Saturday, November 30, 2013

Blessings in Disguise

TBM Topic #35: "How to Cultivate a (Truly) Grateful Heart"

Trista, Not A Minx
Liesl, Spiritual Workout
Amanda, Worthy of Agape

Driving to Cincinnati from Indiana on Thanksgiving, Will and I listened to NPR. The Thanksgiving special interview was John Mayer, and the big take-away was how it is hard to be patient. He talked about how one's career may seem lucrative, but no one really sees the valleys - only the peaks. Did you know John Mayer has been in Montana for the past year and a half not singing or speaking in public to recover from throat surgery?

Nor do we know about many people's struggles in life. Too often, we are drowning in our own sorrow. We are too poor, too lonely, too victimized, too ignored, too sad. We cope with this by tweeting about how lonely we are, comparing ourselves to others, wishing for another life and grumbling to anyone who will listen. Why isn't anyone listening?!

Perhaps the question we should be asking is, Are we listening?

When we are handed misfortune, is it really so bad? Or do we think it is worse because it is happening to us? What is God trying to tell us when life hands us a poor hand? That, perhaps, we still hold the trump card? Do we doubt in God's mercy? Do we trust in God's care? Do we thank him regularly, or are we enjoying our wallowing and self-pity?

Our own wretched ungratefulness is realized upon its temporary removal; when we realize that life can always be worse, and usually by our own fallibleness. Still, it is our ability to sin, our ability to be unhappy, which makes us human.

"Love is patient, love is kind" is not a cliche we should dismiss; it is a truth. We must be patient with ourselves: we are on a journey - life is not meant to be stagnant, or predictable, or a pattern. We must be kind to ourselves; we must love ourselves. We must not wish we were different. We must seek to answer the question: God made me this way - what gifts am I giving back to this world? How can I best glorify God in a way no one else can?

We are too unsatisfied with ourselves. This is not to say self-improvement should be disregarded, or that we should revert to our most base instincts, but rather that our critical natures are self-destructive and ungrateful in the sight of God, who made us in his own image.

And it is in loving ourselves - truly - and accepting ourselves the way God made us, and to not complain about all the temporal woes, but finding joy and strength in the challenge, that we become who we are, and we can be grateful for who we are.
"Whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms...God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy." --Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium
To be truly happy, we must love ourselves as God loves us. We must forgive ourselves as God forgives us. And we must be grateful, truly, knee-bending grateful, for the life God has given us. It will never be perfect, but it will always be full of possibility. It is not our things or accomplishments that we take with us, but our love, our joy, and our grateful heart for all God has given us.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Are You Afraid of the Dark?

I am afraid of water I cannot see in; I am afraid of spiders (and the cockroach that climbed up the drain in our old apartment while I was taking a shower); I am afraid of falling from great heights; I am afraid of confrontation; I am afraid of never being enough.

Some of these things are reasonable; others, understandable. I've faced most of these fears, which lessens the brunt but does not take away the fear. These fears help make me more compassionate, more empathetic, more human.

Fear is the first noticeably personality trait in my seven week old daughter. She is afraid of the dark. In our bedroom in New Orleans, the city's street lamps are a couple feet from our windows, providing large dulled orange night lights. Back in Cincinnati, the guest room is so dark that I cannot see Grace's eyes staring back at me when I pick her up from her bassinet. She falls back asleep with the lights on, cries when she opens her eyes again and cannot see her little hands which reach upwards.

So, I bought her a Finding Nemo soother: lights, ocean wave music, and a friendly fish to say hello. It helped her, and being able to comfort her after I put her to bed that brought me comfort. I imagine God feels this way too -- in our moments of doubt, our moments of blindness, our moments of loneliness, He loves us and reaches out to us, gives us light.

When we belittle another's fear, we cannot help them. If a person feels unlovable, mocking their fear of being alone is only going to drive them more inward. If we push a self-conscious person to speak in front of the class, the anxiety is only going to rise. If we dismiss another's worries, we cannot see the motivating force of their actions.

Fear can, and should, be channeled. Fear is not an end point. Fear is an obstacle. There is always a way around it, always a way to overcome it (even if the fear persists). Fear is also a gift, if we so choose to accept it, in our journey - our fear of the Lord, our awe of his majesty. We see our limitations in fear, but we learn that they are opportunities, "for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control" (2 Timothy 1:7).

In my fears, I see myself. In my fears, I seek God. In my fears, I know God, who never departs from me; because even when the dark overwhelms, I know there is light.

Follow me on Twitter: @thejulieview

Friday, November 22, 2013

Love as Warm as Tears

"Love's as Warm as Tears" by C. S. Lewis

Love's as warm as tears,
Love is tears:
Pressure within the brain,
Tension at the throat,
Deluge, weeks of rain,
Haystacks afloat,
Featureless seas between
Hedges, where once was green.

Love's as fierce as fire,
Love is fire:
All sorts - infernal heat
Clinkered with greed and pride,
Lyric desire, sharp-sweet,
Laughing, even when denied,
And that empyreal flame
Whence all loves came.

Love's as fresh as spring,
Love is spring:
Bird-song hung in the air,
Cool smells in a wood,
Whispering, "Dare! Dare!"
To sap, to blood,
Telling "Ease, safety, rest,
Are good; not best."

Love's as hard as nails,
Love is nails:
Blunt, thick, hammered through
The medial nerves of One
Who, having made us, knew
The thing He had done,
Seeing (with all that is)
Our cross, and His.

C.S. Lewis passed into the next life on this day 50 years ago; may his soul find peace and rest in God.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

I Feel Home

This morning, Dad, Grace and I left New Orleans... 

And flew home to Cincinnati! Where Grace met Aunt Katie,

Uncle Mikey,

Aunt Marianne,

Uncle John (to-be godfather!),

and Aunt Megan!

Mimi was there to greet her too!

It's so good to be home. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Idolatry of Perfect

When I was a nanny, I listened to a lot of Laurie Berkner, a fantastic children's song writer and singer. There is a song called "I'm Not Perfect" that I would sing along with the five year old, and the first stanza goes:

I'm not perfect, no I'm not
I'm not perfect
But I've got what I've got
I do my very best, I do my very best
I do my very best each day
But I'm not perfect
And I hope you like me that way.

Growing up, I really struggled with my imperfections: my stutter, my glasses, my introvert self that is shy of too much attention. As a result, I grew up feeling inadequate. I hid my imperfections and my struggles, thinking that if people knew, they wouldn't like me. I dreaded going to school - grade school is a land of active and passive bullies. Boys who teased the stutterer, girls who wouldn't want to be paired with you. Talking in class was my worst nightmare - the more pressure I felt, the worse I stuttered. I only had one teacher who would let me do my presentations in front of her, alone, and another teacher who encouraged me in my writing, never forcing me to read my work aloud. She did, though, and I would blush with pleasure.

I am lucky to have two wonderful parents who love me. Growing up, though, I was especially close to my father. My Dad was (is!) my #1 supporter - he is a real friend to me (I only had a few), he praises my good qualities, he always tells me the truth, he always listens.

He continually tells me to banish those feelings of inadequacy, and that the Devil is speaking in my ear when I think I am not worth it. He reminds me of my self-worth, that I am loved, that God made me exactly who I am for a reason and to want to be someone - or something else - is a slap in God's face. It is up to me (Dad says) to discover and spread God's love, and to use the talents God has given me for his greater glory, rather than focusing on the pebbles of my own smallishness.

I've grown so much since the days I stuttered every sentence, and cried after school, and retreated even more into myself because I was imperfect. And I am still imperfect, but those imperfections have led to virtues - I've learned to stick up for myself and others; I've learned to laugh at myself; I've learned that people who hurt others are hiding their own hurt; I've learned to be brave; I've learned that crying isn't weak; I've learned that even when I don't feel lovable, I am loved - and to say otherwise is a slap in God's face. I stare at a crucifix when I feel this way, and pray, and ask God to forgive me. Christ suffered death for me, and would suffer it again, just for me.

I still struggle with this today. I fixed cornbread two weeks ago and it turned out horribly - like freeze-dried astronaut food. Will came into the kitchen and tried it.

"No! It's horrible!" I protested.
"Yes," he laughed. "It really is!"
We laughed about it and then I said, "Ug, I'm a horrible wife."
"Why would you say that? Who says that?"
"Because I am! I can't even make corn bread."
"Is being a good wife contingent on making corn bread?"
"I'm just trying to make you happy!"
"You do! I am happy! You make me happy!"

The problem is always perception. We think we know what people want -- and if we give them what they want, maybe they'll hire us or be friends with us or they'll date us or even marry us. But it does not work that way. Sure, perhaps initially. But will it last? Is that perception reality?

For example, Will didn't even ask me to make corn bread. I made it because I know he likes it. Then I messed up - he didn't care. I cared. It felt like the oven had a vendetta against me. Or maybe I made a mistake mixing the ingredients. Either way, personal failure is something I am learning to laugh about as I continue to lessons in the kitchen. It was my first time fixing cornbread from scratch - my second time was much more edible, and I have higher hopes for the third.

When we focus on our short-comings, we lose sight of our blessings. When we covet what another has, be it their (perceived) happiness or their job or their life, we miss out on having our own adventures. Our story is individually written - no one repeats it, and no one's is perfect. Matthew 5:48 says, "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Is that perfect at fixing cornbread?
Is that being a perfect friend, student, worker or significant other?
Is that being a perfect Christian?

No. Perfection supersedes all of that. It is loving God above all. It is loving your neighbor as yourself - yes, the neighbor who cuts you off in busy traffic or makes fun of you or hurts your feelings. It is striving for Heaven with all of your faults. It is about changing our human perceptions. We worship ourselves when we lament our faults. We worship perfection, an ideal, when we cannot forgive ourselves for being sinners or less than what we desire. We cannot be perfect like God is we deny the gifts and challenges he has given us.

Does this mean it's time to stop trying? Of course not. But understand what your goals are - be kind to yourself. This fallen world is beautiful, you are beautiful. Beauty is not a magazine cover - beauty is goodness, a ready smile, a willingness to take advantage of this life and not waste the gifts, small as they may be.

Sometimes, I don't want to write posts because I haven't time to think them through. Like this one. I fought myself over writing it. I knew it wasn't going to be exactly how I wanted it to turn out, and it isn't. It isn't perfect. But does that mean I shouldn't write it? Should I stop blogging?

As seen in Boston - "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." 
The quest for perfection is usually the quest for happiness - if all is perfect, all is well. But this is not so - this is life! Messy, unorganized, full of mistakes and the ability to fix them. Happiness is a willingness to try, and be yourself, feelings and all. As the end of the Laurie Berkner song goes,

You're not perfect, no you're not.
You're not perfect
But you've got what you've got
You do your very best, you do your very best
You do your very best each day
But you're not perfect
And you know,
I love you that way.

Follow me on Twitter: @thejulieview

Friday, November 8, 2013

#7QT: The Music In Our Heads

Join Jen and friends here!


When my baby sleeps, her arms go up and her hands flick, like she's conducting a great orchestra invisible to the rest of us. I'm currently playing Appalachian Journey for us to keep tempo while she naps/ stares off into space and I write. For the past few days, as we've been driving east, then north, then south, and then back home west, it was a lot of RUSH, classic radio hits, and, sometimes, her wails synchronizing with the car speeding along the highway. And after the wails come the coos, the mouth noises, and a mama singing the "Grace-Grace-GraceGrace" song.

I like to imagine Grace has classical music swirling around in her head, something dramatic and exciting and beautiful, but I imagine it's something more like this:

"Mama, Dada, boop-boop, shoo-wawa!"


Bright Maidens are at it again! Join us for our November prompt - "How To Cultivate A (Truly) Grateful Heart"!

Write up a piece on your blog and share it on our FB page; we'll share it at-large. At the end of the month, we'll put all the pieces into one post and share them again for all to enjoy!

We're officially over 700 likes by this past weekend - do you like us too?


Want to know what your body goes through when you've run a marathon? Wonder if you're up for it today? Here, wonder no more! Pretty sweet infographic, I must say. I'm not one of those people who wants to run a marathon (although rumor has it that child birth is like it, but longer), but I used to run for fun and sports, so the concept still intrigues me. 5ks sound fun to me! Do they have baby harnesses for runners or is that what strollers are for? (Says the lady who was just cleared for exercise.)


"I Learned Everything I Needed to Know About Marriage From Pride and Prejudice", The Atlantic Monthly
"Men Without Hearts" The American Conservative
"An Interview with Simcha Fisher, Author of A Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning", Ignitum Today

" 'Too many Christians... have a tendency to make an ideology, an abstraction, out of Christianity. And abstractions have no need of a mother.' Here again what is said of Mary applies to the Church. The motherhood of the Church no longer means anything to our systems - but we, in order to free ourselves from their abstraction, need to return to our mother." -Henri de Lubac, Motherhood of the Church

(H/T Christine! A very cool lady and one of my favorite blogs.)


Grace is modeling the newest gift - a bib (and onesie, which is currently too big) from my high school alma mater! It's currently almost as long as her, but it should last her for a long time!

Future Lion?

Sneak peek into life right now... off to eat lunch before going on a walk with Will!

Happy weekend!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Alabama Roads

Traveling at present from an interview (yesterday) - baby's first big trip!  Three days, four states, seven new friends (for Grace), and an open road to take us home.

"I am a great believer in variations on routine." -Kaye Gibbs, Charms for the Easy Life

Nothing quite like having a friend you loved in your girlhood be just as dear in your womanhood. 

Blessings in Southern living!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Family Matters

Today, Grace and I kept each other company, and I reminded her of all the good times and special people who have made the trip to spend time with her. My in-laws (and SIL) arrived one week ago, last Monday night, fresh from Indiana. My mother left two weeks ago and my father will be down in two weeks to help bring Grace home to the Midwest. I loved having them here, and not just because I could actually type this post without a newborn on my lap. (Two hands!)
SIL and Grace
In these five weeks (and two days) since Grace has been born, I've been having serious soul-searching time on my hands. Maybe this is because I am exhausted; maybe this is because I can't move around as much; or maybe it is because the realism that I am responsible for this little rosebud and her development.

I've thought a lot about how I was raised and how my husband was raised, and how to best incorporate the things we loved best into our children's lives. We were both raised Catholic; our parents are married (still!); we lived in a cul-de-sac neighborhood where we knew our neighbors well. Then the small differences start - I went to parochial school Kindergarten through senior year of high school; Will was homeschooled until high school, then Catholic school through senior year of college. Both my parents worked outside the home; his mother worked within the home. My extended family is mostly within a 15-30 minute drive of each other; his family is spread out.

But those are mere family constructions - what I learned from babysitting in college and nannying after college was the nature of the beast: that families are happy not because the mom stays home or goes out to work, but that the children know that they are loved by their parents, children and parents interact with mutual respect, and the parents actively love each other.

Dinner with the grandparents
This is not a magic spell - there will still be crying and tough love, eye rolling and frustration. Lessons learned, virtues cultivated, and hard pills to swallow. More importantly, however, I want to create a childhood worth savoring, worth passing on to the next generation.

I love how my Dad would lay between our beds and tell us stories, creating family myths about a mouse named Nicodemus. I love how my Mom would rally all the kids together for games of 50-50 Scatter, or croquet, or trampoline competitions. We read a lot of books and played with our menagerie of stuffed animals, play mobiles, dolls and Legos. I disliked the chore lists and point system, but it makes sense now that there are only two of us cleaning up our own messes. Then there were the holidays and the birthdays, celebrating family being together.

I love all of that -- and what I experienced in college with my adviser's family: family night prayer, celebration of feast days, and active catechizing. Perhaps it is because we went to Catholic school (K-12!), but my family did not put direct emphasis on the above. They came up individually, and my parents instilled a beautiful and deep faith in each of us, and this desire to share and plant this faith in my own children is stronger than ever since I met Grace.

And I feel so blessed that both our parents are practicing Catholics, who go to mass with us, and will also teach the children the way of the Cross. Moreover, I love that Grace is born into a loving family, full of aunts and uncles and cousins and a larger extended family, excited to meet the new baby. The family example is what children need - to know that their faith is rooted in something beyond a personal preference, to see the difference those people can make in a child's life, and the way each person can be a different face of Christ, a different face of Love.

More than our own families, there are friends, and our parishes - the communion of saints - those happy people, with us and beyond us, who pray with and for us, celebrate with us, mourn with us, and always live with us. They are part of our olive branch family, our brothers and sisters in Christ.

My dad and sister

A few of my aunts, my grandmother ,and my mother
Because, ultimately, that's what families are intended to do best - love.