Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Motherhood & Prayer: Ora et Labora

In case you missed the memo, Peter Matthias was born on June 2nd - which means I'm currently spending my days resting and cuddling a newborn as much as  I can while getting acquainted with the juggling act that is being a mother to two children under the age of two. Thankfully, some wonderful ladies have agreed to share some of their writings with all of you while I take a mini blogging hiatus during this time of transition. Today it is with great pleasure that I welcome a special sister in Christ from Sacred Sharings For The Soul!

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By: C.C.

The Rule of St. Benedict focuses largely on the disciplined practice of work and prayer. St. Benedict proposed that work and prayer not only complement one another but can be so closely fused to create a harmonious balance in the spiritual life. It takes great discipline to unite the outward workings of our physical lives with the silent contemplative practice of prayer.

Through witnessing the observance of this rule I have come to see how “ora et labora” is something that can also aid in living the vocation of motherhood. This understanding can ease much of the tension that may arise in trying to maintain a balanced prayer life as a mother.

I once read that a monastery is a “school of charity”. It is a place where one must die to self daily, sacrificing ceaselessly in order to persevere. Motherhood demands the same. It is through humble recognition of this selfless vocation that one can begin to surrender to the ‘labora’ of motherhood with great peace and cultivate the fruits of God’s abundant grace. There is the obvious difficulty that arises when faced with the reality of one’s own limitations. From sleep deprivation, feeding, and the essential emotional outpouring of self; a mother can feel defeated.

Many women (myself included) have battled with the practice of consistent prayer while being busy tending to their children. I took this matter into prayer (ironically) in order to gain some much needed clarity. I recognized that ‘consistent prayer’ stems from a committed and unwavering devotion to God. In each state of life one is given the graces they need to persevere and to accomplish what is demanded of them. The prayer language of a mother is spoken through the act of service to her children. A mother's prayer life is defined by daily cultivating a child's life in cooperation with God. It is a balance of “ora et labora”; it is truly work rooted in prayer itself. If this is not so then there will be a perpetual tension and exhausting search for peace.

It is important to find the sacredness in the simplicity of service to one’s family. St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7:34) provides some clarity in helping to understand the challenge that many women may experience in their spiritual lives as they become wives and mothers.

St. Paul speaks about the dividedness of tending to God when married. I have interpreted this scripture by recognizing it in a way that does not discredit the vocation of married life and motherhood, but rather imbues it with deeper meaning and sanctity when paralleled with the life of an unmarried man and virgin. Though one is ‘divided’ in their attentiveness to the Lord while busy with serving family, perhaps it can be suggested that by viewing one’s family as divinely given and recognizing the living out of service to them as service and sacrifice for love of God, a mother maintains an undivided devotion to God.

Life as a married woman and mother does not reduce devotedness to God but does present challenges if the woman desires for the same routines and practices of prayer that she was once accustomed to. Motherhood invites a woman to allow her prayer life to evolve by accepting a new way of prayer. It is not by clinging to a prayer routine alone that allows our spiritual life to flourish, it is by clinging to God alone and welcoming the moments of prayer in the day to day “labora” of life.

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C.C. records her spiritual reflections based on prayers, quotations from the Saints, and her life as a Catholic woman, newlywed, and now mother at her blog, Sacred Sharings For The Soul. If you enjoy real-life stories that tell of God's mysterious yet powerful ways of making His presence known to us, make sure you check out her sweet baby girl's birth story and show her some love.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Five Ways to Strengthen Your Marriage

In case you missed the memo, Peter Matthias was born on June 2nd - which means I'm currently spending my days resting and cuddling a newborn as much as  I can while getting acquainted with the juggling act that is being a mother to two children under the age of two. Thankfully, some wonderful ladies have agreed to share some of their writings with all of you while I take a mini blogging hiatus during this time of transition. Today it is with great pleasure that I welcome a dear blogging kindred spirit, Tess of Little House in Chicago!

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My husband and I give presentations to engaged couples through the One in Christ program. Our goal is to help them build strong marriages that will last through whatever life throws at them.

When Stephanie asked me to guest post, I decided to share some of the advice we give engaged couples, in hopes that it can help your marriage too! I would also LOVE to hear your best marriage tips so please feel free to share them in the comments.

1. Remember the two biggest causes of fights

During our presentations, my husband asks the couples, "Can anyone guess what two things cause the most fights in marriages?"

Hands shoot into the air and people start guessing: "Money?" "In-laws?" "Sex?"

"Those are all good guesses and definitely can cause fights," he tells them. "But actually, on a day-to-day level, we've found that what causes most of our fights is being hungry or tired."

That always gets a lot of laughs, but once you start paying attention, you'll be amazed how true it is! For us at least, I'd guess 90% of our fights start because one of us is grumpy from being hungry or tired.

Once you start noticing that and taking it into account, you can avoid fights a lot more easily. We knew one couple who shared a commute to work, and actually made a pact that if one of them was overly grumpy from being hungry or tired, they wouldn't talk until they got home and ate dinner! We also tell couples that it's ok to ignore the traditional advice to "Never go to bed angry," since sometimes the problem is just that you're tired, and the fight will be easily resolved once you get a good night's sleep.

2. Learn your spouse's love language


You've heard of the five love languages, right? They include words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, giving of gifts, and acts of service. There is a quiz you can take to figure out your love language, but I think most people know themselves well enough to figure out off the bat which one applies to them.

I would encourage you to branch out of just those five categories and figure out what things unique to your spouse make him or her feel loved. For example, my husband is naturally much more tidy and organized than I am. He used to always tell me that he felt stressed when the house was a mess, but it didn't really hit home for me until one day he said, "I think a clean house is my love language." That made a big impact on me, and ever since then, I've made much more of an effort to clean up my messes.

3. Consider regular "state of the union" talks


I got this idea from a book about parenting, but it's great advice for anyone who's married! Consider scheduling meetings every month or every few months to sit down together and talk through any issues or concerns about your marriage, plus set some goals for yourselves, both personally and as a couple. We jokingly call these our "state of the union" conversations (can you tell we used to live in Washington, DC?).

The couple who wrote that book, Richard and Linda Eyre, recommend doing a five-facet review, discussing how you each are doing from a physical, spiritual, social, intellectual, and emotional perspective. We aren't always that organized about it; the goal is really just to set aside a sort of "safe space" to share with each other anything that's on your minds and hearts.

4. Seek out frequent opportunities to pray, worship, and grow in grace together


Sometimes marriage can be really hard, and can take more effort than you are able to give. That's when it's time to stop relying on your own efforts and give it over to God. God can give you the grace to heal divisions between you and your spouse. With God's help, your marriage can be a reflection of and witness to the love between Christ and the Church.

On top of that, studies show the greatest predictor of marital success is that the couple goes to church together every week—so if you want your marriage to last, make it a goal to worship and pray together as much as you can!

5. Build a community of like-minded couples and families

One of the best things you can do for your marriage is to be friends with other couples who have strong, happy marriages. You can be good examples to each other, but more than that, you can just have fun together and enjoy how great it is to be married! My husband and I have enjoyed taking road trips and vacations with other couples. We find it to be a great way to strengthen our own relationship and build friendships with couples who inspire us to be better people.

These other couples don't have to be your age, either —my husband and I love to get advice from an older couple we know who have been married for thirty years (!!) and are still so in love with each other. They tell us, "We want you to have what we have, and be as happy as we are after thirty years together." Their example inspires us every day. Nothing can compare to being part of a community of people who share your commitment to making their marriages better and stronger as the years pass.

That's the best advice I've got for making your marriage stronger. But I've only been married for two years, so I know there is a LOT more I have to learn! What's the best marriage advice you've ever heard?

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Tess is a Catholic, wife, mother, and part-time work-from-home editor living on the South Side of Chicago. She (not so) secretly would like to be Ma Ingalls someday and writes at her personal blog, Little House in Chicago, about her family's life as they strive to do things the "Little House Way" in their one-bedroom urban homestead. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Girl Power

In case you missed the memo, Peter Matthias was born on June 2nd - which means I'm currently spending my days resting and cuddling a newborn as much as  I can while getting acquainted with the juggling act that is being a mother to two children under the age of two. Thankfully, some wonderful ladies have agreed to share some of their writings with all of you while I take a mini blogging hiatus during this time of transition. Today it is with great pleasure that I welcome Emily of Raising Barnes

After you read what she's written here, you should seriously take a little virtual trip over to Raising Barnes. Not only is she a fellow Hoosier (so you know she's bound to be pretty great), but she has excellent taste in television shows and movies, writes beautiful reflections on motherhood and/or her Catholic faith, and is such a kind-hearted woman that she deservedly got nominated for "Miss Congeniality" in this year's Sheenazing Awards. If you enjoy what I write you'll undoubtedly like her, too. Welcome, Emily!

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I am so honored that Stephanie asked me to write a little something to help fill her space while she enjoys some much deserved “maternity leave.”  I hope you enjoy!

I have been thinking a lot about women lately. I’m not sure why this particular topic has been on my mind and heart lately.  Perhaps it’s the second child that I’m currently gestating.  Or that Mother’s Day wasn’t really all that long ago.  Or the fact that my best friend is expecting her first baby any day now.  Or that Stephanie (my gracious hostess) is already cuddling her second son.  Or that I have had several opportunities to spend some quality time with some amazing women that I feel lucky to know.  Regardless of the reasons, I have been spending quite a bit of time thinking about women, both women that I know and women in general.  Our roles, our lives, our responsibilities.  Really, just what being a woman in the 21st century is all about.  And, let me tell you, sometimes all of that thinking can get overwhelming. 

Luckily (or more likely, divinely), much of my spiritual reading lately has been reflecting on these thoughts that I’ve been mulling over.  I figure that I can’t be the only one who thinks about these types of things.  And if I am, please don’t tell me.  I don’t want to know if I’m a loner with my thoughts.  So, I wanted to share some of the spiritual books that have been helping me with my thought processing.

My Sisters the Saints


It seems fitting that I start with this book, since sweet Stephanie actually gave it to me!  I had mentioned quite a while ago that this book was on my wish list and she happened to have 2 copies.  And I am so thankful that she was willing to share it with me.  I’m still in the midst of it, but this memoir is really speaking to my heart.  On the surface, the author and I have very little in common; our life experiences are vastly different.  Yet, I am coming to find that this is one of the beauties of being a woman: we may be different, but we can still help each other and relate to each other.  Even if you happen to be doing it from heaven. :)

Those Who Saw Her: Apparitions of Mary


When I converted to Catholicism, I of course understood and appreciated Mary, but there was so much I didn’t know.  Then I met Our Lady of Lourdes, and I began to understand that there is a lot more to Mary than I ever realized.  I know that apparitions are not necessarily a “required” part of our Catholic faith, but they have become a very real thing to me.  I have loved learning about the times that Mary has chosen to visit us here on Earth, as well as learning more about the people she has chosen to appear to.  I know not all the visionaries are women, but I have found that there are many lessons to be learned from every apparition.  Especially when it comes to how we should be living our earthly lives. 

The Imitation of Mary


I just started this book recently, but I still wanted to include it.  The book may be small and the chapters short, but it definitely packs a punch.  The title really says it all.  The friend who loaned it to me told me it has made such a difference in her life; I’m hoping to get the same result. 

Listen to Your Blessed Mother


This is another book that I am just beginning.  Its focus is the few words that Mary actually speaks in the Scriptures.  It is true that Mary does not speak much, but the things she does say should cause us to pause and listen.  It has been nice to really reflect on those words and what Mary meant when she said them.  I’m really looking forward to digging into this book further.  Something tells me that the Blessed Mother has a lot to teach me about words.  Or, the lack of them…

Our Catholic faith is full of so many beautiful teachings about femininity.  Added to that are the countless amazing women of faith who have set such beautiful examples for us to try and follow and imitate.  For me, these women, especially Mary, were very intimidating at first; they are saints, after all.  But, now that I’ve really taken some time to read, pray and get to know all these women better, I’m not as intimidated as I used to be.  I look at them as older, experienced friends who are there when I need some help or advice about a situation.  I hope you can feel that way too. 

Who are some of your favorite saintly women?  What about some of your favorite spiritual reads?  I’m always looking for new friends and books!      


Emily is a wife and stay-at-home mom living the Midwestern dream with her little family.  She is a lover of chocolate, coffee and comfy sweaters.  You can find out more about her and read her ramblings over at Raising Barnes.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Introducing Peter Matthias!

+JMJ+

With great joy I'd like to introduce to you the newest member of our family: Peter Matthias!


Interestingly enough, I wrote on Monday night about how having to wait for our boy's arrival was probably God's way of blessing us with some extra time to enjoy making memories and prepare ourselves for this new chapter in our lives. That night, before Michael and I fell asleep we prayed together a somewhat lengthy prayer with all of our petitions and thanksgivings; as soon as we finished I immediately thought to myself, "I'm actually grateful that Peter hasn't been born yet, because I had really wanted to be able to pray like that with Michael before he comes. Maybe this is what God was giving us time to do." 

I fell asleep with the notion that after that special prayer time together we were truly 100% ready and in the right mindset to meet our son. I woke up at 4:30am to contractions that were already 2.5 minutes apart and the rest is history!

Peter was born on Tuesday, June 2nd at 9:25am after an astoundingly fast labor that began and ended within a total of 5 hours(!). He weighed in at 7 lbs. 12 oz. and is 21 inches long. 






Thank you thank you thank you for all your support and prayers and welcome to the family, Peter! We already love you so.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Final Countdown

+JMJ+

It's officially June! Other than obsessively maintaining order within our apartment and keeping it slightly cleaner than normal, all the nesting is complete (though if we're being honest, the necessary stuff has been done for awhile and everything beyond that has just been icing on the cake - which this neat freak is more than okay with).

Still, at this point we're ready for this baby to make his debut any time it pleases him....

The baby isn't even due until Thursday, but considering Gabriel was born at 39 weeks 2 days and I'm currently 39 weeks 4 days it just feels like I should be holding this boy in my arms by now. I'm doing my best to be patient and not wish these final days away...because I figure that God's timing is perfect. If our son hasn't made his debut yet there must be a reason why - so I'm going to focus on all the additional chores it allows me to do, the extra time it gives me to pray and prepare my heart for this new adventure, and all the sweet memories this period of waiting is giving me with my family.

When I think back on the past couple of weeks, we've really been blessed to make some happy memories. Considering this is where I find solace in having to wait for the birth of this child, I figured I'd compile some of my favorite photos from our final days as a family of three. And because I don't have the energy or desire to spend hours editing exposures, I'm going to take the easy route and post them as they first appeared on my private Instagram account. Enjoy!


38(.5) weeks!


Our friend Ben came to visit on Memorial Day Weekend
& he captured this photo before a delicious Sunday brunch.


With my boy(s)!


Snapshot from a happy afternoon snack with this little man. <3


39 weeks 1 day and all dressed up for a dinner date with the husband.
For the record, it was the best date we've been on in MONTHS - possibly even since Gabriel's birth. What a gift it was.


Michael and I wonder how much Gabriel comprehends and/or senses about his baby brother's impending arrival - because these past few days he has wanted to stay extra close to his mama's side. I just love him so.


Perhaps our final photo as a family of three???

This picture captures the best stuff life is made of. This past Saturday my sister and her family joined us as we soaked in the sun and splashed in the pool. Then the men grilled us a fabulous lunch that we ate outside. Not pictured is the photographer, aka my mom (who is in town for the baby's birth since my sister is flying to California).


Just a snapshot from yesterday morning. 39 weeks 3 days!


And today: still pregnant. 

"A mother's happiness is like a beacon, lighting up the future but reflected also on the past in the guise of fond memories."
-Honore de Balzac

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Go Team MIT!

+JMJ+

Believe it or not, my sister, Christina, has been eagerly counting down to this very week for many, many months...but not for the same reason we have been. It just so happens that our baby's due date is one day before the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals. This is an international robotics competition that my brother-in-law has been involved with for literally years now as he has worked tirelessly towards earning his doctorate at MIT.

Curious to see what Team MIT's robot for this final challenge looks like? Check out this promotional video in which my brother-in-law can be seen no less than 10 times in about 3 minutes (can you tell that I'm more than just a little bit excited for and proud of him?):


The last qualifying round of the competition took place a year and a half ago in Florida (conveniently while we lived there), which means the finalists have been working nonstop ever since to enhance and ideally perfect their robots. If you're anywhere near LA, you should definitely check out the competition this June 5-6 which is FREE and open to the public (and you should make sure to cheer for Team MIT)!

Additionally, if you would be so kind to offer up prayers for my sister this week I would greatly appreciate it. My brother-in-law flew to California today and will be working with his lab-mates all week long on final preparations for the competition - which means my sister is home alone with their 3 children (ages 4 and under) for the next four days until she flies coast to coast with all 3 of them...BY HERSELF(!).

Unfortunately I won't be too much help to her because I'm kinda sorta waiting to have a baby any day now. However, if there's anything that weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks (years?) of her husband's time-consuming lab work has prepared her for, it's this. At the very least, I'm convinced she'll get some quality time off of purgatory. ;)

Thank you in advance for any and all prayers for Team MIT, for many graces for my sister, and for this little boy I'm eagerly waiting to meet face to face. It should be an exciting week for our family!

"The DRC is a competition of robot systems and software teams vying to develop robots capable of assisting humans in responding to natural and man-made disasters. It was designed to be extremely difficult. Participating teams, representing some of the most advanced robotics research and development organizations in the world, are collaborating and innovating on a very short timeline to develop the hardware, software, sensors, and human-machine control interfaces that will enable their robots to complete a series of challenge tasks selected by DARPA for their relevance to disaster response."

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Nesting: Then & Now

+JMJ+

When I was pregnant with Gabriel "nesting" consisted mostly of acquiring two things: 1) knowledge and 2) baby-related items. Back then I spent countless hours learning what I could about pregnancy, labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery. I also spent a ridiculous amount of time reading birth stories, "hospital bag" packing lists, and doing my best to figure out which things we should actually put on our baby registry versus what products I felt were superfluous for us. Michael and I took a breastfeeding class, a labor and delivery class, and in general I had lots of time to dream, think, read, and pray about all that lay ahead of us.

This time around my nesting instincts have been in full swing - but how these instincts have manifested themselves has altered tremendously.

For obvious reasons, I have largely been focused more on Gabriel and his needs throughout this time of preparation. After all, the baby already has a place to sleep, clothing, and plenty of other baby-related items we have acquired throughout the past couple of years. What we didn't have this time around were (yet again) items Gabriel would soon be needing as he continues to grow. Because of this, the majority of what we have recently acquired have been things like a toddler bed, toddler clothes to get Gabriel through summer and into fall, age-appropriate toys that will better captivate his attention when I'm busy nursing the baby, and a chair for the kids' room (because previously there wasn't one, but this far along in pregnancy I refuse to sit on the floor to read him stories any longer).

Additionally, we moved 1300 miles from Michigan to South Florida right before Gabriel was born (seriously - there was exactly one week between the day we got our apartment keys and when I went into labor). This meant I didn't need to do much cleaning because we hadn't even lived in our place long enough to make it dirty! Sure, we spent time making sure all our boxes were unpacked and we were settled in, but because we knew it would most likely only be a 6-month project we didn't bother hanging anything on the walls and displayed very few decorations elsewhere.

This time around, however, you'd better believe I have been a cleaning and decorating machine. This pregnancy has motivated me to finally take care of some things I've wanted to do for several months - things like:

  • making a crafty family album of birth announcements and our annual Christmas cards (so I no longer have to worry about losing our only remaining copies from some years!), 
  • ordering prints from our wedding and displaying some of them throughout our home (I mean, it only took me 2.5 years to get around to this...but to be fair we've had a lot going on in that amount of time), 
  • and ordering prints of Gabriel's 1st birthday photos and hanging some pictures on his bedroom wall. 
We even purchased a bookshelf to house our movies so they're no longer crammed on the bottom shelf of our entertainment stand (which made it impossible to find any of them without taking all of them off the shelf).

I honestly think the only new things Michael and I have spent any direct money on for this second little boy have been:

  • our new stroller (which he and Gabriel can enjoy together - thanks, Britax!), 
  • new bassinet sheets (because the old ones shrank), 
  • some newborn diapers, 
  • a baby K'tan
  • and one pack of newborn-sized onesies (because we made the mistake of only buying 0-3 month clothing for Gabriel and he was swimming in them in his earliest days). 

Anyway, I've spent a ridiculous amount of time this pregnancy cleaning, cleaning, cleaning some more, shifting furniture around as baby gear has begun to make its reappearance, and decorating and redecorating until everything feels just right and ready within our home. But enough talk. Want to see some pictures? Here's a small visual sample of a handful of the changes I've obsessively completed since moving and getting settled into this apartment 5 months ago:



Oh hi, baby swing! Nice to see you again. Also note the new shelf (which creates a visual of our old bookshelf having expanded because they match and fit so nicely together), new decorations atop the shelves, and how uncluttered our entertainment stand is now (one of my husband's favorite nesting results to be sure).



Here you can kind of see that we rotated our dining room table to create a new spot for Gabriel's play table, added a new chair to our dining set, and if you look really closely you just might see that I replaced one of the photographs on the wall with a wedding photo.



Can you spot the major change? It may have taken 2.5+ years to print and frame, but something about displaying that giant (16 x 20!) wedding photo makes our home feel about a million times more like our home...if that makes sense. It's worth noting that this decorative update was done at the suggestion/reminder of my husband - which only melted my heart into roughly a million pieces. <3



More wedding photos have finally made their rightful debut! And everything about this updated dresser display feels SO much cleaner and prettier to me. Please don't tell me if you disagree because I simply adore it.

And I've saved the best for last:





TA-DA! Or as Gabriel would say, "...DA!" I'm convinced that just about everything having to do with Gabriel's bedroom is 100% better than before. The 5 months we've lived here have really allowed me to envision a new layout that will work once both of the boys are sleeping in it. Plus, those baby pictures, beautiful frames, and super cute chair do wonders to enhance the aesthetic appeal, am I right? ;)

All in all it has been so nice to focus more time on just being with my growing family, making our home more cozy and reflective of our lives, simply being pregnant, and dreaming of meeting this boy face to face...rather than feeling like I need to research product after product after product and then acquire the ones we want(ed). The first pregnancy is special in countless ways - but so is this one and I'm thankful for the blessing of being able to be more laid-back because we've already been down this road before.

Little man number 2 (oh, how I cannot wait to begin calling you by name in public! But for now your name is a special surprise to everyone but your daddy and me), if you ever read this please know that buying fewer baby things for you than we did for your brother has no bearing on our immense love for you. Thank you for being who you are; we cannot wait to meet you...SOON!

"A baby is born with a need to be loved - and never outgrows it."
-Frank A. Clark