NFP Awareness Week 2016- Media Meditation Monday


Hat tip/credit to the USCCB.

Let’s get this week really underway! (If you’d like a primer on NFP, explore the links provided by the USCCB.)

A couple of years ago I decided to recognize NFP Awareness Week with some regular posts. I’ll try to tag them so you can look them up (and honestly, I need to review what I’ve already said!).

Today I wanted to bring back one of my personal favorite categories, Modern Media Meditation. Considering myself musically Ignatian, I most often and profoundly experience God in music. And believe it or not, some of the principles of NFP are preached in music. That you hear on the radio! No need to wade through the one generic Christian rock station or break out Matt Maher CDs, unless you’d like to.

“All of Me” by John Legend. For our first dance, PJ and I swayed and twirled to young singer Jasmine Thompson’s cover.

Many posts ago, I analyzed the lyrics to the song, with maybe just a hint of an idea that perhaps it could be used for my very own marriage! If someone knows of a version with male and female voices, please let me know, so it can be my new favorite thing. To further connect the words to NFP, especially the lovely theme devised by the USCCB:

  • Love: Not just the passionate, romantic kind (eros) the singer feels for the beloved, but the sacrificial (caritas/agape) kind: “Even when I lose, I’m winning.” Something I could only superficially understand before marriage and living the practice out–“NFP entails loving sacrifice”–I am now experiencing more deeply. Think of any hard part of NFP and that you were losing–the idea is to have the grace to see you’re actually winning, because what you have given up was out of love for the other. And that is “winning.”


  • Mercy: This virtue is showing compassion, to “feel with.” Despite  the beloved’s “imperfections,” or the “world beating you down,” the singer loves the person totally and completely. To me, the latter lyric could signify our sinful nature in this fallen world. And NFP in practice does still offer a channel for evil to enter in. What couples have to do (and what PJ and I are striving to live out) is be merciful to one another when he/she struggles, and like God, love anyway–and use that love to “show us still a better way.”


  • Life: Okay, this is a little bit of a stretch, because nothing in the song talks about creating a life together. HOWEVER, the singer repeatedly mentions giving his/her “all” to the other, as does the beloved reciprocate. In NFP, you are giving all of yourself, including your potential fertility. When you’re both “showing hearts” (just what shape do you think some NFP charts use to indicate intercourse?), you’re showing openness to each other, but also a child.

And just because there has to be some humor, some choice lyrics are “You’re crazy and I’m out of my mind.” Relying on (a very effective) method of spacing or achieving pregnancy that relies on discernment is a very radical act in today’s culture, and given some of the practice’s idiosynchrosies, a little intimidating. Also, “Risking it all, though it’s hard.” I will always be honest. Before marriage, I could point to forums, articles, “experts” and say, “Let’s not be naive. This is hard.” Now I can say, “Yup! I was right.” Sometimes it is a challenge, and you’re feeling like you are taking a risk. But the point is you do it anyway. Not because you’re lazy. Not because some old man in a funny hat told you you had to or else hell. But because you want to. Because you see it as an act of love.

Some other examples:

  • “Take Me the Way I Am” by Ingrid Michaelson. The sentiment of accepting a person the way she is–you know, a person with the gift of potential fertility (or with challenges)–is clear. The line about Rogaine is unfrotunate, BUT the rest of the singer’s reciprocity is about small acts of care, especially the physical. NFP is all about honoring and caring for your beloved’s body.
  • “Stand by You” by Rachel Platten. While not an obvious choice, this song captures the commitment, even in the most difficult times, a beloved feels for the other. I hear elements of sacrifice and mercy (“I’ll walk through hell with you”) and charity (“Take my [wings] so yours can open to”). NFP involves a deep commitment for spouses, and depending on your discernment, can have its “heavens” you can’t find, and its hells that maybe you find yourselves in. Not to mention that the teaching of why NFP is an approved practice is based on Truth, and living it out requires faith.

What songs have you heard lately that might apply? Which lyrics will see you through your journey?

Oh, and I want to shout out to the blogger and author who really “sold” me on NFP. Simcha Fisher is running a contest for SIX ClearBlue fertility monitors all week. You can use this trusty device as part of a sympto-hormonal method of NFP to achieve or postpone pregnancy.


NAS: Selfies


Do you support the selfie trend? Do you think it promotes self absorption, vanity and narcissism? Is there a way to incorporate selfies into the Church’s teachings of modesty, authentic beauty, humility? Thanks to Hannah! Linking up with Jen and Morgan!

Sweet Mr. Sweet will tell me I’m great, I’m wonderful, I’m so cute; I’m perfect. But I think if we’re both honest about me, I do have a habit that’s not so great some of the time. I can be obsessed with taking pictures. Photos of what we’re doing; snaps of what we’re eating (check out my Instagram in February…Sunday sundaes are our favorite tradition!); pics of us being adorable. I don’t often take pictures of just myself, but when I do feature in pictures, I am obsessive about my appearance: my hair is messed up or greasy, my acne marks are showing; my forehead looks too prominent; I should’ve applied more lipstick. Clearly my problem isn’t that images feed my vanity. But they do feed something just as ugly: negative self-perception. For me personally, the selfie/photograph and share everything trend is part of a larger need to show perfection, be perfect, which based on all the other photos I see, I am not.

But selfies/carefully edited or filtered images are a false perfection. Sure, some photos show the truth: the sky really was that bright a blue that day, or no struggling with aperture needed to capture the love emanating from a happy couple. Yet when the urge to broadcast ourselves, to ask the world to take notice becomes more incessant, the more we want to only show the “perfect side” of ourselves: we’re only ever a happy couple; we’re only ever on dates with perfect sunsets or eating artfully presented dinners; we’re only ever puckering our lips/standing at a right or left angle with chin up or down. It’s a slippery slope to presenting ourselves as just faces and bodies: “smoky eye is sexier than pastel shadow;” “I’m eating a lollipop;” “maybe if I wore that more body-hugging sweater;” or even “it’d be better to jut my chest or butt out.”

We are called to something different.


Oh, we should show perfection–heavenly perfection that is. God doesn’t care about what 21st-century North American popular convention says is perfect; He cares that we are perfect persons. A person is body+soul together. Perfection is not in our physical ability, our physical attributes, or our capacity to enhance our skin, hair, and body parts. True perfection is in our goodness as people; that we are revealing the capital-T Truth about our dignity and God’s love for us. And we can use selfies and photos to image such beauty to the world.

  • Modesty: We can pointedly use selfies to joyfully share how it is possible to dress modestly and share a little about our faith (and maybe where we got that super cute skirt). Maybe if the more women posted the appropriate clothes they wear, the more it will seep into public consciousness that that is the style that amplifies the beautiful woman. (And it’s not all frumpy!) I like Fine Linen and Purple’s “What I Wore Sunday” link-up for those very reasons.
  • Authentic Beauty: It seems like it can be hard to capture the joy and goodness of our souls in a static image. But simple little edits can take a selfie from seeking attention (especially via sexuality) to radiating beauty to others: smiling instead of pouting, bringing someone else into the frame and focusing your attention on them and not the camera, and changing the reason behind your posting–not to grab approval or show off, but sharing a moment of God’s call to you and enjoying how He created you to be.
  • Humility: As a reminder, humility isn’t thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. It might mean not posting multiple selfies a week, or even month. Maybe just posting one without editing or thinking about how we look–all sweaty from a service project or not editing away blemishes or under-eye circles if we’ve caught ourselves on a morning when we couldn’t get makeup on.

Trends, like many things in this world, are neither good nor bad, but left for us to see how we can use it for God’s glory. In the meantime, I’m going to get my hands on this:


7QTF: Tips from a Catholic Book Lady


Linking up with everyone at This Ain’t the Lyceum….

I work for Chain Bookstore and a small-town library system. Some musings I have to get out there into the world:


If you go to the library, please make sure you are checking out more books and DVDs. Nothing makes me sadder than scanning a handful of picture books for a 3-year-old, but 15 or more DVDs. I know, I love me my TV too, and it was super-helpful when babysitting my sister’s rowdy little ones sometimes. But seriously. Try.


Ask your local bookstore to stock Catholic books. This tip usually works best if it’s done en force: all parish bookclub members or have someone call the community relations person/manager and say “Fr. mentioned X book in his homily and we want to say its available at your store,” and they’ll order a bunch. I know online options are cheaper, and you may prefer to support Catholic/Christian businesses, but many people still like going to actual stores, and some of the truly awesome books available are unheard of because they don’t have general public exposure.


If your pre-teen/tween loves his or her age-appropriate graphic novels, please please please keep an eye out on their reading material as they age out. Or if they love certain shows that have manga books affiliated, be careful when venturing to that section of the store. I just spent all last shift in the manga section, and there were quite a few covers I had to “hide” on the rack behind other covers. Manga is not just cartoons on a page. A lot of it over-sexualizes women (teen girls, even!) or draws on the macabre. Definitely start teaching them the principles of ToB as they grow up so they can recognize themselves which books are cool and which are not for themselves.


Reading aloud to one’s fiance or very serious boyfriend from a quality book on marriage and relationships is an excellent way to round out a lukewarm marriage prep experience. We have illuminating conversations after each chapter and treasure some of the practical exercises. Review on a the book Mr. Sweet and I use coming soon.


Read Housewifespice on Wednesdays! Thoughtful book reviews, and usually, a link up!


The Journey of Our Love should be on your Valentine’s Day wishlist. Saint Gianna Beretta and her husband Pietro Molla have a touching love story told through their letters to one another throughout their marriage.

Back to School Blog Tour! Featuring Nicole Lataif, Author of I Forgive You

blog tour main 800px

nicole 1

Dear readers, today I am pleased to host Nicole Lataif, author of the new picture book I Forgive You: Love You Can Hear, Ask For and Give, as part of Pauline Books and Media’s Back to School Blog Tour. Nicole is a great friend–we first met up in Boston at   a mutual friend’s birthday and got to talking our mutual love of writing children’s books. A few years later, her manuscript was the first I’d read as an Editorial Assistant at PBM. Eventually, I joined her writing critique group and am always so happy to tout her work. Nicole is a lovely, godly woman with a great talent for writing and an incredible spirit as she follows God’s call for her to share His love with children–no matter how young. In an email interview, she shares about writing, answering the call, and using your gifts and talents.

  1. Why write about Christian topics, like the soul and forgiveness, and for such young kids?

​I think that kids rarely get the credit that they deserve when it comes to complex topics. With the right context, examples and words, most (I said most–haha) adult subjects are absolutely relatable to children. If a child has the capacity to be angry, they have the capacity to understand forgiveness. If a child knows that they have a body, then they can understand that they have a soul. Communicating this effectively is less about subject matter and more about using the right examples.

  1. How do you balance your call to write with your other calls in life? 

​Prayer, organization, and time management. I work at praying before writing anything. I pray with my fiancé. I pray about my calling. I just try to listen to God. Practically speaking, I use technology to get me through the day. If I’m on the road and an idea comes to mind or I need to schedule an appointment, I pop into my calendar (once parked, of course!) and it appears on every other platform within seconds. If that isn’t a daily miracle, I don’t know what is! Lastly, I have learned how to say no. Saying yes to something when I am too busy is saying no to my current responsibilities. I just try to keep a balance going!

  1. What is your experience like in secular writing groups, especially when sharing books with faith content?

​Most people have been supportive, thank God. However, during one instance a few years ago, I was chastised for my Catholic beliefs by almost every single critique group member (there were 4-6 of them). I only said one thing in response: “If I wanted to disagree with your beliefs, I would never treat you this way.” I was truly hurt. I called the leader after the meeting and expressed my dismay. I later received an apology from the ringleader, which was nice, and she featured me in her next newsletter!

  1. Where can other aspiring authors go for resources for writing–especially when writing on Catholic themes, topics, and issues?

​ If you are a children’s book writer, join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and the Facebook group, “Catholic Children’s Books.” I would also recommend joining the Catholic Writers Guild to meet other Catholic writers!

  1. How can young women use their gifts and talents to spread God’s love?

​ Young women can use their gifts and talents to spread God’s love just simply by using their gifts and talents! Nothing is more upsetting to hear about an artist who was forced into medical school by their parents. Or, a scientist who was forced to play the piano their whole life, yet hates music. I agree that education is important and that children should be exposed to many facets of life, but as a young woman, you will shine brightest when you are being who God called you to be! And, just like there is no flower without a stem, prayer and talents go hand-in-hand. Be sure to talk to God and ask him what he might be calling you to do. His answer may surprise and delight you! Lastly, allow the Blessed Mother to be your mother. Turn to her in prayer–woman to woman–and she will guide you as well.

nicole 2

Award-winning author and speaker Nicole Lataif is the Founder and Editor of and author of the 2013 Catholic Press Association Award and 2013 Christopher Award winning book Forever You: A Book About Your Soul and Body, published by Pauline Books and Media. Forever You is released in Spanish as “Siempre Tu.” Her second book, ”I Forgive You: Love We Can Hear, Ask For and Give” is for kids ages 5-8. Nicole has extensive training in writing for children. She has been active in various children’s writing circles, including membership in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Nicole was a “First Authors Panel” speaker at the January 2013 SCBWI Miami conference and continues to speak around the country to both kids and adults on Christian virtue. She substitute teaches at a Christian school and leads an SCBWI picture book writers group in Boston, MA.

Read Nicole’s author note to parents.

Read Nicole’s author note to kids.

Nicole is available for speaking engagements, school visits, interviews, and guest blogging. Media inquires may be sent to


NAS: Oh, So Chivalrous!

not+alone5Chivalry should not become a lost art and we, as women, ought to step up to the plate a bit more and encourage men to treat us as women, thereby respecting them as men. Do you have tips, ideas, or stories to encourage men to be… men?! Open doors for us, initiate dates, honor us as women, etc? Let’s chat! (Thanks to Sarah Thérèse!)

My most memorable read on chivalry came from a Catholic mommy blogger who wrote that to help her daughters encourage and expect respectful, honoring behaviors like door-opening, she instructed them to passively demand it through their actions. As in, don’t get out of the car when you park. Just sit there and wait until he gets the message he should open it for you. Don’t open the door to the restaurant if you happen to get there first or at the same time. Stand there and wait.I read that and thought that if I did that to the majority of men I’ve dated–especially on the first couple of dates–they would not even know what I was doing for a long, increasingly awkward number of seconds—definitely more than 30. And I believe that they would find it, well, annoying. My personal belief is that such passive, non-verbal cues are not the right approach for the majority of young men today. Why? Lack of formation. And clear communication is always better.

I don’t believe lack of chivalry is a deliberate state and the fault of conscious actions on the part of men. Rather, I think it is more a lack of awareness that chivalrous behaviors are things that should be done. Men aren’t being taught to honor women in these small ways. And I also do not think that the burden of teaching them should fall too much on the shoulders of us young women. The biggest idea I have is to get older men more involved in the lives of the younger. I have heard men learn best by example and by doing it themselves. How much better it would be for them to model chivalry than to witness their fathers, brothers, uncles, priests, fellow Knights of Columbus council members?

I also believe when it comes to such matters involving men to simply ask them. So I asked Mr. Sweet.

Q. What would you think if I on our first dates just sat in the car or stood at a closed door?

A. I could see doing that once or twice to set the expectation. But I also wouldn’t want you to do that.

[Ed. note: this side-tracked into a conversation about what would be the passive equivalent on part of the woman. The one thing I came up with is if a man wants to encourage our femininity, a “wait” action would be to just stand and look our jeans and sweater once over, as if we’re supposed to “get” we should be in a skirt or dress.  Mr. Sweet came up with the situation in which you are solidly together and hanging out at someone’s place, and when dinner is mentioned, the guy just “waits” on the couch for you to get up and make the dinner. But those are extreme cases. Probably more like the “wait” if he does something like open the door or pay for the meal and you don’t say thank you. In any of the above or in a similar situation the guy did the “wait” for you (and it can come with an aggressive or condescending tone, too), would you like it?

Q. Well, how can young women encourage men?

A. For example, don’t rush for the door. Give a slight pause. Let us lead.

[Ed. note: I think if a man has been formed, all it takes is a subtle nudge for the chivalry gene to kick in. I don’t believe it’s conscious rudeness or fear that the woman is one of those emasculators who hates when men do things, but more “oh yeah,” absent-mindedness.

A. Or, if you are cold and your date has a jacket, simply and clearly indicate that you are cold.

A. Have self-respect: dress modestly. Be considerate of the whole person that you are and the whole person that he is. Know that if a man is distracted by a revealing outfit, it might not register to him to take the chivalrous action.

A. You can subtly encourage him to ask you out on a date. Just don’t be creepy. If you’ve been talking online and on the phone for a little while, you can cutely hint that meeting in person might be a good idea. But don’t do this if he just sent you the first emotigram or message.

[Ed. note: I believe hinting is okay. In college, a guy told me that only if a guy is nearly 100% certain of his success will he approach/ask out a girl. This notion has been confirmed in the past by a couple other guys. For the record, Mr. Sweet didn’t mind that I teased meeting together. But it was up to him to take the lead on everything else. So if you go this route, do nothing else. Leave it to him to say “yeah, great idea. How’s this Thursday? Dinner? Movie?]

Thus endeth this little interview. My final thoughts on this subject are on communication. Guys (and I’ve read this in general marriage and relationship advice books and seen it work in action) like when you plainly tell them stuff. They are not mind readers. They may have a lower emotional intelligence than you. Before you go out, communicate in your lovely feminine tone how you feel about chivalry. “I’m the kinda girl who likes a door held open for her,” she said sweetly. If you meet up at a place for a first date (please do this if you’ve never met him/met online; get there yourself, get home yourself), make it a fun topic to discuss “What do you think makes a true gentleman?” she asked with glints of interest in her eye. His answers will give you insights into who he is and how he feels and what he believes. Perhaps your conversation will help you see he hates passive aggressive approaches and prefers a simple “Would you mind getting the door?” Or he dated a woman who believed chivalry was chauvinism and he was afraid to ever be considerate again.

Because that’s what chivalry really is: consideration. He considers you a valuable person worthy of respect and kindness. You, too, can be chivalrous. If his hands are full, open the door. It’s okay. Always say thank you. Offer to treat him once in a while. And chivalry extends beyond romantic relationships. Open doors for everyone, especially the aged and new moms with strollers and college kids with crutches, male and female alike. Simply honor one another.

*If you liked this little interview, come back tomorrow to meet Nicole Lataif, friend and award-winning authoress, as I host a Back to School Blog Tour for Pauline Books and Media! Thank you!


Modern Media Meditation Monday: Love

Raise your hand if this has happened to you: you get in the car, for no matter how short a drive, and a song comes on. A song that glorifies all the wrong things and rejects the beauty of the Good. What’s worse, the longer you are in the car with the radio on, the more likely this song is on not one, not two, but three stations at.the.same.time. Or, for the hour-plus trips, on the same station not one or two but three times.

This is my recent battle with the airwaves and Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse.” Last summer it was “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke, which I can’t even [link brings you to article about how the lyrics are also words used by rapists]. But for the last several months—no matter how stale it must be by now (its release was September 2013–an eternity has passed in pop music)—“Dark Horse” invades my car, my ears, and my brain.

“Dark Horse” is awful. Its view of human sexuality—particularly female sexuality—is quite disgusting. It purports the lie that our power as women comes from our ability to be dynamos in bed. It advocates a falsehood on how we are to treat men (note: it’s not to “eat your heart out like Jeffrey Dahmer” – EW!). The worst part is that its tempo, beat, and whole packaging has been created to try to appeal to the ear—an ear worm—and to excite the ego so that when listening to just the music, you’re ensorceled to the point you don’t fully reflect on the lyrics. Yet another bearing of false witness.

Its overplay on the radio makes me wonder: Whatever happened to “Unconditionally”? Released in the same 12-month time-span, this ballad by the same artist—the young woman who was a Christian artist with Christian parents and values—is hardly ever heard on the airwaves in New England. I should know. I spent up to 2 hours in the car every day for work, and four hours every other weekend to see Mr. Sweet.

“Unconditionally” is a message of Truth and Good. Just imagine God serenading you with these words.

“Come just as you are to me
Don’t need apologies
Know that you are worthy
I’ll take your bad days with your good
Walk through the storm I would
I do it all because I love you, I love you”

That is the love He has for us. And that is the love we are called to. Now click play and imagine yourself singing the words to God.

Now, I have heard that many radio stations are owned by conglomerates and that music companies have contracts with the conglomerates so stations are actually obligated in a binding agreement to play certain songs a ridiculous number of times and never some other songs because the poor indie bands have no money and their producers no power.

But it is really shameful that beautiful songs and messages aren’t flooding the airwaves and inspiring hearts. My prayer is that there is a conversion of hearts among artists, producers, radio station owners, and listeners so that everyone has freedom to create and enjoy Beauty.

NFP Week: Thoughtful Thursday–We Can Do Better Part 2

*Disclaimer: I am away on a cruise and may not have access to update/edit this post or moderate comments. Please be charitable!*


On Tuesday I went through the issues I see with pro-NFP tactics and concluded by asking what we can do better. Here’s some suggestions from my limited experience:

–       Be gentle in our conversations—ask questions before pronouncing judgments.

–       Accept that Humanae Vitae allows for the Pill under the principle of double effect (according to some interpretations). No it’s not the greatest solution, but sometimes it’s all a woman’s got.

–       Be informed and focused on the positive. This means doing some homework—reading medical journal articles with good statistics on NFP and NaPro treatments.

–       But recognize anecdotal evidence convinces people much more than numbers. Find “success” stories when it comes to TTA, and sharing (whatever’s appropriate) the cool things you’ve learned about.

–       Go public (and anonymous if you want to). On every article you find, post thoughtful, charitable, factual comments about the positives of the NFP/NaPro approach. Example: I once read that progesterone shots can help alleviate post-partum depression, but many do not know this and resort to drugs with worse effects, and now there’s a spate of articles about PPD.

–       Encourage loved ones interested in medicine to consider pro-life nursing or doctoring.

Obviously, we can’t win over hearts and minds (and souls) overnight. This evangelizing takes time. If anyone else has suggestions for what’s been helpful in witnessing NFP/NaPro that’s positive and pastoral, please pass them on!

NFP Week: Topical Tuesday–We Can Do Better Part 1


*Disclaimer: I am away on a cruise and may not have access to update/edit this post or moderate comments. Please be charitable!*

I’ll be honest—sometimes evangelizing others is a struggle. Sometimes evangelizing myself is an even bigger struggle. “NFP and no birth control” can be one of the hardest issues to cheerlead. I’ve no objection to the spiritual and moral rationale, mind you. But when it comes to the practicalities, and what Saint John Paul II calls “lived experience” in Love and Responsibility (writing as Karol Wojtyla), I find sometimes we’re not as great as we could be.

Issue: Whenever someone writes about how NaPro solutions are better than the Pill for medical reasons, they neglect the following:

– One NaPro solution for a common problem the Pill abates involves multiple, more invasive (and likely more costly) treatments. For example, endometriosis and PCOS can be resolved through laparoscopic surgeries. While effective, (though if problematic uterine lining comes back, you have to have more) they’re still much more involved than taking a pill…

– Those listings of NaPro and pro-life, non-prescribing doctors—some states don’t have any. Or they’re a really far drive. When you tell random women on the Internet they can just go online to such-and-such a site to find a doctor near her, she thinks it will be a reasonable drive. Most women cannot drive 3+ hours for a doctor’s appointment. (Ex. I found one in my new state. One. And no, she does not take my insurance.)

– It can be such a fight with insurance companies to get your very legitimate treatment covered—why pricey laparoscopic surgery when the Pill is so much cheaper. I mean, I suppose you write off the co-pay on your taxes, but that up front cost hurts the budget now. If your works-with-your-faith doctor even takes your insurance, that is.

Issue: Some of the arguments are focused on the negative, and if a woman is relying on the Pill because she sees pregnancy as a negative, snark is not going to help sway her.

  • “The Pill’s a carcinogen.” Yes, but in the hardened mind, every medication carries risk or side effects, and not being pregnant is worth it to many women.
  • “Who wants to be chained to a Pill every day at the exact time?” No one, but isn’t it also “chaining” to have to take a temperature just so and discern consistency of mucus and potentially use a monitor, too?
  • The Pill (and every other non-permanent option) is not effective. Meet my “Pill baby!” Ok. I see your Pill baby and raise you a Clear Blue Baby, a Billings baby, and a Creighton baby. Believe me, I –and many of my friends–have heard of far more NFP babies when TTA (trying to avoid) than from women who used other means over the same course of time.

When it comes to this most intimate aspect of their being, women want confidence, assurance, and in many cases, certainty. I’ve been through this with my non-Catholic friends. They can’t be reached until we meet them where they’re at and can address all their questions.

How can we do better? That comes Thursday!

What We’re Reading Wednesday

bookLinking up with Jessica at Housewifespice!

Full Disclosure: I first learned of this novel when it won the PEN New England Susan p. Bloom Discovery Award; the author was an intern for a former roommate of mine; and I believe she is possibly the wife of a former lector at my parish.

Chloe Baker, 17, is your average high schooler—at least, that’s what she presents herself to be. But in reality, Chloe is Bonnie™ Baker, one of the eldest daughters of the family that charmed America for 13 seasons as they grew to have 13 kids. Once production shut down after the divorce, Bonnie™’s suicide attempt, the family relocated across the country; mom married the house contractor, and Bonnie and her mix of biological and adopted siblings get four years of anonymity, and Bonnie™ a new, untrademarked name. The perfect, untelevised life Chloe builds for herself comes crashing down when Mom and Stepdad decide to start a new batch of seasons (primarily to earn more money), against the two eldest kids’ wishes.

Literary Critique:

Over the couple of years it’s been since hearing the first ten pages at the PEN Award Ceremony, I’ve been hooked by Ms. Demeterios’s story. And now that the whole book is available; it’s reeled me in. The writing is taut, engaging, funny, and every now and then profound. Chloe and brother Benton™ generate immediate empathy. Chloe’s budding romance is swoon-worthy. The ending is not what you would expect but still satisfactory for the characters you like. The design and structure of the book is very clever—there are no chapters, but episodes within a “season,” as well as clippings from various media to highlight important parts.

Because the ending is not what you expect, the comeuppance you hope for for Mom and the Producer is—spoiler alert—not present. While very well drawn as the antagonist, Mom does not actually have any redemption. There are inklings that Mom might come around, but she ultimately chooses to be entrapped by this circus. Even more disappointing is Stepdad, who provides the straw that breaks Benton and Chloe’s back, and does not face the consequences. Well, having two members of your family leave is a consequence, but it is not received as such on part of the adults. And the more I think on it, Chloe’s choice is also in a way selfish—it’s not clear how what’s left in motion (possibly for a sequel?) will aid her brothers and sisters or rectify the damaged relationship with her Mom.

Catholic Critique: I cannot recommend Catholic parents, relatives, or guardians buy this for the teens in their lives. While the Catholic faith is not really present, aside from a quick line from Chloe that she would like confession, there is a glaring omission of how faith can positively inform lives. In fact, the only treatment of faith is to portray a conservative evangelical-sounding denomination in a poor light (fundamentalist parents want to send their gay son to conversion camp).

The matter of Mom’s choices with regard to her family planning are also not scrutinized: Benton™ and twin Lexie™ are from a surrogate; the other 9 kids are adopted from various countries. Unfortunately, you begin to wonder what ultimately drives Mom—genuine call to this kind of generosity or selfish fulfillment of a cutesy wish (a baker’s dozen of kids!). And aside from the occasional moments of Chloe defending her family and valuing her brothers and sisters, you don’t really get a healthy portrayal of big families. For some Catholics, this is a big deal. Many families with many kids are happy and self-sustaining without the financial aid of a destructive reality show following them around.

Now, if an older teen or young adult is a free range reader and picks this book up, then I would say, there are a couple things to remember:

–          Morality is meant to be in totality. Just because a character holds some values does not mean a reader should excuse the flaunting of others, the neutralizing of some, and the celebrating of those our faith guides us away from.

–          Sympathy can be a tool of manipulation. Sometimes writers, musicians, and artists can draw readers away from their own notions by creating feelings of empathy and sympathy. In some instances, this can be a good thing, as readers will learn to recognize dignity for all types of people. But when your favorite character stars championing something you know is objectively wrong—either you might be swayed into rejecting your point of view or put down as being in the “wrong” because you don’t celebrate the same cause.

Bottom line: Just like a high quality reality TV show—engaging storyline with a sympathetic character dealing with selfish, destructive choices that can be good entertainment, so long as you know Truth from fiction, Light from dark, and are able to switch off if necessary.

NAS: Dating and Social Media


Linking up with Jen and Morgan!

Our lives tend to revolve around social media and knowing what’s happening in everyone’s lives. How has this affected your life? In your experience, has social media made dating easier? Harder? (Ex: not judging something you see about the guy you’re dating on Twitter/FB)

Fun, probably helpful hypothesis to start us off:

A greater percentage of the guys in the dating pool for young, single Catholic and Christian women have minimal, if any, social media presence/activity than the percentage of young, dateable men at large do. And this will make dating and living out an intentional relationship easier. In the admittedly small sample size of my dating past, I have mainly encountered:

–         “I don’t have Facebook (or Instagram or Twitter or whatever).”

–         “I hardly use FB, Twitter, Instagram or whatever.”

–         “Whether we are FB friends or not is a good indicator of where you stand.”

First, let me unpack that last statement. It is only from hindsight that I can tell you that if a guy you are dating (but not “official”) is on Facebook and does not request you or does not provide a climate in which you feel it okay to request him, then he is very likely not that serious about you. I was with a guy for three months who was on it, used it occasionally, but he never requested me, and I stupidly thought “Oh, we’re above that. We don’t need it.” Actually, it turns out, I did need it. A “need” not because I wanted to show everyone on my feed that I was finally in a relationship, but a need because if you are in relationship with someone, serious about discerning with them, and proud to be with them and unashamed about what they might see on your profile, then a declaration (after friendship) of “in a relationship” is a strong signal of one’s intentions and commitment to the other. In Ex’s breakup speech to me, he even cited that the fact we were not even friends should have been a sign all was not that great between us.

When guys hardly use social media, ignorance really is bliss. You have no idea if Mr. Last Saturday’s and Next Sunday’s Date is out, possibly with someone else. You won’t feel uncomfortable if your boyfriend says something really stupid or hotheaded that you’ll then have to explain to your family and friends. The guy who hardly uses social media typically likes to live life and be present. He also has strength and perspective so as to be above minute social drama. In not caring about trivial things, his heart can care about the more important things—hopefully you! (Note: if his lack of activity worries you, don’t consent to such fears. Simply talk to him and pray for trust.)

And the guy who never uses social media…well, while you don’t get the modern age’s version of love letters with a special Tweet or Vine from afar (if long distance), you do get a guy who might have a lot going on (hobbies and solid friendships are good and healthy). Or you might have a guy who sends actual, honest to goodness love letters, makes quality phone calls, and maybe even Skype chats. I’d only be wary if he isn’t online because has no connections outside of you (because social media can be a good way to keep in touch with others); tries to control your (appropriate) online behavior because he isn’t on it to monitor it; or doesn’t want to be held accountable because he knows he’d only use it for ill.

In other respects, dating in our online world can be hard, especially when you are privy to the profiles and presence of guy friends and “friends” (like, the regular Joe you talk to at Bible study or some such). You’re not dating him, but you might want to. You did go on dates, and while you can see you make better friends than discerning marriage partners, it still stings. This happened to me a few years ago. I was trying to get over a guy, saw on FB he was “out, out, out” and I wondered aloud “with who, who, who,” and then saw that same night a post on the wall of some new girl in our Bible Study about how she’d met someone, and I jumped to the conclusion the guy was out with her because previously he’d given her a ride to and discussed mutual love of a certain holiday and certain theme park. My progress in transitioning from date to authentic friend was set back because it was all TMI.

The moral of that story is not how it ended—he entered religious discernment for a while, left after temporary vows and gets married next month! (with God’s grace we are friends, but in a different way). And the woman met someone a couple years ago, got married, and is expecting a daughter in time for their first anniversary! No, the moral is that if I don’t practice emotional chastity and restraint with social media consumption, I can fall into negative thought patterns that seek to destroy, not build up, the relationships God wants me to have.

Now what about the guys who do post often? Well, I know a couple, and they fall into one of three categories: “here’s something funny, something religious, or something funny and religious;” “see how much I love my girlfriend;” and very rarely in my Catholic community, “I’m saying something stupid, hotheaded, or scandalous.” It’s very simple: don’t date the last guys and don’t look at their stuff. As cute or funny as they may be, if you don’t like how they are online now, it will only be a source of tension in a relationship with them. For the other types of posters, use this topic as a springboard for communication. Marriage, I hear, is essentially constant communication about everything. So get some practice now: how much usage is okay, what is okay to post, can I get veto power over certain posts, are either of us hiding things, are either of us sharing to much, are any of our actions making the other uncomfortable?

Social media doesn’t have to make dating harder. In fact, it can make it easier—there have been marriages made between forum posters, blog commenters, and I think even Instagram. But emotional chastity and emotional virtue (check out Sarah Swafford!) are the key to keeping social media and a dating life in check.