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Growing up Catholic, if I thought about the word “vocation” at all, it was in the context of a call to the priesthood.  We were encouraged to pray for more vocations because of the looming shortage of priests.

And this sense of vocation as a specifically religious phenomenon was in fact its original sense–not necessarily as a call (the word comes from the Latin for “to call”) to the priesthood exclusively but nevertheless a call from God.

More recently the term has been diluted to refer to one’s way of earning a living, which may in fact be a calling from God for some, to use the gifts and talents with which He has blessed them to serve a particular purpose, but which for others may be nothing more than a preference or an accident of fate.

But in the Catholic sense vocation means primarily your call to the married life, the single life, or the religious life.  Starting from the the basic premise that “all men are called to the same end: God himself” (CCC 1878), it is up to us to discern with God’s help to which of these states He is calling us.

CCC 1603 states that ” . . . the vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator.”  Marriage and motherhood is my vocation and I’ve never really doubted that even though at times I think somewhat longingly of how much easier I would find it to be holy if I were a cloistered nun.  From the time I was about 17 I fell in love with babies and I remember wondering how I could possibly stand having to wait years until I could have one of my own.  I loved shocking people with my declaration that my aim in attending a prestigious university was to find a husband.  I was only partly kidding, and I did it too.  I was married the summer after graduation and had a baby 18 months later.

I am a well-educated, extremely competent, intelligent woman, and my oldest son told me the other day that he had no doubt that I would have been a millionaire by now if I had chosen to pursue a career.  (I am NOT a millionaire, and we have struggled financially thanks to my remaining mostly unemployed.) But even though I’ve worked part-time outside the home and work at home now running my husband’s law practice, all I’ve ever really wanted was to have lots of children and be at home with them.  Even now with my youngest entering her teenage years I have no plans to embark on a career outside the home–after all, I’m expecting (and hoping) I will eventually need to be available to help care for grandchildren!

Yes, I am a writer and I LOVE to write more than just about anything, but writing (and any hobby) is an AVOCATION.  It’s our challenge to use our avocations, whatever they are, in service to our vocations.  It was instructive to me to discover that the derivation of avocation is from the Latin to call AWAY.  So if our avocations become a distraction from our vocation then it’s time to reevaluate.

If you believe God speaks to our hearts, even if not from openings in the clouds or burning bushes, then maybe you’ll believe He spoke to me the other day.    Everyone in the Catholic blogosphere is talking about their Saint of the Year, which you can randomly generate here.  I clicked and prayed, as I was advised to do, then clicked again . . . and got MARY.  Yes, that Mary.  I hope she will (of course I know she will) forgive me for being disappointed.  I mean, I know all about her already!  I wanted some obscure, interesting saint I could learn about, who would somehow mystically illuminate my path for the year.

So there’s also a word generator, where you can get a Word of the Year if you don’t want to pick one yourself.  So I clicked again and my word was . . . MOTHER.  OK, Holy Spirit, I see what you did there.  My mouth more or less dropped open.

So it looks like I’m supposed to be doubling down on that wife and mother vocation this year, and seeing how Mary can help me with that.  And who better, of course, than the young woman who accepted God’s extraordinary call and lived that vocation so fully and perfectly?

This post is part of the Catholic Women’s Blogger Network Blog Hop.  For more posts on the topic of Vocation, click the image below!

CWBN vocations

 

I mentioned in my most recent post that I was embarking upon an eight-week challenge to declutter my home.  As I was taking my before and after pictures this week I thought it might be fun to share the process with you.  Maybe you’ll be inspired to join in!

Week One was the Master Bedroom.  I followed this order (one project each day for six days): Closet Clothes/Shoes; Closet Accessories; Closet Storage; Dressers; Books; Everything Else.

This was an easy week for me because I don’t have a lot of clothes and have not allowed much personal clutter to accumulate in the past six years since I suffered the forced minimalization of our house fire.  The books were the exception, but I’ll get to that.

These aren’t the kind of pictures you’re used to seeing from me, y’all.  They are purely utillitarian with bad lighting and indifferent focus.  But they should serve the purpose.

Day One – I went through all the clothes and shoes in my closet.

Day Two – I went through my jewelry.  I didn’t get rid of any earrings so that drawer is not shown here.

Day Three – I went through the luggage and the ridiculous collection of tote bags and whatever other random things I had in the closet.

TotesLuggage

Day Four – I went through two dressers.  I don’t have a lot in my dressers as you will see, but I do have two “sentiment” drawers, one of which I put every card I think I want to keep, and I was able to get rid of some of those, as well as some things I had saved for sentimental value but could no longer remember what they were supposed to remind me of!

Day Five – OK, y’all, this was the hard day.  One thing I’ve learned since the fire is what “things” are truly important to me.  I can tell what they are because they are what I have accumulated a lot of in six years as opposed to everything else I have refrained from acquiring.  And what they are, mostly, is BOOKS.  So whereas I finished the tasks on the other days in less than an hour per day, the books took two hours and lots of help from Lorelei (she helped most of the other days too!).  Anyway, I was very proud of myself when we were finished!

Before (1)

Day Six – This was easy, a cedar chest and a couple of piles of books so I didn’t take any pictures.

In the end, we removed two miscellaneous bags of clothing and accessories and two full boxes of books that will all leave the house, and we relocated a few items to other places (where we will face them again when we get to their new homes at the appropriate time!).

Next up:  Bathrooms! I am so excited!  I’ll try to post another update next weekend!

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!

And now for a quick trip through 2017, with some of my favorite pictures!

JANUARY:  Along with millions of women (and men!) around the world, Emily and I participated in the Women’s March.  I wrote about that here and here.  It was pouring down rain–an absolutely miserable day–and I love this picture that shows what a crowd turned out anyway.  This is what democracy looks like!

Best of 2017 - Women's March

FEBRUARY:  John and I took a weekend trip to Gatlinburg, which I wrote about here.  One highlight was moonshine tasting.  Here you can see all that goodness being brewed, right out in public!

Best of 2017 - Gatlinburg

MARCH:  William turned 16.  I chose this picture because I love the look of delight on his face.  He usually wears a rather solemn expression.

Best of 2017 - Willima's birthday

APRIL:  My sister Betsy treated my mother, our other sister, and me to VIP tickets to The Gambler’s Last Deal, the final tour for Kenny Rogers, which I wrote about here.

Best of 2017 - Kenny Rogers

MAY:   Of course the biggest event this month was Teddy’s graduation, but since I already shared so many pictures of that, I’m choosing this favorite from one of several trips to Dollywood.  This is Lorelei with her cousin Ella.

Best of 2017 - Dollywood

JUNE:  A trip to the zoo.  We got season tickets this year.  This is part of the new tiger exhibit, about which more later.

Best of 2017 - Zoo

JULY:  We went on a wonderful trip to Pennsylvania for a family reunion.  I hope to write that up at some point.  For now, this is an animatronic Spinosaurus from our trip to Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland, which was definitely the highlight of the reunion as far as William was concerned.

Best of 2017 - Reptiland

AUGUST:  Another trip to the zoo, where we were able to get up close and personal with the two Malayan tigers.

Best of 2017 - zoo

SEPTEMBER:  In another trip I want to write about this year, we spent a weekend in Cincinnati.  We were there to see the exhibit of original Star Wars costume, one of which is pictured below.  What a thrill!

Best of 2017 - Cincinnati

OCTOBER:  My porch chairs continue to make me very happy.  Decorating for Autumn is another thing that makes me happy.

best of 2017 - porch

NOVEMBER:   Lorelei, William, and I attended the annual rosary service at Calvary Cemetery, Knoxville’s only Catholic graveyard.  I’ll be going back to take more pictures before I do a long-overdue write up.

Best of 2017 - Calvary Cemetery

DECEMBER:  In 2018, I will get a new title–mother-in-law! Jake asked Jessica to marry him a few days after Christmas, so I will have a wedding to tell you about this spring.

Best of 2017 - engagement

To see photo essays from past years, click the links below:

2013

2014

2015

2016

I’m linking up at Revolution of Love with other folks who like to do this too.  Click below for more 2017 photos!

2017in12_logo_640-1

 

 

At the end of each blogging year, I like to look at my WordPress stats and do a post about my five most-read posts of the year.  Many times this list will include some evergreen content from years gone by–last year not a single 2016 post made the top five!  Therefore I also indulge myself by highlighting the (six, because I couldn’t decide) posts I liked the best myself!  Shall we begin?

YOUR FAVORITES

Dear Mom in the Pew

This post from 2013, originally written for the now-defunct Mom Pledge blog’s “Dear Mom” challenge, is perennially popular.  I re-run it frequently on Facebook to provide encouragement for mothers with little people who sometimes misbehave in church.

Dear Mom in the Pew

So ten years from now–tomorrow–there will be big quiet kids in your pew and you will be able to pray again.  No one will be staring at you except to admire your lovely family.  You will be the one smiling indulgently at the cute toddler playing peek-a-boo with you over the back of the pew.

But until then, remember, you are doing a wonderful job.

An Open Letter to My Friends Who Want to Repeal Obamacare

This letter of a totally different sort was written in January 2017 and got quite a boost when it was tweeted out by Gates McFadden.

An Open Letter

Remember that there are suffering people who see your Facebook posts, people who are frightened, for whom this isn’t about politics or partisanship or finances but about staying alive.  Remember that, and if you care about those people, watch the tone of your posts.

Bookwalter Cemetery: Pretty but Not Peaceful

This post was one of only two graveyard posts I wrote in 2017, and owes its popularity to my fans on a local history Facebook page.

Bookwalter Cemetery_ Pretty But Not Peaceful

The peaceful silence one associates with cemeteries was notably absent.  In addition to traffic and train noises, I was assailed by the sounds of barking dogs, blaring radios, and bawling babies.  Most disturbing of all, at the back of the cemetery I was transfixed by an argument going on in an adjacent neighborhood, where a landlord was banging on the door of a rental property and making telephone calls to his renter who was evading his attempts to collect rent.  I could not tear myself away from this troubling drama  of the living unfolding just yards away from this not-so-peaceful resting place of the dead.

Five Favorite Marriage Tips

This is from 2014 and I’m glad the advice seems to be holding up!

5 TIPS for a mariage that lasts a lifetime

It’s hard, hard work to live day in and day out with another person, someone who is not your blood relative and who you are bound to by choice.  There are bound to be times when you don’t get along at all.  

Woman Enough to March

This is from January of this year, a time when I was writing a LOT of political posts.

Woman Enough to March_

I’m so tired of being marginalized for one reason or another.  I am sick at heart over the notion that there is only one kind of feminist–our pro-life feminist foremothers be damned!–that the right to unlimited abortion apparently trumps all and that some of us are not woman enough to participate in a Women’s March!  As I posted on Facebook, “It’s like you are not an actual woman if you are not pro-choice.”

MY FAVORITES

My Catholic Uniform

Another political post, specifically on the duty Catholics have to welcome the stranger.

my-catholic-uniform

I don’t wear a red plaid jumper any more, but I have made myself very visibly Catholic on Facebook and elsewhere.  Not just because people who know me in real life know that I am Catholic, but because I often write on Catholic topics and (try to) explain Catholic doctrine.

Iris, Resurrected

My only gardening post of the year, something I hope to make up for in 2018!

Iris, Resurrected

I often think of Mima (who died nine years ago) when I am in my garden.  I feel close to her then because it is a passion that we shared, and if such things are genetic, then my love of gardening is an inheritance from her.

How I Am Rocking Motherhood

A response to a challenge.

How I Am #RockingMotherhood

Because it IS a challenge, in a society that’s hell bent on making mothers feel that they are never quite good enough, to focus on the positive.  And it can be intimidating to toot one’s own horn, especially since I just did not long ago.  Plus I am a perfectionist, and am far more likely to be berating myself for my motherhood failures than congratulating myself on my wins.

A Front Row Seat

In which I wonder why people pay extra to sit up front at concerts while lurking in the back at Mass.

A Front Row Seat

Sitting so far back, I didn’t feel like a full participant in the Mass.  I felt like a spectator.  “It was like being at a concert,” I said later.  You know the kind–where the performer on stage could almost be anyone if there were no Jumbotron to display closeups.

Just Like That

A tear-inducing reflection on the departure of my middle child from home for real.

Just Like That

But here’s the deal:  we aren’t trying to be bossy or irritating or to minimalize the work and stress of coping with small children–we just want you to realize what we didn’t; we want you to fully experience the joy of what you have, because we would give anything just to have one more day of it.

A Confederate General’s Great-great-great-granddaughter Speaks Out

My contribution to the Civil War statue debate.

A Confederate General's Great-great-great-granddaughter Speaks Out

As his descendant, I disavow and repudiate the Unite the Right protesters and anyone who shares their hateful beliefs in the strongest of terms, and I call upon all descendants of Confederate soldiers to join me in condemning them.  They don’t represent the South and we don’t need these modern-day Carpetbaggers to tell us how best to preserve our heritage.

My collections from prior years are linked below:

2016

2015

2014

I’m linking up with Revolution of Love where you can see collections from other bloggers.  It’s a great way to discover new blogs to follow.

logo_top_ten_posts_2017

 

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.

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