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!



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