I had the privilege of contributing to a project, A Place to Belong Letters from Catholic Women, that is currently available for pre-order, which will be released on March 25th – the Feast of Annunciation! In preparation for its release, I had the opportunity to be on a podcast “The Daughters’ Project” by the Media Nuns.
I like to think about the giants who have come before us – the giants whose shoulders we stand on – those that laid this ground work of seeking justice for us. A litany comes to mind: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta King, Servant of God Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, Thomas Merton, Saint Oscar Romero, pray for us.
A friend shared a story on her account recently about people before us exchanging letters before ever meeting. And it makes me think about the relationships among these greats that started over letter writing. Yesterday I learned that Thomas Merton and Dr. MLK, Jr. were set to make a retreat mere days after MLK’s assassination. Dorothy Day traveled West to meet Cesar Chavez and offer support and solidarity for fieldworkers. The connections to the global struggle for justice are everywhere.
I think about the work for justice today and the relationships of solidarity I have made over Instagram. I joked that learning about the letter writing made me feel less creepy about calling these people friends even though I’ve never met them, but I have spent hours with them on Instagram, Voxer, and Slack. Social media can be a dumpster-fire-time-suck, yes, but I sense that the Holy Spirit is at work here, too. The Internet has offered me community, solidarity, and consolation in the midst of pandemics – a pandemic of injustice, a pandemic of loneliness, a pandemic of disease. This space has helped me persevere as I limp along – exhausted, angry, and tired – maybe the same way these letters exchanged by the greats helped them find energy to keep going, often feeling isolated and alone.
I’m thankful for these friends. I am thankful for those that came before us that started the work that we must now take up to do our part to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven. The work of justice must happen in community and it’s okay that, right now, this community is virtual. But oh what joy it brings me to think about when we get to meet face-to-face and embrace and make a retreat together – all for the good work of justice.
May we remember and honor the saints and the workers every day. May we take up the fight for justice and find respite in these communities.
To read Dorothy Day’s account of the pictured encounter with Cesar Chavez and Coretta Scott King click here.
As 2020 comes to a close I’ve been compiling photo books. Sometimes the pictures convey more than words ever could, but sometimes the pictures can also smooth the edges of the roughest memories. And the latter is making me increasingly uncomfortable. I’m being reminded that in the art of storytelling we need those rough memories no matter how hard they are to remember. Not because we need to wallow in what’s hard, but we need the reminders of what we have overcome. We need the generations-to-come to know that they are not alone in feeling their angst, their disappointment, their cynicism. We were there once. And we are still there, too. If we embrace a nonlinear understanding of time I think we can better cope with the need for reflection. Anyone who has dealt with any sort of traumatic event can attest to the fact that we don’t really ever “move on” and forget. Instead, these moments embed in us and we often revisit them. We circle back. I don’t mean that we live in and wallow in the trauma, but it is important that we sit in it and feel it in order to heal from it. It’s okay to revisit it. We don’t just do it for ourselves. We do it to be of service to others. To offer empathy and support when someone else finds themselves in a place we once were. We can go back to those painful times, whether the feelings have dulled or not, and we can still pull from those experiences. I think in many ways our current generations have lost the art of healing and storytelling. We have lost the sacred ways in which our ancestors learned and taught when we bought into Western linear time. Let us not forget that God has never claimed a linear timeline. As Saint Oscar Romero reminds us in his Christmas homilies, Jesus is simultaneously in the incarnation and the crucifixion. As humans, we have the capacity to feel the loneliness of the darkness and the warmth of the light at the same time. It may be uncomfortable, but is it not part of the complexity of the human experience? I think of Mary’s joy as she brings forth the Son and her sorrow at the foot of the cross. Without both, our salvation story is incomplete.
As I think about 2020 I know that it wasn’t just our world that was rocked, but there are some things we celebrated and suffered that was unique to us as a family. Jobs lost, financial uncertainty, balancing working from home and academic, behavioral, and social progress of the kids on our own — in those ways our experience was very much like a lot of people around us. But we also had to confront addiction, and recovery, and whatever life is after that. I took on a month of solo parenting while working from home in a pandemic while I was 8 months pregnant. By the time Mila was born I felt like I was at my weakest. I remember, while laboring with her, that I wasn’t sure I had the strength to do it this time. I felt like I was drawing from an empty well. My body was tired and I am still feeling the affects of it. But I also got paid to do consulting and restorative justice work. We somehow swindled the universe into letting us buy a house. But, the loneliness of 2020 is the heaviest. Having a baby during a pandemic is lonely. Navigating addiction and recovery is lonely. Being separated by thousands of miles from my best friends and my closest family members is lonely. And right here at the end, our beloved dog died.
This loneliness is not something that I can fix with a 2021 resolution. I can’t help but think of the words of Servant of God Dorothy Day, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” My heart aches for community. I have been reminded about my passion for radical hospitality. I think for many of us, a light was shown on our loneliness this year and we are being forced to grapple with it in a way that we weren’t prepared for. I don’t have any solutions to this or a nice send-off. Instead, I am sharing I suppose, to reach out, to offer a space of welcome and solidarity. We have work to do ahead of us, but we cannot go at it alone. Together, we were made for times such as these.
Hello from your friendly nonprofit professional! I am going to start with some not-so-great news, but end with some action items. I want to leave you feeling hopeful so hang in with me for a sec, k?
According to Philanthropy News Digest charitable giving is down in 2020 and that is probably a surprise to absolutely no one. There are reports circulating, like this one, that many community-based organizations are increasingly getting inquiries from potential donors asking for voting history and political affiliation of the recipients of their charitable giving. In case you didn’t know, this is unethical and pretty much always illegal for charities, social services, and nonprofits to collect and track this information, let alone as an eligibility prerequisite. Although this is not surprising given the current political climate we’ve had over the last few years, it is disappointing.
In my stints in fund development I learned that most people are generous givers and trust the good people doing the good work to be responsible with the donations. However, there were always a few thorns demanding more recognition, offering unsolicited criticisms, or sharing their veiled (or sometimes blatant) prejudice thoughts about the community the organization served. So, I don’t find this surprising to hear — especially after the election cycle that we just had.
Here are ten tips for you to keep in mind this #GivingTuesday to start practicing how to be a responsible and well-loved donor, especially if this is new for you! I’ll link to some of my favorite organizations at the end of this post.
So, tell me: what are some of your tips? And what are some of your favorite organizations to donate to?
And now, some of my favorite organizations to support:
At the beginning of my reversion to Catholicism, sitting on a futon in a small dorm room in Seattle that I shared with Melissa, I would scour the Internet for blogs or articles or just something that was written from a point of view of a Latina cradle Catholic. I was looking to find a Latina whose Catholicism was formed by a conviction for social justice and a grandma praying the rosary with a copy of Vanidades laying around. I was looking to find a reflection of myself in someone else. If the statistics were right, I knew I wasn’t the only one out there, but back then I never found anyone.
My hope in sharing honestly and openly through these little boxes is to offer a space where someone else searching for the intersection of justice, social change, and Catholicism can come sit around this fire and spin ideas. I want to offer what I was looking for to help someone else feel less alone. Fast forward to today and I have found comadres talking and planning and moving to action among the corners of the interwebs. I am apart of and I have helped create and space like the one I was looking for.
I decided awhile ago, though, that I’m not going to stress about curating this weird little piece of Internet that I have. I really, really love photography as a creative outlet. I like the idea of a feed with a color palette and a cohesive theme. But, I’ve learned over and over again that my life does not lend itself well to that type of stability. A good and wise and former college roommate who knows me startling well (Melissa I’m looking at you) has said some things to me over the past few weeks that has helped me remember this. As a family we’ve had to pivot and reimagine what life is going to look like in dramatic ways. Career changes, cross-country to cross-the-town moves, some-day-but-not-yet answered prayers, unexpected babies, unexpected medical journeys, and loss and death, addiction and recovery. It has often left me feeling like I am grasping to steady myself on some janky carnival ride. Even if I am able to plant my feet, I am not entirely sure this whole thing isn’t going to have a major malfunction and fly off its tracks. It’s dishonest for me to try to package that into some nice message for you to follow because over here the outcome is usually messy and a little lopsided. My guess is that maybe that’s true for you, too.
We are often telling writers, and artists, and neighbors to stay in their lane on the Internet. We want to commodify each other – we want the products, but we don’t want the people. And I’m not down with that. I’m going to say what Melissa reminded me of: there is space for us to be too much, and too intense, and too loud about the things that hurt us or inspire us or move us to action. There is space for us to invite one another in and circle up and share our gifts and talents, as well as our thoughts and opinions. So, if you have been searching for a place where justice, social change, and Catholicism intersect: welcome and stay awhile.
It’s Ichthyosis Awareness month so I’m dedicating my posts this month to advocating for those with ichthyosis and sharing a little bit of our story.
Today, I’m talking about skin care. All of the well meaning people in this world like to suggest what we could use on Olivia’s skin and try to hide their horror when they hear that we REGULARLY use bleach and petroleum based products. Here’s the deal: I am a pretty crunchy mama so when I heard these things I searched desperately for “natural” alternatives. Surely other products can work just as well. Surely people are just blindly listening to medical professionals without doing much personal research. Surely there are other options. Trial after trial, especially when Olivia’s skin would get really dry or really tight or really flaky, I would find myself back ro using Aquaphor instead of, or in addition to, Shea butter or organic cold pressed coconut, safflower, and avocado oils.
The reality is that Aquaphor, a product I only knew to use to heal tattoos, is one of the only things that helps alleviate itching. And the fact that it helps with itchiness AND it can help fight bacteria and create a barrier against infection is why I still use it. Even though it leaves grease stains on my clothes, destroys elastic (which is why I use disposable diapers more often that cloth diapers, a very different routine for me when compared to diapering with Oscar), and leaves gunk in my washer (among other minor annoyances), but the bottom line is this: it brings comfort to Olivia. It just works in a way that other emollients don’t work. At the end of the day, any mother is going to do what is best for their kiddo. Bottom line. Full stop. End of story.
So, yes, we put in a cap full of bleach in a bathtub full of water every now and again to kill off any lingering germs after visiting somewhere that was full of people, animals, or just wasn’t very clean. And yes, I use petroleum based products, and disposable diapers, and a cream that I have to wear gloves when I apply it to Olivia’s skin because this routine is what works for her skin right now. It might not work later. And it might not work for someone else’s skin who is affected with ichthyosis. This ability to adapt and respond to needs and to find compromises is what we, as parents, do day in and day out – parents with kids with different needs just find themselves going a little further, but you would do it, too, if you were in our shoes. Bottom line. Full stop. End of story.
I don’t want to end this post without sharing appreciation for Bieresdorf, the parent company of Aquaphor products, because thanks to them folks affected by ichthyosis can receive a FREE case of product once a quarter after sending a letter from a dermatologist. That’s a huge savings for our family. Any company willing to donate product directly to those that NEED it, instead of gauging our pockets deserves recognition.
This month I will be sharing a few posts related to ichthyosis with the hope to advocate for acceptance and understanding of people with visible differences, support FIRST Foundation and the possibility of improved treatments and cures, and to spread awareness about this rare genetic skin condition.
Ichthyosis. How do you spell that? How do you say that? I say ICK-THEE-OH-SIS. I’ve heard it say other ways, too. For the sake of simplicity I often tell people that Olivia has a genetic skin condition that makes her skin grow really fast and she can’t slough it on her own like we can. It works for kids and adults alike so I stick with it. But it’s not the whole story and it is an oversimplification of the disorder.
There are about 20 different types of ichthyosis and although there are similarities across the conditions, there are a lot of differences, too. Some are linked to the x-chromosome, some, like Olivia’s type, are double recessive, and still some others are dominant. Never did I realize that those Putnam squares and pea varieties that I learned about in Biology would come in handy! Ichthyosis is so rare that there is still a lot we just don’t know. For example, Olivia has Harlequin Ichthyosis – a phenotype that presents with thick white diamond shaped scales at birth. Olivia received two different gene variations. One from me. One from Casey. And since we aren’t related the mutations were different. One of the variations had been previously recorded in someone with Harlequin ichthyosis… and the other had not. Why is this important? Since the mutations are different and we don’t know enough about this particular part of DNA, we don’t know how else these variations might affect Olivia. Additionally, the two mutations that Olivia has are also different than the two genetic mutations or variations that someone else with Harlequin Ichthyosis might have. So even though someone else might have Harlequin Ichthyosis, that person and Olivia might have different challenges. I found myself saying, “genetics are weird.” on a regular basis.
What is common among the ichthyosis population, however, is that the largest organ – skin – is compromised. Your skin is the first defense for your immune system. Your skin, and it’s ability to sweat, helps you control your body temperature so you don’t overheat. Your skin retains moisture, which helps keep your whole body hydrated. When your skin is compromised, as in the case of folks with ichthyosis, you are more susceptible to infections, overheating (which can also happen if you get too cold as your body goes into overdrive trying to warm you up), and dehydration.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg of the world with ichthyosis and for most people it’s more than enough information to grasp all they need to know. But there is more because with any congenital condition, there is almost always more. What is important to know about ichthyosis is that it is NOT contagious. And although your skin provides very important functions for your body, people with ichthyosis (and their loved ones) don’t have to live constrained by fear. We are cautious, yes. Of course. But, it is my goal to equip Olivia with the tools necessary so that she feels confident enough to pursue her interests and passions. This may mean that we get creative, that we stay flexible, and we adapt – but is that any different than any other family?
During the month of May, please follow along as I share about #ichthyosisawareness and consider donating to FIRST Foundation to support their work “to improve lives and seek cures for those affected by ichthyosis and related skin types.”
“There is a joy that is affliction; misery is hidden within it. There is a misery that is profit; it is a fountain of joys in the new world.” – St. Ephrem of Syria⚡️
The miscarriage I shared about hurled me forward into finally addressing two things: seeking medical attention for some of my health concerns and setting up spiritual direction. And then. And then my husband broke his collar bone during a mountain bike race. And it was in the midst of this that I knew that the theme of this Lent was, “Jesus, I trust in you.” Because I absolutely was questioning that phrase. The phrase had come to me late last week and I knew at that moment that there in that phrase was where my Lent was supposed to be.
In my first, very imperfect, spiritual direction meeting , with two runny-nosed children, the priest offered some insight about prayer: to focus on ONE thing per liturgical season. Pray the rosary every day during lent, the Divine Mercy chaplet during Easter, and so on. And this is exactly what I needed to hear: it’s okay to need an end point to a prayer practice. I knew it was okay for prayer to be small, and I knew it was okay for the daily practice to be simple. I knew it was okay to be patient when a day or two (or three) is skipped. Just start over and be kind to yourself – but I find freedom in the idea of a prayer practice being temporary. I can try all of the exciting and interesting practices of the Catholic Church, but I don’t have to do it all at once. And how much more rich if my current practice can be bundled with the larger theme of the liturgical season? So, since my Lenten fasts got totally upended by a miscarriage and a broken collar bone, my new Lenten practice has shifted. My body is suffering and mourning a lost baby and I’ve come to accept that that is in and of itself is a Lenten sacrifice. I’m still fasting from sugary treats in moments of stress (like when I really want a vanilla latte), but I’m not denying myself all treats because my body needs some extra love right now. And the daily prayer practice for the rest of Lent will be repeating, “Jesus, I trust in you.” Maybe by Easter I will be ready for that Divine Mercy chaplet.
Part 1: “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.” – Dumbledore⚡️
Oof, Lent, am I right? Merely 4 days into it and the day after Casey’s 30th birthday I had a miscarriage. It was a very unexpected and hard to accept pregnancy and just a few weeks after finding out, freaking out, and then coming to peace and entering into excitement about adding another baby to our family, I miscarried. It’s taken me some time to decide to share this. The only reason I think I was able to stumble out of that fog was because I knew I wasn’t alone in how I was feeling. So many women in the Catholic social media realm have been so incredibly honest and open about miscarriage. It’s far more common than most people realize, yet it’s hidden away and rarely talked about. Women are losing babies and silently mourning and suffering the loss. I am forever grateful for the brave women before me that have shared honestly and openly because it allowed for me to reconcile my feelings and my thoughts and move into some real authentic healing – physical and emotional healing that I have been putting off for far too long. Here I am today grateful to the person that I carried for a few weeks that is already a saint in heaven. This little person forced me to break open my heart and ego one more time when I thought one more thing would break me beyond repair. Having given birth before, so many of the signs were familiar. So many of the feelings and moments felt familiar, just not as extreme, but the transitions were the same for me. The hardest part was the fact that the following week my body felt the way my body felt a few weeks after giving birth: the weakness, the fatigue, and the cramping. This time it was a constant dull reminder that my body failed me. My heart still feels heavy and there is a sadness there, but the days are getting easier and lighter as my body starts to feel like mine again. This veil between life and death and this disruption of any grasp of stability seems to continue on this three month cycle. I’ve seemingly lost my trust in God. And yet, here I am, turning again to Him because I don’t know where else to turn.
Yesterday was the first Feast of Saint Oscar Romero since his canonization in October. It wasn’t until yesterday that I realized how much this particular saint has been following me. Some people talk about being stalked by saints and today I realized just how long Saint Oscar Romero has been hiding in plain sight. It’s largely because of Oscar Romero that I reverted back to the Catholic faith. I was studying global development in college and desperately trying to find the intersection of my very vague Christian faith and my firm belief that we, as humans, are called to care for others. I came up disappointed in so many big Christian institutions that were more concerned with trendy pastors and feeling good than strong theological standing and logical philosophies. During this time I somehow stumbled upon Liberation Theology and in through that reading Oscar Romero found me. He found me and invited me back into the Catholic Church. Through him I found the revolutionaries that I was longing to be inspired by. Through him I learned how complex the role of the papacy is – something I should really write another post about, but in short: Saint JP II highly criticized Romero and the Catholic Church in Central America in the fear of communism and socialism, but through the Church’s wisdom the impact of this work has not been forgotten.
Then in graduate school, I had the opportunity to travel and work in El Salvador with a community called Ciudad Romero in a whole region that had a personal devotion to this saint because of the work he directly did to protect El Pueblo from the corruption of the Salvadoran government of his time. The very work that would have him killed while serving mass, making him a martyr of the faith. Saint Oscar Romero boldly proclaimed Truth and was killed for it. And he knew that was a threat all along when he prophesied, “If I am killed, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.” He carried a cross he did not want to pick up, but he was loyal to the people until the end. His life embodied the call so many of us feel for social justice and protecting the vulnerable, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised. His legacy reminds us that this is a mission of the Catholic Church because it was Jesus’ mission first.
Oscar was one of the only male names Casey and I could agree on when I was pregnant with our first. We had so many eye rolls as we went back and forth with names. But in this name for our first son we find a martyr for the faith from my beloved Central America. A reminder of my ancestors and the history that has brought us here to where we are today. Every time we say Oscar’s name we are calling on the intercession of this saint that did so much for a region that gets ignored and vilified – especially in this current immigration political game. What a true gift the saints are to our lives, especially the ones that seek us out.