Pull up a chair in my domestic church and let's chat!

I have worn many labels (Not in any particular order): Catholic, Wife, Mom,Gramma, Doctor, Major, Soccer Mom, Military Wife, Professor, Fellow.

All of these filter my views of the world. I hope that like St. Monica, I can through prayer, words and example, lead my children and others to Faith.
"The important thing is that we do not let a single day go by in vain without putting it to good use for eternity"--Blessed Franz J├Ągerst├Ątter

Sunday, July 29, 2012

I refuse to hide in the basement

Most of the time I really like what well established Catholic author and my Northern Virginia neighbor  Elizabeth Foss writes. But today on her Facebook page she endorsed and linked to this blog post by Jen Hatmaker:

This is precisely how I feel about the Chick-Fil-A debacle and all the other accoutrements of the culture wars. I am so over it. I'm so over the fear mongering and the hate propaganda. I'm over the political posturing and power plays. I'm over the finger pointing and name calling. The storms are raging overhead, and let me tell you something: 
I'm going to the basement.
Jen Hatmaker goes on to invite us all down to her basement to contemplate the really important things like love, feeding the hungry, justice, etc. She hates how the Gospel has been turned into a "bludgeoning tool".

I have very mixed feelings about this hiding in the basement thing. I agree we do not need to rage at people. We need to love everyone, even those who disagree with us. We need to treat everyone with the dignity and respect they are entitled to because they are children of God. Name calling and demonizing our opponents offer no solutions. 

That said, I will not hide in the basement and allow attacks on my faith and on my family to go unchallenged. I will stand up for the voiceless and the marginalized and speak loudly. The unborn, the disabled, the elderly, the sick need my voice. My children and my children's children need me to stand up for virtue. They need to have the freedom to live a faithfully Catholic life--not just on Sunday in church but every day in every aspect of their lives. Anyone who thinks the "culture wars" are just about people with differing opinions trying to live and let live is naive. People with true moral objections to homosexuality are being forced to provide photography services, reception halls, and catering services to gay weddings. Catholic social services have to cease serving the children in need if they will not provide adoption services to gay couples. The US government refused to renew the contract with Catholic immigration and refugee services because they would not provide abortion and contraception to victims of human trafficking. Catholic businesses are being forced to pay for abortifacients, contraception, and sterilization for their employees. 

So I will not hate those who attack my faith and family. I pray unceasingly for their conversion. But I will also not condone, minimize, ignore, or accept the evil they endorse. Standing up for the truth of the Gospel does not mean I am using it as a bludgeoning tool. Saints put on the armor of Christ and wield the sword of His truth. They endure the discomforts of battle. They do not hide in the basement.

While I am not hiding in the basement, I am also not looking conquer or vanquish a foe. I am hoping for conversion. Please see this post.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Seeking souls instead of gold at the Olympics

In these turbulent social times, i sometimes have a tough time making it through the newspaper. Even the comics get tangled up in the issues of the day. My refuge is often the sports page. I love athletic competitions. Not being a great athlete myself, I love to read about the feats of those who are. Athletes are not saints by any stretch of the imagination, but normally the stories focus on values we can all agree upon: discipline, strong work ethic, perseverance. Other than Barcelona FC, I don't have a strong emotional attachment to many teams. I always cheer for the National League in baseball because I hate the designated hitter rule. I tend to cheer for the team with the best back story.

The Olympics is the mother lode of inspiring stories. There are so many obstacles, challenges, and come-backs. However, I was feeling a bit jaded this time around. American soccer goal keeper, Hope Solo, has been dishing about the bacchanalia that takes place in the Olympic Village. Olympic organizers are distributing 150,000 condoms to athletes. The health director of Brazil's Olympic team claims such sexual exploits are both normal and necessary for such physically fit young people.

So I was so happy to read this article in the British Catholic Herald:
Twenty-four hour exposition of the Blessed Sacrament will be held in St Francis of Assisi’s church, Stratford, east London, throughout the Olympic Games, it has been announced. 
Not just in London but throughout the country the Church is gearing up for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. 
Priests and religious will be on hand in the Olympic Village for athletes, coaches and officials, with chaplains available for visitors to the Games. Spiritual and pastoral hospitality centres at St Francis’s church and at Westminster Cathedral will offer Masses in different languages, talks by priests, and will also provide a place for volunteers at the Games to “chill out”, according to Frank van Velzen, assistant Catholic coordinator of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
I don't know how many athletes will take advantage of this spiritual opportunity. However, it is nice to know that the British Catholic Church sees an opportunity to celebrate virtue while others are promoting vice. This is what the "New Evangelization" is all about. As Pope Benedict XVI has clearly articulated, we need to "re-propose" the Truth. We cannot assume that others already know what the Church is about. Even years of Catholic education are no guarantee that someone is well catechized. I am saddened at how few of my own Catholic school compatriots are still active practicing Catholics.

So I will enjoy the competitions. I will marvel at the physical prowess. And I will pray that these athletes recognize their talents are gifts from God and seek a closer relationship to Him. May the efforts of the Catholic Church in England bear much fruit. They may not win gold medals but they will win souls.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Melinda Gates pushes dangerous solution and more

I know I said I would use this blog for more than just linking to my articles published elsewhere, but I think you will find the following interesting.

Melinda Gates is busy pushing her population control on Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. She is covering it with the veneer of trying to improve women's health. Her methods, however, are dangerous and will harm more than they could possibly help.  Read more here.

This article generated quite a bit of media buzz. I did a taped interview for LifeNews radio. Not sure when it will be broadcast. Today I did a live interview with Janet Parshall. You can find it here. It is the broadcast dated July 26, 2012.

Finally, my latest HLI Article for Zenit is up. While prenatal testing is a benefit and a blessing at time, it can also be used for evil purposes. Read the whole story here.

All of my HLI America work is archived here.

Hope you find this work thought provoking and helpful.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

It's Natural Family Planning Awareness Week!

In case you haven't heard, the bishops declared July 22-28 Natural Family Planning Awareness Week. My contribution for the week is up at HLI America.

Pope Benedict XVI offered an encouraging message to the recent meeting of the Equipes Notre Dame (translation: Teams of Our Lady), a pro-marriage apostolate. The Holy Father invited all Christian married couples to be “the gentle and smiling face of the Church.” There is no greater way for couples to achieve this than to joyfully open their marriage to the gift of life.
Head on over to HLI America and read the whole thing!

In addition, Dr. Donald DeMarco offers some great thoughts on NFP as well.

And I highly recommend the series of posts by Elizabeth Foss.

Happy NFP week!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Exceeding Expectations

I have to admit I settled into daily Mass a bit complacently today. I saw that the celebrant was a priest with a very thick accent. Combine that with a less than stellar sound system and I am often lucky to understand much at all of what he says. But that is okay. I am grateful for his presence and grateful for the Eucharist. I smugly consoled myself with a reminder that I don't necessarily need a rousing homily at every Mass.

But somehow today I did understand his words. The Gospel reading was:

While Jesus was speaking to the crowds,
his mother and his brothers appeared outside,
wishing to speak with him.
Someone told him, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside,
asking to speak with you."
But he said in reply to the one who told him,
"Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?"
And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said,
"Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father
is my brother, and sister, and mother." (Mt 12:46-50)

Then Father went on to explain that Jesus was not trying to be disrespectful to his family. His love for his mother is unquestionable. Rather, he was using this opportunity to teach his disciples about the Kingdom of Heaven. Those who do the will of his heavenly Father will be as close to him as one would expect blood relatives to be. What an awesome prospect!

I am ashamed of how little I expected to get from Mass today, but I am grateful the Word pierced my arrogance and revealed a glimpse of the Kingdom.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Time to fly

As I mentioned yesterday, I've grappling with letting go--mostly of stuff. But I am also having to let go a little bit of my baby. My youngest graduated from high school last month and will be moving on to college in just a month. Unlike his older siblings, when he heads off to college he will be going five miles up the road instead of 1500 miles across the country. He is going to live in the dorm for at least the first year so that he can get a taste of independence and learn to handle money, time, and school without Mom and Dad right there to double check things. I am pretty sure he is ready. But it is hard to watch the last one fly. Of course, based on his older siblings, the flight in August will probably include a return leg or two and maybe even a few stints back under our roof. However, it will never be the same.

Now all through high school, I did not give my kids total free rein. I had to know where they were, who they were with, and what time to expect them home. I still had veto power over some activities. When the older ones left, it was easier to relinquish that control because they were so far away there was nothing I could do about anything anyway. With the youngest staying so close, I am having to make a conscious effort to give him the freedom a college freshman deserves. I made a first step last night.

He said he and his buddies from high school wanted to go see the midnight showing of the new Batman movie. It is a three hour movie. That means he would not be home until nearly 4am. That is an automatic no-go for my high school student. But for my college freshman, I did not object. I did not actually wait up for him but I did not sleep soundly either. He texted me around 3:15am to say he was coming home. Once he was back safe and sound I slept.

Then I got up and checked the news as the coffee brewed. I saw the horror that occurred at the midnight showing of Batman in Aurora, CO. I felt a pit in my stomach. That could just as easily have happened in Virginia as in Colorado. My heartfelt prayers go out to all those who lost loved ones in this tragedy. I pray for the repose of the souls who died. 

This little voice in my head was trying to tell me, "See, you should have put your foot down. You should have said no!" But I poured my coffee and silenced that thought. As much as I want to keep my "baby" safe, he is a young man, not a little boy. He deserves the chance to use his judgment and make his choices. I have taught him what I can and will continue to offer guidance when I can. I will be ever on my knees in prayer for his safety, health, happiness, and spiritual growth. But it is time to let him fly.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Should it stay or should it go?

As I mentioned yesterday, my mother had a tendency to collect things. I believe I inherited bit of that tendency as well. However, the propensity to hoard that my husband brings to our marriage makes my side of the family look totally detached from things. He wants to save everything. "It might be useful someday!" are frequent words as I try to declutter. Which is why this article recommended by Fr. Z caught my eye.  It offers a pretty good psychological explanation of why we hang on to things. Yet, all the explanations in the world are worthless if they do not also offer a solution. I like this idea:

Now, knowing the power of the bias, for each item I ask myself a simple question: If I didn't have this, how much effort would I put in to obtain it? And then more often or not I throw it away, concluding that if I didn't have it, I wouldn't want this.
Let this anti-endowment effect technique perform its magic for you, and you too will soon be joyously throwing away things that you only think you want, but actually wouldn't trouble yourself to acquire if you didn't have them.
The first twenty years of my husband's Air Force career we spent uprooting and moving every one to four years. Moves make you purge excess baggage. It has to be pretty important to move from one coast to another. We did have to make an exception for the three boxes of Hubby's textbooks that moved from house to house with us for those twenty years without ever being unpacked. I think I have finally winnowed that down to just a few books.  It has been mostly a positive thing that the last ten years have been very stable and we have stayed right here in the Metro DC area. The downside, is that we have ten years of accumulated stuff and are in desperate need of purging.

In ten years, our family has morphed from four kids at home ranging from elementary school to high school to effectively no children at home but four adults who spend varying amounts of time in our house. Our oldest has a fully established household of his own. Our second is with us full time right now but we see that becoming more part time in the near future. Our third is in the local area but has her own apartment more conveniently located to graduate school. But our house is still home. Our fourth will be headed to college and dorm life but is still based out of our house. Do we still really need all those relics of childhood?

Well, complicating this picture is the welcome addition of grandchildren. We have a house full of adults but I still want to be welcoming and fun for grandchildren. Having my daughter-in-law and granddaughter live with us while my son deployed to Afghanistan means that we restocked our supply of baby and toddler goods. While they are not living with us now, I hope they visit often and want there to be some familiar toys for their children to look forward to seeing. In addition, now that my daughter is engaged, I can see the possibility of another family of children coming to visit.

Right now, my approach is to look at how sentimental is the item, how easy would it be to replace it, how hard is it to store and how often will it be used. I have two huge plastic totes full of wooden train track and accessories. We started collecting it when my oldest was only a year old. It would be outrageously expensive to replace it, I have many happy memories of my children playing with it, and it and it is completely out of sight when stored. The same goes for our set of wonderful unit blocks made from smooth maple wood. And there is no way you are going to pry our copy of Goodnight Moon out of my hands. However, all electronic toys, Nerf guns, and most of the books that were never sentimental favorites can go.

Exactly how long are you supposed to hang on to the trophies and medals associated with childhood? We have boxes of soccer and tee-ball trophies. My kids do not want the participation trophies from their first year of peewee soccer but am I supposed to keep them stored in my basement? If one of my children is ever President, will these trophies be included in their presidential library? My brain says they should go. My heart is holding on a little tighter.

Looking at my closet, I have gotten a little more disciplined in recent years. If I haven't worn it in a year, it goes. I have gotten rid of most of my "skinny clothes". I am sure some of you have similar collections of clothes that you can't wait to get back in to once you lose weight. I decided that these clothes were providing no motivation for my weight loss plan and if I did lose weight I wouldn't want to wear them anyway. I will reward myself with something new. So they are gone.

Let's just not talk about shoes. I am not exactly Imelda, but I do have more than my share of footwear. Even in this category I have made progress. I still use the one year rule--most of the time. And when I buy a new pair of shoes I try to see if I can get rid of another pair.

Finally, in addition to upping my tossing out activities I have been relooking at my acquisitions. If I see a need, I try to repurpose something I already have to fill it rather than immediately going out to buy something new. I decided that I needed something like a small end table next to my desk to hold various cables, headphones, etc that were cluttering my already small desktop. I was browsing through online catalogues and thinking about a trip to the thrift shop to see if I could find something that fits the bill. Then I remembered that I had a small black wire mesh three drawer cart up in my bedroom. I really didn't use it for much other than another horizontal surface to catch clutter. I cleared out the drawers and brought it down to my office space. Perfect!

I am not in any danger of being selected for one of the hoarder reality shows. But it is tough for me to declutter. How are you doing in this area? Any tips?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Just because you ask it...

Since my mother passed away a little over a year ago, one of my tasks whenever I visit my dad is to sort through another stack of papers. My mother was a collector. She never failed to pick up and never threw away a single religious tract, pamphlet, or prayer card. You know the ones you get from fundraising letters? She saved them all. And I can't just throw away whole piles, because tucked inside the papers are often photos or other sentimental treasures. So I sort.

The upside is I have found some wonderful tracts, pamphlets, and prayer cards to add to my own collection. What can I say? I am my mother's daughter. Though I have made the intention to cull my collection and keep it a bit more organized in consideration of any offspring who may someday find themselves sorting.

One of my finds now in my purse is a card that carries  The Universal Prayer of Thanksgiving After Mass. It is attributed to Pope Clement XI. It is now my prayer as I kneel after Mass. Many of you may be familiar with it, but it is new to me. It is fairly long, but every verse holds words worthy of deep reflection. After Mass this morning, the words that stood out to me were:

I want to do what you ask of me:
In the way you ask,
For as long as you ask,
Because you ask it.

Think about those words. I want to do what you ask of me. Not because I agree with it. Not because I understand it. Not because I know it is good for me. But simply because you ask it. Of course this prayer also implies I know what God is asking. That is a tall order. But renewed in the Eucharist, that is what I pray.

I am sure that when my mom tucked this prayer card into one of her piles of religious stuff she had no idea what a treasure it would be for me. I like to think she knows now. Thanks, Mom.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

HPV vaccine revisited

My post yesterday mentioned some of the many changes that have occurred in my life since I started this blog in 2006. Because you asked for it, Barb, let's chat about what has happened with the HPV vaccine in that time. I have a whole series of posts on this that you can read here

First of all, there are now two vaccines to choose from instead of just one. Gardasil is manufactured by Merck. Cervarix is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline. Instead of being marketed just to girls and women. The vaccine can now be given to boys and men ages 9 to 26. For males, the indication is the prevention of genital warts. For females, the indication is the prevention of infection with two of the subtypes of HPV (16 and  18) that cause cervical cancer. The cost of the vaccine is just under $400 for a three shot series. Some insurance plans cover the cost of vaccination. Women who are vaccinated still need to have regular pap smears because the vaccine does not cover the types of HPV that account for 30% of all cervical cancers. The safety profile for both vaccines looks pretty good.

When Gardasil was introduced six years ago, I was appalled at the rush to make it mandatory. We did not have enough clinical experience to be sure of the safety. Numerous drugs are licensed and withdrawn due to adverse effects that are only discovered once the drug is in general clinical use. Merck was pouring huge amounts of money and energy to push the mandates. Look at my old blog posts and you can see that they were even stalking lowly bloggers like me and planting "doctors" to comment on my blog posts. Merck knew that Cervarix was coming down the pike and they wanted the mandates to go into effect while they were still the only show in town.

Six years later I am satisfied with the safety. My opinion is that these are reasonable vaccines to offer to patients. They are not essential. I still oppose making these vaccines mandatory. The public health risk of HPV infection does not rise to the level necessary to take this decision out of the hands of parents. So why would a parent choose to get the vaccine for her child? The $400 upfront cost of vaccination does not lower any costs for preventive care. Women who are vaccinated still have to get the same routine pap smears as women who are not vaccinated. The vaccine is not going to save any lives in women who get regular pap smears because these routine exams will detect early changes that can be treated and prevent the progression to cervical cancer. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) admits as much

Regular cervical cancer screening and follow-up can prevent most cases of cervical cancer. The Pap test can detect cell changes in the cervix before they turn into cancer. Pap tests can also detect most, but not all, cervical cancers at an early, treatable stage. Most women diagnosed with cervical cancer in the U.S. have either never had a Pap test, or have not had a Pap test in the last 5 years.

Remember that the vast majority of women who contract HPV, including subtypes 16 and 18, clear the virus on their own with no treatment. So what your $400 dollars in vaccine cost is buying you is insurance against having to have the cryotherapy or other treatment to eliminate pre-cancerous cervical changes because you are one of the few who contracted these specific types of HPV and your immune system did not take care of it. 

The case for vaccinating boys is even shakier. The vaccine has not been shown to prevent penile cancer. It has not been shown to decrease HPV transmission to women. There is evidence it reduces the incidence of genital warts, an embarrassing and annoying condition that is not life threatening. If you really want to decrease HPV and penile cancer in your sons, you should circumcise them.

The push to vaccinate young girls as early as age nine comes from the desire to reach them before they are sexually active. Early sexual activity and multiple sexual partners increase the risk of HPV infection and subsequent cervical cancer. I think that it is probably very reasonable to encourage vaccination for those girls who seem very likely to become sexually active early. I don't think it will hurt to vaccinate other girls as well--I am just not so sure it will help much either. So if you, as a parent, want to feel like you have addressed every sort of cancer prevention no matter how small the risk of cancer or how small the potential benefit, then go for it. If you decide that the risk for your daughter is low enough that you feel comfortable with the routine cancer screening pap smears alone, then that is perfectly reasonable too. 

I do not believe any physician should be pushing this vaccine as clearly essential for all patients. It is an option. Parents need to be informed of exactly what the vaccine does and does not do. Then the choice is theirs.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Can we talk?

For as much as I have been writing, I am amazed to see how little is on this blog. I have been stringing words together seemingly non-stop, but very few are showing up here. When I started blogging six years ago, it was an attempt to hone my writing skills, evangelize, and test the waters. My hope was that somehow my work would be noticed and my clinical career in medicine would transition to a teaching and writing career. Guess what? It worked.

Because my blog got noticed by some folks, I did a little networking. The next thing you know I am a fellow for Human Life International and writing about family issues,  beginning of life issues, end of life issues, health care policy issues, and so much more. I am doing exactly what I set out to do when I started blogging. I am combining my love of God, my love of the Church, my love of teaching, and my love of writing.

Of course I am also still Mom. But I am also Gramma. When I started blogging I had one child in college but still considered him based at home. Three more were in elementary, middle and high school. Now, the oldest is grown, married to a wonderful wife and with the cutest little daughter you would ever want to see.  Another lives at home and is trying to get his career goals off the ground. Another graduated from college and is in grad school. And she is engaged!  Finally, the baby just graduated from high school and is off to college this fall. And while six years ago I was a military wife, I am now a military wife (retired). 

All the evangelizing and catechizing I do is wonderfully fun and rewarding. But it doesn't pay all the bills. So I am also teaching anatomy and physiology at the local community college. I love being an adjunct faculty member. I get all the fun of teaching without all the politics and committee meetings of academic life.

But you know what? I miss my blog. I miss the frequent forays into new thoughts and working out ideas and relationships. My blog is a place to reflect. The writing does not have to be polished enough for publication. 

And I love my blogging buddies. I know I keep up with many on Facebook, but Facebook posts are like hallway conversations while blog posts are more like chats over several cups of coffee.

So I hope to reclaim this blog space and plant more than links to my other work. Notice I said hope. Real life has a way of tripping up the best of intentions. But we'll give it a go. Pour coffee or tea and let's chat away.