Sunday, February 23, 2014

1st Blogiversary!

Today marks one full year of my blog - woo hoo! To commemorate my small victory, I wanted to take some time to reflect on what I've learned through blogging my faith.

reflections on blogging

  1. Blogging is hard work!
    You read these eloquently-worded posts that seem effortless, but there's really a lot that goes into it. I sometimes feel like I'm watching someone toting her baby while wearing heels with perfect makeup who brings homemade baked goods to every gathering...while I merely show up with my hair in a ponytail, sporting a sweatshirt. Blogging may come easier to some than others, but it's still a lot of work (and comparing to others isn't good). It takes time to determine an idea for a post, then put that thought into coherent sentences, find images to support it, and proofread for content. I do get to use my programming background to do a little more advanced formatting - see, parents, that education isn't going to waste! For me, a post ends up taking about two hours to create.

  2. I've come to know myself and my faith better.
    Since blogging makes me encounter what's going on in my head and translate it into words, I've been able to understand where I am and where I want to be. I absolutely love spending late nights talking to friends for exactly this reason (as well as to get to know the friend better) - as I've gotten older and started sleeping more regularly, I've transitioned into other ways of pouring out my heart and learning about others. My blog has been one outlet, and I'm always excited when a friend, new or old, comments on a post or talks to me in person/e-mail/text about their thoughts on what I've written. Together we'll keep growing into better people.

  3. I'm more open in sharing my faith.
    It made me laugh the other day - a friend I've known for about a year now was surprised when I told her my blog was forcing me to be more vocal about what I believe. Since we've been in a Catholic women's group together for a while, she is used to hearing me talk about my faith. I haven't always been comfortable with it though. Growing up, we didn't discuss matters of faith - we went to mass each Sunday and said a blessing before family dinners, but that was it. The first time I led a Bible study in college, I was so nervous to be in charge of the opening prayer! It was really tough to open up, and it's still something I'm working on. Writing posts makes me uncomfortable, too, but that's a good thing!

  4. I tie things back to the big picture more, resulting in a more meaningful year.
    As I'm going through my day, I think a lot about what I'm encountering in terms of how I would write about it. This keeps things in perspective, makes me focus on God, and gives me a sense of how my mindset has changed over time. In management, one mantra I've heard is, "If it can't be measured, it can't be improved." By taking snapshots of where I am, I'm able to look back and somewhat quantify my spiritual growth. There have been substantial changes since I started this blog. I'm happy with who I've become this year, but I know there's a lot of growth ahead!
It has been a really good year for me spiritually, and as I review my original purpose in writing, I'm renewing that same objective as I move forward. I'm excited to see where God takes my life!

I'll leave you with a few of my modest stats as my own benchmark of where I am. Numbers aren't really my purpose - it's the quality of the interaction that matters to me, but here they are anyway.
  • 920 total pageviews (it may break 1000 this month!)
  • 34 published posts
  • 4 followers (6 months ago there was 1)
  • 6 e-mail subscribers (6 months ago there was 1)
  • 252 pageviews already for February (highest month by far)
  • 35 views of my top post - Single, and Loving It (6 months ago it was 12 for Aggie Catholics)
I look forward to more great interactions, both online and off. With that, taken from Archbishop Fulton Sheen...
Bye now! God love you!

Monday, February 17, 2014

10 Ideas for Your Lenten Journey

With Ash Wednesday a mere two weeks away, I'm looking for a good Lenten sacrifice or devotion to deepen my faith - something that speaks to where I am in my spiritual journey. I love that we have a season to reflect on humbling and improving ourselves in anticipation of Easter. We enter Lent as a slightly different person from who we were the year before, so our sacrifice should reflect our current shortcomings.

I've put together some ideas that I've done or heard of. Thanks to those who contributed! Please share your own in the comments.

10 ideas for Lent

  1. Spend 10 minutes a day in silence, listening to God. I did this in college one year and learned a lot from stopping my day to focus on God. I never had an agenda - no petitions or recited prayers. Instead, I took the approach of, "So, God - what do you want to talk about today?" Through these 10 minutes, I learned a lot about where I was falling short as well as why the Church stuck to specific teachings.
  2. Participate in 40 hours of service. A friend just told me she wanted to do this - and I think it's a great idea! It would take a lot of advanced planning to complete all 40 hours in 8 weeks, but it's doable.
  3. Limit self-indulgent time. This could be watching mindless TV, checking Facebook, or reading novels. For me last year, it was long showers. I cut down my shower time from half an hour to 15 minutes. That may still seem like a long time, but it was hard for me. I love taking a long time to wake up in the morning and relax in a hot shower.
  4. Say the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary every day. Can you imagine how powerful Holy Week and Easter would be if you took the time to reflect on Christ's passion so often?
  5. Write and mail 40 letters - each to a different friend or family member. Sharing our appreciation for others can help to put our lives in perspective.
  6. Listen only to Christian music. Switch that radio to a Christian station in the car as a daily reminder of what's important. I did this one year for Lent and rarely listen to regular radio anymore!
  7. Read Fr. Robert Barron's daily Lenten reflection. This I am definitely doing! He's such an inspiring speaker. You can sign up here:
  8. Meditate on the gospels 20 minutes a day. I know I keep talking about this, but it bears repeating - it has been great for my spiritual journey. Read more about the benefits I've discovered here.
  9. Stop snoozing the alarm. Get up the first time the alarm goes off. It's supposed to be better for your energy level, and it'll build self-discipline.
  10. Attend daily mass. How can we go wrong gathering together to receive Jesus each day?! Or you could go to Stations of the Cross every Friday.

What ideas would you add?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Single, and Loving It

Happy St. Valentine's Day!

I'll be single this Valentine's Day, and for the first time, I'm genuinely happy about it. No, it was not my plan to be on my own 5 years after graduating college. In the life I designed for myself, I was married with a kid or two by now.

God had other plans for me. 

It has taken quite a while to come to terms with where I am today. I've been disappointed time and again when what I really wanted didn't worked out. I worked so hard in school, with late nights to turn in my best work. I always thought my engineering background would be a great segue into motherhood - always new challenges, not much sleep, and new developments to keep up with. But that transition didn't happen. I dated guys and put lots of effort into making things work, when really I wasn't being true to myself. Obviously, those relationships didn't last...and I'm thankful for that.

In these struggles, I was going against what God wanted for me. Over time, I started to accept the fact that I'm not in control - God is. And the more I let go and follow His lead, the happier I become.

As I reflect on my current state in life, I realize that I'm right where I'm supposed to be

Everything has fallen into place, but in ways I never expected. All I had to do was say yes to the opportunities that came along. My various talents and interests are all being put to use, not as a mother, but as a manager and a friend:
  • I'm leading a large, undefined project at work. Five years ago, I would have been intimidated to be in complete control, without someone else showing me which direction to go. Today, it's an exciting challenge - I define my own scope, pull in the resources I need, and set my own timelines. I set my own vision and lead others to carry it out. That engineering background really has put me in a position to make an impact.
  • I'm learning about my faith and helping others grow through two Young Adult Groups. I straddle two parishes, so I'm making friends in both. I just started co-leading a weekly women's fellowship group, discussing Archbishop Fulton Sheen's TV series from the '60s - Life is Worth Living
  • I just danced 4 shows of the Nutcracker in December and am now learning ballroom. My passion for dancing keeps me active and introduces me to some great people I wouldn't have otherwise met. I especially enjoyed sharing my experience and "wisdom" with the high school girls in the Nutcracker. I found out how much I enjoy mentoring younger girls as they figure life out.
  • I'm getting to crochet baby blankets, toys, and clothes for all my friends who are having their first babies! This year has been ripe with new life. I once would have been jealous that they have what I want, but now I'm just excited to share in their new phase of life, helping out as I can and learning along the way. I'm putting my crochet skills to great use!
If I had continued striving for my ideal life, I would have missed out on all these things. Taken together, these really define the things I love about life. Each one of them makes me feel more alive.

Despite my best efforts, God has put me exactly where I need to be. So no, I'm not married with kids like I wanted, but I'm more than satisfied with life, and I'm excited for where God leads me next. So God - now it's Your move!

Are there things you're so focused on that you're letting the joys of life slip by?

For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord -Jeremiah 29:11

Monday, February 10, 2014

"If We are the Body"

Location: Baton Rouge, LA, USA
If we are the body,
Why aren't His arms reaching?
Why aren't His hands healing?
Why aren't His words teaching?

Jesus, help us to be You to the world. Help us to show others Your love through our actions, pouring out unconditional acceptance and offering assistance.

We have a tendency to stick to our own and look down upon others who don't share our views. Break us of the habit.

We like to help when we receive recognition or know we will be paid back. Give us hearts that love without expecting anything in return.

Our actions and words are what draw others to You or push them away. Remind us to speak kindly and act sincerely.

We fail daily to follow Your example. Forgive us.

We're part of a huge body of believers - those on earth and those who have gone before us. Join our prayer with those faithful departed, as they continue to help us out. Saints, named and unnamed, thank you for your example and your intercession. You have shown us a multitude of ways to be Jesus to others.

What more can we do? Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, set in our hearts a desire to follow Your example. Pull us towards our calling, that we may complete the personalized work that You want from us. No one else can fulfill the role You have called us to - make clear to us what that role is and guide us as we pursue it each day.

Keep our hearts fixed on You - Your teaching, Your love, Your suffering, and Your defeat over darkness. You are our perfect role model, and we must strive to emulate the way You lived. Give us empathy, strength, wisdom, and courage to live lives radically altered by our knowledge of You.

go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature Mark 16:15
St. Joseph's Cathedral - Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Living by Law or by Love

Pope Francis troubles me, but in a way that challenges and grows me.

My personality is more like Pope Benedict XVI's style - I want to lay down the law and stick to it, no matter who challenges it or breaks it. I want a set of rules to live by, knowing that if I follow them, I can't go wrong. If others choose not to follow, that's ok - I'll just hold fast on my own and keep myself pointed down the right path.

But that's not everything.

On New Years, my friend and I wrote down our spiritual retreat questions (read them here to have your own mini-retreat), then we picked out the hardest one to answer and focused on it during our discussion and prayer. For me, that question was "What are you avoiding talking about with God?"

Now, if the question had been, "What have you avoided talking about with God in the past", it would have been a cinch! I know the things that used to hold me back, and I know how much I grew as I started to let go, be open with God, and listen to His will instead. On New Years, I was ready to tackle that same honesty and growth once again.

As I reflected, I realized that I wasn't fully embracing Pope Francis as the Church's leader. And until that night, I hadn't given it a second thought. He was getting a lot of publicity and changing the world's view on this "stuffy" organization, which is pretty cool. But he also "went against the rules." He washed the feet of women and non-Catholics during his first two weeks as pope. He decided not to live in the papal apartments. When asked about homosexuality, he said, "Who am I to judge?". These actions didn't make sense to me - why would he go against tradition and not stick up for "the rules"? I worried that he was giving the wrong impression, showing that the Church as open to change and not sticking up for the long-held tradition. He was making me nervous and uncomfortable - I even hesitantly called him a "loose canon", as we can't assume he'll do what we expect.

But as I'm reading through Matthew, I'm beginning to realize how much Pope Francis is like Jesus. Yes, there are rules, but love is the greatest rule.

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.  -Matthew 22:37-38

Pope Francis lives this every day. His action and words show his love for God through his care for everyone, not just loyal Catholics. Jesus did the same thing - He died for everyone, not just for those who stood by His side.

Pope Francis is shifting the focus of the Church back to its original purpose and to the basic teachings of Jesus. Multiple times throughout the gospel, Jesus or his disciples do something that is "against the rules". They pick heads of grain on the sabbath; they don't fast on the appointed days; Jesus eats with those who are unclean; and He allows the blind and lame to come to Him in the temple, where they were forbidden. I didn't realize how strongly He stuck up for these actions until I started my daily meditation.

Jesus consistently put love first, above rules. The rules are serve as a guide to support us in that love. Are they important? Absolutely. But they are secondary, and if throwing them in the face of others goes against love, then we aren't really following the number one rule.

I love Pope Benedict and his care in teaching and passing on Tradition. Now I'm starting to love Pope Francis for displaying the reason behind Tradition.

Through this deeper understanding of Jesus, God has begun to open my heart to fully embrace Pope Francis and his unorthodox methods, because really...well...he's right.

So I want you to consider: what are you avoiding talking about with God?

Hosea 6:6 for it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than holocausts

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Candlemas and Nerdiness

Ha! In my apartment, you'd never know that today was Super Bowl Sunday. You WOULD know that we're a little nerdy around here...

Did I mention that I live with my brother? And did I mention that we're both engineers?

While I took ornaments and lights off the Christmas tree, my brother was engrossed in a task too nerdy/fun not to share. But first - Candlemas and the tree.

Candlemas/Presentation of Jesus at the Temple

I went to mass yesterday evening and loved all the extra candles lighting the church! I'm excited that I got to take home a blessed candle that I can use to help my devotion and concentration in prayer and meditation (I'm still doing 20 minutes a day!). Even though the Christmas season officially ended a few weeks ago with the Baptism of Jesus (which actually didn't take place until he was 30 years old), today is really the day we finish talking about Jesus as an infant. Candlemas celebrates the presentation of Jesus in the temple, where two more people recognize that this baby is the one long-awaited.

I was relieved to find out that the Vatican doesn't take down Christmas decorations or their Nativity until today...which lets me rationalize that I haven't procrastinated for TOO long. I'm just following the Pope's lead, right?? Anyway, taking down the tree turns out to be kind of therapeutic, especially when you're spending time with a family member. Once my brother's "project" was complete, he helped out, too.

Ultimate Nerdiness

Have you heard of Buckyballs? They are so much fun!! I'm not talking about the geodesic dome made up of 60 Carbon atoms (although that's pretty cool too...). I'm talking about the little magnetic toys - the ultimate desk toy - that the US government forced into non-existence a year ago. These tiny, very strong magnets were banned due to severe digestive issues if you swallow them - definitely a valid concern when children are around. My engineer mother was quick to buy quite a few sets before the company shut down, which made for fun afternoons at Christmas last year! (My brother and I never have children in the apartment, and we know how dangerous Buckyballs can be, so we'd absolutely get them out of reach before little ones came over.)

Ok...back to today.

Since we were taking down all the Christmas stuff, I thought it would be good to have more St. Valentine's Day decorations to replace them. I saw our colorful assortment of Buckyballs on the counter and asked my brother to make a heart.

He wasn't so thrilled with the idea (you know - boys and hearts and stuff), but he decided to create a companion cube since it has hearts on it and was more-or-less the colors we had. (If your nerdiness, or lack thereof, doesn't cover knowledge of Portal and companion cubes, take a look here for some background.)

And so it began...

Magnets are difficult to work with, and it takes quite a series of steps to get them into the formation you want. On top of that, trying to get the colors in the right place requires lots of visualization and advanced planning. Here was the process:

  1. Decide the arrangement of colors for each side of the cube.
  2. Determine how to "deconstruct" that final image into lines of Buckyballs all connected together.
  3. Put the magnets into a long line.
  4. Fold the line back and forth against itself to form a sheet of magnets.
  5. Fold the sheet back and forth on top of itself to build up the 3D cube shape.
Here's how it went (excuse the Christmas tablecloth - he started before I had a chance to put it away):

Got the line of Buckyballs...

Folded the line into a sheet...

Folded the sheet into a cube. Ta da!

But we weren't done.

A 5x5x5 cube was great and all, but we actually had 125 of each color to play with, meaning we could make a 7x7x7 cube! This took a lot more planning.

Outlined each row...

Strung the rows together...

Folded the line...

Had a nice sheet!

Folded the sheet. Here the magnets were getting difficult - you can see the bottom row didn't line up correctly. He had to use a card to pry the bottom off without disturbing the rest, then he carefully reattached it and kept going. He had to find something that wasn't a credit card, as the magnets are strong enough to destroy anything magnetically coded!

buckyball companion cube

Finished! And that's the type of projects we engineers do in our spare time. It was fun to work through a complex problem with my like-minded brother. This isn't coming apart for a long time.