Night Driving

night driveTomorrow afternoon we load up the car — kids, elderly mother, dog, and presents. Lots and lots of presents. Then we head down 75 for 20 hours or so for our annual adventure to visit my mother-in-law in West Palm Beach.

It’s Craig’s annual opportunity to see how many times we can let the house-sitter set off the house alarm. Just in case you’re wondering, the record is 6 in a single day. We had to get a new house sitter after that. Also a new bedroom carpet, which Gretta soiled with the ferocity of a fireman’s hose every time the alarm went off. Good times.

My favorite part of this drive is … the night driving. Late into the night, as one by one the rest of the family nods and dreams, I sit behind the wheel, listening to a book on CD, pounding Diet Coke and Christmas cookies. My personal record is eight hours without a rest stop … with luck, I’ll be able to match it.

With night driving, you don’t have to listen to kids squabble, or play endless rounds of the Alphabet Game, or stop every ten minutes for water and bathroom breaks (you’d think they’d catch on to the fact that the two are directly related after the first twelve stops). No snarky drivers, or traffic jams, or construction pile-ups. Just the hum of the engine, the gentle lull of the reader, and the faint illumination of my husband’s LED screen. It’s pretty perfect, really.

Of course, this doesn’t last for long. Sooner or later, the aroma of Christmas cookies hits the nose of my teenage son, who hones in like a drone (despite the fact that he can’t smell the underwear rotting in his room for months on end). Sarah argues in her sleep, even if no one takes the other end of the debate stick. It’s okay, though. This is what it means to embark on a family adventure.

I wonder if this is what it was like for the Magi as they followed the trail of the star(bucks) toward Bethlehem, to find the newborn King, their camels laden with gifts and provisions and their hearts full of hope.

St. Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar — patron saints of road trips — pray for us.

When God’s Will Hurts

Today I am sitting at a desk that used to be my home-away-from-home three years ago, when I worked for this company full time. I’m here to attend a Christmas party before going to pick up my mom from her daycare facility.

nativity-447767About an hour ago, I was standing outside in the cold, unable to get into the building because — as a contract employee — I had no way to access the building. No keypad code. No card. For the first time, I felt the full weight of what it means to be a contract employee. This was reinforced when someone finally let me in — through the delivery door. (I should point out that this was doubtless not the intention — it was simply that everyone was gathered for the meeting. Most days, I really love the arrangement. It was just unfortunate timing!)

Sitting here at the desk, I ask myself why this bothers me so much. Last week when I found out my application to become an employee again had been passed over in favor of someone else, my immediate reaction (and my reaction for several days after that) was relief. This meant I could keep working from home, and could have a flexible schedule. I was confident that this was the hand of God, arranging everything in the best interest of all his children.

It was just today, standing out in the cold and waiting for someone to see me, that I felt another, darker side: as a contract worker, I don’t really belong, not like I used to. And in that moment, I realized something else: that sometimes following the will of God — even when you know in your head it is the right way — can sting. When Simeon saw Mary in the Temple, holding the infant Jesus, his words to her were a dire warning: “a sword shall pierce your heart.” She had surrendered unconditionally to the will of God.

Still, she had been warned, the way will not always be lined with palm branches and dancing shepherds. One day, that way will involve a cross. One day, she will feel like an outsider — out in the cold, people staring, judging, pitying. She will be the mother of a criminal executed in the most horrific way possible. She will be an outcast by association.

And so, my friends, will you. Because following God’s will always entails a cross. Jesus promised it: “If anyone comes after me, let him take up his cross daily and follow me.”

That wood that once shaped a manger, is the same substance that shaped a cross. And the way that God calls us to follow from the moment of baptism, and again at confirmation … will entail the sufferings that are necessary for us to grow in perfect love.

Mary, Queen of Sorrows, pray for us.

 

 

 

Cookie Chronicles

blueberry zucchiniThis year, with Mom helping with the baking, I decided to dig out the old family receipe files and mix things up a bit from the tried-and-true gingerbread and candy cane routine.

In addition to the traditional banana bread (to use up the sour cream from the sugar cookie recipe I usually use), we are making:

Almond sugar cookies (my Aunt Lolly’s recipe), with crushed almonds and almond flavoring in place of vanilla. The scent was so heady, Chris wandered out of his room just to find out what was going on!

Next up, peanut butter cookies, using the “natural peanut butter” Craig asked for, then decided wasn’t crunchy enough. I added some crushed peanuts, just to be safe. Then roll ’em in more crushed peanuts and sugar. Because … well, you just can’t get enough peanuts in a peanut butter cookie!

Finally, my grandmother’s (Dixie’s) oatmeal chip cookies. I remember making these with her when I was a little girl, measuring out the oats and dumping them in the bowl. I figured we need at least one kind of cookie that will satisfy the sweet tooth of someone with a nut allergy, right?

Tomorrow is Sarah’s first guitar concert. She’s only been playing a couple of months, but the teacher already has her in a group of girls playing Taylor Swift’s “Last Christmas.” Looking forward to the fun!

Want Help Talking to Teens About Sex?

coleen-kelly-mast-2This morning my interview with Coleen Mast (“Mast Appeal with Coleen Kelly Mast”) will be airing — or you can click on the archives here.

But rather than go on about my book, I’d like to take this opportunity to promote Coleen’s resources, which I’ve admired for a long time.

Dr. Coleen Mast has a wealth of material for parents of kids of all ages to help them talk with their teens about issues pertaining to sexuality. Her “Sex Respect” resources are a terrific way to talk with your kids about these delicate issues. We bought the “Love & Life” program for our teenagers. You can find out more about her program here at “Respect Incorporated.”

Lent with St Teresa.jpgOf course, if you’ve already HAD this talk, or are confident you don’t need any additional help … go ahead and pick up copies of my books, Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta or Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta!

Celebrate St. Mother Teresa at Dinner Tonight!

mt-dinner

Today I’ll be talking with Jen Fulwiler on her radio show — if you’d like a free copy of “Advent with St. Teresa of Calcutta,” just leave a comment below about the show, and I’ll put you in a drawing for a free book!

For many people, the weeks leading up to Christmas are full of rich food, lavish parties, and mall hopping till you drop. So today I thought I’d share with you a simple vegetarian meal with flavors reminiscent of the adopted homeland of Mother Teresa, and my new book with Servant/Franciscan Media Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

Recently at our parish mission, I had a distinct sense of déjà vu. My daughter’s eyes lit up  as a middle-aged missionary (in this case, a priest) spoke in animated language about the needs of those he serves, and challenged those in the congregation to give and to go. Clearly, Sarah was eager to take up that challenge — and I offered to go with her to talk to the priest afterwards.

I’d had a similar experience when I was her age, and a missionary had come to the small non-denominational church my family and I had belonged to for years. The missionary had given a similar challenge, and my middle-school self could not wait to join the effort. After the service was done, I went up to talk to him . . . and I’ll never forget how his eyes scanned over my head, looking for older and more suitable candidates. Sadly I walked away, wondering why he didn’t want me — and promising God that he could still have me, if he wanted.

Turns out, God did. About five years later, the good people of my church rallied together to raise my support, and I spent an amazing year in Senegal, West Africa as a short-term missionary before going to work in publishing (a mission field of a different kind).

And so, when this missionary priest scarcely looked my daughter in the eye as I invited him to sit with us at lunch (he was unable to do so), I decided to take it upon myself to cultivate this hunger for missions. Last night we made a “Mother Teresa Dinner,” (the recipes have been posted on the Franciscan Media website), and talked about her life among the poorest of the poor as we made naan bread.familypicWe also talked about friends like Colleen Mitchell, a Catholic missionary who works (with her husband Greg and their children) among at-risk mothers and their children in Costa Rica, and her book
Who Does He Say You Are?

I don’t know if Sarah will wind up going to the mission field. But I want her to know that she can . . . if God wants her, and she is willing to go.

sarah

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Get a Free Copy of “Advent with St. Teresa of Calcutta” Today!

jon-leonettiThis morning (Monday) at 8:15 I’ll be chatting with Jon Leonetti in the Morning on Iowa Catholic Radio. Hope you can join us … You can listen to the show here: http://www.christiannetcast.com/listen/player.asp?station=kwky-am

Would you like a chance to win a free copy of Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta? Leave a comment below between 8:15 and 11:59 a.m. on Monday, November 28, and your name will be entered in a drawing for a free book!

The winner will be contacted via email, so don’t forget to leave your email in the message. Thanks!

 

Catholic Conversation Interview: Steve and Becky Greene

mother_teresa6Hello! If you are looking for a little Advent inspiration, tune in tomorrow to “The Catholic Conversation,” The Cradle & The Convert hosts Steve and Becky Greene. We’ll be discussing Advent with St. Teresa of Calcutta and what exactly Mother Teresa has to do with Advent!

If you haven’t already signed up, you can register for the W.I.N.E. Seasonal Meditations (based on the book), a free daily reminder to pause during the day to prepare your heart for Advent. Just click on this link to register. And if you want to purchase the book, you can find it at FranciscanMedia.org or at Amazon.com.

Finally, if you want to try my recipe for Rose Sunday Chocolate Pound Cake (your family will thank you), you can find that here.  Enjoy!

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”?

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!