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.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Scripture Stackers Review


Recently I received products from Scripture Stackers to review, and this evening I enjoyed surprising the girls with the 6 Mini-Figurines from the Old Testament, including: Moses, Noah, King Solomon, Goliath, Baby Moses, and Joseph. Our girls (ages 14, 11, 4, and 18 months) were each excited to choose one of the sets. They come with a picture of the full set on each of the individually wrapped bags, so while they hoped they were getting a certain one, part of the fun was as my 11 year old said - the blind bag concept. My husband and I opened the last two but were not able to put them together as the girls swooped in as soon as the pieces were out of the bags begging to put them together.


As we assembled, we talked about what we know about each person. Moses has been the focus at our 4 year old's preschool lately, so she was especially excited to have both the baby and adult Moses. Noah's sheep was another one of her favorites. She enjoyed switching sets with her sisters and taking them apart and putting them together again.

Though not intended for her age range, our 18 month old was able to join in on the family activity as one of my older daughters put hers together and we were all sitting with her to make sure that she did not put anything into her mouth. She enjoyed turning Goliath around in her hands and watching the excitement of the rest of the family.



The mini-figurines do not come with instructions because each set is self-explanatory as they do not have many pieces, but there is the guide of the put together images on the package that my girls looked at while putting their together.

We also received the 140 piece Nativity Set. Years ago I made an Advent calendar for my oldest girls made of Lego sets and recently had a request to do that again so I decided to use the set for that purpose. I look forward to a couple of more weeks when I will be able to pull out another surprise for the girls. I think they will be even more excited for this set as it is more involved and because it will be a multi-day family activity as we prepare our hearts for Christmas. Later this week on CatholicMom.com I will have a post featuring that project.


The company that makes Scripture Stackers is still new, so these two sets are the only products they have so far that align with our Catholic faith. They do have an additional set, but it is represents something from the Book of Mormon, rather than The Bible. If you are interested in Scripture Stackers, you can use the code: FAITH25 to receive 25% off of your order through Christmas, though it is recommended you order by around December 14th to make sure they arrive by Christmas.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Genuine Friendship

"Christ is the organizer of our relationships" (location 4322).

Shortly after I read The Friendship Project, I mentioned to a priest how friendship was an area I was thinking about and considering implications for my life. He recommended the book Genuine Friendship by Fr. Philip Halfacre. While The Friendship Project made me think specifically about spiritual friendships, especially with other women, Genuine Friendship explored friendship on a range of levels: friends, spouses, and relationship with God.

Fr. Halfacre distinguished between different types of relationships, including those we may call friends who in reality really are not genuine friends - at least not yet. He discussed prerequisites for being capable of deep friendship and how it is rare. The exploration included motivations behind different types of friendships that position us well (or not) for genuine friendship. He stated, "If we are not men and women of character (men and women who do the right thing even when it is difficult), genuine friendship will elude us--though we can have lesser relationships that resemble them" (location 1165). I appreciated that by reading the book, I was able to see a range of relationships past and present through a new lens with deeper understanding.

An area that resonated with me, giving a lot to think about, was linking the topic to eternal life, stating, "Whether we wish people would, so to speak, take a couple of steps closer, or a couple of steps back, things never seem to come together just the way we would like. It is part of the reality of life in this world, It will be different in Heaven. Here and now, we have many different obligations and commitments, and it can be difficult to balance them all. We wish we had more time to spend with the people we love, not having to arrange schedules and not having to work around other commitments. It will all come together perfectly in Heaven" (location 1443).

The book also incorporated thoughts related to relationships and how they can play a role in our process of sanctification, a purification over time. Humility is one of the foundations to genuine friendship. I especially loved a section on relationship with God, in which he highlighted the spiritual life of Mother Teresa. When talking about her dark night phase, he mentioned, "Why would God deprive her of the experience of his love? It is a mystery, and it is a gift. But did it not draw out of her an even greater gift of herself? Did it not draw out of her an even greater love than would have been the case if she had the experience of God's love to carry her through and lift her up in difficult moments? [...] God permitted all of this. In a sense, he extracted from her a profound gift of self. And that, in itself, was one of God's gifts to her" (locations 3931 and 3937). He also said, "By making a deeper gift of ourselves, our capacity to receive God's eternal love increases" (location 3943). In general, this section made me think of one of my favorite Bible verses, "If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:1-3).

This year my one little word has been filled. There was a lot in this book that linked to that concept as he explored friendship throughout the ages with regards to who we are at the core and how we were created for intimacy and interaction. I appreciated this book for the range of concepts it facilitated pondering. It is a topic that will be relevant throughout my life and into eternity.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Time for God

Time for God, the third Fr. Jacques Philippe book I read, like the other two, provided a similar tone and feel that I had come to love with his books and content to stretch my thinking about relationship with God.

Earlier this summer my priest and I crafted a mission statement for our faith formation programs - To facilitate transformative family-based programs focusing on dispositions that nurture authentic Christ-centered lives. I loved how reading Time for God enriched my thinking about this statement and the potential I hope for in our faith formation programs. For example, towards the beginning of the book, Fr. Jacques Philippe said, "If the life of prayer is not a technique to be mastered but a grace to be received, a gift from God, then talk about prayer should not focus on describing methods or giving instructions, but on explaining the necessary conditions for receiving the gift. These conditions are certain inner attitudes, certain dispositions of the heart. What ensures progress in the life of prayer, what makes it fruitful, is not so much how we pray as our inner dispositions in beginning and continuing it. Our principal task is to try to acquire, keep, and deepen those dispositions of the heart. God will do the rest" (p. 13). I loved this quote both in relation to my personal growth, as well as from a ministry stand-point in order to consider my role to understand and help try to inspire these dispositions, while recognizing anything accomplished is God working through me and that it will be his grace that can accomplish any transformation that occurs. This quote gets at the core of the first portion of the book titled - Mental prayer is not a technique but a grace.

The other portions of the book are: How to use the time of mental prayer, The development of the life of prayer, Material conditions for mental prayer, and Some methods of mental prayer each deepen and extend on that goal of "acquire, keep and deepen those dispositions of the heart". He provides encouragement for persevering in prayer, as well as a focus on prioritizing prayer. He also highlights that through growth we can ever-increasingly give ourselves to God.

I appreciate Fr. Jacques Philippe's practical advise presented in an accessible manner and recognize that I can benefit from revisiting his thinking often.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Interior Freedom

Because I had recently read and loved Fr. Jacques Philippe's Searching for and Maintaining Peace shortly before I went to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine, when I was in the gift store two other books by Fr. Jacques Philippe stood out to me. I read Interior Freedom on the plane ride home.

This book is also fairly brief at 134 pages but packed with thought provoking ideas for spiritual growth. He talked about accepting sufferings for the sake of progress and purification, as well as loving and serving God with joy, regardless of whether or not the context around us makes it easy to do so. He addressed worry and how to approach situations that can provoke anxiety, a sense of a spiritual counter-attack in order to respond with hope and trust.

Another area that stood out to me was related to understanding God's will and trying to navigate contexts in which we are not sure what God wants us to do. This was especially beneficial to me as I have pondered trying to recognize God's will and the realization that I needed to move forward in faith, rather than complete assurance. He also talked about the importance of focusing on God's will for us in the day to day, rather than an over-emphasis on expending our energy on larger-scale choices to the detriment of a proper understanding of the rhythms of our daily lives.

Some of the quotes that I marked were:

  • "The worst thing that could happen would be for everything to go exactly as we wanted it, for that would be the end of any growth" (pp. 50-51). 
  • "If we were always sure we were doing God's will and walking in the truth, we would soon become dangerously presumptuous and at risk of spiritual pride. Not always being absolutely sure we are doing God's will is humbling and painful, but it protects us. It preserves us in an attitude of constant seeking and prevents the sort of false security that would dispense us from abandoning ourselves to God" (pp. 54-55). 
  • "It is an extraordinary source of hope and a great consolation to know that, by virtue of God's grace working in us (if we remain open to it by persevering in faith, prayer, and the sacraments), the Holy Spirit will transform and expand our hearts to the point of one day making them capable of loving as God loves" (p. 68). 
  • "Disappointment in a relationship with someone from whom we were expecting a lot (perhaps too much) can teach us to go deeper in prayer, in our relationship with God, and to look to him for that fullness, that peace and security, that only his infinite love can guarantee" (pp. 70-71). 
  • "That others are sinners cannot prevent us from becoming saints. Nobody really deprives us of anything. At the end of our lives, when we come face to face with God, it would be childish to blame others for our lack of spiritual progress" (p. 72). 
  • "The only free act we can make in regard to the past is to accept it just as it was and leave it trustingly in God's hands" (p. 81). 
In general, this book addressed many areas that I have been pondering and extended my thinking. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Friendship Project

This summer I pre-ordered The Friendship Project: The Catholic Woman's Guide to Making and Keeping Fabulous, Faith-Filled Friends by Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet because I loved their first book, Divine Mercy for Moms. I had some interest in the book but probably bought it more based on the authors than the topic.

I read the book on a recent day of traveling and realized that I loved it so much more than I anticipated based on how they crafted the book and the depth of their exploration. It ended up being the book I hadn't realized I needed.

After a foreword by Fr. Larry Richards to contextualize the importance of the book and an introduction, the book has 8 chapters with a consistent format. Each chapter highlights a virtue and a Saint pair - two Saints that were friends and supported each other on their pathways to sanctification. As a result, the book not only explores how we can individually grow by thinking deeply about the virtues and considering implications for our own lives, but also how we can support each other. In the first chapter they state, "Without the right support system and faith-filled friendships, living your faith is more difficult" (p. 7).

Linking the concepts to the Bible, anecdotes about their own friendships, and the lives of Saints, Faehnle and Jaminet provide a rich exploration of the topic. They also wove together how the different virtues link to each other. Lately I had been thinking about prudence and day to day applications. I was considering how prudence and generosity intersect when discerning choices over time, so I loved how this book addressed both and extended my previous thinking. They were also honest when reflecting on both their strengths and areas for growth in their friendships over time.

In general, I loved the author's craft - the organization, the conceptualization, the co-writing and weaving back and forth between their two voices. I also appreciated how it helped me to better understand myself, the lens it provided to reflect on previous and present friendships, and implications for the future of what I need to nurture in order to have friendships like those described in the book that provide mutual support for growing in holiness. The authors also have a companion website to their book that I am just starting to explore.

Not too long before I read the book, I enjoyed Fr. Mike's thoughts on being intentional about who you spend time with. A priest also just recommended Genuine Friendships. I just purchased it and am looking forward to reading it to see how it complements and extends on The Friendship Project.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Searching for and Maintaining Peace



Earlier this summer I met a woman while helping set up for a women's conference at our diocesan retreat center who I admired for how she seemed to have figured out how to live with Christ at the core from an earlier age than I did. By noticing that, I knew that there was likely a lot I could learn from her. She recommended a book by Father Jacques Philippe, Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart.

Almost three months went by, and a couple of weeks ago I was talking to another woman asking for further explanation on a comment she made because I also recognized her as seeming to be more advanced spiritually and once again the same book came up, so I decided it was time to read it.

It is a brief book at 110 pages and relatively smaller in size as compared to other books; however, it contained insight to so many of the questions that I had been pondering over the last year. Fairly early in on my process of recognizing that I needed to re-align my life to having God at the core this image resonated with me so much that I printed it out and put it on my bulletin board.

Yet, along the way, I recognized that though I was drawn to the concept, I was far from knowing how to implement it. It was relatively easy to lose my sense of peace, and I realized part of my journey would mean re-defining what peace truly means in order to then try to cultivate it. Growth on the worry-trust continuum and all the encouragement over the years I received to lean into trust laid a foundation.

This book helped me to deepen my understanding by providing new ideas to consider, an explanation to some of the processes I had completed intuitively, and overall considerations to help me to self-reflect on my spiritual growth. Divided into three parts: 1) Interior Peace, The Road to Saintliness, 2) How to React to That Which Causes Us to Lose Peace, and 3) What the Saints Tell Us, the book complemented others I previously read about Ignatian discernment (this one and this one by Fr. Gallagher and this one from LifeTeen).

I also noted and appreciated that Fr. Jacques Philippe connected his concepts to some of my favorite Scripture verses, such as God working all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). In this way, it took Scripture that had been speaking to me and guiding my journey towards greater trust and provided me with further explanation of how this could lead me toward growth with maintaining peace.

It also brought up a topic that I have noticed I do not like to think about - spiritual combat. Nonetheless, the way it discussed it helped me to feel a greater sense of peace about the whole topic - not surprising given the title and intent of the book - because it contextualized the purpose in the greater journey towards heaven. For example, "Every Christian must be thoroughly convinced that his spiritual life can in no way be viewed as the quiet unfolding of an inconsequential life without any problems; rather it must be viewed as the scene of a constant and sometimes painful battle, which will not end until death -- a struggle against evil, temptation and the sin that is in him. [...] And this combat is, correctly viewed, the place of our purification, of our spiritual growth, where we learn to know ourselves in our weakness and to know God in His infinite mercy. This combat is the definitive place of our transfiguration and glorification" (p. 9). Lines like that helped me to appreciate the concept through a new lens and embrace it, rather than having a response of fear/anxiety, especially because he emphasizes that it is the Lord's strength that helps us combat these spiritual battles.

In general, this book wove together so many threads that have been on my mind about growing towards God, such as: suffering, great peace, trust, and detachment. It also provided me with some answers about tendencies to ponder the experiences of others and how that links to my own sense of peace.

I am so fortunate for these two women recommending this specific book at this specific phase of my life. Developmentally, it felt like just what I needed and that it was rich enough that I will continue to gain insights from it by re-reading in the future.