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?

Army Life, Mass Reflection

Lessons from the Laundromat

Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in too much hard stuff . . . like there is so much going on in your life, that you can’t possibly do anything else?  In the midst of these hard moments God often gives us opportunities to reach out to others because in doing so, we lightened each other’s burdens.  

This summer, my friend Mandie and I traversed some hard stuff – not bad stuff – just hard.  You see, we are both Army wives, and each of our husband’s received orders to relocate from our homes on the east coast, to Washington State. 

Adventurous and dutiful, we bid farewell to friends, packed our minivans, kids, pets, and husbands, and trekked across country.  But upon arriving to Washington, we hit some hard stuff.  We learned that each of our housing plans were delayed and we would spend about five additional weeks living in a hotel room.

Now initially, driving across the country and having a family slumber party in a hotel is fun. After 50 days, however, everyone in my household grew a little cranky.       

During our transition, Mandie and I reached out to each other.  We met for playdates at local parks, took our kids out for Happy Meals, and even timed our weekly trips to the laundromat together.  While doing laundry, we helped each other swap loads, kept eyes on our young kids, and enjoyed each other’s company.  

This may seem strange, but our weekly laundromat link ups were highlights of my summer. While I don’t prefer folding my families’ unmentionables in public, our laundromat link ups were full of genuine, unfiltered, honest conversation with a friend who understood exactly how I was feeling because she was walking a similar path. 

One day, while folding laundry, Mandie and I chatted about how much easier our work was together.  Mandie texted that evening, writing:  

“You know, sometimes we miss the chance to help others with their hard stuff because we can’t see past our own hard.  We feel so overwhelmed by whatever we are going through and don’t feel like we have anything left to offer, but if we can find ways to help despite our own hard things, then we can lift each other up.”

Her words capture a key lesson from today’s Old Testament reading that is poignantly relevant:  seeing past your own hard stuff to help another person changes everything.  

In today’s reading from Exodus, Israel is trudging through hard stuff.  They are waging war with Amalek, and everyone has a difficult job. Joshua and his men fight the battle. Meanwhile, Moses stands on the hill above the battlefield with the staff of God raised in his hand. As long as he keeps his hands raised, Israel has the better of the fight, but as he grows tired and brings his hands down, the enemy begins to prevail.

Aaron and Hur climbed the hill with Moses.  After reaching the top, I imagine that they were tired and inclined to tend to their own duties, but when they saw Moses crumpling from his burden, they helped him! First they gave him a rock to sit on. When that was not enough, they lifted his hands to support him and stayed with him until the battle was won.  

Imagine how this battle might have gone differently if Joshua’s men did not join him in the fight because they were too preoccupied with their own lives.  How might the battle have ended if Moses had gone up the hill alone, or if Aaron and Hur decided that they were too tired to lend help to Moses?

While we are tough and strong, and gritty, and can do a lot independently, God puts us in community with each other so that we can help each other with the hard stuff.

Looking back on the summer, by sharing our hard things, Mandie and I accomplished more than getting the laundry finished; we renewed the joy in our spirits. In the midst of our individual work, we put rocks under each other and raised each other’s arms.  As St. Paul wrote, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).

Dignity, Encyclical

I See You; You Matter

**Elizabeth here – I’m very glad to share with my readers that my dear friend (and fellow redhead) Erin Raymond is contributing to the blog this week.  Erin is a gifted speaker, former stand-up comic and speaks frequently about Catholic theology of the body. Her wit and wisdom make her a very compelling speaker to young adult and college age audiences, in particular.  This reflection is from observations she made when we attended a large Catholic conference earlier this spring. Enjoy!** 

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This is my very first blog, which seems a little weird in 2019, but there you go. I may have never attempted this had it not been for a near-midnight bar conversation with some Catholic authors at the Mid Atlantic Congress in Baltimore, Maryland. 

Said one man author to a table of women: I need some contributors for my blog – anyone interested? 

Woman author #1: It’s always kinda awkward to write a blog for someone’s page. 

Woman author #2: IKR? Who wants to hear what I have to say? 

Me: Are you kidding? Who doesn’t want to hear what I have to say? (said in a joking but not really joking manner).

I may have been joking, but the self-doubt in these talented women was palpable.

Do you recognize yourself in those comments? You have a desire to share the message that God has put on your heart, but somewhere in your psyche there a lack of confidence, fear, maybe even self-loathing?  There’s a chance that the insecurity demon may have jumped in and answer that question for you. 

If you’ve ever thought, “No one wants to hear what I have to say,” I want you to say very loudly, “GET THEE BEHIND ME SATAN!” Discouragement is not of God.

You are a beloved child of the King, and God would never speak to you that way, or permit you to belittle yourself. God loves your thoughts and ideas and wants you to share them wherever and whenever appropriate. 

Several years ago, I had the great fortune to take a class on St. John Paul II’s encyclical Laborem Exercens, with Msgr. Brian Donahue at West Point, New York. (And thank goodness! – I could never have worked through it all alone!) It’s the first time I’ve really understood the value of overtly recognizing the dignity of another human being. 

In the encyclical, St. John Paul II helped me learn to look someone directly in the eyes and tell them, “I see you; you matter.” You – the person who has experienced one bad break too many and now finds herself in the soup kitchen line – I see you! 

You are a beloved daughter of God. You – the man who is so tired from working two jobs just to feed his family, and one of those jobs is cleaning the bathrooms at the airport – I see you and you are a beloved son of God.

And I say to you – reader of my very first blog: I see you. And I want to know your story. And I want to hear your thoughts. You are overflowing with the dignity of humanity, and you bring that dignity with you every step of your day. You bring the dignity to your job – don’t ever expect your job to bestow dignity on you (shout out to JPII for that nugget of wisdom). 
One of my favorite saints, St. Teresa of Avila wrote, “Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ’s compassion to the world.” I challenge you to look out with those holy eyes, and see the world as God made it.  Look at others with compassion. See their dignity as a person created in the image and likeness of God. I especially challenge you to start with your own dignity, worth, and value. Look at yourself in the mirror with God’s eyes. What do you see?

Catholic Family, Saints

Mary Magdalene: Apostle to the Apostles

Who is your favorite saint? Mary Magdalene is one of mine.

Today is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the Apostles. Jesus cured Mary of seven demons (Lk 8:2). Seven! Seven is symbolic that Mary’s life was replete with hardships – demons – as described by the gospel writers. Possibly her demons were mental or physical illness, living the consequences of her past sins, or maybe abusive or difficult family situations. Whatever the exact sources of her demons, Jesus cured Mary body and soul, restored her, and loved her. She loved Jesus so much that she followed him to the foot of the cross.

Jesus trusted Mary to make her the first eye witness and herald of his resurrection. But Jesus doesn’t let Mary merely cling to him and her own experience. Nope! Instead, he inspires her to run with an evangelistic spirit to spread the news of his resurrection. She announces to the disciples on the third day, “I have seen the Lord” (Jn 20:18). In this, she is the Apostle to the Apostles.

I love Mary Magdalene because she shows us how good a life with Jesus can be. No matter how wounded your past, Jesus can heal you, restore you, and send you forth to announce the good news.

In honor of Mary Magdalene, share the message of Jesus with someone who is suffering today. And as a special offering, let that sharing be with someone outside your comfort zone, even if that means talking to a stranger or a person you find difficult to love.

Would you like to talk more about Mary Magdalene and other favorite saints? Join us in the Joyful Momentum online community in our Facebook Group!

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?