Friday, March 16, 2018

Waiting with Purpose

Jeannie Ewing's book Waiting with Purpose: Persevering When God Says "Not Yet" was a perfect book for reflecting on my current life as well as better understanding previous years. I ordered the book because it will be featured as a Catholic Mom book club, starting tomorrow.

The book has 7 chapters, exploring topics such as: Why Is Waiting so Difficult?, Hidden Opportunities in Times of Waiting, and Encouragement While You Wait. Throughout is a thread of hoping in God's promises and keeping in mind that there is so much at work during phases of waiting - so many graces to help prepare us for our next steps.

The last couple of years I have had the phrase "do the next thing" in mind when thinking about how God has the big picture and to only desire to know what the next thing is or the trust that God will reveal to me the next step I need to know when and how I need to know it. Rather than longing to know multiple steps ahead, as I tended to, instead, I am learning to delight in the journey of recognizing next steps and acting on them without fully knowing where it will all lead. Through the process I am growing in love and trust, as well as being able to look back with awe at how God pointed out a path. Ewing's ideas affirmed this growth and thinking.

I also loved how she emphasized the concept of cycles, a reminder I needed to hear. It helped me to reframe my thinking and to view life as phases. I have been in a phase of activity, and this year I have been discerning next steps for the next academic/ministry work year. One way or another I know something will change in order to have more time for my family. Whatever I let go of will require detachment and a sense of loss. A lot of different comments and resources have supported me in being at peace with this, and her book gave me another layer of encouragement to embrace this next phase of a different pace of life or having a shift in priorities. It helps me to focus on how this is for a season and God will let me know if there is a time when I am supposed to shift into a different kind of activity. The book is also helping me to wait well for the pieces to click into place for in my current discernment process as this academic/ministry year comes to an end right as we will be welcoming our 5th baby into the family.

I enjoyed Ewing's writing style and how she wove together her own experiences, the lives of others, and Scripture. I am especially grateful that Catholic Mom selected this as a book club book and that I happened to hear about it from them because the publisher is not one that I am as familiar with, so I might not have heard about it otherwise even though it is such a perfect fit for my life right now.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Good Enough is Good Enough

When I first heard about the concept of Colleen Duggan's book Good Enough is Good Enough, I knew it would be a book that would resonate with me. Since she appeared to navigate some aspects of motherhood that I have not yet, I was anticipating I would be able to learn from her experiences. I was even more excited knowing that it was a Maria Press book. I recently had an opportunity to read the advanced reader copy for review purposes and appreciated Colleen's voice and insight.

After a foreword by Lisa Hendey and an Introduction, the book is organized into 5 sections - each labeled as a Confessions:

  • Confession 1: I Don't Know How to Master Motherhood
  • Confession 2: I Don't Always Take Care of Myself as I Should
  • Confession 3: I Don't Know How to Keep My Kids Catholic
  • Confession 4: I Don't Like Watching My Children Suffer
  • Confession 5: I Sometimes Compare Myself with Other Parents
I enjoyed this creative way to structure her book, and it also alludes to her storytelling style of being honest about the joys and challenges of motherhood, as well as her overall journey from childhood to current life. There is a great sense of humility and a pull towards recognizing limitations and instead relying on God's graces. She ends each chapter with a closing prayer and discussion questions. Though overall the book is about a serious topic, she layered in plenty of humor. 

In the introduction she created a context for connecting to her readers while also recognizing that each person will have their own unique experiences. As I anticipated, Colleen has a lot to offer her readers based on her experiences, while also recognizing that she is a work in progress and still has a lot to learn. I could relate to her referring to recognizing a point in time that her "life had become unmanageable" and the sense that we all have to evaluate our lives from time to time in order to consider our priorities and expectations and then consider implications for growth towards a sense of peace and living aligned to our vocation. She also outlined how she realized she could apply her strengths from her career as an educator to her new context being a stay at home mom. I always love marveling at how God can help us to use experiences from one aspect of our life for a different one in the future in ways we never would have imagined when we were originally developing those strengths. 

Many of her quotes resonated with me, such as:
  • "That's partly what makes this whole parenting gig hard: we are always struggling with the weight of our own brokenness while our children struggle with the weight of theirs. It's exhausting."
  • "Doing God's will in daily life will sometimes hurt, but it will always bring us peace."
  • When discussing the challenges of taking children to Mass, she mentioned, "We didn't know yet that God was using these moments of self-sacrifice during Mass to form us in our vocations [...] Our impossibly high expectations meant John and I felt mostly defeated and discouraged when we attempted Mass, nightly family prayer, reading a small story from The Lives of the Saints, or a liturgical celebration with our kids because we were almost always met with insurmountable problems (also known as normal kid quandaries). [...] We romanticized how we'd like things to be, but we were stuck in the reality of chronic imperfection--our own and our kids'."
I appreciated how she honestly portrayed the feeling of being overwhelmed within the context of being a wife and a mom, considering all the needs we want to meet but feeling too stretched thin to do all we would like to. 

While reading I also noted that her understandings about the role God plays in healing us aligned with another book I have been reading and praying through this year, 40 Weeks by Fr. William Watson. She also referenced another one of my favorite authors, Fr. Jacques Phillipe, as well as other authors and Saints whose lives have inspired me.

I often think about my own journey in recent years and growth on the worry-trust continuum. I enjoyed seeing glimpses into Colleen's life and how she has also grown with being able to place her life and the lives of those she loves into God's hands alongside an on-going commitment to focus on growing in holiness. 

The book officially releases on April 13th, and there will be a blog tour from April 11-20. I am buying a copy of this book to donate to a women's conference in our diocese as a giveaway. If you would like to buy a copy for yourself or as a gift for someone else, there is a coupon code, COLLEEN at Ave Maria Press through May 1, 2018. 

*Note: I did not include page numbers with the quotes since I do not have a finalized version of the book.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Reading Round Up

I have not been keeping up with posting about books as I read them, so I decided to do a post with a quick review of books I read late 2017 and so far in 2018 (or at least the ones I can remember).


From Islam to Christ: One Woman's Path Through the Riddles of God
by Derya Little

I am interested in the journeys of different people - how they construct their identity and how they navigate life. Lately, I have had a specific interest in seeing stories through the lens of faith, such as the glimpses into the lives of those featured on Convinced from Ignatius Press//Runaway Planet Pictures available on From Islam to Christ is an autobiographical book about Derya Little's experiences navigating faith through different phases in her life, considering the influence of the faith that she grew up with and how she eventually converted to Catholicism with a lot of questioning in between. From childhood to adolescence to her current life as an adult, Little considers those different layers of how her life experiences intersected as she was drawn towards the Catholic faith. It also shows tensions with other relationships as her beliefs shifted and building a sense of confidence in her faith over time, despite clashing with the popular culture where she grew up and the beliefs of others in her family. 

When Women Pray: Eleven Catholic Women on the Power of Prayer
Edited by Kathleen Beckman, L.H.S.

I bought this book because it was selected for a WINE book club. I slowly read it from time to time over a stretch of months, rather than following along with the book club schedule as intended. I appreciated seeing glimpses into the prayer lives of a range of women from different backgrounds, with a specific focus on how they have grown in their lives of prayer over time. Each chapter ended with a Ponder, Practice, Pray section with questions to prompt individual thinking and growth about the role of prayer in the reader's own journeys. Then, there was a one page Feminine Wisdom section that highlighted different people - often Saints - with a short look into something they said about prayer to provide additional food for thought and inspiration. 

Not of this World: A Catholic Guide to Minimalism
by Sterling Jaquith

I have been interested in the concept of minimalism for at least a few years. I enjoyed this book because Sterling Jaquith was talking about a lot of the resources (blogs and books) that I have heard of or enjoyed but then added a Catholic specific layer to the discussion. She also talked about shared her personal experiences as examples throughout and how she has grown over time with striving towards minimalism. She has a Facebook group for readers to share pictures, exchange ideas about challenges and celebrate successes. 

Found: A Story of Questions, Grace, & Everyday Prayers
by Micha Boyett

This was a book that I originally read back in 2015 and just happened to be skimming back through my Kindle books and was drawn in by re-reading the first few pages. Boyett is not Catholic, but she is writing about a time in her life where she was drawn to St. Benedict and the Benedictine lifestyle. She shares experiences from a couple of retreats with the monks and how she tried to apply concepts she learned back in her everyday life as she sought to relearn how to pray within her new context of being a mom. The book is about seeking and identity construction over time. It is also about prayer, trust, and discernment. While there were some layers where our beliefs did not align completely based on differences with her Protestant background, for the most part, I could connect to a lot of her thinking. It was interesting to see how just two years ago I appreciated the insight but rereading it after some experiences in between helped her ideas to resonate even more this time around. I checked to see if she had another book out but did not see anything. Her blog gave some glimpses into what has happened in her life since this book though. 

by Colleeen Duggan
*Advanced version prior to official release

Coming soon - a separate post on my thoughts about this book. 

In Progress

I am currently reading Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales and Created to Relate: God's Design for Peace and Joy by Kelly Wahlquist. Once completed, I will see if I am able to get back into posts about individual books or if I end up doing another reading round up.


This year I am also starting my days with the daily readings using Reading God's Word: Daily and Sunday Mass Readings Church Year B - 2018, followed by reading and dedicating 15 minutes to prayer with Forty Weeks: An Ignatian Path to Christ with Sacred Story Prayer by Fr. William Watson, SJ.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Gratitude: One Little Word 2012

After a focus on simplicity in 2010 and on embrace in 2011, I extended into gratitude in 2012 for my one little word. I recognized that aside from maintaining a positive attitude throughout the range of life's experiences that I wanted to take it a step further and be grateful for each of those contexts. I knew this year would include powering through my dissertation. I was also mid-way through an academic year in which I had taken a leave of absence from my middle school position in order to fill in for a sabbatical replacement at the university while completing my doctoral program. It was a time of reflecting on whether I would make a permanent transition to teacher education or whether I would go back to my K-12 context.

I was also focusing on what brought me joy in everyday life in my different roles, as well as the things that brought me small comforts like a warm chai latte warming my hand. During this year I also had a shift in recognizing that I had a propensity to stress and worry too much about things of little importance. There was a song in Spanish that resonated with me that said "I remember her being worried about things that mean nothing today."

In 2012 I recognized that my words of simplicity, embrace and gratitude had helped me to shape my outlook on life, keep things in perspective, and prioritize what I cared about most. Every word after has extended upon these concepts in one way or another, helping me to explore different angles and nuances of the concepts.

When thinking back now on the connection between embracing and being grateful for an experience, I can still see how they are very similar. I know there are nuanced differences that I do not fully understand yet and as a result, cannot explain. Yet, I am starting to grasp some layers of it. However, my current ponderings including how it appears that embracing is connected with a willingness to suffer or seeing value in suffering, while being grateful means we welcome the sufferings at a whole new level. Rather than just bearing the sufferings, we feel thankful for them, especially in the context of recognizing they are opportunities that can help purify us.

Paying attention to what brings me joy in life is still deeply engrained in who I am and it is something that I have been discussing with my oldest who is now 14. We talk about how happiness is a choice and how it is important to notice what brings happiness. While I have swapped out a warm chai warming my hand as my go to comfort in lieu of silence, especially when in the presence of the Lord at the church, I am still tuning in to what fills me and what drains me as an intentional part of my one little word from last year (2017). In this way words between years interact with each other and extend upon each other.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

OLW 2018: Home

Advent and the Christmas season came and went without any new posts on my blog (though I have had some posts over at Catholic Mom). I have come to love that time of year as a chance for slowing down and reflecting. Part of that includes selecting my one little word that will be a focus throughout the year and setting intentions for the rhythms and routines of my spiritual life for the new year.

Within a broader context of discernment, I have been considering implications for my life, especially as this academic and ministry year concludes in the spring and we welcome our fifth child into our family. One thing is clear - I want to have more time with family, so I selected home as my one little word.

I have had the pull towards needing a better balance between family and other aspects of life for years. Back when my husband and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary in 2012, he reflected on all that had happened during those ten years - births of our children, college degrees, his citizenship... Then, he posed a question, "What do you want to look back on after our next ten years?"

"I want to say I focused on my family," I said, recognizing that though other areas of life had been exciting and carried a sense of accomplishment, they were not more important than family. I knew it was time to reel in my academic and career interests, to be able to have some more firm boundaries and focus on family.

Seven more years have passed - we are within three years of that 20 year anniversary. Nonetheless, I cannot yet say that I was able to truly focus on family to the extent that I intended back when the question was posed. I have made growth in many areas, but new challenges have arisen. For example, I had a breakthrough with my career but have pondered where service and ministry fit into all of this.

This year will be about continuing to reflect on keeping God at the core and attempting to properly prioritize my life - to sift through establishing and maintaining my vocation as a wife and mom as the 2nd most important aspect of my life followed by career and ministry. This year will be about nurturing rhythms, routines, and relationships at home, while also keeping in perspective that my true home is the father's house (John 14:2).

Hello, January. Let the journey begin.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Motherhood Self-Care

About a year ago, while we were downstairs in the youth room with one of our LifeTeen core members leading a LifeNight, another team member who is also an acolyte set up the church for Adoration. I didn't know what he was envisioning. As we transitioned to the dark church with the Eucharist surrounded by candle-light, I kneeled down in prayer and the words flowed in my thoughts, "This is beautiful."

In response an image flashed in my mind of my baby in my arms and the words, "This is beautiful too."

I previously recognized the Eucharist as my most powerful form of self-care. Last night I was pondering how this whisper in my heart during Adoration is being confirmed again and again over time - within my vocation as wife and mother, holding my girls is the biggest gift from God, bringing me more consolation, peace and strength than perhaps any other aspect of my vocation. As my girls get older, the time holding them gets less and less frequent, and eventually it looks more like quiet moments spent physically close together, such as reading, writing or even watching a movie in the same space.

Though I do not like feeling like a jungle gym at daily Mass when my 4 year old is wanting to be held but also restless, there are also those times when she is calm and rests in my arms. Holding my girls in those still moments makes me feel a sense of peace that this alone is enough confirmation of why I am in this vocation, that God wanted me to be able to experience this and that he wanted me to be able to nurture in this way.

With these thoughts in mind, this morning I woke to read yesterday's reflection from The Catholic Mom's Prayer Companion: A Book of Daily Reflections that I forgot to read as part of my normal routine on the actual day. Mark Hart's words aligned and resonated with me, "Whether you are a mother through natural birth, adoption, marriage, or fostering, or you are a spiritual mother, God anointed you for this vocation. Your motherhood is the highest affirmation God could pay you. Beyond the sacraments, there is no greater invitation to intimacy God could offer you than your motherhood" (November 21).

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Tomb

Like books one and two in the Living Water series by Stephanie Landsem, The Tomb captured and held my attention. Once I got to a certain point, it was hard to put it down. Using her imagination she pondered what could have caused Martha's worrying and then developed a concept that would give her plenty to worry about with no easy solutions, as well as painting a picture for her perception of her sister's life in comparison to her own. I especially liked that she imagined the dynamics of the family life of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.

At the start of the book, she reminded that she is not trying to write a factual, historical book as there are many details that were not documented. Instead, she took what we do know from the Bible coupled with her research into the time period to create something that was plausible, bringing the Scripture stories to life in a new way. Similar to her other books, there was the focal Scripture inspiration alluded to in the book description with other links to Scripture woven throughout showing glimpses into the bigger picture of how it might have all fit together, how different people from the Bible would interact with each other. I always love this element as sometimes they show up with an element of surprise, while other times I can anticipate them but still enjoy seeing how they unfold.

I appreciate that by having a deeper imagination of the bigger context of what the Biblical figures' lives may have been like also means having a stronger sense of them as people and a fuller weight of the Scripture. It helps me to make more meaningful connections to implications for the Gospel on my life. Like a good homily, Landsem's writing assists me in better conceptualizing the power of the Gospel to inform my life.

I still have not explored any other Catholic fiction authors' work, but I would like to do so soon, and I eagerly await new releases of Landsem's work as she is now one of those authors who I am confident I would love anything she writes.