Category Archives: Credo

Matters of faith and/or morals.

An Open Letter

Dear Recent College Graduate (and others seeking your way in life),

 

First, the disclaimer.  I am not a spiritual director.  I am not trained in the theology or methodology of discernment any more than any other semi-interested lay person.  I speak only from experience and reflection on that experience.  

Also, the hope is always that prayer is constant and earnest though it all.  We’re not perfect, but the more open we are with God (by means of giving him our time) the better chance we have of finding his will, whether we realize we have or not.

That said, I remember being in my last two years of college.  I remember the questioning: where is God calling me?  And more importantly(?), how can I know?

Shoot, I remember asking these questions in college, and after college, and when we had the opportunities to move our family or change jobs…we’re more or less there right now, as we consider finding a permanent place for our family to live.

So maybe that’s the bad news: discernment doesn’t go away when you decide on your career or who you will marry or which order to join.  If anything, the stakes just get higher.

So what is different about my discernment now and (gasp) 13 years ago?  How can I talk so glibly about such weighty matters?

Maybe it’s the good news: God is faithful.  With the benefit of hindsight, his faithfulness shows up all over our lives.  It’s just that often we had to be on the other side of the discernment to see it.

I think we (by which I mean Craig and I) always knew not to expect a booming voice from Heaven when we asked God to reveal his plans for our lives.  I expect most people are with us there.  That would have been nice, of course, but we weren’t quite that hopeful.

Still, I think we expected our options to be narrowed down.  Or some friend to come up with the perfect, unassailably flawless solution.  Or a scripture quote to appear in a retreat note which was exactly the same passage we were praying over when the email about this grad school came in.  

Basically, we wanted a sign.

And even now, a sign would be lovely.  I would love to be able to say, “Thanks, God!  Now that I know exactly what Your Holy Will is, I’ll do my best to follow your blueprint.”

Life just doesn’t seem to work like that. Not for us, at least.  We have found that the best way to find God’s will is to jump in and see what happens.  Peace?  Then we made a good guess based on the understanding we had.  Not peace?  Maybe we need pray (a lot) more and try again.  

I have found, for myself, that it is usually my gut that listens to God the best.  (This is rather Hebrew of me – the seat of the person being not in the heart but the innards.)  Anyway, it’s almost always a gut check that points me in the right direction.  

Watching the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina from 2,000 miles away was my first indication that I wasn’t meant to spend my life in the hallowed halls of academia – I needed the real world too badly.

I knew for a while that I would rather be home with my kids than teaching Latin, but it took a drive across the Huey P. Long Bridge, my first day back to work after having Samantha, with her two-year-old sister in the back seat, with SNOW fluttering around the car – what on earth was I doing?  I was going to drop my kids at day care when it was snowing in New Orleans so I could teach Latin.  To mostly uninterested high school girls.  Gut check.

You get the idea.  Sometimes the scholarship comes through (or doesn’t) and the decision is made.  Sometimes the path is clear…but sometimes you just throw caution to the wind, close your eyes, and jump.

God will catch you.  

And where ever he puts you down, he will cause you to grow.  There may be a transplanting in your future, but by then you’ll have grown strong enough to survive it, and to blossom.

Summer Planshttps://www.tryingtosaygod.com/

I fear this blog is digressing into writing conference memoranda and book reviews.  

I guess it could be worse.

On that note, my summer plans include a visit to South Bend for a Catholic Writer’s Conference:

Trying to Say God

So it turns out that I’m not just lacking in talent for finding Catholic publishers…there are very few of them out there.  And few reviewers.  And few “Catholic” writers who claim the title and write with a “Catholic” worldview.

Why the “quotes”?  I’ve been doing the suggested reading to prep for the conference (see below), and this is one of the big questions: what does a “Catholic” writer look like and write about in 2017?  It’s easy to look back (Flannery O’Connor, Evelyn Waugh, Tolkein, and friends are mentioned constantly) but that’s not particularly helpful when faced with the challenge of how to address our current challenges and a church, as writers, and as readers.  So what’s a budding children’s author to do?

Thus the conference…maybe I’ll have some answers afterwards.  But if you need some reading (including lists of the American Catholics authors you may or may not have missed in your public high school American lit class), check out the links below, courtesy of Kenneth Garcia, who is hosting the conference.

And seats were still available last I heard…come join me!

 

Dana Gioia,  “The Catholic Writer Today,” Dec. 2013, First Things (https://www.firstthings.com/article/2013/12/the-catholic-writer-today)

 

Paul Elie, “Has Fiction Lost its Faith?”  New York Times, Dec. 19, 2012  (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/books/review/has-fiction-lost-its-faith.html)

 

Kaya Oakes, “Writers Blocked: The State of Catholic Writing Today,” America, April 28, 2014 (http://www.americamagazine.org/issue/writers-blocked)

 

Randy Boyagoda, “Faith in Fiction,” First Things, August 2013 (https://www.firstthings.com/article/2013/08/faith-in-fiction)

 

Francis Spufford, “Spiritual Literature for Atheists,” First Things, November 2015 (https://www.firstthings.com/article/2015/11/spiritual-literature-for-atheists)

The Gift of Compassion

I wrote once, years ago now, about an article in America Magazine called “A Fiery Gift,” in which the author argued that there are important spiritual insights to be gained from a natural birthing experience.  Essentially, she claimed (and I agree) that the pattern of birthing occurs often is our spiritual lives, and having the experience of physically birthing a child gives us a context against which to compare the movements we make toward growth in our souls.

In our Engaging Spirituality group we have discussed the different kinds of deaths we face – of ideas, dreams, plans, youth, etc., but birth has been largely left out until tonight.  But one of our group members, during centering prayer, came to a very similar conclusion to the author of that article.

Which got me thinking.  We try so hard to avoid suffering, or anything messy, really.  So much of life is messy!  Especially some of the best parts – birthing, making love, making mud pies.  And women’s bodies are messy, so we try to control them and clean them up.  Heaven forbid we be too smelly, or hairy, or anyone find out we have our period.  But like with birthing, when we push this all away, what are we missing?  The whole world works on beautiful, simple cycles of birth and death.  It is the Pascal Mystery – life, death, resurrection.  And our bodies do it every month, if only we allow them.  We complain about the discomfort of PMS or cramps, or crying for no apparent reason.  But what if God has really just given us a gift of tears that we aren’t humble enough to accept?  What if the “no reason” that sets us off at “that time of the month” is really the greatest reason of all – compassion, true suffering-with, for all those unnamed sufferers in our world?  Our ES group has been learning about the importance of holding the world in all its suffering in our hearts and lifting it up in prayer.  It sounds like a daunting task, but what if God created women – mothers all of us, biologically or not – to do just this caring, comforting, weeping at the foot of the cross, and to do it naturally, easily, every month?

I have to admit, I am more stable emotionally when I am pregnant or nursing than when I am am cycling.  And as I move back towards those constantly changing hormones, I feel the mood swings and sudden onset of tears acutely.  But I am grateful for the insight this prayer group, these readings, and these fellow sojourners in faith have gifted me with.  So that maybe, instead of cursing my body for being so inconvenient, I can now learn to welcome and bless God’s gift of tears as the opportunity for a deepening compassion.

Are we awake?

I fear it may be time for this blog to head off in a different direction. This should be a good thing, since it might encourage me to get back to writing. We’ll see.
My eyes are being opened and my heart is being broken, and I need space to work through some of this. I’m hoping this space will fill some part of this need.
Craig and I have been participating in a group through church called Engaging Spirituality. The program seeks to deepen participants’ faith through a group process focused on prayer and social justice.It has been challenging, to say the leastparents , and we are discovering just how much growing we still have to do.
Craig’s parents have been kind enough to watch the girls through all these meetings. As I was driving to their house to drop the little ones off, I witnessed this scene.
We were at a red light, waiting to make a left turn. To the side of the oncoming traffic, also stopped for the light, a man was walking up and down with a sign. I couldn’t read the sign, since his back was to me, but I’ve seen this man, and his friend who was sitting on the bus bench, before, so I know the sign said something to the effect of, “hungry”, “please help”, “anything helps”, etc. You know the signs as well as I do.
In the far lane from the man, a police car was stopped for the light. I noticed the blue lights flashing, and the officer flinging his door open and stepping quickly out of the car. He called to the man with the sign, and waved him toward him. Between the two rows of cars, there was a conversation which I couldn’t see much of because of the cars between me and the two men.
I don’t know what was said. Maybe the officer warned the other man to be careful in the traffic. But I doubt it. The officer looked irate. There was violence in his movement. When they were done talking, the man slunk over to the bench, sign gone or put away. The officer stormed back to his car, ripped the door open, and got back in.
Our light changed.
The whole scene might have taken a minute. I was shaken by what I witnessed. Craig checked when we got home – there is no law against pan-handling which applies to that part of the city. What could the officer have said to this man? Maybe he knows him well, has picked him up in the past for something. I don’t know. But what I saw, what my heart and my gut saw, was ugly.
These men are already down. What good does it do for this officer to get out and further embarass and belittle them in the middle of stopped traffic? There was no kindness or concern for the plight of fellow human being visible in the officer’s body language. There wasn’t even pity. There was contempt, self-righteousness, anger, disgust, and, as I realized laying awake in bed tonight, violence. I do not feel safer for the action this officer took. I feel embarassed. My initial thoughts were, “How could we?” and “God help us!” Where is our compassion as a society? Why do we insist on alienating and hurting our most vunerable?
And I drove away.

go fish!

The scene: Lucy andSamantha sittiginthenew prayer space with fans of saint cards in hand.
Lucy: “Do you have a Saint Rose?”
Samantha: “Go fish!”

Holy Water

Lucy has a theory.  She thinks that all we need to do to make the world a better place starts with a little Holy Water.  You take some of this “magical” stuff in a cup, and go find a bad person.  You have two weeks to do this, as she assured us this evening that the water stays good for two weeks.  When you find the bad person, you have them drink the Holy Water.  Then they won’t want to be bad any more.

I want to live in her world.

January 25, 2010 – Church and State

In the space of an hour tonight, the girls’ imaginative play included two hilarious and touching games.  The first was “Mass”, complete with Goldfish and water intincture for communion, the girls taking turns as priest, and a fantastic version of “Hosanna to Jesus the King” of Lucy’s own creation.

When that was finished, Lucy announced that we were going to do what the man on the computer was doing (Craig was watching the State of the Union): she would stand up and talk, and we would all clap.  The speech sounded roughly like this: “Blah, goobdy-glah, ookie jimbas.”  It was quite hilarious.

Can I ask a favor?

Somebody please disagree with me if this is not you experience.

This is my request.  Please, please, do not tell me that “the only thing that matters is a healthy mom and a healthy baby.”  I’m not saying I don’t want a healthy baby, or that I would rather bleed to death, or that I don’t appreciate that I live in a place where I have the opportunity (not to mention the medical insurance) to allow us to catch a placenta previa and do something “safe” about it.  But what I hear, although I know it is not what it intended, which is why I try not to get upset about it, is, “don’t get so worked up about your birth.  Your experience of it doesn’t matter.  Stop being upset.”

I know that’s not what people who say this mean.  But I also know that I need to mourn the birth I was really, really hoping to have.  And it is mourning.  I am between “denial” and “bargaining” at the moment, and in a way watching myself work through it.

So I know, of course, that the most important thing is a healthy mom and a healthy baby.  Otherwise I would not be signed up for surgery in two weeks.  But it is not the only important thing, by any stretch of the imagination.  And it rings empty to hear it in the midst of the emotional pain that comes with this kind of change of plans.  It strikes me as the rationalization of a society that isn’t comfortable with suffering, that doesn’t want to admit that what it often forces women to do with their bodies is suffering, and that focuses on the ends to the exclusion of the means.  ( I had to throw some psychology and philosophy in here sooner or later, right?)

And I’ve been there, so I know that holding a beautiful, healthy baby does not make the experience of birth go away, no matter what the birth was like.  Particularly when you can’t nurse the baby in your lap because it is too painful, or wear your favorite baby sling for two months, and you are constantly reminded how the birth went.  I do not love Lucy less because she was born by a c-section.  But if I could go back and change the way she came into the world, I think I might.  Of course there are lessons to be learned from every situation, and I do like to think that things happen for a reason, but adding unnecessary suffering to a situation (and a lot of it with Lucy’s birth had to do with the way we were treated, not just the fact it was a c-section rather than a vaginal birth) doesn’t make sense to me.

So even if it’s meant to be comforting, I’d rather not hear about how lucky I am right now.  On the other hand, I am curious if anyone out there did actually, truly, find the “healthy mom, healthy baby” argument comforting.  Particularly at this stage of things.

So I’m really looking forward to meeting this very wiggly baby in two weeks.  And I’m looking forward to enjoying the last two weeks of this pregnancy as much as I can.  But I can’t simplify my feelings (blame it on the hormones if you want) to “thank God things are going to be ok”.  I do, repeatedly.  But I’m stubborn, and I’m an oldest child, and I’m still going to be upset that things didn’t work out “my way”.

Enough ranting.  I should say that I do appreciate all the prayers and well-wishes we’ve gotten over the last couple of weeks.  We certainly need more prayer for the next month or two now.  I’m sorry I’m keeping you all so busy!  But like I said before, it has been a true blessing to know how many people care about our family.  And in looking for a bright side, I certainly find one there – how many people have spent a little more time in prayer these last few weeks than they would have otherwise?  How many people have I reconnected with because they heard one way or another about what was going on and reached out to us?  I don’t think I’ll ever doubt our support system again.

I know there’s reason to all this somewhere.  Our OB thinks maybe she had such disappointing birth experiences so that she would become an advocate for fewer c-sections and interventions, so that more women could have experiences they could remember with more joy, healthier bodies, fewer complications, etc.  And she has been a great blessing to us, especially when I think that some women go to doctors like a couple of them I’ve met over the last few weeks – lacking sympathy, lacking anything that could be called “bed-side manner”, very nearly lacking respect of me as a person (as opposed to a condition).

Apparently I babble when I don’t sleep well.  But since all this is what has been keeping me awake, I thought I might as well record it for posterity.  If you’ve read this far, thank you, and I’m sorry.  I’ll quit now.

Counting down the minutes

I have to say I’ve been pretty overwhelmed by all the notes we’ve gotten saying that we are in people’s prayers.  Thank you all so much!!  No matter how things end up going, it has been a great blessing for me to know how many people care about me and our family.

The ultra sound appointment is set for 2:40 this afternoon, then it’s straight to the OB’s office to discuss where we stand, and then if there is time, we’re meeting with the midwife while we’re uptown.  And then I’m hoping for a celebratory dinner somewhere…  So I’ll update as soon as I can, but it probably won’t be until this evening.

The girls went with Taylor to visit her family in Bunkie (Tay has been here helping us out since Sunday – she’s better at getting the girls to sleep than I am!) so the house is quiet, maybe for one of the last times for a while.  Please pray for their safe journey, also, and that the Newtons survive our little bundles of energy!

The Trip, Part 1: Hospitality

I’m pretty sure this will take several days to explain, in part since my writing time is now divided by a number of thank-you notes which must be written with all haste.

Which seems like as good a place as any to start.  We were very, very blessed by the generosity of friends and strangers on our trip to Fargo, ND, this past week.  We were gone from Tuesday morning to the following Tuesday night, and only spent one of those nights away in a hotel.  So pending the thank-you notes, here are the people to whom we owe our very awesome, very long trip.

We spent the first night in St. Louis, MO, with Nate, Angela, and John Paul.  Craig got to know Nate first in his role as a Catholic blogger (read: “they met on the internet!”)  Nate and Angela are in the beginning stages of starting a new Catholic Worker on the other side of town from the long-standing Worker of St. Louis, and as they have kicked most modern communication technology out of their house, we’ve been corresponding with them by snail mail for a couple of months now…mostly about whether they would be interested in allowing us to crash at their house on our way north.  Happily, they were willing.  We left New Orleans early, arrived in St. Louis in the afternoon, and had a great time having dinner, going to playgrounds, eating frozen custard, and discussing the joys and difficulties of living a holistic Catholic lifestyle.  Nate and Angela were leaving on their own road trip the next day, so we were really grateful to them for going out of their way to take us in.

Next we went on to Iowa City, where we stayed with people we actually knew, Mike and Violet and their beautiful daughters Stella and Juniper.  They let us stay two nights, so we had time to visit, take the kids to the library, stay up late, and marvel at how peaceful Juniper is at all times.  Mike and Violet let us sleep on their mattress.  They are awesome.  They offered to leave things where they were in case we wanted to stop back there on the way home.  Sadly, we didn’t make it back to see them again this trip.

From Iowa City we went on to the original purpose of the trip, a Young Disciples reunion in Fargo, ND.  There, again we stayed with strangers, although the arrangements for this “host home” had been made by a friend of ours who used to run the YD program.  Josh and Tracy, the young couple we stayed with, provided toys, stairs, and cereal for the girls, as well as a Mary Poppins cup with built in straw.  What more could little girls need?  We were there Friday and Saturday nights, and had a good reunion and more fascinating theological discussion.  That was actually the other theme of the trip.

While we were in Iowa City, Mike and Violet had mentioned the place their friend Brenna was living: a Catholic Worker farm outside of Dubuque, IA.  Violet was kind enough to call and see if we could come visit the farm on our way home.  And sure enough, they had a space for us.  Actually, Brenna gave up her bed so we could stay, and we got in late since we didn’t leave Fargo until almost one and there are no useful interstates in the area, (South Bend and Highway 31, anyone?) and the roosters are apparently on Mountain Time, as they started crowing at four in the morning.  But the people of the farm (do I call them Farmers?  Workers?) were so hospitable, even though only Brenna knew us from Adam, and she barely so.  Craig was feeling down and out by the morning (he didn’t sleep well) and we were offered another night, should we need it.  We have several good farm stories now, and Craig is ready to move immediately, and, as usual, we had good food and good conversation and left feeling welcomed and rested (Craig napped through lunch).

So finally we went back through St. Louis, and stayed at a hotel, because even though Nate and Angela had offered us another night at their house, they were getting back from their road trip that same day, and Craig had come down with a cold, and our humility had about run out, so we decided not to impose anymore.  And even the lady working at the hotel offered us milk as we were checking in for the tired and grumpy (read: screaming) girls.

Thus the pile of thank-you notes I have to get started on.  We have a new standard of hospitality to live up to.  We were well cared for on a long trip, one we could not have afforded to make without the generosity of friends and strangers.  And I think the best part was, if we had stayed by ourselves in hotels all those nights, trying to get the girls bathed and to bed on time, sleeping until we had to get ready to go, watching TV because there isn’t a whole lot else for a three-year-old to do in a hotel room, we would have missed so much.  We would have missed catching up with old friends, we would have missed making new friends and learning a wide variety of new things.  The girls would have missed playgrounds, frozen custard, and farm animals, just for starters.  I wouldn’t have so many letters to write, which I actually can’t wait to start.  Connections we had to people in other places which were tenuous, if they even existed, are stronger now.  Our like-minded community, which we keep trying to build a little here and there as we go, has grown tremendously.  It might just have been worth the 3,200 miles in the car.