October 20, 2015

Still At the Beginning {2nd Anniversary}

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On October 5th my husband and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary.  Two years… I can hardly believe that much time has passed.  We’ve learned and experienced a lot in these first two years of marriage, but I also realize that we are still very much at the beginning of a lot of new adventures. 
A couple in our parish recently celebrated 50 years of marriage.  Before their renewal of vows, the priest spoke about how when a couple walks down the aisle and stands at the foot of the altar on their wedding day they have no idea what they are saying “yes” to.   
Sure, God willing they completely intend every word that is spoken during the exchange of vows, but there’s no way for a newlywed couple to anticipate all that will come in the decades ahead, no way to know what that “yes” will cost them.  And if we did somehow get a sneak peak of the crosses married life would bring with it, would we be as enthusiastic to say “yes”?
I can’t imagine all that this couple has experienced in the last 50 years of marriage, all of the joys and the sufferings…   but I’m sure they would say that it has been completely worth it.

One of the most beautiful things about the sacrament of marriage is that we receive the grace that we need to say “yes”.   There’s no way we can live out God’s free, total, faithful, and fruitful love by our own efforts.  There’s no way we could love unconditionally without some Divine Intervention.  The vocation we embrace as married couples is to help our spouses and our children become saints.  We need all the extra help we can get!!

The day before our anniversary this song from the movie “Anastasia” got stuck in my head.  

We were strangers starting out on a journey
Never dreaming what we’d have to go through
Now here we are and I’m suddenly standing
At the beginning with you

No one told me I was going to find you
Unexpected, what you did to my heart
When I lost hope, you were there to remind me
This is the start…
In two years of marriage we’ve learned a lot about ourselves, one another… life… but I know there’s still a lot of learning to do.  God willing there are still decades worth of new experiences and life lessons ahead of us.  The best part of all of this is that we aren’t facing any of this on our own. 
In our second year we experienced one of the most exciting new beginnings of all:  the birth of our first child.  I think Michael would agree that becoming parents has been one of the most wonderful, happy, frustrating, sleep depriving, sometimes disgusting (did you know there’s such a thing as projectile poop?! Neither did we, lesson learned.) and hilarious experiences of our entire lives.  And we are so grateful that God called us to this messy vocation ๐Ÿ™‚
I am looking forward to other beginnings as we enter Year 3.  In fact, one “new beginning” is already underway.  The night before our anniversary we received a phone call that our offer had been accepted on a house.  Our first home!  As I’m sure you can imagine, this is a pretty major step for our family.  After a lot of prayer and discernment (and a lot of “Are you sure about that Lord?“) we are putting down deeper roots.  We’re excited, surprised, and doing our best to surrender our plans to God’s hands. 
What continues to give me peace and joy in the midst of all of these new beginnings is that we aren’t going through any of them on our own.  God has been part of our story from the very beginning and it is comforting to know that He will continue to be part of every step.  

be at peace
walk on water
be not afraid


August 12, 2015

Alexandria the Great: The Birth Story

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This week Alexandria the Great turned 6 months old.  I can hardly believe it.  Six months since her grand entrance.  Six months of taking on the adventure of motherhood one day at a time. 

So in commemoration of making it halfway through her first year of life, I thought I would finally share her birth story…mostly for myself and for the ability to hopefully compare this to other Baby Johnston deliveries in the future.

(If birth stories aren’t your thing, you can scroll down to the bottom and read about how we chose her name. )

Let’s rewind 25 weeks….

I was almost 41 weeks along, and I was tired of being pregnant.

This was after walking up and down the most enormous hill we could find in town.  
Sure, I understood that it was called an “estimated due date”, but when February 4th came and went and I still didn’t have a baby it felt like Christmas without any presents. Where was my baby?
Baby Johnston was showing no signs of making an appearance any time soon. 
I was tired. I was sore. Sleeping at night was nearly impossible, heartburn was vicious as ever, and it felt like Baby J was nuzzling further up into my rib cage instead of making the journey south.  I was enjoying Downton Abbey & Gilmore Girls marathons with Mom, but what I really wanted was my baby.  And I was getting impatient.   
On the morning of Monday the 9th we went to an appointment with the doctor to discuss what would be best for me and for baby. We had originally scheduled an induction for that night, but we decided we were willing to wait a little longer.

We asked Doctor P if we could go in on Wednesday evening to be induced, but when he told us he would be gone and would have to request another doctor, we decided to schedule the induction for Tuesday night, with the hopes that we would have a baby by Wednesday morning. Wednesday was the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, and  that actually gave me a sense of peace  as we moved forward. 

When we got home from the appointment I ate lunch, and then slept the rest of the afternoon.  I had felt what I thought were maybe contractions earlier that day, but I wasn’t getting my hopes up.  I was tired.  And frustrated.  And still pregnant.  (Cue violin)

I finally got up around 5:45, and Mom wanted me to go walk the mall with her.  

Before leaving the house, we talked about what would happen if my water broke.  I told my Mom about this article that had been my daily pregnancy email.  

“Oh don’t worry,” I said.  “Only 15% of women’s water break before labor begins, so I think I’m good.”  Mom commented on how surprisingly low that sounded, but we both agreed that the chances of my water breaking were so low that it wasn’t worth worrying about… plus after the appointment I’d had with the doctor that morning I figured I’d be pregnant forever until I was induced.  

Around 6:40pm we left the house, leaving my husband to cook dinner while we drove over to the mall across the street. When we walked into the store I noticed a rack of men’s pajama pants on clearance, and remembered that Michael needed another pair or two.  I couldn’t remember his size so I gave him a call while my Mom went to another section of the store.  

Me:  “Hey!  PJ pants are on sale.  What size do you wear?”

Him:  “Let me check… hold on a second.  Large I think, yes Large.”
Me: “Michael?”
Him:  “Yes?”
Me: “My water just broke.”

And with that, I became one of the 15%!  Feeling particularly grateful that I had changed out of my skirt and into my super absorbent yoga pants, I waddled to the back of the store, found Mom and informed her that it was GO TIME.

I’m not sure if any of the JcPenny employees heard this exciting announcement, but after verifying that I hadn’t leaked all over their floor we got in the car and headed back across the street to pack things up for the hospital.

When I got back in the house Michael was busy grabbing our mostly packed hospital bag, and trying to find little things like chargers, toothbrushes, etc.  I, on the other hand, was having a minor internal spaz attack:

The house is a mess! 

What is the baby going to wear when we go home? 

Heck, what am I going to name this baby?

What if this baby doesn’t get the right name?!

I’m hungry.  I haven’t eaten since lunch.I can’t eat!  I’m having a baby.
But I should eat.But I can’t!

Michael and Mom tried to convince me that I needed to eat before I left, but I couldn’t figure out what I wanted, and I was in “GO mode”.  (This would later prove to be a mistake that will not be repeated with future Baby Johnston Deliveries.)

Right about the time we were packing the car was also when those contractions kicked in.

Oh boy.

We got to the Women’s Center a little after 7pm.  I’m not sure what I expected…maybe I’d seen too many TV shows or movies where the woman pulls up to the hospital and the nurses rush her to the delivery room in a wheelchair.  I was surprised by how calm everyone was.  I waddled my way to the delivery room, put on their ever so elegant hospital gown, got hooked up to the machines, and signed some paperwork.  
Time to get this party started! 
Doctor P came by around 11pm to check on things.  Because Baby Johnston had already pooped in utero, he said that we really needed to get the baby out in the next 22 hours.  This meant we needed pitocin to help me progress, which meant those lovely contractions that I thought I was handling so well were about to get a whole lot more intense.  
And boy did they. 
I remember the nurse asking me, “So what are we doing for pain management?”.  I just sort of chuckled and said “I’d like to make it as long as I can without anything, but we’ll see what happens!”
And on the inside I really felt like:
 and a little bit of 
In hindsight, I really wasn’t prepared to have a “natural” childbirth.  
Sure, I’d read a few articles, glanced at a few books, but we didn’t really have a plan for dealing with the pain.  Yes, I had my bouncy ball.  We did the tennis balls in the sock thing to rub my lower back… And my husband did an amazing of helping me focus and breathe through each contraction.  In fact, without his encouragement and gentle presence I couldn’t have made it as long as I did without drugs.

But after about 4 hours of tears, I knew that the only way we were going to progress was if we got the epidural.  

As the surprisingly peppy for 3:45am anesthisiologist prepped me, I felt really guilty.  I thought about how much the epidural would add to our hospital bill, and I also felt like I had somehow failed by not pushing through the pain.

But then the epidural went in…
And I’m pretty sure the heavens opened.

That epidural was the BEST decision I made for myself that day. 
As soon as the epidural kicked in I went to sleep.  Just like that.  I was relaxed enough that things could move along, and Michael was able to get some sleep as well.  
I woke up around 7:30am and I was still feeling really good and loving that epidural.  My Mom came in to trade places with Michael so he could run home real quick to get something.  Our home is 4 min away from the hospital so it wasn’t a big deal for him to leave.

Let me mention here, my Mom is amazing.

Not only did she stay in the waiting room praying throughout the night for us, but she was affirming and encouraging throughout the entire labor.  And she even held my barf bag when Michael left, so she gets major points in Heaven for that ;). 

The nurses came in to check me and happily reported that I was fully dilated, and it would be time to push in about 30 min.  “We’re going to do a practice push,” she said.  I started pushing and then she shouted, “STOP!  STOP!  This baby is coming!  And that baby has a lot of hair!  We need to get the doctor…DO NOT PUSH ANYMORE.”  
At which point I called my husband and told him to come back now.  It was Go Time. 
Doctor P finally came in around 9am and the team assembled.  
Because of how alarmed the nurse had been during my practice push, I really thought that this baby was just going to slide right on out.  Like maybe 2 pushes and boom, baby.  Right?
Um. Nope.
This is going to sound silly but I had no idea how hard pushing was going to be.  You’d think I would have picked up on that… I mean I was pushing a human being out of me…kind of a big deal.

My epidural was just wearing off, so could feel enough pressure to push, but there wasn’t any pain.

I had two nurses on my left, Michael on my right, and Dr. P ready to catch.  I remember thinking that I had a “good” nurse and a “bad” nurse… but really they were both just encouraging me in different ways, and I needed both of them there.

I pushed.  Nothing.
I pushed again.  Something, but not enough.
About 4 or 5 pushes and I realized this was going to be one of the hardest things I had ever done (Again, silly aha moment).

Dr. P finally said, “If we can’t get the baby out on this next push, I’m going to need to help things a little bit.”  Pretty much all I heard was “I will cut you.”

Um.. call those the words of inspiration that I needed because with that, I pushed like I had never pushed before, and all of a sudden… I could breathe.

The doctor had told me the night before that once baby came out they were going to need to suction the baby’s lungs before handing the baby to me because of the meconium. I’m really glad that he had prepared me for that, otherwise I probably would have been scared and worried that he wasn’t handing me my child immediately

I waited for someone to shout “IT’S A___” but no one said anything.  I remember feeling like things had gone quiet for a moment… then I heard the baby cry… but no one said anything to me.  Finally, I turned to Michael and asked “Is it a girl or a boy?”  “Umm.. I don’t know yet…” he said, and then finally Dr. P jumped in, “Oh I’m sorry!  Not doing my job, it’s a GIRL!”

It took a few moments for them to give her to me, but when we finally met, it was love at first sight.  You can read about that moment over here.  But long story short, meeting my daughter, seeing her for the first time, was like getting just a tiny snapshot of the infinite and miraculous love of God.

Mind. blown.  

Baby Johnston Gets a Name

One of the benefits of not knowing if “Baby Johnston” was a boy or a girl was that I felt like we could go to the hospital with options.  We’d come up with our top 2 girl and 2 boy names, and figured once we met the baby we’d know.  

It took a little while, but we settled on Alexandria Elise.  Alexander is the name of my Great Great Grandfather on my Mom’s side.  I have a male cousin named after him, and I thought we might bring it back with a feminine touch :).  

And Elise?  Well, that was a name that I happened to come across during a meeting with parents preparing to baptize their baby.  I thought it was pretty.  Boom.

The meanings of her names are what I like the most.  When I hear “Defender of Mankind” it makes me imagine how God will work through her as she grows.  And the meaning of Elise, “pledged to God” reminds me that my prayer from day one has been that she will be the woman God created her to be.   

Usually the first question people ask me after I tell them her name is “What are you going to call her?”  Five syllables is a lot for one kid, I know.  Still, we call her Alexandria (the Great).  It’s a big name, but I have a feeling it’s going to fit her just fine :).  Some folks call her Alex, my family calls her Lexie, but her Dad and I will most likely always call her Alexandria….

….at least until we mix her name up with her siblings!

And there you have it, the story of how Alexandria the Great came into the world and got her name! 

Thank you Jesus for our beautiful baby girl, 
and for trusting us with the great task of being her parents.  

be at peace
walk on water
be not afraid


July 9, 2015

What God Can Do in a Decade

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I really like  “Timehop” and the “On this Day” apps.  It’s always entertaining and sometimes surprising to see a snapshot of what I was up to several years ago.

One day I was scrolling through those memories and it occurred to me that a lot has happened over the past 10 years.  If you had told me at 19 years old that over the next decade I would travel to two other countries, live abroad for a year, get a job in Southwest Kansas, teach Theology of the Body in English and Spanish, marry a man I met on the internet, meet the Pope, earn a Masters degree in Theology, and then have a baby…. I probably would have thought you were insane.

There’s just no way I would have been able to process all of that.

19 was a dark time for me.  I was getting ready to go into my sophomore year of college, I was living at home, my Mom was dealing with a debilitating illness (which was hard on the whole family), and I was also struggling through some serious addictions and pain of my own.

At 19, I thought my brokenness was only going to get more broken.  Sure, there were good days.  But I was hurting, and I was looking for happiness, love, and peace in all the wrong places.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that while I thought my wounds were only getting larger, God was already at work doing some major heart surgery.

When I look back at the last decade as a whole, I can’t help but see how God laid a foundation over the years, and how each step had an influence on the next. 

I went from studying Italian to Spanish, which led to a study abroad adventure in Costa Rica.  That experienced inspired me to want to serve as a missioner in Mexico for a year after graduation, which led to a job in Texas.  The highlight of that year in Texas was being exposed to Theology of the Body on an even deeper level and meeting my husband.  That new found love of TOB led to a job in Southwest Kansas, where I’ve been for almost 5 years.  Being in Dodge City connected me and my husband to a MA Theology program, which is how we ended up in Rome with Pope Francis over our honeymoon.  And our graduation present?  Baby Johnston ๐Ÿ™‚

Of course, those are just the major highlights, but I know that there were even more moments and experiences that God used to draw me closer to Himself over the years. 

Now here I am at 29… a married mother in ministry

God used some of the darkest, most challenging, and most inspiring experiences lead me to where I am now.  I’m still growing, I’m still in formation, and God is still faithful, even when I’m at my worst.

There’s a song by Gungor called “Beautiful Things“.  The entire song moves me.  The beginning of the first verse goes:

All this pain,
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way,
I wonder if this life could really change at all.

Then refrain and bridge articulate exactly what comes to mind when I reflect on the last decade:

You make beautiful things… out of the dust. 
You make beautiful things…out of us.  
You make me new, you are making me new.

God’s plan for our lives is more incredible than anything we can imagine for ourselves.  If I’ve learned anything over the past decade, it’s that God will make something beautiful out of our brokenness, but we have to let Him into it
Sometimes it is really difficult to see the “bigger picture”, and it is easy to forget that God is at work in each and every moment.  I still struggle with this. 
I don’t always remember to look at where I am in my journey or actively discern what the next steps might be.  Yes, God can do so much over the years… but am I open to what He is doing in my life right now?  Do I realize that if I’m willing to give God each day, one moment at a time, He can do the impossible?  
Maybe you’ve experienced a dark moment in your own journey.  Maybe that’s where you are right now, and it’s hard to see hope or how God could possibly bring healing into the situation.  If I can give any encouragement, it would be to be patient with yourself and be patient with God.  God loves us too much to leave us exactly where we are, and He really can make something beautiful out of the darkest and most broken pieces of ourselves.  

While I may not be dealing with the same things I was ten years ago, I know God is still healing my heart and preparing me for even more adventures that will lead me even further out of the boat.  More than anything I hope that I can continue to learn to give God one moment at a time, and to cling to His promise, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5)

be at peace
walk on water
be not afraid


June 13, 2015

The New Adventure

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Just one year ago my husband and I were preparing to share the big news with our families.  We were excited, nervous, and morning sickness was becoming part of my regular schedule.  “Baby J” would be arriving in February… but I had no idea of just how much this little one was going to change our lives.

There’s a quote in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that I’ve come to love ever since studying and teaching Theology of the Body:
God has revealed His innermost secret: God Himself is an Eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and He has destined us to share in that exchange (CCC 221).  

I’m sure many different theologians have said something like this, but I will always remember hearing Christopher West talk about how a husband and wife are called to participate in God’s life giving love.  This exchange of love is so powerful that nine months later they could be giving that love a name.  
On February 10th at 9:22am, we named that love Alexandria.  

When Alexandria Elise was held up for me to see and brought to my arms for the first time I was breathless.  I don’t know if I will ever be able to adequately put into words the joy and awe of meeting my daughter.  God is an eternal exchange of love…and he has destined us to share in the exchange.  And we did!  And there she was!

She was placed in my arms and we just stared at one another.  It was love at first sight.  “You were so worth it.” I said, over and over again.  Every pain, every discomfort, the long wait for her arrival, the pain of childbirth… it was all worth it because she was right here.  

Over the last four months I’ve realized that this is a whole new chapter in the journey.  As I continue the daily adventure in motherhood and I know that I still have lots to learn.  Life has changed for our family, but in a more wonderful and profound way than I could have ever thought possible. 

I feel like I’ve grown a lot over the past year.  It’s hard for me to imagine what life was like before Alexandria came into our lives.  But more than anything I recognize the reality of CCC 221:  God has destined us to participate in His life giving love… and I am humbled by and grateful for this vocation of motherhood.

This is a new adventure.  The call to “get out of the boat” is stronger than ever, and I recognize that in this new adventure, we’re called to trust God with everything, just like He’s always called us to do.

Life out of the boat will be different, more exciting, perhaps even at little scary at times (and I’m not just talking about the blog! ;)).  Yet, I already know that it will be 100% worth the effort. 

God has blessed us with a beautiful, happy, and healthy baby girl and she is a reflection of that “eternal exchange of love” in which God has called us to participate. 

I’m looking forward to sharing this adventure with you all!

be at peace
walk on water
be not afraid


January 18, 2015

Learning How to Look at Others

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There’s a little detail in this Sunday’s Gospel reading that made me pause and think about how I approach ministry.  
It’s one of the classic moments in the Gospels, where we hear about the Call of the First Disciples in John 1:35-42. Two of John the Baptist’s disciples decide to follow Jesus, which leads to Jesus telling them to “Come and see…”.  Then Andrew, one of the two, goes and gets his brother Simon Peter and tells him “We have found the Messiah” and then he takes his brother to Jesus.  
And this is where I think it gets really interesting.  It doesn’t say that Andrew took Peter to Jesus and then Jesus started preaching to the group.  It also doesn’t say that Peter showed up and Jesus started rattling off orders of what he needed to do.  
It says:  Jesus looked at him…
Those words really made me think for a second. 

It’s such a small detail… I mean, you’d assume Jesus was looking a Peter when they met for the first time.  But the fact that John 1:42 specifically says “Jesus looked at him before going on about the big moment when Jesus tells him what he is going to be called, makes me think that Jesus wasn’t so much concerned with pushing his own plans on Peter as he was focused on recognizing who Peter was.  

Jesus looked at him.  

This is a skill that can be tempting to forget, especially when we’re involved in ministry of any kind.  It’s easy to hear about someone’s situation and say “Oh well you just need to get your kid baptized…” or “You should get your marriage convalidated so you can return to the sacraments…”.  It’s easy to tell people that “all they need is Jesus”, or that they just need to pray a certain prayer, or better yet that they just need to go talk to the priest, or counselor.  And all of those things may very well be true!  Sometimes we really do need to enthusiastically encourage people to get involved in the life of the parish and invite them to go deeper in their faith journeys.  
But before any of that can happen, we have to be able to see people.  
I know for myself working in full-time to ministry, there can, at times, be a temptation to just go through the paperwork for baptism or marriage preparation without ever really getting to know the people sitting in my office.  It’s easy to fill out census forms, hand people checklists, and pass on my business card.  It’s another thing entirely to step back and spend time getting to know who someone is, and listen to their story.  
When I think about the moment that Jesus looked at Simon Peter, I don’t think it was an awkward silence or stare down from Jesus before giving the poor guy a new name.  I think was more like Jesus’ eyes met Peter’s, he probably gave one of those classic Jesus smiles, and Jesus’ heart was full of love and compassion for this new disciple for whom God had some pretty big plans.  I mean, spoiler alert, he called him “Cephas” (which means “rock”).  
Jesus looked at Peter and all of the disciples as children of God first as foremost, which means he loved them as God does from that very first encounter. 
photo credit

It makes me wonder, do I see people the way that Jesus does?  Do I care about who they are and what their unique story is?  Do I see them as children of God or do I see them as another person who needs another “thing” and then send them on their way?  

Honestly, there are moments where I fail big time in this area.  A couple will show up 15 or 20 minutes late for their appointment, they will be gruff or short with me, and in the end I’m just happy to get the meeting over with.  But then there are other times in which I really get to know a person or their family and I hear incredible stories.  
I get to hear stories like the mom who wasn’t coming to Mass every weekend, but her husband had died a few months earlier and she was finally at the point of functioning again and finding hope in her faith.  
Or the adults who grew up far away from any kind of faith life or spirituality and have discovered the beauty of the Catholic Church and are hungry for more. 
Or the couple who comes in wanting to start marriage preparation after decades of cohabiting because they have had an encounter with Christ through a retreat or prayer service and are longing for the sacraments. 

There are some inspiring and beautiful stories that I get to hear, often when I least expect it.  But it requires taking the time to really see people, and to focus on who they are more than what I can offer them.  

Before we send people off to another formation program, or tell them to talk to a priest, or give them paperwork to fill out, we have to look at them.   We are called to look at them, to love them and to hear their story

Sometimes what people need to hear before the checklist or form are pulled out is that we recognize who they are as a brother or sister in Christ and that we care.

Lord, teach us how to look at others.  
Teach us how to see them as you see them, 
and to love them as you love them.  
Give us the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the heart to love.

Give me Your eyes for just one second
Give me Your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me Your love for humanity
Give me Your arms for the broken-hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me Your eyes so I can see

be at peace
walk on water
be not afraid