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 corrrect 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 throughfeomnthr front when flying on the candle, I pressed on the felt to the inside.

  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. 

(This was originally posted on Blossoming Joy in 2015)

Three Reasons to Stop Photoshopping Your Face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. It's a lie.

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

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

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

2. You're hurting others.

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

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

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

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

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

3. You are hurting your daughters

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

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

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

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

What does this have to do with our daughters? 

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

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

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

They don't. 

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

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

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

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

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

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Spacing Children Without NFP

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

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

To which I reply...

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

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

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

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

How does it work?

It's rather simple, actually.

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

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

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

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

NO BOTTLES OR PACIFIERS

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

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

FREQUENT NIGHT FEEDING / CO-SLEEPING

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

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

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

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

FREQUENT HOLDING / ALLOWING BABY TO FALL ASLEEP AT THE BREAST

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

NO SCHEDULES

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

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

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

NO RESTRICTIONS

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

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

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

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

EXCEPTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flannery, Lupus, and a Principle of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHOULD YOU READ FLANNERY?

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT IMPACT DID LUPUS HAVE ON FLANNERY?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Catholic Perspective on Essential Oils (A Skeptic Confesses)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of those gifts is essential oils.

THE SKEPTIC

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

THE SCIENCE

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

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

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

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

WHAT ARE ESSENTIAL OILS?

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

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

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

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

My body responds to essential oils. 

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

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

THE CATHOLIC SIDE

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

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

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

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

INTELLIGENT USE

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

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

AT THE END OF THE DAY...

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

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


WHY I SHARE

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

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

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

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

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

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

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

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Leaving the Door Open for a Perfect Lent

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

For your sanctification, with my deepest love and affection. 

Love, 
Your Heavenly Father


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

... because Lents often come packaged like that.

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

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

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

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

Traveling With Your Sensitive Toddler

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"I want to go home."

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

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

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

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

Too much too often too quickly too loudly.

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

HaHaHaHaHaHa!

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

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

1. PAY ATTENTION TO THE BUCKET

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

For a toddler, "overflow" = breakdown.

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

2. BUY A CARRIER AND USE IT

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

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

3. SLEEP CONSISTENCY

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

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

4. GROUNDING TOOLS

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

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

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

5. SIT DOWN AND READ HER BOOKS

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

6. GOOD NUTRITION {NO CANDY}

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

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

7. SIMPLIFY YOUR SCHEDULE

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

8. STEADY DISCIPLINE

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

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

9. PLAN B {WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS}

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

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

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

Happy travels! St. Christopher, pray for us!

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING NOW?

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

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

WHAT IS "NORMAL"?

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE FACE OF LUPUS

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

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

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

She said...

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

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

Celiac
Allergies
Fibromyalgia
Eosinophilic Espohagitis
Lupus

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

THE PATH TO HEALING

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

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

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

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

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

SPRING IS COMING

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

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

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

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

OPTIONS

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

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

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

  • Personal UV monitors (Worth the investment?)

  • UPF clothing (Can someone please develop a stylish line that doesn't look like beachwear?)

  • Long sleeved swimwear and swim leggings (and I'm really confused by the purpose of UPF 50 bikinis)

  • Non-toxic sunscreen (I'm trying to reconcile the price of the best mineral sunscreens for full body use or find a DIY that doesn't go on like paste. Still in trial stages!)

  • Nutritious food (I'm good here... thank you local farms and Thrive Market... but I totally need a personal chef)

  • Supportive supplements (Yes! Essential to my healthcare. I use doTERRA for my staples)

  • Healing therapies (So much overwhelm and $$$... )

  • Essential oils (Sweet affordable consolation)

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

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

UPDATE: The Roots of Autoimmune Crisis {My Updated Story of Lupus and Lyme}

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Orthorexia: The Red Herring of the Oreo-rexic Internet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new food shaming battle cry? Orthorexia.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

If it makes you sick, don't eat it. 


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Symptoms include: 

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

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

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

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

Either that or those clickbait articles simply pay the bills. 

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

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