Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Catholic Feminist? Reconciling the Irreconcilable

It couldn't have been more than a month or two ago that I was debating the use of the term feminist with a friend. I whole-heartedly rejected the idea that a Catholic woman would need or want to embrace the term. Why would she when she has a beautiful, whole, and healthy identity in the person of Jesus Christ? Even if we can reconcile the term with the faith (a huge stretch), why is it necessary?

And then I wrote this...

So... life humbles. And I've done a flip-flop of sorts. I still entirely reject the secular mainstream feminism -- which is simply an extension of an anti-life, anti-family, narcissistic worldview -- but now embrace a new use of the term. Not a "reclaiming" as some would like to do (I don't believe it was ever truly ours)... but a redefining. A takeover. 

If you ask me if I am a feminist, I will now answer yes, but then I'll give you an earful about why I don't mean what you think I mean. The depth and joy of Catholic femininity can't be contained in a label or slogan. I use any reluctantly. But at this moment in history, I can see the value of a deliberate defiance of the culture. 

I refuse to let mainstream feminists speak for me. And my purpose in resurrecting such a word in my life at all is to bear active witness. It is poking the hornets' nest. It is forcing a conversation that must be had in order to fight injustice. 

There's a place for activism on behalf of the natural rights and dignity of women, especially in a world that increasingly devalues what is good and beautiful about womanhood. As Catholic women, we need to take that place. We may be secure in our rock-solid-awesome Catholic families and parishes, but I assure you that there are women out there who desperately need our hand and our voice. 

So, can a Catholic be a feminist? If you define feminist by the terms of the world, then I shout a resounding NO. The possibility can only exist in a "New Feminism" ... and I invite you to read more here at The Guiding Star Project.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Discovering God's Purpose for Your Blog...

After writing multiple times in the past year about the changing world of blogging, taking a sabbatical (and living to tell about it), and then jumping right back in, I would like to add a couple more thoughts...

Actually, I'd like to let Charlotte add a couple more thoughts. She wrote a rather thought-provoking post this week as she announced a blog break. She's wiser than I in that she didn't set a timetable for her absence - she simply gave herself permission to go.

Her post affirmed the direction that I discerned for my blog during my sabbatical . I know what she's talking about. It bothers me. But I left, got my peace back, and returned with a firm sense of purpose. I have a blogging identity. It has nothing to do with any other bloggers out there... and everything to do with how the Spirit is working in my life.

Then there is Mary's post (which I saw just minutes before I intended to post this), which is further affirmation and confirmation for "mediocre" bloggers who are really the heart and soul of the Catholic internet community. She, like Charlotte, reminded me to look neither to the right or the left and just keep looking up.

I have my blogging blinders on. I have a firm purpose which I worked out with much thought and prayer while on sabbatical. I am committed to that purpose and to fighting the tendency to blog someone else's vision. I am also no longer in high school... and I refuse to allow likes, dislikes, accolades, links, awards, pettiness, or any one person to define my major actions or my purpose.

So... do you blog? Because if you do, I want you to read those posts when you have a moment. You may find that you know what these lovely gals are talking about.

And then I want you to repeat after me...

I am a uniquely gifted woman of God. My beauty lies not in how much my blog looks like anyone else's, but by how perfectly I am responding to His holy will for my life. 

Because my own blog sabbatical yielded so much fruit, I encourage all bloggers to take one of their own. Unless it provides a necessary portion of your income (and maybe even then), you should step away at times to remember what it is like to breathe and work and laugh without turning it into a blog post. God wants great and good things from you and perhaps you are having trouble listening over the noise of blogging.

In addition to the blessing of being available for God's plans, I promise that you will learn two things:

1) That you have (in some measure) an unhealthy attachment to the blogging world. 

2) That almost no one truly cares if you blog again or not.

I don't mean to sound harsh but it is the cold internet reality that "when you move your feet, you lose your seat." You will be missed by a few but it is unlikely anyone will even cry. People move on quickly. If number 2 causes you feel a lot of anxiety, then please recall number 1... and take steps toward a good spiritual cleaning.

If we're honest, then most of us can admit that we've been guilty of putting our blogging egos before our holy purpose. Yes? That would be me. But the appropriate response to that self-knowledge is to fight like heck to get things right. 

We can be savvy without being worldly.
We can be confident without being arrogant.
We can protect our intellectual property while still being generous.
We can earn some money without being covetous.
We can accept compliments with humility.
We can embrace criticism as a means to sanctity.

So what does God want from your blog? Not what do YOU want from your blog or what do you think God wants from your blog... but what is His actual dream for your keyboard. I discovered through my time away that it wasn't actually what I thought it was and I am grateful for the redirect.

If you need some silence to figure out your blog purpose (and you likely do), then take a break. Make sure it's long enough to sever unhealthy attachment. Return to blogging if He wills it. And if you've used your time well, you'll be humbler, happier, holier, more authentic, and more fruitful than before you left.

I am dreaming of a blog revival. We can never go back to the way it was in the beginning but we don't have to... the Spirit is here with us in the present. It's about ongoing conversion. Let's give everything and watch God light it up.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

When Children Fly...

It's been almost a year now since this little girl made her grand entrance. I was so eager to see her sweet face and kiss her tiny feet  - and today she is walking and talking and playing with toys. Pardon the old cliche but... it goes so fast. Takes my breath away.

I promised myself I would never be one of those old ladies who tut tut's over young moms and repeats those tired phrases. I'm already breaking that promise. I see the pretty mamas at the back of the church, overwhelmed and frustrated by the little fussing people charged to their care. Don't blink, mama... it goes fast. You'll wish you had these precious years back someday. They give me that look. I know that look because I've given it. It says: Yes, nice old lady. Blah, blah, blah. Now please step aside so that I can find a changing table and pick the mushy fish crackers out of my hair.

And then there's this guy who is getting ready to leave the nest....

His head and heart are yearning for more. He loves us, I know... but God made him to move on. And he's feeling that pull. It doesn't seem to make him particularly sad but I feel my heart break a little each time he stretches. He wants to go to college early. He asked and we gave a conditional yes. My yes went up and my heart sank down, down, down to my toes. It weighed me down for a few days.  He tells me not to be sad because he'll be back... but I know better. We all know that even when we come back things are... different.

He was the first to enter my homeschool. He'll be the first one to leave it. Then one by one, they'll all fly...

Between my littlest and my biggest there are a few more gorgeous little souls. And one special little guy who took a piece of my heart when he left for glory. He was only 2-inches long in my hand but his soul... ah... just bigger than I can embrace. I still think of him as my littlest one... but he would be four now and a big brother to two siblings.

Today is his birthday. His silent, lonely little birthday. Four years ago, I quietly bled and waited for him. I felt labor pains and the hours passed by in a surreal blur. Taking care of my kids... losing my baby... planning lunch... losing my baby... talking on the phone... losing my baby.

And then, after the part of labor that steals breath and courage from even brave mothers... it was over. One minute he was safe within and the next, well, he was safe forever. I cannot complain about that since it is what I desire for all of my children. But I think of him and miss him. He is Matthew. He is mine. And he lives. I weep and laugh alternately. My arms ache to hold him but then I think of our meeting someday and I am consoled through my tears.

I wanted to see his little grave today. Such a beautiful day! At home, I lost confidence in my ability to find his plot in that big cemetery and so I did a grave search online. I tried different searches and could not find him anywhere. My heart started to pound and tears sprang to my eyes. I cannot find him. So I did a general google search and nothing came up. Nothing. I couldn't find Matthew. And I didn't have the courage to go to the huge cemetery and look without finding.

I know it's not completely rational. Why would an internet search hold power over my heart? He doesn't care that his name isn't recorded on the internet. He doesn't care that we didn't go to visit his tiny grave today. But I couldn't find my little one and it hurt so badly.

The Chief is going to take me to the cemetery this week and we will, of course, find the spot with relative ease. We know how to find it. I wish that my humanity did not need such consolations. I wish that I could just rejoice in my baby's happiness. What is it about a motherhood that must break not only over sorrows but also over our joys?

When I was a young mother and a new-ish practicing Catholic, I didn't like the devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows. I was turned off by her blue and weeping countenance. I felt young and secure and those depictions were depressing and reminded me of great-grandmothers and doilies and their mysterious dusty, antiquated version of religion. I don't remember the day that changed but, at some point, I learned to love that image of Our Lady. She is beautiful. She is courageous in love. She shows us how to walk in grief and trial with grace and beauty. And I depend on her.

One way or another, I am going to be separated from all of my children. For a time. Please God, only for a time. Until then, my heart will continue to break off into little pieces on this earthly journey. I am counting on Blessed Mother to help me sweep them up and present them to the Lord. He'll know what to do with them.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

How to Love a Dandelion: DIY Thimble Vases for the Fridge

My little folk have the most wonderful habit of presenting me with handpicked flowers. The downside is that most of these gifts are far too small for traditional vases. Dandelions, buttercups, and bits of alyssum. Cherry blossoms, clover, and small sprigs of lilac. Beautiful... and tiny.

How shall a mother display these pretty tokens? There are the tradition options: 
float them in a glass of water...
set them on the counter until they wilt (5 minutes later)...
or, my personal and oft-used favorite...
tape them to the fridge. 
Yet none of those options seemed to preserve the flowers well or truly honor the gift. So I made a tiny little vase for the fridge. And then we made some more for the grandmas.

I loved this project. I loved picking out the pretty thimbles from a small Etsy shop. I loved the simplicity, low-skill level, and short supply list. And I loved the pretty finished product that serves a real need.

What you need to make a Thimble Vase:

Any thimble will do. You can use an old aluminum one from your sewing kit or shop antiques on eBay. The only requirements are that it is small and light enough to stick to your fridge with a strong magnet... and that it must look pretty upside down. Unless you don't care. Then I don't care either. :)

I found these for a reasonable price per piece on Etsy searching "porcelain thimble." There are so many sweet options. I even found a shop that sells porcelain thimble blanks and I definitely think one of your crafty mums should snatch those up.

This must be tiny but tough. I recommend these neodymium magnets that are small but mighty. As long as your adhesive is strong enough these magnets will hold your thimble. 

This must be tough. I recommend E6000 but feel free to use your favorite. All the best are stinky and toxic but you only need a tiny bit. Not kid friendly. 

This is for making a tiny dot in the place you wish to glue the magnet. It won't be seen by anyone.


1. Turn your thimble upside down (like a vase) and decide which side will be visible from the fridge. The magnet will be glued on the other side.

2. Use the marker to make a dot on the "wrong" side where you want the magnet to be. You may want to take both magnet and thimble to the fridge to fiddle and gage this.

3. Squeeze a dollop of glue on the dot.

4. Press the magnet in.

5. Hold the vase in your hand until the glue is partially set. (I kept trying to set it down too early and my magnet would slide around.)

6. Find a secure place to set the little vase to let the glue cure. I recommend 24 hours (or follow the directions on the glue packaging). High humidity requires longer curing time.

And that's it. 

A lovely way to package these is to use an old flip top ring/jewelry box. Many of these are covered metal and the vase will stick in place. If yours isn't metal, use some cotton to protect the vase, close it up, and tie it with some jute and a dried flower. (I actually did that but have no pics with which to prove it.)


Monday, June 30, 2014

Fixing Stupid: Learning to Love the Wrong Answer

I did not love school. There may have been a time when I did love it but it is not something I remember. As a very little girl, I found school a terrifying ordeal. I was afraid of my rude and careless classmates, my jaded and burned out teachers, the massive (to me) cold hallways, and the sound of the bell that was always interrupting and jarring me with it's false message of urgency. (I am 37 years old and still have nightmares about school bells.) I had many positive experiences during those years but those do not dominate my memories.

As an older student, my bald fear gave way to a steady anxiety. Classes and teachers changed but there was always the same crude, frantic, phony world engulfing me. I was naturally intelligent (as most children are) and I cared about my grades and pleasing my teachers. Yet somewhere along the way I lost confidence and hope, overwhelmed with a sense of failure and fear.

My greatest fear was of humiliation via the ubiquitous wrong answer. It was the enemy of all happiness. It haunted my homework, my tests, recess, lunch, and my classroom experience. The wrong answer brought the red ink, the frown of a teacher, the mocking laughter of my peers. It said YOU are an idiot. 

As a small child, I believed that I could learn everything and do anything. I hadn't yet learned to distrust my teachers or the system. I was told I was smart. That I was a good student. And I believed it.

Yet as the wrong answers started to pile up and the hard system wore down my flimsy confidence, I stopped believing adults when they said that I was intelligent. I could see the message clearly, scribbled in red ink, that I was not. Even when I knew the answer when called on in class, I was paralyzed by my lack of confidence and, doubting myself, would even give answers I did not believe to be true.  I was shy with my peers, terrible at "comebacks" and ignorant of current boy bands. Those things, among others, sealed my conviction: I am stupid.

In my early years, I was considered a "bright" student. When I hit junior high, I earned a new label: underachiever. To a child, that label translates to one thing only: You suck. You are so unalterably stupid that you can't even do anything with the smarts that you do have. Adults still talked about how smart I was but now it was in a wistful way... as if remembering something that had been lost. If you use this term for your children, please stop. I can't imagine any good that can come of it.

More of my underachieving story can be read here. Now fast-forward to my adult years during which I have struggled to overcome the ingrained belief that I am truly an idiot...

When I first started home educating, I taught my children fear of the wrong answer and unfortunately, they learned the lesson. They learned to run from it just as I had learned. They learned that it was far better to clam up than to risk looking like a real fool. The deer in the headlights stare of a school student is simply the youthful equivalent to pleading the fifth on the adult witness stand. I refuse to incriminate myself. Think me stupid either way but I won't prove it publicly. I passed along the disease of our educational system in my homeschool... and I have been working to heal that wound ever since.

I now want my children to embrace their wrong answers because I understand that there are no true right answers without them. In our search for the truth, we must engage our options and grapple with possibilities. Without wrong answers, we do not truly own the right ones. We become automatons who spit back information that someone fed to us. That is not true education. It has no place in my homeschool.

As a younger home educator I jealously guarded the teacher manuals. I was the keeper of the right answer and you may not have it, child, unless I choose to release the secret. It took years for me to realize how ridiculous that was. The turning point was reading John Holt's How Children Fail. I read my own story in those pages and shook with emotion as my eyes opened. I am not stupid. My response to a fear-based education was normal.

And then I handed over the teacher manuals to my kids. I soon found that there was less fear, less temptation to cheat, fewer tears. Our focus turned from testing to learning and we began to correct the ridiculous but ingrained notion that the test exists to expose stupidity and teachers to correct the ignorant.

I deeply regret passing on the dysfunction that I learned in school to my children. But the human spirit is resilient and my kids are doing just fine. They are slowly learning that wrong answers are a gift and a part of the positive process of authentic education. They naturally crave truth and knowledge and do not need me to frighten them into pursuing those things. And I am learning how to change my language and methods to reflect the confidence and respect that I have for them.

There are indeed "right answers" in the world and objective assessment is an important tool in our lives. But we must protect our children from an education that emphasizes perfect testing over authentic learning. Eventually, children must learn to seek, educate, explore, and uncover a passion for truth without your constant direction. Otherwise, they are just your little robots. For the short term. Eventually, they will begin to question... and they will either be prepared for that journey to self-knowledge or they will not. They will meet the wrong answer many times on that journey. Hopefully, we will have prepared them to use it effectively in their search for truth.

“When children are very young, they have natural curiosities about the world and explore them, trying diligently to figure out what is real. As they become "producers " they fall away from exploration and start fishing for the right answers with little thought. They believe they must always be right, so they quickly forget mistakes and how these mistakes were made. They believe that the only good response from the teacher is "yes," and that a "no" is defeat.” 
 John Holt, How Children Fail

Homeschooling moms... Do you have a struggling student? Want to bless their day? Put away the red pen for a while and just let them relax and learn without fear.
I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments!


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