Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Porn Post

I've been away from posting for awhile, so I thought I would come back with a bang! You'll have to forgive me for the novel-length of this post, but just think of it as me combining a few weeks worth of posts into one!

I think that I generally tend to shy away from these kinds of posts, but I was so offended appalled offended and appalled by what I read in one of my recent issues of Glamour that I just couldn't keep from wading into the turbulent waters of venting through my blog a "controversial" topic.

I first started subscribing to Glamour about four years ago. At the time, I saw it as one of the few women's magazine that focused on empowering women instead of solely discussing sex.

I have definitely changed in these past four years, but I think this magazine has changed even more. Over time, I've gone from reading about how to succeed in the workplace and stories of women changing the world for the better to articles upon articles about how to please men in bed, contraception dos and don'ts, abortion, and the latest topic of porn.

Click on the images to see them in full size and read the original articles.
Pictures are blocked out due to inappropriate material.

As you can see from the articles above, the magazine takes the standpoint that:
  1. Porn is normal.
  2. It's okay for men to view porn.
  3. Women should not feel threatened by men viewing porn.
  4. Thus, women should be okay with porn, and even embrace it.
"Jake" knows everything.
They presented these ideas through their men's opinion section of the magazine, both through surveys of men and a commentary from "Jake", a real, live single guy who writes a monthly column about dating.*

*Jake is a pseudonym for a regular male columnist who writes about what men think in regards to dating, and everything that dating entails these days. The writer who portrays Jake sticks around until he is no longer a single guy. I happened to like the last Jake, who followed a woman he met across the ocean after pining for her in his column for months. This Jake - not so much. He enjoys one-night stands, teaching women how to please men, and porn! At the rate he's going, he might be here as a columnist for awhile...

Of the 101 men that were a part of the survey (quite the sampling, huh?), 62% said that they always masturbate when watching porn. When asked what they would do if their girlfriend had a problem with their porn, 53% of men said that they would "talk her through it until she understood it wasn't a threat to her."

But wait, it gets better.

Yea, I can't live without beer either.
68% of these men would rather give up porn than sports for a whole year, and a whopping 72% would give up porn over beer. Yet, only 38% of these men said they would give up porn in favor of their girlfriend (if she has a problem with it). I guess it's good to see that they have their priorities straight! Beer, sports, porn, then girlfriend.

As I read these survey results, I began to wonder if real men are actually like this or if they happened to find their "random" sample of men at The Playboy Club. But, then I turned the page to read Jake's opinion, Why Men Love Porn, and it all just got better and better.

In an attempt to keep my disgust thoughts organized, I'm going to highlight different things that Jake said in the order that they were written. His thoughts are italicized, and any additional emphasis is mine. Again, please click on the image above if you are interested in reading the entire article.
For my May column, I attempted to abstain from sex for a month, which had me thinking about (and often watching) porn. So I figured now might be a good time to explain guys' relationship to the weird world of recorded, artificial sex, which is a sort of cherished one.
What a great way to start of the column this month! In abstaining from sex, he turned even more to artificial sex... isn't that breaking the rules a bit? At least he recognizes that porn is artificial. (He then goes on to explain that next month he will return to writing about more "wholesome" topics... can't wait.)
My gal pals tell me this [porn] offends them more than razor stubble in the sink and dirty socks combined. They find porn a little lame and unarousing at best, and disgusting, exploitative and potentially harmful to the relationship at the worst. 
Well, Jake, you are correct. Porn does offend me more than razor stubble in the sink and dirty socks... because those things don't offend me (and yes, I have had male roommates before in college, so I've been there). They might be annoying, or frustrating at best, but they don't offend me in the least. Porn, on the other hand, does offend me. Not because it is a little lame and unarousing (I've never watched it, as I've always left the room when friends have turned it on, so I wouldn't know from experience), but because I find it disgusting, exploitative, and extremely harmful to relationships.

Try not to fantasize, ladies.
To address why women find porn a bit lame and not arousing: this is probably because women, in general, crave more of an emotional connection with people. Porn does not give emotional connections, but makes up really weird (and sometimes awkward) scenarios where mind-blowing sex just happens to occur with random strangers. Women, in general, do not sit around waiting for the UPS guy hoping to have pornographic sex with him. They wait for the UPS guy to deliver the latest clothing item they ordered off the internet, sign their name on the tracking device, and send him off with a polite smile. Even if the UPS guy has a nice body and a flirty grin, he is not arousing in that way because we ladies don't build an emotional connection in this 30 second encounter. Sex should not and cannot be made into a purely physical act, forgetting about the emotional union that is formed.

Secondly, the fact that Jake just brushes off the fact that some of his gal pals (I hope they find a new guy friend now!) find porn disgusting, exploitative, and potentially harmful to the relationship is worrisome. But then again, I guess men statistically value beer, sports, and porn over the women in their lives. If porn offended their can of beer, I'm sure that would be an entirely different story!
Women's biggest question when it comes to their guys' porn consumption: Does he want me to do that? Simple answer: No.
Good to know. But why? Jake's friend "Faisal" answers the question for us:
I wouldn't want my girlfriend to act like that in bed. It's not how I like to think of someone I love.
So, men don't want to think of the women they love as porn stars. Why? He doesn't go into detail, but I assume it's because deep down inside, Jake's friend recognizes porn as an unnatural and disordered version of the sexual expression of love. Love is about more than just sex, and sex is about more than just physical arousal. Porn subtracts everything but the physical arousal, and both men and women long for something more for this - the true expression of love.

But what about the women in porn movies? What makes these women any different from the women that Jake and his guy friends love? By removing everything but physical pleasure, you remove the act of truly knowing and loving a woman. Without sex being an act of love, the woman becomes an object that exists purely for physical pleasure. The women on the screen become nothing more than a sex toy. Jake comes back to this idea a bit further on...
The second question women ask me about porn: If he's spent so much of his adult life gawking at lithe, top-heavy, super orgasmic bombshells, how can I compete? You shouldn't.
I don't believe him. If it gets to the point where a man needs to see a porn star to get aroused - and he just can't possibly give it up (unless he has to choose between that and beer!) - then the average, girl-next-door look isn't going to do it for him. Also, in most cases, if a woman knows that her man is watching porn, she is always going to be wondering if he sees her or the porn star when they're together. Women tend to over-analyze, and we will in this respect as well - even if he says it doesn't matter.
When I'm with a woman, I want to touch her skin, look in her eyes, and yes, even feel some hair.
It's nice to know that men want to actually be with a woman - to feel her, see her, smell her - dare I say it - love her? So watching porn is not the same as being with a woman (which is why we shouldn't feel threatened by it, I'm guessing. It's not the same as cheating, apparently), because you can't feel her and look into her eyes and know her. One of my favorite Relient K songs, Candlelight, opens with the line: "To know her is to love her." What a bold statement - to know a woman is to love a woman.

This old, celibate guy could teach
you a thing or two about the dignity of women.
This is where the exploitation of women comes in. Men cannot truly know the women starring in these videos, and therefore they do not love them as they should. Porn degrades the fact that each human person is worthy of respect and dignity and love, whether we have a personal relationship with the person or not. However, because men can't actually be with the porn star, and therefore can't truly make love to her (ever wonder why we use that expression?), these important aspects of sexual intimacy are removed, such as building emotional bonds, sacrificing one's needs for the good of the other, and uniting together as one. Because porn removes these aspects from sex, it then acts to use women purely for the man's pleasure. She becomes an object, something that can be picked up or pushed to the side at will. He does not need to build a relationship with her and know her, because she is not a person, but a play toy. She isn't a real woman. I think the women who find themselves in such an exploitative career would probably argue to the contrary - that they are, in fact, real women.
No one wants to be with a faker, and at some point, all that stuff is faking.
So where do we draw the line? When exactly do we reach the point where "that stuff" is faking? Jake states from the beginning that porn is "artificial sex", so is that not the same thing as "being with a faker" and "faking"?
Confession: I find most pornography foul and unsupportable, but I make an exception for the post-it-yourself youporn.com variety, which offers me a regular dose of harmless voyeurism, courtesy of exhibitionists.
Darn those word limits in these editorial columns! I'm sure that's what kept Jake from explaining what the difference is between the porn that he finds "foul and unsupportable" and that which he deems "harmless." I'm sure his treatise on the difference between the two would have been just as enlightening as the rest of his opinion column... oh wait, there isn't a difference.
Guys have been conditioned to be ashamed of our pals Masturbation and Pornography since we met them, and our impulse is to conceal our filthy sexual fantasy life.
Why have men been conditioned to be ashamed of these things? Could it perhaps be because it is written on our hearts that these things actually are something of which to be ashamed? The impulse to conceal this "filthy sexual fantasy life" is because it actually is filthy.
The right direction = God

That being said, we all have our demons that we try to hide. This is one of the beauties of the sacrament of Confession - it brings the Devil right out into the open, and don't we know how he abhors being recognized out in the open for what he is. So, instead of embracing those impulses, maybe it's time to listen to that shame, and recognize it that it's trying to point the moral compass back in the right direction.
So don't take it personally if he hides his porn favorites...
I do take it personally. I think many women would agree with me. So far, Jake has done more to convince me that I should take it personally because he's spent the few words he's allowed for his column each month justifying why he needs porn as well as why women should just give up and accept this "filthy" habit of men as normal.
If you raise the idea of watching it with him, porn can serve as a lighter fluid on the slow burn of a monogamous relationship.
Lighter fluid is for the weak!
Ah, we have reached the apex! All of this justification is to try to convince women to suggest that they watch porn with their male companions. It has to be the woman raising the idea, because if the man suggests this as a couple activity, that could be offensive... right? This way, men don't have to feel guilty about hiding their porn, nor do they have to give it up - meaning they can still drink beer, watch sports, and have a girlfriend! What a fulfilling life.

Also, there are other ways of re-igniting the fire in a monogamous relationship. A real fire-builder doesn't need lighter fluid to get a fulfilling flame. It might take a little bit more work and a little bit of time, but building a fire the natural way - with some logs and a match - turns a spark into a warm and full fire. We were created for monogamy, to not only build a lasting relationship with another person, but to spiritually and physically become one with that person. Porn won't help the flames grow, but will ultimately snuff them out.
If he's too spent from watching Barely Legal 7 to pay attention to your actual, better-than-HD self, that's a problem. If he needs to cue up one of the Spice Networks to get off, that's a problem. If his tastes run to the illegal, that's definitely a problem.
We actually agree here...
Like you, we crave connection and caring alongside our crazy sex...
Wait, what? Did I read a different column than the one he wrote? I didn't get the idea that Jake craved anything more than just physical pleasure. Porn doesn't give "connection and caring" nor does it provide "crazy sex" - since you actually have to be with a person to have sex - yet the entire column has been devoted to his defense of why men love and need porn.
...but now and then we simply want a quick release, and we may get it from the gross, dumb but somehow arousing stuff that we relied on before we found you.
So porn is "gross" and "dumb", yet it is something that men love and women should not only accept, but embrace. Does it seem like there are a lot of contradictory statements in this column? As for a "quick release", our generation has become the culture of "I need this, and I need it NOW" instead of putting off fleeting desires to wait for something more fulfilling. It seems that porn is one of the many outlets for men (and some women) to get what they think they need even more quickly, while really pushing away those things that can actually be fulfilling to the body and soul.
The thinking, feeling, warm, soft, sexy real women in our lives are just that: real. And there's not a glowing screen that comes close.
This last sentence seems to be a last ditch attempt to win back any women who have smartly run in the opposite direction, far away from this column. Again, all women - even those who are porn stars - are real women who are worthy of dignity and respect. Degrading certain women to being no more than pleasurable objects for men only harms all women in the long run.

----

It seems that Jake has convinced the female editors of Glamour that no harm is done by allowing men to love their porn. Ladies, don't let him convince you. This may only be the published opinion of 102 men and their female editors, but I can guarantee that many of the 137,999,898 men in America also find porn to be a normal practice. While it can be difficult to find accurate statistics on this subject (because, well, it is shameful to admit that you watch porn, as Jake points out), it was cited in 2006 that approximately 70% of men between the ages of 18 and 34 had viewed porn in the last month. 10% of adults admitted to internet sex addiction, and this has definitely impacted marriages:
"At a 2003 meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, two thirds of the 350 divorce lawyers who attended said the Internet played a significant role in the divorces in the past year, with excessive interest in online porn contributing to more than half such cases. Pornography had an almost non-existent role in divorce just seven or eight years ago."
Let's follow the money, too. The most recent financial statistics are from 2006, and I can only imagine how they have grown in the past five years. Worldwide, the porn industry rakes in $97 billion worldwide, with $13.3 billion coming from the U.S. The porn revenue in the U.S. alone exceeded the combined revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC at this time, and it was even larger than the combined monies from professional football, baseball, and basketball franchises. It is clear from the money that porn has become a major part of the entertainment industry.

Ladies, we like to think that the good, Christian men in our lives aren't a part of these statistics, but unfortunately, that isn't always the case. Talk to any priest or religious leader, and they'll tell you that sexual deviances (pornography, masturbation, pre-marital sex, etc.) are what they hear about more than any other struggle. Julie wrote a great piece about how important it is to stand by the men in our lives, encouraging and praying for them in their struggles against pornography. For anyone who is struggling with pornography addiction, or who is interested in learning more about it from a spiritual and physiological level, I really encourage you to listen to Matthew Frad discuss how to break free from pornography here and here.

We have to stand against pornography, together. Even when people, like Jake and Glamour magazine, try to convince us otherwise, it doesn't change the truth that porn goes against our very nature. It's time that we re-prioritize the things in our lives, putting the relationships that truly fulfill us above the disordered and artificial ones that do not.

**Writing this post wore me out. I'm going to go have some beer and watch some sports. 
If you made it through my whole post, go reward yourself with a nice, cold beer on me. You deserve it.**

I bought these, just for you. Only if you give up the porn, though.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tasty Iced Pumpkin Cookies!

I made these cookies for my weekly Bible study snack last night, and they were a hit with most of the Newman Center crowd! Many asked for me to share the recipe, so I thought I would post it here so everyone can enjoy these tasty, but easy to make, treats! I found the original recipe online, but altered it a bit because some of the spices are pretty expensive. Hope you enjoy!

Iced Pumpkin Cookies
Deliciousness larger than pictured.

Cookies:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (you can fudge this number to your taste preference)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Glaze Icing:
2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). 
  2. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, cream together the 1/2 cup of butter and white sugar. Add pumpkin, egg, and vanilla to this mixture, and beat until creamy. 
  4. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture while mixing. The dough will be thick, but smooth.
  5. Drop rounded spoonfuls on a cookie sheet. I just used two spoons to form little cookie lumps.
  6. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven. (*For the inexperienced baker, try 15 minutes to start - you don't want to over-bake your cookies!)
  7. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet or a cooling rack.
  8. While the cookies are cooling, make the glaze icing.
    1. Combine confectioners' sugar, milk, melted butter, and vanilla. Add additional milk if needed to maintain drizzling consistency, but you shouldn't need this unless you make the icing in advance and store it in the refrigerator.
  9. Once the cookies are cool to the touch, use a form to drizzle the glaze on top of the cookies. 
  10. Voila! You have a delicious treat with which wow your friends! This recipe makes 36 large cookies, or about 50-60 regular size cookies.
Liesl's Special Trick:

To keep the cookies soft and moist - even after a couple of days - place them in a covered container soon after they have cooled.

For some of my cookies, I let them cool about an hour before drizzling with icing, while I drizzled the icing on straight out of the oven so it had a melted glaze look for other cookies.

After I glazed them, I stored them in a covered container in layers separated by wax paper, refrigerating each layer for a few minutes to cool the glaze so they didn't stick to the paper. Covering the cookies soon while they are still fresh helps them maintain their soft, moist consistency for a couple of days.

Friday, November 11, 2011

So Others May Live

Getting ready to play at an Honor Flight
I have been playing with a community band since I moved to the DC area. Part of our service to the community is to play concerts at Honor Flight arrivals, summer parks, retirement communities, and military remembrance days in the city. As part of this, we almost always salute the military by playing an Armed Forces Salute. Whenever we play this piece, we invite members of the audience who have served to stand and be recognized when their branch's tune starts to play. We honor the United States Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard, and there are always at least a few men and women who stand for each salute.

More than water police.
It's seeing the veterans stand so proudly, yet humbly, that always gets me choked up. Despite our country's many shortfalls, we are so blessed to live in a society where people are willing to sacrifice their lives for the good of each of us and others throughout the world.

I'd like to say that I've always recognized the great importance of all of our branches of the military, but this is not the case. I've always had a basic understanding of the missions of each of the combat-oriented branches (Air Force, Army, Marines, and Navy) and respected their service and sacrifice during times of war, but I have to admit that whenever the Coast Guard song began to play, I'd wonder in my head, What does the Coast Guard even do? Aren't they like the water police?

I like to think that my innocent naivete is adorable, but I think that only passes when you're six years old.

Then I came across a great movie called The Guardian, which really helped me to learn more about the sacrifices that our men and women in the Coast Guard make each day.
Click here to purchase on Amazon.
Definitely not one of the reasons I
enjoyed this movie...
This movie, starring Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher, is about the Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers, who live by the motto "So others may live." Ben Randall (Costner) is a legendary rescue swimmer that is asked to train new recruits after suffering a tragedy in the field. There, he encounters the young (and only slightly attractive) Jake Fischer (Kutcher), who first appears to be more interested in breaking records than in saving lives, but he actually has deeper reasons for joining the USCG. Not only does this story follow how these characters deal with suffering loss and guilt, but it provides a perspective of the intense training required to become a rescue swimmer. Many of the extras are actual rescue swimmers, as the film worked closely with the USCG to try to accurately portray the lives of these men and women (Kutcher actually went through the training himself so he could be physically fit enough for filming). The bonus features include interviews with many rescue swimmers and their families, who detail the challenges they face but also the rewards they find in their calling.

I enjoyed this movie for many reasons. Not only was it an entertaining film, but it really helped me to learn more about the Coast Guard. Most importantly, I think it also brought up some great themes.

We often forget the importance and loving quality of sacrifice, except for the occasional "say thanks to our military" days and the times we really reflect on the Cross. One of the commanding officers tells the new recruits in the movie, "You get the chance to save lives - and there is no greater calling in the world than that."

No greater calling.


I know it's just a movie, but many of the men and women in our military just seem to get it. There is no greater calling in the world than to love one another, and that sometimes means laying down one's life to save the life of another (John 15:13). The movie begins and ends with a similar quote that also ties into this theme:
There is a legend of a man who lives beneath the sea. He is a fisher of men, a last hope for all those who've been left behind. He is know as the Guardian.
The real Fisher of Men is not a legend, but a real, true, actual, living last hope for all those that have been left behind. He is the Guardian of our souls, helping to carry us up from the deep, dark, turbulent waters to the enlightened surface. This Guardian - Jesus Christ - died so that others may live.

On this memorial for our Veterans, let's pause to thank those in the military who have served, especially those who have had to make great sacrifices so that others can live. Pray for those who need protection, as well as for those who protect us. Yet, let us also take a moment to remember the ultimate sacrifice that has been made so that all of us may have the chance to live in the glory of the Kingdom of Heaven forever.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Submit to Being Submissive

This past week at Bible study, we got a bit off topic - as usual - and the discussion led to that "infamous" passage in St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians:
Wives should be submissive* to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is submissive to Christ, so wives should be submissive to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church,  because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave [his] father and [his] mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33)
*This word is translated differently depending on what translation you use, sometimes as "subordinate" or "subject". While these words are all synonyms, I am using "submissive" in this case because it is easier to see the point!

These words have a tendency to make feminists cry out in protest, and the average woman in the pew uneasily shift in her seat. People who hear this passage read at weddings start to squirm, thinking, What is this woman signing herself up to do?! Many priests just avoid preaching about this passage altogether, and some that I've heard mention it in passing just to reassure women that Paul doesn't actually mean that you have to submit to your husband, and they leave it at that.

I used to be one of those squirming pew-sitters. Love my husband? Sure. Make sacrifices for him? I can do that. But be submissive? That seems a bit extreme.

It was when I became more interested in learning more about my Catholic faith, encountering Theology of the Body and the role of the Church, that I realized that when Paul writes that "wives should be submissive to their husbands," he actually means it. Scripturally, this is not a unique concept:
  • Wives should be submissive to their husbands, that the word of God may not be discredited. (Titus 2:5)
  • Likewise you wives, be submissive to your husbands. (1 Peter 3:1)
  • So once the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves and were submissive to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.(1 Peter 3:5)
  • But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Cor 11:3)
  • Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. (Col 1:18)

However, Paul takes it to the next level and explains in Ephesians exactly what it means for a wife to be submissive to her husband.

The word "submissive" translates to "under the mission of", and so for a wife to be submissive to her husband means that she puts herself under the mission of her husband.

So what is this mission of the husband?

Paul explains that the mission of the husband is to love his wife, as Christ loves the Church. Loving her to the point of making a complete, total, and free gift of self for her good. Loving her by making whatever sacrifices are necessary so that she is made holier, to help her to get to Heaven. Loving her as he loves his own self, by nourishing her and cherishing her. Self-sacrificial love for his wife is the mission of the husband, and the wife is to be submissive to his love.

This kind of submissive? I can totally submit to that idea.

It is only when we take this passage of Scripture in context and "speak in reference to Christ and the church" that the idea of a wife being submissive to her husband doesn't sound so repulsive to the modern female. On the contrary, it sounds kind of perfect. Sign me up!

Since I learned Paul's meaning in this letter, I have had a few opportunities to share my excitement over this knowledge with others. This isn't a new interpretation, but one that seems to get passed over in Christian circles today. You could see the lights click on for others in the room when our priest explained this passage to our Bible study group. We even had a Protestant joining us this past week, and he remarked that he had never thought about the passage in that way, but found this interpretation enlightening and refreshing.

This is when it clicked for me - why I, and many others, never really encounter the true meaning of Paul's words. I was raised Catholic, but I hardly ever encountered the idea of the Church as the living Bride of Christ. While most Protestant denominations recognize "a church", they don't recognize the Church as Christ's beloved.

The Catholic Church: She's not just a building.
When we are not taught, forget, or completely lose the meaning of the role of the Church as Christ's wife, we are missing out. Protestant denominations are especially lacking, as it is difficult to fathom this passage in such a positive, loving light because they don't witness the Church as the mystical body of Christ. In order to not read this passage as a slight slap in the female face, you have to understand that Christ didn't just give a complete gift of himself to each of us as individuals, but instead to his Bride, the Church. This beloved Bride continues to live as the body of Christ today, continuing to openly receive Christ's total gift of love. The Church continues to submit herself to the mission of Christ, just as a wife should be submissive to her husband. In this light, this is the only way that Paul's words make sense. As members of the body of Christ, it should be our mission to submit our hearts to the mission of Christ, which is carried out each day in his Bride, the Catholic Church.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sisters, Sisters!

Here's a little humor for your Tuesday morning to help you get through the week, as well as a little preview to some of the fun things that happened this past weekend.

Enjoy a little comedy from Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye from White Christmas... and if you haven't ever seen this movie - what are you waiting for?! Get on it! 

Friday, November 4, 2011

What happens when...

... you put three #cathsorority ladies in the same city?

I'm not sure, but I bet we'll have the answer after this weekend!

Elizabeth, Trista, and I are meeting up for the first time, attending an NFP seminar together, and enjoying some well-mannered frivolity. People will speak of this epic meeting of the minds for years to come.
Not drawn to scale. We are not really that large compared to the DC/VA area.
I am also sure that some slight craziness will ensue. (If you hear reports of earthquake-like tremors in the DC/VA area, it's probably not due to the shifting of tectonic plates, but from the epic mash-up of the three of us.)

I even had the opportunity to meet and spend the evening with Elizabeth last night, where I introduced her to Cincinnati chili:
Fine cuisine, imported from exotic Ohio.
Word on the street is that she loved it! It was fun to spend the evening talking and hanging out - we get along in real life, and not just in blog world! Huzzah!

I am sure we will have many interesting and/or exciting stories, as well as new things we learn at our seminar, to share with you all after this weekend. Hopefully we will have some great pictures of the three of us together to post as well, to prove that this epic meet up really did happen.

I hope you have a great weekend, as I am sure we will have a blast hanging out together!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

I have stilled my soul

Lord, my heart is not proud;
nor are my eyes haughty.
I do not busy myself with great matters,
with things too sublime for me.
Rather, I have stilled my soul,
Like a weaned child to its mother,
weaned is my soul.


Kissing the Face of God
Psalm 131 is a song of trust, giving all thoughts and worries of the world to God - like a child who quiets in the arms of its mother. It is the perfect bedtime prayer to still the soul, surrendering to sleep, imagining being held in the warm mantle of our Mother's embrace.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Chirp!

I've had a little birdie chirping in my ear to get me on Twitter for awhile now, and I'm here to announce that I am now tweeting!

My bird name Twitter username is LieslChirps, so come on over and follow me!

Sparrow

Tony Rossi commented on His Eye is on the Sparrow and pointed out that Audrey Assad has a version of this song on her new Live from SoHo album. I haven't had a chance to get the album yet, as $7 is 1/5 of a tank of gas (if you're confused, see the above post for how I now think of money in terms of food and gas), but Matthew Robbins was kind enough to send me the embed code so I could share the video with all of you.

Enjoy this beautiful adaptation by Audrey Assad, called Sparrow:


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What Changed Their Minds?

For awhile now, my most popular post has been The Largest Genocide our World has Ever Seen. I think it's partly due to the fact that people keep finding it through Google search terms such as "largest genocide" and "genocide in the world today 2011", but I'm happy that it has had so many page views. I just pray that people who stumble upon it accidentally take the time to read it and really reflect on it.

In light of this post, I found the following video very interesting. His line of reasoning is logical, and you can see the surprise and sometimes prideful shame on people's faces when they realize that his logic has led them to re-think their beliefs about abortion.

This video is 33 minutes long, and I encourage you to not only watch it, but to also pass it on. The conversations that he had with these people made many of them change their minds about abortion, which is what we need to be doing. As I've said before on this blog, in comments, and in personal discussions, abortion in this country (and the world) will only end when the thought of killing a child in the womb becomes inconceiveable, and this will only happen if we take the time to convert one heart at a time.


I'm tipping my hat to Fr. Greg at GW Catholics for sharing this video. I would like to see this video (or one like this) on display in the modern day genocide exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

**Side note: I only have one qualm with this video, which is how the interviewer portrays salvation. But that's for another post...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Spiritual Dry Spells, Part 2

I think the introduction to Part 1 was long enough, so without further ado, here are the next five things I've learned from my spiritual dry spell.


6. Seek out the advice of a spiritual director

Jesus, the first spiritual director, with Peter!
I have a confession to make. A few Many of these oh-so-helpful tips have been pointed out to me by my spiritual director over the past few months. I have spent a lot of time reflecting on these suggestions (even if I'm not so good at putting them into action), but he should get some of the credit (I'm a chemist, I love to cite my sources). 
But in all seriousness, while I  may not always like to hear what my spiritual director has to say, he is almost always spot on with pointing out the "obvious" things I have failed to see in my blindness. Having a person who knows you and your spiritual life, who is also close to the Lord, will help your spiritual life improve by leaps and bounds. A spiritual director is able to be objective where you are not, but he can also be subjective. Often, your spiritual director has gone through similar trials in his own life, which means that he can give advice based on experience. Especially if you're having trouble hearing God in the "usual" places, letting God speak to you through a spiritual director can greatly improve your spiritual life, and it sometimes even causes the spiritual lightbulb to start to flicker a little bit brighter.
7. Say, "Thank You."

Heavenly Father, thank you for cranberry sauce.
The day that we gather with family and friends and eat turkey and that delicious cranberry sauce (the kind from the can) is not the only day that we should be thankful for all the great things in our lives. We should be thankful for the wonderful creation of cranberry sauce every day!

When we take a moment to give thanks, we begin to realize the little things in life that get us through day-to-day life, especially when life seems pretty rough. So, each day, think about five things for which you can be thankful. While you can be thankful for material things - such as a roof over your head, air conditioning in your room, food in your refrigerator, a can of cranberry sauce on the shelf, a laptop on which to blog, etc. - it is also good to recognize the non-materials things in your life that you are grateful to have. It can be a myriad of things, but here a few examples that I may or may not have experienced in the past few months:
  • The grace to be able to focus on work or school during a time of high stress, especially during crunch time.
  • An unexpected message from a friend that makes you laugh when you were on the verge of tears.
  • A big, toothless smile from a sweet baby (especially when the baby doesn't smile at anyone else!)
  • Delicious home-cooked meals from friends when you wouldn't have had any food to eat at home.
  • A surprise gift card from a friend, and when you ask why, she responds it's because "you have so much to celebrate this year."
  • The cool fall breeze that allows you to roll the windows down in the car and blast some good music.
  • The out-of-the-blue realization that you are appreciated and loved by others.
The list could go on and on. During a dry spell, it can be easy to fall into the trap of "Woe is me, my life is so awful blah blah blah." In taking the time to stop and say thank you to God for the gifts He has given to you, it is easier to not fall into this state of despair, which keeps you further away from the temptation to fall into sin as well.

So, next time you're feeling down, stop and say a prayer of thanksgiving to God, even if it is for the simple gift of a can of cranberry sauce. Actually, I don't have any cranberry sauce on my shelf. Next time I'm at the grocery, I'll have to grab a can, and then I can add that of my list of "thank you"s for the day.
8. Remember that it's not all about feelings

Have you ever been/remained in a relationship with someone because you liked how he or she made you feel more than you actually liked the person? Maybe you didn't realize it at the time, but I think many people can relate to this situation.
So gloriously in love, I was swinging around
on lamp posts, just singing in the rain!

When I first started to feel spiritually dry, I didn't understand what had happened. I had been so vibrantly alive with my faith! I described the feeling to everyone as being in love with Christ and in love with the Catholic faith. When I went to Mass, I felt good. When I prayed, I felt His presence. When I served others, I felt that warm happiness inside. In my daily life, I felt filled with joy. I felt loved and so I easily loved in return.
Then it all went away. I only noticed the spiritual dryness because I noticed the lack of the feelings I once had. I didn't feel in love anymore. So I started to sink in deeper, because I relied on those feelings so much. As my spiritual director has said many times (it took many times for it to start to sink in!), we live in a culture that is all about emotion. “Do what 'feels' right” is the mantra of our society. We become so focused on how something makes us feel that we don’t always think about why we are doing it. While human emotions can be a beautiful and wonderful thing, when we use them as reasoning for what we do and do not do, we tread into very dangerous waters. By letting my emotions guide me, I had come to the point spiritually where I was more in love with the feelings I had from worshipping God, and not focused on actually loving and worshipping God. Instead of loving God because I felt loved by Him, I should have been loving God no matter what.

One of my good friends made the following analogy. When you first start dating someone, you have butterflies in your stomach and you enjoy being around this person as you first get to know each other. Yet, as the relationship develops and advances to the point where you love the person more deeply, you don't always have those feelings you had in the beginning because you don't need them anymore. Your love for that person is what sustains you, not the feelings you have when you're around him. A relationship with God can be very similar - sometimes, when we first start "dating" God, we are filled with these feelings from the overwhelming power of the Holy Spirit's presence in our lives. But we have to let this relationship develop into a stronger and deeper and unconditional love - a love that doesn't rely on feelings - but yet, a love that will always remain.
When she shared this analogy, it made me start to see my spiritual dry spell in a new light. Don't get me wrong - I would still like to have the lights turned back on - but I began to see this dryness as a gift, in a way. A gift calling me to a deeper relationship with God, calling me to love Him more deeply because He is God, not because of the feelings I get from loving Him.
9. Realize that you're not alone

Being in a vibrant faith community can be extremely beneficial to your spiritual growth, but when you're in a spiritual dry spell, it can also be very lonely. How is it that every one else so on fire for their faith, and I'm the only one floundering around in the darkness?

Chances are, you're not the only one that feels dryness in their spiritual life, but especially in an active faith community, you don't want people to think that there is something wrong with you, so you keep it a secret. While I don't recommend shouting out to the whole world - "Hey, y'all, I'm experiencing a spiritual dry spell over here!" (whoops, did I just do that?) - I think it is important to discuss what you are going through with people you trust who are firm in the faith. This can be a spiritual director, but also a trusted family member and/or friend might be able to help you row through the storm. In doing this, I think it will be easier to realize that you are not alone. You might discover in sharing with a trusted friend that they have experienced a similar dry spell or are feeling dryness along with you!

Suffering Saints: John of the Cross,
Teresa of Lisieux, Mother Teresa, and Padre Pio
Everyone goes through rough patches, even the saints - and their rough patches are often darker than most. Pick a saint, any saint. Read about his or her life. You will discover that the saints, most of all, have experienced dryness in prayer and spiritual attack. It makes sense. Satan wants to tear down the holiest followers of Christ - it's a bigger "win" for him if he successfully tempts someone so holy away from God. Yet, it also makes sense that the deeper we grow in our relationship to God, the more He wants us to continue to mature in that relationship. Often, this means wandering through the arid desert - as Christ did - rejecting temptation, and continuing to call upon the Lord.

My spiritual director has pointed out to me multiple times that while suffering is not something to which we look forward or seek out, it shows us how much God loves us, by allowing His holiness to shine even brighter in our lives. Living the Catholic faith and following Christ means taking up his cross, which is all about suffering, but we have confidence in the fact that we are joined with him in this suffering. Therefore, we are most definitely not alone, because Christ is carrying the burden of our dryness right alongside us.

10. Ask God for help
Hey, is God available?
Psalm 145 sings that "the Lord is near to all who call upon him." Maybe I've been dialing the wrong number, but especially in a dry spell, it doesn't always seem like He is near, even when you cry out for His help.
However, it is important to never stop asking God for help. Not sure where to even begin? Sometimes just trying simple prayers can be a good starting point. I know that I spent months where my daily prayer consisted of "Thy will be done" or "I'm not sure what plans you have for me, but please keep leading me down your path." Constantly repeating these, while feeling them with your heart, will help you continue to seek God in everything you do, even if you don't feel His presence.
It is just important to ask God for help. You can even beg and plead if you have to - we've all been there! Have open and frank conversations with God, just like you would with a person sitting right in front of you (although I recommend having these conversations in your head if you are in the presence of other human beings). It's even alright sometimes to question God - as in "What are you doing?!?!" - when things get really rough. However, as my spiritual director advised me recently, while it is okay to question and "raise your voice" with God, it's important to always be respectful. We may not always understand what He's doing or why He's not answering in a way we can comprehend, but we still must give Him the reverence that He deserves.
Asking God for help may seem like a silly tip, but it has helped me in little ways through these past few months. Sometimes, God is just waiting right around the corner, waiting for you to ask Him in again when you've pushed Him away. Like the parable of the lost sheep, God will come searching for us, but we also have to make the choice to ask Him to carry us back home to the flock.


Have you ever been in what seems like a never-ending dry spell in your spiritual life? How did you eventually pull through?


For other great blog posts about spiritual dryness, check out these great series by Julie at The Corner with a View and Jen at Conversion Diary.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

His Eye is on the Sparrow

Future me? Who knows!
I have always been frugal with my money. I have always tried to live within my means, only spending money that I actually have. I'm not even close to the level of extreme couponing (yet), but I hardly ever buy something that isn't on sale or if I don't have a coupon (and usually both!). I also like to take time to make larger financial decisions, so I will thoroughly research products before making a big purchase (and by "big" purchase, I'm talking more than $20... that's how frugal I can be).

I also am a big saver. I was raised in a household where a certain amount of any money I received, whether it was an allowance, a gift, or hard-earned money, was put into a special savings envelope. I eventually grew up into a savings account at the bank, but that's where I started. Thankfully, I saved enough money over the past few years that I could put a down payment on a house, buy a car, or put on a wedding - at least those are things I said I was saving up for.

This was all when I had a steady income, and could afford to be a bit frivolous with my money.

And then the time of no-job came about. Since my last substantial paycheck from graduate school, I've had to cut my costs enormously. I'm talking cutting my credit card bill in half - which is not an easy feat. Despite being frugal with my money, I do like to shop the sales. So I had to make some drastic changes. No shopping, unless I absolutely need something. No eating out, which I used to do multiple times a week (I'm a single gal, it's tough cooking for one!). Only travel somewhere when necessary, and combine my trips when I can in order to save on gasoline expenses.

And I was successful. I cut my credit card bill in half for three months.

And then I hurt my back again. Hello, crazy doctor bills.

And then my roommate decided to move out. Hello, doubling the rent.

Don't let him get your bank account number!
All that money I had been saving up for something great suddenly began to quickly vanish before my eyes. It's like He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named broke into my Gringotts account to try to steal the Sorcerer's Stone!

So, I've been trying to budget even more. Thankfully, I have parents who help out where they can (hello, crazy doctor bills!), friends who feed me for free (even if it's free packages of cookies leftover from Girl Scout meetings), and a temporary position that is guaranteed for a couple of months. The pay for this job would be more than enough to get my through the coming months... if I didn't have these surprise additions I mentioned above added to my monthly expenses. Now, it basically covers my rent and internet bill, with a bit of spare change leftover for everything else.

So, I've started seeing dollar signs in terms of food and gasoline. Here's an example scenario:
Me: They withheld $35 in these taxes, when I filled out the tax exempt form...
Someone else: It's not a big deal, it's $35...
Me: $35? That's my food budget for a week! The cost of gasoline in the car for ten days! $35 means I either don't eat for a week, or I take even more money out of my secret Gringotts vault. $35 is a big deal!
My new best friend.
Yes, I have turned into that much of a money pincher. $35 has even been known to be the cause of mini-breakdowns. I feel like the long lost Weasley cousin amongst the Harry Potters of the world, staring longingly at the mound of chocolate frogs that the young Harry Potter just bought from the trolley lady with his sack-full of galleons.

Because of these empty pockets, it also means I am unable to tithe with regular financial contributions to the church and select charities. I have tried to find ways to tithe with my time, but this has also proven difficult. Not many people want volunteers who can commit for the next week or so, and then go from there. Since I don't know when and where I'll get a job, that's about as far in advance as I can plan, and so as much as I want to be able to commit, I can't make any long-term commitments. Right now, my tithing of time consists of baking delectable treats for my weekly Bible study, playing with the concert band at community events once a month or so, and being a good listener to a friend in need. But it's not enough - it doesn't feel like enough.

All of this has me feeling like I'm unable to make decisions to go this way or that and a bit useless - I feel like I'm stuck in this constant state of stagnantly waiting.

For a job.

For a new, innovative way to make money (No, MetroExpress, I will not go to the "dancer" auditions that will make me $500 a night...).

For a way to volunteer my time without being required to give a long-term commitment.

I do not mean to give off the impression that I am so poor that I am driven to searching the couch cushions for spare change and on the verge of living in a cardboard box. I have many blessings in my life, including a substantial amount in my savings account that could allow me to live very frivolously, if I chose to do so. However, being me, I am finding it difficult to balance continuing to plan for the future and meeting my needs of today. This Sunday's epistle speaks a bit of knowing both abundance and need:
I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me...My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Phillipians 4: 12-13, 19)
Sure, St. Paul. Your life was sooooo easy... at least, sometimes I feel like he leaves out a lot of details that really show how much of a struggle it can be. Did he just wake up each day completely trusting that God would provide for him, or did he struggle with it as we all tend to do? I'm not sure, but I wish I could better emulate St. Paul, who trusted God to care for all of his needs:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil."  (Matthew 6:25-34)
Where are the wormies?!
Dependence on God is a constant theme throughout Scripture, but especially in the materialistic world in which we live today, it's not always easy to trust that God will care for our material needs. Sometimes, I feel like a sparrow flying around searching for worms, but the ground is too hard and rocky to find anything fulfilling.

It was about a year ago that I made the decision to switch from the PhD to the Master's program, thereby "leaving" graduate school by graduating this past May. I was scared. I had no idea what was in store for me, but I knew that I was not supposed to continue with school at this time in my life, and so I placed my complete trust in God, trusting that He would take care of me since I only sought to follow His lead.

Yet, every path I've felt like I've been led down since then has quickly and suddenly turned into nothing. I trust that all of these paths didn't work out because that's not where I am supposed to be, but I have to wonder why I am in this state of getting my hopes up, only to have them dashed away in a heartbeat. It's come to the point where I don't know where to go, because if all these previous paths have been wrong, then what (or whom) was I following?

I have not lost complete trust, because I still trust that in the long run, things will work out (as people constantly remind me). It just has been a long, uphill (both ways! in the snow! without my snow boots!) battle, and now that I've gotten to the point of becoming such a penny pincher that I worry what I'm going to do without $35, I'm not sure how much longer I can continue in whatever direction I am going. To say the least, wandering around feeling lost is a stressful burden to carry - physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

I just long to seek God and His will for me. I've been told that's all we need to say - Thy will be done - and maybe this all is His will. I just sometimes wish I knew what it meant, and where it will eventually lead.

Until then, I have to keep trying not to worry as much about tomorrow as I have been recently, but instead work to keep my heart constantly seeking Heaven. Since I trust that Christ always spoke the truth, I know that God has His eye on the sparrows in the sky as well as His eye on me.

Friday, September 30, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday (#32)

Thanks to Jen for hosting!

1.
Last week, life as I knew it came to an end. As Tim Staples would say, I learned something “that, shall we say, rocked my world?” Elizabeth and I have always claimed to be the same person. We like the same things, have pretty much the same thoughts on things, and are just generally identical twins separated at birth (minus the looks – we look nothing alike). 

Until last week, when we discovered that we disagree on the issue that divides the nation. Yes, I am talking about this:
Looks kinda like a presidential election map...
I can’t believe it. We're supposed to be the same person! How on earth could someone so like me call pop by any other name (that would NOT smell as sweet), such as – I shudder as I write this – “soda”… or even worse “Coke”!

COKE! COKE?!?! Coke is a brand name. A glass of root beer is not a Coke. Pepsi is most definitely not a Coke. They are all pop. I don’t have an official source on this, but I’m pretty sure that pop is the name that Adam gave to this sweet, sugary liquid in the beginning of time.

Then we had a debate on if this dilemma could be decided with democracy or Truth. Clearly, I won, because the last time I checked, the Magisterium has not made any official proclamation defining pop as pop (they do have more important things to be dealing with, after all), so therefore we must go with our consciences and also turn to the polls. From this map, the blue states are clearly winning. Also, Ohio is all blue - and since Ohio is always the swing vote in elections and has decided the president for the last 20 years or so - whatever Ohio says is correct. In conclusion, pop wins. (Can you tell I’m from Ohio?)

But I just don't know what to do now. I just feel so lost because of this revelation. Elizabeth and I can – I'm tearing up now – no longer claim to be the same person! I feel like I’ve lost my identity... I guess I'll go drown my sorrows and become a pop-aholic. BAM! (Elizabeth, that was just for you!)

2.
Bringin' Sexy Back is a full-time job
I joined the Bright Maidens again last week! It was a fun topic on being desirable versus being sexy, and I enjoyed taking a fun look at it. Apparently, others did too since it's already made my top ten most viewed post! If you haven't seen my post or any of the other posts, be sure to check them out!

3.
Did you see my massive post on Spiritual Dry Spells this week? I spent a lot of time on it, so be sure to check it out and let me know what you think! (Side note: I promised part 2 for this week, but it just hasn't been polished yet - next week, I promise!)

4.
I can't figure out if it's because there's a parish with very convenient daily Mass times down the street from the place I am temping or if I'm finally getting my butt into gear because I posted my dry spell to the world, but I started going to daily Mass again! I think the last time I went regularly was Holy Week, so let's see if I can keep this up.

5.
I really found Jen's post about fitting God into your schedule really thought-provoking. I mean, I only have to worry about myself, and while I have a lot going on in my life right now, I don't have to take care of any kiddos or devote time to a significant other. It's just me - yet, I still have problems adding time for God into my daily schedule. So this week, I found recordings of the mysteries of the rosary online, and I put them on a CD so I can pray the rosary during my morning commute! It's not the most meditative state, but it's better than nothing, right? It will also help me learn all the mysteries - I only have the Sorrowful mysteries memorized (is it odd that those are my favorite mysteries?). Hopefully, this will be a start into writing God into my daily routine.

6.
I had a lot of frustrating disappointments in job search world this week. It seems like I just keep striking out every. single. time. Thankfully, I am blessed to have found a temporary job for at least two months that gives me 35 hours a week, but please pray that I will find something more permanent soon. I appreciate all of you who have been praying for me so far - it's been a long search!

7.
Finally, I'd like to give a shout out to my guardian angel! We celebrated the Feast of the Sts. Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel the Archangels this week, and it was a reminder that we have so much good fighting for us each and every day. When I was little, I somehow became convinced that my guardian angel's name is Emma, so this my shout out to you, Emma. Thanks for watching over me!
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