The privilege of saying “no thanks” to NFP

One Catholic blogger says she doesn’t use NFP because, for her, it’s just easier to go ahead and have babies. (This was years ago, but I only saw it recently.)
 
Most of the response was cheers, congratulations, and admiration. Only a single reader pointed out that it’s easy to feel that way when you’re rich, you have a huge house, your husband supports you easily on his secure, lucrative job, and you have daily hired help (none of which she had mentioned in her essay).
 
The blogger responded, “I would happily give up absolutely any comfort or convenience to have my children. I’d eat beans and rice in a trailer with them in a heartbeat.”
 

More hosannas. And that’s where I stopped reading neutrally and started breathing heavily. Ain’t no privilege like the privilege of ignorance.

First, nobody’s talking about trading in any of your kids in exchange for a cushy lifestyle. That’s not how it works. When you decide to use NFP to avoid pregnancy, you’re not saying, “I have kids, but they’re not so great; so now I choose to devote my life to a pursuit of filet mignon.”

Second: oh my dear. Poverty isn’t beans and rice and and a sweet little hut.
Poverty is dirty needles in your kid’s play space. It’s lead poisoning and cockroach-induced asthma. It’s windows you never open, even though it’s sweltering hot and you can’t afford AC, because your drunk neighbors are screaming obscenities at each other and you don’t want that to be your children’s lullaby at night. Poverty means you never have silence, ever, because someone’s always blasting their bass so hard your walls shake, shrieking, endlessly revving their engines, or beating the crap out of each other. 
Poverty means you’d like to bake your own bread, but the oven doesn’t work, the landlord doesn’t care, and the corner bodega doesn’t sell yeast anyway; so you end up getting the dollar loaf of white bread, because you do have a dollar. Poverty means you’d like to sew your own clothes, but you can’t afford a sewing machine, and you don’t have an extra six hours to throw together a simple sundress for the baby because you’re working at Taco Bell; so your kids wear pilled t-shirts from the free pile. Poverty means you’d like to grow your own fresh herbs and vegetables, but the tiny patch of green in front of your apartment is full of broken glass and used condoms, and the meth head who lives upstairs let his rottweiler poop there anyway.

Poverty means everything takes longer, works out worse, has less margin for error, and doesn’t ever give you a break. Poverty means that you build your day around trying to assemble paperwork for some government office to prove that you really are poor, only to find that they arbitrarily changed the guidelines, and you’ve now already missed the deadline and are back on the bottom of the list, and the person who denied your claim doesn’t work there anymore and you have no recourse, because you’re just another poor person, and there forty more on hold ahead of you.

Poverty is endlessly telling your children “no,” you can’t have extras, you can’t have treats, you can’t have lessons, you can’t have trips, you can’t have musical instruments, you can’t have art supplies, you can’t have pets, you can’t have a ride on the merry-go-round. Very soon, kids stop even asking.
Everything you own is rickety; everything you own is ugly. Nothing you own is what you would have chosen.
Poverty is hard on marriage, hard on your kids, and hard on your mental health. Poverty is not sweet. Not simple. Not beautiful. Just ugly and grinding and unjust. Not beans and rice. Bedlam and ashes and mold.

We deserve no credit for saying we’re willing to live a life we don’t even halfway understand. It’s not wrong to be rich or secure; but it is wildly offensive to assume that poverty is just like wealth, minus some perks, as if you could continue to live inside the walls of your privilege, but just shop at Pottery Barn less. That poverty is something you can take in stride if you just love your kids enough. 

No, poverty (especially generational poverty) invades every corner of your life, physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual, and it invades every corner of your children’s lives. If you think it would be different with you, I only pray you never find out how wrong you are.

I’ll stop now, because I know poverty is my particular bugbear. But I’ll tell you something else about NFP and privilege.


It is always a privilege to be able to say “no thanks” to NFP. Yes, even if you’ve made some sacrifices in making that choice. 

It is a privilege that comes from having wealth, having security, having a supportive, cooperative, patient husband — or from having enough stability and peace of mind that the sacrifices you make don’t wreck your life.

It is a privilege that comes from having enough physical and emotional and mental wherewithal to care for your other children sufficiently while you are pregnant.

It is a privilege that comes from having a healthy body that produces healthy babies. Some people can’t say “no thanks” to NFP because they desperately want a huge family, but then the babies they conceive so easily keep dying, no matter how much progesterone their NaPro doc crams up in there.

And I could go on. There are more kinds of poverty than financial poverty. Some couples endure poverties you, with your privilege, cannot imagine, and that’s why they use NFP to avoid pregnancy. Not because they refuse to make sacrifices, but because they simply cannot have what you take for granted.
 

When we talk about NFP, it’s important only to talk about our own choices, and to avoid making judgments about other people. But if we allows ourselves to be seen as a role model, even keeping it personal isn’t really good enough. We must include the context of our choices. We must acknowledge the privilege that makes those choices possible. If we choose to use our lives as an illustration, we can’t crop out the details.

 

Hear me, public Catholics: If you’re in a position to say “no thanks” to NFP, then get on your knees and thank God for your dozens of life-changing privileges. They, and not your virtue, your generosity, or your free spirit, are what makes it possible to say “no thanks” so blithely. Yes, even if you’ve made sacrifices to say “no thanks.”

Acknowledge those privileges, be grateful for them, and confirm that not everyone is as lucky as you. Believe me, it’s important. So many women accuse themselves so harshly for things that are beyond their control. If you don’t acknowledge your privilege, you are telling a dangerous lie.

When you give a man money, you don’t own a share in his soul

Several years ago, my family went through a rotten patch, and we couldn’t scrape up enough money to pay our basic bills. A friend of the family got wind of our troubles and fired off a generous check. She did the same the next month, and then next as well, always with a little note saying she hoped it could help make a dent in our expenses.

One month, we miraculously found ourselves above water. One of the most miserable parts of poverty is having to deny your kids. It almost hurts worse when they learn so quickly not to ask for even the smallest treat. So when the mail came and there was yet another check from our friend for expenses from, the first thing I thought was, “Oh, I can buy the kids a swing!”

But I didn’t want to be presumptuous, so I asked her permission to spend her money on a swing. She was flabbergasted. She begged me to spend it however I saw fit, because it was a gift. It wasn’t her money; it was mine.

This is how you live the gospel. This is how you don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. When she gave me the money, she didn’t give herself permission to manage my life. She wasn’t buying a share in my life or my soul or my day. She understood this better than I did.

Having been the poor, I don’t want to romanticize the poor, to paint them as some kind of holy, spotless victims who can do no wrong simply because they are poor. The poor are just people, just like the rich. Sometimes they are greedy; sometimes they are stupid; sometimes they are ungrateful; sometimes they are dishonest, just like the rich.

Sometimes poor people do dumb or dishonest things with money, even the money you gave them. (Rich people can hide or get past their dumb or dishonest actions more easily than the poor; that’s the main difference.)

I’ve been on that side of this difficult transaction, too. I’ve been the one to give money to a needy person, only to discover that he wasn’t as needy as he claimed, or he spent the money foolishly, or he spent it in a way that I thought showed an ungrateful attitude, or a million other flaws in the way he received my gift. Maybe I denied myself so that he could eat, and then he turned around and got himself a treat, and acted like it was no big deal.

That sucks. It feels horrible. No one wants to be played for a sucker. No one wants their good will offering converted into something evil or gross; and no one wants their sacrifice treated like dirt.

In situations like this: sure.  If the person you gave money to lied, don’t give him any more money. If you think the money is making his life worse, don’t give him any more money. If interacting with this person is an occasion of sin for you, maybe take a break. Find someone else who needs your gift. God knows there are always more needy people.

But this is very basic: Once you have given the money, it is no longer yours. That’s what it means to give. If you give but still want to hang on, then you haven’t really given; you’ve just tried to buy a share in another human being. Charity doesn’t come with a rubber band that you can twitch any time you feel like it, making the other fellow dance to your ideals. That’s not giving. That’s investing, and we’re not supposed to treat other people like investment property.

Scripture is full of imprecations not only to give to the poor, but to be gracious about it, or at very least to shut up about it.

Do we want any chance at all of getting into the kingdom of God? Then we have to recognize that we, all of us, are the poor — poor beyond measure — and that Christ gave recklessly to us. He gave without any hope of being paid back, without any hope that we’d use His gift well, without any hope that we’d be anywhere near sufficiently grateful. He gave up Heaven to become a man, and then gave up his body and became a dead man. That’s what He did for us. He doesn’t threaten to withdraw salvation every time we act ungrateful (which we do every day) or squander his gifts (which we do every day) or fail to shape up (which we do every day). Instead, He gives more and more.

Look at your weekly bulletin. Is there Mass? Are there baptisms? Is there confession? You’re receiving charity. Are you living up to it? I’m not. I’m a horrible investment. I’m a black hole. Christ knows this, and still He gives.

That’s what he does. And we’re going to be jerks to each other about money?

So if we give — and we must, if we can at all! — remember we’re not making an investment. We’re not teaching a lesson. We’re not purchasing a share in someone’s life. We’re imitating Christ. Christ will make our gift into something great, if we will let go of it. 

***
Photo: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr (Creative Commons)

All things bright and nude-iful

It’s summer, time to argue about what people should be wearing to church. One protestant church in rural America has cut that gordian knot (yeah, yeah, it’s an old story, but it’s making the rounds again):

Virginia church worships in the nude

Allen Parker, the pastor of Whitetail Chapel

WHITETAIL CHAPEL!

said, “Jesus was naked during some of his most important moments. When he was born he was naked, when he was crucified he was naked and when he arose he left his clothes in the tomb and he was naked. If God made us that way, how can that be wrong?”

With logic like that, how can anything in the world be wrong? This story just makes me feel so right.

Pastor Parker further stated that the church is family-oriented and the members are very involved in helping others.

HELPING OTHERS! Anybody else remember those eager longhorns from Home on the Range? “Hey, little lady, can I help you?  Mayyybe we can help each other!”

Ah, me. This is what happens when you don’t have a Magisterium: nudie patootie in the pew-tie! I say to you, not even Solomon in all his glory stuck to the seats like one of these. Doesn’t this give you a little perspective when Catholics quibble over whether or not we should be cast out for revealing our full knees in the middle of July? Hang around for a service or two at the Whitetail–

WHITETAIL!

Chapel, and you’ll perhaps lose some of your former gusto for aligning yourself with the “the demise of the floor-length lace mantilla marked the end of Christendom” crowd. The only thing that could have made this story more edifying would be if they were into snake handling.

SNAKE HANDLING!

What do they sing for a recessional hymn, “Jesus wants me for a sunscreen?” They better hope that balm in Gilead is at least SPF 55.
I’m fairly sure there’s less emphasis on “clinging to the old rugged cross”—ouchie.
How about “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, and in several other places as well!”
“Thy word have I hid in my heart, having no available pockets.”
Or that old Gospel favorite, “Out of a profound sense of discomfort when He sees the congregation, His eye is on the sparrow.”

The good news is, it’ll be a while before Lent starts and we have to sing that old standby, “Asses.” But some hymns are timeless, like that Schutte classic: “Here I am, Lord. /Wait, come back, Lord!/ Would it help . . . if . . . I put on some pants?”

At least, with this new liturgical model, we can be sure we’re adhering to the directives in Musicam Sanctam, and  . . .

(I’m so sorry for what I’m about to say . . .)

giving the organ pride of place.

***

Protected: Podcast 28: The beast with one back

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What’s for supper? Vol. 91: In which Aldi dreams of me

No, literally. The cashier at Aldi had a dream about me. (I turn up there three times a week, each time with a different child, and I fill two carts on Saturdays.) This is what happens when you come to Represent Something to strangers. I told her I would try to behave myself next time I haunted her subconscious, and then I gathered up my cut rate hummus and sauntered away. Then I came back to get my quarter.

SATURDAY
Muffaletta sandwiches, fries

Muffaletta sandwiches are something I’ve wanted to try forever. And very good they were, muffaletta sandwiches! I guess this sandwich originates from the Italian quarter of New Orleans or something (how many quarters does that place have, anyway), and “muffaletta” can refer either to the special bread, or to the sandwich itself.

Our version was made of ciabatta rolls with olive salad, sweet capicola, prosciutto, ham, and provolone. The olive salad was made of a jar each of green and black olives, about a quarter of a cup of capers, and a jar of giardiniera salad (pickled carrots, hot peppers, cauliflower, and little onions), drained and chopped up together.

I wish I had gotten a pic of just the olive salad, because it was awfully festive-looking.

You’re supposed to toast the bread, or wrap the sandwich in foil and bake the whole thing, but we were starving, so we just wolfed it down.

It was a little pricey because I went to an Actual Deli for the meat, but a nice treat. I also think recipe pages are a little bit insane when they show how much meat goes on a sandwich. It’s always, like, seven-and-a-half solid inches of ham, and then you start in with the cheese. I like sandwiches, but I like having the use of my legs after dinner, too.

***

SUNDAY
Lasagna, garlic bread, salad, ice cream cake

Birthday! Our newest ten-year-old requested meatless lasagna.  Lasagna is my least favorite thing to make. It’s just such a pain in the neck, and I burn my fingers and wreck the whole kitchen. But it was good, if sloppy and soupy. I just used the basic recipe on the side of the noodle box.

I added basil from the garden to the ricotta for the very first harvest this year. Our growing season is so ridiculously short, and it’s been a very cool summer, so there’s not much to show. Also, string beans don’t scream and hang onto my pants legs, so I tend to forget I have a garden.

Not that you asked, but we have tomatoes, basil, cabbage, jalapeno, eggplant, string beans, rainbow carrots, pumpkins, and broccoli. And a lot of weeds. And not enough watering. Thank goodness for rain.

My window boxes turned out a little scruffy this year, too.

That hemp liner looks like I feel. Aieeee!

But check out these weird tomatoes! They’re supposed to be dark like that.

They’re less blurry in real life. Anyway, no varmints have been eating the garden this year, except for bugs. I made a fence out of an upside-down trampoline frame (we had an extra, okay? I don’t want to talk about it), chicken wire, and some zip ties. Woodchucks are supposed to be able to dig under fences, but I guess ours isn’t that ambitious.

***

MONDAY
English muffin pizzas

Wherever I was, I wasn’t home for supper. One of the kids made pizzas. There were two (as in two halves) left over when I got back, so I inhaled them, and then I ate all the leftover ice cream. And justice was restored to the world.

***

TUESDAY
Pulled pork, risotto, peas

It was murderously hot and humid, so I set the slow cooker to work making pulled pork in the steambath kitchen, and brought the Instant Pot (affiliate link) into the air conditioned dining room to make the risotto. The peas, we just ate frozen, which my kids prefer.

The pulled pork had a good flavor, but I started it too late, so it was kind of tough. I put a half pork loin into the pot with a can of beer, plenty of salt, pepper, and chili powder, about six sliced garlic cloves, and a quartered onion. It tasted as good as it smelled, which is not always a given!

I used this recipe for the risotto, minus the squash. I tripled it and lost track of how many cups of broth, so it was a little dry, but still tasty. Not a meal worth taking a picture of, though.

***

WEDNESDAY
Roasted kielbasa, cabbage, and potato with mustard vinaigrette 

A very fine summer meal, great with cheap beer, magnificent after going for a run in the evening, swimming in the pond in the rain with your husband, and then eating a late dinner while watching TV. It’s like Platonic ideal of a hot dog with sauerkraut and fries. I used three packages of kielbasa (I think they are 14 oz. each), about six pounds of small potatoes, and a large cabbage, and I made a quadruple recipe of the dressing.

The color’s off in this picture. It’s prettier in real life, and looks less like an illustration from a cheap textbook covering the post-war years of Cabbagopolis.

Here’s the recipe from Budget Bytes. Again I say unto you: measure your oven and buy yourself the biggest pans that will fit. (I got two 15×21″ aluminum pans like these [affiliate link], and they make my life better several times a week. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to cook for a crowd when you can just lay it all out there.)

Look, garlic bread for twelve on a single pan:

Or, as I see it, almost enough garlic bread for me.

***

THURSDAY
Chicken burgers, chips

I had string beans, but they went bad. Soon, soon, we will have string beans from the garden! Well, in a few weeks. Stupid slow garden.

 

***

FRIDAY
Day trip! We’re headed out and will probably grab pizza somewhere.

Oh, Amazon announcement! I now have Amazon Associate accounts that will work for Canada and the UK!
For Canada: Amazon.ca
and for the UK: Amazon.co.uk.
I’d be so grateful if you’d bookmark these pages and use them anytime you shop on Amazon. This makes up a significant part of our income. Thank you!

Writing about your kids? Watch your mouth.

She got her sons’ permission to write everything she writes.

Yeah. So what? They are your children. Your relationship with them is not a contractual obligation where one party can sign away their rights to dignity and privacy just because their mom has a deadline and a grievance

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

 

Things I don’t appreciate, Part II

A partial list.

Oh, oh, you have a backlit picture of wheat on your blog? PISS OFF. I’m not gonna wait around to find out if there’s an autoplay of devotional piano music that speeds up and slows down emotionally to illustrate the movements of the soul, which is apparently set to “achingly quivering” 24/7, because of course there is.

Say, you brought your dog to the beach even though it says no dogs allowed, because your dog is different from other dogs, and only needs a little practice around kids? HEY THAT’S SWELL. You are doing life right, Ace! Yeah, take that sucker off his leash! I had an extra ten minutes in my life that weren’t already filled with anxiety and rage, so thanks for taking care of that for me.

Could you respond to my essay by quoting the exact same paragraph I quoted in the essay, but somehow telling yourself that you’re making a devastating point that eluded me because I’m a moron? Couldja do that? YOU CAN? Oh, my luck is just through the roof today.

Hey, maybe my husband can work late to find out what the Native Americans have to say about a proposal to run power lines through 180 miles of wilderness! I certainly wonder what their take on it will be, I certainly do. Reading about it will be much better than actually finding out what my husband’s face looks like in daylight.

I want to go to my grave without knowing who Antonio Sparado is, and you assholes won’t let me.

Who’s the fucking moron who accidentally installed some kind of useless, bogus encrypted search engine on my computer, so every time I search for something, big brother won’t be able to track it, but on the other hand it only turns up super useful results like “70% off Ann Voskamp – Best Price Ann Voskamp – Buy Now?” Oh, it was me? And I get to be in charge of keeping ten human beings alive, too? THAT MAKES SENSE.

Good, good, I’ll start worrying about the parakeet’s mental state, now.

WHERE THE HELL ARE ALL MY SOCKS?

You know, Joan Jett did a cover of “You Don’t Own Me,” and it should have been awesome, but it wasn’t. It was terrible.

Good, yes, I would like the air I breathe to be more fruit fly than oxygen. I am ever so grateful, especially when I get to sponge rotten potato juice off the wire shelving I thought it wise to keep my potatoes on in the heat.

People who run several times a week should eventually get better at running, but it turns out sometimes they don’t. They just get stains on their stupid bright orange shirts, and who would buy another shirt for someone who’s so crappy at running? NOT ME.

Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t remotely attractive, and you know it. Hoo-ray, so he’s tall. Lots of people are tall. The produce guy is extremely tall, and you don’t catch me all, “ooh, ooh, he should be in a TV show, ooh, he should be in a movie.” George the Animal Steele was six foot one, all right? I guess it’s nice you feel sorry for people who weren’t born with enough skin to cover their whole entire faces, but there’s no need to pretend this is an attractive man.

And there it is.

***
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Why you should care about gluten-free Communion—even if you eat wheat

After watching many secular media outlets butcher these very ready facts about gluten in the Eucharist, though, and after seeing educated Catholics retreat huffily into their corners, I began to wonder if I have a dog in this fight, after all. Maybe we all do. Because maybe this is not the first time we’ve seen some version of this fight.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Sometimes I forget I’m a Christian.

We went to confession on Saturday. I popped in with my five-year-old, thinking partly about the gallons of ice cream melting in the car, partly about the colors they chose to repaint the narthex, and partly about how soon I’d need to get home in order to get lasagna baked before it was too late in the evening, Oh, and I thought about my sins.

I Willard Mitt* that I silently groaned when I saw which priest was suiting up for the confessional. There’s nothing wrong with him; I just don’t like him, and sometimes I feel like he misunderstands what I confess (although believe me, it’s not complicated or interesting). I brusquely reminded myself that, whichever man heard my confession, it was Jesus’ presence that counted. Hoop de doo, off we go.

So I bleated out my lame, cruddy little list, which was more or less the same as the lame, cruddy list I bleated out the last eleven times I went (including two weeks ago. The exact. Same. List). When the priest spoke, he said something I’ve strangely never heard before. He told me to pray to the Father to help me realize when I’m about to sin, so I can pray for help to resist.

I don’t know if it was just his advice of the day, or if he meant it specifically for me, but Christ definitely meant it specifically for me.

The other day, shaking my head in disgust and amazement, I told my husband, “Sometimes I forget I’m a christian!” And it’s true. It’s not that I do a bad job; I just plain forget. I say my prayers in the morning, and then the first challenge that comes up, I buckle like a damp saltine. It doesn’t even occur to me to put up a fight; and it’s only later, as I go to bed, that I realize how badly I lost the battle. I lost because I didn’t even realize there was a battle.

What a very excellent reminder (and, to my thinking, yet another form of Catholic mindfulness) that priest gave me: Ask God to help you notice the choice. Do I choose to be a christian right now, in this very second, or do I choose not to be? Because there is a choice, whether I acknowledge one or not. Hell doesn’t care if you run in with eyes open or slide in half asleep, as long as you pass over that threshold.

Scrupulous people don’t need this advice; but most of us are not scrupulous. Most of us need a reminder to open our eyes.

*this is a joke with no point at all.

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