serpent head heelA couple of years ago, I got a “fan letter” from a woman who said she read and enjoyed my novel, “Seven Archangels: Annihilation” even though she was a satanist. (My first thought? Why would a satanist read a book about angels from a Christian perspective?)  She told me the things she liked and that she found it quite interesting. And then…

…then she said that while communing with her master (ie, the bad dude) she read parts of it to him. And she was sad to tell me he hated it.

The letter went on with a scathing blast about all sorts of things ranging from the plot to the way I’d depicted Satan (for example, he took offense that two of his Cherubim were smarter than he was; actually, she said that he objected to me writing him “stupid” when really the character is very smart, just not “the smartest,” so that tells you something about how evil thinks.) She told me Satan would make my life miserable and I had only my book to thank for it, and have a nice day.

I did a little google sleuthing and determined this person was a fruitcake with extra nuts, and I don’t think she was really receiving correspondence from the bad dude, but here’s the thing: if we’re doing our job right, Satan should hate what we do.

Think about that: you want Satan to hate your work.

If you’re being a wife or a mother or a writer or an actuarial accountant according to God’s plan for you, if your work is pleasing to God, and if you’re giving glory to God with your life: yeah, Satan’s going to hate that.

And, well, tough. Jesus came to us to deliver us from evil. Jesus showed us His power over Satan, and then Jesus gave the Church similar authority over Satan. God said there would be enmity between the snake and the woman, and we’ve been told the gates of Hell won’t prevail against us. In fact, Jesus guaranteed that the world would hate us because it hated him first, and Satan is the prince of this world.

Even though I think it’s a waste of time to bother hating me (it’s kind of like hating a box of stale Wheat Thins, you know?) the truth is that I, like every other human being, is made in the image and likeness of God, and therefore Satan hates us when we conform to that image. When we do the work God gave us to do, Satan hates that too. 

Take courage, then. Satan hated Jesus first, and if you ever find yourself bearing the brunt of a demonic attack, that’s a good sign. When it feels as if your work life or your family life is being blocked or attacked, be glad and rejoice. It means you’re doing your job.

There are a number of states where marriage is on the ballot this fall.  Some states seek to clarify the definition of marriage by adding the language that marriage is only to be legally valid between one man and one woman.  Other states are seeking to legalize gay marriage by popular vote, something which has never before passed in previous elections.

marraigeicon

This is such a difficult subject to discuss because of the immediate accusations and assumptions that come with a belief in favor of traditional marriage:

You’re a Bigot!

You Hate!!!

This is no different the slavery or other past forms of unjust discrimination!

It’s just love, what’s wrong with that?

And the attack goes on…

Yesterday I heard one of the most well spoken, theologically sound, LOVING talks I’ve ever heard on the subject. 

Father Mike Schmitz is the Chaplain for the Catholic Campus Ministry program at the University of Minnesota Duluth.  He gives a clear, informative, engaging homily about same sex attraction, the attempt to re-define marriage, and what it means to all of us and society as a whole.  More-so he does this with authentic love and respect for everyone involved.  We must be able to have honest dialog about this issue without shame or fear.

I know asking you to take almost 30 min to invest in a message is a tough sell but I’m doing it anyway.  Take the time.  You won’t regret it.

Father Mike
Click Here: Called to Love

IF

Editors Note: Special thanks to LTS member Talana for sharing her story. 

No one wants to talk about miscarriage. Unfortunately, it’s extremely common, and you’ll hear your doctor say up to 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. That’s supposed to make you feel like you’re not alone, right?

Although…no one wants to talk about it, so you’re back to being alone. Too many women suffer in this way, and feel that they aren’t allowed to grieve for their children. Those who haven’t experienced it don’t understand, and those who do just want to process it, seemingly move on. I don’t want to remain silent because I know someone is out there right now is suffering alone, and feels like she’s not allowed to grieve because her child never had a birthday.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss awareness month, and to help those other women, I want to share our story.

Our Story
My husband and I were eager to start our family. We waited a couple months longer than we wanted to even try, so when we gave ourselves the green light, we were ready! After four months of BFNs (Big Fat Negatives), I finally saw two pink lines. I was so excited that I had tested way early, about 4 days before my period was due. That day I went to a Halloween party at my friend’s house and I joked with her about how my costume would probably not fit again. I planned for the baby’s Halloween costume the next year and what I would wear to match. I was thrilled to share my joy with all my friends. Nothing could bring me down.

The next day I started spotting pink. I was a little worried, but assured myself it was just implantation spotting and nothing to worry about. It went away and I didn’t think about it again. The next day the spotting came back. I went to the OB and got my blood drawn, maybe I just needed some extra progesterone to make the spotting stop. While I waited for the blood test results, the spotting got worse. Finally, the day after my period was due…my “period” came. I knew it wasn’t just a period, I was pregnant. I had 3 positive pregnancy tests, including a digital that said YES! But now it was gone.

The doctor’s office called and said that I “wasn’t pregnant,” and the way the nurse said it sounded like she thought I was never pregnant to begin with. No, the hormones had dropped too low by the time I had my blood drawn. But at the time, the way she said “not pregnant” seemed to invalidate my loss. I had no reason to be sad because I just wasn’t pregnant at all, right?

The medical community calls these early losses “chemical pregnancies” because you can only validate the pregnancy with a chemical test (the baby is too small to see on ultrasound). The term is so clinical, so harsh, and it made me feel like no one recognized my baby. That he or she never existed, and I had no reason to be upset. I was not only crushed by the loss of my child, but I felt like I wasn’t allowed to feel that way. The infamous saying, “But if you hadn’t tested early, you wouldn’t have known,” is meant to make women feel better, but instead it made me feel like they didn’t value my baby because I could have never known about him/her.

Yes it’s true that many women experience chemical pregnancy losses and don’t know it. However, for those of us who DO know, we feel it and we treasured our little ones. I had dreams and hopes for my baby the moment I saw that second pink line. I had to grieve the loss of my baby and those dreams. Feeling alone and like I wasn’t allowed to grieve only made it worse. My baby deserved to be cherished and recognized as a person even though his or her life was cut so very short. So, I guess my point is that every life is precious, no matter how tiny they are or how short they lived.

I wish this was the end of my story, but it isn’t. Four months later we were blessed to see those two pink lines once again. This time I couldn’t get as excited right away. I tested early again, and what if it happened the same way? So, I was cautiously optimistic until the day after my period was due. We made it past. Now we could be happy, right?

My first loss stole my ‘pregnancy innocence’ and I worried through the coming weeks. I barely had any symptoms, no morning sickness or anything. I didn’t even feel pregnant, and that made things worse. As the weeks went by I relaxed a bit more and got more excited. I had some spotting, and I would go get checked out by my OB, everything was fine.

One Sunday I bled a bit more than just the other spotting, so it worried me. It was Sunday so the doctor was closed. We went to the ER to find out what was going on. The ultrasound showed a strong heartbeat and a little baby bean 9 weeks old. 4 Days later I had my appointment. My husband usually came with me, but I told him he could stay at work because we just went on Sunday and everything was fine. It was just a checkup. Unfortunately, that meant I was alone when the ultrasound tech told me the heartbeat was gone and my baby had died. Somewhere within those 4 days my baby passed away.

I waited a week to see if I would miscarry on my own. It was the most horrible week. I felt like I was in limbo, between being pregnant and not pregnant. I couldn’t even figure out what to say. I knew my baby was there, but also wasn’t. I wouldn’t wish that experience on my worst enemy. At the end of the week my body had done nothing, so we scheduled a D&C. I didn’t like having to go through a procedure, but it was the only way I felt we could finish what nature started. More so, I just wanted it over so I could grieve.

We never really named our first little one, so we just referred to them as baby, but we named our second Gabriel. I’ve always loved the name, and it seemed fitting. To help us honor our little ones, we took all the positive pregnancy tests and ultrasound pictures and put them in a small box. We went to the backyard and buried it as a private funeral. I think that helped us finalize the losses and give respect to their short but important lives. I definitely recommend doing something to recognize the lives of those lost to miscarriage.

A Time to Heal
When it was all over it still took a long time to heal. It seemed like everyone was pregnant or had a baby around me, and it was all very painful. I felt jealous and angry a lot before I moved to acceptance. The stages of grief are real, and they don’t always go in a neat tidy order. You can bounce back and forth. You can think you’re okay one day and the next be caught up in sadness. It’s all normal, and it’s okay for you to feel that way. Ignore anyone who tells you that you should have gotten over it by now, because they don’t understand. I want you to know you’re not alone; others have been there and DO understand even if you don’t know anyone who does.

Miscarriage does feel private and personal because of the nature of it, and because there’s no outward sign for others to see. However, that doesn’t mean you have to shoulder the burden alone. Internet communities like Living The Sacrament have other women who have been there, and http://www.stillbirthday.com/ has a lot of resources and stories to help you process pregnancy and infant loss. You are not alone.

Editors Note: Special thanks to LTS member Talana for sharing her story. 

About the Author: Laura is a 30 year old wife and mother of one adorable little girl. She sometimes works from home doing technical writing, but also spends time writing creatively and doing other crafty things. She is a nerd and proud of it! She loves Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Anime/J-drama, but also enjoys a romantic comedy just like all the other ladies. Laura has been a member of the Living the Sacrament community since it began and she loves spending time in fellowship with the other women on the boards.

Thank you to my dear friend and LTS Member Sarah for allowing me to share this very personal story of hers. October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.  May God’s love be felt deeply by all those who have experienced the loss of a child.

IMG_5450Thursday – January 8, 2009
My hands were shaking; my whole body trembled as I watched the home pregnancy test, now sitting on the counter on account of my shaky hands, turn positive. Pregnant? Really? I holler for your Dad to come to the bedroom. He cried he was so happy. You see, you were planned, we just didn’t expect you. We had tried for quite a while, but never were we blessed with actually becoming pregnant.

We went to the doctor a couple hours later so he could confirm that you were in fact there inside me, growing. The nurse congratulated us. There was a part of me that still did not believe you were there. After all, I didn’t feel different. Of course, you were only four and a half weeks old, no bigger than the period that ends this sentence.

Your Dad and I parted ways for the day to go to work. So many women don’t tell anyone they have a baby growing inside them for a few months, just to make sure they are past the “danger zone.” I knew right away I was not one of those women. I couldn’t contain myself. At work I blurted out “I’m pregnant” to a co-worker who teared up with joy for me. She knew we had wanted you for a very long time. Driving home from work I called your Grandma and Granddad to tell them about you. My goodness they were excited! Even though it was only a phone call I could tell they were both crying tears of joy.

I called your uncles later that night to spread the word to your aunts and cousins that you would be arriving mid-September. Your four year old cousin, Joel, was very confident that you were a boy and he couldn’t wait to meet you and play with you! And I couldn’t wait for you to meet your Aunt Holly. She just loves babies! I tell you this because I want you to know how many people love you already.

After a couple days I started to feel this constant motion sickness. I soon realized this is what most people refer to as “morning sickness.” I quickly found a way to keep the sickness under control so I could still be productive at work. I was not sleeping very well for a week or so after we found out you were inside me. I could only sleep for about two to three hours at a time. I suppose it was a combination of excitement to meet you and fears of the unknown.

At one point I started to cry uncontrollably about anything and everything. I was so scared of having you grow inside me, of you being born, that you might not be healthy when you were born. I was also scared of after you were born — of you getting hurt, or of someone hurting your feelings. It pained me so much to think of you being hurt in any way. But your Dad, being the smart guy that he is, realized I was just so tired that he calmed me with his loving hugs and kisses and put me to bed straight away.

I am a very organized person, so I went to work researching birthing classes, La Leche League meetings, and even prenatal yoga classes. I researched and found the best ever stroller and the safest car seat I could find. I already had an appointment set up to tour a birthing center and meet the nurse midwives who would help you in the birthing process. Date nights with your father were consumed with discussions of what to name you when you were born and if I would continue working after you were born. What a joy it was planning and dreaming of what you would look like, what you would become, how God would use you to bring glory to his name.

I was suddenly very aware of my belly. Though you were not big enough yet to make my tummy bigger, some of my pants no longer fit. Every time I turned in my sleep I would awake concerned I might hurt you if I slept on my stomach. I was so excited; I still had a hard time envisioning myself with a big tummy as you grew bigger and bigger. But I have to admit I was very excited for you to grow so people would know by just looking at me that you were in my tummy.

Thursday – January 22, 2009
I awoke early in the morning while it was still dark outside. I noticed the slightest pain, more of a discomfort really, in my lower left abdomen. Yesterday I saw a little pink when I went to the bathroom. I got ready for work and called the doctor, just to make sure everything was alright. Dad came with me. At the end of a long three hour appointment the doctor came into the room where your Dad and I already knew what he had to say. “They couldn’t find the baby,” he said. I cried. Your Dad tried to be strong, but he loved you so much he cried too. The doctor cried with us and prayed with us and for us beseeching God for comfort and grace to deal with the sadness of losing you while still trusting in His ultimate sovereignty.

Friday – January 23, 2009
I never knew I could love someone so much without ever having met them. My heart aches every time I think of you and the fact that you are no longer growing inside me. My eyes are swollen and red from crying so much. Sometimes I think I have run out of tears and then I remember you again. I was so looking forward to meeting you in September. I pray for the graceful patience I will need as I wait to meet you, someday — when Jesus calls me home. But I want you to know, I really want you to know how much you are loved and how much you are missed, not just by me and your Dad, but by so many others. Your cousin Joel cried when he heard you went to be with Jesus. And we cry, too, still.

I have learned in my life not to ask God why certain things happen or don’t happen, but I can’t help but wonder. Part of me feels that I should be angry with God. I am not — I trust Him. Although perhaps that is part of the grieving process I haven’t arrived at yet. But I trust that He is big enough to handle my tantrums and yet small enough to hold me in His arms and whisper comfort to my soul. I don’t need to tell you this, you know Him better than I. You are in His presence.

Ah, that was my biggest dream for you – that you would live and dance in the presence of the Almighty and know His love above all others. My dream came true.

I will love you for now and always,

Mom

Thank you to my dear friend Sarah for allowing me to share this very personal story of hers.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.  May God’s love be felt deeply by all those who have experienced the loss of a child.

 

nativitysceneAbout two years ago, I was dwelling on the nativity when it occurred to me how good newborns smell.

Ask on a parenting board what the best part of holding a newborn is, and half the moms will tell you, “The smell!” Of course, modern hospitals do their best to eliminate that by whisking away the baby for an unnecessary bath, and thus the newborn smell is fleeting.

But during a homebirth, you get to “keep” that smell for a little longer. It’s sweetness and softness, and it’s peaceful.

As an infant, Jesus would have had that smell.

I tried to envision Mary doing the new-mom thing and putting her face next to his, kissing his forehead, resting her cheek against his cheek, and inhaling that newborn scent as deeply as she could.

My next thought was, Jesus was born in a stable. And one of the features of stables is things which, in the interests of tact, do not smell so good.

So here we have the juxtaposition of this heavenly newborn smell against the pungent scent of animal output, and abruptly I realized that’s kind of like how the world works. Because, being blunt, sometimes life stinks. But if life stinks, then God still smells all the more wonderful — among all the garbage, the only sweet-smelling aroma.

You don’t get smells often in Christmas carols, but if you attend a Christmas service that uses incense, try to remember that the first incense to meet Jesus’s senses was an earthy animal smell.

And at the same time, a young mom found herself astonished and quiet as she rested her lips against her baby’s softness and inhaled the scent of Heaven.

I can believe it when I hear that some saint or another preached the entire Gospel using just the mysteries of the rosary. Last week, during the nativity, I thought about how the baby is squeezed during birth. This squeeze is a good thing: it expels fluid from the baby’s lungs and gives the baby an adrenaline rush to help get him doing the dozen things that have to happen when a baby transitions from life in the uterus to life on the outside.

ID-10068460And when I thought about Jesus being squeezed out during birth, I suddenly connected his birth to his statement that it’s easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.

I know my mind is like a Cuisinart, and you hit “frappe” to see what happens when you throw everything in there. But the next thing to pop into my head was St. Paul writing that Jesus, though God, didn’t deem equality with God something to be grasped at. That He gave Himself, He emptied Himself and took the form of a slave.

Who is richer than God? And yet God became a man, squeezed himself through that narrow opening like the camel through the eye of a needle, divested Himself of everything in order to become one of us, one like us. Like an animal.

(Yes, even born in a smelly stable — I wonder sometimes if Satan didn’t act to harden the hearts of people in Bethlehem so Jesus would come to these disgusting spirit-animal hybrids as an extra insult: You love these animals? Here ya go.)

Digression aside, Jesus left aside the riches of Heaven in whatever form those take, in order to bring us into the kingdom of God. Maybe you can reverse it: maybe the camel has to go through the eye of the needle in both directions: He divests himself of everything in order to come to us, and then loses even the little He has in dying for us. And why? To get us into the Kingdom of God.

And it begins with the tight squeeze of being born, of having the excess fluid forced from a helpless body and entering a world of light, smells, sounds, gravity, chill, hunger and neediness. 

computerheavenOh boy…because I needed to do more time in Purgatory.

    1. In the middle of your vision of Heaven, you think, “I should totally blog about this!”
    2. Jesus tells you that with the gift of His Mercy, all your sins will come up “404 Not Found.”
    3. When under spiritual attack, you ask if you can download updates to the graces God gave you.
    4. You ask the Virgin Mary for her email address, and she says, “Sure, but I have it automated to forward to my Son.”
    5. After your guardian angel gives you a vision of the place he first met you, you verify it via Google search (oh, wait…)
    6. Instead of saying “Scripture says,” you can paraphrase and link to eight different translations.
    7. You ask if Jesus would like to be interviewed on your podcast.
    8. Instead of the Interior Castle, you write a document about your internal architecture and organize a design review.
    9. Human nature isn’t fallen; it has “bugs.”
    10. Direct attacks by Satan have no effect because after watching dozens of Hollywood films, you’re mentally calculating his special effects budget.
    11. You’ve read thirteen self-help books to rule out any kind of psychological diagnosis to explain your experiences.
    12. Your guardian angel’s blackberry has a program that plots your trajectory toward  Heaven in realtime.
    13. Not only that, but he uses your computer to join a support group.
    14. You plan on live-Tweeting the Second Coming.
    15. You know your salvation is assured when Jesus friends you on Facebook.

emailfromgodTo: virgin.mary@ancientisrael.com
From: gabriel@janelebak.com
Date: March 25th, 9:35:55 AM
Subject: YOU HAVE ALREADY BEEN CHOSEN!

Hello Mary, Full of Grace

I know this is kind of weird, but bear with me and don’t get worried. I’m Gabriel, one of the angels who stands directly before God, and I wanted to let you know God’s totally pleased with you.

You’re going to get pregnant and have a son, and you should name him Jesus. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever.

Let me know if you have any questions.
Gabriel, Archangel

Read More

 26namesMy general practical nature came to the fore, and I wondered whether we get new names in Heaven. (As opposed to wondering, for example, what on earth I’m making for dinner. I only have so many brain cells, and now you see what occupies them.)

There’s all sorts of evidence through every ancient culture that names are powerful, and even in the Bible you find this. Naming implies ownership. When certain individuals take on a new role, God gives them a new name: Abram becomes Abraham. The angel names we know all mean something (Gabriel is “Strength of God,” for example.)

It wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility that on entering Heaven, we receive a new name, and maybe a meaningful one at that. Otherwise I’d hate to be one of 45 million John Smiths in Heaven.

(Maybe we get referred to by number? Our Social Security Numbers in Heaven would have twenty digits, though. I’m not sure that’s a supportable system.)

So I thought, maybe you get into Heaven, there’s a huge party, and at the end of it, God bestows your new name. So I enter it as Jane, and I exit as Enthelbarethabretheliel or something never before said in Heaven.

Angel: What — ?
God: It’s very meaningful and profound. Trust me.
Angel: …okay…

And then, of course, because it’s in the Heavenly language, I break down sobbing because I can’t remember it.

Guardian angel: Don’t be upset. It’s also written right here on your entrance certificate.
Me {sobbing harder}: I can’t read the Heavenly writing!

After that comes the inevitable adjustment period, during which the human tries to get oriented in Heaven.

Me: I need to set up a household, but I can’t afford anything more than $20.
Heavenly Target Manager: Surely you have more Mitzvah credits than that.
Me: I do, but then I’d need to sign the credit card slip, and I can’t write my own name.
Guardian Angel: It’s okay. We’ll put it on my card.
Heavenly Target Manager: You know, we sell tracing paper in aisle three so you can learn to write it…
Guardian Angel: Already in the cart.

So my point is…okay, I had no point. What am I making for dinner again?

Guy on phone: Heaven’s Pizza. Will this be takeout or delivery?
Me: Takeout.
Guy on phone: And who will be picking it up?
Me: …
Guardian angel: Give me the phone.

Hero GraphicSince we first opened LTS we have discussed how best to support our Men. We’ve received a number of questions in the past asking why we do not welcome men into our women-only forum.  We are promoting shared fertility are we not? 

While the answer to that question is a resounding, “YES!”, we also feel that having gender separated forums is in everyone’s best interest. Appropriate conversation between a women and her husband is potentially very different then what might be appropriate for her to discuss around men other then her spouse.  And considering that many people seek out forums when needing support regarding situations of the utmost personal nature, that need for a “safe space” becomes even greater. With that in mind we decided our forum would be a registration-only, women’s forum. We also decided to remain open to a Men’s forum developing sometime in the future if the need and resources presented themselves.

We are excited to announce that, that time has arrived! In recent months we’ve received more and more requests for a Men’s forum and had several wonderful men step up to lead it! This past week we officially opened the LTS Men’s Forum for public registration! 

      • To learn more about what you will see on the Men’s forum Click HERE and scroll to the bottom section.
      • To Meet the Men’s Council Click HERE
      • To Register for the Men’s Forum CLICK HERE

Please help us spread the word!