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.

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...

darknessandlight.jpg

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)

autoimmune roots.jpg

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.

Before and after Lupus.jpg

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!

A Catholic Girls' Guide to Unmasking a Predator

mask.jpg

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. 

mask2.jpg

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

FutlonSheenDivorce.jpg

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

stop photoshopping-2.jpg

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. 

FullSizeRender.jpg

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

stop photoshopping2.jpg

 

 

Flannery, Lupus, and a Principle of Life

Elisabeth leseur.jpg

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)

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

{This post may contain affiliate links. More info Here.}

sunshinedarkness1.jpg

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...

20748011_1446404778776182_4272136678766437981_o.jpg

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}

Chasing sunshine diffuser blend.jpg

Orthorexia: The Red Herring of the Oreo-rexic Internet

Orthorexia.jpg

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. 

 

 

My Saint My Story: Jewelry With Purpose

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

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

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

Holy Family Cuff 3.jpg

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

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

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

Holy Family Cuff.jpg

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

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

Yeah... I can get behind that. 

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

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

Holy Family Cuff 5.jpg

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

Holy Family Cuff 2.jpg
Holy Family Cuff 4.jpg

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

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

That is true retail therapy!

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


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


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

The Morning After (A Story About Lupus)

Behind my sleepy eyelids, I can see the glow of the sun coming through my window. It is morning and I have a sinking, grieving feeling that in just a moment, I will bear the full consequence of yesterday's indulgence.

I try to blink the heaviness away from my eyes but can not; they are swollen almost shut. My face feels like a plaster mask is affixed to it and a strong cry of mourning builds up in my throat. I have been here before and the sorrow of recognition hits me like a wave. I manage to hold back the sounds of grief so I won't disturb the tiny blonde kiddo sleeping on my shoulder.

His cheeks are sun-kissed from swimming and playing the day before... a gentle rosy kiss which I know will be a stark contrast to what has happened to my own face. I haven't yet seen a mirror but I already know what I'll find there. I won't even be recognizable beneath the swelling. The sun is my enemy... and she had seduced me with her warmth and beauty... and with a touch of poison.

I have lupus and the sun is my enemy. Actually, my own body is my enemy.  When the sun shines on me, it triggers my body to attack itself... organs, skin, joints... and during a flare, there's really nothing I can do to stop it except stay in my cave and manage it. I have a rough idea of my limits, but yesterday... there was a celebration and a meal outdoors and kids to be monitored and life to be lived...

And so I let the beauty of the sun fool me again. Or rather... I knowingly went beyond what I knew my broken immune system could handle and am paying the price. 

The tears won't come until the swelling goes down and so I gently move my little prince off my arm so that he is not startled by my distorted appearance when he wakes. There are worse things than a funny looking face, but I do not want the small sorrow of even a momentary rejection this morning. 

I get out of bed and feel my ankles jiggle with the swelling. My joints are badly jarred by the slight impact on the wood floor. All 115 pounds of me... feeling like 40 years going on 100 and wishing like mad that I could at least have the sweet relief of a good cry.

But those tear ducts aren't working and so my soul cries instead as I touch my face. In confusion, I promise God (again) that I won't care two figs about what I look like as long as he lets me survive this long enough to mother my kiddos into adulthood. Just twenty years (or more), I ask. Please. 

In the emotion of the moment, I don't know if bargaining with God is okay. And I don't know if it works. I only remember the face of the crucified Christ Who loves me and I think it's okay to reach out even if I'm confused. Someone once told me that we shouldn't wait to talk to God perfectly or else we will never muster the courage to talk at all. And so this morning, He hears a lot of mixed up things from me. 

I marvel at how this swollen mask unmasks me and reminds me of how elementary I am in all things. I am nothing but a tiny girl asking her dad question after question and begging for a bit more ice cream.

"Daddy? Why did God make the moon?"
"But why did He make nasty mosquitos?"
"If God is all-powerful, why does He let people get hurt?"
"What if we pray harder? Can we stop the bad things?"

And therein lies the question that keeps people so far from the heart of Jesus Christ. We don't want the cross. And we can't see His love through our pain... we can't understand why He would let it hurt so much.

My inflamed forehead rests on the cool bathroom mirror and I think of life... how much I want to be alive and well. And I think of death... and how much I want to someday be fully alive through death. Somedays it terrifies me and some days it sounds like the relief that I pray for. That desire piggybacks on my emotion of the moment and swells into a deep longing for the Presence of Jesus Christ. 

I shuffle downstairs to grab my water, supplements, essential oils, and to figure out what kind of breakfast will help facilitate a healing day. I poke at my iPad until I find Laura Story's 'Blessings' and I press play. I listen and breathe...

"What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst
This world can't satisfy"

I thank the Lord over and over again for the gift of illness... and then I put on some praise music and gently dance in a way that doesn't hurt. I can't go out in the sun today because my body doesn't work right and the sun is still  somehow my enemy. But someday, I will bask in sunlight forever...

I will not hurt. 
I will not be afraid. 
I will give thanks and dance forever.

I open my email and see an invitation to come play at the park. The sun is shining and I tell the hostess that I cannot make it today. Maybe next week.

And it'll be okay. It's all going to be okay. 

How Motherhood Can Heal the Jaded Woman

New motherhood is a golden moment in a woman's life where the opportunity to be permanently changed is tangible, powerful, and immediate. No, I'm not talking about whether or not YOU feel or see any difference. The change happens regardless; because the child is placed into your arms and instantly, you are loved... by a brand new person who doesn't know anything about your failures. And frankly, doesn't care.

Doesn't care if your hair is all messy from labor.
Doesn't care if you've got dark circles under your eyes.
Doesn't care if you are struggling to find words.
Doesn't care if you aren't sure about this whole motherhood thing. 

His love is yours. Period. 

It is an exquisite moment of renewal. There is no history. No memory of wrongs done. A clean slate. 

Those eyes and tiny fingers... they seek you out as often as possible. To connect with you and to love and be loved. Special talent is not required... simply your presence. 

We tend to think of ourselves as being in a role of power over our little ones, but perhaps the greatest potential power is that of the child over a mother's heart. We think we are the lovers and the healers. But I don't know... seems to me that the greater power lies in the helpless devotion of the child.

I was just 21 years old when I held my firstborn; and those initial moments were not ones in which I felt dominant or in control, but ones in which I felt smaller and more humbled than I ever had in my life.

My arrogance fell away.
My selfishness fell away.
My knowledge fell away.
My self-importance fell away.

I held a tiny human in my arms and felt as though I held the mysteries of the universe all wrapped up in my soft baby. Aware of my complete insignificance, I let the awe and fear wash over me in giant waves as the nurses showed me how to care for my son. Those waves crashed upon me again and again as he cried in hunger and turned toward me for nourishment and comfort. And again as I changed him for the first time. Imperfectly.

And still he loved me. 

As those waves of emotion rolled over me, I felt the sharp edges of my womanhood softening, smoothed by the tiny majestic moments. My memories now forever included this child and were filled by him. And no pain or bitterness that I had felt in my life would ever again be felt as sharply simply because he was there. No wound that I had received could hurt as much as the love of this child could heal. 

When I tell people that I've had 8 children, they often stare in astonishment. You must be crazy! Life must be very hard! But I have a secret that they don't know...

The births and the love and the precious lives of my children have continuously washed over me for the last twenty years... and my bitterness doesn't stand a chance. My heart hardens and then it softens; washed over time and again by the smiles and tears of the most precious people on earth.

I am sometimes envious of the beautiful professional women I see around town with their pretty shoes and manicures. I wonder if I will ever be without a little one on my hip or a baby nursing at my breast. And then I remember...

I am happy. I am softened. I am loved. 

As the children have grown, that hard edge sometimes threatens to creep back into my soul again alongside the sufferings and sorrows of life. Shut the door! It cries. You can't be hurt if you keep it closed. And I shout back...

It is a lie.

Let your love wash over me, Jesus... let your love wash me soft. That even when the bitterness rises in my memory, it can never stand against the rolling power of your merciful love. 

A Mother's Secret Moment {surrendering to life}

bird in hand.jpg

I sit in the darkness and count my blessings. Over and over I count them... and then add one more. It is that profound moment in a mother's life. That isolated, heavy, light, surreal moment when no one in the whole world knows except mother of the biggest thing that really ever happens. A new soul... a new soul. The whole world swirls around me in the dark. And I sway and count rhythmically and slowly. Buying a little time, catching  my breath. Measuring time so that I won't miss the breathtaking moment when the soul chooses surrender... and joy.

It takes two days to find that surrender. It isn't that I'm not willing or that I don't know it will come... but that the world is noisy and fast and I need time - time to be alone with this seedling - and to allow the unfolding to occur. 

It never feels like a yesat first but rather a moment of sheer stark terror when mortality and heaven collide with tremendous force. And the first and only thing I want to do in that moment... is to set down my cross. May I, Lord? May I set it down? Just for a moment?

Just for a moment, He says. I will take it. Lean in, Melody... lean in. I will carry your cross until you are ready to pick it up.

Am I ever really ready to pick it up again? From the very first moment two decades ago when I learned I was a mother, I was ready to run. That first time I only feared the unknown. After that, I knew very well why I was afraid; and it is for that reason that I need this precious moment in the silent isolated darkness... to face it and surrender over and over again. Nine times now I have done it. And nine times I have watched my capacity for life expand beyond reasonable bounds. I know the truth about joy. But I just need a moment.

I used to have to wait for the little plus sign... but now I just know the signs of my body. I've done this enough to know the drill. My body changes. My emotions change. My cravings change. My very soul begins to change. Another weak fiat is clasped in my nervous hands - two pink lines -and I slowly uncurl those stubborn fingers. 

What will the world think, Lord?
What do youthink, daughter?

I am overwhelmed by the injustice of the dampening of pure joy by the hardness of worldly hearts... and my temper flares. This child is too beautiful for the world! Too glorious for their eyes and judgments! But I am tainted like the world... and I am tired. And... I just need a moment.

So the darkness remains and my eyes are squeezed shut, wishing the cross to be lighter. But I will my hands to rise up with my fiat. My fingers splay outward and surrender rolls off the tips and also off my tongue and out of my very soul...

Yes. I surrender. With joy.

A tremendous wave of grace crashes upon me, reminding me that He is powerful. That love is not a sentiment but a wild sea. It is a raging storm that draws in the heart and raises it higher... higher... higher. But it takes crazy courage to invite it in and let it reign. 

This child is more than my fear. An immortal soul. Imago Dei.I surrender to awe. I surrender to love. I speak my fears one more time but it is only a ceremonial act. I throw them out fiercely one by one and watch my mighty God strike them down...

Sickness.
Weakness.
Failure.
Discomfort.
Loss of control.
Ridicule.
Miscarriage.
Loss of freedom.
The pains of birth.
Loss of time.

I shout them out and He slays them as dragons and binds the lies which grip my heart. And He replaces them with a song...

You are enough. Your baby is enough. You are free to love. You are free to know joy. Dance in the Presence of your heavenly Father and make an offering of your very life. It is beautiful and good and you know it is. You look into the eyes of your children and you know that you have already embraced this little one... that this moment is the beginning of surrender to joy. Let the blossoming begin. 

It used to be that I was eager to share our news immediately. As the years have gone by and our numbers increased, I am less and less eager. It seems the moment the word is spoken, the mystery is diminished under blithe speech and gossip. The sacred treasure is exposed to harsh light. The talk turns to names and dates and nausea and numbers. And really... all I want to do is breathe in the unspeakable beauty of the sacred dignity of the newly created soul. Eventually, I will get to those other details... but for now, I just rest in the moment. Thanks be to God.