Monday, April 29, 2013

An Ordinary Day Overflowing with Extraordinary Goodness

+JMJ+

I believe there is beauty to be found in every single day...although sometimes God gifts us with a day that simply overflows with goodness, making its beauty radiate brighter than any other in recent memory. This past Saturday was one of those days for Michael and me.

The best part about all of this is that the day was by no means filled with extraordinary events or circumstances. The beauty and goodness came from the simplest and smallest of details - sleeping in (waking up next to my husband is still exciting 7 months into our marriage), taking our time getting ready, relaxing, a rare April day of sunshine (and zero rain!), warm weather, good food, running leisurely errands, watching a movie and some TV, and - of course - doing all of these things with one another.

What a stud. And what delicious root beer.
We wound up having the entire day free to do whatever we wished. We spent some time being productive (i.e. preparing our online baby registry) and then I suggested that we have a picnic. We had been searching for something to do outdoors other than walking on trails (since we've done a lot of that lately), but my pregnancy tends to limit our outdoor adventure options. A picnic basking in the warm sunshine seemed like the perfect way to enjoy a leisurely day, the beautiful weather, time together, and a completely safe pregnancy activity: eating! 

We packed some things we would need for the picnic and headed out in search of other great picnic foods at the grocery store. We spent far more time than necessary going up and down the aisles, picking out just the right foods and drinks to complete our meal. We also spent far more money than we normally would on a single meal, but this day had turned into what I consider a "date day," therefore making it a special occasion to enjoy and celebrate with my husband.

After we had everything we needed we drove in the general direction of the University of Michigan Arboretum before deciding to scope out a different park location for our late lunch. We ended up parking at our church and heading down the hill to a quaint spot near the river that we had explored when I came to visit during Holy Week 2012.

Probably the last photo of me wearing
wedding rings on my finger for awhile
Long story short, we ate a lot of amazing food together and enjoyed the serene location as we soaked in some much-welcomed Vitamin D. And of course, I took pictures. We failed to take a "24-week" photo last week, so these picnic pictures taken as we hovered in between weeks 24 and 25 will have to do.

Other than our spontaneous picnic, nothing we did that day was out of the ordinary. We went to the AT&T store to play with the new Samsung Galaxy S4 (we're looking into a new phone plan and new phones soon), we headed to the mall in search of a sterling silver chain to put my wedding rings on now that my fingers are uncomfortably swelling, and we spent the evening relaxing with a movie and some TV. This is hardly the stuff of legend...but everything about that day makes me smile. We were blessed with quality, uninterrupted time with one another and we basked in the glory of God as He met us in the sunshine, the quiet moments, and even the errands that so often make us lose sight of Him.

As we happily approach our baby boy's due date I cherish the days like this past Saturday. I am eager to meet this little baby that we already love so much, but I know that it will only become more difficult to find such peaceful, uninterrupted time alone with my husband once he arrives. So while I thank the Lord for the gift of this child, I simultaneously thank Him for days like this past Saturday - when Michael and I get to savor this time to just be husband and wife before we take on our new, exciting roles as parents.

P.S. Today marks exactly 7 months of our marriage! On this day one year ago we were traipsing about the city of Chicago in the rain as we took our engagement photos. God is good!

"Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do...but how much love we put in that action."
-Blessed Mother Teresa

Friday, April 26, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 10)

+JMJ+


For more Quick Takes, head over to Jen's blog! I'm so happy she and her baby are doing better and are back with us for her link-up. :)

--- 1 ---
Have all of you seen the new tumblr that iuseNFP and 1Flesh have come up with?  It's called "What Should We Call NFP" and is basically a spin off of the famous "What Should We Call Me" tumblr...except this entire blog is about NFP and the clips are things only NFP users will probably understand and laugh it. Personally, I think it's hilarious and recommend you all check it out for a good chuckle. Here's a little preview:

When my friend keeps talking about the rhythm method:

Thank you, Katie, for introducing me to this site on your blog this week!

--- 2 ---
Did you happen to read Simcha Fisher's piece entitled, "So Long, and Thanks for all the Intersex Fish"? If you haven't, you should. She writes about the irony of people who love and promote "going green" and purchasing organic foods throwing a fit when the CEO of Eden Foods made it clear he doesn't want to pay for his employees' water-polluting, cancer-causing contraceptives.

--- 3 ---
Continuing the conversation about Eden Foods: do you support their stance and agree that employers should not be told by the government that they have to pay for their employees to have coverage that violates the very nature of their business, organization, or deeply held beliefs? Then help show some support for Michael Potter, the CEO of Eden Foods by signing this quick letter of support (thank you, Leila, for posting this last week). He has been receiving a lot of angry letters, so let's help encourage him to keep on fighting the good fight.

--- 4 ---
One last thing about Eden Foods.... Want to support them by buying their products?! Leila also shared this nifty store locator on her blog last week; after typing in your zip code it will show you which stores in your area carry these products. I was not at all surprised to discover there are about 20 places in Ann Arbor to purchase Eden Foods products - although I did chuckle and think to myself, "of course," when I went to their website and learned that Eden Foods was actually founded here. :)

--- 5 ---
In other news, I substituted a couple of times in pre-school (and helped out a bit in kindergarten) this week. Considering I got multiple hugs from a little girl who doesn't speak English, hand holds from a very shy little girl and a rambunctious boy who could easily be labeled a "troublemaker," and a colored picture given to me as a gift from a four year old, I'd say it was a good time. These kids are CUTE.

--- 6 ---
What's arguably the most awkward question I've been asked since I became pregnant? Surprisingly, it isn't any of the questions the 4 and 5-year old students asked me this week (How did your baby get in your tummy? How does the doctor get it out?). Instead, the winner is: "Are you having a baby shower?"

Call me old fashioned, but last time I checked, as the expectant mother I am not in control of whether or not someone throws us a baby shower - nor do I think it's my responsibility (or appropriate) to plan myself a party. So how am I supposed to know if anyone will throw me a baby shower when everybody starts asking?! I suppose I could have answered all those people with, "Why? Are you offering to throw me one?"  But that would have made it all a little more uncomfortable.

Instead, my mom has come to the rescue and saved me from all of this awkwardness by offering to host a shower back in Indiana (thank you, Mom! And happy early birthday!!!). I really don't need a big party or put much of an emphasis on receiving gifts (although that's really generous of people), but I'm really, really excited to see some of my friends and actually get to celebrate this joyous time with people I love! Plus, the icing on the cake is that I now have an answer whenever people innocently and unknowingly ask me that most awkward of questions (the price I pay for being the first out of my friends to have a baby).

--- 7 ---
Next week I'm scheduled to have one of my wisdom teeth pulled. Really I need all 4 out because there is zero space for them in my tiny mouth, but only one of them is currently exposed and at a bad angle/considered "urgent" so for now (because I'm pregnant and dentists and oral surgeons are apparently terrified of pregnant patients) it's the only one coming out. This is because the oral surgeon can use localized numbing agents for my one tooth and not put me under general anesthesia during my pregnancy (which would probably be necessary for me to survive the other 3 coming out). So what am I trying to say here?

Basically for the first time in my life I'm going to be prescribed some heavy duty meds (don't worry, my OB/GYN cleared what is safe with the oral surgeon) and starting next Wednesday afternoon I'm probably going to be loopy. There may or may not be some quick takes next week, but if there are - please consider yourselves warned. I'm going to be a hot mess. Please pray for me, my baby boy in utero, and my husband (since he will be the one dealing with me in the aftermath)!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Transforming Our Fears and Tears into Marital Bliss

+JMJ+

I mentioned in my entry about our trip to Niagara Falls and Toronto that the 5 hour drive back to Michigan was fruitful and beautiful for us as a couple - and I'm finally getting around to putting into words exactly why that is....

As we reflected on the wonderful trip we had just experienced together, we shared a lot of laughs and spoke about how much of a blessing it was. At some point, however, there was a shift in the direction of our conversation and Michael expressed something that was troubling to me; he seemed to have a negative understanding of and be upset about something related to my pregnancy and the future of our marriage which, in turn, made me upset. We were both frustrated...and I began crying like most pregnant women do when they're frustrated. This wasn't exactly the beautiful or fruitful part of the journey...but what took place next was. So what happened?

We continued talking, understanding that this wasn't a "quick fix" to be done with and forget about. Neither of us knew exactly what to say but we knew that this wouldn't get resolved if we ignored it. I was worried that my pregnancy hormones would get the better of me, but I trusted in God to lead us so we could move forward as a couple (after all, this is my husband and my vocation - not some kind of relationship I can put on hold or walk away from). Side note: I recognize that healthy communication doesn't always mean discussing a topic and resolving it immediately - though considering we were alone in a car together for hours, it became a pressing issue for us.

Michael kept asking me what I was thinking and I could barely articulate anything. I found myself speechless...but through God's grace we managed to patiently keep a dialogue going (key word: patiently!). It took a little while, but soon our conversation allowed him to explain more about why he had said what he did - and it suddenly became crystal clear to both of us that his fears stemmed from what some guys at work had said to him. Michael and I hadn't spoken directly about this particular topic yet somehow multiple men at work had managed to give their two cents about the matter far more than once.

As soon as I realized this I knew what to tell him - because those guys at work do not have the same priorities we do. Nor do most of them have a marriage like ours. Or a shared faith like ours. In fact, Michael and I are entirely different than most of the people he works with (which isn't exactly news to either of us)...yet because he and I hadn't spoken explicitly about the topic at hand & he heard so much of it from his co-workers he started thinking that perhaps there was some truth to what the guys were saying.

After all, if Michael and I don't talk about something and haven't established where we stand as a couple it's far easier to end up listening to what people on the outside of your marriage have to say about the topic. And while those men certainly didn't mean any harm, they were speaking from their own personal experiences with their wives...which doesn't quite line up with how Michael and I interact or approach things. As soon as Michael and I were able to reestablish all of this he was able to easily dismiss what he had been told from outside sources and stop worrying.

Now, before I continue, I'd like to point out that sometimes we do need to speak to people outside of our marriages and hear what they have to say. However, when it comes to situations that effect our married lives it's far more important that we actually discuss the topic with our spouse. In other words, we have to be careful not to substitute having discussed something with a friend for the actual conversation that needs to happen with our significant other.

The bottom line is this: the people we work with, our family, and our friends are just that - the people we work with, our family, and our friends. They aren't our spouse and they can't tell us what our spouse may be thinking. Only our spouse can do that. Sometimes we think we're on the same page and don't need to discuss certain things, but it doesn't hurt to talk about it anyway...even if it's just to reiterate the fact that the two of you are indeed on the same page.

The entire conversation we had on that car ride home was a learning experience for Michael and me. We already communicate a lot. After all, we were long distance for essentially our entire dating relationship leading up to our wedding day (so clearly we spent many hours talking on the phone, Skype, etc.). We've never had to worry much about expressing our thoughts, fears, or sharing any other emotion with the other person because it's what we've done all along. Yet we almost fell into a trap of Michael being unhappy and worrying about something he didn't need to really worry about...which just goes to show that, ultimately, the important thing is to just keep the healthy communication going. If we didn't communicate so frequently it would have been nearly impossible for Michael to bring up his thoughts or for me to know that he had ever been concerned about something.

The second important lesson I took away from that afternoon was this: when a difficult conversation arises, don't freak out or try to avoid it. It would have been so easy for me to just cry and shut down...but God gave me the grace to listen and hear what my husband was trying to tell me - which helped me find the words I needed in return. Sometimes listening is all we can manage to do and sometimes that's all it takes...and God handles the rest.

Most of this seems like common sense to all of us.

However, it doesn't take a genius to glance at the marriages in our nation and tell us that a whole lot of people manage (often unintentionally) to let healthy communication slide by the wayside for us to know that it's true. Which brings me to my next point: yes, communication is a key ingredient in any successful relationship...but too often the "healthy" part remains neglected or isn't quite achieved. Yelling or saying hurtful things just for the sake of "communicating" isn't productive, so we also need to consider the ways in which we are communicating.

When all was said and done Michael and I walked away from that conversation feeling closer than ever before. Many people would say that an afternoon with me crying in the car doesn't sound like a great time...but we both agreed that we felt so relieved and joyful that we had managed to address a tough issue and resolve it. There aren't many things that make me happy in the way I feel whenever Michael and I know without a doubt that we are on the same page.

That afternoon truly was a beautiful and fruitful experience for Michael and me - tough topics, tears, and all. After all, how can we become the best versions of ourselves and more loving spouses if we don't share and acknowledge how one another is truly feeling or what he or she is dealing with emotionally? By sharing our hearts and our most vulnerable thoughts and fears, we can better love and pray for our spouses and (hopefully) help them love and be loved in such a way that brings us that much closer to heaven.

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
-Mr. Fred Rogers

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My First Day of Catholic School

+JMJ+

Those of you that have paid attention to my "quick takes" within the past couple weeks probably already know where this is going: yesterday was my first day substitute teaching at our parish school! :)

As someone who was born and raised Catholic, I've always been aware of Catholic schools and what they entail. It's not a secret that many Catholic schools often provide a more solid education and tougher curriculum than the average public school; nor is it a secret that at Catholic school there is usually an opportunity for prayer and/or Mass during the school day.

However, the closest I've ever come to being in a Catholic school was back when I saw my mom's classroom when she taught for a couple years at a Catholic high school about 45 minutes from my hometown. So yesterday when the morning began with the announcements, an Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and the pledge of allegiance it finally hit me -- yesterday was literally the first day I can ever recall experiencing an actual school day in a Catholic school...in my entire life.

Interestingly enough, the friends I made in college frequently assumed that I had attended a Catholic high school - whether it was because of my involvement at the Newman Center on campus, the way I spoke about my faith, etc. This always made me chuckle because every bit of formal education I've ever had has been at a public school - from kindergarten all the way through college. Any knowledge I have about my religion or faith practices comes solely from my parents, attending church, friends (both lay people and vowed religious), and a lot of personal research and prayer.

Photograph of St. Therese of Lisieux
It might not sound like an earth-shattering revelation to acknowledge that yesterday was my first real time in a Catholic school, but once I recognized this I began to notice how many little things I appreciated that would never be found in a public school. The pre-school classrooms I helped out in were plastered with photos of saints, crucifixes, holy water fonts, prayers, rosaries, and several other holy images - all located at the eye level of a toddler, of course. As we got ready to take the children to the playground the teacher I was with kept repeating for them to "line up at St. Therese!" I looked around and sure enough, on the wall was a beautiful image of St. Therese. These children already knew at the ages of four and five who St. Therese was, or at the very least could easily recognize the most famous illustration of her holding a crucifix and roses. I didn't know who St. Therese was or recognize her until I was in my twenties.

All I could think to myself over and over throughout the day were these four things:
  • These children are incredibly blessed (and they may never have any clue how blessed they are until they get to college and meet people who never had daily prayer, weekly Mass, or religion classes as part of their school curriculum).
  • The number of times we had prayed as a class by the end of the day was hands down more frequent than I usually even manage to do in my adult life from 8am-3:15pm.
  • This place feels like home....
  • If it's possible, I want this for all my future children.

A large part of why my sisters and I never attended Catholic school is because almost everywhere we lived there either a) was no Catholic school, b) were no openings for new students, or c) it wouldn't have made sense financially. Although Michael and I have no idea where we'll be living, we had already decided that if the location and finances allow it, we would definitely opt to send our children to Catholic schools.* And after my experiences yesterday, I feel more convicted about this decision than ever before! 

Overall I'd say that I had a wonderful experience substituting in the pre-school yesterday. The teachers were fantastic, the children were fabulous (I got many questions about my baby as well as an enthusiastic recommendation from 4 little girls that I name our son Justin Bieber), but most of all: I constantly felt and saw the love and light of Christ. I felt at peace, rejuvenated, and joyful by finally being surrounded by this kind of atmosphere (while I love my Big Ten, state school university, I can't deny that only a Catholic school provides the kind of environment I often yearned for at my secular campus). Thank you, Lord, for a beautiful day filled with love, prayer, and an inspiring collection of teachers and students!

*Obviously homeschooling is another viable option that would foster a rich spiritual life and education for our children, but considering our firstborn is only 24 weeks in utero I'd say we have ample time to figure out if I feel called to that or not (because at the moment I don't).

"I am and have always been a strong proponent of public education. But by the virtue of its very nature - publicly funded schools cannot offer the type of spiritual education that Catholic schools have long provided."
-Mark Foley

Friday, April 19, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 9)

+JMJ+


Linking up with Grace again this week while Jen is recuperating and enjoying her new baby. :) Head over to Camp Patton for more Friday Quick Takes!

--- 1 ---
I need some help from someone who knows a lot about technology (vague, I know). Basically I deleted the default "About Me" section on Blogger a couple of weeks ago in order to insert my new intro picture and "about me" that I created. So far, so good. The only issue I've noticed is that when I participate in link-ups now it no longer finds and offers my Blogger profile picture as an option to show with my name. Why? More importantly: how do I fix this? It's definitely not the end of the world, but if I could actually select a picture of myself to show on link-ups rather than any random photos I might have inserted into that blog entry, that would be preferable.

--- 2 ---
My little sister is officially attending grad school at Franciscan University of Steubenville! This was her number one choice for grad school so I'm very happy that she was accepted and now knows everything she needed to know about scholarships and whatnot to convince her to attend. Now here's a picture of my sisters (best friends) and me at my Bachelorette Party dinner back in September (just because I love them):

Older sister, younger sister, and me <3
--- 3 ---
This week we made a very important discovery: we finally got a contact for the super secret society unofficial newlyweds group at our parish! This is huge. We've been trying to hunt these people down for the past 6.5 months or so and (thanks be to God) we finally succeeded! Now we'll be informed about group get-togethers, Michael can start joining the guys at their monthly "pub nights" (who knew they did this?! We didn't), I can join the ladies' book club (also exciting to discover), and we can finally meet some other young married couples at our church! And guess what book the women are just starting to read??? Hallie Lord's new book - Style, Sex, and Substance: 10 Catholic Women Consider the Things that Really Matter. I'm pumped. :D

--- 4 ---
Second important discovery of the week: Nordstrom Rack has great deals (mainly for the men, but what else is new?). Okay, so I had heard of Nordstrom Rack before and I understood that it carried Nordstrom items at discounted prices, but neither Michael nor I had ever been to one. I mean let's be honest - I never even shop at normal Nordstrom stores...but Michael sometimes does so he was pumped (he's been waiting for over a month) to scope out the new Ann Arbor location which just had its grand opening yesterday. Our gameplan was to go and "just browse" but we wound up back at home with (for him) 2 new dress shirts, 6 pairs of socks, 2 ties, and (for me) a pair of sunglasses and earrings. And we saved more than $250 (and spent wayyy less than that). 

But seriously. Sixty dollar Calvin Klein ties for $14.97? That's what we call a "steal."

--- 5 ---
In a couple of my other quick takes I've hinted that, for a "food town," Ann Arbor hasn't exactly wowed us with their restaurants...so I felt the need to say a few nice things about some places I've failed to mention. As far as breakfast places go, Ann Arbor has some amazing ones - namely Afternoon Delight and Angelo's. Both delicious. For some pretty good Middle Eastern Cuisine: Jerusalem Garden is our top pick. For Chinese (especially authentic Taiwanese): Asian Legend and TK WU take the cake (really, my husband would know). And while you all know we love ourselves some Bagger Dave's (a small Michigan chain), one of the best burgers in town can definitely be found at Great Plains Burger Co.

Because we spent so much time at Nordstrom Rack last night we wound up eating out and headed to Great Plains Burger Co. for the 3rd time in the past 6.5 months because it is seriously good. And we were both insanely hungry so basically it was the most delicious meal I've eaten all week. 

And no, we don't eat out all the time. I promise. This list is a compilation of knowledge since we got married and I've been here and the entire year he was here before me. If you're ever in the area: enjoy!

--- 6 ---
Week 23 of my pregnancy and my feet are definitely swollen. I started noticing it in my fingers a few weeks ago so I make sure to take off my rings each night in order to monitor whether or not I can keep wearing them. But yesterday Michael and I agreed that my feet are now seriously swelling - no question. The weird thing is that instead of appearing to be wider, they have filled out and basically gotten thicker (from the top of my foot to the sole). Is this normal? Whatever the case may be, I'm grateful that it will (maybe) be nice weather soon and I'll be able to start wearing sandals. I couldn't imagine having to buy new boots and winter shoes in bigger sizes. Sandals are so much cheaper. What a blessing!

--- 7 ---
Ann Arbor has a Hands On Museum for kids that Michael and I have been dying to explore. This weekend we're finally doing it and we don't have to look like silly adults without any children - because our friends are going to visit for the day with their son who is a year and half! So so excited to see them and have an excuse to play at this fun museum!

I hope you all have a great weekend!

P.S. We all know what took place in Boston this week, so let's send up some extra prayers. Last night an MIT police officer was also shot and killed on MIT's campus...which is where my sister, brother-in-law, and nieces live. My family is safe, but let's also pray for the people of the MIT community. Personally I thank the Lord for all of the human kindness and good that has been done this week amidst all of this evil...and I'm thankful for my family's safety. Let us also give thanks for all of the people who have been working overtime (police officers, health care workers, priests, etc.) to help those in need during this time of tragedy and mourning.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Book Review: The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic

+JMJ+

This Easter our parish handed out free copies of Matthew Kelly's new book, The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic. Apparently at Christmas (we were in Indiana with my family) they handed out one of Kelly's other books, Rediscovering Catholicism, which I read a few years ago. I'm sure several of you that are Catholic have received similar free books at your own parishes over the past few years and, interestingly enough, this new book explains why that is.

Genre(s)
Nonfiction, Christian (Catholic), Self Improvement

The Premise
The opening pages of the book recount a scenario in which a priest claimed that, "...it doesn't matter where you go, you will discover the same fifty people do everything in a parish." This comment peaked the author's attention and began his interest in compiling real data about parishioners and the percentages that were "engaged" in their church versus those that weren't. The Pareto Principle - also known as the 80/20 principle - states that roughly 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. So what does this mean for Catholics? Does this mean that the same 20% of parishioners tend to do 80% of the work?

The book quickly reveals shocking data that informs us of three significant things:

  • 6.4% of registered parishioners contribute 80% of the volunteer hours in a parish
  • 6.8% of registered parishioners donate 80% of financial contributions
  • There is an 84% overlap between the two groups

Wow! This essentially means that roughly 7% of parishioners are highly engaged and contributing the vast majority of "time, talent, and treasure" within any given church in the United States. Only 7%. Nowhere near 20%. Matthew Kelly refers to this 7% as "Dynamic Catholics." While the other 93% may be good people that help out in certain areas, there is no arguing that the 7% are doing something the 93% are not.

The book goes on to share the 4 key things that he discovered each of these Dynamic Catholics has in common with one another...things that the other 93% tend to struggle more with. The "four signs" the research uncovered are as follows:

Prayer, Study, Generosity, Evangelization

My Thoughts/Reactions
I was intrigued by the entire premise of this book. Its ultimate goal seemed to be delving into the "four signs," explaining them in detail, giving real examples, and providing practical suggestions for better incorporating each sign into our own lives - no matter where we're at in our faith journey. The book does a great job of emphasizing that the "Dynamic Catholics" are not perfect and we all have room for improvement in these four areas. In fact, most of the people in the 7% revealed in their interviews and data that they didn't always necessarily think they do a great job with each of the 4 signs. In other words, the book is geared towards helping the 7% and the 93% alike become holier, more faithful, and more dynamic Catholics. 

I think I also appreciated this book because the "four signs" are practically the same as the four pillars of Dominican spirituality. Before getting married I completed a year of volunteer service through the Dominican Order and I absolutely think my personal charism is very much in line with their 4 pillars of prayer, study, community, and service/mission. As a Dominican volunteer I reflected and worked on each of the 4 Dominican pillars constantly, but the book helped me become more self-aware of how well I'm currently doing with each of the "four signs" and gave me some new ideas for diving deeper into each one.

Overall I found it to be a very interesting read and thus felt compelled to share it with you all. I would also add that while I own three other Matthew Kelly books, this is the first that completely held my attention from start to finish. The book constantly cites findings from research and how it relates directly to every day life - which, in my opinion, gives it something more.

When I told a friend about this book he asked me if I thought anyone who wasn't already a "Dynamic Catholic" would actually take the initiative to read this book (suggesting that people already in the 7% may be the only ones to read it)...which is a valid question that left me wondering what the answer is. Personally I think the book is great for any Catholic to read, but especially for the 93%. If we can encourage our friends and family - regardless of whether we think they are already passionately engaged in their Catholic faith or not - to read this book and give it a shot, I fully believe its contents could help transform the Catholics in our nation. Surely it can help the 7% improve and possibly even cause the 93% to shrink as more and more people become like the current 7%. So please, please check it out and/or recommend it to someone you think could benefit from it! 

You can get a free copy of this book for yourself (you simply have to pay shipping and handling) by visiting The Dynamic Catholic Institute's website...or you can order 6 copies for only $18. 

Let's work towards engaging even 1% more Catholics in the U.S. and literally change the world. :)

"The life of the Church and her teachings are an extension of the Gospel in that they too try to lead us toward the best way to live. ...Often people think that the Church says you have to do this or you cannot do that. In fact, the Church does no such thing. The Church simply stands in every place and time pointing out the path toward the best way to live. Each of us gets to decide if we are going to walk that path or not. And this is where we get to the heart of the matter. It is here that a new question arises: Do you believe that Jesus offers us the best way to live?"
-Matthew Kelly, The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic (pg. 158)

Friday, April 12, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 8)

+JMJ+


Because Jen isn't up for hosting her usual link up (for very good reason - prayers for her!!!), head over to visit Grace at Camp Patton for more Quick Takes today.

--- 1 ---
Remember how we finally bought a desk? Well, it pretty much transformed our entire apartment! We now use our bonus "nook" room like a real office...with books, a desk, and office supplies. Imagine that. I no longer avoid this room because it's actually functional...and we finally hung our papal wedding blessing and some icons on the walls we painted months ago so it really feels like we live here. Better late than never!

No more wall of random boxes/storage!
--- 2 ---
As of this week I am officially a substitute teacher for our parish school. :) I have never worked as a substitute teacher before, but I have a feeling this will be a good challenge, a positive way to give back to our parish, and a fun way to get more connected to the community.

--- 3 ---
The school was thrilled that I would be willing to help out with any age groups - but especially pre-school. They were so thrilled, in fact, that the secretary led me directly to one of the pre-school teachers and invited me inside the classroom to meet some of the children and get a feel for their class. I pretty much played with 3 and 4 year old children for 30 minutes and was proudly shown off as one little boy's new friend and introduced to his grandmother when she came to pick him up.

--- 4 ---
When I was briefly introduced to the 5 year old pre-school students one girl asked if I was wearing a wig. I had no idea why she thought that, but her teacher laughed and pointed out that just because I have longer hair than her or the other teacher (who have very short haircuts) that didn't mean it was a wig. I can only imagine the funny anecdotes I will soon experience as I get more involved.

--- 5 ---
Get ready for some YouTube videos. For some reason Blogger is failing to properly search for & locate the video I'd like to insert here...so instead I'll simply link it here. The man in the video articulates well his position against gay "marriage" even though he, himself, is gay. He argues for the child's right to have a mother and father and explains how marriage cannot simply be an "institution of love." I think this video can be eye-opening for anyone who supports traditional marriage...and perhaps even for those who do not. He doesn't approach his stance from a religious perspective, but from one of intellect, reason, and love for the child and family. This is, realistically, how I think we need to be having these conversations with others because it in no way presupposes that everyone needs to have the same religious or moral beliefs to be on the same page on this issue. Because those of us that are Catholic (hopefully) know that we don't simply oppose a redefinition of marriage for religious reasons...but because of Truth, natural law, and the common good.

--- 6 ---
This video shows 3 minutes of a baby laughing. An Asian baby, might I add. ;) Why am I posting this? I think a better question is why not?


--- 7 ---
If you thought that last video was joyful, wait until you see this: it's a video that depicts the first moments the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist (our very own Ann Arbor Dominicans who I adore!) heard about Pope Francis.



Happy Friday!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bloglovin'

+JMJ+

Ever since the disappearance of Google Reader, the blogosphere has been abuzz with cries of outrage or disappointment. However, there are a couple of other sites out there that function similarly and - from what I have gathered thus far - Bloglovin' does a pretty good job of keeping all those blogs you want to read in one, clean, easy-to-sift-through place for you.

At the very least, I've seen lots of other bloggers start to use Bloglovin' and haven't heard any complaints...so for those of you that are interested you can follow my blog on Bloglovin'! Other ways to subscribe to my updates (check out the right hand side of my page) are via email or by simply clicking "join this site" where you see "followers."

Follow my blog with Bloglovin
Enjoy!
P.S. I believe Bloglovin' also has an app for all of you tech savvy people with iPhones or Android phones. :)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Sinfulness: Ignorance is Not Bliss (a response to a reader's question)

+JMJ+


Back in January I posted a couple of entries about Natural Family Planning; the first discussed reasons many people choose NFP over birth control regardless of religious or moral beliefs. The second entry about Why Natural Family Planning is Superior to Birth Control focused solely on the Catholic teachings & understanding of NFP and (hopefully) helped shed light on why we believe it is considered a moral tool for planning your family and birth control most certainly is not.

I received an interesting comment from an anonymous person on that second entry - and while I long ago responded directly to that comment I have since realized that, unless this person subscribed to get updates on their comment, they may have never seen my reply to their inquiry. Normally I'd say this isn't a big deal and that would be the end of it, but I think their question is a very important one that requires a clear explanation. For some reason (perhaps it's the Holy Spirit giving me a nudge) I was reminded of this comment today and felt a strong desire to post my response directly on the blog so anyone else with the same confusion will hopefully come to a more complete understanding of the topic at hand.

The anonymous comment read as follows:
You mention a lot in your blogs that things aren't sins if you're ignorant about them... and then you go on to inform people which seems like you're encouraging people to commit sin? Could you discuss that in a future blog post? I don't get why you would try to teach people about things if you know it's just going to affect their salvation? Thanks for answering my question!

My response to their inquiry (with some added emphasis):
Perhaps I should clarify: even if someone doesn't KNOW something is sinful, it's still sinful. The fact that the person has never been educated about the sinful nature of something means it's unintentional, which can "diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1860)

By informing people that what they have done is sinful that is in no way CAUSING them to sin...they've already sinned, although we don't know to what degree God will have mercy on their ignorance and hold them accountable -- rather, educating them wakes them up to the fact that they've been doing something sinful. At that point it's their responsibility to act accordingly, and then they have the knowledge to repent and stop participating in a particular sin if it's an ongoing one.

Also, I'd like to point out that the Catholic Church teaches that there are different degrees of sins. For example, sex outside of marriage is a mortal sin but there are 3 conditions that must be met for it to be classified as "mortal." One of the conditions is that they do it in full knowledge. If someone isn't aware of that fact and they have sex before marriage it wouldn't be a MORTAL sin for them, but it's still a sin. Here is what the Catechism has to say:



"Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest." (CCC, 1860)

Hopefully this clarifies that I am writing to inform people because I want them to be educated about sin so they can STOP. Sins are still sins whether unintentional or not...we just don't know to what degree we will be held accountable on our judgement day for any sins we committed but didn't know were sins. Personally I'd much rather be certain about what is sinful and what is not so that I can adjust my behaviors and help ensure I am able to repent and confess everything...rather than staying in the dark and taking chances with my salvation.

It's tempting to think that "ignorance is bliss" but that's not the case, because as is mentioned above "no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man." This means by not helping one another understand particular sins we're not really doing that friend a favor because we will be held accountable in some way for all our sins. By suggesting that educating people leads people to sin more assumes that people will continue to commit particular sins after they've been educated about it. Most people that don't know something is a sin don't want to keep doing it once they know...but [at that point] they are aware that if they do keep doing it, they are sinning...which means they are choosing that path for themselves. Knowledge about all of it helps lead us to freedom from these sins because we are then able to do what is good.

Thank you for your comment, though! Perhaps I will need to write an entry to help clarify all of this.


---------------------------------------------------------------
Shakespeare quote. Source.
So there you have it. Now that I've re-posted that conversation from the comments section (nearly 2 and a half months later) I feel that I have more fully done my part to answer such an important question. Hopefully whoever asked it has read my response and better understands that me writing about or enlightening people about certain sins does not cause them to sin, nor am I doing so in order to somehow trap others in their own sins. As I said in my response to their comment, "Knowledge...helps lead us to freedom from these sins because we are then able to do what is good."

"Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him."
Luke 17:3-4

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Anniversary of Michael's Baptism

+JMJ+

I mentioned in Friday's quick takes that April 7 was the official one year anniversary of when my husband was baptized, confirmed, and received his first communion in the Catholic Church (the date of Easter Vigil 2012). I meant to ask Michael if he'd like to do anything to celebrate, but somehow it slipped my mind in advance (terrible, I know). Fortunately I was redeemed because it came up in conversation with our friend, C, who we spent yesterday afternoon hanging out with at our apartment.

The topic came up as I explained to C that in my family we always celebrated our "Baptismal Day" growing up; this basically meant getting to choose what you want for dinner and perhaps receiving a small gift. As I explained this I mentioned that it was the exact one year anniversary of Michael's baptism - making it his official Baptismal Day! His eyes lit up in remembrance as he realized I was right and we quickly made plans to do whatever he wanted for dinner - which of course meant some Taiwanese noodles and bubble tea at an authentic restaurant downtown. :)

I happily obliged and we headed downtown where we enjoyed a delicious meal and spontaneous dinner date. Unfortunately I didn't manage to take any photos to capture Michael's special day - so instead I'll share this photo from last year's Easter Vigil:

Easter Vigil 2012
I love this photo of him with the Easter candle; he is donning his fresh, white baptismal robe, still-somewhat-wet hair, a forehead and head of hair smothered in fragrant chrism oil, and of course the joyful grin of a man made new in Christ!

It's hard to believe that less than 2 years ago Michael had never been to a Catholic Mass or any religious service (other than a couple of Catholic weddings). At the time he considered himself agnostic and he had no idea what God in store for him!

The Holy Spirit was truly already hard at work before Michael and I met, which is why I believe he was so receptive to the Church when we first began spending time together. After all, I was astounded at how very "Catholic" Michael's answers were to all of my questions in regards to his morals and beliefs. He had no way of knowing, but there was one evening we spent getting to know one another when I distinctly thought to myself, "this man is Catholic but he simply doesn't know it yet."

If you ask my husband what brought him to Catholicism he'll sweetly respond that it was meeting me or my influence and encouragement - but we all know the truth is that God was calling him and Michael was blessed with the boldness to follow and respond to the call. I was a mere instrument in God's beautiful plan and perfect timing, which is something I am still deeply humbled by.

The fact that our love story is so deeply interwoven with Michael's and my individual faith journeys and his rapid (and sincere) conversion still makes my heart soar - and I imagine that it always will. In fact, as I searched my photo archives for the above photograph of Michael on last year's Easter Vigil I was astounded by the beautiful memories I had managed to document throughout last year's Holy Week...and I was immediately overtaken by a sense of joy, peace, and gratitude that equally matched (if not exceeded) all I felt last year. This just reiterates to me that some things - like my love and appreciation for my husband's conversion & our love story - do not fade...but continue to flourish with time.

Images from when I visited him in Ann Arbor during Holy Week 2012
Easter day 2012: Michael's first full day as a Catholic!

God has truly been good to us and I'm beyond grateful to have my wonderful, Catholic husband by my side and helping me work towards heaven. Now - one year since his baptism and full admittance into the Catholic Church - we've been married for over 6 months and have a precious baby boy on the way. I cannot wait to meet our son, have him baptized, and begin our family tradition of celebrating everyone's day of baptism. :)

"See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure."
1 John 3:1-3

Friday, April 5, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 7)

+JMJ+



--- 1 ---
During Lent I completely gave up Facebook. I logged in Sunday night after a long hiatus and what did I find? Well, let's just say I discovered that I dislike the site even more than I did 40ish days ago and I thank God for keeping me away from it all for so long. In fact, I had so many thoughts that I wrote an entire entry about my 40 Days Without Facebook.

--- 2 ---
This week I discovered a new (to me) musical group! Have any of you heard of the Rend Collective Experiment? Their songs about God, being a Christian, and the hope it all brings can only be defined as "worship" music...but they sound similar to Mumford and Sons. Think folksy, borderline hipster music created by a Northern Irish band that isn't cryptic whatsoever about their faith in and love for God. Does it get much better than that?? They have several videos up on YouTube, so check them out if you get a chance. Here's one tiny sample of their sound:


--- 3 ---
Michael got the "official" clearance to finish out his current work project until July, aaaaand he was also informed that he will now be a Team Lead! This means we'll most likely be in Ann Arbor at least 3 more months (if not longer - because they'll only officially say July for his portion right now, but the project in its entirety is scheduled to last until December 2014) and he will soon be overseeing/managing 10-20 other engineering consultants! My husband has been so modest about this promotion but I'm so proud of him and feel like shouting it from the rooftops! When he transitioned from full-time engineering to consulting he hoped to become a Team Lead in 3-4 years...and he's only been at it for a year and a half. So what can I say? To quote one of my friends, he "is the bomb dot com!"

For now we are here, he has a new title that will look great on his resume, and I'm excited to see where God leads us next.
--- 4 ---
In light of all these job updates (and realizing we could be here awhile), we have finally decided to buy a desk! It may not sound exciting, but this was a piece of furniture we'd been holding off on simply because we could live without it until we move somewhere new (less furniture to move = a good thing!). But we're starting to realize just how helpful it would be - especially in terms of organizing our nook that contains our bookshelf and all our office supplies. So this week we headed over to Ikea and found this beauty:
Ikea Micke (black-brown) with integrated storage
This has everything we were looking for because we wanted something inexpensive, light (easier to move!), big enough for our printer and laptop (but doesn't take up a lot of space in an apartment), a drawer (this one is huge), and ideally some additional shelves/drawers/storage. Basically we needed something cheap (but not totally ugly) to get us through our future apartment years until Michael stops consulting and we get a house. This desk is genius because from the front you can't see the back two storage compartments...and considering this apartment has z.e.r.o storage this will help us conceal some things currently sitting on the floor in the nook. Ikea, for the win!

--- 5 ---
I have officially gained 21 pounds in 21 weeks of pregnancy. Does anyone else think that's neat in a mathematical, nerdy way? Also, who knew I would ever feel so comfortable gaining weight? I guess when you truly focus on it being for the health of the baby (and I know I am eating healthily and the doctor says I'm right on track) it really isn't a big deal. I definitely feel blessed to have everything going so smoothly! Thank you, everyone, who has been praying for our growing family. :)

--- 6 ---
Last night we attended i.d.916 - a Catholic young adult group for southeastern Michigan - for the second time. I must say, I'm so grateful for the blogosphere because my husband and I literally live less than 10 minutes from Domino's Farms (where i.d.916 meets) but until Patty mentioned it on her blog we had no idea this gem of a group existed! Even though our own wonderful parish has an active young adult group, Michael and I have only managed to make one good friend there so far (I know, I know...it takes time and effort). I.D.916 on the other hand, is a huge gathering (of at least 100 people) who meet once a month and there are other married couples that attend! I'm hopeful that once I can get involved with a small group we'll start meeting a lot more people we can regularly share community with.

--- 7 ---
This Sunday is the Feast of Mercy!
This Sunday (Divine Mercy Sunday!), April 7, will be the one year anniversary of my husband entering fully into the Catholic Church! He went through RCIA and was baptized, confirmed, and received first communion on last year's Easter Vigil. I can hardly believe how time flies! He has been Catholic for a year, we've been married a little over 6 months, and now I'm almost 22 weeks pregnant! God is so good. So very, very good. And in the spirit of this Easter octave, I'll also add that Christ is Risen! Alleluia!





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

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Exercise & Pregnancy: 101

+JMJ+

I don't know why this woman wanted to workout
in a shirt that's too small...
A few weeks ago a friend asked if my workouts had changed much since becoming pregnant. My immediate response was to say no - that except for maybe one exercise and switching from running to walking I hadn't needed to change much. Then I started thinking about it...and realized that I had almost subconsciously changed several things when it came to exercising and being pregnant. How had I overlooked this?

After reflecting a bit I realized that with my educational background it's easy to take for granted how much I know about fitness and wellness -which in turn makes it easy to overlook or downplay the subtle, seemingly unimportant changes I quickly made to my workouts once I became pregnant.

Before I continue and sound like some fitness know-it-all, let me say that I have a science degree in Kinesiology as a Fitness Specialist. Most people don't really know what that means and I used to get asked in college if my major was "lifting weights." While that was certainly a topic covered extensively in my coursework, saying "yes" to that question would completely ignore all of the other things I had to study as well.

Essentially my major required me to take science classes about human physiology, anatomy, exercise physiology, motor learning, physics, biomechanics, personal training "special populations" (understanding various medical issues, medications, and how that translated into exercise limitations), etc. On top of that I had to take courses that required hands on fitness testing, exercise program design, and personal training individuals that were apparently healthy as well as those that were cardiac rehab or cancer patients.

At this point you can probably start to see how I overlooked a lot of the subtle changes I made to my exercise program when I was asked about it...because when I exercise my brain is thinking about a whole lot of things the average person probably isn't. Realizing all of this has prompted me to want to record some of the things I consider subtle or even trivial but could possibly benefit others that don't have the same background as me (and for me to look back on when I go through any future pregnancies). So here we go!

Disclaimer: any of my personal recommendations or descriptions of exercise in pregnancy should not be considered a substitute for anything you have been told by a medical or health practitioner. It is your responsibility to follow the advice of your doctor and listen to your body. If you decide to work with a personal trainer, make sure they are properly certified through ACSM, ACE, or another nationally accredited organization. Anything I say in this blog entry is meant to be a helpful resource, but does not take into consideration any pre-existing conditions or medications beyond having an apparently healthy pregnancy. For more specific medical questions or advice, seek the counsel of your doctor.

The Warm-Up
A proper warm-up is crucial for anyone exercising - but it's especially important for pregnant ladies! Our bodies are now carrying more water and blood and depending what week you're on, it's much easier to get lightheaded from standing up, changing positions, or doing anything that requires a shift in blood flow or oxygen too quickly.

Things to consider

  • Slowly warm-up and ease into your first exercise for at least 2-5 minutes
  • Begin with exercises that target major muscle groups (i.e. quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus, etc.)
    • This is better than beginning with smaller muscles because it will get your blood flowing and adjusting to the workout much more quickly
  • Take advantage of this time to remember about and focus your breathing into a regular pattern
    • Never hold your breath during exercise - especially if you're pregnant!
My warm-up recommendation
Walk. Regardless of whether or not you intend to complete any cardiovascular exercise beyond a warm-up, walking for at least 2-5 minutes engages several major muscle groups and is an efficient way of preparing your body for more targeted exercises. While walking you can also prepare your upper body by doing some stretches (i.e. roll your shoulders, stretch your shoulders [don't push directly on the elbow joint - hold the arm on either side of it], triceps, chest, upper back [you can reach forward/touch the treadmill for balance], neck, etc.) if it's comfortable for you to do so.

On a treadmill: begin at a speed of 2.5-3.0 with no incline, according to what feels comfortable for you. Slowly increase the speed every 30-45 seconds, stopping at a speed that slightly increases your breathing without making you feel out of breath. 

Cardiovascular Exercise
National recommendations state that we should partake in 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise on most days of the week, if possible. Even 2 or 3 days/week of cardio can make a significant difference in our health and how we're feeling, especially during pregnancy.

Things to consider
  • Breathlessness or shortness of breath are common symptoms of pregnancy (especially during the first trimester, in my experience). Listen to your body and do NOT push it if you feel short of breath. If you need to take a break, take it...and ease back in when you can. If you feel you can keep going but need to slow down, then by all means slow down! Slow down to a point where you can comfortably breathe and won't feel light-headed or nauseated. Oxygen is also being distributed to the baby, so it can take more time to ease into exercises requiring more oxygen.
  • High impact aerobics generally aren't good during pregnancy. If you were a runner pre-pregnancy, running is still an okay choice as long as it still feels comfortable (and you may need to slow down significantly). 
  • It is safe to partake in weight-bearing exercises (walking, jogging, running) and/or non-weight-bearing exercises (swimming, stationary cycling) but you should listen to your body. Some women find weight-bearing exercise beyond walking to be uncomfortable, especially later on in pregnancy when you have more weight pushing on your joints.
  • You do not need to do 30 consecutive minutes to receive cardiovascular benefits. A perfectly acceptable option is to break your cardio into three 10-minute increments. If 20 is all you can manage, I personally recommend trying to do it all in one bout (adjust speed/intensity accordingly).

My cardiovascular recommendation
Walking or swimming. You'll see great benefits with either of these activities without pushing your body to dangerous limits. Plus, they're likely to be the most comfortable activities - and can easily be modified and taken at a leisurely pace on days you simply don't feel amazing.

Strengthening Exercises
Some women can only manage to walk during pregnancy - which is perfectly understandable and healthier than not doing anything at all. However, if your body is up to it, strengthening exercises are a highly recommended addition to your workout routine.

Things to consider
  • To avoid muscle imbalances, make sure you always work out opposing muscle groups. For example, if you work biceps, don't forget to work your triceps. Chest: Upper back. Abdominals: Lower back. Quadriceps: Hamstrings. Adductors (inner thighs): Abductors (outer thighs). You get the idea.
  • Exhale each time you do a contracting/lifting/pushing motion. Inhale on the release. Another way of saying this is to exhale each time you do a concentric contraction, inhale on the eccentric contraction. If you're confused about what this means for a specific exercise, ask me. :)
  • Do not hold your breath - ever! 
  • Beyond the first trimester do not exercise in the supine position (on your back). Your added weight can cut off blood flow/oxygen if you do this too long (you may even pass out).
    • There are plenty of ways to modify or substitute supine exercises to work the same muscle group(s) during pregnancy, so for specific questions, just ask me.
  • You may find yourself unable to lift the same amount of weight (and there are obvious lifting limitations beyond the first trimester); an easy way to modify is to do less weight and more repetitions to achieve the same results.
  • You'll have to ease up on or modify any core exercises (crunches and the like are not going to work with your baby bump - and remember you can't do anything on your back beyond the first trimester).
  • Give yourself time to recover in between exercises (take at least a 20-30 second break before moving on to the next).
  • It will become harder to balance as your baby bump grows and your center of gravity changes - so adding all those versa disk or BOSU ball tricks to work your core may become unnecessary and even dangerous (depending on what you use them for).
  • Kegel exercises are highly recommended during pregnancy, but these can be done virtually anywhere, anytime and aren't necessarily a workout for the gym.

My strengthening exercise recommendations
Try to work the major muscle groups, always focus on breathing, avoid anything on your back (beyond the first trimester), allow adequate recovery time, and consider doing less weight (and more repetitions). Personally, I recommend free weights/dumbbells to anyone who understands proper lifting technique because it also engages your core for balance. However, if you're new and/or are unfamiliar with proper body alignment, I recommend utilizing weight machines or equipment that isolates one muscle group at a time.

Cool Down and Stretch
Just as a warm-up is key, so is a proper cool down. You should never abruptly stop any cardio or strengthening workouts because your heart needs time to recover to a resting rate. 

Things to consider
  • Take a minimum of 2-5 minutes to cool down.
  • On a treadmill: slow down to at least a 2.0 speed, slowly decreasing the speed as you get closer to finishing.
  • Stretch any muscle groups you worked out. Need ideas? Ask me.
  • Keep your head elevated above your heart (any stretch that drops your head down to the ground and beneath the level of your heart can cause major dizziness/lack of oxygen if your heart hasn't properly slowed down yet)!
  • Pregnant women are more prone to muscle cramps because it's much easier to become dehydrated when your body demands so much more water - so don't skip the stretching!

My cool down and stretching recommendations
Walk. At the very least, stretch out your major muscle groups. Stretching when your muscles are warm is the single best time to increase flexibility (and it will leave you less sore).

General Tips for Pregnant Women During Exercise
  • Carry a water bottle with you and take a sip every 5-10 minutes. At the very least, take a trip to the water fountain immediately after any cardio and in between every few strength exercises. As a pregnant woman you need a lot more water than before. 
  • Wear clothes that fit. It sounds obvious, but it's really important not to cut off circulation during a workout. If you carry really low like me, you'll find yourself needing actual maternity bottoms far sooner than many other women (roll top capris, shorts, or pants are perfect!). The cheapest place I've found quality workout maternity bottoms is Old Navy.
  • Buy some sports bras that have padding (I found great deals at Marshall's - about half the price you'd find a sports bra for at Target). If you don't understand why this will be helpful, contact me and I'll tell you. 
  • Sports bras with adjustable straps are also great - because you are going to keep on growing and don't want to have to buy new sports bras every month.
  • You may need to get a pair of tennis shoes that are bigger if'/when your feet swell.
  • If you sweat during your workout, go home and change your underwear. Pregnant women are highly susceptible to developing yeast infections (because of all your body's hormones going crazy and potentially getting off balance) and a moist environment can be a contributing factor. Thankfully I'm not speaking from experience here.
  • You'll discover a lot of prenatal workouts (within yoga, Pilates, etc.)...and if those work for you, that's great! I think a lot of women don't realize you can just do normal workouts - like what I've discussed above - during pregnancy as long as you modify or avoid certain exercises and listen to what your body is telling you.
  • Listen to your body!!! Don't push it. Take care of yourself and that beautiful baby.

Thus ends my random compilation of fitness tips during pregnancy. For some purely medical reading on the topic, check out this resource. Hopefully this is helpful for some of you. If nothing else, it gave me the opportunity to reflect on how much my body has changed and how blessed I feel to know how to accommodate these changes in a healthy way during pregnancy...and how blessed I feel to be able to maintain my workouts! I know not all pregnant women are able to do this due to nausea, complications, etc. If you're unable to workout during pregnancy, don't be hard on yourself. Everyone is different and has varying needs, so do what you and your doctor know is best for you. :)

"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.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them."
Psalm 139:13-16

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

40 Days Without Facebook

+JMJ+

Many of you may remember my post about Social Media within Our Marriage; in it, I described the process Michael and I went through during our engagement in order to figure out what role social media would have in our lives together - what sites we would frequent, use sparingly, or completely do away with all together. Ultimately, when it came to Facebook we decided to delete our individual accounts and create one shared account as "MichaelandStephanie (insert last name here)."

While some friends and family were very supportive of our reasoning behind this decision, we also got a lot of grief from people about it. Some people thought it unnecessary, some thought it silly, and some were just lamenting the fact that they couldn't feel as free to contact us individually on the site knowing that our spouse could see it, too (as if Facebook were the only means of communication these days??). Some of my friends even lamented our decision simply because it made our marriage a reality - reminding them that we are, after all, growing up (gasp). 

Clearly Michael and I dismissed all of the "grief" and lamentation we received from our friends because we confidently made the decision as a couple, knowing what was best for us and our marriage. For the same reasons, Michael and I had also decided to use the site sparingly - only posting status updates about important things (like announcing if/when we move somewhere new, a pregnancy, etc.).

Personally, I loved the plan we had devised for our shared Facebook account. I thought it was downright brilliant.

However, once the chaos of being newlyweds and settling in died down a bit and I started to have lots of down time, I found myself frequenting the website far more than either of us had intended - thus defeating some of the purpose behind us deleting our individual accounts to begin with. Was I posting trivial status updates on our profile? No. I hardly posted anything. But was I wasting too much time scrolling through the newsfeed and seeing what others were up to? Absolutely...which led me to my decision to give up Facebook entirely for the Lenten season.

So what happened when I departed Facebook for those 40(ish) days?

I didn't miss out on the announcement that a friend got engaged because one of my best friends who I talk to at least every couple weeks on the phone brought it up in one of our conversations about a day after our mutual friend posted the big update online (and I contacted said friend promptly via text to send her a brief but very excited congrats). Plus, realistically, this girl is a genuine friend and would not have taken offense had I somehow not heard about her engagement before I spoke to her next.

I didn't speak to any of my closest friends any less (in fact, I spoke to some of them more), nor was I unaware of anything important happening in their lives - because we maintained the same (if not better) phone, text, and/or Skype conversation routines that we've established since I got married 6 months ago.

I didn't have to deal with current events drama (i.e. the Pope resigning, electing a new Pope, the "gay marriage" debates, etc.) on a forum that lends itself to hurtful or uneducated memes, hateful speech, and people shouting their personal viewpoints or two cents from a virtual rooftop. Any real conversation I had about any of these things was far more productive and healthy than anything I probably would have seen on Facebook.

I successfully avoided what I'm sure would have been near occasions of sin - because let's be honest: when I read anyone's rude or ignorant comments (especially if it directly attacks my morals or religious beliefs) smeared all over a public forum it makes it far more difficult to be patient, loving, or charitable in my thoughts towards these people. Which is a subtle way that I believe Facebook is constantly contributing to spiritual warfare and keeping us from becoming the best, most holy versions of ourselves.*

I spent far less time obsessing over who said what, what certain exchanges between friends could have meant, whether other friends were talking to one another more than they talk to me, etc. Instead, I was able to plainly focus on my real life priorities - and therefore focused a great deal more time pouring love into the healthy relationships I'm blessed to have, including (and especially) my relationship with God. After all, the only conversations I needed to spend any time thinking about were the ones I was having. Who cared what others were saying to one another on Facebook?

I mean, really. When did Facebook become the definition of our real life identities or how close we are with friends? The answer is: never. We know where our true identity comes from (Galatians 3:26-27). Michael and I had plainly seen this when we first decided to do away with our individual accounts, but somehow my free time had gotten the best of me and I had started to get sucked back in. Thank the Lord we have an entire liturgical season that allows us to take a step back, examine where we're at in our relationship with God, and work to eliminate distractions and truly get back on track.

At the time, giving up Facebook hardly felt monumental...and I could barely see how much it helped me in my relationship with God, my husband, and others around me. But now that I have been able to once again access the website I realize just how much I wasn't missing out on and how much I gained through doing so. Thank you, God, for keeping me on track and getting my priorities straightened out even further.

And in case any of you are wondering, my new game plan is to avoid checking Facebook on weekdays (the days I have the most down time and could potentially end up wasting time). My weekends are usually spent entirely with my husband and being around other people, which should greatly reduce the amount of time I spend glancing at any updates.

*I'd like to note that while I may express sentiments of extreme dislike towards Facebook or other types of social media, I also recognize that different people utilize these sites in varied ways and not all of them are negative. Social media absolutely has the capability to be used for God's glory! But we must also make sure we evaluate our actual use of such things and whether or not it's helping or hurting our relationships with God, our spouse, or family and friends. If it helps you in yours, more power to you!

"And He was saying to them all, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.'"
Luke 9:23