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Books

So you want to write a book? Two tips. Just two.

Since publishing my book Joyful Momentum: Growing and Sustaining Vibrant Women’s Groups with Ave Maria Press, a lot of people have approached me with their book ideas and have asked about how to write a book, how to have a book published, and how to approach writing amid life’s competing priorities. I’m glad to have these conversations, and I’m learning as I go.  

Thank you for reaching out to me and trusting me with your ideas.  It feels pretty sacred to be able to talk through some absolutely beautiful book ideas – from memoir to children’s book, religious to non-religious.  I know what it feels like to have a conviction in the pit of your stomach to share your words and thoughts with the world.  And I know how vulnerable it feels to share those thoughts with another person.  

When I was finally ready to write Joyful Momentum, I was going to write it whether a publisher was interested in it or not.  In fact, before I pitched the book idea to my wonderful editor, I had already written three chapters and had been spending my days off writing in a cubicle at the public library until it was time to pick my son up from school. 

I was leafing through my journal from several years ago today and came across a page where I was wrestling with whether to write Joyful Momentum. I’m usually a paragraph journaler, but on this day, I wrote two numbered lines. 

1. Circumstances are never going to be perfect for writing.

2. Ora et labora. There is a reason that prayer comes first.

If you want to write, those are my two tips.

Circumstances are never going to be perfect for writing. 

When I first started writing Joyful Momentum, I had visions of writing with a cute computer, likely a rose gold colored MacBook Air because they are adorable.  I imagined writing in a posh little coffee shop at a leisurely pace, and wearing a fashionable outfit that included a chartreuse headband holding my curls out of my face, a navy blue and white polka dot sweater, coral lipstick, and Kendra Scott earrings.  And I contemplated sipping foamy lattes sprinkled with nutmeg from a porcelain mug that would make a perfect clinking sound when replaced on the saucer.  I see you rolling your eyes. But it’s my daydream; I get to daydream whatever I want.

In reality, I wrote on an old Acer laptop with a cracked screen.  I spent hours typing at my dining room table or at the public library. There were no cute outfits, and definitely no lipstick.  On fancy days, I sported tinted chapstick.  I wrote in my favorite 20-year old College of William and Mary sweatshirt.  It’s faded, has frayed cuffs, and more than one food stain, but it’s the coziest article of clothing in my closet.  I sipped McDonald’s coffee out of a styrofoam to-go cup with “caution contents hot” printed across the rim.  I often rose at 4am to get two hours of writing finished before starting my family’s work and school day and set an ambitious goal of finishing a chapter every three weeks to meet my deadline.  

Far from an idyllic daydream, those early morning writing sessions while the house slept, or Saturdays at the public library, were my perfect writing circumstances because that’s when I got the job done.  

If you want to write a book, make room for writing exactly where you are.  Don’t wait for the “perfect” circumstance because the perfect circumstance for writing a book is just that – writing it.  Even if you write for only 20 minutes a day, you’ll be making progress. 

Ora et Labora. There’s a reason that prayer comes first. 

The Benedictine motto is “ora et labora” – pray and work. I’m a mom, a wife, a lawyer, an over-volunteerer, a writer, a hiker, a baker.  I’m a lot of things, and one of the threads through all of my various roles in life, is that I’m a diligent worker – perhaps even an over-worker.  I labora my heart out! 

However, writing Catholic things is more than just work.  Whether you’re writing articles, books, or blogs, Catholic writing is sharing the Gospel.  There are many alluring distractions in this Catholic writing world, and the only way to stay focused on writing what you are uniquely called to write is to ora and labora.  Ora first, then labora.  This way your work is prayerful.  

Don’t skip out on the prayer just because you want to jam out a few more sentences.  In the end, you’ll find yourself frustrated and writing in circles. Trust me on this point.             

As I reviewed my old journal, I did not remember writing those numbered thoughts. However, based on the date and context, I do remember that I made that entry while standing against a pillar in the bustling Southwest terminal at LAX, waiting to board a flight to BWI. I wrote because I had a few spare minutes even though I was surrounded by distractions. I certainly did not imagine expanding on those thoughts years later, but writing them down created the opportunity to share them today. 

If you want to write, start writing.  Like mastering a workout routine or learning to play an instrument, writing a book takes time.  It’s hard, and it’s rarely pretty.  But if you start with prayer and put some words down on paper, you’re on your way.  If you want to talk about your ideas, I’m happy to listen.      

Parish Ministry, Uncategorized, Women's Ministry

How to Host a Fabulous Virtual Ladies’ Night In

How are you staying connected with your women’s ministry group during these days of quarantine?  This pandemic has caused my community to get creative with how it reaches its current members, and how it welcomes new participants. 

Over the last few weeks, our women’s group has continued our usual schedule of weekly Bible study meetings in a digital format.  But honestly, our women are overwhelmed.  We’re elbow deep in homeschool, dishes, working from home, and stress.  As the weeks go on, fewer and fewer women are attending, and last week, we had only four women present.  What’s more none of the attendees had actually completed the reading – not even the facilitators!  And that’s OK.

If this is happening in your group, you might feel discouraged, but please don’t!  These women who show up unprepared are being honest and communicating their immediate needs.  They need a break from home and homework, and just want to connect, socialize, and be encouraged.  They don’t have time or the mental energy to do homework.  So let’s take the homework out of it from time to time!

That’s where fellowship through a Virtual Ladies’ Night In is a great way to help your group remain connected without adding additional to-dos or preparations.  This is also a very easy way to welcome new people. Here are some steps to get started on your virtual ladies’ night in:  

  1. Make the invitation. Make a broad invitation to your community inviting people to the event, using email, word of mouth, and social media.  If there will be a theme or activity, share that.  If the ladies will need supplies, make sure to post that information in advance. 
  2. Select a platform. Use a reliable platform like Zoom, Skype, or Microsoft Teams to invite your community into a closed gathering online. Use a password or waiting room to keep your meeting secure.  
  3. Communicate the start and end time. Publish a start and end time for your ladies’ night. I recommend about 1.5 to 2 hours.  This gives you time to settle in, but it’s still short enough so that people can work it into their busy days.  If you’re having a great time, you can keep the party going, but a published end time allows people an opportunity to sign off without feeling awkward.
  4. Introductions. Make time for introductions so that new people feel welcomed and comfortable and so that people who have not participated in a while feel included.
  5. What to do? Facilitate an activity.  While conversation is essential to your gathering, it’s nice to have an activity as well. The activity could be as simple as a few icebreakers, or as complex as a cooking class.  
  6. Door prizes! If you have a game or friendly competition, think of delivering a door prize to the winner’s house or dropping a prize in the mail.
  7. Thank you. Thank people for attending and encourage them to bring a friend to your next gathering.  
  8. Renew the invitation. If possible, let participants know when your next gathering will be. This is a great opportunity to publicize other parish opportunities, such as virtual or parking lot Mass, drive-by confession, or Bible study opportunities.
  9. Build curiosity. Take a screenshot or a few pictures during the event and post them online for your community to see.  This will help generate curiosity for people who were not able to attend. If you made a craft or cooked something together, share some pictures of your masterpieces on social media.
  10. Connect with new people after the event. If new ladies join the gathering, be sure to reach out to them personally afterward to welcome them to the community.  
  11. Keep it light. We have enough stress. Keep things fun. Steer the conversation away from hot button issues or negativity. If the conversation starts to skew negative, ask each person to share one positive things from the week.  
  12. Recruit a new host. A ladies’ night is a great way to invite people to step up and offer their gifts to lead an event. Often, people just need to be asked to take on a more active role in a ministry. Encourage a pair of participants to co-host the next ladies’ night, so that you can relax and enjoy.

Ladies’ Night is is all about fun and fellowship. Feel free to adjust this framework above to meet your community’s needs and interests. What’s your community doing to stay connected?

Generosity, Spiritual Friends, Uncategorized

Joyful Woman Crush Wednesday

I have been sharing #joyfulwcw (Joyful Woman Crush Wednesday) on my social media in recent weeks to highlight the lovely, generous ways that sisters in Christ are encouraging and serving one another. I hope you’ll join me on your social media and share your #joyfulwcw, too!

One of the things that has stuck out to me, in a good way, about Covid-19 is that people are really stretching out to help each other. An author friend told me yesterday that someone anonymously gifted her family a grocery store gift card to help them bridge the gap between their family’s needs and the anticipated arrivals of stimulus and unemployment checks. Another friend has been accepting donations in exchange for handcrafted face masks and using the donations to bless friends in need with gift cards.

When I met on Zoom with my Bible study group this week, we read about the widow in Mark’s Gospel who “gave from her poverty” (Mk 12:44). Generosity is one of those attributes that just shines from others. Maybe that’s why Jesus noticed the widow’s mere two cents from the opposite side of the treasury.

I wonder if that widow would have considered herself to be poor?

Thinking on this theme of generosity, I want to share my #JoyfulWCW with you. Her name is Brenda, and she is a pray warrior. With Brenda’s permission, I share that two years ago, she went to the doctor for a routine mammogram was stunned to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Brenda endured a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, and a reconstructive process that took over a year because her insurance would not approve the surgery. Throughout the entire process, whenever I called Brenda, I would say, “How are you?” and she would respond, “I am blessed!” From there we’d chat on for hours.

When Brenda reported to the hospital each week for her chemo infusions, she packed rosary making supplies with her and crafted rosaries for dozens of people while praying her way through treatment. By the end of her chemo, Brenda gifted each woman in our ministry group a rosary. I tuck this rosary in my pocket and pray it often while walking in the woods.

My rosary from Brenda.

Brenda, I’m glad to report, is cancer-free and restored to health! I thought of Brenda this week as a woman who gave during her poverty of health. At a time when she could have curled into herself, she shared her spiritual wealth with all who surrounded her. Two years later, she still inspires me, and I continue to prosper from the simple threaded rosary that she gifted me.

Who has served you generously either during the Covid-19 days or before? Make that person your #joyfulwcw. You don’t have to name them publicly, but consider sharing the story or let that person know how much they blessed you.

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?