I have said this statement, most especially to women, about 2843820 times. Literally.
In my time as a FertilityCare Practitioner (FCP) with the Creighton Model System (CrMS), I said this. A LOT. I would be sitting there, reviewing a woman’s chart (more to come on this soon) with her or with her and her fiancee/husband, and she would look at me and realize that there was a real reason why she felt overwhelmed on certain days. A real reason why she had trouble sleeping. A real reason why she felt depressed. Or why she felt like she wanted to eat EVERYTHING in sight. Or why she just wanted to cry for seemingly no reason.
A typical conversation would go something like this:
Woman: “So you’re saying that my hormones may be the reason why I feel this way? …you’re telling me that I’m not making this up. …because sometimes I feel crazy. Or just off.”
Me: “No, you’re not crazy. Your body is experiencing fluctuations on a biochemical level as your hormone levels (typically including Progesterone) are dropping, and that affects everything, including your emotions.”
Woman: “Oh, wow. Okay.” (…all said while breathing a sigh of relief)
Once they hear of the work I do, women often approach me to ask me questions about their fertility. (I’ll share funny stories soon. Let’s just say that I prefer to know your name when I first meet you, especially before you start describing your cervical mucus to me. …but to each her own, hahaha.).
The #1 resource I recommend in tandem with tracking your cycle is a PMS Symptom Chart. In my time working at Hope Woman’s Clinic as a Creighton Model Practitioner, we would offer these to our clients to use in tandem with their charts. Even if you use an app, I recommend tracking your PMS symptoms throughout your cycle. I will elaborate more soon on how charting works and why I think that every woman should track her cycle in some way. For now, I just wanted to share with you a tool that I have found helpful, both personally and professionally.
Yes, this requires discipline. Yes, this requires paying attention.
I just want to say, though, that you are worth it. You’re worth the time it takes (30-60 seconds) to mark this chart and monitor the symptoms you experience throughout the month. Maybe you won’t do it for forever. There are seasons in life, and some are more conducive to something like this. But why not try it for a month or two?
To help you along, here are two reasons why I think this is important and helpful.
1.) Self-Knowledge: To know yourself includes knowing and understanding the gift of your body and how it works. I will be writing many more posts specifically about this topic, but I just wanted to offer this simple tool to you today. Keep posted for more, but simply put, this is a tool that can help you to track some of the physical symptoms you are experiencing. They may be connected to your cycle; they may not be. But the only way to begin to find that out is by paying attention. So here is a little tool to help youpay attention to what you’re feeling. (And yes, how you feel physically affects everything: mood, spiritual life, energy, relationships, decision-making, etc. We are body-soul composite, and what a gift that is! Just give it a try!)
2.) Your Health: If these symptoms are actually connected to underlying issues within your cycle, they can help your doctor to understand better what is going on underneath the surface. A tool such as this helps you to monitor what your symptoms are, how severe they are, and how long they last. All three of these things are important when trying to understand what your body is trying to tell you.
Feel free to print it out or just to use it as a guide for what to look for and how to monitor your symptoms. Happy Tracking!
Note: Day 1 is Day 1 of your cycle, meaning the first day your period begins.
***Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor and am not here to diagnose you. I am just speaking from experience as a practitioner who works with women and doctors to help them understand what is actually going on within a woman’s body. This tool can help you to navigate your health. PMS is normal for 2-3 days before you begin your cycle, and it should be something that does not interfere greatly with your day-to-day activities. If you experience PMS symptoms for more than 2-3 days and/or with a severity that disables you or keeps you from living your life as normal, please consult a physician. Because of its foundation in science and the options available with medical protocols, charting with the Creighton Model System is the first step I would recommend. See here for more details of the science behind it. Contact Hope Woman’s Clinic if you are interested in more information and in getting started with a FertilityCare Center near you!
As I am beginning to grow What Women Are, LLC, I have recently had to find alternate ways of making income. A friend of mine had invited me to consider becoming a consultant with BeautyCounter, and so working with these products and this company has recently become a reality for me. It was a hard decision for me because in my young adult years, I have encountered many different people trying to sell me things. Needless to say, I have not always liked it. In fact, you could say that I resented it.
Anyone who knows me realizes that I value relationship over a sale, not relationship for the sake of a sale. As a result, I wanted to make clear two things for anyone who might be interested in purchasing BeautyCounter products and has questions for me about them:
1.) With my education (PhD in Bioethics) and training, I acknowledge that my voice comes with a certain weight and influence. I take that seriously and consider it to be a true responsibility. As such, let me say in all transparency–buying certain kinds of makeup or skincare products is (most often) not a question of morality; it is certainly not a question of holiness.
This is important to me to make clear from the beginning because I have too often seen in various Christian circles these cultish emphases on particular products: clothing brands, hairstyles, etc. Holiness is not a question of external products or branding; it is a question of interior freedom and a call to love. No product can make a woman love better, and it is not in my interest to ever impose some false pretense into this conversation.
2.) Having said that, I am not someone who can sell a product unless I believe in the value and efficacy of its use. For me, if I do not believe in a product, then I feel as if I am essentially lying if I try to sell it to someone else.
My interest in BeautyCounter began in the practicality (for me) of investing in a skincare line (I’m looking at you COUNTERTIME!) that actually lasts a long time and with its consistent use allows me a tangible way to take care of myself and my skin everyday, especially since entering my 30’s. Having played sports intensely all of my life and having experienced multiple bad sun burns and lots of sun exposure, this is something I realized for me I needed to pay attention to. Though I used sunscreen through the years (Thanks, mom and dad! You were right!), my skin is still affected, and I’d like to find some way to take care of it.
When really pushed to decide if I would try this opportunity out, however, it came down to one thing–my passion for women and women’s health. In all of my research for my dissertation, I read article after article on the effects of various things that are considered to be endocrine disruptors, meaning that they, when absorbed or ingested in some way, have the power and capacity to disrupt the healthy functioning of the human endocrine system. This area of science remains one of my most pertinent areas of research and curiosity. As I learned that BeautyCounter advocates not only for healthier products but also for the education of the women who use the products, I began to believe in the quality of the company. Product supply without an emphasis on education would give me pause; women should be free to be informed and to choose based on the reality of what that truth makes apparent to them.
In addition, having worked as a retail associate at LOFT (Ann Taylor) for 2.5 years, I enjoyed the creativity of fashion as well as the opportunity to interact with many different kinds of women, all beautiful though extremely different. My hope is that my work with BeautyCounter will allow me to meet and work with even more women, from whom I can learn. Even more deeply, I hope that such an opportunity will provide spaces and places for me to talk with women about the science behind endocrine disruption and the options they have for spacing their children that do not shut down their reproductive systems or wreck havoc on their bodies, i.e. hormonal contraception.
All of this to say, I am here and working as a BeautyCounter consultant because it is connected to my larger work and because I am grateful for the opportunity to use my education in creative ways. If you would like more information on any Beautycounter products, please message me. Much of what I do will focus on education of women, so please let me know if you would like any articles or recent research that touches on any of the fields referred to in this post.
Lastly, I am not here to judge. I have proudly purchased and used products like Noxzema for years because my great grandmother and mother use it, and it works! Again, this is more of a first-world question and discussion. Having said that, women wash their face every day and many apply makeup or moisturizer often to their face and neck. Some cannot afford these products just yet, or maybe ever, and that’s okay. For others, despite the cost, they are making a movement to cleaner living, and this fits into a category of places that are essential to them to change as they move to cleaner products. Whether you can easily afford it, have saved up and want to invest in yourself and your health because you believe in the value of the product, or simply want to try something new, I would love to help you.
If you are interested in shopping with me, feel free to go to my BeautyCounter website:
This is my first post in over a year, and I am hoping to get back into the swing of things. I decided to provide a little life update and also inform you of my hopes for this blog (hip hip hooray!).
Recent pic with some of my favorites! (Yes, I still look the same, haha.)
Keeping it simple, I moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, about a year ago. I had accepted my current job as one of the Campus Ministers at Christ the King Parish and Catholic Center. My official and snazzy title, as given to me by Fr. Andrew (our wonderful pastor), is Intellectual Formator. I was blessed last year to teach a class at CTK for any women interested in learning more about the Vocation of Women. I am still working on writing a curriculum on exactly that topic, but I was given a classroom at CTK to pilot the beginnings of such a class. (After teaching high school girls for two years, I felt there was a lack in the resources and materials provided to them. That could take up a whole post, so I’ll elaborate on that dream soon.) Basically, young people are hungry for the truth, and they are so courageous in pursuing it!
During the first week of classes, on August 22 (the Feast of the Queenship of Our Lady), I asked Jesus to take down the walls I’d built up around my heart that were keeping me “safe” but not necessary anymore with the ways He had grown and matured me. Within an hour after praying that very specific prayer, I was HAVING A BLAST, playing an intense game of Ultimate Frisbee in the rain on the Parade Grounds at LSU. I was the only woman on the field at the time, and so my competitive heart was exploding with JOY!!!
…and then lots of little factors lined up as I made a certain play, and my right knee went in a direction it shouldn’t go in as I heard a very loud POP! I felt it and knew right away that I had just torn my ACL. ::womp womp::
I tore my left ACL throwing the javelin in high school, and so I knew what had just happened but didn’t want to believe it. Naturally, I kept playing (or really chasing people around in the background, doing tests on my knee and realizing I couldn’t cut or stop and had no stability in my knee whatsoever). Someone eventually noticed I’d stopped talking smack and playing hard, and they asked me what happened. I walked to get ice, and the rest is history. (Of sorts. This recovery has been much slower than the other one, unfortunately. Perhaps I’ll write a post on that one day, too, because I actually did research and wrote a paper in high school on how women are 5x-8x more likely to tear their ACLs than men. Crazy, but true and super fascinating.)
Anyway, so that + starting a new job + moving + finding a place to live + all the other things we do in life were too much for me to write much on a blog.
But! As this year begins, I am realizing more and more how much I would love to share with people the things that I have been blessed to learn through the years. Not everyone will care to read about the things that fascinate me…the many thoughts that constantly occupy my mind. …but I do believe that there are certain topics that many of you would like to understand more. My passions are women’s health, the writings of Pope St. John Paul II, Catholic Feminism, traveling, being outside, etc. If anything that I write interests you, I hope it can be a gift for you to have and carry in your own heart and mind as you live life.
Besides my current job, I still give talks about many different things (most recently in tandem with Dr. Susan Caldwell about the gift and beauty of a woman’s body–these are specifically geared towards high-school aged women and their mothers. The talk is called “Growing Up Gracefully,” and you can find more information here.). Sr. Tracey Dugas, FSP, and I are continuing to record our radio show “Daughter, Arise” with Catholic Community Radio. (They turn them into podcasts, so you can follow us online even if you can’t listen in your car. You can find us on I-Tunes, and I’ve also linked the shows to my website here, under “Podcasts.”) Primarily, I am focusing on my dissertation (more about that soon). I completed my first two years of doctoral studies (where I traveled back and forth to Rome for classes and exams), and I am in the beginning stages of my dissertation. (Pray for me please! …like for real.)
So now this blog’s purpose surfaces…
I really really really want to share with you the knowledge I have. People come up to me constantly, asking me really great and deep questions. People ask me to give presentations. People just want to learn and spread truth, and it’s so beautiful! Since I am only one person and really really really need to focus on writing a dissertation, I am not available for more presentations and conversations, no matter how wonderful they may be. (Yes, the power of “no” for the bigger “yes–difficult but super healthy.)
Anyway, so here’s my point! I am trying (really hard) to streamline my time so that I can offer my gifts to people in the avenues available to me, and I believe this blog can be one of those avenues in which to pour my (little) efforts.
I am not going to be able to reply to every question or comment. In fact, I will not be able to reply to most. But even if my gift is small, I want to offer it to you. Also, since my dissertation has to be 250-400 pages, it is really important for me to get back into the habit of writing.
I like to think of myself as a recovering perfectionist. Keeping that in mind, I am not going to shoot for perfect posts or even be able to answer every question related to each topic. I will offer what I can, though, and may it help whoever needs it most.
I love you all. Pretty please share this blog with anyone who may be interested in these topics. You can subscribe over on the right sidebar, and let’s just see where the Holy Spirit leads this thing, eh?
Today is one of my favorite solemnities celebrated in the Catholic Church—the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What a gift that we get to celebrate the assumption of Our Lady—soul and body—into Heaven!
The word “hope” has been resounding on my heart these last few days. I’ve been reflecting how alive I feel and fully myself when I am able to live in hope?
I almost imagine Hope as the literal mantle wrapped around Our Lady. In and through her maternal intercession, she gives me the gift of hope whereby I can trust in the Father’s promises.
Whereby I can hope.
Her mantle is my protection against the lies and distractions of the enemy.
In the first reading at Mass, we hear of the Woman crowned with stars in the Book of Revelation. I can’t help but also think of how this same woman was promised to us in Genesis 3:15—the protoevangelium, or “first Gospel.” Speaking to the serpent after the Fall, God the Father says:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
This is why most often we see statues of Our Lady with her standing upon and crushing the head of the serpent.
Mary is thewoman—the woman so full of grace because God chose to dwell within her. …the woman who participates in God’s eternal plan of salvation.
The most amazing part of all of this is that in and through the gift of our Baptism, He chooses also to dwell within us—in and through our very bodies.
…but He doesn’t stop there.
Today’s feast recognizes the great hope we have in the Resurrection.
Our being human means that we have both a body and a soul. Unlike the Cartesian dualism so many are accustomed to, we see both our bodies and souls as important gifts—as part of who we are. Only when integrated and whole, both body and soul, are we ourselves—human persons created in the image and likeness of God.
Our culture has truly missed the mark in understanding the gift of the human body. While our bodies are a means by which we come to experience things, they are most importantly the tangible gifts that allow us to express who we are.
I often share with my students that our bodies are the only tangible, material thing we have with us from conception till death. Everything else passes away. In fact, the philosophical definition of “death” really is the separation of one’s body and soul.
Today we remember that our hope is in Christ who gave Himself even unto death so that we might have life–in abundance and for eternity. His rising is a promise to us of what He has destined for us.
I love to think of Our Lady as she who “found her beloved and would not let Him go.” Not only did Our Lady conceive of the Son of God within her very body, but she also received His Spirit again at Pentecost. This fullness—this guarantee of abundance where our hearts burn from within us—is our destiny. We have a good good Father, and He will not leave us orphans.
Before the Fall, man and woman existed with God in a state called “Original Justice.” There, we, too, were full of grace and so intimately united with God. In and through our mutual disobedience, we fell from this state of perfect harmony with God. As a result of the disharmony with God, we also experienced disharmony with ourselves, with others, and with all of Creation—all of the gifts entrusted to us from the beginning. We each experience the fruits of this death, both spiritually and eventually physically.
Upon His death, Christ did not just go to sleep. He physically died so that even that dark human experience could be redeemed. After rising from the dead, He ascended into Heaven, promising to send His Spirit again to us. Our Lady, who was present in the Upper Room and praying with the Apostles as they waited, must have been full of such joy to yet again wait in hope to receive the gift of the Spirit.
…and so here we come to the beauty of the Assumption. I love to think of Grace as the glue that puts back together all of the broken pieces we have as a result of the Fall. With each little “yes,” Our Lady was choosing to receive more and more this gift of grace.
Grace is what integrates us.
Grace is what makes us whole.
Grace is what makes us new.
And so, Our Lady leads us as any good mother does—further up and further in. She reveals to us the depths to which the Father desires to go with us. He desires truly to bind up every wound and dry every tear. He desires to re-integrate our very beings, our entire beings—both body and soul as one.
Today, we celebrate the gift of our having bodies—living temples of the Holy Spirit.
Today, we celebrate the gift of hope—that we, too, will one day rise again with our very bodies.
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).
Today, we celebrate so good a mother who hoped against all hope that “the promises spoken to her by the LORD would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:45).
May we, too, live in the hope of His promises.
“I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me” (Song of Songs 7:10).
And, ladies, before you shame your body or condemn each supposed flaw, please remember that your body was created as a gift entrusted to you by the Father. In and through this great gift, you express who you are to the world. In and through this body, you tangibly image God to all of creation because in and through this body, you choose to love and be loved.
Contrary to the misunderstandings swirling around you, your body in its unique design glorifies the Creator. May we each have the grace to see our bodies as the gifts that they are—not based on their size or their weight but instead on how we have offered them in sacrifices of love every day. Whether big or small, our tangible presence to those around us–only possible in and through our very bodies–is a gift that can be life-giving…and therefore holy.
“You are all beautiful, my beloved; there is no flaw in you” (Song of Songs 4:7).
I pray that each of you might hope in those words of Truth. Our Lady’s being assumed into Heaven testifies to the depths of those words. And such words are the hope that Truth provides for us.
May we learn to live in such a way as to remember the great gift of our bodies, without condemning or obsessing. May we remember that we are daughters of a Father who has ransomed us from the effects of death. May we rejoice that we will receive the beautiful gift of our bodies back one day, for no part of us that is good will ever be squandered.
Your body is good.
Your body is beautiful.
Your body is a gift.
“Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful” (Song of Songs 4:1a).
“The world doesn’t need what women have; it needs what women are.”
St. Edith Stein (a.k.a. Teresa Blessed by the Cross) is one of my heroes and her words inspired me to launch this site. Her work researching phenomenology and trying to understand the anthropology of woman remain so necessary for a truly proper understanding and appreciation of the gift and beauty of what it means to be a woman. If you’re super interested in learning more, click here for the link to a podcast I recorded a few years back with a dear friend Erin Franco about Authentic Feminism.
I hope soon to write a post for you about the life of Edith Stein. In honor of her feast, though, I just wanted to let you know that this blog is going to be a bit more active. Besides writing more posts, I am inviting different women into this space to share their stories with us. All of these women are rockstars in my book, but each uniquely lives out her feminine genius in her own way and in her own unique season of life.
One of my goals for this blog is to invite you deeper into the reality of who you are. There is no one-size-fits-all box of expectation for any of you.
I hope simply to inspire you to be you.
As different women share their stories, you will see the many different ways that women live out their beauty in the “everyday” and the “ordinary.”
Also in light of today’s feast, I wanted to share with you a little nugget of truth from St. Edith Stein about our emotions. Edith wrote a lot about the richness of a woman’s emotional life. She recognizes woman’s emotions as one of her great gifts. Still, she reveals the strength woman can discover in the power of her emotions when she learns to order her emotions to her reason. Sometimes we can get carried away by our emotions; experiences and circumstances can feel overwhelming.
Through both her intellectual awareness of a woman’s emotions and her personal experience of “feeling” her own emotions, Edith is inviting us to realize that our emotions are sometimes a response to our perception of reality.
Our emotions are not always a reaction to reality itself.
After talking with multiple women these past several months about this topic, I have noticed specifically how loud the distraction of comparison can be and how it rears its ugly head in different ways for different women, especially based on one’s season of life.
Now, as a woman who is used to relying upon her understanding, it should come as no surprise that one of the theme verses of my life happens to bemust be and so isProverbs 3:5-6.
“Trust in the LORD with all of your heart, and rely not upon your own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
In many of my recent conversations, I have been struck by the power that our perceptions can have over us. I, too, have fallen prey to this, and the more I become aware of it, the more I realize my need to order my perceptions to be in line with reality.
But what is reality? Specifically, what is the reality of all these women around me who are struggling to become who they’re meant to be while simultaneously striving to love who they are.
This post might seem random (welcome to the way my mind works), but I just wanted to throw out the reminder to all those women out there who feel like they can’t measure up or are never chosen or are never seen—you are not invisible.
You are not invisible.
I remember reading a really powerful post by Blessed is She over a year ago about allowing our circumstances to name us instead of our God. I literally took out my journal as the reflection prompted and asked myself what names I was assuming as reality and living from, based solely on my circumstances…or really, my perception of my circumstances.
Then, I had to write the truth–words from Scripture–that spoke against those statements. I remember that having those words to combat the distractions of my perceptions–the lies of my perceived circumstances–were so powerful in freeing me to be present to my reality.
The words of Scripture were the only words powerful enough to free me to be me. Amazing, right? …but that’s actually a promise of the Father.
“…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).
One of my favorite movies (which you should all watch no matter your age) is the recent remake of “Cinderella” (2015). At the end of the movie (spoiler alert…maybe) as Cinderella is freed from the tower imprisoning her, she walks down a set of stairs to meet the Prince and have her turn at trying on the glass slipper. On her way, she first stops and looks in a mirror, almost to remember who she is. As she gazes upon her own reflection, the narrator asks the question that so many of us ask as we stand before another, especially in front of those whom we love or whom we desire to take notice of us or love us.
“Would who she was, who she really was, be enough? There was no magic to help her this time. Perhaps that is the greatest risk that any of us can take…to be seen as we truly are.”
I don’t know about you, but to be seen as I truly am is perhaps one of the most intimidating concepts for me. I have my own stuff: annoying habits and struggles and weaknesses just like everyone else. The thought of revealing to someone else those struggles…in reality…is a little scary.
…and yet, there truly is a time and a place for such kind of revelations. I remember sharing with my students and with different young women I’ve spoken to over the years that our struggles and traumas and hurts are our pearls, just as much as our joys and dreams. It isn’t that our pearls don’t shine or reflect the light; it’s just that such pearls are meant for eyes that can see and ears that can hear.
In my season of life, I am realizing that my struggles as a woman, especially with comparison, are not unique to me. Not only that, but also that though these struggles may change form, the crux of the struggle remains for many women. Often its form just depends on one’s season of life.
“Am I beautiful?”…becomes “Am I as beautiful as she?”
“Am I good?”…becomes “Am I as good as she?”
“Am I a good mother (etc.)?”…becomes “Am I as good a mother as she?”
In a world of a constant influx of data and images and streaming, one can easily be overwhelmed, becoming so distracted and focused on the barrage of images instead of on the reality in front of you.
Ladies, may we have the grace to remember that there is a difference between being invisible and being hidden. To be invisible means that no part of me can be seen in any way, but to be hidden means for me that there is some purpose behind the hidden-ness.
To be hidden is to be veiled.
For a time.
For a purpose.
For a reality that is perhaps bigger than even I can understand.
So for those of you that feel invisible (but are really just hidden), I understand how you’re feeling because I feel the same way. …though my emotions experience this, what is my reality? This is not solely about what I feel, but this is primarily about seeing reality as it is.
So what is the reality?
You are seen.
You are known.
You are chosen.
You are loved.
You are good.
You are beautiful.
Our Father sees and knows every movement of our hearts, and it is His pleasure “to give us the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
…so for every baby you’ve rocked to sleep, thank you. He sees you.
…for every friend whom you’ve comforted while carrying your own sadness, thank you. He sees you.
…for every offering of love that has gone unnoticed or unappreciated, thank you. He sees you.
…for every friend you’ve chosen to celebrate with joy–fighting against the lies that you will never be chosen–thank you. He sees you.
…for every time you’ve been tempted to post this or that picture simply so as not to be forgotten, thank you for not giving into that temptation and choosing to live the really real. He sees you.
You are not invisible.
Truth is a sturdy foundation on which we can stand tall and with confidence. Our lives and existence have a purpose. His plan for us is even bigger than we can imagine.
“No eye has seen nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love him.”
So the next time you’re tempted to doubt your being seen, slow down your thoughts for a second and take a deep breath. Check yourself and ask, “What is reality?”
…not “What do I feel right now?” because our emotions are not always in line with reality.
…not “Why can’t I look like that or be like that or act like that?” because comparison is the surest way to despair and completely misses the mark.
…but instead “What is reality?”
Reality is Truth.
You are seen.
You are known.
You are chosen.
You are loved.
You are good.
You are beautiful.
Dare to take the risk and be seen as you truly are.
Dare to take the risk and be you.
That’s authentic beauty. That’s reality.
That’s what this world actually needs more of–women unafraid to be who they are.
Mardi Gras is so much more than what most people, especially the media, understand it to be. I feel like I can speak with some kind of authority on the subject, especially because I am a New Orleans girl. Born and raised here, some of my earliest memories involve going to Mardi Gras parades. My dad, who grew up in the heart of the city, tells me stories of his days growing up here, attending parades, breaking for lunch to eat Red Beans and Rice that his mama made, and then heading back out for more parades. Many of the dates that he took my mom on involved going to Mardi Gras parades.
I want you to really be open to this post, so let’s get some important things out of the way right off the bat:
Mardi Gras is so much more than Bourbon Street.
Mardi Gras is so much more than drinking and debauchery.
Mardi Gras is so much more than some sort of pagan idol worship where sin abounds and grace is somehow absent.
Mardi Gras is like real life; it’s about gifts and blessings and human beings who choose how they use or abuse those gifts and blessings.
Remember that food and drink are not the poison. It’s about the inner man, one’s inner heart of hearts.
Okay, so now, I can share! Today is Lundi Gras, the Monday before Fat Tuesday. I have been at parades all weekend, reflecting on how Mardi Gras seems to be a microcosm of my life. (Keep reading.)
Two weeks ago, I arrived in Rome for an intensive week of PhD classes. Though I was in classes all day every day and so exhausted, there was a restfulness to my consistent schedule. I only had to be about one thing for a whole week. It felt more like a retreat to me than anything, especially because I was seven hours ahead of the New Orleans time zone and so pretty much detached from people (and demands) at home.
When we allow silence to reign, we can hear Him that much more. When silence surrounds me, then even when with people, I can recall His presence and be fully in that moment.
One week ago on Monday night, I returned home…and hit the ground running. In only three days, I was meeting with clients, recording the first episode of a new radio show, preparing for a presentation, teaching a session of Theology of the Body to college students, driving to and from another city to teach that session, and then beginning the Mardi Gras weekend on Thursday night.
If you asked me for one word to describe going from quiet time all to myself for a week in Rome and then moving into hanging out with hundreds of thousands of people at a loud party on the streets of New Orleans every night and most days, it would be this: overwhelmed.
I was (still am) so excited about parades. After all, Mardi Gras is also one of my favorite times of the year! The problem is that I was (and still totally am) also super tired. Jet lag is definitely a thing, and most of these parades happen at night. None of this, though, is some sort of problem; it’s just my reality at the present moment. If the worst problem I have to complain about is that I am tired because I’ve walked several miles to get back to my car after a parade, then I am one blessed woman.
Because here’s the thing–we can be overwhelmed and still not be crushed or broken or even sad. We can be overwhelmed and it not necessarily be a bad thing. Sometimes we are just overwhelmed with the good. I am not saying that I always realize this as it is happening. But as I have worked to practice gratitude, it opens my eyes to the blessings all around. Practicing gratitude is prayer, so it’s like any workout of my body. To build muscle memory, I must practice. I must repeat what I know to be true, even when I don’t feel it.
As I practice gratitude, I can see even through my exhaustion that God desires life for me in abundance.
So here is where I can more clearly explain how Mardi Gras seems to be a microcosm of my life. Mardi Gras involves different parades filled with beautiful floats being driven (or paraded) down streets lined with spectators. Those on the floats throw plastic beads, food, toys, stuffed animals, etc. We wave our hands excitedly and plead for throws. We play music and dance and laugh. Confetti floats down, and strangers become friends.
Joie de vivre–This is a French phrase I grew up knowing in New Orleans because of its roots in French culture and because of the spirit of New Orleans. It means the “joy of life” or the “joy of living.” Wikipedia shares that “joie de vivre may be seen as a joy of everything, a comprehensive joy, a philosophy of life.”
…a philosophy of life, y’all.
That is what I am talking about. I want my philosophy of life to be JOY!
Even at a loud Mardi Gras parade, God is present and speaking to me. I was standing at one of the biggest parades of the season two nights ago, super jet lagged and envisioning the long walk ahead of me to the car. I realized that I was totally tempted to a sort of ingratitude. I was tempted to wish I was somewhere else instead of being right where I was. I’m not saying that this is bad; in fact, I needed to acknowledge the reality of my exhaustion in order to keep moving. I was standing there and longingly remembering my quiet evening in a hidden Church in Rome just one week ago. I was wrestling with lots of things hidden in my heart, and there was a certain sadness because of these burdens that few people know about. Everyone has these things they are carrying, and at a parade, like in life, you can randomly recall those things and be overwhelmed by them.
So yes, I was literally at a parade and crying out to God in my heart to provide for me. I longed to hear His voice, but it was too loud. Y’all, then He spoke!!!
No, God doesn’t speak in an audible voice to me, but He moves in my heart to make me aware of Truth accompanied by an abiding peace. God made me aware of the reality that I can be at a loud party like a parade and STILL HEAR HIM!
No matter where I am in the world I am always home because He always abides in me–if I let Him. It’s one thing for me to know that and trust that in the silence; it’s another to know that and trust that when surrounded by thousands of people with music blaring.
But this IS what He desires for us. This IS what He calls us to. Yes, we must run to the silence and learn how to hear His voice. But then, we must go out and live our lives and be open to hearing Him even in the midst of the noise. He is there, too, desiring to give us joy.
Here is the other part of the analogy, one that applies to all of us. For the big parades, there are about 30-40 floats. It alternates with a float and then a marching band or a dance group. In other words, we beg for stuff and then we dance. Beg and dance. Beg and dance.
Standing there, it hit me! …just like the pack of beads that hit me in the head a few nights ago when I wasn’t paying attention. Jesus threw out grace to me to help me remember Truth! …truth is that Jesus desires us to beg and dance.
Jesus desires us to beg from Him for every good gift.
Jesus desires us to dance like a child who trusts in his father and who delights in play. When a child dances, he wiggles and bounces and has movements all his own. He delights in movement. It’s like his body is expressing what at times, his words cannot even yet say!
…and that is joy. Joy of life!
Both experiences of my life these last two weeks are gifts. To believe that Jesus can only speak to me when I sit in a quiet Church in Rome would be tolimit Him. Yes, that quiet Church is what prepares me to hear him at this loud party, but to claim He is absent from these Mardi Gras festivities is to deny His power. Christ ate with the tax collectors and the prostitutes and the sinners. He ate with them because He wanted to be present to them. He ate with them because His presence before His words showed them what it really means toparty, what it really means to live joy in such a way that I become more of myself, not less.
I do not need to be afraid of Mardi Gras, for there is no darkness so dark that God cannot penetrate. Even though there are parts of Mardi Gras that can be dark because of the free choice of people, not all of Mardi Gras is darkness. Much of Mardi Gras is light! …the light shining brightly within those who choose for Him. For life. For authenticity. For joy. How dare us limit God and say that He cannot be present at Mardi Gras! He is all around me at Mardi Gras. …and He is within me at Mardi Gras.
While at a parade, a friend randomly shared with me a homily he heard last year. This priest said that we do Mardi Gras because we know how to live, and we do Ash Wednesday because we know how to die.
Living fully as a Catholic means that I live seasons of life. Living fully means that I have times both of feasting and fasting. If I only have one or the other, then I am sick.
We need the both/and!
My feasting is a gift; my fasting is a gift. I can only truly feast when I know how to fast. I can only fully live joy when I know what it means to suffer. Suffering carves out a space so deep that even more joy can be received. I become thankful when I realize my own lack without Him.
Joy does not mean that my life is perfect or that I have it all together or that I am fully rested and feeling totally healthy all the time. Joy means that I am fully open to reality as it is: to the present moment and the gifts still given, despite the burdens I am carrying.
So why do we do Mardi Gras? We do Mardi Gras because Mardi Gras invites me to the reality that life is about living.
Mardi Gras is about the people.
Mardi Gras is about learning how to be like a child and realize that I, too, am only able to be present to this very moment, and I don’t want to let it pass me by without asking–begging–for the best of graces to be thrown to me.
So beg and dance, people. Like I shared in a past post, my favorite part about Mardi Gras is dancing in the streets when a parade breaks down for a bit. We just dance and laugh and play. In life, this is what it means for us to live.
The parade of life is passing me by, but I get to choose if I want to participate in it. I get to choose if I want to both feast and fast. I get to choose if I want to beg and dance.
I choose to dance. And I hope that you’ll join me.