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.

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, 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.

Uncategorized

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
Uncategorized

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?