Friday, February 27, 2015

The annual Lenten crash and burn

Well, well, well.

We all saw this one coming. At least I presume most of you fine people did, along with my husband and my entire extended family (we're close knit like that).

Bottom line: committing to a radical total-life overhaul is the number one recommended way to screw up New Years... and Lent. And to do it while pregnant? Even better! That way there's plenty of hormonal support for those lofty goals, fueled by prenatal appointments and late-night Pinterest binge sessions on Paleo meal planning and having "the best pregnancy ever."

I lack self knowledge. Let no one question that.

I also lack humility, apparently, and what better way to remedy that than to admit crushing defeat 9 days into 47?

So the Lenten Whole 40. Um, no. It's not going ... well. We're eating decent, low carb dinners and staying away from sugars and dessert, but other than that, I have utterly failed. First it was the occasional spoonful of crunchy peanut butter to supplement that morning banana. Then it was the occasional glass of whole milk "for the baby." And the only thing less impressive than no finishing this stupid endeavor would be to fail to cop to it here. So, my name's Jenny, and I failed my Lenten sacrifices.

At least, I failed at the ones I picked for myself.

Oh my gosh, it's so predictable and it's so stupid, but it's kind of the same way I feel when I go back to Confession time and time again for the same exact sins, the same exact issues.

I can't do it on my own. 

And when I fail to take His plans into account, I fail. Every time.

Oddly enough, the little penances He chose on my behalf, the sleepless nights with sick kids (again! Again with the ear infections! A pox on this winter!), the teeth-gritting Mommy and Me decade of the Rosary in the mornings, the endlessly pleasant soundtrack of an almost-three-year-old's chronic whining...well those sacrifices are going great.

Seriously, I haven't missed a day yet.

And yesterday I even had the opportunity to re-mop a delicately steam-cleaned kitchen floor when a sweet little somebody barfed up her antibiotics over the side of her high chair.

I'm so lucky.

I mean that. Because look, if I had been relying entirely on my great ideas and lofty goals for self improvement, this Lenten season would already be DOA. And it is. My Lent is dead in the water.

But the one He had in mind for me? It's in full swing.

More time spent in prayer, because I'm drowning and I need His grace to make it till bedtime.

Healthier meals and wiser choices in the grocery store. Because my sane and stable husband is doing marvelously well in his efforts to eat clean. And I'm in charge of the meal planning round here.

Growth in the virtue of patience. Because 4, 3, 1, and 16 weeks in utero. And all very needy. (Though all the small one wants is Cool Ranch Doritos, truth be told. Bad baby.)

Tons of opportunity to grow in humility. Literally, tons. Because my pants don't fit now that, once again, the beautiful soul-stretching work of bringing a new body into the world is destroying mine in the process.

Hello, Lent which was meant for me. It's nice to make your acquaintance. Sorry I'm a week and a half late, it's just that I haven't bothered to look up from my plans until now. But I'm chastened and deflated and feeling much more teachable.

And I promise I'm going to try really, really hard and take my own advice in future years and just accept the Lent that has been handily laid before me, custom crafted for my own particular vices and weaknesses, and not try to concoct one on my own that is so lofty, so fantastically challenging that I've literally no hope of seeing it through.

I'm listening now. And, yeah, I'm eating cheese.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Is it really about the children?

There has been much discussed about immigration in the news cycle of late. 5 million granted amnesty, amnesty revoked, bills vetoed, legislative vs. executive branch's a hot mess.

There are millions of young people who want to be living here in the US of A. Whatever your politics, that fact stands. And both sides of the debate seem to have settled on the youth narrative as a good place to start from. Because 45 year old drug runners or convicted felons make less compelling subjects, and old people are boring, I guess? I think that's the line of reasoning, anyway.

So the children. Both pro amnesty and anti amnesty groups point to the kids as the reason we need to fix the system/open the borders/streamline the process, and they're right. The kids are the reason. They have as much dignity as the little people you have tucked up under your own roof each night, slumbering peacefully and securely.

Now, forgive me if I'm wrong, but this piece casts a rather disingenuous pall over the motives of some of those within the Department of Health and Human Services working so earnestly to secure residence for young illegal immigrants. And it smacks of the worst kind of eugenic elitism.

Sure, send us your poor, your huddled masses ... and we'll welcome them and abort their children.

Is there not rather an abrupt break in the narrative, at that point, if it is indeed supposed to appear as though the primary concern in the forefront of everybody's generous heart is the children?

I guess, then, it still boils down to a prejudice of geography. Children running across deserts and fording rivers are welcome, but the stowaways within their wombs will be executed upon arrival, courtesy of the US taxpayer.

And yes, sure, it specifies that the abortion services will be extended to those children who were sexually assaulted during their crossing, but with the amount of trafficking occurring on our borders right now, that casts a wide net indeed. I wonder who decides whether a pregnant 14 year old girl has been assaulted and is therefore "entitled to" (read: has it forced upon her) abortion. Perhaps even against her will.

But then, it's for the good of the children. 

Violence upon violence.

This is the fruit of the assault on religious freedom, on purging goodness and truth from the public square. When we lose our voices and our rights to exercise our consciences, everybody suffers. And government bureaucracy is no replacement for the human heart for determining good from evil.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Sometimes it looks like this

Today was one of the best days we've had at home in a while, for me and the kids. The long-awaited pajama day at preschool was trumped by a snow day, and all three little people spiked fevers sometime after breakfast. No fewer than 7 (seven. SE-VEN) hours of cartoons were consumed by a certain someone with a 103 temperature and an abiding love for the Octonauts, and I was only dressed in real clothes for about an hour, during a brief foray to the doctor's office and the grocery store.

And it was, truly, one of the best days in recent memory.

I didn't yell, I didn't cry, and I didn't stress over what I was or wasn't getting done. The kids were so needy, and I, for once, was so acutely aware of their littleness and their neediness that I just threw up my hands and settled onto the floor in my yoga pants to soothe, cuddle, and read aloud.

Sure, a few loads of laundry got washed, but nothing notable was checked off my endless to-do list. For once I could clearly see their needs, and somehow, there was the grace to meet them.

I wonder if it's always there?

I suspect it is.

I read a piece on a better blog than this one a while back, and one bit of wisdom in particular stuck with me: when your kids are sick, stop what you're doing and take care of them. Don't ask me why that's rocket science to me (seriously, please don't), but it hit me right in the gut.

I do so much in spite of my kids, stepping around them and over them and looking past them - or at least looking past whatever trying developmental stage we might be stagnating in currently - that I've lost countless opportunities to train flabby mommy muscles and hone parental prowess by meeting reality head on. I grit my teeth and get through it, whatever "it" happens to be: pink eye, potty training disasters, sleeplessness, etc.

And I drag them with me.

Today felt different, though. Today, maybe because it's Lent, or because I prayed first thing like I always should but never actually do, or because school was cancelled and my agenda was derailed, I just met them where they needed me, extending my arms and letting them climb all over my slowly shrinking lap and reading Little House on the Prairie until my voice got scratchy. (And yes, hours and hours of Netflix, too.)

I didn't try to escape it, not in the virtual sense or the literal sense. I didn't load them up and force the planned Costco run. And, miracle of miracles, I didn't send a single electronic smoke signal to my homebound husband on the evening commute. I just accepted the day as it unfolded, and for once I played the role of competent, caring adult for a solid 10 hours.

Maybe I'm not giving myself enough credit, but it certainly didn't feel very familiar. I think I spend more time than is polite to admit attempting to escape from this particular season in life, whether it be through exercise or constant, low-grade panic-cleaning or the endless busyness of saying yes to yet another little project or another small commitment, giving away little pieces of myself bit by bit until there's nothing but scraps left for the children.

For my children.

This isn't some kind of self castigating tell all about the terrible state of my motherhood. I'm not a bad mom, and I know that. But I am a highly distracted mom, most of the time. And an overworked mom, exhausted by my own free will more often than not.

My choices and my standards are what keep me there, though. It's not really the kids, most of the time. It's me. My expectations, my plans, my agenda...and my failure to put first things first, vocationally speaking.

I'm not saying mom shouldn't make it to the gym every other night. God knows I need that precious time on the Stairmaster with HGTV blasting through my earbuds. And there's nothing wrong with keeping a clean, clutter-free house that brings peace and life to your family. But there is something wrong, something out of place, when the kids and the marriage and the vocation you chose, of your own free will, become not the means to your sanctification but the burden that tugs at the edges of your sanity.

I am there too often, and I can see where a long string of days and months and years in such a place could lead.

Thank God, then, for little graces wrapped in feverish bunches of damp pajama bottoms and snot-streaked faces. For the bloodless surrender to a day spent reading stories and filling juice cups and vacuuming around clumps of kleenex. He knew just what I needed today - what we all needed.

For mommy to be around, in the fullest sense.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why everybody loses when we sugarcoat NFP

There's a common thread that runs through so many of the conversations I've had about NFP lately (and, as this belly pops out more and more, I'm guessing those opportunities are just going to start rolling in gangbusters at Costco and the like) and it's the very simple and very often understated reality that it's difficult.

Did you catch that?

There is nothing easy about it, whichever method you practice and however charismatic your instructor and however earnest the smiling couple with 5 mewling children careening about their feet who run you through your introductory session as an idealistic (or perhaps incredibly bored) newly engaged may be.

It's not easy.

It's not easy to choose this alternative lifestyle, to live the practical nitty gritty of the Church's strange and beautiful and salvific teaching on sex and love and human life.

It just isn't.

I doubt it was easy 200 years ago when less was understood about the female reproductive system, and more was left up to a prayer and a chance.

And it's not easy today, for we who are often steeped in and strangled by technology, terrified at turns by our ability to procreate and our inability to control, ultimately, this mysterious force at the center of human existence.

It's heavy stuff we're dealing with, and it deserves a more serious and frank conversation, at every level of engagement.

On the one hand, yes, we ought to be encouraging and enthusiastic in our presentation of the Church's beautiful teachings on sex and marriage, but we ought not do so at the expense of reality.

Nobody has ever pointed to a crucifix and said "look how pretty, look how effortless."

Is it beautiful? Peerlessly.

Is it staggeringly difficult? An incomprehensible level of suffering?

Yes, also that.

There is nothing to be gained from hiding the beauty and the difficulty of living this countercultural reality from those who come to us with questions, comments, or even ridicule.

And there is surely nothing to be gained in failing to advise young engaged and newly married couples, enthusiastic in their love and devotion and early in experience, that the road they are going to walk down is not paved entirely in roses, or rather, that there are thorns, too.

Spouses who practice NFP are less vulnerable to divorce, yes, but not because of NFP alone. There is room in their marriages for charity, for generosity, for communication...but it's an opportunity that must be actualized by hard work and hard choices and constant death to self. It's not a guarantee.

And please, for the love, pastors, well-meaning friends, family members...if a couple is drowning in plain sight, overwhelmed by their present circumstances, or just plain exhausted by the physical and emotional strain of parenthood, do the truly loving thing and lift them up. Offer them babysitting help. Take a meal over. Drop off a gift card. Pray for a multiplication of sleep and energy. But don't lean in in a conspiratorial tone and ask them if they've thought about doing something about all those bouncing babies that keep coming their way.

Yes, they've thought about it. 

And they've either discerned that now was indeed a good time for another new life to come on the scene or they're struggling with understanding their fertility or they just plain made a miscalculation, or God one-up'd them.

Whatever the case may be, they're not morons who've never watched tv, and your suggestions are less than helpful; they're deadly destructive.

I can't tell you how many women I've talked to who have been counseled by pastors/friends/in-laws, well-intentioned Catholics and less-than-well-intentioned Catholics, that contraception was the obvious and only answer to their problems.

When somebody is drowning in plain sight, you don't chastise them for getting in the water in the first place. You throw them a life preserver and wrap them in a warm blanket and hold them until the shivering subsides.

To suggest that living the fullness of the truth of the Catholic Church's teachings on family life is only beneficial up to a point, up to the part where it gets really hard and excruciatingly challenging, empties the authority of those teachings to nothing.

Either it's life giving and soul saving, or to hell with it.

Tell me that from the pulpit and I'll sit up and give you my full attention. Anything less is a waste of my time and an insult to my intellect.

Let's do a better job of talking about NFP. Let's be bold in our conversations with our Catholic friends who are unconvinced. Let's be transparent with our curious (bemused?) family members. And let's be charitable with our incredulous neighbors.

Because there are a whole lot of people searching for real love, and for the meaning of life, and for answers to lots of big questions. Shame on us if we're not willing to offer some answers, or at least start the conversation with an explanation.

Finally, let's encourage our priests and our seminarians to dig deep in their study of these difficult, beautiful truths. There is vast room for improvement, on both sides of the altar.

We live in a society steeped in sexuality and yet utterly illiterate in matters of the heart. People are breaking their bodies and their hearts for want of a little love, and we hardly hear a word about it from the pulpit.

I live in a city populated by some of the finest clergy in the world, and I am richly blessed. Our seminary is peerless, and our parishes are full.

But many are not so fortunate. And even in familiar territory, we cannot assume that everyone is on the same page, that everyone is in agreement and has had the same level of catechesis and instruction.

There is so much room for improvement. And, thankfully, so many opportunities to let Him in, to extend grace and mercy and His beautiful, difficult, life-giving truth.

Let's get to work.

Image source.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Margin for error

This morning my babysitter texted me at 7:43 am "I woke up with a sore throat but I feel fine, still want me to come?"

My heart raced as my fingers flew over the keypad, tapping out a rapid fire yes yes YES, come if you can, unless you'd feel better curled up in bed. I'll extract an oath of angelic obedience from the kiddos, and here's a bag of homeopathic cough drops if you find yourself hoarse.

She came, they behaved, and I fled the house for a few hours of solitude in a coffee shop where I wrote nothing but emails and accomplished very little in the grand scheme of things.

I did, however, come to the realization that I've overcommitted myself in almost every area of my life, and that I'm so relived that lent is upon us.

I have no margin in my day-to-day right now. I can feel it in the frantic, rising panic that sets in if the kids wake up 20 minutes too soon for the day, if the library's children's section is under construction  and I've lugged all three kids into the building though the snowy parking lot for naught, if dinner burns, if somebody falls and something starts bleeding.

There's no room for any of these inevitabilities which are, after all, no more than the reality of life with small children. Each of them feel, by turns, like emergencies. None of them actually are. (Well, the library situation was acutely felt by my 4-year-old, but he was placated by a lone rolling cart stocked with wooden puzzles. Because we go to the library for the toys.)

I can't sustain this level of intensity. I nearly wept on the phone with a dear friend this afternoon, my voice rising as I explained all the things I'd said yes to and all the reasons why, and how very necessary each item seemed, in isolation, but how the larger list was crushing me.

Sometimes I think I wrap my motherhood in layers and layers of busyness and "important external commitments" so that I won't have to look to closely at my performance in my primary occupation.

I'm not so sure I want to see the results of that evaluation. Not at this particular moment in my mothering career, at least.

It's very, very tempting for me to rationalize away the frantic pace of life right now because the kids are little, they won't remember much, we're getting out of debt/getting established in our careers/treading water as babies keep getting tossed our direction...but every one of those excuses falls flat when I test it aloud.

The truth is, my days aren't all that full. There are a handful of commitments each week set in stone, and some daily metrics I need to hit, but for the most part, I'm the thing keeping me from fitting it all in.

And that's because I have largely failed to identify what "it" is, exactly.

Even though I read and immediately implemented (and gushed obnoxiously about) "A Mother's Rule of Life," truth be told, I haven't found my daily rhythm, and I've yet to set and follow a schedule for more than a week at a time. Because the stomach flu. Morning sickness. Nightmares and wet sheets and cars that need a trip to the shop and, well, life.

If the stars don't aline and I don't log 8 hours of sleep, I pretty much throw my hands up and let my day happen to me rather than moving through it intentionally and with purpose.

And that means there's just no room for anything to go wrong, because there isn't all that much going right to begin with.

I don't wake up before my kids, unless the current resident-on-board forces me into the bathroom in the semi dark morning hours. We don't really have a morning routine, unless the blessed babysitter comes and then, well, I flee the premises. But not before stuffing 3 loads of laundry into the machine, setting the crockpot, and frantically washing all the mirrors in all the rooms and ... you get the idea.

So lent. It's here. I'm here, in this place of utter chaos, and along comes this liturgical season, practically begging me to fall to my knees and don a sackcloth and get my priorities in order. And I know that the one thing I can do that could make this all better is to set, and follow, a daily prayer time.

And yet it's the first thing to give when the day starts out on the wrong foot, when there's someone literally getting up on the wrong side of my bed and waving a used Pull Up under my nose, demanding inspection. And it's the last thing I want to do when I retreat onto the couch at nap time, or in the evening after the dishes are done and the lights are dimmed. There's always something more apparently productive I could be doing, something more leisurely, something more concrete.

Meanwhile, time marches on, life speeds by, and I collapse at the end of the day, stunned by the ferocity of its demands and the unchangingness of my competency level. Shouldn't I be better at this by now?

I think I would be, if I weren't constantly trying to do it all under my own power. And I don't just mean at motherhood, but at life.

I think I'd be better at life if I made more intentional room for Him, if I had continual recourse to His plans for the day and not my own.

I mean, I know this is true. But closing the computer, declining the invitation, turning down the project, turning off my phone...those are all the thousand little places I struggle, frittering away my days and my weeks until the quarterly meltdown, the back-up-against-the-wall why-do-we-do-so-much conversations, either with my husband or my best friend. And then a deep breath and a foolhardy dive back into the madness, none the wiser or more peaceful.


Can this lent be different? Can I leave some margin in these 40 days, opening up my calendar to His discriminating gaze, and asking not "Can I?" or "Am I able?" but "Should I?" and "Is this what You want for us?"

I'm going to try, anyway.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Lent in the age of excess

As much as I loathe the trend of turning the penitential season into a social media campaign, and as obnoxious as hashtags can be, I still find myself 2 days out from Ash Wednesday wondering if maybe a little virtual peer pressure might be just what I need this year.

I have a decidedly first world problem, and it's mostly to do with food, but also to do with leisure time and belongings and disposable income and wifi connectivity. The unifying theme? I have too much of it. All of it.

Food, in particular, is my Achilles heel. In varying ages and stages past, I've struggled by turns to rule my appetite and, having failed in the struggle, to let it rule me.

In adolescence I would have sworn up and down that it was I who called the shots, but in the throes of an eating disorder that stretched well into the college years, I was blind to the harder truth that I was, in reality, every bit a captive to the rigid rules and cravings and triggers that dictated my daily life.

When I got pregnant with my first child the month after my wedding, no sooner had the test turned up positive then I was happily filling the freezer with ice cream, delighted both by the impending glory of motherhood and the freedom to eat carbs again. I gained an ungodly amount of weight that, surprisingly, did not simply melt away under the efficient assault of non-stop nursing and never sleeping ever again. So odd. So ... disappointing.

So realistic.

I tried between each pregnancy to regain some semblance of my "normal" body, but around the time my old jeans start fitting, that pink line shows up again.

Which is a huge blessing! Don't get me wrong. But, it's becoming increasingly obvious that pregnancy, for me, is not a temporary blip on the radar screen of real life. The kids are going to keep coming, so long as we discern we are in a position to welcome them, (or, more to the point, so long as we discern the absence of a grave reason which would prevent their coming) and so I need to adjust my lifestyle to better reflect reality.

And the reality is, if I put away pints and pints of the finest gelato American dollars can buy, I'm going to be enormous at 40 weeks. And after three repeat performances, I can confidently report that those lb's don't actually melt away once one exits hotel hospital.

There's something else though, and it's not just about excess weight gain and late night visits to the freezer section: when I remove any semblance of discipline from the dietary realm, I stumble and atrophy in other areas of my life.

It's hard to say no to oneself, which is, in part, a large reason for the existence of Lent. It's an annual dose of concupiscence-be-gone; a chance to recalibrate, to dissolve unhealthy attachments and form better practices, to hone more heavenly habits.

So while it's terribly cliche to give up entire food groups and call it one's penance (I'm looking at you, Eastern Church), I'm going to go ahead and push the reset button on this pregnancy, here on the precipice of 15 weeks, and hope that by making better choices in the kitchen, I might be strengthened to grow and stretch in other areas of my life, too.

Plus, I'm straight up exhausted from all the carbs and sugar.

So thus begins the countdown to Lent:Whole40.

Terrible, right? I know it is ... and yet I have such hope that eating in a way that is so utterly penitential and unappealing to me, particularly when I'm in a family way, will open up spaces in my day and in my mind for Him. And that while I'm saying not my will over and over again, all day long, from the moment my feet hit the floor and I start dreaming about depressing the lever on the toaster till the moment I collapse onto the couch after bedtime stories, jonesing for Ben and Jerry, I'll be gaining some sorely needed self mastery, if not a more reasonable number on the scale come delivery day.

I could have chosen other vices to exorcise this season, believe me. God knows I could spend less time on social media, that I could be more committed to daily mental prayer and staying on top of the laundry than I am to answering text messages and emails. But this feels most fundamental, and most essential to bringing order in the rest of my life as a result.

I'm pretty much counting on it. Because there's a laundry list of a dozen other character flaws, shortcomings and patterns of sin to examine, but I'm too lethargic from the half tub of Trader Joe's chocolate cat cookies (that aren't even good, by the way) consumed during tonight's viewing of Downton Abbey to commit them all to paper. And wise enough to know that at Lent, sometimes less is more.

Happiest, fattest Tuesday to you all this week, and may your sacrifice choose you this year, and may you know it when you see it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

50 Shades of pain: sterile sex and the problem with porn

I've seen dozens of articles about 50 Shades floating around the internet the past week or so, and I've read a handful of them. One or two are worth reading, this piece and this piece in particular.

The thing that has me scratching my head over the whole situation, the fact that a trilogy of pornographic novels have been adapted to a reportedly dismally-cast and middlingly-entertaining big screen production, is how we got here in the first place.

Not whether it's wrong or weird or nasty to plan to take your spouse on a hot date to the movies on Valentine's day to see Anastasia get spanked by Christian (though it is assuredly all of those things), but how it is that we have arrived at this destination, en masse, as a culture.

Let's look at the numbers; these books have sold 100 million copies since their release in 2011. That's some kind of record, and whatever else we can take from those numbers, we can presume that there's definitely an audience for the stuff. And in the pornographic culture we live in, it has become perfectly acceptable to identify oneself as a paying member of that audience and synch up the Kindle for a little smut to ease the long layover or kill the time in carline.

Because you see, the overwhelming majority of that audience is female.

I'm sure plenty of guys have read 50 Shades too, but it wasn't written for them. Romance literature (if abuse and domination can be so categorized) is the centerfold pull-out of the female demographic. It's printed porn, spelled out in characters and punctuation marks instead of screen shots and video clips.

And there's a growing market for smut of the feminine persuasion, because yes, it has become more socially acceptable to raise one's hand and identify oneself as a woman who consumes porn, but also because, I think, there are a lot of sexually-unhappy ladies out there.

So why is that? Aren't we all liberated and unshackled from the fear of pregnancy and the stigma of unmarried sex? Isn't everyone entitled to access anything they could ever have dreamt of, in terms of the erotic, now that all bets are off and all taboos have been discarded?

And yet what we're longing for, apparently, is something so "exciting" that in polite circles and legal terms, it is actually defined as abuse and battery?

Which leads me back to the title of this piece.

I have a pet theory about sex in the current cultural climate, and it goes like this: when a couple removes all of the mystery, all of the suspense, and all of the "riskiness" from sex, perhaps it becomes intolerably boring.

Maybe your interest in your partner fades, over time, because sex becomes merely another option in a long list of activities which can be pursued after the dishes are done.

Obviously my husband and I are in a unique and temporary season of marriage, during which time it is actually possible, when everything is functioning properly, for us to get pregnant.

On paper, that means that every time we decide to have sex, unless we're already currently pregnant, we first have to discern whether or not we're disposed to receive another child into the mix. Because that is always a possibility. When the answer to that question is "not right now," we still have to enter into the act prepared that the outcome might be another diaper-wearer, even when all our calculations and observations tell us otherwise.

Translation: even when we're in an NFP "safe zone," scientifically-identified as a period of infertility, there's still always a chance that we're wrong. I might have missed an observation or miscalculated a date. Or, since I'm not God, it could happen anyway, despite our best efforts otherwise. Because I'm not the one in control of my fertility, ultimately.

I didn't design me, and, short of a hysterectomy, I cannot 100% guarantee that I can suppress my fertility.

(An aside, that's why "surprise" babies in contracepting couples always strike me as such an odd concept. I mean, sure, you were using condoms or taking the Pill, but did you really think that if you did the thing that makes babies, there was zero chance you might end up making one?)

Honestly, this does add a certain level of excitement/fear/wonder at the unknown to the mix.

I'm not saying it's comparable to the, uh, thrill, I guess? of being tied up and hit, but frankly, I don't have the time to entertain thoughts of spicing things up with whips and chains. Nor the inclination.

I wonder if couples who can have all the sex they want - as much sex as they can physically stomach, kind of like the Golden Corral of the bedroom - thanks to contraception, aren't getting a little bored?

Is that why Christian Grey is a welcome figure in the imagination of a woman who is already being used, on some level, by her partner?

Is that why a man feels comfortable taking his girlfriend to a movie where a young woman is physically and psychologically abused by an older guy, because it's a little thrilling to control her like that?

Maybe there's no real correlation, but I do think it's worth considering that porn and contraception influence each other, even if only because they are both simultaneously so prevalent.

But sex doesn't need to be increasingly dangerous and forbidden in order to be satisfying. There isn't some kind of pleasure threshold that only riskier and kinkier behavior can satiate; indeed, the further we drift from the Christian ideal of sex as a total gift of self, the more dissatisfied (and sexually dysfunctional) we become as a civilization.

Because at the end of the day and in the dark of the night, what we do with our bodies and to the bodies of the ones we love matters. It matters very much. And a relationship that purports to be loving but that trades in the currency of use abuse is anything but romantic.


Monday, February 9, 2015

Such a time as this

 From the Associated Press this morning:
"The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex weddings to start in Alabama, letting the number of gay-marriage states climb in advance of a constitutional showdown that may mean legalization nationwide.   
In a 7-2 order, the justices rejected Alabama’s bid to stop a federal trial judge’s legalization order from taking effect Monday. The state now will become the 37th where gays can marry."
At first glance, this perhaps doesn't look like much in terms of news. States' marriage laws have been crashing down left and right like felled timber over the past 2 years, and it's hardly shocking that Alabama has joined the ranks of the other 36 places in the U.S. where same sex couples can legally contract a "marriage."

No big deal, right?

Live and let live, and live the life you love, and you love who you love, and all the other platitudes that fill the airwaves and our ears in this modern cultural milieu.

I have some news for us Christians, and maybe it's going to come as a bit of a shock, but it may well be that none of those clever turns of phrase are going to apply to us before too long.

Make no mistake, this has never been about simply leveling the playing field so that all may freely participate in the institution of marriage; what it is about - what it has always been about - is redefining and recreating marriage into something else entirely.

And when something gets redefined, the old definition is, by necessity, destroyed. Retired into the annals of history, if you will. Marked down as a tried-and-failed social experiment, and abandoned in the name of Progress.

If you believe that Christians, Jews, progressive Muslims, people of other faiths who practice monogamous, heterosexual life-long fidelity within the context of a religious sacrament are going to be allowed to continue to teach, preach, and contract said marriages in peace once gay "marriage" is enshrined as the law of the land, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

Maybe not immediately, but highly likely in the not-too-distant future

If you think you're going to be able to teach your publicly-schooled fourth grader that sex is sacred and reserved for the intimate communion of marriage between husband and wife, you may have another think coming. (And possibly a visit from CPS, to boot.)

Once gay "marriage" becomes the law of the land, it will no longer be possible to hold a competing worldview and still be viewed, either professionally or legally, as a person of good will.

You will be a bigot, first and foremost. A menace to the pluralistic good of a society unshackled from the burdensome moral code of the past. And your kind - our kind - may not be tolerated.

Oh, it might not be a matter of legal troubles, at least not yet. It will probably be a quieter persecution. Passed over for a promotion. Let go from a job. Denied entry to a committee or school organization. Little things like that, white martyrdoms in varying shades of grey.

Because you see, it's not really possible to live and let live when life trajectories are fundamentally opposed. Something has to give, someone has to yield.

We can't all be right.

Relativism only works on paper. In real life it plays out like this: someone is right, and someone else is a bigot who is breaking the law.

Marriage can't be both a monogamous, permanent, life-long commitment between a man and a woman and an open-ended sexual relationship configured by any two consenting adults. The two definitions are fundamentally contradictory.

And while I may be perfectly capable of ignoring the antics and goings-on behind my neighbor's bedroom doors right now, when I am forced to publicly endorse their lifestyle by the laws of the land, my reality is altered.

Then it's no longer live and let live, but becomes instead applaud what we do and accept what we teach, because you are now legally bound.

It's time for us to wake up. Authentic Christian charity doesn't mean turning a blind eye to social ills and harmful behavior just because they're fashionable, trending heavily on Twitter, and popular in Hollywood.

I can love my gay brother or sister - and indeed, true love is willing the good of the other - without endorsing the institution of gay "marriage."

But I may not have that option forever.

One day in the not-too-distant future, it might not be okay to say that in public. It may be something we whisper in private: "oh, we still believe in the Sacrament of Marriage personally, but we can't talk about it here."

And you know what? That's on us. We have been hand-picked, each one of us, to occupy this unique space in this place and time in history. So what witness are you prepared to give, and what defense for the faith you have?

We ought to be praying, fasting, working like crazy to share the goodness and the truth and the beauty of married love. Not sticking our heads in the sand and pulling our kids, our voices, our potential to be influencers and world changers, out of the public square.

We have to be fearless. St. John Paul II said to us, over and over again, "be not afraid." This is the heart of the Gospel: perfect love that casts out all fear.

I won't let my fear of what somebody may think of me prevent me from speaking the truth. And so long as we have the freedom to do so, we ought to be speaking it boldly, humbly, inviting people in to the Faith, not cowering in church doorways, bracing ourselves for disaster.

Be not afraid. Over and over again, I have to remind myself. Be not afraid.

Gay "marriage" isn't going to satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart; only the one Who created us can do that. Let's invite as many people as we can to experience the truth of that firsthand. Jesus is what this sad, suffering culture of ours seeks, whether or not they know Him by name. And if we center our lives and our marriages on Him, we cannot lose.

Marriage is a beautiful vocation, and it is worthy of being defended. But it is our lived example that speaks volumes to a visually distracted and chaotic culture starved for beauty.
So that awkward encounter with a fellow commuter holding a matching newspaper early in the morning? Be not afraid.

A hard conversation with a beloved friend or college roommate who champions an alternate view of marriage? Be not afraid.

An unpopular stance with your child's school administration for the sake of your impressionable 5th grader who won't be participating in the sex-ed program? Be not afraid.

"For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" Esther 4:14

Friday, February 6, 2015

There's an Essential Oil for that

Hi, my name's Jenny, and I'm coming out of the granola closet to say...I'm a little bit crunchy.

More accurately, I'd identify myself as an opportunist. So I like to look at the vast expanse of options and then kind of pick and choose, cafeteria style (which is totally cool when it's not in matters of morality isn't that fabulous?! There's no one right way to do this parenting thing.) what works best for our family.

So on a practical level what that looks like is lots of trips to the doctor's office for looks in ears, the occasional Z pack to dispatch Beelzebub's bronchitis, and bi-weekly chiropractic adjustments for the entire family.  I guess you could call it modern, medically-eclectic parenting.

Gosh, so anyway, I think more of us are like this than not. I'd bet that lots of people are open to trying  new things, especially if they're frustrated with a lack of results in their current routines.

When Steph offered to send me a starter kit of Young Living Essential Oils and a diffuser I was pumped, because I've picked up the occasional bottle of oregano oil at Whole Foods for ear infections, but I didn't actually know a whole lot about EOs, nor was I in love with the way their bedrooms smelled like the Olive Garden at last call when I used the stuff.

Enter Young Living oils. I was so excited when I cracked open the first bottle I pulled out of the box, lavender, and it smelled like...lavender.

I was even more excited when I added a few drops to some coconut oil and gave each little monster a back rub during a particularly heinous bedtime meltdown and suddenly...silence. Blissful silence. And 10 solid hours from every small member of the household.

For the last month or so I've been playing around with the oils, diffusing some, consuming others in glasses of water, and rubbing some on little necks and little (and not so little) feet.

My favorite oils so far, the ones that have actually wormed their way into our crazed daily life, are, in order of love: lavender, thieves, melaluca (tea tree), lemon, and peppermint.

Here's how we use them. The lavender, as I mentioned, helps to calm and soothe and put to sleep an anxious human, little or otherwise. It also makes an amazing bath for a pregnant mama.

I've been guzzling water spiked with thieves oil during this never ending flu season from hell, and the kids have been getting a drop of it rubbed into their feet day and night. I've also started spiking water with lemon oil for midmorning pick me up of the non-caffeineated variety (and it also helps to break up mucus during a cold or cough), and I love rubbing the peppermint oil directly into the skin at the point of origin of a headache. Or if I've overdone it at the gym. Or, ahem, thrown my neck out coughing.

Highly effective.

Finally, the embarrassing one, the melaluca. I have some gross runner's feet, even though I'm not really much of a runner anymore. But the elliptical and the stair master don't know that I'm not running, and so my feet still look...rough. I've tried every otc solution under the sun, but you know what's finally doing it for me? The tea tree oil. But it's this tea tree oil, specifically, and I think it's entirely to do with the high grade ("therapeutic," as YL calls it) of the oil I'm using. It's also miraculously effective for stinky little boy feet/shoes.

End embarrassing endorsement.

I've been trading emails and Facebook messages with Steph this month and gleaning her wisdom and practical suggestions for use, and while using oils was a little bit overwhelming to me at the beginning, I feel like I'm beginning to get the hang of it.

It's definitely not a magic fix; it takes diligent daily use to see results, but to me, that confirms their effectiveness; like good diet or exercise, you have to do it daily to make it work.

Steph has generously offered a free sample kit and intro booklet to anyone interested. Email here at Stephanie(dot)Weinert(at)Yahoo(dot)com and she'll hook you up.

(Incidentally, you should totally read her story. The her son's recovery from debilitating allergies is amazing.)

For those of you who already know you want to make the jump, she's offering a discount to Mama Needs Coffee readers right now. If anyone wants to try Young Living oils with the Premium Starter Kit (same one I have), they can sign up on Steph's website, and as extra gifts for my readers, she'll send you a free 24-page booklet "Essential Oils Starter Guide" and a $20 Amazon Gift card you can use towards purchasing more Essential Oils resources, or anything you want (offer expires February 28, 2015.)

You can purchase oils directly here:

Okay, finally, another giveaway! (Crazy, right? Two in one week.)

Steph has generously offered a 15ml bottle of cedar wood, her favorite EO, to one lucky winner. I read through the list of things Cedarwood oil is known for, and let's just say I'm sorry I can't win it myself: good for things like eczema, acne, skin issues, sleep (as in the best nights' sleep you've EVER had), psoriasis. urinary tract infections, cellulite, and the list goes on.

Pshaw, I don't need any cellulite help. Heh, heh... (thinking about rigging the rafflecopter.)

I'm interested to hear from you guys, are you already "oily?" Do you use this stuff for health? Do your kids run screaming from the smell of your greasy hands when you draw near? (One of mine does) Or do they scramble eagerly into your lap for their nightly "mawsawge?" (another one of mine does.)

I'm all ears. And they're mercifully clear, fyi. Thanks, recovering immune system.

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Thursday, February 5, 2015

The gift of not knowing

Our youngest child, our sweet daughter, has been a bit of an enigma wrapped in a mystery since she first graced us with her presence.

Even in utero, her short little legs were confounding ultrasound techs and raising eyebrows about the accuracy of my charts (NFP: 1 Radiology: 0, BTW). Then she arrived and all was well, if not petite.

And that's pretty much been her story for the past 13 months. She's darling, and not just in an every baby sort of way, but in a stunner-who-stops-traffic kinda way. I can say that because I'm her mom, and because I have 2 other kids who, while good looking, never got us the kind of attention this girl has.

She's teeny tiny. Doll-like. The proportions of a wee American Girl doll, clad in 9 month clothing still at month 13, but perfectly balanced in terms of length vs. weight. And, every month or so since last Fall, we dutifully truck her down to our local children's hospital for another round of testing, bumping from one department to another. First nutrition, than orthopedics, now endocrinology.

She's had more people poke and prod her in her first year of life than most people do in a lifetime, I'd wager. But to no avail. At least, to no apparent avail.

She's teeny, she's stubbornly "alternatively mobile" (translation: no walking, standing or crawling, but  girlfriend has a mean scoot), and she's utterly charming in her willingness to allow complete strangers to pick her up.

And we don't have any idea of why she is the way she is.

It's been confounding and enlightening, at turns, as a parent to have no idea what is wrong, or even whether something is, in fact, "wrong" with her.

And it's been a humbling exercise in "what ifs" in terms of the much bigger and much scarier situations that other parents really are facing.

There's a delicate balance in motherhood between anxiety and surrender. Sometimes it really is on us to keep worrying when everyone else says to relax.

But other times, maybe more times than not, relaxing and releasing is the right way to go.

I'm naturally high strung and extremely anxious. I have grand delusions about what and whether I can manage, and I have a ludicrously inflated sense of control.

The antidote to all this, for me, has been motherhood.

No other experience thus far has come close to the gut wrenching, soul-shaking reality of recognizing my true impotence and insignificance. And I don't mean that in a self deprecating way, but in a reality-recognizing way.

Motherhood has unveiled reality to me: I'm not in control, I never was in control, and even with ready access to arguably the best medical care on the planet...there's still no guarantee of control.

Now, I can put truckloads of faith into modern medicine and research journals (and I do) while simultaneously barking up alternative trees for innovative ideas (woof, woof), but I still can't summon a diagnosis for my daughter by the force of my will.

And that has been incredibly freeing for me. To be able to truly exercise the old adage to work as if everything depended on me, and to pray as if everything depends on God. It's at once taking responsibility for what one can control while simultaneously releasing my inflated and, honestly, egomaniacal sense of control.

So efficient, Lord. I see what you did there.

And even if this latest round of blood work turns up with a big fat question mark like all the rest has, we'll be able to sleep at night knowing that we asked the questions and made the appointments, and that, if nothing else, she'll be a champion blood donor some day with nary a needle phobia to be found.

And if God sees fit to send us a label to know Evie a little better? We'll take that into consideration, too. But it won't define her, not in any real sense. Sure, it'll simplify my Google searches. But it won't change the way I have to love her, nurture her, and let God fill in for the ever-growing list of all the things about motherhood that are far above my pay grade.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Howdy, Sirius XM listeners!

Ciao y'all. For those of you who wandered over via Jen Fulwiler's kindly introduction, you are most welcome here. For my regular readers, I hope you enjoy(ed) the always fascinating (alarming?) phenomenon of finally getting to match a spoken voice with a written voice.

If you're new to these parts, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jenny and I live in Denver with my wonderful husband, Dave, and our 3 (+1) children. We lived in Rome for a crazy year during the great Papal transition of 2012, where one of our boys was kissed by Pope Benedict and I did a lot of laundry, pined for Target, and fed my baby powdered baked goods in his bottle.

These days I mostly write about the general chaos of raising small humans, understanding the teachings of the Catholic Church - especially where matters of the heart are concerned - and general social commentary on the craziness that is our modern cultural milieu.

I recently accepted a full time position with Catholic News Agency, a member of the EWTN family, and this little 'ol blog will be permanently hosted there soon. But don't worry, a lazy google search or a visit to my current URL will still land you in my virtual living room. God bless technology.

Oh! I also recently contributed a chapter to a book featuring a roster of far more impressive authors, and I've got more fun writing projects coming down the pipe. In my expansive free time, I paint my toenails and watch terrible documentaries on Netflix whilst sipping IPA. Or espresso, as my gestational state permits.

Thanks for stopping by, I'm glad you're here.

(You can find me here on Facebook and Twitter.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Love Stronger Than Death

Have you heard of the Coakley family? Maybe you read something on social media over the past month about their story, about the sudden diagnosis of aggressive testicular cancer, just before Christmas. About the beautiful back story involving infertility, miscarriage, and then finally, joy of joys, adoption and conception. 

Maybe you clicked on a picture of Paul, grinning magnetically in a bright pink shirt, and followed the link to one of dozens of blog posts popping up all over social media, extolling his otherworldly thirst for adventure and his outrageous sense of humor.

Maybe you checked Facebook dozens of times each hour, one cold week late in January, holding a kind of cyber vigil over the span of a couple days, your heart seizing with an indescribable ache when you happened upon the picture of Paul and Ann holding hands as he labored for breath in his hospital bed, hers clad in latex to protect their unborn baby from the chemo drugs poisoning his system in a heroic effort to halt the terrible march of cancer through his ravaged body, now his lungs, his brain.

Maybe your babies woke you up all night the day before he went to the Father's house, forcing you to count your blessings and hold them, quieting their whimpers and offering midnight prayers for a family you never met, a couple whose love story inspired you and terrified you by turns.

And perhaps that next morning you read Ann's updates with a lump in your throat and real tears trickling down your face as she announced bravely that her beloved had raised his arms (after 12 unresponsive hours of suffering) and gone to meet his Savior. And then maybe your 4-year-old scrambled into your lap and asked what was wrong, and then cracked the dam of sorrow open wide with his innocent, joyful observation that "Heaven has a new saint, Mr. Paul is with Jesus now!"

Such sweet sorrow, this family's story. And it's the story of a wider community rallying around his widow and their 4 precious children, one still in the womb. 

The week following his death has to be one of Franciscan University of Steubenville's finest, as alumi and students from decades past and present rallied around this grieving family, offering support, prayers, food, money, and finally, literally lowering Paul's coffin into his grave with their bare hands, the bonds of Brotherhood evident in an indescribable and unforgettable photo.
Photo credit, Jason Pohlmeier
We live in a culture both saturated with and utterly terrified of death. It isn't understood, it isn't revered, and it certainly isn't discussed. 

These past few weeks the Coakleys showed us in an unforgettable way that this life is but the beginning, and that the point of our time here on earth is to love fiercely, to live bravely, and to seek His will above all else. Thank you, Paul and Ann, for your living tutelage of what it means to "do" marriage. You have offered us a glimpse of heaven, of the Father's heart, and of what it means to be Christian.

For ways to support the Coakley family, and to meet Annie and the children, visit

Paul Coakley, pray for us.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Mama does, in fact, need coffee

I drink 1-2 shots of espresso every morning, rain or shine, pregnant or not, and it's a fabulous way to start the day.

Before our stint in Rome, I was a Starbucks-guzzling, cheap coffee swilling, all morning long chug-a-long coffee drinker. I sort of liked the taste of it, but honestly, I was in it for the caffeine. I was under slept, overworked, and over stimulated.

I may still be some of those things, but it's no longer the coffee to blame. While we were living in Italy I learned to savor the art and the experience of coffee, not just the results.

I watched in fascination as the entire city ground to a halt multiple times per day while neighborhood bars filled up with impeccably-coiffed businesspeople, priests and bishops, grandmothers pushing strollers, street sweepers and shop keepers, all after one thing: a little sip of luxury in the midst of the chaos of daily life.

Romans do not swig coffee. There are no to-go cups, there are no bottomless mugs, and there are no warming plates holding pots of muddy water, ready to dilute with chemical creamers and sugars.

There are, instead, fat bags of perfectly-roasted beans spilling onto gleaming stainless steel counters. Thousand-Euro machines puffing steam and smudged with coffee grounds, streaming out rich shot after rich shot of perfect, crema topped cups of espresso.

And the counters in every coffee were lined with familiar faces and tiny cups, neighbors and baristos shooting the breeze, sipping their brews, and then heading off to their respective daily business for another couple of hours.

It was eminently civilized, and it ruined me for drip coffee forever.

Want to know another secret about espresso? It's actually less caffeine than a big 'ol mug of coffee, provided you're only drinking one or two of them. Now, order up a Venti something or other at the big green house? You might be doubling down on your jitters.

But rest assured, my heart rate and my baby are safe with one or two sweet little shots of black gold every morning.

A couple weeks before I found out my blog was going to be relocating, I got an email from a company promoting their fair trade, shade-grown, ethically sourced coffee, and would I like to review some and then host a giveaway?

Translation: free high-quality coffee.

Answer: yes please.

So, for the past 2 weeks, through the doldrums of January and the heinous scourge of bronchitis fest 2015, we've been drinking the best coffee we've enjoyed with any regularity on this side of the Atlantic: Camano Island Coffee Roasters.

Y'all, this stuff is good. And the company who sells it is doing good, too. They're a Christian company who believes in the dignity of their workers, the sustainable methods of their famers, and the palates (and pocketbooks) of their customers. And they've offered to give a lucky 2 of you faithful Coffee readers each 2 pounds of some of the good stuff of your choosing, ground (or not) to your preference.

I'm not much of a giveaway gal, but when somebody offers to subsidize my daily life (come at me, Costco) I'd be a silly girl to look the other way. So enter ye all who hope for delicious, and be sure to check out their site and look at the life changing work they're doing in the Third World.

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