"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
A blessed Christmas to you and your family! Christ the Savior is born!
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, as she liked to be called, 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 by the fireplace 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?
The fireplace at Les Buissonets, Therese's childhood home in Lisieux, where Therese had her conversion
"It would need a miracle to make me grow up once and for all, and God worked this little miracle on the date that I shall never forget: December 25, 1886"—St. Therese
Oh, it's silly, I know, but these pretty rose-colored cookies are so little and sweet that they just reminded me of the Little Flower! So instead of their real name, Cherry Tea Cakes (from Betty Crocker), I renamed them "Little Flower Cookies." And they taste heavenly, so it is fitting, isn't it? So perfect for Christmas!
Here is the recipe:
Little Flower Cookies Recipe makes 5 dozen if you roll them small enough. Count on less if you tend to roll your cookies bigger.
1 cup powdered sugar 1 cup butter or margarine, softened 2 teaspoons maraschino cherry liquid 1/2 teaspoon almond extract 3 or 4 drops red food color 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup drained maraschino cherries, chopped 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. In large bowl, beat powdered sugar, butter, cherry liquid, almond extract, and food color with electric mixer on medium speed until blended. On low speed, beat in flour and salt. Stir in cherries.
2. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Be careful not to make them too big. On ungreased cookie sheets, place balls 2 inches apart. I just bought a Silpat and I love it!
3. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Cool about 30 minutes.
4. In one-quart resealable freezer plastic bag, place baking chips; seal bag. Microwave on high 35 to 50 seconds, squeezing chips in bag every 15 seconds, until chips are melted and smooth. Cut small tip from bottom corner of bag; drizzle melted chips over cookies.
The crowds asked John the Baptist, ‘”What should we do?’” He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise."
Luke 3: 10, 11
Zara, Adelina, Grace, Joelle, and Paul at this year's charity drive
This past Sunday, in the gray, misty cold of December, my son and I were privileged to attend a hot chocolate stand. That would have been fun and festive enough at this time of year, but this was no ordinary hot chocolate stand. It was nine-year-old Grace’s second year running a charity drive at the end of her driveway for a local faith-based homeless shelter, Grace Centers of Hope. On any given night, this shelter, which receives no government dollars, will accommodate between 150-200 men, women, and children who have nowhere else to go.
We were happy to participate in Grace’s beautiful mission. The thought of a nine-year-old girl with such a loving heart moved me. A little girl who would stand out in the cold for two hours raising money and donations for those who have nothing must have a very big heart, and she does!
As we pulled up to her house, Grace greeted us with a hearty smile—and the cutest hot-chocolate mustache you ever saw. Some kind friends of hers were seated with her, helping collect donations and scooping mini Christmas-tree marshmallows into Styrofoam cups of creamy hot chocolate. Next to the table were many boxes of donations that had already been given.
Handmade signs invited passers-by to stop. My son and I placed our donation with the others and sipped hot chocolate. It felt so warm on such a cold, damp day.
“How wonderful of you to do this,” I said to Grace, who also happens to be my son’s classmate and friend. She humbly grinned a chocolately smile back and adjusted her earmuffs. I greeted her friends, telling them how nice it was of them to sit outside in the cold to keep Grace company.
Just then, a car drove up. An excited man got out, smiling from ear to ear.
“I don’t believe it! A hot chocolate stand? How cool is that?”
Grace giggled. “It’s for charity,” she said. “For the Grace Centers of Hope.”
“Well, I’ve heard of lemonade stands before, but this is really fun!” he exclaimed, as he opened up his wallet and donated generously into a green plastic Christmas bucket with a slit on top. “What a great thing you are doing!” The man was still laughing, smiling, and shaking his head as he got into his car and drove away with his cup of hot chocolate. I think Grace made his day!
I asked Grace’s mom how this heartfelt idea began.
“Last year, right before Thanksgiving, Grace told me she had an idea. She wanted to give out hot chocolate in a stand like a lemonade stand. I assumed she was coming up with another scheme to make money, so I told her no," her mom said. "But Grace was persistent. She explained that she wanted to help the poor. She wanted to give them money and things that they needed but she said she was only 8 years old and did not know how to do it. So she figured if she gave people free hot chocolate, they could give something for the poor and that way she could help them.”
Her parents were floored, since they had never discussed the idea before.
“I asked her what made her come up with this idea and she said she had been thinking about it for a long time and it just came to her. She also said that people want to help more at Christmas time so she thought it would be a good idea to do it near Christmas. She loves hot chocolate, so she was sure that everyone else would want to help the poor for some free hot chocolate. If you could have seen her little face telling this to me, you would have known that it was the Lord speaking through her,” she said.
So Grace made a flyer and decorated it, passing one out to every mailbox in their subdivision. She also gave it out to her classmates at school.
The day finally came, bringing with it snow, freezing cold, and icy, slick roads. Her mother told Grace not to be disappointed if no one came, since the weather was so frightful.
Grace looked at her mother and said, “Mom, you just have to believe.”
“Sure enough, at twelve noon, the cars started sliding up the hill. I thought it was a miracle,” her mom said.
She decided to do it again this year, and it was another successful charity drive at Grace’s house. Her mother told me that this year she ended up with 59 bags of donations and $202.41 to help the poor.
Grace and her friends spread Christmas joy to everyone on Sunday: both to the givers and to the receivers. By giving away one of her favorite things, hot chocolate, she was able to help give a merry Christmas to the cold and hungry of our community.
Last year, Grace wrote thank-you notes to those who came:
Thank you for your donation to Grace Centers of Hope. Together we collected $231 and about 52 bags of stuff! When I got a tour of Grace Centers of Hope everybody there gave me a thank you. I’m glad all of you helped the poor. Thank you for being so generous.
Jacob, Julianne, Mady, and Grace
“As a family, we would never have taken on this initiative, without her idea, ambition and hard work,” her mom said. “Even very small children can make a very big difference. Many families will have a happier Christmas because of Grace.”
As we said our goodbyes, I couldn’t help but think of the Gospel reading we had heard in church a couple hours earlier. As John the Baptist tells us, even in these difficult times, we can still share what we have with those who don’t have enough. There is no better way to welcome the Baby Jesus, our Savior, than helping others with what God has blessed us with and sharing our joy.
My son and I left Grace’s charity hot chocolate stand filled with joy; not only to have helped our neighbors in need, but also because a little girl brought us the true meaning of Christmas on a dreary, cold day in December—right at the end of her driveway.
Grace's charity drive in December, 2008
"Remember that nothing is small in the eyes of God. Do all that you do with love."—St. Therese of Lisieux
Dear readers: Yesterday in church, my youngest son whispered happily to me, "I like it when we light the pink candle!" When I asked him why, he just beamed a smile back at me, his face lit up with the inside joy he felt at that moment of the Advent season. I had to smile myself because his comment and happiness radiated back at me. Do you see how we can share our joy with everyone? Happiness is not something we are to keep to ourselves. It is meant to be shared with everyone. The readings for this week tell us to be happy and rejoice. Yes, even when things are not going our way. Yes, even when we don't feel like it. Why? Because God is coming. Jesus' birth draws near, ready to renew us in His love.
"The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; He will rejoice over you with gladness and renew you in His love. He will sing joyfully because of you..." from the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah
How can you share your happiness with others this week?
Many people know that St. Therese is the patron saint of missionaries, but did you know that she is also the patron saint of aviators? I found this to be fascinating:
In the early 1900s, Therese's autobiography, The Story of a Soul, developed widespread fame in Europe and eventually around the world. This time period is called the "storm of glory" because it was during this time that people asking her for favors from Heaven reported her intercession. World War I was starting at this time and soldiers on both sides and of various nationalities reported seeing visions of a young nun comforting wounded men during battle. At this time, Therese had not yet been canonized. Because of these visions, many soldiers started to carry pictures of Therese with them into battle, especially French pilots, who favored her. One even painted a picture of her on his wing!
I'm a few days late here, but didn't want to miss the opportunity to talk about this, the second week of Advent. We now light two candles in our preparation for the birth of Jesus. Sunday's Gospel talks about John the Baptist, who was simple and humble. Isn't it great how God often chooses those who are little to do great things? Look at St. Therese, for example. Such a little, humble person who loved God greatly and did such powerful things. During Advent, we can do little acts of love like St. Therese did, as we prepare our own hearts for Jesus to come.
Dear readers: I realize I haven't posted a yummy recipe for a long time! I've been craving red velvet cake for a while now, and finally decided that, when my local bakery did not carry it in cupcake (or any other) form, I'd have to make them myself. Not such a hardship, since I love spending time in the kitchen! Red velvet cake is an interesting mix of tanginess and mild chocolate flavor, with a red cake batter. If I had some red sugar sprinkles, it would have been nice to dust the frosted tops with it.
I was very impressed with the McCormick version, which had perfect texture and just enough chocolate flavor. I found that the recipe made way too much batter for two cupcake pans, so maybe if you have a smaller pan to add the extra batter to, that might not be a bad idea. I filled the cupcake liners more than two-thirds full, which resulted in nice, rounded tops. Enjoy!
Red Velvet Cupcakes from McCormick
Makes 30 (mine made more) Prep Time: 20 minutes Cook Time: 25 minutes
2 1/2 cups flour 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened 2 cups sugar 4 eggs 1 cup sour cream 1/2 cup milk 1 bottle (1 ounce) red food color 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. Set aside.
2. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix in sour cream, milk, food color and vanilla. Gradually beat in flour mixture on low speed until just blended. Do not overbeat. Spoon batter into 30 paper-lined muffin cups, filling each cup more than 2/3 full.
3. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into cupcake comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire rack 5 minutes. Remove from pans; cool completely. Frost with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting.
Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting:
Beat one package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened, 1 stick butter, softened, 2 tablespoons sour cream and 2 teaspoons vanilla in large bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in one box (16 ounces) confectioner's sugar until smooth.
Nutritional Information: Do you really want to know? ;-)
Dear God, help us to remain hopeful and to trust in you no matter the trials and troubles life brings. This first week of Advent, help us to remember that we are Your people and that You are our God. Help us get our priorities straight and put the most important things first—loving God and loving our neighbor.
Holy Spirit, guide the choices we make throughout this week so that we choose to do what honors our Creator and what shows our love of others.
Father in Heaven, we offer thanks to You for the many gifts and talents You have given to all the people on the earth, to our family and friends, to the neighbors we know and the neighbors we have yet to befriend.
Come, Lord Jesus. Come into our hearts, so that when the time comes, we will be prepared to join You in everlasting joy.
Thank You, God, for all the wonderful blessings, For our daily meals, for clean drinking water, For sunlight and for the cool breeze. I'm thankful for my family, my husband, my friends, and my health. I'm thankful for my friends, to love and be loved and for freedom. I'm thankful to be employed; I'm thankful to be alive and praise you for all these wonders. I'm thankful that You have been so gracious To give Your only Son to us Who gave His life and bore the unbearable For us sinners. On this Thanksgiving Day, I take the opportunity to give thanks for countless other things You provide us with on a daily basis. Amen.
"Prayer is a cry of gratitude and love, in the midst of trial as well as in joy."—St. Therese
Nothing like a steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup when you're feeling sick and lethargic. Unfortunately, even that wasn't a comfort to me this past week: my son and I both came down with strep throat. With a throat that's on fire, it's hard to swallow anything, especially something hot. One of my only comforts this week? Cold Edy's peppermint ice cream! Yum!
Now that we are feeling better, thanks to antibiotics, I have to buy some more!
We all hate being sick, especially with something that forces us to stay in bed, feverish and achy. We tend to lie there and feel sorry for ourselves, which I suppose isn't such a terrible thing...as long as it's short lived! I pampered myself with my favorite ice cream and a beloved movie (Little Women), and it did feel somewhat luxurious doing that in the middle of the day when there was work to be done.
My friend Michele has illness in her home this week as well, and she told me via e-mail that maybe this is God's way of slowing us down a bit so we can rest and reflect. My head hurt so badly that I could barely move it, but in my feverish haze I could see her point. (Yes, I dragged myself downstairs to check my e-mail! LOL). I had been running myself down the week prior. Lying in bed gives you time to pray and think, and be still in the moment.
To take my mind off my throat pain, I picked up one of my St. Therese books. Reading about her painful battle with tuberculosis was an eye opener. Her struggles at the end of her life as she tried to stay good natured while in severe pain made my strep throat seem like something so insignificant! What shocked me the most was how, toward the beginning of her illness, she quietly kept up with the rigorous duties of every other Carmelite in the convent: rising at the crack of dawn, fasting, manual labor, structured prayers, choir, and working in the kitchen and laundry. She also woke up many times during the cold winter nights because she was so cold and the rooms had no fire. ( Hmmm...maybe I shouldn't be complaining when the house feels a bit chilly). She never complained, trying to blend in with the rest of her sisters. It must have been very painful for her to do so.
Nobody enjoys suffering, to be sure, but Therese looked at suffering as a pathway to God, and she embraced it willingly, because she yearned to be a great saint. "Sanctity," she declared, "consists in suffering."
We may not all become great saints, but we can model Therese by not complaining when things aren't going our way or we feel under the weather. Not easy to do, is it?
I receive so many questions and requests about Saint Olivia—in fact, they come in every day— that I thought I'd give you a little history and background about this fascinating saint. (I think some may be confused because the titles of my books are Olivia and the Little Wayandits pro-life sequelOlivia's Gift, so they think perhaps the books are about her! That may be an idea for one of my future books, but of course my fiction books are about a fifth-grader named Olivia who develops a loving devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower.)
I do feel a special connection to St. Olivia, since she hailed from Palermo, Sicily, and I am of Sicilian descent. Not a whole lot is known about this beautiful young woman from the 9th century, but here is what tradition tells us: When Olivia was thirteen years old, Muslims kidnapped her from her noble Sicilian family and took her to Tunis in Africa, where they made her a slave. But her abductors were so impressed by her virtue and beauty that they allowed her to live in a cave by herself. Local sick people came to her for miracle cures, which converted many Muslims to Christianity. Because of these successful conversions, Olivia was imprisoned and tortured. She was sentenced to be burned to death, but the flames would not touch her! So the Muslims beheaded her, finally killing her.
Saint Olivia is the patron saint of music, and some say it is because she liked to sing and write songs. Her feast day is June 10.
Did you know that in Latin, the name Olivia means "an olive tree or branch"? The name Olivia is a symbol of peace, fruitfulness, dignity, and beauty. Sounds just like Saint Olivia to me.
"Jesus, help me to simplify my life by learning what you want me to be—and becoming that person." —St. Therese
Please excuse my rant today!
Another Halloween is over, the Feast of All Saints has been celebrated, and the calendar has changed to November. It won't be long before the big holiday rush is here—the birth of our Savior lost in the excess and frenzy which is now Christmas. Such a joyful time of year, yet for the past couple of years I questioned why I wasn't looking forward to it with the anticipation I used to, and then it hit me: Such a no-frills birth in a stable, with humility and simplicity. Contrast that with the gluttonous way we celebrate His birth, through not just tables groaning with food that might never even be eaten, but commercial excess: presents, decorations, music. For presents: excessive gift cards in an envelope and piles of presents under the tree; for decorations: miles of lights enough to light a house to another galaxy and plastic items imported from China; for music, well, just turn on the easy-listening station the day after Halloween and you'll hear the foot-tapping beat of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" as you put your jack-o-lantern in the compost pile. What Christmas tree? I see no Christmas tree here...oh yes, the department store at the mall has plenty, all decked out for a couple of weeks now.
As Americans, we love to celebrate, and that is a good thing. One of the many pleasures of life is celebrating important events with family and friends, is it not? But why has everything in our country, not just Christmas, gotten so excessive? Want to show your appreciation to your team's soccer coach? Let's all chip in for a $100 gift card to the Olive Garden. Want to celebrate Halloween at school? A costume party with a few treats is not enough: We have to have goody bags bulging with candy from every child in the class, pizza, and organized games. It's Valentine's Day? Simple cards passed out in school aren't enough: we need goody bags with those too, filled with candy and stickers, and fancy crafts. One lady from another community told me that some of the other room moms signed her up to go to the craft store to buy supplies for a class party. "But absolutely NO foam," one had said. "And NO picture frames, and NO...," the other said...the list went on and on. Why my frustration? Because it's too much. It's all too much.
I know my opinion is shared by many. Why else do we see magazines, refrigerated cookie dough, and orange juice with the word "Simple" in their labels? Deep down, we are all longing to simplify our lives, especially at this time of year. It is such a shame to have the simplicity of Christmas—and everyday life—stripped away from us.
Remember that episode of Little House on the Prairie where Laura and Mary each got an orange in their stockings?
And they were thrilled.
You would have thought they had just gotten the new Beatles Rock Band for their Wii—except they never had anything but homespun toys. You know why they were so excited? Because it was Christmas, and that alone was enough to excite them. Jesus had been born, and there were simple decorations and festive cheer, and religious songs to sing while Pa played his fiddle around the fire. No slapstick "Christmas movie" DVDs, no scantily clad Rockettes on the stage, no "Happy Holidays" greetings by strangers. An orange in the middle of winter in Minnesota was a true treat. Huge semi trucks were not exactly hauling produce up the interstates with exotic fruit like they are now from every corner of the globe. A piece of citrus fruit was a rare thing to have. They were thrilled.
Sure, I know we're a long way from Christmas on the prairie, but it does bring about the question: What happened? Why do we have to have such excess in our lives? And how do we take a stand? Do we even want to?
A friend of mine shared an interesting story. She has three teenaged boys and there is not one single electronic game or toy in their home. No X-Box, no handheld Nintendo DS, no internet even. Would you say these boys are happy kids? If your answer is "No," you would be dead wrong. They are some of the most happy, polite, well -adjusted kids I've ever met. When the mom went to parent-teacher conferences recently, she sat down at the teacher's desk and the teacher looked at her seriously for a moment before stating, "Mrs. S., I want to know why your sons are the only non-distracted students in my class that can sit still and concentrate when the others can't. What is your secret?"
My friend was a bit startled by this teacher's question. But she knew the answer. She told him, "We have no electronic toys or games in the house. In the absence of these items, my kids read, use their imaginations, play a game of basketball, write stories, invent their own games." She said that what started out as a purely financial decision on her family's part turned into a deliberate choice they have made. They took a stand.
Another mom, sick and tired of buckling under society's pressure to provide excessive treats every time her children lost a tooth, was the only household (or so her kids told her) that left a single dollar bill under the pillow when other children they knew were receiving video games (!!) and DVDs.
One mother told her, "I have to run to the store; Sam lost a tooth."
"Why do you have to run to the store?" the first mom questioned, confused. "Don't you just leave some simple change?"
"Oh no," the second mother said emphatically. "Sam doesn't like getting money. He'd rather have toys."
"Toys? For a tooth?"
"Oh yes! One time we left a five-dollar bill under his pillow and he was not happy at all when he woke up and found it there. He wanted a CD or something," the mom laughed.
The first mom was dumbfounded to hear this. Such excess in our society! No wonder we don't enjoy anything anymore. A five-dollar bill? Who wouldn't want a five-dollar bill? A child who is used to receiving $20 gifts under his pillow, that's who. But the first mom took a stand. It was a dollar bill from the tooth fairy that visited their home, and her children were grateful. She took a stand.
Then there is the story of the team mom who arranged various things for the baseball team: team pictures, practice e-mails, etc. When the season wrapped up, all of the parents braced themselves for the expected e-mail demanding $20 apiece to pitch in for coaches' gifts. Many parents had been laid off from their jobs, money was tight, and there was not much left over for extras. Just paying the fee to play the sport in the first place was a stretch for some. They wanted to show their appreciation for the wonderful coaches' hard work, but the Great Recession had hit and dealt a blow to many families; keep in mind that this in the Detroit area, where so many people work in the auto industry, which is taking a brutal beating. The team mom sent out an e-mail to all the parents saying that, in consideration for the financial hardships we were all facing, we would not be collecting money for coaches' gifts this time around, and would instead have an ice cream sundae party after our last game at the park. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, but still wondered how the coaches would feel about this. Would they be offended or feel slighted? We wanted to let them know how much we appreciated them, but how would they take it?
"I'm sorry we couldn't do more," the team mom said to the head coach, glancing at the plate of brownies she'd baked for him to take home as a gesture of her appreciation.
The coach stopped eating his ice cream and looked at her.
"Please don't say another word," he said emphatically. "This is absolutely perfect. These are terrible times right now and this ice-cream party is great. I have really enjoyed being the head coach for these guys."
Such graciousness and understanding from this coach. Such class. The coaches didn't mind at all. They were just happy that the team had won a few games, had fun, and had grown in their skills and sportsmanship. This mom took a stand.
Another family decided to have a birthday party for their nine-year-old son, but felt conflicted about it. They wanted to celebrate his special day, but also felt that the gifts at these classmate parties were getting out of hand. Children regularly show up with $25 gift cards tucked into gift bags with toys already in them. What is happening, she wondered. How did these birthday parties get so out of control?And what can we do about it?
Nowadays a party at home with simple games and cake and ice cream is looked down upon. You have to have a karate lesson at a dojo, climb an indoor wall, or build your own $30 stuffed animal to take home. This boy's parents decided to forgo all presents for the boy's party, but asked him first about it.
"So many people are needy right now. Would you like to do something for poor children?" they asked him. "How about if we asked each party guest to provide some of their gently used toys for us to donate to a local children's charity instead of bringing you gifts?"
The boy thought about it for a couple of days. Of course, it wasn't his first choice, being only nine years old! The parents let him ponder this, telling themselves it would be his decision; they weren't going to force the idea upon him.
"I was so happy," the mom recalls. "He came to me and said helping these poor children was something he really wanted to do. I was so excited that it was his decision. He feels so good about what he's doing."
We received a nice thank-you note from the child a week or so later, thanking our son for helping needy kids. This family took a stand.
A dear friend of mine, facing a Christmas with a very tight budget, was concerned about gift-giving in her husband's large family. Despite her pleas to perhaps draw names to lessen the financial burden, the family members refused.
"It's so fun to give gifts," one remarked. "It's Christmas! I love buying things for other people."
My friend felt terrible. It certainly wasn't that she didn't want to buy them gifts too; she simply couldn't. This relative's comments had made her feel cheap and Scrooge-like. Then she changed her mind, realizing the relative was simply in a better financial position than herself, and was not trying to be hurtful. She knew that it wasn't a lack of Christmas spirit that prevented her from purchasing over twenty gifts for her in-laws; it was a simple lack of funds! Two very different things!
So she got some festive cardstock paper and designed IOUs for each family member. For a new mother, it was an evening of babysitting. For a bachelor, it was providing a home-cooked meal. For a child, it was a day at the park with her and a trip to the ice-cream parlor.
When, tongue-in-cheek, I asked her why she didn't simply "put it on the credit card" like society would advise us all to do, she shook her head. "I can't justify putting myself into credit-card debt to show people how much I care about them. There are other ways." Her relatives loved her gifts, and she loved spending time with them that she normally wouldn't have done otherwise if she had given them a trinket in a box. This lady took a stand.
You know who else took a stand, in her own humble way? The Little Flower, of course! St. Therese's greatest gift to us is her simple example of simple love for God, something anyone can do. A very Little Way of doing for others and showing God how much you love Him. A very simple path to God through holiness that is not great deeds or showy actions: actions not of excess, but of simple love and littleness. “You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love at which we do them,” she once wrote.
I am going to take a stand; a stand against the excess of our society. I have to admit that I am guilty of it too. It will take creativity and patience, understanding, and compassion. It won't be easy, and there will be times I'll be tempted to give up. But when I do, I will think of the people above who tried and succeeded. I know we can all make a difference. We may not get back to the time when an orange in a stocking was a rare treat, but perhaps we can stop the madness from growing. Will you join me?
"Our Lord needs from us neither great deeds nor profound thoughts. Neither intelligence nor talents. He cherishes simplicity." —St. Therese
Dear readers: What does the word "honor" mean? In the Ten Commandments, we are told to honor our mother and father. People talk about the honorsystem and feeling honored to receive an award. When we address a judge, we call him or her "Your Honor." Those who don't win a big prize receive an honorable mention. Whether the term is used to meanaprivilege, a title of respect, or esteem, it is a term that we do not (or should not) take lightly.
When my family and I were in northern Michigan last weekend, we took a scenic drive through the country roads, enjoying the fall colors. We marveled at the beauty God brings us every autumn, and nowhere is it more apparent than "up north", as we Michiganders like to say. We happened upon a farm which was quiet and peaceful. The farmer had parked several trailers filled to the brim with pumpkins and gourds. A large, hand-painted sign said "Pumpkins!" We happily turned the minivan around to investigate. It would be fun to buy our Halloween pumpkins up north, a souvenir of sorts from our mini vacation. When we pulled in, it soon became apparent that no one was there. A quick scan of the area confirmed that we were the only people around. It was quite peaceful. I got out my camera and took a picture of the colorful trees nearby, below:
"Well," I said helplessly to my family, "Looks like the farmer isn't here."
"How are we going to pay for the pumpkins?" asked my youngest son.
I glanced around, wondering the same thing and thinking we'd have to leave, when my eyes fell on a sign that read, "PLEASE PAY ON THE HONOR SYSTEM. ALL PRICES ARE MARKED. I TRUST YOU. THANK YOU."
Sure enough, each trailer had a sign clearly indicating how much the pumpkins were. The gourds and smallest ones were 25 cents, the medium ones were $2, and the large ones were $3. Below the farmer's sign was a red metal box with a slit for depositing bills and coins. It was secured with a padlock.
"Well," my husband said, "There you go. Let's choose some pumpkins."
We happily went from trailer to trailer, choosing our favorite pumpkins and gourds.
When we were finished, my older son did the mental math and added up our purchases. I rummaged through my wallet, finding the change we needed and deposited our total into the metal box. As my money fell, I heard it hitting other change from prior customers who had used the honor system.
"I wonder where the farmer is?" my youngest son asked.
"He might live across the road," I said, motioning to the nearest little house I could see. "Anyway, it's too chilly for him to sit outside all day and wait for people to come, so he set up here using the honor system."
As we drove away, we talked about the honor system and how important it is. We talked about teachers in school who trust their students to use the honor system by not cheating on their homework and tests.
We talked about how great it is when people who don't even know each other can trust each other to do the right thing, and how, if we were in the farmer's shoes, how frustrating and disappointing it would be if someone cheated you. The farmer's message stuck in my head: "I TRUST YOU." The farmer trusts that people are not going to steal his pumpkins, driving off without paying. And he trusts that they are going to pay the amount they owe, and not a couple dollars less, just because no one is around to see.
But God sees.
We noticed another family turning their minivan around to buy pumpkins, too. We waved at each other and drove away, happy that the farmer was selling the pumpkins we needed, and happy to do the right thing, to honor him...and God.
When I first saw the poster, above, I was intrigued about its message and its history. The message seems especially poignant in today's society, a world filled with fear and anxiety about the recession, the H1N1 virus (Swine Flu), the attacks on life at all stages, violence...the list could go on and on.
I decided to do a little research on it, and I found that over two million of these posters were made in 1939 in Great Britain, and were meant to be introduced as a calming influence if the Nazis ever invaded England in World War II. They were never posted because the English were able to hold them off, particularly during the Battle of Britain in 1940. Of course, by 1942, America was involved and the Russians also kept Germany busy on the east, so the British Isles were preserved from an invasion.
Nobody knows who designed the poster, but it was discovered in 2000 in a secondhand bookshop. It has become quite popular, bringing about a following of fans who wear the image on t-shirts, carry it on bags, and drink with it on their coffee mugs. It seems to stiffen resolve with people who are dealing with the many fears and anxieties of the modern world today.
The image really captured my attention. Think of the important message it tried to convey in a very somber time in world history.
Of course, we should all keep calm during the trials of today, and carry on with our daily lives, putting one step in front of the other with resolve. But I knew something was missing from the poster, something we should never forget to do during times of trouble: pray. So I designed the poster below, to remind us all that God will never leave us, and to always trust in Him. The great St. Padre Pio said it all:
It's my first anniversary as an author, and I couldn't be happier! I can't believe that it was one year ago today that Olivia and the Little Way was published. So many blessings have come my way because of it. I want to say a giant THANK YOU to everyone who has helped move this book along to three printings— from spreading the word to bookstores, family, and friends, and to those who interviewed me on TV and radio, wrote reviews, welcomed me into their schools, parishes and events, and especially the kids who stop me to tell me how much they've learned from Olivia's journey with St. Therese.
Thanks also to my wonderful family and friends for supporting me!
I would like to also thank the judges at the Catholic Press Association who took a chance on a new author and illustrator (AWESOME illustrator Sandra Casali LewAllen!) and awarded their book with a 2009 Catholic Press Association book award. I feel so honored that Olivia and the Little Way is included among so many spiritual works.
I would also like to thank Ignatius Press, who helps me distribute my book to Catholic stores around the world.
Wow---to think that Olivia is circling the globe! A year ago on this day, I wouldn't have been able to wrap my mind around that! I think that Olivia should have a passport, don't you? LOL!
And to think that Olivia's sequel is coming out next year. God is amazing, isn't He?
And St. Therese, I couldn't have done all of this without you! Vous etes l'esprit de mon ame, une amie de mon coeur. Je vous remercie pour avoir cru en moi.Je vous aime beaucoup!
Dear readers: In November, you and your families will have something new to upload onto your MP3 players: Alma Mater—Music from the Vatican, from Geffen UK.
Scheduled to be released on November 29, this new music album in honor of Our Lady from Pope Benedict XVI will feature His Holiness singing litanies and chants. He will also recite passages and prayers in five languages: Latin, Italian, Portuguese, French, and German. The Pope's recordings were from his Masses, prayers, and speeches he made on trips abroad. It's the first time Pope Benedict will be heard on an album, and this spiritually uplifting collection of music would make a wonderful Christmas present.
But did you know that he isn't the first Pope to release an album? Pope John Paul II released two successful albums, one in 1982 and one in 1994.
Also on the album: one song by the Pope and eight beautiful tracks of modern classical music (with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra). He will be backed up vocally by The Choir of the Philharmonic Academy of Rome.
His Holiness has loved classical music all his life, especially Mozart. The album is a response to the Pope's concern that the Church needs to recover the sacred place that music has in Mass. We have such a need for music that inspires people and glorifies God. He is said to have a beautiful singing voice, very soothing.
"The Pope has almost a lullaby tone to the way he sings," said Colin Barlow, president of Geffen UK, who said that the Pope is extremely pleased with the album so far.
Pope Benedict XVI brings together the talents of both Christians and non-Christian composers (Simon Bosewell from Britain, Stefano Mainetti of Italy, and Nour Eddine of Morocco), representing unity in mankind.
Alma Mater is Latin for "Nourishing Mother." How fitting, since a portion of the sale proceeds will go to charity to help provide musical education to poor children around the world!
"Today, if you hear His Voice, do not harden your hearts..." Hebrews 3:15
Have you ever heard God talking to you? He does, you know, and He longs for you to listen. Sometimes, we're so preoccupied with going here, doing that, that we don't hear it. Others hear Him, but ignore what they hear. But how can you listen, and really hear the Holy Spirit for yourself?
You must be silent.
This doesn't just mean taking the earbuds out of your ears or turning off the TV or computer. Getting rid of all external noise is a start, of course, and very necessary. But to really listen for God, you must also still your mind. Think about God, and think about how much He loves you and wants to talk to you. Be really, truly silent—with your ears and your heart.
St. Therese was good at this. She knew the importance of quieting the mind and listening for His Voice. Sometimes we are so busy talking to ourselves or hearing unimportant chatter of the day from electronics or people around us that we aren't letting God get a word in edgewise.
Sometimes, though, God speaks to you when you least expect it, and aren't even prepared for it. This happens a lot to me!
I love going to book signings and meeting readers. They tell me their stories about St. Therese, their grandchildren, their parents, their teachers, their children. I've been told I have a friendly face, and I like to think that I am approachable. It must be true because people tell me, a person they have just met, their personal stories all of the time! I love to listen. They love to tell. There's something about St. Therese that brings out so much love in so many people. Some of them have much emotion when they talk about her, and some start to cry.
At one particular book signing this past spring at a church, I sat and chatted with parishioners about my book and St. Therese. The day was very long, and, being human, I started to get hungry and tired. Anyone who knows me knows that when I get hungry, I can get a little...crabby. Usually all it takes is a handful of cookies or crackers and I'm back to my old self. At this book signing, I was starting to feel the effects of a long day. I stood up and straightened up the books and St. Therese chaplets on the table, then started to rummage through my purse for a quick snack. While I was doing this, a very old woman came up to the table. Elderly and frail, she stopped and looked at me.
"I do love St. Therese," she said, her eyes red and brimming with tears.
I sat down, smiled warmly and asked her to share her story.
She began a halting explanation of how St. Therese had touched her life in many ways. As she spoke, I couldn't help but notice that the frail woman had not bathed in a long time. While she was talking to me, a parishioner came up beside her and offered to treat her to a copy of Olivia and the Little Way. She was delighted to accept, and was very grateful.
I signed a book for her and watched her hobble away. I felt very saddened because I knew she was poor, but I felt very happy too that she had a loving friend in the parish. She lingered by the church and stared inside while I watched her quietly, feeling something in my heart I could not explain.
It was in that instant that I heard His Voice.
"Give her a chaplet."
The Voice was as clear as day. I glanced at the table, which held books and chaplets with pink rose beads.
"Give her a chaplet," the Voice said again, very insistent.
I reached over and collected a chaplet and the instruction card that I make to go with it. I approached the lady and held both of them out to her.
"These are for you," I said and smiled.
The look on this lady's face was sheer joy as I placed the items in her wrinkled hands.
"Oh, thank you! Thank you!" she cried.
"Thank you for coming to talk to me," I said. Then I thought to myself, You've given me so much more than what I have given you.
When I started to write Olivia and the Little Way, I had many doubts. But God and St. Therese had other ideas! One day I heard God tell me to write it, and because I listened to Him, He made so many wonderful things happen in one year. This Friday will be the one-year anniversary of Olivia and the Little Way, the day God made all of my dreams come true. In one short year, I've had three printings, a Catholic Press Association book award, met hundreds of wonderful, faithful people, and have thousands of readers and fans of my little book. Amazing. And to think it all started with a Voice.
Listen to His Voice. Do what He wants you to do. Be still and hear what He wants to say to you, and you will be amazed, as I was and still am.