Isabel Turns Five

photo.PNGOur sweet Isabel celebrated her fifth birthday this week. Who can believe that? Five years in a flash, and yet I can’t remember life without her.

Actually, I totally can. I remember all those years in a house full of boys, times when I felt very much alone in my home of males — and plenty of times when I knew it was something very special to be the mom of so many boys. By the time we had Henry, our fifth son, I had embraced the unique and wonderful vocation of Mom of Boys, the notable charge of raising tomorrow’s men.

When Isabel came along, I had become very much at peace with never having a daughter. It’s not that I didn’t want one, but after so many boys, I had to acknowledge that it might not happen. I knew other women raising boys — and lots of them — and I loved being part of this adventurous club.

My pregnancy with Henry (and Augie five years prior) involved lots of bed rest and other physical challenges that made Paul and I feel like life with five children was The Plan. In other words, we didn’t foresee having another baby because the last two pregnancies had been so challenging for me.

But God has an interesting way of doing business sometimes, and His Ways (I’m happy to report) are not always mine. When we found out baby number six was “unexpectedly” on the way, I was terrified and emotional. I second-guessed God’s wisdom in allowing this to happen, I felt abandoned and undone.

Hormones can make you a little crazy, it seems.

Here are my memories of that time, of finding out we were having another baby: I can’t do this. This isn’t part of the plan. The last pregnancy was too much. We have five boys, what else can I handle? My body is going to give out. My mind might possibly as well.

In the grand scheme of things, these feelings lasted about four days. But it was an intense time, those four days. It’s a lot to deal with, the shift in perspective. One minute you are training for a half-marathon and managing your five sons, and the next you’ve thrown on the emergency brake and come screeching to stop.

It’s like the comedian Jim Gaffigan said: you want to know what it’s like to have a fourth baby? Find someone who is drowning, and throw them a baby.

That was me. I was preparing not just to add another baby to an already crazy plate — but to spend the next nine months watching my body slowly fall apart. That was my plan.

But lo and behold, that pregnancy — baby number six — was the easiest, most peaceful one of them all. None of the previous issues surfaced, it was smooth sailing the entire time.

And then, after that, the most beautiful thing happened. We had a daughter. Which I did not see coming.

But even better than that (if you can believe it!) is that in the midst of that season, of having a sixth baby, woah!, I finally learned to abandon myself and my plans to God. It’s not that I realized you get what you want (a daughter, after five sons!) but that in that beautiful, totally challenging season of having two small children while trying to keep up with four bigger boys, I stopped trying to do anything but what was directly in front of my face.

In that season after having Isabel, it was intense and overwhelming. But there was grace. The grace came from realizing that none of my worth came from what I did — it was in who I am. Not in my accomplishments or my service or even in my role as wife and mother. My worth was from being God’s creation — God made me, and he delights in me. And that is enough.

And here we are, five years later, and our sweet Isabel is getting bigger. I’m so grateful God didn’t limit me to my own plans for my life, I’m so humbled that he knew I could handle another sweet soul to love.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross

Green Birth Control

2470 2470_ () 2470 2470 A year after Paul and I got married, I decided to go to graduate school. As crazy as it seemed, the timing was right and all the doors opened and off I went to live in dorms in a classic city and come home on the weekends.

As part of my Natural Family Planning commitment at the time, each morning I would dutifully take my temperature.  My alarm would go off, I’d use my thermometer and after the beep, write down the number and go back to bed. It was only a matter of time before my roommate finally asked what was going on and I was relieved to get the chance to explain.

“Well,” I said thinking, “I guess you could say we practice ‘ecological birth control.’”

That was speaking her language.

At that point I didn’t need to launch into Catholic Church teaching about birth control and child spacing and openness to life (although some of those topics came up later). At that moment, it was just a chance to introduce my roommate to the idea that you could avoid pregnancy without using all the pills and contraptions that were on the market. Your body is telling you all kinds of information, I explained, if you just know how to put the pieces together.

NFP (as we more commonly call it) gets a bad rap. People either love it or hate it — but either way the discussion rarely moves past the fact that Catholics “have” to use it (and that lots of Catholics have big families). NFP is affordable and highly effective, but those points are almost never discussed. NFP is “not the pill” — and it’s all downhill from there.

To the general population, NFP is archaic and stale.

The truth is that listening to your body is about as cutting-edge as you can be. The trend these days is to be organic and chemical-free and it’s nice to know that when it comes to child-spacing, couples who use NFP are ahead of the curve.

Our methods are green and these days, everyone is about green.

One recent study showed only two percent of Catholic couples use NFP. Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that too many people focus on the negatives. Discussions center on the abstinence required, the chance for human error, the effort it takes to keep track of signs and symptoms. Why not just pop a pill?

But in our current trend away from man-made and chemical-based, a natural method should be gaining popularity. This is where NFP users need to be its biggest champion. We need to speak a language that others can hear.

Here’s my personal confession: I did not start out loving NFP. Paul and I have always used it, but in the early years of our marriage, I was closer to a resentful child than a grand proponent. I stomped my foot in agitation, trusting that the Church knew what she was saying, even though I didn’t totally get it. “I’ll do this out of obedience,” I told the Lord, “but I’m not going to like it.”

And then, over time, I began to like it. One day I had this profound realization: even if the Church suddenly recanted on all its teaching and said we could use whatever kind of birth control we wanted, I wouldn’t stop going natural. It just makes sense. Why pump my body full of chemicals and hormones when I can listen to what it’s telling me and go with actual information? Paying attention to signs and levels is smart. NFP is smart.

Slowly, after embracing the wisdom of this method, Paul and I started to see the Wisdom of the method. We saw the benefits not just of the cost-effective, chemical-free option, but of how it strengthened our marriage as well.

The idea of green, ecological methods for postponing and avoiding pregnancy—that is speaking the mainstream’s language. We need to get the word out that these methods exist, that they are effective, and that they are the healthiest option available. Couples need to get a glimpse of how great the method actually is—and then God can work on hearts from there.

This column, which originally appeared in The Southern Cross, started out as a blog post over at Faith and Family, and I tweaked it a bit. 2470″> .

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The Mission Field

2397 2397_ () 2397 2397 I used to imagine, years ago, that I would spend some time as a missionary in a third world country. Once I was married and had children, I assumed my husband and I would take our brood out amongst the poorest of the poor to spread the good news about God’s great love. As followers of Christ, we’re called to share this good news, and what better place than halfway across the globe!

And then I actually did grow up and get married and as the children came, practical life took over. Once I had these babies, I realized the incredible mission work of simply being a wife and mother — how much of myself it took to be the hands and feet of Jesus for these people living in my own home. I blinked and the vision of mission work was something of a distant dream, and that was okay. God had placed these precious souls in my care, and most days the energy to do that was the exact amount of wherewithal I possessed.

But it stayed on my heart, as my boys were very little, that sharing God’s love with others is a crucial part of Christian living. While my days consisted of wiping runny noses and stepping on Legos, I would every-so-often think about serving others and the importance of teaching my children to do the same.

“When they get older,” I would think, “we’ll take them out to the mission fields.”

Over time, I slowly realized that beyond looking after those in my immediate care, there were chances to spread God’s love at every turn. The joy of Jesus was a message for the entire world — not just a world away, but right here in my daily travels. I started to recognize opportunities to be a missionary in my favorite grocery store, at the boys’ soccer games, to the people beside us at Mass.

None of this necessarily meant preaching the Gospel — it just meant operating out of it. It was the reality that living what you believe can speak volumes, without having to climb up on one single soap box.

In this hurting world of ours, what so many people need is love. People need a reminder that they matter, that they are fearfully and wonderfully made and that Jesus loves them. People need to hear that truth — including you and me. Loving our neighbor is being in the mission field — and some days it takes even more energy than third world excursions.

Practically, of course, the world is filled with chances to serve others (beyond just being nice!). Now that our boys are getting older, I do pray for these opportunities. It’s important to learn early on that the world is filled with chances to serve others.

My husband’s work as an immigration attorney recently brought us on a mission adventure to a parish within our diocese. There is nothing like being at a Mass that is not in your primary language to make you feel the beauty of the universal church — but also make you feel like you are very, very far from home.

As we sat in that church, I was indeed half-way across the world, though I was only a half gas tank away from home. I was grateful for the chance to be a part of practical mission work, and moved by all the people whose lives are poured out for the less fortunate.

“The duty of the moment,” writes Catherine Doherty, “is the duty of God. Anything done for Him is glamorous, exciting — if only we can see it for what it is.”

In this messy world of ours, we have so many chances to help. Mission trips are important. Caring for the poorest of the poor is critical. Being the hands and feet of Jesus every chance we get, even in the smallest moments of our day — that is where we truly grow in our quest for holiness.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross. 2397″

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The Armor of God

2367 2367_ () 2367 2367 I was out running errands with the two little ones recently, moseying through one of my favorite all-purpose discount stores that features home goods, cute shoes and lots of low-priced stationary.

This store also has a very fine toy section and as we neared it that morning, I eyed my watch and realized we had enough time to let Henry take a look at the offerings. Most days, I feel like we are zipping in and out of stores and I avoid these brightly-colored aisles like the plague — too much time, too much money, too many requests for things we just don’t need.

Lately, however, I’ve been having this revelation — maybe it’s summer, maybe it’s just me, but I’m realizing that I am too often in a hurry just because. How many times am I running around at break-neck speed only to get home and then hurry some more? I rush out the door, and then down the road and then from one place to the next.

Some days that’s just how things are, but on this particular morning I was conscious of our schedule and realized we had some time to spare. So I let Henry take a look (and sure enough he had plenty of requests).

As Henry is our fifth son, I tend to say no to most of these requests. At this stage of the game, I can now look at a toy in the store and predict how many weeks until it’s in the bag headed to Goodwill. If there is a toy for a boy that stands the test of time, chances are we already own it.

But of course there is always room for exception and as we turned the corner to leave the toy section, Henry spotted a large bag filled with plastic armor — a shield, a breastplate, a helmet and a sword.

My boy gasped with delight.

“Can I get this mama?”

“You bet,” was my immediate reply.

It’s true I’m probably getting a little soft. With most of our boys past the stage of dress-up play, I find myself quick to keep Henry little. I know how painfully fast this sweet season flies and if he wants to be a superhero, I am happy to oblige.

What also made my decision so easy was an immediate flashback to the same sets of armor Henry’s older brothers all had only a few years ago. Those sets, now tattered and torn, were part of our ritual of putting on the Armor of God, a daily prayer from my own family that I had passed on to my boys.

“Put on the armor of God,” Paul writes in Ephesians, “so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.” Each morning we would “put on” the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

We did that when the boys were little and then, in an instant, they were not the small boys who constantly donned their armor. They started to grow and the armor was cast aside, and while the parts of the Armor of God are remembered, the daily act of putting them on began to fade.

And here was Henry, eager for armor and me, suddenly, remembering we needed to train our boy in this family tradition. I was excited about revisiting this custom, not only to teach Henry but also as an opportunity to remind my big boys. You are never too old for the Armor of God — I myself need it now more than ever.

As soon as we were home and back with his brothers, Henry immediately pulled out his new armor to show his biggest fans. They ooohed and awwwed and proceeded to teach him how to properly hold the shield and fasten the breastplate.

“Do you know about the Armor of God,” one of the boys asked Henry, and as they explained each component, I prayed they would all remember the importance of this armor throughout the rest of their lives.

When Elliott was little, his godfather gave him this Armor of God poster, which is still hanging in his room.

This column originally appeared in The Southern Cross. 2367″ .

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