Tea, giggles and teaching my daughter the feminine genius

I was 20 years old when I began using oral contraception.  About to be married and unsure of how pregnancy and children ought to fit with Holy Matrimony, I did what most women my age did: I went to the university health clinic, saw a doctor who spoke nary a word about the ensuing side-effects or possible long-term health complications, and procured a prescription for the birth control pill.

Unfortunate as my story is, it’s also anything but uncommon.  Countless women in my generation have spent some amount of time utilizing hormonal contraception, and a fair number of us have suffered for it, too.  I wasn’t Catholic back then but I am now, and I’m determined to pave a better way for my daughter.

At eleven years old, she’s slipping ever so slowly out of little-girlhood, and moving closer and closer to young womanhood.  And like any Catholic mother, I want her to grow to fully embrace her beauty and dignity as a woman, to feel empowered and comfortable with her body, and to have an overwhelmingly positive self-image.  She’s made in the image of God, after all.  I want her to marvel at the work of God in her life, and to understand her identity and preciousness in Christ.

So on Saturday, my daughter and I snuck away to a Mother Daughter Tea hosted at Holy Name Catholic Parish, in Sheridan, Colorado.  The event was organized by Carrie Keating, Certified FertilityCare Practitioner of the Creighton Model of NFP, who described the event as a way “for young girls to learn about health, beauty and virtue as they become women. Moms need more spiritual, medical and practical resources to help them.”

We arrived to find tables set with fresh flowers and white linens, and a rosary waited at each girl’s seat.  Music played in the background, and each of the participants received a folder containing relevant, thoughtful information.  Later there would be scones and jam, tea sandwiches, and the opportunity for the girls to make a craft while the moms listened to a presentation on the facts about contraception, delivered by a local Catholic doctor.

By the time Maye Agama and Cara Rhyne, consecrated laywomen with the Marian Community of Reconciliation, had opened the day with their talk about Our Blessed Mother, the tables were overflowing with thirty young girls and their mothers.  When I asked Carrie later why she felt it was important to include both mothers and daughters in the day’s activities, she responded that “at the ages of 10-12 there is an openness to hearing this information, and an opportunity for mothers to gather together to mentor their daughters.”  I couldn’t agree more.  As mothers we want to supply our daughters with the truth about themselves and about the world, but it’s an admittedly daunting task.  In a day and age where there is so much confusion and ambiguity surrounding gender identity–and womanhood in particular–we need the support of our faith community.  We need to encourage our daughters to embrace the strength of their femininity.  And every single one of Saturday’s thoughtful details served to do just that.

During the course of the tea we also heard from an enthusiastic Kim Perez about Blessed Pope John Paul II and the feminine genius, and Carrie Keating explained cycles and charting in a way that was accessible to young girls.  Then I confess that I had to keep myself from clapping and cheering, as Catholic physician Michelle Stanford asked us to have an open mind before detailing the significant medical problems and risks associated with oral contraception, not least of which is its abortifacient effect.  This was information I wish I’d had all those years ago, and which I believe is essential for all mothers to know—according to Dr. Stanford, by the time our daughters and their peers reach the age of 24, 82% of them will be using some type of hormonal contraception.  And not only that, but 25% of adolescent girls currently have a prescription!

There was room for giggling (lots and lots of giggling) during Lynn Grandon’s candid and ebullient presentation on the physical changes these girls will experience during their transition into womanhood.  If my daughter hadn’t been feeling confident and empowered about puberty before, she certainly is now.  To see this information presented within the context of who God created my daughter to be, with both humor and straightforward honesty, was unbelievably refreshing.  Best of all, it has begun a delightfully open and constructive conversation between my daughter and I, to be enjoyed for many years to come.

Back when I was a new bride coming from a non-Catholic background, I hadn’t yet connected the dots between how God created my body, and who God intended for me to be as a woman.  I speak from experience when I say that my marriage and my life are both so much better for having rejected the birth control pill, and since embracing an openness to life through Natural Family Planning.  It’s exciting to consider that, with the help of Jesus and Our Blessed Mother, I can now pass these incredibly beautiful truths on to my own children.  And I can say without reservation that we need more events like this, with faith communities coming alongside mothers and fathers to support them in this mission.

Armed with her new rosary, fresh and inspiring knowledge, and a pretty bag she’d been gifted with that morning (containing things like candy, and girly hand sanitizer), my daughter stepped out into the sunshine.  There was a confident, happy smile on her face.  She was beyond delighted to be a girl, and a beloved daughter of God.

Speaking as a Catholic mother to a Catholic daughter on the precipice of womanhood, I can’t imagine hoping for anything more than that.

Carrie Keating wanted me to tell you that this event  “was generously hosted by Holy Name Catholic Parish. Of the 21 moms who filled out the evaluation at the September 12 event, 20 of them would definitely recommend the Mother Daughter Tea to a friend. For those interested in hosting a Mother Daughter Tea, please go to www.mdtea.us.”

Brianna Heldt is a Catholic writer, speaker, and podcaster.  Her work has appeared in various print and online publications, and she has been a featured guest on BBC radio.  Adult converts to the Catholic Church, Brianna and her husband are parents to eight children–four by birth, and four by adoption.  They make their home in Denver, Colorado.  You can keep up with Brianna’s adventures on her personal blog, found at www.briannaheldt.com

COMING UP: Punishing the poor and needy

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Every afternoon in downtown Denver, homeless men, women and children are given shelter, food and a place to wash themselves. Not far away, hundreds of people are receiving high quality medical care at one of our Catholic hospitals or Marisol Health. Some local parishes also distribute food, clothing, or help with rent. Whether you are on the Eastern Plains, the Western Slope or along the Front Range, people of faith are contributing their skills and resources to your community and making it a better place to live, and especially for the less fortunate.

Since we celebrated our nation’s independence about a week ago, the ability of people of faith to make a positive contribution to our society has been on my mind. People of faith make our society a better place as they seek the good and the true, and the right to live our faith in the public square is guaranteed by the Constitution. Unfortunately, there are forces at work trying to change that, and if they succeed it will be the vulnerable who are hurt the most.

Many people are familiar with Jack Phillips’ case because he recently received a favorable verdict from the U.S. Supreme Court. In brief, Jack was sued by a gay couple for refusing to make them a wedding cake, since doing so would contradict his belief that God created marriage to be between a man and a woman. His case – and others around the country – clearly show that there are people who want to silence Christian people and use the force of law to make them act against their faith or be punished.

Tim Gill, the multimillionaire who is funding and directing many of these efforts, plainly stated his intentions in a June 2017 Rolling Stone interview. “We’re going into the hardest states in the country,” he said. “We’re going to punish the wicked.” According to Gill, people of faith are “wicked” when their views do not agree with his. In this worldview, there is no room for differences on matters of prudence or conscience.

What you won’t hear from activists like Tim Gill is that the people who will suffer the most from his campaign against faith and the freedom of conscience are the homeless, children waiting to be adopted, or those needing hospital care. In short, the people who will be hurt are those who rely on the charitable activity of people of faith.

Take, for example, the Catholic Charities adoption programs in Boston, Illinois, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. that have been forced to shut down because they believe it’s not in children’s best interest to be placed with a same-sex couple. In Illinois, Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Springfield estimates that about 3,000 children were impacted by their closure. As was predicted, the state is now experiencing a shortage of quality foster families. Surely, this does not benefit society.

It is unexpected, but homeless men and women are also being impacted by changes to regulations. In Sept. 2016 the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development finalized rules that require homeless shelters to accommodate transgender people by placing them according to whatever gender they present themselves as, rather than their biological sex. Most often, it is men identifying themselves as women who approach the shelters, and this frightens the women, especially since many of them have been victimized by men on the streets.

Religious freedom can seem like an abstract concept, but when you look at the fruits of this basic liberty, its importance becomes clear. Moved by their faith, Catholics and others in the Archdiocese of Denver spent 2017 providing over 212,000 nights of shelter, emergency assistance to 28,000 households, 714 job placements, and almost 73,000 volunteer hours through Catholic Charities.

Further, hundreds of immigrants are assisted with English as a Second Language classes, business training, and faith formation through Centro San Juan Diego. In the name of Jesus, tens of thousands of sick people receive medical care at Catholic hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. This list doesn’t include other Christian, Jewish, or Muslim charitable endeavors, nor does it include individuals whose faith guides the way they run their small business or their work for their employer.

It is a convenient and worn-out argument to accuse people of discrimination to pressure them into giving up their beliefs, but this tactic ignores the people who suffer the most from the intolerance of those insisting people of faith give up their beliefs. Our country has long recognized and benefited from the gifts of faithful people, and restricting this spirit of generosity will make our society poorer.

I am grateful that the Supreme Court recognized that Jack Phillips’ right to religious freedom was infringed, but his case will certainly not be the last. As Christians, we must respond to this pressure with the joy that is born from faith, with loving, persistent resistance and forgiveness. Let us respond to Pope Francis’ appeal that he made as he spoke in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. “Let us preserve freedom. Let us cherish freedom. Freedom of conscience, religious freedom, the freedom of each person, each family, each people, which is what gives rise to rights.”