Monday, January 27, 2014

Saint of Hungary and the Homeless

TBM Post #37: The Saints - Picking Them, Picking Us

I "picked" St. Elizabeth of Hungary as my Confirmation saint when I was 13. We were told to research saints, find one we liked, and write a five page paper on him or her. I'm still not sure why I picked her; maybe I liked that she was a princess, or the way she cared about people.

A very-very short bio:

St. Elizabeth of Hungary was born on July 7, 1207 to King Andrew II of Hungary and Gertrude of Merania. At age four, she was sent away to the court of Thuringia (in Germany) for her education, as she was already betrothed to their heir of that throne, Louis IV, whom she married at age 14 in 1221. They had a happy marriage and three children - alas, this was the time of the Crusades, and off Louis IV went, only to die of a fever in Italy.

Elizabeth, always giving and pious, decided the court life was not for her (as her in-laws were very against her charitable nature and actions), made accommodations for her children, and left the castle to serve the poor. Elizabeth used her dowry money to build a hospital. She had a difficult confessor who held her to impossible standards, and still she worked tirelessly for the sick and the homeless until her death in 1231, at age 24.

At age 25-going-on-26, my life span is already longer than hers. And yet, it cements further in my mind that St. Elizabeth of Hungary picked me, though it appears merely circumstantial. She is the patron saint of hospitals (married to a doctor), nurses (raised by one/ my mom), bakers (I try?), young brides (check!), countesses (?), dying children, exiles, homeless people*, lace-makers, widows and the Third Order of St. Francis.

*Homeless people are the reason I know St. Elizabeth of Hungary picked me.

Tokyo, Japan - June 2012: Homeless people living in cardboard boxes
I am drawn to homeless people. I feel empathy for them, and pity. I want to help them, and I've been faced with a very real way of helping them while living down here in New Orleans. They are very visible. They are on street corners and by the highway and downtown and uptown. They ask for help, any kind of help.

And we are strapped into our budget. We're living off savings, living off a grad school budget. We are not poor, especially considering our surroundings. I don't think Will or I really understand what true poverty is. But our belts our tight. We give our dollar or two at mass, even though "ten percent of our income is still zero," Will jokes. I obsessively go over our budget, as if money is going to appear somewhere. Diapers, wipes, baby butt cream and now teething gel. I want to buy Grace a Megaseat; I'm tempted to ask for it for my birthday in March. But that money is better spent on baby proofing the house...

Then again, people survive on a lot less. I'm working on my daydreams, trying to find the line between sprucing up the home and the reality of lack of basic necessities. Elizabeth brings me back to that.

We don't have a lot of money, and we've made the decision not to give money directly to people. Instead, I carry non-dairy protein drinks, meal replacement bars and nutri-grain bars, and vegetable+fruit squeezes in the car with me. Last week, I emptied a box full. Today, I gave out one. If we had more money, I would buy Subway gift cards and hand those out for delicious, healthy meals.

The most important thing, however, is to look at the person in the face and smile. Homeless people are humans and need more positive human interaction. It is shaming that our society cannot take the time to look at another human being in the face, even if it's to wave and say hello.

I understand that safety is always a concern. I often have Grace in the car with me, and if I felt it was unsafe (i.e. I never open my window at night), I would not put our lives in danger. However, most people are simply pleading for acknowledgement.

Once we are settled in our next location, I'd like to start helping in a food kitchen. The homeless are truly on my heart. I pray for them daily. I've cried thinking about the homeless out in the cold up north. I cannot imagine it; I wonder where their families are, where their little platoon has gone, or why they have left.

If you are also interested in helping your fellow humans, and if you're worried about feeling uncomfortable, we're in the same boat. I've become even more introverted since college, and I'm blushing now just thinking about putting myself out there. I could make a total fool of myself. And, you know - I don't do that enough. Risk my pride. Risk being shown that I have more to give this world, and risk realizing that my potential for giving has only just begun.

So, for now, I start with rolling down my window and smiling and handing them food and saying, "God bless!" Thank you, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, for placing this desire deep in my heart, and modeling true charity and giving of self.

May we all follow in your path, in our own way.

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

#7QT: I Have Confidence In Me!

We're finally home and working off our colds... so I'm blogging away this headache post-putting bebe in her bed. Cheers to joining with Jen!


It's finally happened. Will's last residency interview. We've been talking a lot about ranking. He's been all over, and now it's coming down to what we want and what they're offering. The programs for emergency medicine are mostly similar; the differences really come down to shift hour lengths, research opportunities, moonlighting allowances, the level of trauma care, and location.

The last one is the one I struggle with - let's go on an adventure, says Will! I've been listening to a lot of Julie Andrews lately, and she's giving me a mantra to live by. Or, at the very least, a good reminder to have confidence in confidence alooooooone!

... Grace, in the mean time, is learning to blow more bubbles, drool extensively, sit, and help me grocery shop. We all have our own adventures, eh?


A week ago, we left New Orleans. Round trip was over 2k+ miles. We're burning our cars and never driving anywhere again.

Things to always pack on car trips:
- good book(s) on cd
- la croix sparkling water for me; gatorade for Will
-healthy snacks AND unhealthy snacks... because one can only eat so many kind bars.
-extra binkys for Grace
-extra everything for Grace
-pillow and sleep mask (if you're a light sleeper like me and equally desperate for a nap because "someone" has decided that she needs to eat every two hours starting around 3:30 a.m.)

Anything you can't live without? Besides the sound of Jim Dale's voice on the Harry Potter recordings?


Trip highlights included spending the weekend with Baldwin family members, the longest Hearts game ever, delicious food, hanging out with Will's college friends (and one of mine too!), seeing Will's alma mater, and having delicious catch-up time with dear Katie and her bebe {may we move close and spend lots more time together!}.

And so it became clear, at Guantánamo, that the only work left for me to do was to heal my wound.
“What is grief?” I recently asked psychologist Steven Stosny, posing the obvious question I’d avoided for so long.
“It’s an expression of love,” he told me. “When you grieve, you allow yourself to love again.”
“How do you grieve?” I asked him.
“You celebrate a person’s life by living your life fully.”
-- "This Is Danny Pearl's Final Story" by Asra Q. Nomani, The Washingtonian
A beautiful, beautiful story and read; an ending to a modern tragedy.


Newest favoritest food? Sweet potatoes. And wait for it.... roasted sweet potatoes with honey and cinnamon. Whaaaaaaaat. Eat your veggies, y'all!


Thank you, all you wonderful people! I was nominated for "coolest blogger" and "most underrated blog" at the 2014 Sheenazing Awards. Use your free will and vote here!

The Mirror Magazine got nominated too - "most underrated blog" and "smartest blog". Fist bump!


Julie driving, Will in the back seat, sitting next to Grace
Julie: What are you saying to her?
Will: I'm teaching her how to say my name ... say, "Your Excellency" Grace.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

What's So Scary About Another Baby? (Or, Why I'll Never Have A Bucket List)

This week is my cleansing week.

On Sunday, Will and I did an overall cleaning.
On Monday, I deep cleaned and paid bills.
On Tuesday, laundry and grocery shopping.
Today, more laundry and cleaning; lunch with a Hillsdale friend.
Tomorrow, third floor, an oil change, then packing for Iowa and Kansas.
Friday, errands and leaving.
Saturday, more driving and visiting family for the weekend before the very last interview.

Yesterday, Grace decided that being put down was for chumps and she was having none of it. I told her self-soothing was important, so we had a little tummy time, but mostly she cooed/ whined at me, fell asleep, cried more, nursed, repeat. I'm falling more and more in love with her Wubbanub and I'm here to say - if you have a baby, you need one. I've been sorting through everything we now own thanks to Thanksgiving/ Baptism/ Christmas, so I'm actually made a mess more than cleaning one up... but you know, duty calls. Repeat today. And tomorrow.

With all these resolutions and bucket lists floating around, I couldn't help but notice a few missing. I'm not sure if I'm making resolutions this year, as much as I am continuing to create habits and cultivate more virtue. If I am going to make a resolution, it is to love people as God loves them.

I got this idea from a priest during confession, when I was telling him how I was failing in loving, because the person causing me to stumble does not even know. He laughed a bit with me, and told me he had no advice. Perhaps, he suggested, you need to try loving the person as God loves them.

The person who pushes your buttons. The person who belittles your beliefs. The person who you need a gun to your head so that you can remember to be a good person, like the Misfit said.

And especially your family. I've always been struck by the profoundness of Blessed Teresa of Culcutta's, "Want to promote world peace? Go home and love your family."

I get teary looking at Grace post-feeding. She sleeps in the cradle of my arm, holding my shirt in her little fist. I'm trapped. I can't move or she'll wake up, and, you know? That's okay. I have nothing more important to do than love my child. And tonight, when she cried a half hour after I put her to bed - not a soft cry, but a scared one - I went in, sat criss-cross applesauce (as my five year old friend says) on the bed next to hers, and held her there till she fell asleep again. It was a very humbling moment, knowing that I can comfort her and take away her fear.

I'm alone tonight. Will drove nine+ hours to another interview, which starts at 6:45 a.m. tomorrow, and then he'll drive back, and hopefully not push himself to the brink of exhaustion and stay overnight in a hotel. And then after his classes, we'll leave to visit family this weekend, who live close to Will's last interview of the season.

These past six months have been our leap of faith. Now, we wait three-ish more and wait to see what our pay-off is. It's frightening. It's exhilarating. It's our adventure. This move for Will's M.S. isn't just about him and his future job prospects. It's about us. It's about pursuing medicine and pursuing a family; it's about trust and not being afraid.

In this next year, God willing, we'll be employed, we'll move, and we'll be pregnant again. I'm starting a new job, Will's starting a new job, Grace is on the half-roll train, so I guess once those arms discover what they can do, she'll jump into crawling, walking and talking...

Which, I suppose, is why I don't like bucket lists. Not just because you could not pay me a billion dollars to jump out of an airplane (or off a roof), but, because, no matter where I go, I'm just so grateful for my life. I had two goals post-college: be happy at my job and to travel overseas. I did both, and they taught me that true happiness comes from God, who is love. True happiness comes from loving yourself first, and about accepting yourself as easily as you accept the ones you love. When you love yourself, as God loves you, you can better love others, and accept their love.

I remember, before Will and I were engaged, and he was telling me about the current rotation he was on, and the topic of death came up; the way he talked so freely about his own death prompted tears on my end, and I hugged him fiercely. I had been with him a few months earlier, when his grandfather died. The way the clock's hands tick, the way life is like running water: what I mean is, there is nothing more courageous and brave that I've ever done than to admit to Will how much I love him, and to live it.

Will and I have never had a fight, and it's not because we haven't disagreed or been hurt by the other person. It's because we talk about it, even when I'm too pained to think of words. It's the way we enjoy each other's strengths and compensate for each other's weaknesses. It's the way we care for each other, our child, and get excited about our future littles.

Without this beautiful love, it might seem odd that Will and I are happy we got preggo two weeks post-wedding; happy we went through periods of suffering and serious self-doubt before the birth of our child; happy to be relatively low-on-assets (for the time being) in exchange for being parents; happily planning our next child to be born during residency, presumably the busiest time of our life.

This year, I am practicing love. I can't solve homelessness, but I can help it. I can't fix all the problems, but I can listen. I could get frustrated or I could take a deep breath and seek perspective and prayer. Life is too short to be angry or resentful (something I struggle with); life is too fragile, too precious not to try and show love, as well as give it.

Because, at the end of it all, what else matters?

Monday, January 13, 2014

In This Body

"Through her struggles, [St.] Teresa [of Avila] discovered the wisdom of the Catholic teaching that our bodies, and what we do with them, matter. She came to understand that while God wants us to treat our bodies with respect, excessive focus on perfecting our bodies or indulging their insatiable desires--including the desire to busy ourselves with good works to avoid the discomfort of solitude and silence--distances us from God. The same goes for social status, popularity, and professional achievement, things that are not evil in themselves but that can wreak spiritual havoc when we value them more than we value God."
--Colleen Carroll Campbell, from her book My Sisters, The Saints

I am currently reading this book and highly recommend it, for anyone who is seeking to see God working in life, and who, perhaps, are looking for new friends.

The Bright Maidens' January topic is "Saints Stories" - do you have one to share?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

I Will Wait For You, Marcus Mumford - A Review of "Babel"

When I first read “Against Mumford” by Matthew Schmitz at First Thoughts, I wondered if we had listened to the same songs. Schmitz’s review of English folk-rock band Mumford and Sons’s second album “Babel” applauds the negativity of critics and belittles the praise of fans. His snarky critiques are unjust and lack an appreciation for the depth of their lyrical content and the wideness of their audience.
Mumford & Sons on their US Lake Tour

For the sake of clarity, I’ll state my position early on: I love Mumford and Sons’s music. I love their sound, I love their lyrics, and I love the way their music gets under my skin and into my soul. For people looking for real substance in music, this is an excellent band to listen to and truly enjoy. I also think conservatives have a lot to appreciate in Mumford’s art too, and I am intrigued by the men behind the mayhem.
I attended my first Mumford and Sons concert in August 2012, before the release of “Babel”; it was a sold-out event in which thousands of people stood on the lawn through three bands to hear the fourth play loudly into the night. There is no typical Mumford fan. I saw teenagers, twenty-somethings, parents with their kids, the hip, the prep, the jaded, and the older. People sang along, danced, hopped up and down, or swayed. For a concert, it certainly had an element of revival in it. There is something very beautiful about hearing thousands of people around you singing along to “It seems that all my bridges have been burnt/ But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works/ It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart/ But the welcome I receive with the re-start” with their arms in the air and a smile on their face.
But the sheer beauty and power of these kinds of lyrics does not seem to phase or impress Schmitz. He says,
 ”But Mumford does not demand any public or existential commitment from its listeners. It is the typical suburban song-spinning of popular music, but unlike that popular music it affects to be about something more. Mumford seems to be incapable of writing serious songs and unwilling to write ones that eschew bombast. …Mumford and Sons is a kind of musical Pintrest. They “collect” without really linking together a variety of quaint, beautiful, and touching things.”
If by not writing serious songs, he must be referring to songs with lyrics like these: “In these bodies we will live,/ In these bodies we will die,/ Where you invest your love/ You invest your life/ …You were made to meet your maker.” I can understand where he is coming from, though. With other popular musical artists like the ever philosophical Taylor Swift, who straight-up tells her listeners without ‘eschewing bombast’ that “Oooh, we called it off again last night/ But oooh, this time, I’m telling you, I’m telling you,/ We are never, ever, ever getting back together” and Rihanna’s more poetical “You’re a shooting star I see/ A vision of ecstasy/ When you hold me, I’m alive/ We’re like diamonds in the sky.
And what of demanding any public commitment from its listeners? Do we here at The Imaginative Conservative demand that all our readers be conservatives or have an imagination? Certainly not. And for that matter, what secular music group anywhere demands public commitment of some sort? It leaves one feeling nauseated that good music cannot be appreciated without a loyalty stamp of approval. Schmitz also needed to do his homework before this piece was published. He writes, “We don’t know if they’re Christian (or indeed if they have any existential commitment), or if they’re just aesthetic reactionaries of a limited type. Eclecticism precludes evangelism.”
This begins a tricky and touchy subject between band mates. In a June 2011 interview with the band, Josh Eells of Rolling Stones wrote
“Listening to Mumford & Sons’ songs, it’s hard not to detect a vaguely spiritual undercurrent. The lyrics – in addition to high-literary allusions to Shakespeare and Steinbeck (Mumford, after all, is a guy who reads 16th-century English historical fiction for fun) – are also full of references to faith, sin and atonement, not to mention explicit exhortations to “serve God” and profound queries like “Can you kneel before the King and say, ‘I’m clean, I’m clean’?” Coupled with the band’s harmonies and a propulsive beat, they can almost sound more like Christian praise songs than modern-rock hits.”
Two of the band mates, Marcus Mumford and Ben Lovett, keyboardist and accordion player in the band, who has been friends with Mumford since the third grade, had this to say to Rolling Stones:
According to Lovett, a committed nonbeliever, Mumford’s religion made things tricky. “It was always a bit of a stumbling block for our friendship,” he says. “I don’t know if Marcus would see it like that – we were still great friends who played music together. But whenever that stuff would come up . . .”
The band publicly says the band is not Christian as all band mates are not believers, or religious for that matter. 
Mumford grew up a preacher’s kid, and so it’s natural to presume that the new album’s title, Babel, takes on a certain biblical relevance. But the idea is far wider. “There are matters of the heart and sort of spiritual considerations that most humans have — explorative, really,” Mumford says. “We’re inspired by such a range of things between the four of us — almost every genre of music has been embraced by one of us at some time, and just about anything can inspire a song.” Schmitz final attack was suggested a clever ploy:
“The whole problem is well represented by their name, “Mumford and Sons.” It suggests history, tradition, the passing down of something real–above all, the transmission of blood. But Marcus Mumford is not in a band with his sons; in fact, he has no sons at all.”
To that, I have to say “yet.” Marcus Mumford is barely older than me at age 25 and married his childhood sweetheart last year, actress Carey Mulligan. The two met through church and were pen pals as children, before re-connecting after both had established themselves in public careers.
But to continue to the album: it is magnificent. It is not, however, an album which can be picked apart. Listening to one or two songs may be please, but the music is best appreciated when listened to in order. The reason this music is beautiful is not just the instrumentals, or the voices – it is the words. The songs remind me of a prayer journal, which is the power behind Mumford’s publicity. They may deny and deny again, like Peter before the cock crows, but the spirituality in these songs touch people in a way Christian-specific art has not lately affected the culture.
On personal speculation, I think it is the band’s success is viscerally coming at odds with personal beliefs, which is causing the band to take a break for a while. How can you sing about being a “lover of the light” and say “‘Cause I know my weakness, know my voice,/ And I’ll believe in grace and choice/ And I know perhaps my heart is farce,/ But I’ll be born without a mask” and say that these words are just words?
Some people do not like the repetition of the lyrics; these, again, remind me of prayer. The way we repeat the words over and over again (in, say, the Jesus prayer) so as to make it less about the words we say to God and more about our deepest need for communion with God. Mumford tells us, “But I’ll still believe though there’s cracks you’ll see,/ When I’m on my knees I’ll still believe,/ And when I’ve hit the ground, neither lost nor found,/ If you’ll believe in me I’ll still believe.
The songs cover marriage proposals, regret, death, faith, hope, love, the search for contentment and the roads we all travel on in this life. The lyrics do not shy away from the hardships of life – the way sin entices us, the way life hands us hardships, the hope that we cling to when there is seemingly no hope. In “Hopeless Wanderer” he sings, “I wrestled long with my youth/ We tried so hard to live in the truth/ But do not tell me all is fine/ When I lose my head, I lose my spine.” He goes on to sing how he “will learn to love the skies he is under.
Photo by James Minchin III for Rolling Stones
There are bad words and divine inspiration; there is humility and a lot of mandolin playing. Mumford & Sons remind me of virtuous pagans who speak truth and see light, though they do not attribute it correctly. And though a few members of the band were raised Christians, I have high hopes and heavy prayers that they will return to the Church with a flourish. Their art is too important to be foolish writings. Their music touches souls and digs deep; it is not just the study of poetry and a wide range of literature. Human nature can not be known as much as it can be felt.
Mumford & Sons are musicians, not theologians, but this does not mean they cannot reach upwards in explaining the Word in action. Mumford sings, “Spare my sins for the ark/ I was too slow to depart/ I’m a cad but I’m not a fraud/ I’d set out to serve the Lord.
The other members of the band especially deny religious significance, but one listen to this album speaks much louder. I will wait for your next album, Marcus Mumford!
And I came home/ Like a stone/ And I fell heavy into your arms/ These days of darkness/ Which we’ve known/ Will blow away with this new sun/ And I’ll kneel down/ Wait for now/ And I’ll kneel down/ Know my ground/ And I will wait, I will wait for you.

Originally posted at The Imaginative Conservative

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

In Sickness and in Health

The Baldwin family has been hit by sickness. I arrived home yesterday afternoon after my ginormous trip to the grocery stores (after being gone for 3 weeks, we were a tad low on food) to find husband miserable and sick. He had been gone at school most of the day. He came home to take a nap and began to yak.   

First thought: Poor guy! Now I get to be helpful like he was when I was preggo sick. 

Second thought: MY BABY! Quarantine!

Grace is up-to-date with her shots and I got the flu shot... But nothing is a guarantee, and so I started precautionary measures. 

Hand sanitizer (fortunately, we already have 3 bottles in a 10 foot radius) + Lysol spray, baby room edition and Clorox wipes
Thermometer (adult+protective covers, infant pacifier)
Drinks (Sprite, Ginger Ale, Gatorade)
Soup (Progresso chicken noodle)
Ibuprofen (adult and infant)

Will had all the symptoms minus a fever, and Grace felt hot when she was fine (99.9 at highest, then in 98 region for the rest of the night). 

It was a funny feeling, taking care of my birds. I kept thinking, these people are my family. I must take care of them. They need me. 

I've been feeling forgetful lately about various to-dos, to-calls, to-sees. I forget to eat lunch or take a shower. Being home was like a hug you never let go of, and you're so focused on enjoying the hug that everything else swirls around and you can't see it. 

We got home after dinner time on Sunday, ordered Chinese and immediately entered the so-tired-I-can-hardly-speak-or-move part of the evening, after 12 hours in the car. Grace was completely refreshed and ready to go, and again, I thought, I am her mom. It's her and me till bed time. 

And today, I woke up twice to the babbling alarm clock next to my bed, telling me she was hungry. Afterwards, I checked on the couch sleeper, the dear malaised patient, who continues pathetic. 

I know there are worse sicknesses than a (hopefully!) 24 hour bug, and still I sit here, drinking coffee and listening to Grace's gurgles, feeling like I could continue to let the world pass me by, as long I'm able to care for my loved ones. What a blessing sickness can be, if only to remind us how fortunate our health is and how humans desperately need each other in this weary world. 

In other news, Will's sense of humor is being restored. He just informed Grace that he will be buying her a King James dictionary (??) for her birthday, so she can gurgle in proper English. 

Happy Tuesday, all!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

5 Years Time

Five years ago, I was a college junior contemplating moving to Belfast, Ireland to be a missionary.

Four years ago, I was a college senior looking into journalism and advertising jobs, stressing over finishing + defending my thesis + passing my oral comps (and my classes! and enjoying Kappa! and spending time with friends!).

Three years ago, I graduated college, landed my first job, quit my first job, moved home for my second job, and met my husband.

Two years ago, I traveled abroad {twice!}, became a nanny, and was silly happy over our engagement.

One year ago, we were back from our Arizona honeymoon.

Today, we're in my hometown from New Orleans and we're tickled pink over our baby. {who is still awake}

If I can share anything: trust in God, because he provides.

2013 was a stretching year: Will and I learned to be married; we learned to live with each other; we learned how to live without each other most of the week (for the first six months); we learned how to deal with disappointments together; we learned how to have fun without spending a lot of money; we learned how relationships and friendships change after marriage; we learned how to communicate better; we learned how to be a couple while being parents.

Here's to the next five years!