Looking Past the Monotony of Daily Living In Order to See God’s Gratuitous Love

Dolphin_at_Dalkey_Island

Image taken from Wiki Commons.

It is easy in our daily lives to discount the seemingly minor encounters or experiences we have throughout any given day. We are so busy going through the motions that we often forget to pay attention to where God is blessing us and showering us with His gratuitous love. He is always trying to draw us closer to Himself, but in our brokenness and the monotony of daily living we often don’t see it. I know that there are far too many days when I am merely going through the motions and not paying attention.

I had an experience last week while I was in Virginia Beach that served as a reminder that God is a loving Father who rejoices with us in our delight and who seeks to give us great blessings. Sometimes those blessing come in roundabout ways and through suffering and sometimes they come in daily gifts such as looking into your child’s eyes with love or engaging in a conversation with a friend. These blessings also come in Creation. They are the most often overlooked, I think.

We are so busy driving from one place to another and checking off our to-do lists that a lot of the time we forget to look up and look out. Mass can even become a drudgery and a part of this rat-race that is daily life. This typically occurs when our prayer life has grown stagnant, cold, or non-existent. How can we expect to find God at Mass if we ignore Him the rest of the week? We have to constantly live the mystery in order to move into the greater depths offered to us in the Mass and in prayer.

I know that my days when prayer is last on my list are much worse than the days when I begin the morning praying Lauds and opening my Bible. I’ve grown so accustomed to attending daily Mass that I miss it when I travel and can’t attend. I was gone all last week and since I can’t drive my husband’s work vehicles and that’s what we took to the beach for his conference, Mass wasn’t an option. Instead, I woke up every morning at 5:20 am and walked out onto the beach by myself in the early dawn light while my husband and daughter slept. I sat down on my beach chair, surrounded by ghost crabs cautiously watching me with their adorable steely-eyed stares, and waited for the sun to rise.

I began praying Lauds a few minutes before the sun rose at 5:44 am, so that I could be praying it exactly as the sun broke the horizon to begin it’s ascent. Moments like these have been an important part of my spiritual life for as long as I can remember. I love sunrise and sunset, but there is something particularly special about sunrise.

While I prayed in the morning I also asked to see some dolphins that day. It brings me great childlike joy to watch them playing and hunting off shore. Virginia Beach is known for its bottlenose dolphins. I wanted to go sea-kayaking with them at sunset one evening, but I fractured my fibula and severely sprained my ankle back in mid-April, so my Physical Therapist said absolutely not. Sea-kayaking typically requires a launch into the surf in my previous experiences and even though I am out of the boot for good, I am not cleared to jump for another month. I was disappointed and my husband promised that he will watch our daughter so that I can go next year. She’s not quite old enough to go out on the ocean, yet.

Since kayaking was out of the question, I simply asked God to see the dolphins the way I’ve seen them for years, swimming and hunting around some time between 6:30 am and 10:00 am. He answered my prayer in abundance. I saw them swimming for a couple of hours on Monday morning, but then the weather turned gusty and rainy for the rest of the day. Tuesday the surf was too rough to see them, but Wednesday was glorious.

The sunrise was incredible and the waves had calmed down quite a bit. My daughter and I were out on the beach all morning. I started seeing the dolphins around 8:30 am and they stayed out for most of the day. About 11:00 am I was standing in the ocean while my daughter played in the sand behind me. I wasn’t even up to my knees at this point when all of a sudden three dolphins popped up directly in front of me. They couldn’t have been 10 feet from me. I gasped in excitement as they jumped through the wave in front of me and I turned to Michaela and excitedly yelled “Dolphins!” at her. She stood up just in time to see them start racing down the shoreline. We were amazed they didn’t get beached, that’s how close to the shore they were. Michaela went sprinting after them down the beach. I would have, but I can’t run on my ankle yet so I quickly walked after her keeping my eyes on the dolphins and her. They ran towards a group of swimmers who mistook them for sharks while all of us tried to yell that they were dolphins not sharks. The dolphins then turned and went back out to deeper waters. I was struck with amazement and joy be the encounter.

Two friends of mine from that area–one a former Marine Biologist–told me this is very rare and a great gift. They don’t usually swim that close to shore. The whole day I was filled with happy excitement, telling everyone at my husband’s conference what had happened. Those dolphins were a gift. I had prayed to see dolphins. I only meant offshore like in the past, but this time God gratuitously answered my prayer. It can’t be a coincidence with all of that beach line and thousands of people up and down the beach that those dolphins happened to pop up right in front of me of all people.

Having a fractured fibula has been a more intense spiritual experience than I expected. I am a rather active person and I love to be outside. When I broke it, my kayak and my bike had to be put away. I couldn’t even take my daughter for a walk on the Greenway near the river. I’ve had to spend a lot of time sitting in bed or in the living room. The first couple of weeks I was completely dependent on the generosity of my friends who brought us meals since cooking was out of the question on crutches. I found myself face down on the ground on multiple occasions when I was learning how to walk on the crutches. The word that constantly came to mind was humilitas, God is teaching me humility.

Even with all of this difficulty, it’s been a spiritually fruitful time. Any progress I’ve made is God’s doing, but I turned to more frequent prayer, especially when I couldn’t get to daily Mass the first few weeks. I started to set my day to the rhythm of prayer and to accept the period of inactivity as an opportunity to spend more time with Christ. This inactivity was a good time to establish new habits that could flow into my daily routine when my period of activity returned, as it has now.

It was quite a blessing to be free of the boot and standing on the beach watching the sunrise. It was even more astonishing to be standing so close to dolphins that I could have reached out and touched them. And not to be outdone in generosity, my last morning in VA Beach as I watched the sun rise one more time, the dolphins came out of the bay and were swimming just off shore as the sun began to rise. They hadn’t been out at sunrise any other morning, but that last morning I saw 10 of them out in search of breakfast.

It would be easy to reduce this to coincidence or science. That’s exactly what our culture would do. The dolphins obviously need to eat throughout the day and a tour boat seems to be what caused the dolphins to become trapped leading them to the shore, but there’s no way they would have ended up in front of me of all people if I hadn’t asked with the faith of child to see some dolphins on my visit. I have a very strong connection to God through the beauty of nature. He has a habit of showering me with graces through the beauty of the outdoors and this was no different. I don’t get up before sunrise simply for the sunrise. It is as much a spiritual experience as it is a sensory one for me: body and soul.

God is this gratuitous with His beauty every single day. We are the ones who fail to notice it. In fact, far too many of us have grown numb and can no longer enter into and experience objective beauty. The sunset is merely the sun setting for the evening. The flowers are simply signs of spring and summer. The mountains are there every day. The ocean is the same ocean we see day-in-and-day-out or the prairie or the desert or the plains, etc. We have to maintain childlike innocence in relation to Creation to see the wonders and beauty God gives to us through it.

We have to open our hearts to the Divine Lover who seeks to woo all of us through the gifts of the universe. He reaches down to us body and soul through the senses. The material universe is a sign of His glory. The Sacraments are matter and form. They reach us body and soul. God always reaches us as we are created. We are the ones who end up off balance by an over-dependence or an under-dependence upon the material as it works in conjunction with the spiritual.

Watch a child. They stare at a dandelion as if it contains a whole universe within it. Somewhere along the way we decided that isn’t how adults act or we respond in apathy. There is a reason Christ says that we must be child-like. Only those who open their entire being up to Him in wonder and love can be filled up by Him. The dandelion, even if it annoys us because of the pristine lawn we aspire to, is a reminder of the goodness and beauty of God. We can see the detail, intricacies, and coloring in this “mundane” object that many people disdain. Each flower, animal, mountain ridge, river, crashing wave, etc. is filled with the intricate ordering of of a universe made by God ex nihilo by a sheer act of gratuitous self-emptying love. We are loved into being each day, but we have to open ourselves up to it.

We have to find the courage to plunge into the depths and it is scary. As C.S. Lewis says in The Chronicles of Narnia about Aslan: ‘He isn’t a tame lion, but he is good.’ Besides the depth found in the Mass, the greatest creation with us on this earth is found in our fellow human beings. Each person contains within themselves uncharted depths and the image of God. If we pay attention and we open ourselves up to others freely in charity, we can truly see Christ in other people. It is breathtaking and it reveals the vastness of the human soul made by God.

There is wonder, awe, beauty, and joy in communion with our fellow man grounded in Christ. God’s gratuitous love is extended to us through the people we encounter each day and the people who we form deeper bonds with such as our family and friends. Do we see the people God has given to us as He sees them? Would we see dolphins popping up in front of us after a simple prayer as a gift from Him? Life contains much monotony, but that monotony is transformed when we see God’s movement in every single moment of our day.

Why I Didn’t #MeToo

I didn’t jump on the #metoo bandwagon not because I have not been sexually harassed. By God’s grace, I have never been assaulted or raped and it is only His grace that I give credit, because there have been times I sensed very real danger, but got out of it quickly. Yes, most women in the military have experienced some kind of inappropriate remark or sexism and the cases of sexual assault/rape are astonishingly high, including for men. Some of the stupid comments were a part of being the only woman on a watch team with ten men. Sometimes the men forgot I was there, by the way, and I forgave their oversight. I sat in a separate area with a curtain across it because of the nature of my mission.

My actual experience of sexual harassment was when I left the military and became a civilian. I felt deeply violated and sick to my stomach when it happened and for quite a while afterwards. It was disgusting what this pervert said to me. My work blamed me because it was a customer and profits came first, but I was too poor to do anything about it. I left my employment shortly afterwards because I was too sickened to look at my boss any longer who swept it under the carpet and blamed me for it. I ended up having to deal with the creep who harassed me again because there’s nothing like re-victimization when it’s covered up. The problem here is a mix of greed and objectification, by the way. Not to mention, the majority of my friends in early adulthood had either been raped or sexually abused as a child. One of the friends I helped who was in a dangerous relationship, threw me under the bus for a promotion when all of this happened to me.

My issue here is not that there is not a serious issue, there is, but I once again disagree because of the lack of balance. There is a never-ending war on men. Yes, there are perverts, predators, and creeps out there who should go to prison and don’t. The objectification of women is a rampant problem, but we forget that we also objectify men and we allow ourselves to be objectified in the name of freedom. The hook up culture is the objectification of both the sexes. Our culture objectifies people as a whole. Since utilitarianism is a prevalent philosophy (the idea that we can use people for our own pleasure/happiness and discard them) in our culture we use and abuse one another and then blame the other.

Women, I’m sorry. We don’t get to do whatever we want and constantly blame men for our choices. We have obligations towards our brothers in Christ in charity. If we decide to run down the street in a sports bra and booty shorts, then we are looking for attention. I am a runner. I do not need to run in what amounts to a bathing suit to get the job done. I run when it’s 85-90 degrees in a tank top and shorts just fine. That is a choice and we need to start being honest with ourselves that we are intentionally seeking attention. I workout and while I’m not the fittest woman out there, I have my ridiculous struggles with vanity too. A little self-reflection and honesty is warranted. We aren’t dressing in a provocative manner for some kind of freedom, we do so for our own pride and attention. Freedom is not wearing next to nothing in public. No, I’m not talking about wearing burlap sacks. A woman can be beautiful without showing every inch of her body to the world. Yes, men need to work on custody of the eyes, keep their hands to themselves, and keep their terrible remarks to themselves, but we need to stop pretending that men are not visual by nature and that this isn’t a deeply difficult struggle for those who are trying to learn to control it. As Jesus said, cast the first stone if you’re without sin.

We need to stop allowing ourselves to be objectified. Stop buying Cosmo or whatever other trash we are being sold. Stop going to movies and watching TV shows that objectify women and men. I saw Catholics justifying the pornographic 50 Shades of Grey because it’s not in pictures. Come on! Porn is porn! Let’s teach our sons and daughters how to respect the dignity of one another. They are seeing pornography–which is the ultimate in objectification–at a young age. I was in grade school when my neighbor showed me his father’s collection of Playboy. With the Internet, it’s shockingly young.

Yes, women have been harassed, assaulted, and raped wearing burkas. My point is that we need to stop pretending that we aren’t adding to our own objectification and consider our own culpability in–not the evils done to us those are not the victim’s fault–but the objectification of women as a whole in our culture. Consider how shows like Sex in the City taught an entire generation to objectify women AND men. And we need to stop pitting the sexes against one another. That is how we figure out a way to heal this horrific rift that grips our culture when so many men and women have been harassed, assaulted, or raped. Yes, even men have been raped, by both men and women (yes, women can rape men through drugs and alcohol as well).

When I was in the Navy, we had to warn men not to allow their drinks to go unattended in Baltimore because men were spiking other men’s drinks and raping them. We live in a culture that thinks we should use and abuse other people no matter what. Like I said with the mass shootings, when are we going to examine our own hearts to see where we are failing? Once we see that failure, what are we going to do about it?

When I found out so many of my friends had been raped or abused, I volunteered as a rape counselor for my entire Naval service. I designed and taught training courses on this topic, as well as sexual harassment, at multiple duty stations and I listened to many stories from real victims and tried to help them however I could. I’ve helped women out of abusive relationships and tried to find resources for them to heal. I’ve fought alongside women who had to go against the Chief culture in the Navy because higher ranking people still think they can rape or assault lower ranking sailors with no consequences.

What are we, what are you, *doing* about the problem? My problem with social media initiatives is they are largely empty words or hashtags. It’s easy to type #metoo #unitedwiththiscountry #vegasstrong etc. What are we doing to fix this brokenness and evil in our culture? I’m sick of social media initiatives that are largely empty words. Let’s be people of action. Let’s stop objectifying one another each day. Yes, it is more of a struggle for men, but let’s stop looking at them as our enemy and start looking at them as fellow Fallen human beings trying to overcome sin. if they aren’t trying, then let’s teach them why chastity matters; the same goes for women. Real predators should go to prison, but stop yelling at the guy holding the door for you! Let’s find a way to make it easier for women and men to report this type of vile and evil activity to the authorities without them being blamed for their own victimhood by becoming lawyers, police officers, and judges of character and virtue. Let’s teach men how to be men and embrace authentic masculinity AND femininity. This all begins in the home with our own children. We need to get rid of the filth in our own homes first.

Suffering is an opportunity to do something good in the face of pain. I’ve suffered plenty. We can either wallow in sorrow or we can heal with the right help and then do something about it. It isn’t easy, but revealing such wounds in the culture should allow us to bring healing out of it. I don’t see an empty social media campaign doing that. It’s a cliche, but actions speak louder than words. It’s easy to feel like only posting in social media is doing something, but it isn’t. Change doesn’t come from a virtual, largely distant posting. I’m a writer because God gave me this gift, but I do not pretend that it is enough. Change comes from reaching out to others in our communities in person.

Now that we know this is a problem (we’ve known this is a problem for quite some time), what are we going to do about it? Starting in our own communities is the place to begin. We have to walk alongside our neighbor and we need to be honest enough to confront the darkness in our own hearts. I do that by helping women at Planned Parenthood, many of whom are there for abortions to cover-up their rape or sexual abuse. Think about THAT. Now, there’s a cover-up!  And it’s all in the name of an evil understanding of freedom…

Catholic Exchange: Healing the Wounds of Rejection

It happens to every penitent who frequently seeks forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance. We trudge, once more, to the confessional door and upon our entry, lament to the priest that we are once again confessing the same sins. It’s been a week, a month, a year, and it’s the same sins. We are tired of confessing the same sins over and over again with little or no perceived progress. Those of us who write a list down during our examination of conscience, fight the temptation to keep it for next week or the following week’s Confession, since we know the sins will be the same. This would be wrong, however, since we are absolved of those sins and forgiven by Our Lord. Rip that piece of paper up or throw it in the fireplace! Progress in the spiritual life is slow going and it can feel more like back-sliding than steps up the mountain.

One of the great struggles in the spiritual life is coming to understand why we commit certain sins over and over again. There are the theological answers: pride, we are Fallen, we flee from God, we don’t trust in God’s goodness and love, we violate our own nature, weakness, etc. These are all true, but one of the greatest struggles we face as human beings is the reality that we do not truly know or understand ourselves. We are great at self-deception. We do not fully understand our motives. Many of us have been deeply wounded since childhood, which means we’ve developed habitual sins in the face of suffering. A good many of us never make the effort to try to understand why we sin in certain ways.

There are certain sins we tend to commit when we are suffering, hurt, or are under tremendous stress. Psychology is filled with explanations for why some people eat and drink to excess, turn to pornography, lose themselves in video games or social media, watch copious amounts of television, or recklessly spend money. Many of the points made by modern psychology are helpful, but what are some of the spiritual answers for why we engage in these behaviors when we hurt?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: On Being Human and the Need to Wonder

I stood on a cold, frosty afternoon looking out the window at my daughter playing in the snow. She was bedecked head to toe with winter gear to protect her from the bitter wind, a wind she hardly noticed. Her fuchsia snow pants insulated her knees from the icy snow and she sat contentedly eating snow. She examined each handful before placing it in her mouth. She was struck by the uniqueness of each new handful. As I watched her, I was drawn into her wonder. I was struck by the obvious joy of that moment for her.  I realized in that moment, children often have their priorities in order, while we adults grasp at all the wrong things.

A pile of dishes was awaiting my attention, textbooks for my graduate courses sat opened, reminding me of work to be done. My elliptical machine, cold and mechanical, stood in the living room corner as an oppressive force of health and fitness. My mind was running with an endless list of things that must get done. And yet, I stopped to see what my daughter was doing in our backyard on a bitter cold winter afternoon. She had been begging me all morning to go outside and I made her wait until it hit 25 degrees. I have grown soft living in Southwestern Virginia; away from the arctic subzero temperatures of my upbringing in Montana.

I couldn’t help, but stop. There she sat, engrossed in wonder and serene contentedness. The very same serenity that alludes so many of us in adulthood with our deadlines, duties, and responsibilities. I realized that my daughter’s work was probably much more important than what I felt bound to complete in a begrudging sort of way. She was examining the secondary causes of God’s free and self-emptying Creation. I stood watching her examine each snow crystal before she placed it in her mouth. I entered into her wonder, her total giving of self to the moment. How could I not be drawn in along with her?

She did not feel the cold or complain about the weather the way we adults often gripe. Instead it was an opportunity for joy, play, discovery, imagination, and love. It was a moment for her to experience God through the beauty of His creation. She was living the good, the true, and the beautiful. How often do we brush off our child’s excitement over something seemingly mundane? How often do we miss out on the opportunity to enter into their wonder and joy of discovering something new for the very first time, or even the twentieth? How much do we ignore that God calls us to fully live in the present? Our children teach us the presence of God, but we pay little attention.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

The Proper Ordering of Art and Writing

The creative impulse is a deeply rooted aspect of the human person because we are made imago Dei and God is the Creator. This desire to share in the creative action of God is evidenced by thousands of years in which art, architecture, and the written word have been shaped in endless ways. We are made for the good, the beautiful, and the true and different disciplines help us to enter deeper into reality and into God. The question we have to ask ourselves is: Do I order my creative actions to God? Art in itself is a good, but it should draw us deeper into who we are as “embodied spirits” and point us home.

There is nothing quite like a beautiful piece of music, stunning painting, stained glass window, or a poem to remind us that we are not home. When the soul is elevated through beauty we sense in that ache deep within us that this cannot be all there is; there must be something more. This sense, which comes from faith, is meant to point us home. When we create, whether it be through painting, sculpting, writing, architecture, music, etc. we are  meant to glorify God in the process. We should raise our eyes to Heaven and give Glory to Him.

Catholics have a bad tendency to compartmentalize the different aspects of their lives. This is even apparent in Catholic artists. Many of us live in cultures where we are told our faith is a private matter, and this has been influenced greatly by the Reformation and rationalist philosophies over the last few centuries. The separation of Church and state in this country is often used as a cudgel on religious adherents because far too many do not grasp that this separation only extends to a formal state religion. As Christians, we have a right and obligation to live our faith freely. Unfortunately, too many of us fall for the lie and so we keep our faith to ourselves and the one hour we are required to give worship to God.

In reality, the Church teaches that every baptized member of the community is called to participate in the Divine Offices of Christ: priest, prophet, and king. We are called to sacrifice through charity, share the Good News with the world, and bring the world under Christ’s Lordship. There is no separation between our Catholic Faith and other aspects of our lives. How we live each moment of our day is meant to sanctify and help us to grow in holiness. What we do as an artist is meant to help us enter deeper into communion with the Most Holy Trinity and draw others into that communion as well. This can be done in countless ways.

Do we realize this reality as Catholic writers? I will focus on writing because that is the art form that God has given to me to share in His creative work in the world. It dawned on me recently that so many Catholics are busy arguing, disagreeing, and fighting that they do not realize that their primary–my–primary mission as a writer is to help draw people into the good, the beautiful, and the true and to point people to our Ultimate Home. This does not mean we cannot enter into suffering, pain, and darkness, those experiences point us to the Cross.

It also does not mean we have to be saints, yet. Often, we end up falling on false modesty to avoid the universal call to sainthood. I have a very long way to go and I pray God is merciful and patient with my weakness. The path to holiness is a life-long process. It does mean, however, that we need to take stock of why exactly we write. Is it our place to vent imprudently in cyberspace? Do we desire to share the beauty and truth of Catholicism with the world in charity? That charity is meant to be holy indifferent, by the way. Most of us have not achieved that level at this point in time. Is it an extension of our pride? Do we consider that we are serving God through our work? Do we consider the impact our work has on our readers’ souls? Do we prudently and prayerfully discern any work we produce before it is published?

I can say that I have written for all of the above reasons in some form. I have been writing since I was a child, and I went through a period where I desired esteem, praise, and as many social media shares as possible. I still struggle with the desire for praise. Reading St. Augustine’s Confessions frequently is a great reminder for people like me! This is a very real temptation and danger for writers in a world of immediate connection. I remember the rush of the first time one of my articles was shared and “Liked” on Facebook by 15K readers or when the comments on one of my articles went into the thousands. It is very easy to get sucked into the praise and adoration, and the criticism.

I started to see that the more I focused on these aspects of my work, the more despair I felt in response to criticism and the more often writer’s block would set in. The more I focused on me and my work, the more I would respond in anger or impatience to readers’ comments. You can probably see this if you look back on some of my work a couple of years back or even a year or so ago. It is true that every writer gets bizarre, incoherent, irrational, insipid, vitriolic, random comments on their work. We can have a tendency to focus too much on this group of vocal people, who are a minority. Most people read our work and go on. We have no idea how it has impacted them.

In reality, the reason many of us get so upset, is because we have not given our work entirely over to God. I still struggle with this problem. Some of my favorite pieces are the least popular and I will get frustrated. I sort of understand that nihilism, utilitarianism, and transcendent beauty are not high interest for many readers. The more I focus on me the more I will read nasty comments and fume. I can avoid these problems, which are only really impacting me, if I focused on why and for Whom I am called to write. It does not matter if I write about politics, Church polemics, current affairs, theology, philosophy, or the spiritual life, the  mission is always the same: To draw people towards God. We do this by pointing people to the truth to beauty and to goodness. We cannot achieve this mission if it is not even on our radar that God is the ultimate end of all of our work.

I write because I write. I write and don’t think about how it impacts people. I write to make myself feel better. I write out of pride. I write because I want to be published. Many of these are goods in themselves–pride is not–but they are not the purpose of our writing. God did not start publishing my work on a larger scale until I started to refocus more on Him. In fact, my first big publication (big to me) came out of nowhere.

God has given us a gift and He expects us to use it for His purposes. If we focus on His purposes over our own then we are less likely to be moved to one emotion or another when someone comments on our work, complains in social media, or even writes a negative response at another Catholic website. We are able to, by God’s grace, work towards a holy indifference in regard to our work. Focusing on God’s mission and desires helps us to focus on humility and it allows us to grow in holy detachment.

I no longer read all of the comments on my pieces that publish elsewhere. I cannot keep up with them on the secular sites I write for because there are so many. Plus, all I can do is put the argument out there and leave it to God to change people’s hearts and minds. I must commend my work to God for His uses and ways, not my own. Arguing with folks in comment sections does not accomplish much these days. Much of our work has to be left to prayer. My theology professors are always telling us that theology begins on our knees in prayer. The same goes for writers. If we want to truly transform the world and bring people to Christ then we will be people of prayer.  I struggle in this department as well, but I am working on it.

Disagreements are normal and a healthy aspect of the Church community, but how we go about those arguments and disagreements matters. If our work is truly meant for the Glory of God and to bring other people closer to God, then we should not be so focused on how everyone reacts to our work, nor should we be obsessed with always being right. This is sinful pride in action. Intellectual discourse between thinkers should be done with respect for the other person and a realization that other people are watching and reading. We will be held accountable for the people we lead astray. Whether we like it or not, people trust us. If we are focused on God’s use for our work, then we are less likely to fall into weakness, temptation, and pride in our work and dealing with others.

Everything we do should be ordered to God. It can be as simple as offering up the task of washing dishes or as complex as writing on the Summa. When we enter into the creative aspect of our nature, it is essential that we order ourselves to God first and then go about our task of creating. If we do not offer our work to God, we run the risk of falling short of His plan for us and even succumbing to temptation. Pride is a danger for all of us and for writers it can be difficult in an age of billions of “Likes”. A very blessed Advent to you all!

God Calls Us to an Adoption Adventure

Quite unexpectedly in the midst of our grief, God has placed us on the path to adoption. It started as a providential meeting between myself and another woman in our local pro-life movement and it ended up being a call for my husband and me. A woman who is in her second trimester was considering an abortion and she needed people to minister to her. The main woman helping her asked me if my husband and I would consider adopting her baby if the chance presented itself. She had seen my sign praying in front of our local abortion clinic that shared my 4 miscarriages. My husband and I replied with an emphatic yes. In that yes, we realized that adoption, regardless of the outcome of this particular situation is where God is calling us to be “fruitful and multiply”. Thanks be to God the woman appears to have moved completely away from abortion!!!

It does not appear that we can have anymore biological children. I easily get pregnant, but I lose the babies around 7-8 weeks and after four losses the grief has been profound. Our daughter is nothing short of a miracle in our eyes, since she is the only one to survive to term. While my doctors are perplexed as to my issues–even with hormone treatments–it is a reality nonetheless. My hormone deficiencies do not appear to be treatable with hormone treatments at this time. My body cannot seem to produce enough progesterone to keep the child alive past a certain point. My levels didn’t raise a single point even with progesterone shots, suppositories, and HCG shots.

Many of you have read my story over the past few years. Quite a few of you have read my recent articles over at Catholic Exchange and The Federalist about miscarriage and my grief. It’s a painful road to lose a child, let alone four children. I have had to walk deeper into the mystery of the Cross through each loss, and recently, even deeper as I pray in front of our local abortion clinic.

God is now asking us to transform our grief by once again opening up to love. There are so many children worldwide in need of homes and we want to provide a child or children (if we can get the monetary help to do so) with a loving home. Plus, our daughter will be the best big sister ever! We are called to provide for orphans:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world. James 1:27

When people hear my story, they ask me if my husband and I have ever considered adoption. The answer has always been yes. We discussed it while we were dating. We have four adopted nephews and a friend of ours adopted her son. The last few years we have been focused on having biological children and we were going to look at adoption in a few years. It is now apparent that God is saying now not later. We cannot have more biological children, which has made us shift focus earlier on adoption. God is using the brokenness of my body for good, as is His will.

The problem for us now is cost. Adoption is prohibitively expensive. The average domestic adoption runs $20,000-60,000. Thankfully our local Catholic Charities tends to top out around $25,000. Most people do not have that kind of money lying around. We certainly do not. This is one of the great frustrations for people who want to adopt or even for people who are open to adoption, but haven’t fully considered it. We do not understand why it is so expensive to provide a loving home to a child or children. Nevertheless, this is the system we have to operate within to adopt any children.

After much prayer and a lesson in humility, my husband and I have decided to start an online fundraiser to raise the money we will need to adopt. The more we receive, the more children we can adopt, but we are going to start with an initial adoption cost. Private adoptions are cheaper, but still expensive, so if we are called to adopt this woman’s child we will be able to move any extra proceeds over for our next adoption. All money we are given will go to adoption fees and expenses. If there is an abundance over what we need for our adoptions, then we will donate the money to help other families adopt.

You can access our YouCaring account by clicking on the picture above or on the sidebar of my blog at any time and I will post the link as soon as we are up. You can provide an online donation through PayPal and share the fundraiser in social media. You can also grab the widget on the fundraiser page in order share on a blog.

Thank you to those of you who have been praying for us throughout our grief. Please continue those prayers since the loss of a loved one never fully heals and we are still grieving Andrew a great deal. Pray for all families grieving lost children. I have some friends who are really struggling with their losses from miscarriage. Thank you and may God bless you always.

You can read our story, watch a video of our daughter expressing her desire for an adopted brother or sister, and donate here:

 https://www.youcaring.com/constanceandphilhulladoptionfund-680004

I also recorded a video for all of you to say hello and thank everyone for their support in my writing and in this new adoption adventure. You can watch it here:

Miscarriage Grief: No We Aren’t Going Crazy

Grief is an arduous journey for all of us to walk. It is also a process we have very little control over and we have no choice but to walk it; often only relying in trust and hope that God walks beside us. Grief is a lot like being in a dingy in the ocean. The shore is somewhere off the port side, but we can’t see it. It’s foggy and dark and all we feel are the enormous swells. When periods of peace do come, they are often not serenity, but numbness. In fact, we may have days, weeks, months, years of numbness and then some trigger will pierce through and torrents of tears fall once again.

I have been in a period of numbness for a couple of weeks. Once the miscarriage finally ended the initial intensity subsided and the numbness set in. The miscarriage itself stopped and started over a period of 2.5 weeks, prolonging the initial agony. It now seems to have completed and the numbing–somewhat zombie like–period has begun. I started to wonder why I couldn’t seem to cry. I cried for days in the beginning, but then I couldn’t cry anymore and the ache turned to emotionless nothingness. This numbness is often worse than the intense suffering. Numbness leaves me wanting to reach out, but I can’t seem to grasp anything solid.

The numbness lifted temporary in the last few days. The tears began anew. Every mother and father grieving a child lost in miscarriage has different triggers. In the past, an infant Baptism at Mass would reduce me to a blubbering mess. I battled mightily in my first three miscarriages with the pain caused by my inability to baptize my babies before they died. Years of theological study and my trust in God’s mercy finally lifted that burden. Through the direction of different priests  and theologians, I was guided to a place of trust, even if I lacked solid answers. God assuaged the pain I felt because my babies died unbaptized.

This time the trigger is toddler and infant boys. My husband and I believe our most recent loss was a son, Andrew Thomas. Named for St. Andrew and my hero St. Thomas Aquinas. This past weekend, I once again returned to tears after attending Mass where five male altar servers served with great reverence in the more traditional cassock and surplice. This is such a rarity in my Diocese that the beauty from seeing it alone would have reduced me to tears. Instead, watching the youngest boy serve with the teenage boys reminded me of how much I miss my sons Andrew and Caleb.

The youngest boy serving must have been 7 or 8. He clearly had just received his first Holy Communion this year and the teenage boys towered over him, but they treated him with great care and guided him through the Mass. This young boy followed the great dance of the Liturgy (no I didn’t say liturgical dance….shudders) beautifully. His reverence and attention were remarkable in one so young. He did just as well as the older boys.

The second time I ached for my children was while we were at a park. My family and I went camping this past weekend. On our way home, we stopped at a park so our daughter could play. There was a little boy toddling around the playground. He clearly had only been walking for a short time. He was trying to keep up with the rest of the children playing around him. He was adorable.

My husband and I sat watching our daughter and the other kids play while we discussed adoption. We greatly desire more children, but it does not seem to be God’s will that they come from us. We have been contemplating adoption for over a year, but we are taking our time discerning when to put in our application. We want to make sure we make a clear-headed decision because we are grieving so deeply at this time.

Adoption is a long, invasive, and difficult process. We have four adopted nephews, so we know it is a rough process. It is also extremely expensive. It will cost us $15,000-25,000. Yes, you read that right. That’s for a domestic adoption. We have already been through orientation at our local Catholic Charities, so our decision will be made understanding that we will have to cut back tremendously, save a lot of money, and probably stay in our current home for a few more years rather than buy our dream home, which is a small farm. It’s a matter of choosing greater goods, and a human being is always a greater good. Pray for us as we discern God’s path for us.

Grief is a long process and it never fully goes away. There is always that slight prick whenever the lost person or persons is remembered. The ache to hold my children will never fully dissipate until, Lord willing, I meet them in Heaven. My daughter’s loneliness serves as a reminder that I have not been able to give her a sibling. And I even battle the pain that my writing has expanded to wider audiences because of my suffering. Writers often expand their audience because they are willing to enter into suffering. I would give up writing another word to have my children back, but that isn’t possible. Instead, it appears that for reasons not entirely clear to me, God has called me to bring attention to the miscarriage-abortion connection. Doors keep opening that I never imagined or thought possible, even as I sit in my dingy off the shore.

If like me, you are journeying through grief, you may have moments when you feel like you are going crazy. It seems like small things set you off and torrents of tears come streaming, even in public. There may be times the sobbing is uncontrollable and the wound that seemed to heal ever so slightly is gaping wide open once again. This is a part of grief. The senses are how we understand the world around us, which means our senses will trigger memories. Seeing a baby, hearing their laughter or cries, or any other type of sensory response can remind us of the lost child we miss so deeply. All we can do is ask for God to walk with us during this time of intense suffering. We have to hope that good will come of all of this, even if we don’t understand it on this side of eternity. Know that I am praying for all of you grieving. I know that I am not alone in my pain and so you remain in my thoughts and prayers. Pax Christi.