Author Archives: Mary

Giving Our Thanks

Imagine if the President shut down the government for a day, and declared it a recurring holiday in which we all were to stay home from work and offer praise and thanksgiving to God for His blessings to us.

I can’t even imagine the controversy and the cries of “Separation of church and state!” that would ensue if this declaration happened today, yet somehow—even in the midst of the tense political climate of 2017— the American tradition of Thanksgiving carries on without controversy or fear of offending.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

(Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1863)

Of course, being thankful is not particular to those of us who believe in God, but it is worth nothing that “thank you,” is necessarily an address to someone outside of ourselves. 

We say “thank you,” because we recognize that someone else has been generous or kind towards us when they did not necessarily have to be.

So I can thank my neighbor for his kindness, or my husband for his help in cleaning the house. But, for those really big things in life—those things that are hard to even put into words—like the blessing of family (and not just “family” in the abstract, but my family, who I can’t even take credit for choosing myself), or the unconditional love of a spouse, or the particular talents I was born with, etc. For these things, I am personally thankful that I know that I can turn to God to offer my thanks. I have done nothing deserving of the many blessings of this life I have, and I thank Him not only for the obvious blessings, but even for those things which do not always appear to be blessings, but that I nonetheless know my Heavenly Father is using to draw me into His perfect love.

I hope you all have a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving!  To God alone be the glory! 🙂

 

Remember Your Death, And Have Some Candy

“Mom! I want to drive by the SCARY DRAGON!!” my daughter yells, emphasizing the words, “scary” and “dragon” with a growl from the backseat.

Our neighborhood has been getting prepared for Halloween with skeleton decorations, orange lights, and lawn inflatables (i.e. “scary dragons”). Thankfully, most people around us are keeping it pretty kid-friendly, and I haven’t yet had attempt to explain any front-yard execution scenes. (On a related note: Sometimes I think Halloween might be a pretty good time for law enforcement to take a walk around some neighborhood “decorations” and update their watch-lists…just sayin’.)

Halloween isn’t my *favorite*, but I don’t have anything against it, per se. I used to not like the “scary” element to it…why can’t things just be nice and happy? And maybe it’s just all this memento mori: remember your death,” talk in the Catholic blogosphere lately, but I’m becoming less averse to the graveyard scenes and skeleton décor as of late.

I’ve always known that Halloween is a Christian-friendly holiday (holy-day!). It’s All-Hallows’ Eve, the eve of All Saints’ Day, and the kick-start to the three days in which we are supposed to remember, pray, and offer sacrifice for all those who have gone before us. As Christians, we should always be mindful that we will one day meet the end of this life on earth. We will all experience death. Thanks to Christ, death does not have the final say, but that does not make death any less serious of a matter.

Where Halloween gets weird for me is when we jump from, “Death is scary!” to, “Death is fun!” That sort of perverted obsession or glorification of death, and making Halloween a time of “playing around” with evil gets a big NOPE from me.

To me, Halloween only makes sense as a fun holiday because Christ came to conquer death. Without Christ, Halloween is just a day that says, “Hey everyone! Look at all the evil in the world! And one day- we’re going to DIE!” Sounds terrible.

With Christ, we know that sin (evil) and death do not have the final say. So yeah, that skeleton looks creepy, but Christ conquered it. Yeah, that monster is ugly, but it’s evil is powerless over me, because I belong to Christ. Now give me some candy.

So while I don’t think I’ll ever swap my seasonal pumpkins and autumn foliage decor for ghosts and skeletons, as a Christian I can actually somewhat appreciate the graveyard displays and skeletal reminders of our mortality that this time of year brings with it. And if you want to give my kids and me candy while we’re at it, well hey, no complaints here.

Our First Go At NFP

Our youngest turned 1 last week. She’s a little doll who seems to think she’s closer to 5 as opposed to just barely 1, but she’s cute so we just let her act however she wants. (I’m kidding…mostly.)

First birthdays are obviously a big deal. But you know what else is big deal around here? Me celebrating my child’s first birthday— and NOT already being 4-5 months pregnant with her younger sibling!!! woo!!!

Thanks, NFP!

So because it’s NFP week, and I’m basically a professional NFP-er now, I thought I’d share a little about my family’s ~experience~ using NFP this past year.

A little background:

My husband and I both come from big, Catholic families. We wanted to get started on ours right away, so, like a lot of couples, we got married, started having kids, and figured we’d just learn NFP if and when we needed to.

For some women who breastfeed, children just end up being naturally spaced about 2, or maybe even more, years apart—no real charting or effort required.

These women should not be trusted.

No, just kidding. But—as my husband and I learned through the very welcome exciting news of both our 2nd and 3rd babies—I am definitely not one of those women.

So as we were getting ready for the arrival of number 3 last year, we prayed and thought and decided that maybe a slightly longer gap between number 3 and 4 would be a good thing.

My goal: To not be halfway pregnant with the next baby when this kid turns 1.

A modest goal. Not shootin’ for five years here or anything, just a little bit of breathing room.

I looked at different NFP methods, read myself a textbook, and then later a blog post that saved the day, and found myself an instructor. Just like that, I was doing NFP!

We used the Marquette Method of NFP. Honestly it was the one method that seemed least appealing to me at first. I mean it requires a monitor and testing every day, which just seemed like a lot of waste and cost up front, vs. the other methods that just seemed to take paper, pen, and a thermometer. But then I got practical. Taking my temp every morning at the same time wasn’t gonna happen with my kiddos (even with those fancy reminder/record gadgets, I just don’t wake up at the same time every day). And, sparing the gory details, the postpartum/breastfeeding time makes charting other NFP symptoms kinda fuzzy anyway. Basically it came down to having a monitor and *science* to go off of, vs. just my own guessing. That blog post that saved the day that I mentioned was really what sold me on Marquette- check it out!

Takeaways…

NFP sucks. I mean it’s great and wonderful and empowering and all that, but there’s nothing fun about abstinence in marriage. There I said it. NFP is hard and it’s not fun and sometimes it’s especially really, extra un-fun.

BUT- It is super cool and empowering knowing your fertility down to the day. And learning it will make you annoyed that you weren’t taught this stuff as a teenager. It helps you understand so much! Mood swings, the grumps, bursts in productivity! And that’s just the little stuff–some women actually discover important medical conditions that need attention, just by charting their cycle. Learn it! If nothing else it’ll make you feel like a badass.

Also- They say the key to any relationship is communication. Well Tyler and I have always been able to talk about anything, so I never would’ve thought we needed to improve communication. Yet we both see that NFP strengthened our marriage and our bond with each other. Before, we would talk about whatever we were thinking or feeling, but thanks to NFP, we now have a little more insight into why I might be thinking or feeling a certain way. So that has been helpful.

And yes, denying yourself is tough, but if you let it (and full disclosure: it’s hard to let it sometimes), the sacrifice will grow and strengthen your relationship and your love for one another.

So thanks, NFP! A week after celebrating my daughter’s first birthday, I am happy to say I am not five months pregnant.

…I am just shy of five *weeks* pregnant! Hey-o!

Happy NFP week, everyone! 😉

My Favorite NFP Resources:

Simcha Fisher’s The Sinner’s Guide To NFP – I actually read this as I was learning this whole NFP thing, and it helped keep my sanity about me. It’s not a how-to, by any means. It’s just some hilarious but also thoughtful reflections about what it is actually like to practice NFP.

Taking Charge Of Your Fertility The “textbook” I mentioned. It is a super helpful resource to have on hand, and actually reads very easily even though it weighs about as much as a newborn. It’s not strictly NFP, because she mentions barrier methods which are no-nos in Natural Family Planning, but her science and explaining the ins and outs of how all this stuff works is really top-notch.

Facebook Groups! I’ve never been much into Facebook groups, but there is a Catholic NFP Facebook group as well as one specifically for Marquette Method that I am a part of. They’re great places to ask for help, especially when you’re just getting the hang of it.

 

When Jesus Does Not Heal

It seems like a pretty insensitive question. The disciples come across a person who had been blind from birth, and ask Jesus,

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus, of course, sets them straight. This guy isn’t blind because he sinned. He is blind so that the work of God might be made manifest in him. And then — BOOM– Jesus heals him.

Blindness, disease, misfortune–when we encounter these things it is not God sending down his wrath because we’ve been bad. God doesn’t work that way. Jesus comes to bring life, to breathe healing. In this fallen and imperfect world, God allows us to experience trials and misfortune so that His work might be made manifest in us.

But what about when Jesus does not heal?

Redemptive suffering, you say. And yeah, it’s the correct answer. But it’s not an easy one.

The whole point of This Christianity Thing is that the path to Heaven is the Cross. We will all come to Calvary. We will all suffer. Yet, because of the Cross—because of Jesus— our suffering can have meaning. Our suffering is a part of our sanctification, and is meant to be offered up to Jesus in order to “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col. 1:24).

Knowledge of this fact may not make the chemo easier or the grief hurt less, but at least, because of Jesus, we can do something with our suffering. We can give our hurt to Jesus. Not to make it hurt less, but to allow it to be used for good.

Still, it is a bit difficult grappling with the fact that the same Jesus who healed the blind man sometimes allows me to continue in my blindness, or my sickness, or my pain, without manifesting His power through a miraculous healing. Yet I also know that Jesus doesn’t owe me anything. I know that on this side of Heaven, there will always be suffering. I really don’t presume God to grant me miracles to reward my good behavior, and I know my struggles are not Jesus punishing me for bad behavior.

Sometimes bad things just happen.

But if I’m being totally honest, sometimes my “God doesn’t owe me anything” attitude has less to do with faith than it does with just not trusting God all that much. I spout off fancy, two-dollar phrases like, “Redemptive Suffering,” while on the inside, I’m asking with the disciples, “Jesus, who sinned? Why did this have to happen?”

After all, God causes it to rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike, right? So then what is even the point in praying? Is it all just essentially “points” and chugging along so that I can end up in the right place when I die?

When my knee-jerk reaction to suffering or trials is, “Well, God doesn’t owe me anything,” I think there’s something sort of “off” in my relationship with God. The statement itself is true. God doesn’t owe me anything. He has already given me everything and then some. Yet God loves me with the love of the Father. When I am crushed in spirit, His response is never simply, “Well, remember, I don’t owe you anything, Mary.”

It might not be in His perfect will to take my suffering away in the way that I am praying for, but it is not out of contempt or forgetfulness on God’s part that miracles appear to not come. It is out of love.

God understands my pain. He wants me to draw near to Him in times of trial, not as some kind of test of my love for Him, but because He has a plan and  purpose for every moment of my life. God causes all things to work together for my good–my ultimate good, yes, but the seldom-spoken truth is that my ultimate good and my immediate good are actually not in opposition to one another.

I once heard a priest (I think it was Fr. John Riccardo) say that the only thing that is going to happen at the end of our lives/ at the end of time is that the veil separating us from seeing things as they truly are will be pulled away. It won’t be that we suddenly won’t remember the events in our lives that caused us great pain, we will just finally see them in their fullness. We will see where God was and what He was doing in our lives’ greatest trials. We will see that God never abandoned us, and even in our weakest moments, He was drawing us closer to Himself.

We will finally see all the ways in which God has made His work manifest in us, even in those times in which it seemed He left us in our blindness.

So we should never tire of praying for miracles; and we can be assured that God is always, always at work within us.

Lord, Make Me Skinny And Summer Ready–But Not Yet!

In preparation for our upcoming summer vacation, Tyler and I are no longer eating after dinner. Nights are sad now. No evening bowl of popcorn to look forward to. My hopes of indulging in a bowl of ice cream after putting the kids to bed have been dashed. No more rummaging through the pantry to savor some late-night chocolate chips. (It’s clear why I needed to stop eating after dinner, right?)

They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. I’ll let ya know.

Of course this “no eating after dinner” rule was conceived in the morning. Sunday morning, to be precise. On the way to church and still full from the night before, I recommitted myself to “getting serious” and making an effort to “eat better” before our trip. But I knew I needed a hard and fast rule, because I am weak– and everything just tastes so.much.better. after the kids go to sleep. I also knew that if I didn’t name it, say it out loud, and have Tyler to keep me accountable, I’d inevitably be in search of another bowl of popcorn after putting the kids to bed that very night.

So I said it.

No more eating after dinner. Deal? Deal.

Ask me how it’s going on any given day around noon, I’ll say it’s been great. But after putting the kids to bed, I’m still negotiating with myself about just how necessary this rule is.

This is so stupid. There’s nothing to do!! 

I go to bed early, sad and defeated, dreaming of breakfast.

The truth is that there would be nothing wrong with having a healthy snack after putting the kids to bed. But if I were skipping downstairs every night for a few sticks of celery and a tablespoon of peanut butter, I wouldn’t have needed to implement this rule for myself in the first place.

Sometimes you just need those extreme guard rails to get yourself back on track. Right now, I need a bright neon sign for my kitchen that flashes “CLOSED” after a certain hour (not literally, but man, wouldn’t that be cool..)

I don’t think God cares how much I weigh, what I look like on the beach, or whether I indulge in the occasional late night dessert. And I don’t mean to over-spiritualize my summer diet/fitness plan, but it’s hard not to notice a few correlations between making healthy lifestyle changes and combatting spiritual sloth.

I remember the first time I was given the advice to look for little acts of mortification as a way to practice “saying no” to myself.  Skip salt on your food. Pick your second-choice at meals. Little acts. Nothing as drastic as “Stop eating at 7pm!”, just little ways to practice denying myself insignificant physical pleasures, so that when BIG things that I actually needed to say no to would come along, it wouldn’t be such a foreign decision.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with adding a little seasoning to your food. And if you are offered your very favorite breakfast in the world, there’s no sin in choosing to eat it. It’s just that if all we ever do is indulge our desires, it becomes so.difficult. to do anything else. Before you know it, you’re eating chocolate chips in the pantry in the dark.

We all need a little practice saying no to ourselves from time to time.

Still, denying myself is not the goal. It’s a means. Right now I need those big neon signs in the kitchen that say “closed,” after I clear the dinner table. But not forever.

In a few weeks, we’ll go on vacation and I’ll hopefully feel healthier and happier than I would have if I didn’t set down some rules for healthy living. But eventually, I’m going to eat a bowl ice cream again after the kids go to bed. If one bowl turns into a nightly ritual of “What kind of junk am I going to eat tonight?” then I’ll need to reevaluate and maybe break out the metaphorical neon signs again.

So learn from the lesson that I keep having to re-learn myself! Practice self-control in your daily life. Offer up that last bite of food. Skip dessert. Resist turning the AC to full-blast as the temperature rises.

Get a little uncomfortable every now and again. It’s good for you!