twitter and the early church

Weird Catholic Twitter reminds me of the early Christian church.

Many of my Weird Catholic Twitter (WCT) brethren and sisthren would scathingly criticize this hot take, because if WCT likes anything almost as much as being Weird and being Catholic, it is criticizing Other Things.

But that’s okay. They will continue to put up with me, because they are kind of stuck with me. And also, I don’t take this comparison very seriously.

I converted to Catholicism for a few reasons, but one of the biggest was from looking around me at the multitude of Protestant churches I or my friends had attended. I saw a community of people trying to be good and do good things, but a community in splinters. I knew multiple people who had formed and broken off from more churches than I could count. Some met in homes, some met in high school gymnasiums, and some met in tragically ugly sanctuaries with lurid orange carpet and a suffocating presence of old person smell.

This can’t be the church that Jesus meant to build, I thought.

So I started reading about Catholicism. My questions were answered. Soon, I was home.

But I didn’t know many other Catholics. I turned to the Internet and discovered that my theological love for Catholicism was matched by a love for the Catholics I found there.

Carrots for Michaelmas, a wonderful blog, led me to find the author on twitter, Haley Stewart (@haleycarrots). Through Haley, I discovered the realm of Catholic Twitter and eventually, with enough follows and RTs and stalking, I began to make friends. Weird friends, but friends. You never forget the first time you get a shoutout from Tommy Tighe (@theghissilent) on his excellent podcast, The Chimney: bringing you everything trending in Catholic Social Media! For me that was June 22 In the Year of Our Lord 2017 (okay, I had to, uh, look this up).

ANYWAY back to Catholic Twitter and the Early Church.

WCT is actually somewhat difficult to define because A) not everyone in Weird Catholic Twitter is Catholic and B) We sometimes have big arguments about what it even means to be Catholic and C) the parameters of who is “in” WCT are pretty loose.

It’s not a secret club or a password-protected forum. It’s just a group of people who met online or in real life; argue about everything from doctrine to sandwiches; and share memes, funny anecdotes about our lives, and reminders to GO TO CONFESSION with each other. The only requirement is being able to enjoy Weird Catholic content, or at least Catholic-adjacent, looking at you Orthodox friends and the few Protestants who inexplicably hang around.

So here are the 8 reasons why Weird Catholic Twitter is a (good? bad? proximate??) modern parallel to the Church of the New Testament.

Let’s start with a (brief! I promise it will be brief!) look at the Bible (it’s okay, Catholics, I was once a protestant. I will help you read it).

Acts 2:42-47 describes the newly baptized members of the Church.

They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.

Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people.

And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

We’re going to parse this, because I know how much y’all love hermeneutics (and the phrase y’all because wow a lot of you are Texans).

1) Devotion to Teaching

Honestly, the past 2-3 times I’ve been to confession have been because someone tweeted “BY THE WAY YOU SHOULD GO TO CONFESSION ASAP” and so I did, and it was very good (tbh it was probably @hashtag_dta, thank you!).

Catholic Twitter can be very silly, but we take the teaching of the apostles very seriously.

Especially Mariology. There is literally nothing that Catholic Twitter takes more seriously than Mariology.

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2) Devotion to the Communal Life

Speaking of communal, we tend to be a little more socialist than your typical Christians. It’s so great. The leader of socialist WCT is indubitably the Bruenig family, @ebruenig, @MattBruenig and the as-yet un-Twittered but oft-tweeted baby Jane.

We’re very much about healthcare for the sick, government programs to feed the hungry, and a need to revisit the imprisoned and systemic injustice. We also want babies to live and the death penalty to die. So, not your typical progressives, but all about the public good.

3) Devotion to the Breaking of Bread

We care a LOT about the Eucharist. We argue about Eucharistic Ministers, we argue about whether or not and when to abstain from communion, and we had an epic showdown about gluten-free wafers. But we never forget that consuming the actual Body of Christ is an incredible gift and one we wish that everyone had. And as Leslie Knope put it,

people caring loudly at me

4) Devotion to Prayers

YOU GUYS this is the coolest thing. Thanks to Catholic Twitter, I see dozens of prayer requests a day, for everything from a private intention that begs a quick Hail Mary to a frightened parent’s plea for help from the ER while their child waits to be seen. Catholic Twitter HAS YOUR BACK. The replies fill with promises of prayer, requests for updates, and words of encouragement.

And because this is, after all, the internet, and people stay on it way too late every night, you’re guaranteed a response no matter what time of day you or your loved one loses the tip of their finger and requires urgent medical attention (this has happened more than once in WCT).

4) All Things In Common

Again with the socialism! It’s almost like you CAN learn something about politics by reading the Bible, lol. But whether it’s a GoFundMe for someone’s exorbitant healthcare costs (single payer, amiright folks?) or a birthday gift of some candy or baked goods, we like to share what we can with each other.

It’s not that we don’t have rivalries. But then again, so did the early church.

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p.s. this tweet is a joke

5) Meeting Together Each Day

Catholic Twitter is a national thing in which many participants have not and perhaps will never meet on this side of heaven, but dammit if we don’t go on Twitter every day, even when we low key hate ourselves for doing it.

Pope Francis makes me feel better about this. He called the internet “a gift from God” and a “fully human form of communication.” It’s more than mindless entertainment, it’s a real way of checking in with people I care about to see how they are doing and if they have posted any new cute baby pictures. You know, the really important stuff.

But I will admit that despite the metaphorical flipping of tables and cracking of whips (and less metaphorical money changing) that goes on, Twitter is no temple. 

6) Breaking Bread in their Homes

A year ago, I was a pretty lonely new mom and a convert who had just barely begun to figure out what this whole parenthood thing was about, let alone Catholicism. Now, I still don’t really know what parenthood is all about, but I have made several dear friends through Catholic Twitter and have even started meeting regularly with them to play games and break bread. We recently celebrated Michaelmas together and hope to make it our liturgical tradition.

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Despite being located from coast to coast, we On-Line Catholics try to meet each other when we can and it’s so much fun to share a meal with or even host Catholics from other parts of the country. The bond of cooking and eating together is so real. It’s what the early church would have done if they had nothing but the internet in common.

7) Eating with Exultation

We may not be called Catholic Instagram, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t share pictures of our food and talk about our favorite foods and drinks. Well, mostly drinks. Okay, it’s beer. We talk a lot about beer. We share pictures of our beer. We exult in our beer.

8) Every Day the Lord Added to Their Number

Something the early church seems to have been very good at is evangelization. This is actually not something that I think the current church is very good at, although I’m not sure why. But on Twitter, we take our faith and put it out there on the internet for anyone to see, which is a start. And also…

GET THAT FOLLOWER COUNT BOI

BONUS 9) MEMENTO MORI

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More present to the early Christian church than in our churches today was the nearness of death. The first few watched our Lord die on the cross. They and others were martyred. They expected and welcomed an artificially early death.

We can’t understand that experience in our context today. But we can remind ourselves that death is coming, and it is not to be feared. Catholics on Twitter LOVE to remind each other memento mori. Remember that you will die. Order your life and your faith. Pray. Go to confession. Fear not.

And follow @pursuedbytruth, the nun who put a skull on her desk and began to tweet about it every day and started a movement to remind us that we will all die.

And if that isn’t how the early church would use twitter, I don’t know what they would do.

 

dear rory, how are you six months old

Having Easter Sunday fall on your first half-birthday was pretty crazy. I get why Monday has been a little rough for both of us.

Being a baby is tough, but you face every day with spirited aplomb. Your determination to bite every finger and drop every celery stick on the floor is truly inspiring.

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You can’t wait to crawl, and express your enthusiasm for locomotion by flipping over and kicking vigorously throughout every diaper change. Also, when we’re trying to sleep.

You’ve been invading my personal space for 15 months and 6 of them have been incredibly noisy and wet and exhausting, but they have been the best 6 months of my life.

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I didn’t know I could love mornings until waking up meant seeing you smile because you were happy to see me and wanted to get up and do stuff. You make me want to get up and do stuff, too.

The bigger you get, the more of that stuff we can do. We’re going to go for walks and hunt for treasures and visit Dada at work and make beautiful things. I’ll teach you how to cook and you’ll teach me how to slow down and enjoy every moment.

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I can’t wait, even though I miss my tiny, grumpy-faced newborn.

Mama loves you SO much.

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What Barabbas Taught Me About My Distracted Lent

When you read a beloved tragic story, do you ever hope that this time, in the climactic moment, a hero will swoop in and swing the falling action, spinning the denouement on its head?

I do. I can’t help but root (spoilers!) for Beth to recover, for Fred to live, and for Jack and Rose to spend their lives together. I want the story to keep going, for a miracle to happen, for the death to be reversed somehow.

I’ve read Jesus Christ’s passion in the Gospels countless times. It’s harrowing. The story builds quickly to an earth-shattering climax, and I find myself skimming the details.

Strikingly rich and yet befuddling, they sprinkle the background with quirky conversations and convoluted twists: the unridden foal, the tally of silver coins, the severed ear, the woman’s nightmare, the taste of vinegar.

I always thought of Barabbas as just one of those peculiar moments. Each time, I can’t help but hope that the crowd’s bloodthirst will be quenched by Pilate’s offering of Barabbas, and that Jesus will be released, freed from the punishment of torture and death.

In Matthew 27:15-16, we learn that “on the occasion of the feast [of Passover], the governor was accustomed to release to the crowd one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas.”

Persuaded by the corrupt chief priests and elders, the crowd asks for Barabbas to be released and Jesus, innocent, to be killed.

……………………………………………………………………

This Lent has been full of distractions for me. I’m stressed out and heartbroken by current events. I’ve hosted houseguests, traveled across the country, and launched a blog. And for the first time, I’m raising an almost-six-month-old. Merely grasping the meaning of the season has been a struggle.

Yesterday morning, I joined some wonderful friends for Palm Sunday Mass. One of them asked me about my Lenten observance.

“Well, I started with a lot of high ambitions…” I admitted. She burst out laughing. “Don’t we all!”

Reflecting on the weeks since our last daily Rosary, the accidental Friday meat consumptions, and the general aloofness I feel toward this liturgical season, I confessed my failings last week. Our sweet young Polish priest encouraged me to, by the grace of God, finish Lent strong.

Going into Palm Sunday Mass, I silently asked for something out of the service to help me spiritually through Holy Week. Standing in Church, surrounded by another crowd echoing the clamor for Christ’s crucifixion and Barabbas’ freedom, the Holy Spirit answered my mute prayer with a moment of clarity.

Barabbas is not a cog, a hurdle, or a failed rescue plan. He IS the Plan.

Barabbas should have been punished, but Jesus came to take the place of sinners and criminals who deserved death. Barabbas was the first benefactor of the greatest sacrifice in history.

My Lent is not a failure. It’s a reminder that I am Barabbas. I’m moving freely into the Easter time of celebration and joy because Jesus took my place.

The tragedy of a beloved slipping away, failing time and time again to focus on the Lord, give him my burdens, and make the sacrifices of Lent, does not end the story.

Jesus is coming. Hosanna in the highest.

Has your Lent been distracted? Please tell me I’m not alone!  

The Birth Story I Needed to Read: Motherhood Tabutiful

Despite (because of?) the boom in mommy bloggers, it feels like there are some stories of parenthood we just aren’t supposed to tell.

Ashley Woolsey turns those taboos into beauty.  She has created a space for parents to share their voice and find support, even for the harder, messier parts of raising children.

Today my story is on Motherhood Tabutiful.

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the rory story: how a wolf brought me my baby

It was really important to me that Rory’s birth be as natural and intervention-free as possible. That didn’t happen. I still believe 100% in the power and beauty of natural birth, but not every birth is like that. Mine was discouraging and exhausting. A wolf materialized. It was scary. But stork-like, it still brought me a precious baby and I wouldn’t change a thing.

My pregnancy was really great. I didn’t have any serious health issues and my little guy kicked along, growing and developing organs and (best of all) beating his tiny heart every time we listened.

I read hundreds of birth stories. Some were about mothers who also wanted natural births but had to settle for interventions and c-sections. In fact, one pretentious author went so far as to argue that a baby born via cesarean section could not celebrate a birthday, just a delivery day. 

That wasn’t going to be me. The pregnancy had been so healthy, and my mom had fast labors. Plus, Rory had been head downward and facing my spine for weeks –the perfect position. I studied everything I could about natural birth.

My October 5 due date arrived, sans baby. The midwife tactfully explained that their policy was to only wait for one more week. Begging for a little extra time, I made the induction appointment for 41 weeks and 2 days.

Kyle and I went for long walks every evening. I tried climbing stairs and hills, and curb stepping. The fall weather was perfect.

When we finally had to head to the hospital early in the morning on Friday, October 14, I was still really optimistic. We took a Snapchat with huge smiles. “It’s baby day!”

After changing into my hospital gown, I marveled over the baby equipment. Soon, my baby would be wearing that tiny diaper and striped knit cap.

My wonderful nurse cheerfully placed my IV and set up the belly monitors. Chatting with her put me at ease. The entire hospital staff was amazing. They talked through every new procedure with me and I felt so comfortable with every decision they made.

The first midwife on duty arrived around 9am. I was 0.5 cm dilated, just like I had been at my last appointment, and the baby was at -2 station, but I was 70% effaced, so that was good! She said that they would be giving me prostaglandins in order to try and soften my cervix to get it ready for labor. It would take about 12 hours.

I wavered.

“Could the baby be born earlier than that, though?” I asked her. “Well, anything is possible, but it’s not likely,” she answered, adding that her shift would end that afternoon and she wouldn’t be back at the hospital until Sunday. “Hopefully there will be a baby by then!”

This was my first clue that it was not in fact “baby day”.

Kyle and I chilled. We watched Parks and Recreation, ordered surprisingly good hospital meals, played Portal, and texted our loved ones updates. I was barely feeling anything more than mild period-like cramps.

They set up a portable baby monitor so I could wander up and down the halls of L&D, trying to give myself a boost. Annoyingly, the monitors would often slip out of position or Rory would roll over, sending a nurse straight to our room and me straight to bed so they could keep a close eye on his (very steady) heartbeat.

At 10pm, the Cervadil was removed. I had dilated to 1cm. I was contracting on my own every couple of minutes, so they decided to wait a couple of hours and see if I went into labor on my own. I was excited and hopeful! We watched a mini Harry Potter marathon.

Nothing was happening by 2am, so we started a slow drip of Pitocin. Around 6am, I lost part of my mucous plug and they started me on Penicillin because I was GBS+ and they wanted to be ready to potentially break my water soon. I dozed on and off.

At 9:30am on Saturday, I was put on a clear liquid diet. The occasional graham cracker the nurse pretended not to see was not enough to keep my spirits up.

Some friends arrived with La Croix for me and an invitation out to lunch for Kyle. I was glad he got to go enjoy himself and eat some good burgers. Being in the hospital for over 24 hours with nothing happening was no fun for either of us.

That afternoon, I tried walking around some more. Still nothing happened.

Eventually, they decided to take me off of Pitocin because it wasn’t working, and too much can desensitize the body’s receptors. This meant I could unhook from the baby monitors and IV drip, take a luxurious-feeling shower, and eat a proper meal.

“I feel soooooo good and I haven’t even eaten the grilled cheese and tomato soup I ordered,” I texted my family. “It’s fabulous to not have any monitors or cords hooked up.”

The hospital staff told me that they were hoping that after a few hours off, re-starting Pitocin would have a stronger effect. Everyone was very reassuring that sometimes, these kinds of inductions could just take a long time.

At 7pm, they decided to try Cytotec, hoping it would be more effective than Cervadil, and encouraged me to try and sleep. The snack station for the patients didn’t have any calming teas so a nurse snuck me some chamomile and lavender from the nurses’ station. She joked that a nurse on duty shouldn’t try and relax, anyway.

After four hours, the first dose of Cytotec hadn’t done much so I took another.  At this point, I had been in the hospital for almost 48 hours, taking different drugs to start labor with next to no results. It was really discouraging. Finally, by 6:30 Sunday morning, I had dilated just enough for the midwife to break my water.  

It finally worked.

Immediately, I began having strong contractions. My perfect, natural labor was here! I could finally use all the techniques I had been studying and mentally picturing. We called our doula, Ashley, and my hero Kyle began helping me through each contraction.

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They were strong enough that I was proud of having worked through them, but mild enough for me to feel incredibly chipper about it. Kyle kissed me during each one and put counter pressure on my hips as oxytocin flooded through me. Labor ain’t no thang!

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A nurse popped her head in and asked if we would like to have Communion. We eagerly accepted.

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With perfect timing between contractions, a Eucharistic minister from Blessed Sacrament arrived and prayed the Our Father with us as Kyle and I received. This was such a meaningful part of my labor. I briefly meditated on the Body of Christ entering my own and bringing me His strength and peace for whatever lay ahead of us that day. Then another contraction started.

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I sat on yoga balls, spooned with peanut balls, and schlepped back and forth between the bed and the cool toilet seat.

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Contractions continued to get stronger and stronger, and Ashley helped Kyle put pressure on my back and hips. For a while, I was able to work with them and tell them exactly the right places, but eventually the contractions were too strong. I remember slapping Ashley’s hands away during one because she was pressing about a smidge too high on my back and that was worse than not at all. I felt bad. It was probably one of the more high-maintenance moments of my life.

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Screaming tenses up your muscles and hinders progress. You want to stay relaxed. So I worked on moaning through each contraction, trying to loosen my body. I thought I was doing well, until they checked me for dilation again around 10am and I hadn’t made any progress.

That was really hard to hear. My contractions were about 1 minute long every 2-3 minutes, and not only were they absolutely miserable, they weren’t even working. I was wearing down.

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By noon, I was reallyyyy hoping for some better news. There wasn’t any.

I made a deal with myself. If I still hadn’t made any progress the next time they checked me, I would get an epidural. I couldn’t continue to labor without the motivation of knowing that I was getting closer to meeting my baby.

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Looking back, my story reads like I was becoming discouraged too quickly, but remember that I had already been in the hospital for more than two days. At some point I found out that they had also been supplementing my contractions with Pitocin to make them more effective, and laboring unmedicated with the unnatural strengthening of Pitocin was never on my bucket list.

As contractions got stronger and stronger, I found myself vocalizing through each one. Sometimes I would start to lose my grip and it would become a wail, but my doula and the midwife would remind me to keep it low and relaxed.

I had heard of women having mental pictures appear to help them focus through contractions. They are beautiful, such the thought of a flower opening, or the pulsing waves of an ocean. I liked the idea, but I’m not a very dreamy or dramatic person so I didn’t expect it to happen to me. But it did, and it wasn’t a blossom or a beach.

My labor was a wolf.

Despite everything I had read and pictured about natural birth, I could not see my contractions as friendly “rushes”, working to bring my baby into my arms. They were a vicious beast, ceaselessly charging at me. In my mind, the only thing protecting me was my own howling, so I moaned as loudly and deeply as I could, keeping it at bay.

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In my mind, I was in a dark forest with the moon filling the sky above it and the wolf somewhere in the trees, stalking me. It was getting stronger, and my voice couldn’t save me anymore.

This was, in hindsight, an obvious sign that I was not laboring successfully, I think. I was trying keep my hands relaxed, to cooperate as the nurses helped me switch positions, and to follow my doula’s suggestions, but my body was beginning to shake uncontrollably and I was really tense.

At 3pm, after over 8 hours of intensity, my cervix actually regressed. It was beyond time for an epidural.

I was a little scared, having heard horror stories about needles slightly off-center causing spinal damage, and my uncontrollable shaking made me worried that I couldn’t hold still enough. I had also been told that if I decided I wanted an epidural, it could take up to an hour, between calling the anesthesiologist, prepping, and waiting for it to take effect. Mercifully, it felt like things happened incredibly fast at that point and I soon had incredible relief.

My epidural felt like I was wearing the coziest, fluffiest pair of tights and was toasting my toes by a fireplace, but for once my restless legs were calm. They were content to lie there in the most comfort I have ever experienced. I was SO happy with my decision.

“Glorious epidural saves the day,” my poor traumatized husband texted our loved ones. “Gonna nap for a few hours.” We sent Ashley home for a break, promising to update her with any news.

Within an hour, I had shot up to 7cm dilated. I was thrilled. The midwife promised that they could turn down the epidural when it came time to push so I had more feeling. We were so excited. It felt like the baby could be here any minute.

Then everything stalled again.

A few hours later, I was still at 7cm. I was once more shaking uncontrollably. The doctor came in and ordered that I be given an oxygen mask. Rory’s heartbeat started to drop. At 10:30 pm, my sweet OB/GYN named Dr. Kimberly Kongkasuwan explained that we couldn’t wait any longer.

Someone commented that Rory had shifted positions and even if I did finish dilating, it would be “a hard push”. I had no energy left for even an easy push. Somehow, I had known for a while that my dream of vaginal delivery had gone a long time ago. Snatched by the wolf.

Crying a little, I clutched my rosary as the doctor reassured me that this would by no means prevent me from having more babies in the future. I really appreciated that she would take a moment to say something so calming.

Suddenly, the room was full of people prepping me for surgery. Kyle was instructed to gather our belongings and dress in paper scrubs. Although he had to wait for them to come get him, someone joked that they hadn’t ever forgotten a husband yet.

I was wheeled to the OR. So many new people began working to help me birth my baby, and every single one was so nice and comforting.

They put up a tent so I couldn’t see my stomach, and Kyle was brought in and seated by my head. He had been warned not to peek behind the screen lest he pass out, a warning he obeyed carefully.

I was warned that I might feel some tugging. They were prepping my stomach, perhaps pushing around to properly position the baby. The tugging got more intense, but I was still waiting for a warning when, at 11:18pm on October 16, 2016, a baby cried.

Kyle and I looked at each other, stunned. A smushy, pink face was held over the tent for a brief second so we could see him and then he disappeared again, swept away by the NICU team to the table just behind my head. “We’ve got a cute one!” declared Kyle, excited and relieved.

I gave myself a crick straining my neck to watch as they wiped him down, suctioned his mouth, weighed him, and measured him. 8lbs, 11oz. APGAR 9/10. On the table, he was practically doing pushups. “He’s so strong!” commented one doctor.

Then he was bundled onto Kyle’s chest for kangaroo care, right next to me.

“Hi,” I told him, over and over. “You’re here. You’re so beautiful.” It was the most unbelievable moment of my life. “Does he have all his fingers and toes?” I asked Kyle. He did.

Rory was rooting around, wanting to nurse. I watched Kyle hold him as they closed my stomach. Then I was finally able to hold my baby. After 62 hours of labor, the wolf was defeated, gone.

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We were wheeled into the dimly lighted recovery room where Ashley was waiting for us. She helped me try and nurse Rory, but he wasn’t interested anymore. We snuggled and took pictures. I got to drink some juice and eat some graham crackers while I tried to wiggle my toes.

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Eventually it was time to move into our new hospital room. Kyle and Ashley carried our stuff and I held Rory. I was worried that the brilliant lights of the hallways would hurt his eyes, open and bright since birth, but he twisted and fought my shielding hand away.

There is so much to see out here and I’m not missing one bit of it.

Rory Nathaniel Helmick, we love you so much.

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Thank you for reading! I would love to hear about your birth, especially if you also had a c-section. What was it like? Let’s chat in the comments!