Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Book Review: "Angel Lane"

Angel Lane

by Sheila Roberts
NY: St. Martin's Press, 2009

Searching for a feel-good story about three businesswomen in a small town trying to help it regain its heart? "Angel Lane" is just the ticket. Sarah, a baker, is a grandmother sorely missing her grandchildren who have just moved away. Emma is struggling to keep her new quilt shop open. She dreams of a life out of the movies, but reality has her living alone with a stray cat who doesn't like her. Jamie, who runs a very successful chocolate business, is divorced from an abusive cop. She is working hard at starting over, but is extremely reluctant to open her heart to an attractive cop and his two young daughters.

These three women decide to start a "good-deed" campaign encouraging other in their community to perform random acts of kindness. The story tells of many of these deeds and their outcomes (which are not always positive!). It also tells of their relationships with each other and others in their world and how they develop. This story features three of my favorite things - baked goods, chocolate, and quilting. Even if it lacked all three, it still would have been a great read. It is light reading with a positive message. It pulled on my heart and made me both cry and laugh. I recommend it highly!

While this isn't technically part of the book review, this next line was my favorite part of the book. There is a point in the story when Emma is truly on the verge of losing her business.

"I'm a failure," Emma sobbed.
"No you're not," Sarah said fiercely. "Failures don't even try. You try harder than anyone I know."


That was something I really needed to hear.




Here is a link to a great interview with Sheila Roberts about this book:
http://asthepagesturn.wordpress.com/2009/10/27/after-all-the-edits-and-tweaks-i-fall-in-love-with-it-again-interview-with-sheila-roberts-author-of-angel-lane/

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

One Brick at a Time

I was reading the September/October 2009 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine (I had picked it up at the library). The letter from the editors was titled "The Power of the Small Things." The article compared parenting to building a building with bricks. A bricklayer does much tedious work - one brick at a time. Progress can be very slow. It may seem like very unimportant work.

The Lewis family wrote:

Your job is like that bricklayer's. But instead of a beautiful building, you're seeking to raise up godly children. Every day you go forth to lay a few more bricks. A kind word, a home-cooked meal, patience during long division - small, ordinary tasks. Another trowel of mortar, another brick. Today, tomorrow, the next day. . . .

The extraordinary power of small things is that they begin to add up - slowly, perhaps, but steadily - until the accumulation of all these small things results in something magnificent. . . .One day you'll be able to step back and admire the beauty of what stands before you.


Something to think about on days when the parenting journey seems long and unrewarding.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Looking Over a Life of Prayer

It’s that time of year again – when the calendar compels us to look back over the preceding year and make plans for the new one. Those reflections and resolutions can encompass many parts of life. Relationships, health, and career goals are popular targets for review. One area that might be neglected is one’s life of prayer.

I know that throughout my life, I have brought many concerns to God in prayer. Some of these have been for very minor issues. Others have literally brought me to my knees with tears of desperation mixing in with the plea. There have been times when the pain has been so intense, I haven’t even been able to form the words and the prayers came entirely as an aching soul reaching out for God. Sometimes, it is hard to see God answering the prayers. Especially in the midst of a crisis, it can be difficult to sense God’s presence, to trust that He has a plan. There have been times when I clearly prayed for the outcome I wanted. There have been times that things worked out just the way I had hoped. I have even experienced a couple outcomes I would regard as miraculous. There have been other times when the answer was “wait;” then, there are the times that God most definitely took life in a radically different direction. Each time, the prayers helped me to accept the outcome (admittedly kicking and screaming on occasion.) With age and wisdom, I have become better at praying that God’s will be done, regardless of my personal opinion. It’s not always easy, however, and there are still times when I let God know exactly what I think should happen. As with everything else, I am a work in progress in that area.

I offer many prayers for other people as well. These may be people who I have heard are sick or who I know are facing difficulty. They may be people I know well, or a stranger someone has asked me to offer prayers for. In either case, I am happy to offer the prayers, to be of service in some way to a person in need. There have been many cases when I have continued praying for a situation long after the issue has been resolved simply because I wasn’t aware of the resolution. People often ask you to pray – you frequently aren’t told that you can stop praying! No matter – in the eternal scheme of things, the prayers still count and still offer help.

There are times, however, when prayers seemingly go unanswered, when it seems that it is all for naught. It is hard to resist discouragement at those times. Debbie Macomber offers an interesting way of working (or praying!) through that discouragement and seeing God at work even when, at first glance, there doesn’t appear to be any movement. In her new book, “One Simple Act,” she suggests keeping a prayer journal. She writes down the intentions she is praying for. This allows her to recall all the needs she is bringing to God as well as help to keep her mind from wandering during prayer. As she states, “I’ll be praying during my quiet time and my mind will move from, ‘Oh, thank you, Jesus, for everything you’ve done’ to ‘What should I have for dinner tonight? What’s in the freezer that I can use?’” I think that most of us can relate to that problem! One day when she was feeling that God wasn’t answering her prayers, she began flipping through the pages of her journal. She put red stars on all the prayers that had been answered and made notes about how God had answered them. Macomber writes, “I wasn’t into the exercise long before I recognized God’s hand in each circumstance. I came away with a sense of awe, humbled by all He had done for me and my lack of recognition.” Sometimes, even though the outcomes may not be what we had hoped, we may find that “the whole time God was doing something far better.”

If the end of this year finds you feeling discouraged about how God is answering (or seemingly ignoring) your prayers, a prayer journal may be just what you need for the coming year. Keep track of your prayers and their answers. It may make it that much easier to trace God’s movement in your life when another year is drawing to a close.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Christmas Classic: "The Christmas Box"


I'm indulging myself a bit and enjoying some Christmas themed stories. The past couple days I've been reading The Christmas Box
by Richard Paul Evans. Written in 1995 and made into a movie starring Richard Thomas, I love both the book and the cinematic version.

Originally written as a Christmas gift for his children, Evans wrote a timeless story about a busy business man who is neglecting what is important in his life. When he and his family move in with an older woman to help take care of her house and provide companionship, she helps to open his eyes to what he has been missing. The message is one we all need to hear from time to time. As I read through the copy I had picked up at the library, someone had underlined one line, and only one line in the book: "The first gift of Christmas was love. A parent's love. Pure as the first snows of Christmas. For God so loved His children that He sent His son, that we might someday return to Him."

Prayer Requests

Asking for prayers for two families I know who are hurting this Christmas. One is for my friend whose father is very ill and recently rushed to a Boston hospital. Another is a young woman (age 31) recently diagnosed with a severe case of leukemia. Her parents are especially in need of prayers.

Thank you

Beautiful Story - any time of year

This was forwarded to me today.


Our 14 year old dog, Abbey, died last month. The day after she died, my 4 year old daughter Meredith was crying and talking about how much she missed Abbey.. She asked if we could write a letter to God so that when Abbey got to heaven, God would recognize her. I told her that I thought we could so she dictated these words:

Dear God,
Will you please take care of my dog? She died yesterday and is with you in heaven. I miss her very much. I am happy that you let me have her as my dog even though she got sick.
I hope you will play with her.. She likes to play with balls and to swim. I am sending a picture of her so when you see her You will know that she is my dog. I really miss her.
Love, Meredith

We put the letter in an envelope with a picture of Abbey and Meredith and addressed it to God/Heaven. We put our return address on it. Then Meredith pasted several stamps on the front of the envelope because she said it would take lots of stamps to get the letter all the way to heaven. That afternoon she dropped it into the letter box at the post office. A few days later, she asked if God had gotten the letter yet. I told her that I thought He had.

Yesterday, there was a package wrapped in gold paper on our front porch addressed, 'To Meredith' in an unfamiliar hand. Meredith opened it. Inside was a book by Mr. Rogers called, 'When a Pet Dies..' Taped to the inside front cover was the letter we had written to God in its opened envelope. On the opposite page was the picture of Abbey &Meredith and this note:


Dear Meredith,
Abbey arrived safely in heaven.
Having the picture was a big help. I recognized Abbey right away.
Abbey isn't sick anymore. Her spirit is here with me just like it stays in your heart. Abbey loved being your dog. Since we don't need our bodies in heaven, I don't have any pockets to keep your picture in, so I am sending it back to you in this little book for you to keep and have something to remember Abbey by.
Thank you for the beautiful letter and thank your mother for helping you write it and sending it to me. What a wonderful mother you have. I picked her especially for you.
I send my blessings every day and remember that I love you very much.
By the way, I'm easy to find, I am wherever there is love.

Love,
God

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Gift of the Tree


An evergreen sapling stood in the crowded wood, a gentle layer of snow caressing its branches. It was much smaller than the tall stately firs that surrounded it and felt well-protected by their presence. It was safe there; it knew no harm would come to it. The small tree gladly welcomed the birds that would rest on its branches and the woodland animals that sought shelter beneath its boughs. It was a good life.

One day, strangers came into the forest. “Who are they?” the young tree queried an elder fir standing nearby.

“They are a family. They come here each year in the midst of winter to choose one of us.”

“Choose one of us? For what?” The tree was puzzled.

“It is Christmas, my child.”

“Christmas?”

“I will tell you the story, the same way I heard it when I was only a sapling.”

The petite tree could hardly imagine the giant fir being little like itself! It listened intently.

“Many, many years ago, a small child was born in a stable in Bethlehem. It was an amazing night. The angels sang and there was the brightest star ever seen in the night sky. The animals were there and they shared the story with all the other wildlife. This was no ordinary child. This was the Son of God, the God that made us all and this wonderful world we live in. God sent his Son to bring salvation to the world. Each year, the humans commemorate His birthday, the day that tiny baby came into the world. One way they celebrate is by decorating an evergreen tree.”

At that moment, the sound of an ax striking wood resounded through the forest.

“What is that?” the small tree asked, frightened.

“Ahh. The tree has been chosen.”

“Chosen! But they are hurting it! They are killing it!”

“Yes, but it is a great honor to be chosen! To give one’s life to celebrate the One who gave us all life – what could be greater than that? I would have gladly given my life.” The elder tree sighed. “Unfortunately, I am now too old and much too big. It is the younger ones that are chosen – the ones in the prime of their lives.”

The young tree shuddered as the family dragged the chosen one away. “I don’t want to be chosen! I like it here. I don’t want to die!”

“You don’t need to worry about it now! You are still very young.”

The years went by and the small tree had grown into a beautiful fir. Each year, it filled with fear as the family would come. “Please don’t pick me,” it would whisper. Each year, it filled with relief as another was chosen and dragged away.

Another winter came to the forest. This time when the family came, there was a small girl with them. She saw the tree and fell in love. “This one, Daddy!” she cried with enthusiasm as she threw her arms around it. The tree was so scared as the father came over. It could see the gleaming metal of the blade carried over his shoulder.

“Not me. Please, not me,” the tree begged. “Choose another. There are others more beautiful than I. There are others more worthy! There are others who want the job!” But then the tree saw the small girl’s eyes which were so full of excitement and love, and it remembered the words of the wise old tree – to give one’s life for the One who made us all is an honor. The tree took a deep breath. “I can do it,” it thought. “I can be brave.” It felt a sharp pain as the metal crashed powerfully against its trunk. The next thing it heard was the appreciative murmurs of the other trees as it was pulled across the snow. Yes, this year, it was the chosen one.

It was brought to the family’s home. The smiling faces hung ornaments and lights on its boughs. The family sang songs and put wrapped packages underneath its branches. The little girl was lifted up in her father’s strong arms and placed a star on its top. A star – like the one the ancient tree had told him about! The tree had never imagined anything as wonderful as this! It never dreamed it would give such joy! Then, they told the story – the same story of the child’s birth it had been told so many years before.

The tree was filled with warmth and love. Yes, this was an honor. This was its crowning moment. Like all those who give all for the One who made them, the tree was rewarded beyond measure.

Thoughts on St. Joseph

I'm a little late posting this, but it is still worth reflecting on. In the Friday reflection from "Five Minutes with the Word," I came across this offering:

Joseph's story tells us that we should guard against being too attached to our plans. Sometimes, even good and noble goals such as marriage, a chosen career, or community service may have to be put aside if God moves us in a different direction. Of course we should always "test everything" and "retain what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). A trusted spiritual advisor, a confessor, or a close friend are indispensible in this process. But in the end, it always comes down to our own humility and openness to God's infinite possibilities.

What if this is it?

This guest post by Dionna Sanchez really resonated with me.

*A MOM MINUTE*
What If This Is It? ~ By Dionna Sanchez


I was discouraged one day. I mean, we’ve all been discouraged right? On this particular day, I was discouraged about a certain dream of mine – a dream that just wasn’t coming to fruition for me and I’m not sure why. What I AM sure of, is that I was frustrated, feeling “down” on myself and my abilities, and just plain feeling like a loser.

I have never questioned God. But I have asked him “Why” on many times and this was one of those occasions. I felt like God was being silent with me and that hurt.

I talked to Him and I cried out to Him. I told Him I would not lose heart even though at that moment, I felt like I had.

It wasn’t until a few hours after my conversation with God that He prompted my heart about something. “What if this is it?” What if my dream never happened? What if I never was “great” in my own mind – only “good?” How would I handle that? Would it be good enough for me or would I never be satisfied in my life… never content?

Those are very loaded questions, to which I’m not sure I have the perfect answers to.

I do know this. Ever since we are children, we are told that we can be anything. A lot of us are told how special we are and built up to do great things. But what if we don’t? What if we can’t? Do we feel “less than?”

I think God wanted me to truly ponder these questions that particular day. I think he wanted me to realize that sometimes His dream and my dream don’t always line up. But it doesn’t mean that He doesn’t think I’m “great” or “really special.”

I don’t know where you are in life or if you are struggling with wanting more for yourself. If you are anything like me, I’m sure you have many dreams and wishes unfulfilled in your life. I think dreams are great. But for the first time in my life, I think sometimes they can also be harmful if they cause us to feel uncontented with where God currently has us in life. Because what if that is “it?” What if that is THE destination where He wants us? Can you handle that? Can I?

It’s up to each one of us to look within our hearts and search for peace and acceptance. We can be “great” no matter where we are. It’s all a matter of attitude and choice. It doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dreams, merely be “content in all things.” That way if the ultimate prize that you have in your head DOES happen…..the blessing will only be felt deeper – for you – and – for me.


~ Dionna Sanchez is the Founder of EmphasisOnMoms.com. She desires to share her heart with women through her website and blog as long as God calls her to it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Prayer for Light and Peace

O Holy Virgin Mary,
Mother of our Savior Jesus,
you show your graciousness and compassion
for all those who seek refuge in your protection.

Fill our days with light and peace
that we may reflect unending love to others.
Lead us to your Son Jesus who was born to
walk with us along the path of faith and hope
and to give us strength and courage in the Lord.

O Most Holy Mother,
dispel the darkness that overshadows your children
and guard your families that they may always
remain in harmony through forgiveness and understanding.

Intercede for us with your maternal spirit.
Bless us with your unconditional love.
Show us the radiance of true joy whose
source is your Son Jesus who lives and reigns
with the Father and the Holy Spirit
forever and ever.

Amen.

Intercede for us with your maternal spirit.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Book Review: One Simple Act

One Simple Act: Discovering the Power of Generosity

by Debbie Macomber
New York: Howard Books, 2009

Debbie Macomber is well-known for her best-selling fiction. However, in "One Simple Act," she has written a beautiful non-fiction offering with an important message. As she states, Macomber's goal in writing this "is to surprise you with the multiple benefits that come from small and large acts of generosity. . . intentional acts of generosity can open our lives to the very best that God has to offer." She offers powerful anecdotal evidence and Biblical quotes to support her thesis.

She emphasizes the importance of being thankful in all things, simple acts of sharing what we have, encouraging others, doing good deeds, forgiving others,
listening, offering hospitality, sending cards and letters, caregiving, giving of our time, praying for others, and sharing our faith. She offers concrete suggestions and offers much encouragement. None of these ideas are radically new, but we can all use the reminder. We all have so much to give!

"One Simple Act" is a wonderful book. The world would be such a better place if we all followed Macomber's advice.

St. Jude Prayer for Advent

Lord Jesus, your power is infinite, your glory, everlasting. Quietly you come, as a tiny baby. Ready my heart for the miracle of your birth. Bring light to this dark world, waiting silently for your warmth in the coldness of the night. Waiting is itself your gift, animating my heart with anticipation. Bless me with needed patience and faithful discipline to prayerfully prepare to welcome and greet you.

St. Jude, eternal hope, let your holiness flow into me. May Christmas joy and burning love take root in me and grow until they bloom on Christmas Day, to carry joy to the world and inspire hope to renew the face of the earth. Amen.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Big Truths for Little Kids

Kids can come up with stumpers of questions, especially about faith. Just tonight, David was telling me how there is so much he doesn't understand about death and heaven. I told him no one does. That is one of those things that we just need to wait and find out about when we die. Yet, Mark Shea has written a very good article providing some good answers to those very tough questions. The answers aren't just for kids, either. You just mind find your own faith bolstered a bit by them!

Big Truths for Little Kids

Monday, December 14, 2009

Book Review: We Feel Fine

We Feel Fine: An Almanac of Human Emotion

by Sep Kamvar and Jonathan Harris
New York: Scribner, 2009

I came to own this book a bit differently than most of the books that find their way to my reading pile. A while back, I received a request in my email inbox asking if I would be willing to give this book permission to use a photo and quote from my blog. I honestly had no clue what the whole thing was about. I agreed and signed a release form. I heard from them a couple more times - the last email saying my photo and quote hadn't made the cut but they would still send me a book for being willing to participate! Well, OK, I very rarely turn down a free book!

"We Feel Fine" is a collection of quotes and photos from blogs from all over the English world. All of these quotes were garnered from sentences that began "I feel." As the writers state, "Drawing from a database of more than 12 million human feelings collected over 3 years from personal blogs on the Internet, 'We Feel Fine' presents a comprehensive contemporary portrait of the world's emotional landscape, exploring the ups and downs of everyday life in all its color, chaos, and candor." The book is arranged as a coffee table book. One can simply pick it up, open to a page and view the photos and quotes. The authors have created different sections based on gender, specific emotions, locations, weather and topics. For those interested in more detail, the authors have provided statistical analysis of the data they have mined as well as the computer code that they used to obtain the data.

I really enjoyed the time I spent flipping through and reading this book. I didn't know what to expect and it was a pleasant surprise. I especially liked this "life sentence" that they included toward the end of the book, summing up "major emotional themes as we age.": "We start simple (11-14), but soon fill up with angst (15-18) and feelings of confinement (19-22), until we leave those behind to go conquer the world (23-26), before gradually trading ambition for balance (27-30), developing an appreciation for our bodies (31-35) and our children (31-35), and evolving a sense of connectedness (36-40), for which we feel grateful (36-40), then happy (41-49), calm (41-49), and finally blessed (50+)."


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Time to Get Excited!

Christmas is right around the corner. While time is flying by too quickly as far as I am concerned, it is dragging painfully slowly for my children. My boys (ages 8 1/2 and 7) are literally bursting with excitement. Each day is one day closer to, as they put it, "The best day of the whole year." This is the first year we have put some of their presents under the tree early, trusting them not to open them. This doesn't mean that they can't shake, examine, and carry them around! They have been having great fun doing this. There is all that magic and fun waiting inside those boxes and they just can't quite get to it. The anticipation and dreaming of what might be inside is almost as good as the opening itself. I can only hope that the presents inside live up to their expectations!

The best present I ever got as a child was a dollhouse. I loved dolls and dollhouses and had been begging my parents to get me one. The Christmas I was seven, there was a huge box under the tree. I just knew that was my dollhouse. I couldn't wait to open it! We always had the tradition of opening one present Christmas Eve after we went to Mass. I knew which one I wanted to open. My parents refused, however, telling me to open a smaller one. I had to wait one more day to get the present I wanted more than anything. When I finally did get to open it, I was so happy. It was a kit, and my father lovingly spent the next few weeks putting it together for me. I got years of enjoyment out of that dollhouse. Even now, it still sits in my old room at my parents' house. It is old and dilapidated and hasn't been played with in years, but it still brings a smile to my face. For me, that dollhouse represents the joy in my childhood.

I know Christmas isn't about the presents (although I do desperately need the new wallet I asked my husband to get me!). My children know this, too. Their excitement about them, however, started me thinking about the greatest gift of Christmas - the gift of Jesus and the promise of eternal life. Heaven is the best present ever. Right now, we are in that state of anticipation. We can shake the box, and on our best, happiest, days perhaps get a glimpse of what heaven might be like. Unlike Christmas presents that come in a box, however, which often don't live up to the expectations, Heaven will exceed all our imaginings. Our anticipation will be rewarded. It will be better than the best Christmas present we ever received. It is time to get excited! Christmas (and it's promise of salvation and eternal life) is coming!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Book Review: Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI

Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI
by Robert Stackpole, STD
Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, 2009 (Revised edition. Original edition published 2008)

Robert Stackpole, STD has done an incredible job of tracing the "theological history" of Divine Mercy in "Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI." In his introduction, Stackpole asks a very important question. "Why has the message of Divine Mercy been revealed over time? If the message is so important, why didn't God reveal the whole thing to human beings right from the start?" Due to sin, humanity couldn't take it all in at once. "As century followed century, God progressively revealed Himself more and more." Stackpole explores that revelation through the words of the Old and New Testament, the lives of various saints, and the words of our current Pope and his immediate predecessor.

Stackpole defines Divine Mercy as "God's Love reaching down to meet the needs and overcome the miseries of His creatures." From the days of Adam and Eve, God has shown his mercy to his people. Even in the midst of God's punishments, there is always an element of mercy. Cain kills Abel, yet he goes forth with God's protection. In the midst of the flood, Noah and his family are saved. God did not abandon the Chosen People in the desert. The ones who were unfaithful would not get to enter the promised land, but their children still would. Even in chastisement, His mercy serves to encourage a "return to faithfulness to the convenant He had graciously made with them and so that they might enjoy all its blessings." God's discipline and his mercy are always for the greatest good.

The New Testament offers the ultimate act of God's mercy - His sending His son to save us. "If the Son of God Himself is overflowing with merciful love, it is no wonder that the New Testament encourages everyone to place all their trust in Him and in His heavenly Father." Also, God is not just waiting for us to turn back. Like the Good Shepherd, he seeks out the lost sheep. He searches us out and welcomes us back.

Several saints have also added to the message of Divine Mercy. Stackpole explores the teachings of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Catherine of Siena, Francis of Assisi, and Maria Faustina Kowalska among others. The work of each builds on and complements the others as God has chosen to reveal different elements of His mercy to each one, and through them, to us. Lastly, Stackpole focuses on Pope John Paul II, the Mercy Pope, and our current pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI.

"Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI" is a must-read for anyone interested in how God has revealed his mercy through the ages. "Divine Mercy is the center of the Gospel message, manifested through the Sacraments and works of mercy done by the Church. It is the only source of true peace for every human heart and every human community."


This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Divine Mercy - A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

On 1st Confessions and all that come after

My younger son Isaac made his first confession this evening. He was so nervous baforehand - so scared the priest would yell at him, that he would screw up, that it would somehow go horribly wrong. Thankfully, all went well. He bravely got in line at our parish's Advent Penance Service and walked determinedly to the priest who promised he would go easy on him. He came back and said his penance and was done and relieved to be so.

Confession is hard. I remember being nervous at my own 1st confession a long time ago. I also remember the sense of relief that came after - the feeling that all was right with the world and my soul was clean. I still get nervous going to confession. I'm embarrassed to admit that the longest I went without going to confession was 4 years. It was hard to go back. I started going back a couple times a year. Now I try to go every month or every other month. It is easier to go more often - you don't get out of the habit that way or get overwhelmed with all you have to say. Yet, I still get nervous. I stand in line waiting to go and still stress about it. I try to come up with compelling reasons why I should get out of line. Yet, I stay. I face the reality of my own sin and ask for forgiveness. It's humbling and unpleasant, but I always feel better after. I don't always have the feeling of being totally wiped clean anymore, but I do always feel a sense of relief. There is something wonderful in being told you are absolved of your sin. I'm so glad that we Catholics have the gift of confession.

The painting in this post is "The Prodigal Son" by Rembrandt. Our pastoral minister referred to it in her reflection this evening. It is a beautiful portrait of forgiveness. God is waiting for all of us with open arms. He is always ready to forgive and welcome us home. Perhaps if you have been away from confession for a while, this Advent could be the perfect time to go back. God is waiting for you.

Monday, December 07, 2009

A Beautiful Tapestry

This is a guest post from Christine Hebert. She has put eloquently into words how many of us feel about those who touch our lives, for a season or a lifetime.

I belong to a Catholic homeschool group. On Mondays, we have co-op classes, and I am the hall monitor. As parents came and went while bringing their children in, or came in to teach a class for the morning, I realized our group is very much like a tapestry. Each family represents a different color and may be present for a large section of the tapestry, but sometimes, the color is missing for a time to be worked back in later.

I was reflecting on how the changes in each of our lives dictate our presence of absence from the group. The birth of a new baby changes the mobility of the mom and dad. An ailing parent or grandparent who requires extra time and attention keeps us closer to home. Children grow beyond home and go to college.

Each change in our lives weaves a pattern. Each thread is interwoven with the presence of support when needed. Some parts of our tapestry may seem threadbare. Those times when we feel alone, however, may actually be when our tapestry, as we look back on it, is richest. The stronger threads that surround it support our tattered thread.

I am blessed to have my tapestry made more beautiful by the addition of new colors that twine with mine and create new patterns. It enriches my experience and adds dimension to our lives that might not otherwise have been there.

Visit Christine's blog at As myu house turns

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Blessed Dina Belanger – A Lesser-Known Voice of Divine Mercy

I have been blessed this week to read Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI by Robert Stackpole, STD. Stackpole has done an admirable job of tracing the “theological history” of Divine Mercy through scripture and personal revelations to individuals throughout the centuries. As one might expect, he explores the writings of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, a Polish mystic to whom Jesus revealed the image of Divine Mercy and many teachings on the subject. It is through her visions and the efforts of her confessor that has led to much of the present-day devotion to Divine Mercy. To his credit, Stackpole also introduces his readers to a lesser known voice of Divine Mercy.

Like her counterpart St. Faustina, Blessed Dina Belanger of Quebec lived only thirty-three years and died of tuberculosis. Her short life was dedicated to Jesus Christ. She was blessed with good Christian parents. This fact cannot be overstated. Like St. Therese of Lisieux, she was able to grow in a fertile garden of faith. Blessed Dina herself acknowledged her great debt to them: “To prove my gratitude, I am duty bound to become a saint . . . Only thus can I make a fit return for their past and present solicitude. Yes, I will become a saint. I will become holy in the degree God has marked out for me. Thus may I repay [them] for the pains they have taken for my education, and console them in their grief over our separation.”

At the young age of thirteen, she “consecrated her whole life to Jesus through the Blessed Virgin Mary.” She had great natural musical talent and at age 19 she began to study music at a conservatory in New York. While there, she lived at a convent of the Religious of Jesus and Mary where she would spend many light nights in Eucharistic Adoration. She made a habit of praying before her musical exercises. Also like St. Faustina and St. Therese, when she asked to enter the convent she was told to wait. She was disappointed, yet in hindsight she saw God at work in this delay. She felt it was God’s will that she remain in the world and with her parents for a while longer. She had already begun to be granted the blessings of mystical experiences. At age 24, she was granted her great wish to enter the Religious of Jesus and Mary. She took the name Marie Sainte-Cecile of Rome after the patron saint of musicians. The sisters were teachers, and Blessed Dina worked as a music teacher. She loved teaching and the students entrusted to her care.

Jesus spoke to her more and more. She learned to recognize the authenticity of His voice: “His voice is soft, so soft that in the soul all must be hushed; it is a melodious voice, while that of the devil is noisy, abrupt and discordant, and his words are uttered in the midst of agitation and tumult.” Jesus told her that through her writings she would do much good. She thought He was referring to her poetry, but it was actually her autobiography that she writing under obedience to her Mother Superior that would be this force of good in the world.

Blessed Dina’s motto was “To Love, and Let Jesus Have His Way.” She emphasized “the indwelling of Christ in the soul that brings the soul into the life of the Blessed Trinity, and that leads the soul to undertake a life of reparative suffering, in and with Christ.” Jesus gave St. Faustina the words of the Divine Mercy Chaplet: “Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son.” Just a few years earlier, Jesus gave Blessed Dina a similar prayer, “Eternal Father, through Mary and Thy Spirit of Love, I offer Thee the Eucharistic Heart of My Jesus.” Blessed Dina also wrote of God’s great mercy: “Infinite Mercy is exercised on our behalf in the measure that it finds us miserable and unworthy.” She also spoke of the importance of trust in Jesus while acknowledging that such complete trust is difficult. “My trust in God is not a human trust – wavering, insecure, such as might spring from my weakness, certainly not; it is the trust of God Himself which I borrow, which I make my own.”

Blessed Dina was considerably more educated than St. Faustina. Her writings appeal to intellectuals. Her words may speak to those who, for whatever reason, may not be touched by St. Faustina’s writings. Blessed Dina’s words both complement and enhance those of St. Faustina. While her role in promulgating the message of Divine Mercy has not been as large as St. Faustina’s, Jesus gave her a role in this for a reason. She was beatified on March 20, 1993. Her feast day is September 4th. Thank you, Dr. Stackpole, for bringing her to our attention.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Could video games actually be good for kids?

I let my kids play video games. There, I have said it. The parenting police can come and get me now. Of course, my children are not allowed an unlimited amount of time - they have their daily media allotment (they get to pick whether they spend it on the computer or watching TV). They do enjoy video games, however, and I don't mean the ones that come wrapped up in educational goals. No matter how I much I might want them to enjoy practicing their spelling or math facts on the computer via some nicely designed educational game, my boys were not fooled. That held absolutely no appeal. Lego Star Wars, Webkinz world, or even Farmtown on Facebook are much more likely to capture and hold their interest.

The thing is, learning can come in lots of ways. They know an awful lot about how to work a computer, a skill which will no doubt serve them well. Could they learn this when they were older? Absolutely. But, having the skill certainly won't hurt. The video games they play require a great deal of problem solving - problems I admit I can't solve. I am horrible at video games. I can't figure out how to play them, much less win at them. They, however, manage to achieve quite a level of success at this, which leads to a sense of accomplishment. That's a pretty good lesson in itself - setting goals that matter to them and achieving them. Persistence is a good thing to have. Sometimes, there is even a more traditional educational lesson thrown in - for example, on Farmtown, they need to figure out which crop will provide the greatest return for their investment and work.

Reading the most recent edition of The Catholic Observer, I was happy to read the article "OMG! Researchers discover that texting improves classroom performance" by Erick Rommel of the Catholic News Service. While the main focus of the article was on texting, he mentioned that "Research presented at the 2008 convention of the American Psychological Association supports the theory that video games increase brain potential." So, while moderation is obviously to be encouraged and content of games monitored, allowing one's children to play video games is no longer a reason for guilt. Yes, one more thing we mothers can cross off that list!

Monday, November 30, 2009

5 Riches You Absolutely Need

Guest Post by Rachel King - http://christianuniversities.org

We live in world where there is intense competition, where we try to outdo one another in the race for riches and the accumulation of wealth. And in the midst of all this, even though we gain hoards of money, we end up losing all that is actually valuable and precious. Life is not a quest for trivial things like money and fame; rather it is a journey that we undertake, one in which we meet various people and whose lives entwine with ours. And the only way we can call ourselves truly wealthy when we leave this world is if we have accumulated the following riches:

• Health: If you don’t have health, you don’t have anything in life. There’s no use of money and fame if you’re bed-ridden or in and out of hospitals for the better part of your life. The best way to stay healthy is to eat nutritious food and exercise regularly. Maintain the optimum weight for your height in order to prevent disease and stay fit no matter how old you are. And avoid drinking, smoking and doing drugs.

• Happiness: They say happiness is a state of the mind, and it’s very true. We cannot depend on or expect other people to make us happy, and if we do, we are bound to feel let down and disappointed. Of course, sadness and other emotions are a part of being human, but if you want to truly be happy, you must learn to let go of petty grudges and other negative emotions like hate and anger. When you’re free from these emotional shackles, you feel at peace with yourself and happiness follows.

• Goodwill: One thing that makes people miss us when we’re not around is the goodwill we earn from them. They hold us in their hearts and respect us for who we are and what we bring to their lives. When you do good for others without expecting anything in return, when you refrain from hurting anyone, and when you live your life without pushing other people down to climb up yourself, you earn their love, respect and goodwill.

• Contentment: It’s not easy to be content with your lot; even the man who has tons of money is not content. For one, he is obsessed with making more; and for another, he is preoccupied with safeguarding what he already has and loses a lot of sleep and peace of mind over this aspect. When you’re content with what you have and not obsessed with besting your neighbor, you know you have attained spiritual and emotional maturity and fulfillment.

• Tolerance: In a world filled with wars over nations and religions and fights over trivial aspects, tolerance is one virtue that very few of us can claim to possess. Only when we learn to tolerate our fellow human beings and live in peace with them can we make our world a better place. It takes a great deal of patience to raise your tolerance level, but with discipline and dedication, it can be done.


This guest post is contributed by Rachel King, who writes on the topic of Christian Universities . Rachel welcomes your comments at her email address: r.king8383@reddifmail.com

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Jesse Tree

Starting on Tuesday, I will once again be doing the Jesse Tree with my children. The Jesse Tree provides the opportunity to reflect on the Biblical figures who come before Jesus. It is one more way to reflect during Advent. Here are some sites that provide downloadable ornaments and reflections:


http://www.eriercd.org/jessetree.htm


http://www.stmichaelonline.org/LiturgicalYear/Jessetree.htm

Where is the Urgency?

It is strange to talk about a lack of urgency during Advent. If anything, December is full of too many things to do and too little time to do them in. There are parties to plan and decorations to put up and cookies to bake, Christmas pageants to get ready for, presents to buy and wrap and Christmas cards to send. Just thinking about it all can wear me out. Yes, there is much to do, but this is not the type of urgency Advent is supposed to be about.

Advent is about getting ready for Christmas - the commemoration of the Birth of Christ. It is also about getting ready for the second coming of Christ. The Gospel for the first Sunday of Advent speaks of this end-time event. Luke tells us that "There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the turmoil of the ocean and its waves; men fainting away with terror and fear at what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand." (Luke 21:25-28)

The end is coming for each of us and for the world and we do not know the day or the hour. We often hear reminders to live each day as if it were your last. Attempt to live with no regrets. Embrace life to the fullest. This is all good advice, but in the midst of everyday busyness, it is difficult to maintain such an attitude every day. We often get caught up in the muck of everyday living. There is so much to concern ourselves with, so much to attend to. It is ironic that during December, a month that is filled to the brim with things to keep us occupied, Advent invites us to focus on the things that truly matter.

Barbara Rossing, author of "The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation" is quoted in the December 2009 issue of "U.S. Catholic": "We need to reclaim an urgency about our mission . . . an urgency to be sowing seeds of the kingdom of God, like in the New Testament communities. It's an urgency to love our neighbor, to feed the hungry, and to obey Jesus' commandments . . . Time is short, and we have to be about something important."

Each of us is given 1440 minutes every day to make the most of; twenty-four hours to love and serve one another and share the joy of being Christian. During this season of Advent, may we take the time amidst the hustle and bustle of getting ready for Christmas to reclaim the true urgency that following Jesus Christ requires of us.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What do you want most for Christmas?

The Christmas Novena begins on Monday, November 30th and goes through Christmas Eve. It is time to prayerfully consider what we want most for Christmas this year and bring those desires to God. I've seen different versions of how to say this novena - some say to say it 15 times a day while others have it as just once a day. However you do it, humbly request God for the blessings that you want most this Christmas.

The Christmas Novena

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment
At which the Son of God was born
Of a most pure Virgin
At a stable in Bethlehem
In the piercing cold.
At that hour vouchsafe, I beseech thee,
To hear my prayers and grant my desires.
(Mention your request here.)
Through Jesus Christ and his most Blessed Mother. Amen.

Friday, November 27, 2009

"Mass Instruction"

For anyone interested in liturgical reform, the changes that took place during Vatican II, and the current debate over liturgy, this article is a must read:

Mass Instruction: an interview with Father Robert Taft, S.J.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Catholic Writers' Conference Online - Register Now!

The Catholic Writers Guild presents its annual Catholic Writers Conference Online, Feb 26-March 5. This year's focus: practical tools for success! In addition to the usual excellent chats and workshops, they will have even more pitch sessions with Catholic and secular publications, plus limited-invitation crit sessions where you can work with an editor or successful author on your writing.

Registration runs until Feb 15 at www.catholicwritersconference.com.

Monday, November 23, 2009

God's Love

I was hunting in my card drawer for a birthday card today. Yes, I have a whole card drawer. I like to save all the cards that I get in the mail from various organizations. I also have a collection of cards to use for craft projects. But, that is not the point of this post. The point of this post is that I found the following quote in one of the cards:

God loves each one of us, as if there were only one of us. - St. Augustine

That quote really struck me. Sometimes it is hard for me to remember that God loves me. I know it cognitively. If someone asks me, "Does God love you?" I would answer "yes," but feeling it is quite another matter. I do KNOW it, however. And as a parent, I know in some small way what it means to feel that kind of love for a child. We are all God's children. I love each of my children with a powerful love and would do anything for them. I always want what is best for them, even when that differs strongly from what they would want for themselves. I love each of them equally. I may not always like what they are doing at a given moment, but I always love them. God loves us always. He wants what is best for us. His love is all-powerful. I would do well to remember this always, even when I don't feel it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

100 Reasons to be Thankful, Even in Hard Times

For my article this week, I decided to ask people (young and old) what they were thankful for this Thanksgiving. Truly, we have much to thank God for! I offer my thanks to all who helped me with this, and wish all of you a very blessed and happy Thanksgiving!

I am thankful for . . .

1. The health of my family.

2. Taking naps on the couch or in the backyard.

3. Driving the scenic route.

4. Community events open to the public.

5. My (flawed) relationships with God and my family, both immediate and extended. Flawed relationships are much better than none at all!

6. My wife and I have grown together and I am constantly grateful and impressed as she matures.

7. The Word of God.

8. Brief and productive meetings.

9. Quilts and blankets, to keep me warm.

10. My wonderful family and for my best friend, who has always been there with quiet support, encouragement, and words of wisdom, through thick and thin since the day we met.

11. The incredible diversity of people on this planet.

12. Co-workers who don't mind switching their days off to help you out.

13. Toys.

14. Dirty dishes because it means we have eaten. Thank you for baby giggles; they keep me sane.

15. That God made me.

16. Teddy bears.

17. The feel of a child’s hand in mine.

18. Waking up when you need to even when the alarm doesn't go off.

19. Babies.

20. The day being silent now that it's over for the little ones.

21. Movies and CDs being available at libraries.

22. The convenience of e-mail.

23. Wrinkle-free clothing.

24. Christmas lights.

25. Friends who care about me enough to tell me when I am being stupid.

26. Our Veterans.

27. Books, because I can experience the world, learn new things, laugh, cry and connect without ever leaving my couch.

28. My job, especially in this economy.

29. Religious leaders.

30. Volunteers.

31. A cup of hot cocoa on a cold day.

32. Family and friends; love them all!

33. The smell of homemade desserts baking in the oven.

34. Listening to beautiful music.

35. Friends meeting over a cup of tea; a fire in the hearth; a friendly game of Scrabble.

36. My kids, who can always make me laugh.

37. Being friends with my parents.

38. Every member of my family, especially for my mom who is a constant source of support, encouragement and friendship.

39. Enjoyable conversation between friends.

40. Hugs.

41. My family, have a job, having health insurance, and being loved as much as I am.

42. My health, even if I complain about certain aches and pains!

43. My family, my fiancé and being able to go to college.

44. Having a roof over my head.

45. Finding a dollar in an old coat you haven't worn in years.

46. Enjoyable hobbies and pursuits in life.

47. The forgiveness of God.

48. Schools and colleges.

49. A dictionary & thesaurus, both within arms reach.

50. Repairing an object yourself and having it come out perfectly.

51. Hot showers after a hard day of work to ease away the stress of the day.

52. The express line at the grocery store.

53. The generosity of strangers.

54. “Chick Flicks” vs. “Action Movies” and explaining why yours is more
enjoyable to the "other team".

55. Tossed aside treasures at tag sales or wherever they may be found.

56. Duct-Tape!

57. Good role-models we can point to for children to aspire to emulate.

58. Indoor plumbing - imagine life without it.

59. Date nights.

60. Inspiring words that lift our souls in times of crisis.

61. Youth and amateur sports leagues to both watch and play in.

62. People who obey traffic regulations.

63. The trials and losses in my life for they have helped me become a stronger and better person!

64. Our favorite instructors and teachers.

65. People who enjoy reading what we write.

66. Chocolate!

67. Hidden places that you can sneak away to.

68. Health care workers.

69. Internet Maps and GPS devices.

70. Lucky old coins and favorite treasures, both precious and humble.

71. The spring that will come after the winter.

72. All those who came before us great and small have a story to tell. That
is what history is all about. So I am thankful to be able to know and learn
their stories.

73. Old libraries and their treasures which lay hidden and wait to be
re-discovered.

74. People with interesting personalities who make the world better or at
the very least, more interesting.

75. Brothers and sisters.

76. Word processing software.

77. Sitting in an open field on a crystal clear night and enjoying the
celestial display above.

78. Our furry four-legged friends who have chosen to live their lives with us.

79. Being able to sit at a computer and just watch music videos when we are
supposed to be working.

80. Sunrises, sunsets, ocean waves, hidden forests, mossy rocks and mountain
streams and all the other wonderments of nature.

81. Our Guardian Angels who stay with us even when we try to refuse their help.

82. A child’s laughter.

83. The wisdom of elders.

84. Works of art.

85. Those perfect parking places which sometimes we are lucky enough to get.

86. The creative minds of others and what they share with us all.

87. Photos, for capturing a moment in time.

88. Relaxing periods of quiet during a busy day.

89. To live in a free country.

90. Bookmarks! No need to fold pages!

91. Museums.

92. Social Networking sites. I've always wanted to know what people I
haven't seen since grade school are up to.

93. Sweaters, hats, scarves and gloves.

94. Search engine searches that actually turn up useful results.

95. Good listeners.

96. Parks.

97. Hand-written letters.

98. Bread, the universal side to any meal.

99. Buy one, get two free sales.

100. People who commit their lives to protecting and preserving our cities,
states and country.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

As you get ready for Christmas Shopping

If you are planning on buying from Amazon this Christmas season, please consider clicking to their site from a link on my site, such as the one that appears below or on the sidebar. A percentage of the money you spend will serve to help support this site.

Every little bit helps! Thank you in advance!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

For when you are starting to feel jaded . . .

The 7th and 8th grade students at St. John the Baptist School in Ludlow, MA have started keeping an on-line gratitude journal. As their teacher Colleen Mollica writes:

"As we begin the school year, I have asked my 7th and 8th grade students to keep a gratitude journal. Each day, I give them a lead question or statement to reflect upon and then a bit of time to journal their thoughts. It never ceases to amaze me how insightful and genuinely thankful they are. Please enjoy some excerpts from their daily journals!"

These are truly inspiring and a reminder of the important things in life:

http://www.secretsofgratitude.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Undoing the Knots in Our Lives


Guest post by Doreen Truesdell www.maryundoerofknots.com


The knots of life weigh me down
with intertwining cares,
a confusion of threads and a tangle of mesh,
knitted by arrogance and dread.
Would that these ties which bind my will
and stifle my beating heart,
be straightened with a patient hand
and be mercifully drawn apart!


Why, oh why, did Catholics ever give up the many and diverse devotions which for centuries have provided people with a personal connection with heaven? As individual as our personalities, the breadth of traditional devotions to Jesus, Mary, the Holy Spirit, the angels and archangels, and the saints have served a pious purpose for many centuries when practiced with an honest heart and a soul guarded from superstitious inclinations.

It will take generations to rediscover many of these wonderful devotions, but in an effort to advance the cause just a little let me shine the light of attention on the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Undoer of Knots.” In a time of cultural complexity, of confusion and disarray in personal relationships, this beautiful devotion brings that rare commodity for which we sometimes despair: hope.

With the supernatural patience and wisdom of the Mother of God, the image of Mary, Undoer of Knots, shows the blessed Mother serenely at work untying a length of cord that is riddled with kinks and tangles, representing the difficulties in our lives. Broken relationships, sinful behaviors, unforgiven enemies, prejudices and hates, lukewarm faith, anguish and regrets, loneliness, ignorance, cowardice, and so many other human failings on our part and on the part of others are responsible for the knots in our lives.

The bondage of sin, and the realization that sins that may appear to be “freeing” actually bind and enslave us, is a traditional biblical image. Jesus, upon raising Lazarus from the dead, declared that his bonds should be loosed so he could be set free. Our Lord gave the power of binding and loosing to Peter and the Apostles when establishing His priesthood. Sin, from the Old to the New Testament, is described as an enslavement that keeps us from the company and grace of God the Father.
Also traditional from the early Church is Mary’s role as the great mediatrix, whose nimble fingers can undo the tangles of our sins in a heavenly intercession of maternal love.

The origin for the devotion to Mary, Undoer of Knots, is a meditation from Saint Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon and a martyr of the early Church. In his book Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies), he builds upon Saint Paul’s parallel between Adam and Christ, stating “Eve, by her disobedience, tied the knot of disgrace for the human race; whereas Mary, by Her obedience, undid it…For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the Virgin Mary set free through faith.

The beautiful image of the Undoer or Untier of Knots, has been venerated in the pilgrim church of St. Peter in Perlack (Perlach), Bavaria, Germany, since 1700. For three centuries, the devotion has survived among the faithful and appears to be growing, thanks to published booklets, websites such as www.maryundoerofknots.com phone 1(905)495-4614. An official publication, containing the devotion’s history, and a novena with nihil obstat and imprimatur, has been printed in 19 languages and distributed worldwide.

Contemplation of the image shows Mary with a crown of twelve stars adorning Her head, a sign of Her Queenship of the Apostles, whom She consoled and counseled after Jesus’ earthly departure. Her blue mantle represents Her glory as Queen of the Universe. Her feet crush the head of the serpent indicating Her victory over Satan. She is suspended between heaven and earth, resplendent with light, and accompanied by the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, reminding us that She became Mother of God and full of grace by virtue of the Third Person of the Trinity. Assisting Her at the task of straightening the cord of our life is an entire heavenly court of angels, signifying Her position as Queen of the Angels, and Queen of Heaven.

“Ah, the knots of our life! Knots of discord in your family…the knots of deep hurts between husband and wife, the absence of peace and joy in the home. Knots of hurt and resentment that so torture our hearts… How they suffocate the soul, beat us down, betray the heart’s joy and even the will to continue living,” writes Dr. Suzel Frem Bourgerie, a contributing author of the publication, “Mary, Undoer of Knots.” “Knots that separate us from God, chaining our arms, legs, all our being and our faith, keeping us from flinging (ourselves) like children into the arms of God and glorifying Him. The Virgin Mother does not want this to continue…She comes to you…to give Her all these snarls because She will undo them one by one…more than ever the Holy Mother of God is ready to succor those who cry out to her…”

No matter how knotted are the events in your life, the Blessed Virgin can undo the tangles because Her Son empowers Her to. Through this prayerful devotion we are reminded that sin never entangled Our Lady; that Christ gave His Mother to be our Mother, and that She is uniquely endowed with grace and perfections to fulfill Her role, which She willingly accepts out of great love and humility.

Mary, Undoer of Knots, is a devotion that speaks to the hearts of the suffering who have become entangled in ourr own vices and failings. In the related novena, we pray and entrust our specific “knots” to Her loving hands, learning how to let go of that which binds us. To be free of the weight of our own chains means our hearts and minds are free to accept God’s mercy and begin to do His will in our lives.

You may ask why we need such picturesque devotions which, to some, seem to smack of fairy tales and children’s stories. We need them because we are human. To ponder something at once fantastic and yet attainable raises our minds and strengthens our faith that this world we live in is not the only one, and is far from the best one available. Devotions, such as Mary, Undoer of Knots, take the everyday difficulties of the human experience and transform them into opportunities to grow closer to our Creator and to our goal of heaven.

“Mary, Undoer of Knots, dearest Mother, I thank you for undoing the knots in my life. Wrap me in your mantle of love, keep me under your protection, enlighten me with your peace!”

Surviving the Spiritual Challenges of Unemployment

U.S. Catholic is sharing an article that originally appeared in their magazine in June 2008. It seems even more relevant today:

Surviving the Spiritual Challenges of Unemployment

Prayer

This was sent to me in a chain email. I like the prayer, so I am sharing it with you.

May today be all you need it to be. May the peace of God and the freshness of the Holy Spirit rest in your thoughts, rule in your dreams tonight, and conquer all your fears. May God manifest himself today in ways you have never experienced. May your joys be fulfilled, your dreams be closer, and your prayers be answered.



I pray that faith enters a new height for you; I pray that your territory is enlarged. I pray for peace, healing, health, happiness, prosperity, joy, true and undying love for God.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Book Review: "Plain Promise"

Plain Promise (A Daughters of the Promise Novel)

by Beth Wiseman
Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009

I was so excited to get to read the latest offering in the “Daughters of the Promise” series. “Plain Promise” by Beth Wiseman more than lived up to my expectations. Each offering in the series “focuses on an individual’s journey into an Amish Community where they discover new meaning to the words faith, hope, and love.” This time, it is a man, Kade Saunders, who is seeking to escape from his high-pressured existence. He has more money than he could ever spend, but has no peace in his heart. He rents a cottage from Sadie Fisher, a young widow, who is trying desperately to move on with her life after her husband’s unfortunate death. Life becomes even more complicated when Kade’s ex-wife shows up and leaves Kade’s autistic son Tyler with him. Kade has had very limited time with his son and relies on Sadie to help him with this new challenge. Soon, an inappropriate romance begins to develop. Sadie wants to follow the rules of her Order as well as trust in God’s will, but fines herself questioning both. Meanwhile, Kade is struggling with decisions of his own.

“Plain Promise” is one of those books you won’t want to put down. I was so eager to find out what would happen to the characters. The book also has important lessons about trusting in God’s will, no matter how hard that might be at a given time. There is also a useful “Reading Group Guide” at the end of the book for use in a book club or for personal reflection.

Memorial of St. Gertrude the Great

Saint Gertrude was born at Eisleben in Thuringia in 1256. As a young girl she was received into the Cistercian nuns at Helfta and applied herself to her studies, concentrating on literature and philosophy. Devoting her life to God, she dedicated herself to the pursuit of perfection, and gave herself over to prayer and contemplation. She died November 17, 1301.
(Liturgy of the Hours)

Eternal Father, I offer you the most precious blood of your divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family.
Amen
(Our Lord told St. Gertrude that this prayer would release 1000 souls from Purgatory each time it is said.)

The Handbook for Catholic Moms now available for pre-order


I'm so excited to announce that "The Handbook for Catholic Moms" by Lisa Hendey (founder of CatholicMom.com) is now available for pre-order from the Catholic Company:

http://www.catholiccompany.com/catholic-gifts/1004840/Handbook-Catholic-Moms/?aid=1457&new=yes

Drawing from the deep tradition of the Catholic faith, Lisa Hendey coaches Catholic moms in how to care for themselves—heart, mind, body, and soul—so that they can better love and care for their families, their neighbors, and their Church.

With warmth and wisdom, Hendey creates an environment where Catholic moms can reflect peacefully upon often-competitive topics like parenting style, types of schooling, and working outside the home. By sharing her own story, Hendey inspires readers to better balance their own needs with the demands of family life and faith commitment.

Lisa shares stories from her personal life as a wife and mother, as well as stories contributed by Catholic moms and families from around the country. Each chapter of The Handbook for Catholic Moms contains relevant scripture passages, Church doctrine, and quotes from the lives of the saints. Noted Catholics such as Danielle Bean, Father James Martin, Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle and Phil Lenahan contribute their expertise and wisdom to make this a tremendous resource for Catholic mothers. "Mom's Homework" reflections at the conclusion of every chapter help the reader apply the book's principles to her real world challenges as a Catholic Mom.

Contributors to The Handbook for Catholic Moms:

Sharmane Adams, Susan Bailey, Rachel Balducci, Mary Ellen Barrett, Danielle Bean, Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, Maria de Lourdes Ruiz Scaperlanda, Lisa Duffy, Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur, Fr. Jay A. Finelli, Reverend Mr. Tom Fox, Pat Gohn, Kelly the Kitchen Kop, Mary Ann Kuharski, Phil Lenahan, James Martin, SJ, Laurie Manhardt, Arwen Mosher, Holly Pierlot, Sarah Reinhard, Paula Rutherford, Rebecca Ryskind Teti, Sue Stanton, Kate Wicker, Melissa Wiley

Endorsements:

"Lisa Hendey’s CatholicMom.com website has long been a treasured internet gathering spot. The Handbook for Catholic Moms is a welcome extension of Lisa’s wisdom and energy, enriched by the experiences of the community of women who have found community, support, and strength through CatholicMom.com."
- Amy Welborn, Author of A Catholic Woman’s Book Of Days

"Lisa Hendey is the sister friend of Catholic motherhood! We know her so well through her work for families, her website, and her engaging podcasts. Lisa now brings us her book in which she openly discusses the essential elements of a Catholic mom’s life in an exceptionally delightful, engaging, dynamic, and practical manner. You’ll be turning pages and feeling as if Lisa is there by your side lovingly offering her insight and warm encouragement. You’re going to love this book!"
- Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, Host of EWTN’s Everyday Blessings For Catholic Moms

"Lisa Hendey is the kind of friend whose advice you always treasure. Warm, wise, funny, compassionate, faith-filled, and, above all experienced in the joys and struggles of family life, her new book will be a lifesaver to Catholic women who try, hope, and pray to be good moms."
- James Martin, S.J., Author of My Life with the Saints

"Kudos to fellow blogger Lisa Hendey for such a comprehensive, holistic companion for women who can use their faith as a tool to empower themselves as mothers, as wives, and as individuals on the pilgrimage of life."
- Therese Borchard, Author of Beyond Blue

"Every mom needs a few good tools in her belt, to help her handle life’s challenges and The Handbook for Catholic Moms belongs on your short list of indispensable resources. Does your marriage need a tune-up? Does your friendship garden need cultivating? Could your parenting skills use a little remedial attention? This book offers sound advice to help you meet these and other challenges with confidence and grace."
- Heidi Hess Saxton, Author of My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories

"There is a saying: A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle. For years, Lisa has been the candle that lights so many others. She also invites those with their own flame of faith to join with her so that more darkness is dispelled. This book is wonderful for Catholic moms (and others) to experience the Light burning inside as well as around Lisa Hendey. She is a gift to people of faith and journey."
-Deacon Tom Fox, Columnist and Podcaster at deacontomonline.com

Topics of Interest include:

* Single Motherhood
* The Importance of Mass Attendance
* Working Outside the Home
* Doctor’s Orders: Recommended Medical Routines
* Becoming a Lifelong Learner
* Exploring the Bible

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What are you thankful for?

For my article for next week, I would like to come up with a list of 100 things to be thankful for, even in hard times. Will you help? Please post a comment listing something that you are thankful for. Thank you in advance!

Visiting the Past and Thinking of the Future

Today was a beautiful day here in New England. We took advantage of the sun and unseasonably warm weather to explore a local cemetery. I actually enjoy visiting cemeteries. I find them to be such peaceful places. Also, as a history buff, I enjoy looking at older stones and uncovering the stories that they have to share. Today’s journey took us to a cemetery right in our hometown to search for some of my husband’s relatives’ gravesites. He has been researching both his and my genealogy for a while now, a task made much easier through the use of internet resources. It has been a fascinating exploration for both of us and a gift to both our children and our parents.

Searching through the cemetery today was like looking for a needle in a haystack. There were no headstones – only plaques on the ground. It was a painstaking process to brush the leaves off of each stone so that we could read the names, searching for one that might be familiar. We only looked through one section. Amazingly, we actually did find my husband’s great-grandparents. He was so excited to find the burial place of these people he had never met! He took a picture of our children next to the stone.

This search for our ancestors only leaves me wanting to know more. We have pages and pages of information – names and dates and places of birth for people going back to the 1600s, yet that is all we know. It is amazing to think that if any one of these people wasn’t in this listing, my husband and I and our children would not be here. It took that particular combination of genes and parental influence to create each one of us. Good or bad, these people have contributed to who we are. They each played a part in God’s plan. Yet, we know so little. They lived and breathed and worked and loved and raised their children. Their lives mattered, yet their stories are lost forever.

Walking through cemeteries also always reminds me of my own impending death. This week’s Gospel (Mark 13:24-32) speaks of the end of time: “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” The same holds true for our own personal deaths. None of us knows the day or hour that will be our last. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. All we have is today to make the most of. How we choose to use that gift of time is of vital importance.

As I wiped the leaves off of those grave markers today, I knew that many of those people had not been thought of in years. They had long since gone to their eternal destinations. I offered up a silent prayer for their souls. I know that one hundred years from now, I, too, will have been forgotten. To this world, I will be just a name and dates on a gravestone. Yet, like those that came before me, I, too, am part of God’s plan, made to know, love, and serve Him. I pray to fulfill that role well and to make the most of the time that He has given me.

Monday, November 09, 2009

What makes a school Catholic?

This is an interesting article on what makes a school "Catholic":

http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/education/ed0395.htm

Book Review: It's a Wonderful Imperfect Life

I originally posted this review in July. Joan Webb is currently doing a blog tour for this wonderful book. I enjoyed it so much and I feel it could be such a help for other women, that I am re-posting the review!


It's A Wonderful Imperfect Life: Daily Encouragement for Women Who Strive Too Hard to Make It Just Right
By Joan C. Webb
Ventura, CA: Regal, 2009




If I had the money, I would buy a copy of “It’s a Wonderful (Imperfect) Life: Devotional Readings for Women Who Strive Too Hard to Make It Just Right” by Joan C. Webb for every woman that I know. We all try so hard to do it all and get so down on ourselves when we discover that simply isn’t possible. Webb offers reassuring words based on scripture and rooted in her own experience to tell us that it is all OK. It is alright to let go of some of the pressure that we put on ourselves.

The 163 one-page devotions are divided into sections focusing on relationships, emotions, bodies, life-work, service, churches, culture, dreams and spirituality. If one particular area is troubling you, you can focus on just that section, or you can read it cover to cover as I did. Each page has something worthwhile to offer. For example, Devotion #1, “Smiling Here,” Webb invites us to recall a time we made a blunder and to laugh about it! As she reminds us, “I goofed. No big deal! It doesn’t make me less valuable.” In Devotion #30, “You Mad at Me?” Webb challenges us to stop taking on other’s moods. Women tend to feel that we are the reason someone else is upset or to feel that we must cure it. “The next time a loved one is in a bad mood and you feel the urge to ‘take it on,’ step back emotionally and ask God for wisdom.” Devotion #151, “Management Contract with God,” reminds us to turn over control of our lives to God. “Working for our ultimate good, He counsels us how to heal past damage, overcome self-defeating habits and experience contentment as we trust him for the future.”

“It’s a Wonderful (Imperfect) Life” has much to offer for any Christian woman trying to do it all. I think it would take a lifetime to learn all these lessons, and even Webb admits she is still working on them, but the ability to pick up this book, take a deep breath, and stop and reflect and let go for a little bit is a great gift!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

In Search of Wisdom

“Wisdom” is a term we use frequently. We all want to be wise. Indeed, wisdom is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We refer to the “Wisdom Literature” in the Bible. There is even a book of the Bible entitled “Wisdom.” Yet, wisdom often seems hard to come by. How many people do you know who are truly wise? What is wisdom and how can we cultivate it in our lives?

Webster defines “wisdom” as “knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment or insight.” There are two main components to that definition – knowledge and action. It is important to note that both are needed. One can not simply be aware of the right thing to do. One must also do it. A wise person lives an authentic life. He or she integrates belief and behavior so that there is no disconnect between the two.

The wisdom we seek is one based in God. As such, it often flies in the face of what the world considers wise behavior. Society at large measures wisdom (and so many other things) in terms of monetary success. For the Christian, Jesus is the ultimate model of wisdom. St. Paul emphasizes that in light of the cross, “God has shown up human wisdom as folly.” (1 Corinthians 1:17) We seek the wisdom that leads to eternal life, not the wisdom that leads to a large bank account.

The Book of Proverbs offers much instruction on what it means to possess this type of wisdom. It is a “how-to” manual on how to live wisely. According to Proverbs, wisdom begins with “fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 1:7). This type of fear is a profound reverence and awe of God the Creator. That awe leads to respect for all of God’s creation. Loving others as ourselves will flow naturally out of that respect. Caring for the environment will as well.

“The wise listen and learn more.” They seek out guidance. (Proverbs 1:5) A wise person is willing to put in the time and effort to discover what is right and true. One can not have right behavior without a well-formed conscience. There is a duty to learn what God teaches, and not simply rely on one’s own feelings and desires. A wise person is willing to acknowledge that others know more and to learn from them.

There is both and ethical and spiritual component to wisdom. The ethical aspect concerns the actions a person makes. It is perhaps how a wise person will be most recognizable. However, a wise person is also engaged in a relationship with God. We were made to know, love and serve God. A wise person will do all of those things. True wisdom comes from God and a person cannot be truly wise without acknowledging and submitting to that higher power and intelligence. May we always seek to become wise in the way of God.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Book Review: An Amish Christmas

An Amish Christmas: December in Lancaster County
by Beth Wiseman, Kathleen Fuller, and Barbara Cameron
Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009

Looking for some sweet, heartwarming stories to lose yourself in this holiday season? An Amish Christmas may be just what you are looking for. Beth Wiseman, Kathleen Fuller, and Barbara Cameron, each established authors in their own right, have teamed up to write three novellas guaranteed to touch your heart and provide some quality leisure time. The three novellas, "A Miracle for Miriam," "A Choice to Forgive," and "One Baby" all take place in the same Amish community, focusing on different characters within it.

"A Miracle for Miriam" focuses on Miriam and her struggle with her own self-worth. Can she believe a young man who once cruelly rejected her is honest with his intentions and interest now? Can she forgive him for his insensitivity? Can she believe that she is beautiful and worthy of love?

"A Choice to Forgive" centers on Lydia, whose husband died two years before. When her husband's brother, her first true love, returns after 18 years away, she is forced to face their past together and the truth of what actually happened all those years ago. Can she forgive both her husband and her brother for the choice that they made?

"One Baby" features Sarah and her husband David. Sarah miscarried a baby the previous Christmas Eve and her heart is still heavy with grief. When this Christmas Eve finds them housing a very pregnant English woman and her husband who were stranded in a storm, she must face her own pain and anger at God and find the courage to help the lost couple in their own fear.

These three stories deal with forgiveness and trusting God. They both entertain and instruct. They are well-worth spending some time with this Christmas season. There is also a very useful reading guide in the back of the book for personal reflection or use in a book group.


Friday, November 06, 2009

How Spiritual Direction has Helped Me

Long-time readers of my blog (to whom I am eternally grateful) have heard this story before, but Patricia-Ann Constance-Wilson Perkowski of http://www.spirituallivesofwomen.com/ asked me to share my story of spiritual direction for her site, so I am sharing it here as well. Patricia is offering on-line spiritual direction, which I think is a wonderful idea. I had looked for an on-line spiritual director when I was first searching for one and had come up empty. It is nice to know that there is that option if I need it.

In 2003 I was the mother of two small children and in the midst of an identity crisis of epic proportions. I loved my children very much, but I had stopped working when I became pregnant with my second child and I missed that sense of purpose. I was a woman with a master's degree who felt very unfulfilled. I didn't know what God wanted of me. I felt so very lost. I had heard of spiritual direction when I was doing my graduate work in theology, but still wasn't quite sure what it was or if it would benefit me. As someone who has suffered from depression, I had gone through traditional counseling, but always found it frustrating that God couldn't be part of that conversation. I always tried to frame my life in terms of what God wanted from me. Sometimes, that was very difficult to figure out. That moment was one of those times.

I saw a notice for an open house at a local Center for Spiritual Direction. I nervously went, my 2 1/2 year old son in tow. Everyone I met was so nice, and I was so very desperate for someone to help me. One woman was willing to meet with me late in the evenings after my children were in bed. I could just go once and see if it was something that was right for me. I felt such a sense of peace the first time I went. It was such a relief to have a God-centered conversation about everything that was going on in my life. I looked forward to my monthly conversations so much.

That first spiritual director truly helped me with the process of discernment. Through that process came the call to start writing about my spirituality to try to help other women also struggling with integrating their lives and their faith. It is one of the few times in my life I truly felt called by God to do something. The idea came to me and I knew it was something that I had to do. I have been doing just that for the past six years. My first project was a book, "Letters to Mary from a Young Mother" which shared my experience of the pregnancy and birth of my older son combined with prayers to Mary. I then began a newsletter and website. It was such a joy to be able to share my faith with others and I hope that I have helped others in the process as well.

Over the years, I have had three spiritual directors, each one providing me the help that I needed at the given time. I truly believe that God provides the spiritual director that you need at a certain moment and that the Holy Spirit is there in the process. I still look forward to my monthly meetings. I still have much to figure out as I walk this journey of life. I heartily recommend spiritual direction to anyone who is interested in exploring their relationship with God on a deeper level or who is struggling to discern what God wants from them.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Unfulfilled Desires

At Bible Study this week, my friends and I were discussing “passions” – those things that we feel strongly about. According to Quentin Hakenewerth, S.M., “a passion is emotional energy which is attached to some goal or object. Passions help us become lively and resourceful persons.” However, we need to attach this energy to something that is worthwhile. “Saint John gives us three criteria for recognizing passions which are harmful and ego-centered: those which 1) pursue pleasure for its own sake; 2) crave possessions for their own sake; 3) covet status, titles, or rank to build up our image in the eyes of others (cf. 1 Jn 2:16).” On the other hand, one can never be too passionate about those things that come from God – “love, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (cf. Gal 5:22-24).

Everyone has something that gets their inner fires burning, and thankfully, these things generally coincide with gifts that have been bestowed upon them from God. The combination of our talents and our passions is the fuel which keeps us going in life. It is the impetus for civilization and relationships and contributions to society. The women whom I am lucky to call friends are all passionate people, yet when we got to the question “Describe a passion you have, for example, a desire to achieve some goal or work on a particular project which gives you lots of energy. What can you do to develop this passion?” the room became eerily silent. We are all mothers, and homeschooling mothers at that. There are so many things we would like to do, some desires admittedly more noble than others, yet they are squashed by a lack of time. There is only so much “emotional energy” that one can muster after a full day of parenting. Even when the energy is there, the time and opportunity are not.

It is true – we mothers do have ample opportunity to practice things like love, patience, kindness, generosity, and self-control. Motherhood is a noble pursuit. I know some women who were truly made to be mothers. I, however, am not one of them. I love my children with all my heart and do all I can for them. They were given to me by God and I treasure the gift and acknowledge the responsibility. I was called to homeschool, despite my initial reluctance. It was definitely the right decision for our family. I’m trying to be the very best mom I can be. I know that I am lucky to have this opportunity. Yet, I am more than that. I am more than the person who takes care of the kids and cleans the house (and I admit, I don’t do that chore particularly well). God gave me other gifts. I was also blessed with the opportunity to obtain an advanced education.

Like my friends, I do try to make use of my passions and talents to contribute to the world at large. It is always in small doses, however. I’ve had older mothers assure me that the day will come when I will get the opportunity to make more use of my gifts. That may be true, or it may not. There is no guarantee that I will live to see that day. Even if I do, there may very well be other people who will need my time and attention – sick parents or caring for grandchildren, for example. The future is a great unknown. All I have is today and the circumstances I find myself in. The unfulfilled desires are frustrating. I sometimes wonder why God made me, what my purpose is in the big scheme of things. I have to trust that he knows better than I do my reason for being here. All I can do is keep going, praying and trying to do the best I can with the time I have. Another wise woman at Bible Study (I told you I was lucky to be among these women!) reminded us all of the importance of acceptance. I need to work on that. I need to be happy where I am and let God take care of the restlessness in my heart.

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