Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Youth Ministry: Should It Be Cool?

Youth ministry shop talk, just for fun.

Currently, I am using a youth ministry program called LifeTeen. It is Catholic and in fact probably pioneered the modern Catholic youth ministry model. It's definitely had it's ups and downs since it's inception (notably, it's founders have become heretical felons and it's liturgy was a bit wonky at first), but it's teaching has always been orthodox and it continues to be so to this day.

My major critique of LifeTeen is that it perpetuates the Culture of Cool. It is an unspoken message of LifeTeen that to get teens to come, we must be cool. Young adults only on the Core Team (the name for the group of volunteers that enables LifeTeen to be so great), dress hip (jeans, tshirts), reference pop culture. To be fair, I don't think this is limited to LT; I think it's an unspoken rule at most youth groups.

Here's my main program with that concept: I'm not the salesman of cool. Eventually, youth become adults - and they will not care so much anymore about cool (God willing). They will care about what is True. And if I'm caught up with selling cool that THAT is my focus, more than showing them what is True, then whatever faith they develop will not last. It will not develop deep roots and grow into a mature adult faith. It will be a phase - along with the pop music, the fashion trends, and the iPhone 6.

My philosophy of youth ministry is more or less based on two ideas: use relational ministry (more on that later), and offer them only Truth. I do not try to be cool because I am not cool. I am a chubby 29 yo bookworm homebody - I'm not going to fool any teen into thinking I am actually setting trends (or even following them). But I am confident that when a teen is facing hard things, when they are suffering or questioning or wondering - I can be there with them. I can show them where I found peace & joy, and show them how to grasp these things themselves. I can introduce them to Christ as I found him: waiting for me in Adoration, coming to me in the Eucharist at Mass, speaking to me in the silence, embracing me in mentors and friends.

The only thing I can see that youth group offers that they cannot get anywhere else is Truth. Everyone else is selling them something, but I am offering them not a lifestyle, not a fashion choice, not a club to join, not another class of human being to try to be - but the knowledge that they come from Love, must live in that Love, and at the end of their life, must make an accounting of that Love to God Himself. This Truth is hard, because unlike the claims of platitudes we enjoy plastering on our walls, Love is not the easiest path. This is why others hesitate to offer this message in plain terms - they are not hearing it from pulpits, from media, from friends. No one else will say "Love is sacrifice. Love is the Cross." But I can't believe that sheltering them from this at all benefits them, since they already experience suffering - shouldn't they know what it's for? Shouldn't they have the chance to have this suffering redeemed?

 Cool will never have a prominent place in my Catholic youth ministry because suffering will never be cool. Since I trade in Truth, suffering in love and its necessity to salvation is the concept that underlies what I do. I believe that this message is what the youth hunger for - these 'words of eternal life' that they can get nowhere else, except from Christ. I'd much rather offer them that than cheapen our teachings with trappings of modernism.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

7QT: Still Reflecting on Edel Edition

This is actually a post I tried to get up LAST week but failed miserably and then I finished it on Thursday night and Blogger ate it and I cried and now finally it's here. Futility, thy name is blogging.

I have yet to really reflect on some of the bigger messages of Edel (Cathedral building, etc.), but the connectedness really stayed with me - the need for moms to break out of isolation and fear, to have camaraderie again with one another. This week, as we've been at my in-laws, I've really tried to let this concept settle in my head so that when I see another mom, I automatically see her for being MORE like me, rather than less. Turning that switch makes each  mom interaction into a potential affirming experience for both persons, instead of one where we approach one another with wariness or fear.

Despite this, I still have some definitely feelings about parenting. At least, I have feelings about how I should parent my child (since I think that's the only child I'm qualified to parent). I think there's a fair question there: how do you respect and affirm other mothers, but still honestly acknowledge (maybe even discuss?) your parenting differences? I tend to gravitate towards other women who parent like I do, but there have been a few friends that break the mold. Do you see yourself doing that - choosing friends based on parenting styles? Is that good/bad/neutral?

One of the best aspects of Edel, and one that has been really on my heart lately, is the space that it made for work outside the home moms. So often, in the Catholic world, that terms feels wrong - or maybe only reluctantly right. So devalued are women who stay at home and who mother, that we have gone 180 degrees and turned our backs on women who choose a different path. Yet we forget that some of our greatest female saints who were mothers, worked outside the home! St. Gianna Beretta Molla isn't going to be accused of being a slouch in the mom department anytime soon, and she was a doctor. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton became a nun and founded an order - while she still had children at home! We forget that God's calling is individual, and while we can discern that something would be wrong for us, it doesn't mean it's wrong for everyone.
I'm really praising God lately for that freedom to embrace what He's calling me to.

The other thing that has really been on my heart has been children and what a deep blessing they are. Could Edel have affirmed that anymore? Those babies there were so lovely and it was so wonderful to be in a space that affirmed their existence as an unqualified good. Seeing that many women there, all of whom believe the same and are living their lives in that way, made me realize that we are starting a revolution - a revolution of love. By God's grace, our children will grow up knowing they are precious to us, and to Jesus Christ. In a world that is eroding the dignity of human beings more and more each day, this message can be nothing short of transformative!

Another great aspect of Edel has been the posts that have come out after it addressing the crosses of infertility, sub fertility, etc. There was a good deal of Twitter conversation about the place of wives who are not mothers at Edel, and I think a valid question is, should Edel have sections of it geared towards women who are not mothers? But Danielle Bean provided another great take on this question in the first chapter of her book, Momnipotent, which was in our swag bags at Edel. Disclaimer: I did not want to read this book; I think the title is hokey, and the cover juvenile. I only read it because I ran out of reading material on vacation. And guess what? It's fabulous. 
The first chapter discusses how motherhood is the essence of womanhood, because motherhood is not necessarily tied to physical mothers. Incredibly powerful, and moving. Give it a read if you can! 

A truly mind-bending part of Edel was meeting bloggers IRL whom I had only previously known by their blogs. This was odd for me because I don't have an interest in meeting my favorite bands, authors, or actors. I went to Edel to meet - you. But it did reveal to me that the internet, as much as it is a great good and helps connections, can also increase objectification. To see that each of the 'big names' were real women - women with postpartum bodies, babies, wounds, needs - that was very important for me. It's easy to disconnect the words on the screen from the very real people who write them. I am hopeful that Edel served as preventative medicine against that. 

The big theme to all of this is adult female friendships. How do you make them - and keep them? I have a lot more to say on the topic, but it seems to me that most of these friendships are formed around a common activity (exercise, sewing, homeschooling). But do you require complete parity in friendships - same age, similar aged children, same faith, same interests? I don't think I could find even one person that has complete parity with me! (or is that narcissistic??) Some women even seem to have these large groups of friends, where everyone is friends with everyone else and hangs out regularly. How does this happen? 
Hoping crowd-sourcing has the answer here.

Post script on a personal note - we just returned from about a month's vacation and I'm sick plus work is looming over me. I'll be lucky if August doesn't eat me alive.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Edel Revealed My Weakness (And Thank God for Twitter)

I am among the elite but happy few who went to the Edel Gathering this weekend. And I hate to admit it...but oh, y'all, it was hard

I really identified with what Nell said in her blogpost "I felt left out voluntarily. I missed opportunities to really meet everyone." That's exactly what I felt like: I knew I wasn't having the same amazing experience as everyone else, but I knew it was my fault, not anyone else's. I kept looking at everyone else and wondering, "how do they know so many people?" 

That I didn't have THE BEST TIME EVAH is hard to admit. Every time I heard one of the speakers talk about targeting our isolation as mothers, that the point of this event was to break down barriers, I knew the message was for me - but I just couldn't figure out how to actually do that. I knew these were my people, that I should be eating this up - but I couldn't. I was worried about Zuzu, I hated leaving her, and while everyone else looked so relaxed having left their no-doubt huge families, I was crazily checking my phone over my one 21mo that was a few blocks away.

Despite my own crazy neuroses, I had some great experiences. The talks were really fantastic, and I'm so glad I got to see Kelly do the most amazing rap ever. I got up the courage to talk to Crystal, who was very sweet, and I wanted to make Nell my BFF because she was so calm and her baby so lovely. Also, Hallie recognized me, so I'm pretty sure she studied everyone's blog ahead of time, and I got a blurry selfie with Jen (my only picture of the entire weekend - also a clue that I am freaking out). I had several other awkward moments: preeeetty sure I told Haley that people from north Florida were 'psycho,' which is normal Florida trash-talking silliness for me, but I realized was probably really insulting to her, so y'know, go me! Also, my only ability to talk to Jenny? Handing her a Sofie that had been lost and then blurting out that when I took my 2mo to Italy, the Italian women were all up in my boobs.  Very classy. Oh - in case you were wondering, Heather has an intense New York accent! Meeting her and hearing her voice forever changes how I read her blog (in a totally good way). 

My one claim to fame is that Marion asked me to sing karaoke with her. My other claim to fame? I SAID NO because I apparently have serious problems.

The other thing that allowed this crazy introvert actually break out? Twitter. I love Twitter, and through Twitter, I felt like I was part of the event still - I was tweeting under the #edel14 hashtag, and reading others tweets, and felt like I was getting to know certain people better. I made a ton of new connections this way, and it saved me from feeling 'out of touch' with the Conference, even though I was sitting right there. Through my paralyzing fear, I could still reach out - and so many reached back. It's why I'll never really give up on technology and live in a yurt (although the thought is never far from my mind).

The best part of this entire experience was probably that, as I sobbingly confessed all this to my husband in the middle of the Austin airport on Sunday, apologizing for making us spend so much money on a conference I didn't even make the most of, he looked at me very kindly and simply said "well you'll have to go every year until you have the experience that you need." Real love, ladies and gentlemen. I'm really glad I DIDN'T marry a normal person, who would've sputtered "I spent how much money to get you and me and the baby to Austin in the middle of the heat wave from HELL, and now you're telling me you didn't make the most of it????" 

So yes, Edel revealed my crucial weakness: that just when I am so close to feeling the love of Christ, I am too afraid to come close enough to actually let Him touch me. I want so badly to have a life-giving community, but I am so nervous that it's just not right for me right now - that I can't have it because I'm still nursing Zuzu and she never really sleeps; because I work; because it's too big of a time commitment; because I don't actually have anything in common, with anyone, anywhere. I know these are lies, and now that I see what a big impact they have on me, I'm hoping to spend some real time combatting them. Next year, I hope I will have invested in some online - and real life! - friendships, and that I'll have a very different experience. At least, you have it in writing that I promise I'll try! 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Beauty and the Mother

Greetings from Aruba, friends.

Sunset last night

Tom, Jen, the babe, and I all jetted off yesterday after a weekend of hard work at the Steubenville Youth Conference in Orlando, FL. It was a longer flight than I realized (4 hours), but I guess that's what happens when you're 19 miles north of the Venezuelan coast. Quick jaunt to Caracas, anyone?

We got here around 3:30pm yesterday, and by 4pm, were in our suits, exploring the grounds of the hotel. Zuzu stared at exotic birds and chased after several iguanas - I guess my Florida girl has no fear of reptiles. We hung out at the pool for a while, before having dinner and then going for a post-dinner ocean swim. Why not? We're on vacation.

Loveliness courtesy of Jen

I grabbed Jen's camera and started snapping away - images of Jen, Zuzu, and Tom frolicking by the ocean. Passerbys smiled indulgently, and I realized the scene looked the opposite of what it was: I was the friend taking pictures of the family. But as I've reflected with Jen before, I like it better taking pictures of her with Tom and Zuzu - because they look like what I think a family should look like. For me, Jen looks what a young mom should look like: her silhouette is slender, no pouching tummy, or big thighs. The images with her in them, silhouetted against that Aruba sunset, were almost like make-believe for me: this is what my family should look like. 

Jen and Zuzu have a kiss

But then Zuzu asked me to get into the water (which I'm not going to do with Jen's very nice DSLR camera). And I knew Jen or Tom would take the camera and then take pics of me, and they wouldn't look the way I think they should look. I thought about all the pictures of my mom and I from when I was young, and I revisit them again and again because I think she was (and is) so beautiful, so young, so my mother. But would I love my mother any less if she looked any differently? I love my mother for who she is, for who she's always been: she's beautiful because she loves me. Zuzu thinks I'm beautiful because I love her - love refines, love makes beautiful. 


I can choose to show her that I believe in the lies of the world: that only certain people deserve to have their pictures taken, that we should be ashamed of bodies that are different, that fear should motivate how we feel about ourselves. I can show her that there should be a division between women who 'fit' the stereotype and those who don't, I can use phrases like 'real women' to devalue others' bodies, striking back in my self-consciousness by declaring thin women to be 'fake.' 

Or - and this is a big or - or I could choose to show her what God believes about beauty. That beauty, although it exists as a concept, objectively, is also something that exists in actions, in our souls, in who we strive to be. I create beauty, and I am beautiful, in relation to how much I love. 



I still believe Zuzu will look at these pictures when she's older and think I am beautiful. I will work to convince myself of this too; to conform my mind to the mind of Christ. To believe that beauty is about who we are as much as what we look like. 


Be beautiful, be loving, be Christ to your family today - and take some pictures to remember it all. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

When Modesty Hurts Ministry

As the modesty wars rage on, I watch mostly passively from the sidelines. I have an innate sense of what I feel is appropriate for Zuzu to wear and a decent sense for myself, and since those are the only two bodies under my purview, I let the rest go (unless asked by someone).

But I am in charge of the high school youth outreach at my parish, and that means I work with a lot of teenage girls in a variety of situations - Mass, weekend trips, service opportunities, and because we are on the coast, beach days. I have given talks before on chastity and modesty, but it never really seems to sink in for most of them. So for any parish event, I send out rules: shorts/skirts must touch your knees, no bare bellys, etc. and for water activities, one pieces only. This seems the responsible thing to do and lately, I have had to send out more reminders as our weather gets even hotter and the fashions become more microscopic.

But as we go into the third week of summer, I'm realizing something: my teen girls, usually so involved and dependable, are disappearing. My beach days are usually just my family and a few friends, with me fielding texts from normally sun-loving teen girls giving half-hearted excuses about why they can't come. As they disappear from water events, they're slowly not even coming to the other events I could count on them for - Bible studies, movie nights. I have been scratching my head wondering "Why aren't they coming to events they suggested we have??"

Just about a month ago I had a conversation with two sisters in my program that I'm very close to; they were telling me they didn't own one pieces, and I suggested they go buy them. "But they're all grandma suits!" they complained. I scoffed and pulled up Nordstroms website, eager to show them the vast array of cute, sporty, or retro one pieces that proliferate our modern market. As we scanned through a variety of cute options, I realized suddenly how expensive they all were. While some of these kids have parents who would buy them a $50+ swimsuit, most do not - most of them I'm helping find work, for pity's sakes. Why would I think they could go out and spend $30, $60, $100 on a swimsuit that will set them at odds with their peers, when they already have one they like?

I realized that the message I was sending when I made modest attire a requirement for average activities - not Mass, but daily events they could do with any group - is that I care more about what they're wearing than I do about spending time with them. Relational ministry, which is what we practice, is the idea that we must care about teens in all aspects of their lives: attend their sports games, remember their birthdays, encourage them academically, get to know their families. I am not sending the message that I care about them, when all my invites come with conditions and wardrobe requirements: I am putting up barriers to knowing me and being more involved with the parish ministry that is geared towards them.

Really, at the heart of this, I am putting the trappings of conversion ahead of the actual conversions of their hearts. What I want is for them to appear to care about modesty, more than I want them to internalize the idea that they are precious and beloved of God, someone of infinite value and worth. Yes, I think it's possible that some of them might experience greater freedom in dressing modestly and therefore, might begin to have a change of heart. But it seems that for most of them, if they can't be accepted for who they are right now - even the parts I might not approve of - they're willing to stay clear of me (and the parish) entirely.

Do I want my teens to be modest? Absolutely. I also want them to be honest, chaste, humble, kind, selfless and on and on. But Christ doesn't make any virtue a required prerequisite to be in His presence, so I shouldn't make modesty the prerequisite to be in mine.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

7QT: Vacations ecetera

Currently the Zuz and I are on a trip visiting my friend Colleen in Pittsburgh. Let me tell you, for all I love my home state, nothing beats summer up north! It reminds me of every other northern state I've ever loved: Wisconsin, Indiana, Virginia. Soft breezes, chilly nights (and sometimes days too!), and soft grass. What's not to love? 

Speaking of soft grass, I was telling Tom how much I love the grass outside of Florida - it's soft and walkable (albeit usually slightly damp). Contrast this with the grass in Florida that is poky and terrifying, usually hiding some sort of obnoxious bug that can kill you. Tom and I were reminiscing about laying about in the soft grass in Indiana and even, Alabama, during our courtship years. Lots of that time laying in grass was also spent making out - so now we call soft grass Make-out Grass. 
(sorry for that overshare, family)

I have been following two stories lately of women who were widowed at very young ages (29 each). I'm 29 now, and married. They both were very happy in their marriages; one loss was expected, the other was sudden. They are both devastated. 
I feel so often that I am in a fairy tale marriage. True, there's no castle and my singing does not beckon woodland creatures, but my husband is a prince among men. God has been bringing to mind, repeatedly, how blessed I am by the marriage that I have. 

How does your family work vacations? Do you vacation with other people, just your family, with extended family? Do you only drive, fly, what? We can't go on trips when others can (Christmas holidays, Spring Break), so our summer is jam-packed with travels. This summer in particular is very full, and I am happy to say on several of these trips Jen is able to come! We love traveling with her and with our families, mostly because we like it all to be a party. I am very excited that I'm headed to Edele, Aruba, and Valparaiso this summer!

This is how I feel about vacation, but less blurry

Looking for the perfect summer dessert? LOOK NO LONGER! This cobbler recipe is fantastic, used with any kind of fruit. I've made it twice now - both times to rave reviews!

One of my favorite things about the internet is the connections it can bring about. When I saw on Insta that Dwija had had her baby, I hollered up to Jen that John Charles Borobia was here - and she squealed like it was news about a person we've actually met, not just stalked on the internet.  Even though it's weird and I'm mostly on the fringes, I really love this 'virtual village' and the community that I feel a part of.

Thank you all so much for your kind words, messages, cards, and calls about the loss of Louisa. I really appreciate it more than I can say. I have found myself processing this loss much differently than Francis, not surprisingly, so I might write less about it...or not. :) Thank you, in advance, for your patience.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Another Naming

I have dreamed of a big family since I was a little girl: ever the ardent reader and scribbler, I was always writing wild fantasies about loving but chaotic families with 6, 8, 10, 20! children. There were always at least one set of twins, a mom and a dad who were poor but desperately in love, and plenty of drama.

As an adult, the dream hasn't died (well, maybe wee small deaths - I do want less drama...and maybe a bit more money, lets be honest). Ever since our wedding night, with every hope of a new baby, I have dreamt of the perfect names for the eternal souls sent to me. I weigh each of name carefully, considering all the possible combinations and all the great significance, both familial and faith-wise. I whisper them aloud, secret little prayers, with all a mother's hope attached to each one.

I dream of monogrammed towels, nicknames lisped by siblings, their name on a welcome home banner, a church bulletin announcement. To have the authority to name a child - I feel so connected to the first parents, to Adam and Eve, who named every creature. Isn't my child as new as each newly created creature? What a marvel, to name a precious new baby - to call them out of anonimity and place them in the family of God.

But I've only had the honor once. One precious time, one sweet name that I lovingly say so many times a day.

Now twice I've had the sorrowful honor of naming two new citizens of Heaven.  My first pregnancy was also my first-born into Heaven and I've no doubt that the banners there heralded his name with no less joy than our home would have: Francis Marian. This past week, our newest child entered into her Father's House - after three weeks where I was planning for her to enter mine.

I can't bear to name her, yet leaving her without a name is also breaking my heart. Another name to ask the intercession of, to jolt when I hear at the playground, or sadly read on a birth announcement; to murmur 'no' when people suggest it as a future baby name. Another name to love and never use as often as I'd like, to never cheer on at each new milestone, or get to mention in casual conversation. Another empty place at my table. How do I explain to people that my home is now missing two children? That I should have three names to rattle off when I tell of my family?  How do I feel this loss sincerely, without feeling crazy for mourning those I have never met?

The new baby is Louisa Frances. At our bedtime prayers, Zuzu always shouts "BABY" as the first person to pray for, which we taught her to do when we first learned of our pregnancy. Now it's painful, so tonight I worked with her to say "Louisa," which is for some reason less painful. It's precious to hear her say "oo-ee-sah?" Would've been precious for years.

So that's our naming again. Louisa Frances joins Francis Marian and the countless other innocents in Heaven. May their prayers gain their Mother the virtue needed to see them again.