Children’s Book Review: Saints Like Me

Saints Like Me by Lisa Hendey is a sweet board book full of big truths made accessible for our little ones. Hendey uses phrases with which my children quickly agreed. For example, when I read, “We don’t have to be grown-ups to be saints.” My six-year-old son replied, “That’s totally true.” 

I love how the same phrases that resonate with children can also function as faith teaching tools for their parents. One of my favorites is: “God gave me a body to help others.” I can imagine using words like these from Saints Like Me as my children and I do the daily life of discipleship together.

Illustrated by Katie Broussard, Saints Like Me offers colorful and inviting images. My five-year-old daughter particularly loved the first and last images of the book: a family awaiting a new baby and the same family holding their newborn. 

Hendey and Broussard do holy work in a simple format. They put words and images to the written-into-our hearts-truths in a way that is accessible and attractive for children and parents. 

At a time of year when we get back into the schedule of school, daycare, or homeschool, this book can act as a reminder to keep the main thing the main thing: to snuggle up with our little ones and center our hearts on God together.

Placemaking Like a Child

Hello Friends! So glad to meet you here for just a moment to share an image and thought inspired by my placemaking child.

“Lucy, what are you doing over there?” I ask.

“Just looking around,” she responds.

Lucy is my placemaking child. Though only two, Lucy creates special spaces. She lays on the floor with her head on a pillow, blanket over her body, and hands busy with a book. She sits on a step with a stuffed animal or two and something comfy to cover them all. She pops an umbrella and lays under it to “just look around.”

What spaces do you create and why? How are you a placemaker? 

Sometimes, we adults want to create spaces for pure aesthetics or for what others will think of the space.

I love Lucy’s spaces because, on the contrary, they are simple and temporary. The spaces she makes serve a purpose—a moment to rest with a book, to cuddle with a stuffy, to simply “look around”—but she is also detached from them.

What a lovely thing for us adults to consider—How can we create spaces and also remain detached enough that the spaces do not become more important than the higher good they are meant to serve? For example, how can we make spaces that foster particular goods like rest, attentive work, creativity, play, or community? How do our spaces welcome God and others?

It is a good and holy thing to care about the spaces we make. For, we are made in the image of the Placemaker. Recall Jesus’ words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:1-2)

Peace be with you as you placemake this week! 

Mama, Want to Play Heaven?

Elizabeth comes to me in the kitchen: “Mama, want to play heaven?”

Dishes are done, husband is out of town for work. No other pressing concerns at 8:15 on a Tuesday night.

“Okay,” I say. 

I take her little hand and follow.

“Okay you need to lay on the sofa and pretend you’re dead,” commands Elizabeth. 

“But don’t stick your tongue out of your mouth or anything,” Thomas nuances. 

(Do you ever notice the immersiveness of children’s play? It is so detailed—no wonder they get swept up in another world.)

I lay down and close my eyes. Maybe this is one of those games I can fall asleep while playing.

No deal.

“It’s time,” Elizabeth says, “Open your eyes.”

For some reason, her words resound in my mind and heart for a few moments.

“Welcome to heaven. I’m Mama Mary,” Elizabeth proclaims in a slight British accent. “And I’m St. Joseph,” smiles Thomas, sidled up to his pretend wife.

Elizabeth stands with a muslin blanket cloaking her head and back. Thomas looks like a proper St. Joseph with another muslin blanket tied across his body, over one shoulder.

Mama Mary speaks: “I want to give you a tour of heaven, but first, I want to give you a hug.” Elizabeth wraps me in her arms. She holds me close and long. “I want to tell you that we love you very much—more than you could ever imagine,” she whispers into my ear.

Her words bring tears to my eyes. All of a sudden I feel quite loved by the Blessed Mother.

Time to get back to playing heaven, and Mama Mary is in charge: “Joseph, go upstairs and get Jesus, so she can meet him.” 

Thomas runs.

He comes downstairs with a baby doll in arms. “This is our son, Jesus,” he says proudly, and offers Jesus to me gently.

“Time for a picture!” Elizabeth yells with celebration in her voice.

The heavenly host, Lucy, bursts out of a play closet with a broken remote, our children’s pretend iPhone. 

I sit, holding baby Jesus, sandwiched between Mother Mary and St. Joseph. “Everyone under my mantle!” Elizabeth says as she spreads her muslin blanket over us.

Lucy yells, “Cheeeeese” and holds up the remote to take a picture. She clicks her tongue so we know she’s captured the image. 

I smile a real smile as I wonder at my current contentment, playing heaven.

So Close: From Tumor to Email

When I recently sat in prayer and was prompted to give myself a breast exam (it’s odd, but God’s ways are sometimes), I was surprised to find a pea size tumor in my left breast. Was I feeling what I thought I was feeling? I was—I could find it over and over again. 

I went on a walk a few days after finding the tumor. I looked up at the mountains and heard, “I’ve got this.”

You’ve got what God? What is this

As people of faith, we can sometimes be tempted to over spiritualize things—everything becomes a sign toward an end that we design. When I’m tempted toward this reason-making method, I remind myself, God’s ways are not my ways. He’s always working, and my job is not to figure him out, to make his work make sense. My job is to try to trust, to be faithful to the next step.

When I went to my doctor, she said, “The tumor is probably nothing, but I’d like you to get a mammogram and an ultrasound.” When I laid on the ultrasound table after getting my breasts smashed in the mammogram, the radiologist said, “It’s probably nothing, but I’d like to do a biopsy.”

I got into the car, and I cried. And for days I waited, thinking it was probably nothing, but also could be something. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew God already knew. 

In the days I waited to get a biopsy, my friend who has breast cancer left me an encouraging note and a bar of chocolate, because she knows what it feels like to wait. And friends prayed for me, offered their Masses for me, and sent sweet texts. More women than I realized knew what it was like to wait, not knowing if something in their breast was benign or not. Maybe you know this in between, too.

When I laid on the table, quiet, breast exposed, waiting for the biopsy to begin, I asked, “Jesus, would you just lay here with me?” And I heard him say, “I am here.”

I am here.

In the days of waiting between the biopsy and results, our Mother, Mary, invited me to stop in the midst of my children splashing in the water table, making paper airplanes, and playing pretend. To sit and pray a Rosary. To just be with her. And miracle of miracles, I prayed a whole Rosary in the midst of the chaos. Sore and swollen breast, children running around without a care, my own cares swirling—she was there with me, so close.

Then the day came. I was folding laundry and thought I might as well check my email. There it was: “Good news, the tumor is benign.” I walked into the garage, out of my children’s sight, and fell to my knees and wept. “Thank you, God. Thank you, God. Thank you, God.” My whole self flushed with gratitude and relief. I cried off and on for hours that day.

As I journey as a disciple, I sometimes feel I don’t know as much about God as I thought I did. But, every once in a while he helps me understand something more deeply about him. In the weeks between finding the tumor and getting the email, he showed me: I am so close. God is so close to us in the vulnerable and tender moments of our lives. When we sit or stand or lay, feeling naked, he is so close. He wants nothing from us, just permission to be beside us, and whisper lovingly, “I am here.”

Book Review: For Their Sake I Consecrate Myself

When I began reading For Their Sake I Consecrate Myself, I didn’t expect a Benedictine Nun of Perpetual Adoration to inspire me as a mother who desires to lead her young children to Jesus. However, the Holy Spirit is always at work, bringing God’s children together. 

As a child, Sister Bernadette, known as Rozmarynka, was not the picture of docility. She was choleric in temperament—strong-willed, independent, and sometimes prone to anger. Her household was grounded in goodness, but not alive with strong religious culture. Rather, Rozmarynka’s home and family were steeped in practicing beauty—poetry, writing, painting, time in nature. Young Rozmarynka was first drawn to the heart of God through the beauty found around her and through a book of the Gospels that lay open in her home.

The reader walks with Rozmarynka as she grows into Roza and finally Sister Bernadette. As one reads, one apprehends how the Holy Spirit moved with Sister Bernadette, step-by-step. Her story reminds us how the Holy Spirit meets us and moves with us. We are never coerced, but always invited into a loving relationship with God. When we say “yes” and “yes” again, God does beautiful, one of a kind work with, through, and in our lives.

The robust sampling of Sister Bernadette’s letters and artwork help the reader feel as though they know Sister Bernadette. In fact, early on in reading For Their Sake, I lay in bed and found myself asking Sister Bernadette to pray for me, as I would ask a friend. 

As Sister Bernadette knew and lived, we are all part of Christ’s Mystical Body. This mystery allowed her sacrifice for the infidelities of priests to be fruitful. This same mystery allows her life to inspire me as a lover of beauty and mother of sometimes choleric children. Our belonging to the same Mystical Body allows me to ask for her prayers and know that she brings them to Jesus, our Head.

Thank you to the monks of Silverstream Priory in Ireland for introducing me to Sister Bernadette and their lovely community!

Book Review: God is Calling: Seeing His Signs in Your Life

Can it feel hard at times to see God in your life, the direction God wants you to go, or the next step God wants you to take? Sometimes we overcomplicate things and cloud our vision, making it challenging for us to see God’s loving signs. In God is Calling: Seeing His Signs in Your Life, Brother François Fontanié, C.F.R. shares his story of discovering the signs God placed in his life and how those signs ultimately led him to become a Franciscan friar in the Bronx.

Brother François invites us into his journey of becoming a friar through seven ways God left signs in his life’s path. These signs are concrete—the reader can easily connect with them and then start to reflect on how God has possibly been present in their own life in the same way.

God is Calling is ideal for ages 7 and up, as suggested. When I read the book with my almost 7-year-old, he was drawn in by Brother François’ story and by the illustrations. My son asked questions and mused over the colorful and engaging  illustrations throughout our reading time. The signs are tangible enough for anyone to relate to, but made interesting because of the uniqueness of Brother François’ story. One particularly enjoyable element of the illustrations is depiction of Brother Francois’ childhood self journeying with his friar self. This detail attests to God’s faithfulness in our lives—God was with us in the past, is with us in the present, and will continue to be with us. 

God is Calling ends with a lovely epilogue that invites us into a simple prayer to see God’s signs in our own lives: “My God, if you are there, let me recognize your presence.” 

I recommend God is Calling especially in the context of a read aloud by an adult and child (or children). The book naturally and inconspicuously acts as a guide for spiritual reflection and invites simple but meaningful conversation with the precious young ones in our lives.

 

Review copy received from publisher.

Love in the Kitchen (I’ll be a speaker!)

I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to learn about Chalice this year when they contacted me to be a speaker for Love in the Kitchen. Chalice is an international nonprofit organization that works with families who struggle with poverty. They sponsor children to receive education as a first step in breaking the cycle of poverty, and also support families in their efforts to provide nutritious foods for their families. 

Love in the Kitchen is a virtual event that will take place over Corpus Christi weekend (June 18-19). Over 20 speakers will work to connect food and faith. I’ll be speaking on sourdough bread and the Kingdom of God and the garden as a place of healing through holy work and holy waste. Registration is free, so please sign up if you are interested and pass along to your parish, friends, or family who may be interested.

Sourdough Bread and the Kingdom of God

When I baked my first loaf of bread, I was convinced I’d never bake another. As a cook, but not a baker, I thought estimations would be just fine as I scooped about the right amount of flour and added approximately the directed amount of yeast. Any semi-experienced baker would not have been surprised that my dough didn’t rise and felt dense as a brick. My husband sweetly spread butter on this not-bread and ate a slice with dinner. Disappointed, I tossed it into the trash can with a loud thump. 

Years later, in the midst of a pandemic, children running around, and a desire for something life-giving, I thought I’d give bread a try again—this time with sourdough. In my motherhood, I’ve grown to love working with living things (including the little people I call my children) and providing my family with nutritionally rich foods. Both my mother-in-law and grandfather are incredible sourdough bakers and with their encouragement, I made my first starter.

I mixed flour and water together in a large mason jar and set it on the counter. I fed it each day and in not too long, bubbles appeared on the surface. My mind was blown—how could wild yeast and bacteria, both of which I could not see, help this flour and water come to life?! I’ve continued to feed this starter—water, flour, fresh air—to keep it alive. (My husband jokes that this starter, now over two years old, is our fourth child.) It has produced many loaves of bread, English muffins, pancakes, cookies, and more. And in the experience of sourdough, I see something of the kingdom of God.

Sourdough reminds me of the kingdom—of life with God—because it is true food. It nourishes our bodies at a deep level. The wild yeast and bacteria in the starter break down the flour in such a way that the bread is easier for our bodies to digest. The nutrition in the bread becomes more available for our bodies to absorb. Plus, the bacteria in the starter is great for our guts, which is a big deal since 70% of our immune system is housed in our guts.

Because of the fermented quality of sourdough, even those who have sensitivity to gluten (excluding Celiac disease) can often enjoy it. It has been a gift to make sourdough for my friends and family with gluten sensitivity and see them enjoy bread without negative side effects. The goodness of a crusty, fluffy, chewy piece of sourdough bread with a smear of butter is without words.

Sourdough also summons the kingdom of God because of its virtue making qualities. Creating a loaf of sourdough is not a quick process. It requires feeding the starter, waiting for the starter to rise, crafting dough with the fed starter, waiting for the dough to rise, shaping the dough, waiting for the dough to rise, baking the dough, and waiting to slice until it has cooled. This process cultivates patience and self-control. It is a slow food in a world that loves to be immediately gratified. 

Finally, sourdough bread cultivates the kingdom of God because of the community it creates. When friends have shown interest in baking sourdough, I’ve given some of my starter to them and they in turn have given some of their starter to others. There’s joy in sharing starter, making a loaf of bread for another person, and sharing bread around the table. The bread nourishes not only our bodies, but also the primal desire for community written into our beings. 

If you are a baker of sourdough products, perhaps you’ve glimpsed God in them as I have. If you are someone who thinks they could never be a baker (like I did when I tossed my brick of bread into the bin), perhaps you’ll reconsider. The kingdom of God is here with us—as close as the starter bubbling away on the counter.

Re-creation on the Trail

When I hike, I see the world differently. Glimpses of Jesus’ resurrection emerge around and within me. And even glimpses of the resurrection are sufficient for a bubbling up and welling over of hope and joy in the soul.

It’s not that resurrection doesn’t exist in changing diapers, saying “I’m sorry,” and cooking dinner for my family. Thanks be to God, it does! If God’s love couldn’t be found in the hidden moments of our lives, what hope would we have?

In nature, though, resurrection breaks though in a different kind of raw and wonder-full way. 

On a recent family hike in Northern Arizona, a dead cactus on the side of the trail caught my eye. Gray in color, it shriveled back toward the earth. Out of the decay shot bright wildflowers—violet, white, yellow. I pointed it out to my dad, and he said, “Rebirth.” 

Though I can steal a glance at a mountain from a window in our home, I’m surrounded by much more concrete than I’d prefer. Neighbors line up close to one another. I hear conversations I wish I didn’t, usher my children inside when neighbors’ smoke fills our backyard air, and try to make light when our “fun neighbor” blasts techno midday while we homeschool. Nothing like a little background music, I suppose. Sometimes, though, my humanity and the humanity of others feels uncomfortably close. I become cranky, judgmental, and ungrateful. 

I need to be reminded of the ways God restores. The natural world does this for me. Does it do the same for you?

Phone away, chores out of sight, man made landscape left at the trailhead, the present moment is the one that matters on a trail. Open landscape shocks my eyes. God is so good to create such vast expanse. His power is evident. The air fills my nose and lungs, and I can breathe in a different way. When was the last time you inhaled and exhaled, and felt like you really filled up and let go? My ears are pleased by quiet, sounds of nature, and conversation with hiking companions. And even though my children complain of tired legs or cry out for piggy back rides, it somehow feels easier being outside. 

When I’m out in God’s creation, he does work on me, his creature. He re-creates me.

If you are not and do not desire to be a hiker, I invite you to consider where God re-creates you. Where can you be yourself with the Lord? Where does God inspire you with his creativity, abundance, and goodness? Where do moments of lightness and joy come more easily? Where do the words “Thank you, God” spontaneously spill from your heart and lips? Wherever that is, perhaps you can find time to meet the Lord there this week. He lives so we might be re-created in him, again and again.