Thursday, November 23, 2017

Today's Gospel Reflection for Thanksgiving Day

originally written for

Reflections on Luke 19:41-44.

I write this reflection 13 months into the future, during a time when we have had anxiety over our presidential election, the future of our Supreme Court, threats against religious liberty and uncertainty about my children's future. 

Today's Gospel shares similar foreboding - "For the days are coming upon you when...they will encircle you and hem you in."

There's a sense of irony that these verses come on Thanksgiving Day, a day when we thank God despite all obstacles placed in our lives. It's in times of trials and tribulations that God shines through us.

Despite the darkness, we can show God's light. 

And yet, as I write this, I hear nearly 100 youth and teens singing His praises in prayer and worship: "Show Your mighty hand through the streets and land...Set this church on fire. Win this nation back..."

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Saying Yes: How to Help Build a High School, Brick by Brick

Yes. It's such a hard word to say. But the ramifications are huge.

I had what I like to call a "flashing billboard moment" last Sunday at Mass. We had a priest from Rwanda visiting to share their hopes of expanding a high school there from housing and classrooms for 125 girls to space for 400. He was asking for help, brick by brick.

Twenty dollars could buy 300 bricks.

And during the service, I kept thinking: "We should do something in our Girl Scout troop."

After all, our troop is active at our church, and their monthly meeting was this week. It could work. We could ask them to earn money at home to help out.

After all, even $2 earned from chores could buy 30 bricks.

But I felt it laid on my heart to do more.

So I spoke with some friends after Mass, who run another troop. They agreed that it would be a great idea.

And then my daughter, who responded with a "Let's challenge other troops to do this! I know scouts at ____ and ___ and ___."

By Tuesday, the seed had grown to a full-fledged bake sale at our church this weekend. After our Saturday evening service, we had raised about $120 - more than 1800 bricks!

But what if I hadn't said that little Yes? What if I had thought, it's the first week of school, no time? Or, we have a project already at scouts scheduled, no time? Or, my house needs to be cleaned, no time?

What if the other leaders and parents who baked on a beautiful summer weekend said, no time?

Instead, we said Yes. And we might have changed a life a world away.

You can read more about the project on my scouting blog:

Monday, July 17, 2017

Little Blessings

Lately two things have weighed on me: sharing my faith more and praying more - specifically diving into the rosary.

My children and I have a morning tradition of praying the minute we back out of the driveway. It' started with a simple, "Dear Jesus, help us have a good day," and has evolved over the years.

"Dear Jesus, please help us have a good day. And help the people who are hurt, or sick or scared, or have cancer. And please help the children in Haiti."

Little blessings: How prayer is helping me grow in gratitudeIt's gotten a hair more sophisticated over the years, sometimes throwing in a decade of the rosary or  a few Hail Mary's, but I like the conversations we have with God.

The last few days, I've tried something a little deeper.

I downloaded a few mp3 files of scriptural rosaries - because I can seem to focus on those better - to keep on my phone while I'm in the car. I've tried it while folding clothes and while driving on a late night home, and while I haven't had the spiritual "AHHHH" that I someday hope I will find, I am happy to report I'm seeing little blessings, coincidences, whatever you might call them.

Like my daughter, who was sent home from camp because a counselor thought her dandruff was lice (poor kid!). We dutifully checked her hair, prayed, admittedly pouted a bit, but prayed some more. This morning, she told me "I have faith I'll be able to go back."

She's a happy camper this afternoon.

And I'd dragged my heels on registering my son for CYO football (a combination of money woes due to my husband's injury and not really wanting him to play). Today was the last day, and I logged in to register. It turns out I had a $60 credit from two years ago! How that happened, I'm uncertain, but I'm grateful for that little blessing.

And I keep hoping, and praying for the bigger blessings in life. I am offering up the frustration of sleepless nights from insomnia and managing the home alone due to my husband's injury. My hope is those little blessings might show up as a short respite from his pain, or, even better, my husband returning to the church.

In the meantime, waiting on that big "miracle," I'm thrilled to be more and more aware of the little blessings in life. Ones that may have been there all along.

What little blessings have you seen in life lately? 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Our Lady of Kibeho and Father Elijah: Warnings Unheeded

Our Lady of Kibeho and Father Elijah: Warnings UnheededI just finished reading two books that shook me: Our Lady of Kibeho and Father Elijah: An Apocalypse. One is sadly true, one is fiction. Both roused something in my heart.

The warnings unheaded in the Bible, from the pulpit and from Marian apparitions caught up to our days. And the results devastating.

Our Lady of Kibeho, Rwanda

For those unfamiliar with the story of Our Lady of Kibeho, the Virgin and Jesus appeared to several children in Rwanda in the 1980s. What struck me is they didn't just appear to the Catholic faithful. It was to a Muslim, to a pagan. It warms my heart to see these reminders that Our Lord is for everyone, even those who may not know Him yet.

The warnings of Kibeho were to convert their hearts before the looming holocaust, which sadly occurred in the 1990s. While thousands came to witness the miracles and visionaries in Kibeho, perhaps it was a watch-and-see of a show, versus true conversion.

For someone like me, who loves to read about Marian apparitions, it was a reminder that just learning isn't enough. Taking the messages to heart and re-centering ourselves in the love of the Lord is a daily, moment-by-moment process. And it's one I keep working on, struggle with, aim for.

Father Elijah: An Apocolypse

Michael D. O'Brien's fictional account of the Catholic Church in the last days was shocking to me. The tale of Father Elijah, a monk and Holocaust survivor, is thrust into unraveling a scandal that is threatening the faith of millions.

The book begins slowly, but quickly dissolves into chaos for those within the Catholic Church and in the public arena who are trying to retain the trueness of Catholic belief. A politician and humanitarian - known only as the President - has leapt to worldwide acclaim as the one who will be able to save our world. Others within the Catholic Church worry this man may in fact be the Antichrist.

As the President's power and influence grows and the worldwide culture continues to erode to finding and leveraging our internal strengths versus trusting in a God, Father Elijah witnesses the gradual - and then building - destruction of the Catholic Church and its people.

Those who do not ascribe to the new theology are discredited, publicly destroyed, even killed. Yet Father Elijah and the faithful remnant are repeatedly called to forgive, pray and trust in God even as the outside world unravels.

Working on Our Hearts

Both books are prophetic in a larger sense but also on the micro level: We must truly work to convert our hearts.

It's not a simple question of being "saved" or having attended church. It's about being consistently working to strengthen your faith, even in the midst of trials. Trust and true faith in the Lord takes place in moments large and small. I hope one day I can fully achieve that.

I end this book with an excerpt from Our Lady of Kibeho, one that truly spoke to me. Her words are far more eloquent than anything I could ever pen:
My children, there are many who want to pray, who try to pray, but do now know how to pray. You must ask for the strength and knowledge to understand what is expected of you. My love goes out to you all, for there are many here who want to reach the road to heaven, but do not have the strength or knowledge to ask for God's help. My dear children, listen to my words, for I will teach you how to pray from the bottom of your hearts. 
You must begin your prayers by offering God all you conceal in your soul.  God sees your every action and knows your every thought; you can hid nothing from Him. But you must tell Him yourself--you must be wiling and strong enough to confess all of your transgressions of body, mind, and spirit to Him. Hold back nothing; admit your bad deeds and thoughts. Then you must ask for God's forgiveness from the bottom of your heart. Rest assured that if you confess and seek forgiveness sincerely, He will forgive you. By beginning this way, the sins you carried will not distract you from praying sincerely. You can then speak to Him knowing that your heart is clean and your conscious is clear. Pray to Him fervently, make a petition, beg His favor, ask for His blessing; God sees into your soul and knows you seek His help with a repentant heart. 
There, my children, you too must offer forgiveness by asking God to forgive all those who have trespassed against you, all who have caused you suffering or given you insult or injury. Forgive them in prayer and ask God to bless them and help them. 
Then pray for the spiritual and physical welfare of your relatives, for all your brothers and sisters, that God may bless them. Then give thanks to Him for having received and answered your prayers. Most important, you must ask God for the strength you need to do His will; ask for the strength not to stray from His light. Pray for the courage and wisdom to walk only the road leading to heaven.
And never forget, my children, to pray for the strength to be humble. Your prayers have no meaning if they do not come from the depths of your heart, and you cannot open your heart to the Lord without humility. I love you, my children. When you lack the strength to pray, ask for my help. Pray for my intercession, and I will strengthen you and bring you to my son and to the Father through your prayer. 
- the words of the Holy Virgin Mary, message through the visionary Valentine in Rwanda 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Are Catholics Not Christian Enough?

"I didn't know you were Catholic."

That statement from a coworker years ago shocked me. I've worked 15 years in a Catholic organization and next to this person for years, and somehow my faith never showed the light.

That day was a wake-up call for me.

Since then, I've tried to be a brighter light for Christ. Not in a "You must be a Catholic" sense, but in showing God's mercy and love for others. Because for me, it's not about converting numbers but in changing hearts to show love for one another, regardless of faith, regardless of circumstance.

I thought I was living that path.

Not Christian Enough

Hearing from a Christian Bloggers Group that Catholicism wasn't Christian enough for them was just the wake-up call I needed to better share my faith.Lately I had been feeling a tug to start blogging more again but hadn't really taken that step. Sure, I had shared several articles on, but those were written months ago.  I just never found the time to do more.

This week, though, I made a baby step.

I posted an article on my scouting blog about a new Catholic scout patch program and shared a pin in a Christian Woman Bloggers Group on a pin sharing thread. Apparently that was too Catholic for this group.

By the afternoon, they announced that no Catholics need apply, that even though this was a "Christian Woman Bloggers" group it was for Protestants only. Nevermind that I was a long-standing member of the group. Nevermind that I had supported all my Christian blogging sisters, without questioning which of the 200+ demoninations of Christianity they were. For me, it was about supporting a Christian way of living.

One that apparently does not include love and respect for the Blessed Virgin Mary, nor of other Christians not of the "right" denomination.

After several nasty posts directed at me about how wrong I am, I was banned from the group before I had a chance to even respond. Because Catholics are not Christian enough.

I do want to thank these women, though.

I want to thank them for reminding me of what Ghandi said once:
I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.
For reminding me that I need to do better.

For reminding me that I cannot be complacent in my faith. 

For reminding me that even though we may be claiming to work for Christ, sometimes we are human and truly act that way in a broken world.

For reminding me that I need to do better at sharing my love for Christ.

Catholics and Protestants: What can we learn from each other?Not the First Time

Interestingly it's not the first time I wasn't seen as being "Christian" enough  because I adhere to Catholic teachings. In high school, my boyfriend's mother was upset about my faith and let him know she didn't want him to marry a Catholic. (It never happened.) I remember friends in college who belonged to "Christian" organizations who didn't want to be seen with a Catholic in public. (Needless to say, those friendships did not last.)

The funny thing is Christian = believer in Christ.

We may vary on the details - as evident by the hundreds of Christian denominations in the world, as well as the interpretations given by individual pastors and religious leaders.

But the end result, we believe in Christ and hope for a reunion with Him in our next life in Heaven.

Maybe if we all focused on living out our faith and love for Christ for others, and in supporting one another in our faith journeys, regardless of where we are starting, our world would be radically different.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
- John 13:35 New Living Translation (see other Bible translations here)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Are You Inviting God in the Process?

Are you inviting God into your day? That's the question I ask in today's Gospel reflection on

Serving our family, our friends, our church, our communities is valuable, but become much less so when we forget to invite God into our endeavors. Personally, when I’ve kept my efforts “in the world,” I’ve felt more easily drained, more tired, more resentful that others aren’t doing their part.

But when we invite God into the process – whether simply starting the day with morning prayer or doing more in-depth discernment and prayer – the full force of our energies are blessed by God’s love. We are truly not alone.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Our Holiday Blend: Mixing Our Christmas Traditions

This month, Multicultural Kids Blogs is focusing on Christmas celebrations across the globe. Today, I'd like to share our "holiday blend" of traditions dear to my husband's family and mine.

The beauty of the Christmas holiday is in the waiting. There's something special to me about the month of December. Whether you rely on the Christian idea of Advent or just the eager countdown to the opening of presents, the days leading to Christmas are filled with anticipation.

When so many people are racing through the season, December is a time for me largely to slow down, to reflect. I put the brakes on any activities that aren't essential to the Christmas season. I've turned down events, sports and children's activities, simply because they weren't special to the Christmas season.

An American Christmas: No Two Are the Same
Growing up in Kansas, hours away from family, we had a simple Christmas celebration. We opened presents and went to Mass. My childhood memories focus on sneaking to see what was in the stocking, only to quickly replace it before Mom and Dad found out. And on a few lucky Christmases, we were blessed to make the 16-hour drive to Wisconsin to see extended family.

For my husband, growing up just a few hours away, Christmas was about family. I remember being shocked the first Christmas Day celebration with his family, when we spent literally three hours opening gifts - there was that many people. 

But the celebrations went well beyond gifts. As we dated through college, I was welcomed into their Kansas City traditions of savoring Strawberry Hill povotica, visiting the Plaza lights and seeing the Nutcracker at the Midland Theatre. We enjoyed Christmas Eves at the local winery and ate (or choked down) black-eyed peas for good luck on New Year's Day. And I always teased my mother-in-law about her unusual tradition of an orange, apple and peppermints in the stockings, until she told me it was a family tradition from when such things were rare in Arkansas generations ago.

Creating Our Indiana Holiday Blend
When my husband and I were married, we created our holiday blend of traditions of our own. And as children have come into our family, I've loved to see how our family traditions have evolved and the way faith has intersected with the traditions of past.

Our Christmas celebrations begin with the Advent season. While we haven't been active with having the traditional Advent wreath at home, we celebrate this season in other ways. Our children are first to grab a child's name off the Giving Tree at church. We've embraced unique Catholic traditions like the shoes left for St. Nicholas on Dec. 6, which I was introduced to when my daughter was in kindergarten, and the Dec. 12 celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a decades-long tradition for our Hispanic ministry at church that included an elaborate Mass, traditional costume and a dinner celebration. This year, I'm gearing up for 5 a.m. mananitas as well (prayers and singing).

At work, I haven't missed helping with the Live Nativity for 13 years, and I love the Gift a Family program, where we adopt local families for the Christmas season. I've been blessed to see from all sides how it makes a difference, one family at a time. And for that I could never tell my child "no" if they wanted to do the same.

Food is key to our celebrations, as well. The kids and I love the afternoons baking Christmas cookies, and I'm always shocked about how many dozens of cookies my grandmother's old sugar cookie recipe really makes. We love our Christmas Eve tradition of noshing through  the day, baking a dessert or making chicken wings, or whatever and whenever the mood strikes. We mix our family favorites, from treats my husband's family's Southern roots to our sixth-generation apple streudel recipe, which is an understood part of the day.

making apple streudel

Grandma Johnson's Apple StreudelDough:4 cups flour1 1/2 teaspoons salt1/2 cup lard or shortening (we use butter or margarine)2 beaten eggs1 cup warm waterFilling:2 quarts peeled and sliced apples(or more)2 cups sugar2 handfuls of Corn Flakes1/2 cup raisinsCinnamonMix flour, salt and shortening. Add the eggs and enough warm water to make a soft dough. Knead on floured board until smooth and elastic (the longer you knead the better it pulls later). Cover with a bowl and let rest about 2 hours.Cover table with a large cloth. Sprinkle cloth all over with flour. Roll dough long and narrow to get it started. Then put hand under the dough and keep stretching dough gently until it is very thin, trying not to tear it.When dough is stretched very thin, scatter the sliced, cut up apples all over the dough. Sprinkle with the sugar, cinnamon, raisins and the crushed Corn Flake crumbs (or you may use 1 cup fried bread crumbs).Roll up into a long roll. You may do this by raising one side of the cloth and the strudle will roll up by itself. Cut the roll in half. Place streudel rolled with open side up, on two greased cookie sheets with four sides. Pinch ends shut. Grease top with melted butter or margarine.Put in 400 degrees oven for 15 min. Then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake about 45 min. more until brown. Remove from oven. Cut into 3-inch pieces. Remove from pan while hot using a pancake turner. Is best when warm.Note: The dough pulls easier in a warm room rather than in a cold one.