Shrove Tuesday

Lest I forget, here’s my favorite verse for this day of feasting before our days of fasting (“There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven…” Ec 3:1, NJB)

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine
There’s music and laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!

Hilaire Belloc

 

 

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Writers’ Wednesday

I’d like to try featuring some regular posts about writing, writers, and perhaps even my own experience with working on crawling out from under my shell as a writer. So today is my first plunge into this venture. Join me as we explore together something that, I hope, will be of interest to those of us who are newer to this craft. Those of you who are more experienced are encouraged to fill the com box with your own inspiration, tips, resources, etc. Since there is so much written about writing I know I could just share favorite authors on writing, websites, and writing services but what I’d like to do is go beyond that, although I’m sure I’ll include a fair share of them along the way. Here we go!

I’d like to start with sharing a post from a wonderful author, blogger, and generally amazing online influence on me who has been an enormous inspiration to me long before I began blogging but was longing to do some kind of writing other than journaling. It didn’t hurt that during the years I homeschooled our approach to learning was so similar. I always wished she lived near me so I could meet her in person—still do!—because I felt we had so much in common. The versatile woman I speak of is none other than Karen Edmisten, a convert to Christianity (eventually Roman Catholic) from atheism, who has multiple book credits, has written for magazines, and maintains a unique online presence–plus she loves naps, as do I (an added bonus, in my opinion).

The story of how she came to find her own writing vocation can be found here:

http://karenedmisten.blogspot.com/2008/09/vocation-surrender-and-writing.html

I’ve reread it multiple times since first seeing it and printing it out for my own personal motivation to push past my fears about pursuing writing. But although I set up a blog domain, it took me until 2011 to overcome my anxiety about writing for anyone’s eyes other than my journal’s, even though I had published an article in a small magazine for the homeschool community in 1995, despite not yet having any children (the article being on infertility). In the intervening years, my chronic anxiety levels had become amped up and it wasn’t until the past few years or so that I was diagnosed with mood disorders, which explained, in part, the difficulty I was having with my writing (or lack of it, other than in fits and starts).

In my case, I think the biggest problem was I always secretly wanted to write fiction but never felt I was creative enough to do so, so much so that even when I would get something down on paper it started to overwhelm me almost instantly and I gave it up almost as soon as I started. Non-fiction is another matter. I can gab on my blog almost as easily as I can rant (my son’s favorite term for when I speak at length about any topic). Then one day it finally occurred to me: why am I trying to mentally think of myself only as a writer if: a) I write fiction, and b) I get published? I owe my release from that self-prison to Marshall J. Cook, author of Freeing Your Creativity: A Writer’s Guide—How to write more and better than you ever thought you could.

http://www.amazon.com/Freeing-Your-Creativity-PAPERBACK-PRINTING/dp/0898796644/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1423692014&sr=8-2&keywords=freeing+your+creativity

 

This quote of his from that very book is what finally liberated me:

“Not all writing has a large audience—or any audience at all. We write because we want to, because we need to, even because we have to. We write for what the process of writing can do for us and to us. For some of us, writing is as much a part of life—and as necessary—as breathing.”

Now I just try and follow the old adage, “Write what you know.”

For what it’s worth, the “Coach” (Marshall’s nickname) maintains a fun, contributor-friendly monthly newsletter for writers. I have found it a refreshingly unstuffy e-zine that always leaves me pondering both serious matters as well as usually laughing so hard it results in some level of inconvenience; a small price to pay for inspiration. You can find it here, including back issues:

http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/writing/extra-innings/

So, if you also are a writer—and if you write then you are, whether or not it’s for anyone else’s eyes—what is holding you back from taking the next step in developing your craft? Or if you’ve already done that, it would be great to hear what helped you get over that hump.

Until next time…fellow writing nerds, keep writing if you want to keep breathing (not really, but it sounded cool!).

At Ease in God

“Let God be the air in which your heart breathes at ease.”

St. Francis de Sales

Wowzers! What a difference that would make in the life of those of us who struggle with—okay, are plagued by—constant anxiety and/or depression, self-doubt, a lack of purpose, etc. I can barely imagine that as I’ve had anxiety issues all my life but only recognized them for what they were during the past few years. Whether they are neurological in origin or related to trust issues (with God and/or other people)—or a need to control or have everything perfect—anxiety issues will suck the life right out of you without you even realizing it.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a loving family member or friend who can help you to see this and you get help, things will get better. I promise. But you will always have to work at it, because that’s just the way anxiety is. It’s not going to give up its hold on you because it doesn’t want to and in a way you don’t want it to either—it’s probably your modus operandi, your coping mechanism, your safety net. You somehow convince yourself if you just think enough about these things—especially all the things that might happen—it will somehow help. Let me assure you that it won’t. But if you work at not being anxious, you will learn to be less anxious.

Here’s the best authority I know on the subject. Jesus told us,

“I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and what you are to wear. Surely life is more than food, and the body more than clothing! Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they are? Can any of you, however much you worry, add one single cubit to your span of life?…So do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Mt 6:25-27, 34

Interesting “coincidence”: when I went to my new Bible–not one that’s been opened to favorite passages yet–to verify my reference and flipped forward to Matthew, being pretty sure it was there in the Sermon of the Mount–it opened immediately to the page for chapter six; I love it when that happens!

I’ll also share a couple of my favorite authors’ writing on this topic because they are also worriers who have learned many valuable lessons from their own struggles and have been willing to share them with others. The first is my choice of spiritual reading for this Lent. It may seem like an odd choice for that purpose but I believe the more practical we are in applying our faith the faster we can grow in union with Christ. The second choice is by a well known author who has also written extensively about ADHD, which also often comes with anxiety, as do bipolar disorder, depression and other mood disorders, something I know about firsthand.

For Lent I’ll be rereading writing coach, novelist, and general all around great guy Marshall Cook’s excellent How to Handle Worry: A Catholic Approach, along with its companion workbook, HTHW: ACA—praying your way through anxiety. As Marshall says in the introduction:

“If you’ve been suffering for a long time, change may seem impossible. By yourself it would be. But with God, all things are possible. Use this book as a guide as you surrender yourself—including all those worries—more fully to God.”

Disclosure: from what I recall from my first read a few years ago—as a convert to the Catholic Church from Protestantism 10 years ago—this book and its workbook can certainly be used by non-Catholics. There are just occasional times when there will be references to faith practices which differ.

http://www.amazon.com/How-Handle-Worry-Marshall-Cook-ebook/dp/B005F1Q7U6/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-1&qid=1423158101

The second book, Worry: Hope and Help for a Common Condition—Turn chronic worry into a positive force in your life, is an excellent read in its own right by the wonderful writer and well-known psychiatrist Dr. Edward Hallowell and concludes with a wonderful chapter on “50 Tips on the Management of Worry Without Using Medication”—not that the author is against medication, as he is not, but he brings a whole person approach to the problem because that is what it as well as other neurologically based conditions require.

http://www.amazon.com/Worry-Edward-M-Hallowell-Md-ebook/dp/B004JHYRQI/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-1&qid=1423159941

I hope you will find something in the above that will help you to breathe more easily in God.

Oldies but Goodies

I ran across the first quote today—which then reminded me of the second—and thought I’d blogged about them and sure enough I had. So, dipping into the archives, here we go again. I hope it will help encourage your focus to be “spot on” the way it did for me.

Here’s the first:

When we have a simple intention, we are less occupied with the thing to be done. We do all that we do not only for God but so to speak in Him. We are more aware of Him who works in us than of ourselves or of our work.

Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island

BTW, while checking my facts about this quote online I ran across the following post that does a lovely job of further explaining, in layman’s terms, what a simple intention might look like in practice. Enjoy!

http://www.conversiondiary.com/2010/11/right-intention-vs-simple-intention.html

And the second:

God remains in you in order to hold you up.
You remain in God in order not to fall.

St. Bede the Venerable

Good words we all need to hear (or at least I do…and pretty much all the time!)

Have a lovely Lord’s Day…

“The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns”–A Review

As it’s been said before, “We don’t have a lack of vocations; we have a lack of people willing to say “yes” to their vocation[s].” So, what could be more unexpected in this day of bizarre reality shows than an honest, balanced look into the lives of five young women who are pursuing discernment to religious life?

http://www.mylifetime.com/shows/the-sisterhood-becoming-nuns

If you thought it couldn’t be pulled off, the popularity of “The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns” and the beloved “nunnies” in each of the three religious communities has proved you wrong! One of the nunnies, as I believe online social media maven Sr. Helena Burns dubbed them, is so popular that the folks clamoring for another season are also interested in her having her own show (Sr. Beth Ann, Vocations Directress at The Daughters of St. Mary of Providence in Chicago). Who would have thought that?

For starters, the five young ladies couldn’t have been more different; they were a delightful representation of godly young women with a wide range of backgrounds, talents, and, of course, personalities. This is exactly as it is in a religious community and the producers of the show did a fine job of selecting a vibrant group to follow over the six episodes (way too few!). They went on a six week journey visiting a total of three convents of different religious orders to give them a glimpse of whether they are ready to begin official discernment, the first step toward becoming a nun.

During their time they hear of others’ vocations stories, realize that women living together *is* really hard–one nun remarks that she’s “surprised there’s never been a murder”<g>–nuns actually take the time to disrobe from habits into swimsuits and go swimming to relax, blow off steam, exercise, and/or just have fun together. Of course, once back into their habits, they also have fun dancing and doing all the normal kind of things “normal” people do. But seeing a nun out of her habit was something they weren’t prepared for; I’m not sure any of us viewers were! 🙂

The Daughters of St. Mary of Providence, the second convent they visited, is located in urban Chicago, quite different than the first Carmelite house in Germantown and the final community in Kentucky. At the Chicago house they take care of people with special needs, have a soup kitchen, and walk the downtown streets passing out bags of food to people who live in dire poverty. Once a week there’s a trip to the South Side Chicago markets to “beg” for food for those they care for, as part of their trusting in Divine Providence to meet the needs of their mission.

As Sr. Beth Ann responded to the question “how do you know if you have a vocation?” with her own answer, given to her from no less than–wait for it–Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta decades before: “You sit with Jesus in Adoration for 10 minutes a day for two weeks and let Him love your heart. Then you’ll know.”

I’ve had some communication with Christie Young, one of the young women who I was drawn to before the show began airing because of her use of social media and because she felt like, if I may say so, a bit of a kindred spirit. I’m old enough to be her mom but feel as young as she is because I too have a great passion for living as it’s so obvious Christie has. Her love for Our Lord is transparent and at times causes her deeply intense experiences that others don’t always “get”—perhaps because they have not her temperament nor personality nor charisms. The bottom line is that it appears God may be calling Christie to be His bride and she is radiant with expectation as any fiancée would be. She is not without her own issues to work out, as are we all, especially when seeking our vocations, but she’s quite open and honest.

Here’s a look at Christie’s story. She’s 27, born into a Catholic family and she still follows the traditional tenets of the Church, the only girl with several brothers. She’s been engaged but realized it wasn’t God’s plan for her life and laughingly jokes that she probably couldn’t not be in (chaste) relationships without the convent–not that she deliberately seeks them out, they just end up “happening”. She has a number of special interests and talents: writing (poetry, song lyrics, et al.); reading; being part of a country music band; having fun; and, I venture to say, generally loving being alive! She has a zest about her and has been discerning on and off for about nine years.

***Spoiler Alert***

If you have not finished the series then stop right now if you don’t want to know how things stood with each of the girls by the end.

Francesca is ready to continue living a life in the world but not of it for now, but has a strong connection to the Carmelites and had some of them over to her home to meet her family and is keeping in touch with them. She recently just got her own apartment; congrats, Francesca! Originally Stacey, who broke up with her boyfriend to pursue discernment, was conflicted and thought she’d try the Sisters of St. Mary of Providence with Christie but since the show was filmed last summer got engaged to her old boyfriend so she has found her vocation: marriage. Congrats to Stacey and her fiance! Eseni and Darnell are back together and are planning their own future, which I’m sure will be another beautiful vocation of marriage.

Claire requested and was accepted into planning to discern with the The Sisters of St. Joseph of Mercy in Kentucky as she knew while there that it was just the place for her. She is currently finishing her college degree in music. Finally, Christie decided to pursue her vocation as a nun and the series was filmed this summer and now she is now beginning initially as an aspirant and then move onto being a postulant with The Daughters of St. Mary of Providence today, the feast of St. Antony, Abbot (founder of monasticism); congrats, Christie!

P.S. The good sisters in Chicago have allowed her to enter before she paid off all her college loans so if you’d like to help pay off Christie’s debt you can do so online here:

https://www.crowdrise.com/Convent4Christie

You can also send it direct to the convent and and just let them know it’s to help pay off her debt.

The Daughters of St. Mary of Providence

4200 N. Austin Ave.

Chicago, IL 60634

BREAKING NEWS: The show premiered in the U.K. today; a coincidence? I think not! 🙂

Please keep all these young women in your prayers. Becoming a nun is no easy task; neither is remaining one. But if it’s your calling, you won’t be satisfied with anything less. The most moving book I’ve ever read about religious sisters is the novel by Rumer Godden, In This House of Brede.

In This House of Brede

In This House of Brede

Buy from Amazon

I highly recommend it as a follow up to the Lifetime tv series.

Epiphany & The Well of the Star: A Review

Elizabeth Goudge vs Tolkien vs. Lewis vs. L’Engle vs. Jan Karon: whose fiction would I want if I could only have one of these cherished authors’ works–or even only one work of theirs? With no disrepect to the others, it’s a no brainer: Elizabeth Goudge, especially The Scent of Water. But I digresss…

Today is the traditional day for the feast of the Epiphany and this novella published in 1941 is a delightful read for any age; in fact, it only improves with the reader’s age, in my estimate. In Miss Goudge’s story the Magi arrive simultaneously with the shepherds instead of when Baby Jesus was actually a toddler, when Herod’s infamous slaughter of the innocents (all boys two and under) was carried out and the Holy Family makes their flight into Egypt.

Her writing, as always, clearly conjures up the physical and emotional geography; the vivid imagery of both the external and internal worlds of her characters abounds. The feast of Epiphany is the penultimate one during Christmastide before the Baptism of the Lord and the beginning of our new liturgical year’s Ordinary Time the Monday after that. This story, in its simplicity and earnestness, encapsulates both the Ordinary Time of the church year–the normal day in, day out life of a shepherd boy–as well as its times of celebration (wise men bringing three significant gifts to celebrate the birth of the most important person in the world). Learning to accept that our life “is what it is” at any given moment but that we are not without hope–as the appearance of an extraordinary guardian angel reveals–reminds us that times of suffering will not usually go on forever without respite, that even the most grim of outcomes may be reversed through unlikely means, and that even a simple shepherd boy may get to count himself friends of a wise man (although not his surly camel!).

This book is an expensive out of print title and is a relatively hard book to find in a library but well worth checking for (or obtaining via ILL) and/or keeping an eye out at used book stores for a copy, for those who find themselves smitten by it as I did several years ago. My copy comes from a nearby regional library’s book sale table. I was horrified by how little it had been checked out after the mid-50s, even though it is a small town library. What a waste!

Again, although most Christians in the U.S. who celebrate Epiphany did so on Sunday, here’s to a blessed remembrance of that feast. If you have a favorite short story, read aloud, novella, or even novel involving Epiphany, I’d love to hear about it.

 

 

 

 

 

My Mom and National Motivation and Inspiration Day

Happy Birthday, Mom!!!

My Mom’s birthday today turns out to fall on National Motivation and Inspiration Day, a lovely serendipity. Who else but a mom who has always loved you unconditionally, believed in you when you couldn’t even believe in yourself, and encouraged you over and over about all those messy areas of your life—some of which are going to be around for the rest of your life—and who you count among your closest friends, should receive the Motivation and Inspiration crown (if there were one)? Again, Happy Birthday, Mom, and thanks so much for ALWAYS believing in me, being a blessing and encouragement to me in ways great and small, and never giving up on me when I made things difficult for you and Da’ in my younger years.

Who are those that motivate and inspire you in your life? I can think of several in my life, starting with my awesome hubby and teen son. They are both great guys whose choices in life remind me to make better choices myself—both for myself and them and the rest of the world with whom I will come into contact in some way during the rest of my life. There are close friends who never cease to amaze me by helping boost my spirits when I’m struggling with depression or anxiety or whatever other limits my health imposes on me. Their encouragement with my literary “little engine that could” of a blog is also much appreciated. Then there are my other family members who mean so much to me, particularly my folks and my sister, because they know me warts and all and still love me. If that doesn’t motivate me to be the best version of myself that I can, I don’t know what could! I also have extended family who are wonderfully supportive.

Additionally, my pastor, fellow parishioners–with certain ones in mind who’ve gone the extra effort to let me into their lives–along with my bishop are a source of motivation and inspiration not just in spiritual things but in meeting life with courage and grace.  Finally, there are friends flung far and wide who still keep in touch that I occasionally get to hang out with—either in person or via FaceTime or even social media—and their continued desire to remain an integral part of my life at whatever level is such a lovely blessing.

So, on this day when I get to celebrate having such a terrific mom and stop for a moment and think of all the other people who motivate and inspire me—including a good many of them having passed beyond this life, and some I never even met because they lived before me or before I was old enough to have formed an adult relationship with them: various people from the Bible, assorted saints, beloved family members and friends, Madeleine L’Engle, C.S. Lewis, Elizabeth Goudge, Thomas Merton, and Agatha Christie to name a few—I’m grateful that I can remember to be grateful for both my mom and for them every year on this day. I also benefit from the gentle nudge to be the kind of person that mom and the others are to me. Thanks be to God!

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