All posts by J.R. Baldwin

J.R. Baldwin is the Editor-in-chief at Ignitum Today. A former statehouse reporter, she teaches history for a classical school and writes for The Imaginative Conservative. She blogs at The Corner With A View, and tweets from @thejulieview. A Midwesterner by birth, she lives out East with her husband and bebes.

NFP as a Mama of Three

It’s the end of NFP Awareness Week, so I’m going to throw in a few cents as a mama with three kids under three.

Natural Family Planning is getting to know the woman’s fertility through various means (mucus, hormone monitor, basal thermometer, etc.) and then, making a decision about when to have sex in order to avoid, conceive or whatever. This is called TTA (trying to avoid), TTC (trying to conceive) and TTW (trying to whatever).

My husband Will and I have a child from each of these. G. was a TTW – we were open to having a baby, and based on where I was in my cycle, we had a 5 percent chance of conceiving. L. was TTC – we wanted to have another baby close to G. S. was TTA – the postpartum method we were using was not successful, and his conception was considered a method failure. This does not mean that NFP = children even when you are avoiding. Plenty of people successfully avoid using the same method. To me, this means that God wanted Stephen in our lives. I cannot imagine life without this chunky monkey. Practically, I also changed how I track my fertility postpartum!

This time around, I started charting with my teacher before my 56 days were up. After a lady has a baby, she is definitely infertile for the first 56 days. After that, even if you are breastfeeding, your fertility can come back (as we learned) before the usual six months. It is unusual, but it does happen.

We are currently using the Marquette method and working closely with a wonderful teacher as we navigate the postpartum period. Since I do not have any health problems we have to work around, this is the easiest method for us. Every morning, I pee on a stick (we buy with Amazon’s subscribe and save – a steal! Especially with five or more items, you get a 15 percent discount) and my ClearBlue monitor (Also on sale with Prime currently) tells me if my fertility is low, high, or peak.

From the Marquette website:

The Marquette Model (MM) system of NFP brings 21st century technology to NFP by using the ClearBlue Easy Fertility Monitor, a device used at home which measures hormone levels in urine to estimate the beginning and end of the time of fertility in a women’s menstrual cycle. The information from the monitor can be used in conjunction with observations of cervical mucus, basal body temperature, or other biological indicators of fertility. The MM was developed by professional nurses and physicians at Marquette University in the late 1990s. A recent (2007) study published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing demonstrated a 97-98% efficacy of the MM in avoiding pregnancy when taught by a qualified teacher and correctly applied.

There is more protocol in terms of how many days one should avoid post-peak, and postpartum pre-peak vs. postpartum post-peak, but that is not what this post is about. This post is about why Will and I choose NFP over other methods.

The easiest place to start is our faith. We’re Roman Catholic, and as part of our Christian faith, we practice total fidelity. We do not use artificial contraception. The Church does not require us to use NFP, but it does advocate responsible parenthood. “Be fruitful and multiple” does not mean have more children than your sanity, bank account and body can handle. The Church’s teaching must be seen through the eyes of total love; it is for communion of body and soul, not a separation.

That being said, NFP is not a Catholic-only method. I know many non-Catholics who use it. Leah Libresco, a Catholic convert from atheism, recently wrote on learning NFP while engaged. She recommends Toni Weschler’s Taking Charge of Your Fertility, which teaches FAM – Fertility Awareness Method, or NFP + barrier methods during avoiding times. TCOYF is the definitive text for learning about one’s fertility, reproductive health and charting. This is not only for married folk – charting is the best way to understand how your body is working, and learning to recognize  and interpret changes.

Next, is science. Unlike the popular myth that all NFP methods are the same (or the rhythm method), a woman’s fertility is unique and scientists like those at Marquette University, or Dr. Hilgers with his Creighton method, are actively studying women’s fertility and have proven, peer-reviewed methods of helping women avoid and achieve pregnancy when practiced correctly. I say “correctly” because this is the danger of NFP – a woman can get pregnant. But this happens to people using birth control methods as well, so I’m nonplussed about this part. I truly think that NFP is as valid a method to avoid and achieve, with the bonus of *knowing* one’s fertility (no more guesswork!) and creating an incredible bond with your spouse.

We use the Kindara app to chart – so well organized and a beautiful design. I love that I can add-in more information than what is provided already too.

Finally: love. There is nothing more trust-building than two spouses on board with fertility planning. The husband is equally as involved as his wife; he carries responsibility as she does. This is not always easy. Will and I did not pick NFP because we enjoy this challenge; but is it worth it? Absolutely. We practice fidelity to one another; open communication; incredible vulnerability; respect and acceptance of the total person; value and honor for God’s design; true self-sacrifice. The benefits, for us, outweigh the fear.

True love must know sacrifice. This is why our wedding vows speak of leaving our mother and father and joining to our spouse. The current statistics on divorce is about 50 percent, which is terrifying. NFP users have a lower rate – hovering around 9.5 percent. Having sex is not just for creating a child. It’s also for bonding! But the accountability and responsibility is still there, and we take that seriously.

It’s hard to be pregnant. It might not seem that way, especially coming from someone who has had three successful pregnancies in three years. We were open to that. We were open to that challenge. I would not recommend this path to most people, but we feel very blessed to have our three children and be in a position to care for them. It should not, however, and is not to be taken for granted. People love asking if we’re done now that we’ve had our boy. Hopefully not! Will and I are still discerning, as is part of our marriage.

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“Which Method of NFP Is Right For Me?” quiz

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I love strolling down memory lane. I love thinking about all the walks we went on while dating and engaged; hiking and talking about Big, Philosophical questions and telling stories and discussing what we wanted in life. Will and I decided that we wanted to spend our lives together – eating and grocery shopping; chores and cleaning up after little people; in good times and in bad; in morning sickness and in health. I thought I loved Will when we got engaged, and even more when we got married. And I did. I love him even more now. Be assured that marriage is hard for us too, and NFP is harder. There is a lot of dying to self. NFP strips away the pretension and the pride, and leaves us to face our own reality. Each NFP experience is unique, and I like knowing that it is part of our love story. It’s anecdotal evidence, but in the search for fullness of the human experience, what else is there?

They Call Today “Good”

Every Triduum, starting with Maundy Thursday through Easter Sunday, I re-read T.S. Eliot’s “The Four Quartets”. It is four of his best poems, and for anyone who only knows his poetry ala in “The Hollow Man” or “The Wasteland” (critiques of modernity, not praise), his words may be surprising.

For instance, it is in “East Coker”, the second of the quartet, in which Eliot wrote,
The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

Crucifixion Icon by Olga Christine

How can this Friday be good? Today Jesus was denied, whipped, humiliated, crucified. And why? In today’s gospel, John remind us that all this happens to fulfill the Scriptures. Jesus accepted the cup his father passed him – he accepted, fully, what must happen. Did he have the power to prove himself, as Satan tempted him to in the desert? Of course. But the hardness of the high priests should not be softened by might, but by truth.

What is truth? asked Pilate; a question so modern still that audiences cannot help but relate. Good Friday is the day when Jesus seems the most human. He is condemned and he dies. We are reminded in the second reading that “we do not have a high priest/ who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,/ but one who has similarly been tested in every way,/ yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Indeed, as the reading continues (Heb 5:7-9):
In the days when Christ was in the flesh,
he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears
to the one who was able to save him from death,
and he was heard because of his reverence.
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered;
and when he was made perfect,
he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

The goodness of this day lies in Jesus’ very passion for us all; a love to conquer death, a truth that “I AM” is a witness as well as a declaration. Today, the veil has been torn and we enter Golgotha, the place of skulls. The King of the Jews is dead, and so Eliot finishes his poem: “In the end is my beginning.”

Today was hard. Today was terrible. Today was good. We wait. The tomb is close by…

Book Review: The Thrill of the Chaste (Catholic Edition)

The Thrill of the Chaste:Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On by Dawn Eden
Ave Maria Press, $15.95

One gets the idea that a fruit of the Spirit needs better PR when even practicing Catholics seem skeptical of the topic of chastity. Whenever I mentioned reading Dawn Eden’s newest book (an updated Catholic version of her first edition Protestant-leaning book), the title alone gave most people pause (“oh!”), or a reason to raise an eyebrow and smirk, or avoid my eyes like I was putting them on the spot. One friend quipped, “I think my mom would like to be in a book club with you!”

Fortunately for them, I gave a speedy synopsis with a smile and solid encouragement to read this book. Single, involved, discerning, consecrated or married – every human being can practice chastity happily, and for the sake of love.

Those who do not know Dawn Eden’s story are in for a treat – raised in the Jewish faith, an agnostic, a survivor of sexual abuse, and a journalist in New York City finds herself a Christian in adulthood, and later on, is received into the Catholic Church. She has dedicated her life to studying, writing and speaking on chastity, love and God – which is good for us, because we all need better advocates for it.

Chastity is not afraid of sex: chastity is a reverence of sex. Dawn’s own life gives witness to the fruits of this virtue, when actively sought. The book really gets interesting in the second chapter: entitled “Why It’s Easy to Blame Mom and Dad (And Why You Shouldn’t)”, we glimpse into a family affected by divorce.  Just as parents should not take credit for their child’s good behavior (because, ultimately, it is the child choosing goodness), children should not blame their parents for mistakes. Could parents have taught better, been better examples, said the “right” thing? Absolutely. This type of guidance is invaluable. But for the truth seeker, one’s parents cannot be the only light to goodness.

Behind the scenes of this book is one of the more interesting characters: Dawn’s mom. She and Dawn’s father divorced when she was 5, and she pursued a hedonistic lifestyle for most of Dawn’s formational years. She also, however, kept reverence of the Sabbath and attended synagogue with her daughters. Through all the messes she made, and people she knew, she ended up in the Catholic Church years before Dawn considered giving her life to Christ. This kind of influence, while not overly expanded upon, is not lost on the reader.

Dawn says that she lost her innocence before she ever had sex, when she “learned it was possible to separate sexual sensation from love.” She believes people do this so as to detach, which is a means to protect one’s self. Protecting oneself, say, from the reality that sex without love and commitment isn’t as satisfying or desired. Most discussions on sex are tedious, because they’re broken up into “pro-love” or “anti-sex” camps, which leaves no room for real discussion. This book changes the discussion because chastity is given its own stage.

If the generally accepted definition of chastity is refraining from sexual intercourse outside of marriage, then what do people who are married or who do not want to practice chastity gain from this book? A new perspective, if given the chance. Dawn tells her story, threading it with literature, Scripture, Catholic theology and logic. She writes, “I learned, through discovering chastity, that the greatest tragedy is not that of being unloved. The greatest tragedy is not loving.” Pushing culture away from its “spiritual bulimia” and allowing our faith to be a living reality, the call to love authentically is found in all vocations.

Chastity is just as important in marriage as it is in holy orders; it is an invitation to taste heaven. As Dawn writes,

If you want to receive the love for which you hunger, the first step is to admit to yourself that you have the hunger, with everything it entails: weakness, vulnerability, and the feeling of an empty space inside. To tell yourself simply, “I’ll be happy once I have someone to love,” is to deny the depth and seriousness of your longing. It turns the hunger into a superficial desire for flesh and blood when we really want is someone to share divine love with us, to be for us “God with skin on.”

The story of the Samaritan woman is the crux of this book, because it ties into the reality that no one is beyond the graces of God. Jesus offers each of us his “living water” – the water that quenches beyond the immediate physical needs of life. We cannot deny that our spirituality is inherently intertwined with our physical body. This book encourages each of us to stop telling ourself “This is who I am!” and start saying, “This is who I am becoming!”

Even if you are not Catholic or practicing, this book is an excellent introduction to the subject of chastity, and its relevance in experience, seeped in theology reflection, gives insight to those who want a new twist on an old subject. Chastity is not just a “no” to sex; it is a “yes” to more. It is an investment in yourself and your relationships, and it is a backboard to start the much-needed conversation in today’s society. Dawn Eden’s book is beautifully written and has much to offer. The clarity of her message is invaluable to our conversation on sexuality, and challenges us towards heroic virtue and not selling love’s potential short.

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In addendum: if you or a loved one has been touched by sexual abuse, Dawn wrote another book called My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints, which is highly recommended.

Review: A.D. The Bible Continues Companion Books

Until the end of July, everyone can watch A.D. The Bible Continues – and what better way to engage the Bible but through a visual representation?

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A.D. The Bible Continues (NBC) is a dramatization of the first ten chapters of Acts, and starts with Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. The episodes are produced by Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel), Mark Burnett, and Richard Bedser, and is a sequel to their 2013 series The Bible.

Sophia Institute Press has published two books alongside this series: A.D. Catholic Viewer’s Guide by Veronica Burchard and Ministers and Martyrs: The Ultimate Catholic Guide to the Apostolic Age by Mike Aquilina.

A.D. Catholic Viewer’s Guide is enjoyable for group and personal study, as well as for watching the program. The book is ordered by the 12 episodes and provides a nice visual breakdown of the timelines, maps, characters, and terms. The reader is also given Scripture selections to help have a fuller understanding and context, which I really appreciated. Reading the text is as important as understanding the text and the history surrounding it, even if the words transcend time.

I really like the discussion questions — to often, we’re not asking the right questions. We’re absorbing and not thinking differently, so as to more fully understand. There are also Catholic take-aways, which is a good jumping off point for engaging the Catechism, if the reader so chooses. There are also prayers to help this guide more pointedly help our spiritual life.

The background reading in this book is provided by Mike Aquilina, the author of the second book – Ministers and Martyrs. If the reader is looking for a more intellectual understanding of Acts and this series, Aquilina is the writer to give it to you. His writing is accessible for people of all backgrounds to understand, and it is important for people to read, especially to understand the Church’s beginning. Aquiline writes, “The God Peter preached was not a solitary being, but an eternal communion. The God revealed on Pentecost was interpersonal. Only of such a deity could the Apostles say: “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16).

It is in the very title of the book that we readers can grasp our true calling as Christians: martyrs and ministers. Aquiline discussing the holiness of these basic roles, and in their simplest form, the kind of death both would experience by witnessing to the faith. We do not live in a country where Christianity is illegal, but we do live in a world where standing with Christ is as unacceptable today as it was in the early Church. Christianity is a radical love story with the most ordinary of people giving their lives to Christ in extraordinary ways.

thumbThe early Church faced many challenges that we continue to face today, including gnosticism, and the separation many of us feel between members of our own faith! Aquilina writes, “Paul considered God’s eternal oneness to be the source and model of the unity of Christians. The Church’s communion is a share in the eternal bond of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Thus, division in the Church is an affront to God. It is a desecration of the divine image.” Just as we must love one another as we love ourselves, as we are made in the image of God.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, in his forward of this book, writes, “It is good for us to go back, often, to study the lives of the early Christians. Their faith had a freshness, a sense of surprises, that we can learn and recover for ourselves. God, after all, is as youthful as ever; Jesus still has the capacity to suddenly astonish people who think they know him well.” These books are treasure troves of information, and worthy reading companions to both the television series and the book of Acts itself.

DISCLAIMER: This set was sent to me by Sophia Institute Press for my honest review. 

Internet Ire and Righteous Results

The readings for February 6, 2015:

First reading: HEB 13:1-8
Responsorial Psalm: PS 27:1, 3, 5, 8B-9ABC
Alleluia: LK 8:15
Gospel: MK 6:14-29

Google-pope
Pope Francis “hanging out” via Google with kids with disabilities from around the world

There is a lot of hostility being generated in the online worlds. I teach my history students that this is the result of fear. Fear prompts a tongue lashing, or a dismissing of people and ideas. Fear prompts distrust, disloyalty, and a vengeful spirit. There is no peace where there is fear, and the growth of hate.

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid? 

Who do we hate? We hate the ones who disagree with us, who challenge us. We hate that our pope makes gaffes (like we all do – and none ex cathedra, I might add). We hate when fellow Catholics misrepresent the universal Catholic Church. The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen rightly said, “Not 100 in the United States hate the Roman Catholic Church, but millions hate what they mistakenly think the Roman Catholic Church is.” The kaleidoscope of faith should keep us humble. Too often, however, we miss the irony of ourselves not showing mercy and love to others.

Blessed are they who have kept the word with a generous heart,
and yield a harvest through perseverance.

The ability to be kind in the face of cruelty is the redemption of humanity; to seek to benefit others, not just ourselves; to spread love instead of coveting it; to know the race is worth running, even when we struggle to keep up. This is what sainthood means: to be generous in this life as God is with us, and to bring Christ to others in reflection of the way He seeks us. To know of Christ and to know Christ are two different hearts.

Let brotherly love continue.
Do not neglect hospitality,
for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.

In all our interactions, we must love. These are the greatest commandments. It is our love of God which motivates us to love our neighbor as ourself. Hospitality is in the home, yes, and in all interactions. The internet is not a safe-zone. It is a place where hearts can be met, changed, and nourished. Today, let us not be as King Herod – let us not slaughter the righteous because they mis-worded their argument, or believe something we disagree with, or fear others if we do not publicly act in a certain way.

Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you.
Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Jesus Christ is the same forever, no matter what someone’s Facebook post or Tweet said. Let the Lord be our light!

A Servant’s Heart

Last night, my husband Will and I put our little daughter Grace to bed and had our first moments of alone time… barely, before Will had to leave to go to work until 7 a.m. I became a barnacle while he talked to me, and before I went downstairs to fix his dinner and coffee, I begged him not to go.

“Okay, I’ll just quit my job,” he said, hugging me.

“Wait,” I replied, turning my head out of his chest. “I can’t support you and your extravagant lifestyle. I’ll fix your sandwich.”

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Our growing family

It’s the joke that always gets a smile – quitting residency, even though it’s what we’ve talked about since our dating days. The promise of residency started this marriage during medical school. Two graduations later, here we are: and I am ready to be done. Yes I, who only venture into the hospital to provide Dr. Husband with sustenance during long shifts, accompany him while he returns a library book, or wait for him in the lobby to meet us post-shift (if someone – could be Grace, could be me – is feeling the cabin fever), am tired of residency.

Five months in, and it’s really not so bad. Will’s rotations haven’t been the worst, just different. Okay, some of them are the worst. I’m not a fan of these overnights, but this week, he only has three in a row plus a 4 pm to 2 am shift. I think logging is the real time snatcher – hours spent with patient files, detailed and signed. Oh, and having to go from an overnight shift to grand rounds, like husband will do tomorrow.

It always seems like the better thing to do – quitting. I get tired of therapy, tired of teaching classes, tired of Grace’s teething interrupting her nap schedule… and then wondering how I’m going to handle the second sweet thing in a few months. Ug, where is my desert island with a Wegmans and an internet connection? When can I nap without a baby monitor?

Then Will tells me about his patients. He tells me the funny stories and the sad stories. He tells me of cases he’s proud of, and what he needs to work on.

I tell him about my day – what Grace is eating, how well she’s self-feeding (and what she’s throwing off her tray today), how therapy went that day (and other general activities we’ve done together), what I taught during class, how my work load is treating me, and anything I’ve read that day or thoughts I toss around for discussion.

Some days, we see each other for a few hours. Other days, the whole day. Today was less time than usual, but more than yesterday. I like doing simple chores with him – cleaning the kitchen, tidying up, feeding Grace dinner, playing with Grace and reading to Grace. After a day of “go-go-go”, even being together feels relaxing.

Then he’s back at work, and I’m at home, half-working on a powerpoint for my younger kids, and half-blogging. And I realize how lucky we are to be on this journey together. A classmate of Will’s has been sick for the past few months, working himself to the bare minimum. I made extra soup, loaded up some favorite sick foods and drinks, and texted him stop over on his way home (we live by the hospital). He kept saying we were being too nice, but why pursue medicine if not to help heal the body–and soul too? To add a quality to another’s life?

The thing about residency is that it is hard – yes. This is the last stage of training for doctors. Will calls this the “hand-holding” stage. In medical school, you mostly observed and sometimes got to sew someone up. In residency, you’re officially an M.D. with a prescription pad and both you and the patient have the deer in headlights look: What’s wrong? No, I’m asking you. Oh, you’re asking me?

The other thing about residency is that it is worth it: the kind of satisfaction Will gets from helping his patients is obvious by how hard he studies those ridiculously thick books with little lettering. He’s reading his ICU book this month for next month’s rotation. He wants to be able – more than capable, more than confident – and the more I think about it, that’s what a lot of us strive for, if we choose the challenge.

The ability to be, and do. I love teaching my students. I love talking about history and doing Socratic method discussion. It’s not enough to memorize – context is king, understanding is relevant. The same goes for being a mom: do I wish Grace would stop pulling my hair and trying to swipe my glasses? Absolutely. But I can never wish her other than what she is, because taking care of my baby – especially through the harder days – is what gives me deeper purpose. It reminds me that I am here to serve. We are all here to serve

At a dear friend’s wedding a few months ago, the song after communion was “The Servant Song”; it was breathtaking way to begin their marriage:

“Will you let me be your servant? Let me as Christ to you? Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.”

As Will and I approach our second anniversary, we feel our marriage is stronger. We have always loved each other, and in two years, that love has manifested in many different acts: the way he takes care of me when I am preggo-nauseous, the way I make sure he eats, our mutual love of playing with Grace, and the way we rely on each other so completely. Will has a complete servant heart, whether he is with a friend, with family, or at work with a colleague or patient. He is a doer – he leads by doing. He blesses me daily with his goodness, love and support, and I have learned to let him take care of me too.

This servant’s heart of his is why I try not to bemoan his shift work, or electives. He is learning to better serve the people of our community, and future communities. Many of Will’s cases in the emergency room are not emergencies – but they are emotionally urgent for the families. The baby with a low-grade fever who wouldn’t stop crying at 3 a.m. The 91 year old lady he spent four hours trying to resuscitate. The statutory rape victim who is 28 weeks pregnant (same as me). The woman who miscarried at 13 weeks. The traumas, the abdominal pains, the headaches.

“We are pilgrims on a journey, we are brothers on the road. We are here to help each other, walk the line and bear the load.”

Residency feels hard for the spouse at home, watching the clock, bearing the load of laundry (my nemesis), unloading and re-loading the dishwasher, and forever tidying the same room over and over again, like Sisyphus pushing his rock up the mountain (only to have it roll back to the bottom!). It is essential that I recognize how good my work is too, though I don’t need a specialized degree or license to act upon it. I can emotionally support him on the tough days, and provide a safe, loving home. And we hope, by example, that we will teach our children what it means to serve and love, and be able to graciously accept service and love in return.

Love is Patient, Love is Kind

My baby woke me up at 11, 2, 4 and 6:30 am. The bug bites keep me uncomfortable. I miss my husband – we’ve been apart for almost one month. I am surrounded by my family, the people who I love the best and who know all my buttons. They fix me breakfast and take care of Grace so I can nap. Their love is patient, their love is kind.

But they get annoyed with me and I get annoyed with them. They sometimes forget what “baby nap time/ QUIET TIME” means. I can be royally crabby without five consecutive hours of sleep. It takes a lot of self-awareness to say, They are not deserving of my frustrations. They deserve my patience, my kindness, my love – especially when I do not feel it, I must act thus.

Today’s first reading is 2 Corinthians 4:7-15; it begins:

Brothers and sisters: We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

We must remember that we are always in the presence of Jesus — we have life in him! And so we must love, and be loving, for: “Everything indeed is for you, so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God.” We must live so that grace overflows — we must love so that people know Jesus and his Sacred Heart, know his Passion.

This may read “easier said than acted upon,” and that is always true. The responsorial today, from Psalm 126, repeats, “Those who sow in tears shall reap rejoicing.” Life is hard, and life has suffering. And life is worth living for the joy we can experience.

The possibilities of overcoming and the want of sharing and giving love to others, not just seeking to receive others’ love. We must rejoice in the challenge, and rejoice in the strength that Christ gives us through his love. He does not leave us unarmed for the hardships, but we must be willing to pick up our yoke and follow him.

It is our patience through our endeavors, and our knowledge that this world is not the final frontier. It is not wrong to seek success, especially if our vocation can bring others to Christ in the process.

Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew (20:20-28) today, “Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

We wear many hats in this life. Mine include wife, mother, daughter, sister, editor and teacher. All of these roles I am proud to have, and all of these roles challenge me far beyond my own abilities. It is in my specific vocation that I serve the ones I love, and serve those who need my love.

I practice patience and kindness so as to further the Kingdom, and I love because Jesus loves and shows me how to love beyond my desire — love when I am tired, frustrated, lonely and peeved. Compassion must always prevail.

Love is patient, love is kind, and love is God. May we all love each other better today.

Sacred Heart, Change My Heart

Today is the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The feast was requested in reparation for the ingratitude for the sacrifice that Christ made for us. This feast day also means we can eat meat today (Canon 1251), which is another reason to rejoice.

I have a special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The image of Jesus and his Sacred Heart was on my fridge during my childhood. In college, the Sacred Heart helped me discern marriage as my vocation in life. After college, I prayed to the Sacred Heart to let me lose my want of marriage and for me to bear fruit during my single period. By Christmas, I did. I was completely happy and content as a single person. As blessings befall, I met my to-be husband Will a week or so later.

I prayed a Sacred Heart novena before Will and I started dating: for Will to show initiative, and for me to be content in whatever happened in the course of our relationship. In those months leading up to our engagement, it was the first relationship I felt free to love and be loved; I also felt comfortable enough that, even though we loved each other, if it did not work out, I could have broken up with him with a knowing heart. We talked about it, even, as we talked towards marriage. It was Christ alone who put such peace in my heart.

The modern devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was led by Sr. Marguerite Marie Alacoque, a French nun and mystic who lived from 1647 to 1690. She had visions of Christ and increased devotion to the Sacred Heart. If people keep this devotion, our Lord told Sr. Marguerite Marie, he promises 12 things:

1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life.
2. I will give peace in their families.
3. I will console them in all their troubles.
4. I will be their refuge in life and especially in death.
5. I will abundantly bless all their undertakings.
6. Sinners shall find in my Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
7. Tepid souls shall become fervent.
8. Fervent souls shall rise speedily to great perfection.
9. I will bless those places wherein the image of my Sacred Heart shall be exposed and venerated.
10. I will give to priests the power to touch the most hardened hearts.
11. Persons who propagate this devotion shall have their names eternally written in my Heart.
12. In the excess of the mercy of my Heart, I promise you that my all powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the First Fridays, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance: they will not die in my displeasure, nor without receiving the sacraments; and my Heart will be their secure refuge in that last hour.

“And He [Christ] showed me that it was His great desire of being loved by men and of withdrawing them from the path of ruin that made Him form the design of manifesting His Heart to men, with all the treasures of love, of mercy, of grace, of sanctification and salvation which it contains, in order that those who desire to render Him and procure Him all the honour and love possible, might themselves be abundantly enriched with those divine treasures of which His heart is the source.”
— from Revelations of Our Lord to St. Mary Margaret Alacoque

Pope Leo XIII consecrated the world to the Sacred Heart in 1899. The Sacred Heart novena starts, “O my Jesus, you have said: “Truly I say to you, ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.” Behold I knock, I seek and ask for the grace of [mention the purpose of your prayer]”

Then, your intention(s), followed by an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be, and ends, “Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you. Amen.”

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is my go-to prayer for all of the ups and down in our marriage, and I feel so grateful for the ability to stay close to his heart when I feel the winds push hard against my life.

Thank you, Jesus! Your Sacred Heart continues to change my heart.

Book Review: Under the Influence of Jesus

Under the Influence of Jesus: The Transforming Experience of Encountering Christ by Joe Paprocki (Loyola Press, 168 pages, $15.95)

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Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by Loyola Press for my honest review.

Accessible, humorous, earnest, and faithful are all words I would use to describe the latest book by Joe Paprocki, a national consultant on faith formation for Loyola Press.

Paprocki discusses what a relationship with Jesus is and is not, and how it manifests in our hearts. What happens when we are truly inebriated with the love of Christ is a “subtle but observable” transformation in our personal lives, one to prompt others to ask us about our joy (1 Peter 3:15).

The book is manageable, sitting under 200 pages. The writing style is conversational. Paprocki frequently invokes modern culture to help make a clear picture or better connection for the reader. For people looking to have a more intimate, sincere relationship with Jesus, he also gives practical advice about how best to start, grow, and truly know the greatness of our God.

I love Papracki’s advice on “vision therapy” and how to daily engage your senses to recognize God in your life. He shows a very real and alive faith, and explains the habits we can form to encourage our journey to carry our own cross.

Too often, people feel pressure to “be” a certain kind of Christian. Paprocki writes, “Likewise, the Gospels make it clear that following Jesus, while transformative at the spiritual level, does not require us to become something we are not. Rather, we are to become a more authentic version of who we are, continuing to do what we do but with a new, single-hearted focus.” In Christ, we are fully ourselves, and we use our unique gifts to help serve the Church and our fellow humans. Peter and Paul were both essential to the Church, just as Mary and Martha served the Lord in different ways. It is in our individuality that joy is made manifest to many.

The book shows the multi-faceted sides of our Lord, and warmly brings the reader in; the Scripture passages used feel well-timed and placed. Paprocki reminds us that “Jesus does not desire fans who cheer from the sidelines but rather friends who will roll up their sleeves and work shoulder to shoulder with him to build the kingdom of God.” Discipleship is an invitation for more; a desire planted in the heart to serve.

Paprocki invites the readers to personally know Jesus: the Word made flesh – for “it touched heaven, but it stood upon the earth” (Wisdom 18:16). This book is worth studying and savoring in the pursuit to best know our faith. The title of the book refers to the centuries old prayer Anima Christi: “Soul of Christ, sanctify me; Body of Christ, save me; Blood of Christ, inebriate me.” The book encourages us all to experience life in Christ, and with him.

Daily Readings: Your Grief Will Become Joy

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter mass readings

The responsorial response sets the tone for today’s readings: “God is king of all the earth.”

The first readings in Acts, Paul passed on a message from the Lord: ““Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you. No one will attack and harm you, for I have many people in this city.”

The Jews went up against Paul, saying,“This man is inducing people to worship God contrary to the law.” The governor of the province dismissed the case, saying that as their complaint was about doctrine and titles, and not any “crime or malicious fraud” – so he would not judge it. The Jews, in turn, publicly beat a synagogue official in retribution, and Paul stayed quiet and left for Syria (then shaved his head, because he made a vow).

It is not hard to picture the above scene: Paul is going against the human response of squashing truth by any means possible, including in violation of religious laws. The cards are stacked and the schism is felt: Christianity has arrived, and they are attracting more and more followers. By publicly attempting to control Paul’s message, the Jews were attempting to put fear in his (and other Christians’s hearts); but Christ came for peace, in our hearts and in the world. And so we keep quiet, when necessary, and continue to carry on with our mission. Paul did not gloat that the case was thrown out and he did not verbally attack or taunt – he kept quiet, so the ease the pain many of those people may have been feelings.

Fear often motivates bullying. In the Gospel, another side of feeling overly burdened:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn,
while the world rejoices;
you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.
When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived;
but when she has given birth to a child,
she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy
that a child has been born into the world.
So you also are now in anguish.
But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice,
and no one will take your joy away from you.
On that day you will not question me about anything.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”

And when you ask God the Father for a new car, please be aware that the Gospel is not about material possessions any more than it is about winning Facebook arguments. There will be pain and suffering – even an epidural will not take away birth pangs or the effort that goes into bringing a new creation forth into the world. There is goodness in the struggle; there is light in the darkness.

I have noticed, especially in the Catholic blogosphere, the permeance of negativity. Instead of seeking Truth, we seek to Be Right – and often on topics that are going to be differences of opinion. For some of those topics, the Church gives us nice parameters. On other topics, we must reasonably discuss with compassion. For though God is the king of all, our world is still permeated with sin. We still grieve, and we still cling to our joy.

We must not be afraid to share the Gospel and the Good News: we must also not be afraid to let go of hurts and the ability to belittle another. We must know that our fellow Christians are supporting each other, loving each other, even when we misunderstand each other. The best advice a priest ever gave me was this: “You do not have to like a person, but you must love them.”

When we love each other, we curate joy. God gives us the grace to overcome our sins and glorify the Kingdom. And when in doubt, sing this in response: “All you peoples, clap your hands,/ shout to God with cries of gladness,/ For the LORD, the Most High, the awesome,/ is the great king over all the earth.”

His will be done: may our words and deeds be blessed, and may we be silent as Paul was, if necessary, in order to further the message of hope and love.

When People Make Mistakes (But Not You!)

Life, in all its glory, is pretty messy. Sin skips and trips us through life as we try to be faithful and nothing halts us up more than the compare and contrast game.

You know the game: Why did she do that? Can you believe he said that? I would never…

You would never… lie or cheat, commit adultery or covet your neighbor’s good fortune, speak poorly about another to the advantage of your own reputation?

The golden rule — to love our neighbors as ourselves — is not a friendly suggestion:  It is a commandment of God, and it teaches our heart to love until it hurts. And it will hurt, sometimes. Loving another does not mean liking them. It means giving them the benefit of the doubt, holding your own tongue from a harsh rebuke, gentle counseling when they are taking the wrong path, and forgiving.

It means training your mind to combat the vices planted by jealousy: why not me?

Instead of why not me, try, What does God have planned for me?

We all have a different story to tell, a different vocation to fulfill, and our own life to lead. None of us are in charted waters all our life; mistakes will happen. Things will not go as planned; but do not give up hope! God wants the kind of relationship where you wrestle together through the rough patches, like Jacob, unwilling to let go until he received his blessing.

As Holy Week approaches, let us remember that Christ died for us and our sins, and your neighbor and his sins, and that lady who honked her horn at you, and the co-worker whose jokes rub you the wrong way, and the guy who would not just take a hint. Instead of stewing, turn toward prayer. The Book of Lamentations, Job and the Psalms are full of frustrations.

Saint Ambrose wrote in Explanatio Psalmorum (XII, 1, 4, 7-12),

“In the book of Psalms, the way for progress for all men is to be found, and there lies the medicine for the health of all. Whoever reads it, will find the way to cure the wounds of one’s own defects with a specific prescription. Whoever takes the trouble to look at it will find, as on a training ground for virtues, various kinds of exhibitions. And one can choose for oneself, whatever one considers most suitable. The prize is thus more easily within one’s grasp.”

The reality is, we are humans prone to sin. Only God is infallible, and it is wisdom that recognizes our own fallibility as well as that of others’. Instead to dismissing or condemning, we should see others’ weaknesses as an opportunity to be a non-judgmental listener, a support system, and/or, someone to pray with and for them, and hope that they see our own weaknesses in a similar merciful light.

It does no good to say or think: If I had been in that situation, I would have acted differently. We can only learn, and lean more on God. Jesus, I trust in you. Holy Spirit, fill me with courage – give me the words to say.

The sooner we remember that we are responsible for loving God above all and our neighbors as ourselves, the sooner we can forgive as our Heavenly Father forgives, and love as our Heavenly Father loves.

When Dating Is Hard

First, there is the question of meeting someone. And if you meet a person you like so much, and maybe they like you too, the bigger questions start to emerge. Our short-term selves may want to be in a relationship, but our long-term selves need to consider the investment dating requires of each of us.

Here are a few questions to consider:

Does this person respect me? My time, my personal space, my body, my beliefs, my family, my feelings?

Does this person make his or her intentions clear? If you are interested in dating said person, are your feelings reciprocated? Do they articulate their feelings? Or do they avoid the subject?

Does this person want the best for me? Can you entertain the idea of both marriage and going your separate ways? Are you both willing to break up if the relationship is not a mutual long-term investment?

Does this person make me want to be a better person? Is your better side brought out in a genuine way, not a fake-it-till-you-make-it-to-the-altar way? Does this person share my values and encourage virtue? Do I want to serve this person in a selfless way, out of love, or do I just need to be with someone?

Does this person communicate well with me? Can you talk about the silly and the serious? Are you able to have the hard conversations without arguing? Is there a mutual respect of time and eagerness for each other’s company?

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My husband and me (June 2012)

Will this person help me get to Heaven? Spouses are ultimately tied together for the glory of God within their vocation of marriage. Will you support each other in frequenting the sacraments, Mass participation, on-going catechesis, daily prayer, a willingness to share in spiritualities, following Church teachings, and love even when you do not feel like it?

Will this person be a good spouse and potential parent? Will this person honor and love you and be true? Will he or she raise your children in a way you both agree to love, educate and discipline?

Can I accept this person’s past? Prior relationships and decisions may be behind the person, but they still contributed to the type of person they are, and perhaps act as motivation for who they are at present.

Am I myself with this person? This is a question which is, often times, best answered by family and friends; they know you, and they know different sides of you. They are usually the best judges as to whether you are comfortably yourself with your significant other. Drastic changes, verses subtle changes, can often be a red flag.

Am I at peace with this person? The best part of dating my husband was the absolute peace of knowing where I stood with him, knowing that we liked each other, knowing that we were both moving towards the same goals, knowing we were being honest with each other, and not playing the back-and-forth game.  Our relationship felt “right”; our discussions and time spent together confirmed its goodness. There was a purpose to our relationship, and a reason.Ultimately, we were dating to see if the rest our life would be better because of the love, commitment and companionship of this person.

Dating is hard, but it does not have to be. The “right” person does not torment you with whys, and whens, and what-is-this. Moreover, dear reader, it is hope that brings about new relationships when old ones are gone, and joy as attraction. It is not weight or trendiness or being “the best” – it is positivity, the enjoyment of one’s life, a love of the Lord, and trusting that our vocation will continue to bear fruit in whatever season of life we are enjoying.