What We’re Reading Wednesday

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I have a somewhat atypical way of spending Good Friday. Oh, I go to pray The Stations and attend the Passion service with veneration of the Cross. But in the other hours of the day that I blessedly get off from work, I read. Last year, it was tackling The Interior Castle, by Teresa of Ávila, which I still haven’t fully digested. This year I picked up Unplanned:   by Abby Johnson. I am pro-life, but I tend not to be very vocal or public about it. A couple years ago, many people recommended I read it or were talking about it, but I deliberately chose not to. In the battle for hearts and minds regarding life, I admit, I’m the drafted soldier doing filing on base, praying I’m not called up for anything more. So I thought it’d be a Good Friday-ish thing to do to get over my reluctance—even if it was just the baby step of reading this book.

And I am so glad I did.

I don’t know why I believed my unfounded fears about the contents: either militant screed or poorly edited navel-gazing played up as “awesome” merely because of the subject matter (a fair critique for some books in this genre, I believe). But it was neither. It really was an absorbing true story of not just a person, but an issue. And it was fair. Neither the clinic nor the pro-life supporters were unnecessarily monsterized or glorified. Rather, using facts and grace, Abby portrays the motivations of both sides of the literal and proverbial fence and the struggle and challenges of dealing with competing minds and hearts.

With refreshing honesty, Abby chronicles her journey and evolution of thought from a Planned Parenthood director to pro-life advocate, all the while remaining respectfully firm in her convictions. For example, as a director, she hated the Grim Reaper and bloody image protestors, and as pro-lifer, hates them still. While some may quibble that we can disagree on strategies if we agree on life, I think it’s bold (and in my humble opinion, correct), to state outright that bully tactics have no place in this conversation. (For what it’s worth, Coalition for Life was the one that put a kibosh on them). The reason behind Abby’s stance on this particular issue is actually the book’s greatest strength: her perspicacity.

Like Joni Mitchell (but more happily), she can look from both sides now: what it meant and why to work at the clinic, what they thought their purpose, what help looks like; and what it meant and why to be pro-life, what their purpose is, and what help looks like. She’s actually talked with the women who enter the clinic, know what they think and feel when they see the pro-life advocates at the gates; what they’re going through. Some may think this is too sympathetic to clinic workers or choice supporters. But I think Abby gets what I personally believe: we have been privileged with the truth; the others know not what they do. Abby sincerely believed she was helping women at the clinic, even though it was false help. It reminds me of a line from the movie The American President. The president is telling a story to make a point (kinda like a parable), and he says to his aide Louis about dehydrated people in the desert:

“They don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty; they drink the sand because they don’t know the difference.” I really appreciated Abby relaying a reality that for some choice supporters, they don’t know the difference.

Ultimately, I think this book should be a conversation starter for people bobbling the political football life has become—or even any other issue. At the core of everyone’s heart is a sincere desire to serve; to show love; to let others be loved. But when we focus too much on the legality or not of things and don’t listen to the reasons (no matter how misguided) why someone holds a position, we lose sight of the concrete human persons at the center of them. Unplanned gives the whole picture on abortion and a compelling story to see how opposing sides can come to the fence, engage and understand one another, and eventually unite for the common cause of caring for the whole selves of women and babies for the whole of their lives.

NAS: Marriage

Happy Easter!

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Linking with Morgan and Jen!

Most of us here feel called to the vocation of marriage…but what is it exactly that you’re attracted to? What have you seen in others’ marriages that you’ve learned from or would do differently? (maybe this is from married friends or your parents!)

In previous posts, I’ve touched upon why I feel called to marriage: It’s the answer to the discernment question, “Where does God live for me?” And yesterday, I wrote about a couple songs that I think capture the essence of what marriage is. Also, the theology of marriage makes the sacrament an incredibly appealing vocation. I can think of nothing more awesome or wondrous than two people whose union gives witness to the love of God. It is a way of modeling heaven on earth. It is a sacrament—a sign of God’s grace. It is not the completion of self, but the gift of a whole self given and received. Just think: a way to know God and purify your soul is in loving another person—and not just the “hard” loving of self-sacrifice, but the romance of eros, the camaraderie of friendship, and the affection after years together.

What I have witnessed in strong marriages also draws me to desiring this sacrament. There’s an incredible book coming out later this year called The Journey of Our Love: The Letters of Gianna Beretta and Pietro Molla. For the first time in the U.S., both Saint Gianna and her husband’s correspondence will be printed together. The letters are rich with the joys of marriage and the kind of love I hope my husband and I to have for one another:

“It’s true that love is the most beautiful sentiment that God has given to us.”[3]

“Thank you for giving me Gianna as the sweet companion of my life.”

“You are the valiant woman I begged heaven for, and whom our heavenly Mother has

given me…I entrust my whole heart to you forever, and I will receive everything good”

“Gianna, I want to be the husband you always dreamed of in your most beautiful dreams,

the one you desired in your most joyous and holy dreams, a husband worthy of your
virtues, your goodness and your great love””

I also love witnessing marriages that live out that little ditty you sometimes here in church or about families: that the spouses “laugh, cry, play, and pray together.” When I see or hear of spouses who take up their own crosses or more especially the crosses of  their spouses with strength and grace, I get hopeful that one day God has this kind of love in mind for me. Or when spouses face challenges with each other and find their way back again, it encourages me to believe love really can last a lifetime.

As for what I think I’d do differently, it’s hard to say. I don’t want to get into the details of the challenges I’ve witnessed, nor do I think I’m in a position to be certain that my different way would actually be the right way. Because I think that a marriage’s successes and joys or challenges and frustrations is partially determined way back when you decide whom and why you’re marrying, I’ll say what I’ll do right right now. What’ I’m doing differently from Past Dating Me is preparing myself to be the kind of spouse who can love well, as well as using the time while dating to see if my man is the kind of spouse who will love well.

But I can tell you for sure one thing I’d do differently as a married woman is never, ever let the first words out of my mouth to an aspiring singleton be “Marriage is hard work.” Rather, I hope I can say the following knowing it is the truth I’ve lived: “Marriage is incredibly joyous—both the very human ways we think of it: romance, fun times, happiness, sex, maybe children, peace—but also the spiritual joys: choosing to sacrifice and being okay with it, purifying your soul, and growing closer to God. Sometimes doing those things won’t feel good—that’s the hard work people tell you about. But the fruits are worth the labor.”

Modern Media Meditation Monday: Marriage Songs

Happy Easter!

This week on the Not Alone series, we’re talking about marriage. And since Lent is over, and hence my sacrifice of wedding/marriage-related reading/thinking is also over, I thought I’d finally put out this post that’s been on my heart. Many of the songs on the radio today are sad love songs—and not sad because they’re about loves lost, but sad because the type of love expressed and desired isn’t real love at all, but an at-times grotesque imitation. Happily, though, a few songs are getting national play and popularity that do express the essence of love—particularly the wondrous kind found in marriage:

Sara Bareilles “I Choose You”

- “I will become yours and you will become mine/I choose you”: Love binds us. We become one flesh. Love is not just a feeling, but a choice, a commitment.

- “My whole heart/Will be yours forever/This is a beautiful start/To a lifelong love letter”: Love is meant to be a lifetime. Unlike romantic comedies where the marriage is the end of the love story, marriage is the beginning.

- “I am under-prepared, but I am willing/And even better/I get to be the other half of you”: Love is between two people, fallen as we are. And no one is 100% prepared, but love is an act of the will. And loving another person is sanctifying.

John Legend “All of Me”

- “Love your curves and all your edges/all your perfect imperfections”: Love is not just accepting all the bits of a person, but loving them.

- “Give your all to me/I’ll give my all to you”: Love is the gift of self—the whole self; it does not hold back. Love is reciprocal.

- “Even when I lose, I’m winning”: Love is sacrifice, but from that sacrifice comes authentic joy.

- “Cards on the table/we’re both showing hearts/risking it all/though it’s hard”: Love can be hard, but if both come with open hearts, it is worth it.

Goo Goo Dolls “Come to Me”

- “Come to me my sweetest friend”: Love isn’t just romance, but friendship—a person you choose for your life, bound not by familial affection or the hormones of desire, but an act of the will to share things with the person.

- “Fortune teller said I’d be free/And that’s the day you came to me”: Love isn’t freedom from, it’s freedom to. So often people associate relationship with constraint (ball and chain), but authentic love is freeing–his freedom is when his relationship begins.

- “Today’s the day I’ll make you mine/So get me to the church on time”: Love is sacramental. And what’s more: the beloved isn’t really the other’s until the sacrament that binds them.

NAS: Selfish Singles

First, if I may ask, could you all please consider taking a moment of silence and prayer at 2:49 pm EST or any time today? It’s the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. Thank you.

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Don’t forget to link up with Morgan and Jen!

Selfish Singles

How do you combat being selfish with your time? As a single person, it’s easy to get caught up in our own little independent world. There are those moments when we are needed for extra church things, hanging with our friend’s kids, getting caught up with something on the one night you could stay in, etc. where we get frustrated that the needs of others are taking away from our own time. How do you avoid this selfish tendency and what do you do to avoid becoming frustrated with “sharing” you time with others?

Hmm…to be honest, my first reaction when reading this prompt was to get a little defensive: “I’m not selfish! I thought common conception of the single life was how wonderful it was to be free to serve and less time to ourselves…how can we be called selfish?!?” But I thought about it some more and used it as a chance for a little Examen. How do I use my time? Did I refuse help to someone who asked? Did I help but inwardly grumble? Is the Lord calling me to take on more and I am ignoring him?

I think we can all agree that every person, regardless of state of life, should have at least some time to themselves to sleep, eat, be with their families, or even recharge without having to constantly justify how much is appropriate to their individual needs. And we can all agree that everyone “works” or serves. But the time we’re blogging about today is not any of the above; and the attitude is not of needed self-care but of false desire or possession. Whenever I realize I am too possessive with my time, I try to remember the real meaning of certain words:

Selfish: thinking only of the self: my wants, my desires, I, I, I; and has nothing to do with actual needs.

We should not be selfish. If asked to do something for another, we should evaluate the character of what we were going to do (actual need vs. a want): “You know, I suppose I could take the New Year’s Eve shift, because my plans were to dance and drink at a big party, and Carol’s are to fly out to visit her invalid aunt.”

Love: choosing to sacrifice something you want for the true good of another

We are called to love, and love looks like saying to the harried mom: “Yes, I’ll help stack the chairs after praise and worship,” instead of being home in time for Doctor Who.

Charity: generosity of self; giving of self in thoughts, words, actions

We should think, speak, and act generously. If the first reaction to a roommate’s offer to edit her paper is “But I’m in the zone writing/reading/blogging,” then that’s not really charitable. If the response out loud is “Sure, I’d love to,” and then actually do it, then we are exercising charity.

JOY: Jesus, Others, Yourself.

We have access to true joy, but it’s not found in nights in, getting caught up in projects at the expense of people, or indulging in solitary activities. Even if we are helpful when asked, sometimes we can reject God’s offer of joy by coming up with excuses for why we don’t take something on—like a volunteering commitment or regular date with our favorite kids—even though we totally could. Joy is found in serving the Lord, serving our families, friends, and church, and serving our souls.

Evaluating our responses and reasons for why we do or don’t give of ourselves now while we’re single is actually great practice for marriage and parenthood when our gift of self is to our husbands and children. Thanks for the examination of conscience, topic suggester! :)

7QTF: Catholic Potpurri for $1000, Alex

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Join Jen and the others!

[1]

Trigger warning: baby in NICU. Spoiler alert: Very happy ending.

Isn’t God the creator awesome? And human life—no matter how young—just incredible, right?

[2]

Cassian, a saint’s name(!), is apparently one of 12 baby names that could have a huge break out in popularity soon.

Hmmm…St. Cassian of Imola was the Bishop of Brescia and a schoolmaster, martyred by the Roman Emperor. His students stabbed him to death with the stylus. And then we have St. Cassian of Tangiers, who was a court stenographer, martyred because he admitted his Christianity when the Roman court issued the death penalty against the accused.

Great name, but I wonder how a son would feel about these stories of his patron…

[3]

Today is actually the feast day of another martyr, Saint Stanislaus. Say that five times fast. St. Stanislaus (which also sounds like Santa Claus) was a bishop in Krakow who called out the king for sexual immorality. The king then goes and kills the bishop during Mass in what sounds like a scene from those Saw movies.

The extra fun bit of fun for the 13-year-old boy in your life is that after the bishop’s remains were thrown into the pool outside, they miraculously became corporeal again, under the guard of four eagles.

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What? What? That’s right, just re-building a saint.

[4]

I was at a training last week to get certified as a speaker for a program that empowers teens to make healthy, chaste, life choices. It was faith-based, but a more ecumenical Christianity approach. But the leader said she was brought to her knees by the writings of none other than our very dear almost-Saint John Paul II. And then all my non-Catholic classmates were just in awe of the instruction on the meaning of marriage, which was actually quite Catholic sounding. Point for the universality and point for the natural law.

[5]

Jean Lafrance thinks we can pray wrong (what spiritual writer doesn’t think that?!?).

“If you do not return to the same text in Scripture or in spiritual writers, you will never know how to pray well. You will be like a tourist who wants to see everything and who does not take the time to contemplate, that is to look with love and admiration, at what he sees. Do not be a spiritual glutton.” (Pray to Your Father in Secret, Editions Paulines, 1987)

Huh. Fasting from spiritual tourism. Never woulda thought.

[6]

Spotlight on Current Catholic: Sarah Swafford. Mrs. Swafford is the founder of Emotional Virtue Ministries., which aims to empower young adults to align our hearts so that we are free to love authentically. One of her talks that I’d LOVE to hear is “Emotional Chastity – Love, Emotions, Taylor Swift, Mental Stalking & Mr. Right.”

(She also very generously provided a lovely endorsement of my book. Thank you!!)

[7]

Book:

I get a little Romans-esque!

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Rm 12:1)

Gloria Jean: “The Eucharist is Jesus’s body given up for all of us, right? And we’re supposed to be thankful that he’s made this sacrifice. Miss Tompkins said we’re meant to sacrifice too. Maybe [Celiac] disease is like a built-in system for sacrifice, and it’s up to me to figure out how to make it worthwhile.”

And here’s the endorsement:

“It is so refreshing to find a novel that resonates with the life and
heart of a 21st-century teen! Faith, virtue, and love are cleverly
woven into the everyday struggles and victories of life. I’m excited
to add Ten Commandments for Kissing Gloria Jean to the list of books I
can wholeheartedly recommend!” – Sarah Swafford, Emotional Virtue
Ministries

NAS: Dos and Don’ts of First Dates

Hello again! Apologies for the lack of blogging. I draft these on work breaks and lately just haven’t been able to post them. Plus last week I kinda sorta maybe didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t progressing very much with my healthy, wealthy, and wise goals. But I soldier on!

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This week’s NAS topic: First Dates!

What are those things that we should be doing, and the things that we shouldn’t be doing? They can be from the physical parts (clothes to wear, places to go, things to say) or emotional parts (talking about it all the time, planning the future, etc). We can all learn something in hindsight, so what are your tips to share?

First and foremost, DO be sure that this is a date—not a “come to this party where I might mack on another girl later;” not a “I’m going to the mall for a present for my mom, want to tag along?”; not a “I got a spare ticket to the game, and my buddies will be all around us”; but an honest to goodness date—he is taking you out to get to know you better.

Do wear a flattering outfit appropriate for the occasion and what you are comfortable in—but punched up one notch above your everyday clothes, either with accessories, shoes, or something. Spring is coming for the northern gals, and you will be a wonder and delight in a skirt or casual dress next to those still in jeans or yoga pants. (But if you absolutely do not want to wear a dress or skirt, at least wear a pretty top over a dressier jean—think dark wash—and accessories). Some may want to revoke my feminist card (the one that says women are cool, treat us with equal dignity) for what I’m about to say, but I really believe many guys appreciate it when we dress in a feminine way. Let’s put it this way: I’ve always gotten compliments, second glances, eye twinkles in skirts, dresses, lacy tops; and almost no attention when in jeans and an unremarkable sweater or top.

Do go somewhere slightly active and that expresses a common interest, public (especially if you met the guy online), relaxed enough to talk, and with both an escape hatch to leave early if needed and a proximity to another venue to continue a great date. Mr. Sweet and I went apple picking and decided to have lunch at a food truck and do a zip line course.

Don’t go to a movie that eats up the time available to actually learn about one another. Don’t do anything too intimate like cooking dinner at one of your homes.

Do explain the whys behind specifics and engage him in the conversation: “I like Mumford and Sons because…who’s your favorite band and why” not “I like folk rock. What do you like?”

Do ask open-ended, fun questions that reveal a little about the person: “What was the most memorable experience you had while traveling?” Don’t get stuck in a “yes-or-no” rut and don’t forget to ask follow-up questions.

Do show your character: be courteous to wait staff, say thank you, etc.

Don’t mention the following words unless you’ve known the guy, the subject comes up, and you’re speaking about issues generally and not personally or specifically: wedding, marriage (to you), babies, your ex’s name, his ex’s name (if you know), sex, money, politics.

Do speak up if something is a deal breaker and would compromise your enjoying the rest of your time together. Do be honest at the end of the date that the deal breaker (if not an action, but mentality) probably precludes a future for the two of you. Thank him for the time together and wish him well. You don’t want to waste your time, or his for that matter.

Do know that you can leave at any time if the situation merits it. I don’t think it’s necessary Houdini it out the bathroom window, force your friends to accompany you to the mall or even receive fake emergency calls. Simply say: “That makes me uncomfortable. I feel it best I should go. Have a good evening/day.”

Do end the date when you realize you could continue the conversation into the night. Don’t tell all your stories. Save something for dates beyond the first.

Do offer to pay. After surveying several guys of all different stripes, most like the “wallet grab.” They have every intention of paying, but want to know that a) you’re not taking them for granted or b) they get a chance to show off their chivalry.

DO take them up on his offer to pay. Don’t protest. And then if you are moving on to drinks after ice skating or dessert after dinner or are already planning the second date, do say that you would like to treat him. Hopefully y’all will fall into a natural rhythm of mutual treating and charity.

Do smile!