Shirtless Chris Hemsworth

Ha! I got you to click just with that title. I suppose I ought to show you shirtless Chris Hemsworth so you don’t accuse me of false advertising.

Ages ago, I put a reminder in my phone that it should show me pictures of shirtless Chris Hemsworth whenever I’m having a shitty day. It never follows through on it, but the reminder’s existence in my phone never fails to make my day.

It’s actually kind of funny because Chris Hemsworth isn’t really “my type.” I can freely admit that he’s a handsome man, and his kids are adorable. He’s in some good movies. He seems like a nice bloke. But he’s not really my type. (If you need a refresher on my type, please click here.) I just don’t really go in for the muscly blonde dude type. Regardless, one day, I clearly felt that he could make my bad days better. And the thing is that a random thought I had one day continually brings a smile to my face weeks and months after I had put that random thought into my phone.

And that’s the real point of this post. I’ve been thinking lately about how the little things in life can be the most important things. The little things in life can end up as the ones that bring us the most joy or have the most value. Shirtless Chris Hemsworth was a thing that I wanted once, but that one-time desire has turned into a long-term source of amusement. It started as just a little thing on a rough day, but now it’s a delightful source of amusement.

In my experience, that’s how life works. Little things appear inconsequential in the moment, but they end up being so valuable. Small comments can make more of a difference than big comments. Friendships are often built through the little things rather than the big things. Small shared interests can be the bedrock of important relationships. Miracles are found in the mundane more often than in the grandiose.

That means that we have to keep our eyes open. We have to look for the shirtless Chris Hemsworth moments in our daily lives. If we’re not looking for them, they’ll float past us unseen and unnoticed. So keep your eyes open; you never know when you might see a shirtless Chris Hemsworth.

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Why I Wear Makeup

Over the years, I’ve heard various arguments in favor of and against wearing makeup. I think about it every now and again because I wear makeup pretty much every day. It’s just a part of my morning routine.

But why do I do it? Why do I take five or ten minutes almost every morning to put on foundation and eye makeup? Well, it’s simple. I do it for me. I like the way that I look when I wear makeup. It evens out my skin tone, and I use foundation with a built-in sunscreen. (That sunscreen is crucial for protecting my fair skin.) I like wearing eye makeup because I think that my eyes are my best feature and I like drawing attention to them. Also, I think that eye makeup makes me look more like an adult and less like a teenager. I get asked if I’m a teenager more than you’d expect from someone knocking on the door of thirty.

I’m not doing it because someone else expects it of me. I had to go bare-faced for a week earlier this fall when I had pinkeye, and almost no one noticed the difference. One of my coworkers commented (knowing of my frustration with wearing my glasses and bare face) that she thought I looked cute. Cute is okay, but it’s not what I usually strive for. I usually aim for sophisticated or lovely. That’s my personal preference.

I don’t think that everyone needs to wear makeup. I don’t think that anyone needs to wear it. I wear it because I think it’s fun to put on. But at the same time, I like knowing that I don’t have to wear it. I like knowing that I wear it by personal choice and not by outside mandate. Above all, I think that each person needs to make his or her own decisions about physical appearance rather than being fussed about what other people think about their appearance.

The Holy Transience of Baseball

A good subtitle for this post might be “What Baseball Has Taught Me About Heaven.”

I love baseball. Those who know me well know that I dearly love the Detroit Tigers. I freely admit that watching a game at Comerica Park (on a summer evening with a Detroit craft brew in my hand) makes me happier than few other things in this world. Like any good baseball fan, I have my favorite players. For several years (with a particular emphasis on 2012-2014), Rick Porcello was My Tiger. He wasn’t the best player on the team, but he was often a good player. He seems like a good man. This game on my 26th birthday was particularly awesome.

And then about three years ago, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox. I still like Ricky P. But he’s not My Tiger any more. J.D. Martinez became My Tiger. And then he was traded. Before I could really attach myself to my next prospective My Tiger, Alex Avila was traded. And last night, Ian Kinsler was traded.

Now, you will tell me (and rightly so) that such is the nature of baseball. Gone are the days of a player staying with his team for an entire career. This is true. I will find a new Tiger next season. I will love him until he leaves, and then I’ll find a new My Tiger. Porcello will always have a special place in my heart as will Martinez, Avila, and Kinsler, but they’re not Tigers anymore. Baseball is transient.

So is life. We are not made for this world. As St. Therese of Lisieux reminds us, the world is our ship and not our home. We were not made for this world. We were made for heaven. Like baseball players, we are not meant to always be here. We are meant for something greater. We cannot stay in one place and never move forward, never improve as Christians.

“If we are created for royal glory, royal glory will fulfill us.”

-Dr. Peter Kreeft

We were made to be saints. Just as baseball players are meant to play their best, work together as a team, and win championships, we are called to live lives of holiness. This means that we need to move beyond those things that hold us back from God, that hinder us from holiness. We need to lay aside our earthly care and fix our eyes on the King of Kings.

Brothers, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

-Philippians 3:13-14

Is this easy? No, it is far easier for me to let go of J.D Martinez as my Tiger than it is for me to let go of long-held patterns of sin. That doesn’t mean that I can’t let go of those patterns. It simply means that it is hard. I used to hope that J.D. Martinez or Rick Porcello would come back to Detroit. I had loved them while they were here, and I wanted them to come back. I wanted them to be part of bringing a World Series championship to Detroit.

 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

-Philippians 4:8

But their time in Detroit has passed. This is not their place or their home anymore. I have to let go of them. I can support them where they are now, but I can’t try to hold them back. (Not that I ever had any real power to do so anyway) Similarly, I cannot hold on to things that keep me from pursuing God’s call on my life. They might be fun, but I cannot surround myself with things or people that are not life-giving, that do not tend to sanctity.

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…

-Philippians 3:8-10

Now this isn’t some great announcement that I’m leaving something big behind. Rather, it is a reminder that there are things here and there within our lives that keep us from pursuing God with our whole hearts, with our whole lives. I’ll have to find a new My Tiger soon; I have to lay aside my dreams of Porcello or Martinez in the D. (I also have to lay aside my dreams of marrying Rick Porcello; that was always a ridiculous hope.) This is not their home; this place will not help them to become the best baseball players they can be at this point in their careers. They need to seek to be the best athlete that they can be. I need to seek to be a saint.

If you then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God.

-Colossians 3:1

The Most Disagreeable Month of the Year

At the beginning of Chapter 15 of Little Women, Meg March declares November to be the most disagreeable month of the year. Jo returns some comment about that being why she was born in November.

But as I get older, I begin to think that Meg and Jo are wrong about November. November gets a bad rap-probably because of the weather. But if you try hard enough, November doesn’t have to suck. You might have to work on it a little, but you can totally find ways to alleviate the bleakness of November.

Personally, I try to make a concentrated effort to make February and November (my two least favorite months of the year) suck a little less. That means that I try to do things that make my life a little more exciting and distract me from the bleak state of the natural world. When the natural world has a tendency to make me sad or just feeling blech, I’m trying to actively seek out things that give me joy.

One small thing that I’m doing is knitting with brighter shades of yarn. It’s hard to feel gloomy when there are bright blues and greens in your hands. It might be dreary outside, but surrounding myself with bright colors inside helps me to feel more cheerful. I do have a piece of “obligation knitting” that’s in a less cheerful color, but I try to work on that while watching movies or reading things that make me happy.

I’m also seeking out activities that make me happy. Knowing that I have a concert and my cousin’s fall play this weekend and a beatification Mass for a local Saint the following weekend is helping me feel like November is flying by. Sure it’s only the eighth, but I’ve got plans! There are exciting doings ahead of me. I’m not going to let November get me down; I’m going to enjoy it.

Two important people in my life have November birthdays, and that’s another source of excitement. (It’s also a source of stress. What am I going to give these people for their birthdays?) I get to celebrate people that I love. That’s something that I enjoy.

And then there’s Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving. It’s a great holiday. I love the food and the family time. I love the emphasis on gratitude. I enjoy getting to talk about gratitude with my students. I love getting to be with my family. It’s a good day.

In short, Meg March is wrong. November, when properly considered, is not the most disagreeable month of the year. It’s a great month; you just have to look at it through the right lenses.

Praying for Unfulfilled Desires

About a year or so ago, a friend of mine recommended that I begin praying once a week for women struggling with unfulfilled desires. I took the challenge thinking primarily about women who aren’t married but want to be and women who are struggling with infertility. This intention has challenged me and has shown me that struggling with unfulfilled desires is far more than just those two desires.

There are so many types of desires, and so many women struggle with unfulfilled desires. While one friend might struggle with unfulfilled desires for a child, another friend struggles with unfulfilled desires for a better job. To someone who is longing for a child, the desire for a job (especially coming from a woman who does have a job) might seem petty. But to the one seeking the job, the unfulfilled dream or hope causes an immense ache.

The reality is that each of these aches is real and intense to the one struggling with the longing. My longing to be married may seem selfish to someone seeking a job that better allows the woman to serve the Body of Christ. But that doesn’t mean either of our longings is any less real to us or any less present to the Father. We as women feel the pain of our unfulfilled longings, and the Father knows that pain intimately. He knows that we suffer, and he longs to use that suffering to act in our lives.

As I’ve prayed for this intention, I’ve found myself led to pray for comfort and peace for these women. I ask the Lord to fulfill these desires according to His Will. But primarily, I pray for the peace of the women struggling. If I’m to be a good wife to my maybe-possibly-someday husband or another woman is to be a good mother to a longed-for child, we need grace. We need peace abiding in our hearts. Before anything else, I need to surrender my dreams and desires and goals to the Lord and trust in His perfect plan. (Am I good at this? No. I pray “God, make me good and do it now” often. I pray for a husband to come “soon because I just can’t do this anymore” but who said that I was ever supposed to do this alone?) Unfulfilled desires are not easy to bear. They just aren’t.

We have only to look to the Bible for examples and role models. Sarah, Hannah, Rachel, and Elizabeth each longed for a child. Leah longed for the love of her husband. Ruth longed for stability. Esther wanted to save her nation. Deborah wanted to lead her people well. Abigail wanted to be loved. Did Leah ever really get what she wanted? Rachel died when Benjamin was young; she gave birth to two sons but didn’t live to see them grow to adulthood. God’s will doesn’t always line up with our plans. I may never get married. Or if I marry, I may never have children. Esther saved her nation, but that didn’t permanently eliminate suffering from the lives of her people.

Mary washes the feet of Jesus

Ultimately, the biggest thing that I’ve learn is that when I’m praying for women struggling with unfulfilled desires, I’m really praying for all women. We all have unfulfilled desires. We all feel empty or abandoned at times. But we have a God who sees and knows our desires. He loves us, and he longs to give us good things. Sometimes the things we desire are not right for us. (I’d like to thank the Lord for saying no to some prayers that my younger self prayed.) Sometimes the season isn’t right even if we don’t know why it isn’t. (Some questions will never be answered on this side of Paradise.) But at no time will we be unloved or unwanted by the Lord.

Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD your God, he it is that does go with you; he will not fail you, nor forsake you.

-Deuteronomy 31:6

Me too.

When “me too” started buzzing around the internet as a way of saying that I too am a woman who has been sexually harassed and/or assaulted, I knew that I should chime in. It’s two words. All you have to do is type them and share them. People need to know that this sort of thing is far more common than anyone wants to believe.

But I was scared. I knew that I should tell my story, but it’s hard. It is hard to tell the truth about something when for far too long you’ve been told to be silent about that very thing.

See…here’s the thing. On Saturday, September 20, 2008, I was sexually assaulted. I was not raped, but I was taken advantage of. I was young. I was naive. And I was in a foreign country. I was in a place where everyone said that I had to experience the local culture. I had to explore. I had to try new things. I had to do things that I wouldn’t normally do.

So I bought a dress, a dress that was very pretty. I put on the dress. I let someone do my hair. I did my makeup. I went to a club. I wanted to have fun. I wanted to avoid Red Bull and Vodka.

By the end of the night, I had managed to avoid Red Bull and Vodka but not the smell of that pairing. And I had not had fun.

I’d gone into the evening with an idea that I’d dance with a few girl friends and maybe a cute guy. But I just wanted to have fun. I thought I was safe because I fit in with Spanish women. I was olive-skinned and dark-haired; surely, Spanish men would find me boring. They’d have no interest in me in my pink and brown halter dress with my brown sandals. Oh, I was wrong.

Instead, I’d had a random man I’d never even spoken to pull me away from my friends and stick his tongue into my mouth and his hands in places well…I wouldn’t want to tell my mother about. I was scared stiff. I went along with what he was doing because I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t tell you what I was thinking. I don’t know if I was. I just know that I was scared. I don’t know what would have happened if not for Colorado Boy.

Colorado Boy was a boy in my study abroad group who was nearby when this happened. I don’t know if we’d ever even spoken before. (I don’t even know if he was actually from Colorado; that’s just what my brain named him for this post.) The first time that I was aware of CB that night was when his hand was on my shoulder and he was saying something about his girlfriend. He pulled me away from Spanish Dude #1 telling the guy to get off his girlfriend. Who knows what SD#1 thought of CB? I don’t care. What I care about is that CB pulled me into a circle of girls who asked me if I was alright. They was kind. They were gentle. They reassured me that they were there if I needed any help.

The night went on. Another Spanish Dude wanted to dance with me. I wasn’t yet smart enough to say no, and I didn’t realize how far he’d managed to get me away from my group of friends until he asked me if he could take me home to meet his mother. I’m not dumb; I knew what that meant. But I couldn’t see any of my friends. I didn’t want to pay my taxi fare back to the hotel alone, and I didn’t want to disappear on my friends.

And somehow, I figured out a way out. I told SD#2 that I’d go home with him to “meet his mother.” But first I needed to tell my friends where I was going so that they wouldn’t worry about me. I walked off where I claimed I saw my friend and hid in the bathroom for ten minutes. When i came out, SD#2 was gone. Who knows what he thought about me in that moment, and honestly, who cares? Then, I went off in search of my friends. I eventually found them, and one of my friends and I agreed that we were ready to go home (being a bit bored of the club thing). So we began (slowly, it took over an hour) collecting our friends and back to the hotel we went.

I woke up the next morning tired and a little wiser and much sadder. I threw away the dress and shoes. Over the next several months, I battled an odd sadness that I couldn’t understand. Why was I so sad about what had happened? I’d been willing to dance with those men at first. I’d gone along with what they wanted. Sure, I jumped every time I heard a song (that I don’t even know the name of) that had been playing in the club that night. Vomit rose in my mouth whenever I smelled Red Bull. But I couldn’t understand why; I’d let those guys touch me.

Odd as it might sound, it wasn’t until I began watching Downton Abbey that I began to realize why I was so sad. It was 2011, more than two and a half years after my Spanish escapade. As Lady Mary’s storyline with Kemal Pamuk began to unfold, I heard so many of my friends condemn Lady Mary as impure or unchaste for her behavior in that night. And through that, I finally came to understand the sadness that even a good and kind therapist hadn’t been able to help me through.

If Lady Mary’s behavior with Kemal had been all her fault, then so had mine with those men. I had gone along with their actions because I was afraid. I didn’t know what to do, and so I let them do what they were doing. I hadn’t fought back because I hadn’t known how to. And I’d never told my story because I was afraid of being judged as impure or unworthy. That I hadn’t ended up hurt more badly or in more trouble was purely an accident of grace-CB’s timely intervention and an open bathroom stall where I could hide.

It took me a long time to accept that I’d been assaulted. It took me a long time to accept that what had happened was not my fault. But here’s the thing. It wasn’t my fault. None of the stories that have come out recently about women who suffered sexual harassment, assault, or abuse were the woman’s fault. Too many women (myself included) haven’t told their stories out of fear of being judged or not being believed. Someone once told me “You were in Spain. You just didn’t understand the culture.”

I don’t know that the problem was my lack of understanding of Spanish culture. I think the problem was that far too many people forget that every other person with whom they meet is a person, is an individual. It is too damn easy to treat others like objects and forget that these are individuals with rights and dignity. We need to change that. We have to change the narrative-not just for women, not just for men, but for all humans. We need to treat every human with respect and dignity.

Far too many people-both male and female-have stories like mine. We need to change the narrative so that more people feel safe saying “Me too” and so that fewer people have a reason to say that.

The Pursuit of Excellence

It’s my favorite week of any year that doesn’t contain the Olympics. It’s Nobel Prize week. Nobel Prize week (and the Monday after aka Economics Monday) is my favorite week of the year. I’ve always liked the Nobel Prizes because they celebrate what’s great about humanity; it’s a week of celebrating great accomplishments of the human race.

But my love affair with Nobel Prize week really took off in 2014. It was a rough year for humanity and for me personally. I was quite honest when I told my students that week that I didn’t expect anyone to win the Nobel Peace Prize that year because I didn’t know that anyone really deserved it. And then Friday rolled around and the award was given to one of my personal heroes, Malala Yousafzai, and Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian children’s and education activist. That won my heart because in that moment the Nobel Institute had, in a really hard year, found something really and truly great about humanity.

The more that I thought about it, the more I came to love Nobel Prize Week. I love this week when we focus on what humanity has done well. In years when there are no Olympics, it’s probably my favorite week. I think that it’s really important to focus on our strengths, to look at what we do well and honor that. If we want to become better people and do better as a human race, we need to focus on what we do well.

Similarly, I love the Olympics. Yes, they’re imperfect. They can be surrounded by corruption, bribery, and steroids. But they can also be surrounded by beautiful reminders of the resilience of the human spirit. The heart-warming stories that come out of the Olympics serve as reminders of what we as humans are capable. We may not all be able to run like Usain Bolt, but we all have greatness inside of us.

That’s what I love about weeks like Nobel Prize Week and the Olympics. I love weeks that remind us that we are born with the ability to do great things and to be excellent in side of us. Greatness and excellent don’t look the same for everyone, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We have to find our strengths and our greatness inside of ourselves and use those things to the best of our abilities. Some people may be great writers, others are great runners while others are great doctors. We won’t all be in the Olympics. We won’t all win Nobel Prizes. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive for greatness or celebrate the greatness in others when we have the opportunity.