Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

It's here! HE'S here! There is so much joy in my home and my heart today that I want to extend it to all of you as well.

We went to Mass last night at 4 pm, which I was able to do thanks to some wonderful tea my Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor has given me (I say wonderful because it works, not because of how it tastes.) And a very kind family who has obviously taken the Christmas message to heart squeezed in so I could sit down, because "A pregnant woman should always have a seat at Christmas Mass." I said thank you a hundred times and knew I wasn't properly conveying just how INCREDIBLY grateful I was for that beautiful gesture. We got to Mass 1/2 an hour early and it was already standing-room only, if that helps put the little miracle into perspective!

Mass was beautiful, and here's another little miracle: My husband came! While getting my daughter ready she asked me, "Can Dedah come?" and I said, "Go ask him!" He willingly put on his nice clothes and a tie to match the one my son was wearing, and we all got to sit together for Christmas Mass. How beautiful!!

I thought I'd start a little meme, if anyone is interested in joining, as a way to celebrate the coming of this blessed, joyous day! I will try to figure out how to do the trackback linky thing, but don't anyone get your hopes up, okay? If there's nothing to link to, you can just comment and I'll track down your post that way.

Favorite Christmas Ornaments

It's very easy! Just take a picture (or a few) of your favorite Christmas ornaments/decorations and add a brief description of why they mean something to you.

I have four ornaments to share with you:

This one is a University of Michigan themed nutcracker. Watching the Nutcracker ballet with my sister and mom is one of my favorite Christmas traditions, and having this little guy all decked out in Maize and Blue (a gift from my MIL) melds my two families delightfully!

This one is an old, old ornament from my childhood. We lived in Indonesia in the 1980's when I was between 5 and 7 years old, and this was a gift from our maid/cook/babysitter. I believe she made it herself. It's not fancy, but it's so Christmasy. I remember her and our time there every year when I put it on the tree.

Each member of our family has a stylized initial ornament just like this one. In February, soon after I lost Elizabeth, I went to do my weekly volunteering in Denver. The woman I'm working with likes a particular food bank, which also has a thrift store, and I was wandering the aisles, not looking for anything in particular, when I saw this "E." It exactly matches the initial ornaments the rest of us have. I cried, and bought it to put on our tree every year, so that Elizabeth is always with us, always remembered. I put her ornament right up top, next to the star, because it's closest to heaven up there.

This is probably the nicest ornament we own. The picture doesn't do it ANY justice at all. It's porcelain, made in Italy, and depicts the Madonna kneeling in prayer by the infant Jesus in the manger. The star overhead forms a ray of light connecting with Jesus' halo, and that's how the ornament hangs, by the star. It is such a beautiful ornament with such lovely symbolism.

I hope that your Christmases are very merry, filled with the joy of His birth and the warmth of family and friends to share it with. All my love and wishes for a very Happy New Year, too!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Additional comfort from around the blogosphere!

God has led me to a few different posts here and there to reiterate that I am not perfect, nor should I expect to be, and that the journey towards holiness is a lifelong one.

From Michael Hallman:
The simple reality of our bodiliness is such that we are destined for these ebbs and flows, for times of fatigue, depression, anxiety, fear, irritability, hunger, and so on, all of which can have a profound impact on our spiritual reality and spiritual consciousness. When we add on to this the various illnesses, both physical and mental, that so often affect persons, then we are forced to confront the reality that in this unglorified state of the pre-resurrected body, we will fall, we will sin, we will doubt, we will be cold in charity, we will despair. This is not to say that we are powerless over all of this, and so we strive each day anew to turn to God in prayer, to live renewed in Jesus Christ, to love as best we can. But these challenges will always be with us and be a part of our daily existence.

From Vox-Nova:
An example that comes to mind is St. Thomas Aquinas whose family sent a prostitute to his room to try to tempt him. He didn’t chase her out with a stick. He reasoned with her and showed compassion. She left a repentant Christian. St. Thomas More is another. His treatment of others as the Church in England went over to Protestantism is a wonderful model of Christian witness. Neither of them glossed over or ignored the reality before them, rather they gave loving witness to the truth.

From Abigail's Alcove:
In the wise words of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, however, "God never asked me to be successful. God asked me to be faithful."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Growing in Grace

I'm taking a great deal of comfort from one of Jen's recent posts titled "When I Am Weak, Then I Am...Weak" The comments detail some of the more elusive mysteries of being a true Christian, namely, allowing God's power to work through us in our imperfections. As the wife of an atheist, this is the sort of thing that I have huge problems trying to explain to someone who has no concept of a higher power, and who thinks so-called "Christians" are just using their religion as an excuse to judge and oppress people.

I've been trying for quite some time to communicate to my husband the benefits of belief in God, a point which he vehemently disputes. I wish he could read the beautiful words of those commenters, faithful men and women who are using all their strength to be humble instruments of God's will. The countless stories of finding peace even in the midst of severe sickness illustrate to me so clearly that faith allows weak and imperfect people to be powerful instruments of love in the world. Surely that is a benefit to faith!

Jen's follow up post about letting it be God who does all the work, also resonated with me very deeply. I recently spent some time with an old friend. We used to be quite close, but now our values and lifestyles are so different that it's hard to come up with topics of conversation that don't result in an argument. I still don't know how to handle conversations with her, and am always worried that she might criticize my life choices, or that I won't be able to refrain from criticizing hers, even if unintentionally.

I struggle with how I am supposed to be around her. When I keep my opinions to myself, I feel that I am not being authentic, but I don't know how to explain my beliefs without casting aspersions on hers. I avoid calling her, and spend the few conversations we do have praying to the Holy Spirit to guide me.

And inside...oh, inside! As CS Lewis put it,
"I am suffering incessant temptations to uncharitable thoughts at present; one of those black moods in which nearly all one's friends seem to be selfish or even false. And how terrible that there should be even a kind of pleasure in thinking evil.”
I have such a hard time loving unconditionally. Yet I don't feel that God is calling me to end those relationships that challenge me. I know that everyone has people like this in their lives. And I have been abundantly blessed with true friends who are delightful company, honest and caring, and interested in many of the same things as I.

I am ashamed of myself for complaining. What sort of an example am I setting to my husband? Is this how one is "made strong in Christ?" Clearly, I am not a true Christian. When I think of how St. Therese of the Little Flower taught herself to see Christ in the mean nun that everyone hated, and how successful she was at radiating joy in the woman's presence, I am filled with shame at my pitiful attempts to "endure" her company.

I have spent my whole life struggling with this exact problem. And at the ripe age of 34, I have so little to show for it. True, I have maintained relationships with people I don't actually like. But those relationships are neither satisfying nor healthy. All I want to do is cry and run away.

I have been beating myself up for not being "better" when I read Jen's posts, and it dawned on me that I have never been weaker than I am right now. Physically, emotionally and spiritually, I am sunken as low as it gets. Perhaps God's strength is flowing through me. Perhaps keeping my opinions to myself is all I can accomplish in my vulnerable and emotional state. Perhaps, right now, that's all God is asking of me.

I am hearing Him say, over and over again, "Let go. It's in my hands. Trust me." He has said this about my son's schooling, about my marriage, about the adoption, about everything. I can't have it my way. I don't get to have a perfect life with no tension and no drama. I may want that, but I don't get to have it. I just have to let it go.

I have to let go of the person I want to be, too. I am not perfect. I don't get to hold my head high and think, well, at least I know I am following God's will and doing as He asks of me. I may want that, but I don't get to have it! Instead I get a slow, creeping progression where I struggle to determine what sort of relationship I can have with people I don't like, and then the even harder struggle to hold fast to my boundaries while still allowing room for hope, love, and compassion. I get to be ashamed of myself, and have to ask forgiveness for the opportunities I missed and the uncharitable thoughts I allowed to fester.

I don't want this to seem at all like some sort of justification for my imperfections, but rather as a way to put them in perspective. I am trying. Trying, and failing, as humans do. I will continue to try, because I will continue to have hope. I am starting to see just how important hope is, and how much can be accomplished by someone who hopes and trusts in the Lord, and who does not give up (either on themselves or on others!)

I hope I'm growing in grace. If, at the end of the day, all I am able to do is keep silent and pray, then that's what I'll do. And I'll hope that someday, if God wills it, I can do all in Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Politics, Part III (Final)

"Truth?" said Pilate. "What is that?"
Really, what it comes down to for me is that I find discerning the truth about politics and politicians nearly impossible.

This year it took me an hour and a half to fill in my ballot. I visited each candidate's website to see what they said about the given issues, and did additional research through newspaper articles, voting records, and assorted Voters Guides.

I had a very difficult time finding hard facts, or even clear statements about a candidate's position on the issues. Although most devoted a large portion of their websites to "issues," the actual content didn't provide me a very clear picture. Every outside source I tried was unmistakably biased, whether it was newspaper articles, blogs, or watchdog groups.

Add to all this the negativity and propaganda that characterize a political conversation, and the truth gets even more obscured. I haven't been able to find a source of political discourse that I can trust. As I've already said in Parts I and II, I don't think voting for any candidate will make a real difference in the issues that matter most. In addition, I worry that whoever wins the election will harm vulnerable populations with faulty policies and misguided laws. Intelligent people argue both sides, and yet I can't fully agree with anyone.

I feel like I am wandering in a mire, trying to find my way out, and every now and then I come across a path covered in signs, but none of the signs make sense, and none of them seem to lead out. So I keep wandering. Even if I pick a path, I'm not happy or confident while I'm on it, so I'm prone to strike out and search for another one.

But the thing is, there is no perfect path. This is politics, after all: messy, complicated, full of gray areas and compromise. And if I don't pick any path, then I'm just wandering aimlessly.

So what's most important when choosing how to vote? To me, the answer has to be "What God wants." Luckily, He's left us a guide. It's called the Church. And in the last few years, the Church has made her position ever clearer. More than one bishop has come forth to say, in no uncertain terms, that a Catholic may not vote for a pro-choice candidate when there is a pro-life candidate on the ballot. With all my indecision and frustration, this at least is a non-negotiable guidepost to help me choose wisely.

If I cannot feel peace in voting for a particular candidate, can I at least feel peace in bending my will to the gentle nudge of my shepherd's staff? We are like sheep, unruly, unable to fully understand. Yet if we can respond to the voice of one sent to guide us, we might yet move in the direction appointed by our Master.

I admire and deeply respect my shepherd, Archbishop Chaput. I have read his book, "Render Unto Caesar" and found it both inspiring and enlightening as to the role of the faithful in public life. In his words, then:

"So can a Catholic in good conscience vote for a pro-choice candidate? The answer is: I can't, and I won't. But I do know some serious Catholics -- people whom I admire -- who may. I think their reasoning is mistaken, but at least they sincerely struggle with the abortion issue, and it causes them real pain."

Of all the voices shouting opinions in our political climate, I have to choose one that I trust. I can't discern the truth on my own. Who better to trust than the shepherd appointed over my particular flock? In all honesty, there's no other voice I trust more.

Not even my own.

Picture credit.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Politics, Part II

Conservative vs Liberal, Or Why the Two Party System Blows

In essence, my problem boils down to the fact that our two main parties, Democrats and Republicans, are inconsistent in their interpretation of accepted philosophies. I've examined many, many political spectrum charts and definitions in an attempt to place myself somewhere on the political map. I always end up in the middle, agreeing half with one side and half with the other. Thus I don't feel at home in either camp.

What I really wish is that I could vote on issues rather than candidates. I love the last part of the ballot where all the referendum questions and amendments are given to the public for their consideration. It's the only part of the ballot where I feel my voice is truly heard.

I don't have that option, though. The parties choose how they feel about a given issue, which forces me to support things I don't support. Democrats, for example, are supposed to favor government regulation of the economy, but allow for a range of personal freedoms. Except that they don't allow for freedom of religion, consistently regulating and monitoring what religious groups are able to say/do and where they are able to say/do it, and they spend a great deal of effort trying to regulate the social aspects of the economy, such as how many minorities a business has to hire, whether they must provide health insurance, etc etc. They also willfully ignore the medical evidence that shows a developing fetus is a person, and deny the unborn their most basic freedom: life.

Republicans are supposed to favor a smaller government, except when it comes to law enforcement and moral order. They do plenty of regulation, though, especially when it comes to protecting business and the market from pesky things like justice or transparency. What this does, in effect, is to create a system where as long as you have enough money, you are above the law. To me, that doesn't create a very moral social order, nor does it allow for much movement or interaction between the classes, which is the key to equality, opportunity, and prosperity.

I can't put a Republican in charge without worrying what they're going to enact to hurt our country, and I can't put a Democrat in charge without worrying the same thing. Every now and then we get an option to vote for a third party candidate, but instead of bringing us a new option, they tend to be more extreme versions of the Republican or Democratic candidate. When they do present a different tactic, it's never the one that fits with my beliefs. Libertarians, for example, favor NO government regulation of anything. That's not what I want! And while I have proudly voted for a third party candidate whose philosophies and character I believed in, that wasn't an option for me on this last ballot because there weren't any third party candidates in most of the races.

The thing is, most of the US is like me: committed to neither party, vacillating back and forth, making their final decision based on one or two major issues facing the country in that particular election. Because so many of us change our party vote with each election, and because there is no overlap between the philosophies of the two parties, every two to four years the entire philosophy of the country's government gets turned on its head. Why does every politician talk about the importance of bi-partisanship, and then refuse to make the compromises necessary to achieve it? Party politics. I read once that the two party system is ideal because when you have two extremes, they fight it out and arrive somewhere in the middle, which is probably where the truth lies. I personally disagree with that assessment. What seems to happen is that one side imposes laws, and the other side refuses to fund them. Or one side pushes something through, and the other side enacts a bunch of restrictions to strangle it. Perhaps our Founding Fathers meant for discussion and compromise to be the order of government, but it has not worked out that way. Like a kid shunted between divorced parents, we are treated to a confusing mix of rules and standards that leave us not knowing what works, and with all our problems only partially addressed.

It's hard to know what the answer is. Those countries who have had the most success are those countries that are the most homogenous, like Japan and Finland, whose governments impose a single identity upon all the people. America is a melting pot of diverse races, religions, and cultures. Each State is radically different in climate, resources and character. Trying to unify this mass of individual preferences into a codified philosophy is a Sisyphean task. I honestly don't know if it can be done, or even if it should. I wouldn't want to live beneath the yoke of unrelenting nationalism. Although our current system doesn't exactly offer me a voice, either. After all, 51% makes a majority, even though that leaves an almost equal number of people completely pissed off and disenfranchised.

I care very deeply about politics and the role of government in our lives. I'm not happy with what we currently have going on in this society. We have an entrenched two party system, neither of whom offers me what I consider a workable option to make it better. So how am I supposed to vote?

Picture credit.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Politics, Part I

It has been very hard for me to decide to publish this series of posts. I really hate politics and the anger that enters into most political discussions, and most especially I hate the way it polarizes people and fosters judgment and disdain. However, I have very strong feelings on society and the role of government. I believe political participation is an important way that we, as Americans, can take the poor with us. It might be the most influence we have on the world at large, and to refrain from active participation is unthinkable.

However, I do not have typical Catholic sentiments towards politicians and government. I say "typical" to mean that my opinions are not usually in line with those others who attend services with the same frequency as I do, or hold to the teachings of the Church as rigidly as I do (as defined by polls which cover these things.)

Voting, in general, causes me a great deal of anguish and emotional strife. I am writing these posts in part to be honest about my struggles, but also in an attempt to work out the direction of my political involvement. Writing is the best way I know to sort my thoughts, and this forum allows me to solicit the input of like-minded believers, which I value.

So, let's get right to the most contentious bit.

Part I: My Objection to Voting Pro-Life

I live in Colorado, which had on its ballot this past week the following amendment to the State constitution:
"An amendment to the Colorado Constitution applying the term 'person' as used in those provisions of the Colorado Constitution relating to inalienable rights, equality of justice and due process of law, to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being."

This is the second time such a measure appeared on the ballot. In 2008, "biological development" had further language that made personhood apply from the moment of fertilization. The measure was roundly defeated in 2008, and reappeared this year with the modified language.

The following is part of the text from the Colorado Conference of Catholic Bishops regarding this measure, written in 2008:
"While the Church respects those promoting this personhood amendment, the Catholic Bishops of Colorado decline to support its passage because it does not provide a realistic opportunity for ending or even reducing abortions in Colorado."
This brings me to my biggest problem with voting pro-life. Despite the best efforts of pro-life politicians and faithful Catholics involved in pro-life ministries, there has been no significant decrease in abortion rights over the last 40 years. What we are mostly fighting over is taxpayer funding. While it's true that rampantly pro-abortion presidents (such as Clinton) caused great harm to the pro-life cause, it is not the case that pro-life presidents (such as Bush) have done much to help it.

While I am pleased that people of faith haven't given up on the abortion issue, I'm not convinced that the actual power of a given pro-life candidate outweighs the possible harm they could do on other issues. The anti-life culture is so ingrained in our society that politicians, no matter how well-intentioned, find it very difficult to pass any legislation that significantly alters abortion rates or rights. The more fervent and passionate a candidate is on the pro-life issue, the harder it is to get him elected.

I am pro-life. I consider our country's abortion rate a tragedy of epic proportions. There is NO EXCUSE for a country as prosperous and educated as ours to have no room in our hearts for a million little children. As a faithful Catholic and pro-life woman and mother, it pains me every time I think of the wasted lives and the gross injustice perpetrated on these innocents every single day. I argue against abortion with everyone in my life, even with my staunchly pro-choice family, even at the dinner table, even hours after the conversation has stopped moving forward and I am close to tears. They refuse to acknowledge the truth: that a baby, even unborn, is a person with the right to live. That bearing a child already conceived, even if it delays your graduation or promotion, is your responsibility as a human being. That we should be doing everything in our power to promote motherhood, adoption, and pre-natal care.

The bishops statement on the personhood amendment also declared:
"...lower federal courts interpreting this amendment will be required to apply the permissive 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. It is also likely that the Supreme Court, given its current composition, will either decline to review such a case, effectively killing the state amendment, or worse, actively reaffirm the mistaken jurisprudence of Roe."
In other words, the bishops affirmed not only the uselessness of any attempt to overturn abortion at the state level, but the actual harm it might pose in creating even more case-law that supports Roe v Wade. The way the Supreme Court works, any decisions it makes must be reinforced by the lower courts, and subsequent Supreme Court cases can rely on those lower judgments in their later decisions. In other words, everything builds on itself, and once a decision has been made at the Federal level, it is much, much more difficult to overturn it than it was to come to the decision in the first place.

How could the bishops refuse to support this amendment on the basis that it is unrealistic and could cause harm, yet insist that I cannot vote for a pro-choice politician based on the same argument? I do not take voting lightly. I do not make my decision on simple partisanship. Since 1970, we have had pro-life Presidents, a majority pro-life Congress, and pro-life state governors and state legislators multiple times. However, not a single pro-life President has issued an executive order banning abortion. Why not? BECAUSE THEY CAN'T. It would be immediately overturned by the legislature or the Supreme Court and the people would riot.

The most we've been able to accomplish is to impose regulations that get in the way of quick, cheap access to abortions. While this is laudable, and an important step, the long and short of it is that we've made abortions more difficult for those who are in the most need of support during an unwanted pregnancy: unwed mothers and low-income families. 60% of women who have abortions already have children, and 75% of those who have an abortion state their reason is financial, either that they cannot afford another child, or that having a child would interfere with their school/job/ability to care for other children.* Unless we are providing assistance to these women in the form of pre-natal care, maternity leave, and affordable child care, we are perpetuating the myth that children are a burden and abortion is necessary to prevent poverty and unemployment.

Two more things I want to mention here. Roe v Wade was decided by a majority conservative court appointed by Republican presidents. The closest we came to overturning it was 1986, with
Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists. 7 of the 9 justices had been appointed by Republican presidents, and were told by the current President (Reagan) that they should revisit and overturn Roe v Wade. Instead, they voted 5-4 to uphold the right to abortion. There are many reasons to have conservative Supreme Court justices, but the likelihood of them overturning Roe v Wade is remote, even if they ruled as we expect, which they rarely do.

And the personhood amendment that appeared on our ballot this week? Despite my vote, it was defeated 70% to 30%. It is abundantly clear that the vast majority of our country (even in a heavily Republican state like Colorado) is against the overturning of Roe v Wade or any sort of real limitations on abortion. It doesn't make sense to me that I should put aside all the other issues and ignore reality to vote for whichever candidate is against abortion, even though that is the clear message of the Church.

I write this only to say that I am very conflicted each time an election comes around, and I find the phrase "vote your conscience" to be incredibly insulting. My conscience doesn't allow me to support any candidate in any race at any time, because there is no "faithful Catholic" party. Every line I drew on my ballot this year went AGAINST my conscience, no matter which party I supported. I will never be proud of my vote, nor will I ever be happy that a certain candidate has attained office. The entire process is riddled with guilt, doubt, frustration and disappointment from beginning to end.

I cry when I vote. And I don't wear the cheery little sticker.

*Statistics on induced abortion from the Guttmacher Institute

Picture credit.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mixed Marriage

I had a commenter ask today:
"If you had any advice on Catholic/non-Catholic relationships (i.e. discerning whether your differences on religion are an insurmountable obstacle to marriage and raising a family) I would really appreciate it."

Man oh man, I could talk about this for six years straight and not even scratch the surface! I actually had an article appear in my local Catholic paper on this exact subject, so I'll link to it here. The journalist who wrote it did a really nice job of distilling my ramblings into positive, practical statements. I love what she did with the article.

If I were to sit down with someone contemplating marriage to a non-Christian, though, I'd have a few things to say that aren't so positive. The reality is that marriage is hard. H.A.R.D. HARD. It takes a committment to the relationship through good times and bad, it requires personal sacrifice and compromise, and you will have to constantly think about it and work on it for the rest of your life.

It's worth it, 100%. I wouldn't trade my husband for anyone, even a practicing Catholic, and the rewards that I get from being in a committed relationship, from bearing children, and from joining my heart to another are indescribable. Before I married, I had serious social and emotional problems due to my upbringing. Those have been healed through the power of my husband's love and the weight of our relationship grounding me to a secure foundation. I struggled right up until about a year ago with the notion that I might have been meant for a different vocation, but I've come to see that it's through marriage and motherhood that God is fitting me for heaven.

Specifically to those who are considering marriage to a non-believer, I would say:

1. It's going to be harder than you think.
I am continually surprised by how differently my husband and I see the world. Even though he and I share the same basic values, our reasons for having those values are fundamentally different, and every now and then those differences make a big difference! We can approach an issue with the same intention in mind, and yet come up with opposite solutions because our fundamental understandings don't line up. To cut to the chase, as a Christian I am fundamentally hopeful. It is the mark of my relationship with God that I believe He is in control, and as He wants good for us, we will ultimately encounter good by following and trusting in Him. My husband, as a pragmatic realist, is fundamentally suspicious and fearful. I know he would object to that characterization, but I believe it is true. There is nothing for him but this life. Any moment of unhappiness or strife that it not geared toward a future payoff has no benefit to him, so his primary interest is in acting in a way to ensure that this life he has is, and remains, as comfortable and secure as possible. That makes him an absolutely terrific provider, but it means the things I consider most important (instilling faith in our children, giving to the poor, opening our hearts to others) are to him only extras once the real business of life is achieved (financial security, stress reduction, professional fulfillment.) I am looking at this life as the first step to eternity. He is looking at it as the only existence that we will ever have. We don't even see the same ramifications to each of our choices, and that divide is something that we cannot overcome through dialogue or compromise. We are working towards different goals, and I didn't fully realize until well into our marriage just how much that would impact our relationship.

2. You must marry your spouse as he/she is, without any expectation for change or improvement in any area.
This actually is good advice for any marriage, whether you share a faith or not. It's true that some change WILL occur. People are not static beings. Our circumstances change, and that makes us change, too. But if we expect certain things to improve in our spouses, we are very likely to be disappointed, especially if we are expecting conversion. I've seen it happen to friends of mine, but it hasn't happened to me. If I had expected that by the time we had two kids, my husband would be a Catholic, I'd be beside myself with frustration right now. I had to decide when we married that I would be happy going the entirety of our lives together without his conversion at any point, and I decided yes. The person that he is still appeals to me as a mate. His character is such that I would choose to marry him again if I encountered him in any place or time. And it is his character that I love, and will continue to love, no matter what the state of his soul.

3. You must be able to be authentically, fully, deeply Catholic without an Earthly support network, and even in the face of hostility or contempt.
As Catholics, we always have the support of heaven in our quest to serve God. In a mixed marriage, however, there may be times when practicing our faith is very difficult, and we won't have any Earthly support. When I first went to visit my husband's family, for instance, I had to figure out how I was going to get to Mass on Sunday. Their tradition was a walk into town for brunch at their favorite breakfast place. Not only would I have to miss this, but I had to ask them to use their car to drive myself to a strange Church I'd never been to and sit there, alone, to worship. If they had been strictly against it, they could easily have prevented my attending Mass. They could have laid a guilt trip on me for disturbing their perfect morning, or for choosing some archaic ritual over getting to know them better. They are wonderful people, so instead they delayed their walk, gave me the car, and waited for me to return so we could go to brunch together. Not everyone is so accommodating. There are many people out there who find religion offensive, and if you are marrying into a family who has had bad experiences with religion itself or people of a particular religion, then you need to search your soul and determine how much you are willing to fight for your faith. Even my loving, generous in-laws still have certain hang ups about the role of faith in culture and politics. We've had several difficult conversations about the sexual abuse scandal, abortion, the Pope's decision to reopen the Tridentine Rite, and the advice of the USCCB on voting. When I visit them, I have no one with me to help me defend the faith. It's ALL on me. That goes for instructing my children, too. Be prepared to feel lonely at times, and most importantly, be prepared to love your new family even while they're challenging you on the core of your beliefs. Especially if they've had bad experiences, it's now up to you to show them how God's grace works within a person who believes. Trust me, they will be watching you.

4. You MUST know your faith.
Education is the primary tool you need in a mixed marriage. If you know God, you will love Him, and know how to serve Him. Without truly knowing your faith, you will not only be unable to defend it against argument, but you will also be missing out on the beauty and depth that can sustain you through difficult times. For instance, many Catholics are unaware of the Church's position on birth control. This is mind-boggling to those who were well-catechized, but the fact is most catechism classes and Pre-Cana preparations say NOTHING about family planning. I myself only found out about NFP when my new boss talked to me about he and his wife's journey to embrace life in the context of their marriage. I'd been married for 2 years at that point, and had been using a barrier method of contraception that whole time, because I thought, erroneously, that as long as no fertilization took place, the Church permitted birth control. Once I discovered the truth of Church teaching, I examined it and brought it to my husband for his acceptance. He wasn't thrilled, but he agreed. Until that point, I had been dead set against having children at all. I thought I would be a bad mother, I worried my child would inherit dangerous personality traits from my family, and I feared I would make too many mistakes and they would grow up to hate me. God took that fear and made me face it. We would not have conceived our firstborn if we were not using NFP, not because the method failed, but because we had no compelling reason to abstain during a fertile time. God blessed us with NFP, as he has blessed countless other Catholic couples. Before I knew the truth of Church teaching, I had missed out not only on an opportunity to witness my faith to my husband, but also on the joys and challenges of parenting. Which, as I said above, I now realize God planned for me from the start.

God calls certain people to this kind of marriage. I would never counsel someone who is in love with a non-Catholic that they should end the relationship simply for that reason. The Church herself does not prohibit marriage between peoples of different faith, or no faith, precisely because what God joins, no one on Earth may separate. If God has led you to a non-believer, then listen to His call. He puts people in your life for a reason.

I have challenges in my marriage, but they are no harder than those faced by many of my friends who share a faith with their spouse. I am blessed to have a husband whose job I am proud of, who shows me respect and faithfulness and generosity of spirit with everything he does. I have Catholic friends whose Catholic husbands aren't open to life, yet my atheist husband is! True, he doesn't help me instruct the children in the Catholic faith, but then, he's never once objected to it, and even tells my son that he has to go to Mass with me.

My basic advice is this: Make your decision based on the character of the person you want to marry. If your choice happens to be of a different faith, or no faith, then arm yourself with a strong love for God, a deep knowledge of your faith, and a willingness to endure hardship for His sake. God will do the rest.

Photo credit.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


No change. Well, that's not entirely true. Overall I am discovering small improvements, like the ability to eat more in one sitting and go longer without food, which really helps me achieve productivity. It's hard to do everything in 30 minute intervals because I had to eat every 45 minutes. But then I still can't have any "real" food, especially after about 4 pm. When I tried to eat some chicken last night at 5 pm, I ended up having a terrible night where I threw up twice and spent hours with my stomach cramping and gurgling dangerously.

It's been hard to figure out what to pray. Jen's recent post on the granularity of prayer has a great explanation of focusing our prayers. Right now, I feel that it's pointless to pray, "Lord, please let this nausea end soon," partly because I don't REALLY want that. If the nausea means my Little Mango is growing and healthy, then good, bring on the nausea. Mostly, though, I feel like it's just going to end in its own time, and praying for it to end sooner is aiming my prayer at the wrong target.

So I've tried to pray, "Lord, give me the strength to endure this with grace." That's slightly better, and I definitely have felt an improvement in my mood and attitude towards this pregnancy. But really, that's a very self-centered prayer. I want God to help me be happy and kind in my suffering so I can gain graces from it and give glory to God. But I'm only 1/5 of the equation here. There are four other people (my husband, my children, and my mother) who are suffering as much as I am, and that prayer doesn't include them.

Mostly, what I do is offer up the suffering rather than praying about it. I know offering up is a form of prayer, so in that sense I am praying, but somehow it feels fundamentally different to say, "Lord, let this suffering go to help those tempted to adultery," than to ask for something for myself.

Still, these are ALL prayers of petition, as outlined here. I am still asking God for something, whether it's for me or not. I've come to realize that a big part of my spiritual dryness right now stems from a lack of a key form of prayer: Adoration.

Because I am trapped at home, I have not been able to attend Mass and bask in the literal presence of God. I have not been listening to K-LOVE as I drive my kids around and run errands. I have not been encountering my friends' stories of God's presence and power in their lives. I haven't even been able to gaze at the mountains in the distance and admire God's creation. I've been missing all my usual sources of adoration, and it shows. I am suffering daily, offering that suffering up, and yet feeling as far from God as I ever have.

I fully understand why monastic communities are careful to balance their days with everything their members need for spiritual nourishment. There are different sorts of prayer times throughout the day: communal worship, honest work, private devotions, study of the Word, and fellowship, all combining in a way that enables each person to receive what they need to continue their vocation. I've cut off a major source of spiritual nourishment, and I am starving.

It became clear to me what the problem was when I did my last Wednesday Fast. Since abstaining from food is not an option, I've been abstaining from TV for the day. That's actually a very difficult sacrifice for me, since I can't read without growing dizzy, I can't move around very much, and I have no major responsibilities. Mostly, I am on the couch, trying to distract myself from the nausea. (In my defense, it's not all Star Trek reruns, though those do factor heavily. I've been watching lots of documentaries on historical figures and science shows on geology and such. After all, I need to have something on the TV that I don't mind my kids staring at, too!) On Wednesdays, though, I deny myself this distraction. Instead, I put on the radio or spend some time sitting outside listening to the birds. And I noticed something remarkable: I felt closer to God even though I felt MORE nauseated. Setting time aside each day for some Adoration is making all the difference.

So I'm trying to be better about reading my blogs and listening to K-LOVE, two forms of Adoration that are available to me at home. And I'm looking forward to the day, a few weeks from now, when I will be better and able to rejoin the community of believers that has been such a source of spiritual strength to me since we moved to Colorado. I miss my parish SO MUCH. That's where I encounter God most forcefully, not only at Mass but through the people I know there. The physical discomfort of my nausea isn't anywhere near the worst aspect of my quarantine. It pales in comparison to the spiritual starvation I've been experiencing as a result of being cut off from the fount of faith that pours out of my Parish. I can't wait to go home again!

Picture credit.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Unexpected Blessings

I am still here. Still very sick. Still unable to read without becoming very dizzy, thus the lack of posts. I literally have nothing to say, too, since my days are just spent surviving the nausea and being grateful that my mom is helping me out.

God is very good to me. The nausea is controlled and I really only suffer between 4 and 5 hours a day. The rest of the time I'm just very uncomfortable, which doesn't even count as suffering because I watch TV or talk to my mom or listen to a book on tape. Given that I suffered with my other two every waking hour, this is practically heaven. Not that I'm enjoying it. Though I am grateful to have something to offer up in the evenings.

And it's amazing how it brings my family together. My mom has been living with us for 6 weeks now (BLESS HER!) and running the house like a whiz. My kids are enjoying a special relationship with her because of this, and she and I have had the chance for many long talks and companionable hours.

Best of all, it's brought about a reconciliation with my father. Our relationship was never easy, and in the past year I decided that I was going to put my foot down and no longer allow myself to be forced into the role of "dutiful daughter" when inside I was anything but. I broached the subject with him over email and didn't make much progress, so I thought to myself, okay...time to put my money where my mouth is. I decided I was going to stop allowing him to visit whenever he wanted to.

Then I got pregnant. And next week, my mom will be taking a break from caring for me. I'll be on my own for 6 days, with no one to drive the kids to school and activities, clean and cook, and bring me soy milk while I throw up. She needs (and deserves) the break, and I don't begrudge it to her, but I literally cannot do anything but sit on the couch and eat with occasional good moments where I can check email and a couple blogs or make a phone call to a friend. I can't cook. I can't drive. I can't take care of my family. I need help.

Knowing this, my dad offered to come for the week my mom is gone. And immediately, my old feelings rose to the surface. Hadn't I decided I was going to put my foot down? Hadn't I decided it was time to stop giving in, so that our relationship could finally move past the unhealthy dynamic we've always had?

When I told him the reason I didn't want him to visit, we had a long conversation. We addressed many of our old issues head on, which I usually shy away from. In the end, we made significant progress.

As I hung up, it occurred to me that this was the moment where I had to decide what type of person I was going to be. If I was truly going to put my money where my mouth is, then I would have to completely forgive everything and begin anew as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton did, as described in this lovely post from Abigail. Or I could hold on to the person I was, my hurts and my judgments, and we'd never be able to move forward.

I have to say, Abigail's post has been rolling around in my heart for a few months now, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton's example has inspired me. I'm going to pray to my little Elizabeth, named for this wonderful Saint, to give me the strength I need to completely erase my past relationship with my dad and greet him when he comes with the sort of love and open heart that is necessary for true growth and relationship.

God has made me sick and dependent for a reason. Perhaps it's to build my humility. Whatever the reason, I can't make unilateral decisions about my life course. For someone like me, who struggles with wanting to control everything, being forced into a position of utter dependence is a huge challenge for my spiritual growth. I am encouraged, though, that I will receive from it the lessons God wants to write on my heart, and emerge a more faithful and devoted servant to Him whom I love above all.

Picture credit.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I want to offer my apologies for my long silence. The reason is a wonderful one: I am expecting, due at the end of March. Praise God!

As per the pattern of my pregnancies, I've been struck with severe nausea and am doing a lot of nothing: no computer work, no reading, no leaving the house, etc. My mother (God bless her) has arrived and is helping me take care of the kids since I can't drive right now.

I just wanted to let everyone know the reason for my absence and ask for prayers. So far this pregnancy is much MUCH better than my other two, and I am filled with gratitude to God and optimism that I will return to normal within two or three weeks.

God bless you all!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Apologetics and the Necessity of Good Works

One of the challenges I face in my marriage is our religious divide. I am an ardent Catholic, my husband is an atheist. We have had many conversations over the course of our marriage and some really horrible fights where I said many things I now regret. It's a continuous source of pain for me, and something I pray about daily.

I count myself very blessed in this one fact, however -- my husband fully supports me practicing my faith, even when it impacts his life as well (NFP comes to mind here.)

I've gone back and forth with how much I share with him about my faith and my relationship with God. At times I've refused to answer even his most innocuous questions, like, "How was Mass?," and at other times I have launched, unprompted, into a lengthy defense of Church doctrine or religion in general.

Every conversation we have comes down to the same unanswerable question: "If God really exists, why aren't His people better than the pagans and atheists?"

It doesn't trouble me as much as it seems to trouble my husband, but I simply don't have a good answer for it. "Because we're all human and all sinners," is the truth, but it doesn't provide a very good proof of God's existence. For me, it doesn't disprove God, but I can see very clearly why someone like my husband, with his strong sense of justice and committment to building a community of people where everyone is taken care of and their invididual liberties respected, would have a BIG problem with the concept. After all, if you can be a good person without faith in God, yet faith in God leads many people to do horrible things, then how can faith be good?

It also doesn't help that many Christians in the world do not live as Jesus did, by dedicating their whole selves to love of God and neighbor. My husband likes to point to statistics that indicate places like Norway (populated almost entirely by agnostics) beat places like Brazil (with its large Catholic population) in things like charitable giving. You can make the same comparison between the Northeastern United States and the South. I've pointed out that both those comparisons are also heavily affected by economics; when you have lots of disposable income, you are better able to give to charity, whereas when you're living paycheck to paycheck or scrounging around the poverty level, you simply can't. I also said those statistics don't measure the intangibles, such as helping out a neighbor or providing spiritual or emotional support to those who need it. The Northeastern United States doesn't exactly have the reputation for hospitality and conviviality that you find in the South. My husband is quick to point out that it's the South where you find the most racism, and things like the movement to rewrite history textbooks so they minimize the contributions of a certain American Statesman. He's also quick to point out that throughout history, people who called themselves Christians found a way to justifiy evil actions (slavery, the Holocaust, oppression of women, colonialism) with the Bible. And, getting back to his larger point, if economic prosperity is a better indicator of kindness and tolerance than is faith in God, then why spend so much money and energy spreading the faith?

What, really, is the point of faith? If it doesn't make a positive difference in the world, then why bother with it?

My answer is that it has made a positive difference to me. My faith makes me a better person, hands down. I can tell you firmly, if it were not for my faith I would not have my two beautiful children. My fear of being a parent was so intense that I had decided I wouldn't have children at all, and without faith I could definitely have been one of those women who considered her abortion to be a favor to her child. I also doubt that I would have the personality that I do. I work very, very hard to be a nice person, to show love to those who are around me, to answer rudeness with manners and negativity with cheer. I know that God helps me in these attempts, and that He has made me a better mother than I ever thought I could be. I have a long way to go, but I know I only got here through His help.

I have no explanation for those people who love God and yet treat their neighbor with cruelty, indifference, or disdain. It is a great source of sadness to me that so many people share the mantle of Christian faith, yet diverge sharply on what constitutes the truth. I have no explanation for the crimes against humanity that continue to be committed by thinking, feeling, faithful Catholics. I wish we all acted a lot more like Mary, myself included.

Casting Crowns has a great song titled "If We Are the Body." To me, it emphasises the necessity of good works. No, they will not earn us a place in heaven. But they are the outward sign of God's love on Earth. In a world where so many people look at the evil committed in the name of God and think, "How can God allow this?" it's all the more essential that those of us who believe live out those beliefs in a concrete and active way. We need to be light to the world, shining brighter than any other, because we are lit with the love of God.

I can't convince my husband that God exists, but I can believe. I can't prove that religion is inherently good, but I can practice my faith. I can't explain why some Christians are so hateful, but I can be loving.

I can live my life in a way that points to God. And perhaps that's the best apologetics I can offer.

Monday, June 14, 2010


A few months ago I read Ceremony, by Leslie Silko, for my book group. It centers on a Native American boy who fights the Japanese front in WWII and comes back home to his Laguna tribe with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor's guilt. When all other avenues fail, he turns to the ancient ceremonies of his people to heal his mind, and finds that his journey is one that he doesn't take alone: his actions link him both with his people and those he fought during the war.

One of the themes deals with the interconnectedness of everything in the world. This is, of course, a well-documented philosophy among many Native American tribes, but the book took things even a step beyond man's relationship with the land to man's relationship with man. What we do affects our families, our communities, the Earth itself, and by extension, people in every corner of the Earth. I am an environmentalist for precisely this reason, and am happy to be supported by the teachings of the Church.

Our lives as wealthy Westerners are FULL of consumption and waste. How many garbage bags do we throw away each week? Think of how it increases at Christmastime, or whenever we throw a party. The very act of consumption requires waste: 1. we are replacing something that is used/broken which must be discarded, 2. the packaging around our new acquisition must be discarded, and most importantly, 3. production of anything produces massive amounts of waste, and this is a part of the cycle over which we have very, very little control.

Here's a question, and a challenge: We often donate used clothing items to Goodwill, right? Are we also shopping there? My two favorite household items came from a thrift store, as did my coffee maker, bedroom furniture and many of my picture frames. Of course, there are many things you simply can't buy at the Salvation Army store. Underwear, obviously. And sometimes you need an item that isn't available there, like a dress for a wedding or a pair of kahkis or, in my case, Ugg boots to protect my Raynauds-afflicted toes from wintry weather. What matters is that we make the effort to search thrift stores regularly for those things we need, rather than relying on Target, Walmart, Kohls or ToysRUs. Even those discount stores contribute to the overconsumption that is the root of so much waste and materialism.

This is a struggle in our culture. I do not make light of the pressures that assail us from every direction to consume, consume, consume. Our children beg for new toys, while the hundreds that they already own lie strewn about the house. Our parents criticize our wardrobes or hint that we "need" another appliance. Our friends re-do their kitchen and suddenly we notice how cramped our own is. A new season begins, and we are embarrassed to see our growing kids running around in pants that end above their ankles.

I've been struggling for a long time with a call to give up makeup. *gulp* I just don't know if I can do it. I am very sensitive about my looks. I thought maybe I'd give it up for Lent one year and see if that frees me, but then every Lent I decide I should do something else instead, because I am a coward. A vain, insecure, coward. It is a lot easier for me to limit my shower length, shop at thrift stores and re-use plastic bags than to leave the house without doing my face. I am praying about this, and working towards it. If it's truly what God desires for me, I pray He will give me the strength to embrace the challenge...someday. Was it St. Augustine? "Lord make me chaste, but not yet!"

In the meantime, I repeat to myself: Do what you can. When I'm tempted by the King Arthur's Flour catalog and all their beautiful pans, mixes and gadgets, I say, "This I can do." I can resist purchasing a scone pan. Hooray! When I'm tempted to go out for dinner because I'm just tired and don't want to cook, I say, "This I can do." I can cook a meal for my family. Yippee!

It works with kid stuff, too. When I'm confronted for the eightieth time one day by a string looped across the hallway as part of an Indiana Jones game, I say, "This I can do." I can duck under or untie the string to walk past without getting mad at the kids. Huzzah!

Some of you are perhaps farther along on your walk towards simplicity, humility and counter-culturalism. What are your tips for reducing waste, consumption and vanity in this crazy, materialistic society we inhabit?

Friday, May 21, 2010

May Intentions

The Holy Father's general intention for this month is one of those issues that sits very heavily on my heart. I feel such pain for those poor souls who suffer slavery of any kind, but especially those girls who are kidnapped and kept as prostitutes. I can hardly even think about it, which makes me all the more troubled that there are those who have to do more than think: they must live it.

Our Holy Father prays this month:

That the shameful and monstrous commerce in human beings, which sadly involves millions of women and children, may be ended

I have researched this subject quite a bit, and prayed on it, and wondered how I can contribute in my small way to ending this blight on our human soul. While making a donation to an organization that works against human trafficking would be an ideal step, it's something that's very difficult for me to do, given the constraints of my situation. I do have some money, but the amount I'd be able to donate (around $20) seems like a drop in the bucket. I want to do more. It's also the main point of this blog to connect my everyday life to the lives of others, particularly those who are suffering. What can I do, as a SAHM of two children, to help those who are victims of human trafficking?

1. Raise the issue.
Simply as a function of my status as a stay at home mom, most of my conversations with my friends revolves around our kids, our husbands, and local events. I can do my part to make sure people know about the problem of human trafficking. I can mention an article I read in Marie Claire, specify our Holy Father's monthly intention before praying a group Rosary, wear a Common Thread ring or an anti-slavery t-shirt, or suggest my book group read Not For Sale. I can teach my children about slavery, in an age-appropriate manner, and help them understand how fortunate they are to be free. In short, I can look for opportunities given my by the Holy Spirit to share this issue with people who may be interested in learning more. As long as I do not lecture or push the subject past the point that people are willing to listen, there is no gathering where it would not be appropriate to take these poor with me.

2. Promote a Global Identity
The Church has been consistent in Her teaching that social justice is part of our duty as children of God, and also that the makeup of our global society can create situations of great injustice for which we must take responsibility. In other words, our choices here in America affect not only those we come into contact with, but people thousands of miles away whom we will never meet. It is not enough to care for myself and my family, I must care for the whole world. The more I understand about the complex machinery of international trade and globalization, the more I am able to make good choices that promote a culture of respect and preserve the humanity of everyone on Earth. This is a difficult concept to communicate in only a few sentences, but it is the foundation of my worldview and the reason I launched this blog.

3. Promote the Theology of the Body
Here's something more concrete! Many of the victims of human trafficking are young women and girls who are sold into brothels or to individual families as something between a concubine and domestic servant. I can't write here about how heartrendingly awful their lives are. The Marie Claire article in #1 above has a good overview. Sex slaves have been an unfortunate part of the human experience for as long as we have had a history, and it may seem there is very little I can do to change a culture so twisted that it would allow such atrocities. But I can. For one thing, I can use Natural Family Planning. The very nature of NFP is that it asks couples to deny their instinctual yearnings and instead focus their energies on love, mutual sacrifice, and non-sexual intimacy. In conjunction with the Theology of the Body, this teaching promotes the now nearly-laughable idea that men and women can control themselves and that sex is neither a right nor a recreation. We may not have cage brothels in my town, but we certainly have a culture where sex is not valued as it ought to be. My example may help others embrace the concept of self-giving through abstinence. In addition, times of abstinence can be difficult for couples. When it is difficult for me, I can offer up my feelings to God, asking Him to bring comfort, freedom, and healing to a woman trapped in slavery.

4. Promote Education
One of the causes of human trafficking is a lack of opportunity for those in poverty. In many instances, people are promised a job and then taken instead into a life of slavery. Sometimes, families sell their children because they have no other source of income. I have long believed that the key to eradicating poverty and oppression lies in education. It is not only a matter of job-training, although that is critically important, but also in allowing ideas to permeate a culture where, too often, hate and division have been predominant. Donating used books and school materials, volunteering at my kids' schools, and supporting my local library are all good ways that I can promote education right in my own neighborhood.

5. Advocate for Better Laws and Systems
While some aspects of human trafficking can get caught up in other issues, like immigration or reproductive rights, most legislation is thoroughly bipartisan. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 passed the Senate unanimously. Catholic Relief Services has an Action Center where you can sign up to receive email alerts when relevant legislation needs your voice. I find it incredibly helpful to read the Bishops' position on pending legislation, not only to inform my conscience with the wisdom of Church teaching, but also because, frankly, I just don't have the time to research all the possible issues myself. Even when the government doesn't act upon our suggestions, we have at least made our position known. The more voices call out for justice, and the louder we shout, the more our elected officials will listen.

6. Pray

We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

-- Thessalonians 5: 14-18

Lord of freedom and love, we are saddened to know that more than one million people are trafficked into slavery each year.
Our hearts grieve for what our minds can barely comprehend, particularly when we hear of women, men, and children who are deceived and transported to unknown places.
We recognize this sexual and economic exploitation occurs because of human greed and profit.
We are sorrowful and our spirits angry that human dignity is being degraded through deception and threats of force.
Help the violators to be transformed and enlightened to realize the scope of their unjust actions.
Allow them to see the value and the dignity of every human person.
Lord of Life, strengthen those whose hearts have been broken and lives have been uprooted.
Give us the light, grace, and courage to work with you so that we can all participate in the goodness of creation.
Fill us with the wisdom and courage to stand in solidarity with the victims so that we may all enjoy the freedoms and rights which have their source in your Son and our Lord Jesus Christ.
-- Adapted from Franciscans International and a prayer by Sr. G. Cassani, SSND

If you wish to learn more, or if you feel moved to help financially or otherwise, you can also visit the following websites dedicated to fighting human trafficking.

The Polaris Project:
The Somaly Mam Foundation:
Human Trafficking:
Catholic Relief Services:
The Human Trafficking Project:
Franciscans International:
International Justice Mission: (main page not loading for me, so I'm linking to their Facebook site) Thanks, Ruthanne!!
Project Exodus: (Thanks, Tami!)