Monday, December 29, 2014

Pizza, Turtles, and Why God Needs Ninjas

A few weeks ago, my wonderful husband and I decided to have a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles night. The new live action movie of TMNT had just come out on Redbox, and we hadn’t seen it yet (we knew that the movie would not be worth the money to see it in theaters, but it would be a fun, cheap, doable date night). Many weeks ago, to prepare me for the movie, Jacob started showing me the 1980s TV show of TMNT, since I had never seen it. So, with excitement and a sense of fun, we gathered in the kitchen to make pizza. Because, of course, any celebration involving TMNT must include pizza. And a little bit of crazy pizza, too. With pizza in hand, we watched the movie. It was entertaining, with some cool action and CGI effects. And it was about mutant-turtle ninjas, so how could it not have a level of coolness? Since this recent date night, I have decided it is high time to write about ninjas. Specifically, why God needs ninjas. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart, and while in high school, I was blessed to write about it for our school newspaper. A couple years ago, for a class assignment, I wrote another article about this and submitted it to an online magazine. While I didn’t get published, one of the staff members mailed me a handwritten note with a stick figure picture of a ninja : ) 
We made a partial "crazy pizza,"
which had pepperoni, hot dog,
french fries, and two kinds of
cheeses. It was weird.

I love ninjas, and I think it’s interesting how ninjas are prevalent in culture, and how we are fascinated with anything ninja (take a look at this intriguing story!). The legacy of those twelfth-century Japanese spies have lived on, over the years, in the clothes, games, and media of our society (albeit, Americanized "ninja" themed items aren't all that accurate). How many times have you seen someone wearing a t-shirt that says something about ninjas? How many times have you played the game “Ninja” in a group setting? How many times have you seen kids dress up as ninjas? And how about all of those ninja movies and video games? When someone says the word “ninjas,” what comes to your mind? Here are a few things that come to my mind:
BATMAN. Batman Begins is great. And ninja-y. 
Cool action sequences, which may include people flying through the air. Shiny shuriken, black clothes, tabi boots, and nunchuks.  Mutant turtles. Batman. Sneaky people running across rooftops in the dead of night. That awesome group game that I learned to play years ago. Christians. Yes, Christians. Because I firmly believe that God needs us to be ninjas.

The best ninjas are not often seen. They do their work so quickly and stealthily that they get away without being spotted, and all that remains are the effects of their actions. God doesn't want us to be conniving, malicious ninjas, but to take that idea of stealthiness and invisibility to a different way. In the TMNT movie, April O’Neil, the reporter, is believed to be crazy because she claims that creatures were out battling the Foot Clan. Her coworkers all want to know if she has physical descriptions or evidence of these creatures. She does not, except the emblem that the turtles leave at the sight of their work. The turtles are ninjas; they are supposed to do their work unseen by the eyes of the public. The turtles aren’t in the ninja business for their personal glory, but for the sake of helping others.

Isn’t this what God calls us to do? Let’s take a look at the Scriptures:

“[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” (Matt 6:1-4)

 “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.
(Matt 6:16-18)

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
(Colossians 3:12-13)

“Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.” (James 4:10)

These are just a few examples out of the Bible, but there are so many more places where God’s Word speaks the message of humility. And just look at the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Humility everywhere, in every action. Being hidden in God, letting Him shine through. Accepting any recognition and praise with graciousness, and directing all praise and glory to God. Humility is the way of the Christian ninja. We shouldn’t want to be the main focus ourselves, but rather let the effects of what we’ve done—how we’ve loved others—remain. Striving for humility is a struggle, but a worthy one. St. John of the Cross once said, “To be taken with love for a soul, God does not look on its greatness, but the greatness of its humility.” Humility is awesome, and being humble makes us more like Christian ninjas. So it’s a win-win situation.

There’s a cool prayer out there. The Litany of Humility. It’s epic. For at least the past few years, my husband and I have prayed it nearly every day together, and it’s been really, well, humbling.. My household prays it together once a week, and as a roomful of 20+ women is declaring, “From the desire of being loved, deliver me, Jesus,” I always think of us as an army. The litany is our battle cry. Humility is a superb way to battle the devil. Like ninjas, we are praying that we will joyfully accept being unnoticed. We are praying that we will be completely malleable in God’s hands. We are praying that we will desire to be cast aside, only leaving the loving actions that we’ve done remain. The Litany of Humility is like a Catholic Ninja Code, which we can pray with and seek to apply in our daily lives (and trust me, when you pray for humility, God likes to put plenty of situations in your life to grow in that virtue).

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved...
From the desire of being extolled ...
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

"True humility consists in being content with all that God is pleased to ordain for us, believing ourselves unworthy to be called His servants." ~St. Teresa of Jesus 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Why Anointing of the Sick is Awesome and Why it Matters to You

Merry Christmas, and Happy Feast of St. John! What follows is a blog post that I've been slowly working on for several weeks now. During my Theology of Healing class this fall, we studied the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, and went over how this is often a misunderstood sacrament. So, without further ado, here we go! 

When I was young, I would look through different religion textbooks and workbooks for my age level. When discussing Anointing of the Sick, these books would commonly state something like “Anointing of the Sick—also called Extreme Unction.” Oftentimes, there would also be included a picture of an old person on his or her hospital bed.

On different occasions in my life, I’ve come across this image in the form of a common mentality among Catholics: Anointing of the Sick is for the elderly, those who are so sick that they are on their deathbed, and for those about to die.

But this picture is incomplete. Where are the addicts in this picture? Where are the people with mental illnesses? Where are the people with extreme depression? Because people who fall into these groups have just as much cause for sacramental anointing as the old people do. I would venture to say that there’s a high number of Catholics out there who can and should approach a priest as candidates for this sacrament—but they don’t know it. When Jesus walked the Earth, He preached, worked miracles, and healed people. And the people that Christ healed didn’t just have a host of broken legs and arms; some needed mental and spiritual healing.

“And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and served him. That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.’” (Matt 8:14-17)

Christ and the Church aren’t just concerned about the externals of an individual, but the holistic health of each human being. Let’s look at what the Catechism says about the Anointing of the Sick:

“The Apostolic Constitution Sacram unctionem infirmorum, following upon the Second Vatican Council, established that henceforth, in the Roman Rite, the following be observed:
The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is given to those who are seriously ill by anointing them on the forehead and hands with duly blessed oil - pressed from olives or from other plants - saying, only once: "Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up."” (CCC 1513)

Dr. Puppo, my awesome Theology of Healing instructor, mentioned that “serious illness” points to the illness’s ability to cause death if it isn’t treated. Again, let’s look at the Catechism:

“The Anointing of the Sick "is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived."
     "If a sick person who received this anointing recovers his health, he can in the case of another grave illness receive this sacrament again. If during the same illness the person's condition becomes more serious, the sacrament may be repeated. It is fitting to receive the Anointing of the Sick just prior to a serious operation. The same holds for the elderly whose frailty becomes more pronounced.” (CCC 1514-1515)

The death doesn’t have to be proximate (fairly soon) but could be remote; and “death” doesn’t just mean a physical reality, but a separation of soul and body: a spiritual death (So even if you may not think of people with addictions falling into the category of “candidate for anointing,” think again. If someone suffering from addiction does not find healing, he or she will die spiritually).

In the Sacram unctionem infirmorum, there are multiple rites that can be used for different people. Anointing is not just for those near death. Vatican II established some special rites for those who are dying, but there are also rites for a sick person, children, persons with disabilities, a person who has a month or so to live, and a person who has days to live.  

Sacramental anointing brings healing and pulls the sick person back into the loving community of the Church. This is awesome, because a sick person is always removed from others in some way. As the Catechism states, “Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God” (CCC 1501). Obviously, a person with a contagious, dangerous disease cannot be physically near others. People who suffer from addictions also suffer a lack in full communion with others. Addictions control one’s life and affect one’s actions, and if someone is addicted, he or she is preferring (whether they like it or not) the satiation of a disordered desire to the true fulfillment that God offers them in interpersonal relationships. An illness of any kind affects a person’s whole being and the other members of a community.

So, Anointing of the Sick does not just bring healing to the sick person, but to a family, a parish, and the whole Church. Awesome effects of sacramental anointing (taken from CCC 1520-1523) include:
1.       A particular gift of the Holy Spirit. The first grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age.
2.      Union with the passion of Christ.
3.      An ecclesial grace. The sick who receive this sacrament, “by freely uniting themselves to the passion and death of Christ,” “contribute to the good of the People of God.” By celebrating this sacrament the Church, in the communion of saints, intercedes for the benefit of the sick person, and he, for his part, though the grace of this sacrament, contributes to the sanctification of the Church and to the good of all men for whom the Church suffers and offers herself through Christ to God the Father.
4.      A preparation for the final journey. If the sacrament of anointing of the sick is given to all who suffer from serious illness and infirmity, even more rightly is it given to those at the point of departing this life; so it is also called sacramentum exeuntium (the sacrament of those departing).

Anointing of the Sick is a necessary sacrament, and people must realize that it is available to them in time of need. Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament for the living; it is to bring people salvation and some form of healing in God’s eyes. In this sacrament, God brings all of these people into the fullness of holistic health and community.

In my Theology of Healing class, Dr. Puppo told us the following story: one year, a student in her class approached her during or after the unit on Anointing of the Sick. The student mentioned how his mom suffered from depression. The student was able to bring this message of hope to his mother, who then found that she was a worthy candidate for this sacrament. Through the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, God brought this woman incredible healing, and she continued to then lead a group in her parish for people who were suffering with depression. God wants to heal His people—and He does!

There doesn’t seem to be much discussion about Anointing of the Sick and dealing with illnesses in the various Catholic circles I’ve bounced around in. I’ve received this sacrament, and I’ve witnessed someone else receive Anointing. But does the Church really talk about it? I’ve never really heard much talk about it.
MINDBLOWN. Holy Mother Church has talked about the care of the sick a lot. Here are just a few instances over recent years:

In 1921, Pope Benedict XV said that priests “should make every effort in order that those who are in their last crisis may not delay the reception of the viaticum and the extreme unction till they are about to lose their consciousness. On the contrary, according to the teaching and the precepts of the Church, they should be strengthened by these sacraments as soon as their condition worsens, and one may prudently judge that there is danger of death.” (Pope Benedict XV, Sodalitatem Nostrae Dominae)

 And take a look what Pope Pius XI said in 1923: “For it is not necessary either for the validity or the liceity of the sacrament that death be feared as something proximate; rather, it is enough that there be a prudent or probably judgment of danger. And if in such conditions unction ought to be given, in the same conditions it surely can be given.” (Pope Pius XI, Explorata Res)
The holy oils! 
 In the document Lumen Gentium, from Vatican II, it was declared:
“By the sacred anointing of the sick and the prayer of her priests the whole Church commends the sick to the suffering and glorified Lord, asking that He may lighten their suffering and save them;(106) she exhorts them, moreover, to contribute to the welfare of the whole people of God by associating themselves freely with the passion and death of Christ” (Lumen Gentium 11)

St. John Paul II later said:
In fact, illness and suffering are not experiences which concern only man's physical substance, but man in his entirety and in his somatic-spiritual unity. For that matter, it is known how often the illness which is manifested in the body has its origins and its true cause in the recesses of' the human psyche.” (St. John Paul II, Dolentium Hominum #2)

St. John Paul II also spoke much about the need to reverence those with mental disabilities:
“The experience of certain Christian communities has shown that an intense and stimulating community life, continuous and discreet educational support, the fostering of friendly contacts with properly trained people, the habit of channelling instincts and developing a healthy sense of modesty as respect for their own personal privacy, often succeeds in restoring the emotional balance of persons with mental disabilities and can lead them to live enriching, fruitful and satisfying interpersonal relationships. To show disabled persons that we love them means showing them that we value them. Attentive listening, understanding their needs, sharing their suffering, patience in guidance, are some of the ways to introduce the disabled into a human relationship of communion, to enable them to perceive their own value and make them aware of their capacity for receiving and giving love.” (St. John Paul II, International Symposium on the Dignity and Rights of the Mentally Disabled Person #5)

 With a huge presence of severe depression, addiction to pornography and masturbation, and mental illnesses among the faithful, we need to recognize the importance and necessity of the Anointing of the Sick. We are surrounded by people who suffer in these ways, and perhaps we ourselves suffer in these ways. We desperately need to bring a greater awareness of this sacrament into our parishes and communities, so that people know that the Church has provided a loving, compassionate, healing option for them in their time of illness. Church doesn’t stop there, though. There are other awesome, non-sacramental ways that Catholics can pray for healing. Dr. Puppo also told us that recently, her parish had a “Rosary for Recovery,” which was being prayed specifically for those suffering from addictions (and their families). The “Book of Blessings” has multitudes of awesome prayers and blessings that priests can use for a variety of circumstances and people. Also, I highly recommend picking up the book Understanding Sacramental Healing, by John Kascza, because it’s awesome. We read this book in our Theology of Healing Class, and it was very eye-opening (it’s also a solidly Catholic, orthodox book).

There are two extremes that I’ve encountered or heard about in our modern Catholic society, regarding Anointing of the Sick: only anoint the people who have the strong potentiality of near physical death, or anoint everybody. Neither extreme is a good or healthy understanding of sacramental healing. So let’s talk about the Anointing of the Sick. Let’s get a better understanding of this awesome sacrament. Let’s make it known that this sacrament is here for those who need it. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Concerning Weird Analogies for the Spiritual Life and Keeping Christ in Christmas

Hey there! We are in the final hours of Advent--I hope you are enjoying it! Gasp! So exciting!

As some of you are probably aware, I love to draw connections between random things and the spiritual life. Weird analogies for aspects of the spiritual life are one of the best things ever. When I'm not trying to create strange analogies, I love to hear what analogies other people create.
     It just so happens, Venerable Teresita Quevedo, a shining example of modern sanctity, had a very strange analogy for the spiritual life.

A letter from one of Teresita’s siblings to another mentions Teresita’s unusual fandom: bullfighting. 
Instead of being swept up in the pageantry or goriness of the event, Teresita sees a deep, underlying spiritual depth. Teresita’s sister, Carmen, writes: “This is how Papa quotes Tere to me: ‘The poor bull always reminds me of myself, Papa, and the picadores (the horsemen who incite the bull with spears) recall the legion of temptations that come my way to incite my soul. Like the toreador, Satan has hope of finding me a blind, raging victim, utterly confused—like the bull—when the picadores finish with me. Then he makes his final charge to overthrow my soul. Our Lady, however, helps me to toss him into the air, as the bull sometimes tosses the toreador…I love to go to the Plaza with you, Papa, because each time I do, I return with a renewed resolution to fight temptations with the strength of a bull—and the calmness of a saint.’”

I believe that where Catholics abound,
this bumper magnet is plentiful.
I even know a family that has
two of these on their van! : ) 
From this one story, we can see that Teresita--a fun-loving, modern, vibrant woman--brought the Faith into all aspects of her life. She tried to take every situation and glorify God through it, using every means she could to become a holier woman. The Faith was such an integral part of her that she couldn't not bring it into her daily life! Let's strive, during this upcoming epic season of Christmas, to bring God and the truths of the Faith into every activity, every ounce of awesomeness that we experience. 

"Keep Christ in Christmas," many people say. And lots of Christians try to do this. As we keep Christ in "Christmas," we go to Mass with our families, so that we "remember the reason for the season." But unfortunately, it can be really easy to leave Christ at the church. People "keep Christ in Christmas"--but keep Him out of their lives and celebrations. Their parties, meals, and down-time at home don't have any kind of religious celebratory-ness. Instead, they are all about a time of family, warm fuzzies, and the "spirit of Christmas" (which usually translates into "giving," it seems). Now, all of these aspects are good and beautiful, but if these are the main focus, I think there's a little displacement here. After all, it's Jesus's birthday-shouldn't He be a part of everything? 

I totally grew up with this book. And I loved it. 
There are so many ways to do this--Pray together at the Nativity scene in your home. Read the story of Christ's birth from the Bible. Sing Christmas carols to the Baby Jesus at home-heck, it's His birthday, after all! Pray the Liturgy of the Hours together. Watch a Bible movie about the birth of Christ (sometimes, while growing up, we would watch that specific portion of Jesus of Nazareth or we'd watch part of the animated video about Jesus' birth). Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary together. Read religious books about Christmas as a family (some that come to mind are The Legend of the Candy Cane and The Tale of Three Trees). Find something awesome that works for you, and do it! Don't just "keep Christ in Christmas," but let Him reign over your Christmas! 

May the Joy of Christ fill your hearts, homes, and lives for the rest of Advent and the glorious season of Christmas! 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christ is Coming-Get Ready!

WOW! Christmas begins just two evenings from now. Is this crazy or what?
Get ready. 
I don't just mean the "get the presents all wrapped/sing Christmas carols/watch Christmas movies" ready. (Though I must say, I am the worst at presents, but I successfully finished and wrapped my husband's presents on Friday!) I mean ready for Christ's coming. As in, repenting; trying to clean up your life and soul for the Christ Child to enter at Christmas. How many of us meticulously clean our houses/apartments, but fail to clean ourselves within? I think it's really easy, with Christmas coming, to get swept up in the joyful chaos of heartwarming celebration and all the happy fuzzies that come along the way. It's good to joyfully prepare for Christ's coming with cookie-baking parties and such--but are we remembering to turn our lives around?

Yesterday was the Fourth Sunday of Advent. And, in the Extraordinary Form, the Gospel Reading helps to bring home the fact that we need to undergo a conversion as we prepare for Christmas:

"...the word of God came to John, the son of Zachary, in the desert. And he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of Isaias [sic] the prophet, "The voice of one crying in the desert, 'Make ready the way of the Lord, make straight His paths'..." (Fourth Sunday of Advent, 1957 Sunday Missal)

O Jesse Tree, O Jesse Tree,
how lovely are your branches! :) 
Umm...yeah. a LONG way to go!
We've been in the full swing of Advent festivities over here. Our Jesse tree is accumulating more ornaments, and the Church proclaims the O Antiphons (which are completely awesome). On Saturday evening, Jacob and I went over to celebrate Las Posadas with some friends, which was quite fantastic. (After we sang, read from Scriptures, and prayed a Rosary, we feasted on Mexican food and played Settlers of Catan, which I won. Then we played video games, which, naturally, I lost. It was a glorious evening!) A couple of nights ago, I also started my latch hook kit, which I bought at the Mission a few weeks ago. I have decided that latch hook is good at teaching me a virtue integral with Advent: patience. Being a very impatient woman, I'll jump around to different parts of the rug so that I can see "cute" results. It's slow going, and I have no clue when I'll ever finish this project (safe to say, this may be the only latch hook I'll ever do), but it's a cool way to think about the patience and hope that must be sustained during Advent. Christmas is so close--but it's not here yet. Let us patiently, joyfully, hopefully renew our lives and hearts in Christ, so that we may welcome Him with abandon and love this Christmas season.

"Two days before Christmas, these words were read in the refectory: 'Tomorrow is the Birth of Jesus Christ according to the flesh.' At these words, my soul was pierced by the light and love of God, and I gained deeper knowledge of the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. How great is the mercy of God contained in the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God!"
(Diary of St. Faustina-Notebook V #1433)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Venerable Teresita's Code of Awesomeness

Happy Wednesday!

As part of the modern sanctity series, I've been discussing the life of Venerable Teresita Quevedo. This week, I want to take a look at her joy. Many people around Teresita witnessed a joy that bubbled from deep within her being. She had a deep love for God and others, and this love spilled over in her daily life. A way that we can practically look at her path to joy and holiness is by way of her Code of Amiability.

The Code of Amiability
Under an image of the Madonna and Child that Teresita owned, she had written the words “Code of Amiability.” Under this title, Teresita wrote: “The virtue of amiability results from the fusion of several strong virtues. It is the ‘all things to all men’ that grows out of charity; the knowledge of self that humility teaches; the pure detachment found in mortification; the meekness born of patience; and the undaunted courage won of perseverance.
The “10 Commandments” of Amiability, as Teresita wrote them, follow:
                To smile until a kindly smile forms readily on one’s lips
                To repress a sign of impatience at the very start
                To add a word of benevolence when giving orders
                To reply positively when asked to do a favor
                To lend a helping hand to the unfortunate
                To please those toward whom one feels repugnance
                To study and satisfy the tastes of those with whom one lives.
                To respect everyone
                To avoid complaining
                To correct, if one must, with kindness.

This “code” may seem simply put, but it’s asking a lot of us. “To smile until a kindly smile forms readily on one’s lips”? What if you don’t feel like smiling? “To avoid complaining”? What if you feel like complaining? Herein lies the sacrificial nature of the Code of Amiability. If you really don’t feel like smiling at another, it is a sacrifice of love to smile at another with the love and joy of God. If you restrain yourself from complaining, it’s a sacrifice of love for the glory of God. Yes, this list may look daunting and idealistic. But God calls us to holiness and perfection, so why not try? We can take baby steps; we can work on one thing at a time, doing the smallest of sacrifices to live wholly for God. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Virtual Writer's Meeting: A Short Story

Greetings! During the month of December, a group of fellow writers and I are taking part of a "Virtual Writer's Meeting." There is a selection of Christmas-themed writing prompts, and each of us are encouraged to pick a prompt and write a short story, poem, scene, etc. Here follows a very rough draft of a story, but, O Fellow Writers (and any other people who have stumbled across this post), I hope you all enjoy it to some extent. Feel free to comment with any ideas or critiques; I don't do much in the way of fiction writing, so this is quite an adventure :) 

My prompt was the following:  "You find a music box that, when played, brings a sugarplum faerie to life. She’s not friendly."

Under a Shining Light
By AnneMarie 
The soft lights of the Christmas tree dabbed blue, red, and gold on Lorraine’s snowball-white sweater. She brushed a strand of brown wavy hair off her face, glancing towards the faint sound streaming down the staircase nearby. A rich, deep voice sprinkled with the sound of water as he sang in the shower. Lorraine’s freckled cheeks flushed as she glanced at the digital clock through the doorway to the kitchen. 4:43 p.m. Just one hour and seventeen minutes until her family would arrive for Christmas dinner with him. The man who had waltzed into her life over a year earlier as they finished their undergraduate degrees on the other side of Upstate New York. The man who had turned her life upside-down in a whirlwind of love and romance. The man she envisioned herself walking down the aisle towards. The man who her brothers would terrorize. Ooh, gosh. I hope that mom and dad control them, Lorraine mused, remembering when her four younger brothers had “appreciated” her first boyfriend years earlier. Water balloons, Vaseline, and Saran Wrap had all found a place in the grand scheme of things. Lorraine’s mouth twitched. Eric’s inability to turn his Vaseline-covered doorknob on the last morning of his visit had been pretty funny. But not this time. Thank goodness my parents are wise.
When the Krueger parents had granted permission for Brendan to spend the beginning of Christmas with the family, they tactfully decided to keep their rambunctious sons out of the house until dinner, to “let Brendan settle in with peace and quiet,” they said, eyes glistening. Yeah, they probably don’t think he can hold up to craziness like Eric could, Lorraine rolled her eyes towards the sparkling Christmas tree. An array of bells, reindeer, brightly colored balls, and construction paper cutouts met her eyes. Even though they behaved themselves when they met Brendan the first couple times. Granted, one of those times was prior to dating, when they visited campus, and the other time was at Graduation.
She fingered the smooth wooden box that lay in her lap, and bit her lip, a small smile tugging at her cheeks. Time to see the treasure that my Goodwill trip discovered. Her green eyes glanced over the chocolate brown tones of the box, the gold hinges, the black scrolled edges. After winding the key carefully, her fingernail flicked the metal clasp upwards, and the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” began lilting through the cinnamon-scented air. Three small ballerinas in lavender tutus slowly spun against the backdrop of a round mirror. Lorraine lightly touched the lavender tulle, admiring the delicate, mechanical movements of the dancers.
Ex-cuuuse me! Get your fingers off my ballerina!”
“EEK!”Lorraine jerked backwards, the music box falling to the floor with a thud. The music abruptly stopped. A small fairy floated in front of Lorraine’s face. Her red and green plaid pencil skirt stopped shortly above her knee, and beneath her smirk a black turtleneck clothed her skinny torso. Her red hair was pulled into a high ponytail, and a slender hand was stuck on her hip.
“Wha—uh, oh my gosh, what are you?” Lorraine’s voice squeaked in confusion.
“Well duh, I’m the Sugar Plum Fairy. Are you really telling me that you don’t know who I am?” The fairy’s hazel eyes rolled to the textured ceiling of the living room. “Some people are stupider than I thought!”
“Lorraine, are you all right down there?” Brendan’s voice called out from the depths of the upstairs hallway.
“Brendan, this—“ Lorraine stopped suddenly, remembering how Brendan always gave her a hard time about fairy tales. Brendan knew well that Lorraine not only loved fairy tales, but believed that life was like a mysterious, fantasy-esque fairy tale (and hence, the existence of leprechauns, unicorns, and the Loch Ness monster were quite plausible). He would laugh, tap her nose, and never take her seriously. And if Brendan happened to drop this news to her brothers, then Lorraine could say good-bye to any credibility at home. Nope. I’m definitely not going to give him—or my brothers—ammunition to use against me, she decided. Craning her neck towards the hallway, she called out. “Hey dear, it’s alright, I’m fine. Something startled me, that’s all. Just finish showering and getting ready.” She turned towards the digital clock again. 4:52 p.m. “My family will be here in a little over an hour, so don’t take forever.” Lorraine heard a door upstairs close, and she turned towards the fairy.
            “So,” she whispered conspiratorially, “If you’re really the Sugar Plum Fairy, where’s your fancy tutu? Where are your ballet slippers?”
            The fairy, now sitting atop a globe-shaped ornament with a wintery mountain scene painted on it, kicked out her leg gleefully. A black high heel glimmered in a Christmas lights, which were half the size of the fairy. “Tutus are so for losers,” the fairy declared. “Nope, as soon as I could, I moved out of the Land of Sweets and got a decent pair of clothes. Now,” she said, scooting off of the globe and onto a tree branch, “enough talk. It’s time to lay down the rules.”
“Wait, what rules?” Lorraine scrunched up her face. “And how did you get out of the story? And why were you in the music box?”
            The fairy began stepping across the branches nonchalantly. “Oh, I got fed up with being The Perfect Sugar Plum Fairy, so I did a little mischief here and there. I got thrown into prison, had my title rescinded, worked a fabulous jail break, changed my whole life, and found a good music box to live in. When I’m in the music box, some innocent little kid usually lets me out and I can wreck some real havoc during Christmas.” The fairy’s red lips smiled. “You know, simple stuff: stealing the cookies for Santa, eating the candy out of stockings, leaving coal amidst the presents, that kind of thing. It’s really quite fun,” she mused thoughtfully.
“You horrible little creature! How dare you?” Lorraine hissed. “Fairies are supposed to be good and happy, and you’re a monster! Get out, get out of my house!” Her hand moved towards the fairy, who nimbly jumped up the branches and into a felt stocking ornament.
“Lorraine, I thought you said things were okay,” Brendan walked into the room, a nervous smile on his face. 
“Yeah, oh, definitely. I’m perfectly fine,” Lorraine rushed to say, trying to ignore the smirk on the fairy’s face as it peeped above the stocking. “Come on over, dear.” She patted the seat on the couch next to her.
Brendan ran his fingers through his hair and adjusted his green sweater. “Uh, okay. How are we doing on time?” He sat down, and Lorraine snuggled up against him, inhaling the clean scent of his shampoo.
“Mmm…” she glanced over at the clock. 5:16 p.m. “It looks like we have a little over half an hour. Then dinner, late Mass, and maybe opening a few presents,” she grinned at him. Brendan returned her smile, and slipped off the couch and onto the floor.
“Since they’ll be here in a bit, there’s something I want to give you first.”
“Really? I love presents!” Lorraine squealed, jumping in her seat. Brendan ran his left hand across her green, fuzzy-sock clad feet, while his right hand plunged into his pocket.
“Lorraine,” he said gently, looking into her eyes, “I love you so much, and I want to keep loving you better. He drew out his right hand, and held up a glittering diamond ring. “Will you marry me?”
“YES!” A huge smile broke over Lorraine’s face as she threw up her arms in delight.
A boyish smile broke out across Brendan’s face as he reached for Lorraine’s left hand, holding the ring up in the glow of the Christmas lights.
The glittering diamond flew out of the man’s fingers and sailed into the depths of the prickly green branches of the Christmas tree. Lorraine gaped at the tree, her silence revealing the depths of her shock. Brendan’s face fell, incredulity and outrage filling his voice.
“How in the world did that happen?”
A shining ray of light floated into Lorraine’s peripheral vision. “Merry Christmas,” a sickly sweet voice said. The Sugar Plum Fairy brushed her hands together. “That was my finest piece of work yet. Have a happy New Year, sweetie,” she smirked at the stunned woman.
“YOU!” Brendan lunged at the fairy, who floated just above his reach.
 “Oh my,” she mocked. “Did I make you upset? Oh, now I just couldn’t do that, could I? I’d better be going. Time to find my next Christmas victim.” The fairy fluttered towards a small crack in the front doorway, and flew out into the night.
Brendan’s blue eyes flew back to Lorraine. “Well, maybe I do believe all your fairy talk.” He sighed. “Time to find the ring.”
Lorraine gulped, recovering her voice. “Um, thanks? That was weird. Yeah. Let’s do this.” She scooted next to Brendan, who was crouched in front of the tree. “At least the presents aren’t under the tree yet.”
He glanced at her, eyebrows lifting. “Seriously? Each year, your family’s Christmas tree accumulates more ornaments! Bells, globes, paper cutouts, felt gingerbread men, beaded candy canes, shining lights…”
His voice cut off as Lorraine plopped a kiss on his cheek. “Come on, dear. Let’s get started.” She plunged her hands into the tree’s branches, and frantically feeling around the ornaments.
“Lorraine, let’s do this systematically, okay? I’ll start on the top at the other side, and you comb through that section.” Brandon hauled himself to his feet, and began running his fingers across the tallest branches.
“Mm…’kay dear,” she muttered, her face lost in the gleam of ornaments. The minutes ticked by as they shuffled through the tree. Voices silent, the couple focused on their task. Move ornaments over. Check behind the lights. Find the ring.
The front door flew open, bringing in a gust of cold air, masculine howls, and shouts of greeting. Lorraine, her head still stuck in the tree, jerked upwards at their voiced. Brandon sidestepped to give her more room. Crash.
“Mom’s ornament! You moron!” One of Lorraine’s brothers ran into the room, pointing his finger aaccusingly at Brendan. Laying on the floor near Brendan was Mrs. Krueger’s cherished ornament, a glass star that glistened as the shards cut into the carpeted floor.
“Ugh,” Brendan groaned, running his fingers through his hair. He looked up to Mrs. Krueger, who had moved into the room with her family. “I’m really, really sorry, Mrs. Krueger. I feel awful.”
Mrs. Krueger’s bright face contorted as she tried to force back tears. “It’s…it’s going to be all right. Just an ornament.”
“From her engagement,” Lorraine’s brother continued to glare accusingly at Brendan.
Lorraine jumped to her feet, and grabbed Brendan’s hand., while glaring back at her brother. “Jude, it was an accident. He didn’t mean to, Brendan was just trying to help me find something.”
Duuude, what’s that thing?” One of the boys—who looked to be in his early teens—pointed towards Brendan’s shoulder. A shiny gold globe ornament dangled near his neck. The top of the globe sparkled and glittered.
Lorraine gasped. “Honey, you found it!” She kissed him on the cheek and looked expectantly at the ornament.
            Brendan smiled broadly, and lifted Lorraine’s left hand. Pulling a gold circle off the top of the ornament, he placed it on her fourth finger. He looked at the family. Mr. Krueger stood silently, his blue eyes inviting Brendan to speak. Mrs. Krueger’s glassy eyes started to scrunch up. The four boys looked confused. “Guys, Lorraine and I are engaged to be married.”
            Mrs. Krueger began bawling her eyes out, reaching for her daughter. “My baby’s getting married! I’m so happy!”
Brendan shifted his weight from one foot to the other, glancing awkwardly at the Krueger men. Mr. Krueger thrust his hand out. “Congratulations, Brendan.” The young man smiled, and glanced at the four brothers.
“So, guys, we’ll be brothers now.”
“Yeah,” the teenager-looking one replied. “And you know what that means?”
“Um, we’ll play video games?”
The four boys shared glances. Jude triumphantly shouted out. “Last man to the table cleans up the ornament!” With that, the Krueger boys and their father rushed out to the kitchen. Brendan glanced at the two emotional women who were now sitting on the couch, chattering excitedly about wedding details. Well, that’s a quick turnaround. Guess I better get this mess cleaned. Brendan focused on his work, picking up the larger shards one by one, and placing them on the tile fire place. Unbeknownst to him, a light glimmered outside the window.
The Sugar Plum Fairy sat on the windowpane, chuckling to herself as she watched the man work. “Well,” she reflected, “It’s not all bad, since they’re engaged. Man, I’ve gone soft over the past few years.” Standing up, the fairy turned her back on the Krueger family, and looked over the street. “Hmm…what else have I never done before…” Tugging her ponytail, the fairy thought hard. “Ah, that’s it!” Her eyes shone in the lights of the wiry reindeer who were decorating the yard across the street. The fairy began to fly towards the yard display eagerly. “Little light-up reindeer, want to fly tonight?”

The End

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Fairy Tale Version of Myself Fights Trolls with a Wooden Spoon

So a few weeks ago, I considered how we could all redefine our image of princesses, and how I get sad that there aren't many "realistic/normal" princesses out there in the books and movies. Well, about a week or so after that, a fellow English major and friend of mine dropped a bombshell on me before our class:
"Have you heard of Tatterhood?"
She proceeded to tell me about this princess named Tatterhood, who carries a wooden spoon that she uses to fight trolls or hobgoblins, depending on which version of the story you read.
What was my first thought in response to this?

 I don't need a sword. Because I am the Doctor. And this is my spoon.
Naturally, I had to hear more about this wonderful woman. My friend continued to tell me about how Tatterhood wore rags (hence, her name), rode a goat, and that the story was about her loving relationship with her twin sister (Hmm...sounds as cool as Frozen. I'd better check this out). My friend then told me about a Tatterhood comic strip on the internet, which--of course--I read.
And, naturally, I loved it.

I found a book at the library with a slightly different retelling of the story, and I grew to love the tale and character of Tatterhood more. In many ways, I identify with Tatterhood.
    First off, it's a Norwegian fairy tale, and guess what? Courtesy of my dad's side of the family, I have Norwegian blood (my maiden name, Hauge, is actually Norwegian for "hill farmer.").
    Secondly, Tatterhood frolics around in patched up clothes. Most of my clothes are hand-me-downs or thrift store finds, aside from a few skirts and tops I bought from the store-and bought about 8 years ago, and still wear quite frequently. I love hippie skirts, which happen to tear easily; hence, I utilize patches (which I happen to love, I feel like it adds a lot of character).
    Thirdly, Tatterhood rides around on a goat while wielding a wooden spoon. While I sadly haven't done this, I honestly think it would be awesome. Yes, when Tangled came out, I was highly tempted to start walking around with a frying pan. Yes, when--while in high school--I gave a speech on how awesome canes are, I had the burning urge to wield a walking stick like a boss. Instead, I walk around and battle evil each day with my Rosary and my like the Catholic version of what Tatterhood does? Okay, moving along...
    Fourthly, Tatterhood refuses to marry a prince impulsively or just because "he's a prince." And when she ends up being in the presence of a prince, she doesn't put on fake airs of grandeur, she's her wonderful, joyful, quirky self. Yup, that sums me up a bit, too.

So why is Tatterhood awesome, aside from the fact that she's someone realistic who I can identify with?

She courageously seeks goodness and justice no matter what. She loves adventure, and finds joy in life. She doesn't let others pull her down, but she bubbles up and has fun. She doesn't find her identity in fake, superficial things, but is her authentic self, and has immense beauty that comes from her awareness of her value and worth. And she fights trolls/hobgoblins with a wooden spoon. Really, you can't pass this up. (Disney, as long as you don't destroy this story, you should totally make a movie out of this. It'd be just as good as Frozen, I'm serious) I've already read through the story book a few times, and I'm hoping to read more versions from the library, since retellings usually slightly differ from each other. But they all shall be awesome, I am sure of it.

So just take a peek at the comic, or plunge into the actual glorious storybook itself. An adventure of epic proportions awaits.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Joy in Acceptance: When I Tried to Surprise Jacob for St. Lucy's Feast

Ever since I was a very young girl and read the American Girl book, Kirsten's Surprise, I've wanted to take part in that epic Scandanavian tradition (for those of you unfamiliar with this tradition, check out Jean's blog, where she mentions both the epic saint and cool traditions for this feast). Being a sanguine, crazy, Catholic nerd, I had fabulous ideas for how I would surprise Jacob on the feast of St. Lucy--today--with a modified celebration: hot cocoa, fresh cinnamon rolls, all while wearing an elaborate paper "leaf crown" with paper candles on top (knowing me, if I had real candles on my head, I would probably burn the house down by accident). Well, since I knew Jacob needed sleep, and we never eat breakfast before morning Mass, I quickly altered that activity to after Mass. But it would still be great. I just needed to surprise my husband. And when you live in a tiny apartment and spend the majority of your time together, total surprise can be difficult to accomplish. But Friday afternoon presented a great opportunity, when Jacob went on campus to "smash" (play SSBM) with some friends. 
I loved this book. Still do. I am
not ashamed that I still have an incredible
love for the original American Girl books.
Just don't get me started about how the
company has done downhill and done
horrible things to this series. 

Hurriedly, I mixed together cinnamon roll dough and washed the dishes, to erase evidence. The rolls came out of the oven, I removed them from the pans, and realized that I was out of powdered sugar. Darn. I needed to figure out some way to get to the store later. Putting the rolls back in the oven, I lit a cinnamon-scented candle in the living room and went to the restroom, intending to wash the roll pans when I came out. From the bathroom, just a minute later, I heard Jacob enter the apartment. 

Jacob: "It smells like cinnamon rolls!" 
Me: "Hi, dear!" after which I muttered something about the cinnamon candle smelling nice. 
-I hear Jacob's footsteps enter the kitchen, and I hear a thud. 
Jacob: "CINNAMON ROLLS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" 

As soon as I could, I rushed out their to make sure he didn't devour them on the spot, and explained the significance of the feast of St. Lucy the next day. The rolls went back in the oven, we bought sugar later, and this morning, we went to Mass as usual. When we entered Christ the King Chapel, to my shock, the sanctuary was decked out for Christmas: Creche, Christmas trees, and poinsettias everywhere. As we knelt to pray, Jacob whispered to me: 
"They really go all out for St. Lucy!" 
So of course I had a mega-huge struggle of constraining my laughter, so I wouldn't distract everyone else right before Mass. After Mass, we returned home, where we delighted in our "St. Lucy cinnamon rolls."  

Even though I wasn't able to get all dressed up in a leaf-and-candle crown with red sash and white gown, or surprise my husband in the early hours of the morning with freshly baked rolls and steaming cups of cocoa, it was still awesome. St. Lucy is an epic saint, and we totally got to celebrate her today--both at Mass and with our delicious treat. I easily could have gotten swept up in the whole "I failed at surprising you!" thing, but I chose not to. I decided to take joy in the whole celebratory nature of the day, and not get all hung up in the details. I decided to remember the beautiful saint we celebrate today--a virgin who couldn't even be burned by fire; a virgin who gave her life in faithfulness in God. There are definitely times where, even though I'm not a "details person," I can get hung up on the details. For some reason, today/yesterday wasn't one of those times, and I'm really glad about that. Because this whole even rang true with the reminder that--even though it can be super easy during the upcoming weeks to get hung up on "what has to be done/how it needs to be done"--the epic gift being celebrated is what counts the most. 

Over the past couple years, I've discovered that it's really worthwhile to "roll with the punches" and accept what God sends me--and how He sends it to me. Even if what happens doesn't occur according to how I thought it would/should, God obviously has better judgment. I just have to choose how I will accept it: 
Will I resist what God is doing in my life, or will I joyfully accept what He brings--and how He brings it--each day? 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

And...Christmas Break is Here at Last!

Happy feast of Pope St. Damasus I!

It's a crazy feeling: at 3:30 p.m. today, I turned in my Theology of the Body final, and walked out of Egan. The semester is over, and Christmas break is here. I'm incredibly excited for some hardcore relaxation, reading, writing, movie watching, and enjoying time with my husband and some other random people who live in or near Steubenville. I love breaks from classes/homework, but I really think it's important to continue to learn and grow intellectually and whatnot. So, over this break here are some of the intellectual, spiritual, and fun activities which I am (hoping) to do:

I'm really excited to study the Franciscan spirituality. There's an awesome Franciscan section in our campus library, which I really haven't taken advantage of. I love St. Francis, and I love learning about him, so why have I never frequented this section? Mostly, I think it's because amid classwork, my reading on the side (yes, it is possible to have reading on the side when you're a social college student; it just took me a couple years to figure it out) tends to be recreational and fun. Yes, Franciscan stuff is fun and recreational, but not in the same sense as fiction stuff. So, this break, I'm hoping to grow intellectually and spiritually as I delve into some Franciscan goodness :)

I also am going to work on creative writing prompts, I am a creative nonfiction writer. It's my passion, it comes most naturally to me, and I have a huge interest in that field. However, I also have a fond place in my heart for fiction writing. In fact, over the years, I have acquired several notebooks, scraps of paper, and floppy disks (yes, I remember when those were a thing) with bits and pieces of stories. I typically lack the motivation and endurance to actually finish these, and I never get around to practice creative writing techniques. But, lo and behold, one of my friends is having a December writing group online (with prompts provided), encouraging us to post our creations there or on our blogs. So, I'm going to be working on this over break, I think it shall be lovely and fun, and quite a change of pace from the writing that I've been doing this semester!

I'm going to learn how to make a latch hook rug. I've always wanted to learn how to do latch hook, because it looks neat and involves yarn, and the only ways I can make crafts are if they involve some sort of fiber. I've never really wanted to spend a chunk of money on a latch hook kit, because I've never been that interested before. However, the other week at The Mission, I found an unused kit for $1--how could I pass that up? So yes, I shall teach myself/try to learn latch hook, and it shall be exciting, I'm sure :)

Those are some of the major activities that come to mind, and I'm sure updates about some (if not all) of them will wind up on this blog at some point. On that note, enjoy the end of the Second Week of Advent, and get excited for Gaudete Sunday in just a few days!!!!!!! Jesus loves you!!!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Journeying Towards God in a Chaotic World

Life gets crazy and confusing, yet we are expected to journey towards God in all of the chaos, and we find deep peace. But sometimes, it can be ridiculously tough to get on the path towards deeper union with God. Looking to our awesome example of "modern sanctity," Teresita Quevedo shows us the way in which we can try to reach a deeper level of unity with God.

As Teresita's cousin, Angelines, recounts in the book, Mary Was Her Life, "One day I asked her about her devotion to Christ. She said: 'I love Our Lord with all my heart. But He wants me to love Our Lady in a special way and to go to Him with my hand in Mary's. My affection for her is like that of a tiny child for its mother. You know, Nines, how a baby clings to his mother's skirt when he is learning to walk? Well, that is the way Our Lord wants me to cling to Our Lady's blue mantle."

If you want to grow closer to God amid the chaos of life in the world, ask Mary to take your hand. She won't leave you; she'll walk by your side, guiding you closer to her son. In all that she did, Teresita Quevedo let Mary accompany her. Her peers have noted how, when Teresita was struggling in a school subject, she would place a picture of Mary on her desk as a reminder that she was not alone. Consciously bring Mary with you everywhere you go-to parties, to class, to your work, to your leisure. When you walk with Mary, you will draw closer to Jesus, I guarantee it. Also, get excited for Our Lady of Guadalupe's feast on Friday!!!!! :)