Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Blunt Amendment Vote Tomorrow

Tomorrow, the Senate is voting on the Blunt Amendment, which basically carves out a better exception to Obama's "ridiculous paying for contraception mandate" for people and institutions that have a religious objections to paying for birth control, abortion and sterilizations.

Of course, the Senators who support this amendment are getting pounded for being "anti-women."

Honestly, it takes 15 seconds. Call the Senate switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to get transferred to your State's Senator. All you have to do is say "vote Yes for to the Blunt Amendment" and give your address to prove you are a legitimate state voter.

For those of you in West Virginia, it is especially important to call. Our Senator is a pro-life Democrat who is co-sponsoring the bill. Of course, his party is on him so there is some question about him voting an "objection vote" rather than a straight "Yes" tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Life with the Benjamins

This weekend Tess got booted out of the one, nice, new regulation approved crib we have in our room. I still put her down to sleep at night in her crib, but later at night Jon now moves her to the new "big girl bed" in her older sisters' room. At 5:30 AM this morning she woke up screaming. I got her settled down in my bed and tried to ignore her loving pats on my head for the next hour. At 7 AM, I wake up and there is no sign of Tess. I call her name, there is no answer. I started to look all around the house.

Finally, I find her on top of the dog! Both of them were sound asleep. I can't believe our little English Cockerspanial was kind enough to let her use him as a pillow. I joked with Jon that Tess traded me in "for a better roommate" this morning!
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Clothing the Naked Part II

Baby Clare's drawer after Miss Tharen's visit! (And these are just the newborn size clothes). Charity rocks!
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Clothing the Naked

Baby Clare's clothes drawer before Miss Tharen's visit.
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Happy Ash Wednesday!

May we all draw closer to the Lord during this time of prayer and penance!

Baptism News

The only good thing about getting your Lenten baby "frozen" out of an immediate baptism, is that you get to baptize her on Easter Sunday! Hurrah!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Thank you Miss Tharen!

Best thing about the NICU is the lasting friendships formed in the heat of suffering. Here are two "Children's Hospital" roomates, happy and healthy one year later. Thank you so much for all of your prayers, Baby Skylar is doing great! Amazing to see such a happy, social baby who was born at only 26 weeks gestation. Miss Sky is up for a second coclear implant (what I like to affectionately call her "robot ear") on March 7. Please keep her in your prayers.

I have to joke that Miss Sky, who spent the better part of her first year completely deaf is way more talkative and far more social than my shy daughter, Tess. You've got a bright future ahead of you Miss Sky! So honored to be able to watch you grow!
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A One Woman Baby Shower!

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Getting Ready for Baby

New stickers for the minivan!
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All Things Baby

1. So I'm having a baby in four weeks (or sooner). They set the date for my c-section on March 21. I walked around completely stunned for two days. It was like I just found out that I was pregnant again. I don't know why pregnancy can be sort of vague when your carrying a gigantic belly with something moving inside. Yet the news that around March 23 we will be (hopefully) driving home with a real, live newborn in the backseat of my van sort of flipped me out.

How is a fifth kid going to fit in my life? Where is she going to sleep? (Tess is currently hogging Baby Clare's crib.) How can she nap with four noisy, rowdy kids in a small house?  Exactly how am I going to carry this small bundle of joy to soccer lessons and swimming lessons without bursting into tears? Or can I just force everyone to stay inside for the next 12 weeks?

I'm happy to say that I'm back to my usual Carmelite response of "Whatever, Lord! You've got me this far. You are going to have to get me the next few moments forward, too!" I think that is a little healthier for my sanity than trying to carefully plan out "that which can have no plan"-- a new baby!

2. I'm finally more chill that we might have to go to the NICU again. The fact that I know we honestly can't know how the c-section, hospital stay, or timing of our final release date is finally okay with my heart. I feel like God has a specific plan for Baby Clare's entrance into the world. His ways are not my ways, but His ways are very good. I can't believe I'm this calm 17 months after Baby Tessy's dramatic "nose dive towards death" and I attribute my unnatural calmness all to His grace!

3. We have Godparents!  Hurrah! They even seem genuinely glad to have the role! For a pair of converts, finding Godparents is such a struggle. We've exhausted the few family members who have tenuous ties to the Catholic Church. Every Catholic long term friend we've known since college could not even pass the "get a friendly letter from your pastor" test.  We've moved states with every child-- so developing strong friendships in our parish is a challenge. I can't even talk about Tessy's godparent situation because it was totally traumatizing. (Basically we got dumped when she got sick and a hospital Nun had to jump in to serve as her Godmother for life. Thank you, Sister Kathy!)

This time Jon was like "Do we even need to have Godparents?" "Yes!" I answered. So I'm happy to share that God always provides for all necessities, even Godparents! (And if anyone wants to start a prayer club for those newbie Catholics who are trying to have a lot of children while completely lacking a ready pool of Godparents, I'm in.)

4. One of my dear NICU friends visited us on Sunday and brought baskets and baskets of baby girl clothes! We got toys, a thoughtful hospital toiletries baby, and a giant food basket! We are so blessed! I have to show a picture of Baby Clare's pitiful almost empty drawer before and after Tharen's visit.

5. I honestly have NOTHING for Baby Clare--which is hilarious because she is my fourth girl in eight years. All I can say is secondary infertility sucks. Miss Tess took 3 1/2 years to arrive. I threw everything away from my third child, Maria because I was tired of crying every time I saw the unused high chair in our hall closet. Then Miss Tess didn't really have anything either because we were so stressed about her NICU bills. It was hard to justify buying her cute things at Target when there was the giant unknown amount of medical bills hanging over our heads for 10 months. Then we moved this summer! So I donated the few things Tess had to Goodwill because "I'm old, infertile, and we're not going to need any baby stuff for a while, right?"

So truly, Miss Tharen's gifts are "clothing the naked!" Very appreciated.

Otherwise, I'm trying to have a true Carmelite baby and do things on a minimal level. I've got a crib, a carseat, and a couple of new pacifiers.I'll keep you posted on how raising a baby in America "minus all the stuff" goes.

6. I love my husband! He gets sweeter with every new baby!

7. My four year old has suddenly decided that we are ultimately going to have 10 kids. My eight year old joined in on her enthusiasm. I started shouting "we are NOT going to talk about this right now. I'm sure my heart will change after the birth, but for this second, while I'm 35 weeks pregnant we are going to PRETEND that there is at least a possibility that this could be my last time in this much pain!"

Without skipping a beat, my Hannah says "can we at least talk adoptions then, Mom? The next five could be all be adopted!'

8. My ob specialist has challenged us to go early with this baby. (I was two weeks overdue and had to get induced with Hannah. I've never been remotely close to birth with every other baby before the c-section at 38 or 39 weeks.) I'm not sure it makes sense since I'm 90 miles away from my hospital, but I'm hoping to go early with this baby. I bought her a little St. Patrick's Day hat just in case!

9. Did I tell you that I'm 90 miles away from the hospital???? Thanks to Obama's health plan, maternity coverage is now "optional" for all private insurance carriers. There is not ONE SINGLE insurance company that covers maternity care in my new state of West Virginia. (I guess Medcaid picks up the bill after a 12 week waiting period). So we elected to continue our old health plan after the move and drive over an hour to the doctor. Baby Clare will be born at the same Maryland Catholic Hospital as her two older sisters. (Which might not be there next year--but I have to say, they've asked me about tubal ligation and harassed me about birth control during each and every birth so the word "Catholic hospital" is a little loose).

10. Have a blessed and holy Ash Wednesday tomorrow!

My Lent

After chatting for fifteen minutes about how my husband plans to give up coffee this Lent, I asked him "So what do you think I should give up?"

He's driving our car. He takes his eyes off the road, turns to me, and whispers very quietly "Perhaps we should both give up complaining."


I'm having a baby in four weeks.

I have to get through the end stages of pregnancy, child birth, reintroduce nursing AND restart sleepless nights for the next six weeks without complaining?????

Boy, does my husband know how to throw down the gauntlet or what?

I think I'm going to take him up on the challenge.

I'm totally expecting to fail multiple times each and every day of Lent. Yet nothing is impossible for those who have God, right? :-)

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Man for All Seasons - An Inquiry

If you're feeling remotely discouraged about this attack on our Mother Church, please watch "A Man of All Seasons" this weekend. It's on instant Netflicks and also on You Tube. St. Thomas Moore is the saint for this hour. He chose his Catholic Faith over his friendship with Henry the 8th and joked on his way to be executed. It's unbelievable that he and Archbishop John Fischer-were IT for supporters of the Pope in medieval England. Everyone else (including the clergy) approved of a sham marriage for the higher good of "avoiding an English Civil War." Hope you feel inspired and encouraged after this Oscar winning movie.

Steven Curtis Chapman - Do Everything

A song to help you bring more joy to your little, hidden day!

Bring It, Pres. Obama. Bring it!

I've read many excellent and heartfelt op eds on the recent assault on religious liberty by President Obama. But I've got a bone to pick with all of you loyal, faithful Catholic bloggers out there. I haven't heard anything about responding to these attacks on our Mother Church with "joy"!

Our Lord said specifically "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you and defame you on the account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven." (Luke 6: 22).

I don't pretend to know how to do this myself. I'm the blushing girl trying to hide my huge pregnant belly behind a soccer bleacher every time someone comments on my large family of six. (I actually have a family of seven).

But I know that joy works. Because Mother Teresa said "joy is the net which catches souls." I've been caught in that net. I don't know if you've ever been blessed to run into one of the Sister of the Virgin of Matara, but there laughter is infectious! Or if you even heard a priest say the Mass with his eyes shining with joy at the Eucharist and suddenly felt "Wow, this is totally real!"


Joy is something the other side doesn't have.

They think they have sex (which they don't), and have more money to buy lots of shiny things from Target (which is worthless on your deathbed), and happiness from sharing cocktails late at night with members of the opposite sex (which isn't really love or happiness).

But the Devil can not counterfeit JOY!

Joy a direct gift from the Holy Spirit.

I absolutely think we need to pray hard about this assault on our Faith, follow all the directions of our dear Bishops, write letters to our congressmen, protest in every possible and embark on civil disobedience.
But we can't be solemn or discouraged or hateful when we do this.

And the best thing to sock it to the Devil's face over this messy HHS issue is to go about our humble daily duties with JOY in our hearts.

Thank you God for trusting us to stand fast during this time of persecution. We pray with Queen Ester and with Judith and with Susanna. We pray with St. Thomas Moore and ask all the martyrs in heaven to loan us their strength and their joy.

Starting With The Girl in the Mirror

Somehow Whitney Houston's recent death makes me miss Michael Jackson even more. This song always makes me cry. I loved it as an elementary school student. I didn't know at the time that this strong affection for the lyrics "if you want to make the world a better place, better start with yourself and make the change!" meant that I was already marked as a Carmelite.

I didn't really internalize this truth as a young adult. As a "do gooder" Democrat, I spend so much of my life running around, trying to make the world a better place with social programs. I spent so much of my twenties feeling frustrated, burned out and unhappy.

Now it's such a profound realization to know that peace in the larger world always starts with peace in my own heart, my peace with God.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

He's Good!

Four years ago I posted this sign on my prayer alter.

"Jesus, if you want me, I cost $108,208.53."*

I knew in my heart that Jesus wanted me to be a stay at home mother. I knew he wanted me to be prepared to home-school a future nun (my oldest daughter) up to the 12th grade. I knew he wanted me to be a hidden Carmelite devoted to prayer. And I knew, that as an adult convert, Jesus wanted my full attention to be on  reestablishing a strong family culture of Catholicism in my home.


I had these massive, massive student loans. The vast majority ($104,000) of my loans were from a Federal Program called Sallie Mae. These were my "nice loans." There are a lot of deferments and protections available in this program. Then I had my private loans. They were horrible! I'd already used up my "forebarance time". If I was sixty seconds late in a payment, they would call my house twice a day until I caught up. (Once they went so far as to scare me with "default" over a mistaken underpayment of $10!)

There were so many times as a young stay-at-home mother that I truly thought I was going to have to get a part time job at Target just to come up with the extra $250 a month to pay off my private student loans.

God bless my husband who kept trying to reason with me that taking a late night or weekend shift at Target while being pregnant and/or breastfeeding 3 new babies in four years was not a good idea.

Being of stubborn heart, I didn't listen to him!

I had to pay these loans back, right? It was my duty!

So then my husband tried another tactic. (My love is filled with wisdom of the Holy Spirit!) He kept telling me "We're okay this month. We might run into trouble next month and you might have to get a part-time job in the future. But as for right now, we're okay! We can pay your loan." And I'd reluctantly agree to drop the "help wanted" section of newspaper and go back to cooking meatloaf.

I wasn't sure how in heaven we were going to keep being okay with my lovely contribution of "giant debt/zero income". So I turned it over to prayer. Every time I got scared of our poor financial outlook, I'd kneel by my homemade sign and say "If you want me Jesus, you're going to have to pay it off. I cost  $108,208.53!"

It's so amazing. I never, ever saw a "grand plan", but step-by-step Jesus handed me the financial ability to pay off my student loans. Thanks to a new government plan the reduces your student loan payment based on income and family size, my gigantic $104,000 Sallie Mae loan will cost my family $40 a month for the next 20 years.  Afterwards, all the remaining debt is forgiven. What a blessing!

Today, without any tricks or special favors, I paid American Education Services $213.08. With that payment, I'm finished paying off the last of my "nasty" private student loans forever!

He's good that Jesus! He's good!

Loving Jesus, you want our hearts to rest in you. Help us smooth out whatever wrinkles keep us from embracing our vocation, including those evil student loans.Please give special peace to those future nuns, monks, and priests who worry about paying off their student loan debt before entering into your service.

* I wanted to add that the whole time I was in "panic debt mode" I wanted Jesus to just hand me $108,000 in ready cash so that I could pay off my student loans before committing to being a full-time, unpaid, stay-at-home mother. He didn't do that. Now I see some of that wisdom. I had to depend on my husband to come up with the money out of his, I mean, our paycheck. That inter-dependence was so healing for my marriage.
The extra burden that we had from our student loans (my hubby's is almost as awful as mine) forced us to be Carmelites that are poor in fact, as well as poor in spirit. If you haven't tried voluntary poverty for the Lord--it is super cool! There are so many countless spiritual benefits.
Finally, it's good to through the whole Suze Ormond over-planning thing out the window if you want to go on this Catholic adventure with our Lord. We're called to be prudent. Yet we're also called to step out in faith. I found that this balance often means, "I'm in the black for this month, but I have no idea how we're going to stay there one, three, or six months from now." But the Lord always provides! Either some unexpected money comes in or some threatened bill goes away.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy St Valentine's Day

My husband went to Mass today* and the priest said "instead of buying your valentine candy or flowers today, say a prayer to St. Valentine for them!"

Done, honey!

Last night Jon brought home flowers and chocolate for me. He also had Valentine's heart pez dispensers for our oldest three kids. He passed out the treats. Then Miss Tess got up next to him with the saddest eyes. He hadn't realized at 17 months old that she would be totally conscious about being left out of his treat exchange. He knelt down, gave her a huge hug and said "Tess, I will never forget you again!"

I teased him that he right now had four women to please on Valentine's Day. Next year, (God willing) he'll have five! What a sweet job to be a loving husband and a father.

St. Valentine, patron of happy marriages, pray for us!

* Yes, I know this saint's day no longer technically on the Mass Calendar.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

I Am Wonderfully and Fearfully Made

Everyone has a cross that is perfectly fitted to her back. Mine is multiple c-sections. I've got Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) which means that common worries such as breaking down on D.C's Outer-Loop or over-drawing my checking account can sometimes cause me to experience panic attacks. But nothing, nothing causes the blood to freeze in my veins like surgery.

So what does our great God do, He hands me a body that can only eject my pretty, happy babies through C-sections. Multiple, multiple c-sections.

Oh, and for good measure, He throws me into an intense anti-life time in America where most secular MDs are completely freaked out by multiple child-birth, much less multiple c-sections, and casually throw out helpful comments like "don't you know the maternal death statistics for women with your c-section history?" without bothering to review my medical chart.

Those type of random, shot from the hip, comments from visiting obs who have no formal connection to my life are just guaranteed to set off all the panic buttons in my mind. And I always seem to run into these "helpful" second guessing doctors at the weakest times of my psyche.

This time (at number 5!) I was determined to be strong. Thanks to Baby Tessy's dramatic experience in the NICU, I found out how surgeons really talk when "death is one the line." The talk about my newborn's risk of death during her necessary, life-saving surgery was calm, and smooth, and intense, and sweet. Nothing like the "Girl, you are so STUPID for using your uterus again" rant that I got from the "I've got fake concern for your health" obs that I sometimes run into on the multiple c-section question.

All the same, when my OB referred me to a specialist to take an extra hard look my unborn Baby Clare's placenta, I found myself getting some butterflies. The referral talk had some scary parts to it. I got a little scared. I prayed. I asked my husband to come to the appointment with me. I tried to steel myself to experience the worse.

Instead, this amazing doctor walked into our sonogram appointment.

"I'm sorry for wasting your time today," he said right away as he shook my husband's hand and then my own. Wasting our time?

Together the three of us marveled over these beautiful images. We could see Baby Clare's big head and a dark expanse of empty space above her. The was no sign of the worrisome placenta. Instead, the doctor flipped to another image. At the very top of my uterus, as far as possible away from my c-section scar, was the placenta. It looked clean and well-divided, as firm as a line in the sand. There was no sign that it was dangerously creeping past the uterine wall into trouble inside my body.

Then this amazingly kind, competent doctor showed me my c-section scar. It didn't looked hacked up or mutilated. It didn't look like there had been four previous surgeries on that same site. It was a tiny, single line--as thin as a small crack in a robin's egg.

It was as if God knew when he kick-started my little girl's life that her placenta needed to be planted as far as possible from my c-section scar. And when He created my uterus, back when I was as small as a pin in my own Mama's womb, He'd given that organ an extra measure of His healing grace.

I'm used to cooing over God's wonderful creative powers as reflected in each of my newborn's amazing bodies. This was the first time, however, I could see firsthand His healing grace reflected in my own.

Why I Love My Husband, Part IX

I'm used to thinking of my husband as my best friend, my red hot lover, and my hero who walks in the front door at 7 PM every night and convinces our four rowdy kids to go to bed. I'm not used to thinking of him as "my spiritual helpmate."  Yet that is exactly what he is to me. Sometimes I'm amazing how his insights are "spot-on" for clearing out whatever knots I've currently tied my spiritual life into. "Wow, he's good!" I often say. Then I remember the Holy Spirit is always helping him, help me.

There are many beautiful words that can describe my sacramental marriage to Jon Benjamin, but "a spiritual friendship" is one of the sweetest!

Just for Today, Please Stop the Obama Bashing on Facebook

Let me tell you a story. When I was three months old, my maternal grandmother carried me to her Methodist Church to get baptized over the objections of my hippie, "God is everywhere, we don't need to go to Church to find him" parents. My other grandmother sent the antique family baptismal gown for me to wear during my ceremony. No matter what the fads were during the early 1970s, my two grandmothers were united in one firm conviction. Their beloved granddaughter was going to get an old fashioned head dunking in a "real" church as soon as possible.

 I have done an absolutely miserable job of keeping my baptismal garment spot-less until my death (praise God for the restorative powers of Confession). Yet even if I was more pure of heart from the get-go, I would NEVER, ever be able to repay those two women for the priceless gift they gave me. Just like the baby Jesus, a woman carried me up to my Father's Temple when I was a mere infant and dedicated me to God. I lived the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in real life, as did many of my readers.

 Now contrast my story with President Obama. From all appearances his Kansas Mom and his Kansas Grandma did an awesome job raising him. The guy ended up as the first African-American head of the Harvard Law Review. He's in a solid marriage, has two wonderful girls, and he's currently President of the United States of America. From what I've been able to piece together, however, it appears that there is one thing they omitted. He didn't get baptized as a kid.

 We have a strong fight with the Obama administration's recent ruling that Catholic institutions must pay for birth control pills, abortions and sterilizations. While we must support our Bishops, write our outraged letters to Congress, and pray fervent prayers to Saint Micheal the Archangel, we also need to remember one crucial fact. Our fight is not with President Obama. Our fight is with the Devil. That tricky, mean-spirited Devil who often paints black as white and can easily mislead boatloads of people away from God's glorious Truth.

 So during all our intense activity let us remember the virtue of humility. Most of us got graced with infant baptism. We didn't become Christians because of our own efforts. We were carried to Christ in a faithful woman's arms.  Let us have compassion on those who didn't get that favor. On this Feast of the Presentation, let us truly pray for our enemies. Let us pray that the Illumination of Christ comes to enlighten all minds, our own minds and President Obama's mind too.

Mother Mary, pray for us. Pray for President Obama to become one of your beloved sons, fashioned in the image and likeness of your dear Jesus.