God’s So Good at Teaching Us Humility

Wednesday afternoon, I got some of the most awesome news of my life.

My publisher of choice – the one that caused the initial spark of an idea for even writing fiction – is going to offer me a contract to publish my book!!!!

To say I was excited would be a major understatement. Jubilant, elated, ecstatic… leaping around the kitchen while screaming my head off… that would begin to describe my reaction.

I called Ray, sent a text to my sisters and parents, and an email to my prayer warrior mom’s group, whose prayers I had requested for the book.  I reveled in the glory while I prepared a quick lunch and got us ready to run a few errands. Published! I am going to be published! My name is going to be on the front of a book cover, my picture on the back. Words that I wrote will be available for sale across the United States… and beyond!

I beamed my way through getting Boo into the car and off we were on our way to the stores. I forgot one thing… in the midst of a huge fit, during which Boo was demanding the Kindle Fire, I had placed the device in question on top of my car. I was taking the dog out, and it was the one handy place I could think of that she wouldn’t attempt to climb to in order to get her desired toy. This happened about five minutes before that wonderful email from the publisher, and I just completely spaced it.

Fast forward an hour and a half, and we’re driving down a country road when I hear “Ker klunk, ker klunk!” from the top of my car. Bewildered, I looked in my side view mirror just in time to see something black fly from my car to the side of the road. The Kindle.

I turned the car around and parked in the driveway of the home whose yard I thought I was passing at the time. I climbed out of the car and began to look . Unfortunately, the area is hopelessly overgrown, and I had no idea whether to look up, or to look down. Did the Kindle have enough lift coming off of the car that it could have caught on a tree branch? Or was it more likely to be in a ditch? Was it lodged under the pile of dead branches, or had it made it further beyond the tree line? I had no idea.

The kind home owner happened to come down the driveway, having already planned to work on cleaning the area up that afternoon, and he helped in the search for a while. After a humbling half hour spent walking up and down the roadside, picking through branches and trash, all while wearing a skirt and sandals, I finally had to give up. I gave the kind man my phone number, just in case (and because I’m in the habit of giving strange men my number), and drove off, now in a rush to complete my shopping before a scheduled meeting.

I’ve long recognized that humility is an area for growth for me, as I’ve mentioned once or twice. As I’ve prayed for the successful publication of this book, I’ve tried to remember to also pray that God would keep me humble through the process, remembering always that they aren’t really my words, but His, that it wasn’t my idea, but the Spirit’s, and that, without God, I can do nothing.

My losing the Kindle, feeling embarrassed as I searched high and low on a rather busy country road, and having to confess the loss to the children… and Ray… that was God’s way of saying, “I’ve got this Steph. One way or another, child, I’ll keep reminding you that you’re not all that. In fact, my beloved daughter, you are nothing… without Me.”

Thanks, God. Got it. For now, at least.

A Special Meal for the Feast of Angels

I generally draw a blank when it comes to celebrating the liturgical calendar at home. I certainly can’t rely on my own creativity. The last time I attempted to do so, the best I could do for the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary was this:

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No one was able to guess the significance, so I’ll spill the beans:

Kale Mary, full of grapes. The gourd is with you.

Totally irreverent, yes. But you have to admit it’s pretty funny. Here’s hoping God has a sense of humor. And Mary. And Jesus. And Joseph.

You don’t think I’d get to heaven only to have Joseph, Protector, come after me for a little kale Mary joke, do you? Eek.

Any who… Thanks be to God, my friend Kristine recently shared the blog, Catholic Cuisine, and I am loving it!

It has lots of great meal ideas for celebrating the liturgical calendar that are simple and do-able. Plus, as long as they taste good, I don’t think Ray will be too terribly annoyed by my Jesus-freakishness.

Since I’m reading St. Therese’s Story of a Soul, I really wanted to observe her feast day on Wednesday. There was a suggestion for Penne Rosa on the website that looked lovely. However, when I went to find the flower-shaped pasta today at Kroger, I had no such luck.

BUT, they did, of course, have angel hair pasta. Yesterday was the feast of St.’s Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, the Archangels, so I thought, What the hay, I can make angel hair pasta with white sauce, and we will celebrate that.

Not completely lacking in creativity, I continued to embellish the creation over the course of making dinner. When the children and I finally sat down for our meal, I had come up with this:

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I read the day’s Mass reading to them (Revelation 12:7-12ab), which tells the story of Michael and his angels casting Satan and his minions down to hell. Then I explained that:

  • The angel hair pasta is, of course, for the angels. Dressed in white as angels do, with an alfredo sauce.
  • The tomatoes symbolize the blood of Christ, through which we are saved. (Originally, the tomatoes were to be the demons, but once I read the scripture verse again, I realized that I liked this scheme better. A drizzling of red sauce would have worked better, but, well… I was improvising as I was reading to the kids, plates already set before us, so this had to do.)
  • The chicken nuggets symbolize Satan and his demons – since they’re just a bunch of chickens.
  • And they’re passing the earth (AKA broccoli), on their way to the netherworld.

The Feast of the Guardian Angels is Thursday, and this could easily be modified.  The pasta with alfredo sauce for the angels, which you could wrap around the nuggets, symbolizing each of us, as our guardian angels are always with us and protecting us. Of course, I like the well-balanced meal, so a little broccoli would show that the angels are with us, even here on earth, and you could put grapes – still on the vine – on the plate, reminding us that Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, and the guardian angels are working to protect us and support us in our work for Christ!

As for St. Therese’s feast… I’m looking forward to making the crepes for breakfast. I haven’t ironed out dinner, but thought I might do something to demonstrate her “little way.” Some orzo pasta, perhaps, to show how even very little things can add up to so much more? I also plan to challenge the children to do at least one small act of kindness which no one else will ever no about, just for the knowledge that they’ve been pleasing to God.

What are your plans for upcoming liturgical celebrations? Please share in the comments!

 

Seven Quick Takes On Craziness, Possessed iPhones, and Impure Souls

— 1 —

First, let me tell you that I have actually blogged in the past three weeks of silence. I was just never able to grab enough time to finish the posts. I have many lovely drafts running, with excellent thoughts to share on bubble-wrapping our children, whether the Pope has deified Mary (I’ll give you a hint – he has not), my conversion story, and I don’t even remember what else. So stay tuned. One of these days, life will settle down and I’ll have time to right a truly excellent blog post.

— 2 —

In the mean time, you’re stuck with this, a quick and dirty Boo-is-asleep-and-I’ve finished-my-most-urgent-Inkwell-business-so-I’m-going-to-see-if-I-can-write-seven-quick-takes-in-twenty-minutes blog post. And just writing that last sentence with all the dashes took me three, so prepare to be disappointed.

— 3 —

In a nutshell, life in my house is crazy. But wait. It should be but it actually isn’t. We’ve rented the house, have to be out in less than a month, haven’t found a new house yet, are driving a half hour to and from school (yes, each way), Dude has football practice four to five times a week, plus games, I’m working a couple hours each day, with no childcare… and yet I’m honestly not stressed out. I can only speak for myself, of course. Ray might be a *little* stressed.

Part of it is that Ray’s handling much of the driving. He takes the kids to school three to four times a week, and does the same for football practice. And then part of it is child neglect. Boo is watching more TV than any child should. Part of it is that I’ve done very little packing, which I’m sure will come back to bite me. Then there’s the convenient part of being at a new church where I have little to no volunteer commitments… and the fact that I haven’t posted to my blog in weeks.

But I think much of it is a Grace thing. When this all started, I had a long talk with God and told him that I’d never get through this without him. I haven’t, and I won’t.

— 4 —

Attempting to add to any chaos that might exist is my lovely iPhone. I hate my iPhone. I used to love my iPhone, but then I got a new one and now I hate my iPhone. I don’t often use profanity but Ray’s kind of the one person who knows I used to talk like a sailor and if I don’t throw it in occasionally he thinks he lost his wife completely to that Jesus dude. So, I allow myself the luxury of texting things like this:

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This was brought on by the fact that, last night at football practice, my phone mysteriously deleted all of my contacts. ALL OF THEM. My husband became a number. My mom and dad became a number. My sisters and closest friends became numbers. I currently have two contacts, both of which I’ve recreated in the last 18 hours.

The phone says it’s over-capacity. I’ve tried numerous times to delete all of the photos when I sync to my computer, but it won’t do it. So I wind up going in and deleting them one by one. Yes, I have found a simpler way, but it’s still not the way it’s supposed to happen.

I think my phone has been possessed by a demon, intent on getting me to use profanity in texts. And then share it on my Christian blog.

Update: I’ve deleted all but about 20 photos on my phone and it still says I’m over capacity by 3.05 GB. I’d like to use more profanity here, but instead I’ll settle for…

GRRRRRRRR!

— 5 —

Largely due to messing around with my phone problems, I wasn’t able to finish this during Boo’s nap. Now it’s Saturday morning and I have good news. Ray was able to restore my phone. Hallelujah! It didn’t even require a priest.

— 6 —

Not that I really thought my phone was possessed by a demon, but I thought it worth noting that, last night, as I was reading The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of the Little Flower (Tan Classics), I came across the following:

“As yet I had not experienced that ‘to the pure all things are pure,’ that a simple and upright soul does not see evil in anything, because evil only exists in impure hearts and not in inanimate objects.”

I had to laugh. Of course, it comes as no surprise to me that St. Therese just totally called me out as an impure soul. Following the news these days makes it a little difficult to conceive of being so pure and upright that one sees evil in nothing. And I remember that the Pope recently said that one of Satan’s greatest victories is convincing the world that he (Satan) doesn’t exist. Nonetheless, these words are a good reminder that we are to see Jesus in everyone. Even the terrorists and the murderers. And, yes, even our husbands who are really stressed out and neighbors who don’t take care of their yards when we’re trying to sell our houses.

— 7 —

On that note, I would ask for your prayers for our family. That, if it’s God’s will, we will quickly find a house in which we can all be happy, or that if He prefers to wait and teach us patience, that we can find peace in this transition and blessings in the unknowns.

**Thanks!** And feel free to add your own prayer requests in the comments section.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

 P.S. That Story of a Soul link is an affiliate link. Thanks for your support! I do highly recommend the book. It’s an easy, enjoyable read from which much insight can be gained!

What Not to Say… When A Woman Tells You She’s Pregnant

 

The news of our fifth child was certainly met with widely variant responses. Most of my friends were shocked but excited for us. Our family, on the other hand… well, once I got over the tears and the anger, their responses seemed downright amusing.

The words below are all ones that I have heard, whether for this child or a previous one. I’m sure many of you can relate.

1. “Aren’t you a little old?” Well, thanks for the vote of confidence. I was of “advanced maternal age” when I had my last one, so, YES, according to most of society, I am TOO OLD to have another child. But I am healthy and active and pretty sure that I can survive having a child at forty.

2. “I’ll bet your husband was ticked!”  The man who threatened to jump off a tall building if I got pregnant again? Well, the good news is, he hasn’t gone to those levels… yet. Now, the task before me is to identify a hospital whose maternity ward is on the first floor. Just to be safe.

3. “That’s going to be a huge financial burden.” Thanks for pointing out the obvious and being so imminently practical. Yes, children are a tremendous financial burden.They are also a source of indescribable joy. I will trust in God to provide. (Those words were met with a snort, btw.) On a bright note, I’ll now have five children to look after me when I’m old, decrepit, and broke.

4. “I’m sorry.” Nobody’s died, here! I don’t need – or want – your condolences!!! An added hug only makes it worse. I don’t need to be comforted. Instead, I would really like someone to celebrate with me. Clearly you are not the person with whom I shall be doing that.

5. “You do know what causes that, don’t you?” Yes, as a matter of fact I do. And I’m kind of a fan.

6. “There’s a way to prevent these things, you know.” I’m well aware. That “way” also happens to be contrary to my beliefs. I know you don’t understand that, but I’d ask that you please respect it.

7. “You should have gone to the doctor a long time ago.” (This said to the father-to-be.) Seriously? When should that have been? After #4 was conceived… or before? Or perhaps it should have been before #3 was created? Exactly which ones of our children do you feel we should have prevented?

8. “You’re killing me.” Okay. This one left me without words. How could my having another child possibly kill anyone, with the possibly exception of ME? I do not intend to raise a homicidal maniac. In fact, perhaps this child will grow to become a great scientist and find a cure for cancer. So, perhaps, rather than killing you, this child could actually save your rude, thoughtless, life-disrespecting @*s.

Ending on this note might leave one thinking that I’m bitter, and I’m not. Honestly, some of these responses left me in tears, and others left me red with anger. But I understand the intentions behind them (well, most of them. Let’s face it, though, a few are just really rude and selfish), and I know that… most of them… were said out of love.

The kids’ response was what really got me. In the midst of the negativity, they screamed in joy, jumping up and down, immediately arguing whether it would be a girl or a boy, and asking what we were going to name it. The continue to make me a little uncomfortable by coming up to “kiss baby” and give him/her hugs. They loved and were overjoyed by this child from the moment they knew it existed.

Jesus tells us that we must become like little children. This was a glimpse into exactly what he meant.

What responses have you heard when you shared the news of an unexpected pregnancy?

Seven Quick Takes on Being Sick, Long Drives, and Moving

I figured that, after dropping my little bombshell last week, I probably ought to take a moment to update you on the few little things that are going on in the Engelman family.  Sure, there’s a baby on the way.  What’s that in the midst of a new church, a new school, moving, starting a business, and (hopefully) getting your first book published?

— 1 —

So, first, let me focus on what’s most important… me. Just kidding. But this one is about me. And I’m probably going to whine. You see, through four children, I’ve proudly declared that my body seems to be made to carry children. Sure, I’d get a little tired during the first trimester, but I never felt sick, and didn’t experience the swelling, sleepness nights, or other discomforts that most women experience. It was one of the reasons why I felt I should have more children. If God made it so lovely for me to carry babies, surely He wants me to have more?

I guess God felt that it was high time I got a taste of what most women go through. No, I never actually had to hug the porcelain throne. But I did spend innumerable days feeling sick from ten a.m. until bedtime.

I’m not a person who gets sick often, and I learned something about myself. I’m terrible at being sick. I grouched at my kids, I complained to anyone who would listen, and I spent countless hours laying in bed bemoaning my fate. My family survived on take out food and frozen meals because I couldn’t bear the thought of cooking anything, and didn’t have the energy even if it didn’t make me want to vomit.

Then one day I ordered a Prenatal Pilates video on the Kindle and did the first few workouts. My energy level went up and the sickness decreased.  Maybe it was just a coincidence, but that was the best $10 I’ve spent in a while.

— 2 —

At the same time, we were trying to get the house ready to put on the market. Feeling sick does not go well with painting, mulch-spreading, and closet reorganizing. But I did it. The house isn’t officially “on the market,” since we’re too cheap to pay a realtor, but there’s a sign in the yard. A young man stopped by one night and asked Ray if we’d consider renting. And apparently we would. Papers aren’t signed yet, but it looks like it’s probably going to happen and we’ll be moving in the next thirty days. Which isn’t stressful at all.

— 3 —

IMG_7919.JPGThe kids have been at their new school for just over a week, and they are settling in beautifully. They don’t act anxious about going in the mornings, and they are happy when I pick them up each night. Super-social Bonita already has a play date scheduled. The boys might take a little longer, but the Dude already has his cousins there, and Bear – quite frankly – received very few invitations to play with any friends from kindergarten, anyways. (Which was odd because he is the sweetest kid on earth, and when we invited kids to our house to play, they jumped all over it. But that was one of those little idiosyncrasies of that community, it seems, and something that I pray will be different at the new school.)

— 4 —

The drive to school is long, but somehow it does seem to get shorter the more I do it. We try to leave 40 minutes before school starts. If we’re successful, the kids are there ten+ minutes early. If we leave seven minutes later, they may very well be late, and they’ve already had a tardy. If there’s ever an accident on the way, there’s just no hope.

— 5 —

The drive home from school is almost as bad, though free from the stress of having to arrive at a certain time. School’s out at 3:15 and we get home around 4.  Poor Dude has to turn around and leave for football at 5:30, which doesn’t provide a whole lot of downtime. He gets home around 8:30 and still has to eat dinner and shower. Burning the candle at both ends has already led to a sick day for him yesterday.

— 6 —

All of which has contributed to our willingness to take this guy’s offer to rent the house. I just want to get closer to the school, closer to this new community into which we need to integrate (though I’m sad to leave the “old” community!), and stop spending a fortune on gas.

— 7 —

Now I’ve gotten to number seven and haven’t even talked about my new business or the progress on the book! Well, the new business is a freelance writing service and already has a couple of clients. It’s keeping me busy. Ray developed a beautiful logo, which you can see here: www.inkwellwrites.com.  As you can see, we’ve done nothing more with the website, having been too busy with all the other craziness of life!

As for the book, there is a publisher who is “pursuing a formal acquisitions process,” which doesn’t mean that they’ll publish the book, but that they liked it and are going to do some investigation to determine whether they can actually make any money off of it. I remain cautiously optimistic!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Honest Reaction to “Joyful” News

My hands shook and my knee jumped frantically of its own accord as I sat on my shiny throne.

God, please, no.  You can’t do this to me.

No, no, no.  That’s not what I’m supposed to say.

Not my will, but Thy will be done, Lord.

It can’t be true.  Please, don’t let it be true.

No, that’s not right, either.

I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.

And so the inner struggle began, in the early morning hours, as my husband slept just twenty feet away, blissfully unaware of the turmoil I was experiencing, which he would soon share.

And the thoughts came back again, of their own accord.

God, please, don’t let it be true.

But it was.  The little blue “plus” sign was clearly visible in the light from the single overhead fixture.

I was pregnant.

This would be number five.  When we got married, my husband and I had agreed that three was the perfect number.  But that was before…

Before I converted to Catholicism.

Before I became a different person.

Before I said, “I don’t always understand the Church’s teachings, but I was called into the Church, and I have to believe God wants me to follow all of the teachings.  I can’t just pick and choose.”

And, anyways, I get this one.  Every child is a gift.  How can I say, “Thanks God, for the four wonderful gifts you’ve given me, but I’ve got enough now.  I don’t want this gift you’d like to give me, so I’m going to prevent you from giving it.”?

And yet, here I was now, thinking, God, please, no.

Funny enough, I desperately wanted another child.  Only a few weeks before, I’d held a friend’s baby, lamenting the fact that my child-bearing days were over.

And how do I explain that – a Catholic, trying to follow Church teachings, wanting to accept another life from God, yet resigning myself to being “done”?

Well, that’s a long story, or at least one that I can’t tell and feel that I’ve done justice to all parties involved.  Essentially, there were many, many reasons why my husband had made it very clear that we needed to be DONE. Valid reasons.

I waited a day to tell my husband.  I took the test on our four-year-old’s birthday.  Unsure of how he would respond, I didn’t want to ruin her day.  So I waited.

He was shocked.  But I had underestimated him.  Ultimately, he came to me, gave me a hug, and said,

“We’re gonna have a baby.”

And so we are.

Thanks be to God.

God is the Potter

The following is a re-post of a reflection originally published on my “old” blog, Martha’s Heart, on July 29, 2010.  Jer 18:1-6 was today’s Mass reading, as it was on the day of this original post.  It reminds me that God is the potter, and I am the clay, on a day when I was already praying to do better than I did yesterday, when stress and frustration had my head spinning and my voice raised toward the children.

Once again, I find myself praying that God will mold me into a vessel that is pleasing to Him.

Malleable

So often, I have moments in which I am clearly not the person God wants me to be.  This morning was a perfect example.  I was a grouch, largely because I used old coffee beans and my coffee tasted terrible.  Silly, yes, but true none-the-less.  It got my day off to a bad start and I was taking it out on my husband and kids.

It is moments like these that make Jer 18:1-6 so precious to me:

Whenever the object of clay which he was making
turned out badly in his hand,
he tried again,
making of the clay another object of whatever sort he pleased. (Jer 18:4)

God is the potter, and we are the clay.  He will not throw us away just because we are not the people He wants us to be.  Instead, he will try again, and again, and again.  The key is that we, the clay, must not harden ourselves against Him.  We must remain malleable, open to His word, His voice, His constant presence in our lives.

This morning, saying grace before breakfast reminded me that I could turn to God to help me improve my mood, so I asked Him to do just that.  As usual, prayer turned my day around.  It reminded me that I had to bend, rather than staying rigid.  It reminded me of my need for God’s grace and wisdom in my life.

Father, please help me to be the person you want me to be.  In moments when I begin to turn bad, please help me to remember that I must remain open to you, malleable in your all-capable hands.  Make me a vessel that is pleasing to you.

Potter's wheel

Potter’s Wheel, by Ravindra Prabhat, Image courtesy www.wikimedia.org

 

Jeremiah’s Dirty Loincloth and Christian Obedience

In Jeremiah 13, God told the prophet Jeremiah to go and buy himself a linen loincloth, wear it, but don’t wash it.  So Jeremiah did.

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Michelangelo’s Jeremiah, from the Sistine Chapel, image courtesy Web Gallery of Art, www.wga.hu

Next, God told him to go to the Parath and bury the loincloth.  So Jeremiah did.

Finally, after some lengthy period of time, God told him to go retrieve the buried loincloth.  And so Jeremiah did.

Most of us would have responded to God’ first command with, “But, why?  Why do you want me to buy this loincloth?  Does it have to be linen?  I prefer silk.  And why can’t I wash it?  That’s gross.  How about if I wear it for a few days – I’ll even spring for three.  Then I’ll just put it in a bag, carefully sealed, so the stink doesn’t escape.”

To the second command, we might have responded, “The Parath is a long ways away.  I’ll go, but only if I have a horse and chariot to carry me there.  And food for the journey.  And a place to stay overnight, so I can be well rested.  As a matter of fact, isn’t it silly to go all that way, just to bury a piece of dirty cloth?  How about if I bury it in the desert, just outside the city, or – better yet – in my back yard?  Surely, that would work, Lord, right?  You don’t really want me to have to go all that way, I’m sure of it!”

And to the third, we’d likely have said, “Oh, come on!  Enough of this already!  I did what you wanted the first two times – or near enough.  Now you want me to go unearth the thing?  It’ll probably have bugs on it, it’ll be even dirtier than it was before, and I doubt I can even find it in the first place!  And if you want me to wear it afterward, you’d better believe I’m going to wash it first!”

God asks our obedience in all matters.  Obedience to God is never blind, but rather trusting, trusting that He will never lead us astray, but lead us to sanctification.  Even when we do not understand why we must do this thing or that thing, or not do this thing or that thing, we must trust that our obedience will never lead us away from God, but toward him.

In what matters do you find obedience difficult?  For many of us, it might be the Church’s teaching on contraception, marriage between a man and a woman, drunkenness, intimacy outside of marriage, divorce, or to attend Mass regularly and go to confession.

Or, perhaps, it’s obedience to that nudge of the Spirit to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, admonish the sinner, bear wrongs patiently, or to forgive willingly.

Obedience is never easy, nor is it meant to be.  It is through the trials of obedience that we draw closer to Christ, clinging to him as the Israelites failed to do in Jeremiah’s time, and as many (most?) of us fail to do in our time as well.

When Jeremiah unearthed the loincloth, he found that it had rotted.  The Lord spoke to him, saying, “So also I will allow the pride of Judah to rot… This wicked people who refuse to obey my words, who walk in the stubbornness of their hearts, and follow strange gods… shall be like this loincloth which is good for nothing.” (Jer. 13:9-10)

Does that sound to you like it could easily be an indictment of the people of our age?  In some matters, is it an indictment of you and of me?

The Lord also said to Jeremiah, “For, as close as the loincloth clings to a man’s loins, so had I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me… to be my people, my beauty.  But they did not listen.” (Jer. 13:11)

We were made to cling to God – to Christ.  We were made to be His people, His beauty.

May we listen.

 

This post was added to July’s Catholic Blogger Blitz.  For more great Catholic blogs, click the link below!

2014 Catholic Bloggers Link-Up Blitz

 

 

 

Something Other Than God – A Book Review

Thanks for stopping by to read my first ever book review!  I’m so excited to share my thoughts on this great book.  Enjoy the review… and grab a copy of the book for yourself when you’re done! :) The review does include affiliate links.  Thanks for your support!

You may be familiar with Jennifer Fulwiler’s blog, Conversion Diary.  I adore her self-deprecating sense of humor, and was thrilled when I was finally able to read her memoire, Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It.

The book is the story of Jennifer’s Fulwiler’s journey toward Christ.  Having grown up with a strongly atheist dad and a mother who didn’t discuss religious beliefs, Jennifer followed in her father’s footsteps.  As a tender fifth grader, placed under duress by a rabidly Christian camp counselor, Jennifer assigned a label to herself: atheist.  For the next several years, she endured the pain of being ostracized from her Texas school’s social scene because she hadn’t been “saved” and “born again,” and wouldn’t participate in their Bible studies.

Jennifer learned from her father that “[b]elief in gods and angels and stuff like that is a comfort to some people,” but clearly not for her.  She ascribed to a scientific world view, devoid of any divine hand or direction. The first notch in the armor of this “logical” thinking appeared when Jennifer was only eleven years old, searching for fossils with her dad.  Upon finding an ammonite embedded within the rock wall, Jennifer was faced with the brevity of her human life and the fact that, according to her belief structure, her “fate was no different” than that of the ammonite.  In ten million years, she would not exist, not even in the fossilized form of the ancient mollusk she had found.

After this dose of “reality”, Jennifer was filled with a desolation which was only relieved by fleeting moments of happiness, and Jennifer spent the next decade desperately trying to capture those elusive moments of joy.  It was only after the birth of her first son left her in a deep depression, filled with the sure knowledge that her child’s fate was no different than her own – a finite life on earth, followed by an empty void of nothingness – that Jennifer began to question her views on divinity.  Surely atheism could not explain the love she felt for her husband and son.  “There was more to human life than the atoms that made up our bodies – I was sure of it.”

Initially filled with questions and doubts, Jennifer methodically sought out answers, and shares this process with her readers in this humorous and endearing memoire.  With her husband, Joe, Jennifer traced the roots of Christianity to find where Truth really lies, including an excellent exploration of her last hold-out on joining the Catholic Church, her battle to maintain her pro-choice views.

For those of you familiar with Scott Hahn, I have referred to Something Other Than God as “the new Rome Sweet Home, for “real” people.  While being extremely informative, the book is also entertaining, and a delightful read.  I would recommend this to any non-Christian seeking to understand Christianity, any Christian seeking to understand Catholicism, and any Catholic seeking to better understand their own faith.

The Big Move, Explained

Many people have asked what led to our decision to move to another parish and school, so I’m going to take a moment to try to sum it all up.  First, let me say that we have been very blessed to be a part of our previous school and church community and that it is comprised of an amazing group of people whom I will miss dearly, looking always forward to when I get to come for a visit. (Which will be often, I hope, since we’re only moving twenty minutes away!)

  1. First and foremost, both of my sisters – and their boys – are now going to the “new church and school.”  I love the idea of having all of us in one place.  Not to mention the fact that poor Dude was feeling extremely left out, since his cousins were sharing many things that he couldn’t be a part of.  I felt that, in fairness to him, we needed to at least consider this move. This alone would never have been enough to actually go forward with the change, but it was a vital consideration.
  2. You all know that I’ve been a “bit” involved in the anti-Common Core effort.  I toured the one classical Catholic school in our area last fall, and I fell in love.  Sadly, what would have been a fit for me and some of my children would not have been a fit for Ray and others of my children.  The Dude, in particular, would have been miserable. While our new school does not offer a classical education (and honestly some of its curriculum components are inferior to those we are leaving), its religion education is much more classical than our old school, and the attitude that the children are taught in Mass and in the classroom more closely mimics a classical environment.  And, while there seems to be absolutely no chance of transitioning to a more classical education at our old school, the possibility does appear to exist at the new school.  So, yes, a bit of this is being done on “a hope and a prayer.”
  3. The “attitude” that I mentioned above is a big part… reverence and respect are something that are difficult for a mom to teach without a community to back her up.  If the kids look around and see a bunch of people acting in one way, they wonder why they have to act in a different way.  At our old church, an awful lot of people leave Mass early, talk during communion, and dress like they’re going to a football game.  The children don’t do that during school Mass, of course, but I noticed when visiting the new church that the parishioners at Sunday Mass were dressed in their Sunday best, didn’t leave early, and respected the celebration.  Visiting the school, I saw this general respect and reverence evidenced in the classrooms and in the halls, and I liked that.
  4. I’ve always wanted to live in the area we’ll be moving to.  Shallow?  Maybe. 
    Houses in Woodruff Place (not the exact 'hood we're looking in, but close enough)

    Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

  5. I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say that there were some errors being taught through the actions of a few, and I felt it best to remove my children from their influence.
  6. The old school doesn’t have any male teachers or administrators, and I’d like my boys to have the influence of great male teachers in their lives.  In addition, the priest at the new school is exceedingly involved in the school, and the kids adore him – an added bonus.
  7. Finally, the altar servers.  Oh! The altar servers!  I can’t describe it.  They’ve got 150 altar servers, and those boys show a reverence and respect (there are those words again!) for the Mass, the Word of God, and the Eucharist that I’ve rarely seen in young men.  They love to serve, and the priest reports that he frequentlyy has boys show up before Mass, unassigned, asking if they can serve.  Every Mass has ten or more servers!  There’s incense, bells, and the Gospel is escorted with candles.  It’s a breeding ground for vocations, I believe, and an environment I hope my sons will choose to participate in.  Whether they are called to the priesthood or not, developing such love for the Mass will serve all of those boys well.

Zdzisław Jasiński Palm Sunday 1891

“Palm Sunday mass” by Zdzisław Jsiński Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The above is an incomplete list and I must emphasize that I LOVE many, many things about our old parish, and am very sad to leave those things behind.  I have been incredibly blessed by our mom’s group, which must be among the most generous, loving, faith-filled group of women known to mankind.  I have also been blessed by the willingness of the priest and parish staff to do anything suggested which would build the faith life of the parish – so long as someone was willing to lead the effort – and there are many, many parishioners leading efforts to do many great things.  Lots of Bible studies, Mary’s Way dinners, retreats, etc.  It is a vibrant faith community.

Every family is different, and the reasons which make the new school and church a better fit for our family apply only to our family.  Honestly, if it hadn’t been for the presence at the new school of my sisters and my children’s cousins, plus my search for a less “Common Core Saturated” environment, we never would have even considered this move in the first place.

The grass is always greener on the other side, and I’ve spent enough time with my sisters to know that no school, and no church, is perfect.  Perhaps I’ll be disappointed, but after much prayer and consideration, I felt that this was the best decision for our family.  Fortunately, Ray agreed, for reasons of his own, some of which match mine, others which differ.  Regardless, the papers are signed, expectations are set, and we are moving forward with “The Big Move”!