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Who Do We Need to Welcome Into Our Inn?

December 10th, 2012

Our pastor shared this story at Mass on Sunday:

As many parishes do at Christmas time, a parish in New York was having a pageant acting out the Nativity story. A little boy named Tom was taking part. He was mentally disabled, but was very excited to be in the pageant. He was playing an innkeeper and practiced his line over and over again until he had it down perfectly, “There is no room in the inn.”

The big night came and he was ready. When Mary and Joseph came up to him, he delivered his line just as he had practiced. Everything was going as planned, until the Holy Couple walked away from him sadly, at which point he called after them, “Wait! You can stay at my house.”

That little boy obviously had the spirit of hospitality alive and well within him. If he had been back in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, our Christmas story might have had a slightly different setting. But what about us, living today? Do we have that spirit of hospitality?

For some, it comes easily. Their door is always open. There is always enough food and one more is always welcome at the table. They have a special gift for making everyone feel welcome. I love those people and am so thankful for those that I know.

As an introvert, I’ve always struggled with hospitality. Quite honestly, people frequently stress me out, so inviting people into my home isn’t that easy. But as is often the case with our weaknesses, God has provided me with plenty of opportunities to practice it. And, I’m happy to report, I’m getting better. If only because it is such a weakness of mine, I make a concerted effort to be welcoming to anyone who wants to come to my home.

Sometimes it is easier to be open and welcoming with strangers, or those individuals we see rarely, than it is with family members. Sometimes, the people we need to be most hospitable with are the people who are closest to us. This can include those who live in our very own homes.

This time of year, we are called in a special way to be hospitable, to open the doors of our homes and our hearts. How often do we slam the door shut, claiming that “there is no room in the inn.” We are called to make room. Will we welcome Jesus, disguised as members of our own families, into our own inns?

Book Review: O Radiant Dawn

November 7th, 2012

O Radiant Dawn: 5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath
by Lisa Hendey
Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2012
It’s hard to believe but Advent is right around the corner. Are you searching for a meaningful Advent practice to bring more faith and spiritual growth into this busiest of seasons? “O Radiant Dawn: 5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath” may be just what you are looking for. 
Hendey, founder of and best-selling writer of The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms, offers a series of twenty-eight short reflections, one for each day of Advent. The title of the booklet comes from one of the “O Antiphons” of Advent: “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, son of justice; come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” It is a reminder to reflect on the glory of God’s majesty, a majesty we often miss when we are preoccupied with ever-growing to-do lists.
She has designed the prayers to be used around the Advent wreath. As she writes, “The wreath’s simple circle of evergreens represents the never-ending promise of eternal life. Upon the wreath or in its middle we arrange four candles – three purple and one rose. The purple candles mark the solemn tone of the season and call us to wait patiently, eyes set on Christ. The rose candle marks our great joy as Christmas approaches.” While an Advent wreath is a beautiful symbol (with small children, my family uses a paper version), the prayers contained within this book can certainly be used without one.
The prayers and reflections can be used by individuals or by families. Each day offers a short gathering prayer, a relevant Scripture passage, a reflection and closing prayer. An added bonus is that Hendey offers a separate reflection for those with younger children. For those able and wishing to spend more than five minutes, the questions for reflection can offer much to ponder and perhaps journal about. 
“O Radiant Dawn” is truly a great gift in a small package. It would be a perfect devotional to make available in large numbers to parish communities. Those who use it will find their Advent season to be greatly enhanced, with the emphasis placed first where it rightly belongs – on the coming of Christ.

40 Days for Life – What You Can Do

September 23rd, 2012

The Scripture readings for this week remind us of the value of life. Psalm 54 emphasizes “The Lord upholds my life.” God is the author and provider of life. Without God, our heart would never pulse a single beat nor would we ever take a single breath. He alone has the right to choose when we come into this world and when we move on to the next world. That is why we must respect and defend life from conception until natural death.

In the Gospel (Mk 9:30-37), Jesus teaches, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” Each child is a gift from God, regardless of the circumstances of his or her conception. Each child has a God-given right to live.

It is fitting that we have these readings to reflect on as this year’s fall 40 Days for Life campaign begins this week. Running from September 26th until November 4th, 40 Days for Life is a focused pro-life effort that consists of 40 days of prayer and fasting, 40 days of peaceful vigil and 40 days of community outreach.

What can you do to help this effort? This fall, there are 316 individual campaigns taking place. To find one near you, please visit the 40 Days for Life website at If you are interested, you can connect with your local campaign in order to take part in peaceful vigils and work to bear pro-life witness in your community.

Not all of us are able to become actively involved in the vigils, but two things each one of us can do to help this effort are to fast and pray. I personally tend to think of this campaign as a second Lent. In this case, instead of being focused on our own spiritual growth and repentance for sin, it is focused on offering up our sacrifice and prayers for a larger cause. We join our prayers and sacrifices with others in order to help bring about important change in our world.

It can be impossible to know the difference our prayers and efforts make in the world, but there have been tangible results from past 40 Days for Life campaigns. There have been ten campaigns since the movement began in 2007. During that time, 5,928 lives that have been spared from abortion (and those are just the ones we know about), 69 abortion workers have quit their jobs and walked away from the abortion industry and 24 abortion facilities have completely shut down following local 40 Days for Life campaigns.

Being pro-life matters. Won’t you please consider how you can join with others during these 40 Days for Life in prayer, fasting, and vigil to help change hearts and save lives?

The Challenge of Aging Gracefully

August 12th, 2012

“Mom, can I count your grey hairs?” my nine-year-old asked me the other day as he started to poke at my head. He eventually abandoned the task, deciding that there were too many.

Last week, I walked into my parents’ house and my mom declared, “Wow! I love your new haircut. It makes you look older!” Hmm . . . I know she meant well, but in my late thirties, is that really a compliment?

At Mass this morning, I found myself wistfully wishing that I could be the eighteen-year-old altar server. She is such an intelligent, kind young woman with many talents. Her whole future is ahead of her and she is heading to Harvard in a couple weeks. And, as if that foray into envy wasn’t bad enough (yes, I ALWAYS have to confess envy), I realized that not only am I not young with my future ahead of me, but also that I am old enough to be that young woman’s mother.

Needless to say, my quickly advancing age has been on my mind a lot lately.
Our chronological age is one of those things that we have no control over. Those of us blessed to live on this earth for a certain number of years eventually become middle-aged and then senior citizens. But while men seem to earn a certain respect and distinguished quality as they grey, we women are constantly told by the world that we only have value when we are, or at least look, young. Hence, the huge market for cosmetics, plastic surgery, and anything else that may promise to restore us to our youthful appearance.

One can either choose to embrace the changes and accept them as best as one can or one can choose to fight tooth and nail against the signs of age. I decided a long time ago that I would go grey naturally, and plastic surgery is most definitely not in my future. I do exercise and try to take care of myself, but the simple truth is that my body is aging, and will continue to do so. I need to make peace with the middle-aged woman in the mirror.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti tackled this topic in the July 2012 issue of Living magazine. She wrote,

Character. Age. Patina. Why do we value these qualities in our possessions but not in ourselves? . . . I am reluctant to accept the prevailing belief that beauty lies in subtraction, and that by erasing the passage of time from my face I will not only be smoother but happier. Wrinkles mean you’ve lived, and life is a privilege. . . Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could appreciate ourselves the way we do our furniture? If the beauty of a changing face was considered a shining testament to the added value of age.

I second that passage. I have no idea how to convince our youth-obsessed society that age is something to be embraced, rather than viewed as the enemy. But, maybe it starts with each one of us and how we view ourselves when we look at our reflection, and then continues with how we present ourselves to the world. We’ve had time to become comfortable in our skin and to be secure in the women we are. It’s time to radiate that character and confidence. It’s time to show that age is beautiful!

Our Crosses Aren’t Forever

August 5th, 2012
The other day I had some precious free time which I was going to spend working on the computer. I set up my laptop on the kitchen table, went to grab something to drink, turned around and found my older son sitting at the computer settling himself in. 
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Working on my Lego program.”
“But I was going to do some work.”
“But, Moooooommmmm, this is the only chance I have to work on this.”
“Fine, take it.”  
I assure you, the snarky tone I used when delivering that last line immediately negated any benefit that may have been derived from the self-sacrifice involved. 
Determined to still accomplish something, I grabbed my e-reader and read some of the soon-to-be-released book by Sarah Reinhard, A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary, from Conception to Baptism. As it turns out, this change of plans was God at work because I ended up reading something I definitely needed to be reminded of.  
Reinhard’s book integrates reflections on each week of pregnancy with meditations on each of the mysteries of the rosary. It is a wonderful book – truly, I wish that I had this resource available when I was pregnant with my children. But, even in my non-pregnant state, I’ve found much wisdom in its pages. On this particular day, the line that hit me was in her reflection on “The Crowning of Thorns:” Our crosses aren’t forever.
I know this of course. Ask me, and I will certainly tell you, “This, too, shall pass.” I have dispensed those words of wisdom on a number of occasions, and reminded myself of them on a regular basis. Yet, at any given moment of pain, misery, depression, frustration, etc., I am likely to forget and to wallow in whatever I am stuck in at the time. I want to give up.
Our crosses aren’t forever. Sure, it seems that way sometimes. It seems like life will never change, that we will forever be stuck in whatever problem we may be mired in. It seems like the road lies ahead of us in a long, unwinding path, and that there is no escape. Or even worse, it may appear as if we are descending further and further into our own private version of hell. Things are not only not getting better – they are getting worse! What comfort can possibly be found in that place of pain? 
And yet, each day, life does change. It may be imperceptible at times, but looking back we can see it. Another instance of life being best understood in hindsight. In the rear-view mirror, we can see God at work in our lives, gently moving and shaping and bringing us where we need to be. While some pain will never be truly understood this side of heaven, often we can appreciate what suffering has done for us in the long term. It hones us, makes us stronger and more compassionate. It leads us to places we may never have ever traveled to otherwise. 
Then, there is death, which as Christians, we do not believe is the end. With death, all of our crosses will be taken away. This life isn’t forever. The older we get, the more we know how quickly life does go by. Individual days may seem long, but the years go by like sand through our fingers. Our goal is to spend eternity with God in heaven, a place of perfect happiness. There, our hearts will hurt no longer. The pain will be gone. All will be understood.

Are You, or Your Children, Addicted to the Net?

July 22nd, 2012

Newsweek ran a very interesting article recently: Is the Onslaught Making Us Crazy? Tony Dokoupil examines the growing body of evidence that the internet is changing the way we think and feel. He writes,

The current incarnation of the Internet – portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive – may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic. Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts, and normal people are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways. . . . In less than the span of a single childhood, Americans have merged with their machines, staring at a screen for at least eight hours a day, more time than we spend on any other activity including sleeping. Teens fit some seven hours of screen time into the average school day; 11, if you count time spent multitasking on several devices. . . .More than a third of users get online before getting out of bed.

Dokoupil goes on to describe the way heavy internet users’ brains begin to resemble those of drug addicts, and that even when people state that they want to withdraw from such constant use of the internet, they find it almost impossible to do so. Part of the issue is that a great number of us are connected to the internet for work reasons. One spends all day online for work, and then goes home and spends time online for pleasure.

Smartphones contribute to the problem as well. It used to be that you actually needed to be near a computer to connect to the internet. Today, the internet travels with us. People text and surf and post photos while pushing children on swings, or while watching a soccer game, or while out to dinner with friends. It is never-ending.

Among teens, there used to be a break between the world of school and the world of home. Now, whatever social problems a teen may be having at school follow them wherever they go. There is no escape. Everything is about the social image one projects. One teen quoted for the Newsweek article states: “It’s a nervewracking learning curve, a life lived entirely in public with the webcam on, every mistake recorded and shared, mocked until something more mockable comes along.” At the same time, these teens live in fear of missing out on something should they disconnect for a while.

The internet has brought much good into the world and I wouldn’t want to return to the pre-internet era, but as with any good thing, it has the potential for abuse and overuse. I don’t have a smartphone and I only go online for a few hours a day while I am working, but I’ve noticed that even given my limited exposure, my focus isn’t what it used to be.

Even while I was working on this article, the internet was calling to me. I feel like while the internet is up, I need to be checking my email, Facebook, and Twitter every few minutes to see what is going on in the world. Like the teens interviewed, I fear missing out on something. There definitely is an addictive quality about it.

As parents, we need to be proactive about limiting our children’s screen time. For better or worse, they are growing up in a world dominated by interacting with computers. They need to learn how to make responsible use of the technology. But at the same time, they need to learn how to disconnect as well. In-person relationships need to be cultivated. Books need to be read. Skills need to be learned. There is a whole lot of life to be lived away from a screen. Perhaps we parents can set an example by limiting our own screen time as well.

What is the Thorn in Your Flesh?

July 8th, 2012

That I, Paul, might not become too elated, because of the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor 12:7-9

What is this “thorn in the flesh” that St. Paul speaks of in his second letter to the Corinthians? Bible scholars have speculated over the years – it could have been a physical illness, a spiritual temptation, or perhaps a certain person who simply made his life incredibly difficult. In the end, it really doesn’t matter, and perhaps that is why St. Paul was purposefully vague (the Holy Spirit at work!). If he had specified what, in particular, was bothering him so much, we might be inclined to brush off the verse and think it doesn’t apply to us. As it is, it has something to say to each and every one of us.

Every one of us has a “thorn in the flesh” – something that no matter how hard we try and no matter how much we beg God, just isn’t going away any time soon. I know I have mine – more than one, actually. There are the physical issues I struggle with, the temptations I find myself battling every single day of my life, the people who I always seem to clash with, the character flaws that I can’t seem to correct, the sins I find myself saying in confession over and over and over again, despite my resolution to “go and sin no more.”

And yet, perhaps, like St. Paul, those thorns in our flesh serve a purpose. I know mine help make me much more understanding and less judgmental. My physical difficulties help me to have patience with others. Is someone having a bad day? Perhaps they had some pain I can’t see and don’t know about. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt.
The people I find difficult to deal with? I’m sure that they find me a cross as well, and if not them, well, then there are probably others that do and I just don’t know about it. A little kindness and biting one’s tongue can go a long way.

I know I’m not perfect. I prove it every day of my life. Therefore, I will not be casting stones anytime soon, and when I’m tempted to be self-righteous at any time, I only have to remind myself of my own laundry list of sins and that temptation is usually put in check pretty quickly.

Most importantly, though, like St. Paul, our imperfections force us to depend on God. We need His mercy, His forgiveness, His understanding. We need Him to take us, all of us – even our weaknesses, and flaws, and somehow turn our failings and our trials into something good. If we were perfect, we wouldn’t need God. As it is, we can’t make it through a minute on our own. We must rely on His grace and trust that He knows what He is doing. Those thorns in our flesh may be an ever-present reality, but God can use even them for His glory.

Can You Homeschool a Child with Autism?

June 10th, 2012
In some ways I was fortunate. We received the diagnosis that my son has Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of Autism, after we had already been homeschooling for two years. Therefore, I never had to wonder if I could homeschool a child on the autism spectrum – I was already doing it! A diagnosis merely gave me more understanding and tools to work with. 

For those considering homeschooling a child with autism for the first time, however, I can certainly understand how the thought of taking on such a challenge could be intimidating. Making the decision to take the path less traveled and homeschool a “normal” child can be scary in and of itself. Homeschooling a child with special needs definitely adds some complications, but it unquestionably can be done, and in many cases, may be the best parenting decision you make for your child. 

Homeschooling the Child with Autism: Answers to the Top Questions Parents and Professionals Ask (Jossey-Bass Teacher)is a very helpful book for anyone considering traveling down this road. Written by Patricia Schetter and Kandis Lighthall, two teachers with Master’s degrees and expertise in special needs, explore the positives and negatives associated with this decision (the positives vastly outweigh the negatives).  A general discussion of homeschooling is included, as well as an exploration of different teaching strategies, transitioning back into a traditional school environment or into college and preparing for life after school. They also offer suggestions for dealing with executive functioning difficulties and managing meltdowns. They also interviewed several parents who are homeschooling children on the spectrum.  Schetter and Lighthall write:

Autism impacts a child’s ability to think and learn in a typical way. A host of challenges present themselves in a traditional school program, including sensory, social and communications challenges, along with struggles accessing the necessary academic accommodations. . . Families indicate that homeschooling decreases the external stressors the child is exposed to in traditional school settings, and it relieves much of the anxiety . . .Homeschooling allows parents to directly address the core deficits of communication, social skills, social understanding, and organizational thinking, while providing functional academics that are real-world and experientially based. 

Those who do choose to homeschool will most likely need outside help of some type – whether that be behavioral counseling, speech therapy, physical therapy and/or other needed assistance. Every child is different and the needs are different. It is possible to get the help needed and to incorporate it into one’s homeschool life. My own son has been receiving behavioral counseling for over two years and it has made a tremendous difference in his behavior and ability to function in the world. 

 It is also possible to arrange for appropriate social interactions – whether these be with other homeschoolers, who are usually very tolerant of children who are different in some way, classes at a library or community center, or other extra-curricular activities. Of course, there are also the very important social interactions that take place within a family, especially if there are siblings and grandparents involved. 

An educational program can also be devised that meets the particular strengths and weaknesses of the child involved. Those on the higher end of the Autism spectrum may need only minor modifications to a traditional academic program, while those who suffer with more advanced communication challenges may need to focus on practical life skills. The beauty of homeschooling is that there are an infinite number of options as to how an academic program and schedule is constructed. It can truly meet the needs of the child. 

Deciding to homeschool a child on the autism spectrum can be a difficult decision to make, and it isn’t for everyone. But, if it is something you are considering, it definitely can be done and done with remarkable success!

Book Review: The Aspie Teen’s Survival Guide

June 3rd, 2012

The Aspie Teen’s Survival Guide: Candid Advice for Teens, Tweens, and Parents, from a Young Man with Asperger’s Syndrome
by J.D. Kraus
Arlington, TX: Future Horizons, 2010

I picked up The Aspie Teen’s Survival Guide: Candid Advice for Teens, Tweens, and Parents, from a Young Man with Asperger’s Syndromeby J.D. Kraus because I have an eleven-year-old son with Aspergers. As we start to navigate those challenging tween and teen years, I need all the help I can get!

I read the book first with the intent of deciding whether I would let my son read it. In the end, I chose not to have him read it. This is because he is still very young in the whole tween/teen age range and much of the information does not concern him yet – he suffers from high anxiety as it is and doesn’t need to start stressing about issues that are still a few years away. Also, the author is on some medications to help with anxiety and depression, and he discusses this. While they have proved helpful for him and I know that they certainly can be of use in certain situations, I’m trying really hard to not go that route with my son, focusing instead on counseling and behavioral therapy. Lastly, Kraus is very intelligent in all his academic subjects, whereas my son has some definite struggles and I think he might feel pretty badly about himself if he compared his academic life.

However, that being said, as a parent, I found this book to be incredibly helpful and I would recommend it highly to any parent with an Aspie kid as well as any teachers who work with these children. It is always good to have these first-hand accounts of what it is like to live with this brain difference. I can’t be inside my son’s head, but books like this give me a window into his world.

A large portion of the book deals with school-related issues. After reading this, I’m more thankful than ever that I chose to homeschool. Bullying (by both students and unsympathetic teachers) is a major issue and Kraus covers it well, offering suggestions on how to cope and report issues one may be having.

The chapter that interested me most was the one on driving. I really wonder if my son will ever be able to drive a car. Kraus explained well how he tries to limit the stress involved in driving, and gave me some hope that my son may indeed be able to manage this with the proper training for unexpected circumstances. The chapter on dating was interesting as well.

Overall, I found this to be a very informative book. Kraus is a young man, so he doesn’t have the perspective an older person might have, but what he does bring to the table is the immediacy of having just been in these situations. His memories haven’t had time to be softened. This world is as real to him as it is to our own children navigating it. Anything that can help us understand how our Aspie kids see that world is of tremendous benefit.