Anxiety About Being “Good”

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I am Catholic, and I don’t say that to alienate anyone in the audience, but I had an encounter earlier this week where 2 individuals were in deep theological discussion of that Churches canon law because of a simple question: I’m leaving for vacation on a Sunday, can I miss mass?

I pointed out to these people that perhaps they were being over scrupulous, and that we should look at the intention of missing mass. The person didn’t *want* to miss mass, but was leaving at a time that would impede her from being able to go to mass. Surely, God will show mercy to some one who doesn’t want to miss church, but does. They questioned my integrity and told me that I was cynical and imprudent for calling them scrupulous. Ok, I thought, to each their own! And went on my merry way.

The point it this: I didn’t let their criticism shake my personal beliefs in God’s mercy. I didn’t begin to question what kind of Christian I am after this encounter. So why do I feel so shaken when some one criticizes my parenting choices? I mean, these people called my own integrity into question and I just let it roll off me. Why then, am I so scrupulous when it comes to every decision I make as a mother?

It is my goal this week to extend myself the same grace and mercy that I believe my God extends to everyone, and not let the opinions of others destroy the confidence of my decisions.

Spring has — just kidding, it’s Ohio.

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Yeah, I know, I cursed this land by typing a blog about spring time in Ohio. Sigh… Despite being perfectly lovely weather for the Easter holiday, it is going to get down into the 30’s again and while I’m bummed about the chilly weather, I actually have plans to stay coup’d up in the house. You see my online mommy friends talked me into potty training Sophie in 3 days. Chances are, if you’re a new mom, you’ve heard of this crazy, yet popular method. You let your kid run around commando all day, make them drink copious amounts of water, and then let the magic happen. Yes, they will have accidents – with the defense being, in any potty training method you’re going to have accidents – but clean them up, encourage the child to use their potty next time, and repeat until it works.

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Normally, I’d laugh it off and call it wishful thinking, but there are hundreds of positive mom testimonies to this method! In any case, you have to spend every waking moment with the child for 3 days straight, suggesting they use the bathroom every 20 minutes. So, going out would be near impossible. The method even demands you wake them up in the middle of the night to go potty. I’m sleep deprived as it is, which makes me NOT want to wake my toddler up in the middle of the night, but hey, I’m going to be up feeding a newborn at some point anyway, so might as well let Sophie join the party. It will be all worth it in 3 days! (Or so they tell me).

If this method fails, no big deal. The most important thing is getting her more familiar with the big girl toilet. In a perfect world, we’ll only have a couple accidents per day, and in 3 days time,  I’ll have a potty trained tot, and the weather will have warmed back up again!  (Now THAT’S wishful thinking.)

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We are still celebrating Easter (Catholics celebrate the Easter octave – meaning 8 days) so there is candy all around the house and decorations still up. Sophie is going through a phase of being obsessed with bunnies, so she’s a happy camper. Cora, on the other hand, is not such a happy camper. After ruling out reflux, we are now on to the possibility of her having a food allergy. I’m on a strict no egg, no peanut, no fish, no dairy, and no gluten diet  (all the Easter treats are not helping currently…) until Friday. Hopefully it helps her, then we can start ruling things out one by one. Maybe it isn’t even an allergy at all, maybe she just has colic! Who knows… All I know is that my sleep and sanity are seriously suffering and will continue to until we figure this thing out.

Otherwise, we had a pretty eventful Easter! Egg hunts, time with family, time for relaxation, and TONS of pictures! I hope you all did too, and if you’re Catholic (and even if you aren’t) remember to keep celebrating that resurrection until the end of the octave!

St. Lucy

St. Lucy [or Lucia] is known as the patron saint of the blind and of light. Her feast day was yesterday, December 13th, and I told myself that this year we would hold off putting up our lights until her feast day. So, last night we had our very own little family light-up night.

Here’s the story of St. Lucy that I’ve heard: Some time around 300 AD, it was actually dangerous to be a Christian. When most people think of Christianity, they don’t think about persecution and martyrdom. Yes, many people are quick to remember the crusades, but slow to remember that Christians, particularly in Rome, were hunted. In fact many Catholic traditions come from this time of persecution, when people had to celebrate mass in secrecy underground. Besides celebrating mass in the catacombs, Christians wanted by the Romans actually hid underground as well. St. Lucy would bring food to these people, since they were wanted and were too scared to show their faces above ground even to get some thing to eat. The story goes that St. Lucy had so much food to bring to these Christians that she couldn’t carry both the food and the candle she’d need to see in the underground tunnels. So, she placed the candles in a wreath that she wore on her head, leaving both hands free to carry enough food for everyone in hiding. There are probably many variations on this story and the historical facts that go with it… but either way, it is still a good example of charity, love, and the importance of religious freedom.

At the risk of sounding political, I have to say this story touched me in a very particular way this year, as I’ve seen many Muslims being persecuted here due to tensions our country has with those in the middle east, as well as the world-wide persecution Christians are facing. It highlighted to me how lucky I am to have religious freedom in this country and encouraged me to pray for those who do not have this gift in theirs.

In any case, it was an honor to light up the night in honor of the patroness of light herself. Now our home looks particularly festive, and ready for an even BIGGER feast day on December 25th! As you’ll notice, our manger is still missing Baby Jesus, and we’re still rocking our Advent flag near the front door. The anticipation is growing for both Christmas Day and for our trip to California. This week, I’ll be spending most of my time doing last minute shopping and packing for the big trip. Hopefully I will still have time to relax and enjoy the season. Have a great week everyone!

Tis the Season!

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Our house is looking a little different this holiday season as we go forth with a toddler running around the house. I’ve still put all our glass ornaments on the tree, though I definitely secured them with more effort than I ever have in past years, but I am determined to still have out all our special decorations in tandem with our special children running around. However, you’ll notice a few additional decorations, of the cheesy primary colored variety, that are specifically for Sugar Plum [like the advent wreath above, for example. Candle sticks aren’t exactly 18 month old friendly].

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Despite wanting to have a bigger focus on Advent this year, that hasn’t stopped me from  indulging in some Christmas spirit. I mean, the point of Advent isn’t meant to turn us into total Scrooges. And in a more Catholic spirit, we have 3 important feast days coming up: The Immaculate Conception, St. Nicholas, and St. Lucy. We have some new traditions we’ll be trying out for each of these days , and I couldn’t be more excited!

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My favorite part about the wee was having a “snowball” fight with Sophie, using a bucket of these plush little snowballs my mom got for J and I on our 1st Christmas. Uncontrollable giggling.

Watching her set up her little nativity was pretty adorable too.

Have a great weekend every one!

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Blessing Bags

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When I was in Religious Ed [the Catholic version of Sunday school, only it was on Monday nights and lasted way longer than a class on Sunday probably would have…] we would make little Blessing Bags for the homeless of San Diego during the holidays. We would fill brown paper bags with things our parents donated such as socks, some holiday candy, prayer cards, personal hygiene products, etc. We would make hundreds of these bags and then they would be shipped off to a shelter downtown for distribution. People I grew up with, from that same parish, would keep food and water bottles in their car to pass out to homeless they might see while driving. You’ve probably seen people begging at stop lights or near on ramps when there is a lot of traffic, I know I have, so when I started driving, I carried on this tradition of keeping food in my car so I didn’t feel pressured to give money.

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Ok, honestly? I actually don’t mind giving money to the homeless. Yes, I’m aware some oft hem have addictions, and may choose to use the funds to support their addictions. Some of them though, just want to call a friend on a pay phone, or get a few things off the dollar menu. I used to serve the Pittsburgh homeless, and even the most strung out addicts would want a hot meal. So I do give money from time to time, because I believe that my generosity can never be a sin. What they might use the money on may be sinful, but on the other hand it may not be either, and you should never be afraid to be charitable based on a prejudice of the homeless.

Anyway, now that I’ve got that out of my system… I keep food and supplies in my car because I don’t always have cash on me. In fact, I rarely have cash on me unless we’re headed to church [its for the collection basket]. In San Diego, you can get by with having food and water to distribute, but when you live near the Steel City, this thing called winter happens, and the homeless are in need of much more than just food and water. When I did homeless ministry they would often ask for socks, hats, mittens, change for the pay phone, tissues, and the list goes on…

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So, I went to the dollar store and REALLY stocked up my bags. Here’s what we put in them:

-$1.50 in change
-tooth brush and tooth paste
-tea bags and a packet of sweetener [most fast food places provide hot water for free]
-band aids
-Tylenol
-deodorant
-tissues
-socks
– a pen and some paper
-wipes
– nuts
– gum
– granola bars [that don’t expire for several months]
– soap or hand sanitizer
– lip balm
– lollipops
– cough drops
– a prayer card

I also bought 4 hats, but the bags were already pretty full, so I stuck them in my car, just in case I see some one who needs one, but if not, then they will make it into my next batch of bags. I made 4 of these bags, 2 to keep in our mini van, and 2 to keep n my husband’s car. The past few times we’ve been out, we have seen homeless standing at intersections begging, and have had nothing to give them, so I am happy that we are both armed with some supplies for the next time we’re up in Pittsburgh or just around town! When we give away a bag, I’ll restock when I get home. A lot of these things, are items you probably have around the house. I can’t wait for my kids to be apart of this when they are a little older and eager to “help.” It is a great teaching moment about charity and taking care of other humans!

[tip: you can also make smaller versions of these bags with Ziplock sandwich bags. I made 3 for our recent trip to New York, so I could carry them around in my backpack and hand them out while we were walking. It was a big success and every one we gave one to was very appreciative!]

3 Years Later — Marriage is Still Hard

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I don’t remember our first big fight. Probably because the love and forgiveness surrounding the conclusion of our discussions, always outweigh whatever it was we were fighting about.

Every year that passes, living out those marriage vows become harder. People often say the first year is the hardest. Well, I’d argue that every year is the hardest. In Catholicism, marriage is a vocation, some thing that God has called you to do, some thing that will purify you, draw you closer to Him, and refine your soul into a saint’s. Surely, that process isn’t meant to be easy and from my experience, it certainly has not been. Last year we had another soul to care for [our baby girl], and we go into this year with me baring another. I don’t mean to illustrate our children as burdens, however, it is no light thing to bring another life into the world either. We are entrusted to protect these babies and raise them to the glory of God. As if being husband and wife weren’t challenging enough roles….

Well a few evenings ago, my car was broken into and ransacked. I had $6 sitting in a cup holder that was stolen, but that was the only thing missing. In fact, the scariest part about this whole ordeal is the day before, I had tucked my wallet into the back seat of the driver’s side before going swimming, to avoid having my wallet stolen at the pool. It was still in the backseat, untouched, despite obviously having our car tossed by some thief. You’d think we would have just counted our blessings that no one was hurt and that my wallet was miraculously saved, but no. I have to admitt there was a argument. Why didn’t I lock the car doors? If I thought they were locked, why didn’t I double check them to be sure? Why did my hubsand park in the driveway, blocking the garage? Why didn’t he move his car, then pull my van into the garage for me? Really, the thief is to blame… even if the car doors had been wide open, you still don’t have the right to troll through a stranger’s personal belongings and take what you want. The reality is, hubs and I felt violated. The car was parked 4 feet from our front door. We are the protectors of our home, of the children God has given us, and we felt like we failed.

The longer we’re married, the more there will be to protect. Are the car doors locked? Do we live in a safe neighborhood? If our house vunerable to break-ins? Are we financially secure? Do we have enough food for the children? These questions will haunt us as we become home owners, as we have more children, as we get new jobs, and anything else life throws at us. The longer we are married though,  the more I learn.

Buuuuuuut this can be both a positive and a negative.

What I learn as a positive: I know that when my husband comes home from work, he is susally exhausted. If I have any hopes of getting him to help me with the baby or chores, I have to let him have at least 10 minutes to unwind and get settled for the evening. This is some thing I have learned over time that has helped me become a more patient wife and maintain peace in our household.

What I think I’ve learned as a negative : My husband is stubborn. Therefore, the next time he is acting stubborn, I will throw this fact in his face as a way of discrediting him and getting my way. Though it may be true that my husband is stubborn, no peace is kept by constantly bringing this character trait to surface.

What we learn during our time being married should be knowledge kept to maintain peace and love in the household, not wielded as weapons against one another. And it’s HARD. You think I don’t tell my husband he’s stubborn? I do. You think he doesn’t point out my flaws? He does. Some times we hold grudges and hurt feelings and anger in our hearts, because we are human. This is something we will face for the duration of our lives. Even if we learn to be more silent and patient with one another, I know at least for myself, it will always be a temptation. Luckily, our marriage is rooted in faith. We always joke about the sacrament of confession, how other churches don’t have it, probably because no one likes it. On the other hand, if no one likes it, it would be hard to argue that Catholics made it up just for fun. It is some thing so contrary to our fallen nature, that the only conclusion can be, that it must come from God. In confession we must take responsibility for our sins, we try to learn from them, then they are forgiven by our Father, and then we receive unimaginable sacramental grace from that one little act of humility. Well, as I said, marriage is also a sacrament. After an argument, my husband is ALWAYS the first to humbly come to me, take responsibility for thing things he said that were hurtful or unfair, this helps me learn more about him and the way he approaches conflict, and it also helps him learn about the areas in his soul that he needs to work on. Then there is forgiveness, and then there is grace. By his example, as head of the household, my heart is always softened to see my husband coming to me for reconciliation. Confession has surprisingly taught me a lot about marriage, and the peace I feel while walking out of that confessional, is the same peace I feel after my husband and I mimic the humility of confession after an argument. And even though I’ve been going to confession ever since I was 6 years old, it is still hard, and probably always will be.

Likewise, marriage is hard. It will always be hard, just as trying to live a virtuous life will always be hard… but thank God for grace.

I love you Justin! Happy Anniversary.

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Things I learned in my Twenties: Reflections on 23

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Yesterday I turned 24. I was trying to reflect on the year, specifically what I have learned, and I have to say I’ve learned a lot. I thought that after my first year of marriage, I knew all there was to know about sacrificial love. I stand corrected. After a year of parenthood, I REALLY feel like I know every thing about love and sacrifice. I know I will “stand corrected” on this topic for the rest of my life, probably until I die and witness the mystery of Love, Himself when I make my way through those pearly white gates. But I digress….

Instead of expanding on how much I don’t know, let me tell you what I do know. Love is hard. Some times is requires you to get up at 3 am, other times is requires you to listen to screaming that feels like it is going directly into your ear drum, as you hopelessly make efforts to soothe. Aside from suffering, it also takes humility. Love asks you to admit when you don’t know what you’re doing. Some times Love requires you to admit when you know exactly what you’re doing, because its the wrong thing, and you need correction. Some times you are the one lovingly suggesting a correction…

Love has many forms, but this year I have mostly seen it take on the form of parent and child. I would argue this is Love’s original form. Adam and the Father of Adam, God and the Son of God, the one correcting and the one being corrected, the one consoling and the one who needs consoling. I thought that by default, I’d always have the “parent role,” false. Many times I have the child role. My impulsive shopping needs correcting. My weary soul needs consolation…

What I’ve also learned is that neither role is particularly easy. The parent role requires stamina and patience while the child role requires humility and acceptance. Basically, there is no easy way to love. It drains you, it exercises parts of your soul that you’d probably prefer remained dormant. For many of us though, the childlikeness is particularly difficult. Afterall, we spend more of our lifetime as adults than we do as children and yet, the call to have a childlike spirit is unending however unnatural it may feel to us. The year of being 23 reinforced that for me. Even though I was a parent, I was not allowed to stop being a child, a child of God. When I am confronted, I must be honest. When I am scared, I must trust. When I need help, I must be humble. When I need to work on my flaws, I must be obedient. These are all virtues we expect of children and rarely apply them to ourselves.

If there is one way I can certainly teach my children these virtues, it is by example. That is what I learned in my 23rd year of life. I will head into year 24 with maturity, but also with the heart of a child.

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