How and Why to Grow Broccoli Sprouts Even if You Don't Garden

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If you want to pack a huge amount of nutrients and disease fighting properties into the smallest possible food, then you will want to learn about growing your own broccoli sprouts! Since the management of both lupus and lyme is largely directed by my intake of large quantities of vegetables, it’s great news when I don’t have to spend as much time chewing. As much as I love eating, there is something to said for efficiency, especially when you are eating consciously to heal the body.

Why broccoli sprouts? Let’s break it down…

NUTRITION

Good news for both broccoli lovers and haters: sprouts have all the nutrition of broccoli and even higher amounts with certain important phytonutrients. For example, the anti-cancer and anti-diabetic properties are much higher in sprouts than mature broccoli thanks to a nutrient called sulphoraphane. The heart benefits are also huge. Go here for a more detailed breakdown: Broccoli Sprouts Vs. Broccoli It’s all very impressive.

ABSORPTION

Nutrients don’t do us a whole lot of good unless we can absorb them and use them! Sprouts have a much higher absorption rate of sulphoraphane than broccoli… 74% versus 19%.

NO DIRT OR BUGS

I’m a wannabe gardener with a lupus-induced sun allergy. I want to garden but I cannot… yet. In the meantime, I grow sprouts neatly and successfully on my kitchen counter with zero dirt, zero bugs, and zero gardening knowledge. Plus… it’s really hard to kill a sprout in the 4-7 days it takes to grow. This is the ultimate confidence building project!

WHY NOT JUST BUY THEM?

You certainly can. But you will pay a lot more than the pennies it will cost you at home. More importantly, the greatest nutritional benefits in sprouts are found in 3-4 day old sprouts. That’s farm to table age and your typical grocery store probably isn’t able to provide something like that.

HOW TO EAT SPROUTS?

Easy. Any way you want to. A little handful on top of a salad or in a sandwich are obvious choices. But they can literally go on top of any dish you want. Top a potato or bowl of soup. Put them in a smoothie. Or just eat them plain.

HOW TO GROW BROCCOLI SPROUTS…

WHAT YOU NEED:

  • Organic broccoli sprouting seeds

  • A sprouter

  • Water

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It really doesn’t get simpler than this! You provide the space and a little water… the seeds (designed so perfectly to do this by God) do the rest.

The most complicated this ever gets is figuring out which sprouter to buy. I would love to buy this gorgeous $70 clay sprouter I found on Etsy but let’s be real… I have many kids and they break my pretty things. And sometimes in my haste, I also break my pretty things. Since it is not yet my season for fragile decor, I opted for a frugal option that still grows lots of sprouts, is easy to care for, and has a small countertop footprint.

I buy Organic Broccoli Sprouting Seeds from Handy Pantry in bulk (because I’m in this for the long haul) and I use this inexpensive sprouter with a small countertop footprint. It washes easily with vinegar and houses plenty of sprouts. No complaints! I also gave one to my sister-in-law for a birthday present with seeds… and I hope she still loves me. How could she not? Sprouts are a universal love language, aren’t they?

Handy pantry also has jar kits (which are adorable and not plastic) and complete starter kits with a variety of sprouters and seed selections.

Sprouting involves rinsing the seeds and sprouts daily 1-3 times for up to 7 days depending on the temperature. Direction vary slightly according to the sprouter you are using and do come with the spouters I have linked and direction also came with the seeds.

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I am a little silly with delight when my sprout babies start to grow. And no, my sprouter isn’t pretty. But that is quickly excused when I see the beautiful sprouts!

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It is an amazing feeling to grow what you eat! When the sprouts are ready to serve, I just swish them around in a bowl of water to knock most of the seed pods loose. I don’t mind having a few so I’m not uptight about this.

And that’s it! If you are serious about health and beautiful food, you should definitely sprout! Enjoy!

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Catholics and the Medical Medium: Channeling, Celery Juice, and the Wrong Way to Heal

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Should Catholics read and follow the advice of the popular internet wellness guru, the Medical Medium? Or let me ask it another way…

Should Catholics read and follow the advice of someone who channels spirits to gain knowledge about healing?

No. The obvious answer to both is a resounding no. Both Scripture and Church teaching condemn the practice and make it clear that involvement with such practices poses an immediate danger to the soul. There is no gray area here… it’s a huge no.

I assumed that this would be self-evident for most Catholics but, as more time passes (and more people keep recommending that I drink celery juice), I am seeing the influence of Anthony William (aka Medical Medium) spread throughout the Catholic world. This is especially true in the world of Catholic natural wellness where celery juice and Epstein Barr virus (EBV) are the new buzzwords for healing, thanks to a spiritual being who speaks through Anthony William.

Let me be clear… I think it’s fine if you drink celery juice (although there can be downsides to drinking too much) and I do believe that EBV is responsible for some health problems (though not all). But it is not okay to believe these things based on the authority of a guy who channels spirits.

Again, I really did not think that this needed to be fleshed out for most Catholics but, after witnessing a lot of confusion first hand, I’m going to address it briefly. It is up to the reader to become fully educated in the Catholic faith and to fall down all the appropriate rabbit holes.

But I’m putting this post together so that it can be shared with those who haven’t made the connection yet between William’s spiritual practices and his advice. Some people truly don’t know who he is and what he does. Others truly don’t know their faith.

So here are the things you need to know:

MEDICAL MEDIUM CHANNELS A SPIRIT TO GAIN KNOWLEDGE

I’m not making this up or guessing or inferring. I’m going on the exact words of Anthony William, whose name was made popular by Hollywood celebrities who fawn over him and his spirit friend/guide. In the words of singer-songwriter Debbie Gibson:

“Anthony William is the real deal, and the gravity of the information he shares through Spirit is priceless and empowering and much needed in this day and age!”

In case you’re wondering who “Spirit” is… Spirit is the being that Anthony William channels for knowledge and who has been with him since the age of four. “Spirit” is shorthand for “Spirit of the Most High.” Anthony William describes this being’s relationship to his work on his Facebook page this way:


”Anthony William Medical Medium is given information about his clients from a source that has identified itself since his early childhood as the ones from the Most High, connecting him with powerful spiritual wisdom. Spirit of the Most High holds a wisdom and clarity that is closest to the Holy Source. Anthony describes this as “an ancient brother- and sisterhood of the most devoted saints, prophets, and other admired ones of the Holy Source.”

“This is in direct contrast to the more common spirits that reside underneath the Holy source, which Spirit calls the Sea of Confusion. Spirit has compassion, sympathy, and empathy that will surpass any human being and any other spirit underneath them. This form of compassion is the strength behind their direction and will never lead to misguidance or destruction. Spirit understands pain and suffering and becomes a complete source of healing energy in the face of suffering. They understand when one loses faith, hope, or love for one’s self due to illness or disease.”

“The Spirit works day and night with Anthony to help provide his clients with as much information and guidance to aid in their healing process. Anthony William holds a love and devotion for his clients, which opens their ability to receive the information from the Holy Source and to heal. Healing becomes a reality for all, facilitated by this wisdom.

That description should be enough to alarm any Catholic who knows the faith and believes it. For the most part, I think that Catholics are not researching this guy at all before they dive in… not reading his bio, FB intro, website, or books. This info is everywhere. He clearly states that the healing of his clients comes directly through channeling.


HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Here are excerpts from his book “Medical Medium”:

“My story begins when I’m four years old. 
As I’m waking up one Sunday morning, I hear an elderly man speaking. 
His voice is just outside my right ear. It’s very clear. 
He says, “I am the Spirit of the Most High. There is no spirit above me but God.” 

So far, this info from the spirit guy isn’t meshing with Catholicism at all but is consistent with what we might hear from the demonic. He goes on to talk more about this strange visitor…

“In the evening I settle into my chair at the dinner table. With me are my parents, my grandparents, and some other family members. As we’re eating, I suddenly see a strange man standing behind my grandmother. He has gray hair and a gray beard, and is wearing a brown robe. I assume he’s a family friend who’s come to join our meal. Instead of sitting down with us, though, he keeps standing behind my grandmother . . . and looking only at me.”

And then comes the first time that William is given direct knowledge from the spirit…

“He takes my hand and puts it on my grandmother’s chest while she’s eating. 
Grandma backs away with a start. “What are you doing?” she asks. 
The gray man looks at me. “Say ‘lung cancer.’” 
I’m at a loss. I don’t even know what lung cancer means. 
I try to say it, but it comes out as a mumble. 
“Do it again,” he tells me. “Lung.” 
“Lung,” I say. 
“Cancer.” 
“Cancer,” I say. 
My entire family is staring at me now. 
I’m still focused on the gray man. 
”Now say, ‘Grandma has lung cancer.’” 
“Grandma has lung cancer,” I say….”

I have met many Catholics (specifically women) who have read this book and really don’t find this section alarming. My suspicion is that they just kind of skimmed and didn’t engage with what they were reading, otherwise they would be a little more wary. I also believe that when dealing with manifestations of the demonic, our spiritual vision is easily obscured. Evil confuses all senses.

Could this be an angel of God? Possibly. But the entire context suggests not. It has all the hallmarks of the demonic and not only isn’t any Catholic context present, but basic Christian context is lacking as well.

Can a four-year old be vulnerable to spiritual attack? Yes. It’s difficult to reconcile the innocence of childhood with such a thing but adults have the darnedest habit of making spiritually unsafe circumstances for children. I don’t know what his upbringing was like but clearly he was exposed to something at home or elsewhere at a very young age.


THE COMMITMENT (SELLING HIS SOUL)

As alarming as the introduction to this spirit is, William’s adult devotion and commitment to it is much more so. He tells the story in his book about how he consciously promised obedience to this being in exchange for saving his life. This happened when Williams was attempting to rescue his dog from a river and found himself in danger of drowning.

“Spirit says, “You’ve done it now. You cannot turn back, and you cannot go forward. This is it.” 

“Really? You rob me of a normal, peaceful life, I dedicate my whole being to your work of healing, and this is all I get from you? You say, ‘This is it,’ and leave us to die?”

All the angst and anger I’ve suppressed since I was four years old comes pouring out. I let Spirit have it about my years of pent-up frustration over this continual torture I’ve always had to accept as a “gift”: being set apart from everyone else, knowing too much about everyone at way too early an age, and being told what I had to do with my life instead of given even the slightest choice. 

I tell Spirit, “I put up with a lot — sacrificing my childhood, experiencing everybody’s pain and suffering, taking responsibility for healing thousands of strangers, and draining myself physically and mentally every day. And now you’re telling me I can’t even protect my own family?”

As the danger to his life increases, William is given an offer by the spirit…

“Spirit says, “I will get you to your dog. In return, you must commit to me. We go through this life the way we’re supposed to. You accept that it is by the holy power of God you are destined to do this work for the rest of your life.” 

“Okay!” I shout. “Deal. Let me find August, and I’ll work for you with no complaints ever again.”

You must commit to me. This is not the language of the angels. This is the language of the demonic. But William has been connected to this spirit his entire life and now he consciously gives his life over to it. It not only gives him the power to save his dog and his own life, but becomes the impetus for his work as the Medical Medium.

“Even before this point, people in need have been coming to me in droves.

With this pledge, I wholly dedicate myself to helping them, without qualification and for the rest of my life.

I don’t have to pretend the abilities I’ve been granted are a problem-free blessing. Yet I stop complaining and finally accept who I am. That’s when I truly assume my role as the Medical Medium…”


One interesting side note is that William complains against the spirit and is angry about the oppressiveness of this spiritual presence in his life. It is interesting because psychics, mediums, clairvoyants, etc. often eventually confess a lack of peace, often to a degree which robs sleep and mental health. William’s words echo those of many who have found themselves in a kind of bondage to their spiritual “friends”… the same companions who are ultimately revealed as powerful oppressors.


THE CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

I assume that if you are reading this article, you are a mature, intelligent, faithful Catholic and that you know that you are free to discern and pick out the good amongst much junk in the world of natural wellness. In the case of the Medical Medium however, there are specific reasons why you should always seek out other resources. You don’t need this man (and his spirit being) to tell you to eat vegetables and seek the root cause of your illness. He offers nothing that isn’t available elsewhere.

Even if he did have something unique to offer, I would still say… stay away. The spiritual danger is not a good exchange for a healthy body.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear:

2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

The work of the Medical Medium falls clearly under that admonition, especially since the spirit claims to be above every spirit except for God alone. Sounds like the spirit of lucifer himself.

2117:  All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others – even if this were for the sake of restoring their health – are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. 

Scripture is also clear:

"Let there not be found among you anyone who immolates his son or daughter in the fire, nor a fortune-teller or soothsayer, charmer, diviner or caster of spells, nor one who consults ghosts and spirits or seeks oracles from the dead. Anyone who does such things is an abomination to the Lord." (Deut 18:10-12)

We know that, not only does the enemy prowl around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour, but he also disguises himself as an angel of light. (1 Pt 5:8, 2 Cor 11:14) No one would follow this guy if he wasn’t offering some kind of good. “Be alert and of sober mind.”

The demonic can sometimes heal the body. The demonic can appear as your greatest desire. It is in these times that we must know our faith, believe in the Word of God, and throw ourselves on His truth and mercy.


THE DANGER

Most Catholics do stop following William after they learn about the source of his work. They simple didn’t know and then corrected their direction once they learned. And I know that many will read this article and wash their hands of him forever. But there are a good number of people who continue to follow him after knowing everything. I have found that they tend to have one or more of the following obstacles:

  1. They don’t have a healthy fear of the demonic. They still think about demons as cartoon characters instead of a spiritual realities and have never experienced any exposed manifestation of evil and felt the accompanying terror. They do not believe they are vulnerable and they are lulled into a false sense of security.

  2. They are poorly catechized and don’t have a proper understanding of the spiritual battle that is real and ongoing in the life inside and outside the soul. They think they are on solid footing and are not prepared to recognize the enemy even when it appears plainly before them.

  3. They are deeply involved in and impacted by risky spiritual practices like spiritual yoga or energy work such as reiki. This results in defensiveness, confusion, and perhaps also a spiritual blindness.

  4. They have experienced healing and positive fruits from the practice or source in question and either cannot reconcile that positive experience with the idea of danger… or they simply don’t want to give it up.

The truth is that the demonic does not look at you and me and say “Oh hey… you look like a good Christian… so I’m going to just move on to someone a little less in love with Jesus.” The prowling enemy targets those who love the Lord and desires our spiritual and physical destruction. He wants us to be fooled into leaving Christ… and then he wants us to die isolated from Him, in terror and pain. He hates us more than we can imagine hating anyone.


THE SOLUTION

The answer to this problem is to leave Anthony William behind and pursue a healing lifestyle based on God’s design for our bodies, minds, and souls. We must be willing to sacrifice even our health to follow God’s will… but I don’t think you have to in this case. Eat lots of veggies and juice a bunch if you want! Definitely see a functional medicine doctor and find your underlying causes like lyme, SIBO, chemical poisoning, etc… and yes, even EBV.

But don’t do it because a spirit told you through a pop star medium.

My own background includes involvement in non-Christian spiritual healing. That story has only been told in bits and pieces because I’m not ready to tell the whole thing yet. But I will say that most Catholics I have met do not have a healthy fear of those spiritual dangers which can separate us from the love of God. We don’t even need to fully consent — sometimes we just choose to walk through the wrong doors.

You are fooling yourself if you think you can play in that realm and not get burned.

The spirit of the demonic tried to destroy me and almost succeeded. It was a terrifying, oppressive time in my life and I almost succumbed to the complete despair and torment. There is a range of demonic influence that can impact a person’s life. There are people with mild oppression who can walk courageously through with strong faith and commitment to prayer and virtue. And then there are heavier things. Much heavier. All are crosses which threaten our security in Christ because they confuse, obscure, and can lead incrementally down a hellish path.

From my place of experience, I will share that I will not even go to the Medical Medium website to poke around. I do not want any part of my life influenced by the demonic. I do not want to read its words, see its images, or listen to its mouthpieces. It is a defensive move but also strategically offensive…

I belong to Jesus Christ alone and will not make myself vulnerable to His enemies. I already know I am not strong enough. He is Lord and I submit my whole life to him. My mind, my soul, my body. Since he is my strength, I have to give my senses and intellect solely to Him so that He can lead me in battle.

I will not go to the mat with God over celery juice.

It’s not that simple, I know. And yet… it is. It is a million little and big choices in life that form us into who we wish to be and strengthen us into saints capable of white or red martyrdom. It is the little and big choices in life that lead us slowly, almost imperceptibly, to a place where we can no longer recognize the signs of Jesus Christ… or the red flags of the enemy.

If you still cling to Medical Medium after reading all of this evidence, just know that you are clinging also to his spirit buddy. You can no longer say that you don’t know.

Six False Claims About Essential Oils

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As a certified aromatherapist and someone who regularly uses essential oils for my health and household needs, I have pretty much heard it all. Some of it is true and some of it ain’t! After seeing both an increase in good information and also an increase in quackery, I decided to tackle a few of the common false claims that continue to plague essential oil education.

Please note… I love essential oils and God’s gift of plant-based medicine. I love aromatherapy. I love them so much that I even sell them so that I can help provide my clients with the best oils possible. Yes, yes, I know that some of you will instantly disqualify my perspective based on the fact that I make money off of doing what I love and what I’m good at. That criteria will disqualify almost every professional in every field… but I understand the skepticism.

For the rest of you… I hope that I can help you sort through the mountains of information out there and identify some of what is legit and what is downright quackery. I run a Christ-centered business and believe that I will be held accountable for every breach of ethics before the judgment (and mercy) of Jesus Christ. That doesn’t make me perfect… I just want you to know where my head and heart are.

Also, please don’t use my article to go hating on your friends who don’t agree with me. Just make informed choices for yourself and gently share what you know. It doesn’t serve others to blow up their businesses by making them look stupid in front of their friends and family. We all grow and stretch and learn and we do so best with considerate friends. Definitely share my article… and definitely do it with love and consideration.

So let’s just dive in…


6 FALSE CLAIMS ABOUT ESSENTIAL OILS


1. ESSENTIAL OILS CAN CORRECT CURVATURE OF THE SPINE

False. Essential oils applied to the spine will not correct scoliosis. I don’t care what your company says, it simply isn’t true. What IS true is that receiving a massage with essential oils will help relax your muscles and consequently, help decompress the spine. It is certainly possible to measure a little bit taller after that! But it is not correct to say that the application of oils alone will add height to your body. I have met aromatherapists who believe this and use pre and post-therapy height measurement to prove the value of the oils.

I can give you 101 reasons why essential oils are beneficial to the body (including the spine) during massage and therapeutic treatments but this is NOT one of them.


2. ESSENTIAL OILS WORK BECAUSE OF THEIR ENERGY FREQUENCY

There is a lot about science that we know and a lot that we don’t know. One of the things that we do know is that the chemistry of essential oils is biologically beneficial to plants, people, and animals. One of things that we don’t know is if or how the energy frequencies of oils impact our biology. There is no standard of measurement for this kind of “energy work” other than how we feel after the application; and to be honest, those results could certainly be from the scientifically measurable chemistry of the oils!

I’m not saying that you can’t believe in frequencies as a healing modality. I’m saying that it falls under the umbrella of belief and not science at this point since what we can know through study and observation doesn’t support the method.

What we have is a lot of people running around talking about the quantum physics of essential oils and the “magic bullet” concept of healing. The reality is that hardly anyone knows what they are talking about in the realm of energy healing. The greatest harm in that (other than that it is wrong to mislead people) is that it takes people further away from a concrete understanding of their own God-designed biological cues and needs.

I imagine we will someday know (not likely this side of heaven) how all the frequencies of the natural and manmade worlds have harmed or healed us. But not all information is accessible to us and it seems that not all is meant to be. Unsupported claims about energy healing with essential oils are not only unnecessary in light of the knowable and highly practical benefits… but they are also misleading many people and proving to be an obstacle to good care. Which leads to the next false claim…


3. ZYTO SCAN CAN SHOW YOU WHICH OILS YOUR BODY NEEDS

There are several popular devices on the market which claim to be able to read a person’s body using things like “quantum theory” and “biophysics” to assess needs. I’m not going to get into the details of the science since that info is available elsewhere and leads down a mega rabbit hole. But there are some points I want to address that impact our health and pocket books directly as consumers and sellers.

First, these scan machines are the ultimate sales tool. For a moderate investment, I can buy one that is specifically designed for my company (essential oils, supplements, etc.), have the customer touch the device, and BAM! All the info is spit out like a prescription.

I don’t have to think about it. I don’t have to hear their story. They don’t have to pay attention to their body because Zyto knows! Instead of leading to a better knowledge and stewardship of the body, it becomes the “magic pill.”

The results are not reproducible (because of something called “quantum indeterminacy”) which makes them impossible to study in any scientific fashion. Your reading will be different every time you have it done.

Do the recommendations ever help? Sure they do. Because essential oils are beneficial to the body in many ways, and also because placebo is a legitimate avenue of healing. But as a Christian aromatherapist and someone who sells many products I recommend, I am not in the business of selling the “magic pill” but only in helping others towards a lifestyle of self-directed care and healing.

I have nothing against marketing tools. Every single company uses them as a practical means of getting their information to the public… and can certainly do so ethically. But this is more than a marketing tool. It is a scam.

Quick story:

When I was going through my aromatherapy certification, we spent the majority of the time learning the chemistry and usage of essential oils. At one point however, the class got briefly sidetracked with the introduction of a machine similar to the Zyto. The student who brought it up assured everyone that the $800 investment (plus monthly fees) was worth it because all we had to do was to have a customer place their hand on the device and their needs would instantly be matched to our product.

In fairness to the woman, she absolutely believed that the science was legit and established and she believed she was offering good care to her clients. She was a believing Christian and I do not think that she meant anyone harm.

But I was appalled. Suddenly, everything that we had been studying and discussing meant nothing because of this little magic machine. It was a consolation that the woman sitting next to me turned and said quietly, “I don’t think this is the right direction to go. The goal should be to help our clients to be more familiar with their body cues, not less.”

And I would only add that it would be absolutely immoral for me to ever use this machine in order to make a few bucks because I do believe it to be quackery… but I think most people using it are simply deceived by false marketing and are not bad people.


4. LEMON OIL WILL FRY YOUR ESOPHAGUS AND VITAL ORGANS

There’s a popular aromatherapist online who makes her living convincing people that she knows a lot about essential oil safety. She does know a lot but she also has some areas in which she probably needs a science refresher.

She is opposed to internal use of essential oils and claims that lemon oil will rip up the mucous membranes in the digestive tract. She backs this up by reminding people of what lemon oil does to styrofoam (it eats a hole right through).

This is relatively easy to debunk without being a scientist…

First of all, lemon essential oil is food grade and approved by the FDA for that purpose. It is the same oil that we use when we use lemon zest in a recipe and the same oil that remains on our hands when we cut or peel a lemon. It is the same oil that gets squeezed into our tea and lemon water along with the juice of the lemon slice. It is not fundamentally harmful to your body.

Second, lemon essential oil has a neutral pH which distinguishes it from the acidic juice of a lemon. Once upon a time, I consumed too much lemon juice to ward off pregnancy nausea. It worked, but I also permanently lost some enamel on my teeth. Lemon oil is a fantastic alternative that isn’t corrosive.

Third, the chemistry of lemon oil reacts with the polymers of plastic differently than it does with our body. (This is also true with oils like rosemary, thyme, eucalyptus and others). The styrofoam experiment is pretty cool but does not prove that the oil will do the same thing to the esophagus or stomach lining. It also doesn’t prove the purity of an oil as so many on YouTube claim.

When I was a kid, I used to drop nail polish onto pieces of styrofoam to watch it bore a hole right through. Fortunately, the nail polish did not also put a hole in my nail or skin! Similar principle… it’s a chemical reaction specific to the material. Ironically, it is the d-limonene in the lemon oil which causes the styrofoam reaction AND it is the limonene in all citrus which is nourishing and beneficial to the stomach lining!

There are millions of people in the world currently using lemon oil (and common sense) in their beverages and food without harm. However, since most essential oils on the market have been shown to be fraudulent or contaminated with synthetics, I would only ingest oils from a trusted source.


5. A BAD REACTION TO ESSENTIAL OILS IS JUST DETOX. PUSH THROUGH!

No. As a professional, I would never tell this to someone. I have a personal story related to this and then I’ll move on to a deeper explanation…

The first therapeutic grade essential oils I used were from a large well-known company (the same one that has told people that oils cure scoliosis, by the way) and my first reaction to smelling the oils was a strong histamine response. I assumed that it was just me… that my sensitivity to smells was what caused me to develop a migraine, slight nausea, and runny nose. I still tried to push through and started diffusing. My children hated it and I continued to react. So I closed up the box and put it on the shelf, repeating the experiment 3 more times a few weeks apart, trying to see if I could use them.

Unfortunately not. So I went to the company’s FB groups that I joined as a customer and I told my story. Their reps were quick to answer each time: “It’s detox. Just keep going. Your body is just detoxing because the oils are so awesome.”

As a pretty body-aware individual, I just said no. I took a sniff of the oils. It’s not detox. It’s a reaction. And I’m done.

One year later, I was reintroduced to oils while researching a natural alternative to antibiotics. I purchased oils from a different company and did not have the same reaction. I was absolutely shocked and thrilled that I had zero negative response to the oils.

Now there are a very small number of oils that I do not like and that are clearly not a good fit for my body. My new essential oil mentors told me…

Stop using them.

My subsequent aromatherapy education confirmed that wisdom and I am a strong proponent of diluting and patch-testing. I also know that it is easy enough to simply stop using what doesn’t work. Unfortunately, there are still many people out there who believe that their symptoms are something they just have to push through.

After having experienced many oils in the last few years, my opinion is that the first oils I reacted to were either poorly distilled (allowing allergen proteins through the distillation process) or they were synthetically contaminated. I do not have another explanation as to why I react to the oil of one company but not another, and independent lab testing has since confirmed the latter.

But let’s talk detox a little more…

Certain people and companies push the idea that even the smell of an essential oil can cause a “healing crisis” in the body and cause a “detox” reaction. That’s supposed to be a good thing. What I find more probable is that the reaction is a legitimate sensitivity to the oil chemistry and should be respected. Sometimes a person may simply need a stronger dilution or to use in a less sensitive area of the body; but there is no harm in simply saying “This is not for me today.

I have Lyme Disease and so do know a few things about actual detox. Detox is a major aspect of my recovery since treatment causes what is known of as “die off.” The Lyme bacteria, co-infections, and fungal (mold, candida, etc.) toxicity produce large amounts of toxins as they die during treatment. This is called “herxing” (short for Jarisch–Herxheimer reaction). If this process is not properly navigated, a person can experience varying degrees of illness and in extreme cases, even organ damage. So the detoxification process is important since it is the process of moving those toxins safely out of the body.

I do believe that people can experience die-off when they have underlying infectious issues and are also using anti-microbial oils in heavier doses. The regular daily use of oils that are not targeted for specific disease (such as peppermint for headaches or tea tree for the skin), will work gently against microbes of all kinds in the body because of their chemistry. That is one beautiful aspect of oils! And it is possible that the regular use of an oil (such as oregano) for an ordinary purpose can cause an unanticipated die off. However…

This is not a common response to the normal use of essential oils. And it is not what I would properly call “detox” which is more accurately the elimination of the toxins and not the die off itself.

The elimination of toxins (“detox”) is a process of the body that centers around the kidneys and liver. These organs can be overwhelmed by a toxic overload and the body can experience illness as a result. If you are in a toxic state, you may very well be more sensitive to essential oils and everything else that you come into contact with.

But if you put a drop of essential oil on your skin and develop a rash, it is not likely to be related to “detox” at all. It is probably simply a sensitivity to the oil (diluting will often solve this issue) or to contaminants if you bought from a dishonest company (which is sadly the majority on the market today).

When in doubt… dilute, patch test, and if something makes you sick and it isn’t supposed to… stop using it. Every body is different.


6. YOU CAN’T USE ESSENTIAL OILS SAFELY WITHOUT AN AROMATHERAPIST

Wrong. I invested time and money to earn my certification with a NAHA approved school, and I’m telling you that you don’t need me to learn to use essential oils safely and effectively.

I know… that seems a little like I’m shooting myself in the professional foot, but hear me out. I’m not saying that you won’t benefit from good teachers (and I try to be a good one), but please know that essential oils are safe enough — and you are probably smart enough — to navigate use on your own.

And I’m going to tell you a secret about aromatherapists…

They don’t always agree with each other even on fundamental aspects of their specialty. Surprise! We’re no different than any other specialists including those within the medical profession. As the study of essential oils continues to expand, these knowledge gaps are closing… but differences still remain.

In my certification program, I sat in a room full of wildly different women who would all ultimately leave with their certifications in hand (I assume). Some of them espoused beliefs and practices to which I am strongly opposed, and my approach may have been annoying to them as well.

Some were focused on the bottom line ($$$) and some had a deep seated desire to serve others. Some were ready to change the world with energy flow charts and zyto scans, and others were excited to help people change their lives through biologically consistent plant-based medicine.

Essential oils are ultimately a more user-friendly form of herbology. You don’t need a certification to use plants for healing and household care. You don’t need to be an aromatherapist and you don’t need me. But sometimes it does help to have gentle guidance and someone to point out concerns.

Ultimately, essential oils are a gift from God and I use them safely and happily every single day… and it is one of the greatest joys in my life to help others learn to do so as well! Thanks for entering into the conversation.

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Go Activist or Go Home: Why I Came Back to Catholic Blogging

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I wrote this in the Summer of 2014 after taking an extended blogging break to just live and to discern. I revisit these words from time to time and I find that I still mean every word of it. For those of you who are new here... welcome! This is why I blog. This is why I have occasionally quit. And this is why I keep coming back. Since I wrote this, I have ushered two of my teens into adulthood and two more young ones into their teens. And it’s all still true.

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Go Activist or Go Home: Why I Came Back to Catholic Blogging

I'm supposed to be on long sabbatical… but I changed my mind. I came back to support a friend, to share life-changing books, and for fellowship. I stayed because I have teenagers. Teenagers really change everything...

I used to have a family with several adorable little people. I was a Catholic mom; open to life and living in our little domestic church where nothing could touch us.

And then they grew up.

It happened so quickly that we almost got blown off course. One day, my son was taking swimming lessons at the local Y, and the next, he was swimming every day of the week and breaking records. Another day, we decided to have the kids play CYO volleyball (just for fun) and shortly after that we were making hotel reservations for national tournaments. One day, I  was reading Dr. Seuss all. day. long. and the next, I was crying in a natatorium (that's fancy for "big pool room") because swim moms are mean.

And remember the kid next door whose parents gave him booze at parties when he was three? Yeah, well, now he's driving and he thinks your daughter is hot. Good morning, mama... Drink your coffee black. The battle used to be in the streets but now it is on your driveway, your front porch, and in your home.

I woke up one figurative morning and had a loud thought that I was just tired of being a Catholic always fighting the world on the world's terms. So we left enemy territory for a while and returned home to strengthen our small army. We quit a bunch of stuff and patched up our wounds. We returned to our cloister to regroup and we emerged as something slightly different than we were before.

We came face-to-face with silence again. With ourselves. With God. I wouldn't say it was the most comfortable time but it was fruitful. We learned a lot about who we really were as individuals and as a family...

My son was a fast swimmer. Then he was more. My daughter was starting setter. Then she was more. My little ones were gym/pool rats. Then they were more. 

And me? I'm a mommy. A wifey. A dreamer. A talker with a keyboard. And more.

And...

I'm an activist.

A Catholic activist. I'm a traditionalist-charismatic-vernacular-liking-Latin-loving-praise-and-worship-singing-Holy-Spirit-petitioning kind of Catholic activist.  I don't wear a mantilla but my teenage daughter has... because she wanted to. I don't kneel to receive Jesus when there's no altar rail, but my kids often do. They just got it into their heads that God is awesome and showed me a thing or two about love. I do wear bathing suits to swim and a miraculous medal everywhere except the pool (until the babies break the chain... they always do.) I don't eat fish during Lent (or mostly ever) but I like to make a mean grain-free chocolate chip cookie for feast days. 

I have a soft spot for priests and bishops but I hate when they peddle pablum, compromise on the Church's moral teachings, and abuse or overlook abuse. I worship God, not men. I follow truth, not silver tongues. I tell my discerning sons that if they grow up to become that kind of priest that I will haunt them after I die. And my rather literal teenage son frowns at me and tells me that's impossible.

Which is impossible? I ask. Both. I laugh out loud but he does not... because he just doesn't think it's funny.

My kids are growing up and our cloister is... well... it's different now. Those first magical years are really gone for good; we averted some heavy storms and now, we stand at the door together and face the giant world. 

My kid once started a pro-life youth organization because he was tired of just speaking love of life instead of doing. 

They are killing babies, Mom. 
Yes they are. 

We need to speak up and stop it. 
Yes, we do. 

We need to pray and work for justice for these little ones. 
Let's go then. I'll follow you.

I’ve written many times about scandal in the Church and how good people are looking the other way while evil happens. I know why this happens... It happens because pro-life is HARD. Harder than repeating a few slogans. Harder than holding a sign. Harder than going to a nice pro-life dinner or giving a pro-life keynote or writing a pro-life blog post.

The pro-life message IS the Gospel message. And it says...

"Don't you even think about hurting any of My precious little ones. Ever. And don't you let it happen either."

The real scandal of every horror and corruption in the Church is not that people pretending to love the Church are doing evil things. The real scandal is that believing Catholics are doing NOTHING to stop it. I would have come back to this blog just to say that. If we are comfortable pro-life Gospel-livers, then we are doing it wrong.

So I'm here writing because I have teenagers to raise into men and women of God. And I want them to know that love means activism. Even a cloistered nun is an activist. She gives everything for the cause of Love and perpetually petitions the highest Authority for justice and mercy. 

Because I want my children to know how to speak their love with confidence, I must speak when I lack confidence. They know my limitations but they also know my passion. I have obligations and limitations that keep me from being out there... however, I can come here to be a witness.

It is my testimony to God's blessing in my life and it is what I owe Him. I have a platform and I'm using it so long as it is consistent with God's will for my life.

I have made a spectacle of myself in some ways over issues that many people don't even care about. But I'm a Catholic activist. I am fighting and advocating for Love. For those babies who are never born because of our bishops' corrupt foreign aid program. For the younger moms who are about to get painfully blindsided by the culture of death as their babies become teens. For victims of any kind of abuse. For my own babies. For the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For the dignity of all human persons. For a restoration of Catholic culture.

For many years, I thought it was enough to have a large family. Isn't that pro-life enough? But while we are busy with our littles, the enemies of life are active. They are activists. They are changing laws and cultural tides and overcoming the weak. And they are waiting for the day when your children are older and take their first steps outside your cloister. Don't just teach your kids how to live, show them how to do it. 

So here I am. A bumbling activist. With a good looking husband, a busy homeschool, a passion for natural healing, and a fascination with beautiful things. My little pleasures are reading, theology, writing, speaking, creative projects, and blogging… with a side helping of microblogging on Instagram and a tendency to poke around on Pinterest. Welcome to my digital domicile... and to my life of blossoming joy.

How to Forgive Anyone

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When you look at me, who do you see? Do you see the woman God made me to be or the broken sinner bent on thwarting His beautiful plan?

When you look at me, what do you feel? Do you feel gratitude for how He has worked in my life? Or do you feel the pain that I have caused you with my words and actions?

Does it have to be one or the other? Can we see both... looking through the scars and woundedness to a place of innocence and joy?

You see me as I am now. As I present myself to you. As I hurt you or comfort you, show my face or hide my heart. But do you see me as I was meant to be? And will you call me forth to come into my own?

If you struggle with forgiveness, I can offer you a way to find it... an opportunity to uncover that place in your heart that can't fight mercy. It's a little exercise. I can't promise it will work. I can promise you that God will work... even if you can't feel it yet...

We don’t necessarily feel forgiveness - we choose it - and yet our emotional memory is often firmly linked to our choice. If it wasn’t… perhaps we could forgive anyone.

Sometimes the body needs to make the first step to lead the soul in that same way we genuflect toward the tabernacle even when our heart and head are not in it. Our actions, done as an act of faith, help return us to a place of belief. So…

Find a photograph of the one you wish to forgive. Not just any photograph but a very early one... or maybe two or three if you can manage. One of infancy, another of toddlerhood, perhaps another at about 3 or 4 years of age. Baptismal photos are good or of being held in the mother's arms. If you do not have an actual picture, imagine a small child. If you do not think in images, find a picture of an unknown infant and imagine that the child in the photo is the one you are trying to see.

Now close your eyes and pray. Beg the Lord to help you SEE. Beg Him to help you have COMPASSION. And MERCY. Ask the Holy Spirit to flood your mind and soul and vision... that you  may only see now through God's eyes. And that you may be able to forgive.

Open your eyes and examine the pictures before you. Imagine holding that infant. Look into the eyes of the child and see the innocence and the beautiful plan that God intended. Think like a mother. Think of all of the hopes and dreams that you would have for such a little person. See the little one smiling up to you and reaching. See baby fall... and the tears... and running to dry them and kiss them away.

God's baby. God's little one. At this moment, that little heart is in your hands. Now, even if you don't feel it, Say out loud:

“You are His beautiful child and I forgive you for His sake.” 

I have done this a few times. All times but one it was an accidental (providential) moment. Once, I was sent a childhood photograph by a person who had hurt me. Perhaps she knew me well enough to know the effect it would have. It was her First Holy Communion portrait and her eyes were shining with a beautiful innocent joy. I could SEE her for the first time and all bitterness left my heart. Forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation but it is still necessary. The brokenness and division might remain but I cannot see the radiant face of God's little girl and withhold my forgiveness. The image from that photograph has not left me.

I found a picture of my own childhood one day and really looked for the first time. And I wept at what I saw because I saw what I thought was lost. Then I knew that God still sees and loves and forgives His little girl. He always has the face of my innocence before Him.

We ought to do this for each other. We should continually see each other through the Father's eyes and recall each other to our purpose... to the image in which we were made. We should practice seeing what may be hidden and calling out to the little soul in hiding.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta habitually saw our Lord in every person. I am not so good as that. The mother in me sometimes needs to start with a baby picture.

Originally posted in 2011

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How Generalism and Skill Stacking Can Free Your Homeschool from the Tyranny of Perfection

{This post contains affiliate links. I may receive compensation for purchases you make. More info Here.} 

When I began my homeschooling journey as mom/teacher almost 2 decades ago, I had grand plans in mind. My head was filled with visions of dominated spelling bees and prima ballerinas. Because with all that time and ability to focus, why not just become the most amazing human beings possible?

To be fair, what I wanted more than anything was holy, happy, healthy children, and our early years were filled with lots of non-focused play and time with family. I believed that children should have a loving and gentle childhood and didn’t do any formal extracurriculars during those precious early years.

But about the time that my oldest turned 7, we started to get the itch to get him involved with something. That seemed like what we were supposed to do and we chose swimming lessons since water safety is important to us. Several years (and a few more kids) later, we were at the pool 5-7 days a week (sometimes 40 plus total hours if there was a tournament) and traveling to compete. He was winning championship races alongside his younger sister who was at one point ranked #1 in the country in her age group. We had fallen into the trap of specialized excellence; a trap not because excellence is bad, but because we were sacrificing everything else (including some of the most important things) in order to narrowly focus on one goal.

The hard truth is… there isn’t as much at the top as you always think there will be, there will always be someone better, and the losses can often overpower the victory in the long run.

So we replayed that scenario multiple times with multiple kids in multiple ways; burning the candle at both ends and blowing through resources so that they might achieve their goals. And then…

We quit. Cold turkey. Because the price wasn’t worth it.

When I recently picked up the book “How to be Better at (Almost) Everything,” I knew within the first couple chapters that this book was going to resonate with me. The author’s ideas about “generalism” and “skill stacking” as habits of the most successful people not only made sense objectively, but were something that I have observed in the lives of my own children and what I think we were inadvertently living.

Because the kids weren’t spending all of their time on one specialized skill, they were free to develop in other areas of their life. It made them happier, healthier, and better equipped to tackle the later challenges in life. Instead of being exceptionally good at just one or two things, they developed a high level of proficiency in many things.

Author, Pat Flynn, would call that a version of “generalism” and “skill stacking.” I wish that I would have had this book to years ago in order to concretely identify the good of our choices instead of harboring an incorrect notion that we were just directionless. That feeling of “we should be doing something special and amazing at all times” can overpower a homeschool parent’s sense of reason… and this book provides some much needed perspective.

I think many homeschoolers instinctively apply Flynn’s principles and that is really the genius of homeschooling; that we have the time to become excellent at certain specialties while still becoming well rounded. But I also think that deliberately applying his principles can help restore some peace of mind and sanity to homeschool parents thinking they are obligated to mold their child into the next Michael Phelps.

In Flynn’s book, he breaks down generalism and “the principles behind getting better at things” as follows:

  1. Skill Stacking > Specialization

  2. Short-Term Specialization

  3. The Rule of 80 Percent

  4. Integration > Isolation

  5. Repetition and Resistance

Just going over that list after reading the book reminds me that we are doing okay by bucking the specialization trend. In fact, we are doing great.

Before I go further, I want to be clear that this is not a homeschooling book and I don’t know if it has occurred to Flynn that it could be. It’s a book for anyone who wants to be better at anything. It’s for those who have health specific goals or business goals… it applies to everything. That makes it perfectly suited to the homeschooler since the homeschooler really is about embracing general excellence in personal education and formation.

This is not about how to be mediocre at everything, but about how to be great at a lot of things!

Flynn writes:

“Simply put, it is better to be better (than most people, at most things) than to be the best at any one thing. Skills in combination are more powerful than individual skills by themselves, even if they aren’t fully developed.”

I know this through my own life experience but it is tougher as parents. When we pulled our wildly talented kids out of swimming, people thought we were nuts; they were angry that we were ruining their chances at scholarships and “throwing away” their talent. Since then, we’ve quit a number of things for similar reasons to the reasons we stepped away from competitive swimming. We had to… because our kids natural abilities inevitably put them on the hyperdrive track of success in many things they tried. And the culture of youth activities is often, frankly, insane and unhealthy.

I confess that it sometimes felt like we were stacking failures. Perhaps if I had been able to read a book like this years ago, I would have been consoled. I would have seen that my children were actually collecting successes, not abandoning them. They were practicing short term specialization, not failing at excellence. And I would have seen more clearly that their hodge podge of experience was not a mess… but an adventure in skill stacking.

As I read through the book, I was excited to make these positive associations with what have been some difficult choices. And I am also excited going forward to apply the principles in a more deliberate way; with less hand-wringing over what we might be missing out on by not being specialized in one thing.

One thing I loved about this book was that although it is written in a funny and casual style, the heart of the message is intelligent and deep. And as the book progresses, there is an almost palpable energy felt from the author that builds toward the end — youthful in the healthiest way — as if he’s just bursting to tell the reader about the discoveries he has made about the most important things in life and love and eternity.

Although the book is written for a broad audience (including the 18K followers he has on his YouTube fitness channel!), I wasn’t surprised to find out later that it was written during his conversion to Catholicism. His joy of philosophy and references to St. Thomas Aquinas… those were tip-offs… but I guess the undercurrent of joy was the real telltale sign.

One of the best parts of the book is his discussion on the Freedom of Excellence where he turns the subject of self-discipline from “you can’t have the doughnut” into LOOK WHAT YOU CAN HAVE! He injects youth and delight into a subject most people ignore as the killjoy of life.

He also really hammers home in a fun way a fundamental principle of my healing journey: It’s the little choices which make the difference over the long haul. And the short term sacrifice produces the most incredible dividends. If we can’t be the best in the world at one thing, we can still be the very best version of who God made us to be. That journey doesn’t have to be dull. And it doesn’t have to look at all like the world expects it to look.

**One final note for all the homeschooling moms like me who love to pass all their self-improvement books on to their kids: Flynn does include a quote at the beginning of chapter 2 which includes an F-bomb… and a couple other references which are not young kid friendly. So if you’re kids are precocious enough to read self-improvement books at a young age (mine have been), then take note.

The Best $20 I Ever Spent for Homeschooling: Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

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In spite of the many (MANY) purchase mistakes I have made for our homeschool, our reading program has never lost its place as the jewel in my curricular crown. Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons is the best purchase we have made in the education of our children, and I recommend it without hesitation. Back in 1999, I read a great review and purchased it immediately. One book. $20. A real steal for the value it has brought to our home.

No program is a magic pill. We do not flip a switch or say a word and find that our children can suddenly read or write or do word problems. Teaching and mentoring is vital to this process. But there are some learning systems which do make teaching and learning easier and this is one of them. Each of my kids has a different learning personality and they are all excellent readers, well beyond their grade levels, not only in technical skills but also comprehension. I believe that their strong foundation and positive early experience has been pivotal in that success.

At the completion of this program, my kids have been at about a 2nd grade reading level. This allows them to jump immediately to short chapter books. It isn't long before they are able to dive into much more advanced literature.

It goes without saying that there is no program which suits every child, every teacher, and every family. In fact, I am a firm believer that, given a reasonably good selection of decent options, the biggest factor in student success is how comfortable the teacher is with the program! I know moms who do not like this method and it comes as no surprise that their kids don’t either. It suits my personality and teaching preferences perfectly so it ends up fitting my whole family like a glove. This is particularly true when teaching very young children because they learn best in the lap of a happy mom. Student preference comes into play much more in later years.

I do have some words of advice for those interested in this program:

  • 100 Easy Lessons does not use the traditional alphabet order for teaching sounds. Nor does it even introduce the names of letters until the second half of the book. There are excellent reasons for this but it is difficult at first for a parent to resist adding the alphabet method with which we were taught. Read the forward information thoroughly and commit to it and you won't be sorry. It has always been a little awkward when my pre-K students can't sing the ABC song with peers but it pays off when my 10-year olds are reading Shakespeare. 

  • The program is designed in 100 lessons but this does not mean that it must (or should) be done in 100 consecutive days. In fact, I recommend making or purchasing sound and word flash cards that can be used to reinforce lessons in between book days. Some kids need more of this than others. You'll know how much time they need as you go along.

  • Take as much time as your student needs in review time but avoid repeating lessons. It really tends to demoralize the kids, especially if they struggled the first time. The book instructions do warn against this but it can be tempting to do it anyway. Don't. If the child is not ready for the new lesson, review until they are; but repeating lessons is a drag and feels like a failure. If the lesson is a total disaster for one reason or another, just stop, focus on review (or allow a day off) and just begin again another day. There are some children who LOVE to go back and read everything again. I'm not talking about those children. 

  • The program uses a particular method of writing sounds that differs slightly from traditional lettering. This is designed to get the kids reading faster (which is highly motivating) and does work. But there is a point toward the latter part of the program when the transition is made to standard lettering. This can be a bit challenging for the kids. My advice is to just be patient and recognize that the primary obstacle (in my experience) is the fear of something unknown and not an actual inability to read. My more conservative children stumbled a little over this transition. The more adventurous just plowed ahead!

There are many program aids available through the publisher. I used none of them for the first two but did purchase the flash card supplement for my third which I have found to be extremely helpful. I made my own sound cards prior to that but never had the patience to write out all the words. The purchased cards include the sounds plus hundreds of words organized by lesson. The only downside is having to cut them out yourself… but that's a lot easier than writing them out, in my opinion! I don't remember how much I paid but the website now lists options between $10 and $35. Find them HERE under “Support Material.”

So...a $20 to $55 investment yields a priceless treasure!

The average cost for teaching my kids to read is currently just over $8 a piece. I paid $20 for the original book and found another at a used book sale for $10 just because I love the book so much. I purchased the support package at $35 and have used the program to teach 7 kids so far and will teach my 8th in a few years.

The book is now available at Amazon for under $15. Even if it’s not a good fit for your family, that’s a small price to pay to find out!

Full Knowledge: Abusing Theology of the Body

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I first published this article in 2016 in response to Christopher West’s unapologetic public participation in the viewing of the pornographic movie, Deadpool. I am resurrecting it in direct response to the recent scandal at Franciscan University in which a professor disseminated blasphemous literary porn to his upper level student for the purpose of academic study.

In spite of his defense of academic freedom and the necessity of a well-rounded education, I maintain that there is no justification for exposing students of any age to pornography. The University did issue an apology, calling the material “directly pornographic and blasphemous” but the Catholic community is divided.

Frankly, I am stunned that faithful Catholics must even have this debate. I am alarmed at the confusion among people who otherwise know and follow the Church’s teachings. The core of this issue is not the petty squabbling over political agenda (where much of the discussion seems to have stalled) but a grave offense against Our Lord and Our Lady and a grave spiritual and material offense committed by a professor.

Below is further explanation (if really needed) about why we don’t need to read sacrilegious porn in advanced literature classes and also a quick refresher of why Catholics can’t morally dabble in porn.

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Full Knowledge: Abusing Theology of the Body

I'll begin by making one thing very clear: I am not judging your soul. I - like you - have full access to the teachings of the Catholic Church. If I reference a moral absolute, it is her authority I'm leaning on, not my own. If you feel uncomfortable under her maternal gaze, it is not I who am making you uncomfortable... it is your conscience doing what it is supposed to do. 

This post is written largely in response to Christopher West's recent internet treatment of the movie Deadpool and the growing number of his followers (mostly men) who seem to be drifting away from the firm teachings of the Church on pornography. In short, West publicly acknowledges the pornographic content of Deadpool in one post and then posts again about how he went to see the film regardless. I am not judging souls... just sounding an alarm for an increasingly permissive approach to a matter which is (and always has been) a slippery slope to hell. 

N.B...
I'm deliberately not linking West's Deadpool posts. I normally would but he includes details which might be a stumbling block for some and unnecessarily upsetting for others. He is direct about some of the worst content. The first time I read reviews on the movie, I was saddened and sickened. It's porn. It's deviant. That's all I wish I knew. I doubt this post follows St. Josemaria's guideline below precisely, but I'd like to stay as close as I can and hopefully convince readers to just stay the heck away:

"Never speak of impure things or events, not even to lament them. Remember that such matter is stickier than pitch. Change the subject or, if that is not possible, continue with it, speaking of the need and the beauty of purity — a virtue of men who know the value of their souls." {St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way, 131}

Moving on...

I married a moral theologian. Consequently, I am well aware of the complexities and nuances of in-depth theological thought. It can rattle the brain and my brain is easily rattled. I recognize objectively that the study and practice of theology is necessary and important and even recognized in the Catechism. Good theologians are very much needed. But I also know (and have witnessed many times) that the pursuit of intellectual excellence, without the hedges of obedience or proper formation, will often produce bad fruits in the soul and also harm others who rely on that "expertise."

To put it in my non-theological sort of way...

  • We don't need to be theologians in order to become saints.

  • We don't need to even be literate in order to become saints.

  • We don't need JPII's Theology of the Body in order to become saints.

  • We don't need Christopher West's interpretation of JPII's ToB in order to become saints.

  • We don't need Christopher West to go see a porn flick and then report back to us in order for us to become saints.

  • We don't even need access to a computer in order to become saints. 

  • We can be blown off the path of sanctity by consuming bad theology from people with good intentions.

God did not create such a complex system of moral nuances that we cannot become holy without having it filtered through a pop-Catholic professional. In fact, His design is so beautifully simple and accessible that even children can enter into the kingdom of heaven with no more than their simple, fervent, obedient love.

Obviously, the problem is more with us adults... who aren't content with that simple fidelity... and who are constantly seeking to justify our preferences and desires and restructure the moral universe accordingly.

Saint Maria Goretti didn't need Theology of the Body in order to cherish her dignity and to desire God's will. And to be frank, I can't imagine any circumstance under which she would have willingly been subject to the diabolical spiritual and emotional violence of a movie like Deadpool. In her simple faith, she would see the evil of the action on it's face and turn away.

"Purity of heart brings freedom from widespread eroticism and avoidsentertainment inclined to voyeurism and illusion." {Catechism of the Catholic Church 2525}

St. Thomas Aquinas was one of the greatest Catholic theologians of all time, and his defense of holy purity fierce. It seems unimaginable for him to have purchased a ticket to something like Deadpool or to have defended the idea of doing so. 

The great error that some followers of Christopher West (and perhaps West himself) regularly fall into is the idea that our level of spiritual maturity permits us a greater (God-approved) ability to tolerate such horrific displays without falling into sin. One doesn't need to be an intellectual powerhouse to know that simply choosing to sit through such a thing can be a sin in itself. Fortunately, our path to heaven will be by way of faithful and obedient love, not theological prowess. And for those of us who don't have any impressive degrees, we know that we only need fall back on basic Church teaching and the example of the saints to know the way to holiness. 

To clarify for those who are rusty in the basics...

The Church's definition of pornography can be found HERE {CCC 2354}.
In order for a sin to be mortal, there are three requirements that must be met:

  1. Grave Matter.

  2. Full Knowledge.

  3. Deliberate Consent.

That's straight from the Catechism. And that's really all we need to know about whether or not to see a pornographic movie like Deadpool. If you are reading this post, it is probable that the question of whether or not you should see that movie is easily resolved...

  1. Grave Matter? (Yes. Pornography is always grave matter. Period. Read the Catechism)

  2. Full Knowledge? (Yes. If you didn't know before, you do now! Deadpool is pornographic. And West fully agrees with that assessment, by the way.)

  3. Deliberate Consent? (Did you have a choice whether or not to watch? It will be the rare bird who doesn't. Certainly not the ToB fans - mostly men - who have so casually written about the movie all over their blogs.)

Again, I'm sounding an alarm not judging a soul. I have observed West's actions through his public writing and lament the scandal that he has caused by even purchasing a ticket to this movie knowing full well what it contained. The world does not need West to see movies so that we know what's in them. He did us no service. 

We don't need Deadpool in order to understand the beautiful mystery of of God's gift.
We don't need any movie in order to know the Church's teaching on the dignity of each human person and the scourge of pornography.
We don't need West to keep reminding us (through his consumption and sharing of diabolical garbage) that there are searching souls behind the bodies on the screen. 

The Catechism is clear. And our God of Mercy and Love has gifted us with a simple way to heaven that does not ever fit with the consumption of porn. Was West a "consumer" of porn" when he saw Deadpool? Absolutely. He knew it was there. Paid for it. Sat through it. Listened to it. Whether or not he was tempted by it is irrelevant to that discussion. It was wrong. Catechism 101. 

I am not interested at all in some complex defense of hell in the movie theater... even with personal testimony complete with disclaimers of head-hanging during the raunchiest parts. And I deeply resent the watering down of the clear, beautiful, freeing, and marvelously concise gift of sexuality given by the Catholic Church through such witness. 

Deadpool is diabolical. Avoid it. And if some theologian comes along and tells you that there exists a justification for any man to take part in that kind of evil... buy him a Catechism and rescind your dinner invitation. That's not the kind of guy you want bloviating in front of your children.


Quick note to readers who might be angry or confused...

To those whose lives have been positively impacted by Christopher West...
His human errors do not negate the power of God working in your lives. Nothing in this post can reduce the magnificence of what the Lord has done for you. I am addressing a particular error, not reducing the blessing and gift you have received. I rejoice with you over that blessing.

To those who think that Theology of the Body was invented by Christopher West...
It wasn't. The original Theology of the Body was written and spoken by Pope Saint John Paul II through a series of papal audiences. Christopher West's teachings are an interpretation of JPII's work. There are many differences, and a reading of both reveals inconsistencies in content and context. If you want to learn more about Theology of the Body, I recommend  reading the works of the original author. 

To those of you who think that JPII's Theology of the Body gives permission to view pornography in any form according to the individual conscience...
It doesn't. In fact, you will not even be able to find allowance for nude photography or modern nude paintings, let alone live actors. Please read this excellent article by David Clayton (co-author of The Little Oratory): Why JPII's Theology of the Body Says that Nude Figure Drawing is a Bad Thing.

To those of you who will send me nasty grams because I'm a "stupid prude" and "don't understand" Christopher West...
Count to ten. Then pick up the Catechism. Read it. And if you aren't able to find justification for purchasing a ticket to a porn flick (however cleverly disguised as a superhero movie), then save your energy for more noble purposes.

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How to be Happy When You Don't Feel Christmas

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My husband’s relationship with donuts has taught me so much about happiness at Christmas. Hang with me for a minute…

You see, he is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to weight loss. He’s never been overweight and is always within 15 pounds of his ideal, depending on desire and need. Since it is volleyball season for him and being a few pounds lighter helps his vertical and eases the stress on his (aging) joints, he decided to lose a few pounds. And he did.

He cut out some unnecessary calories, put in a couple extra workouts, and lost a few pounds. Just like that. I marvel at the ease with which he does that. There’s no emotion. He doesn’t hand-wring over the donut on the counter that he can’t have or the craving for a late night snack. He just acknowledges the pang and moves on.

Hello donut. Looking good. Have a nice day.

Totally detached. He doesn’t emotionalize the thing but just does it, while the rest of us are in the death grip of the drama of guilt, failure, regret, and all the wild highs and lows of… donuts.

Christmas emotion is like my special donut in that way. I crave it, reach for it, can’t have it, and fret over it endlessly and fruitlessly. I have convinced myself that I have a right to it and have incorrectly identified emotional satisfaction with joy.

I want my happy Christmas. I want it big. I want it now.

Over some difficult terrain of my young mothering years, I came to associate Christmas with certain negative emotions as I battled through difficult pregnancies and chronic health conditions. As things got tougher, Advent and Christmas became a source of physical and emotional pain…

“Dear Jesus… I do not know how I am going to survive this. I hurt everywhere from my toes to my soul. I can barely think. I can barely move. My children are waiting expectantly for joy to come… and I’m kind of in charge of facilitating that. I am a failure. And I have been left out.”

“Fake it ‘til you make it” is the ultimate practical survival tool in these moments. It works. But it costs something, too. The struggle of forcing my way through so many Christmases of pain pushed me into numbness necessary for survival. Each time I opened the door to my emotions, I was overwhelmed with pain and grief and so… I reflexively shut the door.

I will never forget the first year that numbness took over the holy days. I was used to pain but that nothingness was even more alarming to me. For the first time, I felt nothing at the beautiful Midnight Mass. Nothing in the morning. Not depression.... just a protective covering and fog over everything.

A new wave grief swept over that emptiness… Like a lost childhood. Like waking up from a lovely dream and finding darkness. Like learning that most earthly Christmas delights are the ones that you are too tired to prepare. This is Christmas? This is Christmas.

And so began a very late education in what Christmas is really about even though every middle class Christian knows that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” We think we know... because we can afford to purchase our endorphin rush with all the smells and bells and giving. We think we know… because we bought the bumper sticker. We think we know… because we helped set up the decorations at church and had Father over for dinner. But when the consolation of our own glittery preparations is gone, we fall hard and learn fast that we don’t really possess the peace of Christmas at all…

Because our attachment to the emotion of our celebration is stronger than our attachment to Christ. We have prepared the meal but have neglected the relationship.

This is especially true for Christians. We expect more from Christmas because we feel entitled to the emotions… it belongs to us. We want to uncover the glory and swim in it, celebrate it, share it. We grieve deeply when we cannot feel those things or when we feel the “wrong” emotions like sadness or loneliness.

I am not suggesting that emotions are bad, only that they easily become a god when we seek them instead of true encounter with Christ. Dr. Alice von Hildebrand writes about emotional sensitivities this way:

“Hypersensitivity becomes an illegitimate source of suffering when it is self-centered;… a sensitive heart is given to us to feel for others, and to love them more deeply and more tenderly. But since original sin, it tends to degenerate into a maudlin self-centeredness that is not only disastrous but also causes great pain for the sensitive person.”

My own pain pushed me into a self-centered shell. But as I moved past the alarm of the absence of feeling Christmas (except a vague sad ache), the intellectual fog began to clear, the grace of the sacraments acted, and I reawakened to the simple, undecorated truths of Christmas. I was not blinded by my emotions because I had few to grapple with. I was forced to look my disappointment in the eye and admit:

You’ve got it wrong. You’ve always had it wrong. You’ve been crying over the donut.

Then an incredible thing happened…

As I moved through the motions of Christmas, unfettered by the ups and downs of my complicated emotional chemistry, I found the steady hand of Jesus Christ walking me through the middle of the highs and lows. I looked to the right and saw the heights of Christmas cheer; the parties, the wrapping paper, the lights. I looked to the left and saw the deep valley of fatigue, disappointment, failure, and pain.

My own feet were on a narrow path right in the middle guided by the hand of Christ. I was given the grace to view the highs and lows with a third party objectivity… like my husband looks at a donut. The hand of Jesus felt like the weight of a million stars. Steady. Deeper than emotion. Beyond pain. Beyond consolation.

I acknowledge that am an emotionally sensitive person and I have allowed that gift to become a stumbling block to Christ. The grace to see that truth plainly was a healing gift that hasn’t made me perfect but has allowed me to grow a little.

As Christmas approaches, I am reminded once again that I must not worship Christmas and emotional consolation… but Christ alone.

Having an emotionally healthy Christmas is about engaging in a real relationship with Christ and allowing feelings to exist without allowing them to control our understanding of the truth. If you feel the emotional joy, welcome it but do not cling to it. If you feel a depression, don’t panic but walk with it calmly until it passes. Do not cling to it. Sometimes we don’t realize how strongly we cling to our sorrows and encourage our own melancholy.

The emotional Christmas donut simply has no legitimate authority over our relationship with Jesus Christ. The goal is not to restore emotion or eradicate it, but to put it in its proper place, subservient to authentic relational love.

If you struggle with emotions at this time of year, I encourage you to take half an hour and watch (or rewatch) the original Dr. Seuss version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It is the one of the simplest modern depictions of an emotionally healthy Christmas.

At the climax of the story, morning comes and the viewer knows that the residents of Whoville are awake. We know, without seeing, that they have found their trees and presents gone, their feasts missing, their decorations torn away. They don’t know who did it and they don’t know why.

The lights go on, a couple seconds pass, and then... the singing begins... 

They gather with smiles in a circle in the center of town and immediately begin to worship. At least that’s what I see them doing. The bright star appears before them and rises with their song and rejoicing. They didn’t have to be worked up into joy… they simply never lost it to begin with. (Watch the clip HERE)

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They knew that someone took their “donut” and perhaps they felt the sting of disappointment; but they didn’t allowed it to disrupt their relationship with the Heart of Christmas, who we know to be Jesus Christ.

Then - without any explanation given to him or drawn out drama - the grinch was immediately transformed. It was an almost ridiculously fast conversion. Cartoonish in its speed but also representative of the power, not of Christmas, but of the very Presence of God. That conversion is exactly what we spend all Advent (and our lives) seeking and which can certainly be accomplished in a moment when in the Presence of Divine Love.

I love this movie because it shows me how reflexively we are called to give all. In a moment. To choose love now and forever.

My own Christmas experiences have matured a little over the years. One result of my forced period of detachment has been a steady reconnection with a gentler emotional happiness. Since I am not as easily rocked by the raging emotional sea, I am more free to embrace the milder, deeper path. I don’t generally feel Christmas euphoria but neither do I usually experience a true depression. I’ve settled in with gratitude for every consolation and a more measured response to disappointment.

I don’t write this because I am spiritually advanced (I assure you that I am not and my loved ones can confirm!) but as someone who has been through (and am still going through) the school of Christmas hard knocks. In other words, I’m getting older and inevitably experiencing more... and I just want you to know...

Don’t fret over the donut. God has bigger plans for your happiness. In fact, He is the plan. He is your happiness. Rejoice!

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DIY Saint Lucia Crown and Costume (Beginner and Intermediate Tutorials)

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Since St. Lucy is the patroness of one of our little girls, we’ve had the opportunity to DIY a couple versions of Lucia and her crown over the last few years. The first version was for our girl when she was about 2 years old and could be considered a beginner tutorial using mostly felt.

The second was when she was 5 and requires a little more patience with artificial flowers, leaves, felt, and stretch lace. However, both crowns are relatively easy and can be used for younger or older girls.

Both are perfect for All Saints’ Day costumes, saint reports for school or church, and of course, for the Feast of St. Lucy on December 13th. (Find some lovely ideas for celebrating St. Lucia’s Day at Shower of Roses)


One note about my tutorials…
I'm the kind of crafter who fiddles with something just until it looks right and then sticks it together with whatever works.  Consequently, my tutorials are perhaps more vague than some prefer. So... up front... I don't have any more details than what I’ve written. This is it! And I still think that you can do it. Yours will probably look different than mine and that's completely fine. That’s actually how it should be. Carry on! 


SAINT LUCY CROWN AND GOWN (#1 Beginner Felt)

I initially made this crown while stuck on the couch with pregnancy nausea. Ah, memories! Working for two minutes, pausing to let the waves pass, cutting, stitching, nausea, using some Christmas felt that I already owned... but it worked out nicely.

I didn't use a pattern at the time, just cut and hoped for the best. When a friend asked me to share a tutorial, I said "sure!" That was 3 years ago now… I’m a little slow… but better late than never!

WHAT YOU NEED FOR THE CROWN:

  • One strip of green felt, 3/4"-2" wide and as long as the circumference of the child's head. (you can find felt-by-the-yard at your local fabric store)

  • One 2" piece of soft elastic. I used folded over stretch lace similar to THIS. FOE (fold over elastic) is also a great soft option.

  • 15-25 green felt holly leaves. Mine has 17 but I might have made it fuller if I had more time and less nausea. I divided the leaves between two shades of green to give more dimension and also used 4 different sizes of leaves. A template is below for those who need it. Drag and drop into a document and adjust the size to your liking. (Aren’t you just bowled over by my tech brilliance?) I cut mine freehand because I had no patience for tracing and cutting along lines.

  • Red felt for Berries. Cut however many you want from red felt. I used 5 but could certainly have used more. 

  • White felt for candles. I used five because my girl had a toddler sized head but you can use as many as you like. I used 2" x 3" squares of white felt. Most felt tutorials I have seen have flat felt candles and I wanted mine to be a bit rounder. So I designed these to roll up. You can make these taller or fatter if your child is older or if you just want bigger candles!

  • Flames. Red, orange, and yellow felt flames for each candle. You don't have to use those colors. I wanted to give a bit more of a dimensional feel to mine so I varied the sizes and colors. 

  • Thread or hot glue (or both). IMPORTANT: You can glue this instead of sewing it. Glue is a wonderful tool for getting things to stay put and works great on felt. However, the last step that I used was a running stitch straight through the length of the headband to reinforce strength and secure everything. You will NOT be able to do that step if you have hot glued everything. That is because you will break your needle and jam your machine! So just choose your path ahead of time.

WHAT YOU NEED FOR THE DRESS:

  • A white dress or tunic of any kind. This one was a castoff from an angel costume over a white turtleneck. I bought it off a local family for $5.

  • A red sash. If you want. It’s not strictly necessary. The white of the dress represents purity and the red sash the blood of martyrdom. You can use a strip of satin like I did or any fabric at all. A red scarf or ribbon might also work.

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HOW TO MAKE THE FELT CROWN


1. HEADBAND

I started with a simple strip of green felt for the headband. The width can be as wide as you like but mine was about 3/4" since I didn't want any of it showing past the leaves (I’m particular like that) and because her head was small. Measure your child's head around where you want the crown to sit. Use that measurement as the length.

Cut a two-inch strip of soft elastic (FOE, folded over stretch lace, or whatever you have on hand). 

You will be attaching the ends of the felt together with the elastic so this has less to do with measurements than it does how it feels on your child’s head. Pin the elastic when it is at a comfortable place on her head (being careful not to pin her head, of course) so that it stretches enough to be comfortable, but it snug enough to stay put. Stitch in place.


2. LEAVES

I made my leaves to look like holly leaves the ones below. It doesn’t have to be holly but it fits nicely with Advent and is easy to reproduce. I made various sizes and a couple different shades of green.

There really isn’t a way to do this wrong. All of God’s leaves look different in nature and yours will, too. If you want to add extra dimension and fullness to your leaves, you can add the following step:

Fold the leaf in half and machine or hand stitch very close to the folded edge through the middle section of the leaf (indicates by the middle lines in my sketch below). When you unfold it, it will look like the middle vein of a real leaf. If you look closely at my photos, you can see the result.

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Hand stitch or hot glue the leaves into place around the headband. I stitched mine.


3. FLAMES

I completely forgot to draw you some little flame templates BUT… I think you can figure it out. You will need one red, one orange, and one yellow flame “petal” for each candle. The shape is roughly a tear drop but with a point at both ends.

If you make each color successively smaller, the individual colors will be more visible. Cut these out and make them ready to attach to the candle pieces (below). You can draw your template first but I just cut them all differently. Have you ever seen two flames alike? Neither have I!

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4. CANDLES

I used five because my girl had a toddler sized head but you can use as many as you like. I cut 2" x 3" squares of white felt. Most felt tutorials I have seen have flat candles and I wanted mine to be a bit rounder and slightly more realistic. So I designed these to roll up into a tube shape. You can make these taller or fatter if your child is older or if you just want bigger candles!

There is no secret sauce to stitching so that these stay in place. Just use white thread and do what you have to do to keep it all together. If you are a gifted sweet, you will know what to do. If not, just put the needle through until it stays.

You can also use hot glue but that will make it difficult or impossible to stitch onto the headband later. In that case, you will have to use hot glue to affix the candles to the headband.

Before you roll the candle up, stitch (or glue) your red, orange, and yellow flames in the middle of each rectangle… right about where the top of the 3 is on the diagram. After you roll up the candle, your flames will be flickering right out of the top.

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After the candles are constructed, arrange them around the wreath and stitch them to the inside. The base with flatten somewhat with stitches and then with the next step.


5. SECURE THE CROWN

If you haven’t used hot glue for anything on the headband so far, you can run a straight stitch right through the middle of the crown to make sure that candles, leaves, and band are all secure. The crown will be somewhat floppy when held (the price to pay for a soft and comfy crown) but should perk right up on the head. Almost done… just one more step…

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5. BERRIES

The finishing touch. These are pretty straight forward. Just cut out some circles and glue or stitch them wherever you think they look pretty!

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And that’s it! If you end up making this crown, I would love to see the fruits of your efforts. Feel free to send along a photo so that I can ooh and aah over your work (and adorable children).


SAINT LUCY CROWN AND GOWN (#2)

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On her 5th All Saints’ Day, she wanted to be St. Lucia again and her old crown was a bit too small. Also (and to be completely honest), I was excited to try my hand at a more mature version using artificial leaves. The challenge this time was that I knew she would never tolerate anything that felt like leaves. It had to be as soft as the felt version or it would end up in my purse.

The crown was a success on all counts. Not only was it simple to pull together (and just as I had pictured it), but it was super soft to wear. In fact, she didn’t take it off even once during the festivities.

Also, this dress was a winner. So modest, soft, and feminine. All the details are below. I give you fair warning… my crown tutorial is loosey goosed. But generally crafty people should be just fine.

WHAT YOU NEED FOR THE CROWN:

  • Artificial flowers and leaves. I keep my eye out for particularly pretty and unique flowers at the Dollar Tree and then I take them apart. We use them for so many projects that the dollar is always well spent.

    I used 4 or 5 different kinds of leaves that I had in my stash plus gold and red metallic leaves that I cut from a bunch of Christmas themed artificial flowers. Use as many as you like. St. Lucia’s crown is traditionally made of evergreen but I never have been one for letting the perfect get in the way of the good so… we use what we have.

  • Stretch Lace. You can also use elastic but I knew this headband had to be the gentlest, softest base possible for my little sensory sensitive kiddo. This 2.25” lace isn’t exactly what I used but it is similar.

    When it isn’t on the head, this crown is super floppy… but it perks right up when it’s worn. The key is to make sure everything is secured with hand stitches in a balanced fashion.

  • White felt for the candles. You will also need small rectangles of felt to secure the candles to the headband. 

  • Needle and thread

  • Hot glue. Most of this crown will be hand-stitched but there will be places where a glue gun will be helpful and appropriate.

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WHAT YOU NEED FOR THE DRESS:

  • An Amazon account. I purchased this dress for about $15 after researching the multitude of Chinese companies which sell it. I finally came across this low price (I found it as high as $70 on ebay!) and made the purchase. We will be repurposing it for Easter by dying it a pastel color. It is thin but so classically beautiful and comfy.

    Prices are constantly fluctuating on Amazon so the best price I have found recently is HERE for $20 with free shipping. You can bargain hunt by searching “girls flutter sleeve chiffon dress”.

  • A red sash. We chose to keep it simple this year but it would be very easy to tie a strip of chiffon or satin around the waist.

  • A note about footwear. My girl wears cowgirl boots with everything. I’m okay with that.

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HOW TO MAKE ST. LUCY’S CROWN


  1. Measure the stretch lace or elastic to fit your girl’s head comfortably yet securely. The stretch lace works best if you double it. You can use two layers of 2” stretch lace or fold over a length of 4”. Stitch cut ends together to form the band.

  2. Choose the leaves and petals you’d like to use for the crown foliage and stitch a first layer onto the elastic. This is a little delicate since stretch lace generally has holes in it and doesn’t tolerate a very tight stitch. This is why this is an intermediate project… because you will need to find that fine line between securely attaching and leaving the stretch intact. You will add a second layer at the end with a glue gun or stitches.

  3. Make your candles using the instructions in the previous tutorial except increase the height of the candles for an older child. These are 4” tall x 3” wide rectangles.

    I only made four candles because that’s all the white felt I had left. It gave the correct general impression so I was content. 

    Instead of felt flames, I used one gold and one metallic red petal layered together. I also used a glue gun to make the candles instead of stitching because the candles will eventually be glued to the headband anyway.

  4. Use a hot glue gun to attach the candles to the OUTSIDE of the stretch elastic... where the leaves are. Find places in the foliage where it will be mostly hidden. The hot glue will seep through the inside of the stretch lace (the part that will touch her head). I did not want that scratching her head and I also wanted the candles more secure… so I cut small rectangles of matching felt and placed them on the inside of the headband. When the glue seeped through from the front when gluing on the candle, I pressed on the felt to the inside. (See images below)

  5. Hot glue a second layer of leaves and petals over the first, arranging them to hide the candle base and stretch lace entirely. I made sure that I only glued the second layer to leaves or candles so that no glue would touch the stretch lace. I added a few gold leaves in this layer because… Tolkien made me do it.

  6. Add berries if you like. I had planned to add glittery red berries from a Dollar Tree fine but it looked so pretty without that I just left it alone.

  7. Remember that this crown will be all kinds of floppy until it is on the head. The floppiness was a challenge as I worked with it and I was nervous that it wouldn’t hold up. But… it’s perfect. 

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If you’d like to show off the results of your own crafting, I’d love to see your pictures! Feel free to email them to me so that I can give thanks to God with you for His work through your hands.

Breaking and Healing the Hearts of Our Children

It is an insomnia season. A season when all the elements converge and conspire against the coveted commodity called sleep... deep sleep. And in spite of my fondness for Instagram, I  lay tonight's struggle partially at the feet of that glorious time sucker. (As a friend wisely said, I wouldn't have the extra worries if I didn't go seeking them out on social media!) I met a mom there recently whose struggle looked a lot like mine and when she shared a little piece of her grief, my own heart broke. So here I am... awake. 

The grieving woman on Instagram wanted to know if we moms can entertain a reasonable hope of repairing the damage we do to our households over the years. Tell me we can! she begged. Tell me we can go back and reverse what we have done!  

I whispered a tiny and sad no inside my head and in the following seconds, my racing mind was flooded with a torrent of memories; all personal failures I have owned in the last 21 years of motherhood. Some of them stick to me like fly paper and the guilt is so heavy that if I dwell too long, I go down, down, down into the ugly deep. But I didn't dwell this time, I simply let the projector reel of time run out as I held my breath, as if riding out a labor pain. I answered on Instagram then... and I answer now as I lie awake, preoccupied with the gravity of this question...

No. You can't go back. You can't repair all the damage. The hope lies in the possibility of renewal, repentance, and healing - but the scars will probably stay. Some will stay for a little while and some for a lifetime, heedless of our grief and the gripping, aching guilt of regret.

The children forget our mistakes when they are 12 months old but it doesn't take long before the memories stick. They are formed under our love.... and our sin. My first two children have entered adulthood and I know that when they walk out the front door, they take all the hidden heart wounds with them. Perhaps they’ll over spend the rest of his life healing from and forgiving me the consequences of my sins...

My laziness.
My impatience.
My lack of charity.
My selfishness.
My willful ignorance.
All of those things which fall into those categories in big and small ways.

Countless hours of my motherhood have been spent lying awake, grieving over my words and actions and raising my fist against the injustice of the human condition… 

Why must it be that we are destined to leave these marks on the souls of our children when it is our deepest desire to raise them to be whole and healthy and happy? 

There simply is no answer apart from The Fall and The Cross. Jesus is the Savior. And I am not He. In our journey toward sanctity, we eventually realize that either He will be the answer to the heartache of our homes... or no one will. 

For years, I spent much of my motherly frustration on those outside of my home who hurt my children, dwelling on the difficulty of free will. Why, Lord, do You allow people to choose evil? To choose sin? To hurt my children? And then... the day came when raised my hands and yelled: 

WHY? Why, Lord, have You allowed ME to wound?  

I love my large family and take tremendous delight in watching it grow and thrive; however, the process of sanctification in this vocation can be intense. And perhaps that's putting it mildly. The walls that used to get washed... don't.

The attention I used to have for one... I must somehow divide by seven.

The virtues I thought would blossom in my life... have proven to be remarkably weak under pressure.

My plans for holiness and household peace and perfect... skuttled by the reality of human will.

We love and we wound. They adore us and then feel our weakness pierce their hearts. We make them the center of our vocation, and then they remind us that they are not meant to be bent and molded and pressed... but to be mentored and to fly. In my imagination, I saw that I would become better and more competent over time. I never would have believed that I would feel that the opposite was happening.

Motherhood will not be planned. Children will not be controlled. And against every prayer and supplication, God will always allow more struggle than the person can handle. Would we ever turn to Him if He didn't?

For years, I thought it was just me. I thought that I was the lone failure among my friends and my community. I knew others were struggling, but in my self-centered anxiety, I thought that I must be at the bottom of the barrel of incompetent mothers.

Over the years, this belief (coupled with a heavy dose of postpartum hormonal imbalances) brought a period of depression which led into a lingering sorrow and a companion anger that comes with a feeling of cosmic injustice…

If large families are a blessing, then WHY am I suffering under the burden of my inadequacy? If this is the right equation, then I must be the wrong answer. Why would God allow my beautiful children to be placed in the care of such a weak, wounded, and ridiculous mother? 

I couldn't find an answer because I did not understand that His perfection only comes in our weakness. In the cloud of my monumental pride, the grace of God was obscured. All that was visible to me was my failure.

This harsh and deep sorrow softened over time and was eventually companioned by a deep and strengthening faith. I acknowledged my constant failure and recognized that I would always fail. I read adult versions of the lives of the saints and recognized their humanity; their allergies, their tempers, their errors, their conflicts. I began to know them a little better and to forgive in myself what I had previously seen as unforgivable.

At the beginning of my motherhood, I grew in confidence as I led my little army. That great confidence faded as I saw my failures mirrored to me in the lives of my growing kids. My pride lay stretched out and broken on the living room rug every single day. There didn't seem to be a way out of that. Mary, Mother of Sorrows became an ally for the first time. And the Cross of motherhood, once a lovely but distant mystery, became nestled deeply in my heart. My greatest consolation was the abiding love of God. He made Himself very present to me, even as my broken heart bled out into every area of my life.

Why did He allow this kind of stripping of soul? Perhaps because once I knew that I was absolutely nothing without Him, I might finally learn how to pray and truly seek Him.  

The grace of God began to rain down upon me and carried me through what I have privately referred to as my adult childhood. I had to learn how to walk again and to relearn what it meant to be alive as a child of God. Formerly, I thought that faith would make me a shiny flawless saint, like the drawings in my children's picture books. The hard lesson was that the pursuit of perfection did not mean that I could be perfect in myself, but only by allowing Christ to fill my soul entirely. The Refiner's Fire was consuming me. Terrifically painful (and ongoing)... but still a place of Life and unparalleled joy. 

How was I to grow in sanctity and perfection? How was I to learn to stand up straight and tall in the midst of my failures? It really boils down to the annihilation of my pride and the pursuit of only one vision: God's.

I am now in a stage I can only refer to as the fighting stage. I see that I am overwhelmed by losses to my own sinful nature, my kids' free will, and the many obligations of life that I do not feel equipped to meet. And yet... I know that I am fighting for souls. I used to want to build the perfect Catholic dominion... and now I am fighting for each step against many enemies and odds, to simply love all my people into heaven.

I do not count the wins as a general would, I tend the soldiers and the wounded, regardless of whether the battle being waged is won or lost. The larger battle will never be mine to fight. My battle is love and love alone.

We were made for greatness. We were made for everything good He ordains for us, be that with a short obscure life or a lengthy stay in the midst of a large community. My fiat is not my yes to success... it is my yes to faithful obedience and an act of faith with the promise of joy. My failures are like stepping stones to grace. Each time I fall, He lifts me up higher than I could have gone without Him. And if I get to heaven at all, it will be because I have simply let Him carry me the whole way. 

This vocation... It doesn't look at all like I thought it would. The sorrow is still there. The crosses seem to multiply at times. The stakes are higher. It used to be about simply keeping the children alive and clean each day and now it's about their immortal souls. It is hard in a startling way and perhaps that is why God gives us the easy stuff first. Pregnancy, labor, and bloody breastfeeding ain’t got nothin' on teenage/young adult growing and stretching pains and the realization that I've screwed up more small and big things than I can count. My pride has been sorely touched by this new stage in motherhood. 

Eventually, all of the days of humiliation and dying give way to days of rising. You will fall hard. And your children will fall hard. It is on those days that you will know without question where your true priorities lie. You will drop everything and run to tend to their skinned knees and hearts (and sometimes even harder, clean up after the wounds they have inflicted on others) and you will question everything that you do and why you do it. 

Our tendency is to run, fast and hard, away from that pain and discomfort and our culture does this with a will. As Christians, we feel the struggle coming on and are tempted to turn and start running with everyone else. It makes sense…

Leave it, medicate it, drink it away, distract, cover, deny, pretend, and shout it down. But we... those moms who know the heart and hurt is all for Christ... we stop mid stream and do an intentional turning. We see our crosses waiting behind us and we turn and take them up with love. 

I'm not going to leave.
I'm never going to leave.
I give myself in love for you.
I will work until I'm old and gray (and beyond) for you.
My talents are yours.
My treasure is yours. 
My time is yours.
My cheerful, joyful, sunny days are yours.

But my anger, resentfulness, selfishness, and crankiness? Those are mine. And I leave them at the foot of the Cross for Jesus to sweep away. Because His name is Mercy.

To the beautiful Instagram lady who came face to face with her priorities, I just want to let you know that it is a day for rejoicing. God has chosen to gift you with holy vision. And now? He will give you the grace to press on. Thanks be to God.

All Saints' Day Costumes for Our Big Family

With two adult children and six more kiddos all the way down to a toddler, we still have a 100% dress up rate on All Saints’ Day. While that is not something I expect or demand, I admit that it really makes me happy to see it!

We also had participation from a couple additional young adults - who are dating our adult children - and my husband also found a costume this year (“I will invest once and wear this every year until I die.”) Scroll to the end to see that one.

Ever since I accidentally threw out a decade’s worth of handmade costumes (yes, that was painful), I have been mixing it up in the interest of saving time and sanity. Half the fun for me now is finding budget friendly pre-made items that lend themselves to a little homemade tweaking. And I will do one new entirely handmade costume a year if needed.


TODDLER - ST. GEORGE

This is the only photo of him that I managed to take away from the celebration. He absolutely refused to wear his gear at the appropriate times so… we were able to catch him half dressed up through the glass door. He also refused to commit to a saint (“I’m a knight!”) so we just assigned him one and didn’t tell him.

His helmet is from the timeless Full Armor of God playset which has been with us for at least 17 years. His shield is from a dollar bin at Walmart (with lots of pen marks). His heirloom quality leather sword and belt are from Made by Alejandro.

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KINDERGARTENER - ST. LUCY

She wore a toddler version of this a few years ago (link to come) but really wanted to do it again. Since she’s a pretty sensory sensitive kid, I knew that I had to make the costume soft enough for her to actually wear. It was a complete success.

The crown looks scratchy but is actually made with very soft stretch lace as a base with the leaves individually stitched in one layer and a little glue gun action on top of that. The candles are felt with fake metallic flower pieces as flames.

All leaves and flowers were dollar store purchases. I always have flower pieces and leaves around since they are surprisingly useful. We’ve used them to make hair clips, party decor, fairy dolls, packaging, and costumes.

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This dress though! It’s an Amazon purchase after a thorough search between Amazon’s and eBay’s dozens of Chinese distributors. I found it selling for anywhere from $70 to $15. It takes some creative searching and time but I scored the $15 price with a longer ship time. It is thin (layer accordingly) but so feminine and gorgeous. Our plan is to dye it a pastel color for Easter since it is just too pretty to be packed away in a costume box.

You can find the dress at the following link… but keep in mind that the price and shipping times are constantly fluctuating with Amazon. The price at this link is currently $23 including shipping. Use the description to do a search for options. Flutter Sleeve Chiffon Dress

8 YEAR OLD - ST. CHRISTOPHER

He wanted to be St. Christopher and we made it happen using leftover oatmeal linen that we used last year for a St. Claire habit. Super easy stitches at the top and sides with a rough neckline and sleeves. Tied with a belt we just ripped along the grain and a quick traveler’s pouch.

The cape was just a rectangle of heavy fabric we’ve had floating around for years.

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St. Christopher’s flowering staff started with a branch that big brother dried and sanded. They stained and varnished and I taped and hot glued a quick mish mash of paper bag and felt leaves. No glue touched the stick so they removed the tape and have a great walking stick or prop for future projects.

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MIDDLE MOFFET - ST. MAGDALENE OF NAGASAKI

This was my frugal victory of the year. Obviously, FREE is the best kind of frugal win but I am really happy with this $13 project. I was originally looking at $30 Japanese kimono costumes for children and it struck me that they all looked like satin kimono bathrobes. So I looked on Amazon and found a bunch of inexpensive robes AND a coupon. You can currently still find it here with the 20% off coupon below the price: Women’s Kimono Robe

They were one-size-fits-all and looked small-ish so I figured I needed the perfect age to make it work. I removed the pockets with my seam ripper and added snaps to the robe so that it would stay closed where we wanted it to.

By the way, my Snap Setter is one of the best craft purchases I have ever made. Fifteen years of easy costume and garment closures! Highly recommended.

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I used extra pink satin that I have from my boutique baby blanket days on Etsy and I stitched the belt that came with the robe through the middle. More snaps to keep it in place. That left me with two rough tails hanging down the back which I just tucked in the top. It’s not really an authentic costume but if I squint eyes, I think it works.

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We found a skinny wood dowel in a craft box, broke it in half, painted it silver, and… done. Then we dug into our hair flower stash to complete the hair.

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JUNIOR HIGH - ST. CATHERINE OF SIENA

She chose St. Catherine because she was struck by the parallels between what was going on at St. Catherine’s time and what is happening in the Church today. She was moved by the words and actions of the saint and felt that they spoke profoundly to the need of the laity to be bolder in their defense of Jesus Christ and the Church.

I thought she might like to wear a more flowery costume this year but she asked if we could resurrect her St. Claire habit from last year and modify it to be Dominican. How could I say no?

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I confess that it was an extremely last minute undertaking and I was shaking at the thought of having to stand in the pre-Halloween lines at Joann Fabrics. So I didn’t. Instead, I found an old black dress that I haven’t worn in years and I stole the skirt from it (ie chopped it off) to make the veil. A few stitches to hem and a couple snaps at the back of the neck and… we have a Dominican.

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HIGH SCHOOL - ST. OLAF

He invested his own money in this Viking costume several years ago and it is still going strong. A bit smaller than it used to be but no big deal. Sometimes a splurge is worth it. Especially for a mom who doesn’t have to put a single stitch or glue squirt on any of it.

He did upgrade his sword this year and I admit that it was pretty cool and suited to the costume. Find it HERE.

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I’ll just call this pic “Keeping the Saints Culturally Relevant” but I can’t figure out if St. Olaf would love it or hate it. Or maybe he had his own noble version.

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YOUNG ADULT - ST. KATERI

She decided which saint she was going to be in the middle of Salvation Army when she found this suede Winter jacket. Kateri lived in the North and it just makes so much sense. It was $10 and a bit on the pricey side for a used find, but it is quilted and warm. Since I found it oddly appealing, I’ve added it to my own wardrobe which has no fashion rhyme or reason. Instead of mismatched, I’ll just call it “eclectic.”

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She dug up some uncut faux suede fabric from our stash (likely used for a Kateri in years past) and threw together a quick dress layered over a maxi skirt. Then she added hair flowers which just seem so suited to an affectionate remembrance of the Lily of the Mohawks.

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Our oldest two children are both dating practicing Catholics who happily participated in the events. It was truly a joy. I wasn’t able to get a photo of the other two (St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Cecilia) but here is St. Maximillian Kolbe with Kateri.

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THE CHIEF - ST. HUBERT

Years ago, my husband used to dress up as St. Francis. That stopped after I accidentally threw away his costume and he’s just been an observer ever since. But this year he told me that he found a new costume, had purchased it, and that he would wear it every year until he died. So…

Introducing St. Hubert, patron saint of hunters…

He found the sweatshirt at Catholic to the Max and also added a T-shirt (since he runs on the warm side) from a school called St. Hubert (which I can no longer find). While looking for a link to his T-shirt, I found a much cooler version on Amazon: St. Hubert Tee

I did not dress up as anyone but my children pointed out that I could have pulled off a modernized version of a Chinese saint. I can see their point and this Floral Tunic Dress did ship from China so… maybe next year I’ll come better prepared.

Honestly, shopping from Chinese shops on Amazon is super hit or miss (and we only occasionally purchase there) but this dress was actually quality construction with a soft but heavier rayon fabric. I don’t mean the fabric is heavy, just that it’s not too thin and not see through like many overseas products.

My boots are Teva’s Foxy Midcalf Boot in black leather. It’s been a while since I purchased though so I’m only finding them in different colors or bootie options. Still cute with a rugged sole for icy winters.

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Hopefully I can start filling in tutorial links soon. Look for St. Lucy toddler and big girl version to come first!

Halloween {A Failed Catechesis on Holy Death}

This article was first published in 2014.


I wasn't going to write about Halloween this year. Honestly, I'm still recovering from last year when I learned the hard way that the classical standards of debate are all but dead on the internet. When I said I haven't recovered, I mean it. I still feel the loss. I still hear the silence from disrupted relationships. So I promised myself that I wasn't going to write about Halloween again. It was enough. But... I changed my mind. Fickle, I know.

I'm not trying to start any drama. I'm not writing for anyone, to anyone, or about anyone in particular. I'm  writing here to flesh out ideas and offer them as food for thought to anyone else who is interested in the topic.

Please remember... this article not about you. You are welcome to consider my viewpoints and take them or leave them. You take care of your own people and I'll take care of mine, okay? If you want to talk, I welcome a public rebuttal of points made. You are welcome to call my ideas stupid... but only if you offer an intelligent rebuttal of my actual words. But if you go off and tell everyone what an ignorant jerk I am without addressing actual content, I'll probably take offense. And you'll also probably ruin my relationships with other people. I know this. I speak from painful experience. But I think we can do better than that that. Let's give it a go...

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Halloween {A Failed Catechesis on Holy Death}
 

There are several reasons why I do not celebrate Halloween -- the most superficial being that we dress up for All Saints' Day and ain't nobody got time to make two costumes each for 7 kids. Aside from that, I think that secular Halloween practices often run contrary to a life of virtue and hope -- and that even a benign costume and candy celebration on October 31st tends to undermine the greatness of the feasts of All Saints' and All Souls'. But I'm not going to focus on those today...
 

Today I'm going to write about death. And why Halloween teaches the wrong thing about the most important thing.
 

I've had death on the brain lately. I spent the last half year immersed in the subject of dying (specifically miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss) as part of my bereavement doula certification process. I don't love the thought of death but I found my studies fascinating. It brought mortality very close to my daily life and, ultimately, was a spiritual shot in the arm. I thought more than usual about the fragility of life and the state of my soul. I also learned more about what grief does to the survivors and how it can grip and squeeze the heart into a state of unimaginable pain. Ultimately, I became convicted that understanding of and care during the time of death is a fundamental element to building a Culture of Life.
 

How does this relate to Halloween? 
 

It didn't at first... until I began my training course in psychological first aid. I was in the middle of a module about caring for survivors of trauma, specifically children who have learned (suddenly) about the death of a loved one. The recommended approach was determined by the age of the child. The youngest ones would presumably have little experience with death and a vague or non-existent understanding of what death means. But it was the description of the next group that stuck with me. These kids were a little older and mature enough to know what it means to die but still too young to have much experience. The material described the primary obstacle to communicating with this age group: That their understanding of death was generally limited to the known skeletons and monsters of Halloween. As a result, the primary response to death was one of ignorance and fear.
 

Most people fear death to some degree. That's not the issue. What struck me as noteworthy in this case was that this secular disaster relief organization recognized the cultural practices of Halloween as an inhibitor to a child's healthy understanding of death. The reality in a faith context is that our American version of Halloween is terrible catechesis. In fact, I would call it anti-catechesis for providing the wrong answer to life's most important questions. 
 

Such an attitude is typically modern American. We rush through grief. We sweep it under the rug. And we run from age and pain and death with a frantic passion. Halloween practices encourage this dysfunction by contributing to confusion and ignorance of something that, when rightly ordered and supported, is actually our greatest moment of grace on earth. 
 

I use the term "secular" Halloween practices but it begs the question: What are Catholic Halloween practices? They aren't defined by the Church. We do know that All Hallow's Eve (the Eve of All Saints'), is the vigil of one of the greatest feasts of the liturgical year. Feast day vigil masses are celebrated at this time. The day after All Saints' is All Souls' Day - the day that Catholics traditionally focus on the dead. So what role does the Eve of All Saints' (Hallow'een) technically have? Truly? Not much.

The celebration of Halloween has become a mammoth secular creature of our own making with the average American spending almost $80 on costumes alone. In an effort to "baptize" our cultural practices, modern Catholics have made the vigil into something of a Catholic cultural festival centered around the topics of death and fear. My non-scientific observations tell me that many have simply found a convincing justification for throwing a good creepy party. Or at least bringing in a good candy haul.
 

"Consult not your fears but your hopes and dreams" ~ Pope St. John XXIII
 

How does our cultural Halloween fail us?  The psychological first aid training drew attention to the problem: We teach our children that death is something creepy to be mocked, to be looked at as a piece of fun darkness. As a consequence, that darkness becomes the primary lens through which our children see death.

Many bereavement professionals will tell you that the American cultural approach to death is unhealthy. As Christians, this is a matter of grave consequence. We fool ourselves into thinking that the deepest parts of our human nature can be trivialized without spiritual consequences. Truly, a good death is the one thing that every soul should long for. This is why the saints entered their death scene with joy and hope. This is why we celebrate their feast days on the memorial of their deaths. For the saints, the day of death is a day of rejoicing, not of darkness.
 

"Death is nothing else but going home to God, the bond of love will be unbroken for all eternity." ~ Mother Teresa of Calcutta
 

Am I suggesting that we can never be "real" about scary things? Absolutely not. Am I suggesting that we can never jump out from behind a door to scare someone? Or put that horrible rubber rat in the pizza box to wait for a victim? No. What I am postulating is that the cultural secular Halloween is not a healthy context in which to explore the subject of death. We do not need to enter into sin to overcome sin. We do not need to don a mask of evil (especially in a superficial plastic costume way) in order to rise with Christ to new life. Jesus has won the victory through the Cross, and consequently, the Cross is beautiful to us. But only because the sacrificial act of Love is beautiful... not because we love or glorify the horror of the crucifixion. 
 

With our renewed understanding of the gift of the body through John Paul II's Theology of the Body, it is a wonder that we still tolerate the gruesome depictions of the flesh on Halloween night. Personhood is lost. Morphed into a mass of bleeding flesh and parade of hideous creatures. If we could put a true face on our sinfulness, perhaps this is what we would see. But the Truth, Christ Himself, is also within us, and demands sacred respect. 
 

St. John Bosco once called the Christian cemetery "an eloquent sign for those who enter in faith and prayer." Not creepy or frightening but "an eloquent sign." How beautiful! Unfortunately, it seems to be the human condition (concupiscence) to make ugly what God has made beautiful and to lose sensitivity to the joy of the eternal. 
 

Shall we mock death? Shall we mock our own moment of grace? The best way to "mock death' is to live so fully alive in Christ that fear is annihilated. To immerse oneself in the Word of God that promises that death brings peace to the pure soul. To enter into the fullness of Sacramental life so that life is a shower of grace. And then to step out, full of the power of the Holy Spirit, to serve the needs of the suffering. 
 

Mother Teresa did not throw a Halloween party to "mock death". She walked the streets of Calcutta and saw it in the eyes of the people and saw Christ Himself there. She picked up the abandoned, dying people of God whose wounds festered and were sometimes infested with maggots. She touched faces of pain and kissed the sores there. Was she too grave and rigid? Or shall we learn the lesson of her life as living catechesis. In light of her example and the model of all the saints, the modern Halloween custom becomes a mockery of true Love, which is the only worthy goal. 
 

We do not need to look far for real fear. Beheadings, wars, ebola, abortion, violence, human trafficking, accident trauma, personal loss. How are we teaching our children to prepare for death? Shall we usher them into a classroom of darkness in order to learn? Or shall we keep them wholly in the light as the inevitable pain and agony come to visit them?

What do I ultimately want for my children? A good death. The moment of death is a sacred event that will hopefully see us washed in unprecedented graces. It is the moment we have lived for, when a soul devoted to Love steps into the arms of mercy forever. Secular Halloween celebrations are often at best, a distraction from that goal and at worst, a distortion.
 

I have read many attempts to explain how the use of evil imagery draws us closer to Christ. The annual articles are starting to roll in and one defense in particular caught my eye yesterday. It already has hundreds of Facebook likes and is filled with big words and language that sounds like authoritative Church.  The author tells the reader why Catholics should absolutely participate in a dark Halloween. The ideas seem (on the surface) lofty and Catholic and spiritual. The Catholic author writes on a Catholic site:
 

"Halloween rejoices in this triumph through playful parody, or exultant mockery, of evil by subjecting the powerless symbols of the devil to satirical derision. Witches, goblins, ghosts, skeletons, and the other grotesque objects of man’s imagination are the caricatures of a dethroned evil. There is no fear in these, or even in the devil himself, by the indomitable strength of Christ. Men are the masters, and no longer the servants, of these elemental creatures."
 

This is wholly unsupportable through Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition. There is no approved tradition whereby we put on the mask of sin in order to prevail over it. The demons and angels are not "elemental" but spiritual and powerful. Nowhere are we exhorted to dance among the symbols of evil. Even if there is merit in the piece (which I contest), the reality is that most Catholics who like the article will use it primarily as a defense of their participation in the vacuous secular celebration... which is neither lofty, nor Catholic, nor profoundly spiritual. 
 

What is it that the Christian longs for more than anything in life? A GOOD DEATH. A holy death. Scripture tells us that "the sting of death is sin" and that "death has been swallowed up in victory." (Romans 8:31-39) Christ has conquered! There is nothing left to fear except the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. And yet we insist on spending our time playing in the dark. Mocking death.

Where is that exhortation in Catholic tradition? I have not yet found it.

I remember the day I delivered my lifeless baby, Matthew. He was two inches long and marvelous. Some might have seen his little body as gross or gruesome since his skin was translucent and bloodied and his eyes still unopened. But I thought he was beautiful. On that day, my soul also began to yearn much stronger for eternity. The mystery of death was slightly penetrated. And although I grieved heavily, I found that I was less afraid of death. Because of his life and loss, I no longer see death in a "Halloween way." And I do not wish to. Horror will come... sorrow will come... fear will come... all unwilled and unwanted. The true test of our culture is how we have prepared ourselves to deal with it. 
 

My own kids will someday wear blood and hold death in their hands. They will see tragedy and trauma. They will probably witness a beheading or live murder recorded on the internet. I will not shield them from the reality of death. My goal is to prepare them to serve the suffering and wounded who seek the merciful compassion of Christ. They will see plenty of horror on that journey. We don't need a night of candy and plastic ghouls to guide our souls to a Catholic understanding of these things. The real lessons come in the down and dirty of living the works of mercy in the context of a sacramental life. 
 

And that can get downright scary. Jesus, Light of the World, have mercy on us.
 


And again Jesus spoke to them, saying: "I am the light of the world; he who follows me with not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)


The Roots of Autoimmune Crisis (My updated story of Lupus and Lyme)

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For those of you following my healing journey, here’s an update. For those of you here for the first time? Welcome to a conversation of HOPE.


A little over a year ago, I asked if it was possible to heal autoimmune disease naturally? I believed then (and believe now) that it IS and that our mainstream institutionalized medical system is largely hampering our efforts. Not only that, but the constant ingestion of damaging pharmaceutical medications are often making us sicker, not better.

An award-winning rheumatologist once patted me on the bum and told me that my suffering was just a lack of sleep. I cried all the way home and paid him $600 out of pocket for his trouble. He was wrong, but that knowledge doesn’t repair the price paid in mind, body, and bank account.

I acknowledge that modern medicine is a great gift and saves countless lives every year. That is not at issue. My problem is with the lives it often needlessly exploits and damages when better resources are readily available but suppressed by a broken system.


THE PROBLEM OF LUPUS

I have Lupus and mainstream medicine tells me that Lupus is an incurable autoimmune disease. The primary care specialist for most Lupus patients is a rheumatologist, and almost all rheumatologists treat Lupus symptoms with drugs that cause short and long term damage to the body in exchange for temporary relief and hope.

Those meds sometimes save a life when an organ is under concentrated attack by friendly fire. But like cancer meds, these life saving protocols do come with a price tag. I often wonder whether the cure is killing Lupus patients faster than their disease.

I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Lupus sufferers talk about their problems. There comes a point (rather quickly) at which the suffering of the disease becomes almost indistinguishable from the suffering caused by the  medication.

I didn’t want to go down that road and so I asked questions…

  • WHY is my immune system attacking my own organs?

  • How can I get it to stop without shutting down my immune system with meds?

What I learned from daily research is that the body is an awe-inspiring creation and that it does not fire on itself without a reason. I knew that if I could find that root cause, I could find some degree of healing. I will always have the dysfunctional antibodies with me but they don’t always have to be active and triggered. So…

What is triggering my antibodies to attack normal healthy cells?

That’s the million dollar question and I poured a boatload of money into integrative medical professionals and testing in order to find out. Money well spent, I believe.


FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE

I was a model patient walking in the door because I had already laid the foundation for good health over the last 6-7 years which they recommend for every sick person they treat…

  • I eat a diet free of garbage and inflammatory ingredients. (See how I eat HERE)

  • I don’t take OTC or pharma meds without a truly grave reason.

  • I live a healthy lifestyle free of alcohol, tobacco, and other toxic substances.

  • I have a healthy weight and strive to stay active and minimize stress.

  • I use gentle plant-based medicine and supplements to treat symptoms and support my body (More info HERE)

  • I use personal and household products which do not poison my body

I was managing symptoms and disease (multiple autoimmune diseases) through a healthy lifestyle when so many others were becoming dependent on and trapped in a cycle of medication and misery. Some necessarily. Some because they were NEVER OFFERED AN OPTION.

In spite of all of this and in spite of tremendous healing and progress…

My autoimmune flare ups kept coming back, my neurologic issues continued to surface, neuropathy increased, and new problems were added to the mix. When my thyroid numbers went off track for the first time, I got angry…

I am collecting autoimmune diseases. If I don’t get a handle on this, I’m going to die young or become disabled. I’ve got 8 kids… I’m not going to give up the fight.

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LEFT: Me, during a flare. Swelling, hair loss, malar rash, severe pain, numbness, extreme fatigue, nausea, migraines, respiratory problems, heart arrhythmias, sun intolerance, heightened allergic response, food intolerance, joint degeneration, etc.

RIGHT: Also me… walking the line between health and illness.
It’s a dimly lit photo so the light was favorable to my lines but… I usually look somewhere between these two photos. This illustrates the extremes to give a better understanding of the middle ground. My face often indicates (even in small ways) what the rest of my body feels like, although it’s generally invisible to others. Chronic illness always falls somewhere on a range of wellness. It’s generally not as simple as “I am sick today” or “I am not sick today.”


So we started shelling out the money to get tested for root causes of systemic inflammation and antibody production. Those triggers generally fall into one of the following categories:

  • Infections (bacterial, fungal, viral, SIBO)

  • Heavy metal toxicity

  • Leaky gut

  • Parasites

  • Toxic mold

  • Chronic stress (which leads to leaky gut and chronic inflammation and dysfunction)

  • Environmental toxins

  • Nutritional deficiencies

  • Pharma, OTC medications, and Vaccines (Don’t freak out, people. These are actually medically known triggers of Lupus. 10% of all cases, in fact, and I’m going to guess that’s a low number since it’s often impossible to identify a cause.)

(I’m going to mini-rant now about how insurance companies will cover brutally toxic meds that only mask symptoms but will NOT cover tests for most of the above. In my case, it was worth the money but it’s been a painful drain on my family’s resources. Financial concern has often kept me from pursuing care. We need a change in the system…. so that patient care is dictated by true patient needs and evidence-based choices, not pharmaceutical companies. Rant over.)


YOU HAVE LYME DISEASE

One of the happiest days of this journey was when I finally learned that the underlying cause of my lifelong autoimmune cascade is Lyme Disease. It was also one of the most crushing days. I am happy to have identified an enemy. But Lyme Disease, with all of it’s complicated co-infections and dastardly elements… well… it’s not the enemy I would have chosen to fight. The initial news brought relief. The days that followed brought confusion and grief.

Regardless, I now have a target and I’m ready to fight.

My case is what is called “complicated” Lyme. The translation is that the professionals don’t really how to help me. In addition to Lyme, I have CIRS, and hypothyroid (new within the last year). I have a body full of disorder and they don’t know what they are fighting, where it is, and which medical options will help without making my situation worse.

For example, certain antibiotics MIGHT kill certain bacteria but WILL cause other bad actors to flourish. Other medications WILL cause a die off of certain bacteria but will also cause the body to become overloaded with toxins and also harm the immune system. Some antibiotics WILL kill SOME microbes but it will cause others to strengthen their defenses....

I don’t have the time or the money for this. Who does?

Protocols talk about alternating and “pulsing” meds to try to help patients without damaging them. They talk about all kinds of things that cause me to alternately hope and cry.

I am faced with a decision: which path will I choose to attack this enemy which has been setting up camp in my body since I was a child? Every single doc has a different approach (because it’s a bit of guessing game) and I’m left with one more question…


IS THERE ANOTHER WAY?

I often run across research showing how certain natural substances destroy cystic Lyme, eat through biofilm, disrupt the inflammatory process, and do things generally better than antibiotics. I have experienced the direct and measurable impact of plant-based medicine and so it’s easy for me to believe from experience (and the science I’m reading) that these things are true. And I’m not going to complain (too much) about how the system is still handcuffed to what Big Pharma is doing and ignores everything else because…

I’m moving on.

My journey from this point is going to be research-based and pharma-be-darned. I will use them when it makes sense but otherwise, will be using an approach which honors the dignity and design of every single cell in my God-given body.

I’m not giving medical advice here. I’m just fighting for my own life and health. If you follow anything at all that I say, you have to do it based on your own belief that it is best for your body and not because I say so. Be your own advocate. Learn about your body and what it needs. Demand evidence-based care and full disclosure of medical procedures, medications, and all possible risks (informed consent).


THE HEART OF THE MATTER

Lyme infections have been around for longer than recorded history and the human body is designed to handle them. It is not the bacteria itself which has suddenly gone rogue, but cultural practices (nutrition, toxic environments, unnecessary medications) that are systematically undermining our naturally efficient immune response. 

Our bodies are not broken by design, to be overrun by every common tick bite. Something has gone wrong. 


WHERE I GO FROM HERE

My internet dialogue (website and social media) will primarily focus on what lifestyle choices I make in order to keep my body in fighting shape. I earnestly believe that for many of you, those changes will be enough to alter your life for the better in ways you never dreamed possible...

  • Nutrition.

  • Exercise.

  • Managing stress levels.

  • Sleep.

  • Eliminating toxins/poisons in your products, food, environment.

  • Informed self-care.

While I continue to navigate this road, I will continue to share natural wellness, nutrition, and essential oils with everyone I meet. I will also continue to write and share and work on larger products (TBA), and to immerse myself in my family life.

Life is short and I’m not going to lie; during a bad flare, I think about death a lot. What I bring here is a pouring forth of NO-REGRET health care.

“No-regret health care” means that I’m not going to compromise the gift of my bodily health in order to hoard time and grasp at pain-free living. Neither is possible. We are designed to pour out our lives in loving service with joy and holy boldness, keeping in mind always that we are not made for this world.

I have one shot with this body. I have one shot to teach my children about how we are to approach this gift. One chance to do my part to restore proper order to the way we live and care for the body as believers. Because it does matter and is the appropriate response to the gratitude we feel for life itself.

Welcome to my ongoing effort to honor the gift, utilize God’s plan for healing, and lay it down in service.

Thanks be to God!

Gentle Help for the Struggling Math Student

{This post contains affiliate links. I may receive a commission for purchases made through links. More info Here.} 

Being a homeschooler allows me to call a full stop and redirect when one of my students is struggling. This is a huge advantage, particularly in math, because progression is necessarily linear. If a student gets stuck on a foundational concept, progressing with a grade of a C or a D may spell disaster at a later point.

My non-professional opinion is that no child should be forced to progress in Math until they have mastery in the previous concepts. I don’t know… it seems like a no-brainer but I can see that it would be difficult in an institutional school setting.

As a homeschooler, I do not focus on grades other than as an assessment for knowledge. So while I might not give a letter grade to a 2nd grader for history comprehension (for example), I do need to know if the concepts of addition and subtraction are nailed down before we move on.

I still don’t give permanent Math grades until high school though… because we simply don’t move on with foundational concepts until there is mastery. Nothing else makes sense when it comes to basic mathematics.

Most of my kids have had no trouble with beginning Math and pick it up quickly and move on. But every child is different and even very bright children might run into trouble with retention, slow processing speed, or confidence.

This recently happened to one of my amazing, talented, and intelligent kiddos who just has a bit of trouble with retention and processing speed. I kept moving the child along to the next chapter in Math even though they were losing confidence and secretly panicking every time a new set of problems. It was a newbie mistake that I shouldn’t have made. But…

I eventually caught on and knew that we had to make a full stop and redirect.

I was not moving on with this child until mastery… and mastery was impossible as long as we continued to add new concepts. So…

We put away the Math book and bought some games. We stopped all online Math games since the child was not processing as quickly enough to do anything but guess and was not learning and not building confidence.

These are the hands-on tools with which we have temporarily replaced linear textbook learning:

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CALCULADDERS

Calculadders is simply gentle timed repetition. The student competes against no one but herself. You can print at home and use for multiple grade levels. It is a Christian company with Scripture at the bottom of every page. We discovered them 15 years ago when they sold printable CD’s and were pleased to discover that they now have internet-based software at a reasonable price.


MOBI

Mobi is the Bananagrams of the Math world and follows almost identical rules except that instead of making words, the players make Math problems. If you haven’t played Bananagrams, it is like a freeform Scrabble where all players work simultaneously on their own word grid. (It also happens to be my favorite game for myself and my homeschool!)

With Mobi, I have found that the format allows slower processors to participate without feeling the pressure of others waiting on them to finish their turn and without being forced to compete with an uncomfortable pace. Since it is tactile, more senses are engaged in the learning process.

This regular version included addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Younger players do not have to use multiplication and division but might find the Mobi Kids version (below) more to their liking (subtraction and addition only)

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MOBI KIDS

Mobi Kids is identical to the original Mobi (above) but only includes the addition and subtraction tiles to simplify the game for younger players. They can still play the original version but with multiple players, the pluses and minuses do tend to run out.


ABSOLUTE ZERO

Absolute Zero is a simple card game that involves addition and subtraction skills. Players combine positive and negative numbers to create a value of zero. There are also alternative ways to play including a form of “War” in which players use simple subtraction to see who gets to keep the cards.


DICE

Yep… just plain old dice. I purchased this set of 100 in pretty translucent colors that came with a carrying bag. There are endless Math games that can be played with these little cubes. A good Google search will help you identify games to suit the skill level of your child.


At the end of the day, building a good foundation for a struggling child will go much better with gentle, appropriately paced, tactile fun. Every child is different but if the Math book is causing anxiety in a child’s life, there is no harm that can come from taking a step back and bringing joy back into learning.

If your child is in school and you don’t have the advantage of slowing down the pace of the curriculum, these games would be a great way to reinforce concepts without the tear-filled drills of desperation so common in the precious after dinner hours.

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A Catholic Girls' Guide to Unmasking a Predator

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I have written this article 16 different ways trying to soften the language and avoid giving offense to anyone. The trouble is that my conscience won't allow the softening. With the sex abuse scandals exploding in every industry, sport, religion, and educational institution, it is clear that we don't have time or good reason to spare feelings over safety. Those examples don't even include the endless experiences that we have personally had in our communities and homes.

It's an evil that has become systemic. We have been culturally conditioned - publicly groomed actually - to accept a degree of certain abusive behaviors as normal. 

We feel a false sense of security because we have aggressively rooted out the most egregious offenders, put them on registries, taken away their positions of authority but, we ignore the elephant in our own living room. We have been silent. We have been complicit. And yes, we have been trained and groomed by evil people whom we allow access to our minds and families.

I have put together a short list of qualities in men that are red flags for a discerning Catholic girl or woman. These guidelines will also apply to my Protestant sisters in Christ. If even one of these risk factors exists, that is a solid reason to put on the brakes. If you want to jump right to the list, scroll down. If you want to understand the problem a little better and how you can better serve your daughters (or yourself), hang with me for two minutes. 

COLLECTIVE GROOMING

I rarely watch TV but recently fell into a YouTube vortex of shows that are currently popular. I don't know if it's just because I've been away from regular watching for so long but I was struck hard by one thing I saw...

The distinct and unhidden patterns of grooming and predatory behavior in media are constant. There is no coverup. No shame. No outcry. 

Men and women have always enjoyed the thrill of the chase and old TV shows are sprinkled heavily with the same messages, but I found the aggressiveness and crassness of the newer shows to be alarming and constant; acclimating us through clever scripting to a system that breeds abuse. It's the same culture I met so strongly in high school - having to constantly share close space with guys who were openly and aggressively predatory - and in so many other places. 

My hope for this article is to sharpen our Catholic axes so that we are better prepared to fight this battle and to help those specifically whose souls, minds, and bodies fall under our care.  I am concerned for both males and females but my gifts are more suited to helping other women - that is my unique perspective - and so my focus will be on helping protect our Catholic teen and young adult daughters from false and predatory men.

We don't have to be powerless. The easiest way to become a victim of evil is to give our consent and an open door. So... let's teach each other to retain our power. Some of our sisters and daughters will need our help to climb out of the trap of attraction, manipulation and possibly shame. Let's do this. Let's be strong in mercy, love, and willingness to go a little Joan-of-Arc on the enemy.

THE PRACTICAL STUFF 

I will go over some practical guidelines for being able to spot possible predators. This is a defensive maneuver only. There are many excellent resources out there for identifying healthy qualities in a man and I encourage you to look those up as well. 

Are you currently dating?
Are you involved in a relationship?
Are you a teen girl interested in boys?
Are you a parent entrusted with the care of young men and women?

Let's talk about our predatory culture and practical ways to protect them against the common (criminal and non-criminal) predatory male. 

SURELY YOU DON'T MEAN TO SAY 'PREDATOR?' THAT'S A STRONG WORD.

Actually, yes. Yes, I do. When I say predatory, I am referring to boys and men whose ultimate aim is not the eternal well-being of the girl, but the satisfaction of their ego and sexual urges. That is not necessarily a criminal action but it absolutely makes them a hunter/user of women and ultimately, dangerous. Whether it is a behavior that is studied and deliberate or simply learned by being a part of a hedonistic culture is irrelevant to the safety of the young woman involved. It’s still predatory. 

There's a difference between a man struggling with virtue and a man who is a predatory and we should acknowledge that. But it is also true that an habitual lack of virtue is the path to all evil actions. So... 

Some of you will get hung up on the term "predatory." I stick by it and won't soften it. I'm tired of the silence. We see where silence gets us. It gives us a broken, bleeding wound delivered by evil permitted to flourish. 

Back to the bad guys who want to date our daughters...

Some of these guys are impatient, boorish, and angry; some of them are poetic, gentle and willing to play the game and wait (some even profess a love of Christ). Regardless of the differences, both have the same end goal which is satisfaction of their own ego and physical desires. Both engage in a form of grooming.

Because this topic always seems to get some "boy mom" defenses up, I have to give the standard disclaimer: 

I am a "boy mom" of 4 boys. I married a man. I have male friends and beloved male family members. I know many good (male) priests. This post is not male-bashing. I don't hate men. I do not think men are the only ones at fault. This is wholly and simply a practical and instructive resource for single women and those who love them.

It's also a resource for teenage girls not yet ready for marriage who are uniquely vulnerable to false and bad men... and possibly a self-check for good men who don't want to be that guy

So for the record, girls: Don't be losers. Don't use or entrap guys. This post can be helpful for teaching you how not to be abusive (simply apply the points to your own behaviors) and also to avoid getting yourself caught up with one. 

DEAR MOMS OF GIRLS...

We've all been around the block a few times. We know things that our girls don't know. But our girls haven't lived in our shoes, haven't learned our lessons, and haven't undergone our conversions. We cannot assume that they are equipped to weather the storms we are accustomed to withstanding. We cannot assume that when they nod their heads in agreement with our maternal rants that they actually have a deep enough grasp of the truth or an unwavering relationship with Jesus Christ. 

We have to be willing to go to the mat for them; to make ourselves a righteous nuisance about technology, defensive protocols, and constant instruction in the art of navigating the human condition. 

I'm not going to sugarcoat this. Some of you think your girl is okay... and she's not. 

God didn't allow me to wade through the sewage in my own life only to stay silent and watch other hearts, minds, and bodies assaulted by wickedness. Here is your warning and I give it with all the sisterly and motherly love in my feminine heart:

Evil hardly ever comes looking like a monster... but usually appearing like the deepest desires of our heart. We have to be prepared. 

Evil slips through the cracks through our weaknesses and our pride. It finds our sorrows and our loneliness. It listens to our doubts and becomes the consolation and affirmation that we deeply desire. 

CATHOLIC GIRLS ARE PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE

Young women from good homes who are pursuing virtue are particularly vulnerable to the snake in the grass because they are more trusting. They are surrounded early in life by people pursuing virtue. Consequently, they more quickly believe the lies from the forked tongue of a compassionate admirer. The answer isn't to expose them to more and earlier wickedness but to better prepare them with the truth before, during, and after they hear the lies.

I love you.
I want you to be happy.
I can make you happy.

Your parents don't understand you.
I'm Catholic.
I go to church at St. fill-in-the-blank.
I will take care of you. 
You're beautiful.

Some of your daughters will fall. If they do, you will strap on your armor of maternal justice and mercy... and you can use this list to help them climb out of the hole of sorrow. To destroy lies and restore the order of truth.

I would be negligent if I didn't add that this list holds true for any person in a position of authority over our children including teachers and priests. If even one of these things is true, a relationship of vulnerability and trust should not be pursued. Safeguards should be in place. No spiritual direction or personal mentorship. No outings. No private phone calls. No car rides. It should go without saying that private meetings (closed off from others) with an adult male even without these markers are generally imprudent. 

Please note that not all of these indicate that a boy or man is bad beyond recovery or that he only has evil intentions. But the presence of even one of these factors increases risk significantly. Even one of these is sufficient to decline a single date, an exclusive relationship, and certainly marriage discernment. You don't even have to have a reason if your gut tells you "no."

Some of us fell hard to predators as young women and didn't have the support that we needed. Here's what I wish I knew... 


A Catholic Girl's Guide to Detecting a Predator

Give your guy 1 point for each of the 13 risk factors.

Scroll down for an explanation of each warning sign. Again, a man struggling with virtue is not necessarily the same as a predatory man. But he can be... and that is why this is a list of risk factors and not definitive statements. 

  1. He is not a Christian.

  2. He is not a Catholic.

  3. He is a bad Catholic.

  4. He is a liar.

  5. He is secretive.

  6. He isolates you.

  7. He is vulgar.

  8. He is divisive.

  9. He is mean.

  10. He pressures you to abandon your morals.

  11. He is fast.

  12. He is immersed in foul music and media (or porn).

  13. He doesn't want to talk to your dad.


1. HE IS NOT A CHRISTIAN

He may be a "nice" guy or a "decent" guy. He may claim to be a moral person and pursue natural virtues but, if he does not submit his heart and actions to Christ, there is no standard for him to follow when he feels like straying. 

This is a non-negotiable for a Catholic girl. 

"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters." - Matthew 12:30

Aside from his own comfort and passions, a man who does not follow Christ has no guide. He has no reason to be honest when it will cost him. No reason to remain chaste when he feels that he is in love. No reason to forego worldly pleasures. 

Why should he tell you the truth about anything?
Why should he wait for marriage?
Why shouldn't he use you?

Every man can eventually choose to follow Christ. But if he wants to date you and does not currently adhere to a Christ-centered worldview, he will only be able to follow his own ego and his passions. 

You cannot save him. Only Christ can save him. Perhaps he will be ready someday to discern a relationship with you... but not yet. This does not necessarily make a man a predator, but it is a significant risk since he does not yet know how to love as he was made to love. He does not yet know that love is an act of service with an aim of heaven... and not just a way to gratify ego and urges.


2. HE IS NOT A CATHOLIC

What if he's a follower of Christ but not a Catholic? I deeply love my Protestant brothers and sisters and have found them to be some of the greatest examples of Christian love I have ever seen. They've taught me how to better love Christ and express His love to others. They've taught me how to joyfully worship and how to speak like a true believer. They've taught me about what it means to suffer well for Christ and have given noble examples of red and white martyrdom for His sake. They've also been an incredible support for learning how to navigate the cesspool of secular culture. 

But because there is no one governing body or thought in Protestantism, it cannot be said that all non-Catholic Christians have the same beliefs and behaviors. 

This does not necessarily make a man a predator, but can be a relationship risk since he likely rejects some boundaries set in place by Catholic moral teaching. If he accepts sexual deviancy of one kind (i.e. homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, contraception, etc), then he may also be less resistant theologically to things like porn and premarital sex. This is a problem among Catholic men who have clear and permanent boundaries. How much more so if there are movable boundaries?

Let's be straight about this. This post is primarily for Catholic women who want to be safe and want to remain Catholic. If that's what you want, then you will have to fight hard for it and make uncomfortable, unpopular decision... because most of the world is going to think you're nuts. 


3. HE IS A BAD CATHOLIC

This is probably the most dangerous dating category for a young woman who wishes to remain Catholic. Once a predatory man finds out that she is a committed Catholic, he will know exactly what to say to gain her confidence. He knows the externals and how to appear pious. He will go to Mass with her and talk about his Catholic school upbringing. They will have deep conversations about matters of faith and he will listen attentively while she expounds on moral and theological matters. He may even go through RCIA if he was never confirmed.

He's a liar because he doesn't believe and doesn't want to believe. He's already been a Catholic and rejected it and Christ. He's been living in a state of mortal sin. And he thinks he's got a sure bet with his innocent Catholic victim. 

Another example of this is a boy or man who is living as if he is a believing Catholic but is rebellious in his heart. A priest who has stopped praying and who is sexually active but who is still in active ministry to other souls. A Catholic school teenager who goes to Mass to please his parents but who prefers the ways of the world. 

I know the observation is harsh but it is not wrong. This is a very dangerous man. And he lives in our parishes, in our schools, and all over the internet. 

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. - Matthew 7:15-17


4. HE IS A LIAR

If a man has a habit of lying, walk away. If he encourages you to lie in order to be with him, run. If he will lie to your parents or his, he will lie to you. And if he lies to you, you are not safe in his care. 

"Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" - John 14:6


5. HE IS SECRETIVE

There is no place for secrets in a healthy relationship. If you have to sneak to meet him, he's not the one. A good man will not make you jump through hoops so that he can hide in the dark. A good man will walk up to your front door and ask courteously to speak to your dad. 

If your relationship has developed entirely (or almost entirely) on the internet for the purpose of staying hidden and in isolation from your family, it is a bad relationship and you should end it. 

A good man who loves you will want to know your family and introduce you to his. He will want to become a part of your life not hide away in a dark corner with you. 

If he doesn't want to meet your parents and doesn't want you to meet his, he is a liar and a thief. His objective is to keep you away from your safety net and the people who can protect you. Run. Run. Run. 


6. HE ISOLATES YOU

Technology is a wonderful and terrible thing. In the case of relationships, it is often absolutely devastating. One primary tactic of predators is to isolate and alienate someone from their support system. They are narcissists and demand all of your undivided attention. The existence of texting, messaging via many social media platforms, and things like Google Hangouts means that you have unrestricted access to each other at any time of the day or night. In bed, at school, in the bathroom, at work, at church, on family outings... 

That. is. not. healthy.

To be fair, we are a society of technology addicts and many otherwise healthy people spend far too much time on devices. Relationship development is completely different than it was even 15 years ago and I acknowledge that imprudence is not the same as predation. 

However, predatory behavior easily includes isolating via technology. 

There is no accountability, no protection, no loved one observing visitors or phone calls in a healthy way. There is no way to ignore a communication, no way to be unobserved or to take time to yourself... UNLESS it is a healthy relationship where boundaries are observed and appreciated.

If he is constantly checking on you, jealous of your family and friends, demanding of your time, and punishing you emotionally for claiming healthy space... that's a red flag.


7. HE IS VULGAR

If your guy's mouth is dirty and you would be ashamed to have him overheard by your grandmother, father, or parish priest, then you've got a problem. This may just be a problem of his upbringing (in that he never learned it was wrong) but it is no less concerning. A man should be conscious of the dignity of a woman and take care to be polite and refrain from crude talk. If he is constantly dropping the F-bomb and talking using explicit language, he is not yet a trustworthy man. He is a vulgar boy and not worthy of your time. 

If you adopt vulgar or coarse speech as a result of hanging around him, then you are being false in order to gain attention and affirmation. It is not love. It doesn't attract true love. It does not build up, heal, bless, or make beautiful. It is ugly and you should reject it. 


8. HE IS DIVISIVE

One of the hallmark actions of narcissists and predators is to isolate a person from her support system and family.

A good man will want to know the rules of your family and abide by them. He will not put you in situations in which you are vulnerable or separated from your support system. If you find this to be the case, you may very well be dealing with a predatory person. Or at least someone who is self-absorbed and not good relationship material.


9. HE IS MEAN

If he reacts angrily or unkindly to your efforts to maintain connection with what is good and true in your life, regularly puts you down, or easily erupts into angry outbursts... end the relationship. You are headed for a life of sorrow. 


10. HE PRESSURES YOU TO ABANDON YOUR MORALS

He may be supportive at first but many predators will start to chip away at the foundation of your beliefs after they have gained your trust. They might start to do this by asking innocent sounding questions about moral issues and then increase negativity once they find gaps in your knowledge or faith. They will press into your doubt and use your affection to their advantage. 

A predatory person is often excited to learn that you are a religious-minded person because it makes the catch that much more exhilarating. They know if you want to be pure and possibly if you are a virgin. They've just entered the most thrilling video game ever

They are willing to wait a long time for you if they think they can ultimately "win." Studies of criminal sexual predators show that some of them will groom a victim for years. In relationships where a man isn't criminal but simply lacks virtue, he may also be willing to wait a long time for you if he is enjoying the ego-affirming chase. 

If your guy is pressuring you to abandon your morals and isn't Christian or Catholic, see points #1 and #2. If he claims to be a Catholic, see #3. If you are certain that he is a practicing Catholic and he regularly pressures you to abandon your moral compass, especially in matters of sexuality... see #4. Run from them all. They don't love you. 


11. HE IS FAST

You've known him for a few weeks and he already says "I love you." You've just had a first date and he gives you a full body hug (pressing thighs, hips, abdomen, chest, and shoulders together). He is quick to hold your hand, quick to kiss you, quick to talk about the future. Quick to demand the majority of your time. 

This is not proof positive of a bad man, especially since most young men simply suffer from terrible formation or a tendency toward imprudence. But just know...

Healthy discernment is not generally that fast and predators are willing to wait a long time but will also go as quickly as they are allowed to go. Pushing physical boundaries early is often a way of grooming for rapid physical intimacy. It shows them how far they can go without resistance and it shows you one of two things 1) Dude hasn't been taught boundaries and respectful behavior to women, 2) He lacks self-discipline and maturity, or 3) He doesn't care.


12. HE IS IMMERSED IN FOUL MUSIC AND MEDIA (OR VIEWS PORN)

When he gets in the car, he turns on music that would make your grandma blush. He regularly views television, YouTube videos, and movies which depict sexually explicit content. He views pornography. 

Many practicing Catholics also do these things and it can get very confusing. I have seen practicing Catholic men and women defend soft porn in movies and explicit music lyrics. I do not agree with them and have written about it before but I understand that it can be a difficult point of navigation. 

My point here is to say that if someone has become desensitized to material which degrades, disrespects, distorts, and hates the truth and beauty of God-given sexuality... that's a red flag. As for pornography... someone who currently and unapologetically uses porn is not a safe person for a young woman. 

You are made in the image of God (the Imago Dei). You were made to love and be loved. You are not an object. You deserve better. 


13. HE DOESN'T WANT TO TALK TO YOUR DAD

This is an excellent gauge of a man's integrity and strength of character. 

Not everyone likes, admires, or gets along with their dad but, if your dad is still in your life and isn't a criminal, then a man who wants to date you should be ready and willing to come face to face with him and express his interest in you. 

This practice has almost entirely fallen away in our culture but it is worth restoring even if only as a general barometer of character. Ideally, a guy should reach out to your dad first but most have never been presented with such an idea. You may have to bring it up. And then know....

A guy who refuses to talk to your dad is likely a man of secrets, lies, poor character, and a hidden agenda. He doesn't want his cover blown by dad and is averse to the proper order of relationships.

Some predators can even fool dad and Eddie Haskell their way through a meeting. But I maintain that if your guy is happy to meet with your dad (even if he's nervous), discuss expectations, accountability, intentions, etc, and shake his hand... then your odds of happiness are greatly increased. 


Now... add up the points. 

I can't tell you what to do with them because I do not claim this to be a fool proof formula for discernment. I only offer you food for thought. 

If you have one point, you need to figure out if it really is a concern or not (unless it's a non-negotiable like sexual pressure) . If you have multiple, I recommend bringing the information to someone you trust with your very life (not the guy) and prayerfully considering the potential concerns. 

I don't want to end this article... I want to keep talking about it. I want to put my arms around every girl and make sure she gets it. I had to keep it relatively brief here because the internet has robbed our collective ability to read something even as long as this post. I know most will just skim.

But let's get the conversation started. 

A girl should be prepared early on to understand her dignity and to become accustomed to defending boundaries. She will need those tools her entire life. She will need them in the Church, in school, in sports, in family life, and in friendships. 

She will be tempted to become like the culture in order to find love. The predators are waiting. 

Break the silence. Restore the culture. Protect each other. 

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Flotsam, Jetsam, and Homeschool Consolations

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Several years ago, we were trying to figure out how to fit in as homeschoolers in a vibrant, school-based parish with a DRE and pastor who weren't super supportive of homeschooling. We had previously enjoyed years of support and encouragement but our pastor was forced into retirement (he desired to serve longer) and the administration turned over to people who did not share his approach to shepherding. 

For years, our parish had been a place of joy, consolation, and respite. Suddenly, we were outsiders. 

There was rarely an open hostility but the passive aggressive punch that confronted us constantly became more than we were willing to absorb. This is not the way home should be and not the way children should be raised in the faith. We eventually left. But I haven't forgotten those difficult days and the important of encouragement and consolations that come when we most need them. 

If you need that kind of consolation today, I have a story for you...

I was in the parish office turning in some paperwork for the CYO team I was coaching and ran into the new DRE of our parish. It was not an encounter I wanted to have, especially since we had recently informed her that we would be exercising our right to opt out of her sacramental program for our Confirmandi. 

We said our hellos and she said she was praying for my family. That was much appreciated, especially because she was a religious sister! But she looked quite distressed and I got the idea from her countenance that perhaps she was praying for us specifically because we were bad eggs who needed urgent Divine intervention.

Our interactions in the past hadn't been exactly joyful. The general formula went like this:

Sister: Asks me if I got an email about upcoming events.
Me: Pleasantly acknowledges receipt of email and politely declines.
Sister: Bursts into tears and walks away

So I was already accustomed to constantly feeling like a thorn in the sides of... well... all the spiritual leaders of my home parish. Not a great feeling. But this, one of our final interactions, has stuck with me over time. It really did sting. And it really did contribute to our departure from our happy parish home of a decade. 

Immediately following her promise of prayers, she looked like she was going to cry, shook her head mournfully and said...

 "The homeschooling situation is so sad. They are going to be so behind." 

I was struck dumb because she was so obviously talking about my family. In spite of the fact that I was standing inches from her. In spite of the fact that there really was nothing sad at all about our "situation" nor with the healthy and happy homeschooling community which had flourished in our parish up to that point. In spite of the fact that my family had never been anything but kind to her and my children were obviously well-formed and flourishing. 

But she really didn't see us.
She didn't ask me what I thought.
She didn't ask me what I love, what I pursue, what I dream about...
What my family loved about our homeschooling life.

She spoke at me, not with me. 

I was a problem child and she had to figure out what to do with me... and I was not invited to the discussion. She was consumed with her own sad drama. And that is sad. And extremely difficult to engage fruitfully. 

Part of me wanted to stand up and fight the ignorance. I was completely fine with dying on that hill. But I chose silence at the time. Eventually, my family also chose to silently leave. And while homeschooling itself didn't get any easier, we were free from an institutional pressure to view our life as deeply flawed and "sad."

That's a lie straight from the mind of the enemy of God and I'm sorry that Sister fell for it. But I won't live by it. 

Shortly after that encounter, I read a book by Father George Rutler called Cloud of Witnesses: Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive. It is not a book about homeschooling and I was certainly not expecting a homeschooling consolation from it; and yet there it was, right in the forward.

I don't suppose I'll ever be in a position to use the phrase "flotsam of their own infecundity" with any angst-filled educator, but it is awfully satisfying to hear Father Rutler use it!

Any homeschoolers need an arm to lean on today? A word from someone who knows why you do what you do?

Fr. Rutler offers you his. Enjoy! 

"While I have spent a lot of time in schools, the lives of people themselves are the best schools. When a friend asked me to coax his daughter, who had announced after her first day of kindergarten that she did not want to go back, I replied that the girls seemed to have sensed something quite right. With some rhetorical excess I said she should abandon kindergarten altogether, for it was my experience that school interrupted my education. It locks you in with your peers. That is a mistake. One's social circle should avoid one's equals. As a child I found children unexceptional and preferred the company of adults. I got to know lots of people who are dead now whom I never would have known had I waited a few years. So I have a collective memory, and oral tradition, that goes back to the eighteenth century, having spoken with people who knew people who knew people who knew people who lived then. The only real university is the universe and that is why an expression like New York University missed the point that the city is the university.

I exercised the child's father by suggesting that, instead of school, children should spend time in restaurant kitchens and shops and garages of all kinds, learning from people who actually make the world work. One day spent roaming through a real classical church building would be the equivalent of one academic term in any of our schools, and a little time spent inconspicuously in a police station would be more informative than many hours spent on social science. Formal lessons would only be required for accuracy in spelling and proficiency in public speaking, for which most public speakers in our culture are not models; and in exchange for performing some menial services, a child could learn the violin, harp, and piano from musicians in one of the better hotels or from performers in the public subways. I urged my friend to keep his child out of kindergarten because kindergarten will only lead to first grade and then the grim sequence of grade after grade begins and takes its inexorable toll on the mind born fertile but gradually numbed by the pedants who impose on the captive child the flotsam of their own infecundity."

How Can We Help? Please Reply. A Letter to Catholic Families

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The letter was a stunner. I sat at my desk with tears streaming down my face, reading the words from a friend which seemed to open old wounds and heal them at the same time. He was asking for my thoughts (and the the input of other Catholic families) as he and his wife discern their family's role in living out the Gospel message. And now they have granted my request to share this letter with you. 

My friend is a faithful Catholic man married to a beautiful woman of God, and their marriage is a blessing to those who know them. Like other families, they carry crosses, and have been carrying the heavy cross of infertility for 8 years. I have watched them blossom beautifully, watered by grace, even under that difficult weight; and I have been so blessed by their continuous and fervent effort to discern the will of God for their lives. 

In the midst of their own trials, they have observed the unique crosses of Catholic parents and are wondering how those burdens can be lightened. 

They know that their primary call is to holiness... but they continue to pursue the "what" and "how" of the specific call of their marital vocation... and they are asking for input. In asking "How can we use our vocation to help support other families?" they are also asking "How can we help restore Christendom?"

Will you please take a few minutes to read and to answer his questions? Put your thoughts in the comments here or on Facebook, or email them to me and I will send them along. Also, please share this post and get this conversation rolling among the larger community. Perhaps we will all learn something in the process of pondering and sharing. 


Dear Friends, 

I am increasingly convinced that my wife's and my role (and perhaps mission) in this season of life is to serve in some way as support and aid to others attempting to raise their families in an authentically Catholic way. Everyone included here is already doing a wonderful job of raising beautiful families - I'm just wondering if there's some way it could be even better. I've spoken of this to many of you already, and want to pursue the idea to see if and how it might develop. 

Right now, I'm not sure what this means (if it means anything at all) or how it looks; but, the more I think and talk about it, the more beneficial and needed it appears. This may not lead to anything, but not pursuing the idea will certainly lead to nothing. So please take some time to thoughtfully consider together as parents and spouses and respond, which will help both us (in determining if this even a thing for us) and potentially many others.

The question at the heart of my idea is basically this: If you could have help in raising and forming your family, what would that help look like?

I think many parents have become inured to the challenges, struggles, and difficulties of raising a family, and accept them as "normal." And, of course, there will always be those. But how might they be lessened or eased? What would "someone to help" look like?

Would it be someone...

  • ...to help tutor/homeschool/supplement kids' education?
  • ...to help clean?
  • ...to help babysit?
  • ...to have adult conversation with?
  • ...to just come visit and spend some "quantity time"?
  • ...to help arrange real-education related events/trips?
  • (e.g. a trip to a farm to plant vegetables or collect eggs is far more educational than reading a book about gardening. Mom may not be able to take age-appropriate kid because younger kids need attention, but what if a trusted family friend could help chaperone a group of age-appropriate kids from several families? Etc.)
  • ...to help develop a more-enveloping/holistic vision for Catholic culture/community?
  • ...to recommend reading/music/media?
  • ...to help share the good ideas and experience you've already had with others?
  • ...to....? Dare to dream!
  • I've included several friends who represent different stages of family life, demographics, needs, and means. But everyone at least shares a commitment to raising Catholic families in some way. And everyone has something to contribute, no matter where on the family-life spectrum you are. 

I've been developing my own understanding of what Catholic culture (which will only be rebuilt through the family) looks like; most recently based on Anthony Esolen's book Out of the Ashes, and the concepts of Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option. In short: real friendship, real community, built on Truth and a pursuit of virtue and true human formation. But I want to hear from you "in the trenches," who have real day-to-day experiences in this thing.

Finally, I anticipate some resistance to your thinking and replying on this. Some of the things you might think:

  • "I don't want to bother anyone."
  • "This is my family and I chose to have the kids, so I don't want to burden anyone else by asking for help."
  • "I don't want anyone to think I'm a bad mom/dad."
  • "I don't want to admit it's hard."
  • "I don't want anyone to see my messy house."
  • "I don't want anyone to judge me."
  • "I don't need help."
  • "Nothing will change anyway, this is just fantasy."
  • "I don't know what I don't know."

Please, please, please do not allow fear, pride, vanity, negativity, or a sense of "bothering someone" prevent you from thinking, replying, and embracing this idea. I don't know where this will lead (if anywhere), but I do know that not asking the question, and not trying will lead exactly no where. The perfect guarantee of nothing changing. I'm not trying to create a "program" or impose obligations - just trying to figure out if there's a way to help serve the needs of good friends raising good families.

The world and secular culture is encroaching and the Enemy is ever seeking to destroy the family. We must take those threats seriously stand firm and do something to help one another in this spiritual battle for the souls of our families and friends. I hope just asking these questions will help foster some ideas as to how we might work together in love, friendship, and virtue to rebuild and re-claim authentic Culture. I look forward to your thoughts!

Oremus pro invicem,
Your brother in Christ

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.