Monday, December 23, 2013

Guest Posting for Arleen Spenceley

I'm over on Arleen Spenceley's blog today, humbly offering a little crash course in chastity apologetics. Here's a sneak peek; follow the link to read the rest:


Actually putting reasons for chastity into words, I found, can be a huge source of encouragement when it seems like there’s no one out there like you and you’re wondering whether to just give up on the whole thing.  As a speaker, I like to think I avoided the whole Mean Girls don’t-have-sex-or-you’ll-get-pregnant-and-die approach, and though I wasn’t perfect at it, I also like to think I came to a few conclusions about a better approach, one that appeals not just to religion or morals, but to the heart.

 Click here for more, and be sure to spend some time browsing the rest of Arleen's fabulous blog and to throw up some prayers for her as she finishes working on her first book!



Friday, December 20, 2013

Veritas: Anthony and Amanda


{real life love}
Amanda is a blogger at Worthy of Agape, a columnist at Ignitum Today, a self-published author, and a newly engaged bride-to-be!  I've loved reading snippets of her engagement story and the start of her marriage prep journey on her blog, and was so excited when she agreed to share all the other details of her love story here!  Read on, reader.
The proposal shrine!
The first time we ever met was in September of 2011. I had just accepted a new position as a youth minister at a parish in Denver. Anthony was (and is) a fifth grade teacher at the school attached to that parish. He’d tell you that he thought I was cute but he was not looking for a relationship. I, on the other hand, was in another relationship at the time. 
Fast forward to the spring of 2012. Anthony was asked to be a sponsor for one of the teens in my Confirmation program. He showed up to Confirmation practice early and we started chatting. I casually mentioned something about my boyfriend and that ended the conversation pretty much instantly. He’d tell you I couldn’t stop talking about my boyfriend, but I was so attracted to Anthony that I had to keep my feet on the ground! 
A month later the relationship I was in ended.  The very next day, I saw Anthony teaching his class outside and I stared out the window dreaming about how I’d love to end up with someone like him. 
It wasn’t until the spring of 2013 that we began to date. We’d liked each other and had been flirting, but nothing had come of it. I remember praying and telling God, “Either make something happen with Anthony, or make it go away because this back and forth is driving me nuts.” I knew him well enough to know that he would want to be the one to ask me out. Instead of asking him out I invited him and a few other teachers (buffer!) to the release party for my book. He called to RSVP and thought that my mom (who was handling the RSVPs) was an answering service! She gave him my number and he called me to ask me out. It was only four days after my prayer.
Our first date was fun and casual. Anthony had a few options planned, but asked me a series of questions at dinner and then picked where we went based on my answers. We ended up going roller skating, and despite the fact that I had no socks and fell down more times than I care to reveal, we both had a blast. 
It took Anthony less than 10 hours to contact me after our first date. We spent the next weeks spending time together, celebrating my book release, and getting to know each other. We agreed early on that we wouldn’t kiss unless we got married. Six weeks after we started dating, I drove Anthony to the airport so he could spend the next six weeks in Lebanon visiting family. The time apart, time change, and unreliable phone connections were challenging, but they also showed me how deeply he cared for me even when we were half a world away from each other. He romanced me and made time for me from thousands of miles away. He’d stay up late so he could call me at a normal hour for me. I had a chance to let my inner romantic out and write him love letters. When he came home, I was reassured that he was exactly the man I remembered him being.
Looking back, the months after he got back seem like a blur now. A week or so after he got back I started going to spiritual direction. When my spiritual director asked me why I wanted a spiritual director, I told him, “I want someone to keep me accountable and help me grow spiritually, and I want to discern marriage with Anthony.” 
We continued getting to know each other and began going through the book 1,001 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married. We could be goofy and playful together, but we could also have deep, philosophical conversations. We connected on more levels and I always felt so at peace with him – something that had been lacking in every other relationship I’d had. 
In August he asked me to go home with him for Thanksgiving. I joyfully agreed, and a few hours later he told me he loved me for the first time. Hearing him tell me that he loved me was one of the happiest moments of my life.
We celebrated our six month anniversary by going roller skating again. I had socks that time and didn’t fall down once! A month later we left for Michigan so I could meet Anthony's family for the first time. Imagine my nerves! We flew in late Wednesday night and by time we got to his house everyone was already asleep. 
I woke up on Thanksgiving morning, showered and headed downstairs to be greeted by a bunch of Lebanese family members. (Imagine “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” only Lebanese style.) They were warm and welcoming and before I knew it I was helping make the meal while Anthony played in the snow with his cousins. Over the course of the day there were at least 20 family members who came in and out. Some of the time I knew what was going on, but other times I was completely lost since I speak very little Arabic (Anthony is teaching me!). It was an exhausting and exciting day. 
 We spent the next day shopping with his parents, sisters, and cousins. Anthony and I are both introverts and were exhausted by the end of the day. We woke up Saturday morning and decided to take some time away, just the two of us. We drove to the National Shrine of St. Therese, whom we both have a strong devotion to. We walked around the church taking pictures, and finally made our way to the adoration chapel. (The full story of how he popped the question, complete with how ignorant I was, can be found here.) 
We prayed in the chapel, and as I started to leave as Anthony practically shouted my name (it was a quiet adoration chapel!) and I turned around to find him down on one knee as he said, “Before God, before all the angels and all the saints, and all the people in this chapel, will you be my wife?” I excitedly said, “OF COURSE!” which was not at all the response I’d been practicing...but I was too excited to care!
Since getting engaged only a few short weeks ago, our relationship continues to deepen. In September we had started praying a 12 year novena (yes, twelve years) to St. Bridget. The night of our engagement we started praying out loud together, a practice we’ve continued every night since. Since starting the marriage prep process, we’ve both been surprised at how simple the process is. So simple, in fact, that we have a list of books we want to read and discuss beyond what is required! We continue to learn to communicate better and be even more open and honest with each other about everything (hello Natural Family Planning!). Even more so than when we were dating, we are discovering how God has had our love story in mind since the beginning, and how perfectly He made us for each other. We aren’t perfect by any means, but we believe that we are perfect for each other.
Join me in praying for Anthony and Amanda as they prepare for their Spring 2014 wedding!  Want to see your love story on Captive the Heart?  Email me at stephanie.captivetheheart@gmail.com!



Monday, December 16, 2013

My Spirit Rejoices: Beneath Your Beautiful

{sweet sounds for your Mass and reception}

photo source

Holy smokes you guys.  I died when I heard this song for the first time a few weeks ago.  Labrinth and Emeli Sande's Beneath Your Beautiful speaks straight to my heart.  I love, love, love music and movies that find the sacred in the secular, and this duet bridges the two in an amazing way; it's a song about uncovering the deepest part of yourself for love's sake. The chorus asks, "Would you let me see beneath your beautiful?  Would you let me see beneath your perfect?"

This line is followed by "Take it off now," a request that's not uncommon in pop music and one that I typically hate, but what I really, really admire in this context is that it's not about clothes.  It's like Labrinth is daring you to see the deeper meaning behind the line, one that's all about love and letting down your walls.  To reclaim nakedness in a mainstream song is bold and kind of provocative, and I love that.  Props.  There should be more of that in music, I think; the Song of Songs itself is boldly evocative in a blazingly pure, holy way that is all love and not a hint of lust.

Thoughts?  Do you love this song as much as I do?  And, if you know of any other tunes in the same TOB-ish vein, suggest away!



Friday, December 13, 2013

7 Quick Takes, Volume 28

{story of a soul, condensed}

Visit Jen at Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!

{1} Taking a break from blogging as I've done the maternity leave gig has been really relaxing, and now I'm happy to be writing often again!  I posted Aaron's birth story on Wednesday--if you missed it, you can read it here.


{2} I am so, so in love with this baby!  But you guys.  Breastfeeding.  If I could do one part of my pregnancy differently, I definitely would have signed up for a class or done some reading ahead of time.  I expected that it's natural and, therefore, easy, but that hasn't been the case at all for me, and unfortunately, the nurses in the hospital weren't the most helpful before we brought Aaron home.  A wonderful lactation consultant has been helping us, this article has kept my hope going, and I'm pretty determined to make it work, but this stubborn boy just refuses to latch most of the time!  So, there have been plenty of tears, I've been accessorizing with a breast pump and bottles lately, which can be a little isolating but is a solution for now, and have been praying like crazy for Saint Gianna's and Saint Andrew's intercession (you can find the Saint Andrew Christmas novena here).  It felt a little weird at first, praying for, you know, my boobs, but I've come to realize that my body expresses who I am, and it's no weirder than praying for any other grace in parenting.  Or maybe I'm just desperate.  I'd so appreciate your prayers, too!

{3} I read this article about modesty this week, which led me on a trail to this article about yoga pants.  I'd be so interested to hear your thoughts: first, are we ladies all talking about the same thing when we say "yoga pants?"  The second article, to me, evokes more an image of leggings when the author says, "The pants are skin tight.  You can see every curve of my lower body."  Anyway, I'm anti-leggings, but all about yoga pants, which makes me curious about your opinions.  In my mind, because the pants are far less skintight than leggings in the buns and because they have a straight or boot-cut leg, rather than a fitted one, there's not really a question of modesty, but what with all the backlash out there, maybe I'm wrong.  Thoughts?



{4} It will be our first Christmas in this apartment!  We love living here, but we do have significantly less space than in our last place, so we couldn't put up our regular tree this year.  But, I'm already so fond of this little Charlie Brown one I found at Michael's and have enjoyed getting some decorating done this week!

{5} On the subject of Christmas and Advent, I would love to hear about your family's Advent traditions!  It's really important to Andrew and I to create memories for our kids of a time of holy, joyful preparation for Jesus' birth, and even though Aaron won't remember this year's season, I figure it's never too early to start getting inspired for our present and future family!  So far, we've really enjoyed praying the rosary around our Advent wreath, and I am all ears for other ideas, too!

{6} There are so many trials that come with being wedded to academic life, but one of the best things about Andrew's grad student gig is having a whole month off for winter break!  I'm so thankful that his time off coincides with my time here at home with our little one and that we'll have so much freedom to celebrate our first Christmas as a family!  For a full-time student, there's really no such thing as a night off because constant reading, lesson planning, and grading mean that my husband isn't ever able to leave work at work, and it's already been such a gift to see him unburdened and able to enjoy his time.

{7} I'm not sure if this exactly falls under "Advent traditions" so much as holiday traditions in general, but we've been baking up a storm this week!  I highly, highly recommend these, with a little peppermint extract added in!

Have a wonderful weekend; I'd love to know what you're up to!


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Aaron's Birth Story





Someone stop me.  I can't get enough of this baby boy.  Aaron is 8 weeks old today, and every Wednesday since he's been born, I've thought to myself, "Oh, ___ weeks ago at this time, I was just meeting you."  I always thought "they grow so fast" was just one of those platitudes you hear from other parents, but I guess I'm in that club now, because it really is true!  I feel like in just shy of two months, Aaron looks so much older than when he first arrived and I can already see little hints of his personality.  I absolutely can't wait to see who he becomes.

So, the birth story.  Though I gobbled up a ton of birth stories toward the end of my pregnancy with a mix of fascination and vague terror, I was pretty sure I didn't want to write one myself when the time came.  What was it, I wondered, about the state of my particular cervix that could possibly be so interesting?  

A few weeks later, I'm coming part of the way around, I think.  Even though something about the permanence of lady part details on the internet still gives me a little pause, I do want to tell the story in a broader way that we can remember. 

On Tuesday, October 15, I went to my weekly midwife appointment.  I'd stayed home from work that day because of strong Braxton-Hicks contractions the night before, although they hadn't turned into anything.  When I'd called about them, I was told the hormones that can induce labor are strongest from about midnight to 5 a.m., so I chalked things up to that.  The midwife checked me and said she'd be surprised if our baby didn't arrive by the weekend!  Later that evening, I had contractions start up again around dinner time, crampy and strong but not exactly painful, yet they were so far apart I didn't even think to time them.  By midnight, they were getting more intense and closer together, but I still thought it was the middle of the night hormone surge.  

Three a.m.  Someone should've told me I was in labor at this point, because I still wasn't convinced!  It was getting harder to sleep and to make it through contractions, and I was starting to have strong pain in my back, so I got out of bed for a while.  Andrew had hoped our baby would arrive a few days later so he could have an extra weekend built into his paternity leave, and because he was really excited to teach the lesson he'd planned for the following morning.  Aaron must have sensed this and decided he needed to do something dramatic to get his mom and dad to the hospital--after about an hour of standing and swaying, my water broke, or should I say started trickling on out and would not flipping stop all over the floor.

We knew, at this point, that we would get to meet our baby soon!  I called the midwife to let her know about the waters that were no longer and to tell her we were getting ready to leave for the hospital.  The thing was, it took about 2 hours from the point of us deciding to leave and actually getting to the hospital (which is only ten minutes away...)!  My contractions were coming so strongly and quickly that I couldn't focus on even picking up my bag to leave.  I had time to maybe get one sock on in between each one, and since I wanted Andrew to massage my back pretty much constantly, it took him extra long to pack the car and get ready.

Towards the end of my pregnancy, the midwives recommended I try to labor at home as long as possible, but I think I accidentally pushed that particular recommendation a little too far.  Looking back, I'm pretty sure I was in transition by the time we got to the hospital!  I remember staggering through the parking lot, having to stop a few times, and sitting on the ground, crying, in front of the registration desk on the baby floor while Spongebob Squarepants played on the little waiting area TV.  I also recall being angry that I'd pre-registered and had tried to do as much as I could ahead of time, and couldn't understand why I was still being asked so many questions!  Andrew did some paperworky things while I made a scene, and the administrative nurses eventually made the call that I should just get going to triage and they'd get my information later.

After I got all gowned up, which also took longer than it should've what with all the yelling and contracting, my midwife arrived, did another check, and congratulated me on arriving to the hospital fully dilated and ready to push!  She also told me not to wait so long when it's our next baby!  Off we went to a delivery room, where, after three hours of pushing and sustained squawking (Andrew's words--I never thought I'd be a noisy birther!), the little man made his appearance at 10:45 a.m.  There had been some meconium in my amniotic fluid, a.k.a. Aaron pooped before he should have, which meant he had to get his nose and mouth suctioned out immediately after being born.  I was really bummed that this meant the doctors had to cut his umbilical cord right away and that I wasn't the first one to touch my baby, but I'm also so thankful for the medical knowledge and expertise that's available and for a healthy baby.  Once he was snuggled safe in my arms, I was overcome by just so much love, though I didn't cry like I'd expected I would.  There was something so peaceful, so normal, about holding the little person I had already known, in a way, for 39 weeks and 2 days.

Two months later, though staying up around the clock and sometimes trying helplessly to comfort someone who can't communicate what's wrong aren't entirely normal, having our baby around really has felt like the most natural extension of Andrew's and my relationship.  We've talked a few times about how we don't exactly feel like we've become parents, in the sense that the transition was hardly noticeable.  That's definitely not to say that we're all-knowing and have everything figured out, just that becoming a mom and dad on top of being a husband and wife hasn't felt like a huge change for us as much as just a new part of our life.  Such a gift.








And here endeth the saga and the photo onslaught.  Praise God for my sweet family!




Monday, December 9, 2013

A Reappearance & A Christmas Gift Guide

After a month and a half's blogging break spent falling in love with sweet baby Aaron, I'm so happy to return to writing.  

I'm not sure what it says about me that my first post back displays my material girl tendencies in full swing.  But, with Advent half over and Christmas coming so soon, plus the fact that hanging out with my baby all day means I've done all of this year's shopping online and have had plenty of time to peruse the ol' internets for gift ideas, I had to share some of my discoveries with you!  

Prepare yourself for a barrage of baby updates on Wednesday.  Meanwhile, without further ado, I present to you these presents...links to each are in the captions. 



11. St. Therese Doll (plus plenty of other saints in this Etsy shop!)  12. Fill These Hearts Book (read my review here)  13. Tau Cross  14. Teapot & Mug For One  15. Ski Dessert Plates  16. Fondue Pot  17. Coasters

Click here for last year's gift guide, and here for a fantastic gift resource for every imaginable recipient at any price point.

Thoughts?  Any gifts you're extra excited to give this year (I won't tell!)?  This happily homebound mama would love to get some dialogue going on this here bliggity blog again!



Monday, October 21, 2013

An Introduction


At the time my last post, full of pregnancy updates, went up (I'd scheduled it ahead of time), I was in labor!  Baby Aaron Tobias was born last Wednesday morning after, unbeknownst to me, I arrived at the hospital fully dilated and ready to push!




It's love, you guys.  Amongst the difficulties of adjusting to nursing and an entirely different sleeping schedule, there've been more incredibly sweet moments that I can count.  We are so blissfully undeserving of this blessing.  Please pray to St. Gianna for our new little family!


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pregnancy Updates


I'm 39 weeks now!  My little one, who is seriously not feeling little at all these days (hello there, tiny, cute foot lodged in my rib cage), weighs over 7.5 pounds now, according to my books (Andrew's family has a history of 10+ pound babies, and I was 8 myself, so I'm trying to avoid the anxiety of actually knowing my baby's size right now). He's behaving pretty much like he will as a newborn--sucking his thumb, spending longer times sleeping, and practicing inhaling and exhaling like a champ.  We are getting more and more excited to meet him and I've been amazed with how my heart just continues to grow and be pierced with love for someone I haven't even laid eyes on yet!  

A few friends had been asking me if I'd had any Braxton-Hicks contractions yet, and since I didn't know what to expect (ha), I could honestly say I wasn't sure if I'd experienced them or not.  A few weeks ago, my doubts were put to rest when I stood up at work and got a really strong, menstrual cramp-ish feeling that lasted about a minute.  I was convinced, for a moment, I was going into labor!  

Then, a few nights ago on the home front, I started having a few actual contractions that came and went for most of the night, around the same time all the mucus and fluids decided to show themselves (thanks, NFP, for letting me actually get excited about mucus).  I stayed home from work yesterday, but did make it to my already scheduled appointment with the midwife.  According to her, the hormones that cause labor are at their highest levels between midnight and 5:00 a.m.--that definitely sounded like my case!  She recommended just keeping up with my routine until things seem to progress or intensify, so who knows what could happen in the next few days or so! 

Although I don't have any expectations or preconceptions of how Andrew and I will be together while I'm giving birth, I've had a strong sense lately that it's going to feel like the most major thing we've ever done.  Stating the obvious, maybe, but it's just some sort of feeling on a deeper level than I've had before now.  My husband is such a great dad already, talking constantly to our son and taking care of me (and by extension, him) so wonderfully.  I know I'm about to fall way deeper in love in a completely new way.  Here are a few photo updates!



This picture is from 32 weeks, I think.  Which is to say, my belly is even bigger now...


...See?  37 weeks.



 I've loved getting all of the sweet little baby clothes and things ready!


Apple picking with Andrew's family, as my husband teaches his son how to flex.


My friend Beth is 6 weeks behind me, and it's been so wonderful sharing our pregnancies!  Here we are with our friend Teresa at my baby shower...


...and at hers!


And now my bag is packed and all that feels left to do is wait to hold this sweet baby in my arms!  Pray for me, please!







Monday, October 14, 2013

Veritas: Jared and Rebekah, Part 2


{real life love}

Did you catch the first part of Jared and Rebekah's love story last month?  When last they were on the blog, they'd begun a wonderful relationship through letters, but after officially dating for a while, Rebekah felt uncertain of Jared's interest.  After some searching and prayer, he committed himself to pursuing and romancing her.  Read on for what happened next!

Love, love love the pure joy in their wedding exit!
We lived in a new rhythm. Jared did his best (which was quite a bit) to sweep me off my feet, while I tried to relax and let things unfold on their own time. We went to church and family functions together, did a lot of "everyday life" together. On Wednesdays, I would come to his house and cook dinner, and then we would go to the young adults' group at our church.

Everything felt more natural now. We meshed in ways we never had before, and the emotional awkwardness disappeared as we both felt free to express how much we liked one another. Days when I didn't talk to Jared felt somehow flat. I loved it.

Late one August Wednesday, driving home from church in the still summer dark, I asked myself The Question. It was the one I had been asking myself all summer. What if Jared and I broke up? Whenever I had considered this before, I had felt peace. No sense of heartbreak. Sure I would be sad, but I'd get over it pretty easily, I thought.

Now I asked again. What if Jared and I were to break up? Could I do it?

The suddenness of the response punched the air from my lungs.

NO.

I clutched the steering wheel, unable to breath for a moment, unable to think for a moment more. Then again the answer came: NO WAY. Stunned, I vibrated between joy and panic. The answer was unmistakable. If I had to say goodbye? If my future didn't include him? Oh God, I would feel like part of me had died, I truly would. My chest hurt just thinking about it. I had never wanted anything as much as I wanted to be Jared's wife at that moment. This is from you, isn't it? What I asked for? Love without any doubts?

It was. Just like the beginning of our courtship, I felt absolutely certain of my answer and had no need to reason myself into a conclusion. I had pitched smack into a certainty: I loved Jared and I wanted to marry him. The end. And I never asked myself The Question again.

My mom always told me that when I fell in love, I would know it. She was--as usual--right. 


By the end of September, Jared had a full-time job and I would have bet my boots that he was going to propose. Eventually. In the meantime I was delighted to stay as I was: completely twitterpated. How wonderful to finally know how I felt. 


On the night of October 1st, 2010, just before I went to bed, my mom asked me how I felt about my relationship with Jared. Of course, she was well aware of the fact that I had fallen in love-- I doubt that was a mystery to anyone at that point. But she wanted to hear my thoughts on the future.

I told her, "I am sure Jared's going to ask me, but I don't think it will be for a while. Probably the end of November, at the earliest. I'm not expecting anything."


Famous last words.

The next morning, I was watching Jared's two young nieces (I'll admit that by then, I thought of them as my nieces too). My plan was to be at their house all day. Around noon we were just finishing up lunch when I heard a knock at the front door. I walked over and peeked through the window. There was Jared, with a rather sheepish grin on his face. What in the world? He's supposed to be at work.

I opened the door and let my boyfriend in. Our nieces were of course very pleased to see him, and demanded that he read them a book before naptime. Once I had put the youngest one to bed, Jared announced, "I'm taking you on a date."

"Hold on! What about the girls?"

"I've got a replacement coming." Sure enough, one of Jared's brothers showed up and shooed us out the door.


I had been too befuddled by Jared's sudden appearance to reflect, but once in the car, my curiosity kicked in. Having convinced myself that he would under no circumstances propose until late November, that possibility figured only briefly in my speculations. Besides, Jared liked surprising me. An elaborate plot such as this would not be unheard of.

I soon figured out that we were going to Longwood Gardens. Jared had never been there, but we had been talking about going for a while; I was delighted to realize that he had gone ahead and planned a trip. Of course he was not going to propose there, no way, even though it would be the perfect place to do it so this was just going to be a really special date.

I honestly don't know how I refrained from collapsing under the weight of the obvious. But I did. We arrived at Longwood and I was still certain there would be no ring that day.

As we got out of the car, Jared grabbed a large backpack. "Sweatshirt," he mumbled. "And a water bottle." I rolled my eyes-- whatever, boyfriend. I was determined to enjoy our visit and show Jared all of my favorite places. We wandered through the beech woods for a while, then turned up towards the meadow. There's a nice view and a bench just before the treeline. I stood looking out at the golden, grassy expanse, with Jared right behind me.

"Ah, do you want to sit down a while?"

It finally hit me.

"Suuuure."

There was a letter and a poem. "Remember when I brought you a white rose on our first date?" he asked. "That was for purity and friendship. Well, now I'm giving you red ones, because I love you. One for each month we've been together. Here's one for January, here's one for February . . ."

Oh, so that's what was in the backpack. By the time he had given me all nine, I don't know what I looked like, but I felt radiant; it was the first time Jared had told me that he loved me and those words held incredible power. (They still do.)

"I don't have a rose for October." He reached deep inside his backpack, pulled out a tiny velvet box, and grinned. "But I do have this."

So he asked. I took a long breath and looked into his eyes. I said yes.


After Jared slid the ring onto my finger, we just sat there a few minutes, too happy for more words. The first thing Jared asked, then, was when I wanted to get married. Cut to the chase, why don't you! I suggested January. We knew our wedding had to be over a college break, since we had quite a few friends and family members at school. We ended up settling on January 2, exactly three months from the day Jared proposed.

Not long to plan a wedding, but we weren't doing it alone. Our families pitched in to help and were marvelously supportive through the whole thing. Mostly, it was fun, despite the inevitable snags and worries.  I tried to view the wedding as a big party, a celebration of what God had done. That perspective relieved the stress and increased my enjoyment of the whole process. Those three months could have become an emotional nightmare, but by God's grace, they didn't.

Our wedding day approached and our excitement rose. My parents' house was jam-packed with party paraphernalia; I made dozens of meatballs and cranberry bars; Mom filled urns and pitchers with gorgeous flowers. Jared and I drove to the airport to pick up several out-of-town wedding guests, glad for the excuse to be alone for a couple of hours.


On the morning of our wedding, I got up fairly early. My youngest brother woke up around the same time. We spent some quiet minutes together, making breakfast and talking. It was odd, eating fried eggs and toast in the big echoing dining room, knowing that I would never do this quite the same way again.

Then the morning's business of beautification got underway. My aunt worked miracles with a curling iron and hairspray, while a friend from church applied makeup. Once I was all dolled up, I drove with our photographers to the bed and breakfast where the reception would take place later that day. I didn't feel nervous at all, partially because the day had been planned so well, and partially because I knew that Jared was waiting for me, and what could possibly make me nervous then? I was going to see my man!

When we arrived, I asked the photographers to wait outside for fifteen minutes; Jared and I had decided to have our first kiss that morning, without the entire world (well, 120 wedding guests) awkwardly watching. It was a very smart decision. And that's all I'll say about that.


Almost time.

Our moms and all of my bridesmaids spent several minutes praying for me. Then we went to line up outside of the sanctuary. As I took my dad's arm, I started to shake. It was a bit surreal, on the verge of terrifying, that I was actually going to walk down the aisle in front of everybody, stand at the front of the church, and enter the most important covenant I'd ever make on earth. Even though I was more excited for this than anything in my life so far, there was that inevitable moment when I thought, Good Lord, what am I doing?!

I felt dizzy. I felt, for the first and last time, unsure.

Then we started walking and the fright dropped away. I know there were people all around, standing up, taking pictures, grinning, but Jared was really the only thing I saw.

Everything went according to plan. To this day I cannot think of a single thing I would have changed about our wedding ceremony. It was beautiful, filled with Scripture and music. I  can still remember what our pastor said in his short sermon.  At the end, we walked out to Marvin Gaye's “Ain't No Mountain High Enough”-- that kicked off the rest of the afternoon and evening, and it was party time. Music played by talented friends, poetry and prayer, swing dancing, beautiful flowers, abundant laughter. Finally becoming Jared's wife. Truly the most perfect day of my life.

Life since then has been pretty wonderful too. I won't call marriage a total bed of roses--well, actually I will, because roses have thorns. We've had arguments, walked through infertility, struggled to communicate, gone nearly batty over a crying newborn. But we have also grown in our affection for one another. We both believe that marriage has been nothing but a blessing, even the hard parts. Jared has helped me to love God more and to understand myself better, and I hope that I have helped him too. This January we'll celebrate our fourth anniversary. The following March will be our little girl's first birthday. Who knows what might come next?

I love Rebekah's thoughts that happily ever after is so much more than the perfect ending, but the roses with the thorns.  Beautiful, no?  

Want to share your love story on Captive the Heart?  Email me at stephanie.captivetheheart@gmail.com!





Friday, October 4, 2013

My Spirit Rejoices: Alabaster


{sweet sounds for your Mass and reception}



Have you ever seen a new bride and groom wash each other's feet during their wedding ceremony or reception?  Personally, I'm not for symbolic rituals like foot-washing or unity candles since, to me, there's no reason for a symbol when a Catholic Mass has a sacramental reality instead, but even so, the beauty of the idea is undeniable.


Alabaster by Rend Collective Experiment expresses this sense of loving service so beautifully.  "My lips," they sing, "so lost for words, will kiss your feet."  It's a song about brokenness made whole, which might not seem like the most wedding-y sentiment off the bat, but I think being healed and brought to a deeper love, by Love Himself, is as romantic as it gets.  It would make a wonderful Mass prelude or communion meditation!  Listen to the song here.

What do you think?  Any opinions on additions to the liturgy?



Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Rite Resources: Underneath Your Clothes, Part 2



Did you catch my post on lingerie a while back?  There's a wealth of pretty things out there, but I also get that sometimes practicality takes priority; namely, under your wedding dress.  My dress was a strapless ballgown with a separate, poofy crinoline that went underneath; picking out undies that blended in wasn't too difficult, but every gown is a little different, obviously, and comes with different needs.  Here's what, in my opinion, makes for an easy time of dress shopping and, eventually, getting dressed on your big day:
  • Convertible bra: I'm pretty sure you can buy ones now that are configurable in like 500 different ways; no joke.  Kind of intimidating, but a good thing, I think, when it comes to adjusting your straps in a way that exactly fits the neckline and back of your dress with no peeking.  If you're not sure yet whether you'll wear a strapless dress or one with straps, a convertible bra seems like a more versatile option, since you can always just take the straps off if you need to.
  • By the way, if you do go strapless, the best bra advice I ever got: I used to make sure my strapless bras were super snug and were always hooked on the smallest closure, until I read (before my wedding, thankfully) that the reason girls find strapless bras so darn uncomfortable is that most of us are wearing the wrong size.  The article I read suggested buying strapless bras in the same size as you'd normally wear, set on a comfortable, not overly tight, closure--evidently, that was the secret to not having your bra ride up and down or leave marks.  Lo and behold, it was true!  Once I bought one in my normal size, it felt exactly like I was wearing a regular bra with straps, nice and supportive and natural.  The one I wore on my wedding day didn't budge once, even through a night of dancing, and wasn't uncomfy in the least.
  • Alternatively: My friend Beth had a bra sewn into the front of her wedding gown and said she really enjoyed the peace of mind of not having to think about it at all during the day.  Easy!
  • Nude undies: If, like me, your dress has a thicker additional layer that goes underneath the lining, the color of your underwear probably doesn't matter much (mine were my something blue!).  But if not, a seamless pair in lace or microfiber that matches your skin disappears under light-colored clothes, which is particularly great when you're dress shopping and trying on different fabrics and skirt styles .  As an avid wearer of white shorts and jeans, I'd just recommend avoiding white undies; they show through everything!
  • An additional piece of unsolicited advice: While I have to give the disclaimer that I've never actually worn them, I've always had a strong suspicion that Spanx are manufactured in the ninth circle of hell.  Feel free to debate me (seriously), but my thinking is that if something I want to wear requires suctioning down my flesh, I must not actually want to wear it that badly.  If you're fuller figured or are concerned with lumps and bumps in general with the dress you've chosen, a professional lingerie fitting at a department store can help you find correct sizes for everything, which friends tell me makes a huge difference in how your clothes look, or wear a slip, both of which can eliminate the need for shapewear.
So, have you been there?  Share your best advice for keeping your undies under wraps, and be sure to check out Mary's blog, which is chock full of advice on personal style and figure flattery!

Lastly, though they have nothing at all to do with the other unmentionables, I'd love to hear your take on garters.  I didn't wear one because we weren't planning to include a garter toss at our reception, but in hindsight, I kind of wish I had worn one anyway, just for tradition's sake and to keep for my own memories.  

P.S. Happy belated feast of St. Therese!  You can read last year's reflection on her intercession in my relationship, one of my all-time favorite posts, here.

Friday, September 27, 2013

7 Quick Takes, Volume 29


{story of a soul, condensed}

Visit Jen at Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!

{1} Please say some prayers for my grandfather, who had a stroke about a week ago.  Thanks be to God, he is recovering very well and doesn't seem to have been affected too much physically or mentally, but there are still questions to be decided about a future surgery and some other measures.  Thank you so much!

{2} I'm so looking forward to a weekend of nesting!  I feel like we've been so busy lately, but I can't ignore this sneaking feeling that our baby is going to come a little early before we even have a place for him to sleep or any tiny clothes washed for him.  Andrew and I went shopping for a few things this week, and after two incredibly generous baby showers, we are close to having all of the basics covered, but everything's still in boxes and I still need to order a few of the big things like diapers and whatnot.  We are so anxious to meet our sweet little guy!  Preparedly, of course...



Very anxious indeed.
{3} We're also going apple picking, a family tradition, this weekend!  You know those two showers?  The setup for one of them was that we were going on our orchard trip, only, Andrew and his brothers kept giving me wayyy more details than normal about where to pick everyone up and when to get there and I have to admit I was a little suspish.  But, surprise-revealed or not, it was still such a wonderful afternoon with both of our families, and I've been so amazed at the love and generosity people have for a little baby who's not even born yet.  The other shower was thrown by my friends and sisters-in-law, and it really was a huge surprise--I'd thought Andrew and I were going on a double date with my siblings-in-law for Mediterranean food, which is always enough to get this homebody out of the house and on a date, only to be surprised at the door!  So, so thankful.

{4}  I can't stop with the baby fever takes (I'm wracking my brain for a Bieber joke and am coming up short)...on the subject of preparedness, any advice from you mamas on unexpected items to make sure I bring to the hospital?  I've been reading things here and there and making a list, but I'd love to know if there's anything you found extra comfy or anything you wished you'd brought along, beyond the typical PJ's-camera-birth plan-Gatorade front.

{5} Blog posts telling Robin Thicke to man up are kind of old news now, I realize, but my friend Angie shared this article recently, in which the language from "Blurred Lines" is compared to the language of sexual violence, that really struck at my heart.  Read it.  

{6} Clearly I have my priorities straight...if my baby were to be born tomorrow, he'd have bare buns and no bed, but at least I could record all of it--we've been saving up for a DSLR camera for almost a year, and I pulled the trigger a few weeks ago.  I love it so far and have been trying to read as much as I can.   It was really important to me (and to my ever thrifty husband) that if we splurged on a fancier camera, we learned over time how to use it to its full capabilities beyond the Automatic modes; it didn't make sense to us to get something expensive and very adaptable and then use it the same way we would a regular point and shoot.  That said, I'm a very eager student right now!  This site has been an awesome resource, but I've been a little overwhelmed trying to find other tutorials or books.  Any recommendations?

{7} Also in the interesting articles category, did you read this one about why parents shouldn't send their daughters to college?  All due respect to the Catholic family ministry that published it, but I found the article incredibly presumptuous, negative, and full of logical fallacies.  A few days afterwards, I found myself really enjoying Haley's response, as well as this post from the National Catholic Register, by a stay at home mom who went to Princeton.  Thoughts? 

Off I go to pick apples and feather our nest.  Have a wonderful weekend; let me know what you're up to!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

DIY: Fall Wedding Crafts


As much as this is my favorite time of year, I have to ask: am I the only one who feels like obsessing over riding boots, apple picking, and Pumpkin Spice Lattes as soon as Fall hits has become kind of cliche?  Not that I dislike any of those things (far, far from it, in fact); I just get a little peeved, for some reason, at the constant emphasis.  I should probably take a Pinterest vacation.

Regardless, I suppose there really is no getting around the greatness of snappy fresh air, deeper, crisper blue skies, and crunchy leaves.  Here, in the spirit of celebrating the season as you celebrate your wedding feast, simple, inspired DIYs to add a touch of all that warmth to your day (links to each project are in the caption):

1. Silhouette Art.  2. Embellished Cardigan.  3. Gilded Pumpkins.  4. Caramel Apple favors.  5. Painted Wine Bottles.
Yes?  If you're having a Fall wedding or have been to one, share your best ideas in the comments!


Monday, September 23, 2013

Inspired: Maternity Bridesmaids Wear


{delights}

As a girl who's officially 9 months pregnant as of today (!), I feel like I have a new appreciation for my wardrobe, as in, all the things that used to fit.  Dressing a baby bump has definitely taken some creativity with items I already own, which is fun if limiting, but for a few special occasions (baptisms, interviews, and parties) I did have to go hunting for new dresses.  For a while I was able to get away with bigger sizes of regular items, but at 36 weeks, there's pretty much no getting around the maternity wear right now.

My guess is that if you're having a Catholic wedding, there's a good chance at least one pregnant girl is involved.  Out of solidarity, I offer you today some of the cutest belly-friendly bridesmaids' dresses I've stumbled across:
Dresses, Left to Right: Ruche, David's Bridal, Ruche, Ruche, Topshop
What do you think?  If you've had expectant friends in your wedding or one that you've been in, I'd love for you to share any extra advice!





Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Woman and The Serpent



At just about 9 months pregnant (I'll be full term on Monday!), I think I'm only now becoming able to articulate the thought that's been swirling around in my head for the past few months.  Over the summer, I started to notice a more and more frequent sense of heaviness on my heart.  Maybe part of it was the insanity of a 300 mile move and the temptation to despair when a lot of details Andrew and I had planned and anticipated ended up falling through or changing, but I think there's been something else at work, too.

Way back in the early days of this blog, I wrote about my first encounter with spiritual warfare during my engagement.  During the year I worked as a chastity speaker while planning my wedding, my purity came under attack big time.  I realized something that year, and I'm realizing it again now: Satan's enmity for woman, the hatred that began in the Garden, affects brides in a certain way.  Authentic beauty and purity shine so clearly in comparison to the lies of artifice and lust that the world packages and presents to us, so why wouldn't the evil one strike constantly at our sense of beauty when it goes to the core of who we are?  It can be so easy sometimes to feel like your weight and your looks aren't enough, and chastity before marriage can be such a battle.

A few years later, I'm feeling some of the same attacks on who I am as a woman.  I really have been blessed with a healthy and pretty easy pregnancy, but it's still hard, more and more often, not to feel huge and clumsy when I can't get out of the car or sit up in bed without help, not to be frustrated with my increasingly limited wardrobe and my belly when I look at magazines and clothes catalogs, and not to hate the stretch marks that suddenly started zebra-ing their way down one of my legs.  I need to remind myself often (and, thanks be to God, I'm constantly reminded by my sweet, affirming, and truthful hubby) that regardless of how I'm feeling physically or how I perceive my appearance, my body is doing something amazing and something beautiful in growing and caring for our son before he's even born.  I have a really strong sense that it's the same way the evil one came after me when I was engaged; authentic womanhood and motherhood are such enemies of his.

Engaged ladies?  Mamas?  Do you ever feel this way?  Being a bride and being a mother can come with such a spiritual struggle when you're down on yourself.  All of it goes back to Our Lady, I think.  She is a perfect bride, virginal, beautiful, and completely integrated in her body and soul, and a perfect mother, a holy dwelling place for the Lord.   So Satan's constantly after her, and her children, but of course, she can't be touched.  If only it were that easy for us...

I love statues of Mary where she's crushing the head of the serpent beneath her feet.  As hard as it is, and as resistant as I have to admit I usually am, I know that clinging to her during my times of self-doubt and attack are graces in themselves.  Please pray for me.  Even as I wrote this post over the last few days, I had a hard time, not with being honest but with just feeling peace.  I noticed a greater sense of impatience and frustration with myself and even a feeling of self-loathing and despair for feeling that way in the first place; it's a feeling I know wasn't of the Lord.

St. Maximilian Kolbe wrote, "to come closer to her, to become like her, to permit her to reign over our hearts and our whole being, that she live and ace in us and through us, that she love God with our hearts, and we belong to her unreservedly; this is our Ideal.  That her life might grow deeper in us from day to day, from hour to hour, from moment to moment, and without limits: This is our Ideal."  Amen.   


Monday, September 9, 2013

Not Alone Series: Can a Woman Pursue a Man?


If you haven't come across it yet, Jen from Jumping In Puddles and Morgan from Follow and Believe host a fantastic weekly linkup for all the single ladies, with a new topic for discussion each week.  Today, what's on the table for their Not Alone Series is the question of whether it's possible for a woman to pursue a man.  I've never participated in the series until today, but this question is one that I've changed my opinion a lot on in the last few years, and I was so glad for the opportunity to put it into words.  Click here for more bloggers' takes on this!

My short answer to this question is yes: I absolutely think it's possible for a woman to pursue a man, in a real, genuine way that neither defies who we are in our femininity nor buys into what the culture has to offer.

Until I was in my 20s, my dating experience was limited, to say the least.  I was big-time shy in high school.  That's not to say I didn't ache for a loving relationship; I definitely did.  During my conversion in college, that desire deepened more and more in my heart as I learned about pure, authentic love and began praying for my future husband.  I loved being surrounded by a community of friends who were growing in faith at the same time I was and meeting other young women who took relationships seriously and weren't afraid to want both a family and a fulfilling life outside the home.

But there was something else among young Catholics, sometimes in books (I had a lot of issues with Captivating, but that's a post for another time) and sometimes in conversations I had, that I started to notice.  They had a lot of opinions, bordering on rules, it sometimes seemed, about dating and relationships:  Guard your heart.  Guard his heart.  Don't be too forward with guys, because it's not feminine.  He should always be the one to initiate texts, dates, and hanging out.  Be a little hard to get, because men like having something to fight for.

Whoa.  These ideas represent just one school of thought when it comes to dating, one I know isn't universal, nor entirely wrong, but at the time, it was pretty confusing for me.  If men and women are created to inspire each other's inherent masculinity and femininity, I wondered, was it really necessary to analyze things so much and to practically strategize my dating life just so I could follow the Catholic playbook?

The conclusion I think I've come to is no; all of that's not necessary.  I wrote a few weeks ago about a thought I often have, that the more intimately you come to know the Lord through prayer and worship, the more deeply you come to know yourself.  As I grew in faith, I discovered, I grew in honesty.  Not without difficulty and a few servings of humble-flavored pie, I slowly, slowly became (and am still becoming) more honest with myself about my shortcomings in virtue, more open with my friends about my struggles, and much more able to see a negative relationship I was in with truthful, critical eyes.  I think, then, that honesty plays a huge role in creating clarity when it comes to dating.

John Paul II's Theology Of the Body goes back to the Garden, where the Father created man and woman from love and for love.  Man and woman He created them, to each answer the deepest desire of the other's heart and to be loved in the fullness of their dignity and worth.  Men and women complement each other, and it's written right into our bodies that men are active initiators of the gift of self, and women are active receivers.

So, do I think men and women each have something distinctive to offer in a relationship and that our sexual difference fosters different roles in giving and receiving?  Of course (I think about this in particular as we prepare to become parents next month!), and far be it from me to disagree with a Pope, but in my opinion, there has to be a meeting somewhere between theology and our daily lives.  Focusing too much on distinctions and roles, in my observation, can sometimes inhibit the natural growth of a friendship between a man and a woman, as well as the path to romance.  There can be all this head knowledge, but it doesn't always translate to movements of the heart.  If a woman insists, for instance, that she should only receive, rather than give or initiate, any romantic gestures from a man who's interested in her, I've noticed that it tends to squash any potential relationship more often than it helps it along, because there's a lack of complete honesty and reciprocation.

Boldness can be good, and even holy, I think.  If he's interested and you like him, say so!  Being honest with yourself and potential dates about your feelings, instead of keeping a man guessing for the sake of maintaining his interest or hiding your inclinations out of fear or convention, just seems to make things so much simpler and clearer for both people involved.  As women, I think pursuing men involves directness and a willingness to make our feelings and intentions clear, and to return his gestures, like phone calls and time spent together, rather than leaving it all up to him.

The first time Andrew asked me on a date, I had just ended my first serious relationship a few weeks before and knew I wasn't ready yet, even though I really liked him.  So I told him so.  After spending several more weeks in prayer and discernment, I felt like the time was right, but I knew that the ball was in my court.  He, after all, was waiting patiently and so sweetly for me, and if I didn't say anything to this boy I knew was special, how would things ever get rolling?  I saw him and asked him to ask me out again.  "Okay, soon then," he said.  Not ten minutes later, he asked and we made plans for our first date.

Before Andrew, I think I'd still held onto some conventions about Christian dating, about how the guy should always do this, the girl should always do that, and all that jazz.  I was amazed to find that as our relationship grew, I thought about those conventions less and less, and it was so good.  Instead of blurring the lines of what manhood and womanhood required in dating, I feel like both of our identities became so much clearer.  We revealed more and more of who we are, not just to each other, but to ourselves, because of the easy honesty between us.  I realized that it's not who does what so much as the fact that equality in dignity and in love is the most essential part of a relationship.  Andrew was, and still is, such a gentleman, but suddenly it didn't seem to matter much if I treated him or drove us to our destination now and then.  Serving each other and giving gifts were acts of love, not declarations of masculinity or femininity and who wore the pants.

Being on the other side of marriage now, I guess some aspect of pursuing each other is over, but I've learned that it really is so important to still initiate love and pursue Andrew as a woman, in everything from our physical relationship to how we get chores done.  For us, I think having strictly defined notions of what a husband does and what a wife does would put more pressure on being a certain way for the other and wouldn't let our natural skills, inclinations (I enjoy cooking more than my husband does, for example, while he never minds doing the laundry), and affections flourish.

Thoughts, ladies?  I get that everyone sees dating a little differently, and that can be so good.  I'm taking the rest of this week off from blogging, but meantime, I'd love to know where you stand on this!



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