DON’T STEP IN IT! 5 Things you should NEVER say at a Family Gathering

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I’ve been on the receiving end of countless awkward comments. Unfortunately, I’ve uttered plenty of them too. Navigating social situations is a bit like dodging roadside IED’s while blindfolded. The obstacle course often gets more treacherous at family gatherings during the holidays. Christmas get-togethers are already rife with turmoil and stress. Merely sharing surnames and relatives doesn’t mean anyone will agree on anything: faith, politics, diet, fashion, or even what’s funny. Why would anyone want to pile on and make an already difficult situation more strained? “Pass the green bean casserole, Uncle Ned, you pony-tail wearing, commie-loving hippie!” Obviously, not appropriate. But what about the more veiled remarks delivered with the best of intentions? These little conversational nuggets are the dirty bombs of small talk. The gift that keeps giving—like my father-in-law’s homemade sugar-free cranberry sauce which packs a bitter wallop upon first taste, but the memory of that punishing, mouth-puckering sharpness lingers a lifetime.

While we are all at risk of saying something blundering, there is no need to approach the next party with trepidation. In an effort to promote peace and goodwill this Christmas, I’ve compiled a list of 5 things you should never say at family gatherings. These are friendly little exchanges that may seem well-meaning, but can ramp up the tension faster than you can say, “Donald Trump.” Don’t step in it!

5 THINGS YOU SHOULD NEVER SAY AT FAMILY GATHERINGS:

1. You’ve lost/ gained weight! 

Even if the weight loss or gain is dramatic, please keep a lid on it. It’s too tricky to comment on someone’s weight. They may have slimmed down due to sickness or depression. If they’ve packed on pounds, they don’t need someone pointing it out in front of the whole family. A better way to handle the visual change—“You look nice!” Leave it at that. If you don’t think they look nice, don’t say anything other than a genuinely warm greeting. Unless you’re confidants, it’s not appropriate to have a heart to heart with someone about their weight in the middle of a bustling kitchen. A good rule of thumb, refrain from making pointed comments about people’s looks. No one wants to hear they look heavy, exhausted, pasty-faced, scrawny, or anything else that happens to occur to the observer.

2. Are you engaged/ married/ pregnant yet?

This line of questioning is wrong on so many levels. It makes light of a deeply personal and important step in a couple’s life. Even if you’re dying to know when your cousin is going to pop the question, it’s inexcusable to pester him about it over cocktails with extended family. Unless private information is volunteered, it’s just impolite and nosy to pry it out of someone. Putting pressure on a dating/ engaged couple as to when they plan to change their status is in bad form. Bringing it up over ham and turkey is obnoxious and embarrassing. In the same way, while baby news is always thrilling, asking a couple about pregnancy is crossing a line. Consider that the couple may be struggling with infertility, or have a history of miscarriages. Even if there are no problems, Emily Post would surely scoff at such a forward question. Always better to let someone open that line of conversation if and when they choose to do so.

3. Cheer up! It’s the best time of the year!

It’s hard for some to imagine that Christmas could be a trigger for depression, but that is the reality for many. Those who are grieving, alone, or away from home can find Christmas an extremely difficult time. If someone seems down, rather than drawing attention to it and ordering them to change their mood (which accomplishes the opposite) a better approach might be to offer warmth and affirmation. “I’m so glad you came to the party. I bet it’s not an easy time for you. We are blessed to have you here!” And if that doesn’t seem appropriate, just let him/ her do the talking. It is not necessary to fill all silences with chatter. Sometimes the strongest words are the ones left unspoken. Showing gentle deference to someone who is struggling is a selfless, Christ-like gift. Do your best to accompany people in their depression and pain, which means don’t aim to fix them!

4. Why are you still single? I know someone I can set you up with!

Talk about conversation killers… The implied question behind the question here is “What’s wrong with you?” Showing up to parties without a significant other can be tough enough. Don’t make someone feel worse by putting them on the spot, adding to their self-consciousness. Rather, try to make the person feel comfortable and valued. “It’s good to see you again. The party just kicked up a notch!” Avoid discussing their solo status. And here’s a tip, no one wants to be set up with your thirty-year-old second cousin who lives in his parents’ basement, even though he’s probably a really great guy.

5. Why aren’t you drinking? or Why aren’t you having any dessert? 

Don’t be the kind of dinner guest who thinks it is his job to monitor everyone’s fun quotient. If someone chooses not to imbibe or indulge in holiday confections that is their business. Period. They certainly don’t deserve to be called out on it. It’s presumptuous to think that everyone has to be drinking or surfing the dessert table in order to experience fun. Besides, some who abstain from such indulgences may have perfectly legitimate reasons for doing so. Even if they don’t, it’s still no reason to insinuate yourself. Butt out! Peer pressure was stupid in high school, but it’s beyond boorish when attempting adulting. Make an effort to track your own intake and all will be fine.

Getting through the holidays without stepping in it can seem nearly impossible! But adhering to some of my mom’s sage advice, “think before you speak,” will certainly help you limp across the finish line. And when you find yourself on the receiving end of one of these little zingers, do your best to roll with it. The key is to politely and kindly let the offender know they’ve gone too far with their probing question/observation. Don’t let someone’s social clumsiness ruin your fun. Move on, but above all, do not forget it. It will make a great story at the next party. Did I mention the time I was 8 months pregnant and a family member said I looked just like an oompa loompa? Good stuff, right?

God grant us all patience and wisdom at our next holiday event.

Anatomy of a Catholic Snob

I’m not gonna lie, Pope Francis scares the living daylights out of me. Can I get an AMEN from the rest of you faithful pew warmers who consider yourselves orthodox Catholics? I certainly don’t take issue with his beautiful message of mercy. And he may even be right about the Our Father translation, but some of the things he says, or more importantly refuses to say… alarming, right? Try as I may, my response to the Holy Father is rarely measured. Justified or not, the pope is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to my struggle to resist falling into a prideful superiority complex. I’ve judged many of my brothers and sisters in Christ and found them not up-to-snuff.  That’s due to my predilection for Catholic snobbery. What is a Catholic snob? Here are a few simple questions that will help you spot the signs and find out where you land on the Catholic snobbery scale: Do you regularly turn up your nose at other Catholics and Christians? Is your personal piety beyond reproach? Are you constantly flaunting your superior Catholic cred? You may be a Catholic Snob. Continue reading to discern whether your nose is in the air and you just don’t care! 

You may be a Catholic snob if…

1. You have no funny bone.

In order to really appreciate our human condition as well as our Catholic faith, it’s important to be able to laugh, especially at ourselves. Laughing at our own foibles with a sincere and contrite heart is a small step towards sainthood. St. Francis de Sales remarked, “Humor is the foundation of reconciliation.” St. Padre Pio is credited with saying, “Serve the Lord with laughter.” However, the Catholic Snob finds very little funny. They can be severe and make many harsh judgments about others and themselves. If they are found laughing, often it is because they’ve met someone who prefers the guitar Mass to Gregorian chant.

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A Face for Radio

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I was on Relevant Radio’s Morning Air show recently. If you haven’t heard of Relevant, it’s a wonderful Catholic radio network that broadcasts all over the country. You can download the Relevant app and listen LIVE in case you don’t get it in your neck of the woods. I’m still trying to figure out why they’re interested in talking to me. I’m no theologian, nor a psychologist. I’m just a wife and mom who loves her Catholic faith. Nonetheless, I’m so honored to be able to talk about what the Holy Spirit has put on my heart.

My interview was set to begin at 6:30am Denver time, 8:30 on the East coast. So I said my prayers, injected some black coffee into my veins, fired up the old laptop, and quietly tiptoed to our basement. It was my hope to not wake up the rest of the house. I prefer to have serious talks about the faith when my kids aren’t screaming and horseplaying in the background. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I lose serious credibility when I can be heard shouting, “You kids are killing me! STOP doing cartwheels off the coffee table NOW!!!” As I sat nestled on our downstairs couch in the beautiful silence of our basement playroom, my phone decided it wasn’t going to cooperate. Mere moments before I was slated to be on, as I was attentively listening to the interview preceding mine,  my phone reception started breaking up. This is a sample of what I heard:

Next, we’ll be talki—KSSHHHHHTTT—She’ll tell us abou—KRRRRRRRRSSSSHHHT—and join us fo—SSSSHHHHPLEK!

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Five Lenten Personality Disorders and Cures

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We are at the halfway point in Lent—officially midway through our 40-day spiritual desert. No doubt that means different things to each one of us depending on our unique personalities and proclivities. Some of us are barely limping along with gritted teeth. “What do you mean only twenty more days?!”  While others can’t seem to get enough of all this glorious prayer and penance. “Woohoo! Bring. IT. On. Lenten challenge accepted!” And the rest of us fall somewhere in between on the Lenten personality spectrum. Depending on the year and the circumstances surrounding my life, I’ve found myself all over the map when it comes to my attitude. While I think the world loves to caricature Catholics negatively, I couldn’t help poking some good-natured fun at the alter egos I’ve assumed or encountered on my Lenten journey. Maybe you’ll recognize one or two familiar traits in yourself as well.

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Snow Day Diaries

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Spring is officially here! There is no wiping this jubilant smile off my face. If you recall, it was just one week ago that we were facing winter Armageddon. In fact, while writing this little piece about the joys of spending time nestled in a snug home with my family as Mother Nature wreaked winter havoc, we received word that a third consecutive snow day had been called.  The school courtyard had been ravaged by heavy winds resulting in uprooted trees. While my husband’s office was officially reopened, the kids would be spending another day home with me… Lord, have mercy! To give you insight into my rollercoaster of emotions, I faithfully transcribed my marathon snow day diaries.

Monday: A huge storm is barreling towards Denver. So. Sick. Of. Snow. The last time they predicted a monster blizzard, it was a mere dusting. I guess if perchance we are homebound for a stretch, I could do some baking. In Little House on the Prairie, Ma Ingalls would’ve baked or churned butter. I’ve already got the butter. But homemade biscuits sound amazing. Our kitchen will smell like a cozy frontier home. Bring on the snow!

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Signs You Suffer M.V.D.S on Your Faith Journey

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I drive a minivan. Don’t be jealous. It’s been seven glorious years since my husband and I decided to take the plunge and purchase our little Honda house on wheels. To my mind, we made the right decision. From the ease of the automatic sliding doors when hands are juggling groceries, diaper bag, and baby carrier, to the times we’ve happily hauled gaggles of kids on field trips, it’s been a helpful tool in achieving our family’s version of domestic contentment. However, there have been definite downsides that demand address. “What is that smell?!” Don’t get me started on the joys of finding hidden-away “treasures” in the very back row. Suffice it to say, the heralded discovery of a new antibiotic may be in our future. But a much more pressing and troubling concern regularly plagues me. Everyone else on the road who is not a minivan driver is suffering from a severe case of M.V.D.S.

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Beware! Are you a ZOMBIE Catholic?

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(This was posted last October and got a lot of great feedback, so I’m reposting for those of you who would like a refresher on Zombie Catholicism. I added a particular prayer at the end of the post that has helped me personally keep the zombies at bay)

Halloween is just around the corner. And as usual, I expect to see my fair share of kids trick-r-treating in their zombie get-ups: pasty white masks with dark, vacant circles for eyes, torn shirts and pants, occasionally a little flourish of fake blood splattered here or there. It’s usually the teenagers who go all out with the most gruesome costumes, but occasionally a five-year-old will greet me at the doorstep decked out in full zombie face paint and garb. I respond the same way each time. “Oh… wow…quite a costume,” I stutter with my best perma-smile. “My, look at all that blood… here’s your candy,” I murmur, avoiding eye contact while timidly dropping a couple snickers in the outstretched bag. Then I anxiously scan the perimeter to make sure there aren’t any zombie parents lurking nearby.

Don’t chuckle. Zombies exist. They dwell in our midst.

Continue reading “Beware! Are you a ZOMBIE Catholic?”