Saturday, July 23, 2016

Kevin's Recent Birthday Celebration at the Cottage

Kevin had the same response to the birthday  decorations
I put up while he was out running errands as he did back in the nineties,
a huge smile and a chuckle.

As I mentioned in my previous post, decorating the door for Kevin's birthday has been an ongoing tradition for our family.  I made sure to pack some streamers and balloons for this trip.  It just so happened that the two colors of streamers and balloons I had at home are also Minion colors, which are perfect for my husband.

Never in a million years did I expect to be married to Kevin and celebrating his birthday with him at the cottage 19 years after we'd first met right at his very spot.  Wow! The story of our friendship, courtship, and marriage still blows my mind!   

After being away for two years, we were both especially looking forward to the traditional family gathering for dinner on Sunday evening.  It worked out beautifully that it happened to be on his actual birthday.  They cooked steaks out on the grill, had shrimp, potatoes, a pasta salad, fresh vegetables and I made a big veggie tray and a fruit salad.  The food was delicious, as is usually the case.  

During my first dinner with Kevin's family, the topics of conversation were entertaining.

"The girls are peeing in the yard, and they don't even cover it up anymore," his sister said.

I was momentarily shocked until I remembered that she and her husband have two sons, so she must have been talking about their female felines.  

Another one of his sisters mentioned having had a breast reduction.  

Many, many years later at the same location, his youngest sister sees the decorations I've put up on the door for Kevin's birthday in a different light.  "Why are there boobs on the door?" were the first words out of her mouth.
My innocent birthday decorations.

Later my family-friendly decorations had some additional color added to them by his youngest sister's husband.  Before the night was over, in addition to the red dots he put in the middle of the balloons, someone had put a small black circle around them.

Their scandalous additions to them.

Leave it to Kevin's youngest sister and brother-in-law to create scandal and laughter from innocent party decorations.  And that's the story of what has come to be called "the birthday boobs."  

I was thinking of keeping the birthday decorations up through next week since my mom's birthday and my dad's are back-to-back later this week.  Instead, Kevin and I saw to it that the streamers and balloons were taken down in record time.  

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Desperately Needed Vacation in Rochester, Fun Flashbacks, and Many Memories

Two years ago August, Kevin and I drove back from Rochester after an enjoyable stay at his family's cottage on the lake.  The very next day, Kevin was laid off from his job, along with everyone else who had been on his team.

Due to a number of reasons, mostly related to finances, we weren't able to make our usual annual trip up to Rochester last year.  Actually, it wasn't until the last minute we knew for sure that we could come up this July, but we made it.

My prayer on our drive up here: Lord, You alone know how desperately Kevin and I need some rest, relaxation, and fun. Please help us enjoy our time off of work and be open to all the blessings you wish to bestow upon us to renew us in body, mind, and spirit. Amen.

Visiting Rochester has always been nostalgic for me.  It’s one of the few, really the only, place where my family and I have come just about every summer since I was in utero.  

“I’ve got a story for every street,” Kevin told me while we were driving through his hometown.
“So start talking,” I said.  

Several evenings we have gone back to the pier at Charlotte Beach, now called Ontario Park where Kevin and I spent countless hours talking, getting to know each other better, watching sunsets, taking photos, and falling in love. The big concrete block towards the end of the pier is where we'd hop up and sit to watch sunsets, boats coming into and out of the marina, and people passing by.  That one spot holds so many memories for us!

Favorite Flashbacks of Fun

Kevin back in the 90s standing outside the cottage with
the birthday decorations we put up while he was at work.
This is one of my favorite posts about the first couple of years we rented half of the cottage Kevin’s Birthday Flashbacks 1997-1998.  

Soon after my mom, sisters, and I first met Kevin and his father, the real Harry Potter, we found out some birthday decorations and hilarious gag gifts were in order. 

It's still hard to believe that 19 years ago Kevin and I first met at his family's cottage on the lake! How can it have been that long ago?! We've experienced so many memories, challenges, joys, and so much laughter since then.

A Cherished Summer Tradition: Sunday Evening Family Dinners at the Cottage

Long before Kevin and I met, it had been his family's tradition to gather on Sunday afternoon/evening at the cottage during the summer for a family dinner.  Traditionally, they would cook some meat out on the grill.  Everyone would bring a dish to add to the potluck.  Friends and family would stop in to visit.  It was usually one big party.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Who Is My Neighbor? She’s Fallen and She Can’t Get Up: My Take on the Good Samaritan Gospel

Purple is my neighbor's favorite color.
She'd like this coloring sheet I did.
A young woman across the hall heard her shouting and called 911.  The neighbor next door to her came to see if we had a spare key to her place.  We don’t, but I went down anyway to find out what was going on and see if she was okay. 

Kevin and I had just come back home from a family dinner a few days before Christmas, so we hadn’t heard the screams, scratching, or pounding coming from the apartment below us. 

When I arrived on the scene, the police had come in a window of her second-floor apartment and were just letting the medics in the front door to assess the situation.  It turns out she had fallen in the kitchen, couldn’t get up, or make it to the phone, so she dragged herself to the front door and did her best to create a cacophony in hopes that someone would hear her.

Mission accomplished.  The EMTs helped her up.  She didn’t think anything was broken and neither did the medics, so they offered to help her get to her bedroom.  That sounded kind of crazy to me.  Here is a woman in her sixties who has very minimal use of one whole side of her body due to a stroke she had in her late teens.  She’s just had a serious fall and it took a while for her to get help.  She lives alone.  Putting her in bed and leaving her there seemed ridiculous, but she and the medics were leaning towards that course of action. 

“I really think you should go to the hospital,” I told her. 

She wasn’t so sure that would be necessary. 

I insisted that she go and have tests done to make sure nothing was broken.  She considered it.  I told her I was going upstairs to get my keys, phone, and purse, and that I would be right back to accompany her to the hospital. 

That was one time when I had the presence of mind to go against what everyone else was suggesting, and it was a good thing I did.  A couple hours later, we found out that she had indeed broken her hip and required emergency surgery.  I’m not sure exactly what would have happened had they put her in bed that night and left, but I’m grateful we didn’t find out.

I wasn’t the perfect neighbor in the following months, but I tried to be there for her.  I brought her clothes, mail, and books to read when she moved into the rehabilitation center.    The two family members who live in town are both older than she is and not exactly in the best of health, so it was a while before one of them was able to go see her.  I knew she would have liked for me or someone to visit her every day, but I just didn’t have the energy.  I was still working full-time and only had an extra day or two off for the holidays.  I felt guilty I wasn’t there more often, but I assured myself that the time I was spending picking up her bedroom, kitchen, and getting her apartment straightened up also counted as helping her. 

I felt really overwhelmed by the thought of her returning to her apartment to live alone.  She’d been having trouble for a while as it was.  In recent years, she’d already fallen and broken her knee as well as her collarbone.  Now that she’d broken her hip, I feared they would release her sooner than would be wise for someone who lives alone on the second floor of an apartment building in which the elevator is frequently in need of repair. 

I contacted her niece who lives in another state and expressed my concerns about her living arrangements.  I had to face the realization that she may very well go back to living on her own even if that wasn’t the safest arrangement.  I finally understood I needed to try and talk her into finding an assisted living place, pass along the information to her family and caseworker, the people at her church, and leave it all in God’s hands. 

Fortunately, through His grace, our neighbor now has an assistant come in and help her two or three times a week, so she is able to live on her own.  She is doing significantly better than she had been even before this injury.      

An interesting aspect of all of this is that my husband is actually the model neighbor.  I even wrote a post a couple years ago about his good deeds called Like a Good Neighbor My Husband Is There.  Kevin is consistently a wonderful neighbor to everyone in our building.  Once in a while, I follow his lead in word and deed.

Questions for Reflection: Who in your midst is suffering?  What is God calling you to do about it? 

My Prayer: Lord, please open our hearts and minds to the love and compassion You have for each one of us, so that when we see suffering, we are willing to offer companionship, mercy, and encouragement to those in need.  Give us the courage to do the right thing, especially when it would be easy enough to ignore the hurting person before us at home, at work, at school, at church, or in our community. Amen.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Honey, I’ve Earned My Gray! A Conversation with My Hairdresser and How I Earned My Stripes

“You have some gray hairs coming in,” my hairdresser informed me a while back.  “Do you want me to pull them out?”

“Honey, I’ve earned my gray!”  I said with a wave of my hand. 

My hairdresser laughed and made some comment about how I’ll probably look good with white hair. 

I’ve been through a number of life circumstances that make me feel like I really have earned my gray and white hair, every single strand.  The following circumstances are the most likely to have contributed to this phenomenon:
  1. Perhaps you’ve met my dearly beloved husband.   My main man is part Minion (See post titled Is Your Main Man Part Minion? Top 10 Ways You Can Tell)
  2. I have taken care of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers for four or more hours at a time by myself. In other words, your kids are partially responsible. (See My Nanny Diary)
  3. I like to know what the laws, rules, and regulations are, and I actually try to follow them. 
  4. My husband sometimes rides a motorcycle.
  5. We live in a unique place with a bunch of interesting people. (See Top 40 Signs You Aren’t Above Being Ghetto)
  6. I have had more than one family member in hospice care at a time. (My dad and my grandma.)
  7. I have been told that my sense of responsibility for the safety and well-being of others, particularly those who are very young, elderly, or otherwise particularly fragile, is at times overdeveloped and hyperactive.
  8. I have survived several sessions of rereading the same board book over and over.  (Mr. Brown can still moo even if you’d rather stop now.)
  9. More than one of my grandparents has passed away in the middle of winter and their funeral and burial has been in upstate New York during a blizzard. 
  10. As an English major, copy editor, and proofreader, I’m often either highly frustrated or very amused by grammatical errors and typos in published books, newspapers, training manuals, and newsletters.  (My theme song for this aspect of my life is most definitely Weird Al’s Word Crimes.)
  11. My dad loved to scare us and was really good at it.  Apparently, he perfected his wild dogs routine in college.  Even knowing he was the one making the racket, it would still flip me out when he’d sneak up on my friends and me at sleepovers then bark loudly like a crazy canine ready to attack. 
  12. I love, love, love to read books, and my husband prefers to watch TV.  The other night he selected a (riveting to him) documentary on fracking.   Last night, he told me there are two more shows available through Amazon Prime on the topic.    

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Innocents Film Review, 2016 Sundance Film Festival Official Selection, and Blog Tour

Joanne Kulig in The Innocents. Courtesy of Music Box Films.
The Innocents is not an easy movie to watch.  Set in December 1945 Warsaw, Poland, shortly after World War II, this film shows some of the atrocities that remain long after the official war ended.  The colors are muted and dark against the stark white snow on the countryside and the starched white habits framing the faces of the Benedictine nuns.  The barren trees, camouflage uniforms, and the nuns’ long black habits create an aura of somber tones and great contrast.  Sadness, loneliness, and a measure of isolation seem a fitting state of being for the characters in the film, especially considering the circumstances and their surroundings. 

A female director, screenwriters, editor, cinematographer and a predominantly female cast depict this story inspired by true events and the war from the perspectives of various women.  Viewers see things through the eyes of a nonbeliever, the French Communist doctor named Mathilde as well as a cloistered community of Benedictine nuns, who range in their level of devotion and understanding of their vocation as consecrated religious.

The notion that a cloistered community protects anyone from man’s inhumanity to man is shattered.  Beliefs about the nature of faith, suffering, discernment, and prayer are all challenged as these women religious face the aftermath of haunting traumatic circumstances.  External and internal factors contribute to the unrest, confusion, and fear these women face.    

Whenever I hear any foreign language, it triggers that part of my brain, and I begin to slip in and out of thinking and speaking in French.  Since fluent in French, I paid close attention to what was said versus how it was translated into English subtitles throughout the movie.  Any discrepancies that were particularly interesting or entertaining, I would tell my husband about.  In most cases, though, the English translation is quite close to the French.  (Since I don’t know Polish, I can’t speak to the accuracy of that aspect of the film.)    

Any mention or depiction of war, past or present, reminds me of Europe.  Ever since I studied abroad in France during my junior year of college, I view battles, war, terrorist attacks, soldiers, and civilians differently.  Not until I saw the damaged buildings and walked the Normandy beaches during my time there did the trauma of war really hit me.  When wandering about towns where the fighting had been intense, we saw buildings damaged that have never been repaired.  Imagining the sheer terror of being attacked hit much closer to home than it ever could have when I’d read about the World Wars or looked at the many photos taken.  Suddenly, we were there in the towns ravaged, possibly staring at some of the same vantage points other people had before their untimely deaths.

A nun who has walked quite a ways asks orphan children living on the street to take her to a doctor who is neither Polish nor Russian.   They lead her to the French Red Cross.  Mathilde often sees these children playing outside of the base where she is serving.  Their antics and the fact that even as orphans living out on the street in winter they’ve maintained some level of playfulness seem to lift her spirits.  

Though quite shocked by what she witnessed when still a medical student, Mathilde nonetheless throws herself into serving the French Red Cross (La Croix Rouge). Initially, she dismisses the nun the orphans bring to their outpost, saying she should go to the Polish Red Cross for assistance.  Mathilde's secular lifestyle and view of the world clashes boldly with the austere life these women religious have chosen.  Will they bridge the gap between two worlds when it’s a matter of life and death?  

Joanna Kulig and Anna Prochniak in the Innocents.
Courtesy of Music Box Films.
Mother Abbess holds tightly to her sense of traditional Catholic values and attempts to protect her community from shame and dishonor.  She reluctantly allows the French doctor in to treat the women in the convent.  At first, Mother Abbess gives no indication at all that she is suffering ill health.  Eventually, when she is in a great deal of pain, she allows Mathilde to examine her. It's discovered she has a serious disease, one that will eventually kill her, but she firmly refuses the medicine to treat it.   

Due to the horrifying circumstances these women faced and the life-long vow of chastity they've all taken, many are very scared  to let even a female doctor examine them.  Some in the community are able to relate better than others to this worldly woman who is primarily concerned with their physical well-being rather than their eternal salvation.   

The film raises some interesting moral and ethical questions: Can their religious community be protected from public scorn and condemnation in light of what’s happened?  Is it ever permissible, even advisable, to lie?  If so, under what circumstances?  Is blindly trusting and doing what one is advised to by superiors (especially when it means violating your own conscience) the best way to go? 

Lou De Laage and Agata Buzek. Courtesy of Music Box Films.
Obedience versus disobedience is an important theme.  Both the women in the convent and Mathilde go expressly against the wishes of their superiors in order to carry out what they believe to be the most compassionate, ethical way of doing things.  One woman who entered her career set on saving lives comes up against a group of women who have vowed to spend their lives saving souls. 

Sister Maria describes the life of many believers to Mathilde as being “twenty-four hours of doubt and one minute of faith.”  I like how faith is treated as something that is different for each person.  There isn’t a sense of perfect tranquility or unfailing joy in any of them that persists throughout the entire film.  This makes the struggle of believing in a loving God all the more real and palpable when they are surrounded and infiltrated by so much evil.    

The Innocents was an Official Selection at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.  The film is rated PG-13 and is in French and Polish with English subtitles.  The Liturgy of the Hours prayed/sung by the sisters and the scenes in the chapel are in Latin without subtitles.  

Due to the graphic nature of a few medical scenes and a sexual assault, I would not recommend this movie for families or children.  Most of the other violence is not shown onscreen, mainly alluded to in conversation, but this film is disturbing enough that my husband and I couldn’t bring ourselves to watch it more than once.

Will The Innocents be coming to a theater near you?  Click on this link, then select THEATERS to find out. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Bring Your Brokenness And I'll Bring Mine: A Reflection on Mercy, Reconciling with My Father, and If We're Honest by Francesca Battistelli

There are so many reasons why this song's lyrics speak to where I am right now.  Acknowledging that we are all broken, in need of God's healing love, and want people with whom we can be really transparent says so much.  Oftentimes, we are hurt by others, and we let that hurt get in the way of letting others love us, or at least I do.

I encourage you to listen to the beautiful song by Francesca Battistelli that inspired this blog post:

Around Father's Day, I tend to think about how important honesty is and how love really can heal the pain that causes separation.  The greatest example of mercy I've ever experienced within the context of a human relationship was reconciling with my father.  He gave me some of the deepest scars I have, and for years I was dead-set against letting him back into my heart.  I did pretty much everything I could to keep him out of my life.  My mom and sisters still had contact with him, and we were all together on holidays, but I refused to forgive and forget all the hurtful things he had said and done.  I'd already internalized the harsh inner critic and negative self-image.

I learned at a very young age that no matter what I did, it would never be enough.  It’s only been as an adult that I’ve come to realize that my father’s own feelings of inadequacy, his alcoholic and workaholic tendencies, and undiagnosed/untreated depression were the primary sources of the disapproval that he expressed.  When I was young, I just accepted it when he told me I was worthless or not measuring up.  I spent years convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that I was a bad person who would never be enough in his eyes or anyone else’s.   

For all of those reasons and then some, I couldn't ever see having any sort of real relationship with my father.  I hardened my heart and my mind against my dad in order to make it through some very difficult times in our family.  I had the heavy burden of seeing some serious red flags before others were ready or willing to see them.  I tried to say something about Dad's excessive drinking (later confirmed to be alcoholism), unpredictable behavior, and anger, but no one would listen at first.  My method of self-preservation was to distance myself from him emotionally and, whenever I could manage it, physically as well.  

In 2006, a true miracle occurred.  After many years of pushing my dad out of my life and at some points wanting absolutely nothing to do with him, I had a true reconciliation with the man who gave me the deepest scars I have.  

There’s no explanation other than God’s grace that led me to reach out to my dad and really let him into my life.  I could never have imagined the healing that would take place for both of us over such a short time.  I know I was given an amazing gift that God led me to reconnect with my father, really love him and let myself be loved by him during the last three years of his life. 

God took away the hardness in my heart so I could be there for and with my dad as the rare illness he had been diagnosed with stole his ability to work and volunteer, robbed him of his football player physique, and eventually led to him becoming very dependent on others.  I had the privilege of being one of the two people he relied on most when he struggled with excruciating physical, emotional, and spiritual pain.

My dad and I were able to share our brokenness and let love heal what hurt had divided.  Our interactions weren't perfect by any means, but we talked through things, spent quality time together, and managed to minister to each other in ways that helped us both heal from past wounds.  I knew a profound transformation had occurred the day I consoled my dad when he realized he hadn't been there for our family during some really challenging times when we needed and wanted him to be present.  

Having a significant amount of forgiveness and compassion towards someone responsible for incidents and circumstances that were really traumatizing is not something I could have brought about on my own, not even decades later.  My defense mechanisms are often distance and detachment. Only the Holy Spirit could have softened my heart enough for me to let my defenses down and be vulnerable with my father. 

This is only one of many things I NEVER thought would happen that God turned into something infinitely better than I could ever have imagined or thought to pray for.  Click here to watch a brief video on how God changed three of my NEVERS into BETTERS.       

Questions for meditation, journaling, or small group discussion:

Do you have any NEVERS in your own life that God turned into BETTERS?  If so, describe them.

Have any of these experiences changed your mind or heart towards someone and led to reconciliation?  Did that change your perception and acceptance of God's mercy or forgiveness?  If so, how? 

It can be far too easy for me to overlook, minimize, or fail to think of major transformations I thought would never happen that God has brought about in my own life.  I have a strong tendency to do this when I'm currently praying for about a specific issue, for a certain person, situation, or concern.  I'm not sure what would happen if I approached more of my current NEVERS as potential BETTERS God could bring about in the future, but I'd like to find out.  

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

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. 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.

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