Sunday, April 5, 2015

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

Feel free to download this image! Just right click to save. Happy Easter!

"Do not abandon yourselves to despair.
We are an Easter people, and alleluia is our song." 
St. Pope John Paul II

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!!

While I must admit that our Lenten practices were perhaps not as self-righteously penitential as I would have hoped, there is nothing like the joy of Easter morning when we once again proclaim victory. It is a victory over sin, over despair, over suffering...indeed over death itself. We have a Savior who has suffered the humiliation and pain of Good Friday, who has in the time of waiting gone to loose the chains of the prisoners below, so on this day we might all rise in glory to the heights of the heavens. 

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, 
and the power of sin is the law. 
But thanks be to God, 
who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:55-57

There is a lightness about our spirits today, as we experience the Easter miracle in our own lives. Perhaps it was that both kids were quiet all through Mass - MIRACLE OF MIRACLES! Perhaps it is that they actually took Easter photos and looked at the camera - MIRACLE OF MIRACLES! Maybe it is simply that the sorrow of Good Friday, and all the Good Friday moments of our lives, has been made right by the rejoicing of this day of resurrection. A day when all things are made new, where new life is made possible even after the darkest of days. 

"Never let anything so fill you with sorrow 
as to make you forget the joy of Christ risen." 
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

If you are suffering, struggling, despairing, hopeless - I beg of you - hand it to Jesus. Let us pray with you and share in your burden. We have been there, friends. We know the loss of death. We know the despair of lives turning out differently than expected, of facing what seems like ruin and failure. We know the struggles of addiction, of feeling empty and unloved. We know what it feels like to feel alone and abandoned. We also know, without a shred of doubt, what it feels like to have a Lord who loves us too much to leave us in that grave of despair. We know without a shred of doubt that while we may not understand the valley, Jesus is walking with us through it to the mountaintop where He will leave us with more goodness than we can imagine or deserve. For every dark night of sobbing and heartache, Jesus waits with a bright morning of joy. He makes all things new in His time. Let us wait with you if you are walking through your valley. Rejoice with us in hope for the joy that awaits you.

What does it mean that Jesus is risen? 
It means that the love of God 
is stronger than evil and death itself, 
it means that the love of God 
can transform our lives and 
let those desert places in our hearts bloom. 
The love of God can do this!
Pope Francis

Jesus Christ is risen, He loves you (yes, you!), and He promises to lift you up with Him in glory.

Happy Easter from our family to you(rs)!

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Friday, March 27, 2015

{SQT} The One About Spring Snow, Guana Crazy, Lent & Prayers, and Artsy Matters

In case you missed it on Instagram, this was an accurate representation of my late morning:

I kid about the indulging, but not about the sentiment that got me there. Someone please tell my children that when mommy is [enter adult task here], it is not a sign to go all guana-crazy. Thanks much! In hindsight, I feel a little user's remorse about all the Emoji. A very little.

Gianna excitedly: "It's SNOWING!!" {Excitement fades to puzzled look.} "Mama, is it not spring anymore?"

Out of the mouths of babes. Spring, seriously get your act together!

Moving the conversation onto more holy and hopeful ground, this followed the previous conversation a few hours later:

Gianna: "Look, mama, it's still snowing big flakes! It makes the ground all fresh again."

Well I suppose there is something to be said for there being flakes white as snow to prepare our hearts to be cleansed and freed at Easter. Well played, little one, well played.

(Spring, still get your act together. There are cute Easter dresses to be worn and a children's outdoor stations to be explored, not in that order. Thank you kindly.)

So how about that Lent, huh? Already heading into Holy Week and my Lenten mantle decorations are still sittin' pretty in this lovely bag. 

Good thing less is more for Lent! Time to drag out the Easter decorations soon enough. While I am annoyed at myself for not getting things purtied up, you know what? IT WASN'T THE END OF THE WORLD!! No one spread malicious gossip about how un-Catholic I was to not have our "mantle" decorated. Not one soul (that I know of ... feel free to 'fess up if I'm in the dark here). That said, I like to have the house more decorated for the seasons (especially liturgical), but as I continue down Project Empty, less is definitely more. I feel another house purge coming on. (No need to send the flood waters, though.)

New projects are afoot for the shop for the month of Mary (May). I'm hoping to have some sneak peeks ready in the next couple of weeks. It's a bit of a departure from what I've been doing, but mixes together the lettering with a homage to classic art. If I hate it, then this message will self-destruct in t-minus two weeks.

Speaking of the shop, there is still time to enter the love giveaway for the print below. Just leave a comment letting us know what gives you hope, and you are entered! If you want to rack up the entries, feel free to follow Rakstar Designs (the name of my artsy endeavors) on Facebook and Instagram, or tweet about the giveaway. Deadline to enter is Tuesday, March 31. 

If y'all could spare a prayer or two, I'll take 'em! We are heading into Holy Week, and I am fighting hard to keep my head and heart above water. There's a few battles going on that aren't blog-ready, but your prayers are surely welcome! Thanks a-mucho!

What my children look like when the BatSignal is not actively sending them into hysterics. More of this, please and thank you, Jesus!

And that is all I got for this week. Mama needs a nap and some more coffee...and to switch out the laundry. 

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Friday, March 20, 2015

{SQT} On Lent, Art & Creativity, Beatitudes, A Giveaway, and Growing Discipline

Hallelujah, it is Friday, and I'm in love!

It's been a little quiet on the western blog front since the start of Lent. As we have been delving into our Lenten disciplines, some of which were adapted for the sake of sanity (as well as weakness, if I am to be honest), writing seems to have taken a bit of a back seat. There are many posts "in the pipeline" which just haven't been finished. More updates on Project Empty, more Love Dare, more of my conversion story, more crazy kid stories...all as of yet unfinished and waiting for the right time and prompting of the spirit. When it comes to the creative outlets, my new policy has been to fly by the seat of the Spirit. I'm not a pro-blogger by any means, and while the Etsy shop is a wonderful outlet for creativity and holds a lot of potential, it is also not what is a primary call for me right now. So, when the Spirit moves, and I get to creating quickly and passionately, I'm there. Otherwise, it will still be there another day. (That doesn't go for people who have asked for things, of course - those are being prayed and worked on!)

Dwija over at House Unseen asked me while Jesus was still on the mount whether I had, or would take a stab at, some prints of the beatitudes. Now that 2000 years have passed, I have a series complete. I am planning another series that is a different style and theme for those who may not have an affinity for flowers, but that will be another project for another day. I invite you to take a look at the series, which is in my Etsy shop in a multitude of offerings - digital, individual, sets, and collages. 

One thing I have been enjoying is learning to paint. Right now I'm trying my hand with watercolors, without a formal class. I tend to be a self-taught artist in many ways, and YouTube and Google make it so easy to fall into that. It has been a wonderful release to be painting, so I certainly hope in the future to take a few classes and improve my technique (or develop one at all!). 

Along those lines, as today is the first day of spring and Easter is soon upon us, I thought I would do a giveaway for a recent print I made. To me, it combines the imagery of spring and planting with the Gospel call to evangelize. If you would like to enter the drawing, just leave a comment below with your answer to the following question: What gives you hope in the darkness & why? 

Speaking of spring, it sure doesn't feel like it in so much of the country! It's chilly here, but I am thinking despite the chill, the squirrels are still out at play. I thought perhaps there was a full moon rising with all of the inane antics that are being pulled out of a magic hat in these parts, but maybe it is less a full moon and more a vernal equinox. I shan't try to balance an egg a la CJ Cregg, but I will take all whining, screaming, tantrums, stomping, and crying with a grain of salt and a verse of "this too shall pass" on repeat. Hope springs eternal...even if spring isn't so hopeful just yet!

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

Free download of image available here.

Back to the art for a moment. A friend from high school shared this article the other day on Facebook about a 100 year old woman who was having her first gallery exhibit, and it was just what I needed to see. While I have been working on really narrowing my focus to what I am being called to do right now, there are times when I think maybe the time for starting a new hobby or craft is over. I think perhaps if I had discovered this love earlier in my years it would be a fine venture, but I have many other hats now and it is time wasted. It's good to be reminded that our gifts can come into blossom at any time of our life, even if it seems the time has passed. I mean, if this 100 year old woman can have her first art show, there is DEFINITELY still time for me!

Last note for this quickly quick takes: Whole 30. WE DID IT!!!! This is Day 30. I am proud to say I did not actually cheat once. Well, maybe today when I tried a tater tot from the kids' meal and then spit it out because GROSS. Oh, and we are extending it for the duration of Lent, so our Whole30 isn't quite over. 

Lessons learned? Convenience and laziness were the driving factors behind what I ate/prepared. There are much healthier options which don't require that much more work. Eating well does improve my mood - I have had no major depressive episodes during these 30 days that I can recall. (It does not mediate the hormonal fluctuation for me in totality, though.) When I am not accosted by cats or children, I sleep much better. While I did not adopt the Whole 30 for weight loss purposes, I have lost nearly 15 pounds the last time I checked the scale. (Ok, I did cheat on that part - we weren't supposed to look.) I am close to my pre-2nd baby weight for the first time in a year and a half. The best result has been growing in discipline. It was something I had prayed about and asked for help with earlier this year, and this exercise has shown me that I am capable of it if I choose to try. While I've not vanquished the lazy bug 100%, the journey has been started to a more disciplined attitude. I'm praying I can keep it going past the Lenten season and extend it into other areas of our lives. Seeing that I turn 40 this year, I figured now was as good a time as any to be a grown up.

That be it from these parts for now. I promise more is in the works coming to a screen near you very soon!

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Monday, March 9, 2015

God is in the Cheerios

Lent brings along with it a longing of the heart. For me, it is sometimes a longing to go back to the days when my worship was more pure, and I felt I was more devoted to Christ. Before marriage, I easily spent 60-80 hours a week ministering in His name, and much of that ministry was filled with prayer & worship, Adoration, conversation about Christ and how to know and love Him better, retreats, Mass, devotions, bringing people into relationship with Christ. 

At first glance, it seems life sure has changed. A typical play by play of my day now involves getting up later than I should because I've been up at some point during the night due to kid or cat, rushing to get ready, changing diaper(s), getting bottles, brushing little teeth, arguing about breakfast, picking up spilled food, wiping faces, arguing about clothes with buttons and why we can't always just wear pajamas, thinking about what to feed the people in our home, running out the door to rush to work during which time I will wonder about what will face me as I come home. Then on the days I work, I'm rushing out of the office to come home to make dinner, and finally breathe for a moment before bedtime routines start, most of which still involve begging for toys to be put away and not strewn about the floor, several attempts to delay, more drinks of milk and trips to the bathroom, starting bedtime music over, and pleas for more bedtime stories. 

Life in these five years has changed immensely. When I saw Brandon's graphic today with the quote from St. Frances of Rome, I exhaled. "Yes," I thought. "She gets it. Now I need to let it sink in more deeply too." I long for quiet adoration, when what the Lord is asking of me is probably more quiet snuggling with the littles. I long to be leading reflections and prayer groups, when what the Lord is asking of me is to be leading my children in prayer, telling them stories, teaching them to play, laugh, love, and live. I long for mission trips and helping the forgotten, when what the Lord is asking of me is to call my mother and care for my husband, who can go a little unnoticed by me when there are two noisy and needy little people tugging at my sleeve (or more likely my hair). The Lord is, and always has, asked me to serve exactly where I am with whatever He sends my way. 

While before it may have been building houses with the poor, it may now be building forts and towers with my children and building a home with my husband that will be our refuge. 

If I wasn't already sure that God was trying to get through to me, the song below popped on the radio on my way in to work. I think I've got the message loud and clear - it's just a matter of letting it seep into my soul and become a part of me so living it out is a natural part of life.

Enjoy the video! It reminds me of something akin to a mashup between Sledgehammer and Mario Bros. - ahhh, the 80s...

Do Everything 
by Stephen Curtis Chapman

You're picking up toys on the living room floor 
for the fifteenth time today
Matching up socks
Sweeping up lost cheerios that got away
You put a baby on your hip
Color on your lips and head out the door
While I may not know you,
I bet I know you wonder sometimes, does it matter at all?
Well let me remind you, it all matters just as long as
You do everything you do to the glory of the One who made you,
Cause he made you...

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

{Lenten Love Dare} You Are Not Forgotten

If you looked me right in the eye
Would you see the pain deep inside
Would you take the time to
Tell me what I need to hear
Tell me that I’m not forgotten
Show me there’s a God
Who can be more than all I’ve ever wanted
‘Cause right now I need a little hope
I need to know that I’m not alone
Maybe God is calling you tonight
To tell me something
That might save my life

Sidewalk Prophets, Save My Life

The greatest desire of our hearts is to be loved, to belong, to be found worthy. Whether we acknowledge it openly or not, how many of our most crushing moments stem from a time when we felt cast aside, invisible, unworthy, unloved, and unnoticed? I know that those times of darkness in my life drain me of energy, joy, motivation, and make me turn inward in a negative way. Most often I can be found crumpled on the kitchen floor - just ask the Hubs!

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta astutely diagnosed us in the west some decades ago. She prophetically noted that 
The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty -- it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.
This has not changed. If we are honest, we are spiraling even further into an epidemic of loneliness and isolation, despite advances in communication technology and transportation. The ability to be connected at any time has ironically left us ill equipped to connect with one another meaningfully. We have become a people of ten second soundbites, 140 character messages, and quick updates. How often do we see one another seated at tables laughing and smiling at our phones and tablets instead of looking at the people who are right beside us. I know I am guilty of it at times myself. It has to stop.

Before we go further, understand that I am not anti-technology. Quite the opposite really. I love how growing technology has given us the tools to connect with one another in a manner unprecedented at any other time of human history. However, as Peter Parker's (Spiderman's) Uncle Ben reminds us, it seems by quoting Voltaire, "With great power comes great responsibility." 

How many people do we walk by without acknowledging with as much as a smile? Do we look people in the eye as we pass, or are we so busy living in our heads with all that is going on in our lives that we barely take a glance at them? When we ask how people are doing, are we truly seeking an honest answer, or is it just a polite gesture with the hope of a quick "I'm fine."? (Hint: we are not fine.)

Here is a radical thought. Take the time to look people in the eye when you meet them on the street, in a restaurant, in church. Try to remember that God created them in His image and longs for their return to Him in the eternal kingdom. Remember that God has placed a desire in their hearts for their return to Him as well. Flash them that beautiful smile and say hello to let them know they have been seen. Leave time in your day to ask how people are doing, really doing, and be willing to listen to their stories. Build relationships with people you might otherwise just pass by along your day. If God repeatedly brings someone through your life, maybe, just maybe, He intends you to reach out to them for Him. 

Be warned. Opening yourself to this will bring people into your life you don't intend. It may (will) push you outside of your comfort zone. God's love isn't just for the righteous. Jesus didn't come for those of us who have our act together (hint: that's no one). He came to redeem the whole world, and He sends us out to the whole world, to all the corners of the earth. Maybe this means that you'll be sent to another corner, or maybe this means that He needs you to lighten up the corner of the world you are in right now. 

There is your challenge for the week ahead. Notice someone you wouldn't normally see (or don't want to see). Look them in the eye, share with them the truth and depth of God's love for them, and let them know they are not forgotten. Pray for them. Better yet, pray with them right there. See where God takes you and follow. 

Let's continue to love 'em like Jesus!

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Monday, February 23, 2015

15 Ways to Start a Revolution - The Love Dare Reimagined

True confessions time: I may have bitten off more than I can chew for Lent (and we aren't even a week in!). I thought it would be easy to find places for us to send cards, love notes, prayers in bulk. I was wrong. For good reasons, I was wrong. 

I had intended to start our project by sending love to our troops stationed overseas. Not having served or having anyone in service in our family, I had not considered that the military or the Archdiocese of the Military would not release addresses freely. Quite prudently, they must protect the safety of our men and women serving overseas. They had some great suggestions in lieu of my initial desires, though. One was to find a VA Hospital to work with, and another was to contact a local family with members serving overseas. My friend, Jennifer, also suggested working with the Wounded Warriors project. All excellent suggestions!

My next goal was to send notes and pictures to children who are in the hospital with long-term or terminal illnesses. While there is not the same safety concern, and we are not asking for names because I know full well that is crossing a boundary with minors for certain, there is the concern of deciding who would get noticed and who would not. We would never want to leave a child out, and without having a good way of knowing how many patients were on a floor or in a ward, it was just too daunting a project. One suggestion since my initial inquiry is to work with a local charity who grants wishes or supports families with sick children, and that is exactly what we will be doing.

Once I get some concrete information about where to mail our notes and artwork (because what is a day at Casa McCormick without artwork?), I will share them on the blog as much as I can. 

All these doors closing on me made me wonder if I was barking up the wrong tree, or doing something that perhaps God didn't want me to be doing over Lent. Then Patty from A Modern Grace left me an note quoting Blessed Mother Teresa, and it hit me. I was just going about it all the wrong way. I was thinking too abstract, too big, too global. I should have turned to my Saint Sister a lot sooner. Once I did, the answer was right in front of me, and shared in the theme of the responses I had been getting. Go local. 

Blessed Mother Teresa always encouraged us to start at home, to begin in our own communities. She encouraged us to create a ripple effect of love that would then spread out across the ocean - not because we went across the ocean, but because we would, by our love to those near us, inspire them to love, and they would inspire others, and so on. That is now what the focus of our Lenten Love Dare will be. Local. Loving those at home. Loving those God puts in our path in a bold way. Loving without fear. 

If you are looking for some concrete examples, here are a handful or two or three:

  1. Call a long lost friend.
  2. Apologize to someone who you have wronged, but never owned up to hurting.
  3. Send a note of encouragement to a friend.
  4. Thank someone who has made your life easier.
  5. Send your mom some flowers.
  6. Tell your parents what they mean to you.
  7. Write each of your children a note about your love for them.
  8. Write a note of forgiveness to someone who has hurt you, whether they have made amends or not. Leave it at the foot of the cross.
  9. Invite a relative or friend who is struggling to church and a meal.
  10. Offer a Holy Hour for someone and let them know you are praying for them.
  11. If you know someone serving overseas, put together a care package for them.
  12. If you know of a family experiencing serious illness, reach out to them and see what they might need.
  13. If you know of a family in the midst of grief, make an effort to spend some time with them. 
  14. If you know someone who is struggling with addiction, say a prayer to St. Jude for them and send a special intention to be placed at the altar at the National Shrine of St. Jude
  15. If you know someone who is incarcerated, send them a note of encouragement and a prayer card. 

There are so many other ways for us to shower our communities with the love of God. This may be one of those times where instead of thinking big, it is more effective to think small and constant. Please join us in this Lenten Love Dare, and let us know how you are working on loving better. Feel free to use the image below in your posts and use the tag #PPDlovedare on social media. Let's get out there and love 'em like Jesus!

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Project Empty: Letting Go of Ourselves

...all of a sudden,I am unaware 
of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.
And oh, how He loves us, oh,
Oh, how He loves us,
How He loves us all
David Crowder Band, How He Loves

Is your heart full? Do you feel the weight of His love pressing on your heart until it seems it will burst into a million pieces? There are days where I do, but more often there are days where it goes unnoticed. This Lent, all of my grand planning has but one goal - to empty myself of me to make more room for Him. 

Some of the emptying is bodily (via our Whole30 discipline). Some of the emptying is environmental (via the 40 Bags in 40 Days). Some of the emptying is mental (via the phone fast in the evenings). All of the emptying is so I can let the love of Christ be what fills me. I empty myself of convenience, of laziness, of me, and learn to depend solely on Him - to trust His Word and His promises, to rely on His providence, to fall on His grace to comfort and sustain me when it gets tough.

I can never experience the greatest magnitude of His glory if I design my life to be one of comfort and convenience, where there is no struggle, no effort, no affliction. So I enter into Lent with great plans I know will likely fail at some point, because I am human. I enter in trusting that my earnest effort will please Him. I enter in with the hope that as I empty myself of me, the Lord will fill my heart to burst, so that it cannot help but overflow into a Love-starved world. I enter in with a great desire to pass that thirst for the love of the Lord into the hearts of my children, along with the desire to pour out that love upon others.

I invite you to join us in this great Lenten Love Dare. I haven't figured out all the details as of yet, though I trust the Holy Spirit will guide us at his own pace. What I do know is that each week, our family will be focusing on a group of people suffering affliction and attempting to pour out love upon them. Prisoners, soldiers overseas, terminally ill children, the elderly, the homeless...people at risk of feeling discarded by society. Through creating spiritual bouquets, collecting prayer aids, and however else the Holy Spirit leads, we will share the love of God. We will let people know that they are not forgotten. We will remind them that their lives have meaning. We will share with them what we know in our hearts: God has created each of us for a purpose.

In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, "Each of us is willed. Each of us is loved. Each of us is necessary."

As I iron out the specifics involved, I will share our weekly projects. I triple dog dare you to join us!

Let's get out there and love 'em like Jesus!

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Friday, February 13, 2015

SQT: On the Brink of Another Lent - Fasting, Prayer, & Giving at the Casa

Another week down, another Friday arrived. Yeehaw! Or the heck is it mid-February already?? LENT IS COMING! LENT IS COMING! And by that, I really mean to say holy moly next week is Ash Wednesday! We have talked a little bit about what disciplines we want to take up for Lent, but now it's nearly the time when the rubber meets the road. Here's a glimpse into what Lent may look like at Casa McCormick...

I wrote a while back about looking into the Whole30 initiative. It may have come out of left field for the Hubs, so we took some time to look at the program together, and it is decided that Lent will be a Whole30 Lent for the adults of Casa McCormick. I'll have a little more about our decision to do this on the blog next week. 

He is getting excited, and I am starting to wonder what the heck I just agreed to now that the actuality of it is staring me in the face. I've got the shopping list, looked up some recipes, and can absolutely get on board for the first week. I figure if we can make it work for a solid week, I can always lather, rinse and repeat for the next three. The part I am struggling with is breakfast. 

I have shared before that I am not a huge breakfast eater, and the Hubs usually grabs something quick and quiet before heading out. We don't want to make the Whole30 a "all egg all the time" plan, so I'm throwing this out there for those who have made the walk before us - what are some good, quick breakfast options that are not all egg based? I'm game for "prep ahead to grab and go," which is what I am sensing will be the reality.

This should be quite the adventure. At least they don't take away the caffeine, so I won't be completely unbearable! 

The message of God's love has been on my heart as of late. How much would change if we could see each other as the beloved of God, and how much we could do if we always aspired to give ourselves in love to one another instead of worrying about what we were getting. A friend made me a drawing with the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola, "Lord, teach me to give without counting the cost," and it resonates so deeply in me with regard to how we treat love. With Valentine's Day upon us, so many out there are angry, lonely, depressed, and frustrated because they feel they have no one special with whom to share the day. Sure, I am on the flip side of marriage so the singletons may guffaw at my words. However, that sentiment just isn't true! If we saw each other as precious to God, and ourselves as an extension of God's love to the world, we would see that we are surrounded by people with whom we can share our love, not just tomorrow, but every day. It may take on a different appearance than the vision in our heads, but it exists in great abundance.

We are going to be about sharing love this Lent. I am working on a list of weekly Love Dares (can I use that without infringing on some copyright?) for the kids to share the love of God with those around us. I'll post those on the blog next week once they are finalized, and you are welcome to join in (and add your own!). 

One things I absolutely love about being Catholic is the communion of Saints. Sadly, I know very little about far too many of them. As Li'l G begins to devour the written word, and the Judester is starting to take more interest in storytelling, it is the perfect opportunity for us to delve into the lives of the Saints more devotedly. I downloaded Woodeene Koenig-Bricker's 365 Saints which appear to be exactly what I was seeking for a quick study of the Saints. The book provides a daily summary of the life of a Saint, with a related theme for prayer and reflection questions. The writing is simple enough to be understood by children, but deep enough that I learn something as well. Plus, it wets my appetite to learn more as we go along.

Numerous Saints and Popes, and most recently Pope Francis, have been reminding us that when we live in excess, we are in reality stealing from the poor. Another thing we are taking on this Lent is "40 bags in 40 Days" (which will be a bit of a surprise to the Hubs, but maybe not entirely). Since the great flood of August 2014, we have been cleaning house and trying to pare down the clutter. Lent gives us a perfect time to pray about what we truly need, how much we trust in God's providence (a la "if I give away the kids' old clothes and I get pregnant again we won't have anything!), and what truly belongs here and what would be better used in someone else's home. 

This year, I am going to try to make the kids part of the pruning. We have been talking about how there are other children who have nothing compared to the overflowing toys, clothing, and just about everything else they have. Li'l G has started to warm up to the idea. That is to say that instead of screaming NO!!!!, she now thinks that maybe she could give away just "some of the things, but not all of them." I'm guessing I could wrangle five bags out of her between old clothes, shoes and toys they have outgrown. Judah may contribute without his knowledge. We shall see how that goes.

I usually take up an extra prayer practice each Lent. In the past I have said a nightly Rosary or gone to daily Adoration if only for 10 minutes. I don't think the daily Adoration will be on the table again until both kids are in school, but it was one of the best experiences of prayer I have ever had. With the message of God's love being so strongly etched on my heart right now, I will be praying a chaplet of Divine Mercy daily, altering my daily offering between the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. I invite anyone and everyone to join me! 

Another annual practice is the abandonment of the phone between dinner and the kids' bedtime (minus calls and important texts, of course). Too much of my time is wasted checking Facebook, email, and Instagram obsessively. In my head, I know there is nothing that I will miss if I simply put the phone down for a few hours, but those darn notifications are just too tempting! I am hoping to spend that time more productively, or in leisure with my family instead.

Last, but not least, and perhaps the most challenging - I am striving to be more intentional in my relationships. I participated in the Blessed is She sisterhood chat on Twitter earlier this week, and I was reminded of how important it is to all of us to stay connected in a real way. That doesn't exclude virtual connections, because frankly I think we misunderstand relationship if we discount those connections made over the internet; those are still very much "in real life." It does, however, stress the need for physical connections in addition since we are created as sensual beings. We need friends and relationships we can touch and see, not just on a screen or through a phone. (By the way, if you are a Catholic woman and haven't checked out Blessed is She, you really should!)

My mom moved here last mother's day, and while we see her more often than when she was in Oregon, I will say that we don't see her as much as she would like. I have lost touch with friends with whom I would like to reconnect, or at least connect more often. I've allowed social media to be my primary source of conversation, and over Lent, I would like to be more intentional about reaching out more personally. I'd love to say I am going to write letters, but I know myself and I am still working on a little letter writing project I committed to in December! (Sorry ladies - I am 90% there, honest!) Nonetheless, more personal communication and investment, here I come. Now, I am still an introvert, so I am not promising daily calls and visits - let's not get crazy!

Now it's your turn! What are your Lenten plans (realizing that God has His plans and is probably laughing pretty heartily right now)?

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Make the World Your Valentine

Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Romans 12:10
True confession time here: I used to hate Valentine's Day. H-A-T-E. As in wore black and called it V-D hate. I was always dateless and often feeling alone. What good was Valentine's Day if I wasn't dating anyone? Isn't it just a reminder for those who are single just how single they are? 

It certainly is the message that permeates the airwaves. Fancy dinners, sparkly jewelry, risque lingerie, chocolates, flowers, and the whole nine yards of all things supposedly romantic. It is big business. BIG. That is the problem, isn't it? Love and romance have been taken hostage by big business, businesses that tell us it is about the perfect gift, about the most passionate chemistry, about what we get from someone else. 

It took me a long time to realize that the problem wasn't that Valentine's Day was just a reminder of how alone I was. The problem was that it caused my feelings to become the myopic focus of everything. All of a sudden, my life was viewed through this narrow tunnel that made it impossible to see how much love was already in it because of what I didn't have. No romance. No flowers. No chocolate. No fancy dinners with all the love. 

How I wish someone would have told me then to reach outside of myself. How I wish I would have thought then, that regardless of how lonely I felt, I still had love to give, and there were other lonely souls out there that needed to be shown love and kindness. How I wish someone would have reminded me that we are all in the midst of the greatest romance ever known with a God who loves us to death. How badly the world needs to hear that, to feel that depth of love.

What if we stopped allowing our emotions to be manipulated for this one day? That goes for us whether we are single, dating, or married. Let's switch our focus from buying or receiving the perfect gift to being the perfect gift to one another. Instead of making Valentine's Day the pinnacle of romance, let's transform it into a celebration of the kind of love that steps outside of ourselves to really see the person next to us, whether a husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, son, daughter, mother, father, neighbor, or stranger. That is where true intimacy begins, after all. It blossoms in seeing through to the heart of the other to see the fingerprint of God there - the God who shows us how to love by giving His life on the cross out of love for us.

Maybe you are alone this year. Maybe all the red hearts, chocolate, flowers, and not-so-subtle allusions to sex are making you queasy. Maybe you are married and tired, or maybe, just maybe, you love the celebration of love to the max and! First, I want you to take a look in the mirror and repeat after me: "I am loved. The God of heaven and earth loves me with the most ridiculous, amazing, powerful love ever known...He loves me to death and back to life again. I am His, and I am never alone."

Li'l G's first school valentine to share

Next, go find someone else and tell them to do the same thing. Make the world your valentine! Have dinner with a grieving friend. Take flowers to a lonely neighbor. Visit someone in a nursing home. Send a card to a soldier stationed overseas. Have a conversation with you parents and children about their lives. Call a long lost friend. Look at the homeless guy who sits on that same corner every day and flash him a big old smile (or take him a warm cup o' joe). Rekindle whatever in your marriage has been lost by the grind of every day life.

Whatever you do, get out there and love 'em like Jesus!

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

{From Holy Cow to Holy Spirit} Growing Up in Small Town Iowa

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts;
and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Jeremiah 31:33

Skatetown, circa 1980-something...

Picture it. Small town Iowa, population ~25,000. Only brown kid in kindergarten, yet blissfully unaware of it. So the stage is set for my childhood. My parents did a phenomenal job of keeping me sheltered from the difficulties they faced in such a town. Truth be told, I don't know that they even always thought of their experiences as difficulties. My dad had a righteous work ethic, so no matter the snub or slight, he put 110% of himself into everything he did. 

"No problem." That was his motto, and that held true for whatever was asked of him, regardless of the reason. Now my mother, as I have shared, has a slightly more lively spirit. I have vague memories of their discussions as I grew older and she felt he was being overlooked or put down because of prejudice. They are very vague and very slight memories because for the most part, my parents didn't spend much time dwelling on any of those occurrences. 

It was only later in life that I would learn that some kid had mentioned that if it weren't for me our class would be fully white. Clearly it impacted me so little I don't even remember it being said beyond telling my mom after school (which is how she knew). 

For the most part, I had my group of friends, and when you're small, it is a pretty large group. We all went to each others' birthday parties, played in school, joined the band, or chorus, or school teams. We nerds stuck together in the TAG program. Even as a family, we looked fairly "normal" from the outside. We celebrated Christmas, with Santa, a tree, and presents galore. We partook in Easter festivities with the bunny and egg hunt. 

We were, by all means, cultural Christians, who knew and partook of the festivities, but never knew or mentioned Jesus. Yet at the same time, we had our home altar to our Hindu gods and went to temples nearby for pujas (Hindu festivals). I wore a sari for multicultural day at school, performed some Indian dance for our talent show, and mom cooked some traditional Indian food for the International Fair every year. 

I had NO idea who I was. I just went along with the flow of life. I wasn't proudly Indian/Hindu, but I wasn't what I would consider just a normal kid either. As I grew older, those differences, and their impact on my self-image and confidence, would begin to have an impact on me. It was assumed, since I was Indian, that I was smart and would be a doctor. Quite stereotypically, my cousin and I both aced the school and district spelling bees. I gravitated toward debate instead of science, but still, I was a full fledged nerd before nerdy was cool. 

Take one part nerd and one part different, it seemed like growing up was always a bit of a battle. I had a wonderful group of friends, but even among them I was different. My parents experiences were not like their parents, so the rites of passage were just different. Being an only child to older parents, they may have been just a wee overprotective at times as well. Lets just say the party invites once I hit junior high did not roll in quickly, and some that came were just in mockery. When I look back over the throwback photos of the people I went to high school with, my world and theirs were drastically different. While in the grand scheme of things this is not important, to a teenager who desperately wants to belong, it was everything. 

As for the content of my character, I never gave much thought to it. While we prayed daily in our home temple, I wasn't educated in our faith beyond that. I don't think it was because my parents didn't value faith, or thought I could make my own decisions. I simply think that they grew up surrounded by their heritage and faith so it was naturally passed on, whereas I was not. Sure, we had a handful of other Indian families, and some Hindu communities nearby, like Ames where there was a larger population of Hindus due to the university setting (no stereotypes there). Overall, we were fairly isolated.

The basics were there, though. Daily prayer. Check. Human dignity. Check. Understanding of an absolute right and wrong. Check. Taking care of those less fortunate. Check. Marriage as an inviolable institution. Check. No dating until you're 30. Check. (Okay, that last one wasn't real...just preferred.) I was having a conversation with a friend a few years ago in the midst of a debate about Christian vs. non-Christian morality. I was explaining how I have such a hard time accepting any argument whose premise is that only Christians understand the heart of God. It was very much my experience that God had planted His law in the hearts of my parents, and they had passed along the basics to me. Clear evidence of natural law if ever I saw one. It was just basic morality.

Now what I did with that was another story. I would lose track of some of these things along the way as I found myself wandering aimlessly trying to figure out who I was and where I belonged. That longing for love wouldn't always lead me down the right path, but God in His infinite wisdom, knew it would eventually lead me to seek Him, and Him alone. Somewhere in the midst of my childhood and adolescence, in a small Iowa town, God set a plan in motion. 

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