Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Way We Met (Through My Husband's Eyes)

Two years ago, in May, I posted the story of how my husband Manny and I met. People loved it then, and I'm sure you'll love Manny's version even more. Add to the fun by sharing the story of how you met in the comments below!

I don’t need to close my eyes, though the image is more vivid if I do. We’re on the lower east side of Manhattan crossing Second Avenue for a quick lunch break when my friend Ayman (recently my friend, truth be told, having discovered that we share a fondness for cigarettes, Spanish culture, and psychiatry) pauses in the middle of the street and with a refreshingly animated air greets a young lady, taking her out of whatever world she was in by uttering her name, “Karee!”

Pleasantries are exchanged, as allowed by the rushed etiquette of crossing a busy street in midtown Manhattan, and the moment passes. Only, for me, it doesn’t just pass. I’m aware of my heart beating faster, harder, more forcefully in my chest as I watch her walk away. “Who is she?” I ask, turning to my friend. “Oh, Karee, she’s a girl I went to college with back at UVA, lawyer now.”  Ayman, secure in the solidity of our friendship but overconfident in the depth of his understanding with respect to my likes and dislikes, immediately blurts out that Karee is “not my type.” In hindsight, though well-intentioned, my Coptic friend could not have been more mistaken.

My curiosity was piqued, however, and I ventured to query my friend in what manner this delightful creature was not “my type”.  Ayman appeared taken aback by the directness of my question, or perhaps there was something in the tone of my voice which betrayed my displeasure with his premature assessment. “Believe me Manny, I know her and I know the kind of girl you’re looking for.  She’s  smart, don’t get me wrong, and she’s a really nice girl, but you two are on opposite ends politically, and let’s just say she doesn’t have the same values you do.” I suspect he was referring to the values associated with my Catholic faith, which were quite similar to those he espoused as a Coptic Christian.

As fate would have it, two years would pass before I saw Karee again. Our second meeting was to occur not on Second Avenue but at my friend Ayman’s apartment in Brooklyn.  In the intervening years, Ayman had fallen in love with a Spanish girl named Eva, an Andalusian  beauty that happened to be my cousin and to whom I introduced him while we were both vacationing in Seville during the famous Feria de Abril (the April Fair which takes place after Easter). As it turns out, Ayman was hosting a party to introduce Eva to his friends in New York.

So, there I was, a third year resident in Psychiatry at NYU staring at her in blissful disbelief.  My eyes were drawn to her lips, her hips, the way she held the cup of seltzer in her hand.  It had been two years mind you, but my heart seemed to pick up where it left off in the middle of the street, beating furiously and demanding that I speak to her.  She was talking to someone, someone I didn’t know, but she seemed to know him no better than I.  Their conversation was short lived, and soon an opportunity presented itself.  She made her way towards my end of the room.

My mouth grew dry as my heart asserted itself within my chest. “Hi, I’m Manny. I think we met two years ago crossing Second Avenue.” Perhaps it was the words themselves or the insistent manner in which I blurted them out, but the look on her face was one of surprise.  Her expression then changed and began to assume a guarded quality, such that I felt strangely like a stalker.  Grasping immediately the need to sacrifice accuracy of recall for prudence, I retracted my statement and assured her that perhaps I was mistaken.  Slowly her fear subsided and the conversation, happily, continued.

As fate would have it, not only did I happen to be reading a short story by the great Russian novelist, Tolstoy, but the mere mention of this fact ignited a spark in our conversation. Soon, I was describing the scene in the Kreutzer Sonata which deals with the serendipitous if not fickle nature of love, or that which we fondly call "falling in love."  Her laughter invigorated me as her eyes reflected an understanding that at once made me feel intelligent and inspired. (It was most assuredly an impossibly happy coincidence that she was not only a science fiction geek but that I had a unique ear structure reminiscent of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock.  My friend Tom pointed this out, after discovering that Karee was a fan.)

The rest of the night was magical. We all drove into Manhattan and had a few drinks at Iggy’s, our favorite local watering hole.  I impressed her with my pool playing, and as the night wore on she seemed to re-enact a scene from Cinderella, suddenly stating that she had to go. “Wait a minute!”  I thought to myself. "Something’s missing. I forgot to do something." As if assuming a life of its own, my right hand rose slightly and as I called out to her my index finger curled itself repeatedly, indicating that I needed to speak a final word to her before she left. She smiled, perhaps thinking to herself, “It’s about time” as she walked slowly towards me. Opting for what seemed at the time the safest request, I asked for her email address, and she scribbled it on a napkin as I inwardly shouted, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”  As she walked away and then out the door, I glanced down at the treasure in my hand and gently folded it, careful to place it safely in my pocket.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

How to Trust God like St. Therese

Following up on last week's post on How to Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some by Dan and Connie Rossini, here is my review of Connie's excellent first book Trusting in God with St. Thérèse.

Can we take the example of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a 19th century Carmelite nun, and apply it to our lives as 21st century wives and mothers? That's the goal of Connie Rossini's Trusting God with St. Thérèse, and she nails it.  With evocative word portraits of each stage of St. Thérèse's life and heartfelt personal stories from her own life, Connie shows how trust in God is the key to progress in prayer and holiness. And deeper trust is a path open to all of us.

St. Thérèse featured prominently in my own conversion to the Catholic Church. Her relics went on display at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City around the time I was exploring the thought of converting. Huge crowds spilled out of the massive building and thronged around it in an impromptu parade, singing hymns as they waited their turn to brush their fingers across the box that housed the relics. The jaded police officers assigned to patrol the event looked at us in wide-eyed delight. They had not been expecting this sweet-faced saint to generate so much devotion in the hearts of ordinary people.

When it came time to be confirmed and enter into the Catholic Church, I chose Thérèse as my confirmation saint. My spiritual director was taken aback and somewhat disgruntled. A hulking and manly priest, he had decided that St. Elizabeth Seton should be my confirmation saint. St. Elizabeth Seton was a former Episcopalian, as I was, and a wife and mother who overcame significant odds to establish the backbone of the American parochial school system in addition to a new religious order after her husband died and her relatives deserted her. This priest's top choice for me was not St. Thérèse, who did not have a single worldly accomplishment and whose diminutive nickname was The Little Flower.

But St. Thérèse gave me hope precisely because she didn't have any worldly accomplishments. The role of a wife and mother is not to accomplish, but to serve. We lose our names when we take our husbands'. We become known as so-and-so's wife or so-and-so's mother. We step out of the limelight in order to encourage those we love into it. After a lifetime of receiving, it becomes time to give it back, to pass it on, to retreat into the house as if it were a convent, to wake every few hours to give love and comfort as if the cry of a hungry baby were chapel bells calling us to prayer, to smile gently when the personalities, the emotions, the mistakes and the flaws of the people closest to us squeeze our hearts as if they were in a vise. This was St. Thérèse's Little Way, and I can't imagine a better way than that for wives and mothers.

Through her beautiful book, Connie taught me something I didn't know about St. Thérèse. She taught me that littleness needs trust as a companion. Littleness means humility, an acceptance that we are weak, imperfect,  not the center of the universe and never meant to be so. But the other side of the coin is an acceptance that God is powerful, God is perfect, he created the universe, and with him we can do anything. An acknowledgement of our littleness turns easily to despair if we don't trust God to forgive our weakness, to make up for our lack, to kiss us gently when we fall and when we fail, and to set us back on our feet to try, try again.

We trust God like St. Thérèse when we say to Our Lord, "I am little, but you are great. I am weak, but you are strong."  We trust God with St. Thérèse when we pray in her words, "I am not always faithful, but I never get discouraged; I abandon myself into the arms of Jesus."

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Don't Pretend to Be Someone You're Not: Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some

This month's contributors to How to Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some are Dan and Connie Rossini. The Rossinis live in New Ulm, Minnesota, where Dan manages the diocesan staff. They homeschool their four boys, who are 12 and under. Connie is the author of Trusting God with St. Therese, the free ebook Five Lessons from the Carmelite Saints That Will Change Your Life, and A Spiritual Growth Plan for Your Choleric Child (release date May 15, 2015). Dan and Connie have been married fourteen years and are each others' best friends.

1. How many years have you been married and how many kids do you have?

We have been married 14 years and have four sons.

2. Name three things that have helped you stay married this long.

-Authenticity. When we were dating, we both made an effort to be real, not put on a show. This helped us to know (more or less) what we were getting ahead of time.

-Humility. Though neither of us would describe ourselves as humble, we do both acknowledge that we make a lot of mistakes. That helps us to be more understanding of each other's mistakes and more forgiving.

-Putting God first. Although we have a long way to go, we try to put God and His will above everything else. That means we often have to let go of our preferences, our sleep, and our favorite pastimes for the benefit of the family.

3. What role has your faith played in your marriage?

We met on Single Catholics Online, so it's been a relationship based on faith from the start. At the time, Dan was working on a doctorate in Thomistic philosophy and Connie was writing a newsletter of Catholic apologetics. On our first date, Dan brought his breviary so we could pray Evening Prayer together. He started working for the Church fulltime two years into our marriage. Connie started writing about spirituality soon afterwards. In fact, Dan's first job with the Church was editor of the diocesan newspaper, and he asked Connie to submit a column. He didn't pay her anything, but she tries not to hold that against him!

Anyway, following the pattern of that first date, we have made a daily habit of praying Evening Prayer together, as well as the Rosary. We remind each other to take time for mental prayer. We often talk about the faith and the spiritual life. We both pray for each other and our children regularly. We make instructing them in the faith a priority.

4. What advice would you give people who are dating and considering marriage?

Be real with each other. Pretending to be someone you are not will only cause problems later. Commit to growing in your own faith, and as you make commitments to each other, make God the foundation of your relationship. Resist the culture of death and all its temptations--meaning temptations towards sexual activity outside of marriage. Save intimacy for the one you commit to lay down your life for in marriage. Let your gift of yourself to your spouse be total and exclusive.

 5. What advice would you give newlyweds?

It's often hard to make sacrifices for one's spouse or children, but we have to always think about what is best for the other person and the family as a whole, not just what satisfies us personally at the moment. This doesn't mean you should let the other person trample on your dignity or make all the decisions. True love is the best of friendships. You each give up some things to help the other. Try to think about what you can do for the other person, rather than what he or she can do for you. You will both have to bend a lot in order to make your marriage work. If you do this, both spouses will have their needs met. This is the beauty of love.

Also, when you make mistakes, give yourself a break. We are all human. Give your spouse a break when he or she makes mistakes. Don't expect perfection of yourself or your spouse this side of Heaven.

6. What's your top parenting tip, or advice for couples who are trying to have children?

Our top parenting tip is to learn about the four classic temperaments and how each operates. This has really helped us tailor our parenting to each child, rather than expecting them all to fit one mold. And, yes, this is both a sincere answer and a plug for Connie's new book series on the subject. ;)

But even more basically than that, teach your children to pray! We believe strongly that we should teach our children not just vocal, recited prayers like the Guardian Angel Prayer, but how to begin praying to God from the heart. You can't teach this if you don't practice it yourself.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Marriage Rx: Advice to Tech-Stressed Wife of Video Gamer

In this month's marriage advice column, my husband Dr. Manuel Santos and I deal with the question of video game addiction and how much technology use is too much for a marriage.

Question: My husband and I have been married 5 years, and I am expecting our fourth child. I knew when we first started dating that he enjoyed playing video games and using the computer but I didn't realize the full extent of it until we got married. Although I understand the need to unwind after a difficult day at work, it seems like any screen (laptop, tablet, phone especially) in the house is the only thing ever receiving his full attention.  Also, after the birth of each of our children he suddenly gets really into a new video game and holes himself up so I don't have the help I need when I need it most. 

There have been a few times he's sworn off video games and uninstalled them. But after a few weeks, they're back. He is a great provider and devoted Catholic and I am 100% certain he is not into pornography or online gambling, but this is really taking a toll on our relationship.  What should I do? -- Tech-stressed wife

Answer: Many people turn to technology as a coping mechanism to deal with stress. But when a coping mechanism creates as many problems as it solves, then it is maladaptive or unhealthy. As Pope Francis lamented, "digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbors, from those closest to us."

You mentioned that your husband has difficult days at work and that there are soon to be four kids under the age of 5 in your household. As parents of six kids ourselves, we fully understand how much stress that can cause.

Find healthier coping mechanisms. The solution lies in finding a healthier coping mechanism. Your husband might need to be alone for ten minutes when he walks through the door just to decompress. He might benefit from jogging for an hour or lifting weights in the basement. Or he might want to discuss work problems with you after the kids go to bed. Quiet prayer time is always helpful. We're a big fan of husbands and wives saying the rosary together, even if it's only one decade.

The next question is where does that leave you? After spending the day taking care of three small children while experiencing the tiredness of pregnancy, you're stressed and need a break, too. It's natural to expect that your husband will provide that break for you. After all, he's the dad. But since not every dad is Superman, we encourage you to seek out other sources of support. Swap babysitting services with a friend, get someone in to clean the house even if it's only once a month, take the kids to a park in nice weather so maybe you can sit down and relax.

Moderate and structure your time. It sounds like moderating the amount of tech time would also be a good idea. You and your husband can try to set technology house rules together, like no screens at the dinner table. Going out to a "tech-free"dinner once a month would also help the two of you to reconnect without distraction.

Try to structure the evenings and the weekends to minimize tech time, too. Make specific requests for how to spend the time in a more family-oriented and helpful way. Don't say "you're always on the computer," because he'll get defensive. Say instead, "it would really help me if you did X activity at Y time." For example, ask your husband to bathe the kids before bedtime or watch the kids while you go to the grocery store.  Give him a big thank you if and when he does it. But be patient, too, since new routines take time and effort to become fully established.

In case of addiction, seek professional help. Video games in particular can be addictive. One study found that almost 12% of the participants met the criteria for addiction. Video games can hook into the reward pathways of the brain -- perform well by the standards of the game and you'll get rewarded by points, coins, higher rankings, happy music. The real world, on the other hand, doesn't always offer praise and recognition for a job well done. Escapism is another powerful lure. The fact that he's tried to uninstall video games but then re-installed them a few weeks later is particularly troubling. If you're truly worried that your husband is suffering from an addiction, then he may need to seek out professional help.

How much technology use is too much? Is this causing a problem in your relationship, too?

Monday, April 27, 2015

What the Heck is Happening with Our Book?

A reader asked recently, "What's going on with your book? I haven't seen anything about it on your blog!" The short answer is that I've been too busy writing the book to write ABOUT the book. But here's a short and sweet update for the inquiring minds that want to know.

My husband Dr. Manuel Santos and I signed a contract in August 2014 with Ave Maria Press to publish our Catholic marriage advice book. Since then, we've been writing our sweet patooties off. In March of this year, we were excited to learn that the most awesome and excellent Heidi Hess Saxton was assigned as our editor.

I've been stalking Heidi through social media for years, since she's good friends with some of my favorite Catholic Moms, Lisa Hendey and Sarah Reinhard. Heidi also compiled the best children's Catholic Bible ever, in my opinion, and I've gifted it to several family members.

We gave our initial draft to Heidi in April and, with her help, we'll start some serious editing in June. If all goes well (knock on wood), then we'll pick a title and a cover. Then ... BOOK LAUNCH in 2016!! It may sound like a long time away, but for us it feels right around the corner.

Thanks for your interest, and stay tuned for more news.


Plus, for your random entertainment and because it's National Poetry Month, a fun quiz about your poet BFF from Grammarly. I got Alfred Lord Tennyson!