Tuesday, July 7, 2015

St. Francis, I'm Glad We Had This Talk

I love St. Francis de Sales.  There are so many wise and inspirational quotes attributed to this holy saint that totally resonate with me and make me want to be a better person.  Words that inflame me with the desire to amend my life, atone for all my sins, and just...DO BETTER.

This is one of those quotes:  "Be who you are and be that well."

Just as you sometimes feel like the priest is looking directly into your very soul when his homily seems to be tailor-made for you, I feel like St. Francis de Sales is speaking to me here.  Because although I am well aware that, as they say (they, or maybe it was Theodore Roosevelt), "comparison is the thief of joy," I too often compare myself, with all my real and perceived shortcomings, to those about me; and when I do, I sometimes feel that even if I'm the very best me that I can be, it will never be good enough.  When I do this, I know that I'm forgetting that God made me the way I am for a reason, and that He loves quiet, introverted, shy (and sometimes socially awkward) me as much as he loves the guy who walks into a party and immediately lights up the room.  When I do this, I know that I'm like a petulant child, flinging a birthday gift back at the giver, upset that it's not the toy I had hoped for.  When I do this, I know that I'm too busy not loving myself to love others well.

And yet...and yet, I fall back into this sinful way of thinking, time and time again!

I give lip service all the time to the idea that it would be a very boring world indeed if we were all created exactly alike.  But almost in the same breath, I wish for a bigger personality, a more outgoing and engaging personality--forgetting that just as the world needs spirited storytellers, it needs listeners.  And just as it needs people who are good at talking off the cuff at a party, it needs people who may not be so great at that, but whose unique gifts include the ability to express themselves quietly, through the written word.

You'd think that at about-to-turn-57, I would have learned by now to be comfortable in my own skin, to realize that there's nothing wrong with just being the way God made me.  Well, that's the birthday gift I'm going to give myself this year: acceptance--and with it, I hope, unadulterated joy.  I'm going to be who I am; and I may not be that as well as possible, but I'm going to give it the old college try.

St. Francis, I'm glad we had this talk.  You can talk to me anytime, and I'll try to listen.


(P.S.  I know you've been waiting with baited breath for the next book club "meeting," so look for a Grace-filled Tuesdays post next week.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

WWRW: Ken Huck's Summer Reading List

Today, I thought I'd share some summer reading recommendations from Ken Huck of Radio Maria.  (Ken has a show called "Meet the Author," and he was kind enough to have me on to talk about Finding Grace back in January).  Here is Ken's list (pay special attention to #4--wink, wink):

 
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Meet the Author – 2015 Summer Reading List By host, Ken Huck

 

This, the 5th annual, list was inspired by a listener. I think there is something for everyone on this list – men, women, young, and adult.  The books are in no particular order. I also suggest books that parents can share with their children. 

 
1.       A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac by Margaret Rose Realy. Great book for any time of year but especially good for summer.

 
2.       Divine Renovation: Bringing Your Parish from Maintenance to Mission by Fr James Mallon.  You will come out of the summer energized with ideas to help your parish. 

 
3.       Visiting Mary: Her U.S. Shrines and Their Graces by Julie Dortch Cragon.  If you want to incorporate some visits to shrines with your vacation this book is full of ideas and a list of shrines for nearly every state. Keep in the car glove compartment!


 
4.       Finding Grace by Laura Pearl. Wonderful books for moms and dads to read and share with their teen children. A wonderful coming of age novel that will keep you guessing to the very end! My favorite recommendation this past year for young adults.

 
5.       The Glory of the Crusades by Steve Weidenkopf, Not Peace But A Sword – The Great Chasm Between Christianity And Islam by Robert Spencer, or Christianity, Islam, and Atheism by William Kilpatrick. With militant Islam in the news nearly every day I recommend all three of these books.

 
6.       Prayer Works! Getting a Grip on Catholic Spirituality by Matthew Leonard. Just because it is summer it doesn’t mean you can’t work on your faith practices!

 
7.       Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler, and Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms by Holly Ordway. Two of my favorite conversion stories.  

 
8.       Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior is Changing Everything by Robert Reilly. The Supreme Court is expected to redefine marriage this summer and this book will explain how we got to this point in our culture.   

 
9.       No Turning Back by Fr. Donald Calloway.  If you don’t know Fr. Calloway’s story you need to read this book!   

 
10.   Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves by Jason Evert.  A fantastic overview of the life of this great saint of our time.

 
Books for moms to share with daughters: The “Lily series” of novels Sherry Boas. Sherry is a fantastic writer and even greater mom.  

   
If you have teens check out Regina Domain’s The Fairy Tale Novels series and the John Paul II High series of novels by Christian M. Frank about the adventures of a group of teens at a tiny Catholic school.

 
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Hope you're having a great summer, filled with great books!  Now head on over to Jessica's for more good titles.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Erin's Ring Receives Two Catholic Press Association Awards!

My publisher, Cheryl Dickow at Bezalel Books, emailed me yesterday with some exciting news:  Erin's Ring received two awards from the Catholic Press Association at their recent annual gathering in Buffalo, NY.




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B09b: CHILDREN'S BOOKS AND BOOKS FOR TEENS: Books for Teens & Young Adults

First Place

Chastity Is for Lovers by Arleen Spenceley, Ave Maria Press

Second Place

Erin's Ring by Laura H. Pearl, Bezalel Books

Third Place

Real Life Faith: Bible Companions for Catholic Teens by Mary Elizabeth Sperry, Liguori Publications
 

B28: CATHOLIC NOVELS

First Place

Master of Ceremonies by Donald Cozzens, ACTA Publications

Second Place

The Oblate's Confession by William Peak, Secant Publishing

Third Place

Erin's Ring by Laura H. Pearl, Bezalel Books

 
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I suppose I didn't need to add the highlighting.  I guess I'm just. so. excited!

Now it is my job to figure out how to get the word out about these awards, which will hopefully make Erin's Ring more attractive to prospective readers, booksellers, schools, and parishes.  If you're reading this and you have any advice to offer or know of any people I should contact, please email me.  I'd love any help you can give me!

God bless you, dear readers!

(Also, if you'd like to see a complete list of the 2015 Book Award winners, here's the CPA site.)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Walking, and Pondering the Meaning of Life

Yesterday morning, I took my usual walk--the daily four-mile walk that is part of my grand plan for making my osteoporatic bones become more healthy--along the shore of Lake Champlain.
It was a glorious morning here in Chazy, NY--sunny, breezy, not the least bit humid.  Not long after I set off, I saw the happiest sight: two young boys in swim trunks and life vests, newly released from school for summer vacation, playing on the rocks on the shore of the lake, watching their father install a dock.  I smiled, thinking how wonderful it is to be a kid in the summer, with nothing but freedom and fun ahead for the next couple of months.

But then I realized that the boys' father was submerged up to his shoulders in the lake as he worked, and he'd left a small four-wheel all-terrain vehicle idling up on the side of the road, right near the rocky spot where his boys were playing.  And right away, my imagination began to run away with me, creating all sorts of terrifying scenarios.  What if the four-wheeler's gear shift suddenly switched into "drive" on its own, and mowed down those boys?  What if they ran away in fear and tripped on the rocks, falling head-first into the lake, unconscious?  What if I needed to try to save one of them, because their father became incapacitated himself?

As these thoughts rushed through my brain at break-neck speed, I decided that yes, I would gladly risk my life to save those young boys--complete strangers to me, but my brothers in Christ.  Even if I died doing so, I thought, that would be okay.  More than okay, in fact, for that might be just the selfless action that could help this sinful soul of mine find its way to Heaven.

Wow, right?  Sunny day, happy kids squealing in delight at the water's edge, with their dad right nearby...where did these dark imaginings come from?!  And these grandiose thoughts of heroic rescues?

Anyway, I moved on, trying to clear my head of scary images.  And I started ruminating on an aspect of myself that I'm not particularly proud of.  While moments ago I had contemplated dying to save young lives, I was struck by the thought that I have had a lot of trouble lately dying to self when it comes to dealing with someone who is actually very close to me, someone I love.  I was reminded of a passage from one of my all-time favorite novels, Graham Greene's The End of the Affair.  The heroine of that story, who has a conversion experience after a near-tragedy and promises God that in return for His mercy she will give up the man with whom she is having an affair, is writing in her journal about the inconsistency of her feelings: how can she tell the Lord that she wants to suffer as He suffered on one hand, and yet not even be able to stand spending a couple of hours in the grating company of her husband (whom she has never loved the way she loves the man she gave up) on the other?  Yikes.  "That's me," I thought.  "I SAY I want to carry big, heavy Crosses; but then I don't like the small, light ones God sends me--and I can barely lift them, much less carry them."

I was also reminded of the admonition in C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters:  "Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.  Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."  So true.  And just as Hell can be reached by small sins, repeated over and over until they separate us from God, so too can Heaven be reached by small acts of mortification and self-sacrifice--by practicing St. Therese's "Little Way of Spiritual Childhood."  Anyone, no matter how small, can practice this "Little Way," I remind myself of this all the time.  And then I pass up perfect opportunities to do so.

With my head in the clouds, I walked a tad farther than my usual two-mile mark, so I checked the GPS on my phone to see how far I was from my mom and dad's house.   I saw that I was 2.1 miles from "home," so I turned around to head back.  And that's when I saw it: a signpost.

I've seen a lot of interesting historical marker signs in my walks around Chazy (some of which I shared with you in this recent post), but I'd never seen this one--and I would have missed it entirely, hidden there in the trees by the side of the road, if I hadn't walked too far, too busy pondering the meaning of life to turn around when I usually do.  Right as I changed directions, there it was.
It was like a sign.  Literally.  And it overlooked a small Catholic graveyard--just what I needed to see as I was contemplating life and death, sin and redemption.
Talk about a reminder of the true meaning of life: that the purpose of this very short one we get to have here on earth is to live in such a way that we can be with God in the next one, the one that lasts forever.  That's the goal, and if I want to reach it...I better learn how to carry my little daily crosses with greater faith, hope, and most of all LOVE.


[On a side note: I loved seeing that this area was the site of the first Catholic church in Northeastern NY, built in 1790.  If you read Erin's Ring, you know that it is in part the story about Dover, NH's first Catholic church (home of the second-oldest parish in the state), built in 1830 by Irish immigrants.]

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My Niece, Confirmation, and the Holy Spirit

Yesterday, I was surprised, humbled, thrilled, and ineffably touched to be asked by one of my nieces to be her Confirmation sponsor.  She will receive the sacrament in the spring of 2016.

Her mom (one of my husband's wonderful younger sisters) told me that she was nervous to approach me about it, and even worried, "What if she says no?"

As if I would ever do so!  Aside from being asked to fulfill the duty of godparent to a brand new Christian soul, I cannot imagine a greater honor.  That this amazing child, whose knowledge of her Faith is already light years ahead of where her aunt's was at her age (or even now, I dare say), would deign to choose me is just...what word can I use?  Well, my eyes got wet last night when she asked me, if that helps you understand how I felt.

This niece, who is about to enter eighth grade along with a brother and a sister who were all born on the same day (yes, she's a triplet!), is one of the sweetest, most intelligent, most charitable, most empathetic young ladies you'll ever meet.  She is 13 going on 30, I swear.  Just so bright and such a deep thinker.  She reads and writes at college level already.  She is deeply committed to not only her Catholic Faith, but also to the members of the domestic Church created by her dedicated parents--one that includes not just the brother and sister with whom she shares a birthday, but two older brothers as well.

My niece was instructed not to make a rash decision, to pray about it before choosing a sponsor.  She told her mom that last night when she was working beside me in the kitchen, helping me with the guacamole by chopping the onion (the job I hate most, as it always brings on the tears), she felt like the Holy Spirit was telling her that I was the one.

Well, even without the onions, there were tears!

I am now resolved to pray to the Holy Spirit--daily and zealously!--to help and guide me, so that I'll be the best Confirmation sponsor I can to this serious young Catholic.  She certainly deserves that much.
God bless her, along with all the other young people who will be preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, and with it the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, in the coming school year.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Birthday/Father's Day Tribute to My Guy

I haven't known my husband my whole life.  But almost. 
 
Here he is at about 9.  It would be 5 years before I met him, 6 before we started "going together."  He was always the snappiest of dressers, even back then, as you can plainly see.
He is a funny guy.  When he sees that picture, he likes to poke fun at himself by pointing out that the ribbon he's proudly holding, earned at the yearly local Swimkana, is not a blue first place prize.
 
We went to the same Catholic high school and hung out in the same crowd.  Did you ever see that TV show "Happy Days"?  That was my high school experience.   (Minus the Fonz.)  No one had it better than I did.
Here we have Grace Kelly, Tom Buckley, and Jimmy Sullivan (sorry,
I'm making the assumption that you've read Finding Grace
 and will get that reference), chewing the fat after school.

Here we are, all dolled up to out to dinner on his 16th birthday--41 years ago!
 

Be still my heart!  Look at those eyes.  Move over
Doctor McDreamy.
Sometimes, I can hardly believe that I was the lucky girl with whom he chose to spend the rest of his life.  I have never stopped marveling at this great good fortune.  I am indeed blessed.
Here we are at our 1980 wedding, anchoring the receiving line at the
Knights of Columbus hall.  I think he is leaning over to say he can't believe
he has to stand there while all his buddies are enjoying the cocktail hour!

Here's my guy, getting ready for the job for which he was so perfectly suited:
fatherhood.  This was taken in 1983, before the birth of son #1.
 
My husband is far too humble to realize what a wonderful father he has been to our five sons.  But I'm here to tell you that there's no way they could have done better.  Fatherhood has been a true vocation for their dad.  His career has been in aviation, but he has never defined himself by that.  He's defined himself by a job he knows is far more important than flying airplanes: his duty to raise his sons in the Faith.  If the way his boys have turned out, and the excellent women they've chosen to build their own families with, and the joy with which they've embraced the role of fatherhood are any indication, he can rest assured that he's fulfilled that duty well.
Here he is in 1985 with son #2.  (I've used this picture before on the blog, and
explained that he DOES have clothes on in this picture--1980's shorty-shorts.
But it was Florida.And it was HOT.  And the males in my house,
both young and old, were often shirtless.)


Here he is in 1986 nuzzling son #3, at Sea World.
Have you been enjoying the Naval Aviator's mustache in these photos?  That's been gone for a while now, but it was a pretty suave look, don't you think?
 
He was nuts about them as babies.  But he enjoyed every single phase our boys went through.  He was their teacher in life, their coach in football and lacrosse, and the best role model I can imagine.  (If he's reading this, he will think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not.)
If you want to understand the kind of father my husband was, you can read this old post, and this one, too.  (The writing juices aren't flowing as freely as I'd like them to today, or I'd put together a whole new tribute!)
 
Now that his boys are all out on their own, he's completely enjoying playing the role of doting Papa to their children.
Happy Father's Day to my favorite guy!  You don't believe me when I tell you this, but you are the best.



Thursday, June 18, 2015

Crazy in Chazy

I am currently staying at my parents' house in bucolic Chazy, NY, a history-rich town located near the shore of Lake Champlain.  After months and months spent visiting with/traveling to see kids and grandkids, my dad said, "No more babysitting.  Now it's time for some mom and dad sitting!"

So I'm in Chazy, with my somewhat crazy quirky endearingly eccentric parents.  I'm staying at their house while my husband is away working back-to-back-to-back trips.  I miss him.  He's the kindest, sweetest, least crazy person I know (unless we're talking crazy-handsome).  I will see him on Sunday, and I'm counting the hours.

Anyway, since I found out that I had hyperparathyroidism last fall (and also found out that the condition had given me such bad osteoporosis that I have, to quote my doctor, "the bones of a 70 to 75-year-old woman"), I've been too busy--with the birth of two grandchildren, the surgery to remove the offending hyperactive gland, the wedding of one son, the graduation of my baby, and travels hither and yon to spend time with our kids--to start and stick to a work-out routine that will hopefully lead to better bone health.  Walking is supposed to be a very good exercise for calcium-compromised ladies like me, so I'm determined to walk a brisk four miles a day, every single day this summer, at the very least; and to add cardiovascular and weight training exercises to this routine when I have the opportunity.  The more muscles I have around my bones, the less likely it is that I'll break a hip if I fall.  (That's the hope, anyway!)

While I'm building my muscles on these long walks, I'm also saying my Rosary and thinking all sorts of important thoughts.  I'm clearing my head and letting go of any stress.  (Not that I'm feeling stressed-out here in Chazy or anything!)  I'm only on day two of this well-intentioned plan of mine, but I'm feeling very motivated. 

This morning, I got up bright and early to get in my daily exercise, before my mom had even woken up.  And I just have to tell you, Chazy is a crazy-beautiful and crazy-interesting place to walk.

This area has got some crazy-famous historical landmarks, carefully noted with signs.
The Revolutionary War!

The Battle of Plattsburgh, War of 1812!


And other cool historical milestones!
There are also MacIntosh apple trees everywhere, in this orchard-crazy town.
And crazy-old graveyards, with crazy-old headstones.  (This one is right across the street from my folks' place.)
 
But the best thing about Chazy is that it sits on the shore of crazy-gorgeous Lake Champlain. 
How's that for a view?!  Crazy, huh?  With scenery like that along my walking route, I might just stick to this exercise regimen!