He's Pruning Our Souls

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I'm trying out my green thumb this spring. Our kitchen window is covered with blooming orchids, basil, and cilantro. The little green sprouts popped up and continue to grow. My daily routine now includes watering their hungry roots.

The flowering season for the orchid Joseph gave me is almost over, and just one little bloom holds its place on the branches. A few weeks ago, the leaves at the base of the plant turned a sickly yellow. When Joseph watered them one day, the dying leaf broke off in his hand. Pretty soon, I plucked another sickly leaf off the plant. I was worried that I'd continue to have to do this to all of the leaves, slowly watching the orchid wither away. But this weekend, to my delight, a little leaf sprouted at the base of the orchid - new life. 

Read more: What an Orchid Taught Me About Christ

I'm reminded of my growing green thumb when I recently dug into the Gospel of John. Although I'm just starting to nurture these little plants, tucked safety away in their miniature terracotta planters, the Lord's gardening takes place on a much bigger scale. While I tend to little cilantro sprouts, the Lord is tending to our hearts and souls. 

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
— John 15: 1-2

He's pruning us - cutting away that which keeps us from growing. He's shaping us into the daughters and sons we were created to be. But pruning isn't always a pleasant experience. I imagine a gardener brandishing his shears. He cuts deep into the vine.

It would be easy to put away the shears, to let the vine grow as it pleases. But without the pain, the vine can't grow. Without a clearing away of the rotten and dead, new life can't sprout. 

In the book of Hebrews, Saint Paul tells us that 'at the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet it later brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it."

Christ share the parable of the vine with His disciples while they are all gathered in the upper room. He's preparing them for what is to come.

Christ will leave the safety of the upper room and journey to the garden. He'll sweat drops of blood, ask for God's will to be done, and climb the hill to Calvary.

He'll die of a broken heart, abandoned by almost all who loved Him during His time on earth. Yet He invites His disciples to be pruned by the Father, to embrace their own cross and suffering.

What is the result of the pruning? The peaceful fruit of righteousness. 

What does the Father need to prune from your life so that it bears more fruit? It could be that He's asking to cut into the lies that the devil sown, the falsehoods the deceiver has told you about your story. Perhaps He is asking you to let go of the plans you had for your life in exchange for His vision of pruning. Maybe He is clearing away past hurts in order to make room for fresh sprouts, the new growth of grace in your soul. 

Are you afraid of the the Father and His pruning? Abide in the reality of Christ as the vine. He tells His disciples that He is the true vine. In Greek, the word word 'true', alethine, translates to being dependable, genuine, and real. Christ is the true vine, the God that is going to show up and keep His promises. 

Lord, give us the grace to abide in the reality of you as the true vine. Inspire in us a confidence that is unshakable. Prune away anything in our lives that is hindering us from becoming more like you. Help our lives bear fruit that will remain. 

6 Conversations You Need to Have Before You Say 'I Do'

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This year, Joseph and I are going to eight weddings. Friends, family, and friends of family are prepping for their big day, and continuing to discern their vocation together as a couple. Although the conversation topics during engagement usually tend towards wedding planning, venue options, and reception song dance lists, there are some other important conversations to have, too.

Here are six topics to talk over before the big day. Grab dinner (or coffee, or a drink, or all three) with your lover and have a heart to to heart about these important topics: 

1. Your vocation to love

Saint Pope John Paul II has a special place in Joseph and I's story - he's the patron saint of our relationship. This incredible saint wrote quite a bit on the topic of love and human relationship. He reflected on the book of Genesis and what he calls 'original man' - how we lived and loved before sin entered the picture. Men and women saw each other as a gift, someone to love and not something to use.

This idea of seeing people as gifts is the foundation of how the Church views the concept of a vocation. "God who created man out of love also calls him to love - the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being," the Catechism reads

It's easy to get wrapped into planning a wedding when you're engaged - or to look forward to planning a wedding when you're talking about engagement in your relationship. But a wedding is just a day - a marriage is (God willing!) a lifetime. 

Question to go deeper: What is your love story? Every love story has two versions (Joseph's is much shorter than mine). Tell each other your love story and notice what stands out in your partner's version of your love story. 

2. Family of origin

We all bring something from our family of origin into our marriage. When Joseph and I got married, one place where I saw family of origin come into play was something as simple as when we took showers. Joseph takes a shower in the morning before leaving for work, just like he took showers in the morning when he was growing up. I'm the opposite - I grew up taking showers in the evening. Since I come from a family of 10, hot water never a guarantee! Now, I usually take a shower mid-morning. Every once in a while, I'll take a shower in the evening and get some weird looks from Joseph. But that's just one of many things that Joseph and I both have a different family of origin experience with! 

Some of the things we bring into our family from our family origin are great - both Joseph and I come from Catholic families that prioritize prayer time. Other things can be, well, not so great. Other can be completely neutral, like holiday celebrations or how you'll divide up who cooks dinner and who loads the dishwasher. But before you get married, take time to look at your family of origin, and the expectations you have for marriage because of how you were raised. Then, take time with your partner to unpack your family of origin. It's up to you both to decide what 'bags' you'll bring into your upcoming marriage. You get to pick what you want to carry with you. 

Questions to get conversation flowing: What are some of the things about your family that you'd love to carry into your future marriage? What are some habits, traditions, or hurts that you don't want to bring into your sacrament? 

3. Lust versus love

We think of the virtue of chastity as something we may have learned about in high school youth group. But chastity isn't just for teenagers going off to prom - it's a virtue meant for all of us. Even when we get married!

"Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being," the Catechism reads. "Sexuality, in which man's belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman." 

When we talk about lust in our marriage, things like adultery, prostitution, pornography and masturbation can come to mind. But lust can also sneak its way into our marriages when couples take away the life giving aspects of making love through sterilization and contraception. Chastity is the virtue that allows us to appreciate our spouse in their entirety - mind, soul, heart, body - yes, even their fertility. 

Before your wedding day, spend time talking with your future spouse about the role that chastity will play in your marriage. Take time in prayer to pray for the virtue of chastity, and the grace to love your future spouse fully, faithfully, fruitfully, and totally. 

Questions to get conversation flowing: Are there any things in your life that are holding you back from loving your future spouse fully? What are some ways that you can love your partner in a way that appreciates their entire person? 

4. The S Word

When we planned our wedding Mass, Joseph and I purposely picked Ephesians 5 as the first reading. It's a reading that can make the congregation squirm in their pews, thanks to the infamous line "Wives should be submissive to their husbands, as to the Lord". 

Ah, the 'S' word in marriage prep. Nope, not sex (although you should talk about that too, stick around for point five of this post). Submission.

As you continue to read Ephesians 5, you'll read "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish". 

The word 'submission' at it's root means to be 'under the mission of'. Submission is a word that has been hijacked by the culture. What Scripture means when it asks women to be submissive is to be under the mission of her husband. And what does Ephesians 5 say the husband's mission is? To love his wife as Christ loved the Church, even to the point of sacrificing his life for her. That's a mission I can get behind. 

Questions to dive deeper: What do you think of the word 'submission'? What mission is your marriage called to? What does working together as a team mean in your marriage? 

5. Intimacy

When we think of intimacy in marriage, our minds go straight to what happens in the bedroom (thank you, stupid culture). But intimacy is so much deeper than just making love - although that's beautiful, too!

In Humanae Vitae, an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI, he describes marriage as a love that comes alive, a love that is fully human, "a compound of sense and spirit." This marital love is "a love which is total - that very special form of friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything." 

When it comes to the sacrament of marriage, there are multiple categories of intimacy that are needed for a healthy marriage: verbal intimacy, emotional intimacy, physical intimacy, spiritual vulnerability, and sexual intimacy. Pope Francis writes, "This process takes time. Love needs time and space; everything else is secondary. Time is needed to talk things over, to embrace leisurely, to share plans, to listen to one another and to build a stronger relationship."

Questions to chat about as a couple: What steps can you take as a coupe to sustain intimacy in all areas of your life? How can you set aside time to grow in intimacy on all levels? 

6. Conflict

There are countless things that will cause conflict in your marriage. It may be large triggers like lifestyle changes, job stress, or family issues. It could be that conflict arises because of small triggers like hunger or tiredness. In our marriage, Joseph and I both get grumpy when we don't have food - and knowing that hungriness can be a conflict trigger has been a life saver ("I know you don't mean that. We just need to get some pizza before we talk about this more"). 

Every couple will have conflict - that's okay. How do you handle conflict in your relationship - and how will you handle conflict in your marriage? Joseph and I both process stress differently. I like to process things externally, chatting with friends about it, and diving into verbal prayer. Joseph processes things internally. When we have something that we need to process and decide, we know that we'll process the conflict differently - and give each other space to process solo if need be. 

Questions to dig deeper: What patterns do you see when you look at how you handle conflict as a couple? When you examine those patterns is there anything you'd like to change? What are some healthy strategies you can put into place when conflict appears again? 

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If there was a couple to write a book on marriage preparation, it's John and Claire Grabowski. In 2009, they were appointed as the Member Couple to the Pontifical Council for the Family by Pope Benedict XVI. They also are the co-authors of anniversary edition of Saint Pope John Paul II's Familiaris Consortio. They are celebrating 33 years of marriage this year.

If you like their conversation questions and want to delve deeper into conversations you should talk about before tying the knot, check out One Body: A Program for Marriage Preparation and Enrichment for the New Evangelization by John and Claire Grabowski. 

7 QT 45: Food trucks, wine, and embroidery kits

Happy Friday! It's almost the weekend, Prince Harry is getting married today (are you even a royals fan if you don't own this swimsuit?), and the weather in Kansas has been gorgeous this past week. This weekend, Joseph and I are headed back to Joseph's college town to get lunch with friends and do some hiking.

But before we dust off our hiking shoes and jump in the car, here's a quick look back at our adventures from the past week:

 

1. Still. no. new. glasses.

My glasses still haven't come into the optometrist, so I'm still waiting. I'm not being very patient. I think I must have accidentally prayed for patience, so Jesus is giving me some great opportunities to grow in that virtue. I've discovered that waiting for my frames to get here is almost as bad as waiting for final grades to post in college. 

 

2. We love ourselves some food truck festivals

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Every since it started getting a little warmer, Joseph and I have been on the hunt for a good food truck. We always seem to miss them. So last weekend when we were home for graduations and Mother's Day, we were thrilled to see that there was a food truck festival downtown going on Saturday evening.

We food truck hopped and ended up with some gyro fries, a Mexican coke, and green chile pork. When we ordered the pork, I expected it to be a pile of pork with green chiles on top. But they handed us a flour tortilla full of pork rice and chiles that had more of a soup texture. It was fantastic! Now just to find some food trucks in KC and give them a try, too! 

 

3. Wine: pairs nicely with good friends

When I go to pick out a bottle of wine, I usually make my selection based on the label. No, not what the label says, what the label looks like. I realize this pretty much like choosing a book based on it's cover. However, my knowledge of wine is so menial that I figure if I hate the wine, at least we have a neat wine bottle to turn into a flower vase or something.

One of my good friends from my alma mater graduated this weekend. Her graduation reception was at a winery, which was perfect. Joseph and I tried a few samples. This particular winery used quite a bit of Kansas-grown grapes, which was a great touch. On that note, if you know of any good wine tasting spots in the KC area, let me know, I'd love to expand my horizons. 

 

4. Aldis, you've done it again

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Last week while we were grocery shopping, we wandered into the magical aisle at Aldis. We were surrounded by lawn chairs, goat cheese, and mango salsa. But at the end of the discovery aisle sat a cute little embroidery kit. For a whopping $7.99, I am set for some summer crafting. I knew I could count on you, Aldis.

Also, speaking of grocery shopping, how do you say Aldis? Aldis or Aldi (without the s). I grew up saying Aldis, but have come to the realization that not everyone says it that way. Joseph pointed out that I don't say 'Walmarts' or 'Targets', which was a fair point. But it just rolls of your tongue. . . Aldis. 

 

5. A brand new, behind the scenes podcast

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If you're a member of my team on patreon and support the podcast at $10 a month or more, there's exciting news this week! I just released the first episode of an exclusive behind the scenes podcast. In each episode, I discuss some of my favorite writings from Saint Pope John Paul II, and shine the feminine spotlight on a different saint. This month I talked about 'On the Dignity and Vocation of Women' and learned about Saint Joan of Arc and how she lived out the feminine genius with courage in her daily life. Want to find out more? Click here. 

 

6. Ben Rector, give me those tour dates

One of Joseph and I's favorite singer/songwriters is Ben Rector. We've been to quite a few of his concerts. After we started dating, we discovered that we were even at the same Ben Rector concert together before we knew each other (just on other sides of the room). Our first dance was a Ben Rector tune, and his songs are played throughout our house on a regular basis. 

Today a few new Ben Rector singles were released. There may or may not be a little old fashioned bike bell sound in his new song, which is fantastic. He's also announcing a new tour, so we're clicking 'refresh' regularly on his website and waiting for the dates to drop. I don't know what I'm more excited for, Ben Rector's tour dates to release or my new glasses to come in. 

 

7. Some(bunny) is nice and clean

Because Wilson refuses to eat half of his food (it looks different!), he hasn't been getting a balanced diet lately. During his protest, he's also been drinking quite a bit more water. Last weekend I was cleaning his cage and found that, as a result, his litter box was soggy and full of pee. When I picked him up to brush him and check on his finger nails, I discovered his stomach, feet, and bottom were coated in litter box sogginess. 

He promptly was given a sponge bath by Joseph - and since his stomach was matted, he got a little haircut, too. He was not happy. However, after being rewarded with cranberries, he's forgiven us. I've been balancing out his diet with hay and veggies, but I'm still trying to figure out why he isn't a fan of the darker pellets. 

7 QT 44: Optometrists, cold brew, and graduations

It's Friday! Today I'm sitting down to record a podcast, I have a few phone calls to make, and then it's just Joseph, myself, and a little bit of weekend relaxing before we head out of town for graduations. I have a 12 pack of Dr. Pepper in our fridge and two mason jars full of cold brew, so it's going to be good. 

But before Joseph and I pack an overnight bag (plus a few cans of Dr. Pepper) and head out to family barbecues and graduation ceremonies, here's a quick look at the seven most adventurous adventures we had this week:

 

1. A recap of our concert weekend

Joseph and I went to a Trout Steak Revival concert in Lawrence last weekend. It was a great concert (if your band has a banjo, you've won me over already). However, unlike our college days where we could stay up until 2:00 am without even feeling drowsy, Joseph and I called it a night at 10:30 and got on the road to head back to KC. 

The Kansas City Civic Orchestra concert at the Kauffman was beautiful. I haven't played my viola since I was in college, and even then I only pulled it out every once in a while. I've been inspired to order a new bow and get the viola re-strung. Have I done either of those things yet this week? No, but I've been inspired, so that counts for something. 

 

2. Marry a man who . . . 

...surprises you with a 12 pack of Dr. Pepper when you get home. And then gently reminds you that you should probably have one a day and stretch the 12 pack out over the next week and a half. If we're being honest, we all know that 12 pack will last me a week. Maybe. 

Also, I'm pretty sure I have Dr. Pepper telepathy super powers - which let me tell you, is so much better than being invisible or flying. I was thinking about Dr. Pepper on the drive home last night (don't judge my car thoughts) and TA-DA! the Dr. Pepper was waiting for me when I got into the kitchen.

What else should I start thinking of more? Vanilla lattes? Puppies? Maybe my telepathic powers are stronger than I think. Goldendoodles. Goldendoodles. Goldendoodles.

 

3. Pardon my lazy eyes

I went to the eye doctor on Wednesday and learned that my prescription is so strong that it's making my eyes lazy and not want to focus on their own. So my new eye doctor is going to slowly start scaling my prescription back.  Hopefully this will go well - if not, pardon me as I bump into things and apologize. 

Because of the new prescription though, I picked out a new pair of glasses, so I'm not complaining. I went with a magenta pair of cat eye frames, which are so spunky they make me want to cut my hair back into a pixie and start wearing funky earrings again. 

.Did I remember to grab a picture of said frames for a seven quick takes post? Nooooo. But no worries, the frames will be in within a week so maybe in 7 Quick Takes volume 45 they'll make their appearance.

 

4. Are you an imperfect Catholic mama?

This podcast episode is for you. In a special, Mother's day episode, I sit down and chat with Colleen Duggan. She's the author of a new book Good Enough is Good Enough: Confessions of an Imperfect Catholic Mom. Can I get an amen? I loved how authentic and vulnerable Colleen was on our episode together. If we lived closer, I'd totally be going over to her house for coffee dates and to play with her littles. 

You can listen to Colleen's thoughts on motherhood over here. Her book makes a great Mother's day gift for the Catholic mamas in your life! 

 

5. Speaking of Mother's Day

Sometimes the days we thought would be the happiest turn out to be some of the hardest. This week over at Aleteia, I wrote a piece about what I wish someone would have told me the first Mother's Day after losing Marion.

If Mother's Day is a day that brings pain and tears, know that you're not alone. You're a beautiful woman, you're loved, and you're remembered. 

 

6. Catholics and saint bodies

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If you go to Siena, you can see the head of Saint Catherine. In Rome, you can visit the foot of Mary Magdalene in a church. What is going on here? 

This week at The Catholic Podcast, Joe Heschmeyer and I dug into the Catholic (sometimes morbid) practice of venerating relics. We discuss what relics you should check out if you live in the US, why Catholics venerate relics, and we even dig into the controversy surrounding the phrase 'worship the Cross'. Aren't we supposed to only worship God? Check out our answer over at our website

7. Wilson, the protester

Wilson really has nothing to protest. He has a clean cage, a rug of freedom, a full water bottle, and he helps me eat spinach leftovers. It's a pretty sweet gig, in my opinion. In Wilson's opinion, however, it's a whole different story. 

This week he's protesting his food. We picked up a new bag of food from Menards for him and HEAVEN FORBID they changed the color of some of the pellets. Same ingredients, same rabbit food company, apparently drastically different taste. So Wilson will pick and choose his favorite color of pellets and leave the rest sitting there. He now has a bowl full of the food he refuses to eat and I can't fit anymore food in there. We'll see what happens next week. 

 

Have a great weekend!

4 Questions You Should Ask Before Giving a Long Distance Relationship a Try

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Three years ago, I was on a summer mission team when I met Joseph. He was passionate about his faith. Joseph was (and still is!) a great listener and we had some good conversations. But he was leaving at the end of the week and lived three hours away from where I was staying that summer. 

Read more: Your Brain on Summer Mission Trips

The distance between us didn’t stop us from getting to know each other over the following months. We spent time getting to know about each other’s interests, families, and hobbies. We shared stories about how we both spent our summer. Then, when I moved back home (only an hour away from Joseph!), we went on a dinner date. Joseph and I had a successful, long distance start to our relationship. Are you thinking about giving long distance relationships a try, too?

Click over to Catholic Singles to read the four questions you should discuss with someone before making it official over at Catholic Singles! 

7 QT 43: Summer hikes, new plants, and concerts

The weekend is right around the corner! Saturday and Sunday are full of live music - we have a folk music concert and we're also going to an orchestra concert with a friend! But before we hit the road and get our concert on, here is a quick look back at our adventures from this past week: 

 

1. Summer hikes in the sun

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After a full week of Kansas trying to decide what the season was (Spring? WINTER! Fall? SUMMER!), Sunday turned out to be a gorgeous day to take a hike. I met Sarah, a friend from  Topeka, at the lake and we took a good (long) two and half hour hike. We found a great place to sit by the water. I liked the spot so much that I'm headed back there to hammock and picnic with my sister next week! What's your favorite outside activity to do when the weather is nice?

 

2. Adding another plant to our plant family

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Since we haven't killed our cilantro, basil, or the orchid (although we're going to have to transplant that little guy soon), we decided to add another plant to our growing plant family. The addition is a hanging basket that we bought from the women's group at our parish. It smells so good, and I love how it cascades over the edges. It makes our little front porch look like Spring. 

 

3. Dunkin Donuts hacks

This week's T-Mobile Tuesday was a $2 gift card to Dunkin Donuts. Usually I take my little gift card and get a medium iced coffee and only have to pay Susie (yes, we're on a first name basis) a whopping $0.17. No, I am not ashamed that I know the exact change. Not at all.

This week I brought in my own cup to Dunkin and was able to get exactly the same coffee for $0.70 less! What a deal! I stretched my little gift card over two coffee trips. Thank you, T-Mobile Tuesday - and shout out to Mama Mooradian who taught me this fantastic Dunkin hack. I'll be using that one quite frequently, which we all knew already. 

 

4. We're still in Kansas, Dorthy

Wednesday night brought the tornado weather our way - it's been a pretty calm spring tornado-wise. I came back home from my women's accountability group and headed straight to the basement as the sirens started going off. We remembered to pull our hanging flower basket inside so it didn't get blown away or drowned.

We didn't get anything but some quick spurts of rain, and the hail never showed up. But we were able to go upstairs to bed at a normal time, so it all worked out. 

After each area of Kansas City was given the all clear, the meteorologist on the channel we were watching would say, "If you are hearing this in (fill in the city), you have the all clear. If you were down at the lower level and away from windows, I just want to say good job! You did exactly what you were supposed to." Thanks, Dad. 

 

5. Concert tickets for freeeeee

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Joseph found a great website for local events - the site also runs contests for free tickets to local music shows around the city. He got an e-mail earlier this week that he'd won tickets to go see Trout Steak Revival - a bluegrass band from Colorado who will be in town on Saturday. I can't wait to get our first taste of live music for the year, and I'm loving the fact that it'll be bluegrass. 

Also, can we take a moment to appreciate bluegrass band names? Trout Steak Revival. That's fantastic. If you're in the KC area, check out this website - you can enter for free concert and festival tickets around the KC and Lawrence area. 

 

6. Selling art to artists

This week at the bookstore, I sold a statue of the Archangel Raphael to two artists from Lawrence. After one of the artists showed me his tattoo of Our Lady of Perpetual Help on his shoulder we talked about cold brew. My job is so dang cool, guys. We also chatted about the church they work in (a renovated Episcopal church). Then they checked out, we got the statue boxed up and they headed out to get back on the road. After they left, I did a little bit of Google research about their art.

Turns out I sold a statue to a world renowned artist. Not making this up.

Kris Kuski is a local artist whose work has been featured around the world. His portraits have hung in the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery. I have now started stalking his social media pages to see when Saint Raphael will show up in one of his art pieces. Check out his work here

 

7. A letter to the woman who doesn't have it together

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If I were to put together a list of women who have changed the way that I practice my Catholic faith, Sarah Swafford would be on the list. I got the chance to share my morning coffee with her this week - okay, my second cup of morning coffee. Fine. But I loved chatting with her about emotions, virtue, and why we don't have to have it all together. You can listen to our episode here

How to Get to Know the Saints Next Door

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When you think of the word 'saint', what comes to mind? A nun, fervently praying while tucked away in a secluded cloister? A holy monk, hands folded in prayer, the quiet strains of Handel's 'Messiah' playing in the background of the chapel he spends his day in? 

In his latest apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis challenges us to change the way we think about the saints. Sainthood isn't far-off and it's certainty not unattainable. "To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest, or religious. We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer," the pope writes in Gaudete et exsultate - Rejoice and be Glad. "I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God's people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their very daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant."

One of the holiest women who I've ever met was a woman at my Church growing up - Mrs. Becker. She had immigrated to the United States from Germany and put down roots in our little German parish in Kansas. You could count on hearing her voice from the choir loft on Sunday morning. Littles would scramble out of their pews after Mass to dash back to the foyer to say good morning and eat a cookie from the basket she carried with her into Mass. Pope  Francis would have been an admirer of Mrs. Becker's quiet holiness - and I loved encountering Christ, holiness, and sainthood through her as I grew up in our parish. 

"Very often, holiness is found in our next-door neighbors, those who, living in our midst, reflect God's presence," Pope Francis writes. In our throw-away culture though, meeting the holiness present in our next door neighbors and those in our own five mile radius can be an intimidating task. We're more connected than we've ever been thanks to modern technology, but we've lost the art of encountering others face-to-face. 

Just how do we get back to the basics of encountering Christ in our next door neighbors, our co-workers, and those in line at the grocery store? How do we see the Lord and strive towards holiness alongside the people who drive beside us on our morning commute, sit at the table next to us in the cafeteria, and pick up kids with us at the end of the school day? Can we see Christ reflected in the couple who sits in the pew next to us at Mass? 

Although I'm not an expert at encountering others, and I have so much room for improvement, here are a few ways you can encounter the person striving towards sainthood who may live right next door to you: 

 

1. Say hello

How often do we go about our day without encountering those we interact with? I know I'm guilty. Although I'm not a fan of small talk (give me some heart-to-hearts!) I have realized, after reading Pope Francis's exhortation, that I'm not that great at interacting with those around me and seeing Christ in them during my daily interactions with others. 

Want to start getting to know those striving for holiness around you? Say good morning to the people at the coffee shop you stop in before work. Ask your co-worker how their weekend was before the meeting starts. Stop by and introduce yourself to the other mom at morning Mass who's wrangling little people just like you are. Ask your parish priest how he's doing when you pause to shake his hand on the way out to your car this weekend. Make eye contact with the homeless person on the street and treat them as you would treat Christ. The opportunities are endless - and it just starts with a 'hello'. 

 

2. Get back to some old fashioned porch sitting

Last summer, we spent an evening with young adults and a priest at the parish rectory. We gathered to share a meal with each other, but as the evening progressed, we took advantage of the warm spring night and ended up on the porch. We took our drinks outside with us, some lit an evening pipe, and we chatted about life, Catholicism, and our relationship with God.

It wasn't too long into our porch sitting that a few people passed by the sidewalk and said hello, asking us how our evening was going. It struck me during our brief interaction with them before they headed on their way, that I was missing that interaction in my life. We had lived in a little apartment for months before our neighbor said hello to us, and I couldn't even tell you the name of the tenants who shared a wall with us. It wasn't until I sat out on the rectory porch that I realized I didn't see my neighbors because none of us sat outside and chatted with each other. We went about our daily business, heads down, and didn't encounter each other.

The duplex that we're living in now has a little front porch and a back patio. Twice over the past couple of weeks, Joseph and I have folded up our kitchen chairs, grabbed a drink, and headed out to the porch. We get a chance to enjoy the spring weather, chat about our day, and see our neighbors. It seems like such a simple thing to do, but it's quickly becoming one of my favorite ways to spend the evening. 

 

3. Invest in some face time (not facetime) with friends

"The same distractions that are omnipresent in today's world also make us tend to absolutize our free time, so that we can give ourselves over completely to the devices that provide us with entertainment or ephemeral pleasure," Pope Francis writes. Ouch, Papa. That one hit me where it hurts - how often am I guilty of turning to Facebook in times of boredom, or when I don't want to make a decision about how we should spend our free time that evening. What happens when we chose our phones over those who live in our homes and next door? "We come to resent our mission, our commitment grows slack, and our generous and ready spirit begins to flag." Those are some hefty consequences.

How do we avoid becoming slaves to our phones? How do we keep the little devices we keep in our pocket from controlling our friendships and interactions with others? Create space to encounter others. Do you normally pull out your phone and scroll through Insta at the subway stop? Keep it in you pocket and take the time to meet someone who probably takes the same commute with you every morning. Is your phone in your hand at the grocery line? Keep it in your bag and chat with the grocery store clerk. I find that avocados are always a great conversation starter. 

Pope Francis encourages us to not be afraid of holiness. "It will take away none of your energy, vitality, or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind when He created you, and you will be faithful to your deepest self." 

Want to read Pope Francis' latest apostolic exhortation on holiness? In Gaudete et exsultate, he covers topics like your mission in Christ, the beatitudes, and going against the flow of today's culture. It's only five chapters long and beautifully accessible - the perfect read before going to bed at night, during your adoration hour, or with a small study group! Pick up a hard copy here

 
Do you think my desire to meet the saints next door is old fashioned or newfangled?
 

What Dr. Jordan Peterson Can Teach Young, Catholic Singles

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Dr. Jordan Peterson, a Canadian psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, is making waves on social media with his hours-long lectures and no-fluff advice. He’s gained internet fame for his skill of translating complex ideology into simple, understandable conversations. And people are listening up. His lecture, “Introduction the Idea of God” has more than 1.6 million views. In fact, Peterson’s lectures that approach Christianity from a psychological perspective are his most popular videos.

Peterson’s advice and lectures should be taken with a grain of salt. In an article published by Catholic Herald, Brandon McGinley writes, “If the Church is to baptize ‘Jordan Peterson the internet sensation’, it must be for his reputation as an authentic and awe-filled truth-seeker, not as a politically incorrect provocateur. His sincere reverence for the awesome reality of the human person is a potent antidote for a civilization whose spirit has been oppressed by secularism and nihilism. And if, God willing, the Church is to baptize Jordan Peterson the man, let us pray that the grace of the sacrament washes away his commitment to individualism and replaces it with an integrated view of the human person, striving not for the greatness of alpha status in a world of brutes but for the greatness of communion with the God who is love.”

Peterson does offer advice particularly relevant to single adults living in today’s world. 

Click over to Catholic Singles to read six things Dr. Jordan Peterson can teach single Catholics today

7 QT 42: Coconut creamer, crafting, and those dang squirrels

It's Friday and the weather in Kansas is starting to feel like Spring. We have a cook out with friends tonight, dinner with a friend tomorrow, a brunch with the Knights of Columbus on Sunday, and a hike around the lake! But before we put on the sunscreen and head out to eat some hamburgers, here's a look at the adventures around the Langr house this week!

 

1. Coconut milk creamer fail

The Aldi that we shop at has an aisle that we jokingly refer to as the 'fun aisle' - seasonal items and fun finds abound in this aisle. Last week when we went shopping, we happened upon a new non-dairy creamer that has a coconut milk base. We excitedly abandoned our dairy creamer in exchange for the coconut alternative.

It was not a good choice.

While it tastes fine, the creamer doesn't mix into the coffee. It constantly separates, swirling around like a . It look more like a cup of sweet and sour soup than a warm, morning cup of coffee. But I don't want to be the kind of person who returns a bottle of creamer. So we'll just have to drink our coffee out of travel cups so we can't see the swirling sea of coconut oil. 

 

2. I like romantic walks down the craft book section of the library

It's been a hot minute since I've gotten crafty. I loved knitting in high school and college, but knitting just doesn't feel like a very spring/summer hobby. So I'm in the middle of deciding what kind of craft I want to dig into for the warmer months. Right now, it's a tie between watercolors and some embroidery (how old fashioned is that! I love it!)

I picked up a book on lettering from the library this week, and have been pinning quite a few embroidery pictures on my Pinterest boards. Do you enjoy either of these crafts? I'd love to chat with you!

 

3. Coffee chats with Sarah Swafford

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This week  I had a chance to sit down and record a podcast with Sarah Swafford. When I first heard Sarah speak at the 2015 FOCUS SEEK conference, I thought 'I would love to get coffee with this woman!'. Three years later (Jesus, you're so good!) I was able to chat with her about emotions, virtues, and how none of us have it all together - and that's okay. 

Want to listen to the episode now? Patreon members get early access and can listen to the episode right now! Click here to find out more

 

4. Old fashioned payback

I picked up a copy of the May Magnificat for a friend this week. We parted ways without her paying me back, but I told her just to wait until we saw each other again the next week. Today in the mail I got a beautiful, old-fashioned letter with a great note and the cash to pay me back. Forget PayPal and Venmo, let's just pay each other back this way on a regular basis, friend. 

 

5. Those dang squirrels!!

On my way to work yesterday, my car decided to pull some bratty moves. She'd shudder and hesitate to start, and protested when I tried to accelarate. 

As we poked around in the car to see what could possibly be the issue, Joseph started laughing. "I know what your problem is," he said, holding up the wire that connects to my mass air flow sensor - a wire that had tiny little bite marks around it. 

SQUIRRELS. They sabotaged my car, the little brats. I once found them cute, but now? Nope.  I have a couple of ideas to prevent the problem in the future, so you better watch your back, Fred. 

 

6. The car graveyard - rust in pieces

The part we need to fix the car was a little pricey at our local car parts hangout, so we decided to venture to the junkyard and get a part from an abandoned car. Holy smokes, it was the most organized junk yard I've ever been to. They look up the part you're looking for, print you a list of all the cars that have that same part, and then give you a list of all those cars they have on the lot. Then, they print you a map of the lot (complete with aisle numbers!) and send you on your adventure.

It was fantastic. We found a part right away (at 20% of the cost we would have paid for the part new) and then wandered through the car graveyard for a while before heading home to fix the car. Joseph is fixing the car while I'm typing up this 7 Quick Takes right now! 

 

7. Wilson, you've got mail!

Wilson doesn't usually get mail - because he's a rabbit (they aren't the most social animals, it turns out). But this week, we got a newsletter from one of the college campus missionaries we support and she addressed the envelope to Wilson. It cracked me up - and Wilson felt very important!

Sorry, GQ, I'm Still Reading the Bible

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"The Holy Bible is rated very highly by all the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it," a GQ article read, in an attempt to explain why the Bible is on their list of books you shouldn't waste your time reading. Gutsy move there, GQ. 

"The Holy Bible is rated very highly by all the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it. Those who have read it know there are some good parts, but overall it is certainly not the finest thing that man has ever produced. It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned," argued Jesse Ball. He's the author of Census, which was named one of the most anticipated books of 2018 by The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Huffington Post.

Ball goes on to recommend an alternative to the Bible, saying, "If the thing you heard was good about the Bible was the nasty bits, then I propose Agota Kristof's The Notebook, a marvelous tale of two brothers who have to get along when things get rough. The subtlety and cruelty of this story is like that famous sword stroke (from below the boat) that plunged upward through the bowels, the lungs, and the throat and into the brain of the rower."

I'll be the first to admit that, for the first twenty-two years of my life, I didn't spend much personal time in the Bible. I had a few favorite verses (Jeremiah 29:11!) that I'd pull off the shelf and dust off every once in a while, but I had committed very little of the Bible to memory.

Read more: A Letter to the Woman who Wants to Read the Bible 

I was tired of hearing that Catholics don't read the Bible, but I began to realize that I couldn't complain about that stereotype if I was living it. So this year, I've began diving into Scripture and I've found that the Bible is well worth my time to read. Sorry not sorry, GQ. 

Scripture is the living Word of God

There are quite a few books out there to read. Let's be honest, there are quite a few books on my growing book shelf that I need to read. So what sets the Bible apart in a stack of books? What makes the Bible any different than reading C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, or Undset? Why does Ball's recommendation of The Notebook in place of the Bible fall embarrassingly short?

Scripture is the living, inspired Word of God. "If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, 'open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures'", the Catechism of the Catholic Church says. In addition, the Word of God is Jesus. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God," John's Gospel begins. Every time we open the Bible, we encounter the Lord. 

Just hearing the Bible at Mass doesn't cut it

I went to Mass on a weekly basis, and since the Catholic Church's liturgical cycle is three years long, I'd heard my fair share of scripture by the time I turned twenty-two. The Catholic Mass is chock full of Scripture. In addition to hearing the Word of God proclaimed during the Liturgy of the Word, we sing Scripture in our songs, and the prayers at Mass are packed with references to the words of Christ. 

Read more: A Letter to the Woman who is Bored at Mass

But just listening to Scripture at Mass isn't enough. We need to spend time in prayer with Scripture, daily letting it transform our lives. "I think every Christian should read the Bible at least once," writes Meg Hunter-Kilmer. "I really recommend the one year option above if you’ve got the dedication and the time (almost always less than 20 minutes a day).  It breaks up the boring parts (and there are a lot of boring parts, especially when you’re a Bible beginner) with Psalms and Gospel passages.  Plus, I’ve known very few people who manage to push through if they’re just going Genesis to Revelation." 

I'm using Meg's Bible-in-a-Year plan this year and am constantly amazed by how much I didn't know was in the Bible. Details of stories I've heard since I was little, messages from Christ in the Gospel, comfort in the Psalms that I may have missed if I only relied on the Sunday morning readings to encounter the Word of God.

If we don't know Scripture, we don't know Christ

“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.," Saint Jerome is famous for saying. But Jerome isn't the only one saying that Scripture is important when it comes to encountering the Lord. 

In Dei Verbum, a dogmatic constitution on divine revelation promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1965, we find that Sacred theology rests in Scripture, together with sacred tradition "as its primary and perpetual foundation. By scrutinizing in the light of faith all truth stored up in the mystery of Christ, theology is most powerfully strengthened and constantly rejuvenated by that word. For the Sacred Scriptures contain the word of God and since they are inspired, really are the word of God; and so the study of the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology.”

Sorry, GQ

GQ, you may say that the Bible is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned. But I know that Scripture is inspired, living, effective, and necessary for my journey to Heaven. The Notebook just isn't going to cut it for me. 

 

 
Are my thoughts on Scripture new fangled or pretty old (fashioned)?
You get to help me decided if I'm really an old fashioned girl
 

Beauty, Branding, and the New Evangelization

The world is full of truth, goodness, and beauty - and each of those play a beautiful role in the New Evangelization. Today, I'm sitting down with Jill Simon from Pink Salt Riot and visiting with her about the role that beauty plays in evangelization. 

Jill recently launched a course on branding for Catholic social media influencers. It's the perfect course for anyone who owns a small business, blogs, or works in ministry. It's a beautiful course that will help you "shift your focus off your own needs and desires for your business on to the tremendous potential your business has to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world." 

I first encountered Jill through her small business, Pink Salt Riot, and I'm so excited to share her love of beauty with you! 

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Can you tell us a little about your life as a Catholic artisan?

As a Catholic artisan, I see my art as an extension of my faith. I really wouldn’t know how to separate them even if I had to. Even when I am making things with little or not spiritual content the essence of how I create is formed by the person I am in Christ. I also believe that as an artisans we are special stewards of the beauty our world is looking for. We have a responsibility to spread and share that beauty through our work.


What role does beauty play in evangelization?

Bishop Barron has an amazing talk about this from last year’s LA Congress. He tells this wonderful story about being wooed by the splendor of major league baseball as a child, which ultimately leads him to dedicate a large part of his childhood life to the practice and study of baseball. It was the beauty that drew him in and grew that desire to learn more. Then he was properly disposed to receive the less exciting rules of baseball and the tedium of practice with joy because he had this clear picture of the beauty of baseball realized in it’s highest form – the major leagues. It’s the same with the faith.

If we show people the beauty of life in Christ (ultimately the saints and Christ Himself) they can be so much more disposed to receiving everything else that is a part of Catholic life – the dogma, Scriptures, and moral life.


What inspires the creation of your pieces at Pink Salt Riot?

I am inspired by the women I see living their lives full of faith in the desert of our modern world. I deeply desire to serve them and give them touch points in their life in that desert – tiny reminders of what they are living for and why. There are seriously the most amazing Catholic women in our Church right now. It is really incredible.


Can you tell us a little bit about your brand new branding class?

My new Branding Class is called “Branded Beauty: Branding for the New Evangelization.” It focused on defining your gifts and charisms as a road map for how God is calling you to serve, discerning who you are most called to serve, and figuring out how to connect the two. That’s branding. Branding is the bridge that translates what you are offering from you to the people you serve. And that’s precisely why branding well is essential to communicating our faith well with the people we serve.

If we aren’t communicating our businesses in a way that reaches people where they are, they’ll miss us. Our message will never be heard. Good and beautiful branding is one of our most valuable tools to cutting through the noise of modern life and bringing people in.

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You have gifts that need to be given and things you need to say! Want to sign up for 'Branding Beauty' and dig into the gifts that the Lord has blessed you with? Join me in this fantastic class by clicking here and using the code HALFOFF to get 50% off the class through April 30, 2018!

7QT 41: Restaurant hopping, deep sleep, and bookshelves

Happy Friday! It has been a crazy week in the Langr house. Joseph spent the week in Arizona while I stayed up here in Kansas City (mostly writing and drinking coffee, let's be honest). I'm so excited to go pick him up from the airport, but before I jump into the Prius and head his way, let's take a quick look back on this week: 

1. A local restaurant hop

Before Joseph left for the week, we wanted to have a night out last weekend. Saturday night, we decided to explore some Kansas City restaurants together. Two summers ago, we picked four restaurants in KC and got our appetizers, main course, dessert, and drinks at different spots. Saturday we picked three spots - we split a green chile and honey hamburger, ate German food, and ended up at our favorite ice cream spot in KC - Betty Rae's. Take a look at just a small portion of their incredible menu - yep, those are all ice cream flavors: 

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Going out for dessert is so tricky for us. I'm sure there are tons of fantastic place to stop and get dessert in KC. But our favorite ice cream spot is so dang good. We're always afraid that if we go somewhere else, we'll regret it and think 'Gosh dangit, we could have been eating our favorite ice cream right now." 

Betty Rae's featured flavor right now is 'Chicken and Waffles'. Yes, it has chicken pieces in it. Nope, I didn't taste it. You'll have to ask Joseph what it was like. I'm not one to put meat chunks in my ice cream. We both ended up with a scoop of our all time favorite flavor: lavender and honey. If you're ever in KC, stop by Betty Rae's - and make sure you get their homemade waffle cones. You won't regret it! 

Are you a KC native? Do you have any favorite dessert spots we should try out?

 

2. Whoa, this is the greatest show!

I finally caught up with the rest of the world and watched 'The Greatest Showman' for the first time Wednesday night. Some friends came over for dinner and then we settled in to watch. It was fantastic. I'll probably have more thoughts later that may turn into a separate blog post, but for now, all you need to know is that this is what I'll be like in my car today. 

3. Deep sleep

I've been wearing my Ava bracelet for almost a week now and I love seeing all this extra data. My favorite data to watch load in the morning is my sleep patterns. I've discovered that I have a lot less deep (REM) sleep than average.  Joseph was gone in Arizona all week for a work conference, so I had the bed all to myself. I wasn't sure how I'd sleep without him there, but it turns out that I had the best deep sleep I've ever had when he was gone. We'll see how my sleep patterns are next week! 

 

4. And in the parish there was adoration, E I E I O

After listening to Father's homily on Sunday about the importance of recognizing Christ in the Eucharist, I decided to sign up for a morning adoration hour at our parish.

Joseph and I have an adoration hour together on Monday nights. I love sitting with Jesus in the quiet night. It's peaceful and quiet - perfect reading time. Wednesday morning holy hours? Not so much. It turns out that band practice for the Catholic school at our parish is also Wednesday mornings at 9:00am. My adoration prayers were a mix of spending time with the Lord in Scripture and trying to stop myself from humming along with 'Old McDonald', complete with a brass trumpet section. 

 

5. The mail man thinks we're crazy

I don't know what our mail man thinks of us, but if I were to wager a guess, he's probably wondering what the heck we're ordering to get so many packages. Turns out they're all books sent to me by publishers for review or podcast guests. But there hasn't been many days this week where I haven't gotten a package.

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Check out this stack of books that I'm working through - I can't wait to share them with you on the blog and on the podcast!

 

6. Too many books? I think you mean not enough bookshelves

A good friend gave us her two bookshelves when she moved, and I was so excited. I stored them in my parents house, but when I was over for a visit on Monday night, I took one home with me. They're big bookshelves - 72 inches long - so it took up almost all of my car. But dang it, I was able to get that shelf home.

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Before we watched 'The Greatest Showman' I asked the girls to help me get the bookcase out of the car and into our basement. Isn't it gorgeous? We're building up quite the little library and I'm so excited. Good thing there's still one more bookshelf of the same size to pick up from my parents . . . I think we're going to need it. 

 

7. A letter to the woman experiencing infertility

This week, I was so blessed to sit down with Connie Poulos and chat about her experience with infertility as a Catholic woman. If you're a woman who experiences infertility, she wants you to know that you're not alone. You're His daughter. Take a listen to the episode here

 

4 Things I Wish I Would Have Known Before Discerning My Vocation

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In March 2016, on top of a mountain, I said ‘yes’ to a marriage proposal from the love of my life. Ten months later, I vowed before my friends and family that I would love my husband, Joseph, ’til death do us part. My wedding day marked the end of my vocational discernment journey.

I love thinking about how good the plans of the Lord are – even during the times when I couldn’t fully comprehend them. While I am so glad to have joyfully discerned my vocation, there is a special place in my heart for those who are still on that journey. Family and community surrounded me during  my vocational discernment, and every one of them offered pieces of heartfelt advice and wisdom. But, looking back, there are some things that I wish someone would have told me before I started discerning my vocation to marriage.

Read the four things I wish someone would have told me before I started discerning my vocation over at Catholic Singles!  

Your Smartphone Is Sabotaging Your Romantic Relationships - Here's What You Can Do About It

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echnology and big ideas have changed the world we live in. Our phones tells us what the weather forecast is, reminds us of our appointments, and helps us get in shape. You can listen to music, watch videos, and encounter culture on your smart device. Your phone helps you connect with friends, family, and can even help you get a date.

But as wonderful as your smart phone is, it’s actually sabotaging your romantic relationships. Today’s technology is hindering (not helping) romance. According to psychotherapist Esther Perel, apps like Instagram and Tinder may really be hurting our chances at authentic relationships.

In an interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, Perel explained why she thinks online dating and dating apps have transformed romance today. It all has to do with too many choices, she said.  “If I have a choice between two people, it’s rather limiting. In the village, I had a choice between two people. Later, I had a choice between six or 10 or 15 people, and that was a lot better. When I have a choice between 1,000 people, it’s crippling.” Perel calls this notion “romantic consumerism.” Because of all the options out there, we’re constantly checking for something better somewhere else.

“I’m, on the one hand, looking for the soulmate, the one-and-only,” Psychotherapist Esther Perel explained. “That one-and-only is supposed to be the one that’s going to to fulfill you. It’s not just a person with whom you’re going to have the basic needs of Maslow, not even the belonging needs of Maslow — it’s the self-fulfilling needs.  But you’re constantly checking there is nothing better there.”

Because of their relationship with technology and the numerous dating apps someone can have downloaded all at once, this changes how we commit to each other. For single people today, the sign of commitment comes in the form of deleting dating apps. There’s no greater sign of commitment than stopping the interaction with other potential romantic relationships and deleting the opportunities for more searches. But the road to commitment is a road often left untraveled today.

With endless choices of apps, uncountable lists of people to encounter online, this leads to what Perel refers to as stable ambiguity. “This means I like you. I date you. We meet on occasion. But I’m simmering a few others as well. I’m with you just enough so I don’t have to feel lonely.”

One fear that many people with their smartphone in their pocket are facing is FOMO – the fear of missing out. So instead of committing to one person and pursuing an intentional relationship with him or her, single people will have conversations and interactions with many people all going on at once. Thanks to our smart phones, we have access to a constant feed of potential romantic partners. And while this “simmering” of interaction with others can help curb the feeling of loneliness, it’s also a huge roadblock to commitment. A single, committed romantic relationship requires giving up some freedoms, after all.

If Esther Perel is right, and  your smartphone is somewhat to blame for romantic relationship troubles, what can you do instead? Read my solutions over at Catholic Singles

A Letter to the Woman Planning Her Wedding

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Congratulations on your engagement, sister! I'm so excited for you and the adventures that Christ has in store for your future marriage. You've found the one who your soul loves, and that is something beautiful to celebrate.

As exciting as your upcoming wedding day is, planning for that big day can be stressful. You'll quickly find out the many little things that have to be done on your way to the altar. Trust me, I didn't even know about half of the things that went into wedding planning until Joseph and I started planning our wedding almost two years ago. 

Don't get me wrong - planning a wedding is absolutely beautiful. But it can also be incredibly overwhelming. It can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders.

You want to enjoy your time as a fiancee and make the choice to love your beloved. But instead, the to-do list before the wedding day presses in on you. Your mind is swirling with questions about bridesmaid dresses, reception locations, and RSVP's. Sometimes you feel like you can't breathe.

As an engaged woman, it's oh-so tempting to wrap up your identity into wedding planning. Your time is eaten up by searching for the perfect dress (mermaid or empire waist?), planning the reception menu (wedding cake or pie?) and sorting through expectations from family and friends. It can be exhausting. 

It doesn't have to be exhausting. 

I wish I could sit down with you over a warm vanilla latte (or two) and visit with you. I'd want to hear all about the way that you and your soon-to-be husband met. I'd ask you what you're most excited for when it comes to marriage. But, since we may just know each other through this blog, that may not be possible.

So here's what I'd say during that coffee date - your engagement is such a beautiful season. The world tells us to rush through it. The culture tells us to set up a count-down timer and get ready for the big day. Bridal magazines transform this season of your life into one constant to-do list full of things to check off. 

But this season is really a time to dig deep into relationship with people, not worry about things. The big day you're planning? It's a day where you're going to vow to a man that you're going to choose to love him in sickness and in health. On the good days and the bad days. When things run smooth and when things feel like they are falling apart. 

So I'm going to invite you to do something you may think is crazy.

Spend as much time planning for your marriage as you do planning for your wedding. If time permits, actually, spend more time planning for your marriage. Take time to prepare your heart. Take a breath, put away the wedding plans for a night, and go on a date night with the man you love. 

And don't talk about the wedding. 

Instead, think about the first days of your relationship. Reminisce about your favorite moments with your beloved. Talk about your future marriage together. 

It may seem like all the matters right now are the table decorations, or coordinating the groomsmen to get their suits together. But there are much bigger things ahead of you than planning a wedding. Your engagement (and your future marriage) offer you an opportunity to grow in love.  

A little over a year ago, I married Joseph Langr. If I'm honest, I love him more today than I did on the day I vowed to spend the rest of my life with him. Every morning, when I'm resting in his arms and praying with him, I ask God to give me the grace to love Joseph better today than I did yesterday. Our lives together as the Langr family, I pray, are just beginning. 

I know you have a wedding to plan. But a wedding is a day. It's a beautiful, grace-filled, heart-swelling 24 hours. But it's just a day. But your marriage? Sister, I'm praying that your marriage is a life-time adventure.

7 QT 40: Pope Francis, free things, and books to read

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1. Rejoice and be Glad! 

Pope Francis' third apostolic exhortation came out this Monday and it's making headlines and waves. Just what is an apostolic exhortation? According to a guide for Church documents published by EWTN, an apostolic exhortation is used by the Pope “to communicate to the Church the conclusions [the Pope] has reached after consideration of the recommendations of a Synod of Bishops. He has also used it in other circumstances, such as to exhort religious to a deeper evangelical life.” Apostolic exhortations are considered to be some of the highest ranking papal documents, ranking after Encyclical Letters.

Gaudete et exsultate is all about practical ways to holiness. In Gaudete et exsultate, Pope Francis encouraged all people today to embrace the call to holiness in today’s modern world. Want to know more? Here are 7 things Pope Francis wants you to know about holiness, and his five signs of holiness in today's world. Oh, and you're going to want to read what he has to say about women

If you haven't had a chance to read Gaudete et exsultate, make it your weekend reading. It's an easy read, and it's not too long. Before you read it, check out this article about how to (and how not to read!) the exhortation. 

 

2. All the (free) things

Up to this point in my life, I've never won anything. Sweepstakes, raffles, contests . . .they all pass me by. I haven't even won a cake at the church social cake walk. Until now, friends. I'm declaring my 23rd year as the year of all the free things. I've won movie tickets and blog giveaways. A couple weeks ago, I guessed a baby's due date right on Facebook and got a free Catholic subscription box. I'm telling you, I don't even know how to handle this luck. 

If I were smart, I'd head out to buy a lottery ticket. But hey, why buy one? I have a pretty good chances of winning a ticket in a giveaway at this point. 

 

3. Super smart watches

Thanks to our lack of doctor appointments this year, Joseph and I have quite a bit of money in our HSA account. We decided to buy an Ava watch, which is a clinically tested device that uses sensors to reveal what's really happening in a woman's body during a cycle.

I think that charting your fertility as a woman may be the best self-care you can give yourself, so I'm excited to see all the extra data that Ava gathers! 

I wore the Ava watch last night for the first time, woke up, and synced the data with the app on my phone. Well, I tried to sync the information. First I had to battle my way through blue tooth, low phone battery, finding a charger that I'd buried in my purse, and plugging everything in. But after that, it was neat to see how much sleep I'd gotten, how much deep sleep I'd actually gotten, what my body temperature was, and what my heart rate was last night. 

Understand Your Health Through Your Cycle

More information about experience with Ava will be coming as the months go on! You can find out more about Ava and the technology it uses here

4. We're going to need another bookshelf

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I've received so many beautiful books to read for my podcast and blog this week! I can't wait to share the topics with you soon. This week, I'm digging into a book on annulments perfectionism and parenting, gratitude, marriage and being a brave woman. Needless to say, we're going to need another bookshelf (or seven). 

 

5. Speaking of books . . . 

After tackling Father Gallagher's Discernment of Spirits, my women's accountability picked another book for our formation nights. We ended up deciding on Henri Nouwen's Life of the Beloved. Holy smokes, friends. If you haven't dug into this book, you need to

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We read the prologue this week and met to discuss our favorite parts of the book. Sister Miriam James Heidland hosts a weekly podcast with Michelle Benzinger and Heather Khym called Abiding Together. This Lent, they read Life of the Beloved together, so our women's group begins the discussion by listening to the podcast episode that corresponds to our reading that night. Spoiler alert, it's fantastic. 

Still on the fence of whether you should put this book on your 'to-read' list? Check out this quote we're pondering this week: "Your story is the story with which you can come to know God's story better. And it is His story that makes your story worth living." 

 

6. Jesus invented the selfie

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Next week on The Catholic Podcast, Joe Heschmeyer visits with Sebastian D'Amico from Holy Family School of Faith here in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. They're going to be discussing the Shroud of Turin. Joe and Sebastian discuss the theology, history, and science behind either the most incredible art history forgery in the history of the world, or the most incredible relic in all of Christendom. You'll be able to listen to their episode on Monday. Find it on iTunes, Google Play, or at cathpod.com

 

7. Wilson stages a protest

Although Wilson loves his rug of freedom, sometimes his mood prevents him from enjoying a good time. This week, my women's accountability group came over for our books study and we opened Wilson's cage. But instead of hopping around and seeing everyone, he stayed in his cage and glared at everyone. It's okay, Wilson, we all have bad days. 

Pope Francis' Beautiful Affirmation of the Feminine Genius

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This week, Pope Francis released an apostolic exhortation this week titled Gaudete et exsultate, “Rejoice and be glad”.

So just what is an apostolic exhortation? According to a guide for church documents published by EWTN, an apostolic exhortation is used by the Pope “to communicate to the Church the conclusions [the Pope] has reached after consideration of the recommendations of a Synod of Bishops. He has also used it in other circumstances, such as to exhort religious to a deeper evangelical life.” 

Apostolic exhortations are usually written as the Pope reflects on a Synod of Bishops. In the case of Gaudete et exsultate, the Pope’s writings will reflect on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s letter to bishops. The letter was issued in the beginning of March and discussed topics concerning Christian salvation. Apostolic exhortations are considered to be some of the highest ranking papal documents, ranking after Encyclical Letters

In Gaudete et exsultate, Pope Francis encouraged all people today to embrace the call to holiness in today’s modern world. But this apostolic exhortation isn’t just about understanding what holiness means.

Instead, Pope Francis’ goal with this apostolic exhortation was to re-propose the call to holiness. “What follows is not meant to be a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions helpful for understanding this important subject, or a discussion of the various means of sanctification,” Pope Francis wrote in the first few paragraphs of the apostolic exhortation. “My modest goal is to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities.”

This apostolic exhortation is full of practical, beautiful wisdom. Everyone should read Gaudete et exsultate – but, to get you started, here is the beautiful message the Pope Francis wrote to women and their role in striving for holiness:

"Within these various forms, I would stress too that the 'genius of woman' is seen in feminine styles of holiness, which are an essential means of reflecting God’s holiness in this world. Indeed, in times when women tended to be most ignored or overlooked, the Holy Spirit raised up saints whose attractiveness produced new spiritual vigor and important reforms in the Church. We can mention Saint Hildegard of Bingen, Saint Bridget, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. But I think too of all those unknown or forgotten women who, each in her own way, sustained and transformed families and communities by the power of their witness." 

Pope Francis not only affirms the writings on Saint Pope John Paul II on the feminine genius, but encourages women specifically in their specific, feminine style of holiness. He calls this feminine holiness essential to reflecting the goodness and love of God into today's culture.

Precisely in the moments of history where women were overlooked, the Catholic Church saw the rise of incredible women saints. But holiness is not just for these amazing women, it's for us, too. Pope Francis affirms that each woman, in her own, unique way, is called to transform today's world with a beautiful life of holiness. 

Want to read more about the Pope's latest writing? Check out the full document on the Vatican's website (trust me, it's a beautifully easy read). For commentary on the rest of the exhortation, check out these seven things that Pope Francis wants you to know about holiness

 

Shame, Mary Magdalene, and the Blessed Mother

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Have you ever struggled with a sin so large that you don't want to see anyone? You don't want to tell anyone your story. You're confident that you will take your struggle to the grave. You just want to hide in a corner and never come out. 

Well, you're not alone. Hiding when we've done something wrong is nothing new - it's actually part of the human condition.

If we trace human history all the way back to the first man and woman, we see shame at play in the story of Adam and Eve. Genesis 3:8 says: "When they heard the sound of the Lord God walking about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden." 

I know what it's like to hide from the Lord, ashamed of my sin. But after I've hidden from God, I start to hide from others in my life, too. I don't want people to see me in my messiness. In the past, I've worried that my story is too much for them to handle.

Someone who is on the list of those who I run from when I'm covered in my sin is the Blessed Mother.

I write about the subject of the feminine genius quite a bit, and I have a whole podcast dedicated to exploring what it means to live in today's world as a Catholic woman. I love diving deep into the heart of Catholic femininity. Each woman lives out the feminine genius in a beautifully unique way - but one woman lives out the feminine genius to it's absolute fullest, and that's Mama Mary. 

Her constant yes to the Lord is the ultimate exemplar of receptivity. Her beautiful, giving heart shows us how to be generous. Her awareness of the needs of others is an example of feminine sensitivity. She lives out physical maternity through the birth of the Lord, and is a model for spiritual maternity since she sees each and every one of us as her children. 

So when I struggle to live out the feminine genius, when I stumble along the path to holiness, I hide from Mary. My shame has kept me from getting close to her. I used to think "Mary is so beautiful and good, why would she even want to get close to my ugly messiness? I'm too messy for them." 

In this struggle, a story I have found incredibly helpful in the healing process is the story of Mary Magdalene - a story shared with my by Sarah Burns of Little Tabernacle. We don't know much about this woman in Scripture. Really, all we know for sure is that Christ released her from seven demons. When Christ frees Mary, He redeems her entire story. She goes from possession by seven demons to living a life of unbridled joy, pursuing the Lord and following in His footsteps. 

Want to learn more about Mary Magdalene? Check out this episode of The Catholic Podcast

Can you imagine what could have been going through Mary Magdalene's head when she met Our Lady? Mary Magdalene's life was riddled with mistakes. Shame could have easily gotten the best to her. 

But where do we find Mary Magdalene during Christ's passion? At the foot of the cross. And who is she standing with? Our Lady. Mama Mary isn't condemning Mary Magdalene, or shaming her for her past life. Instead, she invites Mary to stand next to her and supports her. What a beautiful example of feminine compassion, love, and mercy in the Blessed Mother's heart. 

If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.
— Brene Brown, 'Daring Greatly'

I love this image from The Passion - a moment where Mama Mary had ever right to break down, collapse, and sob. Our Lord was on the way to the cross - her son, on His way to die for all of humankind. But Mama Mary, in an absolutely beautiful moment of feminine genius, draws Mary Magdalene to herself and is sensitive to her needs. She pulls her close and cries with her. 

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Maybe you, like me, struggle with shame. Perhaps you too have a tendency to want to hide from the Blessed Mother in your messy moments. But the next time you feel like your story is too much, run to the Blessed Mother.

Saint Alphonsus Liguori writes beautifully about what we can do in times of shame. "Since Mary is this auspicious light, created for poor sinners, what should people do if they find themselves in the darkness of sin? Let them cast their eyes on the moon. Let them pray to Mary."

Shame can't survive when it is washed with empathy and understanding, which is exactly what Our Lady wants to offer us. 

Mary, hope of sinners, lead us to the feet of your Son.

7QT 39: Sister sleepovers, coffee, and Wilson's wild weekend

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It's Friday!! This week has been full of Easter celebrations, sleepovers, and tons of coffee. But before I head out to Dunkin (again), let's take a quick look at the adventures in the Langr house this week:

 

1. Easter vigil celebrations

Joseph and I were able to spend all of the Triduum at our parish here in Kansas City and it was beautiful! We ended our Holy Week with the Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday night. It's hands down my favorite Mass of the entire year. I mean, what more could a night owl who is also a recovering pyromaniac want? You mean I get to hold a burning candle through part of the Mass? Sign. Me. Up.

After Mass (where nine people were welcomed home into the Catholic Church!) Joseph and I went out for a drink at one of our local bars. Since the KU basketball game was on that night, anything that wasn't a sports bar was beautifully empty. So we had a good portion of the bar to ourselves. Some people go get pancakes after Easter Vigil. The Langrs go out for a beer. I mean, they both are grain products, right?

 

2. Sister sleepovers

Sofia, my littlest little sister, turns six this month. To celebrate, Joseph and I asked her to spend the night on Easter. She was so excited. There were multiple times during evening when my parents were still here that Sofia would wander up to mom and whisper "Are you guys leaving yet?". She was ready to party.

The next morning, I asked Sofia what she would like to do that day with me. Ice cream? Explore Kansas City? Go play in the snow? "Actually, I just want to play with Wilson and go the dollar store". Oh, to be six years old again! 

Erica from Dot Dot Smile sent us over matching dresses - which were so fun! Sofia loved matching, and asked me to save my size dress so that, when she is older, she can wear it too. 

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3. A family of bibliophiles (and caffeine addicts)

Before we hit the road back to my parents house, Sofia and I made two absolutely necessary stops - the library and Dunkin Donuts. Sofia couldn't figure out why she couldn't keep the books she checked out from the KC library and return them in Topeka. But that didn't stop her from picking out eight books. And promptly finishing them all before we got a mile down the road.

We swung by Dunkin and got coffee, hot chocolate, and donuts before heading back to mom and dad's. But before we reached the highway, Sofia was out like a light. We must have worn her out!

 

4. So this is what real makeup feels like

A dear friend of mine is cleaning up as she gets ready for a big move. After I dropped a very sleepy Sofia back off at my parent's house, I headed over to her place. She gave me a ton of gorgeous clothes and her makeup. 

Tuesday morning I put some of the makeup on and was blown away. Up until now, I've always worn E.L.F. makeup or things I've picked up from Walmart. Not any more - this makeup is incredible (and I'm not a makeup person). I played around with the new makeup, and began to think this was what people must have felt like during the enlightenment. 

 

5. It's a Dunkin' Donuts kind of . . . week

Sofia and I hit Dunkin on our way out of town, and then I went back to Dunkin Tuesday night. I needed a night to work on some writing projects, and Joseph had guys coming over to the house. I swore this Dunkin closed at 9pm, but it turned out that their lobby closed at 8pm. Since I needed to be away from the house 'til at least 9pm, I figured it was worth it to ask and make sure. The barista quickly told me that she has to stay 'til 9pm to keep the drive though open, so I could stay all the way up to 9pm in the lobby if I wanted to. And of course, I wanted to. 

I'd call that a DunkWIN moment. 

After I finish writing this, I'm headed out to Dunkin again to sample their cold brew and use the last of our T-Mobile Tuesday Dunkin coupons At this point, the people who work at Dunkin totally know me on a first name basis. 

 

6. The sheriff stops by (again)

The sheriff knows our address quite well (read about our adventures with the sheriff's department here). But even after we cleared up that the person they're looking for doesn't live here anymore, it turns out that message didn't get passed along the lines, yet. The sheriff left another notice on our front door Thursday night. Joseph promptly called the office and cleared things up (again). We'll see if the sheriff shows up at the door again today. 

What must our neighbors think? Don't worry, friends, we swear we're law abiding citizens. 

 

7. Wilson's wonderful weekend

Wilson had a crazy weekend. Saturday, before leaving for Easter Vigil Mass, Joseph and I let him roam around on his rug of freedom. But we turn the backs on the sneaky little guy for a few seconds and, before you know it, he's up ON TOP OF HIS CAGE. Just sitting there, nonchalantly like it is PERFECTLY NORMAL for him to be on top of his cage, not in it. 

His weekend of fun continued into Easter Sunday, too. He was the center of attention when everyone came over for Easter. The littles were hoping that he'd come out on his rug, but he decided to stay in his cage, protesting. That didn't stop Sofia, though. She promptly began to feed him timothy hay - which may have involved sticking a few pieces up his nose. 

7QT 38: Shrapnel, mac 'n cheese, and cilantro transplants

1. Holy Week Deep Cleaning

Monday of Holy Week always offers a unique conundrum. All the other days of the week are full of liturgy, beauty, and symbolism. Monday is just . . . well, it's Monday. So this year, I decided to do something different. With inspiration from Blessed is She, I deep cleaned the house Monday and had a quiet Monday. I turned off the music and podcasts I normally listened to, and took one day to prepare for the busyness of Holy Week. 

It was such a beautiful time to prepare - and (bonus!) the house was clean for Easter Sunday. Speaking of Easter . . . 

 

2. Easter Sunday, Langr style

This year, Joseph and I invited all of our family down for Easter dinner - yep, all of them. We decided that if we wait for a house big enough to have everyone over, we'll never invite anyone over. So all 15 members of our immediate family are headed over Sunday afternoon. 

What's on the menu? A mac 'n cheese bar with tons of toppings, salad, dessert, and, of course, coffee. I'll let you know next week how it turns out. We're so excited to have everyone up here!

 

3. Metal shrapnel spewing may occur. . . 

I got a notice in the mail that my Toyota Matrix had a recall. Normally, since my car just hit 230,340 miles, I am not in a huge rush to get things fixed. But this recall was for my passenger side airbag, again. The recall came with the warning that, upon the activation of the passenger side airbag, metal shrapnel may fly into the face of whoever is sitting in my passenger front seat. That sounded horrible, so I made an appointment to get it fixed. 

I've already taken the car into the dealership for the same issue, but the fix didn't work. So I went back Wednesday at 7:40 in the morning.

But here's the thing - I love when there's a recall on my car. I take the car into the dealership, which is just ten minutes down the road. Their waiting area is like a freelance writer Heaven. Tons of outlets, they bring in Dunkin Donuts, there's free coffee. If you have a Toyota recall in the KC area, let me know. I'll gladly take you car into the dealership for you and get some writing done while I wait. 

 

4. Holy Week

I work at a local Catholic bookstore, and had been warned that Holy Week was beautifully busy. They weren't lying - the days fly by and there is a steady rush of customers. I love seeing people finish up their Easter baskets, find cards for their family, and listening as people share their Lenten stories. 

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Still need that special something for your parish priest, RCIA candidate, or Confirmation student? Check out Sock Religious for quirky, hilarious socks for everyone on your gift list. 

 

5. All the grocery options

Joseph and I have been eating simple meals all throughout Lent. Today we did some grocery shopping for next week and Easter, and holy smokes, there. are. so. many. options. It took us a few minutes to adjust to shopping for more  things than just oatmeal, sandwich stuff, chicken, and curry. 

As a bonus, ALDI has so many new things to buy now. Pre-made salads and fruits greeted us in the produce section. In bad news, the almond cereal we used to eat (but had given up for Lent in exchange for oatmeal) is now gone. It turns out that after the Langrs stopped buying it, they must have decided to discontinue it. 

 

6. Re-homing our cilantro

Our cilantro plant has outgrown its litte terracotta plant. Today we transplanted it to a new, bigger pot that we bought from IKEA the last time we were there. We had hoped to split the growing cilantro plant into two pots, but when we dug the plant out (with a spoon, we're garden professionals), it kind of fell apart. So into one pot it went. 

Our cilantro plant now looks kind of lethargic, so we'll see if it survives the transplant. If not, we will have enough cilantro for one taco. Which is something. 

 

7. The Catholic Podcast is starting a new series

I co-host The Catholic Podcast with Joe Heschmeyer. Throughout Lent, we looked at the passion through the difference characters of the Bible. Monday, we'll be starting a new series - The Physical Case for Catholicism. We're starting out with the empty tomb on Easter morning! Check in on Monday to hear what we chat about.