Thursday, June 16, 2016

Stop Saying Prayer is Useless

I've about had it with this meme (or others like it):





This meme (like all memes) is trying to compartmentalize a universal practice into an "amusing" one liner. I've seen it floating around the internet before, but it seems to have exploded after the recent tragedies in Orlando. I've seen similar comments on news websites, blogs, and elsewhere. Well, surprise surprise! I have an opinion about it. So here it is:

1. How do you KNOW prayer doesn't help?
Can you, with 100% certainty, claim there is no God? Even most well-versed atheists say no such thing....they claim that there is no good evidence to prove God exists. So I'll bring out the old Paschal's wager: There are two possibilities: God exists, or He doesn't. If there is even the slightest chance that He could exist, why WOULDN'T you pray? Not the best argument for the existence of God, I know, but think about it. I have first hand seen miracles happen that defy logic and science...and these miracles were a result of prayer. I have seen incorrupt bodies of saints who have died hundreds of years ago...yet their bodies have never decayed (interesting that you don't find that phenomenon with non religious people...). So unless you can say that you know, without a doubt, that prayer is useless, then stop making that claim.

2. You are most likely being hypocritical
I went through one of the most difficult times in my life from November through February of last year, during my 2nd and 3rd trimester with Max. During two of those months, I literally could not move without extreme pain, and I lived on my couch (unable to take care of my family or myself). I had to quit my part time job. Interestingly enough, out of my (estimated) 1000+ Facebook and real life friends, family, and acquaintances, about 15 of those people actually PHYSICALLY helped me by watching my kids, cleaning my house, or bringing us meals. And you know what? THAT'S OKAY. People cannot possibly help in that way for every single tragedy that occurs. I would love to be able to drive to Orlando right now and shower all those grieving families with as much help as they needed, but I can't. And most likely, neither can you. I can't give blood, and haven't been able to since March 2012. I give money to my church, which is part of the worldwide Catholic Church...a Church that has clothed, fed, educated, and healed more people the past 2,000 years than any other organization. Do you know what I did receive more than anything during those difficult months in my life? Prayers. Good thoughts. "Positive vibes" (I'm still not sure what that means but I appreciated it just the same). Many of those people who said they were "thinking about me" were people who do not believe in the effectiveness of prayer. But even though they did not physically come to my house and help me take care of my family, IT STILL HELPED. 

3. You have no idea how many people are making sacrifices for YOU.
Many of my non-Catholic friends probably don't know that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cloistered groups of men and women around the entire world who devote their whole lives to prayer. These priests, monks, nuns, and other consecrated people have made a vow to never leave monasteries for the REST OF THEIR LIVES for any reason (unless, from what I understand, there is a medical emergency and they have to be taken to a hospital) so that they can avoid any distractions and devote their entire lives to prayer. 
And do you know that prayer does not simply mean getting on your knees and talking to God? Scripture calls ALL OF US, not just the cloistered priests and nuns, to fast, or make sacrifices, for others. To offer up any suffering we might endure for the benefit of others. And the more someone is suffering, whether it be physically, emotionally, spiritually, or all of the above, the more powerful their prayers can be. We should be doing this every single day, whether it be offering up a very small paper cut for someone you know, all the way up to the turmoil and pain a terminal patient might offer up.

I suppose we will all find out after we die whether or not these prayers made a difference. If, indeed, God is real, and our prayers actually DO make a physical, tangible difference, we will surely find out in the next life exactly who prayed and made sacrifices for us. You might be surprised how many people that actually is. 

So I'm going to pray, and I'm going to do it proudly, knowing that yes...I AM making a difference for those people. Just as so many have done for me during my times of need, now it's my turn to do it for them. And I trust that God's power is so infinitely strong that He can, indeed, help those people in this time of unspeakable grief.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Miracle Max's Birth Story



Do you love birth stories? Well sit down and read because this one is a doozy. And just a warning: I WILL use the words "vaginal birth" and "placenta" and "cervix" so if that grosses you out then you probably shouldn't read any further.

My whole pregnancy has been a rather turbulent one. I was very sick for nearly a month with pneumonia...so sick that I couldn't move without coughing to the point of throwing up (or breaking a rib apparently). I couldn't take care of my children, or even myself really. I couldn't sleep. Then, a few weeks after I recovered from that, my body decided that it was too freaked out by illness and having an oppressed immune system for so long. So my body started attacking itself which created this rash like covering over my whole body (except, thankfully, my face and scalp). I don't even want to call it a rash...I've had rashes before, but this was unlike anything I have ever seen or experienced. I felt like I was in an episode of House. Every doctor I went to was shocked and flabbergasted (I love that word) and had no idea what was going on. They would inevitably call in all the other doctors in their practice, and all of them would stand around me staring at my skin, poking me, and wondering aloud what the heck was going on. Even the dermatology specialists in St. Louis had never seen a case like mine. They ended up diagnosing it as "pustular psoriasis". But nothing, not the large dose of steroids, not the creams or the ointments, not the anti-itch medicine, nothing they gave me helped. It was so disheartening because every day I woke up, the rash had spread even more and looked worse. Since we really had no idea what was happening, I didn't know when (or even if) it would start going away. It was so painful that I could not touch anything. I couldn't use my hands or walk. Again, I was in a situation where I could not take care of my children or myself. Again, I couldn't sleep, and this time I couldn't bathe myself either. I ended up shedding my entire body's worth of skin...even my nails (they are actually still in the process of "shedding" and are the last bit of evidence that I ever had this condition).

I know that many people have it WAY worse than I did. What I had was not cancer, or some life long or terminal illness. And I am so thankful that in the end, my baby was not affected by anything. But I would be lying if I said it was easy. I had many breakdowns. It was so hard to not be able to take care of, or even touch, my children for almost two months. When Elizabeth wanted to lay in bed with me and I had to tell her no, it broke my heart. I couldn't hug or touch my husband. But in the end, after I healed, I realized my life had been changed because I appreciated things so much more. Instead of complaining about changing my kids' diapers, I was just incredibly thankful that I COULD change their diaper. I remember crying with happiness when I realized I was able to give my family a hug without any pain or discomfort.

All of this made me feel even more close to my baby than I ever had in any of my previous pregnancies. I didn't take for granted the fact that my baby was alive and well despite all the physical illness I had gone through. This baby was a trooper.

As I was getting better, we had an ultrasound to check on the health of the baby. They discovered that my placenta was right next to my cervix, and told me that it would be unlikely that I would be able to have a vaginal birth. I'll spare you all the details, but our doctor and midwife decided that they were comfortable letting me try to give birth vaginally, with the understanding that if I bled too much, I would need to get a c section.

They wanted to me to be induced so that in case there would be too much blood I wouldn't be at home. I was really nervous about getting the P word...pitocin...because I had such a bad experience with it during Elizabeth's labor. I was also very nervous about getting induced because of all the horror stories I had heard about induction leading to more medical interventions. I asked my midwife if we could induce labor by breaking my water, but she didn't think it was a good idea. She and my doctor assured me it would be a much different experience since this would be my third baby, and that most likely my body would know what to do. We set the date for Monday, March 14 (coincidentally, my grandmother's birthday, and the day before my birthday). Our hope was that the pitocin would start my contractions, and then my body would take over, I could get off the pitocin, and I could have an awesome med-free labor like I did with Mary.


We went in at midnight, Sunday March 13. Being induced was so strange...actually knowing exactly when I would go into labor made it much harder for me, emotionally. It's like when you are going to have surgery or some type of big event happen that you are nervous about, the waiting is always the hardest part. If I don't actually know when I'll go into labor, like with my first two births, I can maintain my pleasant denial in the fact that I am actually about to give birth. But having a date set...that was an entirely different matter. It felt like I was making a dinner reservation: "Alright, we'll pencil you in for midnight on March 13."

They started me on the pitocin, and I expected an instant, terrible, unbearable pain to hit me the moment the medicine started coursing through my veins. But...it wasn't like that at all. I didn't feel any pain. And in fact, my contractions did not even get really painful until the next morning.

My labor actually started the morning of March 14. I consider it "labor" when the contractions are intense enough that I can't talk through them and I have to start getting my concentration game on. I was slowly dilating, and my midwife and doctor decided to insert a bulb into my cervix (I forgot what the official medical name of it is) to help everything move along. By early afternoon, I was having regular strong contractions so we decided to try to wean off the pitocin. After about a half hour of being off the pitocin, my contractions stopped. This was, I think, my lowest point emotionally. I was exhausted and hungry (in fact, I spent a lot of my earlier labor fantasizing out loud about the food I would eat after everything was said and done) and I just wanted this baby to be born. The nurse, my mom, and I asked my midwife about the possibility of breaking my water to help get things moving along, but due to the precarious nature of my labor, she wanted to be careful and didn't think we should. So we started the pitocin back up again.


Eventually, the bulb came out. By this point, I had been bleeding a little, but not enough to cause concern. My heart lifted when that bulb came out and they told me I was about 8cm dilated. I got a second wind, and I was determined to get this dang baby out one way or another. The nurse suggested that we could break my water to get things really moving. But my pain level at this point was manageable, and I knew when my water broke it would become way more intense, so I decided not to.

Suddenly, while sitting on the birthing ball, I felt a gush of liquid, and I yelled out "My water just broke!!" I was so excited. But then, looking down, I saw it was not my bag of waters...it was blood. And as I stood up, more came out. My awesome midwife was incredibly calm and said it was okay. She checked me and felt what she thought was my bag of waters bulging, which to me meant my water could break at any moment. She wanted the doctor to check me before we did anything further. It was about 8:30pm by this point.

We discussed the possibility of breaking my water to help speed things along. The doctor had the hook out and ready to do so, but after he checked me, he got a look on his face that told me all I needed to know. "Ashley, I feel a lot of blood clots up there, and I don't know what else there could be. The baby has not descended and is still very high. My gut is telling me that we need to do a c section." I started crying and asked if there wasn't anything more we could do. But I knew that this doctor did not do c sections unless they were absolutely necessary. And I looked at Trent and he nodded, and we agreed to do the c section.

A flurry of medical staff came in, getting me prepped and telling me all the things that could go wrong (I know they have to do that...but wow did that freak me out). Then I had to go into the operating room, and Trent wasn't allowed to go with me until I was ready for the c section. I think this made me the most upset...I wanted him by my side because everything seemed so scary. But thankfully my midwife was right by my side, which helped to calm me. They gave me a spinal block and I was instantly unable to feel anything below my rib cage. I then almost passed out, and I remember saying repeatedly "I feel weird, I feel weird, I feel weird." Apparently my blood pressure dropped suddenly but they gave me meds that fixed it almost instantly.

Trent and my mom came in, which calmed me even more. I was shaking uncontrollably (not because of nerves, but apparently that's a side effect of the meds or the spinal block or something). I remember smelling burning and I kept asking what it was. No one would answer me and someone distracted me by asking a question. I later learned that it was actually my organs or my skin or something that they were burning, which is why no one wanted to answer me. Really, it wouldn't have bothered me though, because they are slicing my body open and moving all my organs around...what's a little bit of burning?

After a few minutes I finally asked when they would be starting the surgery. "Oh, they started five minutes ago," someone answered. At that moment, I felt really calm. I realized I really could not feel anything and it was going to be okay. And then Trent said, "Ashley, we're going to meet our baby soon!" And I started to get excited...one of the benefits of a c section, you know the most likely it will only take about 10 minutes before you meet your baby!

Then, all the sudden, I heard a cry. It was my baby! My mom shouted "It's a BOY!" Trent looked at me, in total disbelief, and said (as if I needed to hear it again to believe it): "Ashley, it's a boy!" I heard his crying and was flooded with relief. After all that I had gone through, he was FINALLY here!


About five minutes went by before I actually saw him. Those five minutes felt like an eternity. Especially when I could hear him cry, and I knew he was in the room literally feet away from me, but couldn't see him because of that huge curtain. Then, FINALLY, they gave him to Trent, and Trent put him on my neck. Within a minute he was nursing (which is actually really awkward and difficult to do after a c section because you have so little room to maneuver, but I was insistent on getting skin to skin contact if it was possible). 

There he was, my baby with the huge trademark Gutridge lips that all my children have. Brown hair fuzz and a face that kept reminding me of Elizabeth and Mary depending on the second that I looked at him. My midwife asked his name. I looked at Trent and asked, "are we sure about the name?" He said yes. So he announced: Our son's name is Maximilian Kolbe Gutridge.

Then, the doctor started talking about something and he sounded very surprised. At first, I thought something was wrong. They assured me everything was okay, but apparently my placenta looked very different from how normal placentas are supposed to look. We realized I had what is called "velamentous cord insertion." For all you sciencey people out there who want to know exactly what that is, here's what wikipedia says:


Velamentous cord insertion is an abnormal condition during pregnancy. Normally, the umbilical cord inserts into the middle of the placenta as it develops. In velamentous cord insertion, the umbilical cord inserts into the fetal membranes (choriamniotic membranes), then travels within the membranes to the placenta (between the amnion and the chorion). The exposed vessels are not protected by Wharton's jelly and hence are vulnerable to rupture. Rupture is especially likely if the vessels are near the cervix, in which case they may rupture in early labor, likely resulting in a stillbirth. This is a serious condition called vasa previa. Not every pregnancy with a velamentous cord insertion results in vasa previa, only those in which the blood vessels are near the cervix.
When a velamentous cord insertion is discovered, the obstetrician will monitor the pregnancy closely for the presence of vasa previa. If the blood vessels are near the cervix, the baby will be delivered via cesarean section as early as 35 weeks to prevent the mother from going into labor, which is associated with a high infant mortality. Early detection can reduce the need for emergency cesarean sections.

 So, you guys, here's the insane part. We did NOT KNOW that I had this condition until after Max was born. Had my water broken during my labor, Max probably would have died. Do you realize HOW MANY TIMES we were *this* close to breaking my water? (Look above at all the bold sentences. THAT'S how many times)

If this had happened, my son would not be here. 

Instead of planning his baptism, we would have been planning his funeral.


I have never been one to go into a pregnancy with the happy assumption that a live baby will result from it. My first loss took that blissful ignorance away from me. But until I realized how very close I was to losing my son, and how easy it would have been for him to die, I did not fully appreciate how precious life really is. It has, quite literally in fact, brought me to my knees. As I held my newborn son that night, breathing against my chest, and warm from being on my skin, I kissed his head and cried with gratitude. I thanked his patron saint, St. Maximilian Kolbe, who I am sure was flooding heaven with prayers for this little soul. I thanked my grandmother, Corinne Jung, who was born on the same day as little Max but many years before, and who I know was begging our Lord to spare her great grandson. I thanked all of you: all my family and friends who have prayed for me and my son without ceasing. And most of all, I thanked our great and glorious Lord and Savior, who protected my son in his arms through the whole ordeal. 






All the turmoil over c-section vs vaginal birth, natural labor vs induction...all of it didn't matter anymore. My son was alive and well and perfect. And now every time I look at him, I am reminded that yes...miracles do happen. And he is living proof. 



Friday, November 20, 2015

When Prayer Doesn't Come Easily



I have very vivid memories as a kid in junior high having a fulfilling prayer life. I prayed every day without fail. They were simple prayers, but prayers nonetheless. I was never told to pray this way...of course I was encouraged by my family and teachers and priests to pray, but it wasn't like I was forced to do it. I genuinely wanted to. I loved praying. I really felt connected to God, and His presence surrounded me constantly. It really was like what they say in Scripture: I felt a peace that words cannot describe, and I think I can honestly say (without trying to sound arrogant or "holier than thou") that I did love God and desired a relationship with Him above everything else in my life.

This is how my children look every night at prayer time...
Granted, my life was much simpler then. I had only myself to care for, so finding time for contemplative prayer was much easier. We didn't have the internet as a distraction. There were many times that I was BORED (a word that, in our present day, we don't understand anymore because of the never ending choices of distraction and entertainment that technology brings us), so I quite naturally turned to prayer because sometimes there really was nothing else to do.

At the time, I didn't realize what an incredible gift God had given me. I thought everyone felt this way when they prayed. It struck me odd that some people would not pray...why on Earth would you not pray when being close to God is the best feeling in the world?

I entered high school, I became busier, made new friends, and my prayer life wained. I was distracted, as they say, by "the things of this world." I got a pretty awesome boyfriend (who's still pretty awesome if I do say so myself) and thought I had everything.

Then of course, college came, and my prayer life was pretty much non existent. I've written about this before, but I was so into myself that I don't know if it was even possible for me to see past my own nose. I went to Mass every weekend still, but only because that's how I was raised and I knew no other way. I talked to others about God, and about how I was "religious" and "Catholic", even though I really had no idea what I meant by that. But I had awesome friends, and was successful in school, and I thought I had everything.

Which is funny, because I was pretty darned miserable.

And it showed, too. I was not a nice person. (I'm still not sometimes, believe me). But looking back at some of the things I did and the way I treated some people, I still shudder even though I have been to confession about it and I know God has forgiven me. And the funny thing is, throughout high school and college, I was always questioning: "WHY AM I SO UNHAPPY?"

It's interesting how when your prayer life stops, so does your happiness. You think you are happy. Sometimes. There are brief moments of positive emotion that can occur within relationships, activities, and successes. But then that fades and you are left empty. And the funniest thing is, we get angry at God for this...asking him, "Why, God? Why? What else can I do?" even though He has already given us the answer:

If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

But see, this is the answer we don't want to hear. We don't want to deny ourselves. Or take up our crosses. Crosses are difficult to carry. And inconvenient. So we ignore this message and carry on with our lives the way WE want and continue to wonder why we are miserable.

Thanks be to God, through the intercession of MANY prayers by others I'm sure, and through the influence of my now husband's conversion to the Catholic faith, I finally came to my senses at the end of my college career and realized what a complete jerk I was. It was humbling and humiliating to look at myself how I really was. But only when I did that could I start to change. I started to pray again. I enjoyed praying again. I was peaceful, and happy, and good with life for the first time in many years.

Then, I had my first living child, Elizabeth. And my life as I knew it came to a crashing halt and everything changed. All the sudden, I had another life to be responsible for besides my own. I thought I had gotten past my selfishness, but in hindsight, I was only scratching the surface. This person, this baby girl, was completely dependent on me. And I had no idea what I was doing.

In the frenzy of learning how to properly breastfeed (which never really happened), sleep deprivation, months of pretty serious illnesses my little newborn had to go through, and just learning how to be a parent and survive at the same time, I again forgot about prayer. Who has time for that? I was just trying to keep my head above water. Getting through weekend Mass with a baby who really loved screaming at decibel levels that even our stone wall Cathedral cry room couldn't contain was taxing enough. You want to know what the readings were that day? Hahaha! I can't even tell you what the date is!
Elizabeth, 3 months old, Ash Wednesday. I think she was mad because her ashes were not dark enough.

I realized in the back of my mind that I needed to pray. And REALLY, I had extended periods of time where I was sitting, feeding a baby, which could have easily been devoted to times of prayer. And out of guilt, I started to cave and say my prayers. Sometimes. But all I really wanted to do was just zone out and watch Netflix. Because this parenting thing was exhausting, and prayer was not bringing me the rest I needed. It was just more work.

And that is the key point that I think we all need to realize: prayer is WORK. It is HARD work. Having a consistent prayer life does not come easily or conveniently to most people. And I think, after having had such a fulfilling prayer life in my younger years, I was totally turned off to it when in my busier seasons of life when it didn't bring me that instant comfort and gratification that I used to get. "I'm not getting the results I expected," I would think to myself. "I'm not getting warm and fuzzy feelings. So I must not be doing it right. I guess I'll just stop." I went through periods of this, on and off, for a good while during Elizabeth's first year of life.

Then one day in October when she was 10 months old, I made a decision. I was going to start praying the rosary. I had dappled in the rosary before. I had gone through periods where I would try to pray it every day, and that would last a few weeks, and then the sheer thought of having to sit there for twenty minutes to recite those tedious prayers would become overwhelming and I'd stop for awhile. And then I'd start the cycle again. But...I'm not sure what was different about this time...but this time, I was serious. I made a promise that I would pray the rosary every single day, no matter what. Even when I didn't want to (which was every day). Even when it was inconvenient (which was every day). Even when I'd rather be doing something else (which was definitely every day).

I wonder if St. Dominic had trouble concentrating too?
I will write another post related to my journey specifically with the rosary (to summarize, I have never missed a day since that day in October 2013...and this is not to make myself sound like some saintly person, because I am still not good at praying it). But the point I am trying to make here is this: In my 2+ years of praying a daily rosary, I have never once felt warm and fuzzy, and I have never once "felt" God's overwhelming presence. In fact, most of the time, all I'm thinking is how I'd rather be doing something else. Or what I'm going to eat for breakfast. Or what my plans are for that day. And then I'll realize my mind is wandering, and OOPS! I'll try to focus whatever mystery I might be praying at the moment. Okay, the Scourging at the pillar. Our Father, who art in heaven...and the cycle continues.

The fact that I have a "dry" prayer life used to bother me greatly. In fact, I went through a pretty major faith crisis because of it. I was angry at God for not rewarding me for being faithful to Him. "I'm TRYING here!!! What more do you want!!!! Can't I get SOME reward for doing all this work??"

But I am slowly realizing that, really, positive emotional fulfillment does not always happen with all relationships in life. Our emotions can play tricks on us. Emotions change, God does not. Those warm and fuzzy feelings I was looking for are not an indicator of how much God loves me or if He hears my prayers. I love my family, and I work at a relationship with them. Sometimes that relationship feels more like work, other times it comes easier. The same can be said with prayer. Intellectually, I know God hears my prayers and that He loves me. But everyone feels abandoned by Him from time to time...even Jesus, hanging on the cross, about to die, asking God: "Why have you abandoned me?" If JESUS did not "feel" God's presence, well heck, why would I expect to be above that?

If you are struggling with daily prayer, you are not alone. It is HARD. It is WORK. And it does not always make you feel any different. But it will slowly transform your life in ways you might not have chosen yourself
. Remember, Jesus did not promise us a life of instant gratification. He promised us the opposite: difficulty and hardship. But regardless of what our ever changing emotions tell us, we can always know one thing for certain: prayer is ALWAYS a good thing. It WILL change us for the better. And God, even when we do not feel Him, will never abandon us.



Check out this video on spiritual dryness from Fr. Robert Barron. It really shed some light for me on how God is trying to teach us to fall in love with Him, not the emotion of falling in love with him.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Why Feelings Don't Matter: My Take On Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner

Heyyyy!!!!!!!!! I am BACK, y'all!! Aren't you beyond excited? I know this might just be one of the best days you've had all year.

I took a little blogging hiatus, needing a mental writing break. But I'm back. I hope to write maybe a post a week and get back into the groove of things, now that Mary is older and not nursing anymore.

So there's been a lot of speculation out there about the Bruce-Caitlyn sex change operation. And, since I'm very opinionated, and I have a blog, I decided I'd write about it.

A few things before I begin:
1) I realize that in writing this, there is a great possibility I will get hateful comments because my opinion is in the "less loud" category. I'm not going to say my opinion is in the minority, because I believe there are many people out there who might agree with me but are afraid to voice their opinion for fear that they will get bullied. If you disagree with me, I respect that. All I ask is that you keep any comments kind and rational. If I feel a comment is not kind or rational, I will delete it.

2) Many people feel very strongly about which name is used for Bruce/Caitlyn. For this blog post, I will refer to him as Caitlyn, simply because he did legally change his name and I will respect that.

3) Remember, most of all, that disagreement DOES NOT equal hate or judgement. You might disagree with my point of view, but I don't think you hate me. So I ask that you remember the same about me.




Catholics generally have a good understanding of feelings...and why they don't really matter. This is a large reason why the Catholic Church is sometimes unpopular: because today's society bases almost EVERYTHING on feelings. People leave the Catholic Church all the time because they don't "get anything out of it"... or they don't feel it. People get divorced because they just don't feel anything for each other anymore. People (myself especially) don't get much done around the house because they don't feel like it.

In our sensationalized culture, it's almost like people expect to have a constant feeling of gratification. They call this "happiness." But is it really? I'd like to put in my two cents from my own personal experience.

When I was younger, I felt God's presence all the time. I had absolutely no doubt in my mind about His existence, and prayer came very easily to me. I didn't realize it at the time, but this was an incredible gift God gave me. Because very soon after Elizabeth was born, my life came to a screeching halt and everything I previously knew, or felt, about God (and life in general) dramatically changed.

As I struggled through a lot of postpartum emotional issues, I struggled even more with the fact that I no longer "felt" God in my life. It was like a huge comfort had been suddenly ripped away from me. I started to question the existence of God, if God was really there for me, and who God really was.

Despite all this uncertainty I felt, I knew deep down in the back of my mind that I must keep going. Even though I didn't get any emotional fulfillment from church or prayer, I continued to, as they say, "show up." There were (and still are) times when the last thing I ever wanted to do was pray. But I did it anyway. Imagine dragging a kicking and screaming toddler away from a TV show and leading her to a kitchen table to eat her vegetables instead (not that I would ever know what that would be like since my children never have tantrums...ahem...) That was sort of how I viewed prayer. I whined lot about it in my mind...But God..I don't WANNNNAAA pray right now. I WANNA WATCH TV!!!!! 


I am still struggling, as we all are to some degree or another. But through this period of over two years, I am realizing one thing: My feelings are not an indicator of how much God loves me.

Feelings do not equal love, and feelings do not equal happiness. Sure, happy emotions might be a product of love or happiness. But that doesn't mean they are one in the same.

Our culture crucifies anyone who says otherwise. Everyone should have the right to do whatever feels good, right? Or, as the popular saying goes: who are we to judge? It doesn't affect me, so why do I care?

I would argue that it does affect me...and it affects me very much. My children are going to grow up in a confusing, uncertain world where nothing is concrete and reality no longer exists. And we are already in a world where those who disagree with popular opinion are verbally (and sometimes physically) assulted and put on the same level as racists.

Caitlyn Jenner is, no matter how much plastic surgery or how many operations he gets, a man. He might feel differently...but DNA does not lie. I have compassion for him and for any other people who are genuinely confused about their identity and are searching for happiness. But the word I would like to emphasize is this: confused. There are people who surgically alter themselves to look like reptiles and felines. Some of these people genuinely believe they should have been born an animal instead of a human. And as much as they can try to look like the said animal, they will never truly be one. They were born human, and in essence will be a human for the rest of their lives. Should we support their skewed vision of reality? I don't think so.

I truly hope Caitlyn Jenner is happy. I hope that he somehow finds what he is looking for. I hope that his children, his ex-wives, and his family are coping with the certain confusion and emotional upheaval that must come with this life altering decision. Rather than focusing on what feels good, perhaps instead we need to ask ourselves this question: What is happiness?

Happiness is an act, and the act is this: serving others. Whenever we put others before ourselves is when we will truly be happy. Trust me, you are hearing this from me, who is probably one of the most selfish people out there. I struggle with this constantly. As in...I have to have actual conversations with myself to put my selfish inclinations behind me. And I fail at it. A lot. But sometimes, (only with God's help), I am victorious. And when I do serve others, I have a deep sense of peace that pervades my being. Does it "feel" good to be unselfish? Not usually. But in this case, as in most, my feelings are not an indicator of what is right and wrong.

Monday, December 22, 2014

What I Want To Teach My Children: You Are Not Special




You see it everywhere these days. Children's books...TV shows...movies...commercials...internet ads...facebook...

YOU ARE UNIQUE! YOU ARE DIFFERENT! YOU ARE SPECIAL!

Now let me clarify here before you go calling DCFS on me and label me as a terrible parent. I love my children more than anyone, and to me, they are the most special and unique children in the world. But. The key word there is: TO ME.

The rest of the world? Sure, they might think my kids are great. Or even MORE than great. Or perhaps, when Elizabeth is in the grocery store screaming at a decibel level known only to jet engine workers, people might think my kids are less than great. And I understand that. When you have your own kid, EVERYTHING she does is amazing. I think it's just imprinted in our genes to behave this way. "Oh my gosh...LOOK at the way her toe moves when she crawls!! Isn't that the most adorable thing you've ever seen??" And everyone else is slowly nodding their heads, nervously smiling, wondering to themselves when that parent might have reached this level of crazy, and promising themselves that if THEY ever have children, gosh darnit, they will never act this way.

This need to be special has pervaded our culture in a way it has never been before. I believe it is largely due to social media, a place in which we are bombarded with the extraordinary events of people's lives which leaves us to believe our own lives are less than stellar. (By the way...I think social media is great. But this is one negative effect of it).

People who are in my generation and older remember a time without social media. IN MY DAY, we had to use a TELEPHONE to CALL people if we wanted to talk!! None of this typing, texting nonsense! **Clears throat** Sorry...ahem. Anyway, my children will never have this experience. Even though I will probably be a stricter parent than most and not allow them to have a Facebook (if it still exists in 10 years) or a cell phone with texting and internet (if those even do exist at all), they will still be surrounded by this culture. This culture, which magnifies our lives to be something spectacular and exciting all the time, desensitizes us to what the word "awesome" really means.

I want my kids to realize that there is beauty in the ordinary. That they do not have to grow up to be a brain surgeon or a doctor or a world famous sports athlete in order to be happy. That we should have enormous respect for all professions, from the garbage man all the way to President. I want them to know they are no different from everyone else, because we all have a soul that was created by God Himself.

Even the most menial tasks we do can have great value. As Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said, we must do "small things with great love." Every time I change a diaper or fold a shirt or clean up a mess, I keep this in mind. That all the small, ordinary things I do every day are meaningful.

We can especially see this during the Christmas season. Mary and Joseph were regular, ordinary people. They rode to Bethlehem on a donkey. Jesus was born in a tiny, meager stable. None of these circumstances in which the Savior of the world came into being were special. And yet, they were what God chose for His only Son.

So if my kids are never blue ribbon winners, or valedictorians, or competition winners, that's okay. If they are, then great. But as long as they are trying their hardest, I hope they realize that aspiring to be ordinary is wonderful. Because really, that's what we all are: ordinary. And that in itself is a beautiful thing.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

How To Help Someone Suffering From Miscarriage




Today, December 13, is a day of bittersweet emotions for me. It is the feast day of St. Lucy...a very important saint in my life. My middle name, Lucia, was taken from Sr. Lucia, who was my grandmother's best friend. My grandmother, after whom Mary Ellen is named, was one of the most important people in my life. I often think of her and Sr. Lucia on this day.

This day also brings great sorrow to me. Today, three years ago, was the day I lost my first baby, who we named Catherine. In the early hours before sunrise, as I lay in bed nursing my infant, I think of my first baby. My girl who had a short life, but a life nonetheless. I have been wanting to write a post about how to help mothers (and fathers) who have suffered miscarriage. So many well meaning people say such hurtful things without even realizing they are hurtful. And likewise, so many people just want to help, without knowing what to do. Miscarriage is a taboo subject in our culture...many people don't quite know how to react to it. It is a lonely cross that parents must bear. So I hope these tips might help the loved ones of those going through a terrible loss.

Things you should not say 

1. At least it happened early.

It always amazes me that "pro-life" people treat miscarriage as something that does not need to be addressed. If you believe that life starts at conception, why wouldn't an early loss be just as devastating as a later loss? It's the same person...the same soul...the same baby. Just a different size. It is, I believe, because of our "seeing is believing" culture. People cannot see that the mother is pregnant. No one but the mother feels the physical pain of miscarriage. And typically, no one but the mother (and father) sees the tiny, tiny baby that has been taken from the womb. So always realize that, no matter when a miscarriage occurs in a pregnancy, the pain (and the baby) is so real.

2. There was probably a genetic problem, so it was for the best.

"It was for the best" is something that no one ever wants to hear when they are experiencing a loss. After going through a miscarriage, you do not care that the likelihood your baby could have survived outside the womb are very slim. You do not care that there was probably something seriously wrong with your baby. The fact is, that was, and is, your baby. No matter what medical state the baby was in while in the womb.

3. God needed another angel.

First of all, theologically speaking, humans do not become angels when they enter heaven. Angels are a different species than humans...all spirit, with no body. But aside from that, this is one of those phrases that well meaning people think might comfort the parents. In reality, it does the opposite. Especially when parents are fresh from the loss of their baby, they do not want to hear that "this was all in God's plan" or "God needed them in heaven." Death was never part of God's plan. God's plan was for people to live in the perfect world of Eden with Him. Death would have never existed had it not been for original sin which resulted from our free will. And even though it certainly is true that our baby can intercede for us in heaven (something I definitely kept in mind during my early pregnancy with Elizabeth), during the time of miscarriage, we want our baby with us here on Earth. 

4. You can always have more children/at least you have children already

This phrase takes away from the importance of the baby for whom the parents are mourning. It implies that this death shouldn't be so bad, because at least you'll have other kids to take your mind off it. I doubt that anyone would ever say this to parents who have lost a child who has already been born...so why is it okay to say this to parents who have lost their child in the womb? 


Things that you should say or do

1. Give the parents space if they need it

After I had my miscarriage, I did not want to speak to or see anyone for awhile. Partly because I didn't want people to know about what I had gone through. Partly couldn't stand facing the (well meaning) comments people would make. And partly because I couldn't handle being around those who did know, acting like nothing had happened and that everything was okay (again, well meaning). I chose to mourn by myself. It was difficult, because it was around Christmastime. I remember opening presents with our families, trying to be happy about Christmas, but simply thinking the whole time about how it was impossible to feel happy after losing my baby.

I also remember it being very difficult to go anywhere in public for awhile. Every time I saw a baby or a pregnant person, I would burst into tears. I specifically remember one time going to a restaurant with my mom and sitting down to our table. I glanced to the side, and realized that literally right next to our table was a brand new mother with an infant who couldn't have been more than a week old. I had to get up and go to another table because I couldn't handle being around the baby.

2. Acknowledge that this baby is real, and that they will always be his/her parents.

The most comforting thing anyone ever said to me while I went through my miscarriage had to do with this point. I had not told many people about it, and chose to tell a coworker at school. I remember that instead of looking at me with sorrow or awkwardness, he broke out in a big smile, and said: "Wow! You guys are parents! That's amazing!" For me, it acknowledged the fact that my baby was real, and that, especially since this was my first baby, I was a mother. 

3. If the couple gives the baby a name, refer to him/her by that name.

We chose to name our baby Catherine. It was too early to tell if the baby was a girl or a boy, but based off a very real dream that I believe was a message from God, we knew our baby was a girl. Since parents who miscarry early do not get a funeral or any sense of closure from the loss, giving the baby a name has helped us tremendously. 

And the most important thing, I think, is this:

Never forget this baby.

As the months and years pass, most people tend to move on. But as a mother, you never forget. My mom sends me messages often, telling me she's thinking about my baby in heaven. I can't tell you how comforting it is to know that someone still remembers. That not everyone has forgotten. 

I think many people are afraid to bring it up, thinking that it might bring me pain. But it's actually quite the opposite. By acknowledging my baby, you are telling me that my baby was real and important to you. And that you want to be there for me, even years later, when even though the pain is different now, it is still there. And it always will be.

My baby girl will always be in my heart. And I will never forget the love and support I received from those who have helped and continue to help me along the way. It is a long and windy road...one that is traveled easier while holding someone's hand.



Friday, December 5, 2014

My Rant About Catholic Priests

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you might recognize this note I wrote about my feelings toward Catholic priests. I decided to post it on my blog, as a reminder to myself and to anyone reading of how amazing Catholic priests really are. Enjoy!







Being a Catholic, I am used to being constantly criticized and judged. I'm not trying to be a martyr here, but it's the truth. Just watch the news, and you'll for sure see SOMETHING on there that negatively depicts the Church that I love so much. It's very rare that you'll consistently see a big uproar about something that a Evangelical preacher, a Buddhist scholar, or a Hindu teacher might say. Why is that? Because the Church angers and confuses people. Because what we believe is not convenient, easy, or in any way "with the times." Why don't we just change and conform to modern society? Maybe then everyone would just leave us alone and let us practice our faith in peace. 

Let's face it. Catholicism is confusing and hard to understand. In a religion that has lasted over 2,000 years, it's bound to be. I don't claim to know and understand every single aspect of it. But, I 100% guarantee you that the people who are "against" the Church are not actually against it. They are against what they THINK is the Church. They just don't understand why we do what we do. And I totally get that. It's complex, sure. But if you are willing to put in the time and energy to REALLY TRY to...in the words of Shaun T..."dig deeper" (teehee), you might be surprised at what you find.

So what I'm writing about today is our priests. Our men who give their ENTIRE LIVES to serve the Church. Our men who decide, on their own accord, that they want to dedicate their whole self to take care of God's people. That's you and me. Wait, does that sound familiar? Didn't someone else do that? Was it Jesus? 

Every time I see a priest, I have an urge to get on my knees and kiss his feet in thanksgiving for what he has done for me and for us. (I don't usually give in to this urge, because I feel that it might freak people out...) I wish there was a universal sign of respect that I could portray to a priest every time I saw one...even if I didn't know him. Something that said, "Father, I love and respect you for making this decision. Thank you for giving your life for me, just as Jesus did." 

Every time I see a priest, I want to just stare at him (in the non-creepiest way possible) because I am so IN AWE. I am amazed that there are still people out there who believe in the Church SO MUCH that they sacrifice everything in order to best serve the Church's people. 

Every time I see a priest, I want to shout to everyone around me: "STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING! COME TALK TO THIS MAN! HE IS HERE FOR YOU AND FOR ME, AND WE SHOULD ALL THANK HIM!" 

Now, am I claiming that priests are perfect? No. They are human just like everyone else, and they have flaws just like you and me. Have some priests done horrible things "in the name of the Church?" Unfortunately, yes. Do some priests preach or act in a way that doesn't reflect what the Church teaches? Yes. Are all priests warm and cuddly and do they all make you feel fuzzy inside? No. The fact is, there are priests out there who have done horrible things or who make us feel exactly the opposite as "being close to Christ." But does this mean that we should judge every priest based on those few? Of course not. Should we say all teachers are bad because some of them sexually assault their students? Should we say all fathers are bad because some of them physically abuse their children? Should we say all movie stars are bad because some of them have drug addictions? No.

So perhaps you can understand perhaps why in infuriates me when all I hear is criticism toward these amazing men. "I saw a priest driving a BMW...how dare he spend that kind of money on a car when he should be giving it to the poor!" "I don't like that priest...his homilies are boring." Or even worse yet, when their criticisms are based off either untruths or misunderstandings of the faith. "Why can't priests get married?" "Why can't there be women priests?" Those are great questions. And there are logical answers as to why the Catholic Church does not allow for women priests or married priests. But to me, constantly complaining about that is the same as going up to a war veteran and saying "You know, that war was so unnecessary and I don't agree with it. Why would you go and fight for something so stupid?"

So instead of the criticisms, let's first try to UNDERSTAND the teachings of the church. Then, even if you don't agree with it, at least show some respect toward these men. Even if a priest isn't the friendliest or the coolest or the greatest person you know, show him some love. Because I can almost certainly guarantee that these men love you. How do I know that? They are, literally, living proof.