Friday, October 31, 2008

My Family

So let’s go back to the family thing, shall we? This week I want to talk some more about my family, and next week I’ll talk about Daniel’s family.

My parents were married young and I was born when they were both nineteen. My Mom stayed home with me while my Dad worked and continued to take college classes. From the very beginning, I was baptized and raised Catholic. I think I mentioned before that my Dad was not Catholic for most of my childhood, but we always went to Sunday Mass as a family. When I was little, I actually thought that it was the father’s job to stay back from Communion to save his family’s seats! (I don’t know why it never occurred to me that other fathers left their seats unattended).

My sister Marie was born when I was two and a half, Rose when I was six (the first I was old enough to remember later), and Jane when I was eight. In the summer of 1998 we moved from the townhouse we had lived in for ten years; my parents were having a big house built “in the country.” My Dad was his own general contractor, and he and my Mom did much of the work themselves.

That same summer my next sister, Annie, was born. For almost six months, we lived with my grandparents. Then, just before Christmas, we planned to “camp out” at our new house for a whole weekend to get more work done, but we didn’t sleep at my grandparents’ house another night. We stayed in our new house from then on, even though it was not finished by any stretch of the imagination. There has been constant work being done ever since—it has now been almost ten years, and the house certainly has come a very long way!

Apparently my family really needed all that new space, because it was not done growing. When I was a freshman in high school we found out that my Mom was pregnant again, and that spring my first brother was born: Paul! That brings us up to 2001. I finished high school and started college, and this is the family that Daniel met in the fall of 2004: my still young parents, four little sisters (aged fifteen, eleven, nine, and six) and a three-year old little brother.

Daniel always says that when he first met my family, he felt like he was in a family sitcom like “Full House”—everybody was too good, too happy. The dynamics even felt a little fake to him at first. It was “too perfect” somehow. Well, Daniel has now been around enough during the past four years to know that my family is far from fake, and far from perfect. But I think I sort of understand what he was feeling at first; I have always felt that there was something special about my family (I know, everyone says that, right?). There’s so much love and so much fun and silliness in my family—it’s never boring. And I guess being the oldest, I have always been very proud and protective of all of my younger siblings, similar to how a parent feels about their children, although not to the same extent. And because my parents were married so young and have been through so much since then, I have also always been very proud of them. Next to Daniel, my family are my best friends.

Now you have the context for the news we got in February 2007. Daniel and I were home for my sister Rose’s fourteenth birthday when we learned that my Mom would be having yet another baby. I was twenty years old. Paul, the youngest at the time, was about to turn six the next week. As I’m sure you can imagine, we were all shocked.

As we sat around the dinner table with wide eyes and open mouths, Paul started to cry. I think one of my sisters did too. Daniel, being more emotionally removed, found the whole thing quite amusing. And of course, being the youngest in his family, he had never before experienced this, whereas I had five times before. He was so excited! Edward (a second boy so that Paul would have a brother) was born that August, so he is now almost fifteen months old…

Friday, October 24, 2008

On Love: Disney and the Eucharist

In our society, the concept of love is somewhat of an enigma. Either that or it’s a little bit (or a lot) twisted. From a very young age, children (girls in particular) get an impression of “love” through Disney princess movies and other fairy tales that depict falling in love as a man coming along and sweeping a young woman off her feet. I grew up on these stories, as did most of my female peers. We dressed up as Ariel, Belle, and Cinderella for Halloween (or any day of the year that we felt like it) and dreamed that “someday our prince would come.” Surely he would be handsome, strong, brave, and perfectly chivalrous—holding doors, pulling out our chairs, and giving up his princely cape (or sweatshirt) if we happened to shiver. Of course, we would instantly know beyond the shadow of a doubt that we had found our “one true love.”

There is certainly nothing wrong with chivalry; in fact, I think there should be more of it today. Daniel is very chivalrous. But it seems to me that according to most of these fairy tales, love is about a woman having warm, fuzzy feelings while batting her eyelids liberally (as Sebastian the crab so aptly demonstrates—I hope I’m not losing anyone here). Meanwhile, it is the man who is doing all the work to win the woman’s heart (or even her life). I would say Pocahontas is the exception that proves this rule.

Even if we know better, I think it is easy to sometimes slip into this mentality, at least it is for me. I want Daniel to take care of me, but I sometimes forget that I should also be taking care of him. I admittedly have a tendency towards selfishness, which I guess is part of being human. Daniel has a lot more on his plate right now than I do, since he is attending grad school with a full course load while working full time, and I still give him a hard time when he can’t do everything that I want him to do. He needs my support and my understanding, and I know that I am not giving him enough of either. This has been weighing on my mind a lot recently, especially today.

When the priest spoke the words of consecration at Mass this afternoon (I am blessed to have the opportunity to attend daily Mass right in my building) I received a nice reminder that almost made me cry. You all know how it goes: “This is my body, which will be given up for you… This is my blood…” That is true love. As the priest said those words and held up the newly consecrated host and the chalice, I was reminded that this is how I am supposed to love, too. Once Daniel and I are married, we will be symbolizing that love (if you’ve never heard of Pope John Paul II’s incredible Theology of the Body, go google it). But we should also be imaging that love right now in everything we do. For me, that means being less selfish and more selfless in my relationship with Daniel. Whatever I might “suffer” as a result is pretty insignificant anyways.

True love is often about self-sacrifice and sometimes suffering, and not just on the part of the man, as fairy tales might lead little girls to believe. Just as a disclaimer, I happen to be a pretty big fan of Disney princess movies. Something they do well is showing a girl that she should never settle for anything less than a man who is willing to fight a giant, fire-breathing dragon (think Sleeping Beauty, then think Revelation 12), risking his life to save hers. What is often left out is that a man should never settle for anything less than a woman who would do the same for him! One quick last note: if you’ve seen the new movie Enchanted, this is exactly what happens! Well done, Disney.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Seven Months To Go!

There are now exactly seven months left until the wedding, and I ordered my dress today!! It’s the same one as the picture I put up a few weeks ago, and I bought it through a “bridal shop” on eBay for cheaper than I found it on the original website. I really hope it turns out the way I expect it to—if not, I have buyer protection through PayPal and eBay and can get my money back. I’m so excited! I’ll let you know how it goes.

Daniel and I are almost decided on a photographer to use, too. A guy who works with Daniel also does photography on the side, and his work is great! We’ve looked at the pictures from other weddings he’s done, and it’s definitely our style. The package is pretty affordable and has everything we would want, so we just need to sit down and talk with him soon.

The past several weeks have really flown by, and I’m realizing that May 16 is creeping up on us a lot faster than we expected. There’s still so much to be done—so many details to think about. Apparently we are on a waiting list for a sponsor couple at my church so that we can get started with marriage prep. I emailed the woman in charge this morning; she says she expects to be able to set us up with someone sometime in November. We still need to look at flowers, reception music, transportation, bridesmaid dresses, the cake, and the list goes on… We’re trying to do the whole wedding for around $10,000 and so far we’re right on track, thanks to planning a morning/afternoon wedding instead of having it in the evening. That made a huge cost difference. Just a hint: I always love getting money-saving advice…

Friday, October 10, 2008

Something Worth Fighting For

This past weekend, Daniel and I went to see the movie Fireproof, the latest by Sherwood Pictures. They’re the production company affiliated with Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia whose low-budget Christian football film Facing the Giants was surprisingly successful all around the country a couple of years ago. We knew Fireproof was about a firefighter (Kirk Cameron) and his wife who are on the verge of divorce, and I knew that I wanted to see it as soon as I saw the trailer. It ended up being even better than I expected, and I think it does a great job of promoting the value that marriage it is meant to have.

Kirk Cameron, whom I knew from the 80’s sitcom “Growing Pains,” plays Caleb, a firefighter whose seven-year marriage to Catherine has turned into little more than a hostile roommate situation. Neither partner feels respected by the other, and neither understands the difficulties of the other’s daily life. Near the beginning of the movie, we see a few fights and learn that Catherine “wants out” and Caleb is fine with that because he “wants peace.” They aren’t happy.

Caleb’s parents apparently went through a similar rough time in the past, and his father asks Caleb to hold off on the divorce for forty days. During this time, Caleb will be reading and doing “The Love Dare,” written in a day-by-day format in a journal by Caleb’s dad. The plot of the film consists of Caleb attempting to use “The Love Dare” to rescue his wife’s heart, even when he doesn’t like it, along with Catherine’s response to his attempts.

Although the acting by a mostly volunteer cast may not be Hollywood “A-list” (Kirk Cameron does a pretty good job), the situation feels real. The issues are real. The relationship is real. Caleb’s friend at the firehouse, Michael, is a voice of wisdom and provides a major part of the film’s Christian perspective. “You can’t just follow your heart,” he says once. “Your heart can be deceived. You have to lead your heart.” Love is not merely a feeling, it’s a decision. “When most people say, ‘for better or for worse,’” Michael says at another point, “they really only mean ‘for better.’” I think he makes a really good point—divorce is sadly way too common today, and I think this may be a big part of the reason why.

Caleb and Catherine don’t feel happy in their relationship. They don’t feel close. Their “for better” days seem to be over forever. But when Caleb, with the support of Michael and the help of his dad, makes the decision to fight for his marriage using “The Love Dare,” he is making the decision to love his wife, even though rescuing her heart is painful, not to mention a lot of work.

The spirituality of Fireproof is from a born-again Christian perspective that shows Caleb’s conversion as an instantaneously life-changing moment, but I think the message of “you can’t give what you don’t have” rings true for Catholics as well. I definitely believe that the love of Christ does transform our lives and our relationships, allowing us to love more completely and perfectly than we could on our own. The Catholic perspective goes even further, by saying that marriage is actually a sacrament of God’s love for humanity, of Christ’s love for his Church. Because of this, the value of marriage in society can’t be overstated, and I think Fireproof can really help strengthen marriages in order for them to be what God made them to be.

Go to your local theater and check it out for yourself! Daniel and I weren’t disappointed, and I don’t think you will be either.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Premarital Stress

Everybody gets stressed. I've always heard about how stressful wedding planning is for most people to begin with, but for us planning the wedding itself actually hasn't been too bad-- yet. It’s everything else that’s getting to us.

We graduated on May 11. On May 27 we both started work on the same day, at the jobs that we had lined up since early April. Back in March, we had "stumbled across" our dream property, located less than ten minutes from my family's house. It was a mobile home on a permanent foundation on two acres of land overlooking a pond, and it was the perfect place for us to build a new home a few years down the road. We made an offer (the first of a few) the day after graduation, and became homeowners on July 31st.One of my roommates from college (Caroline, whom I've mentioned before) moved in with me. She and I also work together, and commute together—an hour and a half each way.

We have done a lot to fix up the house—and by “we” I mean mostly Daniel. My parents have also helped tons since they have a lot of experience (understatement) with home improvement projects. Walls have been ripped out, floors have been replaced, and one of our bathrooms has been completely redone. We’re getting all our windows replaced within the next couple of weeks; we already bought them and they’re waiting in the shed for now. It’s a work in progress, so Caroline and I are currently living in somewhat of a construction zone with unpacked boxes and piles of stuff everywhere.

Meanwhile, until the wedding Daniel is still living at his parents' house, which is about 45 minutes away. He visits on the weekends. We work on the house and he studies—oh right, that’s another thing. Daniel just started grad school, so he’s taking four night classes this semester while working full time. All of this while planning a wedding. I’m sure you can imagine all the silly little fights all this can lead to…

That’s the gist of it. You might think we’re crazy for doing all of this at once, or maybe you don’t actually think our load is too bad. Maybe you’ve been through more. I think it’s safe to say that we’re working pretty hard to do everything we have to do, but sometimes it’s hard to make sure we have time to relax and have fun together, which is obviously pretty important when preparing for marriage (and of course within marriage), right? We’re banking on the fact that Daniel will be finished with grad school one year after we’re married, and by then other things will have settled down. Hopefully. We’re doing what we can, and honestly, most of the time it’s not so bad. We always have some time to relax, and we make sure to pray together every night, even if it’s over the phone. Other advice on how to hold everything together, anyone?