The Little Catholic Box – great Christmas idea!

Teresa-21A few days ago I received word that The Little Catholic Box ordered a BIG quantity of Advent with St. Teresa of Calcutta to put in their November boxes. I had never heard of this company before, and so I thought I’d post it here in case you are looking for a unique way to remember a hard-to-buy-for Catholic lady (young or old) in your family.

Each month a box will arrive with a unique combination of treats — books, food, trinkets, candles, and so on — that will surprise and delight!

Chelsey (their social media lady) asked me a few questions to share with their customers about the book, and I thought I might include a few highlights here.

When and how did you feel called to become a writer?  

For me, writing started as a way of capturing and processing various life experiences: things I’d read, places I’d been, people I’d encountered. I tell my kids that God sends every baby into the world with three things: a gift to share, a burden to carry, and a job to do.  At various times of life, writing can be all three of these things, of course!

Do you have a special devotion to St. Teresa that inspired these meditations?

The missionary spirit of St. Teresa was a formative influence on me in my twenties, when I was trying to figure out whether to be a missionary or to work in publishing. Her books taught me about detachment and obedience and joy – and ultimately influenced my decision to become Catholic. That was a long journey, and she was one of many voices I heard cheering me along the way. And as someone who became an adoptive parent later in life, I can relate to St. Teresa’s “call within a call,” which led her to experience spiritual motherhood in her mid-thirties, around the same time I did.

These meditations gave me an opportunity to read through the many books by and about her, and to reconnect with her in a personal way. I hope they will have the same effect on others!

What is your hope for the people who will read your book?

I hope that they will find these books (one for Advent, one for Lent) will give them a “breather” or mini-retreat from the busyness of daily life, to give them perspective and encouragement. “Do small things with great love” was Saint Teresa’s advice for those who want to be saints. You don’t need to be a writer or a theologian or a mystic . . . All God wants is for you to be faithful in sharing your gifts, carrying your burdens (or helping others with theirs), and doing whatever he asks you to do.

 

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31 Days to De-Stressed Living: Day 5 – Celebrate Your Friendships

Image Almost every December on the third Sunday of Advent, I take out this special cake plate and make my family’s favorite chocolate pound cake. It’s time for Rose Sunday Tea (find the recipe here). Friends gather to sip tea laced with brandy, eat cake, and catch up with one another’s lives . . . and for a few hours, all the Christmas craziness melts away, leaving us de-stressed and ready to face life again.

Like most working moms, I find it tough to fit in everything I need to do to get ready for Christmas, and even this year I had to postpone this ritual a few weeks when a snowstorm extended a business trip unexpectedly. But the Downton Abbey premiere presents the perfect opportunity for a “do-over,” and my former Ascension colleagues have assured me that they are on their way. So today, I am baking.

As much as I love my husband (and children) — and I do — I’ve learned that I have more to offer them when I don’t lean on him too heavily. It simply isn’t fair to expect one person in your life to meet your every need. That’s what girlfriends are for. They have experienced the same milestones and many of the same challenges, and can usually add some much-needed perspective, as well as a few laughs.

Of course, having moved so many times over the years, many of the women I’ve come to love and admire most don’t live close enough to come for tea, so necessity becomes the mother of invention. I drive a few extra hours on business trips, send comfort boxes, and wine-and-Skype when I really need a fix.

What do you do, to get the time you need with your “girls”?

On Arriving: Thoughts before Christmas

cropped-road-trip.jpg Two days in the car with two kids and a dog. Two days, twelve hours a day.

Suddenly I have a whole new appreciation for what Mary and Joseph must have gone through those final days before the angels sang to the shepherds.

Mary: “Please, honey. Lay off the Diet Coke. My legs are cramping from riding on this blessed donkey, and my ankles are swelling to the size of small watermelons. It’s Bethlehem or bust. NO MORE PIT STOPS!”

Joseph: “Yes, dear. I’ll let my throat parch if you can talk that kid on the next camel into stop whistling that inane tune: ‘100 wineskins of wine on the wall.’ Honestly, one more round and I may have to toss him to the robbers.”

OK, so the Holy Family didn’t have this exchange exactly. After all, they were the perfect couple — the kind that radiated in each other’s sunshine. I’ll bet Joseph never drove Mary crazy by loading up on electronics until the camel blew a fuse, and he never rolled his eyes when Mary couldn’t resist one more cute little trinket from Matzo Barrel.

Our family is not so perfect. We do not practice the virtue of detachment when we travel . . . The other virtues like kindness, neatness, and sweetness get quite a workout as well. And yet, these trips are the stuff of our family history. Years later, the memories are whitewashed and recalled– like the new mother, we forget all about the pain once we hold our loved ones in our arms. (Probably better that way, or there would be no more road trips.)

Halfway through ours, I’d simply like to give thanks for the highlights:

* For parents who are always happy to see us at the end of the road, no matter how late we arrive or how disheveled the house is when we leave.

* For a seven-passenger van, so that the person most in need of solitude can hide in the back seat with a Supersized set of headphones.

* For two kids and a dog who can ride for four days in a car without anyone getting carsick. Even when Sarah bathes in the Justin Bieber perfume Michi’s friend gave her for Christmas (thanks, Matthew).

* For traveling mercies — including the angels that sat on our bumper yesterday, so the Budget truck that swerved into our lane did not hit us (and the SUV in Michi’s blind spot in the next lane sustained only a small dent). It could have been much, much worse.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Advent Begins: A season of tiny lights

advent wreath 2Happy Advent!

“Blogger Mom” Sherry Antonetti, suffered a miscarriage this week. This energetic mother of ten is walking a “valley of shadow” that is unknown to me. A car accident when I was eighteen caused such extensive internal damage, my doctor informed me I would not be able to have children. (The only silver lining to this was that my then-boyfriend, an Argentinian jackass, dumped me the minute I came out of I.C.U. because “You’re not a real woman anymore.”)

In a way, the knowledge that pregnancy was not in the cards for me made it a bit easier when I got married. As much as I would have liked to have a child, knowing it was not possible gave me the freedom to check that particular dream off my “wish list” and find a new dream with my husband, which we could envision together.

And yet, I’ve come to realize that the pain of the not-quite-realized dream has a special place in the spiritual life. Those of us who never buy a lottery ticket, do not experience the let-down of those who splurge on $20 in tickets without a single hit. That tantalizing possibility causes us to hope in God’s goodness . . . the excruciating aftermath leads us to trust in his mercy.

As we enter the season of Advent, we recall the most extraordinary of all of divine interventions: the Incarnation, the moment in history when God definitively intervened in human history, to remake a future infinitely better than we’d imagined for ourselves. “O felix culpa …” O happy fault, that won for us so great a Savior.

This year, as we enter the Church’s new year, let’s take a moment to reflect upon those moments when we experienced a tiny point of light, a brief moment when possibility turned into disappointment. The angst of childish choices. The agony of free will turned on end. The inexplicable shadow of nature at its worst.

Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts,

Which even now, we receive from Thy bounty,

For better or for worse, in sickness and in health,

As long as I shall live. Amen.

Advent Blessing for Extraordinary Moms

Last Sunday was our annual Advent Tea, and at my table was a woman who had adopted two children. She had heard me speak on Al Kresta’s program about the Extraordinary Moms Network, and said she’d hoped I was still helping adoptive parents. It seems she was looking for a little support involving some changes her daughters were going through right now.

To be honest, I’ve become a bit gun-shy, and haven’t been writing as extensively about the subject of adoption for a while. For one thing, I recently resigned from the board of the foster/adoption agency because I didn’t agree with their recruiting practices, and was wondering God might be pointing me in another direction.

Over the years I’ve sometimes been denounced or outright attacked by others in adoption circles who disagreed with my position on reunification. (I believe that the adoptive bond should remain protected even in adulthood between parent and child, and that biological parents should be able to prevent the release of identifying information if they do not wish to be contacted by their grown children. I have no objection, however, to releasing this information if the biological parents ARE willing to be contacted, and agree that adoptees of all ages should have mediated access to medical information.)

Judging from comments I’ve received on this, and from the prevalence of open adoption, mine is not the popular opinion. I can live with that. What grew tiresome was the necessity of arguing endlessly with highly vocal and often disrespectful individuals who believe passionately that adopted children have the RIGHT to know their birth families. Always. Without exception. Even in cases of rape and incest, as this “Faith and Family” story shows.

And so, for a time I backed off on writing on the subject of adoption, to collect my thoughts a bit more systematically on the subject. To that end, my Master’s thesis is going to be about adoption as a metaphor for conversion — how the fact that the Scriptures speak of God adopting us as His children (Romans 8:14-15), giving us an inheritance we cannot lose (Galatians 4:4-6). The relationship is a permanent one. Here … read it yourself.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, 4 God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Just as biological families reflects in a unique way the life-giving love of the Trinity, so adoptive families uniquely reflect the redemptive love of God. Working together, parents and children, we help one another to grow in the perfection God first created in us, the perfection that was distorted by the sinful influence of our first parents.

So today, Rose Sunday, I wanted to share with any adoptive parents out there who are feeling a bit overwhelmed (the extended family time associated with the holidays can bring out other issues in our children, can’t they?), a bit of encouragement. This is my Advent Blessing to you.

You are doing God’s work. Right now, right where you are. Whether that means drying a tear or baking a cookie, creating memories that will always be a part of your child’s story.

Being an adoptive parent doesn’t mean being a perfect parent. If that were true, none of us would be qualified to take any child into our homes.

Being an adoptive parent also doesn’t mean being a second-best parent. You have no reason to apologize for your decision to adopt. Not now, not ever. Your child may never thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made — and in the years to come, their drive to find their birth parents may make you wonder if you’d done everything you could to give them a secure sense of love and identity.

Don’t worry. You have done your very best, and your children have reaped the benefits. Your reward in heaven will be great, for Jesus says, “Whosoever welcomes a child in my name, welcomes me.”

Just as the Blessed Mother had to relinquish her precious Son when he became a man, so the time will come when we have to let go, too. Sooner or later, our children — all children — must make their way in the world, guided by the things we have taught them.

But for now, yours is the unmistakeable privilege of forming your child. Forming him not in your own image, but in the image of the Father who loves us all. One day, sometimes one minute, at a time.

May all the blessings of this holy season fall upon you and your home, today and every day.

Don’t forget … You are an Extraordinary Mom!

Advent Cake … Good Anytime!

This evening the contributors of AnnArbor.com will be gathering for a potluck, and I’ve decided to bring out a special recipe I make each year for my annual Rose Sunday Advent Tea. For several years I hosted one at my house, last year I made it for the tea at church. It takes a bit of time, but totally worth the results! It is a slightly modified version of a recipe I found on Allrecipes.com.

One of the things I like best about this recipe is the fact that it makes 4-5 cupcakes in addition to the cake. That way the family can “taste test” without ruining the picture-perfect company treat! The picture is my special “Advent cake plate” the day after I make my Advent Cake. Enjoy!

You will need …
3 C flour (all-purpose)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 C shortening
1 C butter, soft
3 C white sugar (it’s once a year, so live it up!)
5 egg yolks
5 egg whites, beaten stiff
1-1/2 C milk
1 tsp vanilla
1-1/2 tsp Amaretto (almond flavored liquor)
cinnamon sugar for dusting the pan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10 inch tube pan, and dust it generously with cinnamon sugar. Shake out excess. Line 4-5 muffin/cupcake holes with liners, set aside.

Sift together dry ingredients, and set aside. Add flavorings to measured milk, and set aside.

Cream shortening and butter in an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy, gradually adding sugar. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mixture should be light yellow and light.

Alternate dry ingredients and milk, stirring well to combine. Gently fold in beaten egg whites, mixing just until no streaks remain. Fill bundt pan to 1″ from the top, pour remaining batter into muffin tin.

Bake 1 hour 15 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. (Cupcakes come out after 30 minutes.) Rest in pan 10 minutes before inverting on to cake plate. Glaze while still warm. Serves 14 or so.

GLAZE:

5 Tbls cocoa
2 Tbls vegetable oil
4 Tbls butter
3 C powdered sugar, sifted
1 Tbls Amaretto
boiling water

In small saucepan over low heat, combine cocoa, oil and butter. Stir until melted and smooth, remove from hea. Stir in powdered sugar and Amaretto, adding water 1 Tbls at a time and beat until smooth and “glazy.” Dip your cupcakes in first, then pour the rest over warm cake. Sets with a nice sheen almost instantly. Now try to resist cleaning out the pan with your finger. I dare you.

Soft Hearts, Open Hands

It was the most remarkable Christmas miracle that transpired the other day in the Parent Room. Before my very eyes, a stand-off that had begun over an unfortunate misunderstanding, suddenly righted itself.  Without preamble,  a former political adversary suddenly and inexplicably proffered an olive branch. And I snapped it up before she could change her mind.

Now, I’d like to be able to say that this was an answer to prayer. But that wouldn’t be true, exactly. Typical Heidi fashion, once this individual ticked me off, I pretty much just carried on as if she didn’t exist. We both assumed the air of the injured party, and avoided one another. Four months later … she decided to let bygones be bygones.

It was a beautiful thing. Even though a small part of me kinda wished I’d thought of it first.

How often do we find ourselves hardened in opposition over an issue in the clear light of day is more complex than we allow ourselves to consider? In our rigidity, do we miss whispers of grace that are all around us, calling us to embrace a life of healing and reconciliation?

Imagine, if you will, what would have happened if Elizabeth had caught wind of her unwed teenage cousin’s pregnancy and barred her from her home, in moral outrage? “How dare she show up here, and ruin my joy! How selfish can she be!?”

Instead, the mature Elizabeth listened to those whispers of grace, and allowed her heart to fill not with judgment or contempt, but with love. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb…”

So often in life, we are given the same choice:  To respond with anger and judgment, or to extend ourselves in love. To the thoughtless teenager. The arrogant in-law. The nagging, the ignorant, and the selfish. The hurtful, the prickly, and the private. The wounded and the weak.

This holy season, as we make room in our hearts to welcome the Christ Child . . . can we find a place for his brothers and sisters as well?

Happy last week of Advent!