Catholic Match Blog Post

Please, read my recently published article on Catholic Match Institute’s Blog, by clicking on the link below.

Bargain Less & Embrace More: How to Navigate Love with Chronic Illness

This article shares my personal experience with navigating the highs and lows of life, love, dating, and relationships with chronic illness. Learn how I’ve changed my dating approach, and how I bargain less and embrace more while being true to who God created me and the unique manner in which God calls me to express love and be loved.

Love Quotes (1)

A Letter to My Future Husband #NPN2017

NPN2017Dear Future Husband,

In our day and age, I know it isn’t a matter of whether or not you have been exposed to pornography, but a matter of what you did/do once you were. I ask you to be honest with me. I know. I learned the statistics, the appeal, the behavior, the prevalence, and I’m asking you to, please, choose me. To choose us. Appeal to my love for you by being honest and transparent.

Don’t think for a moment I won’t be angered, disappointed or discouraged. Mostly, I will be scared. Maybe Betrayed. Definitely Hurt. Concerned for myself and potential children. I won’t excuse your behavior. Bad behavior is bad behavior. Porn isn’t just bad behavior. Porn lies. Kills Truth. Kills love. Porn distorts: Sex, Attraction, Beauty, Respect, Dignity, Worth, Value, Gratification, and Discipline. Porn objectifies. Porn turns men into beasts. Porn ruins your soul, your relationship with God, your ability to master virtue, and your ability to become the husband/father God called you to be. Porn is ultimately selfish.

Choosing to view and act on pornography is like eating a delicious 3 layered cake that is enticing and pleasurable in view, taste, smell, texture, etc. But you are so blinded by the externals and yourself (maybe peer pressure or “well intended” advice to eat the cake,) you don’t realize you just ingested a 3 layer “meth” cake of addictive hell, selfishness, and anti-love. But, it’s too late, you need another fix. You go back to the meth cake. You choose the meth cake over real love. It becomes a coping mechanism for disappointment, hurt, shame, uncertainty, insecurity, conflict, marital intimacy problems, etc. Pleasure and a quick fix distracts from struggling and striving for authentic faith, hope, and charity. I’m sorry and saddened if you bought into the lie of porn and chose the garbage when God wanted to give you heaven.

So what now. Guess what? You aren’t a slave to your lust, your past, your mistakes, your shame, your guilt, and your weaknesses. But you do need to change your heart which will change your body, mind, and soul. You ABSOLUTELY must change. There is no alternative. You need to become a true man: a lover of God and not yourself. Be disciplined in thought, word, and deed: spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, intellectual, financial, etc. You need to learn that there is right and wrong. And others, including God, have authority to inform you and hold you accountable to what is right and wrong. That there is good and bad behavior.

In the meantime, cling to God’s mercy, forgiveness, and compassion. Learn to do good and sin no more purely out of love for God. Love God! Create a clean heart in me, O God! Heal and hope. Become a real man of God. Don’t be afraid to suffer and sacrifice. Choose love. Choose me. Choose us. And please, pray for me and for my purity. Please, pray for us. You are in my prayers always.

With My Whole Heart,

Hannah

A.M.D.G.

Part 1: Pride Goes Before Disaster

“Pride goes before disaster, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be humble with the poor than to share plunder with the proud.” ~ Proverbs 16: 18-19

Other than the theme of love the theme of pride dominates the majority of literature- Hubris. I learned acutely this week: Pride has no business in an intimate relationship.

St. Augustine wrote, “It was pride that changes angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” So very true. Pride enslaved us to sin and death. Humility freed us from sin and death.

S. Augustine- pride

Within a loving, intimate relationship pride ruins relationships and wrecks havoc. Pride destroys all other virtues and even other vices. Pride denies sin. Pride ultimately means an over-inflated, misplaced self reliance and rejection of our reliance on Our heavenly Father- Our Creator. Pride is like giving God the middle finger. We puff up like a petty, pouffy self-absorbed grouse. But pride makes us feel good or justified or superior. In reality, we reject God, turn ourselves into mini-gods, and reject the people we claim to love. We’re too busy loving ourselves.

Pride manifests itself in many ways within a relationship: lack of communication, resentment, abuse and control, sexual perversion like pornography or masturbation, holding a grudge, inability to think of others, lying, omitting or twisting the truth, blaming others, whining, etc.

“For pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of live, or contentment, or even common sense.” — C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

Pride isn’t the same concept as being proud. We can delight in our gifts, talents, and accomplishments barring maintaining healthy gratitude to Our Creator who bestowed us with the capacity. Pride doesn’t mean having unhealthy boundaries, being a doormat, excusing bad behavior, or refusing to cultivate a conscience that delineates between good and evil. Having convictions or a moral compass  is not automatically pride.

Pride prevents reconciliation, humility, forgiveness, freedom, and virtue. Pride tramples faith, hope, and charity (love.) Pride enslaves a person to their distortion of self reliance and prevents freedom in this life and the next. Pride snuffs out joy. Pride destroys peace. Pride prevents communion and union.

“The greatest misery does not stop Me from uniting Myself to a soul, but where there is pride, I am not there.” –St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in my Soul (1563)

I’m guilty of pride. Pride that hurts others and myself. Daily I struggle with occasions of sin and sin prompted by pride. I struggle to keep prideful behavior at bay within an intimate relationship. Pride can be sneaky too manifesting itself in unlikely manners and places.

What is the antidote to pride? Humility. Not faux humility. Authentic humility. Part 2 of this post will be an exploration of humility.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” — C.S. Lewis

Thinking Out Loud

Music can transport and capture in lyrical format a deep groaning of the human spirit. Lyrics are poems. Most lyrical poems capture aspects of human relationships.

I’m thinking ’bout how people fall in love in mysterious ways

God works in mysterious ways. Women marvel over romantic comedies, but women seek their own love story better and purer than even the best romantic comedy. We don’t want a cinema moment but a real moment. Not a cinema man but a real man. A man capable of sweeping us towards heaven not hell.

White Rose
Wild Rose

Maybe just the touch of a hand

There is an exorbitant lack of gentle affection depicted in media. Most sexuality is violent and aggressive or “passionate.” A gentle kiss on the forehead or caress of the hand is more loving and affirming than being bashed up against a wall or slammed onto a table in an intense make-out session (yes, I’m recalling certain movies in my latter description.) Not long ago, a touch of the hand was an act of bold affection, especially in public.

Maybe it’s all part of a plan

The love between a man and women is a part of God’s plan. Sexuality is good. Perversion of sexuality is bad. The love shared between a man and women reflects the exchange of love between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Marriage, the marital embrace, and procreation mirrors Trinitarian love and provides a glimpse of divine love here on earth. Sadly, most relationships don’t reflect this reality.

Well, me—I fall in love with you every single day

We desire affirmation in our relationships. We do want our significant other to affirm us and choose us on a daily basis and for a lifetime not in an utilitarian but unconditional manner- a Christ-like manner.

Cause, honey, your soul could never grow old, it’s evergreen 

Ah! The refreshing, lasting beauty of a pure soul. What a desirable and attractive quality! Men and women flock towards those clad in virtue and sprint to the holy altar of matrimony! Yes, that was sarcasm. Virtue isn’t hipster. Religion, let alone holiness, “cramps” Friday night enjoyment and socializing. People find holiness uncomfortable or embarresing. But the soul is evergreen, everlasting. The light of one’s soul should be #1 on our list of attractive qualities.

And, baby, your smile’s forever in my mind and memory

Love begins with a smile. St. Theresa of Calcutta always taught the importance of the smile.

Oh, darling, place your head on my beating heart

Have you ever listened to your beloved’s heartbeat while resting safely in their arms? The reassuring, rhythmic thumping of a heartbeat is soothing and bonding- alive and life-giving. Though the metaphor pales in comparison, listening to your beloved’s beartbeat in their warm & safe arms is similar to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary with us.

But don’t mind me. I’m just thinking out loud . . .

 

Free Will: Freedom & Consequences

I wonder if how I feel presently about living with the free will choices of another mirrors in any minute capacity how God feels? Except God wouldn’t feel helpless or hopeless because He is the Alpha and Omega. The I AM. But I wonder if God feels a profound sadness and sorrow when He must live with and navigate our detrimental free will choices? If the Gospels indicate anything about God and God’ s love for us, my answer is “Yes.” The Diary of St. Faustina indicates the expansive mercy and pure love yet overwhelming sorrow the Divine Mercy feels towards us too.

A recent situation with a close, dear friend sparked a greater degree of introspection. Pain, heart break, confusion, and anxiety of the unknown and undecided future surfaced. Two people faced with choices. Two people moments before besotted now distant. All the tendencies towards kicking, screaming, pleading, and manipulating still don’t guarantee the desired outcome. Why? Because at the end of all my desire for control or influence, I’m incapable of making the choice for another.

In many ways, my sad scenario mimicks aspects of humanity’s relationship with God. Presented with better and healthier options or even just a different way of living topped with support and grace, we can still reject that reality and chose the opposite or a lesser variation. For all God’s grace and guidance, we can choose “no.” And God isn’t going to kick and scream or manipulate us back into place. That defies our human free will.

Love upholds freedom. If you truly love someone, you allow that person freedom. The free will to choose. This doesn’t include condoning or tolerating bad behavior. If I manipulate the free will choice of another especially for an intended result, I’m no better than enslaving them. Guidance and encouragement are different than manipulation. So I will love and let live. And pray. And hope. And attempt not worrying.

 

Musings on a Bronte Love Story . . .

My relationships tend to mirror the ethereal and tumultuous love of story Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester versus the formal and idealized love story of Miss Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Though both men look dashing briskly and thoughtfully traipsing through the misty moors with the appropriate amount of masculine chest hair peeking through their slightly unbuttoned shirts, the ever elegant Mr. Darcy traipses elsewhere leaving behind the wounded and troubled yet fiery, passionate Mr. Rochester seeking respite from life’s experience and misery. Before him, he witnesses an angel drawing the moth to the enduring flame of purity and virtue. For the angel he desperately pursues to restore and revive him after years of decay, misery, and hopelessness, a passionate and intriguing web of convoluted intentions awaits testing her moral fiber and threaten to clip her angelic wings. After months of hardship, loss, and suffering and once the proud and mighty crumple to their knees do the angel and scoundrel enjoin in a lifelong relationship beyond literary description.

Jane Eyre

I’m still unfamiliar with the happy ending part. Pride reigns as the supreme unwavering and staunch victor where the protagonists choose themselves and their personal or influencing expectations over one another. I consider myself unusually blessed when a relationship mirrors a Gothic British literature novel like Jane Eyre versus Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations or Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. I’ve been in relationships with a Pip, Estella, Catherine, or Heathcliff: calculated, manipulative, fickle, and selfish. I cringe when watching my Jane Eyre crumble into a Great Expectations.

At the end of the day, I’m a hopeless romantic. I’ve concluded we need more Mr. John Thorntons and Gilbert Blythes and Reepicheeps and Samwise Gamgees. These complex, yet simple male characters embody a certain heroic virtue, kindness, loyalty, and compassion who uphold goodness and defy everyday and extraordinary evil. These are worthy gentlemen (fine, one is technically a mouse.)

Jane Austen’s female characters can speak in petty, witty, and gossipy cringe worthy tones. Jane Eyre embodies simplicity and goodness despite adversity plus a sincere and authentic tone. The relationship of Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester speaks to me. I identify with it. I understand the bewildering and passionate nature of their relationship, the continued devotion beyond all odds, the inability to waver on virtue and personal ideals, and the constant hope beyond reasonable hope.

 

Medical Zebras

Today I read an article on BBC News about a young woman who competes in Beauty Pageants with a rare genetic connective tissue condition known as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS). An article highlighting a beauty queen with a 25 inch scar down her fused spine was worth a read. This young woman, Victoria Graham, started a charitable organization called “The Medical Zebra Network.” Why?

She explains the network’s name: “In medical school, doctors are trained to think of the common thing when diagnosing through the phrase, ‘When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses not zebras.'”So if a kid has runny nose or a cough they most likely have a cold rather than a rare form of cancer. But those rare things do happen and are often called ‘medical zebras’.

“So we say, ‘Think zebras, because zebras do exist’.”- BBC NEWS

I looked up the authenticity of the history lesson. BBC and she are correct. This was a medical school metaphor. The picture under this portion of the article shows her flexing her bicep with a hefty pick line inserted into her arm. I smiled. For those who don’t know what a pick line is think an IV but an internal IV threaded into your artery, usually with the entry point in your bicep area. This allows direct intravenous access to your artery.

Victoria transferred colleges hoping to find a program that exercised better flexibility and understanding around her medical treatment. She discussed the sad reality of loosing friends “Maybe my illness is something they can’t deal with or put up with,” she says. “I don’t know what the reason is,” or “She also describes having relationships with boyfriends suffer.” God bless she and her family as they navigate the ups and downs of their unique condition.

My best friends and I joke about how doctors should always start with the most bizarre and unlikely diagnosis and work their way down. We aren’t a medical horse diagnosis kind of family but a medical zebra kind of family. Medical Zebras tend to be great people but intimidating too. These people deal daily, hour by hour, with the reality most people avoid daily, hour by hour . . . mortality and suffering.

Like Victoria I have lost friends or acquaintances that couldn’t “deal with” or “put up” with my conditions or treatments. When you’re dealing with intense physical suffering, the emotional and mental slap of having “friends” bail adds that much more to everything. It hurts like heck, but I learned it’s less about myself and more about them. In the end, the situation becomes an opportunity for practicing intense forgiveness and healthy boundaries.

Like Victoria and others with unique medical challenges, my intimate relationships with boyfriends and male interests have “suffered.” There are NO words to describe the experience of having a practicing Catholic Christian man essentially abusing you because of their personal extreme selfishness and issues while blaming your health situation. May God have mercy on their souls. I now look at these moments as divine mercy, but at the time and even now the pain still twinges. I pray that these “practicing Catholic Christian men” who attend conferences and rallies but cringe at the site of suffering will eventually learn to love their families and children as Christ loved the Church by laying down his life. I hope they don’t abandon ship when times get tough, but instead when times get tough the tough get going.

In the meantime between doctors appointments and treatments, medical zebras oddly have a better grasp on joy than most “healthy” people. Yes, most extraordinary circumstances whether health related or not thins out the herd of friends and loved ones. The Trinity, Mother Mary, and the heavenly host never leaves your side but draw even closer in your most trying moments. Yes, people do need to understand how sick or ill a person can be without the symptoms or visuals being obvious.

For example, a former close friend now acquaintance of mine heard through a mutual friend I was on crutches. A debate ensued if my injury was legitimate. A few days later I showed up to a choir concert on crutches and wearing tennis shoes with my dress. My former friend goes, “You really are injured. So and So said you were but I didn’t believe him.” I responded, “Do I need to show up in a body cast for you to believe me?”

Enough said for now . . .

 

February is Catholic Romance Month

What does a Catholic romance look, feel, and act like? Does it differ from other Christian relationships? Do our heartfelt relationships follow swoon worthy scripts of the popular romantic comedy? The Notebook? P.S. I Love You? Or do our “rigid” moral teachings, practices, and beliefs squelch the passion and pleasure of erotic love?

Catholic romances are individually written by God and the brokenness of each couples humanity. Despite the taint of original sin, our love stories are filled with a passion and fire beyond the popular romantic comedy or epic romantic fail like the 50 Shades of Grey or Twilight series. Our love stories, as any Christian love story should, mirror the wood of the manager that leads to the wood of the Cross.

But our love stories are worth a laugh. A song. A dance. A prayer. Even tears. I can think of many moments between my friends and I that are more than romantic comedy worthy. So I decided to share a few.

There is a special man in my life. . . . Not a shocking catchy first line. Nonetheless, the sentiment in very true. I do have a special man in my life. During the course of a close friend’s wedding weekend, I spent quality time with the above mentioned individual.

Here are a few first memories. I present the art of subtle, good clean flirtation:

  1. “Are you going to join us? . . . ” When followed by a muffled response expressing he wasn’t joining us on the carousal ride, my benevolent invitation seemed to fall on deaf ears. I entered the carousal ride carefree and indifferent but puzzled.

    img_40471
    Are You Going to Join Us? Photo Credit: Isaiah Eyre Photography
  2. “That’s more like luv not love.” I stared with a quizzical befuddled expression on my face. Internally I was thinking, “Only my family and I talk like that. On occasions my friends. Who is this guy?” Who in my general peer group actually knows how to delineate between luv the hokey superficial version of love rampid everywhere versus the real deal, authentic expression of Christ-like love.
  3. By the rehearsal dinner Saturday night, I recognized there was something different going on. I felt a perpetual gaze and adorable smile penetrating the back of my head all dinner. Every time I turned around to address the bride and groom at the table behind me, smiles and light blushes met my gaze.
  4.  Scandal!!!! I’m alone in a bedroom with a handsome man yelling nonsense. He had no idea. This occurred the morning of the wedding while the bride and bridal party prepared before the pictures and ceremony. Being the made of honor, I took my job very seriously. Time arrived for the bride to don her wedding dress. I marched into the master bedroom and yelled, “WHY ARE THE LIGHTS OFF & DOOR CLOSED?” I honestly thought a fuse had blown in her 1940s ranch. On the opposite side of the master bed, a lone photographer quietly crouched on the floor snapping pictures of her bridal gown hung on the closet door while I yelled.  Looking over, I blushed bright red embarrassed and mortified. I promptly marched out of the room and shut the door.
  5. I may have aggressively competed with another member of the bridal party for the bouquet toss. The whole scenario was in-jest.  I didn’t care that much about catching the bridal bouquet which I did not catch. The entire incident is captured in beautiful and vivid detail. This includes a picture of me going “missed it by that much!” When I looked up, a bright blushing face and smile met my gaze. Our eyes met and I blushed bright red too.

 

Life & Love with Chronic Illness

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Photo Credit: Isaiah Eyre Photography

As the years of my life unfold, my medical record lengthens and complications arise. My life isn’t over. My ability to love isn’t less. It may be even more. There is something to maturation with age. Young enough at twenty-seven to not accept the status quo, challenge the system, and fight passionately for my goals, dreams, and desires, but I have matured in many ways too. I’m much kinder to myself than I used to be and more at peace with who I am. The real person who I am. Not the person I could be if most realities in my life changed. I bargain less and embrace more.

Learn to recognize what you can change and what you cannot change. Are there days when I wished I woke up minus a few health conditions and the symptoms I experience? Sure. That is an understandable response. But, at the rising or end of the day, I have no real control over my diagnosis. What I do have control of is being as healthy and whole as possible. I eat better. I exercise. I avoid allergens or irritants that may aggravate symptoms. I stress less or at least attempt to. I seek professional help when needed. I relax. I have a clean and healthy living space. I engage in mental and physical activities that are enjoyable. I spend time with family and friends. I work. Take each day by day. Slow down and smell the roses, feel the breeze brushing your cheek, and laugh when snowflakes land on your nose.

Don’t beat yourself up when you can’t live up to your own expectations, others, or the culture’s expectations. If you have one or multiple chronic illnesses like me, you can’t be someone else or wish you were someone else. You are just you. And that is good. Many days, your physical, mental, and emotional health will dictate your day, the activities you engage in, and your daily priorities. Don’t feel inadequate because you stayed home while your friends went out for a drink. Don’t apologize for eating or drinking or doing whatever you need too differently in order to care for yourself. You aren’t less of a person because you have “limitations” and “weaknesses” or “special circumstances.”

Don’t compare yourself to others, “should haves” or “could haves.” This mindset is detrimental to anyone, but a killer to a person with chronic illness. Whether you’re perfectly healthy or not, you are beautiful, lovable, and good. For years after I graduated from college, I beat myself up because I couldn’t be and accomplish how I imagined or in the manner my peers did. My mental aptitude was there but the physical was more elusive. Four years out of college, I learned my worth isn’t tied to my accomplishments. Life is a beautiful and challenging surprise.

You are lovable. Worthy of love and being loved. My love life has been tumultuous. I seethed or cried when men said rude, shallow, shortsighted, and uncompassionate comments regarding my health and worth. It hurt badly. Then I realized it was more about their issues and less about mine. Then I changed my dating approach. I stopped apologizing. I stopped justifying. I stopped tolerating dumb, mean comments. Yes, this thinned out my prospects and good riddance. Yes, a good man did come into my life. A man that loves me even more for what many men fear not less. Again, don’t compare your love life to others. You aren’t less of a couple or less loving because you can’t or shouldn’t appear in a certain manner, go to certain events, etc. Don’t do yourself or the one whom you love this disservice.

Daily Motto: You are beautiful. You are lovable. You are good. You are enough.

 

Getting Real with the Reality of High Risk Pregnancy

love beads
Photo Credit: Pinterest, Love Beads

Imagine vibrant hues dancing off placid waters while sand squeezes between your toes and water laps upon your bare feet as rest in your dearly beloved’s arms watching the sunset. But before he and I ride off into the sunset, real, potentially life changing conversations must take place.

Pregnancy, and delivering babies are beautiful, self-sacrificial, and life-giving moments in a woman’s life, but what about those of us who peer into the possibility of marriage and family knowing great love comes with great risks. During navigating her high-risk pregnancy, my friend quoted her fetal medicine doctor, “Every woman takes a risk being pregnant and having children. We just know more upfront about your risks.” Amen.

Well intended Catholics respond to my anxiety and concern with probing questions: “Are you sure you shouldn’t become a nun?” “Consecrated virgin?” or “I knew this lady who had three kids and was a high-risk pregnancy.” Part of me wishes I felt called to those vocations (would have made my life “easier.”) On the latter comment, I’m grateful for this woman, but life experience has taught me to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Baring a miracle healing multiple chronic and confounding conditions, my high risk pregnancy reality won’t change. After years of hoping, praying, and exploring, I closed the door to religious life or consecrated virginity. And now an unlikely, surprise of a man in my life challenges me to own who I am, wrestle with the risks of marital intimacy, and have the courage to discuss the real topics with a potential spouse:

1.) Tell Him:
Discuss the reality of marriage and family. Be honest and direct. Convey your feelings and emotions. Ask open ended questions.
2.) Don’t Apologize for Your Limitations:
You are Beautiful. You are Enough. You are Made in His Image.
3.) If His Response Leaves You Feeling Used, Confused, Anxious or Unloved, End the Relationship:
This won’t get better with time.
4.) Get Comfortable Discussing Intimacy:
Become comfortable discussing intimacy in a respectful and honest manner in order to set realistic expectations and boundaries regarding all types of intimacy in your dating relationship and within marriage. Watch & listen for red flags and warning signs.
5.) Discuss How You Will Grow A Family:
Will you attempt having a biological child? Explore adoption and/or fostering? Discuss expectations or the lack-there-of. Better to know now rather than learning too late. Your life could depend on it.
6.) Discuss How You Will Express Intimacy in Marriage:
If you are making love, babies could be in your future. God, two people, and the marital embrace create babies. The only 100% effective way not to conceive a child is not to engage in intercourse. For a woman dealing with the reality of a high risk pregnancy, this could involve refraining for significant amounts of time depending on the complexity of her cycle. A future spouse should not only respect this but advocate for this and cherish his wife for this. Discuss, learn, and utilize Natural Family Planning (NFP.)
7.) Ask the Tough Questions. Be Specific:
Let’s say a woman has a complex cycle or serious reasons for avoiding pregnancy are present, how will intimacy be expressed during extended periods of refraining from the marital embrace? Will those three days per month or every couple of months not only suffice BUT build deeper intimacy between spouses? Will he turn to masturbation, sexting, pornography, or adultery (or other counterfeits of love) when his sexual “needs” aren’t met? Will you? Will you love the other person not for what you can get from each other, but for who each other is ‘til death do you part?