Friday, March 28, 2014

#7QT: Vocational Reading

By Brittany Makely


A little over four years ago, I began a new vocation – wife. Almost three years ago, the vocation of motherhood got added. In preparation for our wedding, my husband and I each chose one book to read on love and/or marriage. I chose Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s Three to Get Married. Best decision ever. I so appreciated Sheen’s gentle but firm exploration of the purpose of marriage and both the beauty and trial most spouses experience sometime between “I do” and “til death do us part.”

Three to Get Married was one of several books that have provided indispensable advice, clarity, and encouragement to me as I navigate the most important callings of my life to serve and love my husband and children. Here are six other equally impactful books that I highly recommend to all spouses and parents. Most of these are not written specifically on the subject of vocations or directed toward spouses or parents, but their essence is.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Marriage is hard, but don't panic

By Mary C. Tillotson
Blessing of the Young Couple Before Marriage
by Pascal Dagnan Bouveret, 1880
Public Domain

After complaining about all the “marriage is hard” reminders I got during my engagement and rounding up two other married women to write notes of encouragement to young, frightened brides, I found myself typing an email to a college friend of mine, telling her that marriage is, of all things, hard. Perhaps I ought to forgive the older wives. Perhaps, like I was, they were trying to be helpful.

Most young brides are naive and doe-eyed about marriage, and I think we should let them begin their marriage doe-eyed and trusting! Marriage is a risk, and new wives will learn soon enough that love this deep carries the potential to be hurt this deeply. Don’t lecture them with horror stories or pass on your jaded view of marriage. It’s wrong to needlessly undermine their ability to love and trust their new husbands.

In college, worried about my ability to be a decent mother someday, I asked a mother of six to teach me how to change a diaper. While we were chatting over her wiggly six-month-old, she told me that no matter how prepared you are for motherhood, 90 percent of it you make up on the spot. I think the same is true of marriage. At least so far, mine’s been like that.

It’s impossible to describe to a new bride what marriage really entails, because some things can only be learned through experience. Even if it were possible to communicate to the new bride exactly how it feels to confront one’s own pettiness (and that of one’s spouse) in the inevitable argument over how to fold towels, what would that accomplish? She will still have that argument. And she will have it with her husband, not anyone else’s; she will bring her personality and experience to the table, not anyone else’s. She and her new husband need to learn how to make their relationship work, not anyone else’s.

I think young brides do need to hear that marriage is hard, but not from jaded or micromanaging wives. Marriage is hard sometimes, and it’s startling, at least at first, and it’s comforting to know that there’s no need to panic. Here is what I started writing to my friend:

Marriage is going to be difficult in ways you can’t imagine right now. It’s going to test you and try you and stretch you and call you to a kind of love that doesn’t even make sense to you, at least right away. You’re going to become painfully aware of your own immaturity and pettiness, and of your husband’s. You will find yourself failing over and over, and him, too; you will be tempted to despair and wonder if you made the right decision.

But don’t dwell on that right now. Right now, be joyful; plan your wedding and look forward to many long, happy years together. If you both work together and cooperate with grace, that’s what your marriage will be. Believe in love, because love is real; you have every reason to believe you will have a great marriage.

Tuck away those reminders that marriage is hard. Don’t stress yourself out over it. Soon enough the two of you will hit a bump in the road, and you’ll be surprised that marriage could be like this. Think back on what you heard, and take courage: this may be the hardest, most painful thing you’ve been dealt up until now, but many other women – many other marriages – have dealt with this kind of thing before. It is normal. Work through it and you will find a kind of love and joy and peace that you can’t imagine right now.

What do you think? Married women, what advice do you think would be helpful for young brides? Engaged women, what kind of encouragement could you use?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Not All Men Are Creepers

The Rest on the Flight to Egypt by Gerard David, 1510.
By Mary C. Tillotson

Today, in the Catholic Church, we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph, one of the more important feasts on our calendar. We honor St. Joseph as the spouse of Mary and foster father of Jesus; as such, he’s a model for husbands and fathers everywhere. He’s a patron of families and workers and all sorts of other things.

This is one of my favorite paintings of St. Joseph. The Holy Family is on its way to Egypt, and St. Joseph is in the background, cutting firewood or harvesting food – doing what he can to make things a little more comfortable for Mary and baby Jesus.

St. Joseph is a good reminder that not all men are creepers – something even virtue-minded people too easily forget.

Remember those modesty debates we used to get into, especially in college when we didn’t have anything more important to talk about? My women friends and I would trek back to our dorms afterward and wonder the same thing aloud: do men exist who aren’t creepy and gross? Here are all these church-going, door-opening, chivalry-endorsing young men who claim they are involuntarily fixated on our private parts unless we’re wearing long skirts and turtlenecks, or whatever their particular standard was (it varied). Let’s all find a convent – quick.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Seeing Beauty in Imperfections

Displaying everlasting_moments1.jpg
By Emina Melonic
IlluminationThe Magic Lantern

It has been a while since I’ve seen a film as beautiful and poetic as Everlasting Moments (Swedish: Maria Larssons eviga √∂gonblick, 2008).  I did not know what to expect.  The synopsis said that it was about a woman who is trying to be a photographer at the turn of the 20th century.  She is facing many obstacles, one of them being her husband who is a drunk and a womanizer.  Given the usual ideological subtext present in cinema, which is artistically nuanced as a billboard on a highway, I am perpetually cautious as a viewer.  But ideology did not overtake this film.

The film centers on Maria Larsson, a wife and mother, who wins a camera in a lottery.  She is the focus of the film but her story is narrated by her daughter Maja.  Maria is struggling to take care of her family and is running into many difficulties, mainly because her husband, Sigfrid, is wasting money on drinking.  Sigfrid is an aggressive drunk, who occasionally beats Maria and the children, and this magnifies Maria’s suffering.

In order pay for the bills, she decides to take the camera she won in a lottery to the local photography studio.  Perhaps she might be able to sell it.  She meets Sebastian Pedersen, a photographer who primarily does portraits.  Instead of buying the camera, he suggests that Maria experience it first before she sells it.  Of course, she finds this frivolous in the midst of her suffering.  But she is at the same time intrigued by the “miracle” of development and printing of film.  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Shadows on the Rock

By Rebekah Randolph
A Mad Tea Party

Last year, I read Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather. She has become one of my favorite authors, not least because of her attention to life's small things. In this book, I was struck by how the "small things" of homemaking, in particular, became the spine and spirit of a community.

The story follows a young girl in the French colony of Quebec circa 1700. The French settlers have been uprooted from their homeland (albeit willingly) and set down in a place entirely foreign to them. All their comforts derive from the traditions they have managed to carry across the Atlantic.

Quebec's homemakers therefore play a far more meaningful role than is apparent on the surface. They function as guardians of a more refined way of life. Through their everyday duties, they infuse reason, warmth, and stability into a world otherwise marked by ignorance, crudity, and violence.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Letter to a Young Woman about Balancing a Writing Career and Kids

By Joy Pullmann

A few days ago, a college freshman emailed me to ask how I manage to work and have kids, and what a regular work day looks like for me, and if I have advice for her now. She also wants to be a writer and mother. Here's my email back to her, edited a little to add clarity and delete a few things that are unique to her situation.

Dear [young lady],
A regular day looks like crazy. :) Like right now I am standing in a New York train with my sleeping 2-month-old hanging off me in a pack. I'm here for work. I have three kids under four, and it would be utterly impossible to work if my husband did not stay at home with us (you can always ship your kids off to daycare, but I thought that would be selfish of me and knew it is also bad for their development). The littlest guy is two months old, and I mostly work around his nap schedule (luckily, the little ones sleep a lot) while my husband wrangles the other two. If I have to take or make a phone call and must not have random whining in the background, my lucky husband wrangles all the kids.

Luckily, writing and editing is very flexible and can be done reasonably at home, which is where I and many writer/editor friends work. Once your baby is about 6 months old, however, you basically either need to go part-time or get childcare, or plan to work evenings and probably weekends also to fill in those breaks during the day when he is now awake and needs attention. And that is only really possible if you are lucky enough to get a baby who sleeps well (hah!).

Friday, March 7, 2014

7QT: Seven Things I Didn't Know About Single Motherhood

Image by Ashleigh W.
By Mary C. Tillotson

While basically all the research shows that kids do best when raised by their own two biological parents who are happily married to each other, many children are raised by single mothers. Politicians and political commentators argue until they’re blue (or red) in the face over how to handle the issue. The left argues for increased contraception and abortion; the right argues for promotion of sexual abstinence.

What neither side is doing is talking to the actual single mothers living in poverty to hear what they have to say.

I recently finished Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage by Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas, professors at Harvard and St. Joseph’s University. The two women spent several years in the poor areas in and around Philadelphia trying to understand why poor women so often raise children without fathers. They interviewed 162 women and condensed their research into a book – which you should read.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday, from the Mouth of a Child

By Joy Pullmann

I was trying to be a good mom two days ago by telling my three-year-old son about Ash Wednesday to help him prepare for and understand why we would be going to church and getting ashes on our head. I told him that's what would happen, and he asked why.

"Because we need to remember that doing bad things means we must all die," I said. Then, I hastened to add the good news: "It's ok, though, because Jesus will make us be alive again after we die."

My son started to pout. "No, I hate dying," he said, grumpily. "I don't want to." Yes, son, neither does just about anyone.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Raising Daughters in the Brave New World

By Chelsea Zimmerman
Reflections of a Paralytic

The already difficult task of raising daughters and protecting them from a society that seems to degrade them at every turn (or convince them that they aren’t beautiful enough, that their bodies aren’t perfect enough) is not getting any easier.

Remember the good old days when we used to only have to worry about a billion dollar sex industry and horny boys taking advantage of our girls and using them for their bodies? Well, now we also have to contend with a fast-growing biotech industry that is dependent on them putting their bodies on the line in order to obtain the “raw materials” needed for their experimentation.