Monsters in the walls

When I was little, a lion was living in the walls outside my room. I knew this couldn’t possibly be true, but I was also terrified any time I went into the hall because I could hear him growling.

Years later, I figured out what that sound really was. Our old Victoria-style house had a turbine vent on the roof, and when it got clogged with ice during the winter, it made a deep, ominous growling noise that seemed to be emerging from the walls.

I did not tell anybody, though, because there were actually two things I was afraid of: The lion and being told I was imagining the lion. So I quaked through many nights, terrified.

I am not mad at my parents. It was the ’70s, and parenting standards were different. I’ve done the same thing to my kids—shushing their fears, telling them not to be silly—before I knew better. 

This is one of my earliest memories, and it’s probably why I felt so deeply for the poor kid in North Carolina who turned out to have 60,000 bees living in her walls.

She, unlike me, persistently told her parents for eight months what she heard: monsters. Her parents eventually investigated and sure enough, there was a hive so gigantic that they had to tear into the walls to remove it all. Honey everywhere, dead bees everywhere. A true nightmare.

I first heard about this story because a friend pointed out that, when the bee experts removed all the bees from the toddler’s walls, the mother said to her child: “See? They’re taking the monsters away.” My friend said the mom clearly meant well, but it was a missed opportunity. Bees are not monsters! They are friends and essential to life on earth.

My friend pointed out that the kid will likely have a lifelong fear of bees since the mother affirmed for her that they are indeed monsters. And that would be a monstrous thing in itself, to live forever in fear of something you can’t escape and that is your great helper.

I think that if the child does have trauma, it will have stemmed from three possible causes: the bees themselves, of course, and perhaps the mother affirming that they are monsters. But also those eight months when no one believed her about the bee noise, even though she could hear it.

When you are consistently told, “The distressing thing is silly, and you shouldn’t be upset. You’re making it up. You can’t trust your own experience, and you should be ashamed of thinking you can”—this is a monstrous growl that reverberates well into adulthood, well into every adult relationship, well into your career, well into your understanding of faith and your sense of self. A message like that can be more life-limiting than any specific insect-phobia.

The real solution for the child, of course, would have been to strike a balance. To affirm her fear, to praise her for telling someone, and then eventually, when she was ready, to introduce her to the idea of how wonderful bees really (usually) are.

Why am I writing about this for a Catholic publication? Because I’m thinking, as I seemed doomed to be doing forever, of the sex abuse scandal.

I’m thinking about people who have been terrorized by someone representing the church, and who therefore fear or despise the Catholic Church and maybe even God himself. I’m thinking about how hard it is to respond to them with the right balance.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Superstitious practices tell God what he can and cannot do (and it’s not just for trads)

Last week we celebrated the feast of St. Joseph, and I found myself thinking about all the little resin St. Josephs scattered across this country. The poor guys are just hanging around upside down with a faceful of dirt, saying hello to passing worms, waiting to be remembered and dug up.

They are part of “home selling kits” that consist of a crudely crafted St. Joseph statue and a card with a specific prayer. Burying the statue upside down, some Catholics believe, will help them buy or sell their house.

This practice is a superstition, and superstition is explicitly named as a sin by the Catholic Church. Yes, even if you do it gently and don’t scowl and shake a fist at the statue before you bury him, and even if you pray to God to get you a good deal on your home. You can pray to God through the intercession of St. Joseph for a speedy sale; just keep his statue on the mantel.

Superstitious practices are prohibited, in part, because they “attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The church today is rife with superstitious thinking. I didn’t grow up with the St. Joseph statue tradition, but I certainly read stories about great sinners who wore a brown scapular because they believed it would save them from hell no matter what they did.

I was at a baptism last Sunday. I heard only bits and pieces of the rite of baptism, but I was still suddenly gripped by a tremendous thrill, realizing I was present to witness a real, powerful, ineradicable change taking place in the soul of the little one whose tiny bald head I could barely see. I wanted to get up and cheer, but instead, I thanked God for doing what he does.

Then some sullen shadow passed a wing over my thoughts, and I recalled how many times I’ve heard the complaint that the “novus ordo” baptism just doesn’t have the same oomph as the extraordinary form. The older form has more references to exorcising the devil and sometimes involves blessed salt, and it is therefore allegedly more powerful.

How could it be more powerful than what just happened, I wondered? This little baby just went from death to life, from dark to light, from drowning to rescue, from burial to resurrection. I believe this. This is our faith. What more could there possibly be?

I want to return to that question, but not before I say two things.

One is that superstition is something more than overtly pagan practices like putting your faith in a lucky rabbit’s foot or doing some quasi-religious ceremony like burying a statue. And it’s more than treating a scapular like a magic charm. Superstition can happen even in outwardly liturgically sound sacramental practices like baptism. Asserting that one rite of baptism is more powerful than another is claiming that we can lure or manipulate God into doing things he wouldn’t otherwise do…Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Image: Detail of St. Joseph statue via Wikimedia commons

An unexpected movie watchlist for Lent

It’s the first Friday in Lent, and you know what that means: Mandatory Lent Film Party! At least, that’s what it means at our house. As much as we can manage, every other evening in Lent is screen-free at our house. But on Fridays, we assemble the family and watch a movie together. But unlike most other movie nights, the adults get to pick it.

The parameters: Each movie should have a religious or spiritual theme or setting (not necessarily Christian), and it should be well-made enough that there’s a reason to watch it besides the spiritual aspect. We lean toward movies we probably wouldn’t get around to watching otherwise.

Some of the movies are new to us, and sometimes they turn out to be terrible! This is not a problem, as long as we talk about why we didn’t like it. Talking about the movie afterward is also mandatory.

We’ve done this for a few years, and I’ve reviewed these movies as we watch them. (Click the title of the films below for my full review.) I tried to include age recommendations—my kids range from age 8 to 25—but it’s a good idea to check out a site like commonsensemedia.org for specific elements that may make it inappropriate for your household’s audience.

Here are some of the highlights and lowlights from the lesser-known or unexpected films on our Lenten watchlist to date… Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine

Image:

Meilin Lee Watching TV Template by MaksKochanowicz123
and GaryStockbridge617 (Creative Commons)

From “rinse and repeat” to the living water

A priest I knew used to counsel against making New Year’s resolutions. He said that the first of January was an artificial deadline for starting new habits, and that, as Catholics, we shouldn’t feel the need to wait for that day. Do you want to repent and change your life? Why tie your plans to a date on the calendar? Now is the acceptable time.

I get the point, but I think he missed the boat with this advice. It’s very natural to want a nice, bright line for a starting point, and it’s very common to do better when we have plenty of people starting fresh on January first. If misery loves company, so does hope.

But there is something to be said for looking closely at both the secular view of “changing one’s life” with a New Year’s resolution and the sacred view. There is a lot of overlap, but also some gaps in each—at least on the surface.

I have been seeing a therapist for just over a year. She is thoroughly secular but extremely interested in and respectful of my Catholic worldview, and she wants to help me be a healthy and whole person. Our conversations help me clarify what it is I believe: Which ideas are helpful and healing and from the Lord (even if they look secular from the outside)? Which are terrible (even though they have always been mislabeled “Catholic” in my head)?

We talk about the phenomenon of people repeating undesirable behaviors over and over again. This is what she calls “rinse and repeat.” We talk about what it looks like when people start to make those small, uncomfortable changes toward their stated goals. This is what she calls “moving the needle.” We talk a lot about how to tell the difference between these two phenomena because when you’re in the middle of either, they can look and feel similar.

It is common to make the same resolutions over and over again. This is the year, we may say to ourselves. This is the year I am finally going to stop eating compulsively or smoking or using porn or lying around all the time while my body falls apart.

Secular and spiritual advisors would agree that is a good idea! These things you say you want to give up are bad for you, and they are probably bad for people you care about.

The basic Catholic advice for making a change is: Go to confession and confess anything you’ve done that’s sinful and make a firm intention to stop doing those things. Listen to absolution and your penance. Boom, done. A brand new person walks out of the confessional.

But if you took these issues to a therapist, they would probably say: O.K., awesome. What’s the plan? What are you going to do differently from what you have done before? Let’s figure out why you do the thing that you’ve been doing over and over, that you say you want to stop doing. What are you getting from it? And if it’s something you need, where else can you get that thing?

The basic Catholic advice is not meant to be everything you need. In some ways, it is just a starting point. A good confessor, who has the time and the expertise, will tell you almost exactly the same things as a good therapist. A good confessor will say, I absolve you, but what’s your plan? What are you going to do differently than what you have done before? Let’s take a hard look at why you’re committing the sin you’re committing. What are you getting from it, where else can you get that thing?

Most priests are not trained therapists and aren’t qualified to lead you through detailed analysis. But it wouldn’t be a bad thing for them to at least suggest that these questions are relevant and worth pondering. A good confessor will also answer that last question. The answer is: Everything you need, you can get from Jesus. But you’re a lot more likely to get it if you understand what you’re asking for. And this is where all those other questions come in.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine

Image via Wikimedia Commons  (Creative Commons)

What happens when you put Jesus in a Taylor Swift T-shirt?

The giant Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro sparked chatter last week when it was fitted with a projected image of a Taylor Swift T-shirt, who launched the Brazil leg of her Eras Tour on Nov. 17. The 124-foot statue of Jesus, with outstretched arms that span 92 feet, can be seen from all over the city and beyond.

The archdiocese has offered the statue and its grounds and sanctuary for events and promotions for many years. The proceeds, including those from the recent Swift-inspired projection, go to charity—and the poor in Brazil are in great need of charity.

These considerations are why I’m still thinking about that T-shirt on Jesus. I don’t like it. (I also don’t like it when Catholic church facades are illuminated with images, a practice that is becoming more and more popular globally.) It disturbs me when we get too casual with sacred images.

When I brought the matter up with some friends, a few of them quickly called it “blasphemy.” This is an image of Jesus, who is God, and he surely loves Taylor Swift the human woman. But he’s not a Swiftie; he’s the Lord.

I don’t think it’s blasphemy. Blasphemy, strictly speaking, entails words that maliciously or carelessly insult God. As far as I know, nobody has paid to light up the statue to look like anything that the church condemns. The sanctuary’s website invites organizations to apply to use the statue for events or displays but reminds that proposals will be evaluated for whether the values expressed are appropriate.

During the pandemic, the sanctuary lit it up to make it appear as a doctor and included messages to remain hopeful and stay home. They have lit it up to support efforts against human trafficking. But not all displays are so lofty. They also lit it up to wear a soccer shirt in support of the Flamengo team. They lit it up in honor of the region getting connected to 5G service. They also projected the national colors of various countries during the World Cup, and again during the pandemic, so that at one point, Jesus was red with five yellow stars, wrapped in the Chinese flag.

Does this still seem fine to you?

But it’s for charity, some will say. Surely Jesus can handle being decorated. It’s not really Jesus; it’s just a statue; and anyway, there’s nothing wrong with soccer or pop music, and Jesus loves the poor, and he is the divine physician, and the goal is to bring hope and comfort to people who see it.

It still sets off alarm bells for me. This has been a century of great losses, and one of the greatest has been a loss of the sense of the sacred.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Image via PickPik

People have always tried to use Jesus in the culture wars. Follow Him anyway.

There was a gargantuan Eucharistic procession through New York City a few days ago, led by a bishop and joined by hundreds of habited sisters and clergy in flowing vestments, replete with candles and incense and song, and followed by thousands of lay people. It was immense.

I love Eucharistic processions—not because they trigger some kind of fond nostalgia for the good old days (how old do you think I am?), but because it is literally Jesus and people following him. What’s not to love?

Plenty, it turns out. I found out about the procession by scrolling through social media, and then instantly found out how many people didn’t like it.

Let me pause here and say that I don’t know much of the context of the procession. It was, I gather, organized by the Napa Institute as part of the National Eucharistic Revival. I have been avoiding learning very much about either the Napa Institute or the Eucharistic Revival because every time these topics come up, people start getting nasty. I’m a slow student, but one thing I’ve finally learned is that Jesus and nastiness do not mix. If I can’t stop being a jerk, at the very least I can try not to be a jerk to people about Jesus. So I stay away from certain conversations. I have made a choice to de-contextualize certain spiritual things. This means I’m less well-informed about some current events, but my prayer life is stronger, and I’m okay with that trade-off.

That being said, I was taken aback by just how mad people were about this Eucharistic procession. I like processions so much, I guess I naively assumed everybody did. I had forgotten that sometimes, people use processions as a power move, as sorties in the culture war. Apparently, people will sometimes organize a Eucharistic procession as a way of saying “This is the old school church, and we’re taking back this space from you filthy modernists” or ”suck it, secularists; we’re gonna stop traffic and you’re gonna take it” or . . . something. And that is not very Christlike.

And I gather that some people objected to the procession because it strikes them as tone-deaf for the church to do something so showy and ceremoniously, publicly pious while several dioceses in New York state have filed bankruptcy because of lawsuits from victims of sex abuse by priests; but there they go, walking by slowly in their pretty white robes. So if you look at it in a certain light, you might think, “Why are these rape apologists who have dug themselves so deep into such an ugly hole getting dressed up in fancy clothes and parading slowly through the streets with candles and music, as if they have anything to be proud of?”

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine. 

Love of God is something we can learn

When I was little, I pored over the stories of the saints, especially the martyrs. I was morbidly fascinated by stories of little 6-year-old Conchita of the Drooping Veil who loved God so passionately that, whenever her wicked pagan stepmother would torment her and put tar in her hair and report her to the governor for being Christian, she would simply smile and pray for them all, because she just loved God so much. (Please don’t look Conchita up; she is just an amalgam, but you get the idea.)

I was enthralled. I was captivated by the exoticism of the setting (saints all seemed to live in a time when people wore robes and carried things around in clay jugs, which sounded amazing) and the exoticism of the spirituality itself; but even more compelling was how every story carried a clear message: This is what I was supposed to be like. I was supposed to imitate this girl in my own life, right now.

I was savvy enough to figure out that a lot of the details of the story were adaptable. You could wear shorts and a shirt with a purple unicorn on it, like my own favorite shirt, and be a saint. You could pursue holiness by not fighting with your sister or by cleaning the living room like your mother said or by putting your whole allowance in the basket at church instead of spending it on nail polish. I understood that.

The part that was not clicking was the part where St. Conchita loved God. And I, myself, did not. And boy, did I feel bad about it.

It actually shows some pretty good self-awareness that as a kid I even realized I didn’t love God, and loving him is the main point of the stories of the lives of the saints. It wasn’t my fault that these stories were presented in a grotesque and melodramatic way that made them seem foreign to my own life, and it also wasn’t my fault that I didn’t automatically and naturally feel a great love for my creator and savior by the time I reached the age of reason.

It would have been nice if someone had told me how to go about learning to love God, though. Because I have discovered that, for most people, it is something that they have to learn. We may be created to love God, but that doesn’t mean it happens on its own….Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

 

Photo by Bicanski on Pixnio

Why is RFK Jr. gaining popularity? Everyone is afraid, and everyone is traumatized.

It was a bit of a shambles inside the dim, noisy pavilion. I was at the annual Free State Project-sponsored camping festival, PorcFest, to see presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and had snagged a seat, but it was a close call. The steamy, garage-like structure was filling up, and the line to get in still snaked through the campgrounds in the foothills of the White Mountains. (The speech was in late June, before the latest accusations that Mr. Kennedy shared racist and antisemitic claims about Covid-19.) 

I have a peculiar relationship with libertarians and, in particular, with Free Staters, a loose affiliation of libertarians who have moved to New Hampshire to establish a stronghold for their ideology. I strongly share some of their values: their emphasis on liberty, civil rights, small government and the freedom to teach one’s own children and to worship without restriction. But I loathe others: bodily autonomy and self-reliance that extends to the point of callous disregard for the poor, the unborn, the disabled and the underage—and their obsession with guns, guns and more guns.

Still, there is a tiny part of me that understands libertarians and sympathizes with their cause. Who isn’t sick to death of the government? I think it was P. J. O’Rourke who once said that, when you’re poor, the government seems to simultaneously control every aspect of your life and care nothing for you at all. You could apply that idea to most citizens today and get a pretty good picture of the lumbering, blindly malicious, wasteful yet horribly necessary behemoth we are all languishing under. No wonder libertarians look at our country, look at the solutions both Democrats and Republicans offer, and say, “No thanks.”

Libertarians are usually right about what is not working. The trouble is, they generally think the answer is to hunker down in whatever self-made kingdom you can cobble together, and to hell with everyone else. This attitude alone makes libertarianism incompatible with Catholicism, because we are obligated to care for one another. That’s where I land.

But these are strange times. Every election in recent memory has been difficult for me as a Catholic. I cannot remember the last time I voted for someone. It has simply been a matter of voting to do the least damage, or to stop someone else from doing more damage.

So there I was, waiting to hear what R.F.K., a Democrat, had to say to a crowd of Free Staters, many of whom are so extreme that even the Libertarian Party disowned them. I was ready to hear anything and curious about his appeal. A Newsweek poll showed that 31 percent of those who voted for Joe Biden in 2020 support Mr. Kennedy’s presidential bid. That is extraordinary, considering how thoroughly Mr. Kennedy has earned his reputation as a conspiracy theorist.

I wanted to know what my fellow Catholics, in particular, thought about R.F.K. Jr., and I had spotted a few by the miraculous medals around their necks. We made plans to meet up after the speech.

We waited. Half an hour later, an organizer stood up and began to shout, “Some of you don’t belong in here!” I froze, thinking she was on to me. I had voted for President Biden (albeit gloomily), and I think the Second Amendment is O.K. (at best). But it turns out 20 to 30 people had mistakenly jumped the line and were sitting in a section that rightly belonged to the folks who had been waiting in the hot sun for hours. She acknowledged that it is a “voluntary society” and no one can force them, but she hotly pleaded with the line-cutters to do the honest thing and leave.

Two people left.

Maybe half an hour later, the last seat was filled and the speech began….Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine. 

Below: Some more photos from PorcFest XX

The Pope’s response to Rupnik shows we’re still in the desert

Marko Rupnik, S.J., has been expelled from the Jesuits. I have written enough about sex abuse that I automatically started to type out “Disgraced former priest Marko Rupnik,” but guess what? He is still a priest (although his faculties are limited), and I am hard pressed to say that he has truly been disgraced, even now.

Father Rupnik is a voracious sexual predator who allegedly spent several decades manipulating and tormenting vulnerable women into acting out quasi-spiritual sexual fantasies for his gratification. He is also a popular sacred artist (his hollow-eyed figures haunt the missals at my parish, as well as the walls of prominent churches and shrines worldwide), and apparently he is also a charismatic and charming fellow. For over 30 years, nearly every time one of the victims reported him, his peers and superiors, including the pope, decided that even when he might need to be disciplined, he didn’t need to be stopped. Clericalism is bad, but Father Rupnik is different.

A formal investigation by the Jesuits confirmed that he had excommunicated himself when he absolved a woman of sexual sins that he himself had perpetrated upon her. But even while his excommunication had not been resolved, he was invited to substitute as the preacher of the annual Lenten retreat for the Roman Curia; later, his work was chosen as the logo for the World Meeting of Families. In January 2022, the pope met with him privately. When Rupnik’s excommunication was confirmed, that sanction was quickly lifted, and when Rupnik was later accused of decades-old crimes, the Vatican refused to waive the statute of limitations.

In January of this year, Pope Francis, who had supposedly been close with Rupnik, called the allegations against him “a surprise.” He strove to emphasize that he himself had nothing to do with this case beyond a small administrative decision. It wasn’t his fault. How could he have known? What could he have done? He is just the pope. He only met with the man. How was he supposed to make sure he didn’t keep abusing women?

When will this end?

When will the day come when we won’t see a headline about the Catholic Church reluctantly admitting that they have spent the last several decades protecting yet another predator and feeding yet more victims into the flames? When will it stop?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I know when it won’t stop: It won’t stop under this generation of bishops, appointed by Francis or Benedict XVI or John Paul II. Some of them are good and decent men. But all of them are tainted. And the purification that must happen in the church will not be completed until they have been replaced.

I am not thirsting for anyone’s death. I am looking to Scripture, and I am seeing how God’s slow hand works….Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine

Image of Pope Francis by  Christoph Wagener, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What’s it like to be a non-Catholic married to a Catholic?

When Laura Frese was three days postpartum, she had to take her newborn back into the hospital to be treated for jaundice. They had been home for only 12 hours, and it was right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, before vaccinations, and she had to leave her other two children behind with no family to help. At the hospital, she just couldn’t get herself out of the car.

“I’ve seen my wife cry all of three times,” said her husband, Bradford. This was one of those times. Laura was simply overwhelmed.

So Bradford held her hand and started saying Hail Marys. This comforted her and helped her compose and center herself, and she found the strength to drag herself back through that hospital door.

Not an extraordinary story, perhaps, except that Bradford Frese is an atheist. He does not believe in God or intercessory prayer. But he does love his wife.

“I tried to find some way to comfort her in that moment that was specific to her, and not just what I thought. Not telling her what I needed her to hear, but to understand what might bring her strength in that moment,” said Mr. Frese.

He has noticed that prayer is good for his kids, too. It calms them down, helps them regulate their breathing, and aids in teaching them to hold themselves to high moral standards. He believes it has empirical benefits, if not precisely the ones religious people believe in.

The Freses, who live in Washington, D.C., are part of a growing trend in the United States. In the 1950s, only 5 percent of marriages in the United States were between Christians and religiously unaffiliated people, and fewer than 20 percent were between people in different religious groups, according to a 2015 Pew study. But things have changed. At the time of the study, the share of spouses in different religious groups had climbed to 39 percent, and 18 percent of marriages were between a Christian and a “none.”

Such marriages may be more common than they once were, but they are by no means easy. It might feel, in the first, heady days of a couple’s relationship, like love can smooth over any differences, including those between a believer and a non-believer. In reality, there must be open communication, clarity, flexibility and probably compromise on both sides. How to raise children is a frequent point of contention, and so are matters of sexual ethics. As Catholics, it can be illuminating to understand better how these matters land “on the other side”—how it feels to be the non-Catholic married to a Catholic.

No Longer “Doomed”

Religious leaders used to warn that such marriages were “doomed, absolutely doomed,” said Dale McGowan, author of In Faith and In Doubt and several other books on raising kids without religion. “The fact is, that’s less often borne out than it once was.”

As these marriages have become more common, the warnings surrounding them have become less dire—and with good cause. The risks of marrying outside one’s faith are much more intense when such partnerships cause a rift with your familiar social, political and religious communities. But today, the average American moves 11 times, and the insulated, isolated, homogeneous communities of the past are now rare and fragile. We simply encounter more different people than we used to.

“The culture itself has adapted to the idea of being exposed to different influences,” Mr. McGowan said. And that goes both for the believer and for the non-believer in the mixed-belief couple.

In Mr. Frese’s case, growing up in a religiously diverse private high school in Albuquerque, N.M., helped him to respect people with differing beliefs from a young age. Mormons, Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, atheists and agnostics all mixed together and spoke freely about their beliefs and disagreements, in and out of class. He absorbed the idea that diversity is desirable. He could also see that children who took their religion seriously tended to be kind, and that made a good impression on him.

“It was a big deal in their personal lives, and it motivated them, but it wasn’t a divisive factor,” he said. Still, religious practice didn’t draw him personally. “I’m cut off from this way of thinking. It’s not something I’ve ever been motivated to do or to think about,” he said.

Mr. Frese was obliged to think about religion several years into his marriage when his wife, a nominal Catholic when they met, started diving deeper into her faith. They had been married in a vineyard, and for the first few years, she went to Mass only sporadically. But her parish priest encouraged them to get married in the church. Ms. Frese liked the idea, so Mr. Frese agreed, and shortly after the birth of their second child, they had a ceremony in the church with family and friends. She began to be more involved in her faith and in parish life.

The birth of a child is one of three major life events, after the engagement and the marriage itself, that Mr. McGowan calls a “landmark” that “really brings out the issues” in a marriage between a believer and a nonbeliever.

Mr. McGowan said it is vital for a couple to talk about expectations ahead of time, so that no one ends up feeling duped. And he says when shifts in belief do occur, both parties should strive to be as flexible and open to other points of view as possible.

Mr. Frese and his wife did have open discussions about family size before they were married and decided it made sense to have two children, and that a girl and a boy would be ideal. If they had two children of the same sex, perhaps they would try for a third or even adopt (Laura is an adoptee herself).

They had a boy and a girl.

“I was like, ‘Great, I’m gonna have a vasectomy,’” Mr. Frese said.

He was shocked when his wife asked him to wait, because she might want a third child ….
Read the rest of my feature story in America Magazine