What I Wish They Would Have Told Me About My Parents' Divorce

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As the Catholic discussions on divorce, remarriage, etc. increase as a result of current events in the Church, I throw in my unsolicited pennies and beg Catholics to avoid one thing during those discussions: Never, even under the generous umbrella of mercy, allow adult pastoral considerations to divert attention from the great needs of the suffering children of divorce. A faster annulment process (or other changes) may or may not be good for the Church... But it doesn't fundamentally change the crushing blow that divorce is to the family. Even when it is necessary, it is still a great suffering.

When we minimize the language of what divorce really is, we also minimize the real affect on human beings... and we unfortunately communicate lies to kids: "There must be something wrong with YOU to feel so bad and broken over something that isn't really a big deal."  It makes kids (and abandoned spouses) feel isolated and crazy. My own experience was that it caused me to bear an unwieldy burden of guilt even as a very young child. Over and over again I heard variations on the following...

"It's for the best."
"It's good for your parents... you should be glad that they can live happier lives."
"Don't you want them to be happy?"
"It is better this way."
"They did a brave thing."
"Nobody should have to live with someone they don't love."
"You'll understand when you're older."
"You are not being fair to them."
"Children do not understand what makes adults happy."
"Be grateful you didn't have to grow up in an unhappy household."
"You will learn to think and feel differently with time."
"Do you want to make your mom cry?"
"You were too young to be affected by it... you're just trying to get attention now."
"You are being ungrateful."
"God does not want your parents to be unhappy."

And over and over again I was pierced by the pain of isolation and brokenness that seemed to only have it's roots in MY guilty stupid soul. If divorce was "good" "better" and "best" and my parents were wholly justified and excellent decision makers, than I must have been a worthless person for all the sadness, grief, and anger I carried. While my own parents were lifted up and extolled for their courage by the long list of counselors, friends, and priests I sought out for help with my runaway grief, I was crushed under the knowledge that my grief (which I was helpless to) was standing in the way of their happiness.

In spite of the fact that I was very young when my parents divorced (and who received a declaration of nullity), I still had to process the loss through each developmental stage. Understanding does not come all at once. Grief progresses through the journey of understanding. That included not only my own developmental stages but theirs as well, as they entered into new relationships, changed jobs and homes, and progressed through their relationship with each other. Divorce isn't a one time event like getting a tooth pulled. It is a dramatic, traumatic, and ongoing change in human relationships.  (In my parents' defense, I do not think they understood those complexities in my life and did the best they could under the circumstances.)

I repeated the lies told to me by others for years because I thought my real feelings were wrong. I stuck to the party line: "Yeah... my folks split. It's for the best. I'm glad they're happier." The truth is that the best for any child is a loving intact family. While I know that it isn't always possible and that separation is sometimes necessary, I maintain that the tragedy and dysfunction should be acknowledged so that the child is fully free to grieve... and to heal. 

I caution those reading against telling children that divorce is a "good" thing. It might be a necessary thing, but that is a different matter entirely from good, better, or best. If it is a necessity, it is a *tragic* necessity. It is tragic that there is some kind of danger that would necessarily break a family apart. Recognition of that truth allows plenty of room for gratitude for safety and health and whatever respite comes from a necessary separation. But my caution is against speaking of the division as a good in itself. It doesn't compute in a child's mind... to say that it is "good" that their family is broken. Tell them you are sorry. And then allow them to grieve and heal. I am not a mental health professional and I don't know what every child needs...  but I know I would have given a lot to hear these words:

"What happened between your mom and dad was bad. Families are designed to love each other forever and that didn't happen in yours. Your family was dismantled without your consent. And now you are left with an anger and sorrow that are justified. Everything you are feeling is NORMAL. And you will grow through it... and thrive. God will bring joy out of suffering. And I will walk with you."

That wouldn't have fixed everything but it would have taken a burden off of my soul and freed my heart and mind to begin healing much earlier. But the counselors, teachers, priests and professionals in my K-12 years didn't say it. Not in Catholic grade schools, not in the first grade when I made an appointment with my pastor, not family friends, not the high school professionals; not even in the junior high and teen divorce support groups I joined in school desperately seeking a balm for my ongoing guilt and grief. Those groups focused instead on affirming my right to feel in general, but then attempted to change those feelings as if they were disordered and out of place. They were not. I was normal. But I didn't know. 

I live a good and happy life and the Lord has healed up so many of my childhood wounds and relationships. But I regret to see that the conversations in the Church still center around the feelings of adults to the detriment of the grieving children. If I had a dime for every time I heard a parent tell me his or her kid was "fine" after their divorce, I might not be rich but I'd be able to have a nice steak dinner for two! "Kids are resilient." Yes, they are. But they are not made of stone. And they are deeply impacted by division in the home. It becomes a part of their soul formation. 

It is very difficult to speak truth in love to people in a divorced situation. We worry it will damage relationships or make friends or family angry with us or cause the child to think poorly of their parents. But the alternative is letting a child believe destructive lies about themselves. The injury already exists and our acknowledging it does not make it appear where it wasn't before. So let's all just get over ourselves and speak life to children...

"Some things hurt because they are fundamentally disordered."
It's okay to tell that to kids. And... it's okay to tell that to their parents. 

To all my readers who have been touched by divorce... this post is not a judgment on your situation. I assume the best of you and am so sorry that this sorrow has come into your lives. I write only to draw attention to those children who are suffering while adults are preoccupied with adult needs. It is my great hope that conversations like this will help Catholics bring the needs of those young people into greater focus. You are invited to share your (charitable) stories and comments below. 

P.S. Some people ask if I would choose not to have my stepmom in my life. Would I erase all of that good to live in an unhappy household with married bio parents? That's not a fruitful question. God allows free will. He allows us to choose to hurt and to divide. He also brings tremendously beautiful fruits from the seed of suffering. I am grateful. 

(This was originally posted on Blossoming Joy in 2015)

Three Reasons to Stop Photoshopping Your Face

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I had long resisted the urge to click on the "make-yourself-into-a-star" Facebook apps. I don't click on any of them as a general rule but... after the 15th person in my feed shared her transformation, my idle and itchy social media trigger finger just... clicked. 

What I already knew is that my friends' images had been changed in ways that made me the tiniest bit sad. They are beautiful women... but they don't look like that. And I battled with myself over the questions this raised for me...

Shouldn't we all be allowed to dress up and become the "princess" every once in a while? Can't we have a little fun? Isn't this what we would all look like if we had a boatload of cash to pour into cosmetics and salon appointments? 

But we don't. We don't. And I think it's important that we (or at least I) face the uncomfortable truth that I love photoshop and all the face-smoothing apps primarily because... they don't really look like me. I don't like my face or my teeth, the way I do my makeup, or my hairstyle. I never have. These apps take away all the discomfort of having my vanity pricked. 

I was raised in a American culture that taught me to be dissatisfied with all of myself and I went through intense periods of self-hatred. I hated looking in the mirror and was ashamed (this is hard to admit) to leave the house looking like me, with my skin and my figure and my everything. 

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The picture above - a screenshot from that Facebook app - shows the face of a beautiful woman. Hollywood gorgeous. They used my picture and added my name but I know that's not me. It's a photoshopped me and what I might look like if I was a teenager with a professional team of stylists; or maybe with a talented cosmetic surgeon.

I shouldn't have clicked on that app but I did. I also spent too much time scrolling through Instagram and noticed far too many of us (women, that is) with obviously airbrushed wrinkles and smoothed laugh lines. We take the digital pen to the parts of us that we don't love before we are ready and willing to share with others... even though those who love us most already know our imperfections.

My heart sank and I headed right to my keyboard to share three reasons why you shouldn't photoshop yourself.

1. It's a lie.

Listen to me... You DO have crows' feet and gray sprinkled in that hair. The more you attack it and fuzz it out of your pictures, the more you communicate a lie to yourself: That you aren't okay the way you are.  

I'm not talking about using makeup and fashions to accentuate what is beautiful about you... I happen to think those can be important items in a feminine toolbox! There is absolutely nothing wrong with highlighting our natural beauty and and adding some color and props. But that's not the kind of photo correction I'm talking about. 

It is one thing to use a cool filter once in a while, stand in the best light, delete a big red mark on your nose, or find a flattering angle. It is another to paint over or change what is overwhelmingly real. And it is a lie straight from the enemy himself that you need to be something other than you are in order to be worthy of a ridiculous social media post... surrounded by millions of other terribly insecure people filtering their own faces.

2. You're hurting others.

Yes, it's true. Over time, we paint an unrealistic portrait of ourselves for others and contribute to the manic insecurity of the souls inhabiting the internet. I don't have to describe the comparison game for you because you already know all about it. It can crush us slowly over time. 

It's not necessarily something we can control, you know? It is an emotion that comes unbidden... this feeling of insecurity... or fear... or inadequacy. It is what we do with that emotion that makes all the difference. Does that emotion inspire joy, peace, confidence, and virtue in us? Or does it make us feel... irritable, angry, jealous, ugly, inadequate?

And aren't those latter emotions often the fruits of our social media explorations. We think we're fine and secure, but there is a deeper level at which we are learning about who we are and who others are as well. Who are we allowing to be our teachers and what are we teaching others? 

Ladies... Our friends love to see us looking beautiful. Go ahead and look like your gorgeous self! But if your 40-year old face isn't flat and smooth like a baby's (and most aren't), please allow us to see you anyway.

The truth is that it's not that important to others what YOU look like... each person is mostly just wrapped up in our own insecurities. If we see you, our beautiful friend, in all your weathered glory, it will be balm to our trembling souls. Those broken people who will find the flaws and pick at them and mock? They are dealing with their own deep insecurities and sufferings and I suspect their words are less to hurt us than to protect themselves. We don't have to let their baggage become our albatross. Let it go. Show your face. 

3. You are hurting your daughters

I recently watched several video projects put together by high schoolers. The goal was to document reactions to fellow students being called beautiful and to spread some joy. The most interesting thing about these videos for me was the surprise, delight, and sometimes even the pain that the compliment triggered. 

In one of the videos, there was even a hostile response. "Shut up," she says. "I'm going to cut your face." Others immediately feel the need to argue. "No... no... I don't think so. Thank you, but...no."

These are children and young adults and yet the pain is evident. And I think the reasons are clear.

  •  We have bought the lie that we are too deficient to be admired without a mask. 
  •  We have been deeply hurt by others who perpetrate that lie. 

What does this have to do with our daughters? 

Let me ask you: Are we preaching with our actions what we claim to believe about the beauty and dignity our children and all of humanity (including ourselves)? Our children see what we are doing to our own pictures and and they also see what we are doing to theirs. It is teaching them about what we believe is necessary to be liked and loved. 

I am not advocating that we embarrass people by posting their image in unflattering ways and then tagging them on Facebook. Nope, that's pretty careless and awful. I've been on the receiving end of that! I'm also not saying that we can't use a mild filter for a special portrait. 

But they do know what they look like and they do notice if you've smoothed out or eliminated their "worst" features in your random Instagram post. You made their eyes bigger, their hair less frizzy, their nose thinner, their lips plumper. They know that you tinkered and they LIKE the result... but they also incorrectly identify that you fixed them because they needed fixing in order to be photo worthy. 

They don't. 

Unfortunately, our tinkering only confirms their belief that they do. Ah, yes... mommy doesn't like the circles under my eyes either. I'm glad she fixed that.

She's glad on on level; but on another level, it is a blow to the very soul. 

One of the most difficult aspects of having a visual social media presence for me (as a business owner with a need to be here) is having to put my face in front of a camera, especially now that my autoimmune disease periodically reveals itself on my face. (See my unfiltered pics HERE.) All of my teenage insecurities come pouring out and I realize that I've never really fully healed. I am still overcoming that self-hatred with time and care. The first step is to simply ignore the emotion and do what needs to be done, walking past my vanity and pride and learning true humility; but I pray that the next step is a gentle and loving acceptance of my God-given skin. 

I imagine that is one of the greatest potential blessings of old age... that we can no longer hide our physical flaws. We can finally stop messing with the filter and just focus on the soul. Finally ready to be loved. 

"Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Your every act should be done with love." Corinthians 16:13-14

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Spacing Children Without NFP

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The average space between our children is a little over two years. This fact often inspires random strangers to comment about how nicely planned our family is. The "perfect" spacing they say. 

"Oh! Three boys and four girls! How Peeerfect! How did you manage that?"

To which I reply...

Thank you very much for your enthusiasm. But I didn't have anything to do with it. God planned it all. Really.

And that's the full truth. I'm going to make an intimate confession here and reveal that we don't know a thing about NFP. Well, we know some things and own a bunch of books about it -- but it's been, oh, about 19 years since our class and since we haven't used it really at all, well, we've forgotten some things. (We are not anti-NFP. We simply haven't used it.)

But in those years we've also learned a lot about the nitty gritty of life-giving love and the physiology of fertility and motherhood. We were also given a gift when our oldest was several months old that became one of the greatest blessings of my motherhood. The book Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing is not just a technical how-to for postponing fertility through breastfeeding, but a way of life... of beautiful, natural, sacrificial love. It's less a manual for family planning and more an encouragement to surrender wholly to the vocation God has blessed us with.

There's no charting, no temp taking, no lengthy abstinence. But there is a reason that it is not a more popular method, and that is because it requires a total lifestyle commitment to breastfeeding on demand. Over the years, I have come to realize that this sacrificial way of life is actually one of the most beautiful and consoling aspects of my motherhood. God has allowed me the ability to perfectly nourish and nurture my youngest children... and the icing on the cake is that refreshing pause in fertility.

How does it work?

It's rather simple, actually.

God designed the act of breastfeeding to suppress the hormones that cause a return to fertility. So, a lifestyle of nursing on demand very naturally allows some space. To maximize that space, certain basic guidelines need to be followed. As I said, this is not particularly restrictive for me because it has become a way of life. The blessings far outweigh the discomfort. But it is definitely more challenging in our "freedom" and gadget-loving culture which seeks constantly to separate mother and child and frowns upon lengthy nursing. 

My return to fertility has between 13 and 24 months postpartum with 8 children and I generally nurse my children for two years. The following are the "rules" (I hate to even use that term) that we follow but it all boils down to frequency of nursing and physical contact with the baby

~ Nothing but breastfeeding for the first six months of life.

Period. Barring any medical contraindications, nothing else is needed. Even during the hot Summer months when hydration is extra important, frequent nursing is sufficient.

NO BOTTLES OR PACIFIERS

Mamas are designed to pacify and babies are designed with a strong need to be pacified. God created us that way and a plastic pacifier is a only weak substitute for His original design.  Babies will nurse when they are hungry (which is designed to be frequent) but also because it comforts them, makes them happy, and reduces pain. (Incidentally, if you've never nursed a baby through a vaccination, insist on it next time. The baby will be happier and the staff astonished at how quiet your child is.)

We have briefly used pacifiers to calm screaming infants on car trips but have always considered it to be an emergency measure and not the norm for comforting a child. As they get older, our ecologically breastfed babies have all rejected the pacifier (much to my astonishment), even in the car.

FREQUENT NIGHT FEEDING / CO-SLEEPING

Night feeding is a critical element in hormone suppression because estrogen levels tend to rise at night. If you follow the other elements of ecological breastfeeding but sleep apart from your baby at night, you will likely experience an earlier return to fertility. And I can tell you from firsthand experience, that getting out of bed 3 to 5 times per night is practically unsustainable.

I know the objections so I don't need to be lectured. There are many safe ways to be next to baby at night. It takes creativity and a little sacrifice but the balance for me has been overwhelmingly positive. I am a terrible sleeper so night feeding is a definitely a sacrifice . The upside is that I am able to remain in the comfort of my own bed and have the most beautiful bonding during the shortest developmental period of my child's life!

A note about safety: It is easy and intuitive to make a safe sleeping space that you can share with your child. Certain things do increase safety risk, such as morbid obesity and big blankets. I don't ever put a child next to my husband who sleeps extremely heavily. Common sense stuff that is certainly variable according to individual circumstances.

Sleeping close to my infants has actually allowed me to keep my children safer. In one case, I was able to save the life of my son thanks to my poor sleeping habits and close physical proximity. He was struggling to breathe. Completely silent. Nothing that would have been heard on a monitor. His small movements awakened me and as I admired my sleeping beauty, I became aware of his barely noticeable distress. Thanks be to God. In his own room, he would have quietly died. In my household, co-sleeping has reduced the incidents of SIDS.

FREQUENT HOLDING / ALLOWING BABY TO FALL ASLEEP AT THE BREAST

I know. I know. Totally opposite to what grandma keeps telling you. I can't tell you how many times in life well-meaning maternally oriented people have told me to "put that baby down." All I gotta say is... No. My kids are all extremely social, confident people. And I "spoiled" them all rotten in my arms when they were babies. Holding a baby is not spoiling but rather meeting a strong, God-given need to be physically nurtured. Yes, they do get used to being held and rocked to sleep. Yes, they do eventually sleep fine on their own. This time is brief. Embracing these small sacrifices allows us to enjoy the incredible blessing of the moment.

NO SCHEDULES

This is hard for moms, particularly for those of us who have other children to care for, but breastfeeding is not designed to work with a schedule. Breast milk is quickly digested and babies needs are constantly, constantly changing. During periods of tremendous growth in infancy, there are days when a breastfeeding mother thinks that she does nothing but nurse, and it's almost literally true. Those are the days when mama has to figure out how to brush her teeth or make lunch with a crying baby in her arms.  New mothers often lose confidence and feel like they are "not making enough milk" or that they have a particularly difficult baby. I have learned that ALL babies are "high need" and some just express it more loudly. It is challenging but the baby is only following God's design of supply and demand for nursing. They want to grow. They are not ready to be independent. It is a gift we give... and we can't give it well only on our terms. We must surrender.

A personal note about schedules: My firstborn had severe reflux as an infant, losing every single feeding all over me, the floor, the bed, whatever was in the way. He did this as a toddler and threw up almost all of his meals.  As a baby, he nursed constantly, for nourishment and comfort, and I was exhausted all of the time. A well-meaning family friend gave me a book on how to structure the feeding of infants and, in desperation,  I began to follow it, to the detriment of my malnourished and suffering son. He cried even more and was not thriving. A couple weeks into the experiment, another friend mailed me a copy of Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing. I read it in an  afternoon, scooped up my baby boy, and didn't put him down for 3 years.

SACRIFICIAL!! It was hard. I nursed that boy 24/7. He'd spit up, I'd clean up, and nurse him again. He clung to me fiercely for three years but he grew in stature and love. And then, he let go. Today, he's preparing his college applications... and I have no regrets.

NO RESTRICTIONS

Stay away from any practice that restricts nursing or keeps you away from your baby. Yes, for a brief window in his life, you will be your baby's everything. You will take him to adult functions (or stay home) and find super creative ways to spend time with your spouse. There will be times when you just want to run away and be free... there will be other times when you will find brief glimpses of the perfection of your vocation from the rocking chair in your living room.

In these "rules," I have, more or less, summed up the Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing promoted by Sheila Kippley. Her original book changed my life. I do not live out attachment parenting exactly as she prescribes it but her words have challenged me to give more than I ever considered giving. I honestly have no regrets. I have had to make many sacrifices to live this way but it is a beautiful way to live.

For those of you who do not wish to live this lifestyle. I'm not judging you and I expect that there are preferences and exceptions and challenges that make your lifestyle different from mine. I am writing only to publicly share a largely unknown treasure for those who have never heard of it or who just need a little encouragement to explore it.

This method is not perfect by worldly standards because, by it's very nature, it requires flexibility and openness. There are many variables that cannot be perfectly controlled. Again, it is less of a method than a natural lifestyle. Before pacifiers, before bottles, before bouncy seats and swings... there were mamas' arms. Thanks be to God for the gift of technology, especially for those with medical needs! But all things being equal, God's original design is perfect.

EXCEPTIONS

I have met many women over the years for whom this method does not work. They are often telling me this while their babies drink from a bottle or suck on a pacifier. Or it is revealed later that they have frequent babysitting or do not co-sleep or do not let the baby fall asleep at the breast. Or that they will go on outings without baby and use a pump. Doing those things does not make someone a bad mother, but it does interfere with the biological law which governs a return to fertility.

But there are also those women whose fertility returns in spite of all their efforts... 

For those who have followed every guideline and still find their fertility returning very early, Mariette over at The Natural Catholic Mom has some theories about why that might be the case. I think her thoughts have a lot of merit. Exclusive and Ecological Breastfeeding Are Not the Same

For more information on the nitty gritty of the amazing, God-gifted method of spacing babies naturally through breastfeeding, please refer to the following resources:

Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing: The Ecology of Natural Mothering (Kippley)

Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood: God's Plan for You and Your Baby (Kippley)

The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding: The Frequency Factor (Kippley)

 The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing (PDF)

Flannery, Lupus, and a Principle of Life

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When I was a young mother, I spent countless hours in the silence rocking and nursing my babies. There were no iphones and the dial-up internet on our Apple was so maddeningly slow that even if I could have balanced it on my knee, I wouldn't have. 

Instead, I spent those long hours singing lullabies and reading almost every book in my husband's extensive library. My real intellectual education happened during that time only after my formal schooling had ended... when my mind was permitted the time to linger over and fight with and grasp great ideas. I never would have or could have had such an experience without that sweet period of maternal isolation. I'm no great intellect but I expanded greatly.

In the subsequent 20 years, that mothering space has been invaded by the almighty glowing screen of technology. I mourn for young moms today who don't even know what they have lost. But I will save that lament for another day. 

There was one uniquely memorable week during that slow and stretching time when my husband introduced me to Flannery O'Connor and Graham Greene. Taken one at a time, they are heavy enough; but reading their collected works of fiction within the span of two weeks was something I have never had the desire to repeat nor would I recommend.

They were brilliant. They were horrible. I don't think a weeklong marathon of CNN could have burdened me more with the suffering of mankind. The evil on television is necessarily removed a pace or two by the medium, but O'Connor and Greene (O'Connor in a uniquely horrible way) set up shop in my very soul and camped out there for many, many nights after I first invited them in.

I cried and cried and cried long after the books were put back on the shelf. I had been a sad child and I carried sadness into my adult life. Those two authors ripped off my partially healed scabs (I was only 21 at the time) and poke, poke, poked me until that week was over and I was a sniveling mess. I was angry, particularly with O'Connor for taking me mentally and emotionally where I didn't want to go; for dragging me into a depth of reflection on depravity and evil that threatened to hide hope from me just as I was getting my footing in newfound joy. 

I'm sure she was brilliant. It's not that I can't grasp her accomplishment or understand the movement of grace in her stories. I was mesmerized. The problem is that I didn't need to enter so deeply into the depravity of evil in order to fully understand. Above all else, the world needs lovers and healers to minister to the broken body of Christ, not an immersion in sin. Although I could still recognize a pinhole of hope in her work, emotionally I couldn't reach it. 

By contrast, although dismal in his own right, Green left me with a residual hope that grew over time. I was drawn into, and properly horrified by, The Power and The Glory; and yet was also pulled toward a mysterious joy and gratitude for the faith.  

It was only recently that I learned of O'Connor's battle with lupus and it would have gone unnoticed by me except for my own recent diagnosis. During my internet searches for lupus healing, I frequently stumble across O'Connor's name and the persistent opinion that her lupus gave her unique insight into suffering and thus enabled her to tap her unique brilliance.  

One person writes (and I have lost the source to give credit and I'm sorry): "Unable to take for granted or to expect the normal life time of an able-bodied person, this brave and noble artist chose not to use SLE as an excuse for thwarted literary opportunity. Within the agony of lupus, persisted a literary genius more ecstatic, more defiant, more insistent, more enabling than any healthy time earlier in her life."

Perhaps... but not even on the worst days of my own struggle with lupus - days that I thought I would either be permanently disabled or die - was I ever drawn to write horror fiction. It isn't part of my personality to flesh out the inner workings of evil. Such an exercise would damage me in ways worse than lupus ever could. Lupus causes depression, there is no doubt... but I have a hard time believing that it was the underlying force behind O'Connor's darkness. It seems far more likely that her sickness simply magnified her existing tendencies.

Looking to another giant of feminine genius, we see that Elizabeth Lesieur did not suffer specifically from lupus but from very painful and debilitating chronic conditions for a large part of her life. Instead of writing horror, she wrote a spiritual journal which, after her death, converted her atheist husband (he became a priest), and was subsequently published in order to edify the faithful. I found her book the same year I first read O'Connor and found it so spiritually uplifting that I carried it with me for months to and from work. 

One of the stated principles of her life - to communicate through words and deeds "light and strength" to souls and thus to "reveal God to them" - comes into immediate conflict with horror fiction, especially when dealing with wounded souls (and aren't we all?). For someone who is carrying a burden of sorrow, I would never recommend O'Connor and always recommend Leseiur. 

SHOULD YOU READ FLANNERY?

O'Connor's work is fashionable right now in Catholic circles. “Have you read Flannery? You haven't? You must! You simply must read her. She is brilliant."

My perspective is different. Whether or not O'Connor had a gift is undisputed... but whether her fiction is for everyone is questionable. (Please note that I am referring specifically to her fiction and not to her entire body of work.) 

My experience with lupus (and suffering in general) is that it touches everything with a dusting of sorrow. I'm not sure it can be helped. But as I was carrying my own unknown burden of illness, O'Connor walked straight into my mind and handed me her burden as well. And not just hers, but the dregs of evil refashioned by her literary mind.

I was sick. I was in pain. I was struggling to find courage. And she almost sank me

While she trends on social media, I look on with some confusion at those who romanticize her suffering. She belongs to them in some way... they love her and claim her... and her cross of lupus is like a badge of honor some of them wear because their heroine was afflicted and strong. Perhaps it gives them courage and I honor that, but I definitely don’t feel that connection or consolation. 

WHAT IMPACT DID LUPUS HAVE ON FLANNERY?

The single most upsetting thing I read after my lupus diagnosis was an article discussing the influence of lupus on O'Connor's writing. I was googling for hope and healing but found something entirely different. The author seemed almost excited by the gruesome reality of the disease. He put his heroine and her suffering on a pedestal and talked about her agony of mind and body until I felt sick to my stomach. In all my internet searches before or since, I haven't found anything that depressed or terrified me more about lupus than that piece. I went to sleep anxious and weepy that night and angry at the authors, both O’Connor and her follower. 

Ironically, the author herself didn't want that. She suffered and she was an author. But in her own words: "My lupus has no business in literary considerations.” And still people won't leave it alone. 

Like the first time I met her 20 years ago, the oppressiveness of her work settled upon me at a time when I desperately needed "light." I needed hope and the peace of Jesus Christ. O'Connor's cross came through for me heavier than the weakly offered Easter, and my own burden of sorrow would not allow me to rise. It was like an instant depression. 

O'Connor... Brilliant but oppressive. Oppressed. Depressed. 

That she was able to pass on that oppression so fully to me with my first experience 20 years ago influenced my decision not to revisit or recommend her work. And yet here we are again, with the unlikely connection of lupus. I cannot do an internet search without running into her. 

If she were alive today, she would likely have lived longer with the modern medicinal cocktail of prednisone, chemo, immunosuppressants, and perhaps dialysis and anti-depressants. At the time, she received blood transfusions, ACTH injections, and suffered horribly from necrosis and the slow death of her body. Not as romantic as the peacock and the cane. 

I am impressed by stories of O'Connor's sickness because I have it... it's not romantic... it's horrible. It doesn't make me amazing or "strong." It has stolen from my family's happiness, resources, and time. It has robbed me at times of my ability to write, to sit in the sunshine, to walk a mile, and to sleep in peace. 

It isn't lupus which made O'Connor a great writer. It isn't lupus which made her courageous. 

My own lupus is a cross and a gift. As a cross, I often find that it suppresses my talents. As a gift, it reveals, not my own greatness, but God's... less because of what I can do and more because he gives me the courage to embrace what I can NOT do. 

The nobility, beauty, strength, and gift of lupus comes from grace alone and the mysterious way God works through suffering. The darkness itself is not the light and should never be confused for the light. It is the wolf and we cling to Christ for security.

I beg the good Lord to take away the burden of evil from my mind and soul... and just fill me with the hope and joy of Jesus Christ. Our world is full of despair and often seems blanketed in sin, depression, anxiety, fear, distrust, abuse, and despair. If O'Connor's horror fiction ever did have a place in the average Catholic's journey, I'm not convinced it remains a psychologically healthy element. 

Her supporters say that her violent writing was necessary to wake men up to the reality of pain and to bring spiritual clarity to complacent, numbed minds. I counter that we already understand pain deeply - with over 20% of our country's population on psychiatric drugs in order to function - and that it is the spiritual clarity of the true joy and peace of Jesus Christ which is what is sorely lacking. 

Modern science and experience tell us that increased exposure to violence does not make us more compassionate or spiritually sensitive... but that it oppresses and numbs. I would not go so far as to say that O'Connor's work should never be read, only that it should be undertaken with proper spiritual and mental health hedges in place if it is discerned to be a necessary reading. 

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

A Catholic Perspective on Essential Oils (A Skeptic Confesses)

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The first time I heard a friend talking about essential oils I confess that I pretty much tuned her out. She might as well have told me that she was using crystals to heal her broken aura while burning sage smudge sticks for the shaman. My head nodded politely but I was probably thinking about dinner... or wallpaper... or something.

My dear cherished friend... I am very sorry.

Up to that point, my experience with "natural" healing came primarily from my familiarity with New Age enthusiasts who made up the majority of the stereotypical alternative medicine crowd that I knew. And when I walked away from that environment to embrace my Catholic faith, I walked away from everything that I associated with them. Take your patchouli incense and yoga and go find your reincarnated Buddha... I want none of it!

I needed that distance at the time. I needed the clarity. But ultimately, I discovered that in multiple respects, I had thrown the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. 

Does that mean that I embrace all of the accessories of the New Age natural healing movement? No...

I'm saying that the natural world belonged to God first... And that I am seeing things rightly ordered for the first time. If something is good, true, and beautiful, it isn't freaky or nutty... It's wholesome and designed to support us in our vocation in the service of God.

Yes, I threw out the crystals, the spiritual yoga, and the Buddha. But there have been a few things that I have reclaimed as a Christ-follower, understanding with a clearer vision that their goodness is a gift. 

One of those gifts is essential oils.

THE SKEPTIC

I am a skeptic. A questioner. I also have baggage that exacerbates that tendency when it comes to the healing arts. So coming to terms with essential oils has been a mountain climb. Here is what finally convinced me...

THE SCIENCE

We know experientially that the natural world provides real solutions to illness and disease. We love the smells of nature and buy the products that feature them. We walk in beautiful places because we instinctively know that it is good for mind, body, and soul. We breathe it in, feel it on our skin, and bring it into our homes. We slather stuff all over our bodies until we smell like walking orchards and flower gardens.

Whole industries have grown out of our desire to be smelly like things that grow from the earth and to heal our bodies with the same. We crave it. We literally salivate over the smell of cookies. We boil cinnamon and cloves to feel festive and happy. 

What we also know is that the data supports our intuition...

Oregano, for example, has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties which can be demonstrated in a lab. We know also from clinical studies that frankincense oil has the ability to penetrate the blood/brain barrier and has a supportive impact on cellular health. Orange oil has anti-inflammatory properties and acts as a kind of anti-depressant by stimulating the senses. What we forget, however, is that these benefits aren't restricted to a scientific lab... but available to anyone with access to these potent plant compounds.

WHAT ARE ESSENTIAL OILS?

Pure essential oils are simply distilled plant compounds; potent, concentrated, and straight from God's creation. Their molecular structure allows them unique access to our bodies at a cellular level. There's nothing freaky, nutty, or unexpected about that. God's intelligence and benevolence is made manifest throughout all of creation. 

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

For those who have followed my journey through sickness and health, you know how seriously I have had to take this discussion. Out of real necessity, I have looked beyond traditional medicine for help and found it through nutrition, movement, and environmental changes. One of those changes has been the use of essential oils. 

Remember... I'm a skeptic. I don't throw plant compounds on my body or into my environment without tons of research and when I use them, I use with care. But I can't deny it...

My body responds to essential oils. 

God is good. He loves us. He provides for us. He gave us amazing, beautiful bodies, the materials of the earth to serve those bodies, and the intelligence to use them. That applies to natural as well as traditional medicine. They both have a place. 

(Even patchouli has a place, by the way. But if you're ever tempted to buy it for me... just... don't. My sensory memory will throw an ugly fit.)

THE CATHOLIC SIDE

The natural world belongs to God. He is master of all creation and just because non-believers use a plant or move their bodies in a non-sacred way, does not make them master over those things.

Catholicism, more than any other religion, recognizes the beautiful integration of mind, body, and soul. We are charged with the care of our bodies and the earth and it is entirely consistent with who we are as Christians to recognize the gifts inherent in the created world. 

The Church herself uses oils. At the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, her bishops bless them for use throughout the year. They fill our sensory memories, carry symbolic significance, and are used as sacramentals. After our babies are baptized, we breathe in the balsam that was touched to them and regret that we ever have to wash it away! Frankincense has long been used in liturgical celebrations and was even given to Our Blessed Lord as an earthly gift, and was considered at the time to be a medicinal treasure.

We do not worship the created over the Creator... but neither can we wholly remove the gift from the Giver. 

INTELLIGENT USE

Essential oils are potent. I would never advise using them without proper knowledge and care. It's not complicated but does take a certain amount of awareness. Like any tool, they can be misused. I dilute my oils so that they are safe enough even for the kids in my family. I research and keep charts on hand to make sure that I'm using each unique oil in the proper way.  

I was probably more surprised than anyone when my interest led me to earn my certification as an aromatherapist. And what I found through that training is what I had already learned through my own experience: that essential oils are an affordable, safe, and effective health care option.

AT THE END OF THE DAY...

... you don't have to use essential oils to be a whole and healthy Catholic person. They are simply another tool in the wellness tool box. Your use or non-use doesn't divide us. Using them doesn't put you in a particular camp of health nuts or crunchy Catholics. Nor does not using them make you less a good steward of your body. But...

It is good to know that there is nothing inconsistent about natural health options and a strong life of faith. God's creation is magnificent. Thanks be to God!


WHY I SHARE

Two reasons... and I'm going to be completely transparent...

  1.  I can't NOT share. Just like with the rest of my health journey, I feel compelled to reach out to others with my story of renewal and healing. It drives me past my shallow concern over what people will think. But I will say it a million times more if it reaches just one person:

    When I was 35, I sincerely thought I was going to be in a wheelchair by the time I was 40. I was that sick. I am now 41 and nowhere near that wheelchair. Doctors couldn't help me. But I changed my diet, my lifestyle, my environment... and God gave me new life with which to serve. 

    I want that for other people. So many are suffering. Maybe someone out there will benefit from my story.
     
  2.  I did a lot of research before choosing a company. And truthfully, I left one popular essential oil company because I was not happy with the integrity of the leadership or the quality of the oils. It was uncomfortable. But my first priority is to my God, my vocation, my family, my health... not to a company or to my friends. Since I have to purchase from somewhere, I still had to find a source... and I did choose one that seemed more in line with my priorities than the others.  I have decided that I can stand behind these essential oils enough to become a Wellness Advocate with doTERRA. That means that I get to bless my family by doing what I would already be doing: Sharing wellness

So many of us are sick, hurting, exhausted, seeking joy amidst the physical struggle, and having a hard time staying afloat. Essential oils are not a magic cure... but they can be another means of supporting our amazing bodies. God is good.

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

If you are interested in learning more, just contact me HERE or start at the link below... "Why Essential Oils?" 

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Leaving the Door Open for a Perfect Lent

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The perfect Lent usually comes to me as a surprise package, gift wrapped and delivered with a flourish and fireworks. It wears a big tag that says:

For your sanctification, with my deepest love and affection. 

Love, 
Your Heavenly Father


The truth of the matter is that regardless of what amazing mortifications I have planned for myself, I'm always outplayed by the challenges of life... the crosses... the hidden gifts. I never see those road bumps coming because I'm busy putting the comfortable touches on my own Lenten preparations. 

When I go "big" with Lenten prep, I'm usually pretty impressed with myself. But the real secret of a fruitful Lent is what I do when my carefully designed, Pinterest-friendly disciplines are blown up and replaced by the uncontrollable and the downright ugly.

The real secret of Lent for me is not coming up with super creative, impressive ways to pull myself closer to the heart of Jesus... but learning how to use what I have been given to fall in love, embrace my crosses... and allow Him to draw me to Himself.

I once had a very wise and holy friend counsel me during a difficult time. I was feeling helpless that I did not have more to offer for a loved one who was undergoing a great trial...

Perhaps, I said, I should ask God to send me a greater suffering so that I might offer it. With a gentle smile, she responded: Don't ask for more. Not now. When your loving Father sees fit to give you more, He will do it because He knows your heart. And what He allows will be more than you would ever have the courage to ask for. Pray for grace and mercy and faithfulness and trust... the suffering will come in His time, when you are ready.

I was in my 20's at the time. I'm now 41. I get it now. The opportunities to suffer are always present. It is not really our job to make sure those sufferings keep coming, but to focus on drawing close to Christ through every opportunity.

Lent is a training ground. Giving up the cookie is just preparation for the bigger battles.

I have learned over time that God uses Lent efficiently if we let Him, whether or not we accomplish any exceptional self-imposed mortifications or clever crafts with the kids. Those are good practices and habits but they don't necessarily move the soul where God desires it to go. Many of us don't have the courage to push ourselves into life changing self-denial.

We line up the sacrifices and then BOOM! Derailed by the cookie. 

There have been Lents during which he has permitted very obvious sufferings in my family like car accidents, broken bones, family stress, a difficult pregnancy, or serious illness. Other Lents were not so obvious... just a floundering in a place of personal failure or the good old Winter blahs. Perhaps it is lazy of me, but I have stopped focusing heavily on the extra mortifications during this season and have just been really focusing on the ones that I already have. There seem to be plenty enough for my weak soul. Someday. Someday I may be ready for more and I trust that He will know.

This year? I've got a short list of pious sacrifices and then a great big space where I assume God will work. 

We are all in different spiritual places at different times. While you may be adding to your daily prayers, I am likely fighting just to maintain mine. When fasting might be relatively easy for one, it might be a source of great trial for another. While one mother is struggling to make Lent meaningful for her children in the daily household activities, another must accept the limitations of her cancer...

Where God chooses to take us during Lent is intensely personal and individual. The key is to embrace it wholly and willingly. Take me where you want me to go, Lord. Show me how to love you more.

A few years ago, I read a lengthy article criticizing the decision of two prominent Catholics to lead a Lenten retreat on a cruise. The crux of the argument was that a cruise is meant for luxury, not mortification, and the decision to lead others to water (as opposed to the desert) during the Lenten season was a very bad one.

I don't know... it seems to me that God can find our hearts on the open seas and pierce them the same as He would do on dry land.The beautiful surroundings can't keep out the fire of Divine Love. I do not know why the good men chose a cruise as a Lenten retreat venue and can see how it might seem odd. Perhaps they've lived through enough Lents to know that it will all work out just fine, for the greater glory of God and the sanctification of their souls. Perhaps they know, too, that leisure (according to a truly Christian understanding) is consistent with Lent in that it is ordered to bring our minds, bodies, and souls back into focus on the goodness of God.

Based on my personal experience of past Lents (and life in general), however, I would say that their likelihood of contracting some terrible stomach virus during the cruise is quite high. Or likely, they will hit some choppy seas, get paired up with a bunk mate that snores, or find that their sciatica is acting up. Or perhaps, they will be blessed with enough space and grace and time to come face to face with a deep and buried grief or interior suffering...

... because Lents often come packaged like that.

Some years I'm sent a rocky sea or spoiled shellfish. Other years, I find myself on a sinking ship. Other years it's just that stupid cookie. But always with a flourish and a bang and that handwritten note from God. And at the end of the note, it says...

P.S.   I give you these gifts because I love you beyond all telling or imagining. Everything in the package is a treasure. You will not know how to use it at first.... but I will show you. Keep close to my heart. We will walk together through each moment. I will set your heart on fire. And when you feel that you cannot walk a moment longer, I will take your cross and raise you up with me. Easter is coming... Let us begin.

The secret of the perfect Lent is simply to rely more on the transformative power of the Holy Spirit than on our checklist. To walk slowly, humbly, quietly along the path of personal holiness; ready to die to self so as to be ready to rise with Him. Letting Him lead... Even when it hurts. 

If that Lenten secret includes the carefully planned sacrifices you willing make? Thanks be to God. But it might also include some bad shellfish.... and that's often where the real sanctification happens. 

Traveling With Your Sensitive Toddler

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"I want to go home."

She looked straight into my eyes and I knew she wasn't bluffing. She wasn't whining, she was insisting. We had been on the road for only an hour. Yes, this was going to be a long trip. She repeated those words many times over the next week and then finally, we were home. But the middle days... Oh those middle days.

Having raised 6 children out of toddlerhood (so far), I should be the expert. I should have been completely prepared for my 7th when she reached the age of two. Not so much. 

My current toddler is brilliant, loving, and sweet but she also happens to be highly sensitive. Call it a sensory processing issue or whatever... she's an amazing kid with huge intensity. Add a new baby brother to her world and... BOOM... many of you have toddlers and you know what that looks like!

So our recent 9-hour trip to drop my oldest off at college was a source of anxiety for me. My own stress level was only secondary to hers and that was the fundamental problem and my primary concern. She's an amazing kid who loves life in a big way; but life gets bigger and bigger for her until it overwhelms.

Too much too often too quickly too loudly.

I had no idea how we would help her navigate all the sounds, sights, smells, strange people, noises, and routine disruptions. Naturally, I consulted the Parenting Manual under the section "How to Mother a Passionate Toddler" and read...

HaHaHaHaHaHa!

Right. That's what I thought it would say. But with a little planning and a lot of compassion and patience, we made it and it wasn't horrible. For those of you who have sweet little tigers like mine - full of life and love and then some - I've compiled a few tips that helped with our trip. Again, I'm no expert and haven't experienced much of this with my other kids, but these are things that helped my girl...

  1. Pay attention to the Bucket
  2. Buy a carrier and use it
  3. Sleep consistency
  4. Grounding tools
  5. Sit down and read books
  6. Good Nutrition (No candy!)
  7. Limit activities
  8. Steady Discipline
  9. Plan B (When all else fails)

1. PAY ATTENTION TO THE BUCKET

The "bucket theory" for human beings goes something like this: The body is like a bucket and fills over time, drop by drop. When the bucket is filled with toxins, irritants, allergens, etc., it starts to overflow and react. There's only so much it can hold without negative effect. For a sensitive child (or adult), each new person, sound, smell, etc. fills the bucket and sometimes cause an overflow.

For a toddler, "overflow" = breakdown.

I can tell you firsthand that once the bucket is full, it takes a long time to empty it. Preventing the full bucket in the first place is much easier than restoring it to a healthy level. All of the tips that follow below are geared toward keeping drips below the brim while traveling. (Here's a link to a brief and helpful overview of the bucket theory for sensitive people: The Bucket)

2. BUY A CARRIER AND USE IT

For the times when the world is just too big for a toddler, a carrier is parenting gold. Being close to you is a stress reliever. You become a safe zone... home base... and they never have to leave it even on the go. 

Our Ergobaby carrier carries up to 45 pouds so it's perfect for a toddler. She's too heavy for me but my sons and husband can carry her easily. We have both the Performance model and the original and the guys really love the Performance.

3. SLEEP CONSISTENCY

It is helpful to keep sleep habits and location as consistent as possible. My smarty pants 3-year old was definitely nervous about all the places we were going since they were all new. She kept asking to go home and we couldn't oblige... but we were at least able to come back to the same hotel bed every night. We had the opportunity to stay with friends but we opted not to (much to the other kids' chagrin) and instead made an investment in stability and toddler peace. 

If location consistency isn't possible, keep the routine and accessories consistent. Same blanket. Same pillow. Same stuffed animal. Same PJ's. Same prayers. Same kisses and hugs.

4. GROUNDING TOOLS

Bring the familiar. Bring the controllable. Be prepared to place something in their hands to help help them feel secure when all else seems to them like it's hectic, scary, and unfamiliar. My daughter likes to draw and erase and she will work feverishly at a little dry erase board when she is stressed. She also likes to look at familiar pictures on our phones or other devices. I've noticed that when she's feeling anxious or tired, she usually asks for pictures. It has become something of a cue for us, letting us know that she needs decompressing.

Another tool we prepared in advance was a teething toy. Even though she's 3 now, we've noticed that she chews things to bits when she's out of sorts; clothes, books, purses, whatever. So we bought a pretty pink chewy thing in the baby section and when the going got tough in the car, presented it to her. She was skeptical at first (You mean I'm allowed to chew on this?) and a little sheepish (she knew it was for babies) but ended up falling happily asleep with it in her sweet little paws.

Calming essential oils are another wonderful tool. Find your child's favorite calming and "happy" oils before the trip and have them ready. 

5. SIT DOWN AND READ HER BOOKS

As long as she hasn't moved past the reasonable stage, this IS the magic pill of toddlerhood. 

6. GOOD NUTRITION {NO CANDY}

When my older kids were smaller and needed to spend long hours waiting at the pool or gym, I often controlled their behavior by bringing snacks or treats. Most of the time that meant candy or garbage food. I learned the hard way that candy makes people feel lousy and causes energy crashes. Yes, there are times to thank God for the well-timed lollipop but regular use backfires.

If a kid feels lousy, she will act lousy. Keeping her body nourished properly and in a timely manner saves us (and her) and lot of misery, especially when on the road. She's hungry and it's not dinner time? At this age it doesn't matter... feed her anyway. And feed her good stuff.

7. SIMPLIFY YOUR SCHEDULE

If the carrier isn't enough to keep your child steady, limit activity and known stimuli. Instead of doing five things in a day, do two. And decline the overwhelming Omnimax. I know... it's a bummer. But this motherhood thing is about loving people not collecting experiences. 

8. STEADY DISCIPLINE

I am so tempted with this girl to just throw in the towel and give her whatever she wants anytime she wants it to keep the peace, especially when traveling. But it is so important to keep steady and consistent. They crave the stability, they need the consistency, and loving boundaries will prevent bad habits from forming. 

When reasonable and loving discipline fails, distraction methods, book reading, naps, food, and cuddles have all been tried, and the total breakdown comesanyway, I have nothing really to offer except for Plan B...

9. PLAN B {WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS}

Sometimes there's just nothing you can do. You've used every tool in your box and your sweet kitten has become a raging cornered tiger. It happens. And it has happened to us more times in the last few months of my motherhood than all the 18 years combined. When hugs don't work. When bribes don't work. When food is refused and sleep is impossible. When discipline has no effect. When the child has lost control over her passions. When the kitten becomes the tiger...

  • Summon up every bit of compassion in your soul and use it liberally. 
  • Find the quietest, darkest place you can to ride out the storm with them.
  • Don't react in anger.
  • Respect boundaries (sensitive kids can get overwhelmed and might not want to be touched) but stay close for when they're ready.
  • Speak softly.
  • Pray out loud softly but loud enough for them to hear, asking Jesus and Mary to bless them with peace.
  • If others are around, ignore the prick of pride welling up. Pride brings embarrassment. Embarrassment can sometimes lead us to unwarranted anger. Prideful anger can lead us to act sinfully.
  • Take as long as the child needs. Let your plans go. 

I know it's hard but we can't give in to resentment. They need us. They are enveloped in emotion and stress and they need the love of Christ Jesus through those into whose care they've been entrusted. There's no one else in the world better equipped to love that child in their moment of need than we are. It's a cross but we'll carry it just fine. And one day, it will feel lighter again and all the love we have poured into our child will have been a part of their formation. Isn't that a beautiful thought? Formation in love. 

Happy travels! St. Christopher, pray for us!

Do you have suggestions for loving sensitive little ones during travels? Please share in the comments!

Chasing Sunshine in a Time of Darkness: Sun sensitivity and lupus

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If you've never heard of a "sun allergy" or photosensitivity, I can tell you a little about it. For the last year (and probably more), it has been reminding me how bizarre and all-consuming autoimmune disease can be. I've had to add it my list of silent disease symptoms... and now also to my first experience with an illness that others can actually see. 

I am not just sensitive to the sun, but to everything that emits or reflects UV rays. Fluorescent lights in stores or offices can cause a trigger even if they are windowless. Riding in a car, going on a walk even on an overcast Ohio Winter day, taking my kids to the park, going shopping, sitting near a window.

It's not really an allergic response to the sun but an issue of cell clearance... or rather, the body's inability to remove dead cells that are naturally caused by UV rays. The cells remain too long and the body begins to attack what it thinks are invaders. Healthy organs and body systems become the object of destruction. So it isn't really the sun that the body is targeting... but itself. 

I used to think that it would be better if my sickness was visible so that people would better understand what was happening to me on the inside. Now that I have the limited experience of an occasionally disfiguring disease, I see that it doesn't really help me or others cope. Not really. I don't find it less lonely or confusing... it's just different. 

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING NOW?

One truth about autoimmune diseases is that they tend to collect and multiply. For example, someone who starts off will celiac disease or hashimotos thyroiditis will, on average, collect another autoimmune disease every ten years. Once the immune system is going wonky and attacking itself, it is only a matter of time before many body systems are involved. The problem is the entire immune system and it only manifests in one area of the body at a time and damages others over time. 

That is my story. And even while I have walked back many of the most severe symptoms, I am still fighting to find ways to continually cool my overactive system and heal the source of the trouble. 

WHAT IS "NORMAL"?

I have had severe body pain ever since I can remember which is back to preschool. In middle school, my stomach and digestive tract became involved. By the time I was a young adult, I had developed symptoms of what would later become diagnosed as Eosinophilic Esophagitis (an autoimmune disease). The only treatment I was offered for that was steroids and so my symptoms continued to compound.

As a child, I didn't know that kind of pain wasn't normal. 

Fatigue.
Nausea.
Digestive issues.
Headaches.
Severe joint pain.
Muscle pain and fatigue.
Skin problems.
Sleep difficulties.
A hundred little things that add up to make you feel crazy. 
A dozen big things that make you feel afraid.

By the time I was in my mid 30's, I was battling chronic pain and illness but being told by doctors that I was in good health. I felt hopeless and depressed and there were many days when even walking across the house felt overwhelming from the pain and exhaustion. 

But it was a silent battle. And I don't think that anyone should be left alone in that silence like I was, which is why I speak it constantly in my personal life and using whatever internet platform I have. 

It's often humbling and a little awkward since I don't know the perfect way to share... but it is important enough to try. 

THE FACE OF LUPUS

It's hard to believe that the woman on the left was me just 2 years ago. So much has changed. I don't usually look like the gal on the right but... I really have not fully recovered. I've aged a lot in a short period of time. Essential oils and plain coconut, almond, or jojoba oils have been a tremendous blessing when my skin won't tolerate anything else. 

My camera washed out much of the red, raw skin in the picture on the right. But I think you get the idea. Before I figured out the connection with UV, the red patches were raw and eventually scabbed over. This is what's going on inside my body finally showing up on the outside, courtesy of a beautiful Spring morning in 2017...

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When I started showing serious signs of lupus, I finally found a doctor who sat with me for an hour and listened to my full history. She took the appropriate tests and we talked.

She said...

"It seems likely that the celiac disease came first and triggered everything else. You've done a marvelous job taking care of yourself for the last few years... now let us help you. What do you want to do about the lupus? You know if you go into _______ that they will put you on prednisone right away and then start with the immune suppressants."

Yep. I know. That's why I'm here and not there. 

Celiac
Allergies
Fibromyalgia
Eosinophilic Espohagitis
Lupus

It doesn't need to be named in order to be real. But to be able to name it is to have a certain measure of control and hope. For those of you still searching, I pray that you get to name the enemy. In the meantime, I can still offer you hope.

THE PATH TO HEALING

Through dietary and lifestyle changes I have made over the past 6 years, I have brought my gluten antibody response to zero, completely reversed my esophageal symptoms (I previously could not eat anything but mushy cereal nor swallow even small pills), my joint pain/ swelling and muscle pain and weakness are occasional instead of constant and debilitating, and I am not afraid of going to gatherings where I might stumble embarrassingly over my words or be too drained afterwards to function for a week.

The healing has been life changing. But it's not over.

I have severe chemical sensitivities to pretty much everything (although pure essential oils have given me a hope in a toxic world) and planning a day trip has now become a challenge.  

How does a person adjust to a change like that? I admit I'm not handling it well. I've always had specific ideas in my mind of what painful loss looks like but never in my wildest dreams did it look like being deprived of the sunshine. 

My last troublesome flare was triggered by sitting under UV emitting fluorescent lights for two days at an aromatherapy conference. I never even went outside. 

SPRING IS COMING

As Winter slowly inches toward Spring, I'm experiencing something that I've never felt before toward the end of a Northeast Winter: dread. I simply don't know how I will traverse another beautiful sunshine season with my 8 kids, 1 husband, full life, and an inability to breathe in the amazing season outside.

I actually do know the answer: One step at a time. But I don't yet know what that looks like. Will it look like weeks of endless illness? I just don't know. 

But Spring also brings hope in the form of a new naturopathic doctor and my belief that yes, this is a mountain that I can climb. I believe that there is a reasonable chance for me to find healing. 

Most people will think I’m crazy... because people don’t reverse lupus. But to be honest with me you, I know very few people who have really tried. 

OPTIONS

The obvious medical options are prednisone and immunosuppressants. The problem with the pharmaceutical option is that it doesn't actually address the underlying cause and adds an additional burden (and potential risks) to my already struggling body. I will take them if my organs and life are at risk. But at this point, there is just as much likelihood that those medications will pose a significant threat to my organs and life expectancy. Lupus and autoimmune internet boards are full of people who are as busy battling the damage from their medications as they are their primary symptoms.

The alternative option is to continue what I have been successfully doing, and that is healing through natural means under the counsel of functional medicine physicians. This approach has already taken me from a kind of death to new life and I am committed to continuing that path.

In the meantime, Spring is coming and I'm bouncing between grumpiness and delight while internet shopping for...

  • Personal UV monitors (Worth the investment?)
  • UPF clothing (Can someone please develop a stylish line that doesn't look like beachwear?) 
  • Long sleeved swimwear and swim leggings (and I'm really confused by the purpose of UPF 50 bikinis)
  • Non-toxic sunscreen (I'm trying to reconcile the price of the best mineral sunscreens for full body use or find a DIY that doesn't go on like paste. Still in trial stages!)
  • Nutritious food (I'm good here... thank you local farms and Thrive Market... but I totally need a personal chef)
  • Supportive supplements (Yes! Essential to my healthcare. I use doTERRA for my staples)
  • Healing therapies (So much overwhelm and $$$... )
  • Essential oils (Sweet affordable consolation)

I can’t buy it all but I can window shop... and try to fill the gaping hole where “control” should be. Scratch that. The gaping hole where God should be.

Okay... Deep breath.... Thank you, Lord, for lupus. It keeps bringing me back to the foot of Your glorious cross... where I’m going to keep chasing sunshine. 

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Orthorexia: The Red Herring of the Oreo-rexic Internet

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The woman had a deeply concerned expression on her face as she looked me up and down. She was a fellow swim mom and we'd been friendly for a couple of years, and she'd been watching while I ran around the gym with the kids at a team Christmas party. I was feeling better than I had in a while, smiling and a little winded as I approached the food tables where she was sitting.

I noticed her frown right away and then was knocked flat by her words... 

"Are you okay? I mean... you just don't look well. I'm concerned about you. You're so... thin."

I was thin. And I wasn't particularly well. The only thing my stomach could tolerate was mushy Special K cereal and I was dog tired. My belt was pulled to the tightest notch but I had been feeling okay that day. In fact, I had been feeling pretty good. Until she opened her mouth.

My problem was undiagnosed autoimmune disease but I didn't know... and she didn't know my suffering. On the surface I just looked skinny, I guess.

I had no idea what to say but I felt the back of my eyes start to burn with tears and some mean words threatened to pour forth in a hot second. I wanted to comment on the chocolate-covered Oreo in her hand and her recently expanded girth.

But I didn't. I just... died a little on the inside.

I didn't have anything left. I felt sick, tired, ugly, and hopeless. She won. I don't know what the prize is in that situation but she won it. I was defeated.

Several years later, I experienced a great healing through a dietary transformation. And wouldn't you know it, that woman (or rather her internet counterparts) took right up where she left off... winning the battle over minds with ignorance and phony concern, but for no good purpose.

The new food shaming battle cry? Orthorexia.

Orthorexia is defined as obsessive behavior in pursuit of a healthy diet. Welcome to the latest trend in diagnosing the confidence out of every human being we don't know or understand. Several of the common symptoms can be loosely applied to countless mentally healthy people, including myself... but the topic is pay dirt for writers and fodder for the vultures... so it continues.

I can no longer decline a dessert at a gathering without someone questioning my mental health. Awesome.

I looked up the symptoms of Orthorexia as defined by a clinic that deals with eating disorders. While I absolutely believe that there can be a serious mental health disorder defined as orthorexia, I think the internet in general is using the term all wrong. 

Let's look at what criteria I found on a professional mental health website...


"A person with orthorexia will be obsessed with defining and maintaining the perfect diet, rather than an ideal weight."

This one confused me because I wouldn't call myself "obsessed" but I am pretty serious about maintaining the diet that keeps me free of pain and sickness. The alternative is horrible so, I don't know, maybe some professional would call me obsessive? I'd rather go without a meal than eat something that causes my body to attack itself. Call me crazy. And maybe you would. 

I admit that having a great diet feels terrific and I really don't have to worry about my weight at all. It's one of the most freeing experiences to simply not have to worry about cutting off my broccoli intake or feeling like I ate an inflatable brick following a donut binge. If that makes me mentally ill... I'll take it?


"She will fixate on eating foods that give her a feeling of being pure and healthy."

Oh wow... I'm so busted. Totally orthorexic. Let's see... I eat multiple times a day and have to plan for those meals, prep, cook, and eat them, and clean up after them. Plus shopping and snacks. I'm pretty fixated. But probably not as fixated as I used to be on cookies... Oreos in particular. 


"An orthorexic may avoid numerous foods, including those made with: 

  • Artificial colors, flavors or preservatives
  • Pesticides or genetic modification
  • Fat, sugar or salt
  • Animal or dairy products
  • Other ingredients considered to be unhealthy"

Busted again! I avoid all of those things except healthy fats (of which I consume a large amount), salt, and meat. But yes, I avoid unhealthy foods. Is that really one of the criteria for diagnosing mental illness?


"Obsessive concern over the relationship between food choices and health concerns such as asthma, digestive problems, low mood, anxiety or allergies"

I think that word "obsessive" needs to be defined clearly because there are some people who would probably call careful behavior "obsessive" and others who have a totally different picture in mind. Depending on the definition, this could apply to me. If I go by a clinical definition, then no... I'm not obsessive. But if I read this within the very loose context of criteria used by these professionals, then yes, I suppose I come awfully close. 

My health conditions can be debilitating and even potentially fatal. I am strongly interested in the relationship of food to my healing process and... 

I really couldn't care less if that bothers an internet therapist.


"Increasing avoidance of foods because of food allergies, without medical advice"

Because if a food makes me sick, I should keep eating it unless a medical professional tells me not to? That's just stupid talk. I'm not even going to get into the 15 years that I was failed by countless medical professionals (including allergists). I sought and paid for tons of medical advice and learned one important thing along the way that they never told me...

If it makes you sick, don't eat it. 


"Noticeable increase in consumption of supplements, herbal remedies or probiotics"

The majority of American adults take supplements regularly. It's a $40 billion dollar industry. So at least we are all in this together. 


"Drastic reduction in opinions of acceptable food choices, such that the sufferer may eventually consume fewer than 10 foods"

This can be tricky, especially at the beginning of a dietary overhaul when a person's body is reacting in an inflammatory way to everything and there is an uncertainty about what is okay to eat and what will bring on symptoms. 

At my sickest point, I was not eating more than 10 foods and it took some time for my stomach to be able to tolerate more. I was not mentally ill but I was very physically ill and the number of foods I was consuming was a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself.

It took a while to figure it out and to heal. 

So I don’t agree this is always a helpful assessment of mental illness. Circumstances vary greatly. Show me the average American diet and I will show you countless people who have a very limited palate. Does that make them mentally ill? Probably not... it likely means they have a crappy diet. 


My point is that you cannot make an accurate health assessment of another human being from an internet article, nor should you try. 

I don’t understand the motivation behind some of the hate, although I think I do understand a little based on the articles' contents and comments. People who are deeply interested in outing others as orthorexic usually fall into one of the following categories: 

  • They tried to change their diet but were unable to stick to it
  • Feel defensive about the food they feed their families if it's not very healthy
  • Tried a dietary change for health reasons and found it unhelpful
  • Are afraid that they won’t be able to eat Oreos in public without criticism
  • Can't afford to eat what the real-food experts are peddling.  
  • Know someone who annoys them with their disruptively healthy eating and wants to change them 
  • Have a real concern about someone they love who is exhibiting symptoms of obsessive compulsive behaviors and real mental illness that interferes with health and relationships. 

Using the criteria I shared earlier, you could certainly say that I might be orthorexic. You’d be wrong but the internet has a way of making people experts over other people’s health so...

What I’m waiting for is the list of criteria to internet-diagnose someone with Oreo-rexia; defined as obsessive behavior that interferes with the desire for a healthy diet. 

Symptoms include: 

  • Eating ice cream with a spoon straight from the carton. 
  • Bullying good friends into eating junk food with you even though you know they are on a diet.
  • Eating dessert food (including caramel lattes) more than once a day. 
  • Shaming sick people into giving up their pursuit of healing food by implying that they are mentally ill. 

Of course we know that Oreo-rexia is just a word I made up to make a point. And orthorexia, while apparently a real illness, is often used by armchair mental health professionals to make their own point. But... 

It's a red herring... a distraction from the real issue... which is that the trends toward healthy eating make people uncomfortable and upset. 

"Others eat in a way that I don't understand, agree with, or find necessary in my life... and it's suddenly become very important to me to identify people with a mental illness called orthorexia." 

Either that or those clickbait articles simply pay the bills. 

Do humanity a favor today and encourage someone who is trying to make healthy changes in their life. And don't make it contingent upon your feelings. It would make me feel amazing to be able to eat a bunch of Oreos without thinking about anything other than calories. 

I understand that you don't get it. 
I understand why.
I forgive you for the wounds you unknowingly inflict.
But... I also ask you to stop. 

 

 

Catholic Spiritual Bouquet Coloring Page

{This post contains affiliate links. More info Here.} 

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Once upon a time in a land far away, I thought that I could be anything I wanted to be and I imagined that I would end up in a prestigious art school. I knew that they could (and would) take my rough little attempts and refine them until I was a master. 

Little did I know then that art school would never happen, and that I would not only end up with no training, no art degree, and no claim to the name "artist"... but that I would ultimately be okay with that and be satisfied with periodically drawing something to please my children.

I simply didn't know that God's dreams for me were bigger. I didn't know that success wasn't quite that linear and that He would draw a depth of talent out of me in other ways that looked sort of like art... but are less easily grasped and touched. And so... in gratitude that God saw fit to give me more than I even knew to ask for, I drew a little something to share with you...

So that you can bless others.

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This spiritual bouquet prints out black and white to an 8.5" x 11" piece of paper unless you scale it down to make smaller cards. I think it's the perfect Catholic Valentine but can be given for any occasion. 

It prints as a black and white outline to leave room for coloring and creative expression. The middle of the page is blank for you to write in whatever you want. I chose a simple hand written spiritual bouquet for my sample. It can be the background for a birthday letter or an Easter greeting, a Mother's Day spiritual bouquet, an ordination anniversary, or... just to color for fun.

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We have printed these on card stock and used art markers and illustration markers (in the pics above) and have also used crayons, colored pencils, and have printed on a lightweight watercolor paper to use with watercolors

I never did learn how to use oil paints or fully refined my natural gifts. But I love to throw in my pennies here and there to contribute to the wealth of Catholic culture, built by the hands of the faithful... by the grace of God. 

While I certainly take advantage of the mass marketed cards and gifts at the box and dollar stores, there is something so satisfying and deep about building and sharing smaller. 

If you can use this FREE template, sign up at the link below and enjoy! If not, perhaps you can share this post with someone else who can. Thank you so much... and thanks be to God! 

...

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Thrive Market Review (and 25% off)

This post contains affiliate links. See my full disclosure here.

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Since I started my clean eating journey six years ago, I've had to learn quickly how to eat real food on a budget and with limited time to prep and cook. If I had a million dollars, I'd pay someone to come and prepare my weekly meals... but I don't. Instead, I have Pinterest, 8 kids, and Thrive Market! We work together to make healthy, edible, and sometimes delicious food for our family. 

I came to love Thrive Market a little late in the game and passed over it many times before finally jumping in when I saw this fantastic coupon: 25% off your first order. Whoot! Combined with the free trial month, I was more than happy to dive in. My first order ever is pictured at the top of this page and featured products I already knew and loved, my first introduction to Primal Kitchen (LOVE!!!), and some clean make-up brands. 

I figured that I would take advantage of the deal and the trial month and then just quit. The problem with that strategy was that I ended up loving the products, the service, and the savings. I discovered that several of my staple paleo purchases were less on Thrive Market than they were on Amazon, and I started saving money right away.

When it came time to opt in to a full membership, I knew that I had found the paleo/keto/real food online Costco-like option I'd been hoping for... and it was really a no-brainer.

Thrive Market offers the best-selling natural and organic products at wholesale prices through an annual membership. Thing Costco meets Whole Foods online! Popular brands and best-selling products including food, snacks, supplements, vitamins, non-toxic cleaning supplies, beauty essentials, baby products, home goods, and much more. The site is stocked with an amazing array of raw, vegan, Paleo, dairy-free, nut-free, allergen-free and gluten-free, organic, and non-GMO items.

I honestly thought it would be more expensive than my local stores but I was wrong. Plus, the packaging is the best I have ever seen in my experience purchasing online. The pics here don't show that well because I unpacked so that you can see my goodies! But they do go above and beyond to ensure protection during shipping.

And... I don't have to leave my house. I wait until I have a $50 order for the free shipping. And then I just sit back and let my stuff come to me.  

Thrive also offers their own Thrive brand option for many products. I have never been a store brand buyer, having been grossed out too many times to keep taking the bait. But my experience with the Thrive brand has been quite positive so far. As you can see above, I've used their coconut flour, spices, and chia seeds, among several others items not shown here. 

For shoppers on a budget...

One of my favorite aspects of the company is that Thrive is committed to expanding access to healthy living... meaning that healing food and products shouldn't just be for the wealthy but for all people. For every membership purchased, one is gifted to a low-income American family. 

I've been accused many times of promoting a life style that only the rich can afford. As a not-rich-mom of 8 kids, this accusation doesn't stick to me. I understand the difficulty of living in a culture in which it costs more to afford healthy food than garbage food. Grocery bills for a family my size can be shocking. I am grateful to companies such as Thrive which make it a little more accessible. 

Healthy food... healing food... costs money. Since our lifestyle change, we have definitely seen our food budget expand and now embrace that as an acceptable sacrifice for good health. We trade doctor bills for food bills! 

There are ways to equalize the budget problem; planting gardens (and finding friends with gardens), learning to meal plan, learning to cook for a family with good ingredients, bartering in the community, and finding companies that make it a mission to provide more accessible health care. Yes, I'm one of those people... Food is my primary health care.

Joining Thrive Market is easy and for less than $5 a month, members can access some of the best health and wellness products. Here's how:

  1.  Register for free to browse the Thrive Catalog, see member savings, and receive 20% off your first 3 orders.
  2.  Start your trial. With your first purchase on Thrive, you'll start a free 30-day membership trial. See how much you save. Cancel any time.
  3. Join the community at Thrive for just $59.95... and receive access to many of the world's best healthy products for a full year. With your membership, Thrive will donate a free membership to a low-income family.
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**I would be remiss if I didn't share that there is one section on Thrive at which I do NOT shop. And if you know me, maybe you can already guess that I do not purchase their essential oils. As a student of aromatherapy, I'm aware of the tremendous difficulties in the essential oil industry right now and have seen chemistry reports on at least one brand they carry which shows contamination. Since they do not provide a lab analysis of their Thrive brand oils, I will continue to purchase and use from my favorite and proven supplier!**

Since that is just a small portion of what Thrive sells, I don't find that it detracts at all from the overall value and I'm increasingly impressed over time by what I'm able to find. It's a fantastic service with true value and I recommend it!

Crossing the Threshold to Joy in the New Year

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My heavenly Father spoils me when He knows it isn't going to ruin me; and the rest of the time He allows me to grow strong in Him, even when growth requires that I first be broken...

I stepped up to the precipice of the New Year with a burden of sorrow on my heart. It thumped a dull but steady pain, and I stumbled over the exhausting thought that another year was starting... and I had nothing left in the tank to bring. The knowledge of how truly blessed I am sustained me... but the feeling of blessing was gone. 

I knew those truths but still lost courage, slowed to a crawl, and barely inched over the threshold of 2018. 

My Lord loves me passionately, foolishly, endlessly... and knowing that kept me pushing through these last months even though I raised my petulant, childish fists in His direction more than once.   So much like my 1-year old who is all cuddles and peaches until he is sick or tired... and then his tiny frantic clenched hands will swing even at his own mama.

My "Where is God?" sounded pathetic even to me while I swam in a life of absolute treasure and abundant love and goodness. Pathetic little fists of fury.

I am LOVE. Why do you strike at me? 

Because I need you... but I am tired. I am afraid.

When I'm healthy and in control, I don't necessarily feel His absence or His Presence at all since my focus is solely on me. It is so easy to say "I AM BLESSED!" and "I feel God's Presence" when things go my way; but the consequence of that shallow understanding of relationship means that the slightest discomfort can throw me into a mini faith crisis.

I assume that my comfort means that He is present and that my discomfort equals His absence... like a feverish toddler who doesn't understand that the hand of Love is not also the cause of the pain. 

And this year... oh my... this year...

He let me hit bottom hard in so many ways... mentally, physically, spiritually... even while He held my wounded body and soul.  My sufferings are truly so small when held up to the heartache of the world. But I hadn't prepared well to carry even a light cross and my own small heart filled, swelled, and burst.

Am I going to die soon, Lord? Is that what's going on? Why the sacrificial pile-on? If you try to give me that kind of medicine, I'm going to wail and thrash and throw it up. You'll have to hold me down...

So He did.

My faith was rocked. My body was attacked by disease. My heart died and grieved a thousand times and I grew smaller.

You have left me, Lord! Shall I just become a Protestant now? Or maybe just a nothing? Yes, a nothing... Then there will be no expectations and no disappointment.

That tiny and ridiculous threat poured out of my broken soul with a torrent of tears and a weight of sorrow which I could not bear on my own. I felt it and knew it and...

He called my bluff instantly.

He created me, formed me, restored me, awakened me... and He knew that I would not go. He held me down like the petulant toddler that I am, not with force but with irresistible fire... 

Twenty years ago, I would have left you, Lord, because I wouldn't have been sure about you. But I know Who You are. You are irrefutable. You are solid and deep and forever. You are flower, you are ocean, you are Life. If I deny you now, I deny myself and could not just become a nothing but would necessarily become depraved. I cannot choose that.

So I chose joy.

I chose to remain at His feet and let Him be Father. 

From that place, I was safe and free to look around and see how He has woven my joy and my salvation into the very fiber of my enormously beautiful and bountiful life. 

God sends His Holy Spirit endlessly across the wasteland. He pours life into the cracks of our brokenness and whispers the gentle command: TRUST. And He sends us His earthly servants and heavenly brethren to carry us faithfully and tenderly. 

I recently chose my saint of the year... or rather let the saint choose me... St. George.

I thought that was very appropriate since I sought courage and strength for the next leg of the journey. Then I chose my word of the year through a random generator... STRENGTH.

Yes. I'll take it. Not on the false premise that I will grow in strength and power but that God will use the emptying of this last year to fill my life with His Presence. I will still be broken, still be small, still be weak, tempted, stumbling, and humiliated. But I will be strong in His majesty...

... and what a blessed relief. I'm ready to hand over the weight.

New Year's passed along with a birthday party and a feast day celebration. I shut off the parts of my heart that couldn't bear another step and just kept going. And then... joy began to grow again.

I know you, Joy... I have known you all along but I have been battered and torn and tired. But the Spirit buried you deep in my soul many years ago and that is how You return to me...

Not from the outside pouring in... but from the inside blossoming out. 

You are showering me with grace.
You are restoring my faith and my hope.
You are washing my eyes free from the dust.
You are sanctifying the suffering and...
Breathing life into the lifeless.

I open a book and You speak to me about STRENGTH...

Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death... (Revelation 3:2)

And I rise again with Christ.

However...

I didn't rise until I had cried out to God with raging tears.
I didn't rise until I had been physically broken and felt real fear of death for the first time.
I didn't rise until my heart had been broken by loss.
I didn't rise until I suffered humiliation.
I didn't rise until I had failed people I love.
Until I saw that I couldn't shake the cross.
Until I couldn't reconcile the scandal.
Until I lost the sunshine.
Couldn't fill the void.
Couldn't mend my own heart.
Couldn't. Be. God.

Then... THEN He rose in my heart like the gentle morning sunshine and invited me to begin again with the consolation of His hope and joy planted deep in my soul. 

You are not lost, Daughter... You were just sleeping...

Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death... (Revelation 3:2)

2018 is not going to be a cake walk. For all I know, it could surpass the startling 2017. But He makes it all easy and sweet in His time. Thanks be to God.

"...and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a storm of wind came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even wind and water, and they obey him?” (Luke 8:23-25)

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Essential Oils for Preppers: Taking Your Health Care Off the Grid (eBook)

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What would you do if you didn't have access to your doctor or hospital when you had a medical need or emergency?

If you are a prepper (or love one), then you have probably considered this question many times. Water, food, shelter, medical care... If the grid goes down, those are the big four that we will have to replace.

Plant-based medicine in the form of essential oils is one answer to the "What now?" question and this eBook (especially bundled with this essential oil starter kit) the perfect introduction for any serious prepper.

I bet you thought that essential oils were just for ladies who like to smell pretty, didn't you? Well, then let this be the start of your new chapter in prepping! Not only are these little bottles packed full of potent drops of therapeutic grade oils... but those oils are the secret to grid-free health and first aid.

I was an essential oil skeptic until I experienced the powerful impact of each drop.

I was also a prepper skeptic... until my charming and persistent husband finally won me over. I tell that story in this eBook. And I walk you through the basics of the simple use of essential oils for your family now and in times of emergency.

  • Why every pepper should have essential oils
  • What are some topics included in this 40-page digital volume?
  • The WHAT and WHY and HOW of essential oils
  • My story: From Skeptic to Advocate
  • Top 10 essential oils for peppers (or anyone)
  • How to store and rotate stock
  • Taking your health care off the grid
  • Practical DIY tips
  • Additional resources and links

You can purchase the top ten essential oils I write about in my shop bundled with the book in my shop HERE.  Or... You can purchase the ebook separately for $7.99.

My husband suggested that I write something on this topic a year ago and I just didn't think I had enough time to put it together. I was reminded of his suggestion recently as I reflected on the fact that essential oils have become an integral part of my health care. I wouldn't want to be without them in an emergency...

And I realized that we needed our own plan for emergency situations.

Essential oil first aid kit for the car? Check.
Essential oil first aid kit for my purse? Check.
Essential oil first aid kit for the my bug out bag? Ummm.... nope.

So I started to put it all together on paper for my own family and knew that I needed to share it with other people. In addition to that, I knew I had a challenge on my hands and I wanted to take it on:

How was I going to convince MEN that essential oils should be an important part of their prepping?

Challenge accepted.

It's not actually that difficult to convince an intelligent guy to adopt a reasonable plan for health care. What is often more difficult than helping someone understand the benefits of plant-based medicine, is leading them to good quality oils.

The majority of essential oils on the market today are pure garbage and their labeling is full of outright lies. Professional chemical analysis by watchdog groups show time and time again that Amazon, Walmart, Target, Walgreens, and countless other sources, are a bunch of hyped up perfume. 

How about it? Want to use a chemically perfumed mish mash for your skin or body systems?

Nope. Me neither. Cheaper is not better in this instance. You will find that most of the good essential oil companies charge about the same for their oils, give or take a couple dollars. 

My recommendation is always doTERRA since their sourcing and company values are second to none. If you'd like to jump in and get started with your health care prepping, check out my "Small Prepper" and "Big Prepper" essential oils starter kit bundles. 

These make a great gift for preppers. But be careful... you may just find that they change your life even without an emergency!

The Simple Path to Healing in a Complicated World

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It sometimes seems that taking care of myself (mind, body, soul) is an impossible task; one that requires the equivalent of a college education to navigate...

I sat at my desk with my head in my arms, bawling like a baby. It had been a tough week. My autoimmune disease had flared and and I was looking for a little relief and distraction on the internet from my favorite healthy lifestyle gurus. My feed was full of natural wellness awesomeness and I had been taking notes for 15 minutes with a frantic sort of energy. And then... I just fell apart. 

Bawled like a baby until my nose ran, completely overwhelmed.

 What I really needed was a good long nap, someone to give me a back rub, a personal chef, a date with my husband, and a cure for lupus. I would have settled for the nap but was instead overcome by the multiplication of digital images of infrared saunas, squatty potties, and 1001 ways to use bone broth. I'm not opposed to those things necessarily, but on that particular day...

I just needed one helpful thing. And I didn't even know which one it was.

Too tired to care and too upset to continue, I closed my laptop and cried it out for a bit; and then lay down on my bed in spite of the fact that it was only Noon and I had 52 urgent obligations weighing on me. 

It turns out that a nap was the one thing I need right then. Because sometimes the simplest path to healing in the moment is truly... the simplest thing.

When I got up again, I forced myself to take other simple actions: I took my supplements and make a quick healthy lunch. I did all the things that mothers do and then sat down here to type out a few thoughts about this exciting/horrible journey of chronic illness. 

Are you overwhelmed, too? 

I want you to know that I understand where you are at (in a general way, not a specific way) and I'm sorry if I've ever overwhelmed you in my enthusiasm and pursuit of healing. We all want to give good and healing things to people so that they can feel well again. And I want to give you every gift and blessing which I have received. 

I want to give you good nutrition.
I want to give you rest.
I want to give you a reprieve from stress, depression, and anxiety.
I want to protect you from toxic overload.
I want to to bless you with natural health care like essential oils.

But I also want to honor your pace and hold the door open for you while you take that badly needed nap. 

I don't want to be anyone's guru. 

I want to be a sister on the journey, who loves you enough to share the good stuff in life and a word of encouragement. 

Whenever I experience an overwhelming day when my body just doesn't seem to care how much effort and resources I'm pouring into it's care, I go back to basics. One thing at a time. One meal at a time. One supplement at a time. One walk, nap, prayer, song at a time.

Here are some snapshots of what simple looks like to me (borrowed from my Instagram and Facebook pages)...

My kids jokingly call my autoimmune face swelling "lupus botox." I sometimes mentally call it other things that I won't print here. But I'm finding the more I share the little daily struggles, the more others are encouraged, and the less frustrated I am by these details. I'm not as shocked and afraid by a puffy face, for example. And somehow... it gives me courage to own it... and recommit to healing...

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When I am overwhelmed by all the health options out there, I fall back on nutrition, supplements, rest, and essential oils. That's pretty much all my body will tolerate. No exercise, no make-up, no pushing through big obligations. Just basics...

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When I pull back from life a bit and go big with saying NO to everything that doesn't heal, I sometimes find a surprise tiny window of creative energy. My time is normally divided (by 8 kids, a husband, a homeschool, and a business) and I have lingering feelings of guilt no matter what I do... because something is always being ignored. But when I am sick... the guilt dissipates because I have no control. I know I can just enter into the ONE thing I'm doing in the moment without guilt or divided attention.

Stress is a health killer... so freaking out about being sick is counterproductive. I am learning to fully let go for that time and I'm finding that the less stressed out I am about it, the shorter the flares are. 

A health crisis is sometimes the permission that I need to slowly make a big batch of my favorite healthy mashed sweet potatoes with bacon, while sitting and chatting with the kids about everything, anything, and nothing. 

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Sometimes, I just do nothing but rest while my obligations pass me by. During times of more severe illness, a hush kind of comes over my mind and soul. After the anger and the fear (which seem to come without fail), the consolation of the "hush" comes. And it is then that I realize how unimportant 90% of everything I busy myself with truly is in the light of eternity... and how God allows illness to be a gift to the soul that desires to be close to Him. 

I recently listened to a fantastic talk recently about autoimmune disease given by Dr. David Perlmutter (I think... my memory is not absolute on that but he's still a great guy). In the talk, he spoke to the slow progress of healing in a body broken by disease. He reassured the listener that healing comes over time and that it is the small steps each day which will add up.

Just like it was the small choices before which put so many of us in a state of inflammation and disease.

It's not necessarily our fault that we are suffering now, but we do have a measure of control over our healing by the ways we choose to support our bodies. And if we have any input at all into the well being of our bodies, minds, and souls, it is going to be in doing the one thing in the moment over a long period of time that makes all the difference...

Slow.
Steady.
Simple. 

At the heart of all good internet guru websites, articles, and programs is this simple way of making small, positive changes one step at a time. When you are feeling overwhelmed, just break it down all over again to the most important elements and then...

Go take a nap. 

P.S. I know you can't always take a nap (am I right, moms?)... it's just a manner of speaking about the simplest thing in the moment. But my advice is to never shun that particular window of opportunity if you can find it!

What is your favorite "simple" way to promote healing? 

Ashcraft Creative {Expressing Faith Through Leather}

There are few things more satisfying than seeing a creative work come to fruition under my hands. It isn't always the finest work of art, but I have poured something of myself into that thing and it exists because I thought of it and shaped it. That's a sweet feeling. 

That handcrafted joy is kicked up a notch even when I see the work of another person's hands because there is the added delight of mystery and wonder. It reminds me that I am not you and that you have a unique genius given by our Lord that I can't ever fully understand, see, or embrace. 

That handcrafted pretty you just made for me? That's a tiny glimpse. I am in awe of your Maker and His handiwork. And if you sell what you make, I'll probably want to buy one of everything that you have! Or two. 

I was recently introduced to to Christine from Ashcraft Creations and BOOM! that feeling hit me hard.  I saw one of her leatherwork pieces on Instagram and immediately clicked over to her Etsy shop. One of everything, please! 

But I knew I didn't need that many leather beauties (although you never know...) and thought for a while (2 minutes) about what I could use. It didn't take long before I contacted Christine with a custom request...

Can you make an essential oil holder keychain? With the Sacred Heart imprinted on it? 

She said yes and my amazing oil keychain arrived on my doorstep a short time later. It holds a 15 ml bottle and I love it. It's just a "thing" but is also the unique creative impression onto my life of a sister in Christ. Plus it's just really cool and it holds essential oils which are such an important part of my life. 

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I've got Frankincense pictured in the photos but the most common single bottle I carry is my allergy blend of lemon, peppermint, lavender, and fractionated coconut oil. I ditched my OTC meds a long time ago and rely on this beautiful combo. (An added benefit of leather is that it acts as a diffuser if you place oil drops on the absorbent side.)

My kids might accuse me of being a bit dramatic about a little thing but I have to say...

To slow down and notice the fingerprints of God all over the pretty and useful items in our lives is to express a kind of gratitude. And expressing that gratitude advertises itself to the soul. It says...

I see what you did there, God. That was so cool. Thank you.

So today, I thank God for the gift of Christine at Ashcroft Creative and for her willingness to share her talent with the world. Please visit her shop and use this 15% off code (ends Friday, October 27th) to pick up a few early Christmas presents. You still have time to place a custom order! 

15% off code: 15ESSENTIALMOTHER

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For more information on how to purchase and use therapeutic grade essential oils, go HERE. I have been so blessed by having plant-based medicine in my life!

My Biggest Mistake as Mom of Teens

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True story: My kids' greatest strengths are usually things that I never taught them. Remembering that helps me to be a better mother because I put less effort into molding them into a mini version of me and more into loving them into the people God created them to be. 

When I first became a mother, my plan was to mold my kids into little versions of perfect. My assumption was that I could teach goodness and talent (even if I didn't have it), they would learn it, and the outcome would be controllable. If they eventually wandered off the reservation, it would be with full knowledge of what they could have been and as such... a ridiculous option.

So... I was pretty much assured of success. 

When I started homeschooling, that mindset transitioned perfectly into our educational model. I provide the input through books, videos, experiences, etc., and they would naturally drink it in and be formed to that material input. 

Twenty years later, I am not only less confident in that model of motherhood and education, but I am convinced that I was wrong on at least one major point...

I thought that my purpose as a parent was to form my children to my own image (or at least a perfected version). I was wrong. My purpose as a parent is to love my children and lead them to God's will for their lives. What that looks like for each child looks very little like anything I ever envisioned... and it often means that I am left feeling unsettled or surprised by their actions, successes, and failures.

Oh, how painful these parental epiphanies can be! All this time I thought I was just loving them when the reality was that I was often serving my own needs...

The need to be right.
The need to be in control.
The need to be admired.
The need to be validated by my children's achievements.
The need to be successful.

In a crazy mix of pride and authentic love, I want to be that Catholic mom who doesn't have any children stray now or later. The brutal truth is that this desire is driven by two things:

 1) I truly love my children and want them to gain heaven
2) I simply don't want to be that mom. 

Teenagers have a way of knocking your pride all of over kingdom come. Some of it's their fault and some of it's mine. And since I'm focusing on on my faults in this article today, I'll just repeat it again...

My biggest mistake as a mom of teens... has been trying to raise them in my own image instead of raising them into God's vision. 

Teens can be stinkers and they push back hard sometimes. For the first time, I see the gift in that. I see that I need to be reminded of my prideful overreaching. I see that they need to sometimes fight for the room to stretch into their own space and identity. And what a tragedy it would be if they really did end up just a younger version of me.


Dear Children,

Parents dream of raising great children to great things; but true greatness lies in our capacity to love and serve others. I pray that you will grow into the beautiful elements of your parents dream for you... and then explode that mold. Make it bigger than our little dreams. Make it fruitful beyond our plans. If we have given your heart any inclination towards love and service, take it and run straight to God with it. He will perfect what we have muddled. He will heal the bruises and raise it up to greatness in His time. 

Those bruises though... I'm sorry for the times I've failed you. There's a lot I didn't know and a lot I did know but just ignored out of selfishness. I pray that my own faults will never be a significant stumbling block for you, but I won't lie... I know who I am and how I am. And I'm sorry.

If I could do it all over again, I'd probably still make the same mistakes. But maybe I would make them less often and less harshly. Perhaps I would be able to communicate God's love for you more effectively through my own witness. And yell less. And apologize more. 

Perhaps I still can. 

Love you forever,

Mom


My Saint My Story: Jewelry With Purpose

I'm a firm believer in retail therapy but I think I need to define my terms. I don't mean that we should use frivolous shopping to temporarily soothe and cover up the difficulties of life. My definition of retail therapy is different...

Christian retail therapy is... Using our purchases to heal the marketplace, contribute in a substantive way to the needs of real people, and bring authentic value and beauty into our homes.

Can jewelry fall under that category? Yes! Let me introduce you to My Saint My Hero, their mission, and their jewelry. And then let you tell me how deeply a purchase impacts the world.

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My first exposure to the jewelry from My Saint My Hero came when during a really difficult time this Summer. I was in the middle of a health crisis and struck hard by a new diagnosis. My brain was a fog, my body was drained, and my heart was so heavy. My dad and stepmom showed up in the middle of all that with a gift.

That gift was a Hail Mary Morse Code Prayer Rope necklace from My Saint My Hero. (See it on my Instagram.) It was so pretty... but the "therapy" part of that gift went even deeper as their kindness reached into my loneliness and sorry and touched my heart with a gift of faith. Blessed Mother has my back... I know it. 

I cried buckets... and then I went online to find this new-to-me company called My Saint My Hero...

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Retail therapy, indeed! Every category contained physically beautiful outward expressions of faith. Not only that, but the artisans are real women with faces and names and needs. From the website:

The Mission of My Saint My Hero is to transform the world one life at a time through the experience of being blessed and sharing that blessing with others. With your purchases, you are empowering women of Medjugorje through meaningful work – helping them rise above war-torn poverty with the dignity of their beautiful trade.
 

Yeah... I can get behind that. 

And then I spotted the Holy Family Cuff bracelet and my feminine Catholic heart beat a little faster. Stunning! And when My Saint My Hero agreed to send me this beautiful piece to review, I stalked my mailman until it came!

I don't wear a lot of jewelry and perhaps that's one reason why I so thoroughly enjoy wearing pieces that reflect more fully who I am as woman of faith. I love the outward testimony to goodness and beauty. And I love that it is a constant reminder to me that I am made for something more. 

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"Three hearts woven together by the grace of everlasting love. The Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Pure Heart of Joseph represent the eternal love of family. Wear this bracelet as a reminder that your heart is woven together with your family and through this divine union you are called to echo the eternal love of God."

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The Holy Family Cuff bracelet is so unique and beautiful. It is also very sturdy and has withstood the test of many sweet little fingers carrying it, stroking the smooth surface, and yes, dropping it! 

What a perfect gift to yourself or someone else who could use healing and restoration. Being able to purchase extras for ourselves and others is an indication of our abundance. When we make those fun purchases, let it be for the healing of our hearts and the world and have a direct and positive affect on the makers...

That is true retail therapy!

Purchase the Holy Family Cuff HERE and explore all of the fantastic offerings of My Saint My Hero. 


My Saint My Hero was founded on the belief that
God is real, prayer works and love heals. Our pieces are
wearable blessings that remind us we are loved.
We want My Saint My Hero to be more than a
Company, but a community, inspired by God to help transform
lives and make the world a better place. Crafted in love and
prayer, our wearable blessings empower women through
meaningful work.
Our prayer is that these pieces help awaken souls
to live in the presence of God and know:
I AM true, I AM good, I AM beautiful…
I AM BLESSED.


*I was not financially compensated for this post. I received a sample for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.*

Healing Autoimmune Disease Naturally: Is it Possible?

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Whether or not Lupus (or any autoimmune disease) can be healed naturally has become an important question in my life. After suffering for two decades with chronic illness and actively seeking answers for the majority of that time, I finally have a diagnosis of Lupus. Diagnosis is a complicated thing; it is both a relief and a burden. In my case, it brings the undesirable news that I have an incurable disease in which my body attacks its own major organs and joints.

Bummer.

Until the 1950's, prognosis for someone with Lupus was grim, but medical advancements have greatly extended the lifespan of the average person with the condition. The "medical advancements" of which I speak are primarily medications which suppress the immune system; medications such as chemotherapy and steroids. 

I've spent many hours hanging out in the internet Lupus forums, and discussions are as often about how to deal with the negative side effects of the medications as they are how to deal with the original Lupus symptoms. That is the double edged sword of all pharmaceuticals: They are a tremendous blessing when we need an intervention that a natural resource cannot provide; but they can also become a terrible burden, giving us a new set of sufferings in exchange for the old ones. 

MEDICATIONS CAN'T HEAL THE BODY

The truth is that prescription drugs cannot heal us. Healing can only come from the body itself. The body dies when it can no longer protect and restore cells and body systems with or without assistance from pharmaceutical and natural resources. Prescription drugs cannot heal us if the body cannot, at some point, pick up the burden and continue healing and fighting on it's own.

A great example of a complicated pharmaceutical is antibiotics. We have a false notion that these little pills will kill an infection in its entirety and we can just sit back and let it happen to us and life in our body will go on as usual. The reality is that if our immune system doesn't ever engage the infection alongside the antibiotics, we will die. 

Antibiotics are a great example of the non-specific nature of prescription drugs. While they stop infection, they are not discerning and also kill off the good bacteria which live in the gut and comprise the majority (70%) of the body's immunity. It starts to get complicated. And in our desire to heal, we decrease our body's natural ability to do so. 

Our participation in that healing is often passive and even interfering. We proceed with our unhealthy habits and can't understand why the meds don't "work" the first time around... Or why our chronic cough/sinus infections/etc seem to continuously plague us.

THE NATURAL SOLUTION

The natural solution is not necessarily easy but it is a simple concept. It says: "I will focus on strengthening my body systems according to nature's design in order to protect against and battle disease." Even if we must take medications to survive, it is foolishness to ignore the basic needs of the body.

So... While I don't know that I can "cure" my Lupus, I do believe that I can manage my symptoms to some degree by honoring the fundamental biologic needs of my body. I believe it first because I have done it. I believe it also because science and research confirms that experience.

I have been managing quite well for the last 6 years (pre-diagnosis) with nutritional changes alone until recently when I experienced a lengthy flare which I could not fully control. On some level, I knew it was coming. I had been telling myself for months that I needed to stop my increasingly frequent sugar splurges... and I was conscious of carrying a stress load far too heavy for me. I also had stopped supplementing regularly just out of pure laziness. When the flare hit, I immediately cleaned up my diet, decreased my obligations, increased my sleep, expanded my essential oil use, and started my supplements again. I believe those things (along with other natural wellness resources) kept me out of the hospital. 

MOVING FORWARD

I once believed I was headed for life in a wheelchair and in ONE WEEK of dramatic dietary overhaul was able to change that trajectory. If I was able to do that only by eliminating toxic garbage from my diet, I feel confident that I can make further strides with greater application of a healthy lifestyle. 

By "healthy" lifestyle, I mean one in which I am addressing (naturally) the following factors:

  1. Nutrition 
  2. Stress
  3. Toxic Load
  4. Sleep
  5. Physical Movement

An honest assessment of the last 6 years tells me that I was only partially addressing #1 and #3 and yet still experienced what felt like miraculous healing. I have to ask: What more can I do for myself before I add prescription drugs to my lifestyle? There's so much room for improvement.

By the way, all of the five healthy lifestyle categories above are specifically mentioned on mainstream Lupus sites as Lupus triggers:

  1. Poor Nutrition
  2. Stress
  3. Exposure to Toxins
  4. Poor Sleep Habits
  5. Sedentary Lifestyle

It is quite exciting to me to see that each of these categories has a corresponding natural solution! If I cannot eliminate my Lupus, I can surely make giant strides in managing it. 

BUT CAN AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE BE CURED?

I don't know. But I've seen plenty of evidence that people have at least been able to fully control their symptoms (meaning they have zero). I have read many accounts of people overcoming life threatening disease with only the changes that I have made. Cancers killed. Diabetes reversed. Rheumatoid Arthritis eliminated. People leaving wheelchairs behind. Very sick children becoming well again. Once I started paying attention, I realized that there is a large body of evidence suggesting that it is possible.

Am I crazy? Well, if I am, I'm certainly in good company...

  • Dr. Amy Myers is one resource I have been turning to lately. She is one of many functional medicine physicians out there who are successfully treating people with autoimmune disease. She says: 

"In conventional medicine, the belief is that once you have an autoimmune condition, there’s nothing you can do to reverse it, only ways to manage the symptoms. Managing the symptoms typically involves harsh medications that are aimed at suppressing your immune system. While these medications can be effective at reducing some of the symptoms of the disease, since they suppress the entire immune system, they are not without many unwanted side effects such as fatigue, weight gain, depression, increased infection rates and even cancer.

In contrast, functional medicine sees the body as a whole and works on the principle that the health of one system impacts the health and function of the others. Instead of focusing on disease symptom management, we focus on supporting and strengthening the immune system by getting to the root of why the immune system went rogue in the first place. While there is no known cure for autoimmune disease, I believe that there are five key elements that are at the root of all autoimmune conditions. In my functional medicine practice I have been able to successfully help hundreds of patients lower and reverse antibodies, get off their harsh medications, and become symptom free."

THIS IS NOT A FAD

Healthy living is not a fad. It is a response to a culture that has been consistently deviating from a biologically appropriate course of overall health care. I am so glad to see a growing body of professionals who are committed to restoring what has been lost and embracing the best of what is new.

For those of you new to this journey, here are some of my favorite resources. There are more... so many more... but diving in to even one of these will keep you occupied and inspired for a long, long time. 

There are so many more resources I want to share but I've already dropped enough links to send you down the wellness rabbit hole for a year!

I will continue to share my journey with you on these pages and on social media. Blogging has always been an amazing source of support and accountability in other areas of my life... and now I know will continue to be that blessing for my short and long term health. 

I am so glad to have you with me! My dream is to be able to enjoy the sunshine again without triggering sickness. What is your dream?

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Homeschooling Through Chronic Illness (when mom is sick)

I have a secret about my homeschool and it's finally time to tell it. Okay, I have a few secrets...

I don't know much more about how to successfully homeschool today than I did at the beginning almost 20 years ago. I don't really go to homeschool conferences. I don't belong to a co-op. I know a lot about homeschooling and I've read all the books and purchased all the programs... but my days... they've been uncertain and long. And I've spent more than a few of them battling chronic illness.

I guess that's not the most flattering picture to paint of myself but... that's not the secret that I came here to tell anyway.  

This post is really about the secret that I discovered while slogging uphill for this dream and for my family. It's about the real gift beyond the details of these days and what I want to be able to pass on to every homeschool mom I know...

Truly successful homeschooling is never about how much material we can stuff into a kids' brain, it's about lighting a fire in their very souls. And there is no one best way to do that. It is much more about trusting the process than about planning for perfection. Success isn't for the perfect, it's for the persistent.

I clearly remember the time I kicked an American Doll horse in anger and broke my toe. That's often what my version of "persistence" looks like...

Fail, wail, move on, stop kicking toys.

That toe has never healed completely and that's frustrating but it makes for a great story that the kids love to tell. And in a strange rubber-meets-the-road-on-Calvary kind of way that usually only homeschooling moms can understand, I think I can call that a success.

The family is made to nurture body, mind, and soul. We were created to do this. We don't really look like a school. We often look like a first class mess. But that is the gift... 

That God allows us to become nothing so that the flame of His Love might rise and become a blaze in the heart of the family. 

One of the best lessons I ever learned about homeschooling was from a local mom who faced a life-threatening illness and was sick for an extended period of time. She told me that she spent many days resting in a hammock on their enclosed patio while the kids pressed on, more or less, with their homeschooling. Her kids told me how they used to pretend to work or study and they laughed and teased each other about what they really did when they were supposed to be working. She told me (with a smile) that she never doubted their decision to continue homeschooling even when she wasn't able to do a thing. Because it wasn't about her. She knew their decision was right and she trusted that God had a plan for her illness. 

Her kids are all grown now - successful, happy, smart, faithful, and all good friends - and I've never forgotten what she told me. She successfully homeschooled imperfectly from a hammock. And joy grew out of that. 

When I went through my own early years of chronic pain, illness, and fatigue, I didn't call her. I didn't really know what was wrong with me and I thought I was just a loser homeschooler. I didn't think that anyone was as lousy at this as I was and I imposed a kind of isolation on myself, determined to figure it out on my own.

But I wish I would have called her. I wish I would have let her see the tears. 

Six years ago, God allowed me to set down my cross of illness for a time. Since then, I have been on a journey of healing; not just my body, but also my battered mind and soul. And while I have never doubted for a moment that homeschooling was a worthwhile journey and blessed by God, I have never stopped doubting my own role in that beautiful dream.

Why did He make these beautiful children and then give them this wildly inadequate mother? 

It's all about the secret:

The mess is part of the gift. It is the stripping down of ego until we can see nothing but the grace of God. 

That is the secret, the gift of chronic illness. That through all the pain and struggle, we are presented with the reality that we, in ourselves, are small.... and that it is God who stands in the gap and enables us to rise. Thanks be to God.

John 12:24–25
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.

The Oil Cleansing Method of Washing Your Face

Your skin is your largest organ and the most chemically absorbent part of your body. What are you putting on your face?

I wash my face with oil.. and get a lot of funny looks when I say that! It certainly sounds strange since most people are trying to get the oil off of their faces. But surprisingly enough, it does work, and is a gentle and lovely solution to those with sensitive skin. 

I've been moisturizing my face with plain oil since 2013 after bad experiences with all commercial products I tried; but I still hadn't found a cleanser that I loved. And even though I did like my moisturizer (handmade goodness from Etsy), the price tag was more than I found reasonable over the long term. As I neared the bottom of my final bottle, my stubbornness reared up and I put my foot down:

I need this lotion... BUT... I'm not paying that kind of money again. I'll make it myself.

So I purchased ingredients to make something of my own design and while I waited for them to arrive in the mail, I ran out of lotion. I needed something to moisturize with because my face would burn and turn red after I washed with soap. I did a quick internet search and discovered that I could just use plain... oil.

I ran to my cabinet and pulled out a bottle of almond oil. This will do, I thought. And it did. I thought I would break out in horrendous acne. But I didn't. Instead, it felt lovely and did the trick. I never did end up making the lotion (although it is still on my to-do list) and I have since discovered the simple art of washing with oil as well.

Washing Your Face With Oil

The how-to of oil cleansing is beautifully simple. You need only two ingredients: castor oil (for cleaning) and a moisturizing oil such as 100% pure olivehazelnutalmond, or grapeseed. A little research and experimentation will help you discover which of these oils is best for your skin.

I made my first batch with equal parts castor and almond oil. It was actually a little drying and I have since decreased the amount of castor oil to 1/3 with happy results. Everyone's skin is different so this really does end up being a bit unique for each person.

The Ingredients

1. Castor Oil - Draws out Dirt (some people with sensitive skin might want to limit this almost entirely if it is too drying)

2. Olive or other moisturizing oil (My preference is almond oil)

3. Experiment with adding your favorite (therapeutic grade) essential oils for scent and skin benefits. My recommendations are frankincense, melaleuca, and lavender. 

It cost me only $5 to make 6 ounces of cleanser, which will probably last me a very long time. It sits on the bathroom counter with a homemade label that reads (in red sharpie):

Mommy's Face Wash... Do Not Touch! 

(Which, of course, made all the children want to touch it asap.)

The Method

1. Pour a small amount of oil (nickel to quarter size) into your palm and using your clean fingertips, massage it into your skin (apply to dry face). Gently rub it in for about a minute. No need to scrub.

2. Wet a washcloth with hot water (please don't burn yourself) and lay it over your face, letting it cool until it is about room temperature. This is where a lot of cleaning action happens. It has been so cold here that my washcloth cools off super fast... so I have been repeating this step with the other side of the cloth.

3. Rinse the washcloth out (or just use the corners) and wipe off the oil. Again, do not scrub... just wipe it off. You'll have some residual oil but you really do want that.

4. I will occasionally need a little extra moisturizer and will use some coconut oil or almond oil in the morning or after a shower. I keep it in a container and add frankincense, melaleuca, and other oils according to need. 

The Results

This stuff cleans extremely well. A pre-wash is unnecessary because the oil is the perfect makeup and dirt remover. Oil removes oil. I find that this method works much better than scrubbing with soap and water.

I have acne-prone skin. I'm a 40-year old woman with just as many problems as I did when I was a teenager! I assumed oil would make it worse but instead, I have experienced a very rapid improvement. Dry patches and oily patches equalize and breakouts have decreased. My skin is softer. I can't do anything about contact sensitivities but I can do my best to have a healthy baseline.

I also have an autoimmune disease called lupus which is brutal to my poor face. This method is extremely gentle and nourishing for my often delicate and wounded skin.