An Imperfect Prayer Life

We’ve been going through a relatively challenging time in our family over the past several (almost a year) months.  I say relatively because the challenges each of us face are different and are difficult based on our own family, lives and circumstances.  So, comparatively speaking, the things that have hit us aren’t devastating or insurmountable.  But, they have presented us with numerous opportunities to grow in faith & hope, rely on God completely to meet our needs, and to pray.

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Glitter is Good

Annunciation

In October of this year my wife, Liz, and I took a 10th anniversary trip to Florence and Paris. I’d been to both cities and was blessed to see many of the beautiful and remarkable pieces of art, faith, and architecture for a second time.

For the first time, we visited San Marco the home of the Italian renaissance painter and Dominican Friar – Fra Angelico. I had studied Fra Angelico’s work, and my favorite piece is his representation of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38). I had first encountered this piece of art nearly 20 years ago, but until this fall had never seen it in person.

When my wife and I climbed the stairs within San Marco and first laid eyes on the beautiful painting you see above, I was stunned. Though I had seen this work hundreds of times, I saw it as if for the first time again. And for the first time I saw the wings of the Archangel Gabriel sparkle. I’d always admired the colorful representation of the angel’s wings, but now I knew that these wings sparkled and shimmered in the light.

Saying yes to God, as Mary does in this moment, is always full of surprises. If you say yes to God, I guarantee that he has beautiful surprises in store for you. Even if you have studied and hoped for and anticipated your next move, if you make that move while saying yes and giving your life over to Christ, God will make it even more beautiful. If you have never said yes to God, I invite and encourage you to say yes, even in a small way, to God’s will for your life. If you do, he will make even a broken and painful life, beautiful.

On this the Solemnity of the Annunciation, I invite you to say one simple prayer – Yes. Say yes to God. Tell God yes. And let that yes be the beginning of a life of yes you give to God. I promise what he will do with that yes is greater, more beautiful than you can imagine

Lenten Requirements

Lent, and especially Ash Wednesday, is such an interesting thing in this era of social media and technology.

Back when I was young, Ash Wednesday was a big deal to us because, well, we are Catholic AND we went to Catholic school.  Other than McDonald’s offering fish sandwiches on the menu, the rest of the world didn’t seem too clued in to what we over in our Alabama 1% Catholic community were doing.

When we would show up places after school, we were looked at funny or asked what was on our head.  I don’t even really remember there being a lot of Ash Wednesday services at all the Protestant churches like there seem to be today.

Lent-pixBut, now, social media is exploding with reminders of the beginning of Lent and Ash Wednesday.  The hashtag #AshTag is trending on Twitter.  There’s blogs upon blogs upon blogs suggesting ways to make the most of your Lenten season.  There’s Instagrams left and right of people’s ashy foreheads (guilty!).  There are even a few new and very cool apps out there that are specifically for meditation and reminders to pray daily and not to eat meat on Fridays during Lent.

It’s an incredibly interesting time to live.
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Thank You NFL & Fox…

The Super Bowl was truly a family experience at our house this year.  At 4:30 or so, we grabbed snacks and gathered in the living room to pick the teams we wanted to win.

Hubby and I are both fans of Peyton Manning –  what a class act – so we chose the Broncos.  Our 9 year old picked the Seahawks because he’s contrary like that.   The 6 year old picked the Broncos because she wants a pony.  The 4 year old was rooting for “the ones with the green shoes.”

The older kids discussed (not for the first time since their playoff loss) why the Packers aren’t in the Super Bowl this year, and my husband and I explained that this is the exact opposite of every other football game we’ve watched all year.  They can talk as much as they want during the game itself, they have to be quiet during the commercials.

Then – kickoff.  Each time the game went to commercial I sat, perched on the edge of my seat, remote in hand, ready to punch the off button or turn the channel at any sign of scantily clad and objectified women, wardrobe malfunctions, twerking, or even crude innuendo.

Surprisingly, I didn’t need to use it.  From the positive family messages in the Cheerios spot

to the ad activism of Bank of America and Chevy,

the crude jokes, sexual innuendo and scantily clad women were kept to a minimum.

Then, the halftime show.  Now, my kids do not know who Bruno Mars or the Red Hot Chili Peppers are (though my 6 year old said she recognized “Give It Away Now”), but they bought the pre-game and in-game hype 100%.

“The greatest concert of the year?! I can’t wait!” my son shouted at the 2 minute warning.

We tried to prepare them for the inevitable disappointment that goes with the Super Bowl Halftime show.  My husband explained that while it *may* be the greatest concert of the year, the year has only had 33 days in it so far – so there’s not a lot of competition.  I remembered the infamous “wardrobe malfunction” that had mothers screeching in horror everywhere and wondered if I should tell my son to cover his eyes just in case.

Lo and behold – it wasn’t all bad.  Bruno and his gold lamé jacket squad were more Motown classy than pop star sassy.  Boy does that kid have moves!  The Red Hot Chili Peppers were in their head-banging glory and Anthony Kiedis (lead singer) even broke out his dress shorts for the occasion.

Both bands did what they do best, did it spectacularly, and didn’t need anything outrageous or controversial to put on one of the best halftime shows I’ve seen since U2’s 9/11 tribute and heart-shaped stage in 2009.

I know that many people complained that the ads and halftime show were as sad, pathetic, and boring as the game itself (that one touchdown the Broncos scored felt like an awful lot like pity points).  But this mom is grateful that I did not have to answer any awkward questions from my young children.

It wasn’t perfect…Since when do threesomes save troubled marriages Butterfinger?  And why is Uncle Jesse about to use your yogurt to trick a girl into oral sex Oikos?   Oh and Sodastream…I’m sorry but using seductive straws won’t get me to buy your soda? Fortunately the worst offenders were after halftime and after my kids were in bed.

Despite a few hiccups, I want to issue a huge thank you to the NFL and Fox for a family-friendly Super Bowl experience!

thankyousuperbowl

God Provides. Yes, He Actually Does.

I am 23+ weeks into my pregnancy with our happy surprise Baby #3 (a little girl).  When I say she is a “surprise”, I mean just that.  We are people who use NFP regularly and though we are pro-life and thus always ready to accept a new little life as God sees fit to give it, we weren’t purposefully trying to get pregnant with this little one (as we were with our other two).  So, when,  that 2nd little line showed up on a pregnancy test last fall, surprised is the best word to describe my reaction.530862_661837282070_1511837382_n

When it took 14 months to get pregnant with my first child, I learned quickly that God alone is the author of Life and only HE knows when it is best for a person or family to have a baby.  Sometimes our will and His will line up (we were trying for a 2nd child and God deemed it to be the right time and we got pregnant quickly).  Other times, it’s challenging to understand why God is or isn’t allowing a pregnancy to happen.

I have never once take for granted the gift of this new little life within me when I know so many people who would give anything to get pregnant and I am so thrilled to be having another little girl.  But, from my limited perspective, I wouldn’t have chosen right now to be pregnant again!  Read the rest of this entry

Two Wrongs CAN Make a Right…

Family

My husband and I are both passionate about raising loving, respectful kids whose strong relationships with Christ and His Church are lived out in their relationships and community.  Sometimes, though, we disagree on our approach and I wonder if our different backgrounds have put us on completely different pages when it comes to reaching our parenting goals.

I’ve got advanced education in Pastoral Studies, Theology, and Teaching. My husband has advanced education in Administration, Teaching, and Social Studies.

I’m a cradle, Catholic-school girl Catholic.  My husband is a convert.

There are times when I seriously challenge my husband to become more comfortable with and better understand the words, signs, and gestures of our faith.  Sometimes he makes himself talk about (or listen to me talk with friends about) theology, Church doctrine, and what it means to be Catholic because I’ve shown him it’s an important conversation.

There are times when my husband seriously challenges me to remember that all those words, signs, and gestures mean nothing if we do not live as Christians in the real world.  Sometimes I make myself to stop talking about theology, Church doctrine, and what it means to be Catholic because he’s shown me that it’s important to just be a Christian interacting with our world instead of talking about how Christianity interacts with our world.

There are lots of times I’m convinced he’s wrong.  There are at least as many times he’s convinced that I’m wrong.  Then there are those moments – those oh-so-precious moments when I’m missing the mark and he’s missing the mark, but together we are exactly right.

This week our 1st grade daughter was asked by her principal to represent her school by leading the pledge at the City Council meeting.

My response:  I’m so proud of you! Because you are so kind and loving and respectful, you are showing people what it means to be a good Christian in our community, how to show Jesus’ love to everyone around you, and they are obviously noticing!  What a great job!

My husband’s response:  I’m so proud of you!  Because you are so kind and loving and respectful, you are showing people what it means to be a good citizen in our community, how to make our world better, and they are obviously noticing!  What a great job!

My daughter, who claims she wants to be either a teacher or a singer when she grows us, was instantly petrified.  She didn’t want to do it – she was too nervous because she doesn’t think she knows the pledge well enough, she doesn’t know these people, and she doesn’t know what it’s going to be like.

I responded by telling her I think we should take a few days to pray about it first. I told her that sometimes doing good things and being a role model isn’t easy.  We talked about how Mary said “yes” when God asked her to do something big even though she didn’t know a lot about what it was going to be.

So…she went to her dad and told him all the reasons she didn’t want to do it

My husband responded by telling her she should take a few days to think about it first.  He told her that it would be a great chance for her to be an example for other kids in her school and that it would give the city leaders hope to see someone her age doing something so big.  They talked about Rosa Parks and how little people can do big things that make them nervous if they do them by thinking about others instead of themselves.

My response wouldn’t have been right on its own – neither was my husband’s.    But both of them together?  We brought Church, State, and family together and I think all of us got a lesson from the ‘school of deeper humanity’…

2 wrong people + God = the right family.

Family communion can only be preserved and perfected through a great spirit of sacrifice. It requires, in fact, a ready and generous openness of each and all to understanding, to forbearance, to pardon, to reconciliation.

There is no family that does not know how selfishness, discord, tension and conflict violently attack and at times mortally wound its own communion: hence there arise the many and varied forms of division in family life.

But, at the same time, every family is called by the God of peace to have the joyous and renewing experience of “reconciliation,” that is, communion reestablished, unity restored.

Familiaris Consortio #21

(Listen, I know that comparing standing up in front of the 6 people on our city council and reciting the pledge to Rosa Parks or, you know, the Mother of God is a little heavy handed and over the top, but it’s a pretty big deal to her! Plus, I am an English major and hyperbole is a legitimate way to prove a point!)

Epiphany Home Blessing

What is a blessing?

Blessing a home recognizes God’s goodness in providing for us a home to live in, invites God to be present within our home, and dedicates our home to God.  A blessing isn’t a magic formula that makes our homes holy; our homes become holy because of how we act inside them. Rather, it asks for God’s protection over the mind, body, and soul of those who live there.  This kind of blessings bestows what the Church calls actual grace — the divine energy which the soul needs in the countless emergencies and difficulties of our daily struggle with the devil, sin, and our own fallen nature.*

Having our home blessed helps draw us closer to God, to Whom it is dedicated; and acknowledges that our home does more than just benefit our bodies by providing the tangible things like warmth, heat, shelter, etc.  A blessed home can benefit our souls as well.

Epiphany Home Blessing

The Feast of the Epiphany has, for centuries, been a traditional time for families to bless their homes.  This tradition likely came about because the Three Wise Men visited the home that the Holy Family had established in Bethlehem (before the flight to Egypt – after which they settled in Nazareth).  The visit from the Wise Men blessed the home of the Holy Family because they came in humility to honor and pay homage to the Christ Child and because they were the first to not only seek Jesus, but also to recognize Him as the Messiah.

The Epiphany home blessing tradition has been more popular in Europe than in the US, but many American Catholics have taken up the practice as well.

What you’ll need:

  • Blessed Chalk**
  • Your Home
  • A person with spiritual authority over your home to lead***
  • Incense (optional – frankincense would be ideal!)

How to do it:

  1. If you are choosing to use it, light the incense as a reminder of the gifts offered by the Three Wise Men.
  2. The leader should say the blessing.  There are a variety of Epiphany home blessing ritual prayers available (here, here and here).  Choose whichever one you like.
  3. Once the prayer is complete, the leader should use the chalk to write the following on the door (or door frame or lintel):

20 + C + M + B + 14

The three letters stand for the three kings who were traditionally known as Caspar, Melchoir, and Baltassar. (The initials, C, M, B, can also be interpreted as the Latin phrase “Christus mansionem benedicat” which means “Christ bless this house”.) The numbers are for the year.

  1. Go through the home and write the blessing formula over each door within the home – especially the threshold, the dining room, and the bedrooms.
  1. Gather as a family and discuss ways that you can seek and recognize God’s presence in your family and your home throughout the coming year!

Luke 10:5


* from: The Priestly Power to Bless by Ernest Graf, O.S.B.

** Chalk is customarily blessed on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany.  Your parish (or another parish in town) may provide blessed chalk after Masses this weekend.  If not, you can always ask a priest to bless some chalk.  The blessing can be found here.

*** Just as there is a spiritual hierarchy within the heavens (choirs of angels) and a spiritual hierarchy within the Church, there is a spiritual hierarchy within your home. Top down it would be:  A priest or deacon of the parish you belong to, another priest or deacon, the father of the home, the mother of the home.

Wise Men Still Seek Him…

Wise Men Still Seek Him

When I was a child, the magi’s story captured my imagination.  I remember my parents drawing out the Christmas season through the Feast of the Epiphany.  Presents stayed under the tree, decorations stayed up, the Christ candle at the center of the Advent wreath was lit, and even Christmas music echoed in the halls of our home all the way through January 5.  Without fail on the day after Christmas, the wise men would begin their journey from the far east (sofa table) traveling a little each night while we slept as they made their way to Bethlehem (next to the fireplace).

20140103_105709

One nativity in our house this year – with wise men, wise Calico Critters, wise ninja turtles, wise Batman, and wise Peter Pan… all seeking Him.

My adult imagination was sparked in a whole new way as I read how the early Church fathers interpreted the magi story in light of Old Testament prophecy:

Justin Martyr

Justin cites Isaiah 8:4, where the prophet predicts that “before the child knows how to call ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoils of Samaria will be carried away by the king of Assyria.” For Justin, the magi were priests of an eastern cult and practitioners of magic and astrology. The wealth of Damascus and spoils of Samaria represented the sorcery and idol-worship that the pagan magi gave up when they worshiped Jesus. The magi’s visit to the crib was thus their moment of conversion and the renunciation of their misguided, idolatrous practices.*

Origen

According to Origen, after the star appeared to the magi, they noticed that their magic spells faltered and their power was sapped.  Consulting their books, they discovered the prophecy of the oracle-reader Balaam, who saw a rising star “com[ing] out of Jacob” (Numbers 24:17) that indicated the advent of a great ruler of Israel. The magi thus conjectured that this ruler had entered the world. So, the magi traveled to Judea to find this ruler, and based on their reading of Balaam’s prophecy, the appearance of the comet and their loss of strength, they determined that he must be superior to any ordinary human—that his nature must be both human and divine.*

Irenaeus of Lyons

According to Irenaeus, the magi offered Jesus myrrh (used for anointing corpses) to indicate that he was to die and be buried for the sake of mortal humans, gold because he was a king of an eternal kingdom, and frankincense (burnt on altars as divine offerings) because he was a god.  As the first visitors to recognize who this newborn child was, and what his birth would mean to the whole world, the witness of the magi was not insignificant to these controversies. Their three gifts seemed to demonstrate their understanding of the three distinct persons who shared a single “nature” within the Trinity.*

The wise men did not simply seek Him, they were the first to recognize Jesus as messiah.

As the Magi strove to find the newborn king, may the Feast of the Epiphany find us not only seeking out Christ each day of our life, but actually recognizing Him as Priest, Prophet, King, and Messiah.

As the Magi renounced their magical idolatrous practices in the infant face of God incarnate, may we renounce whatever worldly idols have thickened the veil between us and Christ.

As the Magi blessed the Holy Family with their humility and homage, may our families be blessed humility and may we keep the adoration of Christ at the center of everything we do this year.

Epiphany Prayer


* From: The Magi in Art and Literature by Robin M. Jensen

The Condescension of Christmas

I want to be clear about something: I love Christmas.  Everything to do with Christmas.  I don’t care that the stores put out Christmas decorations in October because just seeing those aisles start to fill with twinkling lights, sparkling ornaments, and scented pine cones reminds me that my favorite time of year is approaching.  I listen to Christmas music as soon as Thanksgiving is over because – hey, it takes me more than 4 weeks to prepare for the joy of the Incarnation, okay?

recipe

I need you to understand how much I love Christmas because then you can understand what a problem I’ve had this year.

My Christmas Spirit is two sizes two small.

Deep down this year, my heart just hasn’t been in it.  Christmas has felt more like a to-do list than a celebration – a mental exercise requiring so much effort.

“The language of the Lord is the language of love and tenderness, of whispers and extreme simplicity…Usually, Christmas seems like a very noisy feast, but we can use a bit of silence to hear these words of love, closeness and tenderness.” – Pope Francis

Reflecting on that quote, I realized that my Christmas needs more softness and tenderness, more heart and less head, more ‘being’ and less ‘doing.’

Yesterday, snow covered roads meant my normally half hour commute home from work took an hour and a half.  I had Christmas music on in the car and noticed lyrics to a one carol I had never noticed before:

Raise, raise the son on high
The virgin sings her lullaby
Joy, joy for Christ is born
The babe, the son of Mary

The First Christmas was a pretty noisy feast.  Travel, crowds, gifts, visitors, animals, death threats, angels, dreams, songs, shepherds, even a drum set!

Yet, in the midst of it, there is a moment – just a moment – when all is calm.  Mary and Joseph look lovingly over the sweet soft head of the newborn child.  She sings a lullaby showering the soft baby skin in kisses.  He gazes in adoration and awe at the gift and responsibility in front of him.

Mary kissing baby jesus, dark-haired

The night is silent, and before the choirs of angels, visiting shepherds, adoring Magi, and flight to Egypt, there is just the Holy Family hearing in the depths of their souls “the language of the Lord…the language of love and tenderness, of whispers and extreme simplicity.”

joseph-baby-jesus-mary-in-a-manger

What Child is this?  This, this is Christ the King.  The King of Kings salvation brings.  This is the God of the Universe who condescends in the greatest act of humility to be bound by human form.  This is the Incarnation.  The moment when God’s very Word – the same Word that, booming across the chaos, speaks creation into being – becomes tenderness, gentleness, and simplicity.

While the truth and holiness of God always remains intact, the marvelous ‘condescension’ of eternal wisdom is clearly shown, “that we may learn the gentle kindness of God, which words cannot express, and how far He has gone in adapting His language with thoughtful concern for our weak human nature.” (Dei Verbum, 13)

What Child is this?  This is the Child who wants to be born again into our hearts this Christmas.  My prayer for all of us is that we can find a moment of silence.  Between the travels and visitors, the gifts and the music, let us all find a moment when all is calm and our hearts are bright with the love and tenderness of God’s great condescension.

baby-jesus-mary-joseph-by-dewey

What Child is this?  This is Christ the Lord who desires to be born into the softest area of your heart this Christmas.  May you find a moment of silence to ponder this mystery, holding all these things in your heart rather than your head.  May your loving heart enthrone him.

Merry Christmas

I like Christmas Jesus best…

The Cheerful Giver?

Cheerful-Giving“Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7)



A few days ago, my mother came upon a woman in a Facebook group who was collecting donated goods for some families with children who were in desperate need this holiday season.  Upon looking at the list, she felt like she could help them out with a good number of items.  She contacted me to see if I had anything on the list that I would be able to contribute.

Just like most of us, I have plenty of extra things sitting around that, in all honesty, I don’t really need to keep hanging on to.  Not only did I have a few things, once I started really looking, I found that I had a lot of things that I could pass on to these other families.

Giving away the goods was not the challenge of this act of charity.  No, no.  Physically handing things over to another person, family, or organization doesn’t take a lot of effort.  I found where I really need to learn a lesson in giving and that is in my attitude.

Because, what good are all those items given to another if they aren’t given, as St. Paul says, “cheerfully”?
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