Saturday, March 29, 2008

Why I Love My Husband on This Particular Day

1. He fixes my computer - no questions asked, restricting strange looks in my direction.

2. He drives the car, especially in big cities like Chicago, during rush-hour.

3. He sleeps on the appropriate side of the bed without questioning what is "appropriate" - either to protect me from the door (and possible intruders) or the window (if on the first floor, against possible intruders).

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Thunder Snow

This is crazy. Just a few moments ago Ryan I were returning to our apartment from the ND movie theatre (we watched Train Man - a fantastic Japanese flick about a socially awkward computer geek who finds love) and we experienced THUNDER SNOW! No joke. It's snowing big, puffy, wet, almost-rain-but-still-making-the-ground-white flakes and then a flash of lightning illuminates the sky, followed by a rather loud clap of thunder. Thunder snow. I didn't know it was possible. But this is March in Indiana - anything can happen.

God Has a Sense of Humor

So... Just after I get finished whining about NFP, I wake up this morning and find this post by a fellow student from my alum, Franciscan University.

Thanks for the reminder...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Trying to Make a Baby

In the last 2 years, it seems like a lot of our college friends have kissed on their wedding altars and been granted a honeymoon baby. My calendar keeps filling up with due dates preceding first wedding anniversaries. I have not yet met any of these little blessings in person, but I have spent countless hours watching them grow up in Facebook photo albums. It's a little mind blowing to think about the adventures we all had in college, and then to realize my friends are honest-to-goodness-for-the-rest-of-their-lives parents.

In the last 2 years it has also been difficult to watch my friends progress into legitimate and undeniable adulthood as parents while I wait at the sidelines.

Our first year of marriage Ryan and I decided it was best to have a go at postponing parenthood through NFP (Natural Family Planning - great Catholic stuff!). We just smiled when our friends and family pestered us about having a "bun in the oven." "Not yet, but soon!" we would offer in reply. I was definitely excited about having children, but worried about money and spending 5 years in graduate school, and a little relieved that we didn't really have to think about making life altering changes just yet. And NFP wasn't so bad after all - it just took a little planning, patience, and persistence.

Our second year of marriage NFP stopped being "fun." We could figure out the method just fine, but my body was starting to confuse itself. I had to turn off my sex drive when the hormones were on - and turn it back on when the hormones could care less and just wanted to go to bed early. It was beginning to wear on me emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I realized there is a very good reason the Church requires grave matter to postpone children - it's requires a lot of sacrifice to practice NFP, and there will come a point when the end doesn't outweigh the means anymore.

So, we decided to take the plunge and would start actively trying to conceive in October. It was supposed to be a great month - a lot of Ryan's graduate problems had worked themselves out at that point, and our grave matter wasn't so grave any more. Then the last week of September my sister-in-law's fiance, Joel (our families are very close, and he's practically a brother), had a very bad accident where he burned over 65% of his body and was put into a medicated coma for 6 weeks. Life changed in an instant. Our families pulled together and did what we could to get through a very trying time. Joel is getting better now, but his path to recovery is far from over. In fact, he has another surgery at the Mayo Clinic on Friday - please keep him in your prayers.

Needless to say, October wasn't a good time to start a family anymore. Over the last six months Ryan and I have found one obstacle after another in our way. My stress levels have been through the roof, and my normally stable fertility cycles don't make sense on the chart anymore. To top it off, we found out in the last six months that still more of our dear friends are expecting babies this summer. I am so joyful and so pained at the same time. I keep seeing my friends moving forward and I feel stuck somewhere in between.

Today just kind of culminates my feelings of frustration and inadequacy. Each month I have big plans about getting pregnant - and each month my plans go awry. And here I stand again, a new month, another failed plan, and a little less hope to carry me through it. I don't really know where to go from here.

As you can tell, I am feeling a bit depressed today - but I realize that I have so many other blessings too. God has blessed me with a very good friend (you know who you are!) to be a comforting shoulder as we both struggle in our wait for children. And this month's cycle isn't over yet either. I am so silly - I have an early (and possibly unfounded) disappointment! It's really hard to have hope today, to trust that God's plan is bigger than I can imagine. Please pray for me. I really need it.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Heavenly Ham... the name of the breakfast meat we enjoyed for Sunday's Easter brunch with Ryan's family. And man, oh man, was it good!

Ryan and I have been celebrating Easter since the Vigil on Saturday night. It's really been one of my best feast day culminations. We prayed hard on Good Friday and are currently enjoying the post-sacrifice festivities.

Saturday night was the Notre Dame Basilica Easter Vigil mass. Ryan and I learned from our mistakes on Good Friday and made sure to show up before the church doors opened on Saturday. We were waiting outside at 10 til 7:00pm, and the Vigil didn't even start until 9:00pm! It all worked out and we found seats with our friends again (and not quite as close to the back door). The pews were still cramped beyond comfort, but can you really complain that too many people want to go to the Easter Vigil? It was a beautiful mass, all sung by the ND Liturgical Choir, and accompanied by organ, horns, and cymbals. The choir's high point was their rendition of "This Is The Feast of Victory For Our God" at the end of mass - so good! After mass our entire exuberant group went out for Easter midnight breakfast/lunch/dinner at an all night diner. We must have seemed so odd to the other patrons - dressed in church clothes, giddy from hunger and excitement, and talking a hundred miles a minute.

Sunday morning, because we are gluttons for sleep deprivation, Ryan and I attended an Easter morning mass with his family. His mother prepared a lovely brunch of glazed ham and chocolate cake - a perfect Easter combination! We spent the late afternoon and evening with my family, consuming our second wonderful meal of the day: flank steak and plenty of wine. It was a full day of family quality time and, as usual, Ryan and I stayed to hang out far past our bedtime. It's nice having both families so close to home. We are able to split (sometimes share) holidays for a minimal amount of driving.

So, I have been thinking about the differences in my experiences at the ND Easter Vigil on Saturday and the FUS Easter Vigil 3 years ago. They give very different impressions from one another, and I think music style has a lot to do with it. ND sang/chanted the entire mass, with the choir leading the way from their ceiling loft. At times I felt like I had stepped back a hundred years ago, the feeling of tradition was so strong. I also felt as though their Easter mass was so solemn that it was missing a little of the unfettered joy I had previously experienced at the FUS Easter Vigil.

The Franciscans go all out for the Easter Vigil. The first half of mass occurs in total darkness, even while the readings and psalms occur (ND lit the Easter candles before the readings). The altar is bare until halfway through mass when a huge flower procession marches through to dress the altar. The baptisms are full immersion, accompanied by passionate and joyful praise & worship style music (think guitars, drums, flutes, violins, vocals - the works). All of the music caters to the charismatic feel typified by the University. The whole time you just want dance for joy before the Lord, like David danced before the Ark of the Covenant. It's incredible, even if you don't usually get into Catholic charismatic style of prayer.

What I realized is that I really enjoyed the different styles at ND and FUS for different reasons. I liked the ND Good Friday mass because of the solemnity and traditional choir. It allowed me to meditate deeply on our Lord's Passion and death. On the other hand, I enjoyed the FUS Easter Vigil so much because of the unrestrained joy which filled the entire congregation. You can't help but be moved to tears by the Sacraments of Initiation granted to those entering into the Church. Their joy became my joy.

It's wonderful to belong to a Church which includes such varied styles of worship. I am so thankful to have the different Easter Vigil experiences. Broadening my prayer styles stretches my soul and helps me to be vulnerable before my God. I can't wait to find out what happens next Easter Vigil!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Triduum Experiences

This week has been the best Holy Week I've ever had.

In some ways my statement is easy to support. For example: I had never even heard the word "Triduum" (much less knew how to pronounce it correctly) until I stepped foot on my alma mater, Franciscan University of Steubenville, nearly 5 years ago. While at FUS I was challenged to enter into all of Holy Week, not just Holy Thursday and Good Friday. I learned that there is a special Chrism mass on Monday of Holy Week to bless all of the holy oils. I also experienced my very first Easter Vigil mass at FUS in 2005 - one of the most moving and joyful masses I've been to. I could hear the angels singing and praising God with us during the baptisms.

The reason I claim that this week has been my best Holy Week, and not the one 3 years ago, is because I've finally succeeded in the challenge issued to me at FUS. I've fully entered into the prayer and anticipation of Holy Week. It started with cleaning my house and clearing my mind last weekend. Then I decided to go to mass after work each day this week (which feels like a big sacrifice of my time, considering that I work until 5pm each day). Due to the good advice of two friends, I also cut out watching any TV or movies until Easter. Finally, I set aside all of my work and cares of the week to simply pray with the church from Holy Thursday evening through Good Friday evening. As Ryan put it, "It's hard work praying all day long!"

Holy Thursday
Ryan and I celebrated mass with our parish on Holy Thursday. I've had a really difficult time feeling like a member of our parish in the two years we've been at St. Pius X. I grew up in a town where there is only one Catholic church, so you pretty much know everyone in town who is Catholic. The really nice aspect of my hometown is how the church feels like an extended family. I've spend the ages of 2 to 22 with the same Catholic families - I knew my parents' friends and grew up with their kids my own age. I consider some of the families like second parents - they know me as well as my own mother and father know me. All the kids started out in grade school together, and now we are all getting married and branching out. But when I go home, it's always so familiar and comfortable to me. I still know everyone at the church, and the families I grew up with remain close friends.

St. Pius X is one of the largest churches in the area. Notice how I said "one of." That's right - there are many Catholic churches in my area. It's hard to get to know people at my new church. I didn't grow up there, I don't belong to any of the ministries yet, and I am not sure where to get started. It's difficult for me to put myself out there and explain to my new church why I am someone they would like for a certain ministry. I grew up being grandfathered into ministries - the adults knew my potential as a kid and invited me into ministries as I turned the appropriate ages. It's almost as though I have to market myself at St. Pius to get into the community. Somehow, that feels so odd.

My disconnected feelings are what led me to go on the Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP) retreat a month ago. Ryan also went on the men's retreat last week. My basic goal was to meet women at the parish and start making connections within the community. I can't wait around to have kids make the connections for me!

So, back to Holy Thursday. The church was busting at the seams crowded. At St. Pius most families pick a Sunday mass time (7:00, 8:45, 10:30, 12:15, or 5:30pm) and stick with it each Sunday. Ryan and I tend to be 12:15ers - it's late enough to sleep in without actually cutting into our evening. Plus, we are always late to the 10:30am. The thing with Holy Thursday, however, is that all the families from different mass times come together into one mass. They have to! In looking around the church Thursday evening I began to notice women from my CRHP retreat. Sweet! I knew people at this mass!

After mass, Ryan and I stayed for Confession and Night Prayer. During the Triduum St. Pius keeps the church open 24 hours for their "Pascal Watch." It's a wonderful time of extra prayer just before Easter. The priests really encourage the parish to embrace the solemnity of the Triduum. Ryan and I embraced it all right - we didn't leave until after 11pm! It was so peaceful. I love being in a dark church at night, lit only by candles.

Good Friday
Although I really want to have a baby, there are some perks to being married without children. One perk is that Ryan and I are able to spend as much time in prayer and at church as we want. We have a certain amount of freedom this year that won't be possible with small children. I guess you could say that we are taking the opportunity for excessive prayer while it still exists!

This year we decided to go to the Notre Dame Basilica Good Friday service. I had heard that the liturgical choir is beyond fantastic, so it was one of my goals to hear them during our time in grad school. The service began at 3:00pm, so we decided to arrive at 2:00pm to snag good seats. Boy were we surprised to find the church totally full an hour before the service began. Luckily, some friends of ours saved us spot in the back of the church, right in front of one of the doors. I found it particularly fitting that we should experience an icy blast (that's right, our snow storm arrived right on time with the first day of spring) each time the door opened. It gave me a sacrificial mindset, to say the least.

Despite the small inconveniences, the Good Friday service at ND was incredible. The liturgical choir lived up to all praise bestowed upon it. They sang everything a cappella in four part harmonies - including the Gospel reading. I brings a new meaning to the Gospel when you hear the choir's chant "Crucify him!" resounding from the huge basilica ceiling. They also sang the heavenly Reproaches during our Veneration of the Cross. Again, how can you remain unmoved by the weight of your sin when expressed so vibrantly from above?

The rest of the evening Ryan and I spent with another ND couple, Steve and Meta, back at St. Pius for the Stations of the Cross and Taize prayer. I love Taize because it incorporates my two favorite types of prayer - singing and meditation. The basic premise is to repeatedly sing or chant a short verse while you meditate. I find that the repetition allows me to meditate because I eventually stop thinking about the mechanics of singing and just calm myself before the Lord. It removes distraction from my mind (because part of my mind is focused on singing) and allows my soul the freedom to experience God's presence.

Friday night at Pius was far less crowded than Thursday night. Even so, I again noticed some of the women from my CRHP retreat. I am finally beginning to feel a connection to my new parish. I almost like it better when there is less of a crowd in the church. I guess the task of getting to know people seems smaller or something. It gave me such a peace of mind knowing that Ryan and I are finally setting down some roots, that we aren't just floating through the parish by ourselves anymore.

Holy Saturday
At this point in the Triduum I am very much at peace. I understand in a new way the importance of Holy Saturday. It's a waiting day - God is asking us to trust in him, to be patient, and to hope that Easter Sunday will arrive. It's kind of exciting, in a way. Not in the same way that Christmas Eve is exciting, but in a quieter sort of way. I can't spend my entire day in prayer like yesterday (laundry needs to be washed again, errands to run - life goes on!), but I can go about my day with a peaceful and expectant soul. Soon we will be at the ND Easter Vigil, celebrating with our brand new members of the Catholic church. I may not know those who are going to be baptized tonight, but I've had several dear friends come into the Church on previous Easter Vigils. I know the joy and excitement my friends experienced, and so I gladly share in the celebrations for others.

It's been such a good Holy Week. Approaching the end of this week, I am definitely ready for Easter. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ, King of Endless Glory!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I am Genius!

This post is a tribute to the first crossword puzzle I have ever finished.

Ok, so I didn't exactly finish the puzzle on my own... But I take full credit for googling the clues and then actually choosing the correct words to fill in the crossword. And I only used the answers from the online crossword blog guy like three times, or maybe five - but it wasn't very many times!

Even though I don't know what all the words mean, but I still feel pretty darn smart.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Victorious! (in a Domestic Kind of Way)

This weekend was great. I finally feel balanced and disciplined in my life. And the sun was shining. That always helps too.

I decided to make the best possible use of my time and really tackle the housework that has piled up over the last month (or maybe two). My husband went to a Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP) retreat over the weekend, so I gained a lot of undistracted time - not to mention motivation. I promised Ryan that the apartment would be spotless when he returned, and I am not one to make frivolous promises. I also wanted to give him a special gift for taking time out of his very busy graduate student schedule to go on retreat. One of Ryan's favorite delights is to return home to a clean and tidy apartment. I had from 8:30am Saturday to 5:oopm Sunday to make my gift to Ryan a reality.

Tackling the housework was just plain good for my soul. I put on some background talk radio for noise and spent a lot of alone time, clearing the cobwebs from my own mind as well as the apartment corners. I turned my work into a prayer for Ryan, that he would come away from the weekend spiritually refreshed. Praying through my work pulled me out of my usual weekend malaise (of which I spend a majority on the couch, in front of the computer) and seriously motivated me.

It felt so refreshing to work with my hands, to take disorder and turn it orderly. There was something soothing in the rhythm of cleaning. When I scrubbed the floors on my hands and knees I felt connected to my vocation as wife. It's not because a wife is supposed to clean, but because in my humility I was able to help recreate the world, one kitchen floor at a time. The work gave meaning to my life that I couldn't obtain living vicariously through a tv show or movie. I guess I just felt more real, if that makes any sense.

So, I worked like a crazy person all weekend and I was able to bring Ryan home to a sweet smelling, clean, and tidy apartment. The best part of the entire weekend was sitting with him at the (clutter-free) table, talking about our retreat experiences underneath a candlelight glow. It was the first time I have used our crystal candlesticks - and we received them as a wedding present two years ago! My husband and I were able to relax, peaceful at the knowledge that my hard work freed up an entire evening to enjoy each other's company.

I may have cleaned the apartment as a gift to Ryan, but my reward was a carefree timelessness with my husband that we haven't experienced in a really long time.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Time to Clean House

Do you ever return home from a trip, start to unpack, and then just leave it half-put-away for days on end? Or am I the only one?

It's always when I am stuck at work that my domestic tasks start to stress me out. My mind turns to thoughts of what I could be doing when we have a slow day in the office - when I'm actually doing nothing. (At this moment my task list is fairly long: laundry, dishes, dusting, vacuuming, cleaning, sorting, organizing, unpiling, entering finances, scrubbing, decluttering, and, oh, that one picture needs to be hung on the wall too). I start to get a little fidgety and excited to get home and put a dent in my household chores.

Then it rolls around to 5:00, I am tired from doing nothing all day and very hungry. Some days I can't even go straight home - errands, appointments, and groceries, oh my! When I finally return to the apartment dinner depends on how I feel. Some days I find it interesting and energizing to cook a nice meal, other days I grab the first thing I see in the fridge. Then I finally sink into the couch to relax and watch a movie or tv show online - or two.

Suddenly it's bedtime (I have to sleep now or I'll never wake up in time for work!) and I've succeeded in putting off all those domestic chores yet again. I go to bed stressed and more than a little ticked off at my lack of discipline. I vow that the next day will be different - you know, if I'm not too tired from barely making it to bed on time.

But seriously, I really will make tomorrow different.

*Note: This post was written on Thursday (the day it's posted under), but I didn't actually finish and post it until Sunday...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Reflections on an Orlando Spring Break

The best part about having a husband in graduate school is living vicariously through his spring breaks. Even though I now work in the "real world" my hubby still provides those good old college perks. This year we both craved a little sunshine and decided to travel to Orlando for a long weekend.

The plan: soak up the sun and read all day long by the pool

The reality: unseasonably cold weather and confusion about the purpose of taking a vacation in the first place

The good news: coming home feeling refreshed in our daily lives and invigorated in our marriage

I'm the kind of person who likes to make a plan - and I tend to react badly when forced to deviate from it. This kind of rigidity makes it difficult for me to yield to God's plans a lot of the time. I also tend to become most obsessive with my travel plans. In my very worst moment (missing the plane to Austria and melting down into a complete sobbing mess in the airport) the thought came to me that I should try to be more flexible.

This Orlando weekend gave me ample room to practice my flexibility. I had to reconsider my vacation philosophy. What else besides sunshine could make our vacation worthwhile? How could I find satisfaction beyond my unfulfilled vacation plans? If I've just spent the last week at home, sick and attached at the hip to Ryan, how could I make our vacation time together special and romantic?

I realized that if I opened my eyes to the gifts surrounding me, the little inconveniences would diminish - I had to throw away my expectations of the perfect vacation and just enjoy the experience.

Ryan and I were blessed with a wonderful vacation. We soaked in the beauty of the resort, tasted fine wine and cuisine (I won't eat fish unless I am near the ocean!), slowed down our pace, and really looked into each other's eyes as we talked. We also spent a wonderful afternoon with my college roommate, Farrah, who we haven't seen since our wedding day. We went exploring through Downtown Disney (hey, it's the only "free" place in the park) and rediscovered our childhood in all the little shops. I even managed to snag a little sunburn, despite the uncooperative weather.

All in all, it was one of the few vacations I ended feeling relaxed and not overly tired from excessive excursions. I also discovered that Ryan and I don't really need a romantic get-away at this point in our relationship. We keep the flame going in our every-day life. The best part of the vacation was spending time with Farrah. Until Ryan and I have children (and, therefore, the need for a romantic get-away), my vacation philosophy will include quality time with friends and family. Because of the setbacks during this vacation, I learned a little bit more about ditching my well-laid plans and following the Lord's plans instead.


Oh, the joys of air travel

Me (noticing the light flashing and siren ringing for another baggage claim): Where is our little flashy light and siren? It's my favorite part!

Ryan: We already missed it because it goes off before the luggage carousel starts moving.

Me: I like it because it reminds me of casino jackpots. Here's your luggage. You win.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Yes. I am sick today and have nothing else to do with my time...

So, I have spent most of my day sitting in bed (very "soft and delicious" as one friend would describe it) wading through the blogosphere. My sifting led me to an old blog post from my semester spent abroad. It almost took my breath away, revisiting my old thoughts from a time when I seemed to possess more wisdom than I realized. At least, the words are a new wisdom to the me sitting here (in bed) today.

Anyway, I thought I would share. The post describes a walk I took in Medjugorje in 2004.

I decided to walk up the rocky mountain barefoot. I had heard about others doing it, and I was so excited to add that physical penance to my spiritual prayer of the Stations of the Cross on the way up. And it was demanding. I think it took nearly two hours for us to reach the peak of the mountain.

But how can I explain how rewarding it was to experience that walk? I noticed that when I looked up the big rocks looked the most daunting. I was wary about walking through them. However, I quickly learned that the smaller stones were the sharpest and most painful to walk over. The larger stones had been rubbed smooth from millions of pilgrim feet over the past twenty years. And I saw how the rocks related to my life. The big sins in my life look the most daunting. I think that I will never get over them, or find forgiveness with them, or heal from them. And when I approach the big ones, it is always easier than I expected. The small stones represent the tiny day to day sins in my life. They cut the most because they are the hardest to rid myself of - and I am challenged every day by them. They are the tiny vices that create the biggest problems. I felt as if I had walked through the sins in my life on the Cross Mountain. I was performing a penance for my life with my body, but my soul was left to gaze at the beauty of the mountains and to speak with God in my heart.

...The way down Cross Mountain all I could think was how incredibly thankful I was for the simple gift of shoes in my life.

Grace or Influenza?

Usually, I am just stubborn. But some days I am not sure if I am stubborn or if I am holding on tightly to the Lord's grace despite the odds.

This weekend Ryan and I had planned to be leaders of a youth retreat with some of our good friends. The youth group was not our own, but my dear friend Andy asked us to be a part of the planning and presentations for the weekend. He wanted to give the kids a good example of married vocation, and apparently they don't have very many women youth leaders for this group, so having me and one of my closest friends, Aislinn, there was pretty important.

We began planning the retreat last fall, setting up the weekend agenda from scratch, creating a theme about Heros, and basing our talks and discussions on each team leader's personal and spiritual strengths. Ryan and I were slotted for the marriage/chastity talk from the beginning - kind of a no-brainer, as we were the only married couple to be there.

Wednesday before the retreat I began to feel tired and kind of sick. I took work off on Thursday, tried to sleep in and just get enough rest to kick my little cold. Friday morning at work I didn't feel 100%, but I just knew that spiritual attack right before a retreat is all part of the deal. I made it through the first evening of the retreat, however, each hour I kept feeling worse instead of better. At one point I wondered why I didn't just stay at home instead, watching movies and not sitting on hard, cold floor with kids I just met and would probably never see again. Why did it even matter for me to be there?

Friday night I slept for 2 hours and I knew I was in trouble when I woke up. I felt miserable, barely able to focus, and totally unsure how I would last out the day until our talk at 3pm. I also felt wretched because I was submitting all those kids to whatever illness I brought along with me - and to what purpose? My own pride? Or was God asking me to suffer through for a greater good? How would all of those parents feel when their kids brought home sickness from a youth leader? Again, I wasn't sure what I was doing there, or whether I should stay or go.

I decided to make the best of an awful situation and just pray unceasingly. I made a commitment to the retreat and I would stick it out until my work was done. My only option was to offer up my suffering and desperately ask God to heal me of my sickness. It was a humility for me to lay down my defenses and depend totally on the Lord. As I've mentioned before, I am usually just stubborn.

Three o'clock came, the hour of mercy, and God gave me the strength to witness with my husband to the teens. He even gave me a little extra energy that afternoon as I talked with the girls on the retreat about marriage, sex, and guys. It wasn't a healing from my sickness, but it was a grace to be able to minister to the teens. I was able to give back a little bit of the gift I had received from other youth ministers when I was a teen, at that very same retreat center. The gift had come full circle. My biggest grace of the day, however, was a peace of mind about the weekend. There was a reason I was at the retreat, attempting to give an example of womanhood to the girls striving toward their own womanhood.

The next morning I found out that I am suffering from influenza. It's kind of funny, the double-edged sword of the whole event. I decided to go and keep my commitment, and possibly speak a word that God will use in one of those teens' hearts. At the same time, my being there exposed everyone to the flu. I just hope that I was a vessel for God's grace and not influenza at the retreat!