A Chance to Chip In for Felix

Hi everyone,

Susanne Froese and Heather Greene writing here. We’re Kathleen’s sister and friend, respectively. We’d like to lovingly hack Becoming Peculiar for a moment, if you don’t mind.

As faithful (and wonderful!) followers, you’re likely aware of the Quiring family’s situation at the moment: their infant son Felix is hospitalized in London, Ontario, where has been diagnosed with SCID. Kathleen has provided more detail in her earlier posts. They’ve found out that none of the immediate family are bone marrow matches, so a transplant is out. Enzyme treatments have been started, which is positive, but it’s only a short-term solution. Ben and Kathy are now considering multiple long-term options, which involve varying levels of risk.

In the background at home, we’ve been collecting donations, cooking to-go meals, planning a fundraiser, and generally marveling at the huge, immediate, and overwhelmingly loving response to Felix’s situation. Not coming from Kathleen’s tight-knit Mennonite community myself (this is Heather writing), I’ve been blown away by the generosity of Kathleen’s family and community, and that includes you folk. We were sure you would want to hear if there were further opportunities to help, so we’re posting the following crowd funding link, where you can contribute financially if you’re able. The website is helpfelix.com. It accepts any currency through PayPal or credit card. If you have any issues with it, let us know and we’ll see if we can help.

If you’re a local follower and are able to support the Quirings in person, our fundraiser is Saturday, January 31st in Leamington, Ontario (Leamington Evangelical Mennonite Mission Church at 1430 Deer Run Road). There will be a pasta dinner, bake sale, auction, kids activities, and live musical entertainment. Doors open at 5pm and admission is by donation. The event poster is below.

Your continued prayers and good vibes have been such, such a blessing. I’ve been texting with Kathleen sporadically, and in one conversation she mentioned that she could actually FEEL the power of everyone’s prayers working. Now that’s support, people!

I also wanted to thank you personally for being such a wonderful community for one of my closest friends. Kathleen and I live an hour apart, and now that we’re not chumming it up in university classes every week (which was years ago now…*sniff sniff*), we don’t see each other nearly as much as we’d like. Babies, renovations, marking dozens and dozens of research essays, making organic tooth powder from egg shells…you know the stuff that keeps us all busy. Knowing that she has friends like you in, to borrow her word, “the blogosphere”, is a comfort to my heart. You keep her company and add joy to her day when I (and our other friends) sometimes can’t. I love all of your comments and jokes and recipes and opinions. You guys rock. Kathleen is a pretty quiet person in “real” life, and the vibrant, lively and supportive community here on Becoming Peculiar is a testament to her writing, her heart, and to all of you. Thank you, again, for making my friend your friend too.

Susanne joins me in thanking you for being with her through this painful season.

Heather & Susanne


Felix poster

Four Things I (A Protestant) Love About the Catholic Church

Notre Dame arch

I never knew much about Catholicism growing up. I wasn’t allowed to have non-Mennonite friends, and we didn’t talk about religion in public school. So I never got to know much about any other faith community, really.

When I started to get involved in Evangelicalism in high school, I learned that Catholics were legalistic and not actually really Christians at all (People would speak of “Christians and Catholics” as if they were two separate categories). It was doubtful you could get to heaven as a Catholic, and Catholicism was QUITE POSSIBLY the One World Religion talked about in Revelation. (That would make the Pope the Antichrist, of course.)

Fast forward a couple of decades and I have a huge heart for my Catholic brothers and sisters. I read more blogs written by Catholic women than any other demographic. I am constantly learning and being challenged by my Catholic friends, and feel incredibly blessed to have them in my life.

I don’t think I’ll ever become Catholic. I feel good about being an Anabaptist. I continue to embrace and affirm the tenets of Anabaptism (notably, nonviolence and nonconformity). I love my Mennonite community and can’t imagine a life apart from them.

Moreover, I’m an anarchist at heart, and I don’t think I could ever fully embrace the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

But there are a lot of things about the Catholic Church I love and admire. In particular, many of its members.

But here are just a few of my favourite things to come out of the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis met with media

Image source: Catholic Church England and Wales via Flickr

Let’s just get this guy out of the way. Like everyone else who’s been paying attention, I’m totally smitten with the new Pope. Everything I’ve seen or read about him astonishes me. (For a great intro to the Pope, read this article).

Celebrating his 77th birthday by having breakfast with some homeless guys. Encouraging a new mom to breastfeed in public. The loving way he responds to a little boy who runs up on stage while he gives a speech.  You guys: Pope Francis rocks my socks.

I love his warm, open, inviting attitude towards his fellow man, especially his fellow Christian. He seems to genuinely desire communion with fellow believers, and to see the fractured church united in love. He embraces the outsider and makes her feel welcome. He invites us all to join him in serving God and the world without pressuring us to convert (like when he invited us all to fast and pray for Syria). We are all God’s children, working together to bring the Kingdom to the Earth.

Pope Francis appears to be deeply concerned with the plight of the poor – just like Jesus. I guess what I love about him is that he reminds me so much of Jesus.

I find him an inspiration and am glad to have him on our side.

Natural Family Planning

Catholics are some of the only Christians (as far as I’m aware) who have continued to think long and hard about sexuality beyond “Don’t do it until you’re married.”

I touched on this topic when I shared my story (“I wish I had known about NFP sooner”). The Evangelical church, in my personal experience, generally doesn’t equip couples adequately for sex within marriage. We’re told “Wait for marriage; and then after than, anything goes,” which I’ve found isn’t very helpful.

I was never even told, in my faith community, that you could take control of your fertility without drugs or condoms, or that contraception could pose any problems (for my bodily, marital, or spiritual health.) I learned about NFP from Catholics online, after a heartbreaking year of trying to get pregnant after quitting the Pill.

These dear Catholic friends and NFP changed my life. They changed my relationship with my husband and with my own body.

I personally find the Catholic view of sex (namely, remaining anti-contraception) the most life-affirming and life-giving view. It’s also the most pro-woman. NFP actually celebrates the female body. Female fertility isn’t a problem that needs to be managed with drugs, but rather a beautiful element in human sexuality that ought to be deeply understood and respected. NFP teaches us to pay close attention to our feminine bodies and to embrace every aspect.

The Catholic church also welcomes, values and celebrates the natural product of sexuality — namely, children. As a mother, I deeply appreciate this aspect of the Church.

Children in Mass

stained glass

Again, this is an area where I think Protestants could learn a thing or two from Catholics.

I am increasingly drawn to the idea of all God’s children worshipping together, regardless of age, gender, race, marital or socioeconomic status, etc.

My God is a God of reconciliation – I believe He longs to see people of all tongues, tribes, nations, and ages in communion with one another.

Reconciliation, to me, means worshipping with people who are different from us, and who sometimes make us uncomfortable. (And who is more misunderstood and devalued in our culture than children? And who makes our lives more uncomfortable than children?) I believe reconciliation also sometimes makes worship inconvenient and messy. But I think it’s what God wants.

And I personally desire to worship with my family. I don’t care to send my two-year-old off with strangers while I commune with God. If God is to be at the center of our family, it makes sense to me that when we gather together with fellow believers to sing and pray, we do it as a family.  But this doesn’t happen when children are segregated during worship (i.e. shipped off to Sunday school).

My favourite part of church, in fact, has become watching the adorable little kids dance and play at the back of the church during worship. It just warms my heart.

I’m not interested in sending my daughter off to learn about God in a classroom as if he were an abstract subject — like math or science — rather than a living Person. I love the thought of experiencing God together as a family.

We form our identities as Children of God through active participation in worship, and involvement in a community of practice. Where better to do this than in a church service together?

I applaud and appreciate the Catholic church, then, for continuing to welcome children in Mass. I’m inspired when one Catholic blogger writes of her church, “children are not just tolerated, they are welcome. And what my parish has shown me, is that my children are wanted.” (Read the whole article, btw. It’s beautiful.) I would love to see that reality extend to Protestant congregations.


I’ve recently been dipping my toes into the Liturgical Year. I think liturgy is what many of us, in this modern, secular age, are missing. It’s what I’ve been missing, anyway.

As a wandering Mennonite-Evangelical, I often yearn for rituals and traditions. I long for practices to infuse my everyday life with the Holy. I ache to feel rooted in a story that goes back to the beginning – to feel connected with fellow disciples across time and space.

I find all of this in Liturgy – in ancient prayers and festivals; in symbols and practices that have been used and shared by Christians all over the world throughout history.

I know that there are still many Liturgical churches out there besides the Catholic Church  – Catholics are just the ones I’ve personally learned the most from. They’ve blessed me tremendously, and I’m constantly learning from them.

So there are my biggest reasons for loving the Catholic Church. I didn’t even get into the incredible architecture. Any other non-Catholics feel the same way?

Thoughts on Becoming Influential. Or, the Night God Told Me to Chill Out

microphoneI started thinking seriously about the importance (or non-importance) of becoming influential a few years ago when I was in the process of trying to become a famous writer.

I was learning all that I could about how to become a successful blogger – about building your platform, about getting lots of comments and inbound links and subscribers. I was on the computer for hours every day, reading things like 10 Habits of Highly Successful People. I was learning about SEO and online marketing and finding your tribe. Everything I did was focused on becoming influential.  I watched my Google Analytics carefully, kept fretful track of my Alexa ratings.

My motives were kind of noble – at least ostensibly. See, I felt I was called to spread God’s Truth through my writing. I always had. I wanted to become an influential writer so that I could touch people’s lives and share God’s love. I wanted to become God’s tool to spread his Kingdom, and I was pretty sure that I would be most useful as a famous writer.

And I needed a platform in order to do that.

I was working hard at becoming a famous writer for God but I was going nowhere, nowhere, nowhere.

Then one night, I kind of snapped.

It was in the middle of the night, and I was sobbing hysterically in my bed. I was so exhausted. I sat up, my arms tight around my legs, and rocked back and forth, Ben sleeping quietly next to me.

I was despairing over how hopeless it all felt. I was going nowhere. I was a nobody. I was investing all this time and energy into being a successful blogger, but had no real numbers to show for it. My eye sockets were in constant pain from staring at the computer screen all day, my body felt stiff and tight. And for what?

I thought you wanted me to be a writer! I said to God. All my life I’ve felt that was my calling. But it’s hopeless. What is a writer without readers? Nothing.  I’m just some dumb girl writing to herself on the internet. What’s the point?

And that’s when God spoke to me.

Now. I’m not one who’s given to frequent or particularly dramatic religious experiences. As far as religious folks go, I’m on the tamer end of the spectrum. I’m skeptical. I’m doubtful. I’m critical. I feel like maybe I’ve sensed God speaking to me three or four times in my 26 years as a Christian, and even of those I’m skeptical. But I thought I heard God speak to me in that moment.

I thought I heard him say something like this to me:

“I may or may not use your fame as a tool to do my work in the world. I’m not going to tell you. But regardless of how I choose to use you, you need to be satisfied with the reality that you may never be very influential.”

Maybe that was just my subconscious talking to my conscious self. And maybe that still counts as God speaking to me, because maybe he implanted that wisdom in my mind through fairly natural means. I have no idea.

But I’ve taken that message very seriously.

Almost immediately, I began to feel peace. I stopped caring whether or not I ever become a successful writer.

I started to realize that the almost universal desire to “leave our marks on the world” is essentially egocentric. At the end of our lives, we want to feel like we mattered – that during out time on this earth, we did something meaningful and important with our lives.

This desire is opposed to the Christian teaching that we are inherently important to God regardless of what we do, simply because God decided to bestow value on us. We can’t earn merit. We can’t add value to ourselves or to our lives through what we do.

And besides that, it’s focused on ourselves and our own feelings of self-worth.

In trying to become famous (in order to spread God’s love and expand his Kingdom, of course) I was first and foremost trying to prove to myself and to others that I was important and that I mattered — that I was able to do good. I wanted to feel worthwhile based on what I accomplished.

But God doesn’t necessarily call us to be effective or influential. He just calls us to be humble, loving and joyful. He asks us to accept his love and then spread it to others. And maybe he’ll make us useful by making us influential. But he might not. And that shouldn’t be any our concern.

If our goal is to become influential in and of itself, we’re missing the point, and any fame is therefore valueless.

I still forget this from time to time. I still get caught up in thinking that I’m only doing well as a writer if I have lots of readers.

But I try to remind myself of what I felt so strongly that night: that my worth is the same no matter what I accomplish, and that the number of people I influence is not really my concern.

Have you ever struggled with anything similar?

How to Write on the Internet without Offending (Too Many) People

I piss off a lot more people on the internet than I do in real life. In real life I’m actually pretty timid and apologetic. But on the internet I say things with a lot more confidence, and I expend a lot less energy trying to be likeable. Sometimes that makes people mad.

So I’ve offended my fair share of readers on the internet. Almost everyone hated my anti-Mother’s Day post (one person said it “dishonoured all mothers” — !), and several people were pretty ticked off by my post praising my husband for supporting my home birth (“So are you suggesting that my husband is a bad husband?”).

I may play all nonchalant about negative feedback on my blogs, but in reality I get quite distressed when someone is offended by my writing. I feel horrible and sick and worry that I’m a big jerk. I honestly have trouble eating and sleeping for days. (Okay, let’s be honest. I never have trouble eating. But the food doesn’t taste as good).

Of course, some people will find ways to get offended no matter what you write. I once saw a bunch of people get in a tizzy over a post disparaging flip-flops. No joke! Another blogger once mentioned that she was considering writing a post about using breastfeeding as birth control, and a reader advised her not to because it would be insulting to women who got pregnant while breastfeeding. What? Seriously?? We can’t even talk about biological realities without offending people?

But offended sensibilities are especially inevitable when dealing with big issues like Morality and Religion and (worst of all) Parenting, as this blog does. If you write about how you made a certain moral decision, someone is bound to say, “Oh, so you think you’re so much better than me?”

There’s only so much you can do about this. A lot of times it’s just the reader’s own insecurity coming out – they’re lashing out to alleviate their own guilt — and you can’t be held responsible for that.

And I also have to keep in mind that Jesus offended people all the time. Some folks are going to get upset when you make them question their habits of thought or ways of living. That doesn’t mean you should be quiet about these important issues.

But it’s essential to speak with love and understanding. I think there are some ways to minimize offending people in your writing by remaining humble and sensitive. It’s important to avoid sounding judgmental and condescending when you talk about the Big Things, though I know I haven’t mastered the art.

I will say this: of course I think I’m (mostly) right about the things I write about. Otherwise I wouldn’t hold the opinions that I do. And of course I think the decisions I’ve consciously made are the best ones – that’s why I made them.

Moreover, when I discover something that has made my life easier or more beautiful, of course I want to share it with the hopes that you’ll try it, too.

But is there a way I can share my ideas without implying that you’re ignorant, lazy, or less evolved than me for not having stumbled upon them yourself?

For example, I hope to write a post exploring some of the ethical benefits of breastfeeding. I hope I can discuss such a touchy subject without alienated mothers who bottle-feed.

Here are some ways I’ve discovered to avoid sounding judgmental. If you have any further suggestions to add, please list them in the comments. If you have some really good ones, I’ll add them to my list (and highlight them in blue).

1. Share stories rather than advice.

(I recognize the irony of offering you this tidbit of advice).

When you offer advice you suggest that you know better than your readers. Which might be okay when it comes to things like social media tips, but not so much when it comes to talking about parenting or ethics.  These are sensitive issues, and everyone’s doing their best.

 Telling personal stories simply demonstrates that you’ve had experiences that have taught you things. A good story about how you changed a certain behaviour might inspire others to do the same; but if you outright tell them they should do it, they’re less inclined to give it a try. For example, “Why I chose to breastfeed” is probably more effective than “Why you should breastfeed.”

 2. If you must offer advice, take time to acknowledge your limits.

I don’t know that my idea is best for all people at all times in all situations. So I note things like, “I don’t know all the details of your situation,” to emphasize the fact that I understand that there might be legitimate reasons to choose differently.

For example, if I’m discussing the benefits of breastfeeding, I’ll want to observe that I can’t possibly know everything that might lead to a decision to bottle-feed. Perhaps you lacked support from your husband and the nursing staff during those incredibly vulnerable first days after birth, which led you to doubt yourself and quickly lose the opportunity. I know what worked for me but I don’t know what will work for you.

3. When telling your story, avoid saying things like, “I used to think/do X . . . Boy, was I an idiot!”

I just saw this one recently and it understandably upset quite a few people, though I might not have seen it if I’d been the writer.

The fact is, your readers might still do or think those things, so you’re effectively calling them stupid when you say things like that. Instead, you might want to explore the negative consequences that resulted from your former ways/beliefs. It might help your readers to see the potential harm in their current views without insulting them as people.

4. Emphasize that you’re still on a journey yourself – you haven’t arrived at Enlightenment.

Even if you’re an expert in the field, you might still have an experience or come across a new fact in the future which will alter your views. We’re all still learning and sharing. Make a point of noting that.

So, what am I missing? What are some other ways to reduce the chances of upsetting people’s feelings in your writing?  What kinds of thing have upset you, or what kinds of things have upset your readers? I would especially appreciate recommendations for tackling an “ethics of breastfeeding” post. Thoughts?

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