Sunday, July 1, 2018

Reading Round Up July 2018

Ultimate Makeover: The Transforming Power of Motherhood
by Carrie Gress
2016 Beacon Publishing

When I saw this book, it naturally made me think about Teresa Tomeo's Extreme Makeover based on the title. One main difference between the two books is that Tomeo's book was focusing on women in general, while Gress' book was focusing specifically on motherhood as a pathway to sanctification. She emphasized how motherhood has its challenges, but ultimately, the ways it stretches us and helps us to grow facilitate recognizing vices (that otherwise might be buried under the surface) in order to move toward the complementary virtues and to grow in intimacy with God. 

She reflects on how "God in his mercy has given us the most gentle (and adorable) avenue to grow in virtue. Yes, we make many sacrifices for them, but with each sacrifice our love grows. While it is true that raising children is likely one of the hardest things you will ever do, there are much more difficult ways to become holy, such as martyrdom or prolonged illness. God in his mercy and love wants us to become holy, and he gives us a gentle path to get there. The sacrifice is real, but so are the joy, the peace, and the awareness that our gift is fruitful" (p. 66). 

The book complements others I have been reading and an aspect a priest recently reminded me of related to love being willing the good of the other (more about the will, rather than an emotion). At 135 pages, the book was a quick read, written with a conversational style. Each chapter started with a quote and ended with Questions for Reflection. In general, the book celebrates the vocation of motherhood and provides encouragement for layers of how the vocation can be counter-cultural. 

Making Room for God: Decluttering and the Spiritual Life
by Mary Elizabeth Sperry
2018 Ave Maria Press

Lately I have been in a phase of life where the different obligations I had made keeping up with organization around the house feeling like a struggle at times. Right now I am on maternity leave/summer break and am focusing on relationships and routines around the house to position us for shifting back to another academic year in August. It has felt good to be able to do some decluttering and organization, so I appreciated having another book to help me think through the process. At just over 100 pages, the book is a quick read but gives a lot to think about. Most chapters end with the features - my journey where Sperry talks about her own story, Signposts for your journey where Sperry gives areas to consider related to application to the readers' lives, thoughts for the journey with reflection questions and try this with actionable items.

When I read about the concept of Making Room for God, it made me think of Not of this World: A Catholic Guide to Minimalism. The description for Making Room for God refers to it as "the first book on organization from a Catholic perspective," so I was curious to see what it would add that would be different than Not of this World since that book came to mind as one that was already out there with a Catholic lens. Without referring back to Not of this World to verify, if my memory is correct, a key distinction is that Not of this World focused more on a Catholic lens for thinking about minimalism and our stuff, while Making Room for God moves beyond that to also have a parallel in depth dialogue about the spiritual life or how we can take the concepts about decluttering and organization and apply it to our journey with God in general, not only with things but with the intangible layers of life. For example, Sperry makes the connection between decluttering and retreats or penitential seasons of the liturgical year. She emphasizes how both organization and spiritual journeys are about the process and on-going.

I am enjoying the in progress discussions about this book with the St. Teresa's Online Book Club.

The Discerning Parent: An Ignatian Guide to Raising Your Teen
by Tim and Sue Muldoon
2017 Ave Maria Press

In the last year I have read multiple books to try to understand St. Ignatius's ideas related to discernment and the teenage years still feel new to me as a parent, so I loved The Discerning Parent. I appreciated that the book focused on our role as parents - how to model and guide, while also remembering that our teens have their own free will and are learning to navigate towards adulthood. In this sense, their ideas aligned well with the role of a teacher in reading and writing workshop, the way that I love to nurture literacy development as an educator. With workshop teaching, teachers need to be readers and writers, they need to model the process, they are careful observers of their students and provide support tailored to the individual reader/writer. With The Discerning Parent, it was about parents focusing on themselves and their growth in discerning God's will in order to then be able to support their teens, as well as recognizing there are not any easy solutions that will work for all teens. There was also an emphasis on remembering to try to see our teens as God does. The authors also included Scripture passages and reflections on how that might connect to parenting teens.

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living
by Shauna Niequist
2016 Zondervan

I have had this book in my to read pile for a while. Last weekend when I was at a women's conference, one speaker was talking about how she spent the last couple of years learning how to live in the present moment after a spiritual director talked to her about the importance of entrusting the past to God's mercy, the future to God's providence and live in the present. The concept resonated with me and where I am at in this phase of my life. It also made me think about how I should finally read this book.

I enjoyed seeing glimpses into Niequist's journey. Some of her words felt like they perfectly captured my experience while others did not resonate. That is the beauty of being able to learn from someone else's experiences - noticing the connections and differences, considering implications for my own life and pondering how some ideas might fit with my context. Niequist is not Catholic but did include some references to the Catholic faith and how it fit with her experiences, as well as including some quotes or concepts from Catholics like St. Ignatius, St. Catherine of Siena, and Thomas Merton. I appreciated how she showed different phases of her realization to recognizing she needed to make a change in her life and the reality of it being a process to enact the changes, how it is an on-going process, something that I can relate to.

I loved Brené Brown's books when I read them about 5 years ago, so I enjoyed seeing a foreword by her and also noticed a reference to Tsh Oxenreider in the book, so though I had not read Shauna Niequist's other books, she seemed like a familiar voice as she has common values and priorities to other authors and bloggers that I have enjoyed.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Reading Round Up June 2018

Lately my blogging has been focused on my monthly posts at Catholic Mom. I have not been keeping up with posting about each book as I finish them. We recently welcomed our fifth daughter into our lives, and though I have many blogging ideas, I am unsure of how much I will actually blog as we settle into new rhythms and routines. For now, I decided to at least do a reading round up post (perhaps monthly) to capture books I have completed and I am currently reading (like I did here). It will be a quicker glimpse into each book than the older plan of an individual post for each, but it might be what is more realistic for now.

The Light Entrusted to You: Keeping the Flame of Faith Alive
by John R. Wood
2018 Ignatius Press

As a parent and DRE/Youth Minister, sharing the faith with others is on my mind frequently. I love how this book has the foundation in the essential concept that in order to share the faith, we need to have a strong foundation ourselves. The intent of the book is to share what the author views as the basics for working towards sainthood. He presents each concept in its own chapter as a "class", forming the acronym SAINTS: Saving Grace (new life), Athletics (strength), Instructor's Manual (the Bible), Need to Know Him (royalty of God and His kingdom), Theology of the Body (health of mind, body, and soul), and Sacrifice and Service (brightening somebody's day). He also has a color linked with each "class" chapter. 

Wood explains in the introduction that the intent is to prompt people to think about each component while also considering the big picture of how it all fits together. He develops each concept by sharing parts of his own journey in different roles throughout various phases of life, interspersed with wisdom from others. I enjoyed his voice and learning from his experiences. 

by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli
Translated by William Lester and Robert Paul Mohan
2013 Catholic Way Publishing
(1945 by Newman Bookshop)

Back in February I went to a women's conference at a neighboring diocese and listened to the rector of their seminary talk at a couple of breakout sessions. In one he highly recommended and read excerpts from The Spiritual Combat. This book gave me a lot to think about related to seeking to grow in holiness and complemented other books I have been reading well, such as Introduction to the Devout Life and books related to Ignatian discernment. There was an emphasis throughout the book on humility and great trust with suggestions of how to grow in both. It also gave guidance to understand different scenarios that might arise in a spiritual life, while trying to grow closer to God. There was also an emphasis on perseverance and encouragement to do so, as well as great gratitude. 

The concepts resonated with me based on an emphasis I have had on recent years to "do the next thing" when the overall big picture feels too overwhelming to accomplish all at once. Instead, we keep the big picture in mind while considering manageable steps along the way. There were many suggestions to focus on what we can do to proactively strengthen ourselves (through God's grace) in order to progress spiritually. 

Gaudete et Exsultate: On the Call to Holiness in Today's World
by Pope Francis
2018 Our Sunday Visitor

I was excited when I heard about Pope Francis' latest exhortation from a Catholic Mom post, especially as I saw that the focus was on the universal call to holiness. I especially loved how Pope Francis framed his exhortation. He highlighted the value of learning from the Saints, as well as from everyday people in our lives, that "reflect God's presence" (Location 89) but then also included, "We should not grow discouraged before examples of holiness that appear unattainable. There are some testimonies that may prove helpful and inspiring, but that we are not meant to copy, for that could even lead us astray from the one specific path that the Lord has in mind for us. The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts (cf 1 Cor 12:7), rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them" (Location 104). I appreciate the encouragement to embrace the journey of discovering how God is uniquely calling each of us to glorify him by our lives and the recognition that there are many pathways.

Pope Francis provided attention to different vocations and life contexts and how there are means to grow in holiness with each. He focused on purpose in our Christian life and the core of our relationship with God as a priority in our lives. I appreciated that the exhortation provided a lot to think about written in a way that was easy to understand.

Made for This: The Catholic Mom's Guide to Birth
by Mary Haseltine
2018 Our Sunday Visitor

I loved this book and it was released at a perfect time as I prepared for my 5th labor. I already had other books in progress but put others on pause as I felt I needed this book at that moment. It ended up being a great book to continue to help me to shift from anxiety to peace approaching labor. I wrote more about it for my May Catholic Mom post.

The Hidden Power of Kindness: A Practical Handbook for Souls Who Dare to Transform the World, One Deed at a Time
by Lawrence G. Lovasik
2011 Sophia Institute Press

A priest who has been a great support and guide over the last year read me an excerpt from this book that made me want to read the full book. As the title notes, the book is all about how critical it is to focus on kindness and how many other virtues flow from this. It talks about an intentional act of the will to choose kindness and the benefits of growth in charity with pure motives, making a positive impact on our lives and the lives of those with whom we interact. For example, Lovasik states, "A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves" (p. 11) and "Kindness purifies, glorifies, and ennobles all that it touches" (p. 11). Lovasik also points out that being devout does not automatically equate with being a kind person. I appreciated the depth afforded by focusing an entire book on the concept in order to explore many layers of how it impacts our everyday lives and relationships, giving plenty of ideas to consider in order to grow in virtue.

Humility Rules: Saint Benedict's Twelve-Step Guide to Genuine Self-Esteem
by Augustine Wetta
2017 Ignatius Press

I had seen this book in different mailings and was looking forward to reading it. When I finally began reading it on my Kindle while traveling for work, I smiled at the overall style and voice because they surprised me. Somehow I had missed that Saint Benedict is holding a red skateboard on the cover. Had I noticed that detail, I would not have been so surprised. The overall topic of the book was still serious but just told through a different lens than anticipated. I think I was also picturing it to be an older work, such as Introduction to a Devout Life, rather than something written by an author living in the same time period as us. Augustine Wetta described concepts in the book in contrast to popular notions or attitudes that are encouraged in our culture.

Similar to the other books I have been reading, this one focused on growing in holiness with a specific focus on humility and discovering our true selves in the context of the purpose of life. I appreciated his ideas that aid in discernment and knowing which dreams to follow in life. He also addressed the reality of following God's will, stating, "So often, we find ourselves saying, 'If I only knew God's will, I would do it.' Well, sure. Who wouldn't? The point is to accept God's will without knowing it--to sign our lives onto a blank check. That is what is meant by Christian obedience, and it is the only legitimate source of self-confidence" (Location 331). He explained the concepts in the book in relation to his life as a monk while still relating to those in other vocations.

Like The Hidden Power of Kindness, this book focused a lot on attitude and how we approach life, with an emphasis on how we choose to use our will, as well as the importance of creating space to listen to God.

The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of the Little Flower
by St. Therese of Lisieux
2015 TAN Books
First Published in 1899

After learning about St. Therese through different sources, including Fr. Gaitley's 33 Days to Merciful Love, I appreciated reading her own words in their fuller context. I enjoyed seeing her inner thoughts, including her humility, her perspectives on suffering, and her growth over time. While reading, I also found through her words consolation to be content with God's plans for me over time, encouragement to recognize and accept which doors are opened and which are closed with great peace. I also appreciated the thread woven throughout focusing on patience and time. Reading about her experiences and how God worked in her life helped me to make sense of layers of my own life. As with others, this book gave me a lot to ponder.

In Progress

I am currently on week 30 of 40 Weeks by William Watson, SJ.

Starting my days with Reading God's Word in order to read the daily readings prior to daily Mass continues to be a routine (though I have not been waking up at 5 am as I adjust to different sleep patterns with a newborn). 

I am reading Mary Sperry's Making Room for God: Decluttering and the Spiritual Life, the current pick for the St. Teresa's Online Book Club.

On Mother's Day a parishioner handed out Ultimate Makeover: The Transforming Power of Motherhood courtesy of a Dynamic Catholic initiative in which we receive a free resource each month, so I have also started to read that book.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Good Enough is Good Enough Blog Tour: Q&A with Colleen Duggan

We are in the middle of Colleen Duggan's blog tour for her new book, Good Enough is Good Enough. Today I am sharing a Q&A with Colleen.

Q: In your book you give glimpses into some of the mentors who have benefited you as you navigated different phases of motherhood. What can you share about finding good mentors to support us along the way?

A: In my own life, I’ve been very fortunate to have found good counselors and spiritual directors. Finding these mentors to help me, however, took prayer, time and energy.

It didn’t happen overnight. 

If you desire some kind of support, I encourage you to begin praying for the right people and if someone comes to mind, approach them and ask them if they can assist you.  Give it a few sessions and if the determine the person isn’t a perfect fit, discern if God has someone else in mind.  There is a bit of trial and error in assembling a support team.  Ultimately, you want to feel comfortable with whoever it is you are working.  They will learn lots of private information about you and it’s important that you trust them. 

Some suggestions:

If you think you might benefit from a counselor, you might check out the Pastoral Solutions Institute.  They offer both telecounseling and spiritual direction over the phone.  Phone sessions can be less threatening than face to face sessions, especially at first. 

To find a therapist in your area, check out to identify trained therapists in your area who might be able to help you with the particular problems you are facing. 

Finding a spiritual director can be a little more challenging.   The job of a spiritual director is to help us sort out our relationship with God and notice the workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  They can also help us identify the best kinds of prayer routines given our personalities and temperaments.  It’s important to remember a spiritual director is not a counselor.

If you desire to find a good spiritual director, Father Larry Richards suggests thinking about a priest who loves the Eucharist.  If that priest is reverent and devoted to Jesus through the Sacrament of the Eucharist, they will probably be a good help to you. 

This tip has certainly proven true for me:  good spiritual directors truly love Christ in the Eucharist. 

Q: Writing honestly about our own lives requires vulnerability. What helped motivate you to move beyond that vulnerability in order to share your story? 

A: When I was a young mom, I desperately wanted a safe space to talk about the sufferings I experienced:  issues surfacing in my marriage, feelings I didn’t anticipate I would have when I became a parent (frustration, surges of anger, worry, fear, etc.), unhealthy habits (poor food habits, poor sleep cycles, drinking too much caffeine, exercising too much or not enough), and even parenting conundrums I didn’t know how to handle. 

I grew up surrounded by addiction and I felt emotionally weighed down by that experience, but I also struggled with some of my own unhealthy behavioral tendencies.  I needed someone to talk to about the struggles I was experiencing, but often when I opened up with the people around me, I often didn’t share appropriately, or the other people couldn’t really hear me because of their own sufferings, or people felt compelled to “fix” me (or give advice!) instead of listening to me with care and empathy.

I felt alone (and the reality was that I wasn’t alone because many people struggle in their marriages and parenting) but when I did share, I felt judged, isolated, and misunderstood.   

I’m a verbal processor, I know what I think once I say it out loud, but I didn’t have a safe place to say things, so I walked around thinking,

“I must be the only one who struggles like this; It must be just me.” 

As I grew in my faith, sought counseling and spiritual direction and frequented the Sacraments, however, I experienced personal healing from deep wounds.  As I got older and grew a little more confident in my vocation, I realized how Satan exploits the notion and sways us to believe that we are alone in our familial challenges.   

After years of direction and counseling, I couldn’t deny the freedom, peace and healing I felt when I brought my struggles into the light and examined them under trained guidance. This work aided my realization that I wasn’t alone, that other people struggled too but many of them were like me, convinced they were the only ones. 

I wrote this book so struggling Catholic parents would know there are other parents struggling too, and that God is there, patiently waiting to heal them and give them hope.

Another reason I wrote so openly about my own struggles is because many Catholics are very weary of sharing the Real Deal.  We always have the notion of perfection floating around in the back of our brains and we are weary of giving scandal to others if we share our sinful tendencies or bad habits. 

But we all sin and have bad habits.

It does no one any good to pretend otherwise. 

Sometimes I think well-meaning Catholics actually alienate others because we are so afraid to share the good, the bad, and the ugly that we never engage in the kinds of helpful dialogue needed to help us move forward.  We stay in hiding and therefore stay stuck in sinful tendencies, bad habits, wounds and secrets. 

We forget that we aren’t saints yet! 

I was so honest in my book because I want the mother feeling the effects of woundedness from her family of origin to know she’s not alone, that she can get help, that there are safe people in the world with whom she can share her heart. 

I want to encourage those really struggling in their vocations to seek help both inside and outside the church.  I want them to know healing is possible and we don’t have to stay stuck in our sin or our woundedness. 

Q: In my own prayer life, I have realized non-negotiables. Can you share a little bit about the rhythms and routines of your current prayer practices? 

A: I think it’s always tricky business to share prayer routines because our lives are all so different.  This is why having a spiritual director is so helpful for me.  If he sees that I’m trying to do too much or not enough, he recommends an adjustment to the routine. He knows me well, knows my life situation, and generally his suggestions are appropriate. 

That said, I’m the kind of person who breaks out into sweats when I see in bullet point form the Lenten practices or elaborate liturgical family celebrations and even prayer routines of others. 
I think it’s important not to make our Catholic faith a series of practices we check off like a to-do list.  It’s good to have a habit of prayer but that habit needs to be grounded in growing our relationship with God, not motivated by our desire to feel like a Super Catholic.

While the prayer recommendations/suggestions found in books and blogs are meant to be helpful (and often are to the readers!), I think there is a danger in looking at a list of suggested prayer practices and seeing only those things I’m not doing (and therefore failing at). OR I see that list and I feel smug, accomplished, and maybe a tad spiritually superior because I’m able to tackle most of what’s suggested. What can I say?  I’m a very limited person.

Consequently, I won’t outline for you when I pray and how.  I will say that I have certain prayers I consider foundational to life and all of these have been assumed under the guidance of my spiritual director.  They fit my life and work for me.  Whether these will work for you or not, that’s up to you to pray about and discern.
  • Lectio Devina:  daily reading and meditation of the scriptures.  This practice has been instrumental in cultivating my relationship with God, knowing his will for me in my daily life, and begging the graces from him to fulfill his call.
  • Regular Confession: This will look different for everyone but at this point, we try to go as a family twice a month.
  • Exam of Conscience:  I use this book recommended to me by my spiritual director and I love it.  The important part of the examination for me is recognizing the GOOD in my day first: the blessings God showered upon me (an encouraging word from a friend, a random act of kindness from my husband) BEFORE I look at my sin. 
  • Participation in regular prayer groups/bible studies
  • Regular spiritual direction
Q: I loved the section where you addressed the dangers of the negative impact an over-emphasis on academic pressure and too many extracurricular activities can have on families. I recently reflected on struggles with setting and maintaining boundaries with how I use my time in comparison with others' decisions but ultimately realizing that I have to decide based on what I know is healthy for my family and for me. What do you think has been the hardest part about being able to make your own decisions rather than what seems to be typical or expected? 

It's so hard to ignore the Jones’s!  We all want what’s best for our kids and it’s easy to get swept up into the idea that Rocket Camp or The French Club or a trip to the South of France might be just the thing to grow their life experience and minds.

And maybe those things will do that? 

But I wonder about the effects some of these demanding extracurriculars have on the family—how it limits the time we spend together, the number of meals we have together in the evening, and how it erodes a peaceful lifestyle in favor of a frenetic, demanding one. 

Extracurricular are a great tool to hone a child’s skills but if we aren’t careful, they can slowly eat away at family time. 

I’m not against extracurriculars but as a family we are selective about how we spend our time.  When considering a specific activity for one of our six children, my husband, John, and I ask ourselves these questions in order to determine if the sport/club is a good fit: 
  1. Do we have the money right now for this particular extracurricular activity and the accompanying equipment to participate in the activity (for us this means, can we pay for it out of our pocket and not put it on a credit card or rob Peter to pay Paul)?
  2. What is the benefit of this activity for this child?  What are the downsides of his/her participation?
  3. Do we have the time for it right now?  (This entails a realistic look at the calendar of events and our other commitments.)
  4. If we commit, will we have the emotional and physical energy left over for the rest of our children and for our marriage, which is our number one priority.

Q: You mentioned that "God calls all families to love, follow, and serve him, but the way in which he calls us to do it looks different for everyone." Can you summarize some of your tips on being able to discern God's will for your life/your family's lives?

A: Discernment requires silence and prayer.  It requires listening to the movements of God in your soul in order to determine if He is calling you towards one thing or another.  Discernment also requires we pay attention to those situations, conversations, experiences, which bring us peace and those that don’t.

What is God calling your family to? 

Only you can answer this question and the answer to this requires prayer and silence. It requires discussion with your spouse and your family members. Once you’ve spent a significant amount of time in prayer and in discussion, I encourage you to write these things down and put them in a family mission statement.  Then, evaluate everything in light of that mission statement. 
Should we go on this vacation?  Well, does the trip fit within our family mission?
Should we enroll the kids in this school?  Does the school fit within our family mission?
Should we put the kids in spring baseball?  Does spring baseball fit within our family mission?
There will be pros and cons to every decision you make in life, but I find that when both spouses are united in their vision for their family and they have defined the mission concretely, it makes decision making much, much easier.

Thank you Colleen for sharing your insights with us! You can find information about other stops on the blog tour here

Friday, April 6, 2018

Good Enough is Good Enough Blog Tour

Colleen Duggan's new book, Good Enough is Good Enough has recently been released. Next week a blog tour for the book will begin. Here is a quick glimpse into the blogs that are participating. 

April 11: Sarah Reinhard, Snoring Scholar, review
April 12: Rita Buettner, The Catholic Review blog (Archdiocese of Baltimore)/Open Window, interview with Colleen
April 13: Sterling Jaquith, Coffee and Pearls
April 14: Katie Sciba, The Catholic Wife, interview with Colleen
April 15: Mary Lenaburg, Mary Lenaburg Blog
April 16: Amanda Villagómez, Focusing on the Core, interview with Colleen
April 17:  Michele Faehnle, Divine Mercy for Moms, Excerpt
April 18: Ginny Kochis, Not So Formulaic
April 19: Allison Gingras, Reconciled to You, review
April 20: Erin Franco, Humble Handmaid

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Created to Relate

Last summer Kelly Wahlquist was a speaker at a women's conference at our diocesan retreat center. I enjoyed seeing glimpses into her story and the bends her life has taken - areas where she was called to trust greatly and step forward in faith and moments when the Holy Spirit gave her just the right words at just the right moment. While reading Created to Relate: God's Design for Peace and Joy, I recognized some familiar anecdotes from her talks at the conference, along with additional details and thinking that could not be captured within the time allotted for her talks. I enjoyed being able to have the combination of revisiting some of her thinking, while also having extensions on those thoughts. I could also picture her energetic personality sharing the stories.

The book focuses on relationship to God and to others. While exploring how women relate, Wahlquist made biblical connections to highlight how women are created and different examples of how that can look in different contexts. She gives examples of Lectio Divina and then scaffolds that process for readers, in order to consider implications from the Bible for our own lives.

In her acknowledgements I love that Wahlquist expresses gratitude for Jeff Cavins, saying, "for opening my heart to a deeper relationship with the Lord by introducing me to a love of Sacred Scripture; for recognizing a gift in me that I didn't know I had; for encouraging me to work in that gift; and for creating an opportunity for me to do so by hiring me to literally 'build relationships.'" (Loc 91-95). This made me think about my own journey, considering people and experiences that have helped me to grow closer to God, to love his Sacred Scripture and the Sacraments in his Church, to bring strengths to the surface and to reflect on how God would like to use them. Woven throughout the book is reflecting on individual journeys and discerning God's will for our lives, with examples from her life to understand how the process can work. There is attention to our universal call that unites us, as well as unique differences.

Her experiences resonated with me and helped me to reflect on my own life. I especially loved the layers of seeing how she grew in trust over time by being open to unexpected changes in her life, to the plans she had envisioned for herself. She gives authentic glimpses into all the emotions that can be wrapped up in the process of on-going discernment and trust through the different bends in life. As can be noted in her note of gratitude shared above, the book progresses naturally by thinking first about her relationship with God and then spanning out to how God can use her as an instrument in relating with others built on the foundation of relationship with him. She also shows how an on-going investment in relationship with God is critical throughout our lives. I enjoyed seeing more glimpses into Wahlquist's life and thinking through reading her book. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Loved as I Am

I have been familiar with glimpses into Sr. Miriam James Heidland, S.O.L.T.'s story from Share Jesus videos. Last December I listened to a talk from Sr. Miriam on Formed. In it she mentioned her book Loved as I Am: An Invitation to Conversion, Healing, and Freedom through Jesus, as well as how she has been praying through 40 Weeks and highly recommended it.

I began reading 40 Weeks that same month and finally got her book this month. Loved as I Am is a quick read at 100 pages. but with a lot to ponder. Each chapter begins with a couple of quotes - one from an author, such as C.S. Lewis and another from The Bible. She ends her chapters with a prayer and questions for reflection. The book follows a natural progression of healing, showing how her life up to a certain point unfolded at key moments.

It was interesting to begin 40 Weeks first both because I could see why she would love the book but also because it gave me an example through the life of another of how the healing process works that I have been pondering as I read 40 Weeks. I appreciate the sense of hope through reading about her journey in progress.

As a mom navigating adolescence from the parenting side for the first time, I have appreciated the encouragement of the power of parents praying for their children and Sr. Miriam highlights this point in her book as well.

I really liked reading this book during Lent, linking individual journeys to the healing that Jesus offers.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Introduction to the Devout Life

A little over a year ago a woman moved to our parish, bringing a tradition with her to have people draw a Saint card at the start of the year. This January the Saint I randomly pulled out of the stack was St. Francis de Sales who also happens to be the Patron Saint of my diocese. When I read a post at mentioning his book Introduction to the Devout Life shortly after, I decided to add it to my Kindle.

I loved that this book is a collection of writings St. Francis never intended to be a book initially. Instead, he wrote for a specific person who sought his guidance. He provided a written support so that she could refer to them over time. Eventually another holy person read them and encouraged St. Francis to publish them, knowing they would be beneficial to a wider audience. In the writings, he was specifically thinking about making the case that it is possible to live a holy life for those who have not "altogether quitted the world" (Loc 10). He provides a rationale for why people should desire devotion and shares how to do so considering a range of different angles of everyday life with an encouraging tone.

Within the vocation of marriage and working in a secular career, I fall into the category of needing to navigate seeking holiness within this world, so I appreciated that he specifically addresses married life. Since he lived within the mid 1500s to mid 1600s, there were of course some aspects that have changed over time as far as contexts and social norms; nonetheless, I could still relate to so much of what he was recommending. The ideas seem practical.

He also speaks with humility and a recognition that seeking holiness is a process, noting, "It is too true that I who write about the devout life am not myself devout, but most certainly I am not without the wish to become so, and it is this wish which encourages me to teach you" (Loc 55). His advice also included thoughts on how we should keep a proper perspective, keeping in mind that the purification process is a life-long pursuit. St. Francis includes thoughts on starting points and regular practices to instill in order to make progress.

When giving guidance on temptation, it was helpful that he considered a range of angles, different precautions to keep in mind. Specifically relevant was his attention to the line between pastimes and addiction to those pastimes, stating, "The harm lies, not in doing them, but in the degree to which you care for them. It is a pity to sow the seed of vain and foolish tastes in the soil of our heart, taking up the place of better things, and hindering the soul from cultivating good dispositions" (p. 50).

Early on in the book, St. Francis provides a series of ten meditations. For this part of the book, I would likely rather have a paper copy so that it would be easier to flip between different meditations over time. However, once I am more familiar with them, there is the advantage that I often have my Kindle with me. The ideas in this book complement the concepts I have been reading and praying through this year in 40 Weeks based off of St. Ignatius' spiritual practices. Unlike 40 Weeks, I did not pause to slowly and prayerfully do the meditations as I read that section of the book, so I do need to go back and revisit those mediations. Perhaps at that time, I can mark those that specifically resonate with me for future reference.