29 June 2015

Save Womanhood, Save Marriage, Save the World

A New Book

When I was a child, I read a lot. It started with my mom reading to me before I hit school age. She even had the right inflection when dialogue changed between voices. It continued in grade school, when I was "that girl:" the girl reading a book because her classwork was done, the girl asking to go to the library for the third time this week because she'd finished the books she'd checked out, the girl with the most AR points (accelerated reading. Students took quizzes on books they'd read to accumulate points; there was usually a goal for each quarter students had to meet as part of their Reading grade). High school English courses were full of enough in class reading, but I supplemented my Summers with more reading.

When it was time for college, I intended to keep the intense (for fun) reading up, but add a part time job, research work and the discovery of Netflix and reading just tends to go by the wayside. I have tried to set goals for myself with reading since then, sometimes making lists for the year or for the Summer. I always have a list written up on my phone with the local library call numbers. My own lists are aided by lists found around the internet, often from other Catholic bloggers. One book in particular which has been recommended almost half a dozen times is Dr. Laura Schlessinger's The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands. Okay, I'm a newly married woman. Seeing what people have to say about marital relationships could be a good thing. It was finally at the library the last time I visited, so I scooped it up.

Now, at first glance, this book totally looks like a 1990's self help book. C even gave me a sideways glance when he saw the cover. However, these recommendations were from sources I trusted, so I added it to my pile of books. I started reading it in the car and I finished it in maybe three days, if that says anything about how much it hooked me.

So what is this book about? Well, it doesn't have recipes in it, as one might expect. Rather, Dr. Schlessinger focuses on the ways in which our modern society has encouraged discord in the marital relationship. She spends much of the book showing real examples of conversations that she has had with a spouse or couple about their relationship, often where a wife has some problem with the way the husband does or doesn't do something (eg. "He doesn't load the dishwasher right? Why doesn't he ever listen to me?"). Dr. S usually responds that men want a few basic thingslove, acceptance, affirmation, respectbut that they aren't getting them, usually because women can be really harsh towards the men in their lives ("Did you ask him kindly and leave it, or do you harp on him about it constantly? Do you ever thank him for the work he does for you and your family?"). Now, there's all sorts of ways I could get into that, and if you want to see what she has to say then you can check out the book for yourself, but I wanted to focus on one passage in particular.

Marriage? No, thanks.
"With a religious foundation, both women and men appreciate that they become more complete when bonded to the opposite sex in holy matrimony. Without it, though, women may see marriage as either an option equivalent to the usually temporary arrangement of shacking up, or as the threat of oppression, or as an impediment to the fulfillment of some important material goals.
When modesty, chastity, and fidelity were in vogue, women who valued themselves as more than sexual objects or outlets were respected by society in general and men in particular. Now women have to contend with men taught to expect sexual favors as part of casual dating. As a result, women ignore their true nature to bond, and find themselves getting more and more hurt and bitter as they search for meaning in a culture telling them meaning has no meaning." (p. 53)

[When I read these two paragraphs, I was reminded of another book I read this year: A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue by Wendy Shalit. That book, while in my possession, was absolutely covered in sticky tabs with little notes. I highly recommend reading it, no matter your stage or vocation in life.]

But let's focus on what Dr. Schlessinger is saying. Women may see marriage as one of three things, she says, and none of those three things is what I would call "good." Those three things do not touch at all upon what marriage should be, what the Church sees marriage as, namely, a covenant "by which a man and a women establish between themselves a partnership of the whole life,...by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring." (CCC 2.2.3. Article 7) A Catholic marriage is about permanence, getting each other to Heaven and having and raising any children God blesses the spouses with.

However, permanence, Heaven and children play no role, as far as many people in the world are concerned today, as they have an answer to each feature. Permanence? Divorce. Heaven? Non-Christian or once saved, always saved. Children? Contraception. When these good things are taken away from the equation, what does marriage become? Long term roommates? A move for convenience? Then how quickly can a marriage fall apart? One roommate wants to know why the other one is out late all the time. Convenience becomes a burden instead.

Weakness? No, thanks.

What happened to the days, writers like Schlessinger and Shalit wonder, when women were respected by men? When women could walk down the street without being heckled? When women didn't carry mattresses around their campus to protest rape? When women weren't expected to throw down on the first date, lest they be called prudish? Both women respond: a lack of modesty, chastity and fidelity.

There is a parallel pattern. At several points, essential pieces of marriage were chipped away. I've heard statistics about a 50% divorce rate since I was a kid, and I recently heard that it's closer to 60%. Contraception, which was once rejected by all Christian groups, is now a given in many circles. In high school, I heard stories more than once of friends' parents almost desperately asking if they wanted to be put on the pill.

Likewise, at several points, essential pieces of a women's dignity were chipped away. Schlessinger relates it all back to the feminist movement of the 1960s. Now, while I believe that men and women deserve the same dignity and respect, there are differences between the sexes. Does this make one sex objectively better than the other sex? Of course not. These are often necessary differences that ought to be cherished, rather than dismissed. The problem, however, is that those differences which have been dismissed are the ones women have. Passive, nurturing and sacrificial characteristics were judged weak. The men, though, had all the good roles: active, in the work force, forging his own path. That was interpreted as strong, the only strength, compared to woman's "weakness." But I know that being a woman does not make you weak. Being a wife and mother isn't an easy task and it does require strength. Not all strength is shown by muscle mass.

And so, the thing to do was get rid of these "weak" characteristics and "weak" roles. What was once a partnership was perceived as oppression. What was once a fountain of self-giving was seen as a drain on personal success. What was once seen as an opportunity to grow in holiness and guide others along the way was seen as a mundane, routine, thankless chore. But if you deny yourself the opportunity to love and be loved, if you deny yourself the opportunity to be part of something more than yourself, if you deny yourself the opportunity to find grace in every small detail, you begin to lose those things. You forget why they are important and instead find other sources of importance. Now all these women are in marriages they can't for the lives of themselves remember why they entered.

As a result, the things that were valued like fidelity to your spouse or hard work for your family, are now parasites of a woman's life well lived. Why, then, commit to a lasting monogamous relationship? Why, then, have children within the context of a permanent union? Why have children, who will rope you into burdensome responsibility for the next eighteen years, at all? If it is all going to limit you as a person, make you weak instead of strong, why desire it? It has gotten to such a point that Schlessinger's next two paragraphs continue...

Children and Responsibility? No, thanks.
"When there was awe and respect for life, an 'accidental pregnancy' was met with commitment and responsibility because women expected it and men were accountable. Now men expect an accidental pregnancy to result in an abortion because society has trained them to see this as a temporary inconvenience, or they expect to walk away because they've been told men aren't needed to raise babies. 
Commitment to marriage and child rearing was once viewed as the pinnacle of adulthood identity, so that women looked carefully for the 'right' man for the job, and parents were consulted for opinions and blessings. Now, with so few sustained marriages and children growing up with complex family trees made up of multiple marriages, divorces, and out-of-wedlock children, fewer women look upon marriage and child rearing as stable or even normal." (p. 53-54)

Here are two of our themes again: impermanence and individuality. When something which was once supposed to be a special and lasting bond gets warped into a contract we can break free of at any time, we become less inclined to sign the contract in the first place. As with marriage, so with children. I cannot count the number of television shows or movies in which a woman becomes pregnant and the first question is something like: "What do you want to do?" "Do you want to keep it?" "Are you going to get rid of it?" Excuse me? We're talking about children here! Has everyone somehow forgotten that small detail? Yet we treat pregnancy as a Nordstrom return policy on a pair of shoes, except Nordstrom has no time limit (I wonder if we're really getting to that point anyway, with partial birth abortions being legitimate, or simple abandonment of children).

We Got You Into This Mess, You're Getting Yourself Out

Still astounding to me is that in each of these television programs, the man (or should I say boy?) stands idly by while the woman sets her jaw and mutters, "It's my problem. Don't worry about it." I cannot imagine how many of these desperately sad scenes have played out in real life. How many women have kept a pregnancy secret or far from the responsible man's influence? How many have "taken care of" their problem with no one to offer comfort or support? In our enlightened, modern world, how much are we truly helping women who need it? When we encourage women to be adventurous, live a little and experiment with their sexuality, and they end up conceiving, how do we have the nerve to turn our backs and say, "Well, it's your problem. You had better get it taken care of or else you'll ruin your entire life."? And when a woman does keep their child? That same crowd will look down on her for being a single mother, when before they had praised women for being their own, individual person. Society has become a group full of individuals but no community. It is so heartbreaking to think that this is normal life for so many women in the world.

There is a reason that this life is not what the Church prescribes when she shows marriage as having parameters. These parameters are not put in place so as to oppress people and make their lives miserable. Rather, they guide marriage to be as wholesome, fruitful and graceful as possible. Each new attack on married life is just one more chance for me to remember: this isn't God's plan. It isn't God's plan to have families torn apart by divorce. It isn't God's plan to have children neglected by desperate women who are told they have no choice, by lukewarm men who are told they have no responsibility and by a careless society that so often sees people as only burdensome.

Something Better? Yes, please.

But what authority do I have to speak on such matters? I, an out-of-wedlock child? I, a child of divorce? Even with these "labels," I am one of the lucky ones. I have a mother who loves me fiercely and never made me feel like I was a burden for arriving on the scene "too soon," or still being someone to take care of when my father wasn't in the picture. I have a step father who treated me as his own flesh and blood and, even after my sister came, never made me feel different from her. I have a sister whothough technically only a half-siblingsupports, laughs, competes and fights with me just as a full-blooded sibling would. I have a vastly extensive family, nearly all of the women of whom were pregnant before marriage or before legal adulthood. Yet, they have loved and supported me and desired more for me than the difficulty that comes with starting a life like that so young. The desire for symmetry in my class schedule was some kind of act of God which allowed me to meet my husband, whose own attendance at our middle-of-nowhere, half-across-the-country-from-his-home university was another act of God. From the world's perspective, I was born into circumstances of misfortune. But from God's perspective, everything was slowly working together for good. I have been immensely blessed in my circumstances.

Still, I don't have to be a statistic to see these effects. I see people who have accepted all these things as fact: I see divorce and remarriage after divorce and remarriage. I see couples following in their parents' footsteps with their own relationship problems. I see women accepting the cat calls as if accepting a date, because that is how young people communicate these days. I hear women say, "I know he's been seeing so-and-so, but I know he's going to leave her for me," who have accepted being played. I hear women say, "You know I'd never sleep with you," (the more pg version, anyway) and then throw themselves all over the guy. I see women hoist signs boasting their number of abortions. I see every day the dignity of women and the beauty of marriage trampled on.

I also see people like me asking questions and wanting better: I see spouses fighting and trying to work it out. I see other children of divorce who can't understand why their parents couldn't stay together and promise their marriage will never take that turn. I see women scowling at cat calls and hear them complaining about the way a man seems to stare at them because they want to be treated differently. I see young pregnant women abandoned by their friends, but resolute in their decision. I hear women lament the years they spent on the pill, after they have discovered its abortifacient capabilities, now open to life. I hear men tell women, "You are beautiful," and it means, "You are patient. You are hard working. You are strong. You are loved." I see men and women at the altar vowing permanence and meaning it.

I want more of the latter. I want more women being respected as women, with all the wonderful gifts they have because of their womanhood. I want more women knowing their dignity and worth and living in a way which demonstrates that. I want more men seeing those wonderful qualities in women, which they value more than the superficial things society says are important. I want more men knowing their own dignity and respecting the dignity of women. I want more faithful, Catholic examples of marriage in the world, to show others that marriage can be permanent, charitable and fruitful. I want my marriage to be like that.

26 June 2015

Love Does Win

The country exploded today when news of the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in favor of same sex marriage came out (pun not intended). I woke up to text messages, Facebook statuses and Twitter updates. Virtual parades marched through social media platforms with #lovewins banners raised high and I seemed to watch from the sidelines with other Catholics and Christians. Some people in the latter group were in disbelief, others were restating Scripture or Catechism lines, quoting the dissenting Justices. Friends were mourning the loss of friendships. Several times, I saw people ridiculed, shamed and denied respect. It seems like we've only flipped the coin on this issue: while gay men and women received a lot of criticism in the past, now it is directed at religious groups. Have we truly changed anything?

Could we have expected anything other than this sort of reaction? This topic has been major for several years and is the kind of topic which has high emotion intertwined in every sentence about it. Those on the pro sound can't help but sound gloating to the con side; those on the con side can't help but sound hateful to the pro side. It doesn't seem like any love wins in this back and forth.

"The Catholic Church and Her teachings are not comfortable. That's because She refines us and gradually transforms us." I tweeted earlier this afternoon. There is a great fear now about the safety of freedom of religion in the time to come. Some religious groups (Westboro Baptists, anyone?) are adamantly against gay marriage, to the extent of sounding truly hateful. Could you sound anything but when your most associated slogan is "God hates fags?" I mean, that is intense and also incredibly sad. Other religious groups say, "Look, we disagree with this and we want our freedom of religion to remain intact so that we do not have to perform or support any action against our deeply held beliefs." And maybe people see the latter as hateful too, but the last thing some want to come off as is hateful towards another.

Where is the fine line between hateful and remaining true to the the Catholic faith? For starters, I would point out this: I don't think that anyone who either grew up in the Church or came to Her as a convert found no difficulty. Being chaste isn't easy. Keeping your temper in check isn't easy. Reining in jealousy isn't easy. Refraining from despair isn't easy. There is a reason that Confession exists: we fall into sin, sometimes all too easily. But Christ is always there to forgive us and the Church is always there to guide us to the truth.

There is going to be a lot of talk in the days, weeks, months to come. It is good to know where the Church stands and realize that She calls us to love one another and treat one another with dignity. The Church's teachings on things like this are so controversial in this world because Her teachings are against the world. The Church is almost never going to be on the same side as the popular vote. God told us from the beginning: "I will put enmity between you and the woman; between your seed and her seed." Jesus told us in the Gospel of John: "If the world hates you, know that it hated me first." Who received more hatred than Our Lord, who was rejected by His very people?

So when you're out there in the public realm, do communicate the truth. But know that the truth isn't only the "do NOT" that the world pins on us so much. The truth is also the "DO." Do love one another. Do speak in kindness, truth and fidelity to the Gospel. Remember, also, that God is love. Love does win.

22 June 2015

First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage...

...then comes:

"Are you going to try to have kids once you're married?"
"We're taking bets."
"How was last (the wedding) night?" -nudge-
"Are you pregnant yet?"
"You might be pregnant next time I see you!"
"What if we had kids at the same time?!"

These comments and questions are real quotations from friends and family before, during and after the wedding day. These comments, while well-meant by those who uttered them, can be a bit much for someone like me: an over-thinking, over-stressing, crazy person. I am someone whose own inner monologue carries more pressure than several vocal admonitions of others. It is such that the words of a curious friend can, when coupled with my own thoughts, start to sound like a command or expectation. What once was a lighthearted question becomes a flurry of discordant thoughts: when? now? should I be? is it bad if I'm not? what if I'm not? what if I can't yet?

It is a strange thing to be on this side of marriage, where the next big question is: "When are you having kids?" I almost miss questions about how much I have left to do to prepare for the wedding day. I am more convinced, as many blog posts I read suggested, that such a question can be incredibly personal. At times, I want to respond, "When are you having more children? How are your married nights? Are you having trouble losing those last five pounds? Did you get your skin cancer situation checked out?" Maybe those questions could come from a place of curiosity or genuine care, but not every well-meaning question sounds well-meaning.

Of course, there is a part of me which understands: people are simply excited. They want goodness, fruitfulness and blessings for you. That is appreciated, naturally. It means a lot to have the support of others and to know that they want good things for me. I share their same questions: when? I would love to know that, myself. I don't know, but if you know, do tell.

But another part, the pessimistic side of me, says that people are incredibly nosy. As an outsider (of the marriage looked in upon), one cannot know what a particular couple's particular situation is at a particular time. One cannot know whether a couple is holding off on having children for a suitably serious reason, trying desperately but having no success or standing somewhere between those endpoints. I am not one of those women who has discovered that she has fertility problems. Thanks be to God! I am not in one of those couples who have serious medical conditions or financial instability. Thanks be to God! I am a month into marriage and have no great distress. Thanks be to God!

So if things are going so well, what's my deal? Well, multiple people have told me to relax, chill, enjoy what is happening now. That is something that I have to change about myself overall: I always want to know what comes next, to the point of often taking the present for granted. So "sit yourself down and take a moment" advice is probably smart. Thank you, friends. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I can be my own worst enemy when it comes to unnecessary stress. No one asks more questions about when I should be having children, if now is a good time, how I will know it is a good time, whether I am healthy enough, whether I am capable enough, whether I will actually be a good mother, how I will do at being pregnant, how many we should have (etc) than I do. For every question a friend has, I have five. Do you think things like acknowledging Mary as the Mother of God, finding out another friend is pregnant, teaching young children at work or yesterday being Father's Day don't make me think of our future? Ha. Professional over-thinker here.

All these thoughts have been brewing in my head and were in mind when I clicked onto a Fountains of Carrots podcast. Haley (Carrots for Michaelmas) and Christy (Fountains of Home) started a podcast last year and it is worth a listen if you haven't heard any of them yet. They talk about Catholicism, wife/motherhood, blogging, books, television shows, social media... The list goes on. I tuned in to a podcast in which they answered listener questions. One of the questions dealt with approaching motherhood when you don't know if you're ready (I swear I didn't ask this question). "Perfect!" I thought, and listened to almost all of the podcast before they addressed that question (isn't that always what happens?). They said (roughly), "Well, this is your vocation. When it was your vocation to marry, becoming a mother was part of that." Then Haley said something that really resonated with me after: "You don't have to be scared."

Wait, what? I don't have to be scared? I don't have to be an over-thinking, over-stressing, constantly questioning lunatic? I can trust that God is in control, that everything happens according to His will, that He will not abandon me, that He has given me outstanding models of motherhood in the saints and especially in the Blessed Virgin? How revolutionary! How great! How I feel like banging my head on the desk for being a silly nitwit!

I don't have to be in control of everything, nor can I be. No matter what happens, God will be in control. Now to take on all the advice of others: I'll be chillin' if you need me.

14 June 2015

My Favorite Verse

I was inspired to write about my favorite verse while reading yesterday's Blessed Is She devotional, which contained my favorite verse (was that part obvious enough not to need to make a note of it?). If you are not signed up to this devotional, you definitely should be. Women writers, musicians and artists write their reflections on the day's readings. It is free to sign up and you just get emails every day. Super easy and often a motivational reminder to get into the Word every day.

The New Testament reading was taken from Paul's second letter to the Corinthians. My favorite verse from it is as follows: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." Why is this verse so special?

The Verse

This verse from Paul's letter stood out to me when I was sixteen years old. People having favorite verses was a common thread in my Baptist church. I don't know how big of a deal that is for Catholics or for other denominations, but I think the bible-centeredness (I know this isn't a word) of Baptists made verses a big deal. It was like "What's your favorite color? What's your favorite Bible verse?" It was also around that time that I was becoming more involved in a youth group at another church, which I think is where this idea of needing to have a favorite verse became important. Now, I didn't have anything against having a favorite verse; instead, I just didn't know what my favorite verse could be. There were thousands of lines to choose from and nothing had really stood out to me.

Things changed when I was sixteen. At the end of my Sophomore year of high school, I developed an eating disorder. (I write more about the experience here and did make mention of this verse there as well.) I think this was the most discordant time of my life. On the outside, I was a good student who got into little, if any, trouble and was seemingly deeply connected to my faith. I had good relationships with my family and friends. On the inside, though, I was a mess. If I wasn't doing rounds of exercises in my room, I was in a ball on my bed, thinking of reasons to skip dinner. If I wasn't staying up late researching "negative calorie foods," I was struggling not to go binge on food I certainly needed. If I wasn't counting and recounting my caloric intake, I was reprimanding myself in my head for having no control.

The self-loathing was an endless cycle: I'd want to change myself, have control over myself, master any craving that hit me. If I succeeded, I'd hate how stuck I felt in something I knew was unhealthy. If I didn't succeed, I'd shame myself for being weak. Over time, I realized I had no real control over myself. I also saw others deteriorating from this disease. I don't know exactly what the wake up call wasmaybe it was something that just built up over timebut eventually I told a friend, who listened with patience and without judgment. When she suggested we meet with the pastor of our church and I told him what was happening, one thing he recommended was turning to the Scriptures. One of the verses I found was the verse that has become my favorite verse. "A new creation," I thought, sliding my fingers over the words. Was it possible that I could become such a thing? Was it possible that the old really could pass away? My understanding of this verse has grown and remolded to the stages of my life since. 

The Church
For years after I admitted my problem to my friend and in time to other friends and family, seeking their guidanceI still felt the remnants of the disease. Imagine my eating disorder was a black, tar-like substance filling the jar that was my soul. Admitting to myself and to others that I had this problem, this sin, was like opening the jar and pouring some of the sludge out. Letting go of it, bit by bit, eased the pressure of the secret, of the thing I couldn't talk about, of the thing I was ashamed to admit. But even years later, I could still feel the grime on the jar, the bits that had collected at the bottom of the jar. Some of it was still in the grooves of the opening. For a time, I understood myself in the context of having had a problem. I would introduce myself and think, "I'm Haley. I'm recovering from an eating disorder."

It became more difficult when I went to University. My homesickness paired with my deficient meal plan had me frequently missing meals in the first month. I would lie on my dorm room bed completely fine, then roll over and start counting lunch calories while everyone else was at dinner. Inner monologues were not as frequent as they had been when it all started, but they still popped up at the least opportune moments. Friends would invite me to dinner and I would force myself to select something in the previously "off limits" category just to remind myself, "You can do this. The world won't end if you have pie."

I had been attending Mass semi-regularly (maybe a handful of times a week: daily Mass was really easy to get to; sometimes I would just go to the chapel to think and pray without the noise of the campus) when Lent came up. Now, I'd never really understood Lent, either. People usually gave something up (often something I deemed silly, like chocolate). The thought struck me: "I should give up counting calories." Maybe it sounds silly and simple to someone who has not spent years counting, to the point where they can make pretty accurate guesses without needing to reference a chart anymore. For me, though, it was a big deal. I had counted calories in some manner, whether finding out the exact calories for each measurement of food I'd consumed or rounding to the nearest hundred the two meals I would eat at University, practically every day.  Then, Ash Wednesday of 2011, I stopped. If I started to count out of habit, I mentally closed that door, locked it and left the area. Something finally gave me the will power to stop. All I needed was that moment. Lent concluded and I didn't break my habit. I haven't counted since.


Confession came into play almost two years later when I was preparing to join the Church. Candidates for Confirmation have to go to Confession first. As I was examining my life in the weeks prior, I realized my eating disorder was something that would have to come up. After making a solid change two years prior, I found it was less of a problem, but I still thought of it. I wasn't sure how to bring something like that up, other than just to say it. It was definitely one of the things I was most nervous about confessing. In my mind, it had been such a destructive part of my life. I knew and had been told that God would forgive you in the Confessional, but that seemed too big.

As a Protestant, it was fine to admit to your sin in your head and direct it at God. All that I really needed to say was "I'm sorry" and then move on with my life. But I didn't just move on with my life. I couldn't just let go of it. I couldn't really be forgiven of something like that, I thought. Admitting your sin out loud to a priest? That's a completely different story. It wasn't "I'm sorry," and then roses and sunshine. There is something so different about saying what you've done wrong out loud. You can't say it and then take it back. Everything is out in the open. As I waited in line for Confession, I kept going over my list and kept getting stuck on this problem. How could I tell God through his priest that I had hated myself and sought to destroy this body He gave me? How ungrateful I was for my very self. It seemed hardly short of taking someone else's life to cause so much damage to myself.

When it was actually my turn, though, Confession wasn't some big, scary thing. It was nerve-wracking, sure, but it dissipated a lot once the door closed behind me. The priest asked a few questions with each item and sought to make sure that I was okay. He was especially kind and walked me through everything as it was my first Confession. It was over not long after it began and I took my penance to a pew with me. Before he'd let me go, though, he said those amazing words: "I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Absolve. No more guilt. No more shame. It was finally freedom. It told me: "let go." I didn't have to hold on to this anymore. I didn't have to feel like I was tied to this problem, as if it were my identity. I could finally let it go. The old was gone. The new was now.

Confirmation & Communion

The process of becoming new continued at Confirmation. At Confirmation, monsignor (in my case; the bishop usually does this, but he can't be everywhere at once, so often other priests are ministers at Confirmation) dipped his thumb in chrism oil and said, "Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit." Holy oils are used in many sacraments (another example is at baptism). The scent of the oil and balsam seemed to whisper to me: "New." New again. A new creation. A new Catholic in her infancy. "In her infancy, bumbling about," I'd think to myself, but smile all the same.

What a gift Confirmation was. The journey to this point had seemed so long. I wondered whether I would ever get to Easter Vigil, then there I was, standing in a church before God, before his priests, before hundreds of people, affirming my belief andwonder of wondersbeing sealed with the Holy Spirit. I imagined what the disciples must have experienced when the Holy Spirit filled them and tongues of fire sat upon them. Everything was new. Everything would be different now, because they would be able to speak to all nations. What would I do?

What immediately followed in that moment was the Eucharist. As Father received the gifts and asked our prayers, I was captivated. The Eucharist had been my desire for a long time now. How would I do at receiving Christ's Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity? The graces that are poured forth when receiving the Eucharist are the greatest, sweetest gift we can receive (the forgiveness we receive at Confession is only the next best gift in this life). When we receive the Divine, and it is our nourishment, we become more Divine, more like Christ. Who better to cleanse us of our past and our failures? Who better to be filled up with all good things by? I don't have to be the person I was and continue in the same sins. I don't have to be defined by my errors. I can receive forgiveness. I can receive Our Lord in an amazing and intimate way. I can be changed by Him. I can be made new. Each host held before me is a reminder: "Take and eat. Be changed. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come."

11 June 2015

The Wedding: Part Five

For those with some morbid curiosity, but mostly for myself when I want to remember the details, our wedding in five parts.

Part Five: The Weekend

I awoke Saturday morning with a clear thought in my head: “I have a husband.” I looked over at him sleeping and found the knowledge almost baffling. I was married and had a husband. How extraordinary. I slipped away to the bathroom only to wince at my reflection in the mirror. “This is why I stopped wearing makeup,” I thought to myself, as I scrubbed at the black mascara marks under my eyes.

After my teeth were brushed and face was as clean as it was going to get of makeup at this ridiculous 8.00 AM hour, I returned to bed to find C awake now. I burrowed into the blankets for a necessary minute or two before we snapped into action. He took his turn in the bathroom while I sent out messages to my bridesmaids to see if they were up and to my family to see when and where they wanted to meet to explore the city. My sister texted me back first, saying they were all getting ready. Bridesmaid H said she was on her way to the visitors center and could meet up whenever during the day. Bridesmaid M got back to my “Are you awake?” message at around 11.00 saying, “Ish.” Haha.

C started packing everything up while I made the obligatory Facebook updates (“Thank you to everyone ever for everything ever.”) and replied to another flood of messages. I hopped in the shower and said goodbye to my nicely curled hair. Nothing says back to normal life like throwing your hair into a messy bun. C left to return one of the groomsman's suits to their suit rental place while I packed up the rest of our things and quadruple checked the bathroom, fridge and closet, stopping every so often to eat an almond croissant. I was amazed at how much stuff we had accumulated in the hotel room just over a couple of days. Luckily, our hotel was nice enough to have bell hops to help you take your things down. A cab was also called for us. I love nice hotels.

A cannolo for breakfast, too? Why not?
Once we were all packed up, we took off towards our house (not really a house we own; it's family's), unloaded our things into the house, then jumped back into our car to go to the bank and deposit all the very generous gifts we had been given. We arrived back home around the same time as my family (mom, step-dad, sister, aunt, uncle and cousin) showed up. We would travel with them to Old City, but not before I let them come inside and meet the dog (our family is obsessed with dogs). On the drive, we talked about about the crazy driving in the city, like how people just park down the middle of Broad Street. It is a strange phenomenon that my family and I have seen in no other city.

We parked by the waterfront and C pointed out some of the ships. We then walked down South Street which, as any Philadelphia native knows, is one of the more interesting and active streets in the city with an assortment of shops. At one moment you could be at an ice cream store. The next shop down might sell antiques. Then there's a cheesesteak place right after that. It's very hodge-podge and very busy with young people at night. Eventually we turned north and headed towards Independence Mall, where the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall are. On the walk, I became a social butterfly as at the reception, flitting between conversations with different family members, frequently returning to my baby cousin whose boredom was only alleviated by passing dogs or my water bottle, which she took unusual interest in. I tried to give her drinks from it a few times, but I think she needs a little more practice with it.

Cooler than the rest of us. 
C being a tour guide for my parents.
When I wasn't laughing at my uncle photobombing ridiculously, checking in with bridesmaids or answering questions about the city, I was simply enjoying everyone being together. Though C and I visited my family last Christmas, we all hadn't done much hanging out in the past. The weather was perfect—sunny but breezy—and I just kept thinking, “I'm really happy right now.” Maybe such a thought would only stand out if I were generally a gloomy person, and that might be true. Maybe I don't take advantage of small moments enough to realize that they are good and appreciate them. This weekend I definitely did so.

My family was leaving later that day, though, so we had to continue with our plans. We walked back to the cars and drove to Tony Luke's for cheesesteaks. Now, Tony Luke's isn't my first choice of cheesesteak places of all time: my most favorite is Russo's in Wildwood. But when in Philly, Tony Luke's is the place we go. The line was long, but luckily we got there right before another twenty people arrived. Once we'd gotten our food (I think we had a sandwich and a half per person or something crazy), we ate out of the car kind of like savages, but you do what you've got to do. Even R was trying the food, taking the tiniest bites I've ever seen.
I call this 'Siblings.' See why?
I had been in contact with M and H at this point and made plans to go to Capogiro, a gelato place, with everyone. This gelato place had been rated by National Geographic as the number one ice cream in the world. Not kidding. So I brag about it quite a bit to anyone who visits the city and tell them they have to go there. With at least seven locations, it's hard to find an excuse not to go. Some tips for anyone who does go: 1. There isn't really a line. Just get on in that crowd and marvel at the flavors. 2. Taste tests are allowed. You'll want to taste test for days, but be courteous and pick your flavors already. 3. Go big or go home. Take advantage of the larger size/s. I almost always get three flavors. Gelato is more expensive than ice cream, but this particular gelato with locally sourced ingredients is so worth it. Some helpful hints: my favorite flavors are pistachio, chocolate hazelnut and bourbon vanilla. C likes chocolate banana and grape. We sat around with our bowls and cones and caught up on the last day with each other. It was the perfect moment of the afternoon.

The moment did have to end, however, as my family was headed home that night. I returned with them to the house while my bridesmaids made plans for the evening. I must have spent ten minutes saying goodbye, being held in place by R who had become fascinated with my necklace and hugging my mom twice and crying unnecessarily. This was really it. Their leaving made it all the more apparent: C was my family now. It was time to start our lives. We walked back to the house, my family drove away and I got a hold of myself before we piled back into our car once again. This day was never ending, as we were headed to Cape May, NJ for the rest of the weekend. On the ride, my sister texted C saying she was happy she had him for a brother. Really?! I swear, everyone took pleasure in finding ways to make me wail like a silly person.

Very breezy beach.
The sun was beginning to set when we arrived at our hotel where Chicago cousins were staying. We had planned a few weeks ago to join them, having been told that there was room enough for us. To our surprise, though, an individual or a conglomeration of the family had reserved a room just for me and C. I was floored, especially after I stepped in to see it was a proper suite. It was smaller than the hotel we'd had in Philadelphia, but I liked this one better for two reasons. The first: the traditional style was much more my thing. The second: we had a balcony looking out to the ocean. You can't get that in Philly! There was also a bottle of wine standing on the kitchen counter, a gift from a cousin who couldn't make it. We spent some time looking around the room, unpacking a bit and looking at wedding photos (C had received them from the photographer the previous night). It was colder than we had anticipated and C had forgotten swimming trunks and a sweatshirt so we went for a brief shopping trip which turned into a confused one. One store had all the size labels cut out of their sweatshirts so it took us ages to find one that would fit C properly. Is there a reason people do such things? If we weren't on our third or fourth try at that point, I would have just left out of protest. We then joined all the cousins in another room and played this word search game (you have a word and have to create words from the larger word's letters) with apple cider and more shared photos.

Pretty soon, my stomach was protesting for food, so we went on the hunt. It took three attempts until we found a restaurant to take us where a really horrible guitarist was covering popular music. Everything was in the same key in some unusual half rock, half blues tone. Each song had one of us exclaiming, “He's ruining The Cure right now. I can't believe this.” or “Is this supposed to be Taylor Swift? It is Taylor Swift. Sort of.” On top of that, the food wasn't as good as the prices would suggest except for my pretzel bites (I could have eaten stale crackers at that point and thought they were marvelous, though). Ah well. It was an experience, if anything. Other sources of entertainment were the Blackhawks game (which I think had gone into overtime) and a cousin and his wife talking about how they met.

Did we have enough food?
Pretzels and poor musicians gone, we all returned to the hotel to turn in. I lay in bed that night thinking, “If these days get any longer, I don't know what I'll do with myself.” So of course, I woke up at 8AM on Sunday. I must have just gotten into the habit and it wasn't one that I could break. I hopped out of bed, ran a bath, attempted to wake C, but eventually let him sleep and went to breakfast. The hotel had one of the most impressive breakfast situations I'd ever seen. Huge buffet areas held fruit, yogurt, eggs, sausages, biscuits, blinis, toast and bagels. There were also waffle and omelet stations and a cash bar for drinks like mimosas opened at 10.00 AM. I made myself a plate (that was actually healthy, thank you) and had a very important cup of coffee.

I had only been sat a few minutes when I saw some family walking by. I got the attention of one cousin and he practically did a double take. “What are you doing here?” he asked, checking his watch. It was 9.00 AM. “Eating breakfast,” I said, pretty obviously. “Where' C?” he asked. “Still sleeping,” I shrugged into my coffee. That got him laughing and shaking his head. “Good for you,” he said, then offered for me to join them. I was rather enjoying my moment alone with a book, so I finished the chapter and my plate before bringing the rest of my coffee to their table. We all sat around talking about the hotel, the hope of better weather for swimming today and the Nuptial Mass. It was a nice time of conversation, but eventually I wanted to check on C and make sure he was up if he intended to go to the 11.00 AM Mass.

View from our balcony.

My pre-sun burn view.
Back at the room, we decided instead to go at 6.00 PM instead, so we changed into our suits and went down to the pool instead (the ocean was still too windy and cold compared to the slightly heated pool). I was intent on getting some color other than paper on my skin, so I attempted to sunbathe. If you're interested, I'm still peeling from a sunburn almost three weeks later. One cousin advised I write things down, as she was writing about the wedding in her own notebook. “You don't want to forget, and you will start to lose the details,” she warned and was completely right, as I'm writing this as long after as the sunburn has lasted. It was so ridiculous for part of it: there was some sort of towel fiasco in which the hotel either had not stocked or cleaned enough towels for all the guests and the towels were “coming in a few minutes” for nearly an hour. Part of me thought it was just silly, but another (server) part of me guessed there was probably not much the pool waiter (or whatever he was; he never said his job description, exactly, but did check on people every three minutes) could do about the purchase, cleaning or drying of towels. It became a source of amusement for a few of us (though, I think annoyance for others). Oh well. We survived.

After a good amount of time in the sun, we returned to our rooms to wash and change. C and I went with three others to mini golf where I discovered mini golf is not my strong suit. C, on the other hand, did the best of all of us. I did make a couple impressive shots, which I found redemptive. It was then nearing 6.00, so C and I separated from the others to go to Mass which was absolutely packed with tanned vacationing families. It was also strange to go to an English Novus Ordo Mass after our Nuptial Mass had been so different. Jesus showed up, though, which is the most important part.

Aaaaand sunburn. 
But worth it for this sunset.
Before dinner we had heard from groomsman T who was staying in Wildwood that we were going to meet up for dinner at one of the nicer restaurants in town. Though we had to travel twenty minutes or so, we were the first to get there to find that there was an hour and a half wait. C's eyes nearly popped out when I relayed this information to him and I couldn't believe I hadn't thought, “Did anyone make a reservation?” on Memorial Day weekend of all days. C would have been happy to eat pizza and take a walk, but most of the group was eager to go to this restaurant, so we ended up biding our time at the outdoor bar while we waited for a table. It was good in that it gave us more chance to catch up with people, but the place had these heaters (understandable, since it had been breezy) that almost made you feel burnt just standing for a few minutes.

Finally, we got a table and I opened a menu with the longest seafood list I'd ever seen. I decided on a caprese salad, crab cakes and a pinot grigio. I was sat across cousin S (remember her from Wednesday?) and it seemed like ages since I'd actually talked to her. We talked about dating in the 21st century, her work and how being married didn't feel substantially different yet. She was kind enough to share one of the coconut shrimp she'd gotten (probably the best thing I actually ate there, which is silly, since it wasn't part of my order) while we talked. It also turned out that we were given a salad course before our entrees, so I was absolutely stuffed by the time dessert rolled around. That didn't stop me, though, from getting a coffee and chocolate mousse. The amount of food and the effects of another long day were hitting me like a truck, though, and when we got back to the hotel, I practically passed out at an early 1.00 AM.

See how empty it was?

Minimally busy boardwalk.
Seven hours of sleep does a girl wonders. Yes, I woke up at 8.00 AM again. No need to waste time, I thought, as I got ready and packed some things up. In the process, C woke up and we decided to go to breakfast together. Though we hadn't planned it, we met up with three of the six family members quite randomly in the breakfast room and grabbed a large table in the corner. I traded caffeine for a waffle this time and we talked about travel plans home, as this was our last morning together. One couple was leaving about an hour from then. The rest of the family would be leaving soon after. We packed everything up, I spent a few more minutes on the balcony and then we said a couple goodbyes before loading the car and going to daily Mass at 11.00 AM. The Mass was much smaller this time and the average attendee was probably sixty years old, which made it feel a lot like the parish I went to while I lived at home with my family after university.

We then went back up to Wildwood to take a walk up the boardwalk and get Seashell ice cream (honestly, some of the best ice cream I've had) before driving back. The beach was still busy, but that wistful feeling that always accompanies the end of a trip had settled in for me, so we returned to the car and I fell asleep in the stand still traffic leaving the island (oft neglected fact: Wildwood is actually an island). I woke up to us winding through trees and eventually crossing the Benjamin Franklin bridge, headed into the bright cityscape of Philadelphia. We met up that night for dinner with the last bridesmaid who was in town and exchanged stories about the previous two days' adventures. All things must come to an end, though, and we dropped her off at her hotel with goodbye hugs and promises to catch up in August when I visit Illinois.

Coffee + chocolate peanut butter = happy.
Walking into the house felt like coming home after a trip to Europe or returning to classes after having a Summer off. The environment is familiar, but things are different. It's like getting an apartment and seeing your room for the first time and thinking about how big and foreign it looks, but eventually feeling it shrink around you and fitting into its mold as if you'd lived in that room much longer than a handful of months. It's a strange combination of same but different. Christopher and I are the same but different. I don't know if that makes any sense. Does it?

Someone recently told me: “Your life has now changed dramatically and there is a lot of change going on.” I think it's just going to be a transition period for me for a while, as a person and in how I relate to other people. It isn't just me anymore; it's me and C. I knew Christopher as a teacher, boyfriend and fiance; now I get to know him as a husband. Now I get to know myself as a wife. Getting married has seemed to get me into this “married club,” where women are giving me advice. Now I don't just relate to my mother on a parent-to-child level but on a woman-to-woman level.

I won't always have family celebrating this day with me for hours. I won't always receive messages from friends saying, “Hope your marriage bliss is everything you hoped it would be and more!” I won't always have fans cheering in the corner. Some of these married days are going to be difficult, and not because C didn't help me eat the rest of the wedding cake so that I ended up eating multiple pieces a day and still threw some out (I can blame my sweet tooth on him, yeah?). Not because I forgot to wash pillowcases and he's annoyed or now I have to wash pillowcases and I'm annoyed. Not because I walk too slowly or he walks to quickly or I stay up too late writing or he sleeps as early as a grandpa (but what I'm really talking about here is 2.30 in the morning, so keep that in perspective). We have so much to learn from each other and so much to experience. Some of it will be hard, but I'm still hoping and praying for the graces to make it through any challenges trusting each other and keeping God at the center of it.

People say you enter into a honeymoon phase for a year or two after marriage. But I don't want a two-year honeymoon phase. I want a twenty- or thirty- or fifty-year honeymoon phase! I want the very best for our marriage. I think we're off to a good start and we couldn't have had that start without the aid of so many people. From family who supported us to friends who gave incredibly of themselves to help us have a great wedding to the very readers of this blog (many of whom I have never even met!) who have sent prayers and congratulations. The love we have received is just baffling. We have so much to be thankful for and so much to be excited about.

Cheers to the first year of marriage!


09 June 2015

The Wedding: Part Four

For those with some morbid curiosity, but mostly for myself when I want to remember the details, our wedding in five parts.

Part Four: The Reception

C and I walked down the steps of the church together. I was mentally and C was verbally listing things that needed to be done. Bridesmaids called a cab to go pick up our cakes (yes, cakes). My family stood together as my aunt called a cab for their group. Some of C's Chicago family (now my family, I thought distantly) lounged on the steps, exuding calm that I lacked entirely. We then seemed to see our photographer at the same time and talked to him briefly about payment and transferring files. Cabs began to arrive and my family (which included C; I still couldn't get over that) piled into the bright orange car once again.

C and I were dropped off at our hotel while my family left to their own hotel to change. We didn't have a lot of time at this point, as the reception was to start in maybe ten minutes, so C didn't change (probably for the best: I don't think we got all the wrinkles out of the shirt. Haha.). He did look around the room in appreciation while I tried to find somewhere to set my bouquet and hung up the shining lace jacket I had worn throughout the wedding (I really didn't want to try to navigate Philly streets in that attire). In the flurry of activity, I was surprised when I turned around and he was standing right in front of me. He smiled down at me and addressed me as his wife. It was one of the special moments where everything slows down and the goodness of the moment entirely fills you up.

But of course, those moments can't last forever, and are easier to part with when there is more good to look forward to. I grabbed my purse and we hurried out of the room, down to the lobby and out the door. We walked side by side through Center City and I couldn't help grinning like a fool again, thinking about how nice he looked. He was probably oblivious to my ogling since he kept checking the time. As we weaved around other people and hurried across crosswalks we received a few congratulations. At one point we were waiting at a stop light and a car of women stopped (they had the green light) and called out, “Did you guys just get married??” When we responded in the affirmative, the driver drew all sorts of attention by honking a good seven times and they all shouted, “Congratulaaaations!” and sped through the light while the car behind them got stuck on the red. It was hilarious. “This guy is so mad,” C said of the second car as we walked past, laughing.

Somehow he always looks good.

One more block and we were to the pub our reception was at. I paid the rest of the balance on second floor while C went up to the third floor to see who had arrived. Not many people were there yet (the Mass did start a bit late and go longer, so everyone was probably still commuting or finding parking). I walked in to see our priest sitting at the bar with C's father (really, what more awesome an image?). C's aunt was at a table with groomsman P, I think groomsman T was there, also. My focus was too narrow at that moment. First order of business: a glass of water. I hadn't had anything to drink for nearly four hours. Second order of business: figure out the status of everyone else. My aunt, uncle and cousin arrived soon after, as did one of C's uncles and his wife. My bridesmaids were en route. Soon I got a message that my family was coming back from their hotel. I finally stashed my phone in my purse and returned to the bar where C was looking handsome (still. I mean, how does he do that constantly?) and Father encouraged me to join him in a whiskey. After a second glass of water with orange (unusual, but good), I conceded, and we stood around talking and waiting for more people. My family showed up at a good time because Prince was playing (my mom introduced me to Prince I don't know how long ago and I wanted her to be there whenever he came on). My step-dad was happily out of his suit, which made me laugh.

Soon, my bridesmaids arrived with four cakes in tow and set them at a small table. I joined my aunt, uncle and cousin to talk as well. My uncle liked the music, which made me feel pretty good about deciding to make a playlist. More people were arriving and C grabbed me from my table, walking us out to the landing at the top of the stairs. Father then announced us officially for the first time in public as Mr. and Mrs. We walked in to cheers and clapping and C stopped me in front of everyone to kiss me. More cheers. Weddings are awesome that way: when else can you kiss your husband and people just applaud and encourage it? Father then blessed the food we would have and a line started up. We had Italian food served buffet style (pretty much anything that made this the most casual and easy-going was the way we did things). Caesar salad, bread, antipasto (hello to one of my favorite foods, olives), two types of pasta, sausage and peppers... I grabbed a glass of red wine to go with the meal too and sat down again with my aunt and uncle. C joined me after he talked to a few people.

Awake from her nap and ready to party.

Receptions, reader, are a time to eat, drink and talk with absolutely everyone. I was happy as I made the rounds to find that people were enjoying themselves. I wasn't really sure how people would like our reception: it wasn't incredibly fancy or ornate. All of that had been reserved for the Mass itself. I am not a social butterfly and have trouble finding the value in food I won't like, music that will be too loud or any other thing that is typical of wedding receptions now. I probably sound like a grouch, but I would have been happy to retire to my hotel room with a cup of tea after the wedding, as I am so not a party person. But I started to see that I really liked what we had decided on, also. One of my bridesmaids walked back in with a gluten-free pizza (some women cannot live by olives alone, as I could) and I checked up on them and took a few pictures. I thought, “I should get more food,” but was too worried about everyone else eating that I just kind of ignored it. Smart. (Heads up: Eat food. Drink water. Don't worry about other people.) As I made the rounds, I informed people what the cake options were: cheesecake, lemon-filled cake and red velvet (C and I were cutting the last one: chocolate with a cream cheese filling). I finally returned to some Chicago family I hadn't had the chance to catch up with and found out what was going on in their lives while also receiving marital advice from one couple who got married maybe seven years ago. The husband said they were told, among other things, to hold hands when they argued, which, sappy as it sounds, is probably a good idea.

At around the same time, C left with a good number of the men of the group to smoke cigars in the alleyway (C didn't smoke because he detests almost nothing more than smoking, but it was a nice manly bonding thing). During that time, I just thought more about how pleased I was with how everything was going. Some of the girls working asked if they could cut cakes for people to eat and I let them except for the cake C and I would cut into. I noticed then that our time was going to run out eventually and texted C about them coming back up to start dancing if we wanted that to happen at all.

My favorite girls (mom and sister).
My weirdest guys (step-dad and uncle).

Meanwhile, outside...Way too cool for me.

I was sitting once again by my bridesmaids when the men entered and C got everyone's attention. Unbeknownst to me, he had lined up speeches. Unbeknownst to my step-dad, C planned on him going first. My step-dad is about as good with public speaking as I am and probably felt put on the spot like crazy, but he still stood up. He looked around the room and thanked everyone for being there and welcoming our family. He also said that, though he wasn't sure about C when he first came into my life, there was no one to better match and take care of me. Hello, waterworks! C then asked T, the best man, to give a speech. I'm fairly certain that C didn't prepare anyone for this plan, but T still did a good job of keeping it simple and saying cheers. It wasn't cheesy at all, but for me it was as if he spoke for all of C's family, welcoming me into their own. For that reason, I found it sentimental as well. C then began his own speech, thanking everyone for coming and thanking my family for raising me. “As some of you may know,” he continued, “Haley and I met at college where I was her TA.” I started the chorus of “Oooohs,” that filled the room. He went on: “But she has been the one teaching me ever since.” He knows how to be sweet, this one. I rose and kissed him, wiping at my eyes for the twelfth time that day.

The dancing then began. C and I danced to Matthew Barber's You and Me. It was a song we found very early on in our relationship, probably in the first month we listened to it together. It made appearances at many of our departures, for example, when he transferred to another university. We had packed his car full of his belongings and he'd taken me back to my dorm. I didn't want him to leave or want to leave the car myself and he put on this song as we said our goodbyes. Another time, I flew out to visit him for a week at Spring break. We still had a couple days left together, but I was getting prematurely glum about our impending separation. That week was the first time I remember us mentioning marriage as he put this song on and we danced together. “No matter what our first dance wedding song is,” I remember saying, “This will always really be our first dance song.” As we turned in slow circles, we caught up with each other about the day. We had probably only spent five minutes talking all day and it was nice to catch up. “Want to try a spin?” C suddenly asked. “What? We didn't practice this at all!” I fretted, thinking about all the “Practice Dancing” notes I had made to my to do list for the week that were never actually crossed off. “So?” C said, providing the carefree nature that so often balances out my stressful one. He let go of my waist and then I was spinning, and thankfully not tripping, to more claps and camera flashes. As clutzy as I am, I would advise a bit of practice for anyone else, but it turns out spins aren't too difficult, even for me. :)

Father daughter dance, photo courtesy of my sister.

I then danced with my step-dad to John Mayer's Daughters. I thanked him for his speech and he said he meant it. He said a couple other things which I now forget, which either made me laugh or nearly cry again. It was all very heartfelt and I understood how big of a deal it was to my family to give me away to be married. It was a huge step and they were probably less prepared than I was. We hugged each other afterwords and I looked for less emotional conversation while C and his mother took the floor to Garth Brooks' Meet Your Mom. I watched them dance as I met Father and more cousins at the bar for another whiskey and two more waters (stay hydrated, folks). I went to the bathroom at one point and was pleasantly surprised to see all my makeup was still intact (except for lipstick, but really, who has time to worry about that?), so props to my mother and sister. In time, the other groomsmen and their mothers joined in dancing. At this time, though, we probably had half an hour left of the reception, so C and I cut the chocolate cake after his dance.

I think we got two bites into our piece before the music started up again and bridesmaid M dragged me and bridesmaid H onto the floor. “I can't dance! I don't know what I'm doing!” I told M. “I can't dance either!” H shouted. “Then why are you here?” I asked. “She made me!” H accused M, who was trying to get us to move our arms: “If you can dance in a car, you can dance out here.” “I can do the Charleston,” I remembered from a 1920s project in high school, which H and I rather lamely re-created, as I forgot immediately how to do it once I started trying. If H was going to give dancing a try, I could too. Plus, it was hard not to join in when all the other dancers were so enthusiastic about it. I don't remember how many songs I flailed about to pathetically before I broke away for another water, a glass of white wine and more cake. “Now I know why I don't dance,” I thought to myself, out of breath and sitting on a bar stool.

Father and a cousin dancing, most likely to Iggy Azalea.

Guests began to come up to me soon after to say their goodbyes and relay their plans for the rest of the weekend. Just like that, everything was ending as soon as it had begun. Men were picking up their jackets, women were telling me how good everything had been, my family was standing in a corner and I was just thinking of all the things we had to bring with us when bridesmaid M came over to me, set my wine glass back on the bar and helped me gather my things. I hugged my family goodbye and said I'd text them in the morning to plan out our day. R was not very enthusiastic about saying goodbye to me or going to the dance floor. M had my purse and my cakes, C put on his coat and we all ambled down the stairs.

It was strange to be out on the street. The last three hours, I had been in my own little wedding land and had forgotten about the rest of the world. We walked past alleyways, skirted around more people, received a few more congratulations and then got to our hotel, where M and her date put the cakes away and sat with me while I ate a leftover pastry from the morning and C made work of putting all of his things away. We made plans to go to a bar in South Philly with other members of the wedding party and some guests. We took a cab there, as it was too far away and none of us had a car nearby. The bar was pretty boring and I was still hungry at this point (again: eat whatever you want; there was so much leftover food and I didn't think to get a second plate later in the night. Mistake), but the bar wasn't serving food. Someone bought a round of drinks (green apple something?) but I lost my interest in drinks too, which would only make me more hungry.

The excitement of the day started to hit me and I managed another twenty minutes or so of talking or just sitting before C asked, “Do you want to leave soon?” Yes, I nodded, perking slightly at the idea of a Wawa run. Wawa is a convenience store, but so much more, in that they make food—sandwiches, smoothies, quesadillas—as well. We took another cab back to Center City and I got a barbeque chicken quesadilla before we headed back to the hotel. On the way, we passed the reception pub again and a man was sitting at an outside table with his German shepherd. “Look at him!” I whispered eagerly to C as we passed, “I want to pet him!” which is basically what I say any time we see a German shepherd, which is probably my favorite dog. “Why don't you ask if you can?” C suggested. It was the most obvious thing in the world but of course I wouldn't have thought of it. I got to pet the dog for a little bit, but he was more interested in my quesadilla than in me, so we continued our trip to the hotel soon after.

And that is probably where I'm going to stop the recap as far as the evening is concerned. I have one more post on the rest of the weekend and then the wedding recap posts will be done!

05 June 2015

The Wedding: Part Three

For those with some morbid curiosity, but mostly for myself when I want to remember the details, our wedding in five parts.

Part Three: The Nuptial Mass
If nothing else had made me excited about the wedding, standing in the narthex of the church certainly helped. I waited with my maids there while my mom went into the church to tell C that I had arrived (our procession was quite unusual for those used to the American/Protestant tradition; just keep reading, you'll get it). We got a few pictures in while we waited. My step-dad continued to pretend that he wasn't going to cry that day. Then our priest with the altar servers rounded the corner of the door and he lit up at the sight of us (later, Father told me he got a bit emotional when he saw me. I don't think I should feel victorious at making a priest emotional, but for some reason I count it as an accomplishment. Haha). Excitement was definitely up there at this point. The groomsmen followed and C came in last. We caught each others eyes and I remember thinking about how handsome and incredibly tall he seemed. I mean, a good seven inches separates us, but sometimes I forget about that. I was happy to see, also, that he had the rosary I had gifted him with.

My lovely bridesmaids and (if you look closely) my mom.

One of the altar servers gave a sign to the organist and choir and our procession music began. Everyone seemed to take a deep breath at the same time. C's parents processed first, followed by my parents (after they had given me one last look). Bridesmaid N with groomsman P. Bridesmaid M with groomsman O. Bridesmaid H with groomsman T. The altar servers followed: thurifer [he's the one who holds the incense; the really cool thing about that was that we designed our own incense which included Constantinople (basically the typical thing you expect an incense to smell like), English Rose (nice floral scent, but not too sickly) and a citrus one whose name I forget. I sometimes get dizzy from incense, so we wanted to find something that I would be able to manage. It smelled amazing and now I want a wedding candle made from those scents.], crucifer, candle-bearers. Father after them. Then C and I looked at each other with faintly nervous grins (or maybe that was only me) and took our final steps toward marriage.

Tell me they don't look cool.

Coolest priest I know.

Can't have a wedding without holy water.

As we walked, I found it hard to focus on any one thing. The crowd of family and friends waiting before us? The lyrics in the program C held (though I knew the words by heart anyway)? C's face, which I—sweetness alert—could look at for ages? My feet, as I often do? Straight ahead in order to stay focused on the Mass and on where my body was going seemed like the best idea. I caught grins and bright colors out of the corner of my eye and when we passed C's aunt I heard her say something about running out of time to back out now. I was too out of it to process the comment, though I found it amusing. Soon we were reverencing the altar, stepping into the Sanctuary (way weird to be up there!) and listening to the choir chant. Our Nuptial Mass was ad orientem Latin but novus ordo. In laymen's terms, the priest faced the altar for the Mass, almost everything said or sung was done so in Latin, but the format was as most Masses post 1963 are done. Extraordinary Form would have been cool, but we ultimately decided against it to keep the Mass at least somewhat familiar to those in attendance and it required a bit less of Father and the altar servers (I don't know what their familiarity with the EF is).

I did as S had told me: try to be in the moment for everything. Capture all the details. Don't let the time slip away. Even though I felt like I stayed focused while walking, listening to the choir and following the prayers, the readings were suddenly happening and I had to double my concentration. The readings were chanted rather well by the altar servers, which I was pleased by. When Father rose to chant the Gospel, the time seemed to slip away again. His Homily, though, was golden. I still need to have it sent over, because there were a few lines from it I really liked. One particular portion likened our marriage to the gifts brought to the altar for consecration. Ordinary objects—a man and a woman, bread and wine—are offered to God in order to be made holy. It was a nice analogy that I am probably doing a disservice.

The organist and choir were the icing on the cake of this wedding. But like a lemon poke-hole cake icing, where it all soaks into the cake and makes it super amazing. Exactly like that.

What a beautiful church.

At one point, he relayed a story about when he knew C from seminary. They and other seminarians were buying ice cream at a grocery store and when the cashier had seen them all together asked a few questions about the group and said, “You guys are rollin' squad deep!” at which point Fr and C nearly fell on the floor laughing while the other seminarians just stared. The story elicited a lot of laughter from all of us gathered. Father also spoke about the first time he had met me and remarked on how I was taking notes on Latin in a notebook, but also added a quotation by him on another page. C and I are well-matched in our intellectual pursuits.

Squad deep, eh?

Following the Homily was the Rite of Marriage. C and I got up from our seats and met Father in front of the altar. Our bridesmaids and groomsmen joined us on either side and I handed off my bouquet to H. Everything seemed quiet and anticipatory. Father read off questions for the exchange of consent, to which we answered properly (no, we haven't been forced; yes, we will welcome children; and the like). The vows came next and C began them. Not nearly an emotional person as I am, he made it through the vows with no tremor or hesitation and I thought for a moment how lucky I had become to have someone like him promise to be true to me for all our lives. I, on the other hand, became emotional at the start and had to take a moment to sort out my voice partway through. Ah well. The rings were then blessed and C was first again. He slid the ring on my left hand and I remembered momentarily many months ago when he had slid my engagement ring on. I wasn't doing myself any favors on the emotional front. At all. I then steadied myself and put his ring on and grinned at him like a goofball when I was done.

Do you vow these things? Me too!

Not crying. Not one bit.

And in the future, all the single ladies shall see this ring and think, "Dang. Someone else got him first." I really said that. That's why Father's laughing. JK.

At this moment in other weddings, usually the officiant will pronounce the couple man and wife and there will be a kiss and lots of applause. Not for us! The more traditional route has the newly wedded couple returning to their seats, the wedding party to their pews and the Mass continuing on. Some say it's anticlimactic, and it was in a small way for me, because the knowledge of what had happened took a minute to really hit. As we sat while Father prepared for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, my legs shook with excitement (a much nicer feeling than wibbly-wobbliness at the engagement).

Funnily enough, I kind of forgot about the whole wedding factor when it came to the Eucharist. I was just completely focused on Our Lord and wanted to be prepared for all the graces His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity would grant me. I was also a little worried at this time of anyone taking Communion without being in a state of grace and, once I had received the Blessed Sacrament and said prayers of thanksgiving, turned to the Divine Mercy prayers. As Father purified the vessels, I turned my attention to the Communion motet (ave verum corpus). It was very pretty and is actually quite sombre for a wedding, but is worth looking up if you are unfamiliar with it. 
My favorite part of any Mass. Oh hey, Our Lady of Guadalupe!

Father then gave the final blessing. Before recessing, I left my seat and met my mother who held a bouquet of lilies. I brought the flowers to Mary's side altar, laid them at her feet and knelt for a short prayer. I asked the Blessed Virgin to help me be a good wife and mother as she was, to always trust God's will and to be a strong Catholic woman. I could have spent an hour there with her, wondering on all the good things she had done, how her yes had changed the world, how she understood sorrow more than I could, how she stayed strong all her life... 

Just havin a chat with my mom.

Eventually, though, I got up and returned to the center of the sanctuary where Father, the altar servers and C were standing. We sang the first verse of the recessional, genuflected and then turned to leave the Church. We led this time, arm in arm, man and wife, with Father, the altar servers and the wedding party following us. The last lyrics of the music finished as we crossed underneath the choir and organist and were back in the narthex. C turned to look at me and I just burst into tears. He looked as if he wanted to ask me what was wrong, so I just said, “I'm really happy right now.” It was just this moment where I really understood that we were married now and really felt it and I was overwhelmed with happiness and excitement. The wedding party and guests began pouring into the narthex and I turned away from C to receive hugs and congratulations. I think I apologized several times for crying but people said I was silly. I got to see a lot of people who I hadn't had the chance to talk to when they'd gotten in. One of C's cousins hugged me and said the wedding was fantastic and beautiful and of course that got my crying again. Of course I also promptly realized that I hadn't used waterproof mascara at this time (oops) and grabbed my maid of honor, who still had my bouquet, where I had hidden a tissue (oh ho, so crafty).

Once the line of people had gone through, I snapped into task mode. We needed to take group pictures before the reception began and I had no idea what time it was or how much time we had left. After gathering my bridesmaids together, I looked around for C and said, “Where is my husband?” and then exclaimed, “Oh! I'll be saying that for the rest of my life.” The organist interrupted quickly to thank us (thank us?!) for the opportunity to do the music for such a Mass and I told him they did an amazing job (I probably didn't give as eloquent a thank you as I would have desired because I was so scatter-brained, but they really helped to make our Mass wonderful). I took pictures on my own and with bridesmaids in the meantime and then the groom, groomsmen and parents started towards us. We took a variety of photographs, and got at least one without my step-dad looking as if he were thinking of riding trucks through the woods far, far away (haha), before I started dishing out orders and making another checklist. These people needed cabs, carpooling could happen with those family members, people were still congregating on the Church steps, C and I needed to get back to the hotel before the reception started, I needed to talk to the photographer, Father and the altar servers were extinguishing candles....
Five seconds away from waterworks.

How did all this chaos get resolved? Find out next post.

*Here are the music and reading selections we had at our Mass, for anyone interested in pretending they were at our wedding (we totally should have Skyped it!) or planning their own wedding:

Prelude: Regina Caeli, Deus Israel conjugat vos
Entrance Procession: Holy God, We Praise Thy Name
Gloria: Missa Aeterna Christi Munera
First Reading: Tobit 8:4-8
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 128: 1-5
Second Reading: Ephesians 5:2, 21-33
Gospel: St Matthew 7:21,24-29
Offertory: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
Sanctus: Missa Aeterna Christi Munera
Agnus Dei: Missa Aeterna Christi Munera
Communion: Ubi Caritas
Communion Motet: Ave verum corpus
Presentation of Flowers at Our Lady's Altar: Schubert's Ave Maria
Recessional: O God Beyond All Praising