Month: December 2015

Homeschool Month of Service: 3 Ways Service Learning Improves Kids’ Attitudes

Homeschool

Our first two Januaries as a homeschool family were so miserable that I very nearly threw in the towel.  The first year, the kids just did not want to be bothered to learn anything.  They fought me and cried over just about everything.  When I asked for advice from the veterans, I got everything from have them repeat scripture verses until their attitudes change (well-meaning advice but, frankly, fruitless in our house) to, “Take them on field trips!”

I managed a few field trips here and there–the weather wasn’t so bad that year, after all–but when it was time to come back to the books, we only had more fighting and crying than before.

The next year I thought I was so wise.  “Perhaps they’re just not engaged in those measly field trips.  Perhaps we need to really WOW them to make them happy enough to learn!” So guess where Santa sent us for the first part of our second homeschooling January:

WDWGift

Problem solved, right? I mean, they went from the indulgences of the Christmas season to a nonstop delightfest in Central Florida’s International Temple of Juvenile Hedonism.  Then I was shocked–shocked!–when we came home and nobody wanted to start learning again.  Was that not enough field trip for them?  Didn’t they get surfeited on fun in order to get ready to learn again?

“Oh, honey,” I want to tell my 2013 self, “it just doesn’t work that way.”

So here’s what we tried last January (weather dragged it into February) and what we’re doing again this January (we’ll see what weather does to us this year).

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Discover a world without their luxuries.  Last year I gave First Shift (then 5th grade) a list of the world’s 50 poorest countries, told each to pick one, then research and answer 20 questions about that country: Where do they get their water? How often are their meals? How old are girls when they get married? Do they have roads, hospitals, internet access?  Do they have schools?  What’s the average household income, life span? Why is life like that in this country?  What would you do to change things?

They’re nerds, so they were both excited to learn new things independently (read: computer time), but as they delved further into the project, the more teachable moments came forward.  For instance, one morning they were complaining about having to share table space and a math book.  I had the opportunity to say, “If you lived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, would you even have a math book?”  Their jaws dropped.  Then they closed their mouths and got to work.

Over all, they now seem more appreciative of what they have and less demanding for more.  This project taught our kids to see everything they have as gift–even homeschooling.  

 

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Discover the concept of both-and.  There are plenty of people who say that we shouldn’t look abroad for people to help when we have a whole country of need here in ‘Murica.  With that in mind, we did do a number of hands-on service projects locally.  One of those projects brought us to a local food cupboard for a tour and donation sorting.  We saw their industrial-sized refrigerators and freezers, their new kitchen for teaching cooking and canning classes, their rooms lined with shelves for nonperishables.  We had the opportunity to ask what our tour guide thought it would be like to have a food cupboard in sub-Saharan Africa.  She acknowledged that not only would they not have the same kind of infrastructure (no electricity for the refrigeration), but they also would not have people around who were affluent enough to have anything to donate in the first place.

Yes, there is real need here, but there’s also more desperate need elsewhere.  There is no reason we can’t reach out both near and far.  This also showed our kids that there’s good reason to learn not just local geography and history but global as well.  

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Discover the actual faces around you.  We were lucky to have Second Shift in preschool one day into the afternoon so that I could take First Shift to a local homeless shelter where we served lunch.  I don’t know why I was surprised, but the three of us served alongside a couple of guys there for court-assigned community service.  They didn’t look much like the people we see on a daily basis out here in East Cornfield, where the fields are brown and the manure is fragrant, and up until recently the closest thing we’ve had to diversity is a mix of both Amish and Mennonites.  But we were all helping others together, which showed us all that the people who help don’t have to look a certain way.

Moreover, the people we were helping didn’t all look a certain way either.  Some people wore the expected uniform: tattered clothing, many layers and an overstuffed backpack.  Others, however, didn’t fit the preconceived notions: polished shoes, ties, a nice purse.  Just because people can afford to dress well enough to keep their jobs and maybe pay rent and child care doesn’t mean they can afford their daily bread on top of it all.  You can’t tell by looking at someone whether or not that person could use a bit of mercy.

What do these examples do for our homeschooling?  A student who sees an adult helping others can see herself helping others, too.  A student who sees an adult asking for and receiving help is given the gift of humility, and nobody learns anything without humility.  

The most vital job of education is to teach children to become more fully human. The benefit of focusing just one month out of the twelve on serving others is that it make serving others part of our family culture.  When a friend had surgery, it’s no big deal to bring her lunch.  When an elderly family member has been laid up for several months, it’s not a shock that we go over to his house and clean the bathroom and kitchen.  When St. Elizabeth of Hungary’s feast day comes around, nobody complains that we’re skipping recess so we can bring Thanksgiving fixins to the food cupboard along with flowers for the workers there.

FoodCupboardFlowers

It also makes it less of a surprise that we serve each other in our family: whether it’s through putting laundry away, scooping the cat litter, or completing a math assignment without complaint.

It’s a little late in the game, but I’m finally working on our January 2016 plans as we speak.  I have calls in to the animal shelter, a local Habitat for Humanity, the county ARC, and we’ve started saving money to buy much-needed play doctor kits for the local children’s hospital.  The 6th graders will be researching life for the poorest of the poor in the United States–those on Indian reservations.  We’re looking forward to it, too–more than we would be to an new math book and a new grammar and writing kit.  However, the discoveries we make in service lay the groundwork for the book learning, because those discoveries show our kids–and me as their teacher–the real value of the books.  They’re tools to help us make our world more beautiful.

Have you ever suffered a case of “the Januaries” (or maybe even “the Februaries”)? What’s been your best remedy?  What are some ways you have seen service help your family, either on the giving or the receiving end?  What have you and your children learned as a result?  

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7 Books I Read Over Hiatus

A writer never goes on hiatus from reading! Between the Catholic Writers Conference Live, the World Meeting of Families, and assorted review copies coming my way, I have a ton of books to share with you, mes amis!

7 (2)

The Sweetest Rain by Myra Johnson

SweetestRainCover

Summary:

As the drought of 1930 burns crops to a crisp, Bryony Linwood dreams of cooling winter snows and the life she would have had if Daddy hadn’t been killed in the Great War and Mama hadn’t moved Bryony and her sisters to their grandfather’s struggling tenant farm in tiny Eden, Arkansas. Now Mama’s gone, too, and as times grow tougher, Bryony will do whatever it takes to ensure her family’s survival.

Michael Heath barely survived the war, and twelve years later all he wants to do is forget. A virtual recluse, his one passion is botanical illustration. Lost in the diversity of nature’s beauty, he finds escape from a troubled past and from his wealthy father’s continual pressure to take an interest in the family plantation.

When Bryony accepts employment at the Heath mansion, it’s just a job at first, a means to ward off destitution until the drought ends and Grandpa’s farm is prosperous again. But Bryony’s forced optimism and dogged determination disguise a heart as dry and despairing as the scorched earth . . . until she discovers Michael Heath and his beautiful botanical illustrations. As their relationship deepens, friendship soon blossoms into healing for wounded souls and a love that can’t be denied.

Call this one another guilty pleasure without the guilt.  The older I get more sweet Catholic romances I read, the more I am being converted to the genre.  By the way, when I say “sweet,” I don’t mean saccharine.  I mean happy-ending-but-not-without-the-pain-of-rebirth sweet.  Sweetest Rain has that plus real characters, believable conflict, and a historical period not often visited but done so in rich, lively detail.  BTW, I had no discomfort leaving this one around for my 11 year-old First Shift to read, even though they don’t like romance. The elder member of First Shift finished it before I did (she does have more leisure reading time, but still).  I enjoyed it, and I hope you will, too.  It’s also refreshing to see a larger Catholic publisher taking on some commercial-style fiction for actual grownups, so if you want to support that kind of undertaking, Sweetest Rain is a valuable use of your time and cash.

The Little Douglings books by Carissa Douglas

I was lucky to meet the author at the World Meeting of Families. Little did I know at the time that perhaps in the very hour when I met Carissa Douglas and set about acquiring Little Douglings books from her, First Shift was at the youth congress, meeting another kid who said, “Yeah, I’m here because my mom’s upstairs selling books.”  Catholic Writers’ Kids know how to find kindred spirits.

Anyway, all of us, young and old, enjoyed these three books.  In each, we see the story of a Catholic family trying to live out the sacraments through the ups and downs of living in an imperfect work.  However, because the Little Douglings choose to live the sacraments/teach each other how to live them, they make those ups and downs holy and fruitful in ways only sacramental living can.

Okay, for a second, ignore all the theology I just (uncharacteristically) poured into that mini-review.  These books are fun-filled ways to introduce big topics, even Theology of the Body (see A Gift of Myself), to pretty much all ages.  So without further ado…

I Go to Jesus

IGoToJesus

This book will encourage the little ones in your life (and adults too) to come to a fuller appreciation of Christ, truly present in the Holy Eucharist.  Help remind them of His deep love for them and His desire to encounter them often through the gift of the Blessed Sacrament.

There’s really not much else to say other than I recommend this book for showing anyone of any age the value of the Eucharist.

A Gift of Myself

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This one is the sweetest little intro to the Theology of the Body.  Yes, it’s aimed at kids, but honestly, I know plenty of adults who could use this kind of intro.  The author starts with family conflict and shows the peace that can be gained by thinking of others… and how the model of a marriage ordered both mentally and physically towards denying oneself for the sake of new life is the manifestation of that peace.  Out of all three Douglings books so far, this one is my favorite.

All Things New

AllThingsNew

This latest addition to the Little Douglings series will help the little ones in your life come to a deeper understanding of God’s unfailing Mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

This would make an ideal gift for the little one in your life preparing for the Sacrament of Reconciliation or for any little one, especially during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.  It’s an honest yet sweet look at what that sacrament does, why we need it, and why it’s worth the effort.

Easter Bunny’s Amazing Day by Carol Benoist & Cathy Gilmore

EasterBunnyAmazingDay

Meet the Risen Jesus with an amazing bunny―and his amazing tale―in this beautifully illustrated hardcover children’s book. Children will learn about Jesus’ friendship and comfort through the eyes of a timid bunny rabbit who experiences firsthand the love and joy Jesus brings. A new enhanced version will be available Easter 2014, and these first-edition copies are going fast! Easter Bunny’s Amazing Day is sure to be a family favorite every Easter.

I’m linking to Cathy Gilmore’s page, because she’s the author I got to meet at the Catholic Writers Conference.  She’s a good egg, very enthusiastic about what she does, and so approachable.

Anyway, this book is so stinking adorable, and I’m not just talking the illustrations.  The whole story is about a bunny who is scared of everything and about how God uses those fears to give the frightened bunny something, well, amazing.  Yes, this is a great book to prepare kids for the celebration of the Resurrection at Easter.  Yes, this is a great book to read during the last weeks of Lent (which, btw, will be here before you know it, so don’t slack, my friends).  However, this book has surprising year-round value, because it shows children (especially kids with many youthful fears, ahem, Second Shift of Kid) how God can work through our fears to give us great gifts.  In fact, that’s a good message for parents of timid children as well.  HIGHLY recommended.

Last but most certainly not least…

The Living Water Series by Stephanie Landsem

The Well

TheWell

For the Samaritan women of Sychar, the well is a place of blessing—except for Mara, whose family has been shunned for the many sins of her mother, Nava. But will their encounter with two men—a mysterious young man from Caesarea named Shem and a Jewish teacher called Jesus—change their lives forever?

Packed with heart-wrenching emotion and many, many surprising twists, The Well pulled my heartstrings in so many directions… and that’s what makes me downright love a book.  This is another “wish Amazon had six stars to give” kind of book.  Warning: I read it on a Sunday (yes, in one day) without removing my churchgoing eye makeup, and when I finally closed the book, I looked like The Winter Soldier.  Or a tall, plump racoon.  Either way, this book needs a Five Tissue Warning but will leave your heart soaring with delight over how God can turn mess into message.

The Thief

TheThief

A Roman centurion longing for peace and a Jewish woman hiding a deadly secret witness a miracle that transforms their lives and leads them to the foot of the cross.

In The Thief, Stephanie Landsem does it again with a tough but vulnerable female protagonist, impossible situations, unbelievable hope, and the all-powerful touch of Christ on the pages of human history, of personal history. The edgy, risky prose makes the relationships in The Thief come alive and make the reader’s heart pound for them with each new plot twist, break for them at each agony, and cheer for them with each narrow escape.  I highly recommend this fresh take on the story of the Good Thief and the Centurion at  the foot of the cross.

Whew!  I thought I’d never get all that out there! However, see how I got the reviews out there without needing to write books about each book?  As I reflected in my December EMC Reader Newsletter, leaving a book review covers several Spiritual Works of Mercy.  No, I’m not  being self-serving in saying so.  With one book review, can you counsel the doubtful, admonish the sinner, instruct the ignorant, comfort the afflicted, even bear wrongs patiently?  I think so.  I aim to chat about that in another post in the near future, as time permits.

BTW, I can probably make this a…

Seven Quick Takes Linkup

How’s your Christmas season going? Did you get an Amazon gift card? Did you already spend part of it on the It’s Still Christmas Sale?  Please consider spending some more of it on any or all of the above books! Have something else to recommend? Comment away!

“IT’S STILL CHRISTMAS” CATHOLIC EBOOK SALE

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Is that gift card burning a hole in your stocking? Spend it on Catholic ebooks!  

A number of independently published and small press Catholic authors will hold an “It’s Still Christmas Sale” December 26-28. This sale will feature no fewer than 16 Catholic ebooks all priced at $.99 or FREE.

[Ahem.  One of the featured books is “Working Mother,” a quick bargain read all about the Holy Family, specifically, “What if Mary had to get a job?“]

The “It’s Still Christmas Sale” gives readers a chance to make the most of gift cards received for online purchases.  More importantly, this sale is designed as a reminder that Catholics celebrate Christmas beyond December 25 and well into the Octave of Christmas, the first eight days of the Christmas season.

The “It’s Still Christmas Sale” will feature work from Catholic authors John C. Connell, Jeanie Ewing, Ellen Gable, Melanie Jean Juneau, Theresa Linden, Gil Michelini, Erin McCole Cupp, Connie Rossini, Marianne Sciucco, Tim Speer, Thomas Tan, Jacqueline Vick, J.I. Willett, Gloria Winn, and John Paul Wohlschied.

The featured books include something for every reader, both fiction and non-fiction, adult and YA.  Regarding this sale, participating author Connie Rossini notes that, “You can get a whole library for about $10!”

To take advantage of these offers, visit the Indie Catholic Authors Blog or join the event on Facebook.

Christmas is not supposed to be like this.

My annual reblog of “Christmas Is Not Supposed To Be Like This.” I’ll see you at the manger.

Erin McCole Cupp

nativity scene

Christmas is not supposed to be like this: The floors never got mopped. The cookies never got baked. There’s some kind of green crust on the wall in the downstairs bathroom that keeps growingback even after you scrub it with bleach. And don’t forget, you certainly shouldn’t have to work night shift on such a special celebration.

Christmas is not supposed to be like this: You didn’t have money to buy a nice roast for dinner. It’s instant mashed this year, because unemployment just ran out three weeks ago. Your heart breaks because the kids’ gifts are from the dollar store, thrift store, or the “giving tree” program of some church.

Christmas is not supposed to be like this: Your kid is not supposed to be in Europe, the ICU, or Afghanistan on Christmas. Your daughter is not supposed to be in jail. You’re not supposed to be in…

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Flip to The End: Using the Magnificat to Find Meaning in Suffering

Flip to End PinterestThis past Sunday, December 13, Gaudete Sunday, I was honored to have the opportunity to talk with the women at the St. Pius X Parish in Bowie (pronounced BOO-ee), MD at their Advent Women’s Dinner.  Folks, this was a lovely event.  For the past 17 years, the ladies of St. Pius have put together an evening of music and prayer and teaching for 200-ish women, followed by a catered dinner served by the men of their parish.  Great idea, huh?

This year, I was asked to visit for their teaching time, and so we talked about Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55).  Because their clergy has been preaching on this whole canticle one section at a time all Advent, I felt led to focus specifically on the last four words: HIS CHILDREN FOR EVER.  In effect, I made us flip to the end before their last homily in the series.  Is that a bad habit, flipping to the end?  Getting spoilers?

The day after the talk and dinner, an attendee emailed me (Hi, you-know-who-you-are!) and asked if I could make the talk available for folks who couldn’t be there.  Here’s my attempt at solidifying my talk notes.  I hope that those who read (and those who listened) receive this as another tool in the toolbox of making sense of suffering.


 

When the dinner coordinator contacted me about choosing a topic for this talk, she mentioned that their parish was focusing on the Magnificat this Advent.

“Well, that’s interesting,” I replied, “because I have the Magnificat up on my computer right now.”

Kinda hard to deny the Holy Spirit when He’s literally staring you in the face.

Anyway, as the coordinator ran down the four titles their clergy would be using–Blessed, Strengthened, Filled, and Promised–my eyes were drawn to the very last words of this canticle: HIS CHILDREN FOR EVER.  As she described for me the audience of 200-some women of a wide variety ages, that solidified for me what the talk needed to be about.  Some of us are mothers, some of us are wives, some of us are grandparents… but not all of us.  However, we’re all children.  His children.  His children for ever.

I’ll admit I worried, however, about leapfrogging over the pastor’s planned messages, jumping to the end, throwing all those spoilers out there.  Would that upset anyone? Was God asking me to flip to the end, or was this impatience, arrogance on my part, like I do whenever I pick up a new book to read?   

Wait a sec–who said those words, “his children for ever”? Mary Immaculate, Mother of God.  If God picked someone who flips to the end to be the mother of His perfect Son, then in this context, flipping to the end can’t be bad.

But why would our perfect Mother need to look ahead to the end?  Well, what were Mary’s plans before Gabriel showed up?  No matter what kind of Christian you profess to be, you’re probably pretty confident Mary’s initial plans did not include unwed motherhood.  And then along comes this angel telling her not to be afraid–of the accusing looks, the gossip, the stones that would careen toward her and destroy her body until she breathed no more.

Nope, that was not her initial plan.  How about you?  Have you ever had plans that got frustrated by God’s plan? How did you react?

How did Mary react? Mary trusted in God’s goodness.  She acted as if THE BATTLE IS ALREADY WON! The end is already decided. She knew the end before it began; that’s how she was able to walk into the danger of single motherhood.

So let’s do that.  Let’s get spoiled for the eternal story.  Let’s flip to the end of God’s plan for us.  Let’s look at each word in turn and find those spoilers Mary is leaving for us.

HIS

“His” is a possessive pronoun.  If we are His, then we belong to Him.  He possesses us. Now there are two ways to belong to someone: you can be needed or you can be chosen.  I remember, very early in my walk as an intentional Catholic, visiting my Granny in the hospital.  It was Easter Sunday, and it didn’t look like she was going to make it.  In fact, she didn’t seem all that invested in making it.

“God don’t need me,” she said, not bitterly, just peacefully, with confidence.

I was appalled.  “Of course God needs you!”

“Nah, He don’t need me.”

It wasn’t until later, after she did come home from the hospital, that I realized what she was saying: God doesn’t need us, but He wants us.  He could have done anything, but He, the creator of the universe, chose to make us and call us His own. God then generously gives us images of what it means to be chosen: by a spouse, by a parent, by the captain of the playground basketball team, by… a pet

Anyway, we are His.  We are chosen.  Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.  However, belonging to someone else isn’t a guaranteed easy path.  I have a friend who lost her middle child when that child was only 10.  I remember her saying, “God, I’ve seen your plan.  It sucks.”

It’s hard to argue with that take on suffering, because, at heart, we’re all still…

CHILDREN

What are some words used to describe children?

  • Innocent
  • Vulnerable
  • Needy
  • Stuck in an eternal now, now, NOW!!!!!
  • Have a lot to learn 
  • Inexperienced
  • Still developing
  • Compare to each other badly: There is a six year difference between First Shift and Second Shift of Kid in our family; imagine the comparing they do with each other and you’ll see what I mean.
  • Don’t come out knowing how to serve others
  • Too small to see the end goal
  • Can’t see others perspectives
  • Don’t do the planning
  • Don’t get to make all the choices: if you doubt this, give a five year-old the job of planning and executing your next big holiday dinner. Then let me know how long into it you needed to call the fire company.
  • Sometimes there are things a child must learn without the parent doing it for her (ever feel like God abandoned you)?
  • Can choose to fight back against the parent
  • Seeking purpose: everything they do is for some reason

So we can see that some aspects of being children–the childlike ones, like innocence and vulnerability–help us in our striving for God.  Others–the childish ones, like the comparing and the now now NOW!–hinder us.  Either way, we do ourselves no favors when we deny the fact that we are, compared to God the Eternal Father who made us, just little children.

That’s not all on the word “CHILDREN,” however. Our fallen world has complicated things further yet.  Sure, for some of us, childhood was this delightful romp; for some of us, less so.  Thus the idea of being anybody’s child for ever is terrifying.  Especially when the Father’s goodness is colored by lenses forged in a fallen world, a world damaged by death and sin.  What  does that even mean?

Well, remember that friend who’d lost a child? “God, I’ve seen your plan.  It sucks.”

Hard to argue with the perspective of a mother who’s lost her son.  What was the point of that, God?  What’s the great plan with that kind of suffering?  What’s it all for, anyway?  

Which brings us to our next word…

FOR

“For” is a tiny word, but it says a lot.  It indicates purpose.  God has a reason for each one of us to exist.  Do kids always know the reason that things happen to them? No, and that’s usually because they’re just too small to see the endpoint (check our “CHILD” list above if you need a refresher on that).  “For” also indicates a plan.  Humans were created for relationship with God and each other–for whole relationship.  We were designed to delight in reality, not suffer from it.    

Again I say, our world is fallen. The prince of this world doesn’t want us to be any of those good things that children are; he’s going to do everything possible to convince us that we aren’t even children, that we don’t belong to God, and that we weren’t chosen to be exactly who we are–that we need to be something else… that God’s plan is wrong.  

But is it?  It sure feels wrong sometimes.  It’s easy to understand the friend who says God’s plan sucks, because we’ve all been there.  So what would it take to convince us that God’s plan is right and good and worthy of trust?  Why should we trust God to turn our suffering around?    

Because of the evidence:  

    • Abraham: Through decades of infertility, God planned for us to be the faith descendants of Abraham before time began so that we could be adopted as His children.  
    • Joseph (Jacob’s son): If his brother’s hadn’t left him for dead and sold him into slavery, he wouldn’t have been around to save not just those brothers and their families but the entire nation of Egypt and all who came to that land in that time of famine.
    • Esther: If she had not been orphaned in a foreign land where her people were in danger, she would not have been in a position to save them from the deadly dangers of calumny.
    • How many saints do we have again? Read the story of just one and you’ll see how God turns suffering around.
    • Examples from our own lives, like how God used infertility to change my agnostic husband’s heart, or like how I was bullied as a kid but through that experience learned to love and forgive and wrote a novel illustrating the power of forgiveness.

So we see all these examples… but let’s face it: sometimes even millenia of examples of God’s plan at work is still not enough to convince us in the here and now of our suffering.  It is always hard to argue with the friend who lost a child when he was 10 and her phrase,“God, I’ve seen your plan.  It sucks.”  

It’s hard, but it’s not impossible.  After all, what is the one thing that phrase forgets?  It forgets the last word of the Magnificat, the easiest word to forget:

EVER

The Creation account tells us that we weren’t designed for death. We were designed for eternity.  God chose us to be His forever. God made us to be children so He can be active in our lives and so we can still choose Him back.  Best of all, God’s plan pretty much revolves around us.  

WHY?

LOVE

That image we have of God as Father falls a little short if you forget God is outside of the Fall.  God is perfect love, unending relationship.  You don’t have to look hard to find reminders of the Trinity everywhere. God is so much relationship that He’s three whole people in just one God.  

Mary, the perfect woman, trusted all of these things, all that is involved in being God’s child for ever, but being a child is HARD.  It’s hard not knowing the plan.  It’s hard to be powerless. It’s hard not knowing the end of your story…

BUT YOU DO! MARY KNEW THE END OF HER STORY, AND SO DO YOU! YOU CAN FLIP TO THE END ANY TIME YOU LIKE!

How do we know our current plot point as suffering children is a good one? Because God himself chose it for himself as well.  He did not exempt himself from our pain–in fact, He chose it all, accepted the worst of it, to show us that this world is not the end of the story.  He became a child born of woman. He became the child of a woman who would lose her Son.  In response, she would not declare that God’s plan sucks.  She would forever be captured in God’s word, stating plainly:


My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel,
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and

his

children

for

ever.

Mary proclaimed the end of the story to Elizabeth.  She proclaims it to us today.  We as Church proclaim it every day at every Mass, in every Vespers.  In the Great Commission, God asks us to go tell the whole world the Good News, that this world is not the end of the story.  

We all face the cross.  We all look like we’re gonna die and not come back.  But that’s not the end.  The beginning looks like a disaster. The middle is veiled from us. But the future?  The future is right there waiting for us–complete union with the Body of Christ FOR EVER.

When in doubt, be like Mary: Flip to the end.  Just as knowing what that last page of a book says motivates me to keep reading, let a flip to the end motivate you forward to Christ’s forever with you.  


 

Four questions for you to consider as you head into Christmas or whatever the next part of your story is:

  • Where have you been in your story?
  • Where are you right now?
  • What are some things you can do to proclaim the end of the story to yourself?

  • Who is one person in your life who needs to hear the end of the story? How will you help that person flip to the end?  

Flip to End Twitter

The Litany of Humility

Ladies of St. Pius X in Bowie, MD, I have not forgotten you!  I’ll be polishing up my talk notes and posting them tomorrow.  In the meantime, I just wanted to leave this here.

LitanyOfHumility

This prayer has helped me greatly in past years, never moreso than the past few weeks.  As you head into a Christmas that might leave you hurting, I encourage you to put this prayer in your toolbox.  May God gift you with many graces through it.

7 Things I Learned from Writing This Stinking Book

I’m baaaaaack…. Many thanks to all of my wonderful guest posters who filled in for so much longer than I anticipated.

Anyway, I was busy.  Busy writing, busy learning.  Whether your thang is writing, auto repair, particle physics, or building castles out of pipe cleaners chenille stems, each new project has something unique to teach you.  The sequel to Don’t You Forget About Me is already teaching me a lot, and I still have a ways to go, even with the first draft done.  Here’s hoping some of these lessons might speak to you in whatever your thang might be.

Whether your thang is writing, auto repair, or particle physics, each new project has something unique to teach us.

-1-

What works for you may not work for me. “Just sit down at the keys and write! No excuses! That’s how I wrote my novel!” Well, once upon a time, that’s how wrote  my novel.  It wasn’t working this time.  I have a very large file full of rewrites just to get to the end of the first draft, because for the better part of a year, every time I forced myself to write, nonsense came out.  I was writing myself in circles, wasting time I don’t have.  It took a lot of courage to admit the “butt in seat, fingers on keys” approach was doing nothing but breaking my heart and getting me nowhere.

-2-

What worked last time might not work this time. See above: I had to find another approach for this project.  I’m a creature who thrives on routine, so the idea of changing tactics was frightening.  Lesson learned: flexibility is valuable.  Another lesson learned: to value that my creative energies are a gift from God, not an award I get for hard work, and that they are not an unlimited resource.  If my family needs my creative  problem solving energies, they get dibs. The writing will have to wait, and that’s okay.  

-3-

Thinking time is writing time. Second Shift is a particularly talkative child who literally can’t stop talking for love or money.

Me: If you can stay quiet until we get home, you can have an M&M

2nd Shift: Okay.

Me: [Counting in my head one, two, three, four, five, six, seven–]

2nd Shift: Mommy?

Me: Yes?

2nd Sift: I don’t want an M&M.

She really just. Can’t. Stop.  Sharing.  And needing to know she’s been heard.  Future blogger, I guess.

As indicated above, the “don’t think, just write” method was failing me.  When I wrote DYFAM, it was in a three-month haze of enthusiasm while First Shift was in school and Second Shift was napping.  Times have changed: I homeschool all three now.  Second Shift’s naps are looooong gone, and her loquacity takes up a very large amount of my creative energy.   Like, by 9:15am on a good day.  (Speaking of which, if you have any kinesthetic phonics activities to share, you know where to find me.)  The times when I could sit and “write in my head” while Second Shift napped in the car have gone the way of her naps.  If my writing time is 5:30am-6:30am, and I don’t know what to write, I have every right to lay lie in bed, stare at the ceiling, and think about what happens next, and that’s okay too.

-4-

Ask for help.  You just might get it. I spent some time developing a Clean Routine that shares more of the housework with the kids, and having a reduced-clutter living space helps with EVERYTHING, including the writing. I also have become better about asking my husband if I can get away from the house somewhere and write.

I’m the person who is happy to help others, but when I need the help, I feel like my cries fall into nothingness.  Thus, I rarely ask for it.  But this time, I worked up the chutzpah to ask a number of writing and reading friends, all found through the Catholic Writers Guild, to beta the first draft for me.  All but three of them said yes, like within hours.  I asked them because I know I can trust them to be firm but kind.  Ask help of people with whom you already have a rapport of trust.  

-5-

There’s a YouTube playlist for that.  Probably.

-6-

Sometimes, you’ll start out with C work.  That doesn’t mean you’ll end that way. Never before in my life as a legal adult have I knowingly handed in anything but the best possible thing I could turn out.  In sophomore year of college, I basically withraw-failed two honors classes (English and Theatre–ha!) rather than hand in something that wasn’t my best.  For the NLMDA draft, however, I handed it off to Team Beta knowing it is chock full of problems: unanswered questions, fuzzy motivations, plot holes, impossibilities, even a fire alarm that I’m not sure I ever turned off… or on for that matter.

And that’s okay.  It’s not the end of the story.  Chances are pretty good that I’ll survive letting people see that I’m okay with showing up knowing that I already need to improve.

-7-

I learned how to make espresso on the stovetop.  It’s changed my life.

So, question for you, Dear Reader: Did ANY of these resonate with you? Or is it just me and Second Shift out here sharing (First Shift dwells only in Surly Preteen Land)? What are some creative habits you’ve formed and then re-formed?  What are some ways you recharge your creative energies?  What is your favorite way to make coffee?

I’m doing this for #MondayBlogs, but since they’re Quick Takes and there are Seven of ’em, I’ll link this on up at This Ain’t the Lyceum.

Seven Quick Takes Linkup

 

Top 10 Reasons You Will Love Catholic Teen Fiction!

Thank you to Theresa Linden, author of the Liberty Trilogy and the newly released Roland West, Loner. In the style of Late Nights gone by, here’s…

 

Top

1.      Because reading Catholic teen fiction can be more fun than going to the movies.

2.      Because you might waste an entire day stretched out on the couch, reading, but you won’t need to feel guilty.

3.      You also won’t need to find that bookmark you lost because you won’t want to put the book down.

4.      And you won’t need to save your receipts or scraps of junk mail to use for bookmarks. Same reason as number 4.

5.      Because Catholic fiction reveals that there’s more to life than what we can see.

6.      Because of fun author names like Heckenkamp, Cattapan, and Peek.

7.      Because of fun story lines take the reader back in time or into the future, close to the saints, or close to trouble.

8.      Because books don’t need batteries but Catholic books still shed light.

9.      Because you ARE a Catholic teen, so reading fiction for Hindu octogenarians might not be your thing.

10. Because Catholic fiction can stir your heart and give you courage… and direct your soul to God.

Bonus reason: ‘Cause you really don’t want Roland West to stay a loner. That would be sad.

Win your copy of Roland West with this giveaway!

More about Roland West, Loner:

Roland West, Loner is a contemporary Christian story of a fourteen-year-old boy who finds himself friendless at a new school and the subject of cruel rumors. Despised by older twin brothers, he feels utterly alone but not without hope. If he can avoid his brothers while his father is away, he might have a solution to his problem. When his brothers lock him away, having a plan of their own, he gets rescued by an unlikely pair: a neighboring autistic boy and his brother. Struggling to trust his new friends, secrets, rumors, lies, and an unusual inheritance put him on a journey that just might have the power to change the life of this loner.

See the trailer here!

Roland West, Loner addresses loneliness, sibling relationships, facing fears, autism, and the Communion of the Saints. Susan Peek, highly popular author of saint stories for teens, including A Soldier Surrenders said, “A heartwarming tale of friendship, faith, and forgiveness. Linden had me laughing on one page and crying on the next. The story stayed with me long after I closed the last page. Simply put, Roland West, Loner is the best Catholic fiction I’ve read in ages.”

Theresa Linden, author of the Liberty TrilogyTheresa Linden, an avid reader and writer since grade school, grew up in a military family. Moving every few years left her with the impression that life is an adventure. Her Catholic faith inspires the belief that there is no greater adventure than the reality we can’t see, the spiritual side of life. She hopes that the richness, depth, and mystery of the Catholic faith arouse her readers’ imaginations to the invisible realities and the power of faith and grace. A member of the Catholic Writers’ Guild, Theresa lives in northeast Ohio with her husband, three boys, and one dog. Her other published books include Chasing Liberty and Testing Liberty, books one and two in a dystopian trilogy.