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5 Reasons I’m Grateful for 2020

5 Reasons I’m Grateful for 2020

2020 got one heck of a bad rap. Okay, it’s well deserved. But, we’re meant to be a people of thanksgiving, so I’d like to take a moment to focus on what I’m grateful for from this past year — and to actually recognize that there are many things to be grateful for which are unique to 2020 precisely because it was a difficult year.

As St. Paul tells us in one of my favorite scripture passages, “we also celebrate in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Thus, without further ado, here are five reasons I’m grateful for the year many hail as the worst year ever – 2020:

1. A New Prayer Cenacle

I had been thinking about doing this for eight years. Maybe more. Yes, I had the mom’s group at my church — a wonderful group of ladies I thoroughly enjoy. I found myself longing for something smaller and deeper, however, and I hoped for something that might involve the entire family.

The feeling that I needed to just do it kept mounting, and, together with my dear friend Tina, we finally took the plunge. Our little cenacle started as four moms, praying the Rosary together once a week followed by uplifting, faith-filled conversation that goes well beyond the surface. We added bi-weekly nights together with our families, including dinner, fellowship, and a group Rosary led by the children. We’ve added another mom and her family, and will be adding still another at our next meeting. Hailing from three different parishes, we are six moms, six fathers, and nineteen kids. With two babies on the way!

Aided by a babysitter and Tina’s kid-friendly house and amazing hostessing skills, in the past five months, we’ve shared some of the best discussions I’ve had in my entire life. The deep spirituality of these women leaves my mind spinning. I feel immense gratitude that I can be in the presence of such positive examples, and it was the events of 2020, when prayer became more important than ever, that finally tipped the scales and got it all started.

2. My “One Word” was Nothing Short of Prophetic

Surrender. That was my “one word” for 2020, and boy did it serve me well. Schools shut down and I said, “I’d asked for less chaos in our lives, Lord. This wasn’t quite what I had in mind, but… thank you.” Churches closed, and – while literally bawling my eyes out after receiving the Eucharist for what I knew would be the last time for a while – I said, “You will make good come from this, Lord.” Speaking engagements and personal history projects canceled and I said, “I trust in you to provide, Lord.”

Surrender was exactly what I needed, and the example my family needed. It’s what our Lord asks of each of us. This year He gave us all ample opportunities to practice it — or not. I was incredibly blessed to have the grace of already having the word on my lips, the concept in my mind, the prayer on my heart. Jesus, I surrender myself to you. Take care of everything. 

3. The “Pray” Novena App

In a normal year, I probably pray twelve novenas, maybe fifteen, max. Not this year. This year, I discovered the Pray app, and I prayed not fifteen, not twenty, but twenty-seven novenas.

Most noteworthy? Perhaps the Our Lady of Sorrows novena, in which I asked Our Lady to reveal to me my deepest fault (following advice from Fr. Chad Ripperger). On the day I finished the novena, my deepest fault was revealed. It struck to the core and was one of the best spiritual exercises I did for the year. I also prayed a novena to St. Joseph for provision, and got a call from a new client the next day. And, of course, I prayed the Surrender novena several times. It brought me peace and increased surrender each time!

This was all thanks to the Pray app. It provides a wealth of novenas, sends reminders, keeps track of what novenas you’ve prayed and when. Available for both Apple and Android, I loved it so much a sprang for the “canonization partner” upgrade so I’d have access to more novenas. I highly recommend you download it. (And, no, I’m not getting anything in return for my endorsement!)

4. More Time with Family

It doesn’t matter how many kids you have, how helpful your spouse might be, how much you love your job, or what sort of awesome community you’re a part of. Life in the 21st century has a tendency to get off the rails with busy-ness. That’s absolutely how things felt in early March, when I had five kids who often needed to be five different places, a hubby who needs help getting to work, a business to run, a house to clean, groceries to shop for, yadda, yadda, yadda.

And then it all came to a screeching halt. No school. No CYO sports. No meetings. No… anything. Seriously, I looked around and saw my entire family at home day after day, night after night, and I said, Thank you, Lord. While, okay, I admit to absolutely hating trying to support kids during elearning, and oviously not having the Mass was awful, the rest of it was… a breath of fresh air. I intentionally set my work aside, for the most part, and focused on my family. We played games, we took walks, we prayed, we talked. It was lovely, and I’ll forever be grateful for those months in which bonds were forged which will never be broken.

5. The Winnowing Away of that Which is Unimportant

In difficult times, we must choose that which is most important to us. 2020 was a year for such choices. I gave some things up. Time spent that wasn’t aiding in my path to sainthood. Money spent that wasn’t adding to our financial well-being. There’s more winnowing to do, but it’s progress, and I’m grateful for the necessity to have made it.

How about you? What are you most grateful for in 2020? Please share in the comments!

The Healing Power of Faith

The Healing Power of Faith

A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. She said to herself, “If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured.” Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, “Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.” And from that hour the woman was cured. (Matt 9:20-22)

The Healing Power of the Eucharist

A young woman was in a terrible car accident when she was in college. It left her with a brain injury and paralysis, among other challenges. Several years after the accident, she attended a healing Mass. The priest read the story of the woman with a hemorrhage (Matt 9:20-22) and encouraged the faithful in attendance to believe that, if God willed it, they too would be healed. He then made a Eucharistic procession around the church and invited the sick to touch the tassels of the veil with which he held the monstrance, trusting in the healing power of Christ through the Eucharist. This young woman was hesitant but, encouraged by her mother, reached out her right* hand to touched the garment which held the Eucharist. The right side of her body was healed.

It was this young woman’s mother to whom I spoke when I was struggling with the challenges of living with brain injury in our family. “I pray the Rosary every day,” I told her. “I spend time in scripture, I journal. These are the things that always used to help me stay on track. But it’s not enough now. I still feel totally overwhelmed. I’m impatient and I anger easily. I don’t even recognize myself at times. What else can I do?”

“How often are you receiving the Eucharist?” the woman asked.

I went to Mass every Sunday, of course, and I tried to make it to daily Mass at least once a week. But I had every reason in the world, as a busy mother and brain-injury-caregiver, to not go every day!

This wise woman told me to find a way, however, and I did. Well, okay… not every day, but much more often than I had been going! The effects were remarkable. I noticed that the days I went to Mass seemed more fruitful and productive—completely obliterating the “I don’t have time” excuse! More importantly, I saw a change within myself that was nothing short of miraculous. I grew more patient, more compassionate, more loving, more peace- and joy-filled.

Like the hemorrhaging woman, I needed healing, and that healing was made available to me when I approached our Lord in the Eucharist with faith in His healing power.

Healing that Saves

While physical healings such as the woman with the hemorrhage, or the young woman I described, are a dramatic show of God’s power, love, and mercy, they are not always God’s will. Spiritual healing, however, is, for it is in spiritual healing that we become more like Christ and more pleasing to our Creator.  It is through spiritual healing that we grow closer to God and, as such, that we experience the peace and joy that only Christ can give. It is in this peace and joy that we bear witness to the world and bring other souls to Christ, as well.

As to my own family’s story, I can witness this: God, in his all-loving and all-knowing goodness has not seen fit to give my husband, Ray, the physical healing for which I’ve prayed. Yet, He, in His merciful kindness, has given us spiritual healings beyond telling. Ray has a childlike faith he might never have attained in his former brilliance of mind. My children have seen the words “God will provide” proven in dramatic and very tangible ways. They’ve witnessed answers to a volume of prayers that might otherwise have taken a lifetime to accrue. And I, while still far, far from perfect, consider the journey of the past five years and recognize in myself a growth in grace and virtue that only hardship could have wrought. And in all these things I rejoice, knowing that these spiritual goods are far more important than any temporal, physical thing.

I wonder, after the woman had been healed, did she look back on the previous twelve years and lament her trials? Or did she rejoice in the lessons she learned through them? Did she wish she’d never been sick and desperate for healing? Or did she give thanks that her healing stood as witness to grow the faith of others? Two thousand years later, her story is still being told, and it’s a story that would never have been written had she not endured the challenge of twelve long years and, still, reached out a hand in faith.

Whatever challenges you are facing, whatever sufferings you are called to endure, reach out to Christ, truly present in the Eucharist. Hear His words, as true for you today as they were for the woman thousands of years ago: Courage, daughter. Your faith has saved… is saving… will save… you.

*I may have the specific side of the young woman’s body wrong here. Whichever side it was – right or left – with which she touched the veil, the same side was healed!
Seeking the Face of God

Seeking the Face of God

I was struck today by Christ’s words in John 14:9, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” I thought of Christ’s face, pierced by thorns, spat upon, sweat-laden, as He died on the cross. We’ve seen that face — depicted in artwork, portrayed in movies, and on the Shroud of Turin, which science has shown truly represents the Holy Face of Christ. It is a face of love, gentleness, self-sacrifice, and mercy.

Christ and God are part of the Divine Trinity. They are mysteriously One, yet not one-and-the-same. The Father is not human, His Face is beyond our imagining. The Jews believed that, if they looked upon it, they would die. Yet, what we see written on the face of Christ — love,  gentleness, self-sacrifice, and mercy — are written on the face of God, as well.

Shortly after I’d meditated upon John 14:9, a friend sent another scripture verse. In 2 Chronicles 7:13-14, the Lord tells Solomon, “If I close heaven so that there is no rain, if I command the locust to devour the land, if I send pestilence among my people, if then my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and heal their land.”

It seemed like no coincidence that those two scriptures should come across my path this morning. Our God is merciful, loving, and just. In the midst of this “pandemic,” He asks that we humble ourselves, pray, turn from sin, and seek His face. In His loving care, He has given us even more than His Word in the scriptures. He’s given us His Son, Jesus Christ, that we may better know Him, and better seek Him. Even when we can’t receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, we have this. The very Face of the Son of God, who is God.

Ours is not an angry God. The bad things He allows to happen are due to the freedom of will He has so generously given all mankind. Even when we must suffer consequences from that freedom, He is merciful and loving. He will never give us more than we can bear. His yoke is easy and His burden light, when we seek His face. As the trials of these days lengthen and grow heavier, may we put our trust in Him and seek His face, knowing that He will hear us. He will pardon our sins. He will heal our land.

Thanks be to God.

Awesome Gifts for Everyone on Your List

Awesome Gifts for Everyone on Your List

If you’d rather avoid the mall craziness, allow me to assist by providing gift-giving recommendations that will pretty well cover everyone on your list — even the most difficult people to shop for will love these gifts!

The perfect gift for every jewelry-loving female, shopping at Sunny D’s Marketplace on Etsy is an exercise of sheer delight. Artisan Sunny Dugas combines classical elements of our faith – from crosses to crucifixes, miraculous medals to descending doves – with creative bead work. The result is timeless, beautiful, and inspiring. Best part? It’s affordable too, with items ranging from $10 to $75. This means that — ding! ding! ding! —  St. Nick can even put Sunny’s creations in a feast day shoe or Christmas morn stocking!

Since meeting Sunny at a conference in Chicago, her Etsy shop has been my go-to place for faith-filled jewelry. I wear one of her creations nearly every day, and invariably receive compliments on them.

True proof of my love for her shop: I ordered three more things when (disclaimer) she offered to send a free item in exchange for a favorable review on my blog. Several friends have something gorgeous to look forward to!

Male, Female, Young, Old... Everyone Wears Socks!

Anyone who knows me knows I’m pretty much a total tight-wad (out of sheer necessity if nothing else!) That’s why one and all should be shocked at the fact that I walked out of last year’s Awaken Christmas Boutique with $140 worth of saint socks.

Yes. I kid you not. I spent $140 on saint socks. And it was worth every penny. I bought St. Joseph socks for my pastor and associate pastor, both of whom are named Joseph. I bought St. Michael socks for my boys’ St Nicholas day gifts, Our Lady of Lourdes socks for my girls, and St. JPII socks for my nephew John Paul. I bought St. Therese of Lisieux socks for my friend who’s devoted to her. When I learned she already had a pair, I got her something else and kept the socks for myself! And I’d already bought myself some rosary socks – of course!

These things are comfy, they’re versatile, and they’re SAINT SOCKS! What more must I say?

Teens Who Love to Read

In today’s moral climate, I find myself experiencing a large dose of trepidation with every book my kids bring home. I often sneak onto Amazon to read the summary and reviews, hoping to surmise if it’s another of those books that’s sneaking some un-wanted agenda into my kids’ daily reading. Even with that due diligence, the only way to be 100% sure is to read the book myself — which I hardly have time for!

Fortunately, there are resources to help narrow down the mine-field and find the clear path through
to great reading. Catholic Teen Books is one such resource. I’ve read many of their books and never been disappointed. They are my go-to when finding books for my own children.

A few favorites:

  • For middle school boys: AJ Cattapan’s Seven Riddles to Nowhere
  • For middle school girls: Carmela Martino’s Rosa Sola
  • For young women who love romance: Carolyn Astfalk’s Ornamental Graces
  • For anyone who enjoyed The Hunger Games: Corinna Turner’s I Am Margaret series
  • For anyone who wants to learn what true heroism is: Treachery & Truth by Katie Jones
  • For high school boys: Battle for His Soul by Theresa Linden (Winner of the 2017 Catholic Press Assoc. Award!)

The

For the Person Whose Memories You Cherish

Finally, for the person who has everything — including countless memories — why not memorialize those memories with a personal history written by yours truly?

During this extremely fun and rewarding process, I spend time with the individual to learn the stories of their lives. The joys, triumphs, sorrows, and challenges – you name it! The interview process alone is a gift, since pretty much everyone loves to talk about themselves! That’s hardly the extent of the gift, however. I take those stories and craft them into a well-written, beautifully formatted  hard cover book, complete with photos. It’s a treasure that will be cherished for generations to come!

“Love the book!” and “The book is awesome!” are recent reviews, but “myself and my family will forever be connected to you” was the one that really touched my heart.

If you’d like to learn more, check out my personal history website, and feel free to message me via the contact button here, on Facebook, or on the website above ^^.

 

This post includes affiliate links.

 

 

That time I landed my dream job and quit a year later

That time I landed my dream job and quit a year later

Seemingly ages ago, I began a series of posts titled “That Time I Went to Lourdes and…” They chronicled the events following on our trip to Lourdes (as you might have guessed, which involved  hitting rock bottom and finding my Simon of Cyrene.) The last post ended with me applying for a job, and broadly hinting that that was my Simon of Cyrene. However, the Lord works in mysterious and unexpected ways. When I wrote those posts, I had no idea how very much life was about to change.

The quick version of the end of that story is: I got the job. I [mostly] loved the job. Everybody suffered. I quit the job.

There’s a beginning to a new story that I want to share too: I started something pretty amazing. Oh, wait. I didn’t start something amazing.

Confused? Here’s all of that in more detail:

I got the job.

I was pretty confident after the first interview that I would, so this was no surprise, to be honest. I cried for weeks, but I knew it was what I was meant to do.

I [mostly] loved the job.

In so many ways, it was my dream job. If I was going to leave my family every day and go to work, about the only way I could imagine doing it was in a Catholic environment. This position allowed me to write about matters of faith – and get paid to do it! I got to market Catholic organizations I believed in, promote pilgrimage as a way to grow closer to Christ, and be a part of a ministry I believed in. Best of all, I was blessed to work with a group of devout Catholics. Office “gossip” centered around Theology of the Body, the saint of the day, and the best local homilists and confessors. Our days started with prayer, our phone conversations ended with “God bless,” and the acceptable response when faced with a decision was, “Let’s pray about it.”

I confess to having always wondered how working moms could be away from their kids so much, and I knew this would be a struggle for me. What I didn’t know or understand was the value of “finding myself” as a successful, goal-driven woman again. I had failed to appreciate the value of adult conversation on a daily basis – especially for the wife of a brain injury survivor who has very little to contribute to most conversations! It was a pleasant surprise to discover an “upside” to being a working mom.

However, loving a job and loving certain aspects of working didn’t quite overcome the many challenges.

Everybody suffered.

There’s a reason why most mothers with large-ish families don’t work outside of the home. Every kid has needs, and the more the kids, the greater the demands on a mother’s time and energy. No matter how wonderfully helpful your kids are (and mine are pretty great), there are certain things they can’t do. Like scheduling and attending doctors’ appointments, helping with homework, communicating with teachers, and spending one-on-one quality time showing maternal love. And this doesn’t take into account the myriad of things a wife is called to do for her husband, which were compounded in our situation by a brain injury that prevents Ray from driving or managing a myriad of responsibilities that he would have otherwise overseen.

The kids’ grades and health went into a rather steep decline – at least for a few of them. I saw scores on report cards that caused my jaw to drop and my blood to boil, and it felt as though I had a different sick kid everyday. My oldest, who had never missed more than two days of school in previous years, missed a whopping 22 days last year! We had pink eye, sinus infections, flu viruses, and – for the love of all that’s good – LICE!

(Okay, lice had nothing to do with me working, but still… it was one more day added to a year filled with way too many absences.)

Ray’s general wellbeing suffered as well. Left to his own devices from 8 to 5 every day, he stayed in bed until three most afternoons, and spent exorbitant amounts of time absorbed in online materials that were bringing him down rather than building him up… in a big way.

Last but not least (and my spiritual director would gently chastise me for putting this last), my spiritual, mental and physical health suffered too. I was up until midnight most nights, and the alarm sounded at 5:30 each morning. I didn’t work out, I didn’t socialize, I no longer attended my mom’s group at church or my book club meetings. The idea of writing another novel became a pie in the sky dream that I would never have the time to achieve. Promoting the novel I had already written was impossible, and my preparation for speaking engagements was frightfully haphazard. Worst of all, no matter how much I enjoyed aspects of being in the office, I agonized over the time I was losing with my family – time I could never get back.

And the truth of the matter is, there were challenges in the work environment as well – ones that I won’t go into but – honestly – it was those office challenges that had me in a state of absolute heartache one night. It wasn’t the first time I’d felt this way, but this was the night that I finally pleaded just before I went to bed: “Lord, I know this isn’t what you want for me. Please show me how you want me to provide for my family.”

Not surprisingly, He did, and He wasted no time in doing so.

I quit the job.

I woke at 4:00AM with a concept buzzing through my head. I didn’t yet have a name for it, but it wouldn’t leave me alone or let me go back to sleep. I got up, did a little research, and knew that this was something I would enjoy doing, and something that would be incredibly meaningful for families. It would give me the flexibility I needed, and – with a lot of hard work – would provide a good income for my family.

That was in early March. In May, life events made it extremely evident that I could no longer work full-time, so I went part-time. My employer was amazing, but I knew it couldn’t last. Working part-time didn’t provide enough income, and I felt that I was losing money by not focusing efforts on my new business. In June, one day after I would have celebrated my one year anniversary with the company, I handed in my resignation.

I won’t lie. Quitting my job was going out on a limb in a big, big way. It didn’t help when the air conditioner broke and we discovered a rather large hole in the roof the very same day I handed in my notice. The very same day. But God had shown me what He wanted me to do, and I had to step out in faith.

I accepted the broken A/C and dilapidated roof as God’s way of saying, “Failure is not an option.” If this was His will, he would be my rock in making it happen.

I started something pretty amazing.

By this time, it was mid-June. I had given that 4:00AM inspiration a name – Inkwell Personal Histories. I had formulated a plan, found a graphic designer, created a website and the requisite social media accounts. I had pitched the idea to my first potential client – and he loved it. I told a few other people and they loved it too, so much so that several of them had joined an already growing list of clients.

So what was that idea? In a nutshell, we write people’s life histories, taking their most treasured memories and weaving them into well-written and enjoyable stories. We compile each person’s stories into a beautiful hard-bound book that will be cherished for generations to come.

Inkwell’s vision is “To positively impact the future by chronicling the past.” We aim to celebrate the seemingly ordinary people who are extraordinary to those who love them – everyday heroes who have quietly made an impact on family, friends, and communities.

I didn’t start something amazing.

God did. Without Him, none of this would have happened. He’s already blessed the effort in amazing ways, and continues to reveal new and exciting opportunities. Not only can I help families connect through their understanding of loved ones’ histories, I can also give peace to the dying when they are  able to leave behind a tangible piece of themselves. This can help those who have impaired memories to regain some of what they’ve lost, and help those who have lost loved ones to compile memories posthumously. Parents can gift their graduating senior with memories of their lives so far, with encouragement to continue to pursue their dreams. With the guided autobiography classes I’ll soon start teaching, individuals can begin to write their own histories, and enjoy the cathartic benefits of examining the past through a fresh lens. Best of all, I’ve already started ghost-writing a novel of faith for an amazing Christian woman, and plan to make “Journeys of Faith” a cornerstone of the business.

God may have started it, but He’s shown me again and again that it’s success is dependent on His grace and my hard work. I’m incredibly excited – and slightly awed – to move forward in this journey. God only knows where it will lead!

P.S.

If you’re interested in learning more about Inkwell Personal Histories, you can do so at www.iwpersonalhistories.com. And please (please, please!) follow Inkwell on social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Of course, feel free to reach out via email as well! (stephanie @ inkwell writes.com, without the spaces)

 

That Time I Came Home From Lourdes and Found My Simon of Cyrene

That Time I Came Home From Lourdes and Found My Simon of Cyrene

“Jesus Falls for the First Time” from the life-sized Stations of the Cross at Lourdes

My last post left off with me a blubbering mess – sunken into a jet-lagged, hormone- and stress-induced pit of despair from which only medical pharmacology was able to drag me.

Looking back, I have to laugh at myself, while also acknowledging that – yeah, I had totally legitimate reasons for falling under the weight of responsibility.

But here’s the beauty of it – even Christ fell under the weight of his cross. Three times, in fact – showing by his perfect example that we, in our humanity, can only take so much. At the same time, demonstrating the need to seek and accept help, as Christ received the help of Simon the Cyrene in carrying his cross.

I’d already been blessed by so many “Simon’s” – friends, family, and strangers who brought us meals and did my grocery shopping throughout the first several months of Ray’s recovery. Those who watched my kids so that I could be with him in the hospital or take him to therapy; those who provided a cleaning lady so I’d have one less thing to worry about; those who donated to our GoFundMe account or just randomly slipped a check into my hand; and, of course, those who lifted us up in prayer.

But this event last spring was a private cross. Whereas our entire community – and beyond – knew about the initial heart attack and brain injury, I was the only one that knew that I was caving under the weight of that same cross which had been placed on me more than a year and a half before. My family was already helping as much as could possibly be expected. They regularly watched the kids, helped with driving and meals, and more. Ray’s parents lived a half hour away, and the long drive made it impossible for them to help often.

I was on my own.

Only, I wasn’t. Duh.

First, so that I could think straight, our wonderful babysitter Hannah, came over and transformed the house into one I could at least live in. Something so simple, and yet it was enough to help me see through the mess and begin to prioritize. I turned to prayer, and the next day – once the jet lag and the anti-anxiety meds had worn off – I felt more myself. My problems weren’t resolved, but they seemed a lot more manageable.

When faced with seemingly insurmountable problems, the best Christian prayer might be as simple as “God, show me the way.” It’s one I pray often. In the immediate aftermath of that crash into self-pity I prayed, God, show me the way. His answer came in a very unexpected way – an unlikely “Simon of Cyrene.”

Going to Lourdes had set me on fire for pilgrimage. While we were there, I began to dream of being able to take each of my kids on a pilgrimage for their high school graduation. Two days after we returned home, I looked up prices. While it was actually less than the cost of going to Disney World, it still wasn’t something that I would ever be able to afford under our current circumstances.

Okay, God. I have to believe you want my children to go on pilgrimage, because I know they’d grow closer to you. If you want this, please show me the way.

And then I got an email from a pilgrimage company. My name had found its way to their email distribution list when I attended a movie night they hosted a few months before. Their offices are local, and the owner of the company happens to be a parishioner at my church. They were hiring.

A communications director.

The person needed to be a proficient writer, fluent in social media and email marketing, motivated, and passionate about helping others.

Hmmm. Interesting.

But, seriously, God, I’m sure your answer to my problem of being crushed under the weight of responsibility is not that I should get a job. 

So I left the email in my inbox and resolved to forget pray about it.

And then a friend texted me. She’d seen a job opportunity that I’d be perfect for.

Ugh. I guess I really do have to pray about this. 

And so it was that a week later I found myself in a job interview. And afterwards I sobbed because I knew I’d get the job. For days weeks I cried every time I thought about being away from my kids.

But at the same time, new possibilities opened up. Maybe I’d actually be able to pay for a little bit of therapy for Ray. Maybe I could finally hire a cleaning lady. Maybe we could take a family vacation. Surely I’d be able to send each of my children on a pilgrimage at some point in their lives if I was actually working for a pilgrimage company!

For many years, whenever money got tight, I’d pray, God, if you want me to get a job, please make it abundantly clear, and show me the job you want me to have. Every time, money would providentially appear. An unexpected check in the mail, a gift from a friend, a refund I hadn’t known was coming, the food not ringing up at the grocery store and the manager giving it to me for free. Again, and again, and again. But now, God was making it abundantly clear, and he had, indeed shown me the job. Now, I prayed, God, I think you want me to do this. If not, please close this door.

And the door opened wider. Could my “Simon of Cyrene” be… a job?

Stay tuned for the rest of the story…

That Time I Went to Lourdes and Came Home to Hit Rock Bottom

Putting an end to a very prolonged blogging absence… I’m going to attempt to write the story that has prevented me from publishing to the blog in many, many months – partially because it’s not an easy story to tell, and partially because one event in the story has led me to be even more ridiculously busy than I was beforehand. So here goes: the story of the time I went to Lourdes and came home to hit rock bottom.

Lourdes is a tiny town in France where the Blessed Mother appeared to a young girl in the 19th century. During one of the apparitions, water miraculously sprung from the ground, and that water has been associated with many miraculous healings. Since then, it’s become a popular pilgrimage destination, especially for those seeking spiritual or physical healing. The Order of Malta generously takes “malades” and their caregivers every year, and Ray and I were fortunate enough to be included in last year’s trip. (Thanks to my friend and fellow Catholic YA author, AJ Cattapan, who’s a Dame in the Order of Malta, and sponsored us to go on the trip!)

As we embarked on our pilgrimage, Ray’s healing was first and foremost on my mind. While we’d already experienced numerous miracles, he was still subject to many deficits compared to his previous capabilities – deficits which prevented him from living the life he – or we – would love to live, achieving the goals and dreams that we once held for ourselves and our family.

Interestingly, Ray underwent a brief transformation while we were in Lourdes. One day we went to a healing Mass. On the same day, we were both submerged in the healing waters of the baths at Lourdes. That evening, Ray’s speech became clearer, more quick and concise. His thoughts seemed to come at a much faster pace. We enjoyed one very special meal – just the two of us – and a fun evening of karaoke with our fellow pilgrims. It was almost like old times. I felt incredibly blessed to have those special hours with him, but held my breath, fearful that it wouldn’t last or that – maybe – I was simply imagining things. Indeed, it was a temporary improvement, but I felt that it gave me a glimpse of what could be – of what still might be – if God chooses to grant healing to Ray in the future.

This particular story I’m sharing with you today, however, isn’t about that particular intention. Very close behind the prayer for Ray’s healing was one for my own healing. Not a physical healing, but a spiritual one. In fact, that need had become so obvious that I was probably praying for my own healing at least as ardently as for Ray’s. The challenges of being a “brain injury wife,” the mother to five young children, and juggling the numerous other responsibilities I held were taking a serious toll on me. I found myself impatient, jumpy, stressed out, quick to anger, and any other number of unpleasant things. Hence, I went specifically praying a prayer I had learned during preparation for Marian Consecration, which is adapted from St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “Mary, lend me your heart and keep me in your most pure heart.”

A heart like Mary’s, and the graces to carry the crosses I’d been given. That was what I most desperately needed.

The trip to Lourdes was wonderful, but also incredibly busy and with very little downtime. As an introvert, who spends a lot of time every day in quiet prayer and reflection, the hustle and bustle proved a bit difficult, especially since I found myself with so little time to refill my cup in silent prayer. However, I greatly enjoyed meeting many wonderful people from the Order of Malta, and felt incredibly blessed by the friendships that we made.

One woman in particular shared the story of her friend who’s husband had also suffered a brain injury. Her friend realized that what her husband needed was to have someone working with him to keep his mind and body active throughout the day. So, she worked with him for eight hours every day and – miraculously – the man improved and was able to lead an almost normal life. Except – scratch that – the wife didn’t work with him. She had gobs of money, so she hired someone to work with him.

Imagine the needle screeching across the record at this point. I can’t afford a full time employee to provide therapy to my husband! But – since I sometimes make the mistake of thinking I’m Super Woman – I was determined to somehow figure out a way to provide that 40 hours per week on my own. Buoyed by that glimpse of the Ray that “could be,” I went home determined to do make it happen. I was going to keep Ray’s mind stimulated for eight hours a day, every day of the week.

We arrived home on a Tuesday night after a long day of travel – jet-lagged, exhausted, and anxious to see the kids, who had been very well cared for by my mom during our six day absence. She had skillfully and lovingly made sure that everyone was fed and clothed, made their lunches, drove them to and from school each day, helped them with their homework,and gotten them to the wide variety of activities and sports that five kids tend to be involved in. In fact, you might say my mom is the real Super Woman of the story! Alas, though, as one might suspect, keeping on top of things like laundry and housework was not at the top of her list. The house was in need of a serious straightening, several loads of laundry needed to be folded, the floors needed to be swept… you get the picture.

And so it happened that late the next morning found me sitting in the family room, kids at school, and Ray still in bed. I hadn’t been able to rouse him despite all my efforts, so instead I had grabbed my laptop in hopes of tackling the mountain of work I had gotten behind on. The laundry piled on top of the couch proved too great a distraction. I began to think of everything I needed to do. I needed to write another book in order to help support our family. I needed to promote the book I’d already written. I needed to write a newsletter for one of my freelance clients. And I needed to fold those clothes. And vacuum the floors. And clean the evidence of boys in the bathroom. And then there was the fact that I needed to figure out a way to stimulate Ray’s mind for eight hours a day but how was I going to do that when I couldn’t even figure out how to get him out of bed???!!!!

Once a month – on about the 14th day of a 28 day cycle – I’m prone to anxiety. I think maybe this was the 14th day. Or maybe it was just the jet lag. I’d like to use both of those as my excuse. But the long and the short of it is: I lost it. I started sobbing. Long, deep, gut-wrenching sobs that I didn’t know existed within me. Maybe, on some level, I was finally mourning the loss our family suffered on that fateful November night in 2015. Maybe I was feeling sorry for myself. Maybe I’m just human and finally became overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of everything that was being asked of me – or, rather, everything that I was expecting of myself. Whatever it was, I couldn’t stop. Just as I thought I finally had it under control, I would be swamped by another wave, and overcome by another bout of sobbing. I’d give into it for a little bit and then struggle back up to the surface, only to be plunged under again. This went on for hours.

Finally, as time to pick kids up from school drew near, I resorted to calling a friend who was able to prescribe – and deliver – something to get me calmed down. It worked, and I went through the remainder of the day in a strange emotionless haze.

So there you have it: the time I went to Lourdes praying for a heart like Mary’s and – somehow – came home to hit rock bottom.

Fortunately, this isn’t the end of the story. But, this story is way too long for a single blog post, so you’ll have to wait a day or two for the next chapter. (I’ll give you a hint, though: I’m still working on that heart like Mary’s. But, I think I’m a lot closer than I was. The interesting thing is the strange twists and turns its taken me to get here, and the many unknowns that I hope will continue me on the path.)

While you’re waiting for that next chapter, check out these two amazing stories from my fellow pilgrims to Lourdes:

AJ Cattapan’s “That Time I Went to Lourdes and God Whacked Me Upside the Head”

AJ’s “Pod Members” Miracle: “That Time We Went to Lourdes and Our Son Was Healed

Summer Reading for You and Your Teen


Okay, okay. Lately, life has been busy enough that a major catalyst is required to get me to publish a blog post. The last post – over a month ago – was instigated by my appearance on “At Home with Jim and Joy” on EWTN television. In true “Stephanie” style, this post is the product of a similar event – namely, an appearance on “The Jen Fulwiler Show” on SiriusXM’s Channel 129. (I’d say “Eek!!!!” but I’m much too cool, calm and collected for that. Plus, I said it for about an hour after I received the request to appear.)

 

Anyways… My last post promised upcoming reviews of a few of the great Catholic YA Novels I’ve read lately, all of which are on the website, Catholic Teen Books. The site helps parents, educators, and teens find great, well-written fiction that promises to uphold and support Catholic, Christian values. Perhaps a day (or 30) late, but hopefully not a dollar short, here are those reviews. Your kids will love these books – and so will you – so please keep reading and order them from your favorite purveyor of literature!

Rosa Sola, by Carmela Martino – Ages 11+

The summary:

Rosa Bernardi, an only child living with her Italian immigrant parents in 1960s Chicago, often feels alone, or SOLA, as her parents would say. But after she holds her best friend AnnaMaria’s baby brother for the first time, Rosa is sure that if she prays hard enough, God will send her a brother of her own. When Rosa’s prayers for a sibling are answered, she is overjoyed—until tragedy strikes. Rosa is left feeling more SOLA than ever, and wondering if her broken family will ever be whole again.

My two cents:

I absolutely loved this book. It deals with a heavy subject – the loss of a newborn child – but it does so with hope and faith. I confess that I had to set the book down at one point because I became so wrapped up in the emotions of the young protagonist, who had longed for a baby brother or sister and was heart broken by the loss. But, that’s the mark of a great story, right? I highly recommend this book for girls age 11 and up, and for 5th through 8th grade classrooms.

Treachery and Truth by Katy Huth Jones – Ages 13+

The summary:

Immersed in the historical background of the tenth century, this true tale of Good King Wenceslaus, as told by his faithful servant Poidevin, brings the reader into the Dark Ages. Fear grips the land of Bohemia as the faithful face betrayal and persecution under the reign of the pagan Duchess Dragomira. As she struggles for power with the rightful heir, Prince Vaclav, her foes forge alliances in secret despite the risk of discovery. Who will survive?

My two cents:

Another wonderful book from Pauline Books and Media (no, I’m not biased!). The best thing about this particular book, though, is its audience – BOYS!!!! If you’re looking for an excellent read for a young man in your life, this is it. Well written, great story line, violence, intrigue, betrayal. Everything a boy loves. Plus the amazing faith of the much sung about saint of whom very little is really known – St. Wenceslaus. It would be an excellent addition to any 7th or 8th grade classroom.

P.S. I’m a girl, and I loved this book, so I think your daughter will too!

Angelhood by Amy Cattapan – Ages 15+

Summary:

Seventeen-year-old theater geek Nanette believes her life is headed toward stardom on Broadway. But when her dream theater college rejects her and her best friend dies in a terrible accident, Nanette decides the world would be better off without her. Unfortunately, the afterlife offers something less than a heavenly situation. Trapped between alternating periods of utter darkness and light, Nanette is stuck following a high school freshman around. Soon, she learns she’s a guardian angel, and the only way she can earn her wings is to keep her young charge, Vera, from committing the same sin she did–taking her own life.

Unfortunately, Nanette is missing more than just her wings. She has no tangible body or voice, either. Frustrated by her inability to reach out to Vera and haunted by memories of her old life, Nanette wants to give up, but then she sees what happens when another Guardian at the high school turns his back on his charge. The shock is enough to supercharge Nanette’s determination. She’s going to find peace in the afterlife…as soon as she can convince Vera that living is what life is all about.

My two cents:

I purchased this and read it well over a year ago, but remember it as if I’d read it last month. The story is well written, the plot moves quickly, the characters are well developed. I’d highly recommend this for the highschool-aged teen in your life, especially if their lives have been touched by suicide, or if they’ve been traumatized by the show “13 Reasons Why.” In fact, I’d call this book the antidote to that mindset – a, “13 Reasons Why Not,” if you will. I’d also suggest reading it with your teen, as it will provide abundant opportunities for discussion that, sadly, is much needed in our day.

If Only I Had the Time…

Sadly, my reading time is ridiculously limited – even nonexistent – these days. I’d love to read and review all of the book on Catholic Teen Books, but – alas, I’m a long ways off. I did do reviews of Amy Cattapan’s 7 Riddles to Nowhere and Leslea Wahl’s The Perfect Blindside last year, so be sure to read those if you haven’t already. And of course, check out Catholic Teen Books for a wide variety of books that will appeal to all age groups and interests!

I’m linking up to Carolyn Astfalk’s “An Open Book” blog link up, on CatholicMom.com. Check it out to learn what other Catholic blogger moms are reading this summer!

Note: The books reviewed above were all given to me by the authors or their publisher, not in exchange for a review, but so that I could share them with teachers at the NCEA Conference. I’m pleased and honored to review great Catholic fiction!

Also note: Book links are affiliate links. If you click on them, and add anything to your shopping cart, I’ll get a tiny but much-appreciated kick-back – but you’ll pay the same price! Thanks for your support!

Great Catholic Teen Fiction for Your Kids’ Summer Reading List

It’s summer time. If your kids are anything like mine, they can barely pull their noses out of their books, and you’ve already had to make three trips to the library to keep them in reading materials.

 

Ha! Just kidding. Let’s try this again:

 

If your kids are anything like mine, they can barely keep their noses out of their devices, and you’ve gone hoarse telling them to turn those infernal things off and go do something  – anything! – that does not involve YouTube, MineCraft, Instagram or the like!

 

What’s a parent to do? Well, I for one am requiring that my kids read everyday before they’re allowed to turn anything electronic on. And… I’m bribing rewarding them with a monetary reward for the child who reads the most over the next ten weeks.

 

Knowing how difficult it can be to find high quality fiction in the midst of the madness of our culture, I’m pleased to tell you about a new website that will help you find great books, all while sneaking a dose of faith into that summer reading. It’s called: www.CatholicTeenBooks.com.

 

 

This site includes many award-winning authors, and a variety of genres that will appeal to every child in your household. Find books by genre or author, and even access resources for teachers if you’d like to take summer reading a step further.

 

Finding great books is hard! I hope this resource will be of great help to you and your family this summer and beyond!

 

P.S. To help you out further, I’ll be posting reviews of a few that I’ve read in the coming days. Also check out Theresa Linden’s blog, as she’s doing a series of reviews of Catholic teen fiction this month!

 

A Single Bead Won the Excellence in Publishing Award!

It’s true! A Single Bead recently received the Association of Catholic Publisher’s Excellence in Publishing award.

 

Okay, okay. Technically it took second place in the “Children’s Books” category. But, since the first place winner was written by THE POPE, I’m perfectly happy with second place. In fact, I’d have been slightly horrified if it had taken first place over a book written by Christ’s right hand man!

 

So, I’m celebrating second place as if it were first place!

 

In a year and a half that has felt distinctly like a roller coaster ride, I am so very grateful for the many, many blessings that God has given me, most of which I’ll never even find the time to write down. One of those great blessings, though, has been the success of this book, the knowledge that it’s changing lives, and that lives of prayer – particularly prayer of the Rosary – are being strengthened. Winning this award is icing on an already fabulous cake.

 

God is good!

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