He who keeps you: Encountering Christ the Healer in new ways this Lent

I lift up my eyes to the hills. 
From where does my help come? 
My help comes from the Lord, 
who made heaven and earth. 

He will not let your foot be moved, 
he who keeps you will not slumber. 
Behold, he who keeps Israel  
will neither slumber, nor sleep. 

-- Psalm 121: 1-4 

In the Christian world, we often refer to Jesus as the Great Physician or the Divine Healer. This title speaks to his ability to miraculously heal not only physical maladies but psychological and spiritual ones as well. However, until recently, I held a pretty limited view of woundedness, or perhaps, of the types of injuries that would qualify for Christ’s care.

Sure, I’ve written about my healing journey with anxiety, past breakups, and my car accident a few years ago. But I’ve still wondered whether the term “healing” was a bit of a stretch in these situations — self-indulgent, even. Was I co-opting a concept better reserved for those who have experienced truly “traumatic” events like abandonment or abuse? Given my privileged circumstances and upbringing, weren’t most of my first world problems just in need of “fixing” rather than “healing”? Weren’t they a result of my own flaws and weaknesses rather than wounds? My experience this Lent, however, has suggested otherwise.

I’ve been reflecting on the idea that perhaps all of us have been impacted by a shared trauma: original sin (Genesis 3). The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster” and goes on to describe the signs and symptoms: “Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea.”

I don’t know about you, but the severing of our relationship with God and our ability to live in perfect communion with ourselves, with each other, and with Him certainly qualifies as a terrible event in my book, one that would elicit a strong emotional response. Immediately after Adam and Even took a bite of the forbidden fruit, they experienced the shock of their newfound nakedness and denial as God confronted them and they shifted blame elsewhere. And ever since, we have seen the ripple effects of the Fall in every aspect of our lives, from our tendency toward sin (concupiscence) to the realities of sickness, death, and natural disasters. Each personal sin we commit only serves to further compound the situation — to rub salt in the wound, as they say.

And just as with any trauma, different people will exhibit different responses and coping mechanisms, many of which are unhealthy and counterproductive. I’d bet that each of us can scan a list of the seven deadly sins and identify ones we lean on more than others. (Helloooo pride and envy!) However, if we view sin (both original and personal) through the lens of trauma, then we can see how God freeing us from our vices is less about Him whipping us into shape via some Divine Bootcamp and more about Him healing the deeper wounds that lie beneath. This doesn’t minimize our responsibility for the sins we do commit, but it does change how we move forward from them. We also have to play an active role in allowing the Lord to heal us, since He always honors our free will. Jesus asks us the same question that He posed to the paralyzed man in John 5: “Do you want to be healed?”

Back to this Lent. As I mentioned in a recent Instagram post, while discerning my penance this year, I started by asking, “Lord, what do you want from me this Lent?” Quickly, however, He encouraged me to ask a different question: “Lord, what do you want FOR me this Lent?” You can read the full story below.

Making this shift enabled me to identify new areas in which God wanted to grant me greater freedom, and it helped me to see them as wounds in need of healing rather than just flaws in need of fixing. One of these areas is my tendency toward hypervigilance. Although not exactly the same as the hypervigilance experienced by individuals with PTSD, for example, my constant need to control, plan, and anticipate in order to avoid any negative outcomes often leaves me tense and on edge. It’s super difficult for me to ever be fully present in the moment, and on the rare occasion when I can, I realize how much my body aches from all of the muscle tension I’ve been carrying. I also tend to startle incredibly easily. (Just ask Mr. Pink Tie, who regularly walks into the room and scares the living daylights out of me.) However, I’ve never focused much on addressing this for a couple reasons.

First, in many ways, my overdose of conscientiousness has been an asset to me. In my career, for example, I’ve always been the team member able to identify a potential flaw in the plan and develop a safeguard against it. My attentiveness to detail helps me to coordinate events, pack for trips, and proofread papers with relative ease. In a group setting, I usually have that one thing that someone inevitably needs, be it a piece of gum or a painkiller, because of my preparedness. So, I haven’t wanted to lose these abilities that in some ways have become a key part of how I see myself and what I have to offer. Second, I honestly didn’t realize how much my hypervigilance was negatively affecting me until I got married. Entering into a “partnership of the whole of life,” as the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the sacrament of matrimony, really shines a blinding light onto our brokenness, am I right, y’all?

My guiding scripture verse for Lent comes from Psalm 121: “He who keeps you will not slumber.” Already, it has offered SO much consolation in moments when I feel like if I don’t think of or take care of everything, no one will. When I fear that if I don’t remember to add something to the grocery list or start the dishwasher or respond to an email, everything will unravel. When I’m juggling too much but don’t trust anyone to help me catch whatever falls. One of the key tactics of the devil, both in the Garden of Eden and in every temptation since, is to call into question the very nature of God.

Can you really trust Him? The serpent probes Eve.

Is He really who He says He is? Satan asks us today.

Psalm 121 reminds me that the One who sees all and knows all — who created heaven and earth — is constantly keeping watch over me. He never takes even a moment’s rest from His provision and care. He is ever vigilant so I don’t have to be. I can truly rest, knowing that He is always at work.

Recently, I’ve experienced a string of illnesses — some commonplace, others more unusual — that have forced me to cancel numerous plans, forgo workouts, and call in sick to work for several days. In fact, this blog post is the fruit of a day spent on the couch, forcing myself to actually rest so my poor immune system can catch a break. It’s so hard for me to not view this time as wasted, to not feel like I should just push through and get things done anyway. But last week, as I arrived home from an afternoon of driving from one doctor to the next, I clearly heard God interrupt my thought process with the affirmation, “Your healing is never a waste of time.” It’s always on His time, of course, but it’s never wasted.

So in the coming months, I’ll once again turn to the subject of healing, this time expanding to topics like social anxiety and self-doubt, body image and exercise, and more. I’m excited for what’s to come, but in the meantime, I’m off to take a nap and eat some more ice cream to soothe my sore throat. I have a feeling it’s just what the Great Physician ordered.


Reimagining productivity: How my to do list is changing in 2023 (& beyond)

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, 
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. 

— Isaiah 55: 8-9

Happy New Year, everyone!

I hope 2023 is off to a good start for you. (And if not, there’s plenty of time left for things to turn around!) Something I noticed as I scrolled through my social media feeds in the days leading up to the new year was a trend of gratitude and positivity. For the past few years, it seems that many recap posts have had the tone of “Bye 20XX, don’t let the door hit you on the way out!” And understandably so — the pandemic and all of its myriad implications left most, if not all, of us crawling to the finish line in 2020 and 2021. But this year was noticeably different, and for that I am grateful. It’s encouraging to see so many people feeling happier, healthier, and more hopeful than before. I share that sentiment as well, and although I’m constantly trying to reign in unrealistic expectations, I can’t help but look forward to so much in 2023.

Our first holiday season as a married couple was beautiful in so many ways. My ministry team ran a successful Advent retreat for over 45 young adults, and Mr. Pink Tie played bass guitar in a beautiful Christmas concert at the church where he works. We participated in some of his family’s favorite Colombian traditions, including celebrating Día de las Velitas (Day of Little Candles) and praying the Novena de Aguinaldos (Novena to the Baby Jesus). We attended a candlelit string quartet performance of The Nutcracker, watched (and roasted) a painfully predictable Hallmark movie trilogy, put up our new tree and decorated our house together for the first time, and enjoyed a NYE brunch with friends — a genius idea now that most of the couples have children under age 2. (Everyone, including us newlyweds, made it home in time for an afternoon nap.)

And at the same time, our first holidays as a married couple were difficult, and I had more than one Very Merry Meltdown over the course of the season. I hurt my back in early December and was out of commission for a full week, Mr. Pink Tie was sick from Christmas Eve through the new year, and a few days of freezing temps had us all on edge as we recalled the disastrous impacts of Winter Storm Uri the year before. (Fortunately, our pipes survived unscathed, and we didn’t lose any power or water this time.) Despite declining numerous invitations, we frequently felt overwhelmed and overcommitted, and there are Christmas gifts we still have yet to order. And for the first time in my life, I didn’t see anyone on my side of the family, and in my efforts to keep up with everything else, I hardly incorporated any of our beloved traditions into the season. (The one pastime I did attempt — making a batch of my mom’s famous fudge — failed miserably and ended up in the trash along with all of my chocolatey hopes and dreams.) None of these events was catastrophic, of course, but at times it just felt like a lot, especially on top of adjusting to married life. So as with pretty much everything in life, beauty and hardship co-existed.

Speaking of adjusting to married life, a month or two ago, I saw something on Instagram that I’ve been thinking about ever since.

It was a post from multimedia artist Morgan Harper Nichols, whom I’ve admired for years for her unique brand of beauty, encouragement, and vulnerability. It’s not unusual for me to stop and reflect when her work comes across my feed, but this time, I was truly moved. The post featured the text, “It’s okay if productivity looks different in this season.” The words “in this season” were crossed out, and the words “from now on” were handwritten just below. (MHN provides further details about her personal journey with autism, ADHD, and productivity in the post’s caption, which I highly encourage everyone to read as well.)

It’s okay if productivity looks different from now on.

Such a simple sentiment, yet one that I need to hear on repeat. A major shift in my pace and productivity is something I’ve been struggling with in these early months of marriage. Before tying the knot, when my schedule was largely my own, I spent the vast majority of my time doing: cooking, cleaning, laundry, errands, emails, exercise, planning, preparing, keeping up with friends and family, and staying involved in church and ministry activities. There was very little down time and very few moments that were unplanned. And honestly, that’s just kind of how I’m wired — I’m sharing neither to brag nor to complain.

But when Mr. Pink Tie moved in, I quickly realized that this is not how everyone is wired. He is incredibly responsible, hardworking, and organized, but he’s also a huge proponent (and practitioner) of rest, both physical and mental/emotional. Witnessing him lie in bed after his alarm goes off, spend a few minutes practicing piano “just for fun,” or wait to do the dishes in favor of “relaxing” was initially pretty flabbergasting. And for the first few weeks of living together, we experienced the tension of mismatched expectations when, after dinner, he’d assume it was time to hang out — and I’d assume it was time to get a few more things done. (To my credit, I assumed we’d do the things together, or at the very least, alongside each other — tandem productivity is an underrated love language, y’all!)

When I thought about it a bit more, it began to make sense why Mr. Pink Tie and I hadn’t realized this key difference sooner. When we were dating and engaged, we lived 40+ minutes apart and only saw each other once or twice per week; thus, we could plan accordingly and give each other our undivided attention on every date. Now that we’re living together, we’re going to have to find a balance between quality time (necessary for the health of our relationship) and getting things done (necessary to keep our work and household running smoothly).

And as a result, my productivity has started to look different. And I suspect that it’s more than a temporary adjustment period — this is a “from now on” kind of shift.

I can’t jam-pack every minute and “maximize” every second like I once did. I need to create more space for communication and connection with my husband and allow greater margin for the mistakes that both of us will make. I need to recognize that my pace can sometimes overwhelm or exhaust him and isn’t the best or only way to get things done. I need to get more rest so that I can show up better in every area of life — I wasn’t getting enough sleep before, but this reality was easier to ignore when I was single or living alone. And I need to admit that in many ways, productivity has become an idol, a created thing that is distracting me from — or even taking the place of — my Creator.

And as uncomfortable as it has been (and will continue to be), and as much as I try to fight it, I know that this transformation is not only good for my relationship with Mr. Pink Tie, it’s also good for me. God is working through my marriage to heal me and free me in new ways — ways I wasn’t ready for before entering into the sacrament.

Which brings me to my word of the year. (Drumroll, please.)

Mr. Pink Tie and I used Jen Fulwiler’s Word of the Year Generator, and I got “HIGHER.” (Last year I selected my own word, but this year, I wanted it to be completely out of my control.) After we got a few cannabis-related jokes out of our systems, I was intrigued to see what this word might come to mean over the course of 2023. And already, I am beginning to sense a theme taking shape…

The Lord taking me to the next level in places where I’ve been stuck or have plateaued.

The Lord seeking to elevate my approach in areas where I thought good was good enough.

The Lord showing me that His thoughts are higher than my thoughts and His ways are higher than my ways in places where I didn’t think improvement or healing were possible, or where I wasn’t dreaming big enough.

I can already see it in my productivity, in my prayer life, in my relationships, and in my work — but I’ll save the rest of that for another post. After all, the year has only just begun.

For everything a season: Leaning into God’s will for the present moment

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven;
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

--Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Remember in my last post when I mentioned that my word for January was “pause”? Well, apparently it also meant pausing the blog, not just for January but for the better part of 2022. Whoops! Although I’ve written nearly a dozen drafts over the past year, so much life has been happening that I haven’t had the wherewithal to finalize and publish a single post. But I’m back, baby, and excited to share some updates! Let’s start with the top 3:

  1. I got married: On October 22 (the feast of St. John Paul II), I finally became Mrs. Pink Tie! In the coming months, I look forward to writing more about our experience with wedding planning, marriage prep, and more. Until then, you can find the story of how I met my husband in this post. (Hint: He was the best $29.99 I’ve ever spent!)
  2. I moved: In May, Mr. Pink Tie and I signed a lease on our first place together: a townhome in the Spring Branch neighborhood of Houston. I moved into the house in June, and he joined me when we returned from our honeymoon. After 2 years of residing 40+ minutes apart, it’s been such a joy to get to live together and share the regular, everyday moments.
  3. I changed careers: Throughout last spring and summer, it became clear that my once life-giving workplace was no longer healthy for me, so I made the very difficult decision to leave. Before jumping into another 9-to-5, I decided to explore some nontraditional options that would allow me more time to pursue my writing — and I soon landed a part-time job as a nanny and some contract work for a ministry organization that I love. Now that the side hustle of planning my own wedding has come to an end, I’ve finally been able to carve out regular time for writing each week. My hope is to grow this blog, write for some additional online platforms, and eventually, embark on some bigger projects I’ve been dreaming about for years.

So a lot has been going on, and there’s plenty more to come! Each of these transitions has ultimately brought immense peace and joy, but as with most major life changes, they’ve also come with a fair share of challenges: new logistics to navigate, disruptions to old rhythms and routines, decision fatigue, and plain old emotional exhaustion. I’m still settling into all of it and will be for some time.

For marriage especially, people often describe the first year as being “really hard” or a “major adjustment,” but they don’t give much detail about why. I always assumed it was because there’s a lot of compromising — and I wasn’t wrong. But I’m finding that marriage, especially in your 30s, also comes with an overwhelming amount of combining — of belongings, finances, schedules, priorities, expectations, and more — virtually overnight. Add this to the litany of tasks that Mr. Pink Tie and I had already postponed during the craziness of wedding planning, and all the hustle and bustle that comes with the holiday season, and we have ourselves quite the to-do list. As someone who loves game plans and getting things done, my first instinct is to try to tackle everything ASAP — even the items that can never be truly “checked off.” (We’ll be communicating about our priorities and expectations ’til death do us part, after all.) I’ve been trying to fight this urge, but still, my heart longs for a roadmap. So, going back to my “word of the month” idea from January, I’ve been discerning what word or phrase I need to guide me in this particular chapter.

For years, I have clung to the above passage from Ecclesiastes and its reminder that there is a season (or in other translations, an “appointed time”) for every thing and — just as importantly — no single season during which we must do and have and be everything. Although the author of Ecclesiastes goes on to emphasize that we can never truly know what God has in store or predict how He will act, I do believe we can discern, with at least some degree of accuracy, what He is calling us to in any given moment.

And I’ve determined that for me, right now, He is calling me to unity.

Now that I have officially entered the vocation of marriage, my top priority on this earth should be Mr. Pink Tie, and specifically, on loving and accompanying him to heaven. I’ve recently started reading Spousal Prayer by Deacon James Keating, which was generously gifted to us by the families I work for. A particular aspect of the book that has stuck with me is the author’s encouragement to prioritize unity and intimacy. This doesn’t mean always seeing eye-to-eye or constantly feeling head-over-heels in love. Rather, Deacon James encourages spouses to deeply share their minds and hearts with one another and, even in times of disagreement, to conduct themselves in a way that preserves, strengthens, and prioritizes their bond.

He provides the (very relatable) example of one spouse wanting to vent to the other. (One downside of having a love for words is that I’m the queen of rants, soapboxes, and unsolicited TED Talks. I felt like he chose this example just for me.) He explains that the wife, for instance, can share her feelings either as a way of getting them off her chest and experiencing momentary relief, or she can share because communicating openly and authentically is a crucial part of keeping their relationship strong, and not doing so may introduce distance and even resentment. The latter isn’t necessarily terrible, but the focus is more on the self than on the marriage. It’s a subtle distinction that, according to Deacon James, will make a big difference in the long run.

So in this busy season, when I am constantly tempted to do more things rather than be present with my husband, or to avoid a difficult topic for fear of the uncomfortable emotions it may trigger, or to continue doing things how I’ve always done them because it’s just easier that way, my prayer is that I will choose unity instead (or at least, that I will choose it more often than not). It doesn’t mean that all other people and projects fall completely to the wayside, but rather than they settle into their proper place in the lineup. This will be an ongoing challenge for the rest of my life, but one that I particularly want to focus on now.

On a lighter note, you may have noticed two things about the graphic for this post. First, the bride and groom in the photo are, in fact, me and Mr. Pink Tie! I thought it would be fun to switch things up and use an actual wedding photo instead of a stock image. Secondly, the template looks a bit different from all of my previous graphics because Turning the Paige is now on Instagram! I’m so excited to finally launch this account and interact with both readers and fellow writers in new ways. It’s also a preview of coming attractions, as the blog will be getting a complete makeover in 2023, a la Mia Thermopolis in The Princess Diaries.

I’ll be back soon with more thoughts, reflections, and maybe a few unsolicited TED Talks. Until then, Advent blessings to each one of you!

New year, same me? A different approach to new year’s resolutions

Happy new year, friends! As I write this on the morning of January 1, I’m downing coffee and nursing a terrible headache — not because I went too hard last night (sparkling mineral water was the most exciting thing I drank) but because I’m 30 now and this is apparently how I’m going to feel whenever I stay up past midnight. Nonetheless, I am feeling excited for 2022 and, quite honestly, all that my 30s will have in store.

To be clear, though, I’m not approaching the start of the new year in the same Pollyanna-esque way that I’ve done in the past. I’m not thinking that I will sail through 2022 on a rainbow unicorn, and I’m not expecting the changing of the calendar to magically instill me with all the discipline and virtue I need to crush my life goals. I’m still the same Paige I was yesterday, and I’m still going to struggle to get enough sleep, floss my teeth, and avoid wasting time on social media. I know that just as this year will inevitably bring joy, beauty, and wonderful memories to cherish, it will also bring suffering, sorrow, and challenge, because that’s just how life works. But I’m still looking forward to it. 2019, 2020, and 2021 were all different flavors of difficult, but these years also blessed me beyond measure. I met the love of my life, landed a job I enjoy more days than not, re-launched the blog, deepened existing friendships and made new ones, and grew spiritually in ways that are hard to even put into words. It’s exciting — and also kinda scary — to think of all that 2022 will contain that we have yet to discover.

And this time around, I’m taking a different approach to new year’s resolutions, which is to say that I’m not making any resolutions at all. I’m someone who almost always drafts a laundry list of SMART goals and objectives during the last week of December and starts January 1 with twenty-seven new habits to track and benchmarks to meet. Sometimes I make decent progress and sometimes I don’t, but either way, it’s exhausting and I’m over it. At first I thought that maybe I was just being lazy or needed a little inspiration, but then I listened to an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Pantsuit Politics, and had a lightbulb moment.

In this particular episode, entitled “How Do You Measure A Year?,” hosts Sarah and Beth take a break from discussing the news to chat with their behind-the-scenes crew about setting goals and intentions for the upcoming year. I really resonated with what Alise, their managing director, said about her newfound approach. She explained that because she’s pretty Type A throughout the year, with a “tight handle” on all of the tracking and to do lists, she’s been trying to set more general intentions for the new year rather than creating an endless list of resolutions that will inevitably lead to disappointment and failure.

As she spoke these words, all of my to do lists, spreadsheets, Gantt charts, and meal planning templates suddenly flashed before my eyes. I saw the systems, structures, and routines I have already developed, and perhaps even more importantly, I saw the regular checkpoints I’ve already built in to help me continually reflect and assess progress. And as this montage played out, I realized that I don’t have to set twenty-seven new goals for 2022, and my lack of desire to do so stems not from laziness but from my mind and body signaling that I’m already doing enough. To add more would tip the scales toward exhaustion and burnout. Mic. Drop.

After this epiphany, I decided that in lieu of the traditional resolutions, I’m going to continue with my “word of the year” practice, but with a slight twist. For the past few years, I’ve enjoyed using Jen Fulwiler’s Word of the Year Generator to select a word at random — and I encourage you to try it if you’re so inclined. (She also has a Saint of the Year Generator that’s pretty dope, too.) But more recently, I’ve found it beneficial to choose the word myself and to do so monthly rather than yearly. For many of us, I know the pandemic has felt like a time warp, where days, weeks, and months slip by in a blur of yoga pants, Zoom meetings, and Tik Tok rabbit holes. Choosing a word of the month helps me to see each 30-day period for the microcosm that it truly is and to better hone in on what I need at that particular time.

For example, last October my word was “celebrate.” The month was full of festivities — from birthdays and anniversaries to work trips and my sister’s wedding — and I knew that my natural tendency would be to panic about all the things I wasn’t able to accomplish as a result of my packed social calendar. “Celebrate” helped me to set my to-do list aside and be present for these special moments, remembering that the time to clean and run errands and work on wedding planning would come, just not now. Similarly, my word for December was “adore,” since I knew that the hustle and bustle of the holiday season would make it difficult for me to keep the true meaning of Christmas at the forefront of my mind and heart. “Adore” reminded me of the need to set aside time for stillness, prayer, and reflection amidst it all. Sometimes this meant literally going to the chapel for adoration, and other times it meant forgoing a social activity to stay home and enjoy quietly cooking dinner by the light of the Christmas tree.

For January, I’ve chosen the word “pause.” As work has gotten busier than ever and wedding planning has really taken off, I’ve begun to feel frantic and rushed on a daily basis. I’m hoping that “pause” will help me to take a deep breath and assess which tasks are truly urgent so that I can make progress at a more sustainable pace. I’ve also noticed that I haven’t been listening as well as I’d like — to others, to God, and even to myself and my own needs. “Pause” will remind me to stop and tune into these critical voices rather than drowning them out with incessant noise. And finally, as I shared in my last post, in all of my excitement to get married, I don’t want to miss out on the beauty of this season of engagement. “Pause” will allow me to stop and smell the roses, both literally and figuratively, as we plan our nuptials.

I don’t know what my word for February will be — or for any other month, for that matter. I’ll discern that when the time comes, based on where I’m at and what I need. But I went ahead and created a list of words I find inspiring, and I wanted to share it in case you’d like to join me in this practice. I’ve intentionally avoided words like “accomplish” or “achieve,” since these sound a bit too much like traditional resolutions. But if that’s what speaks to you at this moment, go for it, my friend!

If you’d prefer a simple list to the word cloud shown above, you can download the PDF below.

So whether you set twenty-seven objectives or are simply approaching 2022 with a venti Starbucks and a dream, I’m wishing you and your loved ones 365 days filled with joy, beauty, intention, and growth.

Preparing the gifts: Cultivating patience in a season of waiting

When it comes to the liturgical calendar, I’ve always been more Team Lent than Team Advent.

I realize I’m firmly in the minority here — almost every other Catholic I know goes full-on Buddy the Elf when it comes to Advent but approaches Lent with a vague sense of dread and trepidation. At a basic level, this makes sense. The weeks leading up to Christmas are filled with fun and festivity, with baking cookies and exchanging gifts and watching endless hours of hopelessly predictable Hallmark movies (at least in my family). What’s not to love? The weeks leading up to Easter, on the other hand, are essentially the opposite: a fast instead of a feast, a time of reflection and repentance with little to no secular traditions to accompany it. And there are definitely no Hallmark movies — I don’t envision Kiss Me at the Fish Fry or Don’t Give Up Love for Lent becoming blockbusters. (Either that or I’ve totally stumbled upon an untapped market! Let me know in the comments below.)

But perhaps this stark contrast highlights precisely why I’ve always been partial to Lent — it feels so much more simple and straightforward to enter into the season. We make sacrifices to rid us of unnecessary attachments, to demonstrate contrition for our sins, and to unite our suffering with that of Christ on the cross. And because there typically aren’t a million places to go and people to see during Lent, we’re able to actually slow down and take stock of our relationship with the Lord, to see what’s holding us back from true intimacy with Him. That way, when Easter finally arrives after 40 days of somber prayer and reflection, the joy we experience is that much more profound — much in the same way that dimming the lights at the beginning of Easter Vigil mass makes the illumination of the sanctuary during the Gloria all the more stirring.

Living Advent, on the other hand, is a bit more…confusing. In the eyes of the Church, it’s technically a penitential season as well — and yet, everywhere we look there are cookies and parties and gifts and COOKIES, y’all. We’re supposed to be quieting our hearts and minds and waiting for the coming of our Lord, but when does one find time for this in between all the shopping and baking and general merrymaking? As I alluded to before, a lot of this tension stems from today’s society, which starts celebrating Christmas the day after Halloween and encourages us to spend all of November and December in a full-on holiday frenzy. But this year, more than any other year before, I’m realizing there’s another dimension to my struggle. Advent isn’t just difficult because of external pressures. Advent is difficult because I simply don’t know how to wait well.

Case in point: While in line at the grocery store, I often find myself slowly edging my cart closer and closer to the poor soul ahead of me as I not-so-subtly tap my foot and glance repeatedly at the time on my phone. If I have to wait on hold for more than a few minutes, I’ll hang up the phone altogether — after all, who needs the bank, the doctor, or the insurance company? And if I’m hungry, or worse, hangry, it’s everything I can do to not plunge into the depths of despair as I wait 2 entire minutes for the microwave to reheat my leftovers. I don’t recall being this way as a child, but now, in the age of fast food, high-speed internet, and Amazon Prime, I’ve become the living embodiment of the song “We Need a Little Christmas,” emphasis on “RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE.”

I didn’t realize just how impatient I had gotten until I started dating Mr. Pink Tie. He is an incredibly patient man, one who never fails to laugh in amusement as I count down each excruciating microwave minute. And ever since we got engaged, it’s felt nearly impossible to wait for the wedding! I am so excited for our special day, when all the people we love most in the world will be in one place, when we will enter into not just a contract but a sacrament, and when we will celebrate this sacrament with good food, good wine, and bad dancing (I certainly put the “bust” in “bust a move”). And of course, I’m even more enthused for our actual marriage, when we’ll get to see each other every day, build a home and family together, and endure all the ups and downs of life by each other’s side. It’s all so exciting that our wedding date can feel like a lifetime away.

And so I’ve been reflecting on the parallels between Advent and our engagement. If lived well, both are times of preparation and joyful anticipation. There’s obviously preparation on a practical level — before our wedding, we have to plan the mass, coordinate the reception, complete all of our diocese’s marriage prep requirements, find a place to live, and more. There’s also preparation on a spiritual level, such as regularly receiving the sacraments, praying with and for each other, and seeking healing in areas where we may be wounded. Sure, we could elope tomorrow (and the thought has definitely crossed our minds), but then we would miss out on this precious time of building a solid foundation for the rest of our lives.

Advent is filled with a myriad of practical preparations as well: shopping, decorating, cooking, baking, and coordinating travel, to name a few. But on a spiritual level, the Church encourages us to build in time for silence and stillness, for prayer and penance. The mass readings invite us to truly journey with Mary and Joseph — quietly, steadily, patiently — longing as they did for a savior. We could skip straight to Bethlehem, but then we would miss out on what the Lord wants to do in our hearts as we lift our eyes from the darkness and follow that one bright star.

Recently, I shared my struggles with impatience with my spiritual director. As always, she had a wise and discerning response that changed my perspective on engagement. She reminded me that during this time, God is preparing the gifts of two individuals for each other. To ready us to both give and receive this gift, the Lord wants to heal and transform myself and Mr. Pink Tie like never before. In a way, our whole lives have been preparing us for our vocations, but that preparation accelerates and intensifies in the months leading up to “I do.”

I think something similar could be said of Christmas. We know that the magi brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ child, but more importantly, they brought themselves. Although they lacked the modern convenience of overnight shipping, they could have certainly sent their regards with someone of less importance so they could continue, uninterrupted, with their busy lives. But instead, they dropped everything and made the long journey themselves, and this must have pleased God far more than any precious metals or expensive perfumes ever could. During Advent, as with engagement, our Lord is preparing the gifts of two individuals for each other. As Jesus develops in Mary’s womb, growing into our long-awaited savior, the Holy Spirit readies our minds, hearts, and souls so that we can bring our full selves to the manger, so that we can drop everything and experience the “thrill of hope” that is God becoming man.

As a child, I remember trying my hardest to avoid stumbling upon my Christmas gifts prematurely. I would stay as far from my mom’s closet (where I was certain she hid them) as possible, knowing that I would enjoy the toys and trinkets so much more on the 25th. And since my parents often got us at least one gift that was too big or too awkward to wrap, we would wait eagerly in our bedrooms on Christmas morning until they told us it was okay to come out — we didn’t want to lay eyes on a single surprise too soon. For both Advent and the remainder of my engagement, I’m going to do my best to return to this childlike sense of wonder and savor this sweet time of giddy excitement. I’m going to trust that God, like my parents, knows what He’s doing and can’t wait to show me what He’s been preparing.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll eventually learn to navigate those grocery store lines and microwave minutes with the same amount of grace. Don’t hold your breath, though — you might be waiting a while. 🙂