Monday, October 7, 2019

When Women Pray

“Please pray for my parents, my job, my daughter, my husband, my car, my mind…”

How often I’ve entrusted the concerns of my heart to our parish’s sagacious women prayer warriors!

I'm grateful for their intercession, because my own life — with a husband, five kids, two work schedules, three school schedules, extracurricular activities, and volunteer obligations — is much too busy for me to move mountains with prayer. (And why bother if someone else can do it for me?)

If prayer is the intense workout class that meets at my local park, then I’m the well-intentioned member who signs a commitment pledge, shows up every day for a week, sporadically misses class for months — and then possibly, eventually, and unintentionally never shows up again. And I don’t think I’m alone in this.

Much like exercise, prayer just isn’t as effective when it’s skipped and outsourced.

But what if prayer isn’t an obligatory task that requires us to wake up at 4:00 a.m. or choose between eating lunch and saying a rosary? 

What if prayer is a practical tool that blends easily into whatever life we’re currently living and will make us better at whatever work we’re supposed to be doing? 

Why is it surprising to so many of us that this is actually what the Catholic Church believes and teaches a formed life of prayer can be?

When it comes to prayer, if you sometimes ask, "Why bother?" or "Who has the time?" please continue reading this article at FemCatholic:

Part I: Why We Pray
Part II: Finding the Time

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Free Catholic Ed Resources

Click on the title of each resource (not the photo) for a free, full-size PDF digital download to standard paper sizes. (Advice for cheap printing is below.)

These are basic resources for Catholic students of any age. Keeping with this evangelistic intention, please do not print or sell these for money.

If you'd like to improve any of these, feel free! I'll update the link to your improved design and give you credit for it.

If you'd like to offer your own designs (for free) to the Catholic world, send me the PDF, and I'll provide a link to it below.

BOOKMARKS (8.5in x 11in):

Catholic Books of the Bible Bookmarks (Color, Double-sided, 8.5in x 11in, 6 per page)
Catholic Books of the Bible Bookmarks (Black-and-white, Double-sided, 8.5in x 11in, 6 per page)

Basic Prayers Bookmarks (Color, Double-sided, 8.5in x 11in, 4 per page)
Basic Prayers Bookmarks (Black-and-white, Double-sided, 8.5in x 11in, 4 per page)

Basic Prayers Bookmarks SPANISH (Color, Double-sided, 8.5 x 11in, 4 per page) (provided by Silvia Lesko)

POSTERS (22inx28in or smaller):

Seven Sacraments Poster

WORKSHEETS (8.5in x 11in):
Coming soon...


For bookmarks and posters, I use our local office supply store's printing services (Office Depot). You can upload documents online and pick them up at the print center in the store.

For bookmarks:
I print on Glossy 100# White Cover Stock. It's about $1.25 per page. (Be sure to select "double-sided.") If you print in black-and-white, it's even cheaper.

For posters:
I print as blueprints. This is large-format, 24# paper.
A black-and-white, 18in x 24in page costs $1.79 to print.
A color, 24in x 36in page costs $5.89 to print.
Once printed, I attach the poster to a sheet of poster board. (Standard poster board is 22in x 28in.)

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Saint Who Looked Like She Was Failing At Life

As the love child of a French aristocrat and his girlfriend, it seems St. Louise de Marillac’s failure to blend into mainstream Catholic culture started from conception.

From there, each time Louise’s life veered toward any kind of social normalcy, something would happen to block her, once again, from the comfort of fitting in. Unlike the focused life trajectories of her successful Catholic peers, Louise was all over the place.

In many ways — an unstable home life, failure to complete a Catholic education, absence of extended family support, roadblocks and confusion in her vocation — Louise’s early life lacked the basic hallmarks commonly ascribed to Catholic success. In the 1600s, it must have seemed like she was on the loser track for women.

And yet, the Lord assured Louise that despite all the difficulties and confusion, she was right where she was supposed to be.

Some well-intentioned biographers splice out Louise’s dysfunctional family problems, rejections and predicated social failures in an attempt to construct a sweeter, simpler saint story. But these revisions eliminate the integral details that testify to God’s personal providence in Louise’s life: We can trace each disappointment in her formative years to a strength in the ministry of her later years.

Perhaps, like St. Louise de Marillac, the places in our lives where we most feel like failures will be the tools that God uses to accomplish prolific good in the world.

Please read more about Louise's life and legacy in my latest over at FemCatholic!

Sunday, August 25, 2019

A Tooth Fairy Story

"The Tooth Fairy is a game that other families play, but not ours." 

I don't recall whether it disappointed my older kids to learn their pillows weren't magical portals to a generous fairy realm. My husband was working the overnight shift, which left me caring solo for a 6-year-old, 4-year-old, two 1-year-olds, and a newborn through the Tooth Fairy's working hours, and I just couldn't. So I dispelled all Tooth Fairy magic from our house.

Santa is another disappointingly inconsistent stranger. He only ever fills stockings at Mommom and Poppop's house, never at ours. Don't get me started on the Easter bunny.

Our pretty little corner house was a near vacuum of magic for years.

They say the best gift you can give a kid is a sibling. "Built-in friends-for-life!" they say. And if that's the case, we've more than blessed our kids with the best of gifts.

But what they don't tell you is that siblings are the kind of gift that improves with time. A savings bond. A 529 Education Plan. An unaged barrel of wine. A sibling.

Unfortunately, the collateral damage in our family of overwhelmed parents prioritizing younger siblings' needs for food and hygiene over older siblings' need for wonder wasn't limited to only the secular. We hadn't made it through the Advent calendar to Christmas until this past year when my oldest son took charge and made it happen. He was eight. I don't remember the baptismal anniversaries of my children. I certainly don't light a candle and make a cake. Where even are their baptismal candles? Probably still packed from our move across state three years ago. Possibly melted in a box in the attic.

I love the Lord. I love His Church. I love my children. But a woman can only create so much magic out of the day she's been given, and for many years, the lioness share of our household wonder revolved around diaper cycles and breasts that make milk.

"The tooth fairy is a game that other families play, but not ours." 

It's strange, the coping mechanisms we adopt as parents, the ideals we're forced to let go, either voluntarily or with a losing fight, but gone all the same. The tooth fairy's become a taunting mascot of my parenthood journey. It represents the magic I want my children to enjoy congruent with my failure to make it happen.

Not that prioritization only affects kids with many siblings. Every parent has limits of time, money, emotional and mental capacity. Somewhere between our ideals and our humanity, we reckon with the parental reality of "just doing our best."

When kids uncover this mystery -- that parents aren't omnipotent demigods, just exhaustible mortals "doing our best" -- it's a melancholy comfort. We lose some of their sweet childhood idealism, but we gain a small ally in our goals to accomplish what is good and necessary over what is everything.

"The tooth fairy is a game that other families play, but not ours." 

How quickly my 4-year-old's eyes lost their glow when I broke the news to him last week, the excitement of losing two teeth in one day suddenly quelled by an uncertainty over what to do with the tiny tooth treasure box he'd been rattling relentlessly since arriving home from school.

I didn't expect such discouragement. I don't remember my oldest son responding like this. To be fair, I don't remember much of anything the year my oldest son lost his first tooth.

Oh how I wanted to rekindle that ember of wonder that I'd just stomped out with my declaration against the tooth fairy. My brain sputtered through complicated parental thoughts of whether it's OK to play Tooth Fairy with the younger children if I hadn't with the older ones, and how I can retract what I just put out as truth without losing credibility, and what am I going to make for dinner tonight…

And then, sweetly and cunningly, with an independent confidence inevitable to older siblings, my oldest son pulled his younger brother aside and whispered that the magic is real, that he'd better make sure that tooth box gets tucked under his pillow.

For a time, my 4-year-old delighted in the absurdity of the Tooth Fairy created by his oldest brother.

Unfortunately, the work of creating magic -- an effort muddled by miscommunicated intentions, the accidental theft of another brother's penny, some intense shoving, and slammed doors -- so overwhelmed my oldest son that he loudly declared the Tooth Fairy would never return for another tooth in our house ever. Sometimes, I see myself in my children.

How I wish I could save him from these small reckonings with our angry, reasonable, magic-less adult world.

Still, I'm proud of him for seeing a situation that made him uncomfortable despite being the norm, recognizing in himself the power to help, and desiring for others what wasn't done for him.

It's the classic story arc of the best older siblings. And a reminder to the rest of us that a mission of mercy is always at hand.

The next morning, I tried to set things right by encouraging my oldest son to write a conciliatory note from the Tooth Fairy to his younger brother. I'd woken up early to set up his art supplies after stirring all night with my own extravagant guilt. If only I'd done it all and a little more when they were younger, my children would be perfect and perfectly happy today.

As it turns out, my fail-proof plan to fix everything only proved irrelevant and perplexing to everyone. Why start an art project when there were pillow forts to build and blanket rivers to forge? Dissipated by the matchless magic of sibling friendship, their rivalry from the day before had long since been forgiven and forgotten. Even the Tooth Fairy was dismissed as an old and uninteresting game.

"The Tooth Fairy is a game that other families play, but not ours."

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Life Lessons With Josh Harris

About 20 years ago, I attempted -- with about a million other single teens and young adults, through many documented failures -- to find a Christian soulmate by following the strict formula outlined in Joshua Harris' 1997 bestseller I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

Like the author of this ill-fated book, I also held strong ideas about God, religion, and relationships when I was 20. Unlike Josh, I didn't write a cult classic that influenced two generations of young Christians. Thank God.

Maybe I didn't officially publish my stupid, untried opinions on life at age 20, but I sure did run my mouth about them.

And for that, mea maxima culpa in excelsis. (That's, like, all the Catholic street Latin that I know -- sacred liturgy with a side of Christmas carol -- crammed together into an apology. I hope it is a salve both to those who want to know that I'm sorry for speaking out of ignorance and also to those who would feel validated by a grating public example of my self-realized ignorance.)

While Joshua Harris' marriage method worked for some, many others experienced disappointment, marginalization, and even abuse as unintended side effects of the purity culture movementThe National Review describes his approach as a prosperity gospel for sex. Josh himself has apologized extensively for years, founded a support group for survivors on his website, and is currently going through a divorce and questioning his faith.

Given all of that, it seems that Josh and I have at least one more thing in common than just unfortunate relationship experiences sourced from the advice of his book: the Lord teaches us both through immersive experiential lessons in empathy.

(I'll pause here to clarify: no, I'm not going through a divorce or leaving the Church.)

But many of the hardline beliefs I held at age 20 -- poverty is the result of laziness, NFP is a super-effective form of birth control, the public behavior of young children is a direct reflection of the effort put forth by their parents -- have only softened through personal experiences of poverty, unplanned pregnancy, and public humiliation by my children.

And it's not like the untried stupid opinions stopped when I was 21. Even recently, I've deleted past blog posts that I once preached strongly and now renounce: victim-blaming those affected by domestic abuse, undermining President Obama's healthcare initiatives, sharing exaggerated statements against President Trump, presuming women who choose abortion don't seriously and conscientiously consider their available options, insisting that the best way to pursue a Catholic marriage vocation is to just marry someone who presents themselves as a good Catholic... I have said and shared some stupid stuff, and I am sorry.

In a 2017 TED talk, Josh talks about the difficulty of owning up to dumb things we've said or done in the past: "A lot of times I just want to run away from the whole process. And the reason I don't is because I believe that this is a pathway of growth for me, that I'm going to learn things in facing up to what I got wrong that I won't be able to learn any other way."

Unfortunately, apologies don't clear Internet archives or heal all of those affected or turn back time for a do-over. If only I could have learned my truisms through listening better to the true experiences of others. If only I had been slower to speak. 

Just as an aside, Ben Shapiro -- with whom I disagree more often than I agree -- has earned my respect through his willingness to publicly acknowledge past stupidity.

Alas. As it stands, me and Josh Harris -- and anyone else who sometimes runs their mouth ahead of their soul and wants to jump on this bandwagon -- are committed to change.

What does that look like?

It means choosing not to just "find someone on the Internet that agrees with you," an attractive option that Josh described while discerning the negative effects of I Kissed Dating Goodbye: "It would have been so easy to just write the critics off as haters… and then find people who liked my book and hide behind them… No matter who you are or what you think, you can find someone on the Internet that agrees with you." 

["No matter who you are or what you think, you can find someone on the Internet that agrees with you." - Josh Harris]

It means honest, respectful, vulnerable dialogue with those around us, especially those with whom we disagree. If we're talking with friends, it makes it harder to just write them off as angry trolls behind a computer screen. "I want connection and relationships and dialogue with real people," Josh explains in a recent Instagram post about his plans going forward.

It means quality over quantity. It's tempting to share every coherent thought that crosses my mind. It's tempting to run with what's popular or trending or easily-received by those whose opinions matter most to me. It's challenging to sit still and listen intentionally for a hot minute.

Our news cycle is currently churning up a 44-year-old man whose naive idealism is catching up to him two decades late. Rather than run and hide behind a willing-and-waiting fan club, Josh Harris has chosen to pause, dialogue, reflect, apologize, and dialogue some more.

Would that we could all be a little more like Josh. 

TEDx Harrisburg 2017

Thursday, May 30, 2019

An Unholy Martyrdom of Mothers

When mothers begin to question whether their burden is heavier than God intends for them to carry, they're often met with dismissive or detached advice to "offer it up," "find the joy," or "trust that God won't give you more than you can handle." Well-intentioned Christian blogs suggest the problem is all in their heads.

However, if her concern is taken seriously - recognizing that a mother's exhaustion and eventual death are not the goalposts of a motherhood well-lived - our communal Christian response might be to affirm her concerns as valid, to outsource some of her responsibilities, and to bolster her mental and physical health.

For a lesson in maternal guilt, pay attention to the moments before and after a woman confesses that she hires a cleaning person, a mother's helper, or a meal planning delivery service to alleviate her workload. Before: she glances around uncomfortably to check who's within earshot. After: she justifies the expense by quickly rambling through a description of current extenuating circumstances (as if family life itself weren't extenuating enough).

Do men feel the need to justify similar actions in this way? Do they duck when driving through a carwash, embarrassed that the family budget subsidizes their decision not to scrub and wax the car themselves? Are there whispered confessions in men's locker rooms about hiring a lawn service? For some reason, work traditionally done by men doesn't have the same social stigma when it’s outsourced.

Why would outsourcing be seen as a staple for men, but a luxury for women?

Please read the rest over at FemCatholic!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

But How Will They Eat If Martha Sits Down?

Party noises resound down the hall as I sit for a moment after evening prayers and bedtimes with the kids. I pull out my rosary to pray a quick decade.

"Our Father who art in heaven…"

From the back bedrooms, I hear the springs of a crib mattress under my 3-year-old's gymnastic jumps, the bellowing nonsensical conversation of my twin preschoolers, and the whine of my 7-year-old as he convinces his 9-year-old brother to throw back his pillow.

The story of Martha and Mary comes to mind.

"Lord," I complain. "I'm trying to choose the better part here, to be here with you instead of busying myself with the distractions of home. But it's getting pretty crazy back there."

I finish the decade and shake my head at Jesus' naivety when it comes to running a household. Who does He think is going to make dinner if not Martha? The contemplative life is a nice idea, but in the real world, at the end of the day, people want to eat dinner, especially the little people who are not-so-slowly turning my brown hair gray.

I begin a second decade of prayer and meditation. The playful shrieks of my children continue in the background.

"Lord, my children are really partying back there. But I am choosing the better part."
I hear a crash and then silence and then crying. "OWWWIE!"

I drop the rosary into my pocket and huff down the hall to check owies and dispense divine justice.

With five kids split between two rooms, bedtime is… a process. I move one child to the couch, another to my bed, and then, the dreaded ultimate weapon: I shut the bedroom doors.

As I relax into a chair and pull out my rosary for a third decade, I overhear a tired "Maaaaama…" from the bedrooms. I pause to discern how serious the need -- potty help? missing stuffed animal? -- but it stops unexpectedly, and the house is quiet.

"Our Father, who art in heaven…"

My mind wanders. I want to stop praying so I can watch my recording of The Late Show from the night before. But now there's a kid on the couch, so TV's no longer an option.

"...hallowed be Thy name…"

How can a mom running a household with five young kids possibly have a choice between being Mary or Martha? Who's going to feed the children?

Discontentment echoes down the hallway -- "Humph. Humph. Humph." -- followed by the thump of a mattress as my grumpy, tired seven-year-old shifts in his bed.

"Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit…"

New shouts call down the hallway. "Gabwab! GABWAB!" Speech lessons haven't ungarbled his words yet. I get up to check it out.

The translation is "Bed Stuff!" and the complaint is that he was moved to the master bedroom without his blanket, pillow, bathrobe, and three stuffed animals.

My 7-year-old starts howling. It's not a cry of fear or sadness or anger; it's just something he does because he's earned Wolf rank in Cub Scouts, and wolves howl. I ignore it.

A fourth decade begins. "Our Father who art in heaven…"
I'm grateful for the rhythm of the rosary. It's easy to pick up where I leave off after each interruption.

My 9-year-old calls out from the couch, asking if he can sleep on the dog's couch instead of the TV couch. Sure.

"Ubba, wubba, wubba!" my 3-year-old sings down the hall. It's a song about… I don't know.

Was I on the 7th or 8th "Hail Mary"?

I imagine Martha catching glimpses of Jesus' conversation as she makes dinner in the kitchen. It reminds me of my weekly Mass experience, catching glimpses of the liturgy as I quiet kids and resolve sibling pew rivalries with silent shouts from my eyes.

"Hail Mary, full of grace…"

A kid is coughing. I wonder if my allergy kid is getting sick or just announcing an impending weather change. I should wash his sheets.

Fifth decade.

I start a wry "Our Father" with undertones of, "Seriously, Lord? What are we even doing here?" But I'm smiling.

The house settles into silence. I can hear the clock ticking over the fireplace.

Then, "Woo-woo-woo. Aaaah!" in muffled tones from the bedroom. It's the sound of a three-year-old's face singing into a pillow as his sleepy head can no longer hold itself up.

"Our Father who art in heaven…"

My own tiredness feels heavy. I think about the dishes that still need to be washed in the sink.

"Hail Mary… blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus… pray for us..."

It occurs to me that Jesus didn't see Martha as a cook or a hostess or a housekeeper. He told her to stop doing all of that.

But Martha had a household to run. She had a living room full of guests. And no one was doing anything to help her meet all these needs. "Jesus, I need help!" she says.

"Mommy? What do I do if I need to go to the bathroom?" my 9-year-old whisper-calls from the dog couch.

"You can go down the hall quietly. Please don't flush the toilet. You'll wake up your brothers."

"Hail Mary, full of grace…"

Jesus didn't respond to Martha's request for help by sending all the women to the kitchen to finish cooking. He didn't tell Martha to suck it up and get it done alone. Jesus would rather cancel dinner altogether than have women miss out on spiritual discussion.

Glub, glub, glub. The dog's water bowl unexpectedly auto-fills behind me, and it shakes me from my contemplation.

I'm sad that the rosary's ending. The story's not done.

What about the meal? Jesus, who's going to make dinner if Martha sits down to talk with you? How will the people eat?
This part of the story always panics me. Can you tell I'm Italian?

I hear the quiet snores of my 9-year-old finally asleep on the couch.

"... grant, we beseech Thee, that meditating on these mysteries of the most holy rosary, we may imitate what they contain…"

My house is so quiet. I slowly stand up to get started on the dishes in the sink... school lunches for tomorrow... a last load of laundry always waiting in the dryer… the work just doesn't end.

Is it really possible for me to choose the contemplative life with all this work to be done? Lord?

I don't know for sure what happened that late afternoon in Bethany when Jesus told Martha that she was invited to join the conversation instead of labor alone in the kitchen.

I believe Martha stopped in her busyness to rest with the Lord, to enjoy his presence and conversation.

But then, I also believe -- and this is just a random mom's rosary contemplation, so take it or leave it -- that just as everyone was getting good and hangry and ready for dinner, Jesus himself got up to help prepare the meal.

After all, he's a pragmatist. According to the Bible, Jesus did all kinds of teaching while participating in the daily routines of life -- fishing, cooking, traveling, eating… Lots of ministry happened over meals, even meals that He prepared.

"Everyone seems kind of hungry. Let's continue this conversation in the kitchen!" ...or something like that.

My house is quiet, the kitchen's a mess, and my rosary's ended.

But I don't think Jesus wants to stay tucked neatly into this small contemplative pocket of a busy day. He wants to stay in conversation together over dishes and laundry and whatever else this day may bring.