Not of This World: Finding Peace through Minimalism

There’s something about a new year. isn’t there?  So fresh and clean with none of the last year’s mistakes . . . yet.  It’s natural to want to apply the newness to our lives, to make them fresh and clean as well.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who resolves to tackle household clutter at this time of year.  When it’s cold out, we naturally spend more time indoors enjoying cozy pursuits, and I have a hard time relaxing when my house is making me feel unhappy and anxious.
I wrote a super popular post a few years ago, about our American problem with too much stuff, and last year I acquired the popular minimalism guide by Marie Kondo.  And I made some progress, but this is going to be my year.
Because last year I read a book that didn’t only talk about minimalism and explain it.  This book anchored it in Catholicism, and that’s an unbeatable combination.
not of this world
Sterling Jaquith, the author of Not of This World  (which I was given by the author in exchange for my honest opinion in this post) hit the nail on the head when she wrote this: “Nothing in this world will ever really satisfy us.  Our ultimate desire will always be for God, and that is why I believe all Catholics should embrace a lifestyle of minimalism.”  This makes so much sense to me.  Our consumeristic culture encourages us to fill our emptiness with more and more stuff, but it never ends, does it?  We are always looking toward the next “must-have” item.
As my readers know, I was forced into minimalism a few years ago when my house burned down.  I was involuntarily relieved of the burden of too much stuff.  My relationship to the things of this world was changed instantly, and the result is that clutter I might have once not given a second glance now makes me anxious.  I have intentionally chosen to acquire very few extraneous personal possessions, and I ruthlessly get rid of things regularly, but the stuff seems to pile up anyway.
I find this overwhelming, and the problem is hard to tackle.  I need help, and this book provides it.  The opening chapters explain minimalism, and offer personal examples of what can happen to people who live their lives piling up possessions.  I recently traveled to Baltimore to help my mother-in-law go through some of the stuff in her home of more than 60 years prior to her moving into a small apartment.  She is very happy in her new place, but getting rid of her possessions has been very hard–not just logistically, but emotionally.  How much easier not to buy things and become attached to them in the first place!
Sterling goes on to remind us of the minimalist beginnings of Christianity–Jesus was born in a stable, after all!  His followers were poor, and throughout the ages those in religious lives have continued to vow poverty.  Following their example will bring us peace and space: “We’re going to create more space in our lives to connect with the Lord . . . The more we follow His will, the more peace we have and deep down, this is what we all desire.”
For me, this focus on Christianity is what sets the book apart from other minimalism guides and makes it uniquely motivating for me.  But that doesn’t mean the other stuff is neglected!  Much of the book involves detailed week-by-week and room-by-room instructions for decluttering, along with access to printable worksheets to help you do it.  There are also special sections for larger families, homeschooling families, and people who live in small spaces.
I am starting on Monday to follow Sterling’s program.  Buy the book right here and you can do it too!  Even better, you can join in online and get explanatory and motivations videos from Sterling and feedback from other people going through the program!

Books Worth Reading: Christmas Edition

It’s Christmas Eve!
In a time of year full of traditions, there is one I think I cherish the most, and it will happen this evening, after Mass and dinner out, when all my kids–even the adult ones–will gather in the living room before the tree to open one present each.
The tradition has its roots in my own childhood.  I don’t know where I got the idea that everyone should be allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve, but I convinced my mother that we, too, should adopt this custom.  And for the first few years, I can remember picking any present I wanted to, which usually meant the biggest one!
Somewhere along the way, our practice changed to opening a specific present that my mother chose, and it was always a chapter book.  The idea was that we would go up to bed and read a few chapters and it would help us fall asleep while waiting for Santa.
Emily was not quite a year old on her first Christmas, and I started the tradition immediately with a picture book I read to her before putting her to bed.   The following year I gave her a Christmas book by Tomie de Paola (described in more detail below).  This gave me the idea that going forward I would give only Christmas books.
As Christmases passed and our family grew, so too did our collection of Christmas picture books.  I started a couple of new traditions–reading a few stories every year in my children’s classrooms, having a bedtime story party for their classmates in our home.  Then our house burned down and we lost them all.  A sweet little girl in Lorelei’s class, remembering the party she had attended the year before, helped us repurchase our favorites, and six years later we again have a full box that we pull out every year.
It became increasingly difficult to find five good-quality Christmas books that we didn’t already have every year!  For awhile I tried buying the big kids chapter books but the Christmas offerings for adults weren’t quite on the same level as the picture books they had loved as children.  So last year I tweaked the tradition yet again, and began giving Emily, Jake, and Teddy each their own copy of one of our favorites for them to begin building their own Christmas library.
We began last year with The Clown of God by Tomie de Paola, our all-time favorite that we read on Christmas Eve every year after we’ve finished the new books.  I cannot get through this sweet retelling of an old legend without crying.  It’s a very Catholic tale of conversion with some Franciscan brothers and a miracle included.
the clown of god
This year they will be receiving The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski.  This redemptive love story is beautifully illustrated and yes, it makes me cry too.
jonathan toomey
The Other Wise Man, a story written originally by Henry van Dyke and adapted for children by Pamela Kennedy, will probably be next year’s gift.  It’s the story of a fourth wise man who missed meeting Jesus in person because he was too busy helping others along the way.
The Other WIse Man
An Appalachian tale based on a true story, Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant is another touching story about Christmas giving that ends with a tear-inducing twist.
silver packages
The four stories above were among the first Christmas books we collected and they continue to be favorites that the kids–yes, even the big ones–want to hear year after year.  But there have been a few gems that despite their more recent acquisition have captured a spot on our favorites list, like A Small Miracle by Peter Collington, a surprising tale in which a poor woman is repaid for her kindness by some very unexpected visitors.  This is a quirky, wordless story that will hold the attention of every age group.
small miracle
I’ll stop here, because five seems like a good number and then I can do this again next year.  Tell me about your favorites in the comments–and Merry Christmas!

The Joy of Children

Children don’t have to be reminded to be joyful.  Children find joy everywhere, effortlessly.  Think of all the viral videos of babies laughing at everything from funny faces to paper tearing.  Too bad that we grow up and away from joy and into worry and distress.  Joy ceases to be an everyday thing.  It becomes something to be found in only the most extraordinary events–a wedding, the birth of a child.   And yet if the joy of the Lord is meant to be our strength, surely adults need it as much or more than children do?
Read more here.

Praying as a Family

Catholic blogger fail confession time–we are not That Catholic Family that does a  morning blessing, says grace before every meal, and prays a nightly rosary.   Not even close.
It’s not that we haven’t had good intentions.  We’ve tried off and on over the many, many years (26 and counting, y’all) of having kids to come up with a family prayer routine that stuck.  But to everything there is a season, and some of our seasons have been more fruitful in this area than others.
Every morning, John prays with William in the car on the way to school.  And he did this with the big kids from the time they were little kids.  I love that he does this.  And right now we are rocking the family evening prayer because Advent.  But we need to do better and I found something that might help.
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Gracewatch Media has just published a lovely book by Jerry Windley-Daoust of Peanut Butter and GraceThe Catholic Family Book of Prayers is available for preview and/or purchase in a variety of formats right here.  I was provided with a free copy in exchange for my honest review, and I am going to cherish it always because it is a beautiful book that every Catholic family should have it their library.
Seriously, before I go any further I suggest you buy this book right now if you need a wedding gift, a new baby or baptism gift, or an RCIA gift (or of course a Christmas gift for the Catholic families you know!).
The book is aptly subtitled A Treasury of Prayers and Meditations for Families to Pray Together because it really is a treasure.  The content alone–basically every important Catholic prayer–would be enough to give it this status but this little volume packs in so much more:  illustrations varying in style but all beautiful, explanations of prayers and traditions along with support from the Catechism, suggestions of different ways to pray, and inspirational quotations on prayer from the saints are just some of what you will find within.
I hope this book will help me to continue our family’s evening prayer routine once Advent comes to a close.  Please do your family a favor and buy a copy!
the catholic family book of prayers

“The best form of prayer is one that . . . makes space for the presence of God within us.”

~ Saint Basil the Great

Hopes and Dreams for 2018

I’m a little late with my post for the CWBN blog hop this month.  I’m pretty good about dashing off a post at the last minute, but I felt such a serious topic deserved a little more reflection than that.
Out of the many hopes I have for the coming year, I’ve narrowed my choices to share in this post to two.  I’m having a hard time putting the first one into words without feeling like I am taking myself way too seriously, but this is the truth:  I want to grow in holiness.  Every day I feel sadness at how far the reality of who I am as a person, a Christian, a Catholic, is from what I know God wants me to be.  I’ve made some progress this year, what with Lent, and Confession, and prayer journaling, and my online Catholic groups, and the good Advent I am having, but there’s a lot left to do.  And I don’t want to fall into the trap of spending so much time in contemplation that I forget to put my faith into action in the world.
My second hope is more tangible.  After six years of renting the house we moved into very abruptly when our prior house burned to the ground, we have decided we are ready to become homeowners again.   It’s scary to put down roots again–both literal and figurative–but it finally seems like the right time.  There are a few roadblocks though so I ask for my readers’ prayers in successfully navigating them.
house and garden
Do you have hopes and dreams you’d care to share?  Add them in the comments if you wish.  And to see what some other Catholic bloggers are dreaming about these days, click the picture below.

CWBN december

 

Counting Blessings: On Giving Thanks in Difficult Circumstances

Whenever I think about gratitude, I always come back to one Bible verse:  “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:18)
I first heard this verse a long time ago, and it wasn’t at Mass or in religion class.  I was ten years old, and for our reading class everyone was supposed to adapt a scene from a favorite book into a play.  I attempted a scene from The Hobbit, and it was a failure.  But my best friend chose a scene from Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, a book which I would go on to read several times.  She asked me to appear in her scene, playing Corrie’s sister, Betsie.
You can read the rest here.

Waiting for Christmas: Advent Traditions My Family Loves

More than Christmas, more even than Easter, Advent is my very favorite liturgical season.  Part of my affection for Advent stems from my beautiful memories of Catholic school celebrations, but I also love it for how simple it is to incorporate the celebration of this special season into daily life.
When I was very young, opening the doors on our Advent calendar each December morning before school was my earliest introduction to the season of Advent.  This is a delightful way to harness children’s anticipation of Christmas to teach a lesson of joyful and patient waiting.   Over the years there have been times we had a calendar for every kid ready to open on December 1, and other times we weren’t on the ball and managed to find the very last available calendar a week into Advent.  This year I’ve got two all ready to go:  a scriptural retelling of the Christmas story that I bought at Catholic Door and a chocolate one from Trader Joe’s.
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Another treasured tradition in our home is the decorating of the Jesse Tree.  I loved doing this every Advent morning when I was in grade school, and have enjoyed incorporating it into our family celebration.  We got our first set of ornaments at our church’s annual Advent workshop (another long-time tradition), and they were all the more treasured because they were colored by little hands.  When we lost them to fire, I found free printables online–there are many to choose from.  Or you could buy this beautiful set my friend Sara has made.
Most years we manage to have an Advent wreath.  The biggest challenge is having the right color of candles. (Note to self: check Amazon tomorrow for candles)   The next challenge is that we don’t eat dinner together every night, so some nights the candles don’t get lit.  But I like seeing them there just the same.
Probably our most important Advent tradition is what we DON’T do.  While the secular world and mostly Protestant East Tennessee are happily partying long before the guest of honor has even arrived, in our home we continue to wait.  No, we don’t bah humbug all the Christmas events happening outside our home–we go to the downtown tree lighting the day after Thanksgiving as well as many other fun local events that we look forward to year after year.  But at home things are different.
Right after Thanksgiving I remove the gourds and other harvest items from the mantel and put out simple votive lights.  Along with our Advent wreath, these will be our only seasonal decorations until about a week before Christmas, and the tree will go up later than that.  I may not hold off on the Christmas music quite that long, but for at least half the month we will be listening to Advent playlists.
We don’t do all these things every year.  Sometimes we fail at Advent rather spectacularly!  (The one we are the very best at is not putting up the decorations early!)
I’ve written a LOT of posts about Advent, if you’d like to check them out:
Christmastime Is Here . . . NOT
One Year Later
So This Is Christmas
Signs of the Season
Signs of the Season II
Countdown to Christmas
More Advent Memories
How to Celebrate Advent When Everyone Thinks It’s Already Christmas
Celebrating Advent with a Jesse Tree
That Time I Did Not Advent Right
Advent Memories
Tragedy and Traditions
O Come O Come Emmanuel
What about you?  How do you celebrate Advent?  For more ideas, click the picture below to read other posts in the Catholic Women’s Blogging Network blog hop.
cwbn advent
 

Super Girls and Halos: A Review

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When I was given the chance to review Maria Morera Johnson’s book Super Girls and Halos: My Companions on the Quest for Truth, Justice, and Heroic Virtue I jumped at the opportunity.  Not only was I intrigued by the title, but who wouldn’t want to read a book by someone whose most recent prizewinning bestseller was entitled My Badass Book of Saints?
I wasn’t disappointed as the book lives up to its title.  It grabbed my attention right at the beginning when the author revealed one of her earliest heroes:  Lieutenant Nyota Uhura of the Starship Enterprise.  Anyone who knows me and my family knows how we feel about Star Trek.  I knew immediately that Mrs. Johnson and I were kindred spirits.
You will never read another book that explores saints and their virtues the way this one does.  Mrs. Johnson blends her personal stories and insights with tales of secular heroines and saints who together exemplify similar virtues.  The Cardinal Virtues of Justice, Prudence, Fortitude, and Temperance are revealed to the reader via the stories of such pop culture icons as Wonder Woman, Dana Scully, Hermione Granger, and Katniss Everdeen, along with the lives of saints like St. Clare of Assisi, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Cunegunde, and St. Kateri Tekakwitha.
These engaging stories are accompanied by explication of the virtues from The Catechism of the Catholic Church and steps for the reader to follow to strive to attain each of them.  And although readers will be learning a lot about saints and virtues, it will feel more like  listening to stories told by a friend.
In her introduction, Mrs. Johnson recounts a moving story of her father’s excitement while watching the first moon landing on television, and how he encouraged her to put her little hand on the screen so that she could touch the future.  She writes:  “My dad, who was my hero, had heroes of his own.  It was a small lesson with a big impact: grown-ups had heroes who were other grown-ups . . . today, grown-up me has lots of grown-up heroes.  I call them saints.”
Reading this book encouraged me to think about my own heroes, and specifically about the saints who have inspired me.  I was a little girl when I first read The Song of Bernadette.  Later I chose St. Bernadette to be my Confirmation saint.
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Bernadette Soubirous was a humble young woman, impoverished and uneducated, who did not aspire to renown.  She found within herself unexpected faith and courage after the Blessed Mother appeared to her.  Once these apparitions ended she was content to enter religious life and lived in seclusion until her painful death from bone cancer at 34.  She refused offers to travel to the miraculous spring at Lourdes, remembering Mary’s words to her: “I cannot promise you happiness in this world but only in the next.”  Unquestioning faith, obedience, and humility are virtues I have yet to achieve but hope to through her intercession and example.
Several bloggers received free copies of Super Girls and Halos from Ave Maria Press in exchange for honest reviews.  There are 15 stops on this blog tour, and a giveaway is part of the fun! Please click below to enter.
Super Girls and Halos Giveaway
To read more Super Girls and Halos Blog Tour posts, click below:
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Who are your secular heroes?  What about your Saint Super Girl?  I’d love to hear if you’d care to share in the comments!

The True Meaning of Comfort

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may be with you for ever. 
John 14:16

As I meditated on the concept of Comfort while preparing to write this post, I reflected that it’s a word that evokes strong feelings, and it comes with conflicting connotations in modern times.  We are urged to “get out of [our] comfort zones” on the one hand while we are bombarded with advertisements promising comfort through consumerism on the other.  Along with visions of stuffing ourselves with so-called comfort foods come images of a fat and lazy populace too comfortable and complacent to do anything.
And yet Jesus promises us comfort, so what did He mean?  If it’s something He wants to give us, how can it be bad?
Read the rest at Everyday Ediths!