Where Logic Meets Love

Blog Comment Carnival: September 2012

Sunday, September 30, 2012

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Blog Comment Carnival: September 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!

I tackled a lot of big topics in September, and you all rose to the challenge of responding thoughtfully and graciously. It was incredibly hard to narrow it down, and this may be longer than usual. Definitely go back and check out the full discussion threads on these posts!

First up, I gave 10 Tips for Wedding Gifts (Buying and Receiving) and got more tips in comments!

Emily had a tip for buying off-registry:
I LOVE these! As someone who often says "I go to weddings like it's my job! I should get paid for this!" I'm always looking for creative and also practical wedding gift ideas. Usually I go to the registry first. 1) If there is something they actually want and would use that I can afford and would like to give to them, that's the best option. 2) Even if you end up buying something that isn't on the registry, you have an idea of what they want, what they already have, and their tastes.

There have been several times I've bought gifts that weren't on the registry. One summer I had three weddings in a row for some very close friends. So I made each couple a small scrapbook of photos of them through their relationship. They loved it! I also will buy other things that aren't on their registry, but still go with their tastes and what they want and will use. One example would be that I had one friend who had a lot of butterflies and flowers on the decor for their registry. There wasn't anything on the registry itself that I could see myself giving them, so I ended up buying them some small vases that had butterflies on them. The bride said they were her favorite gift.

So if you go off of the registry- still look at it! Don't replicate what they already requested and want or already have, but still get inspiration for their tastes and needs.

Cathi just got married and shared her favorite gift:
I agree with all of these tips as far as "giving a tangible gift" goes. But as you said, people have different tastes and opinions, and I wanted to give a shout out to the "no seriously, cash/checks are REALLY, REALLY okay! Probably preferred, actually."

I know it's taboo and sounds selfish and boorish, but the gifts that made the biggest impact on our "new life together" were the cash gifts. The tangible gifts gave us the most delight ("eee look what so and so got us! This is so cool!") and the off-registry ones were the most touching (a pair of walking sticks carved by one of his friends--so awesome), but money is what we needed most. We already had nice dishes and matching towels. We paid for the wedding ourselves, and while it wasn't necessarily a burden on our finances, recouping some of what we spent has put us significantly closer to our goals, like paying off student loans asap, still having a safety net, and saving up for a house down payment.

Fire Fairy had another suggestion for a unique registry item:
We actually didn't get many of the gifts we had listed on our registry, which I have to admit was a little annoying. We got quite a lot of money instead which we really appreciated, and we used it all to buy important things that guests hadn't bought, but also things we hadn't asked for like the washing machine. We also got gift vouchers, the majority of which weren't for the stores listed, but again we still found useful things to buy with them. We got some beautiful handmade and personal gifts from close friends, but some relatives gave us really cheesy presents that we hadn't asked for and have no use for - the worst is an embroidered Mr & Mrs cushion - it's sitting in the basement with a pile of junk because we really have no use for it and it's... hideous. I wish they'd just bought us a frying pan, or if they wanted to get us something fun we had plenty of quirky alternative items listed!

The other thing that we did that went down really well was asking for donations towards a safe house for boys in Brazil where I did some mission work. People really took to that idea as an alternative to physical gifts, especially those who knew about my time there. If couples can afford to have charity giving as an option i.e. they don't mind missing a few gifts, then I would recommend it.

The post about What (Not) to Say to a Friend Going Through a Tough Time hit home for a number of you.

perfectnumber628 said:
This is a really good list. I recently had surgery and so I have a lot of diet restrictions, and there have been so many times people have tried to "help" and it came across as trying to solve my problem, like "oh, you can't eat this, so here's something stupid that you don't like instead" and I felt like I had to offer a point-by-point rebuttal to convince them there just IS NO SOLUTION. And that's not a point I'm happy to argue for. :(

And Rabbit added:
Late to the party but AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMEN to all of this. As you know, I've experienced my husband being laid off twice--oh the comments from people! It's funny, the closer they were to me, the more off-putting the things were. Why is it that because you're my friend from HS or my aunt you feel you can say such things? Conversely, when I broke my hand two years ago, I got the most random comments from strangers (and lots of touching, I have NO idea as to why).

I often wonder if we gain a certain insight when we go through bad times that helps us to help others in the future...whereas people who say the off-putting things, perhaps they've never been through anything as bad as what I'm experiencing, so they simply don't know? I don't think it's just that, because there are some very tactful people in the world and they all couldn't have gained that much wisdom through external factors. I think some of us are born (or learn early) to be wiser than others. Some people are ignorant or are raised ignorant. Maybe through more exposure to people dealing with difficulties can awareness be spread?

I responded to a judgmental article in The Wrong Way to Talk about Abstinence and Marriage.

Queen of Carrots commented:
I saw that article and I thought, "Wow, how unspeakably obnoxious. Way to cut yourself off from anyone listening to you."
I did wait, and I think it's the right thing to do. (Which doesn't mean I believe everyone who does or thinks differently is somehow worse than me or ruining their life--I do wrong things all day long, every day, and most of them, thank God, don't ruin my life.) I don't think anyone who thinks differently is going to be convinced by this article.
The myth of amazing honeymoon sex is, I think, a cousin to the "soulmate" myth and many other romantic myths that run at all parts of our culture: the idea that if you just get everything "right" (by whatever standard that is), you will have a magical, amazing, trouble-free relationship. It does make a difference marrying someone who is a good match, but all skills and relationships need time and opportunity to grow. And the dark underside of these myths is that if you run into trouble, you start thinking you must be with the wrong person.

perfectnumber628 said:
Great post- I agree SO MUCH! You hit on a lot of really good points- like the idea that there are 2 types of people: sluts who have meaningless sex all the time with everyone and live a horrible sad life, and perfect people who "wait" and get rewarded with a perfect relationship and wonderful sex.

I think a lot of the "reasons" traditionally given to not have sex are messed-up- the thinking is "if you do everything right, then God will definitely reward you with a perfect relationship." And the idea that honeymoon sex is awesome and will make all that "waiting" totally worth it. I never even thought to question that until very recently. Hmm, maybe the first time is not so great because you don't have a clue what you're doing. If so, that doesn't take anything away from the argument that it's good to "wait" until marriage- it just means you learn it with someone who's totally committed to you- which sounds like the ideal situation to me.

And Rach added:
I found your blog via From Two To One, and I love this post. That article was posted and reposted time and time again by Facebook friends, and it was incredibly grating for all the reasons you mentioned.

I was really offended for my friends who had not decided to wait till marriage for sex (newsflash: don't assume even your Bible college peers waited). First of all, what if they made (what they felt) was a mistake by having sex before marriage? There is NO redemption or grace for them anywhere in that article. What if they were victims of rape or sexual assault? Well, if they're not virgins, no hope for their marriage. What if they didn't wait and are super happy with that decision *gasp*?

That article is appalling, and should especially be so for Christians who claim grace as one of our strongest values.

Finally, on Being Pro-NFP Doesn't Require Being Anti-Everything Else, everyone should read these points from 'Becca:
Excellent points!!

I'd like to hear more people talk about how NFP/FAM helps you understand what your body is doing and how this can be helpful for nonsexual daily life, for trying TO conceive, and in parallel with artificial contraception.

What I mean about daily life is that knowing when to expect your period ensures that you're prepared hygienically, and if you have any problem with disabling cramps or anything like that, you can plan other activities around it instead of cancelling at the last minute.

What I mean about contraception is that people using barrier methods (condoms, diaphragm, etc.) should understand that there are 3 levels of effectiveness:
1. Using the barrier only when you think you're fertile, but continuing to have intercourse during that time
2. Using the barrier all the time, paying no attention to fertility
3. Using the barrier every time you have intercourse, and also abstaining from intercourse when you're fertile.
The higher the number, the more effective. Unfortunately, #1 has been advocated by many FAM (non-Catholic) teachers as an option if you don't feel like abstaining--it IS a safer choice than not using the barrier, of course, but the odds of barrier method failure when you use the method only at FERTILE times are HIGHER than the published statistics for the method--because if it lets sperm through, you have an egg waiting. The effectiveness of condoms already is lower than most people think (about 1 in 7 couples using condoms as their only method of pregnancy prevention will conceive within 1 year) so it's really best to combine them with another method. I'd like to see that idea better publicized.

FAM/NFP can be useful even for women using contraceptives that are supposed to suppress ovulation, because if you know the symptoms of ovulation, you can notice if your contraceptive has stopped working.

(I think I've written about this in your comment box before...but I try to say it whenever I get the opportunity!)
Whew! One big one I didn't even include was What I Learned from Joshua Harris, which sparked some excellent conversations even though I didn't have a specific favorite comment.

I say it every month, but it's especially been true this month, that everyone who takes the time to comment encourages me to keep blogging and tackling tough topics. I learn so much from all of you! Also, a shout-out to everyone who took the time to share posts on social media -- there was a lot more sharing than in previous months, and I really appreciate it! You all rock my socks off.

See you in October for even more fantastic discussions!

Being Pro-NFP Doesn't Require Being Anti-Everything Else

Friday, September 28, 2012

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Being Pro-NFP Doesn't Require Being Anti-Everything Else | Faith Permeating Life
It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government -- except all the others that have been tried.

-Sir Winston Churchill
Don't worry; this isn't going to be a political post, at least in the traditional sense. But I want to talk about some more problems with how people promote Natural Family Planning, and this quote seems to capture exactly the point I want to make: Rather than emphasizing what's great about NFP, some NFP advocates seem to spend more time talking about what's horrible about every other kind of birth control method.

It's as if one should use NFP not because there's anything particularly good about it, but because every other option is so horrible that it's the only option left. Eek!

Here are a few reasons I think this is a terrible approach:

Scare tactics don't work
If there's one thing social science research tells us pretty consistently, it's that trying to scare people into changing their behavior is one of the least effective approaches you can use. People simply don't believe that the worst-case scenario will ever happen to them, which is why there are still people who don't use seat belts or helmets. Everyone generally believes that they're the exception, that those horrible experiences happen to other people, not them. So why take this kind of approach with birth control? For the people I know who changed from some form of artificial contraception to Natural Family Planning, they did so out of a desire to be more in tune with their bodies, or eliminate added hormones in their body, or simply be more "natural," or remove a barrier between themselves and their partner... not out of a fear of the worst-case scenario. It was the benefits of NFP, not the fear/guilt about their current method of birth control, that was the primary motivation for switching.

You don't convince anyone by rejecting their personal experiences
A lot of the anti-contraception rhetoric I see focuses on the very worst possible side effects one could experience from taking hormonal contraceptives or having an IUD (intra-uterine device), which, as I said above, is intended to scare people away from wanting to use them. But what about all the people who are using artificial contraception and having only minor, or no, problems with it? Talking about the most extreme problems is going to seem to many people to be a vast exaggeration at best, and an outright lie at worst. Why would anyone want to listen to whatever you're "selling" if you start out by telling them all about problems they are supposedly having with their current method of birth control?

It denies people's autonomy to make informed decisions
If Natural Family Planning is truly the best choice -- and I don't necessarily think that it is for everyone, but certainly for many more people than are currently using it -- then people should be able to come to that conclusion on their own, given enough information about the various options and opportunities to have their questions answered. There is already a lot of information out there about oral contraceptives and condoms, and many people already have personal experience with some form of artificial contraception. But many people aren't even aware of NFP/FAM (Fertility Awareness Method) as a viable option, or believe it to be synonymous with the ineffective Rhythm Method of years past.

As I said in my post on motivational interviewing, the best place to start is with understanding other people's needs, goals, priorities, etc. A message that comes off as "You need to use NFP because the Pill kills babies and condoms are ineffective" is a combative stance that denies people's ability to make an informed choice for themselves, by suggesting that there's only one correct option and they're ignorant and wrong for not already choosing it. A more effective approach might be, "Are you concerned about the side effects of the Pill? Did you know there's another birth control option that doesn't require you to introduce extra hormones into your body? Let me tell you about how it works and some of the benefits so you can decide if this is right for you..."

It creates more negative associations for NFP
Natural Family Planning, among those who are aware of it but don't know much about it, already seems to have a not-so-great reputation. Artificial birth control is the cultural default, at least in America, so NFP is "abnormal" -- that thing that people do because they're hippies afraid of putting anything unnatural into their body, or because they're Catholics with a misguided fear of birth control beat into their heads. It's confused with the Rhythm Method, about which most people know nothing except that it's ineffective. So hearing seemingly normal people talk about why they love NFP and how it benefits their body and their relationship? Totally intriguing. But hearing NFP promoters talk about how the Pill is evil, or feminism has destroyed women's relationships with their bodies, or how the use of birth control normalizes abortion? Yup, definitely a bunch of crazy weirdos...

There are already plenty of negative associations with NFP -- let's work to create more positive ones!

Reiterating the point of Wednesday's post on abstinence, if you practice NFP and love it (I do!), then shout to the heavens about how happy you are and why you love it so much. This does not require putting down anyone else's current form of birth control. There's already enough work to be done just letting more people know that NFP exists, educating women about how their monthly cycles work, and talking about all the personal and relational benefits that come from using NFP.

What do you think? What one's thing you'd like to hear more NFP advocates talk about?

The Wrong Way to Talk about Abstinence and Marriage

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

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The Wrong Way to Talk about Abstinence and Marriage | Faith Permeating Life

I'm a little bit late to the party on this one, but a friend asked me to comment on this "Waiting till the wedding night -- getting married the right way" article, so I'll share my thoughts.

This will be coming from the perspective of someone who did wait until I was married to have sex with (or kiss) my husband. I also invite you to check out perfectnumber628's response as someone who isn't married but plans not to have sex until she's married.

A lot of what I find problematic about this article are things I've discussed in previous posts, but I'll go through and break it down with links.

The basic message and tone of the article, and the reason people are reacting so strongly to it, is "My wife and I waited to have sex, so we did everything right and perfectly, and I judge and pity all of you who didn't wait, who did it wrong, and have a meaningless and unsatisfying marriage because of it."

The writer, Steven Crowder, apparently believes that he has every right to judge other people's relationships because so many people judged him and his wife and believed they'd never make it to their wedding day without having sex. You know what? People judged us too. I wrote a post about why waiting until marriage isn't as stupid as it sounds. And the very first thing I said was that I wanted to respond to the people who criticized us without judging those who didn't make the same decision that we did.

If you want to tell people they were wrong for judging you, then by all means talk about how fantastically happy you are that you waited. Talk about how all of the accusations thrown at you were false, and that everything worked out exactly how you hoped. But there is no reason that this has to include a sweeping indictment of everyone who made a different decision than you. Talking about the benefits of abstinence you experienced does not in any way necessitate slamming on people who are not abstinent.

The second issue I have is that Crowder boxes everyone into two cartoonishly simplistic groups: those who wait, who have a perfect, amazing, beautiful experience of getting married and having sex, and those who don't, who are promiscuous whores doomed to a life of sexual disappointment.

Seriously. This is how he characterizes those who said he'd never succeed in being abstinent until marriage: "I think that the women saying those things felt like the floozies they ultimately were, and the men, with their fickle manhood tied to their pathetic sexual conquests, felt threatened."

He addresses those who are wondering whether to "become a live-in harlot/mimbo and do it the world's way" by telling them they'd be happier doing it the right way, like he did.

As I've said before, by all means shout it from the rooftops if you're happy about your decision, but don't assume everyone who makes a different decision is automatically ruining their life.

He compares his and his wife's experience to another couple they met the morning after their wedding to illustrate how terrible it is not to do things the way he and his wife did. (As my friend pointed out, this story is possibly made up, as it starts out with "we overheard the table next to us discussing their very own wedding from the night prior" and then the punchline is that the groom's not even there because he's sleeping off a hangover.) It's completely ridiculous to try to say "Everyone who waits will have an experience just like ours, and everyone who doesn't will have an experience like this couple's."

Guess what? There are lots of people who have sex before marriage and have really happy, healthy marriages and satisfying sex lives. Even though I didn't have sex before marriage and am happy with that decision, it would be completely stupid of me to lie and try to deny other people's experiences and feelings simply because they don't fit with my personal narrative. And also, there are people who do wait until they're married and have horrible, horrible sexual experiences because of an abusive spouse. The "waiting = good, not waiting = bad" narrative is WAY too simplistic to be taken seriously.

Another issue I have is that this article perpetuates the myth of amazing honeymoon sex. Crowder explicitly says, "Our wedding night was nothing short of amazing." I sincerely doubt that these two virgins had truly amazing, mind-blowing sex on their wedding night, but it's written as if to imply that: i.e., we did things right, and our reward was fantastic wedding night sex.

By contrast, I've tried to be upfront about the fact that sex is kind of difficult when you're just starting out. We certainly had a lot more to learn in the first weeks, months, year of our marriage than couples who had regularly had sex prior to getting married, but for me the tradeoff was more than worth it, to do that learning with someone I trusted completely who had made a lifelong commitment to me. However, this kind of nuanced message wouldn't have fit with Crowder's narrative of "If you do it the right way, like us, your reward is that everything is perfect and amazing."

If you truly believe that waiting until you're married to have sex was a great choice for you, then I see nothing wrong with telling the world that. But casting sweeping judgment on people not like you, calling others names, lumping everyone into simplistic categories, and vastly exaggerating yours and others' experiences is NOT the way to go about it.

What are your thoughts on this article? How can we encourage better conversations around sex, abstinence, and marriage?

What I Learned from Joshua Harris

Friday, September 21, 2012

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As a follow-up to Wednesday's post on faith and feminism, here's an interesting conversation that happened recently on Twitter between two feminist bloggers I respect:

Danielle at From Two to One and I responded that we'd read his books, taken valuable advice from them, and both ended up in healthy relationships married to feminist men. I said I'd post about it, so here I am.

You may remember that I actually recommended one of Joshua Harris's books, Boy Meets Girl, in my first ever Three Books on Thursday post on Three Books Every Couple Should Read, with the caveat that I don't agree with all his views. In all fairness, I never read his original book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, so maybe my views on love would have been all warped and screwed up had I started with that. But a girl in our youth group in high school did read it and spent one night doing a presentation of sorts explaining the key messages, many of which are touched on again in Boy Meets Girl.

I am not a proponent of the idea that you must be right about everything or agree with me on everything to make a valuable contribution to people's lives. This is why, for example, I defend the work that Andrew Marin is doing to help conservative Christians become more accepting of the LGBTQ population, even if I disagree with his particular views about homosexuality. So while I don't think Joshua Harris gets everything right, his books were valuable to me, and I want to talk about why.

If I had come from a conservative, evangelical background, then perhaps his books would have reinforced for me ideas like "men are the head of the family" or "men and women have unique and specific roles decided by their genitals." But that's not where I was coming from when I read Boy Meets Girl. I attended public school up until college and was raised by a very liberal-leaning mother. I spent far too much of my time trying to get guys to like me and/or bemoaning the fact that nobody was interested in me. By the time I started college I had decided to stay single forever. Then a group of girls on my floor freshman year decided to do a book club (that only had one meeting ever) and read Boy Meets Girl.

Joshua Harris's books validated three main things for me:

The Value of My Life Independent of a Partner
When I read Boy Meets Girl I was still fairly determined to stay single, and it was clear from Harris's perspective that was a valid way to live one's life. Harris reiterates that God loves every person whether or not they're in a relationship, and that your value doesn't come from being in a relationship. After wanting throughout all of high school to be in a relationship, this was a lesson it had taken me a long time to learn, and I appreciated having it validated by this book. Here's part that I underlined: "If you're single, I believe that God wants you to see that your story has begun. Life doesn't start when you find a spouse. Marriage is wonderful, but it's simply a new chapter in life."

The Value of My Time and Emotions -- and Others'
I got in a fight with another girl the winter of my senior year of high school because I was talking about how I didn't want to start dating anyone as I'd be going to college in a few months and didn't want a long-distance relationship. She was trying to get it through my head that I could just have a "fling" with someone, that I was 18 and it wasn't worth taking my relationships so seriously. Note that very few people at our high school "dated" in the traditional sense of going out on a first date -- you got to know people as friends through school or clubs, and then if you were mutually interested you decided to start a relationship and be boyfriend and girlfriend. To me, it seemed wrong and deceptive to make that kind of a commitment to someone with the intention of breaking it off in a few months.

What Joshua Harris suggests is that it eats up a lot of time and emotion to "date" anyone you can't envision being with long-term. Interestingly, what I took away from this is the opposite of the traditional Christian idea, as well as cultural message, for women that seeking a spouse is an important part of your life. Parents and friends will ask a single person when they last went on a date and exclaim that they're "not even trying" to find a mate if they're not dating regularly. I didn't want any part of that. Even after Mike and I became close friends, even after I was pretty sure he was interested in me, even after I started to admit that I liked him, I had to ask myself whether there was a possibility that our relationship could lead to marriage. If there had been no way I could envision ever being married to him, then I wouldn't have invested my valuable time and emotion in dating him.

The Value of My Body and Setting Boundaries
When people in high school would start "going out" (being in a relationship), it seemed to come with it some kind of implied consent: You are my girlfriend, so I'm allowed to hold your hand or put my arm around you or kiss you. I hated that because it seemed to strip me of my bodily autonomy and instead put me into a role with pre-set boundaries (or lack thereof).

I read Boy Meets Girl well before Mike and I started dating, and it gave me a needed opportunity to reflect on what I was and wasn't comfortable with in a relationship. I made a decision at that point that I wanted to save my first kiss for marriage because I was fiercely protective of my body and felt that there were certain things I didn't want to share with anyone who hadn't promised a lifelong commitment to me. Mike read Boy Meets Girl around the time we started dating and it caused him to give much more thought to his body and to the physical component of our relationship than he had previously. It gave us a vocabulary to discuss our physical intimacy, and we regularly checked in with one another that our physical intimacy was growing out of our emotional intimacy and not outpacing it or being an end to itself.

Later in our relationship we read Joshua Harris's book that is now titled Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is) -- our copy, printed in 2003, is called Not Even a Hint. Again, this gave us the vocabulary and opportunity to discuss some specific struggles we faced and to talk about our thoughts on sex as we looked toward marriage. It also was immensely helpful for me to understand what it feels like for someone (generally a man, and specifically Mike) to have a higher sex drive than I have. Without the conversations that came out of reading this book together about wanting sex to be something always done with and for each other, I'm not sure that we would be so successful in practicing NFP together.

There's also a ton of practical advice in these books. This is the reason I originally recommended Boy Meets Girl on my post about books for couples. Even if you don't agree with Harris's overarching beliefs about the meaning of marriage or the importance of gender roles, his day-to-day advice is spot on. There's advice about communication: Not trying to read each other's minds, really listening, setting aside time to talk, talking through conflict rather than trying to avoid it. He talks about having support outside of just the two of you -- to get a reality check, to find role models. He encourages partners not to keep secrets from one another about their past but to be open about those things they're ashamed of and to forgive one another, not think that their judgment is somehow better than God's -- but at the same time, to realize that ongoing issues may require counseling and you can't expect marriage to "fix" anything.

I also appreciated Harris's acknowledgement that different people have different comfort levels. Some couples who want to save sex for marriage can kiss without feeling that that tempts them to cross the boundaries they've set for their relationship. Some can't. One is not morally superior to the other; it's about being honest with yourself (as a couple) and making choices for yourself about what's important to you and what works for you. Similarly, Not Even a Hint didn't condemn masturbation in and of itself, but instead talked about particular issues with fantasizing about and lusting after another person's body independent of the rest of that person. I took away questions more than specific commands: What effect does this have on you and your relationship? Are you being honest with yourself and your partner?

So for someone raised in a conservative Christian environment, Joshua Harris's books may well be more of the same. But for someone like me, coming from a liberal, secular background in which my peer group and media told me my value came from being in a relationship; that I should always seek to date even with no intention of making a long-term commitment; that physical intimacy is dictated by social norms and not my own comfort level -- Joshua Harris's books were a breath of fresh air.

Here was someone telling me it was OK if I wanted to put very high standards on who was allowed to kiss me or have sex with me.

It was OK if I didn't want to date anyone I couldn't see myself being with for life.

It was OK if I wanted my spouse to seek sexual satisfaction from me alone, and wanted to keep porn out of our relationship.

Did I take his books as a word-for-word manual of how to conduct my relationships? No. Did I get validation I needed about my value and guidance for a healthy relationship? Yes.

Have you read Joshua Harris's books? What do you think?

What Faith and Feminism Taught Me About Gifts and Vocation

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

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Today I'm linking up with the Feminist Odyssey Blog Carnival, which this month is hosted at one of my new favorite blogs, From Two to One, on the topic of Faith and Feminism.

People tend to think that faith and feminism are at odds with one another, but I think that comes mostly from misunderstanding what feminism is and/or defining "faith" as "a religion with strict gender roles." Rather than talking about these supposed conflicts or going in-depth into exact definitions of abstract topics, I want to talk about where I see faith and feminism in sync in my own life.

When it comes to the big questions about seeking my purpose in life, I get valuable guidance both from feminism and from my faith.

The first key message, for me, is that everyone is different, but equally important.

Chapter 12 of St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians talks about spiritual gifts. Here are some of the main points:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. ... For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, "Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, "Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
Feminism recognizes that not all women are the same and not all men are the same, and not everyone identifies as male or female. Even if we can make some generalizations based on biological sex, there is no reason to make those into prescriptions for how any individual person should behave or feel. Each person's individuality should be honored. And women are not inferior in any way simply by virtue of not being men.

There's a reason Mike and I chose 1 Corinthians 12:4-13 for one of the readings at our wedding. We knew that we each had different strengths and weaknesses that we were bringing into our marriage, and we needed to acknowledge and celebrate our individual gifts. We figured out a division of labor not based on rigid gender prescriptions but on our specific interests and skills. We try to honor our individual God-given gifts by creating opportunities to put them to use for the good of our marriage as a whole.

Difference doesn't mean inferiority, and it's important to recognize and celebrate diversity as a blessing.

The second key message I've learned from both feminism and my faith is your personal calling is worth fighting for.

The words "calling" and "vocation" get thrown around a lot in Christianity (or at least they did in my Catholic scholars program). But the message is clear: if God is leading you to do something, that's what you should strive to do, no matter how difficult it is. You don't turn around and say to God, "You know, this path looks a little easier, so I'm gonna just do this instead." You take up your cross and follow, even if that means being completely countercultural.

Feminism has a similar message, though it looks a bit different. Feminism says that if a woman feels called to be an engineer or a soldier, or a man feels called to be a nurse or a caretaker, then there should be no laws or cultural taboos or other structural obstacles that make these paths impossible. And the opposite is true as well: No one should be forced to do something they weren't made to do for the sake of progress -- a woman should be able to stay home with her children or dress in a culturally feminine way without being chastised. Breaking down these barriers is a worthwhile and meaningful cause because it means more people can flourish in the roles best suited to them.

For example, my faith tells me that if God has put it on my heart to adopt children, then that is the right path, even if it requires a lot of work and money and patience. And feminism tells me that families are built in diverse ways and that even if some people believe adoption is wrong or women's value comes from childbirth, there should not be laws preventing someone from placing their child for adoption with us.

Both faith and feminism tell me that I am a unique and loved individual who should do exactly what I was made to do.

I'm grateful for all that my faith has taught me about my value and my worth as a child of God.

I'm grateful for all that feminism has taught me about my value and my worth as a human being.

How do you see lessons from faith and feminism playing out in your life? Which are in sync, and which are contradictory?

Consider writing your own post and linking up at From Two to One!

What (Not) to Say to a Friend Going Through a Tough Time

Monday, September 17, 2012

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What (Not) to Say to a Friend Going Through a Tough Time | Faith Permeating Life

Last week was National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week, which prompted some powerful posts across the blogosphere. One in particular that got me thinking was an article from CNN on talking to someone with a chronic illness.

It occurred to me that I've seen these kinds of articles come up for many different situations -- what not to say to someone struggling with infertility, or grieving the loss of a loved one, or who has cancer. I've seen ones from people who placed a child for adoption, those facing long periods of unemployment, and those struggling to lose weight. Each of these were written from someone's personal experience with that particular situation, but I see common threads running through all of them. I thought perhaps it would be helpful to summarize all these tips.

The details will, of course, vary by situation, but these general guidelines should point you in the right direction for providing support to anyone in your life going through a major struggle. Sometimes the wrong thing will still slip out -- I'm still trying to learn all these lessons myself -- but knowing what's helpful and what's not is a good place to start.

What Not to Say or Do

Don't Minimize the Situation
Big, painful life situations make us naturally uncomfortable, so it can be tempting to try to make the situation seem less threatening. This includes telling someone they don't look sick or that their situation could have been a lot worse or basically anything starting with "At least..." But trying to make a situation sound not as bad is unlikely to make someone feel better; instead, it may come off sounding like you're telling your friend they're overreacting. Their emotions are real, and the last thing they need is to feel bad about feeling bad.

Don't Offer False Certainties
Similar to minimizing the situation, you might hope that a difficult situation is over as soon as possible. This can come out in statements starting with "I'm sure..." I hear this in my job search now: "I'm sure you'll find something soon." Saying "I'm sure you'll get pregnant soon" or "I'm sure you'll beat this cancer" isn't helpful because you can't be sure about those things, so rather than sounding reassuring, it sounds more like, "Let's just think about when this will be over so we don't have to talk about how hard it is right now."

Don't Try to Solve the Problem
If you've gone through the exact same situation (or you're a professional), then at the very least listen to what they've tried first, and then you can ask whether they've considered the treatment or support group or doctor that you found helpful. But if not, realize that this person knows a lot more about their situation than you do and has probably already heard about and possibly even tried that thing you read about in a magazine or that your sister's coworker had such success with. Acting like you're an expert on someone's situation makes it sound like you think they're unable to get help on their own and also puts you in a role (problem-solver, doctor) other than the one you need to be playing (friend, support, confidant). Even comments about attitude -- "You just need to relax!" or "Think positive!" -- can be irritating by both minimizing the problem and making it sound like it's your friend's fault that they're having a difficult time because they're not "relaxed" or "positive" enough.

Don't Rush to Empathize...
This isn't the time to pull out your own horror stories and compare. Even if you've been through the same thing, your friend may have a completely different experience or different feelings about it. When you rush to assure your friend by saying, "I know exactly how you're feeling," you may make them feel unwelcome to share what they actually are feeling. Once they've had a genuine opportunity to tell you what they're going through, it can be appropriate to share that you experienced something similar if they don't already know that, but leave it up to your friend whether they want to ask questions about your experience rather than assuming they want advice or to compare notes.

...Or to Differentiate Yourself
It sounds like a compliment to say "I could never do that" or "You're so much stronger than I am." But until you're going through a difficult situation, you don't know how you'll react. This is in the same vein as "God only gives us as much as we can handle." It makes it sound like this is only happening to your friend because they are an unusually strong or brave or patient person -- how unfair! It can also come off as a subtle withdrawal of support: "You've got this. You're tough. You'll get through it fine on your own."

What to Say or Do

Admit Your Lack of Understanding
Your friend isn't coming to you because they expect you to have all the answers. It's OK to say, "I can't imagine what you're feeling right now, but I'm ready to listen if you want to tell me." Or "I really don't know what to say, but I'm here for you."

Be a Listening Ear
This is not the same as pressuring someone to talk about what they're going through. This is letting it be known that if your friend wants to talk, you are there to listen without comment. This is listening to your friend's worries and pain without trying to come up with a quick fix or platitude. Listen to understand what's going on, how your friend is feeling, and how you can best help, if at all. If you don't have time right then to give your friend your undivided attention, you can say something like, "I want to hear how you're doing. Can we have lunch this week?"

Validate Your Friend's Feelings
If your friend needs to cry, give them permission and a box of tissues, rather than saying, "Oh, don't cry." There are probably many people in their life right now who will ask "How are you?" and don't actually want to hear the answer if it's not "fine." It can make it seem wrong to be sad, frustrated, angry, tired, in pain, or whatever they're feeling. Be the person who doesn't try to minimize or change their feelings, but who tells them whatever they're feeling is totally understandable. Saying something like "That sounds really rough" can validate that they're not overreacting to be upset about the situation.

Offer Specific Help
At least for me, I hear something like, "Well, if there's anything I can do to help, just let me know" as an insincere conversation ender and not as a genuine offer for help. If you sincerely want to do something to help, make a specific offer: "I'd be happy to bring you dinner tomorrow night. Is there anything you can't eat?" or "How about I watch your kids some day this week so you can [rest, get out of the house]? What day would work best for you?" If you don't know what would be most helpful, ask sincerely, "What is the most helpful thing I could do for you right now?" That's much better than a vague "Let me know if there's anything I can do." And follow through on anything you offer!

Talk about Other Things, Too
You don't want to completely ignore a difficult situation, but it's also not helpful to make every conversation with your friend about their situation. If you've expressed how sorry you are, given them space to talk, and offered help, you don't need to keep bringing it up at every opportunity. When I had mono, I got so sick of my coworkers looking at me like I was going to die -- I wanted to be treated like a normal employee and not make my health the topic of every conversation. If your friend is the kind of person who needs to talk about their problems and emotions all the time, you'll probably know. Otherwise, create the safe space for them to talk, but treat them as the same person they've always been, with a variety of interests and aspects of their life.

Have you been through a difficult life situation? What did your friends or family members say that you found helpful?

Jessica's Adventures in Exercising

Friday, September 14, 2012

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Jessica's Adventures in Exercising | Faith Permeating Life

Recently my mother-in-law announced on Facebook that she wants to run a half marathon in the next few years and asked for suggestions for a "klutzy, athletic impaired wanna be runner." I replied that I'd heard good things about Couch to 5K. A while later she told Mike she'd downloaded the app and to thank me for the suggestion.

At this point I decided that if my mother-in-law could start running, I could too. Despite being relatively thin and healthy, I've always been fairly out of shape and get winded easily. Part of the problem growing up was an allergy problem that was only diagnosed a few years ago and remedied with a daily pill, but mostly I've just never dedicated myself enough to building up my cardiovascular endurance. As I'm currently unemployed, I thought this was the best possible time to start something new like this.

So below is a log of the first 10 days of my adventures in exercising. I decided to share it in case any of you need a push to do the same. I'm only two weeks into Couch to 5K, but I like it a lot and am amazed at how much better I've gotten already. I'm also grateful that I can attend fitness classes for free at our on-campus rec center, so I can do some cross-training with the running. With any luck, I'll build up an exercise habit that will continue into the time that I'm working again, and keep myself in good shape!


Tuesday, Sept. 4: Week 1 Day 1 of Couch to 5K. I'm so glad I bought the app so I don't have to focus on timing myself as I run, and can just focus on not dying until the voice tells me I can switch to walking. It was way too hot to be running, though, and I felt like my entire body was radiating heat when I got done. But I did the entire thing without cheating once -- I jogged when it told me to, for the full 60 seconds each time. I consider that a victory.

Wednesday, Sept. 5: My legs are so sore it hurts to move them. I decided it would be a good idea anyway to continue with my plan of starting a fitness class at the rec center. My lost look got me mistaken as a freshman by the instructor, who, it turns out, is one of our residents. Fortunately there was only one other person in the class, and she was just as out of shape and non-athletic as me. I nearly passed out several times and couldn't lift my legs off the ground at one point, but thankfully the instructor was patient and gave me modified versions of the exercises to do so I didn't quit. Today's victory: Making it to the end of class without passing out or throwing up.

Thursday, Sept. 6: My legs are still really sore, though they didn't get any worse, thankfully, and now my abs and arms are a little sore too. I decided to pass on starting up the Zumba class today, though I hope to be able to do it in the future, and just do some Wii Fit yoga to stretch out my muscles. Tomorrow I'm going to have to get up early to run since there aren't any indoor tracks on campus and it's supposed to get up to 90 degrees!

Friday, Sept. 7: Week 1 Day 2 of Couch to 5K went WAY better than I expected. I'm still sore, but I felt OK to run. This time I didn't feel like I was going to die during the jogging portions, and I was actually feeling fairly good by the time I got back to campus. Things that I think helped: Running at 7:30am instead of 4pm, bringing a water bottle, and having a running playlist of upbeat music that I put together last night. The best part was that the priest who lives in our building was walking down the sidewalk as I was sweatily walking home, and he looked at me and said with admiration, "A runner!" However, when I was in the shower I started to feel like I was going to pass out or throw up, probably from having nothing in my stomach but some water. That's something I still haven't figured out: Eat before running = feel like throwing up, don't eat before running = feel like passing out. Hopefully I'll figure out what works best for me.

Saturday, Sept. 8: Week 1 Day 3 of Couch to 5K. I rocked it. I could have kept jogging when the app told me to walk. I'm definitely ready for Week 2. Now I should be able to get on a regular M/W/F schedule also, which is how you're supposed to do it. This time I ate breakfast as soon as I got home, before I showered, and that seemed to help. I also drank some water before I left this morning and only took two or three sips while I was out.

Sunday, Sept. 9: Day of rest. A local athletic store was having a half-off sale today, so I went and got two sports bras and running shorts with pockets. I think I need to get new shoes too, as my tennis shoes are getting pretty old, but I'll wait to see if I stick to another week or two of Couch to 5K first.

Monday, Sept. 10: Week 2 Day 1 of Couch to 5K. Another early morning run, much colder than it's been recently, but I was fine once I started jogging. In a way I'm glad that I chose such a horrible time of day for my very first day, because everything has seemed easy in comparison. The intervals jumped from 60/90 seconds jogging/walking to 90/120 seconds this week, and I did pretty well with it.

Tuesday, Sept. 11: Decided to make Tuesdays Wii Fit and Weigh-In Day. Interestingly enough, for someone who used to make every excuse not to work out, now Wii Fit seems like not enough workout for me. I actually want to be out running, which is so weird to me. I am thinking about going back to the Wednesday fitness class tomorrow afternoon if I do my run in the morning, to show that I'm normally not in that terrible of shape as I was the first class when my legs were sore and stiff. We'll see how my body's feeling tomorrow.

Wednesday, Sept. 12: Week 2 Day 2 of Couch to 5K. I couldn't get out of bed at 7am this morning -- too worn out. Mike's had a cold the past week and I think I might be catching it. But I did finally get up at 10, and it was still cool enough outside that it wasn't too bad to go jogging. I got the audiobook of The Time Traveler's Wife yesterday and decided to listen to that instead of music, and it actually worked pretty well. The jogging portions were a bit tougher than Monday, probably because of not feeling 100% when I woke up, but I didn't feel completely beat up by the end. My legs are tired, but not sore at all. I don't think I'll make it to the fitness class today, but I'm planning to do Zumba tomorrow with one of the girls in our building.

Thursday, Sept. 13: Zumba was definitely different than the two-person fitness class I attended last week, since there were about 50 people there. I've found that the structure of classes and Couch to 5K is exactly what I need; I would give up a lot sooner if I were working out on my own, but instead I find that the limits of my abilities are much broader than I thought they were. Even though I was a puddle of sweat by the end, I made it through the hour-long Zumba class. I'm grateful for this sophomore girl who seems to have adopted me as a role model of sorts and who talked me into coming with her. I need that kind of accountability.

So that's where I am right now. Anyone else done Couch to 5K? Suggestions for making sure I stick with it?

6 Red Flags that You've Stopped Seeking the Truth

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

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6 Red Flags that You've Stopped Seeking the Truth | Faith Permeating Life

There are a lot of complicated questions in this life that don't have straightforward answers and are worth having intelligent, respectful debates about.

For example:
  • Is there a higher power, and if so, what does that mean for how we live our lives?
  • What role should a government play in supporting its citizens to lead healthy lives?
  • What does a quality education look like, and how can we ensure the opportunity to have that for the largest number of people possible?
  • What is the best approach or combination of approaches to have fewer unintended pregnancies?
  • Which actions should be considered crimes, and what consequences to those crimes are appropriate?
  • How much responsibility should a country have for the well-being of another country's citizens?

I enjoy hearing or reading intelligent, respectful, evidence-based viewpoints on topics like these. Particularly for topics I don't know much about, I appreciate opportunities for those with different viewpoints to debate an issue directly so that difficult questions can be asked and answered, and the evidence for and against certain suggestions can be presented. I think that if we as humans want to make decisions that best benefit us and our world, it's worth having discussions about what will get us there.

This is why it drives me nuts when people use unproductive and unhelpful tactics to try to argue their viewpoints.

When I see these tactics used, it's a sign to me that someone has prioritized winning an argument over seeking the truth. Or as this tweet put it, "You're not really interested in believing THE TRUTH unless you take seriously the possibility that what you presently believe is NOT TRUE."

If you have to resort to these tactics in order to make your case, then that should be a red flag to you that maybe you need to reconsider whether the argument you're making is actually accurate.

Here are some clues that you might be on the wrong path:
  • If making your case requires knowingly lying -- that is, continuing to share theories or statistics that have been unequivocally refuted by all available evidence... you are probably wrong.
  • If your argument is supported primarily by facts or statistics that you or your organization made up... you are probably wrong.
  • If you go to great lengths to avoid being exposed to opposing viewpoints (and to prevent your children and/or followers from learning about other viewpoints)... you are probably wrong.
  • If your only way of responding to an opposing viewpoint is relying on logical fallacies -- exaggerating the other viewpoint, bringing in irrelevant information, or otherwise misrepresenting what you're responding to... you are probably wrong.
  • If sticking to your viewpoint requires ignoring or downplaying other people's life experiences -- denying their feelings, insisting they're exaggerating, or assuming they're lying... you are probably wrong.
  • If you must comment anonymously to respond to an article or blog post... you might be right, or you might not, but chances are you're not expressing your viewpoint in a way you're proud of.

I am not of the belief that "the ends justify the means" when it comes to seeking the best way to function as a country, as a religion, or simply as human beings. I believe that if something is right and true, there is no need to fear tough questions or thorough investigation.

It's certainly possible to engage in a civil and evidence-based debate and still be wrong. Sometimes it's just a matter of not having all the relevant information; in other cases, what's being debated is entirely theoretical or future-based and no one yet knows what the answer will be. And sometimes disagreements about the right course of action come down to fundamentally different definitions of what is "good," "right," "healthy," "beautiful," "loving," etc.

But if making your case requires habitually stretching the truth or outright lying, avoiding disagreement, dodging direct questions, or denying responsibility for your own statements, then it's time to take a good look at whether you like the side of the fence that you're on.

What do you think? What other argument tactics inhibit the search for truth -- or just drive you nuts?

10 Tips for Wedding Gifts (Buying and Receiving)

Friday, September 7, 2012

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10 Tips for Wedding Gifts (Buying and Receiving) | Faith Permeating Life

Summer has typically been the season of weddings for our friends and family, but for some reason this year it's September and October that are chock-full of weddings. I went to my cousin's wedding this past weekend, and we've booked our flights to Ohio for a friend's October wedding for which Mike will be a groomsmen. The rest we won't be able to attend, but we do buy gifts for everyone.

This got me thinking about wedding gifts and wedding registries, both about our own experience as a couple receiving gifts and about our experience now with buying gifts. I decided to put together a list of wedding gift-related tips for both brides-to-be and wedding invitees.

Of course, when it comes to something like gifts, different people have different ideas about what's best, or most proper, or most helpful. These are based on my personal experiences and preferences, and not everyone will agree, but I find there's still value in sharing what works for me and hearing what works for other people. Please share your thoughts and your own tips in comments!

Tips for Creating a Wedding Registry

1. Your registry size should grow with your guest list size.
I received an invitation this week for a cousin's wedding, and I got on my computer immediately to look at their registries. Between their two registries there were fewer than 10 items left that hadn't been bought, and only two were in our price range. It's possibly they're having a very small wedding, but if not there are going to be a lot of people having to either give cash (which a lot of people don't want to do, for various reasons) or guess at something the couple might want. There may not be a lot of things you need, but if you're having a large wedding, expect that there will be a lot of people wanting to buy you gifts. It's OK to get creative in what you ask for (see #3) and register for intangible items -- just avoid leaving people hanging.

2. Look over the price range of your registry.
Certainly you should register for the items you want, but also take a minute to see how many of your items fall into each price range ($0-$25, $25-$50, $50-$100, $100+). There's nothing wrong with asking for some big-ticket items, but consider whether guests with smaller budgets will be able to buy a gift off your registry. One option is to see whether multi-packs (plates, glasses, pots) can be registered as individual items instead, so if no one can afford to buy you that entire set of crystal goblets, you might still get enough goblets from people who each buy one or two. Don't forget about small items like salt and pepper shakers and serving utensils. On the other hand, this is your opportunity to ask for the highest quality items, like those super-luxurious sheets and towels that you'd never buy yourself if you were bargain-hunting. This is one time you don't have to be frugal when picking things for your home.

3. Don't be afraid to get creative.
In addition to registering for household items, Mike and I set up a registry on Honeymoon Wishes. We went on a cruise for our honeymoon and picked out a few excursions we wanted to go on, and we broke the price of each down into $25 or $50 increments that people could contribute to the total cost (after first adding to the cost to account for the 7% fee the site takes). We weren't sure how people would react, but these ended up getting bought almost immediately, and we had fun sending pictures afterwards to the people who had contributed to each excursion. When Mike and I buy gifts for friends' weddings, we often look for fun items on the registry like a tent or a ping-pong set. Yes, some people have more traditional ideas about what's an appropriate wedding gift, but other people may want the opportunity to give a unique or experiential gift.

4. Be kind to out-of-town guests.
Not everyone will be able to attend the wedding, and those who are attending may be traveling from far away and not want to worry about bringing a gift or buying (and wrapping) one upon arrival. It's frustrating for me as a guest when the majority of a friend's online registry are "in-store only" items; even worse is something like Home Depot, where you have to get the registry number and physically bring it into a store to buy a gift. Your out-of-town guests should have the opportunity to view at least one of your registries online, order a gift online, and have it sent to an address you've already provided to the website.

5. Share where you're registered.
Yes, there are all sorts of etiquette things around not wanting to outright ask for gifts, but seriously -- I know you're registered somewhere, so just tell me. Otherwise I have to spend time checking all the common stores, and this can be even more of a hassle if you're registered somewhere unusual or -- as I've seen happen -- one of your names is spelled wrong on the registry. Which is another good tip: Double-check that all the information on your registry is correct, so people searching for it will be able to find it!

Tips for Buying Wedding Gifts

1. Be hesitant to deviate from the registry.
If you're buying (or making) the couple something not on their registry, it should be decidedly different from anything they have listed. For example, some great non-registry wedding gifts we received included a quilt made by Mike's aunt, a picture book about our relationship created by a friend from college, and Christmas stockings. On the other hand, we had on our registry a cake plate, which was given to us at my bridal shower, and we received two more cake plates as wedding gifts. Not only did we not need or have the space in our apartment for three cake plates, but the one we'd requested had a cover, and the other two did not, and one was from an antique store and couldn't be returned. We also got an entire 10-piece cooking set that we returned because we barely had room for the 10-piece cooking set we had registered for. Remember that the couple getting married put thought into which items to register for, and if you don't check their registry before buying, your gift may end up being a duplicate or something they don't have space for -- so don't be offended if they return your gift.

Also, if you buy something from the registry, make sure the store knows it's bought. This is easy to do online if you Add to Cart directly from the online registry screen, but if you buy it in store, be sure it's entered or scanned as being part of the couple's registry so they don't receive duplicates.

2. Make use of online registry filters.
Mike and I have decided on a specific amount we'll spend on wedding gifts, and a smaller amount for bridal shower gifts. One thing that has saved me a lot of time is realizing that there are drop-down filters at the top of a lot of online registries, so I can quickly filter down to Items Remaining (instead of sorting through ones already bought) and ones that fall within our price range, then sort by price. This way I can quickly see which items I have to choose from, and then pick something fun (see #3 above) or something we ourselves own and like. I also try to pick something that is a little less than our budgeted amount so with tax and shipping it will come out about right. Failing this, I can go down a price range and pick out two or three items that together fit our budget. Just be careful to indicate to have the items shipped together -- my mom had an awkward moment of having two items shipped separately so the couple received a gift from her first that was only a few dollars; she called them so they'd know it wasn't the only thing she'd gotten them!

3. Cash and checks are A-OK.
Some people think that giving cash or a check is an impersonal gift, and I totally get that feeling, but I also know how much we appreciated all the monetary gifts we received for our wedding. We mostly used the money to buy the items on our registry that we didn't receive but also put it toward some things we hadn't realized we would need when we put together our registry. Everything we received, whether gifts or money, was deeply appreciated. If you feel too awkward giving cash, consider giving a gift card to one of the places the couple is registered so they can put it toward something they wanted to receive but didn't.

4. Ship your gift rather than bringing it to the wedding.
Not everyone will agree with me on this one, but I know for us it was great to have wedding gifts shipped directly to us. For one thing, we could open them and write thank-you notes a little at a time (though we waited to send all of them until after the wedding). Also, there were the logistics to organize of getting the gifts from the reception to us; we didn't want to have to haul out all the gifts into our car before leaving the reception, so my parents took them home and we went over to their house the next day to open them, then load them into our car. I know couples for whom the logistics are far more complicated if they're getting married somewhere far away from home, and some people forget to account for all the gifts they'll get the day of until they're at the reception and the gift table is piling up, and they have to figure out who has a car big enough for everything, how they'll get them home, etc. So my advice is to save everyone this hassle and just have the gifts sent directly to the couple; most online registries will have their preferred address on file so you don't even have to know what it is.

5. Don't bother with gift wrap for shipped gifts.
When buying wedding gifts to have shipped to friends and family, I'm often asked during the checkout process if I want to add gift wrap for a few extra dollars. Having been on the receiving end of wedding gifts already, I never get the gift wrap. Pretty much everything shipped to us came in a brown box anyway, and it was enough anticipation opening up the box to see what was inside. A wrapped gift is just another layer to unwrap, and I couldn't even tell you whose gifts were wrapped and whose weren't because it didn't matter to us at all. Save some trees, save your money, skip the gift wrap.

Those are my tips for wedding gifts. Agree/Disagree? What would you add?

3BoT Vol. 11: Three Books for Creating Change

Thursday, September 6, 2012

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3BoT Vol. 11: Three Books for Creating Change | 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.

This month's collection of books, probably more than any previous month, gives you a look at Jessica's Favorite Kind of Book. The books I can't get enough of are nonfiction books, typically with a one-word title plus subtitle, that cover a specific topic through some combination of history and psychological research studies. I love learning, but I know that understanding any topic well requires digging into it and considering it from multiple angles, and I appreciate writers who can do that in an accessible way, using examples and extended metaphors to make complex topics more approachable.

One of the topics that particularly interests me is how we can help ourselves (or other people) change for the better. Sometimes it's hard to know what the best course of action really is, but as the first book here explains, there are a lot of cases where it's fairly clear-cut. For example, many people want to eat healthier, quit smoking, save more money, and other "New Year's resolution" type goals, but struggle with following through. What these books explore is whether there are small changes you can make to help yourself or someone else be more likely to achieve these positive outcomes.

If you want to make things a little better for you, your kids, or your employees, check out these three books:

#1: Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
These authors direct most of their suggestions to the government, arguing for something called "libertarian paternalism" (guiding people toward the things best for them while still leaving freedom of choice), but I think it became a New York Times bestseller for its applicability to everyday life. While the latter half of the book contains some rather dry case studies, the first half is invaluable for providing a crash course on the research to date about influence. They explain things like why default options matter, when social norms affect people and when they don't, and what else might be affecting your day-to-day actions without your even realizing it. You'll get tips for helping your rational side trick your emotional side into accomplishing what you want, like signing up to start automatically saving money in the future (no big deal)... instead of today (ouch).

#2: Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
This book spends less time than Nudge giving a background on why their suggestions work so well, but the authors provide a lot of very specific tips supported by multiple interesting and memorable stories of when these tips have worked. Suggestions like "Find the Bright Spots" and "Script the Critical Moves" have helped me with everything from improving our student course evaluation response rate to designing an exercise plan I would actually follow. When planning things with people who are less detail-oriented than I am, I sometimes reference the 1% milk story from this book: It's far more effective to tell people to buy 1% milk (instead of 2% or whole) than to tell them to "eat healthier." I'll bet that after reading this book, you'll be looking for areas of your life in which to try out some of the nine main suggestions the authors provide.

#3: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
This book, more than the others, focuses on getting other people to act in a certain way; specifically, motivating employees to be productive and efficient. Pink's argument is that while we normally think about getting people to do things by using incentives -- external rewards -- this is the best approach only in a very limited set of circumstances. Most of the time, you can get better results and have happier employees by providing them with the opportunity to be intrinsically motivated to do a good job: Giving them autonomy over their work, a chance for mastery/learning, and a feeling of being part of a bigger purpose. (Perhaps the same is true for children?) As someone who's not a manager, what I liked most about Drive was the guidance of the specific things to look for, or ask for, to make sure my job is as enjoyable and satisfying as possible.

What books have you read that have helped you to better understand how to make the changes you want to make in your life?

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Unhugged: The Importance of Mindfully Creating Community

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

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Unhugged: The Importance of Mindfully Creating Community | Faith Permeating Life

When I was in college, there were several Masses to choose from on Sunday in the main chapel. There was also one Mass at night closer to where the upperclassmen lived that was far more laid-back; students sat on the floor and there was a student band that played high-energy music for the Mass.

One of the defining features of this Mass was how the Sign of Peace was handled. At a typical Mass, you shake the hands of the people around you and say, "Peace be with you." You might hug any friends and family you're with rather than shaking their hand. At this Mass, everyone hugged for the Sign of Peace. It was a big free-for-all of people running around the room, hugging each other.

When I was a freshman, I would sometimes go with a group of girls from my floor to this Mass. My impression was that it was great how everyone just let loose and loved on everyone; I'd gets hugs from my floormates, from Campus Ministry folks I knew, from other friends from different parts of campus. It made me feel part of a close-knit, loving community.

A lot had changed by my last year of college. I was in graduate school and almost all my friends had graduated except my roommate (not Catholic) and my friends in the gay-straight alliance (mostly not Catholic), plus a few friends who lived on the other side of campus whom I rarely saw. I don't remember which Mass I normally went to, but it was one of the ones in the main chapel or at the church right near campus.

For whatever reason, one Sunday I didn't make it to Mass during the day, which meant the only option left was to go to the night Mass. I saw someone I knew from classes on the way in, and so she invited me to come sit on the floor by her and her friends.

At the Sign of Peace, something odd happened. The girl I knew gave me a hug, and then I turned to the people around me. Everyone was hugging each other... and carefully avoiding eye contact with me. There was a hugging storm whirling around me, but I was the eye of the storm, the solitary unknown person that no one knew what to do with.

I understood exactly what had happened. At this particular Mass, it would have been out of the ordinary to stop and shake someone's hand after hugging everyone else. It would have felt oddly formal and distant, not in keeping with the character of the Mass. But a hug is still an intimate thing, something you don't usually share with a complete stranger.

So people chose to avoid having to make a decision by just pretending they didn't see me.

I had forgotten about this experience until this week, when the residence hall where we live hosted its weekly Mass. This Mass had the same laid-back attitude of the night Mass at my college, with people coming down from their rooms in their pajama pants, talking and laughing with friends before Mass started.

And at the Sign of Peace, everyone hugged.

Some people here know me. The RAs gave me hugs, as well as a few other students who we'd gotten to know before school started. And Mike did, of course. But the rest of the students in front of and behind me carefully averted their eyes and found other people to share their peace with.

It made me think about the importance of mindfulness in building communities. It seems that the more close-knit and comfortable a group becomes, the harder it is for others to be welcomed into that group unless the group specifically makes an effort to make new people comfortable.

Have you ever been invited to hang out with someone's group of friends and felt a palpable barrier between you and everyone else, made of laughter and inside jokes? But what a difference it makes when someone stops and tells you the backstory before the conversation goes any farther.

When I was in Chicago, I volunteered with an amazing group of people, and one of the things that helped me feel I belonged was that at the first meeting I attended, everyone took the time to ask me questions about myself and learn more about me, and then filled me in on what they were working on and the usual format of their meetings. They did the same when another volunteer joined later on. It was a concrete way of indicating that they wanted new people to feel comfortable and welcome there.

In cases like these, all it may take is any individual being mindful of the need to make someone comfortable. But with larger groups, I think explicit guidance from a leader can be helpful. At this Mass, for instance, people are operating on two different heuristics: (1) Everyone hugs at this Mass and (2) Hugging someone you don't know is socially awkward. What a difference it could make for the priest to say something like, "At this Mass we often share with one another a sign of peace through a hug, but if you don't know someone well enough for that, please extend them a handshake."

The idea of welcoming newcomers is something I've heard come up more than once in connection with churches, and it's something that Catholics, specifically, are not known for doing particularly well. However, I know from visiting friends' churches that sometimes when people are assigned to a "welcome ministry" it can end up feeling a little overbearing and like a sales pitch for joining the church, and that's not exactly what I'm talking about.

I don't want to be sold to or interrogated -- just noticed and acknowledged positively. Sometimes that's just a friendly person turning around to say hello. But if that isn't a part of the culture, it may take a bigger push from leadership -- not so much by assigning specific people to be friendly, but by regularly encouraging people to greet someone they don't know, until a new habit and culture is formed.

There's something wonderful about feeling part of a close community of people. But if you want to leave the door open to new people, it's worth taking the time to think about how to ensure that new people feel welcome and included.

When have you had trouble becoming part of an established group? What do you think would have helped you feel more included?

The Gift of Being Understood

Monday, September 3, 2012

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This past week was spent with my extended family, most of the week with one branch and then with everyone for a cousin's wedding. My parents and sister flew in from Chicago for the wedding. It was incredibly fun to spend time with everyone -- my family's awesome.

Mike, unfortunately, had to work last week and stay on campus for Labor Day weekend, so we've been apart for the past week. I miss him a lot -- it always surprises me just how much. But I was also reminded of just how much better he knows me than anyone else does.

I know this isn't the case for everyone's relationship, but we have such open communication and suspension of judgment with one another that I feel like I can always be honest with him. I don't have to worry about him interpreting "I like things this way" as "You did something wrong and you suck," so I can share with him all the weird pet peeves, preferences, and anxieties I have.

Here are some of the things I was reminded of this week that Mike understands about me:

I'm a flexitarian. There are a lot of ways I attempt to tell people what I'll eat -- e.g., I'm a pescetarian who will eat meat if it's humanely raised without hormones or antibiotics; I'm a vegetarian but, yes, I will eat seafood -- but I'm grateful that Mike just gets it, and doesn't ever get confused or judge me if I have a rare moment where I decide to eat some meat. Other people seem to want to pepper me with questions about what exactly I will eat so that they can attempt to place a precise label on me. Or they use heuristics from other "vegetarians" they know: My aunt thought vegetarian meant I still eat chicken. I appreciate everyone adapting to make sure I had things I could eat, but I missed the ease of eating at home.

I'm a satisficer. And so is Mike. So if he offers me a few choices of something and I pick one, he knows he doesn't have to keep going over all the specific details of all the possible options and coming up with additional options to ensure I'm going to be as happy as possible. If I find something that satisfies me, I'm good. My aunt and my mom are both maximizers, so they enjoy going over the pros and cons of ever possible option before making a decision. If I decide to make myself a sandwich for lunch, yes, there might be something I'd like more in your fridge, but I will also be perfectly content if I just go ahead and eat my sandwich.

I don't like to serve myself first if I'm not cooking. This is a super-specific weird thing about me. I've been in too many situations where somebody makes an assortment of dishes and sauces and then invites me to serve myself first, and I make a fool of myself because I don't instinctively know which things go on top of which other things. I much prefer to watch someone assemble their meal first. When Mike and I are both guests and told to serve ourselves first, he will step up so I don't have to be the first one.

I don't like people to read the menu to me. I already wrote a whole post about this, but people seem to be unable to help themselves. Mike knows how much this bothers me and if anything will only ask if I want help finding something I can have.

I rarely want to watch TV. I watched more TV this week than probably the last three months combined. I didn't mind that my family members wanted to watch TV, but it amused me that they would leave the TV on when they left the room or the house with the assumption that I was watching it, even if I was on my computer. Mike will almost always put headphones on to watch TV unless I specifically express interest in watching something with him, and then he'll turn it off when he's done watching his show.

Those are just a few things I thought of this week. I'm looking forward to heading home today and seeing Mike again!

What are some things about you that only a few people in your life "get"?
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