Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Under the Boards

“If you don’t behave,” my Dad said to me sternly but half-jokingly, “We are going to cut your hair short, dress you like a boy, and have you come build houses for me. We’ll call you Lee.”

“Really?” I answered, thinking that would be great fun.

I was eight years old. I wouldn’t have a sibling until I was eleven, so my parents each imparted to me what skills they had, regardless of traditional gender roles. Mom taught me to sew; Dad taught me to cut wood with an electric saw. Mom taught me to be a lady; Dad taught me to think like a business man.

When I found out my first baby was going to be a girl, I decided she was not going to be a girly-girl. The woman who sold me a gallon of blue paint looked at my third-trimester tummy and knowingly commented, “You’re having a boy?”

“No, a girl. I like blue,” I said, defiantly.

Almost thirteen years later, I sat today watching my lovely young lady at the basketball awards party. She is two inches taller than me and absolutely beautiful. She carries herself with confidence. She is smart and athletic and knows it; yet she is too friendly for anyone to think she is conceited.

The coach introduced his award for Most Improved. “This player never played basketball before, and learned it fast. She took a beating under the boards, especially defending against those Southampton girls…” I knew he was going to say Audrey Miller.

I thought back to those big game moments that might have made a mother tremble with worry, or anger, or both; when she fought as if for her life under the basket to get the ball back to whoever on her team could get it down to the other end; when she was elbowed, scratched, and knocked to the ground, hard; and she retrieved that ball, held onto it as long as necessary, and expertly passed it off.

I was never worried because I knew she could take it; and I was proud of her for taking it; and I knew that every time she did this she would become stronger, both as a player and as a person.

I think of all the times people have told me that God gives us trials to make us stronger, and only gives us what He knows we can handle. Suddenly I realize that I have understood this along; that this is how I have been raising my kids because instinctively I knew this to be true.

James 1:2-4 (NAB) says: “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Let us all take those beatings under the boards with strength and grace. The ball is in our court.

Picture above is of the girls' basketball team captains: Audrey is the first on the left.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy (A Book Review)

Father Donald H. Calloway, MIC, has written an autobiographical book about his conversion from a drug-addicted teenager with a criminal record to a well-spoken priest responsible for helping to form young men for the priesthood. He now travels quite extensively bringing the moving and inspiring story of “No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy” far and wide.

This book has an important message for a wide audience, both worldly and religious, but I will tell about reading it from a mother’s perspective. Father Calloway and I don’t have much in common except for being born in 1972 and loving the beach. I don’t as a general rule read autobiographies, books by priests, or conversion stories, and yet this narrative had me from page one.

Father Calloway introduces himself as a priest with an important testimony about the Divine Mercy and the radical changes it has brought into his own life. Then he dives into the midst of his teenage drama as he is being caught by the military police in Japan. He is a migrant military-child-brat who loves surfing, girls, and drugs; he will steal without compunction to get what he wants. The story is unbelievably captivating. As I read this I was thinking to myself that here is this now-very-educated, spiritual, and well-spoken man telling this story, relating the thoughts of his younger self that was so ignorant, worldly, and unsocial; and I was wondering how on earth this was possible.

As he relates the details of his upbringing, it is obvious that the constant uprooting from place to place and step-father to step-father has a great deal to do with his rebellion from his parents. Yet he never blames his mother for the hard decisions she had to make, and gives her credit for always taking him back with open loving arms, and patiently waiting for him to come back both to her and to God. He compares her to Saint Monica, who prayed endlessly for her son Augustine; he was a great sinner who eventually became one of the most esteemed of the Church’s scholarly saints. His mother’s present husband he compares to Joseph, who quietly and loyally supported Mary and Jesus.

About three-fifths through, after reading how he went from one rock bottom to another and wondering how low he has to go before he changes, the reader is hit by the same “Divine two-by-four” that hit Father Calloway in the head. One night he stays in his parents’ home alone and reads a book about Mary that they had in their bookshelves. He reads all night and then in the morning tells his mother he needs to speak to a Catholic priest. Seeing the extraordinary event that has happened to him, she tells him to RUN to the military priest. When he goes to Mass he miraculously understands the mystery of the Eucharist and that day is converted.

When I read this part, I was sitting on the beach watching my three-year-old play on the playground, surrounded by other moms and children. The way his conversion happens is so beautiful and amazing it was all I could do to not freak everybody out by crying right there. He makes it clear how a Catholic conversion through Mary and Jesus is fundamentally different from what is understood as the Evangelical-defined “born-again” experience. From that point, Father Calloway details the journey from his calling to the priesthood to where he is now.

The whole story was so compelling and insightful. I would recommend it to any teen or adult.

For more information see the author's website at

Father Calloway sent me this book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Young People's Book of Saints

The Young People’s Book of Saints by Hugh Ross Williamson is a compilation of 63 saints of the Western Church from the first through the twentieth century. Originally published in 1960 by Hawthorne Books, it is now available as an ARKive Edition from Sophia Institute Press.

Starting at the year 58 A.D. with St. James the Greater and ending with St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in 1850, Williamson strings the stories along in chronological order, traveling from country to country and from the houses of kings to those of servants. He tells the essentials of their lives, not sparing the sorrowful details of their deaths, but in a matter-of-fact way that respects the way children can absorb this information. Many details and higher concepts are included that often are left out in more modern texts; the author realizes that children indeed are capable of understanding. The illustrations by Sheila Connelly are appealing to children and display the individual traits of each of the saints quite well.

I have taken my time in writing this review because I wanted to read it for myself, as well as present the material to children in different forums to see how they reacted to the stories within. I was pleased with the organization of its content, the selection of saints, and the way their stories were told. I used several of the stories in my Little Flowers group, which is a Catholic girls’ group composed of girls ages 5 through 12, in teaching about the saints and their virtues. I also had my eight-year-old son read some of the stories for his Blue Knights group, a Catholic boys’ group that also learns about saints and their virtues. The children both understood and enjoyed the stories.

Each chapter can be read on its own, as I did with my groups of children. When read from pages 1 through 239, however, this could be used as part of a Church History or World History course in a homeschool. The book would also make the perfect gift for a birthday, First Communion, or special achievement for a special child in your life.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. The company sent me the book in exchange for my honest review. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Young People’s Book of Saints.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What I Gave up for Lent: "Feeling Aggravated"

I gave up “feeling aggravated” for Lent.

I had not made up my mind what I was going to do until after we had been to church on Ash Wednesday. Giving up a physical thing seemed to be meaningless. Giving of one’s time/material goods are things that should be done year-round. A true sacrifice that also meant acquiring a virtue seemed to be what I needed to do.

Some days I seem to breeze on through, feeling grateful for my beautiful family, nature, and all else God has given me. Other days I feel besieged by children who refuse to cooperate, incompetent clerks, people who have problems communicating clearly, and people who bounce checks.

Normally my blood pressure runs about 110/70, a very healthy number, but when I start to get aggravated I can literally feel my blood boil. I actually registered at 130/80 (“prehypertensive”) one morning when I was feeling like this. I know this is not a healthy state either physically or spiritually. I also wonder how I could allow external circumstances to alter my internal state of peace.

St. Therese of Liseaux wrote in “The Story of a Soul” of her frustrations dealing with the sisters she lived with. They would torture her in all the little ways they could, taking away what little comforts she could possibly have in her monastic lifestyle. She would respond by praying for them, and by trying to learn how to love them better. She actually had to avoid one sister for a while, for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing; but she eventually got so good at loving the good in her that the sister thought she was one of Therese’s favored ones.

Did Therese actually feel aggravated? Probably – she also wrote that it wasn’t wrong to feel a certain way except for how it makes you respond. Some days I think that if I didn’t have to deal with any people I would never get aggravated. That wouldn’t be too practical though.

One day I went ice skating alone with my three-year-old; another day we fell asleep on an early spring day in the sun. “Isn’t life wonderful,” I would think, and vow to hold onto that feeling when times got tough. Playing ball with my kids I also forget all that is bothering me – there is no sound but the cracking of the bat in my brain. Running also clears my mind, and leaves me with a sense of well-being for much of the day. “Maybe I should just stick to these activities that make me feel peaceful,” I think. Or I could live in the real world.

One morning I was doing fairly well. My kids came home from a half day and I had to lean on them to get them to finish their education fair projects. Within a half hour I was yelling, feeling at the end of my rope with one of them. I thought of my resolution. “Does EXASPERATED count?” I thought. I lost it about ten times that day.

In casual conversation, I have been mentioning my resolution with other moms. They usually think I’m joking. “Good luck with that,” they say.

One of my Facebook friends,Br. Cassian Sama, commented:
"Don't worry my friend! Struggling with impatience is God's way of telling you that he wants to bless you in that virtue. If you don't give up and continue to strive for it, then you can easily attain the rest of the virtues that will make you the holy wife, mother, and woman God has destined you to be. For Patience is the engine and force that gives life to all virtues."

Today I received a rejection letter for my book proposal. It was a “good” letter because it said some nice things about the merits of my book – but it still is kind of like winning the silver medal in the Olympic hockey game. Close, but no cigar. This scripture speaks to me on my handling of both “aggravation” and disappointment.

Chapter 5
1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
2 through whom we have gained access (by faith) to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God.
3 Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance,
4 and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope,
5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

17 Again: A Movie Review

[Spoiler alert.]

In "17 Again", Zac Efron plays Mike O’Donnell, the once-college-bound athlete with promises of a “free ride” scholarship, who later thinks that he threw it all away to marry his pregnant girlfriend Scarlett. At the age of 17 his girlfriend tells him of her pregnancy right before the biggest game of his life. With the scouts watching and his girlfriend walking away, he walks off the court to chase after her and ask her to marry him.

Flash forward to middle-age, wherein Mike (now played by Michael Perry) has a nowhere job and does nothing but complain about his family life. His wife (Scarlett, played by Leslie Mann) throws him out and he is forced to move in with his wealthy software genius nerd and best friend Ned Freedman (Thomas Lennon). He walks to the high school to reminisce. There a mysterious janitor apparently casts a spell on him and he meets with an accident that transforms himself into his 17-year-old self. He is still, however, in his own time.

After he convinces Ned that he is himself, Ned enrolls him in the high school, thinking he is meant to live out the basketball-college-star-dream he was once on track for. However, Mike soon realizes that his true path is to help his own children, who are also presently enrolled in the same school. His daughter is dating a boy who is pressuring her to have sex, and his son is a talented basketball player who just needs a confidence boost to get himself on the team and make some friends. Mike is able to befriend his children in a way he would not have been able to in the state of their previous father-child relationship.

Meanwhile, Scarlett is starting to date, while forced to remember the good old days because of the haunting presence of this young man who looks exactly like her husband did when he was 17. Things escalate to the point of divorce proceedings before all is made right. The kids’ problems are solved, Scarlett and Mike fall back in love, and Mike is transformed back into his normal aged body – with no regrets.

This movie is a great conversation-starter for parents and kids. The messages are pro-life, pro-abstinence, and pro-marriage. I recommend this film for teens; and for pre-teens with parental guidance. It can also be used as part of an abstinence program in any youth program.

Presently playing on HBO.

How to build a raised garden bed

Yesterday I was so excited to pass by the baseball fields and see green grass. Today the snow is falling again! As much as we have enjoyed the snow this winter, we are all looking forward to getting out and playing some ball - and gardening. Those of you who have been following my blog for a while have already read about my raised garden beds that I built with my children last March. We were really pleased with the crops we produced. I have written up my step-by-step instructions on my Examiner column. This is a fun, easy, and inexpensive project that reaps great rewards. You can read my article here