Why I Like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

I decided to write something a little more light-hearted today. It is pouring rain and we are expecting snow tonight, and truth be told, these long dark nights are not for me. I need light and lots of it. So for those of you who struggle with depression, I feel your pain, and you are in my prayers.

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So, today I am going to write about why I like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. My daughter and I were watching The Game Plan this morning which is a cute movie about a pro-football player who finds out he has a daughter. I think that Dwayne Johnson is fun to watch in movies, and not because he is an attractive man. He seems like a guy who does not take himself too seriously. He seems laid back and open to diverse roles. He can be shooting bad guys in one movie, is the Tooth Fairy in another, and then is body slamming someone on national television.

It was surprisingly difficult to find a picture where he had his shirt on.
It was surprisingly difficult to find a picture where he had his shirt on.
Does this look like a guy who takes himself too seriously?
Does this look like a guy who takes himself too seriously?

Truth-be-told I had not seen many of his recent action movies. Rated “R” movies are just too gruesomely violent these days for me to stomach. So my husband knows if it is an action flick with an “R” rating, I won’t watch it. Some of the action movies I have seen him in were entertaining, though. And who could forget The Scorpion King?! (she says with a chuckle)

As a mom and as a woman it is endearing for me to see a tough guy who is willing to do kids movies. He is clearly comfortable with his career and who he is, and in Hollywood that is a rare find. Perhaps that is a little bit of what I saw with the guys I served with in the military. They were tough soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, but were great fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons. Some of them even watch Disney movies. Shhh, don’t tell anyone.

Yep, reminds me of some of my military guy friends.
Yep, reminds me of some of my military guy friends.

 

I honestly do not care for many of the actors in Hollywood. I am an Anglophile. Most of my favorite actors and actresses are British (Emma Thompson, Christian Bale, Michael Cain, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Richard Armitage (North and South is so good!), and a lot more). I think that they demand more from their actors and are diverse in their roles and mediums. Plus, I miss the accent (I was blessed to live in England for 14 months).

The point is that Dwayne Johnson may not be an Academy Award winning actor, but he is entertaining to watch. What does that even mean these days?! Like the Nobel Peace Prize, it is all politics. The next time Dwayne Johnson does a kids movie, you will find me sitting back and enjoying. Life is too serious as it is, so it is nice to see someone who is successful and not so worried about their image.

Preparing for Advent: Waiting in Joyful Hope

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Growing up in my family home, we were ready to celebrate Christmas the day after Thanksgiving, just like the rest of America.  Advent was something we  did at Mass on Sunday with the lighting of the Advent wreath.  It was not something that we did at home.  It was not something we lived.  Then I got married 3.5 years ago, and I began meeting godly women who try to live out the liturgical year over the secular calendar.  I started to pay attention to the movements and rhythms of the Church and discovered what I had been missing.

Advent makes us give up instant gratification.  It is a season of waiting in joyful hope.  As Catholics we wait for two things: First the Incarnation on Christmas and Second, we are still waiting for the Second Coming of Our Lord.  Look at it is this way.  The Jews waited 4000 years for the Messiah.  I can wait a month to jump into Christmas in order to fully live out Advent.  My husband and I go shopping for our Christmas Tree on Gaudete Sunday (3rd Sunday of Advent).  If we did not travel at Christmas, we would wait until Christmas Eve.  The Church does not start celebrating Christmas until Christmas Eve Vigil.
Waiting can be hard.  We are surrounded by Christmas carols, trees, decorated houses and stores, and holiday food.  It is hard to not partake.  Perhaps slowly work Advent into your family’s traditions this year.  Get an Advent wreath and light it each night.  Imagine what the Jews felt like as they waited for the promised Messiah.  Truly think about what it means to wait for the Second Coming.  Are we all ready?
Here are some suggestions for living out Advent more fully:
*If you have not done so already, push back buying your tree a week or two.  Or wait until Gaudete Sunday like us.
*Wait to turn your Christmas lights on outside until Christmas Eve and then keep them up during the liturgical Christmas season that can go well into January depending on when you decide to stop.  Some cultures celebrate Christmas until the Presentation of Our Lord and others until his Baptism, and some until Epiphany.
*Do a Jesse Tree with your family.  My friend Christine over at Domestic Vocation has a full guide to doing a Jesse Tree.
*Light the Advent wreath during dinner.
*Light the Advent wreath and do a prayer reflection with your family.  End singing O Come, O Come Emmanuel
*Postpone Christmas music at least until Gaudete Sunday. Now this one is hard in our culture.  You may have to bring CDs or your iPod in your car.
*If you are not ready to jump fully into Advent, perhaps just make Sundays a Christmas free time that focuses on the beatiful season of Advent.
Remember we are a joyful people.  We know that Christ is coming and that is why we wait in joyful hope.  Advent can teach us a lot about the spiritual life.  Sometimes we must be patient and wait for joy, but God uses that waiting to shape us.
How can you bring Advent into your home? Do you have Advent traditions that you do in your family? Share them in the comments section.

Jesus Christ Leading Us Into the Deep

” Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
 After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night,* he came toward them, walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once [Jesus] spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I;* do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
 But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith,* why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
Matthew 14:22-33

A lot of the spiritual life is about being led out into the deep.  I was thinking about St. Peter walking out on the waves as I prayed my Rosary Sunday evening.  I was thinking about it because I lack the courage to step out of the boat a lot of the time.  To be led deeper into God, towards God. It takes great courage.  It is something that a lot of us intentionally avoid.

St. Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus and starts sinking.  He and I are so similar that way.
St. Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus and starts sinking. He and I are so similar that way.
We all like to be comfortable.  We want to feel good in our spiritual life, but faith is  not about feelings.  In fact, the journey to holiness requires us to get out of the boat and serve others outside of our comfort zone.  I am learning this by doing the ministries I have been called to.  Being a Eucharistic Minister to the sick, was not my doing.  Our Lord called me there to minister to his faithful who are on, or carrying their Cross.  It is deeply uncomfortable.  Why?  Well, I struggle with fears of death, I have to walk into strangers’ rooms where they are suffering greatly (haven’t done that since 9-11), I am a deeply empathetic person, so it is really hard for me to see people suffering.  Even with my struggles, He blesses me as I bring Him to those in need.  In doing this ministry I am serving “the least of these” in His name.  I am actually walking into the deep.
I am also teaching junior high religious education this year.  Teaching is a gift God has given me.  I have taught for years.  It just happens that I believe junior high is the hardest age group to teach.  It is a difficult time.  I hated junior high.  It is an awkward time period.  I really like my students.  They don’t know it, but I offer up Masses, Rosaries, and prayers for them weekly.  But, more than anything, I want them to have a personal encounter with the Risen Christ.  That is my prayer for them.  All I can do is give them the tools, they have to choose to answer His call.
Being a catechist to this age group requires great patience on my part.  I can have a tendency to be too theological at times and that is not what this group needs from me.  I can save that for Lay Dominicans.  What they need is to see the joy that stems from the Christian life.  They need to know that Our Lord loves them and is calling them to follow Him.  They need to know what a gift the Church is to us.  What an incredible gift we have in the Sacraments.  The world does not understand us, in fact, it is hostile to Christ and His Church.  It has been that way since the beginning.  We need to give these kids the tools to help them live out the mission.  I have had to acknowledge my own limitations.  I am not these kids’ parents.  It is their parents’ job to teach and raise them in the faith.  Something that is sorely lacking and that is why I pray so much for them.
Christ the King of the Universe.  Is it bad that I told our students that is is not Obama?
Christ the King of the Universe. Is it bad that I told our students that it is not Obama?
When Christ calls us to serve, He is calling us into the deep.  We are to keep our eyes on Him and trust that He will lead us.  St. Peter could walk on water, until he took his eyes off of Jesus.  I know it is the end of the liturgical year and we just celebrated the Feast of Christ the King of the Universe, but trust and a deeper relationship with God were on my mind.  Probably because no title reminds of God’s awe-inspiring Creation, power, and authority than Christ the King of the Universe.  It reminds me of how truly small I am.
To be quite honest, ministry is much easier for me than deepening my spiritual life through prayer.  Yes, I pray Lauds and Vespers, as well as a Rosary every day as I prepare for a secondary vocation as a Lay Dominican.  When I enter into deeper prayer, I get the feeling like I need to catch my breath.  Like I am not ready for the deep end of the pool.  I can only describe it as a sense of the Numinous that CS Lewis writes about.  I get a sense of awe that is accompanied by dread.  Going deeper into the heart of God is not easy.  Look at the Saints.  It comes with joy, but also great trial and suffering.
This monk is not running from the Numinous.
This monk is not running from the Numinous.
My tendency is to want to stay in my comfort prayer zone.  I do my prayers, I read the Scripture often, I read theological books, but I tend to turn and run from anything resembling contemplative prayer.  When I read the mystical prayer experiences of many of the Saints my first thought is, that is just not for me Lord. Okay, so I won’t be levitating anytime soon and that is not what I am afraid of.  It is more a fear of the unknown.  Part of it is the darkness of sin that I see on me, which is why I go to regular Confession.  There is nothing in this life that will remind us of our sinful nature like prayer and Confession.  I feel I am not worthy of a deep encounter with God.  I have to get over this and be humble, but not self-pitying.  Part of it is fear of the unknown, especially the Numinous.  Some of it is my fear of suffering.
The Crucifixion must come before the Resurrection.
The Crucifixion must come before the Resurrection.
The great paradox of joy is that it only comes from God.  It is not happiness.  It  is something so much deeper and more profound.  I have experienced real joy only a few times in my life: during the reception of Sacraments to include my wedding day, the day my daughter was born, and the day she was Baptized.  But joy only comes when we are fully open to it.  It also seems to come to us once we are in our vocation, receive a Sacrament, or some other grace.  That is my personal experience.  In order to more fully receive joy, we must free ourselves to God’s call in our lives, including that call to follow him into the deep,  and that inevitably means the Cross.  There is no Resurrection without the Cross.  I know this and that is why I struggle with moving forward at times.  I long for God, but I allow my own fear to win out sometimes.  I know the Cross is conquered, but I still have to go through my own Cross (I carry it daily) and death some day.
Gave up her life to serve the poorest of the poor.  Her countenance? JOY
Gave up her life to serve the poorest of the poor. Her countenance? JOY
Lived under the Communists.  Became Pope.  JOY.
Lived under the Communists. Became Pope. JOY.
I have to wonder if that is why we distract ourselves so much these days.  We do everything we can to block God out.  We have TVs, computers, radios, tablets, cell phones, etc on constantly.  It’s as though we do not want to hear that still small voice calling to us.  It makes us uncomfortable.  He requires change from us.  He requires we give our all to Him.  He calls us on the path to Sainthood.  That is the meaning of life: to be a saint.
How many of us stay in our comfort zones in how we serve Christ?  How many of us push back against a deeper encounter with God in our prayer life?  How many of us rely on good feelings rather than a genuine faith in God?  Do we really want joy?  Will we give up everything to attain joy?
Two men who radiate Christ's joy now.
Two men who radiate Christ’s joy now.

7 Quick Takes for this Gray and Occasionally Sunny November Day

Today I am linked up over at Jennifer Fulwiler’s Conversion Diary for 7 Quick Takes. Join us with your quick takes for the week here:

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1.  My husband and I bought our first home together in May of this year.  We actually ended up in the town where our parish is located (long story as to why we drove 30 minutes to Mass…let’s just say “spirit of Vatican II” and leave it at that).  My husband now commutes every day, but we think that it is worth it.  We have been blessed with even more friendships through our church and have been able to get more involved.  We have become good friends with a family with four girls.  I teach junior high religious ed with the dad/husband.  They are our board game friends.  We have almost made Sunday dinner and games a ritual.  We chat after Mass and then end up planning to play games and have dinner later that day.  It has been a great blessing for us.  When we lived in Boone, NC we had a couple we used to play Settlers of Cataan and pinochle with.  Now we play all kinds of games with our friends from church, including a Star Trek version of Settlers (so awesome!).
2.  I am learning to enjoy reading the same book over and over again to my toddler.  One of my blog readers from CatholicMom.com pointed out that I  need to foster a love of “nonsense” with my child.  I thought about it and decided that she is right.  I used to have a great imagination and I am working on my first novel, so I should be able to read Pinkalicious to my daughter and enjoy it, even if it is not one of my favorite books.  Michaela is even “reading” to herself these days and that makes me so proud.
3.  Conquering my coffee addiction is not going so well (she says while slurping down a peppermint mocha).  Facebook was easy for me, compared to coffee.  I think that some of my readers are misunderstanding my conquering addictions.  Holiness is about letting go of the things we allow to control us, so that we are free to enjoy them in moderation.  Facebook was leading me to sin. Coffee is an addiction, not something that I merely enjoy.  God gave us these gifts as “pleasant inns” to borrow from CS Lewis.  That means we enjoy them, but not allow them to consume us.  If we read the works of the Saints, we will see how they call us to detach from those things that control us, which really means things that replace God in our lives.  Today, I did not do as well as I wanted with the coffee, but I will try again tomorrow and by God’s grace be freed from my addiction, and hopefully some day just be able to enjoy coffee, rather than feel I “need” it.  A priest told me that I needed to do this in Confession recently.   No one “needs” coffee he said.
4. I got to go on an impromptu date with my husband last  night.  My awesome friend Christine (you can check her blog,, Domestic Vocation, out here) agreed to babysit our toddler with 2 hours notice.  We had not been on a date in over two months.  I am sure all of you parents understand.  We had a nice dinner at a cafe downtown.  We even walked down the street holding hands.  Some day that will embarrass our daughter.  I think when  we kiss it already embarrasses her.  There are such similarities between a two year old’s reactions and a teenager’s.
5.  This past week our junior high religious ed class discussed vocations.  Have you talked about vocations with your kids?  The most important thing we discern is where God is calling us to.  Not everyone is called to marriage, even though that is what our society tells us.  We need to encourage vocations to the Priesthood or religious life.  Here are two great videos to share with your kids about vocations.  The first is for young men on the Priesthood and the second is for young women on becoming a sister or nun.

6.  I have a confession to make.  I do not make my pancakes from scratch.  I think about it, but the box of multi-grain pancakes at Kroger is so much easier.  I just add water, and then, whatever I want.  This morning I made sweet potato pancakes with the leftover mashed sweet potatoes from dinner two nights ago.  I followed the directions on the box and then added 3/4 of mashed sweet potato puree, and a dash of cinnamon.  They were so good.  I did not even use syrup.  You can add whatever you want.  One of my favorites is cottage cheese and blueberries.  Give it a try!  Sneak some healthy stuff into those pancakes for picky eaters.
7.  This song is so beautiful.  I hope it blesses you as you go into your weekend. My husband and I saw Casting Crowns in concert when we were dating.  It was a great show.

Wherein I Rant About the Treatment of Priests by Some Members of the Laity

There is something that is going on in many Catholic parishes that I find disturbing.  It is something that I have noticed the more I get involved in the Church.  It is an utter lack of Christian charity towards our priests by some members of the laity.  Priests are attacked for pretty much everything that they do.  They are scrutinized constantly.  The Mass is too long, it is too short, the Homily is too long, the priest preached on orthodoxy, the priest preached on contraception, divorce, abortion, or gay marriage in line with what the Catholic Church actually teaches, there should be women on the altar during Holy Thursday even though it is a liturgical violation, the priest does not use gender neutral speech, the priest takes too long with the Eucharist, he uses the Eucharistic Prayers I or IV which are too long, he is asking too much of the altar servers, he is not friendly enough, he is too friendly, he is changing things, he is too young, he is too old.  Are you getting the picture?  If they are a Catholic priest, every aspect of them has been examined and criticized by someone.  This is especially prevalent for the new orthodox priests coming out of the seminary.

 
There is a major lack of humility and charity by these folks.  I myself have opened my mouth when I should not have and the priests were charitable enough to correct me.  I am appalled by some of the things that are said and done to our priests.  Are we Christians or not, because we are not acting like it.  Here are some things that might help us to remember our place.
 
1. The Church is a MONARCHY, not a democracy.  The priest is the head of his parish.  He makes the ultimate decisions.  He uses pastoral, liturgical, and other councils to guide his decisions, but when it comes down to ultimate authority, it is his.  Vatican II did not change that.  While Vatican II did work to end clericalism that had developed, much out of necessity (the majority of people were illiterate, giving huge responsibilities to priests), it still upholds the priest’s authority.  As long as the priest is not doing anything heretical or heterodoxical, when he makes a choice, we must submit in obedience. Period.  It’s a great spiritual lesson.  We all must submit in obedience to God.
 
2. Humility.  I don’t know about you, but I do not have the philosophical or theological education that an average parish priest undergoes in seminary.  I have heard outright heresy from the pulpit and that should be addressed by the Bishop, but in the majority of cases, they know what they are talking about.  Part of the reason I am Catholic is because  I trust the Church’s 2000 years of history, tradition, writings, etc. to be the truth, because I am not the one who decides truth.  If a priest preaches on something that you have chosen to be disobedient on, it is on you, not him.  Contraception, abortion, gay marriage, IVF, embryonic stem cell research, divorce, etc. are all authentic doctrine of the Church that we are required to submit to.  If you don’t like the priest preaching the Truth then you need to set up a meeting with him so YOU can come to the fullness of truth.  Pray hard for conversion.  You can yell or send nasty emails to him all you want, it is God’s law, and his job is to bring us to the fullness of truth.
 
3. He gave up his life for us.  I told my junior high students this past Sunday, that being a priest is to give up one’s life to serve us.  They are dedicated to bringing Christ in the Sacraments to us.  They are our spiritual fathers.  They deserve our respect, prayers, admiration, and love.  I don’t care if they are 27 or 101, it does not matter.  They have all laid down their lives for Christ and His Church.  None of us have a right to be uncharitable or mean-spirited towards them.
 
4. Put yourself in his  place.  Rather than be responsible for his own small family, a priest has decided to be responsible for hundreds, even thousands of people.  That is a tremendous burden and a tall order.  They do their best to serve all of us.  They cannot make everyone happy, which is why they rely on Church teaching and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM).  Chances are when the priest makes a final decision, it is based on research and study.
 
It is time for the bickering to stop.  I  know that this is difficult for us Fallen creatures, but part of the journey to holiness is to learn how to work together in Christian community.  At the parish level, the priest is the head of our community, not you, and not me.  The next time you are at a meeting, practice the virtues of humility and charity.  They will get you much farther than any sin possibly could.  And more than anything, say thank you to your priest.  I cannot even tell you how unbelievably thankful I am for our priests.  God bless all of our priests.  St. John Vianney, pray for us..

It’s Small Success Thursday at CatholicMom.com 11-21-2013

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Once again it is Small Success Thursday over at CatholicMom.com.  Have you thought about some of your successes for the week?  Share them with us here.  Here are three of mine:

1. I got moving again.  I spent months training for a 5K and ran my first back in September.  A week later I found out that I have a pinched nerve in my neck.  That explained why my neck and right arm hurt so much when I was running.  My neurologist told me that I need to rest.  So for the last 2 months I have been pretty sedentary.  Earlier this week I saw a runner and I actually missed running.  Me?!  I have always loathed running.  When I was in the Navy I would run 2 miles and then switch to the elliptical machine because 2 miles was the farthest I ever wanted to run.
My neck and arm still hurt, but I took my daughter out on the trail to walk.  It felt good to be out in the November sunshine along the river.  It gave me the motivation to want to get back on track with exercising, even if it is limited by my body.  Michaela loved running along the trail.  This time of year kids have to spend more time in doors.  Taking her out on the Greenway lets her get rid of some of that energy she has stored up.
2. After tackling my Facebook addiction, I have decided that coffee is next.  I really enjoy sugar with a side of coffee.  I don’t particularly enjoy the taste of coffee, but I like sugary drinks like pumpkin spice lattes, peppermint mochas, mocha frappes, or white chocolate mochas.  Not exactly great on the waistline, my energy levels, or anxiety.  My doctor is still trying to normalize my estrogen levels (I have estrogen and progesterone deficiencies which explain my 3 miscarriages) so I still have periods of anxiety and depression (Prozac is not a quick fix solution, especially when body chemistry is as complicated as mine).
With my struggles, coffee is not good for me.  I know this, but I still drink it.  A lot of caffeine makes my heart beat faster and I get anxious.  The other thing that I have noticed is that my energy levels plummet in the afternoon, a few hours after my cup of coffee.  So, even though I really enjoy a hot mocha on an autumn day, it is time for me to start doing what is best for me, rather than doing whatever I want.  It is a great spiritual lesson.  God wants what is best for us and that is why we have to look at ourselves and decide if something is good for me as an individual.  Lots of people drink coffee without the issues I have, but they are not me.  God wants me to die to self, and that means sacrificing certain things.  It is a part of detaching from the world.
3. Homeschooling has begun.  Okay, not in an official capacity, she is only 2.  I have started taking her out and working on counting, letters, and numbers, though.  When we walk on the trail we count ducks, bicyclists, walkers, and look at the color of leaves.  We also work on new words.  My daughter is a parrot right now.  She tries to say anything and everything, that also means we have to watch what we say and what she sees on TV.  I also picked up some educational DVDs for her at the Library.  She has finally developed an interest in reading and wants me to read the same story to her over and over again.  It is called Pinkalicious.  It has absolutely nothing important to say, but she loves it.  I am more of a Dr. Seuss fan myself.  I am just happy that she wants me to read to her now.  I have that book memorized now. Want to make some pink cupcakes?

Tips to Help Your Writing

In the past few months I have really increased my writing.  I try to write every single day, even if it is just gibberish in a notebook.  Writing, like all art forms requires practice.  It also needs inspiration.  I am working on a novel right now and it has evolved in the last few weeks.  More and more characters are appearing in my mind, and the story, while still the same as what it started as, is developing more layers.  I think that part of those developments come from my taking a step back for a few days.

 
I really enjoy writing, but I have two other vocations that must come before it: my family and Dominican prayer.  There are days when I can sit and hammer out a few pages while my daughter naps, and days that I have things I must get done.  I am hand-writing the novel.  My writing flows more when it is pen to paper.  It is more time consuming because I can type at a high rate, but even my husband has pointed out that my work is higher quality when I do it by hand.
 
On the days when I cannot actively sit down and write, I still think about the novel.  I let it develop on its own in my imagination.  I sometimes write a few notes down, but for the first time, this is a story that never seems to leave.  I don’t forget it and it is vivid.  I know the entire story, I just have to fill in the details.
 
There are some things that I like to do that help keep the creative juices flowing while I am living out my vocation.  Here are some suggestions that might help other writers:
 
1. Go for a walk.  There is nothing like natural beauty to help you think about settings, descriptions, seasons, or even people.  Looking around your surroundings help give you ideas.  I live in a beautiful part of Virginia.  I am amazed on a daily basis by the beauty of the mountains and the changing of the seasons.  It gives me ideas.  It helps me to remember details that are triggered by the senses, like the crunching of leaves underfoot.
 
2.  Go for a drive.  Since I have rural areas nearby, I can pack up my daughter and drive through country roads.  The natural beauty around me helps inspire my imagination, and driving in this manner relaxes me.  A lot of my writing ideas come to me while driving.  It is an automatic function for most of us who have been driving for years.  That means other areas of the brain are free to process.
 
3.  Play with your kids.  If you are a parent, playing with your kids can stimulate creativity.  It could be something they say, a facial expression, or an action.  Just relaxing and being thankful in that moment with your child can help free up creativity.
 
4. Go to an art museum.  Viewing art helps increase our desire to produce our own work.  Beauty stimulates beauty.  We were made by a good and loving Creator, who desires that we create as well.  God gave us talents and the desire to share beauty.  If you don’t have an art museum nearby, find a co-op or local gallery.
 
5.  Occasionally go to the symphony, a ballet, a play, opera etc.  When I lived in Washington DC, I made it a point to get to the ballet, a play, or a concert at least twice a year.  There are so many opportunities when you live in a city. I no longer live in DC.   I do live in an area that actually has a symphony, ballet, and even an opera, but it is not as easy to get to with a toddler and the cost.  As your pocketbook and schedule allow, try to make it to a concert or other artistic opportunity in your community.  I do look forward to when my daughter is old enough for me to take her to The Nutcracker every year.
 
6.  Take a class.  Sign up for a creative writing class, or even painting, pottery, wood-turning (I am married to a very talented wood-turner), sculpting, photography, or other creative class.   
 
7. Write every single day.  Even if you only write a couple pages of non-sense, write every day.  It keeps your skills fine-tuned and you never know when that gibberish could turn into a story, poem, essay, blog, etc.
 
8. Share your writing with someone you trust.  I have made the mistake of sharing some of my writing with the wrong people.  If a person does not understand your worldview, they may be critical of your work.  I write from a Catholic perspective, and that means Catholics and other Christians are more likely to understand my writing, especially my poetry, and when I get it done, my novel.  Sharing is extremely important.  Writers struggle with an inner critic.  If we let that critic get the best of us our art form suffers, and we may even give up on a good project.  I found that by sharing my novel idea with my husband and allowing him to read what I have written, I was able to silence my critic more easily and getting his feedback helped me to expand my ideas.  Find someone you trust and share!
 
9. Pray.  My writing is about sharing my vocation, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Catholic Church.  I want Our Lord’s message to be heard through me.  I am not interested in writing that stems from my ego.  I have days when I write from there and it is not very good because it is all about me.  Even if I am writing a poem or story that is not directly linked to my Faith, I want the words to be true and genuine, to stem from something deep within the human condition.  When I work on my novel, or even my blog, I ask God what He wants me to say. It helps me center and get myself out of the way.
 
10. Take a break from social media.  When you are working on a project it is important to eliminate distractors.  Social media is one of those things that sucks us in and becomes a huge time waster.  We can become too distracted with everyone else’s lives and we neglect our own work.  Being a writer should be enjoyable and an outlet.  Staring aimlessly at status updates does nothing for creativity.  You don’t need to be as radical as me and get rid of your personal FB page, but take a few days off here and there.  The world won’t end.  I find that it is a great lesson in humility too.
 
 What are some things that help you to write?  I am always looking for suggestions.
 
Happy Writing and Creating!

The Fruits of Giving Up Facebook

Yesterday my daughter and I went for a drive because it was a beautiful autumn day.  The sky was bright blue and there was not a cloud in sight.  So we drove to see my husband at work.  He works about 25 minutes from our home.  When I got there my husband said that he already had noticed a change in my focus and attitude in the time that I have been away from Facebook.  He thanked me for finally walking away.

 
He is right.  I don’t think in Facebook terms anymore.  Instead I am more in the moment, I think clearer, I am less anxious, and my attention is more towards my husband and daughter.  I know that the world is a mess, but I am not spending hours staring at the train wreck on FB.  I have been more intentional about my prayers.  Let me tell you, I don’t know what I would do without the Dominican prayer obligations anymore.  They keep me alert to when, how, and where I should be praying.
 
Facebook has taken the focus away from sharing my life with people in a virtual world, to fully living right where God has put me.  I have everything that I have ever wanted: a husband and a beautiful daughter.  Why should I be so focused elsewhere that they suffer?  Why should my daughter see me glued to a computer or cell phone screen, rather than snuggling with her on the couch, or taking her for wagon rides around the neighborhood?  Why should I get sucked into a dizzying feed of bad news, when I could be outside in the sunshine?  Life flies by, as the Psalmist says ‘We are like grass that grows up in the morning and withers in the evening’.  
 
My decision to give up my personal Facebook account comes down to how I want to live my life.  I have a Facebook account to post my writing to only.  It is Holiness in Motherhood.  I am not even sure I will keep it.  We’ll see.  I can bury my nose in other people’s business, or I can live my days as I promised devoted to my husband and our family.  Everyone needs to keep in touch with loved ones and we need outlets, but the question I finally had to ask myself is whether I was letting technology control me.  The answer was not good.  I had allowed a tool to take over my life.
 
When I was working as an intern in Washington DC, I noticed just how much people are glued to their smartphones.  It was to the point where many people could not bring themselves to shut them off at church.  If I saw someone do this in Mass, I would not be able to keep my mouth shut.  I would have to remind them that we are in the Real Presence of Christ, their email can wait.  There are emergency personnel who may need their phones, but the vast majority of people should be leaving them in the car for Mass or family time.
 
Ask yourself something:  How many times have you sat with your family and every single one of you is either on the computer or a phone?  Yeah, that has happened in my home.  Let’s all sit together and ignore each other because everyone else is so much more interesting.  This is the message that I was sending to my husband, and on occasion, he sent that message to me as he kept his nose buried in email on his iPhone.
 
Look, I am not against technology.  Modern medical technology has kept me (and my daughter once) alive twice now, when in other time periods I would have died.  I am a fan of technology.  What I am not a fan of is addiction to technology, and when we allow ourselves to be ruled by our phones, computers, tablets, or whatever else may rule our lives, we pulled away from our vocation.
 
Do an experiment:  stay away from the Internet, your phone (other than essential calls), computer, TV, etc. for 24 hours.  Spend time with your family. It may be unpopular, but call a technology free 24 hour period, probably on a weekend.  Play a board game, go for a hike, eat dinner together, volunteer, go on a day-trip.  See what it does for your family and your own outlook.  We have to think in terms of our vocation.  Does spending copious amounts of time with our faces buried in a computer screen lead us to Christ?  If the answer is “no”, then we need to either cut back or cut out those things taking us away from Him and our families.

Some Honesty About NFP

Okay, I am just going to  be honest here, sometimes having to use NFP sucks.  I don’t mean because I want to use contraception.  Quite the opposite.  I know how contraception has hurt marriages, our culture, women, pretty much everybody.  Our culture just cannot see it, but the Church has predicted the disastrous results we see before us, for decades.  My husband and I do not want any part in the contraceptive culture.  So don’t misunderstanding my venting.

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This year we have had to use Creighton Method of Natural Family Planning (NFP) because I have had 3 miscarriages, and some pretty serious periods of post-partum depression and anxiety.  Using Creighton helped my NaPro doctor (Natural Procreative Technologies see Pope Paul VI Institute for more info) figure out that I have serious estrogen and progesterone deficiencies, which has led to me giving myself 4 shots of HCG each month.  NFP was essential, and has been a God send for us, as has my doctor, a fellow (soon-to-be for me) Lay Dominican.
We have had to use NFP for 7 months.  I know, there are some couples who have to do it for years, but this is my experience.  There are times when NFP is just plain hard.  My husband and I went through the NFP classes with the videos of the smiling couples telling us how great their marriages were thanks to NFP.  I know intellectually how NFP works within God’s plan for human sexuality.  It keeps us from using our partner as an object (which is what contraception does), and it forces couples to communicate about the possibility of children, struggles they are having, especially medical or financial, and to be open to God’s plan in their marriage.  It keeps the marital act free from barriers, but also follows the natural cycle of a woman’s body to decide if a married couple has discerned trying to have a child on a month-to-month basis.  Non-Catholics you must keep in mind that marriage vows in a Catholic wedding (the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony) promise to be open to children.
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My husband and I always planned to just be open to however many children God gave us.  Well, that was before I lost 3 babies and discovered some serious hormone issues.  NFP came into our marriage because of those medical issues and it has been a blessing to be sure.  To be honest, though, it gets tiresome to be denied the unitive act with one’s spouse, except for a week out of the month.  Some women’s cycles allow for more time, but mine don’t.  The gift of human sexuality is both unitive and procreative.  They cannot be separated, hence the Church’s position on contraception.   NFP does not deny either, but it is sacrifice.
Having to abstain while married is a sacrifice and that is a part of the spiritual dimension of NFP.  We sacrifice for the greater good of our family or spouse’s health.  It’s kind of like fasting.  Given what we have been through in the last 3 years, I just wanted to say that NFP is a gift, but let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that it is always great.  I know that the Church is fighting a battle against a culture that has swallowed, quite literally, the contraception lie, but can we at least be honest with people.  NFP strengthens marriage because of the selfless sacrifices that are required, but it is a struggle and sometimes you will say the heck with it and decide to be open to whatever happens.  No one is required to ever use NFP anyway.  So there really are no mistakes.  And if people say that NFP does not work, or that you are bad at NFP, tell them that you are good at it, but you decided to trust in God’s will this month and be with your spouse.  Perhaps you need that unitive act to bring you closer together during difficult times, or you just want to be with your spouse.  Come on!  Sex is holy.  It is a gift.  It is meant to be enjoyed with our spouse.  So, we are not bad at NFP, we just got tired of using NFP this month…lol.
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I saw a great article by a man describing his experiences with NFP.  For half the month the wife is telling her husband to keep away, and then all of a sudden she is open, and then she isn’t.  Now to our culture this sounds absurd, but the Christian life is full of sacrifice.  It is in that sacrifice that we are made selfless, as Christ was selfless.  We are to love our spouse as Christ loves us.  A very tall order that we will all fail at daily.
How about the woman’s perspective?  Well, I can only give you mine.  I have to battle my own hormones and love of my husband for half of the month, repeatedly tell him “no”, and then finally after I am completely sure based on my Creighton chart, I can say “yes”, after my body has gotten done saying “yes” for two weeks and is now in its default apathy because ovulation has occurred.  So I get to be open when my body couldn’t care less because there is no risk of pregnancy.
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Non-Catholics may be reading this wondering what I am talking about, but Catholics who have been through this will get it.  I think it is time that we are honest.  NFP is great because it allows us to naturally space children, it also helps couples conceive, and it helps women learn about their bodies.  And I would tell every single woman to throw out her pills, IUD (especially since these can cause abortions), shot, or whatever else you are doing to yourself and embrace Natural Family Planning.  Really learn about the gift that is your body and femininity.  Let’s just keep in mind that couples who love one another in marriage do not want to have to schedule out the times they come together every month.  It is okay to admit that it is hard.  That is a part of the Christian journey.  We are not breaking some rule by admitting to people that NFP is great, but hard.
I know Simcha Fisher wrote a new book on NFP that I want to read.  You can find it here.  Jennifer Fulwiler has also written about NFP.  And here is the article from a man’s perspective on NFP.
*Say a prayer for me.  I have had to add estrogen to my hormone treatments because while the HCG has fixed my progesterone deficiency, it has not fixed the estrogen deficiency.