Where Logic Meets Love

Blog Comment Carnival: December 2012

Monday, December 31, 2012

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Blog Comment Carnival: December 2012 | Faith Permeating Life

At the end of every month, I share my favorite comments from that month's posts, and you're invited to do the same and link up below!

This month's blog posts covered everything from privilege to weight to gun control to Christmas gifts to books. As always, whatever I wrote about, you responded with thoughtful and challenging comments.

Rather than highlighting specific comments from my Privilege 101 post, I invite you to read the discussions there and also see the additional links I've added since posting it.

I loved what Alice had to say on Ask Jessica: The Weight Edition post:
I totally agree it's about confidence, and loving what you do have. As an overweight child who became an overweight woman, it seems as if I've always really struggled with my body. This hasn't been helped by the fact that I've never dated, and my family isn't much on giving complements about anything.

It's only been recently that I've started to look at my body somewhat objectively, and beyond the labels that *I* put on it. I can see my strong legs, my delicate hands, the unique color of my eyes, and how I do have a shape that can be described in terms other than the ubiquitous "round."

I found My Body Gallery especially helpful in getting an objective look. It's a project that allows women to upload their photos, and specify their clothing size, weight, and height. Users can then type in their information, and see these pictures. I feel like it gives a much more realistic picture of what I really look like. No, I'm not thin, but nor am I as big as an elephant. I know of a couple other women who have appreciated looking at bodies much like their own, and have been pulled back into reality from that image our culture has so heavily promoted.

I absolutely agree that's about the health, rather than the number inside the dress or on the scale. It's all about being healthy and fit. Being underweight can be just as dangerous as overweight. It's all about finding what is best for your body.

Thus endth the novel :)

I provided a Snapshot of a Happy, Unconventional Marriage (mine!), and Beth could relate:
It was so refreshing to read this! My husband and I are both on weird schedules, each of us regularly getting pulled from first to second shift and back again. On top of it, we're both in grad school and involved in volunteer organizations. It might not be an ideal situation, but it works for now. Whenever one of us comes home or leaves for the day, we'll give each other a kiss and say "I love you," even if it means we both end up getting woken up sometimes. (This is not a suggested technique if your significant other is as liable to throw a pillow at you as they are to kiss you if you wake them up mid-slumber). We do little things for each other. Despite his lack of expertise in the kitchen, my husband made a valiant effort to make me a grilled cheese when I was sick this week before he disappeared into his office to work on a final project for class. The sandwich ended up a pile of soggy bread and melted cheese and butter, but it made me smile anyway.

So anyhow, we make it work and we're happy, even if it means fielding a lot of questions and ignoring some raised eyebrows when he or I go places without the other. Now and then, the plain truth is just that my husband would rather get some much-needed sleep than have dinner with my girlfriends, and since I'm ok with that, and he's ok with that, then I guess everyone else just has to be ok with that :)

Then I shared my Thoughts on Sandy Hook, or How America's Talking in Circles.

Mórrígan made an excellent point:
I just wish people would stop theorizing and listen to the experts, look at the statistics, and have a fact-based discourse leading the beneficial changes.

And Melbourne on My Mind shared a non-American's perspective:
I've actually been avoiding commenting on the whole thing. Partly because it affected me far more than I would have thought possible, and partly because as an Australian, I find it difficult to understand America's determination to keep access to guns unchanged.

I've mentioned the changes to Australia's gun laws after the Port Arthur massacre of 1996 (semi-automatics and privately owned hand guns are illegal. Automatics were already illegal for private citizens) on Facebook in the past, and ended up trapped in conversations with gun nuts that ended in "Well, f*ck you, we've got nuclear weapons and you don't". So part of why I've been avoiding commenting is wanting to avoid similar arguments!

I totally agree with you, there's no simple solution. I just hope that America can work together to actually FIND a solution, rather than treating the symptoms of the problem individually. (If I see one more person say that the solution is to have armed police and metal detectors in every school, I will SCREAM. Because NO. That is not a solution.)

Finally, I gave you some Last-Minute Gift Ideas for Hard-to-Shop-For Folks, and several people added their own suggestions.

Queen of Carrots said:
Love the postcard idea. It is so hard to get gifts for the elderly and that would be really special.

I agree on the coupons. Nobody ever cashes them in. Well, hardly ever. My parents did give us coupons for overnight babysitting this year, and we did use them. It actually helped a lot because it let us know how much they were willing to do, so we didn't feel bad about asking. I notice there's a large package for us this year, and I'm kind of hoping they still tucked those overnight babysitting cards in somewhere--otherwise I don't know if I will be willing to ask or not.

Katie made me laugh:
A lot of good ideas here! I'm done with my shopping for this year, but these are good to keep in mind.

Charity donations in someone's name always makes me think of Seinfeld, where George was giving people donations in their name to "the Human Fund," which he had made up.

And Rachel added some great ideas:
For the birthday of a good friend of mine, I wrapped up two copies of a book, one for her and one for me. I knew neither of us had read it, even though it had won many awards and had great reviews. We read it at the same time and met at a coffee shop to have a "book group" of two (my treat, of course, since that was also part of the gift). It was a gift that was fun to give and receive!

Giving to charities in someone's name can be good if you tailor it carefully to the person. For instance, I sometimes donate to the humane society for my partner's family, since they are BIG animal lovers. I love when people give me charitable donations as gifts, too, but that's just me.

An important question for my commenters: I started getting hit incessantly with spam comments, so I turned off anonymous commenting, but this kept some people from commenting. I switched instead to Captcha about two months ago, which also stopped the spam, but which I know people hate. I tried turning it off last week and the spam onslaught immediately started again. So which option would you prefer going forward: Captcha, or no anonymous commenting?

Thanks for all the fantastic conversations this year that have made this blog what it is. I'm looking forward to many more enlightening discussions in 2013!

2012 Reading Wrap-Up

Friday, December 28, 2012

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2012 Reading Wrap-Up | Faith Permeating Life

It's almost the end of 2012, which means it's time for some end-of-year wrap-up posts!

I am taking the idea for today's post from Emily at Love Woke Me Up This Morning, who shared a list of questions related to books. Since people seem to like my book recommendations, I thought this would be a good thing to share. You can answer the questions yourself in comments here or write your own post and share the link over on Emily's blog!

1) How many books did you read this year?
I don't remember if I've mentioned it before, but I have a journal where I keep a record of all the books I read. I've been doing it since 2006, and it's a fun way to keep track of what I've read (and also a good way to jog my memory for 3BoT posts!). Anyway, since January 1st of this year I've read 39 books, which is kind of low for me. I like to aim for 52, or a book a week. I'm almost done with the book I'm reading now, so it should end up being a round 40 for the year.

2) Which book surprised you the most?
Probably Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog. I picked up this book at the library only because my brother texted me a picture of the cover with some message like "Haha rats" because we had our pet rats at the time and the book had a picture of a rat for the "Some We Hate" animal. The writing was a little choppy, but surprisingly it was a very interesting book and I've found myself referencing it more than once in conversations about animals and ethics.

3) Which book were you the most disappointed in?
Both The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson came highly, highly recommended, and I thought both of them were kind of "meh." To give you an idea -- I listened to The Devil in the White City on audiobook during my runs, and it somehow accidentally skipped two entire hours in the middle of the book. I didn't notice until I finished the book and saw that the files in my iTunes had never been listened to. Whoops.

4) Did you start any new book series?
Actually, no, I didn't read any series this year. Unless Neil Gaiman ever writes a sequel to Neverwhere, which is apparently a possibility. But I probably wouldn't read it if he did because I would have forgotten the entire plot of the first book by then.

5) Did you wrap up any series?
Nope. I tend to read series after they're already all out and I can read through the whole thing. This has the dual benefit of 1) getting immediate gratification of cliffhangers and 2) being less disappointed if the books after the first one suck, since I wasn't waiting in anticipation for an entire year.

6) Which book had your favorite cover?
I'm gonna go with Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (the Bloggess), which has on the cover a picture of a stuffed mouse dressed up like a Shakespearean actor -- see picture above. This is just one of several taxidermied animals that Jenny actually owns, all of which are costumed in some way, and I find it hilarious/awesome that they used a photograph of her actual dead mouse for the cover.

7) What books are you looking forward to in 2013?
I have no idea what's coming out in 2013. I'm usually several years behind on reading books because I get them from the library a long time after they're popular because I'm cheap like that. But I know Dianna E. Anderson is working on a book that will be out at some unspecified time in the future, and I sure as heck want to read that!

8) Do you have any (book-related) goals for 2013?
I'd like to get back up to reading 52 books a year. Keeping up a regular running schedule should help with this since I can get through audiobooks pretty quickly if I listen to them while I run. I also bought a Kindle this year so I take that in my work bag and can read on the bus. I got a bunch of iTunes and Amazon gift cards for my birthday and Christmas, so I guess one of my other goals is to actually buy books so I can read more books the same year they come out!

9) Any other books that deserve a shout out?
Let's Pretend This Never Happened, besides having an awesome cover, was hilarious. Look for a recommendation in an upcoming 3BoT post. I also enjoyed Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert, which I've referenced several times on this blog, and The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan.

10) What are you currently reading?
I'm almost done with The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins. I figured it would be good to read since I just started this new job. It's semi-relevant to me, but aimed more at managers. Then I just (on Emily's recommendation, and in accordance with my above resolution to spend my gift cards on books) bought and downloaded the audiobook for The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

11) What are your top 3 books for 2012?
This is way too hard to pick, so I'm going to split it by fiction and non-fiction.

Top 3 fiction:
  1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  2. The Time-Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  3. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Offenbaugh
Top 3 non-fiction:
  1. Torn by Justin Lee
  2. The Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans
  3. The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight
I loved Torn so much that I'm planning to do a very special giveaway to try to get more people reading and talking about it. So look out for that in the new year!

Share your answers in comments, or at least tell us what the best books you read this year were!

Last-Minute Gift Ideas for Hard-to-Shop-For Folks

Friday, December 21, 2012

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Last-Minute Gift Ideas for Hard-to-Shop-For Folks | Faith Permeating Life

We are traveling for the holidays, so I'm taking a break from blogging until next Friday. In the meantime, enjoy this updated repost of my gift suggestion guide from last year!

I've seen a lot of bloggers posting gift guides -- suggestions for what holiday gifts to buy for various people. So you can get advice for everyone in your life from the Jane Austen fan to the ballet dancer. (And Mórrígan's tongue-in-cheek Catholic Christmas gift guide is pretty hilarious.)

I like the idea of giving other people experiences. I've always heard that money is better spent on experiences than things in terms of boosting your happiness. For myself, I'm very particular about what I put on my Christmas list and for several years have requested that people give to specific charities rather than buy me something not on my list, simply because I don't like having too many "things" in our little apartment. And many of the people I know don't really need or want a lot of things either; my dad always struggles to put enough things on his list that everyone in the family can buy him something.

So here's my (updated) gift guide for giving experiences, not things.

Relaxation
I am not the kind of person who typically spends money on things like manicures and massages, but I do enjoy them enough that I'd get them on someone else's dime. I think there are a lot of people who are in this same boat: They enjoy getting pampered, but don't feel justified spending their hard-earned money this way. If you go this route, I suggest a gift card to a spa or similar place where there are a variety of options (massage, facial, manicure/pedicure), as what's relaxing for one person is uncomfortable for another.

Fun
This could be any number of things, depending on what the person enjoys. A round of golf (or mini-golf). A day at an amusement park. A zoo or museum membership. A gift card to get movie tickets or concert tickets of their choice. Something that gets them out of the house and doing something they find fun. On last year's post, Sarah Hayes talked about arranging a photo shoot with a photographer friend as a gift for someone.

Food
You can go either way with this one, either actually giving someone food (cookies, jam, their favorite snack) or giving a gift card to their favorite restaurant. Either way, they have the enjoyable experience of eating delicious food and then don't have anything taking up space afterwards. (Unless you give them food they don't like, in which case it will go in their pantry out of obligation and then stay there until the end of time. At least in my experience.)

Subscriptions
Not magazine subscriptions. Unless you know it's something they've really wanted but haven't subscribed to for some reason, a magazine subscription can easily just become another piece of mail to deal with. I'm talking about virtual subscriptions. This could be anything from Netflix (movies) to Pandora One (music) to Hulu Plus (TV shows). If you know someone's using a trial version or free, ad-supported version of some service, paying for a subscription to the premium service could be a great gift.

Charity
Charity donations aren't really one of my go-to gifts for other people because it's kind of weird, like, "Here, I'm giving you nothing! Instead, I gave money to some other people you may or may not care about!" But I think it's a great option for putting on your own wishlist if you don't know what to ask for. Need some ideas? Check out this year's Project for Awesome website, where you'll find videos about charities focused on just about anything you could think of. Then use Charity Navigator to make sure the charity is on the up-and-up. If you do want to give a charity gift to someone else, consider a site like Global Giving or DonorsChoose where your recipient can still pick where the money's going.

Microlending: Not Quite Money, Not Quite Charity
As an alternative to a charity gift or just straight-up giving someone cash (which some people will appreciate and some will find impersonal), check out Kiva.org, where you can lend money to entrepreneurs in developing countries. You can buy gift cards to the site, which means the person who receives the gift card gets to go through and decide who they want to lend the money to, then eventually the money will be paid back and they can reinvest it or cash it out to PayPal. It's doing good, giving an experience, and giving money all in one! If you have a concern about the high interest rates overseas, check out this post from John Green explaining why this is the case. Microplace is a similar site that includes U.S. businesses.

Your Words
In December 2010 I was scouring the Internet for gift ideas for my grandmother. She was spending Christmas with us so I had to get her something, but she's at the age where she doesn't need anything, doesn't want anything, and is actively trying to give her things away. I finally hit on this suggestion: Send a postcard a week for all of the next year. I didn't talk with her very often and writing a letter seemed too time-consuming when I never felt I had much to say, but writing a few sentences on a postcard every week, I could do. I ended up ordering some custom ones with our picture from Vistaprint so she'd have something special to open, but just a cheap pack of postcards will do -- it's your time that you're giving (plus the cost of postage!). The entire year she never failed to mention to my dad every time she talked to him how much she loved getting my weekly notes, and every holiday when she sent a card she would write a little P.S. about how much she was enjoying the postcards. Here's another gift in which words -- specifically, memories -- are the most important part.

I purposely avoided labeling this last section "Your Time," even though that's basically what you're giving, because I often see suggestions to give people homemade coupons for your time, whether you can cook for them or mow the lawn or whatever. I've given and gotten these types of coupons before and, at least in my experience, they don't work because no one actually cashes them in. No one feels comfortable going back to someone a month or two later and saying, "Here, I want you to cook me a meal tonight." The only way this kind of thing might work is with a partner or best friend where you're close enough, and have access to their calendar, to say, "I've scheduled you a massage for this day and then I'm going to cook you dinner" or "I'm taking your kids this night so you and your husband can go on a date." Otherwise I've never seen this kind of gift work except in a kind of "it's the thought that counts" way (i.e., you are giving the offer of cooking, but not the actual cooking).

I'd love to hear your suggestions for what other ways you can give the gift of experiences rather than physical things. What's the best experiential gift you've received or given?

Thoughts on Sandy Hook, or How America's Talking in Circles

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

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The Sandy Hook school shooting hit me really hard, which surprised me a bit. I mean, I'm the person who has never cried over 9/11 for reasons I describe in that post. In this case, I think it was the fact that there were little kids killed that just overwhelmed me.

I used to be one of those people who got upset when, minutes after a tragedy like this, people were calling for more gun control, or less gun control, or better policies around mental health, or whatever they believed to be the root cause of the incident. But now, having had such an emotional reaction, I actually understand these statements a lot better.

I think, for example, of a woman whose child is killed in a car accident because of a drunk driver. When that mother cries and mourns for her child, we* understand. When she issues a statement that too many lives are lost to drunk driving and she's going to do whatever she can to make sure another child isn't lost to a drunk driver, we applaud her. We say things like, "Look at how she's turning this tragic situation into something good" and "It's so great how she doesn't want her grief to consume her; she wants to take action." And when other people join in her cause, we say, "How great that these people weren't even directly affected and yet they've been inspired by this tragic situation to try to make sure it doesn't happen again."

We don't do this when people kill other people with guns.

I completely understand the people who want to mourn those who were killed and then move on with their lives. Not everyone can be an activist for everything. But I also understand the people whose grief includes anger, an anger that something like this could happen and an anger that mass shootings have happened before and our country's response, or lack thereof, has not stopped them from happening again. And I understand when that anger makes them say, "I want to do whatever it takes to make sure this never happens again."

I don't see that as disrespecting those who died. Certainly there are some people who take a tragedy like this and use it to further their own agendas, but I don't think that is the case for most people who are calling for action. And I don't think it's helpful to accuse other people of "politicizing" when they respond to a tragedy by wanting to stop it from happening again. It's only because the potential solutions might be wrapped up in issues that are already political that we consider it "politicizing."

People say, "Yes, but there should be a period of mourning before we start talking about solutions." I understand this instinct because this used to be my belief as well, but I've realized how specific this demand is to a particular type of tragedy. To draw on another example, when a child dies of a terminal illness, do we judge those family members who are so outraged that they immediately start talking about finding a cure? Do we tell them, "You should be mourning for X amount of time before you start talking about medical research"? Do we doubt that they are sad about the child's death simply because their grief has driven them to action?

What I've come to realize is that people kill people every single day across our world. Imagine if there was a mandatory weeklong mourning period anytime someone in the Middle East died from a bomb or a gun or some other violent means, during which no one anywhere was allowed to talk about why this might have happened or how it might be prevented from happening again. How would there ever be any hope of stopping the violence without being able to talk about it?

What I don't think is helpful is people jumping in with simple, ready-made solutions to a horribly complicated situation.

"Well, obviously if the teachers had had guns the shooter would have been stopped much sooner."

"Well, obviously if all assault rifles were banned, the shooter couldn't have killed that many people."

"Well, obviously if the news media would just stop giving so much attention to these kinds of stories there would be fewer copycats."

"Well, obviously if we could just get better funding for mental health support, people like this would get help before they killed other people."

And so on. Any and all of these factors (and more) may have played a role in this and other mass shootings. It doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about them, but I am not a fan of simplistic solutions and thinking that you have the Only Right One Answer That Will Solve Everything. That shuts down conversations just as much as insisting we don't talk about how to prevent this from happening again.

I am tired of the sound bites. I am sick of the mass shootings followed by the predictable statements of "I know exactly why this happened and how to fix it" and "Stop making this about your agenda, just be sad." I am angry at our cultural and governmental inability to have a nuanced conversation about solutions to real problems (violence, poverty, unemployment, abortion) because people have to take "sides" about everything. I am frustrated by all of the people who are killed every single day whom we never hear about because they're not deemed "important" enough to mention, and how no one says we need to stop talking about guns and just be sad every time a kid on the south side of Chicago gets shot.

I want to see more real conversations happening about violence in America. I want something to change, some things to change, to get us on the path toward fewer people being killed or attacked by other people. I want us to stop silencing each other, to stop telling each other how to grieve, to stop policing each other's conversations in a circle of anger that goes nowhere.

I don't know how to get there, but I'm open to suggestions.

*I say "we" throughout this post as a description of what I see most people in America saying and doing following a particular type of situation. I use the word "we" to include myself in that group as well.

Moderation Note: Comments that do not aid in this conversation, and instead fall into the patterns detrimental to progress that I've described here, will be deleted.

Snapshot of a Happy, Unconventional Marriage

Friday, December 14, 2012

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Snapshot of a Happy, Unconventional Marriage | Faith Permeating Life

Since my two biggest post tags are "marriage" and "husband," I feel like I've been neglecting to give you any posts on these subjects lately.

I like to look at my relationship with Mike somewhat objectively from time to time and see if there's any pieces of wisdom or lessons learned I can share from it. What's interesting is that I feel like people might look at our relationship right now and think that we couldn't possibly be happy, even though we are both really happy.

Here's what I mean: I get up at 5:45am every day to catch the bus to work. I get home from work at 6:30pm. (Yes, this sucks, but that's another post.) We eat dinner, usually together but usually in the campus dining hall which often involves eating with anywhere from 1 to 10 other people. Two days out of the week I come home from dinner, change, then go to Zumba from 8 to 9, then come home, shower, and go to sleep. On non-Zumba days, I might get some work done on a blog post or on transcribing my great-grandfather's stories or whatever else I'm working on, then ideally I get ready for bed and go to sleep before 9pm.

Mike has adapted to a college student schedule, so he sleeps in until shortly before whenever he has a meeting (maybe 9am or 10am), then stays up until after midnight hanging out with residents, playing video games, whatever. On any given evening he might have a campus event to go to or a student to meet with or just spends time hanging out in the front lobby talking with people. Sometimes I don't see him between dinner and bed, and sometimes I don't even see him after work at all, although that's fairly rare.

On Saturday I get up and go for a run while he sleeps, then we might do errands and laundry, or we might watch some Doctor Who (we're almost to season 5!), or he might play Minecraft while I do transcription, or he might be off at a campus event, or I might be off doing a meetup or something. On Sundays he gets up and goes to a bar with his relatives to watch the Bills play while I go to early Mass, then some variation on Saturday, then I go to bed while he goes to late Mass.

So it's understandable if people would look at our schedules and start plotting how we needed to spend more time together. They might tell us to make dinner together a firm commitment and schedule around it, or make the most of our weekend time by Doing Things Together and not working on separate projects/video games. We need to schedule regular date nights to get off campus together. And maybe that's good advice for when we have kids, but right now it's just not... necessary.

Part of it is where we're coming from. Just six months ago, when Mike was a restaurant manager, he was gone all day every day, at least from my point of view -- his days off were Wednesday and Thursday, when I was at work. He'd get up at 4:30am and be gone before I woke up, and when I got home from work we'd eat while he told me all about how angry he was about his job, and then he'd go to bed. That was our life.

But here are some reasons I think we're both able to be happy and feel loved despite being focused in different directions:

We prioritize making time for each other amid busyness.
Sometimes Mike will be running around the hall taking care of things while I'm getting ready for bed, but when he has a free moment he'll say, "Hang on, I have to say good night to my wife!" He comes in, asks me how I'm doing, fills out my fertility chart for the day, tells me how much he loves me, and kisses me good night. To some people this might look like he's "squeezing me in," not making me a priority, but I understand that the nature of his job is that it's important for him to be available in the evenings. So for him to stop everything he's doing and make people wait for him just so he can come say good night to me -- that is awesome and makes me feel loved.

When we focus on each other, we really focus.
Before, it seemed like the only time we talked was when he would rant about his job for an hour before going to bed. He wasn't focused on me because he was so preoccupied with and angry about his job, and I wasn't really focused on him either because I was tired of hearing the same complaints every day. Now I don't mind hearing about his job because he only brings it up when it's affecting him emotionally (which isn't often), and we've had time to get back to occasionally discussing politics, religion, parenthood, etc. or talking about our future plans. Even though we both have other things going on, they don't seep into our Us time in an unhealthy way.

We still show our love in small ways.
As I said in that linked post, I don't think a relationship is defined by how many big, romantic gestures or moments you have but how you're demonstrating love and gratitude for each other on a daily basis. We still do all of the things I described in that post, including texting each other just to say "I love you!" while we're apart.

His job makes him super-happy.
This is huge, not just because he's not ranting in anger all the time, but because his job just makes him a more enjoyable person to be around. He thrives on his work, even the parts where he has to whip out his Social Worker Skills because the third resident that day has burst into tears in his office. He loves what he does, which puts him in a good mood, which makes him all "I'm so incredibly happy to see you! Life is awesome!" when I get home from work. (My job has turned out a bit different than I expected, which I may or may not get into at some point. I'm working on it. And Mike is very supportive.)

We have other people around.
This is part of the above point about his job, but having residents and fellow hall directors to hang out with is so fantastic for making sure all of our relational needs are met. In Chicago we really had no friends in our local area. We can't be everything for each other, and it's not good for us to try. Mike now has people around all the time to goof around with, play games with, whatever, and I have people to Zumba with, have girl time with, and drag to events Mike has no interest in. So Mike and I look to each other for the needs we can meet for each other, and focus on the things we enjoy doing together.

We each have enough me-time and separate-but-together time.
I've often found it difficult to answer questions about what my hobbies are, and I've realized that I tend to have one big project that I'm working on at any given time, and that's how I like to spend my free time. The past few years it's been a lot of family history stuff: Getting our family's home videos transferred to DVDs, researching our family tree, interviewing my mom and her siblings and making a compilation DVD, and now transcribing my great-grandfather's writings. And I need to devote time to making progress on these things or I get antsy. So some people might look at how much time Mike and I spend on our computers, including when we're both home, and see that as unhealthy, but I've embraced that that time is important and nourishing for me. It's good for me to get stuff done in the evenings when he's gone and can't distract me, and it's good for him to have time to unwind and play Minecraft. And it's nice to spend some time on the weekends not necessarily Doing Things Together, but being in the same room so we can say, "Hey, listen to this" or "Oh, guess what I heard the other day?" or "Want to go get dinner and watch Doctor Who?"

All of this is to say some combination of "There's no one recipe for a happy relationship" and "You can't judge a relationship by its cover." (Or something like that.) It's like I said in my post earlier this week about weight, that there are a lot more things to tell you if you're healthy than what the number on your scale says. And there is a lot more to the health of a relationship than the total number of minutes per week you spend Doing Things Together.

By extension, I think it's important to note that you can choose to make your relationships -- any relationships -- a priority even if you have limited time to physically be with your loved ones. You shouldn't let busyness be an excuse for not nurturing your relationships. What it looks like to make someone else a priority might be unconventional, but that's OK if it works for both of you. And as always, communication is important to making sure it is working for both of you and you both feel cared about and loved.

Someone might look at my relationship with Mike and think we're not making enough time for each other, but we've been together more than 8 years and we're more in love than ever. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

How do you nurture your relationships when you're busy?

A Fun Note from 1912

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

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More timely thoughts from my great-grandfather's writings:
About 1911 I went on my first real job as a pressfeeder at Quincy Box & Printing Co. owned by my brother-in-law. I advanced to operating the big presses and had the responsibility of running off a weekly newspaper. I recall writing the date 12/12/12 as often as possible as it could not be written again for 100 years.

Happy 12/12/12!

Ask Google Jessica: The Weight Edition

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

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Ask Jessica: The Weight Edition | Faith Permeating Life

A while back I responded to some Internet searches about Christians and sex that were leading people to my blog, specifically my How Do Christians Have Sex? post, which is one of my two most-visited posts of all time.

The other most-visited post also gets most of its traffic from searches bringing people to my blog, and that's Stop Telling Me I'm Too Skinny. In that post I talk about how people are always telling me I'm too skinny, need to eat more, etc. even though I have a perfectly normal BMI for my height. Judging by the dozens of comments that post has received, I am not alone in having this experience.

Many of the people who land on that post are searching exasperated phrases like "stop telling me I'm skinny" and "I'm not too skinny." But there are also plenty of people asking questions about their weight, so I'm going to take a shot at answering some of those questions today. As before, please share your own responses in comments!

Can I be married if I am not skinny?
Absolutely! People of all shapes and sizes get married. There's even an online magazine for "plus size brides." As with any beauty/clothing/etc industry, the wedding industry (meaning dress sellers, magazines, photographers, you name it) tends to showcase people of below-average weight with their models and ads. But despite the giant production that weddings have become, marriage at its core is still a commitment made to another person -- that's it. You don't have to fit anyone's expectations of what a "bride" or a "groom" looks like. (If you don't believe me, just check out Offbeat Bride.)

I'm not thin. Will men ever like me?
OK, here's something I will say again: There is no point in trying to attract as many people as possible. If you are destined to be with someone for life, then when you meet them, it will be irrelevant how many people were attracted to you before that. So if your goal in life is for all men everywhere to like you, then yes, you will probably fail at that. I fail at that. Everyone does. But that's a silly goal to have. What you really mean, I'm guessing is "Will I ever find a life partner?" And I don't know the answer to that, but I know that most people do partner up at some point or other, no matter what their body type or abilities or history or whatever. There is no direct correlation between thin=partner and not thin=no partner -- not even close. Yes, there may be some correlation between being thin and being more likely to have strangers gawk and drool over you, but that's not really what you want, is it?

If there's an obstacle here, it's more about your fears and your sense of self-worth than about your body size. Instead of asking, "Will men ever like me?" you should be asking, "Will I ever meet anyone who is awesome enough to be with me?" Confidence and high standards? Now those are attractive.

I am really skinny and some people think I'm anorexic. Will a guy ever find me attractive?
First, see the above answer. (Short answer: Yes, most likely, but what about you do you want a guy to be attracted to? Cultivate those parts of yourself above worrying about your body size.)

Also, be sure you're differentiating between other people's concerns about your body and your own concerns. Are you, or your doctor, actually concerned that you're underweight, or are you just bothered by the assumptions that other people are making about you? Because if you know you're fine and it's just other people, then screw 'em. We unfortunately live in a world where people feel the need to comment on other people's bodies/decisions/children/you name it. And it's rare enough to hear messages about people having a healthy weight and being comfortable in their body that we somehow get these distorted messages where everyone is "fat" or "anorexic." But the more confident you are about yourself, the easier it is to ignore other people's comments.

For those people who are genuinely underweight (or overweight) and have ruled out any related medical conditions, then my caution for you is not to think that when you reach a certain BMI that you will magically become attractive to everyone. The most important things to focus on are 1) loving your body in its imperfection (because none of us have perfect bodies) and 2) celebrating all that your body can do, whatever that might be.

Is size 6 too skinny?
Is a size 6 even a size 6? Look at how much a size 8 can vary from one brand to another. There are all different ways that our body sizes can be labeled and categorized, from pounds to BMI to inches to clothing size. And while all of those can be helpful for different reasons, they all oversimplify one thing or another; for example, gaining pounds can indicate an increase in fat or an increase in muscle, but the scale can't tell you which. And what weight or clothing size is supposedly "too big" or "too small" varies over time and by culture.

Here are some things that I believe matter more than the number on the scale or your dress tag:
  • Is your doctor concerned about your weight or body composition? We get a lot of skewed messages from our culture, but a good doctor will tell you straight up if there's something to be concerned about.
  • What are you putting in your body? Are you giving your body the nutrients it needs to keep your body running as efficiently as possible?
  • How is your energy level? Do you feel sluggish or weak, or do you feel good as you go through your day?
  • How do your clothes fit? The number on your clothes may change over time even if your body doesn't change; the most important thing is to find clothes you feel good in.
  • Are you able to do the things you want to do? Or have you lost or gained so much weight that it's interfering with your ability to live the life you want?
Clearly some of these may be beyond your control, such as if you have a chronic fatigue or pain disorder or limited physical abilities. But what is within your control?

If you are truly healthy, you're taking care of your body, and your body isn't preventing you from doing anything you want to do, then there's no need to measure yourself up to some arbitrary standard about whether your body size is "right."

I'm skinny so why do people comment?
I wish I knew! I don't think it's the same way in every culture, but in American culture people seem to open their mouths all the time to talk about other people's bodies, life decisions, and so on. Here are some of the explanations I've seen:
  • Misguided compliments: Our culture equates skinny and good, so people think that saying you're skinny, even too skinny, will be taken as a compliment and you'll be flattered.
  • Jealousy: People assume you are naturally thin and wish that they were too, so they make comments in a kind of "sour grapes" way, as a way to convince themselves that being thin isn't all that great. They might hope you'll respond by pointing out your flaws.
  • Thoughtlessness/awkwardness: People feel the need to fill silences, so they comment on what they see without thinking through how it might come across or make the other person feel.
  • Socialization: Women grow up learning to talk about body weight, particularly talking self-deprecatingly about their own weight. This normalizes weight as a topic of conversation.
  • Concern: Sometimes people will speak up if they genuinely care about you and are concerned that your weight might indicate a health issue or eating disorder. This can be done in an appropriate (private, serious) way, or an inappropriate (public, teasing) way.

Is it inappropriate to tell someone they are too skinny?
Well, is it inappropriate to tell someone they are too fat?

You may remember this video of a news anchor that went viral a few months ago. It led to a lot of (unproductive, IMHO) arguments about whether or not the letter this news anchor received actually counted as "bullying," but I thought those discussions missed a lot of important points that were raised. One, that most people are aware -- even hyper-aware -- of their own bodies, so you should assume that they're already aware of how much they weigh. Two, that it's far more inappropriate to comment on the body of a stranger than someone you're close to. And three, the format you use and the words you use make a big difference.

I won't say that it's never appropriate to talk to someone about their weight, knowing what I do about eating disorders and how intervention is sometimes extremely needed. But the vast majority of the time, the comments you may want to make about someone's weight are 1) unnecessary and 2) unhelpful. As I said in the above comment, weight is too simplistic a measure to put people into black-and-white, good-and-bad boxes where you could objectively label someone "too skinny."

How do you get your dad to stop telling you that you're too skinny?
This is a really interesting question and goes back to the questions I raised in the original post about whether and how I should speak up when people make comments about my weight. Some people said they were comfortable saying straight up, "Please don't make comments about my weight." As I said in the post, I recognize that many of the comments are meant to be compliments or lighthearted teasing and I personally wouldn't feel comfortable calling out the other person's rudeness quite so bluntly. One option is an equally lighthearted, "Nope, I'm actually a perfectly healthy weight!" or a "Hey now!" that makes it clear they've crossed a line without totally embarrassing them for it (particularly if they genuinely think they're paying you a compliment).

I usually get comments from people I don't know very well, but when it's someone you see on a regular basis and they make these comments often, then that may call for a more serious, private conversation about their comments. Some people will disagree with me on this, but I think you should assume the best about the other person's intentions (that is, they are really trying to compliment/tease you and not insult or belittle you) unless they're clearly trying to put you down or have a history of doing so. This could mean saying something like, "Hey Dad, I know you like to tease me about being skinny, but I'm actually a healthy weight and I'm proud of that." If the person says they're just joking, you can say, "Yes, I know it's a joke, but I would really appreciate if you didn't make those jokes anymore." The person may get defensive if they're embarrassed about what they've said and didn't realize how it made you feel, but if they care about you, they'll stop making the comments. If they don't care enough to stop, then there's a bigger problem with the relationship than just these comments.

Those are my thoughts -- what would you change or add?

Why Should We Care About Privilege?

Friday, December 7, 2012

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Why Should We Care About Privilege? | Faith Permeating Life

There's a great moment in Rev. Gene Robinson's book God Believes in Love (my review here) in which Robinson is speaking to a group of college students about gay rights, and he says, jokingly, "I don't know how any of you straight white guys get it!" Meaning, in a simplistic way: If you've never had to deal with systemic disadvantages, how do you understand what it's like, enough to care?

After the presentation, one of these "straight white guys" came up to Robinson to explain just exactly how they did "get it." And his answer was simple: "We listen to you... and then we believe you."

On Tuesday I posted 5 links about privilege, and one of these links, after explaining what privilege is, draws a very similar conclusion:
If you’re straight and a queer person says "do not title your book 'Beautiful Cocksucker,' that's stupid and offensive," listen and believe him. If you're white and a black person says "really, now, we're all getting a little tired of that What These People Need Is A Honky trope, please write a better movie," listen and believe her. If you're male and a woman says "this maquette is a perfect example of why women don't read comics," listen and believe her. Maybe you don't see anything wrong with it, maybe you think it's oh-so-perfect to your artistic vision, maybe it seems like an oversensitive big deal over nothing to you. WELL OF COURSE IT DOES, YOU HAVE FUR. Nevertheless, just because you personally can't feel that hurt, doesn't mean it's not real. All it means is you have privilege.
Now, on the last post, commenters pointed out a few points that are important to keep in mind:
  • There are not two groups of people, "privileged" and "not privileged." Each person can have certain privileges that others don't, and lack other privileges that others have.
  • Race, gender, and sexual orientation are not the only ways in which someone can be privileged, though those tend to come to mind first for most people. This other link highlights other privileges someone may have.
  • Being "aware" of your privilege doesn't mean anything if you don't let that awareness challenge or affect you in any way.

And I'll add this: Privilege is not about feelings. Discussions about privilege are not for the purpose of making you feel bad, nor is becoming aware of privilege about making you feel enlightened or better about yourself.

Here's an example:

The point of me realizing that I have the privilege of being an able-bodied person is not so I can feel bad about all the people out there who do not have the same physical abilities as me.

It's not so I can feel grateful and thank God every day for my abilities (though there's nothing wrong with that).

It's not so I can feel guilty or "bad" about the privilege that I have.

It's not so I can wish for my privilege to be taken away, that I would become disabled and so make myself "equal."

So what is the point?

The point is so that when I find myself in the position to plan something -- whether it's picking a location for a company event or drawing up plans for our future house -- I can make decisions with the awareness that not every person has the same mobility, dexterity, and other abilities that I do, rather than basing my decisions solely on my own experience.

It's so when a person with different physical abilities comes to me and says that the decisions I made have created unnecessary challenges for them, I don't waste time arguing with them and invalidating their experiences. Instead, I can recognize that my privilege as an able-bodied person makes it nearly impossible for me to accurately gauge this person's challenges, so I shut up, listen, and then do what I can to make things better.

That is why this kind of awareness matters. As I've written about before, raising awareness is valuable when it leads to action. And in this case, it's action that can make a real difference in whether things are easier or harder for people who lack a particular advantage.

Another way to look at this is attribution errors. Let's take an example of unemployment, which I've written about several times. If you have access to:
  • a computer
  • the Internet
  • a business suit
  • a shower
  • a telephone
  • a permanent address
  • a network of employed people
and it never occurs to you that any of these things played a role in helping you get a job, then to what are you going to attribute the fact that that person on the street doesn't have a job?

You're probably going to attribute it not to a system of employment that privileges all of the above things, but to some inherit characteristic of that other person -- they're lazier than you, or they're not smart enough to land a job, or they just prefer not to have to work.

These assumptions about that unemployed person then feed into how employers view them and what policies are made by governments, which will cycle back into making it even harder for them to get a job.

That's why we should care about privilege. Because loving our neighbor means understanding that we don't know what it's like to be them. And when they have challenges that we don't have, we need to listen to them... and believe them.

3BoT Vol. 14: Three Great, Depressing Books

Thursday, December 6, 2012

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3BoT Vol. 14: Three Great, Depressing Books | Faith Permeating Life

The first Thursday of every month, I share three related book recommendations with you. You are invited to link up at the end of the post with three recommendations of your own! Click here for more info about Three Books on Thursday.

It's winter here in the northern hemisphere, which in most places means lots of darkness and cold. It's a good time of year to curl up with a blanket, a mug of something warm, and a good book. With all the darkness and, in our area, lots and lots of rain, you may be in the mood for something a bit more somber -- perhaps a book you can have a good cry over.

So I'm here to oblige with recommendations for three books that are really quite depressing despite being exceptionally good books. I will try not to include too many spoilers in explaining why these books are great-but-depressing. Just trust me that it's worth reading through to the end of each of these books, no matter how dark things get.

If you're looking for a darker read you'll still want to recommend to others, here are my three picks:


#1: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
What makes this book stand out is that it's narrated by a dog, Enzo, the faithful, philosophical companion of race car driver Denny Swift. As more and more of Denny's life come crashing down around him and he has to fight for custody of his daughter, you see the brilliance of choosing his dog as the narrator. Enzo sees everything but cannot tell anyone. We see the injustice of what's done to Denny because we know from Enzo's witness that Denny is a good and truthful person, and because Enzo sees things and overhears conversations that no one else does. But Enzo is just as helpless as we readers are to do anything about it. The messages threaded throughout -- about what love is, about what risks are worth taking, about what it means to be human -- make this a powerful and recommended read.




#2: Looking for Alaska by John Green
John Green's most recent novel, The Fault in Our Stars, (also a somewhat depressing but mostly amazing book) was just named the best book of the year by Time magazine. He is a fantastic writer, and he's been winning awards since his very first book, Looking for Alaska. The fact that the book is divided into "Before" and "After" sections should clue you in that something very big and, yes, depressing happens in the middle of the book that will have you desperately wanting to reverse time and undo it even though you know in your head it's just a book. The books centers on Miles, a socially awkward teenager who goes away to a boarding school for his junior year of high school. Through the relationships he builds with other students, particularly the larger-than-life Alaska Young, Miles begins to uncover the differences between love and sex, between living and existing, between finding inspiration from the past and living in the past.




#3: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
If you read The Kite Runner, you already know that Hosseini doesn't shy away from depicting some of the worst things that humans can do to each other, particularly when enabled by their culture or government. Whereas The Kite Runner was about boys growing up in Afghanistan, A Thousand Splendid Suns tells the story of two women in Afghanistan, both of whom eventually end up married to the same abusive man out of different kinds of desperation. To my mind, the author sets up the most hopeless situation possible, gives the reader a glimpse of hope, crushes it, and then dares the reader to hope again. It's a painful book to read, made more so by the fact that you know it's based on real circumstances even if the specific story is fictional. Nonetheless, it's an amazing book, and a good way to get a better understanding of the history of Afghanistan as well as a more nuanced view of what it was like to live there in the '80s and '90s.



Bonus recommendation: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Also a depressing book, and a much slower read with not quite as positive an ending as the others, but I found it an impressive and memorable illustration of how the free market doesn't cure all.

What books would you recommend to others even though they're depressing?

Click here for other 3BoT posts!

Please note that this post contains Amazon Affiliate links. If you click on a book cover and make any purchase at Amazon (including but not limited to the books suggested here), your purchase will be supporting Faith Permeating Life. Thanks!

Privilege 101: 5+ Links to Explain Privilege

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

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Privilege 101: 5 Links to Explain Privilege | Faith Permeating Life

Occasionally I write on here about privilege, which is one of those concepts that 1) people tend to react badly to and 2) is difficult to provide a precise definition for.

Thus, some people have come up with really excellent analogies, examples, and other ways to explain privilege.

As with my Resource Guide to Christianity and Homosexuality, I know that this is a giant topic and there are many people out there who have spent far more time than I have studying and thinking about it. Thus, rather than trying to summarize others' points on this, it seems more expedient to direct you to their original thoughts.

These are by no means the best things ever written on privilege, but they're a handful of things I've read that have stuck with me and helped me understand privilege and explain it to others. I suggest taking the time to read through and reflect on each of them.

What's Privilege? by Emily Sullivan Sanford

Of Dogs and Lizards: A Parable of Privilege by Sindelókë

Privilege: Invisible Advantages by Dianna E. Anderson (Part 2) (Part 3)

Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is by John Scalzi (Part 2) (Part 3)

Oblivious to Privilege by Haley at Permission to Live (Part 2)

The Distress of the Privileged by Doug Muder

What does it mean to be privileged? by Jamelle Bouie

Privilege Says... by Christena Cleveland

Literacy Privilege: How I Learned to Check Mine Instead of Making Fun of People's Grammar on the Internet by Painting the Grey Area (Part 2) (Part 3)

Derailing for Dummies (If the site's down, check here.)

Grace for the privileged too? by Rachel Held Evans (Be sure to check out the comments as well)

The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck by Melissa McEwan

Nine things I wish economically privileged people in my life knew by M at Class Rage Speaks

30+ Examples of Christian Privilege by Sam Killermann at It's Pronounced Metrosexual



For more, I invite you to follow my Pinterest board of Great Posts on Privilege & Social Justice and read the follow-up post, Why Should We Care About Privilege?


Please share links and other explanations in comments. What have you read that has helped you get, or better explain, the concept of privilege?

UPDATE: Since posting this, several people have shared other great posts about privilege with me, so I've added those to the list above and will continue to do so.

Blog Comment Carnival: November 2012

Friday, November 30, 2012

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Blog Comment Carnival: November 2012 | Faith Permeating Life

At the end of every month, I share my favorite comments from that month's posts, and you're invited to do the same and link up below!

Wow, y'all wrote some looooong comments this month. Obviously, this makes me very happy, but it also can make for a giant Blog Comment Carnival post. So some of the comments listed below are excerpts from longer comments. As always, I highly recommend that you click through the original posts and read the full discussions there, and join in if you feel so moved!

First off, I gave some advice to college students (and anyone) trying to make decisions about how to spend their time, asking the key question: Procrastination... or Carpe Diem?

Emily still remembers the fun things she did in college:
I'm probably a bad influence on college students - because I LOVED doing those random things. Granted, I probably should have studied more. I got decent grades, but if I had worked harder I probably would have done MUCH better. But honestly, I don't think I would change anything if I could go back. There might be a few instances where I would go back to my room and get work done, but there aren't many. Granted, my friends and I weren't partiers. When we all turned 21 we would go to the bar and have a few drinks, but we never got into the "lets get wasted" parties. So there's that. But the random 3am IHOP trips, all nighters in the computer lab, stupid crap we would do on campus. Nope - I wouldn't change it. That's how my friends and I got to be so close, and a lot of them I still consider to be some of the greatest friends and memories I'll ever have. I would never want to tell someone to miss out on that. Yes, get your work done, pass, get your degree. But have fun too! This is the time to try new things and meet new people.

Queen of Carrots shared how this applies past college:
I think what you said about most procrastination not being "carpe diem" is so true, and not just for college. Or as I think it was put in *Screwtape Letters*: "I have spent most of my life doing neither what I want, nor what I ought." It helps me sometimes to stop and think: Is this really what I want to do? If it's not, then usually it's because there's something I ought to do that I'm putting off--sometimes just noticing gives me the focus I need to do it and move on to what I want to do, or sometimes I realize I'm just not in a state to do it and would be better off doing something else anyway. Either way, I'm not just stalling my life away.

I responded to a reader's question in Pregnancy, Fear, and NFP: Response to a Reader.

Becca left a fantastic three-part comment, saying in part:
Regina, I think it's important to remember that all methods of avoiding conception can fail. NFP practiced carefully is about as effective as birth control pills (about 4 couples per 100 will conceive within a year using these methods) and more effective than condoms (about 14 per 100). As Jessica explained, most NFP "failures" are caused by deciding not to abstain after all at a time when you know there might be some chance of conception.

So, the risk is not in choosing NFP over another method but in choosing to have sex at all. Risk is built into it--and I think it's odd that so many people seem not to understand that, both non-Catholics who assume their contraception is foolproof (without ever bothering to read the facts) and freak out when it wasn't, and Catholics who snarl about how those contraceptors have it so easy with their constant carefree sex.

Queen of Carrots also left a great long comment, saying in part:
Very good thoughts and I also liked Becca's thoughts. When we used NFP, we had far more confidence in it than we would have in artificial methods; it felt more like something under my, not control exactly, but purview. If it failed, it would be most likely my own carelessness; therefore I could counterbalance it by being more careful. I had a place to go with anxiety; something I could actually DO. (I have far less confidence in the vasectomy, ironically--we know at least two couples who conceived post-vasectomy. But the combination of NFP with my husband's irregular health was getting too hard.)

Something I realized over time is that everyone who is having sex (except those permanently, irrevocably sterile through age or removal of all relevant body parts) either has some of this anxiety or is being naive. People are either trying to get pregnant and worrying about that or trying not to get pregnant and worrying about that. It's like being a farmer--there is much that modern technology has helped us with, but there is still that part that is outside our control. I think that is a good thing. We were not wired to be masters of the universe.

On my 27th birthday, I addressed my 17-year-old self in A Birthday Letter to Myself (or Thoughts on the Past 10 Years).

Becca was inspired:
Happy birthday! Thanks for posting this. You motivated me to Google my high school journalism teacher and e-mail her to tell her how deeply glad I am that I took two classes with her senior year instead of taking calculus--it was the first thing that leaped to mind as I thought about what I would tell my teenaged self. (I took calc in college, no big deal. I could not take journalism at my college--it wasn't offered--but even if I could have, it wouldn't have been the same as Mz. T's challenging and inspiring classes.)

It turns out that the things that make you weird can work to your advantage.
That is a great message for teenagers! It's very true, in my experience.

And Greg Calhoun added:
A letter along these lines would have been a great comfort to me a teenager. Congrats on this milestone in your excellent blogging adventure

Finally, the post that seemed to hit home for the most people was How Privilege Sees Thanksgiving.

perfectnumber628 wants to overcome that kind of privileged view:
Well-said. I'm going to link to this post from my blog. :) It's so easy to think everyone else's life is the same as mine, and to not even realize that I'm thinking that, and how completely incorrect it is. And that's basically why I'm going to move to China- otherwise I'll think I know everything.

Alice heard a very different Thanksgiving Day message:
It's funny how my pastor seemed to take the opposite route. He talked about how there are so many basic "first article" gifts that we are given no matter our position or situation in life. We all have air, we all have lungs, our breaths are given to us. And while I suppose that isn't universally true, it resonated with me, and several of my friends, who are all feeling a loss or a sense of loneliness this year. That even when we don't have family or friends or a home or enough to eat, there are little reminders of God's love for us, and something to be thankful for.
Thanks for taking the time to share such great thoughts on this month's posts!


Jessica's Adventures in Exercising: Update

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

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Jessica's Adventures in Exercising: Update | Faith Permeating Life

Given that we're in the time of the year when people tend to gain a pound or two, it seems like a good time to give you an update on my exercise plan so you know I didn't fall off the wagon in the past few months.

When we last left off I was still unemployed and so had jumped in with both feet to find an exercise regimen that worked for me, doing a combination of Couch to 5K, Wii Fit, and fitness classes.

What I'm Doing Now

Now that I'm working, and I basically leave in the dark and come home in the dark, I moved my running days to Saturday and Sunday, which has worked well. (Unlike the lovely stock photo here, there is no track on campus, so I run in the nearby neighborhood.) I just finished Couch to 5K this past weekend (yay!). The rec center on campus added two evening Zumba classes, on Tuesday and Thursday, so I go to those and drag various friends along with me when I can. I'm still trying to do Wii Fit occasionally, particularly when I need to stretch out sore muscles, but our Wii is on its last legs and keeps giving us error messages, so I'll have to take a break from that until we get a new one. I've also started doing a few of these ab exercises each night before bed.


What Has Changed

The biggest change has to be in my cardiovascular endurance. Couch to 5K starts you out with intervals of 60 seconds jogging, 90 seconds walking, which were doable but tough. The fact that I can now jog for half an hour without stopping is still amazing to me. I haven't quite jogged a full 5K (about 3.1 miles) as I'm still a slow jogger; in half an hour I've been able to jog about 2.4 miles. But that's more than fine with me! After how excruciating it used to be to run the mile in gym class, this is something to be proud of.

My calves have become rock solid muscle, which still catches me by surprise when I feel them. At the same time I seem to have developed cellulite in my thighs, which is confusing and frustrating. Also, my weight has started to creep back up, I think because I'm gaining muscle, but it seems a little strange when I'm basically doing hard aerobic exercise four times a week. I'm more concerned with my health and fitness than with my body image or weight, though, so I'm not going to worry too much about this for the moment.

Also, I've been doing the ab exercises for a few weeks now and they seem to be getting easier, so it seems like my abs must be getting stronger.


Where I Go From Here

I downloaded the 5K to 10K app because I liked using the Couch to 5K one for my jogs, and I'm happy to see that rather than just adding longer and longer times like the other one did, this app helps you move from jogging speed to running speed. That's really what I need at this point, so I can run a longer distance without giving up too much more of my time on the weekends.

The semester is winding down here, so unfortunately I only have a few more weeks of Zumba classes and then winter break, and I don't know what the fitness class schedule will be next semester. Classes help keep me on track in a way I can't do on my own, and I wish there were more evening fitness classes, but the only other one is a 9pm yoga class, and that's just too late for me. Depending on what next semester's class schedule is I may have to pony up for a real gym membership off campus to keep myself going. (At least the gyms all have sales in January, right?)

I'm going to try to keep up my ab exercises but add more repetitions each month. I've been using Illuum (recommended by Nikkiana on this post!) to keep myself accountable for doing them every night.

How do you keep yourself healthy and fit? Are you planning any New Year's resolutions around exercise?

How Privilege Sees Thanksgiving

Friday, November 23, 2012

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How Privilege Sees Thanksgiving | Faith Permeating Life

This year for Thanksgiving we did something neither of us had ever done, which was to go to Mass. Living on a Catholic campus as we do now, we didn't have much excuse for not walking the five minutes to church yesterday morning and joining the assortment of priests, other hall directors, and students still on campus. Celebrating Mass with that small community was a very cool feeling.

What was less cool was the homily. When Mike and I discussed it later, he said that this particular priest tends to be social justice-minded, so the things he said -- or rather, didn't say -- in his homily were somewhat surprising. But I think it also goes to show how easy it is to slip back into a privileged mindset if you're not paying attention.

The homily started out well, talking about how since the time of Abraham Lincoln, Americans have set aside this day to be thankful for the blessings in our life. That in many ways, Catholics get to celebrate "thanksgiving" every week, coming together to give thanks to God and share a "feast" together.

It gave me a new perspective on the holiday, that even if the origins of the holiday hearken back to a rather ugly time in our nation's history, the remaking of the holiday into a day of gratitude is a nice end result. Other holidays, like Christmas and Easter, have religious (and pagan) origins that have been transformed to be more commercialized, while Thanksgiving has actually managed to continue to represent mainly good things -- gratitude, family, and (maybe a little too much) good food. If you don't see it as a continuation of "the feast of the pilgrims and Indians" and instead see it simply as a national day of gratitude, it's a pretty cool thing for a nation to have.

Unfortunately, this is where things started to go south.

First was the claim that "all 300 million-plus Americans take the time off today to celebrate this day of gratitude." This started my statistical mind immediately thinking about exceptions. Do all Americans celebrate Thanksgiving? What about Native Americans? What about people who have to work, who aren't given the option to take the day off or can't afford to? Sure, it's a nice image to think that the entire country stops what they're doing to celebrate a holiday as one people, but it's completely unrealistic and untrue.

Then he went on to talk about how everyone would be gathering around big tables to have a feast with their loved ones. I thought this rather brazenly glossed over the fact that not everyone has enough to eat on a daily basis, let alone enough to have a huge feast on Thanksgiving. Not everyone has a home to sleep in, let alone a big table at which to eat a feast. And even among people who can get enough to eat, not everyone has a group of loved ones to eat with.

I thought he was going to acknowledge this when he said in a solemn tone, "Some people..." but then he finished it with, "will take time today to serve at a soup kitchen." Yeah, and some people will take time today to eat at a soup kitchen, I thought. Why no mention of them?

Instead he went on to talk about how not only will we "all" have a feeling of internal gratitude for Thanksgiving, but some people would be moved to have an outpouring of gratitude toward others, taking time out of their holiday to serve "...the poor." That's the only mention they get, a mumbled couple of words at the end of a sentence.

As the priest talked more about this wonderful feeling of gratitude and blessedness that every single American apparently feels during Thanksgiving, I thought about all the stories I'd read recently of people facing horrible life situations this Thanksgiving, feeling anything but grateful for the state of their lives. Where was the reassurance for those who were struggling to feeling blessed this holiday season?

It made me think about the way that many people talk about the 1950s, about when everybody felt safe, everybody knew their neighbors by name, and women all stayed home and tended to the house and children. Of course, this glosses over things like, oh, families who were too poor to have either parent stay home or even for their oldest children to go to school, single mothers who didn't have a male breadwinner they could stay home and cook for, and the millions of people who had to worry about being the victim of a hate crime or being carted off to jail for no reason other than their skin color. Sure, the 1950s sound pretty good... if your little corner of the world was great, and you just assume everyone else's was too.

The kicker of this homily was the part about family harmony. According to this priest, this is the one day of the year when kids give their parents a break by behaving perfectly, and everyone in the family puts aside their differences and arguments to be perfect and loving to each other all day. Because that's what happened in his family when he was a kid, so obviously that's how everyone's Thanksgivings are.

At this point I nearly started crying because one of the worst family experiences we ever had happened on Thanksgiving and will forever be linked to that holiday for me and Mike now. And I know so many people who dread any holiday they have to spend with their family because they have to face a barrage of criticism about their weight or their job or who they're dating or that they're not dating anyone or that they're gay or liberal or Christian or whatever. Humans are imperfect beings, and we need someone to help us find love and forgiveness and gratitude despite the fact that our loved ones may hurt us -- not lies about how everyone's families behave perfectly because it's Thanksgiving.

The homily really bothered me for two reasons: 1) it betrayed a massively privileged view of the world, and 2) it had no point. There was no point in getting up and saying, "Isn't it awesome how every single person in our entire country celebrates this holiday in exactly the same way and eats delicious food and feel loved and grateful and spends a perfectly loving and civil time with their family?" Perhaps if that were actually true, it would be something to be in awe of. But it's the equivalent of getting up and saying, "Isn't it great how there's no unemployment and no poverty and no hunger and no pain and no fighting in our country?" Not only is it patently false, but it also just magnifies the isolation felt by those who are struggling because you've just told them that every single other person has no problems.

If there's one message I try to hammer home on this blog, it's this: Everyone else is not just like you. Whether we're talking about sex or marriage or abilities or faith, we are a diverse people in this world and there is no one-size-fits-all lifestyle for us. If we want to truly see others and understand them and love them as they need to be loved, we must start by acknowledging that our own story is not the only story.

To my American readers, I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving holiday this year. I hope you didn't have to work if you didn't want to, that you were able to spend the day with someone(s) you love, that you got to eat delicious food, and that you got to spend time doing things you enjoy doing.

But if you didn't -- if you had a lonely Thanksgiving, or you ended up in a big family argument, or you were somewhere you felt awkward or unwelcome, or the day just wasn't what you hoped it would be for one reason or another -- I hope you know that it's OK. There is no rule that says you have to feel flooded with gratitude and love and peace on Thanksgiving. Nothing guarantees that a holiday is going to be any different or better than any other day. And there are plenty of other people out there who had crappy Thanksgivings. The sun still rose today, and God is still there for you, and you can keep on being your awesome self even if you can't control how anyone else feels or acts. (You might also appreciate this beautiful prayer for thanksgiving from John Shore.)

We are all different, but we can still learn from each other. Rather than glossing over the difficulties of the holidays, let's encourage each other through them. What are some ways you get through the holidays when you're not feeling particularly grateful or peaceful?

What Should We Learn from Tamara and Savita?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

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I am always hesitant to talk about abortion because it is a topic about which few people can talk calmly and reasonably, and it is calm, reasonable discussion on big topics that we celebrate here on this blog. It seems to be a topic on which it is difficult to get any information without some kind of spin, any story without having it put into place as part of a larger, politicized narrative. It tends to make people ignore whatever the particular message about it is and instead begin immediately screaming at each other, fighting the same battles over language, rights, politics, and beliefs that have been fought over and over and over again.

Yet I couldn't help but be struck by the similarities, and the stark contrast, between two stories I read recently.

First, there is Tamara Mann, a Jewish woman in the United States. She was told that her baby was forming in such a way that it would not live much longer. Originally she was holding out for a miracle, but then her doctor told her that the fetus was "not compatible with life," would not survive, and would cause greater risks to her health the longer she waited for the fetus to be taken out of her body. Because it still had a heartbeat, however, the state considered her to be having a voluntary abortion, though, as it turned out, the baby's heartbeat had stopped before the procedure began.

Second, there is Savita Halappanavar, a Hindu woman in Ireland. She was admitted to the hospital in pain at 17 weeks pregnant and found to be having a miscarriage. Savita asked if, since the baby was dying, labor could be induced so she would stop being in pain. She was told that because the fetus still had a heartbeat, it could not be removed. Irish law and legal precedent only allows termination of a pregnancy if there is a "real and substantial risk" to the life of the mother, and evidently the doctors did not consider there to be enough risk to her life. Savita began developing shakes, shivering, and vomiting, but was still told that the fetus could not be removed. Three days after she was admitted, after the baby's heartbeat had finally stopped, it could be surgically removed. Savita died shortly thereafter from a form of blood poisoning and an E.coli infection. Her death has sparked protests against Ireland's abortion laws. Whether she would have lived, had the pregnancy been terminated upon her arrival to the hospital, is being hotly debated between pro-life and pro-choice groups.

There are a lot of similarities between the two stories.

Both woman were married and wanted children; they were requesting to end their pregnancies not because their pregnancies were unwanted, but because they had been told that their babies were not going to survive, at which point they feared for their own health.

In both cases they were told that the fetus, even if it would not survive much longer, was considered alive so long as it had a heartbeat; both babies were eventually removed from their mother's wombs after their heartbeats had stopped.

Both women ran up against a system that wanted to stop them from getting an abortion: Tamara had to fight for her insurance company to cover the procedure, even though her doctor had told her it was the best option for her own personal health and safety, and then the state required her to sign a consent form because her abortion was considered an elective or voluntary one. Savita was denied the abortion until the baby's heartbeat stopped because an act passed in 1861 in Ireland meant that a doctor could potentially fact life imprisonment for performing an abortion that he or she could not prove was absolutely necessary to save Savita's life.

In both cases the laws that hindered or stopped them from getting an abortion were based on religious tenets to which the woman did not personally ascribe.

The stark contrast, of course, comes in the eventual fate of each woman: Tamara, who lived to tell her own story, and Savita, who died and whose story is now being fought over by other people.

I've shared my thoughts before on why I don't think laws are the best course of action for reducing the number of abortions. These stories are, for me, another reason why debates about abortion should not be reduced to legal language or statistics. People's lives, and their decisions, are never simple, are never black-and-white. When we base our arguments on stereotypes or technicalities or even what we consider fundamental truths about life, we risk losing sight of the living, breathing people whose pregnancies, whose children, we are arguing about.

At their cores, I believe that the pro-life movement is not about dismissing women's health but about deeply loving the unborn, and I believe that the pro-choice movement is not about hating children but about caring deeply about women. And I think it's important for everyone who wants to talk about this issue to stay grounded in that love and compassion from which their own position stems.

In particular, I think there's something wrong if you hear Savita's story and your first thought is either "This is why we need to change abortion laws" or "There is no medical evidence that an abortion would have saved her life." Would not a person grounded in love and compassion think first about Savita, lying in a hospital bed, in pain, grieving that her first child will not live, fearful of what will happen to her body, and feeling trapped by laws made by someone else's religion? What good can come out of forgetting her humanness and immediately reducing her to an argument or a statistic?

The reason why the abortion debate matters is because it's about real people. Let's not forget those real people in our rush to be right.
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