Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Favorite Christmas Movie

Every Christmas I line up my "oldies" alongside a few new movies and then dig in for a month's worth of fun and frolic by way of Christmas movies. My oldies list includes The Family Man with Nicholas Cage; a movie I absolutely love even though there is a scene in the beginning that keeps this from being a family movie. The new ones that are joining my old favorites are some of the Hallmark produced movies. In particular my husband and I love The Christmas Card and The Christmas Choir. There is something about cuddling up, year after year, and enjoying these movies together. This is my slice of heaven on earth! What movies do you enjoy?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Health and Wellness...Catholic-Style

The path to Hell is paved with good intentions.

I don’t get that.

It seems to me that good intentions ought to be worth more than a ticket to Hell.

Having said that, I definitely get that the good intentions I have for any number of things can always be a hellish path.

Exercise comes immediately to mind. As does dieting and just keeping fit and well at 53 years old. I am filled with good intentions, but turning those passive good intentions into successful achievements is another story.

I suppose this also falls under the Scriptural category of the-spirit-is-willing-but-the-flesh-is-weak.

So maybe the whole path-to-Hell-is-paved-with-good-intentions does make more sense than I am willing to admit.

Either way, I have come to realize that while the initial good intention is a necessary first step to health and wellness, a viable course of action must accompany it—preferably something not too painful, boring, or time-consuming.

My goal this year has been to find the right-for-me, realistic balance of health and wellness while accommodating the real demands on my life as a wife, mother, author and speaker—all the while making my spiritual life a top priority.

I know, I know, I don’t want much, right?!

My efforts towards this goal actually began at Lent when I gave up Facebook in an effort to give more time to God and to my own journey towards Heaven. I never went back to Facebook—or any of the other online social outlets that had begun to take up too much of my time. I pretty much stopped writing articles and even put a book I was writing on hold.

I needed to get a handle on things. Big time.

Since then, I have continued to use the time I once gave to online activities to the things that now contribute to my newfound wholeness.

The time away from it all allowed me to sort through what I needed and wanted in terms of my spiritual and physical well-being. I was able to set priorities and developed a spiritual life that has really blessed me. I found a spiritual director and attended a retreat where I learned about Ignatius discernment. Ultimately, and not coincidentally, this all slowly turned my good intentions into a reality.

Maybe that is the key to success: taking the time necessary to pray and discern and truly understand who you are as a person created in the image and likeness of God—and how to tend to that unique person in the physical and spiritual sense.

With the New Year fast approaching, many people will begin making resolutions with good intentions. To help turn those good intentions into reality—and not become a path to Hell—I wanted to share some valuable resources that truly address the wholeness and holiness we all seek…

Kate Wicker is a delightful young mom whose writing I have always enjoyed. She has a nice balance of wit and reality—of reverence and candor. Kate has a new book out titled Weightless. Weightless is the sort of book that should be on every woman’s nightstand. And I don’t say that lightly (pun intended); I promise there are passages in it that will be highlighted and will be returned to frequently! Although Weightless begins with the oft-trotted-out warning about media messages—and maybe rightfully so—Kate really hits her stride in the chapters that follow.

(I know many women whose bad body images have nothing to do with media messages but was very much affected by things said to them while they were young; so while I can understand the influence of media messages, I really would like to see someone explore more in-depth how susceptible young girls are to ALL messages. I believe in Wicker’s capable hands, this could be an issue more fully explored and understood. My own interest in helping girls “vaccinate” themselves against bad body image at a young age is behind my work on the tween book Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…What is Beauty, After All?)

I absolutely loved when Wicker wrote about why we exercise; her insight and wisdom here is worth the price of the book. I also found her encouragement to see ourselves through the eyes of our family as truly words we ought to take to heart. They jumped off the page at me. Wicker’s Weightless combines just enough real-world statistics with Scripture to make it the ideal sort of book to be a background to whatever health and wellness you seek as a Catholic. This is why Weightless is first on my list of resources: Weightless is a book that women should give themselves and give their friends. Now, since I know that most women would worry about why their friend has given them such a book—but because I also think this book should be a gift given to every Sister-in-the-Lord—I ask that if you receive the book, you receive it with the spirit in which it was given—love! I highly recommend Weightless as the foundational piece for the health and exercise program you seek as a Christian woman.

The next two books I recommend are actually listed in Wicker’s Weightless book: The Rosary Workout by Peggy Bowes and Fit for Eternal Life by Kevin Vost. Working with Peggy on her book a few years ago, I truly began to see how my Catholic faith and my interest in physical health could be combined. Peggy is one of the most interesting women I have ever met and her understanding of wholeness and holiness is something I truly admire. Her book, The Rosary Workout, isn’t just about walking and saying the Rosary. Bowes’ book is about understanding the ways in which our bodies work—and when they are working well how we can more fully live out our vocations. Bowes flew planes for the Air Force and is a certified health and fitness instructor. Her knowledge of health and passion for her Catholic faith are beautifully shared in The Rosary Workout.

When I first read Fit for Eternal Life a couple of years ago, I was taken by Vost’s ability to draw from Scripture while explaining how to get the most out of my strength training. I found his book to be the perfect complement to the aerobic training I was being introduced to in The Rosary Workout. Since then I’ve been able to combine the two into what has become my routine. More importantly, each day, because of the works of Vost and Bowes, I am able to view my body in a more wholesome and holy way.

Since their work (Vost and Bowes) became so important to me, I invited them to write a devotional—which they did. Along with Shane Kapler (who followed Vost’s advice in Fit for Eternal Life and lost 40 pounds!) who is also an author (The God Who Is Love), the three recently released Tending the Temple: 365 Days of Physical and Spiritual Devotions which I have had the good fortune to publish. I’ve got to admit, for a daily dose of encouragement, nothing beats what these three authors offer in Tending the Temple!

The other resource I want to mention for the Catholic health and fitness enthusiast—or the enthusiast in the making—is the book and DVD by Michael Carrera, Catholic Workout. Like Wicker, Vost, Bowes, and Kapler, Carrera’s great passion helps us see the whole self as a temple to be cared for and whose purpose of serving God is best accomplished through its loving care. Although simply made, the DVD does offer something new for anyone seeking a Catholic bent on their exercise routine.

(I’d actually like to see some entity or production company or person with great vision to use the talents of all these excellent, knowledgeable and creative authors and explore what can be brought to bear in the way of a Catholic Health and Fitness television or radio program—or a DVD series or something!)

In the meantime, wherever the Holy Spirit is taking you in terms of your physical and spiritual journey, I am sure that you will be greatly blessed by any—or all—of these resources so that your good intentions become actions. You will be more fully equipped, with knowledge obtained through their passions and expertise, to better serve God who created you.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Finding a Spiritual Director

Many, many years ago, people who wanted to live more fully for God—to know Him more intimately in their daily lives and see themselves in His more truthful light—would often seek guidance from an Ascetic who was, more than likely, living in the desert.

I find Asceticism fascinating. It was almost as if their restlessness to know God was so overwhelming that it was painful to live a secular existence.

I am sure that some people may judge that the Ascetics were wrong to abandon the everyday world which God created; but I would suggest that the seeking that drew them to the desert was actually placed upon their heart by God. I would even go so far as to say that God knew that people such and you and I would always be in need of the direction that could come from someone who was able to separate him or herself from the material world. After all, it makes sense that in the absence of all else, an Ascetic’s clarity of seeing things would certainly be different than that of a person living a more secular existence.

In many ways, those Ascetics were the first spiritual directors.

Thousands of years later, those of us who seek spiritual direction have it much easier: no desert experience required (at least not physically).

Indeed, times have changed and the ways in which we seek, find, and experience spiritual direction has changed as well; but the need for it has remained the same.

So what is spiritual direction?

I’ve asked Mary Schulte, a certified spiritual director here in the beautiful state of Michigan, to help answer some basic questions about spiritual direction. My hope is that Mary’s answers will help anyone interested in pursuing spiritual direction get started.

First let me share a bit of Mary’s biography. Mary is commissioned by Manresa and Creighton University. She is certified in Spiritual Direction and Retreat Direction from Creighton University. Mary also holds a Masters Degree in Spirituality. At the heart of Mary’s own ministry is music. She is a gifted singer whose latest CD is titled Into the Heart of Jesus is truly transforming—I bought 20 copies for friends and family. Mary’s website is http://schultesong.blogspot.com/ and she can be contacted at mlstrinity3@gmail.com or by calling 248-625-8366

Cheryl: In general, what is spiritual direction?

Mary: (Here paraphrasing what Mary has shared as well as using a pamphlet she has given me.) Spiritual direction has as its purpose the goal of becoming more aware of God’s presence and how He works in our lives. It is making decisions based upon that awareness—this is called discernment. It is the sharing of your journey with someone of your choice with whom you are comfortable with and whose own premise is that God is the only director. The spiritual director helps you—the directee—to see and obey the real director of your life: God.

Cheryl: Is spiritual direction for anyone? Everyone?

Mary: It is for anyone seeking a deeper relationship with God.

Cheryl: What should a potential directee look for in a spiritual director?

Mary: A director who is formally trained and commissioned and who can listen for the movements of God. You want someone who is grounded in Scripture and is sustained by a deep prayer life. It would be important to feel a connection with your director. Also it is important to know if your director continues with his or her own formation and spiritual direction.

Cheryl: Is there a “main directory” of spiritual directors? How does one go about finding a spiritual director?

Mary: (Here Mary speaks of Michigan organizations but this information can still be useful to anyone in any state.) Any institution or organization that trains and certifies and commissions Spiritual Directors maintains a list of directors who have gone through their program. To find a Spiritual Director one should first begin by praying about it, then call one of the institutions to obtain a list of Spiritual Directors. Locally we have:

1. Manresa Jesuit Retreat House in West Bloomfield

2. Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit

3. Maryknoll Dominican Retreat Center in Grand Rapids

Cheryl: Once you begin spiritual direction, what can you expect in terms of length of time for sessions and session frequency and also secrecy of sessions?

Mary: Sessions tend to be between 30-60 minutes and are approximately once a month—although a number of factors play into this: certain life circumstances and movement of the Spirit to name just a couple. It is also important to be committed and not stop seeing your Spiritual Director because “life is going well” and you don’t feel the need! This is all part of learning about consolations and desolations in your journey.

Spiritual Direction is always confidential in regards to what is shared in the sessions.

Cheryl: Are there particular things that spiritual direction is not?

Mary: Spiritual Direction is not counseling or therapy. Although the two do share some similar techniques like active listening and self-disclosure, the main goal of spiritual direction is the directee’s relationship with God and the process of spiritual growth.

Cheryl: Do you have any final thoughts or suggestions?

Mary: (Here Mary shares her favorite quote on spiritual direction. It is taken from “Spiritual Direction and the Encounter with God” by William Barry S.J. and seems especially fitting to use as a conclusion to this article on spiritual direction.)

“Teach me to seek You, and reveal Yourself to me as I seek; for unless You instruct me I cannot seek You, and unless You reveal Yourself I cannot find You. Let me seek You in desiring You; let me desire You in seeking You. Let me find You in loving You, let me love You in finding You.”

Monday, September 26, 2011

Can You Afford NOT To Take a Pilgrimage?

The reality is that we definitely could not afford to go to Italy.

Oddly, the other reality was that we definitely could not afford NOT to go to Italy.

Of course we could only see the first reality; the second, the truer “truth,” loomed in the background tugging at our heart and soul, but we continued to push it aside.

Our 25th wedding anniversary, a year or so away, forced our hand. We needed to decide if we were really going to do something to mark the occasion or simply let it slip by. Italy had been a dream of ours for many years but had never materialized. Indeed, “Plan A” of going to Italy with the family when our oldest graduated didn’t pan out—as most Plan A’s don’t.

As the years progressed, “Plan B” began to form: we would go to Italy with the family when the youngest graduated. Again, not so much panning out was happening for “Plan B.”

Having lost track of what plan we were on, and with our 25th anniversary drawing close, we began seriously toying with the idea of being terrible parents and simply going to Italy ourselves to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary. After coming to grips with the realization that our children would not be scarred for life if we didn’t provide them with some overseas travel while they were under our roof, we started to selfishly look at the option for ourselves.

For a few months, we did the whole sit-in-front-of-the-computer-with-a-cup-of-coffee thing where we perused the different excursions we could take in Italy. “Plan D”—or was it E?—being that we would enjoy the planning as much as the ultimate trip. However, before long, both my husband and I began imagining the worst: that we would spend all our money and be standing in the middle of Rome wondering “now what?”

In the middle of this Italy-planning panic attack, we discovered that our good friends, Dom Pastore and Teresa Tomeo Pastore, were heading a pilgrimage to Italy in September of the year that we were to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary (May 18, 2011). That, we realized, might really be the way to go! And quickly our plans for an Italy vacation evolved, by the grace of God, into an Italy pilgrimage.

The difference between a vacation and a pilgrimage is significant and real. When I was a recent guest on the Brian Patrick Sonrise Morning Show to talk about pilgrimages, Brian specifically asked me that great question: What is the different between a vacation and a pilgrimage?

That was easy to explain. When my husband and I feebly attempted to piece together a trip to Italy, I can honestly say we considered it a “vacation.” Vacations follow a particular thread: see some sites, relax a bit, and unwind. Vacations, while providing a reprieve from the everyday life of the vacationer, still require some “work.” The agenda of a vacation is different from a pilgrimage. While each may have sites to see and involve obligations throughout the day, at the very core of a pilgrimage is the desire to be with God—to know Him more intimately, to grow in your relationship to Him. At the heart of a vacation is something like “to unwind” or “to relax and catch up on sleep” or an number of other, even noble and often necessary remedies for the busy lives we lead; but still all very different from what is at the heart of a pilgrimage where we are seeking God in a whole new way. Literally, even in our animation that stems from our excitement and experiences, we become more introverted instead of extroverted—we aren’t blogging or tweeting or catching up on the news.

One of my favorite books is Matt Swaim’s Prayer in the Digital Age where Matt begins his book by telling of a silent retreat he was taking and being dismayed to discover that his iphone was not working. He shares, with great humility and hilarity, how the irony of wanting his iphone on a silent retreat really gave him an insight into where he was at—and where he needed to be—in terms of his upcoming retreat. Was Matt going to call God with his iphone during his retreat? Probably not! What Matt poignantly admits is something we all need to admit: that we need to disconnect from our everyday lives in order to connect with God.

That is what a true pilgrimage is all about.

Dom and Teresa were heading a pilgrimage to Italy. It was intended for couples and would incorporate all the sites that we would have hoped to see in Italy; but it was very different from a vacation. There would be daily Mass and daily Scripture verses with accompanying meditations for each couple. We visited vineyards and saw them as the beauty of God’s green earth; we tasted wine and recognized it as given by God.

This was about placing ourselves in God’s hands and allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts and in our marriages and through our experiences.

I have never, ever felt the sense of freedom from my everyday life as I did on this trip; and my husband will attest to the same feeling. The pilgrimage fed our souls in ways we never would have imagined.

And it was fun!

The main guide for the trip was carefully selected. He was a delightfully funny, faith-filled Catholic man who, at one point, shared his reversion story with us, the pilgrims. And he kept us laughing. This pilgrimage wasn’t about sour faces and forlorn souls—it was about the joy and pleasure of our faith.

Together, there were just over a dozen couples—the pilgrims. The personality mix was perfect. Clearly God’s hand was upon us as we began to form friendships that I am convinced were gifts from God. Two pilgrims were cantors and our Masses were blessed by their singing. Coincidence? I think not.

Some of our pilgrims were quiet while others were more outgoing; but not one pilgrim was outside of our group. I couldn’t help but think about 1 Corinthians 12:12.

Our pilgrimage had two components: Tuscany and Rome. In each, we had a spiritual director: Father Thomas in Tuscany and Father Mark in Rome. These remarkable priests freely gave of their time to minister to us, collectively and individually—if we so requested.

Did I mention that we all renewed our vows during a Mass said by Father Mark? With marriages ranging from two years to over 40, we all had a deeper appreciation of the Sacrament and there wasn’t a dry eye in the building.

In Rome, while on a tour of the different sites, our guide for the day—Elaina—said that a “good pilgrim” sees the 4 basilicas while in Rome. I thought of God’s command in the Torah: that the Jewish people are required to pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year. It wasn’t easy for them. In fact I’m sure a case could be made that it was difficult or even a downright hardship.

What a thing for God to command! However, like so many of God’s instructions, the dictate to pilgrimage wasn’t for God’s sake, but was for man’s sake. A pilgrimage is a time where we truly put ourselves at the mercy of God. We hand to Him our body, our mind, our soul and our spirit. We seek Him in ways never imagined. We are so separated from our secular reality that is seems to stop existing. At the very least, it [our secular reality] is put in such a perspective that what mattered just days before no longer does.

We live, in the days of our pilgrimage, completely for God: to know Him, to Love Him, to serve Him. We can’t get close enough to Him!

Here’s where I lose my ability to explain—where I become uncharacteristically speechless…a pilgrimage completely transforms the pilgrim. It is such an interior experience that no words can describe it. It must be experienced.

And that is why God called His people to pilgrimage. It wasn’t that He was being demanding or difficult or even unreasonable. He wanted His people to be transformed. He wanted to be able to reach deep within the heart and soul of the pilgrim and take hold. These are the reasons that God required what appeared to be a hardship of his people—to pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Transformation happens on pilgrimage.

So this takes me back to where I started and I have to ask you: Can you really afford NOT to take a pilgrimage?

Monday, August 1, 2011

What Did You Put In Sunday's Collection Basket?

What you put in the collection basket says a lot about you and where you are at in your journey.

Some of us put in our 10% tithing without a second thought. Some of us put in the few “extra” dollars we may have.Some of us struggle with the need to “give” to the already “rich” church and so put in very little.

I remember once when one of my sons was quite young and had—unbeknownst to me—picked up all his change from his room and put it in the collection basket as it passed. I think it was about 19 cents.

But very few of us realize that when that basket passes, it is an incredible opportunity to give anything and everything to God. Sure, it is about money and tithing; but money is only the beginning. That collection basket is a chance to empty yourself so that your gifts may be joined to those of Christ’s at the altar and used for God’s kingdom. They will be joined in the consecration and if offered with no strings attached can be appropriately dispensed by God, who sees all.

Remember that Mass transcends time and space and you are joining all the Masses said, at all moments in time, and that your gifts become priceless in the ways they can be given to others if you so freely give them yourself.

The next time the collection basket passes, along with your spare change or your envelope, make a point to put in your joy. God will use it to bless someone else who may need a bit of joy.

The next time the collection basket passes, along with your spare change or your envelope, make a point to put in your praise and awe of the mighty God we serve. God will use it to bless someone who may be struggling with their faith and in need of your beautiful gift of praise and awe.

The next time the collection basket passes, along with your spare change or your envelope, make a point to put in your sorrow, grief or despair. God will divide up those burdens among your fellow worshippers—across time and space—who are asking with a heart full of love to lighten someone else’s burden. Trust that someone’s heart is open to your needs and your load will be lightened or you will be given courage and strength to carry it. In other words, there is no way you can put your sorrow or your grief or your despair into the basket and have it taken to the altar and it not be changed!

We simply don’t know the ways our offerings may be used; but we can be assured that they will be used in anointed ways. The point is to give everything over at that moment in Mass and trust in God.

Does God need this from us? Of course not!

Does God desire this from us? Of course He does! Just as He freely gave His Son, we, too, can give freely of ourselves gifts that can be blessed at the altar; gifts that can be joined at the foot of the Cross and used in blessed, anointed or even redemptive ways (reflect on redemptive suffering, for instance).

Consider some of the words and phrases said at Mass during the consecration and see your gifts collected in the baskets now placed at the altar being transformed with these words:

Through him we ask you to accept and bless these gifts we offer you in sacrifice…

Father, accept this offering from your whole family…

Bless and approve our offering: make it acceptable to you…

Look with favor on these offerings and accept them as once you accepted the gifts of your servant Abel…

Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven…

Let your spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy…

There is so much that we can freely give to God and an ideal time to do this is during Mass—when that collection basket gets handed to each of us. We can fill it with love and kindness and hope and pain and regret. We can ask our guardian angels to accompany it to the altar. We can allow ourselves to be transformed by what we can give at the altar as much as we can be transformed by what we take from the altar. God allows us, in so many ways, to participate in His goodness. Filling the collection basket to the brim is just one incredible way in which we work with God for His kingdom!

So the next time the basket makes its way to you, remember: Nothing is too big or too small to be taken to the altar—it only needs to be given wholly so that it can become holy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Do You Suffer from Lot's Wife Syndrome?

When I get invited to speak at women’s events, by far the most popular topic is my “Embracing the Matriarch Within” presentation. This is due, in no small part, to the fact that the topic literally animates me while I speak. In fact, if someone were to tie my hands together and mark an “X” where I was expected to stand, I believe I would become mute.

Yes, I’m a spectacle when I speak – very much like I was when I taught in parochial middle school. I was a veritable jumping bean of enthusiasm for our faith, much to the chagrin of my students.

Fortunately for me, adult women are far more tolerant of my delivery methods than were my students.

No doubt they feel and see that I love talking about Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah and are quick to understand that what excites me will soon excite each of them.

What I have come to realize is that women tend to completely underestimate the great honor that we each have as matriarchs in our own families.

I’ve also come to see, with great interest, is that one of the women who speaks volumes to women is Lot’s wife.

I know this because of all the comments I receive after the presentation.

“Wow, I never thought about Lot’s wife that way.”

“Gee, Lot’s wife taught me a lot today.”

“I will never look at Lot’s wife the same way again.”

Lot’s wife? You are probably asking yourself about now. Wasn’t she the gal who turned into a pillar of salt? Oh yeah, her life’s message is about obedience. She teaches us to listen and obey. And the excitement about her is because . . . .

And I’ll give you that you’d be half right if this is how you respond to hearing about Lot’s wife and the lesson that we are able to learn from her life.

But when I present my topics on the Matriarchs, I purposely include a number of other women – like Lot’s wife – who, upon closer examination have a deeper message for women today. Women who are not, by strict Jewish standards, considered “Matriarchs” but who, by the very essence of how they lived and what we can cull from their lives, deserve the title in a more esoteric way.

For instance, when I specifically speak about Lot’s wife, I share my belief that while the obvious message is one of obedience, the subtler message is one of “letting go.”

But let’s face it; women tend to struggle with the reality of living either message whether it is one of obedience or one of letting go. I’m not intentionally discriminating against men here. I’m just sharing my direct, personal experiences with women as friends, sisters-in-the-Lord, colleagues, and those I speak with at conferences.

Given our fallen nature, obedience is something we strive daily to attain but more than likely isn’t something we continually succeed at; likewise, letting go of past pains, hurts, and wrong-doings is not quite a woman’s strong suit either.

Women, I have come to see, suffer from what I now like to call “Lot’s Wife Syndrome.”

And I will freely admit to Lot’s Wife Syndrome being a chronic disease in my life, as well. This is probably why I have become so adept at recognizing it.

Every woman I know who is struggling with letting go of something from the past does so because her own heart has been pierced but also because it is in her nature to “hang on” and “persevere” – even with all her baggage in tow. (Here’s where you see me hauling my imaginary baggage across the stage and why I can’t be committed to speaking without hand gestures or being confined to a particular spot.)

Don’t get me wrong about these traits because they are the exact same traits – hanging on and persevering – that make each and every woman an excellent Matriarch candidate. The Matriarchs proper (Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah) remind us that we are able to be strong in the most difficult of circumstances and that we have an inherent ability to hold our families together through sheer will, want, and prayer. We learn from the Matriarchs how to rely on God’s grace and mercy. They set the groundwork for us to understand that Mary’s fiat is to our earthly lives what Christ’s death and resurrection is to our eternal life.

But life is about balance and so women need to learn how to balance their ability to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders with the need to let go of some of it – especially if they carry it to their own peril.

Lot’s wife didn’t want to let go of her ____; that blank can be filled in many different ways:

Lot’s wife didn’t want to let go of her life as she knew it.

Lot’s wife didn’t want to let go of her pain.

Lot’s wife didn’t want to let go of her hopes and dreams.

Lot’s wife didn’t want to let go of her sorrows as they had become her best friends.

And in not letting go, Lot’s wife paid the ultimate price – her life.

Now change the subject of the sentence to suit your own life:

_______ did want to let go of her life as she knew it.

_______ did want to let go of her pain.

_______ did want to let go of her hopes and dreams.

_______ did want to let go of her sorrows as they had become her best friends.

Maybe Lot’s wife was going to have one last look and then planned on throwing herself a pity party. Who knows? But I dare say we’ve all been there, done that. Knowing that it is in our own best interest to let go, leave the past behind, we still manage to make use of pains, hurts, sorrows or broken dreams in one way or another.

Did you know that heart disease is the number one cause of death for American women? This is according to the American Heart Association.

I offer that sidebar of information because it seems to make the lessons of Lot’s wife all the more pertinent for women today. “Letting go” allows our bodies a modicum of stress-relief and frees us to laugh and enjoy more of life. Laughter produces the endorphins and neurotransmitters that reduce stress – often a contributing factor to heart disease. And while I am no doctor, I know that the heavier the load we drag behind us, the more burden it places on our minds, bodies and especially our hearts – emotionally and physically – and thus is best left behind. (Imagine me dragging my baggage ever more slowly across the stage, now stooped by its burdensome weight and size.)

All this isn’t to say that we ought to let go of things without having first let them serve their purpose in our lives. After all, it is often the things that wound us most that also allow us to build virtues such as compassion, kindness, forgiveness and fortitude. But there is a fine line between the building of virtuous characteristics and sending invitations to a full-blown pity party.

We aren’t meant to become martyrs in our own eyes but should be witnessing to the facets of a faith that will draw others in. That involves experiencing pain and sorrow, regret and dashed dreams, as well as what we do with those experiences. Here’s where Lot’s wife becomes a blatant reminder: Do Not Look Back!

This also isn’t to suggest that certain damages, neglects, or abuses from one’s past should be taken lightly or will be forgotten just through sheer, brute will. And in some cases it is clear that professional counseling or services is a necessary part of “letting go.”

But for most of us, letting go is simply a daily “giving over” to Christ. It is that moment in the morning when our thoughts and words turn to Jesus and we share our trust in Him and how He will guide our day, ever at our side.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Summer Reading

There’s so much we can do to make sure our kids learn to love to read, or continue their love of reading. Summer is a great time to get engaging, entertaining books into the hands of our kids and with that in mind I’ve identified a few books well worth having that you may not know about; but should. The middle and high school books are ideal to add to school summer reading lists as well!

Younger Kids:

The Weight of the Mass by Josephine Nobisso is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever held; it is the story about a penniless woman, a baker, and a banquet and is a treasure that both child and parent will enjoy.

Take it to the Queen by Josephine Nobisso is also a treat that readers of all ages will enjoy.


Olivia and the Little Way by Nancy Carabio Belanger is bound to be a classic with the great story-telling skills of Belanger shining through on every page; it has received a Catholic Press Award.

Olivia’s Gift by Nancy Carabio Belanger is the excellent sequel to Olivia and the Little Way.

Dear God, I don’t get it! by Patti Maguire Armstrong is a riotous look at what happens when siblings each pray for something different.

Hiding the Stranger: The Trilogy by Joan L. Kelly has great intrigue, mystery, and fun locals; it has received the Catholic Writer’s Guild Seal of Approval.


Stories of Daring Teen Saints by Colleen Swaim is the sort of non-fiction book that has something for every teen reader and has the potential to set teen hearts ablaze with a love of Faith.

The Story of Peace by Miriam Ezeh has got it all: chaste love, right relationships, war and vengeance; great for high school readers and excellent for readers of inspirational fiction.

The Tripods Attack by John McNichol is a wonderfully crafted tale very well suited for high school years and beyond.

Older Readers:

God Calling, please pick up! is a non-fiction devotional by Patty Ward that you want to read like a book because each entry leaves you laughing or crying and wanting more.

Prayer in the Digital Age by Matt Swaim was significant to my Lenten experience and is a non-fiction book that every adult should read.

The Rosary Workout by Peggy Bowes is a great book to begin reading this summer for those committed to making use of the great weather and wanting to get in shape both physically and spiritually.

The Invisible World by Anthony DeStefano is a can’t-put-down non-fiction book.

Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage is my foray into Catholic Chick-Lit as Elizabeth copes with a marriage on the brink and heads to the Holy Land to reconnect with her faith.

I can’t stress enough that some of the books listed here will do double duty for the dollars spent! For instance, Belanger’s books reminded me of Anne of Green Gables in the way I connected with the stories and I could easily recommend them to adults—even though they are written for kids. The same can be said of Maguire Armstrong’s Dear God, I don’t get it! and The Story of Peace by Miriam Ezeh. Books that have timeless, faith-filled messages in intriguing plots with real-life characters know no boundaries and the books in this list, while divided into simple categories, really are worth the investment.

Happy summer reading!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Invisible World

How many unfinished books do you have lying around the house?

One, two, maybe even half a dozen?

I used to think it was just me, but then someone mentioned her stack of unfinished books and I realized that there were more people “out there” that suffered through the same dreadful, almost embarrassing, book-reading experience—or should I say non-book-reading experience.

A bit of my ADD and a bit of my disappointment in books that received great reviews but weren’t really “great,” mixes with the demands on my time and before you know it, another book bites the dust and ends up with a bookmark or sticky on page 37—clearly mocking my inability to stay focused through the disappointment or boredom and see it through to the bitter end.

I know, I know: diligence is a virtue and one I have truly tried to apply to my reading endeavors.
But there are authors whose works beat the odds and keep me interested, entertained, and/or enlightened to the very end. Those include the non-fiction works of Matt Swaim (The Eucharist and the Rosary; Prayer in the Digital Age) and Dr. Kevin Vost (Fit for Eternal Life; St. Albert the Great; Memorize the Faith); and the fiction works of Nancy Carabio Belanger (Olivia and the Little Way; Olivia’s Gift) and Miriam Ezeh (The Story of Peace).

To this list I now add Anthony DeStefano. I’m new to DeStefano’s work, but he is the author of such best-selling books as A Travel Guide to Heaven and Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To. I’ve just completed The Invisible World and was truly sorry to enter the last chapter and know that the end of the book was approaching.

DeStefano tackles the issue of the “invisible world” in a convincing and passionate way. For die-hard Catholics, there may be a bit of a soft-sell on such topics as the Sacrament of Reconciliation or the Eucharist—yet he compensates by hitting a home run with such topics as grace and the very real existence of evil and hell and demons. It is clear that this book is written for a wider audience than just Catholic Christians and I applaud DeStefano’s ability to write to that wider audience while still appeasing those of us who want our books to be “Catholic” enough to honor and respect our teachings and traditions. He does this while also drawing in other Christians as well as, quite adroitly, non-believers.

I’m impressed.

The Invisible World begins with a chapter titled “The Haunt Detective” and immediately references Father Frank Pavone (a Catholic home run for those of us who know and love Father’s work at Priests for Life) but easily moves into the sort of stories we all love to hear: the four-year-old who was miraculously cured of a brain tumor. DeStefano immediately delineates between a Judeo-Christian understanding of the invisible world and a new-age worldview, thus setting the stage for where he is going with the book.

In the next chapter, when the author explores the reason for God’s invisibility, you can comfortably agree why God needs to be invisible, even if it never occurred to you to question why that is the case.

Some of my unfinished books are books on angels. I want to know more about them and in DeStefano’s The Invisible World, I have finally read about them in a way that makes sense but also gives clarity, without going on and on with unnecessary or inane chatter. Kudos for the way that he explains angels and creates an understanding of the ways in which they help us and are accessible—and then moves on to the chapter on evil. This is followed by a masterful chapter on the soul which then leads to a chapter exploring the reality of invisible warfare. I found the author’s personal style and understanding of how to lead the reader from one point to the next to be very compelling. When he writes, “This is a real battle, with real casualties, being waged by real spiritual beings who really want to destroy us,” you sit up and take notice because he’s just explained what we have that is so valuable (our soul) and why the battle is being waged.
The chapter on invisible warfare is followed by a chapter on grace which is, well, grace-filled!

DeStefano weaves Bible stories and personal anecdotes throughout which give weight to what he has written. He references, and appropriately relies on, such great thinkers as Augustine and C.S. Lewis to make certain points.
When DeStefano explores the power of suffering, I was reminded of my own on-going cross and found a bit of peace that I had not previously experienced.

The book draws to a conclusion with chapters on destiny and seeing the invisible.

The Invisible World by Anthony DeStefano is a wonderful book which I highly recommend! It will not gather dust on your shelf; in fact I already have in mind three friends for whom I will be purchasing copies and giving with great fanfare as I love to share such gems as this with those I know and love.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Perfect Husband

Several men are in the locker room of a golf club. A cellular phone on a bench rings and a man engages the hands-free speaker function and begins to talk. Everyone else in the room stops to listen.

MAN: "Hello"

WOMAN: "Hi Honey, it's me. Are you at the club?"

MAN: "Yes."

WOMAN: "I'm at the shops now and found this beautiful leather coat.  It's only $2,000; is it OK if I buy it?"

MAN: "Sure, go ahead if you like it that much."

WOMAN: "I also stopped by the Lexus dealership and saw the new models. I saw one I really liked.."

MAN: "How much?"

WOMAN: "$90,000."

MAN: "OK, but for that price I want it with all the options."

WOMAN: Great! Oh, and one more thing... I was just talking to Janie and found out that the house I wanted last year is back on the market. They're asking $980,000 for it."

MAN: "Well, then go ahead and make an offer of $900,000. They'll probably take it. If not, we can go the extra eighty thousand if it's what you really want."

WOMAN: "OK. I'll see you later! I love you so much!"

MAN: "Bye! I love you, too."

The man hangs up. The other men in the locker room are staring at him in astonishment, mouths wide open. He turns and asks, "Anyone know whose phone this is?"

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Finding Our Compassion for Others during this Lenten Season

A four-year-old child, whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife, saw the neighbor crying. Upon seeing this, the little child went into the old Gentleman's yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When the child's mother asked what had been said to the neighbor, the little child replied, 'Nothing, I just helped him cry.'

Monday, March 7, 2011

Why I'm Giving Up Facebook for Lent

For several years I gave up chocolate for Lent; like my many parochial middle school students, the idea of going without chocolate candy for 40 days seemed like a fairly good way to “suffer” as I was called to contemplate Jesus’ suffering; it seemed to be a perfect way to give up something that I could sincerely offer up during my prayers and as I spent time in reflection.

That was until our pastor cautioned us about choosing to give up something we knew we ought to give up because it would “benefit” us; when, instead, what we should be doing is giving up something that would not be a “benefit” to us. Gee, I remember thinking, chocolate really has fallen into the “this is good for me to give up category” because I began to consider the “benefits” of losing a couple of pounds and being a bit healthier for the effort.

Now what? I wondered.

In the middle of all this I also tried some things from the It-isn’t-about-giving-up-as-much-as-it-is-about-making-changes category. That included the year where I committed to daily Rosary and the year that I wanted to make sure I said “one good and positive thing” each day to my family members.

None of these Lenten experiences stand out as ways that made the value of sacrifice something that is real, tangible and personal.

So each year, as Lent approaches, I seek to know more deeply what it is that I should be doing, or not doing, for Lent—for God. This year was no different; Ash Wednesday loomed on the calendar and I began asking, What will it be this year, Lord? Let me know, please, and I will obey.

At this point let me interject that I have been attending an Ignatian Spiritual Retreat which meets a couple of times a month and the fruit—the graces—from the exercises has been abundant, to say the least.

So off to a dinner party I go, with Ash Wednesday less than a week away, and my request to know what Lent sacrifice the Lord has in store for me being freshly made and asked of Him. I shouldn’t be surprised, then, that the first conversation I have upon entering our guest’s home is with a woman I greatly admire—a Facebook friend and a real-life friend—who says that she is giving up Facebook for Lent! My heart immediately responds with recognition that THIS is my answer.

Facebook, unlike chocolate, won’t be good for me to give up; it won’t benefit me one bit. Frankly, just the opposite is true—it may be detrimental to my business of publishing books and sharing news of author happenings and various events.

Indeed, this true sacrifice is made known to me in the last days of the contest in which one of our titles—Stories for the Homeschool Heart—is in the running for “Best Catholic Book of 2010!” If it wins, not being on Facebook and LinkedIn and writing articles means I can’t take advantage of the social network to use this win in a very significant promotional way. A win would be something that just begs for tons of Internet attention and fanfare.

And the good Lord is asking me to walk away.

That, I say to myself, is the ultimate sacrifice!

You see, I’ve easily worked 60 and 70 hour weeks for the past 4 or 5 years and am now seeing that it is paying off. But in the recesses of my heart, I know I am being called to leave the Internet Super Highway behind during Lent and spend that time with God—in reading His word, in Adoration, in Mass, in the Gospels by way of the Rosary. I have previously tried to tell myself that being a witness meant embracing this new social media and that I was doing His will; but I was only giving myself an excuse to stay connected to the Internet.

So with this contest, it became crystal clear to me what my sacrifice was to be this Lent; and I also know that is isn’t just about me removing myself from Facebook. I won’t be writing articles during Lent either; I’m removing myself from some key Internet activities so that my time with God becomes more abundant, and definitely more personal.

God is calling me and I can’t ignore Him.

What will this mean for Bezalel Books?

I have no idea; but I’m not worried. It all belongs to God anyhow.

Each of us can be replaced in a heartbeat on the Internet—no matter how popular and followed we may appear—but each of us is completely irreplaceable to God so that’s where I want to spend my Lenten time: in His care, in His arms, in His presence, in His word.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Moral of the Story

Hundreds of years ago there was a rabbi who was sitting alone enjoying a banquet. When passerbys came upon this odd sight, they inquired, "Rabbi, What is the celebration? Why are you alone at this banquet? Where are the guests?"

The rabbi responded, "This celebration is for someone who has received a prestigious award for something he has accomplished. I am alone because the other guests are hundreds of miles away, celebrating with the recipient."

"Who," asked the passerbys, "is receiving this great award that warrants such a lavish banquet?"

"Sadly, I do not know the gentleman, nor his guests; but still I share in his great accomplishment and in his joy!" was the rabbi's generous response.

The moral of the story?

You tell me what you think!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Catholics and Their Rosaries!

Let’s face it; Catholics love Mary and the Rosary.

Trying to sift through all the Marian devotions and offerings is testament to that fact.

Some Catholics are accused of “worshipping” her and relying on rote, impersonal prayers while holding beads; but those of us in the know understand that our love for her and for saying the Rosary has nothing to do with worship and rote memorization and everything to do with the way that she directs us to her Son, our Savior, and the ways we meditate upon His life through the mysteries.

Marian devotion and the praying of the Rosary is not some sort of superstitious nonsense, directing the practitioner to damnation; rather, the Rosary is a tool for those who desire to know Christ fully, to meditate upon Him in a more personal way.

During the Easter season, it is incumbent upon us to get more purposeful in contemplating the life of Jesus; it makes sense, then, to look at Rosary products more in-depth. After all, it has been said that if one spends time on all the mysteries of the Rosary, one has contemplated the essence of the Gospels and these Rosary offerings do just that—bring us to the depths of the Gospel in unique and valuable ways.

1. Susan Bailey is a singer, songwriter and author. I first listened to her Sung Rosary about four years ago and I actually felt as if I were being carried away by angels. There is something about Susan’s voice that lifts your spirit to the heavens. I’ve had the good fortune to speak with Susan on a number of occasions and her passion about her faith and her work are palpable. If you purchase nothing else this year to explore the depths of Jesus’ life, this should be it. Susan’s website is http://www.sungrosary.com/.

2. Like everyone else, Catholics are concerned about health and fitness. The Rosary Workout focuses on the aerobic aspect of physical health, all the while developing the spiritual component through guided Rosary meditations. Bowes flew Air Force jets for nine years before becoming a full-time wife and mother whose family sold all their belongings and travelled the United States in an RV while she homeschooled. She currently continues to fulfill her vocation as wife and mother but is also a speaker, author, blogger and podcaster. The Rosary Workout is a compilation of over 100 different exercises along with the history of the Rosary and ways to make the cadence of the Rosary work for optimum benefits during exercise. Bowes was recently featured on EWTN’s Journey Home because of her compelling reversion story. Everything she has learned about health and faith fills the pages of The Rosary Workout.

3. Who better than to write a book about the Rosary than a convert? There isn’t a Catholic alive who doesn’t understand that one of the biggest obstacles to a Protestant’s conversion to the Catholic faith is Mary and the ways in which Catholics use the Rosary to pray. So when a Protestant writes a book about the Rosary, it is often worth our time and effort. This is because the convert has investigated and researched and prayed, no doubt, for a better understanding about Mary’s Rosary before making the commitment to convert. This naturally leads to a book that ought to be filled with insights that affected the author and can deepen a Catholic’s understanding as well. Matt Swaim delivers—in a big way—in his book The Eucharist and the Rosary, published by Liguori. Swaim takes each of the 20 different mysteries and makes them personal and relevant—while keeping them reverent and “mysterious.” I was particularly affected by Swaim’s pages on the Transfiguration; he writes with clarity and insight. The Eucharist and the Rosary is an excellent physical size to take to Adoration and the handful of reflection questions at the end of each mystery (which also tend to be the perfect length for reading at Adoration) make it a great guide for this time with Christ.

4. As Swaim points out in The Eucharist and the Rosary, there isn’t anyone who does not have some sort of Cross to bear; that being the case, Father Dwight Longenecker’s book Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing is the ideal antidote. Each mystery is examined in a particularly powerful way: First is the Scripture verse followed by a simple explanation; Second, Longenecker includes a few paragraphs called “Think it Through” which gives further explanation of the message of the mystery; Next, there is a short 4 or 5 paragraph story called “Healing Example” which shares a real-life application; the conclusion is a prayer to be recited that makes the inner healing your own. Like Swaim’s book, Father’s book would also be an excellent accompaniment to Adoration.

5. Teaching our children about the power and mystery of the Rosary is a Catholic parent’s job. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, this passing on of the faith (and all aspects of living it) is the primary concern of the parent; books such as Little Rainbow Rosary by Rose Maria Dennis is the perfect tool to do just that. Both the storyline of a mother explaining the Rosary to her child, along with the masterful illustrations, make Little Rainbow Rosary the sort of book that parents love to read from and kids love to carry around—and take to Church.

A final suggestion is for iPod fans. Although I’m still not great friends with my iPod, one of the first applications I purchased was iRosary. I’m still “all thumbs” when it comes to working my way around my iPod but on first glance, I do like the app and look forward to becoming more comfortable with my iPod and my techno-Rosary!