To the brave

March for Life Reflection
“To the Brave” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day

The “Bright Maidens” were originally three from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. Now, we all take up the cross to dispel the myths and misconceptions. Welcome!

This one goes out to the brave. Thank you, women in mourning, who consistently share with us your heartbreaking stories of decades of pain.

Thank you for opening wounds with us that took years to acknowledge, let alone to heal.

This year I spent the March for Life doing what most of my fellow defenders of the sanctity of human life were doing: trudging through another work day, wishing I was marching among my brothers and sisters.

God knows I’m grateful for my job and that many who are not as fortunate as I am were homebound on Monday as well. I just wish I could have joined the voices and the media-slighted crowd.

Two years ago I was here in DC for an internship on the day of the march. I awoke with my normal routine, begrudgingly aware that I couldn’t pound the pavement with the pro-life strangers, and walked toward the Metro station. I boarded a train bursting with the normal commuters, briefcases and cell phone chimes.

But when I exited for my stop, I noticed one woman carrying a sign as she de-trained with me. She was the only marcher in our train car and her sign was far too big to conceal.

She carried this sign

I don’t know if she was one of the women behind the micro or megaphones that day, with thousands of voices to support her in sharing her story, but here she was in the middle of a DC commuter’s morning, witnessing without the rest of the choir.

I can’t imagine the pain of cooping with a decision to abort a child and I certainly can’t imagine the kind of retribution she could have faced in risking to carry that sign as she traveled alone. That morning, I wanted to give a stranger a hug and to thank her.

When I returned home from my internship in DC, I started volunteering for Rachel’s Vineyard. I encourage everyone to visit their website, inquire with your diocese about opportunities in your area, to donate (if you feel so called), and to volunteer.

You don’t have to be one of the counselors in the room to give aid to the effort to provide a safe environment for post-abortive fathers and mothers. You can offer up the tedious but necessary jobs like cooking, setting up, and cleaning up.

The pro-life movement needs to be an activist movement for healing as well as a forward movement for saving lives. Consider helping with this wing!

The Mount

Moments that remind us God fully exists
“The Mount” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day

The “Bright Maidens” were originally three from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. Now, we all take up the cross to dispel the myths and misconceptions. Welcome!

I blog.

Blogging is a lifestyle, not just a practice involving drafts, HTML, and comment boxes. When you blog, you start seeing life through the scope of your writing capabilities.

Bloggers get to a point wherein every lesson they learn must be assessed: can I share this with the world on my blog? Will I do it justice? Should I just jot down this thought on my napkin while no one is looking?

That point sneaks up on you until one day you have a really great cry, or your talking with your best friend about something you’ve never discussed with anyone, and you think, “I need to blog about this.”

It’s a similar problem that plagues Christians (the bloggers and non-bloggers alike) in their daily lives. I know my mind is littered with mental notes of the “perfect” analogy, or the “best” examples of Christian living, set aside to pull out in the middle of a discussion.

We get so wrapped up in the path we took to grow our relationship with Christ and want to share it with others that we forget that the Holy Spirit is at work all day, everyday. We start to judge, accuse, get comfortable, get lazy, and go through the motions.

In cases such as these, in His infinite wisdom, God provides for us His vast expanse of nature.

Mt. Rainier (I don’t own this picture)

When I traveled to Seattle and my beau joined me for a four day Northwestern excursion, we spent an entire day around Mt. Rainier. Upon arrival, the day was chilly due to cloud cover, but not enough for a jacket on the hike.

It’s no mistake that much of Jesus’ greatest work was accomplished outside, e.g., feeding the 5000, Beatitudes, Crucifixion, etc. The great outdoors opens the scope for larger crowds and a reminder of Original Man’s surroundings.

Rather than slipping into an 8th grade poem about crisp air, clear blue sky, white mountain tops and … oops, we’re already there.

There is no virtual reality game for hiking or walking around without the whuushhh of cars rushing by while you stare off the edge of a cliff in the presence of a snow-covered mountain in July.

It would be like trying to describe the vast experience of a conversion or enlightenment by explaining the wallpaper in the room one was sitting in when it happened.

“Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound…” 1 Kings 19: 11-12

When we ascended the mountain, with the iconic Rainier peak to our left and green-carpeted mountain piles on our right, a warm wind picked up. It slowly nudged the clouds over our heads and beyond our sight.

The sun emerged without threat of straggling cloud when we started descending the other side of the trail, illuminating the landscape and strengthening the color contrasts. In one [panting] moment at the high point of the trail, I felt God in the wind.

I grabbed a pen (still not free of the blogger’s crutch) and wrote this down, my leg as my clipboard:

He makes it so obvious to us and people still won’t recognize Him. Post about spiritual dry spells vs dry rainforests. You don’t realize how you could not see Him when it’s wet. The opposite when it’s dry.

I certainly don’t have it figured out and my homage to the spiritual jump-start I got that day at Mt. Rainer is to avoid describing it. Rather than belittling it, I just encourage anyone who is physically able to climb away from daily life, to do so.

Go somewhere you can watch out for Him and listen for Him.

Needle and the damage done

“Ain’t Tat Something” by Julie at The Corner with a View
Trista at Not a Minx, a Moron, or a Parasite
“Needle and the damage done” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day

The “Bright Maidens” were originally three from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. Now, we all take up the cross to dispel the myths and misconceptions. Welcome!

How appropriate that we review a topic like tattoos after one of the most shirtless days of the year!

In April, I made a little comment about the calf tattoos (calftoos or calftats, if you will) I saw when running in my first anything-K race. I took a dip in my gym’s pool yesterday, taking a look around at the surplus of Americans celebrating America’s day.

Then I started calculating how much all of that ink was worth.

A friend once showed me his three inch ankle tattoo and told me it cost him almost $200. It costs at least $60 for the tattoo artist to touch the needle to your skin. You better know what you want because not only are you paying a hefty amount upfront, but you’re generally stuck with it. No pun intended, but pun emphasized.

Let’s get out of my penny-pincher mind; what are the teachings and why?

Many Protestant theologians teach that the Bible forbids it, often citing this: “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh on account of the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:28).
If these preachers stick to this (look, another pun), then I assume they also don’t wear blended fabrics. Leviticus is certainly an important part of the Bible, but we need to be careful not to pick and parcel out what we want to believe from what we don’t want to believe. That’s how the Protestant churches lost sight of the true teaching of the Eucharist.
So what does the Catholic Church teach? The consensus among Catholic biblical scholars is that this teaching on tattoos is not part of the unchanging moral law.Cite 
Like many parts of the Catholic Church’s teachings, they leave it up to the church members (you and me) to discern. The Church teaches that it is not in opposition of the Bible to tattoo oneself, but they offer sound principles explaining why, in some situations, it is sinful to be tattooed.
Sinful? Now, no one wants to hear that! Do you know how much I paid for this?! It’s a picture of my dog playing a keytar, get a grip, Church!
A lot of pain for no gain. Gross.

Calm down for a second. For example, if one gets the tattoo with a bad intention, like in spite of one’s parents, that person is sinning against them. If the intention of the tattoo is not one of love (“I want to piss off as many people as possible, because I can”), the evil intention makes it a sin, according to the Church.
To get a clearer understanding of these principles, read here. 
Back to the pool
After hanging out at my gym’s pool, my family held a little Independence Day shindig (Happy birthday, Gramma!). One of our guests was a man who went to the Naval Academy. You would think a midshipman who is officially a member of the Navy would have dozens of tattoos by now, easily hidden, of course.
He surprised me by vehemently exclaiming that he can’t think of one item he would want to have on his body for his entire life. How succinctly put!
Tattoos have a special, quiet place in my opinions. I have so many that they nestle quite nicely among the spiky, bickering items like abortion, justice and crunchy vs. creamy peanut butter (crunchy, obviously).
I have wanted a tattoo (or several) for the last fifteen years. Throughout those fifteen years, if I shared that tidbit with friends they scoffed in surprise; never could they imagine their quiet, somewhat-goodie-two-shoes friend inking herself. Part of me still wants to shovel out the ridiculous amounts of money to get one.
Much like I know not to date bad boys or have multiple drinks at a cocktail party, I know I won’t get a tattoo. 
First of all, the double standard on tattoos makes them very undesirable on female skin. Yes, that’s still true. No, it hasn’t changed.
Second of all, after youthful days pass me by, I’m more likely to find a jalapeno pepper in the exact same place I had once paid someone to ink a strawberry.
Thirdly and most importantly, I ask myself, why do I want to get a tattoo? I can’t think of a single answer at which I wouldn’t roll my eyes. 

So often, tattoos are a fad that fades with youth. They skipped my parents’ generation, perhaps proving their trendiness.
When I ask myself, why don’t I want to get a tattoo?, I have a thousand answers. The big one: I don’t want my future kids to see a tattoo on their mom.
Because of my remaining desire to get my own tattoo, I don’t judge people who have their own (except to think, how in the heck did you pay for that?).  We make our own decisions in life.
Like any decision that affects us for the rest of our lives, we shouldn’t take the decision to go under the needle lightly. 

Young Woman at the Well

Week Seven: Why we chose Catholicism

“Young Woman at the Well” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day

This is the seventh post of a blog post series called “Bright Maidens.” We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!

During His travels, Jesus came to Samaria and sat by the stone wall of a simple well. He asked a woman there for a drink, which was confusing for the woman because of the tension between their nationalities.

Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4: 10).

He proceeded to show her how much He knew about her, though she thought Him to be a stranger. God revealed Jesus as the Messiah to this flawed, yet attentive woman.

Jesus came to me in this way many times in my life, but I was inattentive and failed to draw Him a drink.

I grew up a cradle Catholic in a home full of people who went to Mass, challenged me to ask questions, and who stressed the need for a relationship with God. I was elected “Class Chaplain” all four years at my Catholic high school and my knowledge of Bible stories was above average (or so I thought).

(I don’t own the rights)

As it tends to do, life got busy. My child-like faith needed more maintenance and I started going through the motions of faith.

I recalled the Younglife, Protestant kids I knew in high school and how lit up they acted in their faith. I also recalled the few, yet loud, hypocrites who didn’t act like Christians, especially when they were damning me for idolatry, following the Pope, worshiping Mary, etc.

That memory made me cling tight to my Catholic roots and avoid those who asked questions about my faith that I couldn’t answer. My closest friends were those I met through the campus ministry in which I was involved in college, but I wouldn’t allow God to light my heart on fire.

In college, I transferred before my junior year, shaking my routine. Many times in my life I have encountered varying levels of depression and this shift to a bigger school and a new routine hit me hard.

My prayer life was more of a nightly whine session. I never once asked, “God, what do YOU want me to do?”

To my delight, a journalism training organization offered me an internship for my last semester of college in Washington, D.C. The binds of depression loosened during that semester as I met countless new acquaintances.

My D.C. home was a large dorm full of international students and professionals. Sadly, this meant it was full of several types of religious apathy. We partied, we discussed politics, and we enjoyed friendships based on a love of cultures as well as a shallow foundation of worldliness. I left D.C. with the friendships of those from several countries, whom I love to this day.

But I was still thirsting.

Next stop: Chicago

My next internship was that summer under the umbrella of an libertarian-leaning education organization and it sent me to Chicago.

The Chicago summer surprised this Virginia gal with its beauty (albeit chilly beauty that hovered around 70 degrees most days), the little I saw of it. My rented Evanston apartment was a forty minute commuter train ride away from my office packed with libertarians.

Libertarianism philosophy values self above all others and holds that a selfish rule of thumb supposedly serves others in the end. There is a slim chance escaping the black cloud of selfishness when it hangs in the office air you breathe.

It’s also tough to avoid the pressing questions from atheists, as the libertarian world is high in their number. The influence of a few atheists in the office had a deep impact on my summer. Their persistence and my lack of bravery in combatting their questions of faith steered me back to a dark place.

(I don’t own the rights)

I was in a strange city, commuting ninety minutes a day instead of socializing, surrounding myself with bad influences, and concentrating my conversations on selfishness and politics. I was the devil’s playground, complete with a dry, thirsty sandbox.

I started to wonder about the very existence of God for the first time in my life. I started to doubt it. I was doubting Him.

Deep in depression, by the grace of God, another question washed over me: Had I been duped? What about my two decades of belief? Was I finally un-stupid?

My resounding answer was, “No!” yet the doubt remained.

I was not an idiot my whole life prior to that summer. I had not been duped and neither were my parents, Godparents, or grandparents. All of the most loving, best people I knew were Christians, most Catholics.

I decided I needed to reclaim myself and my faith.

My fasting week

Crucifix? Check. Scapular? Check. Earphones plugged into Christian music? Check. Pretending to be tired and sick so as to avoid unnecessary conversation at my internship? Check.

My cleansing week was an attempt to bombard myself with Christian media and reconnect with the prayer I had begun to doubt. Push, push, push, I was going to give it a full week if it killed me. Something told me not to surrender.

On Thursday night of that week, I was watching Fireproof as part of my Christian-stuffing.

All of a sudden, at a mundane part of the movie, the Holy Spirit moved something in me.
“Jesus is waiting for me,” I thought.

(I don’t own the rights)

All He needed was for me to make the decision to let Him bear me. I needed to give up my path and give myself to Him.

Before the third millisecond of this thought process, I was clinging to my scapular, laying in the fetal position, and heaving through wet sobs.

Relinquish control. Give of myself to the One who was patient and excitedly waiting for me.

I reduced/advanced myself to the state of a child once more. I was a helpless rag-doll in Jesus’ arms, giving up my controlling greed and letting Him take my weight while I sobbed in gratitude.

This quenched my thirst and lit me on fire to learn more about my relationship with the Holy Trinity.

Inter-faith relationship

The Holy Trinity continued to teach me about myself and about our relationship. I began to feel more fulfilled than ever and I could finally consider myself “on fire.” Within a year, I recognized this passion for Christ in a man and it attracted me.

My ex is a Baptist, though I didn’t realize this until we were already dating. His devotion to Jesus moved me to spend more time reading the Bible. He was committed to abstinence before marriage, as well, so I felt lucky to know him.

We got in more than one “discussion,” at high volumes about the differences between our faiths. We challenged each other and our relationship required me to research and learn about Catholicism thoroughly.

Introducing the major issues: His mother and his father were not pleased with their son dating a Catholic and they let me know (deja vu, verbatim from the mouths of the Younglife kids). We began to recognize the irrevocable issues, so we started allowing chastity to fly out the window, with the subconscious hopes that a physical relationship would help hold us together.

We maintained our major boundary, but we definitely allowed our physical relationship to dominate. God made it very clear to me that this was no longer a relationship that served Him or His mission. It was my longest serious relationship and the decision to break up was the easiest I’ve ever made.

I began to heal again, stronger than ever, and surrounded myself with the newly researched Catholic teachings and strong Catholic friends.

The passion I discovered as a result of that relationship is for studying the Theology of the Body because it weaves itself so tightly into the understanding of Jesus’ example of true Love and Christian teaching. Theology of the Body is the perfect scope into the beauty and completeness of the Church and it was the sealing agent on my journey back Home to Rome.

Every moment of this journey cast me as the woman turning the pump, or hoisting the rope attached to the container of water from the well. Though I didn’t always do His will and I tread very close to where the devil wanted me, God still guided me to the side of that well.

God guided me to Him through the mediums of mistakes, doubts, and obedience.

Christian Commitophobia

Week Three: Dating

“Christian Commitophobia” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day

This is the third post of a Lenten blog post series called “Bright Maidens.” We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!

“So you’re an actively dating commitophobe who desperately wants to find Mr. Right?”

A friend recently summed up how the world categorizes my dating style. My answer to him at the time was a laugh and a “yes, you got it.” But really, the answer is more complicated than that and the end result is: commitophobia isn’t always a bad thing.

Break it down:

*Actively dating: yes. I’m getting to know men.

Your mom told you friendship should come first and I think she was right. You know how easy it is to be friends with someone with whom you really connect? Why deprive yourself of the same ease with a significant other? I am getting to know men as friends and taking it no faster than that, for the time being.

*Commitophobe: that’s how the world sees me. I have dated several men over the years and I’ve gotten serious with one of them.

My 24th birthday is tomorrow. This makes me either a late bloomer (first date: age 15 — pretty early), a weirdo (this is entirely possible, but what would that make you, dear reader?), in a place without a sufficient supply of men (that is not the case for anyone when online dating has graduated to non-sketchiness, for the most part) or a commitophobe.

*Desperately: No. Not desperately. Ouch. If I was desperately searching for Mr. Right, I think I would have found Mr. Okay Enough and married him by now.

Desperation, in this case, would cloud my mind and make me settle because the desperation would be less about finding the right person and more about hunkering down into the idea of marriage.

*Wants to find Mr. Right: check. If God is calling me to marriage, I feel prepared to meet the man I will marry. If He’s not calling me to marriage, this post is still a pillar of what I believe about the subject of dating.

I want to be like them

In my teen years and in most of my college years, I felt the ache for the “kind of” companionship I witnessed in couples around me. I liked the idea of holding hands with a nice, cute boy and telling him about my day like the “other girls” did.

To have a male confidant who would be romantic and wait outside of school at the ending bell, leaning against the hood of his car, hand-picked long-stem roses in hand with a poem memorized for recitation… would be divine.

How dreamy this boy would be. He would treat me well, make me laugh, understand my cryptic humor, get along with my family, and respect my boundaries. Finally, the girls at my school would see that someone found me desirable and worthy enough to call me “girlfriend.”

Insecurities like this feed like a parasite on most teenage girls. I’m so grateful to have my parents, for without the motivation to remain true to myself, I could have taken that crazy thought train into a premarital, sexual relationship with the first squeaky-voiced, teen guy who would show me any of the affection I craved.

To clarify, I was quite invisible in high school and was especially so in the minds of the the all-boys’ brother school down the street. I was invisible, but I still emitted a non-silly air.

Being invisible erases the chance of pursuit by some disrespectful guy, but my demeanor prevented it, as well. A foundation of confidence supported me, though it was hidden under many layers of these insecurities, so the threat of losing myself never followed through.


Naptime with Daddy

My hero, my Daddy, gets to take a lot of the credit for this. He was and is a spectacular part of my life and has built up quite an example of manhood. Any prospects, past or future, tend to pale in comparison.

I dated a few men in college and beyond but I often put the breaks on the momentum of the relationship, hence commitophobe. Of course, this has been an effort to avoid pain but also to avoid dating for the sake of dating.

My father’s fervent devotion to our relationship and his relationships with my mother and my sisters prevents me from settling. In fact, he has made finding the right guy nearly impossible because of his example and ability to make me double over in laughter. He’s ruined it for lots of men.

Why would I date someone when I can see he doesn’t value the foundations that support my father’s strong points?

Yes, as my friend from the beginning of the post pointed out to me, it takes a long time to get to know someone. This doesn’t mean we launch into an emotional and physical relationship with everyone who shows interest in us.

When we approach dating as a way to get to know someone instead of a mid-life circus act to convince someone to like us, we can reach a level of comfort.

Taking this path allows both parties to “interview” the other in the same way they learn about other friends. If it turns out that there is something missing between you, at least you haven’t fumbled through a physical relationship before its too late to get out relatively unscathed.

Another friend once described the ideal relationship between a man and woman like a triangle. As a man and a woman work toward God at the top of the triangle, they’re also getting closer to each other.

Seeking to know God helps us grow closer to each other because of the Love that growing close to God fosters.

I have not always agreed with this. In fact, for a time I was pretty cavalier with giving away my kisses and entertaining the idea of dating men who didn’t hold value for the walk toward God.

When it came down to it, my deep-rooted “commitophobia” prevented me from ignoring my inner voices and slapping a “boyfriend” label on the relationship.

Now I believe skipping the step of getting to know someone before allowing a physical relationship to try to push it along is counter productive. Kissing is great fun  
because of the chemicals it releases and the bond it creates between two people.

I don’t want a bunch of chemicals clouding my mind in the early stage of knowing someone. My mind is cloudy enough. I’m a Christian Commiophobe.

Prepare now

It doesn’t take much to set off a teen, but if you wanted to ignite my temper in high school, all you had to do was put on an “Elizabeth’s Mom” mask and say the words, “It will happen when you least expect it.”

So many other nuggets of my mother’s advice have proven annoyingly true, so I’ve decided to trust that she’s right. In the meantime, I’m surrounding myself with a cushion of wonderful, beautiful friends.

My close friends are good, faithful people who help me walk closer to God with each step.

Keeping them around is narrowing my choices in dating even more because I will not be caught off guard or charmed when someone treats me with respect or agrees with my core beliefs. I have a whole pile of those friends at home. Those are now nonnegotiable traits.

This was one of the hardest posts to write and I think it’s because these are new conscious beliefs based on the subconscious beliefs I’ve held my entire life. I’ve always been a little afraid of getting to close to someone in a romantic relationship.

It has taken years of reflection, but I’m grateful for my commitophobia. I know I won’t settle; I know I will attempt to see every friendship and relationship as a journey to Christ and to becoming who I am.

“The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little.” -Thomas Merton