Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Spend Lent with Pope Francis, St. Teresa of Calcutta, or St. Faustina

Lent starts next week! It is definitely time to choose a Lenten Resource to help guide you on your spiritual journey over the next six weeks. Here are three new ones that have recently crossed my desk:

The first is The Hope of Lent: Daily Reflections from Pope Francis by Diane Houdek. In the Introduction, Houdek writes, "Lent is a time to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary, to be surprised by God's mercy when we least expect it. As the season begins, think about the hopes you have for Lent this year. Think about what changes you want to see in your life, in the world. Let the words of Pope Francis guide you on a journey of bringing those hopes to fulfillment,"

This book is able to be used any liturgical year. Each day features a listing of the Scripture readings for that day. This is followed by a quote from Pope Francis and a reflection from Houdek that considers both the Scripture reading and the Pope's teaching. Reflection questions and a prayer from Pope Francis end the day's entry.

Pope Francis' very practical life-based theology resonates on every page of this book. Combined with Houdek's reflections, it offers much food for thought.

The second is Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta: Daily Meditations by Heidi Hess Saxton. St. Teresa of Calcutta and her Missionaries of Charity offer such an example of selfless love, of seeing Jesus in everyone we meet. Saxton writes, "As we contemplate Scripture and the life and teachings of St. Teresa of Calcutta during this Lent, we have a daily inspiration and opportunity in spreading Christ's fragrance to others. And whatever the future holds - pain or healing, uncertainty or assurance, dismay or delight - we can anticipate with great joy the glory of the Risen Christ at our journey's end."

This book is able to be used any liturgical year and includes a listing of the Scripture readings for each day. A short Scripture quote is included which Saxton then offers a reflection on, including stories about St. Teresa and her sisters as well as from her own life and experience. This is followed by reflection questions and a prayer.

St. Teresa and Saxton invite us to minister directly to those around us, to serve others, and to love until it hurts. Putting the teachings of this book into practice will help you cultivate a generous heart.

Third is Moments of Mercy by the Marian Fathers. This is a booklet perfect for carrying in your purse. Each day features a Scripture quote, a reflection, a prayer, and suggestions for further reading from Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the Diary of St. Faustina. An appendix includes St. Faustina's Way of the Cross, an Examination of Conscience, The Novena to Divine Mercy, and The Chaplet of Divine Mercy. This book is intended for use only during 2017. Available for purchase at the Marian website: http://www.shopmercy.org/Moments-of-Mercy/LD17/itd/07090013/110/157/NO

Monday, February 20, 2017

Love and Sacrifice

The following is part of the entry from February 20th in The Catholic Mom's Prayer Companion. This particular entry was written by Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle.

Mother Teresa pointed out that true love always hurts in some way. We can't run away from the pain that we sometimes encounter when caring for our family, but we can make a decision to embrace it and recognize it that it is within the mystery of loving sacrifice that miracles happen. God will grant us the graces we need to love with his love. We should ask for those graces often.

Dear Lord Jesus, please grant me the graces I need this day to love with your love and to offer my hurt to you so that you will transform it all into beautiful blessings for my family.

Your Idea Starts Here

I'm not someone who usually suffers from a lack of ideas. Actually I suffer from the opposite problem - too many ideas and not enough time and money to follow through on them. That being said, Your Idea Starts Here: 77 Mind-Expanding Ways to Unleash Your Creativity is an inspiring book for anyone who is creative by nature, suffering from a temporary creative block, or seeking to be a more creative person.

Art director Carolyn Eckert combines strong visuals with text that is both practical and encouraging. She also shares interesting stories about how various inventions came about. Be prepared - you are guaranteed to come away from reading this book with at least one new idea (and probably a whole lot more!)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Grab your Tissues and Read Couriers of Grace

As a book reviewer, I always have a book with me, taking advantage of every free moment in my life to get some reading done (those little spurts add up!). I took Couriers of Grace with me to my daughter's Irish dance class this past Saturday which is held at a local social club. Parents have to either leave or sit downstairs in the (not open) bar area. So, there I was, sitting on a stool in a poorly lit bar, reading this book, tears pouring down my face, trying to wipe them away before anyone noticed. Now that you have that image, I'll share my official review.

Nancy Jo Sullivan pens a loving tribute to her daughter Sarah while offering a message for all of us in Couriers of Grace: My Daughter, the Sacraments, and a Surprising Walk of Faith (Ave Maria Press, 2017). When Sullivan was twenty-six, she gave birth to her first child. As she and her husband marveled at the baby’s beauty and perfection, the doctors informed them of the unexpected diagnosis: Sarah had Down syndrome. 

It was the first time in her life that Sullivan ever asked, “Why God?” In the midst of that questioning, she had a mystical experience in which she heard the Lord say, “This child is a gift.” Sarah only lived to be twenty-three, but as Sullivan writes, her “life, in essence, was a sacrament, a visible sign of God’s grace. Through her, God transfigured me, my family, and all those who knew her.” In a world in which so many children with Down syndrome are aborted before they ever have a chance to live outside the womb, Sarah’s life bears witness to the worth and importance of every human being. 

Sullivan tells the story of her daughter’s life and her own experience of being her mother as those tales relate to the Catholic seven sacraments: Baptism, Reconciliation, Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick. While Sarah would personally only receive two of those sacraments, her mother has found lessons in all of them. 

Whether you have a child with a disability or not, every parent will be able to relate to parts of Sullivan’s story. Raising Sarah and her two other daughters and facing the challenges of parenting helped Sullivan revisit her own childhood and to help heal her own wounds. Every child has lessons to teach their parents. Every parent has much to learn and much need to rely on God’s grace.  None of us is perfect, but “in God’s eyes, we are beautiful to behold. Broken, but blessed.” 

Reflection questions are included that are appropriate for both personal and group use. Couriers of Grace is a profoundly beautiful, hope-filled, and heart-wrenching book. Be sure to have a box of tissues nearby as you read. 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Book Review: Ornamental Graces

While the cover and title of this book might lead you to believe that Ornamental Graces by Carolyn Astfalk is only a Christmas read,  you would be wrong. This Catholic romance is an enjoyable escape any time of year.

After being badly burned by a woman, Dan Malone is in no rush to get into a relationship with another one, but he can't seem to get his mind off of Emily, the younger sister of a new friend. He has a great deal of baggage to contend with and the two share an on-again, off-again up-and-down relationship, trying to work through all the assorted junk that life seems to throw at them.

Ultimately, this is a story of redemption and forgiveness and the fact that none of us are beyond God's mercy, no matter what may have happened in the past.

Monday, January 30, 2017

MIndfulness and Creativity

My Sketchbook
My project for 2017 is to spend a few minutes a day drawing in a small sketchbook. Thirty days into the year and I have done it every day. I'm enjoying this project so much. It's a little bit of respite in my day and I get to nurture my creative side, which often feels sorely neglected.

 Mindfulness requires paying attention. I'm as guilty as the next person of rushing through life and not appreciating all the beauty in our world. Doing my few minutes of drawing forces me to slow down and pay attention. Whether I'm drawing a piece of fruit or a Lego figure, it requires my to look closely - to see all the small details I would otherwise overlook. There is no way to draw from life without paying attention to the object you are attempting to recreate. It is an exercise in mindfulness.

I think any act of creativity requires mindfulness. Whether one is creating visual or performing art, writing a story, working on a craft, or cooking a new dish, one has to focus and pay attention to what one is doing. It requires you to be in the moment. Maybe that's part of the reason why creating is such a joyful activity.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Book Review and Interview with Jeannie Ewing, author of Sea Without a Shore

Today I'm pleased to be hosting the blog tour for Jeannie Ewing who has just released Sea Without a Shore.

A Sea Without a Shore: Spiritual Reflections for the Brokenhearted, Weary, and Lonely is a series of reflections by Ewing on Scriptural passages, quotes, and prayers. Loosely organized by topic, this devotional is meant to be read piecemeal - perhaps one reflection per day, or left at a bedside to be picked up when one needs a bit of comfort.

If you are a naturally upbeat, optimistic person, this is probably not the best book for you. But if you are like me and tend to suffer from depression or discouragement on a regular basis, you will find much to relate to in these pages. Ewing knows what it is to walk in the darkness. She struggles with her own chronic illness and with the challenges of raising two children with special needs. In this book, she writes of trying to find beauty and stay faithful to God when it seems there is no light to be found. Her journey is one that many of us can relate to and her words are beautiful and honest.

Here are a few quotes from the book that spoke to me:

"Our Lady is the way out of the darkness, for she points the way more quickly and easily to the Light of the World."

"My suffering must be united to Your Passion if anything meaningful or hopeful will become of it. . . Tears of sorrow are the seeds that I plant in Your hands today. With each that falls, I know you collect them all and care for each reason they existed. And then beautifully, majestically, you plant hope that bears lasting fruit from the seeds of suffering."

"When we suffer and choose that God may use it in any way he wills, we are transformed by graces, through hope, into joy."

"God desires my fidelity over secular accomplishments and accolades . . . The only true measure of success is that which leads us to heaven."

"Never underestimate the power of a whisper. There is someone, somewhere who is inspired, touched, and transformed by your faithfulness to God."

"I've realized that people are just starving for someone to notice them, to care about their suffering, to listen. When we do these things, however awkward it may feel for us, we're presenting the mercy of God to a world so lacking in real love."

Purchase A Sea Without a Shore on Amazon and help support this site: http://amzn.to/2klAKqx

Enter to Win!

Jeannie will be giving away TWO paperback copies of her Meditation Book and TWO paperback copies of A Sea Without A Shore. So be sure to enter and spread the word. The Giveaway ends at 12:00AM Eastern time on January 31st.

Interview with Jeannie Ewing

  1.  Describe a typical writing day. Are you a morning, afternoon, or night-owl writer?
I am an “anytime writer.”  You see, my life does not neatly fit into a box (unfortunately for me).  I have two young daughters and another baby on the way.  Both of our girls have different special needs that require a lot of extra time spent with various specialists, special education programs, surgeries, and counselors.  I spent a good portion of my time at the disposal of a doctor’s availability, rather than what is convenient for my family.
Because of this, I write when I have time.  That might sound like a cop-out, but I don’t waste time.  If I have 10 minutes of a lull in my day, I will write for 10 minutes.  When the girls are having quiet time and I can snag an extra 20 to 30 minutes, I will write.  Most of my best writing happens right after breakfast on a weekend when my husband is gracious enough to watch the girls for me.  But most of what I produce is in the evenings after the girls have gone to bed.

  1. Can you tell us about your current work-in-progress?

I have 3 of them actually.  The first is a book that answers common questions about what to do in specific social or religious situations – a sort of etiquette question and answer book.  That proposal has been submitted to a publisher, who is in the process of checking it out.
The second manuscript is one I am co-authoring with my husband, Ben.  It is a parenting book about using the beatitudes as our beacon for what we do and teach our children on a daily basis.  That, too, is in the process of consideration from a different publishing house.
The third work-in-progress is my favorite to date.  It is a book about the value of waiting and what that looks like from a cultural attitude, as well as a spiritual one.  It includes various points of philosophy, but mainly I’m trying to encourage people in their tough times of waiting, especially when it is prolonged.  I plan to complete that manuscript before I submit it to a potential publisher.

  1. What inspires you when you’re writing?

Prayer – Scriptures, silence, reading reflections and the lives of the saints; music – especially classical or some type of soothing instrumental music; sometimes nature inspires me, and sometimes it could be a conversation with a friend or something I observe while I’m out and about.

  1. What’s your favorite item on your writing desk?

Hmmm, probably my perpetual cup of tea!

  1. What’s your favorite genre and why?

Memoir, because I love reading about other people’s journeys in life through their own eyes.

  1. Any advice you have for a blossoming author?

Just begin.  Don’t worry about the details or even the process itself.  Just start somewhere and keep moving forward.  Your first draft won’t be perfect, so don’t expect it to be.  Don’t write with censorship; get into your own flow and let it happen naturally.  Our best muse is God, so I always pray before I write.

  1. What is your writing process like?

I guess the best word I can use is ‘inspired.’  Just when I think I’ve completed a book, a new idea pops into my head and becomes more developed over time.  That’s been the case for this book on waiting.  When I write, it could be jotting down ideas on scraps of paper like a typical creative type, or it could mean I actually sit down and type up a chapter on my laptop.  But I always, always write down inspired ideas, regardless of where I am or what I’m doing.

  1. When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

Reading, taking care of my girls (homeschooling the eldest), chatting with my husband or watching movies with him, taking walks with my dog through our neighborhood

  1. What or who inspired you to become a writer?

I’ve always been a writer, since I first learned to put words together creatively and articulately.  It’s a natural talent and also a spiritual charism.  I’ve enjoyed creating ideas through writing – whether fiction when I was a kid or poetry as a young adult or original research papers in college – and now non-fiction seems to be where God wants me right now.

  1. How long have you been writing?

I started journaling when I was about 9 years old.  I received a Hello Kitty diary from a friend for my birthday and wrote in a journal every day ever since!

  1. Are you Self-published or Traditional Published? Why did you choose this type of publishing?

I’m a hybrid author, which means I have some books that are self-published and some that are traditionally published.  I’ll be speaking more on the advantages and disadvantages of this at the Catholic Writers Conference Online in February. 
Essentially, I didn’t “choose” this type of publishing.  It just worked out that my first book was self-published, because each step of the process I had someone offer to help me through it professionally!  My second book ended up being traditionally published, because my editor at Catholic Exchange asked me if I had considered writing a book.

  1. Anything else you’d like to share with your readers?

Writing can be daunting, so don’t think it’s some romantic way of life.  Most of us don’t make a grand living as writers, but we love what we do.  If you are called to write, you will want to share your ideas with others in order to inspire, encourage, entertain, or teach them – maybe a combination of these, or something else. 

Just for fun:

  1. Do you have any pets?

Yes!  A 9-year-old pit bull mix, Lily.  She’s a character!  We love her as one of our family members.

  1. Who’s your favorite musician/band?

Well, I love music and a variety of genres of music.  I’d say it depends, but my favorite genre of music is Renaissance or Baroque.  I especially love Michael Praetorius and Tomasso Albonini.

  1. What’s your favorite vacation spot?

The mountains.  It’s my dream to live in the Smokies one day.

  1. Do you like coffee or tea?

Never liked coffee, but I love tea and drink it daily with a bit of honey.

  1. Did you go to college? If so, what was your major?

Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Religious Studies and Master of Science in Education for School Counseling

  1. Are you a full-time writer or do you also work in another field? If so, what field?

My “full-time” job is a stay-at-home mom. 

  1. Favorite Season? Fall/Winter/Spring/Summer

I like the changing seasons for different reasons.  When I was a kid, my favorite season was summer, but now it’s probably fall.  I love the cooler weather and gorgeous colors.  Plus, there are so many fun things to do in the fall – hay rides, jumping in leaf piles, visiting pumpkin patches and carving them, apple picking and making homemade applesauce, etc.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Lessons from The Screwtape Letters

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis has been on my want-to-read list for years. The fact that my teen boys were reading it this week for their English class made it the perfect time for me to finally cross it off my to-do list. Written in 1941, it is a fictional portrayal of a devil (Screwtape) guiding his nephew (Wormwood) through the process of tempting and drawing a soul to eternal damnation. The book offers much food for thought, but there were a couple of points that really spoke to me and my current position in life. 

In Letter XXI, Screwtape talks about how humans get irritable when their plans for their time are impinged upon. “They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels it is being stolen.” Screwtape points out what a fallacy this is: “The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon as his chattels.” He goes on to explain that we frequently suffer from this sense of ownership, whether it be of our bodies, other people, or material objects. Sometimes we even think of God as “my God.”

How true this is and how much we (I) need that reminder. None of us is here of our own free will. None of us can take a breath without God allowing it. The time I have this day has been given to me from God and while I have a responsibility to use it well as much as I am able, who am I to object when he has different plans for my day? By the same token, all we have, including our family members, friends, pets, jobs, houses and all the stuff in them also rightfully belong to God. We are temporary caretakers, stewards of the earth, with a role to play in bringing about the kingdom of God. In the midst of the busyness of life, we should strive to never lose sight of the One who is truly in charge. 

In Letter XXVI, Screwtape talks about unselfishness and how men and women view this topic differently. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times in my life I have wondered why men are so selfish. Can’t they see all that needs to get done? I’ve pondered whether it is some genetic marker on the Y chromosome or a societal construct or if the men I’ve encountered are simply personally deficient in that regard (I’ve heard rumors that there are men out there that do not fit this mold). This is the first time I’ve ever heard it explained like this: “A woman means by Unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for others; a man means not giving trouble to others. . . .Thus while the woman thinks of doing good offices and the man of respecting other people’s rights, each sex, without any obvious reason, can and does regard the other as radically selfish.” 

So, this is simply one more instance of the sexes not understanding each other. That makes sense. The longer I live, especially having had the benefit of raising male children, I realize more and more how different men and women truly are. In a perfect world, that complementarity would create a perfect union. However, we live in an imperfect, sinful world where misunderstandings and wounded feelings seem much more likely to be the order of the day. This insight from a male writer helps me to understand that this behavior on the part of men is not personal, which somehow makes it a bit easier to take. 

In fact, the idea that men also consider us women selfish is quite an eye opener. While I don’t plan to stop doing for others anytime soon, it is a reminder that not everyone sees the world the way I do and that it is important to give others the benefit of the doubt, instead of thinking the worst of them.

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