Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Mother Teresa, book review

Mother TeresaMother Teresa by Mª Isabel Sánchez Vegara
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What an adorable book to introduce kiddos to the life of service that was Saint Mother Teresa's! The illustrations in the book are colorful and I could see how they would maintain the attention of the child listening. The story is directly told (trying to tell her entire life story in read-aloud form must have been tough) and weaves some phrases from her most famous quotes ("do them with great love").

The book doesn't mention Jesus or her love for Him through the poor. I recognize it's a non-religious book, but that was her purpose. I also might have chose a serif font (so so picky, I know. That doesn't play a role in my rating.) so that early readers could start identifying the letters and sight words used in the text.

The book did a fine job of showing her loving nature. I am not sure how to do this with a children's book, but this woman was also an extremely strong woman. The meekness of her definitely comes across, but I'm not sure the strength is obvious and that's one of the important balances of being a saint.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

From the Draft Archives: NFP thoughts

**I wrote this in 2014 and never published it... but it made me chuckle to think about this season of life.**

Let me tell you something.

Chastity is hard.

It's not hard like: man, I just sprinted a mile in under 7 minutes for the first time and my muscles are burning and my lungs are wheezing.

It's hard like: Man, who blindfolded me one month after my stomach stapling surgery, threw me in an unmarked van, and then pushed me out at the threshold of an outdoor all-you-can-eat food festival.

Yes, I'm hungry and I need to eat, but I also know what is better for me and eating the entire table full of hot wings and sweet potato fries is...not.

The discipline and prayerful discernment required to successfully practice NFP has produced the fruit of a more unified marriage, a greater understanding of self-sacrifice, and a deeper devotion to God's will. Why binge on spam when you can have steak?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Friendly Fire

**I wrote this back in 2015 and never got around to posting it. We now have a beautiful one-year-old daughter and would love for God to bless us with more children. I know my voice is a little hurt and harsh; it might be off-putting to some, but it's like a time capsule of what I was going through 3 years ago.**

Nunya, but...

We have been faithfully practicing NFP throughout our two year marriage.  During that time we have been properly offended (of course we have, this is 2015, after all) by many sides of the aisle.  One acquaintance casually (drunkenly) said, "They're CATHOLIC, man! Of course they're going to be pregnant immediately." Others on that side of opinions have slyly pointed out that it's good we're not pregnant yet, "You want time to travel and to just be married before you decide to have kids." Others who join in that opinion openly chastise parents of more than two kids for having a lot or for having them close in ages; "Why?! Why would you decide to do that?!"

You see here, people: you can "decide" that you're "ready" for kids (cue the veteran parents' guffaws now) or that you've done enough traveling to warrant "getting around to" having kids, but you don't decide when they actually show up. That may seem laughable to those who are treating their "disease of fertility" with oral contraception or barrier contraception, but here's a wake up call: we're not actually in control here.  I know multiple human beings who exist though their parents weren't ready or hadn't traveled enough, as evidenced by the chemical control the woman thought she had over her body. Now many beautiful people exist, despite that assumed control.

It goes the other way, as well.  You don't automatically conceive and host a baby for nine months every time you play house, do the deed, tie your shoes, or whatever the kids call it these days, even if you're following all of the rules. You can know everything about your body's fertility signs and how it works, but that's still not a guarantee that you'll hold a tiny human in your arms in nine months.

How am I supposed to share the truth with people who don't agree with me if I can't even share the truth with people who do agree with me?

You have to think about how many factors have to going into having children.

Open to life means being open to as many children as God gives you and it also means being open to as few children as God gives you.

This is not a cry of, "Get off my back, I'm not a baby-making machine!" This is a call for you to realize you're talking about Love between a man and a woman, which deserves your respect. DATA about fertility and how would your tone change if you knew they were struggling with fertility.

It's none of your business. No matter which side of the aisle (fully secular vs fully NFP - which, unfortunately means have as many children as you can), you shouldn't be asking those questions or prodding.

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Sunday, September 9, 2018

How to write at letter to someone (you don't know) on a retreat

Years and years ago, I wrote a guide on How to Write a Letter to Someone on a Retreat. It has brought more search engine-arrived traffic to my blog than any other post, by far, and I hope it has been helpful.

As I was cleaning up the spam comments, I saw a real comment from someone suggesting I write a How-To on writing a letter to someone one doesn't know who is also on a retreat.

Super hipster photo by MILKOVÍ on Unsplash
This is a common act of service: writing a letter (palanca, as they are called in my circle) to someone on a retreat even when they are a stranger to you. When retreatants are given their packet of letters and they notice letters from people they've never met who are praying for them, they're further surrounded by the Body of Christ. It can been the source of transformation for someone who might not regularly feel that familial Love within the Church.

In my other post on writing retreat letters, I began with a series of questions to figure out how deep you want to go with the person to whom you're writing. Obviously, that's not a step we can take here. Instead, examine yourself and how you can authentically communicate what you know about Christ's message.

1. What's the likelihood that this person had to battle with the Evil One to make it to this retreat? Consider warning them that they might be going through complicated emotions and obstinate during the retreat because the devil doesn't want him or her there. This might help them feel a little relief over the battle going on inside and open their heart a little more.

2. What was your experience when you were on one of these retreats? Give them an anecdote, especially if it's a truthful one about how you didn't necessarily have that giant 'ah-ha' moment that everyone else seemed to feel. Encourage them that the journey to Faith isn't about the seen and the felt.

3. What works of mercy can they employ during the remainder of the retreat? Encourage them to reach out to someone they've never met before or to go on a hike when they really just want to lay on their bed. Challenge them to treat the retreat like a chance to do something differently. They can always go back to "normal" when they get home (little do they know that our Lord will always be working on them).

4. Are they journaling during their time? Enclose a blank piece of paper (and a pencil, if possible) and encourage them to write down some of their thoughts. Tell them that it's okay if the thoughts are rants or if they seem pointless. God can work with that.

5. Obviously, you have to keep this letter slightly general and one-sided, as you don't know this individual. Know that when I received letters during my retreats from people I didn't know, I was reminded about the Body of Christ. We are all in the Communion of Saints and I was privileged to know that someone cared enough about the Church (the people in it) to write to a stranger.

Things to remember:

  • Less is more. Lots of words do not always mean more love. You can have a greater impact with carefully chosen, few words.
  • Keep in mind that he or she is probably exhausted. Retreats can take it out of you, physically and spiritually. He or she may not know how he or she feels at that point. Assure them that's okay.
  • He or she either learned new facts about the faith or are trying to convince himself or herself they haven't learned anything. Assure them that retreats affect people differently.
  • The person to whom you are writing may disagree with or dislike something about the faith. Encourage them to ask questions of the priest, if you suspect this is the case. Remind them to remain calm and polite when doing this. Discussion is good, but hostility will produce skewed results.
  • Quotes are used so often because smart people pack HUMONGOUS messages in succinct, profound nuggets. Before you start your letter, pick a few quotes or Bible verses that embody what you'd want to hear at a retreat. You may be surprised by what comes out of your pen without aid and may not need to use the quotes/verses... but it doesn't hurt to have them if you need them.

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Don't Forget to Say 'Thank you!' book review

Don't Forget to Say Thank You: And Other Parenting Lessons That Brought Me Closer to GodDon't Forget to Say Thank You: And Other Parenting Lessons That Brought Me Closer to God by Lindsay Schlegel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Stop whining." That's what God has to keep telling me repetitively and that's one of the phrases Lindsay Schlegel unpacks in this ode to understanding a bit of what God goes through as a parent.

I wish I reflected on how cleansing and self-sacrificing motherhood is in the moment, rather than in regretful moments after I let frustration or despair take over. But I'm the sinner and God is Love. The author wrote nicely about the difference and the similarities from which we can learn while living our role as parent. She uses oft-repeated parental phrases ("Don't forget to say 'Thank you,'" "Stop whining," "Wait a minute," etc) and shows how they apply to our lives as God's children. "What if I don't want to 'wait a minute,' God?! What if I want it RIGHT NOW?!"

It helps with empathy, yes, but Schlegel's objective is clearly more so that we can picture ourselves in that role of child again. This way, we can more easily let God provide for us through His will and in His all-knowing way. That letting go feels impossible sometimes, but if we can step back and take small sips of life as dedication to that calling, as Schlegel suggests, we'll improve.

I enjoyed the anecdotes and the way I was pulled into the comparison between my parenthood (or really, more so my experience as a teacher, as my daughter is only one year old as I write this) and my daughterhood. For example, guess at what time I read the chapter about how we make sure our children get enough sleep, while staying up too late or skipping the sleep we so desperately need? 4 am. Because I decided I wasn't going to be able to fall back asleep and so I just got out of bed. God's whispering, "Go to bed."

Some of the unpacking was a little direct, rather than guiding. The book is a good set of experiences from the perspective of one woman and I could see it being a choice for a Catholic women's book club. The reflection questions and prayers in the back of each chapter would make that fruitful! Thank you to the author for using her time and talents to give voice to what many women think, feel, and need to hear!

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Christ in the Classroom, book review

Christ in the Classroom: Lesson Planning for the Heart and MindChrist in the Classroom: Lesson Planning for the Heart and Mind by Jared Dees
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Catholic school principals, dioceses, Directors of Religious Education, team leads in Catholic schools, and anyone who wants to be an effective catechist, listen up: you need to read this book. And if you are a leader in your parish or school with teachers or volunteers who teach kiddos, you need to buy a copy of this for every one of them.

As a teacher, I can confidently share that Jared Dees has compiled current research on pedagogy in a succinct manner and applied it to the religious education classroom. Is teaching the Faith about knowing the answers to pop quiz questions? The author says it is not and all of us should agree. But how do we accomplish bringing our students to learn to love God rather than just know about Him? This book breaks down an encompassing method: apply Lectio Divina to your lesson planning.

Dees doesn't just mean that you should be preparing your lessons through prayerful consideration and meditation, but he actually creates a structure for the lesson that follows the four steps of Lecito Divina (he adds one more), corresponding to the chapters. He encourages teachers to be the "guide on the side" instead of simply lecturing and to engage students through those Lectio Divina steps: reading, meditating, praying, contemplating, and acting. Dees concludes that this structure is not meant to be a template (probably so a teacher who has been teaching for years doesn't throw their hands up in frustration that they're supposed to change everything they're doing), but that the teacher can just apply the principles to what he or she is already doing. Personally, if a teacher aims to lead his or her students to Christ, rather than just to answering the questions right, they would follow his structure (and abundant tips, resources, examples, and suggestions!) to a T.

Many parishes and Catholic schools hire good people who have never taught before or who need a refresher on the best way to teach (read: don't just lecture all day). This book, if read and discussed in a staff-wide book club, could be a linchpin. It teaches pedagogy for all education philosophy, reflects on the importance of leading students to encounter Christ, and provides specific and concrete resources that teachers can take and use in tomorrow's lesson plans. Highly recommended.

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Monday, September 3, 2018

Light's Dawn: A Novella, book review

Light's Dawn: A Novella (Light in the Darkness)Light's Dawn: A Novella by Yvette Bostic
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Light's Dawn is a story of the triumph of good over evil and courage over fear. It's uniquely positioned, beginning as a historical fiction and morphing into a fantasy novella. The prose is succinct and I am glad the author wrote simply instead of with flowery language.

The prose, dialogue and details are not fine-tuned to the historical (early 17th century) era. It's written in modern English, making it easier for young adults and middle grade readers to understand and enjoy. Light's Dawn sets up a series with a decent foundation and easy to picture world building.

I really appreciated how fast-moving the story was; it kept me interested and entertained. About halfway through, I was surprised by a spiritual component planted by the author. The allegory and direct themes to God in the novel are pretty straight-forward, so this is definitely appropriate for a Christian to read. I don't think it would convince someone who was not already a believer and I doubt that was the author's purpose. Raphael, Mikel... where's Gabriel? ;-) Maybe I'll have to read the next books to find out.

Overall, I was entertained and would recommend the book for younger readers. However, I don't think it was quite rich enough for me to invest more time in the series right now.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Taco Tuesday Cookbook

The Taco Tuesday Cookbook: 52 Tasty Taco Recipes to Make Every Week the Best EverThe Taco Tuesday Cookbook: 52 Tasty Taco Recipes to Make Every Week the Best Ever by Laura Fuentes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I only had time to try one of the recipes, but YUM! Who doesn't like tacos? Tacos make "chicken night" something special. I appreciate that this book has a diverse set of cooking methods and tastes. Taco Tuesday will probably extend beyond Tuesday.

My daughter currently eats everything and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I feed her everything. This book gives your kids the fun factor (tacos, especially if they can build them on their own) and the diverse foods factor.

I received this book for free in exchange for a fair review on NetGalley.

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