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.

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Control Issues? Do Whatever I Tell You.

Do you like to have control over your life . . . like where you live, sleep, eat, work, worship? I do! I’m kind of the queen of control – so much so that I alphabetize my spice rack because order makes me feel in control.

Our army family just moved from one Washington to the other. We uprooted from the Washington, D.C. suburbs and made a cross-country drive to Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington. Moving can be hive-inducing for control freaks like me because the process rips from us the normal control we are used to exercising over our lives.  Very tangibly, your life ceases to be your own: you don’t know where you’ll sleep or eat; who your new friends will be and how long it will take to make them; if your kids will mesh well in their new schools; whether your household goods will arrive unbroken, and if they do; whether your old furniture will fit in your new house. 

We started our move in late-June and continue to live in a hotel efficiency apartment while we await quarters on post. 

During week one of the move, we watched nervously as the packers unceremoniously boxed possessions that we have curated over decades. I grew anxious as the movers stacked everything into an already half-full moving van, and I couldn’t help but jump in and give direction on how to stack my furniture so that it might have a better chance of arriving intact.

Our drive was a whirlwind. (Though it was beautiful. Check out my Instagram to see pictures from our trip.) One morning I woke up and could not remember if I had slept in Iowa or Nebraska.  It turned out to be neither – we were in South Dakota!

This move, I have tried to surrender and re-surrender my instinct to control an uncontrollable situation.  After learning yesterday that our household goods delivery is being delayed, I felt pretty out of control — and to be perfectly honest — cranky. I popped over to daily Mass to try and re-re-re-surrender this struggle because somewhere in my control freak heart, I know that God’s got this.

And here’s what I heard at Mass:

“When hunger came to be felt throughout the land of Egypt and the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread, Pharaoh directed all the Egyptians to go to Joseph and do whatever he told them.” (Gn 41:55).

Do whatever he told them ­­– those five words sent my brain straight to the Wedding at Cana, when the party had run out of wine, and Mary told the steward, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:6).

At this point in my life, Jesus is telling our family, “Trust me. Yes, your house is in boxes in a warehouse. True, you’re not sure where to send the kids to school next year.  But do whatever I tell you. And right now, I’m telling you to trust me.”

What is he telling you?

Miraculous Medal
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May is for Mary Gardens

May! It’s the month of Mary, and we’re already halfway through.  Parishes are honoring Mary with May Crownings and daily rosaries.  We, too, can bring our parish traditions of honoring Mary into our homes.  How are you honoring Mary this month?

One of my family’s favorite month of Mary traditions is to plant our Mary Garden.  Every year around mid-May, my children and I make a pilgrimage to the plant nursery to pick out annuals and a few perennials to add to our garden.  I always reserve a few of these plants to a pot on the patio that serves as my Mary Garden.  The colors and fragrance create an inviting space to read, pray, or gather with friends.

With so many beautiful flowers, choosing what to plant can involve a lot of decisions.  I like to think, “WWMP? – What would Mary plant?  What would Mary have planted if she walked in your garden, lived in your climate, and enjoyed your yard or garden pots?

Here are the flowers that we chose this year:

Columbines – Another name for the blue columbine is our “Our Lady’s Shoes.”  Myth is that that they sprouted wherever the Blessed Mother stepped on her way to visit Elizabeth.  Columbines are hearty and can last in the sun or the shade.

Bleeding Heart – The bleeding heart is a perennial flower that truly looks like a pink heart.  These flowers remind us of Mary’s Immaculate Heart, her love, and even her heart’s sorrows.

Roses – Roses have long been the flower of Mary.  When Mary appeared in Lourdes, St. Bernadette said that our Lady was wearing a white garment with blue sash and that there were yellow roses on her feet.  St. Juan Diego picked rose petals from the hill where Mary directed him to build a church and put them in his tilma to carry to the bishop.  It was on this tilma that the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was imprinted.

Lily of the Valley –  Another legend is that when Mary cried at the cross, her tears turned into Lily of the Valley.

Lilies – “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. If God so clothes the grass in the field that grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?” – Luke 12:27-28.  If you plant lilies, let them serve as a colorful reminder to trust in God.

Now that I’ve shared a few of my gardening ideas, I’m curious to know yours!  What do you plant in your Mary Garden?

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Encouragement from 52 Weeks with St. Faustina

I recently reviewed 52 Weeks with Saint Faustina by author Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle.  I have greatly enjoyed leafing through Donna-Marie’s book and rededicating my prayer time to saying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the prayer that Jesus gave St. Faustina.

52 Weeks with St. Faustina lends itself to people like me!  I start the year with the greatest intention of completing a 52-week devotional and then fade in dedication and zeal and have to jump back on the wagon numerous times.  Fortunately, since the chapters do not have assigned dates, readers like me can begin the book at any time or retrieve the book and re-join the spiritual exercises with St. Faustina without feeling obliged to skip weeks.

52-weeks-cover-195x300Another thing I love about the book is that the table of contents is thematic.  If you especially need prayers for overcoming fear, there’s a chapter for that!  Grace?  There’s a chapter for that, too!  Forgiveness, doubt, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, or obedience?  There are weeks dedicated to these topics as well.  This book meets readers exactly where they are in life.  You can progress through the book week by week or jump around thematically.

My favorite aspect of 52 Weeks with St. Faustina is that Donna-Marie incorporates significant portions of St. Faustina’s Diary into the reflections.  This leaves readers with Jesus’ words to Faustina as well as a flavor of her personality and glimpses of her path to sanctity.  Friends, I will leave you with a few of my favorite quotes from St. Faustina:

On Patience:

Patience in adversity gives power to the soul.  – Diary, 607

On Staying in the Present Moment: 

Oh present moment, you belong to me, whole and entire.  I desire to use you as best I can. – Diary, 2

On Humility: 

Today, as God’s Majesty swept over me, my soul understood that the Lord, so very great though He is, delights in humble souls. – Diary, 1092

For Encouragement:

O my Jesus, despite the deep night that is all around me and the dark clouds which hide the horizon, I know that the sun never goes out. – Diary, 73

On Forgiveness:

We resemble God most when we forgive our neighbors. Diary, 1148

Do you have a favorite quote from St. Faustina?  Share it in the comments! As my six year-old says, “Sharing is caring!”

 

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A New Year’s Resolution to Make Haste Slowly

At 12am on January 1, 2019, my family gathered around the TV screen to watch the ball drop in Time Square.  Droves of people, saturated from spending the day in persistent rain, cheered the New Year and its possibilities.  People danced, couples kissed, and Frank Sinatra belted New York, New York, for all to hear.  My family clinked champagne flutes and enjoyed the music.

In those first moments of 2019 I wondered, “What should my New Year’s resolution be?”  I rapidly ran through noble and not-so-noble things I could do:  Keto diet!  No.  Weight Watchers?  Volunteer for the PTA!  Take the kids with me to volunteer!  Leave love notes for my husband more frequently!  Don’t skip my prayers in the morning!  Organize my closet!  Stop listening to naysayers!  The list went on.

In less time than it took the champagne to travel from my mouth to my stomach, I had overwhelmed myself with scads of things I could do.  However, a New Year’s resolution is better if it is something you should do.  A New Year’s resolution should be something good for us and something that we have fidelity to accomplish.  A spur of the moment, arbitrary decision to swear off carbs for a year just because every third ad in my Instagram feed promises that doing so will drastically decrease my hip circumference is probably not a helpful resolution.  Rather than make a snappy decision, I decided to take time to discern what I should resolve to do in 2019.

I found my resolution from St. Katharine Drexel.  During the first week of January, I read a book about her life and work.  I learned that as Katharine discerned her vocation to religious life, people around her urged her to get married, become a cloistered nun, or live a single life in service to the poor.  Throughout her discernment, Katharine’s spiritual director urged her to “festina lente” – make haste slowly.  Festina lente – I found those words encouraging.

Always drawn to serve the poor, in 1887, when Katharine attended a private audience with Pope Leo XIII, she urged that the Holy Father should send missionary priests to the United States to serve the Indians.  He responded, “Why not my child, yourself become a missionary.”  In one sentence, the Holy Father named Katharine’s “should” statement for what it was:  an expression of the vocation that the Holy Spirit had placed into her heart.  But Katharine made haste slowly.  It was not until four years later, in 1891, that Katharine became a missionary and founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, a religious order dedicated to working with Native Americans and African Americans.

Katharine spent the rest of her life founding missions and schools throughout the United States.  Notably in 1925, while schools in the United States were still plagued by segregation, Katharine founded Xavier University of Louisiana, for African American students.  By 1987, more than forty percent of public school teachers in New Orleans were Xavier alumni.  Had Katharine jumped at all the things that she could have done with her life, she might not have become, as some describe, an “apostle to the poor.”

Meditating on this reading made my New Year’s resolution clear.  My resolution is a prayer to festina lente – to make haste slowly this year – to avoid that instinct to accomplish all the things I could do, and instead, listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit that reveal the things I should strive to accomplish.

2019 is still new, and as the adage goes, it takes 21 days to form a habit.  St. Katharine Drexel, perfected her vocation of missionary service through over fifty years of active ministry.  I’m going to need more than 21 days and a lot more practice to learn to festina lenta.  Did you plunge head first into an unrealistic resolution at midnight on January 1, 2019?  Have you already abandoned your resolution?  Are you still looking for that perfect resolution?  If so, perhaps you could make haste slowly with me.

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Everything is Grace – Especially Snow Days

Northern Virginia did not anticipate snow this morning.  I expected a few more sunny, crisp fall days for my lingering roses, but they now hold ice crystals.  Today was supposed to be about completing a mile-long to-do list.  On the top of the list was quiet time to write. Heck, I’m trying to finish my first book manuscript in five months! 

I did not initially welcome the snow this morning.  In fact, I rolled my eyes when the school text message notifying us of a two-hour delay pinged my phone last night.  This morning, however, it was clear that the school made the right call.  Eventually they had to cancel school all together.

Rather than putting the kids in front of the TV and hiding in my room to work, I decided to make memories today.  Memories of a hot breakfast, cocoa, snow angels, and a walk in the woods.  So that’s what we did, and wow, God is good. 

After returning to the house to thaw our frozen fingers, I sat down to read with St. Thérèse of Lisieux.  Thérèse appreciated snow.  She  reflect about wearing the white habit of the Discalced Carmelites for the first time, and wrote in her autobiography, “I had always wished that on the day I received the habit, nature would be adorned in white just like me.”  She received her wish.  Much like today, despite mild weather, it snowed on the day that she received her habit.  “What thoughtfulness on the part of Jesus!”  she remarked. Thérèse reminded me today that “Everything is grace.”  Grace, “the free and undeserved help that God gives to respond to his call to become children of God.” (CCC 1996).

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The grace of snow nudged my children and me into a morning of togetherness and play on what would otherwise have been a routine Thursday of packing lunches, inching the minivan through the school carpool lane, and commuting to work in relentless DC traffic. 

Instead, I’m grateful for the grace of snow, and grateful for the grace God gave to shake me out of my busy to-do list and toward just being.  Being present.  Being thankful.  Being covered in snowflakes.  What thoughtfulness on the part of Jesus.