Sunday, June 28, 2015

Become an Ambassador Of Love

I went to confession yesterday. Apparently, I was not the only one who felt a need for a little soul scrubbing. In fact, the room was packed and there was a line down the hall. It was so full that the solo priest hearing confessions may have asked us to say our Act of Contrition before entering. I won't go into how I feel about that.

My desire to lay all my garbage at the foot of the cross to be lifted up in mercy initially had nothing to do with the events that had transpired at the end of the week. However, as I prayed about what I was truly seeking freedom from through the sacrament, I realized something. While it may not have been the cause for me to feel ill at ease with the health of my soul, it was certainly contributing to my unease. The "it" my friends was not the actual decision by the Supreme Court to recognize same-sex marriage. At this stage of our culture, I already assumed that to be a foregone conclusion. The "it" that had me so bothered internally had to do with our own reactions to this development. 

So many of those whom I look to for direction and inspiration in faith and morals seemed to have lost their center. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. There was fear. There was resignation. There was excessive melodrama. There was a whole lot of spiraling forward into a bleak future. 

Don't get me wrong. I understand. I do. Our understanding of the world was shaken...or was it? Don't we as Christians still believe the same thing? Isn't our witness needed as much today as it was yesterday? Is all our wailing and toddler-sized tantrum throwing giving witness to our firm faith and confidence that Jesus has already overcome the world? I'd answer that with a GIANT no.

How do we move forward in faith? This question was nagging on my heart as I sat waiting to make my confession. What is it Christ is calling ME to do...or not do? I want to write and speak volumes because I don't want to remain silent. Yet, is that what God is calling me to do? Would all my speaking and writing bring one heart closer to Him? What about all those friends and family I love who are rejoicing with the change of the law in the land? How would my words help them know my love and God's love amid my conviction that as humans we cannot simply legislate natural law away?

You know what I discovered? I have NO idea. That's what. I don't know what the right thing to say is that both affirms the dignity of my LGBT friends and family and acknowledges the pain and suffering they have endured while also sharing what I believe to be God's design for love, life, and humanity. I don't. I just don't. I just got on my knees and threw up my hands and prayed. 

Make me an instrument of your peace, of your love, of your truth. 

May those who see me know You...know Your love, know Your mercy, know Your goodness. 

Why? I am an ambassador of Christ. I am NOT Christ. My job is to bring people to Him, and I will not do that through lectures and tantrums. I will not do that by turning away from those I disagree with or getting into a battle of Facebook statuses and profile pictures. The only way I can be an ambassador of Christ is to be a stranger in a strange land willing to open my heart and walk alongside the people He sends my way, friend and stranger alike.

I got home to read a few more Facebook updates, and this time, I was encouraged - so very encouraged. The first was from the Archdiocese of Denver and their response. 

We here at the Denver Catholic figure that we have two options for how to respond going foward:
Go on the defensive. We've clearly lost the culture war, but we can try to convince the public that our view is the correct one.
Realize that we don't live in a Christian culture, and therefore must engage it as missionaries.
Option one is equivalent to declaring ourselves victims. Option two is to accept the challenge of living as authentic followers of Jesus Christ in a world that has largely forgotten Him.
Jesus Christ is real. We Christians have experienced the sweetness of a personal relationship with Him. Our mission is not to punish or coerce those who have not experienced this—instead, we must invite them into relationship. What better way to do this than to show the joy of living the Catholic faith?

The other was from Fr. Newman of St. Mary's parish in Greenville, South Carolina:
Christians must let go of nostalgia for our faded Christian civilization in order to build it again. If we can see the collapse of cultural Christianity as a great evangelical opportunity, then with joy and love we can proclaim Jesus Christ crucified and risen to the millions of people who now have only debonair nihilism to help them understand the purpose and meaning of their lives.

This was my answer to prayer. This made me feel less guilty about not being infuriated. (Yeah, I felt guilty about not losing it because maybe it meant that I wasn't devoted enough to the law of God.) This gave me...HOPE. And here the Spirit soars. Hope. Joy. Love - authentic love. As we move forward from this monumental day (and it is monumental in our cultural understanding of the nature of man, woman, and humanity), this is the answer. 

Share the joy and hope of Christ. 
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

Love and serve your neighbor in humility.
You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. Mark 10:42-45

Remember that we are not victims, and fear of the future is not from God.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

We are missionaries and ambassadors of the Most High. Claim it in love, and remember that love comes with a cross.
For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them...So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 20

Always remember that our actions speak far louder than our words.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:12-17

A friend shared this quote today, and it summed up the future for me perfectly.
"Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people; before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all His children; before you preach to me of your passion for your faith, teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I'm not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as in how you choose to live and give." - Cory Booker

The fact is that everything has changed, and nothing has changed all at once. No matter the hurricane around us, we stand firm in He who even the seas obey. No matter the prevailing sentiments of the day, we stand firm in our understanding of who we are designed to be by He who made us. No matter what is thrown at us, we must remain constant in our love for our neighbor. Jesus thirsts for them as He thirsts for us. Let us love first so that we can lead others to Christ. It is Jesus that changes hearts, not us, after all. Let's be sure we are letting Him direct ours and conform it to His. 

Want to know a secret? This is my prayer at every confession and before receiving the Eucharist. Take my heart, Lord, and conform it to Yours. It belongs to You. Lead me and transform me, all I have is Yours. Help me to see everyone as You do. Help me to thirst for them as You do, and to meet all with Love, as You do.

Another secret? I fail miserably, but He dusts me off so I can try again. I've got a feeling there will be a lot of scraped knees as we move forward in this new reality. We will stumble. We will fall. We will give into our temptations to preach and lecture and debate and fear. I know I will. The beautiful thing is that we are not alone in this, so we can remind one another to get up and walk in love and peace and joy instead. 

Go. Preach the Gospel. Serve your neighbor. Let our love be sincere and let us overcome hatred with goodness. Love 'em like Jesus - to the cross and back again...

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Friday, June 26, 2015

SQT On The First Week of Summer, Love, and Hospitality

Well, hello Friday. And hello you old friend Quick Takes. It has been awhile since I've visited. How have you been? The same? Fair enough. Here's a quick update from the fine folks at the Casa (that's us).

It's the first week of summer, and it's off to the races, if by races you mean dallying about. While the Hubs was gone, the kids and I took a neighborhood adventure walk (or stroll if you want to get honest about our pace). There has been plenty of playing outside and a little grilling and a healthy dose of summer rain. C'est la vie a la casa!

Another big summer goal is almost on the checked off list: our front door facelift! All that is left is to touch up the trim and dream of a new storm door...

Incidentally, one thing that should have been on our home improvement list was getting a new spray nozzle for the hose in the front yard. It sticks. This didn't seem like a big problem until I was cleaning off the roller from the paint job and the hose became stuck on full force causing the paint from the roller to spray all over. On me. On the house. All. Over. Did you know that paint doesn't just wash off siding? (I had guessed as much, but gave it a foolish try anyway.) So, one bottle of nailpolish remover, a scouring sponge, and a metric ton of elbow grease later, the front of the house no longer looks like a Smurf splattered against it. Let's put that one in the "things I hope to never have to do again" box!

Part of the inspiration behind painting the front door, other than covering up the stains on the old "white" one, was to create a more welcoming look. This, of course, means we have to be more welcoming. If you want a great read about opening ourselves up in the here and now, read Laura Kelly Fanucci's post from earlier this week. Her post inspired my own thoughts about hospitality and the meaning of home. Take a read if you missed it, and let me know what you think. What keeps you from opening yourself and your home to others?

As I am talking about love, openness, and hospitality, I can't seem to avoid the GIANT elephant in this room, and the not so invisible pachyderm traipsing across the internet today. I am desperately trying to think of something witty, funny, and off the wall here, but it really just comes down to the plain old fact of the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage, making it legal in all 50 states. I've seen those on the right act as though the sky is falling, and those on the left celebrating the victory of love.

The fact that there is a right and a left on this is perhaps the biggest issue of all, in my not so humble opinion. I've said it before and I will say it again - these are not political issues at their core. They are issues of humanity in which there are actual humans involved. Sadly, we have allowed political machines to take over. Carefully crafted messages lead one side to hate/distrust the other inhibiting any possibility of fruitful dialogue and understanding on a large scale. Gay marriage proponents are heathens causing the destruction of good society as we know it. Gay marriage dissenters are bigoted devils wanting to destroy love and happiness. How can we possibly arrive at a consensus of how to live in a pluralistic society when those are the scripts that are being played over and over? 

I say this to my brothers and sisters in Christ, because I believe change begins with us. There have been moments of moral decline throughout the history of the world, but Jesus reminds us that He has overcome the world. Our work here is to make disciples of all the nations. If we are so intimately embroiled in proving we are right about the day's moral and political issues, are we our own stumbling block in leading others to the heart of a loving Christ? Yes, Christ is also a judge, but first he is a Lover. Can we please take the offensive (and not in a combative sense) finally and be about God's business? Can we admit that we will never change hearts and minds - that conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit? Can we open our hearts and our lives to walk with those who we intimately and passionately disagree with so we can start to form relationships to make it possible for the Holy Spirit to enter into our lives in power? Can we please stop arguing? It makes my heart hurt that when people think about Christ and Catholicism that the words bigot and hate are involved. Please, oh please, choose your words carefully. Choose love. Choose mercy. Choose kindness. Allow words to have meaning, speak and preach truth, but please, oh please, remember that fragile hearts are tied to those truths. 

Whatever battle may come, and believe you me there is a battle looming, please let them always say of us that we chose love as much as we chose truth. They cannot be separated as Christ Himself is both Love and Truth personified. Yes, love has lost all meaning, but that is because Love has ceased to be Lord. Ideologies have replaced faith in Christ. Please, and truly for the love of Christ, can we embrace Him as Lord again? Preach Him as Love again? Somewhere He has been lost in the battle for righteousness as we react to every volley thrown at us. We have the fullness of Truth...the fullness of Love. Let's stop letting the world write the story and show them what...and who...the face of real Love is again. It is the face on the cross. It is the blood poured out. It is sacrifice and it is mercy before the judgment, which belongs to God in the end. Love one another, please, oh please. For the sake of the Gospel, love one another beyond an ideology. 

Well, that wasn't such a quick take up there. I will fast-forward through this one and just tell you that there are two quick "tutorials" up for those of you who may still want to join in the June Sketch-Along and help to share the joy of the Lord through art. There is one on the very basics of hand lettering, and one on creating digital images. I hope you will join me! 

...and now to leave you with a laugh, hopefully!

They say kids say the darndest things. Well, this one's a doozy! Gianna is about waist high now, and she is a lover of kisses, which can make things a little awkward. Like when she comes up behind us to give us a kiss. On the rear. And then says, "I kissed your butt!" proudly, the simultaneous hilarity and irony totally lost on her sweet four year old self. 

That's life at the Casa in a snippet or seven! For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain't The Lyceum!

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Homemaking 101: Creating A Room for Love to Live

Help me to see people unfolding and not projects undone. Help me to set aside ego and externals and endless to-do lists. Help me to embrace humility always and hospitality anyway. Help me to make a Christ room in my house and my heart. ~Laura Kelly Fanucci 
As I read these words from Laura's post, "The House is a Mess; Come On In," they gave me more than a moment's pause. Perhaps it is because our house is in a perpetual state of disarray, some due to the natural state of being with two children under 5, and some because cleaning is not my natural state of being. Yes, I would rather be typing this than dusting the shelves.

Her words remind me that I need to constantly be seeking and making room for Christ in my natural state and not waiting for the perfect time. Beyond that, they also led me into a deeper reflection about the meaning of a home and what it signifies to the world.

The word "home" invokes a multitude of emotions depending your experience. It can be a memory of comfort and refuge, and at the same time, for some it can be a longing for something that never was. 

In its ideal form, home is a sense of belonging, a deep pool of love, a place to rest and reignite the spark of the divine when life has threatened to snuff it out. Home is where we begin to understand and unveil our deepest identity - the beloved. 

Home does not belong to us - it is given to us, as is every blessing, to share. Our homes are places of gathering, of invitation, of community. They are the places where we come together to laugh and to weep, to fill ourselves and be emptied. Radical hospitality begins with recognizing that our homes are not just fortresses for our own refuge.

Radical hospitality is inviting people into ourselves. Our whole selves. Our messy, we are a work in progress but at least we aren't standing still, selves. Why? It gives others permission to breathe. And live. And be. Just be. To know that we don't need to put on airs when we welcome them into the reality of our lives shows our confidence in who we are, not what. It shows that we understand that our homes are places where love happens, where life is lived, and where grace is poured out because we know we need it in abundance.

When I wait to have people over until the perfect time, or until the laundry is put away, or clothes and toys are not strewn about, or the floors are finally swept, mopped, and perfect clean...when I wait for an image of what is not real, I put up a wall between myself and the one I'm welcoming. We create a facade of expectation that keeps one another at bay instead of welcoming each other in to say, "yes, we are in this together."

Scenes from real life...

Writing this gives me some anxiety. It means that I may actually have to do what I say. I may have to invite others in to the mess that is my life and my home and suffer the embarrassment. Can I ask you to brave the journey with me?

What's the worst that could happen? You get a reputation for being a sloppy homemaker? Others talk about what your house looks like? I guess that's a price we have to pay if we are going to try to create room for love to happen. Are we brave enough to look past the raised eyebrows and open our homes to love one another even in the middle of our messes? 

If we, as Laura reminds us, are to make room for Christ in the mess, we have to make room for one another without fear as well. As we welcome one another, we welcome Him. Who knows? Maybe we will even be entertaining angels who may like leftover cheerios, playing with toys, and building blanket forts. Can you imagine their disappointment if we had hidden them away?!?

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, 
for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Hebrews 13:2

Until next time, let's love 'em like Jesus...messy house or not!

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sketch-Along: Let's Get Digital, Digital

Because of these last night

which led to this much of the night

and this some of the night, because cats get scared too,

requiring this on repeat today

a longer post on deeper matters has been replaced by a quick Sketch-Along prompt.

Some folks have expressed a bit of trepidation with the actual "sketching" part of the "along" and I say to ye: Be not afraid! If you are still shy about trying freehand drawing and lettering, there is always the digital option!

By my obsession with Instagram, I know...I KNOW...there are some talented photographers out there. The heart of this Sketch-Along is sharing the joy of the Gospel, the joy of Christ, in artistic expression. Feel free to point and click and show us the joy of the Lord in an image. If you want to get fancy, hop onto PicMonkey and add some textures and lettering.

Kendra has some fun tutorials on her blog, or the PicMonkey blog itself has some great how-to videos.

Here's a quick look at how I came up with the image header for this post using Pic Monkey. I have no affiliation with them - I just appreciate how easy they have made it to edit and filter images!

The image on the left was the original photo I uploaded from my phone onto my computer. My first step was to crop the image a little bit to have the flowers in a slightly tighter frame. Next, I went to the "Effects" menu and added the Orton filter, which is one of my favorites.

I then applied a Bokeh filter, also found under "Effects." You will notice upon a closer look at this image that I used the "paint" feature.. You can use this to selectively apply a filter - I used it to take the effect off of the flowers themselves. 

As my final step before adding text to the image, I added a paper texture from the "Textures" menu. You may want to simplify your work or have a more pure image. This was where my creativity led me today.

The final step, of course, was to add text. I mixed a couple of fonts for emphasis. Here is the final image:

(For the image header in the post, I shifted the color balance a little to bring in the tones of my blog template.)

That's all there is, folks! Have fun whether you have pencil/pen/paint in hand, or are digitally creating your work. Share the joy of the Lord! (And if you want to take a look at my hand-lettering process, you can check out the last post in this series.)

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

I Am Made New: The Secret to the Best Makeover

Have you ever heard your alarm go off in the morning only to think, "Here we go again..."? If I am honest, I don't wake up every morning with praise on my lips. It is usually more of a quiet mutter until I am conscious enough to realize I'm awake and praise God for that, though I would also praise Him for another 9 minute snooze.

If you are like me, you can get a little disillusioned with the repetitive motion of an adult life: wake up, make breakfast, clean littles, clean self, go to work, come home, make dinner, feed littles, clean littles, clean house, so on and so forth...perhaps with a little "watch the Hubs do XYZ of the above" thrown in there if yours is as big a help as mine.

Regardless, the routine can become a bit mind-numbing if we are on auto-pilot. I can find myself getting irritated at the smallest things, and thinking if I just changed something...made something over - the room, my hair, my clothes - something, I would be less uneasy. This can be projected onto those around me as well. If only so-and-so did such-and-such, things would be easier, more enjoyable, yada yada yada. Oh, Rakhi...when will you learn?

St. Paul reminds us in the readings today that with Christ, all is made new.

Brothers and sisters:
The love of Christ impels us,
once we have come to the 
conviction that one died for all;
therefore, all have died.
He indeed died for all,
so that those who live might 
no longer live for themselves
but for him who for their sake 
died and was raised.

Consequently, from now on we regard 
no one according to the flesh;
even if we once knew 
Christ according to the flesh,
yet now we know him so no longer.
So whoever is in Christ is a new creation:
the old things have passed away;
behold, new things have come.
2 Corinthians 5:14-17

I am made new. You are made new. Christ has made all things new for us. Jesus continues to make all things new for us. Every day, every minute, every second...with every breath there is an opportunity to let go of our old ways and be renewed in Him. 

Jesus died and rose so that we might be transformed into a new creation. Sadly, too often I look like that old sack who just hasn't quite gotten it yet. I am quick to judge, to react with anger, to jump to conclusions, to think of myself first. Still, St. Paul reminds me that in every moment there is hope. New things have come. New things are coming. Every time I approach the altar to receive my Lord, He transforms me into a new creation. He conforms my heart a little more to His. He bends my will to look a little more like His. I'm a slow learner, so it doesn't happen overnight. Yet He is there waiting to fill me, to wash me clean, to make me over until I radiate His image. 

Today, allow Christ to renew you, to fill you, to wash away the past and begin a new work in you. He will make you new - today and every day. 

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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Sketch-Along With Me: Getting Started

We are almost halfway through June! For those of you who have been thinking about joining me for the June Sketch-Along but weren't quite sure how to get started, this one's for you!

Before we get started, a few disclaimers:
  1. I am not an expert. 
  2. What I have learned, I have learned from others.
  3. My way isn't the only way.
  4. Calligraphy is a more exact technique. Hand-lettering isn't an exact art - it is okay to have some incongruities. 
  5. Have fun - don't stress about the process if this makes it seem complicated!
Now...let's get started!

Step One: Pick your phrase

Ideally, for hand-lettered art, I have found that the fewer words, the better. I try to limit my word count to around 10 words. That way I have room to play between a mix of calligraphy and hand-lettering.

For this month's project, I chose a quote from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta:

"Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls." {Word Count: 12}

Step Two: Create an Inspiration Board
{This is entirely an optional step - I find that it helps me to take random inspirations and turn them into a cohesive idea once I'm actually sketching.}

Once you have a quote or phrase, let your imagination run wild. What are images that come to your mind when you pour over the words? What styles or periods catch your eye?

For this quote, what immediately sprang to my mind was a fishing net. I hopped on Google Images and began my search. I'm a huge fan of vintage posters, so I searched for vintage fishing posters as well as fishing nets. Here is the board that I used for inspiration:

Step Three: Gather Your Supplies

If you don't have a studio space that stays set up all the time, it helps to gather everything you may need before you get started. My standard tools are
  • a pencil (No.1 & No.2 if I have them), 
  • a pencil sharpener (because nothing is worse than a dull pencil!), 
  • an eraser (because there's plenty of starting over), 
  • a ruler, 
  • a drawing tablet for my pencil sketches, 
  • Ink (felt) pens in fine and medium point for final lettering, 
  • multimedia paper for my intermediate and final products, 
  • watercolors for decoration and embellishments, 
  • and a calligraphy pen* in case I'm drawn in that direction (no pun intended!). 
*For this project, I am not using a calligraphy pen. 

Step Four: Concept Sketch

Before you spend a lot of energy into forming your key words, sketch out some preliminary concepts so you can solidify the direction you will be heading. These are not complicated or perfected drawings. They are very basic and allow you to get a concrete image of the sugarplums dancing in your head.

A few rough...very rough...concept sketches from an old project.

Step Five: Key Words

The main difference I find between hand-lettering and calligraphy (modern or classic) is the artistic development of words. In hand-lettering artwork, I like to take a word (or two or three) and add some flesh and flourish to make them stand out among the rest of the piece. Here is a step by step view of how I do that.
  1. Draw your guide lines. When I am intentionally fleshing out a word, I am in dire need of guide lines to keep the proportions equal and keep from slanting.
  2. Draw your letter "backbones." Make sure to leave space between the letters for you to add weight and flourishes if you choose
  3. Add flesh to your letters. Don't worry about styling and flourishes at this point. Just add the weight around the backbone to provide the foundations from which you will add the embellishments. This is supposed to look messy - it is okay. That's what the eraser is for later.
  4. Draw in your flourishes at the ends of your letters. Experiment with different styles, and refer to your style-board if you get stuck.
  5. Erase all of your guidelines and clean up the letters. This will give you a blank canvas for adding any embellishments you want to add inside the letters. 
  6. Add in any decorations once you have the outline of your letter finished. You could add dots, flowers, lines, shading, or a slew of other embellishments. Again, refer to your style-board for inspiration!
  7. Step back and take a look...but not too close. Remember, this isn't about perfection, but about inspiration. 

Step Six: Shading Letters
Whether you use calligraphy, basic cursive, or block letters, there is a bit of a method to adding weight to standard letters. The secret? Add weight on the down-stroke. Try to keep the strength and weight similar across the letters, but again, don't sweat it!

There you have my secrets to getting started with hand-lettering design! I hope you will join along with this month's theme of "Joy" - remember to have fun and let your creative spirit flow!

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Monday, June 8, 2015

The Secret to Praying With Your Children

A few years ago during Advent, the Hubs suggested we begin praying a Rosary together as a family once a week. We chose Sundays since it is the Lord's Day after all. After dinner and bathtime, we would gather together to pray as a family. The kids each had their own rosaries, and while we encouraged them to pray with us, they were still only 3 and 1, so we didn't expect much.

A few months into this new practice, I put out a request for prayer intentions on a whim via social media. From there, our family rosary has grown into quite its own little ministry. There are no words to express the privilege it is to pray for others. People trust us with their deepest concerns, fears, hurts, and ask us to share in their greatest joys. The truth is they don't ask us - they seek Him. It is humbling... I digress.

Fast forward a couple of years, and the kids are approaching 5 and 3. We now expect a little more of the children, and our prayer time looks a bit different. With a little trial and error, we have figured out the secret to praying together with our children.

You want to know what it is?

Come closer.



The secret is that you just do it. Through the restlessness and distractions and short attention spans, you just do it. Whether it is the rosary or reading Scripture. Whether it is praise and worship or reading the lives of the Saints. Just do it. If it is just grace at mealtime and praying for others, just do it. The fruits will come. 

Sure, we have tweaked our prayer. The children now get to begin the rosary by offering their own prayer intentions. Yes, it usually involves stuffed animals and animated characters mixed in with real people, but they know the value of praying for others. In between the mysteries we have added a rousing chorus of Lord, I Need You because our children love and respond to music. (God bless Matt Maher - no really! From now on, the prayer of the first mystery are totally yours!) To bring in more of our charismatic spirituality, we pray in the Spirit between mysteries as well. 

We have grown in praying with our children beyond the family rosary over time. One night on a whim, I started praying over Gia. Now she demands it every night at bedtime, and prays over her brother randomly, especially when he is upset or feeling sick. The Hubs plays Bible for Kids with them at bedtime sometimes, and they demand that too. 

Real life pre-rosary - just in case you had visions
of pious sugarplums dancing through your heads.
Last night, Gia read the scripture before one of the mysteries. She still has the attention span of a five year old, but when she does tune in, she is beaming. Both our children love to pray and be included in prayer, but on their own terms. Sound like anyone you know?

I think the secret to praying with your children is the same as maximizing your own prayer life. Instead of building up lofty ideals of what it should look like, you make the most of the opportunities you have and ask the Lord for more. Listen and look for the cues that show you what styles of prayer they respond to, what makes them come alive, and offer more of that. If something doesn't work well, don't sweat it. Just keep making the effort. 

You just do it. You may want to ask the intercession of the saints, but you just do it. 

Maybe the big secret wasn't such a secret after all...

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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Why I Remain Catholic: The Sacrifice of Love in Action

Today, on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi (The Body and Blood of Christ) I join in with the many other writers and Catholic faithful who have been sharing why it is we remain Catholic. 

In a world where our faith seems upside down and topsy-turvy, where to ascribe to a belief that puts us at odds with the mores of the day, it can certainly baffle the masses as to why anyone in their right mind would be willingly devoted to the Catholic faith. Even more baffling perhaps is why an educated woman would choose to become Catholic, to willingly surrender her life to a faith that so many understand (wrongly) to be a foe of freedom, liberty, and women. 

Why did I become Catholic? The (very) short answer is that I was invited. 

Why do I remain Catholic? The very short and real answer is because Jesus meets me there every day if I will have Him

He continues to sacrifice His life for mine, to nourish me, and to be anywhere else is unthinkable. Even amidst the controversy, the brokenness...dare I say the humanity of those in the ranks of the Church, Jesus comes to offer Himself over and over and over. I am one hungry at the foot of the cross. I am one empty but for the food He offers - His own body and blood, soul and divinity. At Mass today, our pastor held up the example of Christ on the cross as the prime example of love in action. Love in action always requires sacrifice, and Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice so we might be one with Him. He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross. {Philippians 2:7-8}

I am Catholic because Jesus has drawn me to Himself.

I remain Catholic, because in the example of the Saints who have walked before me, offering their lives as an example of love in action, and in the faith that has been passed on from the earliest days of the Church, Jesus call me to grow deeper with Him. 

I remain Catholic because in the Church, God humbles Himself to meet us over and over in the Sacraments, especially in the Eucharist and Reconciliation. 

I remain Catholic because all my senses are filled with the holy in our understanding of everyday sacramentality. 

I remain Catholic because I am forever challenged by our understanding of dignity of life and the value of all creation. 

I remain Catholic because through the lens of this rich faith I understand the redemptive value of suffering, of uniting my pain to the indignity suffered by Christ on the cross for the good of all the world. 

I remain Catholic because within the tradition of the Church lies such a deep and diverse expression of our longing for and worship of God, our Creator, the Father. 

I remain Catholic, because despite the (mis)understanding of the world, there is a holy place for my dignity as a woman in the history and tradition of the Church. 

I remain Catholic, because for over two thousand years, disciples and apostles of Christ have been sinking deeper and deeper into the mystery of faith, into the heart of Jesus, leaving behind their wisdom and blueprints for contemplating the face of Christ. For two thousand years, they have been holding on to the deposit of faith left behind by Jesus and the first apostles. 

This is not to say that I believe we as body of believers are without fault. I am the first to admit that there is always room for growth - that our humanity keeps us from living out the fullness of our faith all too often. Short of heaven there is nothing perfect on this earth. So I come back to the foot of the cross, to the Real Presence of Jesus to remind me what the heart of my life as a Catholic is to be - the sacrifice of love in action. Not perfect music. Not the best slogan. Sacrifice for the redemption of the world - bringing others into a life with Him, because His sacrifice was for the whole world and He thirsts for us all. Sacrifice and love for neighbor because Jesus has asked us to be one in Him and with each other. 

There are those who would love nothing more than to distract me from the sacrifice of the cross - to avert my eyes to Christ's example of love in action. There are those who would have me embroiled in the political battles of our time, forgetting that these battles have existed for all of time and will continue until the coming of the Kingdom. I say to them, you shall not prevail while I have Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, Lord, Redeemer, and Savior, offering Himself for me through all of time. 

In the Eucharist, in the sacrifice of the Mass, in the lives of the Saints, in the mystical body of Christ, in the deposit of wisdom and faith safeguarded by the Church, I find Jesus. He is why I became Catholic and He is why I remain Catholic.

Now that you know why I am and remain Catholic, let's just get out there and love 'em like Jesus, shall we?

{If you want to read why others are and remain Catholic, check out the #whyIremainCatholic hashtag on Twitter.}

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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

June Sketch-Along: Spreading Joy

It's time for another sketch-along! Summer is fast approaching, and for me summer always brings with it an anticipation of joy reminiscent of childhood. So, the theme this month? Spreading Joy! 

I was going to have a quick primer for those of you who are new to lettering, but the girl suddenly spiked a fever, so best laid plans and all. Here are a few quotes and verses on joy to get the creative juices flowing for the month. I'll be back another day to check in with a short "how-to-get-started." Let those pencils/pens/paints fly!

Joy is a gift from God. It fills us from within. 
Pope Francis

The one who loves Christ is full of joy. 
Pope Francis

Taking joy in living is a woman's best cosmetic.
Rosalind Russell

Man cannot live without joy.
St. Thomas Aquinas

Be good, keep your feet dry, your eyes open, your heart at peace and your soul in the joy of Christ.
Thomas Merton

Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.
Philippians 4:4

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Psalm 118:24

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.
Romans 15:13

Sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes with the morning. 
Psalm 30:5

Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.
Mother Teresa

Feel free to venture out on your own if you have other favorite sentiments of joy. I do hope you will sketch-along with me!

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Summer Bliss: Planning To Make the Most of Simple Pleasures

Two years ago, I made a summer dream list. This included all the things I wanted to do with the kids over the summer. Chock full of fun places to visits and activities, this was sure to be a hit. You want to know how many we actually did? One that year. One the next. 

My overachiever tendencies lead me to make grand plans that never come to fruition. There is no joy in that. This summer, the summer in my Year of Empty, I am throwing caution to the wind and we are planning with the kids. Not one. The Hubs and I have a few plans of our own that are pre-booked, like Edel for me (yay!) and an event with Fr. Barron in Grand Rapids later in the week for us both. 

When it comes to keeping these kids occupied, this year less is more. Growing up in Iowa with a dad who didn't get summers off, we never made a list of activities to conquer. I had a reading list of my own creation, perhaps in conjunction with some school district initiative, but more likely just due to my bookworm genes. Other than that, we played in the field behind our house filled with dandelions. We rode our bikes down the street. We walked to Ev's and got ice cream. We ran back and forth from each other's houses playing whatever it was we felt like playing. We ran through the sprinklers in our yards and went to the pool on our side of town. We helped with planting in the garden and ate our weight in corn (hey - it was Iowa) and grilled food. We may have held a lemonade stand. Someone's family surely had a garage sale. When I was older, I may have hung out at the library (see bookworm reference). It was lazy and fun and filled with simple joys. 

A big adventure was the annual excursion to the Iowa State Fair, the king of all state fairs. Funnel cakes, meat on a steak, outdoor concerts, and riding the cable cars could easily fill a day or two! Our family almost always planned some type of family vacation to somewhere new and adventurous, and probably educational. Whether it was Washington, DC via Boston, or South Dakota, or Colorado, summer vacations were part of our tradition.

Aside from the family vacation, which always required a TripTik and AAA intervention, there was no planning out long and involved lists. There were no daily trips to here, there, and everywhere. We took the days as they came, and enjoyed them as they got longer and longer. We found joy right in our own backyards. 

I realize that life is different now. We don't live in a neighborhood at this point where our kids will be running down the street. While we are getting to know our neighbors, our relationships are nothing like those of our parents and their neighbors. The world is just a little different in our neck of the woods. (Now my mom's neighborhood? That's the stuff our memories are made of - she's got neighborhood gold!)

However different life may be, there is still something to be said of capturing the bliss of a simple, warm summer day. This summer, instead of the long list of things to conquer, I am focusing on less planning and more living. I want my children to have experiences that teach them (and remind me) to find joy in the simple things in life. Here are a few things I hope will help me stay focused on the simple.

The Nature Box/Jar: While we haven't made them yet, the kids were wide-eyed with excitement when I suggested we create a box or jar for them to collect things from nature this summer. This was, of course, created in a moment of hurriedly trying to find a way for them to stop taking the rocks out of our rock bed around the patio. Nonetheless, I sense this may be a huge hit. The beauty? It is so simple! You can make it fancier if you want to craft up some jars or boxes, but my goal is to 1) obtain a receptacle and 2) let them at it to decorate. Nature walks, beach trips, park visits, backyard shenanigans...all opportunities to pick something to put in the nature box. Something that is not alive or decaying that is. 

Exploring Local: If we are looking for things to do, there is plenty of local fun to be had. Join a local Facebook group, subscribe to your library email list, check out the Parks & Rec in the area - surely you too have more than ample opportunities to explore the land around you. Here we have concerts in the park, library story hours, farmers markets, parades and festivals, and so much more throughout the summer without even leaving our little suburb. Cast the net just a bit wider and even more fun awaits. There is no need to plan anything out. If we are feeling stir-crazy, I can easily tap into some of these resources and find us somewhere nearby to go...and pass along an invite to local friends. No need for involved play dates, though of course for some things a little notice is good. I want the kids to explore with as much whimsy as possible and capture the joy of childhood in its fullest. 

Being, Not Doing: Here is a novel concept for me. It may be fun to just stay at home! I'm sure we will hear the endless litany of "what can we DO?" from the older one...and maybe her mama. There are always things to do around the house, but to just be together - sit, talk, dream, create - that is precious time that goes far too quickly. There will be no formal projects, nothing probably terribly Pinterest worthy, but I want to make messes, to paint, to play in the dirt (and then subsequently hose down the children in the yard...or not). To just be with them without having to pack up a bag and get in and out of the car, make multiple bathroom trips, spend money - to laugh and squeal and giggle and sing - that sounds like a better plan than a summer plan to me. Sure, it will likely be coupled with some screaming and whining, but someone just get mama a drink, okay?

Do you have plans for the summer? What would your blissful summer look like this year? Let me know in the comments.

As always, let's make it a plan to get out there and love the world like Jesus while we are finding joy in life's simple pleasures!

This post is linked up with the Blessed Is She #BISSisterhood
series on Finding Joy. Visit Blessed Is She to read more!

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