Thursday, December 25, 2008

He's Here!

At the start of Advent, I envisioned Perfection:

Evening Scripture readings, a Jesse Tree with homemade ornaments, eggnog and tinsel and wrapping gifts together while Silent Night played softly in the background.

But then life got in the way.

And ideas gave way to reality. To work. To cleaning the kitchen. To Daddy working late. To routines, bedtime and the shuffle of life.

But you know what? …

He came anyway.

He always does.

I wouldn’t expect anything less from a King who chose a barn for his birth.

He Came. He’s Here. And He’s Coming Again.

He Comes to us in our Imperfection. On that day, by the Virgin, in a feed trough of straw.

He Comes to us in our Imperfection. Everyday, by His Spirit, and in the Bread and the Wine.

He Comes to us in our Imperfection breathing life into our barns, our kitchens and our castles, raising the lowly into


* * *

I love this originally Spanish song.

Come Christians Join And Sing

Come, Christians, join to sing
Alleluia! Amen!
Loud praise to Christ our King;
Alleluia! Amen!
Let all, with heart and voice,
Before His throne rejoice;
Praise is His gracious choice.
Alleluia! Amen!

Come, lift your hearts on high,
Alleluia! Amen!
Let praises fill the sky;
Alleluia! Amen!
He is our Guide and Friend;
To us He’ll condescend;
His love shall never end.
Alleluia! Amen!

Praise yet our Christ again,
Alleluia! Amen!
Life shall not end the strain;
Alleluia! Amen!
On heaven’s blissful shore,
His goodness we’ll adore,
Singing forevermore,
“Alleluia! Amen!”

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tomorrow is The Eve

Logic is king.

If mother moves all the canes to the top of the tree so they are out of reach, climb it, pull it down and eat the candy cane while its still in its wrapper.

So simple!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Back to Advent: 5 Days Until The Child

When the prospect of raising a child with problems arrived, I took the hand of Our Lord and knew I would never let go. Ever. I would walk with this Savior until my earthly life was through.

In this sense, my Simeon saves me. I can relate to Our Lady here in that when I gaze down at my baby kicking on the floor all fleshy and pink, I believe I'll see heaven because of him.

Sure, Christ saves me but without my Simeon I would have never kissed His Cross. I would have never pressed my face to its tinder, known its smell and made the wood my own.

Simeon had to go to yet another specialist today, and while this kind of thing typically doesn't get me down, it kind of did today. So I guess he's on my mind.


O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Friday, December 19, 2008

20 Duggars ... Dang!

That's a good kind of "Dang!" as in "Dang, these fries are good!" or "Dang, how 'bout them Sixers?!" or "Dang, it's warm!" said with a smile on a 70 degree, February day.

Cause, as you know, I dig the Duggers and I heartily congratulate them on Baby Number 18. I do, however, have just one suggestion for Jim Bob and Michelle if Our Lord blesses them with a 19th:

How about Roxanna or Marcel or even Aphrodite? Why don't you throw us a Steve or even a nerdy little Francis?

I mean if you're gonna lead such a blessedly fertile life, wouldn't a little beginning consonant variation be a tad more interesting? Or even a bit helpful? Give Mama Duggar a break when she whales the counter with a wooden spoon, searching for one of the 18 "J" names to match the kid who's smacking his brother upside the head with a fishstick ...

But really, if you stumble on this site, oh Duggar Brood, I'd be honored and I heartily congratulate you on Jordyn. She's just beautiful. And with your "openness to life," you put us Roman Catholics to shame.

That being said, I'm not claiming that Roman Catholics, such as myself, are necessarily called to such a radically abundant family life. However, all of us who claim union with Rome, are in fact, obliged to seek out and obey Church teaching. And such teaching has always forbade contraception. Always. Of course there are certain allowances for marital continence (Natural Family Planning), however, "kids are simply a pain" has never been one of them.

Now the above paragraph prickles my skin as I am a convert to the Catholic Faith and the largest obstacle I had when considering the Church was its stance against contraception. I think this was for several reasons, but the biggest one was that I had never been challenged to consider contraception as a moral issue. I was raised mostly in Evangelical Protestant circles where people never even discussed the moral implications of contraception yet took major stances on the following:

1. What One Drank: Or didn't -- and that was beer, wine & of course the harder stuff -- whole long, red-faced sermons on this subject; I mean "church splits" galore.

2. How One Spent: A "tithe" was the rule; even though there is literally one Old Testament verse on the subject having to do with a "storehouse." By the way, what the heck is a "storehouse?"

3. Holidays: Of course Halloween was a hot topic but lots of folk even took issue with Christmas trees ... Christmas trees!

Now, I ask you, isn't it odd that alcohol, money -- even trick or treating and Christmas trees -- are moral issues but contraception -- which leads to the not making of life itself -- is a moot point? [insert here that photo of monkey see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil cause that's the best way to describe how my Baptist college dealt with the issue of birth control in our Faith and Family Seminar -- it was not on the agenda].

My point: For the sake of your own humanity and happiness, consider your sexuality; your ability to procreate; your choice to do so or not to do so in the light of moral reasoning. I have found that in doing so God has blessed me with great mercy, grace ... and more children. I have also found, however, that because of the Church's allowance for Natural Family Planning I do not face a future where my fertility frightens me. Rather, one where I can avoid pregnancies if necessary [This is obviously a complicated moral issue; to read more about it, visit One More Soul at the bottom of the page.]

Certainly, we're not all called to have families the size of Dang! Duggar dimensions. However, if you claim the identity of "Christian" and you realize this identity places certain demands on your wallet (aren't there like a million "Christian" financial seminars?), what you eat (Creation Diet or Weigh Down?), what you listen to (Christian Rock Festival, anyone?), wouldn't it be reasonable that God should care about the area in which you are most like Him -- your ability to make life itself?

At least Jim Bob and Michelle concur with this lonely Catholic. And to them I raise my glass and just one more suggestion for Baby 19. Like I said, the "J" thing must be tiresome ... Not to mention, you're due for a dude so howbout it? ... "Dude Duggar" ... Dang! ... Wait, I like the Dang! too; On second thought, make that Dang! Dude Duggar ... Dang!

# # #

Visit One More Soul to learn about the Catholic Church's stance on contraception, birth control and the blessing of children.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hottest Husband 2009 -- A Moment About Marriage

Now, I'm no one to give advice about marriage but I just have to share something ironic and eye opening that happened this weekend.

I sat up typing Friday night to enter my husband in Redbook's Hottest Husband of 2009 contest (essay and link below). I then went on to have a really rocky, trying weekend with the guy I wrote so glowingly about.

By Sunday night, I was really bummed. I picked up the essay I had written about Pete and realized that the things I had praised him about were all true even during such a difficult weekend. He had just done other things to offend.

Long point short: it was a great lesson in appreciating my husband for what he is. Rather than what he is not.

I also had fun writing the essay and think all of you should enter too as if you win you'll get a 2 week cruise. And even if you don't, your printed out essay taped to the fridge will make your other half stand just a tad taller. Which is always a good thing.

Here's my essay (posted here solely because I just think it's so cute!)

Hottest Husband 2009: Peter Johnson!

My husband, Peter Johnson, is the hottest husband hands down because he’s got the body of Lance Armstrong and the heart of Mother Teresa.

Last year, when Pete was suddenly laid off [I was 6 months pregnant at the time], he rose to the task of opening his own business. As he sat at our kitchen table pouring over bills, our boys, ages 2 and 4 climbed on him like a jungle gym – “Yay, Daddy’s home!” Pete never once raised his voice. Very much like the meaning of his name, he was our “rock” through a tremendously difficult time. His business, by the way, took off – so he’s one heck of a bread-winner as well.

Sounds good right, but a hot body, a tender heart and entrepreneurial success are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gloating about my guy. And while I could never name every last thing Pete does to make my world a more beautiful place – like looking deeply into my eyes or telling me he thinks I’m brilliant or reaching out to grasp my hand as we drift off to sleep – I’ll sum up, and most certainly win this competition, by simply describing my morning routine – I promise you, it’s that good.

I sleep in everyday (okay okay – don’t hate me because that just means 7:15 a.m. at my house – however, it’s a luxurious hour compared to the 5 a.m. start my husband receives with our rooster … I mean our baby. Not only does Pete take the baby every morning to let me sleep … and not only does he have a set of blue eyes that could launch a thousand ships … and not only does he have the bod of an athlete and the heart of a Saint … but here’s the best part … the part that will certainly tip the scales in his favor: My husband is the hottest husband of 2009 Because [insert drum roll] He. Makes Me. Coffee. Every Day. [note to reader: gasp here for breath]. He then brings it to my nightstand, looking oh so fine in his pajamas and morning scruff, gives me a kiss and says, “Morning, Beautiful.”

# # #

Now, do the right thing and enter your Mister!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Gaudete Sunday

Traditionally, Catholics save setting up the tree until Christmas day (I've had it explained that early set-up is like opening one's presents early).

Obviously, we cheated. But seeing that our poached sapling, with its hollowed out middle, looks like a Pennsyltucky bear used it all season as floss, perhaps no harm is done.

It's magic, really, that even the scraggliest of Charlie Brown scraggles, once lit up, strung up, plugged in and traipsed about by tots transforms into a
* * *
We sang O Come Divine Messiah today in Mass and I just love its melody:
O come, Divine Messiah,
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

Dear Savior haste!
Come, come to earth.
Dispel the night and show Thy face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.
O come, Divine Messiah,
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

O Thou whom nations sighed for,
Whom priest and prophet long foretold,
Wilt break the captive fetters,
Redeem the long lost fold.
Dear Savior haste!
Come, come to earth.
Dispel the night and show Thy face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.
O come, Divine Messiah,
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Oh My Word, My Word. But Upon Starvation, I Will Eat Them.; Advent, Day 8

You should have been there.

All three kids sick at the doctor's office and not a grandma in sight. And, believe me, I coulda used one (ANY ONE -- any old lady with a pulse would have done; even a mean, ugly-looking babushka with a scary mole on her nose would have sufficed; even a screaming, stick-swinging, I'll stick your kid in the corner and make him mop my floors, wicked witch of the west or east would have done just fine. Just fine, I tell you!!

Haven and Gussie were both shrieking, I mean shrieking at the nebulizer mask Haven had to wear in order to curtail his first asthma attack. Gussie was freaked out that our doctor was of Indian descent and kept screaming "brown man; blue buzz cut" (which was funny much much after the fact).

And Simeon. Simeon was actually pretty good just sitting with a smile in his car seat. I was just scared at what he could do any given moment.

It was a blur. We left with 5 prescriptions, a nebulizer machine and a hankering for a big, fat nap (a tankard of ale would have fit the bill as well but I had to wait for that).

So here's the best part. As I was waiting to check out of the pharmacy that sits across the hall from the pediatricians office, a fresh chick of a mom observed me with awe. The sweetheart had a watched me nurse my babe while my older boys sat drinking their well deserved sodas. I was laughing and actually enjoying myself as Haven and Gussie raised their bottles toast after toast.

"What's her name," I nodded to the bundle whose car seat sunshade matched her bonnet that matched her blanket that matched her booties that matched her mom's diaper bag ... a world of pink.

We got talking then we were quiet. As I zipped up the last coat and placed the last toppled bottle of NyQuil back on the shelf, I turned to her and said with a wave over my brood:

"You know, as crazy as this looks, where you are is so much harder."

Her eyes filled with tears.

In a breath, I told her how hard it was for me to bring home my first baby. I told her it was the hardest thing I've ever done. I also told her that it gets so much easier and that I could tell she was doing a really good job.

And as my hand let go of her shoulder, we smiled at one another. And oh, that was the best part.

That and the very large glass of wine I had with dinner.

# # #

Postscript: You won't even believe what came in the mail on the very day of the above described events. A while back I took a blog post about how God uses my kids' ailments to grow me, turned it into a bit of an article and sent it to One More Soul. Well, they put it into their Christmas Newsletter and it arrived in my mailbox on that very day. I've pasted it below [but if you want to order your own copy to hang on your fridge, I've provided the link at the bottom of the page].
I very lovingly dedicate this essay to all of my dear friends and family who stood by us during the difficult times I describe. I also dedicate it to my precious friend Cherie who, with God's grace, has slayed similar dragons for her babies in the past year. Cherie, you are strong and you inspire me.
I'll admit I feel a little odd here about self-promoting as I really did a kick out of OMS including my piece. But the fact is I've never had a problem tooting my own horn ("HONK!!!!!"). Also, I know a few of you would be interested and I'll never get around to sending out copies. So enjoy!

Embrace the Baby:

A Boy or A Girl -- Sick or Well –
Not “Just as Long as it’s Healthy
by Sarah Johnson

When I was expecting all three of my children, kind strangers would take notice of my round belly and ask: “Are you having a boy or a girl?”

To which I’d reply, “I don’t know. I like to be surprised.”

The kind stranger would inevitably reply, “Well, just as long as it’s healthy.”

I’d smile but inside I’d pause -- as if “health” were some prerequisite for this little life fluttering inside me to be a good or acceptable baby. Of course, I realize this statement is given in good will, almost as a modern day blessing. However, after giving birth to two significantly challenged -- unhealthy children, “Just as long as it’s healthy” is a statement to which I now reply, “Healthy or not – I’ll take this baby just the way he or she is … I just can’t wait to have my baby.”

And I did. In August 2004, I gave birth to my first son Haven without complication. He was robust and strong. He introduced me to the remarkable world of motherhood and as a new Catholic I was excited to see when God would bring along a brother or a sister.

We didn’t have to wait long. About two years from Haven’s arrival, in July of 2006, Augustine Ambrose joined our family. “Gussie” was born healthy but shortly after birth, for no known reason, he “crashed” into a state of “Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension” (essentially, high blood pressure that can be fatal in an infant).

Gussie was given a 50% chance of survival and received an emergency Baptism at bedside. He was then taken via helicopter to a top level NICU and spent his first 11 days on ECMO (The Heart Bypass Machine). Gussie battled a range of problems for the following month in the hospital -- from a brain bleed to a collapsed lung to a loss of his suck reflex. But through the prayers of many and the work of world-class physicians, Gussie made a miraculous recovery.

We brought Gussie home a month later -- ashy, gray and small. He had a feeding tube and was in no way a picture of health. But he was mine and I wanted him fiercely. After almost having his little life snatched away, I’d reflect on the comment so many made when I carried him: “As long as he’s healthy” – Or not, I’d think … I just want him the way he is. I just want this baby.

At that point, we were warned Gussie may have hearing loss and be delayed mentally and/or physically from all he’d been through as a newborn. Two years later, I’m thrilled to report he has had no such trouble. A fireball by nature, he catapults over developmental milestones as if they are skipping stones – why crawl when you can run? I wish I could say the same for his new little brother Simeon, born March 2008, but I cannot.

Simeon was born on Holy Saturday with a rare genetic disorder called Noonan’s Syndrome, a condition causing certain physical and mental challenges such as heart defects, short stature, hearing and vision loss and slight mental retardation. Like Gussie, we had no real warning that Simeon would have problems. My pregnancy had been smooth. The ultrasounds revealed a possible clubfoot but nothing else.

So we were surprised when Simeon was born with what doctors described as indicators of a genetic syndrome: low-set ears, a heart defect, webbed toes, and a short neck. Genetic testing later confirmed the diagnosis of Noonan’s Syndrome but no other treatments have been required for Simeon at this time as he is for all intents and purposes “healthy.”

“Healthy” -- what does “healthy” mean anyway?

According to Merriam Webster’s short definition, “healthy implies full strength and vigor as well as freedom from signs of disease.” Aren’t children by nature, lacking in “strength and vigor” simply by the fact they are dependent creatures, looking to others for succor? As far as “freedom from signs of disease,” show me a toddler who makes it a winter without a runny nose and then show me his mother because I’m going to spy on her until I learn her secrets … Because where I come from, sickness is just a normal part of childhood.

From colic to teething to ear infections to spontaneous puking (and toddlers have no concept of aiming into a bucket) – “health” is as elusive in childhood as it is in the rest of life. “Elusive” because, while we should rightly take measures to look and feel our best, health will eventually elude us all – we’re all going to die. And yet in this common statement: “Just as long as it’s healthy,” we place a lofty requirement (often unknowingly) – health -- on a tiny baby who has yet to be born.

Am I claiming that health is a requirement in our day and age for a baby to be wanted and acceptable? Unfortunately, according to our country’s abortion statistics: 6% of pregnancies are terminated due to pre-determined birth defects, it must have something to do with it. [FYI: The other 94% of abortions occur for the following reasons -- 1% for rape or incest and 93% for social reasons, i.e. the child is inconvenient or simply not wanted]. (Statistics: The Alan Guttmacher Institute Online Study, July 2008:

As Catholics we are called to cherish and fight for life – all lives from conception to natural death as the most sacred gift of all. King David describes God’s handiwork in Psalm 139 RSVCE: “For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb.” And the late Pope John Paul II challenged Christians to promote “a culture of life.” In his Ad limina address to US Bishops in October 1998, he said: “Society must learn to embrace once more the great gift of life, to cherish it, to protect it, and to defend it against the culture of death.” Pope John Paul II went on to explain that the cultures of life and death begin in the heart of man but are lived out in our words and actions.

Nothing could sum up where we are as a society on the spectrum between the “culture of life” and “the culture of death” as our completely acceptable, common day anecdotes. Not only the “As long as it’s healthy” chime but how about the common lamentation: “Two kids and I’m DONE!!” [“DONE,” said with the same fervor one would use to say “I’m DONE scrubbing the toilet” or “I’m DONE with my alcohol addiction” or “I’m DONE receiving Chinese water torture.”]

And while I enjoy finding humor in society’s ironies, I don’t mean to make light of our dire state. Unless Catholics take their work seriously to build a culture of life, we will succumb to a culture of death that is pervasive yet discreet – found in sometimes the most simple of action, word, deed … and anecdote: “Just as long as it’s healthy … ”

So how do we build this “culture of life?”

We can mimic St. Therese of Liseux, “the little flower” and begin in small ways. Holding a door. Extending a greeting. Dropping off a meal. So often, being “salty” -- “You are the salt of the earth” (St. Matthew 5:13) -- is as simple as “Being ready to give a defense for the hope within you.” (1 Peter 3:15)

For me, a small way I have chosen to build this culture of life is to be armed with the proper response when my belly is blooming and the neighbor’s nod, “Just as long as it’s healthy …” I’ll always reply, “Healthy or not – I’ll take who I’m given. A boy or a girl, sick or well; I just can’t wait to have this new baby in my arms.”

Today, Haven, Gussie and Simeon thrive -- and tumble about like a litter of puppies. As I said earlier, Gussie made a complete recovery. Simeon, on the other hand, like most babies with a genetic syndrome, is a bit of a question mark. Only time will tell to what degree his condition will affect his life. One thing I do know, however, is that nothing has taught me to pray or open my heart to the richness of God’s grace like having sick children. Because of the trials they bring, I lean on the Lord and come through the ordeal stronger than when I began. For this reason, I have learned more and more to embrace the suffering, to embrace the trial, and best of all -- to embrace the baby: boy or girl – sick or well.

Haven James, age 4
Augustine Ambrose “Gussie”, age 2
Simeon Shepherd, age 4 months

Sarah lives in Pennsylvania with her family and can be emailed at


To visit One More Soul or order their newsletter, click here.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Frosty Wind Made Moan; Day 6 of Advent

I had the song In the Bleak Midwinter stuck in my head all day yesterday. I was still singing it this morning so I decided to look it up over a cup of coffee.

I was struck to note that the author, Christina Georgina Rossetti, wrote the lyrics in response to a magazine's call for Christmas poems. She was in her forties. I was also struck by the fact that December 5th, yesterday, was Rosetti's birthday.

Spooky, huh? Or maybe not. Perhaps Christina is just one of the many uncanonized Saints in heaven praying for me. Perhaps she was singing me her hymn yesterday as she saw me struggling to be patient with my tots, remembering the winter days she spent inside with hers. I'd like to think Christina was singing to me yesterday because she sure sounded sweet.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a Shepherd, I would bring a lamb

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

We Are an Advent People, Day 4

My prayer book had the following words this morning:

We are an Advent people. We live not satisfied but plagued with thirst for the coming of the Lord. Our tragedy is that we often do not recognize the source of our restlessness but seek to satisfy it with all sorts of things that anaesthetise our longings but do not fulfill them. One of the gifts of Advent is to stir in us the recognition that what we truly yearn for is not some passing palliative but the One who has come and will come again, day by day and at the end of time, to those who seek him.

-- The Magnificat

Psalm 63

O God, you are my God, for you I long;
for you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
like a dry, weary land without water.

For your love is better than life,
my lips will speak your praise.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Olde Time Christmas, Day 2 of Advent

A few of you know that I have been writing for a local circular, Blue Mountain Moments. Here's my latest story: Olde Time Christmas (note: pdf takes a moment to load; if you have to scroll, I'm on page 8).