Grace, Works, and a Catholic Convert

(This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission from purchases made through affiliate links. My opinions are entirely my own. You can see my full disclosure policy here.  Thanks bunches.)

I used to think Catholics taught salvation by works, not grace. After all, they do teach that works are necessary for salvation, and that’s pretty much the same thing.

Right?

Well, no. I’ve mentioned before that as a new convert to the Catholic Church, I was continually surprised by the faith and piety that I encountered. I still notice, with joy and wonder, every time I go to a different parish and it, too, is jam-packed with people who obviously take their faith very seriously.

The same thing happened every time I dug into Catholic theology, including on the topics of grace, faith, works, and justification. I expected to find terrible, man-centered heresy. Instead, I found truth, and beauty.

So, I had some things wrong about grace, works, and merit before I converted.

~1~

“Catholics think they are saved by religion, not by Jesus.”

This is a common charge, and I would have said something like that, back in the day. I love this quote from Archbishop Fulton Sheen:

“Christianity is not a system of ethics, it is a life. It is not good advice, it is divine adoption. Being a Christian does not consist in just being kind to the poor, going to church, singing hymns, or serving on parish committees, though it includes all of these. It is first and foremost a love relationship with Jesus Christ.”

A lot of Protestants, my former self included, would be confused at best to hear these words coming from a highly respected Catholic. A love relationship with Jesus Christ”? Sounds like something straight out of a Bible church to me!

~2~

“Catholics think they are saved by their merit, not grace.”

The Catholic doctrines of merit sound like a foreign language to Protestants. Words and phrases like “merit,” the “treasury of merit,” or “indulgences” communicate to Protestants concepts that Catholics do not intend or believe. The main thing to bear in mind is that “merit,” when speaking of the merits of the saints, or our merits before God, doesn’t refer to anything that comes from us. Consider this quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, found online here:

“The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace.” – Catechism, Article 2, Section 1

Or this quote from St. Therese of Liseaux:

“After earth’s exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone. . . . In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself.” – St. Thérèse of Lisieux, “Act of Offering” in Story of a Soul, tr. John Clarke (Washington DC: ICS, 1981), 277

For a more in-depth treatment, try this post from Called to Communion.

~3~

“Catholics think they are saved by faith + works, not faith alone.” There’s no room for grace.

You know, I remember from many conversations among Reformed friends about justification the favorite saying that “we are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.” I thought that the Catholic view that works, sanctification, etc., are all a part of justification was a corruption of the Gospel, detracting from the work of Christ on the cross.

Not so. Take this quote from Saint Augustine, widely loved and respected by Protestants:

“What merits of his own has the saved to boast of when, if he were dealt with according to his merits, he would be nothing if not damned? Have the just then no merits at all? Of course they do, for they are the just. But they had no merits by which they were made just” (Letters 194:3:6 [A.D. 412]).

“What merit, then, does a man have before grace, by which he might receive grace, when our every good merit is produced in us only by grace and when God, crowning our merits, crowns nothing else but his own gifts to us?” (Letters 194:5:19).

If you want to dig into this a little more, this article from Catholic Answers is very thorough and includes a helpful compilation of quotes from the Church Fathers. Also, Jimmy Akin has a characteristically super-thorough post on Justification by Faith Alone.

~4~

The Canons Council of Orange (529 A.D.) – the Council all Calvinists should read

I’m going to get really specific here for a minute. I was a Reformed Calvinist Protestant. Anyone who is, was, or knows a Calvinist needs to read and share the Canons of the Council of Orange. (You can find it online here.) It really tears down the idea that Catholics believe that they contribute anything to their salvation that does not come from God in the first place. In trying to select some quotes, I got frustrated, because I really want to share the whole thing with you! But here is a sample:

“That a man can do no good without God. God does much that is good in a man that the man does not do; but a man does nothing good for which God is not responsible, so as to let him do it.” Canon 20

And,

“Concerning those things that belong to man. No man has anything of his own but untruth and sin. But if a man has any truth or righteousness, it is from that fountain for which we must thirst in this desert, so that we may be refreshed from it as by drops of water and not faint on the way.” Canon 22

And,

“Concerning the will of God and of man. Men do their own will and not the will of God when they do what displeases him; but when they follow their own will and comply with the will of God, however willingly they do so, yet it is his will by which what they will is both prepared and instructed.” Canon 23

While I’m getting a little more technical than usual, some say that the Council of Trent (online here) contradicts the Council of Orange. Bryan Cross wrote a good post on that a while ago, found here.

Conclusion

So, when I was investigating the Catholic Church, I found out that my preconceptions and assumptions about the Church’s teaching on grace and works were plain wrong.  You can go as deep as you want on this topic (see some recommended reading below), but Archbishop Sheen summed up the simple truth perfectly in the quote from above:

“Christianity is not a system of ethics, it is a life. It is not good advice, it is divine adoption…It is first and foremost a love relationship with Jesus Christ.”

For Further Study

What is the Catholic Doctrine of Salvation – The Christian Freethinker

The Drama of Salvation – Jimmy Akin

Justification by Faith – Peter Kreeft

Moment by Moment: the secret of happiness for moms (and everybody else)

(This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission from purchases made through affiliate links. My opinions are entirely my own. You can see my full disclosure policy here.  Thanks bunches.)

“The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for all that He, in His goodness, sends to us day after day.” ~ St. Gianna

So the last few years, my life has felt like one long stroll in front of a firehose. Can you relate? I don’t need to rehash all the things that have happened – some wonderful, some hard, some heartbreaking. Some I have written about, and some are just too personal to share with you all. We all have those times, and even in the times when life is on the calm side, kids get crazy. Like all day, every day crazy!

In the middle of it all, moms have to ride the crazy and be a mother to each of her kids. Every one of them is a blessing and a gift, and each one needs and deserves a mother who is present to them, now, even especially when life Just. Won’t. Stop.

How do we weather these days with grace? I’m not getting any younger, and neither are my kids. I refuse to lose these years to the crazy. My baby boy will only be two once; he can’t wait for when my life stops falling apart and we get all the pieces picked up.

I believe the answer lies in St. Gianna’s quote, above. I need to be present. I need to remain IN the present moment, not aching for the past or being crushed by fear of the future. Each day, each minute, each child, each and every glass of water and skinned knee and sibling squabble and knotted shoelace matters. It deserves my attention. It’s important. More important, even, than my big grown-up problems that never seem to go away.

I’ve also found that remaining firmly in the present moment is the best way to respond gently (or at least appropriately) to the endless stream of needs that a pack of kids will bring. The child standing in front of me has a need. I might feel impatient, because I have been responding to a lot of needs, all day long (and none of them mine). It can seem like somebody is always skinning their knee around here (but mostly it’s just Emily, over and over and over again. That poor kid is, um, accident-prone, shall we say??). But, assuming that the need is legitimate, the ones that came before don’t really matter, nor do the ones that will come after. The need in front of me is what matters.

It doesn’t matter if it’s the fifth band-aid I have doled out that morning; the bumps and bruises of childhood hurt just as much the fifth time as they did the first, and deserve as much mercy every time. (Even for the really clumsy accident-prone 4-year-old.)

It doesn’t matter to my 2-year-old that I have heard all his stories before, from siblings who told me the same ones years before he was born. He needs me to hear him, to delight in him, today.

It doesn’t matter how many glasses of water I have handed out. The kid is still thirsty, and deserves not only a glass of water, but a dose of love and cheerfulness to go with it.

I daresay that if we could apply this principle to how we think about not just our own children and routine chores, but also to how we think of those in need around us, it might revolutionize our attitude.  It’s great if we fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and buried the dead yesterday. The dead may be satisfied, but I guarantee the hungry will get hungry again. Every day, just like the rest of us. One more reason I am delighted to be a part of the Catholic Church is that I get to be a part of the largest humanitarian organization in the world! One person can’t do everything (even us moms, guys. Seriously). But being part of a network where we all pitch in to see to the needs of those around us day in and day out is a privilege.

So, whether life is sailing along or falling to pieces, I’m certain that St. Gianna is right. Each moment of our lives, good or bad, has value, and has a purpose. A life lived well is really only a collection of moments used well, or moments used badly, but learned from and forgiven.


Tweet: Each moment of our lives, good or bad, has value, and has a purpose.


I love this quote from Archbishop Fulton Sheen:

“The second remedy for the ills that come to us from thinking about time is what might be called the sanctification of the moment — or the Now. Our Lord laid down the rule for us in these words: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Mt 6:34). This means that each day has its own trials; we are not to borrow troubles from tomorrow, because that day too will have its cross. We are to leave the past to divine mercy and to trust the future, whatever its trials, to God’s loving providence. Each minute of life has its peculiar duty — regardless of the appearance that minute may take. The Now-moment is the moment of salvation. Each complaint against it is a defeat; each act of resignation to it is a victory.” (From From the Angel’s Blackboard, as quoted in a wonderful reflection on this subject by Fr. Andrew Apostoli. Emphasis mine.)

None of this is to say that we should enjoy every moment; it not a mom guilt thing. Please no! There are so many tough moments in our lives. We just don’t need to make them harder than they are by dwelling on the ones that came before, or the ones sure to come after. Sure, there will be muddy floors, broken dishes and broken hearts in the days to come. Of course there will. And of course, we carry the scars of our past. We just don’t have to live there.

Today’s trouble is enough for today. I have that on good authority.

Linked up at  www.theologyisaverb.com and www.reconciledtoyou.com/blog.html.

 

How I’m staying sane while my world has gone mad

(This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission from purchases made through affiliate links. My opinions are entirely my own. You can see my full disclosure policy here.  Thanks bunches.)

So while things haven’t really gone swimmingly for us this year, at least they have finally calmed down a little. It’s really only the eye of the storm; we are tackling another interstate move in only 6 weeks, and Mark is still searching and searching for work. I so appreciate the suggestions from you all; we’ve decided to head for Missouri to be near family again.

So the crazy marches on. But for right now, our house is listed, and my sick kiddo is still getting better and has far fewer hospital visits and less gear to contend with. I can almost pretend life is normal.

In the lull, I’m trying to recover my sanity, while I also pack and keep my house absurdly clean in case we get a showing. Have I mentioned that we have 8 kids, a large hairy white dog, two cats, a rabbit, and a parakeet? So while I’m in the kitchen trying to make it look like no one has ever eaten anything in this home:

  • my 9 year old is in the living room accidentally spraying the walls with milk (I’m not kidding, that happened tonight)
  • my 2 year old is in the bathroom giggling while he pours soapy water on the floor
  • the dog wanders across the newly swept floor, casually shakes, and instantly sheds her entire winter coat
  • my 7 year old is knocking over another glass of milk in the dining room.
  • and what is the 4 year old is up to? Don’t ask.

Wait, we were talking about sanity. How I’m staying sane. Sorry, I got sidetracked. (Am I staying sane? Let’s just assume, for now. K? Good.)

I’m sleeping with my Rosary

Between some insomnia, and overwhelming busyness cutting into my prayer time, when I stumbled across this quote from St. Bernadette, it struck me as the perfect solution: “In the evening, when you go to sleep, hold your beads, doze off reciting them. Do like those babies who go to sleep mumbling, ‘Mamma! Mamma!'”

This is a practice that I don’t do all the time, but when I am very, very stressed out, I do find it a viable and very helpful way to keep up with prayer time.

I’m learning French.

My daughter introduced me to Duolingo, a charming little free app that lets you learn a foreign language in teeny little bits. I have my goal set to 5 minutes a day, and I’m still blazing through the surprising amount I remember from high school. I have always adored language learning and especially French, and just the little bit of something different that I love helps me feel more like me and less like a human fire extinguisher.

I’m focusing on my health. 

Months of high-stress crisis living have taken their toll on me, not to mention certain middle-agey things that seem to be happening. Did you ever wonder why women gain weight after 40? Now I think I know. It’s because it becomes physically impossible not to eat the entire jar of Nutella. Not that I’m 40 yet, but it’s staring me down, friends.

So, I’m fighting it by running again, and picking up my kettlebell more often, and trying to (mostly) eat like a normal person. This is hard, but I’m a zillion times happier on the days when I’ve done it.

I’m blogging.

This not only takes my mind off things and helps me to connect with others (which is of great value in itself), but I am also working on building this little blog into a business that can contribute to our family income. I’ve spent a lot of time and effort lately on education for myself in the areas of blogging and working from home. It’s been slow going with all the nuttiness happening, but I’m still making progress, and I love that I can set it aside when I have to deal with life.

So, with this little project well underway, I have found a lovely resource to share with you all: The Ultimate Work at Home Bundle. I was thrilled when I saw this recommended by bloggers who have been in the trenches for a good long while and who have built a solid business out of it.

I have not spent a lot of money on my business, but most of what I have spent is on educational resources.  I’m excited to dig into this bundle, which includes 30 eBooks, 14 full eCourses, 4 printables, and 1 audiobook, and comes highly recommended by longtime, successful work-at-home moms. (I’m especially delighted to see two ebooks from Jeff Goins, whose blog has been helpful to me.) It’s a complete library compiled to help you:

  • Identify your marketable skills
  • Juggle your responsibilities and find work + life balance
  • Manage your time efficiently
  • Avoid the most common pitfalls of the work-at-home lifestyle
  • Understand the legal and financial implications of your business (this is the one I need the most help with!)
  • Discover how to get into the business that most appeals to you, whether it’s a wholesale product, service-based, handmade, transcription, becoming a VA, or any other number of opportunities

It also comes with over $500 worth of bonus offers; the package includes 50 digital products and it’s worth over $2,300.

By offering the bundle for a short time only, the team at Ultimate Bundles is able to give us access to over $2,300 worth of amazing products for a whopping 98% off! It’s on sale for 6 days (including today, which is pretty much over, so we’re down to 5 days now). Consider this your heads up if working from home is something you aspire to, or already do! 🙂

The sale ends June 12th, and they do mean it. I missed out on a homemaking bundle a while back because I kind of assumed they’d extend the deadline and maybe knock the price down even more…but this one doesn’t work that way. When the clock runs out, the sale is done.

motionmailapp.com

(Disclosure: I’m an affiliate of Ultimate Bundles; sales made through my links help pay for another stinking moving truck – at no additional cost to you.)

What are your favorite self-care tips when life gets…lifey? Do share!

Linked up at:

This Is How We Roll Thursday Party

Meeting Mary on the Way to Rome: seven things I learned about the Virgin Mary when I became Catholic

(This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission from purchases made through affiliate links. My opinions are entirely my own. You can see my full disclosure policy here.  Thanks bunches.)

“Mary, if you are there, pray for me. Jesus, if this is wrong, show me. And forgive me.”

I prayed that little prayer silently in my head, too scared to whisper it out loud. It was the first evening that what Mark and I had both been thinking had been broached out loud – should we be Catholic?

So began my sojourn into the Catholic Church. As a staunch, old-school Presbyterian, I was terrified at the Catholic thoughts racing around my head, but there was no forgetting the things that I had recently learned, or the doubts that had been raised. After some talking, and some crying, I went to bed feeling as though my whole world was being shaken.

Over the next few weeks, I devoured all the literature I could find on Catholic “hot button” topics, and Mary was at the top of the list. I had held the opinion for a long time that Catholic beliefs about Mary were idolatrous. But, like a number of other things, once I really dug into the Catholic perspective, my objections began to crumble. In my reading, I didn’t find the “superstitious medievalism” that I expected. Instead, I found some things that I had never heard of or considered. There are some wonderful and profound truths in the Marian doctrines.

 

But first things first. Because if praying to Mary is actually idolatrous, I was going to be off the train to Rome as abruptly as I got on.

~1~

Foundation Matters

Like pretty much every other problematic doctrine we came across in our conversion, the questions about Mary brought us back to that foundational doctrinal problem of Sola Scriptura – the Protestant idea that Scripture alone is the sole authority of the church, without the Tradition of the Church.

Sola Scriptura is the lynchpin of the question of Mary. If Protestants are right that the Bible alone is the only rule of faith and practice, then it’s pretty clear that the Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about the relationship of the Church to the Mother of her Lord – not if you are lacking an infallible guide to help illumine the places that teach about her. Lacking any clear command to give her any particular honor or expect a relationship with her, Protestants insist that to do so is an extraneous invention, at best superfluous and at worst idolatrous, taking away from or even destroying our relationship with Jesus.

When Sola Scriptura fell apart for me, it was the beginning of a huge cascade of doctrinal questions and changes. I really don’t believe that many of the disputes between Protestants and Catholics can ever be resolved without resolving the relationship of Scripture and Tradition first. Until then, we’re just talking past each other.

For a quick refutation of Sola Scriptura, see here. For a longer one, try Sola Scriptura and Private Judgement by Jimmy Akin. The latter impacted me deeply when I first read it; we had been recently ejected from our Protestant church home of 14 years over a minor doctrinal dispute, and the wounds were very fresh. I’m thankful for those wounds now – they began my journey to the Catholic Church.

~2~

Don’t we only pray to God? Isn’t it the very definition of idolatry to pray to a creature?

In the many years since the Reformation, the development of a language barrier has deepened and hardened the divide between the Church and her separated Protestant brethren.

You see, when Protestants hear the term, “pray to,” it automatically says to them, “pray to a deity, for the kinds of things one prays to a deity for.”

Well, sure. Under that definition, praying to Mary would automatically be idolatrous, wouldn’t it?

But, I learned that that isn’t what Catholics mean. When a Catholic says that they are going to pray to Mary or another saint, they mean “pray” in the different, older sense that has fallen out of common usage in the modern Protestant world; as in, “I pray thee,” or, “pray proceed.” It meant (and means still) simply, “I ask you.” You could say it to literally anyone.

Catholics are simply asking Mary (and the saints) to pray for us, because “the prayer of a righteous man has great power” (James 5:16).

~3~

Even so, why would anyone think that Mary, or any other saint that has passed on, CAN or DOES pray for us?

Well, it turns out that the Church has believed this to be the case from the very earliest days. From Psalms to Revelation, from Clement of Alexandria to Augustine, we see this beautiful belief supported. This article from EWTN offers the grand tour of quotes on this subject from the Fathers.

~4~

The Rosary

Oh, the Rosary. How much my opinion has changed!

To my Protestant brain, the Rosary was the embodiment of everything that was wrong with the Catholic Church. Vain repetition? Check. Idolatrous prayer to Mary? Check. Participation in extra-Biblical traditions? Check. Belief in doctrines or events not directly stated in the Bible (like the Coronation of Mary)? Check. Some people even use images of Christ to aid their reflection – violation of the 2nd Commandment? Check!

Boom. The Rosary was one concentrated slug of Papist heresy, hung on a little string of beads.

If you had told me that in a few years, I would come to love praying the Rosary, and that I would carry one in my purse, I might have replied that I would be better off dead.

Ouch. Sorry. I changed my mind.

The Rosary is a beautiful and profound tour of the life of Christ. (It’s also not required, for the record. I used to think that to be Catholic you HAD to pray the Rosary. This is not the case.) Each decade of the Rosary leads you to reflect on a different event relating to Jesus’s birth, life, death, and resurrection. You meditate on the spiritual implications and fruit of that event, and how it impacts you where you are right now.

You know. Awful stuff, that.

~5~

So is the Rosary “vain repetition” like Jesus warned against in Matthew 6:7?

Not all repetition is vain repetition. If so, Psalm 136 would be a problem, concluding each of 26 lines with “God’s love endures forever!” One has to consider the purpose and effect of the repetition.

Father Dwight Longenecker has an excellent article on this; also see Our Sunday Visitor for more reading.

~6~

Mary’s Fiat

Not the car. I’m sorry, but growing up we had a yellow Fiat, and that’s what I always think of..convert problems, I guess!

No, Mary’s “fiat” refers to her perfect “yes,” her full submission to the will of God when she replied to the angel: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

This is not so much something that I learned about Mary from the Catholic Church; I knew this one already. But this is a profound spiritual truth that I am learning from her. When Mary said “yes,” she held nothing back, and her entire life changed in the blink of an eye. From the ridicule she must have endured as an unmarried mother, to the sword that pierced her heart at the violent death of her Son, and all the joy and heartache in between, she was never the same.

But she said, “Yes.” Just yes. I pray the Joyful Mysteries more than any other, because I want that “yes” in my heart, too.

~7~

Further Resources

For more Quick Takes, visit Kelly at This Ain’t The Lyceum; linked up at Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb.

{SQT} A few weeks of trouble: a family update

So hey, our family has some news. Some crazy stuff went down for us in this past month.

~1~

We had a kid with medical problems; she had to spend a week in the hospital, which is located a good 45 minutes away from us. It was a really stressful time, waiting for test results and dealing with the dizzying logistics of needing to be in two cities at one time. But, the tests all came back good, and she is home and recovering well, though in need of ongoing medical care for a while.

~2~

While we had a kid in the hospital, both our cars were out of commission. Our main vehicle, the Tahoe, got run into by somebody, blowing a tire and causing a bunch of minor body damage. It had to be in the shop for two weeks, during which time we were supposed to have an equivalent rental car, but obtaining said rental car was such a logistical nightmare that it took a week for us to accomplish it.

~3~

At the same time as all this, our other car, a vintage 1795 Subaru, broke down and left us stranded no less than three times, all of them on the way to or from the hospital. I think the poor, moth-eaten old guy just didn’t feel up to the responsibility of being the main family car. The third breakdown proved to be a crazy expensive one, and I don’t believe that car will ever make it home from the car lot where we kind of abandoned it in the midst of the hospital chaos. The car guys are being really patient with us, unless they already sold it for scrap and just haven’t told us yet.

~4~

And now the really big news: about three weeks ago, Mark lost his job – you know, that job I talked about in my post on Lent last year?  The job that we picked up, left everything behind, and bought our first house for?

That’s the one.

So, long story short, we’re probably moving again. We had planned to stay where we are permanently, but the loss of this stable job has us looking at selling the house we just bought and moving again. Good jobs in Mark’s field are nearly nonexistent since the recession, but there are certainly none to be found in rural NC, and we sorely miss the family we left behind. We are likely not headed back to Utah, though, since our family there is in the middle of a relocation themselves. Prayers would be much appreciated as Mark is back on the job market so soon after thinking we were finally done with that. Good jobs are so hard to find, and we are now on a firm timeline until the paychecks stop coming.  Also, prayers that our house would sell in good time at a good price, and finally that we won’t all go mad in the midst of still more upheaval and transition.

~5~

Just for kicks, allow me to provide a short rundown of the other items in my life that have broken, malfunctioned, or otherwise complicated things:

My phone. Our desktop computer. The lawnmower; we had once chance to mow the grass in the middle of all the chaos, but the mower wouldn’t start. Now it’s been raining for approximately forever and the grass is only slightly shorter than the house. (I exaggerate. Maybe.) Emily’s toe. (No, joke, I’m afraid. Running in the house=bad idea).

~6~

So, it’s been a run of bad luck at our house, and it’s been hard to stay positive. The job loss has me ricocheting unpredictably from feeling like this is all a blessing in disguise and an adventure, to complete gloom and despair. Which is, I suppose, a very human response. Landing a full time teaching job and buying our first house – these were big goals, and it felt amazing to reach them. Then, just as suddenly, they are gone, the job lost and the house to be sold.

~7~

I found a wonderful quote for such a time in the book of Daniel:

“Through tears she looked up to heaven, for she trusted in the Lord wholeheartedly.” – Daniel 13:35

Though nobody died, and nobody is dying, for which I am deeply thankful, it was still easy for me this Lent to remember that I am dust, and to dust I shall return. And that the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

For more Quick Takes, visit Kelly at This Ain’t The Lyceum.

3 Reasons I Chose a Hospital Birth for my Eighth Baby

(This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission from purchases made through affiliate links. My opinions are entirely my own. You can see my full disclosure policy here.  Thanks bunches.)

The necessaries: Please note that I’m not a doctor, midwife, nurse, or anybody else remotely qualified to give you medical advice. Always consult a health professional regarding any medical or health decisions. No information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition. K? Good.

I’m a natural birth enthusiast. Have been ever since I got (literally) yelled at by my OB almost 18 years ago for wondering if I really needed an IV. I never went back.

The reader who valiantly wades through all my birth stories will notice a recurring theme – over the years, I never felt fully satisfied with my birth venue. Most of my births occurred in the hospital, under care of a midwife. In those years, I would consider home birth, or a birth center birth, and for various reasons (often financial) always ended up at the hospital.

Then, at long last, I decided to have my seventh baby at a birth center. I batted around having her at home, especially as it was financially viable at that time, and the midwives at the birth center we chose also provided services for home birth. But I ended up opting for the center out of logistical concerns – with a large brood and a small house, I knew that my privacy was at risk if I stayed home, and I am not the type to want my kids present at birth. I get very private when in labor, and I also want to be free to yell all I want with no one to frighten. Sure, I could have sent them all to their grandparents’ house – but did I really want to arrange that? At the time, it was a 50 minute drive, and there were six kids, two of whom were capable of babysitting without adult help.

Given my history of precipitous birth, and also the decent chance that all this might happen at 2 am, I took the simpler route – leave the kids at home, and go to the birth center.

But, while my birth center birth went just fine, there were some things about it that I didn’t love.

Getting There

The birth center is closed at night; when you need to come in, you call your midwife, she’ll evaluate over the phone, and meet you there if it seems warranted.

It’s a sensible plan, and probably the only one that they can practically do, not being busy enough to warrant staffing it at night.

But, if the midwife was delayed or didn’t think my always-quirky labor signs warranted getting checked, I would have a problem. I couldn’t just show up in advanced labor and get whisked away like I could at the ER. Anybody can have a crazy fast birth, but with a previous history, it’s not at all unlikely for me to have another.

This worked out all right, but the stress of fretting about it was real.

Medical Emergencies

This is a tough, tough topic, and one that I have held different opinions on over time. I think where you come down on this is overall going to be extremely individual and personal – and I think that is exactly how it should be.

There’s two basic factors, here:

1. Birth is natural and normal.

The female body is designed to carry and deliver babies, and the vast majority of the time, this goes smoothly. It’s been argued (and argued very well) that being in a hospital leads to unnecessary interventions which increase, rather than decrease, risk. For a really well-done and moving documentary from the home birth point of view, I highly recommend The Business of Being Born. I find this argument compelling, and it drove my birthing mindset for most of my childbearing years. It’s still a topic very close to my heart, with important implications in Western medicine.

2. Birth is a major medical event with specific risks and potential for life-threatening emergencies.

Stuff happens in labor. Most of the time, especially for low-risk moms, everything goes just fine. Most of the rest of the time, anything that does happen can be detected early enough to transfer to a hospital for care.

But very rarely, things happen too fast to wait for transfer or paramedics. Honestly, my opinion here has been deeply affected by the death of a mother a couple of years ago in an online community of mine; she was birthing at home and suffered an amniotic fluid embolism. They rushed her to the hospital at the first sign of trouble, but she didn’t survive. A good website on this complication (run by a survivor, I believe) can be found at AFE Foundation. Of course, being in the hospital might not have saved her – but her chances would have been better.

So really, we all have to strike a balance of the two sides:

Birth is natural and normal, but it is also a major physical event with specific risks and potential for life-threatening emergencies.

That’s not earth-shattering. It’s what the vast majority of people actually think, but that can get lost in the politics of birth. Us natural-minded moms don’t like to scare other moms. It’s not good for a laboring mom to be scared of all the stuff that probably won’t happen, so we (rightly) focus on the positive and the safe.

More medically minded folks, though, worry that too little fear will lead moms to unknowingly take foolish risks. It’s important to take those concerns seriously, not dismiss them out of hand.

When parents and caregivers acknowledge that balance between the normal and the hazardous, that’s when there is a solid foundation to build sane birth practices upon.


Tweet: When parents and caregivers acknowledge that balance between the normal and the hazardous, that’s when there is a solid foundation to build sane birth practices upon.


Local, individual caregivers and local hospital policies, naturally, have a huge impact on safe birthing decisions. I have been blessed with caregivers and hospitals which were overall very forward thinking and friendly to principles of natural childbirth and newborn care, which certainly influences my inclination to take advantage of the safety net there. That isn’t the case everywhere – depending on the medical climate where you live, there may be so much unnecessary intervention that it would drive a moderate mama like me back home for fear of cascading interference in my birth.

(Of course, if you can’t decide, I recommend the hospital elevator. All the safety of having a doctor nearby, none of the unnecessary interventions.) (Um, that’s not medical advice. Always consult your physician before giving birth in an elevator, please.)

Postpartum and Newborn Care

A lot of natural birth minded mamas consider early discharge to be a big advantage of a birthing center. It turns out I didn’t like that. I missed being cared for by nurses, and came to appreciate how reassuring that care can be. Without having nurses tracking our vitals, I worried constantly about Emily in the first few days – was her color alright? Does she feel a little warm? A little cool? Do I need to take her temperature? Infection in a newborn can be disastrous, and hours matter. I worried more about myself, too – about infection, hemorrhage, blood clots. I was used to being monitored for those things while I enjoyed my baby, not worrying about them myself.

Does this offset the additional risk of infection that might come with a hospital stay? Well, that’s the big question, isn’t it, and I’m sure not going to be able to put an end to the debate. Unfortunately, the answer probably largely depends on the bias, experiences, and background of who you ask. It also depends on your hospital. If you are satisfied with the practices and safety record of your hospital, that’s different than ending up in a crowded ward with poor ratings. 

Conclusion

Home birth, hospital birth, freestanding birthing center…all those options have great things to recommend them and some scary stuff to run you off, because birth. It’s one of those wild cards life hands us, and there’s no knowing exactly how it’s going to go.

I have had good experiences over the years with midwife-attended hospital births. I have usually felt free enough from overmedicalization and unnecessary interventions. A good midwife can really help with this. I’m sure I’ve been lucky.

That’s my experience. I don’t know if I’ll have any more babies, but if I do I will be faced with answering these questions all over again, as the medical culture here in North Carolina is quite different than in Utah.

If you like this post, you may also like my eight birth stories.

Linked up at Wonderful Wednesday.

This Is How We Roll Thursday Party
Tuesday Talk

Embracing Prayer When it Hurts

As I mentioned recently, we’ve put our two older boys in Cub Scouts, which is a new adventure for our family. We don’t really have the skills that one would wish for in Scout parents, so we kind of have to wing it and hope for the best.

The first project was the Pinewood Derby. The boys get a little kit to build a car out of a wooden block, and then they race them.

Well, you have to cut that block into a shape (I mean, you don’t have to, but if you don’t, your child’s car will lose the race and everyone will feel sorry for him, so you kind of do have to). I don’t own any power tools, or very many other tools either. We ran out and bought a saw, sketched a few lines, shrugged off my lack of skill, and went at it.

It wasn’t ten minutes before I was bleeding. I learned how to use a saw, years ago, but it’s been awhile, and I maybe forgot a few safety rules. I lost control of the saw, and it bit into my knuckle. It hurt like the dickens, and it bled profusely, and I was scared I had seriously hurt myself. So, I did what any mature, responsible adult would do: I mopped up the blood, put on a bandage, and promised myself I’d look at it later. I went right back to sawing…and hurt myself again. I’m telling you, I am a born Scout mom.

I went through the whole day, uneasily noting that the blood was soaking the bandage, and postponing the inevitable unwrapping. I didn’t want to take the bandage off. It was bound to hurt, and I didn’t want to see the wound, didn’t want to face how bad it might be.

Is your prayer life ever like that?

Sometimes in the hard seasons of life, we try to cope with the pain by forgetting it, by burying it under all the to-dos on our list. That tactic gets us through our days, but it does nothing to bring healing and health to a soul that is wounded by sorrow or sin.

Spending time in prayer, though, rips off the band-aid. The wound is exposed, the blood (and the tears) can flow, and we might have to feel the pain that we’ve been ignoring, the fear that we’ve been burying. We naturally try to avoid that pain – but like avoiding the doctor for fear of stitches, that natural impulse leads us away from true comfort and true healing. 

I go up to our parish chapel for prayer when I can. It’s more private than home, usually, and there’s something about walking through the door that says, “I choose to be here; there are a lot of things I have to do, and a lot of things on my mind, but this is the door I will walk through today.”

Once I’m there, though, it can be hard to begin. When your heart is aching, it’s hard to know what to say, and hard to overcome the desire to avoid opening that wound up. As a convert to the Catholic Church, I have come to deeply appreciate the rich tradition of recitation of rote prayers. I used to think they were empty, just mindless words, but they aren’t. They are the things our soul needs to say when we don’t know how.


Tweet: The Church’s historic prayers are what our soul needs to say when we don’t know how.


So start with a Rosary. Start with the Our Father. Start with the Memorare, or the Magnificat. Just start. And maybe that day, your heart and mind won’t cooperate, and you just won’t feel a thing. That’s okay, because God was there. He heard you anyway, and He can still answer those prayers. Or maybe that day, the band-aid will come off, and your Savior will comfort your wounds and give you strength to walk out into the rain and carry on.

If you’re wondering, I have to admit that I never did look at my finger that day. Around supper time, I accepted that I was just too chicken to look for myself. I asked my teenage daughter, who has had some veterinary training, to take a look for me and see what she thought. I had a nasty cut, but it didn’t end up needing medical attention.

It might have made a better wrap-up if I’d looked at it myself and gone and got stitches. But I guess sometimes we’re not that strong. It’s a good thing prayer isn’t a magic fix that we take upon ourselves to accomplish. It’s just asking for some help from someone who knows what He’s doing.

Linked up at Reconciled to You and:

Over the Moon Link Party
Tuesday Talk

How our Family of Ten is (hardly ever) Late

~1~

No, really!

Okay, the “hardly ever” is important. We’re late now and then (sorry, Becky). But we’ve developed a routine that seems to work for getting us most of the places most of the time. I can’t remember the last time we were late for church or a doctor’s appointment.

This is not from some personal virtue. It’s more because we all get cranky when we’re late, and we got tired of that, so we thought out a method and tried things till they worked.

~2~

Plan.

Ten people is something of a production to get out the door. If we are going to all have to be someplace in the morning hours, I need to know about it at least the night before or it’s not happening.

I take travel time, plus time to get in the car (at least 10 minutes), plus time to get myself and everyone else fed and ready, which varies depending on where we are going. Going to church? Time for dress clothes, fixing hair, scrubbing faces, buckling shoes, eating breakfast early enough before Mass…all that.

Going to the zoo? We’ll need to leave time to pack lunches, plus making sure kids are wearing sensible clothes and shoes.

Going to an early morning Irish dance thing? Don’t bother going to bed. Just start getting ready at 11 pm the night before. I’m kidding. Kind of.

I then add about 15 minutes into that time for shenanigans. It’s going to happen. Just plan on it.

That gives me our start time, which hopefully agrees with my waking time, or we’ll need even more time for an extra cup of coffee.

~3~

Prep.

The night before, I make sure everyone has clean clothes, and that they know where their shoes and coats are. If they don’t, now is the time to hunt some up. Not in the morning.

If it’s to be an early event, I will also make sure that any packing is done – diapers, dance equipment, stuff for church, whatever.

Alarm is set for whenever I have to get up to get the ball rolling, and older kids are reminded to set theirs too.

~4~

Have a morning routine.

At our house, we’ve established pretty much who does what when we are trying to get ready to go. Through trial and error, we’ve learned that unless I shower first thing when I get up, we’ll never make it anywhere without either being late, or being angry. Or, likely, both. I don’t know why, but it’s true. While I’m showering, Mark will get the kids breakfast. Then I get them dressed and iron out all the details while he showers.

During that time, the older kids attend to their own needs. When they are done, they pitch in with the breakfast cleanup, dealing with sibling mischief, and being an extra pair of hands.

~5~

Say no.

On a normal day, I am pretty laid back. I will usually take reasonable requests for breakfast, allow multiple clothing changes, not worry about little girls playing under blankets and messing up their hair. No problem.

On Sunday morning? Nope. We keep things streamlined, and since I’m looser on the days we stay home, I don’t even feel guilty about it. Which is an accomplishment all by itself.

“Can I have a dippy egg?”

No, we’re having cereal or yogurt.

“I don’t like this dress!”

Sorry, that’s what’s clean. Let’s try to find something different for next week.

“Can I build a mud fortress in the backyard?”

Not today, dear.

~6~

Have a loading routine.

When it’s time to go, I can just yell, “Time to get in the car!” a few times, and most kids will go out and get buckled in. This is also effective for lighting a fire under any dawdlers. It’s harder when it’s winter and I don’t want them to have to sit out in the cold; I usually will have the car warming up for that.

I have several older kids who can take the littlest ones out and get them buckled for me if time is getting tight. While they do that, I can lock up the house, grab some water, put on lipstick – whatever. I try to avoid roaming the house soaking up the peace and quiet and shoving cookies in my mouth when they are all out waiting in the car.

(But, sometimes it happens.)

~6~

Split up.

If there are two carloads going, sometimes if things are getting pinched, the first load will leave the second behind. That actually helps all of us get there faster. It shaves off precious minutes of entering and exiting house, car, and destination by letting some people do that while others are still getting ready or traveling.

And, if it’s one of those times when we just aren’t going to make it on time, at least some of us aren’t late.

~7~

Now, arriving?

We don’t have a routine for that. We just kind of all tumble out of the Tahoe and hope for the best.

It seems to work. Most of the time.

For more Quick Takes, visit Kelly at This Ain’t The Lyceum.

Over the Moon Link Party
Sweet Little Ones

Blended Life Happy Wife

How to Win a Soda Bread Competition in 7 Easy Steps

This is the true story of how, a couple of years ago, I became a gold medal champion in an Irish soda bread competition, with helpful tips so that you, too, can bring home that coveted award!

~1~

Have a kid or two in Irish dance. I don’t know if the competition will let you in if nobody’s dancing, though I suppose it never hurts to ask.

We’ve had kids in Irish dance for nearly a decade now, so I had my ticket in!

~2~

Research.

Once I was in, I wasn’t doing this halfway. No sir. I wanted to do my dancer proud. I did extensive, careful research on the history of Irish soda bread, variations on the recipe, and what constitutes “proper” and “improper” soda bread. I love food, and especially the history of regional foods, so this was going to be awesome.

My research led me to The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread. Here I learned that Proper Soda Bread is made with “flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. Anything else makes it a tea cake.”

Perfect. No rookie mistakes at MY first soda bread competition!

~3~

Shop.

Proper ingredients are essential. So, I actually bought some buttermilk, instead of just souring milk with vinegar like usual.

~4~

Prepare.

It was the night before the feis (“fesh” – it’s an Irish dance competition). I had polished my dancer’s two pairs of shoes, printed off her feis schedule, printed directions to the venue, checked her costume, gotten cash for parking, packed her snacks and our lunches, and gone through the checklist for shoes, socks, bobby pins, safety pins, band-aids, competition card holder, sock glue, and a hole punch.. We would be up at 4:30 to curl her hair into ringlets and get there on time. But I still had to…

~5~

Practice.

Yes, sir. No early night for me. I stayed up until 1 am, baking three (or was it 4?) loaves of soda bread, so that I could have a couple of practice loaves, taste one, and choose the one that was the most beautiful, the most perfect, yet also the most rustic. 

~6~

The Big Day

In the hustle and bustle of getting a dancer checked and settled in, you’ll need to be sure to leave time to check in your soda bread entry and scope out the competition.

You may need to look around for a while, if the entry table isn’t obvious. If you can’t find it, ask at the check-in desk. They will stare at you in obvious confusion, before going to find somebody who knows whether where there is a soda bread competition.

Eventually, a harried looking feis volunteer will come grab your soda bread with obvious astonishment. She might be amazed at its rustic perfection, its faithfulness to the historic tradition of soda bread, the way that the cross-shaped score across the top did not rise all crooked in the oven on the fourth try.

Or, she might just be stunned that somebody actually entered the competition.

~7~

Finally, be sure to go check your results at the end of the day. This is your moment to shine.

Like the gal at the check-in table, the lady at the medals table will also stare at you in confusion. After checking the computer, though, and finding that you were the only entry, she will award you your gold medal! No one will be sure what became of your soda bread, but you will be too humiliated exhilarated by your win to care.

You, dance mom, are a champion.

For more Quick Takes, visit Kelly at This Ain’t The Lyceum.

Shared at

Wonderful Wednesday

Over the Moon Link Party

Sweet Little Ones

This Is How We Roll Thursday Party

Birth Story #8 – Timothy – posterior hospital birth

For Timothy’s birth, we decided to go back to the hospital. That’s a whole story in itself, but suffice it to say that I surprised myself and decided that I didn’t want another birth center birth, and I also didn’t want the home birth I had long thought of. I was happiest in the hospital. We found a good midwife practice and decided to have him at the small community hospital just up the street from our house.

The birth – now, Timothy has always been a little unpredictable, and very spunky. He showed these qualities early – before he was even born.

The day before he was due, nothing exciting was happening as far as labor. As a grand multipara (I like that term better than “that lady with a boatload of kids”), I get a lot of pre-labor, which usually progresses very gradually into a couple weeks of prodromal labor, and then finally, mercifully, into the real thing. That night, I was still slogging through the prodromal phase.

Timothy, though – this kid wasn’t having it. The usual puttery, going-nowhere-much contractions had been going on for a while now, and I guess he was done. So, that night before the due date, right as I was getting ready for bed, he suddenly squirmed and gave one strong kick. I yelped in pain and surprise – even before I realized that he had gone and broken my water. I was startled, and a little panicked to get to the hospital – the only other time my water broke outside the hospital, the baby came so fast we didn’t make itI also couldn’t help being a little sad that he’d chosen bedtime to get the party started. My last full night of sleep whisked away, just like that.

Well, we didn’t hang around. Our teenagers were already home to babysit, so we just grabbed our stuff and left. I remember noticing the perfectly full moon in a clear spring sky as we pulled away from the house.

We were at the hospital about half an hour after The Kick, and grateful to be there before anything much was happening. Some vague contractions were starting up, but nothing strong. We got checked in, and with some difficulty convinced the nurses that I really was sure my membranes really had ruptured. Their skepticism confused me – this was not a slow leak, folks. This was not an easy event to misinterpret, even were this my first rodeo. On my eighth…haven’t I maybe earned the right to just be believed when I say I’m sure my water broke?

Anyway, the midwife soon arrived, and contractions picked up. And as they did, I developed a deep ache in my back which filled me with a sense of dread. I knew immediately what it meant – the baby was posterior. I had been through posterior birth once before, and it was by far the hardest, longest, and most painful birth I have experienced. He had not been in a posterior position earlier that week when the midwife had checked him, but he sure was now. I had to immediately adjust my expectations for this birth – as soon as the water broke, I had assumed he was coming fast. With his poor positioning, it wasn’t going to be that way.

But, thankfully, neither was it to be a repeat of Alex’s 24-hour labor. The next couple of hours were hard, trying any and every position and comfort measure in the book to encourage him to come down. I spent a lot of time on hands and knees. I do wish I had had a labor tub like I had at the birth center with Emily – I am sure it would have helped immensely. He finally arrived, strong and healthy, only 5 minutes before his due date and about 3 hours after he “kickstarted” his own labor. This was pretty short, for a posterior labor.KODAK Digital Still Camera

So, I learned that not every posterior birth has to be as long and difficult as mine had been; there are so many variables, you just never know. I am sure it helped that we discovered his position early on, and it also helped that I had told the midwife beforehand that I was really afraid of posterior birth because of a previous birth. She did a great job of taking a proactive role in positioning and encouragement, which makes all the difference.

That’s one reason I love midwives; she was there the whole time, using positioning, counterpressure, and doubtless things I never noticed, or have forgotten. Some births I have needed that, and some I haven’t – but you never know until you are in the middle of it.

Finally, if you find yourself facing a posterior birth, don’t despair! My midwife pointed me to Spinning Babies, which is a fabulous resource on fetal positioning. The best way to cope with posterior labor is to be prepared, and be sure your caregiver is prepared as well. Also, for this as well as any birth, if you don’t have a midwife, you should consider finding a good doula. A professional level of labor support really can make such a huge difference, especially if you are faced with difficulties. You can do it!

This post has been shared at Thank Goodness It’s Monday at Nourishing Joy.

Over the Moon Link Party

Sweet Little Ones

and Wonderful Wednesday.