Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Roses in the Winter

Today is the feast day of St. Juan Diego. Appropriately, this Friday, December 12th is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I have to admit that when it comes to the image of Mary that I connect with, Our Lady of Guadalupe has never been at the top of my list, but lately, it has been growing on me!

In case you aren't familiar with the story of Juan Diego, I'll give you the lightning-round version. Dec 9th, 1531, just outside of Mexico City on Tepeyac Hill, 57-year-old Juan Diego was walking to Mass to celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception when he heard music playing and saw a beautiful woman. She called out to him, "Juanito". She told him to go to Bishop Zumarraga and tell him she wanted a church built on that site. He followed orders, told the bishop about his encounter with the Blessed Mother and the bishop said he'd reflect on it. Juan Diego returned to the site and Mary instructed him to try again.

The bishop listened again, still did not comply but asked for proof from Juan Diego that it was indeed the Blessed Mother he was speaking with. Cutting to the chase - Mary instructed Juan Diego to go to the top of the mountain and pick some flowers. The top of this mountain was dry and while cactus could be found, no flowers would grow there. Yet, Juan Diego found roses that are foreign to Mexico. He gathered them in his tilma, a garment like a poncho. He brought them to Mary who arranged them and said to take them to the bishop. He returned to the bishop (it's now December 12th) opened the tilma and not only did the bishop see all the beautiful and rare roses, but also the image of Mary we now know as the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The church was built by Christmas! Talk about fast construction!

What I love about this encounter is the unlikelihood or even the impossibility that the roses would be found at that place, at that time. Not only was it December, but these roses didn't grow in that part of the country at any time of the year. It was an unexpected sign of the presence of God.

As women, we like to plan. We HAVE to plan! We know how we want things to unfold. We think we know what's best. And if life is not going as smoothly as we want, we wonder where God is and why He isn't hearing our prayers.

God, I didn't expect my child to get sick. I didn't plan for my marriage to crumble. This job loss was not the way I saw things playing out. I'm feeling lost and alone. Where are you? What are you doing with me?

But in Isaiah 40 verse 3 we read, "A voice cries out: In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord!" Note the punctuation. The voice is not crying out in the wilderness. The voice is proclaiming TO cry out while in the wilderness.

When you're feeling dry in your faith, alone in your marriage, overwhelmed by your obligations, unsure of your job as a mom - cry out to God for blessings. Those that come in the difficult, arid times are such precious gifts and when you can share with others how GREAT God is while you are in the thick of it, that is a powerful witness.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Grandma vs Jason Derulo, Guest Post from Arleen Spenceley

Arleen, who learned very little of
what she knows at Spirit FM
I'm a proud mom! My former intern, Arleen Spenceley is releasing a real, live book! You'll read all about Arleen waaaaay below, but I want to invite you to our next Mom Squad event- the book release party for Chastity is for Lovers. It's December 6th from 1-3pm here at Spirit FM. (Well, it's on the second floor of the building where are studios are located -The Mary Martha Center at Christ the King on S Dale Mabry.) Arleen will read an excerpt from the book and take some questions. She's also hosting a release party in Spring Hill on December 5th in Xavier Hall at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church. To RSVP to either party, visit arleenspenceley.com/party. Okay, enough from me. On to the real author! 

If you aren’t sure whether your children’s favorite songs are good for their impressionable minds or precious souls, there is one foolproof way to find out: dance to them with my grandmother.

She is 77, and moved to the US from Italy when she was 10. She can and will cut a  rug, and she doesn’t care who knows it, or where she is while she’s proving it. (You’re welcome, all the people at Red Lobster that one time.) What my grandmother will not do, however, is let a single song lyric slide if it’s off-color.

You haven’t known scandal until you’ve seen what her face looks like upon her discovery that the title of the song she’s dancing to is “Sexy and I Know It.” Nary a body, a booty, or a b-word (yes, that b-word) goes unnoticed in lyrics, which fascinates me – a 28-year-old woman (29 next week!), who has grown up as part of a generation widely unfazed by what shocks my grandma.

But what might shock you is what else once shocked her: my virginity.

It’s true: I turn 29 on Nov. 7 and I have never had sex. That’s because – as a person who practices chastity – I believe that sex is a sacred physical sign of the commitment spouses made to each other on the altar where they were married. I’m not married, and you can put two and two together.

My grandmother learned I’m a virgin by reading about it in the newspaper (if you’re already thinking my family can and should have a reality show, at least a fourth of us agrees). She wasn’t shocked because of anything I had ever said or done. She was shocked because I was in my 20’s and she – though offended by suggestive song lyrics – knows perfectly well that it’s normal for people my age to sleep with the people they date.

We grew up in a culture in which the world’s voice was louder than the Church’s, during an era in which sex was a taboo topic in too many homes. The sex talk for lots of my peers both started and stopped at “don’t do it” or “do it ‘safely’” (if the talk ever started at all). That meant their initial conceptions of sex came from sources that scandalize my grandma – pop music and movies and TV.

The media says sex can or should be for fun, or for deciding how much you really like a person, or for expressing your love for him or her. Somebody who thinks that’s what sex is for thinks somebody who says “don’t do that until marriage” is crazy. But somebody who says “don’t have sex outside of marriage” and doesn’t define sex is somebody who unwittingly amplifies what no Christian ever should: the world’s voice. But there is a way we can begin to undo the damage done:

Get louder.

For my grandma, that means scolding Jason Derulo songs for talking about talkin’ dirty. For me, it means writing a book called Chastity Is For Lovers.

What does it mean for you?

Arleen Spenceley is author of the book Chastity Is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin, to be released by Ave Maria Press on November 28th. She is also a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times who blogs about love, relationships, and sex from a Catholic perspective at arleenspenceley.com. Find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @ArleenSpenceley.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"I Watch What I Do To See What I Really Believe"

I think inspirational quotes are overused and therefore often become ineffective. We've heard so many that life seems to be turning into one big cat poster: "Hang in there!" But every now and then one pops up that really speaks to me and this is one of those:

I watch what I do to see what I really believe.

Those are the words of Sister Helen Prejean, a leading advocate for the abolition of the death penalty. Her name might sound familiar. She's the subject of the movie Dead Man Walking starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. Her ministry started in her home-state of Louisiana where she spent most of her time in a white, middle-class neighborhood. But one day she felt Jesus challenging her to go deeper, to love the outcast, the criminal. So she moved into a housing project in an African-American neighborhood in New Orleans.

She went from praying for the criminals to living among them (That's not to say there are not criminals in white middle-class neighborhoods. There most definitely are.). She heard gun-shots at night, mothers crying out for their children and she realized she had to roll up her sleeves and get in the fight. That lead her to her death row ministry. 

She realized that praying for the outcast was one thing, but if she really believed they are loved and treasured gifts from God, she should do more. Hence the quote.

I thought about how those words should guide me as a mother. They are kind of a twisted opposite of the phrase I more often find myself thinking, "Don't do as I do. Do as I tell you." 

We want our children, whether they are toddlers, teens or young adults to choose right. Whether "right" means to pray, make responsible financial decisions, avoid drug use, speak kindly to and about their friends and enemies. But do we want this because we have heard it's right or because we know it's right. And if we know it's right, then are we doing it ourselves?

I watch what I do to see what I really believe. 

I really believe that I want Liam to pray when he is angry at his little brother, but is that what I do? I really believe that if I found out my child (obviously this is a few years off) had gossiped and hurt someone's reputation that I would be furious and disappointed, but have I eliminated gossip from my conversations? 

This is more than just, "Be a good example". We can use this thought as a mirror of sorts to see what (if anything) is truly valuable to us. If you don't like what you see, make a change. Choose ONE thing and give yourself concrete ideas on how to improve and then follow up with another look in that mirror down the road. God WANTS us to like what we see and I believe we will like what we see when we do what we say we believe. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

How My Kids Hit the Mom Jackpot

I got some news yesterday. It could be better. And it could be worse. Either way, it means three things.
1. My professional cheerleading  career is being put on hold.
2. My professional radio career is going to get tricky for a while
And 3. My kids just hit the mom jackpot. 

After about three months of struggling with on and off hoarseness, I finally went to an Ear, Nose & Throat doctor. He told me I have a hematoma (a blood blister) on my right vocal cord as a result of a hemorrhage. After we discussed the problem, he started explaining the solution. The first thing he asked is if I have small children. I laughed. "A three and a one year old!", I said, wide eyed. He sighed and put his head down, knowing that complete vocal rest is not an option. Then I added, "And I do a morning show on the radio!" He said, "Well, you're about to take an extended leave." 

After a bit of back-and-forth, and if I'm understanding him correctly, I have three options. Cue list #2 of this blog post:
1. Immediate surgery which will put me out of commission for about a month. 
2. Ignoring it and doing permanent damage to my vocal cords and potentially losing my voice completely.
3. Resting my voice and using medication to try to let that hematoma heal before it develops a callous (permanent damage).

So we are going for option 3. I'm taking steroids for the next six days that in his words, "will make your butt get big." Awesome. Thanks, Doc. And using an inhaler twice a day which, if I don't rinse my mouth after using, again, in his words "you'll get a yeast infection in your mouth." Isn't he just FULL of happy news?!

When I got home from the doctor I pulled Liam aside and told him he was going to have to be a very good listener and do things the first time I tell him because I can't talk very much. I'm sure in his 3-year-old mind this meant for the next thirty seconds. I didn't want to get into the three weeks thing. I might as well say three decades. Later that night I tried my best at charades to ask him if he wanted to watch an episode of Curious George. Yes, I scratched under my arms to mimic a monkey. He just stared at me like I'm nuts. Thank God these boys aren't older or else I'm sure they would take advantage of the "no yelling" thing.

I am sure God will use this to show me that as a self-professed "yeller" I don't need to raise my voice at my kids as much. I am actually kinda curious to see how they will react to me not talking to them as much. We talked about fruits of the Spirit this morning on the show and self-control is one that I will need to exercise more than ever. I CANNOT yell at my kids for the next three weeks. Challenge accepted. I guess!

The other side of this diagnosis is work. The staff is on-board with not talking to me for a while. I didn't have to twist many arms. I've found that when I whisper, so does the person I'm talking with, so there have been a lot of quiet conversations around the office. But the bigger issue: I talk for four hours a day AND we have Hopesgiving (our on-air fundraiser) the third week of what is supposed to be a three week period of rest! AHHHH! (That was a silent scream.)

You could say this mom/radio host/naturally chatty gal is a little overwhelmed. What's the point, God? What are you showing me here? Is this all going to be ok? Actually how big is my butt going to get? 

I went to the scriptures for some peace. Funny enough, the woman in these verses was suffering from a hemorrhage too, but hers had been going on for twelve years! I thought I was bad about going to the doctor. I kid! I kid!

Matthew 9:20-22
A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. She said to herself, “If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured.” Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, “Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.” And from that hour the woman was cured.

Could you please say a prayer for me? For healing, self-control and that when all of this is said and done some of my jeans still fit. Thanks. You're in my prayers, too. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

What's For Dinner? Mini Chicken Pot Pies!

I saw this being made on TV the other day and thought:
1. YUM!
and 2. I can do that!

Plus, my 3-year-old is becoming a picky eater. He's not bad, but when all the food is on the plate, he'll usually pick at the meat/chicken/fish and scarf down the bread or noodles. But when everything is combined, like in a Shepherd's Pie or like this in a Chicken Pot Pie, he's more apt to eat his veggies and meat. I know some kids are the opposite. If the veggies are touching the stuff they like, then all bets are off! Oh the joys of preparing a healthy meal! Can't every night be Pizza Night?

So here is an inexpensive, quick & easy meal that's fun too. Serve it up with a side of sliced tomatoes, or cheesy broccoli and it's pretty healthy. Score one for mom!

Here's the recipe for Grands Mini Chicken Pot Pies.

If you want to put a spin on it, I like the suggestion of making it vegetarian and filling it with shrimp or scallops and cream of shrimp soup. Or make it an Italian Pot Pie and fill it with marinara, turkey sausage, italian veggies and then top it with some parm (mmm... cheese...).  That's a nice way of getting your italian fix without the big bowl of pasta.  Or... what about a breakfast pie? Ham & cheese and egg? Would that work? Just be careful to not let the dough get too thin at any one spot or you might have some leakage - whether it's diapers, pipes or pot pies, leakage is never good!

So fill those muffin tins with whatever your heart desires (and sneak in some veggies) and enjoy!

UPDATE: Here's how mine turned out. They were delicious and the little guy loved picking up his dinner with his hands! 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

It's Nothing Special

I took this picture of my 3-year-old last weekend. Sometimes I can't resist the urge to show off pictures of him because I think he's the most handsome, lovable kid in town. I found myself showing this to a friend with the caveat, "I have to show you this. It's nothing special. He's just making a silly face, but I think he's cute."

And yeah, really, there's nothing particularly remarkable about the photograph. It's even a little blurry. Yet, I see something so special when I look at it. I see his gentle hands. His silly toes. His expressive eyes. I see love. I see warmth, sweetness, challenges, growth, adventure!

How would God look at the photos He snaps of us? I'm sure he has an Instagram account and applies the perfect filter before posting! (I hear He likes "Valencia".) I seriously doubt he would ever say, "Eh, it's nothing special." or "Just a silly moment. No biggie." When he looks at even the messy, blurry moments He still sees love. He still sees this person he created and wants to see grow.

We focus on our flaws, our sins and our shortcomings so much that I'd bet God is saying, "Enough already! Why can't you see yourself the way I do?" How would that change the way we interact with God if we saw ourselves through His eyes? Through the eyes of a proud parent who loves us down to the oddest detail.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Feeling of Porcelain

My big sister knew she wanted to get far away from home for college. So in August of 1995 she and my mom packed up the car and moved her to Columbia, Missouri for her freshman year at Mizzou. She came home for a summer, but didn't return again permanently until 10 months ago. So for almost nineteen years she lived away from what I know as "home." I'm the opposite. I ventured as far as I could handle - to Gainesville, Florida to be a Gator. I'm a home-body through and through.

My first time home for a break was Thanksgiving and as much as I was enjoying college, it was nice to be back in my bed, in my home and in my home town. I remember getting in the shower and pausing. What caught my attention was the feeling of the porcelain touching the bottom of my feet. If you lived in the dorms in college, you probably know the drill - you wear flip flops in the shower -  every time.  I didn't realize until I felt the tub again how much I'd missed it. In fact, I never even knew that I enjoyed it until then! As it was so eloquently stated by Joni Mitchell, " Don't it always seem to go. That you don't know what  you've got till it's gone."

It's hard to be mindful of our blessings sometimes. Isn't it? Life is just busy and it's enough to try to just be kind and patient with our kids, spouse, family and co-workers. Now on top of that I have to take a note of the way my feet feel in the tub? C'mon!

Here's my suggestion and what I will make a concerted effort to start doing - next time you find yourself enjoying something, whether it's a scoop of ice cream, the sound of the rain or a hug from your child, say it out loud. Be thankful for it in that moment and speak the thanks out loud. Tell your child her hugs are the best or your friend that the ice cream you sat and shared "was really yummy, wasn't it?!" If no one is there, just talk to God and tell him how much you enjoyed it.

And if it's one of the weird things (like the feeling of the bathtub under your feel), don't be afraid to tell someone. You might just reveal something they had never thought of as a blessing. Like the cool side of a pillow when you flip it over - Isn't that refreshing?

photo credit

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Rain Drops in the Rear View

Rain drops in the rear view... Sounds like the title to a sad country song- I'm leeeeavin' my baaaaby. I pull away in my Ford and all I can see are rain drops in the rear view... Sorry. There's a reason I don't write lyrics! But seriously, it's been so rainy lately. Just about every day when I leave work I have to grab the umbrella. On Monday I jumped into the car and put it in reverse to back out of my parking spot. My car (a Ford, funny enough) has a back-up camera, which I never thought I could get used to but now I find myself starting at the dash when I'm driving someone else's car. Wait! There's no camera there! I actually have to look in the mirror to see what's behind me!

The back-up camera shot was foggy because of the rain and then across the whole screen, a HUGE droplet of water came down. It felt like the rain scene in "Honey... I Shrunk the Kids." Remember that? Every drop that came down on the kids had the potential to drown them. The tiny puddles that formed were lakes to their itty bitty bodies. I smirked at the sight of the huge body of water that was actually just a single drop. And then I thought about how I can see my problems or little hiccups that occur in a day as one of those HUGE drops. Through my own eyes I magnify them to be the size of an ocean when in the eyes of God they are specs.

I don't think God wants us to every feel like our cares are not important or worth heartache. Calling all of our worries, "first-world problems" ignores the fact that we are human. I think He just asks for our complete trust. When we trust that He wants what is best for us like a good father wants what is best for his loving child, those big-drop-problems can actually become opportunities to grow. Alright, God. This is on my mind. I'm a little scared. Help put this into perspective. Help me trust that you are in control and won't let me drown.

Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are drowning?” He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. Mark 4: 38-39

Those big drops and storms are at the mercy of God. When we believe and accept that, they shrink in our eyes as well. 

What IS huge in the eyes of God is me. And you. His lens is miraculous and each of us is His only care. How is that possible? The only way I can even begin to wrap my head around it is to think of when I go into my boys' room when they wake up from a nap. They share a room and when I open the door, both of them are there to greet me and get a hug. I struggle with which one to go to first. Do I pull Graham out of his crib and leave Liam with his arms open waiting for a hug or do a hug Liam and pull him over to the crib as I lift the little guy? I am fully loving and caring for both of those boys at the same time. My heart is not divided. It's filled with both of them, equally. If I take this knowledge of how I feel about my own children and put it in the context of God's power and might and size... I can begin to comprehend how I can be so important to Him. THE MOST important to Him. And so are you. The most important. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Free Books!

I'm pretty sure that if I read my boys a different book every night, no repeats, I would be able to go for about 6 months before running out. Yet, we read the same 6 or so week after week. Gradually some rotate out and others come in. Big Red Barn was a hit for a while. As was Curious George - Opposites. I can recite that one in my sleep. "George climbs up! Then jumps down. George rides forward... and backward, too!" I love it when he asks for Just In Case Your Ever Wonder by Max Lucado. It comes out "case wunda", so it's awfully cute, but the message of the book is awesome.  Other books we don't get past page two. They just don't do it for my discerning two-year-old. 

Liam's official seal of approval doesn't come easy, but it's been given to K.D. Brown's, Hi, God. She's a listener who reached out to me and said, "Hey, I've written some books for kids. Here you go! Do what you want with them!" That being said, I have two copies of Hi, God and Four Lucky Leaves, both by K.D. Just shoot me an email if you want one! Hi, God is about a little boy who can't quite figure out how to start a prayer and Four Lucky Leaves is about a four leaf clover that tries to change the way he looks in order to fit in. 

Another cool bit of info, K.D. is teaming up with I Matter Too, a locally-based non-profit organization that mentors and tutors orphaned, abused and neglected children through the love of Christ. Because she wants to give back and help kids, K.D. is donating 100% of her author proceeds from all online sales of both books  from now til September 30th to I Matter Too. Here's more on that!

My apologies for the bad punctuation of all of these book titles. Since I know I'm guilty, does that make it worse?