God With Us, Part II: The Healing

God with us 2

Click here to read Part I.

I said in my last post that my family’s healing came through no merit or action of my own, but I suppose the truth is a little more nuanced than that. It is absolutely true that healing is not earned, and it is also true that it was not my own doing that brought it about. Christ is the doer. However, I did try to be open to healing if that was what God willed for us at this time.

Just as a woman must try to relax her body and allow the contractions for birth to come more quickly, so in healing and in all the invitations God sends to us to come into our lives, I believe God asks for our yes. Scripture recounts the story of Jesus visiting his hometown of Nazareth. There everyone knows Him as the carpenter’s son and saw Him grow up and they take offense at His preaching and His wisdom. The Gospel of Mark says, “So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there […]” (Mark 6:5a). It doesn’t say that Jesus would not perform any mighty deed because of their lack of faith; rather, it says He could not. Could it be that the God of the Universe stoops down to ask our permission to act in our lives?

But I should back up.

The healing itself happened on a Saturday in Lent. My diocese had decided to offer a number of healing masses in the area with Bishop David Ricken and Father Ubald, a priest from Rwanda known for gifts of healing.

On the day of the mass, my three daughters and I got into our van and set out to the church. Father Ubald’s masses have the reputation of being quite lengthy, so I opted to have then two-year-old Mateo stay home with his dad. Also, my son was born while we were transitioning to the GAPS diet, so he has had a pretty excellent diet from the beginning and has no known health issues.

On the way, my daughters and I talked. I wanted them to trust that Jesus could heal us, but I also didn’t want them to be disappointed or lack faith if that wasn’t God’s will for us at this time. I don’t believe that God wills suffering, as suffering and death entered the world with sin and was not part of God’s original plan. On the other hand, God can use suffering to bring about amazing transformations in us. Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity said that when we are suffering we should think of how God is increasing the capacity of our soul, making it infinite, indeed, in order to hold He Who is infinite. In our fallen state, suffering can be the antidote against selfishness that we need. “As the angel Gabriel told Mary at the Annunciation,” I told my daughters, “nothing is impossible with God. God has the power to heal us, so we should have faith that He can. But no matter what happens, we should know that God loves us so much and wants what is in our best interests.”

When we arrived at St Gabriel’s church, both large parking lots were filled, and cars were lining the streets. My heart kind of sank. “There probably won’t even be room for us in the body of the church,” I thought. With the assurance that everything was in God’s hands, we got out of our van and walked toward the church. Once we entered, an usher saw me and my brood and motioned for us to come forward. So we went up to him and he led us to the very front row. Four spots right there as if they had been reserved for us. I tried not to read into it too much, but part of me was thinking, “This is a really good sign! Maybe we are going to be healed!” I didn’t want to be presumptuous, but I also didn’t want to doubt, so I knelt in the pew probably over-complicating things with my inner dialogue trying to figure out the balance of trusting that we could be healed without presuming that we would be, while also trying to be humble enough to let God act as He saw fit.

clouds

The mass lasted two hours, but the children did marvelously. The six year old was sort of at her wits end by the conclusion of mass, but I explained to her what would happen next and she seemed interested in that and calmed down. Being in the front row where we could see everything certainly helped. During the homily, Father Ubald told us of his experience surviving the Rwandan genocide, but also of the fact that his parents, most family members, and tens of thousands of his parishioners didn’t survive. He believes real healing can only come with forgiveness, and he spoke of his process of forgiving those who killed his family members. He also told us of the time that he met the man who murdered his mother and speaking to this man and forgiving him. When he preached forgiveness, he spoke with the authority of one who has himself forgiven in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

When mass ended, the Eucharist was exposed on the altar and placed in the receptacle. Father Ubald guided us through his process to help open ourselves to the healing of Christ.

The first step to open ourselves is to have faith, and we are helped in this when we take time to recognize and be grateful for all the gifts that God has already given us.

The second step is forgiveness. Father Ubald believes that lack of forgiveness is the greatest block to healing. So he asks us to offer forgiveness to anyone who has wronged us and to ask forgiveness of those we have harmed. Forgiveness is hard, but we need to ask for the grace to forgive.

The third step is to renounce evil and take authority in Jesus’ name.  For example, a person struggling with feelings of bitterness and resentment could say “In the name of Jesus I renounce the spirit of bitterness and I command you to leave. In the name of Jesus, get out.”

The fourth step is to make a decision to change one’s life and to decide what one will do to live for Jesus. This should be a concrete, actionable step. Our culture acts as though happiness comes when one has accomplished his or her life goals and the circumstances of one’s life is ordered to one’s own preferences and liking. The Church reminds us, however, that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and that “This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium Et Spes, § 24). I believe the gifts that we receive in life are not meant simply for our own enjoyment, but rather we are to act as a reservoir, letting whatever we have been given overflow to benefit others.

After this, Father Ubald took the monstrance, carefully descended the steps, and walked directly over to me where he paused for a few moments. Then he continued on to process through the crowd, pausing every now and again. When this was finished, the Eucharist was placed back on the altar, and Father Ubald went to the podium. Father is not completely comfortable speaking English, so when he wants to speak off the cuff, without having to translate his thoughts into English, he will speak in French. A French-English interpreter went to the podium and Father Ubald stood aside and just seemed to enter into himself. After a moment, he began to speak quietly to the interpreter. “There is a woman here who has a lump in her left breast,” said the interpreter into the mic, “Jesus has healed you. Several people are praying for healing from their Parkinson’s. Jesus has healed you.” This continued for quite some time, perhaps half an hour or more. Father would pause, then tell the interpreter of several healings that had taken place. Some healings were physical, some spiritual, some emotional or relational. “There are several people here praying for healing of their food allergies,” said the interpreter toward the end, “Jesus has healed you.”

I looked at my children, and they looked at me with excitement.

On our way home I was filled with hope. I was also filled with questions. “There are several people here praying for healing of their food allergies. Jesus has healed you,” the interpreter had said. That crowd was pretty big. How was I to know how many people there could have been praying for the same thing? Was everyone who was praying for the same thing healed? Were just some of us? Was I one of them? My children? I mean, how does this miraculous healing thing work, exactly? So despite my excitement and hope, I was still trying not to get my hopes up too much, but also trying not not to get my hopes up because maybe that wasn’t trusting. My daughter Eva in particular was simply happy. She couldn’t wait to eat a variety of foods without feeling sick.

Later that evening, my husband (who is agnostic) said to me, “So, Eva is convinced that she’s been healed and she wants me to buy her some ice cream when I go grocery shopping tomorrow.” “Buy her some ice cream, then,” I said. What was the point of going to ask for healing, if, when it comes, we don’t believe that we were healed and so we continued to avoid all allergens the same as before? “If she hasn’t been healed,” I said, “we will know soon enough, because she WILL have an eczema flare up otherwise.” I made a new grocery list. I wanted to continue to eat healthy because I didn’t want to be given the gift of healing, only to ruin our health again by eating poorly, but oh, was I excited about the variety of foods we could eat. We would even be able to eat grains again! (In moderation and properly prepared, of course.) I bought a cookbook based on the Weston A Price diet, which takes into consideration the wisdom of many traditional cultures that ate quality, high-fat diets, with properly prepared grains, nuts, and vegetables, and a wide variety of whole, natural, unprocessed foods. In my opinion, this is the diet humans probably should eat, but if their gut has been damaged, they need the stricter GAPS diet (or something similar) to heal it before they can enjoy the variety.

For myself, avoiding my food sensitivities without cheating was my Lenten practice. So whether I was healed or not, I felt I should continue avoiding my allergens through Lent. We could, however, incorporate back into our diet all the things that Eva couldn’t eat previously, and that alone was heavenly. For some weeks, I would check the inside of her elbows and her knees for dry, itchy eczema flare ups, but they didn’t come. She ate whatever and didn’t feel sick, didn’t get rundown, didn’t look grey and pasty. Her cheeks kept their healthy, rosy glow and she stayed healthy.

Kids at library
A pic of the three youngest on our travels this summer.

After a few weeks went by, I read to the children the story of the 10 lepers who were healed. All ten were healed, but only one returned to give thanks. I said I wanted to be like the one who gave thanks, so we should be thinking about what we can do to say thank you for our healing. I also read them the story of Peter’s mother-in-law who was healed. She was healed of her fever, and then she arose and waited on them. I told them that when we are healed, like all gifts from God, He gives them not just for our benefit, but for others as well. We are healed for service. So I asked them to think of ways that God might be asking us to be of service to others.

After some praying and researching, I came across the “gratitude rosary”. I had never heard of it before, but basically, for every ‘Hail Mary’ bead, one says one thing they are grateful for. So for each gratitude rosary, one comes up with 50 things for which they feel gratitude. Many people have said it transformed their lives because it trained them to see all the good things in life instead of just focusing on the negative things, because people generally start by saying the big things they are grateful for—family, children, maybe some possessions, but before the end they have to get creative and really pay attention to the many small things that would have gone unnoticed to them before. So the children and I decided to do a novena of gratitude rosaries in thanksgiving. Sure enough, it forced us to see and express gratitude for many of the things that we were taking for granted, like, for example, not having our arms or legs amputated (in the words of my 12 year old daughter)!

Easter arrived, and oh, I celebrated and ate all the things for 50 days. And guess what? I didn’t get itchy, or belchy, or nauseous. I felt fine. Like I said, we still try to eat wholesome, nourishing food. But life gets busy, and so sometimes we go out to eat or buy convenience foods. We accept invitations to things and eat whatever is set before us. This summer we took a 24 day road trip where most of what we ate was definitely not very traditionally wholesome or nourishing, and it was okay. I think the biggest gift for me is to see my children remain healthy and to be able to not eat perfectly without guilt.

Fun in SLC
A day filled with exploring a new city, eating at The Cheesecake Factory, AND feeling good!

I also enjoy cooking now. I’ve come to enjoy the process of it. I remember early in my marriage when we were too poor to buy many Christmas gifts, so out of sheer necessity, I learned to craft a number of things. I learned to sew, crochet, bind books, and more. I wasn’t crafty at all before, but necessity forced me to learn to be a maker. I found the act of making things with my own hands empowering, more thoughtful, and so much more enjoyable than shopping for things. I think one of the problems in our culture is that on the one hand we have this cult of productivity where people feel like they have to do all the things all the time, and simultaneously, so little of what we do is actual physical work. So often we are not making things that we can touch, hold, smell, and see before us. Many of us live most of our lives and do most of our work in our heads. As a result of my family’s health issues, however, I get to cook now. I mean, really cook. I peel carrots, chop onions, squeeze lemon, chop and dry herbs, mash squash with my potato masher, roll out flat bread, check on the broth or dried beans that sit simmering for hours on my stove, and more. It’s creative; it’s physical; and eating it is enjoyable, filling, and nourishing.

I still ponder the gift of healing. I feel like I had faith before, but nonetheless, being healed of our food sensitivities reiterated that God sees my littleness. He sees me trying my best, and He has compassion for me. He saw my struggle and He accomplished our healing in an instant. It makes me think of my little son trying with great effort to put his shoes on himself. When he can’t do it and he needs me to put them on him, I don’t resent him for being small and unable. His littleness gives me greater tenderness for him. So I believe it is with God and us. We do our best and it is enough. God will make it enough. We don’t have to know everything and have it all together. Our littleness endears us all the more to Him and He will pull us close and accomplish with ease everything that we struggle with trying to do ourselves. Whether in the struggle of carrying our crosses, or in the gift of reprieve, God will be with us every step of the way. We can count on it.

 

Works Cited

The New American Bible, Revised Edition. 9 March 2011. USCCB.

Gaudium Et Spes, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World. Pope Paul VI. 7 Dec 1965. Web. Accessed 24 Aug 2019. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html 

God With Us, Part I: Life Before the Healing

God With Us, Part I

Let me just start by saying that my family received a miraculous healing from Jesus. That probably makes me sound like a crazy person, but so be it. Jesus healed us, and I believe that to be the truth.

Before I get to the healing though, I have to tell you about my life before the healing, because it’s important to know where we came from. My journey started some time in 2011, after I had experienced my third miscarriage. Finding the medical communities (at the various hospitals in which I had miscarried in) all to be rather indifferent to the whole thing and seemingly unconcerned to do anything to prevent the deaths of my pre-born children, I started searching around for alternatives and found a NaPro clinic within driving distance. It’s not the purpose of this post to go into my whole NaPro journey, but I will just say that I have nothing but praise for NaPro-trained physicians. It was such a relief to have a doctor understand and value my fertility charts. At her first glance she suspected right away that I might have low progesterone, but she wanted to do some more testing. Long story short, through the help of my NaPro physician, I was able to carry to term my daughter Nadia and my son Mateo.

As grateful as I was for their medical expertise to help me carry to term by supplementing me with bioidentical progesterone and giving me HCG shots, I wanted to know why my body wasn’t making the progesterone that it should be. Was there something I could do with diet or lifestyle to support my body in this way? Being the hippy that I am, I sought out the advice of a Naturopath and Chiropractor. He believed that I might have some unknown food sensitivities, that, though they may not be causing big noticeable reactions, could still be causing gut inflammation and impairing my overall functioning. So he ordered a Specific IgE allergy test. Again, it’s not the purpose of this post to write a treatise on IgE vs IgG allergy testing, but just know that the allergy test offered in most clinics is IgG, which in my understanding measures anaphylactic  allergies; it does not, however, detect more subtle food sensitivities. So I was tested with a simple blood test and discovered that I was sensitive to beans, wheat, milk, eggs, bananas, chocolate, and a handful of other foods. The test revealed that I didn’t have any IgG allergies, though my IgE sensitivities were numerous. So we became gluten free and overhauled our diet to avoid all those things, and when I avoided those things, I felt great! I stopped being so itchy, and I had energy! Since my ailments had all developed little by little, I didn’t even notice many until they were gone and I suddenly found myself living without them, like my usual itchy arms, feeling generally kind of belchy and tired after meals, and kind of nauseous in the evening. On my new diet I had energy, I rarely burped anymore, and meals were satisfying but without the accompanying lethargy. It was great.

A few years later, when one of my daughters was diagnosed with Autism, my mother-in-law lent me a book called Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. Dr. Natasha believes that our standard western diet is wreaking havoc on our digestive systems. When our gut is damaged, we are unable to absorb the nutrients we need and also unable to efficiently remove toxins. This double-whammy of insufficient nutrient absorption and toxic overload causes wide-ranging side-effects that at first glance seems unrelated to the gut and unrelated to one another. In its essence though, if our bodies can’t absorb the nutrients we need, then our bodies can’t function properly. She believes autism, food allergies, many mental illnesses, eczema, many auto-immune issues, and more all begin in the gut. The book was mostly understandable to me, the laywoman, and it clearly showed me the connection between my food sensitivities, my one daughter’s autism, my other daughter’s eczema, and other various issues in my family. The book seemed like a gift, showing me the one solution to really heal every member of my family.

So we began our transition to the GAPS diet, which , let me just say, is intense. Basically, all processed foods are out. We bought just the grass-fed organic meat, just the vegetable, just the fruit, just the nut or seed and processed it ourselves. On GAPS everything should be organic, or organic as possible to avoid further toxins. Nuts contain phytic acid, so after purchasing raw, organic nuts, they were soaked and dehydrated. We began eating large amounts of self-fermented vegetables (after first learning how to do so, of course). Vegetable oil is a big no no, as are grains and potatoes (including sweet potatoes). Traditional fats, grass fed butter, ghee, or cold-pressed extra virgin coconut oil are acceptable for cooking. If the food comes in a box, or is somehow commercially prepared or preserved there’s probably something that makes it unacceptable to the GAPS diet. There’s more to it, but hopefully you get the idea.

God with Us GAPS food
A GAPS meal: Roasted chicken with ghee and herbs, summer squash and zucchini, sauerkraut, and salad with self-made dressing and properly prepared walnuts.

I really believe that food is medicine, and on the GAPS diet, we all improved. At this same time, my daughter who has Autism also began getting cognitive behavioral therapy and so were all the strides she made since the beginning a result of dietary changes or therapy? I don’t know, but my hunch is both.  Her excellent and committed therapists have helped her gain confidence as she achieved difficult things, and they have given her skills to interact with the world around her successfully. What seems most clearly associated with diet, however, is that her frequent stomach upsets and the fact that she would randomly throw up every few weeks without any flu or other symptoms, just stopped. Physically, she felt healthy.

At some point, after my one child was getting therapy and was experiencing improvement, but my other child’s eczema and frequent and severe sicknesses were not really improving, I decided to get her IgE allergies tested too. No joke, she would spend every other week in bed from a series of long-lasting and severe colds. Her blood test revealed that she was sensitive to about 30 different foods, including wheat, eggs, milk, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, mushrooms, ginger, celery, cashews, peanuts, cherries, sweet potatoes, cabbage, pumpkin, tomatoes, and more. No wonder she was always sick! I thought I was feeding her healthy food, but every single meal her body was taking a hit as she ate things she was sensitive to.  Like me, she had no IgG allergies, so if she had been allergy tested in the conventional way, the test would reveal that she had no allergies. Her numerous food sensitivities, however, were clearly having an impact on her health!

So, we cut out the things she was sensitive to. Basically, for six months the only vegetables we could eat were squashes, zucchini, salad greens, bell peppers, and eggplant. For my sanity, I prepared a single meal that every member of the family could eat, rather than try to make different dishes for different members. For my daughter, the results were phenomenal. If we avoided her sensitivities, her eczema cleared up and stayed away, and the dark circles under her eyes disappeared. She got one or two minor colds, but not the major colds that would keep her in bed for a whole week. She could eat without having to lie down on the couch for awhile due to feeling sick and nauseous. She also had chronically inflamed tonsils that may have led to her snoring, but her snoring disappeared too. And I was so grateful to God to have given me the knowledge of how to heal our bodies and improve our health.

Life was good. But it was still really difficult.

Trying to manage the household, food preparation according to the GAPS diet, and homeschooling was a lot. We did hire a housekeeper to clean the main floor every other week, which was such a God-send. After the housekeeper left every other Thursday, I would just wander around my immaculate main floor for a few minutes and feel all my stress leave me. I could breathe; my mind felt uncluttered, and I was peaceful. People are incarnational beings, and I’m certain our physical environment affects us more than we know. Our culture acts like cleaning and cooking are unimportant, and that homemaking is for those who don’t have real aspirations, but feeling so powerfully the health of my family being in my hands, and feeling the emotional effects of the housekeeper’s efforts, convicted me in a new way of the value and importance of these traditional homemaking skills.

The thing is though, I’m not a mother who can stay home all day doing homemaking tasks and be satisfied, and believe me when I say I’m not knocking those who do. Catholic author and speaker Jennifer Fulwiler, says that in addition to having a personality type, like being introverted vs extroverted and so on, each person has a particular pace of life that ideally suites them. Some people are most content sipping tea on a porch while reading a good book after they’ve spent the day baking and sewing their own clothes. Some people are more suited to a faster pace that has them writing, speaking, traveling across the country every other week, while running the non-profit that they’ve founded all in the midst of raising their numerous children. For me, I know that I’m not a happy person when I “just” stay home taking care of my family’s needs. I’m a compulsive volunteer-er and I often somehow find myself involved in or running big projects. So while I definitely need to carefully discern what things God is asking me to do and to balance those things with my family life, I repeatedly discern, and my Spiritual Directors have affirmed, that God isn’t asking me to step away from everything outside the home.

So, technically, I’m a homemaker I guess, since that’s what they call women who don’t earn an income and whose husbands pay the bills, but I always have lots of outside things going which keep me pretty busy, and often away from home. Presently, I’m Vice-President of the Board for Elizabeth Ministry International which always involves me in tons of projects from helping guide the direction of the ministry, to writing, event speaking, gift shop helping, and more. I also founded the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program in my parish and am the highest-trained catechist, which means I am super busy making materials for this Montessori style of catechesis. (If you are involved with CGS, you know the work this entails.) I also do other tasks to try to support the other catechists and other miscellaneous tasks to help CGS get off the ground successfully. I also am a certified Instructor for the Family of the Americas Ovulation Method of Natural Family Planning. So I’m a bad business woman (which is connected to being a bad blogger) who could do tons more to promote my NFP business but I just don’t have time for that.  So honestly, I get most of my clients from word-of-mouth referrals. But I’m passionate about all these things and they are so needed in our culture! Also, each of these things gives me energy, which to me is a pretty significant consideration when one is trying to decide which things to spend time on and which things to let go.

God With Us Jerusalem
A model of the city of Jerusalem that I sculpted and painted for my parish’s CGS atrium, complete with movable walls and buildings. My awesome father-in-law cut and glued the wooden walls.

Although these things take lots of my time, I feel so blessed that I can spend my time doing work that I am passionate about doing without having to take a job that I am not so passionate about just to pay the bills. As my husband and I lived below the poverty line for the first six years of our marriage, we’ve both had to do that at times, but thankfully we are not in that situation now. My husband’s job pays the bills, and me? I get to do a lot of charity and volunteer work… and once in awhile actually earn a little money from teaching Natural Family Planning.

So, we loved the GAPS diet, because we really felt healthy on it, and surprisingly, learning how to really cook felt empowering to me. It was like breastfeeding in a way. As a new mother I had felt so empowered to see my infant thrive and grow numerous fat rolls from the milk that my body produced. Now, similarly, I felt the full weight of the dignity and importance of this traditionally female task of preparing food for one’s family and I could see we all noticeably improved from the food prepared from my labor.

We never were able to follow the diet 100%, however, because life was busy, and on particularly hectic days we would go out to eat or buy some convenience foods. I also didn’t want to completely isolate ourselves from all human contact, so we accepted invitations to things which meant that we would be eating food that we were sensitive to and also that we might not feel the best afterward, but we made that trade-off sometimes.

I was grateful that our allergies were not anaphylactic ones and so we could cheat on our diet if we chose to. Nevertheless, it was always accompanied by certain feelings of guilt and failure because usually it would be my middle daughter who would first feel the ramifications of bad food with an eczema flare-up or just feel sick and need to lay down for a while, and I would feel like if I just tried harder, if I was more organized, if I had planned better and prepped some food the day before, and if I would just buck up and get rid of my outside commitments for the sake of my family, then I could keep up with our diet.

After six months or so after having been tested the first time, I had my daughter IgE allergy tested again, and some allergens had come off her sensitivity list, so I felt hope that the diet was healing her gut like it was supposed to do, even if we weren’t doing it 100%. A couple of new foods were added, but more things had come off, so there was only about 26 foods she couldn’t eat, instead of the original 30. We had never been so grateful to eat carrots, celery, tomatoes, and pumpkin like we were when we got the latest test results. I truly rejoiced.

And life was still really difficult.

I often felt like I was in a Catch-22. There honestly didn’t seem like any plausible solution to change my family’s circumstances. We could be constantly sick and likely get worse over time by not following our strict diet and lifestyle, or we could follow it the best we could and just accept all the sacrifices that that entailed. I could give up all outside activities and feel miserable, or keep doing them and accept the trade-offs. Was I being selfish? Was there any solution I wasn’t seeing? Was there any possible way we could hire a home cook who only made GAPS foods at an affordable price? So that was my life. On the one hand I felt inspired and convicted to keep doing the ministries that I was involved in, and on the other hand I felt guilt about the limitations on my time this imposed on me. And don’t even get me started on the mommy-guilt of not dedicating as much time to homeschooling as I would like through all of this! But that was my life. Until one day, through no merit or action of my own, things changed.

Stay tuned for Part II.

My Feminist Home

My Feminist Home

I love my home, and the people who live in it. Not one of us is perfect, of course, but it is filled with pretty amazing human beings nonetheless, and my husband and I work hard to build a home that honors and meets the needs of each member. We have introverts and extroverts; we have adults and children; we have members of every temperament; we have members who are neurotypical and some who aren’t. We have males and we have females. It can be a delicate balance and we don’t always get it right, but our goal is always to come up with creative ways where the needs of everyone can be met, rather than trying to choose whose needs will be met at the expense of someone else’s.

And this belief in the equality of all members is what makes it a feminist household, because as the back of one of my sweatshirts reads:

Core Tenets of Feminism

  • equality
    for all human beings, regardless of gender, race, religion, politics, age, size, or any other circumstance.
  • non-discrimination
    because any act of discrimination (whether it be sexism, racism, ageism, or ableism) is contrary to human dignity.
  • nonviolence
    because non-discrimination in practice means that every human being has the right to live a life free from violence.

I’d like to share with you one way we do this in our everyday lives, specifically how honoring the needs of women plays out in our home life. As of writing this, I’m the only woman in the house, but I have three daughters ranging in age from 12 down to 6. Each of them knows that there is a special day, already known and planned by God, when they will become a woman, and each of them, even the six year old, knows what will happen on that day and what to expect.

When they were small children, young enough to still be accompanying me into the bathroom, I never hid from them what was going on in my body. They saw me change my menstrual products, and when they asked I explained that every month a woman’s body prepares a kind of nest to make a home for a new baby. If no baby begins to grow, then the nest comes out as blood and her body will create a new nest the next month. They also witnessed me checking my mucus  as my husband and I use a Fertility Awareness Based method for family planning (and I’m a certified instructor) and they know that doing this lets me know many things about my overall health, and about what time in my cycle I am in so I can honor how God made me. I remember when my middle daughter was three being in the bathroom with me and playing with a toy. At some point she looked up from her play and noticed me making observations as to the type and quality of cervical fluid I was seeing. Very nonchalantly she asked, “Checking your mucus, mom?” She said it as though it were the most normal and everyday thing in the world, “Making supper, mom?” “Typing on the computer, mom?” Yep, I said, and she simply went back to her playing. (In reality, in our house this is the most normal and everyday thing in the world.) And if I were to be blunt, women being weirded out by their bodies and living in complete ignorance of their basic female functioning should not be the norm.

Easter 2019

Being a feminist household doesn’t stop with basic education of how women’s bodies work, however. Knowledge is just the first part. We also have to honor and respect how we’re made. All members of my household know, save my two-year-old son, that when a woman is menstruating, she has less energy than at other times of her cycle. She feels pulled inward and naturally wants to reflect more. In my house, we call it her “rest week”, and when I’m on my rest week, I clear my schedule of all unnecessary appointments and events, and I allow myself more rest. My husband and kids take on more chores to allow me the rest and time for reflection that I need. And, in fact, the biggest thing my husband does for me at this time is to encourage me to rest. Even though I preach the need for women to be rather than constantly do, it can be hard to not feel guilty about ignoring the to-do list and emails and to go take a nap. We live in a culture that bows to the cult of endless productivity, but women don’t have stable energy levels like men do. We have seasons of low energy and seasons of high energy; we ebb and flow. So I love that my husband tells me to go to sleep or go read a book and then he cleans up the kitchen, and he doesn’t want me to feel bad about it. He honors me. Our daughters also know that when they begin having rest weeks, they will be relieved of all their chores during that time.

Women have times when they are bursting with energy and are naturally very selfless and giving (if she is not artificially suppressing ovulation), but they also have times when their spirits and bodies are particularly vulnerable and they need others to nurture them (such as the menstrual time, the sensitive time right before menstruation, and when women are pregnant or postpartum). Of course other times of stress will mean a woman needs extra loving care as well, as it would for anybody.

And that mindset is basically the exact opposite of the message we get from our culture. There’s a very strong cultural message that women’s bodies are a liability and that the responsible thing to do is to take dangerous (and carcinogenic) chemicals and insert unnatural devices in order to bring them under control, and that changing the normal and healthy functioning of women is preferable to an unaltered female system.

I have said before that true Feminism should fight, not for our right to escape the physical realities of being women, but rather for our right to exist as women in whatever sphere we choose to participate in. Cultural norms should change to accommodate women’s bodies, not the other way around.

As I wrote a long time ago on the Guiding Star Project blog, back when I was on the Board:

To me, to be a woman is another (equally valuable) way of being human. We are cyclical. We don’t just go about our days and our lives each day feeling typically the same way and doing the same things. We have this whole inner world that colors each day with a different palette. We have a cycle of needing rest and reflection, then a time of energy and creativity, then a return again to rest and reevaluation.

It is this cyclical way of being that is perhaps the essence of womanhood. Our culture likes to paint caricatures of femininity, but real womanhood has nothing to do with whether we like the color pink or blue or any other color on the spectrum. It has nothing to do with whether we like to wear make-up and get our hair and nails done or whether we consider ourselves a tom-boy. It has nothing to do with whether our body shape is delicate and petite or whether we are larger than most men. To be a woman is a way of existing in the world that is different than the way men exist in it. Therefore to me, the essence of true Feminism is to assert women’s right to exist as women. Furthermore, it is to assert that the way women are is every bit as valuable as the way men are.

True feminism works for the right to participate in the culture, in the home, in business, in politics, and any other sphere not on the pretense that we de-feminize ourselves and become like men, but that we can participate as women because our way of existing in the world is every bit as valuable and necessary as the way men exist. When women have to change the way our bodies function (and our accompanying relational cycle with it) through abortion and birth control this is proof that women have accepted the misogynist ideal that we truly are inferior and that the masculine way of being really is the superior way.

Though our culture has convinced millions of women that their femininity itself is a burden that modern science has freed them from and that we cannot be equal unless we have access to it, I feel that such “solutions” to gender inequality keeps us more in chains than perhaps ever before. It is a whole culture that has accepted femaleness as less than maleness and believes that we are deserving of pity and need alteration in order to be all that we can, that is to be more like men. When a woman can be a woman and still use all her gifts, both intellectual and reproductive, in service to her family and to the wider culture, and receive equal honor and respect for what she does and who she is, then I will celebrate our cultural progress.

I may not be able to change workplace culture around the country or alter how grueling the hours are for grad students and many professions, but I can change the schedule and rhythms of our home. I can set the culture of our home and my husband and I can do our best to make sure we notice and respect the dignity and equality of each family member, and we can hope and pray that one day more families and institutions will follow suit.

The world doesn’t need what women have. It needs what women are. – Edith Stein

 

 

 

Let’s Stop Shaming People for Being Female

Let's Stop Shaming People for Being Female

Pregnancy shaming. It’s a thing, and unfortunately it’s super common in this era when so many people feel entitled to have an opinion about other people’s family sizes. Pregnancy shaming is nothing new of course. Unwed pregnant women historically (and still in many countries) faced a ton of shame (or worse). In the West, although unwed pregnancy itself is not quite so shameful as it used to be, plenty of women—married and unmarried alike—are still shamed for being pregnant.1

Who is shamed? Sometimes it is the poor woman who has dared to get pregnant despite the fact that she is not financially stable. Sometimes it’s the married woman who has her boy and girl and so the culture has deemed that there is no need for her to have another child. It is every woman who dares get pregnant in any circumstance that is less than the perfectly ideal. Previously the pregnancy revealed that an unwed woman had had sex, and so the sex was shamed. Whereas before women were shamed for a behavior, now they are shamed for being female—that is, for having a body that functions the way female bodies naturally do. Now, so many people view it as everyone’s right to be having sex, but being in denial about the failure rate of contraceptives, many believe pregnancy to be perfectly controllable, and therefore evidence of the woman’s irresponsibility.

So I think some education is in order. Firstly, it is a myth that practicing “safe” sex erases the possibility of pregnancy. No method of birth control is 100% effective at preventing pregnancy. If we look at “the pill” for example, the most common form of contraceptive used by women and teens today, the user or typical effectiveness rate is about 91%. In the US, about 9.5 million women are on the pill.2 If every woman on the pill were sexually active and capable of becoming pregnant, we would see close to a million unintended pregnancies. That is just the women on the pill. We haven’t even looked at the failure rates of any other contraceptive. In fact, if every woman of childbearing age in the US used a contraceptive method with a 99% effectiveness rate, that’s still over 600,000 unintended pregnancies in just a single year. If we assess this risk over the course of the woman’s lifetime, the result is millions and millions of unintended pregnancies.

We have convinced at least two generations of people that sex no longer has to lead to pregnancy as long as we are responsible, but this simply isn’t true. This often overlooked reality is why in 2014, a little over half of women getting an abortion reported using some form of birth control the month they got pregnant.3 A Spanish study, published in 2011, found that a 63% increase in the use of contraceptives was accompanied by a 108% increase in the rate of elective abortions.4 David Paton, author of a number of studies on teen pregnancy and contraception in the UK, in “The Economics of Family Planning and Underage Conceptions” wrote that he found no evidence “that the provision of family planning reduces either underage conception or abortion rates.”5 These aren’t the first studies to find such results. We often assume that contraceptives prevent tons of pregnancies, but the reality is that women make different sexual choices if they believe they can’t get pregnant.

So it’s possible that society is shunning a woman who was “responsible” and was using contraceptives when she became pregnant. If we still choose to shame women for pregnancy, does that mean we as a culture are okay with shaming women for not choosing abortion? Are we at that point? This unfortunate reality happens of course. A study in the Winter 2017 issue of Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons reported that almost 60% of women who “chose” abortion did so due to significant pressure from others,6 but are we now as a culture going to be openly okay with that, rather than acknowledge that this is an atrocious thing to do? Because shaming women for not aborting is basically what we are doing when we make women feel embarrassed for being pregnant, when we deride the mother with lots of children, or when we act like we have a right to have a say on others’ family size.

The number of women who have said to me that they are done having children because their mother or mother-in-law would freak out if they became pregnant again is very telling. I’ve actually heard this from women as the reason given for limiting their family size more often than I’ve heard women tell me that they themselves don’t want more. In fact, it has often seemed to me that the women would be open to more and be joyful to have more but they fear the scorn of others. I’ve known a number of women pregnant with their fourth or fifth child who felt embarrassed. They want their child and are happy to have him or her; they just hate the looks of exasperation and the comments of others every time they leave the house with their children.

All of this shaming women for pregnancy just seems to me like the same old misogyny promenading around the city square. It’s the same reason that, culturally, we look down our noses at all work traditionally performed by women but treat traditional male roles as the height of success and achievement. It’s the reason we treat the pill as a right of passage for teens and why we are so convinced that women are better off having their normal and healthy physiology altered through artificial contraceptives despite any side effects. As a culture, we are incredibly suspicious and disdainful of the functional female body.

I believe that every woman deserves to be congratulated and have her pregnancies celebrated, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the conception. If we want to create a culture that really celebrates and empowers women, there are many steps we can take to create such an environment (such as developing family-friendly work policies and culture and maternal health benefits in student and work health plans), but the first step is to simply stop shaming people for being female.

Footnotes:

  1. Emily Glover. “8 Women Share What It’s Like to be Shamed During Pregnancy.” Ravishly. Nov 23, 2016. Accessed April 13, 2019. https://www.ravishly.com/2016/11/23/8-women-share-what-its-be-shamed-during-pregnancy
  2. “Contraceptive Use in the United States.” Guttmacher Institute. July 26, 2018. Accessed April 13, 2019. https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/contraceptive-use-united-states
  3. “About Half of U.S. Abortion Patients Report Using Contraception in the Month They Became Pregnant.” Guttmacher Institute. Jan 11, 2018. Accessed April 13, 2019. https://www.guttmacher.org/news-release/2018/about-half-us-abortion-patients-report-using-contraception-month-they-became   
  4.  J.L. Dueñas, I. Lete, R. Bermejo, A. Arbat, et al. “Trends in the Use of Contraceptive Methods and Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy in the Spanish Population During 1997-2007.” Contraception. 83, no. 1 (Jan 2011): 82-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21134508
  5. D. Paton, “The Economics of Family Planning and Underage Conceptions.” Journal of Health Economics. 21, no. 2 (Mar 2002): 207-25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11939239
  6. Priscilla K. Coleman, Kaitlyn Boswell, Katrina Etzkorn, Rachel Turnwald. “Women Who Suffered Emotionally from Abortion: A Qualitative Synthesis of Their Experiences.” Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. 22, no. 4 (Winter 2017) 113-8. http://www.jpands.org/vol22no4/coleman.pdf

I Believe in Motherhood

Motherhood

I often encounter the sentiment, whether by outright statement or by mere general attitude, that parenthood should only be undertaken in certain highly controlled and perfectly ideal conditions. Rather than seeing parenting and motherhood as the call of most people, it is often seen as the allowance of a certain privileged few — the well-educated, the financially stable, and the mentally healthy. While I encourage responsible parenthood and agree that there are certain ideal circumstances in which children should be born, (and we shouldn’t necessarily encourage pregnancy for those whose lives are in upheaval), the fact remains that tons of pregnancies happen in less-than-ideal circumstances. Regardless of the circumstances of conception, I believe that pregnancy is always a gift and something worth celebrating.

When I became pregnant with my firstborn, I was unmarried, with inadequate income to support a child, in the throes of Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder-induced nightmares and daytime “triggers”. I also routinely cut myself as a way of coping with an emotional pain that I didn’t know how to deal with any other way. And I thank God every day that it was in these circumstances I was given the greatest gift given to woman — the gift of a child.

baby Feli
Me in my first year of motherhood.

Let me back up a bit, however, to the occurrences that led to the circumstances above, so easy to type out yet so traumatic to experience, that is, the occurrences of my childhood sexual abuse.

It is impossible to say just how much this one phrase impacted my life. Being just six years old when the abuse started, I don’t have many memories of who I was before it began.

I know before the abuse I was headstrong and confident, even pushy. I was largely care-free. After the abuse I knew profound shame. Along with fear, it was my constant companion and dictated my every thought and action.

Like many victims, unable to process this kind of trauma and betrayal, I made sense of it by coming to the conclusion that it was somehow my fault. Being six, I didn’t really have a name for that elusive quality inside of me that made me different from everyone else. In my mind, it just came to be known as my “badness”. This badness was not even really a part of who I was; it was who I was. I was bad. I didn’t even have a name for sexual abuse or know that’s what it was. In my mind what happened was that this person that I trusted discovered that I was bad and so that is why those things happened to me. I didn’t deserve any better.

My abuser never outright said any of these things to me. He didn’t have to. He abused me and this is what abuse teaches a person. I know from experience that our sexual organs are intimately and powerfully connected to the very essence of who we are. When our sexual experiences are good, wholesome, safe, and loving, our whole person is honored and empowered. When our sexual experiences are abusive, coercive, painful, or associated with being used, the damage done is catastrophic.

At the age of six and thereafter, I knew with every fiber of my being that I was bad and utterly unlovable. I knew if anyone ever discovered the “real” me, they would stop loving me. I knew I couldn’t tell my parents, other family members, or anyone about the abuse. If they knew, that is, if they too discovered my badness, they wouldn’t love me either. For a young child dependent on the care of others, and of course loving her family members, this possibility was terrifying.

As a woman in her 30s writing this, looking back to a six-year-old child believing these things, my heart breaks for her. My heart breaks for me. I want to scoop that child up in my arms and somehow make her see her own beauty, innocence, and value. Eventually I did end up learning that I had worth and beauty, and it was I myself, in a way, who ended up teaching me those truths.

It happened when I was 27. That ‘s how old I was when I gave birth for the first time. I was induced because I was four days past my due date, but thank God, I somehow still managed to have a pretty natural birth. I say thank God, because labor was hard, and it was a great gift from my Creator that it was hard. Labor was painful (and made more painful due to the labor-inducing drug pitocin), but I experienced it, and through the attention and compassionate support of my husband I was able to find the strength within myself to handle it. I felt labor, and because of that struggle, I owned it. When my child was born I knew that this child came into the world not because of a team of medical specialists, but because my body brought her into it. I went through the pain and struggle and momentous effort. My birth was mine, and it was life-changing. When it was over, I knew I could accomplish anything.

In the weeks following birth, some questions began to form in my mind.

Question number 1: How could I be bad if I had created someone so beautiful and perfect?

As I persisted in nursing my daughter, desiring to give her the numerous health benefits associated with nursing — despite my feelings of discomfort at having an infant suck on a sexual organ — a second question formed: What if I have it all wrong?

What if my body wasn’t created as an object to give sexual pleasure to men but to nurture and give life?

So it was, through the nitty-grittiness of motherhood that my body undid all the lies I had previously believed about myself. My body empowered me. I knew that I was good. I knew that I was not a thing but a person who possessed an unfathomable power and dignity. I knew this dignity was inviolable — that nothing I could do and nothing done to me could change this fact about my personhood. I mattered.

sleeping baby Feli
Me and my firstborn.

In fact, I credit childbirth, breastfeeding, and continuing to honor and listen to my body through Natural Family Planning afterwards, as the biggest contributors to my empowerment as a female. The body parts that were so closely associated with shame and pain were the very parts that taught me so powerfully about my worth. Now, I see pregnancy and birth as a powerful and epic experience that God has designed to break into our lives, in all our woundedness, to give women a lesson and testimony of our worth. And who needs this lesson more than the girl or woman who has been used and broken by the men in her life? When we divorce sex from the possibility of pregnancy through birth control, or convince women facing hardship that they are not fit to parent and it is more logical to abort, we rob them of the very medicine that is designed to heal their deepest wounds.

It is my conviction that God intensified the pains of childbirth for the woman as described in the book of Genesis not as punishment for her sin, but as a remedy to it, because in man’s fallen state he seeks so often to dominate woman. Thus God, in love, provided her with a powerful lesson as the antidote to man’s domination, because we, women, are good and wholly loved, and God wants us to know it.

I often hear comments by people about “those” women whose lives are a mess and “have no business having a(nother) child,” and I always feel personally offended. I’m all for responsible parenthood and all, but I also believe that sometimes parenthood is often the impetus people need to lift themselves out of the muck. I’ve seen it again and again. Parenthood transforms people. Did I deserve a child? Of course not. No one does. God knew, however, that I needed a child, and that with the right support from others, I could embrace motherhood and in the process come to know my true self, as designed by God: wholly loved, gifted, and fully capable of achieving amazing things.

I recognize that not all women will become physical mothers, or that they should, but we should not act as though motherhood is so precise a task as to be undertaken only in the most ideal circumstances. The truth is, that whether by their own plan and desire or by other circumstances, many women find themselves pregnant. In whatever her circumstance, she should be surrounded by the support and care she needs on her momentous journey. I believe that motherhood, however it comes to be, is a gift and it requires our celebration. For me, my unplanned pregnancy was the best and most empowering thing that could have happened to me, and I’m so grateful for such a gift.

Firstborn
My firstborn today.