Welcome Home to The Reverts

As I watched the new Catholics enter the Church during last year’s Easter Vigil Mass, I wept during the Baptisms and choked up during the Confirmations. Nothing makes me happier than the sight of so many (64 total at our parish) accepting Jesus Christ and entering into full communion with His Church. As I looked at the standing-room-only crowd of over 1,300 people, I wondered how many of them were back at Church for the first time, and remembered the Lent and Easter of sixteen years ago that saw my own return to the Catholic faith.

As a teenager, I’d left the Church full of certainty that God did not exist. I’d traveled through agnosticism, and ended up a lukewarm atheist. Seven years later, I’d sat in the pews as a brand new revert, and watched the converts be welcomed with smiles, applause, and all of the pomp and tradition at which the Roman Catholic Church excels.

Reverts are a different breed of Catholic, not really Cradle and not really freshly converted. Raised in the Faith, or converted at some point, and then fallen away. Those who experience a reversion to the Faith aren’t greeted with warm cries of “Welcome Home!” and public celebration. Instead, they simply decide one day to walk back through the doors of a parish church, slide quietly into a pew, and pick up the familiar rhythms of the Mass and the unending cadence of the liturgical year.

Some are lit from within with the fire of a freshly converted Catholic, drinking in the teachings of an ancient faith they somehow never really knew. Others are worn and battered, broken after a long and painful battle with themselves. They are suddenly immersed in the very beliefs and theology which they had loudly and vehemently denounced to anyone who would listen. That was me – the battered and broken former denier, sitting in a pew, softly crying, and eating crow.

When we talk about the members of the Catholic Church, we tend to split them neatly into “converts” and “cradle,” and ignore that silent group of “others” in our midst. What an amazing opportunity for spiritual growth and edification we miss out on when we don’t call on the “reverts” to tell their stories of pain, rejection, and conversion. We also miss the opportunity to celebrate with them their triumphant return the One True Faith.

So for this year’s Easter Season, let’s celebrate these unsung heroes of our Faith and let them tell their stories. We need to reach out in love to the prodigals who are coming home at last, and let them know how truly happy we are that they are once again well and truly home.

Welcome home, Reverts, welcome home!

**if you’d like to share your reversion story, I’d love to help. You can email it to me and I’ll post it here on Backwards in High Heels, or post it on your own blog and I’d be thrilled to share the link.

photo credit: By Charlesdrakew (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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The Way It Ought To Be

I’m sorry, baby. You’re still so tiny and new, and you should be sleeping in the quiet at home instead of grabbing a nap all curled up in my lap at the coffee shop, but your dad is already back at work (two weeks of paternity leave are NOT enough) and your brother had math tutoring this afternoon. People talk about the importance of routines for babies, but those people have never juggled the reality of eight.

You were very loud in your opposition to the bottle your brother offered you in the car. It wasn’t quite the warm comfort of the breastfeeding that you are used to. Class schedules don’t make allowances for hungry little sisters, and nursing on demand doesn’t go the way I wish it could when we spend so much time in the car.

I’m so sorry. I wish that I could give you the warm and peaceful babyhood of your eldest sister. Days and hours blended together as I gazed in wonder at the tender perfection of her tiny features. I snuggled and sang to her within the tranquil confines of our tiny house on its quiet street. We wrapped her world in a soft silence where here world moved in routine and order, but your world doesn’t work that way.

The screeching laughter of your 5-year-old sister startled you from your nap for the third time this morning before you were ripped from your bassinet and dumped into your car seat. You mewed softly in protest, and then scowled as your brother popped a pacifier into your mouth. It wasn’t but a few moments before your quiet complaints became full-blown gargle-y cries of hunger. My chest grew heavy and tight with the need to feed you, as you were offered the hated bottle and sputtered your rejection. And up there in the driver’s seat I cried for both of us. It should be different than this.

We were barely back through the doors of home before your brother lifted you from my arms. You melted into the crook of his neck, and breathed  a deep sigh of contentment. His long graceful fingers gently stroked your soft baby-fluff hair and you relaxed into a boneless sleep.

You didn’t stir an hour later when you were passed into the waiting arms of your 9-year-old brother. He whispered secrets for only you to hear, and shared the warmth of your blanket with you. The corner of your mouth twitched in laughter, but you slumbered on.

By the time your eyes peeked open in innocent wonder at the world, you were safely enfolded in to nest of blankets on your big sister’s lap. She had been drawing anime characters and sketching out story lines as you slept, but greeted your thoughtful gaze with a slowly spreading smile.

When 6:00 rolled around, you had been nursed and cuddled before going back into the car to head to the skate park. You fell quickly asleep under the watchful gaze of your older sister who sighed and said, “I think she must be the luckiest baby ever. There’s always something going on in our family, so she’ll never get bored. There are so many people in our family that even when you’re busy she gets held and loved on. And I get to feed her so she knows I’ll always take care of her. I bet she’s really glad she’s our baby.”

I’m sorry, baby, that in wishing for what “should have been” that somehow I missed that the way it is may be the way it ought to be after all.

 

 

 

 

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Jesus’s Step-Dad

**I’m still snuggled up with the baby, but didn’t want you to have nothing to read. Here’s a post from two years ago for the Feast of St Joseph.

I’ve asked my kids about John the Baptist and the Blessed Mother. Today we’re talking about St Joseph because it’s his feast day! As before, I’m in blue and everything else is my children (ages 5-15)

Today is the feast of St Joseph, so who was he?

He was Jesus’s dad!

No, he wasn’t . God was Jesus’s dad. St Joseph was his step-dad.

What’s a step-dad?

It’s like the mom has a baby with someone and then marries someone else. The someone else is the step-dad. He’s like a loaner or a bonus dad.

Was he in the Bible?

Yes. He’s the guy the wisemen gave the presents to, and he pulled the donkey that Mary rode on.

Why did he have to pull the donkey?

They like to dig their feet in and not go. Sometimes you have to drag them.

Yes, donkeys are stubborn. What about St Joseph, what do we know about him?

He was a good walker. He walked to Bethlehem. He walked to Egypt. He walked back again.

He was a carpenter. He made stuff with wood like furniture and doors.

He did? Good for him!

I’ll bet he had scratchy hands from working with wood all day. Splinters and tools. That stuff has to be hard on your hands. Plus I don’t think they lotioned.

That would be bad for spankings.

Yeah, good thing Jesus didn’t get any.

He didn’t?

No. He’s “free from sin.” Remember?

So that makes Jospeh like the luckiest step-dad ever. Right? He lucked right into the one kid who never was bad. That’s awesome. He like never had to yell. Ever.

He didn’t luck into it. An angel told him to do it, but like in a dream. He never even saw the angel while he was awake. He just had some crazy dream and decided that it must be true.

I dream weird stuff all the time and it’s not ever true. That must have been some crazy dream for him to wake up and be all “Whoa…I should marry that girl who’s pregnant with God’s baby.”

He was either really crazy or he believed. A lot.

Old or young?

Old. Definitely. If he never touched his wife he was an old dude.

What do you mean he never touched her? How did he help her off the donkey?

Never mind. He was definitely old, Mom. You don’t trust the Son of God to some teenager.

Except Mary.

Right, you don’t give your kid to some kid unless that kid is Mary.

No way. Her parents would never let her marry some old guy. Who would take care of her when he died? She’d have little kids and no one to protect her. That would be dumb of them. He was young but holy.

Why holy?

Because he listens to angels in dreams at least twice. Which means that angels came to his dreams at least twice. I don’t think they come to unholy people.  Plus he didn’t touch her, if you know what I mean.

I do. Why didn’t he touch her?

She was like the tabernacle or something holding Jesus in her. Like at church. The only guys who get to touch it are ordained like the priest or deacon. He was a carpenter. He could look but not touch. He was holy, but she was like HOLY. Ya know?

Do we know a lot about him?

Just that he listened to angels, raised Jesus, and didn’t talk a lot. Because if he’d talked it would be in the Bible. Oh, and he lost Jesus.

He lost Him? He had one job “Raise my kid.” One job and he lost Him? Can you go to Heaven if you lose God’s Son?

Whatever. They found Him, and he was all “Didn’t you know I’d be in my Father’s house?” That must have hurt his feelings. It’s kind of mean. It’s true, but I’d be sad if my step-kid who I’d raised from a baby said that to me.

He loved Mary enough to protect her from gossips and King Herod. He married her because the dream angel told him to. He wasn’t afraid of hard stuff because “Raise my kid” is like the biggest job ever. He was mostly a regular guy, but weird enough to be like….

Extraordinary?

Yeah. Like a super hero but living always as the alter ego so no one knows his real identity.

He was a super hero? Did he get a cape?

No. He got a halo.

I’d rather have a cape.

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Love and Laughter

She’s not yet old enough to smile on purpose.  It will be weeks before she can laugh because something is funny.  Rita is still too young to do any of these things with meaning.  So how is it that she does them all the time?

When she’s awake, the baby looks around at the world with a serious frown as she attempts to figure it all out.  But when she sleeps, she grins.  Her tiny face beams with happiness.  We thought it was just a baby thing until she started laughing.

Her eyes have barely closed before she starts to smile.  It’s not long after that the giggling begins.  She giggles, chuckles, and once laughed until she snorted herself awake.  All it takes to bring on the happiness is for her to be curled up and sleeping in the arms of someone who loves her.  She never laughs when she’s in bed or napping in her car seat, which is fine because she rarely has the opportunity to sleep in either of those places.
As long as someone in the house is awake, the baby is being held.

Our grandmothers used to warn us about spoiling babies.  They told us that a held baby won’t sleep in her bed and that we would never sleep.  What they didn’t tell us was the effect it would have on her.  She glows with the love of her siblings.  She overflows with the joy of being loved.  At barely a week old, she is so filled with contentment, peace and love that she laughs in her sleep.  The joy has become an involuntary reflex; it’s just a part of her.  It has become her natural state of being.  Joy.

It is the new yard stick by which I measure my children’s lives.  Are they so well loved that it bubbles up out of them?  When the cares of the day fade away and they relax into sleep, is laughter what they are left with?  Because that’s what love is…..love is happiness; it is joy.  When all the rest falls away, let them be left with love and let them be left with joy.  I hope they laugh.

 

photo credit: by Desiree Chapman Photography

Baby by us and God

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The Gift of Rest and Peace

Curled up in bed with our 4-day-old baby and listening to the hum of activity in our kitchen, I keep dozing off to the rise and fall of my husband’s voice as he attempts to organize the younger children into making dinner. It feels decadent to have done not much more than feed the baby and sleep since Rita’s arrival on Monday evening. My husband and older children have given me the incredibly generous gift of doing nothing. For the first time since becoming a mom 20+ years ago, I’m able to just snuggle the baby, sleep, and heal.

It started when our first was born, my husband worked and went to school full time, and there wasn’t anyone to come and help. I also had the magic of being 22 on my side. The physical toll of childbirth was outweighed by the unimaginable strength of my youth.

With each baby that we added to our brood, there was always a reason for me to push through the aches and exhaustion and just carry on as though having a baby was the most normal thing in my life. It was much more a speed bump than a life-altering event.

When our now 5-year-old was born in a dramatic fashion that included a 4th degree tear, my body rebelled at the idea of carrying on with life as usual, but we hadn’t planned for me to recuperate any other way, and so healing took much longer than it otherwise would have.

But this time….this time I’m finally getting the chance to do post-partum right.

Maybe it’s because my other children are older, and this is the first baby since my first baby that I haven’t been caring for a toddler and a newborn. Maybe it’s that my other children are old enough to understand the importance of rest, and are gifting me with the space to sleep until I’m done. Maybe it’s that my husband has the gift of time away from work to take care of everything else so that I can focus on nothing other than myself and the baby. Maybe it’s that he finally has the luxury of position which allows him to turn off his work phone and not have his attention divided. Maybe it’s that I’m finally self-sure enough to ask for what I really need and not be afraid to inconvenience other people. Maybe it’s a combination of all of those things.

As I sit snuggle in here among this sea of blankets with the warm bean-baggy weight of a new baby on my chest listening to her tiny sighs and squeaks and dozing off in a fog of blissful happiness, I know that this is how it should have always been, and I know exactly how blessed I am to be given the gift of rest and peace today.

 

Photo credit: Desiree Chapman Photography of Rita Frech

 

 

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At The Foot of the Cross with Johnny Cash

For me, the sound of Johnny Cash’s song Hurt is the sound of Lent. The raw painful graveliness of his elderly voice as he lays his soul bare to the world in a slow remembrance of wrongs committed and guilt that lingers. It’s the sound of sin and death.

I listen to it and meditate on the Crucifix I inherited from my beloved Grandmother.

“What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt”

I could give Him everything I have here on earth, my “empire of dirt,” and it would still be my sins causing Him pain and nailing Him to the Cross.

There will be hope and Salvation at Easter, but for the next few weeks I will be here at the foot of the Cross with Johnny meditating on the nature of sin, and asking for forgiveness

 

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Is She Here Yet?

My phone rings at 6:30 this morning. I don’t even have to open my eyes to know that it’s my  mother. She calls every morning at this time. I squeeze my eyes even tighter shut even as I answer it. “Is she here? Did you have that baby last night?”

“If we’d had a baby, I’d have called you.” I say each time. I guess she doesn’t believe that, because tomorrow she’ll be calling me to ask again.

Throughout the day, my phone buzzes with text messages – Any news? In labor yet? Tell her to head towards the light! Give that girl an eviction notice!

While I’m not a fan of the early morning wake up call (I’ll be losing enough sleep soon enough. Let me sleep!) I’m amused by the rest of it. There was a time that our new babies were met with snide “Another one?” questions from the people we knew. Our ever-growing family caused more eye-rolls than smiling faces. A few years later, and a new circle of friends, and the change is stunning.

Two weeks ago they threw us a baby shower!

It’s been a while since anyone threw a party to celebrate our newest babies, but these women who are 15 years or more since their own last babies, are giddy with excitement to welcome ours. Their excitement is catching, and the routine-ness of pregnancy (I’ve done this a lot) has been infected with their anxious anticipation.

“I can’t wait for baby toes.” “I just want to smoosh her little face.” “I’m just going to come live on your couch and hold her. I hope you’re okay with that.” And I am. In fact, nothing makes me happier. The greatest blessing of this new baby, so far, is the excitement she has brought to the people around us, the way she has reminded us all of the possibilities of life.

We’re now single digit days away from her due date (I’ve never made it this close to a due date before,) and while we’re beyond ready to meet this little person, we’re going to just soak up the anticipation and excitement for the few days of waiting that we have left.

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Nesting

I laid awake last night and looked at the shadows of bottles and hairbrushes on my bathroom counter. It took all my will power to not get out of bed at 3 am to begin tidying up. I didn’t want to wake up my husband, which is what ultimately kept me from an insane cleaning middle-of-the-night cleaning spree.

At 38 weeks pregnant, I’m in the final stretch of pregnancy and fighting the nesting urge pretty hard. There are just other things, like homeschooling, that need to be higher on my priority list. But I can’t seem to convince my brain and these maternal instincts that memorizing math facts is more important that hand scrubbing the bathroom floor.

My children are bemused by all these goings on. I’m not normally the world’s greatest housekeeper, but 38 weeks into pregnancy and I become a cleaning machine.

They say things to me like: “The baby’s not going to notice how clean the floors are, you’re not going to put her down anyway.”

“Is she going to really care if you’ve scrubbed out the inside of all the trashcans?”

“What does it matter to her if the oven is clean?”

The fact of the matter is that it probably won’t matter to her at all. As long as her belly is full and her bottom is dry, the rest of it won’t mean a whole lot to a girl who can only see a few feet away from her face.

It matters to me.

In a few days/weeks, we’re going to be meeting one of the most important people we will ever know, more important that royalty or celebrities. This girl we know nothing about will be instantly an integral part of our lives, as necessary to us as breathing. My bag is packed, the freezer is filling with food, her clothes are washed and put away. All that remains is to make our home ready for this all-important person to arrive.

My 15-year-old just said “Mom, calm down, it’s not like we’re expecting the Queen of England or anything.” No, we’re not. We’re expecting someone so much cooler, so pick up a rag and get to work!

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The Wonderful Weirdness of The Internet

The internet is a very weird place…thing…entity. I don’t really know what it actually is, which seems strange to me considering how much time I have spent on it…in it…among it?

I remember so clearly the day that I started my blog. I was a very lonely stay-at-home homeschooling mom of four little kids. We lived in a neighborhood populated by mostly elderly people, and my children were the only kids for blocks. Every morning, my husband would leave for work, and I would sit in the silence of soul-crushing isolation. After months of being alone, an over-the-phone friend suggested that I should blog. I’d never read a blog before that day, and I didn’t really understand the point of them. After scanning through a few of them, I decided that this new hobby might help to fill in a part of my day.

That night, I discussed it with my I-love-my-privacy husband. He looked perplexed when he asked, “Why would you want to share our lives with complete strangers? It’s not like they’ll pay you for it. You’re just inviting people we don’t know into our lives, and for what?” The past few years have answered him.

We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, support, prayers, and help from these strangers I invited into our lives almost ten years ago. Over the years, you have shared our grief and our joys. You’ve laughed at the goofiness of us, and cried with our heartbreaks.

When we were stuck in the darkness of medical mystery, it was you, the readers, who forwarded my blog to family members and friends. You harangued people you knew in high school, and the guy who once to you to the prom, to read over the medical history of a child you’ve never met. It didn’t matter, because so many of you know her and love her, even if it’s just through a computer screen. You pushed and nagged, and then began for us a tidal wave of responses that gave us the questions and starting places which eventually led to answers.

When the insurance company decided that wheels weren’t necessary for a wheelchair, you rose with us in protest, tweeting and tagging the insurance company into caving in less than 48 hours. Then you helped us raise the money for the sky-high co-pay within hours, and I began to understand what an amazing community of humanity existed on the interwebs.

Over the years, I’ve handed my soap box over to people to tell the world about their passions, written about their needs, begged for prayers, and worked hard to help them right their wrongs. Every time I’m awed by the way that a screen and a keyboard bring together people who would never know of each other’s existence any other way, uniting a tight-knit community who genuinely care for one another.

A few weeks back, I mentioned that while this was our eighth baby, we were less prepared than ever to welcome someone new. Seven children and twenty years had worn out or outdated almost all of the baby gear we owned. Again it was only a few days before help began arriving via regular visits from the UPS man. These weren’t gifts from strangers, but from the wonderful sisterhood of readers, Catholic writers, bloggers, podcasters, and speakers I’ve met as a result of sharing our world online. Some of us have met in person, more of us never will, but we turn on our screens and find friendship, laughter, faith, and prayers. These are my people. This is my hometown.

There are many posts and stories out there decrying the evil of Social Media (I’ve even written a few myself.) It is easy to get caught up in the drama, trauma, and high emotion that seem to prevail every platform these days, but if you learn to look, learn to sift through the noise, you soon discover that there’s something wonderful out here too.

Ten years ago, I waded out into this strange internet thing, not really knowing what it was. I had no way of knowing what would happen when I began sharing our lives with a world-full of strangers. I didn’t know then how much I would come to know and love many of you, or how beloved you would be.

Thank you for the gift of your time and attention, your love and care for our family. You have been one of the greatest blessings I have ever known.

 

 

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A Valentine’s Day Tradition

A little Valentine just for you

Love Poem with Skull and Candy Valentines

In Cosmedin, Rome— in the Chiesa di Santa Maria,
a flower-wreathed skull sits preserved in a shrine
more ornate than any foil-covered box of candy—
that’s Saint Valentine himself, as the hand-lettered
strip of bandage across his brow proclaims.
“Protector of love,” martyr of Terni, he got
couples hitched at a time when (would you believe)
it was illegal to marry….

read the rest at Via Negativa

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