Category Archives: Women’s Issues

What is it you want to change?

In our world today, we believe what we’re told. We’re not skinny enough, not fair enough, not tall or muscular enough.

I’ve fallen into the trap before. I skipped many meals in my teenage years in a bid to look better.
I did get skinnier, but all I got were lustful looks from the opposite gender.

I saw this quote from St. Catherine of Siena and it was a good reminder that we should strive to love ourselves the way God would love us:

What is it you want to change?
Your hair, your face, your body? Why?
For God is in love with all those things
and He might weep when they are gone.

I do not deny that we are our bodies, for that would deny the gift that God to us.

I also am not saying that we swing to the other extreme and say that we are ONLY our bodies — for that would deny the unique soul that God has given us.

Humans are a hylomorphic (body AND soul) composition and we need to acknowledge both.

When eternity is our reference point, everything that happens here is actually very little.

May we keep that in mind and remember that the Lord loves us exactly for who we are (provided we try our best to be the best versions of ourselves!) (but even when we fail to take care of ourselves, He still loves us.)

Prayers for all those struggling with body image issues, I love you.
God loves you.

___

Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Image: PD-US

A Lesson for a Chaotic Soul

Recently I learned a hard lesson. It was a concept that I knew was coming, as people close to me had informed me of the changes I needed to make. But because I am basically an infant in the spiritual realm, it took me awhile to really get it. It was worth it though because it could basically change my whole life… hopefully, when I learn to unite with God’s will!

Now I normally don’t like to share my spiritual or life lessons that I encounter because I am very young (23 years old), and I am basically still in the process of learning to walk down the paths that I feel God has set for me. So I always feel that I have little credibility in the words that I write. Even so, I feel that what I have realized is very important for every person, no matter who you are.

In recent years, my life has been pretty hectic. I knowingly chose for things to be this way, but I never anticipated the amount of adjusting that I would have to do. Within the past 20 months, I quit school, got engaged, got married, was blessed with my first child. I’ve adjusted to being far away from any family or friends, and I’ve adjusted to my spouse’s crazy medical school life. I’ve adjusted to being a mother and I’ve taken on all of the changes required for the title. I’ve also adjusted to being in a new and intimate relationship with my husband.

That being said, I may have adjusted but I have not responded to my situations in the holiest way. The way I’ve reacted to my environments and relationships have caused me more anxiety and despondency than I thought possible. It caused me to resent my spouse, have a negative outlook on my life, and worse, it drove a wedge between God and myself. I found myself being overly fearful of the future and I didn’t even want to be open to God’s will. Then I started to be ashamed of myself in front of God, knowing that I was avoiding His gaze. What if God asks me to do something difficult? My spiritual director tells me that her priest says that we can’t reach Jesus unless we climb the cross. Well, the cross freaks me out!

When my husband and I would have a conflict, I would panic, shut down, and tell myself that I couldn’t handle his shortcomings. I would use up so much energy trying to change his perspective and then end up angry when I didn’t succeed. In reality, God was teaching us both a lesson in being patient and more aware of each other on our journey through marriage.

When we needed to consider big life decisions, I immediately assumed the worst and panicked. I scrambled to figure out how I could travel down the path of least resistance, even though we really didn’t know what was going to happen yet. In reality, God was probably giving me the opportunity to trust Him.

See a pattern? I was relying on myself and my will because I felt in control. I was also relying on my husband to be perfect and I expected him to respond exactly how I needed him to when in reality, he was learning as much as I was. And who was I not relying on? God the Almighty Father, who basically has the perfect plan for my life.

Here is my main point: If we do not involve God internally, our external reactions will reflect the chaos of our souls.

So how are we supposed to gain internal peace? That may look slightly different for each of us. For me, it entails the need to heal past wounds so that I am okay with myself as God created me. It also will require that I recognize in His infinite and perfect love for me. I have to be able to trust in His ultimate plan, no matter how hard the lessons of the cross will be.

When this happens for each of us, we will be able to carry the crosses and shortcomings of those we love without losing internal peace. No matter what happens, our souls will remain in an undisturbed state while God helps us to grow interiorly and draw into a deeper union with Him.

The Vocation of Motherhood

One of the most insidious and harmful ideas that mothers labor under is the idea that we can raise flawless children. Rationally we know this isn’t true, but emotionally we throw ourselves into this impossible task. It is honorable and understandable to try to always do best by and for your children. But this can become an idol unto itself, an untenable goal, the impossibility of which serves to demoralize us as we pursue our vocation.

In some ways our mothers had it easier. No blogs, no parenting websites, no constant stream of opinion and advice, citing research and various studies. Everyone has an opinion and no qualms about sharing with maximum certitude the absolute correctness of their ideas. With constant, often contradictory messages, frustration and angst build. Did I birth correctly? Should I have breastfed longer? Co-slept? Worn my baby more? Tandem nurse? Did I fail my children; did I harm them by not doing this? By doing that?

Worry and stress are not tools of the Lord. Self-doubt and angst are not part of His call for us. Nothing changes the reality that we are flawed human beings raising flawed human beings. All of our efforts, all of our study, all of our desire to find the perfect method, the path that gives us children with no heartbreak, none of these can eliminate baggage and hurt from our children’s lives.

I used to be much more certain about how I was raising my children. I never thought I had all the answers, but I certainly knew which ways were better. I unabashedly announced my opinion on a certain parenting style, only to discover that a mother I respected actually practiced this particular parenting method. Despite my strongly-held opinions, her children were happy and delightful and loved her fiercely. Maybe, just maybe, this mother knew better how to raise the children God gave her than I did. Maybe what I felt so strongly about simply wasn’t right for my children. Didn’t fit with my personality.

We can try to do everything right. We can try to be the most educated, the most empowered parents out there. We can everything we can to avoid the mistakes our parents made, but it won’t change the fact that we are making our own. The failure in parenting doesn’t come from mistakes made, but the refusal to learn from them. If we learn, improve and grow from our struggles in parenting, then we are doing right by our children. There is no perfect parent, but there is the parent who is perfecting. And this side of Heaven, that’s as good as we can do.

And just as we cannot avoid mistakes along the way, neither can our children. As they grow and mature into the people God has called them to be, they will have struggles. They won’t always make the right choices, despite our best efforts to teach and guide them. We can give them all the “right” tools, all the answers we know, but they won’t always listen. This isn’t necessarily an indication of a failure in parenting. How do I know? Look at the Original Parent. Look at Our Father.

God actually gave His children the world. He gave them everything they could ever want. And He still had to send them to the world’s worst time out. They still ignored Him, still disobeyed, still brought pain and suffering upon themselves. God is both firm and just. He dispenses justice and consequences for sins. But He merciful and quick to forgive. He wants nothing more than His children to be happy, but truly happy not momentarily indulged. So He does deny, when it is appropriate, He does say no, but He always acts in complete love. What better role model can there be? God certainly doesn’t have a universal; one size fits all, approach to care for His children. Rather, He meets them where they are, challenges them individually and wills the best for them always.

Motherhood is one long learning curve. From the different personalities that burst into your life to the different stages that each child grows through, children keep you on your toes. Yesterday’s game plan doesn’t always meet today’s needs. And yet there is one immutable reality, love. Passionate, motivating love.  The one consistent factor in our lives is love, whether it is God’s love for us or our love for our children.

That’s what our vocation is. That’s what the calling of motherhood is. To be a mirror of God’s love. To show our children how much He loves us, for them to begin to experience and recognize that love in their daily lives. It’s not about forming them into the people we think they should be. It’s about forming them into the persons God created them to be. It’s not about raising people who won’t make mistakes, who won’t make choices that we don’t understand. It’s about making sure that through the fog of error they know they are never alone. Never without that love. And that love will always be calling them home.

Mary-ing Our Marthas

I was at a high school soccer game recently. I didn’t know the girls playing, but my second daughter was collecting the balls hit out of bounds with the rest of her soccer team. At least she was supposed to. They were focused, at first. But as the game wore on, the girls seemed more interested in working on a dance routine. My daughter participated, but eventually wandered off, choosing to spin underneath some low hanging trees instead. That’s so her style. Blissfully lost in her own world. Enjoying her life, expressing this joy through song and dance. I love watching her, whether it’s her dancing or her swinging ferociously. Her ability to escape the worries that I know school places on her, to forget her squabbles with her siblings, is inspiring. She knows how to enjoy life, how to appreciate the sun and the beauty of nature. She sees the world for the glorious gift that it is.

We are admonished to become as little children in order to enter the kingdom of Heaven. We are to trust completely in God, Our Father, knowing that He will provide for us, meeting our every need, sometimes in ways that better suit us than we can ever realize. We put our faith in Him and are not disappointed. The love and protection we come to recognize leads to trust and appreciation. It is truly a parent-child relationship. There is a peace that children have. Especially children who rest easy in the comfort of their parents’ love and protection.  There is a freedom and ease to their life; they bounce about, with few worries. What keeps us, as adults, from imitating, or seeking, this freedom? This ease? I have a never ending list of chores in my head; I rush from one task to the next. Being responsible, making sure that meals are made, the house is clean, the laundry is done. All of these are important, necessary tasks, much like school is for my children, so where is my peace? Where is my joy?

It’s a fine tightrope mothers walk. Finding that balance between Martha and Mary. There’s always so much that needs to be done, and yet these moments, these gifts from God are fleeting. And I admit, I was always sympathetic to Martha’s plight, dinner doesn’t make itself, and laundry doesn’t end up done, no matter how long you wait. It’s part of being an adult, balancing responsibilities and caring for those who depend on you. Still, we are called to be like children in relation to God. And what do children do? They delight in the world. They are free and uninhibited with their joy. I came to sit and write, at the scheduled time. I have a few minutes to drink my coffee now that the vacuuming is done before it’s time to work out. Then it will be lunch, with naptime and some school time following. My eighteen month old daughter followed me into the office, which isn’t unusual; she wanted to sit in my lap, which too isn’t unusual. And I held her, which I am very used to. But she wasn’t content to just sit, she wanted to snuggle and snuggle in such a way that her head rested on my shoulder. She’s a little thing, but still, both arms were required to hold her so. And I did. And I willed myself to not think of deadlines, of how I could move her just so and still type. I just sat and let her hair tickle my nose, her hands play with my shirt, her body melt into my arms, letting me know she was ready to sleep. But I didn’t rush her to bed. I delighted.

I delighted in the beautiful baby who is growing too fast. I delighted in the silence of the office, the bent heads engrossed in their schoolwork. I just let myself melt into the moment, pushed those worries out of my mind, even if just for a second. It is a beautiful life we lead, even if that beauty is mired in diapers, sticky hand prints, cranky children, who are always hungry. And just as we can miss the glorious sunset painting the colorful leaves as we rush from work to the numerous sports practices that await our children, we can miss the beauty of the chaotic world about us. Not that we don’t see it, but we don’t appreciate it in the moment. I’m sure that Martha was well aware how magnificent it was that Jesus was sitting there in her home. She was doing her best to keep the visit magnificent, cooking and caring for the needs of everyone, without help. And, at first glance, it seems like Jesus is ungrateful for her efforts. But He was just teaching, using her desire to love and serve to remind her of the why. The why we are so busy. It is to care for those we love, to provide for them. It is too easy to get wrapped up in the work itself, the cooking and cleaning, without remembering that it is to better care for those we love.

Martha was frustrated by the amount of work that she had to do, Mary was enjoying and delighting in the presence of those she loved. It can seem like a chore, a never ending to do list, the care and nurturing of our families. We can lose their faces to the stacks of dishes and unmade beds. So it is those moments when we let it go, we stop and delight, in which our Marthas and Marys meld. Our desires to serve and give are rejuvenated by our love and delight in those we want to give so much to. Let go of those cares, for just a moment. Let the beauty, the joy, the peace engulf you. Let your heart spin and twirl in the love that overwhelms you. Be childlike in your delight of the wonders in life. And then it’s back to work. But maybe it will seem just a little less like work.

 

Rebekah Andrews is a 2001 graduate of Thomas Aquinas college. Married to Dave since 2001, Rebekah is mother to five children. She home schools her children and works for an online school. There is no spare time for hobbies because all five children play various sports, mostly soccer. Rebekah also writes at Moments in Mediocre Motherhood.

Finding Femininity at Its Finest

We are in a spiritual battle right now. Society is challenging women, and the men that support them, to rethink femininity and what it means to be a feminist. It is a conflict that demands increasing courage to face.

We shouldn’t have any consternation though; women are the daughters of the greatest human warrior we will ever know: the Blessed Virgin Mary.

She made a promise to St. Dominic saying, “One day, through the rosary and the scapular, I will save the world”. What a threat to Satan! God has promised she would crush him since the beginning of human existence. She is our commander-in-chief and provider of weapons. The rosary is basically our AK-47! 

So let’s remove ourselves from the confusion and get back to the basics with the one who is blessed among women, Our Mother. By her example, what is a true woman and what does she stand for?

She is an observer of the world

We are unique from men in the way we perceive the world. According to researcher Israel Abramov, of the City University of New York, we distinguish colors, sounds, and smells better than men. We also have a tendency to focus on people’s faces and bodies. Mary is the best observer of us all. She didn’t speak about things but rather pondered on them in her heart.

But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be — Luke 1:29.

And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart — Luke 2:19.

He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and His mother kept all these things in her heart — Luke 2:51.

By taking Mary’s example, we are better able to process what goes on around us. By reflecting on events, we can gain greater understanding, as well as charity towards all people involved. That way, whenever we do speak, our words carry meaning and truth. And like St. Augustine said,”The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose and it will defend itself.” 

She brings forth life and preserves it.

We as women are granted the greatest gift on earth: to take part in producing life and preserving it. Our bodies are designed as temples to offer protection, nourishment, and growth for our children. Many of us are also teachers; we have the ability to enrich the mind and the soul. All of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual talents give humans the ability to thrive. God called Mary to give each of her gifts so that the Son of God would be able to carry out His Father’s will. She said yes.

How do we say yes, too? We can be open to life, without the input of foreign substances to “control” our bodies. We can care for our children and fulfill the responsibility of guarding their precious souls. Like Mary, we can care for our relatives, especially the elderly and our family. Luckily for us, God equipped us with motherly instincts and graces to help us along! These blessings create beauty and life in us whether we are single, married with or without children, or in the religious life. We are called to care for the children of God, so that means everyone!

She brings about dignity. 

If we’re being honest, men have a tendency to be a little more beastly. This is not a bad thing: men are often ordered towards hunting, fighting, conquering, and building… all necessary things for this world! Women are more often gifted with beauty, gracefulness, gentleness, and a quiet fierceness that captivates. We can rule with the expression in our eyes, face, and body. Anyone can observe “the look” a mother gives her child who may be misbehaving or the way a crowd turns to consider a woman who holds her head high. Women also more often have the ability to bring out the good in others and convince them to reach the best version of themselves.

Even the Blessed Virgin had to tell Jesus when it was His time to perform His first miracle at the Wedding at Cana. Jesus was divine, but it was His mother who prompted Him to start a long process of bestowing graces of God’s people. She also cherished the dignity of the most desolate when she chose to appear to the three shepherd children at Fatima and a poor young woman named Bernadette of Lourdes, France. We can mirror her by keeping our appearance modest and presenting ourselves in decency. We can also be mindful of the fact that we are daughters of God and our souls mean so much to Him. More importantly, we can extend this to others and help them be aware of the pricelessness of their souls.

 

She works behind the scenes. 

Our Lady speaks a total of four times in the Bible. She followed Jesus wherever He went, caring for Him and the apostles. Even on the way to Calvary, while her Son was being mocked and mutilated, she silently followed close behind. At the foot of the cross, she watched Him die without uttering a word. Her eyes stayed on His face, even as He was taken down and placed in the tomb. She didn’t oppose what God had planned, or complain about her suffering. Some of her most important work was behind the scenes.

God often calls us to do the same, and this behind-the-scenes work is most easily seen as a wife, mother, or religious sister. In today’s world, these callings are seen as the least glamorous and are often not openly encouraged for young women. But in reality, where would the world be without mothers and wives? Leaders would not be raised with the ideals they use to guide others. Workmen would break down more easily under the weight of their work without the support of their family. Society would not know the safety of the home. Moreover, the forces of evil would have a much greater advantage without the stronghold of the family to break through. Even the absence of consecrated women would result in the lack of spiritual support and education. So instead, we should cherish the opportunity to create, build, and support our families and communities. We can always be faithful to our marriages, even in the face of the worst circumstances. The world may not recognize or celebrate us often, but those closest to us will adore us for the work we do. God will also see every sacrifice we make and give us the graces to carry out His will. 

God gave us Our Lady as our constant help and example. We need her more than ever, as the most precious ideals that make up a woman are being attacked and modified in our society. Let us unite in prayer and ask Our Blessed Mother to help us become the women God destined us to be.

 

Walk In Her Sandals: A Book Review

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Plan now to get some of your favorite girlfriends together this Lent to read this book!

Walk in Her Sandals is a deep and unique look at Christ’s Passion and the events after His death from a woman’s perspective. Each chapter contains numerous reflections on various aspects of Holy Week and beyond. There is something for everyone in this book. There is a fictional retelling of the events of the Passion told from the perspective of a woman who watched it all unfold. There are reflections connecting these foundational events to aspects of our feminine genius. There is a guide to pray through important scripture passages using the ancient practice of lectio divina. There are good reflection questions to discuss as a group. The book features authors that most Catholic nerds are familiar with, like Teresa Tomeo, Lisa Hendey and Pat Gohn, as well as many more authors whom you will want to learn more about.

I was a little surprised to find that one of my favorite parts was the fictional retelling of the Passion. I’m usually not a fan of that kind of thing (funny, because I do enjoy writing it, but that’s another story). Stephanie Landsem clearly did her research bringing stories such as the Last Supper and Pentecost alive. You could really sense that these women could have actually been there, were actually the kind of people you would have expected to see there. I had never heard of her before and I’ll have to look her up and try some of her other books.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to pick this book up again as part of a book club. That would be awesome! I’ll have to tell you about it when I do. Not to say that the book isn’t good to read on your own. I certainly enjoyed it.

I got the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review through my membership in NetGalley. Thank you Ave Maria Press! This book just came out yesterday and is available from your favorite bookseller now.

NOTE: I have been informed by the wonderful people at Ave Maria Press that there will be at least two online book clubs this Spring (just in time for Lent!). One will be held at CatholicMom.com and the other will be at WomenInTheNewEvangelization.com. Join me there!

This blog post originally appeared at True Dignity of Women.

Parents Are An Image of God

The image of God that parents can portray is meant to make a mark in the hearts and memories of the children it serves. In this way, parents will do much more in the lives of their kids by leaving with them a living impression of God in a way that is impossible for anything else in Creation to make. If we do our job correctly, we parents can lead our children to a deep faith in God that is more valuable than any other inheritance we could leave them.

In his brilliant teaching on the family, found in Familiars Consortio, St. John Paul II wrote, “By virtue of their ministry of educating, parents are, through the witness of their lives, the first heralds of the Gospel for their children.” In this way parents have a role in presenting to their kids their first ever experience of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The modern saint wrote “through the witness of their lives” to highlight that children learn the life-giving Gospel through the everyday encounter that they have with those who gave them life. Just as Jesus presented the Gospel through words and deeds, so too do parents present the Gospel to their kids through words and deeds.

By loving and caring for our children, we make manifest to them the solemn truth that love exists; and if they see that love exists, it is possible and easier for them to see that there is a Being who is Love. Experiencing love allows our children to know The One Who Is Love, making the mystery of the communion of love in which we participate more accessible to their human understanding. Furthermore, I think that if our children do not have this experience of love as a foundation for their faith, it will be much harder to come to know personally this Great One Who Is Love.

We remember God can do anything, even overcome our brokenness, as Dr. Peter Kreeft has stated, “He writes straight with crooked lines.” However, God has sought our assistance in the creation and raising up of human persons in this life. We can see purpose for the slow growth in independence that children gain naturally as they age. Furthermore, within this purpose we see immense importance in the role of the parents to shape and prepare their children for a good life.

Even though we are imperfect and lacking, we are called to overcome and eclipse the terrible images of parenthood that are plaguing modern society. We need to overcome our desire to be “cool parents” who let our kids do whatever they want as long as it does not get in the way of their busy schedule. We should force ourselves to not give in to what is easy for ourselves in raising our kids, but seek to do the good things that are hard, but most beneficial for the physical, mental, and spiritual develop for our children.

As a father, I have noted the beautiful impression of God that I am able to leave on my children. Some of the ways that we do this are obvious, like providing for our children’s needs just like God our Father provides for all of our needs. However, there are many more ways I see in my role as daddy in leading my beloved children to God.

1. My kids wake up and I have already left for work. On most days, my wife promises them that I will come again before dinner. I come home to fulfill the beautiful prophesy just as Jesus will one day come to us again.

2. One day during Mass, my baby daughter started to cry. I swooped her up and held her close to calm and soothe her. So too does our Heavenly Father want to swoop us up and comfort us when we are upset.

3. I need to work to keep my promises that I make to my children so as to be the image of Our Father who always keeps His promises.

4. When my children come to me and I give them my full attention, I allow for them to grasp the loving attention that God gives us all.

5. In the same way, when I am able to help my children out with their problems, I can image for them the Good Father who will help us as well.

What are some other ways parents can reflect God to their children?

The Time I Didn’t Evangelize My Doctor

A couple of weeks ago, while traveling for a friend’s wedding, I suddenly developed what can only be described as a mini Mount Vesuvius on my knee. The random, swollen, fluid-filled monstrosity eventually became bad enough (because my “oh, it’ll go away….duh!” mentality didn’t work), that when we got home I went in to see my doctor.

Like a good expectant mom, I told the doctor’s office right away that I am pregnant. I also informed them that I’m taking supplemental progesterone, something I don’t think much about, since its use in NaPro Technology is fairly common. The nurse looked at me strangely when I mentioned progesterone and, after he left, I told my husband, “Ugh. Outside of NaPro Technology, use of progesterone in pregnancy is really rare. I bet they’ll ask me about that.” Since I was tired from traveling and my knee was causing pain I wouldn’t have wished on my worst enemy, I definitely didn’t feel like having the “NFP talk” with my doctor. I felt myself go on the defensive automatically.

When the doctor came in, sure enough, she asked me “you’re pregnant?”

“Yup.” I replied shortly.

“…But you’re taking progesterone?”

“Yup.” Another quick response on my part.

“…why?” she asked.

I sighed and replied “because I have low progesterone.”

The doctor let it go at that, and satisfied that I wouldn’t have to defend my use of the Creighton Model or NaPro, I settled in for the conquering on Mount Knee-suvius. Half way through the exam, it came up again.

“Who is your OB?” asked the doctor.

I told her. Understandably, her eyebrows rose when she heard I was traveling over an hour away to see my OB.

“Is there a reason you go all the way down there?” she inquired.

Irritated, I quipped “yes.” Again, why the inquisition? Can’t we fix my knee?

The doctor explained that someone traveling that far could indicate a high-risk pregnancy, which would change her course of treatment. No, I reassured her, I’m not high risk. The eyebrows went up again – “then why is this chick traveling so far?” I could see the question in her eyes.

After the exam, I hopped off the table and as I settled into my chair next to my husband the doctor said to me “I’m sorry, this is off topic, but, do you like your OB?”

I quickly responded that I love him, I couldn’t recommend him highly enough, and everyone should go to him. The doctor smiled and explained that she is getting married in 11 days and they want to start a family right away. Since she will be living near that area, she is looking for good OBs and wondered what I thought. Then she asked what had prompted me to drive down there.

The question hit me like a baseball bat on the head and the old expression “third time’s a charm” ran through my head. With a new sense of compassion, I told the doctor about NaPro Technology and the Creighton Model. I explained why it was important to me to have a NaPro trained OB and the basics of the system. She listened with rapt attention as I explained the tenants of NaPro and when I offered her my OB’s card she took it readily.

“This is really cool!” She said, “thank you!”

As we left the office a sense of shame came over me.

“That was a close call,” I told my husband as we got in the car.

“What exactly?” he probed.

Every single person we come into contact with has a right to the truth. Every single person we meet has a right to hear the Lord’s message of love, redemption, and an opportunity to come into contact with the faith. That doesn’t mean we ought to go stand on street corners thumping bibles, but it does mean that when the opportunity for evangelization presents itself we have an obligation and a duty to rise to the occasion and evangelize. It doesn’t matter how tired we are, or how much pain we are in. It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve told people something or how many times doctors have told us that “that’s not going to work.” The fact is, that the Creighton Model and NFP in general have brought numerous people into contact with the faith. What if I was the only person who was ever going to tell her about it?

“Maybe she’ll go see our OB, maybe she won’t,” I told my husband. “But what if she does? What if she does and he introduces her to Creighton? What if his practice introduces her to Catholic theology and the faith? What if through seeing our OB, she comes into the Church and it all started because I gave her a business card? This visit could have potentially changed her entire life, and I almost blew it because I was too tired and grumpy to care that the Lord was presenting me with this opportunity.”

I was lucky that day that the doctor asked me one more time “why that?”

But… what if she hadn’t asked one more time?

What about those who don’t?

The new evangelization calls us to be radically aware of those around us and how we can bring them to the Lord. She thought she was healing my knee, and had our conversation been left at that, only one of us would have walked away better. However, because the Lord opened a door, maybe both of us walked away from that encounter better off. Hopefully, we’ll all be more aware than I was and recognize those unique opportunities to share the truth with everyone we meet!

The Holy Imperfect Woman

If you’re a woman, I’m willing to bet that you have struggled with trying to be some definition of “perfect” at one point or another.  In secular society, it’s easy to see how rampant female perfectionism is. So many of us strive to attain the perfect body, find the perfect job, or be the perfect wife/mother/sister/friend. This thinking can also exist within the Church. As Christian women, there are sometimes subtle expectations placed on us. There is quiet pressure to be perky and helpful at every moment, to never disagree or rock the boat, and to have a burning love for Jane Austen (I’m kidding on that last one…kind of).

Maybe not every lady in the pew feels this way, though. I could very well be seeing this through the lens of my own scarred experience. All I know is that for many years, I felt a bit out of place in the “Catholic Woman Crowd” because of my gregarious personality, offbeat sense of humor, and proclivity to smoke an occasional cigarette.

But I’m slowly learning that there is no “one-size-fits-all” image of Christian femininity. And we will all constantly struggle with sin, faults, and the feeling of never being perfect. In all actuality, it’s one of the most beautiful things about being a Christian. We are not reliant on our own actions to grow us in virtue. Sure, we have to put in the effort. We must take practical steps every day to eradicate our sin and vice. But in the end, we are free of the immense, unshoulderable burden of trying to save ourselves.

The Catechism offers us this reminder:

“All members of the Church, including her ministers, must acknowledge that they are sinners. In everyone, the weeds of sin will still be mixed with the good wheat of the Gospel until the end of time. Hence the Church gathers sinners already caught up in Christ’s salvation but still on the way to holiness.” – CCC 827

We see here that Christ has already won the battle of salvation. We just need to keep running to Him again and again when we inevitably succumb to our weaknesses. We can trust that the Farmer knows what He’s doing when He prunes and tills our hearts.

We can also look to the Blessed Virgin, the most beautiful example of pure, holy womanhood in all of history. Mary exuded the most authentic femininity that we as women should try to emulate. Of course, to the perfectionist, Mary might be intimidating. I had a bitter relationship with her for most of my life because I knew I could never measure up to her. She was competition. But over time, I learned to see her as my Mother in heaven who loved me very much and wanted me to attain holiness even more than I did.

In our pursuit of holiness as Catholic women, let’s stop trying to be perfect. Let’s stop trying to fit ourselves into stereotypical molds of what we think Christian womanhood is, because really, they don’t exist. What has been more beneficial to me in my personal and spiritual growth has been to ask myself the question, “Who is the woman that God made me to be?” Most of the time, the answer is not some cookie-cutter trophy woman I wish I was. It’s following the “greatest path of love”, as Bishop Robert Barron coined, using the traits, quirks, strengths, and imperfections that God gave to me to do so.

That’s all He asks of us, really. And that’s good enough.

{Photo Credit: Favim}

Learning About Self-Donation at the Gym

I was reflecting on my first month of the new year and my resolution/theme of “stronger.” I’ve been going to the gym a lot this month and can see so much physical change in my body, along with emotional and mental change and discipline. But as I was reflecting on all this, my thoughts turned to a young woman I met in a class at the gym. She is 17 weeks pregnant with her third child and is in much better shape than I am; in fact, she barely looks pregnant—she makes me look pregnant! Of course, this sparked conversation among the other young mothers in the class about how she does it, as well as how far some of us still have to go in losing the baby weight and regaining our bodies. This young mother told us that she and her husband always plan a trip 12 weeks out after having a baby to a tropical location so that she has motivation to work out (a.k.a. look good in a swimsuit), that she gets back to the gym as soon as possible after giving birth, and that she doesn’t breastfeed her children because it prevents her from losing weight. She is definitely a very type-A person! But much of what she was saying just didn’t sit well with me. I thought, What am I missing? What do I not understand? The more I thought about why this woman’s statements bothered me, the more one word came up: self-donation.

Now, I am in no way judging this woman as I don’t even know her name, let alone her true motivations or the depths of her heart, but the way she presented herself sparked these revelations within me, and God was certainly using her to do this work in me. That being said, the way this woman presented herself to me seemed to lack an understanding of the beauty of giving up your body for another, the beauty that is using your body for the good of another, and seemed to view pregnancy as an inconvenience and nothing more (although she spoke very beautifully of the babies she has been given, so this is good!). Yes, pregnancy is certainly a physical inconvenience, and using your body for the good of one so tiny instead of getting it back in peak physical condition as soon as possible is also an inconvenience. But this is the way of Christ—a total giving of self for the good of others.

I give myself to my children in so many small ways (and deny myself to them in many of the same instances)—sharing my bed and not getting enough sleep, staying home from the gym because they are sick. In carrying them within me during pregnancy and in trying, ever desperately trying, to breastfeed them. In playing with them or listening to their stories or worries when what I really need is a little quiet time. In making their food and feeding them before I even think of feeding myself. In not worrying what my body looks like as long as it can function to give (while remaining healthy, always shooting for some semblance of balance).

And in what I give up in my body, I gain so much more. I gain children who run to me and embrace me and enthusiastically call me their queen and their love! Children who want to share everything with me because they know that I care for every ounce of their existence. I gain children who want me to run with them and take them on walks and who wrestle with me and get into tickle fights with me. My body may not be back to top physical form and I may never look “good” in a swimsuit, but I have found a new discipline in it, the discipline of knowing how to give up myself, how to turn myself over, how to truly love with every fiber of my body. My desire to get in better shape should not come at the expense of serving my family; rather, it should be directed toward helping me serve them better, and ultimately that means it might not happen in exactly the way I’d like.

I think of that young mother, and I pray for her. Not because I think she is in a desperate way; I pray instead that she already knows this deeper beauty and that she goes even deeper. My prayer for myself is the same. And really, I’m not at all a type-A personality, so maybe I truly just don’t have any idea of how her interior life even begins to go! It matters not; all that matters is that this lady was an avenue of grace for me. When I look upon the Crucifix, I realize that it was not just on the Cross that Christ gave Himself for us in totality, but that He did it throughout His life in every small and big way possible. That is true self-donation: giving all of oneself in every moment of living and in the totality of death. This is my prayer and my plea, to be more like Him, to give more like Him, to love more like Him, to die more like Him.

Infertility in the Christmas Season

I recently finished weaning my toddler, my second born. When her sister was her age (nearly two and a half) she not only had been weaned for months, but I was also nearly halfway through my pregnancy with my youngest. I had always assumed that I would be pregnant again, by the time that I weaned this child. I had even nursed her a little longer, soaking up her littleness while I could.

Now, that stage in our relationship has come and gone, and my life has been filled with pregnancy and birth announcements that are not my own. Although I’m happy for these dear friends of mine, there is a definite ache – an ache for a child who I have yet to meet.

The ache is stronger at Christmas time. In a time when we are called to reflect on a newborn, my arms long to hold one of my own.

There is another layer to this, too – a fear that I am somehow inadequate. Even my friends who struggle with infertility have conceived again, and are expecting or have given birth to their third born children. And, in a world where most people are more than content to have two children and be “done,” it’s hard to explain why I wish I had more.

I’m brought to Mary, and to her child. When in a similar place (and trying to conceive our second child) I remember finding great solace in Mary, as well as in her mother (St. Anne) and her cousin (St. Elizabeth). Each of these women had had “just one” child, yet no one looks back in time and questions the worth or value of their motherhood. It was not the number of children they bore that mattered, but their yes to the child God gave them.

With each of these women (and women like them, throughout the Scriptures), they are marked with gratitude for the child they’ve been given. Admittedly, I’ve tried to practice gratitude, but that doesn’t make waiting for a child much easier. I simultaneously struggle with the desire for more children, and anxiety about experiencing debilitating nausea for nine months or more.

But Mary’s child is my comfort in all of this. Her motherhood is my comfort in all of this. The message that it is not the number of children you have that matters, so much as whether or not you are giving God your fiat, is a message of great hope for Catholic moms suffering from infertility.

The story of Christmas also gives hope that, although God works slowly, he accomplishes good things in his own time. We can trust him to provide, even if he doesn’t provide in our timeline. Israel longed for the coming of their Savior, and he didn’t come in the time or way that was expected; but God’s timing was perfect.

Mary’s little child offers an even deeper consolation to those of us who suffer from infertility. Mary’s child isn’t just her child, but he belongs to us all. We spent the first Christmas of our marriage childless, and desperately hoping and praying for a baby. It was around that time that I heard the advice for childless couples, struggling with infertility, to love the Christ child as if he were their own. Obviously, this doesn’t erase the pain of infertility, and it doesn’t allow a couple to experience parenthood. That’s not the point. The point is that, for arms aching for a baby to hold, Jesus is a baby that can always be embraced and loved. Jesus is a baby who, in a very real sense, belongs to us all and is meant to be loved and cherished by us all (including those of us who are already parents in the physical sense).

One of my favorite parts of the movie The Nativity Story, comes toward the end of the movie. The shepherds come to adore the Christ child, and one of the oldest and most raggedy among them reaches out to touch the infant. Joseph moves to defend the child, but Mary gives the shepherd a tender look and holds out Jesus, saying, “He is for all mankind.” Although this line appears nowhere in the Gospels, it is easy to imagine Mary saying such a reassurance. Although she alone is Mother of God, she understands that her child isn’t meant for her alone. He is meant to be loved and cherished by all.

We are invited to embrace the Christ child, with all of our love – mothers, fathers, single people, those struggling with both infertility and super fertility. For this little babe has come to bring solace for us all.

Learning from the Moms

imitating maryI’m a new priest and I have a lot to learn. Of course, working in a parish affords me many opportunities to work with different and diverse groups of people. A group of mothers approached me a few months ago and asked if I would be willing to lead a book discussion for them. I said yes. Immediately, given the dynamic of their group, I knew what book would be good: Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom, written by a fellow Wisconsinite named Marge Fenelon. It has been a great joy to walk with these moms as we journey with Mary from the Annunciation in Nazareth to Calvary and the Upper Room. In the process, these moms taught me a lot. Here are four lessons I learned:

  1. Openness to Life

Many of the moms in the group brought their children to our discussions. What a joy to see the many gifts from God present in that room! In their motherhood I realized what a blessing it is for them to have children. They taught me that people today still seek to live out the Church’s teachings regarding family and openness to life.

  1. Moms Need Support

It was clear to me that these moms valued the support that they gave one another. Many of them are a part of each other’s lives and they seek to incorporate spirituality into their daily lives. They gather in each other’s homes throughout the month to pray the rosary and organize play dates. They break open the Word of God together. The moms all came from different walks of life but they share a commonality in that they are mothers. Each mom present learns something from the others. They reflect and brainstorm together about the spiritual life and life in general. They look to each other for support.

  1. Mary in the Life of a Modern Woman

Pope Paul VI in Marialis Cultus 34 wrote: “Some people are becoming disenchanted with devotion to the Blessed Virgin and finding it difficult to take as an example Mary of Nazareth because the horizons of her life, so they say, seem rather restricted in comparison with the vast spheres of activity open to mankind today.” This phrase troubled me when I read it a number of years ago, so much so that I gave a talk to a woman’s group entitled “The Motherhood of Mary and Your Motherhood Too.” I was happy to find Marge’s book about Mary because I believed she answered the challenge presented to Catholic women today by modern society.

In our moms’ book study I learned so much about how the modern woman identifies with Mary. They shared many great insights, pearls of wisdom. We talked about the difficult journey Mary had in traveling from Nazareth to Ein Karem and then her return from Nazareth, only to head to Bethlehem for the census. One insight the women shared was the difficulty to imagine Mary traveling in the third trimester of pregnancy. Marge helps us to realize that the modern woman can relate and look to Mary for inspiration.

  1. Desire for Sanctity

Over and over again it was clear to me that these moms want to be holy. And not only do they want to be holy but they want their children to be holy. They want to teach their children the difference between right and wrong before someone else does. They want to protect the innocence of their little ones. They are trying to raise their children in the best way that seems fit for them and in accord with Christian morality. They want to raise saints for the Church—just like Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin.

Conclusion

Marge Fenelon’s book provided a great opportunity for conversation. She had the ability to take a biblical event like the flight into Egypt or the wedding feast at Cana and use it as a springboard to discuss real life today. But even more so, her book led these moms and me through a conversation that has left me with a wealth of knowledge. If you are a mom, consider picking up Marge’s book and reading it. Also, think about joining a moms group. You will be happy you did!