Monday, April 30, 2012

Rite Resources: Pattern Cooler

Do you ever have those wedding planning days where you get lost in a black hole of message boards and Etsy shops, only to emerge several hours later wondering where the heck your time went?  Inescapable as those times might be, I wanted to help you out!  So, starting today, here's a new feature highlighting the nifty spiritual, crafty, and practical resources I've stumbled upon and want to share with you.  Without further ado...

Remember my post from a few weeks ago about designing your own wedding stationary?  If you're going the DIY route for your invites and other materials, it can be tough to find pretty, accessible designs to use in your documents.  What's more, on top of figuring that out, you have to track down images and patterns that match your wedding colors.  It's all kind of overwhelming and frustrating, but I have to tell you about Pattern Cooler, an incredible site that lets you edit hundreds of gorgeous designs with any colors you like.  Basically, once you've registered for a free account on the site, you choose a stripe, floral, or geometric pattern from their huge gallery, then change the colors however you want and download the image to your hard drive.  One weird caveat: when you download your patterns, the site creator appears in a pop-up, wearing this ugly wig and asking for donations.  I'm not sure what a wig has to do with asking for money to keep the site up and running- if you figure that out, please tell me because I can't be the only one who'd like to know.  Still, to me, this awesome website means practically unlimited possibilities for creating the stationary you've been dreaming of, in an easy, customizable, and completely free way!

Ladies, prepare to spend completely unreasonable amounts of time playing with all of the designs and colors.  So, so much fun.  Here are a few designs I made- feel free to use them for a background or border (just click the images to enlarge, then save them to your computer), and go check out all the goods for yourself!

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What other design resources have you found?  I'd love to know!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Love Notes: Today, Tomorrow, The Day After Tomorrow...

{small ways to show great love}

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Two things about me: 1) Maybe this is weird, but I tend to think of my life in terms of how things have changed since exactly one year ago, exactly two years ago, and back and back.  In the past, these things have included where I lived, what I was working on, and who I had a crush on.  2)  For years, I've failed spectacularly at documenting all these milestones.  Despite my efforts, I have a whole collection of journals with something like the first ten pages filled in before I abandoned them.

So, imagine how thrilled I was to find this genius journaling idea!  This One Line a Day memory book is just what it sounds like- a journal with space for just one quick, one or two line entry each day.  It's not just a daily diary, though.  The best part is that each page has space for five entries, which you fill in over the course of five years.  That means by the time you're done, you'll have five snapshots of your life from any given day (think your next five birthdays, next five anniversaries, next five Christmases...), all in one place!  Such a great way to look at how time has passed and what's changed in your life.

Do you see where I'm going with this?  I love the idea of starting a book like this during your engagement (you can each keep the book for a week at a time, maybe) and filling it in all the way through your fifth anniversary.  I'm not even getting paid or anything to love the idea; I just really, really do!  Can you even picture what will have taken place in your life by then?  I bet there will be a baby, your first house, and tons of memories from everyday adventures, prayers, and celebrations.  I think it's such a gift to your present and future selves, and even to your future kids, to document the start of your marriage in such a special and consistent way.  You can copy the One Line a Day idea yourself in a pretty, blank notebook, or snag the actual book here.  And now, if you'll allow me to be kind of cheesy for a minute, I'll say this:  your love story's already been written on your hearts for all eternity, so you might as well write it on paper, too.  You'll be so thankful.

Do you keep a written record of your relationship?  How do you remember the big and the little milestones?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lectio: Marriage Prep According to the Pontifical Council

{recommended reading}

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Two essential matters of preparation.

When you consider the fact that postulants and seminarians prepare for years before fully entering into their vocations, engaged couples have it pretty easy.  You go on a retreat or to a few meetings, and your marriage prep box is officially checked off.  Though I've actually never been to one of these more public prep sessions (instead, we had a few one-on-one meetings with a couple we knew), a few of my friends have told me they leave a little something to be desired.  That's not to knock the Church or anything like that; it seems like Pre-Cana classes and Engaged Encounters do a good job focusing on the sacramentality of marriage and Catholic moral teaching in a broad sense.  But what about well-formed couples who already have the basics down and want to go a little deeper?  It seems that they usually have to take the initiative to do more reading and discussion on their own.

I don't mean to be all Debbie Downer.  Thankfully, there's plenty of reading material as you prepare for your marriage.  I love getting practical, candid advice about communication, sexuality, and setting up your home together, but every once in a while it's really nice to add some solid theological stuff into the mix.  That's where this great catch comes in.  A few weeks ago, I didn't even know it existed, but it turns out the Pontifical Council for the Family wrote a Preparation For the Sacrament of Marriage.   Drawing from encyclicals like Familiaris Consortio and Evangelium Vitae, it breaks down of every step of marriage prep, from knowing yourself and cultivating an active prayer life before and during dating, all the way up to diving into the rite of marriage.  By doing all that, this document completely fulfills its goal of encouraging engaged couples to profess the New Evangelization with their witnesses of joy, hope, and pure love.

Reading this, I was struck by the weightiness of marriage- not in a burdensome way, but in a way that really made me feel the magnitude of the sacrament and all that it entails.  It's so amazing the way our individual vocations show us God's love in the best way and point us towards Heaven!  The council also emphasizes the role of a married couple as parents; when all you're focusing on is your wedding day preparations, I know that your future family might not always be the first thing on your mind.  This is such a beautiful reminder of how marriage and the family go together.  If you need more convincing that you should read this, give this passage a try:

This preparation...can deepen the strength of the Holy Father's affirmation: "The family is the heart of the New Evangelization."  The preparation itself "is a responsibility which first concerns married couples, called to be givers of life, on the basis of an ever greater awareness of the meaning of procreation as a unique event which clearly reveals that human life is a gift received in order then to be given as a gift."

A little hefty, but phenomenal, right?  The best part is that you can view or print the whole document for free!  Read it here.

What has your marriage prep experience been like?

Next up: Use your words.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Love Is a Battlefield

Aside from the good stuff like Ferris Bueller's Day Off, a lot of questionable things came out of the 80s.  Perms, spandex, Rick Astley...if there's a kernel of truth from that decade, though, it's this: love is a battlefield.  Thanks, Pat Benatar.

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Seriously, during my engagement, I became more aware of spiritual warfare than I ever had before, particularly when it came to chastity.  At the time, I was working full time as a chastity speaker, and my boss had told me to expect a battle.  Before then, to be honest, I'd always considered attacks from Satan to be kind of a superstitious thing.  As I began work, though, and as Andrew and I embarked on our year of long-distance dating and engagement, we struggled constantly.  The deeper I fell in love with him, I realized, the more I wanted to express that love fully.  Don't get me wrong; that's a good and even holy desire, but of course, it has its time and place.  Up to that point, our physical relationship was something I was proud of- the degree of purity we'd preserved had healed me from a past relationship, and I could honestly say I'd never felt lustful towards him.  I heard Christopher West say that the human heart is a battlefield between love and lust, and he's absolutely right.  I began seeing the reality of that statement more and more.  You know as well as I do that pretty much every women's magazine portrays being lusted after by a man as our ideal, but that's such a lie.  Even having not bought into the culture, I'm sure I'm not the only one who knows firsthand how disgusted with yourself you can feel after you've treated the one you love best as more of an object than a person.  I feel incredibly blessed to be loved by a man who constantly strove to put his and my desires aside in the interest of preserving as much as we could for our wedding night, humbly asked my forgiveness when he faltered in doing so, and always, always, made me feel so protected and honored even when it was hard.  He still does.

So, when we were together chastity was a struggle.  What I fought even more, if you can believe it, was purity in my own heart.  Even when I was apart from Andrew, I couldn't get the devil off my back.  Between my engagement and my job, I was more determined than I'd ever been to be pure in my thoughts, words, and actions, yet at the same time, I was having a harder time of it than ever.  I was constantly going back to confession for what felt like the same old sins, and there were a few times when I just broke down with anxiety.  On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a day when Our Lady's conception crushed the head of evil, I was consumed with worries about money and about my worth as a woman.  Rather than looking to Mary as a perfect model of faith, beauty, and purity, as I usually do, I saw her as an unattainable ideal whom I could never come close to imitating.  It felt like one thing after another, and some days, I had a really hard time not seeing my marriage as a finish line I couldn't wait to just stagger across, when the whole fight would presumably be over.

Have you experienced anything like this?  Being engaged is so exciting- you're planning your life together in such a concrete way, you're growing closer emotionally, and you're probably spending more time together.  All of those things are good and beautiful, but they can also add up to serious temptation.  Most people probably wonder why, if it's such a battle, not to just give in and stop fighting.  But I knew I wasn't just following the rules.  I was so internally, happily convinced of the right path, knowing it was the best way to show my love.  I'm not saying all this to depress you.  Instead, I want to encourage you and remind you that it's not just you.  There were times when I felt so unworthy of my friends, my reputation, and Andrew's love.  I felt like a big fake.  It's that feeling of, "if only they knew."  But girls, believe with your whole heart that you are good.  You are worthy.  You are also human, and the Lord delights in our humanity, flaws and all.  Looking back, I'm sure that through every attack on my purity, I was receiving graces I didn't even know about.  So ask for the grace to refuse your temptations, to silence the part of you that feels unworthy, and to endure whatever trials your relationship is going through.  Run to His mercy as many times as you need to, and be renewed.  The Father is so loving and so gentle with us- remember to be that to yourself, too.

A Benedicitine monk told me once to combat spiritual warfare by standing between the pillars of Our Lady and the Eucharist.  He said that when we recognize darkness, to say, "Evil, I reject you.  I claim victory.  I claim the Cross."  Easier said than done, maybe, but it really is so powerful.  You have my prayers.  Now go claim what is good, true, and beautiful and claim what's yours.

Friday, April 20, 2012

D I Y: Cake Stands

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I don't know about you, but when I made my wedding registry, I was seriously tempted by the dishes and utensils specially intended to cut and hold your wedding cake.  Those suckers are gorgeous.  They are also ridiculously expensive.  If you're one of the lucky girls who receives them as a gift, yippee!  If not, this project will be perfect for you.  Most bakeries provide a basic platform for their confections, but if you want something a little prettier and more personal, it's so simple to make your own cake stand using found dishes.  Since it's affordable, too, go ahead and put together a few more for other desserts you'll serve at your reception.

To make one, you'll need: an assortment of flat plates in different sizes, short drinking glasses or candlesticks, a chopstick, and epoxy glue (you can get this at craft or hardware stores).  That's all.  I know!  As dishes go, thrift stores have lots of great antique-y ones (picture an Anthropologie-style wedding), or hit up HomeGoods or TJMaxx for super pretty modern designs.

Start by layering the plates and glasses in different combos until you find an arrangement you like.  Super fun.  When you're ready to permanently assemble them, prepare your glue.  Epoxy usually comes in a two-chambered contraption with a plunger, kind of like a syringe, and you mix the substances from each chamber.  I used a clean jar lid to mix mine.

Stir the glue with a popsicle stick or chopstick to mix it, then spread it on the rim of your glass or candlestick.  Work quickly, since this stuff dries faster than you'd think.

Center the glass on a plate, and press it down, being careful not to let too much glue leak out.

Let it sit for a few minutes, then carefully apply more glue to the upright surface of the glass (what's usually the bottom).  Center a second plate (or, in my case, this shallow bowl) on top of it.  Gently put a few heavy books on top to keep everything together while the glue dries.

My glue, according to its package, dried in five minutes and fully set in 24 hours.  Follow the instructions on yours, wipe everything down if you want, and you're done.  A double-tiered stand like this one would be perfect for cookies, or you could put your cake on the top layer and decorate with flowers on the bottom.  Another option is to make a single-layered stand for a bigger cake.  Just omit the bottom plate and center a nice big platter on top of a sturdy upside-down glass.

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Next up: Purify my heart.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Economy of Salvation: Free Ride

{creative ways to save your pennies on the most expensive day of your life}

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Not your typical wedding transportation.  But then, she is a princess.
 Full disclaimer: never in my life have I ridden in a limo.  No one asked me to my prom, this fall will be my first time as a bridesmaid, and, as you can probably guess, we nixed one on our wedding day.  So, keep in mind that everything I'm about to say is speculation only.  I mean, from what I've heard, limos mean drinking champagne and taking pictures in the mirrored ceiling.  I don't know.  Maybe they're awesome.

In my humble opinion, though, transportation seems to be one of the simplest ways to cut your costs.  When you think about it, you're paying someone huge amounts of cash to drive you around for maybe one hour tops, and then to sit in the driveway of your church or reception site.  I'm sure those guys are pros at keeping themselves entertained for all that free time, but for your sake (and your wallet's), why not...
  • Make use of your wedding party members' big vehicles.  Someone or their mom is bound to have a minivan or SUV that can transport you all.  Split up into guys' and girls' cars, which should be easy since you're probably getting ready in separate places, and hightail it over to that chapel.  There's nothing like the giddiness of riding to your wedding with your best girlfriends.
  • Head over to your reception in one of your own cars.  Choose the one with the roomier backseat and lay a sheet down to accommodate that gorgeous gown, and enlist your best man to take the wheel.  This is an especially convenient option if you're leaving for your honeymoon right away, since you'll already have your car.  Do you remember this Subaru commercial?  It can be you, except in a Volkswagen/Toyota/Maybe you do have a Subaru.      
  • Does one of your family members have a sweet ride?  If classic, slick, or convertible is your style and is easily available, nicely ask its owner to chauffeur you two for the day.  Friends and family are always asking how they can help, so take them up on it!  Give your driver a nice note and maybe an atlas (so much better than a GPS), handpicked road music CD, or pair of sunglasses as a thank you.  
  • Whatever you choose, decorate your wheels a little!  Before the groomsmen go crazy with paint and silly string later on, you can totally class up your ride with flowers or a subtle Just Married sign in the back window.  My friends Robert and Sarah's getaway car was so classy.  Look!

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Ladies, chime in!  What's your plan for getting everyone where they need to go, with high style and money in your pocket?  I'd love to hear your logistics!

Next up: Take a stand.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Veritas: Jed and Kristin

{real life love}

When you're well over six feet tall, people notice you.  People like your future spouse.  I say absolutely none of this from experience, but these best-friends-turned-husband-and-wife can.

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Kristin and Jed met in class during their freshman year of college.  Though they didn't interact much at first, Kristin noticed Jed's height right away, and Jed says he always knew Kristin was special.  Their initial chat in their dorm's lounge soon led to daily emails, which soon led to long conversations in which they'd find themselves "saying the same things at the same time and in the same way and tone.  It was uncanny."  Jed realized that Kristin "was and is just different.  She was faithful and sensible and I could tell that she was wise and conservative.  I didn't agree with all that when we were becoming friends, but I sort of knew she was right.  She always had an answer- if not always beautifully articulate, it was always right."  Isn't it amazing how the best kind of friendship seems to point you straight at the Lord, even if you didn't anticipate it?

All that talking led to some major realizations.  Slowly, beautifully, the Lord was unveiling His plans for Kristin and Jed.  Exhibit A: long before they started dating, Kristin says she felt called to pray for Jed, and she often did.  She wasn't exactly sure why, but she decided to trust the feeling that was on her heart.  Exhibit B: one night, around three a.m., Jed was out for a walk.  Kristin had no idea, but she couldn't sleep and followed her inexplicable urge to go outside in the cold.  They found each other and had a nice long talk.  As their friendship continued to deepen, Jed came to this conclusion:

 I knew that I should be with her.  I reluctantly entrusted our friendship and where it might go to God.  I had my own ideas of what I thought would be best for me, but half-heartedly I gave the decision to Him.  It took a really long time, but I realized that Kristin was exactly what I ought to have been looking for all along.  I just really loved her.  She felt like family; like home.  I wanted her to be my family.  I realized that my idea of the perfect wife was not God's idea of the perfect wife for me.  He slowly drew me a picture.  He shows you a better way than you make up yourself.

Most people date for a while and then discern that they're called to marriage, but these two went in reverse.  By the time Kristin and Jed went on their first date, their friendship and their prayers had already told them their love was meant for eternity (She says it was a date to the grocery store; he says it was out to dinner a year after the grocery store.  You pick.).  With most of their discernment behind them, they saw no reason, really, to postpone engagement.  There's a stained glass window in their campus chapel that would play an important part in their relationship.  It features an inscription from Sirach, saying, "a faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure" (6:14).  Here's Jed's account of their proposal, which took place after a 10 p.m. Mass the night before the March for Life:

After Mass, Kristin and I lingered for a while.  I was waiting for everyone to leave the chapel, but the chapel is like a Waffle House- open all night.  We waited and waited, but no matter how many people left, more came in, just like the Waffle House.  Finally, I decided I'd ask the question in a whisper, audience or no.  We both knelt down.  "A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure.  You are a faithful friend.  You've helped me be what I am meant to be, and I hope that I do the same for you.  The point of life is to be what we are meant to be- by the grace of God to be the best possible versions of ourselves.  You once said that the way to find the one God wants you to marry is to run after God and then turn to see who's running with you.  Well, will you run with me?"  It was corny, but it's a wonderful life and all that, and it summed up the way that we had discerned our vocation to marriage.

It was funny, they say, being engaged with two years of college left, and they sometimes felt like their relationship was too much in the spotlight on their small campus.  Still, they were confident that their engagement was timed perfectly.  According to Jed, "we knew we were to be married.  We figured, why let the preparation for that wait?  Let's declare it and move forward.  We started really thinking of ourselves as a family and asking God what He wanted of us."  He says that kind of "surrender to God's will just filled us with so much joy."  Complete joy didn't mean an absence of struggle, though.  Kristin noticed right away that "as soon as you make a step further in what God wants for you, the evil one just wants to put as much division as he can.  He doesn't want you to succeed.  We have learned that this is not from us.  The point is to realize that you are not fighting each other.  There is something bigger at work.  There's a real fight between good and evil.  The wonderful thing is that the good already won, on the cross, for you.  You stand behind Him and set Him as your shield."

They got married November 5, 2011.  NB (that's a fancy Latin way of adding an author's note): I was there, and I cried from the minute Kristin walked up the aisle, during the whole homily, for the entirety of their vows, and straight through their first dance.  Which wasn't so good, since I was one of the readers.  Anyway.  These two radiate such complete joy and trust in the Lord.  A faithful, unconditionally loving friend, a patient teacher, and a partner in every spiritual battle: I can't imagine better qualities in a spouse.  Christian brotherhood and sisterhood might not initially seem like the most romantic thing, but when you consider the virtuous friendship and sacrifice that true love involves, it makes a whole lot of sense.  I feel like the right kind of love reveals to you who you are in the eyes of the Lord and opens your heart more and more to His will instead of yours.  Always open.  You know, like Waffle House.

PS- Happy Birthday, Papa Benedict!

Want to see your love story featured on Captive the Heart?  Email me at!

Next up: Try not to drive yourself crazy.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Inspired: Birds of a Feather

{wedding candy}

 With Spring officially in full swing, every pair of lovebirds deserves to celebrate accordingly.  So, borrow colors from the sky and budding flowers for a soft palette, incorporate a few feathered critters in your stationary, bridesmaids' jewelry, and favors (those are blue Jordan almonds and they'd be a simple DIY!), and choose delicate flowery touches for your dress and accessories- I'm completely in love with the blossoms on that dress!  Dyeables are a great option for just the right shoe shade.  Find your inspiration here (click to enlarge):

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1. Bird Nest favors by Mel Designs, Etsy  2. Lela Rose Bridesmaid Dress Style LR159 in Spa, The Dessy Group  3. Spotted Bird Pendant and Earring set, $35, by Delezhen Charmed, Etsy  4. Alfred Angelo Snow White gown, Style 207  5. Love Let Loose invitations in Seaglass, Minted  7. Chiffon flower for hair or gown in Oyster, $14, The Dessy Group
 How are you bringing your day into full bloom?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My Spirit Rejoices: All Creatures and When You Come Back Down

{sweet sounds for your Mass and reception}

Now that it's Easter, I think it's appropriate to work in a Hallelujah whenever possible.  Combine that with the fact that springtime is all about new life and wonderment at the Lord's creation, and you've got the perfect expression of praise for a wedding during the Easter season.  All Creatures of Our God and King fits the bill pretty nicely, don't you think?  Glory.  I found this pretty, slowed-down duet by Christian singers Bethany Dillon and Shawn McDonald- it's got a nice stately sound that would be perfect for a processional.  Around the 3-minute mark, it gets kind of weird and modern, but just listen up to that point and you'll get a sense of what I'm talking about (also, feel free to ignore the pictures of baby animals and rushing water in the video).

Truth: weddings are hard on parents.  And not just on their bank accounts.  You're taking this big new step; you're still their baby; you're leaving the nest; you can always come home; all that good stuff.  Unless you decide to go the comedy route, the parent-child boogie pretty much guarantees waterworks.  That doesn't mean you're stuck dancing with your dad to some sappy ballad, though.  Unless you want to.  Nickel Creek, a favorite of mine, knows what it's like to let someone go.  When You Come Back Down is a sweet, bluegrassy number about the courage to give someone her freedom and the fortitude to still be there whenever she needs to lean on you.  A sampling of these sentiments:

My greatest fear will be that you will crash and burn
And I won't feel your fire
I'll be the other hand that always holds the line
Connectin' in between your sweet heart and mine
I'm strung out on that wire.

Such a lovely, lovely choice for a father-daughter or mother-son dance.  Listen to the song here:

Next up: Keep your heart aflutter.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Happy Easter!

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When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.  - Col. 3:4

Hallelujah!  He is risen indeed!  Celebrating with our families yesterday was as fun as it always is, as well as another addition to my new life as a sharer of holidays.  Back when Andrew and I were dating, we came to each other's family birthday celebrations and casual get togethers without a hitch, but when we got engaged, the all-important question of whom we'd spend the big days with became a major part of our relationship.  Whose family did we visit with last?  Would anyone's feelings be hurt (I've discovered that moms, especially, value consistency and lots of quality time, with good reason)?  Was it worth it to drive around to two celebrations in one day?  Add in the fact that lots of couples, including us, have to travel from a significant distance away, and you've got yourself a pickle.  A big, crunchy, newlywed (or soon-to-be-wed) pickle.

If I've learned anything from finagling holiday plans for the last few years, it's how important it is to talk to each other.  I know that sounds like a huge cliche, like the kind of "communication is power" thing you find in old hippie marriage advice books, but it really is true.  I've learned that if you haven't talked ahead of time about when you're leaving one gathering to head to the next, it can be hurtful when you seemingly rush your beloved out the door.  I've learned how it's okay to be honest about your family's priorities- if it's a tradition for everyone to add a petition or bit of thanksgiving during grace, for instance, or if your grandpa always cuts and serves the first piece of pie, then by all means, let each other know.  That way, you can plan your arrivals and departures accordingly.  I've learned that if your plans are flexible, it's a good thing to be decisive, rather than telling each other, "oh, whatever you want" over and over.  Most of all, this whole business of shuffling family time during holidays is slowly teaching me how to value my loud, hilarious, slightly inappropriate, completely lovable relatives, rather than take my time with them for granted.  Yes, that is also a cliche.  Just like my other cliche, though, it speaks the truth.

Believe me, just like you, I'm on a learning curve with all this.  Family is important.  Tradition and celebration are important.  I know that.  It's getting it all in order that's the tricky part.  But, I figure, the sooner and better I get at doing that, the happier my holidays will be.  Now's as good a time as ever to learn how to communicate, sacrifice, and be present.

Next up: O praise Him.
How do you share your holidays?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Love Notes: Spill the Beans

{small ways to show great love}

Happy Triduum!  As Holy Week nears its close on this most sacred of Fridays, "happy" might seem out of place, but I said it because I think there really can be a quiet joy and beauty found in the Cross.  In honor of today's fast, I present you with this simple supper.  We tried to not eat meat as often as possible this Lent, which turned out to equal lots and lots of beans.  Just as I was getting kind of tired of the same old Latin beans and rice thing, our friends had us over for dinner and served this Caribbean-inspired stew.  With black beans, yams, and a sweet sort of heat, it hits the spot and gives you a good amount of filling protein.  If you two are spending Good Friday together, cooking with each other is a nice act of service, and ending your fast at the same time is a great opportunity for prayer and thanks.

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I bet you never thought you'd see beans and weddings in the same place.  Well, here you have it.

Here's the recipe for Caribbean Black Bean Stew:

You'll need:
1 pound dried black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1-4 jalapeño peppers or 1/4 to 1 tsp. red pepper flakes (this all depends on how spicy you like your food)
2 tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 cups chicken stock
4 cups water
2 yams or sweet potatoes, diced
2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 lime (optional)
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)

Warm the oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the jalapeños or red pepper flakes, ginger, garlic, allspice, and thyme and stir.  Stir and sauté about 3 minutes.

Add the beans, stock, and water.  Raise the heat to high and cover.  When the mixture boils, lower the heat and simmer until beans are almost tender, about 1 hour.  There should always be enough liquid to cover the beans- if too much evaporates, add more stock or water 1 cup at a time.

Stir in the yams, brown sugar, and salt, and bring to a boil once more.  Reduce the heat and simmer 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft.  Mash some of the beans with the back of a spoon to thicken.

Serve the stew topped with the cilantro and slices of lime.

I'll leave you with this: my favorite thing to contemplate about Christ's Passion is his gift to us of His mother ("Woman, behold your son," "Behold your mother").  It's all about opening ourselves up to receive.  Fulton Sheen says it so well:

Once you have surrendered yourself, you make yourself receptive.  In receiving from God, you are perfected and completed.

I pray you experience both the ache of Good Friday and the radiant joy of Easter Sunday to their fullest.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lectio: Swimming With Scapulars

{recommended reading}

Swimming With Scapulars, Matthew Lickona, Catholic memoir, Catholic literature, Catholic books, young Catholics, Catholic wedding planning, Catholic wedding blog, Catholic brides

You want to know something?  We're alive during such an incredible time for the Church.  Although the culture seems more sadly confused than ever about sex, freedom, and truth, I think it's no coincidence that our generation has been set on fire by the Holy Spirit in a way our parents and grandparents didn't experience.  There are so many young Catholics who love the Church in its fullness of truth, possess a special zeal for sharing it, and are living the legacy of Blessed John Paul II and the Theology of the Body.  JPII called it a "springtime of evangelization," and back when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict said that to evangelize is "to teach the art of living."  All the time God is good.

All that brings me here, to this book, Swimming with Scapulars.  Matthew Lickona is a recent Thomas Aquinas College grad and father of four who I think gives such a candid, accurate voice to our generation.  Fr. Benedict Groeschel, whom you might know from the CFR Fathers and from EWTN, says that "the emergence of an informed and sophisticated group of orthodox young Catholics who take their faith seriously" are "a fascinating group."  Informed and sophisticated doesn't mean boring or uptight, though.  This book is kind of a memoir, kind of a series of reflections, kind of a confessional of human weaknesses.  As I read it, I recognized myself so many times in Matt's thoughts on the occasional desire to make radical, attention-getting Lenten sacrifices, the "sentimental ballads and peppy anthems" he never really favored for Mass music, and, as the title indicates, the all-important decision of whether or not to remove your scapular when you go in the water (what if a shark attacks you right after you take it off and get in the ocean?).  He's wise, humble, and funny.  While I wouldn't specifically identify this as a marriage prep book, there are quite a few chapters devoted to Matt's courtship with his wife Deirdre and their experiences with newlywed living quarters, NFP, and family life.  There's so much to be gained from his reflections, and I always find it refreshing when an author comes clean about his struggles, rather than painting his life as hunky dory and without any suffering or internal battles.  For that alone, I think this book is worth reading- to know there are others in as strong a pursuit of Heaven as you, and that they rejoice, fight, and surrender in the same way.  We are one body, after all, and now is the time.

Next up: Penitential partakings

Monday, April 2, 2012

His Little Bride

Mother Teresa, Blessed Teresa, prayer, Come Be My Light, Lent, Printable press, metropolitan stationary, how to save on your wedding statonary, Catholic wedding planning, Catholic wedding blog, Catholic brides

I decided, for Lent, to read Come Be My Light (ed. Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C.), the firsthand account of Mother Teresa's Dark Night of the Soul.  Obviously, this woman was a living saint- surrendering everything to the Lord was just a way of life for her, in a no-questions-asked, of-course-I'll-surrender kind of way.  She even made a private vow to renounce her will entirely, saying, "I bind myself, under pain of mortal sin, to refuse Jesus no sacrifice, which I clearly see He is asking from me."  What makes this already extraordinary promise even more amazing is the fact that for much of her life, Blessed Teresa felt an intense spiritual dryness and could not sense God's presence at all.  The pain of His absence, though, deeply purified her and led her by grace along her way to holiness.  So beautiful.

Thanks to Blessed Teresa's inspiration, what I've been thinking about lately is this temptation that I sometimes have.  Since my husband is meant to be and is God's love to me on earth, I constantly pray to love him better, give myself completely to him, and put his soul, body, and desires before mine.  In doing this, I've grown in some significant ways and stumbled in others.  It makes sense that Andrew is my most tangible path to Heaven, God willing.  What I frequently forget, though, is that I'm called to love the Lord in the exact same way.  It's something I pray about far less often.  Maybe it's that His love just seems like such a natural fact of my life that I never even stop to contemplate it, or that my love for Him seems like a more indirect love than the one in front of me in my marriage.  You know what I mean?  I'm looking at the words I just wrote, and they shouldn't change when it comes to love for the Lord.  Loving Him should be exactly like loving my husband: striving to love Him better, giving myself completely to Him, and giving up my will for His.

Here's another piece of wisdom I found in the book:

Since Mother Teresa longed for complete union with Christ, who suffered on the Cross, she--His little bride--could not do otherwise than be united to Him in His suffering.  If she could not remove his pain, then she would be there, on the Cross as it were, with Him.

Whenever I consider the simple enough fact that we, the Church, are Christ's bride, I remember in a new way how much I'm called to be a loving, receiving bride both to Andrew and to Jesus.  Haven't you felt the way this passage describes?  It's that feeling of loving someone so deeply that you feel his pain as deeply as he does and wish you could bear it for him.  You suffer together.  That is the way of the Cross- you love fully and you give yourself up.  You fall and then you stand back up, even when it hurts. It's in the hurting that your heart's widened to let Love in.

What's your biggest struggle in love?  How do you keep your love for the Lord at the center of your spiritual life, understanding that all other loves flow from His?

Next up: Cast out (swimming) into the deep.


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