Friday, June 24, 2016

The Outsiders: On the Fringes of Family, Friends, and Faith Community

These are the tulips I was given to bring home
during teacher appreciation week at RMS.
(Of course, I couldn't resist taking photos.)
It’s actually been nice to hear that we’ve been missed.  Kevin and I were more isolated than usual beginning last September for a variety of reasons expanded upon below.  However, in recent weeks, we’ve reconnected with some family members and friends we hadn’t seen in months.  I must say, it’s refreshing to know people haven’t forgotten about or stopped inviting us to get together even when we were too tired and rundown to accept many offers for fellowship, food, or fun.  I don’t know why, but Kevin and I are both  pleasantly surprised when others remember us fondly and express an interest in spending quality time, one of my primary love languages.  In the past couple months, we’ve broken out of our survival mode. 

Here are some of the signs we have started to return to civilization:       

We’ve met two different couples who are close friends of ours out for dinner.  I’ve seen all of my family members who live in town more than once in the same 30-day period. I went with my sister and nephew to a park I'd never been to before.  I met a friend from our spiritual direction institute class for a picnic and long walk in a beautiful park.  Kevin and I went to a movie theater to watch a popular film (Captain America Civil War).  I went to the oldest of the three silly sisters’ Kindergarten end-of-the-year concert performance and classroom awards.  Last weekend, I had a mini 10-year since I made my Cursillo reunion luncheon with our rectora and a handful of babe chicks from my weekend.  This evening we enjoyed a spur-of-the-moment birthday party for our friend Jeff at Red Robin.  Though Kevin's still working full-time and has classes three nights a week, and my schedule for summer camps at school is quite varied, there's hope on the horizon that we will continue to reach out, reconnect, and resume some more social activities.   

These Are the Main Reasons Why Kevin and I Were so Disconnected from:

Each Other

Kevin and I have been disconnected from pretty much everyone, often including each other, over the past several months.  During one sixth-month period, we were both working full-time on opposite sides of town, and he had classes three nights a week.  Some days we rarely saw each other because our schedules were so different, and many weeks we never had a day off together.  I worked Monday through Friday; he worked all through the weekend and typically had his day or two off during the week. 
Cursillo Community

Usually, Cursillo gatherings called Ultreyas are held two Friday evenings a month.  In years past, they’ve been a good way for Kevin and me to stay connected to that community. Unfortunately, we haven’t been up to going in a while.  By the time Friday rolls around, we are usually both thoroughly exhausted and just wanted to rest.  This past January, I stepped down from my position as the Newsletter Editor I’d held for many years when two very capable individuals proved ready and eager to revamp and run with it.    

Spiritual Direction

There were several months when we didn’t manage to get together with the couple who are dear friends and spiritual companions for Kevin and me.  The monthly classes we had for our Spiritual Direction Institute course were one staple that kept us both connected to a community of believers with whom we could pray, talk about our faith, and share our lives.  However, May was our last retreat and the completion of that two-year program.

Our Peeps at the Parish

Because Kevin often has to work Saturday and Sunday, he is typically tired by Sunday afternoon, so we haven’t been going to our usual parish for Mass.  Even when we were stretched too thin to commit to any ministries at St. Michael, it was nice to see so many familiar faces.  Lately, we’ve been going to 5pm Mass at St. Bridget’s.  It’s closer to where we live and allows Kevin to avoid yet another trip out to the West End, but we don’t know very many people and still feel like visitors there because we are.  

Not the Nanny and a Six-Month Stint Somewhere Over the Rainbow

When I’m nannying for a family, I have often felt like I am part of it.  Much of the time, I’ve been included in events like Christenings, Baptisms, and some other gatherings of family and friends.  There’s a level of intimacy and familiarity when you’re helping to take care of someone’s children in their home.  It’s been a couple years since I’ve nannied now. 

Since I was gone from the school where I’ve worked part-time over the past eight years (for a grueling six-month stint at a place I would not recommend for children of any age), I’m not really as close to any of the kids, their families, or the co-workers I’m friends with as I would have been if there for the entire 2015-16 school year.  (The reasons I worked elsewhere for six months will have to be in another blog post.) 

My In Town Family

I’m not as close with my mom or my sisters as I used to be.  Frequently, my sisters and I go for days or even weeks without talking, texting, e-mailing, or seeing each other.  Our three-year-old nephew asked my sister if Kevin and I were on a trip or something it had been so long since he’d last seen us.  All of us keep in touch with my mom regularly, and my other sisters see her usually at least a few times a week.   

My sisters and I have been around my mom’s place a bit more often lately since my mom became a foster parent.  Our new youngest sister Jeneba has brought us together.  Well, most of us.  Kevin doesn’t always come with me for family dinners, holidays, and such.  When beat up physically and exhausted, he has often elected to stay at home.  I know all-too-well what it feels like to be ready to collapse, so I rarely push him into joining us when he isn’t up to it. 

The Rochester Relatives

Most of Kevin’s family lives up in Rochester, New York, and they rarely travel to or through Virginia.  This has meant that we only get to see them maybe once a year if and when we are able to go up there in the summer.  With such a great geographical distance from Kevin’s sisters and their families, we don’t have a whole lot of contact with them.  We catch up every couple months over the phone and see what a few of the Facebook-savvy members are up to, but that’s about it.  When we’re up there, they are excited to spend time with us, and we enjoy the gatherings that always seem to include food, laughter, and some great stories.  Last summer, we couldn’t afford to go up there, and we aren’t sure we’ll get to go this year, either.    

There’s No Place Like Home

Kevin and I have lived in the same two-bedroom apartment for the past eleven and a half years we’ve been married.  Almost all of our furniture is second-hand.  Our place isn’t super-neat or nicely decorated.  Generally, we’ve only had one or two people over at a time, and those have been family members or our closest friends.  We don’t have a nice balcony, deck, a big dining room, or large seating area where we could entertain people.  Though we’re perfectly content gathering with friends in a limited amount of space that isn’t extremely organized or you-could-eat-off-the-floor clean, our place is rarely straightened up enough that Kevin is comfortable having people over.  We’ve never hosted our family for a holiday or even had everyone over for a meal at our place.
          
So there you have some semblance of an explanation as to why we were absent from most gatherings of family, friends, ministry, etc. for months.  The good news is we're coming around. There are some additional things in the works that could prove very beneficial for continuing increased levels of connectivity.  More details will be forthcoming when we have them.    

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Do You Know How Much I Love You? (My Nanny Diary)

I have often thought this question and sometimes even had the courage to ask it aloud.  For a number of reasons, I often feel that I’m not as good at expressing the depth and width of my love as I'd like to be to family, friends, and the children in my care, especially those for whom I have nannied

“Do you know how much I love you?” comes to mind as I reflect on the ten-year anniversary of when I made my Cursillo weekend.  Back in that June 2006, I had recently found out that I would only be nannying for “my two little guys” for another couple months.  I worried about my own separation anxiety, how much I would miss the boys, and how hard it would be to say goodbye to what I considered our “daytime family.” I also had to figure out what I would do next in terms of work.  I felt very unsettled about this major life transition.
I had no clue how the end of my time nannying for the boys would lead to the beginning of the most profound example of forgiveness and mercy I have experienced within the context of a human relationship. 

Reconciling with my father was a truly miraculous occurrence.  In the last three years of his life, there was more transformation for both of us than I ever thought possible.      

Do my two little guys and the three silly sisters know how much I love them?  Do their parents?  I honestly don’t know, but I have every intention of continuing to express my love for them. 

When pondering this question, I often think back to one particular Sunday evening at Mass a couple years ago.  One of the first two Scripture readings talked how we should trust in God. Immediately following the conclusion of the reading, I was asked a direct question.   
“Why should we trust in God?” the four-year-old sitting on my lap asked me. 
“Because He loves us more than anyone else,” I whispered.
“Like you?” she asked, looking up at me.    
I was speechless, but my thoughts were racing: What?! Does she actually know how much I love her?  Wait. What does she mean by that? Oh, she’s got to know that God’s love is much greater than mine can ever be.  I can’t explain that in the middle of Mass. 

Because I'm Not the Mama

The difficult part about profoundly loving children who aren’t your own is that there comes a time when you don’t see them as often.  Of course, this happens to most parents eventually when kids move out and move on with their lives.  It happens sooner for some of us, though, and requires a time of transition which has often proved difficult for me.  Suddenly, you aren’t there to watch them grow and witness a number of their firsts.  After rarely going 72 hours without spending significant chunks of quality time with them, days, months, years go by, and Christmas cards in the mail become your only physical link to the children you gave your all to for a time. 


When people have asked me why I have spent most of my life taking care of and working with children, I think of the little ones I’ve had the blessing of helping to love, nurture, and raise during their early years, and I sincerely hope that they knew then how much I loved them.  That is one of the questions I’ve been most afraid and most interested to know the answer to. Do you know how much I love you?  

A Note from Your Nanny to "My Cuties Young and Older:" I couldn’t help but fall head over heels in love with you.  I treasured our time together.  You still have a very dear place in my heart.  So many of my experiences taking care of children make me think of you.  Not a week goes by that you don’t come to my mind and bring a smile to my face. 

Even the seemingly mundane and to others insignificant aspects of the day bring you to my mind.  Reading a treasured storybook or singing a favorite song, a garbage truck going down the street, children devouring Cheerios, a sense of wonder and fascination with insects and other aspects of nature, an enthusiastic love of music and dancing, running hugs, unsolicited kisses, and certain silly faces and expressions remind me of you.  My hope is that I was and am part of the village reminding you that you were, are, and always have been loved.           

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Learning to Love with the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir by Jean M. Heimann

Learning to Love with the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir appealed to me on many levels.  I first learned of Jean M. Heimann through reading her award-winning blog Catholic Fire.  I know her site as a great place to go for information about the saints.  Her spiritual memoir is an intimate look at her life and the saints who taught her how to love and be loved by God and others. 

I was intrigued to read about the woman behind the blog.  Like so many, she has been inspired by St. Thérèse of Lisieux as well as St. Teresa of Avila to draw closer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  She has found hope along the way through some powerful prayers, a multitude of saints, as well as a few of the major influences that have impacted my own faith journey as well. 

Jean drifted from the Church for a time.  She was misinformed that because she’d had a divorce, she wasn’t able to practice her Catholic faith.  It wasn’t until later that she was told she could still participate in the Sacraments and be an active member of the church as long as she hadn’t remarried outside of the Church. 

Through the Cursillo Movement, a Charismatic Prayer Group, and doing St. Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration, she grew closer to Christ and became more involved and engaged in her Catholic faith.  I can also highly recommend these three ways of growing closer to Christ and developing a deeper relationship with those in your community.   

I don’t think anyone would mistake Jean’s life for a fairytale.  She’s experienced a great deal of suffering: including physical and emotional abuse, losing loved ones to cancer, and has struggled with a number of illnesses that have given her ample opportunity for redemptive suffering.  She always offers her pain in union with Christ’s suffering on the Cross so it will have redemptive value for the salvation of souls in time and eternity. 

Tumultuous relationships made her hesitant to trust and let others in.  She was uplifted and hopeful by what she read about love and Matrimony in the series of lectures originally called Love and Responsibility that have since been published and become better-known and widely-studied under the title A Theology of the Body.  This amazing work by Pope John Paul II opened Jean’s heart to God’s love for us as it is expressed throughout the Bible. 

Reading Learning to Love with the Saints made me think of The Kiss of Jesus by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle.  Both Donna-Marie and Jean faced a number of frightening challenges in their early romantic relationships, they have dealt with some very serious ongoing illnesses, yet they have remained hopeful and dedicated to glorifying the Lord through their lives.  Each of these women write for a number of Catholic publications, are sought-after speakers, and maintain popular blogs. 

I recommend reading this spiritual memoir.  Jean considers the saints as her trusted guides, the friends with her on the road to sanctification and salvation.  For more information about Learning to Love with the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir or to order your copy, click here.   

JEAN M. HEIMANN is a Catholic author and freelance writer with an M.A. in Theology, a parish minister and a diocesan speaker, a retired psychologist and educator, and an Oblate with the Community of St. John. In addition to her highly acclaimed first book, Seven Saints for Seven Virtues, Jean has had her work published in a variety of Catholic periodicals, some of which include: National Catholic Register, Catholic Exchange, Canticle Magazine, and St. Anthony Messenger/America.
Visit Jean at her award-winning blog, Catholic Fire http://catholicfire.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Return: How To Draw Your Child Back to the Church by Brandon Vogt

You’ve likely seen Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to the Church advertised on Facebook along with a photo of the author Brandon Vogt, a quote or video clip from Bishop Robert Barron, and/or maybe the endorsement from Matthew Kelly.  Why are all of these men so excited about this book?  Is it worth all of the hype?

Yes, it is, and then some! 

There are many books out there that address how to share the Christian faith, the teachings of the Catholic Church, and how to witness to others what God has done in your own life.  I’ve read quite a few of them, most of which have been insightful, informative, and thought-provoking.  I have yet to come across a book that is as succinct as this one is in describing a game plan for inviting people back to the Church and a deeper relationship with Christ. 

One of my favorite things about this book is that Brandon Vogt did tons and tons of reading and extensive research to get a handle on the who, what, why of the mass exodus and develop a plan to draw people back to Christ.  I’m a voracious reader myself, so I can completely identify with this approach.  I've read some of the books that Brandon recommends, but I have some others I've read that weren't on his list.  Here’s a list of 25 books I’ve read, reviewed, and recommend about Catholics returning to the faith or developing a closer walk with Christ. 
 
So often when I share about my husband coming back to the Catholic Church, people tell me how much they long to have their spouse, son, daughter, and/or grandchildren join them at the Eucharist, again.  I encourage them that it’s never too late and that nothing is impossible with God. 

Typically, the two main prayers I prayed when hoping Kevin would return to the faith in which he was raised were the Rosary and The Prayer to Mary for the Conversion of a Loved One which I found in a book called Praying with Mary byJanice T. Connell many years ago.

There are many more concrete suggestions on how to encourage an openness to God’s voice in Return.  Award-winning evangelist, author, speaker, and blogger Brandon Vogt starts by going over some rather bleak stats that illustrate why and how people are drifting from the faith.  He outlines the primary objections people say they have to Church teachings and the most prevalent reasons those people give for leaving. 

It’s hard to address an issue if you don’t acknowledge it is one and discover the root source causing the problem, so this approach is a great way to start.

Vogt suggests assessing the situation, praying, fasting, and planting seeds in order to invite people to dialogue about the faith in a non-threatening way.  Practical suggestions, personal stories, and examples make this book easily accessible and user-friendly. 

Many of the tactics are the nuts and bolts of fostering better communication and relationships in general.  Listening and asking questions are basic building blocks for good discussion and developing trust.  Start there and search for common ground and shared values.  Answer objections calmly and carefully, and keep in mind that you aren’t completely responsible for your child leaving or returning to the Church. That’s God’s piece.  Our part is prayer, fasting, sacrifice, equipping ourselves with knowledge, and initiating some talks about the faith. 

ReturnResources.com has a plethora of bonus features, links to the many articles, studies, and surveys Vogt consulted when researching for  this book.  The man did his homework and has put together a very doable plan for how to invite your loved ones and friends who have fallen away from the faith back into the flock. 

I highly recommend Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to the Church for anyone who has a loved one they would like to welcome home to the Catholic faith.  This is certainly a great guide for parents and grandparents, but really anyone can benefit from learning this plan of evangelization and putting it into action.  These practical suggestions would be just as effective when talking with a spouse, sibling, relative, or friend.  I honestly can’t think of a single person who wouldn’t benefit from reading this book and sharing it with others.

Monday, May 30, 2016

25 Great Books I Have Read, Reviewed, and Recommended (in no particular order) about People Growing Closer to Christ and Coming Home to the Catholic Church




















Thursday, May 26, 2016

Is Disappointment Your Default Setting?

One of my earliest memories of feeling like a disappointment I experienced when my sister was born. I thought my parents must not have been happy with me, that I hadn’t been enough, not quite what they wanted, so they tried again.  At the age of two-and-a-half, I felt as though I was being replaced because I hadn’t lived up to their expectations.    

The next thing I knew someone was sleeping in my bed, wearing my clothes, getting attention from my parents and relatives that used to be directed to me.  My baby sister was adorable, had blond hair, blue eyes, and sucked her thumb.  “I can’t compete with that!” was what I felt. 

My second long-lasting assumption about life was that you show people you love and care about them by protecting them from bad things happening.  I’m not sure what exact sequence of events led to me adopting this belief, but I know it was also deeply ingrained at a young age.  I, therefore, surmised that the only way I could be a good big sister was to protect my sister from harm, hurtful words, and/or the malicious actions of others.  The trouble was that I couldn’t shield myself from such things back then, so I had no idea how I would ever be able to guard someone else from them. 

The combination of these two beliefs made me feel like a failure long before I knew what that word meant.  I hadn’t been everything my parents wanted, so they had another child.  I wasn’t a good big sister since I couldn’t protect her from bad things happening, nor did I refrain from causing her discomfort, so I’d messed that up, too.  The way envisioned it I’d gone from being the princess everyone loved to the daughter and big sister no one wanted or needed.     

Early on I also picked up on my dad’s disapproval—thinking it was because I wasn’t enough rather than realizing that’s how he felt about himself.  Eventually, I internalized that negative self-image and made it my own.  From then on, I rarely questioned whether such sentiments most often originated inside of me or from external sources.  I found it exasperating that I couldn’t do anything perfectly, so I just assumed that everyone was as disappointed in me as I was.     

I had an interesting revelation last week largely inspired by this suggestion and questions:

Notice how many times today you are disappointed with yourself and others. What standards are you measuring everything against? How are these standards affecting you and the people in your life?

Self-observation and reflecting on the above questions in silent prayer led me to the realization that my default setting is to believe that other people are disappointed in me.  I hadn’t really considered at length that my perpetual dissatisfaction with myself isn’t necessarily how everyone else feels towards or about me.

Considering this possibility I reviewed the past several months of my life to determine if there has been a pattern in my thinking.  I found that there has.  If I haven’t texted, called, e-mailed, written, or visited recently, I assume people I care about are disappointed in me for not doing a better job of keeping in touch or of expressing my love and concern for them.  Family and close friends I figure are disappointed in me for not being a more involved, supportive, helpful, and encouraging as a wife, daughter, sister, or friend.

The experience made me think of the last Hunger Games movie.  In Mockingjay Part 2, there’s a scene when Peeta confesses that the lies and truth get so mixed up in his mind that he doesn’t know what to believe.  While in captivity, he’d been tortured and brainwashed.  The further from that time he gets the easier it becomes to distinguish between what actually happened and what videos were altered to deceive him.  During this interim of uncertainty, Katniss suggests that Peeta ask someone he trusts for the truth.  Thus begins his habit of asking her if a memory, feeling, or impression he has is real or not real.  

Since my husband knows me incredibly well and has for close to 20 years now, I started by asking him.    

“Are you disappointed in me?” I braced myself for his response.

“No,” Kevin answered. “Why would I be?”

I felt both surprised and relieved.  As natural as it is for me to assume I’m a disappointment, many other people are confused that I feel that way about myself.  This was a definite “aha” moment for me. 

Through talking with Kevin and reflecting on interactions with other family members and friends, I became better able to see how my sentiments and perceptions of others don’t necessarily match other people’s attitude towards me.  Of course, I see how this ties into my default way of thinking that people would rather spend time with someone other than me. 

What’s the lesson in all of this?  Sometimes, it’s important to question our default settings to see if they are accurate, are helping us relate to others, and are worth returning to after we’ve wandered.

Questions for Reflection: Is disappointment your default setting?  If so, why is that?  When did you first feel that others were disappointed in you?  Is there a person in your life who has contributed to you feeling that way?  How does that person feel about him or her self?  Is it possible you may have absorbed how he or she feels and assumed it is how that person feels about you?  Are you perpetually disappointed in yourself or others?  If so, why is that?

As is often the case, I ultimately asked God if He’s disappointed in me.  His answer was gentle and loving.  If and when you’re ready, I suggest you ask the Lord the same question about yourself and listen quietly for His response. 

My Prayer: Lord, help us be open to how You see us instead of how we measure up in our own minds or in the eyes of those who are close to us.  Teach us to be gentle with ourselves and others knowing that we all make mistakes, are imperfect, and that the road to holiness isn’t paved with perfection but with grace.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Is Your Main Man Part Minion? 10 Ways You Can Tell

My husband is a very good sport.  He loved these two pages I colored for him so much
they are now taped up on the wall.  He also humored me by posing for these pics.  

My husband whose real name is Kevin loves the minions. I’m convinced that is the case, in part, because he kind of is one.    

10 Ways You Can Tell If Your Main Man Is Part Minion:



1. He should not be left unsupervised for long periods of time.

2. He can be quite cute and endearing. 

3. He loves bananas.

4. He is still disproportionately entertained by scatological humor.

5. He often wears black and blue.

6. He found both Despicable Me movies to be wildly entertaining. 

7. He has the same name as one of the minions.

8. He’s not above playing practical jokes.      

9. He can be rather mischievous.


10. He exhibits very single-minded focus.

Do these describe your main man?  They're all true of mine.  If your guy is part minion, I hope you have a wonderful sense of humor and can appreciate the silliness he adds to your life.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Risen Movie Review, Reflection, and Virtual Blog Tour

Risen is the greatest detective story ever told.  Political unrest, religious disagreements, torture, multiple motives, unusual suspects, layers of lies, covert operations, betrayal, a crime scene investigation, unreliable witnesses, and implausible implications create quite the unsolved mystery.  Only this time they’re not looking for the murderer.  Everyone knows who did it.  The how, where, and when were public knowledge.  They’re looking for the missing body.   

Pontius Pilot charges his tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) with preventing an uprising in Jerusalem.  The followers of Joshua claim that he will rise again, so the Roman soldiers take several precautions to ensure that his brutally beaten body won’t be stolen from the tomb.   We all know how well that goes.

Though a well-trained killer, Clavius possesses two weapons far more dangerous than his sword: his disbelief and hardness of heart.  In time, the hunter becomes one of the hunted.  The non-believer can’t reconcile that he saw a man who was dead, then he later saw that very same man alive again, talking, eating, and healing the sick.  The obvious, tangible presence of the person Clavius had watched expire on the cross completely unnerved him.  He was in full armor, but the man before him still managed to pierce his heart.  

This film is a form of evangelization and historical fiction that raises some of the big questions about life and death:

To whom do you answer?  To whose summons do you respond to immediately?   Whose word do you believe?  Who determines your call and purpose in life?  Can you believe, trust, and remember what you see, hear, experience, touch, taste, and smell?  Are you more concerned about what the truth is about or what other people think?  How does what you believe reflect on you?  How does it become evident through your words and actions?

A genuine encounter with Jesus Christ always transforms people. 

Are the events in the film, their sequential order, and the characters in the movie 100% Biblically accurate? No.  Do they create a thought-provoking look at what life might have been like at that time while weaving in some facts we do know about the Resurrection?  Absolutely! 

This is a movie that believers and nonbelievers alike can enjoy.  Though once you've experienced it firsthand, there's no going back.



To pre-order your own copy of Risen which is being released May 24, 2016, click here.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Handmade, Homemade Art Appreciation


I've always enjoyed doing arts and crafts a great deal.  Growing up, my mom, sisters, and I were forever doing various projects.  We had all sorts of supplies to make friendship bracelets, beaded jewelry, weave potholders, knit, cross-stitch, draw, color pictures, and paint. My mom assured we had an extensive assortment of creative options.  She joined us in exploring with many different materials, media, and came up with many original ideas for cool kids' projects.

I'm still excited and inspired to have bright colored pencils and markers, different hues and textures of paper, paint, intricate designs to color...  When really little, my mom called me "the paper monster."  Here's the story behind that nickname and what began my passion for paper.

Sometimes it has felt a little safer for me to work on a piece of art than it has for me to write, especially when I'm still processing something that's hit me on a visceral level.

After training myself to write whatever comes to mind in my journal as a way of processing my thoughts and feelings without filtering them, it feels a bit harrowing, potentially dangerous to write without holding anything back. At times, creating a piece of art seems a little less revealing, raw, or intimidating to me than some of my writing can be.

I have continued my love of arts and crafts by dabbling in drawing, coloring, painting, jewelry-making, scrapbooking, and such well into adulthood. Photography continues to be one of my major passions.

Over the past few years, when I have felt my thoughts or emotions are still too raw to put into words, I have turned to art as my expression and way of processing.  Many of the art projects I did just for fun, because I felt inspired to create something.


When my new youngest sister arrived on the scene last month and was getting settled, she mentioned that she'd like to decorate her bedroom walls.  Since I had a box of artwork at our place that I had done but hadn't hung, I brought it over in case there was anything in there that might be of interest to her.  I had done a few pieces with pink in them, which I know is her favorite color, so I thought she might like one or two of those.

She was quite thrilled going through the box and surprised that I had done all of the different pieces.  I was trying to explain that she was welcome to take whatever she liked, but I wasn't positive she understood after she looked through many items then put everything back in the box.

Within a week or two, my mom told me I should really come over and see what my new sister had done to her room.  I gathered from that she had chosen some of the artwork I'd brought over to put up.

I was amazed when I walked into her bedroom and saw the walls covered with art projects I had done over the past few years.  It made me feel very loved and appreciated that she was so excited to put the artwork I'd made up in her room.

After years of spending hours, days, sometimes even months creating handmade, homemade gifts for people only to discover shortly after that some of them have been discarded or relegated to some dusty box in the basement, I felt really encouraged that artwork I had done for the sheer joy of creating long before I met my youngest sister or even knew my mom would become a foster parent has spoken to her and been instrumental in making the room her own.

Every single piece of artwork I brought over is now hanging up somewhere in her room.  I see this as the adult version of having your report card or latest project up on the fridge.  Some day I may have my artwork, most likely my photography in an exhibit, but for now, this has warmed my heart and made me feel appreciated.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Kevin's Got Class: Put the Legos Down and Slowly Back Away

This is the town that Kevin and two of his comrades made
to fulfill the in-class assignment they were given earlier this week. 
(Lego supply was limited. See below.)

Kevin and his classmates were asked to get into teams of three and create a green city with housing for 2000 people, a hospital, fire and police stations, shopping center, waste management facility, public transportation, schools, and at least one green area such as a park. 

The materials provided were flat 3’x 3’cardboard pieces with plain white paper to draw on, markers, Legos, and wood blocks for construction materials.  There was only one container about the size of a cinderblock filled with Legos to share among 5 teams.  

My husband’s team was on a roll building things left and right.  They were quickly running out of the Legos they needed for the project. Kevin took it upon himself to go “shopping” from the other teams. His problem-solving technique met with great resistance.

“Don’t make me steal them from you,” Kevin said to the first group he came to that denied his request. “You probably don’t even have a police station, yet.”

“Our police station is right there,” his classmate said, pointing to it.  “And there’s the jail.” 

“Look!” Kevin said, eyeing the petit prison.  “There I am in the window!”

Everyone cracked up.

Apparently good times were had in their sustainability and design class this week. 

Next week the winning team will receive a dozen Sugar Shack donuts.  This announcement met with great excitement and a little smack talk.

“Our team will enjoy them thoroughly,” Kevin boasted.  “But your water looks mighty tasty.”

My husband has gone from skipping class, avoiding all reading and homework assignments, and not studying in high school to the head of his class, the resident comedian, and the model student asked to help others.  Who knew?  

Nothing is impossible with God!  My husband Kevin is currently attending ITT for a degree in Drafting and Design.  He has class three nights a week from now until he graduates in September 2017, and so far he's aced everything and has been chosen by his teachers to mentor those who have fallen behind.  

Please keep us in your prayers as we discern how and where God would like Kevin to use the abilities he is learning and honing at present and in the future.    

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Jazz Girl a novel of Mary Lou Williams and her early life by Sarah Bruce Kelly


The spirit of the woman and her music played on my emotions and tugged at my heartstrings.  A testimony to the power of music and the gift of a passion for it early in life are woven into this novel about a girl born and brought up to jazz.  

As a toddler, Mary sat on her mama’s lap while she played the church organ, and that’s where she got her start at the ripe age of three.  With more than her fair share of setbacks, she keeps moving forward, transforming each loss into the fuel for her rhythm and blues. 

I didn’t know a great deal about the life of the real Mary Lou Williams, but I could easily relate and empathize with the mostly innocent and childish, yet deeply sensitive viewpoint of the main character as she may have been before coming of age. 

The pain of prejudice, damage of alcohol abuse, and the heavy weight of mourning the loss of loved ones were palpable.  I could almost feel what the music would sound like that she’d “conjure up” at different times under the influence of powerful emotions that she knew no other way to express or process. 

The notion of an artist being compelled to express herself through her craft comes out loud and clear.  All of the drama and heartache at home and school are jazz juice for her fast fingers and singing soul. 

Once I finished reading Jazz Girl, I began watching videos on YouTube of Mary Lou Williams playing the piano, talking about how she got started at a very young age the same way described in the novel. 

I’m fascinated to learn more about Mary Lou Williams and hear about what inspired the author to write this novel.  Fortunately, I’m good friends with the author’s best friend, so that shouldn’t be too hard to arrange.

I’m grateful to my Cursillo friend and co-worker Becky for loaning me her signed copy of the book last week.  What perfect timing!  I only wish I had known that Sarah Bruce Kelly was coming to town to speak, so I could have gone to that as well.  (She says she'll let me know the next time she's in our area giving a talk.)

To me, good historical fiction reads like an intriguing story while creating a curiosity in the reader to do more research to figure out the fact from the fiction.  Jazz Girl has certainly made me eager to learn more about this music legend’s legacy and her biography.


For more information about Jazz Girl or to order your own copy, click here. 
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