Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Year's Revolution

This is the year. We've drawn our line in the sand and steeled our wills and made an impressive list of bullet points that we spit shook over; this is the year we're getting out of debt for good.

I wrote a little bit about our budgeting process a couple weeks ago, and it kind of whetted my appetite to want to dig deeper into our process and see what was working, and what could work better.

Our Advent resolve to stop eating out was a huge revelation, both in terms of the kind of money we were spending on that luxury and convenience, and how empowering it felt to be able to say "no" to ourselves, and to the kids, over and over again, for almost a solid month.

We did it. And we can do it for longer.

We sat down with our budget and figured out that if we cut back in a dramatic, nuclear fashion, we can be completely debt free in a little over 14 months. That means this time next year, we'll be 8 weeks from financial freedom.

That blows my mind.

We've been budgeting for the past 5.5 years and we've paid off a TON of debt in that time. But here's the thing, we had a TON to start with. So we're left with about half of our total debt to plow through.

We crunched some numbers and talked late into the night and came away with a list of tangible changes we can make in 2015 that we think will set us up to be completely debt free by March of 2016. 

To think that we could pay off in 14 months the same amount that took us more than 5 years to retire is...insane. Humbling. Crazy exciting.

I think we'd be in an even better position, financially, had we not cash flowed an international move and three babies, but...I don't regret a single decision we've made, in that regard.

Now that we're locked solidly into our jobs, our incomes are stable (and higher than they were before babies, btw - God works in mysterious ways!) and our immediate needs are met, we think that we can get crazy, gazelle-intense aggressive in 2015.

Here are some examples of how crazy I'm talking:

  • No more shopping at Target. Like, ever. Not while there are zeros on the wrong side of our bank account. I'm not knocking their prices, and I'm already mourning the loss of my beloved Up and Up diapers, but I know myself, and I cannot NOT walk out those doors without a minimum of $40 worth of random crap I didn't need and shouldn't have bought. 
  • All our grocery shopping will be preplanned, done in cash, and done on a weekly basis. When I run to the store every day or two, I over spend. Every time. No more wandering into the store at 4:52 pm after the gym, roving aimlessly with hungry toddlers through the produce aisle and walking away with a disappointing rotisserie chicken and a $36 hole in the checking account.
  • We're canceling Amazon Prime. Sob.
  • Dropping my mother's helper down to once per week. I don't have the stomach to cut her loose entirely, but 50% is a good savings.
  • No eating out. Like, at all. Unless it's from either of our $25 monthly "blow" allotments.
  • Asking "Do we need it? Did we plan for it? Can we live without it?” about every single purchase. And using cash for EVERYTHING not on auto bill pay. 
  • No travel, outside of work trips, period. (Might be a no brainer for most families but we have this persistent habit of globe trotting that sorely needs to be retired for a year or ten.)
I think we can do this. I believe that it's 100% within our reach to get out of debt in the next year and some change, and that it has 99% to do with our behavior and the choices we make in that time period. Disasters and illnesses notwithstanding, we can be free.

Meanwhile, I've got to get to work meal planning, thinking up 101 ways to plan a date night using Grandma and Grandpa's Netflix password, and pondering where in the world my cheap diapers and pull ups are going to come from now.

Any New Year's resolutions at your house? Do tell.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Why can't non-Catholics receive Holy Communion?

Happiest second day of Christmas to you and yours. Ours was salvaged by an 11th hour recovery from the flu of death and a sprinkling of magical, legitimate Christmas snow.

We spent Christmas Eve with my side of the family, as we often do, attending 4:30 Mass in my hometown. And by attending Mass I mean perching in the window sill of an overflowing school gymnasium balancing still-ill babies on hips and shushing angry toddlers in increasingly uncharitable stage whispers amidst the dulcet tones of the pitchy children's choir. (All honesty though, lead female soloist KILLED it on the Ave Maria. Solid gold.)

I wonder if anyone has had a similar experience attending Mass at Christmas time or Easter, when the (not)church/auditorium/parish hall is stuffed to the gills with worshipers in varying arrays of holiday finery, kneeling or not kneeling at all the wrong moments and just bringing a general sense of chaotic merriment and outside-the-normness to the moment, marking this day as something altogether different from any given Sunday?

When I was younger and even more selfish than I am now, I resented the crowded pews and the, um, let's go with "eclectic" dress code. I was a brat, and I wanted a seat, darn it, and don't I deserve a seat for coming every single Sunday and not just twice a year?

(Prodigal son's older brother, anyone?)

Now that old age, motherhood, and sleep deprivation have mellowed me somewhat, and probably due to an enriched understanding of the meaning and nature of evangelization, I actually really look forward to the C & E crowd. I love the overstuffed church, the chaotic parking lot (okay that part might be a stretch) and the haphazard feel to a liturgy filled with participants who may not quite be all the way there, so to speak.

"The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature" (Ad Gentes, Vatican II)
There's never more of a missionary feel to my parish church than during our major holy days, when the doors are flung wide and everyone from agnostic Uncle Tom to gay Cousin Jeff gather with family to attend and to worship (or to stare in confusion/wonder/boredom) as a family, as a body of Christ.

Yes, it's inconvenient. Christianity is inconvenient through, and I make the too-frequent mistake of forgetting that I exist for it and not it for me.

The Church does not owe me anything. Jesus didn't die for my sins in order that I may vaguely acknowledge Him in some kind of moral therapeutic deistic fashion. So what if I have to stand in a drafty gym for 90 minutes on Christmas Eve, so that the visitors who have swollen our attendance by 400% can have a seat for their biannual pilgrimage -- isn't it worth it?

Because what if somebody does come back because of Christmas? What if this year is "the year" that something clicks in their heart and head and the blinding light from the manger cracks open a channel  of grace into their soul and...oh, holy night.

Wouldn't that be something?

And then, oh what joy, if that revert or convert-to-be were to formally approach the Church via RCIA and ask to be received into full communion, to become one with the Bride of Christ and to be welcomed into the mystery of the Sacraments.

That's what it's all about.

I'm wandering far from my title here, but that backstory is important because it lays a foundation for understanding the difficult beauty of the Catholic Church's teaching on the Eucharist.

It is He.

When we approach the altar to receive Communion, we truly believe we are receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. We don't celebrate a symbol, but a Sacrament.

We don't merely recreate a reenactment from a story in the Bible, rather, we are ushered in a mysterious, time-bending way into the one, eternal sacrifice He made of Himself.

And because He is truly there, dwelling among us, present in the Eucharist, humble and unexpected (kind of like a peasant child lying in an animal's feeding trough), we only dare to receive Communion if we are properly disposed to do so, which looks like this:

1. Am I a practicing, baptized Catholic,

2. In a state of grace (i.e. recently confessed, no mortal sins on my soul)

3. living in accordance with the Church's teachings (i.e. I believe in and consent to her dogmas?)

If the answer to those conditions is affirmative, than one may worthily receive the Eucharist.

Or at least, as close to worthily as any of us poor sinners may hope to be.

This is emphatically not a condemnation of anyone who doesn't meet the conditions. On the contrary, the teaching of worthy reception of Communion is a great mercy intended to save a person from committing the grave offense of receiving unworthily.

St. Paul warns us "whoever shall eat this bread or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord."

There's also the small matter of Communion being an act of, well, communion among members of the body of Christ. 

And just like you (hopefully) wouldn't throw back the covers and invite just anyone into your marriage bed, the Church joyfully opens the doors to her sanctuary for any and all who wish to enter, but reserves the ultimate expression of intimacy, Communion, for practicing Catholics, aka fellow members of the body of Christ.

So that awkward paragraph on the back page of the missal? That imperfectly phrased blurb in the bulletin that made Grandma squirm? That moment when you try not to fall into your cousin's lap while extricating yourself from the crowded pew to join the communion line? All evidence that there's work to do yet, and that we all share in the call for a new evangelization.

The beauty of the Gospel is that it is for everybody. 

The Church is for everybody. And even if you can't yet receive the Eucharist, please know how very welcome you are, and that we're looking forward to the day when you are able to.

(And if you could maybe find it in your hearts, could you please forgive my children for that noise they made during the entire homily. You know the one, that sustained whine in f minor, punctuated by increasingly threatening motherly whispers? I promise, it's not like this every Sunday.) 


Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Break

Sigh. It's snowing outside my window, the view framed poetically by three broken Target dollar spot nutcrackers, all nose-less, and the wispy curls of steam from the dryer vent purging vapor into the frosty air. Is there a more glorious sound than a napping house full of sleeping (or crying, but only very faintly and all the way from the back bedroom) children and a washer/dryer cycling? I think the soundtrack of Heaven may involve the churning of the washer and the hypnotic whir of a full running dishwasher.


We've had a rough go of it the past week. I mentioned it on the blog's Facebook page, but Evie raised an eyebrow at her one-year well baby checkup for failing to grow a single centimeter between months 10-12. So, back to Children's Hospital we were sent, this time for bloodwork targeting her IGF and IGF-1 levels, which has something to do with growth hormone reuptake and blah blah blah. We're waiting to get her labs back today. If those numbers are low, the next step is a growth hormone stimulation test, which involves a 12 hour visit to the lab with blood draws every 2 hours and oh, I really can't think about it right now because also ... EVERYBODY HAS THE FLU.

Well, all the small people do. And it's my fault because we never do flu shots. Oh, but they don't work this year anyway? So I guess you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Evie the incredible spent Saturday evening with me in the ER because she spiked a 105 fever. That, coupled with the blood she'd given the morning before, made us worry about dehydration. But $75 worth of fancy hospital-grade pedialyte and Motrin later, we were very happily sent home, where we've been pushing fluids and squirting Tylenol and streaming an almost continuous playlist of Netflix Christmas classics ever since.

Oh gosh, also, I had a root canal last a week and a temporary crown put in while they ordered the real one (fancy? From India?) and, uh, it kind of fell out and I am officially, as of yesterday, a 32-year-old toothless hag.

But Daddy is done working.

And last night, Uncle Kenny helped me wrap every single Christmas present while we listened to my embarrassing 90's channel on Pandora and ate a whole bag of tortilla chips.

And 3 nights ago, at the height of Joey's fiery feverish fit, while I lay beside him in his bed stroking his damp hair, he rolled over and whispered into my ear with hot little breath, "I love you mommy...you're a good mommy."

And that, folks, is why it's all okay. Even though this may be the crappiest lead up to Christmas in recent family history, I'm so glad we're all together. I'm so glad I can sit here tap tapping in front of the bay window in our kitchen, snow falling over my shoulder and disgusting remnants from last night's spaghetti sauce crusted to the floor beneath my boots.

Later on this afternoon, please God let them continue sleeping, because I'm going to slip away for a little alone time at the dentist. Again. And maybe I can ask for a gold upgrade or something fancier to match my Christmas finery? Do they do molar grills?

I just wanted to stop in here though and say hey, are you having the magical catalogue-ready end of Advent you envisioned? Are you in a frenzy of from-scratch baking and wine sipping and quiet evenings by the fire, catching up with beloved siblings and far-flung friends?


If you're not, and if maybe someone is puking on you currently and you're doing the math right now and realizing that at this rate, you will probably commence vomiting at 3am on Christmas Eve, according to your carefully calculated reckoning via Web MD...well, that's okay.

It is, isn't it? So many families would be happy to have nothing more serious than Influenza A and a nasty bed-wetting epidemic on their hands. And so many more would be happy just to be part of a family, period. To be woken up at night by little needy needlings, and to be snotted on and talked back to.

So I'm calling this a successful foray into Christmas week. Even though nothing has been baked and the only thing I've actually managed to "cook" in the past 72 hours is giant pot of chicken tortilla soup simmering away on the stove. Because nothing says yuletide like fresh cilantro, in my heart.

I hope your Christmas is 98.6 degrees on the nose, but if it's not, I hope you can find the peace and the unassuming joy of a holiday in the trenches of family life.

A few good clicks to go out on: Simcha's list of cheap and idiot-proof Christmas fun.

This ultimate example of Christmas as a state of being.

This song. Can't stop, won't stop.

This sweater my dad will be receiving for his dumb little dog from his newest son in law (unbeknownst to the poor guy in question. Special family tradition...)

Oh, yeah, and before I forget ... I wrote a chapter for a book. And it's out now! Click over to snag yourself a copy of Catholic and Married. But don't read it for my chapter, read it for Hallie and Dan's.

Until next week, a Merry Christmas and a long, unbroken string of silent nights freed from fevers and diaper blow outs, from our house to yours.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Budgeting We Go

We have a super fun date night at the beginning of every month around here.

Just kidding, it's the worst. But we're usually alone, usually spending a decent amount of time talking, and it usually involves alcohol.

Kind of sounds date-like, right?

We've been doing a monthly budget since we first got engaged, so for around the past 5 1/2 years. I wish I could say we've paid off the entirety of our debt in that amount of time, but alas, we're still knee deep in student loans. HOWEVER, we have paid off a huge chunk of it, and we've honed a handful of best practices in our financial behavior that seem to be working well for our family.

Mostly we're big Dave Ramsey aficionados, but we also keep doing (stupid?) crazy things like international travel/moves (when the opportunities arise) and, alas, our shared love language is drinking alcohol at a 40% markup in somebody else's dining area. So. We've got some work to do yet, and we're not the hardcore beans n' rice cookers that we could be.

Oops. Italy was expensive. And delicious.
Still, we've made huge progress in this area of our lives, and I've gotten a handful of questions lately about budgeting soooooooo I thought I'd break up the thrill of endless postings about Advent practices and share some of what we do with you.

I'm very very much the opposite of a financial expert. So take this all with a salt lick or something.

I am, however, almost a diamond-level Target shopper, and I'm a devoted radio listener of Mr. Ramsey. I'm also a thrifty mom who loves expensive leather. It somehow all holds together, and I could never tell you how...

But the budget. Of all the tricks in our relationship bag, this one is probably the most useful and the most necessary, apart from our shared faith and practice of NFP. Because conversations. Over and over again. And continual circling back and reevaluation of goals. It's amazing what that will do for a marriage.

The nitty gritty.

  • Every month close to the 1st, we sit down with our little Xcel spreadsheet and do a zero balance line item budget. That's where we list out the total income for the month and then assign every single dollar of it to an outgoing debt/expense until we're left with a balanced zero budget at the end. It's a very simple Xcel spreadsheet with a list of all our expenses on the left, and we just go down the list and fill in what we're spending in each category. It's repetitive, but you'd be amazed how much difference there is month to month. For example, hundreds of dollars of stimulating dental work for yours truly this month. Ahem. So list it out like so: tithe, rent, groceries, energy, doctor's co-pays, etc.
  • We're trying to get back to using a cash envelope system for groceries/gas/babysitting/clothing/home goods, but I have to confess I've become notoriously lazy in this arena. I 100% believe that cash is more effective at protecting against overspending, but I also have 3 little kids and I hate going into the bank. Or the gas station. Womp womp. So, mostly we use our debit cards and track our spending daily on our bank's mobile app.
  • We don't use credit cards. Ever. We don't even have them, because at one point we did, and the temptation of the very thing's mere existence is just too much. So, reward points be damned. We don't use 'em.
  • We're not saving anything for retirement or college yet. That looks terrifying on paper, but the truth is, aside from what our employer's contribute to our 401Ks, nothing is going in. Why? Because we're still in debt. So we'd essentially be borrowing to invest, which is ridiculous. As soon as we send that last check off to Great Lakes (aka Great Satan) and are free and clear of our own student loans, the saving will commence. For now, we're in payoff mode.
  • We are not homeowners yet. Believe me, this one is by far the hardest...but when the furnace goes out, the master bath springs a $15,000 plumbing leak and the carpets are getting, well, used by small children...I'm a little bit relieved. Even though the rental market in Denver is appallingly steep, we're so thankful to have found a reasonably priced, comfortably sized house to rent while we finish paying off our debt/save out down payment. As much as it pains me to be approaching 32 and not yet in a home of our own, I know that the pain is temporary, and that the reward of entering home ownership with zero debt (and a healthy down payment) will make our mid 30's and beyond so much sweeter. Renting is a little embarrassing, but being house poor seems like a much bigger problem than my ego.
  • We've put a temporary freeze on eating out/travel. This has been the hardest part by FAR. We both love to go out, we love to travel, and we love happy hour. But at the beginning of Advent we had a little come to Jesus moment over the sobering (ha) reality that all those little date nights might be adding up to additional months not living in our dream home, so we've ripped off the final band aid. The only exceptions are previously standing commitments and birthdays. (And mine is coming up this weekend, cheers!)
  • We take pretty much all the freelance work that comes our way. I say we because even though I'm really the only one with flex time in my life to be able to take on extra projects, Dave's support and help with the kids in the evenings that makes it possible. I use a mother's helper each week to help keep me sane, and I write 2-3 freelance pieces each month to pay for her. Anything beyond what she costs goes into the larger money pot.
  • We do a debt snowball. We knock out our debts from smallest to largest, regardless of the interest rate, and we attack them. There's a list on the fridge, and every time I get to cross off another line I feel like partying. I won't list actual numbers, but it's really gratifying to see that when we started marrying out budget together we had 4 student loans (including grad school), 2 car payments, a tax bill, a credit card debt, the cost of our international move, and a year of preschool tuition. All we have left on the list are 2 student loans...WOO.
So that's the bird's eye view. I'm always listening to the Dave Ramsey show when I'm in the car between noon and 3, and if I'm home, I stream it on my computer and have it playing in the background. My kids know his theme song by heart, haha. I need the motivation because I'm a hard-headed idiot who has to hear the same thing over and over and over again before it really sinks in. Hence it taking us 5 flipping years to give up eating out. C'est la doggie bag, though.

Anniversary trip to the mountains last month. Our last travel for ... um, ever?
So how about your family? Are you trying to pay off debt? Do you even have any debt? Does talking money make you feel icky? I love hearing other people's get out of debt stories - they're almost as addicting as birth stories.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Waiting in joyful hope (And still finishing the Christmas shopping)

(Disclaimer: I'm a little sick of writing about Advent, and you're probably a little sick of reading about it. Feel free to skip this one, it's a piece I wrote earlier this month for Catholic Exchange.)

Advent is a tricky little season. On the one hand it's a kind of "little Lent" inviting Christians to enter into the hush and mystery of God - God! - becoming a tiny baby boy, laid in a manger where animals eat and birthed in conditions no first-world woman would consider laboring in.

On the other hand, it's the last 4 weeks before Christmas, the end of the calendar year, and jam-packed with more parties, social obligations, and family traditions than the previous 11 months combined.

As parents the balance can be especially tricky with excitable small people who are rightfully enthralled by blinking Christmas lights, a giant evergreen tree shedding needles and the scent of heaven itself in the living room, and a shortened school calendar punctuated by plays and festivals and parties. Their little voices cry out in delight at the mere glimpse of the Christmas aisle(s) at Costco, and they develop a disturbingly insatiable thirst for hot cocoa.

But Advent. Peaceful, expectant waiting. Austerity, even.

Enter the brilliant of the liturgical calendar.

Isn't Holy Mother Church so generous to pepper this short little season of expectant hope with a multitude of fabulous feasts? I have never appreciated it more than I do now, as the mother of 3 young children, these multiple opportunities she presents us with each week of Advent to kick up our heels and celebrate a little.

After one particularly harrowing afternoon involving lots of laundry and lots of craft glue, I was able to fire a happy little text to my homebound husband to swing by and procure a bottle of nice Spanish wine for dinner, because St. Francis Xavier! (And don't worry, we also watched the CCC movie of his daring evangelistic efforts in the Far East and talked about the Jesuits.)

We try to use our party days well in Advent, confining the necessary tasks of preparing Christmas for a family to those days which are supposed to be filled with joy and merriment. So, the Christmas tree comes home on the first Sunday of Advent. St. Francis Xavier's Spanish heritage is toasted to (and mommy finishes addressing the Christmas cards). Our Lady of Guadalupe's feast day may find us drinking margaritas and pencilling in commitments on our social calendar for the season, and the feast of St. Lucy might be an occasion to cruise the neighborhood with hot chocolate and admire all the incredible Christmas lights before putting tired little sugar plums to bed and getting a head start on the gift wrapping.

And of course, St. Nicholas will show up to fill shoes with chocolate coins and take the kids' letters to Santa. Two for one.

What are some practical and fun ways you can combine the more worldly (but still necessary) tasks of gearing up for Christmas with the beautiful liturgical rhythm of Advent? I'd love to hear them.

(cross posted at Catholic Exchange)

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Sweetest Thing

My little principessa is one today. I can't believe it was only a year ago that I was holding her for the first time, thanking God she opted to arrive 10 days early rather than smack dab on her Christmas due date, and marveling at her thick shock of black hair.

I must confess that when we found out Evie was a girl, I was terrified. I thought I had boy mom down pretty well, and I didn't know what kind of a relationship to expect with another woman in the house. Now I can't imagine life without her sweetness.

She's really the happiest baby in the entire world. She sleeps from 7-7 more often than not, and when she is awake, she is almost supernaturally happy.

She laughs a lot, and she also shrieks like a pterodactyl if her brothers thwart her will or don't come quick enough with a toy delivery.

Mealtimes are crazy because she sometimes eats more than our 4 year old. Last night she ate a plate of beef stew, a container of baby food, and 6 ounces of milk.

Oh, and did I mention she is still currently toothless? You'd never believe the amount of meat this girl is able to put away on a daily basis, sans dente. It's the craziest thing you'll ever see.

She's still not crawling, pulling up on her own, or walking, but she is scooting her butt all over the house like a teeny human Roomba, buffing the hardwoods with her diapered butt. She does this kind of crab like scuttle that's hard to describe and hilarious to behold. And she's pretty fast!

She loves: having her long hair brushed and styled, playing with her brother's toys, throwing a ball and having it returned to her, all meat and dairy products, bath time, taking showers, her stuffed Catty Cat, stealing sips of mommy's pellegrino, and the occasional sip of coffee. (Kidding. Mostly.)

She also loves to be laughed at or sung to.

She hates: being forced into a crawling position, most every physical therapist she's worked with, trips to the chiropractor, having her clothes changed, being told "no," and riding in the Ergo.

She's most attached to: John Paul, her mommy, and her stuffed kitty.

She looks like: me, apparently.The past couple weeks we've gotten a huge increase in comments about how much we resemble each other. It's precious. She does have daddy's big blue eyes, though.

Favorite foods: raisins, steak, chicken, ham, avocados, black beans (never enough black beans), and chocolate anything. She's officially graduated to dairy milk in her bottles, and she seems to love it.

Stats: 16 lbs, 13 oz as of last night. Around 24 inches long, (but don't quote me, because John Paul was holding one end of the measuring tape and he's notoriously sloppy with his figures). Wearing: size 3 diapers, size 9 m sleepers, size 12 m tops and leggings fairly successfully. We do roll sleeves quite a bit. ;)

She's such a sweet little bug, I love having a one year old in the house. They're into everything but none of it is malicious, and it's really fun (and sometimes surprising) to find a little person underfoot everywhere you turn.

Genevieve Therese, my little Evie doll, I love you so! I'm sorry I spent so much of your first year of life worrying obsessively over your growth and development, I'm really going to try to relax and just enjoy you more this coming year (but if you could go ahead and crawl and maybe pop out a single tooth, that'd be great.)



Saturday, December 13, 2014

Supporting Mary's Shelter

You know what I neglected to mention at some point during this very Marian past work week, bookended by the Immaculate Conception and Guadalupe?

(hangs head in idiot shame)

Mary's Shelter. It's a home for women in crisis pregnancy situations, and it's the fullest expression of what it means to be truly pro life. Because material assistance, spiritual support, medical and emotional care, and physical shelter. It's the total package.

One of my best friends, Karen, sells Arbonne, and she had the beautiful idea to create baskets filled with botanical skin care products to give to the mamas who call Mary's Shelter home.

I LOVE the idea of incorporating quality and beauty into charitable giving. I think it's easy enough to give leftovers, or to troll the Target dollar spot (um, guilty as charged) loading up on sparkly body wash and crappy nail polish. When Karen and I were brainstorming about how we could promote her giving baskets here on the blog, I was really struck by the idea that these moms deserved the same level of quality that I have at home in my own medicine cabinet (and in my makeup bag).

It's natural (and I'm looking in the mirror here) to go for the biggest bang for your buck when you're doing charitable giving. But I think there's something to be said for giving something a little nicer and a little higher quality than, say, the store brand mac and cheese. Even if the store brand is what you'd buy for your own family.

I want these moms to feel a little pampered. And this seems like a small but tangible way to share a little bit of joy with them during Christmas time.

It's easy enough to be pro life when all eyes are on baby. It's a further step to love and support the mama who did turn away from the clinic, who left the abusive relationship, who put school on hold to give her child a shot at life.

If this resonates with you at all, would you consider sponsoring a basket for one of these mamas this Christmas? It costs $30 (Karen is selling everything at cost and donating the packaging and shipping), and it could be a really sweet part of your family's holiday this year. Generous love for an unwed mother in a crisis pregnancy? Sounds very seasonally appropriate.

You can donate two ways. The first (and probably easiest), is by clicking here and giving directly via Paypal:

The cost per basket is $30, but any amount you can spare is so very appreciated.

(And don't worry, if you don't parle Paypal but you still want to give, please drop me an email with "Mary's Shelter" in the subject line, and I'll connect you directly with Karen to give via CC or checking account.)

Please pray for these mamas and their babies, if nothing else. It's a tough time of year to be alone in any circumstances, and they've each made a heroic choice in a culture that screams at them to do the easy thing, the thing that's no big deal and gives them back their "freedom."

Praise God for brave mothers and sweet babies who don't know how lucky they are.

(p.s. Karen's husband is the name associated with the Paypal account: "Scott Cruess" will appear on your gift receipt. Don't worry, he's a firefighter and an okay guy - he won't embezzle the funds ;)

Friday, December 12, 2014

We give what we get

There's something deliciously satisfying about the anticipation inherent in the Advent season.

Even as a little kid, largely ignorant of the mechanics and meanings of the liturgical seasons, I loved Guadete Sunday. Seeing that little pink candle aflame meant we could begin the Christmas countdown in earnest. Now that I have little people of my own running around, we're trying to instill that same sense of anticipation and "now-but-not-yet-ness" as we celebrate the season.

One particularly tangible way we Advent, the verb, in our house, is by participating in our parish's Adopt-a-Family program. Our parish has binders full of eligible families from a diocesan-wide program, and each year we choose a family equal in size to our own and sponsor their Christmas, essentially.

In past years we've made a family affair of taking their list of ages, sizes, and gift wishes to Target with a pile of children in the cart to "help" shop, though this year the baby and I hit the stores late one night on a solo mission. Same end, much less traumatic effort.

But! We do try to let the boys (ages 4 and 2.5) help with the wrapping and the drop off. We explain to them that because we've been entrusted with a certain amount of material wealth by God, we're expected to share it with our neighbors who are in need. Our rule of thumb is that whatever we budget to spend for our own family's Christmas, we commit to spending on our adopted family, too.

So far our kids are small, and their wants are, too, for the most part (life sized Lightening McQueens notwithstanding.) It's more than reasonable to budget x-amount for their Christmas gifts and to spend an equal amount on the other family. As they get older and, God willing, more numerous,  I can see how the 1:1 ratio is going to stretch us. My hope is that in the coming years, it also limits our spending on our own family in a palpable way.

As crazy as it sounds, I want to have to say no to them, (and to myself as my finger hovers over that 1-click button) because if we go over budget for ourselves, that could affect our capacity to be generous with our sponsored family.

I want us all to learn to to give until it hurts. And I want the anticipation of Christmas morning to be tinged with the joy of making a sincere gift of self to someone else.

I want our kids to feel that - I want them to fall in love with generosity.

There's nothing set in stone that we will always operate this way. But 5 years in, it's definitely starting to feel like a tradition. I hope it's one we can continue to grow into, and that in turn, it grows our hearts.

Meanwhile, I'll be looking for that pink candle come Sunday, and trying mightily to resist the urge to turn my radio dial to the 24/7 Christmas station...at least for another week.
P.s. this is a Krampus. He knows if you've been bad or good, and he might be hiding under your bed. Be very afraid.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Why we all need Mary (but especially moms)

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which, as everyone knows, is the day Mary got pregnant without even trying that commemorates Mary's conception in her mother's womb, free from the stain of original sin.

Jesus saved His mother before He saved anyone else.

Makes sense when you stop to think about it, doesn't it?

Would a good Jewish boy do anything less for his loving mother? What if that good Jewish boy also happened to be God, and was therefore free to apply retroactive grace from His redeeming passion and death to her before she was even born, so that He would have a pure and spotless womb in which to implant?

Honestly though, it's not any weirder than the rest of what we believe. Eating flesh. God becoming a human embryo. Raising Himself from the dead.

Catholicism: there's something for everybody!

I was thinking about Mary this afternoon at the very ill-chosen noon Mass that I attended with John Paul and Evie in tow, Joey being safely enclosed in his preschool classroom on the other side of campus. It was ill chosen for a handful of reasons, but I'll just highlight the pertinent few:

It started at nap time.

We spent the morning at the mall visiting Santa, who lives inside a giant Frozen-themed dome filled with falling artificial snow and Elsa's voice on a repeating loop.

John Paul drank the last 2 ounces of my Starbucks while we waited for the fat man.

Any other questions?

I'm sure all 300 of my fellow parishioners who'd chosen this lovely noon option were beyond delighted to see, nay, hear us make our entrance up the center aisle during the Kyrie. We spent 9 minutes in the pew, during which time John Paul moaned audibly at a pitch mostly dogs (and I) can hear, and Evie engaged me in a largely silent wrestling match because I dared to strap her into the Ergo. She claimed victory when she smashed her forehead against my nose and we evacuated to the vestibule.

The rest of Mass wasn't that bad, honestly. I mean, John Paul did lie on the floor moaning and kicking his velcro sneakers against the ground in a vain, vain effort to get them to light up. And he may have mentioned to me 2 or 44 times that he wished they did light up, like those of the other small, naughty exile sharing space with us back in the clink. But at least we were on the wrong side of the glass doors.

As our pastor reflected on Mary's motherhood and her nearness to us in our shared humanity, I found myself profoundly grateful for the gift of her presence. God was so right to give her to us.

And He did give her to us. Specifically. It was pretty much His last earthly act: Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your Mother.

I struggled with the idea of Mary when I was coming back to the Faith, not because I thought she was undeserving of my affection, but simply because I didn't see a real need for her.

Now that I'm a mom, the need is there, and it's immense.

We don't revere Mary for her own sake, but for His.

After all, she loved Him more perfectly than anyone else ever has - or ever will.

Nobody loves Jesus the way His mother does. She carried His tiny body inside her own, and she nursed Him and changed His diapers and held His lifeless, bloodied corpse in her arms. Her love for Him was perfect, because He allowed the grace He won for us all to transform her soul from its very beginning. What the rest of us experience in the waters of baptism, she experienced in the water He rested in within her womb.

As I held my thrashing salmon of a baby in Mass today, trying to avoid damaging blows to the face, I was so grateful to a God who gave us not only His Son, but also a Mother. 

She probably stood holding a fussing baby, her back aching and thoughts of dinner occupying her mind (though not during church. Because, again, immaculate.)

She knew the rising panic of realizing you've lost a child in a public place, the terror that grips your heart.

She endured the disapproving stares of her neighbors, her swelling belly earning her a reputation she did not deserve. You might even say she carried the original unplanned pregnancy.

And she did it all with perfect love.

He asked, she accepted, and for that, we rejoice.

Oh Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Friday, December 5, 2014

St. Nicholas lives at the North Pole

We do a kind of liturgical/secular mashup in this house come Advent, both in reverence for the all-but-invisible-in-America season in the Church year and in concession to, well, the same thing.

We can't shield our children from the life-sized Santa Claus and Nativity displays at Costco come October, and, frankly, why would we want to? I'm glad there's something meaningful to distract them while I'm frantically shoveling bulk meat products and cases of black beans into my double wide cart.

But Advent.

My husband was raised in a more, shall we say, liturgical rigorous environment, and so it was not uncommon for a tree to be procured as late as Christmas Eve itself. My side of the tracks|? We pop out both fake trees the first or second week of November and the halls are fully decked by the time the Thanksgiving turkey is on the table.

So we've had to compromise, coming together to create a meaningful and realistic celebration of this most joyous time of year, respecting the austerity and recollection of Advent while at the same time acknowledging that we live in 21st century America, and our kids are going to hear Silent Night once or 233 times between now and December 25th.

Enter St. Nicholas.

He's the perfect vehicle to bridge the gap between the secular and the religious, and he is a very cool saint in his own right, too. Whether you identify more with the tenderhearted bishop who paid off the dowry for a young family of sisters, saving them from sexual slavery, or the righteous zealot who punched a heretic in the face while defending the divinity of Christ, there really is something for everyone.

Plus, the guy is everywhere come November.

We use St. Nicholas and Santa Claus interchangeably, and it works out great. All over town, all over Target, and all over tv there are images of the jolly saint in red, helping to remind us to prepare our hearts for the great mystery of the Incarnation: the Nativity of Jesus.

On the evening of December 5th, our kids place letters they've written to St. Nicholas in their shoes, arranged under the Christmas tree. The letters are a truly bizarre mashup of prayer requests, toy lists, and messages of gratitude for the blessings of the past year. But the morning of December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas, our kids find that St. Nicholas has retrieved his letters in the night and left shoes full of chocolate coins to remind them how sweet it is to prepare our hearts and home for the coming of baby Jesus.

Simple, meaningful, and an easy translation to connect Santa Claus to Jesus Christ. And it saves the trip to the post office to send letters off to the North Pole.

May your Advent season be marked by childlike wonder, and may your hearts be opened to the miraculous reality of Jesus Christ made man, lying in a manger, defended by a sturdy bishop named Nicholas.

(Cross posted at Catholic Exchange)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Soul Vitamins

Because who doesn't need a little pick me up by the week's end?

How about a womb-like spa experience for your fat-faced and adorably milk blistered newborn? The French would conceive something this decadent and beautiful.

Also, proof that not only is the world not a terrible place, but it's actually populated by beautiful people who look like indie movie stars and have hearts made of solid gold...and who name their baby sunflower.

Finally, I had the most amazing experience of deliverance prayer in spiritual direction a couple weeks ago. More about that some day, I promise, but for now, the heartiest of thanks to Dan Lord, (aka Hallie's sweetheart), for sharing his own story on Jen's show. This song was playing on the radio when I hopped in the car to leave afterwards. I'd never heard it before, and now I can't stop hearing it. Just the lyric video alone is hauntingly beautiful.


....Oh, fine, one more. Olivia nails all that it means to be a Barron. And then some. I'm old enough that I only got like 85% of these, but it was still funny.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

An Advent to Remember

This year has been...whew. I mean for us, personally, it's been filled with ups and downs, suffering and joy, but nothing major as far as hard things go. But for this weary world of ours, I just feel such a heaviness. It seems like every time I open Facebook it's a constant stream of tragedy, and each news cycle brings with it fresh anxiety and mounting dread.

For the past four years my job as editor of on online news aggregator meant that I spent hours each day coming the www for stories touching on life issues and bioethics. It was, I'd estimate, 90% negative. Taking in that kind of horror daily wears on a person. And while I'm thrilled to share with you guys that I'm stepping into an exciting new role (details to come soon. Promise.) I'm definitely still feeling the weight of all the awfulness I've waded through, especially this last year.

And I realized something else today, too; I've gotten pretty good (scary good, really) at forgetting something terrible 14.5 seconds after I've clicked the link/read the story/sent the donation. It's almost a sort of disassociation that I've developed, probably to protect my finite human brain (and heart) from the infinite stream of tragedy and horror that filters in every second of every day via the airwaves. And this without even having cable.

I skimmed past a link on somebody else's page yesterday and saw a thread of discussion still active from late October - October! - about Britanny Maynard and suddenly my mind and my heart were freshly jolted back to the horror of waking up on the feast of All Saints to discover that she had, in fact, taken her own life.

I was so shaken by that story. And then...I moved on. Ebola, Ferguson, Bill Cosby, Syria, Ukraine, babies in sewer pipes and young fathers murdered in cold blood didn't leave me with the mental or emotional stamina to keep processing her death. Or even to remember it 5 days after it happened.

I don't want my use of technology to strip me of my humanity.

And I don't want to overload my brain with so much horror that I lose the capacity to feel, deeply, the sting of loss, an ache at acts of evil, or real sympathy in the face of suffering.

I was thinking that in addition to the mild smattering of efforts we're making as a family to consecrate Advent as a time of waiting in joyful hope, I could also bring my heart to bear on those stories from this past year that will give our weary world the most cause to rejoice when He comes.

For the next 3 weeks, I'm going to try to recollect one story each day from the past year that broke my heart, and offer the little sufferings and inconveniences of that day for those still hurting in connection with those stories, if that makes sense. So for Robin Williams' family. For the young wife and mother whose husband is gone. For a city burning and roiling in turmoil. For a mama whose girl's days on earth are numbered.

Surely I can do this small thing in an effort to bring some meaning to all the suffering we've witnessed this past year, and to hold these families and individuals up in prayer as we prepare for the Baby who will save us from ourselves.

If you want to join me, my plan is to simply scroll through my Facebook page and my browser history each morning and select a story, a situation, a loss...and then to make that the focus of the day. I'm confidant - sadly - that I'll have no trouble filling up the next 21 days or so.

This isn't meant to be depressing, but redeeming. I really feel like I've lost something in my rabid consumption of news and media, and I'm hoping it isn't an irrevocable loss.

May your Advent season be filled with joy, anticipation, and deep empathy for those who are most in need of Bethlehem this year.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Christmas is a BIG deal {and that's okay}

I know the days of being able to wow our kids with a couple of thoughtfully-curated, $20 something Christmas gifts are numbered. Or are they?

I want to keep our family's focus on the real meaning of Christmas: Him. But I also want to really party it up, you know? And to me, party = presents. Not a ton of presents, necessarily, but a decent handful of brightly colored packages strewn under the (absolutely must be real) Christmas tree.

When I was growing up I remember one of the most magical moments of the season being that predawn treck down the stairs to the sight of a figurative ocean of Christmas presents spilling out from under the tree and filling the entry way of my parent's home. My parents knew how to go big.

But not necessarily bank-breaking big. With 7 kids (did you guys know I'm the oldest of 7?) times 3-4 presents each, plus grandparent gifts, we're talking somewhere in the neighborhood of 35-40 packages under that tree.

And it.was.awesome.

There was something about the superabundance of gifts under the tree that communicated, to my childish heart, the significance of the event we were celebrating. And it didn't matter that some of them were from the dollar store, or that inevitably, grandma's gifts were going to be lame pajamas (that I would die of happiness to receive today. Go figure.)

It was the ridiculous too-much ness of Christmas morning that helped me realize that ... this is a pretty big deal.

Now this is not to say that you can't have a lovely, minimalist Christmas punctuated by handmade gifts and baked goods. This is simply my own alternative perspective on the whole "Christmas is too commercialized/we're not doing presents on principle!" line of reasoning that seeks, rightfully so, to reclaim the season for Christ.

I think it can be both/and, though.

I think you can have a meaningful, sacramental, beautiful Christmas filled with bright paper packages and hymns and carols.

And I think it's okay to want to fill the space under the tree with a couple - or more than a couple - thoughtfully chosen gifts for your kids and spouse, never forgetting for a moment that He is the gift par excellence.

Also, we believe wholeheartedly in Santa in this house. But that's another post for another time.

So, without further ado, I present to you our hundred-something dollar Christmas which I hope will wow the crowd appropriately. (And, in keeping to a 3 gift per child limit, I realize that the only way we can really up the number of packages under the tree is by upping the number of butts in the seats. Gulp.)

For Joey, age 4:

This camera, which I fully expect to blow his mind while at the same time preserving my ancient iPhone to live to snap another day.

This collection of Star Wars peeps. Because my little apple didn't fall far from the tree.

This watch. Because learning! And Lightening McQueen.

For John Paul, age 2.5:

This remote control car. He's going to sob with delight when he opens it. And it alleges to be easily controlled by fat little fingers.

This watch. Because Batman.

This liturgically significant catechetical toy. Which will be shared by the whole clan, and will be personally delivered by St. Nicholas himself on December 6th. (My kids write letters to St. Nicholas, aka Santa, and leave them in their shoes on the evening of December 5th. Little do they know they're getting more than gold coins this year.)

For Genevieve, age 11 months:

These sweet little shoes. She's still utterly uninterested in doing anything resembling standing, but I figured these might give her some motivation. Plus, John Paul had a pair of Pedipeds in Italy and I loved them so much.

These adorable knee socks, which I pray can summit her 3-inch long calves and secure themselves above her cankles, staying in the upright position like no sock has yet to do.

And finally, this cool looking thing, which will be her first official "new" toy, not counting a baby doll and a stuffed kitty cat (all my kids have been given a Jellycat stuffie from birth and they are the attachment object par excellence. Do yourself a favor and check them out.)

So that's it. And looking over it in a list like this, it looks like a lot! But it was less than $150 for everything, and it will make for a nice little pile of packages under the tree. 

We also adopt a family equal in size to our own each year at our church, and I have a sort of unwritten rule that whatever we spend on our kids, we spend on theirs. It helps temper my natural desire to BUY ALL THE THINGS, and will be, we hope, instructive to our kids as they grow up and see that whatever we do for them we will match in charitable giving. So they could technically get twice as many gifts, but then the other family would not get their Christmas. 

So that's it. An alternative perspective on the annual introspective about presents vs. Jesus. Maybe He's the big Present, and the smaller ones help little impressionable people connect with that on a heart-deep level. That's my hope, at least.

 Now, onward to Advent!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Unspoken Faith: When Couples Don't Share Beliefs

Today I have the real privilege of hosting a guest writer I think you guys will really enjoy.

During the month of October when I was running my 31 days series on Catholic teaching on sex and marriage, I got a ton of questions about mixed faith or faith/no faith couples, and what it might look like for marriages where one spouse doesn't practice the Faith, or maybe any faith at all.

Here's one answer to that question.

Sarah* has been generous and vulnerable enough to offer a reflection on what life looks like with 3 young kids and a husband who is supportive of - but not actively practicing - her Catholic faith.

I hope you enjoy.

A couple of months ago, my four-year-old son and I were having a conversation about the Mass. I was trying to explain the Eucharist to him when he cut in: “Oh, but dat’s just for girls.”

“No, Communion isn’t just for girls!” I protested. “Your daddy doesn’t take Communion, but lots of other daddies do. You’ll see – I’ll show you next time we go to church.”

I protested, I assured, I tried to tell myself that his was nothing but a silly little remark, but my heart sank. “Oh no,” I couldn’t help but think: “He’s already noticed.”

In my personal experience, believing is left to the women.

My father is not Catholic. Nor is he a religious person of any persuasion. I’ve only ever seen him go to church for the sake of someone he loves: He accompanies my mother to Mass on Christmas, Easter, and some random Sundays when it seems to matter to her; he attends family baptisms, first communions, and confirmations; he goes with my grandmother to her Methodist church on Mothers’ Day. He does it for our sake, not his own.

Of my mother’s large, Catholic family, few devoutly practice the faith. None of her (many) siblings are married to Catholics. Most have raised their children in the Church, but they’ve done so without the help of their husbands. My cousins (and many of my friends) attended Mass like I did – sitting in the pew every Sunday without our fathers.

As normal as this felt, it always bothered me.

It’s lonely to sit at Mass week in and week out with part of your family missing. It’s especially lonely on days when family blessings are given or on Father’s Day, when dads stand up for a blessing of their own. It’s hard to sit there, looking around at the men scattered throughout the congregation, biting your tongue to keep from shouting out, “I have a daddy too!”

So I resolved that when I grew up and had a family of my own, my children would have their father at Mass with them. I wanted to spare them that loneliness. And I wanted them (particularly any sons) to have the example of a father who attends church.

I did not, however, resolve to consider only devout Catholics for a husband – or indeed only Catholics at all. Because – my father. Ruling out non-Catholics felt too much like ruling out my own father. My wonderful, supportive, loving father – who is in almost every way, a beautiful example of what it means to be a husband.

Without a doubt, my parents have the best marriage I’ve ever witnessed. Growing up, I was just about the only child I knew who never, ever doubted that her parents loved each other and who never, ever feared that her parents might someday divorce.

My parents’ relationship just has that one, gaping hole: they don’t share a faith.

When I met my own husband after years of hoping and praying for “the one,” everything fell into place easily. So easily that I couldn’t help but see Providence’s hand in it. My husband is kind and gentle, hard-working, responsible, smart – all sorts of good things. Our values align. We work well together. We hold the same views on how to raise a family.

I was beyond relieved to learn that he was Catholic. But I was made a little nervous by how he said it: “I was raised Catholic.” Not I am Catholic. I was raised Catholic. Past tense.

Still, he harbored no ill will toward the Church (as too many, sadly, do) and he seemed to think it was valuable for children to be raised in a Faith. He attended Mass with me occasionally. He understood that I was serious about my Catholic Faith.

As our relationship progressed and we discussed marriage, he agreed that we would raise our children as Catholics and that he would attend Mass with us. He was happy to be married in the Church. He was fine with the prospect of not using contraception. And he never, ever pressured me to have pre-marital sex. (As far as ‘devout-Catholic-marrying-someone-who’s-not’ goes, I realize that my husband made it pretty easy on me. Many are not so fortunate.)

But though my husband was raised Catholic and though he (now) attends Mass regularly, I wouldn’t say that he and I share a Faith. That hole in our relationship may not gape as far as my parents’ does, but it’s still there.

I don’t know that he believes.

I don’t know that he doesn’t, either. We don’t talk about it. 

Because to be honest, I’m afraid to hear his answer. Actually afraid: I’m afraid of the sadness it might bring me.

So, we go to Mass. We say Grace before meals. We give to the Church. We do a family prayer whenever I can make it seem as seasonally-required as possible (say, over an Advent wreath). We carry on with the motions of the Faith, me hoping that in the doing, my husband will one day come to believe.

I also pray for him. I’m afraid to say, however, that I don’t do an awfully good job of it. I don’t have an awfully good prayer life, period. I pray in fits and spurts through the day, tossing prayers heavenward as I drive or do dishes or lie in bed. It’s one of the many parts of my life that I continuously try, and fail, to improve upon.

It’s easy to blame any number of things for my failure to pray as I should, but the hardest to swallow is the thought that if I had a devout, prayerful husband, he might encourage me in that effort. I hear (or read) from Catholic friends and bloggers this idea that a husband and wife’s primary goal in life should be to help each other get to heaven. And I’m … left short.

What an idea.

I’m sad to admit how foreign it is to me. In my mind, I visualize this space – say, a square – which represents all that a marriage is supposed to contain: things like love, patience, kindness, hard work, compromise, consideration, generosity, appreciation, etc. And I think, “We’re doing pretty well. We check those boxes. We must have a pretty decent marriage.”

But then I read one of my favorite Catholic blogs, where I learn of spouses praying together as they work to come to an important decision, or a husband engaged in a ministry at church, or a father praying over his children – and I start to see a space beyond that square. I see that there can – and should – be so much more to a marriage, to a family.

I see freedom.

I see the freedom to own one of the most elemental parts of who I am – a believer. I see the freedom to be open about my beliefs, my questions, my doubts – and to know that my husband will reciprocate. I see the freedom to accept our weaknesses, to say them out loud and to – together – ask for God’s help in overcoming them. I see the freedom to lean on my husband, to trust him in this part of my life, just as I do in others.

I also see grace.

What grace must come to a husband and wife who pray together. What grace must come to their marriage, their family, even their friends and the community to which they belong.
I wish I had that.

But I don’t. At least for now, I don’t. So I’m left to work on this (very important) part of life by myself. And I wonder: How can I be more open about my faith, so as to expose my family to it and help them to see it as normal and important? How can I provide them with examples of men who believe? How can I encourage my boys to consider a priestly vocation? How can I attract my husband to the Faith without hitting him over the head with my evangelism?

How can I help to open my husband’s heart and mind to God?

A couple of weeks ago at Mass, I found myself standing in the vestibule, looking through the glass at my husband. He was sitting in a pew a few rows from the back, mostly by himself. The baby sat quietly on his lap; there were no squirming, climbing boys to distract him from the Liturgy of the Word. (Our older boys were attending the Children’s Liturgy of the Word – big mistake – and I was standing at the ready in case they caused a ruckus.)

As I watched my husband, I prayed for him. I prayed that those quiet moments, those sacred words, might have some effect on him. I prayed that he would – bit by bit, Sunday by Sunday – someday come to believe. And that he would someday express that belief to our boys.

While I stood there, our three-year-old ran up to me. “I haffa tell you somedin’!” he said with some urgency. “I find Jesus up dayer!” He was pointing at the large crucifix above the altar. My boy was breathless; his eyes were wide. He saw Jesus.

I knelt down next to him, followed his pointing finger to the crucifix, and expressed some of the excitement he was giving off. I smiled and hugged him and said a few words about Jesus.

But the short, sweet moment was soon tempered by worries I’m only now starting to recognize:

“How long will this last? How long do I have before he grows tired of church, of thinking on Jesus? 

How can I help this all sink into his little mind before he chooses others’ influence over my own?” And the most worrisome question of all: “When they’re grown, will my boys believe?”

I have to admit, when I think on the situation much, I’m left feeling quite anxious. But one thought soothes me no matter how grim things seem: 

“Every time I go to Mass, I love my husband more.”

I realized this when we were first married and it’s held true ever since. Whether we go together or I’m alone, whether we’re happy or in the middle of a disagreement, I leave every single Mass loving my husband more than I did when I walked in. I can only attribute this to God and the graces he bestows on us through the sacraments.

 Though my husband may not believe (or if he believes, may not care much), he and I both received the sacrament of Marriage. Though he hasn’t received the Eucharist since our wedding day, I have received it countless times.

These sacraments matter. They matter, and I believe we continue to receive blessings because of them. 

So I hope. 

I hope that after witnessing the Consecration for the 942nd time, my husband will feel moved to receive the Eucharist himself. I hope that my boys will notice the good, believing men of our parish as they line up every Sunday to receive Communion. I hope that I will receive the graces I need to nurture my own belief and to be a convincing witness to my family. 

I hope that someday, we will all feel the freedom and experience the graces that come from sharing a Faith.

*Not her real name.