Juggling an Addiction

When I was nine years old, I learned to tread water.  I was an awkward kid (I’m an awkward adult, who are we kidding) so coordination and sports-like activities were not my forte.  I struggled and struggled to pull my head above water as the seemingly endless depths loomed underneath me.  Visions of sharks and fish – who are still my greatest fear – danced in my head as I clenched my fists and pushed to make it just past that one minute mark that the test required.

Eleven years later, I’m still learning to tread water.  Do you know someone who is addicted to something?  Well now you can add one more person to that list  – yours truly.  I’m addicted to busy schedules.  And before you laugh, let me explain what that means.

I hate the quiet.  That may partially be due to the fact that I grew up in a family of ten and noise is normalcy.  I can’t study without a little bit of music playing, multiple conversations going at once do not phase me, and my ears are probably adjusted to the noise levels of a jumbo jet thanks to the joyful shouts of my little siblings.  I don’t know what to do in the silence – I start to go crazy.

The Entertainer by Robby Cavanaugh, 2011.   Only when I dropped a ball, because it wasn't working for me anymore, was I capable of responding to what was going on in the realities around me. I was not being myself, and myself is excessively responsive.: This applies to the physical silence of no audible noise – but also the silence in a life schedule.  I go stir crazy on school breaks and summers drag on and on without a set schedule to follow.  When school rolls around, I take a minimum of 15 credit hours just to keep myself busy.  I start stuffing things into a schedule – cramming my days so full that I fall asleep utterly exhausted at 3:00 am, still upset that everything is not done yet.  And despite that cramming and self-awareness of knowing that my schedule is getting to the max, I’ll still say yes to mostly anything asked of me.

I always imagine myself as a circus juggler, adding more and more balls into my act and seeing how close I can creep towards the edge of dropping them all.  And one by one this semester, they began to fall.  And I began to loose it.

It seemed that everything I was passionate about was slumping.  My school was overwhelming.  My family’s health was a mysterious turmoil.  My spiritual life hit rock bottom and I went weeks without even desiring to pray.  I cried in my friend’s kitchen and poured my heart out to a God whose plan I didn’t even care to understand.  I was drained.  I was walking around campus and my job with a haze covering my heart, making it incredibly hard to be energetic about anything, especially around those I loved the most.

There were so many nights that I crawled to adoration just begging God to show me how to juggle.  How do I balance everything and not disappoint anyone who was counting on me?  How do I keep that ‘It’s fine” mask on as it got heavier and heavier, and people started to glimpse the struggling, broken, fallen me?

And He didn’t teach me how to juggle – He taught me how to let things fall, and then fall into Him myself. 

It was then that peace started flooding into my life like an ocean of mercy.  It was then when I finally was able to stop and listen and not only tolerate the silence, but enjoy it, search for it, yearn for it.

In 1 Corinthians 4:8-9, I was comforted by a God who was by my side even in the turmoil of life’s ups and downs.  I was held by a Savior who knew that my faith and self-esteem and sustainability was shuddering and that it seemed that at every corner was another trial.  I was supported by a God who knew that one more thing that I took on could be that straw that broke my back.  I began to slowly rely on His amazing and unending strength, and realize the frailty of my own heart without Him.

In 1 Peter 5:10, I was amazed at a God who called me to greatness and was going to let me suffer.  Not because He didn’t love me…but because He did.  Who was going to restore me in Himself and His amazing grace and not only help me with my burdens but restore me and make me strong again in Him.

In Zephaniah 3:17 I was strengthened by a Warrior God who stood by me at all times.  He was proud of my desire to be His hands and feet in the world, and knew the ache of my heart and weary soul.  He was surrounding me with a love that did not rebuke, and was rejoicing over me with singing.  

And in 2 Corinthians 12:9 God shocked me. He not only told me that His grace was sufficient, but that my suffering was a way to glorify God.

My suffering was a way to glorify God – it was in my weakness that highlighted and accented Christ’s amazing power that was making me whole and pointing the world to His amazing love and concern and goodness.

Perhaps one of the most quoted Pope Emeritus Benedict XIV sayings is: “The world promises you comfort but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.”  

GREATNESS.  Not exhaustion.  Not existence.  But greatness – which comes with a price.  Great lives call you to great challenges and great changes.

It’s okay to not be okay – it’s all right to feel the end of your rope and run to God for the strength to just keep going day by day, sometimes minute by minute.

Here I am at the end of me, trying to hold on to what I cannot see.  I forgot how to hope, the night’s been so long.  I cling to your promise that there will be a dawn. (Superchic[k] “Beauty from Pain”)

Yet it’s not ok to sit in that place of struggle and wrestle alone.  It is there in the struggle that Christ calls us to lean closest to him.  There in the deepest valley He is able to reach us at our most vulnerable points. You never know God is all you need until God is all you have to cling to.

So cling to Him.  Run to His heart.  He made your very being and soul, He knows your deepest desires and dreams.  I don’t know what your struggle’s name is…mine is packed schedules and a fear of silences.  Yet whatever you are struggling with right now, know that He is bigger than the pain.  And He gives you nothing that you cannot conquer…with His help.

Stop Existing.  Start Living.  Break free from the chains.  Be Not Afraid.  

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Appreciating Women

In the late 1960s, the feminist movement burst onto the cultural scene in America, and in it’s wake has left an American culture that is thirsting for true femininity and the ever elusive answers concerning the interaction between men and women.

The world defines feminism as equality.  Men and women should be treated the same, and men and women should be allowed to do whatever they want.

What does a Catholic have to say on this issue?

I believe in the distinct equality of the human person – but I also greatly value the beauty in the differences between men and women and how God created two genders…not one.

I’m a Aquinas-loving, theology-reading, baseball loving woman with a pixie cut.  I love a good maxi skirt, a strong espresso, and the desire to totally loose myself in love of others.  And I believe that radical feminism has destroyed femininity.  

I’m tired of a radical feminism that says that my desires to get married and have a family are old fashioned and I’m giving up on what should be my ‘real dreams’ if I pursue something so archaic. I’m tired of an angry feminism that says it’s my body and I can do with it whatever I want.  I’m sick of the radical feminism that says woman should just be clones of men and there is no difference between the two.

I value womanhood and femininity as a whole because the world needs femininity and, frankly, the world needs the beauty and uniqueness of women.  For too long, today’s culture has squished what is feminine down into the outskirts of society, all with the battle cry that women are equal, and men and women are the same. And if womanhood is talked about, it’s reduced to narcissistic messages about how woman can look…which is more objectifying than empowering.

In his letter to women in 1995, Saint John Paul II wrote, “Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.” 

A valuing of women and Catholicism aren’t two things that are at odds with each other. In fact, it is in the Catholic Church that I am the most valued, respected, and honored as a woman.  The love and honor showed to our Blessed Mother radiates the appreciation of the beauty of a woman’s role in salvation history.  Saint Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) wrote, “The feminine sex is ennobled by the virtue of the Savior’s being born of a human mother; a woman was the gateway through which God found entrance to humankind.” Whoa. Re-read that line if you have to : it was a woman who acted as the very portal for Christ to enter the world and take on human nature.  If that honor isn’t something that values a woman, I don’t know what is.

Being a woman doesn’t mean that I’m weak, or insignificant, or less-than-a-person. It actually means that I’m strong, beautifully valued, and a whole person who finds my value and significance in Christ.

Being a woman isn’t about what you wear, what service projects you have on your resume, whether you are married, or devoted to the religious life.  It isn’t about how long your hair is, whether you wear high heels, what religious orders’ charism appeals to you, or who your favorite spiritual author is.  Being a female, desiring to uphold the dignity of women as human beings, and possessing a sense of femininity is something completely different.

“It’s about what inspires our deepest passion, and who reigns in our hearts.” Colleen Carroll Campbell says in her talk, “The Feminine Genius.”

We live in a world that hungers so deeply for saints to rise up, and whose brokenness yearns for the touch a spiritual materialism.  But the culture’s answer to this problem is to create a uni-gender mentality that blurs the lines between roles of men and women, and disdains any difference between what is male and what is female.

Femininity is not a burden or a set back.  Instead, it is a beautiful gift that allows one to be so receptive to Christ’s love for oneself and for the world. Call me old fashioned, but I agree with Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen who said, “The level of any civilization is always its level of womanhood.  In as much as woman is loved, it follows that the nobler a woman is, the nobler a man will have to be to be deserving of that love.  That is why the level of any civilization of its womanhood.”

The feminine genius that JPII called women to is a great call – a call to love.  A call to embrace the fact that woman are called to help create a culture and world that is open to life.

If we take what JPII and the Church says about women, Colleen Campbell says, “We realize that our fulfillment lies not in tearing men down, or, in imitating boys behaving badly.  It lies in becoming more fully what God created us to be: human beings who bear His image to the world in a distinctively feminine way.”

Viva La Difference….Viva La Feminine. 

NFP as a single, college age girl

You wouldn’t think that the words “Natural family planning” and “single Catholic college girl” would work together in one sentence very well. Well, until now that is.  It’s not just for married couples – the concepts introduced with Natural Family Planning are concepts that can affect every one’s life, regardless of what stage you’re at.  So why now? 

Because you shouldn’t wait until you are married to start thinking about your fertility.

It’s easy to think that the time we have right now while in college is not the time to be worried about fertility and all that jazz.  We’re young.  We’ve got our whole lives ahead of us.  Yet let me tell you something – it is becoming more and more obvious to me that life is literally flying by quicker than I can blink.  My little sister just graduated from high school.  My co-worker just got married and now has a beautiful little baby.  My college peers are graduating.  Life is happening, and snap you’re fingers and you’ll be at another stage of your life.  Don’t wait until you’re married to start thinking about how to take care of your health and fertility.

Because you should know where you stand on the issue of birth control before you are in a relationship.

The number one reason marriages don’t last anymore? Failed communication.  When birth control was first introduced to the public scene in the early 1960s, it’s affect on issues like divorce wasn’t something that was on people’s minds.  This was about improving marriages! Less stress around pregnancies, littles, and a general well being of the family.  But come in the 1970s, and divorce rates doubled.  And it didn’t stop in the 70s  – the number of divorces tripled from 400,000 in 1962 to 1.2 million in 1981.

Why? Because birth control in a marriage says one thing and does another.  Sex, by it’s unitive and procreative nature, says “Here is all of me!” but the addition of birth control tacks on “Well, all of me except my fertility.  And our future children.”  And that communication can tear down a marriage that is meant to be, according to the Catechism, “ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring” but instead reduces both members down to the sum of their parts.

Because it’s not birth control…which is what my doctors want me to be on.

It seems now a days that any medical issue that arises in a girl’s life is a case where birth control is prescribed by her doctor.  According to a study conducted in the United States, from 2006-2010, 62 percent of all women in the United states who are of reproductive age are currently prescribed some form of contraceptive birth control.

I’ve been there.  I’ve sat down with my doctor and heard how medical issues would be easily, quickly, and painlessly resolved if I would just let her write a prescription for birth control for me.

But there are a lot of risks associated with just the pill – most of which are not gone over in the doctors office when the pill itself is prescribed.  The pill is actually a combination of two different hormonal medications: estrogen and progestin.  Because of this increase in hormone presence in the body, the pill carries with it many side affects, one of them being breast cancer.  Research indicates that the birth control pill itself will increase the risk of a woman getting breast cancer by over 40% if she takes the pill before she has her first child.  After she delivers her first baby though, the chances rocket to over 70% increase of breast cancer risk if she continues for more than four years.

My family has a very high risk of breast cancer on both sides of my family, so taking the pill for me would be not only putting my current health at risk, but also placing the time I spend with my future family at jeopardy
 as well.  Other than just breast cancer risks though, the pill’s side affects also include higher blood pressure, heart health issues, blood clotting, a lack of fertility once off the pill prescription, increase of liver and cervical cancers, difficulty breast feeding and a lowering of the immune system to AIDS and HIV.  

On top of all this, the cost of being on the pill for just five years is over $1,000.  I’m in college.  And I drink a lot of coffee.  The budget that I have for medication is very small – and to be purchasing something that acts as a band-aid for the medical issues that I do have, only to increase my future medical risks and costs isn’t a cost effective choice. 

Studying the concepts of Natural Family Planning – such as the charting and tracking of fertility – is one way that NFP has been a blessing to me as a single Catholic woman.  Instead of relying on artificial hormones, I’m able to utilize the concepts of NFP to track my fertility and expose a lot of the underlying issues that birth control might have covered up – like the simple addition of vitamins into my diet and a better awareness of my fitness and general health.  

Also, this book was incredibly helpful for that reason.  

Because your body is amazing…and knowing how it works is fantastic too.

Even if you’re not married, or heck, if you’re in the same boat as me and you’re not even dating, it’s no excuse to not appreciate how stinking amazing the human body is.  One of my dearest friends is in veterinarian school and sends me facts about the body and the reproduction system and it’s amazing. For instance, did you know that, for women, the smell of a newborn baby triggers the same part of the brain reward center as a drug addiction does?  God has literally thought of everything imaginable and to be able to learn about it is the bomb.

Although it may not seem like it, in your early twenties is the ideal time to learn all of this as well.  Down the road you may have a family, a full time career, graduate degree work, or any other number of amazing thing God has planned for you.  Right now is the perfect time to dig into the amazing work He’s laid out for us in our creation.

Because life is beautiful no matter what stage of life you’re in.

This morning at church I sat behind a family with five littles.  They were gorgeous – all of them under ten and full of life and energy.  And it was beautiful.  Am I utilizing NFP right now to plan my family with my spouse? Nope.  However, knowing how NFP works and the Church’s teachings concerning families right now helps so much when both interacting with families now and when I, God willing, have my own family in the future.

God’s plan for your fertility doesn’t start when you put on a wedding dress.  Or when you are called to start a family.  Or even if you are not called to marriage at all.  Your body is good. It makes it possible for you to be Christ’s hands and feet to the world around you.

This weekend we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension – yet another way that Christ tells us that our bodies are important.  He rises, body and soul, and ascends into Heaven.  If the body wasn’t important, Christ wouldn’t have a glorified one.

So take the time now to learn more about your fertility.  It is never too early to glorify the Lord with your whole self.

For further resources, check out these amazing websites:

– Couple to Couple League: A great way to learn the basics of NFP and how they interact in a – marriage.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: This website has some great articles about the religious explanation of why the Catholic Church supports NFP.

Carrots for Michaelmas: Haley Stewart is probably the most incredible Catholic mama blogger in my opinion.  She’s sassy, has an incredible sense of style, and, in her own words is a “homeschooling, bacon-eating, coffee-drinking southern girl with a flair for liturgical feasts and a penchant for bright red lipstick.”  In other words, who I want to be when I grow up.  She has a fantastic piece on her NFP experience over on her blog.

There are countless of other bloggers who have written on their experience with NFP – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  If you’re looking for some more information on the subject, drop me a note in the comment box and I’ll get you set up.

An Open Letter to My Brothers in Christ

Dear Christian Men,

This letter is for you.

Whether you have come into my life already or will in the future.  Whether I count you as a really great friend or will never meet you. Whether you’re a country music listener or an avid alternative music fan.  Whether you pour over books or don’t even pick them up if they aren’t school assignments.  Whether you get to things five minutes early or ten minutes late.

This letter is for you.

Saint John Paul II once said, “Precisely on the level of this language [of the body], man and woman reciprocally express themselves in the fullest and most profound way possible to them by the corporeal dimension of masculinity and femininity. Man and woman express themselves in the measure of the whole truth of the human person.” (TOB Aug. 22, 1984).

You guys are awesome.  You can grow a beard (huge fan), have great cologne that smells amazing hours after you put it on, and in general have very comfy shoe options for formal events. Which I hugely envy.

In all sincerity, thank you. Thank you for the times where you’ve let me truly appreciate my own sense of femininity by honoring who I am as a woman.  For little things, like holding the door for me, walking me to my car after a late night shift or that night class, or being a great lead in swing dancing.

And for the bigger things, like leading me spiritually, challenging my views and urging me to be a better person.  For inspiring me to be a better Christian by your example of loving the Lord.

American author Norman Mailer once said, “Because there is very little honor left in American life, there is a built-in tendency to destroy masculinity in American men.”

He’s right.  And I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for all the times that I’ve fallen back on the old slams of “girls rule, boys drool.”  Yep, those were mature times.  I’m sorry for the culture that we live in.  I’m sorry for the struggle you have to go through each day of your life, bombarded by a hyper-sexualized society that uses the objectification of women as a means of advertisement.

For the times where I’ve used you for my own emotional benefit.  For nailing on you for dealing with visual chastity while indulging in emotional lusting all day without you knowing.  For trying on your last name before even finding out your favorite thing to eat for dinner, your best memory, your passions and desires for life and for the Lord.

For the days where treating you as a brother in Christ fell to the wayside in favor of treating you as a potential…for valuing you for what you could do for me.  For the times when I’ve made the interactions between us a “me vs. them” instead of a journey towards Christ together.

And, on the flip side, for putting you ahead of God and idolizing what I thought would make the “perfect” man and projecting those dreams onto you.

“Relieved of moral pretense and stripped of folk costumes, the raw masculinity that all men know in their gut has to do with being good at being a man within a small, embattled gang of men struggling to survive”  (Jack Donovan)

Thank you for the struggle.

Sincerely,

A striving sister in Christ