"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? ;-)