Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Totally Biased Review of CatholicMom.com

Since I'm now a monthly columnist with CatholicMom.com, I can't really write an unbiased review. But this is still an awesome site! It has articles from more than 150 columnists, who write mainly on the topics of faith, family, and fun. Updated content appears frequently, averaging between ten and fifteen articles a day. The site also offers podcasts, videos, and give-away contests.

Lisa Hendey created CatholicMom.com in 1999, and she has also authored three books on Catholic topics. "Lisa Hendey is the sister friend of Catholic motherhood," enthuses Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle, a fellow Catholic author. I can vouch for Lisa's welcoming support and acceptance. She was the first person to befriend me on the social media platform of Google+ (where I now have about 700 Catholic contacts), and CatholicMom.com was the first website to publicize my blog's early milestones.

As for the website's design, CatholicMom.com has a clean lay-out. The articles are accompanied by brilliantly colored photos that pop against the simple white background. At the bottom of the home page, there are purty pictures of all the contributors. (There's even a picture of me, but it's very, very small.)

My favorite feature, because of how helpful it is, has to be the print-outs of children's activities related to Sunday Mass readings throughout the year. There are printable activity booklets, crosswords, word searches, coloring pages, and worksheets. Toddlers will like the coloring pages; teens can answer questions on the worksheets. You can use the print-outs before Mass to prepare your kids, during Mass to focus their attention on the readings, or after Mass to see what they remembered. Golden! Links to "Sunday's Gospel" appear at the upper right-hand corner of the home page, and in case you missed it, in a giant button in the middle of the page, too.

The site's most unique feature might be the daily Tech Talk posts, written by a team of talented technophiles and edited (and sometimes written) by the hilarious Sarah Reinhard. In our online conversations, Sarah Reinhard routinely makes me guffaw. She even throws around terms like dpi and ppi in a nonchalant manner, and promises that one day I really will get all this interwebs techie jingo. Tech Talk posts include reviews of Catholic apps and games, and interviews of cool Catholic techie-types. You can reach the Tech Talk posts by clicking on the link that appears in the middle of the navigation bar at the top of the home page.

In short, this site is totally worth a visit. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Finally Finding Focus: Our ADHD Story

I didn't use to believe in medication for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  Truth be told, I didn't use to believe in ADHD at all. Nobody was ever diagnosed with it when I was a kid back in the 1970s. Now, it seems to be everywhere. "Perhaps as many as two million American kids" now suffer from it, and "on the average, at least one child in every classroom in the U.S. needs help with the disorder," according to current estimates.

My mom and I talked about ADHD when it first started appearing in major news reports. "This is ridiculous," she asserted. "If this had been around when you were younger, you would have been diagnosed with it. But you were fine." (Hmm.) "Yeah, ridiculous!" I agreed, somewhat over-emphatically.

Given my scoffing skepticism, perhaps it was cosmic justice that my eldest child ultimately received a diagnosis of ADHD. Kindergarten schoolwork hit us like the proverbial ton of bricks. First, I yelled and screamed and fought with my daughter. Not my finest hour.  Then, I yelled and screamed and fought with various school and medical officials to get help for our daughter, who found reading, writing and arithmetic to be so terribly difficult. We obtained preferential seating and extra time on tests, we hired tutors, and I worked for hours with my daughter teaching her in the way she could best learn. Other parents skipped these "behavioral management techniques" and went straight to a medication regimen, but we persevered without it.

When my daughter began middle school, we realized behavioral management wasn't enough. "We're going to have her evaluated for medication," my husband Manny and I informed the school's vice-principal. "Good," the vice-principal responded immediately. Still, I wondered and worried. The first doctor we saw was a stuffed-shirt know-it-all who spoke less than 5 words to my daughter and determined that he couldn't help her because her grades were adequate. "See you in six months," he said. Outraged, my husband and I nicknamed him Dr. Grossbutt, and ratted him out to our pediatricians, who had referred us to him.

The second doctor talked to our daughter and to us for a long time before asking why the schools hadn't given my daughter more help sooner. The doctor recommended starting medication without telling the school, so that the teachers could continue to make unbiased evaluations of her school performance. The first dosage didn't have much effect, so we raised it a bit. Then our daughter started noticing things getting easier for her. She mentioned that her grades were improving, and her expectations for herself became higher.

At the next parent-teacher conference, the social studies teacher came up to me and said, "That medication you're giving your daughter is really helping." I launched into a long explanation of why I could neither confirm nor deny that she was on medication, because it was important for the teachers to make an unbiased assessment. The teacher leaned in closer to me, completely ignoring my convoluted disclaimer, and said, "Well, it's really working!" When we received our daughter's report card, her grades in most subjects had gone up by one full letter grade since the first marking period.

I became completely convinced that ADHD existed, and that the medication was no myth either. "Boy, you've really changed your tune!" my sister-in-law commented. "I'm living with it," I answered. Regardless of whether doctors over-diagnose ADD or over-medicate kids as a general matter, I'm convinced that the diagnosis and the medication are helping my daughter. And thank God for that.

Readers: Does anyone in your family have ADHD? What's your strategy for coping with it?

The CatholicLane version of this article was listed in Tito Edwards' The Best in Catholic Blogging on the National Catholic Register website.

Monday, April 22, 2013

NunBlogger Invites Me to Co-Moderate Theology of the Body Group

Thanks to Sr. Anne Flanagan, who invited me to be a co-moderator of the Theology of the Body community on Google+. For those who aren't already G+ers, Google+ is a social media platform like Facebook or LinkedIn. Google+ communities are like online discussion groups. They provide a convenient space for people interested in the same things to discuss them and learn about current developments.

Sr. Anne is the author of NunBlog, which she started in 2004. She belongs to the Daughters of St. Paul, who are perhaps best known for their Pauline bookstores, located in urban centers like Chicago and New York City, and their publishing apostolate, based in Boston. Pauline Books & Media published some of Christopher West's early work on Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body (see my review of West's most recent work here). Pauline Books also just released a new translation of John Paul II's pre-papal book Love and Responsibility, which similarly addresses the themes of sex, love, marriage, and celibacy.

The Theology of the Body community on Google+ provides an opportunity for people to discuss Pope John Paul II's pivotal teachings on why God gave us a body and how our bodies reveal the plan for our salvation. These teachings have deep ramifications in how we follow God's call no matter what state of life we are in -- single, married, or in priestly or religious life. I'm honored to join Sr. Anne in moderating this online community. If you're a G+ member who's interested in TOB, please join us!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Rose Ring (A Review)

Before reviewing the uplifting and inspirational love story that is The Rose Ring, I must confess to a torrid and unhealthy former relationship with mainstream romance novels. In intensity, it neared the somewhat creepy fascination I had with the dangerous television romance between Spike the vampire and Buffy the Vampire-Slayer. But perhaps I have said too much.

Much to my contentment, The Rose Ring tugged at my heartstrings and fascinated me in a way that was decidedly uncreepy. In The Rose Ring, author Anne Faye actually tells two love stories, one in the present and one in the past. In the present, Julia struggles with her feelings for an old flame, Zach, at a time when a new man has just entered the picture.  By the discovery of a unique gold ring, she is also drawn into the mystery of a past romance between a young teacher, Elizabeth, and her fiancé Joseph who left to fight in World War II and never came back.

Through the juxtaposition of the two stories, the book explores parallel themes of forgiveness and reconciliation when a woman suffers abandonment by a man. A couple of unexpected plot twists keep the excitement going all the way to the end. Some even brought me to tears! A major sub-plot is the main character's relationship with her mother, an instantly recognizable controlling personality type who tries to overshadow both her husband and her children without complete success.

The book flows well. Its chapters are nicely structured, and the transitions between the two love stories proceed smoothly. Even the minor characters have depth; none of them is one-dimensional. The characters' justifications for their past actions make sense, even though their actions clearly resulted in hurting others. I was left wondering, however, why Zach began pursuing Julia again after having left her so many years ago. The book would have benefited from more explanation of his change of heart.

The Rose Ring belongs to an ever-growing genre of modern Catholic romance novels, which differ primarily from bodice-rippers in that there is not in fact any bodice ripping. (No sex scenes, in case you didn't catch the reference.) This genre places great demands upon its authors. Weaving religion into a popular work of art in an effective and engaging way requires a deft hand and discerning judgment, as Catholic screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi is fond of pointing out. The Rose Ring takes a subtle approach. The 1940s setting of one of the Rose Ring's principal romances makes the modesty seem natural rather than pointedly obvious. Catholicism also operates strictly in the background of the book. There is a brief mention of mass and confession without any awkward transition that shouts here is where the story stops and the catechism begins. Because the book downplays its Catholicism, it has potential appeal for a broad audience. Devout Catholic readers, however, might prefer more overt exploration of religious themes.

If you liked this review and want to purchase the book, click here.

Thanks to author Anne Faye for providing me with a free review copy of the book.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Outdoing Your Spouse

Do you ever feel competitive with your spouse? If you enjoy a friendly challenge involving word games, board games, or sports games, why not try a spiritual challenge based on advice from St. Paul?

Although St. Paul's Letter to the Corinthians contains his most well-known wisdom on love, his Letter to the Romans also teaches valuable lessons about how to live together in harmony. In fact, the U.S. bishops have highlighted one passage from Romans as a recommended reading for the Eucharistic Holy Hour for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty (Rm 12:1-2, 9-18). Below are eleven tips taken from that passage. See if you and your spouse can outdo each other in following St. Paul's advice for the next 30 days. You'll be happier, no matter who wins!

1. "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God." You can do this in large ways and small. For example, is one of you a morning person and the other a night owl? Try switching your habits to be with your spouse during the hours that they like to be awake. Overcoming your body's preference for sleep at set hours is a small sacrifice that can really make a difference.

2.  "Be transformed by the renewal of your mind." Pick an edifying book, television program, or movie that you can learn from and enjoy together.

3.  "Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good." Work at getting rid of one habit that annoys your spouse and strengthening one habit that really pleases them.

4. "Outdo one another in showing honor." Pay attention to how you speak to one another, particularly in front of the kids. Do you act dismissively, roll your eyes disrespectfully, or raise your voice unnecessarily? Try to keep that tendency in check and be as respectful as possible.

5. "Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord." Everyone gets tired sometimes. Sometimes we can even get tired of each other. Revive your zeal. Write a list of all the reasons you first fell in love, look at old pictures, listen to "your song." Then arrange a hot date night to reconnect.

6. "Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer." Don't let life or troubles keep you down for long. Pray together regularly even if it's just one Hail Mary. 

7. "Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality." Remember that marriage is a path to sainthood, and that you, your spouse, and your kids are all future saints, God willing. How would you welcome a saint who showed up at your door? Try to treat your spouse and kids that way.

8. "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them." Sometimes extended family can pressure you or criticize choices that you make as a couple. Use it as an opportunity to defend each other and become more united as a couple.

9. "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." Ask your spouse what happened during their day, and notice the little things that make them happy or sad. Look for chances to praise them or commiserate with them.

10. "Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited." If you feel tempted to criticize or begin an argument, resist it. If your spouse says something that wounds your pride, don't respond. Or better yet, ask yourself if they might be right.

11. "Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all." Your spouse has probably done something to hurt your feelings. Each of us is only human, after all. Work on letting go of your resentment and allowing forgiveness to enter your heart. Remember how much Our Lord has forgiven you.

If you decide to take this challenge, leave a comment below.  And then another one 30 days from now!

Photo Credit: russelljsmith via Compfight cc

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fill These Hearts (A Westian's Review)

My first post on sex caused quite a stir. Unwittingly, I had walked into the middle of a pitched battle between those who admire the popular theologian Christopher West (i.e., "Westians") and those who believe that his approach plays into the Main Stream Media's cult of the orgasm. So, it is with some trepidation that I venture my review of Christopher West's most recent book, Fill These Hearts. It is with even more trepidation that I announce that I liked it.

A recurring theme of Fill These Hearts is that we must learn to aim our desire according to God's design so that we can arrive at our destiny. Our destiny is to be totally united in bliss with Our Lord and Savior forever in heaven. "These heavenly nuptials are what we long for (desire); they're what we're created for (design); and they're what we're headed for (destiny)," states West.

A deservedly popular blogger voiced the complaint that Fill These Hearts "does not discuss chastity until page 127!" -- her implication being that chastity is, or should be, the main point of West's book. I respectfully disagree with that implication. I don't think that chastity is or should be the main point of West's book, because I don't think that sex is the main point of his book. True, he uses the ecstatic, nuptial, and even erotic language of the mystics whom he favors. But let's look beyond the sizzle to see what he's really saying. How do we achieve our desire based on God's design for our destiny? Primarily through prayer, the liturgy, and the Eucharist.

Here's what he says about prayer:

"True contemplative prayer ... is where we 'let our masks fall.' It's where we get real with God. It's where we [metaphorically] get naked, allowing our hearts to be fully exposed." Praying, we can say to Our Lord: "I desire you; increase my desire." (pp. 70, 80)

About liturgy:

"Christ is the one who 'left father and mother' to give up his body for his Bride, so that the Church might become 'one body, one spirit' with him, as the priest says in the Church's liturgy. And that's where it all happens for us -- in the liturgy, in the Church's most exalted prayer.  ...In her liturgy, the Church, speaking for all of creation, gives her 'yes' to God's marriage proposal." (pp. 93-94)

About the Eucharist:

"In the Eucharist, Christ offers his body graciously to us, and we offer ours graciously to him. And so, as Joseph Ratzinger wrote, in receiving Holy Communion 'there is a person-to-person exchange, a coming of one into the other. The living Lord gives himself to me, enters into me, and invites me to surrender myself to him.'" (p. 95)

And, only then, about chastity:

"Chastity is the virtue that overcomes the selfish pull of lust within us and orients the wildness of eros toward the truth of infinite love. ... This is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church boldly proclaims: 'Chastity is a promise of immortality.'" (p. 127)

Our destiny is immortality. Our destiny is heaven. Seen in this light, chastity is clearly not the end-point. It's the stepping stone. Without prayer, the liturgy, and the Eucharist, you may not be able to achieve chastity. You may not even see a reason to try. With prayer, the liturgy, the Eucharist, and the self-control inherent in chastity, you may be launched on a path to unending happiness.

I recommend this book whole-heartedly to anyone who seeks a peace that passes all understanding and a love that lasts forever. In the words of Blessed Pope John Paul II, "it is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; ... it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise."

I guess my whole-hearted recommendation of Christopher West's book makes me a Westian. And I guess I'm okay with that.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Tale of Raphi and the Lost Wedding Ring

My husband Manny actually lost his wedding ring on our honeymoon. It's true. We were swimming in the Dead Sea in Israel, which has such a high salt content that you can almost float sitting up. A little wave passed by, as Manny explains it, and plucked the ring right off his finger. Down, down to the bottom of the Dead Sea. Someone was snorkeling nearby and offered to search underwater for the lost ring. The salty water made it hard to stay submerged for any length of time, and he ultimately searched without success. "I have many rings in my tent," the snorkeler offered, but my husband turned down his offer and left the ocean discouraged.

Sinking down onto our towel on the sand, Manny told me what had happened. After finally being convinced that my husband was not playing a practical joke on me, I urged him to seek out the snorkeler. The snorkeler introduced himself to us as Raphi. He lived on the beach, he said, and made money by finding what people had lost in the sea. One bus of Christians drove up and threw every bit of  their jewelry into the Dead Sea before continuing on their journey, Raphi explained. He lived off of that for months. His dream was to one day join his friend who lived on a beach in California.

After entertaining us with his stories, Raphi once again invited us back to his tent. "I have many wedding rings in my tent. Would you like to look at them?" he asked. We assented. In his tent, Raphi opened up a little box filled with gold wedding rings of every size, shape, and design. Most of them had inscriptions from other brides to other grooms or from other grooms to other brides. But there was one wedding ring that fit my husband's finger perfectly. 24 karat gold, no design, no inscription. Since Manny's original wedding ring was only 18 karat gold, this ring was even better than he had before.

We asked Raphi how much he would be willing to sell the ring for, but Raphi turned the question back on us. My husband thought deeply, pondering for what seemed an inordinate amount of time. He told me later that he felt he was being asked to place a value on what our entire marriage meant to him. By far the more practical one, I blurted out, "100 shekels!" which was worth about 25 U.S. dollars. "I cannot say no to 100 shekels," Raphi replied, and the deal was done.

When my husband and I returned to the United States after our honeymoon ended, we had his new ring blessed by a priest, who delighted in our story. And when Manny's co-worker took a trip to Israel and the Dead Sea, we asked him to look for Raphi on the beach. Manny's co-worker found no sign of Raphi there. Manny and I wondered if Raphi had finally followed his dream to California.

Then it struck us that Raphi was a common nickname for Raphael, the patron saint of marriage. The Archangel Raphael gained his reputation as a defender of marriage through a well-beloved story in the Old Testament Book of Tobit. In this story, the angel Raphael disguised himself as a human in order to convince Tobias to marry Sarah and help defeat the demon who had killed all seven of Sarah's previous husbands on their respective wedding nights. Was Raphi really only a beach bum? We'll never know. But it's awfully fun to wonder.

Readers:  Do you have a story about your wedding ring?  Share it in the comments!

Photo 1 Credit: Jeff_Werner via Compfight cc; Photo 2 Credit: Boby Dimitrov via Compfight cc; Photo 3 Credit: Tobias and the Archangel Raphael by Jean Charles Cazin

Friday, April 5, 2013

Good Times for a Good Cause

Pro-choice people sometimes complain to pro-lifers, "Why don't you stop telling people what to do and actually help them?"  Actually, there are a lot of pro-life organizations that extend a helping hand to women in crisis pregnancies.  Good Counsel Homes is one of them.  My husband and I attended their annual From the Heart benefit dinner earlier this year.

Good Counsel Homes runs four homes to shelter homeless single pregnant women and their children.  They also teach the moms life skills, such as nutrition, social skills, parenting, personal budgeting, and computer education.  "There's a lot of classes," one of the former moms, Fellesia, grumbled good-naturedly in her speech during the benefit dinner.  Many of the moms begin GED programs while staying at one of the homes.  The goal is for moms to leave after one year with the ability to live independently.  Good Counsel continues to offer help and advice to moms after they leave in order to ease the transition.  "It's not like the shelters," Fellesia enthused, "it's more like a real home where people actually care about you."

This year's From the Heart dinner honored a local doctor, Dr. Robert Scanlon, an ob/gyn whose practice is completely in line with Church teaching.  That means no contraception, no abortion, and no in vitro fertilization.  When Dr. Scanlon accepted his award, he asked sincerely, "I'm being honored for being a pro-life doctor?  What other kind of doctor could I be?"  Then he quipped, "I'm especially thrilled to be receiving this honor from a saint!" looking at the founder of Good Counsel, Christopher Bell.

When Chris Bell took the microphone, he told the crowd, "As any married man knows about himself, I am no saint.  Just ask my wife and kids."  But it's his kids, as much as his work with Good Counsel, that provide the greatest evidence of Chris' closeness to sanctity.  Chris and his wife Joan have seven children, including six adopted children with special needs.  Some of the Bells' kids also attended the award dinner.  The one who caught my attention was a teenager, who was constantly speeding from room to room, chatting, laughing and dancing.  It wasn't until the third or fourth time she crossed my path that I realized she was missing part of one arm and was walking on a metal leg.  The joy on her face distracted me from her slight limp.

My husband and I attended the dinner this year in part to help out my friend Mary Kay, who was organizing the dinner and who had just given birth to her fourth child, Maggie, a few months earlier.  Mary Kay had planned on bringing Baby Maggie to the dinner, and I offered to help Mary Kay take care of her.  Baby Maggie was a surprise to her parents in more ways than one.  After struggling to conceive children earlier in her marriage, Mary Kay was completely surprised to find herself pregnant so easily at age 42.  And when Maggie was born, her mother and father discovered for the first time that their baby had Down's syndrome.

I had never held a baby with Down's syndrome in my arms before Maggie.  I didn't know what to expect.  But Maggie felt just like any of my children when they were about five months old.  She wiggled and squirmed and latched on to my bare arm in the way that nursing babies do.  And when her mom and I shared a funny story, Maggie laughed and laughed.  "Most of the time I don't think much about how Maggie has Down's syndrome," her father Bruce said.  Holding Maggie, I could understand why.  When you're a parent, your child is just your child, not a statistic or a syndrome, certainly not a mistake or a problem.  Surrounded by all the warm-hearted and wonderful people at the Good Counsel dinner, I was happy to be pro-life.  What other type of parent would I be?

Readers:  What's your favorite charity?  Tell us about it in the comments!

Photo 1:  Floral arrangement from From the Heart dinner dance
Photo 2:  Mary Kay and her daughter Maggie

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Grand Opening of Spanish Blog! (News and Notes)

After much behind-the-scenes work, the Spanish version of the Can We Cana? blog is up and running.  The final title choice is Comencemos en Caná: Para Vivir el Sacramento del Matrimonio. Roughly translated into English, this means We Begin in Cana: In Order to Live the Sacrament of Matrimony.  Many thanks to my family and friends from Spain and Latin America who helped me to find the perfect title.

The Spanish blog address is http://comencemosencana.blogspot.com.  The first post dedicates the new blog to our already-beloved Pope Francis.  I have created separate Spanish groups (or circles) of my Spanish-speaking friends on Facebook and Google+, so that I can publicize blogposts from Comencemos en Caná only to the people who might be most interested.  If you want to know when there's a new Spanish post up on the blog, please tell me so that I can add you to those groups.  And please spread the word to your Spanish-speaking friends.  Articles, comments, and ideas are welcome!