Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday + The Divine Mercy Novena


Good Friday is a day of so many things. It is a day on which we hear and recite The Passion and we remember and participate in the sufferings of our Lord. It is a day on which we come to adore the cross and reflect on its significance and utmost relevance in our lives nearly 2000 years later. It is a day of sorrow and waiting for what's to come. I could go on and on, but there is one element to Good Friday that I hope is not overlooked or forgotten:

Good Friday is the day on which Jesus requested St. Faustina begin the "Divine Mercy Novena," so that it would be completed in time for Divine Mercy Sunday.

"Jesus, I trust in You"

I could also go on and on providing background information about our Lord's message of Divine Mercy, the chaplet, the novena, and all sorts of other things Jesus instructed St. Maria Faustina Kowalska to record and then share with the world...but instead I'll leave you to discover (or rediscover) them on your own.

The Divine Mercy is one of my all-time favorite devotions and I fully plan to hang a large image of it in Michael's and my home someday. In the mean time, I'll just keep praying and lighting the handful of $1 Divine Mercy votive candles I stocked up on last year when I lived in a Mexican-American neighborhood in Chicago. 

Michael and I prayed day one of the novena earlier this evening.
Pray with us?

"On each day of the novena you will bring to My heart a different group of souls and you will immerse them in this ocean of My mercy.... On each day you will beg My Father, on the strength of My passion, for the graces for these souls."
-Jesus, speaking to St. Faustina

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Baby's First Holy Triduum


Holy Thursday - the start of a three day liturgical season and a day that never fails to pull me deeper into the events that led to Jesus' death and resurrection.

Da Vinci's depiction of The Last Supper

I'll be honest when I say that this year's Lent hasn't exactly been the most profound spiritual experience of my life. I've always been good about keeping Lenten promises or goals, but this year I think the few things I decided on were almost too easy.... So yes, I did them, but fulfilling simple or easy goals doesn't typically quench the thirst for something deeper. This means I continue to feel as if I'm in the desert - thirsting and thirsting for more. Although St. Augustine once said,

"The desire is thy prayers; and if thy desire is without ceasing, thy prayer will also be without ceasing. The continuance of your longing is the continuance of your prayer."

Fortunately for myself (and anyone else who has struggled to stay focused or on top of their prayer life this Lenten season), we have the Triduum. In my experience, even the years in which I don't manage to take big strides in my relationship with Christ during Lent God still manages to bless me with powerful experiences, prayers, or emotions during those three days of the Last Supper, the Passion, and His death and resurrection.

Tonight's Mass of the Lord's Supper did not disappoint and helped to quell that thirsting and longing I've felt for the past 40(ish) days. Not only did Father give an inspiring homily (he shared with us a Maundy Thursday miracle Jesus had blessed a parishioner of his previous parish with), but experiencing Holy Thursday with our baby boy in the womb led to more than one affective moment.

When I approached Father B. for communion this evening, nothing out of the ordinary happened...until he - just as I was about to walk away - gave our child a blessing. Up until this point I've never received communion from Fr. B. at a time when I've been "showing" enough for my pregnancy to be obvious. Because of this, I was completely caught off guard and almost walked away too soon. But before I did, he made the sign of the cross over my belly and said, "May God bless and protect you." 

I especially loved that the blessing was clearly directed towards the baby (and not myself).

As soon as I got back to our pew and began to kneel and pray the baby started up with his happy, fluttery kicks. The reality of this may have been that he was getting hungry (the washing of the feet always makes for a long Mass) and my receiving communion made him happy, but I chose to instead reflect on the fact that our baby boy was happily moving around moments after I received the body and blood of Christ - and after he received his very first blessing from a priest. As I continued to pray I could hardly do anything but smile because of this.

At the end of Mass we joined in the Maundy Thursday procession to the altar of repose as we sung St. Thomas Aquinas' "Pange Lingua." As soon as we reached the altar (which was set up in a large room in the school) I was relieved to see they had a decent amount of chairs on one side for anyone who could not easily kneel. I claimed a chair as Michael knelt down beside me.

The "Pange Lingua" ended and we began the hauntingly beautiful song I cannot get enough of each year:

"Stay here with me
Remain here with me
Watch and pray
Watch and pray"

We began singing this before the Blessed Sacrament and bam - I felt the most intense kicks this little boy has ever had. This went on for at least 20 seconds so I reached for Michael's hand and placed it where I felt the movement (so he could experience the intensity behind these unusually strong kicks, too). Naturally, as soon as I did this the baby ceased moving for a bit...but within another 15 seconds, bam. Michael looked up at me in surprise, revealing to me with his eyes that he understood the peculiarity of what had just happened.

Again, the reality may have been that the baby was trying to tell me he was seriously hungry already - but instead I chose to reflect on his timing. First, he moved around happily and produced light, fluttery kicks after I received communion and he his blessing. Next thing I knew he was kicking - harder than ever before - as we joined Jesus in remembrance of his agony in the garden. Some may call his timing a coincidence, but I'm a firm believer that such things are more accurately categorized as "God-incidences."

We continued singing the hauntingly beautiful words and I continued to reflect on the baby's aggressive kicks - mentally tying it all in with the agony in the garden and our presence before the Blessed Sacrament. Reflecting on all of this was a bit overwhelming so (of course) I had to fight back a few tears.

But it was beautiful.

And I thank God for an evening that finally managed to quench a tiny bit of that thirst...and for the joy I received in experiencing it with Michael and our baby boy.

"The modern mood of mutilating the Gospel, choosing some texts and ignoring others, makes men miss the purpose of the life of Christ. He came on earth not primarily to preach, but to redeem. He came less to live than to die. His mission was not one of mere benevolence, nor to create a revolution in politics or economics, nor to heal, nor to leave a humanitarian ethics -- all these were secondary to the one absorbing purpose of His life, the redemption of man."

-The Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Baby Bump + the Latest Pregnancy Update


Now that I'm 20 weeks pregnant (halfway there!), I finally have a few pictures posted in which you can see my "baby bump" (check out my entry about Creating Memories in Cambridge). However, Michael and I have actually recorded weekly photos of my growing bump ever since week 12 (with the exception of week 13 because we forgot - but I looked the exact same as week 12 anyway). I'm sure you've all seen the pictures before - the ones where the woman holds a sign saying how many weeks pregnant she is. This has become quite the trend over the past few years and I've seen pictures like this all over Facebook, Pinterest, blogs, and other various websites.

When Michael and I first decided to track my (our baby's) progress in this way his immediate reaction was to ask, "You're not going to post these pictures on Facebook, are you? Or on Flickr?"

I guess you could say that Michael and I wanted to take photos each week so that we have them to look back on, but we both felt it's a little obnoxious cheesy unnecessary to share them with the entire social media world. There's also something that we both appreciate about keeping certain things a little more private. Luckily for all of you that read my blog, though, we've decided to make an exception and give you a sneak peak!

After all, there's also something Michael and I can both appreciate about getting to share certain exciting, happy developments with other people in our lives. ;) It's all about timing and making sure we feel comfortable sharing news when we decide to share it. And right now I'm more than excited to share these photos with you all!

As you can see, I have progressively looked less queasy and/or uncomfortable with time

So there you have it! As of about 2 weeks ago, our growing baby was finally big enough for strangers to notice that I'm pregnant - and I am finally at the point where I feel like the "cute pregnant lady" some of my friends told me I would be. Call me naive, but I didn't realize that it would take until I was halfway through my first pregnancy to actually feel physically comfortable being pregnant and to have figured out/acquired enough comfortable clothing options. Because of all this, I'm seriously excited to be wearing maternity clothes all the time and have them fit me (rather than being in that awkward phase where some of your clothes fit and you have to constantly buy random pieces of maternity to make other clothes still work).

As many of you may know, we had our "big" ultrasound last week and I'm happy to say that everything went smoothly. We won't receive the full medical lowdown on how it all turned out until our doctor's appointment next week, but based on what the young woman in charge of our ultrasound said and what we saw, I'm not concerned. We got to see close up images of all our baby's body parts (feet, hands, heart, spine, etc.) and they gave us 8 different photos to take home. My absolute favorite is the photo she captured of our baby yawning! It's beyond adorable and makes me smile every time I see it.

Our ultrasound also confirmed something we already knew - that this baby is seriously active. We were told this when the doctor listened to the baby's heartbeat at our last appointment and in the past couple weeks I've certainly begun feeling it. Right now it's still really cute and feels light and fluttery when the baby kicks - so let's just hope and pray that as the baby gets bigger he eases up on the kicking (or that I'll be able to bear the pain without too much complaining).

Yes, you read that correctly. And yes, I meant to say "he."

Our 20-week photo :)

We honestly didn't prefer the baby to be one gender over the other and are happy with what God has blessed us with - but I will say we are incredibly excited to actually know! This has already helped us narrow down possible names (no, we're not sharing that info beforehand!) and start to feel more emotionally connected/ready for him. Plus, now we have no excuse not to start buying adorable baby clothes. :)

I give all glory and thanks to God for blessing us with this wonderful little boy, but I also thank all of you that have sent up prayers for our growing family. May God bless each and every one of you!

"For you will go out with joy
And be led forth with peace;
The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you,
And all the trees of the field will clap their hands."
Isaiah 55:12

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Creating Memories in Cambridge


Last week was one filled with much happiness and excitement! Not only did we have our 20-week ultrasound (there's more to come on that topic in the near future), but it was finally time for our three-day weekend trip to Boston and Cambridge!

As soon as we were married (if not sooner) Michael and I told my older sister and my brother-in-law that we would plan a trip to come see them. Because Michael had never before been to the Boston area, this trip also fit beautifully with our desire to take some fun weekend trips before the baby is born this summer.

Our plane landed in Boston on Thursday night and we were promptly picked up by my sister and my Goddaughter (my oldest niece, S, who will be 3 this summer). Upon arriving at their MIT home in Cambridge we were greeted by my brother-in-law and my youngest niece, E, who will be 1 year old this weekend. Words cannot even begin to express the joy I had in seeing these four amazing people - who I hadn't seen since our wedding in September! I'm pretty sure I would have had a wonderful time even if all we had done was sit around in their apartment for three days playing "bears" or reading stories to my nieces. However, my sister and I had lots of sightseeing planned so we got up early Friday morning - ready to tackle Boston proper.

We began our day with a visit to my brother-in-law's lab where he showed us around and introduced us to the other people he shares office space with (in case you couldn't tell, my family lives on MIT's campus because my brother-in-law is a doctoral candidate there). We then headed to the Boston Common and began following the Freedom Trail.

Although we didn't do nearly as much walking as we did in Canada, we certainly had a full day exploring the Granary Cemetery, Quincy Market, the North End, and making sure the little girls and my pregnant self were holding up alright. I even got my fill of delicious east coast clam chowder at lunch! And you'd better believe we made sure to get cannoli from Mike's Pastry for our Friday night dessert.

Exploring downtown Boston, the North End (Paul Revere's house & Old North Church), MIT, and Harvard

On Saturday my brother-in-law was able to join us and the 6 of us headed over to Harvard Square for lunch and the afternoon. Michael and I ate at the infamous Bartley's, although I am sad to say that our experience there was not nearly as impressive as when I've gone in the past. It was no matter, though, because I simply wanted Michael to have some good food on our trip and we definitely accomplished that Saturday night when we all went out for hibachi.

Although the weekend contained sightseeing, we probably spent half our time simply relaxing and spending quality time together back at the apartment. It's always fun to see how much my nieces have grown (E just started walking last week!) and S had lots of fun asking me questions about the baby and telling me that she loooves her baby cousin already. :) It was also nice to have someone to talk to about pregnancy and baby gear - and my sister basically tripled my maternity wardrobe by letting me borrow the things she doesn't currently wear (talk about a Godsend and money saver during your first pregnancy!). Now as long as we're never pregnant at the same time we can just send our combined maternity wardrobes back and forth to one another! I love having sisters.

I'd simply like to point out that S is "giving the baby a hug" in the bottom left photo

Overall I'd say that this weekend trip has a special place in my heart like no other because of the invaluable time we got to spend with some of my favorite people in the world. In fact, I mentioned in my most recent Quick Takes that it was really difficult to say goodbye...and my pregnancy hormones didn't make it any easier. I love these people so much that I was still bummed all of Monday morning once I was back in Michigan. Thank the Lord for blessing us with things like phones, the internet, and especially Skype! And of course, I thank God for blessing Michael and me with this past weekend together with our family. After all, parting is only sorrowful because the memories we made are so wonderful...and I'm beyond grateful to have Michael by my side, wherever we go.

On that note: our next (and possibly final?) trip before the baby comes will probably take place in late April/early May. We've briefly discussed the possibility of San Francisco or Seattle; do any of you have recommendations for where we should go???

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.”
-Frederick Buechner

Monday, March 25, 2013

7 Quick Takes "Friday" (Vol. 6)


--- 1 ---
Yes, I know it's already Monday; I'm incredibly late on this post because we've been gone for a long weekend visiting my older sister, brother-in-law, and 2 darling nieces in Cambridge, Massachusetts! I hadn't seen them since the wedding almost 6 months ago which felt like a million zillion years. I missed them a lot.

--- 2 ---
I miss them again already. Seriously. After repeatedly telling my sister that she didn't want Aunt Steffie and Uncle Michael to leave, my oldest niece (who will be 3 in June!) quietly gave us seemingly very sad and bummed out goodbye hugs. I tried to give her a million kisses and tell her we would Skype to make her a bit happier, but on the inside I felt the same as her. As soon as we waved our goodbyes and hopped on the shuttle to our airport terminal I immediately teared up.

--- 3 ---
Pregnancy hormones make it even harder to say goodbye to people you love. I was contacted to see if I could babysit this Tuesday for the 4-month old (now 5-month old, rather!) twins I've been helping out with and I seriously considered turning it down simply because it might make me think of my soon-to-be 1 year old baby niece who I just spent 3 days with...which will probably make me cry again because I miss her.

(in case you're wondering, I sucked it up and decided I should go ahead and spend Tuesday morning with a couple adorable babies - even if they aren't my niece)

--- 4 ---
On a happier note, I returned to an email from one of my friends that shared this song from Matt Maher's new album:

Apparently a lot of traditional Catholics take issue with "Christian music" (even when the musician is clearly Catholic like Matt Maher or Audrey Assad). However, I am not one of those people. Obviously I would be against using contemporary "worship music" in the sacred liturgy of the Mass. But I have no problem listening to wholesome songs as I go about my day to day business. After all, the lyrics are only about a hundred times more holy than anything else on FM radio. And the biggest thing is that I enjoy listening to it and it makes me pause and remember my relationship with God (and to pray) throughout the day - which is what I think any good art should do for us. Thank you, Liz, for being a fellow "traditionalist" who can also appreciate and share your faith with me through music like this!

--- 5 ---
Speaking of holy radio listening options, here in Ann Arbor we have Ave Maria Radio (AM 990) which is awesome. As someone who grew up mainly in small Midwestern towns with incredibly limited radio reception options, I do not take this gem for granted one bit. I'm so grateful to be able to listen to this throughout the day and I must say that it's refreshing to hear news and radio talk shows that don't come from biased, secular NPR stations.

--- 6 ---
This made me laugh out loud for real:

Hooray for all the moms and dads of the world!

--- 7 ---
Please enjoy this brief video of Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. If I hadn't just returned from 3 days with my insanely cute nieces I would say it's the most endearing thing I've seen all week! Regardless, it's beautiful. If you need a photo to entice you to watch it, then please enjoy this also:

P.S. Today (traditionally the feast of the Annunciation - which due to Holy Week will be celebrated this year on April 8th) marks exactly 2 years since I first met Michael. At the time I had no idea we would ever date, let alone be married with a baby on the way less than two years later. God is good!

As always - for more Quick Takes head over to Jen's blog!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The "Quality of Life" Argument


It is no secret that I love the gift of life. Anyone who has read my writings, heard my prayer intentions, or simply read the brief, sidebar introduction on my blog in the past year alone would have to be completely oblivious to somehow miss the fact that I love life and consider it a precious gift from God. Now that I'm married, have experience practicing NFP, and am happily 19 weeks pregnant, I cannot help but constantly think about and notice all of the beautiful lives around me...especially the precious one God has blessed Michael and me with inside my womb.

As I've grown older, learned more deeply the beautiful teachings of the Catholic Church, and had various life experiences, I have become more adamant about life issues - striving to protect and support those who do not have the ability or opportunity to stand up for themselves.

I have no intention of getting into a political discussion here, but I have every intention of sharing some firsthand experiences that have shown me how valuable and beautiful life is, so please bear with me.

I have several friends or acquaintances who believe that abortion should remain legal and think that in some situations it is the "best option." The interesting thing is that several of these people honestly think this way because they believe it is the most loving response to an unplanned pregnancy. The people I know personally that think like this are well-intentioned, caring Christians - trying to sympathize with the mother's situation and support her. Misguided and twisted as I think those thought processes and justifications for murder are, it never ceases to amaze me when one of these people goes so far as to throw the "quality of life" argument at me - as if I surely and clearly should be on board with their viewpoint that abortion is the most loving option for women in poverty or children who are at high risk for birth defects or illness...because the quality of life for that child would not be "good" or "tolerable."


I won't get too far into the topic of how this human-concocted definition of "quality of life" is arbitrary, prideful, and tries to play the role of our Creator, but I would like to focus on one obvious fact that these people are somehow missing:

There are so so so many people in this world with disabilities, little money, severe medical conditions, or other things that a "pro-choice" individual would use to justify aborting the child...who have a far superior quality of life than most other people I know.

For years I participated in my university's "dance marathon" (the first of its kind!). You can read more extensively about it at my former blog (here and here), but the gist is that we raised over a million dollars each year to benefit Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Indiana. The fundraising culminated into one 36-hour dance marathon during which dancers could not sit down or sleep (and yes, there is a lot of dancing involved!). It sounds crazy and extremely difficult - and I won't deny that it was either of those things - but there is a reason I kept going back for more each year. "Riley families" (who had benefited from the medical care there) made appearances throughout the entire weekend and shared their miraculous stories. Not only that, but the children would often stay to meet and play with us as we struggled to stay on our feet.

Through the 4 dance marathons I participated in (sophomore year through my 5th year), I met and heard the stories of several children who were often the very children my supposedly well-meaning and caring pro-choice friends would have said should be aborted because they would "not have a good quality of life" and that simply "isn't fair" to them. While some of the children had illnesses that could not have been detected or anticipated before birth, many of the little boys and girls couldn't walk, had Down Syndrome, were missing limbs, or had other handicaps that certainly may have been detected when they were still in the womb. And these boys and girls were joyful. They were inspiring. They were filled with love, light, and gratitude that they were alive.

Money fundraised For The Kids (FTK) at Riley Hospital in November 2010

Most recently I've been reflecting on all of this because of a fellow parishioner I've noticed at our church. Although I don't know him personally, I see him every single Sunday because he is one of two men who always assists during the offertory. I see him first extending the collection basket to each pew and then bringing up the monetary gifts (along with whichever family brings the bread and wine to the priest in preparation for the Eucharistic liturgy). Then I see this same man assist as an usher during communion - cuing each pew when it's their turn to join in the line. Because of this, he is one of the last people to receive communion each week, which means he is one of the few people I see receive communion (after I'm done praying with closed eyes I usually open them just in time to see the final recipients and watch Father put the precious body back into the tabernacle).

This man receives the body of Christ on his tongue and because he is the final person (and the priest walks away to clean up the altar), he then kneels before the tabernacle on one of the few steps that leads up to the altar. He clearly says a brief, silent prayer and before he stands to walk away he slowly kisses his fingers, touches them to the steps, and makes a sign of the cross on the stair. I have nothing more to say about this man other than the fact that he is one of the most reverent people I see receive the body and blood of Christ each week (and we attend a parish filled with extremely reverent individuals who often receive the Eucharist on their knees)...and this man has Down Syndrome.

Every time I see this man receive communion and what he does next I am nearly brought to tears (usually I do cry and have to quickly pull myself together for the closing prayer). Even from my pew I can sense the love and joy this man experiences each time he receives the body of Christ. And every single week I immediately think to myself, "I cannot believe that people would actually abort someone like this man simply because they have Down Syndrome." I believe these people are foolish to think someone with Down Syndrome (or anything of the like) cannot have a good quality of life - because I'm pretty sure that this man knows Christ in a deeply intimate way and has an incredibly rich and joyful quality of life - perhaps even more so than almost everyone I know who was not born with Down Syndrome.

So there you have it. These are a few of the many reasons I don't buy into the "quality of life" argument from those who attempt to justify ending a life - and can honestly say that I absolutely never will.

On a related note, let's all "spread the word to end the word." Words can hurt people - especially the "R" word.

Although March 6th was considered the national awareness day for this campaign, its message is relevant all 365 days a keep passing it on!

"For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well."
Psalm 139:13-14

Friday, March 15, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 5)


--- 1 ---
Habemus Papam! We have a pope! I find the Pope's choice of name to have excellent significance in today's materialistic world. Has anyone else noticed that he also chose the name of a Saint whom Jesus instructed to "go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down"? Very powerful. And I am so grateful not only to have Pope Francis shepherding us, but also to have Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI praying for us. What a double whammy of goodness I'm sure the devil just haaates!

--- 2 ---
Did you know that running shoes are actually not that great for doing lots of walking? In order to prevent our feet from aching and slowing us down on our trip to Canada (after experiencing sore feet on our excursions to both D.C. and Chicago), Michael and I simply planned to wear our tennis shoes the entire time (makes sense, right? Wear the most comfortable shoes you have). Wrong. After experiencing terrible soreness I found some research that explained exactly why this is the wrong assumption to make (and why my mid-distance running shoes made my shins hurt on top of everything else). As a Fitness Specialist I should have realized this much sooner.

--- 3 ---
My new walking shoes, which will hopefully treat me well
throughout this pregnancy and beyond

So after 3 weekend excursions of sore feet slowing us down we finally acknowledged we need to get some real walking shoes. While Michael has opted to simply try getting some orthodic inserts, we agreed that due to my pregnancy I needed to get some really comfortable shoes - without laces. After hours of research and making several trips to try on and compare shoes, I am happy to have purchased the Merrell Lorelei Zip! We managed to find them at a great sale price and I am already in love with them! Do any of you have excellent shoe/sandal suggestions for this upcoming summer as I approach our August baby's due date???

--- 4 ---
I cannot wait to try out my new shoes as we do some more city walking in Boston! Michael got to introduce me to Niagara Falls and Toronto so now it's my turn to introduce him to a city I love. I am beyond pumped because this trip (one of our last few before I get huge and the baby comes!) means we'll be staying with my sister, brother-in-law, and 2 adorable nieces (both under the age of 3) in Cambridge. They stayed on the east coast for Christmas which means we haven't seen them since our wedding in September! We'll be there in one.more.week and I'm already dying with excitement.

--- 5 ---
Remember how I said I couldn't wait for the day strangers will be able to tell that I'm pregnant? That time has finally arrived and I can see strangers now glancing at my belly and noticing. Somewhere near 18.5/almost 19 weeks I believe I officially "popped," as they say. Plus, we ate out while we were running around to a million shoe stores the other night and our waitress flat out commented and congratulated us. She even correctly guessed that I was probably 4 or 5 months along & would be able to tell the sex of the baby within a couple weeks. :D She got a very good tip....

--- 6 ---
Speaking of our excellent waitress, Michael and I have agreed that Bagger Dave's (a Michigan chain) is tied with Macaroni Grill (remember my Valentine's Day experience?) for the best food and customer service we've experienced in Ann Arbor - hands down. We marvel at the fact that this "food town" has so few local restaurants that actually wow us with their service and/or their food (my husband comes from a family of restaurant owners so he is quite knowledgeable & critical when evaluating food). While they may be chain restaurants, they are the only ones we've had truly great experiences at (and are the only ones we've returned to a few times). I really don't like eating out a lot and don't generally promote it, but if you get a chance - try Bagger Dave's (they have far more than burgers) and Macaroni Grill!

--- 7 ---
In honor of Saint Patrick's Day (and my husband's confirmation Saint!) I will leave you with this gem from my childhood days of watching Lord of the Dance on VHS while my mother swooned over Michael Flatley:

Don't forget to wear your Catholic green on Sunday! And please drink a Guinness, Killian's, Harp, or at the very least a green beer in my name since I clearly won't be enjoying such a drink this St. Patrick's Day. As always - for more Quick Takes head over to Jen's blog!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habemus Papam: Pope Francis!


We have a Pope! Today Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires became Pope Francis. For some reason I had a feeling we might know by tonight (in the States), but I was still surprised when my older sister excitedly called me yelling, "White smoke! We have a Pope!"

I quickly found a live news feed on the internet and proceeded to go down the chain and call my younger sister with the exciting announcement.

I spent the afternoon going back and forth on the phone with each of my sisters, frantically texting updates to my older sister (who had been out at a park with my nieces and didn't have access to the news), typing the same updates to my husband on g-chat while he worked, and putting my younger sister on speaker phone as we watched the same live news feed of his first public appearance as Pope.

I am very pleased with our new Holy Father because while I may not have known who he was before, I am confident he is the man the Holy Spirit wants for the job. I cannot wait to see what God has in store for us with Pope Francis as our shepherd.

To sum things up, I'll simply tell you to read Leila's brief post about it and say: ditto! I could not agree more with every reason she finds herself liking our new Pontiff more and more. May God bless, protect, and guide Pope Francis and our Church.

"And now let us begin this journey, the Bishop and people, this journey of the Church of Rome, which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great sense of brotherhood. My hope is that this journey of the Church that we begin today, together with help of my Cardinal Vicar, be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city."

-Pope Francis, shortly after being elected

Monday, March 11, 2013

Niagara Falls, Toronto, and Deepening Our Love


My mind is still reeling from our weekend trip to Canada because I'm still busy processing and thanking God for all of the beauty and blessings He rained down upon us. I had never been to Canada (save for a childhood day trip to Toronto with my family of which I remember exactly nothing) so I had no idea what to expect. Suffice it to say that our trip was truly beyond anything I could have imagined and I'm so glad Michael suggested it as one of the destinations for our "let's use some of the money we would have spent on a 1-year anniversary trip to Europe and try to take weekend trips before the baby arrives in August"  travel plans.

In the past 6 weeks (gotta travel while it's still comfortable and safe during pregnancy!) we've been to Washington D.C., Chicago, and now Niagara Falls and Toronto. While all three of these trips have given us ample quality time and allowed us to experience new adventures together, this weekend was the most jam-packed with new experiences and "firsts" for me.

We arrived in Niagara Falls at around 8pm Friday night, so we quickly set out to find dinner. After eating we spent the evening sightseeing and window shopping. Our hotel was situated one block from the Skylon Tower which made it really feasible to explore the casino, the Falls, and the buzzing Clifton Hill neighborhood all within a few hours and only a couple miles of walking.

After spending Saturday morning exploring the Falls (breathtaking!) we tried to follow up on a great tip from Celeste and visit the Canadian National Shrine of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, but unfortunately it was closed for some renovations. Because we accomplished so much Friday night and because so many standard tourist excursions (like Maid of the Mist or Journey Behind the Falls) were closed until later on in the season, we were able to head to Toronto sooner than originally planned.

The Skylon Tower, Clifton Hill attractions, casino, and Canada's Horseshoe Falls at night & during the day

Heading to Toronto earlier meant we were able to arrive for lunch and spend Saturday afternoon thoroughly exploring Chinatown. Although none of the street vendors had fresh lychee (which I've only had in various smoothies and drinks), I was able to try 2 new foods (not at the same time): duck and what were advertised by one vendor as "mini-puffles" (think pancake-waffle-esque [but better] batter cooked in a unique hot griddle).

After checking into our hotel (which we definitely recommend) and taking a brief nap we journeyed to the CN Tower to catch a great view of the city and Lake Ontario from the world's second highest observation deck. The view was incredible and standing over the glass floor section was terrifying, so it was certainly an experience for the memory bank. After dinner and heading back to our hotel the 5+ miles of walking we had done that day started to catch up with us - so we opted to unwind with the best gelato we've ever had and get some rest.

Sunday began bright and early with 8am Mass at St. Michael's Cathedral (a hop, skip, and a jump from our hotel). Afterwards we explored the Eaton Centre before heading to Casa Loma - the former home to Sir Henry Pellatt and one impressive castle on a hill in Toronto. We spent the afternoon discovering the history, secret passages, and glory of the castle (which has been used in numerous movies, including the first X-Men [the interior of X-Mansion, anyone?]).

Toronto's Chinatown, St. Michael's Cathedral, view from the CN Tower, homemade gelato, and Casa Loma

All of our weekend plans were executed without a hitch and went more smoothly than I think either of us could have asked for, which I certainly attribute to Divine Providence and many blessings from God. Even the weather was far nicer than any we've experienced in the past million years months of Michigan winter. As we headed home we reflected on how much we had done (and how many miles [10+] we had walked!). We listed off all of the "firsts" I had experienced which, not including the painfully obvious, are:

  1. First trip to Canada (in my adult life)
  2. First time having anything from Tim Hortons (apparently we have 2 of these in Ann Arbor?!)
  3. First time seeing Niagara Falls
  4. First time setting foot in a casino
  5. First time gambling (we played 1 slot machine so I could say I had done it)
  6. First time touring the CN Tower (and standing approximately 1800 feet above the ground)
  7. First time eating duck
  8. First time eating a "mini puffle"
  9. First time touring a castle
  10. Feeling the baby make a lot of movement (incredibly exciting!)
Like I said, my mind is still reeling from processing it all. The Lord was very good to us this weekend and I'm so grateful not only for all of the new and first-time adventures, but mainly for the opportunity to experience all these things with my husband by my side (and our 18-week old baby in the womb!). Even the nearly 5-hour drive back to Ann Arbor was fruitful and beautiful for us, which I plan to reflect further on in another entry.

Blame it on the fact that I'm a newlywed, my pregnancy hormones can make me sentimental, or whatever you want - but my favorite thing about the entire weekend is that I can say it made me fall even more in love with Michael. The simplest gestures, new discoveries about one another, shared adventures, and a million other small things I can't even think to put into words all brought me even closer to my husband, which is perhaps the single most important thing I could hope for in any adventure, excursion, or vacation we take together - especially before our baby is born. When I reflect on all of this I simply thank God for being so good to us and I know I have so much to look forward to.

"The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
 The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever."
Psalm 121:5-8

Friday, March 8, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 4)


--- 1 ---
I mentioned last week that I landed a gig babysitting 4-month old twins and guess what: I survived! I took care of them for 23 hours over the course of a few days - with minimal crying and I managed to never get peed on by the little boy during all those diaper changes! Boom. Thanks for all your prayers, friends. I'm feeling pretty good when I think about the fact I'm only having one baby within the next 5 months.

--- 2 ---
Even though we don't have cable, I was beginning to feel as if Michael and I spent way too much time in front of the TV (watching Netflix or Amazon Prime) each evening after our workouts & dinner. Because of this, we gave up TV (including any video games Michael would play solo on his Xbox) for at least 2 weeknights each week this Lent. Even though we've only been doing this a few weeks I cannot begin to explain how rewarding this has been.

--- 3 ---
Inspired by our television-free evenings, we made goals to instead partake in holier (or at the very least, more intellectual) things and focus on having more quality time with God and one another. This week we finally made a long-overdue trip to the bookstore and stocked up on so.many.books we have been longing to read (and then we looked them up on Amazon and realized we wasted money in the store - oops. Never again.). 

--- 4 ---
Not only have our new books rekindled our love of reading each night before bed, but it motivated us to do the one remaining thing that would make us officially "settled" into our apartment together: we organized the entire bookcase! Woo! Even if you think this is super lame, just try and be happy for us because as a neat freak borderline OCD cleaner and organizer this made me so happy.

--- 5 ---
As I prepared to write my post about Total Surrender this week, I listened to several of my favorite songs by Matt Maher. This led me to remember that one of my best friends from college and I spent summer 2011 recording several of our favorite Christian songs and hymns onto a CD for my Goddaughter on the 1st anniversary of her baptismal day. This, combined with my recent curiosity about Movie Maker (I hadn't used it in years & may need to for an upcoming project) led me to do something I normally consider to be what high-schoolers-with-way-too-much-time-on-their-hands do: I made a montage of pictures set to the audio of one of our recordings and posted it on YouTube. I'm officially one of those people. You're welcome (I only ask that you don't make fun of me too much).

So yes, that's my maiden name (since I recorded this before I was married) and that is me singing with my friend, Michael (not my husband - a different Michael). And I guess I'd better get over the impressions I had of those people on YouTube who "clearly have too much time on their hands."

P.S. I managed to sneak in a couple photos I found online of the tabernacle at our parish here in Ann Arbor - St. Thomas the Apostle. See if you can guess which ones they are!

--- 6 ---
Last night I dreamed that we had a newborn baby girl. Two nights ago I dreamed we had a baby boy. At least one way or the other, my subconscious will be correct! Still hoping we can find out at our big ultrasound in a couple weeks.

--- 7 ---
Because my husband and I never know when or where we'll be moving next (see my entry about Total Surrender), we made a very last minute decision to go ahead and plan that weekend trip to Niagara Falls and Toronto we had debated doing back in February (instead of our Chicago visit, which we opted for at the time). This way we know we will have visited while we still live relatively close to the northern US border. So this afternoon we're off to Canada for the first time in my adult life. As the French Canadians say, "adieu!" until next week.

For more Quick Takes head over to Jen's blog!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Liebster Awards, Part 2


Some of you may remember my post about the Liebster Awards from last week, but I'm posting a follow-up because a funny thing happened - I got nominated again! Earlier this week Patty informed me that she was nominating me (thank you!). Here's a re-cap of how it works:

Since I already participated last week I'll skip the 11 facts about me and nominating any more people, but I will go ahead and answer Patty's questions. Although that's easier said than done because some of them take some serious thought!

Patty's questions for me:
Favorite saint and why... I love a lot of Saints! For the purposes of selecting someone, though, I'll say St. Maria Faustina Kowalska. I love her for her rich, mystical interior life (which you can read about in her Diary) and the fact that Jesus used her to gift us with the Divine Mercy message. I love the chaplet of Divine Mercy and the graces you can receive on Divine Mercy Sunday (coming up in a month!).

St. Maria Faustina
Why you started blogging... I was inspired by all my family and friends who had started blogs. I loved reading what they had to say in order to keep in touch while I was in college so one day when I was bored at one of my part-time college jobs I came up with the idea for my first blog.

Name something you have always wanted to learn... Latin and Greek.

One place you want to travel to that you've never been and why... The Vatican! For Catholic reasons.

When you have some money, favorite store to shop and splurge at... Probably Target. And I can still currently shop here because they have a maternity line. :)

Best book you have ever read and why? I'm completely stumped on this one because there are a lot of good books out there. But the Bible is always good considering its words can help us get to heaven. :)

3 questions you want to ask Jesus someday when you meet him in Heaven... Okay, really, Patty. These are hard. I suppose I would ask him 1) How am I worthy enough to be here and talking to you right now?! 2) How/when he first knew in his life who he was and what God created him for, and 3) I would ask him to have mercy on all the souls in purgatory and help those who no longer have anyone to pray for them be cleansed so they may join him in heaven.

Favorite Disney of all time... I think it's a tie between The Little Mermaid and Aladdin.

What animal best describes your personality and why? No idea, but I love pandas because they are so so cute!

Favorite blog to follow and why? Lately I'd say it's Camp Patton - because I can't read one of Grace's "Simon Says" posts without cracking up. 

Biggest lesson you have learned in life so far... I think my biggest take away from the past few years has been that truly following God means you will have to let go of and free yourself from earthly things and not be afraid to do it; often it's money or material possessions, being part of the "popular" vote or crowd, but other times we must walk away from people who do not support or help us on our journey toward heaven (sometimes all you can do is distance yourself and pray for them from afar). Jesus meant it when he gave us the words of John 15:18-19 and Matthew 10:22. In my own life I've become more and more aware of this and more at peace with simply following Christ where He leads me - striving to let go of other cares, worries, or distractions that only attempt to pull me farther from Him.

So there you have it - the answers to the questions from my second Liebster Award nomination. Thanks again for nominating me, Patty!

"Whoever will recite [the chaplet of divine mercy] will receive great mercy at the hour of death. ...Priests will recommend it to sinners as their last hope of salvation. Even if there were a sinner most hardened, if he were to recite this chaplet only once, he would receive grace from My infinite mercy. ...I desire to grant unimaginable graces to those souls who trust in My mercy...."
-Jesus speaking to St. Faustina (Diary, 687)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Total Surrender


This topic has been on my mind and in my heart for quite some time now, so I'm very grateful and hopeful the Holy Spirit is finally helping me find the words to put it down in writing. Shortly after our wedding in September I began to realize that hardly anyone in my life beyond my immediate family actually knew or understood what it is Michael does or what his job terms of what blessings we've been given but also what sacrifices we have made and make on a continual basis.

Every engaged or newlywed couple makes a lot of decisions together, ranging from the trivial to the life-altering. Michael and I were very blessed to be on the same page when it came to all of our “big” decisions and how we would be approaching things as a couple/family. However, this meant that while our choices and our game plan made obvious sense to us, it wasn’t until after the wedding that I realized I was facing a reality in which very well-intentioned friends or family would ask me questions that simply exasperated me. Something I hadn’t anticipated was having to explain over and over again to curious friends what our situation was or why we would pursue this path we are on…because they didn’t really “get it” without much explanation.

In many ways, this was the first big lesson I learned about marriage: the decisions Michael and I so easily and obviously make aren't always so obvious to people outside of our marriage (and that's fine). While we certainly don’t need their approval or for them to even agree with what we do, it can be difficult when friends or family members simply don’t understand your priorities...or your husband’s job. Fortunately we've been blessed with many friends who, after me explaining in detail what Michael does for a living, eventually came to understand and be supportive of what our daily lives entail. Now that we've been married for 5 months I think my closest friends are all finally in the loop and better understand why it is I’m not currently working, why we aren't buying a house or a puppy any time soon, why I have no idea where we’ll live next, or why I can’t answer any of the other standard questions they so innocently and kindly ask, etc.

So what are these big decisions I’m talking about? Simply put: Michael and I have agreed that my currently sacrificing a “career” and agreeing that where we’ll be living will be determined by his job for the next 5 or 6 years is worth it to us…because it means we get to be together. And what newlywed couple doesn't want to be together?! We just found our vocations and finally get to start living them more fully - why would we want to be separated? Especially considering we were long distance nearly our entire dating relationship.

Starting our lives of (God-willing)
no more long distance!
Our situation is unique because Michael’s job and the age at which he is doing it is unique. He is a bio-medical engineer, but after a couple years of working full-time he was given a huge opportunity (which moved him to Ann Arbor while we were dating and I was volunteering in Chicago) to enter into the "consulting world" of bio-medical engineers. This is how I (not an engineer) explain it to people: medical manufacturing companies are regulated by the FDA, so when these companies get warnings or are under consent decree (meaning they’ll get shut down if they don’t pass their next FDA audits) they need people like Michael. They bring in consultants to figure out what they’re doing wrong and get them back on track while their full-time engineers keep manufacturing. This means Michael doesn't really “work for” the company he is at here in Ann Arbor and he is not given a salary or benefits. Instead, it’s like this place is his client and they pay him hourly, overtime, and per diem for travel (because not all consultants actually move to their project and have to travel back home to see their families when they can on weekends).

What most people don’t understand at first is that all of this means we could have to pack up and move at virtually any we hardly have any certainty about when we'll have to move, where we could be moving to, etc. When this project is over we are done here (so no, we're not buying a house) and these projects can change or end abruptly based on several factors - funding could get cut, they could move up or push back the project timeline drastically, or they could decide that what Michael has done for them is all they need right now and let him go so they no longer have to pay him. In other words, we will potentially be moving every year (sometimes more often, considering most projects only guarantee about 6 months of work) for the next 6 or so years – or however long Michael continues consulting before switching back to a more stable, full-time engineering position and we settle a bit more. Most people would never want to live like this (which is obviously reflected in how some people talk to me about it) - constantly not knowing and having to be open to going anywhere and leaving your current life within a couple weeks notice.

The most common question I got from friends after our wedding was something along the lines of, “so are you looking for a job?” or “what kind of job will you get there?” This plunged me into having to explain Michael’s job so they could understand why it might not actually be feasible for me to have a full-time job here. The reality is that any job I would work (although now that I’m pregnant this point will be moot in another 4.5 months or so) would have to be temporary – something I could walk away from quickly (if need be) without burning bridges or looking like a huge flake.

Part of why we’re so willing to do all of this is because people Michael’s age rarely are able to break into the consulting world of engineering (he got this job because  - I'm proud of him so I'll say it! - he’s insanely good at what he does and he networks well). Normally you need 20-30 years of experience as an engineer, which means almost everyone he works with is in their 50’s or 60’s. These other consultants usually already have a permanent address somewhere and their family stays there while they go work on a project for 6 months, a year, etc. This means their wives can have "normal" careers and the consultants travel on weekends to see them. Believe it or not, once I explained that this was the norm for these consultants some of my friends actually asked why we don’t do that…as if me settling somewhere & having a career was so important that I would sacrifice actually living with my husband and seeing him every single day when we are very recently married and now have a baby on the way (no thank you). I thank God constantly that Michael’s job is able to provide for us so I don’t have to work right now and I am able to move with him. I know this isn't a reality for all couples and I certainly do not wish to ever take it for granted.

In terms of spirituality, I struggled with a lot of this early on in our new marriage – not because I wanted some fancy full-time career or struggled with being open to just trusting God will guide us through all this uncertainty, but because it can be hard to let people assume or think things about you if they don’t know or understand your situation. As humans we have this desire to gain the approval or understanding of everyone we know which can be a difficult thing to free ourselves of (but is very necessary in order to follow Christ, understanding His is the only approval we truly seek). 

I wanted everyone to understand Michael’s job so they would understand that I wasn't unemployed because I wasn't smart, qualified, or capable  (prideful much?) – but because it was a sacrifice I was making for our marriage and family at this time (Michael never asked me to do this but has certainly supported my decision because me moving with him is what we both want). All of this put me in a situation where I could more deeply trust God and just let go of feeling like I need to somehow prove myself to others; I think I especially felt this way because I had taken a year to volunteer full-time and everyone expects you to then get a job or do something “real” (funny how I was able to let go and not care of what people thought as I volunteered – something lots of career-driven people also didn't understand – but then unnecessarily felt pressure about defending my not having a career afterwards). But whether other people in general society see it or not, what I do by being present to my marriage in this way is real work that I value because it’s what I do so Michael and I can be a normal married couple living together (even if we might move abnormally often). 

Listening to Danielle Rose's version of the Litany of Humility and praying it certainly helped free me from this "desire of being esteemed," too.

One time, as I went through my spiel about what Michael does, how or why we might move any time, and why it means I hadn't really pursued a “normal” job here, my friend silently paused on the other end of the phone and then said, “Wow, that is really a total surrender to God’s will.” As soon as she said that my heart burst with joy because she understood! She understood what our daily life was like – very blessed and happy to be with one another but inevitably not knowing when or where we’ll move next, making strong efforts to simply let God guide us where He will. This job of Michael's forces us to give up job security, certain comforts, and knowing where we'll go but it's worth it to us and we simply strive to surrender the uncertainties and transform them into trust in God.

When Michael and I focus on seeing his job and all the choices we've made as putting all our trust in God I am able to more fully see how blessed we are to have this opportunity – for Michael’s career growth, for the chance to experience so many cities while we’re young, to relinquish the desire to control our lives and where we go, and of course to be together! It doesn't matter if we don’t yet have a house, I don’t have a job, whether or not others understand our marital priorities, or that we have absolutely no idea where He will lead us next...because He leads us and frees us from feeling we need to impress or explain things to anyone else other than Himself when we surrender. After all, when we love and follow Christ to the point of surrender He blesses us far beyond any approval this world could give us. So may we all strive this Lenten season to "let go and let God" do His work within each of our lives, whatever that means for our own unique situations.

"One thing Jesus asks of me: that I lean upon Him; that in Him and in Him alone I put complete trust; that I surrender myself to Him unreservedly. I need to give up my own desires in the work of my perfection. Even when all goes wrong, and I feel as if I was a ship without a compass, I must give myself completely to Him. I must not attempt to control God's action, I must not count the stages in the journey He would have me make. I must not desire a clear perception of my advance upon the road, not know precisely where I am upon the way of holiness. I ask Him to make a Saint of me, yet I must leave to Him the choice of that saintliness itself, and still more the choice of the means which lead to it."
-Blessed Mother Teresa

Friday, March 1, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 3)


--- 1 ---
Hopefully all of you have been able to read the transcript of Pope Benedict XVI's final general audience that took place this Wednesday. If not, you should check out his beautiful words here. This is one quote (of many) from his speech that I love:

"They write as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, with the sense of very affectionate family ties. Here, one can touch what the Church is – not an organization, not an association for religious or humanitarian purposes, but a living body, a community of brothers and sisters in the Body of Jesus Christ, who unites us all. To experience the Church in this way and almost be able to touch with one’s hands the power of His truth and His love, is a source of joy, in a time in which many speak of its decline."
--- 2 ---
His Eminence Rainer Maria Woelki
This week I discovered that there are some pretty inventive and inspiring ways to get involved and pray for our Cardinals as they prepare for the upcoming conclave. For example, we've got the Adopt a Cardinal prayer campaign, Fantasy Conclave (think fantasy football...but with Cardinals and ways to learn about the papacy), the #ThanksPontifex movement (for those of you on Twitter), and more. My hope is that all of these things will remind people to pray for the Catholic Church and our Cardinals during this significant and historical time. Oh, and the Cardinal I "adopted" is his eminence Rainer Maria Woelki of the diocese of Berlin, Germany. Have any of you adopted a Cardinal, too? Who will you be praying for?

--- 3 ---
I'm not sure what happened to February, but it has come and gone. Here are a few highlights I'm excited for in March: St. Patrick's day (the feast of my husband's confirmation Saint!), March Madness (do I hear the sound of a 6th banner finding its way into [the real] Assembly Hall?!), hopefully a trip to Cambridge/Boston to see my older sister, brother-in-law, and 2 beyond adorable nieces, a new Pope, Holy Week, Easter, aaand our 20-week ultrasound!

--- 4 ---
Did I mention our 20-week ultrasound? For those of you who haven't yet had a baby: this is the big ultrasound. Considering this is my 16th week, I counted on the calendar and assumed the ultrasound would be in the 20th week exactly...making it Holy Week (awesome!). However, when I called they told me we could actually do it the week before. So please pray for us on Wednesday, March 20th! If it's God's will for us to find out that day whether it's a boy or girl then we will. If not, we'll have to wait.

--- 5 ---
This week I landed a random, last-minute gig helping take care of 4-month old twins. Their mom happens to be the sister of one of my former bosses in undergrad and because said boss knew I live in Ann Arbor now and so does her sister, she recommended me. They needed some assistance while the cardiology fellow father works nights and their nanny is on vacation - which means I am practically living at their place from Thursday until Saturday (just this week!) so their mom can get some sleep before she does her 2 days of outside the home work and their dad can sleep during the day. I've never before had experience with twin babies or even a baby boy for that matter. Please pray for me! I sound a bit crazy for saying yes to this, but I really liked my former boss and her sister is equally sweet so I really wanted to help them, I'm making bank while getting future mom training. Not to mention, these babies are adorable!

--- 6 ---
Has all this hype about how we should have an African Pope made anyone else fall in love with how awesome Cardinal Arinze is??? Whether you're Catholic or simply interested in understanding a bit of Catholic theology, I hope you enjoy this video gem. Seriously, please watch it.

--- 7 ---
Want to see an example of real love? The unconditional kind that God so generously gives us and the kind that we vow to always strive to give our spouses? Then watch this video (via Jen). Consider yourselves warned, though: maybe it's because I'm pregnant but this video definitely made me cry. Okay, really I would have cried even if I weren't pregnant. So either way it will pull on your heart strings.

Happy Friday! For more Quick Takes head over to Jen's blog!