Dear Future Wives: Rules for Making “The Husband List”

After my Lenten dating fast in 2014, I decided to start seriously praying for my future husband. If I’m meant to be married, it must mean that the guy I’m going to marry is out there somewhere, even if that somewhere is Mars. I remembered a Steubenville Women’s Session led by Jackie Francois Angel, where she talked about a prayer journal she kept for her future husband. On the first few pages of the journal, she wrote out her “husband list,” or everything she wanted in a spouse, and she wrote prayers in that journal every month for three years. She re-met her future husband when the journal was almost full.

I don’t know if the timing will be as awesome as that for me, as I have a lot of pages left in my own “future spouse” journal. But as I’ve written in this little book over the past year and a half, I’ve realized this practice is much more common than I thought. After doing a little research among Christian female bloggers, I’ve found that Christian preteen girls are generally encouraged to make their “husband lists” way before they’ve started dating, so their filtering system for any future love interests is all based on speculation. I had gone through several relationships and many awkward dates before I started my prayer journal, so I had a semisolid idea of what I wanted and didn’t want. I didn’t tell anyone about it because I thought it would be seen as totally antiquated in today’s culture. So imagine my surprise and relief when my best friend since sixth grade, who isn’t Catholic, told me she had made her own future husband list!

As with any trend in Christian culture, the husband list has gotten some backlash in recent years. Some say that these lists hold men up to impossible standards, much in the same way pop culture has done to women for years. Others argue that checklists set girls up for disappointment because, as one blogger put it, we all want a perfect, fictional man who doesn’t exist. (Yes, my little fangirl heart is broken because Gilbert Blythe doesn’t exist.)

I get the criticism, but I think there are merits to writing such a list. It’s a good way to organize your thoughts and keep yourself honest about any crushes that come your way. However, I think we need to lay a few ground rules before we draw hearts in pink gel pen all over an old notebook. (Do people even use gel pens anymore?)

So without further ado, here are my 10 rules to keep in mind while making a “future husband” list.

1. Eliminate any physical characteristics.

It’s OK to be attracted to certain physical traits moreso than others, and mutual physical attraction is important in a relationship, but don’t write someone off because they have brown eyes instead of blue. If that seems silly, maybe some secondary characteristics have made it onto your list. What if God handed you your perfect partner, but he was several inches shorter than you? Would you really turn him down over that? I hope not.

2. List traits that YOU are looking for, not what makes other people happy.

One of the merits of the future spouse list is that it’s a great personal reflection exercise. If you’re someone who keeps a to-do list or writes down the pros and cons when making a major decision, this is a wonderful way to organize your thoughts. Remember, this list is for you. It’s not for your mom or your parish priest, and your professor isn’t going to grade it. So don’t put anything on your list that you are not truly looking for in a lifelong relationship.

3. Don’t treat your list as a binding contract.

I wrote my future husband list in the summer of 2014, but even after 18 months, there are several things I would add, delete, or change. It’s so easy to overthink this list, as if dating or life experience won’t fill in gaps along the way. God won’t give you a husband who has a gambling problem simply because you didn’t think to put it on your list! That said, if you’re still holding onto that list you made when you were 11, it might be time for a revised edition.

4. Separate the negotiable from the non-negotiable.

Any physical characteristics? Negotiable. Common core values? Non-negotiable.

Oh, and for the record, you two don’t have to like all the same things. Sure, friendships and relationships usually begin due to common interests, and it is important to have some similar interests with your spouse. However, our individual hobbies and interests are what make us, well, interesting. Don’t expect your husband to give up one of his interests because you don’t share it, just like you wouldn’t want him to tell you to give up a hobby that you love because he doesn’t like it.

To recap: A guy who will binge-watch Gilmore Girls with you? Negotiable. A guy who is your biggest fan even if he doesn’t like/understand what you like to do? Non-negotiable.

5. Look for constant effort, not perfection.

Laraine Bennett, a blogger at the Catholic Match Institute, wrote an article against the idea of the husband list, in response to another blogger who had listed 12 ideals that should be on every girl’s future husband list. Bennett writes, “My husband and I would never have gotten married if we had required that we already possessed these twelve ideals, and we have been happily married now for 36 years. We were working on many of those supposed ‘non-negotiables’ at the time we met.”

As the chaplain of my college’s Catholic community always used to say, we’re not perfect yet. Faith is a journey. There are going to be good days and bad days, and you won’t always be the best version of yourself. Don’t look for someone who doesn’t ever make a mistake because he doesn’t exist. You will both make plenty of mistakes in your dating relationship and especially, especially in marriage. The key is that both of you choose to love, choose to forgive, and choose each other, no matter how many times you screw up.

6. Be your future husband’s prayer warrior, not a seeker.

Seriously, your husband’s not a Golden Snitch. He’s a human being with thoughts, feelings and issues, just like you. Let’s face it: being a young person of faith can be really hard in today’s world. We need the prayers and support of others, and I guarantee your future husband needs your prayers, even if you have no idea who he is yet.

A few months ago, two of my good friends and I completed a 54-day Rosary novena for our future husbands, wherever they were. It was a powerful experience because every day, not one, not two, but three Rosaries were being said for each of our spouses! For Lent, we’re doing another 54-day novena, this time for ourselves, that we can become the best daughters of God we can be, which brings me to …

7. “Strive to become the woman of your dreams, and you will attract the man of your dreams.”

This piece of awesomeness comes from another Steubenville talk by Sarah Swafford, and I think it nails the point of making the husband list. It’s a form of discernment — not just of who you want to marry, but who you want to be, regardless of marital status. If you want a husband who goes to daily Mass, you should be at daily Mass. If you want someone who’s close with his family, make sure you carve out time to spend with those you love. Make a separate list of goals that have nothing to do with getting married. Whether God calls you to marriage or to a different vocation, you should constantly be working on yourself, while remembering that you are a beloved daughter of God.

8. Forgive yourself and him.

Once again, people make mistakes. We’re broken. Getting into a relationship doesn’t make your problems go away; in fact, once the honeymoon phase is over, all your faults, issues and insecurities will rise to the surface. It’s up to you to decide whether you will stick it out, or walk away. Granted, if the guy you’re into exhibits any of the traits on Crystalina Evert’s “Dump Him” List, well, do as the title suggests. But don’t expect a perfect partner. You’re not perfect, either. I once read a quote from a woman who said that she knew she found “the one” when she found a man with faults she could live with and virtues that she didn’t want to live without.

9. Remember who the real Bridegroom is.

One of the most frustrating pieces of advice you hear as a Christian single person from well-meaning adults is, “Make Jesus the love of your life.” The frustration is twofold; on one hand, you don’t know how to do that, and on the other, despite this advice there is an unbelievable amount of pressure to date someone, anyone, just to have a relationship. To be honest, I’m still trying to figure this one out. But one thing I’ve learned is that a relationship with Jesus takes effort, just like any human relationship. Walking humbly with God is a daily choice. Jesus is not going to be the love of your life if you don’t let Him. And believe me, you, as part of His Church, are already the love of His (everlasting) life.

10. It’s not all about you.

Repeat after me: Marriage is not just about making you happy. The sacrament of marriage is beautiful, but it requires hard work, patience, forgiveness, kindness, and putting someone else’s needs before your own — even when you don’t feel like it. If your list sounds a lot like a Meghan Trainor song, you might want to scrap it and start over.

annafaris-deadbugcollection

So to all my single ladies and gents (and those in relationships), Bonne Saint Valentin!

À la prochaine!

– Vicky

Question of the Week: I just want to hear your thoughts on this topic. There’s so much to talk about, so leave me a comment!

Rethinking The New Year’s Resolution

Bonjour, mes amis!

At the end of my last post, I mentioned that one of my New Year’s resolutions was to post on this blog every Friday.

Clearly, that hasn’t happened. I apologize for that. I’m not very good at keeping resolutions in general. But on the upside, I don’t think I’m alone.

Making a New Year’s resolution is founded on a great idea: looking forward to the coming year, and trying to be a better, kinder, healthier, more organized person. However, we seem to have entered into a sad mindset where resolutions can only be made at the beginning of the year, and if they’re broken after two weeks, one week or even a few days, it’s over. We’ve failed. We’ll try again next year.

When did we start giving up on ourselves so quickly? When did we get the idea that we only had one shot to get our New Year’s resolution right, and not a whole 12 months of trial and error?

Making big life changes is difficult. There’s a period of adjustment, when we’re still figuring things out. We forget, we get lazy, we say we’ll start over tomorrow. And we see this as complete, total, unredeemable failure.

The more I thought about my own New Year’s resolutions and my successful and not-so-successful attempts at fulfilling them, the more I realized that I was putting the focus on the wrong thing. These resolutions or tasks I wanted to complete in 2016 were merely stepping stones that directed me to an area of my life that I wanted to improve upon.

For example, I am the worst at responding to messages: text, Facebook, email, snail mail, passenger pigeon, you name it. I read the message, mentally process the information, and then never respond. My thoughtlessness has received several well-meaning complaints from friends and family, and this is not something I want to carry into my professional life. Therefore, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to respond to every short message within 8 hours, and every longer message within 24 hours. Side note: I avoid answering personal messages at work, but any work-related message deserves an immediate response.

This month, I’ve had some success with this resolution, but many, many failures. My ultimate goal is not to get better at responding to messages, because I honestly find writing messages really stressful and time-consuming, like every sentence that I send out into the universe has to be perfect. Crazy writer, I know. However, I deeply value my relationships with others, personal and professional, so if answering people’s messages in a timely manner makes them feel valued, respected and loved, it’s so worth the minor stress and little time taken. My ultimate goal with this resolution is to be a more trustworthy and reliable person, and to mend any rifts in my relationships that I’ve caused by not responding to messages. 

If you’ve been struggling to keep your New Year’s resolution(s), whatever it is, don’t give up on yourself. Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate what your ultimate goal is. Maybe you want to lose weight because you know it will avoid future health problems. Maybe you want to spend more time in prayer because you want to become a more peaceful and holy person. Don’t look at your resolution as a task to be accomplished, but as a small step toward becoming the best version of yourself.

So what’s my ultimate goal with posting on this blog every week? To sharpen my skills as a writer, and most of all, to connect with you — my wonderfully patient and supportive readers. Thank you for following me on this journey, even when I fall short. In the words of JJ Heller, “Let’s fight a good fight, train our eyes to find the light, and make this year the best one yet … starting right here, Happy New Year!

À la prochaine!

– Vicky

Question of the Week: Share your New Year’s resolutions with me in the comments! Let’s hold each other accountable. 🙂

 

 

 

The Purpose of Unexpected Joy

Bonne année, mes amis! Happy 2016!

Despite growing up 25 miles away from New York City, I never spent New Year’s Eve in Times Square, much to the chagrin of my European friends. I never felt a desire to stand in the cold for 10 hours in the middle of a drunken mob, waiting for an event that was over in a blink. This year, being a part-time New Yorker changed that.

One of my friends from my NYC Catholic book club was the organizer of an annual New Year’s Eve party at St. Malachy’s Church, one block away from Times Square. I expected a fun night with a few good friends. Little did I know that God wanted to give me an NYC afternoon adventure with a new friend from out of town, a sparkly disco ball mask to wear, Mass in a beautiful church, drinks and dancing, and the crown jewel of the evening: getting to pass through the police barricade around Times Square and watch the ball drop in person with a million rejoicing people and probably a billion pieces of confetti.

I never asked for it, but God decided to give His little girl one last gift to celebrate the end of the year.

Today, I kept asking myself why I of all people received such unexpected joy at the end of the year. A few weeks ago, my book club discussed the purpose and beauty of suffering, how it can shape us into better people and teach us to rely more heavily on God, among other things. After this discussion, I expected God would bring some suffering in my life in order to put these ideas into practice. But the end of my year was so joyful that I got a little confused. 

Of course, this is only the first day of 2016. A lot of suffering can happen in the near future. But is there a purpose to joy? Are we supposed to just appreciate joy, or is there a responsibility that comes with joy?

The comparison between my average expectations for the evening and what I experienced reminded me of a quote by C.S. Lewis from his book The Weight of Glory, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about … when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

We often don’t expect to find joy because we don’t think we deserve it. We’re not miserable, so we don’t need anything to bring us joy. We’re just moving through life trying to get it all done, and that’s enough for us. Besides, why should we be so happy when so many people in the world are suffering? But those who have experienced deep joy know that it’s impossible to hide. It shows in your face and your smile and your eyes, and other people can see it.

That’s the great responsibility that comes with the great power of joy: to let our joy spill over into the lives of others, to use our light to cast out, even partially, someone else’s darkness. One of my coworkers told me recently, “Your smile is the first thing I see when I walk into the office, and I know it’s going to be a good day.” In 2016, I hope to continue to bring joy to others, no matter what suffering I may have to face.

God doesn’t just want us to feel “fine,” he wants to give us joy! Jesus says in Matthew 7:11, “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give to those who ask him.” So as we move into 2016, I challenge you to expect joy. Expect love. Expect positivity. Expect laughter. Expect friendship. And when you or someone you know is in a tough situation, use your joy to make a difference.

Thank you to all who have followed this blog for the past three years. I wouldn’t be here without you. Here’s to making 2016 the best year yet!

À bientôt!

– Vicky

Question of the Week: One of my New Year’s resolutions is to post on this blog every Friday. Share your resolutions in the comments below!

Dear HONY Girl: An Open Letter

I’ve followed Brandon Stanton’s photo blog Humans of New York for a very long time and I love it. I’ve always believed that people are far more interesting than meets the eye if you know how to ask the right questions, and this blog is proof. There have been so many moving and funny stories shared thousands of times on social media that come from this blog. HONY was even able to raise more than $1 million for a school in Brownsville, Brooklyn after a photo of its valedictorian went viral.

So why do I bring it up? Last week, one post broke my heart. The subject was a young woman, though she didn’t show her face, only her hand. On her finger was a silver ring that spelled LOVE in curlicue letters. In the accompanying caption, she said that she had been in an emotionally abusive and manipulative relationship for five years. Please read the original post here.

I commented on the Facebook post, like more than 33,000 others, but I wanted to write more. Please share this post with anyone who is in a similar situation:

Dear sweet sister,

I’m so sorry this is happening to you. But I understand. I understand because I’ve been there.

I know how it feels when love is romantic and exciting when you’re together, yet you cry for hours when you’re alone. I know how it feels to believe that your worth is directly related to your relationship with another person. I know the fear that if the relationship ends for any reason, it would be all your fault and you would be a failure. I know how complicated your feelings can be; how can this person hurt me so much if he says he loves me? I’ve bought the lie that physical harm is the only kind of abuse. I know rejection, self-loathing, anger, and despair, and I know wanting to get up the next morning and do it all again, thinking this time will be different.

However, it seems like it hasn’t been different. It will never be different with him. You can’t change his behavior, but you can change your perspective.

Many comments on your photo, mine included, told you to get out. It’s not too late. You CAN get out. You say you’re scared to leave; I understand that too. But let me tell you some truths about you that may help you.

You were created, beautiful and worthy, fearfully and wonderfully, by a master artist. By your very existence, you have value and deserve to be treated with respect. You know deep in your heart that you were made for free, total, fruitful and faithful love. You know that you deserve more than a relationship that robs you of your self-worth, your joy, your goals and dreams. You deserve a partner who celebrates YOU, all of you, as you were created to be. You are worth celebrating.

It is only through believing these truths that you will find the courage to break free. Trust yourself. Trust my words. The longer you wait to break up, the harder it gets. This relationship does not merit another second of your time. Seek help. If you think your safety is in jeopardy, have an authority figure go with you to break up. Reach out to family, friends, a clergy member, a counselor, anyone who will support you. If you can’t find anyone to help, call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

I wish you all the beauty, joy and love this world has to offer, and I wish for the world all the beauty, joy and love you have to offer it. I love you. I’m praying for you.

You are enough.

Love,

A sister

TAPIF: One Year Later

At the beginning of October 2014, I began my year in Compiègne with the Teaching Assistant Program in France. One year ago.

I was supposed to arrive at the end of September, but plane engine issues coupled with airport strikes in Paris (Ah, la joie des grèves françaises!) delayed my arrival in France by 10 hours. However, I arrived. And what a year I had!

When many people describe a profound experience, they say it “changed my life.” This often implies that something (a quality, an idea, a person) was missing before the event took place. My seven months in Compiègne were not life-changing in the sense that I became someone I wasn’t. Rather, I changed because qualities that lay dormant in me were revived and strengthened, and even some faults were diminished. I begin to think that growth is not so much an addition or subtraction as it is a refinement of spirit. If God formed us fearfully and wonderfully, He must have given us everything we need to go through life, and sends people or experiences into our lives accordingly to draw out and refine these different qualities in us.

I’m not going to write a “listicle” for this topic because it’s too simple. Rather, I’ll just share two of the most poignant lessons from my time in France, hopefully in a semi-coherent manner.

I’ll be honest: I’m no expert on children.  I took a babysitting class in middle school, but there were never any kids in my neighborhood to babysit, and my youngest cousins lived far away. I never took a pedagogy class in college. So no, I didn’t really know what I was in for when I accepted a position teaching middle school English. Since I returned home, I’ve gotten a lot of messages from prospective teaching assistants expressing the same fear: “I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never taught anyone anything! How am I supposed to teach them for a whole year?” To those assistants who might be reading this post: you don’t need a long resume of teaching experience to do this. You just need to be a resource.

On January 7, 2015, the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked, and many of France’s prominent political cartoonists were killed. The next day, I walked into my weekly conversation club with a lesson all ready. One of my students raised his hand and said, “Miss, can we talk about Charlie Hebdo?” I could see the fear and pain in the eyes of my 12- and 13-year-old students, so I agreed. We spent the whole hour discussing the event (in English) and I said very little. The class carried the conversation all on its own. My only remark was at the end of the lesson: “There are many people in the United States who are thinking of you and who support you.”

Kids are used to adults not taking them seriously. It used to infuriate me when I was younger, and I’m sure it was the same for you. The best thing you can be for any child is a willing listener.

Outside from teaching, I became bolder. I learned bite the bullet of fear and take chances, especially when it came to meeting new friends.

There is a stereotype that the French are not as friendly and open as Americans are. In my experience, this is only partly true. Most of the French people I met were very friendly and open, especially once they found out I could speak French well. But it was not the same smothering friendliness that you often see from Americans. It was a reserved politeness that slowly, organically developed into friendship.

I found out about the Communauté Chrétienne des Étudiants (Catholic community at the local university), a week or two after I arrived. It took me another month to work up the courage to attend a meeting. What sort of community was this? What if they never had an international student before? What if my French wasn’t good enough? And was I even allowed to join because I wasn’t a student?

God makes swift work of our doubts when we trust Him and take a leap of faith. I attended my first CCE Mass and dinner in November, and my only regret was not going sooner! In this community, I found warm, welcoming people from all over France and the world who cared about me and made me feel at home. Some of my best memories of the year come from this community. It was so wonderful to make real French friends!

And of course, I can’t forget the other language assistants I met from all over the world, an eclectic little family of expats that supported one another exploring a new country. And abundant kindness flowed in from my roommates, my coworkers, my students and their families, and even the everyday compiègnois. Most greeted me with a kind bonjour and smile, and many went beyond the call of politeness, inviting me to dinners and parties, or taking me on excursions to tourist sites in the area. It was truly heartbreaking to leave a place that had become like home in less than a year.

Toward the end of my stay, I thanked as many people as I could in person for their welcome and hospitality. One friend responded,  “It was nothing. You were so dynamic and happy that you fit right in.”

Goodness attracts goodness. You don’t have to be an outgoing or extroverted person to find friends in a strange land. You just need to be present, be open, be kind. There will be times of loneliness and homesickness, and that’s OK. But if you have courage enough to reach outside of yourself, you will make a home wherever you go.

Merci à tous qui m’a très bien accueillir pendant mon séjour à Compiègne. And bon courage to all the new language assistants in France this year.

À bientôt!

– Vicky

Hundred Word Review: “The Cupcake Queen” by Heather Hepler

Challenge No. 6: A Book From an Author You Love But Haven’t Read Yet

“The Cupcake Queen,” by Heather Hepler, finished May 26. Hepler co-wrote one of my all-time favorite YA novels, “Scrambled Eggs at Midnight,” with Brad Barkley, and I was so excited to read her first solo novel. Also, who doesn’t want to read a book about cupcakes?!

cupcakequeen

Hundred Word Review: Penny is dragged along when her mother returns to her small hometown and opens a cupcake shop, leaving Penny’s father and Manhattan behind. In between cake decorating and homesickness, Penny makes new friends, daydreams about the enigmatic boy in her art class, and becomes the target of the class mean girl’s vendetta. This coming-of-age novel reminds me of, well, a cupcake. Your adult brain says you’re too old to enjoy it; however, after one bite, you realize it has substance and sweetness, sass and sincerity. Fourteen-year-old me would love this book; for twenty-three-year-old me, it satisfied her literary sweet tooth.

Check out PopSugar’s challenge and let me know in the comments if you have a book recommendation for one of the categories. And if you want to do the challenge yourself, let me know what you’re reading!

Also, for a sneak peek at upcoming Hundred Word Reviews, click here to follow me on Goodreads.

Next up … we shall see!

Happy reading!

-Vicky

Meet Magnolia, or How Kittens Are Just Like Toddlers

Bonjour mes amis!

It’s been a while. There has been a big change in my family this summer that I haven’t gotten to share with all of you yet.

No, it’s not my new job in New York City, which I have been loving.

No, it’s not one cousin getting engaged, and another having a baby (which are still major life changes that deserve celebration!)

It’s the newest addition to our family, baby Magnolia, aka Maggie.

image

After years of begging, my sister and I finally convinced my mom to get another cat. Our first cat, Sylvester, died when I was in Nantes, and we miss him to this day. But my mom and I fell in love with Magnolia, a six-month-old tabby with big yellow eyes, at our local animal shelter. The nice folks at the shelter gave her the name, and we decided to keep it because of the beautiful magnolia tree in our front yard.

Side rant: Adopt, don’t buy. You save so much money and an animal’s life in the process.

Bringing a kitten into our family has been a challenging, wonderful, and very entertaining experience. We’ve started calling her “the toddler” because she acts like a two-year-old in a lot of ways. Granted, I have never been the mother of a toddler, and I’m not trying to diminish the struggle and hard work parents of young children face every day. I’m just sharing this list as a fun way to introduce my new cat to the blogosphere.

So without further ado, here are 10 ways in which having a kitten seems a lot like raising a toddler.

1. You have to restrain yourself from spamming your friends’ news feeds with cute pictures/videos.

“Don’t say I didn’t, say I didn’t warn ya.” – Taylor Swift, a fellow cat lady

2. Everything is a toy.

Your sheets. Your headphones. The drawstring of your pajama pants. All fair game. And you will most likely trip over one of her toys as soon as you walk in the door.

3. You have to baby-proof the entire house.

You know those safety gates your parents used to keep you from falling down the stairs as a child? My parents now use it to keep Maggie out of their bedroom.

4. She demands constant attention.

If you sit down, she’s in your lap in a matter of minutes, demanding to be petted. You’re not going to send that email or finish that book or eat your lunch. You’re going to sit there and give the cat love for the next 10 minutes.

5. She gets distracted by the simplest things.

My mom still maintains that she spent the best $3 of her life on a rattling ball for Maggie. She plays fetch with it like a puppy, providing hours of free entertainment. For video footage of this, see my Instagram.

6. She makes big messes.

Knock over a plant? Check. Get claws caught in the curtains? Check. Leave bits of torn paper all over the house? Check. And no, she’s not cleaning any of that up.

7. She follows you into the bathroom …

… and then loudly protests when you shut the door.

8. She cries when you leave to go to the supermarket.

Separation anxiety is real.

9. You’re at least an extra 30 minutes late to everything.

A few weeks ago, I was going to meet my very punctual best friend for coffee. I was trying to lock up the house and pack up my stuff, and in all the kerfluffle, Maggie escaped into the garage and wouldn’t come out. I spent 20 minutes looking for the rattling ball that I knew she would chase back into the house. I was almost an hour late to coffee. When I told my friend what happened, she laughed and said, “I knew it!” (Shout out to said bestie for putting up with my chronic lateness for the past 12 years.)

10. You worry about leaving her alone for an extended period of time.

You would think we were leaving a toddler at Grandma’s house for the first time with the way we acted when we left Maggie home for a family reunion, even though we left her in the hands of a most excellent cat-sitter (aforementioned best friend.)

11. She drives you crazy, but one adorable look and you just melt with love.

I’d like to end this post with a thank-you to all parents, especially mine, who love their kids on their best and worst days.

A bientot!

– Vicky

Question: Feel free to leave me pictures of your pets in the comments. And if you don’t have a pet, post a picture of the mythical animal you would most like to have as a pet.

How to Have a Respectful, Fruitful Discussion with Anyone

Sometimes I think we will never have world peace as long as we have the Internet.

I love the Internet. I probably spend too much of my time on it. But any time a controversial news item is released or any sort of election happens, I want to chuck my laptop and phone out the window and never leave my room. This weekend was one of those times.

While it’s a marvel that so many people can establish a platform for sharing their stories and opinions via the Internet, we as a culture seem to have lost the art of arguing. I’m not talking about trolling in all caps, but about formal debate and discussion based on mutual respect. We grumble about how politicians care about nothing but loyalty to a political party, then turn around and call a stranger “bigoted” or “stupid” simply because this person doesn’t share our particular world view. If everyday citizens can’t learn to respect each other online, how can we expect world leaders to make peace with each other in real life?

So because we all could use a reminder, here’s how to have a respectful, fruitful discussion in just nine easy steps.

1. Cool it.

Emotional appeal is an argumentative strategy, but a reasonable argument is not fueled by emotion. So when you get angry about a particular issue, don’t jump on social media to write a lengthy post. Don’t launch into a full-blown defense of your point at the mere mention of the topic. Arguing doesn’t solve anything; discussions lead to solutions. If someone tries to provoke you into an argument, say, “Look, we’re really worked up right now. Can we discuss this when we’ve both calmed down?” This is not to say that you can’t be passionate about a certain issue, but flying into a rage is a surefire way to let the other person know you can’t be taken seriously.

2. Do your research.

In formal arguments, each side has to consider not just its own points, but any possible counter argument. Though the Internet has made petty online bickering commonplace, it has also made doing research to create clear, fact-based arguments easier than ever before. Spend some time researching causes you’re passionate about. Read the pros. Read the cons. Read Republican, Democrat, independent, liberal, conservative, purple, green, and yellow content. Get a well-rounded sense of the talking points surrounding a certain issue. And be wary of where your data comes from; a little extra research into the political and religious affiliations of a study can go a long way.

3. Look to share, not to convert.

The goal of a discussion is to discuss. If it’s about making people agree with you, that’s called poor evangelization. You may still disagree with the other person after your discussion, and that’s OK. Your goal for a discussion should be to offer new insight that the person might not have considered before. This is the kind of conversation that changes minds. “I changed my world view because someone forced their beliefs down my throat,” said no one ever.

4. Respect does not equal agreement.

Let’s be real here; in today’s Internet arguments, “She doesn’t respect my opinion!” more often than not means, “She doesn’t agree with me, therefore, she’s an inferior being.” Kindness and good manners are not contingent on how similar your world views are to those of the other person. The Golden Rule isn’t any different online than in person.

5. Disagreement does not merit disrespect.

Some words to eliminate from arguments: hypocrite, bigot, hater, idiot, lunatic. As we all learned in elementary school, insults hurt and they get you nowhere. It is possible to separate the person from their opinion. Just as you would want the other person to respect your freedom of speech, you should be respecting theirs. As Evelyn Beatrice Hall, the Voltaire biographer, wrote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

6. Listen. Listen. Listen.

How many times have you caught yourself saying, “Yeah, I’m _______, but I’m not like one of the crazy ones”? When you’re having a discussion, don’t put the other person in a catch-all box based on their world view. And don’t write that person off just because he or she has a different perspective than yours. People are so complex and interesting if you pay close enough attention; why do you think Humans of New York is so popular? Pay this person the courtesy of listening, really listening. It’ll help you with the next step, which is …

7. Ask questions and talk about solutions.

If you were really listening to this person, and not checking your phone or planning a counter argument to shut them down, you should be able to come up with a few questions. “What do you think about ________?” “I see your point, but what about ________?” “Can you please explain further what you mean by ________?” Asking questions doesn’t mean you’re “giving in,” but that you’re really trying to understand what that person is saying. You can also ask the person what solutions they have to the problem, and share some of yours. Proposed solutions move the conversation, and society, forward.

8. Be honest when you don’t have a good response.

Give the other person a chance to ask you questions, and be honest when you can’t give an answer. That doesn’t make you weak or uneducated or unprepared — it makes you a human being still trying to figure it all out. Get off your high horse. You don’t know everything. Only one being has all the answers, and He is not of this world. Say, “That’s a good question. I’ll research it further and get back to you.”

9. No matter how different your opinions are, you and the other person are equals.

Period.

So if you want to join the online discussion of last week’s Supreme Court decision, or any discussion, please keep these rules in mind. Let’s make the Internet a better place, one fruitful, respectful conversation at a time.

À la prochaine!

– Vicky

Question: What are YOUR rules for respectful discussions? Leave them in the comments below!

Hundred Word Reviews: “Lady in Waiting” by Jackie Kendall

Challenge No. 5: A Nonfiction Book

“Lady in Waiting: Becoming God’s Best While Waiting for Mr. Right,” by Jackie Kendall with Debby Jones, finished May 20. My first foray into Christian “chastity books.”

Lady_In_Waiting_FINAL_Front_cover

Hundred Word Review: In this updated edition of her 1997 bestselling book, Christian speaker Jackie Kendall uses the biblical story of Ruth to discuss 10 qualities single women should develop before meeting their “Boaz,” or future husbands. The message is clear, and Kendall’s analysis of the Book of Ruth is helpful in providing historical and cultural context. However, the writing is clunky. Kendall is the prominent narrator, but sometimes, the writer will say, “I (Jackie),” as if Jones was speaking and the pen was handed back. I would have liked the message better as a chastity talk rather than an awkwardly written book.

Check out PopSugar’s challenge and let me know in the comments if you have a book recommendation for one of the categories. And if you want to do the challenge yourself, let me know what you’re reading!

Also, for a sneak peek at upcoming Hundred Word Reviews, click here to follow me on Goodreads.

Next up, “a book from an author you love but haven’t read yet.”

Happy reading!

Vicky

15 Surprising Symptoms of Reverse Culture Shock

I’M BAAAACK!

After a whirlwind of goodbyes, packing, my host sister’s wedding, and jet lag, I returned to the United States about a month ago. Leaving Compiègne — I can finally say the name of the town on here! — was heartbreaking. I was blessed with some wonderful friends, coworkers, and students who showed me so much love and patience throughout the year. I miss them all and have kept in contact with a few since coming home.

The past month has been full of family and best friend reunions, job applications, and a weekend in my favorite American city, Boston. I’ve also gotten a heaping dose of reverse culture shock. Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t the first time I’ve had to re-adjust to American culture after being away. However, I noticed that this time around, culture shock was not this ever-present sense of not being in the same country, but this little nagging feeling that sneaked up on me when I least expected it.

I understand that my case is pretty mild since I’m coming from a Western country and returning to another Western country. Culture shock must be much more, well, shocking to people returning to the U.S. from other parts of the world. But, I still think culture shock is a fascinating subject because you learn which aspects of both cultures you take for granted and miss after they’re gone.

So without further ado, here are 15 unexpected instances of reverse culture shock that I’ve experienced in the past month.

1. Getting off the plane in the U.S. and preparing to ask the tough-looking Brooklyn-born security guard, “Pardon, madame, les toilettes sont où?

2. Doing a double take when you see an American flag.

3. Getting a weird look when you talk to salespeople in French.

4. Scouring the clothing racks in vain for a size 40.

5. Wondering why the sign in the dressing room is in English and only English.

6. Accidentally putting your bread on the dinner table instead of on your plate.

7. Being completely disappointed with yellow American cheese.

8. Getting your first restaurant bill and reminding yourself that you need to leave a tip.

9. The horrible realization that American money is really ugly.

10. Needing $1 and looking in the change pocket of your wallet.

11. That weird feeling when someone gives you a hug instead of la bise.

12. Not participating in Mass because you only remember the French responses.

13. Meeting a native French speaker, getting really excited, and hearing him say, “Please, I need to practice my English.”

14. Messaging all your French friends because YOU JUST WANT TO SPEAK FRENCH.

15. Talking like a robot for the first week because you still don’t really believe you have to speak English here.

So there you go — a summary of my life in the past month. I think I’ve mostly assimilated back into American culture, though I’m still disappointed in American cheese.

Look out for more Hundred Word Reviews and regular antics coming your way.

À la prochaine!

– Vicky

Question of the Week: What’s your most surprising culture shock moment? Tell me in the comments!