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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

Follow Your Heart and other Bad Advice

Be Yourself. Do What You Love. Dream Big. Follow your Heart. Each new year brings a universal call to self improvement. New Year’s Resolutions, because you have to be resolute in your determination to change. Synonyms of resolute are: firm, stanch, unyielding, stubborn. Does it seem sometimes that the slogans found on girls’ t-shirts and Target home décor are at odds with the underrated virtue of self-discipline? I mean, “be yourself” doesn’t that kind of imply “don’t change” shouldn’t we all try to be better than ourselves?

target.com

Do what you love? Is that even financially responsible? I much prefer “love what you do,” after all happiness is about perspective. Dream Big seems like it would set up lofty unachievable goals of high powered jobs, mansions and ponies, maybe even a convertible like Barbie; all destined to fall short with feelings of inadequacy. But more bothersome than that is the implication that our unbridled dreams would even hold a candle to what the Lord wants for us. We will always be limited to our own imaginations, but seeking, finding, and following God’s will for our lives is the joy on the journey. Joy that fills us up and overflows isn’t found in the things dreams are made of. The best things in life aren’t things. Do I follow my heart or follow Jesus? Can I do both? What does Jesus say about the hearts of men?

“From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.” Mark 7:21-23

It seems to me that if you are following your heart you may very well be following folly. Our hearts are part of our bodies so there is something carnal and instinctual about that, but they are also the center for love so there is an emotional feeling component too. Can we trust our hearts? Cue early 90s Patty Smyth, “There’s a danger in loving somebody too much, and it’s sad when you know it’s your heart you can’t trust.” I’m gonna put my bet with trusting Jesus and encourage my daughters to do the same no matter what their shirts say. Importantly, we should ask the Lord to purify our hearts then we can follow them!

“A clean heart create for me, God.” Psalm 51:12

Sin feels natural. It is easy and comfortable and feels good in the beginning. The devil preys on the weakness of the flesh and the blindness of the heart. The Tempter is gratified as we fall to gluttony- YES have a 3rd slice of deep dish pizza. He fans the flame of our anger in hopes we’ll use stabbing words with those we love the most. He will inflate our egos so we look down on everyone else and even dwarf God. He can make lust feel so good it would seem impossible for it to be wrong.  The seeds of all the deadly sins are already in our hearts he just tills and tends (often using our secular culture) and watches our sin take root.

Hark! Hear the intellect and use your will-power! We can conquer nonsense with reason and sin with virtue! The Lord may be mysterious, but He is reasonable and rational, thus to some extent He is knowable in our hearts and minds. So take advantage of the Lord’s mercy, if you are Catholic use the sacrament He gave us to wipe the slate clean. Confession isn’t something we have to do, it’s something we get to do! Start a new page and overcome whatever is holding you back in life. What sin is coming between you and a deeper relationship with God? New Year’s Resolutions may be secular, but they are a great opportunity to reflect on where we can improve in our lives. How can I better my physical, mental, and spiritual health? I recently read (can’t remember where now) that if the devil can’t get you to do the wrong thing, he will try to get you to do the right thing wrongly.

St. Margaret of Antioch by Raphael

A bit of a zinger! Are we doing the right thing wrongly? That devil is so sneaky! I recently read a tidbit about St. Margaret of Antioch; she is often depicted as defeating a dragon. Legend holds that while she was imprisoned for her Christian beliefs the Devil in the form of a dragon devoured her. However, she escapes by the power of her crucifix which caused the devil to regurgitate her. This story may seem all fiction, but I can see the spiritual truth. She lived around 300AD a time when Roman emperors went out of their way to persecute early Christians unto death. St. Margaret after much enduring in the way of medieval torture faced certain mortal death. The devil appeared in the guise of Despair and tried to consume her using fear. However, he completely underestimated the resolve of her faith and she roils in his belly (or lodges in his throat if you prefer that version) because she is holding onto Christ Crucified. The cross, the only place where suffering and persecution make sense. And from Christ Crucified she draws her spiritual weapons of hope and blessed assurance conquering the Dragon in the face of Death. And who could say if it was Christ working through her or if she was working through Christ? Where does one end and the other begin, it is an enviable intimacy with our Savior. It seems some of the most compelling love stories are those of forbidden love and we see in the stories of consecrated virgin martyrs how love always wins in the end. Although some details maybe lost or stretched through time you can hardly contest her martyrdom. Margaret’s love for Christ was so strong she was willing to die for it and her death converted and inspired many. And she got her happily forever after with her Beloved. Instead of being myself I want to be like St. Margaret the Dragon Slayer!

Similar is this zinger:

“If the devil can’t make you bad, he will make you busy.”

Speaking of slaying, can we also slay some of our busyness in 2018? My husband and I are intentional in keeping our schedules managed in part for our sanity, but also because it seems when schedules get crammed it is God that gets crowded out. Many Christians go to Church on Sundays because Sunday is the first day of the week; God is our first priority. So as you begin to write on your new page be resolute to:  Put God at the top, Be a better version of yourself; Do what the Lord of Love wants you to do, Dream in God’s Big Ways, and Follow your heart AND intellect.

Overpopulation Overstated

I’ve noticed that some pro-choice people are all about personal choice as long as you don’t choose to have “too many” children. Sadly, “too many” is defined as more than two! Families of four or more children, take a lot of heat from the public at large. We’re talking online comments, grocery store remarks, and rude whispers. I was horrified to hear a fellow mom tell me that a man told her “Your family is a burden on society” in front of her children! I remember reading a Yahoo Style story about a cute birth announcement where they were announcing #7 (it really was cute I wish I could find it). The comments were pure vitriol. I browsed the first dozen or more comments and they were all negative! A common theme in some of these anti-family comments was “save the planet!” or “<derogatory name> don’t you know the world is already overpopulated!” There are some people who think we can’t end abortion because logistically what will happen to the world if we have any more people.

Is this idea of overpopulation fact or fiction? The fact is the population did triple between 1950 and 2000 and those that promote “population control” would have us believe that it will continue tripling every 50 years. The UN Population Database has Low, Medium, and High Variant projections for population. It was universally pointed out in the articles I researched that historically when they’ve made these projections in the past the Low Variant has always been the projection to come to pass. I used four primary sources: Dr. Janet E. Smith’s essay Contraception Why Not?, Fr. Frank Pavone’s articles via Priests for Life, Overpopulationisamyth.com and Human Life International’s recent article How the Church Must Respond to the Overpopulation Myth by Fr. Shenan Boquet, which mostly reference their own sources in their articles and sites. What the low variant projection shows is that in about 30-40 years the population will hit the 8 billion mark and then actually start declining.

So why did the population boom from 1950 to 2000 and why won’t that trend continue? The population increase first occurred because of all the medical advances prolonging life. In places like Pakistan the life expectancy actually doubled! If life expectancy doubles, the population doubles. But it makes sense that if life expectancy went from 35 to 70, it would be impossible for it to double again. The second major contributor to the population boom between 1950 and 2000 was a dramatic reduction in infant and child mortality rates. Better healthcare and nutrition leads to higher infant survival rates. I don’t know the exact numbers but you can imagine how implementing widespread use of vaccines and antibiotics alone would lead to a small boom in population that would not be expected to be repeated. So the population trend has nothing to do with people having more babies. In fact it is happening in spite of people having fewer babies.

I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that family sizes have dramatically decreased over the last 50 years. We are almost on the brink of a population crisis … an underpopulation crisis. Can this be true? As Dr. Janet Smith points out about 15 years ago the UN started simultaneously holding conferences on what to do about overpopulation AND what to do about declining populations. Fr. Pavone mentions that over 70 countries, representing half of the world’s population, people live in an area that is below replacement rate. What is the replacement rate? The replacement rate is the average number of children a woman must have in order to maintain the population. In developed nations it is 2.1, in underdeveloped nations it is 3.1. Most of Europe is under 1.4, Japan is at 1.2.

Why is there this prevalent notion that the world is overpopulated? In a word, poverty. Poverty exists so it must be because there are too many people! In Jason Evert’s book Saint John Paul the Great His Five Loves, he tells how

“John Paul believed that the solution to poverty is not to reduce the number of innocent poor children, but to reduce the number of corrupt rich politicians.”

He goes on to say “the cause of poverty is not the poor. It is war, inhumane political systems, lack of education, and an unjust distribution of resources.” Now some critics of the Catholic position on birth control will claim that it exacerbates the poverty in overpopulated third world countries. To this Jason notes, “Distributing birth control pills in the barrios might reduce the number of children, but it won’t improve the living conditions of the living. Although Western nations often try to impose “family planning services” on developing nations, the poor rarely clamor for access to it. They possess enough wisdom to view children as their greatest treasure.”

I thought it was funny the way Dr. Janet Smith puts it as she apologizes to a group from Zimbabwe about Western solutions.

“Your people are hungry? You need more condoms. Your people are dying from diseases? You need more condoms.” ~Dr. Janet Smith

What she is getting at is before 1993 the UN had programs to help develop infrastructure in third world countries. Industrialized nations have more stable population growth and less poverty largely due to more education and better access to food and healthcare. The more education men and women receive the smaller the family size as people wait until completing their education to have families. Also a more educated populace produces better candidates to support better healthcare and other infrastructure. What changed in 1993? The UN put in place population control programs (pushing contraception and abortion) and if third world countries did not participate they would not receive any kind of aid such as health care, education, or financial incentives for industrialization.

Overpopulationisamyth.com has a series of 1-2min videos that cover a lot of these sorts of topics. I recommend watching them. The UNFPA (United Nations Fund for Population Activities) was founded in 1969, the year after Paul Ehrlich of Stanford published The Population Bomb a book, in which he “expertly” gives doomsday predictions such as this one,

 “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines–hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” ~Paul Ehrlich

The UNFPA has been involved in government programs throughout the world that deny women the right to choose the number and spacing of their children, such as the infamous “One-Child Policy” in China, uncovered by the US State Department in 2001, afterwhich the United States pulled its funding of UNFPA. But sadly, it still gets plenty of support from what Overpopulationisamyth.com terms the “Wealthy West.” Even without government support wealthy private donors set up programs for “Free Abortions” like the program highlighted on the front page of the Idaho Statesmen a few weeks ago. Couldn’t that money be better spent? According to  writing for Human Life International (HLI) “Since 1996 the United States and other developed nations have spent over $65 billion on anti-life programs in Africa – $150 billion in countries around the world – with little to show for it except paternalism, exploitation, and violation of peoples and cultures.” HLI Regional Director, Emil Hagamu, in Anglophone, Africa puts it like this:

“Africans need assistance with infrastructure. We need to have good roads. We need to have good hospitals and medicines. We need to have good schools. We don’t need condoms. We don’t need contraception. We don’t need abortion.”

In addition to poverty and propaganda, I think urban overcrowding also affects the perception of overpopulation. Poverty and urban overcrowding tend to go hand in hand. In 2003 I participated in a GATE program (Global Awareness Through Experience) sponsored by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration at Viterbo University and travelled to Chiapas Mexico the poorest state in that nation. What stuck with me from that trip is how our economy in the USA affects other economies, which may be more fragile. Everyone feels like their economy is the most fragile, kind of like everyone feels like the place they live has the most unpredictable weather. I’ve heard many times, “That’s Idaho weather for you!” Wait what? Boise, Idaho has nothing on pretty much everywhere else I’ve lived- the Wisconsin winters, the Houston humidity, icy Iowa, Memphis rains! I don’t know much about NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), but through GATE’s presentation I saw a side of capitalism I never saw before. I saw how unfair competition in the market really devastated a lot of Mexican farming communities. The US apparently subsidized corn giving our farmers a huge price advantage over the farmers of Mexico. Corn being a major market with corn tortillas a staple of their diet, etc this affected a lot of people. So those farmers that couldn’t make it anymore were forced to move into the city to find new opportunities. Huge urban cities like Mexico City result and that contributes to the overpopulation perception. It makes me wonder what would happen if we invested more in stabilizing their economy through infrastructure and less in building walls and beefing up borders?

I’ve often heard it said that it is not a population problem, but a distribution problem. Do we have the resources necessary to feed the world? We do! Father Pavone points out that enough grain is produced for every person on the planet to consume 3500 calories a day; if you add meat, fruits and vegetables and other foods there is an average of 4.3 pounds of food produced per person every day. Here is the YouTube link to a 2 min video from overpopulationisamyth.com pointing out how we produce more food farming on less land than ever before and some other good points!

I’m not pointing any fingers but someone is a greedy glutton. Was it St. Ambrose that said if you own two shirts, one is yours, but the other belongs to the poor? We are in the season of giving, and so we must continue to live out our pro-life passions by doing our part to care for the poor. As Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker movement said, “If everyone tried to be poor no one would be.” He also encouraged us to be go-givers instead of go-getters. Although ‘trying to be poor’ isn’t practical for most, prioritizing giving over accumulating wealth is something even Ebeneezer Scrooge reminds us at Christmastime.

In your charity don’t forget to be charitable in your attitudes towards those with big families. There is no place for comments such as “baby factory” or anything but congratulations when someone announces they are expecting again. I don’t recall God saying in Genesis “Be fruitful and multiply until the planet hits 10 billion then there will be too much CO2 and you will all perish.” There have been studies trying to determine what the carrying capacity of the planet is, and they are inconclusive. Humans are innovators; in God’s likeness we have a creative genius. So as in the past we’ve always been able to outpace energy and food demands for our population.  “He’s got the whole world in His hands” may sound like a naïve children’s song, but He’s got my trust. Don’t get me wrong, we try to do our part and then some for the planet, my husband drives an electric car, we have way more recycling and compost than we do garbage, etc. (Though I will confess as a working mom those crockpot liners had me at hello). My real concern is less for the planet and more for the souls of the corrupt who exploit the poor, and the souls of those who are consumed by selfishness. God gave me children to teach me to be less selfish and although I’m a slow learner I know lessons in love are things that all of humanity needs for salvation. Jesus Christ our Savior showed us how to give until it hurts, how to love so hard it draws blood. The poor make us uncomfortable, but as Pope Francis has said they are our passport to heaven.

The Most Powerful Force in Human History

40 Days for Life is in full swing! We are entering the home stretch with just 2 weeks left. In Meridian, Idaho we have some amazing and dedicated prayer warriors. We are so blessed to be part of a group committed to cooperating with God’s grace and changing lives. My husband and I do wonder, as all campaign leaders probably do, why don’t we have more prayer warriors?

Is it fear that holds people back? Stepping out of your comfort zone and praying in front of an abortion facility can be intimidating. I don’t think it is fear so much as a lack of faith in the power of prayer. Like me for so many years, I think people have bought into the lie that there isn’t anything one little person can do about the big problem of abortion. Do my prayers really make a difference? Do my sacrifices really matter?

Today is Saint John Paul the Great’s feast day (Oct 22nd). This is what he has to say about it,

“Prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history.” ~ Pope St. John Paul II

Yes, your prayers and your sacrifices matter! How does fasting or giving up hot showers help my prayers? Fasting bolsters prayer in two ways. First off every time you’re tempted to have what you’re fasting from, you are repeatedly bringing that intention into your consciousness and sending up a prayer. I frequently give up sweets and I’d be embarrassed to tell you how many times a day I think about consuming chocolate in it’s various forms. Secondly, fasting is an instrument of amplification for your prayers. So, if you have a prayer intention you really want to pray for, you deliberately attach a fast for that intention which adds strength to the prayer. For example, skip a meal for a friend or relative that is having surgery. This is also a form of solidarity since the patient likely is required to skip all meals before anesthesia. Your ensuing hunger adds wings to your prayers.

Those of us in the 40 Days for Life movement are believers in the importance of prayer and fasting because we’ve seen how those prayers have been answered. Hearts and minds have been transformed resulting in 13,593 lives that have been saved from abortion, 156 clinic workers have quit, and 90 abortion facilities have shut down in the last 10 years. And those are just the people we know about! There are countless others that we don’t know about. There are women on their way to their abortion appointment asking God for a sign. They come across ordinary citizens peacefully praying and realize, this is my sign; and instead of turning in they drive on by. How do we know these “drive bys” happen? Because clinics like Planned Parenthood report a dramatic increase in clients missing their appointments on the days there is a peaceful pro-life presence outside their doors. Former Texas PP director Abby Johnson cites a no-show rate as high as 70%. The lives we save but never know about are just as valuable as the lives we save and know about. 40 Days for Life is NOT a protest, but a prayer campaign focusing prayers like a high intensity laser beam on the target of ending abortion.

There are still two weeks left of the fall prayer campaign, so please join me in praying and fasting for an end to abortion. It will take a powerful force to change hearts and minds about abortion, but we cannot underestimate the great spiritual weapon we wield in our persistent prayers and sacrifices! It may seem like conquering the culture of death is akin to moving a mountain. But we all know what faith can do! Maybe you’ve gone slack in your fasting or never started, renew your efforts for the last two weeks! Participate from home or better yet join us on the sidewalk. www.40Daysforlife.com

I’d like to end with the prayer that the Angel of Portugal (aka Angel of Peace) taught the three shepherd children at Fatima over 100 years ago:

“My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love Thee! I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love Thee.”

Want more on prayer and fasting including seven examples from the Bible? Here’s a link “Why Should I Fast?

Find Your Own Calcutta

On September 5th the Catholic Church celebrated for the first time the feast of Saint Mother Teresa. It was also the 20th anniversary of her death. She was truly a holy and inspirational woman. The saints are our heroes, real life people with super strengths of courage, perseverance, and faith that moved mountains in ways rivaling those in the Marvel and DC Comics universe.

When there is danger, a fire or a flood, everyone flees for their lives. But the heroes, the firefighters, the first responders, etc run toward the fire, into the danger to rescue people. St. Mother Teresa -in St. Damien fashion- ran toward the lepers and other untouchables while everyone else turned their backs and ran away. She established communities for them and brought help, hope, and above all the dignity they desperately lacked.

The good and Godly efforts of Mother Teresa were not glamorous, but glorious. Glory to God the Giver. He gives life and He takes it way. All life comes from Him, made in His image and likeness, therefore all human life deserves dignity. St. Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity founded orphanages, schools, hospitals and more. But some of the most touching work was with those left in gutters to die. St. Mother Teresa sought out the dying homeless. She brought them to the make-shift hospitals, not to save their lives (for they were beyond being saved physically), but to honor them. Her gift was a death with dignity. Eye contact, holding hands, food and drink, reprieve from the heat, a bath, and a prayer are all simple gifts. Yet, they are all powerful acts of kindness for these lowly ones “caste” out into the streets to die forlorn in shame.

A journalist once commented to St. Mother Teresa that he wouldn’t do the work she does for a million dollars. Her response was “Neither would I.” Her heroic acts of charity attracted many people. Surprisingly, when folks offered to come to Calcutta to help her, she seldom accepted. Instead, what she proposed in her typical perfect wisdom was this five word response:

“Go Find Your Own Calcutta.”

In a few short weeks all across America and the world groups of ordinary people will rearrange their normal routine and make time for a special weekly hour of prayer. As part of “40 Days for Life,” men, women, and children will peacefully pray outside of abortion facilities like the one a few miles from my home in Meridian, Idaho. We pray simply for an end to abortion. We pray for those who have been duped by the devil and blinded by evil. We pray for the truth to prevail against the lies, for the scales to fall away from their eyes. The truths that too many women don’t know: their true beauty and worth for starters. Children aren’t the end of a dream, but a new beginning. In every abortion, something inside the mother dies. Women deserve better than abortion. There is help and there is hope and no one is alone. But as we implore the Lord to please change our hearts and minds and to keep us on a path towards Him and His peace, it is not enough. The parking lot is full. Young ladies go in, and they come out, but the life has literally been sucked out of them. We sometimes feel a failure. What would St. Mother Teresa say?

So prayer warriors find our “Calcutta” on the sidewalks of our towns and cities. And if we fail to save a life, we succeed in bringing it dignity. Although the abortionist and the mother may reject and deny the worthiness of these little lives, our presence is a witness to their value. Time spent participating in “40 Days for Life” is never wasted.

So will you join me in praying and fasting for an end to abortion for 40 days, Sept 27th – Nov 5th? You can pray and participate from home and/or from the sidewalk. Visit www.40daysforlife.com to find a vigil site near you or to sign up to receive daily devotions and stories. This grassroots movement has brought peace and saved over 13,000 lives from abortion since 2007. Is God calling you to find your own Calcutta? I know what you’re thinking, you couldn’t pay me to go out and pray in front of Planned Parenthood. Why would I run towards something so unpleasant? Let me tell you one reason why. Do it for the Glory of God the Giver of Life. Where “they” insult the Creator by labeling His most precious masterpiece of creation as medical waste, we exalt Him by giving the unborn a  simple gift, a death with a measure of dignity. St. Mother Teresa, heroine of our times, pray for us.

The seed for this blog was a talk by Shawn Carney, co-founder of 40 Days for Life. Thank you Shawn for your inspiration.

Top Ten Reasons to Use NFP

I recently saw a tote bag with the saying, “The struggle is real, but so is grace.” I immediately thought of NFP (Natural Family Planning). And so in honor of NFP Awareness week (July 23-29th) here is my top ten reasons to use NFP:

10) Money in the Bank

Obviously, this isn’t the #1 reason, but a penny saved is a penny earned and using NFP costs close to nothing. The only real expense is the cost of the classes to learn properly. (The exception is the Marquette Method which involves buying a Clear Blue Easy Fertility Monitor to track your luteinizing hormone (LH).The other three major methods Sympto-thermal, Billings, and Creighton, however are basically free).

9) Living Green

I don’t think anyone feels good about ingesting chemicals. It seems ridiculous that a bag of baby carrots even has an ingredients list, but it is affirming to read INGREDIENTS: CARROTS. However, other labels may have you telling your kids, “Be sure to say a prayer before eating that mac n’ cheese.”  Hormonal Birth Control methods use high levels of estrogen to override the natural hormonal cycle and mimic the only time a fertile woman’s body naturally doesn’t ovulate, which is pregnancy. Thus it makes sense that some of the common side effects are similar to those seen in pregnancy: moodiness, weight gain, breast tenderness.etc. Here is a link to the FDAs website where you can read, “It is rare, but some women will have blood clots, heart attacks, or strokes.” And what it doesn’t say is that can and have resulted in death. Just ask the families of Americans Ashley Lewis, Stephanie Rosfeld, or Zakiya Kennedy all young healthy girls that died due to blood clots related to the patch (link 2).

8) Clear Conscience

Consult any embryology textbook and you will see that the moment a sperm and egg join a new organism is formed with its own unique DNA and ability to grow and do all the things that “living things” do. Life begins at conception; God gives us life and a soul. The use of hormonal birth control can allow fertilization, but prevent implantation thus resulting in the death of a child in that early embryonic stage of development. After all, embryo, fetus, toddler, adolescent they are all terms used to characterize a stage of development of a human being. When you kill a caterpillar you also end the life of a butterfly.

7) Bun in the Oven

Knowing when you ovulate can increase your chances of conceiving when you want! NFP teachers can also look at your charts and identify problems. The Creighton Method is used by doctors who specialize in NaPro Technology to treat infertility without having to use IVF.

6) Effective

You don’t have to be an NFP teacher to not get pregnant using NFP. Mother Teresa taught NFP in India and in a study of 19,843 poor women the pregnancy rate was approaching zero! There have been studies done in Germany (800 couples) and China (10,000 couples) and like many other methods with “proper use” it is 99% effective. However, just like the pill (or other contraceptives) efficacy data you read that number is for a year. So 1% risk every year for 10 years = 10% chance of unexpected pregnancy with proper use. And like other forms of pregnancy prevention “actual use” numbers drop in effectiveness, for example in the Germany study of NFP this drops to 92%, condoms for example drop to 80% (varies by studies). We all know people who have had whoopsie pregnancies. I know people who have been surprised using NFP, the pill, condoms, IUDs (dangerous for baby when removed), Implanteon, and even 12 years post vasectomy.

5) Grace

The struggle is real, but so are the graces. NFP, if being used to prevent pregnancy, does require at times a heroic amount of restraint. However, this exercise in the virtue of chastity carries with it a spiritual good. Similar to fasting or voluntary poverty, it is the willful sacrifice of a good for a cause. I would recommend offering it up for the intention of your marriage and in reparation for past sins.

4) Personal Invitation to Christ

You’ve maybe heard sex referred to as “the marital embrace” or as a “renewal of our wedding vows.” The following is an illustration from Christopher West that really clarified for me the difference between naturally spacing your children, artificially preventing pregnancy. Imagine you are sending out wedding invitations, but there is someone you don’t want to come. What do you do? You don’t send them a DIS-invitation saying we’re getting married, but you’re NOT invited. God made men fertile 24/7, but not women. God made women with a natural cycle of fertile and infertile times. So when you utilize your times of infertility you invite Jesus to your wedding, which He appreciates, but He won’t be able to bring a gift. If you are fertile He RSVPs ‘yes’, and may or may not bring a “gift.” If you are contracepting you are disinviting Jesus; we don’t want your gifts, don’t come. Barrier methods may be desirable from a chemical and abortifacient standpoint, but they may be putting a barrier between you and God.

3) Strengthens Your Marriage

NFP users enjoy some of the lowest divorce rates (1-2%) Why is this? Commitment, communication, self-control, and being mindful of the other person are all essential elements of a strong marriage and are all similarly necessary and honed using NFP.

2) Cherished not Used

According to ChastityProject.com women often complain that contraception lowers their sense of worth. It makes sense. Women are not made to be like convenience stores open for business 24/7. St. Pope John Paul II, said “The opposite of love is not hate, but use.” Sex is made to be more than the casual, shallow, pleasure-driven past-time contraception fosters. It can become a slippery slope between the mutual self-giving it is supposed to be and not using each other.

1) Faithfulness to God’s Design

God designed sex to be a powerful procreative and unitive bond between two lovers. Our children are literally an incarnation of our love as spouses. That is why they are so beautiful! NFP never separates the power from the pleasure, the power to co-author with the Author of Life, to cooperate in grace and be led up the sometimes arduous path that leads to heaven. Integral to NFP done right is a continuous conversation with God. The idea is to take your desires and concerns to the Lord in conjugal prayer every month and discover what His plan is for your family.  And we all should do this even if we aren’t using NFP. In using NFP, our fertility is put in God’s hands and that is where it belongs.For more information on the “number one reason to use NFP” and in honor of NFP week I challenge you to read Humanae Vitae. It is a fairly short and easy to read encyclical describing why contraception is against God’s natural law and therefore the Catholic Church does not even have the authority to change its teaching. God is the Master and the Magisterium is the ministers.

“He will provide the way and the means, such as you could never have imagined. Leave it all to Him, let go of yourself, lose yourself on the cross, and you will find yourself entirely.”                       St. Catherine of Siena

July 26th is the feast day of Sts. Joachim and Anne patrons of married couples. Sts Joachim and Anne pray for ALL of our marriages.

A special thanks to Erika and Jeff Cowman who are certified NFP teachers here in Idaho and were recently on our Catholic Idaho segment Passionately Prolife. They are an inspiration to me and I hope this inspires you to share this or another pro-NFP blog in honor of NFP Awareness Week. This year’s theme is “It’s Time.” It’s time to speak up about NFP! Looking for another idea for NFP awareness week? Jeff recommends renewing your wedding vows, just remember to invite Jesus, but not me! You can hear our segment with Erika and Jeff the next two Tuesdays during the 6pm hour on Salt & Light Catholic Radio 1140AM or 102.3FM (they are also available in the archives).

Mother’s Day at Chuck E. Cheese?

Mother’s Day is a day dedicated to Moms everywhere. Can you imagine if you ended up at Chuck E. Cheese eating cardboard pizza? This idea would be welcomed by young children (particularly mine), however for one day a year it is not about them. As Catholics we are so fortunate to have the Mass. It saddens me though when I hear people say that they don’t “get anything out of it.” The celebration of Mass isn’t about GETTING, it is about GIVING. And typically the more we give, the more we participate, the more we get.

The focus of Sunday Mass is to WORSHIP God, in the way HE WANTS. And we know this is the way He wants because JESUS SHOWED US HOW, ie the Last Supper, the institution of the Eucharist- the source and summit of our faith. As much as we’d like to be entertained and taught, catechesis is not the primary focus of the Mass. I believe God designed the Mass for intimacy with Him. And it is that same deep intimacy that Moms cherish with our children on Mother’s Day.

Intimacy [in-tuh-muh-see] noun

“a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving

personal relationship with another person or group.”

The Catholic Church is not the only church that has the presence of God through the Holy Spirit. But what we have that Protestant churches don’t is the physical presence of God as well. (If you don’t believe me read a book on Eucharistic Miracles- your mind will be blown). When we go to Mass we go to the house of the Lord to spend time with Jesus. We go to offer Him ourselves as a gift, but honestly the only gift that is worthy of God is God. So as He instructed us through the priest we actually unite the small sacrifices we bring to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The priest re-presents Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist to God and invites us as Christ did to take and eat and drink. And as we consume Him, He consumes our hearts.

We worship on Sunday, the first day of the week, because we give praise and glory to God first. Just like we tithe based on our income before taxes, because we give to God first and then to the State. Sunday is the one day of the week it is not about us, it is about God and what He wants. He wants us. He wants us to come to His house and physically spend time with him and build a relationship AND build a community. He loves it when we bring sacrifices, He doesn’t need them, but like St. Therese of the Little Way demonstrated the small things we do for Him are like bringing Him flowers. And He is a God that will not be outdone in generosity. What do I mean by bringing sacrifices? Fasting before mass would be a prime example. One hour is a bare minimum, my husband and I typically fast all morning before 11 am mass (we are not a morning family). Sometimes just making it to Mass is a sacrifice. Living in Idaho, a state rich with natural beauty, summer Mass attendance tends to drop off. Is getting to Mass inconvenient? GREAT, the bigger the sacrifice to get there the bigger the gift you present to God. Do you find Mass boring? Is it painful, because you can’t understand the accent of the priest? SCORE a bigger sacrifice bears more spiritual fruit. And ideally this spiritual fruit will eventually reveal to you the beauty and power of the Mass so that you will no longer find it boring!

I was raised in the Catholic culture of never skipping Sunday mass. If we were out of town or out of state, not going was not an option. Can you imagine if God took a vacation from us?! One hour a week is a bare minimum. Do you think you could maintain an intimate relationship with your spouse if you only got to physically touch 1 hour a week? What if you missed two weeks or more? It would not take long before your relationship deteriorated and you would question if the intimacy you once had was even real.

Through the sacraments we are able to touch God and God is able to touch us. And although the purpose of the Mass isn’t to be entertained, inspired, or educated, many times that happens. I find that Mass fills me up, and without it I know I would be running on fumes. Don’t settle for the cardboard pizza when God has a standing reservation for you at the banquet.

Fr. Robert Barron in a reflection about the movie Arrival, said that the Bible is the words of God translated into the language of men. His implication is that words have their limits when it comes to communicating the divine (Word made Flesh).  I think it is like seeing things in only two-dimensions.

“However, with the help of the Church, grace through the sacraments and the Mass we can learn to see in 3D and things really start to pop UP.” ~Regular Joan

Experiencing God is 4D and so it takes all those things and the Holy Spirit to get beyond the point of only seeing in 2D. Sometimes, I know that I am only seeing things in 2D, I feel myself going through the motions in Mass or prayer and have to force my eyes to stay focused. And sometimes even then I don’t really see or feel God, but because I’ve seen Him before I know He’s there. The people who leave the Church leave because it always looked flat and felt flat. God reveals Himself, but we must seek; He laid down a banquet when He laid down His life, but we have to sit at the table and feed ourselves.

Wait a minute, if the purpose of Mass isn’t to be taught the faith, how do we gain the understanding to achieve “depth perception?” Don’t we all want to experience the Mass in its fullest glory? There is no one right answer, but this is my plug for Catholic Radio. You could read books- there are a lot of great books; The Bible and the Catechism are floating to the top of the list. The problem is you can’t drive and read, you can’t wash dishes, fold laundry, or exercise and read. Well, I can’t at least, Kathy Ineck might be able to, but you CAN do all those things and listen to Catholic Radio! Going to Mass is essential, but it is not enough. If you can make time to fit in all the spiritual reading you want you should. If you’ve had a copy of The Confessions of St. Augustine sitting on your bookshelf for 3 years and are juggling and struggling with a busy life- stop beating yourself up and tune in to [insert your local Catholic Radio Affiliate] Salt and Light Radio 102.3 FM or 1140 AM Boise. For me it has been a near effortless way to grow deeper in faith.

When life-or-death hard times hit our family a few years ago having a strong personal relationship with Jesus and his Church was a treasure beyond price. Christianity isn’t a nice philosophy or a set of morals it is a physical and spiritual bond between a living God and His children. Your mother knows you love her, but be sure at least one day of the year to show her. Adore her, tell her you’re sorry for “those times” growing up, and thank her in a way you know she would like. And may this outpouring of love for your mother illustrate how we must also offer to God our adoration, contrition, and thanksgiving in a way He appreciates by participating in the “greatest prayer” the celebration of the Mass.

PS. If you do feel Mass is a bit dry or 2D, here is a short article by Jeff Cavins that should wet your tongue and make it pop! http://rediscover.archspm.org/rediscover_news/greatest-prayer-church/

Handling Heartache-HLHS

This blog is dedicated to my 2 year-old son Ian who was diagnosed with HLHS in utero, and to the thousand parents that find out each year their child has HLHS (Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome). I put a FAQ section at the bottom with practical stuff.

When I found out our son had a broken heart, my heart broke too. Why did God allow life to put such a heavy cross on such a little boy? It’s not fair. But it is what it is, and we will do what we must. It is like running a marathon, but not knowing how many miles till the finish line having to push yourself to keep going. Currently, our son is doing awesome in every sense, and no one would guess what he’s been through.

This is me pregnant with Sebastian, our little heart hero, called Ian for short.

Did you just find out? Are you anxiously awaiting the arrival of your little heart warrior? I know how you’re feeling, I’ve been there. I want to offer you hope and encouragement. You are going to need to hunker down and muster up as much strength and courage as you can. Your heart warrior is going to be physically fighting for his/her life. You are going to be fighting an emotional/spiritual battle of your own. You will get overwhelmed and frustrated at times. It is going to be an intense roller coaster, kind of like one of those insane ones where it is pitch black and you don’t know when the drops or turns are coming! But you will be so proud of your little fighter! You will feel blessed to call him or her yours.

The good thing is, even though this is your first “ride” the medical team has been on this wild ride many times before and there aren’t many twists or turns they haven’t seen before. This is why it is important to go to a center where you have complete trust in their experience. When Scott (hubby) and I first found out, we spent weeks agonizing over the decisions regarding the how- Hybrid vs Norwood; and where- CHLA, Lucile Packard, Las Vegas, or Spokane (our cardiologist did not have any strong recommendations, but he did say if it was him, he would go to an elite program). We live in a state that does not have any pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons so we had to go out of state. I am an optometrist, so with my medical background I spent countless hours and evenings reading journal articles, taking notes about IQ, survival rates, ADHD, the Sano Shunt vs the BT shunt, etc. My husband read blogs and figured out how to get double coverage for the insurance and make sure we had access to Life Flight. We looked at the breakdown of the rankings and ratings of the US News & World Report for Pediatric Hospitals and Cardiac Surgery, http://health.usnews.com/best-hospitals/pediatric-rankings/cardiology-and-heart-surgery  and even called a few centers making inquiries about Interstage Programs (Interstage is the time between the Norwood and the Glenn- the first two stages of surgery, Interstage has the highest risk of death, in our program a nurse called weekly to check in and we monitored oxygen saturations 3x/day. This was a huge help as our local doctor was unsure why he had such saggy sats and he ended up on continuous oxygen, where the nurse from the big center suggested checking his hematocrit and if low to give him a blood transfusion. Turns out the blood transfusion worked wonders and he no longer required oxygen at home!)

Shortly after birth. Oh boy, what joy!

Every single heart warrior has a different journey. But I think unanimously every journey has some smooth places and some rough patches, REAL rough. When we first googled “HLHS” the first thing that popped up was an obituary of a 3 month-old girl from the town we lived in that had died a few months prior. In case we didn’t know it was serious. Ouch. I know nothing involving the particulars other than she went to the small center and was on the transplant list. What was helpful for us was not to focus on the all the negative “what ifs.” There are just too many of them. We avoided social media groups that sometimes tend to focus on all the struggles. We were able to get in touch with a few different families and talk to them. And received a care package from Sisters by Heart. We knew there was a chance he might not make it, but we didn’t see much merit in entertaining that line of thinking at this point.

The majority of kids make it. There are HLHSers that are in their mid 30s. Their IQ is typically in the normal range. I’ve seen a picture of an HLHSer that became a pediatric cardiac nurse, and a young man who got accepted into medical school. Everytime fear or panic would creep in we would try to remind ourselves to keep our eyes on the prize. Despite the rough patches we were getting one of God’s greatest gifts-a baby! And though these first few years would be so traumatic we’ll never forget them, luckily they are times he will never remember!

HLHS and loves life! 3mo

While we were in the hospital, I read an article about the keys to happiness. One point really resonated and that was to focus on what you have, and not to dwell on what you don’t have. Makes sense, I remember when learning my prayers as a child you first thank God for all the blessings in your life and then you ask Him for your petitions. We stayed at the Ronald McDonald House near the hospital. While there I met a dad whose son was born with 11 broken bones and would likely be a wheelchair-bound dwarf, it gave me a stronghold on perspective. There were also several families with children who had different sorts of deformities, some facial. And I think we all know people who struggle with infertility and how unimaginably hard that would be. My son is beautiful and whether God gives us days or decades we are going to count each day as a gift and learn to enjoy the moment! I strongly recommend “Welcome to Holland”http://www.our-kids.org/Archives/Holland.html a short essay that is so applicable. We didn’t pick this journey, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be full of beauty, joy, and laughter. We appreciate those things all the more because of the hardships we bore to get here. I heard a quote of Bear Wosniak today on the radio that said, “Life begins at the detour.” Seems fitting, since no one’s plans include something like HLHS. Like it or not you will never be the same and you will realize that you and you family are stronger and better because of it.

Yes, I am mostly like other kiddos and love to find mischief!

Sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom to really trust in the Rock. My husband and I have always been people of faith. But this experience brought us so much closer to God and each other, and I think that is why God allows such things. I have never been really afraid before our HLHS journey. Fear was just not a real thing to me, sure I worried plenty about tests and stressful work stuff, but I never knew anything that left me shaking with my stomach in such knots like this. Courage, of course isn’t that you are not afraid, but it is facing that fear. So I would try to punch it in the nose! I would scream-sing praise and worship songs if I felt like I was starting to despair. (Like this Lauren Daigle song) We put our trust 100% in God. We placed our whole family in God’s hands and had to walk by faith, not by sight. We had no idea how it would all work out, so many details. We have two older daughters we ended up being away from for almost a month with each of his two major surgeries. They stayed with my husband’s side for one stint and mine for the other. The girls handled it really well, they were 4 and 2, but once we were reunited you could tell emotions were running high. It was so hard for us to be away from them for so long! But when our son was hospitalized closer to home it was harder in many ways because it seemed like we were constantly having to tell them good-bye and tear ourselves away. It was easier for me to just stay with our son and for my husband to stay with our girls full-time and visit us, much less traumatic on everyone. It was really hard for me to be anywhere but the hospital when he was in the hospital, plus I was near constantly pumping. I even rented a hospital grade pump to keep my supply going as long as I could.

There are going to obstacles, but I hope that you are able to find like we did that when you give God your trust He gives you his peace. No one understands the pain of watching your son suffer like Mary, Jesus’ mother. So if you are in the practice of asking family and friends to pray for you, I would suggest that you also reach out to your Blessed Mother, she will offer her powerful prayers for you too! We have seen so many of God’s fingerprints throughout this journey. And although I wished we didn’t have quite so many twists and turns, God gave us a blessed assurance that He has a plan for our son’s life, not his death. I know all the prayers we received helped. We unashamedly asked friends and family members living and dead for prayers and for their whole church to pray too! One particularly rough time was when Ian came out of anesthesia not moving his left arm and barely his left leg and blind on the left side of his vision. It was scary not knowing if these stroke-like symptoms would resolve or not. But my husband kept his calm and could see so clearly that it did not matter. Our job is the same no matter what. If he comes home with an NG-tube, a g-tube, on continuous oxygen, or a hemiplegic our job is the same. Our job is to love that little boy 100% till death do us part. So we just poured our hearts out without reserve and always hoped for the best. I say it is okay to cry, tears are how our love manifests itself. If we didn’t care so much, the uncertainty wouldn’t tear at us so much.

Recent picture of Ian. His shirt says it all, these kids are AMAZING.

Lastly, a note on mental toughness. Sometimes when you don’t feel strong or brave, you act strong and brave, and without realizing it you actually become it. I brought make-up and jewelry and got dressed everyday in the hospital. Look good, feel good, right? I found this works with being nice too. I find that I like myself much more when I am nice to people, even though they may grate on my nerves eventually I find I do have genuine feelings of kindness without the effort it took in the beginning. Of course, there are so many well-meaning people that just plain say the wrong thing. And then there are the people that don’t know what to say, say nothing, and leave you wondering if they even care. Personally, there is no better place to be than in someone else’s prayers, so I think the best thing to say is that I’m praying for you all.

You can do it! You will persevere! Sometimes you get through one day or one hour at a time. You will cry tears of joy and tears of sorrow and worry. No one said it would be easy only that it would be worth it. But know that no matter what happens there is a God that loves you and your child more than anything, so lean on Him hard.  Lean on your family and friends. Lean on me! Leave your contact info in the comments and I will delete it before I approve the comment. By the way Ian did recover from his left-sided blindness and weakness a few days later! God is good.

Other blogs of mine you may enjoy: Sorting out Suffering, Praise God for the Sunshine

Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. Where did you deliver?
    1.  Although we initially assumed we would deliver down in LA (CHLA is where Ian had his surgeries) after discussing all the pros and cons with our cardiologist we decided to deliver in Boise and then life flight him to LA. From a medical standpoint it gave us the flexibility to change our minds about which hospital. For example, at Lucile Packard/Stanford they have surgeon renown for his work on preemies. Or if he had unforeseen complications with his lungs or something and we’d want to opt for the Hybrid instead we could go to Las Vegas or Spokane. Our cardiologist told us that the centers that are the best for the Norwood are not as well practiced for the Hybrid, and so if we wanted a Hybrid we’d want to go to a high volume Hybrid center. Practically,  delivering at home allowed us to stay local with our family (other children) and jobs for ~3 weeks on the front end, since we knew it would be about a month with surgery and recovery after birth. This also allowed big sisters to get to briefly meet him before we flew off. This was good for their little minds to understand why Mommy and Daddy had to go, and heaven forbid if we lost him they’d at least gotten to meet him. I was also able to keep my OB/GYN for my 3rd cesarean and he is so amazing (my recoveries have been cake compared to others). Ian’s birth was really special, I was able to have a few moments of “skin on skin” before he was whisked away to the NICU. Easily in my top 5 best moments of my life!
  2.  Where did you stay while he was in the hospital?
    1. One of the things we liked about CHLA was that they have an entire floor of heart kids with mostly private room accommodations. There is the CT-ICU (Cardio-thoracic Intensive Care Unit) and also the step down unit CV-Acute (cardio-vascular). The rooms have a bench that functions as a bed as well and a shared bathroom. The bench is really quite uncomfortable, and we really wanted to try to get good sleep to help ease our stress levels. So, initially we would stay with him till 11pm, but sleep at RMH then go back at between 7 and 8 am and he pretty much slept the whole time. Then as we were there longer we realized that the nurses are very attentive to his medical needs, but really are not disposed to do anything if he is crying unless it affects his vitals. We were kind of horrified that soothing a baby meant medication! So, we adjusted. We kept our room at the Ronald McDonald House ($25/night suggested donation if you don’t get financial assistance), and my husband and I alternated nights on the cot/bench and a real bed at RMH. That worked better, it kept us completely in the know at all times and able to soothe him.
  3.  How long was he in the hospital?
    1. We were told to expect a month long stay for the Norwood, but that it can widely vary. It is about 2 week recovery from the surgery and then another few weeks to establish feeding. Our little guy Ian, ended up needing a “shunt revision” where two weeks after his first surgery (Norwood) they did another surgery to replace his shunt with a bigger one. As a presumed side effect, his left vocal chord nerve was damaged, this put him at a high aspiration risk (inhaling milk into his lungs instead of stomach) so after swallow studies (a swallow study is where they have the baby drink a dye while taking a video with x-ray) he was restricted to only being tube fed. At 6 weeks old we discharged on an NG-tube and a little over a month later we had a g-tube put in. So sadly, our little guy was unable to nurse because of his aspiration risk. When he did get to drink by mouth (~4mo old) it was thickened with rice cereal. On a side note: We also had to cross a bridge where we had to decide whether we wanted a Nissan fundoplication, most of the local doctors were recommending it, but we did not feel like it was necessary, since he didn’t have any reflux issues and that would be another invasive surgery wrapping the top of his stomach around the bottom of his esophagus. He was too small for laproscopic and would have a scar from nape to navel. I did research again and we decided against it, but the team encouraged us to wait to be sure, so that is why we waited the month to get the g-tube -to be sure he didn’t have a reflux issue and really need the fundo. We are so happy the way things turned out. Every journey is different!
  4.   What did you wish you knew ahead of time that you didn’t?
    1. I had a young naïve nurse warn me about “delayed sternal closure.” I wish someone else had told me with more sensitivity to my feelings. Her timing and approach were terrible. It will be really hard to prepare yourself for what your little one will look like coming out of surgery. They look really rough, they have dozens of “lines” usually multiple IVs, drainage tubes (one for each lung and one for the sac around the heart). They will of course be intubated, generally through the nose, and then there are many many sensors. The oxygen numbers, “sats” for short, are some of the most important. But the most disturbing aspect is that in order to give the heart room to swell, because the swelling of injury to a muscle is delayed, it is standard procedure to leave the chest open post op. They will then sew together the sternum or breast bone and overlying skin several days later. They keep the babies very comfortable with some very strong pain meds, we rarely felt like Ian was in pain. Little by little the babies are weaned off of the support. We were finally able to hold him again after 5 or 6 days!
    2. I would recommend bringing things to decorate the room/bulletin board behind his/her bed. A lot of people had names in the window on little banners, etc. I didn’t have any good scrapbooking stuff, but made do! And although I thought I would spend downtime reading-it never really happened. It just took too much mentally to do that. So I found myself coloring pictures to send home to my 2 and 4 year old. Or buying colorful books and things off Amazon and shipping to RMH.
    3. Lastly, I never would have guessed how much I enjoyed having a CaringBridge page! One of the other HLHS families had used it to keep people informed. CaringBridge.org is a website that lets you enter journal entries and post pictures. This was critical to keep all our prayer warriors across the country informed. We had way more people than what I would have been friends with on Facebook or emailed easily. It was much less distracting than something like that, but could be easily share on social media too. People commented and followed along with his progress daily during the touchy times and even still I post updates and am humbled to hear how many still pray for him. No wonder he is doing so well! Search SebastIAN Naugle if you want to check out Ian’s page.

Feel free to comment anything! I know this got long, but I know when we were expecting, we really liked having as much information as possible.

Love and Prayers,

Emily Naugle

Lost Life, Lost Legacy

“Why do you think we haven’t had a woman as president yet?” First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton asked her guest over their lunch at the White House. The little woman sitting at table with Mrs. Clinton did not hesitate in her reply.“Because she has probably been aborted,” said Mother Teresa.(1)

Whether this story that was first brought to the public in 2009 is fact or fiction, the implications are still valid. I don’t think I was the only one who was pretty disappointed in our ultimate choices for president this past year. When you think about the millions of Americans that have been aborted (58 million) you have to wonder who or what are we missing? Presidents that would lead us, scientists that would cure us, innovators that would come up with that robot that will clean my whole house in one second (this is what my daughter thought I should ask Santa for! She saw no need to confine one’s wish list to things that currently exist, after all the elves can make anything, right!?)

Perhaps that is too dreamy. It is much more personal than that. In the book entitled, 40 Days for Life, authors Shawn Carney and David Bereit tell the true story of a man that kept vigil at his father’s deathbed. His father was overcome with emotion and gratitude for his eldest son’s presence.  The father went on to tell his son for the first time, the story of when his son was an unexpected pregnancy and how he took care of things- by convincing his mother to get an abortion. He dropped her off and that was that. But she had a change of heart and he did the honorable thing and married her not completely convinced this was the best decision. And there he lay at death’s door, none of his other children around, but his eldest. He was so sorry for his past weakness, but so thankful that his wife was so strong, and that she had been able to see what he couldn’t at the time.

That young man was a Knight of Columbus and spearheaded the “Knight Shift” of the very first “40 Days for Life” a 24-hours a day prayer vigil outside of Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas. After 7 years of peaceful vigils that location shut down and is one of 75 abortion centers that have closed in conjunction with 40 Days for Life prayer vigils over the past 10 years.

I have heard pro-choice advocates imply that a woman’s decision to kill her baby doesn’t affect anyone else. But to think that abortion only affects the child and mother simply can’t be true. Approximately every 30 seconds another American dies via abortion. That one was someone’s future husband, someone’s future teacher, someone’s future hospice nurse. As Pocahontas sang in the Colors of the Wind, “And we are all connected to each other, in a circle, in a hoop, that never ends. How high does the sycamore grow? If you cut it down, then you’ll never know.” Ah, I just watched the video on YouTube and it takes me back to childhood, fun fact did you know Mel Gibson is the voice of John Smith?

This year, I am once again honored to be able to participate in the Rose Procession at St. Mark’s Catholic Church. We try our best to find a person born in each year since the passage of Roe v Wade in 1973 to carry a rose single file to the front of the church as a tribute to the lives lost through abortion. The first year, I was struck by how personal it was.

“I felt like I was carrying that rose for a friend. A friend I never got to meet or know. She and I never got to meet for margaritas, we never got to train for a half marathon together, we never got to laugh over the long version of the story when Mommy tasted baby poop, or cry together in silence, but not the awkward kind.” ~Regular Joan

I honored her life by giving her a name (Sara Elaine) and I also honor her life annually ever since by simply walking with a rose for her on Sanctity of Life Sunday- January 22nd. But it isn’t just her that’s missing. It is her legacy. She would have likely had a husband and kids and someday grandkids; she would have made hundreds of ripples in the world, touching countless lives in ways unknown. This year I am helping to organize the procession, and a young mom asked if it is okay to have a toddler in arms. I of course said, “Yes.”  She represents the lives lost, and her child represents the millions of lost legacies.

Lives lost, that is a nice way to put it. Not entirely accurate though is it? In abortion the lives of the unborn are taken. Abortion is an evil act of murder if you don’t want to mince words. Of course this isn’t to imply that those who promote and participate in it are evil, they are just blinded by evil. They are the lost ones if you will, and the lost need our continued prayers and respectful dialogue.

Currently the Republicans (and a few pro-life democrats) in Congress are making moves to DEFUND Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion provider that receives $540 million dollars annually from taxpayers. It is stomach-turning to know that through my taxes I am forced to violate my conscience and support the intentional killing of our most innocent ones. When this legislature passes it will feel like the Cubs winning the World Series all over again. I may have to fly the ‘W’ flag to celebrate the win for religious freedom. The money is being reallocated to thousands of Federally Qualified Health Centers that will offer all the services that PP offers and more (except abortion). The American people won’t tolerate being forced to support abortion giants anymore. Especially, when those abortion giants give presidential candidates 30 million dollars. I think that is what was underestimated by the pundits in the Trump win- how many people care about the lives of the unborn, religious freedom and conscience rights.

I would like to close with a great little excerpt from Trent Horn’s book “Persuasive Pro-Life.”

“It’s fine to tolerate things that merely irritate us, such as a screaming baby on an airplane. Tolerance doesn’t mean approval, acceptance, or even indifference. To tolerate something means that we are willing to allow the thing that bothers us to exist. Tolerating a screaming baby on an airplane means that we won’t demand that the baby be moved to the cargo hold of the plane. While it’s okay to tolerate nuisances, it’s wrong to tolerate grave evils. We may tolerate a crying baby, but we should never tolerate a baby being molested by someone [or tortured].

If pro-lifers merely disliked abortion in the same way they dislike other nuisances, then it would make sense to tolerate abortion. This is the thinking behind the pro-choice slogan, ‘Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one!’ However, abortion is not a nuisance to be disliked but an act of evil that dismembers tiny human beings. It must be stopped. To pro-life advocates, this slogan is as silly as saying, ‘Don’t like slavery? Don’t have a slave! [But let me have mine]’.”

If you would like to organize a rose procession at your church or event let me know if I can help in any way. It really is a pretty simple, yet powerful tribute.

(1) http://www.crisismagazine.com/2016/marching-for-life-mother-teresa-and-mrs-clinton