Rejoice Always

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” This bible verse has consistently challenged me. How am I supposed to rejoice always and in all circumstances give thanks.

The answer comes in knowing that I am a beloved daughter of God and a member of the body of Christ. I can rejoice in knowing that Jesus gives the fullness of life. I can rejoice in knowing that the Holy Spirit is at work.

My household at Franciscan University helped me dive further into this topic. My household’s name is Gaudete in Via Crucis, which means rejoice on the way to the cross. I can rejoice in knowing that Jesus laid his life down and brought redemption. If Christ loves me enough to give me his life, then whatever I’m suffering now should seem small in comparison.

Models of Joy

One of the ways my household explored rejoicing on the way to the cross was by learning about the different lives of the saints. At our weekly saint night, we would learn about a saint and pick a virtue from their life to emulate.

Recently, I’ve been looking to Blessed Chiara Luce Banano and Chiara Corbella Petrillo as examples for finding joy no matter what the circumstances. They were both women who faced grave illness but always had radiant smiles on their faces and trusted in God’s plan. You can read more about Chiara Petrillo’s life in the book Chiara Corbella Petrillo: A Witness to Joy. I’d like to emulate both of these amazing women’s unrelenting commitment to love.

Rejoicing Always

Although I am no Chiara, I find much to rejoice in even when my health relapses a bit. When I switch supplements my body can feel fatigued and I’m more limited in what I can do. I might miss out on gatherings or have to change plans. I try to remember that when I’m called to rest and have pain that there’s still so much goodness all around me, so I keep praising God.

As I write this, I’m up at 2:00 AM in the morning with stomach pains. I find the good right now in having a heating pad. I use the time to hopefully glorify God through my writing and take advantage of the stillness and clarity that comes at night.

I also use this time to take up the night watch in prayer. I rejoice in the opportunity to pray for the brokenhearted, the people with depression who can’t sleep, or the exhausted moms who are up feeding their babies. I could mumble and grumble that I’m awake with a sore stomach, or I can thank God for all the good that comes in being awake.

Changed Plans

We recently planned our first camping trip. We reserved the spot months in advance and were excited as the weekend drew near. Unfortunately, instead of camping, we ended up at the urgent care center because William gashed his head open on the garage door.

When the doctor said that William would need staples, I thought he was joking at first. I had never heard of staples being used on skin before. In the end, William ended up with eight staples and one gnarly-looking wound. Healing isn’t always pretty, but I’m so glad the doctor could do something to help him. We decided to skip the camping trip and use the weekend to get some extra rest and we thanked God for the time to recover.

Rejoicing in God’s Timing

That same weekend, an elderly gentleman asked us for a ride home from church. If we had gone camping that weekend, our car would have been too full of camping gear to help him out. I was surprised that God used out missed camping trip for the good of our fellow parishioner. We praised God for the opportunity to serve and for the ability to say “yes.”

God is good, no matter what the circumstance. His goodness is unending. Praise God for all the ways he’s blessing you, especially when you are at your wit’s end. Actively try to see the good, because that’s when it matters the most. This is what we are all called to do – “rejoice always”.

How are you rejoicing in your current circumstances?

Is your prayer life full of praise or complaints?

Is there a song or a certain prayer that helps lead your heart to praise?

Our Wedding Day

The most important part of the wedding day was the Nuptial Mass. Vowing to love William on the altar, receiving the Eucharist, and entrusting our marriage to God were the highlights of the day for me. I had never been that close to the altar for the Consecration and being next to the man I loved was surreal. It was so special having all our loved ones in the same room together sharing our joy (well, almost all).

Let’s be real – a lot of things went “wrong” in my mind throughout the wedding day. My dress wasn’t bustled in time for the first dance, so despite taking dance lessons, I could hardly move around. I couldn’t find William for part of the reception because I didn’t know where he had gone to. Getting ready beforehand was super chaotic. I wasn’t able to put on the dress until the last minute because we couldn’t track down everyone who wanted to be there as I got ready.

These weren’t the things that really mattered because what I’ll look back on and remember 25 years from now is first and foremost the Mass and vowing to love William for the rest of my life. I will remember William’s huge smile, the tender kindness I received when my dad talked to me before the wedding, my bridesmaid Christina holding my hand to help me keep from becoming a bawling mess before I walked down the aisle, the bunches of hugs I got from the little girls who attended, my mom and sister working behind the scenes making sure everything ran smooth, and just the outpouring of love from our guests and those who helped that day.

The wedding day did, in fact, alter our lives in many ways. We hadn’t lived together before the wedding day, we waited to have sex until our wedding night, and we unequivocally gave our lives to each other “until death do us part.” I’m so grateful for our faith and the wisdom and love it sheds on these decisions. Marriage bonded us together, and we didn’t have to live together to know we were right for each other. The patience we had waiting for each other has greatly served us in our marriage now and is still a gift to us today.

We did many things that are more “traditional”, but we really value tradition. We value the beauty of the Church that calls us to conform not to our own desires but to the truth that leads to fullness of life, that doesn’t deceive, and that speaks to the dignity of the human person. Being married in the Church is recognizing that we need God in our relationship and that we can’t fulfill each other completely. Marriage calls us to sacrifice in many many ways. That’s why I’m glad that the model of love we follow is Christ on the Cross—total complete love. The most perfect thing about the wedding day was Christ’s love found at the heart of the Mass.

I couldn’t have planned finding William, marrying him, and loving him even more today. That’s been grace; that’s been hard work; that’s been forgiveness lived out; that’s been radical self-sacrifice on both of our parts. It’s been a sincere desire to not screw up the extraordinary gift that God gave us in the sacrament. I’m sure many days we are failing and putting our own needs first, but every Sunday we get to go to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb and meet Jesus our ultimate love.

Here’s to William the love of my life. Here’s to imperfect wedding days that really are perfect after all. Here’s to God bringing goodness and beauty into our lives despite all of our imperfections. Here’s to choosing every day to love each other as best we can. Here’s to you, my love, for all you do and how well you love me. May we have many more years of marriage to look forward to. Love, Your Bride, Bethany

Past Addiction

I write this post from a place of vulnerability. I don’t often discuss masturbation because it would never come up in “polite” conversation. If it did come up I would never shy away from talking about it though. I feel like sometimes we hold our past wounds so tight because we worry about what others will think of us, but sometimes I feel like that’s not allowing them to see the light of day. The more light we bring to our wounds, the more potential we have to shed a bit of light into someone else’s life. By writing this I acknowledge that this is part of my past, and claim my freedom from this past wound.

Long before I met William, I was addicted to masturbating. Many people will claim it’s healthy and natural, but for me, it was anything but healthy. Masturbating was an addiction I couldn’t quit. I felt so much inner turmoil and self-loathing. It was a cycle of pain that kept repeating. I couldn’t go to sleep because that was when I was faced with my racing thoughts. I couldn’t escape my own body. I oftentimes wished I had another addiction, one that I could just keep away from myself, like alcohol or drugs. But that’s the thing with addiction, it’s all-consuming, and even if I had those instead there are still many ways to relapse. One addiction isn’t necessarily better than another, although mine would seemingly have the least side effects. The damage on my soul and having to live with myself was the hard part.

Many factors went into overcoming my addiction. I sought out therapy, I read books, and tried numerous recommendations for overcoming addictions, but would find myself time and time again in the same cycle of self-hatred. It also wasn’t talked about as a women’s problem, I mostly heard that men did it. That’s what got me into trouble in the first place. When I first learned about it I figured, if guys do this, why can’t I? If men looked at porn why can’t I? Luckily I saw through porn quickly. I knew what I was watching wasn’t authentic love, that the people involved weren’t really enjoying what they were doing. Watching porn was the wake-up call that I needed to realize how far I had become a slave to my own sexual impulses.

William knew of my addiction as we were courting. If I felt tempted he would sing Latin hymns to help me fall asleep. Underlying the addiction was my anxiety. I was using masturbation as a way to cope with stress, to not have panic attacks, to not feel depressed. So sometimes when I called William he would just help me figure out where my stress was really coming from. Having his loving voice sing peaceful songs on the phone and to have someone who accepted me at what I felt like was my worst helped immensely. I had to admit that I wasn’t strong enough to face it on my own and that I needed help.

A piece of advice that really helped me was when a priest told me to go into the chapel and say, “I believe that you [Jesus] love me.” He said, “don’t leave until you believe it in your heart.” I believed fully in an intellectual way that Jesus loved me, but my heart still needed convincing. That’s why it’s still one of my favorite prayers to this day. An inability to accept love, or a belief that I’m not worthy of love, was more at the source of my addiction. What gave me hope was having a fresh start in the sacrament of reconciliation. I had a God who believed in me enough to give me another chance. I prayed especially to Our Lady Undoer of Knots because she is known to help undo the knots in people’s lives that keep them from God.

I knew it was important to overcome my addiction before entering into marriage. As most people who are married know, getting married doesn’t fix any problems. So as we were courting we prayed for purity in our relationship and to honor the gift of sexuality during that state in our life. During our courtship, we strove to show our love for each other in other ways, by making each other gifts, by spending quality time together, by affirming each other. We knew that in marriage we would be practicing Natural Family Planning (NFP), which would also require periods of abstinence. During our NFP lessons, one section is on S.P.I.C.E. which stands for Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, Creative/Communicative. These are each a part of our sexuality. So even during times of abstinence within our marriage, we can still express intimacy and love. Although practicing NFP can be hard, the grace of the sacrament and the intimacy that we find during those periods of abstinence are good for our relationship.

So much grace and healing has flooded our life, through our courtship and now our marriage. So I write this post out of gratitude that I’m free of this addiction. I write because I know that there is hope for those who are still addicted. I hope that by bringing it to light it might help one person. So for those who struggle with addiction of any kind, know that you are loved and worthy of love. There’s always hope!

My Mom’s Wedding Dress

As our one-year wedding anniversary approaches, I’m reminiscing about the days leading up to our wedding. A special part of preparing for the wedding was making my Mom’s dress my own. I have always had a great affection for vintage clothing, but when I was growing up, I always admired my Grandma’s dress. I never imagined that I would wear my Mom’s dress, so when she offered to let me try her dress on, it caught me by surprise.

Although my Mom’s dress was the first one I ever tried, I knew it was the one as soon as I put it on. I was overcome with emotions and started tearing up because it was the first time I could clearly picture myself walking down the aisle towards William and marrying him. Although there would need to be some alterations, it was everything I could ask for. I was in awe since it looked like it was made for me.

We found a trustworthy seamstress who specialized in altering wedding dresses. She took off a layer of tulle on the bottom, altered the neckline so it didn’t have such a high collar, and fixed the bow on the back. We also took off the lace sleeves because they were too warm (how my mom wore this in July’s heat, I will never know). I wore the dress on the wedding day with my mother’s veil and silver sparkly heels.

When I think of my Mom and all she has done in my life I think of Proverbs 31:25:

She

is

clothed with strength and dignity, and laughs at the days to come.”

I can always rely on my Mom for unfailing support and advice. She is a breast cancer survivor, prayer warrior, and has a generous spirit. She is the strongest woman I know.  When I’m overly stressed about trivial things I can count on her wisdom and humor to cheer me up. I admire her for her loving patience with my Dad. My Mom’s gentle spirit guided our family through many ups and downs. She has sacrificed much to put our family’s needs first. She inspires me to be my best self.

I have learned so much from my Mom. Being able to wear her wedding dress was such an honor. This was just another way in which she shared her generous heart with me, and I felt wrapped in my mother’s love on my wedding day.

It was really incredible to go through the process of transforming the dress with my Mom and sister. Going to the fittings and explaining our vision for the dress was one of my favorite parts of preparing for the wedding. The dress became my own after the transformations, but I will always remember that it was a very special gift from my Mom.

Both my Mom and I had July weddings and wore the same dress. I hope the similarities continue. I hope that William and I can have a long marriage, that we can share as many laughs as my parents do, and that I can possess as generous a heart as hers. Who knows? Maybe someday the dress will find new life again and I will be able to pass it on. Thanks, Mom!

Seasons of Waiting

When I was thinking of starting a blog I came across a hand-lettered print that said, “When I wait you strengthen my heart.”  Psalm 27:14 says:

“Wait, for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage”

This verse really struck me. I felt like I was in a long season of waiting. Waiting to live closer to William, waiting to be married, waiting to be living the vocation I felt called to and waiting to be healthier. There was a tension between what my heart longed for and God’s timing. I desired more than anything that God would strengthen my heart during the wait. I felt like one way he was calling me to do that was through writing.

Leaning into the Longing

Right now I’m in another season of waiting. I can’t wait to be a mother, to see William as a father, and to have a child that shares a little bit of each of us. William and I are continually praying to follow God’s will in our family planning. During this season I’m learning to trust God’s timing because He sees the bigger picture that I don’t see. I find God in the waiting. I’ve found that I can depend on Him as my Hope.

Times of Fullness

I see that times of waiting are actually times of fullness in knowing that God is pouring out his love, grace, and mercy now. There are so many ways I can answer his call to strive for holiness in my present circumstances. During this time I’m praying with William more and attending weekly Eucharistic Adoration. William and I are talking more and seeking advice as we discern. I’m expressing gratitude more regularly for what we do have and speaking the truth that is present in our lives. The words from the song Shepherd by Amanda Cook come to mind:

“in the process, in the waiting, you’re making melodies over me.” 

God is bringing forth good things out of this time, filling me with anticipation of what’s to come and helping me grow in virtue.

Brokeness

Don’t get me wrong – waiting can be hard! The subject of children is very tender and raw for me at times. With God’s strength, though, I can face the pain and live in the moment. Even a recent episode of Doctor Who had me crying when one of the characters confessed:

“the trivial stuff just falls away. You realize life can be so brief. And so, I just want to tell you. If we do get through this I want to have a baby! With you!”

I lean into the brokenness of waiting, of month after month discerning now is not the right time for children. I have to remind myself that working on my health is such a gift and I rely on God to give me peace.

I’m finding that God’s love really does cast out fear, fear of things outside my control. God holds the pieces of my heart and hears my prayers. He holds the pieces of your heart too. I hope that this blog can speak God’s truth to you and in that process strengthen your heart.

If you feel like you are in a season of waiting where is God calling you to love now?

Is God answering your prayers, just in an unexpected way or not the way you necessarily want?

Are you accepting God’s will in your life?

On Vulnerability

I attended the Beloved: Blessed is She Retreat a few months ago.  The theme was based on Henrie Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved. Each speaker covered a different topic on becoming the beloved: taken, blessed, broken, and given. This retreat immersed me in the beauty of community, faith sharing, and of God’s love for each of us. If I’m being honest, though, I almost didn’t go. I was plagued with doubts about being too fatigued to make it through the day. When I saw multiple women asking online if anyone had an extra ticket, I thought maybe it would be better if another person went in my place.

Showing Up

One of my deepest fears is that I’m not enough, and this fear can sometimes make me feel that I don’t have anything to offer. So on Saturday morning as my husband lovingly drove me there and kept encouraging me, I prayed that God would provide me the energy and stamina to make it through the day. I really didn’t want to waste a day that so many women I knew wanted to attend.

Within a few minutes of walking into the retreat, my doubts were gone. An acquaintance from college was there and I found out she had been praying to know just one person at the retreat. I was that person she had been praying for. In an instant, my presence was affirmed and my worries went away. I was surprised that I was able to be confirmation of God’s love and support for her. I hadn’t even imagined God using me to show his love to another person there.

Seeing the Daily Blessings

The retreat organizers lovingly crafted everything with the utmost care, including floral arrangements and lit candles. Being in such a welcoming retreat space and hearing the speakers’ talks reminded me that God shows me countless times throughout the day that I’m loved.

During my time of solitude at the retreat, I sat by the ocean. While listening to the waves crash up against the shore I encountered God in countless scriptures about healing. I was also able to encounter Him in each woman I met. I was able to encounter Him at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and able to praise Him during Eucharistic Adoration. The retreat affirmed that I’m Beloved, that God made me with a specific purpose in mind, and that Jesus knows our suffering whether that be mental or physical.

Gratitude for Vulnerability

I left the retreat feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude in knowing that God is blessing us in our suffering, when we feel weak, and when we feel broken. One of those blessings is the sisterhood I discovered in meeting other Catholic women who would pray, share, and be vulnerable together. When I met these retreatants who shared their hearts, I felt an overflowing gratitude. Brene Brown says:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”  

In the past, I would have cringed at being vulnerable and sharing. Now, I realize how vital being vulnerable is with my spouse, with my friends, and with my readers.

How is God pouring out his love to you throughout the day?

Do you believe that you are Beloved?

Have you been sharing your vulnerabilities with others?

Why I’m a Stay-At-Home Wife

Why I'm a Stay-at-Home Wife

Our small apartment is my domestic monastery. I may not have a bell or children calling me on to the next activity, but what I do have is a rhythm to my day. Within this routine, I have discovered that I really value being a stay-at-home wife. I find a lot of peace in being able to take care of our home, away from the concerns of business or upward mobility. It wasn’t always this way, though…

Striving for Approval

I had come to believe what the world says – I should have a job and be a contributing member of society. It felt as if my worth depended on that vital question, “What do you do for a living?” I didn’t think saying “stay-at-home wife” would be a good enough answer, so I spent months trying to find something that would make me feel like I was doing my part.

I tried starting an Etsy shop making cards and signs.  As I pushed to promote my products, I realized that self-promotion felt unnatural. I felt like I was constantly trying to be someone I wasn’t. I may be creative and enjoy crafting, but promoting left me feeling more and more anxious. How should I sell it? Do I have to tell people about it? One day I realized that running a business just isn’t for me.

I kept looking for jobs, scrolling through page after page. Every time I looked I felt frustrated and discontent. Why can’t I find something? What should I even be looking for? Would I be healthy enough to work? I felt helpless as my doctor prescribed more and more supplements and as medical bill after medical bill arrived. I was being tormented by the thought that I was sucking up the money that could be paying for more “important things” in my mind. If you want to know more about my health challenges, check out my post On Suffering.

Dreams on Hold

William and I hoped that I could be a stay-at-home mom one day, but we had to put that dream on hold with my health being what it was. Somehow, staying at home seemed more justifiable in my mind if I had children. So not only was my health costing us financially, but it was also stalling our dream to start a family. This left me feeling quite defeated. I felt like my body had betrayed me and my deepest desires.

As William and I were discussing our plans for the future, he had the idea that I could learn to code. I was surprised! “Me? Learn to code? Like you?” He offered to help in the evenings when I needed, and I found a program to work through. We thought that in a year I might have a skill that could make some decent money. This lifted my spirits immensely. I could already envision myself busily typing away in my cubicle, surrounded by co-workers.

As I started learning more and more, I realized that I enjoyed computer programming. At the same time, I also realized that staying at home was more fulfilling than I ever expected it to be. I liked being able to keep up on chores and making homemade meals. Staying at home meant I had more time to read books and learn new things in general. I realized that part of the reason I wanted a job was to be around more people, but being at home didn’t stop me from seeing other people. It just meant that I had to put more effort into seeing friends or getting out of our apartment.

Trusting in God’s Will

Ultimately, I trusted that if God was calling me to be a stay-at-home wife then He would provide for our needs. I trusted William to be able to provide for us financially. I also began to really appreciate what we do have. Our car may not be the best looking but it gets us where we need to go and is usually reliable. Our apartment may be small, but that means I can actually keep it clean even on my bad days. I realized that if I went back to work I’d probably want nicer clothes, more gadgets, and a big house. By being at home I can just appreciate what we already have, and I’m content.

Letting Go

God gently worked on my heart to let go of the expectations I had placed on myself. While confronting my expectations, I also learned to let go of all the other voices saying, “You should use your college education,” or, “Why not work and save up before you have kids?” I realized there may not be any promotions in my future, but I’m 100% okay with that.

The day I realized that I desired to stay at home, I asked William,

“Is it really okay for me to just stay at home and that’s it?”

 

He responded, “Of course it is.”

 

I persisted, “Really, it’s okay I don’t go back to work?”

 

He said, “You’re the most important person to me. I want what’s best for you, and I want you to be happy.”

Peace

I knew deep down the importance of being a stay-at-home wife, but I could never articulate it as well as C.S Lewis did in his correspondence (from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III):

But [a housewife’s work] is surely, in reality, the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, mines, cars, government etc exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr Johnson said, ‘To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour’. (1st to be happy, to prepare for being happy in our own real Home hereafter: 2nd in the meantime, to be happy in our houses). We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist.”

Now I’m not striving anymore because I know I’m in the right place. I know that this is a decision that benefits both me and William. I don’t feel guilty anymore about the extra money I could be bringing in, or the people I could be helping through a job. Instead, I’ve found my place, hidden from most of the world. I find myself thriving in the embrace of our small apartment. I’m able to work on this blog, study, and care for my husband. I don’t get caught up in worries about what I should be doing because I have the peace of knowing where God is calling me.

I live my day to day life more like a contemplative. My life is less hectic. I’m reminded that work is good for the soul and not just for making money. I can focus more closely on my marriage vocation, cultivating my interior life and giving God glory through the small tasks of my day. I’m even at peace with God’s timing for having children now. Creating a peaceful retreat at home with loving care holds great value. Although not every wife has the option to make this choice, or would necessarily choose this path, I feel blessed to be a stay-at-home-wife. Ultimately the vocation is still the same – to love.

On Hospitality & Community

One night as William and I were walking around our neighborhood, we saw a message written on the sidewalk. It said, “join us for free food and live music.” We decided to mark it on our calendar. When the date came, we found ourselves following the chalk mark arrows.

When we entered, William thought we had stumbled into a private event. There was a live band playing music, outdoor fireplaces, foliage decorations, food, drinks and lots of people. It just seemed too good to be true.  We stayed the rest of the evening and soaked in just how beautiful everything was.

We met the leader of the band, who was also our hostess, and chatted briefly with her and her husband. What stood out to me the most was that our hosts had opened up their hearts to the community. They shared stories between songs and, after the music had ended, they said,

“introduce yourself to those around you, if you haven’t already. That’s what this is all about.”

Building Community

Quite simply they were building community. Their daughter spent the week before baking enough bread for everyone. Their family got fresh leaves and flowers for decorations and wrote invitations in chalk all over our neighborhood (it was hard to miss). When we spoke with our hostess she said,

“stop on over whenever you like.  We always have people coming and going.”

I realized this wasn’t a one-time thing their family did. Not only did they open their home to anyone for this night, but they practiced hospitality as a lifestyle. They literally just keep their front door open.

This reminded me that I sometimes overcomplicate building community.  I come up with excuses for why I can’t do what my neighbors were doing.  I might not start a band or host free concerts anytime soon because that’s not where my talents lie. Building community, on the other hand, doesn’t have to be complicated. It often just takes inviting other people in. It could mean opening up one’s home and starting a bible study or just plain inviting folks over for a meal. It could mean planning a bonfire by the ocean or meeting up at the park with a friend. It could also mean having weekly rituals. For example, after Mass every Sunday my parent’s group of friends goes out for coffee and food.

Hospitality

When it comes down to it, your home doesn’t have to be perfectly cleaned, the food can be simple, and the invitation can be a chalk sign on the ground. Hospitality takes the courage to say, “I’m enough, welcome into my wonderfully messy life.” As Jean Vanier says, “I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.” Sometimes we can have the Instagram perfect table settings. Other times just offering a cup of tea and opening up our hearts is all that God is calling us to do.

Before we met our neighbor, I had already felt the call in my heart to open up our small apartment even when it was covered in boxes. That wasn’t exactly my idea of a good entertaining space, but I realized, it didn’t matter; we could still have people over. Our neighbors invited us to come over anytime, regardless of what was going on in their lives. I’d like to emulate their openness and not get caught up in the details, but focus on relationships.

Involvement

Currently, William and I are helping with coffee and donuts at our church (even though ironically we don’t eat or drink either) just so we could get to know our fellow parishioners. We regularly invite friends over for dinner and spend time with family in the area. I was able to attend a Blessed is She brunch this weekend and meet other Catholic women.

We also participate in our local Buy Nothing group. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, it’s a place online for people to freely exchange their possessions and talents. Neighbors can post items to share, such as an extra bed frame (which we received), or they can post needs such as help fixing a car problem. Neighbors in return can gift their time, or items they want to give to someone in the group. The generosity of those involved is quite radical. It’s comforting to know that if we had a need our community would be there to help us.

Invitation

Our neighbors opened their home in a radical way.  We are vulnerable when we open up and share our hearts and homes. But isn’t that where relationships begin, and where community begins, with a simple invitation? Sometimes we have to seek out a community. Other times, we are the ones who help facilitate it.

What communities have you been a part of and are involved in now?

What are you being called to do in your city, in your church, in your workplace, in your neighborhood to build community?

Does your relationship with your neighbors reflect the love of our Heavenly Father for us?

Cultivating New Habits

I had always imagined that when I was an adult I would have a rich life of leisure. That leisure time would include thoughtful conversations with friends, hiking, reading, cooking, sewing, art, and writing. Spending countless hours binge-watching Netflix, however, wasn’t what I aspired to. Many people may wonder who has time for cultivating a hobby or perfecting a new skill? Well, I definitely have the time and I know that sometimes it comes down to priorities. I want to spend time on activities that nourish my soul.

Since life doesn’t go as planned, I have spent more time than I would like to admit watching Netflix these past few months. I used it as a way to distract myself from my physical pain. But as my health started to return so did my mental clarity. I no longer felt weighed down all the time. Solving problems didn’t require immense effort and daily tasks became less burdensome as well. As I had mentioned in the post 5 Things I Learned Eating No Refined Sugar, I have been seriously reevaluating my relationship with food. These lessons I learned began to spill over into other areas of my life. Netflix was one of those areas. I believe it was just as vital for my well-being to replace my unhealthy television watching habit, as it was for me to cut out sugar. I would have never imagined the circumstances that would necessitate these lifestyle changes. But, I have found that every step I make towards building a healthier lifestyle has been based on forming new habits.

Priorities

No matter how I was feeling during a given day I would prioritize prepping healthy meals. Every day I started watching less and less t.v. shows. I began replacing the shows with other things I enjoyed, like Podcasts that challenge me intellectually and listening to peaceful music. It’s amazing, not long after making these changes I was able to relish in the silence of my home and was able to enjoy having time on my own just to think.

Daily Steps

Just as I learned what foods really supported my body, I learned what qualities to look for in what I was feeding myself on a daily basis. I try to find stories and articles that speak of beauty and listen to classical music. I’m able to cultivate a peaceful home in the physical space by de-cluttering and discovering what items really do add value to my life. I think about how each object brings beauty into my home or serves some purpose. All of these daily habits, are helping me to form virtues and become my best self. These habits challenge me to the core. It forces me to choose, in the little moments of the day, whether I’m going to move forward with my new habits or let them dwindle.

These habits not only affect how I live my life but also affect how I approach my husband. Now instead of watching Netflix in the evening with William, he helps me learn computer science, or we chat longer about our day or go on evening walks in our neighborhood. When we were engaged we had plans on how we would incorporate our faith into our daily life and Netflix winning out over the Rosary wasn’t even close to our best intentions. It took daily choosing to pray and making it a part of our daily routine that has made prayer a natural part of our life.

Sage Advice

I remember the advice a professor who discussed how to form new habits. He said if you want to wake up early you don’t have to go from 9:00 am to 6:00 am in one leap. Set reasonable goals and each day just set your alarm a little earlier, then earlier still. Taking small steps towards forming my new habits was key. It sometimes took all I had in me to decide to do things differently. A bit of self-discipline, a schedule, some reflection,  worthy goals and God’s grace has made these changes possible.

5 Things I Learned Eating No Refined Sugars

Over the past year, I have been making steps to gradually improve the quality of food I eat. My latest step is completely cutting out refined sugars. To keep things simple I try eating as many whole foods as possible. Through trial and error, I have found that a Paleo-esque diet with no gluten, dairy, grains, caffeine, and alcohol works best for my body. In fact, it’s a lot like Whole30.

When I started changing my diet I thought it’d be temporary. I thought eventually I would go back to the way I was eating or something close to that. I imagined that ice cream, brownies, cookies, and baking would all be a part of my life again. When I looked at pictures of paleo treats on Pinterest it wasn’t too much of a stretch to imagine myself eating them. Now, my whole relationship with food has been transformed. Now I see that some of the foods, especially vegetables, that I was avoiding before can enhance a meal immensely. The meals I make now are more filling and (dare I say it) delicious.

It’s a privilege

My naturopathic doctor reminded me that I actually have the privilege to know what my body needs. It changed my focus from what I can’t eat to focusing on what I can eat. Thanks to my changing taste buds, foods that taste naturally sweet like berries are now like dessert to me. I realized the value in listening to how my body felt. Also, how lucky I was to actually discover what gave me severe stomach pain and left me feeling extremely fatigued. When I first started changing the way I ate not having pain was enough to motivate me to stay on track. Once I started to feel better the effects of straying from my food plan wasn’t as immediate. So shifting my attitude opened me up to a new way of appreciating the gift that my new way of eating was.

A new way to honor my body and God

I thought my symptoms for years were somewhat “normal”, or at least they were “my normal.” Doctors didn’t seem too worried so I didn’t worry either, or at least not until everything heath-wise got worse quickly. That was my body’s distress call. My fatigue was a sign that I needed to slow down and take care of myself. My monthly period pain intensifying was a sign my body was having more inflammation. Not being able to keep weight on was a sign I wasn’t properly absorbing nutrition. My anxiety escalating to panic attacks was another sign, that my gut microbiome was in distress.

If I hadn’t listened to my body and just drank coffee to keep my energy up I wouldn’t have resolved anything. If I had over-medicated for my anxiety I wouldn’t have realized the strong brain-gut connection. I might not have sought counseling to get through that time, which brought about a lot of self-discovery (I think anti-depressants and medications have their place as well, but my body didn’t respond well to anti-depressants).By listening to my body and beginning my healing journey, I’m also able to honor my body as a temple of the Holy Spirit. I’m able to appreciate that my body is a gift that God has given me. It has also made me appreciate how wonderful food from the earth is. Although I find it very humorous that my husband drinks Soylent, (cue cringing if you’ve seen the 1960’s movie), I believe that the food we have been given is good. We might engineer great things but when it comes to food in my opinion simple is better.

Healthy Eating is enjoyable

I want to encourage you that eating nutritious foods doesn’t have to be a heavy burden. Cutting out refined sugar doesn’t mean you’ll never enjoy food again; it can actually be freeing. Freeing to know what foods you’re consuming, to know how to pronounce all the ingredients on the label of food, to know which foods don’t make you feel terrible. It’s so rewarding knowing that you can prepare a meal from scratch that tastes so good you have no reason to eat out for dinner (aside from convenience).

It’s totally possible to transform the way you eat, and your relationship with food. There are many ways to bring enjoyment and make beautiful meals that also make you feel better. I think food has been the main piece in healing my body.  I may take supplements, drink lots of water, and go on walks, but healing my gut has been key.  Also, if you suspect that more is going on get in contact with a nutritionist, naturopath, or your general doctor. Don’t be satisfied until they find what is underlying your symptoms. You don’t have to figure things out on your own completely from scratch (making meals from scratch, on the other hand, is great and fun!).

Feasting

The movie Babette’s Feast reminds me of the importance of feasting. It brings people together, it breaks down barriers, and it brings communion. In the past feasts and fasting had more of a prominent place in society at large. There is immense wisdom in these practices that I think our modern mentality could greatly benefit from. I still treasure the time of Lent because it helps me refocus and realize there is more to life than a certain food or vice. It’s also a chance to try new habits and spiritual practices.  Fasting can play an important role in life, just as feasting does. After fasting during Lent, the celebration of the Resurrection seems so much sweeter and jubilant

For me feasting looks differently than it once did. Foods are connected to some of my favorite memories. Like getting out the pizzelle press and making cookies at Christmas time, forming the dough for Raviolis for Thanksgiving. Now I have an opportunity to create new traditions, while still treasuring these recipes passed down. Food and feasting bring people together but the food doesn’t just serve a solely utilitarian purpose; it feeds both body and soul. When we have guests over we try to serve our best food, we splurge on an extra good cut of meat. It’s a celebration, where we welcome those into our home. Our dinner table is where we have rest and peace from the world, where ideas are exchanged. It’s one of the places we find daily nourishment for our souls. Our dinner table also helps us prepare for receiving the Eucharist on Sunday and hopefully someday to celebrate in the Heavenly Banquet.

Learning to Cook

Before changing my diet, I loved to make casseroles with lots of cheese. I would always add extra butter (I’d like to think I made Julia Child proud), and I loved baking and especially eating the extra cookie dough batter (you could say I had a sweet tooth). Now I’m learning the proper way to prepare veggies, and I have come to enjoy the process of making a hearty meal. I can now appreciate why in ages past people had a meal simmering over a fire all day – it has good results. Maybe we lost the wisdom of foods that take a long time to prepare.

That’s why my days are spent mostly in the kitchen around our “hearth”.  Part of making the hearth the center of our home has been a shift in priorities. Shifting priorities has allowed me to learn a new skill.  The Kitchn has a great series on learning how to cook if you need help getting started.  Many people are reclaiming practices such as canning, fermenting, and home brewing. Maybe these are all indications that there are more sustainable, more fulfilling ways to live our daily lives.

Making Changes

So whatever brings you here; if you’re facing chronic illness, or if you want to cut out refined sugar, I’m here to tell you it’s doable. Better than that, it will probably help you feel a lot better too. Changing the way you eat means developing new habits, learning new skills, and reevaluating how you were living before. Changing your lifestyle and way you eat will challenge you.  But as with starting any new habit, give it to God. Many times we don’t keep with a goal, we get discouraged because we totally rely on ourselves. I often remind myself that God’s mercies are new every morning and that we are given a fresh start each day. Let’s appreciate the great gift food is and grace our tables with food of great beauty! Let’s rediscover how to cook and redefine our relationship with food.