What I Want to Say to Women Who Have Been Hurt by Men.

       It is coming up a lot these days in my conversations with women and it shatters my heart every time. 

       They share with me stories of hurt, sorrow, manipulation, and abuse at the actions of men. It will never become easier to hear. I will never grow numb to hearing them speak their brokenness out loud. 

       I am grateful for their willingness to share with me. I am thankful that they feel that my heart is a safe place to pour out their pain. I have been moved this week to share some of the thoughts I give to them right here...this is for any young woman I will never be able to speak to in person...this is for all the young women who need to know these truths.   

       Young women, I know that many of you - perhaps all of you - have been hurt by men in some way. For many of you, I know this hurt is very, very deep. While I cannot speak on behalf of men, I first want to tell you how sorry I am for what you have been through. I want you to know that no woman ever deserves to be hurt by a man, and there is nothing you have ever done to deserve the pain you have experienced. No action or inaction you have ever taken warrants the hurt that has been done to you. I am so, so sorry.

       Kelly Clarkson's song Piece by Piece tells the story of the pain she suffered from being abandoned by her father. Later on in her life, in journeying with the man who would be her husband and seeing the deep and genuine goodness within him, she writes...He restored my faith that a man can be kind and a father could stay. 

       Sister, I want you to hear me when I say...The way men have treated you in the past is not the way every man will treat you throughout your life. There are kind men in the world. There are men in the world who are good. 

       It is easy in the midst of significant hurt to submit to the trap of believing that all men are unkind - that all men may be hurtful, manipulative, or abusive. I watch young women yield to this belief, and I know their stories - and I know why they do. I do not blame them for believing it. I do not blame them for allowing men to treat them poorly time after time - they have been conditioned to believe that this is all there is, that these are the only kind of men that exist. If you have given into this belief, I want you to know something...

       There are men in the world who have goodness running through the core of who they are. There are men in the world who are gentle and honest. There are men in the world who are willing to sacrifice and love deeply. There are men in the world who choose to baptize their dying newborn twin daughters in a moment so powerful that when you read about it you can barely keep from crumbling. 

       I promise you this - the good men in the world may be difficult to find, but they are many.

       I want you to know this, too, in your head and your heart - that not every man is out to hurt you, or manipulate you, or abuse you - because I see you running to things to heal this hurt. The world offers us many suggestions as to good band-aids for pain. Those band-aids, however, only cover up...they do not provide any real healing. The real Healer the world would never tell us about is Christ. He wants to place His healing hand on your broken heart, and make it whole again. He wants to restore your faith that men can be kind. He wants to restore your belief in your worth, your wholeness, your beauty, and all that you have to offer the world. 

       In the depths of brokenness, God brings magnificent restoration. Today I pray that if these truths speak to your life, if you have experienced this pain - that God would bring good men into your life - as he did for dear Kelly - to restore your faith that men can be kind. And good. And true. 

I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them glass for sorrow. Jeremiah 31:13

Piece by Piece - A Letter to Dads With Daughters.

       To all the dads with daughters. 

       I write to you today because last night I watched Kelly Clarkson’s performance on American Idol of her song “Piece by Piece.” It struck me right through the heart, showing me evermore the profound role of a father in the life of his daughter. 

       The love a father pours into his daughter’s life is a factor that sets the tone for her walk into young womanhood. Kelly’s father was completely absent from her life - the song is about the love she found in her devoted and selfless husband and the way this love put the shattered pieces of her heart back together, after feeling abandoned and unwanted for so long. The song is astonishingly beautiful. 

       There are so few words to describe the innate and profound desire we have to be loved and accepted by our fathers - it a desire that must be experienced to be fully known. It is a desire that must be lived to be fully felt. A girl’s need for her father’s love runs deep in the fabric of her heart and soul. The inherent desires we feel as females - the desires to feel protected, treasured, loved, and worthy - you are the very first person we look to to fill these desires. You hold a grand responsibility...You draw the blueprint. You create the map. 

       The way you treat your daughter as she grows is the blueprint she will use to determine what she deserves in her early stages of life. You hold the power to show her the love she deserves. The love you give to her is the love she will grow up believing she should accept; it is the bar she will set. If the bar is set very high, she will accept and form relationships with men who treat her with dignity, value, and love you showed her was possible. If the bar is set very low it will take possibly years of restructuring her heart to help her see what she deserves and what kind of love is possible. Kelly Clarkson attributes her realization as to what she deserves to finding a man willing to shatter her low bar to help her believe in the kind of powerful, deep, and unwavering love she deserves. Fathers, you get to choose what the blueprint looks like - the one she will pull out of her back pocket every time she meets a man and gauges whether or not this is what she should accept. She will look at it again and again - and make choices based on it, again and again. 

       I want you to remember that every little outing with you lights up your daughter’s soul. Every time you tell her she is beautiful - inside and out - it gets etched into her young and growing heart. Every time you share a laugh, hold her hand, share a smile, every time you make it known to her by your presence that she is more important than work, than emails, than your phone, than your own friends - you shape her heart. You carve a space into her soul that helps her to always remember...I am important. I am worthy. I am loved by the first man I ever hoped would love me. 

       If you do not pour into her the fatherly love and attention her soul needs, it is likely she will go looking for it in other places. It seems obvious but in a world suffering from a "crisis of fatherhood” - it may not be so obvious to all. There is a reason that when so many girls sit down to have a heart-to-heart with me, they begin their sharing with “Well, first you should know - I have textbook daddy issues.” It is a term I hear more than you would expect - it is the term through which a young woman tells me in lesser words, “I did not get the love I needed from my father, so I have searched or am still searching for it elsewhere. It is part of the foundation of who I am.” My heart breaks every single time. No young girl’s heart should have to be restored and put back together throughout her life because of her father’s lack of love or presence - yet so many young women face this daunting and undeserved journey. It should not be so. 

       Fathers, I know you are busy, and overwhelmed, and stressed with the weight of the world and the weight of your family and the weight of your job on most days. I cannot imagine what it is like to be a father - complete with the many duties of caring and providing for others. I cannot imagine the reality of being surrounded by a family dependent on your work, that ebbs and flows with your successes and shortcomings, and looks to you for leadership. You have an enormous role to play, and a difficult role at that. But there will always be stress. Life’s curveballs will always be overwhelming. There may be days where your humanity screams at you to run from it all. But in the midst of all the commotion of life - your daughter needs you. 

       I have walked with too many young women whose fathers did not have time for them. To make up for this lost time, these dads would buy their daughters stuff to compensate. They would host parties at their home and supply all the alcohol with the intention of earning their daughter’s love and approval. They would buy cars, bags, vacations, and concert tickets to make up for the time they were not spending with their daughter. The girls liked the things, of course - but in reality all of it means nothing in light of a daughter’s real need. Presents will never, ever equate to presence. Your daughter does not need things - she needs you. Your work, your travel, the stresses of your job and life will never be more important than your daughter’s need of your love. Stuff will never fill up her heart. Your love will - time with you will - your belief in her always will. 

       I also know that sometimes you do not know what to say, especially as your daughter grows up. “I love you and I believe in you” resonate in a young girl’s heart beyond what you can fathom. She needs to hear it from you - to be loved and believed in by a father sets a girl free to be herself and believe in herself and her abilities. To know that my daddy believes in me is an invaluable truth that I always keep tucked away in my heart - there are days when it is the reason I press on. Tell your daughter you believe in her - often - and she will gently tuck it away and use it as a pillar to lean on throughout her life. And perhaps, as she grows, you will come to feel like you just do not understand her - do not worry, we as young women often do not understand ourselves. However, she is not looking to be understood - she is looking to be loved. Even on the hard days, when it seems you can do nothing right - she still needs to know you are there, loving her through the mess that is growing up sometimes. Keep on loving her. Keep on offering your presence. Keep on reminding her that you are one constant that she can count on and lean on, always. 

       Lastly, fathers, your daughter is not looking for you to be perfect - she is looking for you to try your very best. Your unwavering love is a gift to her that will stand the test of time. There is good reason I sob like a child every time I read the letter my father wrote me a few hours after I was born. It is my most prized possession. Every time I read it I know that from that moment I have always been wanted by my father. I have always been loved. I have always been cherished. I have always been worthy. I will never take that for granted because I know I am more than blessed. 

Certain is it that there is no kind of affection so purely angelic as of a father to a daughter. In love to our wives there is desire; to our sons, ambition; but to our daughters there is something which there are no words to express.
—Joseph Addison

 

On Marcel Viti, Catholic Lawyers, and Why You Don't Have to Go Into "Ministry" to Change Lives

        A few weeks ago at a conference, I was talking with a young woman in college who was telling me about her plans for the future. She expressed that she wants to be a lawyer, but that she doesn’t know how she could do ministry as a lawyer. She said that she thinks she might have to forego her dream in order to become a youth minister in order to do ministry in her life.

        I was grateful to be able to provide her with an alternate view - the truth that ministry can be practiced in each and every profession she could ever imagine pursuing. I told her about our ever-growing need for steadfast and unwavering Catholic lawyers to fight for what is good and true in our system of law. It was obvious that she had never thought of it this way before…anyone in any profession can do incredible ministry.

        In fact, one of the millions of divine synchronicities that occurred to bring about my existence in this world was the generosity of one amazing Catholic lawyer. His name was Marcel Viti.  

        My wonderful grandfather, Thomas F. Wilson, grew up in an orphanage. During the Depression, his father left the family and his mother could not afford to take care of her children alone. I cannot imagine the excruciatingly difficult decisions people had to make during this time in our country’s history. She decided it was necessary to send them to a Catholic orphanage in Philadelphia to be raised, educated, and cared for, so my grandfather was raised by nuns. He was sent through their high school, and upon his graduation day, he was given a one dollar bill and a rosary. It was all these nuns could send the young boys into the world with - education and faith.

        My grandfather worked different trade jobs throughout his teenage years and into young adulthood. In his twenties, my great uncle George told my grandfather about a lawyer named Marcel Viti who was in need of a secretary in his office. My grandfather applied for the job, and became Marcel Viti’s secretary. 

        Marcel was an extremely influential lawyer and highly-regarded man throughout the world. As my grandfather continued to work in his law office, Marcel saw his dedication to working hard and learning. He made a proposition and offer to my grandfather - he offered to put him through law school if he continued to work in his office during the day. My grandfather accepted and went to the University of Pennsylvania, and after went on to attend night classes at the Temple University School of Law. 

        Marcel supported him financially through his journey to becoming a lawyer. But I can only imagine how badly many children raised in orphanages need someone to look them square in the eyes and say, “I believe in you.” Marcel Viti seized that role for my grandfather. He didn’t need to have “minister” in any of his titles to do powerful and life-altering ministry. He taught my grandfather one invaluable truth that changed the course of his entire life...You can do anything you set your mind to. No matter your past, no matter what you may think your limitations are, no matter what anyone has said you can or cannot do - you. can. do. anything.

        My grandfather did go on to graduate and become a lawyer in Philadelphia. He also went on to meet my grandmother at a party with other lawyers - only God knows how they would have met if not for at this party and had he not gone to law school. He and my grandmother went on to get married and have 5 children - their first being my father. 

       I share this with you today because I want you to truly believe that ministry does not always look like “ministry.” There are too many people with a strict view of ministry as a job in a church or working within an arena that has the title of “ministry” on it - youth ministry, homeless ministry, mom’s ministry, campus ministry. The kindness and generosity of one person who practices everyday ministry can have a ripple effect that touches an incalculable amount of lives. And you can do that in any profession - lawyer, doctor, construction worker, barista, teacher, janitor - you name it - whatever profession it is - it is a space where ministry can happen. It is a space where you can show people in great need great love. Each and every profession can be utilized as an avenue for God to work in limitless ways.

        So today I say thank you - to all Catholic lawyers who have dedicated themselves to doing ministry within their work, who help people in need with their intellect, experience, and influence at every opportunity they can. My life has been affected in powerful ways by your ministry.

         And most especially, I thank Marcel Viti for responding to the call to take my grandfather under his wing and help set him free to become who God created him to be. 

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Colossians 3:17

Ash Wednesday

        Today. It is the one day of the year that - just by looking at you - someone can immediately know that you are Catholic. 

        There is no other day of the year that your appearance will show the world that you are. In your day to day life, people can come to know that you are a Christian by your living out of the Gospel, your kind words, and the charitable way in which you live - but nothing about our appearance, even on our most important Catholic feast days, tells people about the faith we live. 

        I was flying to Las Vegas for their Diocesan Youth Conference on Saturday, and I got to sit next to a lovely couple traveling to Florida. We got to talking, and I shared with them about my ministry - how I speak and sing for the Catholic Church and Catholic young people. 

        People are often surprised about what I do, but this woman was utterly flabbergasted. She could not believe that there are young people who still adhere to their Catholic faith, much less any people at all still in the Catholic churches! She had her children baptized over 30 years ago, and their family has not practiced their faith since. I have met many surprised people, but no one has ever been completely shocked. 

        There are many people in the world like this woman - those people who think the churches must be empty because Catholic tradition is too archaic for our contemporary world. And today is that day where we get to proclaim to the world…the Catholic Church is not dead. 

        And not only is it not dead - we each get to proclaim by our ashes that there is a life beyond this worldly one. We get to show the world that we have been marked by our Savior, chosen as His own even in the midst of our sin and brokenness. We get to outwardly show that we are sinners in search of something more than this world is offering to us on every step of our earthly journey. 

        Ash Wednesday is a day that can feel a bit uncomfortable - people will look at you funny as you go about your day - some people will wash off their ashes in order to feel more comfortable out in public. With no ashes on your head, there’s no possibility of someone telling you about the dirt on your face. Years ago when I was a server at a restaurant, I went to Mass in the morning and wore my ashes to work. As usual, people would let me know about it, and it gave me the opportunity to tell them…

         “Oh, thanks. It’s not dirt. I’m actually Catholic and it is Ash Wednesday.”

         And so I challenge you...do not wash off your ashes today. Wear them proudly as a sign that you belong to the living God. Lent is a tremendous opportunity to walk with the Lord on His journey toward Calvary, and today is a tremendous opportunity for us as Catholics young and old to declare to the world…

         Yes, we are still here. And no, after 2000 years, we are still not going anywhere. 

Finding A Man Who Loves Jesus.

       "Our first date went well, but he's not that strong in His faith, and…" She paused, almost apologetically. I completed her sentence. "And you desire to date a man who loves Jesus like you do."

       "Well, yeah…Yes. Yes, I do." Her apology turned to confidence in speaking the desire of her heart. I experience this scenario often. 

       At the age of eighteen, attending Daily Mass became an integral part of my life. I found fulfillment and deep personal peace through the beauty of adoration. I was sold out for big worship and looking for big ways to build the Kingdom. Following Jesus Christ was the single most important aspect of my existence.

       During this time and into my twenties, I knew one thing I wanted above all if I was going to be dating. If I was going to date, I wanted to be with a man who really, really loved Jesus…even more than I did, and even more than he loved me. 

       I knew my own heart, and knew that I needed to date a man who could lead me. There was no question about it, I did not want to be spiritually leading a relationship. 

       I desired a Christ-centered relationship and I wanted to date a man who shared in my love for all these things that were so deeply integrated into my daily life. It was extremely important to me that if I was going to be in a relationship, I wanted it to be one with a man who had a profound sense of Catholic spirituality. I wanted to date a man who loved Jesus more than I did because I wanted to learn and be challenged to grow. 

       I held no judgment against men who did not share in my faith or my love for Jesus, I just knew that they were not the man for me. And sisters, there will never be anything wrong with knowing what you want and what you need. 

       I speak with too many women who feel judged for upholding their standards…frustrated by having to explain it to friends or family…many of them share about the questions and the pressure from other people…Well, you could be missing out. No one will ever meet your standards. Why don't you just give him a chance? You're being too picky

       Women, there is no place for apologizing for what you desire in a relationship. There is no place for having to explain it to anyone, either. 

       We each get the individual responsibility of creating our own standards (and by standards, I am talking about realistic ones here - standards like a man who is virtuous, honest, selfless, unafraid to roll up his sleeves and serve, etc. - not height, hair color, or his ability to sing and play the guitar). It is the responsibility of every woman to be in tune with God and with what is most important to her in a man. There is no need for anyone to understand the standards you have set out except for you. Nobody else can make that call. Some women know that they yearn for a boyfriend or husband to be their spiritual leader. Some women are completely open to dating a man who has no faith and inviting him to be a part of her faith. There is no "better" scenario; we each get to choose. If a man of great faith is what you know you desire, do not apologize for it. Whatever you decide is the bar he must reach, do not go on dating men who sit below it. Do set the bar high - remember, you deserve the best. Be patient until you find the man who shares in what you know you need, and do not settle for less when he seems hard to find. It can be a challenging lesson in patience and trust in God's providence…but it is a beautifully worthwhile endeavor. 

       I did find that man who could lead me. I had to travel half a world away, but God did bring us together in His own timing. And as we walked together in our dating relationship, one night I whispered to Him, "I love Jesus. And I love Him more than I love you." He whispered back, "I know. I wouldn't want it any other way." 

       Take heart, sisters. Have patience. Keep that bar up there because though they may seem few and far between, there are incredible men in this world. And as for the apologizing...This is a journey that will always be between you and our God who provides according to His perfect time and His perfect will. 

The Generosity of People.

Dear friends, 

        It is challenging to figure out where to pick back up. 

        I disappeared a little while ago in December, as we began to pick up speed leading up to our wedding day. There are many things to process about the past year, and the first thing I am attempting to process is the generosity of the people around me. In the past few months, the love poured out upon us has been breathtaking, the support has been overwhelming, and the grace has been surreal. 

        It is truly unbelievable to think of all the love that I have felt throughout all of 2015 - I have been left without words, utterly speechless. 

        There will never be enough words to thank so many people for all that they did to support Daniël and I in 2015. My parents walked with me every step of the way and gave selflessly and supportively at every turn. I will never have the proper words to express my love and gratitude for them. My sisters, brother, and brother-in-law keep me laughing and dancing the whole way through this life. In the months leading up to the wedding, I received messages of love from dozens and dozens of people - offers from selfless souls wanting to help poured in constantly and I was humbled - the amount of people who wrote or texted saying they were praying for us was beyond compare. 

        About a week before the wedding, I received a package from a parish in Florida. The youth minister and many of the girls had written me little letters of love, and they sent them along with a beautiful medal of the Holy Family. When I opened this package in the midst of a last-minute odds-and-ends frenzy, my gratitude overflowed into many tears. This was the pinnacle of all the love I felt - I have never been so aware that I was breathing, living, and walking in the love and prayers of others. There are no words to describe how humbling it is. I tied the medal these young women gave me into my bouquet and carried it down the aisle as a prayer for young women everywhere. Thank you to this youth minister and the young women who wrote to me. What a gift. 

        In 2015, I was blessed by the support of many priests as we walked through engagement - and we were blessed by one priest in particular. Daniël and I were prepared for our marriage by Fr. Dan Beeman, a priest from Norfolk, Virginia. Fr. Dan flew across America to celebrate our wedding - a huge gift in and of itself. Not only did he celebrate our wedding he valiantly led our 2-day extravaganza to be something very holy and very sacred. The day before our wedding, he celebrated a private Mass for Daniël and I - our last Mass as single people. He guided everyone through the rehearsal, and celebrated our wedding Mass, which was an absolute explosion of joy. The love and generosity Fr. Dan showed us over the past few months - in the midst of an extremely busy schedule running a parish - has left us in absolute awe. 

        The amount of people who attended our wedding Mass was beyond my wildest dreams. When we opened our Mass to all, I did not know who would come. I saw people from all walks of my life - many teens from my years as a campus minister, former colleagues, friends in ministry, my elementary school teacher. We had friends drive across the country to be a part of our day - truly, truly humbling. Thank you to all who came to worship with us, and for praising your hearts out with us. We are grateful to have spent the most important Mass of our lives with you. 

        Daniël and I are embarking on our new normal, and I have quite a bit to say about all that has transpired in the past few months. I look forward to sharing my heart with you, and I am thrilled about all that 2016 will hold and sharing in even more of God's love and grace in this one wild and precious life. 

Love, 

Emily

When You've Been Hurt by Followers of Jesus.

            It is a difficult thing to speak of hurt. It is a challenging thing to witness to brokenness. In my own life I have found the importance of putting our hurt into words - speaking of pain is what builds the bridge from one person to another to say-  you are not alone.

            And so I open my heart today because I see more and more the pain people have experienced in following Christ and being hurt by His followers. I know that pain well and sometimes I think it gets swept away - under the rug, far away, deep into the recesses our hearts.

            Have you been hurt in ministry? In church? By people who declare out loud that they love Jesus Christ?

            If yes, then you and I, we have rowed in the same boat, oars moving right along together. You are not at all alone. We have been hurt by people sitting in our congregations, by people in leadership positions, by clergy, by religious, by people well-known and liked by entire communities of people. It is highly likely that if you have ever belonged to a church community, it is something you have experienced.

            I was once in a worship band that held an entire meeting to discuss their opinions about me. I was not invited to defend myself. I carried a high school campus ministry program by myself, while teaching classes, while running retreats and loving endlessly on 450 teenage girls while one of my greatest friends battled cancer - and was called unworthy to address my students at their final Mass because some disagreed with the way I did ministry. I witnessed nuns treat a dying woman with such little care for her heart I still cannot speak of it out loud to this day. This is the short list. There can be some unimaginable pain in ministry.

            Sometimes people have motivation to hurt and sometimes they do it without such intention...but a wise person once shared one line that has stuck with me forever...Unintentional pain is still pain. Unintentional hurt still hurts.

            It steals the joy right out from under you and takes the wind clear out of your sails. It can bring you to a screeching halt... why do I work in ministry or volunteer my time if this is really what it can be? How can I follow this Jesus who has followers who approach me with disrespect, who can say terrible things about me, who can be incredibly critical of the attempts I make at building the Kingdom here on earth? Why do I stay in the Church if it has people like this?

            It is a challenging thing to approach - a painful thing to speak about, because it is often hard to describe what it is like. It is difficult for people to share their wounds for fear of sounding uncharitable or whiny, but this hurt is real and if left untreated, can impact one's life and faith for far too long. In my own life, at times it has felt like a small sting - other times in has felt like burns - not burns on the skin but burns on the heart. You know, the old scene when someone leaves the iron on a shirt too long, and it leaves that distinct black burn mark? It's like that. And sometimes it feels like it takes an eternity to carefully scrape off. These hurts can only be healed when they are given to God - to allow God to place His perfect healing power over all these places of discouragement and ache.

            I have met some who wonder that last question...why do I stay in the Church if it can be so painful?  

            It can feel like a valid question in the midst of deep sorrow, but there is one truth that will remain a constant in my life. I refuse to leave the Church even when Christ's followers treat me horribly. Why? Because I refuse to let human folly drive me away from the Eucharist.

            There is an important distinction that I have had to continue to make - I hear many people say that they were hurt by the Church - when it is not the Church that inflicts pain. It is not the Catholic Church who hurts us but the imperfect people in it - the ones sitting on the altar, in the pews, in the administration building at the school, in the parish center. We are all imperfect in many ways, and in the same way that I do not blame the mother with the screaming child at the grocery store for her child's behavior - I will not blame my God for the behavior of His children. I refuse to let humans derail my love for the King, my passion for young people and the Church, and His plan for the entirety of my life. People can say mean things about me, call me incapable, unintentionally or intentionally hurt me - I will not walk away from the Bread of Life.

            If you are currently navigating this kind of hurt - I want to apologize to you today. I am sorry. I want you to know that God wants only to pour out love into your aching heart. I am always comforted when I take one step back and look above all the followers and look at the One we follow. He has never been and never will be a hypocrite. He is accepting, kind, forgiving, merciful, and loving - He is the one this faith is about and He is the one who knows His Church is made up of messy, imperfect people and He is the one who says to all of us who have been hurt,

            I love you. Keep. serving. anyway.

            It takes a conscious choosing to refuse to become bitter - to hold up a stiff arm to cynicism as it tries to wrestle you down - to remember...there are a thousand more dedicated, selfless, holy people for every one person who has ever hurt me. But it is a worthwhile and life-giving choosing, and I choose it while I say out loud...All of my life, in every season, You are still God. I have a reason to sing, I have a reason to worship.

            There are millions of absolutely exquisite humans working to build the Kingdom - let us live and remember them. Let us live to love the ones who hurt us, to pray for those we find it difficult to pray for, and to love one another as Christ has loved us.

Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. Ephesians 4:32

Beating the Enemy at Thanksgiving.

            It is the week to give thanks.

            This week we celebrate gratitude and love and happiness and our countless blessings. We give glory to God for all good things and rejoice over good food, shared memories, songs, and time with family. This week is a sacred time in our country - spirits are high and everyone has already been wishing one another a Happy Thanksgiving - the lady on the phone from the electric company wished one for me and I wished one to the COX man who set up our Internet. Americans love this beautiful week.

            If we are not careful, however, this sacred time can be slowly infiltrated by that little voice that starts to sneak in to our lives...

            That voice that tries to make you look at the things you don't have rather than what you do have.

            Nobody has a perfect family but that voice could try to convince you that yours is the worst and you would be happier in a different one in the thick of family drama that seems to come to a boil this week. You do not need a relationship or a spouse to be happy, but that voice is going to try to remind you that you are alone and that loneliness is equal to misery. You do not have as many fun weekend events to attend as your friends you see on social media, and that voice will try to convince you that you are unwanted and excluded. Material things do not fulfill us but that voice is going to tell you - you do not have close to enough. You need more.

            Why else would people trample each other to the point of death on Black Friday to buy things?

            This is the week where we each get to take control in shutting that voice up in our hearts and minds - we get the decision to beat the enemy and let gratitude rule our thoughts, feelings, and actions. It is the week to look at our imperfect families and be grateful to have a family - parents, cousins, crazy uncles, and all. It is the week to focus on the big blessings we take for granted - running water, food on the table, cars to drive, friends to go around. It is the week to truly believe that - relationship during the Christmas season or not - life is still good, full, promising, and beautiful - and that no matter what events you are or are not invited to - that you are still loved by many.

            It is the week to truly remember - I have enough things - how can I give more love?

            We get the choice...the choice to change our perspective to say not, "I don't have..." but to say, think, and believe...

            I have more than enough. Thanks be to God.

The Family Dinner Table.

            Everyone says it is important to have family dinners for your children and for the well-being of your family.

            It makes children happier, they say. It makes children smarter, they say.

            It gives them better self-esteem and confidence, it keeps them out of trouble, it makes for an overall healthier family.

            There are a myriad of reasons and I subscribe to them all.

            Sharing dinner at an 8-foot long handcrafted oak table every night made me all of those things. But I have watched and seen the way dozens of families operate and I have come to know that a family dinner table is gravity.

            Gravity is the force pulling together all matter, and this shared table does that and so much more. It creates the balance of a home. It keeps all within a home grounded. It pulls everyone together to the exact same center.

            My mother ordered this handcrafted table many years ago. This old table has seen many plates of food and heard lots of laughter. It has surely seen hundreds of different guests by now...aunts, uncles, priests, old friends, new friends, elementary school friends, college friends, and anyone and everyone who ever needed a loving home for Thanksgiving. It has endured drumming and singing and crying but most importantly has offered each of us a moment every single day of our childhood to answer the question in front of the other five people God gave us to love life with...

            "My precious jewel, how was your day?"

            When children feel heard, they remain centered. When they feel loved, they remain grounded. The love within a home sustains children. Love felt at a dinner table gives children and families life.

            It is at this oak table where I have felt heard and loved for my entire life. It remains the central place of sharing and loving for our family to this day. As a 26-year-old woman my heart overflows at sitting at this table, noticing that long after dinner has passed, and plated have been cleaned...

            We still sit and laugh, talk, and share in life together.

            Gravity.

Why I Ate Three Cupcakes on the Day of My Dress Fitting.

         Throughout this time of engagement, I have looked at a number of bridal magazines. Each one has ideas about flowers, etiquette, DJs, and every decoration under the sun. One thing I have surely read about when breaking open a cover is dozens of ideas of how to look amazing on the wedding day. Whether they are harping on how to look best in the style of gown I chose, reminding me of the fact that all eyes will be on me, or reminding me that these pictures will last a lifetime…they are all packed with headlines about how I can buy into the idea that losing weight will make me the most beautiful bride I can be…

          "How to Take Bridal Fitness Breaks (Without Feeling Guilty)," "5 Ways to Diet and Lose Weight Before the Wedding," "Arm-Sculpting Workouts for Strapless Gowns," "Bridal Bootcamp," "Wedding Slimdown," the list is never-ending.            

            It takes a conscious decision in the midst of the headlines and bridal culture to refuse to buy into the idea that my appearance is the most important part of my wedding day. I have watched many episodes of "Say Yes to the Dress" because it is a fun show to watch happy women celebrate a fun day in their lives. Many women go in with an idea of what they want to look like, an idea of what kind of gown they want or will love. Some of them know the exact gown they want based on a picture. I was not one of those brides. You see, I had quite a bit of trouble picking a wedding gown. I tried on far too many and just was not falling in love with any of them, and neither were my mom or sisters. I got discouraged, thinking that maybe I would never find a dress that I really loved. Throughout the process, I came to realize that I had never thought about my appearance for my wedding because it comes so far behind my excitement about marrying Daniel. It comes so far behind thinking about the beautiful journey that will come after the day. It comes so far behind the joy that overflows thinking about seeing all my most wonderful friends in one church! 

          I want to feel beautiful on my wedding day, as every bride does. I hope that my groom thinks I look stunning, as every bride does. But do I need to lose five or ten pounds to look more beautiful than I would without doing so? No. Do I need to count my calories until the day for Daniel to love me more as I walk down the aisle? No. Do I need to have more sculpted arms to feel great about people looking at my arms at many points throughout the day? No. Does any of this matter in light of the Sacrament we will enter into on that day? 

           Absolutely not.

            My wedding day will never be about my weight, it will always be about my willingness to sacrifice. 

            For the next number of weeks I will keep exercising every day as I always have, eating well, feeling strong, and loving the body God gave me. It is surely not "perfect" but depriving myself of trying all the cheeses at my bridal shower is not going to make it "perfect." A wedding day is not about the perfect body, it is about commitment. It is about firm decisions to love, no matter what. It is about selflessness and the commencement of a spectacular, challenging, and altogether wild journey.

          This is the reality that I have bought into, and in light of this I plan to look like me on my wedding day. It will be the me that all my guests know and love. It will be the me that Daniel loves through and through. And I cannot wait to see his smiling face when the glass doors open and the journey begins. 

          

My Women of the Year.

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. Proverbs 31

            I recently heard about Glamour Magazine including Cecile Richards and Bruce Caitlyn Jenner in their selection for "Woman of the Year."

            I am not surprised, disappointed, or even dismayed. 

            I know the kinds of women our culture puts on pedestals. I know well what our culture thinks is "brave" and "honorable." I am well-versed in the fact that our culture thinks a woman who has proven to be a liar and fraud with no care for the unborn is worthy of the title woman of the year. I am not surprised that our culture is telling women that a man who decided to medically become a woman is more deserving of such a title than any other woman living in 2015.

            I also understand that titles are unimportant, and that what Glamour magazine says does not matter. But what does matter is being inspired by the kinds of women who are truly living honor and bravery in their lives, the women who deserve all the laud and awards, but who would never wish for it or look for it a day in their lives.

            They are my women of the year.

            My woman of the year was born without a 4th chamber in her heart. She has been through countless surgeries and unimaginable physical suffering, and endures it all with the utmost grace and radiance in her heart. You will never see her out in public without a smile on her face, a laugh on her lips, and genuine questions about how your life is going. She is thoughtful, loving, and joyful. She was excelling greatly in her career path but is currently unable to work because of her health, which would be tremendously frustrating for anyone. I have never once heard her complain or look for sympathy for this incredible struggle. She continually lives the life and circumstances she has been given with dignity and beauty. She is my woman of the year.

            My woman of the year just heroically defeated uterine cancer. She works extremely hard at her job and has selflessly cared for her mother in her own home for many years. She is an extremely loving, faithful, patient, and kind friend to all. She is a great listener, a generous giver, always putting the needs of others before her own. I have never once heard her grumble about her trials, about all that others expect of her, or how deeply unfair life can be sometimes. She accepts all that God wills with a heart of prayer, open to all that God wants and does not want, all that God gives and does not give, and in doing so teaches others to do the same. She is my woman of the year.

            My woman of the year is a mother to 3 girls who saw a great longing and need for spiritual connection among women, so she prayerfully and proactively created a community that is thriving and growing by the day. She truly lives out the words of St. Joan of Arc, "Act, and God will act." She has selflessly built an infrastructure that has cultivated incredible vulnerability, friendships, and sisterhood for women all across the world. She quietly carries heavy crosses in her life and through it all serves her family humbly and generously while running her beautiful community and working a demanding job. She is one of the brightest spirits you could ever meet. She is my woman of the year.

            My woman of the year runs a youth ministry program at a parish in Texas. She gives more than anyone sees to make incredible youth ministry happen for young people. Much of her work goes unrecognized, and her humility is stunningly magnificent. She does not ever show a need to receive accolades or recognition. She spends her summers bringing teens to nearly every event imaginable, spending long nights on buses, late nights in hotels, and early exhausted mornings taking care of God's young people and making sure they encounter Him in a powerful way during their teenage years. She longs for God to bring her a spouse but I have never once heard her complain about her state in life as she accepts all as grace. She works and lives with a beautiful peace and generosity in her heart, and is a beautiful example of holiness and virtue. She is my woman of the year.

            My women of the year know how to glorify rather than to look for glory.  

            These women who inspire us in our lives know how to dig in deep when the going gets rough, they know how to serve until it hurts and then keep serving. These are the women who get grit, who understand grace, and who do not cease opening their generous hands and hearts to put complaints aside and others before themselves.

            Today and every day I thank God for the women around us who radiate love and who live beautifully inspiring lives of quiet suffering and sacrifice.

Who is your woman of the year?

"We are the women who want the thing God wants more than we are afraid of it, the women who know when the love of Christ motivates, the more fearless of everything we become, the women who know real joy is not found in having the best of everything but in trusting that God’s making the best of everything.

We are the women who make our lives about the cause of Christ, not the applause of men, live to express the Gospel, not to impress the Jones’, live not to make our absence felt, but to make Christ’s presence known."

-Ann Voskamp

On Geese and Friendship.

            Have you heard them yet? The geese are flying South for the winter.  

            I hear them when I am walking the dog, or sitting at the table eating dinner, and when I am lying in bed with the windows open.

            I hear them honking - their form of communication - a communication which keeps them engaged in incredible teamwork.

            Every time I hear them I remember how much they teach us about what it means to live in community and choose our friends wisely.

            Geese choose friends who are going in the same direction. They would not get to their winter destination otherwise. As you have likely seen, they fly in a V formation...when flying in this formation, each goose flaps its wings and creates an uplift for the goose behind it. They fly as a team, taking turns as the leader, trading positions and helping geese who may be tired or sick. Collectively, the geese are able to travel 70% farther than if they were to travel the distance alone.

            Traveling through life as a geese does is imperative in the life of a Christian.

            We all get tired at different points in our life journey and in our faith journey. Living a life of faith at every age can be very challenging...we will all lose sight of our destination at some point, give into weariness in some way, and have feelings of hopelessness at different stages. If we are with people who get the journey, who understand where we are going, who care for our well-being, and who share our core values...we will find the road much more bearable and much easier to navigate. When we are immersed in community and we stumble, grow exhausted, or face immense struggles, those people sharing in our voyage step in to fly in front of us. They step in to ease our tiredness, our pain, or our sickness by their love, their thoughtfulness, and their prayers. They create an uplift for us because they know the journey of life is challenging but it is community that keeps us going. I will not soon forget the way my family was uplifted by the wings of others in our community when my mother became sick with cancer - the love, the prayers, the cards - there was a smiling face at the door every single night with a meal for our family. Community can create light in the most difficult of life's seasons and is essential to walking through life.

            Many young people share with me that they feel trapped in a group of friends who do not share their same values or common goals, or stuck with friends who are unwilling to help them to be the best person they can be. I always remind them...a group of friends is not some tattoo you cannot remove. You can change the friends you choose to travel with when you realize they do not share your values, your goals, or your direction. The geese teach us this simple equation...spend your time and energy with people who do not share your vision of who you want to be and it will surely take you much longer to get there.

            So I ask you today...what does your community look like? If you find yourself with friends who do not share a common goal, who are not going the same direction as you...it will be worthwhile to spend the energy to find friends who will get you the 70% extra distance that comes with this kind of community. You can find yourself uplifted by others in your life, and you can be that person who gives uplift to someone struggling along the journey.

            May we all channel the brilliant and innate sense a goose has - to choose friends who will help us reach the goal of Heaven and to be a friend ready to uplift those who we are together with in community - for the rest of our lives.

A Flash of Light.

        I get a flash of a second with young women.

        Thirty to forty-five minutes seems like a trivial moment in the grand scheme of their entire lives, especially when I know well what I am up against. 

       I get a fleeting minute to tell the ones who do not believe it that they are valuable, worthy, loved, and beautiful. 

        I get a split second to share truths with them that some have never heard in their lives...

        You are important. You matter. There is a great purpose for your life. Your DNA was painted by the hand of the God of the universe. You are forgivable, lovable, beautiful, and worthy. Your body is a sacred place. 

        And my heart continues to give into heaviness because I watch this world which surrounds young women closely and I know I get a flash of a second and Miley Cyrus gets hours and hours with them. Interview after topless interview, Instagram photo after inappropriate song.

        I get this fleeting moment and Demi Lovato gets weeks. They hear from these women day after day - women who post photos of their naked bodies as objects on Instagram to be liked, praised, or ridiculed. The young women I speak to are taught on a daily basis that nothing is sacred - sex is a game - our bodies are objects for all to see.

        The half hour God allows anyone to share a message of true identity and hope with them can feel like nothing. 

        It challenges every bone in my body and feels like just a fraction of what could make a difference until I get that one message, that one email that reminds me of what I know well...the reality of what one half hour can do for the life of anyone who walks the earth...

       She tells me, this young woman, that in the 30 minutes that God's truth of her identity fell upon her ears...her life was changed profoundly. She vulnerably opens her heart to tell me this half hour was the first time she has ever heard that she matters. It was the first day in a very long time she did not go home and harm herself because of this profound revelation that resonated in her heart. She tells me that this 30 minutes saved her life. 

        And God whispers it to me again and again...

        Do not ever underestimate that flash of a second. 

        Because that flash of a second is a flash of light, and in the darkness of the world, the light is different. The light is attractive. The light holds all power. 

        They will remember that moment of light.

        My gratitude overflows at the gift it is to walk alongside many others who see the value of that 30 minutes of sharing God with one teen - how amidst the deafening clamor of the world, opening the door to God for them to see this flash of light can change the entire course of their days. 

        We get many of these short moments with many people who walk through our lives. One second of showing God's love to someone can do monumental things...are you seizing that moment or letting it pass by? May every person we have an encounter with go away believing that there is still great love, peace, and charity still left in this world. 

"Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness." - Blessed Mother Teresa 

Pondering When Blogging Feels Trivial.

           Things still feel trivial these days in light of the heartbreak happening in our world. 

            I struggle to put words on paper about anything inspiring because there are people fleeing for their lives at this. very. second. I cannot ignore the kind of suffering happening on Earth and the impact it has on my heart. We comfortably post all weekend about college football, about laying in the pool on Labor Day, taking pictures of our coffees and other picturesque scenes…and these souls a world over are fighting to stay alive, to protect their children, to get to any place of safety, while we struggle to get out of bed on a Tuesday after a long holiday weekend. I try to make sense of it all - but none of it seems to make any sense. 

            We watch these refugees on video, on the news, desperately fleeing to safety, and so many of the comfortable hearts in our country are unmoved. And I sit here, wondering…are we unmoved because it looks like another scene in a movie? We watch them both on screens. What is the difference in our minds between a script and reality? Is there one? Have we eliminated the difference between a movie and reality for people? Do people see so much horrifying violence that kills people in movies, that when it happens in real life it matters just as much as it does in a made-up story? Is the desensitization of our society that far-reaching? 

            Two journalists get killed on live television and our society has already forgotten. We hashtag about it for a day then move on with our lives. People are shot to death at a peaceful Bible study and it is now old news. We just continue on with our lives, because what is there for us to do? Last week, there was a shooting at Sacramento City College. One person was killed and a few injured while they were attending school. I would venture to say that few people know about this incident because it was not widely reported. Are shootings so common at schools, at workplaces, at churches, that they do not make the news anymore? How can that be?

            Obama gave one million dollars in grants to Planned Parenthood last week, and I am even more speechless than I was the time Congress did not defund Planned Parenthood. If it came to light that people were killing thousands of puppies every day, the outrage would be monstrous beyond measure. Nighttime TV hosts would be crying at the plight of the puppies, and it would be headline news. Where am I supposed to place the anger I feel in my heart over millions' of people's unabashed desire defend abortion, to defend their "right" to make decisions that do not have any consequences? To add to this, the outrage in light of the Center for Medical Progress videos has quickly subsided. People are not sharing the horrifying videos like they did by the 4th and 5th one. There are errands to get to, friends to meet up with, bills to pay. What can we do anyway? I cannot sit Obama and Congress down and force them to see babies killed by an organization that got a one million dollar grant last week. My heart continues to break and I continue to pray and help in my small way, but is it enough?

            In all my confusion, heartbreak, and anger, I know that we must look at the light that is within all of this...the light that is the people helping the refugees, the light that is people joining in community to mourn with one another, the light that is the pro-life workers, politicians, women working at pregnancy centers, and so many more who are dedicating time, energy, and effort to make a change in the midst of this brokenness. There are people doing good in the mess - people who look at the darkness and walk right toward it with their light to help, to heal, and to give. There is hope in it all, hope that is not as often reported as the tragedy is, but there is hope and mercy in the center of suffering...that hope and mercy walked 2000 years ago to help us make sense of it all.

            Keep your hearts up, friends, and remember that death lost its power long ago. May we consciously rejoice in the reality of the Resurrection, knowing as the days go on that this place is not our Home.

Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.