woman in white long sleeve shirt holding white flower
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?

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?

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?