Betty Duffy

Monday, January 30, 2012

I'm Guest Posting this week...

... at The Anchoress!

I'll link here to whatever I upload there (and I do have plans to post new content, not just recycled content from my blog), but you'll also want to check in there, I think, to read what my co-hosts are writing as well. I'm honored to share duties with Father Dwight Longenecker and Kathy Schiffer.

If you're here visiting from The Anchoress, welcome!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


I prayed for detachment from the internet, and I got it. I go through phases where I think there are just too many voices out there. I get online, I flip through a few, I lose my bearings, I wonder what I'm doing here. There are so many teachers, so many gurus positing inspiring new ways to see the world, and yet usually I leave the internet feeling purged rather than nourished, and purged not in the good way--but like any ideas I had about my own writing, or my own purpose are spirited away--to where?

There are so many hairs to split and straw men to battle. People have very clear ideas about what is a sin, and what isn't--and none of them agree. The pink blogs tell me how to put my life together, and there's always some turd somewhere else maligning my sense of order.

So I wonder sometimes about the goodness of adding my own voice to whatever it is the internet is. I'm not asking for affirmation or encouragement. But I don't feel "on message" at the moment. I'm happy with my life, and I don't know what to make of yours.

I picked up Wendell Berry's "What Are People For?" this evening, and felt a palpable relief at reading truly nourishing words, words that accrue meaning the more I think about them. I want to do more of that kind of reading. So maybe it helps that I feel dumbstruck. I can't read well when I'm formulating my own message.

My sister was in town last week from Guam. She came to spend time with my granny (we call her Mimi), who has cancer, the aggressive kind, and she's already 89 years-old. It was one of those calls--if you're going to make a 24 hour flight to commemorate someone's life, is it better to do so while the person is still alive, or to come for a funeral? Unable to afford doing both, my sister decided to come while Mimi was still alive.

Almost immediately after my sister's arrival, Mimi was hospitalized with pneumonia. All of last week was caught up in soaking in every minute of my sister's trip home, and also visiting the hospital, and getting Mimi back to my parents' house for rest and recovery. She's there now, and doing well.

But my sister has returned to Guam, and I'm sad.

My daughter is preparing for her school play The Cheese Stands Alone, in which she will play "Blue Cheese." Her costume: a blue sweat suit.

Blue cheese is my absolute favorite.

The more you spend on a thing, the more you expect from it; maybe not a rule of life, but certainly true of a mattress. If your mattress is the culmination of twelve years of speculation, two years of saving, four weeks of research, and three days of shopping, damn the thing if it doesn't perform.

We sent our mattress back to the store. All ye who said "Don't fall for the pillow top," were correct. The very first night I rolled into my husband's wake, and spent a fretful night dreaming I'd fallen into a financial abyss with a twenty-year guarantee.

The mattress issue, then, became a question: Do we order the bed of roses, the bed of lettuce, or the bed of nails?

I've heard proponents of the bed of roses camp speak out from every financial bracket, saying, "It's your bed. It's your marriage. It's your good night's sleep. It's an investment in many good things, and it's worth every penny you spend on it." My husband speaks from this point of view.

I tend naturally towards the bed of lettuce camp, thinking to get a practical, firm, multi-coil mattress, with no frills for a couple hundred. But my dissatisfaction with everything I tried made me feel bad about myself, like maybe I need to sleep on the wood floor for the rest of my life (the bed of nails) to do penance.

Our mattress question led me to the confessional, where I was told for the first time, ever, in my entire life, that I'm too high strung. That I need to relax, that buying a mattress is not buying Heaven or Hell. Can you afford the mattress? Will it make your husband happy if you quit fault-finding and stressing out? Close your eyes, pass the checkbook, and thank God for the blessing of comfort and a good night's sleep.

So we sleep on a bed of roses, and it's heavenly.

My cousin Rachel is ENGAGED! I'm her grouchy matron of honor ("You haven't been a maid for a long time," she says). My husband and I really like weddings. We like dancing and drinking and making fun of people while we eat.

And it's a cowboy boot wedding. I like boots.

But best is that she found a good, good man. I'm so happy for her I could cry.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Cultivating Admiration

Our adult religious ed is doing Father Barron's study on the Seven Deadly Sins. As with almost everything the Word on Fire ministries produces, I cannot recommend the series highly enough.

There's been a lot of internet commentary on the dangers of comparing ourselves to other people, and finding ourselves inadequate. The party response has been to keep our eyes on our own papers, and be satisfied with our own capabilities. Unfortunately, keeping our eyes on our own papers doesn't really provide us with an opportunity for growth.

Father Barron proposes that to combat to the deadly sin of envy, we should cultivate the opposing virtue of Admiration.

I'm working on it. Here are a few people who no longer make me want to die of jealousy because I admire them so much:

1. Simcha Fisher, who is funny.
2. Marc Barnes, who hits it out of the park (and recently, into the Wall Street Journal) so frequently, and at such a young age, it's just weird.
3. Heather King, who is thought provoking, frank, and fearlessly herself.

None of them need my little link here to keep doing what they're doing. But it helps me.

I would also add Father Barron to my list, but his work is so clearly the work of the Holy Spirit, I fear it would be blasphemy to envy it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Modern Problems

My column at Patheos this week might be familiar to anyone reading the blog this time last year. If you're thinking of moving off the grid, think twice.

Rather an irregular week here at the Duffy house--hope to get back in the swing of things next week.

Monday, January 16, 2012

"Can we watch a show, Mom?"


".... We'll get out of your face."


Now, why would I want that?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Q & A

Anonymous said...

"What do you mean when you say you can offer up your Eucharist? I'm a relatively recent revert and this is undiscovered territory, for me."

An Answer:

Hi Anon, I'm glad you asked.

Basically, you can offer up anything in your life--any suffering, any blessing--you accept it as a gift from God, and offer it back to him--because there's really nothing else, no merits of our own, that we can give God that he didn't give us first. And yet, in love, in gratitude, we often feel inspired to offer him SOMETHING.

The Mass is the highest form of prayer because through it, God gives us the greatest gift, which is Himself, the body and blood of his only son Jesus Christ. Receiving that gift from God with humility, provides an outpouring of actual Grace. It cleanses us from venial sin, and provides nourishment for a holy life.

A moment of Theology (because I just learned this last night from our Parish Priest):

(Gen 2:8,9) There were two trees in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve disobeyed God, and chose to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Therefore she and Adam were banished from the Garden, and forbidden to eat from the Tree of Life.

The decree of excluding humanity from the Tree of Life has been revoked by Christ. The Cross of Christ is revealed as the Tree of Life, and Christ is the fruit. We eat this fruit and regain Paradise. So the Eucharist is not just an outpouring of actual Grace, but it is even greater--because it's also the gift of Eternal Life.

So when we offer up the Eucharist we have received, we are recognizing the Supremacy of that gift, and offering it back as the Greatest thing we have to give Him. It's been said that there is enough Grace in one Eucharist to transform the entire world.

When I say I offer these Graces to Mary, it is because she sees the world through the suffering of her son. And she has also adopted all of humanity because of Christ's love for it. So she is Mother to our Savior, and also Mother to us. A mother knows which of her children are struggling the most, so when I offer my Eucharist for Mary's intentions, they are more effective than when I offer them for my own intentions.

I'm sure there's much more to say on this subject, books have been written on it, and I'm sorry I don't have any titles in my head at the moment. Anyone have recommendations for further reading?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Offering Them Up

Last week, my daughter was lector at the school Mass. One of my boys was altar server. Two more of my kids were in the pews, staring up at the gilded ceiling of the Sanctuary, thinking about God knows what, and I was in the vestibule, watching it all through a glass window, with a three-year-old, who loves trying to get his siblings' attention at school.

As the day would have it, I wasn't able to stay for the Eucharist. I had an appointment at nine, and I hadn't thought it would be too terrible to hear my daughter and watch my son, pray a little, and then quietly slip out the back. But once I was there, and Father began the Liturgy of the Eucharist, I started to feel disheartened about leaving.

I hadn't observed the fast, so I couldn't receive the Eucharist regardless, but it felt like a bit of a waste to be there and not partake of the graces of the Eucharist. So I asked God for a minor miracle: Let me have the graces I would have received from actually consuming the Eucharist, and I'll offer them for Mary's intentions. Of course there's no way of knowing how such a request pans out, but I felt a little wash of consolation at the thought.

It occurred to me then that there might be more graces to offer, right here in front of me, because I know my children, and they are very good kids, but there was no chance that they would remember to offer up their own Eucharists. I barely remember to do it myself half the time, and as a matter of fact, I'm not sure I've ever clearly articulated to them that it's something they could do. So just on the off chance it might work out for the good, I offered their Eucharists as well.

Then I looked out on the Sanctuary, at the couple hundred kids there, and, well, I offered theirs too, just in case. Why not? Roughly one hundred innocent little people were going to receive Christ that morning. Let their graces from the Sacrament go to the most needy in the world. Waste not, want not. And Mary will know what to do with them.

Then I made my exit as planned, and I'm not saying I felt good about it, but at least I'd done what I could with my short time at Mass.


Over the weekend, one of those little boys at my kids' school, a first grader, was killed in a car accident.

Last week he was in the pew. This week, he isn't. I don't know what to make of it.


After having my little experience last week with offering up the Eucharist, I'd been contemplating the idea that our time on earth is too short to waste any graces. There are so many of them, just ripe for the picking, and one grace leads to the next, but I've often been too hasty with my plans, and fearful of where God might take me, so I shut off the faucet of grace from the start.

It's happened with my kids, that the more I invest in my relationships with them, the more I realize I need to invest. I open myself to doing something little, like helping with their homework, and the interaction reveals that I've overlooked some other need of theirs, perhaps for gentleness regarding a weakness, or for more time spent reading together or just being with them. One interaction facilitates the next. And I'm ashamed to admit, that I have preferred at times, to remain blind to the vastness of their needs.

Got to get to my appointment. I'm busy, too busy to make the most of my prayers in the morning. It's good enough just to read the Gospel. Do I have to sit there and think about it too? What if it reveals something to me I don't want to know? What if it requires something of me? It usually does, often something I don't want to give.

I watched the movie Tree of Life several months back, and again on New Year's Eve, and my husband and I have been trying to make sense out of the last scene. All the characters who have presumably died, walk on a beach, reuniting and hugging one another. It looks purgatorial, in that there is still an earthly sort of environment, and people still have bodies and recognize one another.

A woman, who appears to be Mary, comforts the mother of the fictional O'Brien family, whose one son died young and the other lost his faith. We see the mother offering her son to Mary, saying, "My son, my hope, I give him to you," and it's not clear which son she's offering, if not both.

Water flows around their feet and waves beat the shore--and I am imagining this water as grace, poured out like a libation--as much as you want--as much as you can take--a slow trickle, a waterfall, depending on what you are willing to offer, or what you are open to receiving.

It takes one unimaginable death to put my costs into perspective. I have, so far, been asked to surrender only trivial things, the easiest things, my time, my comforts, my attention. There have been occasional bodily costs--the discomforts of pregnancy, the loss of pregnancies--but so far my investments are little in comparison to what others have been asked to surrender.

We all know what matters most in life are relationships, our relationship with God, the relationship with our spouse, our responsibilities to our children, the requirements and sacrifices of love. I haven't always done those relationships well enough, and already I can discern the wounds of my inattention.

I believe that grace flows back and forth through time, and our offerings today really can compensate for the ones we didn't make yesterday. I have the benefit of being able to make reparation while my kids are alive and well, to seize the graces offered to me today, tomorrow, next week, and offer them for the purification of past offenses, and future ones. There will be more failings to come, I'm certain.

And as always, I know Mary administers those graces especially to mothers who've lost children to death or sin. Peace of Christ be with them.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Fallacy of the Yummy Mummy

Here's a taste of my most recent column at Patheos:

In the aftermath of Christmas, my mother started to think that she needed to go on a diet. She made one of those, "Ugh, I can hardly stand to look at myself; I need to diet," comments, to which, my dad said, "No, you don't need to lose weight. Grandmothers are not supposed to be skinny. They're supposed to be huggable." Then he turned to me and said, "Tell your mother she doesn't need to go on a diet."

My parents have four children, and nearly twenty grandkids, none of whom have ever expressed a desire for a skinnier matriarch. I agreed with my dad, "Skinny grandmas can be nice, but chubby grandmas seem cheerier." I should mention that my mother is not really chubby at all, and mention of dieting from someone who has maintained a healthy weight throughout sixty-plus years of life is sort of beside the point. She'll take care of herself—she always has.

But I started thinking about the conversation, because I have certainly set goals for myself based on the mistaken perception that what everyone must certainly want of me is not more hugs or a kind and open demeanor, but to be better looking.

Read the rest

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


(Caveat: If you're highly sensitive to misuse of the words "lay" and "lie" you might want to skip this post.)

Long ago, when my husband and I realized there would be very small children in our bed for many years to come, we bought a king-sized mattress off my husband's Great Aunt Ruth for fifty bucks. It was already old when we bought it, with its gaudy 1970s style floral print over a yellowed background, but it was a Beautyrest with a lifetime warranty. Aunt Ruth died shortly thereafter, and twelve years into its second lifetime, my husband and I have decided to put the mattress out of its misery, mainly because its misery has worn off on us, or on our backs anyway. We went mattress shopping, for real, not in a relative's basement, but in a department store.

Our first salesperson was anxious to discern our sleeping preferences: "Are you a side sleeper or a back sleeper?"

"Side sleeper," I said, my left side--a holdover habit from pregnancy days.

"And you, Sir?"

"Uh, my back?" said my husband.

Our salesperson led us to a giant mattress surrounded on three sides by flatscreen TVs that formed a room around it. He told us to take our coats off and lie down on our backs--that this special mattress would take some measurements and help us deduce the right mattress for our particular body types. He typed our heights and approximate weights into a computer along with our sleeping preferences, then told us to lay still while the computer collected data.

This was a very awkward procedure, something like a mattress cat scan. Once on our backs, we could see that another flatscreen TV was over head, and when the lights dimmed, this TV came on, and a womanish computer animated voice said, "Hello! You are here because you have made a decision to purchase a mattress."

Thank you for telling us.

"Your sales representative will return in just a moment. Your patience is important while we help identify the right mattress for you." A few high tech dots scrolled across the screen which became graphic male and female figures compressed in a computerized mattress. Deep within the bowels of the mattress below us, we detected a movement.

"Uh oh, something's happening," said my husband. It was like one of those massage chairs from Sharper Image, moving up and down the length of our bodies.

"I think it's measuring the divot my butt makes in the mattress," I said. "It's feeling me up."

The computer spoke, "Now turn into your preferred sleeping position while we take one last measurement." I turned to my side. My husband turned to his side.

"I think I might have made a mistake about being a back sleeper," my husband said.

"Yeah, I was sort of surprised to hear you say that. I don't usually think of you that way."

"How am I supposed to know if I'm asleep?"

When our salesman came back, he handed us a computer printout that assigned my husband and I two different colors. My color, indicated that I need a softer mattress, while my husband's showed he needs a firmer mattress. Our salesman raised his arm over the showroom, "Look for mattresses marked with your color; those will be the best ones for you."

"I'm Green," I said.

The sales guy winked at my husband and said, "You didn't hear it from me." Snicker, snicker.

So we set off, towards the showroom, where fifty or so other people were lying down on the floor models simulating their preferred sleep positions while salesmen were standing by.

"This is so weird. You see what everybody looks like when they're sleeping." One guy in jeans and a stocking cap was on his stomach with the side of his face pressed into the mattress and his hands tucked under his thighs. A woman all in black with high heels on, curled up on her side in a fetal position. Everywhere, people were prostrate, but only for a few seconds, before jumping up and moving on to a different mattress. My husband and I would lie down back to back, then flip over face to face. We'd both turn to our backs, then get up and move on. It was like musical chairs, or speed dating, or a slightly off-kilter mix between the two.

New mattresses are expensive, thousands of dollars. Firm. The salesmen insist that terrible things will happen if they come down on the price. So when we went from Kittles to Mattress Firm, and my husband saw a mattress that he knew we both liked for about 700 less than we'd seen it at the other store, he said, "I'm going to go see if Kittles can match this price." This is precisely where I zoned out of the mattress shopping adventure and started reading an old copy of Atlantic Monthly I'd swiped from my parents' house with a jaded woman on the cover saying, "What? Me Marry?"

My husband ran into Kittles, and came back out a few minutes later. "Our guy said he can do a hundred less than Mattress Firm."

"Great. Let's do it."

"I want to see what Mattress Firm has to say about this first. I'm going to dicker with 'em." We drove back to Mattress Firm. They said they would throw in delivery and taxes for the same price, which meant that the final ticket price was approximately three hundred less than originally advertised at Mattress Firm and a thousand less than the ticket price at Kittles. Very firm, these guys are. I was starting to wonder how low we could go, so when I went into Mattress Firm with the wallet to make the sale, I teasingly suggested he knock another hundred off.

The guy looked at me warily. He was sick of our sh*t. "To be honest, I'm only making twenty-five dollars on this sale, and the only reason I'm giving you this price is because I need it out of the warehouse by tomorrow night when we do our inventory."

Alrighty then.

Yesterday, our mattress was delivered by a 19-year-old Italian-sounding feller with greasy hair, who asked at the door before entering, "Do you want me to wear booties?"

Do you want me to wear booties? Booties? It took a minute before I realized he was talking about those little plastic galoshes you put over your shoes, and I waved my hand to dismiss the notion that my home was clean enough to require booties. I showed him to my room, where Aunt Ruth's mattress lay on the floor, as it has these twelve long years, only now, stripped of its sheets and mattress pad so that the voluptuous but faded hot pink hibiscus print looked naked. "Here she is," I indicated the mattress to be removed.

I have to admit, I was a little sad to see her go as they folded her in half and carried her out the door-- even though she'd caused me pain. I probably don't need to mention how many babies were conceived on that thing.

We had downgraded from a kingsize mattress to a queen, which made both my husband and I a little nervous. What if we touch each other in our sleep? Sure enough, our first night on the new arrival, he rolled off of his back, side sleeper that he is, and butted me out of the center of the mattress with his rear end. I butted him back, and so forth, until finally we settled on a spooning position, which, you know, could conceivably result in more children. I tell you this only to note that the downgrade is truly an upgrade.

My husband is making the bed itself, our first actual bed rather than a mattress on the floor. It's a cannonball bed with shoulder-high posts, made out of walnut. In a month or so, it will all come together. Until then, goodnight.