Endometriosis Awareness: Meet Jessica Worthley

Endometriosis WeekBanner2016Welcome, readers, new and old!  The subject of endometriosis is near and dear (as in, costly and painful) to my heart… not to mention most of my abdomen.  As March 3-9 is Worldwide Endometriosis Awareness Week, I’m doing my part to shed light on the cause by featuring some women who also have faced this diagnosis.

JessicaWEndoToday, I’d like you to meet Jessica Worthley.  Besides featuring my interview with her, I’m also offering Tomato Pie readers my novel Don’t You Forget About Me at the low, low price of 99 cents for the duration of Endo Week.  But more on that in a bit.  First, let’s meet today’s guest!


Hi there, fellow endo-girl, and welcome to Will Write for Tomato Pie!  How about you take a moment to introduce yourself?   

My name is Jessica and I’m 28 years old. I was born and raised in a small town (<1500 people) in Iowa. I have been married to my husband Josh for just over two years and we recently welcomed our first child, Sebastian, in January! We live in a slightly larger town (<6200 people) within a half hour from where I grew up. I worked in the finance industry for eight years but am now enjoying my job as a stay at home mom.

When and how did you first discover that endometriosis is a part of your life?

My endometriosis went undiagnosed/misdiagnosed for many years. It wasn’t until I started charting with Creighton in 2013 that my then fiance mentioned my symptoms to my practitioner. She advised me to chart my PMS symptoms to better determine if it was in a normal range or not. At our next follow up she saw the 14+ days of symptoms and referred me to our local NaPro Medical Consultant. I worked with him for a couple of months but nothing seemed to help for a long period of time. It was then that he mentioned it sounded like I could have endometriosis and referred me to the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha. The referral was accepted and in July of 2014 I had a diagnostic laparoscopy. They found a ton of damage and decided that a second surgery would be needed. In August of 2014 they went in with the help of the DaVinci robot to remove all the areas.

Tell us about some of the ways endometriosis has impacted your life, health and relationships.   

When I was a teenager I remember having terrible periods. There were times I would lay on the ground in the fetal position crying because the ibuprofen/Tylenol/Midol was not alleviating the cramps. I would ask my mom if we could have the doctors remove my ovaries so I wouldn’t have to deal with the pain each month. After all, I could adopt if I wanted kids later on in life. I would constantly soak through pads in a short amount of time. When I was in junior high we went on a field trip to an amusement park. I brought supplies but apparently not enough as I ended up in my last pad and I soaked through it. A classmate asked what I sat in as I had a red patch on my jeans. She saw my embarrassed look and gave me her coat to wrap around my waist for the rest of the day to prevent others from pointing it out. In high school, I would get extremely light headed and the nurse would always comment how pale looking I was and would tell me to go home for the day. It got to the point where I ended up staying home every month for the first one or two days of my cycle. After high school, it started to affect my job. I would have to call in sick on some cycles still and then I started to have pains in my abdomen mid cycle. It was at this point that I started a multi month journey of doctors visits that eventually led to a colonoscopy and a misdiagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome when the colonoscopy didn’t find anything wrong.

What have been some of the treatments you’ve used, and how effective were they?  

The first treatment I was prescribed while in college was the birth control pill. Though because of a genetic mutation that increases my chance of blood clots I also had to start taking a baby aspirin to counter the increase associated with the pill. I was on this for a couple of months when I realized it wasn’t helping and in fact was making me feel worse. I figured this was just normal for me and decided to stop the pill and deal with it. Fast forward five years and my practitioner saying it wasn’t normal, my medical consultant started me on HCG injections post peak as I had low progesterone levels. It seemed to help a little but I was still experiencing painful cramps though the amount of days had decreased with the HCG. he then put me on a tranexamic acid for my heavy cycles. I was on this for a couple months but I was getting debilitating cramps at work as I was passing half dollar size clots. It was at this point he referred me to have the surgeries.

A murder mystery about… endometriosis? For real? For real!  And it’s only 99 cents through March 9, 2016!

 

Has your faith impacted what treatments you would accept?  In what ways?

My faith has impacted what treatments I would accept. When I was put on the pill, I knew it was OK since I wasn’t sexually active and it was for medical purposes and not contraconception purposes. However, when the first pill was not successful I would have been more prone to take the doctors suggestion and get the IUD placed had it not been for my faith. I knew eventually I would get married and wouldn’t want to be using birth control so, I didn’t want to choose a more permanent option like the IUD.

Have you found your Catholic faith to be a help or a hindrance in your relationship with your endometriosis treatment team?  How so?  

Had you asked me this year’s ago, I would have said hindrance since many doctors like to say birth control is your only option. However, now I see that my Catholic faith actually helped. If it wasn’t for my faith I would have settled with a treatment plan that just masked my symptoms and didn’t actually treat the underlying problems. If it wasn’t for my faith, I would have not felt the need to learn NFP which ultimately led me to my NaPro journey.

Imagine that a friend of yours has just been diagnosed with endometriosis and asks for your advice.  What would you tell her?  

I would recommend she see a NaPro doctor over a regular doctor as the techniques they use in surgery are far superior at removing the endometriosis as well as reducing the chances of it coming back in the same areas. They also listen to you and will keep trying to find the underlying cause and not just write a prescription to get you out of their office.


 

Thank you, Jessica, for sharing your story with us. I especially like how you said, “If it wasn’t for my faith I would have settled with a treatment plan that just masked my symptoms and didn’t actually treat the underlying problems.” I’ve found it to be true in my own life, and I’ve seen how true it seems to be across the board.

Readers, please comment to thank today’s guest!  Meanwhile, don’t you forget to get your copy of Don’t You Forget About Me at the low, low price of 99 cents for the duration of Endo Week.  Spread the word!

DYFAMmar16IG

Be Heroes: Modern Love vs. Year of Mercy

BeHeroesJan16

Image courtesy of “The Thin White Duke 76” by Jean-Luc Ourlin . Uploaded here by Auréola. – originally posted to Flickr as David Bowie. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – 

This post has been percolating for quite a while.  If you’ve read Don’t You Forget About Me (or even just the reviews), you won’t need much thinking to figure out that music is an important part of my life–and not pure, holy music by Matt Maher or Audrey Asaad, either.

When I first returned to the faith of my baptism, I’d come from months of trying really, really hard to be a fan of CCM: Contemporary Christian Music.  And while a lot of the words were nice to hear, the music didn’t necessarily speak to me.  With the exception of Rich Mullins, it’s nothing I still listen to now.

“Don’t let the Devil have all the good music!” I  heard.  So I tried, but given the choice between Echo & the Bunnymen and Phillips, Craig & Dean… sorry.  Jesus may have saved me, but if I said I’d lost my way, would you sympathize? Could you sympathize?

I asked God to change my tastes, knowing full well He has the power to do so.  But He didn’t.  So here I am, downright afflicted with an ear that loves anything from blurred lines to the center of the hollow moon. I’m careful with what I let linger in my mind (the former gets the station changed; the latter… well, if it’s on the radio, it gets bleeped, so I let it play).  But I still worry about the state of my soul.

The state of my soul.

The state of my soul.

The state of my selfish soul.

So while it did occur to me a few years ago to offer prayers for the soul of Ian Curtis, I didn’t really extend those prayers to anyone else.  Then a few months ago, someone in a Catholic blogger FB group asked if it was weird to offer prayers for the soul of Kurt Cobain. Of course it isn’t, not if I’m praying for Ian and his family.  After all, dollars to donuts, neither of those people ran in circles where folks are including them in their rosary intentions.

So when Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots died this fall, I was pretty comfortable praying for his soul.  I was even contemplating having a Mass said for him (announced? maybe…) when I found this letter from the mother of his children.

Our once sweet Catholic boy refused to watch the kids participate in Christmas Eve plays because he was now an atheist.

“Once sweet Catholic boy.”  So… he might have people saying Masses for him?  People not making the Entertainment section, but still, people.

But why didn’t I think to pray for him before he died?  I’m a child of the grunge era.  I liked STP well enough.  Maybe if I had focused less on being a Good Contemporary Christian Music Fan and more on the people making the music I liked… I could have fasted and prayed and Noah and Lucy would still have a father here on earth.

I don’t know.  We’ll never know, I guess.  And now, David Bowie is gone, too.  Without a single Rosary from me.

The Catholic definition of “love” (courtesy of Aristotle first, then Aquinas) is to will the good of another.  God has been waving this musical flags in front of my ears, begging me to love people who very likely have turned from Him and written Him off.  And I’ve been sitting here, tentatively pulling my fingers out of my ears, saying to myself, “Oh, just one more song isn’t gonna hurt me.”

Dumbass.  It hasn’t been about me.

It’s the Year of Mercy.  We are asked to focus on how much God loves everyone, everyone, no matter how much they look like they don’t need Him.  So here’s the dumb thing I’m gonna do to celebrate the Year of Mercy.  I’m gonna have Masses said for David Bowie and Scott Weiland and Ian Curtis.  I’m also gong to have Masses said for the conversion of other souls still walking among us–souls that, frankly, look irrevocably hardened to my eyes, but as Simcha Fisher said,  generosity to one’s audience can be an act of charity, of virtue open to grace; and as all faithful Catholics know, we cannot know another’s soul.

So, Henry Rollins, you’re getting a Mass said for you before 2016 is out.  You too, Ian McCulloch.  Aaron Bruno? Dave Grohl? Heck, if you’ve ever played the Doctor, you might get a Mass, too.  (I’d keep naming names, but I just had steroids injected into my elbow, and while I’m offering it up for all these folks, I’m also a flesh & blood woman for whom Tylenol and ice only go so far.)

So that’s my Modern Love: getting celebrities who don’t know me from Adam into heaven.  If it doesn’t work (free can be a b1tch sometimes), then I’ll at least have some guardian angels joining me at my individual judgment who can hopefully say, “See how she loved them?”

Loved them.  Not their music.  Them.

Any other names you want to throw onto my list?  Pray for them.  Ask me to pray for them.  And we could be heroes.  

“And may God’s love be with you.”  

Let me know, below, on FB, shoot me an email, whatever works for you (but a reply might take a while, see above re: big needles in my elbow.)

 

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 Itty Bitty Soul: A Guest Post from Jim Fellows #mondayblogs #adoption

Welcome, Tomato Pie Fans! I’m taking a hiatus from blogging to finish the sequel to DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME. Meanwhile, I have a series of guest bloggers taking care of the place. Let’s hear from today’s guest, Jim Fellows, author of the author of the children’s book The Itty Bitty Soul.  It is a children’s story that explains adoption from a unique perspective.


The Itty Bitty Soul by Jim Fellows, a book about adoption

Tell us about your story

The Itty Bitty Soul is, at its core, a story about adoption.   The main character, Jimmy, is having a conversation with God prior to being born.  God tells him that there is something special that Jimmy can do for him on Earth. And while we’re not privy to what that task is, he whispers it to Jimmy.  He then shows Jimmy the two people  who will teach him what he needs to know.  This is when he’s first introduced to his mom and dad.  God shows Jimmy what both his parents do and all the people that they love and care for.  When Jimmy asks, if God is sure they would have room for him, God tells him that he is so loved already that his mom and dad would go to the ends of the Earth to find him.  And they do.

Is this a different interpretation of the adoption story?

I haven’t found a children’s story that approaches adoption in this way.  At one time I studying to be a therapist I learned about a therapeutic technique called reframing.  The purpose of reframing is to take an event in your life and look at it from a different perspective.  You don’t change the facts, you cast a new light on them.  Storytelling can be a powerful tool in reframing events in our lives.  “I never looked at it like this” is a comment I get often after someone reads the story.

What has been the reaction to the story?

Many people who have read my story were touched by it. Most people have had wonderful things to say about the story.  There are some who wished I had touched on other aspects of adoption in the story. But no one story can touch on everything.  I’ve gained a great deal of respect for the fact that adoption is a deeply personal event for people. I’m thrilled that so many people who read my story connect with it.  It’s a blessing that it’s being shared with their children.

What inspired you to write The Itty Bitty Soul?

When my two best friends in the world decided to create their family through adoption, I got to be one of their sources for support.  For a couple of years, we would regularly sit in their kitchen and I would listen to all the stories about the journey.  They would talk about how vulnerable they felt at times, how frustrating the process can be, and how heartbreaking it can be.  People who were trying to console them would say things like “I knew a couple who adopted! But then they were able to have one of their own!”  Statements like that made me realize that there were still some social stigmas to adoption that shouldn’t exist.  Adoption is viewed by so many like it was a consolation prize.  The purpose of The Itty Bitty Soul is to show that children are not “given up” for adoption, they are sought after!

Why the blog tour now?

I am partnering with a wonderful organization called Gift of Adoption.  During the month of November, I’m donating $1 from every book sold to them. Their purpose is to help families close the financial gap that usually incurs with adoption.  It’s heartbreaking that some families are prevented from becoming a family because the cost of adoption can be too great.  Gift of Adoption has been a big supporter of the book and I love partnering with them!  

If you would like to purchase a copy of The Itty Bitty Soul visit www.ittybittysoul.com.  If you order during the month of November, $1 will go towards Gift of Adoption Network and go to help a couple to realize their dream and build their family!

Jim Fellows, author of The Itty Bitty SoulJim Fellows is a storyteller and a public speaker. He lives in Woodbury MN with his wife and stepdaughter. Jim has spent much of his life working with teensand young adults. In his spare time, Jim is a avid Minnesota Twins fan and an amateur sheepherder with his Australian Shepherd Baxter. He is a strong advocate for pro-life issues.

The Sisters and I! A Guest Post from Karen Kelly Boyce

Welcome, Tomato Pie Fans! I’m taking a hiatus from blogging to finish the sequel to DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME. Meanwhile, I have a series of guest bloggers taking care of the place. Let’s hear from today’s guest, Karen Kelly Boyce.


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The Sisters and I!

Last week I found myself sitting with a group of fallen Catholics. We were instructed to go around the table and talk about our faith in God. The first woman announced that she was an atheist – an intellectual. She claimed her education did not allow her to believe in a fairy tale-like God. Then she went into a tirade about how the nuns in her grammar school abused her and were responsible for her loss of faith. Her cover of intellectualism quickly turned to a revelation of anger as the true source of her lack of faith.

As we went around the table, the theme continued as an attack on the nuns. The poor Sisters were blamed as a cause or excuse for not attending church or believing in a Supreme Being. Years ago, I might have been hesitant to reveal my deep faith in God and my devotion to the Catholic Church. Luckily, that is no longer the case. I silently prayed to the Holy Spirit for guidance, and found myself announcing that I was sure there was a God because He has worked so many miracles in my life. Looking around at the shocked faces around me, I told them that I read my Bible and meditate on His word for an hour each morning and that I can hear Him talk to me in my heart. I told them that I have a great peace and sense of love since I have the tenets of the Catholic Church to guide me in all my decisions. I thought the people there would fall off their chairs when I announced that I credit the kindness and loving teaching of the Sisters of Mercy who taught me the deep foundations of the Catholic faith for the joy in my life. After a few minutes of stunned silence, the last man spoke. Apparently a fundamentalist, he reddened with anger and shouted something about man-made laws and eating fish on Friday. Spitting his hatred of the Catholic Church across the table, he attacked me personally and my faith especially. I think my smile made him even angrier. I had to smile. My faith gives me peace and trust in the Holy Spirit to reach those who lack faith. His faith made him angry and more intolerant of Catholics than the atheists around him.

On the trip home I thought about the Sisters who taught me, the Sisters who wore heavy veils and clothing without air conditioning. The Sisters of Mercy packed sixty rowdy children into a small classroom and taught us the wonders of God and His Mother.  They taught us about the saints and the teachings of Jesus. They taught us that we were blessed to be Catholics and in the meantime threw in advanced teachings in English, math, and history. Was I grateful then? No, but I am now.  I was one of those rowdy kids who took every opportunity to be a class clown. I even wrote songs about each nun, singing them to my classmates delight during recess. One day, as I was singing about the flaws of the roughest nun, Sister Mary Jean (the kindest nun) was standing behind me. She quickly corrected me and that was the last song I ever wrote about my teachers. However, God has a sense of humor and knew that I would be writing about the Sisters again!

With hindsight, I now realize the wonderful education and faith that the Sisters of Mercy gifted me. Most of the Sisters were kind, hard-working, and faithful. I remember them with great delight and I am grateful for them. I realize now the sacrifices they made. Yes, they were human and got weary, uncomfortable, and sick. As an adult, I understand that nuns are human beings with virtues and flaws. Perhaps that is why God inspired me to create characters who work hard to overcome their human failings. In my children’s series, Sisters of the Last Straw, Sister Krumbles loves animals and all of God’s creatures but is disorganized and clumsy. Mother Mercy is protective and a born leader but struggles to control her temper. Sister Lovely struggles with addiction but is kind and generous. Sister Lacey is rough and tumble a hard-worker who fights an impulse to ‘cuss’ with silly rhymes and exclamations. Sister Shiny is vain and fussy but keeps the house spotless. Sister Wanda is always getting lost but never loses her gentle personality. All of them are good, all of them human.

I hope the books teach children to be forgiving. I know the series make children laugh. It makes me laugh to think about God’s sense of humor. I’m a senior citizen now, but I haven’t changed much. I am still writing about nuns. However, with an adult faith and trust, I can be much kinder than I was as a child. I can present the Sisters and the faith with truth, humor, and gratitude. It goes to show that what they taught me must be rubbing off.

KBBheadshotKaren Kelly Boyce lives on a farm in New Jersey with her retired husband. She has two grown children and two grandchildren. When she retired as a registered nurse, she rekindled her love of reading and writing. She has written for Canticle and Soul magazines. She has four published novels– According to Thy Word, Into the Way of Peace, Down Right Good and In the Midst of Wolves. The first three have received the Seal of Approval from the Catholic Writer’s Guild. Down Right Good received the 2012 Eric Hoffer award for commercial fiction and was a finalist for the Montaigne Medal. In the Midst of Wolves has just been published.
When her grandchildren were born, Karen started a children’s series. The Sisters of the Last Straw is a series of humorous mysteries that are solved by a group of misfit nuns. There have been three volumes published by Chesterton PressThe Case of the Haunted Chapel, The Case of the Vanishing Novice, and The Case of the Stolen Rosaries.
Karen is a columnist for the CWG Blog and her column “Writing Tips” appears every Monday. Her personal blog can be found at www.karenkellyboyce.com.

She is currently working on future books while enjoying farming, camping, and road trips with her husband.

Romance Writer Manifesto: A Guest Post from Carolyn Astfalk

Welcome, Tomato Pie Fans! I’m taking a hiatus from blogging to finish the sequel to DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME. Meanwhile, I have a series of guest bloggers taking care of the place. Let’s hear from today’s guest, Carolyn Astfalk.

My Romance Writer Manifesto

For the last decade, I’ve answered “What do you do?” with the simple reply, “I’m a stay-at-home mom.” My novel addition to that response is, “I write.”

The natural follow-up to that response is now not only, “How many children do you have?” but also, “What do you write?”

The first answer comes easily: four children. The second part . . . not so simple. I typically flail about, trying to articulate a concise, accurate answer. More often than not, I launch into a wordy, nonsensical narrative that skirts around the edges of what my debut novel Stay With Me is: contemporary romance.

StayWithMeCoverDepending on my audience, I might qualify it as inspirational, Christian, Catholic or even Theology of the Body fiction. If I want to be vague, I go with “chick lit,” which hits my target audience with a brush the size of a barn side.

I’ve realized this problem is not unique to me, but is common to writers who are often (1) more comfortable with the written word than the spoken word, and  (2) better at expressing themselves in 100,000 words than 100 words. Both of these suppositions are true in my case, but there’s something else in play. In a word: romance.

I didn’t set out to write romance. Heck, I didn’t even read much of it. When I began National Novel Writing Month in November, 2010 with nothing but a newspaper clipping and a blank screen, I intended to write an adventure novel for teens.

As I forged ahead, spewing the required minimum 50,000 words on the page, I discovered that I’d written a romantic love story.

I studied the craft of novel-writing and took to heart the ubiquitous advice to read in my genre. For the first time in my life, I sought romance novels. My manuscript had Christian moral themes, so I immersed myself in contemporary Christian romance—Catholic, where I could find it.

I discovered many uplifting, entertaining, well-written, romantic books. So, why the discomfit with admitting I write romance?

First, the admission that I’m enamored by love transports me to my teenage years when being attracted to a boy was an embarrassment making me vulnerable to all sorts of disappointment and hurt.

Second, bodice rippers. Until I looked up the definition in preparation for writing this post, I thought of it only in terms of book covers. You know the ones—a bare-chested man with ripped abs nuzzling a buxom woman with ample décolletage whose expression suggests she’s deep in the throes of passion. Merriam-Webster defines bodice ripper as “a historical or Gothic romance typically featuring scenes in which the heroine is subjected to violence.”

Violence? The Atlantic quotes Beyond Heaving Bosoms in describing bodice ripper heroes as “rapetastic.” To my way of thinking, the word “rape” and the suffix “-tastic” shouldn’t be within a million miles of one another and on a separate planet from any character filling the role of a hero. Read the whole article and you’ll discover a half-dozen reasons why I’m hesitant to classify my book as “romance.”

Finally, the snob factor my lack of humility plays a role. Despite its popularity, romance may be the least-respected literary genre, at least by academia, if not pop culture. Even the fairy tale “happily ever after” ending is under fire. Admitting I write romance is like admitting I drink boxed wine or buy my clothes at Wal-Mart (both of which I’ve done).

Just as I reject twisted modern notions of feminism, I reject a narrow definition of romance as something akin to “Mommy porn.” I choose to embrace my penchant for romance for what is.

Romantic love is a good, God-given thing. After all, God is love. (1 John 4:16) My worldview, like that of any author’s, underpins my writing.  For me, that’s going to put me on the edgy end of the Christian romance spectrum.

Inspirational author Julie Lessman, who also classifies her Christian romance as edgy, says it well: “In truth, romantic passion gives us a glimpse into the very heart of God. After studying the Song of Solomon in the Bible, I’m convinced that the God who created passion and int.imacy did so to mirror the intensity of His own love for mankind.”

On the last page of Stay With Me, the heroine Rebecca is reflecting on the love she and Chris share. “She prayed their love, like God’s, would abide from this day forward through all seasons, all travails, every high and low. An anchor when the world threatened to throw them off-course.”

That’s the kind of love I write about. Heart-pounding attraction, weak knees and the excitement of new love—check! But also the enduring, abiding love that points us to the unfailing, unwavering, all-consuming love of God.

This brief reflection from Tom McGrath, author of Raising Faith-Filled Kids, was part of the parent portion of my daughter’s religion curriculum: “Think of all the books, movies, TV shows, songs, and soap operas that gain dramatic tension by observing two people on the verge of falling in love. They capture and convey a longing that seems universal, as if the whole world is holding its breath, waiting for love to erupt in their lives. This great longing is holy. It’s a manifestation of our desire to know and to experience God’s love for us. God placed this desire to know, love, and serve him deep in our hearts.”

That’s why I can say with pride, “I write romance.”

Carolyn Astfalk LR SepiaCarolyn Astfalk resides with her husband and four children in Hershey, Pennsylvania. She blogs at My Scribbler’s Heart, and her debut novel, Stay With Me, is available from Full Quiver Publishing.

Nostalgia: A Guest Post from John Paul Wohlschied

Welcome, Tomato Pie Fans! I’m taking a hiatus from blogging to finish the sequel to DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME. Meanwhile, I have a series of guest bloggers taking care of the place. Let’s hear from today’s guest, John Paul Wohlschied.

Nostalgia for the Good Old Days  

BendixMicrophoneMost of the time, when people say they feel nostalgic about a certain time period, it means that they lived during that period and miss it. Well, I’m a little different. I am very nostalgic for the period between the 30s and 50s. For a guy born in the middle 80s, this might seem strange to you. Before you call for the butterfly net and straitjacket, let me explain.

In the 30s to 50s, life was much simpler. (Except for World War II, of course.) You didn’t have to worry about keeping up-to-date with your friends’ updates on social media. You weren’t inundated with noise and entertainment everywhere you went. Phones were only capable of receiving calls. Anyone could open the hood of their car to fix or tinker with it. You were content to have four channels on your TV with real content, instead of 25 channels dedicated to the intricacies of basket weaving.

I write detective stories, and my main inspiration for those stories are the detective radio and TV shows of that era. Radio shows (such as Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Let George Do It, Barry Craig Investigator, Your Truly Johnny Dollar, Mr. Keen Tracer of Lost Persons, Nero Wolfe, and others) were fun to listen to and told great stories. Dragnet was another favorite detective show, both on radio and TV, and was responsible for the creation of realistic police procedural shows (such as CSI and Law and Order).

(Everyone from a certain age knows what this sounds means.)

If detective shows aren’t your thing, you can listen to cowboy shows (Frontier Gentleman, Lone Ranger, Have Gun Will Travel, Hopalong Cassidy, Gunsmoke, and others), or comedy (Our Miss Brooks, Amos and Andy, My Favorite Husband, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Abbott and Costello and more).

If radio programs are not your cup of tea and you are more visual, the 30s to 50s produced some great films and TV shows, most are cleaner than today’s films thanks to the Motion Picture Production Code or Hays Code. This Code prohibited the use of profanity, drug use, sex, and willful offense to any nation, race or creed. In other words, think of Going My Way versus Kill Bill.

So, let me know if I inspired you to join me in my nostalgia or to reach for the butterfly net.

P.S. I would like to thank Erin for allowing me to write for her blog and I apologize in advance of any drop in readership I might cause.

HeadshotCloseJPWJohn Paul was born and raised in West Michigan. He attends daily Mass with his parents and brother, Michael. John Paul and his brother have served English, Latin and Polish Masses for over 17 years. John Paul has always loved to read about the saints and about the Roman Catholic Faith in general. He hopes someday to become a priest. He discovered detective stories at an early age through the magic of Old Time Radio. Since then he has devoured hundreds of hours of radio shows (such as Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Boston Blackie, Richard Diamond and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar) and mystery stories. With all this knowledge, he decided to take a crack at recreating those hard-boiled stories of yesteryear. Someday he plans to expand into scifi and westerns.