Sunday, July 5, 2015

Why the Best Theology Professor I Ever Had Was a Toddler...

Kind of.

We visited family this weekend, and went to a parish that wasn't our home parish. The bonus to this arrangement is that we went to a Mass that was so early that it was super short, and there were no meltdowns during Mass. The downside was that I hadn't gotten to finish reading the readings before we left, and I usually try to do that since I don't count on being able to hear them during Mass.

I'd been wondering if we were in the proper Lectionary cycle, the one that features my favorite reading of all time on a Sunday. I was pleasantly surprised this morning, circa 7:08 a.m.

Maria and I were pacing the entryway of the church (which was, incidentally, without power, so the fact that this lector delivered the reading as loudly and clearly and beautifully as she did was an even greater blessing). Then, I caught the beginning of the passage, "...because of the abundance of revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me..."


I recently shared this entire story over at Catholic Exchange, so I'm not going to repeat it here. But this specific passage from Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians completely changed my life. Here are the key parts from 2 Corinthins 12:7-10. We left off with Paul telling us that he's been given this "thorn in his side." He continues, "Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong."



Prior to encountering this reading, I wouldn't say that I had fully absorbed our faith's beautiful theology of suffering. I wouldn't claim to be an expert today, but this reading (combined with befriending St. Therese of Lisieux) set me on a path toward understanding that the cross matters. 

Even once I began to ponder that, began to live it out with sufferings that I was more familiar with, I still didn't fully understand it. The sufferings that come along with my anxiety and worry? Not fun, but familiar and therefore easier to "offer up" and allow God to use. But physical suffering? Beyond my control? With no end in sight? No thank you.

But, what was the cross? It was mental anguish beyond all telling...but also great physical suffering and sacrifice.



Enter motherhood.

I never imagined that I would experience hyperemesis gravidarum for my entire pregnancies. I never imagined the lovely (sarcasm) after effects. Had you described for me crippling nausea for months on end, excruciatingly painful kidney stones, the craziness that is labor and delivery - I'm fairly certain I would have broken down sobbing in fear. But now? I look at the faces of the two most beautiful, funny, interesting, creative, loving little girls I've ever met and I would go through it all over again in a heartbeat in order to have them. 

That is love.

What I never understood about the cross was the love part. What I never understood about the suffering, the offering up, the "power made perfect in weakness" bit was possible because, with love, God could begin to work through my weakness. With love, He could make me open to seeing my weakness, my imperfections, heck, my sin (because no one can make you more aware of how fallen, sinful, and lacking in patience you are then a two year old and her constant need for attention). But I had to learn all of this in a little school of love. I couldn't learn it by toughing it out, pushing through penances. I had to learn it through loving - loving so much that there was suffering involved. Loving so much that I had to relinquish control and embrace weakness in order to love.

I've mentioned before that I received a bachelor's and a master's degree in theology from a top notch institution, and I had some incredible theology professors while there. The men and women that taught me were, for the most part, solid, credible, faithful Catholics. And I am forever grateful for all that they taught me about the "queen of the sciences."

But none of it made as much as sense as it did when a toddler (or two) entered my life.

For these little theology professors that God has sent into my life, I am forever grateful.






Friday, July 3, 2015

The SCOTUS Decision - One Week Later

Linking up with Auntie Leila. Serious thoughts today, but some lovely pictures from our recent visit to Michigan to console you. ;-)

It's officially been one week since the Supreme Court made the decision to legalize gay marriage. Are you still reeling, too?

{pretty, happy, funny, and real}



My instinct is to just ignore the whole thing. I really don't like going against the tide. I don't like knowing that my deeply held beliefs are currently considered "the unpopular" viewpoint. But, let's be honest. I'm a faithful Catholic. I'm used to being in the minority when it comes to serious moral issues (i.e. abortion, euthanasia, artificial conception), so why is this bothering me so much?

I think it's the hate being spewed left and right.

For a movement whose hashtag is #lovewins, I can't for the life of me figure out why they are spewing so much hate. Hate for anyone and everyone who disagrees, even those who disagree for serious religious reasons, and are themselves arguing for a right to continue to practice their religion freely.



Think faithful Catholics aren't hated right now? Click on over to this article, analyzing a recent video put out by Catholic Vote, and think again. 

Part of what I find frustrating is that, in this country, faithful Catholics have been an oppressed minority at times. (Even my friend Mr. Wikipedia acknowledges that.) Saying that Catholics in America know nothing about oppression doesn't make historical sense. And although I wouldn't consider myself oppressed right now, I think the reactions to this video make it pretty clear that there are still some pretty serious prejudices against Catholics and their beliefs in our country. In some ways, Slate proved the point that the Catholic Vote video was trying to make; we believe something very different and unpopular, and you will probably hate us for it.

What most of us are asking ourselves right now, though, is how we are supposed to react to this. Are we supposed to lash out in anger. Or do we respond in love? Whenever I hear the #lovewins hashtag thrown around, it conjures up the image for me of someone dancing circles around me taunting, "I win! I win! Haha...you lose!" I know that's not what everyone using the hashtag is intending, but I think a good number of people are intending that.

The thing is, love does win. But I think that what's making the difference is that "love" means two different things here. For people using the hashtag, love means the amazing feeling you have when you find someone you want to spend your life with. For the Church, love means the cross. But, but, but...what about the love between couples married in the church, you say? Well, of course romantic love matters! The pursuing, relentless love of eros is an image of the way God wholeheartedly pursues us. But the eros only finds its fulfillment in caritas - a love willing to die in order to save the soul of another.



Regardless of your sexual orientation or state in life, you are built for both eros and caritas, because true sexuality extends far beyond sexual organs. What I mean to say is that true love sometimes means chastity or even celibacy for the sake of the one you love and their well-being. If, for some reason, Andrew or myself would become physically incapable of the marriage act, the other spouse would not try to "seduce" the impotent spouse. It wouldn't be charitable or loving. It would tempt the spouse who was impotent, and would lead to unchastity in the spouse who wasn't impotent.

There is certainly a natural law and historical argument to be made for marriage between one man and one woman, but that's not what I'm talking about today. I'm simply talking about the fact that real love means being willing to sacrifice one's pleasure for the sake of chastity, and the spiritual well-being of the beloved.

There are times when - gasp - spouses don't want to be married to each other. Even very good spouses have very bad arguments. It would be easy to detach from your spouse and to seek happiness with another. Married people do not stop having attractions to people they shouldn't engage in the sexual act with (i.e. people who are not their spouse) but they do need to chose chastity, even when it feels near impossible. That is caritas in action.



So what can we possibly do? My challenge for you is this - respond with total, self-sacrificing love. If you truly believe that someone's position puts them in moral peril, why aren't you fasting for them in some way? Why aren't you praying for them? When our words fail us, hidden acts of love are sometimes the most effective. But do all that you can do in love. Don't respond with hate or prejudice. Act from a place of love and fraternal correction. Yes, it is important to stand up for truth, but if you aren't telling the truth from a place of love, then what you preach won't be convicting.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Five Reasons Why Using Social Media Does {Not} Make You a Bad Mom

So many of us struggle to figure out how to incorporate social media into our lives, and the challenge is even greater if you are a mother (and being constantly observed by little eyes!). Social media can be a hindrance to good mothering, but it can also be a help. Here are the five ways that social media can actually make you a better mother (if used correctly). Linking up with Jenna.




1. It can be reassuring.

I don't know how many times I've been worried about some stage one of my children has been going through, only to encounter a mother on social media who is struggling with the same thing. It makes me instantly breathe a sigh of relief, to know that I'm normal and so is my child. In fact, sometimes someone is in a similar but even more dire situation than mine!!

But honestly, it can just be comforting to know that you're not alone in your trials as a mother, and that other mothers are slogging along beside you (albeit miles away).

2. It can be inspiring.

The inspiration factor is probably one of the main reasons why I use social media. I really enjoy seeing what other people are working on, what ideas they have, and the beauty in their homes. It inspires me to add beauty into my own home! I know that some mothers (myself included, at times) really struggle with the temptation to be jealous or feel insecure when they see perfection in another woman's home. However, it can also be comforting to see a glimpse into a calm, orderly world, especially when yours doesn't feel that way on a given day.

But that being said, some of the prettiest pictures I've even seen on social media have been of tremendously messy situations, viewed in a beautiful way. I think that Ginny Sheller does a phenomenal job of capturing the everyday messy moments of motherhood in a stunning light.

3. It can be a practice in self-control.

With the advent of push notifications on your phone, it can be harder than ever to just shut off Facebook. I have news for you - Facebook cannot control you. Instagram cannot control you. Twitter cannot control you. They are tools. I can use a hammer to hang a picture on my wall or I can bang myself over the head with it. The choice is mine.

Self-control is a virtue, and like any virtue, it can be a challenge to cultivate. The answer is not signing off of social media, but rather learning how to use it properly, and with moderation. I find it helpful to limit the times of day that I'm on social media (i.e. not when I'm spending time with the girls, for the most part) and even limiting my reasons for being on social media. I do connect to friends via social media, but my closest friends I communicate with via text, e-mail, or phone call. Most of my social media usage is related to the blog and ministry type work, and that seems to help me keep it in its proper place. It's important to know why you're using social media - to have a sort of personal mission statement for social media use, if that makes sense - and then to periodically evaluate whether or not you are using it accordingly.

4. It can help you be more patient with your own children.

Sometimes, I find myself sinking into the mentality of "children are inconvenient/loud/annoying, etc." until I stumble across a mother who really loves her children, and it helps me realign. Lindsay's blog "My Child, I Love You" does this for me every single time. Her love for her children is palpable, and she has a way of describing the funny things they do with absolute tenderness. Again and again, she challenges me to do the same. Find a blogger/Facebook friend/Instagram account that challenges you the way you need to be challenged, and inspires you to love more deeply!

5. It can keep you informed and curious.

A lot of the mothers I know find it really hard to stay informed on what's happening in the world. When you have small children, you can't really put the news on without the possibility of traumatizing little brains. But it is important to be aware of what's happening in the world. We are called to not be "of the world" but we are certainly called to be "in the world."

Social media can help you stay informed so long as you don't use it as your primary news source, but rather as a starting point. I tend to hear about major news stories first via social media, but I'll get the full story through a reputable news source. In other words, social media helps me stay in touch with the headlines, but then I use the headlines to search for the real story.

Social media also introduces me to ideas and thoughts I'm unfamiliar with. Again, I can't learn everything I need to know on social media, but I can use it as a springboard for further, deeper study. One of the best examples of this is that some of the best book recommendations I have found recently, I'd found on social media!

BONUS: Social Media can be a little school of charity. 

I am all too familiar with the twinge of jealous that rises up when I read about another person's success on Instagram or the surge of indignation when I come across someone's rant on Facebook. The problem is not with Instagram or Facebook, but with myself. But, Facebook, Instagram and the like are my own little school of charity. They are places where I daily have to practice being more charitable, more understanding, more patient in my explanations, more compassionate in my reactions. They are constant reminders for me that I (or you!) may be the only Gospel some people ever read. Am I preaching the Gospel by my interactions with others on social media?

How do you use social media? What is your personal social media mission statement?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Answer Me This! Home Edition and more...

Linking up with Kendra for a little fun on a Tuesday afternoon. :-)



1. How long have you lived in your current home?

We've officially lived in our house for four years, and will likely live in it for at least another year (the life of a grad student family). It's hard to believe Andrew is approaching the end of his ph.D program! Our house was a Godsend for so many different reasons, as has served us very well. :-)


Flashback - baby Therese on our front porch. 


2. How do you find out about news and current events?


I subscribe to a few news sources that deliver daily e-mails to my inbox. A number of the blogs I follow have weekly posts that share news and articles from the previous week, and I find those helpful, too. 

3. Would you be able to make change for a twenty right now? For a dollar?


Nope.

4. What's the craziest food you've ever eaten?


This really isn't that crazy, but one of my favorite foods is friend calamari (squid).

5. Which of the commonly removed parts have you had removed? (tonsils, wisdom teeth, appendix, etc.)


So far all I've had removed from my person is a couple wisdom teeth, a few kidney stones, and a couple babies. ;-)



6. What's your favorite sport to watch on TV? 


Ummmm....so not a sport girl. I'll watch (at least semi-watch) whatever Andrew does, because he does enjoy watching sports. I do really like watching crazy outdoorsy/survival shows, though, like pretty much anything Bear Grylls does.

Have a lovely Tuesday!

Friday, June 26, 2015

{phfr} Summer in the Great...Ummm...Little Outdoors

Linking up with Like Mother, Like Daughter.

I've shared with you some of our hiking adventures, trips to beaches...but the bulk of our outdoor time in the summertime is made up of the little moments.

{pretty}


We try to go for a walk every morning (before the heat and humidity kick in too much), and I usually bribe these cuties with a trip to the playground. It's so fun to see them both being able to do so much more climbing than last year! (Super cute flashback to the same park at the end of the link.)

{happy}


This little lovely is doing a much better job at smiling and looking at the camera (with some coaxing).

{funny}


Of course, sometimes she still gives us gems like this one.

{real}


If I'm honest, though, my favorite outdoor time with them (and I think theirs with me!) is when I fill up the pool, grab a book, and let them play while I read. Grabbing a random minute to read in between requests and questions? Bliss. (I'm also more than a little bit in love with the view.)

Hope your summer is going well!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

5 Tips for Surviving Trips {with toddlers and preschoolers}

Linking up today with Jenna.

Our family is kind of crazy, and tend to be on the road more than your average family. This wasn't always the case, but living farther from our families means that we find ourselves in the car a lot. I would not call ourselves pros, by any stretch of the imagination, but I have figured out a few tips for surviving the drive! In this time of year, it seems like even normal families are on the road quite a bit, so I thought you'd appreciate my top five tips for surviving trips.




-1-

Take care of yourself.

Road trips are more manageable for me if I build in some treats for myself. I buy snacks for the girls (see next point) but I also buy a few little snacks for myself that I wouldn't normally splurge on. On really long drives, Andrew and I take turns driving (and sometimes I take the girls on trips by myself, and am obviously the only one driving, then) and I find that: travel sleep + staying awake while driving = a no-go. What keeps me awake is some good music, a good book on tape (that we can all enjoy), some caffeinated drinks to go, and maybe a good podcast or another one or another one or another one! And honestly, sometimes even just holding hands with my husband while he drives chirks me up a bit. 

-2-

Snacks. Snacks. Snacks.

Mouths that are chewing aren't yelling (or chatting)! For silence in the car, I bring a lot of snacks, and I stick mainly to snacks that are treats. You know what those foods are for your family, so I won't get into specifics. This also keeps everyone's tummies full and the crankiness down.

-3-

Big box of books.

I used to pack a box of toys for our long trips, but that got to be really messy, and didn't really entertain people all that well. It's hard to play with toys in a car seat! (At least the kind of toys my daughters play with - i.e. play kitchen stuff, dollhouse stuff, etc.) But, I find that books can provide endless entertainment, and I can afford a few ripped or thrown books since I buy our books used. This is especially entertaining to a toddler who likes to rip books and normally isn't allowed to. (For the record, they do actually look at the books, too, but it's nice to know that the books they're reading can survive a little rough and tumble if need be).

-4-

Movies are your friend.

I usually keep movies for my back pocket trick, because they work like a charm! We have several movies uploaded to our Kindle Fire (ours may actually be a 2nd generation, but same idea), and that keeps our older one pretty happy. (I think the younger will appreciate it more when she is forward facing.) Our favorites (because they're long and wholesome and not annoying to hear over and over again) are The Sound of Music, Annie (the 1999 version is our favorite, but I haven't seen the newest one yet), and Mary Poppins.

-5-

Earplugs aren't always optional.

It never occurred to me that I might need earplugs for the car until having my youngest. Maria had bad colic and reflux as a baby, and (her PT recently determined) she tends to be overly sensitive to motion. (We can't be sure, but I think she may get car sick.) At any rate - she doesn't like the car and has always screamed a good amount on long drives. Ear plugs don't drown her out all the way, but they do mute the sound enough that I can be more patient and compassionate in my dealings with her. (And on this note...any suggestions for two year olds with motion sickness?)

What are your traveling tricks?

Monday, June 22, 2015

On Finding the Monastic in Toddlerhood

Linking up with Fine Linen and Purple.


It's been a while since I've reflected on the link between the monastic vocation and my own, but sometimes there are little moments that bring it back to me. My vocation is to find my path to holiness in the small, little, unexpected, and (often) frustrating moments. Having a toddler in my life is bringing this reality to the fore for me.



The other day, we were invited to dinner at our friends' house (a fellow professor from the seminary where Andrew teaches). They live in our neighborhood, but it had been pouring rain all day, and we were running late, so we decided to drive instead of walk.

Maria (who turns two years old next month!) was clearly overwhelmed the second she walked in the door. There were tons of other little kids visiting for dinner (which meant that our oldest daughter was delighted, of course), and plenty of adults milling around, too. Andrew and Therese and I were all enjoying ourselves, but - bless her heart - Maria just kept letting out that little shriek that means that she's getting overwhelmed.

We made it through pre-dinner and dinner, but as dinner was wrapping up, Maria was very clearly "done." She was rubbing her little eyes, fussing like crazy, and just not knowing what to do with herself. I talked it over with Andrew, and we decided that it would be best for me to just leave a little earlier with Maria, and get her ready for bed.

It wasn't raining at the time, so it would be fine for us to just walk home. It was a short walk, and Maria and I had left dinner parties early before. But...we had forgotten to pack a stroller in the car. And Maria is pretty heavy (although, like I said, it was a short walk home and I probably could have just carried her if I had needed to).

So, I said my good-byes, scooped up my girl, and we headed out. She wanted "dow!" (down), of course. So, I set her down. And we walked together, hand in hand. She kept stopping to show me all of her favorite things; "Puh-ul!" (puddle), "Tee!" (tree), "Rah!" (rock), and a lot of eager gesturing and noises to try to point out cars, grass, etc. etc. She was having a blast!

Normally, I would have rushed her along. When I'm walking with her and her sister, it's hard to slow things down to toddler pace. But that night, it was just the two of us. She'd been feeling overwhelmed, and I thought I nice, slow walk (during which she got to talk to Mommy) would be just the ticket.

It was such a beautiful walk. She walked almost the whole way home (around half a mile...pretty good for a little girl who only started walking less than two months ago and who needs to wear orthodics!), only needing to be picked up to cross busy streets and when the hills got too steep to navigate. As I was walking, I was remembering all the time that Therese and I used to spend alone together, when she was Maria's age. Maria and I used to have hours of alone, snuggle time every day, when she used to nap in arms. Recently, she started napping in her crib, and so we haven't had much alone time lately. She and I both love her sister, but there's something about that almost two year old age that just demands more attention than usual. For Maria, this is multiplied by her frustration with learning to communicate , something that is more of a challenge for her. She appreciates it a lot when I slow down to really listen to her.

I am not a slow person, though. I tend to rush through things, to try to get as much done as possible, in the shortest amount of time as possible. God works in little moments - little, quiet, slow moments, and I'm often too rushed to hear the (relative) silence.

But then, there's this toddler that God has sent me. She's little, she's slow, and she needs me not to rush so much. I hate having to slow down...but I love her. Being her mother is forcing me to grow in ways I don't want to, but definitely need to.

I'm always amazed by the quiet, contemplative nature of the monastic vocation, but sometimes I've even more amazed by the ways that God brings that monastic nature into my own (often noisy) vocation. I am so grateful.

Oh! And what we wore Sunday (well, actually to the Sunday Vigil Mass).



Happy Monday!

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