Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Dear readers:

Many of you have received my book, Olivia and the Little Way, under the tree this morning for Christmas! I know this because I have signed lots of books these past few weeks that say "Merry Christmas"!

Welcome to my blog. I hope you visit often and add your comments to my posts. I am so excited for you to begin reading about Olivia's journey to God through St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower. My hope is that you learn how very much God loves you and how you can love Him back through St. Therese's Little Way. Please let me know what you think of the book; I am eager to hear your thoughts.

Tonight is a good night to get in your jammies and cuddle up with the book, a mug of hot chocolate, and a Christmas cookie. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Present For A Little Baby Boy

"What God has given me has always pleased me, even the things which appear to me less good and less beautiful than those which others had." —St. Therese

Dear readers:
In these waning days of Advent, it is hard to be patient. My own two children told me the other evening that they just can't wait until Christmas comes. The excitement has been building since before Thanksgiving (which distresses me...too early!) and sometimes it seems like Christmas will never come.

But it will come, and it always does. In these last days of Advent, while we wait these final hours, let's continue to use this time to think about how we long for the arrival of Baby Jesus on Christmas Day, how we anticipate him entering our hearts then, and how grateful we will be when he does come.

Dear God: When Christmas Day comes, and we open our presents, let us remember what St. Therese said so long ago (above). Let us be pleased with and grateful for what You have given us in Your generosity. There will many who will receive more than us this Christmas, and so, so many more who will receive much less. Let us remember this as we think of the real reason for this day. It is Jesus' birthday, not ours. Please help us to remember that the very best present we can give this Little Baby Boy is peace to those around us, and our love and gratitude to You. Amen.

I wish you all a blessed Christmas, dear readers. Let us keep this Little Baby Boy in our hearts always!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An Appealing Idea

"We practice charity much better when we are helping a person who is less appealing to us." —St. Therese

Dear readers: This is my absolute favorite photo of St. Therese. I know, I already used this exact same image of her a couple of posts ago, but I couldn't help it; I just love the friendly little smile on her face! She looks very appealing in this photo because of that smile.

What does the adjective appealing mean? It means something that is attractive or interesting. Something you are drawn to because of how it looks.

What did this great saint mean when she wrote that charity (kindness in judging others, the voluntary giving of help) is better when we help those who aren't, say, very attractive to us? This could mean they aren't physically attractive, like if someone less fortunate than us is not bathed and is dirty.

Or it could mean they aren't spiritually attractive. When Therese was still living at home with her father and sisters, she was very sheltered. Her father did not let his daughters read the newspaper, for fear their minds would be corrupted. See? And you thought your parents were strict! But Therese, ever curious, would steal a glance at it every now and then if it was laid out on the table, with only her older sister Celine knowing her secret. And it was in one of those newspapers that young Therese read about a terrible man named Pranzini, who had committed three gruesome acts of murder. He was to be hung for his crime. Therese was fascinated with this news story because Pranzini did not act sorry at all for his crime. Therese was very saddened by this. She wanted him to be sorry for how he had offended God. So guess what she did? In secret, without anyone knowing, she began to pray for Pranzini, and that he would show some sign of remorse. She prayed very hard for this man.

The day finally came for Pranzini to face his punishment at the guillotine. Walking up to the gallows, he still showed no sign of remorse. Then, at the final moment, when the priest in attendance held out a crucifix, something happened. Pranzini leaned down and kissed the crucifix three times! When Therese read this news in the paper the next day, she was simply ecstatic, for this was her proof that her prayers had worked, that prayer could save sinners. She would later write in her autobiography that this was her first "conversion." She decided then and there to pray for the conversion of sinners.

Pranzini was hated throughout France for what he did. How could Therese have prayed for such a terrible human being, who could commit such a heinous act? I am sure that many people wonder this. He certainly wasn't a very appealing person to pray for, was he? But Therese felt charity enter her soul, and refused to believe that he could not be converted, even at the very last second before his death. Remember that Jesus teaches us to pray for our enemies. This does not mean that Therese felt sorry for Pranzini, approved of what he did, or even liked the man. She absolutely hated what he had done. But do you recall the saying, "God doesn't make junk"? If that saying had been around in Therese's day, I bet she would have ascribed to it. Since every person is created by God, she felt that every person deserved to be prayed for, even the most hated person in the country.

It's a little harder to pray for someone like Pranzini, isn't it, than someone we like? Some people might think, "Yuck, why would I want to pray for him? Look what he's done! I'd rather pray for the victims and their families!" That is all well and good, too, of course. But what Therese is trying to say is that it's harder, and thus takes more effort, to pray for someone as unappealing at Pranzini. And that maybe praying for the least-liked among us is very important, because they may have no one else to pray for them. After all, Jesus ate with sinners when no one else would.
Olivia didn't want to do it, but she knew praying for Hayley and Sabrina was the right thing to do, so she did it. She prayed that they would stop their mean ways. It was a lot harder for Olivia to pray for them, who had been very nasty to her and others, than for her to pray for someone she loved, such as her grandmother.

Praying for our enemies doesn't sound appealing at all, but we know it is the right thing to do. After all, a miracle happened when a young girl from Lisieux prayed for a criminal.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Grace At Christmas

"It was December 25, 1886, that I received the grace of leaving my childhood, in a word, the grace of my complete conversion...I felt charity enter into my soul, the need to forget myself and to please others; since then I've been happy!" —St. Therese, who is pictured at right at age thirteen

Dear readers:

When Therese was fourteen years old, something miraculous happened to her during the wee hours of Christmas morning. She had just returned from Midnight Mass with her father and her older sister Celine. In France on Christmas Eve, the tradition holds that children leave their shoes out and their parents put little gifts inside. At fourteen, Therese was a bit old for this, since most children had outgrown the custom by that age. But Therese was babied by her family, being the youngest.

As happy little Therese hurried upstairs to take off her hat in anticipation of searching her shoes, she overheard her tired father say quietly to himself, "Thank goodness that's the last time we shall have this kind of thing!" Therese stopped what she was doing and did not say anything, but Celine knew her little sister's feelings had been hurt and she was fully expecting Therese to burst into tears over what their father had said.

But surprisingly, the tears did not come. She later wrote in her autobiography that, in that moment, Jesus came into her heart and did for her what she could not have done on her own: He had made her think of her father's feelings over her own. So, forcing back tears, she went into the parlor and pretended she hadn't heard a thing, and acted excited over the gifts in her shoes. She would later write that this Christmas was her "conversion." The oversensitive Therese existed no more; she was given by Jesus the miraculous opportunity and grace to think of her father's feelings. She didn't want him to know she had overheard him, because he was such a loving father that he would never have hurt her feelings on purpose. God's grace at that moment gave her the maturity to swallow the hurt and try to please her father.

Remember when Olivia went with her friends to the apple orchard? Her father unintentionally embarrassed her by mentioning, in front of the friends she was trying so hard to impress, that they'd be doing a lot of baking together in the days to come with all of the apples they'd be picking. Olivia said nothing, and she didn't try to act like what her father said was untrue, even though she worried that her new friends wouldn't think it was "cool".

There were many times in the book when Olivia tried to think of others' feelings before her own. Can you think of a time in your life when you did as Therese did, and thought of others' feelings first?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Just An Ordinary Day?

"In my Little Way there are only very ordinary things."—St. Therese

Dear readers:

The Little Way.  

Much has been written about it over the century since Therese has gone to be with God.  Many books have been written, describing the spiritual childhood of this Way of living, of embracing suffering to grow closer to Jesus, of sacrificing one's desires, of praying for sinners. The little Carmelite nun who never really went anywhere, who prayed for missionaries in her cloistered cell, loved our Blessed Mother, and adored flowers and a fun, innocent prank or two was declared a Doctor of the Church for her teachings. And her parents, Louis and Zelie Martin, were recently beatified in Rome, which means they are on their way to sainthood.

All of this fanfare for a simple young woman who only wrote her life's story because her older sister Pauline (and prioress of the convent) asked her to.  Therese was such a good storyteller and Pauline knew the joys and sorrows of Therese's life should be recorded.  (Terribly ill with tuberculosis, Therese penned her story, and when it got too painful to use pen and ink, had to use a  pencil instead.)

Therese said that only ordinary things make up her Little Way. Praying for someone who has hurt us. Not always having the last word.  Holding the door open for someone even when we're in a hurry.  A smile for someone who could use it.  Ordinary things, but very pleasing to God.   We think Therese  is quite extraordinary, but she would never agree to that.  She once said, "I am too weak to climb the rough stairway of perfection."  She thought of Jesus as the elevator that would take her to Heaven.

Olivia tries to follow the "ordinary" Little Way by doing small things with great love.  What can you do in the grind of everyday life to follow it, too?  

What ordinary things can you do to please God? Make today an ordinary day! 


Friday, December 5, 2008

Questions And Answers

"Jesus, I want to tell all little souls of the wonder of your love."
—St. Therese of Lisieux

Dear readers:
Many of you have been asking me how I came up with the idea for Olivia and the Little Way. I thought I would answer some of your questions here.

How did you start to love St. Therese?
I strongly believe that, by the time I felt an attraction to St. Therese, she'd already been praying for me for a while. I felt drawn to see the movie "Therese" when it came out. I left the theater with a strong sense of her presence. I knew at that moment that I had found someone special to me, a spiritual sister. I've always wanted a sister!

How did she help you write this book?
The one thing I've noticed about the Little Flower is that when she wants something done, she makes it happen! She is very powerful. I've always been a writer, but never fiction, mostly newspaper writing. I very shocked when I began to feel nudges from Heaven encouraging me to write a fiction book for children about a girl who tries to make friends in her new school and ends up becoming best friends with a saint. But I knew, deep down, that this was what God wanted me to do, so one day I sat down at the computer and began to type. The next thing I knew, I had one chapter, then two, then three...and before I knew it, I had a book! It took some time and patience and hard work. It didn't happen overnight, but I had a lot of help from St. Therese!

She interceded for me in so many ways as I wrote this book. The whole time I was writing it, I felt her working through my fingers at the keyboard, giving me ideas and direction with the storyline. My illustrator, Sandy Casali LewAllen, felt the exact same way as she sketched. We felt Therese's and God's blessing on the project the entire time.

Why is the Little Flower such a good role model for kids?
Therese believed in being childlike. Her very littleness is something kids can relate to: a little flower at God's feet. St. Therese is very approachable, very sweet and small, yet very tough in many ways, too. Kids are so bombarded with unhealthy messages from the media, and I'm sure you've seen them all: be cool, be pretty, be sassy, disobey your parents, ignore God's laws. These are not healthy messages. Therese is such a good, moral example for kids to follow. She will listen to you and love you and take your concerns to God. My favorite quote of hers, is probably the most beautiful thing ever written, in my opinion: "...You will only have to tell me (them) in a whisper, and I shall hear you, and I shall carry your messages faithfully to the Lord...and I shall be near you, holding your hand." Therese will send you a shower of roses if you ask her.

What do you want preteens to take from Olivia and the Little Way?
I would love for preteens to be entertained by the story of a fifth-grade girl who tries to follow the Little Way, of course, but mostly I would love for them to feel God calling them to a greater love for Him. Therese taught us that God loves us all, even with our many imperfections. God wants kids to talk to Him, to take their worries and concerns, joys and sorrows to Him. And making little sacrifices like Therese did, to show her love of God through her Little Way, is something anybody can do, young or old: A smile for someone you don't want to smile at, a helping hand when you're just not in the mood. These little sacrifices please God very much. It's the effort that counts. Don't worry if you fail; God doesn't expect you to be perfect when you do them. But in my opinion, I think He would love giving an "A" for effort!

St. Therese said that she wants to tell all little souls of the wonder of God's love. Through this book, my prayer is that I do the very same thing! May the Little Way guide you always.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Therese And Her Blue Hat

Dear readers:
The painting above is called "Young Woman in a Blue Hat" by Pierre Bonnard. It was done in 1908. Doesn't the lady look pretty in her blue hat? Guess who else had a blue hat that she simply adored? Yes, our dear St. Therese, when she was a child. In fact, she thought it was quite ravishing!

Therese loved that hat so much that she was worried. As Patrick Ahern wrote in his book, Maurice and Therese, "She wondered how she could love God so deeply and at the same time love that hat so much."

Makes you giggle, doesn't it? It made me smile to read that St. Therese, who was so spiritual and holy even as a young child, had a weakness for material things, just like you or me. But after all, Therese was a normal little girl in many ways. She had a cocker spaniel named Tom who she loved to take on long walks. She played checkers and ate jam sandwiches.

She even had temper tantrums. One time, Therese wanted something on a high shelf and politely asked the maid Victoire to get it for her. When Victoire refused, Therese yelled, "Victoire, you are a brat!" and ran out of the room. Victoire was not pleased, and ran about the house crying that Mademoiselle Therese had just called her a brat!

Have you ever done anything like this? Hmmm....maybe we'd better not go there! But that's okay; I'm sure you were eventually very sorry for it, like Therese was. She used to cry very hard when she had acted badly, and then cried even harder because she was crying in the first place! She was very sensitive as a child.

Therese knew she had flaws. But she also knew that God loved her in spite of them. So even though she worried that she loved her pretty blue hat too much, I believe that deep down, she knew she couldn't possibly love that hat more than God! And I think she knew that God doesn't fault us for liking material things. It's natural and normal to enjoy the things we have, and to be grateful for them. I have things I treasure. Does that mean I treasure them more than I do God, or my family? Of course not. As long as we keep things in perspective, and don't love material things MORE than we do God, it's okay to love the things we have.

And I bet Therese looked quite lovely in her pretty blue hat, don't you?

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