Pieces // Amanda Cook

Since becoming a mom, I am so behind the times when it comes to music. I pretty much listen to Raffi, Disney and talk radio (I don’t hate it). Every once in a while, I’ll catch a gem that I missed out on. Josh introduced me to this song last night:


Powerful. Last night and today as I reflect on the lyrics, I realize how much I parcel out my love in pieces, afraid of what it would cost to give my love unreservedly in one whole gift. It’s risky to love without limits. It makes you vulnerable before everyone. I realize how, in my own brokeneness, I feel unworthy to receive such a complete, unearned love…but that God gives it anyway, patiently waiting as I learn to receive more and more of him. I know in my heart that this is the kind of love I want to give to my husband and my children, but I’ll never be able to do so perfectly in this life time. And loving my enemies or people who annoy or inconvenience me with such a brave love? How do I even begin? I thank God that his love is that big, that complete, that perfect…because where I inevitably fall short, he will make up for it tenfold. I can ask Him to help me grow in both giving and receiving this wild, selfless, radical love and to not be afraid.

For love to be real, it must cost; it must hurt; it must empty us of self. – Saint Teresa of Kolkata


John-Paul: Made New in Christ

Baptism is God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift…. We call it gift, grace, anointing, enlightenment, garment of immortality, bath of rebirth, seal, and most precious gift. It is called gift because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; grace since it is given even to the guilty; Baptism because sin is buried in the water; anointing for it is priestly and royal as are those who are anointed; enlightenment because it radiates light; clothing since it veils our shame; bath because it washes; and seal as it is our guard and the sign of God’s Lordship.

– Gregory of Nazianzus, quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 1216

John-Paul’s Baptism was a beautiful celebration of faith, hope and love. We thank God for our loving family and for John-Paul’s faith-filled, prayerful Godparents. My dear little JP, you are precious to all of us, and especially to Jesus. May the Holy Spirit guide you all the days of your life. May you follow our crucified Lord, knowing that you have been baptized into His death, that you may rise with Him into new life.  And, like your namesake Pope Saint John Paul the Great, may you have a deep love for the Blessed Mother, who will always lead you closer to her Divine Son.

Totus Tuus.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.

Our Lady of La Leche, pray for us.

TMIY Pilgrimage: Into the Heart of the Holy Family

Wrapping up the Europe pictures! After about 10 days on our own in Rome and Paris, we met up with a pilgrimage group. This pilgrimage group was formed through the organization Paradisus Dei, based out of Houston. Paradisus Dei has lots of different avenues of ministry, but their main branch is a men’s group called “That Man is You.” It’s a great group that Josh participated in through our parish (any parish can start up a TMIY chapter!). It’s a group that seeks to build up the family by helping heal, restore and empower men to be the men that God called them to be – holy men of God. When we heard about the trip, we knew it was right and we signed up right away. We actually decided to do the pilgrimage before tacking on the other 10 days of travel! All of the timing (including that I would be out of the exhausting and nauseating first trimester of my pregnancy!) was perfect and providential.

Traveling on your own and traveling with a group are two very, very different experiences. Both have their positives and negatives. Traveling on your own, you can go at your own pace and set your schedule. But! You have to plan every little detail and all the logistics, which can be exhausting and difficult. With a group, you don’t have to worry about any details (which is a huge relief) but you sacrifice flexibility. Also, you’re not just traveling with one person – no you have 50 other personalities to account for 🙂 I’m glad we did both.

Our group was challenging though because the tour agency did not schedule in enough time for all of the items on our agenda. Sure, it may only take an hour to drive to X and then 2 hours for the tour…but they did not factor in how long it takes for 50 people to get off a bus, use the restroom (especially if there are TWO TOILETS), get ready for the tour, tour, eat, probably go to the bathroom again and then get back on the bus. So feeling rushed was a big issue for our group. However, I was so impressed with the way people handled it. Not that we didn’t voice our dismay at only having 20 minutes to pray at Sacre Coeur (after CLIMBING THAT HILL) but I think everyone took it in stride. Doing so truly allowed the Holy Spirit to work through the time constraints. We also had an amazing leader – Steve Bollman. What a holy man! His wife and daughters were incredible as well. They helped keep us focus on our purpose – to draw near to God through the heart of the Holy Family. Each destination has its own historical significance, but Steve lead us deeper into the spiritual realities behind the facts.

We saw many beautiful things, and experienced an abundance of grace-filled moments. Our entire trip was truly an ascent to Lourdes. What a place of refuge and peace. Though the town may be full of shops, the area where you find the Grotto and the Basilica is void of vendors and distractions. It is a place of prayer. Sitting along the river with Josh and praying….going into the baths of Lourdes…attending Mass at the Grotto where Mary appeared…renewing our marriage vows…it was a tiny glimpse of what I believe preparing to enter into Heaven will be like. Joy. Peace. Excitement. Longing. Fulfillment. On this side of eternity, all those feelings are fleeting. Consolation comes and goes. But it is still a gift to have a tiny, minuscule taste of what God has in store for those who love Him.

Josh and I did not receive clear answers to our prayers, but we did receive assurance that God has heard us and that He is leading us and that He is with us. That He has indeed called us. To what? We have no idea! But we trust that in His time it will be revealed. In the mean time, He is working on and preparing our hearts. He is purifying us – and that is quite the process!

For all those who sent us prayer requests, please know that you were prayed for. Throughout our pilgrimage we tried to pray for you in places that were significant to your request or that reminded us of you. Many were prayed for in Lourdes (particularly those asking for physical, spiritual and emotional healing) and I pray that the peace we experienced overflowed into your own heart. God hears your prayers and He loves you.

Enough is Enough – Let’s just get these Europe photos up!

I’ve been at war with myself. For some reason, I have z.e.r.o. motivation to type about our trip. But so many new things keep happening in our life and I want to write about those! But my blog-conscience will not allow me to do so until I’ve cleared the Europe hurdle.So I sit down to write…and nothing. I don’t know how many drafts of posts that have come into existence only to be tossed after feeble attempts at gathering my thoughts

This is months old now, Ashlie! We’ve moved on! We don’t care about the Europe pictures anymore! I know, I know. But I…just…gotta…follow…through.

So here’s what we’re going to do. Forget writing a separate post for each day, over achiever. We’re going to set the bar real low and drop all the photos on you at once. With some captions. Voila.

Rome and Assisi:

From the dinner at Abruzzi. One cultured pup.

Paris. I have to say…while Rome was beautiful and so rich in history, I absolutely fell in love with France. The way Paris is laid out is so much easier to navigate, so logistically it was a relief opposed to the winding streets of Rome. Cities always have a sketchy area, but overall Paris proved clean and beautiful. I couldn’t get enough of the buildings. The food…we died. Josh said “I feel like I’m tasting food for the first time.” And it’s true! Truly the food there is an art, and not just something to fill the void. The apartment we stayed was a gem. Unlike the Rome apartment, it was EXACTLY the way it appeared on the internet. Plus, it really belonged to a Parisian, not a rental company, so it felt more homey – like we actually lived there. True, the apartment was outside of the city, but the trains there are so easy to use that it was no big deal. (However, there were train strikes while we were there, so that made using the RER line a little interesting. Overall, no major hiccups, though.)  We went to the local grocery store, would cook some of our meals at home…it all felt very French. Without further adieu…

If you are planning a trip to Rome or Paris, and have questions do not hesitate to contact us! We took pretty good notes of how much things cost, where we ate, and tricks that we learned along the way. While I had originally hoped to type all of those things out…that’s out the window now. However, I am happy to share via comments/email if there is interest or questions! Of course, I don’t know the half of it, I’m sure. But I am happy to share whatever insight/knowledge we do have. Planning big trips can be tough!

I’ll save the pilgrimage photos for the next post/slideshow. This housewife has some cleaning and errands to run! Also more to come on our move and settling into PA and my increasing circumference around the middle region.

Rome, Day 2

What a perfect day in Rome! We woke up and met Mike Zimmerman on our way to the Vatican. There’s something really lovely about being awake and walking around before a city begins the daily hustle and bustle. You can absorb the scenery with ease rather than fighting the crowds. We continued on our way toward the Vatican, catching up with our good friend. The Papal Audience didn’t start until 10ish, but people arrive much earlier to get good seats. We were there an hour and a half early and we were in the back section. We enjoyed relaxing in the sun, and taking in the sights and sounds of St Peter’s square. It didn’t feel all that long until we heard the crowds chanting “Papa! Papa! Papa!” as our beloved Pope drove around in the Popemobile and greeted pilgrims from across the world. We may have been sitting in the back section, but we did get to see Papa Francis up close when he drove around all the perimeters of the various sections. It was wonderful to see Pope Francis. It’s so funny to see someone on TV and in pictures all the time, and then actually see them in person. He, of course, looks the same!

As you may know, each Wednesday the Pope gives a talk. They can choose whatever they talk about. If you’ve heard of the text The Theology of the Body, in which Saint John Paul II explored and explained the meaning of the human body and the gift of sexuality, those came out of St. JP II’s Wednesday talks! So they audiences are not just a “hey everyone from around the world, what’s up!” kind of thing, but really a moment in which the Pope instructs, enlightens and deepens our understanding of what we believe and profess. Pope Francis had been doing a series on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. During the audience that we attended, Pope Francis spoke on Piety. You can read the full text of what he said here.

After the audience, we grabbed some pizza and walked back toward our apartment. Getting in the general area was easy enough, but then we had some trouble finding our place…it probably took us 20-30 minutes once we got nearby the apartment to actually find it! But Josh got us back safe and sound. Let me tell you…I’m so glad that I got an iphone before we left and that one of the apps in came with is a compass. We used that iphone compass every. Single. Day. It was really a lifesaver/time saver.

We partook in an afternoon nap and then met up with Mike again. He gave us a tour of St Peter’s Basilica. What a rich history we have! I’m still absorbing all that I saw and learned through the art. It is all so intentional, symbolic and catechetical. I think that often people see Catholic churches and think “Wow, what a waste of money…shouldn’t that money be used on the poor?” (I actually saw a scribbled message on the bathroom stall door in the Vatican museums that essentially communicated this very question.) Certainly, there have been people in history to misuse money within the Church and I am not here to defend their mismanagement. However, in many ways money that was spent on art was spent on the poor, because it was an effective means of sharing the Gospel. We take for granted the fact that we’ve always had the Scriptures at our fingertips (and now online, kindle, iphones, etc) but it took centuries to assemble the Bible. Jesus didn’t just leave us boxes of copies to hand out to share the Good News with others; the Gospels needed to be written down. What we read about the Apostles in Acts actually had to happen before someone could write it. Paul had to have his conversion, begin his evangelization and write his letters to the early churches. Then the early Church had to go through and prayerfully discern which of the texts were legitimate and which were not (there were false texts and heresies circulating as well). We can see the first official canon of the Bible come onto the scene in about the year 382 AD. But even after the Bible was assembled, many people weren’t literate and the art – stained glass, mosaics, statues, paintings, tapestries, the physical church itself – served as a visual way of preaching the Gospel. Before the printing press, if a person could read, it would cost them to about a year’s wages to obtain a copy of the Bible. (This is why the Sacred Scriptures were chained to the pulpit – not to keep the Word of God from people but to ensure that all people who came there would be able to hear the Word preached!) Many early Christians learned the stories and key figures of the Salvation History through the Sacred Tradition of the Church, including Sacred Art. For “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are closely bound together and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing and move towards the same goal. Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own ‘always, to the close of the age’” (CCC 80). Thank God for artists! Thanks be to the Holy Spirit, Who inspired them. Thank God for blessing us with such skilled craftsmen to share the Gospel with us down through the ages. Even if the majority of people in our particular corner of the world are literate today, art still plays a vital role. It enhances our understanding of who we are as Christians and to help us remember our story, our identity.

After enjoying, learning and reflecting in St Peter’s, Mike took us over to the Pacific North American College – his seminary in Rome. We prayed Evening Prayer with the seminarians. I even got to see a deacon that served for a summer at our parish in North Dakota, so that was neat. We, of course, got the classic “we visited Mike at the seminary” photo from the top of his seminary (best view in Rome). Sarah Melendez votes that Mike should start handing out T shirts to his visitors that say – “I visited Mike in Rome and all I got was this lousy T-shirt,” and I second that motion (even though Mike gave us way more than a T-shirt! Great company, amazing tours and so much more!)

We grabbed dinner up near the sem. The area is called Trastevere. It’s a fun, lively area with lots of street performers and such. Our dinner was delicious. For our appetizer we had melon wrapped in prosciutto. For my main course I had Bucatini al’ Amatriciana. The noodle looks like spaghetti but it’s hollow through the middle. The sauce is tomato based with beef jowl. Very tasty. I wrote almost this entire paragraph in simple sentences. I am clearly feeling very creative.

We made our way make toward the Piazza Novona and stopped at Frigidarium for gelato. Frigidarium became our jaaaaam. Best gelato, generous portions and best price. I personally loved the coconut and the nutella flavor. For no additional cost, they would also dip it in chocolate for you. We sat in the Piazza and ate our gelato with Mike and then prayed together before parting for the night.

I felt like we did a lot without over doing it – a huge blessing. I was definitely tired – even as I journaled I could feel that my arms were weary! However tired, we felt peace about having a flexible schedule that allowed us to plan but to remain open to where the Spirit wanted to take us. On a spiritual level, I didn’t feel any overwhelming sensations or movements of the Spirit from the first day. Great awe for our history and great appreciation for the gift of faith, certainly…but not a mountain top kind of experience.

West Virginia is for Lovers

I ventured to a new land for to witness the nuptials of Kait and Casey Patterson – West Virginia. Casey was raised in Buckhannon, and I had the pleasure of seeing his home town and meeting his incredible family. I also got to spend the days leading up to the wedding hanging out with Kait and her family which was a joy. I met so many wonderful people and enjoyed catching up with high school friends I hadn’t seen in years. West Virginia was beautiful! Lucky for us the weather was practically perfect in every way – barely a drop of humidity, and about 75 degrees. It did rain a bit on the wedding day but that’s good luck! So alls well that ends well.  Overall, amazing trip. I came home absolutely exhausted and probably could have slept 24 hours solid. So worth it.

Congratulations to the happy couple! Your love is such a witness of Christ’s love. May God bless you and guide you as you transition into your life as husband and wife. xoxo

All Feminine Hygiene Kits Made it to Malawi!

This morning Genna sent me a picture of the Malawian women who received the feminine hygiene kits that we made here at the parish. I am so touched, thrilled and overjoyed to see these kits in the hands of the women!! Praise be to God that everything we shipped made it safely and on time for the women’ camp that the PC volunteers hosted. Thank you to the women who helped make these kits – I could not have made nearly as many pads without you. Seriously. It would have been impossible with my limited and slow sewing skills! So glad to be a part of a project that affirms the dignity of women and that our bodies are not a burden, but a beautiful, mysterious blessing. Click here to read Genna’s experience helping at Camp GLOW.

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