Our Improper Use of the Word Love

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There is a phenomenon that is largely prevalent in my generation and the generations younger than me.  It is the overuse and incorrect use of the word love.  I think that mass advertising has had a huge impact on this trend.  Have you ever stopped to really listen to the garbage coming out of your speakers?  Have you ever been appalled by an ad on the radio or TV?  You’re not alone.  Last Christmas, the ads were so bad that I finally started shutting off the radio.  We are constantly told that we will “love” products and services.  Think about it.  McDonald’s has a slogan that says “I’m Lovin’ It”.

 
The problem is that this has slipped into my consciousness and vocabulary.  I will tell people that I “love” pumpkin spice lattes, or a particular show, or song.  But do I really “love” these things?  Am I professing my deep devotion to inanimate objects.  Do I will their good?  Do I want what is best for that pumpkin cake donut from Dunkin’ Donuts?  No.  I want to enjoy that donut.  It’s light fluffy pumpkin infused with spices sweetness makes my taste buds do a happy dance, but I am not going to give my life for that donut.
 
The issue is that words matter.  How we express ourselves comes from what we believe about the world around us.  It also shows us how much the world has been absorbed by our psyches.  In telling someone that I “love” some food or product, I am saying that I have in fact taken in our materialist culture.  I do equate love to food.  I have crossed into the land of gluttony and idolatry.
 
The overuse of the word “love” also points to a culture that has truly lost the definition of that word.  In saying that I love some inanimate object, I am saying that “love” is purely how something makes me feel.  Pumpkin spice lattes make me feel warm, happy, and snuggly.  That’s similar to how I feel about my husband, right?  Wrong!  It also shows why people are discarded as easily as things.  They are objects for my mere enjoyment and amusement; that is the new definition of love.
 
The first time I realized the error I was making in my speech as a couple winters ago.  Our parish priest had come over for dinner for the first time.  He was there to bless our rental home.  I had made cous cous and proceeded to tell him that I “loved” it.  He said that he “liked” it to.  That really struck me.  Not just as a generational difference, he is 12 years older than me.  It stuck out to me because it revealed an error that I had stated.  I enjoy cous cous.  It is mighty tasty, but I am not in love with cous cous.
 
I have had to catch myself numerous times since then.  There is a reason that languages all have different verbs for “to love”, “to enjoy”, and “to like”.  They are different in profound ways.  I can enjoy a walk in the woods, but I don’t love it.  I can like a chocolate cake, but once again I do not love it.  I am not going to give up my life for that cake if need be. 
 
Our society has lost a true grasp on what love truly means.  The Cross is what love means.  A total self-emptying for the good of another.  St. Thomas Aquinas defined love, “as willing the good of the other, as other”.  It means wanting another’s good even if that means we ourselves must give something up.  It means wanting what is best for a person, even if it is unpopular.
 
As the Christmas season rolls out here in the next few weeks, pay attention to the ads you hear on the radio or see on TV.  You will begin to see a trend where jewelry, electronics, clothes, food, etc. are all portrayed as things to love, things to fulfill you.  Thankfully, I am fully in the season of Advent and do not begin celebrating Christmas until Gaudete Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent. My family and I then celebrate Christmas throughout January, as it is celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church.  That means that I am largely ignoring ads and superficial Christmas songs about “Santa Baby”.
 
Do you struggle with the improper use of “love” like I do.  I would hazard a guess that if you are under 35, you have used the verb in the wrong manner at least once or twice.  Think about it the next time it comes out of your mouth.  Do you really love what is front of you, or is just a gift to enjoy for a moment?

Leading With Joy in Parenting

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Lately I have seen a lot of articles on how our culture is fearful of children.  There is even a new phobia of pregnant women that has been in the news.  Time ran a piece on child free living a while back.  All of these articles make me deeply sad for these people.  When I look back on my Twenties when I was single,  I can say that I had periods of happiness.  I got to live where I wanted, do whatever I wanted, and I was in charge of my life.  At least that is what I thought.

 By the time I was 28 I had left my home-state of Montana and had lived in Chicago, California, Texas, Maryland, Washington DC, England, Washington DC again, and then Montana again, Washington DC again, Tennessee, North Carolina, and I am now planted in Virginia.  In January of 2014 I will have lived in the same general area for 3.25 years, the longest I have lived anywhere since I was 18.
All of this travel helped me in fostering my Wanderlust spirit.  I was able to see a huge portion of this country and parts of Europe.  I marveled at history.  I remember how awe-struck I was to be standing on Roman ruins at Yorkminster in York, England.  I stood before paintings by Rembrandt.  I experienced the romantic beauty of Paris.  I walked the streets of Washington DC in springtime.  I stood before the Eagle and Child in Oxford and imagined how the Inklings must have met in that dark pub.  I dated and was able to enjoy the frustration, excitement, and happiness of new relationships.  I worked in multiple careers.  But the truth is that I was unfulfilled, bored even.  I was bored interning at The Heritage Foundation.  I had a highly competitive and enviable internship at the top conservative think-tank in the world, and I was bored.
When I had everything that I ever wanted, I was the most unfulfilled.  My faith journey was stagnant and capricious.  I flitted in and out of Mass as I saw fit and dabbled in various Protestant denominations.  I was a cultural Catholic who was lost.  Having a dream job and future prospects, living in my favorite city, and living in the political power of our country, left me empty.  Yes, I had periods of happiness in my Twenties, but it was incomplete.
I left DC and moved to the mountains of Tennessee where I finally met my husband.   Three months after we were married, I was pregnant with our daughter.
To be honest, I was so delirious and struggling with post-partum depression that the first 6 months of parenting are a blur.  They were marked with periods of great joy and great struggle.  Parenthood is a challenge, but it is the most important challenge marriage brings.  I think that as parents we have a tendency to lead with doom and gloom rather than joy.
Our culture is deeply fearful of children.  Since freedom is defined as what I want, children are seen as the greatest threat to that freedom.  Young adults do everything in their power to avoid children, even when or if they marry.  When we meet one of these couples, we need to start off by telling them how amazing it is to be a parent.  Sure we need to be honest, it is not easy.  Since I am Catholic, I come from a view that children are a natural part of marriage.  It is one of the reasons God gave us the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.  My husband and I did not plan out our children, we accepted God’s will.  If there is one thing that I have learned about my fertility, it is that I am not in control of it.
Being a mom has taught me lessons that I could not have learned without my husband and daughter.  That is why I know in my very being that they are my vocation and I am right where God wants me to be.  Here are somethings that I have learned from motherhood:
1.  The deepest gratitude I have ever experienced.  My daughter has taught me to be thankful, not just thankful, but to sing praise to God.
2.  Joy.  Until I married my husband, I had not experienced joy.  My daughter shows me joy daily if I allow her to.  Joy is so beyond happiness that they are not even in the same book.
3.  How deeply selfish I am.  When I was single, I was less aware of my selfish nature.  Occasionally in relationships I would see it, but being a mom has put it square on my forehead.  I want everything to be about me and my daughter is showing me that I am not first, I am last.
4.  Sacrifice.  The last two years of my life have encompassed the greatest sacrifices that I have ever experienced.  I have lost sleep, experienced deep pain and heartache, I have had to go without things, but nothing compares to having my daughter.
5.  How to be a kid again.  This morning my daughter and I built a fort out of couch cushions.  We play pretend and make-believe and I am reminded of the magic of childhood.
6. Pride.  I mean the healthy kind.  I am so proud of my daughter and I get so excited when she learns something knew.  I never realized how much I would clap at my daughter using the toilet and it feels completely natural to rejoice at these occasions.
7.  Discipline.  I lack discipline.  I am controlled by addictions and desires, coffee and Facebook being the worst.  One of my daughter’s first words was coffee.  This showed me how much I must instill discipline in her and myself.  My daughter is very willful and stubborn.  We must harness that now through the freedom of discipline or she is going to spend her adult life struggling like I do.
8. Heart-ache that strengthens.  Other than the times I have had to call ambulances for my incapacitated husband who suffers from debilitating migraines, and my miscarriages, the deepest pain I have experienced is when  my daughter was admitted to the hospital a couple of months ago with a staph infection.  I wanted to take her place.  She was scared and I could not comfort her.  I cried, and I cried in a way that I have never cried before.  I slept in the hospital bed with her for two nights.  I worried.  I had to help the nurse care for her in the middle of the night.  I did not know how I could handle this situation after all of the stress of this year.  But, then my daughter woke up three days later and was herself again.  We had made it.  These are the hardest days in parenting, but they show us what we are made of.  I had a deeper sense of love for my daughter, my husband, and God.
9.  God’s love for me.  Being a parent has completely changed my view of how God loves me.  I now understand parental love and the language of “Abba” much more than I did before.
10. Patience.  If there is one thing that my daughter is good at it is frustrating me.  She is defiant and willful.  She ignores me or purposely tests me daily.  She wants my attention 100% of the time, but through it all, I have become more patient.  I can read, while she climbs all over me.  I can drive my car with her yelling at me without getting angry (ok..not every single time).  I am able to climb out of bed at midnight when she is crying and sit with her on the couch without being mad.  I am changing daily.
There is a reason that parenthood is a path to holiness.  It strips away our sinful  natures and helps us to put on Christ.  When I see these magazine articles about the good life of parent-free living, I am sad for them.  I never would have experienced authentic joy without my daughter.  I never would have gotten outside of myself, and I am quite boring and obnoxious.  Motherhood is the greatest gift that I have received.  There is nothing that I can buy in this life that compares.  So let’s lead with joy when we talk to couples who are holding off and waiting for the perfect time, or who are not considering children.  They are missing out on the real reason for marriage, to get outside of ourselves in order to learn to serve others.  Have a joy filled day!

My First Ever Short Story-A Very Rough Draft-Lacks Punctuation for Dialogue

Hello!  My name is Alexandra.  Most people call me Alex or Alexis, but I prefer Alexandra.  No one really cares to ask me my preference, so I gave up on correcting people long ago.  I want to tell you my story.  I have heard my whole life that I am worthless and that my mom should have done away with me.  The woman, whom all I can do is thank for giving me life, since that is all that she ever gave me.  All I know of my father is that he was one of many in a long line of affairs.  I am not even sure if the man’s name on my birth certificate is real. “David Miller” may as well be “John Doe” as far as I am concerned.

For whatever reason my mother decided to carry me to term, in a world where doing away with me would have been easy.  She gave birth to me in some alley in SW Washington DC.  She had been high at the time.  An older homeless woman found me lying in the snow.  My mother had left a trail of blood as the only remaining evidence of her existence, in what would be her last appearance in my life.  She survived, only to overdose 10 years later.
The old homeless woman dropped me off with some sisters who would feed her hot meals a few times a week.  Unfortunately, the sisters could not keep me.  As happens with most homeless children in this country, I was placed with Child Protective Services.  I passed from foster home to foster home; 23 in all before the age of 13.
That last home did a number on me.  It was where I lived the longest.  There were four other foster kids in the home with me: two boys and two girls.  The boys were 16 and 11 and the girls were 8 and 6.  The foster parents were raging alcoholics who also dabbled in various drugs; meth being their favorite.  Occasionally they would leave leftover meth lying around, when they were too high to know the difference.  That is when, Chad, the 16 year old taught me about the power of meth, and eventually, he taught me about sex.  Neither seemed like a big deal.  Why not get high and have sex?  They told us that it was natural at school and the school nurse had gotten me on the Pill when I was 11.  She said I would have sex sooner or later anyway.  I guess she was right.  Eventually, Chad turned 18 and wound up in prison for jacking our “parents’s” car.  That was the end of him in the story, but drugs and anonymous sex would dominate the next 8 years of my life.
At 15 I got tired of living with my foster parents and ran away.  I lived on the streets. I had to avoid shelters because I did not want CPS to find me.  They caught up with me a couple of times when I got arrested for shoplifting.  I usually stole food and beer.
I had a few relationships, the longest being with my dealer.  He used me as a mule for his political clientele.  He told me that I was pretty enough and willing to do favors when necessary.  Why not just get paid for sex too?  Let’s just say, I know which Congressmen like young redheads.  Occasionally I got an expensive meal and a night in a luxurious hotel.  It beat sleeping in Bobby’s dingy apartment.
Bobby finally took up with some 18 year old and kicked me out.  I was back to living on the streets.  I was 23, homeless, and had fully turned to prostitution to make my living.  My rich clients stayed with Bobby so I was back to sleeping on the cold, hard cement and eating only when I had some money.
One spring evening I was wandering through a college campus.  I thought that I would blend in, not realizing the state I was in.  I must have looked pretty bad because an older man wearing all black, except for white at his collar, gave me a sandwich, 20 bucks, and a business card with an address of a nearby shelter.  He then ran off towards an enormous cathedral with a blue dome.  The Church was lit up and people were hurrying in.  I wondered what people were doing there at 8pm on a Saturday evening?  It was warm enough to sleep outside in the open, so I found a place to sleep in a nearby cemetery.  It was one of my frequent sleeping places during the warmer months.  I would sneak in and hide until they locked the gates.
I spent the next few months in a booze and drug induced haze.  I walked the streets in search of clients.  I never had any problem finding one: young men, middle aged, even older men.  All lonely and lost in their lust.  I gave them what they wanted and they gave me what I wanted.  We then discarded one another and went onto the next.
One night the tragedy that had been my life up until that point, came crashing down.  It was autumn.  The nights were starting to get colder.  The shelter I usually stayed at was full for the night, and I would never make it to the nearest one before they locked up for the night.  I honestly do not remember too much about that night.  I was too messed up to know the difference.  I don’t remember where those two men came from.  I barely remember them taking turns on top of me.  When they had had their fun, they left and I curled up in a ball along an alley.  I heard church bells chime in the distance as I passed out for a few hours.
Days passed by in a blur.  I never really thought about what had happened.  I figured that was normal.  That is all men need me for anyway.  Why not take whatever they want and leave?  I continued on my usual path.
One night in December, I hit rock bottom.  Yeah, the actual bottom.  I had scored a sandwich, of all things, and was just about to eat it when out of nowhere someone knocked me to the ground.  They kicked and punched me.  When I could not fight back anymore they took my sandwich and ran.  These things happen when you live on the streets.  It’s called survival of the fittest.
So, there I was lying in the snow, yet again.  I was unconscious as snow flakes fell softly on my lifeless body.  The only softness I had really known.  I came to for a split second to see billows of white and black cloth blowing in the wind.  Black shoes and running.  And, then, I slept.
I awoke in terror.  Pain and deep depraved ache had taken over my body.  I screamed out as two women held me down.  The agony was unending.  The terror, soul shattering.  I tried to claw my way out of the bed.  I heard one woman say that this would be the worst of it.  The other asked if it would be good for the baby.  Baby?
Days passed by until I awoke one bright and sunny January morning.  Sitting in a chair across the room from me was the most beautiful man that I had ever seen.  He was holding a leather bound book and his head was bent low.  He was mumbling to himself.  He wore all white, and a black cape like object hung over the back of his seat.  He was probably about 30, with a strong square jaw.  He had dark black hair and the lightest blue eyes I had ever seen.  He had a strong, but gentle voice.  His eyes were full of light and serenity.  A peace and joy that I had never seen before.
He closed his book and looked up at me with a radiant smile.  I immediately wondered what he wanted from me and I put my guard up.  They always want something from me.  He introduced himself as Father Gabriel Moore.  Father, I thought.  Who goes by Father?  You did not think that there were people in DC who had never met a priest before, or had dealings with a Catholic, or the Church.  Let’s just say, we don’t run in the same circles.
He then told me that he had found me unconscious in the snow on his way to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.  Given the state I was in, he wanted to get me help without also getting me arrested.  He called a woman from a local parish who was a nurse, and a former addict.  She had nurtured me through detox.  Her name was Mary New, and her daughter, Theresa, had also been there helping me.  He then said that he had to leave, but that he would be back frequently to check on me.
Later that week Mary came to see me so that we could talk about what had happened.  I had a headache, my back hurt, and I felt fat.  Mary asked if I knew who the father was. The father?, I asked.  Of your baby?, she said.  It was then that I realized with horror that I was pregnant.  I spiraled into panic and confusion.  She tried to comfort me, but I just screamed for her to get out.  All I could think about was how I had no money, no job, at least not a licit one.  I could not have a baby!  The father could be any number of guys.  Then it hit me.  The deep crushing realization.  That night in October came back to me in a haze.  I had been without my birth control for a few days.  I was going to the health department the next day.  One of those two men was the father.  One of them.  I curled up into a ball and rocked myself to sleep.  Eventually a restless sleep enveloped me.
I did not speak for days.  Mary brought me food and checked on me regularly.  I laid in bed mulling over my options.  Father Gabriel came to visit me daily.  Whenever he entered the room, this warmth and safety would wrap around me. I would blush and shy away.  But, as I got to know him my confidence grew.
As I got stronger, I started to think about what I should do about the baby.  The other girls on the street found ways to get abortions.  I was sure that I could figure it out.  This seemed like my best option.  I just cannot have a baby!  I have no way to care for them.  I don’t even have a place to live.  I told Mary of my plans.  At first, she was silent.  She asked me if I was sure and I said yes. Teresa came in and sat down with us.  Mary then told me about her days as an addict and her three abortions.  She had run out of an abortion clinic, half doped up, when she decided to keep Theresa.  A group of sisters in the area had helped her and she converted to Catholicism.  It saved my life, she said.
I told her that I did not need anyone to tell me what to do.  She smiled and she and Theresa left to make us lunch.  They continued to feed and shelter me.  I thought about her words.  I had even taken a walk to the closest abortion clinic.  My belly now obvious for all to see.
I did not want my child to have the miserable life I had.  It was better to kill them.  After all, my foster parents had repeatedly told me that my mom should have aborted me when she had the chance.  But, I never could bring myself to walk into that clinic.  I saw groggy women leave with their boyfriends.  At least they had someone to support them, I thought.
One spring day, as I was out for a walk, I heard church bells.  They sounded vaguely familiar.  I walked down the street a couple of blocks, until I stood before a stone building with a cross on top of a steeple.  For some inexplicable reason, I felt the urge to go inside.  As I opened the door, my eyes were met with darkness.  As my eyes adjusted, I walked into the empty sanctuary.  It was silent.  A silence so deafening that I did not know how to deal with it at first.  The light poured through stained glass windows.  The golden rays warming abandoned pews.  A single red candle burned next to a large, ornate golden box.  It was beautiful.  I ran my hands along the smooth, cold marble pillars.  A faint scent of incense hung in the air.  A statue to the right of the altar was of the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.  She held a small child, who looked down at me.  He was holding up two fingers.
I sat down in one of the pews.  It creaked and groaned.  I sat there for a good while.  I enjoyed the quiet, warmth, and peace of that place.  I was happy, until for no reason that I could understand, fear grabbed hold of my heart.  I could not breathe.  I had to get out of there as quickly as possible.  I ran out, nearly knocking the parish priest over in the process.  He asked me if I was alright, but I ran out into the street to breathe in the city air.
I did not belong in there.  Me?!  I do not belong in such beautiful places.  I belong in the gutters, not among beauty.  That woman, whomever she was, was the exact opposite of me.  That child was hers.  The one that I carry cannot be mine.  This child will go to some family.  If I cannot kill it, then at least it will go to someone who as an actual home.  I will risk them ending up like me.
The next day Father came to see me.  He would go for walks with me sometimes.  I was getting quite big, but still needed the exercise.  I greatly enjoyed our time together and I felt things for him that I had never felt for a  man before.  It confused and excited me.
I had learned a bit about his life.  He explained some of it to me, but he was patient in his explanations of the Church.  What he talked about intrigued me, but deep down I knew that I was unworthy of such a life.  What I knew, was that I loved him.  And finally on one of our walks I could not contain it, and I kissed him.  He gently grabbed my wrists and sat me down on a nearby bench.  I protested.  He then told me about his vow of celibacy.  Celibacy?!  You mean there are men who actually can give up sex?  But, I love you.  He told me that he loved me too, as a great friend and sister.  Isn’t that what every woman wants to hear?  He then asked me to walk a couple of blocks with him if I could.
We ended up standing in front of the stone building that I had run away from.  We walked inside.  Silence.  Deep silence.  He led me to the front of the church.  He pointed up at cross with a man hanging from it.  It was strange in its beauty and power.  He then said that you are not in love with me.  You are in love with Him.  For you see, my life is His.  He dwells in me.  I was hurt and confused.  He then told me that he had left a gift for me with Mary and he would come see me in a few weeks when the baby was born.  He left.  I felt utterly abandoned.  Another man leaves.  I did not understand.
When I got back to the house, I found a gift bag on my bed.  Mary had gone to work at the hospital.  Inside were two leather bound books.  One was smaller and said The Gospels on it.  On the inside it said, “Start here, Father”.  The other book was a beautiful Bible, my first.  I placed it in a drawer and began to read from Matthew.
I read all of the Gospels in one sitting.  I read with awe, confusion, wonder, and a very deep skepticism.  What does Jesus of Nazareth have to do with me?  What does that man on the Cross have to do with the likes of me?  This is the 21st Century.
Weeks went by.  I kept reading over and over again those words that bewildered me and gave me something like hope.  But, I still did not understand.  Then the agony of labor hit.  Mary got me to the hospital.  I labored for hours.  I wanted to give up.  I was ready for the baby to be with someone else.  Finally, a brand new scream broke out into the world.  I was stunned and exhausted.  The nurses worked to clean her up.  Tears streamed down my face without my realizing it.  And out of nowhere I asked to hold her.  As they placed her in my arms, the most amazing thing happened.  I felt love.  I knew love. I chose love.  A love unlike anything I had ever known.  I had the deepest gratitude that I had ever experienced.  I instantly loved this stranger.  It was then that I knew I could not give her up.  I could not let her go.  And I haven’t.
My understanding of what Father was trying to tell me was slow going.  I felt hurt and unwanted.  I was exhausted from the duties of being a new mother.  He came to see me a couple of weeks after the baby was born.  I had named her Hope because that is what she gave me.  He encouraged me to continue reading the Gospels and told me to consider attending a Mass.  I was unsure.
I finally agreed to go and I sat in the very back pew holding hope.  She slept.  I felt self-conscious and guilt ridden.  Once again my whole life told me that I should not be there. I spent most of Mass fighting the urge to flee. Then, the strangest thing happened.  The priest said the words of what I now know is the consecration.  I had read the Gospels over and over again for months trying to see how they applied to me.  Then it hit me.  Jesus is here now.  He told me so in John. He is calling to me. Me?! Me. A nobody.  A former prostitute, drug addict, throwaway.  My whole like I had not known love or compassion.  Or so I had thought.  Then I remembered: the nuns who had saved me as a baby, the church bells, the older priest at the campus, Father Gabriel, Mary, Theresa, and now Hope.  That was Love on the altar.  He had been calling me all along.  This nobody, was somebody to the Creator of the Universe.
Being a mother has not been easy, but it has saved my life.  Choosing to abandon my old ways and follow Christ is a daily struggle, but it is the only struggle worth making.  My life, by the world’s standards, should have ended with my mother killing me.  I lived in emptiness, loneliness, and forsakenness for most of my life.  I used people and they used me.  I was raped, beaten, a prostitute, and a junkie.  But that is all over now.  I am a new creation.
So, was my life worth living?  Even knowing the pain and despair that I endured?  No life is beyond salvation.  No life is not worth living.

Flow

I have learned a lot about writing in the last two days.  I have had the most intense days of writing that I have ever experienced.  Characters pressed themselves upon me and I had to put pen to page, literally.  I have written 36 pages by hand in two days.  Not only that, I have written fiction.  While I have had occasional ideas for a short story or a novel, I usually brush them off and assume that if I am going to be a writer it will be non-fiction.  Then all of a sudden a character told me her name, and I began to understand what previous authors have said about characters introducing themselves.  I was a medium for the characters to tell their stories.

 
Writing is an art form.  It is a way to create, bring beauty, and truth to the world.  The will cannot impose itself on the writing.  The will is driven by the ego and pride.  I am not meaning to sound Freudian here.  What I mean is that when I over think what I am doing, the flow of ideas stops.  When I start to think about what I am actually doing, I start to tell the character how the story should go.  In order to be truly free in writing, I have to let my imagination run free and allow the character to tell me the story.  It is a strange and wonderful experience. 
 
When I had two short stories written, in a rough draft form, I was amazed.  Two very different pieces with one underlying theme: Love.  Not the romantic love that our society holds up as the ultimate good.  No real, authentic Love.  The laying down of one’s life for another.  The choosing of good for another even in the face of death.  I now understand how it hurts the writer when a character dies.  I never imagined that I would write a novel that contained martyrs.  I have the story started, now to fill in the rest.  I was heart-broken by the end of it.  While I let the ideas flow, they are mixed with my own life experience.  Some of the characters have traits of people I know or have known.  Some of the characters are my idea of how people I have known could be truly great.  Many experience the power of conversion, which leads to sacrifice.
 
My way of seeing the world is a Catholic one.  There is no way to change that.  History, current events, the everyday, is seen through they eyes of one who has chosen the hard path of following Jesus Christ.  As Christ promised, history has not been kind to his followers, and the future will not be kind to them either.  While the novel I am working on has not yet happened, it could.  It is my very real, deepest fears come to life on paper.  Those fears are redeemed in the story of salvation.
 
When I told a couple of friends and my husband about the two short stories, they all agreed that I needed to turn at least one into a novel.  When we got home and I asked my husband his thoughts. He said that he was taken aback.  The story mirrors our life, and yet is not our life.  He knows that it is the fears that I keep in my heart as a Catholic, wife, and mother.  He was amazed that I would actually write it down knowing that it must have been difficult for me.  The thing is that the main character is me and is not me.  The other characters are my family, friends, or people from my past, but not them at the same time.  It is how I imagine them, it is them in a very different lifetime, or how I imagine some of their traits built up in one person.
 
The story is full of suspense, betrayal, pain, violence, but great hope and redemption.  It is the human story, in all of its brokenness.  Redemption in the darkest of hours.  I move onto the next phase with fear and trembling.  If I think about it too much my insecurities come out.  As I write, I constantly hear that voice telling me that it is garbage, pointless, that I should not be writing anything.  That is when the will has to come into play and push passed the criticism.  I have been criticized for my writing in the past.  I have learned that I can not show some of my work to certain people because they just will not understand.  I have become more selective with age.  For now I will see where the characters lead me and try to enjoy the journey.  Keep writing!!!

What a Church Divided Needs: Conversion

The American Catholic Church is divided.  This is evidenced by the media, research, and just by being involved in my local parish.  We argue and fight about doctrine constantly.  Somewhere down the line in the last 50 years being Catholic has become what “I” believe and not what Holy Mother Church has taught for 2000 years.  Sure this is a product of Reformation-Enlightenment-Modern/Scientific Absolutist thought. An objective study of history and philosophical thought shows us how we got to this point.  The philosophical strands that have cut through the West for the last 500 years, have resulted in our current “dictatorship of relativism”.  The West has put the individual as the deciding force of truth, resulting in a chaos of subjective truth, while all together abandoning objective truth; that which the Catholic Church has taught for two millennia.  And while it is useful to understand the underpinnings of our culture,  the real issue is a lot simpler than blaming Descartes or Calvin.  The issue is conversion.

In looking at the divisions within the Church, it is quite plain that the majority of Catholics in this country have never experienced a full conversion to Jesus Christ.  When we put issues like abortion, social justice, contraception, “gay marriage”, and a whole host of other political agendas at the forefront of the Church, we have abandoned the center.  Are these issues important? You bet! Are they the center of the Faith? Nope.  This is what Pope Francis is trying to tell the world, except the world hungers for relativism and the denial of Truth, so it pushes its agenda on his words.
Americans have really made the mistake, that was historically brought to the West by Luther and Calvin, that the state should run everything, thus elevating the state above the Church. A very anti-Catholic stance, by the way.  I doubt they intended the consequences that have happened in the last few Centuries, but here in the US, politics is a religion and our political party is supposed to lead us and set us free.  Jesus Christ supports my part, is a rallying cry.  Well, Jesus Christ supports neither, since they both attack the dignity of the human person.
The issue is that most American Catholics are more familiar with the culture wars than they are with what the Church actually asks of each one of us.  The majority do not even realize that the meaning of life is to be a saint.  Instead we hold that up as some reserved for the likes of Blessed John Paul II and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.  Cradle Catholics especially just take the Church for granted and go through the motions.  What they lack is a real encounter with Jesus Christ.  This is what Pope Francis is trying to tell all of us.  He is not saying that we should not fight to end abortion, protect marriage, start using contraceptives, and divorce.  What he is saying is that when we encounter the Living God, we want to love others as He loves us.  We want to help mothers and babies.  We want to feed the poor.  We want to work to forgive and love our neighbor.  Is it easy?  Absolutely not.  That is why it takes a lifetime.
If we want to stop dividing the Church, then we need to bring real conversion to the people sitting next to us in the pews and out in the world.  We need to show them that the center of our Faith, the center of our lives, should be a relationship with Jesus Christ, who will show us how to truly love.  Without conversion, we fall into heterodoxy, heresy, and in-fighting.  The only one who can lead us out of our misery and failings is Christ.  It is through Him that we find freedom and real joy.  It is in Him that we find the courage to confront the injustices of the world, rather than fall into the sentimental trap of “tolerance” of ideas.
Accepting Christ and His Church is not easy.  It is counter-cultural, demands discipline, and historically always leads to persecution, but it is the only way.  If we want to end the violence and injustices of the world than we must give up ourselves, our own beliefs, our own desires, and give them all to Jesus Christ.  If we struggle with a teaching, then we must trust His Church, and pray for conversion.  It is not for the individual to question the Church’s teachings that have been here since the time of Christ, especially when He promised that dogma and doctrine would never lead to error.  He is God, not me.  He wants what is best for me, while I tend to do the exact opposite.
Jesus Christ is the only one who can unite the Church.  The only way to set the world on fire, is to convert souls to Him.  Full conversion.  Not a watered down, I have always been Catholic attitude.  That is not conversion.  That is acquiescence in the face of upbringing.  If we want joy to radiate through the world then we need to change hearts and minds beginning with the people in our parish.  Don’t believe that the majority of Catholics are not converted?  Try running a ministry or volunteering in the parish.  You will very quickly see the apathy that has taken over.  This is not an attack, rather, it is calling out the problem so that we can fix it.  If Christ is the ultimate joy, shouldn’t we be working night and day to bring others to Him?  Once conversion has taken place, the issues that divide the Church should wither.  Sure there will always be disputes, cultural differences, liturgical differences, etc.  We are Fallen humans, but the teachings of the Church should not be an issue.  In Christ we discover how to live the Culture of Life.

What I Really Am Thinking While I Pray at Planned Parenthood

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I have learned a lot in the three years that I have participated in 40 Days for Life and have prayed outside of Planned Parenthood.  The first time that I went, was when I was five months pregnant with my daughter.  It actually was not a good experience the first time because someone tried to scare us off, but we stayed.  Once my daughter was born I started taking her with me.  She sat in her stroller, and now she walks with me or someone else while we pray, or she kneels beside me.  We get lots of honks of support, and we get yelled at, or flipped off  a couple of times.  There is a lot of pain and anger in the world.

 
All of that pain and anger puts a pretty dark cloud over the abortion issue.  There is a lot of propaganda, on both sides, really.  Although, I firmly believe that the pro-abortion folks lie and keep the truth from a lot of these families.  I think that they have been lied to themselves, and just don’t know any better.  I hate to say it, but I am sure some of them just don’t care that a human life is extinguished.  What I mean to do is give my side and experience as someone on the front lines of the abortion fight in our country.  I have chosen peaceful prayer and a presence of witness as my tactics.  I also provide resources to poor women who contact a parish ministry that I work with along with three other women and I send people to our crisis pregnancy center.
 
What am I thinking when I kneel or stand outside of my local Planned Parenthood?  It probably is not necessarily what you think.  First, you have to understand what I want for these women, babies, and men who walk into the clinic.  I want these women to know that they have options.  I don’t want them to feel trapped or coerced into ending the life of their own child.  I want them to feel less alone.  I want them to see themselves as God sees them.  I want them to see their child as God sees them.  Motherhood is not easy, but the joy and gifts are worth the work. 
 
My daughter has taught me more in her 2 years of life than I have learned in 32.  She has shown me how deeply selfish I am.  She has shown me what it is to love unconditionally.  She has made me a better person.  My daughter has vastly increased my capacity for joy and a love of life.  She blesses me way more than the pain and heartache that come with motherhood.  When my daughter sits with me outside of Planned Parenthood, I want these families to see that children are a tremendous gift.  Perhaps not all women or couples feel that they can care for a child.  That is why they need to know that adoption is always an option.  
 
Today I was out at Planned Parenthood with my daughter and some friends.  Saturday is surgical abortion day.  It is heart-wrenching to see these groggy women stumble out of the clinic.  Usually a man or parents are with them.  I am overcome with deep sadness and compassion for these women.  I wonder what kind of despair would make a person choose to kill their own child?   My righteous anger is not towards them.  Rather, I am upset with the boyfriend, husband, or parent that drove them there.  That person failed to love that woman as she deserved.  She needed her boyfriend to be a man and stand up for her and their child.  She needed someone to tell her that it would be ok and that she would be taken care of.  To tell her that she was not alone.  To tell her that killing her own child is wrong.  The people who drove her to that clinic failed to take away her despair.  They did not give her any hope.
 
The other thing that bothers me is that the clinic workers do not try to help these women to their cars.  They have been drugged up and undergone surgery.  One woman today sat in her car almost the entire hour I was there talking to her parents.  As the abortionist and clinic workers left, not one of them went over to see if she was ok.  I desperately wanted to go over and check on her, and give her a Rachel’s Vineyard contact card.  My heart hurt for her, but I would be arrested if I went near her.  I can’t really do that with my 2 year old daughter with me.
 
It is hard to know how to react when someone leaves on surgical abortion day. I do not like to stare at them and make them feel condemned.  Rather, I try to maintain a prayerful posture.  We are not going to bring people to Jesus Christ, if we are condemning and cold-hearted.  Yes, killing your own child is a grave and horrible sin, but we need to bring these people to Our Lord, so that they can repent and receive the freedom of forgiveness.
 
At least the surgical abortion people see us.  We are a presence on that day for them.  A reminder of something more, of hope.  For the women who go home to do a chemical abortion, they are alone and isolated.  Once again someone has failed to love her.  Someone has let her bleed out her own child alone in her bathroom.  Or perhaps they stay with her, but they abandoned her when they helped her procure the medication to kill her child.  Abortion is always a failure to love.  That is what makes it so difficult.  The purpose of 40 Days for Life is not to reign down hellfire, it is to show men and women that they are not alone. Because, quite frankly, once they step foot in that abortion clinic, they are alone.  No one there is going to help them keep their child.  Stepping into that clinic is to despair and abandon Love.  We need to bring those people to either for the first time, or back, to the Divine Life.  We need to be a reminder that Jesus Christ conquered sin and death for all people out of his infinite love and mercy.
 
So, yes, I have periods of righteous anger, most especially at Neo-feminists and abortion industry workers who have been deceived and deceive others.   I also struggle with being mad at the men who drive these women to the clinics.  They failed these women, and while I know these women make the choice to end their child’s life, I pity them.   But, more than anything, the whole thing makes me deeply sad.  It brings me to prayer.  It brings me to the Cross and I bring all of those people I see each time I am at Planned Parenthood with me to the Cross.  I pray for their conversion.  I pray for their healing.  I pray that someday that may be truly loved in the manner they deserve.
 

Why Moms Need Other Moms

 

I think there is an undercurrent in our society that convinces moms that we should be able to do it all, on our own.  We need to be supermom; standing strong and taking care of our families, communities, and jobs.  Society tells us that we should not need help outside of our homes.  To ask for help is to be weak.  And we all know that weakness is the worst thing we can be in a society that worships the strong.  We are not supposed to admit that we don’t have it all together.

Gone are the days, at least in our culture, of doing community laundry at the river, or collecting water from the town well.  These were tasks that women gathered together for in order to share the workload, and quite frankly, to talk, socialize, and commune.  Women are social beings and instinctively know that we are not supposed to go it alone. Motherhood and marriage are tough.  That is why they are paths to sainthood.

The amount of socializing that we like to do definitely depends on our temperament and personality.  Some of us are introverts, which means that we like to visit with others in a limited amount of time, but we still need that interaction.  Some women are more extrovert oriented and really enjoy the company of others.  No matter our personality, we need guidance and support from other women, especially other moms.  Why do you think that Pinterest and Facebook are so popular?  It is a way for women who are isolated from everyone else as they stay home with their children throughout the day, to connect with other people.  It is a place to feel validated or to unload.  Social media attempts to alleviate the enclosure of our post-modern lives, but they are not enough.  We need actual contact with people that does not come through our computer screens.

Today I went to my first Mom’s Meet Up at my parish.  I had seen them advertised, but I had missed them for one reason or another in the past.  One of the reasons being that I am awkward around new people.  I am terrible at small talk.  With me you can just skip over the pleasantries and jump right into current affairs, politics, theology, or if you prefer, diapers and childrearing.  I really dislike the conversation that is predicated upon “so what do you do for a living”.  I am a wife and a mom.  Next topic.  I force my way through small talk, since I have gathered that is a necessary form of social interaction, but on the inside I am wondering when we will either find something we have in common or move onto something of more substance. Patience is not my middle name.  More than anything, I just hate feeling awkward.

I decided that it was time to check out the Mom’s group.  I already knew some of the ladies involved, and they are very nice women.  They also have children closer to my daughter’s age, which most of my friends do not.  Most of my friends have children who are at least 7 years old all the way up to adulthood.  So, this morning I packed Michaela up and decided to do a little penance by taking my toddler to daily Mass.  If there is one thing that should free souls from Purgatory it is dealing with a toddler during Mass.  What?! The consecration is coming up.  That is the perfect time to yell out “hello” to Father.  Let’s play peek-a-boo with mommy’s veil.  She didn’t really need it anyway, right?  We made it through Mass without any meltdowns.  Sure Rosaries and hymnals were scattered across the floor.  It’s an obstacle course for people to maneuver through on their way up to receive the Eucharist.  Daily Mass is done in our small Blessed Sacrament Chapel.  I digress.  Clearly I need to write about toddlers and Mass at a later date.

After Mass, we went to the Mom’s group that was meeting in the parish nursery.  That way our kids can play while we exchange war stories, I mean, how our lives are going.  An amazing thing happened when I arrived.  I was introduced to the women who I did not know and then we went straight into talking about our lives.  No small talk or awkward chit chat.  It was like I already knew the secret handshake by the sheer act of being a mom.  At first I was so amazed that I did not know how to react.  Am I supposed to already talk about my life?  You mean I don’t have to justify my life choices in this social setting?  Did somebody already mention how awful Obamacare is?  You mean I can talk about my HCG reactions without getting strange looks?  These women were comfortably talking about their husbands, kids, medical care, raising a family, the government shutdown, etc.  No pretenses, no fear of social rejection.  I had found the 21st Century well where women gather to talk.

There is this unspoken fear among mothers that we are being judged by other mothers.  What?! You sculpted the David in your child’s PB&J?!  I was lucky to find a slice of bread and peanut butter to put together. Your kids sit still during Mass with their hands neatly folded on their laps? My daughter threw Cheerios at the couple sitting in front of us and she was the one singing something that sounds like a cross between English, Latin, and a cow mooing during the Agnus Dei. Okay, so this might be a bit exaggerated.  She sounds more like a barking dog.

Here’s the thing, fellow moms, we need to stop worrying about judging each other and just help each other.  Stay-at-home moms like me who have infants or toddlers face a rather daunting task of raising their child alone all day.  My husband works all day and I do not see most of my friends during the day because they either work or homeschool their children who are much older than Michaela.  Moms need to get out of the house.  We need a chance to unload.  We need to be able to admit that we are exhausted and do not have it together.  We need to encourage one another on the path.  Christian community is about lifting each other up.  So let’s stop worrying about other parents judging our choices.  Absolutely no one can mother our children better than we can.  That is why God gave us the child or children he gave us.  He knew that we were the best for them and they are the best for us.  So sign off of Facebook or Pinterest or whatever other social media you are using to combat your loneliness and isolation, and head out to your parish to meet other moms.  If there is not a group in your church, then start one.  Also, take your kid to the library to meet other moms there.  We are not meant to be cooped up in our houses alone with our children all day.  This is the secret that the women before us understood so well.

 

Super Easy Smothered Burritos

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Do you need a quick and easy dinner?  Here is one of my go to dinners.  It is perfect for using up leftover chicken, beef, pork, venison, shrimp etc..  You can also use whatever you have in the pantry.  Here is how I made these smothered burritos this time:

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees

Chop up one medium yellow onion and sautee, add bell pepper (your choice of color) and soften, then add corn, black beans, and cut up cooked chicken.  Heat through.  Cut up one block of cream cheese and melt it into the pan.  Add one can of green chilis.  Turn off heat.  Fill 8 large burrito tortillas and fold.  Place them in a casserole dish.  Cover with green enchilada sauce and cheese.  Bake for 20-22 minutes until bubbly.   Serve with sour cream, guacamole, and other condiments.  Enjoy!  This is a family favorite and you can add whatever veggies you want. Try adding rice, or instead of black beans use pinto or kidney.  Make vegetarian burritos for an excellent meatless Friday dish.

A Vocation I Never Expected

A vocation is not necessarily where we thought we would end up.  Instead, a vocation is where God calls us to journey towards Him.  In short, it is how He makes us saints.  And that, my friends, is the meaning of life: to be a saint.  We either choose to answer is call or we don’t.  To be quite honest, I still struggle with openly answering His call in my life.  Being a homemaker, was not what I had envisioned for myself.  I have imagined myself having a career since childhood.  I guess that is just what a child of the 80s and 90s did, even though my own mother took a long break from working to stay home with us.  I also did not get married until I was 29, so I had been working for over a decade and I had lived all over.

I guess I left behind the notion of a big city career at some major university when I moved away from Washington DC for the last time.  I did not know it then, but I was making a choice for the life I wanted to lead.  I had really enjoyed city life for most of my Twenties, but by the last part of that decade of my life, I was burned out.  I craved quiet and nature.  And while DC is still my favorite city, whenever I go back, I know that I made the right choice.  It is not where I want to raise a family.

 
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When I met my husband we had agreed that we would homeschool our children.  Not only to raise them in the faith, but to ensure that they get a good education.  We are both products of public school and knew that we wanted  more for our children.  Not to mention that my time working in public school during college, showed me just how much things have changed since I graduated.  I also knew that I did not want my children raised in a daycare.  I had to make some touch choices and that is when I made the choice to be a stay-at-home mom and homemaker.
 
I think my mind began to change when I started to think of marriage and parenthood as a vocation, rather than a relationship and job.  I started to see that love and my family require sacrifices.  It meant that I no longer come first. A truth that I still struggle with greatly.  When I had my daughter it became even more clear to me that I belonged at home.  That did not make it easy
 
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I am the type of person who enjoys being engaged intellectually.  I like a challenge, I enjoy study, I am passionate about teaching, and I want to write.  Staying home with a two year old presents great challenges to these God given drives of mine.  It is difficult to feel intellectually stimulated when your day is full of incomplete sentences, diapers, and play.  My friends know when I have been in the house too long.  I talk incessantly.  Some days I am on the computer way too much, because I want adult conversation.
 
Here’s the paradox, when I fight against my vocation, I am the most unhappy.  Even though laundry, dishes, and playing house do not give me intellectual stimulation, they bring me the most peace.  That is because I am doing the right thing staying home with my daughter.  It is a great sacrifice, and I would not change anything.  God is making me a saint here in my home.  He is teaching me how to put others before myself, something that I greatly lack.  He is increasing my capacity for joy through my daughter and husband.  He is showing me the Little Way.  I am sanctified here, not out in the world.
 
If I had stayed on my previous path and pursued a high powered career, I do not think that I would be where I am spiritually.  I probably would not even be married, because meeting men in DC is a lot like trying to find a good man at a fraternity.  I had to give up that life in order to find God’s real calling.  Sure I have moments of nostalgia and miss it, but I would miss my daughter and my husband infinitely more.
 
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Yes, I will still have days that I will fight this “ordinary life”.  But, that is a part of my journey.  That is the Divine Gardener pruning away at my imperfections and sin.  That is not to say that my path is your path.  We all have to discern where God is calling us in the different stages of our life.  Who knows what God has in store up ahead?!