Why We Are Still Open to Life

Around the time that Molly, our eighth child, turned one the usual questions that we get asked changed in character a bit.  They went from “Are you going to have any more?” to “Surely, you are not having any more! Right?”

Having a large family means getting a lot of questions from people.  There are many nosy questions that people would never think to ask someone in a smaller family.  Mostly I am okay with that. I smile and answer questions as best I can without getting too personal.  People don’t run into large families very often any more and they are fascinated, usually in a friendly way, and just want to understand how it works to live like this.  I think it is a good thing that they are seeking to understand better.  There are those who are not so kind, but I don’t run into them very often.

But the questions we were getting as Molly graduated to toddlerhood came from unexpected sources and carried more pressure than usual.  They came from dear friends and family who have seen how hard the last year has been for us and who truly want things to be easier fur us.  They would point out how we have certainly done our part in being open to life and now it was time to move on, to expand our horizons, to live a bit for ourselves.

For a while we felt like they might be right.  Maybe it was time to close up the old womb and focus on the future, when things wouldn’t be so hard and labor intensive (in more ways than one).  I could get more involved in my ministries and writing, and not spend as much time feeling like I was going to die from either morning sickness or exhaustion from dealing with a baby who can’t sleep.  I looked around me at people who don’t have little babies in arms all the time or toddlers to chase and thought, “I could get so much done if all my kids were just a little older!”  And isn’t that a noble thing to hope for: to work for the church and school and my family in an efficient way?

So we dusted off the old charts, bought a new thermometer, and buckled down for the bumpy ride through my return to fertility while breastfeeding.

What we found though was that we weren’t really all that convinced we didn’t want another baby.  The older kids talk frequently about “when the next one comes”, and as we looked over the dinner table in the evening there was that gnawing feeling that we aren’t all here yet.  I found myself hoping that NFP would fail or I would make a mistake in my charting and the decision would just be taken out of our hands.

My husband and I discussed all these things at length.  We prayed about them and contemplated them in our minds, and our hearts.  And here are the things we discovered:

  1. God allows us to participate in creation.  Let that sink in a moment.  He lets us be a part of the creation of a whole new person, a soul that never existed before but will now exist for all time.  How can we pass that up?  Most especially when He put it in the framework of an act that brings us closer to each other and is, in a word, amazing.
  2. We are already here, doing the daily work of parenting, and we have gotten pretty good at it if I may say so.  We have adjusted to the fact that having young children around is a way of life and not just a hardship to toil our way through as quickly as possible.
  3. There is no really good time for a baby.  There is never enough money or time or sleep to prepare.  One of the other children is always needing us in a way we hadn’t anticipated.  And yet time after time we find that…
  4. Children are a gift.  They are joy, they are work, they are renewal.  As each one of our children has been unique and special and world changing, so will the next one be.  We can’t take that for granted because…
  5. Children are not a guarantee from being open to life.  I have been surrounded lately by friends who have lost babies to miscarriage, babies whose lives were cut short by disease, and those who yearn for children and suffer the heavy cross of infertility.  I have mourned with those friends and seen what it is like when that gift is taken away.  On a lighter note, I am thirty-a-lot and my body is not what it once was.  We just don’t know what will happen at this stage of the game.

I would like to point out that using Natural Family Planning to avoid pregnancy doesn’t automatically make one closed to life.  A couple can prayerfully discern that the timing isn’t right for another child.  By using the woman’s natural fertile or infertile times, we make use of the system that God designed.  When we come to a time that preventing pregnancy becomes more important, we will again use this method to work in harmony with our bodies. I am thankful that we have this to fall back on.  But for us, at this time, we feel called to release control.

We have been down the road of being actually closed to life through sterilization, and it wasn’t a good place to be.  The story of that will be coming shortly.  So for now, we have decided to throw wide the doors to life and embrace what comes.

Mexico Mission Appeal

For the last several years my older kids have gone on mission trips to Mexico with their youth group and school. The trips are arranged and made under the guidance of Amor Ministries. These trips have been life changing for Paisley, James, and Posy, giving them real experience with helping people and a real understanding of the poverty that some people live in.

On one of these Mexico mission trips, the group travels to Mexico, sleeps in tents, and spends their days building one to two houses for local families. They eat and work next to the family and others in the community there, and they especially enjoy playing with the kids.

Here are some photos of Posy’s trip last year:

Framing the house
Posy's Mexico Pictures

Taking time with the kids – Posy likes to get the kids to teach them some Spanish.
Posy's Mexico Pictures

Filling in the walls
Posy's Mexico Pictures

The Family gets the keys to their new home
Posy's Mexico Pictures

Stocked with supplies
Posy's Mexico Pictures

This year, due to budget cuts in the church, the kids have to personally fund a larger part of their trip. For Posy, this means coming up with $350 (which covers car travel, food, and her part of the building supplies) before the time of her trip in mid-February.

We need your help. We will be holding a yard sale on the 22nd of January and could use your stuff to sell, or would love to have you stop by to shop.

Monetary donations are tax deductible and any amount will help. Checks can be sent to:
Ss Simon and Jude Catherdral
6351 N 27th Ave
Phoenix, AZ 85017

Please put Posy’s name on the memo line for the credit to go towards her Mexico Mission.

Finally, in her own words, here is the appeal that she wrote and was featured in our parish bulletin:

Last year I had the two of the most moving experiences in my life so far. These experiences were my first two Missions to Mexico with the Ss. Simon and Jude Youth Group. We built two houses in November (’09)and one in February (’10), for families in need, with Amor Ministries. I was nervous for my first mission last November, and I really did not know what to expect. But when I got there, even though the work was hard, I found it easy to work with a smile on my face, because I knew that I was using my own two hands to do the work of God. Then, on the next mission in February, as we were working on the house, the family from the November mission found us and came to say hello. The thing that I will never forget about this is that they still remembered my name. I wasn’t just the young high school girl that I am every other day of my life, who is not-so-good at math and decent at writing research papers. I was a girl who helped to change the life of a family; the life of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Finally I understand what it means to live out my faith and to show my faith through my actions. This year I am asking you to help my fellow teens and I as we go to Mexico once again. We all know that budgets are tight at the moment but every cent, every prayer, every donation is one that will be very appreciated.

Please consider supporting Posy for this mission! Thank you!

Prayer and Where God Leads

My intention was to write a few posts on prayer during the month of September, but life got in the way.  Getting to the computer to write is at times a battle I just can’t win.  But I have made prayer a focus as much as I could in my own life this past month.  Maybe I should call it a blurry instead of a focus, because while I was looking that direction, I couldn’t always tell what I was looking at.

But then such is my journey towards God.  I try to be always moving closer to Him, but sometimes I am more stumbling that direction than running into His arms.

Often in times like these, when the complexities of life make my way towards Him slow going, He sends me a song. A song to give me the words to pray, or to remind me why I am here, where I am going, and who He is.  This time He called my attention to Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing (I have the version on Born to Worship.)  The part that caught my attention the most right now is this:

Hitherto Thy love has blest me, thou hast brought me to this place,
And I know Thy hand will lead me, safely home by thy good grace.

It was a good reminder for me that God has put me here, to do this work set before me.  He knows I am desiring His will and His closeness.  Being frustrated for lack of time and focus is part of where I am now.  He has asked me to walk around and around Jericho, even though walking in circles doesn’t at first appear to get me any closer to Him.

A few years ago we had a house fire.  It was a life changing experience and a very traumatic thing to live through.  My sixth child was three weeks old at the time.  My two oldest children were in a charter school and I was homeschooling the rest.  To say I was overwhelmed is an understatement.  One night, in my postpartum haze, I cried out to God while nursing my little baby to sleep.  I begged Him for perspective.  I felt like I was overreacting to small things and entirely missing the things that were really important.  I just couldn’t seem to balance it all out in my head.  So I sat there and nursed and cried and prayed.

The next morning at around 7:30am, my house caught fire.  Let me tell you, I acquired perspective very quickly!

I didn’t blame God for my fire, but I did think it was pretty suspicious that I had prayed for perspective and gotten a house fire out of the deal.  It took me several years to understand that the house fire was just that – a house fire.  The gift I received was that right before it, God brought me to a place where I would understand and be receptive to some very important things He was trying to tell me.  Like the lyrics in the song, “Hitherto Thy love has blest me, thou hast brought me to this place.”

Right now that place He has brought me to is filled with the pitter patter of little feet and little time for quiet prayer.  For now I have to work and fight  for every moment I can get.  But that is not so bad.  It certainly keeps me on my toes.

While this doesn’t have my favorite verse, this is a good video version of the song. Full lyrics here, I have been listening to the third one down.

Finding the Time to Pray

This summer, when the baseball bat of God started to beat into my head the importance of daily prayer, I was able to get a nice routine going with morning prayer.  Even if I didn’t get to any other focused prayer during the day, it was a great way to get my day going in the right direction and get myself focused on God and what was really important in my life.

And then school started.

My mornings begin now at 5:30am and we all have to hit the ground running to be out the door by 7:00.  There are breakfasts and lunches to make, hair to comb, backpacks to round up, diapers to change…

So I figured I would just get up an extra 10 minutes before the chaos begins.  Right.  Molly has vetoed that pretty well.  As soon as I roll out of bed she is searching for her human pacifier, and once she is up that early, she just needs to be held and bounced and is just not all that prayerful.

My morning prayer has not been happening now until around 2pm, which is totally not what I had in mind.

I wondered what a priest might do when the demands of life come at him so quickly.  I’d imagine that they have their crazy days just like me.  Ok, maybe not just like me.  I am pretty sure they never have their prayer time interrupted by an explosively poopy diaper – the kind of thing you just can NOT put off dealing with.  But then they may encounter similarly urgent calls away.

It struck me that a lot of a priest’s job is prayer – the mass, the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, and more…

Now I am no priest.  That much is obvious.  But I do my part in bridging the gap between Christ and others.  And maybe sometimes that is my prayer. 

This is no excuse not to have some focused time in prayer.  I have already posted twice that one cannot pray without ceasing without spending some time in prayer, consciously willing it.  But I am a mother, and God is the one who put me in this job (with the help of my husband) so He must know that there is some way this can bring me closer to Him.  Part of that is making it my prayer.

Theme of the Month – Prayer

I hope to address a theme every month or so.  Since I am starting this one late I will take it through September and hopefully start the next theme in October.  This one deserves more of a focus anyway.

Do you ever have times in your life when it seems like God is really trying to teach you a very specific lesson?  Little messages seem to come at you from all directions and they all seem to say the same thing.  A friend of mine calls this God’s Baseball Bat.  He will just keep hitting us in the head with it until we get the idea through our thick skulls.

Lately, it seems like my lesson is prayer.  I tend to shoot up plenty of little arrow prayers through the day, “Help me, God,” “Ooh, thank you for that one Jesus!” “Please send a police car after that horrible driver,” and other things like that.

But recently, in reading “Grace Cafe” I hit a quote from the catechism that stated “We cannot pray at all times if we do not pray at specific times, consciously willing it.”  (And yes, it meant so much to me that this is the second time I have mentioned it during the short life of this blog.)

Then in last week’s homily, our priest added something that hit home as well, “What do you call a priest without a prayer life? A bitter, underpaid social worker who can’t get married.”  And it struck me that as a mother, I have an awful lot in common with a priest.  My work is demanding, rewarding, and definitely never-ending.  And yet I often find myself attempting to accomplish it without much of a real prayer life.  I may be married, but sometimes bitter and underpaid hit the nail right on the head.  And who wants to be either one of those?

My husband and I were talking the other day and realized that we would be absolute fools to try to get through our lives with this many kids without leaning on God and being in communication with Him always.  Yet we try to do it anyway.  Would we attempt to live without ever eating if we had a nutritionist cooking us the freshest organic food anytime we hungered?  Of course not!  But we deny ourselves the fuel to live our lives all the time.

If I Can’t See You, You Can’t See Me

Today I was reading chapter 13 of Daniel, the story of Susanna, one of my favorites: Daniel 13

The verse that really struck me today was about the attitude of the men that accused Susanna:
vs. 8-9 When the old men saw her enter every day for her walk, they began to lust for her. They suppressed their consciences; they would not allow their eyes to look to heaven, and did not keep in mind just judgments.

They not only started to feel things that could lead them to sin, but they encouraged those feelings in themselves. Now lust is not what I am dealing with but I know that I have done this myself.

I remember once when my younger sister was about two. My mom told her not to play with something; I don’t remember what it was. But my sister took that toy and went and sat behind a folding chair and started to do just what my mom had told her not to do. The folding chair was blocking my sister’s view of my mom, but of course we could still see everything that she was doing. My mom pointed out to me that she thought we couldn’t see her because she couldn’t see us. Many toddlers behave this way. If you play hide and seek with a very young child, sometimes they will just close their eyes and think they are hiding. Only because they can’t see you.

I think we can be like this with God. The verse said “They would not allow their eyes to look to Heaven” Since these men were no longer looking to God (and couldn’t see Him) they behaved in a manner as if He couldn’t see them either. God is not the Celestial policeman, but He is looking out for us because he has better things in mind for us.

Lord, help me to keep my eyes on you and not direct them at other things intentionally or accidentally.  Amen.

Teenagers and the Pope

As I am cleaning up the house tonight and steaming a little bit on the inside about how stubborn and rude one of my teenagers is, my eyes fall across our new picture of the pope. It occurs to me that he has to put up with a lot of people moaning and whining about the way things are done and what is whose job and so on.

Poor Guy, he definitely needs our prayers.

Sacred Silence

Silence is something I don’t get a lot of around here.  I have to laugh when people call my house and ask if we are having a party.  My house is just loud.  Combine a bunch of kids, small living space and tile floor and you have the recipe for a constant clamor.  So last night, when I had the opportunity to take my son to confession without little kids in tow, I jumped at it.

My husband and I had already been to confession with the little kids earlier in the day, but one son wasn’t around.  Jay offered to put the little crew to bed while I took Ben and spent some time in church alone.  Double bonus!  I didn’t even have to take the baby!

We arrived a few minutes early, but there was already a long line for the one priest.  “Perfect!” I thought.  “More time for me to pray!”  Ben got in line and I sat down in the front row, as close to the tabernacle as I could get and began to pray a rosary.

I can’t tell you how long it has been since I have been in a church without one or more children under three with me.  I breathed deeply the scent of the incense that has soaked into the brick walls.  I read the meditation for the first mystery and marveled that I only had to read it once to understand it.  More deep breaths and I prayed the mystery.

Then it happened.

A family came in.  Three adults and one – probably 2 year old – girl sat in the pew just behind me.  The three adults prayed and made very little effort to contain the antics of the 2 year old.  And I, the very person who travels along with my own circus, was annoyed.  May God forgive me, I was annoyed.

I justified it by the fact that I do at least attempt to control my children in church.  They were making no effort at all.  But maybe they had a very sick relative or something and really needed to pray for them.  I tried to come up with a situation that would make me not feel annoyed, I did.

I read the second meditation several times before I understood what it was about.  “Really, God? I’m trying here.  I get away from my own kids and you bring another one by to yank my attention away?”

And I knew, I just knew that if I dared to turn around and even look their direction that my own kids would be nightmares at mass for the rest of my life.  You can call that superstition if you want but I had a good chance of being right either way.  So I did my best to pray (it was hard) and took it as a lesson on what my own kids do to others who are trying to pray.

The family left after I prayed two more mysteries, and I finished my rosary in peace, a little chastened about children in church, and a little more humble about my own precious little people whose antics, dare I say, I sometimes consider cute.

I have always been one to fight for my children’s right to be with me in church, and I work with them carefully from day one to teach them how to behave.  I scoff at the old biddies who would dare to give me and my brood a dirty look for making a little noise.  And while I haven’t changed that position, I have seen more clearly the need to properly train my children for good behavior in church – not only in mass, but in other quiet times in the building as well.  I have been to the other side, just desiring some quiet prayer, and have seen that it can be frustrating.

Brushing Teeth

Yesterday evening at bedtime for the little ones, I was preparing to brush my two year old’s teeth.  She insisted repeatedly that she be able to do it first – as two year olds are so likely to do.  “I will do it myfelf!” is a popular refrain around here these days.  But our rule is that a grown up needs to brush the teeth first with toothpaste and then they can finish on their own with whatever suds are left.

So she stood there on her stool in front of the sink, looking up at me defiantly.  I fully admit I wasn’t feeling really into bedtime last night, and I had a lot on my mind.  But instead of causing me to be short tempered as it usually would, I was just wandering around in my own thoughts and it brought about a moment of good parenting completely by accident.  I stood in front of her with one hand on top of her head and one poised with the toothbrush while she sat there and glared at me with her mouth clamped shut.  It might have been a battle of wills if I hadn’t been daydreaming.  But my daydreaming seems to have done the job of patience in the situation pretty well.

After a few moments (and no words from either of us) she simply opened her mouth and let me brush her teeth.

It struck me that God very often handles me just like that.  He lets me know what he needs from me gently, but I set my jaw and dig in my heels and say, “No, I will do it my way!”  And He lets me sit there, staring Him down.  He just waits until I catch up and find myself surrendering my will to His.  Often it is not nearly as peaceful as this, and I protest a little more vehemently than my two year old did over the tooth brushing.  But sooner or later, if I am paying any attention at all, I get the message.

The key here though, is that my two year old was looking at me the whole time.  Even when silently protesting, her eyes were fixed on me.  God can handle my disagreements with Him, but it is crucial that even if my will is set against His, I keep my focus on Him.