All posts by Emily

Jesus is Knocking

In Acts, Chapter 9, Saul “still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord” falls to the ground on his way to Damascus. Caravaggio’s famous painting depicts him being knocked off his horse. Blinded, he hears a voice asking “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” and Saul asks, “Who are you, sir?” Contrast this with Ananias, a few lines later. The Lord calls upon this disciple in Damascus, and Ananias answers, “Here I am, Lord.” He immediately knows the voice of his Shepherd. Saul does not know Jesus’ voice for the Lord is not his shepherd. Jesus is a stranger to him. On Good Shepherd Sunday Catholics everywhere reflect on John 10.  

“The Shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. …he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. …I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

John 10: 1-10

We are in a unique moment in history. Call it self-quarantine, shelter in place, or lock down. But to borrow a phrase from a priest on Catholic radio, this is a time to “sit down.” For some Jesus is perhaps using this difficult time to knock you out of your normal routine and off your horse. The “non-essential” stuff has been cancelled, and what is left is a huge opportunity to embrace your family and your faith in a way like never before. Family meals around the table are so important for family bonding and the well-being of our children. And we have been getting A LOT of those in! When kids join sports or other activities, we as parents always need to count the costs.  Not just monetarily, but how many family dinners will it cost for Susie to be on this elite soccer league? Our world can be so loud, seemingly always “on the go.” We have technology at our fingertips and information overload. Could Jesus be knocking at the door and we can’t even hear him amid the chaos? Maybe this is our “intervention” where we sit down unplug and listen to his voice so that we might live life more abundantly through him. Like the famous painting, Christ at Heart’s Door. Jesus knocks, but without an outer doorknob, we must open the door, invite him in to our hearts, and give him a place within our lives. Why not make this “sit down” a sit down with Jesus?

“Could Jesus be knocking at the door and we can’t even hear him amid the chaos?”

~ Regular Joan

Quarantine. The origins date back to the Bubonic Plague in the 14th century where ships coming into port in Europe were required to remain isolated for 40 days to reduce the spread of contagious diseases. An estimated 1/3 of Europe’s population was decimated by “The Black Death” in just three years 1347-1350. “40 Days for Life” prayer warriors know the power and history of the number 40. Forty days was chosen for semi-annual peaceful prayer vigil because in the bible we see 40 as a time frame of transformation. Straight from the 40 Days for Life Talking Points:

Why 40 Days?

God has used the period of 40 days throughout history to bring about major transformation…

  • Noah experienced transformation during 40 days of rain
  • Moses was transformed by 40 days on Mount Sinai
  • David was transformed by Goliath’s 40-day challenge
  • Elijah was transformed when God gave him 40 days of strength from one meal
  • Nineveh was transformed when God gave the city 40 days to remain faithful
  • Jesus transformed the world following His 40 days in the desert
  • The disciples were transformed after spending 40 days with Jesus following His resurrection

I see 40 as transformation or preparation. Forty weeks in the womb are transformational as we see a single cell develop into a newborn and prepare itself for the world! This meme I saw on Facebook reiterates this point and then some!

This is an opportunity where the busyness and loudness have been largely involuntarily turned off! What do you hear? There are the big calls in your life, such as, marriage, motherhood, job opportunities, and ministries. Then there are the little promptings or calls of the Holy Spirit each day: asking us to pray and serve one another. It could be a call to check in on a friend, to take a load of groceries to the food bank, to read an extra story to your child, or to deepen your spiritual life through prayer, reading, or Formed. I love Formed : ) We baptize our children to give them the grace to hear God’s voice, to follow the Good Shepherd through the gate. A shepherd that is willing to leave the 99 in the desert to go after ONE lost sheep. A shepherd that freely lays down his life for his sheep. We don’t want them following the voice of a stranger!

Currently, during this coronavirus pandemic, we (the 99) are asked to take measures to protect the “one”. The early Wuhan data showed that COVID-19 is about 1% fatal, compared to the flu which is about 0.1% fatal. In order to protect the vulnerable, we are asked to take precautions.

Wear a mask and socially distance yourself six feet to prevent the spread of the disease. Although it is impossible to know if these measures are “necessary” it is a small act of love. It is a pro-life thing to do! 

~ Regular Joan

The masks are not very effective at protecting yourself; but are for the protection of those around you. So, the best scenario is everyone wearing them. That way we can all look a little goofy together! It was so nice to be able to attend Mass in person on Good Sheperd Sunday! I think the cost-benefit makes sense for these two simple measures as we phase into the next new normal. It costs very little to wear a mask; an inconvenience? Yes. They can get hot and are not super easy to breath through. However, the benefit may be that it saves someone’s life! Saints in the Middle Ages wore hair shirts; I think we can handle wearing masks for a few weeks or months in public. I see it similarly with the distancing and ban on hand shakes and hugs. You can’t say it isn’t effective when ERs and pediatrician’s offices are ghost towns. COVID-19 isn’t getting passed around and neither is Strep Throat, RSV, Influenza, etc. I won’t speak for everyone, but I do NOT miss the notifications from school about head lice!

I know some worry about their child’s academic progress. But I think when Jesus sits down with us and we talk about our children, I don’t imagine him asking about how we prioritized teaching them about helper verbs or improper fractions.  I think he is going to gauge their success, (and in a way our success as parents) with a different set of metrics. Love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control are all fruits of the spirit we should be teaching our children- by example : ) Life skills, right?

I know I’m not the only one seizing this opportunity to slow down and focus on the essentials: faith and family. A recent PEW study showed a quarter of Catholics (and similarly other Christian denominations) reported growing in their faith during this pandemic. Have we changed over these 40 days? Jesus is knocking!

The Hush on Women’s Health

Knowledge is power. However, it seems women have been empowered with methods to post-pone pregnancy, but not empowered with the knowledge of the potential side effects that may accompany these decisions. Politics and morals aside, here is my top ten things every woman should know about her reproductive health.

  1. There is a link between abortion and breast cancer (ABC link). 108 world-wide studies on abortion and breast cancer reveal an overall 30-40% increased risk for those with a history of abortion (1)
  2. Estrogen is a carcinogen (cancer causing agent). When a healthy pregnancy occurs, the body is flooded with estrogen. The further along a pregnancy is at termination the higher the risk of breast cancer until 32 weeks. There is a 3% increase in risk for every week of gestation until 32 weeks. At 32 weeks, breast tissue matures into cancer-resistant cells. Second trimester miscarriages (or abortions), between 12 and 32 weeks, double your risk of breast cancer.  Early miscarriage has not been shown to increase breast cancer as low estrogen often accompanies first trimester miscarriages.
  3. In 2005, the World Health Organization classified estrogen-progestin combination drugs (birth control) as a Group 1 carcinogen. All hormonal contraception is carcinogenic, increasing a woman’s risk of breast, cervical and liver cancer. Hormone Replacement Therapy for post-menopausal women also increases breast cancer risk.
  4. Breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women 20-59 years old. In North America 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer. Only 20% of breast  cancer cases can be attributed to family history. In 2011, Parkin published a study in the British Journal of Cancer which found 15% of premenopausal breast cancer was attributable to hormonal contraception. In the U.S. over 9,000 new cases of breast cancer could be eliminated if hormonal contraception ceased (2).
  5. There is a petition to the CDC right now for a Black Box Warning on birth control for breast cancer, cervical cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, depression and suicide, venous thrombosis and cardiovascular events. Petition on Hormonal Contraceptives PDF accepted by the FDA in 2019.
  6. Modern Natural Family Planning or Fertility Awareness based Methods, such as the Creighton Method, SymptoThermal, or Marquette Method are an all natural means of avoiding or achieving pregnancy with efficiency rates similar to hormonal contraception (3). Be cautious about using Apps without instruction as they may be based on the age-old rhythm method that is only 70% effective.
  7. The pill and other birth control methods are not 100% effective at preventing pregnancy! The pill for example in actual use is ~92% effective, so with 9-10 million women in the US taking it ~810,000 unintended pregnancies occur each year and about half of those end in abortion.
  8. All hormonal contraception can allow break through ovulation and act as an abortifacient; Abortifacient means the conception of new life (ovulation and fertilization) is possible, but 7-9 days later implantation of that little human being was prevented causing death. The “mini-pill” (progestin only) allows ovulation 50% of the time!
  9. Over 80 studies show abortion as a risk factor for premature birth. Abortion history can account for 18% of premature births. Things such as an incompetent cervix and placenta previa are more common after surgical abortions. Fifteen states don’t even have informed consent laws requiring doctors to be transparent about the risks that come with abortion.
  10. The greatest window of risk or susceptibility for breast cancer is between puberty and a woman’s first full term pregnancy. Waiting until 30 to have your first child doubles your risk of breast cancer. Smoking, hormonal contraception use, and abortion during this window increases one’s breast cancer risk significantly. Appropriate screening should be done in those populations at risk.

Has reading this brief list made you thirsty for more information? Watch the documentary Hush for yourself! It is available to stream for $6 at Hushfilm.com or if you are on Formed it is included with your subscription. (Formed is a Catholic media platform available via the web at Formed.org or on the Formed Channel via a web streaming service like Roku, Firestick, etc) The woman who does the film Punam Kumar Gill is a pro-choice Canadian, so don’t dismiss this as “pro-life propaganda.” You can also learn a lot more from breast surgeon and researcher Dr. Angela Lanfranchi (one of the many experts featured in the movie Hush via the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute. She has an 18 min lecture called “The Pill Kills” or there is also a great interview with her on “At Home with Jim and Joy.”

Sources: These sources all have more resources and sources on the webpages

  1. Hush, hushfilm.com
  2. Breast Cancer Prevention Institute- www.bcpinstitute.org
  3. Naturalwomanhood.org

The overall increased risk may be small at 30%, but a small risk taken by millions of women results in tens of thousands of women affected. When it came out in 2002, that Hormone Replacement Therapy in post-menopausal women increased breast cancer by 27%, half of the millions of women taking it used that information and chose to discontinue use. Since the passage of Roe v Wade breast cancer in premenopausal women has risen by 400% (SEER data, The Pill Kills). Women have rights over their reproductive health, but they also have the right to transparent information so they can make not just choices, but informed choices.

Saint Sebastian, Trend On

Saint Sebastian is known as the patron saint of athletes, but do you know his story? An early martyr, he was unique in that he was martyred twice. A covert Christian he joined the Roman Army in 283, living in a time of intense Christian persecution in Rome. He rose in the ranks of the Emperor Diocletian’s Praetorian guards (elite body guards with special intelligence responsibilities) to have access to the imprisoned Christians so he could encourage them. Though hard to verify the details of his life, the stories handed down contain him converting many to the faith including those in prison, the prison guards, officials, including the local prefect, and their families. One preserved story tells of the official named Nicostratus and his wife Zoe. Zoe was mute for six years and upon her conversion was cured.

St. Sebastian. One of the most depicted men in art second to Jesus Christ.

Sadly, Sebastian was discovered in 286. He was sentenced to death by a firing squad of archers. St. Ambrose in his 4th century history described him as being shot full of arrows like an urchin. Left for dead, he was later found to be alive and nursed back to health by Saint Irene of Rome.

Now, I think most of us in this situation would cut our losses and get the heck out of Dodge. Not Sebastian, he was cut from a rare cloth. He confronted a stunned Emperor Diocletion in public renouncing his inhumane treatment of the Christians! He courageously stood up against injustice and it cost him his life. He was then sentenced to death again by clubbing.

January 20th is the feast day of St. Sebastian, this year it happens to coincide with another great man who courageously stood up against injustice- Martin Luther King, Jr. MLK, Jr also died for his cause. Today there is still injustice, injustice against the unborn comes to my mind. We need brave men and women to stand up and endure the “polite persecution” as Pope Francis puts it. This means your life is not at stake, but you may be judged, laughed at, or worse for being Christian. But just as St. Sebastian was shot full of arrows, but persevered, so we must be able to take the blows of life and continue to fight the good fight.

The qualities St. Sebastian exemplified in his life inspired us to name our son Sebastian. We were devastated to discover while our son was in the womb that he had HLHS (Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome) or half a heart. We knew he would need the strength, courage, and endurance of St. Sebastian to survive the series of open-heart surgeries necessary to save his life. And we figured if we got the miraculous healing we were praying for he’d probably be a great athlete : ) Coincidently, it seems that both arrows and the name Sebastian have been trending over the past few years.

An arrow can symbolize different things to different people. From tattoos to home décor they are everywhere it seems. They can signal journey, direction, protection, friendship, evil or something that pierces your heart. When I see an arrow, I think of St. Sebastian, and I think of our own journey. When we received our son’s diagnosis, I felt like I was shot through the heart. I have a decorative plaque with an arrow that says “You are my greatest adventure” and that reminds me of our Sebastian and his heart journey. I also had a heart mom friend, not knowing anything about Sebastian and the arrow, give me a necklace while in the hospital, that had an arrow charm and a dogtag engraved with “be brave and keep going.”  

Do any of my Catholic friends remember the hymn, “Blest be the Lord?” I never hear it anymore, but it is a classic from my childhood. The lyrics go like this, “Blest be the Lord, blest be the Lord, the God of Mercy, the God who Saves, I shall not fear the dark of night, nor the arrow that flies by day.” (Psalm 91:5), I haven’t heard it in years maybe decades, but the words are so familiar to me. The song goes on, “I need not shrink before the terrors of the night, nor stand alone before the light of day. No harm shall come to me, no arrow strike me down, no evil settle in my soul.” I have to wonder if Saint Sebastian was familiar with Psalm 91. It is such an encouragement in trying times!

Since the year 2000 when the name Sebastian cracked the top 100 it has rapidly climbed up the charts. According to the Social Security baby naming data it was ranked #18 in popularity in 2018. I don’t know what accounts for this increase in popularity. Maybe people like that unlike other traditional boy names, it has stayed only a boy name. (I’m not judging here, our daughter Charlotte we call Charlie). While a lot of people probably still think of Sebastian as the crab from Disney’s The Little Mermaid; I hope now maybe you will also think of a heroic saint worthy to be a namesake. Trend on, Sebastian! St. Sebastian, pray for us!

Let Abortion Break your Heart

The other day (Oct 11) the Idaho Statesmen, a newspaper based here in Boise, ran an article that took my breath away. A friend sent me the link asking if I’d seen it and it opens with this from the AP:

Hevan Lunsford, a nurse in Alabama, was five months pregnant when a doctor told her that her fetus was severely underdeveloped and had only half of a heart. She was told the boy, whom she and her husband decided to name Sebastian, would need care to ease his pain and several surgeries. He may not live long, they were told.

Lunsford, devastated, asked about ending the pregnancy. But the doctor said Alabama law prohibits abortions after five months. He handed Lunsford a piece of paper with information for a clinic in Atlanta, Georgia, a roughly 180-mile drive east.

“The procedure itself was probably the least traumatic part of it,” Lunsford said. “Most of the laws I navigated, there was no reason for them. None of them prevented my abortion. It just made it where I had to travel out of state.”

If you don’t know my story the parallels are uncanny. We also received the devastating news at 5 months that our son had a severely underdeveloped heart, only half a heart. We also named our unborn son Sebastian. Both of our sons were loved. Both of them suffered. Both of us feel convicted to be advocates for others.

“My grief is complicated so deeply by the unnecessary stigma and regulation of abortion. I can’t just be a mother grieving the loss of her son. I have to be an advocate for my son. I have to be an abortion educator. I have to be a political activist. It’s exhausting.” Hevan Lunsford.

I wish I knew more about Hevan’s son Sebastian. I wonder what would cause pain in the womb of an underdeveloped baby, and how would they know it is in pain? Or was the choice to terminate made more out of the very real fear of pain or suffering. I was surprised to learn that one of the myths of doctor-assisted-suicide is that it is often chosen in cases of pain and suffering. The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition did a documentary The Euthanasia Deception pointing out that our medical practices are generally very good at controlling pain, but it is a fear of pain, decline, and/or being a burden, that more often motivate people to end their lives. They are not in a current state of pain. In searching other articles about Hevan’s story she is quoted saying, she “took the pain upon herself so that he would not ever feel a moment of agony.”  This makes me think the baby wasn’t in a current state of pain, but that if she went through with the necessary surgeries for survival with half a heart he would be.

A couple things annoy me about the way this is presented. First off, it talks about “ending her pregnancy.” Birth ends pregnancy. In abortion what ends is the very real life of a baby that has not been born yet. In the other article, she says it was “palliative care.” She is a nurse, she should know how misleading it is to use the term “palliative care.” Palliative care is not a cure, but a medical plan to make patients as comfortable as possible as they live out the days God numbered.  It does not unduly prolong life, but the intentional termination of life is prohibited. Part of the very long definition of palliative care that many institutions use includes:

Intends neither to hasten nor postpone death, affirms life, and recognizes dying as a natural process.

In Janet Morana’s book, “Recall Abortion” she dedicates an entire chapter to fetal anomalies. Reading her book years ago was the first time I had ever heard of “perinatal hospice.” Even in situations where the outlook is grim, the baby may not make it to birth or may only survive minutes, hours, or days, there are choices better than abortion. Perinatal hospice allows babies to be loved and cherished for as long as he or she lives naturally. It is better for the unborn child not to be poisoned, shot through the heart with digoxin, or worse. But it is also better for the parents. As Morana points out, “Parents are able to plan for the birth with the support of doctors, nurses, counselors, clergy, and family. Babies are bathed, dressed, cuddled, and surrounded by the love every baby deserves, and when they die, it is with the dignity every human being deserves. Parents who choose perinatal hospice still have to deal with the grief that comes from losing a child, but studies have shown they can deal with that grief much better than women who choose late-term abortion.” Dr. Byron Calhoun, a pioneer of perinatal hospice in the 90s, discovered that when offered 75% of couples choose life over abortion.  I can’t help but wonder if Hevan and her husband had been offered perinatal hospice.

You can’t imagine the pride I have in my son, my warrior, my great adventure, my hero with half a heart.

Half a heart (Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome – HLHS or could have been a hypoplastic right side which is easier to correct surgically) is fatal after a few days without intervention. When our Sebastian (we call him Ian for short, get it? SebastIAN) received the prenatal diagnosis of HLHS we were given “compassionate care” as an option. Compassionate care would let our son die naturally days after birth, we could even take him home if we wanted. We chose to let him fight! Ian had his first open-heart surgery when he was one week old. He suffered, we suffered. Though I will say I don’t think he was in excessive pain, fentanyl does a pretty good job! The things he will never remember -and we will never forget! Praise God, our reality now is so far removed from the pain in the past! But in that darkness, we found a new appreciation for the light. Christ our light and our love who has prepared a place for all of us. Christ is Love personified. And those who work for Love, Truth, Peace, Beauty, and Goodness work for Christ! They may not acknowledge or recognize Him but He is all those things! Those who love Truth or love authentic Beauty love Jesus!

The story of the Lundsfords and their little Sebastian is heart breaking. It breaks my heart not only for Sebastian himself, but also for his parents. God’s plans are hard to understand sometimes. It is hard to trust a plan that involves suffering, a plan that involves a heavy cross on a little baby, a heavy cross on Mommy and Daddy. Finding out such devastating news at 5 mo pregnant gave me 4 months of agony in the garden. My constant prayer was for a miracle, if possible Lord let this cup pass, heal our son, if it be according to Thy will.

He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father,* if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39

I know that God has a plan and infinite contingency plans! I know that abortion breaks God’s heart. I know God’s heart breaks for Hevan Lundsford as well, He feels her pain too. He wants to heal her pain and extend his bountiful mercy. There are people he is sending through ministries like Rachel’s Vineyard that can help. I don’t look down on her, I look up to God and see how he wants to shower her with his grace and fill in all her wounds and holes with love.

Many Fridays during 40 Days for Life I would pray at 3pm. The hour Christ died, and darkness fell over the land. Meditating on the Passion, the Stations of the Cross, the last moments of Jesus’ mortal life on earth is sad. The lamb led to slaughter. (Though we know the happy ending!) Praying outside an abortion facility while abortions are going on like I did this past Friday is dark. It is okay to feel sad and lament, it is good to let abortion break your heart because as I’ve said I believe it breaks Jesus’ heart too. You’ve perhaps seen the recent coverage that David Daleiden’s undercover work at Planned Parenthood has exposed more gruesome details about the sale of aborted baby parts. The fetal hearts were harvested alive. It’s not just your heart that breaks but your stomach that turns. How can we combat this evil?

As Fr. Frank Pavone reminds us, we aren’t fighting for victory, but from victory. How sweet the victory Christ won for us through his own suffering! My husband and I have endured quite a few rough patches on this journey with our own warrior Sebastian and have paths unseen ahead, but we’ve been graced with God’s friendship. Now we enjoy “Joy unspeakable, faith unsinkable, love unstoppable, anything is possible!” as Casting Crown’s song Thrive puts it.

Revisit that song. Such a powerful positive light-filled message! Lyrics: “It’s time for us to more than just survive, we were made to thrive!” To spread that joy, is to make God’s heart happy! How many people can you help to heaven? Can you help others find peace on earth? Sometimes, God calls us to dark places, like abortion facilities, to bear his light, his love, and his truth. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine! Ian, you are a light in the world and I will not hide God’s story in you under a bushel, and I’m certainly glad I didn’t let the devil blow you out!

Sources: same as links embedded in story.

(1) Idaho Statesman   https://www.idahostatesman.com/news/local/investigations/watchdog/article235765327.html

(2) The Euthanasia Deception Documentary- http://www.epcc.ca/dvds/

(3) AL.com https://www.al.com/opinion/2019/05/i-cant-just-be-a-mother-grieving-the-loss-of-her-son-hevan-lunsford.html

(4) International Association for Hospice & Palliative Care – https://hospicecare.com/what-we-do/projects/consensus-based-definition-of-palliative-care/definition/

(5) Fetal Hearts Harvested Alive – https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/only-hearts-harvested-from-living-babies-can-be-used-for-research-expert-tells-daleiden-hearing

(6) Casting Crown’s Thrivehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQ71RWJhS_M

The Cheetos that Pierced My Heart

Cheetos are engineered to be irresistible. I recently noticed a foreign exchange student had quite the affinity for them. I wasn’t sure if she was on her way to a Cheetos addiction or if Cheetos are one of those things that know no borders.

Regardless, it reminded me of the story of The Cheetos that Pierced my Heart, a story that validated for me the power of fasting.

Eight years ago I joined a peaceful 40 day prayer campaign for an end to abortion called “40 Days for Life.” It encourages participants to not just pray, but to also fast for this special intention. Being a cradle Catholic I had fasted during Lent my entire life. I saw it as a voluntary sacrifice, an offering to Christ for all he sacrificed and a way to unite myself to Him in a small way. I never saw it as a spiritual tool, never had used fasting for a cause or special intention. I quickly grew and learned that fasting gives my prayers wings and amplifies them in my effort to storm heaven.

Well, I had a special intention that I really wanted to intensify in prayer. After having my own children, I was really struck by what a gift a child is. I could hold up my baby and it was just so obvious that this child came from Heaven and God’s heart. Scott and I weren’t the average couple that gets pregnant within 3 months of trying. It was painful personally and as a couple, as anxiety and uncertainty about our fertility mounted month after month. Thus, my special intention was a dear friend “Anna” (and her husband) and their family planning. You know the couples- the 1 in 8 that struggle with infertility for years. I had fasted off and on for her a day here and there in traditional Catholic style- two half meals and one full meal, no snacks. But I wanted to give something up.

Now, I see where you’re going, it seems lame to give up Cheetos, right? Well, maybe it was. But at the time I had introduced my young daughter to them and found myself buying them two bags at a time! With next to zero nutritional value, I had previously resisted Chester Cheetah and his tasty crunchy snack, but once I started with the “kid food” I opened a flood gate of desire from those salt-loving taste buds! So, I decided to give up Cheetos for Anna and her family planning, keeping in mind that the endpoint of this fast was indefinite.

In addition to 40 Days for Life teaching me about the power of fasting, it really did cement in my spiritual life the power of prayer as well. So as the months turned to more years for Anna I organized a prayer campaign! Not 40 days, but 9 days (Catholics know this devotion as a Novena, but I wanted to keep this ecumenical). I created a Facebook event entitled “Prayers for Anna” and invited any Facebook friend that wouldn’t be offended by being asked to pray with me. I also emailed people like my aunts and mom not on Facebook. Would you believe she got pregnant?! Sadly, she miscarried the baby. The prayers and the sacrifices increased on my part and I extended my net to include all those struggling with infertility. She did get her bouncing baby boy eventually! In the grand scheme of things, I wondered, did giving up Cheetos for ~5 ½ years really matter?

God winked at me through Cheetos. Skeptical? That’s because He didn’t wink at you, He winked at me.

Last summer, I got my answer. Ian my then 3-year-old son had to have another open heart surgery. When you have HLHS or half a heart any surgery is major. But his surgery was especially so because not only did they re-route blood changing the blood flow of his body they also unexpectedly had to reconstruct his aorta. Two major surgeries in one. The recovery was quite rough. You could tell he just felt like garbage. Our poor boy was super nauseous and vomiting for days and days. The medical team tried everything g-tube feedings fast and slow, enemas in case he was blocked up, nothing worked. He would not smile, he was super close to having a psych consult because he was so depressed. Even Daddy and Paw Patrol Marathons couldn’t cheer him.

Finally, one of the Nurse Practitioners said no more g-tube feeds, put him back on his normal diet on his terms. She advised me to go to the grocery store next door and get some low fat potato chips (part of his post-op protocol was a strict low fat diet), something we can get him excited about. I go next door and they don’t have any Baked Lays…BUT I found Baked Cheetos. My heart just leapt when I saw those. I knew these were going to be perfect. Bright orange, crunchy, messy and irresistible. Sure enough, six days after surgery, the first thing that Ian ate and held down of any significant quantity was Cheetos! That night he asked for food for the first time. He was sitting up in bed for short periods, smiling and we even got him to laugh. We were able to be discharged a few days later! God winked at me through Cheetos. And that answered my question. Yes, our prayers matter and our sacrifices make a difference. I’m so thankful for all those praying and rooting for us from heaven and earth. Padre Pio and lots of other prayer warriors helped us all pull through that difficult time.

And After 6 Days – Ian smiles

40 Days for Life is gearing up now! Join hundreds of thousands of prayer warriors at one of 505 location world-wide! Visit 40daysforlife.com The next campaign to end abortion using prayer, fasting, and peaceful vigil starts September 25th!

Horton Hears a Who! Do you?

“On the fifteenth of May, in the Jungle of Nool,

In the heat of the day, in the cool of the pool,

He was splashing . . . . enjoying the jungle’s great joys…

When Horton the elephant heard a small noise.”

Horton Hears a Who! By Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss’ character Horton the elephant in the book Horton Hears a Who! is a champion for equal rights.  Horton’s mantra, “A person’s a person, no matter how small” seems tailored to fit the rights of the unborn human. A human too small to be seen or heard, but a person non-the-less. However, Dr. Seuss did not write Horton Hears a Who! with commentary on the abortion issue in mind.  It was written in 1953 after a trip to Japan, where Theodore Geisel came to a realization that he, like many post WWII, harbored a hatred and prejudice against the Japanese, which contradicted the dignity every person deserves.  The book is dedicated, “For My Great Friend, Mitsugi Nakamura of Kyoto, Japan.”

Theodor Seuss Geisel was known as a liberal democrat, though he never publicly shared his position on abortion.  Depending on the source- his widow or his foundation- reportedly said that it is not right for pro-lifers to hijack his story for their own purposes.  However, we are not hijacking his story, the story was written as an illustration of equal rights for all. No matter the color of skin, their size, or their physical maturity. Abortion is the human rights issue of our time.

Horton, being an elephant, has very large ears and can hear the plight of the “Whos” when the kangaroo and other jungle creatures cannot. This reminds me of a song lyric, “For the Lord hears the cry of the poor.”  In the case of the Whos, who live on a speck of dust, no one can see them.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Some people cannot hear them, and perhaps some people choose not to hear them.  Horton hears their cry and at a great personal risk and expense protects them.  He is the laughing stock of his community, but does not back down.  He even tracks them relentlessly to ensure their protection after they are kidnapped, begging

“Please don’t harm all my little folks, who

Have as much right to live as us bigger folks do!”

Who are the poor?  Can you see them?  Do you hear them?  It is much easier to deny they exist than to accept that you are perhaps blind and deaf to their needs.  Is being pro-life just about the unborn?  Undeniably, the unborn and crisis mothers are in need of our attention and compassion.  Pro-life or Respect Life can be surmised in the word “dignity.” It is about upholding the dignity of all life. There is no greater assault on the human person than that of abortion where they are willfully and legally exterminated like a pest. So we must minister to the hungry, the homeless, and the helpless, but their needs are not above those of the unborn and unknown “somebodies.” We are many parts, but we are all one body.  I can use my unique gifts to help mothers and unborn children, to feed the hungry, and help the blind see, etc  And I know that there are other parts of the body, other people in my Catholic/Christian Community, that answer the call to minister to the poor in the many other necessary ways such as visiting the imprisoned, educating the unlearned, and caring for the sick and handicapped. Do we have enough help? No. In every area there are people that are still forgotten and left hurting. Are there people that are not answering God’s call to serve His people?

“Are you sure every Who down in Who-ville is working . . . is there anyone shirking?”

We need everyone in the body to do their part.  It starts with respecting the dignity of everyone you come in contact with. Kindness and respect should not need to be earned. You will never regret being kind.

“I think you’re a fool!” laughed the sour kangaroo .. You’re the biggest blame fool in the Jungle of Nool.”

It is hard to really love. To sacrifice for the good of another without getting something out of it for yourself is cautioned. Horton plays the fool so well. Both in Horton Hatches an Egg and Horton Hears a Who! we see this lovable elephant risk not just his reputation, but life and limb to protect those smaller than himself. The “polite persecution” as Pope Francis has called it, we do not risk our lives to live out our Christian faith, but it is more of a social suicide. If you live out your faith too loud, you’re just weird. You could also be instantly painted as a racist, bigot, ignorant, judgemental, etc just for sharing an opinion on moral truth contrary to the rampant relativism. In other parts of the world persecution goes much beyond this, such as the Easter tragedy where sadly hundreds of Christians died attending Easter Sunday services in Sri Lanka.

I’m not sure why Dr. Seuss picked the 15th of May. But anyday and everyday is a good day to begin to recognize and seize the heroic moments in our lives. Kudos to Horton for risking it all for the equal rights of the marginalized. So take a little extra time talking with that elderly person so often overlooked, buy an extra jar of peanut butter for the food bank next time you’re grocery shopping, and when a big chance comes to change someone’s life don’t be afraid to be uncommonly generous. A martyr is someone who dies for Christ. A living martyr is someone who lives for Christ. As a whole we live our own lives, we live for ourselves, our own pleasure, profit, and satisfaction. And we feel good about ourselves when we give a little here and there. But like Horton we need to hear the cry of the lowly and fight for them with great vigor and vim. Are you willing to be hauled, mauled, and humiliated?

Faith Not Fear

February is Heart Month! My 3-year-old son Ian has HLHS (Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome). He was born with half a heart and has undergone 4 open heart surgeries among other procedures. There have been ups and downs, but he is a light in our lives and instead of dwelling on all the uncertainties, we try to see everyday as a gift. Currently, he lives a fairly normal life. #halfthehearttwicethefight is one motto in the HLHS community. I think another hashtag could be #halfthehearttwicethefaith.

Pretty normal 3 year old! Half a heart, whole life!

Recently, the HLHS community lost the second oldest known person living with HLHS. She was 38 years old and her surgeon Dr. Norwood was an important pioneer of the life-saving operation that allow people like my son to function without a left ventricle. My son had his “Norwood” surgery when he was 1 week old. Sometimes people will ask me about Ian’s life expectancy. Usually an awkward silence follows. The answer is we don’t know. The oldest people living with HLHS are our age. Scott is 38, I am 36. Technology keeps advancing and the medical community continues to learn more and more. The highest risk of death is in the first 5 years. We don’t dwell on the reality that there is no guarantee of 40 years, 20 years, ten years, or even tomorrow. Ian’s life, though we know not the number of days, is certainly a gift. Nobody knows the number of their days, however, heart parents have a much more acute sense of how fragile life can be.

When we lost Ian’s little brother Gus during the second trimester of pregnancy it hurt. (FYI Gus died from a nuchal cord, no heart or other defect) And part of the pain was a fear that God was somehow using this loss as a dress rehearsal for a greater loss. His funeral was a very beautiful experience for me. It reminded me of our wedding (oddly) and I felt very connected to my God and my Catholic faith. I finally understood not just in my head, but in my heart the glory of the resurrection. And we found peace in our submission to God’s will.

I am 28 weeks pregnant a benchmark also known as “obviously pregnant” where strangers will comment on my expectant condition. Before I was showing, I confided our joyful news in a non-family member who I thought could use a little cheering up. I was surprised at his reaction, “You’re having another one? After all you’ve been through?” I was quick to reply, “Oh yes, we have faith not fear.” Twice the faith because of the fight.

I am reminded of the oft quoted verse from the great Tennyson poem:

“‘Tis better to have loved and lost

Than never to have loved at all.”

We chose love, and I don’t have to defend myself for that. We chose love in a free, faithful and potentially fruitful way. Yet, there are plenty of people who question having “more children” especially after having a child with a “defect.” Scott and I put the pen in God’s hand, not knowing if His plan included more children for us.

Life is about love, right? Love your partner, love God, and know that by God’s loving design new life may spring forth from that love. But society wants to terminate the connection between choosing love and life. One can choose to love their partner with their whole body, but then flush, dismember, or shoot through the heart any strings attached. God’s design connects the body and the heart. And though a baby may not ever be given a birthday, for many women a child is born in her heart the moment she learns of her baby’s existence. You can terminate the pregnancy, but you can’t sever the heart strings to the soul. You can only perhaps let your heart grow cold, the unfeeling heart will never feel the pain of abortion.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King, Jr

January was Human Rights month. Martin Luther King, Jr day, January 21st fell one day before the 46th Anniversary of Roe v Wade the Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion in the United States. This anniversary was particularly tragic as New York state legislature picked that day to strike another blow to the legal protection of unborn humans. Shouldn’t being a human be the only qualification to be granted the most fundamental human right, a right to life? A right to exist as every other member of our species once existed, and not be willfully and intentionally killed. As slaves were once considered property of their owners, so too the unborn are considered property of their mothers- literally at their disposal. The abortion debate is the human rights issue of our time.

Seems to me that parents should be legally bound to protect and provide for their children to the best of their ability. Instead “Every individual who becomes pregnant has the fundamental right to choose to carry the pregnancy to term, to give birth to a child, or to have an abortion, pursuant to this article.”.

What strikes me about the above sentence is the phrase, “to give birth to a child.” If it is given birth (wanted) it is dignified with the designation “child,” but if a woman elects an abortion it is the dehumanized “pregnancy” that is terminated. The right to choose is the right to murder via age discrimination an innocent human being. I gave birth to 3 children, but God gave them life. And as Mother Angelica sums this whole debate up so concisely, “Let no one call to death someone God has called to life.”

The fear of Roe v Wade being overturned and state abortion laws then being enforced, we will see more and more of this debate. States may allow abortion up to 24 weeks for any reason like the New York law does. This puts the lives of all “defective” children at risk. Children like Ian who we learned at 20 weeks would be born with half a heart. Half the heart, twice the fight. And he has fought hard. He has fought through shunts that were too small, paralyzing agents, delirium, partial blindness, partial paralysis, permanent vocal cord damage, feeding tubes, kinked breathing tubes, long hospital stays, nausea, vomiting, bouts of being blue and too many pokes, tests, and tears. Oh my brave boy, my conquering hero. You are my greatest adventure.

No one said it would be easy, they only said it would be worth it. Looking at my boy he was so worth the fight. And I believe few people regret giving their “imperfect” children the chance to fight. I know what it is like to be pregnant and uncertain …..  fearful of the future. What kind of life will we be able to give him? How will his disability affect my other children? He has changed my life no doubt, he has given me abundant joy. God gave him life, and I gave him birth. Choose love. Choose life. Choose joy.

I see some God-fearing individuals getting depressed at all the potential negative consequences laws such as the one passed in New York. It breaks my heart to think of little ones like Ian being aborted, having their ending written before their story really began.

“Once upon a time there was a very young child created out of the heart of God . . . . . .The End.”

by 800,000+ Americans who each year think they can write a story better than God and choose abortion over life.

The story may be a drama, but let me tell you, it is also a love story. A love story that points to the greatest Love Story ever told. The cross, the Christ, the kingdom. Let your faith be greater than your fear. Continue your pro-life efforts and ramp them up if you can. There are 101 ways to build a Culture of Life. Seek the ways that God is calling you, and step by step we will march closer and closer to justice for the unborn.

I’d like to close with four great quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. How do they speak to you?

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Catching Hell for Heaven

40 Days for Life Fall Prayer Campaign is at an end. In some ways my husband and I feel disappointed in ourselves as leaders. We are keeping it going, but we are falling short of the ever present goal to keep it growing. We have ~80 faithful folks that have been making ripples over the years praying peacefully for an end to abortion, standing witness to the dignity of life, and offering hope, help, and mercy when asked. But to make waves we need more (prayer) power!

Maybe the following encounter I had last week on the sidewalk will inspire others to join us.

A young woman pulled up in an SUV, got out, and headed in my direction. Not knowing if she was a “friendly” or not I took a deep breath. “Hi” I greeted her and she responded in kind asking me if that was my sign. The sign reads “Praying for Moms and Babies” and “Pray to End Abortion,” I said yes. She told me she had something to tell me. Still not knowing which way this was going to go, I nodded for her to continue. She told me that she was once 17 and pregnant. She made an appointment at Planned Parenthood and when she drove up there was someone outside praying with a sign, just like me. She said she was too embarrassed to get out of the car and that she drove away. She continued quickly to add, breaking into tears, that she is so glad that she did because now she has the most amazing 6-year-old boy! I was crying too with joy and told her I was sorry she felt embarrassed but I was so glad that she drove away! What courage! She asked if I wanted to see a picture, to which I gave an exuberant, “Yes!” He was such a charming cutie, with dimples and everything. She told me, “I bet you guys catch hell out here.” I laughed it off, “Yeah, sometimes.” She continued, “Well, I just want you to know that what you’re doing makes a difference. It made a difference to me. And I am so thankful for people like you. I just can’t imagine my life without him.” The crying turned to hugging.

I got his name, but respectfully won’t share it. I asked if she didn’t mind telling me if he was born in Idaho, which he was not, he was born in California. We hugged again before she left. What a beautiful young lady and I know as a mother myself there are hard days, but I’m so glad she carried through her trials and is able to live with no regrets.

40 Days for Life has had a presence in Ada County (where Boise and Meridian are) for over 7 years and where “only” 1047 abortions happen per year in Ada County (according to the Health and Welfare statistics of 2016). There are that many and more that happen every month in Los Angeles county. I have always had a sense that we are not just praying for an end to abortion here at our specific facility, but everywhere. And if you pray on a day the clinic is closed your prayers are not wasted. Somewhere someone’s life is in the balance. An unexpectedly expectant mother could be weighing her options at home, or sitting in a parking lot somewhere having second thoughts. When you see a woman on the phone pacing in the parking lot the intensity of your prayers increases as well as your sense of mission.

Needless to say, the validation that young lady gave me was a blessing. I wish each prayer warrior could see or hear in a more tangible way the difference our prayers makes. When you don’t get a lot of saves, you have to just keep showing up on faith. And it is harder to walk by faith than by sight.

We do catch hell sometimes. We’ve had several people stop by to thank us for reminding them to donate to Planned Parenthood. We also for the first time had someone show up and stand beside one of our strongest prayer warriors with a sign that read, “My Body, My Choice.” Contrary to the thoughts of some, participants in 40 Days for Life don’t need to get a life. We are there because we feel called by heaven to do something about the grave injustice against the unborn known as abortion. I am recalling the Sir Edmond Burke quote I included in my Statue of a Rabbit blog several years ago,

“All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

Are good men doing nothing about abortion?

Is there something you can start doing today? Yes, Spiritual Adoption. There are 121 days between now (the end of the Fall Prayer Campaign) and when the next 40 Days for Life campaign starts March 6th (Ash Wednesday). That is 347 babies on track to die in Ada County alone between now and then. What I propose to all my fellow prayer warriors is to spiritually adopt three children. That means you name them and pray for them every day for the next 4 months. After all, pretty much all babies in Idaho are aborted in the first 4 months of life (and the majority everywhere).  It is not done because it is illegal; Doe vs Bolton (ruled on concurrently with Roe vs Wade in 1973) made it legal to terminate a pregnancy through all 9 months -past the point of viability. A fact that many Americans out of touch with the issue do not realize. It is not done past 24 weeks in our area because there are not any doctors willing to do the procedure that late.

I would recommend making up your own prayer for Spiritual Adoption, however you can use your favorite search engine and find one easily like this simple one I found by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen,

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I love you very much. I beg you to spare the life of ___________ the unborn baby I spiritually adopted who is in danger of abortion. Amen.”

Prayer is powerful, and so is your vote, your financial support of life-affirming organizations, and the many other ways we live out our values. The more out-spoken you are the more hell you may catch. But remember while you may not feel you are winning any popularity contests with your pro-life convictions; your Savior didn’t win friends or popularity contests either. Barabbas won his life and freedom in the particular popularity contest coming to mind. Christ on the other hand, in losing, won eternal life and true freedom for those who walk in His footsteps. He walked leaving footprints left, right, left, right; I see his followers making strides in love, truth, love, truth. If you are trying to follow God’s will and feel like you can’t win for losing, keep trusting God’s providence because Christ wins in the end. 

The Real Presence in the Womb

The word “catholic” means universal. One of the cool things about being Catholic is that all over the world the same readings are used during Sunday Mass. So roughly 1.2 billion Roman Catholics have been looking at the John Chapter 6 also termed the “Bread of Life Discourse” throughout August. You can use the link or I included an excerpt as a refresher. Specifically, it starts with the feeding of the 5000 men with five barley loaves and two fish (the 5000 isn’t counting the women and children so it was really many more than that in case 5000 isn’t impressive enough). Towards the end in John 6:55, Jesus gives the difficult teaching “My [Jesus’] flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” So difficult in fact, many of his disciples, after just being astounded and amazed by the miracle of the loaves and fish, “returned to their former way of life” and no longer followed him.

The Real Presence of the Eucharist does take some mind bending. How can something that looks like bread, feels like bread, and tastes like bread actually BE the Body of Christ. Jesus spiritually becomes physically present. Transubstantiation (the conversion of the bread into Christ via the priest acting as Christ) is a miracle, it is shocking precisely because it defies the senses. Although it exists and is consumed under the species or appearance of bread (and wine) it is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. “It is the Spirit that gives life, while the flesh-is of no avail.” What defines a person is not their human body but their spirit. A body can and will change. Think of a class reunion. Twenty years or 50 years later- same old Class Clown, etc. Now skeptics might be thinking that is convenient you have no tangible evidence.  Well, science doesn’t have to be able to prove something for it to be true. There are numerous philosophical truths, say about the existence of love, that can’t be proven through the physical sciences.

Now if you want physical evidence to prove the Real Presence using science, it does exist. There are a host of Eucharistic Miracles (pun intended ; ) documented through the ages. For example the host turns into real flesh, with veins, and the wine turns into coagulated blood that will be a dried stain, then at other times appear fresh. I am reading a whole book of accounts of Eucharistic Miracles. Blind scientific studies on the specimens have been done  showing the flesh is striated myocardium of a male with AB+ blood type (heart muscle tissue of a blood type very common among Middle Eastern nationalities). It blew my mind to hear that they did a comparison from two different miracles around the world and they matched! Here is a well done video about the Buenos Aires Eucharistic Miracle in 1996.

I can’t help but draw parallels to another difficult teaching. Life Begins at Conception.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, 2270 “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.”

How can something so tiny be a whole person? A single cell, a ball of cells, an organism only days or weeks old, is a human person? Even a Kindergartener learns the difference between living and non-living things: Does it grow? Does it take in nutrition? An embryo is clearly alive and looking at the DNA (or what “it” becomes given time) it is clearly human. Not an “it” at all, even from conception the one-celled living organism was created male or female. Trent Horn, a well-known apologist from Catholic Answers makes the case for Life begins at Conception simply using science and reason not religion.

Our physical world exists within the constructs of space and time, and many people need a child to be given space and time to grow before they concede that it is a person with certain inalienable rights. But those of us that recognize the spiritual realities of the situation see that a human being is endowed with its human dignity when it first comes into “being,”… at conception, not any arbitrary stage of development. And at one’s physical conception this has certainly occurred, but could it even be before that? Before a person was conceived in their mother’s womb they were first conceived in the Mind (or is it the Heart?) of God.

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” Jeremiah 1:5

When a baby is growing in his mother’s womb it does not eat food or drink. It is given all the nourishment is needs directly from the mother’s flesh and blood (called the placenta). And that flesh and blood sustains life for 9 months, and God’s perfect design of breastfeeding enables the mother’s body to continue to provide for her baby after its birth.

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. John 6:56-57b

The growing fetus remains in the mother physically for 9 months and in her heart forever. The mother remains in the child as he shares half her DNA taking on varying degrees of her physical likeness. Additionally, the child grows and grows using the building blocks her body supplies through nourishment. A whole new take on “body building.” And just as the mother has life because of her parents and God, so also the unborn baby has life because of the mother. Thank you, Mom (and Dad ; )

All this body talk reminds me of a Peter Kreeft quote,

“Abortion is the Antichrist’s demonic parody of the Eucharist. That is why it uses the same holy words, ‘This is my body,’ with the blasphemously opposite meaning.” – Dr. Peter Kreeft

To draw the obvious lines, Christ says, “This is my Body, given up for you.” The My Body My Rights mentality: “This is my Body,” to do with what I want in the pursuit of my own happiness, even at the cost of another person’s life.

I believe in Jesus’ words from the Gospel of John that He is truly present in a humble host after consecration. Likewise, I believe that there is truly life present in that humble “clump of cells.”  Out of respect for the dignity of even the earliest human being we as Catholics oppose things such as Plan B emergency contraception. This and all hormonal contraception could prevent fertilization, but it also functions, if fertilization has occurred, to prevent implantation, resulting in the death of a living, moving, metabolizing, human being. For those readers in Idaho, this November 2018 you can vote against Prop 2 for Medicaid Expansion which proposes expanding abortifacient coverage via Planned Parenthood.  See Right to Life of Idaho’s FB page for more details.

The use of hormonal contraception (potential abortifacient) is widespread even among the Catholic Community. However, Catholic teaching has not changed and was affirmed 50 years ago by soon-to-be-Saint Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae stating that the use of contraception is “intrinsically evil” CCC 2370.  Though a startling conclusion in modern culture, the pope really does use a lot of logic in his reasoning with such a ring of wisdom and truth it is hard to deny. “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (Jn 6:60)

See Top 10 Reasons to Use NFP and perhaps you’d be interested in the Culture of Life Symposium celebrating Humanae Vitae in Boise Oct 19 & 20 (2018).

In conclusion, I come back to John 6:63 “It is the Spirit that gives life.” It is in the uniquely human mind and soul that are made in the image and likeness of God. Just as God is a creator and giver of life, we instinctively love and give life. Every woman should have the right to be born. And every life deserves a lifetime.

 

The Gospel of John, Chapter 6:53-63

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.54 Whoever eats* my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”59 These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

The Words of Eternal Life.*60 Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”61 Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you?62 What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?*63It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh* is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.c65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

66 As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

Too Much Spiritual Junk Food

It is summer! Bring on the shorts, swimsuits, and salads. Nothing like sunshine to inspire outdoor exercise. But as we reign in excess empty carbs in the name of “beach body” do we also need to take the time to “cut the fat” for our spiritual health this summer?

In the book, “The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food,” Mama Bear notices that the cubs have settled into some unhealthy eating habits. After Papa Bear’s pants hit the “ripping point,” they become much more conscientious about what food the family eats. Sister Bear asks Dr. Grizzly, “About sweets and goodies-what harm do they do?” Dr. Grizzly replies, “Most of them aren’t very nourishing. Instead of helping build and strengthen our bodies, they just pile up as extra fat…And even worse-they fill you up, so you’re not hungry for the food your body really needs.”

Physical and spiritual health have a lot of parallels. They both require discipline and conscientiousness. We have to be aware of what we are putting in our bodies both physically (no mindless eating) and mentally (no mindless media). Comfort foods may have their place, at celebrations, for example, but you don’t want them taking the place of nutrition your body needs. It seems to me when looking at what’s available for entertainment there is a lot of junk food out there. The Sugar Balls and Choco-Chums Papa Bear struggles to give up could well be a trashy television program or magazine. You may have your own guilty pleasure that comes to mind. Whether getting caught up in YouTube videos of cats for an evening (did you see the ones where they get scared of cucumbers?) or a reality TV show like “The Bachelor,” for a season, entertainment has some value. But we should not allow our comforts to take the place of those things that are good for the soul. Entertainment should not upstage relationships. Relationships with other people and/or our relationship with God. Are we binge-watching Netflix when we should be calling home?

In college I would unwind with “The Bachelor” a reality TV show where a bunch of girls vie for the affection of one “Bachelor” and the dating field is narrowed down week by week before he proposes at the end. There were several of us that watched it and gushed over the unbelievable happenings. Fast forward to life with kids, occasionally I would still catch an episode, but I realized it is like Sweetsie-Cola (another Berenstain Bears reference). I don’t want my kids watching it because I know it is not good for them. Well, wait, if it isn’t good for them and it isn’t good for me why would I want to watch it? Does it do harm or is it harmless entertainment? Well, let’s ponder, is there any better way I could be spending my time during a three-hour finale?

There are so many great books out there and yet secular TV can be a lure. Much like secular radio, it is fun to listen to sometimes, but for the most part I choose Salt & Light Catholic Radio. It is actually a staple of my spiritual nourishment. It seems even only listening 30-60 minutes a day I always hear some juicy tidbit. And just like when you cut that extra sugar out of your diet; you may crave Sweetsie-Cola for a while, but eventually you see it as the empty calories it is and it is no longer as hard to resist.

 “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”

~Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

What do we have on our summer reading and movie list? What about our children’s? Is it comfort food or is it something more wholesome? Are we spending time in spiritual exercise, such as prayer? Or only seeking excellence in our physical health, and settling for mediocre in our spiritual health? There is so much pressure to be perfect in everything in life and yet we know we have to balance. Social media and the internet connects us to so much information, but we end up less connected to each other. Sometimes on Facebook I feel like everyone is doing it better. So, I certainly don’t want anyone to think I’m asking them to put one more thing on their plate. But our mental and spiritual health hinge on us being as choosy about our family’s media consumption as we are about what’s on their plate. I remember the peanut butter slogan from my childhoood, “Choosy Moms choose Jif.” What else do Choosy Moms choose for their children? Books like Chime Travelers and shows like VeggieTales? I wonder if this metaphor is the foundation for VeggieTales, the animated children’s television series that uses vegetable characters to promote Christian virtue in a creative and comical way. VeggieTales are a great way for young kids to watch something “healthy.”

The recent rise in suicide rates is an indication of the mental health crisis some Americans are experiencing. I know I am not alone in wondering if it isn’t as much (or more) of a spiritual health crisis? In secular society, there is nothing that can replace God. Our lives are valuable only because we are made in the image and likeness of God. Our worth is not derived from our net income, our perfect family, or anything else. As Fulton Sheen put it, “God doesn’t love us because we are valuable. We are valuable because He loves us.” God loves us and there is nothing we can do about it! What is especially alarming to me is the increase in suicide in the youth. The rate for girls aged 10-14 tripled between 1999 and 2014, going from 50 to 150 (1). Can you imagine being the parent of one of those 150 girls? I live in a state that is chronically on the list for highest suicide rates. So it hits close to home and the tragedy of it all breaks my life-loving heart! This is the canary in the coal mine; we’ve got to bring God back. I think all the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) promotion is good. But what I would really like to see is a focus on ‘STEEM. Self-esteem.

My daughter has been a part of American Heritage Girls (AHG) for the past two years. This is such an amazing scouting organization rooted in Christian values that cultivates virtue in our girls. Yet few have even heard of AHG. They are about: Faith. Service. Fun. Such a combination for self-discipline and self-esteem!

As we relax this summer let’s be sure to keep something with substance on our reading list, and limit mindless media consumption! What’s a good book? According to Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “Any book which inspires us to lead a better life is a good book.” Here are some books that I read last summer or have been recommended to me for this summer. Feel free to add more titles in the comments. It takes more effort to be mindful, no doubt!

  • He Leadeth Me by Walter J Ciszek, S.J. “An Extraordinary Testament of Faith” by a priest who served a 25-year sentence in a Siberian work camp post WWII.
  • Boys in A Boat by Daniel James Brown, Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
  • Glow Kids by Nicholas Kardaras, Ph.D. How Screen Addiction is Hijacking our Kids-and How to Break the Trance.
  • Night Lights by Phyllis Theroux, Bedtime Stories for Parents in the Dark
  • People are Good by Anna Marie McHargue, 100 True Stories to Restore your Faith in Humanity.
  • My Sisters the Saints by Colleen Carroll Campbell, A Spiritual Memoir that is completely contemporary and totally timeless.
  • Champions of the Rosary by Donald Calloway, MIC, The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon.
  • The End of the Present World by Father Charles Arminjon, The book that inspired the Little Flower over a 100 years ago only recently available in English. “Reading this book was one of the greatest graces of my life!” — St. Thérèse of Lisieux

 “Occupy your mind with good thoughts, or the enemy will fill them with bad ones. Unoccupied, they cannot be.” ~ St. Thomas More