Monday, July 25, 2016

I Want to Die With Battle Scars.

Ben found my belly.

It seems every baby has gone through this stage where during or after a nursing session they are fascinated with and amused by my mid section.  Each time it's gotten softer.  The skin that was five times stretched to fullness of life displaying the evidence of its past work more with each new life it's housed.  A few more silver streaks here, some new creases there, the skin a bit looser and softer everywhere.  Not to mention the quirky looking belly button that popped out and never went back in. Ben thinks it's funny.  My husband says it's beautiful.  My mom taught me they're my battle scars.

If our bodies speak a language, then I want mine to say that I gave.  I don't want to be embarrassed that my belly was six times blessed to be swollen with life, my breasts filled and emptied tens of thousands of times.  I don't want to look with disgust on the hips widened by the passage of five fully grown, fully healthy babies.  I don't want to try to erase the creases caused by too loud laughter or sick with worry nights.  I don't want to spend precious energy seeking cures for what is simply the risk of my vocation.  I want to offer my body, given up for them.  For Him.  And I don't want to look like it didn't happen.

We won't have our bodies immediately upon death.  But as Christians we do believe that at the end of time we will.  Our bodies will be resurrected.  While we don't know what that will look like, the fact that Christ's resurrected body still had the wounds of His love, makes me wonder if we, too, will still have ours.  Perhaps at that point, viewed in the Presence and with the eye of God, they won't be deemed ugly or offensive, disgusting or embarrassing.  Perhaps they will be our glory.  Perhaps they will be a bit like His wounds, an eternal testimony that we chose to love beyond ourselves, to sacrifice our bodies for another.  They will be the scars of a battle won.

My battle is now.  It is against powers and principalities and the voices of the world.  It is not against others' flesh and blood but it is against my own.  It is a battle to choose love, to give until it hurts, to be like Him, offering my very flesh and blood for the sake of another.  It is a battle to reject the voices around us that scream that our worth is in our youth, our purpose mere pleasure.  And just like Him, we who are called to this vocation will often bear the marks of battle on our bodies.  This is my specific call from Him.  What a tragedy it would be if I were to die having preserved my body from any signs of that love.  What a waste if at the end I have found I've squandered my energy on perfectly manicured hands and cellulite-free thighs.  God help me if I stand in front of Him one day and have to answer for a talent buried in the ground, kept clean and perfect, but bearing no interest.  I can't bring Him much but I can bring Him this body, the wrinkles and scars a testament to how I tried, albeit imperfectly, to love.

My goal, my calling, is to love and love - if it is real - costs something.  It is an action. Mother Teresa said, "Love to be real, it must cost, it must hurt, it must empty us of self."  She had more pressing things to do than worry about her crow's feet or sagging skin.  She was too caught up in love to be dissecting herself in the mirror.  I will do what I can to be healthy, yes.  I'm weaker than I should be and I am obliged to care for my body in the way I eat and exercise.  I honor Him by honoring how my body was designed to work - with real food from the earth and with real movement from work and play.  I respect His design for my body enough to only use medicines and supplements insofar as they help my body to function as He created it.  I can be more open to life and available to love when I take care of what He has given.  But I refuse to mourn that using my body in love will leave its mark.  If my back aches let it be from carrying one of His children.  If my eyes grow weak, let it be from straining to see the little people around me.

I don't want to be a person whose eyes are turned inward, mourning what we all know is passing anyway.  I don't want to grasp at the exalted body of a teenager, a body that has never known the joy of a baby's smile, drunk with milk from its breasts, a body that has never known the triumph after the last agonizing push as new life slips out from it and into aching arms.  I want to rejoice that He gave me the opportunity to love and I want to honor that this love was so real it changed my very skin and bones.

If we are to be running a race, I hope to show up at the finish line sweaty and aching, knees bloody and heart pounding.  What I want is to reach the end of my days, wrinkled and worn, scarred and used up.  I want to give it back to Him and say, "This is what I did with what you gave me.  I lived.  I loved."  No doubt I will grapple a bit a lot with letting go of the image of me in my head, an image formed by the world's eye, to meet the reality of what I have become, what I hope is an image formed by His.  But I will try.  Because I want to be a woman who gives my assent again to continue that fiat started long ago.  Be it done unto me, Lord.  Even the stretch marks. 

I don't want to look back and regret what I didn't give and when in doubt, I hope I will err on the side of giving too much.  I want to reach the end of my days having held nothing back.  I want to reach His feet, exhausted and scarred from the battle, and hear Him say those words, "Well done, my good and faithful servant.  The battle has been won."

"We are...always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh."  2 Corinthians 4:10-11

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Monday, July 18, 2016

Your Rights During a Miscarriage

When it comes to birth more and more women are realizing the rights and the amount of choices they have.  We are slowly seeing a shift in provider and hospital protocol in our country towards respecting the rights of the mother to make choices in her care and that of her baby.   Birth plans and questionnaires are becoming more common and hospitals are tiptoeing their way into care that places the respect and love for mothers and babies ahead of profit and efficiency.  It’s very slow, yes.  We are far from where we need to be but the movement has been growing for years and is finally making some headway in mainstream birth.  But just as it is true that mothers have the right to a dignified birth and true evidence based care, they also have a right to that when it comes to miscarriage.

Please read the rest over at my post today for Elizabeth Ministry...

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Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Very Good Day (for carousels and photo shoots)

Today was a very good day.  We decided to take a quick trip up after Mass to the lake for a picnic lunch and hit up the little carousel park nearby.  The last time we were here was two years ago and Luke couldn't remember any of it.  (Side note:  In those old pictures Luke looks exactly like Ben does now.  WE CLONE THE BABIES.)  The park is perfect for the under 52" crowd.  On a whim I decided to have the boys change after Mass into their polos to have an update of those last pictures.  We've got a Ben now, after all.  It works well to coerce them into some pictures before the park opens, using the opening of the gates as hostage for looking at the camera.  It also helps that there are few things boys like to do more than throw rocks into water so they stay relatively happy while I get to pose them.  

So here's my fancy photo shoot.  Some cute, some not as, but I love that my phone now takes pictures pretty much as well as my old camera did.  Or maybe even better, really.  The weather couldn't have been more beautiful. The bright sun did make for some squintyness, glare, and shadows.  But, whatever.  For getting somewhat decent shots of five little boys, I'll take it.  

A few rocks were sampled in the taking of these photos.

Yes, a much needed haircut is forthcoming.

Awful mom forgot to get a pic of baby Ben alone...I should just throw in one of those old ones of Luke.  

John Paul was super sweet teaching his little brother how to skip rocks.

And a few less than stellar from the rides and games.  Can't beat twenty-five cents a ride.  Rides and ice cream for four kids all under $20.

A very good day.  A day to remind me that while having five kids and being open to life isn't for the faint of heart, it's a very blessed and joyful and noisy and worth-it-all life indeed.

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Friday, July 15, 2016

How to Design a Church {from a mom's perspective}

I know, I know.  The likelihood that sharing my thoughts and preferences might have any real life effect are slim.  But I can't help myself from thinking them as I go into different churches and experience the liturgy in very different environments.  I'm a mom to a mess of little boys and that is currently the vantage point I have when I go to Mass in all sorts of locations.  We've been to beautiful cathedrals and ugly, er, different quasi-church buildings, massive basilicas and tiny chapels, modern parishes and ancient shrines.  We've seen a lot of churches.  Through all of this, my belief that the physical environment in which we worship has a significant effect on how we worship has become increasingly solidified.  Not only does it affect my own worship and faith, it affects the kids.  I'd even go so far as to say it can have an effect on the catechesis and faith choices of our children later on.  I've noticed a few things and have a few thoughts.  Most parish councils are composed of parishioners beyond the parenting small children phase, it seems, so perhaps this is a perspective that might be worth a consideration should any random pastor confronted with the prospect of a new church design want (yet another) opinion.

I, of course, know finances and time and space are all huge stresses and considerations.  So are probably a million other things that I have the luxury to ignore with this little post.  And I don't at all think that every parent will agree with everything I've written.  But here are my thoughts to take for what they're worth.  You know, for the next time you just happen to be designing a church...

1.  Please reconsider that trendy "in the round" plan.

I know modern architects and builders may have convinced the world that having parishioners seated in the round is "more welcoming and inviting" or some such thing.  I'm convinced that not one of those people have ever brought children to church.  Because if they had, they would know that instead of feeling more welcomed, you now realize that every. single. eye. in the church can now see your children and any and every thing they do.  Heck, even when they're really being great, it's still very hard realizing that everyone can see every wiggle and nursing session, every missalette fight and spit up.  While I can't speak for every parent, I feel so much more self-conscious and hyper-vigilant in churches designed like that.  In a traditional straightforward seating, I feel so much freer to relax and worship and enter into the liturgy knowing that my kiddos' good or awful behavior is much less likely to be a distraction to someone else.  I want them to be there and I expect them to not sit perfectly still, they're kids after all, but I also want people to not be distracted by what's going on in our pew.  

2.  Pews - the higher the better.

We parents love them, especially we mothers who may need to nurse or who are managing fidgety toddlers.  A high backed pew can cover a multitude of sins.  I think that's how the saying goes, right? 

3.  Design your 'cry room' well.

You may not know it, but cry rooms are the topic of much debate and controversy in the Catholic mom world.  Who would have thought, right?  But there's lots of talk.  Should we use it?  Shouldn't we?  Are we expected to use it all the time?  Does it make children unwelcome in church?  There's lots to discuss there but I fall into the line of having a small room available in the back to use only when necessary and only by parishioners who truly need it.  Not elaborate but with a few chairs and kneelers and certainly not at the side or where everyone in the parish can still see what is happening (yes, those are out there!).  It's really helpful for moms with a newborn learning to breastfeed or a chatty or furious toddler or a child with special needs to have a safe space to go.  But please no televisions or buckets and buckets of noisy toys.  A good speaker and window is helpful to help us still celebrate the Mass while we are in there.  And, if I may be so bold, please consider placing a sign somewhere that the room is only to be used as necessary for those who, for whatever reason, cannot be in the main church that day and it is not just a play room or an "able to slip out post Communion easier" room.  We want children in the main church!  But we would love a place to go where we can slip out when needed and nurse the baby or change the messy diaper or deal with the fit and still (somewhat) hear the Mass and feel like we are present.

4.  Toddler-proof those kneelers.

Ah, kneelers.  We love the kneelers.  But you know how kitchen drawers now can have the "soft close" option? There MUST be something like that that can be designed for kneeler hinges now.  The entire congregation will be grateful, I promise, especially come Communion time when a well placed slam can shake the whole church and interrupt the holiest of prayers.  Our toes and shins will also approve.

5.  Please, for the love of all that is Holy, place Jesus front and center.

It's helpful for all of us to be directed towards the One Whom we worship but even more so for children.  It helps us know where to genuflect and it's hard to understand why we would have Him any other place, you know?  I really don't know how to explain to my children that yes, Jesus is present in the Eucharist in the tabernacle but, if He is truly God and we're here to worship Him, why He would then be off to the side or hidden in a closet.  I think placing Him anywhere else risks the child (or even the adult) believing that He's not the whole reason we're there.  I know that kind of perceived disparity is what led my heart away from the church as a teenager.  (They say they believe this but it sure doesn't look like it...)  If we believe it, our churches should wholeheartedly reflect it.

6.  Let the music ministry be placed behind the people.

I've definitely found it's more helpful as a family with young children to have the music ministry in a choir loft or in the back.  When they are in the front, it seems like a show rather than a liturgy, and children (maybe even all of us) get a bit more conditioned into thinking it's more about entertainment than worship.  My eyes inevitably go toward them rather than Him and the altar.  I find it's helpful when the music is coming from behind us rather than at us.  It feels more like we as a community are worshipping together and the movement of the music goes toward Him rather than toward us.  

7.  Finally, more than anything, make it beautiful.

When we go into a church we want it to feel different.  We want our eyes and ears and noses and imaginations drawn toward heaven.  That's why we're there and we make the (sometimes heroic feeling) effort to come with all of our children.  We want to worship with all of heaven and the Church on earth.  And I can guarantee you that children notice a difference.  I've seen my children sit in awe and worship during a two or three hour Mass in the most beautiful basilicas, drawn into the beauty and mystery of the space.  They don't behave the same way in the other churches.  They're more distracted and fidgety.  There's something about true timeless beauty that draws all of our souls more into the sacred.  The places that look and feel and smell like church...we need those.  There are so few buildings of real beauty left, it seems.  Our minds, and especially our children's minds, are inundated with cheap marketing and garish visuals all the time.  We need something different, an escape from the ugly.   Please don't feel like you have to dumb down the art or music or design or give us something more 'modern'.  We have that all around us.  Please give us something truly beautiful and timeless, a place where we can encounter Beauty itself.  It's not wasteful or outdated or beyond our means.  It's what our souls are craving, even those of our children.

So there's the long winded opinion from a random mom of the littlest parishioners.  I truly believe these little choices can welcome more families and let them know they are loved, valued, and help them truly encounter the person of Jesus Christ, which is the point of it all.

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