The Marital Call for Life-Giving Love Part. 2

In Part 1 of “The Marital Call for Life-Giving Love” I discussed the primary means of “fruitfulness” in marriage, which is mutual acceptance of new life. Today, I’m discussing the Church’s plan for fertility.  

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A big question people often have upon hearing the Church’s teaching on contraception is the following: Does the Church seriously think that married couples are always called to engage in the sexual act with the intent of having children?

The answer: Absolutely not.

Being open to life in marriage is not to say that a married couple cannot responsibly and prayerfully regulate the size of their family, but rather that husband and wife do not thwart God’s design for sex, love, and marriage by artificially blocking fertility during a naturally fertile time.  Mirroring God’s love in the marital act means never rejecting (or placing barriers between) the possibility of bearing forth children.  Openness to the possibility of new life is key; not specific intention to procreate in every act. Through periodic abstinence, a couple is able to have control over their bodies and make a total and complete gift of themselves to each other.

This is why the intrinsic goodness of marriage isn’t altered or changed when couples are unable to have children, for reasons of age or natural infertility.  Unintended infertility is not an impediment to marriage; intended infertility is.

When Procreation is Entirely Excluded from Marital Love

When man and wife intentionally reject the possibility of children, the fundamental character of their sexual relationship drastically changes.  Openness to new life means being readily accepting of the expansion of love through parenthood.  When this openness to new life is removed, the will in the sexual act may no longer be wholly concerned with the other person’s good, and affirming of their inherent value.  Rather, the spouses (intentionally or not) begin to look at the other person as something to use and be used by.  Contraceptive love is not entirely concerned with the good of the other, because it excludes an entire gift of self.

The contraceptive mentality is not constricted to the medicated realm alone.  This similar mentality is taken in marriages that seek to remove the procreative aspect of their union through coitus interruptus (i.e. the “pull out” method), mutual masturbation that does not lead up to the sexual act, and the avoidance of children through abstinence for an unjust reason.fruitful

The Call for Chastity within Marriage 

This is why chastity in marriage is so essential. Chastity in marriage is not merely abstaining from sexual intercourse during periods of fertility.  It means following God’s plan for sex, love, and marriage.  This is not a negative thing, but it is an entirely positive thing motivated by authentic love.  As Jason Evert says, “Chastity gives you clarity of vision.”  It trains faithfulness, and frees us to love with full hearts so that we can make an entire gift of ourselves to our spouse.  Chastity does not mean oppressing all sexual desires, but calls spouses to properly order their desires so that they may be able to make a full expression of love and unity.

Living a chaste life in marriage opens up a deep level of communication and respect, and prompts man and wife to work together as a team, in all areas of their marriage. It also calls them to realize that there are more ways to express love than just the physical.  During periods of abstinence, they are called to get creative, finding ways to express their love to one another in different ways: through words of affirmation, spending quality time with one another, and performing acts of service for each other.

Seriously, the Solution is Natural Family Planning?

Natural Family Planning  is the means by which couples can avoid pregnancy if they have a just reason to do so.  So many people argue against NFP, claiming it is an old-fashioned, oppressive, and unworkable solution to human sexuality, but these claims are primarily based on misconceptions of what it is.

NFP is a means of regulating birth, through the observation of the woman’s natural fertility.  It relies on the science of a woman’s body, helping a couple identify when a woman is fertile or not.  This is not to be confused with the outdated, calendar “rhythm method,” but is an effective (99% method effective, and 96% user effective) and reliable means of avoiding pregnancy, and also of achieving it.   During fertile periods (in the case when a couple is trying to postpone pregnancy), man and wife are called to abstain from sexual intercourse.

NFP is different than contraception, because it isn’t a barrier method, meaning nothing is being done to prevent conception.  The sexual act is left the same–man and wife do not frustrate God’s plan for love in the act–and nothing changes in either of the spouse’s bodies. By watching the woman’s basal body temperature, cervical fluid, and hormone levels, the couple is able to identify when a woman is fertile or not, in order to achieve or postpone pregnancy.

Doesn’t This Method Have a High Failure Rate? 

Method effectiveness in each of the different methods of NFP is incredibly high (99% effective), but user effectiveness does vary.  How a person typically uses these methods vary in circumstances, and all of these play a huge role in how effective their method of choice is.

For example, a couple who isn’t following protocol strictly or is lax about keeping track of their signs of fertility will have a harder time postponing pregnancy than a couple who is very diligent.  Also, a woman who has irregular cycles or lower/higher levels of hormones than most, will probably need some assistance (an NFP instructor) to help guide her through her fertile periods.

The Strange and Difficult Way 

Many people think the Church’s stance on contraception is oppressive, but in reality, ordering sexuality according to God’s plan is actually entirely freeing.  This reality is hard to explain, because the nitty gritty of practicing NFP really does require a lot of work, discipline, and sometimes even heartache.  In all honesty, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that practicing NFP wasn’t hard.  It can be very difficult at times.  It calls for discipline in charting, open communication with my husband, periods of abstinence, and learning to live chastely in marriage.  It means asking ourselves, before entering into the marital embrace, the following: Are we prepared at this time (financially, spiritually, physically, etc.) to bring another life into the world, if God so wills it?  If we are, and I am fertile, then we are free to engage.  If we aren’t, and I am fertile, we have to hit the pause button on expressing our love bodily for a few days.  This requires a ton of self-control, and also certitude in our love.  NFP doesn’t require me to ingest chemicals or insert devices into my body in order to achieve sexual “liberation” in my marriage.  In our times of abstinence, we are reminding each other of the great responsibility that comes with marital love–and this is incredibly freeing.  As Jason Evert said,

“NFP beautifully contradicts such a [contraceptive] mentality, because it does not treat a woman’s body as if it needs to be subdued by drugs or shielded behind barriers in order to function properly; it just needs to be understood.  This invites the man to treat the woman’s fertility with reverence instead of disdain.   He learns that his wife’s body has been perfectly made.  This is true sexual liberation.”

Following God’s plan for sex, love, and marriage is very counter-cultural, and oftentimes very difficult.  Practicing the love God has in mind for marriage puts marital love to the test, calls man and wife to give a total gift of themselves to each other, and reminds them to always put the promise of their love in God’s hands.   In this way, love is not harmed or oppressed, but rather, strengthened and freed.

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Giving a Complete Gift of Self in Marriage

The third essential element of marital love is that it be given totally.  To understand what it means to give totally in marriage, it is good once again to review the purpose of marriage: The purpose of marriage is not merely for the sake of happiness, but for the procreation and education of children, and for the mutual perfection and sanctification of the spouses.  It is in this way that man and wife mirror the love of the Trinity, and the love of Christ for his bride, the Church.  Thus, the word “total” is as complete and conclusive as it sounds: it means that we are called to give our whole lives as a gift to our spouse.

Sounds hard, doesn’t it?

How can we be expected to hand over our lives completely to another?  It is entirely true that this is a difficult thing to do, because God created us free autonomous beings.  As such, we have the freedom to protect, serve, and cultivate our lives according to our own likes, pleasures, preferences, and choices.  We are called to work towards self-perfection and greatness in life, and to take care of ourselves in mind, body, and spirit.

However, while a healthy self-love is important, self-love alone is not ultimately what brings us fulfillment.  We learn from Christ that true fulfillment comes in living our relationships well.  Thus, in marriage, man and wife are called to adapt and conform themselves to the needs and desires of their spouse; for the good of their beloved.  Marriage is ordered towards a complete and total gift of the self, for without it, one could not truthfully say to another, “I am entirely yours.”

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If I am being completely honest, I must admit that what it means to give “totally” to my spouse is something I am still learning to do with each passing day.  Sometimes it comes easily and sometimes it takes a ton of work because my husband is his own person with a unique temperament, character, and personality—and I am my own person with a different set of characteristics and qualities that make me, me.  It can be extremely difficult at times to lay down my selfish needs and wants for the sake of my husband and to give my love to him unreservedly at all times, but I know that when I do and he does the same for me, our marriage and love is strengthened because of it.  While I have a lot of personal preferences, dreams, and goals, I have to ensure that I am not placing them above the needs of my spouse.  Loving authentically in marriage means that my husband comes first, that I always seek his good, that I am completely open with him (in mind, body, and soul) and that my dreams and desires are united with his.  If my own needs and preferences get in the way of our time together, impede me from meeting his needs, put barriers between our love, or cause strife in our union…I need to re-evaluate and reprioritize.  Also, if I feel that my husband is failing to consider my needs in preference for his own, I am called to openly communicate with him, share my frustrations, and be ready and willing to forgive and forget his shortcomings and failures.  Similarly, in all these ways he is called to do the same for me.

Loving totally does not mean that you won’t encounter difficult moments.  It is a tall order to give totally to another and to pour out love as God does (in complete gift to the beloved), but this is the kind of love marriage is ordered to give. It means always approaching your life together with the love you vowed to each other on your wedding day: a love that always seeks the good of the other, in good times, and in bad.

Just as it sounds, becoming a total gift to another requires much selflessness, but this is part of the purpose of marriage!  Sanctification (i.e. the means by which we become holy) comes only through humility and a whole lot of dying to self.  This does not mean we become something totally different than who we are, that we should allow ourselves to be abused, or that we have to give up all of our personal dreams and desires.  Rather, it means we are called to change the way we do things.  In marriage, it means examining life, not from the perspective of the “I”, but under the lens of the indissoluble “we.”

Thus, it is through a total mutual self-gift and daily dying to self that husband and wife help each other reach perfection in love.

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Put on Love {Giveaway}

For the past couple of years, Blessed Is She has been producing beautiful journals to coincide with certain liturgical seasons in the Church.  I was given one of their Advent journals last Fall by a friend of mine, and it turned out to be one of my favorite things I have ever used to prepare my heart during the liturgical season.  My experience with this journal during Advent was absolutely wonderful, so I am incredibly excited to begin praying with their new journal, Put On Love, which is a companion guide for walking with Christ during the Lenten season.

Lent is my favorite season in the Church, because it is a great opportunity for us to fully examine where we are at in their faith, and a calling to dive deeper and grow closer to the Lord through sacrifice, penance, prayer, and almsgiving.  Lent gives us the opportunity to journey with Christ as he approaches his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, and remember that we, too, are called on a daily basis to love like Christ loves.  Lent is a calling for preparation through hope in what is to come, and a reminder for us to lean into our own crosses, offer our burdens up with Christ, pour out mercy and love on others, and respond faithfully and obediently to the call of the Father.

I wanted to share my experience with the Blessed Is She journal by opening up a give away for one of you faithful readers out there to win!  journal-pic

This journal has daily scripture, calls-t0-action, essays written by Elizabeth Foss, and journaling space to reflect on what you’ve read and prayed.

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It is beautifully written, and carefully pieced together with great attention to detail and gorgeous illustrations by Erica of Be a Heart

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If you win, you will receive the journal right before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which takes place on March 1st this year.  I think it will prove to be a great tool for you to pray with as you journey through the Lenten season to prepare for Christ’s coming at Easter.

And from what I’ve heard, the Blessed Is She journals sell out fast! Don’t miss your opportunity to win one here at By Love Refined!  

Enter the Rafflecopter below to win this awesome Lenten prayer journal!
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**Rafflecopter randomly picked Lisa T. as the Winner!!  Thank you all for participating and sharing your great ideas for Lenten fasting and sacrifice!

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*I am a novice at using Rafflecopter, so I hope it works out and is easy to use.  Please comment and let me know if you have any issues with it!  

The Women’s March: Equity for All?

In these next few weeks, two big rallies are being held in our country: The Women’s March on Washington today and the Pro-Life March on Friday the 27th.  Both movements are fighting to uphold and safeguard the dignity of the human person; to work for peace, justice, and equity for all.

I was disheartened when I heard that pro-life women were not invited to the women’s march; disheartened, but not surprised.  I feel like this is yet another example of how the abortion industry has hijacked the women’s movement.  Feminism is the advocacy for women’s rights.  One group has been successful in defining feminism to suit a lifestyle of their choosing.  Their exclusion of anyone who doesn’t adhere to those ideologies, is discrimination at its worst.

I opened up an article today that was entitled “Everything You Need to Know about the Women’s March.”  One of the first things I read was the following: “Organizers say one of the goals of the march is to tell the new administration that on Day 1, ‘women’s rights are human rights.’ Despite the name of the event, leaders have made clear that all are welcome to join, not just women.”

Reading this I couldn’t help but to get a bit angry.  The lie that is perpetuated by the feminist movement, over and over, is that they are inclusive and fight for the rights of women everywhere.  They claim that all are welcome to join in the fight to protect the rights of a woman, but this isn’t true. In fact, there is an orchestrated effort to exclude certain women from this fight: women who are pro-life.  It is unfortunate that what defines the “feminine genius” in our world today is a message of female empowerment through abortion; that there is a movement by people of the same gender to silence any voice that is not their own; and that certain women claim that others have no right to stand up for the social, political, economic, and personal rights of woman…because of their pro-life beliefs.

The women of the feminist movement push certain women out when they have differing opinions, particularly on the issue of abortion.  They don’t feel like a woman who is pro-life should have a voice, because they believe that they are part of the problem.  They believe that they seek to remove certain rights and control pertaining to a woman’s body.  But the pro-life woman wholly agrees with the feminist in her belief that a woman should have complete control over her reproductive rights (which she can do both safely and naturally—without putting harsh chemicals in her body—through Natural Family Planning).  The difference is, the pro-life woman recognizes that with regard to abortion, what we are talking about is a separate body, inside of the woman’s body with unique DNA and a heartbeat.  The pro-life woman believes that among these little lives, are tiny little voiceless males and females–and they have rights that need protecting too.  They push pro-life women out because they shine a light on an issue that not only affects their “liberated” and “autonomous” way of living, but also touches on one of the most fundamental parts of their movement: the fight to protect the dignity of the human person.  If this is really what they seek, where is the debate?  Where is the dialogue?  Where is the compassion and willingness to listen to another sister in order to get to the bottom of things and work to ensure that all lives are protected?  There is none of that; there is just a door in the face to all those who seek to both protect the livelihood and beauty of the woman, as well as the lives of the unborn.   

What is the women’s movement that I wish to be a part of?

The one that fights for all human rights: for equal pay, the right to vote, right to work, right to hold public office; for a women’s right to earn fair wages, the right to own property, the right to receive an education, enter contracts, have maternity leave, and to have rights within marriage.  I wish to be a part of the one that fights for the protection of women against rape, sexual harassment, and domestic violence and the one that advocates for the dignity and integrity of the woman. And lastly, I wish to be a part of the women’s movement that fights for the rights of the least of us: for the vulnerable, unprotected, and especially the voiceless.

I will be praying that women everywhere learn to dialogue with one another, and that hate filled rhetoric and movements to exclude one another in this fight to promote the true dignity of the woman may cease. I will especially be praying for all of you pro-life women out there marching today.

God bless,

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7 Quick Takes: Stuck Indoors, the Inauguration of President Trump, and an Anniversary to Remember

Linking up with Kelly for another round of 7 Q Takes.

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Last Saturday was a really nice day because me and my family didn’t do anything at all.  I was just getting over a 24 hour fast and hard cold/flu type thing, so Saturday was reserved for reading and hanging out with my family.  In that time, I was able to read Mother Teresa’s book, No Greater Love.  I couldn’t put it down.  Every thought she had on prayer, love, family, sanctity, suffering, death—all of it—they were insights from the heart of a true saint.

My plan for the month of February is to share her thoughts on particular issues with you, so be on the lookout for that soon.  For now, here is a quote that especially struck my heart:
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After I got bit by the bug, the kids came down with it too.  Eli was having a hard time sleeping, which we found out was due to a mean ear infection, and Lucy…well, not quite sure what was up with her, but she was especially trying.  I felt a bit like I did back when she was a newborn, because she wouldn’t let me put her down, and when I did, she resorted to screaming and throwing herself on the ground.  It was a tough couple of days, but I had to keep reminding myself that she lacks the words to explain when her little body is aching and in pain.  When I remember that, I only feel selfish for wanting a moment to myself, or at least a moment when the kids are not crawling all over me.  I found myself pondering the paradox of love a lot this week—the paradox of having to completely pour yourself out for another—and found Jenny’s post, which perfectly summed up everything I was feeling.   She has a real knack for doing that.

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I was coming up short with ideas to keep the babies busy while we were stuck indoors, so I tried painting with the kids.  Eli loves painting, but I’ve always avoided it with Lucy because I figured she would just end up eating the paint by the container-load.  Well, I was right.  The paint brush went straight into her mouth, and the only interest she had in painting was eating it.  I was ready to give up, but found an idea on pinterest to use yogurt as paint.

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 Genius!

It was really easy to make (just one drop of food-coloring in a small tub of yogurt), and Lucy went to town on it.  She mostly just ate it, but I like to think the work of art was in the mess she made.

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Only my Lou could make a mess this beautiful.

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I was feeling pretty antsy and down by Wednesday.  Since the babies were sick, we hadn’t left the house much other than to go to Mass and to the doctor’s office.  When my husband came home to the second day of me sighing to myself and obviously frustrated, I told him the only way I could describe how I was feeling was depleted.  Five days indoors with the kids was getting to me: I needed some adult time.  I needed some me time.  Good thing it was Wednesday, because I got a lot out of my RCIA class that I teach.  Nothing brings me out of a coma like RCIA; the people going through RCIA are so inspiring to me.  They are so receptive to God’s will and ready to listen and ask questions, and it is always refreshing being around them.

I also got a huge boost by going to my women’s Bible study on Thursday.  This has been one of the greatest blessings in my life lately, because the women who are a part of it are so very inspiring.  They have an openness to God that is exciting, and all of our talk on suffering, trials, and obstacles (especially in marriage and motherhood) are always examined under the light of God’s will.  How is he working in our lives?  What is he trying to say to us? Where is he calling us to go?

It’s amazing that most of the time I feel I need air, it’s not so much to get away from my kids and my family, but rather silence my own negative and frustrated thoughts enough so that I can hear God speaking to me and evaluate where He is working in my life.  When I do that, all I end up feeling is a sense of gratitude: gratitude for every elbow in my rib when I’m trying to relax on the couch; gratitude for every over-zealous kiss my kids tackle me with when I am trying to get something done; and gratitude for all the desperate cries and pleas for love when I am trying to accomplish something separate from them.  My family is my life’s greatest gift, and I am so very thankful for them and especially that they continually draw me out of myself.

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This morning I watched the Inauguration of President Donald Trump.  I have to say, it was a bit of a surreal moment.  A few days ago, a quick commercial for the inauguration came on TV and I couldn’t help but flash back to a year ago, and think to myself how I never thought it would come to this.  But here we are: Donald J. Trump is the 45th President of the United States of America.

I was thankful when a friend of mine invited us over to watch him be sworn in.  I thought, Beats hiding under a rock and pretending this isn’t happening. But really, all joking aside, watching it with friends while our kids played was the best thing for me to do.  It reminded me that we live in a country that, albeit in ways divided, is free.  We are free to practice our faith. We are free to worship our God.  We are free to speak our minds and voice our opinions; to educate ourselves on the things that matter; and to get involved when and where we can.  I am thankful for that.  Today, more than anything, I am proud to be an American.

If you’re angered that Donald Trump is our president, I plea with you to pray for him.  Really, really pray for him.  I love what Hallie Lord says in her book, On the Other Side of Fear:

“Someone once told me that if you pray for your enemies, you will no longer be able to hate them.  That the moment you begin to advocate for goodness in their life is the same moment that your animosity will begin to exhaust.  This is because the light of love and the darkness of hatred cannot possibly exist in the same space.”

Remember that his goodness, is goodness for our country.  I will be praying for the good of our President Trump.  Will you join me?

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My sixth point was on the women’s march which begins tomorrow, but decided to save it for then.  Check back in with me tomorrow!

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Today is the 4th anniversary of the death of one of my dear friends from college.  This day always saddens me.  Any reminder that we won’t see his smiling face again, or feel his wild and carefree spirit is enough to bring me to tears. He was so full of life; always ready to jump head first, spreading laughter and light wherever he went.

Though today is a sad day, it’s also a reminder to me that I have a friend who has seen God face to face.  I have a friend on the other side who I can pray for, and who can pray for me.  I have a friend who blessed my life with memories and love, and shared the light of his life with all those around him—a friend that I pray I will see again.  He reminds me that hope is real, and that love lives on through Christ.  I miss him, and I know many others do as well because in his short life he touched many people’s hearts.  I’m telling you about this today, so that whoever is reading this might say a quick prayer for him and his family with me.  Pray that God’s perpetual light is shining upon him, and pray that those who miss him are comforted by God’s love and presence.

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Lord, Peter is gone from this earthly dwelling, and has left behind those who mourn his/her absence. Grant that we may hold his memory dear, never bitter for what we have lost nor in regret for the past, but always in hope of the eternal Kingdom where you will bring us together again. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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7 Quick Takes: Resolutions and Resistance

This week I am linking up with Kelly for 7 Quick Takes, but the content this time around is a little different.  This week I am going to offer 7 thoughts on a word that continued to pop up throughout my week.  The word is “resistance,” and I think it an especially good word to reflect upon just a few short weeks into the New Year.

The New Year, for a lot of us, marks a great starting point for growth, transformation, and change.  But why is it that so many of us, elated with the idea of becoming better versions of ourselves, allow for those desires to fizzle out just a few months into the New Year?  How do we stick to our goals?  I think this is where the word resistance comes in.  It is a great word for understanding the battle of self-will we find ourselves in, and a great word for conquering our moments of weakness.

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I mentioned before how I never really make New Year resolutions.  I have always felt that they were kind of useless.  It wasn’t so much about me never trying to accomplish these things, but it always seemed silly and unrealistic to give myself set dates and goals for them just because everyone else does that.  I’d give myself passes and excuses as to why accomplishing my goals within a set amount of time was unrealistic and a waste of time.  I always fell back on the fact that I am a busy stay at home mom, I already do a lot, and if I want to accomplish these things…well, I’ll get to them eventually, when I’m ready.

I think what it comes down to, though, is that I was allowing myself to be moved more by fear and apathy than anything else.  The big problem was that the stirrings to better myself remained, but what were planted and put into action instead of achieving these goals were the seeds of jealousy and envy.  So often I would look around at all of the other women (many of whom are busy moms like me) who accomplish amazing things, then think to myself: Well it must be nice. She must have a lot of help to be as fit as she is.  She must be very wealthy since she started her own company.  She must have a fleet of nannies.  She must have a lot of things that I do not.  But these were all lies I was telling myself.  Instead of recognizing the incredible amount of work these women put into the things that they were accomplishing, I rested in these falsehoods.  They were the reasons why I didn’t have to set new goals and work my butt off towards accomplishing the things I still feel called to do.    

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If we look back to the very beginning in Scripture, we see right away man’s first encounter with the Devil.  Adam and Eve were created and placed within the Garden of Eden, and within this environment, they were perfectly happy: they experienced harmony with their surroundings; fulfillment in their work; perfect unity and love with one another; and a clear unity with God—in both their intellects and wills.  Then the Devil enters and immediately begins using fear and doubt as a tool to manipulate them.   He conned their hearts into believing that they could be better people—more fulfilled and happier—if they stepped away from God’s law and relied on their own thoughts, separated from him.  He instilled doubt and fear in them, and as we know, Adam and Eve followed the insinuations of the Devil.  In doing so, they removed themselves from the good grace of God and all that he had given them that was good and holy.

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Two fruits given, one sweet…one bitter

I think it is vitally important to recognize that we are still a part of that story. Here we remain today, longing for what we lost in the great Fall (a sense of accomplishment, fulfilment, unity with our Creator and with one another) and in our movement to find our way back, each one of us is met with the Devil’s RESISTANCE.

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Today, most of our impulsive and immediate desires are easy to fulfill, and we live in an age in which we can have what we want when we want it.  We are presented with endless amounts of entertainment—catered to our own particular interests—to keep us busy and generally happy.  The problem is that deep down, we are all greatly restless.  Our hearts are always seeking for something more—something greater to fill the void.  Often times, the things we fill it with are those things that don’t make us better people, and because we find a certain level of contentment in them, we end up becoming apathetic with our state and fearful of the work it takes to reach greater heights.  This is a big problem, because when we rest in this apathy and fear, letting our self-doubts control us, we remain unchanged and our lives become sterile.

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Jennifer Fulwiler talked about the word resistance in one of her podcasts this week.  She talked about her resolutions and how she was slowly beginning to realize that when you want to accomplish something good (no matter what it may be) you are almost always inadvertently faced with resistance.  She explained that this is why, when you go to find your shoes to work out, you may get distracted and then end up feeling defeated about it all and give up before you even begin.  This is also what happens when you are trying to complete a diet, and all you can think about is desert and reasons to go back to your old way of living.  I think we have all felt resistance at some point in our lives.  I know I feel it every time I sit down to write, when I’m immediately confronted with feelings of insecurity and doubt in myself and my abilities.

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It is very important to put a name and face to this resistance, because ultimately, it is the Devil’s great tool to pull us out of growth and transformation.    The kinds of doubts, thoughts, and distractions that enter our minds that are motivated by fear and apathy are all the whisperings of the one who doesn’t want our advancement.  He wants us to remain right where we are at.  He wants us to be lukewarm people, who move through life without any real cares in the world.  He wants us to be apathetic, lazy, and unaccomplished, and he will actively get in our way to prevent us from living our lives to the fullest.

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The important and key thing to keep in mind, though, is that resistance isn’t a one-sided phenomenon.    The dictionary defines resistance as “the attempt to prevent something by action or argument” (this would be the devil’s attempts to move us through fear and doubt), but at the same time resistance is “the refusal to accept or comply with something.” This is where we enter.  The devil will consistently pull at our lives, calling us in directions that seem attractive yet lead us into dark corners, but our job is to pull back.  If we don’t, what we are ultimately doing is giving in.  Each one of us has an opportunity for greatness, and we have to ask ourselves: In this cosmic battle, who is going to give in?  Me, or him?

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So, how do we strengthen ourselves for this fight?

The best place to start is by asking what would Jesus do?

Well, we don’t have to imagine what Jesus would do, because thankfully for us, by entering into humanity, he did encounter this cosmic battle in a very real and human way.

He had his own battle with the Devil when he entered into the wilderness to fast and pray for 40 days in preparation for his great mission.  After the 40 days, he was confronted with the temptations that were a resistance to his main goal of complete obedience and faithfulness to God.  It is important to note that though he was fully divine, he was also fully human, and in his humanity Jesus experienced everything that we do as humans (all, except sin).  This means that Jesus knew what it meant to be hungry, exhausted, warm/cold, and lacking energy.  Christ felt all of this in his physical form, but by uniting himself with the will of the Father through prayer, he was able to crush the insinuations of the devil before they had any chance to take root in his heart.  The Devil played to Jesus’ humanity: Come on Jesus, I know your hungry, tired, and weak…But you’re God! Make food for yourself! Save yourself! Worship me, I will bail you out!  All of these efforts of the Devil were made to thwart Jesus from his big picture: to pour himself out in love for all of humanity, on the cross.  Through prayer and fasting, Jesus was able and ready to encounter and WIN the resistance of the evil one.  To say no to him, and yes to his mission.

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So, that is where we start. We look at the actions of Christ when he was confronted with fear and doubt, and we put his examples of faithfulness, obedience, and discipline into action in our own life.   

What can we do?

Fast and pray.  Both are essential to true growth and transformation in the faith, because what you do with your body has an impact on your soul, and what you do with your soul has an impact on your body.  Strengthening them is a great way to change how you choose to live each day and work towards the heights that you are inspired to reach.  Fasting and prayer helps us break free from being slaves to our bodies and to our apathetic spirits.  If our bodies are not strong, and if our spirits are not shaped by Christ’s guidance, we will have a harder time fully accomplishing and saying yes to our missions.

– Recognize when thoughts of doubt, fear, or apathy are entering into your mind, and work hard to resist them.  Recognize that these are seeds planted by the evil one who wants you to fail and give up before you even begin. Pray for the Holy Spirit to strengthen you in your resolve to get things done.

-Focus on the process, not the end result.  If we focus on the day to day work we have to accomplish to attain our goals, we will progress.  Most of us want to reach the top of the mountain, but we forget that we have to climb to get there.

I’ll leave you with some words from Saint Jose Maria Escriva, which I think prove useful in this battle:

“Give in? Be just commonplace? You, a sheep-like follower, you were born to be a leader! Among us there is no place for the lukewarm.  Humble yourself and Christ will kindle in you the fire of love.”

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Interested in reading more like this?  Click the links below!

Inspired by Greatness

I Rejoice in My Sufferings

Perfection in an Imperfect World

Worry in the Midst

Packing Christmas Away

Today we celebrate the last official day of Christmas, and for me the closing of this season carries with it a tinge of sadness.  The idea of carefully packing away all of my beautiful Christmas decorations leaves me feeling a little blue.  I know our house will look very plain and empty without all of the greens, reds, and golds…the very visible signs of hope and of the promise fulfilled in Christ’s coming.

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This Christmas was very special for me because I think it was the first time ever in my cradle catholic life that I paid close attention to what God was trying to say to me during both the Advent season and the Christmas season itself.  I believe that this preparation allowed me to continue to see all the signs of Christ’s coming everywhere I looked, well after December 25th.  I’m very thankful for that.

Yesterday at Mass we celebrated the last Sunday of Christmas, and it felt so very fitting that it fell on the Feast of the Epiphany—the day we celebrate the Wise Men bringing gifts to the baby Jesus.  I was lucky enough to cantor at this particular Mass, and it was special because it allowed me to sing the words from Psalm 72: Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.  Every nation on earth will adore the Christ-child; the one who is High Priest, Prophet, and King over all the world.

It was also incredibly special because it gave me the opportunity to notice things that I usually don’t. Right before the Gospel Reading Father incensed the psalter.  We read about this kind of offering in Scripture often, and it is carried on in the Tradition of the Mass.  It is a reminder through our sense of smell that our prayers and daily sacrifices, united with the Words of God and his passion, are lifted up to heaven together in oblation to God in the Mass.  Yesterday in Mass I got a unique visual of this, because as Father began his homily I saw the incense resting above the altar, and fanning very, very slowly to the giant crucifix behind it.  I could almost see the Lord smelling it…taking in a deep breath as he hung on the cross in the most perfect offering.  It was as if he was breathing in deeply the beautiful fragrance and offering of the Mass and exhaling it all back.  It was a stunning image, and one I think perfectly captured the reality of the Mass.     

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After this vision, I was called back to Father’s homily in which he spoke of the three Wise Men.  He told us of their journey to see the Messiah who was to be born, and how they went out of their way to follow the star which shone brightly in the sky.  Father reminded us that their journey was treacherous, but despite the obstacles they would face, they showed immense courage.  They allowed the bright shining star to lead them on an unknown journey—a journey which they hoped would take them to see the King.  And it did. It led them to a tiny baby resting in a humble and meager manger: a poor and lowly image that nonetheless radiated such beauty and profound light.  All they could do was kneel in thanksgiving, offering their finest gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to their King.

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The gifts that the Magi brought the Lord are deeply rooted in significance and meaning.  The three gifts pointed to and foretold just who the baby in the manger was: the gold was a gift associated closely with royalty and endurance; the frankincense had medicinal purposes; and the myrrh was an embalming and anointing element.  Through these three gifts, the Magi were acknowledging that Jesus was a King whose kingdom would never end, that he would take on the role of High Priest, and that his life and death would significantly be involved in our salvation (the True Prophet who brings the Good News).

This got me thinking about Christmas in our culture today and what it seems to have become all about.  The center focus has greatly shifted away from Christ, moving more towards other things like Santa Claus, goofy Christmas songs, and the countless hours of prepping and buying, storing and wrapping, giving and receiving gifts with one another.  One has to sit and wonder if this is what Christ wants of us during the Christmas season.20170109_120103

Yesterday, though, I couldn’t help but think that the practice of gift giving isn’t too far off from what God wants us to realizeHe doesn’t necessarily want us to focus on the material goods, but he wants us to understand what it means to be given a gift, and in return pour ourselves out in love for one another as a gift to each other.   In Christ, we receive the greatest gift of all: we receive the gift of salvation and the divine opportunity to enter into communion with the Lord; to know him, to love him, and to put him on for ourselves through the Holy Spirit.  Yesterday I realized in a deeper sense that the Christmas season doesn’t just end abruptly, but rather ends with a calling.  Through the guidance of the Christmas season we are brought into the New Year with the most perfect gift of Christ’s love, then sent forth to carry his light and his love out into the world. Christ perfectly lived out his calling to be priest, prophet, and king, and in doing so he gave us the capacity to live this out in our own lives today.  We are called to daily make an offering of our lives to one another and to the Lord in a gift of love; we are called to boldly proclaim God’s goodness to the world; and we are called to become kings like Christ, masters of our own desires and selfish whims, and people who seek always to prioritize and will the good of the otherIn this three-fold way, we become Christ’s light in the world, a gift to one another.  Through Christ, we become the visible signs of the promise fulfilled.

I think just as there is a time for all seasons, it is fitting to pack up and store our Christmas supplies away.  Just as Christ walked forward in his life and resolutely journeyed towards Jerusalem, we too have to go forth and live our lives day by day.  We cannot live in the Christmas season forever.  We have to encounter all the joys and celebrations, and obstacles and pains that come with a New Year.  Hopefully, though, as we continue on in this journey we remember to merely store the Christmas decorations in the dark and dank basement of our homes…not the spirit of Christmas itself.  That, we should remember to save and store in the inner recesses of our hearts.

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January 01: Solemnity of Mary Mother of God

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God!

Last night we went to the Vigil Mass for this Holy Day, and while the cantors began singing Hail Mary, Gentle Woman, I couldn’t help but think how very fitting it was that we were at a Vigil to celebrate Mary’s motherhood just one week after celebrating the Christmas Vigil.   It’s just the gift that keeps on giving.

Mary is known in the tradition of the faith as the Theotokos which literally translates to “God bearer,” making her the Mother of God.  Similarly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The Virgin Mary is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the Redeemer.” (CCC 963)

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As Catholics, we honor and revere our blessed Mother and count her as incredibly special…but why do we refer to her as the “Mother of God”?  Some people are greatly shocked that we honor her with this title, but I think this stems from a misunderstanding of the teaching.

So, where does the title “Mother of God” come from and what does it mean?

This teaching is both essential to the faith (especially to our salvation), and to understanding who Jesus was.  The reality of Mary as Mother of God surrounds and protects the mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus, who is God made flesh.

Let’s break it down a bit:

What makes a woman someone’s biological mother? Two things: Carrying the child within her womb, and contributing to the baby’s genetic makeup.  So, to say that Mary is the Mother of God is to acknowledge the fact that she carried the baby Jesus within her womb and contributed to his human nature.  Scripture clearly reveals this in Luke 1:26-38 and Galatians 4:4. Now of course Mary’s motherhood also extends in other deep ways, but this title first and foremost references her role in carrying, birthing, and raising our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Acknowledging Mary’s motherhood of Jesus is important because it tells us that he is one person with two natures.  If we denied that Mary is the Mother of God and said that she is merely the Mother of his human biological nature, then we would end up dividing Jesus’ person hood in two, and this is impossible; Jesus’ human nature is inseparable from his divine nature.  Jesus is one person, God, with the First and Third members of the Holy Trinity, the Father and the Holy Spirit and to separate the two would be to separate his very person.  God created Mary specially for being the Mother of Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, who has two natures: one human and one divine (this is the “hypostatic union”).   

Now, this is not to say that Mary gave Jesus his divine nature or person hood.  Jesus is fully divine–fully God–simply because he IS God, the Word made flesh.  What Mary did give Jesus was a nature identical to her own: an immaculate human nature. 

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She gave birth to a Son who was truly God, making her the Mother of the God.  

The denial of Mary as Mother of God also greatly complicates and damages our salvation.  If Jesus was separated into two persons then which died on the cross for us:the human or the divine?  If it was the divine alone, we’d be saying that God himself could be put to death (which clearly doesn’t work).  If it was the human alone, then our redemption is compromised because no mere human death could bring about salvation for all of mankind.untitled

As mentioned above, Sacred Scripture supports that Mary is the Mother of God.  Sacred Tradition is also especially rich with quotes from many early fathers of the faith.  Here are a few:

  •  “The Virgin Mary, being obedient to his word, received from an angel the glad tidings that she would bear God” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5:19:1 [A.D. 189]).
  • “We acknowledge the resurrection of the dead, of which Jesus Christ our Lord became the firstling; he bore a body not in appearance but in truth derived from Mary the Mother of God” (Peter of Alexandria, Letter to All Non-Egyptian Bishops 12 [A.D. 324]).
  • “The Word begotten of the Father from on high, inexpressibly, inexplicably, incomprehensibly, and eternally, is he that is born in time here below of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God” (Athanasius, The Incarnation of the Word of God 8 [A.D. 365]).

And even the father of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, had something to say about it:

  • “She is rightly called not only the mother of the man, the human nature of Jesus, but also the Mother of God.   It is certain that Mary is the Mother of the real and true God.  Men have crowded all her glory into a single phrase: the Mother of God.  No one can say anything greater about her though he had as many tongues as there are leaves on trees.” (Martin Luther, Commentary on the Magnificat)

Amen?

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This reality is honestly so very beautiful.  God, in his infinite Wisdom, brought the Woman Mary into his life in a very special and familial way.  She was the one who would be there with him, loving him in a perfect motherly way, at every significant moment in his incarnate life.

It just goes to show us that our God is truly a God of love…a God for the family.

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2016: A Year in Review

2016 was one of those years that kind of slid by really fast, and from December to December here I am thinking to myself, Wait, what happened this year?  The more I think about it, though, I’m realizing that maybe it’s because since November I’ve been over here like Okay 2016…roll on out of here and let’s try this again! 

I’ve been hearing similar sentiments all over the place, and even saw that someone put together a horror movie trailer based on 2016.  Pretty creepy  but also pretty funny. But hey! 2016 wasn’t all terrible!  I compiled a little list for you of all the good/fun/awesome things 2016 brought us:

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Just a few things to remind us that 2016 was not so bad!

And really, all-in-all for my family it was a great year!

Here’s a little review for you:

  • At the end of January we had a really wonderful trip to California.  We went to visit Joe’s brother and his wife, and the four of us made our way for the second year in a row to Catalina Island to celebrate my birthday.  Not a bad way to start off the year!14600849_714873676631_7620449564457324180_n
  • One of the most significant events of 2016 for me was graduating from the University of Dallas with my Master of Arts in Theology.  My whole family and I traveled to Dallas, TX for the ceremony, and I’ve got to say, donning that black cap and gown was one of the best moments of my life.  I’ve never felt such a sense of accomplishment, and gratitude for being afforded the opportunity to study what I love and what I am passionate about.   I am so thankful to my parents and my grandfather for supporting me in my studies, and so blessed to have received an awesome education from the University of Dallas.  I look forward to great things to come!
  • Not long after my graduation, our little family joined Joe’s whole family on a vacation in Tulum, Mexico.  We all stayed together in a big beach side house with a pool, so needless to say this was a big highlight of the year.  My favorite memory was getting a free moment away with Joe to kayak across the beach for a little date at a oceanside cantina. 13731034_110711552702118_9138560475956338004_o
  • Right after graduating I got the itch to keep studying, so I began my courses with Catholic Distance University to get certified in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  I made my way through 3 courses, and am really loving it.  I’ve got two more courses and I’ll be done!
  • Joe laughs at me for posting this one, but hey!  I was in a commercial!  I know it is only for like a millisecond (see .18 to find me) but still pretty cool to represent our team, Sporting KC!!!
  • We made the big decision this year to send Eli to “school” (i.e. Mother’s Day Out). I am so glad we did because he is always so excited to go, and he has done so incredibly well.  He just goes one day a week, but he is already developing friendships and having so much fun.  I absolutely love picking him up and hearing about his little friends and about his day.  1473167642857
  • We potty-trained Eli this year! Yay to only 1 kid in diapers!!
  • Joe had an amazing opportunity pop up that took him all the way to Tokyo for work! It was really neat being able to face chat with him as he toured the temples in Japan. joe-in-tokyo
  • We painted our house blue.  house-beforehouse-after           It looks especially pretty in the Fall with all the reds and yellows surrounding it. 
  • The kids and I took a trip to Iowa to meet up with my best friends from Benedictine College.  Our boys were all born within a month of each other and I think they are just as close as we are! We had a great time chatting over mules and going to the Iowa State Fair. (I’m still dreaming of those fried pickles…)
  • We took our very first solo family trip to Colorado this Fall.  We traveled 8 hours by car, and the road trip itself was so much fun.  There’s just something about being alone and secluded with my family, moving somewhere together without any real distraction or noise.  That was the whole Colorado trip.  Just me and my family, in the quiet of the beautiful Rocky Mountains, and it was wonderful.

     

  • This happened:                                                                       1477806070677And this:

     

  • This year we had quite the scare with my father getting sick and having to be in the hospital for a while.  I’ve never prayed so hard in my life, and I know he had so many of our friends and family praying for him as well.  I can only contribute his healing to God–it’s really amazing the work he’s done with my dad’s health. We love our dad so much!969499_560105244042195_169366718_n
  • Lucy took her first steps some time back in early September, but it wasn’t until about mid-November that she finally began walking.  She is so dainty about it still, walking around with her hands in the air, ready to block any incoming traffic (i.e. big brother Eli, and the dog Lyla).
  • Joe’s Grandma Marcella turned 100 this year!  I have never been to a 100th birthday party in my life–it was pretty special! img_2266                                                                   Look at all those candles!!
  • Lastly, and probably most significantly, this happened.  We think about Francis everyday, and are comforted knowing a piece of our family is already with the Lord.

Here are some of the most popular posts from the year:

More on Advent and the Domestic Church 

Should I Take My Kids to Mass 

The Immaculate Conception 

Inspired by Greatness 

He Lights the Ways We Do Not Know 

I look forward to what 2017 will bring.  I can’t wait to continue blogging more–I have big plans!

I hope you all have a very happy New Year and that 2017 is a blessing to you and yours!

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7 Quick Takes: Christmas in NM, Road Trip Home, and New Year Resolutions

We’re back home in KS, after our wonderful trip to New Mexico to visit family!  I promise I will get back to my usual content soon, but with the craziness of this season, it’s just easiest to offer a few updates here and there.  Here I am joining Kelly once again with 7 Quick Takes!

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For three out of the four years that we have been married, we’ve been blessed to be able to head home to NM for Christmas.  I love it this way, because it is the only time of year I get to see almost all of my extended family.  On the 23rd we gathered with my mom’s whole side of the family to eat and play games together.  It was really fun.

On the 24th we all went to Christmas Vigil Mass, which of course was really special.  It’s kind of funny too, because in all honesty the music was not all that great, I couldn’t understand a word the priest was saying, and Lucy was just a pill…but for the first time ever I really felt the joy of Christmas.

After Mass we headed to my dad’s house to open presents and eat the absolute best Mexican food there is (i.e. mom and dad’s).  I will be dreaming of tamales, red chile meat, menudo and posole until next Christmas.

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I received two really awesome gifts this Christmas: one from my husband, and one from my “secret santa” (my sister Sofie).

My husband got me the most beautiful band to go with my wedding ring and I just love it! I’ve been wanting a wedding band, so he really nailed it this Christmas.

And my little sister gave me this:

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She carved the wood herself!  I literally cried it was so touching.  And beautiful!!! She’s known in our family for her artistic abilities—but she really got me with this one!

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Speaking of John Paul, my father was reading me excepts from Peggy Noonan’s “John Paul the Great,” and when I asked him if I could borrow it when he was done, he just handed it to me and said, “It’s yours.”

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I’ve been reading it since, and I am so glad he gave it to me.  I guess I am a sucker for pretty much anything JPII, because in just the first chapter I was already crying.

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We left for home on Tuesday around 6 pm in the evening, and though we had a little hiccup on the ride to NM from KS with Lucy getting sick in the car, we had high hopes everything would be easy breezy heading back home because she was feeling much better.

Wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

We had a repeat of sickness in the car, only this time 4 times.  It was awful, but all I could think the whole way home as I cleaned up mess after mess was this is love.  I know it sounds crazy but it is true.  Had it been another time in my life I would have gotten sick myself or ran out of the car in horror, but my husband and I just handled it–because, duh, we had to.  But sometimes parenthood surprises you with things you didn’t even know you could deal with, and what’s more, you do it in a way that is beyond your expectation of yourself.  You just shrug your shoulders,  take a breath and remind yourself that everything will be alright, and press on.

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Needless to say, we were all wildly hungover from our car ride home.  I took a 3 hour nap with the kids, and went to bed way earlier than normal.  And two days later I still feel tired, but now that I am not sleeping with the kids anymore I am sleeping like a bear and it is absolutely blissful. We’re home, and home feels good.

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I am so very excited because my best friend from NM is coming to visit me today!  It is her super special golden birthday today—turning 30 on the 30th—and we are going on a long overdue friend date tonight to celebrate!  I can’t wait!

I am really wanting to go see La La Land with her.  I can’t get enough of musicals, and the fact that this one has both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in it?! Well, it’s a must-see.  Plus, Karrie and I were big choir nerds in high school so it is very fitting.

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I’ve never really been one for making New Year resolutions, mostly because I’ve always felt like I would break them anyways.  But I am seeing now that I just used that as a pathetic excuse to avoid really examining my life and seeing where I want to grow and change.  I am learning that big ideas wont mean anything if you don’t put them in to action, and you can’t put them in to action if you don’t clearly define your goals.  So in an effort to hold myself accountable, I am sharing some of my 2017 goals with you!

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I hope at the closing of 2017 to look back on this post and reflect on all the things I have accomplished in the year and how I have grown.

What are some of your goals for the New Year?

-Lauren