Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What Kind of Pro-Life Generation Are We?

Last week marked the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the legalization of abortion in the United States. If you’re reading this blog, you shouldn't be surprised to find out I’m a social conservative. Hello, I’m Catholic. If you’re up for it, give me ten minutes. I’m not one to get in screaming fits or start throwing bibles, but I’m sure not one to stay silent, either.

Of those 40 years, I’ve participated in the Nation’s March for Life for the past 9. It’s the least I can do, for the other third of my generation that didn’t make it out of the womb; and it’s an honor as an American, to embrace the rights of the first amendment, hard earned and protected with worthy deaths. Each year I march I’m blown away by people’s determination. It’s not a piece of cake.  The day is truly a pilgrimage. People don’t travel twenty hours or more on buses to march for nothing; we don’t wake up at 4 am to stay up 24 hours, or march in 18 degree snow and ice for nothing; and we certainly don’t march for media coverage. HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of people show up every year- and it’s barely covered on the news. This year was 500,000 plus.

So why do we march? Better yet, why are we pro-life at all? Being Pro-Life is often likened to being racist or sexist- it’s judgmental, some people think. Being openly pro-life has earned me many labels over the years: prude, holy roller, religious freak, oppressed zombie, crazy b****, to name a few. I’ll admit it- the constant belittlement makes the counter arguments sound tempting. 

It’s easier to mind our own business; women’s bodies shouldn't be on political agendas. “I don’t agree with abortion, but I wouldn't tell a woman she couldn't get one”… “Women should have the right to choose.” Fear invites us to believe it’s not our place to speak, that each person does have a “right to choose”. Well, I’m all about supporting choices- but why is choosing to believe life begins at conception the only choice allowed to be discounted?

Sometimes the truth is not easy to believe. But after years of skepticism, serious questioning and deliberation, I have found the Catholic Church’s teachings on sex, contraception and abortion to be true. I would still believe them even if I did not believe in God at all. They’re not popular; they’re not easy to live out; but they are logical, and most importantly, they demand the truest form of love, which is sacrifice.

We Are Not Pro-Life if We’re Not First Pro-Love

“We are the Pro-Life Generation.” I’ve heard that a lot lately. It’s beautiful- and I try to live up to that standard in my own life- but this year, particularly, I’ve been asking myself what that means exactly. I am a dedicated member of the Pro-Life movement- yet, as a young woman in the modern world, I recognize some misdirection the movement continues to make. In frank terms, I understand why some people hate us.  I’ve been thinking lately about how much it’s necessary to first be pro-love before we can be authentically pro-life.

“Keep your rosaries off my ovaries,” is a phrase I’ve never forgotten from a few pro-choice protests I’ve witnessed. Pretty sacrilegious, maybe hurtful to some, but you have to admit it’s a rather clever pun. The first young woman I remember holding that sign was a classmate of mine in college; she had worn a pin all week that said, “I stand with Planned Parenthood.” She was bright, kind, eager to help women. I wondered what she would do if I wore a pin that said, “I stand with the American Catholic Church. Keep your birth control off the Constitution.” I didn’t want to start a fist fight in the middle of Shakespeare, however poetic.

That girl was just like me. Friendly, ambitious, a little sassy- and I bet she really believed she was helping women. It killed me there was such a disconnect. How could we be so similar and believe such fundamentally different things? She believed abortion on demand, free contraception, and discrediting the religious liberty of a nation was the definition of freedom for modern women. I ached for a solution- a way to reach people like her- convinced that religious fanatics or enslaved patriarchal masses are somehow threatening her way of life; when all we’re trying to do is stand up for love. A love that, in fact, has her personal best interests in mind.

I do know how we DON’T reach them: by failing to love. And we fail to love each time we don’t consider the situation holistically. I get it. You’re pissed- the massive, unbearable loss weighs on my heart every day.  It’s mind numbing to live in a society where the value of life is measured with usefulness. How far will the line get pushed? Only children who are wanted are born.  We have lawmakers pushing third trimester abortions. What’s next? Will we execute the elderly when they cease to function? The disabled and handicapped, too? And us? Our generation where so many don't have jobs? There would be more room without us, too.

You should be infuriated. Every day I feel insane when what is crystal clear to me is denied by so many. But we can’t let these rants control our actions. Our religious liberty, the very nature of our humanity is under attack, yes, but we are kind people. We are people of patience, logic, and generous love. Manipulation, ignorance, shaming others? There is no place for these things among us. There is no time to lose hearts with negligence.

We must remember what it means to be pro-life. That each abortion begins with a woman- and man- neglected real love. It is easy to condemn her; to call her a murderer, a sinner. Judgment only passes along fear and hatred- obviously- turning the rosary into a weapon, a threat. Love smiles at those women, and says, “I can help you,” without question. The wrath of God is real indeed, but so is His mercy. Read a newspaper- our feeble mirrors of His wrath are not working.  Why don’t we try mirrors of compassion instead?

Love thinks before it speaks. “We love babies, yes we do, we love babies, how ‘bout you?” is often chanted at the march. I hate this. It’s utterly disrespectful. Do you think those women backed into the corner of abortion hate children? They’re human beings, like you and me. Do not rob them of their maternal love in their darkness; it will push them farther from the light.

Love respects the dead. Those graphic pictures with the gruesome reality of abortion have their place. In medical books, in court cases, in discretion. The remnants of the dead do not belong on billboards. Murder photographs are not put into slideshows. It is counter-productive to our cause.

Love, above all is sacrifice. To be pro-life is to embrace a lifestyle of sacrifice, in all things.  We sacrifice our pride, our talents, even our own bodies, because we recognize the very sanctity of life, as we are made in the image of God. This starts with valuing our own lives and that reverence ripples out like waves in a pond.

Sacrifice waste and carelessness. Trade in the world found in pop songs where young people think themselves invincible. We are not. Instead, invest in your health, your mind, your future. Don’t text and drive or speed- that crap kills people. Friends make friends wear seatbelts; you’re laughing now, until your friends are dead.  Don’t kill your livers; don’t ruin your lungs with smoke; in fact, avoid all addictions except the high of gratitude. Break cycles of violence and abuse by sacrificing your pride. Life is far too short.

Sacrifice your time and energy. Call your grandparents and care for the elderly. Treat the poor, homeless, disabled and different like human beings.  Be proud of young women or couples that choose life, no matter their circumstance; be ready to console the ones who don’t. They don’t need forgiveness from you- only themselves and from God. Help them.

The greatest and most effective sacrifice is that of our own desires. It seems impossible to save sex for marriage. My friends, it’s difficult, but not impossible. I dare you to completely sell out for love. A love so strong, it can’t be bound with any limits. It needs no contraception, no abortion. A love that has no mistakes, because it’s total self gift. Give your lives to God and He will show you how inconsequential sex is without love; how incomplete love is without sacrifice; and how that’s only found in the cross.

So to my fellow Pro-Life generation, I beg you. Stand up for love while we stand up for life. Those who stand against us were once in the womb, too. Give them no reason to discredit us.  Educate yourselves. Research what you believe in. Only then can we patiently and firmly sacrifice our lives to show them love.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

My Frozen Stubborn Senses

I had become a great enigma to myself and asked my soul why it was so sad and why it caused me so much distress. And my soul did not know what to answer. If I said, “Trust in God,” my soul very rightly did not obey me, because the dearest friend whom it had lost was more real and better than the fantastic god in whom it was told to trust. Only tears were my consolation, and tears had taken the place of my friend in my heart’s love.” -St. Augustine, The Confessions

This passage has been very useful to me over the years.  The sentiment comforts me; there’s something about knowing “a holy dead guy” shares similar feelings to us all that just allows me to breathe easier (thank you, Ellen). I love this passage mostly because its transparency is overwhelming.

“…because the dearest friend whom it had lost was more real and better than the fantastic god in whom it was told to trust”

I may have wept when I first stumbled upon this gem. It felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. There, someone said it. I could admit it: it’s a very difficult thing to trust God, especially when you’re mad at Him.  I too have lost loved ones and had to confront reality straight on.  My greatest struggles perhaps all originate with this problem: the complicated relationship between the reality of our material, physical world and an unseen, all powerful God.  

I feel like I’m very aware and influenced by sensory things. Smells, sounds, sights, tastes, touches. We all are.  The mistake is to believe they’re the only things that are real; a mistake that’s very hard to overcome.  It’s a mistake that leads to despair- for when things are lost, it seems eternal. If nothing else but what I can see, feel or touch is real… then surely my sorrow is eternal. Faces lost are lost forever.  

That’s where trust comes in. It’s so much easier to trust in sensory things. The safety of a locked door. The satisfaction of a good meal. The comfort of a man’s arms.  All good things- and yet, they are still not eternal. It took me a while to figure out I could not trust someone I didn’t know.  Thus began both the simplest and most complex journey any person can travel- asking God who He is.  Asking Him who I am; why I should bother caring what He thinks; and what the heck I’m supposed to be doing on this earth. And like any loving parent, He lets me ask the same questions over and over; even days when He knows I’m not listening to the answers.

Lately, the bitter cold has been flooding my sensory universe. Seasonal depression is real, folks. Stock up on hot cocoa and blankets. Pictures of the beach all over your room may or may not be helpful. Maryland is my home, but most know I’m a Florida girl at heart. My emotions being tied so closely with my senses has proved for a tough first winter back at home.

My blood has thinned. I ache for the sun; my bones cry out for the warm gentle breezes. I miss how the moonlight falls on palm trees.  I miss the sand in my toes and seeing endless green.  I miss the comfort of being swallowed up whole in the gigantic ocean. Here, the trees are bare and cold.  The duck pond across the street is lovely, but a bit small. I’m trying to be calm and react like a rational human being, but I’m not doing the best job.

The other night, as I left my brother and sister-in-law’s house, it had snowed. It was freezing cold with biting wind. I screamed and complained as I scraped the half inch of ice off my car. I cursed the wind and ice; shouting profanities about how I didn’t belong in cold weather, about how much I hate dealing with it at all. It was a scene of shameless brattiness. It was a dusting; I am better than that.

As I drove home and my fingers re-gained feeling, defrost warming my car, my mind slipped away from itself and back to the cold. But this time, I thought of all the homeless people who must be outside freezing. The children whose coats are too thin; the little fingers that have no gloves, when I have many to choose from at home. I was suddenly ashamed of myself.

“Do they trust God?” I asked myself. I have everything, and still I doubt Him.  My sensory world lacks nothing: warm car, good music, pleasant scenery. At home I’ll be greeted with a home cooked meal, comfy bed, a closet full of clothes. My parents will hug and kiss me, they’ll love me. My regular Monday night is more privileged than some other human being’s whole lives. Still, I have the audacity to complain and lack satisfaction.

Sadly, my reaction to the cold is so often similar to my response to God. I don’t like dealing with it at all. I don’t like being powerless. I don’t like being out of my comfort zone.  All these things can be said about our sensory climate and our relationships with the big guy.

The solution to both problems is simple. So simple it seems impossible and funny at the same time. It’s always to let go. Put on some gloves, stop screaming about how cold you are, reconcile with the fact you’re not literally going to freeze- and be a grown up who’s capable of scraping the ice off her windshield. When I stop fighting the cold- I realize how much I can take it.

When I stop fighting God, I’m humbled by how much He gives me. I hold onto things so tightly- always having a backup plan in case He doesn’t come through- and only when I let go can He actually get things done.  Luckily, as Catholics, our sacramental faith gives us plenty of sensory truths.

In a way that fills all my senses God is real. I see His love and mercy in others. I hear His power when the wind blows, when the waves crash, when my loved ones speak. I smell His gifts in every cup of coffee, every stroll around the lake. I taste Him in bread and wine. I feel Him with every breath, each moment I’m alive.

To trust Him is to believe in something bigger than ourselves, than our senses. He’s so generous to come to us even there, in our humanity which He created and shared.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

5 Exercise Tips for Aging Young Adults

1. We NEED to Stretch Now

Y’all, we’re not 16 anymore. I know- two-a-day’s at football, soccer, or field hockey practice don’t seem like that long ago. But they were. We’re now twenty-something’s. Our muscles are literally twenty years old. Like the chipped wood paneling in the bathroom. Like…wait. Most things don’t live or last that long. 

We need to stretch. Running a block= stretching for at least 10 minutes. Don’t let your pride trick you! Not stretching will make it hard to walk. You will be embarrassed as your father springs up the stairs and you’re still at the bottom. You will hurt sitting down, anywhere. Then you will be too sore to exercise the next day.

Use stretching as your “you” time. Be happy you just exercised; be happy you’re done. The only way to touch our toes in ten years is touching them every day until then. Or say you’re jogging, shamelessly out of breath, and kids on bikes are approaching. Inevitably…they will pass you. They will hear your wheezing. But wait! There’s a tree to save you. You pause, stretching your calves on the friendly bark. Your breathing slows. They pass, smiling and wave. “She’s so cool,” they’re thinking. “I want to jog like her when I graduate middle school.” Stretching just saved you. Become best friends with stretching.

2.  Get “Couch to 5K” Immediately

You think running is only for super athletic people. Jumping gazelles who have never counted calories in their lives. It’s not true. Your ankles are just as good, your calves just as ready to be formed. A few months ago, I could barely jog a mile. I admit it. In college, we barely sleep; we only have time for fast food; our livers are under attack. I simply had no time to learn to run.

I don’t endorse many things- but Couch to 5K- an app on my iPhone- turned me into a jogger. I had been trying for years. It just never worked.  I would give up, discouraged because it always seemed too hard. Even in high school- I played defense on the Field Hockey team because I was a slow runner. It didn’t matter then- my hip checks and not fearing bruises/ broken bones were enough to get the job done. Swim team? Pshh, we don’t run.  

But with C25K- I can jog for miles. I am slow, yes, but who cares? My jeans from high school are fitting. I could now effectively run away from a bad guy, God forbid.  Now I can jog for the rest of my life. It’s the best exercise because you can do it anywhere. Marathons are still far away- but healthy is happy. Toning exercises and gyms are great-but jogging works miracles.

Get shoes that fit, follow the program! It seems silly at first- walk, walk, walk- jog for five seconds- but pace yourself! It’s only 3 days a week, don’t skip ahead! Soon, you will see you can jog longer without feeling like death. Take notice of your breathing. I breathe in for 3 seconds, out for 4, which is harder than it seems. Go download it now. Totally free.

If you don’t have an iPhone- Google interval running apps. You should be able to find something.

3. Give Biking a Try

When I moved home, I invested in a nice, durable adult bike. Not that I don’t love my purple princess bike- but my legs are a bit longer, now. My parents and I discovered this beautiful bike trail, not far from our house. Soon we were out there almost every other day. Beginning bikers, don’t be discouraged! The local bike shops may seem snobby, if you’re not sure which bike you want or how to take it apart and put it back together, but ignore it. You don’t need the fancy bike clothes or aspirations to be in the Tour de France. Take it a day at a time; don’t get hit by a car.

Get to know your bike. Make sure the back break is not permanently on- making the first few weeks really difficult to ride. Your legs will be like steel- but you might cry a few times, as your parents fly past you on their beach cruisers, while you’re sweating on the bike you spent a paycheck on. Thank you, bike friend, for taking the invisible break off.

Do not wear baggy clothes, they might catch on the pedals and you will wreck; don’t try doing 12 miles immediately, you’ll have a hard time walking back to the car; when your seat is too high, stopping abruptly may cause you to fly forward onto the bar…and ladies, this still hurts.

Biking is great because it’s less impact on your joints. Since you’re jogging 3 times a week, give them a rest.  Biking gets you outside to watch the seasons change. There’s a feeling of success covering so much ground in a short period of time. There’s a feeling of such freedom.  Let the wind carry you away from all your problems. Take deep breaths; share the ride with friends and family. When you’re ready- move up to biking mountain trails. When you’re crazy, try riding with no hands. I will never be able to do this, but I’ve seen it done.

4. Don’t Underestimate Proper Clothes

It’s genius trying to exercise in the winter in a tank top. Wrong! It’s cold now. Maryland is not Florida. My jogging experience was 100% better with some ear warmers, running gloves, and $9 long pants from Wal-Mart. You may need a long sleeve shirt and jacket. You may need spandex or long johns. It might be 35 degrees. Don’t be a baby. You’ve got this. (I mean don’t go outside if it’s raining or snowing, I don’t suggest sickness…but yeah, suck it up.)

Your nose and cheeks will be rosier, but hey, your efforts are just more obvious. So my Florida people, don’t give me that crap. Boo hoo, it’s 55 degrees. Go outside.

Sometimes I would dread working out because I didn’t have the right clothes. Jogging was annoying because my pants would be falling down.  Kickboxing was awkward jumping around in shorts. My shoes were too big; my sports bras were old or too small. Invest in yourself. If that means dropping a few bucks on the right clothes- believe me, it’s worth it.
5.  Make it a Priority Sooner than Later

My young friends, we’re only getting older. Right now is the time to ensure our healthy futures. I don’t know about you guys- and I’m sure all real adults reading this are mad at me- but I’m getting grey hair. My back cracks getting up every morning. It takes me longer to jump up off the floor. I can no longer treat my skin like crap without it showing.

Only you can decide if you want to be healthy. Our family members are getting older, we’re starting new chapters in our lives…and our bodies are aging with our minds. I know exercising can be annoying. We get busy, we get tired. We want food, we want to lounge on the couch.  We have time to check facebook and twitter but not 20 minutes to walk a mile? We want Jimmy John’s 5 times a week and 3 cups of coffee every day, but we don’t care it’s raising our blood pressure? Those are things our parents worry about. Not anymore. We’re twenty something. It will catch up to us soon.

I encourage you to make time for yourself. It’s often the biggest obstacle to overcome. We make time for everything else- school, work, family, friends, prayer- but all that is hurt when our bodies start failing. Do your future self a favor and make exercise a priority. We have things to do- so make sure you’re up and running to get them done.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

"Just Say Yes"

I didn't think I would write any posts about music since it is often different things to different people. Some people prefer the melody, the musical talent; others ache for the words, taking comfort in their sentiment.  Some music is for dancing or for nights spent around a smoky fire with a drink. Some music is made to stir your soul. A good song can make the world seem brand new.  Music seems endless.

So you see, the list is simply too long. Writing about music is like writing about the ocean.  Where could I even begin? Here you discover one of my faults- my absolute annoyance with things that cannot be grasped wholly.  Music, the ocean…the love of God.  And yet, the things that make me feel the smallest, the most insignificant, are always my favorite things. They are the only places I find rest.

When I first wanted to post about this particular song, my initial thought was, “That’s dumb. No one will get it.”  Or even, “No one will treasure this song the way you do.” For me, attachments to songs or experiences with certain songs can be deeply personal. We all have them: the song that plays randomly on the radio that just sends silent tears down your face; the song that awakens memories so deep you forgot you kept them; the song that brings a certain face to mind, a certain time.  Often, only you can really understand the complexity of what a song means to you.

I need not capture the vastness of the ocean to understand its beauty; that can be seen in a single wave, a tiny shell. I certainly can’t wrap my head around the love of God. Each day reveals a new way He has no conditions. I could only ever share moments, precious and almost unspeakable, of how He lets me see it sometimes. Just because I can’t describe its entirety doesn’t make the pieces any less real. So I write this post with that peace…that even if I can’t get my whole point across to everyone… this piece of music is important to me. And if you’re reading this, I must be, in some way, important to you.

“Just Say Yes,” by Snow Patrol, will forever be tied to memories of this time in my life. I can’t stop listening to this song. I’m sure friends who have seen me lately will laugh. I’ve annoyed them enough, playing it over and over, saying, “Guys have you heard this song? Shhh, listen to the words! Listen!”

Yet more than wishing whoever I marry sings this song to me as he proposes (which is half way a joke), this song really touches me for a few reasons.  Do yourself a favor. Get past the techno background, close your eyes and let this song take you. Don’t even watch the video.  Just soak it in, and then come back to me.

I just listened again and I’m probably still crying for the hundredth time over this song. I agree, it’s not the best song ever.  It sure isn’t Les Miserables level or worthy of in-depth analysis. But right now… the words, “Just Say Yes,” mean more to me than most other words.

I have a general proclivity to be a negative person. Probably because my personality hinges on practicality and we live in a strange world.  I like to think of myself as a worst-case scenario optimist. That being said, I think this song completely rips my heart out because it reminds me of all the things I respond to negatively.

“No” is a pretty useful word. It lasted through high school and college. No, I don’t want to try those drugs, thank you. No, I don’t want two pieces of cheesecake…I mean, I do….but no. No, I’m not going to take part in something I disagree with.  It should be the only word that friends or significant others need for your point to be heard.

I say no to a lot of things. Sometimes out of prudence, sometimes out of selfishness, and sometimes out of fear.

“Just say yes. Just say there’s nothing holding you back.”

Gosh. It hurts. It kills me. The things that hold me back. There are too many to list.

Yet, even more dangerous than saying no, are the times I simply fail to say yes. I want to say yes.

Yes, God you are enough. Yes, I believe I am good. Yes, I believe I am beautiful and loved. Yes, I will give up my life to serve you. Yes, I will try every day to love like you. Yes, I am thankful for my life. Yes, I have joy.

Instead, sometimes my days look more like this:

God, where the heck are you?  I wonder if I’ll always be so bad. Things will be better when I lose those last 20 lbs, get a tan and my hair grows back out. I can’t decide if I want to serve you or give up this crap and make a lot of money. Most people annoy the hell out of me, but I’ll be nice because that’s objectively right and I don’t want other people to think I’m mean.  My closet is full but I want new clothes. Sometimes, I wish He hadn’t made us at all because I don’t see the point.

There’s a pretty stark difference there. Realistically I’m somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. But right now, at a time when my life is full of uncertainty, it’s the scariest thing to say yes. Commitment is scary; giving up control is scary; believing in something bigger than ourselves is scary.  Self gift without reserve, without expectation- it’s the point of our lives and the one thing I’m most afraid of.

Let me end on the clear note that this song, though perfect, is not about any person for me. I’ve had the privilege of loving great men, that’s for sure. But bigger than that, and completely outside of myself, this song encourages me to say yes to God. Yes to communion. Yes to love.

It’s an invitation to trust. Sometimes people say, “don’t ask why,” regarding suffering in our lives, big and small, but I think that’s crap. Ask Him why every day; just be prepared that the answer is always the same, and sometimes that knowledge will lead you down paths you don’t really want to travel, but won’t be able to resist. 

“It’s so simple and you know it is. You’re the only way to me, the path is clear. This was all I wanted, all I want.”