Monday, December 22, 2008

Carmelite Sunday

On the surface, my Carmelite meetings seem perfectly normal and perfectly familiar. There are uncomfortable folding chairs on plain plastic tables in a dingy church basement. There is a treasurer report, and a talk by the snack coordinator. Our Carmelite books have the homely covers from a cheap printing press.

Everything is familiar from a life time of attending United Methodist Church events.
I'm calm and easy, relaxed and comfortable.

Then someone will start talking and the roof of the building flies off and my soul is in flight.

Seriously. I spent the better part of my first, and prior to this Sunday, only Carmelite meeting gripping the back of the plain plastic table to keep myself grounded in time and space.

Fellow Carmelites will use the most mundane language to easily express these thoughts that are so deep and so true.

For example, my group leader Lou said "The world is always going to underestimate the power of contemplative prayer. Someone will thank you for your time spent in the prison ministry, but no one is going to thank you for that hour you spent in active prayer. Yet we can't make that mistake. We can't underestimate the time spent alone with God, allowing Him to form us. In fact, it's only after we have that regular quiet prayer time that we'll ever be any use in the prison ministry or any active service for the church."

Lou said this with the calmness and certainty that I'd say "The Washington Post says its going to snow tomorrow."

As he talked I had this clear picture of the section of the church bulletin where the thank yous for help with the Food Pantry are listed. I realized in this deep interior place that no one is ever going to print up a bulletin heading that reads "A special thank you to Mrs. Abigail Benjamin for spending a half an hour with the Lord in her closet during the kids naps." If I waited around for public approval, or for an "easy" time to start my prayer life, it was never going to happen.

That doesn't matter.

I know what quiet prayers does for my soul. God loves to give me gifts during quiet meditation.

So that is the Carmelites, glowing, happy interactions with some of the neatest people you'll ever meet.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Life as the Most Important Principle

On Dateline NBC on Friday, Ann Curry held Protestant Pastor Rick Warren's feet to the fire for his close friendship with President Elect Obama & his decision to say the Prayer during Obama's Inauguration. I'd enjoyed Warren's spirited defense of the theology of marriage a few minutes earlier in the broadcast. It came as a shock to hear this exchange.

Ms. Curry: "How can you be friends with Obama if he's pro-choice and your pro-life? Isn't that murder in your view?"

Pastor Warren: "You'll never get a representative to represent you 100% on all of your issues. Heck, I can't get my wife to agree with me all the time!"

You know, I get the whole 'spiritual blindness' thing for the pro-choice side, because I lived it for so long. It's "the I'm pro-life, but its not really the most important issue for me" that has me head scratching right now.

I thought about Ann Curry, who I used to really adore in my prior TV without restrictions days of youth, and Pastor Rick Warren as my 18 month old snuggled into bed with me.

Mimi is a post-colic baby, which means she still doesn't sleep reliably through the night, especially if there's another warm body in her bedroom who could be persuaded to play with her. As a result, our sleeping arrangements in our 2 bedroom apartment are a bit unique. My 5 & 4 year old share a room. Mimi sleeps in a crib in our room. Meanwhile every night, my husband pulls out our IKEA mattress from the beautiful IKEA woven sleigh bed and places it on the living room floor.

When Mimi gets up in the morning, she's not just next to me and my sleeping spouse. Instead, she easily steps on the bed and perches on my head.

So this morning as I mentally wrestled with religious witness questions while physically wrestling with my wide-awake toddler, I realized they are both interrelated.

Here's my current favorite pro-life picture. This a photo of my husband holding my youngest daughter by the grave site of her brother.

Francisco died in my second trimester of pregnancy six weeks before Mimi was conceived. After his death, there was an anguished week of waiting for a miscarriage so that we could have a Catholic burial. There was about a half-hour during that week that I really raved about not being Protestant anymore. I wanted to use birth control again. I hurt so much, I couldn't imagine ever having another child. I wanted to be certain that I'd never have to go through another miscarriage again.

I knew in my heart going back on the pill wasn't an option. The was only NFP or total absence. (Fortunately, the Catholic church has some absolute rules in this situation. Birth control is a mortal sin, and is completely off the table.) Knowing our track record, I figured it was pretty unlikely we could get through 15 years of NEVER conceiving another child.

The question in my mind changed from "IF I ever have another child? To WHEN will I be ready to open my heart to the possibility of another child."

God can work with a frightened, unwilling heart. That what this picture means to me.

Immediately after the funeral, Jon and I truly thought we couldn't be ready to have another child for at least 10 years, if even then.

Instead, six weeks later we brought another soul into the world.

Now out of heartache, there is blessing. I have a son in heaven who is as real to me as my son on earth. (I talk to him all the time in my heart). And Francisco's early death left room for an "extra" red headed daughter. The silly one who tells jokes in baby talk, and who puts on her Dad's dress shoes for a laugh and who sits on my head at 6:30 AM when I'd rather hit another round on the snooze alarm.

Christmas is about welcoming the most important baby in the world.

This Sunday we also remember the Blessed Mother who said YES in the most emphatic way possible. We need to say YES to God in all different ways in all parts of our life. Yet we married couples also need to say YES to Life in a special way.

Our Blessed Mother pray for us. Help us all be "handmaidens of the Lord" in our hearts.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

In a Grandma Jean State of Mind

I preformed an indulgence on "Christ the King" Sunday for my grandmother Jean's mother, (my great-grandma Ruth). It was an amazing experience to take communion for someone who suffered so much during her life, yet who never got to "taste Jesus."

Grandma Jean must have done cartwheels over that act because I've felt her loving presence in everything this Advent season. I've started calling it "my Grandma Jean Christmas."

First, I not only volunteered to host a cocktail party for Jon's office, I also spent 3 hours polishing my Grandma Jean's antique punchbowl. This is so NOT me! I completely rolled my eyes when my mother brought over a cracked bowl from my grandmas attic. "Hmm, thanks" I mumbled as my interior voice said "Why are you bringing this useless thing to me? Don't you realize that I have no closet space!"

Rather than being useless, my 5 year old daughter and I had a blast polishing the silver punch set together. The bowl was the hit of the party. I realize that when you live in a humble space with children's finger prints all over the mirror you just cleaned, it's nice to have at least one gleaming piece of company silver. Those 1950s housewives knew what they were doing!

Grandma Jean also nudged me to volunteer to knit a leper bandage. (I hope to post a picture soon). She's the one who taught me how to knit in elementary school. My first creation was supposed to be a scarf, but I ended up splitting my stitches badly. 20 stitches became 96 by the end of my creation. (For non-knitters that meant my scarf started at 2 inches across and ended up being over 1 1/2 feet across.) The leper bandage is a bit of a challenge, but its also fun. I pray to Blessed Father Damien during each row. Somehow I've tied Father Damien and our President Elect together in my mind (they are both from Hawaii). So during my knitting work I talk to Father Damien about changing the heart of President Obama. Every line of stitching is time in prayer I've spent rallying against the FOCA.

Finally, there's the music. Grandma Jean had these super silly songs she sang every time we came for a visit. The one that sticks in my head is "If I knew You were Coming I'd Baked You Cake." I seriously hadn't thought of that song since the late 1980s, yet this Advent I sing it all of the time. The best part is that my daughter Hannah LOVES it. I'll post a You Tube video so you can enjoy it too. It makes a nice accompaniment to your Christmas baking.

If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd've Baked a Cake Eileen Barton

My Grandma Jeans favorite "the grandkids are here" song!

Knit Leper Bandages

If you can knit or crochet here is a good project for post-Christmas empty hands.
Lepers in the Vietnam and the Philippines need our prayers. The government of these two countries refuse to let in the medicine to treat leprosy in there countries. As a result, their citizens suffer from a completely treatable disease in modern times.

Send a Christmas Card to the Holy Father

For only 42 cents!

Heres the address for the Vatican City Embassy in D.C.

Apostolic Nunciature the Holy See
3339 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20008

I'm having my kids draw pictures for Our Holy Father today. Don't forget to write a kind thank you note for all of your priests, deacons, religious, parish staff, and your Bishop as well. They work so hard for us during Advent!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Blessing of Humble Work

The designs Our Blessed Mother have for us, are far better than the dreams we have for ourselves.

This past September, I got a strong prompting from the Holy Spirit to decline to sing in our church choir. It took a few weeks before I could call my choir director to send my regrets. I'm such a glory-hound and Miss Popularity seeker, I didn't make a clean break or even a truthful one. I made all sorts of rash promises that "once I got the home-school thing solved" I'd be back to sing in choir for Advent. I forgot that since it wasn't my plan to "stop" going to choir, it wasn't really up to me to "start" up again.

So this Advents been an odd one, because I haven't been singing. I don't have long music rehearsals on Wednesday nights. The Sunday hymns arrive as a surprise during each Advent Mass.

In this empty space of non-choir, other things have started to happen. The notices in the church bulletin start to tug at my soul more. I no longer have choir as "this is how I serve the church, what-else do you want from me I'm the mother of young children" in my mind. Without that automatic "excuse" I now notice the pleas for volunteers.

For three weeks, I've read an "urgent" call for volunteers to wash the Alter Linens called Purificators. "Thats your job" a voice kept saying in my heart. "That can't be my job," I answered.

Yesterday, I finally made the call to the Purificator coordinator.

"The job is very simple," she said. "You can do it either at your home or at the church. We only have a rule that linen which has touched the chalice be rinsed first in a special bowl set aside for that purpose because we believe that this is the blood of Christ."

There was an awkward pause where the lady tried to regain her footing.

My whole soul responded. "Yes! Its the Blood of Christ. I believe that!"

The lady gave a little happy breath. "Yes! Well, we don't want the Blood to mix into the sewer. That's why we can't just run the cloth through the washing machine. We must first rinse it out and pour the water onto the yard or the garden. Then we can wash the cloth as we normally do."

"It's okay pour the blood onto the ground?" I asked. "I live in an apartment, I just have a little piece of grass outside my patio."

"Yes outside is fine." The lady went on to give me my instructions on when to pick up the cloth and warned me that I'd need special instructions on the ironing part.(I don't even know the name of this "special napkin thing". Does anyone else know?)

The coordinator was so happy. "I've got some ladies who are in their 70s who are just burned out. They keep saying, 'where are all the young women?"

That made me laugh. Two weeks shy of my 34th birthday, as I struggle with infertility and multiple gray hairs, the term "young" felt good to hear. Secondly, my husband and I started going to Daily Mass this year, something we never imagined we could do until we were both elderly. Now we were in a race to see how many of the "spiritual things we'll do we are older" we could instead fit in our mid 30s. If this church job was only done by mostly 70 year olds, then that was the job for me.

Here I am a tiny Protestant convert. A girl for for 28 years denied the Real Presence of Christ. A Daily Mass goer who still struggles with belief & concentration as a 4 year old tugs at hands every time the Priest says "This is the Body of Christ."

Now I get this sweet, humble, hidden task of doing the laundry for Christ. Every two weeks I get to show by my actions the reality of my heart.

I love that it's humble. I love that it's hidden. I love that it's LAUNDRY, that task in my domestic church which so threatens to overwhelm me. Here I'm doing laundry for Christ, just as certainly as if I was St. Martha's helper washing Christ's linens in the 33 AD.

It's not a showy as serving as cantor at Christmas Eve Vigil, yet washing the "chalice napkin thing" is a much more suited task for my roles as a building block in Christ's kingdom.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Our Lady of Guadalupe Fiesta

Build Me a Church Ice-Box Cake invented by the lovely Alice of Cottage Blessings. Made by my friend Susan.

Heavenly Rose Punch

Alex's favorite part of religious celebrations. Playing with his friends' toys!

Simple Craft Idea

My kids couldn't grasp the idea of the image of Our Lady appearing on St. Juan Diego's tilma. I created this super easy craft for them. I made a plain tilma out of paper and rolled up paper roses. Then I switched to the "imprinted" one when I got to the part in the story where the Bishop receives his roses.

Christmas Party for Jon's Office

Many thanks for your prayers on Thursday. We recently hosted our first "work related" party for Jon's office.

We put on our fun party clothes

We decorated our Christmas trees

We polished my grandmother's silver anniversary punch bowl which last saw daylight in 1965. It made the perfect place for Jon's homemade, super strong Egg Nog. I made my first ever bunt cake and prayed hard to St. Martha as I flipped the cake over on the plate. It worked!

We chatted and ate cookies.

Jon made a touching toast to his Boss to thank her for hiring him three years ago. I teared up when I thought about missing the lovely home we've made for ourselves in Maryland if had rigidly kept to our plan of moving into New York City. We held Mimi up as yet another blessing and joked "she probably won't have been born if the Benjamins were stuffed in a studio apartment on Long Island."

We traded hats with our guests

We hugged when it was over.

Hannah decided that the kids bathroom, which is unusually "company clean," deserved its own photo the next day!

The line of the night which made me giggle the most was Jon saying "Everyone from the office will feel at home here. I don't think our place looks too Catholic!" Not only do we have giant Blessed Mother Photos, Crucifixes, and Pictures of our Holy Father on every wall. My dear husband made this statement right next to this Marian alter!

This party honestly was the third event we've hosted in three years, all in the past few weeks. We did Alex's birthday in October, Thanksgiving dinner for my parents and then a cocktail party for Jon's office. I'm so happy that getting formed in Christ means practicing Christian hospitality. I pray for the people in his office, almost every day. It made it easier to bare the extra work of party prep knowing that I'm begging Jesus to invite most of these people back into the Catholic Church. I figured the least I could do was offer up the physical act of shampooing my carpet for their souls as well.

I don't think I realized the magnitude of this hospitality gesture until Jon explained after the party that his office has only gathered TWICE outside of the office in the three years he's worked there. I just made a connection that all the frazzled feelings in the office weren't helped by not getting to see each other as "people" outside the office environment. I hope we'll be able to host quarterly events for his office staff in the future.

St. Lucy Day

This year the Holy Spirit inspired me to make Hannah a St. Lucy Day Dress. (Thankfully the same spirit inspired my friend, Maria S. to end up sewing me the entire dress after I realized that even a simple medieval pattern was over my skill level.) Here is the final dress, front and back.

On our big day, Hannah dressed in this costume passed out donuts to the family for dessert.

If you don't sew you can try a white dress, a white nightgown or even a white sheet in a toga. (St. Lucy lived in Roman times after all!). Get a thick red ribbon to stand for "the blood" as my kids like to say on Martyr Feast days. On her head, I made a simple wreath out of a paper plate, some green construction paper leaves and those nifty battery operated candles at Target.

If you have boys, they can either be the Swedish "star boys" or Roman soldiers. (I made the mistake of leaving Alex out of this feast day celebration. Next year I'll have to figure out a role for him.)

My homeschool group did a lovely St. Lucy's party, but unfortunately I didn't capture any pictures. We played a game where St. Lucy got to "wake up" the sleeping children. My friend Maria B. came up with a lovely candle craft based on an old English tradition. We used an orange as the base for a white candle. The orange symbolized "the earth" and the candle was Christ. We pinned a red ribbon around the middle to symbolize Christ dying for the whole world. Then we poked marshmallows and gummy treats on four toothpicks on the top to symbolize all the blessings on the earth.

These simple costumes and feast day treats are so worth a little extra hassle on my part. During Saturday's Mass, Hannah and I kept poking each other whenever St. Lucy's name was mentioned. It's so inspiring for me to see the the communion of saints come alive for my children.

These things work for big people too! The other day, I find myself praying to St. Elizabeth of Hungary in the spaghetti aisle at Safeway in order to fix more Food Pantry donations into my weekly grocery budget. I was so shocked. I barely knew St. Elizabeth existed before my daughter chose to dress up as her for Halloween. Now she is a dear family friend.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Gift Giving, Part II

One of the many reasons that I love spilling my heart out on this blog is that my real life friends can use these blog posts as a starting off point for setting me straight. (Efficient communication is highly prized since we are Mothers of multiple young and LOUD children).

Okay, so the lovely Maria B. really opened my heart on the whole "gift-giving as a language of love" idea. The quote that inspired me was "it's not how much the gift costs that counts to me. It the love behind it. When someone gets me something unique and personal, I feel like they really know me." (Okay, I'm paraphrasing. Somehow that was much more succinct and beautiful in person).

Sitting on the leather couch during our Friday Homeschool group, I had a sinking feeling. The Mystic Monks Coffee I purchased wasn't unique or personal. My husband and I loved it because it was the only Carmelite monastery in all of America, but that wasn't really putting our family first.

So I picked a lovely jacket for my Mother-in-law on Saturday morning during my St. Lucy's feast day donut run. This sparked a long conversation with my husband, in which he encouraged me to get "thoughtful" gifts for his family and my family. I ended up spending a long, long time in Target on Saturday afternoon among the throngs of frenzied store clerks and suburban shoppers.

I was way out of my comfort zone.

The thing that got me through was holding my rosary in hand, praying Hail Mary's in the elevator, and patiently scanning things into that electronic price checker to see how many of my kid's Christmas presents could still fit into my budget.

I also took it as a special task to be kind to harried Mothers who had trailing kids on their shopping carts.

I started to mentally complain a lot and then I remembered that it was St. Lucy's feast day. Getting "martyred" in the shopping mall for Christ doesn't really compare to getting your eyeballs plucked out in the 4th century.

I started to complain at home and my husband said "I think we are one of those people who love to show charity to strangers and dislike showing charity to our family members."

Hmm. . . I noticed the large bag of spaghetti supplies for our food pantry and the small brooch for my sister-in-law in my Target bag. Both bought at the same time from the same store at the "request" of my Blessed Mother. The one for the poor I do cheerfully, the one for my sister I totally resent as a "waste of time and money."

Seems like I have some sort of mental block there!

Dear Blessed Mother, help form in me a Marian heart. Help me pray for all of those in material and spiritual need during this Advent season. We hope for peace in our families and peace in our world.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Extended Family Gift Giving Dilemma

As an extra complication in converting to Catholicism, we struggled with how to pick Christmas gifts for our extended family members. Jon's family, with the exception of one Sister, are all lapsed Catholics. My whole family is Protestant. Everyone, however, is completely 'into" gift giving. Whatever that form of receiving love is called, both our parents and siblings express their love in gifts.

The problem is that both Jon and I rank "gift giving" as the lowest of low priorities. It's why my wedding band is a simple gold ring as opposed to a large diamond. It's why I can't even remember the last anniversary gifts we exchanged. I get irritable when shopping on the internet and even more going into stores. Giving gifts is so not our thing.

So when we dove into Catholicism as newlyweds, we were both excited to discover that Advent & Christmas were about so much more than how many wrapped presents got piled under the tree. We used that "message" to our own selfish ends.

The first year of our marriage, we made handmade glass candles in wine glasses and coffee mugs. I hand sewed a snowflake Christmas tree skirt for my Sister-in-law. For everyone else, I bought a sewing machine and taught myself how to make flannel pj bottoms.

The Homemade Christmas of 2001, did not go over well. All of the wine glasses broke in the mail. My extended family dutifully wore their PJs at Christmas, only to discover that since I didn't know how to sew a proper crotch seam an important part of them was exposed after only one wash.

Christmas 2003 was our first year with Baby Hannah. Swept up in love we decided that giving gifts was a complete "waste." Instead we saved up an outrageous amount of money to buy a water buffalo from Heffier International for each of our parents. The parents didn't actually get a buffalo, rather a donation was made to a charity which sent a water buffalo to someone who needed it. Our siblings got cards that they had "bought a duck" or "a beehive" for someone in need. God bless our mothers who took this gift in stride. Our siblings let us know that buying a gift to give to someone else didn't really "count."

For three years we selfishly nursed our hurt feelings and refused to buy any gifts because "we were too poor." Last year, my husband announced that we were sending good Catholic gifts to everyone. I was a little slow to get on board, unhelpfully pointing out that we were spending far more money on our families than on our own children. My husband insisted on the matter. I'm so happy he did, because our compromise is finding yummy gifts made by Monks and Nuns.

Now spending money feels good. Our siblings get gifts they like to open. We give money to the monastery. We say secret prayers that having a box of Monk made chocolate laying around the house might inspire some curiosity about the Faith. We are also, gasp, seeing an improvement in our relationship with our siblings when we put their wishes ahead of our own. It's win, win, win.

So thanks be to St. Nicholas for changing our Scrooge hearts.

HT/If you want to see some lovely Monk gift ideas, check out "the Anchoress."

Sesame Street - The Ladybugs' Picnic

Our current favorite You Tube pick. Mimi just bounces around whenever this song appears.

Super Easy Our Lady of Guadalupe Snack

For Juan Diego's Saints Day on Tuesday, the kids and I made "Tilma of Roses" sandwiches. Take a white tortilla. Cut it into the shape of a shirt with a knife. Add a smear of mustard for Our Lady's image. Place some cherry tomatoes and some curled ham slices for the "roses."

I read Nican Mopohua's "The Story of Juan Diego" which I got from my dear friend Jennifer F. at lunch. The kids payed extra attention to the story because they were eating unusual sandwich. I don't know why, but "special snacks" play a big part in our home catechism class. Thank you Alice!

Read Cottage Blessings for whole Our Lady of Guadalupe Tea menu.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Good Advice

When it is all over you will not regret having suffered; rather you will regret having suffered so little, and suffered that little so badly.

-- St. Sebastian Valfre

to hear 48 hours before I exhibit the unfamiliar virtue of hospitality for my husband's boss & office co-workers.

I didn't find, "furiously research the virtue of Hospitality as Proclaimed by the Council of Trent" on any secular holiday party planning list. However, I highly recommend it!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Prayer 101

Okay, so nothing has intimidated me more than discovering that my primary job as a secular Carmelite is prayer. “Prayer for priests and prayer for sinners.” Just writing that line makes my heart light. It’s such a lovely, inviting task. Much like, “please invite your dearest friends to share coffee at the National Gallery cafe on your birthday and then visit your favorite artwork of your Blessed Mother together.”

‘Plan a birthday party tea at the National Gallery,” that’s the insight I received at Adoration recently. A happy enjoyable task, I couldn’t wait to do. That is for all of the ninety sections it took to open up an Evite folder.

Suddenly a birthday tea at the Smithsonian seemed intimidating. Who would I invite? Do my Protestant, non-Mary ‘worshiping” Mom & Sister get placed on the invite list? What about the logistics? What should I write about directions and parking situation? And most importantly, is everyone going to think that I’m crazy for wanting to stand around “lonely’ former alter paintings with my rosary?

(That “people will think I’m crazy” pride thing trips me up a lot).

That ability I have to take a perfect, easy, holy task and muck it up in my brain with endless anxious “am I doing this wrong?” questions also happens a lot.

I had a breakthrough on the prayer thing which I’m writing down so that I’ll remember the next time I start suffering from social anxiety with Jesus again.

A few weeks ago, I had a broken conversation with my sister. I had a long car ride home on the George Washington Parkway. I was all alone in the car (a great rarity in my current life). I needed to talk to someone. We don’t own a cell phone and for the thousand time I thought “this is one of those moments when it would be really nice to be able to call Jon.”

I couldn’t call my husband, but a little voice inside said “you can always call Jesus on the cell phone!”

I quickly bent my three fingers and place my pinky to my mouth and my thumb to my ear. (Making an inverted Hawaiian sign is how my 18 month old daughter & I pretend to talk on the phone in my house.) The motion was super quick. I think I even forgot make the sign of the cross.

With my pretend cell phone on my right ear, I started talking to Jesus. It was so easy. I could find the words to talk to him “on a cell phone”-- those easy, non scripted things on my heart—that had eluded me when I tried to pray “the right way” with my hands clasped and my head in serious prayer mode.

I told Jesus about the things in my heart. I told him about all the brokenness with my sister and my hurt that my Catholic faith seems to be the wedge that drives us further away from understanding each other. All these feelings which I thought were snarled in a endless knot came flowing all out in these relaxed, easy words.

I told my husband last night I started to imagine that my prayer to Jesus were a simple cell phone call. I showed him my silly hand motion that helps me to pray.

Jon got so excited about the metaphor. “You’ve got to collect yourself and dial the right number. That’s the recollecting your soul to God and making the sign of the cross” he said.

The he told me something really sweet. “You know that prayer of the quiet that you always struggle with?”

I nodded.

“That’s not anything grand or mysterious. That’s waiting on the cell phone connection until Jesus answers back.”

Remembering to pause in my stream of consciousness so that Jesus gets a chance to answer back?

Wow. A simple lack of social etiquette that I struggle with in real life.

I’m always excitedly talking OVER my friends’ words and missing half of their tender advice.

The prayer of the quiet is holding my tongue and letting Jesus have a turn to talk.

“I can work on prayer of the quiet!” I said. “That’s a skill that would be nice to have in my “real” life too.

Prayer 101. Simple. Easy. And endlessly useful.

Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception!

Stirring words from Father Francisco:

"Forget about the type of fruit debate. That is not important. The sin our first parents committed was DISOBEDIENCE!

The first lie told by the Devil was that "God does not want us to become like him. The clever serpent told Eve, God only forbids you from eating the fruit because "God doesn't want you to be like Him.'

That lie is told over and over again. God only makes rules, because He wants to control you. He doesn't want you to be like Him.

That is a lie. God gives us rules. He gave Moses the Ten Commandments. He gives us the Church teachings, all the prohibitions of things we shouldn't do because He loves us and wants us to be like Him."

Catechism on the Immaculate Conception

487 What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ.

488 "God sent forth his Son," but to prepare a body for him, he wanted the free cooperation of a creature. For this, from all eternity God chose for the mother of his Son a daughter of Israel, a young Jewish woman of Nazareth in Galilee, "a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary."

The Father of mercies willed that the Incarnation should be preceded by assent on the part of the predestined mother, so that just as a woman had a share in the coming of death, so also should a woman contribute to the coming of life.

490 To become the mother of the Savior, Mary "was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role." The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as "full of grace." In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly born of God's grace.

491 Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, "full of grace" through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854.

The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the Human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Prayer for Forgiveness

My Dearest Mother,

All I can give you on this, the Eve of your most important Feast Day in the United States of America is my utter poverty. I am poor in spirit when it comes to praise & thanksgiving of you.

Before this mornings 8:30 AM Mass, I had no idea that this Holy Day is observed only in the United States. I spent more time in preparation for Our Lady of Guadalupe Feast Day on December 12, instead my own country's Patron Feast Day. You announced divine approval of this doctrine at Lourdes to one of my dear friends, Saint Bernadette, yet I'm ridiculously stupid in understanding of this doctrine.

Draw close to me my Blessed Mother. Lend me your Immaculate Heart. Teach me to follow your Holy Footsteps from Bethlehem to Calvary. Let me blow some toddler kisses to your Statue at Mass tomorrow. I have Hope that next year this most Holy Feast will not lie so forgotten in the pile of Advent activities.

Your loving servant,


snake movie

Unschooling at its best. Inspired by a meeting with Father Scott, a local boy from our Catholic Church who grew up to be a priest who fights corruption and anacondas in deepest Peru, Alex and his Daddy made this movie of a giant "eating" snake who attacks his favorite stuffed Panda. We'll hope the "priest" idea takes root as much as the zoology lesson in large South American Snakes.

Vigil of the Immaculate Conception

Happy Feast Day for the Patroness of the United States?

Anyone have a good idea for how to celebrate this Holy Day in the Domestic Church?

Super Belated All Hallows Eve Pictures

St. George & His Dragon, St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Jamestown/Williamsburg Trip

My father, a college history professor, has basically started a second career as a historical tour guide. Over Thanksgiving he treated his grandchildren to a visit to Jamestown & Williamsburg.

Alex in Jamestown trying on 17th CenturyArmor

Hannah & Maria Bowling

My new method of Homeschooling Discipline

Petting the Horses


Alex at Solider School

A visit to the Royal Governor's Place

Getting Lost in the Hedge Maze

I strongly urge a visit at least to Jamestown for the Virginia crowd. It's a State Park with reasonable rates. All kids under 6 are free. You get a visit at a Native American Village, a tour of 3 17th Century Sailing Ships and a fun look into Jamestown.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Helping the Lepers

Last night I headed out of my maternal cocoon for the first time in ages to head to a Women of Prayer committee meeting. Under the agenda list of "Plan Holocaust Museum Trip" and "Find a Lenten Speaker" was this simple entry: "knit bandages for lepers."

In my post stomach flu haze, I kept thinking that I must be reading the word "leper" wrong. There were no lepers left in the world, right? It must be a misprint. We must be knitting hats for shut-ins or lap rugs for nursing room residents.

At the end of the meeting, our president announced causally, "Oh, the youth group needs some people who know how to knit to volunteer to teach students in the cafeteria at 6:30 on Monday night. You don't need to commit to making anything, the youth group is going to take care of everything, we just need some women to be there to give lessons."

"What are they making?" I asked.

"Oh, a Vietnamese leper colony is requesting some bandages. The Youth Group is totally excited about it," a women answered with rolled eyes.

Out tumbled this fantastic story. Someone knows a priest who has a sister who is stationed as a missionary in a leper colony. The Communist Government won't let any medicine into the country to treat leprosy. So somehow these handknit cotton bandages, which are even better for keeping the Gangrene off stumps of limbs, is needed to made in order for a nun to sneak them to the leper colony in her suitcase.

"That is so cool!" I said, mirroring the Youth Groups enthusiasm.

"Abby, you have no idea how complicated this knitting project is. It uses special medically treated cotton on size 2 needles. Each bandage takes 18 HOURS to make!"

"18 Hours! That is awesome."

"Yeah, the bandages have to be 4 feet long. Each one is going to take forever. . ." The woman stopped talking when she realized that I was shaking my head "yes" instead of "no!"

I'm totally on board with the impractical notion of sending real lepers knitted bandages. I mean, the lepers are all over the Gospel. Knitted bandages, it just seems like a page out of Little Women. I got this warm feeling of these teens struggling over snagged cotton on their knitting needles during hours of TV watching.

So anyway, next Monday, I'm appearing in the Cafeteria on Mary's Holy Day eager to share my grandmother Jean's knitting advice.

I'm expecting the lesson to be a little rough.

For help I looked up the story of Blessed Father Damien, a Catholic priest who served a leper colony in Hawaii. I found out that he's the only Catholic priest to be memorialized in the Statuary Hall of the US Capitol Building. I figure some prayers to Father Damien will help us preserve when the going gets tough.

Many hopes that you also find inspiring Advent charity opportunities!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Happy Feast Day of St. Francix Xavier

Sweetest Quote From Daily Mass:

"Sorry if I got a little too fired up during my homily. St. Francis Xavier is one of those fiery saints who get you fired up. Google him today to find out what an inspiring hero the church celebrates today!" Father Avelino

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

In Praise of Boys

So my 4 year old son and I have our moments. Sometimes I'm amazed that he can manage to kick both sisters in the shins at the same time while I'm midway down the George Washington Parkway. Other times I manage to whisper "THIS IS THE MOST HOLY PART OF MASS!" after Alex drops his entire lego collection at the same time on our wooden pew.

Then there are these moments when I'm in complete awe of him.

The person who has inherited my adoration for the Nutcracker Ballet is not the daughter I drove to dance lesson, it's my son Alex. I told him the story of the one eyed uncle who passed on a lovely Nutcracker to his niece Clara. My son is transfixed. He watched Nutcracker ballets on You Tube. He's choreographed his own dance routine. He loves moving from the stiff "wooden" dance, to the loose "alive" dance, to the mighty battle against the Mouse King.

Today we are making Nutcracker ornaments for our Christmas tree.

Many thanks to my son this Advent. He continues to be a wonder to me!