Friday, December 30, 2005

The Feast of The Holy Family

Today is the feast of the Holy Family. Normally, this feast falls on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year's (also a Holy Day - the feast of Mary, Mother of God), but with those days falling on Sundays, this feast got "bumped."

The Gospel reading for today (Luke 2:22-40) tells of Mary and Joseph bringing the baby Jesus to the temple to consecrate him to the Lord. Here the prophet Simeon tells Mary "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel . . .and you yourself a sword shall pierce." We also have the prophetess Anna, an old woman who lived in the temple, who hears the good news of the baby Jesus and then goes out to spread the good news to all who would listen.

It's hard to imagine what Mary might have thought as she heard Simeon's words. The gospel tells us that "she kept all these things in her heart" (Luke 2: 51)While others, like Anna, rejoiced at the coming of the Savior, I wonder if she ever hesitated. While she willingly said "yes" to the angel and was willing to take on her role in salvation history, I imagine at times she questioned the cost. Jesus was her little boy. As he played in Nazareth, she must have feared the future that was to come. No mother ever wants to see her son hurt. She knew the role he was to play, and her part in it was to sacrifice all that she had.

Dear Mary, please help us to willingly sacrifice to help our children to fulfill the roles God has given them. Amen.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Back in Quilting Mode

After my pleasant experience reading "The Christmas Quilt" by Jennifer Chiaverini, I decided to pick up the first three books in the Elm Creek Quilts series, which conveniently came in one large book called "An Elm Creek Quilts Sampler." So far, I have finished the first book called "The Quilter's Apprentice." While much of the story was the same as "The Christmas Quilt," it did help to fill in some of the blanks and I am looking forward to reading more.

Mostly, however, the stories make me want to quilt! I have loved quilts for as long as I can remember. When I was nine years old, they were having a book fair at my school and there was this big book with patterns for 100 quilt blocks that I just fell in love with. I begged my mother for the $10 to buy it and for whatever reason, she actually agreed to it. I still have that book.

I didn't actually make a quilt until I was 24 years old however. One of my closest friends and his wife were having a baby and I was so jealous! I wanted a baby so much but circumstances just weren't right for us yet. So, I set out to make a quilt for the baby to give me something productive to do. Knowing them, the quilt has since been sold in a tag sale! But, hopefully it is being loved by someone else. Since then, I made two more baby quilts - one for each of my children, and one wedding quilt for my best friend (picture below). That was my only full-size quilt. I was very proud of it. My stitches and measurements are no where near as precise as they should be, but it came out beautiful. The best part is, when I visit their home and sleep over, I get to sleep under it! Anyway, that was two years ago. I have plans to make a quilt for my own bed, but so far all they are are plans! Hopefully soon I'll have the time to put those plans into action!

Art and creativity are important in our lives, and I'll leave you with a quote from "The Quilter's Apprentice" that echoes that sentiment:

"As far as I am concerned, women need art at least as much as men do, even if no one sees their work but themselves. We all need to give ourselves that time."

God Truly is Mercy and Love

Kathryn Mulderink graciously allowed me to post an excerpt from her amazing book His Suffering and Ours. Please visit:

God Truly Is Mercy and Love

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

What a Wonderful Day!

While the boys and I often go out of the house and do activities, I usually have at least one day a week when we just stay in the house, decompress, and enjoy each other's company. Today was one of those days, and it was amazing. Sometimes you can get up in the morning and magic comes out of the ordinary. We played on the computer and with trains and with play-dough and a few games of Isaac's new "Sesame Street Chutes and Ladders" game which he absolutely loves. When Bernie came home from work, he played with us. It wasn't like we were doing anything extraordinary, but the boys were getting along and behaving themselves (no one went on time-out today!) and we were all laughing and having fun. Right before bath and bedtime, we were watching some music videos. Isaac was up in my arms and we were dancing as David jumped around the room. Isaac was just so cuddly with those soft blond curls pressed against me and I just wanted to freeze the moment forever.

Thank you, God, for the beauty of simple moments!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Spiritual Woman Website Updates

I made quite a few updates to the website tonight.

Check out the following articles:

Artist and Mother Shines God's Light in Her Work

Is God a Romantic?

and the following book reviews:

His Suffering and Ours: Words of Hope for Pierced and Wounded Hearts
by Kathryn Mulderink

Catholicism for Dummies

Do Not Go Gentle: My Search for Miracles in a Cynical Time
by Ann Hood

A Personal God

Today in Living Faith Claire King writes about how God is concerned with all that concerns us. God is aware of all that we take in through our senses and experience in our emotions, the people we meet and the conversations we have. No matter where our day takes us, God is there. He is with us in the mundane and the extraordinary, when we are joyful and when we are hurting. How wonderful it is to have a personal God who cares about all that we are and all that we do!

Monday, December 26, 2005

And then it was over . . .

It always amazes me how quickly the world gets back to "normal" mode after Christmas. It's like all that peace and happiness vanishes in the blink of an eye, and all that is left is the memories. Of course, in the Church, our Christmas season has actually just begun and will continue through mid-January. So, while everyone else takes down the decorations and puts away the Christmas music, we get to hear carols and enjoy the Holy Season a little while longer.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus

Well, the end is near. The preparations have been made and all is ready to celebrate the Christmas event. The boys can hardly contain their enthusiasm. David is all set to be a shepherd in our parish Christmas pageant to take place at the Christmas Eve mass, and both boys are looking forward to the parties and Santa's coming.

As for me, this Christmas finds my heart at peace and that is all I could ask for. I wish all of you a wonderful Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Letting Go

The first reading for today is from the book of Samuel, telling how Hannah, Samuel's mother, brought him to Eli, the high priest, at the age of three. Hannah had longed for a child for many years. She promised God that if He gave her a child she would in turn offer him back to God. I can't imagine her heartbreak at bringing her little son to the temple and giving him up.

Terri Mifek in "Living Faith" writes that "When we are faced with letting go of the people and things we cherish most, we have no idea what good might come out of our loss." It is hard to give up that which we love, hard to know what good God might bring out of our pain. In Hannah's case, Samuel would grow to be a great prophet. In our own case, we must trust in the Lord that He does have a plan, and that no sacrifice will go unrewarded.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Mary's "Yes"

The Gospel reading for today (Luke 1:26-38) tells us of the angel Gabriel coming to Mary to tell her that she would become pregnant with Jesus. Mary's response, despite her hesitation, her fear of the unknown, was "May it be done to me according to your word." It is interesting, isn't it, that God needed human cooperation to fulfill His plan to save us. He needed Mary to say "Yes."

I'm currently reading "His Suffering and Ours" by Kathryn Mulderink. She is an amazing writer and this is an incredible book. It is Lenten themed, focusing on the seven statements of Christ on the cross, which makes an interesting counterpart to our current Advent season. The Christmas event makes the Easter event possible. At the cross, Jesus will remember the woman who said "Yes." (John 19:27) He gives her to us all as our mother. Mulderink offers her own insight into Mary's "Yes":

"She didn't say 'yes' to Gabriel for her own glory; she said 'yes' because she was willing to be used by God for His own purposes, and also because she knew that the salvation of all of creation depended on her 'yes.' She accepted it all, for love of all. . .

We must each utter our own fiat , donate our own bodies, keep our hearts open to Him, so that He can act in the world."

Monday, December 19, 2005

Waiting for a Child

Two of the liturgical readings for today deal with announcements of impending births by angels. Judges 13:2-7, 24-25 tells of the birth of Samson. Luke 1:5-25 has an angel appearing to Zacheriah telling him that he and Elizabeth would have a son who would grow up to be John the Baptist. Both of these women were barren, a fate almost worse than death in societies in which child-bearing was the mark of success for a woman. Yet in the end, God rewarded their patience and faith, giving them children who would go on to do great things, although both would ultimately meet sad ends (at least in human terms).

Christmas is about waiting for a child to be born. Unlike with Christmas which you can pretty much guarantee will come around at the same time each year, human children tend to arrive on their own schedules. You can try to plan for them, but God tends to send them when He chooses. And then there is the pregnant waiting, when for nine (or in my case nearly ten) months, your whole life revolves around this child growing within you. And the last days when you can barely walk and every moment has the potential for a miracle. When will he come? You are getting ready and filled with excitement and fear and happiness and sadness and every other emotion known to woman.

Each year, we remember how Mary, and all mothers who came before and after her, have waited for a child. We wait with Mary and prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus.


Speaking of motherhood, tonight I found a blog by a colleague of mine - Dionna Sanchez at www.EmphasisOnMoms.com Her blog is at http://www.emphasisonmoms.blogspot.com.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

What a Busy Christmas Day!

Christmas is the time of year when things get so busy. Today was one of those days. We had a Christmas party at Church, then we had mass, then David and I had CCD where we both had Christmas parties in our respective classes. Actually, today my 4th grade class combined with the 1st grade class in order to share materials to work on a Christmas craft. It really was alot of fun. David had a good time in his Pre-K class, too.

Then we had to hurry home because we had our long-distance friends coming for a Christmas celebration at 1 pm. It was wonderful to see everyone and everything went well. The boys had a good time playing with their friends that they hadn't seen in quite a while and opening their presents and we grown-ups had the opportunity to get caught up.

I love to see everyone and have Christmas parties, but I also breathe a sigh of relief after. It's 8 pm and everyone (including my husband) is sleeping. Everyone was worn out by our busy day. Thankfully this week should be pretty quiet before all the festivities of next weekend.

Friday, December 16, 2005

"The Christmas Quilt"

I finished reading "The Christmas Quilt" today. What a wonderful Christmas story, spanning several generations, talking about the importance of family and forgiveness, and making the most of the time we have on this Earth. What an important message any time of year!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Old Memories and "The Christmas Quilt"

I went to playgroup this morning with the boys. We have a new member who started coming just a few weeks ago. She has two boys the same age difference as mine (19 months) except somewhat younger. Her older boy is 2 1/2 and the younger is turning 1 next week. The little guy is just learning how to walk. As he toddled to me today with arms outstretched, I couldn't help getting lost in his big hazel eyes! He really is the cutest little guy. I commented that I used to have little boys like him. One of my other friends responded that my boys were never that small - that they were just born big! Not true, I have pictures - I have proof that once upon a time they were small. Unfortunately, I have very little memories of those days - they have been mostly lost to the sleep-deprived haze that I walked through those days with. Thank goodness for my journals. At least I can go back and read them and acknowledge that those days did in fact exist. I love my boys right where they are, however. I love the people that they are becoming.

I'm also indulging right now and reading a Christmas novel - "The Christmas Quilt" by Jennifer Chiaverini. It caught my eye at the library this past Saturday because I was looking for a Christmas story and I love quilting. I don't get to do it much, but it is one of those incredibly relaxing things that I should do more. I do it the old-fashioned way - by hand with needle and thread, because I like to just sit on the couch and sew while I watch T.V. I also don't know how to work a sewing machine! I'm sure that I could learn, but I really don't have the desire. I like the old-fashioned method, even if it is more slow. Anyway, this book is one of a series about an old house that has been converted into a quilters' retreat. This particular book is telling the story of long-ago Christmases at the house. I may have to pick up the others. I'm about 1/2 way through and enjoying it very much.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Meaning of Christmas

There has been alot of uproar lately about people replacing the word "Christmas" with "Holiday" as in "Holiday Trees" and "Happy Holidays!" instead of "Merry Christmas!" I'm not going to add my voice to the din. I tend to think of such moves as more of a realization that we live in a multicutural world and less of an assault on my Christianity. After all, the outside trappings of Christmas - the tree, the ornaments, even the presents, have very little to do with the religious holy day. They are wonderful and there is certainly no harm in taking advantage of any of them. One can even assign them a spiritual significance. But that is not where it is at. What matters is what is going on in our hearts - the spirit of giving, the belief in miracles, and the celebration of a God who loves us so much that he sent His son to walk among us. The Bible tells us that they will know we are Christians by the way that we love one another. That is what Christmas is about. It is about love - God's love for us, and our love for others.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Caring for Creation

I help teach fourth-grade religious education in our parish. One of the topics for the year is taking care of creation. We all have a responsibility to take care of the planet, primarily so it will be here for our children and our children's children, but also because God entrusted it to our care.

Scientists agree that we are experiencing global warming. While we can't stop it, we should do what we can to try to limit it. The difficulty comes when we must balance caring for the planet with our own needs. For example, we know that using our cars is bad - all that exhaust going into the air is not doing any good. Yet, in our modern American world, a car is a necessity. Yes, there are those good souls who use bicycles , but I have yet to figure out how to transport two children on one and do my shopping! The same holds true for heat - whether you use electric, gas, or oil, you are still polluting the planet. Wood is at least a renewable resource, but still a pollutant.

So, what can we do? Until the perfect non-polluting energy source becomes readily available, we need to choose to conserve. Replace your lightbulbs with the energy-saving kind. Turn off lights and TVs that are not being used. Drive your car only when necessary - no joy rides just for the sake of riding around. Keep your thermostat low and put on an extra sweater or blanket on the bed. These are simple easy steps. While in and of themselves, they may not make a tremendous difference, but if everyone made an effort we could make a huge difference in the state of our planet.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Finding the Right Path

"I, the Lord, your God teach you what is for your good, and lead you on the way you should go." - Isaiah 48:17

Sr. Joyce Rupp, meditating on this quote from Isaiah in today's devotion in Living Faith wrote "Each day we take another step on our path of life. That's as far as we can know where the road goes."

Sometimes it is very hard to know what God wants of us. Anne Lamott writes in "Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith" (the book I finished reading today!) that "The problem with God -- or at any rate, one of the top five most annoying things about God -- is that He or She rarely answers right away . . . I, on the other hand, am an instant-message type." I am with her. How many times have I wished for a phone call or email from God telling me what my next step should be. I have envied those who claim with such certainty that God has spoken to them and directed their steps. I seem to have poor reception!

Many times, however, I have seen God at work in my life (sometimes at the moment, more often in hindsight.) So, I trust that He is guiding my steps even though I am often hesitant about where I should go or what I should do. I keep reaching out to others, hoping someone will have an answer for me, that perhaps God will use them as a conduit to get his message across. God often does speak through others. So, I keep my ears and eyes open, and my feet to the ground, taking one step at a time, trusting that God will lead me where I should go.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

On Hope

"They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength . . ." Isaiah 40:31

Sometimes it is very difficult to hope, yet hope is part of what it means to be Christian. We hope for a better tomorrow, a better world, and a better life. In this season of Advent, we hope for the coming of Christ, and a Christmas in which there will truly be peace on earth.

Many years ago, a boss of mine gave me a card with the following quote which I still have on my bureau:

"Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all." - Emily Dickinson

I read those words and it reminds me that deep inside, even on days when it seems that there is little reason to hope, there is still hope inside of me.

To be human is to hope, because if we ever lose all hope, we cease to have any reason to live. We hope because no matter how bad life is, we trust that tomorrow may be just a little bit better. We believe that God will come to our aid, that life has a purpose, that the sorrow and despair we may feel are only temporary. We hold on for one more day. We continue to hope.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A Good Soul Cleansing

I went to our parish's Advent penance service and to the sacrament of Reconciliation this evening. It is important to have a good soul cleansing once in a while. The last time I went was 8 months ago. Before that, it had been four years! I'm trying to get back in the habit of going more regularly.

Getting up the nerve to go to confession always take some work. Even tonight, standing in line, I was sweating. There is something incredibly humbling about baring your soul to another person. That is why going to penance services is wonderful. There is safety in numbers, and something comforting about watching all these other people of all ages and colors doing the same thing. You also have the opportunity to go to someone other than your parish priest. Somehow it is easier to talk to a stranger who you won't have to see on a regular basis!

But confession is also remarkably liberating. Non-Catholics always say that God himself forgives sins, and of course He does. There is something about going through the process of sweating, and listing your sins, saying your act of contrition, and hearing the words of absolution that makes you feel lighter than air. A young woman standing next to me in line was talking to her grandmother while we were waiting. She told her that every year when she goes to confession, she just asks for a fresh start. How wonderful that we have that opportunity! The sacrament of Reconciliation gives us a chance to begin again, to wipe clean the sins of our past, and to attempt to change.

For a wonderful discussion of the Sacrament of Confession, check out Lord Have Mercy by Scott Hahn. It is a great book and what convinced me to return to the sacrament after my four year absence.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Christmas Comes a Little Early

We had our first Christmas party yesterday. The boys received a couple of presents there and another one today. I really enjoy having the Christmas presents spread out. It gives the boys the opportunity to actually enjoy the gifts and play with them as opposed to having this onslaught on Christmas Day where they end up with a pile that they are so overwhelmed with.

Rebecca Drake, the editor of "The Catholic Observer", our local diocesan newspaper wrote in an editorial how at first she was annoyed to see all the Christmas decorations out in the store back in October. Then she thought about it and realized we are right to celebrate Christmas at any time of the year. That is something good to remember and meditate on. We are always in a state of both anticipation and waiting for Christ to come, as well as celebrating that which has already happened. Christmas should always be with us.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Potty-Training Blues

There are few things in this world that cause me as much stress as potty-training. Three-year-old Isaac and I have been at it now for the past three months. He's making progress slowly but surely and I know that he will eventually get the concept. I know this because his brother David took almost a year.

It is entirely possible that I did everything wrong a mother could do when potty-training, not intentionally of course. I had talked to other moms who had successfully potty-trained children and I read books and magazines. I even prayed. I was told if I put him straight into underwear so that he had accidents, he would quickly become potty-trained (most likely within a week). David was so traumatized by wetting himself that first day that he sat on his little potty for 12 straight hours. He refused to get off. He played there and we read books there and he ate his meals there. The thought of it now just breaks my heart. We spent five days in the house (thankfully he did get off the potty on those days) with a few successes and alot of accidents. Maybe he just wasn't ready. The books said if he wasn't ready, try again in a month or two. So, we did, off and on for several months. The boy just didn't get it.

He got so upset by the whole process that he started holding back his poops, which ultimately landed us in the pediatrician's office. By this time he was three and four months old. The doctor prescribed mineral oil and once he was pooping regularly again, she set us up with a plan to get him potty-trained. She had me ask him what he wanted as a reward for using the potty. He said he wanted little Matchbox cars. I went to BJs and bought a 100 pack and each time he even sat on the potty for one whole minute,he could get a car. After he was used to sitting on the potty, he would only get a car for successfully using the potty. He loved getting the cars and would sit on the potty but consistently using it just wasn't going to happen. The doctor even surrendered, telling me that he would do it when he was ready.

I was so at my wits end, I even did the St. Jude Novena that our parish does every October - 9 days of masses. St. Jude is the patron saint of desperate causes! I remember looking around the Church thinking "I bet I am the only person here praying for a child to use a potty!"

Then came one day in early December of last year, when he was three and eight months old. He got up and said that he had to go wee-wees and that he didn't need me, and sure enough he went! And continued to go. The boy who the day before had been leaving puddles on my floor was potty-trained and he never looked back.

So, with Isaac, I vowed I wasn't going near a potty with the child until he was three. But at 2 years and 9 months, he asked to go. Unlike his brother, he actually had the mental component where if he had to go to the bathroom, he could make himself go. Wonderful, I thought. Finally, a child who would be easy to potty-train! I rewarded him every time he went, but soon his enthusiasm waned. We change rewards, trying to keep him interested. Right now, his reward is one gumdrop. Some days he actually does all his wee-wees in the potty, other days maybe one or two. Poops are still a struggle. But I know he will get it. When he is ready he will be potty-trained.

I know this, and yet, today at a party talking to a friend whose little boy turned three and was potty-trained within a week, I wanted to cry. I still want to cry. What is wrong with me that I cannot potty-train a child? Why do I fail at this basic test of motherhood? And yet, I know, it is not about me at all. It is about them. As adults, no one will care at what age they learned to use a potty. Heck, at kindergarten, no one will care. I somehow need to keep my ego out of it, and just need to keep encouraging Isaac and let him go at his own pace. I know this, and yet . . .

Friday, December 02, 2005

Momentary Indulgences

Lest you think that I spend every waking moment dwelling on spiritual issues, I feel compelled to confess that I do indulge in some momentary pleasures. For one, I love ice cream - couldn't live without it! In fact, I just finished a bowl while I was sitting here at the computer checking my email.

Second, I enjoy reading magazines, in particular ones on home decorating. I love "Better Homes and Garden," "House Beautiful," and "Home and Garden." On occasion, I'll even venture into Martha Stewart's "Living" even though I would never put that much effort into my decorating or my cooking. I even enjoy "Town and Country" - a magazine which features products and services I could never afford in my wildest dreams. Honestly, even if I had millions of dollars at my disposal, I really am not the $5,000 dress kind of woman!

I just like to look at beautiful things. Art and beauty are important wherever you find them. Whether that be in your decorating style, or the plants in your garden, or the clothes you wear, if we are surrounded by beauty, we are happier people. Above my computer, I have a collage of art pictures that I have cut from books and magazines, and no, you will not find that in any reputable decorating magazine. These pictures are literally just taped to the wall, but I enjoy them and that is what matters. So, find some beauty in your surroundings and indulge!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

God has Good Ideas!

My son David (age 4 1/2) came up to me today and said "God had a good idea when he made me!" Obviously, my son has no self-esteem issues. But David was a good idea, as was my other son Isaac, and every single one of us. God created each of us unique and we each have a role to play in God's plan. What a powerful thought! What a self-esteem boost! What a responsbility! God does indeed have good ideas, and our very existance was one of them.

I posted the review for "One Baby Rose" today - http://www.spiritualwoman.net/Books/OneBabyRose.html
Look for it in January from SoulCake Press.

I also posted Don't Let Worry Ruin Your Career

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Miscellaneous Happenings

I finished reading "One Baby Rose" by Jim Bello today - an excellent book. It can truly be considered a right-to-life novel in that it explores the issues of abortion and euthanasia, but it is also a page-turner. I was only able to read a chapter or two at each setting, but it was so hard to put it down. I just wanted to keep going to see what would happen. I hope to write a review in the next couple days. The book will be available in January from SoulCake Press.

The boys and I made bread-dough Christmas ornaments today. I wish I could claim that I came up with that idea all by myself but it was actually a suggestion from the children's bulletin that our parish gives out at the children's mass. Here is the recipe: 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup salt, and 1/2 cup water. Mix until it sticks together but shouldn't stick to your hands. Put flour on your working surface and then roll out the dough and use cookie cutters or shape the dough with your hands or a knife. The dough can be left out to dry (it will take about a week) or put in a 400 degree oven until light brown. Then they can be painted. My mom used to make this dough for me which was something I had totally forgotten about until reading about it today. The kids had a great time.

I also mailed out the latest copy of the newsletter today and posted the corresponding articles on the website:

Making the Most of God's Gifts

How to Have the "Perfect" Christmas

Waiting For a "Star"

Profile in Faith: Hildegard of Bingen

Book Reviews:
Called to Communion by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI)

A Resilient Life by Gordon MacDonald

The Unmistakable Touch of Grace by Cheryl Richardson

Sunday, November 27, 2005

One Baby Rose

Yesterday I received in the mail a review copy of "One Baby Rose," a new Catholic novel by Jim Bello to be published by SoulCake Press this January. I'm about one-third through it and so far I'm very impressed. It's so nice to be able to read a novel and consider it work! I'll be writing a review for my website as soon as it is done, so stay tuned for more information. If it continues in the same way it has been going, this is one you'll want to read!

In other news, I've been putting the finishing touches on the December/January newsletter that will be mailed out later this week. This issue features information on how to make the most of the gifts God has given us, how to have a "perfect" Christmas, a Profile in Faith on Hildegard of Bingen, and three book reviews including "The Unmistakable Touch of Grace" by Cheryl Richardson. To subscribe, visit my website at http://www.spiritualwoman.net

Friday, November 25, 2005

O Christmas Tree

We put up our Christmas decorations today. While our tree certainly win any awards in a design magazine, it is a tree full of memories for me. When Bernie and I were first married, we had a hand-me-down tree from his parents and the ornaments that went with it. It was a "Charlie Brown" type tree but it was the best we had and it was kind of them to give it to us. Over the years, we have made the tree our own. A couple years back we even bought our very own artificial tree that looks somewhat more tree-like.

It is the ornaments that truely make it ours, however. There are still a few choice ornaments from Bernie's family - they are part of his history and now our children's history. The majority, however, tell the story of our life together. There are ones that I have made, ones that I have bought or have been given showing each year we have been together. There are the baby's 1st Christmas ornaments from 2001 and 2002 when David and Isaac were born. And perhaps most special of all, the ornaments which they have made and hung themselves with such pride. Topping it off is a beautiful angel that my sister gave me. I look at our tree and I can't help but smile.

It is night now and the lights are glowing. While I know that Jesus's birth was almost certainly not in the middle of winter, I'm glad that the powers that were decided that was when we would celebrate. There is something so symbolic about the light coming into the darkness. In these shortest days of the year for us in the northern hemisphere, the light is so welcome and beautiful. Just like Jesus coming to bring light into our world, we welcome the celebration.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

A White Thanksgiving

We awoke this morning to a blanket of snow - our first snowfall of the year. The boys were ecstatic. They wanted to go outside at 6 am. I made them wait until the sun was fully up so there we were at 7:30 am shoveling the walk and making footprint patterns in the snow!

One of my favorite Thanksgiving memories was of a white holiday back when I was 14. That year, for whatever reason, my parents and I were spending the day just the three of us. We had significant snow, but I remember going out for a walk by myself through the world of white, and that it was just so peaceful. That has always stayed with me.

These days, my expectations for holidays are different. I still look forward to them, but there is also that layer of stress that comes with entertaining and taking care of small children. Did I really think that the boys would behave any better than usual today just because it says that it is a holiday on a calendar? Sometimes it seems like holidays are merely to be survived! Still, today is a day for giving thanks for all our blessings, and I am fortunate to have so many. I give thanks for my children, and my husband, and our warm home on a cold day, for the food on our table, for the walk that David and I took hand in hand through the snow, and the fact that the children are now in bed and I can relax a bit!

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope that your blessings are many as well.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Getting Ready for Christmas

I went out Christmas shopping tonight. Over the years I have discovered that I enjoy the Advent and Christmas season much more if the work is behind me. I realized that today was the last opportunity I was going to have to visit the mall before the mad rush. My husband and the boys were out visiting Grandma so I did a marathon three hour session and am happy to say with a couple exceptions, my shopping is done. I hope that my boys are happy with what Santa will be bringing them. Isaac only wanted "play-dough." He said Santa could surprise him! How I love that not-yet-commercialized state of life. I remember when all David wanted a couple years ago was a green tractor. This year the length of his list could rival the US Constitution! Needless to say, Santa will not be bringing him everything on his list.

I hate the commercialization of Christmas, but I remember as a child looking forward to the presents under the tree. So, I try to balance the present-giving with an emphasis on the religious traditions. David (and possibly Isaac) will take part in the Christmas pageant at Church. I want to get an Advent calendar to count down the days. I want to put the focus more on Jesus and less on the gifts that will be coming. Hopefully, that will stay with them long after the presents are forgotten.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Easy Christmas Ornament Idea

Yes, I realize it's not even Thanksgiving yet, but the boys and I were getting into the Christmas spirit today making some ornaments for my husband's tree at work. Here is an easy idea for making ornaments out of your old Christmas cards. Trace a circle onto cardstock - I find that tracing around the mouth of a large cup works well for this. Make a small half-moon at the top so that you can hole-punch a hole. Cut out. Now trace the same size circle onto two greeting card pictures. Cut out. Glue one picture to each side. Obviously you could get even more fancy using collage. Put a ribbon through the hole and you're done! This is quick and easy and the results are beautiful.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

A Remarkable Inspiration

Up near the altar today at mass were two baskets full of mittens of all shapes and sizes. Our pastor pointed out that an elderly member of our parish had spent the summer and fall knitting 120 pairs of mittens for the poor people of our community! What an amazing inspiration. Here was this old woman who cared enough about people being warm that she put her gifts to use to do something about it. What a wonderful illustration of today's gospel urging us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked for each time we do, we do it for Christ.

On a different note, many thanks to Ralph Ferraro of the Italian American Press who shared his booth with me at our parish craft fair. It is always nice to get out and spread the word about Spiritual Woman. I even sold a couple copies of my book - "Letters to Mary from a Young Mother" (one of which to the mayor's wife!)-I hope that it will be a blessing to anyone who reads them.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Exploring Social Justice

I know I have been woefully remiss in posting to my blog this week. I'm reminded of the person who said "I have no time to scrapbook - I'm too busy making scrap!" Nevertheless, I try to both live a meaningful life and find time to record it!

Last night, I met with my spiritual director. I can't even begin to tell you how much I look forward to these monthly meetings. It is a place where I can be truly honest and explore my relationship with God and others in a supportive context. A "spiritual friend" is a wonderful thing to have. If you are wondering if a spiritual director is right for you, you can find out more at:

Spiritual Direction

Anyway, after my meeting, my director mentioned that she was going over to Elms College to listen to a talk by Sr. Helen Prejean of "Dead Man Walking" fame, and she invited me to come along. Elms is my alma mater and I also worked there for several years, so I tend to always take advantage of an opportunity to go.

While I had heard of Sr. Helen, I confess that I have never read the book or seen the movie, and I had no idea what to expect. The auditorium was packed and the talk was amazing. What a dynamic woman! She comes from New Orleans and the headquarters for her ministry were wiped out by Hurricane Katrina, yet here she was still speaking, still pushing for equal rights, still fighting against the death penalty. In addition, she has a wonderful sense of humor which one would not expect on a topic as serious as that of the death penalty. She can be serious when called for, however, and as she recalled the story that inspired "Dead Man Walking," I felt ill and also amazed by the amount of forgiveness the father of a murdered boy had. As much as I am against the death penalty, I am also a parent, and it is hard to imagine how I would feel if faced with the horror of one of my children being murdered. It is not something I ever ever want to go through. Yet, this man did, and still he forgave, and reached out to the mother of the murderers. That is a true Christian.

The evening was very thought-provoking, as such evenings should be. And I am left wondering what my role should be in working for justice in this world.



Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Website Updates and New Art Contest

After a crazy on-the-go three days, it was so nice to jus be in the house all day with the kids. They had been so wound up, we all just needed to decompress and have an easy-going homeschooling day.

Tonight, however, I have been hard at work. Here are two new articles on the website:

Just in time for Thanksgiving:
Being Grateful by Susie Cortright

and for those who may be struggling with a husband's depression:
Lean on Me by Dionna Sanchez

Also, I am pleased to announce that Spiritual Woman is sponsoring an art contest focusing on "Where Do You Find God?" All media are welcome. All levels of expertise are welcome. There is a $300 first prize! Find out More at:

"Where Do You Find God?" Art Contest

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Using the Gifts God gave us

The gospel reading for today was the parable of the talents (Matthew 25: 14 - 30). Fr. John Connors, the pastor at my home parish of Holy Name in Springfield gave a wonderful sermon on risk-taking. He commented that using the gifts God has given us almost always involves taking a risk. The steward that hid his one talent was punished for hiding what he had. Because he wasn't willing to do anything with it, he lost it all.

That is very true with the gifts God gives us. We may be very good at sports, but if we don't exercise our performance will reflect that. If we are good at art, but never draw or pick up a paintbrush, that gift will never reach its full potential. And so it is with any of our talents. As Fr. John stated, Jesus never berated anyone for trying and failing, only for not trying.

It is our responsibility to get up every day and try to make the world a little bit better by using the gifts God has given us.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

New Website Updates

I've been busy tonight making updates on the website.

Here is a taste of the new articles:

Are You Forsaking God?"
by Janet Cassidy


One of my personal prayers is that God will show me when I am forsaking Him for false idols. If we take away the idol image of worship and statue, then a false idol becomes something we turn to in confidence and trust; something that deceptively appears to benefit us. Unfortunately, these false idols slip into our lives and we do not realize the place of importance we give them.




What Really Creates Health and Wellbeing?
by Margaret Paul, Ph.D.


Research indicates that a major factor in good health – more
important than genes, food, or exercise – is how we handle
stress.




and in our Creativity Section:

Family Scrapbook
Making Flower Scented Photo Cards
Creating your Own Jewelry

If you are interesting in receiving new articles via email, please sign up for the Free Spiritual Woman Ezine by sending an email to: SpiritualWomanNews-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

Friday, November 11, 2005

On the Birth of Jesus

I just finished watching a "Dateline NBC" special on the birth of Jesus. It was a very interesting look at the infancy narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. What is true? What is parable intended to make a point to the audience for which the gospel was intended? The reality is, no one is really sure, and for those of us who believe, the historical accuracy is of little consequence. As the commentators said in conclusion, "What we do know is this . . . A young woman gave birth to a baby boy and changed the world."

I found it interesting that two of the experts interviewed were scholars whose books I have reviewed. Lesley Hazleton is the author of Mary: A Flesh and Blood Biography She was even nice enough to send me a thank you email after I had reviewed her book! It was wonderful to listen to her in person. While I didn't agree with everything in her book, she focused on reclaiming a human Mary. This was something I tried to do in my own book, Letters to Mary from a Young Mother.

The second expert they interviewed was Scott Hahn. I have reviewed his book "Lord Have Mercy: The Healing Power of Confession.

To find out more about any of the following books, please click on the underlined title:




Thursday, November 10, 2005

Rest in Peace, Mrs. Paquette

My 7th and 8th grade teacher died on Tuesday. Normally, that wouldn't be the cause for much sadness, but Mrs. Paquette was more than just my teacher, she was also my best girlhood friend's mother. Mrs. Paquette had the toughness required of anyone who chooses to teach junior high school students for a living, but we knew she also loved us. She tried to keep us on the straight and narrow as we navigated raging hormones, first loves, and teenage rebellion. Oh yes, and she also taught us algebra, biology, and history. The education we received from her was top notch and gave us a solid foundation for high school and beyond.

The last time I saw her was about ten years ago when she came to my one-woman senior art show in college. She and her husband retired down south and from my friend Teri's accounts, she was greatly enjoying her life. Although young (62) she lived long enough to see her first grandchild and enjoy him for a year. Teri said she died quickly with no warning - the way she would have wanted to go. And as her family celebrates her life and mourns her passing, my thoughts and prayers go out to them.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Another Gorgeous Fall Day

We are having the fall that we didn't get in October. I went out to vote today and then took the boys to the park. Who knows how many more opportunities we will have to do that? This is New England. It could snow anytime! The boys were having such fun in the swings. "Push me higher, mommy, I want to touch the sky!" Of course, David is a very cautious soul and his touching the sky is about 3 feet off the ground. He has gotten alot braver, however, and I am proud of him. For the longest time, he wouldn't even go near a swing! Isaac, however, swings with abandon, as high as he can. In any case, they were both smiling and laughing and it was wonderful to behold!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Psalm 139

Today's reading for the responsorial psalm:

"O Lord, you have probed me and you know me;
you know when I sit and when I stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
My journeys and my rest you scrutinize,
with all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know the whole of it.
Behind me and before, you hem me in
and rest your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your spirit?
from your presence where can I flee?
If I go up to the heavens , you are there;
if I sank to the nether world, you are present there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
if I settle at the farthest limits of the sae,
Even there your hand shall guide me,
and your right hand hold me fast."

I love Psalm 139. I find it so comforting. God is always with me. Sometimes it doesn't always feel that way, but he is.

The Chronicles of Narnia

I'm not sure why, but I received a big package at my P.O. Box today concerning the upcoming film: "Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" based on the book by CS Lewis. It had a lot of cool stuff in it including two big movie posters, one of which I am going to put in the boys' room, and a resource guide for educator's use with the movie. I was first introduced to these stories in the 4th grade when my teacher read them aloud to us. I admit the allegorical aspect of them was lost on me at the time. I've tried to have my boys listen to them on tape but they just weren't into it. Maybe in a few years! If anyone is interested, they offered the following site for additional resources:

http://www.narniaresources.com

Sunday, November 06, 2005

So Much To Do, So Little Time

I have been rather productive this evening. I've prepared three different article submissions to send out tomorrow. Anyone reading this, please say a prayer that they fall into favorable hands who will want to use them!

Somehow though, my list of what I want to get done workwise is always so much longer than the time I have to do it in. I really wish that there were two of me!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Wherever Life may Lead . . .

Isaac did have a good birthday party today. It was unseasonably warm - about 70 degrees so we were able to sit out on the deck and enjoy the sunshine.

Later this afternoon, an old friend called me to tell us that it looks like he and his family are moving to Pheonix. They moved away from here two years ago in favor of southern Connecticut, but that is only about 1 1/2 hours away. This is a much more dramatic move. It is a good career opportunity for him, and while he still needs to hammer out the final details, I understand why he feels he needs to take advantage of it. Still, it is a difficult decision to uproot his family again, and I don't blame his wife at all for being more than a little upset. In times like this, it is hard to know what the right decision is. I certainly don't know what is best for his family and their future.

God has different plans for all our lives, and oftentimes those plans take us away from home. I always said that I would never leave Western Massachusetts, but now I'm not so sure. I love it here. I certainly have no intention of leaving. My family and my husband's family are here. I want to be here as they age to help care for them. I love my church community and the friends that I have made here in Springfield. Still, it may be at some point that God will send us someplace else.

Such decisions are never easy. I really don't know what I'd do, but I do know that I would pray and try to do what God wants. So, I will pray for my friend, that he and his wife will make the right decision as well.

For more information on discernment, check out:
http://www.spiritualwoman.net/discernment.html

Friday, November 04, 2005

And the Days Go By . . .

I've spent the past couple days getting ready for Isaac's birthday party tomorrow. The little man is turning three - it doesn't seem possible. On one end table in my home, I have pictures of the boys when they were very small - age 2 and under. Were they ever actually that small? They have grown into two such different human beings with such pronounced personalities.

David's mind is always going. He analyzes and overanalyzes everything. He is a perfectionist and easily frustrated (he was having such a day today - everything seemed to frustrate him!). But if you want to have an in-depth conversation on any topic, he is the child to do it with. Nothing escapes his notice. He likes to create, whether it be with blocks, drawing, or on the computer.

Isaac takes the world as it comes. He has a whole body laugh that you can't help but laugh along with. He loves to play games, listen to music, and sing the alphabet song at the top of his lungs!

They both love to read and are affectionate and loving. They are also very good buddies - just this week they decided that they wanted to sleep next to each other! I am so blessed to have both of them in my life. It will be very interesting to watch them grow into adulthood.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Striving to Fulfill Our Potential

Quote of the Day, once again from "Out of the Blue":

"Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news.
The good news is that you don't know how great you can be!
How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your
potential is!" - Anne Frank

Much of what I've been reading lately talks about the interconnectedness of all life. Whether or not you and I ever meet, our actions effect each other's lives and indeed the world at large. We are each responsible for making the world a little bit better. It therefore does us no good to be jealous of another's good fortune. We should rejoice at the accomplishments of each person striving to be the person God made them to be, for another's happiness also increases our own. Only when we all strive for that goal will the world be what God intended!


On another topic I have posted two new articles to my website:

Does Belief in God Better Your Health? and
Dating Within Your Faith

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Nurturing the Imagination

I continued to read "Out of the Blue" today and came across the following quote:

"Our imagination is a gift from God -- it is the bridge that connects our dreams to our realizations. The use of imagination fulfills dreams and allows miracles to come into our lives. It is the source of all creative power."

Imagination truly is a wonderful thing. It is so important that we give our children the time and quiet to develop theirs. In our hectic world, children often don't get as much downtime as they should. I can remember as a child just spending hours in the backyard or in the living room dreaming of things I would do or making up stories. Of course, many of the things I dreamed of them seem quite silly now, but I am so glad that I had the opportunity to weave those castles in the sky. I try to give my children ample time and space to do the same.

My dreams today seem so limited by reality. When I think of a new idea, I immediately come up with a 100 reasons why it wouldn't work. Maybe it is time for me to start dreaming a little more, to start imagining possibilities I haven't even thought of yet. Maybe I need to to send my inner critic on vacation and see what happens.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween!

The children are in their beds after their exciting day of wearing costumes, playing with a friend, going to McDonald's, and trick-or-treating! Another holiday has come to an end.

It is hard to believe that tomorrow is November 1st - All Saints Day. It is a Holy Day in the Catholic tradition here in the US, dedicated to all those who lived saintly lives and who are now in heaven with God. I have a big sign on my kitchen island reminding me to take the boys to church tomorrow morning because I am afraid I will get caught up in my usual morning routine and forget!

Protestants often wonder why Catholics pray to saints. The truth is, however, that we don't pray to them, we pray through them. We ask for their intercession, just as one here on earth might ask for a dear friend or family member to pray for them. We do the same with the saints in heaven - we ask them to pray for us. As we believe they are in heaven with God, we trust that their prayers carry some weight!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Finding Delight in Simple Things

Sometimes the perfect books find you just when you need them. I just finished reading "The Unmistakable Touch of Grace" by Cheryl Richardson, and began reading "Out of the Blue: Delight Comes into Our Lives" by Mark Victor Hansen & Barbara Nichols. Both deal with finding God in our lives in the simple things, opening up our hearts and minds and eyes to the beauty that surrounds us.

This is something that I firmly believe in and do try to implement in my own life. But like everyone else, sometimes I get bogged down in the details of everyday life, and I forget. I forget to notice. I forget to appreciate. I forget to be thankful. It's good to be reminded to soak up the wonder of life.

Tonight I took my boys to a neighborhood Halloween party. David (age 4 1/2) dressed as a witch and Isaac (who will be three in mere days) was Elmo. David is at a wonderful age for make-believe and he was in his glory participating in the costume parade. He had this huge smile and was waving his hat and broom and pretended to fly. It was beautiful to behold! And there it was - delight - on a beautiful fall evening, after a week that was less than ideal. I once again found my peace.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Life Isn't Fair!

The basement is dry! Thank goodness! Now there is just the cleanup to take care of.

To make life a little more interesting, the boys and I all have colds. I think one of the hardest things I had to learn when I became a mom is that there is no such thing as a sick day unless you are in the hospital. No matter how poorly I feel, the kids still need me. Generally, if I am sick, they are sick as well and even more needy than usual. Thank goodness for modern medicine which helps us all get through the day and the night.

One of the Bible readings for yesterday was "If God is for us, who can be against us?" Romans 8:31. Sr. Joyce Rupp (www.joycerupp.com) wrote the reflection for Living Faith. She wrote "I received the grace to see that suffering is a part of life. I came to understand and accept that God does not cause this suffering. Rather, our pain occurs because of our human condition and because life is not always fair."

How many times do we complain that life isn't fair? I don't know who ever said that it should be but children seem to be hardwired with this belief. Yet, life isn't fair. Some have more and some have less. Learning to accept and be happy with who we are and what we have is the challenge God presents us with.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Some things to be thankful for

Our battle with the flood in the basement continues. While things could obviously be much worse, this really isn't fun. So, I thought to brighten my mood a bit, I would think of some things to be thankful for:

1. It did not rain today.

2. We still have heat, electricity, and running water.

3. My parents were kind enough to let the boys and I crash at their house today so we wouldn't be in my very tired husband's way as he dealt with the flooding.

4. My husband is home this week. He has been away on business the past four weeks. I'm really not sure how I would have dealt with this if he were gone.

5. The boys and I went out for a walk tonight. They like to go visit the Halloween decorations on a house the next street over. As we walked in the cold autumn air with one of their hands in each of mine, I felt so lucky. They find joy in the simplest things and so should I.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

One of Those Days

I was thinking just the other day how I needed to start sorting out the stuff in the basement. A great deal of it hasn't seen the light of day since we moved nearly a year ago. Today, my basement flooded. It's not surprising really seeing that it has rained here nearly every day this month. We have really been very lucky. Most of our neighbors had flooded last week, and we seem to have caught it early enough to get most things out of harm's way. Now, if it would only stop raining! Still, it is a motivator to start sorting out the stuff. God is definitely trying to tell me something!

Monday, October 24, 2005

Sorting Out the "Stuff"

We have been trying to figure out a way to organize our playroom. Household organization has never been one of my strong points. I can clean and pick up and organize but it all seems such a colossal waste of time because it is just a mess again the next day (sometimes the next hour). I prefer to save such bouts of straightening up for when somebody is coming over.

Still, the playroom has really been getting on my nerves. Whenever I get tempted to throw all my children's toys away (an idea that they don't seem to go for for some reason!), I know that something has to be done. So, yesterday we bought this cube organizer/bookcase type thing which helped to get some of the items off of the floor. The fact that we have to buy more stuff to organize our stuff just kills me, but it did help the cause. Tonight we sat down with the children and watched a show on TV on organizing a playroom. Afterwards, David was very eager to help clean up and he and I did do some straightening. We try to find homes for things but some toys just don't have a home and there are some items that are just too big to fit neatly in a box or cubbie. It does look better however. At least until tomorrow . . .

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Facing Discouragement

As a writer, it is hard sometimes to face all the rejection that comes my way. I know it isn't personal. After all, I edit my own website and newsletter. I know that sometimes an article may be very good, but it just doesn't fit what I am looking for at a given time. Still, rejection is never easy. It's hard to think that someone doesn't like what you have done. It's hard to have the hope that this time the article will be accepted only to have it sent back to you with a form letter. It hurts to check my website stats every day to have only a few visitors and no income from my Google Ads.

Sometimes, I ask God, "Why do I have to have all this failure?" A little success would be so nice, and I would really really appreciate it. I would be so thankful, Lord!

I know that God has his reasons, that there is some lesson in all of this that I obviously haven't learned yet. And I know that I have to keep going, because in many ways I feel like my life has led me to this. I know that success in God's world is usually not how success is defined by this world. And so, on days like today, when I just want to throw in the towel, I keep going in the hopes that somehow my words are touching people's lives and that I am doing what God wants me to be doing.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Dancing with abandon

My younger son Isaac (who is almost 3) loves music. Sometimes he'll have me carry him and he'll be my "dancing partner." Other times he does what my husband and I have affectionately dubbed "The White Boy Stomp" - he stamps his feet around the room, claps his hands, and bobs his head. It is so funny to see, and he usually wants me to do it with him! What I love to see is the enthusiasm with which he dances. He is not self-conscious. He lives completely in the moment and his dancing is a reflection of the joy within him.

As adults we worry so much about our actions. Of course, there are many things we do need to be concerned about. But maybe, just for a little while, we could turn our worries over to God, and just bask in the joy of a moment. Maybe we could do our own version of the "White Boy Stomp" and let our inner child be free.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

What a Little Faith Can Do

My mother taught me to pray as a child. The first word I ever recognized when learning to read was in one of her prayer books. From the age of 5, my mother, sister and I (and sometimes my father) would say the rosary together as a family. We would pray daily for every cause imaginable. Every concern in our life we would bring to the Lord in prayer. I have continued that course of action in my own life. God hears a lot from me, and I do get my answers, although they are definitely in God's time. There have been situations that I have prayed for for years before a resolution came my way. And even though I always pray that God's will be done, God's will sometimes seems a little elusive in my life.

Not so with my mother's prayers. Even now, when my sister or I need major help with some situation in life, we turn to our mother. We pray also, of course (did I mention God hears a lot from me?), but her prayers get answers. Even my husband acknowledges that my mother has a direct line to heaven. Just today, there was a situation weighing heavily on my mind. I started a St. Jude's Novena regarding it, but called my mother for a little reinforcement. By 6 o'clock tonight I had an answer. My mother always says it is just that when two of us pray together it is more powerful. Perhaps that is true, but I also believe that my mother has a faith that I don't even come close to, at least not yet. My mother is not a perfect person, but this is her gift, a gift that she received from God by way of her grandmother, a gift that I would like to think has been passed along to me.

Dear Lord, help me to have faith, to always believe that you will show me the way. Amen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Marriage as Sacrament

It was a beautiful fall day today. The trees are finally changing colors (about a week or two late) and with the sun shining on them they were absolutely gorgeous. The boys and I had playgroup at the park this morning. It is always so nice to get together with other moms! I look forward to it every week.

I was reading through more of Pope Benedict XVI's "Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today" (I had the name wrong in a previous post - my apologies). He was discussing the priesthood and why it is a sacramental state of life. He writes: "This service, in which we are made the entire property of another, this giving of what does not come from us, is called sacrament in the language of the Church."

I have never heard "sacrament" described this way. Primarily, it is defined as a sign of a greater reality. I like Pope Benedict's description, however, when it comes to the sacraments of vocation - holy orders and matrimony. (One might argue that consecrated religious life should be in the category as well). For marriage is a sacrament as well, and in it, we too give what does not belong to us to another. We each belong to God and we stand at the marriage altar and promise to live out the love that God has for Godself. In some ways, a marriage reflects the trinitarian love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We give ourselves over to another. And of course we live that love imperfectly because we are imperfect people. It is only with God's help that we can even come close to living out the sacramental reality that marriage should be.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

An Artist Friend on HGTV

One night a week I work for A Shoppers Dream Productions. A small craft show production company and retail outlet run by the parents of a friend of mine, I was recruited to work for them for a summer when I was 19. Who knew I would still be there 11 years later? In any case, I consider it less a "real" job and more my night out once a week.

That is where I was tonight. As it is beginning to be the holiday season and they have once again opened their retail store, I was left alone with my pile of work and the TV remote in their home office. I put on HGTV (my favorite station which I do not have at home) and was watching "That's Clever," a show about different artisans and craftspeople across the country. Much to my surprise, one of the women being featured was someone I went to college with. Denise Shea (formerly Denise daCosta) was two years ahead of me at Elms College. We were both art majors. She was (and still is) amazingly talented. After college she went on to work at BusinessWest magazine and I interned in graphic design under her supervision the following summer. She is a wonderful person who taught me a great deal and it was great to see her doing so well. "That's Clever" focused on her millinary skills. To view her hats, please visit www.denishehats.com

Monday, October 17, 2005

Battling the Consumer Culture

"Then [Jesus] said to the crowd, 'Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions.'" Luke 12:15

This was part of the gospel reading for today. It is so easy to get wrapped up in our consumer culture - to believe that what we have determines what we are. My son David (age 4 1/2) has really been in a greedy stage lately. He has become very aware that there are all these wonderful toys are out there for the having, and he would like to have them all. Having been told that Santa might not bring everything on his Christmas list because his list was very long and Santa has to give toys to all the children in the world, not just him, David decided that he would start working on his birthday list (his birthday is in April). He said that list he would just give to Grandma!

I really work hard to try to have my children be thankful for what they have, and to realize that they are very fortunate because there are many others who have far less. I also realize that the desire for things is very natural. I can remember myself as a child looking through toy catalogs in the summertime working on my Christmas list! I have managed to grow up to not be a slave to my possessions. Hopefully, my children will also. It's OK to have possessions, and even to enjoy them. It's when they become the most important things in our lives that we begin to have a problem.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Suffering from "To-Do List" Stress

I feel so stressed today - buried by my to-do list with too little time to do it all. I get this way sometimes. Some of it is certainly self-inflicted. There are things on my list that I really don't need to do, but I want to do them. There are items that just seemed to get pushed from to-do list to to-do list without any real progress being made (Hmmm - clean out the refrigerator - how long has that been on there?) There is they birthday party for Isaac to plan. (I did buy the invites - now if I could just find the time to write and mail them). There is reading to be done - I am making my way through Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's (now Pope Benedict XVI) "Church as Communion." It's a good book but I haven't opened it the past two days. I've been working on painting the interior of my house for the last 7 months. I try to dedicate one night a week to it, but it is depressing to look at my half-painted living room wall. And the to-do list doesn't even include all the things that I just do every day, like trying to keep the house reasonably clean, cooking, and caring for the kids.

I know that I am not the only one who feels this way. We all have times of stress in our lives when the to-do list feels overwhleming. It's time like this when I need to turn my list over to God. I may not be able to do it all, but I can't do anything without your help, Lord. So, God, help me to prioritize. Help me to do my work quickly and efficiently and maybe even find a little time for me. I may not do everything I want to do, but with God helping me, everything I need to do will get done. I just need to breathe and keep going.

Friday, October 14, 2005

If I could freeze time . . .

I am really not a baby person. Yes, babies are cute and cuddly but they require a high degree of care 24/7. Of course, I loved my children when they were babies, but I like them a whole lot more now that they have grown up a bit. I was thinking today how, if it were possible, I'd like to keep them right where they are now, with David 4 1/2 and Isaac nearly 3.

There are challenges with the ages they are now. They are prone to the occasional emotional meltdown (at least one a day per child), picking up after themselves is a virtue they have yet to fully incorporate into their lives, and it would be extremely nice if Isaac were fully potty-trained and could make it through an entire mass sitting quietly in our pew. Just tonight they were both screaming at the top of their lungs that they did not want to take a bath.

Yet, for the most part, things are pretty good. They actually like each other, and at least 90% of the time are happy to play together. They both speak in complete sentences and are interesting to talk to. Every day they learn something new and are eager to share it. They are still small enough that they enjoy cuddling, kisses, and hugs. I can still control their daily media intake and their exposure to the world at large. They have friends, but their peers have yet to take on the influential role that they will have in just a couple years. We have a couple of social and educational obligations each week, but nothing compared to what we will face as the boys start school and organized sports. This is our time to just be a family and I am enjoying it. I know I can't stop time, but if I could, this would be a great place to be.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Rahab and Faith

Every night before bed, I read a story to the boys out of their children's Bible. Tonight's story was about Rahab from the book of Joshua, a prostitute in Jericho who hid two Israelite spies so that they wouldn't be captured by the king. Her motives were very self-serving. She knew that the Israelites would eventually take over the land and she believed that if she helped them, they would in turn deal kindly with her and her family when they were the ruling party.

So, here she is, a woman pursuing a lifestyle that could be considered questionable at best (although sex was one of the few commodities a woman had at her disposal in this period to make her own living), who makes a choice to help some people against the king's wishes. Surely, she must have weighed the risk of such a decision, but she had heard that God was on the side of the Israelites, and she had the faith to believe that they would succeed in their quest to overtake Jericho.

I need more faith like that, and the courage to take action (even unpopular action) when it is called for. I need to believe that God will provide, just as Rahab believed that if she helped the Israelites, they would in turn help her.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A Bit of Spring in the Midst of Fall

It has been raining here the last five days. Everything is damp and dismal and today there was a cold bite to the wind letting us know that winter is right around the corner.

Several weeks ago, my son David (age 4 1/2) asked me to plant some apple seeds in an unused pot that I had on my windowsill. I complied and had been watering them faithfully with absolutely no results. In fact the only thing that was growing in that pot was a bit of fuzzy mold on top of the potting soil. Just yesterday, I was thinking how I either needed to get another plant for the pot or just empty out the soil. But today, I was standing at the sink washing out some dishes when a little bit of green caught my eye. I looked closer and there it was - the tiniest of green sprouts sticking its head through the dirt! God worked another mini-miracle and brought a little bit of spring into the darkest of fall days.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Finding God in Silence

Every morning I read the Bible selections for the day using Living Faith Daily Catholic Devotions as a guide. Today's reflection was by Sr. Charleen Hug who questioned "What happened to time to simply be, if for no other reason to regroup and recall the presense of the God who surrounds us?" Life is always so noisy and modern electronic gadgets have only made it more so. This is a topic I have reflected on as well, even writing an article on it: Searching for Silence in a Noisy World. I am not looking to ban TVs, radios, or cell phones. All have their place in the world. What is important, however, is to take the time to unplug. Take a walk without an ipod or walkman. If you are not actually watching the TV, turn it off. Lose the background noise, if only for a little while. We can't hear God speak to us if we always have some other noise drowning him out.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Where was God for you today?

A spiritual director I once had was fond of asking "Where was God for you today?" It is such an important question, and one we rarely focus on. Today, God was in my children and my husband working together carving Halloween pumpkins. God was there as we laughed and ran around the house playing "mummy" chasing each other. God was there in the memories of a wonderful weekend with my best friend and her family. God was there as I got to go for a walk around the neighborhood where I grew up and I paid attention to all the things that have changed. God was there in the hug my husband gave me.

Where was God for you today?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Right to Die

Usually, my family and I attend the children's mass at our parish. I love the children's mass! It has upbeat music, the children get to go up and sit around our pastor for the homily, and perhaps most importantly, almost everyone there has children. Therefore, there is a general understanding that young children are not always quiet and prayerful during mass (though we are working on it!)

This weekend however, I was going away for Sunday (I am currently writing from my friend's house - about 100 miles from home), so we went to the Saturday 4:30 pm mass. This mass, while certainly open to everyone, is definitely most attended by senior citizens. We had a guest priest who gave a homily on the right to die. My husband indicated that he left mass not quite certain where the priest stood on the issue. I think that the priest, like the Catholic Church in general, was indicating that every situation is different. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. While condemning assisted suicide in every instance, he acknowledged that there are times when it can be wise and prudent to withdraw or even not seek medical treatment, and just let nature take its course. While we do not have the right to take life, we do have the right to die with dignity, and to allow our loved ones to do the same.

Who can forget the whole Terry Schaivo case from the spring? While everyone seemed to have an opinion, it is hard to know what one would do in the same situation. What if it was your daughter, your husband, your mother? At what point do medical interventions become extraordinary? How difficult it must be to try to decide what God wants in a given situation when the choice is between life (which is God's greatest gift) and death (which is our going home to be with God).

Friday, October 07, 2005

Finding God All Around Us

"Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God, but only he who sees, takes off his shoes." - Elizabeth Barrett Browning

This quote was on my local homeschooling newsletter which came in the mail yesterday, a gentle reminder to pay attention to the God that is ever-present in our world. I was an art major as an undergrad in college. Many people protest that they are not artists, that they never received that gift. I believe, however, that creativity is inherent in every one of us, and that really being an artist just means learning to see. When you are creating art, you are paying attention to the world at a higher level of intensity than you might otherwise. The same holds true in spirituality. God is always there. We just need to take note!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

On Prayer and Humility

My sister's family is going through a difficult time right now. My nephew made some bad decisions and now has to face the consequences. During such times, it is easy to question the value of prayer. After all, I have prayed quite regularly for this person, that God would help guide his choices and his life. I know that others have prayed as well. Yet, here he is, stuck in a quagmire of his own making. "God, where exactly where you when all this was happening?" I was feeling that way this morning when I did my Bible reading. Then I read the gospel for today:

"And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." (Luke 11: 9-10)

God does answer prayers and there is nothing so bad that He can't bring some good out of it. So, I will keep praying. In fact, I am starting a rosary novena tomorrow - 54 days asking our Blessed Mother to intercede on behalf of the situation. I don't know why all this is happening but I will continue to trust that God has a plan.


In other news, I finished both "A Resilient Life" by Gordon MacDonald and "Memories of Hawthorne" by Rose Hawthorne Lathrop today. So, I will leave you today with a quote from each of them.

Humility is an issue I have been struggling with lately, and something I think that God is trying to teach me. Gordon MacDonald offered this on the subject of ego:

"'Humility,' wrote Archbishop William Temple, 'does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking of yourself at all.'"


In the last pages of "Memories of Hawthorne," Rose Lathrop quotes a writing of her mother, "If man would not babble so much, we could much oftener hear God. . . Our own closed eyelids are too often the only clouds between us and the ever-shining sun. I hold all as if it were not mine, but God's and ready to resign it."

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Power of the Past

In Gordon MacDonald's "The Resilient Life" he talks about how the past influences our present and our future, and that only through facing our past, repenting our failings, and learning from our mistakes, can we truly come to terms with our past. MacDonald also speaks about the importance of our childhood in shaping who we are.

I have been spending alot of time in the past lately. On and off for the past few months, when I have a few extra minutes, I have been working on a scrapbook of my life up until the time I got married. I just finished my high school graduation. (The end is in sight - only 5 years to go and I have very few pictures from my college years!) As I went through the pictures, however, there were times in my life that were so incredibly painful, it hurt even to put the pictures in the album. Yet, this is my past. I own it. It is the only one I have, and for better or worse, it has made me who I am today. Most days, I really like that person.

In speaking about childhood, MacDonald relates that "a significant part of who we are, what we do, and how we relate to others is shaped by our impressions of the experiences of the first ten years of our lives." Obviously, that is true, but as a mom, that scares the heck out of me. I get up every day and try to be the best mom I can be for my children. I want them to feel loved and secure and to grow up to be God's kind of adult. I want them to love to learn and to express themselves and to be the people God created them to be.

And yet, I am not a perfect mom, and know that I never will be. Will my children remember the 99 times I sat with them and read story after story or drew "Cookie Monster" over and over again, or the one time that I told them to go play by themselves because I was too tired? Will they remember all the times I disciplined them with kindness and understanding, or the handful of times I have completely lost my patience? I pray to God every day to be a good mom, to bring them up the way that I should, and I know with God's help we will all survive and hopefully flourish. Parenting is such an exercise in the unknown, however. I know that I shape my children's future every day and yet, I have no idea what that future will bring. Only God knows, and scary as it is, I need to let go and trust in His wisdom.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Nightime Rituals

I just put my boys to bed. Every night we have the same ritual. The very last thing that they like to do before they climb into bed is to have me "rock-a-bye" them. One at a time, we cuddle in my grandmother's old rocking chair and I sing and rock them. I know that soon they will be too big for this, but right now I savor every moment. I can smell the sweetness of their hair and feel the warmth of their bodies and all seems right with the world. These are my children and I love them more than life itself.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

"Mona Lisa Smile"

Last night, my husband and I watched "Mona Lisa Smile." We had gone to see it at the movie theaters when it had come out last year, but it was such a pleasure to see it again. It is one of my favorite movies. Julia Roberts plays an art professor who challenges the young women of Wellesley back in 1953. Having been an art major in college, I have fond memories of days in darkened theaters watching slides, learning about different art periods and ways of looking at the world. I also love college campuses. I worked at one for five years and they are one of the places where I feel most at home. It is easy to see why I would enjoy this movie.

The questions it raises in terms of feminism are profound, however, and the answers are no easier now than they were in the 1950s. The young women attending Wellesley (at least as depicted in this film) wanted nothing more than to marry their Harvard beaus and become housewives. Julia Roberts' character encourages them to see themselves as more than that. She wants them to make use of their education and to think for themselves. For the students, however, it seems to be an either/or proposition. One either got married and assumed the role of full-time homemaker or pursued a career and postponed marriage or avoided it all together.

Of course, one would never suggest today that one need to make such a choice. Thanks to our foremothers who broke new ground, we have more choices than ever. I am thankful for the right to choose how to live my life, but that doesn't mean that the choices have become easier. It some ways, the pendulum has swung completely to the other side. While in the 1950s, wives were expected to stay home and raise the children, now people who do this are looked down on. I went to a women's college in the 1990s. The idea that any college educated woman would choose to stay home with her children was considered absurd. And yet, many college educated women of my generation (myself included) have made that choice.

To a large extent, we have rejected the idea of a "supermom" that can do it all. There are only so many hours in the day. You can't dedicate yourself 100% to work and 100% to your family. No matter what route you choose, something has to suffer. So, we make the best decision we can based on our own particular families and life circumstances, and then we try to make our peace with it. I doubt that the decisions will ever become easier, and that our daughters and granddaughters will struggle just as we have to find solutions for their own lives.

There is a saying that a man never had to ask how to balance work and family. That may be true, but we are not men. We are women and our roles and responsibilities to our families have always been different (and dare I say, special). I think that the best we can do is to try to figure out what God wants for our lives. God has blessed us with our talents, our education, and our children. He has a plan for each one of us, and if we follow that plan, then we will not go wrong.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

St. Therese and Lost Loves

Another beautiful fall day. Right now the kids are running amok upstairs while their daddy watches them. They are laughing and playing and having a wonderful time. I love to hear them laugh - it is such a heartwarming sound!

Today is the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux - the Little Flower. I recently reread her autobiography - "Story of a Soul". (For my review, please visit http://www.spiritualwoman.net/books/storyofasoul.html This is one of my favorite books which I had read as a child and again as a teenager. My mother had a wonderful devotion to her and considered her the patron saint of both my sister (who actually is named Therese) and myself. As a child, I wanted to be just like her. St. Therese had such a simple trust in God, like a little child trusting in a parent. She only lived to be 25, and spent nine of those years in a cloistered convent. I wondered, as I picked up the book as a 30 year old, married, mother of two, whether she would have any insights to offer to my life. I was pleasantly surprised. I recently read where an older version of "Story of a Soul" has just been put online at http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/16772.

Here is the amazon link for a more updated translation:





It is well-worth reading.

Today is also the birthday of a man I used to love. He was so important in my life for over ten years. It is strange how lives intersect and then go their separate ways. But my life is better because he was in it, and I hope he can say the same. On days like today, I think of him with fondness. So, if you ever happen upon this, Happy Birthday, Eric. I hope that this year coming is your best ever.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Appreciation

The sunset was beautiful this morning. I caught a glimpse of it as I was getting breakfast ready. The sky looked like it was on fire. I took out my camera and grabbed a couple pictures although I know that they won't do it justice. And just as quickly as it appeared, it was gone and the sky turned blue, setting the stage for a gorgeous fall day. God the artist was out in full force creating this transient masterpiece. I very rarely have the opportunity to appreciate a sunrise. How many people this morning in their busyness missed this one? Yet God still creates for those of us who take the time to appreciate.

I am still working on the same two books. "Memories of Hawthorne" is nearing the end of Nathaniel Hawthorne's life. I don't necessarily understand everything they are talking about (after all the book was written over 100 years ago and culture has changed a bit to say the least), but I have been enjoying soaking up another time period, reading about literary legends who really, at the end of the day, were just people like you or me.

I took a walk to a local store tonight. It was so good to get out and soak up the crisp fall air and clear my head a bit! Three teenage girls were at the checkout counter when I was paying for my purchase. They were talking about their mothers and how annoying they were. I wanted to say something about how in five years they would feel differently, but I knew they weren't ready to hear it. I think it was Mark Twain who said that he left home at 18 and felt his father knew nothing. When he returned at 21 he was amazed at how much his dad had learned! The same goes for mothers and daughters, all the more so once we have children ourselves.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Staying Humble

My older son David (age 4 1/2) just started attending religious education classes on Sundays after mass. After class this week, I was reviewing his projects with him. One of the things they had done was to cut out a little book on things to be thankful for. There were some preprinted pages thanking God for the moon, the sun, the trees, etc. On the last page, they were supposed to draw a picture of what they wanted to thank God for. I looked at his picture and made out what were four very clear stick figures. So, I asked him, "Were you thanking God for your family?" He looked at me deadly serious and shook his head, "No, Mom, those are martians!" Never let it be said that my children do not keep me humble!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Welcome

People have been telling me for a while that I should start a blog, so here it goes. Here I will share some reflections on life and spirituality. I consider this a companion to my website - www.spiritualwoman.net - a place where I can talk about what I am currently reading (I am always reading something!), life events, and having an ongoing relationship with God. While some of the writings I post here may eventually end up in an article of mine, this will be a more informal type of writing - random thoughts on spirituality and life.

I am privileged to live in a city with a wonderful library system, not to mention a great interlibrary loan program. While I love bookstores, I rarely buy books. For me, the library is the way to go. My current reading for pleasure is "Memories of Hawthorne" by Rose Hawthorne Lathrop. My mother who is a Dominican Tertiary introduced me to Rose and I profiled her in my most recent "Profile in Faith" for my website (for more info, check out http://www.spiritualwoman.net/Profiles/Hawthorne.html). She was the youngest daughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne, famous 19th century American author, and his wife, Sophia Peabody. Ultimately, she would decide to embrace poverty, minister to poor cancer patients, and begin a religious community. Before turning her back on her previous life, however, she wrote "Memories of Hawthorne," an exploration of her parents' lives.

The librarian had to get the book, published in 1897, out of storage for me. It came out covered in dust and smelling like only old books can smell (I have always loved the smell of old books - one of my odder characteristics!). I am currently on page 79. Mostly so far it is letters that Sophia Peabody Hawthorne wrote, edited by Rose. Letters tell us so much about people. I'm old enough that I actually remember life before email, and had several correspondences with people via letters that were handwritten and sent via mail. There is something about receiving a letter in the mail and opening it and being able to keep and reread it. I would never trade the convenience of email, but 100 years from now, I think our world may have lost something by not having a written record of our relationships.

The last letter I read today was from Sophia to Nathaniel while he was away on business. She writes, " If I asked myself strictly whether I could write to you this evening, I should say absolutely no, for ten thousand different things demand the precious moments while our baby sleeps." How I can relate to that! With two young children, the evening hours after they are in bed are my only opportunity to pursue my own interests. The list of things to do always outweighs the time!

For my website and newsletter (which is also a pleasure - I am so lucky to do something I love), I am reading "A Resilient Life" by Gordon MacDonald (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004). In Chapter 7, "Resilient People Foresee the Great Questions of Life's Passage" MacDonald discusses the "big questions" of every decade in adult life. He himself is in his sixties, but he also spoke with his elders to get their perspective on life's meaning. The questions are worth reflecting on:

In the 20s:

"What will I do with my life? What parts of me and my life need correction?"

In the 30s: (this is where I find myself)

"How do I prioritize the demands being made on my life? How far can I go in fulfilling my sense of purpose? What does my spiritual life look like? Do I even have time for one?"

In the 40s:

"Why are limitations beginning to outnumber options? Why do I seem to face so many uncertainties?"

In the 50s:

"Why is time moving so fast? How do I deal with my failures and successes? What do I do with my doubts and fears?"

In the 60s:

"When do I stop doing the things that have always defined me? Is there life after death? Who will be around me when I die?"

In the 70s and 80s:

"Does anyone realize, or even care, who I once was? Is there anything I can still contribute? Heaven - what is it like?"


These questions certainly provide some food for thought, don't they? I think to some extent, the questions cross the decades and depend on personal circumstances, but that MacDonald is correct in pinpointing the major issues for each decade.

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