Sunday, July 19, 2015

Children's Author/Illustrator Lois Ehlert Inspired Me to Create This Craft

A favorite book I have referred to often making lesson plans and selecting suitable activities for summer camps is Bill Martin Jr.’s Big Book of Poetry.  This colorful tome includes a number of classic verses you’d likely recognize by well-known authors as well as artwork by some of the most popular illustrators in children’s literature. 

Author and illustrator Lois Ehlert’s illustration for “Ten Little Caterpillars” inspired me to combine some counting, artwork, and creativity for one of our projects.  This page in the book is what sparked my imagination to make a version feasible for preschoolers. 

Below is my modified version for preschoolers.  (It honestly didn't occur to me to check online for crafts she might already have ready to go.  I made this one up on my own and had fun doing it.)  I used decorative scissors to cut out the soil from a brown paper bag, edged scissors for the leaves from two different colors of green paper, a stencil for the flower, 1-inch whole punch for caterpillar body and center of flower, and a regular hole punch for the eyes.  The purple stem I drew by hand and cut out 6 at a time.

I was so fascinated by the biography of Author/Illustrator/Artist Lois Ehlert, I included a copy of it in the plastic sleeve of the artwork each child did.  Click here to read more about this fascinating woman and/or watch the following interview of her.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Birthday Bashes and Heartfelt Prayers

Kevin finds his birthday kind of depressing.  He sees it as a yearly reminder of all that he hasn’t accomplished or done by this age.  When he was younger and dealing with Type 1 Diabetes, he honestly didn’t think he’d make it to 30.  Now that he’s made it well beyond that, he feels that he should have something more significant to show for his half a century plus.

From what he’s told me, an impressive career, or at least one that would make finances not such a major concern, getting a couple of his inventions patented, getting a condo or a house, his dream car, having the ability to take an actual vacation to somewhere fun and/or exotic, something to show for his community service and being a good neighbor are at least some of what he believes would give his life more meaning, significance, worth. (Without saying it out loud, I know that he would also feel more important or valuable if we were parents.  But we're not and may never be.)

I understand this discouraged, self-bashing birthday sentiment.  I have often dreaded my own birthday for the same reason: another year has passed, and I still have nothing major to show for my life, work, or impact on the world.

This morning, I looked out the window at Kevin on his motorcycle as he was heading off to work.  Riding is one of the few luxuries in life that he has and still enjoys.  My prayer for him, other than that he will be kept safe, is that he would know how he has made a difference and glorified God by the many small and big things he has done with great love. 

I have known him for the past 18 years, and I honestly can’t imagine who I would be or where I would be without him playing a starring role in my life.  Most of the time, he doesn’t recognize or accept that who he is and how he is are gifts to everyone around him.  His enthusiasm, smile, quick wit, encouragement, and hard work combined with the fact that he genuinely cares about people all make a lasting impression, whether he realizes it or not.     

Lord, please allow Kevin to see and accept the many ways he is who and where You want and need him to be right now.  Help him focus on You, above everyone and everything else, so that his sense of worth, value, and significance are affirmed by the Truth and Love with which You have created him to be Your holy servant.  Amen.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Preschool Bugs and Butterflies Lesson and a New Insect Song

Last week in Bugs and Butterflies Camp, we confirmed there are insects and spiders all over campus.  Miss Claire and I taught the kids a modified version of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” about insects.  I must give all the credit for this idea to RMS parent Sarah, with whom I have worked in Montessori Enrichment.  She was the one who first suggested these lyrics to help kids remember the three main body parts and number of legs insects have:

Head and Thorax, Abdomen, Abdomen
Head and Thorax, Abdomen, Abdomen
Eyes, Antennae,
Legs and legs and legs (putting arms up, level and out, then downward and out to represent 3 pairs of legs (6 altogether) that most insects have)
Head and Thorax, Abdomen, Abdomen

(I may make a video of this and put it on Youtube, but I haven't made it, yet.)  Check back.  I'll put the link here as well if I do make one.

We also sang "The Itsy, Bitsy Spider," but since those are arachnids, not insects, I thought we should include one that applied to the six-legged friends who outnumber all other animals combined.  I remember this tune from when my youngest sister was little, but I didn't include it in our activities this week when attempting to foster an appreciation for insects and bugs:

Monday, July 13, 2015

Hate Is Hurtful: Seven Practical Ways to Fight Prejudice

This is another original piece of artwork I made
in recent months and hung in the classroom
where I taught camps for two weeks.
Spend Quality Time Together

We can embrace the opportunity to live with and/or near people who are of a different race, ethnicity, religion, and/or socioeconomic background.  The experience of loving and caring for others while residing in close quarters often creates a bond that other interactions tend to lack. 6-19-15

Learn about Other Religions and Faiths

We can attend religious services with a friend who is of different faith or denomination.  We believe in a Higher Power and Being that is far greater than ourselves.  This commonality as well as the values of love, honesty, compassion, kindness, and peace espoused by each of the faith traditions we encounter show that our humanity is the same, and, therefore, our respect for one another’s sanctity and dignity needs to be equal for everyone.    

Travel in the United States

We all have the same basic needs for food, air, shelter, water, and love.  Moving out-of-state several times while growing up showed me that while people’s lifestyles and certainly their accents can (and do) vary greatly; each individual wants to be loved, valued, acknowledged, and appreciated.    

Live, Study, and Travel Abroad/ Learn a Foreign Language

We can learn about other cultures, traditions, and practices.  I’ve found that learning French and studying abroad in France for a year in college dramatically improved my understanding of and appreciation for European culture and francophone countries.  Living with a host family, being immersed in the language, current events, the daily grind, and the historical richness changed me and my perspective of the United States as well as other countries. 


When we work towards a common goal to meet the basic needs of others, we put aside our differences and use our time, energy, and talents to alleviate human suffering.  We all have gifts we can share with others.  When we are willing to meet people where they are and are attentive to what they most need and want, instead of concentrating on what we think they need or want, then we are being truly present, listening, and accepting others where they are. 

Interact with Children of Various Races, Religions, Ethnic, and Socio-Economic Backgrounds

Kids aren’t naturally prejudiced.  They are taught who or what to hate, fear, and fight against as well as how, why, and when to express those judgments.  They learn this from the adults in their lives, from our culture, and the people they interact with on a regular basis. 

Acknowledge Our Own Biases, Fears, Lie-Based Beliefs, and Misconceptions

This can often be the most painful and uncomfortable to do, at least it is for me.  It’s easier to say, listen to how prejudiced that person’s comments are rather than admit that we typically make unfair and inaccurate assumptions about others based on their words, appearances, and/or the groups with which they identify themselves.

As human beings, we tend to respond to people, situations, and circumstances based on our previous experiences and what we came to think, believe, and/or how we were taught or conditioned to react.  Those are not necessarily the best or most appropriate responses to current situations, though.

Do you have additional suggestions to add to this list?  I’d love to read them! 
Please leave them in the comment section below or e-mail them to me directly. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Not Just in for a Trim: How Getting a Haircut Led to Discussion of Picking Favorites, Sibling Rivalry, and Adoption

Yesterday I got my hair cut by someone I have gone to for several years.  I usually share some recent stories from working with children to amuse her while she’s clipping and snipping.  That’s how we got on the subject of whether or not parents (and this nanny) have favorites. 

Do I have favorites?

She asked me who I would select if I had to choose one child out of all of the ones I have taken care of who I would take home to raise.  The idea baffled me.  Each time I have taken care of children for a large chunk of time each week over a period of several months or even years, I become very attached to them, and I reach a point at which I no longer adequately describe or quantify my love for them.  The connection continues to grow and deepen the longer I’m taking care of and in contact with them.  

There is one cutie in particular that I’ve taken care of for the longest amount of time (in addition to my youngest sister) who came to mind.  However, if anything were ever to happen to her parents (Lord God Almighty, please forbid it!), I sincerely hope all family members and close friends would do everything in their power to make sure the three silly sisters would still grow up together in the same household, wherever and with whomever that might be.

Years, even decades, after children have been in my care on a regular basis, I still think of them often and pray for them.  Fond memories and stories surface pretty much daily sparked by things that the children I’m currently taking care of, tutoring, mentoring, and/or teaching say or do.  I’ve written about these fond flashbacks throughout the series of blog posts I’ve done called My Nanny Diary.

Do grandparents and parents have favorites?

I recounted to my favorite hairdresser a discussion I had months ago with my dear friend and spiritual director regarding favorites in families.  I told her that knowing there is nothing I could ever do that would bring my mom as much joy as she takes in having a grandchild can sometimes weigh very heavily on me.  This isn’t because my mom’s love for her three daughters, two sons-in-law, and other family members has dried up.  It’s as strong as ever!  Her utmost enjoyment and delight in spending time with her grandson is as it should be.      

I feel frustrated and guilty that there is still a part of me that screams out: “I can’t compete with that!”  Why do I feel so discouraged that nothing I have done or will likely be able to do would ever bring my mom the same level of excitement, sheer pleasure, admiration, or attention?  To me, genuine love wants what is ultimately best, most joyful, and fulfilling for the other person, regardless if I’m a part of that or not.    

When honest with my spiritual director about the thoughts and feelings I’d been having, she asked me if I think that my mom loves my sister more because she has given her a grandson.  I wasn’t sure how to answer, so my friend explained how she loves both of her own daughters beyond measure.  Both of them are happily married, and one of the couples has two daughters of their own.  They are very different people, so her relationship with each of them is unique, but she was clear about how her love for them isn’t increased or diminished based on whether or not they have kids.  I could accept that was true for her and see how my mom likely feels the same way. 

This led us to a discussion of whether some parents have favorites among siblings.  Again, I emphasized that usually, from what I’ve observed and experienced, parents love each of their children so much that, though, one might be easier to handle or be around at times, that the amount of love for one child doesn’t surpass the affection and compassion for another.    

Baby in a Basket

We’d talked enough over the years that I knew my hairdresser had been adopted.  I didn’t recall the circumstances surrounding her adoption, though.  I was horrified when she told me the details related to her story.  She was left on a doorstep as a baby.  What’s worse is that she never really felt accepted or liked by the other children in the family that took her in.  How awful to go through life not feeling wanted by anyone!  She said that she hasn’t kept in touch with any of them. 

“Have you ever tried to find your real parents?” I asked, cautiously.

“No.  And I wouldn’t want to know who they are,” was her abrupt response.

What would you do?

I stayed pretty quiet after that.  I mostly prayed silently that God would somehow let her know that she is dearly loved and allow her to experience that depth of love that seems to have been missing from her life for a long time.  She’s single.  No family of her own or relatives she keeps in contact with.  She does have some friends she’s told me about that she’ll go on short trips with now and again. 

Hearing more about her reality and life has affected me.  It's made me want to do something to let her know that her life matters and that people do care.  Maybe I’ll write her a note and drop it off to let her know she will be in my prayers.  Presence and prayers are pretty much what I can offer at this point.  Who knows?  Maybe that’s enough.  

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Top Six Things Never to Say to Couples, Parents, or Caregivers

The child in the picture put the sock
in her own mouth, interestingly enough,
well before I was more worried about
what might come out of her mouth than
what she might put in there that didn't belong. 
I have put the following statements some of my friends and I have heard ad infinitum (as well as a few I’ve been guilty of asking or saying myself) by putting them into three categories:

Never: just stop saying these things altogether.

Okay: frequently used questions or statements that aren’t quite as taboo or offensive, but which should only, if ever, be uttered by close family or friends in a private setting.

Better: suggestions can be used much more liberally and usually is acceptable to say to acquaintances.

#1. Got Kids?

Never: Why don’t you have children? 

Okay: Do you have children? It is okay to ask if you genuinely don’t know the answer. If you’re digging for personal information about their fertility or infertility, don’t bother even asking this. 

Better: Tell the person the reason behind your inspiration for asking if it’s something complimentary about them that has made you wonder if they have their own offspring. 

Example: You’re so great with kids.  You have so much energy, patience, compassion; such a high tolerance for pain, lack of sleep, utter chaos, knowledge of First Aid, triage, etc…

#2. Are You Done, Yet?

Never: Are you finished now that you have X number of children? is NEVER okay to ask.  Not even the primary care physician of the mother or father should ask this question in such a way that implies the couple shouldn’t have any more children.  That isn’t your decision to make.  
Okay: Would you like to or are you hoping to have more children?

Better: Would you like us to watch the kids for an evening, so you can have a date night with your spouse?

#3. An Improbable Epiphany

Never: Have you ever thought of adopting? We’ve gotten this one a lot.  It's kind of a ridiculous question to ask if you really consider it.  I don’t know any couple who has struggled with infertility and has not considered adoption as one of the possible options.  You’re not suggesting anything we haven’t already thought about.  There’s a lot more to it than you realize and/or probably want to know. 

Okay for a friend to ask: How do you feel about adoption?  Are you and your spouse open to adopting?

Better: Share a story about someone you know who is adopted or has adopted and see how they respond.

#4. Endangered Adults 

Never: Cherish this time, because it goes by so fast.  It not necessary to remind a parent or caregiver of this when they are holding a cuddly baby, a snuggly toddler, when the kids are sound asleep, the adult is able to laugh about earlier embarrassing incidents, and/or the discussion is centered on admiring the personality of an older child, because the adult in question is probably already treasuring those precious moments.  

For your safety and their sanity, don't ever say cherish to a parent or caregiver who is currently: a.) covered in spit-up, snot, vomit, pee, poop, and/or splattered food b.) in the middle of changing a messy, nasty-smelling diaper while the pooper is flailing fecal matter in all directions,  c.) in desperate need of a shower, a good night’s sleep, or just a measly five minutes alone, d.) trying to pry a toddler-sized blob off of the floor e.) attempting to calm a young person of any age who is presently pitching a knockdown, drag-out fit in the middle of any place, public or private f.) liable to leave you with any or all of the offending parties and run away.    

Only crazy people would be able to “cherish” these types of moments as they’re occurring.  You have my permission to despise the exasperating aspects of parenting, nannying, teaching, and/or taking care of children in any capacity.  You don’t need to cherish the crappy moments or even like them.  Do your best to keep cool or even just a low level of warm instead of blazing enraged. 

#5. The Pollyanna Approach

Never: Things will get better soon.  For one thing, this isn’t necessarily true.  Things may get worse, more hectic, and be more painful for quite some time before they eventually improve.  On the other hand, things may improve, but not in the timeframe you had hoped.  Then again, life could continue to drain all of your energy and creativity by presenting ever new challenges and obstacles that will basically keep you at the same level of struggle without getting better or worse.   

Okay: I’m sorry you’re having such a rough time.

Better: So tell me about what’s been going on…said sincerely and followed by attentive listening. 

#6. Used Up Euphemisms

Never: Someday you’ll look back on all of this and laugh.  I’m guilty of saying this to a friend who was at her wits end after a tough time with their infant daughter.  Fortunately, her husband helped me snap back to reality by responding with: “Yeah, maybe when dementia sets in.”

Got Something to Add to this Never List? Please share it!

I’m sure other people can make some great additions to this list; it is my hope they'll add them in the comments section and/or e-mail them to me directly, so I can create a more thorough list of what not to say, at least, if sensitivity, compassion, and/or tact are important to you. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Naturally Inspired Camp for Elementary Schoolers

I love bright colors, photos, pretty papers, and art supplies!
These are some of the ones I brought
from home to share with the kids.
This past week in Naturally Inspired Camp we spent time enjoying the beauty of nature.  I taught each person how to use my digital cameras, so they could take photos around campus of various trees, plants, insects, and favorite spots in The Wishing Woods. 
A number of the poems we read together came from two of my favorite poetry books to use when I teach creative writing to this age group (1st-3rd graders): Poetry Speaks to Children, which comes with a CD recording of many of the poets reading their own work.  The other main book we referred to is The Bill Martin Jr.’s Big Book of Poetry, which includes a number of classic verses you’d likely recognize by well-known authors as well as illustrations by some of the most popular figures in children’s literature. 

I hung and placed colorful artwork and photos wherever they looked along with word games and other writing prompts to help get their creative juices flowing.  With a puppet theater, magnetic poetry, animal and nature prints scrapbooking paper, a colorful assortment of art supplies, photos, stencils, and their own very active imaginations, they were naturally inspired to write, draw, take photos, and express themselves through poetry, art, and impromptu skits. 

I’m very impressed with their work.  I loved reading and seeing what they came up with.  We were also amused by the group discussions we had.  Many of the boys stated snakes are their favorite animal.  

After we read Imogene’s Antlers, I asked everyone what feature of an animal they’d like to have and why.  Most of the girls (and both teachers) answered that we’d like to have wings so we could fly.  

When someone asked me if I’d want to have butterfly wings, I answered in a very practical fashion that I’d prefer to have stronger wings, ones that were proportionally large enough so that I could actually get off the ground.  “If you get the feature, I bet it comes in your size,” was the immediate response of a wise young girl.  How could I argue with that?! 

I simply couldn’t resist putting out the little miniature erasers in the shape of flip-flops that I found in the supply closet.  When one of the boys made a mistake while writing, I had to laugh at his simple proclamation on the way to retrieve one: “I need a flip-flop!” 

On Friday, I asked the kids what activity they liked best over that week.  A couple said writing poetry, others taking photos, then several decided they liked all of it.  I know I had fun writing, reading, taking photos, hearing their discussions, and doing artwork.  The assistant teacher said she really enjoyed it, too.  Yippee, Naturally Inspired Camp was a success!

Check back, I may include some of the poetry I wrote and photos I took in another post.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone: Our New Take on My Dad's Refrain

Trisha Niermeyer Potter ©2015
“Don’t worry, I’ll be gone again soon” is an expression my dad used when we were growing up.  He said it when one of us would show any sort of disapproval or weariness in response to his words or actions.  He was well-known for his corny jokes, elaborate pranks, and dramatic overtures, few of which we appreciated during certain periods of our lives when most kids find their parents exasperating.  

Dad had an affinity for inserting random fictitious characters and/or destinations into children’s books that my sister and I had long ago memorized word for word.  Suddenly, he'd have Little Red Riding heading to Burger King or something equally as out-of-character.  My mom, sister, and I have always been book lovers, so we didn't take kindly to this sort of literary torture even at a tender young age. My dad gloated over the sheer pleasure of getting us all riled up.  As is the case with many dads, he excelled at this.    

Back then, he was very likely to be “gone again soon.”  When he was climbing the corporate ladder in pharmaceutical sales, he traveled quite a bit, so there wasn’t usually much layover at home in between business trips.    

“Don’t worry, I’ll be gone again soon” was typically said with a sad countenance.  My dad could resemble a clown.  He could appear happy on the outside while globs of sorrow would ooze out every once in a while.  I hated when he’d say this in such a dejected tone of voice.  It made me feel guilty for being upset with him.  I was simply expressing my displeasure with something that he’d said or done, not wishing that he wasn’t there at all. 

It was years later when I realized that he really believed that we would have been happier without him there.  And, to be honest, sometimes we were more relaxed, at ease, free to be ourselves when just with Mom.  Even so, it is always horrible to feel unwanted, unwelcome, unloved, or unappreciated.  Of course, I felt the presence and absence when my dad passed away.  I feel it still.

Kevin and I have gotten in the habit of saying a variation of this phrase to each other, but it has a different, more optimistic twist.  “You know you’d miss me” or “you’d miss me eventually” are our oft-repeated responses when we’ve said or done something that runs the gamut from endearing to outrageous. 

I like our versions.  They imply that we would be missed because we are loved, even with all of our idiosyncrasies, faults, and flaws.  Implicit also is that we have dearly missed one another in the past.  
My mom's gift to me when I turned 18.

Kevin and I spent several years at the beginning of our relationship living several states apart.  We began officially dating when I turned 18.  Missing each other was something we did often and well. 

Through God's grace (and my mom's), we made it through our time of separation through many phone calls, letters, notes, more phone calls, and the occasional visits.  I mention phone calls twice because we spent a lot of time talking even before we were dating officially.  

What do I mean by a lot?  This will give you an idea.  To celebrate my 18th birthday,  my mom took me out to dinner and presented me a nicely wrapped box with this inside: the hard copy of our AT&T phone bill for the first few months that led to our dating as soon as I turned 18.  My gift was that my mom paid for the bill.  I was tremendously grateful and really surprised we'd racked up such a high bill in such a short period of time.  

You've likely heard this song featured in the movie Pitch Perfect.  It sums up pretty well what Kevin and I mean when we say "you know you'd miss me."

One of Kevin's co-workers loved to say: "How can I miss you if you won't go away?"  As a married couple living in a two bedroom apartment, we sometimes feel that way about each other.  We each need some downtime alone, but no matter how much we get on each other's nerves, we do miss one another when we have to spend significant chunks of time apart.  Another phrase I often say is: "It's good to be missed; it means you're loved.

Kevin and I both miss our dads, but we're grateful for what they taught us while they were here about what's most important in life: love, relationships, and being present.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Blind Leading the Blind

The first person I saw for spiritual direction in Richmond was (and still is) legally blind.  I met her when I made my Cursillo weekend back in June 2006 at Mary Mother of the Church Abbey.  She was on the spiritual direction team.  Her faith and her terrific sense of humor inspired me.  Hearing the story about her giving her grandsons a lesson in charity was the clincher we have kindred spirits.  She, too, recognizes what great spiritual directors kids can be and is willing to learn from and be challenged by them.  

“If you have two of something, you should give one to the person who doesn’t have any,” she told her grandsons.   

“How many pairs of sunglasses do you have, Grandma?” one of the young boys asked her.

Since she was and still is a fashionista, she had several pairs.  That’s when she realized it would be wise to take the Spiritual Direction Institute (SDI) course developed and offered by Monsignor Chester Michael.  If you’re going to talk the talk, then you best walk the walk. 

Something that still cracks me up about my friend is that she always looks cute and is very much into fashion.  I’m pseudo-blind without my contacts in or glasses on, but most of the time I still choose comfort over cuteness when it comes to fashion.  Not this lady.  She watches shows like What Not to Wear, and she knows which of her friends to go shopping with or ask for suggestions of what to pair together in her closet.

She’s well-read, well-spoken, loves learning, laughing, and spending time with family and friends.  Without ever looking at me, she could really see me.  In one of her talks that weekend, she shared a story about knowing you’re loved and cared for even in the dark. 

When their firstborn was a baby, her husband went to work when it was light outside.  When he returned home in the evening, not a single light was on in the entire house.  He was worried something was wrong. 

It hadn’t occurred to my friend to turn any lights on.  Even though in the dark, their daughter knew she was loved and would be taken care of.  After that, my friend got in the habit of turning lights on for her daughter’s benefit.  That story and this woman really impressed me. 

During dark periods in our lives, we can become almost paralyzed by fear and worry.  We’re not sure which way to go.  We have no idea who or what is in the room.  It’s unsettling to say the very least.  Since we are God’s children, we don’t need to be afraid.  Even when it seems as though all of the lights are out and only darkness prevails, He is there with us.  Just like the Bible says: “In Him there is no darkness at all.  The day and the night are both alike.”

In the same way that my friend’s daughter rested in her mother’s arms and knew she was loved and would have her needs met even in the dark, we are invited to trust that God will lead us through difficult circumstances and periods in our lives. 

Do you trust your guide?

I remember playing the game with a partner where you each take turns being blindfolded.  The person leading had to talk the blindfolded friend through a walk outside, letting them know when to step up or down, move to the right or left, etc.  I worried I would get paired up with a jokester who would lead me into a patch of poison ivy or laugh hysterically as I fell down a set of stairs.  Fortunately, neither of those things ever happened (while I was blindfolded, anyway). 

We need to pick the people we follow and spend time with very carefully.  I felt comfortable trusting my friend as a spiritual companion, because she is a life-long learner, humble enough to know she doesn’t know everything and is still growing in the faith herself.  Her active prayer life, dedication to family and friends, and love of books made me feel that I could trust her. 

During my time meeting with her, she recommended a number of fabulous books for me to read that enhanced my spiritual journey and faith walk.  One she hesitated to recommend to me because she is friends with the author.  She feared I might suspect she was more interested in plugging her friend’s book than suggesting I read something that would really speak to where I was at that time.  She was wrong.  I knew I could trust her book recommendations would be authentic and honest.

Sabbath Presence is a beautifully written book based on the theme that was chosen for my Cursillo weekend “Be Still and Know.”  I am someone who always feels like I should be doing something.  I have often had to fight against the notion that my worth comes from what I have done or am doing rather than from God, who created me (and each one of us) in His image of love

This book changed my life.  It’s one of the very few books I read twice in a row, soaking up the wisdom and allowing it to sink in.  My first time through, I skimmed over the reflection questions, but I didn’t spend a lot of time with them.  My second time through, I took quiet time to journal and really meditate on each of the questions. 

I can’t think of a more perfect book for me to have read at that time. It’s very unlikely I would have come across it if not for a blind woman I saw for spiritual direction.  True sight into the soul is in the heart of those open to the Holy Spirit.  

Prayer: Lord, please help us become more open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit moving in and through us.  Guide us to a deeper awareness of and appreciation for Your Presence in others as well as ourselves.  Show us how to see beyond appearances to what truly matters and is of eternal value.  Give us the courage to face our own blind spots, accept Your forgiveness, and mercy.  Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Discussion, or Journaling: What do we block out or miss when we get caught up in appearances?  Have we ever judged incorrectly because we have made assumptions based on the way a person or situation looks?  How likely are we to ask questions and really listen to: a friend, a spouse, a child, a co-worker, God, or even our own inner voice of wisdom?  What can we do to become better listeners? 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Book Review: The Sacrament of the Present Moment by Jean-Pierre de Caussade

I was excited to discover this book in the Spiritual Direction Institute (SDI) library since I read the full-length translation of Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence in college and absolutely loved it!  This quote from the text beautifully sums up the richness contained in this book: “How I long to be the missionary of your divine will, O God, to teach the world that there is nothing easier, more ordinary, more available to all than saintliness.”   

I found The Sacrament of the Present Moment very encouraging.  So often I have felt that I should conform to certain standards, methods of prayer, types of study and action, but Caussade describes how God’s grace and the inspiration which comes from the Holy Spirit don't look the same for every person.  It is important that we listen to and discern what God is calling us to each moment—a desire to do His will above all else and an openness and submission to His plan for our lives.  

I’m reminded of the song by Danielle Rose called “The Saint that Is Just Me.”  There have been many times in my life when I have seen how someone else is living and figure their path to holiness is one that I should follow or emulate, that their trials, tribulations, joys, and sorrows should also be mine.  I’ve been often reminded that isn’t true.  

God has a unique call in my life that is meant to be lived out in a way that is different from other people’s.  The beauty of it is that we are each called to grow closer to the Lord, develop faith, trust, and love on deeper levels as His grace, mercy, and providence permit. 

Being resigned to the will of God is what souls tuned-in to the Holy Spirit share.  Their calls and even the specific ways they live out similar calls, ministries, and/or vocations bring to light the vastness of God love, blessings, inspiration, and nurturing for each one of us on the path to saintliness and eternal life.  Teresa of Avila's poem "Into the Hands of God" is a beautiful prayer for discernment.

What deeper layers and richness would I glean from reading Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence in its original French?  What do people think of me who know the many spiritual books I’ve read?  Do they wonder why the heck I don’t have a more disciplined prayer life and a better grasp of even some of the topics I've studied so fervently?  Does it matter what they think?  No, it matters how God sees me, though I can’t honestly say that I’m not affected or wonder about the opinions of others.

     “Lord, so often we seek the approval of our family, our friends, our colleagues, and society and are easily swayed by their opinions.  Please help us have courage enough to turn to You when we need guidance, and put Your view of us, Your wishes for our future, and Your thoughts about our words and actions, above those of other people around us.
     You alone know our hearts completely.  You alone know what is ultimately best for us.  Inspire us to spend more time listening to You so it is easier for us to separate Your will from our own and those of the people closest to us.  Protect us from despair and disillusionment by arming us with the truth, the strength to do Your will, and the wisdom to submit everything we are and have to You.  Amen.”                 This is a prayer I wrote in one of my many prayer journals in March 2008  

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Sifting, Sorting, Scrounging, Saving, and Searching

This is the desk where I tend to put things
I'm organizing.  It's rarely the spot where I sit
and accomplish things.
As I'm sifting, sorting through, and searching for things to keep, give away, recycle, repurpose, or throw out, I came across one of many single subject spiral notebooks I've written in.  I read what I wrote last summer, and many of the questions, nudges, and fears are still the same.  I think I am making progress while continuing to reflect on challenges that seem to stay with me even when I do grow at least a little.  

Here's an excerpt from a journal entry I jotted down in July 2014:

In what ways is God inviting me to live a little more courageously in order to spread the Good News?  Be better about dedicated time for prayer and study.  Share more openly, when led to do so, through notes, letters, blog posts, and journal entries about what I’m learning, thinking, feeling, experiencing, and perceiving is going on in and around me. 

Lord, I am still struggling to have a proper, healthy and appropriate love of myself.  I think of the young boy at Mass at the Pastoral Center yesterday playing innocently, seizing the moment to remove his shoes, smile at others, hang on his mom, and reach out his hand to the woman sitting on the other side of him. 

I didn’t doubt then or now the Lord’s love for that young boy.  Maybe he wasn’t focused on the Readings or even facing the right way for the Eucharistic prayers, but he was present and truly alive, which is often more than can be said for most of us. 

Lord, I don’t understand how You can possibly love me completely and unconditionally, especially when I don’t merit it and definitely can’t earn it, but help me to accept Your love and mercy even though I don’t understand it, for that is the only way I will be a good  vessel for You and to others. 

Looking back and being honest now, I'm still working on all of these things.  I'm also still able to appreciate what great spiritual directors children can be.  They are often much better at living in the present moment than I am on my own.  

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Journal My Grandma Gave Me

Grandma gave me this journal years ago.  When I saw it on the bookshelf in the office around the beginning of this May, I checked to see if I had already filled it.  Most of the notebooks in our place and journals (those brand new as well as those initially used for other things), I have filled with journal entries, poems, letters, stories, and reflections over the years.)  I was happy to find something she’d gifted to me so long ago could be of use to me now. 

My maternal grandmother was very good at reusing, recycling, and repurposing things.  Her tendency to hold on to items and not waste food likely became ingrained when she was growing up during The Great Depression.

I’ve tried to make the best of what others have discarded, cast aside, or thrown away.  In that way, I’m like my grandma—not wanting to waste things that can be recycled or repurposed. 

I guess I have long been inspired to create things that are useful, beautiful, and/or innovative (at least to me) using what others saw as worthless, useless, or pointless.  Maybe that’s one of my redeeming qualities.  Perhaps my words or my art will inspire others to see the value in people and love in this life.  

I have been drawing, cutting, pasting, cropping, coloring, and enjoying doing lots of different art projects over the past couple of years.  I may begin sharing some of them online.  Writing is definitely one of my creative outlets, but creating things with paper and other art supplies are also ways I like to express myself. 

“Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true.  With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for You.”
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