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...


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 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 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 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 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.