Tuesday, October 27, 2015

This jovial, pretty, young Planned Parenthood abortionist is striving for intact human heads

She's truly beautiful, quite likable, charismatic, obviously with gifts that propelled her to become a medical doctor. The world was her oyster -- and she chose to be an abortionist.

But she still has "something to strive for", as she laughingly says, and one of those goals is someday to get an intact fetal head when she performs her later-term abortions. So far, darnit all, she has not been able to keep the child's head intact upon extraction.

Check out 5:07 on the video. Or better yet, watch it all. It's will take less than ten minutes of your time.

Her equally young and lovely colleague, at 7:32, exclaims that fetal hearts at 9 weeks or so are "cute"! (I can almost imagine her thinking of little dolly hearts! Miniatures! So fun to play with!) And the abortionist just "has so much respect" for "development" -- it's "amazing".

Yes, that's right: She is in awe, she is reverent, she has "so much respect" for the development of the little human beings whose lives she has just violently ended, whose growing, living bodies she has just targeted and destroyed. Their parts are "cute", their development is "amazing", but the babies themselves? Trash.

This is a glimpse into the world of cognitive dissonance.

Recently, and completely due to these horrific and damning Center for Medical Progress videos, Planned Parenthood has decided to stop receiving reimbursements for its "donation" of baby parts. Let's put aside the glaring question of why PP would stop this practice if it was doing nothing wrong in the first place, and ask: Is this concession enough to justify continued taxpayer funding of PP? To the tune of half a billion dollars a year?

I mean, I get that PP is no longer selling body parts like a baby chop shop, but when young doctors are still striving for intact human heads from their victims, don't we still have a huge problem here?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Blown away: Our Lady hidden for decades in a Phoenix Planned Parenthood abortion clinic!

WOW, WOW, WOW! Sometimes the signs from Heaven are unmistakable.

This story happened locally, here in Phoenix, and involved my personal friends. It blew me away, and I know you will be amazed as well at the beauty and power of God's Providence!

I will let my dear friend Christine Accurso, the Executive Director of First Way Pregnancy Center, tell the story that she first told us at First Way's recent fundraising gala:

In the Spring of this year, Planned Parenthood Arizona announced that they were going to close their state headquarters (of almost 30 years) and move less than a mile from us at First Way Pregnancy Center. They did in fact sell their old building on 7th Street to a new owner, purchased a new building less than a mile from our center, and opened it over the summer. The new owner of the 7th Street building decided to demolish the existing building.

On April 15, 2015, the building went down, and I stood across the street with two women who had had abortions in that very building, many years before. Watching the building be turned into a pile of rubble was a healing moment for both of these women. It was a powerful experience to stand silently with them as the building disappeared.

Before it was torn down, a demolition company was hired to clear out the building. In the process of clearing it out, they made a surprising discovery in the janitorial closet, where the mop buckets and cleaning supplies were housed. One of the wooden floor panels was turned over, and on the backside, face-down, was a huge image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It surprised the crew, and when they found it, one of the workers called me. I had never met this man before, but he is pro-life and knew that our pro-life pregnancy center was just a few miles away. He explained to me what he had found, and he brought it over to us.

Christine Accurso tells the incredible story, with Bishop Olmsted looking on. 

It really is amazing to think about all the possibilities of how this image got there. We will probably never know the whole story, this side of heaven.

I immediately called Bishop Olmsted when I learned of this discovery. I brought the image to the Bishop, he gave it a special blessing, and he began to recall the special significance of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mary is mother of God, and Our Lady of Guadalupe’s specific patronage has been dedicated to the unborn. She is even depicted with a ribbon around her womb because in this image, she is pregnant with Jesus.

I kept thinking, what in the world was this precious image of such a holy woman doing inside of a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic? I’m not exactly sure, but I do know that my confidence in all of heaven “having our back” in this important fight for life, has been absolutely strengthened.

We are grateful to the man who brought it to us, who wishes to remain anonymous. This beautiful discovery has brought joy to our staff, volunteers, and donors. This special piece of flooring (from Planned Parenthood, no less) now hangs in the chapel at First Way Pregnancy Center here in Phoenix, Arizona.

Thank you, Christine! I am just in awe, thinking of the Blessed Mother -- Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the unborn -- dwelling there in that killing place, never far from her children. Praise God!

First Way Pregnancy Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that provides free resources which support life affirming choices. This is accomplished through a loving and non-judgmental approach with peer counseling, education and practical services [and they even have a thriving men's program and peer counseling for the fathers of the babies, which has been enormously successful!].  www.1stway.net

Monday, October 19, 2015

The glaring errors of Everyday Feminism's "Menstruation Myths"

Nothing shocks me anymore. And yet, I still become speechless at the utter inanity that is out there. I saw the following cartoon the other day, which is just one segment of a much larger panel depicting a friendly little "uterus" discussing supposed "menstruation myths" in an apparent attempt to educate:

From everydayfeminism.com

Besides the growing realization that we have lost our ever-loving minds in this society and abandoned all human reason, there are two glaring problems I see here.

First, the science is all messed up.

For example, the reason that "transmen, non-binary, genderqueer folk" menstruate -- is because they are women!!

Yes, it's true! Though these people may "feel like men" in their minds, hearts, desires (and that's another issue altogether), their BIOLOGY, their very nature, is female. They are biological women. That is why they menstruate. They have a uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, an endometrium. These are women, menstruating as only women do.

This is science. This is biology.

As for "intersex" folks (also known as hermaphroditism), it happens in a fallen world that some children are born with ambiguous genitalia, perhaps having external organs that appear to be one sex, but a chromosomal make-up that indicates the other. This disorder is the result of a problem in the development of the child while still in the womb. If that child hits puberty and begins to menstruate, that is the female reproductive system at work.

But the bad science is only one part of the problem I see. Notice what happened in the middle there? The little girl mentions what her mom taught her, and then the friendly little uterus undermines parental authority by saying, directly, "No, Jo, your mom is wrong."

This is key to all the reprogramming going on in our culture today. Undermine the authority of the clearly unenlightened parents and inject into young minds the prevailing cultural ideology of "gender fluidity". In this backwards paradigm, mom and dad are the ones actually standing in the way of the true education of children, and these pesky parents can and must be gotten around. (Never mind that Catholic parents have a duty and thus a right to be the primary educators of their children, a duty that no state or culture can legitimately usurp.)

Finally, if you go to the entire panel (take a deep breath first!), you will note something that is glaring in its absence:

There is no mention of why the female body menstruates! 

I'm not sure how one can work up a whole panel of "facts" and "science" about menstruation and accompanying body parts with nary a word about WHY the body menstruates in the first place?

To understand ourselves fully as human beings, shouldn't we first understand our very human natures? This silly and inaccurate cartoon is devoid of any real thought, any real depth, any real truth. I look at the proliferation of such superficial, ideological, political fluff and I understand more and more why our youth are floating aimlessly, finding less and less satisfaction in life, disconnected from anything real, becoming more hopeless, and never quite understanding their own humanity.

Thankfully, there is an antidote to all of this insanity! Our Faith stands ready to respond with reason and reality and meaning and depth and joy!

Bring it on. Let's have that conversation about the nature of our bodies, the nature of our humanity, the meaning of our lives. Let's teach our children well, before a non-scientific, unreasonable, utilitarian talking cartoon uterus gets to them first.

Truth, goodness, and beauty wins every time.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Bishop Barron on what Faith is and what Faith is not

I will have little access to the computer for a few days, so I thought I would put up one of Bishop Barron's excellent and short teaching videos (11 minutes). This one is from 2011, and it explains what faith is and what faith is not. 

Atheists get it so wrong, as do many Catholics who were never really taught the right way to think of faith in relationship to reason. This is simple and beautiful, and it might surprise you:

If you want more incredible videos like this, go here (or search Bishop Barron on YouTube), and for his website, go here:


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Part Four: Peace and joy replace fear!

Read Part One, here.
Read Part Two, here.
Read Part Three, here.

The first three parts were difficult to write, because it was uncomfortable to "go back there", and this fourth part is difficult for entirely different reasons. So much good, so many fruits, so many lessons, so much excitement about what to share. If I had you cornered in a room, I would talk and babble on, full of energy and delight about the goodness of the Lord! As I said at the very beginning, the worst experience of my life is the thing for which I am most thankful -- it has changed everything.

For reference: I have always understood and believed that I have led a "charmed life", in the sense that, although I have had traumas and sufferings in the past, I have had inordinate blessings. I have never been neglected, felt unloved, or struggled with my self-esteem. I have never suffered hunger, poverty, a broken home, or a terrible disease. I have not experienced existential angst. I have been a generally and genuinely happy and grateful person who loves my life, my family, my country, and my God.

But as with everyone, dark things were lurking within, hidden things that I denied or manipulated or ignored, and those were the things that God wished to purge out of me, in order to bring me closer to Him, the end for which I was made. Among these sins and faults were my need for control (specifically, the careful way I managed and sublimated some profound fears so that they wouldn't affect my life), and the "idolization" of my mind. God had to strip me of these things because they kept me from Him.

As you have seen from my story thus far, I lost all control (which is an illusion anyway) and I effectively lost my mind. Both idols, suddenly gone. What was left? Just me and God. Just us, creature and Creator, looking at each other. Just me, trusting Him to get me through. I still loved Him, and I willed to trust Him.

That is all He needed.

What He did for me is indescribable. The most profound fruit of my suffering was loss of fears.

Let me give you just one example: my fear (phobia) of flying.

I manipulated and stuffed my fear of flying by, well, essentially not flying for 12 years. Though I flew a lot in my youth, I began to be fearful after I had children; I didn't want to be separated from them, and since I was not a pilot, I could not be in control (theme!) if something went wrong at 30,000 feet. My particular negative thinking pattern (as the cognitive behavioral therapy identified so well) fell into the "catastrophic thinking" category. I was always taking my active imagination to the most unreasonable yet disastrous outcome, thinking in headlines, always living in the future, queen of the "what ifs?", and learning how to carefully control against impending doom. I liked my charmed life, and I was determined to keep it, but that meant anticipating and fending off all sorts of conjured disasters.

So, yes, except for one anomalous trip to take my daughter on a college visit, I stopped flying for 12 years. I knew my fear of flying was irrational and that driving to the corner store was much more dangerous, but it didn't matter. Booking a flight would mean weeks and even months of anticipatory worry, dwelling on the fiery crash that was surely my fate, never able to relax fully knowing that a plane trip was on the horizon. Once I was on a plane, I was not actually anxious, but the build-up was torturous. To rid myself of that fear, I just stopped flying. No more worries, problem solved!

Well, except...

I cannot tell you how my fear of flying impacted over a decade of my life. I missed out on so many opportunities, vacations, weddings -- and getaways with my poor husband, who would have loved to have swept me away somewhere. I was not budging, and Dean and others suffered because of it. I didn't have to "worry" about flying, but I hated, hated, hated that this fear kept me grounded. And I always knew that fear is not of God.

So back to the fruit: After God brought me through my mental breakdown, I had no more fear of flying. Just like that. I was on a plane to visit my daughter less than two weeks after my re-emergence, and I had no anxiety. The freedom from fear was exhilarating! Just weeks after that trip, I was on another plane to the east coast, to visit my second daughter. No fear, and my husband and I had our first long-distance getaway in almost 20 years!

Before God healed me of my fears, I was concerned about what would happen if my gravely sick mother-in-law died. How was I going to tell my grieving husband that I could not get on a plane with him and accompany him to the funeral? How could I tell him that my fears would keep me from being a comfort to him at the loss of his mother? For the years of her illness, I tried not to think about it. About three months after I lost my fear of flying, Dean's mother died, and I was able to fly with him to the funeral, with no worries or hesitation. It was a huge blessing.

In addition to that first trip to my daughter's home in Nebraska, the subsequent trip to see my other daughter in South Carolina, and the trip for my mother-in-law's funeral in Atlanta, I have flown to South Carolina again (after the birth of my second grandchild), and I recently flew back to Nebraska. I will be flying back east this week to attend the White Coat ceremony for my son in medical school, and in less than a month, I will be flying to Virginia to give a talk to Catholic college and high school students.

From one flight in twelve years to seven flights in fourteen months... you have no idea how big that is. God freed me from my fears. I cannot describe the gift of that freedom! I don't even think the same at all. If the plane were to go down in flames, or if my children were to lose me to a terrible disease, or even if America collapsed in moral decay all around us (which it might), none of this is beyond God's control, or outside of His loving Providence. He can be trusted, no matter what, period.

Which brings me to the books: two books that God placed in my life just when I needed them, so that I would understand exactly what happened -- after the fact. That last part is so important, at least in my own personal journey. He took away my fears and anxieties by handing me a most agonizing but personalized cross, and only then, only after that trial, did He show me what had occurred, putting it all in the context that made perfect sense.

I wrote about the first book, Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen's Into Your Hands, Father: Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Ushere ("Mind-blowing"), and then again, here ("Fearful? Surrender your will"). In the second one especially, I gave a teaser about my breakdown.

The book is short and simple and completely, utterly life-changing -- if you open your eyes, ears, and heart to the words. Over the months, the feedback I have received about it has been phenomenal. Providentially, less than 24 hours ago, I received an email from a regular reader/lurker who introduced herself and told me the following, not knowing that I was in the middle of writing this post:
I have read and re-read and shared and shared some more, the "Into Your Hands" book with many people. All have said it has had a huge impact on their life.
She added that she gives copies away (me, too!), and she made sure there is a copy in her parish library.

After God blew me away with Fr. Stinissen's book, He led me to Fr. Walter Ciszek's He Leadeth Me to finish me off! It could not have been a more perfect dovetail. While Fr. Stinissen tells the "what" and the "why" of total, trustful abandonment to God's will, Fr. Ciszek shows the "how" of it. His lived experience of total abandonment (as an American priest arrested and imprisoned by the Soviets and sent to the gulag for 23 years) was the practical application of everything I had just learned in theory from the first book! It was stunning.

While savoring the wisdom of He Leadeth Me, I received many confirmations that God had been with me during my time of suffering, but none so jarring to my soul as something I read as I was flying back from my mother-in-law's funeral. After his heroic faithfulness to the Lord while enduring great anguish in solitary confinement for those first years in a Soviet prison, Fr. Ciszek began to lean too much on his own power, trusting in his own will and strength instead of God's. A spiritual crisis ensued, a catastrophic crash into darkness, which he described this way (emphasis mine):

"I had been afraid before, but now I was afraid of myself."
[blink, blink]

My friends, I read that line and I literally gasped out loud and dropped the book on the tray table in front of me. His words were my words! His darkest suffering was the same as mine! I stared ahead, and with absolute awe I pondered what all of this meant. To me, it meant the world, and it meant something universal. So much more became clear to me, and when I finally picked up the book again to read, the story became a love story, a story of joy and peace and trust, even though Fr. Ciszek had almost two more decades to suffer, most of it aching with hunger in the frozen tundra, building cities for the Soviets with little rest. He was at peace, he had joy, and he had lost the fear of death.

The spiritual insights flooded in, and I began to understand God's grace in ways I had never understood before my breakdown.

By this time, I had already been back to the radiologist for my December follow-up scan. Although this would have previously been a huge trigger, I did not experience anxiety or panic. When I walked into the pulmonologist's office a few days later to hear the results, I met him with a smile and a handshake, nothing like the catatonic woman he had met in August. My scan looked good, but I knew going in that even if he gave me bad news, it would be okay. I was not obsessed with "what ifs" or catastrophic imaginings. God is in control, and He is my loving, trustworthy Father. Everything had changed for me, not in my body (which will inevitably decay and die someday), but in my mind and my spirit.

And that's my story. I have so much more to say, but no real way to put it into words. I can tell you that my prayer life has also improved greatly since then, as I have committed to it in a way I hadn't before.

What I want for you to know is that God loves you and desires intimacy with you. He knows what is best for you. Don't fear or fight the crosses He gives you. Be humble in total obedience, stay in His grace and pick up those crosses and carry them in trust, because they are given to you by a Father Who loves you, and Who will give you a joy and a peace that the world cannot give.

St. Peter Catholic Church, Omaha, Nebraska. Took my breath away when I saw it last month. 


Important note: All of this does NOT mean that you should not take your medication for anxiety or depression or panic or anything else that is indicted. Mental illness is real, it's a medical condition, and God has given us ways to combat mental illness and anxiety through both modern and alternative medicines. 

It also does NOT mean that if God brings you out of a panic attack or anxiety, that you will only feel happiness and joy from now on. You may feel anxious and panicked again in your life. But there can be an interior peace as well, if you trust and love God and surrender all to Him. Emotions happen, hormones happen, trust is an act of the will. Trust Him. 

It also does NOT mean that you needn't learn more about your thought patterns or learn to let go of those negative thoughts that feed anxiety. I am a huge fan of cognitive behavioral therapy. I only went to two sessions, but what I learned was invaluable. 

And to every peri-menopausal or menopausal woman out there -- if you have started having anxiety or panic, tell your doctor, as it could well be that your hormones are out of balance! If he or she dismisses you, find another doctor!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Part Three: Trying to re-emerge

Read Part One, here.
Read Part Two, here.

Throughout those dark two weeks of panic, I made several attempts to help myself out of this nightmare. For brevity's sake, I will spare you about a thousand details, providing the barest of summaries. If you have any questions or would like more details, feel free to ask here, or email me.

Because I knew that my panic was irrational, and because I knew I could not overcome any of this by myself, I sought help, to the best of my ability, on several fronts: medical (hormonal, chemical), cognitive (learning different patterns of thinking), and, of course, spiritual.

I spent several hours over the course of those long days sobbing on the phone to friends and to my sister. I didn't really want to talk to anyone, but when I did, I could not control my crying. As a natural non-crier, the crying was necessary and cathartic, and I cannot thank my friends enough for being so kind and caring, and for listening to me in my great distress. A few of them asked me if I thought that changing hormones might be playing a part, which validated one of my own suspicions. I looked up symptoms of peri-menopause and was shocked to read that anxiety and panic attacks are fairly common ones (again, why does no one tell us this stuff?).

I called my friend Dr. Deidre Wilson, a fellow mommy from our beloved school that had just closed its doors, and I asked for help. She is a Pope Paul VI Institute NaPro-trained physician, specializing in women's hormonal/reproductive health and infertility. I knew that even if I came out of the extreme panic, I would have to get my hormones in balance again somehow. Through her wonderful care, I eventually (after the panic lifted) started progesterone in oil (PIO) treatments, and my queasy-at-the-sight-of-needles husband learned how to give me those injections. Meanwhile, my OB/gyn started me on a low dose of Zoloft to try to even out my anxiety (and later I learned that it helps with peri-menopausal hot flashes as well!). Those two doctors together now have me on a wonderful balance of bio-identical estrogen and progesterone treatments, like countless other peri-menopausal women. Praise God for modern medicine!

Then there was the little matter of my thought processes and how they affected my moods. The day before my daughter and granddaughter flew to Nebraska, and two days before the pulmonologist appointment, I emailed my friend Nikki Westby, MA, LPC, a cognitive behavioral therapist (Little Flower Ministries -- yes, named after St. Therese!), and asked her if she knew anyone who could help with severe anxiety and panic. She replied that that was her speciality! I had a spark of hope, and I took her next available appointment, which was the following Thursday (like Deidre, Nikki is a mom of many, and office hours are understandably limited). She helped me immensely with the cognitive side of things, i.e., how our thoughts (and negative thinking habits) feed our moods.

Some of my friends also wondered if part of this episode might be explained spiritually -- might I be under spiritual attack? I believe that spiritual warfare is very real, and I agreed that this could be the case. I would never put anything past the devil, who will use whatever means he can to steal the peace from souls and replace it with fear. I employed sacramentals when I could, such as holy water and holy salts, and as I mentioned before, I clung to my two holy objects whenever I was in bed, which was most of the day and all night long. I also called my amazing and faithful priest, Fr. Don Kline, and told him I needed help. He came to the house and prayed formal prayers of deliverance for me, re-blessed my home with holy water and prayers in every room, heard my confession, gave gentle counsel, and offered masses for me. I could not be more grateful for his spiritual fatherhood and care. God bless our priests!

And then there was the night that I called Michelle, my precious cousin and dear friend, who had only recently received the news that her cancer, after being in remission for about four months, had recurred. I asked her, in a shaky voice, what she did to deal with anxiety. Her response was a gentle and concerned, "Uh-oh, what's going on?" From there, I explained the situation, somewhat embarrassed that I was losing my mind over potentially nothing, and here she was battling a deadly disease that would take her life just eight and a half months later. Michelle listened lovingly, gave me a pep talk, and gave me practical tips, all of them based in our Faith (she herself had not yet used the anxiety meds that had been prescribed to her upon her diagnosis). She told me of her daily prayer routine, which was habitual and rich, the Marian prayer book she loved, and her go-to saints (St. Michael the Archangel was a big one, her patron!).

She was counseling and consoling me!

The irony was not lost on me even then, and I saw in full technicolor the power of grace in her life. After that night, Michelle would call to check in, text me frequently with cheerful greetings ("This is the day the Lord has made! It is a beautiful day!"), and send links to prayers and words from the saints. Instead of turning inward on herself and bemoaning her own great sufferings, she was putting others ahead of herself! She was making sure that I was taken care of, and comforted, and loved.

I was gifted with a saintly woman in my life, at the time I needed it the most, and I will be forever grateful to God for giving Michelle to our family.

Michelle was a gift beyond all measure, and continues to be.

Eventually, the Friday pulmonologist appointment came. Let's just say that I was in what I (only half-jokingly) refer to as a catatonic state. Dean came with me, of course, and when we dropped off the little boys to my friend Danya's house on the way, she came to the car window and tenderly handed me a blessed scapular. Flatly, I thanked her. I truly was grateful, but had no way to express emotions.

I sat in the doctor's office looking straight ahead. I didn't want to hear anything he had to say, because either way it didn't matter. No one could make those nodules go away, and without a biopsy, no one could tell me that they were not cancerous.

When the doctor came in and introduced himself, he asked me right away what he could do to convince me that I did not have cancer. I looked at him directly, with my sunken and dead eyes, and said, "Nothing." He held my gaze for a moment, then turned to my husband to discuss my scan and my case. He rightly discerned that the only other rational, functioning adult in the room was Dean, and I mostly sat back and stared straight ahead while they talked. Long story short, Dean left reassured that all would be well, and I left with no change in my thoughts or feelings about the matter. I was scheduled for a re-scan in four months, and given a follow-up appointment for early December.

I was worse off than ever. The only thing that could have relieved me would have been the words, "You don't need a re-scan, and you never have to see anyone about this again." Since that wasn't the case, how could I get back to normal? Things seemed more hopeless than ever, and I took to my bed again. Dean was understandably frustrated now, because his (correct) understanding of the appointment was that the doctor sees these types of nodules every day, and there was only the very slimmest chance that it was cancer. Protocol and an abundance of caution dictated a follow-up scan. None of that mattered to me, and I saw no way out.

For two more days I languished in bed, and on Sunday morning I had my big boys take my little boys to mass early, as I wanted to go alone with Dean to a later mass. I needed Dean to physically lean on as we walked to our pew, as I was weak and shaky like an old lady, not only from the panic, but because I had eaten almost nothing for the past 13 days. Fr. Kline was the celebrant that morning, and I knew that he had been praying for me, which was a great comfort. I prayed to God to heal me. I stared at the crucifix and requested healing again and again.

When the Host was consecrated and became the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ, my body started to awaken -- I actually heard my stomach growl! I could not believe it, and I was flooded with hope. I received the Eucharist, and just before mass ended, I turned to Dean and asked him if he could take me to lunch right after mass! He was shocked, but he agreed. It sounds so crazy, but I knew I wanted Outback medium wings! And so we went out to lunch, and I ate food and actually tasted it for the first time in almost two weeks.

I had much more work to do, but just like that I had turned the corner and had been released from the darkness. I began to feel like myself again!

That is all the "bad stuff" I will share with you. I think we've all had enough of it, haven't we?

Next, I want to share with you the incredible fruits that came from this experience, and why I thank God for it every single day. It still blows me away to think of what God did for me, and how He used this terrible experience, this cross, to free me from so much that had been holding me back.

Continued, here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

I love our men!!!

Today I got to be a fly on the wall as the only woman in a room full of dozens of men! I gave a five-minute talk of encouragement to these wonderful, faithful men, who are leaders in our diocesan men's programs in some way. These were our husbands, our sons, our brothers, our priests and our deacons, and our shepherd in the Diocese of Phoenix, Bishop Thomas Olmsted!

Ladies, I spoke on your behalf, telling these men that we love them, we support them, we invite them and allow them to be men, because that is how we will best flourish as women! The men were grateful to hear it, as they live in a culture that denigrates everything they are. The thought of marriage and family take a backseat to perpetual adolescence, video games, and porn; fatherhood is mocked and deemed irrelevant; man as protector, provider and spiritual leader of his family is seen as some sort of crazy throwback at best, a dangerous concept at worst.

The men I talked with and prayed with this morning have prayerfully read and are ready to implement the Bishop's Apostolic Exhortation to Catholic Men: Into the Breach, which I wrote about earlier. Since women are more likely to read the exhortation right away, and men are more likely to watch a trailer (c'mon, it's true!!), here's the trailer for the men:

My sisters, please show this to the men in your life, and then have them read the Exhortation, privately at first, and then hopefully in small groups of other men.

You know, I have been in a room full of women countless times, and now I have been in room full of only men. Anyone who tells you that men and women are the same is not living in reality. I was bursting with joy to be there, reveling in the fact that men and women, though complementary and equal in human dignity, are not alike. Praise God! Male and female He created them!

I was so indescribably moved and heartened by the words of these men, speaking freely and humbly about their love of Christ, their families, their Christian brothers, and their mission to be holy and virtuous men. These men are ready for the battle to which God is calling them.

Ladies, be very proud of your men. Their hearts are big and they were made for something great. With the encouragement of this Exhortation and the love and support of their wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters, they can and will do great things for Christ and become the men that God created them to be!

I love our men so much!!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Part Two: My mental breakdown and spiritual breakthrough

Continued from Part One, here.

(Note: This part of the story, like Part One, is pretty darn bleak. I won't be telling much of the graces and joy until Part Four, so be forewarned. I know this is hitting close to home for a lot of you who have experienced or continue to experience anxiety/panic attacks, so please don't feel you have to read it all. Also, I have received so many kind words and prayers, for which I am most grateful! I want to assure everyone that I am "back to my old self" -- even better than prior to the episode -- and so thankful for the fruits of this suffering, which will become clear in a later post!)

For the next nine days, until my appointment with the pulmonologist, I was spending each moment in full panic. For me, the feeling was a rush of adrenaline from terror (imagine losing your toddler on a crowded beach) that did not relent. The adrenaline coursed through my body day after day, and never stopped. My pulse rate was constantly elevated, my breathing was rapid and shallow, and my limbs, especially my upper arms for some reason, were often numb. I could not sleep, I could not eat, I could barely think. I was essentially non-functioning.

I spent most of my days laying in my bed, in stark terror. The fear that consumed me was not simply the fear of something malicious and malignant in my body (as horrifying as that possibility was), but more the fear of leaving my young children without their mother. I could barely look at their faces. Our oldest three were grown, and I knew that, although they would be heartbroken if I died, they were adults now and could find a way to cope. I knew that my husband Dean would also be able to draw upon friends and his faith if I were to go. But the five boys at home... I could not handle the thought of what the loss of their mother would mean for their lives. Two of my boys were teens, and although teenagers often seem cool and aloof, they still need their moms, maybe even more than ever. Two more of the boys were in elementary school, they had just lost their beloved and tight-knit school community, and we were embarking on a homeschooling year together. They were only 7 and 9 at the time, very much in need of a loving mother, for years to come.

And, oh, my youngest. He was only four years old, a complete mama's boy -- asking me to marry him every day since he could talk, showering me with more love and kisses than I'd ever had before, very tactile, needing lots of hugs and touch. This little one had been devastated when his sister Priscilla had married and moved away about a month earlier. He could barely comprehend the loss of his "second mommy" (who resembles me physically), and had been in mourning for her since she seemingly disappeared from his life. He questioned her absence constantly. When I thought that he would lose me, too, and not have either of his big sisters in town to be his mother-figures if I should die, I could not take it.

I had lost the ability to control my own feelings and my life, or even my thoughts, which always went to "catastrophe". I was helpless and living in terror. I couldn't even physically be around my children, due to my abject grief at the thought of their suffering should I die. I couldn't interact with them, except on a cursory, robotic, forced level. Occasionally, of course, the boys would wander in and out of my room and try to talk to me, and my youngest son would hop on the bed with me wanting to play or snuggle, but I'd soon send them away. In my mind I was dying, and I could not bear to see their sweet, innocent faces.

Believe me, the irony is not lost on me that while I felt terror that my children would be motherless in the future, they were, practically speaking, without a functioning mother right now.

In the mornings, after little sleep, I would force myself out of bed and make one egg to eat. Normally, I have a raging appetite, and I have eaten a full two-egg/ham/toast breakfast every day for 30+ years, just for starters. During these days of panic, I had no appetite at all, and eating that one egg a day was accomplished through sheer force of my will. I had to eat to stay alive; I knew that much. I would greet my kids mechanically if they were in the kitchen, methodically fry that egg and try to chew and swallow it with a mouth that was now perpetually dry, then retreat back to bed to continue my silent panic.

While laying in bed, I would try to practice deep breathing techniques, because I had to find some small relief from the symptoms. I could do that for a little while, but relief was minimal. I dreaded the night more than the days, if that was possible, and I went to bed literally clinging to my rosary in one hand (I couldn't pray it, but I could grasp it tightly) and a small statue of Our Lady in the other. I never slept without these items in my hands. Each time I dozed off from sheer exhaustion, I soon woke again in a panic, clung to my holy objects more tightly, and started practicing my deep breaths as the adrenaline ramped up. Mornings were terrible, as I kept hoping I'd wake up and feel better, or at least rested, but I never did. I'd wake up as fearful as before, full of adrenaline, and feeling my arms go numb from the panic that came with a return to consciousness.

This was my daily life for what seemed like forever. My poor husband Dean was utterly bewildered and, let's face it, a bit skeptical and even disgusted by what he was seeing (I caught an eye-roll once or twice). He could not understand, I am sure, why I couldn't just suck it up and snap out of it. Oh, how I wish that had been possible! He tried hard to be sympathetic, and he was wonderful in walking me through some muscle-relaxing and visualization exercises that I found in a book on anxiety. He would read the words out loud while I tried to visualize and relax this or that set of muscles, systematically, from my head down to my toes. This technique gave me a ten-minute break from the panic each day and was invaluable, although within minutes of completion, I was right back in full-blown crisis.

Everything I was thinking and feeling was totally irrational, utterly unreasonable, and even I knew that somewhere in my mind at the time.

One thing I did not lose was my faith, and my ability to cry out to God. Twenty years of trusting in God and immersing myself in His Truth had its effect, and I was never angry with God, never doubtful of His presence or love. In my personal agony, I kept thinking of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, and thinking how my suffering was only a tiny fraction of His. I couldn't comprehend the level of mental and emotional agony He must experienced, and how much He must love us to endure that for our salvation. How did He do it? I am sure I offered up my suffering, but I cannot recall for what intention -- I probably told Jesus to use it for whatever He willed.

I prayed for the the strength to endure this cross. I knew enough to understand that no cross is given to us without His permission and that it is only for our sanctification. I understood that I was in a crucible, and that no matter what, a loving God was in control. This deep, imbedded knowledge kept me from despair, although I was not sure how it was going to keep me from insanity.

Day after day, night after night, I prayed in the most simple and basic ways: "Help me, Jesus" or "I love you, Jesus". It was all I could say, over and over. I asked the Blessed Mother to be near to me, and I know that she was. I never felt completely alone or unloved or abandoned by God, but I knew that God and the saints were only accompanying me, sitting with me, not intervening.

At a certain point, my fears took a horrible but spiritually necessary turn.

In the beginning, my fears were of impending death and the thought of my children suffering through the years without their mother. But as the first week turned into the second and the panic did not abate, I began to fear that I would never be back in control of my mind. The greatest terror of all, I learned, was not death and its consequences for my children, but rather the knowledge that I now feared myself. I understood then that even if I were not dying, even if I didn't not have cancer, I had still "proved myself" unable to cope with suffering and death, which would inevitably come. I believed that when the next crisis came, I would not be able to deal with it, and this type of panic would repeat itself.

I could not believe how weak I was now that I was finally being tested.

That thought alone -- being unable to cope with future crucibles, even if I got out of this one -- fueled the panic, in a vicious circle, and any hope I had of getting out of this was fading fast.

It is precisely because one can never get away from oneself that to be afraid of oneself, to be afraid of one's own mind, is the worst terror of all. I had no idea this sort of fear could even happen!

As the long nights wore on and I lay in bed -- eyes wide open in the dark, adrenaline pumping, heart pounding, palms sweating as I held my holy items -- at least three times I looked over at Dean as he slept and came *this close* to waking him up to tell him that he had to get me to a mental hospital, now. I felt I was about one millimeter from careening over the edge. I never did wake him up to say it, and instead I just prayed my desperate short prayers, and tried to breathe. Mercifully, God kept me from going over that edge, just barely.

This part is really a fog, but that first week in August was the week that my elder daughter Cecily and her brand new baby girl were living with us, as her husband had gone ahead to Omaha to set up their new apartment. Because she herself was heartbroken at having to move away, especially during the postpartum weeks, I am sure I spent some time trying to put on a smile, and I must have held and diapered my granddaughter (with a level of detachment, since I was saying hello and good-bye, and I couldn't take one more trauma). I just don't remember much about that.

I do remember having to go to lunch at a restaurant with my parents, my sister and nephew, and my daughter and the baby, as a "farewell" to them for some of the extended family. Just sitting there was excruciating. Again, I am not a crier, but I was on the verge of tears the whole lunch, and I was not able to think or interact (though I tried hard to fake it). My sister tells me now that I looked like hell (she used a different word, ha!), and I left the lunch early, alone. I had to get out of there. The grief and pain were overwhelming me. This was on a Monday, and my daughter and her baby left on Thursday morning. All I remember about that Thursday was Cecily coming to kiss me good-bye as I lay in bed. She was crying, and she gifted me with a prayerbook, which she left on my nightstand. I couldn't get up. Dean took them to the airport and they were gone.

Dear reader, I know that this looks bleak, sounds terrible, and it is -- it was. But as I sit here over a year later, I have joy, and I am full of gratitude for what God did with this. He can be trusted. Next comes Part Three, which will fill in the blanks of what I did during this dark time to find help for myself. I knew that I had to find a way out or else go insane, and I was determined to pursue every avenue to do so: Medical/hormonal, emotional/psychological, and of course, spiritual.

Continued, here.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

My mental breakdown and my spiritual breakthrough, Part One

Part I: The Beginning 

In the summer of 2014, I had what I consider a mental breakdown. I have no idea if that is clinically true, but from my perspective, that's what occurred. I will spare you many, many details, but I am so excited to tell you my story. That may sound strange until or unless you understand that the worst experience of my life so far is the one that I thank God for, nearly every day. I can say without any hesitation that my total breakdown was the very best thing that ever happened to me spiritually.

The first little wave of "trouble", if you will, came in April of 2014 when some tests from my routine physical came back with red flags. More lab work, several scans and images, and an invasive procedure finally ruled out anything serious. But the word "cancer" had popped up more than once, and it was during this week that I had what I call a mini-breakdown (not the big one). My beloved cousin Michelle was battling non-smokers lung cancer at the time, and that gave rise to inordinate fears for myself, I believe.

One thing that came up during those April scans was an incidental discovery of some small nodules on my lungs, which was not the initial area of concern. My doctor told me that they were almost certainly nothing to worry about, but that based on their size and non-calcified state, protocol dictated a follow-up scan in three months. I was a little uneasy, considering Michelle's own surprise diagnosis, but I put it out of my mind and went about preparing for the June birth of my first grandchild and the June wedding of my second daughter.

Here is where a perfect storm of incidents started to gather and rise:

~~ My younger daughter left straight from her wedding reception to her new home across the country. She had lived in our home until that day and it was devastating to say good-bye.

~~ My elder daughter and her husband had announced just weeks earlier that they would be moving half-way across the country themselves, and that this would occur six weeks after my first and much-anticipated grandchild was born. So, more crushing good-byes were to come within weeks of saying good-bye to my younger daughter. Both my daughters, my best friends, would be gone -- just like that.

~~ My father was in precarious health with a recent congestive heart failure diagnosis, a subsequent pacemaker and defibrillator implanted, and a recurrence of cancer. He was in decline, and we didn't know if he was going to live much longer.

~~ My cousin and dear friend Michelle, just 44 and a single mom, was battling deadly, metastatic non-smokers lung cancer, as I mentioned above. She had been the picture of health, vibrancy, and beauty just months earlier, and now she stood to leave us and her three teenaged girls.

~~ My children's most beloved little Catholic elementary school, tiny and loving and a haven of goodness, lost its lease and was closing its doors on short notice. We had been at Kolbe School for over ten years, and it was not only a school to us, it was our community. From faculty to parents to students, we were all family. This was a devastating blow, a real loss for so many. It was our own little diaspora.

~~ And finally, add to this the full-blown hormonal effects of peri-menopause. I had absolutely no idea that hormones could wreak such havoc on a person, especially with all the above stressors in place. I had no idea that a common symptom of peri-menopause was anxiety/panic attacks! How come no one tells us these things??

So many worries, changes, losses, and grief, all at once. But still I was steady and strong. I was coping.

But then it came: The trigger, the spark that lit this tinderbox into an inferno. On July 29, 2014, I received a phone call with the results of my CT scan of the lungs, the routine three-month follow-up after April's scan. Some new nodules found, one oddly shaped, one of the old ones had grown, no need to worry, can't completely rule out metastasis, but have another scan in three months, per protocol.

The stirrings of panic began. New nodules on the lungs? Can't completely rule out metastasis? No need to worry? I asked a couple of questions, pretended to be okay with the answers, and hung up the phone. My mind was a whirlwind and I was unable to concentrate on anything around me. I walked around the house in a daze. I called back and asked the doctor's assistant why I didn't need to be seen earlier, and why this was not more urgent? I feared waiting three months, but simultaneously feared knowing what the nodules were. I just wanted it all to go away. I love my doctor's assistant, and in her kind voice, she sincerely assured me that if the doctor had had any real concerns he would have referred me to a pulmonologist immediately. She could sense my anxiety, though, so she gently suggested that I call the doctor personally at 5:00 the next morning, when he always answered his own calls. I thanked her politely and told her I would.

That evening, Dean and I hosted an engaged couple in our home, to go over their marriage prep (FOCCUS) materials. I was on autopilot. I don't know how I got through it, but for the grace of God. I was full-on acting, because inside the terror was creeping forth, more and more. I went to bed full of fear, from head to toe.

After a fitful sleep, I woke early to call my doctor, and he answered immediately. He heard my fears and gently insisted that I should not be alarmed, that I needed to trust him (and he is a thorough and trustworthy doctor, one who truly cares about his patients). He spent a lot of time with me on the phone, trying to reassure me in different ways. But by the end of the conversation, with my flat affect and short, unconvinced responses, I'm sure he realized that I was not reassured; he probably also remembered my mini-breakdown that past April, when I had had a very uncharacteristic sobbing fit in his office. Those who know me know that I am not a crier.

Because of my clear state of anxiety, my doctor ultimately said that he would get me in to see an excellent pulmonologist, even though it was unnecessary, so that my mind could be set at ease. I knew at that point that nothing the pulmonologist could say would make a difference to me, that the visit could not pull me out of my panic, but I had no other course of action. I can't remember how or when, but before long I had an appointment set up for the following Friday, nine days away. I didn't know then that the pulmonologist didn't even see patients on Fridays, and that he made an exception for me at the request of my primary doctor. Looking back now, in a lucid state, I am grateful to both of them.

So, essentially, that initial phone call with scan results on July 29 marked the start of a 13-day, full-blown, unrelenting panic attack. I don't mean 13 days of high anxiety. I mean a 13-day panic attack. It started in one instant and it never let up until almost two weeks later, with more recovery that came after that. If you have ever had even an hour-long panic attack, you can begin to appreciate what I experienced. It was seemingly never-ending; it went on and on, day after day after day, night after night after night, with no relief.

In my next post, I will bring you into those two weeks with me.

To be continued...

Read Part Two, here.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Exhortation to Catholic Men! (Women, direct your husbands and sons here!)

“And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and 
stand in the breach before me for the land…”   -- Ezekiel 22:30

Hooray!!! At long last, the Exhortation is here!

If you recall, way back in February I was part of the Diocese of Phoenix Synod on Masculine Identity and Mission called by my wonderful and holy Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted. This synod was a gathering of scholars, priests, religious, and laypeople, and it served as the foundation and inspiration for the incredible document written by Bishop Olmsted and just released on the Feast of the Archangels, at the hour of mercy:

Bishop Olmsted is an incredible spiritual father to all of us here in the Diocese of Phoenix, and he felt a special need to call forth his spiritual sons, the men of his diocese, to their God-given mission. As a woman, I cannot tell you how grateful I am! We have such a crisis of manhood in our nation today, and men, for so many reasons, have forgotten who they are.

Every woman I know wants her husband, her son, her brother to be the man that Christ intends him to be. Our wonderful bishop has sent out a clarion call to those sons of the Church to step up and take their place in the spiritual and cultural battle raging around us!

Bishop of Phoenix, Thomas J. Olmsted

First, watch this amazing trailer (and trust me, the priests and other men in this trailer walk the walk, they don't just talk the talk):

I begin this letter with a clarion call and clear charge to you, my sons and brothers in Christ: Men, do not hesitate to engage in the battle that is raging around you, the battle that is wounding our children and families, the battle that is distorting the dignity of both women and men. This battle is often hidden, but the battle is real. It is primarily spiritual, but it is progressively killing the remaining Christian ethos in our society and culture, and even in our own homes.
One of the key reasons that the Church is faltering under the attacks of Satan is that many Catholic men have not been willing to “step into the breach” – to fill this gap that lies open and vulnerable to further attack. 

Read it all! Spanish speakers, go here! Print it out and put it in the coffee table in your home. Email it to all the men in your life. Post it on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. Men, challenge other men to read it and discuss (there will be ways to implement this document in parishes and small groups, so stay tuned). 

There are three main questions presented in the Exhortation:

1. What does it mean to be a Catholic man?

2. How does a Catholic man love?

3. Why is fatherhood, fully understood, so crucial for every man?

And these three questions are understood within three basic contexts:

Context #1: A New Apostolic Moment – The “New Evangelization”

Context #2: A Field Hospital and a Battle College

Context #3: Man and Woman are Complementary, not Competitors

I am in love with this document. I tried to parse out a few passages that are my favorites, but there are too many, and I gave up. Just read the whole thing

Men! We women support you and love you! Be the men that God is calling you to be! Step into the battle, be a hero, be a protector, a provider, a spiritual warrior, a saint! Sacrifice yourselves totally for the ones you love, in service of Our Lord! We love you! We want you to be what God made you to be!

Men of God, step into the breach!


And, for those who would claim that the Church bypasses women, read Pope St. John Paul II here and here. I trust you will be more than satisfied. And if not, please go pray, and read again. :)