Monday, September 10, 2018

Gaze Upon Jesus: A Q&A with Stephanie Landsem

Last night I posted about Gaze Upon Jesus. I was most excited to read an advanced copy of this book because I could not wait to read Stephanie Landsem's latest writing.

After reading Walk in Her Sandals, I went on to read her Living Water series. I have noticed that having read her writing has had a long-lasting impact on my interactions with scripture. The additional depth that provides an understanding of what the overall historical context was like and a plausible backstory sticks with me, and I recall possibilities from her imagination when the excerpts that inspired her writing come up as readings at Mass or through my personal Bible study.

I also believe in the power of mentors when learning something new. Approaching Scripture through a lectio divina lens is something relatively new for me. I have a lot to learn, and reading Stephanie Landsem's writing has served as an extensive glimpse into how someone can deeply ponder Scripture and imagine the possibilities and through the process be transformed by better understanding the narrative of God's love in our lives.

Because I admire her work so much, I am happy to share a Q&A with Stephanie Landsem.

Q: Considering point of view and perspective is something I love as a reader. Each chapter in this book, part of the building anticipation was to see how you would enter into the story, the lens through which you would capture the scenes. I appreciate the blend of people present in the Bible developed by your imagination alongside people fully from your imagination but authentic and plausible for the time period. What would you like to share about your process as an author or your author's craft related to perspective?

A: For both Gaze Upon Jesus and Walk In Her Sandals—as well as in the Living Water series—I really try to represent women from as many walks of life as I can. In Walk In Her Sandals, my characters are from all age groups, from Veronica, young and newly married, to the widowed Zilpah. In Gaze Upon Jesus, I wanted to challenge myself and the reader with an even more diverse perspective. With Anna the Prophetess, we see the wisdom brought by age and loss, and from Lila, we get the perspective of an orphan, handicapped and alone. Then we have Adrina, who looks upon the child Jesus with the eyes of a foreigner. My hope is to show that Jesus, even as a child, came for all of us, no matter our age, status, or religion.

Q: What was it like to write from Mary's perspective as opposed to other real people from the Bible or those that were completely from your imagination?

A: To write a story from Mary’s perspective was daunting, to say the least. Mary was, of course, a real person, and imposing my own ideas of her personality seemed presumptuous. Not to mention portraying the most important event to happen to a woman in human history, the Annunciation! So I thought and prayed a great deal, then I asked myself what it would be like to be a young woman in first century Nazareth and how Mary might feel about her family and her betrothal to Joseph. Then I tried to imagine what the Angel’s message might mean to her, both on a spiritual and practical level. I hope I’ve captured both the young woman of the time period and some glimpse of the new Eve that God chose to be the mother of his Son.

Q: What did you most enjoy about collaborating with others for Walk in Her Sandals and Gaze Upon Jesus

A: I was amazed at how all of us writers—with only a few conference calls—so fully complemented each other’s ideas. The way this book came together can only be attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit. And, of course, it was an honor to work with talented and holy women like Kelly Wahlquist, Sarah Christmeyer and Teresa Tomeo—women who have been my heroes for years!

Q: How did you discover your love of this specific type of writing?

A: When I began to write, I tried a few different genres and just wasn’t inspired. Then one Sunday I heard the Gospel reading of the woman at the well and I started wondering about her. Before I got home from Mass, I had a story in my head that turned out to be my first novel, The Well, and the beginning of the Living Water Series. Since then, I’ve discovered that I love imaging the ‘rest of the story’ about real people who are mentioned in the Gospel accounts, especially women who encounter Jesus and are transformed by that encounter.

Q: How do you nurture yourself as a writer over time?

A: I find that in order to stay motivated I have to nurture myself both spiritually and physically. I have a real love for the beautiful Adoration chapel at my parish. I find myself there when I’m stuck on a scene or mentally drained and I always leave refreshed. I’ve also taken up biking and find that a good ride clears the cobwebs and I often get a great idea while I’m cruising along the road or zipping along a trail.

Q: How has being a writer in this specific genre impacted you as a mom?

A: I often wonder what my kids would say to that question! This path—my novels as well as the short stories and being involved in WINE—has been a period of immense spiritual growth for me. Instead of what you would think—that writing would take away from my role as a wife and mother—it has actually increased my commitment to my vocation and, I hope, made me a better mom. I prioritize better than before. I’ve found that everything works better when I prioritize prayer and the sacraments, then my responsibilities as a wife and mother. The writing comes more easily and naturally after that.

Thank you, Amanda for having me on your blog! I hope you and your readers enjoy the stories in Gaze Upon Jesus as much as I loved writing them.

Thank you, Stephanie for sharing these glimpses into your life!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Gaze Upon Jesus

I loved Walk in Her Sandals during Lent 2017, so I was excited to read an advanced review copy of the new release Gaze Upon Jesus: Experiencing Christ's Childhood through the Eyes of Women. The book had a similar format to Walk in Her Sandals, a unique blending of different contributors with a consistent feel chapter to chapter.

A new element of this book in contrast to Walk in Her Sandals was visio divina linked to sacred art, linking perfectly with the title and cover image. While I could not fully appreciate this element of the book because I was reading it on a Kindle and didn't have access to the color images, I recognized the potential of this aspect of the book because a lectio divina book that I just started incorporates that element as well. It has been beneficial, so I know that had I been reading from an actual paper copy of the book (or a Kindle Fire or other e-reader that has color), the visio divina sections of the chapters would have been of great benefit.

I appreciated that the book centered on the joyful mysteries of the Rosary with the addition of the flight of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to Egypt. I highly recommend Gaze Upon Jesus for Advent this year. It is set up to be a six-week Scripture study, providing plenty to read, view and reflect on, a chance to slow down and ponder the beauty of the liturgical season during a time of year that can often be associated with busy, busy, busy.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Ascension's The Great Adventure Catholic Bible: Preliminary Thoughts

I can remember being drawn to the Bible again and again and reading it at different phases in life with memories back to childhood; nonetheless, I do not ever remember having much guidance on how to read and understand the Bible well until recently. When I heard about the Salvation History narrative on a Symbolon session a few years ago, I was fascinated. A video by Fr. Josh Johnson also contributed to a recognition of the value of Scriptures. Listening to homilies at Mass daily after having read and reflected on the readings was also of great benefit.

I have a longing to get a Master's in Theology with a layer of that desire linking to wanting a better foundation in Sacred Scriptures; however, that seems to be something to wait patiently for, rather than something that is intended to be a yes in this moment of my life (a September 2018 Catholic Digest article titled "Going Back to School Later in Life" provided consolation in the waiting). In the meantime, I am grateful for other avenues to develop and deepen my interactions with Scripture.

Last weekend I received my copy of Ascension's new The Great Adventure Catholic Bible. The release of their version of the Bible came at a perfect time because I had already been planning on dedicating a specific block of time on the Bible this academic year. Building on my existing practice of starting the day with daily readings, I was looking forward to consistent, intentional general Bible reading.

Right before preparing to go back to work, Ascension started to promote the upcoming release. I have heard about the Bible Timeline but have not had any first hand experience other than having purchased The Bible Timeline chart. I loved it for the same reason that I appreciated the Symbolon session - it helped to have a better sense for the big picture and connections between different sections.

I am so excited to have the timeline integrated right into a version of the Bible providing guidance along the way. There is an introduction to the concept of the timeline, followed by an overview of the full timeline at a glance. Then before each key period represented in the Bible further explanation about the periods is incorporated. There is also a reading plan to read the fourteen books that provide the overarching narrative across the Old and New Testaments in three months.

As a teacher educator with a focus on reading and writing methods, I have been thinking about how what I know about literacy can help support me as I seek to better understand the Bible. Naturally, I loved the sections on How to Interpret the Bible and Lectio Divina in this Bible. They complemented the Symbolon session I loved so much (not surprising since Dr. Mary Healy, one of the editors of The Great American Catholic Bible, participates in an interview with Dr. Edward Sri in the Symbolon session).

In addition, there are aesthetic aspects that I love about this Bible. Blue is my favorite color, and the cover and pages have a soft feeling. Even just thinking about sitting in my quiet church coupled with the feel of the Bible and power of the words makes me feel a sense of peace. The font is easy to read with plenty of white space in between the rows of text, and in the Gospels, I love that Jesus' words are in red. I appreciate Bibles that have tabs on the edge of pages to easily navigate between different books of the Bible, but this one is even better because each tab is color coded to align with the timeline concept.

I am looking forward to this extra time dedicated to Sacred Scripture, and I know that having this version of the Bible will enhance that experience. I am grateful to the editors, Jeff Cavins, Mary Healy, Andrew Swafford, and Peter Williamson for all of the thought put into how this Bible was crafted with aiding people in understanding.

I am hoping that before too long there will be a Spanish version since they have the timeline resources available in Spanish. If they do provide it in Spanish, I will be very excited to get a copy for my husband so that we can better experience all that the Bible and this specific version of it have to offer.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Plans and Priorities: Routines for this Season


I recently went back to work (after maternity leave for my 5th baby late spring term and summer vacation), and it is now back to school time for my three oldest. With a new school year comes re-envisioning plans and priorities for this season of life. I am focusing on gratitude for what is and celebrating the context of different layers of my life, leveraging what is as I continue to work towards proper prioritization. 

Re-start: 5 am Prayer & 40 Weeks Sacred Story Prayers
After having my baby, along the way my practice of waking up at 5 am slipped. Throughout the summer I still typically read the daily readings upon waking and daily Mass continued as a core part of my day, but I missed this space for prayer waking up before anyone else in the quiet of my home. It's time to get my body used to waking up early again. It will still be a phase of knowing that it will be flexible depending on whether I am nursing/holding my baby or not (or if I have had a particularly sleepless night, I might set the alarm back). 

I used to do my 15 minutes related to 40 Weeks as part of my 5 am waking up. Then towards the end of my pregnancy, it seemed like I was not able to focus as well at that time and often felt like I was falling back to sleep once I switched from daily readings to my 15 minutes. At that time I shifted to typically doing my 15 minutes before or after daily Mass. I was still able to complete my 15 minutes of prayer specific to the sacred story process for the most part after my baby was born and throughout the summer, but my journaling practices stopped based on often holding my baby. The last couple of weeks, just as I was getting ready to transition back to work/the first little bit of work (and right as I was at about week 39 in the book), I have barely been doing the 15 minute sessions. I have not decided yet how I am going to layer this back in. I did end up getting a paper copy of the book recently (rather than just on my Kindle), and it was right when the 2nd edition was available. The physical copy is going to make it easier to refer back to certain parts of the book as I revisit and re-integrate this back in. 

Possibilities in the Present Moment: Mass & Scriptures
I am currently in a phase of about 5 weeks without access to daily Mass, but once it is available again at our parish, I will be in an academic year of going to daily Mass on my own after a year of attending with my 4 year old before taking her to preschool and then with the baby while on maternity leave. I will savor that extra space and time to enter more deeply into prayer. The Eucharist is sure to continue to be an anchor. 

This season of life is also about not being in an active role in ministry for now. It was hard to actually follow through with letting go, but one of the layers of being grateful for what is related to this phase of life is knowing that I will be able to prioritize some focused time with Scripture. I recently started a book I bought earlier this summer (I'm loving it), and just today I received my copy of Ascension Press' new The Great Adventure Catholic Bible (especially excited for this one and will write more about my preliminary thoughts about it soon). 

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