Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Waiting With Mary through Advent and Dating: Guest Post from Brooke

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Brooke and I bonded this summer over hearts for ministry and Catholic wedding planning (she dreams of having her own planning business one day!) and the fact that we were wearing the same sandals when we met for coffee.  She's been dating her love, Timothy, since high school, and we've talked about the difficulty of waiting for engagement and marriage when your season in life, namely college, just doesn't make getting engaged the most practical idea for a while.  My story is pretty different; when Andrew proposed, we'd been friends for about a year and a half and boyfriend and girlfriend for only eight months.  So, having come from a different side of dating, I always enjoy and admire stories of couples who have known each other for years before falling in love and who are faced with a significant time of waiting before being able to start their married life together.  Brooke blogs at Something to Behold, where she shares her life as a college senior, her spiritual journey, and her majorly enviable style.  I promise you'll love her site, and her wisdom that follows here:

Advent is all about waiting. But more than that, it is about waiting well. Its funny; I was incredibly resistant to all things Advent this year, and I am just now figuring out why. This Advent was one of my worst as far as my spiritual life goes. My prayer life had no significant changes or increases; I  read zero reflections on the birth of Christ, did zero devotions, and barely even listened to Christmas music. More than just being resistant to getting more seriously into this Advent season, I was resistant to even wanting to try. 

This is new for me.  Usually when I’m at a low point in my spiritual life, I at least want to want it. But almost all of Advent, I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t even want to want Advent. And I think it is precisely because Advent is all about “waiting.” And I am tired of waiting.

Timothy and I celebrated our 5 year anniversary in October. We started dating when we were 16, and by 18, we knew  God was calling us to the vocation of marriage. We’re both 21 now, and on some level it feels like we’ve been waiting since we were 18 for our lives to truly begin. 

Don’t get me wrong. God has been so so good to us over these past four years we’ve been in college and has blessed us with joys and challenges that have helped us grow in so many ways. Still, there is something really hard in knowing what you're called to and then being asked to wait at least 4 years for that to be a reality. And if I’m being really honest with myself, I have not been my best self with waiting for God’s plan to unfold this past semester. I have not been asking God to continue to reveal to me the value in waiting, or to use this time of my life for His greater glory, or to help further prepare Timothy and I’s relationship for the vocation I’m so impatient for. Instead, most of the time I’ve been complaining and begging God to let the waiting be over.

So when Advent came this year and the Church asked me to reflect on what it means to wait, I said “um, no thank you.” It wasn’t until the phrase “We wait with Mary” crept into my mind, in a way I was somehow forced to listen to, that this resistance that I had towards Advent and waiting finally broke down, which occurred two days before Christmas. This phrase reminded me of an Imagination Prayer I once did from a book titled “Quiet Places with Mary.” This particular prayer asked me to imagine what the time between Mary’s Annunciation and Joseph’s Dream must have been like for her. 

Mary had no idea what Joseph’s response would be, what her life would look like, or exactly how God’s plan would unfold. She simply had to wait. And as I sat in this prayer, all I could imagine is that it must have been the presence of Christ in her womb that gave her the strength to wait and to trust in the will of God. At the end of my prayer, I felt Mary pointing me towards the Eucharist. I remember thinking, “If the presence of Christ in the womb of Mary sustained her in her time of waiting, then the presence of Christ in the Eucharist can sustain me.”

Remembering this prayer was exactly what I needed to not completely waste my Advent season. Instead, on the last two days of Advent and now for the rest of this Christmas season, I am remembering the inseparable connection between celebrating the birth of Christ and the Eucharist. Mary, who adored the Body of Christ in her womb, adores Him at every Mass in the Eucharist. She continues to guide us into adoration of her son, not just before the manger scene, but also before every Tabernacle. It is Mary I will continue to turn to as I struggle with this time of my life that feels so characterized by waiting.  By her example, hopefully I can learn what it truly means to “wait well.”

Thanks so much, Brooke!  Any other longtime daters out there?  I'd love to hear your stories and insights into developing a patient heart during times of waiting.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What I Wish I'd Known: On Marriage, From a Recently Divorced Perspective

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As much as I love sharing happy endings and gushing over wedding details with you, heartbreak is a reality, so here are things taking a more serious turn today. A friend of mine, who requested to stay anonymous, asked if she could share her story. While it might seem like someone whose Catholic marriage is over wouldn't have valuable advice on staying married, she said, she has had the clarity of realizing what habits and actions might have made hers and her husband's relationship different, for the better.

As a recently divorced person who also just finished filling out paperwork for a declaration of nullity, I’ve spent many hours in prayer and shed many tears looking over a dream that didn’t come true. I’ve had to realize that I failed at marriage. Yes, it takes two, but that means that I failed. It would be so easy to blame the failure of the marriage on my former spouse, to list all of the things he did wrong, but that’s not how it works. 

And so, as someone who thought she knew what she was getting into when putting on that white dress all those years ago, I want to share with you what I wish I’d known then. Had I known and acted on these things, my life would have looked very different these past years. That difference might have been in a marriage that was strong, healthy, and founded in grace, or it might have been in calling off the engagement and stepping back to re-evaluate the relationship. I honestly don't know. What I do know is that it would have been different.

So, what do I wish I’d known or done or experienced prior to walking down the aisle?

1. I wish my parents' marriage had been a better example. As a child of divorce, I didn’t see firsthand what it really takes to make a marriage work. And since I didn’t have that, I wish I’d really listened closely to the couple who did our marriage prep, rather than just go through the motions with them. I wish I’d sought out those who’d been married 20, 30, 40 years, sat at their feet, and listened to their experiences. Instead, I thought because I’d seen divorce I knew what not to do and that would be enough.

2. I wish instead of allowing marriage prep to be just another thing to check off the list, someone had expressed to me the importance of it and had insisted on more than one preparatory experience. A few evenings spent with a married couple just wasn’t enough. It was too easy to just put those sessions in a once-a-week box, scramble to get our homework done on the way, and forget about it the rest of the week.

3. I wish instead of just general questions about communication styles and love languages (which ARE important), we’d been pushed to talk about specific issues. Issues in our relationship and in revisiting arguments we’d had; to lay it all out on the table. Sure, we learned how to communicate, but what we didn’t do was communicate about things that had happened before we knew how to do it well. We never really practiced the skills we were being taught.

4. I wish I’d known that as a married couple our job was to get each other to heaven. To be a sign of Christ in the world; to let our love be fruitful in both physical and spiritual ways. I wish we'd had access to good, solid catechesis on marriage and what it was, not just a basic overview. I wish instead of being afraid to speak the Truth of the Church, someone had said, if you are getting married in the Catholic Church, this is what you are saying ‘yes’ to. Learning these things years into marriage was helpful, but also too little, too late.

5. I wish I’d discussed with my former spouse these questions:
  1. Did you have any major conflicts or separations during your dating and engaged years? What were they? Were they resolved? If so, how? If not, why not? Given these conflicts and/or separations, why did you still marry?
  2. Was there anything about your former spouse that you expected to change after marriage or children? What was it? Why did you expect it to change? Why did you getting married if the behavior or personality trait was present during your engagement?

6. During the marriage, when there were times that I thought we needed counseling or extra help or that the only reason I didn’t ask for a divorce was because I worried about how it would look. At those times, I wish I’d insisted on counseling. I wish I'd insisted on outside help and realized how bad things really were, instead of just moving forward.

7. Finally, I wish someone had told me that when I decided to end the marriage, how frighteningly easy it would be to walk away. That because the foundation wasn’t strong, when the relationship crumbled, it crumbled fast and easy.

I believe marriage is important. The family is the foundation of society. The fact that I'm a statistic of failed marriage, that only serves to weaken society, is a burden I will bear the rest of my life. But, if by sharing what I wish I’d known, perhaps I can strengthen my weak spot and help to strengthen our world as a whole, one bit at a time.

As you prepare for your wedding day, remember it is a marriage you are preparing for, not just a wedding. Spend ten times as much energy focusing on your relationship and the years that will follow your wedding day. All of the beautiful photos in the world mean nothing if they end up being divided up and put into boxes never to be looked at again. By doing the hard work, being vulnerable, admitting your weaknesses and working on them together now, you are building a foundation that will bear the test of time and not crumble away.

I'm grateful for this sobered, humbly real perspective and pray if your past or your relationship has encountered divorce or annulment, that your engagement and coming marriage may be blessed with the graces of purification, self-examination, and redemption in the fullness of the sacrament. After receiving communion, I pray the Anima Christi, and different parts of the prayer stand out to me at different times. The line "within your wounds, hide me," kept coming up in my heart as I edited and prepared this post. Bring your wounds to Jesus' feet, and let blood and water flow from his pierced body, covering you in his loving mercy.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Brides Who've Been There: 7 Gift Ideas for Your Love, Including a Jeep

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I'm taking a blogging break to soak up our sweet Lily Grace (and, let's be honest, to keep my head above water through this beautiful newborn chaos), so I asked some of my married friends to contribute in my absence. Over the next few weeks, they'll be taking over to chat about wedding planning, bridal beauty and style, and sharing stories about their newlywed days.

For today, I asked them to share the most original, funny, weird, or creative gift they've exchanged with their husbands:

Starting with the year we were dating, every year for his birthday I make him a storybook, stick figures and all. In it, I recount the major events in our lives and draw out little pictures to go with each. -Amanda

Amanda and her hubs, Anthony
I created an "ABC Birthday Book" for Alex's 27th birthday gift. It was a scrapbook with 26 activities for us to do together (one for each letter of the alphabet) during that year. While we did cross off some of the items on the list, we never went back to fill in the pages with pictures or comments, and we certainly didn't cross off everything in the book. It's really a cute little scrapbook, and maybe eventually we'll work on completing it. - Lauren

Besides our four children, the most original gift I've given my husband is a puppy! I worked behind his back to get approved by a local rescue group and finally told him that the next day we were going to a rescue event to try and find him a dog. The very first dog I picked up ended up being the one, and my hubby loves his little Riley. - Andi

The pup herself
My husband is very practical. I LOVE designer purses, and those things are costly! But my husband has surprised me in the past with gifts I never asked for that I end up loving, and needing (without me knowing!). He has given me a 3 TB external hard drive because he knows I am a picture and video hoarder, and a car charger adapter (because I use his!). He knows me very well. - Sarah

We're on a tight budget around here, so we don't spend a lot of money on gifts for each other. That means Anthony sometimes get fruit crisp or chocolate chip cookies for a gift and I get Ben & Jerry's ice cream. We wouldn't have it any other way, though. - Sheena

I follow the anniversary gifts list pretty well. You know, the first year is a paper gift, the second is wood...etc. Well, one of the years was iron. I had no clue what to get him. I finally thought of getting a golf club (driving iron) for him that had our college's mascot on it. He loved it. - Amy

Amy from Passionate Purpose, a beautiful marriage ministry!
There's that time we went for a drive in October and bought a bright green Jeep! We decided it was our shared Christmas/birthday/anniversary gift for the next year. We traded in a perfectly good family car for a fun vehicle that we'd both always wanted, so making it a gift to each other helped justify that. We still have the Jeep; when we outgrew it as a family vehicle, we parked it for a couple years and now it's my husband's commuter vehicle. - Bonnie

How about you? Tell me about the best gift you and your love have given or received!

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Truth of Discernment and Vocation: Guest Post from Jiza

Jiza and I connected a few years ago when I was doing this every Sunday.  We found out we had a few friends in common from the Theology of the Body Institute, as well as shared hearts for ministry through beauty and Marian devotion.  I'm so inspired by her quietly devout spirituality and her artistic flair.  She and I have a new project in the works that I can't wait to share with you soon!  Meantime, please pray for our creative process as our project gets underway, check out Jiza's gorgeous photography business, Olive & Cypress (where you'll find more of her reflections), and enjoy this here piece of her heart.  I asked her to share some of her love story and spiritual journey; read on for her beautiful insights into walking the path to your vocation.
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“My God, since I am not worthy to be Your Spouse like my sister, I shall enter the married state to accomplish Your holy will...” – Saint Zelie Martin, Mother of Saint Therese of Lisieux

Much like Saint Zelie, I had originally thought I was called to be a religious sister.  Throughout my years of college undergrad, I had mentally prepared for the day I would enter & start my postulancy after finally receiving my degree in psychology. However, as my entrance date drew near, the numerous doors started to close, and like most college students, I began the typical journey of looking for a job and living a life as a young professional.

In the summer of 2008, I was a volunteer photographer for the Bike for Life Pilgrimage in the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina. It was a peaceful 2 weeks, but my future was still heavy upon my heart. I had just been through a failed dating relationship, was getting ready to quit my job as a special education itinerant in VA, and was eagerly awaiting a reply on an internship application for the Theology of the Body Institute in Exton, PA. As far as I knew, my life at the time was looking really unknown.

The pilgrimage ended on Feast of the Assumption, August 15, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. As the pilgrims were preparing to go our separate ways and back into everyday lives, Fr. Lawrence, a then newly ordained priest with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, asked me if he could pray for me and if I had any intentions. I replied very matter-of-factly: “I thought I was called to be a religious. And then I had a dating relationship and that didn’t work out either. I don’t know what God is calling me to do anymore.”

He replied, “Entrust everything to Our Lady. Place it in the hands of Mary and she will open doors. She always leads us to Christ and to God’s Will.” “Entrust everything to Mary,” he kept repeating. Then he paused and looked at me intently and said “And I have a feeling that you will find out what that is very soon.”

I did just that, and well… Fr. Lawrence was right. A couple of weeks later, I soon met my husband, Mark. Actually, we were re-aquatinted online ( but we had originally met at a Theology on Tap just a couple of months beforehand. We had a prayerful courtship while he finished his final year at the United States Naval Academy and during my internship at the Theology of the Body Institute. That early January we were engaged.

Later that month, I bumped into Fr. Lawrence at the annual March for Life in Washington D.C. When I spotted him, I quickly ran to him and asked him if he had remembered the advice he had given me. He said “Yes! How is that going for you?” I eagerly threw up my left hand and yelled “I’m engaged!” After a congratulations and a hug, he then asked me “So, when is the wedding?” Without a thought, I blurted “August 15”, a date that Mark and I had mindlessly and quickly decided on the day before due to his deployment schedule. 
“That’s the Feast of the Assumption. Exactly a year from when I told you to entrust everything to Our Lady,” Fr. Lawrence said.
In a crowd with millions of people on the way to the Capitol Building, a silence fell upon me and Fr. Lawrence in that moment. We just stood there, stunned. Then the tears of joy started to well up in both of our eyes along with a burst of laughter.

I honestly don’t remember how Fr. Lawrence and I parted ways that day. I want to say that our original groups that we were accompanying for the March had caught up to us. However, what I do remember is the peace that overcame me and that never left me. I wasn’t searching for a confirmation or a sign regarding my vocation to the married life with Mark because the peace and the knowing was already there. However, God gave me one anyways. Perhaps because He knew I would often look back at that moment to reflect on His Love for me and the intricate part that Mary, with her Immaculate Heart full of love, always desires to point us to her Son, Jesus.
Today, younger women will sometimes ask me how I discerned my vocation. Bill Donaghy of the Theology of the Body Institute said it best, in that “The truth of vocation is that it’s a dialogue, not a monologue. A dance more than a cold directive.”  In the beginning, my vocation discernment was overzealous and self-centered. I was blind in the fact that I just wanted God to dictate to me what He wanted, rather than what I should have been doing all along, which was--is--to surrender myself daily in love to Him, and with a willingness and docility to grow in my relationship with Him.
Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being (St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, n. 11). Vocations are “peculiar to persons, and the very concept takes us into a very interesting and profound area of man’s interior life… A person who has a vocation must not only love someone but be prepared to give himself or herself for love… ‘What is my vocation’ means ‘in what direction should my personality develop, considering what I have in me, what I have to offer, and what others – other people and God – expect of me?’” (St. John Paul II, Love & Responsibility, p. 256).

Sometimes, I wish I could go back and tell my 22 year old self to not be so easily disheartened, assuming that she would have been willing to listen. However, I also know that my conversation with Fr. Lawrence on that faithful day was the catalyst for me realizing that my vocation is not about me, but about something greater than me. It is about Love and Love itself.
Entrust everything to Mary.
Thanks so much, Jiza!  Feeling inspired by her total surrender to Our Lady? If you missed it, click here for a roundup of Marian posts.  Have a wonderful weekend; I'd love to know what you're up to!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Brides Who've Been There: 10 Ways to Stretch Your Wedding Budget

I'm taking a blogging break to soak up our sweet Lily Grace (and, let's be honest, to keep my head above water through this beautiful newborn chaos), so I asked some of my married friends to contribute in my absence.  Over the next few weeks, they'll be taking over to chat about wedding planning, bridal beauty and style, and sharing stories about their newlywed days. 

For today, I asked them to share their best money-saving tips when it comes to wedding planning:

This is all my husband's amazing efforts: I was still in medical school when we got married. He was already working. He saved his money--our future money--and paid for everything. Our parents helped some, but most expenses were paid for by my husband. We do not have any debt from our wedding day. I am so proud of him. - Sarah

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Sarah and her husband Derrick
We had our wedding during the day instead of in the evening.  Venues charge a lot less for daytime receptions!  And don't listen to anyone who tells you people won't have as much fun during the day.  Everyone danced and had a fantastic time at our reception, and it was even more joyful because all the children could participate!  Also, choose a DJ instead of a band and wine and beer instead of cocktails. - Sylvia

Our whole wedding cost about $2500, including the dress.  We only bought a couple of arrangements for the altar and bouquets.  We didn't hire anyone at all for anything--one friend took pictures, another sang for us, and the organist was included in the church stipend.  A few friends and I made the cake, and our families made the food!  We had about 25 guests for lunch.  The reception Hall was free, thanks to my husband's involvement with the Knights of Columbus, and we didn't decorate much.  Now.  Some of those things we chose because we needed to budget, and some for other personal reasons, and I wouldn't recommend all of them.  But I do think it's good to keep it simple; I don't think the style of a wedding reception should be way beyond the means that your family otherwise lives and entertains. - Rachel

The two biggest expenses we saved on were the wedding party's attire and the catering and alcohol bills.  Instead of looking for bridesmaids dresses at wedding stores, I searched online and bought dresses from Shabby Apple.  Because we bulk-ordered for 6 bridesmaids, they gave us a discount, free shipping, returns, and exchanges, and the cost of each dress was way less that it would have been at a place like David's Bridal.  So I definitely recommend looking around for options besides wedding stores--they mark up the price because they know that's where you'll look!  We bought the groomsman suits at J.C. Penney instead of renting tuxes. We also chose a reception venue where we could provide our own catering or alcohol, so we bought our own alcohol, had some friends run the bar, and chose a catering package from a local grocery store--still amazing without shelling out a lot for a fancy package! - Hannah

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Hannah and her hubs, David
We made the invitations, programs, centerpieces, table numbers, and name cards ourselves.  Instead of hiring a DJ, we brought a laptop with a dance playlist and had a good friend play DJ.  And I got my dress at a wedding consignment shop for $300! - Anna

We both come from huge families, so there was really no getting around an expensive wedding. The best way (by far) to cut down on wedding expenses is to cut down on guests. And we just weren't willing to do that.  So we saved money where we could -- we ordered our invitations online, we went with the most affordable florist we could find, we chose family friends for our photographer and DJ. We used honey from my husband's beehives for our wedding favors. But we just sucked it up regarding catering costs, and went with a caterer who provided everything, down to the table linens, so we wouldn't have to worry about getting hit with a million little surprises. - Julie 

We didn't have flowers.  It was late December, so anything real would have been not native (aka more expensive), and I really just don't think "flowers" when I think "winter."  Instead of flower bouquets, we had bead bouquets that my mom made by hand.  It was quite time consuming for her, but I'm glad we went that route, and (I think) they looked great.  - Lauren

First, shipping in bulk and looking for wholesale deals saved us tons of money on the little vases we used as escort cards for each guest and on the favor frames we gave each family. Second, I worked at a bridal store at the time, so I got an amazing discount on my dress. Third, print things yourself. I love graphic design and stationary so I had a great time designing programs, table numbers, escort cards, and menus. Some things I had printed at my trusted neighborhood print shop (like the programs because they were able to add the cardstock cover and staple them for me- timesaver!), and the rest I printed at home. Don't skimp on a paper cutter if you go this route because a bad one will make the job miserable. Fourth, I used Nashville Wraps to get bulk pricing on all the wrapping for the two favors we had. I STILL use the black and white polka dot wrapping paper we used for our favors because the roll I got was humongous. And last!  I ordered 50 less slices of cake than we thought we needed, but had the baker turn two small layers of the cake into fake layers. Yay styrofoam! It was still too much cake. I have never seen a shortage of cake at weddings. - Andi

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Andi's wedding cake, with fake foam layers!
Friends shared their talents and offered them as wedding gifts.  For example, my maid-of-honor's mother is an incredible seamstress, so she made all the bridesmaid dresses, the ring pillow, and the flower girl's dress.  That was my wedding gift from her.  A family friend was an excellent decorator, so she made all the flower arrangements and corsages as our wedding gift.  In high school, I worked for a sandwich shop and my old boss catered the whole wedding as my gift.  All the musicians were family friends or church members.  This really made our wedding feel very personal and special, because everyone gifted us by using their amazing talents.  - Amy 

We'd planned to do a wedding slideshow, and I got it done a couple days before the wedding and sent it to the DJ. He emailed me back to ask if we'd rented a projector for the slideshow. A projector? No, I hadn't even thought of that/ The church wouldn't let us use theirs, and on the Friday before a wedding, none of the rental places in town had a projector available. So my husband-to-be bought a projector at BestBuy. After the honeymoon, he took it back to BestBuy and honestly told the returns agent, "My wife said I spent too much money on this." - Bonnie

Your turn!  Leave your best wedding moneysaving tip in the comments!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

"My Soul Proclaims the Greatness of the Lord:" A Marian Post Roundup

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Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception, y'all.  Mary, under this title, is the patroness of my alma mater (and I know I'm biased, but really, given the name, the history, and the saintly children of Our Lady who've walked the grounds--Elizabeth Ann Seton being one of them--is there a school out there more suited to the term "loving mother?), and on this day in the past few years, I've had several extraordinary, transcendent times that bore tremendous joy and one exceedingly crappy, spiritual warfare-ridden time that ended in a breakdown.  Each of them, I know, regardless of my emotional state, has been the result of binding myself to our mother in Heaven (more on that below), a promise that has borne such fruit in my spiritual life and my marriage and that I'd never take back, even when the battles are on.

So between those things, this day of Mary's conception, the day she was formed to crush the head of evil and to illuminate our path to her son, is one of the most meaningful days in the Church for me.  In honor of her, to whom I'm immeasurably grateful to belong entirely,  here's a collection of posts from the archives on all things Marian:

In which I call Mary a badass (sorry, just trying to capture the right sentiment!), and why there's nothing more beautiful than a man in love with Our Lady

What about you?  I'd love to know what this day means to your spirituality and how you're walking with Our Lady this Advent!  Thoughts?


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