Monday, December 24, 2012

Cheap Waste

This attitude of “It’s cheap, let’s buy more!” is precisely what is fueling the fast fashion industry. By pumping out millions of new styles at lower prices every week, retailers have consumers hooked and coming back over and over again. But the drive down to the lowest price has had significant consequences: Not only has it almost annihilated the U.S. garment production and textile industry, but it has also weakened the quality of our clothing and increased the amount of waste. (One Salvation Army in Brooklyn amasses eighteen tons of unsellable clothing every three days!)

For more: Clueless About Fashion?

It's not just clothes. When I went to visit my aunt and uncle in Australia with my 9 month old son, they pulled out a box of toys their children had played with twenty years ago. My son reached for the sturdy wooden and metal toys -- faded and well-loved, but still usable -- and immediately began to pound them on the floor. Mostly they were classic toys, like this pull-toy giraffe. There was a doll house with wooden dolls and some furniture, assorted blocks, and a peg board with hammer. Toys that required imagination and encouraged creativity had lasted and still enchanted my son all those years later.

I am sorry to say that most of what my children play with is made of plastic. The reason? Cheap and Easy. Part of it is out of my hands; I made the decision a long time ago that I was not going to be the kind of sister or daughter-in-law that took away gifts I didn't approve of or dictated what my kids could receive. But I greatly admire those moms who do. My line in the sand revolves around food. I am totally THAT MOM when it comes to food.

I digress. The point is that our materialistic "buy cheap and throw it away a week later" consumer culture means that we are surrounded by tons of worthless goods. And then a holiday like Christmas comes, and we go out and buy more!

This year, I took away my daughter's birthday gifts because she refused to pick up after herself. She had opened two playsets, spilled the contents everywhere, and then threw a tantrum when I asked her to put it all away. So her birthday presents have been sitting in a bag in my bedroom for three months. (I should add that this was a week after I had taken away all her Barbies, Ponies, Baby dolls, stuffed animals, and tea set for the same reason.) Since she has no toys, she has been doing papercrafting, playing with her brother, and prancing around the house singing. I'll admit that much of my parenting strategy here stems from my Hyperemesis. I would probably be more proactive about teaching her to clean up after herself or going through her toys to donate/store those she's not interested in, but I am watching the world go by from a couch and am just not able to right now.

At any rate, she is not suffering from having nothing to play with. My whole issue with the kids and their refusal to clean up after themselves stems entirely from the fact that they have TOO MIUCH STUFF and what they have is cheap and too easily replacable. They do not value their possessions. Also, they have no concept of money, so the $250 American Girl doll gets tossed aside as easily as the $5 My Little Pony.

Internet friends: your suggestions please? I have tried many things, including rotating bins in the storeroom, taking away what doesn't get cleaned and requiring the kids to "earn" it back with a chore, donating bags of forgotten or outgrown toys, implementing a "one in, one out" policy, and creating a play space in the basement where all the kids toys are supposed to spend their time. All of these methods have failed or backfired, and I still have spoiled kids who whine for new toys while completely mistreating the things they have.

New Year, new leaf. I want to get a handle on the materialism and cheapness of our family culture. How do you teach your kids to respect and value their possessions?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Warning, bit of a rant coming up.

Okay, this is not how I usually do things, but in these circumstances I'm just going to paste part of an email I wrote to a friend because it's very much how I am feeling. I honestly don't have the time or energy to make it sound more understanding of those with different viewpoints, so please, if you are not Catholic or think that Catholic teaching is hooey, just don't bother reading, or if you choose to read and see yourself in these paragraphs, please don't take it personally that I have opinions about the choices you have made.

So. I'm pregnant. (SURPRISE!) Baby #4 has impeccable timing! Marital issues, emotional issues, financial strain, and an 18 month old who at the time of conception was still nursing three times a night. Needless to say, we have adjusted our lives dramatically and are hunkering down for the four months of misery that is my hyperemesis gravidarum. If anyone has prayers they're willing to give out, please send some my way.

We have had mixed reactions to the news of our unexpected blessing, ranging from the sublime (from my sister who said "God has His reasons, and I know that beauty and good are going to come from this") to the ridiculous (my husband is hesitant to tell his work about the situation because "It's not like you have cancer. I mean, people have ideas about pregnancy being preventable.")

I am not thrilled that I have to go through 16 weeks of torture as I throw up constantly and struggle to keep from being dehydrated and hospitalized. I am not looking forward to missing out on everything my kids do for the next four months, or going to bed at 7 pm every night, or having to watch holidays from afar while other people enjoy decorating, eating festive foods, and celebrating. I fully understand this is a lot to ask of our family, and I am humbly and exceptionally grateful for any help whatsoever.

But this does not change my commitment to NFP. Here is why:

It's such a fine line between faith and expecting things of God. I know that the Saints asked God for miracles and trusted that He would provide. And I know that what He may provide me is different than what I may expect. But I have felt this way with every pregnancy, the anger, the injustice of it, the confusion and "why me?" and disappointment. I don't know God's plan. His ways are mysterious to us. It doesn't matter anyway, I know that I'm supposed to soldier on. I still pray and still feel His comfort. I just wish I could have a miracle, you know? A real tangible sign of God's presence and power. Something that could turn Dan's very hardened heart and make him realize that there is more out there. Maybe that's not the way God wants to reveal Himself to Dan, though. I don't know.

The thing with rules is that they're not there for their own sake. The rules are meant to order our minds and priorities to what God values. They reveal something about what God wants and who God is. So when He says from the Mount: Thou shall not kill, He is revealing how much He values human life. Now, secular culture says that babies and pregnancy are burdens that should only be undertaken when the circumstances are perfect. God says that life is a gift and it needs to be embraced and welcomed in any circumstance. I have friends who follow the contraception mentality, and they have one child, or two children, because "It's too hard" or "I need my sleep" or "It will affect my career to take time off" or "We can't afford another one" which is such a lie in this country of prosperity. One friend won't speak to me anymore because she is so hurt by the fact that she is infertile after waiting so long to try again for a second child, whereas I get pregnant without trying. I think about how much joy a child brings into the lives of the family, and it hurts my heart to know how many babies are aborted or contracepted against for the sake of convenience. I have read in magazines stories about women who refuse to have another child, even though their husbands desperately want more children, because they don't want to sacrifice their careers or because they don't like having to get up in the middle of the night to feed a baby. Like, seriously? One or two years of discomfort to provide your son or daughter with a sibling, and to fulfill your husband's heart's desire, and you're unwilling to do that? Not to mention that one article said the husband would do the night feedings, and she still refused because "he shouldn't have to do something I find so distasteful!" Talk about improper priorities and closed-mindedness. 

The Church's teachings are there to help us understand God's truth. They are not based on nothing, but rather on thousands of years of divine revelation. They are true for all times, places, and people. Yes, they're meant to work with your conscience and your particular situation. When I talked with my Pastor about contraception he said that there could be an argument for someone in my position to use a barrier method for various reasons (married to an unbeliever, long periods of abstinence required, grave danger/distruption with a pregnancy.) But the point is, getting a vasectomy is closing a door and saying "I place the secular values of sex without consequences and material prosperity above the joy and privilege of bringing new life into the world." 

It's a slippery slope. We can see the evidence in the culture around us. What is the outcome of the contraception mentality? Anti-family, anti-mothering attitudes that view staying home to care for your children as a little death and a waste of your time and education. Abortion, because no one should have to bear a child unless they want it and it's in perfect circumstances. Devaluing of those who DO make the sacrifice to bear a child (like Dan's firm thinking cancer was an acceptable reason to help out a family but pregnancy is not.) Disavowing of responsibility to help mothers and children, because it's solely a woman's CHOICE, and why should a man have to care for a child he helped conceive when she is the one who chose to bear it? Or what about the rise in surrogacy and IVF because having a child is a RIGHT not a privilege and by gosh, it's perfectly acceptable to abort six fetuses to carry one child to term or to use some poor woman in India for her uterus in order to satisfy our American attitude of What I Want When I Want It! Pope Pius XI warned against all this, and predicted exactly the attitudes and issues that our culture is facing right now when he wrote his encyclical against contraception in 1960 and he was dismissed as an old fart with no understanding of the needs of a modern woman. I understand that it's difficult to be infertile, and to long for a child without being able to conceive. It's difficult to get pregnant unexpectedly and have your whole life change! But sometimes suffering makes us better people because it requires us to value something above ourselves and our plans! Our society has lost the sense of sacrifice as a virtue. Now sacrifice is unnecessary, it's a problem. If you're making a sacrifice it's not valued! It's considered irresponsible, particularly if your sacrifice requires other people to make sacrifices too. Jesus gave His life for us. I think I can give 9 months of nausea for this precious new life. This burden is temporary. When you weigh it against a whole person's life, it's worth it. 

As I've said before, I would have a serious conversation with Dan about getting a vasectomy if it's something that he needs and if it will make the difference between a good marriage and a divorce. It would be a sacrifice I would make for our marriage, because his well-being is very important to me, and I believe there is space to make decisions based on circumstance. But it is going against my beliefs and my values, not just because the Church speaks against it, but because I truly believe that God wants married couples to be open to life. 

I believe it should be HARD to be a good Catholic. If it's easy, then we're not doing it right. The Christian message challenges us in every way to be counter cultural and a light on a hill. My conscience wants to follow Church teaching because I am in clear understanding that the teaching is for my spiritual good. I still struggle. We are all human and it's true: our souls are in our own hands and not the responsibility of anyone else.

I remember talking with my spiritual director once after Maizie was born about how scared I was to trust God with NFP before my cycle returned to normal. He said, "Well, you're doing the right thing by following God, and I think He will reward you for it." I said, "Yes, Father, but what if He rewards me with a baby?" I feel that's what God has done. He has forced us into baby #4 because we weren't going to go there on our own. I would have preferred more time in between, but people have babies closer together than this and Maizie is going to be fine. Just because it's not ideal doesn't mean it's not a blessing. How does that poem go? Whatever comes, Praise God. For good or ill, Praise God. In sickness and health, Praise God. Or something like that.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Freedom and Suffering

I think I am drawing closer to acceptance. I was reflecting today on what it means to be free. For if God has given us our freedom, it means we are responsible for our choices. We are not puppets, moved about by an omnipotent God, chess pieces on the board of the universe. We are free, autonomous creatures, who can only do good through obedience to His way.

So it's wrong for me to expect that God will do anything to change this situation. He can't perform miracles in the absence of faith, because to do so would be going against the will of the individual person. God created us with a will, and He honors that will. Someone who does not want to be healed will not be healed. Someone who does not want to be changed will not be changed.

God has provided me with everything I need, including sisters in Christ (both online and in real life) to give me with strength, example, advice, and support. He has given me Himself, ever present in the Holy Eucharist, and a Church family that is among the best in the country, if not the world. He has given me wealth and other resources that I can use to educate myself and purchase assistance (babysitters, parenting courses, occasional massages) to make it through this rough patch. And He has given me faith, which puts me far ahead of others suffering this kind of challenge.

With the freedom we are given, we can choose to be petty and inflict pain on others, to stand by and watch as they suffer, or to turn away and ignore their plight. But God does not want us to make those choices. He wants us to use our freedom to willingly forgive others the debts they owe us, to reach out to those who are suffering and hep them, to stand with those who are vulnerable and weak.

It's often not easy to choose good. We fall away so easily and have to expend great effort to climb back up to where we want to be. That is where God helps us: on the path to goodness. That is His promise, that He will not forsake us.

"...since my mother bore me you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help." Ps 22:10-11

But even if you suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. 1 Peter 3:14

Monday, September 3, 2012

Kindle Reviews: The Weird Sisters, North and South, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown
This New York Times bestseller deals with the lives of three sisters, Rose, Bianca, and Cordelia, whose father is a Shakespeare nut and professor of English literature at a small, private college in the Northeast. Having grown up in a college town, all three sisters have a love-hate relationship with it that forms one of the themes of the book. Whether they are trying to run from their past, find their way home, or spread their wings and leave the nest, each sister has to deal directly with her personal demons in the face of their mother's illness and their own changing lives. I have a sister, so it's always fascinating to me to read books about family dynamics and see what similarities and differences there are in the ways other people form the bonds of sisterhood and daughterhood. If I had any criticism of this book, it's that the stereotypes are too broadly drawn and simplistic. The "homebody" is a bossy goody two-shoes intent on perfectionism, the "gypsy" has no roots, no standards, and no future, while the "rebel" lies, cheats, sleeps around and feels empty inside. Yet each character achieves growth over the course of the novel, and the ending leaves them in a place that makes sense for who they are. A good read, well written, nothing earth-shattering.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
I came to this book by way of the BBC miniseries starting Richard Armitage. I loved the social commentary, the feminist protagonist who manages to still be feminine, and of course, the romance at the heart of the story. When I realized it was based off a novel, I sought it out and found it for free on Amazon Kindle Classics. In fact, the complete works of Elizabeth Gaskell are available for $2. As is always the case, I read the book with the movie in mind, hoping that I wouldn't be disappointed or upset by the differences. Happily, the book is exactly as I hoped it would be. It expands greatly on the tough social issues of unions, a living wage, relations between master and worker, and the role of charity and ethics in business. The book's main conflict is between the workers in Millton and the mill owners, among them the self-made John Thornton. Margaret Hale, a pastor's daughter from the south, comes to live in Milton and is greatly affected by the tensions of the city. As an concerned outsider, she moves easily between classes and is able to have a positive effect on the opinions and sensibilities of both. If anything, the book made me more appreciative of the BBC adaptation. While the book is excellent, it lacks the sense of immediacy and passion that are so evident in the film, while the film, naturally, lacks the depth of the book. I can happily recommend both for their individual merits, without concern that one would detract from or destroy the joys of either experience. Highest recommendation. Supersedes even Austen.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
In 1951, an African-American woman named Henrietta Lacks lay dying of advanced cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. At that same hospital, a scientist named George Gey had been trying, without success, to grow a line of human cells for use in medical research. When Gey attempts a sample of Lacks' tissues, they begin to grow and, against all expectations, they continue growing. Known as HeLa, the cell line is still dividing and reproducing to this day, and has made possible the entire field of cellular research. Scientists using HeLa have tested vaccines for polio, made advancements in their understanding of various forms of cancer and viruses, begun the mapping of the human genome, and developed treatments for many diseases that were considered impossible to cure. Yet this story is much more than science labs, test tubes, microscopes, and mitosis. It is the story of Henrietta Lacks and her family, who were completely unaware of their mother's contribution to science until twenty five years after her death, and who hold a mixed and complicated relationship with the cell line that is her legacy. By turns triumphant and tragic, the story of Henrietta Lacks and her cells is fascinating, inspiring, and troubling. I hope it is the sort of book that becomes required reading in every high school ethics class, for it is a perfect case study of modern medical ethics and the advances made possible by technology.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


There has been so much going on internally over the past few months, but very little of it that I feel I can share in a public forum. I can briefly say that I am struggling in my marriage, struggling with depression, and searching for a way to express myself when the people around me oppose my views on everything that is important to me.

I am seeing a counselor. I am taking joy in my children (especially the baby.) I am reading extensively. I have a network of friends who are helping me get through the days. I am in solidarity with those around the world who feel unimportant, and all those who suffer from mental illness, who wish they could fix their minds and who find themselves acting and saying things beyond their control.

I hope to search out a way to share more specifics without violating the privacy of my family members. I feel I may be coming closer to some truths about the Christian life, and about myself, that may be helpful for anyone looking to connect their day to day lives to the poor.

I am very aware of the patronage of the Holy and Blessed St. Frances of Rome, and ask her particular intersession on my situation.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Kindle Reviews: Relentless, How to Hepburn, Anna Dressed in Blood, A Monster Calls, and the Doomsday Book

My husband got me a Kindle for Mother's Day. I fight technology and the acquisition of new "stuff" pretty vociferously, but he just knew me better than I know myself and went right ahead and made the purchase.

And it's AWESOME. I love reading and never seem to have the time. Which I know isn't true. I know I have time to read if I have time to blog, surf, veg, or chat. Yet somehow reading doesn't happen. The book I want is downstairs, or I left it at home when I went to my daughter's art class and it turns out the baby is asleep and I have 20 minutes, or I think of bringing the book when I leave for the park but it's really heavy and I don't want to carry it, or I can't handle it with one hand while nursing the baby, etc etc. My Kindle is tiny, light, easy to carry, and holds everything.

Plus, my Kindle has my blog reading list on it, so now when I'm online I just click the articles I want to read later (Reabability is a great program I use for this purpose) and it sends them to my Kindle. I could spend two hours surfing and reading online and when it's over I remember very little of what I read and still feel like I wasted my time even though I was spending it reading. So now I spend less time online and feel like I am accomplishing more.

A few summers ago, I had read a great book about what the internet does to our brains (The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, which I give my highest recommendation: it is a MUST READ) and his main premise is that the presence of so many options available to us when we are online keeps the "choice" part of our brains activated, and when this short-term part is active we lose the capacity for deep, long-term thinking. My Kindle does not have pop ups, and once I make the choice to read an article, I read through it without the ability to click on any hyperlinks, even those that reference a related article. I have to sit there and read what I am reading, and that's it. (When I put articles into Readability, I scroll down to see if the author hyperlinks a reference article, and often open that up and put it in my reader, too. The best part is that it fits them into my Kindle from newest to oldest, so I can read in chronological order the argument as it proceeds from the original idea. Super awesomeness abounds!)

At any rate, this has resulted in my being able to read books again. Here are my reviews of several books I've read on my Kindle since Mother's Day:

Relentless, the Search for Typhoid Mary by Joan Meijer
Equal parts history, epidemiology, tragedy, and romance, this book reads like a mystery detective novel complete with thrilling chase scenes, near misses, and fist-pounding frustration. It is written in the POV of both the title character (Mary Mallon, an asymptomatic carrier of the typhoid virus who was employed for many years as a cook in the homes of wealthy upstate New Yorkers at the turn of the last century) and the "relentless" Department of Health inspector (George Soper) who tracks her down as the cause of various typhoid outbreaks and then has to continue to chase her as she stubbornly refuses to stop working as a cook. The heart of the story, though, is the character of Mary, who is presented as a whole person with dreams and struggles. Knowing her, as we come to do over the course of the book, the reader is left with a strong sympathy for her plight and a deep sense of injustice as to how she was treated.

How to Hepburn: Life Lessons from Kate the Great by Karen Karbo
I came to this book knowing nothing about Katherine Hepburn aside from the fact that she was a beautiful movie star who liked to wear pants. The author did a great job putting together a humorous portrait of this unique woman under the guise of dispensing advice on how to emulate her. After about three pages I knew there was no way I would ever be able "to Hepburn." I don't have the self-assurance that is the lynchpin of brashness! Still, I can't deny that Hepburn is a compelling subject and I enjoyed the book immensely. Ms. Karbo writes with panache and had me laughing out loud in several places. She manages to explain some of Kate's more outlandish behaviors in a way that makes her seem a very real person -- no small feat when you consider how many conflicting stories surround this legendary woman. I was glad to learn more about her.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
This is a young adult novel that came recommended on one of the writing blogs I frequent. I started reading it late at night, and that was a mistake. It is decidedly gruesome and creepy, and there is a body count. The main character, Cas Lowood, is a ghost "killer." With the help of his trusty athame, he sends dangerous ghosts (for these specters actually kill innocent people who stray into their paths) to the beyond. He gets more than he bargains for when he tracks a lead to a small town where Anna, the ghost of a 15 year old girl, is haunting her old family home. Anna is much more difficult to kill than the other ghosts he's encountered, not least because he finds himself sympathizing with her more than her victims. The paranormal romance serves as a backdrop to the main plot, which revolves around Cas' attempt to fulfill his destiny. The side characters are mostly two dimensional, and I didn't like the twist towards the end. However, it resolved in an organic and mostly satisfying way. I don't usually enjoy ghost stories, but this was a page turner.

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness
This was another YA book, but it deals with a very mature subject. Connor O'Malley has a bunch of problems. His mother is very ill, battling cancer that doesn't seem to be going away. His fussy, bossy grandmother is forcing him to live with her while his mom is in the hospital, since his dad is too busy with his new wife and baby. He's being bullied at school by a gang of boys, but even that's better than the pitying looks he gets from everyone else. Oh, and there's an enormous Tree Monster telling him stories that make no sense and leaving yew berries all over his room every night. This is a magical book, poignant and historic, with beauty on every page. The stories are morally problematic (infected with the modern disease of relativistic pointlessness), but they fit the situation and lead to an important emotional truth that Connor needs to learn. This is the sort of SF I love: a book about real issues that uses magic to reveal the truth of the human condition. Very well done.

The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
Winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, this book is a magnificent piece of historical fiction. Kivrin, a history student of the future, time travels back to the fourteenth century to do research on the middle ages. She feels she has been well prepared by her professors and her mentor, Mr. Dunworthy, but nothing can prepare her for what happens when she finally arrives at her destination. Meanwhile, the modern (2048) world she has left behind finds itself facing a crisis that prevents help from reaching Kivrin when she most needs it. I found myself entirely caught up in the fates of both centuries, and must warn you that this is not a book to be read without a packet of tissues at hand. I cannot recommend it enough; it is in every way perfection.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday

YAY! Last week of Lent! Easter's almost here! This is the home stretch of Lent, where it gets harder before it gets easier. I'm looking forward to Holy Week and spending some time contemplating the Passion. Dan's parents are coming for Easter (woo!) and I'm going to make Easter Bread from my mom's recipe, which is so ridiculous and convoluted but makes such a nice loaf that I'm going to make the attempt this year.

I was talking with my good friend from high school about our Lenten experience this year and we were both bemoaning that we don't feel we really did much. I told her that I had done the bare minimum (gave up something, prayed the Rosary every day, abstained from meat on Fridays, fasted once, and went to Adoration/Holy hour once.) Like, if there's a checklist, I made sure I could check off each item, but I didn't push myself.

Also, I had hoped that by giving up the internets for Lent I would spend more time reading spiritual books (didn't happen) or praying (nope.) Instead, what I did was a whole lot more cleaning and cooking.

I was reflecting on that last night and realizing that serving my family is a form of devotion. Corporal works of mercy anyone? In addition, I DO have a good prayer life. I make use of the sacraments and traditions of the Church, I pray daily (both traditionally and extemporaneously,) I make a morning offering and evening prayer, and I follow the guidelines of the Church. True, I didn't go to Stations this year, but that was a logistical decision (having three children who are difficult to keep quiet) rather than because I was lazy. I should not feel guilty that I didn't do enough.

I've honestly been feeling that way about EVERYTHING. I'm not spending enough time with the kids, or enough time on the house, or enough time doing what I want to do, or enough time with Dan, or enough time with friends. I mean, I have tons of stuff on my plate and I feel like I'm doing all of it badly.

In my heart I know this isn't true. My house is clean enough. It's not spotless, but it's fine. Time with friends includes running my mother's group, talking with people on the phone, and being there as much as I can for those who need me. I do that. Time with my kids INCLUDES taking them to activities!!!! These past two weeks I've taken both older kids to a museum of their choice and thrown a birthday party for the baby (1 on Wednesday!) I am a present and involved parent. Period. And I'm a good wife who re-watches LOST episodes with her husband so we can discuss it (not that I don't get enjoyment out of re-watching LOST, what an awesome show that was.)

So why do I feel so inadequate? Whatever the reason, it's not of God. So I'm choosing to ignore it and soldier on.

I have to give a plug to Style, Sex, and Substance, which I've been reading while I nurse the baby for her morning nap. SO MUCH WISDOM AND HUMOR in these pages! I've been drawing lots of strength and comfort from the stories of women like me who are struggling to balance all the demands of life with serving the Lord and growing spiritually. I am thankful for the community of Catholic women on the internet, the authors of this book in particular, and all those whose blogs give me comfort and inspiration on the road to holiness.

God Bless all of you!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Consistent Ethic of Love: Humility

My MIL paid me the nicest compliment the other day. While helping me get ready for a special dinner out, she looked at the clothes we were trying to form into a nice outfit and said, "You could look like a model but you don't have anything to wear that's model-like."

The compliment was in both parts of that statement, because although I'm very flattered she thinks I'm pretty enough to be paid for it, what really pleases me is that we didn't find anything in my closet that would announce "Look at me, I am rich and beautiful."

It's not that I don't love fashion. Or that I don't want to look nice. I do take care with my appearance. But mostly what I have in my closet are things people have given to me as a gift, because I have made the conscious decision not to spend our money on clothes for myself. The last time I bought myself something, it was with Kohl's Cash (don't you love Kohl's?)I earned from shopping for Christmas gifts, so I was limited to whatever they had available at the store that week. Everything else I buy for myself is usually from a thrift store.

Why is this related to taking the poor with me? Because it requires humility. When I receive a gift of clothing (whether it's my style or not,) it is now part of my closet. If I ask for a pair of khakis and receive a pair of jeans, I don't go out and buy khakis. When I have a special dinner, I have to choose from what I already have, and if my most favorite shoes, a gift from my sister, don't match anything in my closet, then I have to compromise and "make it work" with whatever I can find. Or I have to wait until I spy something at the thrift store.

There is a poorness of spirit inherent in living humbly and allowing myself to be dressed by others, as the poor must often do. Detachment from material goods is a necessary component of true Christian spirituality, as St. Francis of Assisi describes:

"...the treasure of blessed poverty is so surpassingly worthy and so divine that we are not worthy to contain it in these utterly vile vessels, for poverty is that heavenly virtue by which the things of earth and time are all trodden underfooot, by which all obstacles are removed, and the human mind is freely joined with God Eternal."

Br. Michael H. Crosby, author of "The Spirituality of the Beatitudes" writes:

Poverty can be sanctioned only if it is freely embraced as a way to promote that reign of God more concretely on our world. Otherwise it contradicts the blessedness and goodness of God; it is a curse that violates god's plan. It signifies that the reign of God has not yet fully arrived. To experience that reign more fully, to experience its authority and power, it is necessary to reorder our possessions on behalf of the poor. Jesus offers no other way to experience the treasure of heaven except solidarity with the poor.

Bl. Josemaria Escriva enumerates on this:

It is time to do away with the uncontrolled consumerism that seeks an ever higher degree of material well-being; time for sobriety in drinking, eating, and buying clothes; time for generosity to people and organisations that are struggling, or that are involved in working for the good of others; time to moderate our expenditure; time for the kind of advertising that does not aim to arouse desire for whatever is most expensive; time to reflect on how to educate our children in a practical knowledge of what things cost, and why efforts are demanded of them; time to do without some superfluous creature-comfort or unnecessary whim…
Superfluous creature-comfort...Oh, how easy it is to desire these! I need to point out here that my closet is chock full of clothes. I am certainly not suffering a lack of things to wear, for every season, and I am often complimented on my appearance. The sort of "poverty" I am embracing is only a hardship because we Americans are so spoiled with choices and freedoms that refraining from a trip to the mall seems like a huge sacrifice, when in reality it's about as worthy as a billionaire taking a commercial flight to the Bahamas instead of his private jet. Ohhh, here's the worlds smallest violin playing just for me...

But it does take humility. And it is a conscious choice. I do it specifically to keep myself humble and to live in solidarity with those who don't have the sort of luxuries we consider commonplace. I'm curious about the little ways other people practice humility and evangelical poverty in this extremely comfortable world we inhabit. If you do this, what is your sacrifice and how does it work in your lives?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Consistent Ethic of Love: Marriage

I intend this to be the first in a series exploring the interrelations between poverty and the choices we make every day.

Joseph Cardinal Bernadin, the late Archbishop of Chicago, spoke about a "Consistent Ethic of Life" in which the Church's position on abortion, capital punishment and war stem from the same principle. It has always inspired me. There has been criticism of his ideas (to which Fr. Pavone has compiled a list of responses) but they are, I believe, from people who misunderstand his underlying message.

In like manner, I wish to explore a "consistent ethic of love" as it relates to the poor. Just as respect for human life is at the heart of Catholic teaching on many modern political issues, so should love for humanity at the heart of the choices we make as individuals. I truly believe, and it is the foundation of this blog, that my choices and actions from day to day have an impact (hopefully positive!) on the downtrodden, the defenseless, the hungry, the sorrowing and the needy.

Since it is my vocation, and the primary means by which I serve the Lord, I will start with marriage and its fundamental corollary: motherhood.

I did not set out to help the poor when I got married. In fact, as I've written in the past, I sometimes feel as though my desire to marry got in the way of a different call to help the poor. What happened, really, was that I fell totally in love and couldn't imagine a future that didn't include my husband.

But if I reflect on it, I have actually been given more opportunities to serve the poor through my marriage than I could have imagined. First and foremost are my children, of course, who came to me utterly helpless and lacking every basic need. I have fed, clothed, comforted, taught, and cared for them, these little lambs of the Most High. I have this poem by my bathroom sink, so every morning I can remind myself to take pride in my service as a mother, and to treat my kids with gentleness and patience, knowing that they are standing in for Christ.

I have also been given the chance to spread the Gospel, since I married an unbeliever. Whether or not he ever accepts Christ, he nonetheless is gaining most of his knowledge about Christianity from me and my example. If that's not a humbling, frightening prospect, I don't know what is.

Finally, my marriage has given me an opportunity to suffer for the poor. It's an uncomfortable concept, but I think it's a critical one. There is suffering in the submission of oneself to one's vocation, where my desires and interests must come second to the needs and good of my marriage. I have a wonderful marriage, yet even though I love and respect my husband, it is hard to put him first. It is hard when I don't get what I want, or when I have to change my plans because we are not in agreement about them.

No marriage is perfect. I would not trade my husband for anyone, but sometimes he is cruel, thoughtless, stubborn, petty, and selfish. I'm fortunate that these moments are very few and far between, but of course I can remember each one of them with soul-crushing clarity, much as I try to put them from my mind. There is suffering in marriage, as there is in any real relationship. There is humility, too, because whatever he has said and done to me, I have said and done to him twice over. He is the better partner, the better lover, the better provider, the better parent, and the better person. And oh, does it stick in my craw that he's a more patient and cheerful bearer of ills than I, who have Christ and His Spirit to sustain me! Buh.

As a child, whenever I was faced with an unhappy situation, whether from teasing at school or problems at home, I consoled myself with the same promise: someday, I will be free of all this. I had the good fortune to be born in a democratic, Western nation, and to have access to education and the likelihood of a future where I could make my own decisions. I clung to the promise of freedom; I imagined the day I could simply walk away from any situation I disliked, and from any person whose company didn't please me.

Most of the poor do not have such promises in their future. If they are born into poverty, there is no access to education to raise them from it. Girls often go from the tyranny of their fathers to the tyranny of their husbands without a choice in the matter. There are more than 12 million slaves in the world, some of them right here in America. A mother in a refugee camp cannot change her situation, and must simply watch and weep as her children starve.

I don't for a nanosecond intend to imply that being married is at all like being sold into slavery, nor do I think I can even comprehend the feelings of someone married against her will. All I am saying is that there is a permanence in the condition I have chosen for myself, and that through it I have learned about submission to the pains of reality in a way I could not have understood before I took a vow for "all the days of my life."

My marriage is one way I serve the poor, both those in my family and those for whose lives I offer my small and petty sufferings. Foremost among these, I offer the sufferings of my pride and independence, because in most places around the world, it is freedom the poor lack most.

Friday, January 13, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday

1. I keep having posts run through my head but then I am not A. organized enough to sit down and type them or B. confident enough that they're worth writing. So I figured I'd do a few, briefly, and see if they turn into anything longer.

2. Wednesday was End Human Trafficking day. I've posted on this before, and here are some other good ideas for how to get involved: visit Not For Sale, which has an App for the iPhone to scan barcodes and see if the companies have adequate policies in place to address child labor in its product chain. Sponsor someone marching in DC at the Project to End Human Trafficking. Sign a petition (or two) on in the Human Trafficking section. Take the survey to determine your Slavery Footprint (I have 55 slaves working for me) and become more aware about the issue. Fast and pray for those caught up in trafficking, both for victims and perpetrators.

3. At my mother's group, which meets twice a month, we do a monthly challenge. January's is to sacrifice for my husband the way I sacrifice for my kids. So often we pour ourselves out for these small souls, wiping up their bodily functions or playing ponies when it's the last thing we feel like doing, yet we are joyful in our giving and do not ask for recompense. The challenge is to carry that over into our marriage this month, to give wholly out of love without expecting anything in return. I think it's such a lovely thought, and the timing is good because my husband is pretty stressed with work right now and I have many opportunities to pour love out on him!

4. I've been working on changing our eating habits to be more in line with a Nourishing Traditions approach. It means eating more fermented products, soaking my grains before cooking them, and generally eating a more traditional diet. So far I'm loving it. Our "beef" with the Paleo diet (which we tried over the summer) was that it required far too much reliance on meat as the base, and we don't think this is either economical or globally sustainable. However, knowing that properly prepared grains are beneficial to the body, and stretching meat the way our great-grandmothers used to do (like using bones to make broth and flavor soups, or by eating organs and other cheap cuts) we can eat well and nourish ourselves fully, without breaking the bank or contributing to food shortages.

5. We're going to Disneyworld this year. I am freaking out about it on so many different levels. I am trying my best not to be that person in the family who complains and looks negatively at anything new or challenging, but it's hard because my personality tends to the over-reaction side of things. For now, I am trying to keep the crazy mostly between myself and God, where it belongs, and be positive with those who are joining me on the trip. Advice from those of you with small children who have gone is much appreciated!

6. I struggle with impatience. I'm in good company, I know. It seems to be a national problem, and I believe it's what has put our economy in this precarious position , and what's contributed to our rising obesity rate. This year I have decided to work on this fault, and have chosen as my word for 2012 "gentleness." Gentle people are not impatient. They wait humbly, or else quietly do as they think right without making a fuss. I hope this will improve my parenting, make me abetter wife and friend, and draw me closer to God in emulation of that paragon of gentleness, Mary.

7. I did start these on Friday. Sigh.

More Quick Takes at Jen's site.