Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.
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December 12th, 2013
People dressed as Mary and Joseph walk down a Chicago street during a celebration of Las Posadas. (CNS/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)
While La Lupe did teach us to love Nuestra Virgen de Guadalupe, the celebration of Las Posadas was never something she passed down. Over the years I have attended several Posadas celebrations, and they were awesome. Las Posadas (Spanish word for the shelters or the inns) happens from December 16-24. It is a novena leading up to Christmas. (A novena consists of prayers repeated every day for nine days.) And for someone like me who always gets caught off guard by Advent, at this point in December, I have warmed up and am ready to joyfully anticipate Christ’s birth.
Every night during these days, family and friends gather at different homes to reenact the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Someone dresses up like an angel and leads two others dressed up as Mary and Joseph with everyone else following behind them. Mary and Joseph knock and ask for shelter at three different places around the home. Each time they are rejected by the family whose home it is and sent away. Then they return …
December 4th, 2013
Like it or not, we are entering the gift-giving season. I personally am really bad at receiving gifts. Of course, I’m gracious and say “thank you” and do all the other things we would hope our kids do when someone gives them a gift, but what I usually want to do is repeatedly bang my head against the closest hard surface.
I have written before about how irked I get when someone gives me a bad gift. It really does make me upset. I hate the idea of the person wasting money on me, adding to the consumerism surrounding Christmas, and I hate having the burden of another thing lying around our house that will not get any use.
But recently I read The Happiness Project. In it, the author spoke of accepting gifts in the spirit in which they were given. She gave the example of the time she told her husband that she wanted a ring for her birthday. Instead he gave her a bracelet. Immediately she was very angry.
This would have probably been my inner dialogue: He never listens to me. How much clearer can I get? Do I have to do all the work? …
November 26th, 2013
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston smiles after being elected the next vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)
Right after college I did a year of service at Casa Juan Diego. If you’ve been reading my posts for any length of time I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about this amazing place. The mission of CJD is to live out Matthew 25:31-46. They do this by serving undocumented immigrants.
Every year at CJD there would be a huge party thrown for the Feast Day of San Juan Diego. The year I was there, was the same year Houston got a new Archbishop — Cardinal Daniel DiNardo. Mark and Louise — the couple who founded and continue to run CJD after 30 years — invited Cardinal DiNardo to say Mass on this beloved feast day. Maybe Mark and Louise were used to this year after year but I was in total awe of this request. I’m sure the Archbishop’s calendar is always full; we were such a small crowd compared to what I’m sure he is used to. But very quickly we heard a reply. The Archbishop would be coming to celebrate the …
November 21st, 2013
“Dear Jesus, thank you for loving me. I love you. And thank you for not making humans and dinosaurs live together.”
I had to stifle my laughter as Olivia, who is 4, led us in prayer before dinner. The girls’ latest obsession is “Dinosaur Train” — a factually accurate show about dinosaurs (well, I guess except for the whole riding trains part). But one day we decided to try a different dinosaur show we had never seen before. This one did not pride itself on being historically correct and had a little boy whose best friend was a dinosaur. Olivia was taken aback.
“Did dinosaurs live with people?!”
“No, sweetheart, they’re just doing it to make a funny story.”
Apparently this idea stuck with her because she prayed about it about a month later. And while it was a pretty funny thing to be thankful for, she is dead on. Thank God when I drive my kids to school the worst thing I have to expect is traffic on I-35 and not a stampede of hadrosaurs.
This got me thinking about all the things I take for granted in my life. Sure, I don’t really …
November 14th, 2013
Young people hold signs asking for help after Typhoon Haiyan hits the Philippines. (CNS photo/Charlie Saceda, Reuters)
I used to work for a non-profit that would give out food on a regular basis. We would get donations from the local Food Bank plus any other donations people would drop off at our doorstep. The first time I helped to prepare the food, I was taken aback. There were tables of cakes and pies and cookies and sweet breads, and any other sugary treat you could think of. I stared in awe thinking how happy some little kid was going to be when his grandma came home with a big Elmo cake.
It wasn’t until I worked there a little longer that I learned how this mountain of baked goods arrived at our door like clockwork. One day a woman was at the grocery store and saw all these bakery items getting tossed into the trash. She was horrified at the waste of food and endeavored to get a group of her friends together to go around to several grocery stores to pick up all the leftover bakery goods and bring them to us.
Wow, I marveled. This group of women …
November 7th, 2013
Hundreds of protesters calling for comprehensive immigration reform gather at a rally on the Washington Mall October 8. (CNS photo/Jason Reed, Reuters)
As I was driving around this weekend, I was listening to a news segment entitled, “Does Immigration Reform Still Have a Pulse?” It was hard for me to feel optimistic while listening. With the whirlwind of politics surrounding the government shutdown, I haven’t heard much about immigration reform in months.
One of my great-aunts crosses the border to visit La Lupe every few months. One night, years ago, we were all loading up in the car to go out to dinner, and I was waiting for her to come out of the house so I could lock up. I waited and waited and finally walked back in to see what the holdup was. She was frantically rummaging through her very small travel bag.
“Come on. Stop worrying; you don’t need to bring anything.” I thought she was trying to get a few dollars together to help my dad pay for dinner, which of course he would never allow.
“No, I need my papers.”
“Mi permiso. I can’t leave without mi permiso. What …
October 30th, 2013
A teacher helps a student with his costume during a Halloween party. (CNS photo/Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier)
Halloween is upon us again. When Olivia (our oldest) was born, in a moment of righteous determination, I decided that I was always going to hand-make her Halloween costumes. I hated how Halloween things were popping up in stores by late August. I hated how hard it was to find the costume of whatever I wanted her to be. But mostly I felt virtuous bucking the system and not buying into the multimillion dollar industry that is Halloween goods. Plus, I have always subscribed to the idea that handmade shows more love than store bought. So I wanted to show my kids that I loved them by making their Halloween costumes.
Our track record is a hula girl, a puppy, a lawn gnome, and last year I got lucky and my friend made Olivia’s Angry Bird costume (God bless her). This year, Olivia is going to be Captain Hook, Lina is going to be Tinker Bell, and Teresa is going to be Peter Pan. Well, at least that is what they want to be. I have not brought myself to make the darn …
October 24th, 2013
The devil is portrayed in this stained-glass church window. (CNS photo from Crosiers)
God, today was one of those days.
I love my oldest daughter with a fierce love but from the moment of her birth, I knew God decided that she was going to test us. She is more stubborn than Brandon and I combined (which is saying a lot) and she simply won’t stand for not getting her way. Combine that with me, a stay-at-home mom with a pretty bad temper, and you would immediately see the bad match. Since her birth, I have tried my hardest to keep my cool and be patient while she has tried her hardest to throw more and more completely out-of-control and outrageous tantrums.
At the end of most days, if I don’t pass out immediately from exhaustion, I reflect on what happened and figure out how to make things better. Did my tone of voice escalate the situation unnecessarily? Was my anger justified or did I get mad at her simply for being a kid? Then the next day I work harder at noticing when my frustration is approaching a tipping point and try to say a quick prayer for patience …
October 10th, 2013
No, I don’t twerk. No, I don’t have a particular affinity for sticking out my tongue. No, I don’t ride wrecking balls. But I get what she’s doing.
She’s trying to grow up. She’s trying to define herself as an adult. Yes, she is going about it in a crazy way, but she is trying to assert her independence.
The first thing I thought when I saw her VMA performance was, I get it, you’re trying to shove in everyone’s face that you are an adult, that you are not Hannah Montana anymore. Then I immediately thought about how embarrassed she is going to be in 30 years. Maybe she will never be embarrassed by her actions, but she will definitely be embarrassed that she entered pop-lore wearing such a hideous and non-flattering outfit. Kind of like how I feel when I think about my double mismatching socks in my 4th grade school picture.
I agree with a lot of what I have read about Miley. She is furthering the objectification of women, demeaning herself, setting a bad example for all the little girls that follow her every move, etc. I don’t want to lessen the truth of what has …
October 2nd, 2013
St. Francis pictured preaching to the birds in a fresco in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)
I always had a mild aversion to St. Francis. The only way I ever saw him depicted was surrounded by animals. Well, I hate animals. I do. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the beauty of all of God’s creation, but I’m just a city girl who’s never had a pet in her life. To say the least, St. Francis did not appeal to me.
That is, until I got married on his feast day. It was the only date available at the church. In a slightly horrified tone, I asked if any dogs were going to still be walking around the church courtyard when we were going to be saying our vows. On St. Francis’ feast day most churches invite people to bring their pets for a blessing in the early morning. The church assured me that all the animals would be gone.
Later I stumbled across a biography of St. Francis by G.K. Chesterton. Since we were getting married on his feast day, I figured I at least owed it to the guy to read a …
September 27th, 2013
While I am far removed from my college days, I still have not found that niche of what I’m going to do with my life. I’ve held different jobs every couple years and while I’ve loved most of my jobs, life circumstances have required something or other that has not been compatible with them.
Sometimes I find myself getting anxious about what I’m going to do with my life. I have so many grand ideas in my head. I want to open a store on Etsy and throw myself into that. I want to open up a coffee shop. I want to open a baby store. I want to be a doula. I want to run a community center that focuses on parents. I want to run cooking camps for teens. I have a million ideas, but what should I actually do? What should I stick with?
I think about my major in college and I cringe slightly for not “putting it to use.” Then I quickly shake myself out of this as I remember a girl I met my freshman year of college. I told her I wanted to major in sociology to be a social worker. She shot …
September 19th, 2013
Sister Maria Asterone Dodeka chats with a woman outside St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Brooklyn. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
Since the feast day of Blessed Mother Teresa earlier in the month (September 5), I have been reflecting on the vocation of women religious. (Interestingly enough, Sisters and nuns are different, but I will use nuns to refer to both.) I’ve always loved nuns and was very open to the vocation until I met Brandon. So in honor of Mother Teresa, here are 3 reasons nuns are amazing and how their example has changed my life:
1. Habits – The habits that nuns wear are awesome. Especially the really old school ones. If I ever had become one, I would have hoped for the big pointy head covering. There is something so bold about the public witness of a nun wearing her habit.
I believe that symbols are important and a habit is such a beautiful symbol. When we see a nun out and about, our mind is brought to God. It reminds me that I have no idea what work God is performing through the people around me and reminds me that we are all “walking around shining like the sun.”…
September 5th, 2013
The brilliant poet, Seamus Heaney, died last week. I do not pretend to be well-read. Poetry, for the most part, escapes me. And I must confess that the only reason I know about Seamus Heaney at all is because I have friends who are lovers of literature and are constantly sharing bits and pieces of what they love with me.
But one verse of Heaney’s “Doubletake” from The Cure of Troy has echoed in my memory since I first heard it almost a decade ago:
“History says don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.”
The whole piece is beautiful but these words bounce around my head at least daily. It is how I combat all the despair and hopelessness one can feel when hearing the latest news.
In college I was a Peace Studies minor. I was so attracted to the radically different solutions to world problems that I found in these classes. We looked at the evolution of terrorism, conflict resolution both at the micro and macro level and even Catholic peacebuilding around the world. But the …
August 29th, 2013
A boy displaced by fighting in Syria attends a class in the governorate of Idlib, Syria. (CNS photo/Muzaffa r Salman, Reuters)
Last week as I walked to the checkout line in Whole Foods after picking up a quick lunch, I glanced at a stack of The New York Times. The picture on the front page was of a handful of people wrapped in burial shrouds. It was strange how peaceful they looked. I had to stare quite hard at it to see whether they were dead or merely asleep. But the part that really struck me was that out of the six people in the picture, there was one baby and three kids probably between four and nine years old. No blood. Not dirty. Just lifeless.
I’ve never had the kind of reaction to a picture as I had at that moment. All at once I was horrified at what killed those people, aghast that it was on the front page of the NYT, but mostly so grief stricken that I had to avoid reading the photo caption or title of the article because I did not want to break into tears in the middle of the store. Then a …
August 22nd, 2013
“OK, you two, stand up and look at each other. Vanessa, you’re a fiery Latina. Brandon, you’re WASP-y and keep everything bottled up inside. But now you’re on the same team so you have to work together.”
This is probably the one comment that has stuck with me the most six years after meeting with our priest during Pre-Cana (marriage prep required if getting married in the Catholic Church). I know I’ve talked about some ways that Brandon and I are different, but we differ tremendously in how we communicate.
Years after we went through Pre-Cana ourselves, we now facilitate a Marriage Prep Retreat for engaged couples during which I’ve heard many couples give the advice that arguments or heated discussions should be had at the right time when both spouses are open to communication. “Don’t start a conversation when either of you is tired, stressed, or already very angry,” they would say.
Sure, that makes sense when you first hear it but I’ve never been able to follow this advice. Our priest nailed it. I am fiery. When something is bothering me, I have to say something right then.
Brandon is the total opposite. He gets annoyed …
August 15th, 2013
You can ask any person who knows me, I am probably the worst procrastinator they know. My college procrastination antics were miraculous at times. I started every single paper that I wrote in college at 2 a.m. the same day it was due. No joke. I even pumped out my entire 17-page capstone paper for my Peace Studies minor between 2 a.m. and 12 p.m. (at which time it was due in my professor’s office on the opposite side of campus).
This is not something that I am proud of at all and I’m fairly certain that it will cause me to die a few years sooner. But even after college I continued this. When I was teaching I would write exams at 3 a.m. or finish grading seconds before my students walked in to pick up their grades.
Really, though, I never had any strong desire to change because it always worked out for me. I’ve always had great friends and family that would help me out however I needed or a great work community that would pitch in to get the job done. My procrastination worked for me. I always finished what I needed to in time.
August 8th, 2013
Women pray during a service at the New Life Word Center Church in Sanford, Fla., after the George Zimmerman murder trial. (CNS photo/Steve Nesius, Reuters)
I am not outraged (as some have responded here) that President Obama addressed the nation after the verdict in the Zimmerman trial. He absolutely needed to say something. He cannot pretend that he’s not African-American nor can he pretend that the experience of Trayvon Martin did not resonate with him. The notion that he cannot comment is asking Obama to not be human. We should welcome that the President, who comes from a different background from every other president in history, can offer the country a keen insight into what it is like to grow up as a black man in America.
That said, President Obama spoke of some scenarios I’ve heard before:
“And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and …
August 1st, 2013
I read a lot of articles on parenting. Working parents, stay-at-home parents, self-employed parents, somewhere in between parents. And if there is one trend that I have taken issue with, it is the amount of people who dismiss moms trying their hardest and doing good work.
I get it. I’ve been there. I’ve made fun of the mom with perfect salon hair and a cute hipster outfit, pushing a newborn around. “Obviously her child is a robot if she has that much time to get ready in the morning,” I would quip. Or when a mom I know on Facebook constantly posts about her workout routine and how much weight she has lost. I immediately go for the jugular, “Yeah, if I wanted to neglect my kids every day, I could have six pack abs, too.”
So I get making fun of those moms. But it’s crappy and we shouldn’t do it.
Lately the articles I’ve been coming across have been so uncharitable towards moms who are passionate or successful at certain things. One article I read was by a stay-at-home mom who thought it important to distinguish herself from “those” moms who care “overmuch about scones.” Or another stay-at-home …
July 25th, 2013
Brandon and I pretty frequently make decisions that cause big life changes. Sometimes I wonder if we’re too quick to change. Regardless, here we go again.
When we got married, we decided that one of us being home with our kids was a priority. After Olivia was born, I quit my job and stayed home. Then Brandon quit his job and picked up a new, more flexible one. So the second year I worked part-time and Brandon watched Olivia while I was at work. Then the opportunity for a higher-paying job arose. Brandon quit his job and became a stay-at-home dad. For the past two years I’ve worked full time at a wonderful Catholic high school.
I have loved my job these last two years. If I was single and had found this job, I would have felt like I had finally arrived at what I would consider my work vocation.
The problem was, even though career-wise I was flourishing, things at home were a wreck. Brandon is a really great husband and father, but he would be the first to tell you that home organization and cooking are not his forte. Before his first day of being a stay-at-home …
March 6th, 2013
I’ve written about it before. My total contempt for technology. Brandon has always tried to get me to understand its value and benefits while I have always focused on the damage it does.
He can’t blame me too much. I was in college when social media started making the move from AOL Instant Messenger to Facebook. Texting was just picking up speed, too. Then I went to working with undocumented immigrants where I saw that U.S. consumerism was convincing some of them to spend money on useless extravagances like fancy phones with data plans instead of sending the money back to their families or saving it. Then I went on to working with high schoolers where I come to find out that most teenagers consider texting a hobby and spend hours a day doing it. And don’t even get me started on parents letting their kids have phones with unrestricted access to the Internet. Paired with people who text or answer phone calls in the middle of face-to-face conversations, it’s not hard to understand my aversion to gadgets and social media.
I have known my husband for almost a decade, and in that time we have argued about technology …