The end of SB 175

lifeMiracle of miracles, SB 175 was killed last night on the Senate floor.

Prayer at the capitol on Tuesday went well.  My kids and I managed to find parking in a nearby lot (thank you St. Boniface and Jesus for answering my desperate pleas!), I didn’t smash into any cars with my huge van, and we made it to the capitol building all in one piece.  One mama, eight kids, and two strollers.  Whew!

Nearly 1,000 Catholics showed up in the middle of a weekday, with only one day’s notice, to pray for the defeat of SB 175.  Priests, nuns, seminarians, men, women, children, and families prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet on the capitol steps, holding rosaries and signs that said “LIFE.”  Afterwards a number of people packed into the Senate Chamber, only to have the vote be delayed until yesterday morning.

And then yesterday morning, they showed up again.  Standing for life.  And the vote was delayed AGAIN–until last night.  When Catholics sat in the gallery once more…and witnessed the bill die before any debate or discussion ensued.

We listened live after dinner, on my cell phone.

It turns out that the bill’s sponsor, Senator Andy Kerr, needed every single Democrat to vote yes in order for the bill to pass.  And over the past couple of days, a few of those senators began waffling.  Decided they weren’t entirely sure this was a good thing after all.  So presumably to save face and avoid further controversy, the bill’s sponsors just tabled the bill until after the session is due to be over.  SB 175, Dead on Arrival.

So the local Catholic community is rejoicing.  I always hesitate to say this but I do suspect we made an impact.  I know the Lord heard our prayers.  The Catholic response to the consideration of such an anti-life piece of legislation was a beautiful witness to peace, love, joy and hope.  I told my kids last night if they are ever tempted to wonder if God hears us or if our voice still matters in the public square, to remember our day at the capitol.

And part of what was so beautiful, I think, was that this whole thing was (as far as I could see) merely a local effort organized by the Archdiocese of Denver and the Denver Catholic Register.  Then regular Catholics spread the word about the prayer event at the capitol via email, Facebook and Twitter.  And people showed up!  With very little notice, in the middle of a weekday.  And God used this, our humble prayers and our witness, to prevent some pretty scary and potentially hard-to-reverse laws from going into effect.

I’m reminded that we really must continue to pray for an end to abortion.  And take the time to participate in prayer events like the one on Tuesday, or the March for Life that happens annually.  These gatherings are not angry, scary, partisan, or controversial.  They are not (in my experience) inappropriate places for children to be.  People are happy and smiling, and the atmosphere is marked by prayerful hope–not in our government, but in our Lord.  My children know what abortion is, but they are not afraid.  They love Jesus and babies and care very much about mothers.  So they see the value, even as children, in praying and in just showing up.

You don’t get to see miracles happen every day, but I’m convinced that we saw something really beautiful happen here in Denver this Holy Week.  It’s humbling to consider what God can do through prayer and through faith, and I am honestly really inspired by our Catholic community here.  So we’re giving thanks for a small but mighty victory for the culture of life, and rejoicing in God’s mercy today.

If you prayed for Colorado, thank you.  Women and babies will be a little bit safer because of your efforts in making sure SB 175 did not become a reality.  In the words of Senator Owen Hill last night, “God bless you all for your hard work–there is such as a thing as a government of the people, by the people, for the people–even when those people are unborn.”

Standing in the public square

statecapitolrallySo there’s a piece of legislation that passed committee this week in the Colorado legislature, and will go to a vote in the Senate sometime this week.  SB 175 is being heralded by NARAL as “ambitious” and “the first of its’ kind” in the nation–it is legislation that, according to Denver’s Archbishop Aquila, “would essentially shut down any attempt to pass life-affirming legislation in Colorado ever again. More than that, it enshrines the “right to abortion” into Colorado law.”

On Sunday our family spent time praying about the bill, the legislators considering it, and the mothers, fathers and babies who would potentially fall victim to it.  My husband and I each wrote to Senator Kerr asking him to please vote no on SB 175–before discovering that, you know, he happens to be the bill’s sponsor.  Whatever.  Obviously there’s not a whole lot you can do when politicians and powerful lobbies are committed to the oppression of women and the taking of unborn life, but we know that prayer is effective and that God hears us.

In the homily at church on Sunday we were challenged to stand up for life in the public square.  That sort of thing always both inspires and terrifies me, because as important as it is it’s inevitably uncomfortable.  It’s not considered polite dinnertable conversation to say you know what, enough is enough.  For too long women have been sold the lie that freedom is equivalent to having the legal right to terminate a pregnancy.  But oh, it needs to be said.  The most vulnerable of our citizens are being stripped of their rights and meeting their death before they even have the chance to be born.  Too many people are carrying painful wounds and shame because they believed the narrative given them by a culture predisposed to convenience at any price.

Enough is enough.

People are, I think, weary of all the political back-and-forth about abortion and contraception.  And I get it.  I do.  It’s kind of a downer and it sounds all judgey and shamey.   It doesn’t necessarily even affect most of us directly.  And there seems to be a real market right now for faith bloggers who focus nearly exclusively on “beauty”, “grace”, “courage”, “gratitude”, etc.  Not that any of that is bad–I’m an optimistic and positive person and I believe that our time spent contemplating and writing about the beauty of the faith must exceed time spent on the negative.  When it doesn’t, that’s a problem.  For sure.  But when I watched a blogger being interviewed on some show yesterday, talking about how she essentially redefined Lent so as not to give anything up and instead just be grateful blah blah blah, it occurred to me that this whole present movement in the blogosphere among women (mostly evangelical) is basically becoming a religion of its own.  There’s little room for talk of who God is, what Lent is, why any of that matters.  Instead, we steep ourselves in whatever makes us feel good about ourselves and our choices.  Whether they’re good choices or not.  Whether it’s true or not.  And yeah we SHOULD feel good about ourselves, but I’m sorry, that’s just not enough.  We are important and have value because we’re PEOPLE, and thus created by God with and for human dignity.  Period.

And that is WHY laws that allow for unrestricted access to abortion are a problem.  They are an assault and affront to human dignity.  They hurt women.  They hurt men.  They hurt babies.  They hurt the Church and they hurt society because when someone in the community is hurting, it has a ripple effect.  And we all hurt.

So today my eight kids and I are going to our state capitol at 3:00 pm to pray with Archbishop Aquila for the defeat of this terrifying legislation.  Today I’m publishing this blog post.  Yeah it’s not all flowery and gushy and “oh isn’t life such a beautiful mess”-y.  It’s not particularly well-written or interesting or likely to drive any traffic whatsoever–which matters not at all.  Because it’s just me saying where I stand, and inviting anyone in Denver to join us at 3:00 today at the state capitol.  Because this isn’t about politics, it’s about REAL PEOPLE in desperate need of protection and God’s mercy.  It’s about standing up for women.  And for the most vulnerable people in our society, unborn human beings, for whom the womb has become a rather dangerous place to be.

Hope to see you there.

And if you can’t come?  Please pray for Colorado.

7 Quick Takes through Instagram Friday {4/11/14}

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Linking up today with Jeannett and Jen for a quick and easy look back at my week,  through pictures I took with my phone–pictures I took when my four-year-old wasn’t running away from me with the phone, shouting ”I’m LOOKing at PISHURES!!!“  Seriously, my ability to capture family memories has really been diminished by the child who must commandeer any and all devices with screens.  And it’s scary, because her baby sister is pretty much on the same path.

 

18831.)  Last Friday my sons were at the scrapyard with their friend, heaving large pieces of metal out of a truck.  So we girls decided to do the opposite, and sit down to tea.  There was lots of laughter, lots of chatting, and lots of sugar.  Turns out little girls like to add as much refined white goodness to their teacup as they possibly can–who knew?  Not the healthiest afternoon snack, and it definitely won’t win me any awards from the American Dental Association, but it’s worth it.  Because my daughter sure looked cute sipping her peppermint tea.

 

cheesepie2.)  Why yes, that IS my husband proudly displaying what looks like a canoe of cheese.  Last Sunday our Holy Land pilgrimage group got together to see a film about Jerusalem, at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.  And afterwards had dinner at a Middle Eastern restaurant.  Which was positively delicious, so if you’re in the Denver area I highly recommend Beirut Grill.  But anyway, when my dear husband looked at the menu and saw an appetizer for only $1.89, aptly titled “Cheese Pie”, he ordered it.  Because it was cheap and had cheese in it.  Obviously.  And when it arrived, it looked like a canoe.  (Incidentally it was quite yummy, but still we all teased him about ordering something so ridiculous.  Because, cheese pie?  Really?!)

 

ikeaelevator3.)  Another week, another trip to IKEA.  Because not only is the store my happy place, but kids eat free on Tuesdays.  Yes, free.  Which is a pretty darn good deal when you have eight kids!  Here’s Kevin and our two four-year-olds waiting for the elevator.  Nothing particularly eventful happened that evening–we bought some stuff, Alice had french fries, and I’m pretty sure one of my sons consumed no fewer than four glasses of Mountain Dew.

 

0874.)  No words necessary.  This girl makes me so, so happy.  Sitting up on her mama’s desk.  Everyone should have an Alice.

 

stoopit5.)  Can I just tell you?  This still has me crack.ing.up.  Yes it was mean and no, you shouldn’t write nasty things about your twin brother in his spelling book.  And yes, if you do you get in Very Big Trouble From Mom.  I doubt the offender do it again.  Ahem.  BUT.  The irony of calling someone “stoopit” is just.too.much.  Hello pot, meet kettle.

 

meglobes6.)  Seriously, why?  Why must my children photograph me doing random things?  Like leaning on the counter, doing who-knows-what (okay, probably Facebook) on the laptop?  At any given moment, I hear the little picture-taking-noise and know that I’ve been caught.  And then my four-year-old says “Oops!”–as if it was an accident.  Even though it wasn’t.  And yes, those are globes on top of the shelf in the background.  People think they’re weird (“Um, why do you have globes on display in your house?”), and I really like them (“Well, because they’re OBVIOUSLY AWESOME”).

 

0977.)  Sorry, one last gratuitous Alice photo.  But she’s having a bath, and that’s adorable.  Also, when does that phase end, where babies get crazy messy when they eat?  She loved her mashed potatoes but oh my goodness, she was a starchy, sticky mess!  So into the sink she went, but then much splashing and further mess-making commenced.  She’s full of mischief, and she knows it.  But I still think everyone should have an Alice.

5 sanity-savers for homeschooling families

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll parents struggle to properly meet the needs of their children, but the homeschooling family is in a unique position.  Not only are we responsible for feeding and raising our kids–and seeing that they make it to adulthood relatively unscathed–we are also somehow in charge of their academic success.  It’s unbelievably daunting, and can go from beautiful to overwhelming in record time.

So I wanted to share some things I’ve learned along the way.  I’m in the trenches just like everyone else, but I do have eight children–which has to count for something.  OR it just means I’m crazy.  Possibly both.  In either case, here are some ways I’ve managed to keep my sanity and homeschool my children–all at the same time!

1.)  Prioritize and simplify.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned since becoming a mother at the ripe old age of 22, it’s this: you can’t do everything.  It’s not rocket science, but for whatever reason, we have a hard time accepting it.  We look at the many sports and extracurriculars and curriculums and playgroups and co-ops and enrichment programs available, and want to do All Of The Things.  But guess what?  You can’t.  I can’t.  Nobody can.  And you shouldn’t feel guilty that there aren’t enough hours in the day to squeeze every activity under the sun into your schedule–if there’s not enough time to “get it all done”, then you’re doing too much.  Period.  Scale back, clean out your closet, pare down the kids’ toys, donate things you don’t use, and figure out what is important to your family right now.  Not two years or even two weeks from now, but right now right now.  Then do it.  And, don’t worry about the rest.

2.) Be flexible.  Look, life is not always predictable.  I know it’s hard for opinionated, overachieving homeschooling mothers to hear, but stuff doesn’t always turn out the way we think it will.  Or like it should.  We plan (oh, how we love to plan!) and organize and visit the vendor hall at our local homeschooling conference, and come up with something we think is pretty much the best ever–only to have it not work for our kids.  At all.  We become frustrated and start yelling and shouting and “What’s WRONG???!!! with you”-ing, but really, why?  People who write curriculum and devise educational philosophies are just that: PEOPLE.  They take an idea and develop a concept, and then market it to the masses.  Us.  We buy into what they say because it sounds good and we so desperately want our children to succeed.  To be brilliant.  To not be living in our basements when they’re 40.  But something that every educator in the public school system knows (and that we would do well to internalize too) is that not all children learn the same way or at the same pace.  And there’s nothing new under the sun.  Methods of teaching come and go as new fads replace old ones.  So if it’s not working?  DO SOMETHING ELSE!

3.) Take care of yourself.  Back in the day when I went from one to three children quite literally overnight–when I was, you know, a mere 24 years old–I knew that taking care of myself needed to be a major priority.  Getting enough sleep, healthy food, proper downtime, and instituting a routine for my kids that allowed me to function well enabled me to survive those long days at home with my many small children–even when my husband was commuting to work and gone for twelve long hours each day.  The best way to recharge will vary from person to person, but for me?  I need time at home.  I need a break from my children every single day in the form of a naptime/rest time.  I need healthy, easy and simple meal options.  Now with eight children, my needs have changed slightly–I’m no longer able to single-handedly perform all household chores and tasks.  Which means I delegate.  A lot.  And, I forgive myself when I mess up or don’t get everything accomplished that I’d hoped to.  Because my well-being and state-of-mind matter.  And so do yours.  So take care of yourself.

4.)  Live in community.  As introverted as I am, I’m also highly social.  I love spending time with friends, and I need good conversation and meaningful connection with like-minded people.  And it’s a huge blessing to be friends with fellow homeschoolers.  We can roll our eyes about the things our kids do to avoid working on their multiplication facts.  We can share our concerns about how our math-averse kids really MIGHT be living in our basements decades from now.  We can swap ideas and offer encouragement and, best of all?  We can know that we’re not alone.  We’re not alone in imagining a beautiful future for our children, we’re not alone in whatever struggles we face throughout the day, and we’re not alone in believing that the family is a gloriously ideal place to receive an education for life.

5.)  Keep a “big picture” perspective.  It will always be tempting to get bogged down in the details.  Always.  Phonics, memory work, the best approach to teaching spelling, all of it.  Before long we’re pretty sure that homeschooling is OFFICIALLY NOT WORTH IT.  But that’s where perspective comes in.  It’s what’s kept me homeschooling all these years.  It’s what’s kept me sane even when blind turtles could read faster than my kids. Because yes the “Three R’s” are important, but above and beyond any of that?  I want my children to love well, work hard, and trust Jesus.  And when that’s the overarching focus in my home?  The main goal of home education?  I can remain calm.  I can teach my children.  I can let things go.  We can face another day of studying the Louisiana Purchase and the lives of dolphins.  Because we believe in what we are doing, and we trust that God is making something beautiful out of our families.  And if that doesn’t keep us sane during the long journey of homeschooling, then I suspect that nothing will.

That time I gave an interview about birth control

kev_and_me_dancing,_smiling2Several weeks ago I was contacted by someone with Catholic News Agency in Rome, asking for an interview.  When you’re 32 years old with eight kids, and when you’ve nursed your baby at the Sistine Chapel, apparently sometimes people are curious about your life.  As boring as it actually is.

However she didn’t want to ask me how much oatmeal I make every morning or about the number of times I’ve thought it a good idea to drag various combinations of kids around the world to various foreign countries.  She wanted to know about my experience taking the birth control pill.

And I said yes, without even a moment’s hesitation.  If sharing my story spares even one woman from ingesting carcinogenic synthetic hormones that make her crazy and sick, I’m all for it.  If I can say something that helps a woman feel that she’s not alone in what’s happening to her, then heck yeah.  Hit me with your questions.  I’m all in.

But even in my resolve to participate, I was nervous. 

Yes, nervous.  Because for one thing, CNA is (obviously) a Catholic publication, and thus read by great, holy Catholic people.  Which means that I’m now opening myself up to judgments like “Well what did she expect?” and “Serves her right for doing that!”, from faithful Catholics who somehow got the memo back in the day that contraception is, you know, not a great idea.  But I’m a convert, and I honestly didn’t know all the problems inherent in using the pill.  And so I really don’t feel any shame about it.  I wish I’d not used it, but I did, and now I know better.  Lesson learned.  And anyhow, anytime you write and speak publicly about things, there’s going to be someone who doesn’t like you.  I’m okay with that.  Otherwise I would’ve stopped blogging a long time ago!

The other thing that made me uncomfortable about giving the interview though?  Knowing that some of it is just plain TMI.  This may sound strange coming from a blogger of all people, but I’m a pretty private person.  When it comes to talking about sex in particular in the blogosphere, oh my goodness, I am definitely on the conservative end of the spectrum–where I regularly think, “people are wayyyyy too liberal in their online sharing of personal details with virtual strangers”.  I’m one of those people scandalized by Christopher West’s interpretation of Pope John Paul II’s addresses, for goodness’ sake.  So I debated not including some of the pill’s side effects because hey, it’s kind of awkward talking about that, and people I know in real life are going to read it.  Like people at my parish.  Ugh.

But then I decided to be open and honest instead.  Why?

Because somebody needs to be!  Somebody needs to tell women the truth about what can happen to your body when you take the pill.  The whole truth.  Somebody needs to tell women what the world and the medical establishment and their girlfriends won’t.  Women don’t need contraception.  I’m living proof that you can have your entire worldview turned upside down, that you can throw your prescription in the garbage and never look back, and that you really can be happily married amidst newborns and sleepless nights and miscarriages and breastfeeding woes and occasional toddler tantrums.

There are countless women (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) who, for any number of reasons, believe they need hormonal contraception in order to have a good quality of life.  I used to think that too.  And so to those women I would gently and humbly say, be not afraid!  Challenge your assumptions.  Grow into the beauty of your vocation and embrace the full dignity of womanhood.  We are marvelous creatures created with a profound capacity for love.  Lean into that.  You will never, ever regret following our Lord’s design for life and personhood.

I hope and pray that someone out there might hear my silly story, and consider walking away from the pill.  Because friends, I’ve personally been on both sides of the proverbial birth control war–and I’ve never once regretted shedding my preconceived notions about marriage and life, and following Jesus instead.

And so nerves be darned, I’m speaking up.  Because I suspect that you won’t regret it, either.

Adoption is not bad

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Mom, why don’t more families adopt Ethiopian kids?  Do people not like Ethiopians?”  My son had long since finished his bowl of oatmeal but still he sat at the table, asking questions.  Like this one.

It is merely the first of many, I suspect, as he and his twin brother begin the long journey of processing through what it means to be transculturally and transracially adopted.  They’re nine-years-old, and the years ahead will prove crucial for them coming to terms with their respective identities.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t the least bit nervous about the coming storm.  You can’t predict how it will play out or what it will look like, because you can’t anticipate how something as fundamental as being abandoned by your birth father, losing your birth mother, and moving halfway across the world will shape and prevail upon a person.  Everyone is unique and every situation is different.  Books and the voices of adult adoptees, many of them filled with regret, can only go so far in preparing a parent for the inevitable and eventual reckoning of an adopted child finally taking stock of the losses in his or her life.

We’ve always had an open and ongoing conversation in our home about my sons’ past.  There’s no shame in being born into extreme poverty.  There’s nothing uncomfortable about your birth mother being in such a difficult place that she is unable to care for twin infants.  It is, sadly, the reality for many.  We make it no secret in our family that ideally, mothers and fathers would be raising their birth children because that is, afterall, God’s design for life.  But we also acknowledge that due to the brokenness of the human condition and, by extension, human systems like family and government, there are vulnerable children who are unable to remain with their parents.  That is a universal truth, evident around the globe.

And back in 2005, when we began our adoption process, my sons’ birth country of Ethiopia was struggling.  The scourge of AIDS coupled with the lack of access to treatment, along with a corrupt government that cared little for the well-being of its citizens, contributed to a real problem among what normally would have been healthy men and women of child-bearing age.  Orphanages were filled with children who had lost one or both parents to death and with children whose parents lied and made up stories in order to relinquish them, in hopes of giving them a better life.  Many kids were told to lie to orphanage workers and adoptive families about their parents being dead when, in reality, they were not.  But then antiretrovirals were finally allowed into the country.  And shortly after that, Angelina Jolie put Ethiopia on the map as an international adoption hotspot–adoption programs exploded and grew exponentially, in a nation without the infrastructure to properly regulate them.

In the years that followed, ethical violations and harvesting practices would flourish.  Adoptive parents would call for reforms, but few listened.  It would have to become much worse before it would start to get better, it seemed.

And it was during that time that we returned to adopt our daughters, both born with Down syndrome and severe heart defects, and who had been living in the orphanage for years while their “healthy” counterparts were finding families quickly.  The demand for healthy and as-young-as-possible children is insatiable, and few developing countries can meet it.  If you think that’s disturbing, it is.  And it is precisely this supply and demand of economics that lays the foundation for baby-buying and coercion.  Adoption agencies want to turn a profit so they start to bend the rules and blur the lines in order to meet the ever-growing demand.

Why did my husband and I pursue Ethiopian adoption in the first place?  What was our motivation, as parents not only able to conceive biological children but who would also remain open to conception over the course of our marriage?  Why move heaven and earth and spend exorbitant amounts of time, emotional energy and yes money too simply to have a child from East Africa?

This answer differs from family to family, couple to couple, but for us?  It was simple.  We believed that as a married couple, God intended us to be open to life.  We believed our marriage was, by design, inherently oriented towards that life.  We however had the resources to not only raise children born to us, but also to love and care for children who’d been orphaned, or who were vulnerable in some way.  At the time we were discerning what type of adoption to pursue, we saw a real need in Ethiopia.  It’s hard to imagine now, but there weren’t as many agencies working there and the demand wasn’t as high then.  There weren’t miles-long waiting lists for teeny baby girls.  So we decided to use an organization that marketed itself as one that found families for children and not the other way around, became approved for the adoption of two young children, and that is how we came to be the parents of my sons.

Who were, incidentally, adopted out of a disruption.  We were adoptive family number two.

And years later when we decided to adopt one last and final time, it made sense to return to Ethiopia.  But the landscape there had changed, and we remained committed to meeting a need as opposed to directly creating a demand, and that is how we became the parents of my daughters.

Who were both born with an extra chromosome.

Why do I share all of this with you?  Because I will not sit idly by while the backlash against international adoption–and, more specifically, Ethiopian adoption–swirls around me.  I will not remain silent and allow only the narrative du jour–which says that international adoption is inherently bad or evil–to be told.  Adoption is a complex, nuanced issue that requires sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and a careful analysis.  It cannot be understood from only one perspective.  It cannot be viewed through only one lense.  And yet that has always been the propensity, the problem, the reason why there is a backlash happening at all.  Adoption was sold to evangelicals as a simple, obvious answer to what religion ought to be, because they didn’t have anything else to fill that void.  America was sold to its citizenry as heaven on earth, the moral answer to all of the world’s ills because clearly, we’re the best.

And people bought it.  The orphan care movement (which until recently primarily focused on adoption) spread like wildfire as families opened their homes and hearts to children from Ukraine and Ghana and China and Guatemala and South Korea and our own foster care system.  And it’s not a bad thing, this openness, this desire to parent a child from the hard places.  But not enough people asked the difficult questions.  They missed the forest for the pictures of smiling brown-skinned babies set to inspirational music up on the jumbo-tron.  So now everyone is picking up the pieces and trying to see where we all went wrong, and how to fix the problem.

But what IS the problem?  Is it adoption itself?  International adoption in particular, which has untold potential for corruption and destruction?  Is it the adoption agencies?  Or Christian parents?  Are non-profit organizations like CAFO and Reese’s Rainbow to blame?

You will find passionate and intelligent people who argue that every single one of those things is the Big Problem That Must Be Fixed.

But I am not one of them.

No, that would be too easy.  Too obvious and too near the surface.  There is some amount of responsibility that lies with each, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not the root.  And slapping a bandaid on your church’s orphan care group–you know, the one that puts together the annual slideshow on “Orphan Sunday” with a Steven Curtis Chapman song playing in the background–will not heal the gushing wound of adoption.

The problem as I see it is far more insidious, messy, nuanced, and far-reaching.  And it is, simply, sin.  Brokenness.  Suffering.  It is families that are compelled for any number of reasons to relinquish a child (or lose custody of a child), be it the almighty dollar promised them by an utterly corrupt agency; divorce; disease; addiction; or poverty of soul or material goods.  This is the problem that won’t go away until Jesus returns and sets the world aright once and for all, and it’s the problem that multiplies into a million other problems.  And adoption itself is not so much as a problem as one of many solutions.  One can argue that it’s not a good solution, but either way it’s a response to something.

And no, it’s not generally as good a response as what people call “family preservation”.  At all.  But due to the aforementioned issue of brokenness, family preservation is not always possible or preferable.  Sometimes the child’s best shot at life comes in the form of an adoptive family.  Sometimes that family lives a long airplane ride away.  We can quibble over whether a child should ever leave his or her country of origin, if having a family is ever worth losing a culture, but it’s kind of a waste of time.  Because there will always be situations where for who knows what reason, there IS no suitable in-country situation for the child.  If not for international adoption, he or she may for example face living out their childhood in an orphanage, enduring repeated sexual abuse–and that’s not intended to be an emotionally-manipulative hypothetical because I have personally visited two different orphanages where this was proven to be occurring.  Over the span of years.  Claiming countless victims.  And someone might say then that neither option is good, and I’m okay with that if that is truly what they believe, but until a legitimate third option exists?  I will continue to advise that domestic and international adoption are at least potentially viable, workable solutions for many children.

The finer details of how to prevent the system from taking advantage of birth families are of course more difficult to sift through, and it’s a conversation that needs to happen.  No adoptive parent I know would wish to have a child that was forcibly or deceitfully wrenched from his or her rightful parents.  And yet it has happened.  And will continue to happen so long as there is a demand for children in developing countries.  (An argument could also be made, and quite rightly, that our own country’s system is not meeting the real needs of the poor or of single women facing a pregnancy, and that this is also needlessly tearing families apart.)  I’m also concerned about the costs of adoption, of introducing such large sums of money into economies that are not typically dealing with those figures.  So because the stakes are so incredibly high here, we must address these things.  And learn from one another.  And be open to the possibility that we may never quite fix the problem once and for all, but we can certainly make improvements.

The adoption agency we used for all of our adoptions recently declared bankruptcy and closed.  I have no idea what happened, beyond some significant staff turnover within the past couple of years and the fact that Ethiopian adoptions are taking longer than they used to, and so agencies aren’t as easily able to sustain themselves.  This particular agency used to have a relatively good reputation but over time that changed.  I stopped recommending them shortly after our daughters came home, and  I also stopped encouraging people to adopt from Ethiopia in general, unless it was for a specific older or disabled child who’d been waiting a super long time.  Things just got too messy.

Now I hear that Ethiopia may be closing its doors to international adoption altogether, and I think that is probably wise at this point.  The system is sick and needs to fixed–or, better yet, perhaps a domestic adoption program could grow in its place.  Whatever they do, it has gone unregulated for far too long.

But I find it particularly heart-breaking that adoption itself is now on trial.  Due to some recent and disturbing cases of child neglect and abuse resulting in death, coupled with the number of disruptions and, I suspect, the nature of social media, it is now being suggested by many a journalist (a la Kathryn Joyce) that adoption is inherently problematic.  That you should donate those dollars to the poor instead.  That adopted children aren’t capable of developing a proper identity.  That adoption is a manifestation of American Exceptionalism.  That losing a culture is not worth gaining a family.

And I want to ask, don’t biological families abuse their children too?  Isn’t disruption merely indicative of significant past trauma in a child’s life?  Giving to the poor in the name of family preservation is good, but what about children who, TODAY, do not have a family?  What if identity is ultimately rooted in something far greater and deeper than race and culture, and what if adopted children can go on to embrace who they are and where they came from?  Does the fact that I’m a US citizen automatically make me prone to feelings of superiority and entitlement?  What if an orphaned child’s best chance at life and success lies in being adopted?

I am not ashamed to say, without reservation, that my adopted children–with their particular situations and circumstances–are better off for having been adopted.  NOT because America is culturally superior to Ethiopia, or because my husband and I are better suited to raise them than their birth parents, or than a set of Ethiopian adoptive parents.  None of those things are remotely true.  No, they’re better off because they had no one else step forward to care for them.  One of them would not have survived childhood.  They had run out of legitimate options and found themselves in an orphanage teeming with traumatized kids of all ages.  Those aren’t slideshow hooks folks, those are hard facts.  And so they joined our family.  They sit at our table each night, eat until they’ve had their fill, take a hot shower and drift off to sleep with the knowledge that they have a loving mother and a father here, present, now.  We are not their only parents and we were not their first parents, and we don’t pretend to be.  But we love them.  We are family.  We are here.  And whether we’d adopted them or they’d been left to grow up in their orphanage, they will have to come to terms with their early losses.  At least this way?  They have a family to be a soft place for them to fall, and to support them, and to listen to their questions and fears and thoughts and hurts and dreams.

And I can also say that I am so humbled and grateful that they are my children.  My adopted kids all know that adoption is only necessary when something breaks down and doesn’t work as it should, but they also know I desperately love my kids and am glad they are here.  They know that they’re survivors.  They know that we pray for and love their birth mothers.  And above all, they know that they are loved by a good, merciful, all-knowing God.  He was there for them when nobody else was.  And He will continue to be.

One of the worst things about the anti-adoption movement?  It presupposes that a birthmother is incapable of making an empowered, informed, loving adoption plan for her child.  It introduces shame into the equation.  It assumes that an Ethiopian woman with few resources is automatically weak, a know-nothing, naïve.  It relies upon a stereotype that, while rooted in some truth (for example there have been deplorable situations where a birth mother was tricked or bribed or coerced), should not be applied in such an over-reaching, broad way.  Because speaking for myself, the three respective birth mothers of my children knew precisely what they were doing.  They are smart, capable women.  And they chose not to parent their children, due to poverty, singleness and sheer survival in the case of my sons, and then in the case of my daughters, because of their disabilities.  These women were not taken advantage of although they are indeed victims–though not of an evil child trafficker, but of a cruel world in which they must suffer.  No woman should be abandoned by the father of her children.  No woman should be left to raise a child with special needs by herself, because of the stigma.  I wish that they had found a way or the desire to parent, but at the same time, deciding to place your child in a new family can be a compassionate, loving choice.  Of course by the time my husband and I entered the picture, that choice had already been made.  Years before.  And each mother stood by her choice, appeared in court, met with us, and testified that it was indeed what she wanted.  It is hard to imagine, but it is the truth.

Someday we plan to take our sons and daughters back to Ethiopia to meet birth family and become familiar with their birth culture.  I hope they fall in love with it, like we did.  I hope they can fill in some gaps and come more fully to terms with their respective pasts.  I hope they know we did our best to give them the space to think through all of adoption’s complexities, and most of all that we told them the truth.

And, I hope they see that it was love and belief in human dignity that brought us to the conclusion that adoption is a compassionate response to the crisis of the human family.  Beyond the exorbitant fees and broken systems and political games, children are created for parents, and parents for children.  If we want to see a better, more peaceful world, we will look towards mothers and fathers doing the long work of forming consciences and cultivating charity.  We will support family preservation when possible and when not, we will seek to place children in a loving adoptive family where they can grow and learn and realize their potential.

When my son asked me his question I set down my coffee and thought a moment.  Then I told him that not all married couples should probably adopt, and that it can be a hard thing to do that requires prayer, discernment, and a lot of faith.  He became more indignant and wanted to know why, because it’s so important and isn’t it something people ought to care about?  I explained there are other ways people can help and show that they like Ethiopia, and at the same time I’m so glad that God led us to adoption.

My son seemed happy with that, and said he wants to tell people that adoption is a good thing to do.

And, regardless what any journalist might say, I humbly agree.

The panic button and the Miraculous Medal

alice bookWe are, as many of you are aware, homeschoolers.

Which not only means that we’ve been educating our children at home for the past several years, but also that I have been doubting, questioning and second-guessing that decision for the past several years.

For whatever reason, the choice to opt out of public education weighs heavy on most homeschooling mothers’ minds and hearts, possibly more than any other parenting decision.  We hem and haw and worry and explain and look longingly at the local neighborhood elementary school when we pass by–or maybe that’s just me.  But still we keep plugging along and pressing onward because on some level we believe in, and actually like, what we’re doing.

A few weeks ago my husband and I gave a talk on Christian marriage to a group of students at Regis University in Denver.  Our presentation had virtually nothing to do with homeschooling (my expertise in that area would probably only fill three minutes or so of time, if that!) but I did casually mention off-hand that we homeschool our kids, in the context of explaining that I was never really much of a “kid person”, and yet here I am, with 8 kids.  That I homeschool.  And during the question-and-answer time afterwards, a girl raised her hand and essentially asked WHY.

It’s honestly a good question and while it’s always felt intuitive to me to pursue this lifestyle for our family, it’s not necessarily the norm.  Okay it’s really, really, REALLY not the norm.  To the point where the burden of proof so-to-speak is on us, the homeschoolers, to explain why exactly we’re doing this countercultural thing that drives us crazy a good portion of the time.

The answer is, of course, fairly simple.  For our particular family, homeschooling is really just a very good fit.  We get to enjoy days spent in the context and rhythm of family life.  We get to work together–older children with younger, parents with child–and not just on the three r’s but also on daily household tasks.  We get to participate in our parish’s homeschool co-op and nourish friendships and build community with fellow Catholics.  We allow space for silence, play, and creativity.  And there are things we avoid, too–rushed and harried mornings, nightly homework battles, and negative influence and bullying and who knows what all else kids are facing in the lunchroom these days.

Of course I also always tell people that once homeschooling STOPS being a good fit for us, we’ll quit.  I’m not married to the idea and it’s one hill I absolutely refuse to die on.  My husband and I are both products of the public school system and we turned out pretty darned well, I’d say.

But deep down, I hope it DOESN’T cease to be a good thing for our family.  We enjoy it, and I hope we get to continue enjoying it because, in theory at least, it’s pretty fantastic.

When it comes to practice though?  The day-in and day-out?  It’s actually kind of hard.  Less so the nuts and bolts of teaching multiplication facts to a forgetful little boy who’d rather be outside working on his tree-house, but moreso that mental piece I mentioned earlier.  I occasionally worry that my kids aren’t where they “should” be, or that they won’t ever learn to read/spell/write fluently, or that they are missing! out! on Very Important Public School Things.  And I worry precisely because this whole education thing is, in a nutshell, my problem.  I don’t get to shrug my shoulders and say “let the salaried, credentialed teacher deal with it”, because I’M the teacher.  (With no credential or salary, incidentally.)  It’s just plain a lot of pressure, and so I recently awoke in the middle of the night in full-blown freakout mode.  Am I doing this right?  What am I doing?  What are my goals?  WHAT AM I DOING? 

I wanted to hit the homeschooling mother’s panic button and call it all off.  Send them to school on the next morning’s bus.  Punt on all the benefits we experience just for the peace of mind of not “being in charge of my child’s education.”

Because, you know, all important decisions really ought to be made when you’re half-asleep at 2 am and watching the big, scary pine tree outside your window blowing in the wind.  (It looks like a monster.  For reals.  And I am pretty much convinced at this point that it is frightening me on purpose.  And laughing.)

But then last week at our homeschool co-op, we talked about Saint Catherine Laboure, the French nun who received instructions from Mary to create the Medal of the Immaculate Conception (otherwise known as the Miraculous Medal).  I was supposed to explain the various elements of the front and back of the medal to the children but admittedly knew nothing about it (convert problems), so I had to familiarize myself with the story.  Which is honestly pretty amazing, and I found myself particularly intrigued by the rays of light coming from Mary’s hands.  It turns out they represent graces and gifts she gives to the world, and do you see how some of them don’t go all the way down to the earth she’s standing on?

Those particular lines represent the gifts we don’t receive because we don’t ask.

For those readers not too keen on the Blessed Mother (though you should be, because she’s Jesus’ mother and our mother too), it’s the same concept as James’ words recorded in Scripture, where he says you have not because you ask not.  And for whatever reason I never gave any of that too much thought until I was standing in front of a bunch of little kids explaining the medal.  I considered my recent scary-tree-induced panic over homeschooling, and it occurred to me that instead of just pleading with God that He’d speed up my kids’ brains and turn them into child prodigies overnight, maybe I should just ask God and Mary for something much simpler: encouragement that homeschooling is still the right thing for our family.  And if not, some sort of clear indication to that end.  It felt a bit silly to pray for something as simple as “encouragement”, but I did it anyway because if it’s true that there are things to be given if only we’ll ask in faith, well, I should not let pride get in the way of asking.

And then last week I sat with the kids at breakfast, and read a chapter from our saint book about the saint whose feast day it was.  I don’t remember his name (sorry), but our discussion centered around good vs. bad influences.  And I was blown away by the insights every.single.one. of my school-age children shared.  Like really, really amazed.  They shared so openly about what was in their hearts and minds and our conversation ended up lasting much longer than I’d anticipated.  (Long enough for one of my sons to inform me he wants to be a priest who plays for the NFL.  I told him that likely was not going to happen.  He was disappointed.)  Then we read a chapter for history and wound up discussing racism, how Jesus wants us to love others, discerning your vocation, and why being open to adoption is so important.  Certain children that I’d been concerned about school-wise proved to be thinking far deeper (and retaining more) than I’d assumed.  Later that afternoon we went to our spring Divine Mercy homeschool soccer club, where five of my kids happily participated (including a certain blonde-haired, blue-eyed four-year-old who can be rather, ahem, obstinate), and returned home to have my big kids eagerly dash upstairs to play a game of “Clue” together.

It was the most encouraged I’d felt about homeschooling in a long, long time.

And that was precisely what I’d prayed for!  Not for Mary to swoop down and replace my kids with brainier counterparts, or for God to miraculously hard-wire the word “she” into my son’s memory (why, oh why, can he never remember that particular sight-word?!), but simply for encouragementFor confirmation that homeschooling is good for my children and good for our family.  For a glimpse into the beautiful gifts that are unique to educating at home, things that really couldn’t happen were my kids leaving on that sometimes-wished-for-bus each day.

And I received it.  And am continuing to receive it.  And instead of reaching for the proverbial panic button from now on, I want to pray and increase in faith, and believe that God has the best interests of me and my children at heart.  I want to remember that Mary knows what it is to be a mother and so knows the challenges we mothers face.  It’s so much bigger than my mostly-trivial, should-I-homeschool-or-not hand-wringing because there are all sorts of things I worry about that I could be praying about.

If you look at the medal you’ll also see that Mary is standing on the earth, crushing the serpent (read: Satan) under her feet.  The “New Eve” as she has always been known plays a profound role not only in salvation history but also in the world today.  And I love the imagery of her crushing Satan and defeating evil because it gives me hope–hope for the world but also hope for personal things like raising my children and being a mother.  Hope that I too can succeed at this whole life thing.  Hope that I can give my yes to Jesus just like her, and that He’ll make something beautiful out of my family.

And so I’ll take Mary the Mother of God over hitting the panic button any day!

Catching up

Just because it's always a good time for a ridiculous photo of a hamster eating jello.

Because it’s never a bad time for a photo of a hamster eating jello.

So my laptop cord breaks after only five months or so, I’m away from the blogosphere for a couple of weeks waiting for a replacement, and all manner of pandemonium breaks loose.  Because apparently all the hot-button topics people have been intermittently fighting about on social media over the past couple of years?  They all pretty much came to a head in my absence.  Hobby Lobby, World Vision, marital fidelity, All of the Things.

And honestly?  I’m kind of glad to have missed it!

Between the defective cord and my earlier issue with not having internet access for who knows what reason, I’ve been “away” a lot lately, save for the occasional Facebook browsing on my phone.  And it’s been FABULOUS.  And a great reminder that I am beyond blessed to live the best and most integral parts of my life in real life, as opposed to through a screen.  My friendships, spiritual life, activities, all of it is happening face-to-face and in true local community with others.  And I’m grateful for and humbled by this because it’s not the case for everyone–it has not always necessarily been the case for me.  Different seasons bring different dynamics and gifts and trials.  Right now we’re fortunate to be in a great place with great people and great connections.  Friends and family regularly fill our home with laughter, conversation and love.  So an internet fast isn’t such a big deal because as much as I enjoy my online community, it’s not my only or primary community.

In regards to all the recent online craziness, I’ve done a little catching up.  I confess though that I’ve never been a fan of the ”blog wars”–this blogger vs. that blogger, so-and-so tweeted such-and-such???!!!, “no, Jesus said THIS”, blah blah blah.  It’s a waste of time.  Bloggers don’t speak for the world (what a shock, right?) and the truth is that most of us are writing in last night’s pajamas and drinking cold coffee while putting off what we really should be doing anyhow.  Lest you think I’m criticizing the general concept of blogging, I assure you I’m NOT.  On the contrary I think blogging brings a beautifully human element to online interaction.  I love it.  I’m not (usually) ashamed to call myself a blogger but I recognize that it ought not have primacy in my life or in yours.  And anything that results in so much contrived, pretend, two-dimensional drama should probably not get anyone too terribly wound up in the first place.

Of course I’m sure you’re dying to hear my overall impression of all the recent hullabaloo (underused-word-alert), and so I’ll say this: I think *most* of the internet arguing is ridiculous, I think there are some majorly competing worldviews playing out before our eyes, I think people adhering to what (until now) had always been normal tenets of the Christian faith are now pretty radical and are being portrayed as bigots, which concerns me, I think everyone–regardless of faith or creed or political party–is searching for authentic love, I think it’s tempting to believe your online persona is more important than it is, and I think people continue to wrestle with the fundamental question of what does it mean to be a person.  Or what does love look like.

And those questions don’t just exist as hypotheticals.  I think that’s why they strike such a nerve with people and draw all of us, at some point or another, into the fray that we nearly always regret the next morning.

Whom an evangelical non-profit (that I don’t presently financially support anyhow) employs hardly matters to me in my day-to-day life, but figuring out what marriage and chastity are, and actually living them out and passing that information on to my kids, does.  Whether the Supreme Court affirms that religious freedom extends to denying women contraception coverage won’t necessarily directly affect me because hello, I’m not a business-owner, but it will probably have an effect on the way our society thinks of these issues and may eventually lead to further restrictions on that freedom that will affect me.  And the balance between entering into the Sacrament of Marriage as an idealist vs. a realist is kind of immaterial for me at this point because that ship sailed nearly twelve years ago, but I’ll say that I think that there is nothing wrong with doing everything within your power to discern what makes for a good spouse before entering Holy Matrimony.  I did, and I don’t regret it one bit.  But we also must be aware of the fact that even so, sometimes bad things happen that you don’t anticipate.  Many people are jaded about marriage and not without reason.  It just is.

It’s funny because all of this STUFF that people are talking about is tied together by the fact that life and love are unbelievably important and nuanced.  Most of us spend our days trying to get by and do good things, regardless where we fall on the big social and moral questions.  That’s why the whole us vs. them thing is hard, because it reduces people to what boxes they check and opinions they hold–which on the one hand is silly, but on the other, I suspect that those opinions are the very things that shape and form communities and cultures.  I’m Catholic, believe it to be the true and historic representation of the Christian faith, and so I ascribe to the Church’s ancient and uninterrupted teaching on the human person–which includes the sticky-for-the-21st-century reality that our Lord designed marriage as a lifelong union, open to the conception of children, between a man and a woman.  But the primary way to live out or express this idea for me does not ultimately lie in the heated combox or even on my own blog, but in my home and in my relationships.  Period.  Because love for Jesus is the main thing, and it will always be the main thing, and I express that love for Jesus by loving my husband, loving my children, and loving others.  Sometimes loving someone is indeed sharing a difficult truth with them (no it’s not good for you to eat too much candy or be cruel to your sister, or I love you but when you treat me that way it really hurts me), but it is always respectful and taking into account the dignity of the whole person.  Not just attraction or preference or lifestyle or _____.  So you won’t generally find me arguing my way through the day online because not only do I always regret it when I have the rare occasion to do so, but because it’s fruitless and dependent on caricatures.  It leaves little space for the real philosophical questions that plague our day and age.  It rarely acknowledges the common human experience.  Mostly, it’s just people talking past each other.  

I do want to say that what intrigued me most about World Vision’s (now-reversed) decision, to be honest, was simply that gay marriage was being isolated and permitted among employees for the first time ever–while other, far more common situations like cohabiting, infidelity, and sex outside of marriage were not.  Rich Stearns suggested that Scripture is not clear on the issue of homosexuality, so why does he think it’s any more clear on those other subjects?  Why was there no outrage that, say, a partner in a committed, cohabiting, heterosexual couple, that may not get married for any number of “good reasons”, is not allowed to be employed by the non-profit?  Because guess what?  Every.single.one. of those things is rooted in those exact questions I mentioned earlier–what does it mean to be a person, a married person, a married man, a married woman?

It would seem there is a lack of a clear, cohesive sexual ethic here.

The situation, more than anything, really just serves to highlight some real problems within evangelicalism–namely, how will evangelicals approach the issue of human sexuality going forward?  Stearns was right to observe that Protestant churches are deeply divided on the issue.  But then, that’s nothing new, and kind of the nature of the beast dating back to the Reformation.

Now as to the Great Marriage Debate of 2014 in the Catholic blogosphere, that you probably missed if you’re not part of the Catholic blogosphere (or if you had a busted laptop cord)?  Concerning Emma Smith’s original piece where she described her coworkers’ negative impressions of marriage, and the various ensuing critiques from other Catholic women (notably Simcha Fisher), I’ll simply start by saying that we should be sad that so many women and men have been hurt so badly in marriage, that they have suffered so much that they express little to no hope for good or redemption or the sacrament itself.  I have genuine compassion for them.  Those women sitting around talking about infidelity and divorce probably didn’t set out to rain on Emma’s blushing-bride-parade.  They’d been burned.  They’d seen their marriages deteriorate.  And no matter how many “good choices” you make at the outset, well, you might still suffer.  So while I believe in being intentional and doing things ahead of time that are conducive to giving yourself the best possible chance for staying together and having a holy marriage, I also really feel for those whose marriage is more akin to a long road of sorrows.  Sometimes women and men who sought love and happiness find pain and discontent instead.  Which is why I’m convinced that only in knowing and loving Jesus, for Jesus’ sake and not yours, who lived both joy AND sorrow, will make for a peaceful and fulfilling existence.  As Christians we embrace both the Nativity and the Cross.  We rejoice at Easter, but only after walking with Jesus through His Passion during Holy Week.  There is room for both in the historic Christian worldview, and that’s a good thing, because life is filled with both, and often the pain is more acute than the joy.  But always, always, always, Jesus is in both.  So, we have hope.  Thank goodness.

And at the same time, let’s be kind out there.  The blogosphere ought not be a place to rip people like Emma to shreds for wording something a little differently than we might, were we sitting at the keyboard.  (And lest you think I’m passively-aggressively referring to particular bloggers, I’m not.  I enjoyed Simcha’s post quite a bit, and didn’t read any of the others.  It’s moreso the assorted commenters and the general mood out there, which lately has struck me as rather uncharitable.)  I am of the opinion that people really ought to smile more, play truthful but nice, and post more pictures of hamsters wearing aprons in miniature houses.

Well I think we’re all caught up now on all the goings-on I didn’t really miss, but still apparently felt the need to comment on because I’m a blogger, and I’m still in my pajamas at 3:30 in the afternoon, and that is what we do.  Nothing is terribly new with me, unless you count the fact that our cat cornered a snake in our detached garage yesterday morning and so now I’m convinced that there are millions of snakes hiding and plotting our deaths in every room of my house.  Thank goodness my dad happened to be over to handle it–both figuratively and literally.  It saved me from having to call my husband at work, sobbing hysterically and begging him to come home, which may or may not be what I did the last time there was a snake sighting.

So with that, I’m off to finally take a shower and get dressed for the day (er, night), cajole my kids into picking up the various messes they’ve made while I’ve been writing and drinking cold coffee, soak up my one-year-old’s infectious, toothy smile, and go sit on a tall chair where my feet will be safe from slithering reptiles.  Have a wonderful, jello-filled day, friends!

In defense of Lent

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI didn’t personally begin observing Lent until I became Catholic two-ish years ago.

And I really didn’t know much about Lent prior to that, period.  My own Evangelical Protestant tradition didn’t really acknowledge Lent, and so I was pretty much all-out clueless up until recently.

Don’t believe me?  True story: my freshman year in college I saw a bunch of people walking around one day with, gasp, was that dirt???!!! on their foreheads.  I was so unbelievably confused, and thought it must be the world’s biggest coincidence that multiple people around campus had black smudges on their faces.  Should I say something?  Give a knowing look while making a motion on my own face?  Awkward!  But then it struck me later that night that it was a Wednesday, and it was Ash Wednesday, and I put two and two together and figured out that Christians must wear ash on their foreheads on that day.  Thank goodness I opted against leaning over and telling my classmate she should go wash her face!

Now of course I know what Lent is, and what it’s not, and while I’m still figuring out how I should best “do Lent”, I’ve been disturbed by the abundance of misinformation and wrong assumptions swirling around about it.  Especially since it’s such an old tradition–it appears that even the earliest church had some sort of Lenten practice in preparation for Easter, as evidenced by some of Saint Irenaeus’ writings.  And the VAST majority of the Christian world observes Lent, but less so American Evangelicals–who also happen to have the corner on modern Christian publications and blogging.  Thus the mishmash of criticisms and misguided Lenten anecdotes floating around social media lately.

I read a recent article in particular in which the author made the case that the public observance of Lent is in opposition to the teachings of Jesus, and sums it up with this: “Put simply, Jesus doesn’t care for public displays of faith. Not then and not now.

Huh.

I confess the piece made me feel a tad grouchy, probably in part because I happened to read it on Ash Wednesday–when I was,  you know, hungry.  But in any case, I’m pretty sure that nowhere in any of the Gospels does Jesus condemn the public display of faith per se.  Jesus was, Himself, an observant Jew.  The book of Acts tells us of Saint Stephen’s rather public martyrdom.  Jesus says Christians are to acknowledge Him before men.  And on and on it goes.  So when the author says people observing Lent shouldn’t say anything about it, I’m wondering what exactly the point is in keeping it a secret when nearly all Christians globally are participating.  In other words, Lent isn’t some special ”super-Christian” thing–it’s a universally observed liturgical season of the Church.  It necessitates fasting and penance and waiting.  Fashioned after Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the desert.  Plain and simple.

Now obviously no one should be bragging about fasting, or whining and complaining and saying ”oh, look at me and how great I am for doing this fast!”  Or even blabbing on and on about what they’re giving up.  Ob.vi.ous.ly.  But can I ask you something?  WHO IS ACTUALLY DOING THAT?  I have many a Lent-observing friend on social media and I have yet to see anyone reflecting that sort of attitude.  Most people aren’t broadcasting to their fellow Facebookians what they are fasting from, period (unless it’s Facebook itself).  The ones that are, aren’t doing so in a boastful way.  I did see a lot of Ash Wednesday photos, and I loved them.  What a beautiful reminder of our own sin, humanity, and the hope and mercy of Jesus!

And as a quick aside, the author questions people giving up something trivial like chocolate because how could chocolate come between a person and God, but the thing the author doesn’t realize is that that’s not the point of giving something up.  But more on that in a bit.

Because first we need to talk about the crux of the issue, or at least a very real part of it: Historical Christianity, or the Catholic Church, is a physical thing.  It does not somehow only exist up in the clouds or in peoples’ heads and hearts, because we can SEE it.  This is in somewhat of a contrast to the evangelical understanding of the universal church, which is considered more or less invisible.  And the Catholic Church is not only physical Herself but also does supernatural stuff with physical things, like administering the Sacraments (the Real Presence for example, per John 6, as opposed to mere symbols).  The Catholic Church is an institution founded by Jesus, both physical and supernatural, not a gnostic notion of self-realization or feel-good spirituality.  And this is a big deal and makes a heck of a lot of sense because Jesus, in addition to being fully divine, was also fully human.  A man.  On earth.  You can actually get on an airplane and visit the place where He was born, and where He lived, and where He was tempted by Satan and then where He died and rose from the dead.  It’s really kind of a scandal because the incarnation is a profoundly wild idea.  Humanity redeemed.

So when someone says that the public expression of faith is at odds with following Jesus, they have it backwards.  Completely and 100% flipped upside-down.  Because how can we follow someone we can’t see?  Or claim we believe something we don’t obviously embrace?  Why keep something a secret (or claim it’s invisible) when Jesus likened it to a city on a hill?  Good deeds, yes, should be done discreetly insofar as we are able and yes, we must take care to guard against pride…but that doesn’t mean we refrain from volunteering at a soup kitchen, praying outside of an abortion clinic, or for that matter going to Mass because somebody! will see! us.  Jesus’ oft-referenced (but just as often misattributed) problem with the Pharisees was that they were hypocrites with corrupt hearts, in spite of their very public and dramatic claims to faith–NOT that they were openly pious.

And if we are approaching Lent properly, there IS no room for pride.  We give up something pleasurable for 40 days not because it was getting in the way of our relationship with the Lord, but in hopes of rightly ordering our lives and growing better at mastering our passions.  So that we can better combat sin.  We fast from food on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and from meat on each of the Fridays during Lent, to commemorate Christ’s crucifixion and in order to focus and contemplate.  We receive ashes on Ash Wednesday as a sign of mourning and reminder that we are but dust–”Repent and believe the Gospel” is what my priest said as he applied them to my forehead.  We go to Confession at least once to be absolved of our sins and to ready our hearts for the joy of the Resurrection–otherwise known as Easter, the highest Holy Day of the year.  Everything we do for Lent has to do with the interior state of the soul, but it shouldn’t be a secret that we are participating.  It’s what Christians have been doing in one form or another for millennia.  We also stand and recite the Nicene Creed at Mass each week.  This is what we confess to be true.  This is what we believe.

So please, before you decide that anyone openly living out their faith is some sort of horrible Pharisee, do a little research.  Take the time to understand the practice of Lent and how it enriches the life of the Church.  Consider that when you see Catholics chatting about Lent on social media, they’re probably not thinking twice about it (and boasting is the farthest thing from their mind), because it’s normative within their subculture–as opposed to some above-and-beyond, holier-than-thou experiment.  If your particular faith tradition doesn’t observe Lent, think about doing some reading about what each liturgical season looks like for most Christians around the world.  And if you decide you want to join us in observing this Lenten season, remember that it’s not a flippant “oh, hey, I’m going to stop eating cookies so I can fit back into my jeans from high school”.  It is a reverent, solemn, contemplative sort of thing whose aim is to bring us into closer relationship and union with Christ.  Jesus is the point.  Always.

And if you want to do something really cool?  Find a local Catholic parish where you can pray the Stations of the Cross on Friday evenings.  It is an incredible way to experience and remember Jesus as He carried His cross.

Protestant, Catholic, Pharisee or otherwise, I hope to see you there!

Back online

catWhy yes, I’m still here.

I’m sure you all missed me TERRIBLY during my unforeseen blogging hiatus, which was due to the unfortunate fact that because of an issue with the cable hookups at my house, I was without the interwebz for AN ENTIRE WEEK.

And as much as I’d love to tell you how positively dreadful it was being cut off from the digital continent and its Facebook wars and email messages made of spam, I can’t.  Because it was actually rather nice to be forced into a break from All The Technology Things.

Until the cable guy finally showed up to fix the problem, tried unsuccessfully to sell me cable for the TV, and thankfully shooed my cats out of his van before driving off.

And then I was back online.

So what’s new with me?  I’m so glad you asked!  (When you have a blog you can pretend that people really care about what you have to say, and that they’re asking you questions.  It’s fun.)  Well, a few things actually, but more on those later because I have to write my portion of a talk Kevin and I are giving on Wednesday–and I haven’t even begun yet, because something that’s NOT new is that I’m a procrastinator.

But in the meantime I just wanted to say that I’m back, and while I didn’t really miss General Internet Use I did miss writing, and connecting with all of you.  There are so many things I want to talk about in the coming days–like what we’ve been up to, and our recent Holy Land trip, and Lent (is anybody else kind of amazed by the vast amount of misinformation out there regarding this particular liturgical season?), and the fact that my baby just turned one (?!), and awkward grocery store encounters with strangers, and kids throwing awkward tantrums in the aforementioned grocery stores.  But first I have to get some things done like homeschool my kids, fold and put away three loads of laundry and, oh yeah, figure out my talk for Wednesday.

I hope you all are well and I look forward to blogging more in the coming days!