Tuesday, April 30, 2019

But How Will They Eat If Martha Sits Down?

Party noises resound down the hall as I sit for a moment after evening prayers and bedtimes with the kids. I pull out my rosary to pray a quick decade.

"Our Father who art in heaven…"

From the back bedrooms, I hear the springs of a crib mattress under my 3-year-old's gymnastic jumps, the bellowing nonsensical conversation of my twin preschoolers, and the whine of my 7-year-old as he convinces his 9-year-old brother to throw back his pillow.

The story of Martha and Mary comes to mind.

"Lord," I complain. "I'm trying to choose the better part here, to be here with you instead of busying myself with the distractions of home. But it's getting pretty crazy back there."

I finish the decade and shake my head at Jesus' naivety when it comes to running a household. Who does He think is going to make dinner if not Martha? The contemplative life is a nice idea, but in the real world, at the end of the day, people want to eat dinner, especially the little people who are not-so-slowly turning my brown hair gray.

I begin a second decade of prayer and meditation. The playful shrieks of my children continue in the background.

"Lord, my children are really partying back there. But I am choosing the better part."
I hear a crash and then silence and then crying. "OWWWIE!"

I drop the rosary into my pocket and huff down the hall to check owies and dispense divine justice.

With five kids split between two rooms, bedtime is… a process. I move one child to the couch, another to my bed, and then, the dreaded ultimate weapon: I shut the bedroom doors.

As I relax into a chair and pull out my rosary for a third decade, I overhear a tired "Maaaaama…" from the bedrooms. I pause to discern how serious the need -- potty help? missing stuffed animal? -- but it stops unexpectedly, and the house is quiet.

"Our Father, who art in heaven…"

My mind wanders. I want to stop praying so I can watch my recording of The Late Show from the night before. But now there's a kid on the couch, so TV's no longer an option.

"...hallowed be Thy name…"

How can a mom running a household with five young kids possibly have a choice between being Mary or Martha? Who's going to feed the children?

Discontentment echoes down the hallway -- "Humph. Humph. Humph." -- followed by the thump of a mattress as my grumpy, tired seven-year-old shifts in his bed.

"Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit…"

New shouts call down the hallway. "Gabwab! GABWAB!" Speech lessons haven't ungarbled his words yet. I get up to check it out.

The translation is "Bed Stuff!" and the complaint is that he was moved to the master bedroom without his blanket, pillow, bathrobe, and three stuffed animals.

My 7-year-old starts howling. It's not a cry of fear or sadness or anger; it's just something he does because he's earned Wolf rank in Cub Scouts, and wolves howl. I ignore it.

A fourth decade begins. "Our Father who art in heaven…"
I'm grateful for the rhythm of the rosary. It's easy to pick up where I leave off after each interruption.

My 9-year-old calls out from the couch, asking if he can sleep on the dog's couch instead of the TV couch. Sure.

"Ubba, wubba, wubba!" my 3-year-old sings down the hall. It's a song about… I don't know.

Was I on the 7th or 8th "Hail Mary"?

I imagine Martha catching glimpses of Jesus' conversation as she makes dinner in the kitchen. It reminds me of my weekly Mass experience, catching glimpses of the liturgy as I quiet kids and resolve sibling pew rivalries with silent shouts from my eyes.

"Hail Mary, full of grace…"

A kid is coughing. I wonder if my allergy kid is getting sick or just announcing an impending weather change. I should wash his sheets.

Fifth decade.

I start a wry "Our Father" with undertones of, "Seriously, Lord? What are we even doing here?" But I'm smiling.

The house settles into silence. I can hear the clock ticking over the fireplace.

Then, "Woo-woo-woo. Aaaah!" in muffled tones from the bedroom. It's the sound of a three-year-old's face singing into a pillow as his sleepy head can no longer hold itself up.

"Our Father who art in heaven…"

My own tiredness feels heavy. I think about the dishes that still need to be washed in the sink.

"Hail Mary… blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus… pray for us..."

It occurs to me that Jesus didn't see Martha as a cook or a hostess or a housekeeper. He told her to stop doing all of that.

But Martha had a household to run. She had a living room full of guests. And no one was doing anything to help her meet all these needs. "Jesus, I need help!" she says.

"Mommy? What do I do if I need to go to the bathroom?" my 9-year-old whisper-calls from the dog couch.

"You can go down the hall quietly. Please don't flush the toilet. You'll wake up your brothers."

"Hail Mary, full of grace…"

Jesus didn't respond to Martha's request for help by sending all the women to the kitchen to finish cooking. He didn't tell Martha to suck it up and get it done alone. Jesus would rather cancel dinner altogether than have women miss out on spiritual discussion.

Glub, glub, glub. The dog's water bowl unexpectedly auto-fills behind me, and it shakes me from my contemplation.

I'm sad that the rosary's ending. The story's not done.

What about the meal? Jesus, who's going to make dinner if Martha sits down to talk with you? How will the people eat?
This part of the story always panics me. Can you tell I'm Italian?

I hear the quiet snores of my 9-year-old finally asleep on the couch.

"... grant, we beseech Thee, that meditating on these mysteries of the most holy rosary, we may imitate what they contain…"

My house is so quiet. I slowly stand up to get started on the dishes in the sink... school lunches for tomorrow... a last load of laundry always waiting in the dryer… the work just doesn't end.

Is it really possible for me to choose the contemplative life with all this work to be done? Lord?

I don't know for sure what happened that late afternoon in Bethany when Jesus told Martha that she was invited to join the conversation instead of labor alone in the kitchen.

I believe Martha stopped in her busyness to rest with the Lord, to enjoy his presence and conversation.

But then, I also believe -- and this is just a random mom's rosary contemplation, so take it or leave it -- that just as everyone was getting good and hangry and ready for dinner, Jesus himself got up to help prepare the meal.

After all, he's a pragmatist. According to the Bible, Jesus did all kinds of teaching while participating in the daily routines of life -- fishing, cooking, traveling, eating… Lots of ministry happened over meals, even meals that He prepared.

"Everyone seems kind of hungry. Let's continue this conversation in the kitchen!" ...or something like that.

My house is quiet, the kitchen's a mess, and my rosary's ended.

But I don't think Jesus wants to stay tucked neatly into this small contemplative pocket of a busy day. He wants to stay in conversation together over dishes and laundry and whatever else this day may bring.

*Republished December 2019 at CatholicMom.com

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

"Unplanned" -- Effective Pro-Life Work & Conversations [A Movie Review]

Issues so personal as pregnancy and loss aren't something to talk about lightly.

Add to that a national pro-life movement that's rife with internal strategy wars and inconsistent politicization, and I didn't have high hopes for "Unplanned."

But overall first impression? I liked it.

"Unplanned" tells the story of Abby Johnson's gradual transition from pro-choice to pro-life advocacy after many years as a clinical director at Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas.

From the beginning, this movie gives pro-life advocates the freedom to disagree with one another over approach.

Marilisa is a young volunteer with the Coalition For Life, an organization that prays quietly outside the fence surrounding Planned Parenthood. She agrees with Abby that the graphic signs and rudeness of other well-intentioned pro-lifers are completely ineffective. This scene reminded me of the times I've shared common ground with pro-choice advocates, agreeing with their dismay at the rhetoric or actions of those who claim pro-life values.

An interview with the real-life Marilisa Carney discusses how her pro-life advocacy has changed through different seasons of life. After many years of full-time ministry, Marilisa's current pro-life work is raising her kids, "cultivating a pro-life culture in our homes," as she says. I find encouragement in this idea that our pro-life advocacy could be as simple as living our lives where we are.

Each person in the movie who identifies as pro-life lives out that belief differently. Everyone doesn't work at the crisis pregnancy resource center. Everyone doesn't pray outside Planned Parenthood. Everyone doesn't intensively take on every conversational opportunity to push their pro-life beliefs on anyone who will listen.

Not once in this movie did a change of heart come from conflict, anger, or a dismissive witty jab. Which brings me to the next takeaway that I'd do well to take to heart…

"Unplanned" illustrates how conversion comes through quiet moments, supportive conversation, and established relationships of mutual respect.

I don't usually watch R-rated movies. I don't like graphic violence or gore, especially the out-of-context images that get stuck in my head. (I saw "The Passion of the Christ" because I used to support the idea that we can't fully appreciate Jesus' sacrifice unless we see it represented as close to its actual horror as possible. I no longer feel this way.)

"Unplanned" has a lot of blood: a particularly disturbing bathroom scene after Abby experiences a chemical abortion and a bloody clinic scene after a teenage girl hemorrhages from a perforated uterus during an abortion. Having given birth several times, and having seen the incredible bloody mess that it makes, I don't think the amount of blood involved was overstated.

In my completely amateur movie reviewer opinion, the MPAA rating is straight-up accurate.

"Unplanned" isn't strongly political. As a pro-life person who's advocated
that someone can vote -- in good conscience -- Republican or Democrat with the intent to decrease abortion in America, I appreciated that the movie itself steered clear of specific politics. I sporadically follow Abby Johnson on social media, and from what I've seen, she regularly offends people from both ends of the political spectrum in her attempts to be consistently pro-life. (Personally, I appreciate that.)

Unfortunately, the marketing company that promoted "Unplanned" on Twitter used the movie's account to "like" a POTUS tweet regarding an irrelevant political issue -- citizenship and the census.

This seems particularly out of touch with pro-life values since undocumented immigrants are more vulnerable to the desperate situations that lead to abortion. Birth Choice, a pro-life crisis pregnancy resource center in Oklahoma, shared that 70 percent of the women who come to them for help are Spanish-speaking, and many among them, undocumented. Regardless, Birth Choice helps every woman.

"Unplanned" went to such great lengths in its scripting and production to appeal to a bipartisan audience with the message that real pro-lifers care about helping both a woman and her child through whatever crisis they're facing. Given this, it seems counterintuitive at best and hypocritical at worst for the movie to take an intentional public political position on social media against immigrants who are currently in America illegally.

(I'm hopeful it was the dumb mistake of an errant marketing intern who forgot to log out of his company's account before scrolling through his own. If that's the case, it should have been publicly acknowledged and retracted, perhaps with an apology for distracting from actual pro-life conversation around the movie.)

I digress. Let's bring this home.

As a pro-life advocate, I've spent Saturdays praying on sidewalks outside Planned Parenthood clinics. I've brought my young children with me to vigils outside the fence.

While praying, I've watched clinic volunteers meet women at their cars to escort them safely inside. It seems ironic. So many volunteers, men and women, giving up their Saturdays -- rosaries on one side of the fence, yellow vests on the other -- each group believing the worst about those on the other side, each group wanting to protect vulnerable women from being manipulated by those on the other side.

For what it's worth, I've been on both sides of that fence.

When I was unexpectedly pregnant with my first beautiful son, I took a pregnancy test at a Planned Parenthood, and they helped me get healthcare coverage for prenatal care.

The front desk and billing people were impersonal and matter-of-fact, like any medical front office (including my pro-life Catholic ob-gyn and nearly every other doctor our family has ever used). But the nurses and counselors at Planned Parenthood were kind and patient (as are most nurses everywhere).

Granted, they charged me $25 for a simple urine pregnancy test that probably cost them a quarter. And once I turned down counseling for abortion or adoption, they couldn't really do anything else for me.

But that brief visit at Planned Parenthood is what made prenatal care accessible to me. (I'd already been turned down as a patient by several local ob-gyns and hospitals due to inability to pay.) Planned Parenthood provided the confirmation of pregnancy form that helped me qualify for Medicaid.

Throughout the movie, Planned Parenthood workers and volunteers are portrayed as compassionate to the difficult situations of the women who come through their doors and committed to a cause for better women's healthcare.

Planned Parenthood corporate, on the other hand -- as personified through Abby's ruthless regional director -- is depicted to a near caricature extreme of greed and immorality.

This bipolar tug-of-war between compassion and greed is intended to vilify Planned Parenthood, suggesting a true healthcare provider would never prioritize profits over patients. And yet, I found it an all too familiar summary of most healthcare in America.

Whether it's my children's orthodontist, pediatric neurosurgeon, ENT, anesthesiologists, or just primary care providers, I've experienced the same seemingly unethical medical practices ascribed to Planned Parenthood in this movie: encouraged to put unaffordable care on credit cards, urged to pursue aggressive, more expensive treatments than may be necessary, and treated like cattle in an over-scheduled day surgery clinic.

So it seems disingenuous to indict Planned Parenthood for operating from a profit-driven model of care when most medical providers in America -- providers who also file as "non-profits" -- treat patients exactly the same way.

If, however, we're to shut down Planned Parenthood explicitly for its abortion practices, that's a different and more honest conversation. Let's talk about that.

As someone who's personally benefited from the low-income women's healthcare provisions of Planned Parenthood, and as someone with friends who access STI testing and wellness services from the same clinic, I have to ask, when it comes to shutting down abortion providers, why Planned Parenthood? Why is Planned Parenthood targeted specifically for extensive regulation and political posturing around the issue of abortion?

I ask because there is a very profitable, large-scale abortion provider in the United States -- not Planned Parenthood -- that is almost completely self-regulated and enjoys unlimited bipartisan support. No one protests or prays outside their fences. And in fact, many leading "pro-life" politicians have offered their unwavering support. I'm talking about fertility clinics.

The process of in vitro fertilization [IVF] creates 15-20 embryos in each process, of which only 1-2 are implanted. The rest (~86% of created embryos) are disposed of as medical "waste," indefinitely frozen in storage, or donated to science. While the abortion rate in women’s clinics has declined steadily over the years, the CDC estimates, as of 2015, nearly 1 in 50 children are born through assisted reproductive technology. As of 2014, Texas had 28 clinics that offer abortion. Texas currently has 78 fertility clinics.

I don't bring up fertility clinics to deflect from the harmful reality of abortion at low-income women's health clinics, but simply to question our contemporary pro-lif
e priorities. Why is it that poor people getting abortions are vilified to the extent that society feels it's better to shut down basic health services in under-resourced areas -- services that reportedly are not being met by other low-income clinics once Planned Parenthood closes -- while the wealthy are free to dabble, create, and destroy unborn human life with impunity?

Again, and please, believe me, I am not trying to shut down pro-life advocacy here. I am trying to help us see our blind spots, hopefully in a way that can help us understand why some in the pro-choice movement might interpret our pro-life intentions as disingenuous and inconsistent.

I've heard there are inconsistencies to Abby's story -- whether her assistance in an ultrasound-guided abortion happened as described, whether her employee record was as stellar as she claims. To be honest, the contested details seem inconsequential to me.

I've gotten myself too entangled in a story before, mixing up a strict timeline of events for the heart of the story I'm trying to tell. I've left a job at the same time that the job was ready for me to leave.

I'm not ascribing any of these explanations to Abby's situation. But I don't think the discrepancy issues raised are large enough to undermine the reality of her testimony: a woman who dedicated her life to caring for women by providing abortion access had a change of heart and now runs a non-profit organization, And Then There Were None, that helps employees at abortion clinics transition to new jobs.

The greatest takeaway from "Unplanned" is its statement on the power of relationship. When we find ourselves on polar ends of an issue with family, friends, or activist strangers, a belief in the good intentions of the other goes far. I think this might be an effective place for quality pro-life / pro-choice dialogue to begin.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Leticia Ochoa Adams Interview!

It was so awesome to meet Leticia Ochoa Adams in person at the FemCatholic conference last March! She's an amazing woman with an amazing story.

We were absolutely captivated by her words. She had us laughing and crying, then laughing, then crying... what a life she has lived and is living.

I had the opportunity to interview Leticia after the conference, and she shared so much of her heart. Here's an excerpt from the interview:

A chapter you wrote for The Catholic Hipster Handbook includes the confession that you started attending RCIA only to get your “Catholic badge” so your live-in boyfriend would marry you. What drew you further into Catholicism?

LOA: My RCIA director was honest about his past and how he was addicted to heroin. He is also very much in love with Jesus and talks about Christ like He is real, and I wanted that.
Also, I was drawn in by being loved and treated like a person, instead of being reduced to my mistakes, by the people God put in my life from the very beginning of my conversion: my RCIA director, Noe Rocha, and my two priests, Fr. Jonathan (Fr. J) and Fr. Dean. These three men became my spiritual fathers. They accepted me as I was and never judged me.
Fr. J helped get me into therapy and was one of the first people in my life to tell me that the trauma of being sexually abused as child was the root cause of so many of my choices in life. He told me that God wanted to heal me. I felt seen and not judged in his office.

Read the rest over at FemCatholic!