About Kristen

A 30-something wife and mama of 3 (so far) living out my faith (Catholic) in the southeastern US.

So, a week in, how are we doing?

So either Saturday night or Sunday you lit the second candle on the Advent wreath (if you’ve got one because I know life isn’t always perfect). How are we doing? Did we take on too much? Are we still feeling disconnected?

Around here, things are going pretty well. Advent music plays, prayer is the name of the game and fasting is fantastic🙂.

Seriously though, last week sometime I saw Elizabeth Foss on the Blessed is She instagram story and she said the one measure of her Advent she was paying close attention to was the Advent candles and if they were burned down as this would show how many times they had sat down as a family at the dinner table. So far, by that measure, we’re having a great Advent, despite the fact that I am not at the dinner table most nights of the week (because: work). Jeff and the kids are meeting there, praying grace, enjoying each other and lighting those candles.

I am online shopping for Christmas this year, so, the thing where people say, “Buy ALL the gifts before Advent, ” didn’t happen but that’s totally okay because my kids gave me lists and they were all pretty reasonable requests so I’ve finished or nearly finished everything. (Except Shelby because she is so all over the place, I will have to go into a brick and mortar store for her.) Because of a weird quirk in school system payroll and scheduling, I will have a paycheck before Christmas though so I’m not super stressed about what I haven’t bought yet.

We started our Jesse Tree on the First and Joseph did that entire long reading from Genesis by himself and I was completely impressed with his reading and his and William’s understanding of what was read. We’re a little behind but will catch up tonight. I came down with yet another cold last week so I can’t get too upset that I am a bit sluggish on weekends when I actually can be. Sometimes.

I met with our DFF Sunday to talk how Advent was going and we had a great talk. I felt refreshed and happy leaving. Next Sunday after Mass, the boys and I will attend a new Young Families group at our parish. This is our first time attending and their second meeting. It will focus on St Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe. Since, aside from “Taco Tuesday” we’ve never done much for either feast (for shame!) I am excited the boys will get to learn more about them.

I’m feeling a little guilty because we aren’t doing a big “St Nicholas” day here this year but the boys said they were fine with just their stockings on Christmas and…maybe I’ll surprise them with a small something.

I am behind on the Pray More Retreat and hope to somewhat catch up this week (we’ll see how that goes). I also am behind on my reading (I have started Jesus of Nazareth the Infancy Narratives) but I refuse to beat myself up over that. I knew the additional reading would be a lot but I’m okay with that.

Things are getting to that wonky time of Advent as they do each year and I think it’s a little exaggerated because we have an entire week the 4th week of Advent this year before Christmas. I have ten days left of school, Jeff and the kids have eight. I’ve already spent most of my last paycheck between Christmas presents, bills, and an oil change. I get another check the 20th but that has to last six weeks…this is the time when it feels like everything is taking forever.

Kind of like the last few weeks of pregnancy…hmmmm

 

My Favorite Miracle of Jesus

Remember the angst of a few years ago (or for some a few days ago, like at Sunday Mass) when we changed the Liturgy and some of our responses at Mass. Remember how for at least a year parishes had the new wording in the pews? Almost all the priests I know personally still pull it out during the Nicene Creed. And, far less frequently now but it still happens, I sometimes still say “and also with you” instead of “and with your spirit.”

Well, while it wasn’t as troublesome as I though it might be (I imagined being much older than I am now and still using all the wrong responses), it took a while to get used to, for sure. I remember discussing it with my parents one  Sunday and they both agreed that, for them was this, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the Word, and my soul shall be healed.” That was changed from, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the Word, and I shall be healed.” I disagreed and voiced my personal problem remember the word, “consubstantial” vs “one in being with.”

I was, at that time moreso than now, one of those Catholics who did not really “know” her Bible. I’m better now, but trust me, baby steps. It was shortly after that conversation that a friend invited me to Bible Study Fellowship’s study of the Gospel of St Matthew. It happened to be the last Cycle A year prior to this one. Perfect timing, but as I’ve come to learn, the Holy Spirit really has perfect timing ALL.THE.TIME. When we studied the 8th chapter of Matthew, I was shocked to read those words I prayed weekly before receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. They were right there. In the Bible. In St Matthew’s Gospel. And they were spoken, by a Centurion. A Roman. Not a faithful Jew. The BSF teaching leader  talked about this fact. The following Sunday, knowing the context (we Catholics REALLY need to read and learn our Bibles) I prayed it as I had never before. With a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

This is by far my favorite miracle of Jesus’. And that’s for a lot of reasons. For one, the Centurion. Jesus used him and his faith as an example for the faithful. Not a Pharisee. Not a Chief Priest. A Roman Centurion. Someone who did not go to the Temple. It would appear that Jesus could not have picked a worse example to hold up to the people of this time, but it was the Roman Centurion. Because God uses unlikely vessels to bring us the good news.

Did I mention this was a Roman Centurion? Matthew and Zaccheus might have been tax collectors and publicans, but at least they were Jews. This nameless dude? He was Roman. He was most definitely not one of God’s chosen people who had been praying for the Messiah or even knew to look for Him. This is important because it would show that Jesus came for all humanity, not just a select few. It would be much later that He would explicitly spell this out but it’s right there, Jesus is for everyone no matter birth or circumstance, color or ethnicity. He is Lord of ALL.

We see the power of intercessory prayer. The Centurion had the benefit of Jesus being physically alive and present right then and there. We don’t have that benefit so it’s all about prayer for us. When we are struggling we ask others to pray for us. I’ve thrown out the prayer requests on social media and friends, some who share my faith and some who do not, generously respond. They are acting as the Centurion in that moment. And then there are the times when I don’t come right out and ask and people offer prayers. The way the scene in Matthew 8:5-11 plays out it doesn’t appear the servant asked the Centurion to seek Jesus out and ask for his healing. The Centurion recognized Jesus (despite not having the years of prophecy and teaching the Pharisees and Sadducees had) and went to Him asking for his servant whose suffering he recognized. When friends share they have been praying for a situation, I realize that I have been feeling those prayers all along. They are making a difference, whether the pray-er realizes it.

 

The Centurion admits to his own unworthiness before professing His faith. He asks but he also acknowledges his shortcomings. Blogger Christine Johnson recently remarked on Snapchat (okay, recent might be overstating a wee bit, it might have been in like September, or even August) about going to Mass at a different parish than her own with her daughter and being surprised about “how they do things around here…” in a manner of speaking. She went on in subsequent snaps to remind everyone that whether you have Gregorian chant or the My Little Pony Gloria at Mass, Jesus still comes. Jesus is still present at the Eucharist whether we are ad orientem or versus populum. And none of us deserves Him. Like the Centurion, none of us are worthy. We are, and always will be in this lifetime, fallen, sinful humans. We don’t deserve God’s forgiveness or mercy, but He still offers them freely if we ask. His grace is there if we are open to it but our sinful nature causes us to close ourselves off and we forget that God loves us anyway and if we truly want to be united with Him, reconciled to Him, we should ask because He is never a God of justice and vengeance because He gave us His only begotten Son. We, by our own strengths and merits are not worthy, but He can make us so.

Jesus met many people in his brief years on Earth.Not all of them are recorded in the Bible but this one was. This interaction between a Centurion and our Lord has survived all this time because it reminds us, ever so gently to be humble. We are not greater than God. We cannot command illness to leave. We must be totally reliant on Him. And we must remember we are truly unworthy of the entirety of what He has given us, but His love for us makes it all so.

Adventing Like Whoa…

Advent feels different this year. I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’m not feeling quite like Jenny is this year, but still, there’s a lot of peace in knowing things will be different.

So we all know I’m fasting from facebook. (That’s actually going really well.) But what else are we doing?

The Advent Family Gathering

Last weekend our parish hosted it’s first (technically second but that’s a story for another time) Advent Family Gathering. When our Director of Faith Formation asked for volunteers, I raised my hand via email and offered to take on the Jesse Tree because it’s a tradition I think is worthwhile but we’ve never done here. In fact, I remember the one time my mom did it with us as kids very fondly.

The plan originally was that Jeff would take the kids around while I did my station, however, Jeff ended up sick last weekend so he and Shelby stayed home. I brought the boys and there they learned about St Nicholas (a tradition we already do), St Lucy (which for shame we do not do especially since my Italian grandmother’s maiden name is Santa Lucia), the Advent wreath and of course, the Jesse Tree. Here are a few pics:

If you look closely, you may see some of Tracy from A Smith Slice of Life‘s cupcakes. She was gracious enough to allow the boys to tag along with their group.

The boys loved the gathering and are still so excited for Advent. They have shared with their dad and their grandparents all they have learned. After the gathering, I felt much more ready for the coming season.

The Advent Wreath Drama

We’ve done a variety of different “wreathes” in the past; including this crafty one for non-crafty moms. This year I was determined to at least have legit candles. Did that turn out to be the task. I got up early Saturday morning to go to Wal-Mart to find out they carried no pink or purple candles (aside from the jarred scented ones), no taper candles AT ALL, and no candlesticks. I tucked my tail between my legs and headed over to a mixed-use shopping area called “Mayfaire” and prayed for the best. I knew there was, or at least used to be, a Hallmark there. I went first to Williams-Sonoma to browse for Jeff’s Christmas while I waited for Hallmark to open. I did find a set of three oxo vegetable peelers and since ours is missing (she said upon finding no peeler for the squash Thanksgiving morning) that I bought because a good brand at a good price is hard to find…especially at a place like that. I then headed to Pier 1 Imports in search mostly of candlesticks. No. Nothing.😦 I headed to Hallmark which I remember from childhood having a wide selection of candles. Low and behold while lacking candle sticks, they had an actual packaged set of Advent tapers…I was ecstatic. I grabbed a single white taper too just in case… Then I headed to my car thinking “Who might have candlesticks or maybe even a legit wreath?” I thought about the variety of stores on my way home with “dollar” in their name and then looked up. I was parked in front of Belk which was open and also not busy. I went in and wandered their housewares department. I was about to give up when lo and behold, there were two boxes of crystal candlesticks (two to a box). At $20 a box, they weren’t cheap, but I figured they were re-usable so well worth the money. I headed to check-out and imagine my surprise when the sales lady told me it was $14.98 for both of them including sales tax. If there is a patron saint of Advent wreathes or last minute shoppers, he or she was looking out for me! I came home to discover one out of the four candlesticks was broken but in an easily repairable way and my husband is “he-who-always-has-high-powered-glues-on-hand,” so a little glue and we were good to go. That white taper is in my junk drawer but Joseph said we should get a pillar candle for our Christ candle anyway. And there’s no greenery but we have a small table and that could become a nightmare of epic proportions, but this is what we ended up with:

advent-wreath-5

The crooked one in the front will not be straight. And that’s not the broken/repaired candlestick either…

 

We blessed it Saturday night and were off to the races.

What I’m listening to…

So we always hear, “don’t listen to Christmas music so early!” But then what to listen to to get you into the spirit of the Advent season? I’m not a total “nothing before Christmas Eve” purist, but I like to try and make it at least until the 3rd week of Advent before cranking up the tunes. A few years ago, several people on twitter and Daria Sockey recommended Advent at Ephesus by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles.

I have listened to it over the past few years but this year thought, there has to be another Advent album out there because while I love Gregorian chant and the beautiful nuns singing it, I wanted more. Guys, the Holy Spirit came through for me because I have not just one but two new Advent albums!

The first I found just by searching “Advent” in the iTunes store. Advent Promise–Songs and Music for the Season of Advent is more than just a lot of Christmas Carols and O Come, O Come Emmanuel. It is various choirs and scholas recorded in England singing Advent hymns such as On Jordan’s Banks, O Come Divine Messiah, Lo! How a Rose E’er Blooming and yes, O Come, O Come Emmanuel as well as a gorgeous version of the O Wisdom Antiphon and Magnificat. There are a few “carols” included like the Carol of the Bells, an instrumental Deck the Halls (which is kind of Advent-y in in it’s theme of preparation) and Joy to the World. But definitely beautiful and reverent.

Then I was perusing feedly and found that Daria Sockey had a new recommendation this year of O EmmanuelClick over and read her praises for it and enter a contest to win a copy! (I bought mine at iTunes.) Here’s a sneak peak:

O Emmanuel  is a Cantata (for lack of a better word) of sorts, a collection of  instrumentally accompanied choral pieces with texts based on Sacred Scripture.  Each band on the album is a choral setting for one of the O Antiphons. Most readers of this blog know  exactly what that means. For any newcomers who do  not, the O Antiphons are prayed each night at vespers from December 17th thru 23rd, as an opening to the Magnificat of Our Lady. Each O Antiphon describes a scriptural title of the longed-for Messiah. (Every Catholic has some familiarity with them, since a paraphrase of these  antiphons also make up the verses of the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel.)

Anyhow, these setting combine old and new musical themes and styles. Each one is given its ancient Latin title (O Sapienta, O  Adonai, O Radix, O Clavis, etc.) and sometimes the Latin text is used. But so many styles of music are used (and even combined within a piece) that the listener will be continually surprised. There’s Gregorian chant, classical, jazz, a dash of modern dissonance, African American spiritual, and more.

You will not be disappointed.

I am, in fact, quite satisfied with my Advent listening!

What am I reading…

advent-reading

It won’t rotate…ANYWHERE #somylife

Will they all get finished? Absolutely not! I’ve already read Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth Infancy Narratives, that is the only one I want to finish for sure. I am starting William Barclay’s study of The Gospel of Matthew which my mom read waaaaay back in the day to get the Liturgical Year off to a roaring start. I’ve had Rediscover Jesus for an entire year…time to get it at least started. The Joy of the Gospel and Made for More I’m hoping to get at least started in my spare time😉.

spiritual-advent

What’s going on with Spiritual Growth?

 

Pictured here are my Breviary, Volume 1, 33 Days to Morning Glory Marian Consecration and Henri Nouwen’s In Joyful Hope Advent Meditations.

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I’m re-comitting to the Divine Office getting in as many hours each day as possible which will typically be six out of seven on weekdays (I work during Mid-Afternoon prayer, no way around it) and all seven on weekends.

I am also re-consecrating myself to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and enjoying Henri Nouwen’s short but excellent daily meditiations.

Not pictured is the Pray More Novenas retreat which consists of talks you can watch, just listen to and/or read the transcript of at your own pace. Each talk also has a study guide to help you get the most out of it. Visit the link and sign up today!

Also not pictured are the Blessed is She daily readings and reflections, Bishop Robert Barron’s Gospel reflections and Advent meditations, and my trusty Rosary.

We will celebrate St Nicholas’ Day this Advent too and we will attend Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. And we’ll start our Jesse Tree this week. Aside from that, we will be pretty low-key. Could it all crash and burn? Sure. I hope not but it’s always a possibility. Here’s to hoping we get it kind-of right this Advent. And prayers and blessings for your Advent as well.

Binge Watch Update: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation was an instant favorite when I discovered it at the end of the 2nd/beginning of the 3rd season. I shouldn’t have been surprised considering it was created by the same team that co-created King of the Hill with Mike Judge and The Office with Ricky Gervais. I’ve learned that from Greg Daniels and Co one can expect excellent story telling and characters with depth down to their eye-liner.

Parks and Rec was no different. Re-watching it from the beginning, was an interesting prospect as the first two seasons featured a character who did not carry past season two and two characters who appear as guests in season two became full time characters and major players in the remaining seasons. It also provided me the full picture of the evolution of main character Leslie Knope (played by Amy Poehler). We’ll get to Leslie in a minute.

Re-watching the series tip to tail also allowed me to find out that Aubrey Plaza’s character, April Ludgate, was created specifically for her and that Chris Pratt’s Andy Dwyer (who would marry April) was supposed to be a guest role for only a few episodes but proved so fun to write and popular with fans that he became a series regular.

The departure of Paul Schneider’s Mark Brendanawicz at the end of season two seemed almost overdue when it happened as his character began to fade more and more into the background as Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), and April became more central to the plot and their characters fleshed out into fun, crazy and lovable characters. Mark seemed a straight-man too straight in this cast of normal-looking but not acting characters, the characters who essentially replaced him: Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) and Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) played straightmen (coming in as state auditors and eventually taking local government jobs) who had their own sets of quirks that made them fit in without standing out too much nor fading away. Chris was a fitness enthusiast with endless optimism and Ben had the nerd factor down (much was made of his love of Star Wars and Game of Thrones) while also running from his past as the 18-year-old mayor of his Minnesota hometown who bankrupted the town and was impeached.

The addition of Chris and Ben also eliminated an issue for writers and fans as Mark had been a romantic interest for both Leslie and her best friend Ann (Rashida Jones). The tension between the characters when Ann begins dating Mark appears to have been some of the weakest writing of the series and when each of the new male characters ended up being love interests for each of the female leads it allowed the writers to leave that sad topic and create compelling conflict between the friends that emerged organically from their personality differences. For example, when Leslie insisted that Ann (a nurse) apply for a public health position in city government, Leslie’s controlling nature and obsessive drive chafe against Ann’s personal approach which is considerably more laid back.

And as to Leslie’s development… Early episodes find Leslie as passionate but undirected even as she pursues the goal of her dream park, “her park” Pawnee Commons. As Leslie continues to pursue this project and encounters numerous roadblocks her character becomes not only more driven but more focused. In an exchange with Jen Barkley (Kathryn Hahn), the campaign manager of Leslie’s political opponent in her city council race,  Jen tells Leslie to “dream bigger” when she finds out that Leslie’s dream is to help her hometown, despite her hometown being less than grateful for the many good things she does. Leslie eventually goes on to work for the National Parks Department as well as become governor of Indiana.

Leslie’s character would doubtless have not been so galvanized had it not been for her boss, Ron Swanson. Ron is a libertarian who works for the government and this irony is not lost on him nor any of his co-workers. Ron revels in doing as little “work” as possible running the department and definitely not only acts as a foil to Leslie’s over-enthusiasm but frequently shoots down her pie in the sky ideas (although then also backs her up when she does things anyway). When “the auditors” (Ben and Chris) announce a total shut-down of local government, Ron can barely contain his giddiness until they announce plans to lay Leslie off indefinitely. When Ben states that, “every department is losing a Leslie Knope,” Ron is quick to let him know that there is only one Leslie Knope and no other department has one. Ron and Leslie, as polar opposite as they are politically and in so many other ways, find ways to encourage each other and egg each other on.

Ron also serves as mentor for no less than Tom (in his capitalist ventures), Andy, and April. Ron also manages to break the cycle of emotional abuse by women named Tammy (his mother played by Paula Pell, his first wife “Tammy One” played by Patricia Clarkson and his second wife “Tammy Two” played by his real-life wife Megan Mullally) when he marries Diane (Lucy Lawless) and becomes a father-figure to her two daughters and a father to their son. Ron’s character fleshes out while not abandoning his principles. He leaves government work after the rest of the original co-workers move on and his bid to ask Leslie for a job in the National Parks Department doesn’t pan out (she forgets their lunch date) and opens a construction firm but eventually does get a job from Leslie as the superintendent of a National Park Leslie is instrumental in getting placed in Pawnee (and that he once fought against in his work in the private sector).

The characters of Donna (played by Retta), Tom, and Jerry-Larry-Terry-Garry (played by Jim O’Heir) were also expertly written and each had some time in the spotlight. Jerry-Larry-Terry-Garry was the office member who was the butt of almost all the jokes while Donna seemed a fish out of water driving her Mercedes and living extravagently and working as a lowly administrative assistant. However, her sass and humor and genuine care for her co-workers made her a welcome part of the family. When Ben was depressed about “breaking up” with Leslie, it was Donna who insisted he join her and Tom for “Treat Yo Self” day. Tom worked the government not for it using his connections to help him try and create a myriad of businesses including a night club, clothing rental company and restaurant. A twelve-year-old trapped in a man’s body at times, it was Tom who did not realize that Jerry-Larry-Terry-Garry’s flatulence was a side-effect of his heart attack and cracked jokes while Leslie called 911 and Ann attempted to stabilize Jerry-Larry-Terry-Garry and upon finding out answers with the classic, “I didn’t know!”

As with The Office, Daniels and other show-runners had multiple guest spots on the show. In addition to Ron’s coven of Tammys, many of Leslie’s love-interests were guest stars including Justin Theroux and Louis C.K. Henry Winkler had a recurring role as Pawnee’s only gynecologist and the parent of Tom’s incredibly idiotic best friend Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz). Jon Hamm had a very small role getting fired by Leslie at the end of season six/beginning of season seven. Senators John McCain, Olympia Snowe, Barbara Boxer, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Orrin Hatch and Dianne Feinstein played themselves as did First Lady Michele Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Keegan-Michael Key would play Donna’s future husband Joe but Donna’s family was chock-ful of fame. Her estranged brother LeVondrious was played by Questlove and rapper Ginuwine played a fictional version of himself and Donna’s cousin.

The saying is that all government is local and that definitely plays out in Parks and Rec. In the end, no matter how far Leslie gets in her political career (which we are lead to believe that either she or Ben becomes President at some point as they are seen at Jerry/Larry/Terry/Garry’s funeral in a flash-forward during the series finale), home is always Pawnee. And whether Leslie is a lowly civil servant or an elected official, she always returns to her roots, never forgetting who she is or where she came from and those who helped her get to where she is.

The show was given the blessing of finding out ahead of time when it would be its last season and while there is always at least one curmudgeon who doesn’t like things wrapped up with a bow, it felt like it was more than owed that the characters of Parks and Recreation had no loose ends to tie up. While there was speculation that Mark would return on some pretense, it was not to be and since five seasons after his character’s departure it didn’t feel like a loss (unlike the finale episode of Parenthood which flash-forwarded every character’s future except Haddie and Nora’s). Even Chris and Ann were featured along with their children which include a daughter named Leslie (their son was born the previous season). I left Pawnee that last time wishing it were a real place (along with JJs Diner) and wishing I had an awesome crew of people to work with like the staff of the parks department of Pawnee. And for me, loving a show enough to wish it was real, makes great tv.

You deactivated facebook? Wow, I could never do that…

First off, that’s a quote from me about four years ago and roughly two weeks before I did for 3 months.

Second, I’ve gotten texts and emails to that tune and so it’s time to clear up some myths.

There is nothing heroic about deactivating a facebook account, it’s merely a few clicks and with just deactivating you come back to all your pics and most of your friends (a few will always “unfriend” intentionally or otherwise if you deactivate).  You will survive, your friends and family will survive and life will go on. But it does help to consider things before you deactivate.

Why are you deactivating?

You need a clear reason for yourself and no one else. Why is this important? It will guide you, particularly in the early days as you come to realize just how much of a time waster filler facebook is/was.

If you’re deactivating for a fast for, say, Advent that we are just beginning or Lent, you will want to fill that time with activities that bring you closer to God. You may read more Scripture, the Lives of the Saints or other spiritual reading, for example. You may dedicate more time specifically to prayer: maybe attending Daily Mass, praying the Rosary, or the Divine Office. Perhaps you are able to spend time in Adoration either in person or online. You can also volunteer at your parish or local soup kitchen or other organization evangelizing in action as well as word.

If you’re deactivating because of you want to spend more time with your kids, obviously you need to schedule time and make sure you’re paying attention (so, it should go without saying, take the app off your phone and tablet, since you’re deactivated already anyway). If you’re doing it for health reasons, replace it with health apps and put your butt at the gym or pool or however you plan to increase activity. You get the idea…clearly articulating your reason for deactivating will give you the blue-prints for a plan of success.

Now, for some of the objections:

The biggest thing I hear is, “my family counts on me posting pics of my kids, so I can’t deactivate!” First off, family will get used to not seeing the pics on facebook. As long as it won’t “fill the void” of facebook by becoming your new facebook, consider using Snapchat or Instagram for photo-sharing. If you blog, a weekly photo-dump post is entirely acceptable. You can even go old school and email them. And if you’re feeling super OG you can print them out at a drug store or photo-printing service and mail them to friends and family.🙂

“I have to use facebook for (fill in the blank)…” Last year my sister-in-law created her facebook account for the first time because my nephew was in a play and the director made clear that all information would be available and only available via a secret facebook group. No texting, no emails, no phone calls. It was a one-stop shop. I have a blog page to maintain. A friend who deactivated a few weeks ago needed to keep in touch with her American Girls troop via their facebook group. And then there are those who may have to use a company facebook page for work etc. The solution for me and my friend was to create shell-accounts that have no “friends.”It is easy enough to do although you may have to create a second (or third) email in order to do. It is well worth it as without all the personal announcements and pronouncements you will be able to “get down to business” and then get off much more easily. I use a pseudonym for my shell account, my friend uses her real name: there is nothing wrong with doing either, it’s your personal preference but if you are using your real name, beware that friends and family may send you friend requests.

“My friends and family will worry!” I deactivated a couple of years ago because of an incident going on at my kids’ school that I wanted to distance myself from as much as possible which worked great until I started getting frantic texts and emails from friends who were concerned something had happened to us… Since then I have begun announcing about 24 hours prior that things were fine  and I would be taking some time away. This last time, I didn’t do that. I felt the less said, in this particular instance, the better. I did announce after the fact on my blog page, but you can post and pin a post on your personal timeline with a notice of the date when deactivation will take place. It doesn’t hurt to message friends and family you are close to but who don’t check facebook regularly because as the laws of facebook go: they’ll want to contact you there about seven minutes after the account goes dark.

Deactivation can be as long as you need it to be. I’ve had many friends and family who decided after their prescribed fast etc that they didn’t want to go back and a few who went back reluctantly for various reasons but most of them have gone back and resumed practice with a new discipline (physical, mental and or spiritual) in place.

If you need a break for whatever reason, there is no reason not to take one and no one should be made to feel like their presence is required on facebook. How long did we survive without it? Everyone will survive. It’s not martyrdom, it’s not the end of the world. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll even come out the other side better in one or more ways…well, here’s to hoping at least.

Thanksgiving Cheating

I married a chef and this year, we outsourced a lot of our cooking for Thanksgiving. To the grocery store. In the end we ended up making two side dishes and one dessert.

I feel zero guilt or conflict. Some may call it cheating…I call it genius.

We celebrated at home this year. We had just my parents as guests. We enjoyed each others’ company and good food, most of which we only had to heat/re-heat. And we have much to be thankful for.

As a much younger person, I felt a huge conflict about Thanksgiving. The focus on an over the top meal, football and parades, while traditional in modern times put a lot less emphasis on actual gratitude and a lot more on materialistic things. As a kid, we attended Mass often on Thanksgiving. Now people beat each other over the head for a flat screen.

Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts begins with a revelation, Ann hears that at the Last Supper that Jesus, “gave thanks” before He broke the bread and blessed it. The idea of “Eucharisteo” or “giving thanks” is definitely a lost art. Many were inspired by Voskamp to keep journals attempting to collect one thousand things they were thankful for. Cynics dismissed this as a temporary distraction for middle class white Christian women and perhaps for some it was. But as a Catholic, reading Ann’s book was a big dose of validation. Finding gifts in unexpected places, man if that didn’t teach a lesson on redemptive suffering.

I hear Christians all the time who state that God doesn’t allow anyone to come to harm who follows Him. Really? I mean, His only begotten Son underwent abandonment by those who loved Him (aside from His mother and Saint John) and then crucifixion and death. That was an end but also a beginning. Jesus said to His followers,

If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.

If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.

Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.

John 15: 18-20

That doesn’t sound like no harm or hard times will come to those who are faithful. It sounds like a world of suffering and hurt.

But guess what, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t still to give thanks. Think of the words of St Paul to the church in Thessalonia:

In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5: 18

Give thanks when the times are plentiful but never forget what Ann Voskamp calls the “hard eucharisteo.” I have watched friends bury their babies. I have prayed with friends who’ve had devastating diagnoses. I have experienced my own crosses that at times, threatened to crush me. Without the understanding of redemptive suffering and reliance on God in my own weakness, without realizing (usually after resisting) that God would carry me through whatever it was…I for sure would have crumbled like so much brown sugar that went through my fingers and into my apple pie yesterday. And it’s exactly as Ann describes, it’s hard. It feels impossible at times to be thankful amidst so much personal suffering, to speak nothing of the suffering of people worldwide. But as impossible as it feels, it is absolutely  necessary for all believers. Like all hard things, it is worth so much more than we can comprehend when we are in the midst.

Thanksgiving isn’t about traditional foods and it isn’t about a meal shared between Pilgrims and Native Americans. It is about realizing we are without help without Him and we owe all we have and are not to our own abilities nor to the actions of world leaders nor CEOs  but to Him. And for that, we should all give great thanks.

Glennon Doyle Melton and the Duggars

Both liberal and conservative Protestant Christianity have high profile relationships competing for People magazine headlines. Earlier in the week, it was the news that mom blogger and public liberal Christian Glennon Doyle Melton, who divorced her husband of fourteen years a few months ago, has moved on and come out in a relationship with former US soccer player Abby Wambach.

This was announced on the heels of Jinger Duggar’s wedding and today, it was revealed the last adult Duggar daughter currently, Joy-Anna has entered into a courtship. (Eldest Duggar daughter Jana is still very single as is her twin brother John-David.) Whiplash much?

Both Melton and the Duggars have created media empires surrounding their competing “versions” of Christianity and even relationships. Melton has been known to proclaim “Love wins” and openly support gay and lesbian relationships long before her divorce while the Duggars began televising births of each new baby and courtship and marriage of their older children under strict supervision.

Melton’s most recent book, Love Warrior is about the implosion of her marriage four years ago after her husband’s infidelity.

The Duggars have had to publicly acknowledge eldest son Josh’s molestation of his younger sisters, infidelity and sexual addiction. His wife Anna has since sought mostly privacy for herself and her children in the wake of these scandals.

If one thing is certain, it’s that neither of these families are perfect. An interesting dynamic has emerged though. Melton is being praised for sticking with her husband and later leaving him and just three months later entering into a homosexual relationship. Anna Duggar, on the other hand, has been simultaneously pitied and spat on for staying with husband Josh and supporting him privately. Now, many sexual liberals and Christian liberals say it’s a matter of education. Melton made informed decisions based on her vast life experience where sex, addiction and higher education were concerned. Anna, on the other hand, was “forced” to stay with Josh because of her lack of sexual and worldly experience. It is, in their eyes, impossible to believe that Anna may actually love her husband and still be committed to making her marriage work. That she truly believes her vows are “til death do us part” and intends to keep it that way. That’s backward thinking, after all. Melton redeemed herself for forgiving her husband’s indiscretion and attempting to put her family back together by leaving him. (I actually read that last sentence in a com box somewhere…nice.)

Melton’s jubilant instagram posts introducing her many followers and fans to Abby as the new love of her life seem to bend on the “being in love” aspect. She still loves Craig, but she’s definitely not in love with him like she is Abby.

We don’t know if Anna is still “in love” with Josh. Thus far there no books planned. We keep hearing about all the “new love” in the Duggar family as new marriages and pregnancies are happening in the new generation but the silence is making the tabloid fed public believe Anna is an oppressed, ignorant little girl.

Maybe she is, but does sharing ALL your struggles and coming to a different conclusion mean one is completely free and enlightened?

Publicity has very different outcomes for these two empires. Melton has, by publicly sharing her struggles with addiction, recovery, infidelity, marriage, normalized her choices. I hear people all the time say, about bad choices, that it’s all good because they are “in recovery” and “learning to love themselves.” (You’re also not allowed to criticize or judge someone who tells you they are “in recovery,” however someone who is not and is just a fallible human being,  it is open season on.)

By contrast, the Duggars have been made a public spectacle for doing much the same thing. Instead of normalizing large families, courtship, these practices are more marginalized than they were previously.

Neither marriage started out as the majority do. Melton married her husband after finding out she was pregnant with their son and has stated she really didn’t know him at the time. The Duggar marriage happened only after chaperoned “courtship” or dating. The open-minded who praise Melton’s choices as brave deride the Duggar’s as unacceptable.

I will admit, I’ve been critical of both Melton and the Duggars. I’ve been hot and cold about both camps. I’ve felt manipulated both by the “love everyone,” “no judgment,” and “complete transparency” of Melton as well as by the strict fundamentalist ideal of love shown through both courtship and more and more babies promoted by the Duggars. I’ve found neither overly appealing either in the “new Christian” or “ultra-conservative Christian” model. But what do I know, I’m just a Catholic.

It would appear that the world loves one and hates the other so we should automatically do the opposite, right?

While I admit it’s nauseating to hear all this praise of Melton and downing of the Duggars, let’s also not forget the cult-ish following the Duggars have cultivated. It’s worth money, big money. There is definitely a movement in some areas to imitate the lifestyle they have created. When the Josh Duggar scandal broke, it came as a huge blow to some fundamentalist evangelical large home-schooling families that everything can be done “right” and still evil can happen. And perhaps the most damaging and upsetting thing revealed in that entire episode was the way that Jim-Bob Duggar chose to handle the situation by not telling law enforcement or seeking counseling nor help for his son. (It remains unclear as to what, if any, counseling or help Jill and Jessa Duggar may have received as their brother’s victims). But as a testament to how the Duggars have “sold” their lifestyle, I found many parents rushing to defend their actions as it was a “family matter.” And let’s not forget, the years of tv specials and series the Duggars agreed to take part in and then actively sought out making their private moments achingly public.

Let’s not hold up either situation as either ideal nor a model.

Both these families serve as examples of flawed humanity in marriage (and sometimes parenting). They’re in good company as the Bible is chock-ful of interesting and dysfunctional families from Adam and Eve (who not only got cast out of Eden but then had sons who murdered each other); to Jacob, his two wives, and many sons (most of whom tried to kill one); and even King David who had Uriah murdered after Bathsheba became pregnant. And those are just kind of the top three

There is one family, however, who are kind of perfect. Mary and Joseph were engaged conventionally enough for the times they live in. When Mary is found to be pregnant, Joseph does a noble thing in his attempt to divorce–which in this case meant breaking off the engagement– her  (because he knows the penalty for a woman who has committed adultery in that time was stoning, we kind of have to assume that in saving Mary’s life, he both didn’t approve of the harshness and loved her). However, he obeys God when the Angel informs him it’s all kosher, he marries her. They raise their son according to the Jewish traditions and laws; presenting Him at the temple, taking Him with them to Passover in Jerusalem, training Him as a carpenter like His earthly father.And like a good son, when He was dying, He entrusted His Mother to a man he knew would care for her like she was his own mother, St John.

The parable of Glennon Doyle Melton and the Duggars, all of whom claim to be Christian, is proof we should not be looking to earthly models of familial perfection. While one is elevated and the other derided, both are insanely imperfect. When we are seeking a model family to strive to, let us look to scripture and the model God gives us. Let us reject what the world is offering us on both the “liberal” and “conservative” ends of Christianity and accept what God already gave us. In 50 or 100 years, will people still be reading Melton’s books because Oprah recommended them? Will they be arguing that the Duggar’s public family demonstrations are harmful or helpful? We can’t know. But people will still be reading the Bible. People will still be reading the story of a pregnant teenager, her new husband and their only child born in a stable.Think about it: it still stands up after all this time, there’s a reason for that.