You Are Still Alive.

I just received word through the social media grapevine that a couple that I knew only distantly in college suffered a great tragedy – the husband was killed in a car wreck late last night and she is now widowed with 6 young children and a 7th on the way.

Tomorrow is the 1 year anniversary of death of another friend from college who was diagnosed, fought, and died valiantly from an intense form of cancer all in a couple of months time.  His wife was also left widowed with 3 young children, pregnant with their 4th.

On Dec. 12, a lovely young mother here in town also died from cancer, after 6 months of fighting, leaving behind her husband and 3 daughters who are 3, 2, and 6 months old.  She was only 32.

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The Suffering of the Good & Faithful

There’s never a lack of tragic situations happening in the world at large as well in our specific communities, families, and churches.  Sometimes, though, it seems like certain communities are hit really hard in relation to others.

2490e6dc072645fae6916b3526032d48One of my “circles” of people is my alma mater, Franciscan University of Steubenville.  Being that it’s a university, my connections and friendships spread much wider there than some of my smaller, more personal circles.  Though it is not a large university, there’s been a specific contingency of people (Catholic young families) overwhelmingly affected by hardships in the past year.

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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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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 More

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).

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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 ONE Thing I’m Thankful For

vintage-thanksgiving-postcard-8It’s that day.  THE DAY when we make our obligatory list of “Things I’m Thankful For” and prepare to present it in front of family and friends around the Thanksgiving table.

We all know how the list goes: air, family, friends, health, job, home, football, pumpkin pie (in whatever order is preferable to you), etc., etc.  All great things to be thankful for and generally worth mentioning.

I’ve been meditating on the “what are you thankful for question” a bit more this year, though, because I feel like saying, “Duh” when all those general gifts are mentioned.  OF COURSE I’m thankful for my family and children, the blessings we have in the form of good health and a job and home and all the extraneous things that make my life what it is.  I try to daily live my life as a woman who is aware of my many, many blessings and who regularly tells God “thank you” for them.

But, why?  Why do I try to live in this mindset (or, really, HEARTset)?  What is it that I am truly the most thankful for that allows me to be a person of thanksgiving, of praise, with a grateful heart?
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This Was Not the Plan

I don’t know when I started to realize that no matter how many and how often I made “plans” I made for my life, it would almost never go the way I envisioned it.  When I look back, I can see how different things that happened in my life were dots that were going to connect me to another dot in a way that I hadn’t envisioned and never would’ve thought of.

The first place I can really remember it happening and changing the course of my “plans” was in high school.  After two years of playing on the volleyball team (one of those years as varsity), I was unexpectedly cut altogether.  I was devastated and had all my high school plans and dreams seemingly crushed. Crossing out Plan A and writing Plan B on a blackboard.

But, that event led me to a new dot – going from running track in the spring to running track in the winter, too.  Though I never really wanted to pursue track in college or try to make the Olympic team or anything like that, I ultimately had a much more successful career as a runner than I probably ever would’ve had as a volleyball player.

God knew what He was doing.  Imagine that.

When I review my life thus far, I can now clearly see how things like that happened constantly, changing the course of my life and taking me in a new and better direction.  Sometimes they were things I had no control over (like getting cut from a team), but often they were choices offered that I hadn’t considered, I ended up choosing, and that made all the difference. Read More

Memes and Miley: a Modern Day Parable

The last thing I want to do is get dragged into the Miley Cyrus / Robin Thicke VMA fiasco.  There is plenty of intelligent commentary on Miley’s fall from grace, Robin’s equal blame, and our society’s return to a post-modern prudity.  But the intelligent commentary is, unfortunately, in the minority.  For the most part, the Internet responded as the Internet does these days – in 140 characters and memes.

I want you to know that I tried, really truly tried (as in – spent far too many hours Googling every variation of “Miley Cyrus VMA meme” I could think of) to find a few of those memes that I could post here that would be funny but that wouldn’t subject you to gratuitous sex or tempt you to objectify these people more than they have objectified themselves.

I couldn’t find one.  Not. A. Single. One.

All of them were offensive, some of them were funny, and a few even gave me hope that we’re not as depraved a society as people think we are.

Celebrity reactions during VMA performance.  Dear Hollywood:  there IS a line.

Meme: Celebrity reactions during VMA performance.
Message: “Dear Hollywood: There IS a line – this crosses it.”

But there was one in particular that made me, well, sad.

billy-ray-cyrus-i-should-have-pulled-out

I understand that both Miley and Robin chose to act in a way that indicates they’d prefer to simply chew up, spit out, and take a big ol’ crap on their human dignity.  That makes me sad for them.  This meme makes me sad for us.  Just because they chose to act that way does not give the rest of us permission to forget that the individuals involved in this circus (Miley, her parents, her friends, her fiance, Robin, his parents, his friends, his wife, etc) are people with dignity and worth.

Whereas the memes using still shots of the performance are, for the most part, a commentary on reality (the performance happened, and that’s what it looked like), this one is not at all based on reality – it’s based on our discomfort.

Billy Ray Cyrus has not indicated that because his daughter made what he believes to be a terrible mistake, he wishes she had never been born.  Say what you will about his parenting failures, he has never indicated that Miley only exists to make him look good or feel good.  In fact, throughout Miley’s fall from cute Disney star to…whatever the heck she was Sunday night, Billy Ray has indicated that she is first and foremost his daughter.

We, however, as a society have indicated that Miley (and others like her) exist only insofar as they can provide entertainment for us, make us feel good about ourselves, or give us fodder for our sexual fantasies.  This meme indicates that we’re done with Miley. She embarrassed us because even we can’t believe that we have created a society where anyone would consider that performance acceptable.  She made us question our societal insistence that sexualizing women is the way to women’s liberty, that pornography is harmless, and that sexual morality is old fashioned.  Because she embarrassed us and convicted us, we think it would be better if she hadn’t been born.

After the VMAs Billy Ray Cyrus didn’t say “I should have pulled out.”  He said,

“She’s still my little girl, and I’m still her dad regardless how this circus we call show business plays out. I love her unconditionally and that will never change.”

This is an unconditional love that truly honors Miley’s dignity and worth at a time when we all most need to be reminded of it.  It’s a love that refuses to objectify her or try to profit from her.

It’s also a love that does not condone the behavior.  Billy Ray sits on the Parents Television Council with its mission to ‘protect children from graphic and gratuitous programming and to restore responsibility to the entertainment industry.’ The same Council who issued a harsh statement condemning the performance.

It’s not all that different from the love another Father has for His daughter Miley, for His children killed in the chemical weapons attack in Syria, for His son who walked into a Georgia elementary school with an assault rifle, for each one of us.

I seem to remember Jesus telling a story a lot like this one.  The father in that story didn’t say “I should have pulled out” either.

And the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation…

Never mind - found one.

Scripture + Pop Music + Meme = Blog WIN!

Shoot, looks like I let myself get dragged in after all…

“Mama” Mary

I don’t presume to think I am “cool”.

Any type of “coolness” I may have possessed in my younger years has most certainly gone flying out the window with motherhood.  I finally spoke this truth out loud to my still cool, unmarried, currently living in Nashville (the epitome of hipster/music/coolness) about to go to awesome music graduate school younger brother.  “Yeah, there’s pretty much nothing we do as moms that will become an ‘in’ thing.  In fact, if something becomes a trend for moms & kids, it is probably on it’s way out,” I said.

Good one, Catholic Memes.

Good one, Catholic Memes.

The reality of my motherly uncoolness became even more pronounced today as I was sitting in Barnes & Noble visiting with my pregnant friend while her son and my two kids played around with a group of other children (most of whom were accompanied, also, by moms of various ages and stages of pregnancy).  We chatted and laughed about potty training (yes, discussing poop), baby food, sleeping habits, toys & interests of our kids, pregnancy, and motherhood in general.  Probably the most boring conversation ever for my girlfriend’s unmarried friend who was with us, too.

Yes, motherhood is unglamorous and totally uncool when it really comes down to the nitty gritty of it.

On the ride home, this realization got me thinking about the Blessed Mother.  Our Most Holy Mother Mary, who is always depicted as beautiful, serene, demure, hair perfectly coiffed, the “coolest” woman who ever walked the face of the earth in all her holiness and Immaculate Conception-ness, was also a mom. Read More