Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Mary

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My kindergartener came home with what is perhaps one of the most adorable crafts ever: A paper “tilma” like the one in the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

I loved it not just for its cuteness, but for the fact that it reminds me of my dear friend Mary: one of Our Lady’s biggest fans.

Today is the feast day of Our Lady of G.  It is also the third anniversary of Mary’s death.  I miss her so much; at random moments a huge wave of Mary-nostalgia will wash over me, and the fact that she died so young feels so cruel and awful.

But thinking of the significance of December 12th always helps.   When you are forty-seven, no day is a good day to die, but there is such comfort in thinking about how it was on this very special feast day that Our Lady wrapped her starry cloak around our Mary and took her home.

So I smile at Luke’s little paper tilma, and I can feel Mary smiling at it too.   And I’m grateful for the chance to pause and remember two beautiful women on one sad, beautiful day.

A Christmas stick and old Saint Nick: Two new holiday books for kids

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Every mom knows the experience of having her child unwrap a birthday or Christmas toy, only to find that the child has more fun playing with the box it came in.   It’s a near-universal experience, one that points to a certain truth: Kids need fewer toys than they think they do (or than we think they do).

It’s a tough truth to live by, though, especially this time of year when ads and store windows try to convince our kids that they need more.  That’s why a book like The Christmas Stick (written by Tim J. Myers, illustrated by Necdet Yilmaz) is such a welcome one.

In this colorful new picture book, a spoiled young prince receives a stick for Christmas.  He’s not sure what to do with it at first — it gets ignored as he focuses on the other, flashier toys — but then as the novelty of those toys begins to fade, he turns to the stick and finds that it’s a lot more fun than the others.

A stick can be a sword!  It can be a lute!  It can be a giant’s club!  The book shows the prince letting his imagination rip as he explores all the possibilities of a simple stick.  In the end, he also learns about kindness and giving in a lovely little twist in the plot.  It’s  an utterly charming book, with a message that we can’t get enough of this time of year.   It just may inspire you to wrap up an old broom handle as a gift for your kids and see where their imagination goes.

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A while back, my son and I thoroughly enjoyed the book Saint Francis and Brother Duck by  Jay Stoeckl, OFS .  This year, together we’re reading his new book Saint Nicholas and the Mouse of Myra.  Like its predecessor, Saint Nicholas and the Mouse of Myra is a graphic novel about the spiritual journey of a saint.  Like its predecessor, it also features an adorably-drawn animal sidekick to help convey the story of the saint in question.  The mouse in this book is full of personality, cheeky and smart and frequently challenging Nicholas to explain his life choices  in a way that allows for the saint’s beliefs to unfold easily throughout the story.

The book moves along at a nice pace and is a very engaging and colorful introduction to the saint upon whom Santa Claus is based;  I particularly like its message about generous giving to the poor.  It’s a great read for kids eight and up (and for their parents, too — I’m learning a lot about Saint Nicholas that I didn’t know before).

Both The Christmas Stick and  Saint Nicholas and the Mouse of Myra were review copies courtesy of Paraclete Press, which publishes all sorts of great spiritual books for kids and adults.  Check them out — I promise you’ll find something you like.

Finding God with the senses, Early December edition

Mary with her mantle of snow.

Mary with her mantle of snow.

Finding God in all things?  You betcha.  Here’s how I’ve been glimpsing God’s goodness lately.

SIGHT

We spent Thanksgiving week in upstate New York. So did Winter Storm Cato.  The effects were cold, but dazzling.

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I love those winter sunsets … glorious.

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You can barely see Otsego Lake out there.  The hills beyond the lake, so green and visible in summer, were totally veiled in mist.  There’s such an austere beauty about a snowy landscape; it’s like nature’s version of a black-and-white photo.   In the lovely book Stillmeadow Sampler, about life in rural Connecticut, Gladys Taber writes, “I do not know why white seems more pure as a color than green or blue, but so it is, and the countryside in winter has a purity we never see in any other season.”  I think she has a point.

TASTE

The other night, having run out of wine, I cracked open a bottle of Martinelli’s sparkling cider.  And its snappy, apple-y flavor made me recall Christmases as a kid.  It was the treat we’d always have on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; I recall sipping it slowly from one of my mom’s orange juice glasses, savoring it as long as I could.  Those were good times.

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HEARING

I’ve been listening to Christmas carols a bunch lately (yes, I know it’s Advent, but that never stops me) and hearing these tunes again for the first time in a year is such a welcome thing.  They remind me of Christmases past; they get me in the right mood for the miracle of Christmas Present.

One of my favorites is the  beautiful carol by John Rutter called “What Sweeter Music.”  This video is terrific because it also shows the lyrics, and the words are almost as lovely as the tune.   The song never fails to move me, even in the middle of the holiday hubbub.  We all need peaceful pauses like this, quiet moments to reflect on the wonder of God becoming man and dwelling among us.

How are you finding God this week?

Blog tour: “Wholehearted Living: Five-Minute Reflections for Modern Moms” by Jennifer Grant

 

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A few years ago, frustrated by my inability to add  prayer to my busy morning routine, I came up with the perfect solution.  I call it “prayer by stealth.”

It involves pouring myself a cup of coffee and taking it back to my room and closing the door.  The kids don’t bother me because they assume I’m getting dressed for the day, which I am – but before I do, I sit down with my warm mug at the prayer table and take five minutes to read something.  Sometimes I read the Mass readings for the day; sometimes I open a devotional book.  Whatever it is, those five stolen minutes restore my soul, a soul that – in the way of most modern moms – is already harried at 6:45 AM.

So when I read the introduction to Jennifer Grant’s new book Wholehearted Living: Five-Minute Reflections for Modern Moms, I thought to myself: She gets it.

Grant writes:

Wholehearted Living is a book of short, daily readings for women whose season in life affords only limited time for contemplation.  It’s a “pause” button for mothers who want to take a break from talk of juice boxes and snow pants in favor of confronting their fears or reconnecting with their dreams.

It’s for moments when you feel drawn toward the divine, as well as for those times when you feel like your frailties are holding you captive and you really just want to stand in the corner, face the wall, and scream.

Oh, yes.  She gets it.

This is a terrific book, this collection of daily meditations.  I like it for its accessible structure: there is one page-long reflection each day, with a meaningful quotation and an invitation to take the subject of the reflection into your daily routine.  I like it for its focus on real mom-life, with all the joys and challenges thereof.

Most of all, I like it because Grant – a mother of four  – doesn’t  focus every entry on the experience of motherhood.  She has entries that cover other areas of  life, including friendship, spiritual life, marriage.

This speaks to me.  We moms are more than just moms; we are women trying to honor and nurture the other roles in our lives as well.  Often, these other roles are given short-shrift, lost in the day-to-day demands of parenting.  Grant’s insightful reflections affirm that we are also dreamers, friends, aunts, sisters,  pray-ers, romantic partners.   The result is a book that is wonderfully affirming of all the many facets of a woman’s life. (And because I myself am on the other side of forty, I really appreciate that the book reflects the experiences of a mom in midlife.)

All in all, Wholehearted Living is  both inspiring and down-to-earth, a book that meets modern moms right where they are.   It’s a book that is full of heart, yes — but it’s also full of brain, and wit, and soul. Highly recommended.

Wholehearted Living is available through the Loyola Press website, on Barnes and Noble.com, and on Amazon.com.  

Blog Tour: An Interview with Laura Kelly Fanucci, author of “Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting”

 

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It’s hard to remember exactly how Laura Kelly Fanucci and I got to know each other all those years ago. I think one of us left a comment on a third party’s blog, and the other one of us clicked on the link, and somehow in the wonderful web of serendipity that is the Internet, two mother-bloggers became friends.  File this online encounter under the heading “Proof that technology can seriously enrich your spiritual life.”

Because Laura is not only one of my favorite spiritual bloggers (you can find her brilliant posts at MotheringSpirit), she has also written a  drop-dead gorgeous book about motherhood and faith.  It’s called Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting, and has just been published by Liturgical Press.  Laura looks at the hands-on reality of parenting little ones (birthing a baby, taking a toddler cross-country, tackling the dirty laundry, bathing a newborn) through the lens of the seven sacraments of the Catholic faith.  It’s written with sensitivity and honesty and beauty and, yes, grace – and it is guaranteed to make you look at your faith and your family life in a new light.

Can you tell I’m a fan?  It’s an honor to be the first stop on her blog tour and to kick it all off with an interview about writing and faith and the people who inspire her most.  Welcome, Laura!

Give us the three-sentence description of your book.

Everyday Sacrament is a spiritual memoir-meets-parenting memoir. It’s a sacramental theology from the ground up – the messy ground of family life that is both hard and holy. And it’s the story of how I met God as a new mom, on the long days and in the lovely moments, too.

Which sacrament was the easiest to write about through the lens of motherhood? 

 Eucharist was the easiest sacrament for me to write about, not only because this sacrament is central to my Catholic faith but because so much of motherhood in its early years revolves around feeding children! When I have been pregnant or nursing, I often thought about what it means to give of ourselves in love to nourish a child. So I encounter Christ in powerful ways when I can see how the sacrament of Eucharist at Sunday Mass nourishes me as a mom to feed my children in turn.

Writing a book is often a long process from start to finish, and of course kids grow up during that time.  Are there any new “sacramental moments” you are seeing with your oldest son at the age he is now?

Sam started school full-time this year, and it has been a good and growing transition for him and for us as parents to help him take steps into a wider world. I see glimpses of confirmation in the way his new school community notices and nurtures his gifts. And I see his joy in joining a group of peers and learning what it means to be a friend. All of that is holy work, even for a five year-old!

As a mom of three young children, how do you find the time to write? (every mom wants to know the answer to this one!)

I write well early in the morning, so I often try to wake up at 5 am to get in 1-2 hours of writing before the kids start to stir. Many Saturday mornings I steal away to a coffee shop to write, which gives my husband time alone with the boys as well. (Everyone wins!) I’ve learned to write in my head, while nursing the baby or making dinner, and I’ve learned to carry around a journal at all times for wherever I can fit in a few minutes to jot down an idea for a blog post or a new project.

Also, I really slack off on cleaning the house. And I don’t go to the gym. You have to give something up to make time for writing!

Who are the mothers who inspire you?

My own mom, of course. She is one of the most generous, kind, and loving souls I have ever known. My sister inspires me, too, because she has always been so intentional about meeting her kids at each stage as they grow. I’m also inspired by friends whose children have special needs, whose journey through motherhood has been rockier than they expected but who have embraced it with deep love.

And Mary the Mother of God, too. I have grown in my love for Mary in surprising ways over the past few years, and I call on her help in the “crunch” moments when the chaos gets crazy. Her presence is a welcome peace.

Who are the writers who inspire you?

I have so many favorite poets and novelists, but for writers whose work inspires me to bring questions of faith alive in a fresh way, my favorites would be Anne Lamott, Brian Doyle, Kathleen Norris, Ann Patchett and Wendell Berry.

Many of my readers come from other faith backgrounds.  What would you say to a reader who says, “This sounds interesting, but I don’t know anything about the Catholic sacraments.  Will this book relate to me?”

 Even though the subject matter might seem strictly Catholic on the surface, I tried to write the book with an ecumenical heart in the hopes that Christians of many backgrounds might find echoes of their own experiences of God. I think the amazing thing about sacraments is how they lift up the holiness of ordinary objects and actions – bread and wine, water and oil, washing and eating. So many of us hunger for mindfulness in the present moment, regardless of our faith traditions. The sacraments point us back towards the power of practices that centuries of believers have found to be sacred encounters with the divine, which can inspire any of us who have seeking hearts.

What is one of the greatest blessings that has come into your life through your writing?

Writing has brought me greater clarity about my own callings. When I graduated from theological studies, I wrestled with how I would balance ministry with motherhood. As I started writing to make sense of my questions, I discovered that I found God in words. So writing helped me make sense of my work in theology and my work as a mother – and opened me up to how these callings might combine in creative ways. I’m still sorting through these questions, but I’m much more at peace with where God is leading.

If you’re interested in reading Everyday Sacrament (and you should – seriously, it’s fabulous), you can purchase it on the Liturgical Press website, as well as on Amazon.com.  It’s a super Christmas gift for any new mom or mom-to-be… and it makes a great gift for yourself as well!  And be sure to visit Laura’s blog Mothering Spirit so you can follow the rest of the stops on the blog tour.