Where Logic Meets Love

Blog Comment Carnival: January 2012

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

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Blog Comment Carnival: January 2012 | Faith Permeating Life

As promised, it's time to share the best comments I received during the past month. As it's my first time doing this, I'm open to suggestions about the format. (For example, do you want to see my replies to the comments, or just the comments themselves? Is this too many comments to read? Or should I pick more? Anyone want to design a less ugly logo than what I whipped up at 8:30 last night?)

If you'd like to do the same on your blog, feel free to link up below!

On Marriage Means I Can't Do Everything -- And I'm Glad, e said:
In college I was so worried about keeping my options open and making sure that I wouldn't be unhappy in the future that I was paralyzed with indecision. I can't find it right now, but one of my professors gave me a quote from Oscar Romero basically saying that in order to be truly free--free to live a good life--we have to limit our freedom in the present so that we are able to open up new opportunities. Your posts remind me of that quote--and one of the most important lessons I ever learned.

I think children today need to hear a caveat to the adage "you can be anything you want to be." They need guidance in specific directions because the world is just too overwhelming without it.

Now that I am in a serious relationship, I also feel less pressure regarding my career choices because my options are more limited and I can choose what's right for me within that scope. It probably sounds silly, but I don't have to worry anymore that I will make a career decision that will strain a potentially wonderful future relationship.

I replied:
I think people have tried to add a caveat to "you can be anything," which is "find your passion and do that!" Which really isn't much more helpful because it implies that not only can you do anything, but there is one right thing for you to do, and you need to find that out of all the possible options and do it. I think it's much more helpful, and realistic, to suggest trying out different things, and that what you enjoy at one time might be different than you what you enjoy down the road. This means that even if you have limitations to your situation, it's OK because there might be things within those limits that are among the many things you enjoy and are good at.

I know several people who have stressed out about getting in a serious relationship because of how it would limit their career choices (myself included). I think what you said, about choosing from your limited options so you know you won't strain the relationship, is a pretty countercultural view in a culture of being free and independent. But it makes sense that it would lessen your stress, assuming you're not operating from the "one right job out there" perspective but the "which options among my potential choices are good ones" perspective.

On Where I Feel Welcome (More Than at Church), alice wrote:
This reminded me of a sign that always makes me smile when I see it on this one church's door: "God loves everyone. No exceptions." Though I'm not a regular member of that congregation, when I do go there I have always felt so welcome, in large part because they embody that message.

My impression as an outsider has always been that since most churches require adherence to certain laws/commandments/etc., it's very easy for God's love to become framed as something that some people 'deserve', even if it's not theologically framed that way. "God loves you even when you sin" just feels different from "God loves you."

I replied:
You're right about how messy it can get with having rules or commandments but having love freely given. When you think about it in the context of a parent it makes sense: Your parents have rules for you because they care about you, but you can understand that they still love you no matter what. The difficulty is that our earthly parents can explain why certain rules are in place, whereas we rely on people other than God to explain God's rules to us, many of which are either no longer relevant or may not have been commands from God in the first place. There's a million gatekeepers trying to stand between us and God, explaining both his rules and his love. As a child, we may feel our parents' love because of how they treat us (how they talk to us, look at us, hold us) even when we've disobeyed their rules. But we feel God's love mainly through other people, and when those other people cease to be loving on account of our supposedly breaking God's rules, it can feel like God's love is dependent on our following the rules. And it's not--but the way many Christians act, you would never know that.

On How Many Heaven Points Do You Have?, Mórrígan said:
This reminds me of something I read by C.S. Lewis, probably from Mere Christianity. He was talking about sin, and he said something like, it's not about breaking rules or following rules; it's about what certain acts do to your soul. It makes sense to me, especially when you look at how psychology supports such an idea, and I always see the soul and mind as inextricably linked. Doing certain things can have a negative effect on the psyche, but so will witnessing or experiencing things which you haven't caused too.

That's why I think the "accountant's ledger" model of God is so harmful, because God is emulated as the perfect parent. If this is how God treats us, how will believers treat their children? The ideal goal of any parent is to help one's child to become a person who is healthy in mind, body, and soul. That whole attitude that "if you do X, you receive Y punishment, because that's what you deserve" is a broken model of parenting, because it loses sight of the real goal, replacing it with the negative human desires for control, retribution, and sameness.

I replied:
You have such a great way of putting words to the truth!

The book
Liberated Parents, Liberated Children helped me get a grasp on exactly what you're talking about--that it is not, or should not be, a parent's goal to raise well-behaved, obedient children. The psychologist whose work the book covers says that it should be our goal to raise humane children, children who genuinely care about other people. They will strive to do the right things because they understand what is loving and what is not, not because doing one thing over another has been beaten into them.

I think this is a helpful lens through which to understand what Jesus tells us, why there's such an emphasis throughout the Gospel on our hearts and on love and faith. It's not that the actions are unimportant, it's that the more important thing is the heart behind them. It's exactly what 1 Corinthians 13 starts off talking about: "...If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing."

I had not made the connection between the humane children statement and God's role as parent, but it makes a lot of sense. Thank you!

It was hard to narrow it down because there are so many great comments! Thank you to all of you who take the time to join in the conversation and share your point of view.

The Stigma of "Smart": In Defense of Gifted Education

Sunday, January 29, 2012

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The Stigma of 'Smart': In Defense of Gifted Education | Faith Permeating Life

I remember being on a road trip with my family when I was probably around 7 or 8, doing a crossword puzzle or word search in one of the activity books my mom always packed for us on these long trips. I had gotten all but one word, and though I stared at it a long time, I couldn't figure it out, and I finally had to look it up in the back.

The word was "smart." The irony struck me immediately and I had to share. Laughing, I announced, "I got all the words except 'smart'! I'm smart, but I couldn't figure out the word 'smart'!"

My parents began conferring in whispers about whether they needed to tell me that it wasn't polite to say I was smart. I remember it vividly because that was the first instance that it dawned on me that my intelligence level wasn't just another fact about me, like my height or my age or the fact that I had strawberry blonde hair. Despite being told over and over again how smart I was, this wasn't something I was supposed to acknowledge about myself.

I attempted to save face by turning to my brother and saying, "Isn't it funny? I was smart enough to get all the other words in this whole puzzle, but I couldn't get the word 'smart' itself!"

That was one of many experiences to come in which I would downplay my intelligence to avoid being looked down upon.

To give you some snapshots of what the first 10 years of my life were like:
  • I learned to read when I was 4, and one of my earliest memories is a reading test we had to do at the beginning of kindergarten. The teacher's assistant had this packet of paper with columns of words on each page -- I'm guessing they got progressively harder as you went, to see how many words kids could recognize coming in. After going through about four pages of words with me, she got bored of listening to me read and just gave me whatever the top score was.
  • In first grade, I learned that the pace of the class was determined by how long it took for someone to raise their hand and give the correct answer to teacher's question. Soon after that, I learned that I had to pretend not to know the answer a lot or else the teacher would start saying, "Does anyone other than Jessica know the answer?"
  • I was one of a handful of second graders chosen to be in a "2/3 split," meaning the class was mostly third graders but we were all together learning the same things. That year was great, and my teacher was fabulous. It wasn't actually skipping a grade, though, which meant I still had to do third grade. Again.
  • In third grade my teacher would give us spelling pre-tests at the beginning of each week, and then we'd be tested on the same list of words at the end of the week, unless we got everything right on the pre-test, in which case we had to come up with our own list of 10 spelling words to work on that week. After many tearful nights sitting for hours with my mother flipping through the dictionary, trying to find words long enough or complicated enough that I didn't immediately memorize the correct spelling, I started purposely missing a word on the pre-test so I wouldn't have to make my own list of words every week. Unfortunately my teacher overheard me telling my friend about this strategy, and I got in trouble.
  • In fourth grade we had weekly spelling tests again, except this time you had find a replacement word for each word you got right on the pre-test. Not wanting to miss all the words on the pre-test, I resigned myself to more long, tearful nights with my mom and the dictionary.

I did test into the gifted program in grade school, which meant once a week I would leave class for an hour or so to go do fun, challenging things with the other gifted kids. It wasn't an ideal situation, but it was more than worth it for me. That was where I learned to play Set, which remains one of my favorite games to this day. We were given challenges, like when we had to pick stocks and try to build the best portfolio or when we had to build a contraption out of foil that would keep ice cubes cold the longest. Even though I had to leave my regular class to go to another part of the school, it was a better situation than if we'd stayed in Washington, where I would have been bused to another location to participate in the gifted program.

When I started middle school, everything changed. The gifted program was its own "team," meaning we had our core classes together rather than just doing extra activities once a week, and we had our own set of teachers who taught only the gifted students.

For the first time since second grade, I was truly challenged. I didn't have to pretend not to know the answer to the teacher's question because either half the class also had their hand raised, or I really didn't know the answer because it was that difficult. I didn't have to purposely miss questions to avoid extra work; our weekly vocabulary lists were all new to me. The quality of work that got me an endless string of A+'s in grade school now had red marks throughout it, and I had to step up my game. I was pushed to read books that were above my grade level.

I learned to write. I learned to research. I learned to do algebra. I learned at a pace that felt natural to me. And I made friends who enjoyed being challenged as much as I did, friends I've kept to this day.

I have also remained good friends with my middle school English teacher, who is still at the same school doing the same work but nearing retirement. Every so often when I get together with her she'll tell me that there is talk brewing about doing away with the gifted program. That it's "elitist" and "unnecessary," according to people in the district.

It makes my blood boil just thinking about it. Who would I be today without those classes? If I'd continued to be taught at a slow, slow pace and encouraged not to show off my intelligence too much, how would that have shaped me?

I was exceptionally blessed that I was admired and not bullied by my classmates in grade school, but I don't think that would have continued if I'd been put in regular classes in middle school. Middle school is a rough time for anyone, and it was clear in a lot of ways that we were the rejects of the school -- even most of the administrators refused to treat us like just another team when making announcements to the school or organizing our grade to go on field trips. Our team would either be ignored altogether or they'd draw special attention to us for being different.

Elitist? We were never on the top of any social order. We were on the bottom, and we knew it, but we didn't care, because we had each other. The fact that I spent most of my day with, and made friends with, people whose minds worked like mine sheltered me from social isolation.

When my grandmother was in school, they didn't have these kinds of gifted programs. You just skipped grades. She started college when she was 15. I am so, so grateful I didn't have to do that. I was able to grow emotionally and socially along with my peers, while still being intellectually challenged.

What good would it do to take the brightest students and slow them down by putting them back into regular classrooms? School is a place to encourage learning, not stifle it. To nourish creativity and intellectual growth, not force everyone to learn at the pace of the lowest common denominator.

And the opposite is true as well. In grade school sometimes the teacher would take my correct answers to mean that the entire class understood something, and then I'd have people coming over to ask me to explain things because the teacher had gone too fast for them. Having a student who gets impatient and speeds up the lesson makes it worse for those who need extra help.

Being on the gifted team in middle school was a lifesaver for me. It is not the right place for everyone, but it was the right place for me, beyond the shadow of a doubt. There is a lot that I would change about our educational system, but I will defend the good that my gifted program did for me to the day I die.

Faith Permeating Life in 2012

Thursday, January 26, 2012

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Faith Permeating Life in 2012 | Faith Permeating Life

I'm still plugging along at the SITS Girls' 31 Days to Build a Better Blog challenge, and you may notice some changes as things go along. I've added a mobile-friendly template and I'll be condensing my sidebar soon to make navigation a bit easier. Thanks to those of you who follow me on Twitter for putting up with my slightly more frequent tweeting; if you're a blogger, I suggest following along with the #SITS31DBBB hashtag -- lots of good advice and support!

More importantly, here are some things you can look forward to seeing on FPL soon:

1. I'm launching a new guest post series called "What Marriage Means to Me." Anyone can contribute: married, unmarried, divorced, gay, straight, old, young, whatever. I've shared previously what my marriage means to me, but I don't want you to get just my perspective, because it's certainly not the only one. Hearing other people's thoughts on why they got married, didn't get married, or want (or don't want) to get married helps me to reflect more deeply and understand more fully my own personal commitment to Mike.

If you're interested in writing for the series, send me an e-mail at jessica -at- faithpermeatinglife dot com with a brief description of how you plan to approach the topic.

2. I'm going to start posting at the end of each month the best reader comments from that month. I have such awesome, thoughtful readers, and so many insightful, funny, and just plain wonderful comments are shared on posts here. I started thinking, I wish everyone would read the comments and see these great thoughts! Then I realized I could pick a selection of comments myself and share them once a month, with links back to the commenter's site where applicable. I'll be including a link-up tool in case you'd like to join in and do the same on your site!

3. Three Books on Thursday is going to be bigger and better from now on. I've been actively recruiting blogging book lovers for February's link-up, and I think there's going to be a good variety of book recommendations for you to explore. Even if it's your first time here, feel free to join in -- all you have to do is post three related book recommendations on the first Thursday of the month and then submit your link on this month's post here. Here are some past 3BoT posts:My February post will be "My Three Favorite Children's Books." You can contribute recommendations in the same or a different category!

So those are three things you can expect to see here soon! I want to create more of a community voice here, so you get other people's thoughts and suggestions in addition to my own. If you have more ideas for how to make this happen, please share in comments!

Finally, you can always connect with me on Twitter and Facebook, where I share thoughts, questions, and links to interesting articles and blog posts. And you're more than welcome to send me questions or post topic suggestions on either of these networks or via e-mail at jessica -at- faithpermeatinglife dot com.

I look forward to the wonderful discussions to come!

Being the "Perfect Wife": How I Handle a Cranky Spouse

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

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Being the 'Perfect Wife': How I Handle a Cranky Spouse | Faith Permeating Life

When Mike got home from work today, he was in a foul mood.

He'd spent an hour and a half in the car going to pick up this month's meat from our CSA. There's always terrible traffic in that area at rush hour, plus the food wasn't labeled well and we ended up short three jars of jam, plus this was the second week in a row he'd had to go out there because last week he didn't get the message they'd moved the pick-up date until he'd already fought his way there.

He dumped the bag of frozen meat on the kitchen counter, snapped at me when I expressed disappointment that they'd only given us a pound of ground beef, and then stalked off to take a shower.

So I did what I tend to do when he's cranky.

I went into "Perfect Wife" mode.

I marked down on the freezer door sheet which meat we'd gotten and put the meat away in the freezer and the honey and jam in the pantry.

I packaged up Mike's textbooks we'd sold that need to get mailed off tomorrow (something we'd done together previously).

I fed the rats.

I vacuumed the area around their cage.

I changed out of my work clothes and was just getting started on my workout when he came out of the shower. I didn't say a word to him until I was sure he was in a better mood.

I've noticed this is something I tend to do when Mike's angry. If we're having an argument, that's one thing, but if he's just in a bad mood, then my tendency is to get extremely quiet, not speak unless I'm spoken to, and go about the apartment taking care of chores and such. If I sit down, I'll avoid getting on the computer, where I could be wasting time, and will instead do something obviously benign, like knitting.

Basically I attempt to eliminate any possible word or action that could turn his bad mood against me.

On the one hand, this bothers me. It resembles too closely what victims of abuse do -- try to become perfect wives or children in hopes that the abuser won't be able to find fault and lash out at them. And Mike isn't abusive by any stretch of the imagination. It has everything to do with me and how I can't stand being reprimanded. It's like I know that the chances of him getting annoyed with me for no good reason have gone up just because he's cranky, and being unfairly accused so frightens me that I try to eliminate the possibility altogether.

(I could get all therapist-y on myself and reflect on how I developed this kind of coping mechanism when I was growing up, for the same reason... but I won't.)

On the other hand, I'm grateful for these moments. They show me my potential. They remind me that, when I'm incredibly focused, I can speed through my to-do items without dawdling or getting distracted. They prevent me from my default motion of getting on my computer, and instead force me to ask, "What's the best use of my time right now? What would I like to be doing?"

These moments where I try to be a perfect wife show me what I think the best version of myself looks like, and that I'm able to achieve that, if only for a short period of time.

Most of all, I'm glad to be forced to push my own concerns to the side momentarily. I'm able to zero in on How can I be most useful right now? What would take stress off Mike? What would make Mike happier?

I need to take care of myself, of course, but I need that balance, also. That reminder that I'm part of a partnership, and sometimes he serves me, and sometimes I serve him, but we both try to make life a little better for the other.

It's also a good reminder that sometimes we each just need some space. In a way, Mike does the same thing with me: If he figures out that I'm cranky and I'm lashing out at him for no reason, he'll separate himself from me -- go the other side of the apartment and get on his computer -- until I've calmed down. He's learned (mostly) that trying to cheer me up by joking around is the wrong way to go. If I have a sphere of anger around me, I need to clear it out in order to get rid of it. Having him in it is just going to make things worse and lead to arguments for no good reason.

Every couple is different, and some people need their spouse to cheer them out of a bad mood. I'm glad Mike and I have learned what works for us. I think we've eliminated a lot of arguments simply by knowing when to shut up and get out of the other person's space. We've learned how to recognize each other's moods and know when not to take them personally.

How do you deal with it when your partner's cranky? Do you know what makes it better or worse?

How Many Heaven Points Do You Have?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

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How Many Heaven Points Do You Have? | Faith Permeating Life

How many heaven points do you have?

I mean, let's see, we practice NFP, so that's gotta be one point, and we tithe 10%, so that's another point, and I go to Mass every weekend -- actually twice, so I guess that's two points, with maybe a bonus point for singing in the choir...

I hope you realize I'm not serious.

Yet I keep seeing this way of thinking cropping up, particularly among those who seem to be feeling guilty that they aren't doing everything right.

Take family size, for example. Not only within the Quiverfull movement but among in some NFP-practicing Catholic circles (as I've written about before), there is this notion that those who strive to have large families are somehow the most holy, the most Christian, the most obedient to God's Law.

Of course, there are caveats, like if you're not married (wouldn't want you having sex outside of marriage now!) or if you are part of a religious order. But the married couples who are being most "fruitful" are clearly the holiest... right?

The upshot of this is that I see women who are already receiving pressure from society about their "biological clocks" stressing out about not getting married soon enough or not making babies soon enough or feeling called to parent only a few children.

But why?

Do we really think God is up there with His clipboard going, "Oh, you get bonus points for having your 10th child! But you, you lose points because you only had two children"?

What about material goods? Is God counting the square footage of your home and giving you blessings the tinier your living space is? Is he docking points because you buy a 4-bedroom house?

Do you automatically lose points if you had the misfortunate to be born in the wealthiest country in the world and didn't immediately decide to leave?

Do you see how ridiculous this sounds, and how completely out of line with the Gospel?

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also." (Matthew 23:25-26)

I've been reading The Message version of the Gospels, which, because of the conversational tone in which it's written, means that I'm able to read through an entire book much faster. It's given me a broader perspective on Jesus' teachings, and I see just how much He repeats the same few simple messages: It's what it's your heart that matters. Have faith. Treat other people with love.

These are things you can't count up on a scoreboard or check off on a checklist.

They require a complete transformation and giving of self.

They are about who you are at your core, and then what you do because of who you are. Not because of what you think you're supposed to do to get into heaven.

It's the same reason scorekeeping doesn't work in marriage. You do loving things for your spouse because you love your spouse. If everything you do is a way to balance the books, to make sure you've done "your share" of things; if you have sex only because you're supposed to and not out of any affection for your spouse; if you are constantly calculating whether you've done "enough," then haven't you lost touch with what a loving marriage looks like?

Why should our relationship with God be any different?

Not everyone has the same callings in life. We know this, and we see it in the Bible as well. Jesus Himself says only some people are called to marriage (Matthew 19:11) and Saint Paul says God gives everyone different gifts and different ministries (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). The core commandments remain the same -- faith, hope, love -- but can we really expect the manifestations of those to look exactly the same in every person's life?

Let go of your guilt for not living the perfect Christian life. There are no heaven points to be earned. There is no one right answer for everyone to the questions, "How many children should I have?" or "How many possessions am I allowed to own?"

Instead ask, "Where am I forgetting to trust God? How can I do better at loving others?"

Those are much more difficult and more worthwhile questions.

11 Facts About Me You Probably Didn't Already Know

Thursday, January 19, 2012

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11 Facts About Me You Probably Didn't Already Know | Faith Permeating Life

Hello! I planned to have a really awesomely amazing post for you today, seeing as doing the SITS challenge is driving a bunch of people to my blog, but... I am sick and my brain is mush.

So instead you get to learn some new things about me. Hopefully you find this somewhat interesting.

Thanks again to Emmy for tagging me and making me feel special.

P.S. I am not posting the rules because I am going to break the rules. Especially rule #1, which is "You must post these rules."

11 Facts About Me:

1. I have always hated both gum and coffee. Thus I've successfully been considered strange as both a kid and an adult.

2. I stopped buying desserts and soda in college and now I'm so used to not having them that when we do end up with them somehow, they usually sit in our fridge or on our counter for forever. So I've been known to make myself eat chocolate just to get rid of it. It's very strange to me.

3. It really bugs me to feel my own breath on my skin. Thus I have to have a sheet over my arms when I sleep even if it's too hot to have it covering the rest of me.

4. I once tried to learn to speak Afrikaans because I was semi-dating a guy from South Africa. That didn't last long (the learning or the relationship).

5. I did, however, learn a song in Afrikaans, which I sang in front of most of my high school at our multicultural show. I still can't believe I actually did that. I don't do solos. My semi-boyfriend's mom said it was lovely. His dad said he couldn't understand a word.

6. Also, I took two semesters of guitar class in college and sang and played "Bless the Broken Road" at our end-of-the-year coffeehouse performance. Also can't believe I did that. I don't remember a single thing about playing the guitar now.

7. My engagement ring has the diamond from my grandma's engagement ring in it. My grandma died seven months after I started dating Mike, so she never got to meet him, but I know she would have loved him.

8. I had a fibroadenoma removed from my right breast when I was in college. Less than a year later, I had to have a lymphnode removed from my left armpit because it had been swollen and painful for an entire year. Neither one were cancerous, but it's made me paranoid about abnormalities on my body ever since.

9. Mike built a shelf that runs all the way across the top of our balcony door and put all our nonfiction books in it. I rearranged them all by color, which is completely unlike me because I like everything to be alphabetized. But I kind of love it.

UPDATE: By request, I dug out my camera and took a picture of it. The big black thing in the middle of the blue books is a speaker -- Mike has a home theater system.

Bookshelf with books in rainbow order

10. I have 4,765 songs in my iTunes, and almost all of them have the proper song title, artist, composer, year, and artwork attached. I spent the good part of a year painstakingly verifying this information online, and then I discovered there was software I could have bought that would have done it for me. Oh well.

11. I have a minor in French but after studying it for seven years still have only basic, basic conversational skills. I've been nagging myself for a few years to take advantage of our library's free online lessons, to take a class through my college, etc. and it just hasn't happened, so I finally decided to hire a private tutor. I decided it's worth committing money to something that I care about, and I will learn a lot faster with personalized feedback than in a class. I'm super nervous but also excited!

OK, now I will answer the questions that Emmy came up with.

1) Best 90's TV show?
"Clarissa Explains It All" (Wikipedia link here)

2) That one toy when you were a kid that rarely left your side.
I don't think I had one. I did love my Talking Whiz Kid, though.

3) What is your order at Starbucks (or if you don't go there, another restaurant of choice)?
Caramel apple cider, on the rare occasions I go there. (I don't drink coffee -- see above!)

4) What book are you currently reading? Are you enjoying it?
I am reading Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat about human-animal relationships. It's good, a little choppy, but I'm having a little trouble getting through it because I mostly read on my lunch hour, and it's not exactly a good book to read while you're eating.

5) What was the last movie you saw in theatres?
The Muppets! It was quite excellent.

6) It's the end of the day and you just got done with class/work/etc. What's your routine?
I walk 20 minutes to the train station, take a train into the suburbs, walk from the station to where my car is parked, and drive home. I get the mail, open the apartment door and yell hello to Mike, then hang up my bag, purse, and coat, take my shoes off, and go find Mike to give him a kiss if he hasn't already come over to greet me. I put my lunchbox on the kitchen counter so Mike will wash out the containers with the dinner dishes and put my water bottle on the couch next to my laptop. Then either we eat dinner, or I do Wii Fit, or I get on my computer. The end.

7) A big blizzard just hit and EVERYTHING is cancelled. What do you do with your day?
This happened last February and I honestly don't remember what we did except for digging the cars out (because I took pictures of that). I would probably do a lot of sleeping, reading, watching movies with Mike, and spending way too much time on the computer reading and commenting on blogs and watching the Twitter stream about the blizzard.

8) When something BIG happens who is the first person you call?
Mike. Unless it's something involving me and Mike, in which case I'd probably call one of my two best friends or my mom.

9) What is the one thing that can make you laugh EVERY TIME?
Having lunch with any of my friends. They are all awesome. Also this cracks me up for some reason every time I read it.

10) Your favorite part of the day?
Cuddling in bed with Mike. Sadly, this does not happen every day because I like to stay up late on my weekend nights (Friday and Saturday) and he likes to stay up late on his (Tuesday and Wednesday). But when it happens, it's my favorite :)

11) One fact you want me to know about you.
Hey, didn't I just tell you 11 facts about me? Hm, how about: I would not be able to do half the stuff I do at my job without Google. I work with Excel all the time and have probably Googled how to fill all blank cells in a range with a specific value like... 10 times.

Now I am going to be a rebel and not come up with 11 questions of my own and tag 11 people because, as Lozzz said, many of the people I would tag have already been tagged (some multiple times), and the rest would probably not do it.

But if you feel so inclined, go ahead and share one fact about yourself in comments!

Why I Do... Everything (Including Blogging)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

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Why I Do... Everything (Including Blogging) | Faith Permeating Life

Thanks to everyone who posted suggestions for reclaiming my life from my to-do lists. Talking through it helped me figure out what I was already doing that was working and what else I can focus on.

That post was one piece of a larger existential crisis I've been having the past few days. Several factors have recently caused me to ask, "What am I doing with my life?" more times than I would care to in the past few days:
  • Spending a few weeks looking at my vision board has brought contrasts between life-as-it-is and my-ideal-life into sharp focus. I see comfort, fun, and relaxation in front of me, and I find myself working, working, working all the time. This sparked my last post.
  • I've recently gotten very into Ramit Sethi's site, just in time for him to start a new focus on finding your dream job. Perfect, since I'm launching this new side business in job search coaching, right? But then he asks hard questions, like what the key takeaway someone would have from my resume is. How do I want people to describe me with only 10 seconds of information?
  • I'm doing the SITS girls' 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Challenge, which has been awesome so far but has necessarily raised some identity issues. I'm comfortable saying, "I don't have a niche" but those of us who are niche-less were challenged to ask ourselves, "Why do you blog? What is your purpose? What are your goals?"

After some reflection about why I create the goals I do, I've determined that this blog is a microcosm of my life. In other words, the reasons I write here are the same reasons I do anything that's important to me.

With that in mind, I want to share the three big things that I think drive me -- Challenge, Confidence, and Connection -- and how they relate to both this blog and my life as a whole. Then I'll ask for your thoughts on whether I'm meeting these goals here.

  • In my life: In the sense of learning, I have always loved being challenged. I took programming classes the past year and stuck with it even when it kicked my butt. It's important to me to be in what Gretchen Rubin calls "an atmosphere of growth," one of her keys to happiness. And in another sense of the word challenge, the more that I get to know myself and identify my beliefs and what I'm passionate about, the more I feel comfortable challenging other people on things they say that are ignorant or rude.
  • On this blog: A lot of what I write is putting my opinions out there on various topics (religion, sex education, gay marriage), and that's for two reasons. One, I know that my experience is limited, and I want other people to challenge me when I make assumptions or haven't considered every angle in forming my views. Two, I want to challenge other people to think through these issues, either to reflect on something they may not have thought about before, or to consider another perspective on an issue.

  • In my life: I realized that a big motivator for much of the work that I do is to instill confidence in other people. In my editing work, I decided not to seek freelance work from publishing houses and instead to stick to working one-on-one with aspiring authors, because I love helping them feel more confident in their manuscripts and in their ability to get published. And the reason I'm starting job search coaching for new grads is because of how much I loved giving my college students confidence in their own skills and ability to land a job. Instilling confidence in others is definitely a driver for me.
  • On this blog: My "tips and advice" category is similar to the feedback I give my authors and students, about what works and what doesn't, except it's based on my own experience with life in general. Whether it's how to network at conferences or how to argue with your spouse, I'm motivated to alleviate anxiety and help people feel more confident in a variety of situations. I also think people feel confident when they feel less alone, whether it's that someone else shares their opinions or just that someone has the same struggles. I know I do.

  • In my life: Several of my happiness resolutions last year stemmed from a desire for greater connection with the people in my life, whether it was sending an e-mail every day, saying yes to social events, or having one lunch date a month. The interviews I did with my family members last year, and my goal to get back into genealogy this year, come from a desire to connect to my roots, to feel more linked to my ancestors. And I am continually trying to find ways to stay connected to God and to Mike, which is why praying with Mike every night is something I will continue to resurrect no matter how many times we let it fall to the wayside.
  • On this blog: You, my readers, are the main reason I'm still doing this! It's not just about being challenged on my political views or giving people advice, it's about sharing my life with others and having them share theirs with me in return. I feel blessed to have readers who are supportive of me, who give me advice when I ask for, and who give me a kick in the butt when I need it. So many of you I consider my friends. And that motivates me to keep writing!

Thinking through these motivators in my life has given me clarity in terms of defining my priorities and feeling confident (ha) in the projects I'm pursuing this year. These probably don't cover everything, but they've given me a better structure within which to ask, "What am I doing with my life? And what do I want to be doing?"

And because I feel most people are motivated by challenge and connection, it's the confidence one that's stuck with me as perhaps being a particular calling of mine.

So to you, dear reader, I ask these questions, and I hope you'll take some time to really think about them and respond. (The second one may be its own post!)

How has Faith Permeating Life succeeded in the areas of Challenge, Confidence, and Connection, and how could it be better?

What motivates you in your life?

Help! I'm Drowning in My To-Do List

Sunday, January 15, 2012

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Help! I'm Drowning in My To-Do List | Faith Permeating Life

You're probably thinking this post is going to be me complaining about how long my to-do list is.

But it's not. Not really. It's about something deeper, something that God has nagging me about for a while now.

It's that I'm losing myself inside my to-do lists.

To give you some context: I'm the kind of person who constantly has things I need to do, should do, and want to do running through my head. And the more that I pursue new goals and projects, the more mountains of need-should-wants pop up everywhere I turn.

The to-do list is just a tool that keeps me from going crazy. Often once I've written everything down that I need-should-want to do, I see there's not as much as I thought there was when it was in my head stressing me out.

At work, I live off my to-do list. If something's not on there, it doesn't get done. At the beginning of the day, I copy down any remaining items from the previous day's list and then work through them methodically, adding new things as they come up. It keeps me focused and productive and feeling like I've accomplished a lot, and rarely do I have more than a few things left at the end of the day; it's not unusual for me to actually finish the last item before I leave for the day.

The problem is that I've been trying to apply this same structure to life at home. But I'm at work for 8 hours straight every day, 5 days a week. Of course it's not hard to get through everything. And my boss only gives me as much work as I can reasonably get done -- sometimes, not enough. Plus, once they're assigned to me, they're all things I need to get done, just with different priority levels and deadlines.

At home, I don't just have one category (need to do). I have things I need to do because they have a deadline (pay our insurance bill, mail this book someone ordered from us on Half.com), things I should do even though they don't have a deadline (exercise, plan meals), and things I just want to do (comment on blogs, design my new blog business cards).

But the categories aren't even that clear. I need to clean out the rats' cage eventually, and I should do it today, but I don't have to. I was supposed to knit my mother-in-law a hat for Christmas, so I felt guilty about not having finished it, even though really I don't think she would have cared that much if I never gave it to her. I told Mike I'd post some more books on Half.com, and I want to clear out the space and make the money, but it's not exactly pressing that I do it today or even this week. And on and on.

My weekends, which should be time for me to rest and recharge before going back to work, have instead become marathon sessions of tackling my to-do items.

As I've set more goals for myself this past year and tried to focus on the things I really wanted to be doing with my life, I've found that the pace of adding things to do has outstripped my ability to get them done.

I tried doing 'Becca's approach of trying to accomplish three things a day, but my backlog kept getting longer and longer, and I needed to write down everything regardless so it wouldn't stress me out.

When I was in college, I taught myself not to procrastinate. If I had things to get done, I would tackle them immediately and work and work until they were done, and then I could go hang out with friends or whatever. Big projects had to be done in pieces over time, of course, but if I had some little things I could knock out, I taught myself to get those done before doing anything else, anything fun. And because schoolwork comes in a finite amount and has clear deadlines, this system worked.

Now that I've discovered I have a bottomless to-do list, this habit is working against me.

One of the things I learned during my happiness project is that I've lost touch with knowing what I enjoy doing by myself. I enjoy spending time with other people, I enjoy playing games, I enjoy talking with Mike, and all of these things I will make time for without too much trouble. But because I taught myself to get anxious if I was doing something unproductive (e.g., playing a computer game) when I had things that needed to get done or should get done, it's like I've lost my ability to goof off. Everything has become a task. Even checking Facebook and Twitter is methodical.

And because there are always more things waiting on my need-to-do or should-do list, I haven't been forced to rediscover the things I find fun. The things I enjoy that make me who I am.

My to-do list has gone from providing me structure for my life to structuring my life for me.

Obviously I've accomplished a lot of stuff in the past year. I finally took programming classes, something I'd wanted to do for years. I've grown my blog, which I love. Mike and I are finally almost done with this art project we've been working on for about two years. I've made several prayer shawls (and a hat -- I stayed up last night to finish it!). I made a DVD compilation of interviews with my mom and her siblings and actually got it done in time for Christmas.

But I've also filed a bajillion papers, cleaned the rats' cage more times than I can count, washed their smelly bedding again and again, deposited Mike's paychecks twice a month, exercised twice a week, called up customer service of way more companies than I wished I ever had to talk to, transferred money between accounts, paid bills, gone grocery shopping, charged my cell phone, cleaned old food out of the fridge... the list goes on and on. (I'm flipping back through my to-do notebook.)

So the questions I have for myself (and for you) are this:
  • How do I spend more time doing the former activities -- things that move me toward my goals and create the life I want to have -- and less time doing the latter activities -- the repetitive but necessary activities of life?
  • How do I help myself feel accomplished when there are always more things to do? How do I look at my to-do list and see the things that are crossed off instead of all the things that aren't?
  • How do I rediscover and make time for things that are fun but completely unproductive, things that would be relaxing to me if I could rid myself of the anxiety of unfinished projects in the back of my mind?
  • How do I either learn to live with clutter without getting so anxious, or else build a better system so I'm not constantly doing maintenance-type activities (filing papers, clearing dishes) to keep it uncluttered?
  • How do I make Mike a partner in tackling the to-do's without getting irritated with him when he forgets or decides to prioritize fun things, like video games, ahead of them?

This is something I've been avoiding dealing with for a while because it was easy -- "Hey, look at me! Look at how productive I am! Look at how many things I checked off my list today! I'm awesome!" -- but it's genuinely taking a toll on me and making me into a checklist-driven machine who's losing her ability to relax and have fun. I told you that God tells me what I need to focus on. Several weeks ago in church I got a very clear image of myself climbing up an endless mountain. As if I've made my goal in life to get to the top of a mountain that has no top. And I don't want that. There's no way that I was put on this earth simply to check things off a never-ending to-do list.

It's entirely possible I am the only one with this problem -- I mean, everyone is always complaining about how they procrastinate, not the opposite, right? But if you have any thoughts at all, I'd appreciate the help.

Liebster Blog Award: 5 Awesome Bloggers

Friday, January 13, 2012

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I've had quite a week of feeling special in the blogosphere! First Emmy tagged me in the 11 questions game, which was the first time I'd ever by tagged by anybody for anything (that I know of, anyway). That post is forthcoming, once I can come up with 11 semi-interesting facts about myself that you don't already know.

Then I got an even bigger surprise when Macha presented me with a blog award.

Liebster Blog Award

This just floored me because the Liebster blog award, from what I can tell, is given to those bloggers you want to sincerely thank for the work they've done or the impact they've had on you. What a huge honor! Macha wrote some really nice things about me that you can read on her page if you're so inclined.

I mean, really, you should check out her blog regardless, because she's awesome and would totally be on my list of nominations if she hadn't already received the award.

The best part is that I now have the opportunity to select five bloggers whose writing has influenced my life and to thank them by passing this award on. I also read on some other blogs that this award is intended for blogs with smaller followings (some say under 100 followers, some say under 300), so going off Google Reader's subscription stats, these folks all fit the stipulations.

On to the nominations!

'Becca of The Earthling's Handbook. Just in case you guys haven't heard me fangirl enough about 'Becca, I'll tell you why she's awesome. Her site is full of practical tips about everything, and she actually provides detailed enough information to make it useful. I also resonate with her philosophies, especially about parenting and environmentalism, so she's been a role model for me in that way. I'm so glad she found my blog, and I'm definitely a better person for it!

Emmy of Love Woke Me Up This Morning. Emmy is such a positive person. She just has this exuberance for life that makes me smile every time I see a new post from her. From reading her blog, I've always felt that she embraces everything about herself, from her love of Harry Potter and Glee to her thoughts, joy, and questions about her faith, and she genuinely cares about other people, as evidenced through her posts and her passionate involvement in Love Bomb and Love Drop. I had the privilege of meeting her in person when she drove me to the final Love Drop in December, and I feel blessed to call her my friend!

Jorah of Diary of a Dying Girl. How often do you become deeply invested in another blogger's life? With Jorah, it's impossible not to -- she sucks you in from the get-go with her amazingly beautiful, honest, raw, heartbreaking writing and her crazy interesting life. I have spent an entire day just trying to come up with the right thing to comment on her blog. She's had a huge impact on me, from prodding me to be more raw and honest on here, to constantly reflecting on whether I'd be happy with what I'm doing with my life if I knew I would die in a few years. Seriously: Go read her blog.

Rabbit of The Adventures of Rabbit and Turtle. Rabbit has been reading this blog almost since the beginning -- I think she was one of my first 10 followers. She's tackled some of the more difficult posts I've written with responses on her own blog, from a 2-part response to my "Adoption and Selfishness" post to an honest reflection on my 9/11 anniversary post. Her perspective as a Byzantine Catholic has helped me sharpen my own thoughts about my identity and beliefs as a Roman Catholic. Much of her blog is providing updates on her life and keeping herself accountable on her goals, and that reminds me to keep myself transparent and leverage this blog as a way to make sure I follow through on my goals.

Jackie of Blueberries for Me. Jackie writes another one of the few blogs I've found of fellow Catholics who aren't crazy conservative. She's intelligent and writes clearly and calmly. Many of her posts are challenging, thought-provoking, and refreshingly honest. For example, Being disappointed in the poor, Boobs, and I know how the innkeeper felt. These are the kinds of posts that stick with me and find their way into conversations I have over dinner with family and friends. But she also mixes in posts that are practical, instructional, or just fun. If you like my blog, I think you will like hers.

Those I've nominated, if you choose to participate, you also get to nominate five bloggers to pass the award to.

The rules are:
1. Show your thanks to the blogger who gave you the award by linking back to them.
2. Reveal your top 5 picks for the award and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Post the award on your blog.
4. Bask in the love from the most supportive people on the blogsphere – other bloggers.
5. And best of all – have fun and spread the karma.

Thanks again to Macha for the nomination!

Thoughts in Response to "Where I Feel Welcome (More Than at Church)"

Thursday, January 12, 2012

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Macha left such a great comment on Tuesday's post that I just had to share it here:
I think that the roots of the problems many Christian groups face, where the behavior of believers doesn't match up with the teachings/rhetoric of the faith, comes from people taking faith for granted. It can happen many ways, but the most common way I see it is when people have both fervor for the absolute truth of their faith and a complete lack of critical thinking about, and understanding of, what that truth actually is. I've seen people make jokes about how the Bible, for many Christians, is like the terms of service agreement - most people click "agree" without reading it. It's both clever and accurate.

People prioritize the belief that their faith is true above the belief in what that faith teaches. Christians often become more concerned with proving their faith right than with doing as their are instructed by Jesus's words. This is what happens, I think, when you see people using one single Bible verse to justify rude or mean behavior (like pointing to how Jesus drove out the money-changers or other similar incidents in his life). They hone in on one sentence from scripture, instead of taking the New Testament/Bible as a whole and thinking, what are the most common themes here? Doesn't Jesus (and God the Father, when we look at the OT as well) talk a whole lot more about loving and caring for outcasts and vulnerable people than he does about, for instance, sexual immorality?

That's my perspective of it. When faith in a particular religion involves no critical thinking or personal reflection, things just go haywire.
The part that struck me most was this: "People prioritize the belief that their faith is true above the belief in what that faith teaches."

This immediately reminded me of a scene in For the Bible Tells Me So in which people who are picketing something-or-other with anti-gay "Biblical" signs are interviewed and asked what exactly the Bible says about gay people. I wish I had the clip to show you, but at least one person says he knows it says in the Bible that God hates gay people; he doesn't know where, but just knows it's in there and that's good enough for him.

I understand that faith, by definition, requires accepting some things you do not fully understand. But how can you say that you believe in a holy book if you don't even know what it says? It's one thing not to fully understand everything that's in the Bible, but it's another thing to be so adament about defending the Bible that you will go marching out with signs even though you haven't actually confirmed that what your sign says is in the Bible.

But that's because, when you have religion, you don't have to actually check things out for yourself or reflect on them yourself or consider them holistically.

In fact, as I have a particular focus on the issue of gay marriage in the Catholic Church, I see more and more religious leaders discouraging people from thinking about the issue for themselves. For example, the Minneapolis archbishop telling his priests they are to keep their personal thoughts about marriage to themselves. As Catholic leaders become fearful of not getting their way, their messages start sounding more and more like "Shut up and do what you're told."

So is it really any wonder when Christians choose to believe that the Bible says whatever they're told it says rather than finding out for themselves? Or when they focus on the parts they're told are the most important, instead of deciding for themselves which messages seem most prevalent?

I say this not as a way of pointing fingers or assigning blame, but rather the opposite. Religion is a complex way of making sense of faith, which is complex enough by itself, and it seems inevitable that there would eventually be attempts to simplify it, distill it, shape it into a series of steps to follow.

And when you're in a position of power, religious or not, the less and less that people seem to be listening to you or following your guidance, the more and more you want to just shut them all up and get everyone back on the same page. I can imagine it's like a teacher who loses her temper and yells at the class only when she feels she's completely lost control. I mean, Jesus Himself scared the heck out of the religious leaders of his day by questioning their teachings, right? And rather than taking the time to reflect on whether what He was saying made sense, they did everything they could to shut Him up.

So in answer to my original question -- how did the Christian community get so far away from Jesus' teachings of love and acceptance -- I think it's because Christianity became an organized religion. And as soon as that happened, people had this new entity, this religion, to look to for truth and guidance, and they no longer had to be self-reflective about Jesus' teachings, what it meant to follow Him, which parts of Jewish law were still applicable, etc. Certainly there have still been many scholars and others who have spent much time reading, studying, and reflecting on the Bible and how it fits with the world at large. But the Christian community as a whole is not all people like that, and that, I believe, is how we've largely drifted away from the actual teachings of Jesus.

That's what I got from Macha's comment. What do you think?

I leave you with this video that's been making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter (thanks to Emmy for first sharing the link with me):

Where I Feel Welcome (More Than at Church)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

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Where I Feel Welcome (More Than at Church) | Faith Permeating Life

In my junior year at the Catholic university Mike and I attended, I went to a meeting of a group that was hosting an upcoming event. I needed to get details about the event and interviews for an article for the school paper, and as head of the news section I had assigned this article to myself. I'd been wanting to attend this group's meetings for a while, but hadn't given myself the push to go until now.

The group was amazing. They completely welcomed me and shared with me not only information about the event but personal stories about their lives. If I initially felt awkward as an outsider, they all made me feel at home.

I attended this group almost every week for the rest of my time in college, including grad school. I served as secretary and helped plan some of the major events.

But the most memorable part was the people.

They loved me, accepted me, and became my campus family. No matter what else was going on in my life, I tried to make the time to come to the weekly meeting because I knew that they would take the burden off my shoulders. They would listen and give me hugs and brownies.

When I graduated, the group had a surprise party for me and gave me gifts.

I have never felt so loved by a group of people, except maybe my own family. I've remained friends with many of the members.

Who was the group, you ask?

It wasn't a Bible study or a Christian small group.

It wasn't even church-related.

It was the college's gay-straight alliance.

I'm pretty sure there was a period of time during the two-and-a-half years I was a member when I made up the "straight" part of "gay-straight alliance" all by myself, except possibly for one of the advisors. We had a policy of never asking anyone to share their sexual orientation, but through the intimate conversations our group had, it was pretty clear that I was straight.

But it never mattered.

They loved me anyway, exactly as I was.

I know this isn't the case for the entire gay community, but I have heard from other people, both straight and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender), who have had a similar experience. I recently read Sundays in America, by a woman who attended churches all over the U.S., and you immediately get the sense that the churches with a large LGBT population are the most welcoming, the most accepting, the most loving.

Why is that?

(I fully acknowledge that this can only ever be speculation because I am myself straight, but as probably a good third of my friends are LGBT, it's at least an educated guess.)

I can imagine that if many, many people -- often even your own family -- refuse to accept you for something that is fundamentally part of yourself, you have to seek acceptance among other people who are struggling in the same way. And the only way to sustain and grow this safe space of acceptance (especially at a Catholic university) is to be completely and totally accepting of everyone else who comes into that space.

I was blessed to find my way into that safe space.

When I was a freshman, I tried to get involved with several different Catholic groups on campus, but I never quite felt like I fit in. I didn't get super-excited about saying the rosary or going to adoration, so I always felt like I wasn't "Catholic enough" to be part of these groups. I couldn't reference the Catechism in everyday conversation or debate theology like those who had grown up in Catholic school. I could have tried to keep up or fake it, but it got to be too difficult to pretend to be someone I wasn't.

I do remember one time that year I was having a rough day and was looking for a sanctuary where I could just find some peace and be in God's presence. The main chapel was unlocked, so I went in and took a seat in the back. I soon realized that they were setting up for some event, and the guys who were bringing stuff in were giving me weird looks that made it clear I wasn't supposed to be there. I left after a few minutes.

A few years later, I was again having a terrible day and needing some rest and comfort for my soul. This time, I went inside the building where our gay-straight alliance meetings were held. Even though it wasn't a meeting night, just being in that building gave me the familiar peace and comfort of being totally loved, totally accepted. There I felt like I could lay my burdens at the feet of God, the way I could bring my troubles to the group at our meetings. In that place I didn't have to be good enough or "holy" enough or try to fit some preconceived notion of who I should be. I was loved no matter what.

My friends from the gay-straight alliance showed me more about what loving your neighbor truly looks like than the vast majority of Christians I have met.

My question to you is: How did the Christian community get so far away from this?

How did we get so far from Jesus' welcoming arms and His willingness to break bread with those whom the Pharisees and scribes had deemed "not good enough"?

When did we stop loving all of our neighbors and start only loving those neighbors who we deemed not sinful enough to be beneath us, or at least not sinful in the "wrong" ways? The "unforgivable" ways?

When did we make ourselves the gatekeepers of who is deserving of love and acceptance?

Christians used to be the unaccepted ones, the rejected ones, the ones who had to meet in secret or risk persecution. But in America in the 21st century, that's not the case. I'd even say you're better off being a Christian than not in terms of being accepted in most parts of the country.

And somewhere along the line, when being Christian became the thing to do, there was a standard created. There were fences put up. No longer were we just glad to find another person who accepted us and shared our beliefs. No longer were we down at the bottom of the social ladder, where we might as well hang out with lepers and prostitutes and whoever else was down there with us. No, we had been elevated, and that meant we could start looking down on other people.

I fear that there's no easy road back. No way for the Christian community at large to understand what my gay-straight alliance friends understood: that intimacy is built by first extending love and acceptance, while rejection only fosters isolation and separation.

In fact, I see the opposite happening: As the gay community becomes more visible and accepted in the mainstream, more and more judgments are made about LGBT people who are being "too gay" or "not gay enough." And these judgments are being made by those who are LGBT. A group that is not simply fighting to be acknowledged anymore can afford to start being exclusive. Creating standards for who's allowed "in."

Whether you are Christian, LGBT, both, neither, or not even sure, I ask you: Help me break down these barriers. Anywhere. Everywhere. Rip up the standards you have in your head for who is deserving of your love and acceptance.

Because the answer is: Nobody. And everybody.

None of us truly deserves or can earn God's love, and yet He loves all of us.

Can we really create standards that are better than God's?

A Resource Guide to Christianity and Homosexuality

Sunday, January 8, 2012

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The resource guide has been moved to a permanent page. Click here to view it.

3BoT Vol. 4: Three Books Every Woman Should Read

Thursday, January 5, 2012

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3BoT Vol. 4: Three Books Every Woman Should Read | 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 information about Three Books on Thursday.

This post needs a few caveats. As I talked about in my review of Why Gender Matters on the last 3BoT post, gender is considered by many to be an entirely social construct, and there is large variation in the interests, abilities, and experiences of people who identify with a certain gender. Nonetheless, there are some experiences that are common enough among women, and certain prejudices that still exist that hinder women, that I think it remains worthwhile to use gender categories.

I should note I am primarily speaking to those who identify and live as female. As this article indicates, transgender individuals who transition from male to female find themselves coming up against many of the same professional boundaries that cisgender women do, and those difficulties are what two of these three books address.

And finally, these are probably most helpful for American women, as these recommendations are based on my personal experience and I believe the research in all three books is mostly or entirely conducted among Americans. But I would guess that those of you in other countries would probably find value in these books as well.

On to the recommendations...

#1: Ask For It by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever
I'm recommending this book rather than the original, Women Don't Ask -- well, in part because I haven't read the other one, but also because this book contains not just a description of the problem but practical tips and helpful suggestions for actually doing something about it. You can read a much longer description of the book and my experience at a conference where I heard Sara Laschever speak in this post from last April, but the essential message is this: On the whole, men are far, far more likely to make requests and try to negotiate to improve their situation, whether it's asking for a higher salary or simply requesting better service at a hotel. It's easy to complain about how men get paid more than women, but change on a large scale takes a long time. If you want to make more money now, they'll give you steps to negotiate with your boss. It's a way not only to improve your own life but, to use Gandhi's famous quote, to "be the change you want to see in the world."

#2: Talking from 9 to 5 by Deborah Tannen
Deborah Tannen is sometimes dismissed by other communication researchers as "pop psych" because her books are written to be accessible to the general public, but her findings are still grounded into real research, and I love that she includes lots of transcripts of real-life conversations to illustrate her points. In this particular book she talks about some communication tactics that are more often found in women's speech than men's, how these approaches are often interpreted by men, and how that can subsequently affect how a woman is viewed professionally. Communication strategies often used in groups of women to build relationships and show goodwill -- like asking for others' thoughts on an idea rather than confidently stating one's opinion as correct -- can undermine a person's authority in the workplace. Rather than labeling one style of communication wrong or right, she uncovers how misinterpretations can occur and discusses how you might be more effective by better understanding how your communication style may be perceived.

#3: The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker
Really, I would recommend this to everyone, but I'm including it here because of how it runs contrary to many of the messages women often receive. (Also, according to the Epilogue, apparently Oprah said every woman in America should read this book.) The main idea is this: Your body is made to instinctively sense when you're in danger, and it propels you to respond through fear. But when we're told all the time that we have to watch out or some man's going to jump out from behind the bushes and kidnap/rape/mug/murder us, we begin to live in a state of anxiety that masks our ability to sense and respond to true fear. Other excellent parts of the book include: understanding and escaping from domestic violence; when a restraining order is helpful and when it actually puts you in more danger; why people attack celebrities; and how movies and TV reinforce the notion that it's romantic for a man to obsessively pursue an unwilling women, when in real life it's just creepy and inappropriate. Lots of good stuff in this book.

What other books would you recommend that women read? Share your suggestions in comments!

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Marriage Means I Can't Do Everything -- And I'm Glad

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

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Marriage Means I Can't Do Everything -- And I'm Glad | Faith Permeating Life

Today I was reading a friend's blog post talking about how she was glad she had the experience of living in the city last year, but that she's decided she's happier in the suburbs. She tried out city living for a while and found it wasn't for her.

Then, on the way home, I was listening to this week's Motivation to Move podcast talking about how you can truly do anything you want. The example Scott gave was that people may say, "You can't just quit your job and move to the Grand Canyon and become a park ranger," but he knows a guy who did just that.

If you know my and Mike's story, you know that shortly before I met him I was deadset on staying single. I wanted to be independent, to have freedom, to go wherever my career might take me. I wasn't going to have someone else's life plans messing up my ability to do whatever I wanted.

Obviously you know how that turned out.

Here's what I got to thinking, though: My life has so much more direction because I can't do everything.

For example, I have a friend who is super-passionate and always goes after his goals. He decided he wanted to live in Chicago, so he found a job and a place to live. Boom. Then he decided he wanted to do the Peace Corps and got accepted to the Peace Corps. Then he decided he'd rather live in D.C., and again, he had a job and a place to live there within a matter of months. After a year he decided he wanted a different job, and last I talked to him he'd landed an interview for exactly the job he wanted. He wants something, he makes it happen.

In a lot of ways, he's doing exactly what I dreamed I'd always do. Going where he wants, landing whatever job he wants, moving cities when he gets bored.

Yet I've realized that that kind of wanderlust doesn't suit me. (Besides the fact that I have no desire to travel the world.)

Because I'm married to Mike and he has a job and we have a nice apartment we like, I can't just up and move whenever I feel like it. What that means is that if I did want to change jobs or move somewhere else, I'd have to be really sure that's what I wanted. I'd have to talk it through with Mike and make sure it fit with our life goals and finances and that it was something I wanted enough to make it worth the big change it would cause in his life.

In this case, I'm not talking about how it's a tradeoff, about how I don't mind giving up my freedom to go wherever I want because I have someone to love me and listen to me and do the dishes. I mean it's literally helpful to me not to have infinite freedom to do anything.

For example, you know how I got my original job at the college I work for? Mike had another year of graduate school left when we got married, so I knew I had to get a job in the Chicago area. After it was clear that publishing jobs weren't panning out, I went to the websites of every single college in the Chicago area looking for job postings. Do you think I would have tried that approach if I'd had every college in the nation -- in the world -- available to me?

When I started in my job, it was far from being what I wanted to do. But I didn't have the luxury of job-hopping around the country, trying to find a job that suited me perfectly. So I made the best of my situation, and in doing so, created my own perfect job. I took on extra work from other offices to fill the time, found what I actually enjoyed, and eventually had a new position created just for me. Now I'm doing work I love, with and for people I love, at a school I love.

It's not what I expected to happen when I first applied for a job there, but because I was working with the limits of the situation -- I needed a job, any job, in the Chicago area, NOW, so we could get an apartment before our wedding -- I ended up right where I needed to be. Otherwise I might still be on a quest to find that perfect job that would make me happy in every way.

I can't help but draw a parallel to my faith here. God gave us free will, right? Yet how many people have really found lasting happiness by just doing whatever they want, whenever they want, and chasing after every new pleasure that arises? I believe it is through our relationships with God and other people that we learn self-sacrifice, patience, love, and the joy that comes from serving one another in community.

External pleasures will forever be fleeting, and if we bet our happiness on the next big thing, we are bound to find ourselves searching again. I've had much better luck simply working with the gifts I've been given and giving thanks for the blessings that are in my life -- though that's not always easy, for sure! But it's a fact that I can't do everything and be everything to everyone. God made me unique -- gave me a unique calling and unique abilities -- and when I work within those limitations rather than fighting them, I find great fulfillment and joy.

And that's one of the many things my marriage has taught me.

Plans for 2012!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

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Happy New Year!

I've been reading different people's blog posts all day with their lists of resolutions for the new year. I promise this is not going to be one of those. Well... not exactly, anyway.

As you probably know, I spent 2011 doing a happiness project, which was exactly the kind of project a left-brained organization freak like me thrives on. It had lists upon lists -- a list of happiness commandments, a list of monthly themes, monthly lists of resolutions, and checklists each day to review those resolutions. It was an extremely methodical way of making change in my life, and it did a lot of good for me, but it was a lot of work.

I'm going in an entirely new direction for 2012.

When I visited my aunt at the end of October, I told her about the happiness project, and she told me about a completely different approach to making change in your life, called a "vision board." It's supposed to be the right-brain version of making resolutions. The idea is that you cut a bunch of pictures out of magazines to illustrate the kind of life you want to being moving toward, put it in a place where you'll see it often, and then let your subconscious move you toward those goals. She and her friends were planning to get together the following week and make their own vision boards.

Understand that my aunt is a licensed psychologist, so while my first impression was that the whole vision board thing was kind of overly hokey and New Age-y, it started me thinking about what I did know about the subconscious mind and how many people I knew who swore by "the law of attraction" and stuff like that.

Also I liked the idea of not having to do any carefully documented work to reach my goals.

So while everyone else was writing out their attainable, reasonable, measurable goals yesterday and today, I was putting pretty pictures from Pinterest into Photoshop.

Since I don't really have a desk at home -- I use my laptop on the couch -- I decided to make my desktop background my vision board. That will guarantee that I see it every day.

I did some reading on what makes a "good" vision board, and basically you don't want to do what was my first instinct, which is to make a list of goals, pick a picture to represent each one, and put them together. It's more that you want the whole feeling of the vision board to match the feeling you want to have in your life.

I don't think I quite succeeded with this, as my board includes some specific things I want more of (like playing board games and knitting), but overall there are two strong feelings: colorful and comfortable. In general it seems I want this year to include a lot of fun, a lot of creating, and a lot of self-care.

(Sorry, I am not posting my actual vision board because it includes pictures of Mike and me. Also because I don't feel like sourcing all the Pinterest photos.)

I am setting one concrete, if not entirely measurable, goal for 2012, which is to officially launch my side business as a job search coach. My niche is going to be new graduates and young professionals. There are a lot of job coaches out there aimed at experienced professionals, but I really want to work with those people newly out of school who don't necessarily have a solid understanding of what they have to offer or how the world of hiring works.

What I loved about teaching employment interviewing was that I would get these students who came into my class feeling like they had no experience and no skills and left feeling confident that they could find a job that was a good match for them. I remember one senior who wrote in her final paper that she no longer had a panic attack every time she thought about applying for jobs; she had changed majors late in the game and had thought she had zero chance of getting hired, but I had coached her through highlighting the skills she had that matched the kind of job she wanted. Another student came up to me on the last day of class and shook my hand, saying that he'd just landed an internship because of the skills I taught him.

I love helping people find that confidence in themselves.

So I've ordered business cards -- just 50 to start, with the hope of creating a website down the road and adding that URL to my cards. I have the pricing on my job search packages set, and I'm going to pick a certain number of free packages to start and then e-mail my friends and family to ask who they know that might want some free help in exchange for recommending me if they're happy. Because I'm not depending on this for a primary source of income, I feel comfortable just kind of throwing it out there and seeing if anything happens. I'm excited to get started!

What are your plans or goals for 2012? If you've written a post on it, feel free to leave a link in comments!
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