Friday, June 21, 2013

'Til Death Do Us Part

Parts 1, 2, and 3 are in the posts below (convenient links coming soon!)

‘Til death do us part
When you have this promise in your mind before you are married, you think that death will be very distant. Naturally, we will grow old and gray together, and the years between that will be the expected form of ups and downs that everyone always talks about. What tends to sink in a few months after being married is the inescapable knowledge that you can’t imagine your life without them. Not in that “I won’t be able to go on” should something terrible happen to them (or to you, Jennifer, you klutzy kid). It is that type of imagining of “Could there really be a version of my life in the future where this person won’t be there, where this promise would no longer be pending, but fulfilled?”

This vow sinks in when you realize that you are not only in it for the rest of your life, but with your whole life. You are all-in. You are more than dedicated, but devoted. “’Til death do us part” is not just about enjoying our life together until the inevitable happens. It is about giving our life for the other. Plain and simple, that is love. That means this vow, then, is not just a closing date of a contract. It is the finish line that can only be successfully reached when you give everything in the journey of getting there.

Are the previous posts and above the only meanings of these vows? Absolutely not. I am sure in a few years, I will become aware of several new meanings behind these ancient promises. But, for now, I know if I keep my mind on the above explanation of what these vows truly mean, then I will have much more to celebrate with each wedding we attend.

In Sickness and In Health

Parts 1 and 2 in the posts below!

In sickness and in health,
I am in constant admiration of those who care for the physical well-being of their spouse, especially in cases of long-term, serious, and terminal illness. I am so thankful that any health issues we have had have not been life-threatening. Not to be dramatic but with all sincerity, I think in marriage the health of something much more valuable is at risk: our souls.

I am responsible for getting my spouse to heaven, and he likewise. So, his spiritual well-being is in my care. When I promised to be faithful in sickness and in health, it means I signed up to not give up when he isn’t responding to the “cure” I think he needs. Often, my attempts to really care for a spiritual pain have the pathetic fervor of trying to pray away acne: petty, misguided, and really self-centered. First, prayer is not a vending machine, just as your marriage isn’t. It is always first a relationship. When you care more about the soul of your spouse then them being in the “right” spiritual health, you begin to see them as God sees them: a beloved member of His family, and someone to be cared for and given the sincerest care, no matter where they stand.

Am I caring for the well-being of his soul, or just waiting for him to fix things himself? Am I waiting for him to respond to my “cure” or “treatment” in the way I want?  Am I really invested in this matter? These are ugly questions I don’t ask myself enough, often because I am not going to like the answer. It is not up to me to decide what is valuable care for his soul. It is my job to care for it unceasingly.  

Last one (Part 4) is on it's way!

For Richer or Poorer

See Part 1 in the post below!

For richer or poorer,
Newly-wedded bliss often means we start out near broke. Many couples bond over this seemingly endless dinner routine of sharing Ramen noodles and a pouch of M&Ms. When first married, we were more financially blessed than other couples, though not out of the woods in this tough economy. Poorer has not been a huge concern for us, and we are truly thankful for this fact.

For us, “for richer or poorer” puts more emphasis on the richer. How? We have really been blessed in so many ways that we find ourselves wondering how to best share these blessings. No, we don’t have mounds of cash. But we do have the opportunity to be generous. In fact, in our marriage vows, this promise is more than just sticking together whether we have a lot of money or not. It calls for the willingness to push one another to continually give. When we rest on what we have without looking to use it for God’s glory out in the world, we settle. The moss grows. Pretty soon, the fear of mild uneasiness and embarrassment poisons the water as the risk of your version of “poorer” takes root.

In marriage, we have to push one another, many times in ways that we don’t like; it can make us uncomfortable, or scared, or put a mirror to our selfishness. God provides His blessings no longer to me or to my husband—He provides them to us together. While our willingness to receive them is often unequal, our desire to push the other towards the good must be alike and unshakable. In reality, this vow is not all fidelity in a financial struggle. It was how to be generous in this matter so that we can be generous in the matter that matters more: love. 

Part 3 is coming next!

For Better or Worse

This is a 4-part post, which will debut every hour this morning. Hope you enjoy!

I really like weddings, which is good, because we have gone to a lot of them lately. We’re headed to one this weekend, in fact. It just doesn’t get old watching a man and a woman look with this authentic, nearly disarming love for one another step into the ring to risk it all for the other person.

Haha, we all had our laugh at the ring pun.

But really, with so many family and friends tying the knot right and left, I thought it might be nice to provide some advice to these newlyweds. And by “to these newlyweds,” I of course mean to myself.

I thought a reminder of our wedding vows—and just a sliver of what they really mean—would be a good place to dive in so that at these beautiful weddings, I could improve and grow my own marriage. And, while I recently wrote a post for Stephen’s and my three-year anniversary with some ongoing marriage advice, there is always room for improvement. And ice cream.  

See below for more on that in a minute.

For better or worse,
The better part is pretty instant. You’re Married! You’re in Love! You’re Thinking is all Rainbows and Exclamation Points! (And Apparently Capitalized Words!) But in this fresh love, we become a bit foolish and think that worse is far down the road, or that we will be ready for it when it comes.

Wrong. Usually worse is unexpected, or scary, or weighing more heavily on only one spouse, or a source of deep pain, or a monstrous conglomeration of all of those things. I personally feel that is why “worse” is in the wedding vows, and not “through difficulties”: in my experience, “worse” happens unevenly, and one spouse may initially find things “worse” than the other. But that whole notion of “marriage is give and take” in working through the “worse” is missing something.

Marriage is all give. When it feels worse for you, your spouse must give. When worse for them, you give. And when you are united and the worse feels overwhelming for both of you, God provides the better. No, He doesn’t always make it better in the way we want it—in fact, that is pretty rare because we usually have no idea what is best for us. However, with our willingness to give it all to Him, He makes our marriage better.

In fact, to me this vow is the truest test of faithfulness in the human sense. God is ever faithful to us, and one reason among many that this marriage relationship exists to help us better understand that. God does not quit on us. Ever. He may not always appear to us in the way we desire, with all the answers and a bowl of ice cream. But He never quits us, even when we might like to quit on Him when things become more difficult than we thought we could bear. That is what we must bring into our marriage. When the ugly worse appears, we stay. We eat ice cream. And far above these, we work and pray our way towards the better. 

Stay tuned for Part 2: For Richer or Poorer

Friday, May 17, 2013

Knitting, and Other Creative Successes

So I have started knitting.

A year ago, a friend I met in Bible study brought in a book on knitting pillows she had won from a raffle earlier in the week. She had been knitting for years and was explaining to me the ins-and-outs of how truthfully easy something like this was to knit. I did not believe her.

My own experience in the creative parts of life are as a cook and a writer. When I feel a tug to do something creative, or keep my hands busy, I generally open my pantry or Microsoft Word. Baking makes me happy, and writing is an invaluable medium for me. My handwriting still stinks to high heaven, though.

I explained to my friend, Terry, that I am not particularly crafty, but she was still willing to try what I thought was impossible: teach me to knit. My sister is the one who sews and makes things that are really impressive. The things I made, in my experience, were at the first-grade-toilet-paper-roll-craft level.

I have since discovered that this is not true, that actually I really like to craft. Some stuff I make even looks good. Most projects have a quirky, homemade quality, and I particularly enjoy making party decorations. But my friend, Terry, said that she could teach me. She was confident that knitting really is easy to learn, very relaxing, and fun.

I agreed, and she was right. Anyone can knit, even me.

We started by making simple swatches to learn both knit and purl, which are just opposites of each other and make up about 75% of the actions taken to actually knit something up. For a while I wondered how these two actions could take place side-by-side without canceling each other out, but it works.

Soon I was making really good-looking swatches, with no knots or holes or water stains (not that I would ever leave cold water alone for hours only to find the condensation would reach my project and warp the yarn.) Then, I graduated to the world’s longest scarf, because after practicing over and over, I had forgotten how to finish (called binding off). Then I made things for cute kids, like hats, and things with features I once thought really complicated, like cables.

It really is relaxing, too. There is something about the rhythm of knitting; it reminds me a bit like the praying the Rosary. While getting some nervous energy out by keeping your hands busy, you can really focus your mind and heart on much bigger things. I have found myself praying in the middle of a project many times, wondering why I hadn’t tried this method of prayer more often.

Overall, I recommend it. If you are looking for something new in the creative realm, try knitting. It is not just for older ladies, or for people with tons of free time. Many of the projects I have made held true to their quick-and-easy promise, and turned out nice for people of all ages. Some are even trendy (I am pretty sure a hundred years ago people were not knitting Kindle covers.)

But consider knitting not so much for the end result, though that is a nice bonus. In general, it is good to try something new every once in a while without worrying you might fail a couple times before succeeding. How you handle failure in small matters can shape how you handle it in big ones. For me, the perfect little thing to fail in—before happily succeeding—was knitting. And now, I have a wonderful new hobby.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Three Years

My husband Stephen and I just celebrated our three-year anniversary. People we know feel all sorts of things about this; “Is that all?”or “Already?!” or “Talk to us when you get to three decades” are all commonly said. And in some respects, these things are totally true.

But in several respects, we are a lot further along than what three years looks like on the face. We, like most newlyweds, have dealt with many unexpected struggles. I won’t be diving into those struggles today. Many, thankfully, we were ready for because we have kept prayer and communication lines open. Other struggles were learn-as-you-go.

This post will share some of the basic things we have learned in three years of marriage. Some are truly universal. Some are not. Some prove that we are laps behind where other people are (“They had to learn that? C’mon, that’s too basic….”) Gratefully, we are at least here, in the race.

It made the most sense to me to share these things not as advice for the world, but advice for myself in the world. Since my job as spouse is to get my husband to heaven, consider this my to-remember list for the next year.


You are not twins. And that is good. Great, in fact. You do not like all the same foods, or have the same habits. If your husband does not fall head over heels for your lasagna with kale, that is not a sign that your marriage in trouble. It is a sign that you don’t adore yourself to the point of marrying a clone, and that your husband feels safe and open enough with you to share the truth. Again, this is great. Focus on the uniqueness that is your husband. Share your own uniqueness with him, like your creativity in how you will find other ways to sneak feed him kale. And, embrace the differences as a way you can tag-team the things you will encounter as a couple, each one sharing his or her own strengths as applicable.

You are not date night people. You have heard from lots of women who swear by a date night, that this has worked wonders in their own marriage. Good for them. This is just not realistic for us, at least not right now. One night a week that you keep for dates, carved in stone, does not give the same authenticity off which you and Stephen thrive. Some of the best dates we have had can’t be called “dates,” because they offered spontaneous opportunity to focus on the other. Accept that your version of date night might be 15 minutes on a Wednesday morning, where no one has yet brushed their teeth.  

You have to commit. Cell phones, TV’s, computers—basically anything with a screen—can be a demand for your time, and pretty soon, your heart. And those are just the things we pay for. Look at all the other demands the world puts on us that we aren’t asking for. There will never be a work-family-obligation perfect storm. You are called to commit in the chaos.

You are not enemies. Disagreements are normal, not an invitation to debate. Debates have winners, and they have losers. And when one of you loses, you both lose. Marriage means you are on the same team. Be forgiving. Be reconciliatory. Complement each other, don’t compete with one another. Get over problems with open communication and as few tears as possible. Why? Because a new issue-demanding-tissues will probably be around the corner. Do not plant your flag on a big hunk of cheese, because you will soon find that after awhile your feet are oozing into a festering puddle of what once resembled something worthwhile.

You are not what the world tells you. Good wives are not perfect domestics, ball-busting career women, catty gossips, sex kittens or totally indifferent. If you see wives like this, don’t fall for their easy step-by-step how-to-be-a-modern-wife routine. They are thinking only of themselves, and you have done enough of that for a lifetime. For the most part, you are doing ok, good even. In many respects, step up. Put on your big girl high heels and be the wife your husband deserves. Be helpful. Be patient. Be affectionate. Be respectful. Be kind. And, be OK with being wrong.

You are not behind. You are not raising any kids yet, like you thought you would be. This is not a failure. Many people will tell you that you have all the time in the world. Try not to be offended. Other people will notice the lack of brood in toe and ask what the holdup is. Try not to get upset. Find the lovely middle ground that is your very blessed life right now, and settle in to accepting—and embracing—that God wants you where He has you.  

You are not alone. Do not become like the couples you know who drain you with their selfishness. They do no lift up their spouse, and instead of bragging about all of their spouse’s wonderful qualities, they grumble about (perceived) faults. They take from one another, complain, and look to us to take sides. In a way, they are travelling in this world not as part of a couple, but very much alone. This is more than exhausting. This is poisonous. This type of attitude only focuses on you, and not on your sacrifice and commitment for your husband. You and Stephen have found over and over when you focus first on God, then on your spouse, it leaves very little time for focusing on yourself—and that is when you both are happiest. Do not let others come between you and your spouse. Protect and honor your marriage vows.

You must have faith. Seek Him first, and believe He has a much greater plan in mind for you and Stephen than you could have ever imagined yourself. If you seek His will, He will work it in your life. This means that the peaks are a peek at heaven, and the valleys are when you are closest to our Lord. Trust.

And now to you. Anything I should remember over the next year?


Friday, May 3, 2013

First To Catch Up

Hello Everyone!

Looking at this blog, the last time I really sat down to publish a post was more than a year and a half ago. Maybe you missed this blog. Many times I did. Or, maybe this is a new discovery for you, in which case, welcome.

This past year and a half have been focused on reflection, on prayer, on growth, and on letting things that I wanted fizzle out, knowing that something much bigger, much more beautiful, and much more worthwhile was on the horizon.

And when I wasn’t looking, the sun rose.

I am honored to have a new job (well, “new” since more than a year and a half ago) as Stewardship Coordinator at Holy Spirit Church, my home parish for more than two decades. I have been in that position since October 2012. I get to share with my fellow Catholics the joy in recognizing that everything we have received is a gift from God, and that the best way to love Him is to give those gifts back to Him in the way that He desires from us. I get to chat with individual parishioners about my own experience of losing a job, of feeling a bit lost, of being unsure of how God could use me if I wasn’t being productive in the way the world values--but always getting to share how He desires us and that I am supposed to play a specific role in this world. I get to really dialogue with members of our faith community about how we can personally connect to support one another on this, our faith journey.

At work, we are beginning to focus on creating and growing a social media presence that is a reflection of our vibrant parish life. It’s very exciting work, and we are meeting with many parishes, individuals and organizations who have helped blaze the trail in this realm, including Lisa Hendey and Right to Life of Central California. And, of course, we are working on spreading the Gospel in the way that reaches how we communicate in the modern world while maintaining the truth and beauty of it. As our effort grows and develops, I am privileged to be part of it.

So much more to come in that arena. As for the rest of my life, stay tuned!

Thursday, May 2, 2013


I know I have been gone for quite a while, but I plan to return to a regular posting schedule here--with good content--very soon.

Please stay tuned, if you are so inclined.

Thanks, and God Bless!