Archive for November 2009

Confession Done Right

November 30, 2009

A Facebook friend recently asked me this question in response to a status update I posted after a really good experience with the Sacrament of Reconciliation (aka Confession):  How is confessing to the priest different than acknowledging ur wrongs thru other avenues?

This was my response:

Where to start…First of all, when you do an examination of conscience before hand you really have to look back and think about things you’ve done to offend God and others since your last confession. In the course of your daily life, it’s easy to dismiss “little” things in the moment or try to justify away bigger things to yourself.

Secondly, it is hard to go in a physically say out loud to another person terrible and sometimes embarrassing things that you did wrong, which is funny because at the time you were doing it they were easier to justify because you think to yourself “Well, no one will ever know.” And this uncomfortableness alone can sometimes be a strong encouragement to avoid such sins again.

Third, there is something very powerful in physically hearing that God has forgiven you. Of course that absolution is conditional, assuming that you came to confession with true remorse and honesty and the intention not to consciously commit those sins again. It is also dependent on fulfilling your penance.

Fourth, if you have a very good priest, he can offer ideas for big penances for big offenses and tips for avoiding those temptations in addition to the usual recommended prayers or scripture readings for penance.

In a nutshell, the sacrament of Confession demands a certain accountability that most other avenues in our life do not. Sometimes others don’t know that we’ve done things to offend them, but God always knows and it offends Him as well.

And how many times do we really say that we’re sorry to others for things that we’ve done or make any sort of recompense just because it’s the right thing to do? Most of us routinely sweep such thoughts or minor feelings of remorse to the back of our brain or again try to justify that we were right in doing what we did. Otherwise “sorry” is often reserved for when we get caught or it will make our lives easier (get the person we offended off of our back).

And if you are Catholic, Confession prepares you to receive the Eucharist in a state of grace (aka God’s love). To receive the Eucharist with major sin in your heart and on your soul is sacrilegious. Unfortunately, many of us who went to Catholic schools in the past thirty years were not properly taught this.

I almost put this as “Fifth”, but I made this status post because as I was leaving Confession last night the priest asked me an innocent question that actually addressed an decision I had been struggling with for months. It opened the door for conversation in which I was able to receive his wise counsel on the subject, and I left confession feeling full of God’s love even more. I truly believe that it was the workings of the Holy Spirit that led him to ask me that question. And it has brought me a lot of peace.

Now, the friend who originally asked me this question attended the same two Catholic schools that I did for 12 years.  I assume that she was probably baptized and raised Catholic as well, although I am not sure.  I have a feeling, though, that her experiences with confession during that time were probably not that much different than mine.  This a description of my experience with confession during my school years that I wrote in a previous post:

First Reconciliation was in fourth grade. For that one we had to work with our parents to cut out our names and religious symbols from felt so they could be put on a banner to hang in the church. Unlike what you see in the movies, most churches that I’ve been to do not have confessionals where you slide the little door and talk to an anonymous priest through a window. Whenever we went to confession, we basically went into a regular room with one chair for the priest and one chair for you, and you talked face-to-face. They usually had two to three rooms set up at time and you randomly got which ever priest had the shortest line when your turn was up.

After our first Reconciliation, we were required to go to confession twice a year as a class. Teachers never walked through a true Examination of Conscience with us. They just told us to think about the Ten Commandments, but they never explained how they might apply to an eleven-year old. As a result, these were the thought processes of me and most of my classmates: “Well, I didn’t commit adultery, murder anyone, covet my neighbor’s wife, or worship another God; I’m off the hook for four out of six. I don’t remember stealing anything or using the Lord’s name in vain recently. I’m sure at some point I disrespected my parents. I’ll go with that.” We half-lied because we just couldn’t think of anything “that bad” that required confessing. One year I remember sitting in the pews making up dirty poems with my girlfriends while we waited our turn and still not knowing what to confess.

Now once we entered high school, confession was available during lunch time once or twice a month but it was completely optional.  I wonder if the visiting priest ever had anyone come.  By putting First Reconciliation in fourth grade, two years after First Communion, my grade school/parish had basically made Confession pointless.  There was never a link forged that Confession might be necessary in order to properly receive communion.  And then the actual process that was enforced upon us made it tedious, contemptible,  and even more meaningless.  It is no wonder that I never went to confession once from the time it was no longer mandatory in school until 2008.  And I am sure it has been the same for many of my classmates.  I think, too, that once the fundamental understanding of the purpose of the sacrament has been lost it is easier to buy into all of the criticism it receives from the outside.

There is one thing that constantly amazes me whenever I go to confession now.  God knows us better than we know ourselves.  He knows our good points and our bad points.  He knows us as individuals and as a human race.  He knows what we need even when we do not want it.  This is why God gave us the sacraments and why God gave us the Church:  to guide us, to fortify us, to take us out of our own selfish selves, and to make us into the exceptional people that God knows that we can be.


Bailey’s and Piper’s Room

November 23, 2009

Today is the big day when we are kicking Piper (4) out of our bedroom.  It’s been a process starting last May when we had Piper and Katie switch places in the family bed.  Then after her birthday in early October, we separated the twin bed and queen bed so that Piper could get used to sleeping without snuggling with me at night.  A few weeks ago we combined the big girls “lights-on” bedtime routines.  And today Piper will be officially moving in with her big sister Bailey (7).  I think they are both excited and unsure about the whole thing.

To ease the transition, though, we redecorated the room.  Originally it was just going to be a matter of removing the junk table (a card table that once upon a time I was able to use for jigsaw puzzles) and adding a three-drawer cart for Piper’s clothes.  But then a co-worker of my mother-in-law offered me comforters for twin beds that her daughters had outgrown.  A week later she threw in a box of matching sheets and pillow cases.  (This is not the first time we have received her generous gift of hand-me-downs.  We’ve also received two Disney Princess comforters, a toy box, and several boxes of toys that thankfully stay at my mother-in-law’s.  Thank you, Jennifer!!!)

Then Bailey broke her lamp the other night, which was the only light source in the room.  So I made a special trip to Target to get a replacement to match the new motif.  I also came across this wonderful matching clock for five dollars that displays the minutes in 5-minute intervals in addition to the normal 12 numbers.  I thought this would be a great teaching clock.  And while I was there I picked up an orange sheet set since the sheets we were given are for twin beds and the girls will be sharing a full bed.  We needed two extra pillow cases for the room anyway, and  I used the regular full sheet for a bed skirt.  I even had the inspiration of replacing the navy blue twin-bed sheet that I’ve had pinned up as a curtain with one of the twin-bed sheets that matches the new bedding.  (We’re fancy like that).

After lunch, I put it all together, and now we have a new Big Girls room.  One comforter was actually big enough to cover the bed.  And the colors couldn’t be more perfect because Piper loves orange and Bailey is all about hot pink.  The room is probably slightly more Bailey dominant because she’s been accumulating more knick-knacks and wall art in there over the past three years (see the baseball stickers), but we’re trying to make more space for Piper to make it her own as well.  For instance, we have to find a place for her 2010 Wizard of Oz calendar and the Ringo Starr autograph she inherited from her dad.  But you can see the display bookcase she gets to use and her new “dresser” in the picture below (as well as the new “curtain”).

I decided to do the final transition this week because after tomorrow Ricky will be off several days for Thanksgiving and can help with Katie while I deal with the big girls.  I am sure it will be a(n)…..ordeal/process/fiasco…making Piper aware that she is permanently moved and working out the issues of sharing a room.  But it has to be done…if for no other reason than Rick and I are tired of being pushed off of the queen mattress as Katie hogs the bed like only a toddler can.  It would only get worse as I get bigger, so I immediately put our big family bed back together in our room so that I can spread out on the twin mattress (which I will later share with the newborn).  And as you can see, I even snagged one of the new comforters for myself.

At least we should have two years before we have start transitioning Katie out.  Where she will go exactly will probably be greatly determined by whether baby #4 is a girl or a boy.  Thankfully, I have plenty of time before I have to worry about any of that (although I catch myself worrying about it now).  But after all of that hard work today I think it is time for a nap…

The Age of Reason

November 20, 2009

Today my Bailey turns seven.  Really, though, I’ve been thinking of her as a seven-year-old for sometime.  For at least a month, the age of six hasn’t seemed to encompass the new maturity I’ve seen in her.  Not that she’s ready to move out and get a job or anything, but I see her making much deeper connections with the world around her.  I can see that she has a better grasp of what is right and what is wrong.  I can just see that she’s really not a baby anymore.

There have been ups and downs of course.  With Bailey’s “spirited” temperament the roller coaster ride that is parenthood will always be more extreme.  But I have seen her gain greater self-control in the past year, and it gives me hope that she is capable of so much more.  I have seen her love for her family as she willingly (most of the time) helps her sisters and teaches her sisters and has tried to take care of me and her dad from time to time, too.  Bailey has such a big heart.

Sometimes Bailey shows a wisdom beyond her years.  She can tell when we are saying something silly just to placate one of her sisters.  Sometimes she looks at the crazy behavior of her peers and gives us that look of sympathy and understanding that often passes between adults.  And the other adults in our life find it both impressive and annoying how comfortable she is discussing anything with anyone.

And recently I’ve been excited to watch as her ability to read has really taken off.  It’s enabling her to enjoy so many more things in life.  Bedtime has become less torturous for all of us as she has discoverd the joys of reading in bed.  She’s become more independent with some of her games now that she doesn’t have to wait so much for mom or dad to read her the directions.

I can’t wait to see how much she grows and develops in the next year.  And I am thankful that I will have such a wonderful big girl helping me out when this new baby arrives this summer.


November 11, 2009

Number 4

Yes, I am announcing the conception and gestation of baby #4.  Now some of you may have a few questions, which I thought would address systematically:

1.  When is the baby due?

Between my calculations and the initial ultrasound results my providers and I have agreed on June 18th, making me just shy of 9 weeks along.

2.  Was this a planned pregnancy?

Yes, at least as much as God will allow us into the planning process.  We knew that it was a significant probability that I would get pregnant at the time, but God might have had other plans for us.

3.  After having three girls, were you trying for a boy?

No.  The desire to have a boy played absolutely no part in our decision to have another baby.  Four just seemed like a nice round number.

4.  Are you hoping for a boy?

No and Yes.  No, because we already have all the girl stuff, and it would certainly make things easy to have two girls per bedroom.  Yes, because having a boy would be a new adventure, and we would ask for nothing but clothing for the first two years, therefore limiting the number of toys that are brought into this house.  I think everyone else in the family is rooting for a boy, though.

5.  Are you or your husband going to “get fixed” after this one?

No.  Not only are tubal ligation and vasectomy questionable in their effectiveness they are also against the teachings of the Catholic Church.

6.  So, now that you’re both Catholic are you going to be having kid after kid after kid like in that Monty Python song?

No, while the Catholic Church teaches openness to life and condemns the use of artificial contraception, the Catholic Church also encourages responsibility and proper discernment when it comes to family size.  Natural Family Planning, which the Catholic Church allows for the postponement of pregnancy, has an effective rate comparable to most forms of artificial contraception if used correctly.

7.  Just how many more kids are you going to have?

Well, at this point we are thinking that this will be it.  We think that four will be all that we can handle physically and financially.  However, as we learned with Katie, sometimes God has other plans for us.  So, while I don’t see us actively seeking a fifth pregnancy, if the Lord decided us to bless us we would not be upset about it.

8.  How in the world will you be able to afford another child when you just got rid of your cable television to save money?

That is partly none of your business…but you need way less stuff by the time you get to the 4th than you did the first time around.  Day to day expenses are less of a concern than things like braces, college, or weddings.  Then again, we expect our kids to have realistic expectations about the latter two.  As for homeschooling, I have intentionally purchased many things with an eye towards them being reused with future children.  I even went so far as to buy extra math workbooks for a possible fourth child

9.  What do the girls think about having a new baby in the house?

Bailey was in such shock that she thought I was lying at first.  Once she realized I was telling her the truth she started screaming with excitement and wanted to tell the whole world.  Piper laughed and smiled and said she was hoping for a little brother.  Katie had no idea what I was talking about, but she is only 18-months-old.

10.  What is the air-speed velocity of a well-laden swallow?

I don’t know…but I’m going to feel like one in about six or seven months.

Dating, Courtship, and Marriage

November 10, 2009

I’ve had all of these ideas about dating, courtship, and marriage percolating in my mind for awhile, and decided that I wanted to nail them down.  Overall, I made pretty good decisions regarding these decisions, but there were still some things I could have handled better.  I often think about my kids and the kind of lives I want them to have and the kind of marriages I want them to have, if marriage is what God has planned for them.

I could just let society pass on the usual message of “It’s best to have sex when you’re in a committed (but not necessarily married) relationship, but it’s ok to have casual sex if both people agree that it’s just for fun.   Either way you should protect yourself from disease and pregnancy, which is just as bad as a disease.  Oh, and it’s ok to lie to your parents and sneak around if they try to interfere with your social life because they’re just old and out of touch”.  That last part especially starts seeping in when kids are in first grade (see shows like Hannah Montana and iCarly).

And while in the end I have no control over the way they feel about someone and I may have little control over certain aspects of their relationships, I want to give them the best and most honest information I can so that they can make the best decisions.  So, what is that information that I think they need to know?

1.  Gender Differences:  There are real biological, neurological, and bio-chemical differences between women and men that can not be easily dismissed.  This does not mean that one sex is better than the other or that everyone follows a stereotype.  Just that there are real differences that can affect male/female relationships and understanding.

2. “Don’t hug anyone you’re not prepared to trust.”:  This came from You’re Teaching My Child What? by Miriam Grossman in the section about the effects of pheromones and oxytocin.  The mere act of hugging someone can cause chemical reactions, especially in women, that cause increased trust in bonding even if there is no logical reason to trust or bond with that person.  Even my almost-seven-year old can see how this is a powerful and dangerous thing.  If hugging can do this, just imagine what kissing or more can do to increase trust in or bonding with someone who has not really been proven worthy.

3.  Protecting your body protects your heart.: As an extension (or result) of the information on oxytocin, it is easy to see that the longer you can delay physical intimacy of any kind the more likely you are to not get carried away by your emotions.  You will be more likely to get to know someone for who they really are rather than how you have built them up based purely on how you feel them about them.  And if someone is unworthy of you, you will have fewer regrets once you realize it and probably realize it sooner.

4.  Serious dating should be off the table unless you are ready for marriage.:  Dating usually ends one of two ways–marriage or pain.  The more dating you do and the younger you start dating the latter is more likely to be the outcome.  And it’s usually painful for both parties even if in different ways; one person is dumped and the other person struggles with how to do the dumping.  The perception out there is that the more you date the more you learn about yourself and the kind of person you want to marry, but the reality seems to be that the more you date the more emotionally damaged you’re likely to be when you do meet the right person and then you will waste a lot of time dealing with your previous relationship baggage instead of being happy.

5.  Teachings of the Catholic Church regarding married sex and birth control. This is something that was never taught to me in 12 years of Catholic school.  I got the same old garbled understanding that permeates most of society, and everyone would really be shocked if they knew the whole of it.  For instance, acts of foreplay are supposed to only be done for foreplay–they are not ever supposed to stand alone as married intimacy.  And most importantly my children should know that these rules are in place to protect the sanctity of their marriage convenant as well as procreation, not just “to ruin their fun” or “to meddle in their private lives”.

6.  Female Biology/Natural Family Planning:  My children should know that a teenage girl has an immature cervix that makes her more likely to contract a sexually transmitted disease (even if she does things other than intercourse).  I also think the underlying process of NFP can help women understand and gain confidence in the natural process of the menstrual cycle.  Knowing and understanding your body can help you know and understand yourself.  And then the rules for achieving or postponing pregnancy are essential for living a married life in keeping with Church teachings on married sex and procreation.

7.  Artificial Contraception/Sexually Transmitted Diseases:  I would be remiss (as well as a hypocrite) if I pretended that it didn’t exist.  I think it is important that my kids know what the options are, the pros and cons of each type, as well as how effectiveness rates can drop depending on user error.  They should also be aware that condoms are not the saviors they are made out to be–even when used perfectly they do not protect from all diseases.  For instance HPV has been found on college-age males in places other than where a condom covers, like under their finger nails.  And many STDs these days have no cure or can leave lasting damage even after they are cured.

8.  Important Marriage Topics:  Before any of my children choose to marry I hope they will really get know to know the person they are planning to spend the rest of their lives with.  I hope they have talked with their future spouse about: finances (i.e. credit card debt), faith, children, birth control, division of labor, past relationships, and parental boundaries (as parents and with their in-laws).  Just in case they haven’t, though, be assured that I will.

October 2009 Reading List

November 4, 2009

1.  Expressions of the Catholic Faith by Kevin Orlin Johnson, Ph.D.:  I didn’t actually read all of this book.  I read about 2/3rds, though.  I think part of the problem was that the author’s understanding about the construction of the New Testament is completely based on tradition rather than Biblical archaeology or historical criticism.  It just goes to show that a nihil obstat doesn’t necessarily mean that everything in a book is factually correct.  It’s also an example of what you get when you have an art historian writing about religion.  Even though I loved his definition of transubstatiation as being the opposite of transformation, he started losing me when he said that Matthew was the first Gospel written.

2.  Boys and Girls Learn Differently by Michael Gurian:  Having already read his books The Wonder of Girls and The Wonder of Boys, I found parts of this book repetitive.  The book is oriented towards the classroom, and he generally disregards homeschoolers.  He also seems to orient everything with the assumption that all kids come from homes with either single parents or two working parents.  He advocates longer school days, so that kids won’t have to latch key it and will have time to learn extra life skills at school.  It sounds like torture, though, for those who do have a parent waiting for them at home to teach them those things.

3.  You’re Teaching My Child What? by Miriam Grossman:  This book was really great.  It goes over some of the things that are never covered in sex education classes that should be, and exposes how most promoters of “sex education” really promote “sex ideology” that has very little basis in science.  She is hardly unbiased in her disgust of groups like Planned Parenthood, but she makes a lot of good points…especially when it comes to the credentials of some of the people making policies and advising young people about their sexual health.  I highly recommend her book.  The information about pheromones, oxytocin, and cervical maturation makes the book totally worth reading.


ETA:  I knew I was missing something…

4.  True Darcy Spirit by Elizabeth Aston:  This Pride & Prejudice sequel follows Miss Cassandra Darcy, grand-daughter of Lady Catherine De Burgh, as a case of mistaken identity followed by a romantic error of judgment, alters her life forever.  This was third or fourth re-read of this book in my personal collection.

5.  Mr. Darcy’s Dream by Elizabeth Aston:  This is Aston’s most recent sequel, and follows two of Mr. Darcy’s nieces (Jane’s and Georgiana’s daughters) as they plan a summer ball at Pemberly so that Mr. Darcy can show-case his new and modern greenhouse.  This is the first book in which Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth are actually seen rather than just referenced.  She keeps their appearance fairly short, though, with only Mr. Darcy having any dialogue.  I think part of Aston’s success  is that she does not risk ruining such iconic characters as Darcy and Elizabeth.