Thursday, January 22, 2015

Losing Ellery

I think I started showing some time around Christmas. It depended on what I wore, but my permanent bump from ten pregnancies started to grow, so that (to me) it was obviously not a leftover "mummy tummy"—this was a new baby bump. I continued to wear my normal clothes until this past week when I tried a maxi skirt over my bump and thought, "hmm, it's getting time."

I wore a pair of maternity jeans the day before I lost the baby.

I had been bleeding on and off for several weeks, but I've had bleeding at this stage many times before and we'd never lost a baby. One time it turned into an abruption and premature birth. We handled the rest of our "threatened miscarriages" with bed rest. We figured we knew the drill. 

But we always knew this was a possibility. The bleeding picked up. Sunday morning I woke up...different. I stayed in bed for a little while, until cramping and bleeding—more than bleeding—drove me out.

It was all relatively mild. All the same, it reminded me unmistakably of the immediate postpartum phase. Only this time, there was no emotional allowance for the messy processes of my body, no happy thoughts occupying my mind from the next room. Likely I would have had a similar aversion to the gore of childbirth that I felt now, had there not been the overwhelming joy of that new life at my side. 

Likely the baby died days or weeks before.

It may seem odd to feel in that moment a kinship to the women who undergo abortions. The ones who choose this end and particularly reject that overwhelming joy and that new life. But I did. I felt the desire to remove myself and let my body take care of this without me. I felt a sense of dread at what I might see, even as I had moments of near panic that we would never have Ellery's little form to baptize and bury. I felt revulsion at every physical proof of my transition to "not-pregnant."

Mostly, I don't feel guilty for feeling this way. It's well within "normal" to have such reactions to suffering a loss. This is a time of grief for me.

It is for them as well. The ones that choose.

I'm getting back to normal, and I missed the baby. We told the kids earlier this week, and we all miss the baby—the baby now, and the baby that would have been. But we're all getting back to normal, whatever that will be. I love my family. All of them.

Ellery Raphael, pray for your mama. Pray for all the mamas, and their babies. Pray for all of us, your family. Jesus, have mercy on us, and keep my little Ellery close.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Books and Blogs

My not-so-new favorite blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy, recently posted about how she tracks her reading ("begrudgingly"). I've been wanting to do this ever since I signed up with Goodreads in 2012. I got started in earnest as part of my 2013 resolutions and even wrote a review of The Hobbit that the impressive Julie Davis liked, but then Amazon acquired Goodreads, and I was mad at Amazon about something (I don't remember what but it probably still applies), and I swore off Goodreads. I've thought about book journals and Pinterest and the like, but I guess the truth is that I am also one who would rather spend her time reading books than logging them.

But her post got me thinking perhaps I should give it another go. Plus, the volume of book-blogging she does has me wondering just how much book-reading I actually do—not as much as I would like, I'd bet. I think tracking my reading will help me get a better idea than the stacks of library books on my nightstand, and maybe give me the nudge to finish a few more of those titles before they go back to the library. (Not to mention the ones I bought or held on to with high hopes, only to forget them over and over again between dustings.)

So hey, what better way to start than with a reading challenge!

Two of them, actually, because reading challenges are fun—maybe better than book clubs. I would obsessively collect more to participate in if I wanted to indulge in optimistic hopes about meeting goals and stuff. (Yeah, I don't do New Year's resolutions anymore.)

Graphic from

In fairness, the first one that caught my eye gets the first mention: The Authors A to Z Reading Challenge. Super simple, super fun: try to read a book by one author (use the author's last name) for each letter of the alphabet. I don't really have a plan for this one, beyond reading a few books I already know I want to read, start filling in the letters, and plug in any holes as I see the need and opportunity. Doubling up with the second challenge is allowed, and I already have some thoughts for that one that may give me some of those more obscure letters.

Of course the second challenge is Modern Mrs. Darcy's own. The 2015 Reading Challenge got me to actually commit to some more intentional reading this year, or from now on, or something. As I looked at the different categories, I started thinking of titles I wanted to read for each one, and I thought, yeah, this could be fun. Go check it out; she's got a Pinterest board and a printable, yeah?

graphic from

Soon I'll tell you about some of the reading I've been doing and planning, and I'll describe how we track the kids' reading. In the meantime, tell me: should I give Goodreads another go? I really can't decide. 

And if you've got a fun reading challenge you're doing (or if you think one up and need company), tell me about it, too!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

So what does being 40...

...make me?

Advanced Maternal Age!

We're expecting our 11th baby, and another July baby at that. We have five birthdays in July right now, including Jason's, and our due date for this baby is July 24 (alternately July 27). As of now, I am even willing to go over a few days to get into August, but I doubt once I am there I will be so desirous of novelty.

Being pregnant at 40 seems to be some sort of buzz issue if you pay attention to things like women's websites and gossip rags. Here are two opposing (or maybe not so much?) takes on it: Age and Fertility: Getting Pregnant in Your 40s vs. Why Fertility Is Far from Finished at 40.

Meanwhile, I'm not freaking out. Mostly. But in every pregnancy I welcome your prayers. And, may I say, I hope to see you back here again soon? I'm encouraged by this assessment of the state of blogging that sees a return to "the old days" when people engaged each other more on blogs. I'm not one to be consistently prone to publishing long pieces here, but I've always loved blogs for their community-building nature. I hope to be here more and engage in a bit of conversation.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Heaven Is For Real

This post was written in August 2014, and was a casualty of the whirlwind that is our life. In the spirit of catching up (my unspoken resolution for 2015), I am posting it in the hope that someone finds it worthwhile despite being *gasp* five months old.

We recently watched the movie "Heaven is for Real." I enjoyed it, but I remembered reading some sort of caution about it, so afterwards I went looking.

So far the only things I have come up with were that many criticized it (and the book on which it was based) for being unbiblical, and that it promotes a Universalist view of salvation.

I found it interesting that (in the film—I haven’t read the book yet) some of the people in Paster Todd’s church were resistant to the idea of a literal trip to Heaven. I’m not sure what problem they were having. Was it that Heaven is a real place? It seemed that way at times. Todd protests at one point, “Why does it have to be just a mythology?” At these times I wanted to take them by the shoulders and say, “Why is this so difficult for you? Just what do you claim to believe in, anyway?” But at other times, it really seemed to be more complex, and I think, in a sense, their skepticism honored the complexities of walking by faith in this life. Because for some, it really did seem for them to come down to a crisis of faith that resembles St. John of the Cross’s “Dark Night of the Soul” (what I understand of it—still have to read that one, too) that a more spiritually mature person experiences.

As for the “unbiblical” claims, well, maybe that accounts for some of the problem. Maybe this is too simple, but for self-described Bible Christians who adhere to the literal words of Scripture—no more, no less—maybe it’s just that they had no framework for handling such a claim as what Heaven consists of. That’s not as much of a problem for Catholics. We have the freedom and safety of a living Magisterium. We have the ecstasies and visions of the saints for predecents. We have a very clear set of principles for judging private revelations, which in itself allows for the possibility that this little boy’s experience is genuine. And though it would be tough to submit this particular phenomenon for ecclesiastical approval, we can apply the basic ideas of such guidance: I heard nothing in the things film-Colton reported about Jesus or Heaven that contradicts the revealed truth as safeguarded to and by the Church.

Those who want to say such visions of Jesus and Heaven are unbiblical and therefore problematic seem to me to have God pretty tightly restricted. Frankly, I find such objections laughable. But in the movie, Todd offers even them an acceptable way of looking at what this was—basically, an interpretation of Heaven, as seen by a four-year-old boy. In fact, at first I was disappointed in that characterization. It seemed too wishy-washy—I wanted him to come out and say, “Yes, my son went to Heaven and I believe it!” But I quickly saw the wisdom of the approach he took. It felt very like the approach of the Church to approved apparitions: “We see no obstacle to belief, no harm in believing it; you’re not required to, but it might do you some good.” I’d like to read the book before making any firmer (personal) judgment, but I haven’t seen anything troublesome about what he reports.

What resounds in my own mind as I contemplate the possibility of Colton’s account of Heaven is this: "What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor: 2:9).

As for the Universalist issue, Brantly Millegan at Aleteia says that the movie left out a crucial focus on Christianity and its view of salvation that was present in the book:

This theme of God’s love meaning that people can’t be excluded from heaven is explicitly communicated in one particular scene in the film. Todd is sitting in a cemetery with a woman who lost her adult son in the military, and she asks him if he thinks her son went to heaven. Todd responds along these lines, “Do you love your son? [Yes.] Do I love my son? [Yes.] Do you think God loves my son who went to heaven as much as he loves your son?” The implication ends up being that since Colton went to heaven (albeit briefly), and since God loves both Colton and the woman’s son, the woman’s son must also have gone to heaven.

Todd doesn’t say, “Don’t worry, we both know your son loved Christ.” He says, in effect, “Don’t worry, God loves him, therefore he’s in heaven.”

Actually, Todd doesn’t say that either, because I was listening for it. Here’s how the scene actually goes:

Nancy: Do you think—I have to ask—do you think my son went to heaven?

Todd: Do you love your son, still?

Nancy: Of course.

Todd: Do you think I love mine?

Nancy: I know you do.

Todd: Do you think I love my son more than you love yours?

Nancy: No.

Todd: Do you think God loves my son more than he loves yours?

That’s it. The last question is not answered, just contemplated. Even if it were explicitly answered, "No," is there anything in that answer that is untrue?

Todd says a few minutes before this dialogue that he failed the grieving parent in her hour of need. My assumption about this statement, based on a limited understanding of a common Protestant view of salvation, is this: it was his belief that as far as anyone knew, this woman’s son was not saved, and so he could not offer her any hope at his graveside. The Catholic Church, while recognizing the need to be reconciled with God for salvation, also leaves open, through the richness of her teachings and the counsel of the saints, the possibility through God's vast mercy of that reconciliation and salvation in all kinds of situations—a mercy that is not bound by his sacraments or any other stricture save our own free will.

I agree with Millegan that the film would have been more true if the idea of some kind of reciprocal relationship with Christ had been preserved. But I also agree with Kathy Schiffer, who has written about both the book and the movie, that this movie is a good movie (in the sense of approaching "God-liness"), and Hollywood needs to make more movies as full of faith as this one.

When I think of the nonbelievers who took part in making this film, and who have seen and will see it, I think of what one review highlighted of Colton’s words: “We don’t ever have to be afraid.” Doesn’t that sound like someone to you?

Or, more to the point, where JP got it to begin with: 

It’s my opinion that many are kept from God by fear, and that goes for believers and nonbelievers. When someone judges you, rightly or wrongly—and especially when you are afraid of being rejected, one protective response is to do the rejecting first. It’s a way of shielding yourself from the risks inherent in loving someone, and as C. S. Lewis noted, the only place where you can be safe from love is hell.


Just for good measure, I believe that hell is for real too, and offer this fascinating counterpoint: The Flip Side of Heaven Is For Real.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Developing a New Battle Plan

Fr. Dwight Longenecker at Standing on My Head has published a piece that asks and answers the question: What is Pope Francis up to with this recent announcement of new cardinals?

It's exciting news, but there's one part of his analysis that particularly caught me. In noting the unusual demographics of this group of cardinals, he says:

This shift in the Sistine Chapel’s population not only means the next pope is certainly going to be chosen from the developing world, but it changes the complexion of the church’s leadership. What we have known in the recent past is the predominance of European and North American liberals or moderates. They have been concerned with church affairs, theological questions and moral debates that have reflected the concerns of Europe and North America. The hot button issues have been women’s ordination, married priests, same sex marriage, abortion, economics and politics. Burdened by intellectual doubt, undermined by liberal Biblical scholarship, infected with modernism and weakened by establishment links, the European and North American leadership have too often presented a church that was worldly, mildly unbelieving and unconcerned about the core gospel values and the need to evangelize.

It is this kind of Catholicism that the Pope wants to engage. It is not so much that he sees the concerns of the developed church as irrelevant as he see them as secondary to more pressing matters in the battle to live the faith and proclaim the gospel.

This is such a comfort to me, when I take the time to think about it. The culture of our country, reflected even in our faith, is both insecure and belligerent, and serious subjects have the ability to polarize quickly. The news and content demanding my attention, loaded as it is with these "hot-button issues," sucks the Christian joy right out of me. Every day I must make the choice to disengage in order to protect my primary vocation and mission; I have a duty to my husband and family to maintain the joy and peace that are the fruits of our faith. Sure, I still feel the need to defend the truth the Church proclaims, but it usually leaves me feeling...defensive. What's worse, some of those I would call allies in the culture wars of America and American Catholicism, who are on the defensive too, seem to hold as their motto "The best defense is a good offense." Jesus said he came to bring not peace but a sword, but it's still true that you can't evangelize people if you're alienating them.

Yet I still feel the need to engage the world. Isn't that what Christianity is all about, becoming so overwhelmed with the Good News that we simply must spread it? This projected effect of Pope Francis' news cardinals is a return to roots, so to speak. Fr. Longenecker says Pope Francis is "putting together his battalions for battle."

Only our focus will shift from infighting among fellow men and among Christians, to the defeat of the true Enemy.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Black-eyed Pea Salad for the New Year

Am I really going to end a four-month blogging hiatus by posting a recipe?

Yes. Yes, I am. Happy New Year.

I can eat traditionally prepared black-eyed peas, but I don't care much for them. This salad, on the other hand, I eat straight out of the bowl. I make it for my good-luck black-eyed-peas-for-New-Year's-Day dish. It's better after a day or so to let the flavors blend and settle and all, but I can't wait that long before I eat half of it by myself. Luckily, it's a great lunch. 

Black-eyed Pea Salad

One large tomato
One green bell pepper
Two green onions
Six fresh mushrooms
One garlic clove
One 8-ounce bottle of Italian dressing
Two 16-ounce cans of black eyed peas, rinsed and drained

Chop the tomato. Seed and chop the bellpepper. Sliced the green onions and mushrooms. Mince the garlic. Place them all in a bowl. Stir in the peas and the Italian dressing. Cover and chill, stirring occasionally, for eight hours. 

The original recipe calls for diced celery and pimiento, which I almost never use. I don't have anything against them, I just never remember to buy them. It also says to drain the salad before serving and garnish it with more sliced green onions but I don't find it necessary. 

Oh, and I turned 40 last year. You know what that makes me? Stay tuned....


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