Thursday, 27 February 2014

Guest Post: Mary Beth Baker

Mary Beth is a writer and editor in Washington, D.C., and blogs at Life in the Gap.

“You throw like a girl.”

    He said it half to himself, half-jokingly—the wry musings of an oldest boy who had always planned on sons, who had four daughters and wasn’t quite sure how to connect with them. Like everything then (I was eight years old, and determined to be perfect), I took it as a scolding. Not only had I ruined our evening game of catch, there was a more fundamental flaw that needed correcting. 

    It’s been twenty long years, and that underlying flaw is still there, the same flaw that turns me into a quivering bundle of raw emotion at odd points throughout the month, the flaw that plays into my love of beautiful things and cute clothes, my penchant for gossip, my craving for admiration, my reading and re-reading of Jane Austen novels and the Anne of Green Gables series, my occasional craving for a rom-com, my love of chocolate.  

    Over those twenty years I have tried so many remedies. In the early years I did my best to eradicate it altogether, proudly donning over-sized T shirts, giving my dolls to my younger sisters, and trying to prove to myself and everyone else that I was really a tomboy. Later, in my “tweens” and into my teens, I simply ignored my underlying flaw and focused on developing antidotal strengths—sarcasm, artistic ability, and some pitiful attempts at intellectualism. In college and later when I launched out into the career world, I threw myself into excelling academically and professionally, philosophizing about “true feminism,” by which I really meant being as un-girly as possible without being crass. 

     But no matter how hard I tried to ignore it, that underlying flaw was always there, mysterious, disruptive, undeniable. I still did everything “like a girl” because, quite simply, I was a girl!

     Being a woman is supposed to be easier today than it has ever been. Modern feminism has opened the way to political rights, higher education, strong careers, “liberation” in just about every sense. Women, we are told from our earliest days, can be just as good as men, even better. Nothing should keep us from our ambitions and dreams—no male chauvinists, no sexist comments or workplace preferences, no inconvenient truths about sex and babies, and—most importantly—no repressed girliness. Paint your nails, read fashion magazines, and talk about boys, certainly, but never “settle” for being a woman. Always aim higher. 

     Two years into my career, I listened to one young mother in my office tell another, younger mother who had just come off a three-month maternity leave that “it gets easier” to abandon your children to daycare. I watched another young woman kill a relationship because it didn’t fit with her education and career ambitions. And I caught myself more than once shaking my head in disapproval over my female peers who worked boring, dead-end jobs because they didn’t want careers at all, but only to pay the bills until they found someone to marry.  

     Women in the 21st century may have an easier time of it than ever before, but it’s also confusing, especially for women of faith. There are so many pressures that didn’t exist before—the pressure to be like men, and yet to be attractive and feminine so as to be liked by men; the pressure to succeed in school and go on for higher education, but to be ready for marriage and kids if they happen; the pressure to throw ourselves into careers but also to find husbands so we can enter the vocation of marriage. 

     This is not to say we ought to go back to the pre-suffragette era, but only to point out that modern womanhood is a delicate balancing act, especially for the Christian woman. To maintain our footing we have to center ourselves on the fact of our womanhood. This may look different for each of us, but an old spiritual director of mine gave me the best centering tool years ago. He said:

"Just look to the Blessed Mother. She'll teach you how to be a woman."

    Even women trying to live godly lives have to fight to keep from losing ourselves in a futile race to be better than men. We have to rise above the lie that we have to squelch our deeper longings in order to meet our ambitions. At a certain point we have to accept that it’s perfectly okay to “throw like a girl.” 

Being a woman isn’t a flaw, it’s a gift and an opportunity, if only we can learn to live up to it.

Monday, 24 February 2014

When the going gets tough... ask for prayer!

    I'm generally pretty good at sending out prayer requests for other people, but pretty bad at asking for prayer for myself. But as a final year student with just a couple of weeks before my (two!) dissertations are due in, and with the anxiety rising each day and general craziness setting in (who am I kidding? Yesterday I lay down of the library floor in a fit of hysterical laughter blurting out phrases and questions which made absolutely no sense to anyone, and had to be rescued by a baking session with my friend!), I'm having to learn to suck it up and ask for a whole lot of prayer! 

    Please, please pray for me - and for all the other students across the world who are in the same situation right now!

BUT here's the deal...

   This is an idea which I've taken from a post on prayer intentions by Sarah (the latest guest blogger!), but I liked it so much that I wanted to do it myself.

    At the moment I am spending an unspeakable number of hours cooped up in the library with endless internet tabs displaying numerous research papers which must be evaluated and compiled into some sort of comprehensible literature review, along with countless data files to be analysed for a separate research project - all of which is seriously against the clock at this stage!

    What I would love to do is offer up each word I type, each number I program in and each moment of anxiety being stuck in my throat for your intentions. So... feel free to send me your prayer requests!

Drop me an email, use the contact form or comment below!

p.s. If you use the contact form you can also send it anonymously, or if you comment below then you can have everyone else praying for you too!      

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Guest Post: Sarah Therese

Sarah Thérèse is a city girl trying to live out her Catholic faith in everyday busy life and is eagerly anticipating her May 2014 graduation from college.  She blogs about journeying toward a deeper relationship with Christ, and hosts an ongoing series about the Saints at Footprints on my Heart.

What does it mean to you to be a woman of God in the 21st century?

    The possibilities of answers to this question are endless and so many have already been covered.  The more I thought about it, the more angles I discovered.  But the one that stood out to me is my love of role models.

The Biggest, Best Group of Friends

    No, I’m not talking about Hollywood teen idols, movie stars, or famous athletes.  In fact, I’m talking about people who, for the vast majority, have never personally been on TV, never wrote a blog, never recorded a CD, never so much as had a personal photograph taken, and yet the Church Triumphant (those who are in heaven: Saints) are the “role models” of the Church Militant (those of us here on the earth).  As a woman of God in the 21st century, I have access to the biggest, best, most powerful group of friends anyone ever had.

Best Friends

    Though my siblings and I were all named after family members, our names happily match with saint names or, if we don’t have a particular relationship with our name’s saint, we have quite the collection of confirmation saints: Michael the Archangel, Our Lady (yes, she is a saint and, yes, one can choose her for their confirmation), Bernadette of Lourdes, Louis de Montfort, Francis of Assisi, Thérèse of Lisieux (no prizes as to whose that one is), Patrick, and Padre Pio.  

   Each of my siblings and I (there are 6 of us; my parents’ confirmation saints are included in the collection above) were able to develop a relationship with our saint and choose him or her ourselves.  Each person’s story is a little different and the beautiful thing is that we each have a best friend in heaven who is rooting for us and whom we can count on to help us out when the going gets tough.

Patron Saints

    There is a saint for just about every cause you could concern yourself with.  Need help with directions? Call on St. Christopher.  Need help finding something?  St. Anthony’s your man!  Are you in an impossible situation and you just want out? St. Rita’s got your back.  Is there someone in your life (family member, friend, classmate?) who drives you crazy? St. Thérèse of Lisieux has a remarkable solution.  Do you consider yourself a poor student and can’t wait for summer? St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Jean Vianney are great supporters for the cause.  Are you the queen of getting all traffic lights red? Sometimes a quick call to St. Patrick will do the trick.  

    In need of some humor in your relationship with God? Check out St. Teresa of Avila.  Love the outdoors, can’t get enough of animals, or a convert to Christianity, but feeling very much alone? Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Kateri Tekakwitha just might be able to relate.  The point is, the possibilities are endless and the answers are just a google search away (although, when I googled “patron saint of those who are directionally challenged” the other day, Christopher Columbus came up. El Oh El.)

A shoulder to cry on / a friend to dance, laugh, and scream with / someone there for all seasons

    Yup - that’s what the saints are there for.  Though they aren’t likely to physically walk beside you, spiritually and even emotionally, they are there for you and desperately want to pray for you.  Have you ever asked your best friend to say a prayer for your exam the next day, for your impending labor and delivery, for safe travels, or for your grandparent’s chemotherapy? It’s the same scenario: our friends, the saints have already finished the race, kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7), and are now beholding the beatific vision in heaven, eager and willing to assist us and are ever so happy to pray for our intentions.

   Befriend a saint, if you have not already done so, and you will be amazed by the nearness you feel with someone who walked the face of the earth 50 years, 100 years, even an entire millennia ago.

God bless you!