Community is Good for the Soul

Friday night was one of those nights I sat there in awe wondering, “how can I be so blessed?” Like many people my age, I don’t have family closer than 3.5 hours away and am not married. That means that my life could be pretty lonely. It means that I could feel like I have no one to call in an emergency. But as I sat in my home Friday night and looked around, I was overwhelmed with the very fact that my friends are my family here in Chicagoland. That at any point if crisis or need I could call on a number of them and I know they would be there.

Small Group From Church
My church Small Group’s Halloween party

In today’s society we want everything instant and we often shy away from deep. Deep means you risk the chance of getting hurt. Deep means that people won’t always see that perfect selfie, but rather people may see the tear-stained face that comes after a pretty tough couple of weeks. Deep means that your answer to the question “How are you?” isn’t always, “I’m good.” Rather at times, you can look at someone and honestly say, “you know, it kind of sucks at this moment.” Continue reading “Community is Good for the Soul”

Being You

Friday was the day of great revelries with costumes, candies, and corpses. The one day of the year when you are allowed to be what you are not. Or is it?

husband eating #baconcorndog #glutenfree #cheater #ilovefood #irony
Husband eating #baconcorndog #glutenfree #cheater #ilovefood #irony

In today’s society of electronic media and online social networking, we can be whomever we want to be at any time. Everyone has the tools to be a celebrity – perfect selfies, enlightening foodie shots, posting statuses perfectly crafted to make every moment as dramatic as possible. That is what people see. That is what we want people to see. But it isn’t everything. Continue reading “Being You”

Why Not be a Kid Again?

On Saturday it was my small group against another young adult small group at church in kickball. While running around the field playing a game I haven’t played since I was a camp counselor I got to thinking. Why do we stop playing such games?

There is something about going back to our roots and the things that helped us be active as kids that I think can inspire fitness again. Why do we stop playing such games as adults? Are they silly? Yes, but if they keep us active why not be silly?

So I guess here is my thought. If you are having trouble being active, try going back to your roots. As children we all ran around with endless energy. What was it that made you want to be active?

The coolest thing on Saturday was not that my team won (though we did), it was not that I got a lot of guys to wear bright pink (but I did), but it was that every person no matter their athleticism or competitive nature were having fun, being active, and spending time with people they care about.

Not only are activities like this good for the physical heart, but they force us to put down the cell phones and enjoy the moment. To talk to the person next to us and learn about how competitive or not competitive they are. To get to meet new people and build community by cheering each other on. There is something unique about being outside in God’s creation focusing on the task at hand; having fun.

So my dear friends, what kid game are you going to bring back? How are you going to start rebuilding true community while also encouraging yourself and others to be active?

I dare you to be a kid again.

Thoughts on Friendship

I’m not the type of person that takes a friendship lightly; I’m fiercely loyal to my friends. However, there comes a point in all new friendships were you must decide: will we remain friends for the foreseeable future or will our friendship crumble? Friendships that last have all come to the same conclusion: we can not change the other person. That annoying thing they do? Chances are, it isn’t going away. So, whether we are in a new friendship or relationship, we must ask ourselves am I still getting all that I need from this friendship even with these annoyances? If the answer is no, then sadly you need to walk away from that friendship. If the answer is yes, then you need to accept the annoyances and move on. I have certain friends in my life who each serve a specific function. Like a Swiss Army Knife, each one, being created by God, is suited for different situations. I have my friend who is incredibly grounded in God’s word, I have a friend who is incredibly optimistic, I have my friend who is easy going, yet can see me through anxiety, and I have a friend who is incredibly passionate about all things. I don’t always take everything to all of them. There are certain topics that I don’t take to certain people. There are certain things that just stay with me. I may get frustrated when my optimistic friend doesn’t think critically enough about a decision I’m trying to make. But I have to remind myself that in doing so, I’m asking her to be fundamentally different from who she is. I love the movie The Sound of Music. In the film, Max is trying to convince Captain Von Trap to perform at the festival. Realizing he can’t convince the Captain, Max seeks out Maria’s help to which she responds, “Max I can not ask him to be less than he is”. If our friend is too _____ (fill in with any negative or positive quality you wish) and you ask them to change, in a sense you are asking them to be less of who they are. There is a reason why friends walk in and out of our lives and it has to do with our being able, or in some cases when friendships don’t last,unable, to look past their faults. It is unreasonable to place expectations onto our friends to be someone or something that they are not. So, if a friendship or relationship has you down, I say it’s time to figure out if the friendship is worth it. If it is, try to celebrate each other more. If it isn’t, part ways wishing each other the very best.

Modest is Hottest!

For those of you who don’t know, I come from a largish family.  I am the oldest (and wisest) of course, yet I am the shortest.  For whatever reason, my gene pool didn’t get the memo that I was supposed to have long legs!  I have legs, but they are definitely not as long as they were supposed to be…sigh!  It is OK.  I have come to terms with it and frankly I am alright with me appearing like I am standing in a hole, constantly.

Besides the usual short people problems one might usually incur, I also have “assets” if you know what I mean.  I am keenly aware that I cannot wear V-neck tops, low cut stylish tank tops or anything along the lines of push up.  Because guess what happens?  Anyone taller than me gets a free show!  Not exactly the attention I am going for…but regardless, I have to set a better example for my sisters and now niece about modesty.

Claire Rachel is my 16-year-old curvy beautiful blonde-haired country girl little sister.  She is my big little sister.  I am so thankful that she wears her cowgirl boots proudly and wants her curves to be covered.  She wants to be modest, but she too wants to dress feminine.  I am so proud of her.  She one day came home from youth group and she goes….”Catie, you KNOW modest is hottest!”  We had a good laugh, but she is so right!  Modest IS hottest.

Being in high-school, teenagers are given so many messages.  They are surrounded by celebrities, models, and unrealistic body images galore.  They are told they are supposed to dress one way and act another.  Aren’t they supposed to be teenagers?  Why are we forcing these teens to deal with such issues so young?  It is driven and perpetuated by our retail environment then reinforced by Hollywood.  Or maybe in fact it is the other way around…regardless, these poor teenage girls will develop low self-esteem and begin to look for all the wrong attention if the message of modesty is not expressed.

I came across a really cool way a teenage girl by the name of Megan Grassell and her mother are promoting modesty among bras.  Have you ever gone through the bra section at any store for those who are developing?  There are push-up options, sequins and lace, patterns, and over all a lot of inappropriate seeds being planted.  Bras, last time I checked, were there for support not for drawing unnecessary attention at such a youthful age.  Megan and her mother are resisting these designs and immodest attempts to make our young girls sex symbols through the development of their company Yellowberry.

Yellowberry’s mission is to create beautiful age appropriate bras for developing teenage girls.  They have beautiful colorful bras that are fun, supportive, and I think are pretty cool.  Please visit their website for more information:  You can also find them on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram.

You owe it to yourself to be modest, stylish and have necessary parts covered.  Self-respect is everything.  If you don’t have respect for yourself then how could you possibly expect anyone else to respect you?  Just saying….

Catie Manning

Moving Made Me Realize Just How Blessed I Am

Moving. I hate it. But honestly, who doesn’t? Your life is stirred up for the minimum of a month and everything seems chaotic. And for Type A personalities like myself I start packing at least a month in advance and I want to be unpacked within 12 hours of moving in (and surprisingly often accomplish this) . This will be my 11th move since I was 18. I’m a pro at it. But I still hate it.

With each move there is a mourning. A letting go. Even if it is just 20 miles away I am closing a chapter. A long time ago I wrote in a journal of mine “live in NYC for a year”… it was a bucket list type goal. Well, I didn’t live in NYC for a year, but I have lived in Chicago for 1.5 years. And I’ve loved it. City living isn’t easy. It has challenged me and made me learn a lot about myself. There is a new meaning to “just running to the store”. And I never thought I’d be so good at parallel parking… even in 2 feet of snow.

One of my favorite streets in Ravenswood

I’ve been tucked away in my little Ravenswood/Lincoln Square neighborhood. I know these streets forwards and backwards from the hours I’ve spent walking them. I have a favorite ice cream shop, a favorite neighborhood pub, a favorite house, a favorite Thai restaurant, a favorite Indian restaurant, and a couple of my closest friends just a short walk away. And as I face this move to the suburbs I mourn the loss of what has been home. I know without a doubt I am making the right move, but I still mourn for the comfort of my sweet little apartment with the brick walls and character that only an old city building can have.

As I’ve sifted through my things… as I’ve mourned the loss of the city… as I’ve thought through all the reasons I know moving to the suburbs is the right option I’ve been faced with a strong reality. I am blessed.

Often because of growing up in the U.S. I can lose sight of just how blessed I am. Life gets stressful and it is easy to focus on the stress, but I am trying to focus more on the blessings. I am incredibly lucky to have the ability to move. Even more so, I am blessed to have a roof over my head and a lot of things in this roof. I am blessed to have a job I get to go to every day. I am blessed to have an incredible education. I am blessed to know that I CAN pay my bills.

So as I take this step that is hard, yet so right, I want to step into it know that by reducing costs, reducing commute times, reducing stress, and so many other things I am stepping into a place where I can bless many more others. And as my church steps into what they call the “Celebration of Hope” where we spend 3 weeks focusing on helping both worldwide and locally I am challenged. Challenged to look at the ways I’m using my time, my money, my education, and everything that has been entrusted to me. I want to use all of my blessings to bless others. So, as I take this step into a new season of my life, I’m asking myself “how can I best use my blessings, skills, time, and money to bless others?” I want to pack every box with a purpose. I want to live every second of my life with a purpose. I want to know that in my last breath, I made decisions that allowed me to love and bless others well.  Will you join me on this journey? Can we embrace just how blessed we are together?

Hosting a Meaningful Bridal Shower

While there are some people who LOVE the bridal shower games and prizes, my best friend is not one of them. This past weekend I had the honor of throwing a bridal shower for my very artsy and coffee loving best friend. I searched and searched on pinterest for ideas that fit her and her soon to be hubbie. I was pretty excited how things ended up and thought I would share the ideas I came up with :-). (Thanks Pinterest for the help!)

Adel is a coffee lover… and that is an understatement. So I took the lovely idea from this blog. Check out how this project turned out for my coffee loving best friend:

The second project was writing out an actual recipe or a “recipe for a happy life together”… especially since Adel loves to cook, even if she doesn’t follow the recipes exactly…

To go along with the cooking theme and also Adel and Josh’s love for Africa I had Ruth, owner of Bound With Hope, make his and hers aprons with an Africa theme. Adel LOVES purple so when I found fabric that had a purple undertone to it with little Africas all over it I was super excited! For Josh, I chose a very African themed fabric. Ruth did an absolutely fantastic job… check them out:

Ruth also made her Painters Drop Wedding Date Pillows and Adel absolutely loved them:

When I was walking around Party City to try and found decorations an idea hit me (Adel HATES pink and all bridal shower decorations were pink). It isn’t a new idea, but I know Adel. The last thing she wants is money wasted (she is after all the daughter of an accountant). While decorations can be fun, they aren’t Adel. So instead of decorating a large amount and party favors that would most likely be thrown out, there was a donation made to I need Africa more than Africa needs me

And lastly, I had people write on a chalkboard created from a a canvas and chalkboard paint a message to Adel. Since Adel doesn’t get married for a few more months, I can’t post what the messages were (but I can assure you many of them were QUITE amusing). Adel is in the picture with each of her friends/family and on the night before her wedding she will get all these pictures to help calm the nerves and provide encouragement.

Since this is my 5th wedding party, I’ve had a little practice with this. My advice is to think about the bride and groom and what it is that fits them :-). In the end, it isn’t about the money spent it is about the time spent together, the memories made, and the preparation and encouragement to enter into such an exciting (and nerve racking) life change! Congratulations, Adel! I can’t wait to continue to celebrate with you over the next few months!

A Fitness Challenge for Global Health

To all of Erica’s friends, family, and followers:

Hi! My name is David Silbergeld. I have been close friends with Erica for many years now, and when I mentioned to her the details of a major upcoming event that I am participating in, she graciously offered to help out with fundraising by offering me the chance to write a guest blog on here (no beating around the bush, this post is in part about donations)! So, here’s a little bit about me, about what exactly this event is, and about why I’m doing it, and hopefully a few of you out there may deem it worth donating a few dollars for the cause (literally every penny counts!)…

At the end of this month I will be participating in a cross-country bicycle trip, from San Diego to Washington, D.C., as part of a cycling team of medical students and other medical professionals raising funds for global health, sponsored by Ride for World Health, a 501(c)3 organization based in Columbus, OH.

About me: I am currently a fourth year MD/MPH student at Rutgers – Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey. I grew up in Seattle, Washington, before moving to New Jersey at the age of 16. I graduated from Georgetown University in 2007 with a BA in Chinese and a premedical concentration.  After college, I traveled to South Africa with the Peace Corps, where I was involved in a variety of projects – including children’s after-school programs, environmental NGOs, and crime prevention – but found a particular passion as a capacity builder with a home-based care organization, providing care for patients suffering from diseases ranging from hypertension and diabetes to HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. My interest in world health continued through public health expeditions to Northern India and the Dominican Republic during medical school, and I plan to enter a residency in Family Medicine and to remain involved in global health throughout my career. I view the Ride for World Health as an opportunity to challenge myself physically and mentally, to form lasting relationships with medical students from around the country and, most importantly, to support an invaluable cause by asking interested people to sponsor my ride. I have never done a ride remotely like this, but have participated in nearly every team sport you can think of, and I enjoy the opportunity to push my limits doing crazy things like this.
Where the donations go: The organizations that will receive the funds raised through this year’s trip are “HEAL Africa,” “Empower and Advance,” and “PODEMOS.” HEAL Africa, founded over a decade ago by Congolese surgeon Jo Lusi and his wife Lyn, sponsors a full-service training hospital in Goma, Congo and community-based initiatives in public health, community development, and conflict resolution.  It helps to support a Congolese staff of 28 doctors, 54 nurses, 340+ community development educators, a small administrative team, and hundreds of Congolese volunteers. Our donation will go primarily towards women’s health including safe childbirth, fistula repair, and HIV and contraception education. Empower and Advance is an organization dedicated to empowering members of vulnerable communities. Their current project is an innovative curriculum to train secondary school graduates in Haiti to become Emergency Community Healthcare Workers. The Partnership for Ongoing Developmental, Educational, and Medical Outreach Solutions (PODEMOS) is a student-founded organization with the goal of developing international sites for outreach and clinical care where medical and health profession students can be involved in caring for and learning from patients from marginalized populations. PODEMOS initially identified three underserved communities in Honduras  with which to build sustainable partnerships and is working to develop medical-cultural exchanges in these sites.
If you would like to support my ride and these projects through a contribution, please visit where you will also find more information about the project and our itinerary.

Thank you all! And a huge thank you to Erica for her support!!!!

Dear My Teenage Self – Eating Disorder Awareness

This post is a letter to my high school self when I was struggling with exercise anorexia severely. I talk about God in here because He is the strength that has brought me to where I am. Whether you are a Christian or not, I hope that if you struggle with this you can relate to the fact that we all believe lies about what will make us happy, and for those of us that have believed that controlling our food and exercise (or lack of controlling them) will bring us fulfillment and happiness are dead wrong. I truly hope that if this is a struggle you currently have, you will have the strength to stare it straight in the face and tell it that it will not control you anymore.

Dear teenage self,

The teenage years are hard. They start in middle school… and those 2 words alone send shivers down 99.9% of adults’ spines, because those are the most awkward and hard years of your life. They are full of body changes, friend changes, life changes, activity changes, and a lot of mean comments. Even when you are 27 almost 28 years old you will remember the mean comments. Let’s get real for a minute, the mean comments that you remember most are the mean comments you made yourself. While for the most part you are a gentle nice person, there are a few times you let your mouth run away from you. But let me be honest, this is something you will still be learning to control even when you are 27. The mean comments you remember from other people, thankfully have helped you learn to be a better person.

But what I want to talk to you about in this letter, my teenage self, is when you were 17. At 17 I remember life revolved around cheerleading, tennis, being social, figuring out what college you were going to go to, how you were going to be a nurse, and control. Control over the activity you were doing and the little food you were eating. Life looked really good on the outside… in fact despite the hard break up you had had and the fact that your best friend wasn’t talking to you… despite the fact that things in so many areas of your life were falling apart… you made it look like you had it ALL together on the outside. The scary thing though was this, that you were allowing the “you look so good you’ve lost so much weight” comments feed your unhealthy habit. You have all the lies down of “I ate before I came” “I’m not really hungry” “I haven’t felt well…”. You eat a bagel in the morning and go to both cheerleading and tennis practice and don’t eat anything else except maybe a banana the rest of the day.

Your senior pictures were bad, you were a size 0 for the first time since middle school, but it was a few weeks later when your cheerleading pictures for the year were taken that are the worst of all the pictures you have from this time. This picture is still up in your parents house and at the age of 27 almost 28 you will cringe. You will look at it and see how thin and straggly your hair is because of the lack of eating. Your arms look like sticks and your eyes are sunken in. Oh teenage self, your outside look does not define you.

It was shortly after this picture was taken that you look down in the drain to see all the hair falling out and you realize, you finally realize that this type of control isn’t helping all the other chaos and hurt in your life. In fact, this type of control is hurting you far more and will continue to hurt you for years to come. But in this one moment you make the decision. You make the decision to eat and to control the amount of exercise you do. And let me tell you something amazing, there truly is beauty that comes from these ashes and you will recover from all the pain you are feeling right now.

Undereating and overexercising is something you will still struggle with in your late 20s. But you will continue to choose to make a conscious effort to not do things that will put you in danger of this happening. And you wanna know the crazy thing? You do become a nurse, but it isn’t your first or even your second degree, it is your THIRD. Because before going to school to become a nurse God will take your ashes and help you get degrees in both exercise and nutrition so that you have the tools to help people who are struggling the way you once did.

High school self, you are going to learn that your worth and beauty are not found in your looks or in your control or in what you can or can’t do, but your worth is found in your Heavenly Father. So high school self, I’m SO proud of you for looking this struggle in the face and choosing to change because it was in that one decision that God was able to make a beautiful and incredible story and career path.

Sincerely and with love,

Your older self

Kenya Teaches Brittany

One of my absolute best friends wrote an incredible blog the other day and has agreed to share it… here is what Brittany has to say…

Dear High School Self….

You’re not going to believe this.  I’m going to Africa this summer and it won’t be for the first time.  This will actually be my third trip to Africa.  Did I just make your heart start racing with panic and fear?  Don’t worry, you have about seven years to prepare yourself (although you’ll never be fully prepared for that first trip).  

Right now, I know you have the rest of your life planned out after graduation.  Your plan starts with going to college to become a teacher.  After you graduate you’ll find a full time teaching job in Avon, move out of your parents’ house, meet an amazing guy, get married, have two kids (a girl and a boy), get a dog, a cat, and be a stay at home mom in your house with a big front porch and a pool in the backyard.  
Well high school self, I have some advice for you and it’s only five words:
“Let go of your plan.”
I know how much you like to be in control, and I know you’ve had your plan set in stone since you were a little girl.  I know how stubborn you are and how much you are going to fight with God over keeping your plan.  I hate to tell you, but God is going to take your world and flip it upside down.  Then He’s going to send you to the other side of the world and rip you right out of your comfort zone.  You will find yourself thousands of miles from home walking through some of the worst slums in Africa.  As terrifying as that sounds right now, I can tell you that Africa was a part of God’s plan all along.  From the moment you step foot in the slums, you will forever be changed.     
Letting go of your plan won’t be easy, but I can tell you that God’s plan is SO much better!  You won’t even recognize yourself in ten years!  God is going to challenge and strengthen your faith in the years to come.  He’s going to take your passion for teaching and call you to teach in the last place you ever expected to be.  He’s going to call you to lead instead of just follow.  He’s going to show you that life is so much more than just the American dream.  
So high school self, I leave you with this verse to remember in the years to come.  Cling to these words, let go of your plan, and let God do an amazing work in you.  
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
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