write those articles, make those deadlines, pay those bills, and, yes, read you one more story.

I don’t work a 9-5 job outside the home, but I do work about 20 hours we week writing, reading, researching and planning for the blog and related content for CNA. Outside of that, I do a bit of freelance work, including regular gigs for Endow and Blessed is She. I also have 4 kids, only one of whom is in school full time, so they’re, you know, around a bit. And in need of cuddles, cut up avocados, bike-riding supervision and bathing. Add in a husband, a school commute that currently hovers around 2 hours roundtrip, and a house that we’ve spent the last 8 months fixing up and now selling, and there is a lot going on. But the past 2 weeks have felt like vacation.

Granted, a pretty unexciting and not terribly exotic vacation, but a vacation nonetheless. A break form the ordinary. A respite from the rat race. A change of pace that has me looking around the house and wondering, should I be doing something right now? 

Because there are suddenly these pockets of…I guess I’ll call them opportunity…in my days lately.

A half hour here or there where it’s too early to leave for school pickup but somebody is still napping, so I guess I can curl up on the couch and pray a rosary or read a little bit from whatever spiritual reading I’d been slogging through towards the end of Lent. So not exactly party party vacation-y, more like restful retreat vacation-y. Which is…not my favorite.

I like to be busy. I thrive on adrenaline and scooting in just under deadline and cramming it all in as efficiently as possible.

But I also struggle with anxiety and insomnia and a general sense of the world is on my shoulders…and I wonder now, could it all possibly be connected?

I don’t want to oversimplify this for the sake of painting a pretty clickbaity picture that “DITCHING YOUR SMARTPHONE WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE,” because there’s more to it than that, as there is in every case. I’ve been changing the way I’m eating, what and whether I’m drinking, habits of prayer and intentional cultivation of virtues that I am sorely lacking. And also, there have not been 14 perfect days of good behavior and effortless mothering on my part. I have yelled and lost my mind and then rediscovered it around 9:33 pm, a solid hour after everyone is in bed.

But overall, there has been a marked difference.

I am still grabbing for my phone like a phantom limb now and then, but even that behavior has yielded to a 90% reduction. I carry just my keys and wallet into the store. I don’t bring my phone when I leave the house half the time, because it’s just not that interesting without the dozens of little notifications going off throughout the day. When I do walk by the counter where it’s plugged in and look at it, it’s boring.

Stripped of all it’s attention-grabbing apps, it will show a handful of text messages and maybe a missed call, but nothing nearly as exciting an Instagram notification. (I do miss being able to post there though. But, it’s an acceptable price to pay, for me.)

I can attend to the messages every 4 or 6 or even 12 hours, and nothing bad happens. (Given, I am no emergency medicine doc. Nobody will die if I don’t check my phone. But I think a lot of us – looks meaningfully into mirror – live that level of availability out of a sense of obligation or FOMO or just plain force of habit, because this is what everyone does in 2017, and if I miss a call/email, all hell will break loose”

But most every piece of career advice I’ve read lately says otherwise, emphasizes the critical (and rapidly disappearing) skill of “deep work,” the necessity of attending to one’s own present and pressing tasks, ordained as such by self (and God, if you include Him in your calculations) because otherwise – otherwise – we risk living most of our lives responding to other people’s requests for and demands on our time. And we don’t get our own work done.

And that’s all well and good to read these things and skim those books and then roll your eyes and think, yeah, must be nice, to be able to go off and be a hermit or be single again with no relational responsibilities or to be independently wealthy and mobile and, and, and…but what I’m realizing is that I, a simple stay at home/work from home mom of 4 little kids, actually have a hell of a lot more free time than I know what to do with. And am going to have to render an account one day for how I’ve spent it.

(I think I can make a good case for 2-3 hours a week of Netflix. Anything more than that, I get a little nervous.)

So without the apps, without the notifications, without the constant influx of data and Very Important Beepings, it turns out I am neither that essential nor am I all that important to most anyone outside of the 5 people I do life with.

I do not mean to devalue my friendships or disrespect my coworkers or downplay the connections I’ve forged with internet peeps over the years. These are truly valuable relationships. But it is perhaps not ideal for me to be continuously attending to all of them at any given time, on any given day.

I realize this is not a perfectly-transferrable parable I’m spinning for you. Some people are more connected to their phones for work than I am, and I concede that this is a luxury which I possess. But. A big, big but: I think more of us have more flexibility than we realize, and we’re trading away a good deal of peace out of a need to look busy and seem available and feel important.

I am not actually that important. The people who need my attention are right here with me, occasionally barfing onto floor beside me and tugging on the hem of my shorts, asking for another popsicle. And it turns out that even when I’m running on all cylinders getting all their needs met, I still have a little margin left over at the edges and even in the very middle of my day for meditation, exercise, writing, reading, sitting vacantly on the front steps blinking in the sunlight…and also for being bored. I have been bored at least once a day since this little experiment began, and it has proven to be glorious and painful fodder for ideas. Books have been outlined and titled (at least, in my mind). Relationship difficulties have been identified and considered. Plot lines for bedtime stories have been refined. Elaborate backstories to the person driving beside me in traffic have been concocted. And, most essentially of all, conversations with God have ensued.

I have plenty of time for prayer, it turns out. And with fewer attractive options to distract, I’m finding myself resignedly surrendering to it more and more frequently.

So, those are my initial takeaways from this foray into what I believe will become a lifestyle for me. I miss my Instagram peeps. I miss being able to shoot a Vox to my best friend in another time zone. I miss being able to easily send or receive a link to something on my phone. But that all pales in comparison to the new spaces that have been opened up in my head and in my soul.

What do you think? Would you ever consider ditching your smartphone? Or, if you’re an adult who can actually moderate your behavior in a responsible fashion, would you consider putting firm boundaries around how and when and whether you use it?

It seems the conversation is becoming increasingly common. (<— language warning: all the f bombs.)

Catholic Spirituality, feast days, liturgical living, prayer

Let him wash your feet

April 13, 2017

Today Lent is over, but Easter has not yet arrived. We enter into the Triduum, the holiest part of the Christian year, the 3 day climax of the liturgical season that bridges the impossible gap between Lent and Easter, between humanity and divinity.

I am ill prepared.

Oh, the ingredients for the easter baskets are stuffed into grocery bags on a shelf in the garage. (Beef jerky, root beer, Peeps and tic tacs. Gonna find myself cast in an offseason reenactment of Home Alone any day now. also, #GF/DF problems) The outfits are accounted for and awaiting the 3.5 minutes of coordinated wear for pictures, tiny fedoras included. (Because my 1,4, and 6 year old boys are going to be delighted by the prospect of 3 matching fedoras?)

But I? I am not ready. I have kept Lent in fits and starts, one step forward and two steps back for these long – but short – 40 days. A flush of fervor and resolve to kick things off, then some derailing by general life circumstances, viral illnesses, real estate quandaries, stressors of various sorts personal and global, etc.

In the quiet of my heart and in the relative silence of a mini van without the radio turned on, I have felt Him speaking, heard His invitation: let me carry this.

And so I have. Some days for a stretch of a few hours, other days for a minute-by-minute tug of war.

God: I’ve got this.

Me: okaaaaay. Here. (10 minutes pass, grabs problem back for more ruminating and scheming)

God: …

Me: Oh, oops, okay here, take it again, please?

God: I’ve got this.

And so it goes. Over and over again. He never gets tired of taking it back, whatever “it” might be: an illness, a relational issue, a problem at work, a financial burden. And I, apparently, never get tired of snatching it up again.

Getting off my phone has helped tremendously in terms of opening up little pockets of solitude throughout the day where otherwise I’d normally be texting, tapping, scrolling, Voxing. And you know what? It’s uncomfortable as hell sometimes. I have become accustomed to taking my problems elsewhere – anywhere else, most of the time – before turning to God in a literal pile of melted drama and fatigue, crying out for a last resort kind of intervention. (And full disclosure, I’m still texting.)

So why not go to Him first?

Well, for one, I’m out of practice. Calling a friend or putting out an SOS on social media is way easier and more apparently effective than 20 minutes of meditative prayer or curling up with my Bible. It’s easier to call my mom than to pray a Rosary.

But, I’m finding it’s not nearly as effective, long term, to take every little cut and scrape and even the bigger, more concussive issues to mere mortals. Not because they can’t and won’t offer wise counsel and comfort and a little ray of hope in the dark tumult of whatever storm is presently encompassing me, but because a lot of the time, when I go to someone else before I go to Jesus, I forget to go to Him, period.

It’ll feel like I’ve “handled it,” the immediate crisis of emotion and feeling fading with relief at having gotten it off one’s chest, so to speak. But a lot of the time – maybe even most of the time – that won’t be the case at all. Nothing will have been handled. But the relief of having talked about it will lend the appearance of “handled” to whatever the situation may be.

God wants us to come to Him first. He longs to be our first line of defense against everything the world – and the Enemy – throws our way.

I’ve spent a lot of this Lent trying to wriggle away from His patient, quiet (so much more quiet than the noise and chaos of daily life) voice asking me over and over again to let Him help, to stay with Him for an hour. But I am stubborn and I am busy and I have responsibilities, Lord. You can understand, can’t You?

But He keeps asking.

Today, on this holy threshold of the holiest season, I want to answer Him fully. I want to look back on this Easter season and marvel at the peace, the stillness (internal stillness, mind you. Because 4 kids + Peeps) and the otherworldliness that marked our days.

Not because we traveled to Rome or Jerusalem and celebrated with the Holy Father or walked in Jesus’ actual footsteps.

Not because we will make it to every Mass or service the Church offers these next 3 days (all that is required is Easter Mass. She is a generous and patient mother. Maybe one day we’ll make it to every one of them.)

But because we stilled our hearts, closed our browsers (she writes on the internet), turned off our phones, looked away from the news, our fears, our biggest worries and deepest concerns, and sat with Him instead. The only one who can really fix any of it.

Because we let Him kneel in the dust and the chaos of our present condition, whatever burdens we may be carrying and whatever condition our hearts may be in, and we accepted His tender invitation to give it over. To take off our sandals and bare our humiliatingly dirty and calloused feet. To not worry about unshaven legs or unpolished toes or That Big Problem we can’t seem to get out from underneath, and we simply let Him bathe us.

Once Peter figured out the offer was more about God’s radical generosity and less about our own worthiness, he got onboard with the enviable enthusiasm only a holy sanguine can muster: “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Wash us, Jesus. Meet us here and kneel with us in our present misery and make us like you. We are at your mercy.

A blessed Triduum to you and yours. May it be nothing like you planned and exactly what He has in mind.

(photo credit: Plinio Lepri/AP)

guest post

When there *is* no other option (Benedictine or otherwise) {guest post}

April 10, 2017

When I read my friend Christy’s thoughtful reflection on Catholic life far outside the reach of the urban mega-church (or even suburban medium church) I knew immediately I wanted to share it here with you, because I know that while she and her family are rather alone in the literal sense of the word, I know from talking to many Catholics from around the globe that they are not the only ones.

So what does it look like, this “bare-minimum” Catholicism, stripped of programs, support groups, galas and fundraisers and anything beyond the very basic and all-important availability of Holy Mass on Sunday? (And that’s one Mass on Sunday, so no scheduling soccer or bbq’s around a more convenient option).

Can it be done? Can the Faith be transmitted and lived out and nourished in the absence of anything – and I do mean anything – extracurricular to receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus once a week?

In my mind, Christy and her family are living proof that it can. And perhaps this is the kind of Catholicism that more of us will encounter as the Church continues to contract in the West, even while expanding explosively in Africa and Asia. We many not face a single Mass option 40 minutes away in our own lifetimes, but our children very well may.

All food for thought.

There’s a lot of talk surrounding the Benedict Option these days. At its most general, the idea of the Benedict Option promotes a concerted effort on the part of Catholics and Christians to form like-minded communities to support each other and keep the faith alive. As the idea of forming intentional and authentic Catholic communities that strive for orthodoxy gains a foothold in Catholic parlance, I’ve been thinking about how I feel that this has already happened to some degree organically when it comes to where Catholics live.

As someone who has lived the majority of her life in rural areas I want to sometimes shout from the rooftops that the Benedict Option of sorts has already happened; because most of Catholic community is found in enclaves of urban cities.

We all know the reasons why; the increasing urbanization of our populations in general, the lack of priests to serve rural communities and small towns, the shrinking of cultural Catholicism, the complete absence of Generation X and younger at Mass.

If you think you feel the reverberations of these problems in the Church in your city that has a population of more than 10,000 people, imagine how keenly felt this must be in small communities?

Let me give you a peek at what Catholic life in a small town looks like. It looks like sharing one priest with 3 other parishes spread over 100 miles. It looks like no daily Mass or standing confession times. There is ONE option for Mass each weekend. There are no ministries. There is no religious education for children or adults alike. There is no other family with young children who attend weekly at our parish. There is a Catholic school the next town over.

There are no plethoras of religious orders with which to affiliate. There are no small groups for men or women. There are no ministries to moms, divorced people, those struggling with addiction or same sex attraction, or grief. There are no dinners or fundraisers. There are no options when it comes to finding a liturgy you prefer. There are no other Catholics your age in which to build local community.

In other words, I want you to imagine a Catholic life where there is only the Sacraments, a parish that is barely scraping by, and the constant threat that your parish may be shut down by the diocese due to lack of attendance, financial support, or both.

I think most of us believe that in order to live a fully Catholic life we’ve got to have some form of Catholic community. We all are striving for authentic local connections. We know how difficult it is to remain faithful to the teachings of the Church in our culture when we are without any support from real people in our lives. We’ve seen on a parish level how hard it is to evangelize and bring people in when there are hardly any faithful in the pews to begin with. All these difficulties come to a head in a small community where there are hardly any Catholics to begin with, with even fewer attending weekly Mass, and where there are in turn little to no outreach and ministries to the community.

Vibrant, vital, and orthodox parishes are out there, but finding them in a small town is the exception to the rule, and doesn’t even approach a fraction of the parishes that serve rural areas. Parishes with resources, both in parishioners and cold hard cash, are found in cities. If you’re looking for good, life-giving ministries you may have to search your city to find one, you may have to drive across town, but they will exist. There are no ministry options in small towns. As we see orthodox parishes with a focus on beautiful liturgy grow, it is within a city that offers options when it comes to liturgy and the few who know it’s value to support it.

We know our families are the domestic church, and that the beauty of family life is a great gift as we lead and guide our children in faith. But it is increasingly difficult in today’s world to bring up children in a religious vacuum so to speak, where there is so little evidence of faith in their hometown and home parish. Small towns are not just drained of Catholics, they’re drained of believers of all denominations as increasingly our society of “nones” erodes cultural faith. As it seems to be increasingly difficult to even become friends with our neighbours, it’s even more challenging to find friends who share the faith at a local level.

I don’t think there are easy answers to the problem of rural Catholic life just as the Benedict Option isn’t an easy answer to our troubled Church as a whole. As Catholics we value the land, the connection with the land that we live on, the ability to provide for ourselves, to nurture that connection with creation, but as more and more people move to cities, rural towns are emptied of faith. How can we preserve a connection to the land, agriculture, self-sufficiency, and still be part of authentic Catholic community? Is the answer that the Ben-opters start communes in small rural towns? Are there economic opportunities enough for them? Does everyone become farmers?

I can’t help but feel that many rural Catholics are faced with the difficult call to live an almost heroic level of faith based on their isolation from vital Catholic community. Unfortunately in many cases people are in the position between choosing the land and lifestyle they know and love or moving to a more urban environment that provides even a slightly better opportunity for Catholic community.

Whether the Benedict Option takes off or not, there’s no denying that the light of orthodoxy in the North American Church shines from urban enclaves and that rural Catholics are going it alone.

Christy Isinger is a wife and mom to five lovely, loud children and lives in northern Canada. When not homeschooling, she is a devoted reader of English literature from Jane Austen to Agatha Christie. She writes about the beauty of faith, life, and the home at her blog Fountains of Home and is the co-host of the Fountains of Carrots Podcast.
Catholics Do What?, Culture of Death, Evangelization, Homosexuality, JPII, mental health, Parenting, relativism, Theology of the Body

The beauty of gender: our differences aren’t scary, they’re beautiful (and essential)

April 7, 2017

Male and female created he them; and blessed them… – Genesis 5:2

This morning I was strolling a leisurely stroll on the treadmill and enjoying 45 minutes of toddler downtime (thanks, Brandy in kids club) when my eyes drifted to the newsfeed on the bottom of my tv screen where a “breaking news” alert was scrolling.

What constitutes breaking news in 2017? That’s a loaded question. But for this local ABC affiliate station, the answer was “Australia considering banning fairy tales from schools.” I rolled my eyes into my frontal lobe because probably it was offensive to real witches and living fairy godmothers, all that questionable detail Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, etc. go into about their lives and various motivations and ways of being.

But, no.

Apparently, it’s because fairy tales “encourage outdated gender norms” and that children “as young as four” are reportedly manifesting “gender biasing behaviors” in their play and make believe.

(Note: there are real, medical, biological examples of transgendered individuals born with chromosomal abnormalities and ambiguous genitalia. These are real medical conditions from which real people suffer and about which hard decisions and choices have to be made by doctors, parents, and the individuals themselves. What we’re talking about here today, however, is the growing cultural infatuation with what I’ll call “transgenderism by choice,” or the belief that gender is utterly divorced from biological sexual characteristics by desire, not by any design flaw, and that you could possibly have been born with ovaries and a uterus but a brain that “feels” male, and so you choose to discard – whether surgically or behaviorally – the “non-conforming” female part of your identity.

This is a point of real confusion and pain for a lot of people, and the present cultural climate of strangling political correctness makes civil discussion about any kind of gender dysphoria all but impossible. But we must persist for the sake of real human souls. We cannot shrink away from discussing what is fast becoming the defining issue of our age. End disclaimer).

First of all, kids as young as four display “gender biasing behaviors” because children as young as age four do, in fact, have genders.

Fetuses, it turns out, also have genders. Pull up a Youtube video of balloons popping out of giant cardboard boxes and you’ll see this is not a recent discovery. And gender – in parlance common up until just a few short years ago – was basically interchangeable with “sex” – and nobody was going to bat an eye or shred an admission form over it.

Children, like the rest of us, are male or female, and as such, they typically exhibit a few characteristic (but not exclusive) behaviors common to their gender. Boys, for example, as anyone who has ever birthed, raised, or even tangentially known one, are loud and they are intensely physical. Not all boys and not all the time, but overall, there is a certain exuberance that belongs to the male sex that is right and beautiful.

These boys will become men who lend their strong voices to the pursuit of truth and goodness. They will speak up for what is right, and they will take action to defy evil when they see it. Because that is what men are designed to do. Men are action-takers and pursuers of truth by nature. They image God in their strength, both physical and moral. And that is beautiful. (And does not, incidentally, exclude women from being action takers and pursuers of truth.)

So, about those differences. Let’s get into some generalizations here, because there are common features and universal truths that do, in fact, hold water. Not everything that we have collectively amassed over the course of human history needs to be jettisoned just because Mark Zuckerberg has a new global initiative of the month.

Ladies first. Girls are tender. Not all girls and certainly not all the time, but as a general rule, the female sex is superior at feeling and expressing feelings. Emotionally connected and deeply expressive, women possess a relational capacity that is unmatched in men. My daughter can yell down the entire minivan full of warring brothers and silence us all with a shriek of power, but she wears her heart on the outside, feeling the world deeply, and encountering things with her entire being.

This does not make her weak. (And this is not to say that my husband is not tender. That my boys do not feel sorrow for having hurt or disappointed someone, or shed tears of pain.)

Far from it, her depth of feeling and her capacity for emotion render her a force to be reckoned with beyond anything I have yet experienced in my 3 sons. We live in an era which has been captivated by the lie that the heart is somehow disconnected from and inferior to the mind. And that is a lie. The heart is essential. It is where we encounter God in His Holy Spirit, where we give and receive love. The heart is the source of human life, and it is from our hearts that our relationships with one another and with God take their roots. In a culture awash in isolation and alienation, between spouses and families and even within our very selves, it is evident that the price of disregarding and dismissing the heart is deadly high.

And then there are boys. Boys who will grow up to be strong men, and who desperately need to be affirmed in their abilities. They long for the affirmation – especially and essentially from their fathers – that they have what it takes.

A boy who is not mentored into manhood in this way will struggle in his adult life with feelings of unworthiness and shame. A man has to know that he can do it, that he has what it takes, and that there are people – his mom and dad first and foremost – who are cheering him on because they believe he can.

A boy who is denied these opportunities to prove himself is at risk of becoming a man who struggles with his identity and with his understanding of self worth.

For some boys this might look like hunting and fishing trips. Camping and using pocket knives and jumping off of boulders and killing it on the soccer field and generally having the experience of doing the hard thing and coming through the other side with the knowledge that he has what it takes, that he is enough, that he is capable of leading, of providing, of greatness.

This has less to do with being out in the great outdoors, being naturally athletic, or being any particular good shot with a bow and arrow, but it has everything to do with testing himself against some opponent, whether it be the elements, an animal, or even his peers, and discovering for himself that yes, he measures up. He does not fall short.

This does not mean that girls aren’t outdoorsy! I can’t emphasize enough, the stupid stuff we fret over with “gender norming” our kids is so much less about colors and kinds of toys and neutral language and so much more about what is intrinsic to the nature of men and women.

Girls aren’t going to pick up dolls just because they’re silly and pink and soft and isn’t that just adorable how she’s trying to breastfeed her teddy bear? No. I have watched my 3 year old decapitate her brother’s snowman with a lightsaber and then pretend to nurse her stuffed kitty cat, within the span of fifteen minutes. She weeps and rocks her stuffed animals to sleep at night if they’ve had a bad dream. And then she stands on the edge of her bed literally roaring in defiance if anyone should dare trespass and remove one of her beloved “babies” from their positions.

She is not weak because she is drawn to mothering behaviors with her toys, for if she is called to motherhood, it will be the source of her greatest strength and ability. (It’s not for nothing we use the expression of “mama bear” to communicate deep, protective and don’t-you-dare-mess-with-it anger.)

This hysteria over neutral-colored Legos and removing all swords and tutus from toy boxes is missing the forest for the trees. A little boy is standing 12 inches from my elbow right now playing in a pink toy kitchen, stirring soup and preparing steaks to feed the cat. This doesn’t mean his gender is “confused.” It does mean he likes being involved in food prep and his chief enjoyment in the 4’oclock hour is chopping vegetables.

We are foolish when we typecast certain “behaviors” into rigid gender norms and then insist that our children refrain at all cost from manifesting them, should they match up in a way we are currently collectively frowning upon.

What good is there to be gained by discouraging a boy from expressing strength and courage on the playground, whether he is shouting down a bully or rallying his friends to the winning kickball run? And what good is served in correcting a girl who longs to be told that she is beautiful – who in fact has a profound and fundamentally good desire to be affirmed in her beauty on a soul-deep level – that she ought not be concerned with something so trivial or vain?

Conversely, if a boy enjoys cooking and art and a girl is an absolute terror on the lacrosse field, these, too, are good and beautiful manifestations of their particular individual giftedness. This does not indicate a confused or wrongly-assigned gender, but normal and healthy diversity in this thing that we call being human.

Being a mother is intractably a female role; being a hairdresser is not.

While the world frets on about the sexism of fairy tales, about girls dreaming of true love and affirmed beauty, and boys about vanquishing dragons and journeying into uncharted territories, I’ll be sitting here reading Cinderella and the Chronicles of Narnia to all of them, male and female alike. And they will perhaps get different things from the same story. They will perhaps encounter it with their male or female minds and focus on particular aspects which attract or repel them, and that will be fine. That will be good.

Our differences are our strengths, and denying the intricate design of the complementarity between the sexes is to deface the image of the Creator Himself.

(For further reading on the complimentary of the sexes and the essential goodness of gender, I highly recommend reading Dr. Mary Healy’s short, accessible book on JPII’s Theology of the Body, “Men and Women are from Eden.” I also like Dr. Edward Sri’s “Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love” and John and Stasi Eldredge’s books, “Captivating” and “Wild at Heart.” (I’m on a bit of John Eldredge kick myself at the moment, having just finished “Walking with God” and “Waking the Dead” and now about halfway into “Fathered by God.” The last title in particular is great for facilitating a deeper understanding of masculinity.)

About Me, mindfulness, reality check, self care, social media

Disconnect: ditching my smartphone in search of a better connection

April 4, 2017

I’ve been feeling a little tug on the old heartstrings these past 4 weeks of Lent. It began as a bit of a wild hair (hare? Rabbit or follicle growth?) the fleeting thought “you should get rid of your phone” which I promptly batted down with a vengeance. Because wuuuuut. Really, what? Who could live in such a way?

I’ve written before about my addictive smartphone habits (be careful the things you swear you’ll “never” do) and my kind of pitiful attempts at self regulation. So this has been no bolt from the blue. But still? To step away entirely? Seems a little dramatic. And why would I be dramatic? Nobody in my family is dramatic.

But the nudges kept coming. At different times, like stuck in traffic and finding myself frantically scrabbling a blind hand in the bottom of my purse, whereisitwhereisitwhereisitdidIleaveitohcrapwhereisit…there it is. And then feeling a subsiding tide of stress tamp down because I had found it, my precious.

And for what? So that I could flip frantically to the last page of my home screen – where I banished all my social apps and alerts – and see if any new dopamine hits had come in since 9 minutes ago when I’d last checked?

I am not painting a flattering self portrait. Intentionally so. I will be honest with you as I have been increasingly honest with myself this past month or so: I am addicted to my smartphone.

I am addicted to the internet in general, as I imagine many (most?) of us are these days, but it’s a whole lot more manageable, at least for me personally, when it isn’t living in my purse or pocket.

Several times during March I experimented with “blackout hours/days,” leaving the phone connected to the charger, going out for a run or a walk or even on an errand (gasp) without my phone, and I don’t think that I can adequately convey to you the level of anxiety that surged up within me walking out of the house without my trusty device in hand. But curiously – or perhaps it is no curiosity at all – after a few minutes adjustment, maybe 15 or 20, I was stilled. Settled. Resigned that I was going to get nothing in particular “done” in this little chunk of time aside from whatever it is that I’d set out to actually do, whether it was the library with the kids, a long walk through the neighborhood, or a trip to the store.

And it changed things. It has changed the way I react to the world. The way I smell things, (did you know things still have smells?) the people with whom I interact, (mostly my own people, because I almost always have tots in tow) and it changes the pace and rhythm of those specific moments in my day.

I reach over and over and over again into a phantom pocket, hand drifting unconsciously to scour beneath the stroller hood, fingers itching to unlock and swipe and capture. (Admittedly, I have missed some cute pictures.) I may have to start carrying a real, live camera again. Or taking notes. So retro.

But in exchange, I think I stand a chance at getting part of my life back.

I don’t think everyone struggles in this way with technology. But I do think the unconscious, blanket adaptation of every new technology to come down the pike en masse is a real problem.

I don’t think every technology is good for every person.

And I will go so far as to say that on the whole, on a cultural level, connective technology is taking more from us than it is giving in return. We are not more connected, but less so. And at a dear price.

So that’s my piece of it, anyway. In search of a little more peace, I’m trading in a piece of hardware and a whole lot of convenience and connectivity for the ability to go … slower. To be in the dark sometimes. To be intentionally unavailable to most everyone so that I can be tightly focused and targeted on five somebodies who depend on me and deserve my undivided presence. (that’s one husband + four kids, not an announcement.)

I’ve spent a lot of time being loosely available and vaguely attentive to a lot of things over the past 6 years or so of smartphone ownership. I haven’t had a lot of good boundaries or hard stops in place, however, which could help me divide and truly be attentive to the various aspects of my vocation that demand not just physical but also emotional and intellectual presence.

I was trying to mentally tally the amount of time I probably spend on this little device throughout the day, whether for looking up a recipe, reading directions, taking photos, scrolling through apps, and leaving voxes and I flinched when I came up with a number. Tried to remember if I could find anything in my own childhood to compare it with, was there anything my mom spent 5 or more hours a day doing, extracurricular to her parenting? Was it possible she spent 5 hours a day watching television, or on the phone, or reading books?

Not likely. Not during the investment years where she was buried in babies and pouring the foundation for her family’s life. I’m sure she wished most days for a lifeline, an outlet, a support network and in so many instances, my phone has facilitated that for me. And I don’t want to dismiss that or cheapen the reality that in moments, the phone has been a life saver. But those real, important benefits do not, in my life, outweigh the steep cost of distraction. Of unease. Of missing moments and becoming more and more deaf to the movements of the Holy Spirit throughout the day, of the little nudges that God has something to say to me but I need to phone a friend and process it with her first.

So that’s a problem.

And this is my solution.

It won’t be everybody’s solution, and it’s no call for an analog revolution. But I hope if there is something that He is trying to say to you, you feel more free to hear him speaking than I have. I hope if it’s this very issue that He has been in your ear about, tugging on your sleeve, tapping on your shoulder…well, I hope this is a little jolt of solidarity from the ether, a confession that, yeah, me too. I’m also having a hard time with this.

In the meantime, I have no plans to abandon the blog. Or my laptop. The technological revolution is here to stay. And I’m going to pick and choose the winnings from the wreckage and say, yeah, this, this works for me. This fits in my life. And this doesn’t. And discard what isn’t helpful, and full steam ahead with what is.

So long little smartphone. We’ve had some good moments together, and you’ve captured some treasured memories. But I’d like to try my hand again at making some on my own. (Also, you make my ear really, really hot sometimes and I’m a little worried that might be a bad thing #samsungproblems.)

Peace out. 


Catholic Spirituality, prayer, social media, Suffering

Drowning in plain sight

March 30, 2017

I was texting with a friend yesterday and was honored to be trusted with a little piece of her story, a little glimpse of the heavy burden she is carrying right now. As our brief exchange came to a close, I told her something I want to tell you all, and it’s that I think a lot of people are drowning a little in plain sight right now.

After I’d moved on with my day, the exchange stuck in my head because from the outside, I’d had no real idea of the burden she was carrying. Social media contributes to that phenomenon, no doubt, but so does the typically frantic pace and kind of insular tendency of modern life, and maybe it’s always been that way and what do I know anyway, a barely-qualifies Millenial with a bunch of kids running around her house and too much time spent inside her own head.

But I do know this, and it’s that everyone I know – to a fault, every single person – is struggling with something, is fighting some great battle.

Maybe it isn’t appropriate to share every detail with every person you bump into, whether virtually or in vivo, but maybe it is appropriate and necessary to share more than we do. We can’t all be “fine” all the time. I actually hate the social nicety more than I can adequately express in words.

Earlier this month my “grandfather” died. He was not my grandfather by blood or relation, but by relationship. And as I stood in line at a grocery store later that night I was crying, and I was mentally chastising myself for crying because it’s so embarrassing to cry in public, and get a grip and pay for this kombucha and get the hell out to your car. And also because grief is weird and it comes in waves, crashing down at inconvenient moments in the produce section and then ebbing back, leaving you red eyed and congested and inexplicably weird for the requisitely surface level social exchange you are summoned to have with this perfect stranger handing you a receipt.

“How is your night going?”

“Fine. Yours?”

Eyes red and nose visibly running. We both knew I was lying, but what was there to be done about it? I couldn’t ask this total stranger to carry my burden, besides, he could just as likely drop it as pick it up.

You’re not allowed to feel things very deeply or very authentically in this culture.

And if you do, you’re a little weird. A little inconvenient. Too intense. And sure, there are people who are safe and less safe to be vulnerable with, but I’ve always struggled with being vulnerable with even the safest people, and in even the most intimate relationships, because here’s the thing: when you express vulnerability, you are expressing a need that you have to someone, revealing an imperfection that is humiliating in some degree. And pride revolts, sickened by the thought of appearing needy or flawed or frail.

I have found, particularly in this past year as our family has walked through some major challenges, many of which revolve around me and my particular set of wounds in need of tending, that it is precisely in revealing the frailty and the neediness that the generous offers of strength, of prayers, and of support are offered in return.

When we let people see our grossness, our inconvenience, our mess, we invite them in to do something about it, whether through prayer, compassion and accompaniment, or material support. And those are all ways that we are called to live out our Christian identities, to be Christ to a hurting world awash in pain.

So whose idea is it then that we hide our scars from each other, putting on a brave, blank face and stuffing down the pain?

Probably not God’s.

I have seen firsthand this past year that in offering my friends, my siblings, and most especially my dear husband the opportunity to come into my pain and accompany me in bearing the crushing weight of my cross, they are manifesting Christ to me.

And all the times I’ve railed against Him in pain or in searing alone-ness, begging Him to reveal the path, alleviate the suffering…almost to a fault, those have been the moments when I am clutching my pain tightly to my chest, refusing to offer even a sliver of it to anyone else, to some member of His body who could very well be the incarnate answer to that desperate prayer I am flinging heavenward.

My pride and my preoccupation with not being “a burden” to anyone keeps me from hearing His answer, from feeling the merciful touch of His providence through the arms and words of other people. And apart from leaving me marooned in my pain and navel gazing into my seemingly intractable problems, it robs people of the chance to live out the Gospel.

Because if there are no beggars to shelter, no naked to clothe, no hungry to nourish, then this thing we call Christianity is all a rather dry academic exercise in theoretical virtue and tidy maxims for happy living.

Sometimes I am the beggar. Most of the time, it feels like, lately.

And I need to beg, to have my friends drop my mat in through the roof, carry me down to the pool, yell for Jesus to turn around and come back into town, to do something miraculous, to intervene.

And that miracle might well come through another person, who might be perfectly willing to take all your kids for the afternoon to give you break, who might spend hours and hundreds of dollars helping you stage your house to sell, who might spend 10 minutes during the insanity of the dinnertime crunch to hide in her bathroom with her phone and listen to you cry, who might book a flight to come see you, or send some love through amazon that is shaped like earrings, but you know it’s actually a hug.

I hope if you’re carrying something heavy today you have someone you can trust to put a shoulder under the load with you. Whether it’s an addiction to pornography, a spouse with a drug problem, an unplanned pregnancy, a mental health crisis, a job loss, a searing grief, some kind of spiritual bondage, or a hopeless medial diagnosis.

Everyone is struggling with something.

Let’s not struggle alone.

And let’s be bold in receiving one another’s burdens. Let’s be radically countercultural in our willingness to encounter, to lean in, to put down whatever it is that we are presently engrossed with and be eternally present, in that moment of neediness, to the beggar in the doorway.

We are all beggars. We are all broken. And you are not alone.

(A special shout out to my team of prayer warriors who have carried me so tirelessly this year, and who are just a text message away, always willing to take up arms when my pride gives way long enough to tap out a quick SOS. K, E, M, and S, you know who you are.)


Abortion, Bioethics, Catholics Do What?, Evangelization, guest post, infertility, IVF, pregnancy, Pro Life

IVF regrets: one mother’s story

March 27, 2017

Today I have the distinct privilege of bringing a unique voice to the discussion about in vitro fertilization (IVF). Katy* is a wife, mother, Catholic, and a regular blog reader who emailed me a few months ago with a story to share. As I read the email, I was humbled and rocked to the core that she would entrust me with a part of her story, and I knew immediately that it deserved a wider audience. She was gracious – and brave – enough to agree to share it with you here today.

I am requiring that all comments and discussion on this piece, both here in the combox and on social media, be of the highest caliber of respect and civility. This is an emotionally fraught topic, and this is a charged political and moral landscape we are navigating. And … this is a real family’s journey, and a real woman’s story. She deserves our attention and our respect. To that end, I will be moderating.

Now I’d like to invite Katy to tell you her story, in her own words:

“Hello, my name is guilty”

I truly wish I had read your posts about IVF four years ago.

For a few months now, I’ve been reading/following/loving your blog.

I feel compelled to share my story, because even though you don’t know me, I feel that certain kinship that can only come from reading someone else’s blog and becoming somewhat acquainted with their life. So here it goes.

I was raised Catholic and my family is devout, but not in a forceful way, so I never even got to go through the typical teenage rebellion. Religion was always just part of who we were, and I was glad to carry on the Catholic tradition in adulthood.

I had a boyfriend whose family was VERY religious to the point of homeschooling and rejecting the Novus Ordo mass entirely, nightly rosaries, etc. That time of my life helped my faith develop, but then after we broke up and I met my now-husband, a mostly disinterested Methodist, I drifted into a much less strict version of practicing Catholic. I still attended church, but I wasn’t involved.

Fast forward to finding out we were infertile. Of course, I knew the Church’s stance on IVF, but I chose to willfully ignore it.

A control freak at heart, I refused to believe that God had my best interest in mind.

I have felt called to motherhood since I was a little girl and I absolutely could not fathom a world in which I was not a mother.

I didn’t want to wait. I didn’t want to have faith. I wanted my way, and I wanted it then, because I was 27 years old and my biological clock was ticking so loudly it kept me up nights.

Only now do I see how ridiculous I was being.

Thanks to the severity of our infertility issues, we were giving a 1% chance of conceiving naturally (who comes up with those stats, anyway?) and were advised against wasting time and money on IUI. The doctor recommended that we immediately pursue IVF.

Now, I did sort of try to be sensible…you know, to “sin a little less.” I inquired about only fertilizing a small number of embryos so that there wouldn’t be “leftovers.” The doctor thought I was crazy, just another wacko religious person, but she agreed to work with me. Then the estimated cost made it so the whole thing had to be put on hold anyway.

A few years later I stumbled upon a clinical trial which provided IVF to participants for free. The big catch: you had to play by their rules, so no requesting a limited number of embryos be created. Blinded by my manic need to become a mother, I signed my name on the dotted line and entered the study.

I felt both elated and guilty.

It’s a guilt I’m still lugging around today.

As part of the study, we ended up with 8 embryos. I did one round of IVF and transferred two embryos. I was pregnant with twins for 8 amazing weeks before my first miscarriage. The second embryo transfer (2 embryos again) resulted in another pregnancy, but a single that time. I miscarried at 7 weeks. Of course I felt like I was being punished. I know it doesn’t work like that, but still, that’s how it felt.

I waited two months and then did a third embryo transfer with a single embryo. After the two miscarriages I was kicked out of the clinical trial and no longer forced to abide by the study protocol of transferring two at a time (a note for your article: most fertility doctors refuse to do more than two, and my current doctor along with many others strongly advises against more than one. The cases you hear like Octomom are thankfully not the norm. And those doctors usually have their medical licenses revoked. What they’re doing is still not OK… but it’s not like they’re all just throwing in ten embryos at once and then resorting to selective reduction, at least not usually).

I once again become pregnant. That one stuck. My beautiful daughter was born in June of 2014.

Motherhood has been everything I dreamed it would be. My daughter brought so much light, love, and happiness to this world that it’s impossible to put into words. Family members fight over who gets to babysit her. She is so smart, so kind, so good.

She is by far the best thing that ever happened to me, and it absolutely kills me that she was conceived in sin.

I struggle with this every day. The line I read equating the children of IVF to victims, like children of rape? Oh, that one stung, but it was so necessary. You’re right, of course, but the truth hurts. (She is referring to an older piece of mine where I was emphasizing that the dignity of the human person is immutable, that no matter the circumstances of one’s conception, the child is only and always the innocent victim.)

I’m sure you already know about God’s fantastic sense of humor, right? Right. So I had 3 embryos left after my daughter was born (3 miscarried, 1 never took, and she was the 5th one).

I knew I would need to have them all because despite my egregious disregard of Church law in doing IVF at all, I still fervently believe that life begins at conception and that those three little souls would absolutely not be destroyed or donated to science.

But then when my daughter was 8 months old, a surprise happened – a spontaneous unplanned pregnancy. That 1% chance of conceiving the doctors gave us? Yeah. About that…

My son joined our family 17 months after his sister. Sometimes the craziest things are true.

Now I am pregnant once again, but this time with the 6th embryo, while the other two wait in storage until we’re ready for another go-round.

No one will be left behind in the freezer, but I admit it’s so hard.

There are the storage fees, the constant worry… how will we be able to afford another round of IVF? (I had insurance coverage for a brief shining moment, which I used to get pregnant with this one, but now I’ve lost my job and that insurance lapses in February). How will we afford five kids? Am I getting too old? (I’m 32 now). Can I even have that many c-sections? (Both my kids were emergency c-sections, and this one will be scheduled).

I wish I had never done IVF.

I wish it so badly. When my faith was tested, I failed, and yet I was still given the most beautiful and miraculous gift that I surely don’t deserve.

I used to keep a diary but I don’t anymore, which is why I’m pouring this all out on you. I do have a blog, but since my readership is mostly fellow IVF veterans, they’re all left-leaning and would never understand my regret.

I’m terrified to write about any of this publically.

I don’t regret my daughter for a second, but I do regret the methods.

I wish I had known.

I wish I could rewind and redo all of this knowing what I know now.

I just hope that you’ll pray for me. It’s very early in this third pregnancy and I’m so nervous (especially with my history), plus I’m constantly worrying about how we will survive the future we’ve created for ourselves.

I am trying so hard to put my faith in God but like I said…I’m a control freak! It’s so hard to let go. I always feel like I’m the one who needs to keep this ship sailing.

Also, if you have any excellent reading or resources for “Woman who Regrets Doing IVF But is Also Joyous to Have Become a Mother”… please send it my way.

*(Katy, whose real name was changed for privacy purposes – is a brave and beautiful mother, and her courage in sharing this story is a testimony and a gift to us all. Please join me in accompanying her family and her current pregnancy with your prayers.)
(UPDATE 3/28/17: *update: FYI, our beautiful author Katy has been to Confession, thanks be to God. And y’all are wonderful missionaries of mercy to suggest it so enthusiastically. Pope Francis would be proud.)
Abortion, Catholic Spirituality, Culture of Death, Evangelization

Joining a chorus of voices

March 22, 2017

From an Endow press release this morning:

Today, we are announcing Endow Voices, an online platform connecting faith, culture and our everyday lives.

The goal is to engage our members with experts in various fields to answer questions from the philosophical to the practical to the mundane on how to be a Catholic woman in today’s crazy world. So far we have been amazingly blessed with the following women signed up as regular contributors, with more to come:

  • Alice Von Hildebrand: Philosophy and Womanhood

  • Marilyn Coors: Science, Medicine, Bioethics and Faith

  • Helen Alvare: Finding Truth in the Age of Relativism

  • Linda Grimm: Defending Dignity and our Legal System

  • Kathleen Domingo: Life Issues and the Public Square

  • Jenny Uebbing: Catholic Culture and the New Feminism

  • Michelle Chandler: Mom, Wife and the Interior Life

  • Jenna Guizar: Leadership and Ministry

Not exactly a shabby lineup, eh? Archbishop Jose Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has also agreed to contribute to this exciting new venture of Endow’s, which I’ve no doubt will do big things for the Church.

If you’re not already familiar with Endow, you need to be! They offer life-changing small group study experiences and have some of the best and deepest content out there, with studies covering everything from the encyclicals of St. John Paul II to Edith Stein and Thomas Aquinas. I have had the privilege to work behind the scenes with them on various projects over the years, and it is wonderful to see how God has called them to expand their physical community into the virtual sphere, the precise opposite trajectory of so many other ministries. It is truly an honor to be contributing to the mission of Endow in some small way, and I hope you’ll read along, and even better, join – or start! – an Endow group in your neighborhood or at your parish.

An excerpt from my contribution this month, Catholic Feminism:

“…I bother with the linguistic parsing because words mean something, and the proper use of language is critical to the building up – or tearing down – of culture. When I speak of Catholic feminism, what I mean is a total embrace of what it means to be a woman: self giving, creative, strong, and capable of profound sacrifice and leadership.

I think that modern feminism has become too conflated with Planned Parenthood’s agenda of sexual free for all and an angry, even violent rejection of motherhood and fertility. Feminism that calls a woman to reject and mutilate her body is only suppression and degradation by another name.”

Click here to read the rest.