Books, Encyclical, Mass Reflection, Parish Ministry, Women's Ministry

Growing a Study Group on a Shoestring Budget

I recently did a book signing at a Catholic women’s conference and had a lot of lovely but brief conversations as I scrawled short messages on the inside covers of copies of Joyful Momentum. One question that women asked me several times was:

“How do we have a Bible study with no money?”

As one young woman pointed out, some faith study or Bible study books can run upwards of $40 per book, and this is not do-able for all communities. In talking to this woman, I could sense the urgency and sincerity in her voice — she wanted to grow her study group but could not afford to buy books. In a women’s group, sometimes the women themselves don’t have money to invest in study materials. Other times, the parish is in a difficult way and can’t support the group.

While funding is helpful for a study, we can’t allow a lack of funding to become a barrier to our essential work to spread the Gospel.

I’ve thought a lot about that brief conversation these past few weeks and about how to grow a study group on a shoestring budget, or zero budget at all.

Here are some free, or nearly free, ideas to incorporate into your women’s group so that you can grow in faith and friendship without breaking the bank.

In these days of social distancing, you can very easily implement most of these ideas in a free online format such as Zoom, Facebook Live, or FreeConferenceCall.com.

  1. Look to e-books.In this Covid-19 outbreak, a lot of publishers have hugely discounted their e-book collections. Ave Maria Press has discounted Joyful Momentum to $8.99, but they also have some titles available for as little as $1.
  2. Do the weekly or daily Mass readings and meet to discuss them. The daily Mass readings are available for free on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops website. Plan to grab coffee and chat about your insights from the readings.
  3. Listen to a podcast together and meet up to discuss your key takeaways. Some of my favorite podcasts are Girlfriends with Danielle Bean, Lisa Hendey and Friends founder of CatholicMom.com, and the Abiding Together Podcast. I also enjoy the Word on Fire podcast and Ave Explores.
  4. Find books for free!Dynamic Catholic has a variety of free books and CDs that you could use for your women’s group. Rediscover Catholicism, for example, is offered for free from Dynamic Catholic (there is a shipping and handling fee). Maybe your local Buy Nothing group has something – it’s worth asking.
  5. Go take a hike! Get out in nature with your Catholic gal pals. Sometimes a bit of fellowship and fresh air can be as helpful as hours spent with a Catholic book or Bible study.
  6. Upcycle, Recycle, or Swap. Sell your old studies and use the money to buy materials for your group. Look for deals on Amazon, Ebay, or even a Buy Nothing group. Not too long ago, I snagged a pre-owned copy of the Catholicism series for only $24 on Ebay. In my 12-person faith study, our video was only $2 per person. Does a neighboring parish have a women’s group? Maybe another nearby group would be willing to trade book studies with you?
  7. Make a pilgrimage. Visit a nearby Cathedral or religious shrine. Most religious sites are free to visitors, especially during Mass times. Consider visiting a site near you.
  8. Practice new devotions together. Since many of us are self-isolating, this is great time to hop on a Zoom Call with your friends and pray a new devotion or novena.
  9. Plug into Online Events. Many dioceses and ministries are hosting free online gatherings. The Military Council of Catholic Women is hosting author talks on their Facebook Group during these Covid-19 days. There is also a free Be Not Afraid conference on line.
  10. Look to the Vatican website for resources. The Vatican website contains digital copies of scads of church documents. One of my current favorites to read in a women’s group is Christus Vivit, which is the Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation to young people and to the entire people of God. Work through an apostolic exhortation or encyclical as a group.

With so many free or low cost ways to have a study group, I hope you feel equipped to gather with friends in your community. As your group grows, you may need to re-visit this list of ideas, or come up with some of your own. What are your favorite women’s ministry freebies?

Catholic Family, Homeschool, Motherhood

Joyful Conversations, Even During the Corona Virus Outbreak

Friends, I’m excited to bring a new resource to Joyful Momentum! With all of the Covid-19 responses, many women have found their women’s ministry gatherings canceled indefinitely. Instead of hugging our friends, we stand six feet apart, or elbow bump each other. This atmosphere is uncharted! In many parts of the United States, schools have been canceled for weeks, or even for the duration of the school year.

Schools in Washington state where I live are canceled until nearly May, and to my dismay, I’m now a homeschooler of three children, ages 18, 14, and 7. I shared with Jackie Henderson, my amazing homeschool mom friend, that I don’t feel up to the task or gifted enough to homeschool my children. And Jackie told me, “Hogwash!” And she’s right. But we new homeschooling moms are craving mentorship and practical ideas for how to make this work. If you’ve read Joyful Momentum chapter eight, what I need is someone to accompany me in this home school walk. And I’m not alone.

Thanks to the assistance of several homeschool mom friends, I’m creating a video series in the Joyful Momentum Facebook group. In these videos, which are about 15 minutes long, different homeschool moms from around the globe are sharing practical tips and tools to get your homeschool started, manage the workload, find time for self care, and even to be prepared for how homeschool may affect your marriage . . . yep, we’re going there! The first video published today, and my friend Jackie shares lots of tips to get started.

With each video, I’ve created Joyful Conversation Notes that are basic outlines of the conversation. Use these notes to talk about the content with your women’s group, or to refer back to when you need some direction.

An opportunity to accompany each other – Since we women are so relational and really crave accompaniment, I’ve also built an opportunity for new homeschool moms to link up, one-on-one, with experienced homeschool moms on the Joyful Momentum website. If you are a new homeschool mom and you’d like a mentor, simply fill out the “New Homeschool Mom Eager to Connect” form, and we’ll link you with a mentor. If you are an experienced homeschool mom willing to walk this stretch of road with a new homeschooler, fill out the “Experienced Homeschooler Willing to Share Tips.” Please consider participating.

While these days of physical self-isolation are new and can bring anxiety, let’s look at homeschooling as a blessing in our midst. Be not afraid. Together, let’s homeschool!

Uncategorized

Ten Ideas to Walk through Lent with your Women’s Group

Today is fat Tuesday, and Lent begins tomorrow.  During this liturgical season, we faithful are asked to seek the Lord in prayer and reading Scripture, to practice self-control through fasting, and to serve by giving alms.

              Lent is an ideal season to travel through with your parish’s women’s group because when we partner with friends in praying, fasting, and alms giving, we keep each other on track, bear each other’s burdens, and deepen our faith and friendships.  Even if you don’t have a women’s group at your parish, Lent is a great time to reach out to a sister in Christ and invite her to accompany you through Lent. 

St. Teresa of Ávila wrote that “Men of learning seem to get theology without much effort. But we women need to take it all in slowly and muse on it.  We need to feel it.”  What’s more, we need to experience the Christian life with the companionship of other women.  There are many ways to experience Lent, but here are ten ideas for joining with other women in your community and to emulate the early disciples on the road to Emmaus – they accompanied each other as they came to recognize Christ in their midst. If we walk through Lent with sisters in Christ, we’re bound to help each other through this journey.  Think about incorporating one of these ideas into your community. 

  1. Learn and practice a new devotion together. Perhaps your group could learn about the Seven Sorrows Rosary, or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, or the Angelus. Devotions are a great way to learn a new way to meditate on the life of Jesus – often through the eyes of Our Blessed Mother or a saint.
  2. Make a pilgrimage to a nearby shrine or basilica. If you are a US reader, here are some Catholic Shrines and churches to explore stateside.  In making a pilgrimage, you will have time to get to know sisters in Christ and have some dedicated time for prayer and contemplation.
  3. Participate in Stations of the Cross each Friday.  During Lent, we remember Christ’s walk to the site of his crucifixion.  The meditation helps us to understand the depth of Christ’s love for us. These Scriptural Stations of the Cross are a deep reflection on Christ’s passion.  Some communities pair Friday stations of the cross with a soup dinner.  This would be a great way not only to pray and break bread together, but it is also an opportunity to make an invitation for others to join in your fellowship. For my Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA readers, check out the Military Way of the Cross by Anni Harry at Beautiful Camouflage
  4. Host a recipe exchange of meatless recipes.  This will help everyone remember to abstain from meat on Fridays.  I recently gave a talk on my book Joyful Momentum to the Catholic women’s group at Ft. Meade, Maryland.  After the talk, they presented me with a Lenten recipe book of meatless dishes that included everything from a hearty kale soup, to a “lent-shi” (sushi) roll.  I’m grateful for the new ideas and my kids will be happy to have something more interesting that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.
  5. Make a decision in your women’s group to give something up together.  Does your women’s group love gathering over a cup of coffee?  What if you decided to give up the comfort of coffee as a Lenten fast?  (I know, I know.  I can hear the groaning.)  But think how good that coffee talk will be during the first week of Easter!
  6. Instead of ladies’ night out, meet for a holy hour.  Fasting during Lent should include abstaining from meat on Fridays, but it can also involve refraining from doing enjoyable activities as a sacrifice.  Swapping out ladies’ night out for a holy hour together is a fast and a prayer that can help your community re-focus on the foundational relationship that you have with Jesus.
  7. Pray for the seminarians in your diocese on “Seminarian Saturday.”  Each Saturday, the women’s ministry that I work with, the Military Council of Catholic Women, has “Seminarian Saturday” when we post the name a picture of one of our archdiocese’s seminarians on our social media and collectively pray for that man’s formation and priesthood.  Being “Seminarian Saturday” in your women’s group and pray for the seminarians in your diocese.     
  8. Feed the hungry.  Reach out to a local food pantry, Catholic charity, or homeless shelter and serve a meal to the hungry each week during Lent.  Pope Francis says that “Lent is a favorable season for opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ.”
  9. Take up a collection.  If your women’s group meets weekly, consider taking up a collection at your gatherings and donating the collection to your parish, the bishop’s Lenten appeal, or another Catholic charity.
  10. Make blessing bags for the needy.  Often when I’m in my car at a red light, a homeless person will approach me and ask for food or money.  Make “blessing bags” to give to those in need.  They could be simple ziplock bags with toiletries, gloves, socks, granola bars, or a few dollars to keep in your car so that you can quickly help someone in need. 

If your women’s group prays, fasts, and gives alms together this Lent, you may find that your group wants to continue doing some of this Lenten work throughout the year.  Be open to where the Holy Spirit may be prompting your group.  How is your women’s group walking through Lent together? 

Army Life, Mass Reflection

Lessons from the Laundromat

Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in too much hard stuff . . . like there is so much going on in your life, that you can’t possibly do anything else?  In the midst of these hard moments God often gives us opportunities to reach out to others because in doing so, we lightened each other’s burdens.  

This summer, my friend Mandie and I traversed some hard stuff – not bad stuff – just hard.  You see, we are both Army wives, and each of our husband’s received orders to relocate from our homes on the east coast, to Washington State. 

Adventurous and dutiful, we bid farewell to friends, packed our minivans, kids, pets, and husbands, and trekked across country.  But upon arriving to Washington, we hit some hard stuff.  We learned that each of our housing plans were delayed and we would spend about five additional weeks living in a hotel room.

Now initially, driving across the country and having a family slumber party in a hotel is fun. After 50 days, however, everyone in my household grew a little cranky.       

During our transition, Mandie and I reached out to each other.  We met for playdates at local parks, took our kids out for Happy Meals, and even timed our weekly trips to the laundromat together.  While doing laundry, we helped each other swap loads, kept eyes on our young kids, and enjoyed each other’s company.  

This may seem strange, but our weekly laundromat link ups were highlights of my summer. While I don’t prefer folding my families’ unmentionables in public, our laundromat link ups were full of genuine, unfiltered, honest conversation with a friend who understood exactly how I was feeling because she was walking a similar path. 

One day, while folding laundry, Mandie and I chatted about how much easier our work was together.  Mandie texted that evening, writing:  

“You know, sometimes we miss the chance to help others with their hard stuff because we can’t see past our own hard.  We feel so overwhelmed by whatever we are going through and don’t feel like we have anything left to offer, but if we can find ways to help despite our own hard things, then we can lift each other up.”

Her words capture a key lesson from today’s Old Testament reading that is poignantly relevant:  seeing past your own hard stuff to help another person changes everything.  

In today’s reading from Exodus, Israel is trudging through hard stuff.  They are waging war with Amalek, and everyone has a difficult job. Joshua and his men fight the battle. Meanwhile, Moses stands on the hill above the battlefield with the staff of God raised in his hand. As long as he keeps his hands raised, Israel has the better of the fight, but as he grows tired and brings his hands down, the enemy begins to prevail.

Aaron and Hur climbed the hill with Moses.  After reaching the top, I imagine that they were tired and inclined to tend to their own duties, but when they saw Moses crumpling from his burden, they helped him! First they gave him a rock to sit on. When that was not enough, they lifted his hands to support him and stayed with him until the battle was won.  

Imagine how this battle might have gone differently if Joshua’s men did not join him in the fight because they were too preoccupied with their own lives.  How might the battle have ended if Moses had gone up the hill alone, or if Aaron and Hur decided that they were too tired to lend help to Moses?

While we are tough and strong, and gritty, and can do a lot independently, God puts us in community with each other so that we can help each other with the hard stuff.

Looking back on the summer, by sharing our hard things, Mandie and I accomplished more than getting the laundry finished; we renewed the joy in our spirits. In the midst of our individual work, we put rocks under each other and raised each other’s arms.  As St. Paul wrote, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).

Catholic Family, Saints

Mary Magdalene: Apostle to the Apostles

Who is your favorite saint? Mary Magdalene is one of mine.

Today is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the Apostles. Jesus cured Mary of seven demons (Lk 8:2). Seven! Seven is symbolic that Mary’s life was replete with hardships – demons – as described by the gospel writers. Possibly her demons were mental or physical illness, living the consequences of her past sins, or maybe abusive or difficult family situations. Whatever the exact sources of her demons, Jesus cured Mary body and soul, restored her, and loved her. She loved Jesus so much that she followed him to the foot of the cross.

Jesus trusted Mary to make her the first eye witness and herald of his resurrection. But Jesus doesn’t let Mary merely cling to him and her own experience. Nope! Instead, he inspires her to run with an evangelistic spirit to spread the news of his resurrection. She announces to the disciples on the third day, “I have seen the Lord” (Jn 20:18). In this, she is the Apostle to the Apostles.

I love Mary Magdalene because she shows us how good a life with Jesus can be. No matter how wounded your past, Jesus can heal you, restore you, and send you forth to announce the good news.

In honor of Mary Magdalene, share the message of Jesus with someone who is suffering today. And as a special offering, let that sharing be with someone outside your comfort zone, even if that means talking to a stranger or a person you find difficult to love.

Would you like to talk more about Mary Magdalene and other favorite saints? Join us in the Joyful Momentum online community in our Facebook Group!

Army Life, Catholic Family, Uncategorized

Tips for Faith-filled Summer Travels

Summertime means family travel time! Pack up the minivan, stock up the car cooler, fill the gas tank. Let’s go! Perhaps you are off to dip your toes in the surf? Maybe you are headed to a family reunion, or a favorite amusement park.

This year, our family adapted our usual summer vacation to make way for a cross-country move from the Washington, D.C. suburbs to Washington State. We wove family vacation time into the move with stops in South Bend, Indiana to visit friends, a hike in the Badlands National Park, a visit to Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota, and a day wandering Yellowstone National Park.

Whether vacationing, visiting family, taking the college shopping trip, or moving cross county, travel knocks us out of our normal routines, and sometimes our faith practices get juggled around in the mix. Here are some tips and ideas so that no matter where the summer takes you, you can easily stay grounded:  

  1. Find Catholic shrines or places of interest along the way. Help your family connect to the Universal Church by finding Catholic places to visit. Catholic author Marge Fenelon recently published My Queen My Mother A Living Novena – A Marian Pilgrimage Across America. In the book she features numerous Marian Shrine across the US. Here is another state by state guide to Catholic spots from Epic Pew. Take a picnic for your visit.
  1. Load up on Catholic CDs and podcasts. In an age of smart phones in our pockets, and Lighthouse Catholic Media CD racks occupying the narthexes of many parishes, this is just too easy! Be sure to downloaded podcasts ahead of time to save data! Here are some favorite Catholic podcasts this month:

Girlfriends Podcast with Danielle Bean. Get it on any of the usual podcast apps. You can also join her Facebook group to keep the conversation going.

Father Mike Schmitz with Ascension Presents. This podcast is incredibly relatable. It’s short, so if you have teens in the car, it’s a great conversation starter. Father Mike’s sense of humor draws everyone in, but he digs into tough topics. My teens enjoy this one.

Abiding Together with trio of dynamic friends, Sister Miriam, Michelle Benzinger, and Heath Khym, these ladies bond over everyday conversations in Catholic life – family, faith, service, children, relationship, and more. I feel like I could be chatting along with these women.

  1. Find Mass along your route, especially on Sundays. It can be hard to be a stranger walking into a parish for the first time. If you’re on vacation it can be easy to make excuses to skip Mass: you don’t know if the community will be welcoming to your kids; you want to drive 300 miles in one day and an hour at Mass will cause delay; you didn’t bring church clothes. Don’t make excuses. Jesus wants to meet you at Mass, whether you are in your traveling jeans and t-shirt or a three-piece suit.
  1. Say a family novena for a feast or saint that coincides with your travels. A friend told me that novenas intimidate her. When I asked her why, she said it was because she was not quite sure what they are. A novena is a specific prayer said once a day for nine days. It could be as simple as saying a Hail Mary for a specific intention for nine days.

Right now, the Church is approaching the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene on July 22. Since she has a special feast day, her novena started nine days before the feast. We mid-way through, but you can jump in! Here are two upcoming novenas.

Novena to St. Anne, the mother of Mary, starts July 17 and her feast day is July 26.

Feast of the Assumption Novena starts August 7th for the feast on August 15.

A beautiful thing about a novena is that after nine days of repetition, it puts a new prayer on the tip of your tongue.

  1. Fast from distractions. You may take beautiful pictures on your family’s trip, but avoid the temptation to jump on your smart phones to post all over Instagram or catch up with what all your friends are doing on their vacations as soon as you get back to the minivan or hotel room. Cherish the time in closer quarters to converse, play games, and bond. Instastories disappear in 24 hours; family memories endure.

These are just five ideas to stay grounded during travel. I’m curious to learn your tips for a faith-filled summer.