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Catholic Family, Motherhood, Parish Ministry, Uncategorized

Catholic Mom Summit!

I’m so excited to share with you that I’ve teamed up with CatholicMom to present the Catholic Mom Summit.  The (AMAZING!) event is coming up digitally on November 13-15th

And… It’s FREE to register!

The Summit will feature more than sixty well-known and loved Catholic authors and speakers, including Danielle Bean, Katie Prejean McGrady, Mary Lenaburg, Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Lisa Cotter, Michele Faehnle, Emily Jaminet, Sonja Corbit, Haley Stewart, Kendra Tierney, Sarah Christmyer, and more!  We’ll be talking about the real issues that moms face every day and the practical steps of how to find the peace and balance we all want.  

I’ll be talking about recalibrating to our vocation —in our women’s ministry groups and in our homes.  I’m looking forward to sharing my heart with you and ask for your prayers as I prepare my talk! 

Register HERE to sign up!

See you at the Summit!
In Christ,
Elizabeth

P.S.Sharing really IS caring!
Please forward this email to all the moms you know and share the link on your social media. Thank you so much!!

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Catholic Family, Family Life, Homeschool, Motherhood, Self Care, Uncategorized, Women's Ministry

This Fall May be a Season of Pruning and That’s Okay

Late August in my family is usually filled with last-minute beach trips, back to school shopping and sports try-outs.  It’s fun for the kids but hectic for me as I balance leisure time, with the kids’ needs, and my own work.  By September, I relate well to that internet meme where the kids are all lined up at the bus stop with frowny faces, and the mom is jumping for joy at the realization that she gets the house to herself for a few hours.

But that’s not happening this year, is it?  Nope!  Most of our back to school plans have been up-ended as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. My older children began classes digitally, and we have opted to homeschool our rambunctious second grader for the first time. Instead of a quiet September, we’re bumping up the chaos.

My aspirations of autumn “me time” in a quiet café with a pumpkin spice latte are cooling off faster than my re-microwaved home brew.

So how am I finding and balance amid the noise of competing demands and an ever-changing pandemic environment?  Honestly – it’s tough, and sometimes, I feel overwhelmed.  But when I do manage find balance, here’s how: 

The name of the game is recalibrating.

friend recently had to abruptly change a plan that we had made together.  In her email, she wrote that we needed to “recalibrate.”  Her word stuck with me because that’s how I’m managing in this pandemic.  I’m constantly recalibrating.   

I’ve seen and read a fair bit of unhappy stuff on social media lately, and I am concerned that a lot of us are facing the fall with other re words. Re-ticence, Re-sentment. Re-servation. Re-calcitrance. Re-sistance.      

As I face this school year, I’m focusing on recalibrating.  Why?  Because back to school days should be a time of re-newal. You see, recalibrating is adjusting to a true and accurate value.  Like orienting a compass toward north, when we recalibrate to the correct value, we get renewal.  This fall, I’m recalibrating life to my Christian vocation. 

Recalibrating to your vocation.

What do I mean by recalibrating to my vocation?  Well, let’s back up.  The word vocation gets tossed around frequently in Christian circles, but what does it mean?  Very broadly, our vocation is how we express our love of God and share the Gospel.  We live our vocation through married life, religious life or holy orders, or singleness, and it’s possible to have more than one vocation. St. Teresa of Calcutta, for example, spoke of her vocation to the religious life and her vocation to start a new religious community to serve the poor as a “vocation within a vocation” or a “call within a call.”

If my life is properly calibrated, each part of my life feels like a “vocation within a vocation” and life makes sense.  Married life dovetails with motherhood, and my job fits within our family dynamic.  When I’m working within my vocation, instead of feeling pulled toward competing priorities and anxious, I feel clarity. 

This doesn’t mean that working within your vocation won’t ever be hard.  Take one look at a crucifix and you’ll be reminded that living our vocation can be extremely challenging.      

But when I feel pulled in all different directions at once and everything in life becomes a chore, that’s when I know it’s time to recalibrate to my vocation because my vocation matters.  The other stuff frankly doesn’t.  I take time to remind myself of what my vocation is, and as importantly, what it is not.  I scrutinize whether the things that demand my time help or hinder my vocation. 

This is a prayerful process through which I’m reminded that that God created me as a finite being with finite capabilities and finite hours in my day.  I’m am not called to do everything.

Holy Pruning.

During this pandemic, God is certainly calling me to focus on my family, keep my children safe, educate them, and catechize them.  This is requiring me to prune things out of my life and make more space for these priorities.  It’s a holy pruning.  Some of the pruning is obvious:  I need to limit the time I spend on Instagram and Netflix, for example.  But I’ve also made some harder decisions to prune away fun social functions and volunteer work that I enjoy, so that I can give more attention and energy to my vocation. 

Navigating this fall’s evolving school schedules and family dynamics will require continued recalibration and pruning, but I find it consoling to remember Jesus’ words that God prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it can bear even more fruit for the kingdom (see Jn 15:2). How are you recalibrating?

Uncategorized

Keep Writing – Especially When It’s Hard

Being a writer can be weird.  Last week I wrote a 700-word piece and it took all my gumption, brain effort, and about 18 hrs of work.  I probably wrote 4,000 words in the process of eeking out a mere 700. By the time I finally hit the “send” button on the mini-project, I was barely moderately happy with the result. It was definitely not the best thing I’d ever written, but I had to stop editing just hit submit.

Fast forward to this week, and in two hours, I just rattled off 700 words that I’m really pleased with. I’m not exactly sure what the difference was between the two projects other than my mojo was working for one and not the other.

But that’s life, right?  

Sometimes things come easy, but sometimes we have to work for them.  The contrast in my easy writing day versus hard writing day is a reminder to me (and hopefully to any writer) to keep working. 

Keep writing even when writing is hard and tedious because the result is at least three-fold –

1. You finish the written product, so your imagined book or blog becomes a reality.

2. You’re building discipline, which will help hard writing days get easier. 

3. You’re building skill in your craft. 

Press on in the tough writing days and be grateful for the easy ones.  You’ll never regret the effort. I’m cheering you on. Cheer me on, too.

Catholic Family

On Becoming a College Mom

I spent $133.47 at my son, Patrick’s, college bookstore this week.  I had not spent that much money on nonessentials since the pandemic hit.  But I enthusiastically plunked the money onto the counter at the College of William and Mary bookstore and happily walked outside to the Virginia summer humidity sporting a new ball cap and a bag full of college mom paraphernalia that screamed my pride in Patrick’s next step in his adult life.

The Move In

Arriving to Patrick’s new residence hall, we unload bins of school supplies and a semester’s worth of clothing, bedding, and ramen noodles.  We were amateurishly clumsy in our unloading tactics as items fell out of grocery bags and rolled across the sidewalk.  While chasing a rogue bottle of Gatorade, I noticed that the mom and son in the car in front of us had expertly packed everything in large, zip-up Ikea bags.  Several college mom bumper stickers on her SUV tailgate confirmed that she had past experience with freshman move-in.   

Once we transported the gear to Patrick’s room, we started to arrange the furniture.  Patrick rejected each suggestion I gave for how to fit his mini-fridge into his rather small room, and it became clear that he wanted, and perhaps needed, to arrange his room without me.  I left Patrick and his sister to the task of arranging the furniture while I ran to the store for a few necessities. 

The Floodgates

As soon as I got in the car, I was grateful for my new ball cap and oversized sunglasses because the floodgates opened.  I cried my eyes out all the way to the store and up and down laundry detergent aisle.  I even cried my way through the Chick-fil-A drive through on my way back to campus.  When I returned to the dorm, Patrick and his sister were beaming with satisfaction.  They had made the bed, hung posters, strung Christmas lights, and even found a spot for the mini fridge.  The room looked great –without my input.   

I invited Patrick to go to dinner with us, but he opted to eat with other freshman.  My daughter and I ate dinner and drove past the dorm later in the evening to see if Patrick needed anything.  From a distance, I spotted him sitting on the lawn with other students.  We slowed down to look but kept driving.  I didn’t want to intrude. 

Saying Goodbyes

We said our goodbyes in the dorm parking lot the next morning. 

I left Patrick with the following words:

Be good. Study hard.  Go to church.

And I cried – surprise, surprise.  I told myself that I would feel less sad when my daughter leaves for college.  However, as I put the minivan in reverse, I saw the expert unloader family from the day before.  The seasoned, strong college mom hugged her son goodbye with a smile, but as soon as she slid into her car, she burst into tears. 

Unexpected College Mom Grief

I was not prepared for college mom grief.  It is a confounding grief.  A paradox, really.

It’s a paradox because unlike other types of grief, in grieving a child leaving the nest, we’re grieving exactly what we worked so hard to attain for so many years. 

Throughout our motherhood journey, we traverse “long days and short years” often filled with pregnancy nausea or the anticipation of adoption, teaching our children to read, celebrating birthdays, confronting medical challenges, leading scout meetings, navigating finances, getting kids to behave in church, reheating cups of coffee, attending sports practices and music recitals, and helping our kids learn to share, do chores, and make good friends.  We joyfully and exhaustedly parent our children. 

With our work often unseen, we raise squirmy, snuggly children to become God-loving, independent, kindhearted young adults who don’t need our help to set up dorm rooms, find dinner, or make friends. 

But the manifestation of that adult can break our mom hearts a little as we think about the childhood years where they desperately need our physical presence. 

Acceptance: It’s Going to be Okay

It’s okay to grieve that our children don’t need us the way they used to.  It’s okay to cry on college move-in day.  It really is.  Once again, I bawled my eyes out on the flight home from Virginia to Washington State.  Somewhere over Missouri, I recalled words that my friend Mary Lenaburg wrote about grief.    

“Acceptance is where healing begins,” she wrote. 

So the goal this week is acceptance.  God called me to motherhood that began with a child who desperately needed me for nearly his entire life until now.  Now, however, my vocation as his mother is to accept that my son needs me in different ways. He needs the hidden work of my prayers instead of overt actions.  He needs the subtlety of a listening ear instead of direction.  He needs me to support him even if he does things differently than I would.  He needs me to observe him from a distance while he forges his way.  His Mom driving away is exactly what Patrick needs. 

As for me, I need to accept that happiness and sadness can co-exist in this new chapter of motherhood.      

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?