What I Read: Quarterly Review

Hi Everyone!

I took a little break from my blog for a while.  While I love pouring my thoughts out in writing, it definitely takes a lot of mental work and effort!  In keeping with my lenten observance (to focus first and foremost on resting in God), I found myself a bit freer to put my energy towards my family and some of the other things I love to do, like reading! 

One of my New Years resolutions was to actually finish the books I start.  I’ve always had a terribly bad habit of picking up a book, only to get pulled in by another, and another.  Before I know it, I end up reading multiple books at once and as a result so many remain unfinished.

Since I made this resolution, my reading has improved dramatically. (Go figure!)  I’ve read some really great books, and have decided to share what I’m reading with you on a quarterly basis!

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“John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father” by Peggy Noonan

If you know me, you know I love just about anything Saint John Paul related. If a book acknowledges the greatness of the man in its very title…well, you know I am in.

My dad gave me this book, and I quickly threw myself into it.  I couldn’t put it down!  I obviously loved all of the stories about John Paul, but the thing I loved about this book was the author’s particular perspective.  She was a woman touched personally by this Saint and his life deeply impacted her conversion of heart.  I loved hearing how he touched her life personally (as he did so many people) and how her encounters with him helped shape and strengthen her faith.

I also loved that, as a convert and journalist, she kept things real.  She talked about some of the deep and hard realities that faced John Paul in the his time as Pope, and she didn’t water anything down for the sake of her readers.

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“No Greater Love” by Mother Teresa

I don’t know why, but I have never read anything by or about Mother Teresa before.  It is shameful to admit, but I’ve always just chalked it up to the fact that I already kind of knew who she was.  She’s Mother Teresa after all! 

I was really wrong.

Hearing about Mother Teresa’s life (now Saint Teresa of Calcutta)is entirely different than hearing about it in own words.

Some of the stories I’ve heard about her work came to life in this book, and it was so special to read about all she did through her own words; reading this book was truly humbling, to say the least.  Saint Teresa was not extraordinary in any superhuman sense; she was an ordinary person accomplishing simple acts of love for the sake of human dignity.  Through her life and her actions, she reminds us that loving authentically and responding to God’s will oftentimes means taking care of the weak, suffering, and needy who are already within our very midst.

Her words on the Eucharist, prayer, love, holiness, death, and Jesus were all very moving.

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“On the Other Side of Fear: How I Found Peace” by Hallie Lord  

I flew through this book!  After reading two books from a couple of spiritual giants, breaking open this one was a bit refreshing.  That’s not to say that Hallie isn’t saintly, but rather that her book felt a bit more familiar.  Reading it felt similar to sitting down with a friend for a cup of coffee, chatting about our thoughts on motherhood and marriage, while our kids play in the background.  She shared a lot of wisdom about what it means to shed fear and learn to rest in God, amidst the chaos of marital and parental life.  Her book was a sweet reminder that all of us are called to holiness. 

 

temperament“The Temperament God Gave You” by Art and Larain Bennett 

This book was recommended to me by a couple of friends in my women’s group at church.  They kept talking about it non-stop, so I thought, I’ve got to see what this is all about. 

It didn’t take me long to become enthralled with this book, either.  I took the test right away and discovered my temperament to be a very close combination of the sanguine and choleric temperaments (sanguine being the slightly more dominant). At first, I wasn’t convinced that I entirely fell into either categories, but after reading the synopsis of the combination of the two, I was amazed that it described me almost to a tee.

This book has been beneficial to me in so many ways.  I have taken some of the other personality tests out there and found some to be pretty good (I am a ENFJ-A Protagonist), but what I really loved about this book was that it was written from the perspective of the faith.  It shined a light on the fact that God made each and every one of us uniquely different, but at the same time, he stuck to a sort of template.  There are four basic temperaments that everyone falls under, each referring to the natural tendencies and reactions we all have.  I found that especially helpful in coming to understand myself a bit more, and how I relate to other people.  The things that mark my temperament have always sort of been the things I want to push down and wash over.  The book described my combined temperament to have the tendency to be overly talkative, brassy, opinionated, loud, rash, swift to jump to conclusions, and forgetful.  Who wants to be any of those things? What I began realizing, though, is that with all the negative qualities of particular temperaments, there comes a lot of good and unique characteristics.  This book helped me understand that God created me with the temperament I have, and I have the ability to use that temperament to glorify him with my life.   Reading this book is helping me own who I am.   A lot of the things that I’ve always been ashamed of about myself are actually ways in which God wants to use me for his glory!

This book is also beneficial in coming to understand how we relate to others in our differences.  It was eye opening for me, because it really allowed me to see that the things I often dislike about others are due primarily to a difference in temperaments.  Understanding that has helped me to be more patient with others, and to respect that when they do and see things differently, it’s because they are different–and that’s okay.  It’s also helped me respect and come to understand my husband and my kids on a deeper level!

I definitely recommend this book!

 

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“The Atheist Delusions” by David Bentley Hart

This was the only book that I got through in February.  That kind of tells you what kind of a book it is.

It was super chewy and took me forever to get through! 

David Bentley Hart’s thorough review of the Christian revolution and analysis of the many misrepresentations of the Christian past was incredibly revelatory and sophisticated.  The ease with which he poured out his grueling assessment of the cultural challenges we face today, as well as his brilliant knowledge about Christianity’s influence on the Western Civilization, was impeccable.  He dismantled so many of the modern-day arguments for atheism, simply by explaining and laying out historical facts that have been diluted and distorted to fit a certain “narrative” against Christianity.

If you have the gumption and the energy, this is a fantastic read.

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The Life of Christ in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church”

I am currently (slowly) working on obtaining my certificate in the Catechism of the Catholic Church from Catholic Distance University.  In my last course I was assigned the Life of Christ portion in the Catechism.  I know it’s kind of cheating to include this in my “What I Read” list, but it was a huge portion of the reading I did in March (about 200 pages).

You guys…the Catechism is so rich! (I know I am stating the obvious.)  It is not a book meant to collect dust on your shelf.  It should be read hand in hand with Scripture!  It reads really well from cover to cover, and I highly encourage you to pick it up and start reading it today. Read a few portions a day, or follow a plan to read the whole thing in a year!

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“The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis 

The Screwtape Letters was another sort of assigned reading for me this month.  It was picked by my women’s group at Church, and I was excited to participate in this one.

 

I’ve read most, but not all, of this book before, so I was so glad to finally finish it.  It was so good, and so applicable for every day living.  It was a great reminder that the devil and his demons are always at work, seeking to distort and twist God’s plan for love and for our lives, and to distract us from our ultimate goal: eternal life with the great Enemy of the devil, Our Lord, and Our God. 

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“Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton 

It’s a bit hard to say which was my favorite read since the year began, but if I had to choose…it would be G.K’s Orthodoxy.  

I was listening to one of Bishop Robert Barron’s podcasts on G.K., and he describes Orthodoxy so perfectly.  He described it to be the kind of book that is so rich and so sparkly that, like champagne, you just want to sip on it slowly, savoring every delicious taste.

While reading this book, I found myself  time and time again placing it on my chest, closing my eyes to really relish all that he had to say. It is a great read, and one which will both inspire and awaken your faith–in God and in the Church.

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“Padre Pio: Man of Hope” by Renzo Allegri 

This book was one I was really into about a year ago, and for some reason (again, probably my incredibly bad habit) it ended up on my shelf, half read.  I still had it bookmarked where I left off, so I picked it back up and read the second half I still had left to read.

So much of the profound beauty of the life of Padre Pio came in his being rooted to deep suffering and pain.  Padre Pio endured so much suffering in his life–physically (with the stigmata and his failing health at the end of his life), mentally (with the constant scrutiny and opposition he faced), and spritually (with his frequent battles with the devil)–but it is in and through that suffering that he exemplified his great love for God and hope in His plan for his life.

Reading all the stories written by his personal friends had me wishing I was one of them.  He took such loving care of the people he was fond of, and any closeness to him meant being closer to God.  What an incredible gift we are given in the lives of the Saints.  It is such a blessing to be able to develop and grow in friendship with these people who are already in the company of our Lord.  Though I wasn’t one of those blessed to call him a personal friend in this life, I know that I can still grow in friendship with him, and come to him for intercession and prayer.  Since he endured such spiritual and physical sufferings, he is a powerful ally to have in this cosmic battle between good and evil that we all face.

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“David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell 

After reading so many books from the perspective of the faith, I wanted to change things up a bit.  My husband Joe read this book a couple of years back and really enjoyed it, so I thought I’d give it a go.

I really liked it!  The book examined the lives of certain underdogs, misfits, and “nobodies” who ended up accomplishing amazing feats in life.  His idea was that those who appeared to have disadvantages, really had many advantages because of the difficulties they had to endure in life.  He showed how the difficulties, pain, and suffering lead people to accomplish great things that they otherwise would never have even thought of if they hadn’t been handed a tough load in life.  He also described how sometimes, what we think to be advantages in life, often turn out to be the things leading us in the wrong direction.  Sometimes it takes someone who offers a different perspective, or shoots from a different angle to make things happen.

Though I thought the book was really good, I couldn’t help but think that something was nonetheless lacking.  In all the author’s talk about great “underdogs” and “disadvantaged” players in history, there was no mention of Jesus.  No matter if you believe in him or not, it is undeniable that the historical Jesus had a profound effect on Western Civilization.  He is one of the greatest examples of someone who defied people’s expectations and challenged the societal norms of his day.  And all of that is just the beginning of the impact he had on man throughout history.

Also, while I thought the book was a good read, the idea that great things can be accomplished through weaknesses, suffering, and disadvantages is nothing new.  In fact, that is God’s m.o.       

It was a good book, but for me, it left something to be desired.

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I am also working through my read-the-bible-in-a-year plan and loving it!  It’s just a few chapters a day and it organizes my scripture making it easier to get through the more difficult books.  Check it out!

My next read is Fulton Sheen’s, The Life of Christ. I am already loving it and looking forward to digging into some more great books!

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Have you read any of these books? What are you reading right now?  What are some of your favorite books?  

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7 Quick Takes: A Movie, a Storm, and Resting in God

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This past weekend was a pretty lazy one.  Sometimes those are the best, but it definitely requires me to put in the effort of relishing the slow.  I am always go, go, go…looking for the next thing to check off my list.  I think this is what God is calling me to give up this lent.  I feel like he is calling me, not so much to cease working, but to do everything for his glory, to worry less, and to take time to rest in him.

One thing that I have been doing for 3 weeks now is really paying attention to how I spend my Sundays.  Usually, I don’t merely reserve the day for just worship and family, but for tackling a lot of my “to-do” list around the house.  It’s been a nice change of pace to really try and relax, pray, and focus solely on my family on Sundays.  Giving that time to God has shown me, yet again, how truly wise he is.  Resting on Sundays has better prepped me to tackle the rest of the week with love and joy.

The one thing that is a daily source of annoyance and work is laundry.  I never feel like I am on top of it! We’ve already worked really hard at paring down everyone’s wardrobe, but I still find myself bathing in socks and clean underwear on a daily basis.

In an effort to lighten my load during the week, and quit using Sundays as my laundry day, I decided to try something new: I’m doing all of our laundry on Saturday!  My rule is, if I don’t get through it, I don’t touch it until Monday.

This has already lightened my load incredibly because clothes are no longer piling up and we always have what we need, folded and ready to go in our closets.

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This week Father Jim Sichko came to the parish where I teach RCIA for a parish mission.  He was commissioned by Pope Francis to go to parishes all over the country to talk about mercy, the gospel, and Catholicism.  He was really enthusiastic and charismatic, and he did an excellent job of sharing the faith through the context of his funny and heartfelt stories, as well as through song.

My absolute favorite part of his nightly talks was his ability to get the whole church singing!  I mean it, everyone who was there (and there were a lot of people there–the Church was overflowing!) was singing loudly.  Together, the Church felt so very alive and thriving.  Though people mostly sing in Mass, to hear everyone excitedly singing out a lenton hymnal was incredibly beautiful.  It made me tear up, so very proud to be apart of this Church.

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Monday, Joe and I ventured out for a much-needed date. In a thunderstorm. A severe one.  With a tornado warning.

For me, going out in this weather is just crazy talk, but my husband and my 14-year-old babysitter assured me, it’ll be fine! We never see tornadoes around here!

Though the weather was pretty bad, it wasn’t that bad, yet poor Joe had to spend the evening with me twitching and checking my phone every few minutes.  We made the mistake of sitting at the bar, so I had a perfect view of the weather.  At one point, the wind picked up and slammed a chair into a window.  I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest!

In our part of the city, all ended up ok.  We made it safely through our whole date, and by the end of it I was forced to reflect on Matthew 8:24.    I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’s disciples on the boat in the storm.  Most of these men were skilled fishermen, so a storm that would cause them much fear must have been an awful one.  Yet, when Jesus comes out from his slumber, he asks them: Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?

These big storms are big reminders for me to give myself to God with reckless abandon, especially when I am shaking like a leaf in fear.  He is always with us.  We need not worry when he is at our side.

Also, we need not go on dates when the weather’s so bad,  but that is neither here nor there.

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Joe and I saw “Logan” on our date.  It never takes any convincing for me to go to an X-Men movie because I always know I’ll like it.  They are almost always good, or at least always entertaining.

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The one thing that was different with this particular X-Men movie was that it was rated R, which is different from the usual PG-13 rating X-Men movies normally get.  We didn’t think much of this change, especially since the movie got a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Yet, as the preview for the next “Deadpool” movie came on—which was altogether graphic and lewd—I started to realize that Logan was going to be much different than we anticipated.

Though the X-Men movies always include some level of violence, Logan was packed with scene after scene of explicit, realistic depictions of violence.  It was incredibly hard to watch, more or less to stomach.

(Warning: Spoiler Alert!) The movie followed a dark and hopeless Logan, walking through life wishing to accomplish nothing but abandoning himself to obscurity and a life of loneliness.   Early on in the movie he is forced into taking care of a little girl, whom he soon finds out is of his daughter.  Though he doesn’t want to love her (because all of his loved ones end up dead), by the end of it we see Logan learn what it means to love again, even at the cost of his own life.

Not a terrible story line, but it absolutely wasn’t something I enjoyed.  When we walked out of the theater I felt like I had been through the ringer.  I spent half the movie hiding under the veil of my shirt!  There were many moments throughout where I thought, we should just leave, but I never said anything to Joe.  Honestly, though, we should have walked out.  The glorification of graphic violence is not art, and really isn’t entertainment.  As one Catholic reviewer put it, it was nothing more than a “dreary killing fest.”

Next time, at least for rated R movies, we’ll resolve to visit a Catholic Movie Reviews source as opposed to a secular one like Rotten Tomatoes.

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This week we went to the zoo with a friend of ours and her little girl.  It was a really great day!  Noteworthy event: I got attacked by a Gibbon!  Well, sort of.  We were watching the gibbons in their cages, who were especially hyper that day, when all of a sudden one swung towards my back slamming his feet into the window.  I turned around to see this ornery monkey looking straight at me as I let out a scream.  Pretty funny!

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Right after we made good and became friends. 

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Joe went out of town for a few days,  so my bed had been a little colder than usual.  In the morning, Eli likes to wake us up abruptly by knocking on his door saying, “Mommy, I need to go pooottttyyyy,” so I decided to leave his door slightly cracked so he could come in my room whenever he needed.

Well, at 4am, I woke to what I thought was the baby monitor.  When I went to reach for it I found a foot instead!  It took me a second to realize that the noise I had heard was actually my sneaky-ninja son snoring next to me.  How did I not hear him? I don’t know.  But I just rolled over, hugged him fiercely, and went back to sleep thankful that I had him to cuddle.  

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This girl is still cutting her molars.  Poor baby, I can feel how swollen her gums are so I know that’s what is causing all her extra fuss and pain.  She is kind of a wreck at times.  She’ll go from laughing, to fall apart crying in an instance.  She’s had a harder time eating, and some days she is completely inconsolable for 20 to 30 minutes at a time.  All I can do is hold her and caress her little face.

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It kind of reminds me of when she was little.  I sometimes joke that I have a bit of PTSD from her colicky phase, or rather, post traumatic colic disorder—but I really do think that I have some slight form of itWhen she resorts to full on screaming now, I still find myself wanting to recoil, then rushing to give her what she wants because her cries trigger something inside of me.  It’s silly, because she is nothing like she was when she was a newborn, but still, whenever she screams for long periods of times I am automatically taken back.  However, since we got through that awful 5-month phase a long time ago, things really are much easier.  It’s nice that she finds comfort in her mama.  I don’t mind that at all.

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I’ll hold her all day if that’s what helps her feel better. 

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7 Quick Takes: Links, Lent, and Putting on Love

It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted a 7QT, but back at it this week, joining Kelly of This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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In honor of World Marriage Day in February, I dedicated a lot of time to writing about marital love.  Here is a link to each of my posts:

What is Marriage?

The Freedom in Living Chastely Before Marriage 

Giving a Complete Gift of Self in Marriage

The Marital Call for Fidelity

The Marital Call for Life-Giving Love Part 1 and Part 2

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We kicked off Lent with Ash Wednesday yesterday.   Though it is a somber time in the Liturgical year, it’s always one of my favorites.  However, Ash Wednesday Mass was a pretty tough one for our family.  Things started out great, but slowly got out of control with constant wiggling from both kids, proceeded by urgent pleas for snacks and milk.  (Have you ever tried to open a snack wrapper in Mass?? So embarrassing!)   After communion, as Mass neared to an end, we had to head to the back of the Church because I had a screaming toddler and sleepy baby on my hand.  (12 pm Mass with kids is not for the faint of heart.)  When we got to the back of the Church, I found myself resolved to letting my toddler cry-it-out while I angrily tried to finish my prayers.  This didn’t last long, though, because my son only grew louder and more inconsolable as time passed, and I knew it wasn’t fair to others trying to pray in the back as well.  As I was getting more upset with him, I caught a glimpse of myself in one of the large entry windows.  I saw the dark ashes on my forehead and thought: what a real way to start off Lent.  I was frustrated and sweaty, having to deal with fussy kids while all I really wanted to do was pray.  I saw those ashes on my head, and heard him say to me, just put on love. 

I realized he didn’t want me there–fresh from receiving his body–dealing angrily with my kids.  He wanted me to take a breath, turn my attention to them in love, and to cease worrying about having everything perfect and all put together.  I think this is a lesson God is trying to teach me through motherhood: to pray by loving, even when it is hard.

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#ashtag “Put on Love”

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Have you decided what you are doing for Lent?  With your help, I put together a list of some ideas for Lenten fasting, praying, and almsgiving. It’s never too late to make the commitment!

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Have you seen this video by Audrey Assad?

I can hardly get through it without crying.  I’ve seen it before, but watching it now makes me realize how applicable it is for lent.  The girl in the video carries the light of Christ with her as she journeys into a wilderness-type setting.  As she encounters demonic forces who try to distract and pull her in different directions, she is able to forge ahead, unaffected by their draw.  As she moves ahead carrying the light of Christ with her, she is able to spread that light, igniting a bonfire that illuminates in the desert.

I think this is what Lent is all about.  It is about journeying into the wilderness of our hearts, to strengthen ourselves with the Holy Spirit and light of Christ.  As we gain strength through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we are able–when Easter comes–to carry his light with us wherever we go, and set the world on fire by putting on his love, inspiring others to do the same.

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This Lent I chose a fast that is a bit different than normal: I chose to fast from staying up late.  I decided for the next 40 days to set an early bedtime and wake up time.  That might sound a bit odd, but I was so touched by what Father Mike Schmitz said in this video:

One of the things about motherhood that I have yet to accept and embrace is how very incarnational it is.  At all times of the day, both my kids want to be all over me.  If we are watching a show, they want to be in my lap.  If I am cooking dinner, they are either clinging to my ankles or crying for me to hold them.  You get the idea–it’s exhausting. 

Since it is so incarnational, by the time their bedtime comes around (no matter how tired I am) I get a second wind. I get to read, write, clean, watch a show…all hands free and individually.  It’s so liberating that I end up staying up way too late–and wake way too grouchily. 

I love what Father says about staying up late, and how it is vanity to not give yourself sufficient time to rest.  In this bad habit, what I am saying to God is: I don’t trust you to provide for me tomorrow.  I don’t trust you to give me the strength, or the love.  

This Lent, I am giving him my time, and so far…it’s been amazing.  I wake rested and ready to tackle the day (and my kids ;).  I think it is a great reminder this lent for me to rest in God and give my worries and anxieties over to him. 

What are you giving up or doing this lent?  Comment below! 

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See, now I can even use their need to be on me as exercise!

Metaphorical “before lent”:

Metaphorical “after lent”:

Joe laughed at me saying, “Honey…that’s not a push up.”  But in my book it counts!  ha

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My friends, that’s all I have for you this Friday morning.  My kids are running amok, as they sense I’m distracted and that my defenses are down.  Cheerios are all over the floor, they are taste testing random candy they are finding (Lucy finally figured out we have chocolate chips in the lazy susan), and I’ve got to go mop up all the spilled milk.  Time to go “put on love”!

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Ideas for Praying, Fasting, and Giving Alms this Lent

A couple of weeks ago when I hosted a Lenten journal giveaway, so many of you commented with wonderful ideas for fasting, giving alms, and praying during Lent.  I gathered all these ideas for you and am adding a few just in case you need some last minute ideas before Ash Wednesday!

For Strengthening Your Prayer Life:

-Daily 10 minutes of silence to spend with the Lord

-Pray daily with Scripture

-On Fridays, pray the Stations of the Cross

-Participate in Lenten Gospel Reflections with Bishop Robert Barron

-Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at 3pm, the hour of our Lord’s death

-Spend your lent “Consoling the Heart of Jesus”

-Pray with St. Francis de Sale’s Introduction to the Devout Life 

For Mortifying Your Senses:

-Fast from alcohol

-Fast from sweets

-Fast from coffee

-Fast from cheese

-Fast from TV

-Give up wearing make-up

-Give up foul language

-Give up gossip

-Give up excessive shopping

-Give up amazon prime

For Praying in Your Vocation as Wife/Mother, or Husband/Dad

Morning Offering with Toddlers

– Rosary with “A Mother’s Bouquet”

-Pray a Rosary with “A Father’s Heart”

-Pray nightly as a family

Making Room for Silence in Your Life:

-Limit time on social media and the internet

-No music in the car

-Don’t use TV as background noise when doing chores or cooking

-Don’t look at your phone to fill in time (in the bathroom, at the dinner table, when alone, etc.)

-Leave your phone downstairs when you go to bed

For Strengthening Your Life Through the Sacraments:

-Go to Confession every week

– Get to Mass early every Sunday to pray and prepare, and stay a few minutes late in thanksgiving and adoration

-Go to an additional Mass per week

– Go to Eucharistic Adoration once or more per week

– Get Active in the Community at Your Parish: lector, cantor, become a Eucharistic Minister

-Pray after receiving Holy Communion; don’t watch people in the Communion line

For Growing Closer to Christ Through Mary

Consecrate Yourself to Jesus Through Mary

-Pray a daily or weekly rosary

For Growing in Knowledge and Love for Christ and the Church:

-Participate in Dynamic Catholic’s Best Lent Ever

– Participate in Catholic Answer’s 20 Question Challenge

-Pray with Daily Reflections in Blessed Is She’s Put On Love journal

– Read a Church Document like Gaudium et Spes, or Evangelium Vitae 

– Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church daily

-Read a spiritual biography or autobiography like “Padre Pio: Man of Hope”, “Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Great Loves”, or “The Story of a Soul: St. Therese of Lisieux”

For Developing Charity Through Almsgiving:

-Participate in the Lenten Rice Bowl Project

-Volunteer at a soup kitchen or with a desired charity

-Spend time with the elderly and/or infirm

-Donate goods to charity

-Donate your time and help at your parish’s Friday Fish Fry

-Make dinner for someone (a family you know, or someone who doesn’t regularly have a cooked meal) one night each week 

-Increase your tithe amount each week

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During Lent, we are called to pray, fast, and give alms.  Picking one thing to do in each of these categories will ensure that you have a great lent, and will help you prepare your heart for Easter!

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The Marital Call for Life-Giving Love

Out of all four elements of marital love, I think it is the “fruitful” aspect that is the most difficult for people to accept, understand, and live out.  Being fruitful in marriage means joyfully cooperating with God’s will for children, and openness to life in shared love.  This requires a lot from both spouses: total openness in their relationship, teamwork, willingness to follow God’s plan for love and sexuality, living chastely, and accepting life when it comes.   Spouses are called to acknowledge that children aren’t merely an addition to their marital love, but rather, are born from the heart of the mutual self-gift between the spouses.   To love entirely, means withholding nothing.  Not even fertility.

When this essential element of marital love is entirely removed or barred, the full gift of marital love is diminished.  This is a hard reality in today’s culture to swallow.  The mentality today is that openness to children is unnecessary, and limiting children or having none at all is ideal and good for the sake of personal freedom and spousal love.  Contraception (as well as abortion) are widely understood to be acceptable forms of limiting the reproduction of children, and on a whole, the modern world struggles to understand the Church’s teachings on contraception and procreation.

The primary reason this teaching faces so much opposition today, is that our modern world misinterprets the true definition of “freedom,” and also misunderstands the inherent purpose of sex.

Is sex merely about pleasure, and having the freedom to do whatever we want and like with our own bodies?

As I mentioned in previous posts, the sexual act is meant to go much deeper than personal fulfillment and pleasure; it is meant to make the marital vows known in the flesh.  The beauty of the sexual act is that it is the physical expression of the indissoluble, unbreakable bond between man and wife, and is the means by which they express to one another, “I am entirely yours.”  The true definition of freedom, then, lies not in “doing what we want,” but in doing what we “ought.”  In marital love, this means always offering an entire gift of self; a gift of full mind, heart, and body.

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The Rejection of Fertility 

People, more often than not, are way more accepting of the other three elements of marital love.  It is in this particular element that people struggle the most.

Why is this?

Well, I think reasons are vast in number. However, the primary reason usually boils down to this:  Parenthood is hard. It requires selflessness, and a total change in life-style.  It effects work, daily priorities, and relationship dynamics.  It includes many sleepless nights, bodily changes, and years of self-denial.  Since it requires all of these things, people choose rather to live their love out, without the “burden” of children.

However, being open to life in marriage is ultimately the consent to love as God loves.  For all eternity, the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father.  Their love is so great, that it literally embodies a third person: The Holy Spirit.  Then God, in his infinite love for his people, pours out his Spirit in love through Christ to his children, so that they, too, can go forth and bear great fruits.

Thus, sex is a unique reflection of the Holy Trinity, and of Christ’s love for the Church because it is the means by which a man and a wife can be simultaneously unified and procreative in their bodies.  So, when it comes to the bodily expression of love, we are called to ask ourselves: Is this act truly an expression of God’s love?

Free, authentic love, is a love given entirely.   Saying yes to the possibility of children is a profound expression of this totality in marital love.  It doesn’t just look towards the present “we,” but allows the mutual self-gift to overflow, pouring itself out into a third person.  In this way, as Edward Sri says in his book Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love,

“Not only do husband and wife merely stand face-to-face, enthralled with each other and enjoying the good of their own relationship, but they also stand shoulder to shoulder, looking outwards together at the potential new life that may come from their love.”

Fruitfulness in marriage pours out in many different ways, but the primary way is through the mutual acceptance of new life.  This is ultimately what God meant when he said, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

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In Part II, I am going to be talking about the Church’s plan for fertility, whether or not all are called to have big families by necessity, what it means when procreation is entirely excluded from a marriage, and about the marital call for living chastely!  Please check back in for Part II tomorrow!

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The Marital Call for Fidelity

As human beings, we are comprised of both spirit and body.  Thus, the bond of marital love is ordered to a complete fidelity in both of these aspects.

Faithfulness in the Spirit

In marriage, man and wife are called to be faithful to each other in their thoughts and in their words.  They should always take into account the dignity of the beloved, and this means that they are called to avoid becoming personally overcome with any grievous feelings with the one they love.  Throughout the years, it is certain that man and wife will encounter obstacles in their marriage (both big and small).  However, a true testimony to authentic marital love is a union that withstands these obstacles and burdens, remaining faithful, especially when love is put to the test.

Marital love requires always willing the good of the beloved, and this begins first in the mind.  The way one thinks about their spouse and handles interactions with them is extremely important.  In marital love, both spouses are given the great gift of unity, and that unity requires cultivation and nurturing.  If the mind and heart are not willing to see the beauty of the other soul (especially in difficult times and moments), it will be incredibly difficult for love to flourish.  When faced with confrontations and disagreements, both spouses should always work on ridding themselves of feelings of resentment, interior aversions, and unjust anger, always remaining faithful in spirit to their spouse, ready to communicate and give the other the benefit of the doubt.

Also, man and wife are called to temper their inner passionate desires.  Impure desires begin in thoughts, and require proper ordering.  When they are not properly ordered, the object of love will quickly turn into utility, lustfulness, and even infidelity.  Both spouses must always remember each other’s dignity, and never treat the other as an object to be used, lusted after, or discarded for another.  Healthy sexual desire is a great thing, but when it is removed from the inherent purpose of sex (i.e. for unity and procreation)–even  in thoughts–the object becomes a distorted and false image of love.  Anything less than the authentic expression of love (that it is free, total, faithful, and fruitful), is in essence, infidelity in our calling to love as God loves. faithful

Entertaining impure thoughts, in whatever form, robs the spouses of the ability and readiness to deny themselves for the sake of their beloved, and it denies each spouse of their dignity in order to satisfy lust.  Fidelity in marriage calls for fidelity in the mind, and living in the world of fantasy is merely a means of escape from reality and the demands of authentic human love.

Faithfulness in Body

With regards to faithfulness of the body, it is important to remember the inherent purpose of human sexuality.  Sex is a gift given by God, and it is the means by which the wedding vows become flesh.  Thus—since it is the physical expression of the invisible, unbreakable bond between man and wife—it should not be separated from this union in any way.

This is why complete fidelity of the body is essential in marriage.  Our world tells us that we need to constantly be looking to fulfill our sexual “needs,” but sexuality is meant to be a gift between man and wife alone.  When the inherent purpose is removed from the act, it ceases to be a real gift.  For example, both adultery and masturbation are acts primarily focused on the “I” (i.e. selfish desires) rather than the “we” (man and wife, united in love in marriage).  In each of these examples, the gift of sexuality is misused for the sake of selfish and lifeless pleasure.

Lifelong Commitment to Fidelity

As Alice Von Hildebrand once said, “Marriage is a great thing: the most complete, the most intense, the most beautiful relationship possible between two human beings.”  As such, marriage calls for lifelong unfailing loyalty, and requires consistent practice and dying to self—regardless of extenuating circumstances.  It is through complete fidelity in marriage that two people are able to grow together, and offer a mutual gift of self to one another.

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7 Quick Takes: Friend Visits and Adventures in the New Year

Back joining Kelly with my 7 Quick Takes for the week!

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Like I mentioned last week, my friend from NM visited me for a few days this week.  It was really nice having her here!  We went to a fancy dinner for her birthday, and it was great sharing in conversation and doing things I don’t normally get to do with her since she’s so far away.  Karrie and I have been friends since we were 16—we bonded in Choir over Capri Suns, and Avril Lavigne. (Nerd alert!)

One of the things we did that is something I don’t usually do is go to the mall for the Dillard’s New Year sale, her annual tradition.  When I got there, I realized quickly that it was Black-Friday-crazy, and seeing the crowd made me kind of want to run for my life!  There were so many people backed up to get in, but the atmosphere was actually kind of fun.  Everyone seemed genuinely excited to buy quality items at an extremely low price, and all the waiting in line made for some really fun conversation with strangers.  It’s funny how putting yourself into such public situations (that I would normally dread) offered opportunities for charity and a good time.  And the sale was really worth it overall, so I’m pretty glad I went.  I bought a few things I wasn’t expecting because the sale was that good, and I think I might actually go again next year!

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I did a few other things that were kind of crazy, but not all around out of the blue, like piercing my ears and chopping my hair off! The actual piercing of my ears was kind of spontaneous because I decided to do it on a whim after passing by Claire’s in the Mall, but I have been thinking about doing this for years.  Going to the mall with my friend instead of my kids was enough for me to finally pull the plug—and I’m glad I did!  I love them!

Getting my hair cut short wasn’t entirely my fault.  I communicated to my stylist that I wanted to go a bit shorter, but she definitely went a bit shorter than I was thinking.  I am still not used to it or convinced I really like it, but you know what—change isn’t so bad.  It’ll grow out eventually if I don’t come to love it…and besides, you don’t choose the cut, the cut chooses you.    

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Awkward selfie.

All-in-all I think it is better for me to just steer clear from malls for a while.  They make me do crazy things.  

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While Karrie was here we went to a couple of movies together.  We saw La La Land and Manchester by the Sea.

I absolutely loved La La Land.  I mean, LOVED it.  I don’t think I have ever smiled in a movie as much as I did La La Land, and wished so very badly that human life and emotion were expressed in such dreamy song and dance.

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The movie went well beyond my expectations, and one of the things I loved most was that it perfectly combined music with storytelling.  Many pivotal moments in the movie were better expressed through the music and through singing and dancing than through dialogue.  The acting, music, choreography, and imagery…it was all so beautiful.  It was transcendent to the point where a hand hold, a kiss, or even a look became simply breathtaking; a typical love story, but there wasn’t anything typical about it.  There was no need to focus primarily on a sexual relationship or unnecessary drama between the two main characters.  The story simply revolved around two people who fell in love, helped each other rise to new heights, and achieve dreams they never thought possible.  It was dreamy, and sultry, and lovely and I highly recommend it.   I hope you like it as much as I did.

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I wished I had seen La La Land as our second movie, because I absolutely hated Manchester by the Sea.   mv5bmtyxmjk0ndg4ml5bml5banbnxkftztgwodcynja5ote-_v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_

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I had high hopes for it because it got rave reviews and had incredible actors in it, but the whole movie was downright depressing and miserable.  I knew going into the movie that it would be a bit of a downer because it’s obvious from the trailer that the characters are reeling from the death of a loved one, but I still I had high hopes that there would be an underlying message of hope.  I thought that maybe those left behind in the wake of death would find comfort and love in one another.  I hoped that that the connection between life (both here and beyond) would be made, and the movie would offer some light even in the midst of terrible awful pain.  (Spoiler alert) In the end, there really was no light.  There was just pain and suffering and no room for any real transformation of the characters, and because of that I think it really lacked substance.  The main character wallowed in his pain and suffering in almost a masochistic sense, and there was no hope in his future but to live day by day in a sort of zombie-like state.  It was just so sad because it offered no room for redemption in his life.  In my humble opinion, just stay home on this one.  While the acting was out of this world good, sitting through that movie and balling your eyes out is just not worth it.

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I forgot to mention last week that one of my New Year Resolutions is to read the whole Bible in a year.  I read Scripture daily, but my reading is very sporadic.  I’ve kind of always chosen scripture passages this way because I’ve found that when I attempt to read cover to cover I get extremely bored at places (cough, cough Book of Numbers).  In order to do this, I knew I needed a plan.  I was inspired by this post by Brandon Vogt, and found a great plan to stick to for the year.  I am already really loving that the plan makes my daily reading simple and organized.

Give it a try!  Let’s do it together! ( I chose the Catholic Bible in a Year reading plan.)

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It snowed in KC!  I never used to be one who loved snow, but it has really grown on me.  I was up late when it started at night, and the glow of the sky reflecting off the soft white ground was so perfect and beautiful.  Plus, seeing my kids enjoy it is so worth sitting out in the cold.  The only problem is I’m still unsure how to properly handle it.  My go-to is to just never leave the house, so when I do I am always severely under-prepared and me and my kids are never properly dressed.

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This one in particular was a major parental fail. 

I’m going to just start making them wear like 12 layers so we’ll be good.

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For the first time, I used the Saint generator to pick a Saint for the year.  I am so happy I did it and feel so lucky I picked Saint Bonaventure.

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I already know a bit about him, but think that he is a great Saint for me because he was a Italian scholastic theologian and philosopher, and I love that he was good buddies with Saint Thomas Aquinas.  (If only I could have been a fly on the wall during any one of their conversations.) I’m excited to develop knowledge and a friendship with him throughout the year!

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Our little family ventured out in the snow for a very fun night of basketball, and not just any basketball, but my favorite kind of basketball: Aggie basketball!  I love that we can bring the Aggie spirit all the way over to KS, and that my family represents the crimson color.

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That’s all for me this week!

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All you need is love

 I’ve always found it a bit weird sharing so much of my life with people, but I have found that if I want to share faith and my love for God in any forum, I have to share my life.  How can I explain or discuss how great God is, and why I believe certain things if I cannot also share my life and experiences as well.  Who likes to read textbooks rather than stories?  No one.  And that is a great part of life, right?  To live a life that is worth hearing about, and carve out a meaningful slice of existence for ourselves!  People want to live a life of worth and value, and the best way to do so is to share one’s life with others.  The blogs that I love the most are those that share their points of view on life and love, and to see how others have figured out different ways to align themselves with God’s truth. Those are the best blogs.  Those are the blogs worth reading.
I am not trying to win awards for my writing.  I am not trying to push my points of view on life and family on others.  I simply want to share.
“By love refined” is a book that I read soon after I was married.  Someone in my marriage prep class suggested it, and it had a very big impact on the first few years of my marriage.  In the book Alice VonHildebrand writes letters back and forth to a young bride, giving advice that would help the young woman direct her life and marriage to God.  It’s a beautiful book, and the title alone is such a thought-provoking line.  The idea that love itself is what refines us—this is a beautiful reality of life.  Love perfects us and polishes all of our ugliness when we embrace it and we use it as the primary tool in our lives.  Through love, the young wife can get beyond petty things that might lead to early destructive thoughts and feelings about her husband.  Through love, the first time mom can overcome her frustrations at getting up four times a night for a fussy baby, or her quick reflex to anger, when she is really feeling exhausted.  Love lifts both beauty and hardship in life up to God.  Love submits to the cross, and lifts us up in every act towards salvation.  In all greatness one accomplishes in life, and in all suffering that one experiences—both can be lifted up to the cross through love.  This is because in the cross Christ carried out the most beautiful and gracious act of love that ever was.  He carried out the greatest act of love in the history of the world: his passion, death, and resurrection.  He turned one of the ugliest things into the most beautiful, by lifting up his crucified body, through his great love, so that all might obtain salvation.  It is Christ who teaches us first that it is by love that we are refined.  He teaches us that there is no greater thing than loving God above all and in loving our neighbor more than ourselves.  Not only that, but he opened up the way and showed us how to love.  He is our great model, and when we submit ourselves to him and his way, we truly will find ourselves “refined”. 
This is why I named by blog By Love Refined. 

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“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.  No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.”—1 John 4:7-12

–Lauren