Sunday, January 17, 2016

Do Not Let Your Heart Become Drowsy in 2016

New Year Resolution Do Not Let Your Heart Become Drowsy
Happy New Year from Of Sound Mind and Spirit. As I sit in the quiet morning, warm coffee wafting fragrantly at my side, Lisa and her children are bundled up warmly (I hope) waving and cheering the Chevron Houston Marathon runners, waiting to see “her Brian” run past on his fourth marathon.

As usual, we’ve taken a rather long Christmas holiday break from the blog.  Maybe we should just plan for it each year and put up a virtual “Happy Advent, Merry Christmas, See you Next Year” sign as a reminder to our semi-regular readers that at some point in the Advent we’re just not going to have time in our lives and jobs to slow down during the day (or be coherent enough after 10 p.m.) to capture the millions of thoughts that run through our minds.  Too often something happens that I think would be fun to share with you and I’ll mentally write the post in my mind – maybe I’ll even jot the idea in a notebook or in my iPhone notes, and then Never. Come. Back. To. It. 

But as I have a semi-quiet morning, with coffee, and a #fourisFUN year old mesmerized by Dora the Explorer on the Kindle (with headphones, and the occasional outcry “Backpack!”), there are at least ten ideas I’m going to try and write out for posting over the next few weeks. Writing More in 2016: call this my New Year’s Resolution if you wish. 

Speaking of Resolutions, did you make any?  Like most people, I’ve made plenty of resolutions in the past…. Eat better, exercise more, stop biting my fingernails, organize the house one room at a time, stop watching TV, and these lasted all of about three days (or three hours.)

But one of the audios I listened to last year on my commute that inspired me to write notes (in a notebook on my lap during the morning commute as I sat crawling 2 miles an hour) was a free CD from Lighthouse Media by Matthew Kelly, “Becoming the Best Version of Yourself.” It’s about 60-90 minutes and offered some beautiful and piercing scripture that really sat in my heart for more than a few weeks.  

Do not let your hearts become drowsy from…. the anxieties of daily life.”  Luke 21:34

How exactly right is that?  How often do we find ourselves slowly falling asleep in our relationship with Christ because of all the other things that pull at us… pull our attention away from Him?  How lulled and drowsy do we become spiritually between Sundays? Matthew Kelly says that when we decide to turn towards something, we’re turning away from something else.  What are we turning toward?   And more importantly, what does that mean we’re turning away from? 

As I mentioned above, turning toward my job, toward my family, means I’m turning away from writing here. Turning toward television, often means turning away from sleep. 

What do we turn toward that turns us away from God? 

Matthew Kelly also had some great ideas for NY Resolutions. There are just four, categorized as Physical, Emotional, Intellectual, and Spiritual.  
  • Physical: exercise once a week. 
  • Emotional: Experience carefree timelessness once a month. (Listen to the CD for this explanation.)
  • Intellectual:  Read a good book for 10 minutes every day.  (A good book, not the latest fluff fiction. Matthew Kelly says “What we read today walks and talks with us tomorrow.” So pick something that will help make you a better version of yourself. I recommend Off-Balance by Matthew Kelly.)
  • Spiritual:  Spend time with God. Ask Him to show you one way that you can become a better person this week.

So that’s my New Year Resolution for 2016.  Once a day, Once a week, and Once a month.  Sounds manageable even for a busy working mom, right?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

ADVENT: Jesus, We Wait for You!

Nearly three full weeks into Advent and Christmas is just around the corner! These weeks in which we JOYfully await the incarnation of Christ; that is, the son of God become man, in order to bring about our salvation.

This year, aware of Advent and preparing my heart (if not my house) in anticipation of the coming Christmas season, I’ve not been in the mood for traditional Christmas music. Not yet. I guess I'm looking forward to the actual celebration from Dec 25-January 6. Our local Christian station is playing Christmas music and talking about this wonderful Christmas season (which they think will end exactly at 12:01 a.m. on December 26. Of course, that's when I'll finally be singing Hark The Herald Angels Sing.)

Call me counter-cultural… I’m just not in the mood yet this year to belt out O Holy Night

So what are some great Advent songs?  Good waiting songs?  My traditional favorite O Come O Come Emmanuel is (shhh) growing stale.

But this morning. THIS MORNING. As I turned on the car for my commute, the Christian station played Even So Come and it just put me on FIRE for Christmas next week. Have you listened to this song?  The words fit the Advent season perfectly…

All of creation, All of the earth,
Make straight a highway, A path for the Lord. 
Jesus is coming soon!

Call back the sinner, Wake up the saint!
Like a bride waiting for her groom, We'll be a Church ready for You
So we wait, We wait for You! 
Even so come, Lord Jesus, come.

Jesus we wait for you. We wait for your second coming to lead us to salvation. We trudge through this world, doing what must be done, growing weary. But we know that you will return and make all things new again.

Let every nation shout of Your fame. 
Jesus is coming soon!

Every heart longing for our King, We sing.
Even so come, Lord Jesus, come.

God, we wait, You're coming soon.

Call back the sinner! Wake up the saint! Those words stir up so much imagery.  Call me back. Turn me away from sin and darkness, turn me toward Christ, and make straight my path, because Jesus is coming soon.

Wake up the saint, the one whose life gives us example. Come show us how to live a holy life in Christ’s love.

Jesus we wait for you. We wait at the empty creche for your birth - a newborn babe in Mary’s arms on Christmas day. Some of us are infants ourselves in our yearning for you.

Do not let your hearts become drowsy from the anxieties of daily life! (Luke 21:34)  

Prepare our hearts Lord!  We have one week before Christmas morn – use this time to recommit to Christ, make room for Him, and be open to a newborn relationship with the Son of God.  Even so Come. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Joy of Sponsoring a Child with Unbound

The Joys of Sponsoring a Child with Unbound
My children holding a picture of Josselyn and the Quetzal picture she drew for us.
I'm sure you've heard the wonderful aspects of sponsoring a child, both the benefits for the sponsored child and for the sponsoring family.  For years I had the desire to sponsor, but never took advantage of the opportunity to sign up with an organization.  Our family finally signed up for our first sponsored friend this summer and I am truly excited to share with you our experience so far with Unbound.  And to implore you to consider signing up to sponsor a child or adult. 

Over the summer a representative spoke at our parish, inviting us to sponsor children through the organization Unbound.  In the church foyer they had sponsor packets with names, ages and pictures of children and elderly in need of sponsoring.  They were from all over the world.  My girls were hooked.  They went from table to table, packet to packet trying to find the child they wanted to sponsor.  It was quickly decided to select a girl from a spanish speaking country because my teen daughter is learning spanish in school.  

We eventually discovered a 7 year old girl from Guatemala who shares a birthday with my children's great-grandmother who had just recently passed.  Josselyn became our sponsored friend.  

A short time after beginning the $30/mo sponsor fees we received a handwritten letter from Josselyn's uncle (with a typed copy in english.) He told us a bit more about Josselyn and her family but the treasure of the letter was the hand drawn picture included of a Quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala.  All of my kids were extremely impressed with her picture and promptly placed it front and center on our refrigerator.  You can see it in my kids' picture above.

Since then, my teen daughter Ashley wrote a letter back to Josselyn in spanish telling her about our family.  Reading it over I laughed a bit.  Ashley wrote it solely with her limited 1st year spanish vocabulary which meant she detailed all of our eye color, hair color, ages, and other things you learn as a beginning speaker.  It was so earnest and true.  Sure, Unbound will translate any letter we send to Josselyn, but Ashley was determined to write it herself.  I was deeply touched that she took this letter writing upon herself and in spanish! (BTW, she did ask her spanish teacher to look it over for grammar mistakes before mailing it.)

Our younger daughter, Birdie, spent time drawing a picture of a cat to accompany the letter for Josselyn. Unbound gave us mailing labels for the letter and I learned there is an inexpensive global forever stamp that makes mailing to Guatemala simple. While waiting eagerly for a letter back to know that Josselyn received our letter, we've spent time with the world atlas to learn a bit more about Guatemala.  That's how we learned the Quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala!

Just this week we received a Christmas card from Josselyn with a picture of her family that is now also on our fridge. Our Christmas card to her family is on its way to them and my kids are planning a special homemade card to celebrate Josselyn's 8th birthday in January.  I can't get over how connected my family has gotten to a little girl we've never met in such a short time.  

Sponsor a Child through Unbound

Why sponsor through Unbound?  As you may know, many countries do not provide public (free) education for children, there are fees and expenses involved that can prevent impoverished children from receiving a basic education.  Sponsorships with Unbound go towards education, medical, housing expenses, and more for the child and family.  It is truly surprising how a little money can make a huge impact in impoverished communities around the world.  The families work with Unbound and through small groups in the community to strengthen the family unit to better provide financially but to provide them with choices and opportunity in their lives.

Sponsoring Josselyn has given our family the opportunity to discuss living conditions, education and advancement in countries other than the US. It also helps us see how our monthly contribution is directly benefiting a family through letters, pictures and regular contact.  My kids are so thrilled to have a new friend in another country.  
Yes, there are many organizations out there to sponsor a child but a couple of things greatly impressed me with Unbound.  

First, more than 92% of the money received goes directly to their programs supporting the impoverished.  That's less than 8% overhead.  Huge in the world of charitable giving.  They've received top ratings from the BBB and Unbound is the only child sponsorship organization to receive CharityWatch's highest rating, an A+.  I trust that my monthly donation is going where it is intended which gives me great peace of mind.

Sponsor the Elderly with Unbound

My other big thing - Unbound gives you the opportunity to sponsor the elderly.  Everyone knows about sponsoring children, but there are a great number of elderly in the world who also need support,  attention, and to be shown dignity while aging.  Unbound is the only major sponsorship organization that provides sponsorship opportunities for the aging.  As I've written about previously in relation to my own grandmother suffering with dementia brought on through Alzheimer's, I am a sincere believer in treating the elderly with dignity and Unbound gives us the ability to put that belief into action.  Our family's next sponsored friend will be an elderly woman in remembrance of mine and my husband's strong grandmothers who are no longer with us.  

I desperately wish I could convey the joy we as a family have received from our short time as sponsors of Josselyn through Unbound and how excited I am to support this organization.  Ashley has announced she dreams of going to Guatemala someday to meet Josselyn in person and give her a hug  and I'm thrilled Unbound offers trips for sponsors to meet their sponsored friend so that one day Ashley might have that chance.  

Our family has set up a public page with more information and to invite you to sponsor a child or elder.  Please visit it here if you might be interested in joining as a supporter of impoverished families through the work of Unbound.  

Help a Child find a Sponsor through Unbound
Visit Unbound today for more information on how to Sponsor


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

My Favorite Catholic Children's Bibles

Best Catholic Bibles for Kids or Youth

How do you select a Catholic Children's Bible?  Which children's bible is best for my kids?  Those are questions I get asked all the time.  Searching in my house I discovered almost a dozen different Catholic Bibles for kids or youth on our shelves.

When looking for a children's bible or book of bible stories for children, there are several things to take into consideration.  How old is the child?  Do you want something easy to read in story form or a bible with scripture text?  How big or heavy is the book? Is the children's bible a keepsake to commemorate a special event like a baptism, first communion or confirmation? And the answers to these questions might change as the child grows and develops or you have multiple children.

With those questions in mind, I'll delve into the Catholic Children's Bibles and Bible Stories we like best of those in our home.

My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories
My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories
My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories
Compiled by Heidi Hess Saxton
Tommy Nelson Publishers

This is a book of bible stories based on the New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV) text.  First, let me say this is really a quality and beautiful book.  It is hard cover with thick, slick pages.  The illustrations by Natalie Carabetta are wonderfully done in a soft almost watercolor effect.

This not a story book really, but a story bible for young readers.  Each of the more than 175 bible stories have an introduction, the scripture verse of the story, a prayer and more. This book of bible stories was created for children in elementary school to early adolescents.  After each story there is a section called, "Going Deeper" that gives references to scripture or the Catechism of the Catholic Church to read more on the topic and an action item to complete with family members.  The last section on each story is a quote of the day or "did you know" section.

What I love about My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories is that it is a cross between a bible storybook and a children's story bible.  There is quality storytelling but it also includes a deeper explanation that doesn't take away from the story.

The edition my children have is still available to purchase, however there is also a newer version available from the publisher here.

First Communion Bible
First Communion Bible
First Communion Bible
Saint Joseph Edition
New American Bible

We have this First Communion Bible in both the pink and the blue edge covers.  They were received as gifts by my older two children on their respective First Communions.  The cover is a vinyl over paper flex material that is stiff, but not heavy or as hard as a hard cover.  This bible is a complete bible with introductions before each book and a "how to read your bible" section in the beginning.  There are footnotes and some black and white illustrations and maps throughout the book.  There are thicker colored pages in the beginning and in the middle with prayers, and a place to memorialize the child's First Communion.  The end contains a dictionary, the list of Sunday readings and an index.

The pages are thin, but not whisper thin like many adult bibles which allows my daughter to mark her favorite scriptures easily.  The type is a good size for reading and the bible itself is 8.5 inches tall.  It has a nice looking cover for a gift bible, but it is readable and sturdy.

This is my teen daughter's "go to" daily reading bible even now.
Here is the link to the First Communion Bible in Blue.

Bible for Young Catholics
Bible for Young Catholics
Bible for Young Catholics
Anne Eileen Heffernan, FSP
Pauline Books & Media

This is a large (11 in tall) hardback book with thick, slick pages. It is important to note that this Bible contains paraphrased books of the bible in story form rather than exact scripture or simply a few bible stories.  The Bible for Young Catholics includes stories from every book of the bible with short introductions at the beginning of each book. The language is easy to read and understand for elementary age children and up with colored illustrations and maps throughout the Bible.

The end of the bible includes a glossary, timelines, charts and a bit on biblical history.  There is even a section at the end for parents and teachers on the background of the bible to help understand and explain the bible to children.  It is a nice looking book that can be read and shared as a family.

Illustrated Children's Bible
Illustrated Children's Bible
Illustrated Children's Bible
Rev. Jude Winkler, OFM
Catholic Book Publishing

In my opinion, this is a traditional Catholic children's bible or book of popular biblical stories.  It reminds me of the type of hardback Bible story books I had growing up.  The stories are succinct and well told and the hardback cover and paper pages give it a sturdy feel. There are full color illustrations of each story, but they have an older look to them. Again, like they were in a storybook or children's bible I might have owned in the 1970's.

My kids have spent much time with this Children's Bible over the years and have even added paper flags to note their favorite stories they want to read again and again.  I've also taken this one with me to my faith formation classes to help share bible stories when I don't want to read it in scripture form.

Break Through! The Bible for Young Catholics
Break Through! Bible for Young Catholics
Break Through! The Bible for Young Catholics
St. Mary's Press
Good News Translation Catholic Edition

The Catholic Youth Bible
St. Mary's Press
New American Bible Revised Edition

These two Catholic youth bibles are basically the same, but written for different ages. The Break Through Bible is for older elementary age through young teens with the Good News Translation Catholic Edition being a bit easier to read for tween aged readers.  The Catholic Youth Bible is geared toward those older teens written in the New American Bible Revised Edition.

The Catholic Youth Bible
The Catholic Youth Bible
Both of these Catholic Youth Bibles are what I call study bibles.  St. Mary's Press took the time to include introductions to each book, "Connection" sections connecting scripture to Catholic beliefs or teachings, questions probing the reader to make connections within the story, footnotes, inserts talking about biblical persons of faith, articles to help the reader understand God's message, a timeline, glossary, maps and prayers.  The pages are visually appealing with their use of illustrations, subheadings, text blocks, and more.

The tag line on these Bibles is "Pray it, Study it, Live it" which is exactly what St. Mary's Press is attempting to
accomplish in these Youth Bibles.

The Catholic Children's Bible
The Catholic Children's Bible
St. Mary's Press
Good News Translation Catholic Edition

St. Mary's Press also has a version of their Catholic "Pray it, Study it, Live it" Bibles for elementary age children called The Catholic Children's Bible.  This is a Catholic Bible for children, not a book of bible stories.  St. Mary's has done a good job including intentional design elements to help early readers not feel overwhelmed and be encouraged to fall in love with reading the Bible.

The Bible uses lots of color with their introductions, illustrations and explanations to make it pleasing for children.They also feature well known stories to break open the Word for better comprehension of God's message. With larger fonts and color coded navigation, it can also be a good bible for teaching kids how to find scripture by book, chapter and verse.

This is a soft cover big book, roughly 6.8 x 10 inches, 2 in thick and a bit heavy for smaller hands. The Catholic Children's Bible is a nice transition into a full bible for those children who are wanting to move on from bible stories. This is a favorite of my nine year old daughter.

Those are just a few of the children's bibles we have in our home, but some of our favorites.  Do you have a favorite Catholic Children's Bible not mentioned?  What is it and why is it your (or your child's) favorite?

Some of the links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links.  If you follow the link and purchase a book, we receive a small stipend from Amazon to support our blog.  

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Meditating the Hail Mary "Word by Word"

Three years ago, Sarah Reinhard invited me to participate in a little writing project to Look Closer at the Hail Mary prayer.  She gave me the word OF

Yes, my assignment was to write a meditation on the word "OF" as it appears at the end of the Hail Mary prayer.  Crazy, right?

Today that blog series is the latest publication by Ave Maria Press titled, Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary.

Last month, Sarah invited her contributors to participate in an online "interview" and mine appears on Catholic Mom today.  

As I answered the questions for the interview, several  previously unnoticed "connections" were revealed to me showing that these events -all occurring seemingly independent of one another - were not mere coincidence. I just couldn't see the bigger picture. Looking back though, it became so beautifully apparent. After finishing the interview, it was very late (early) and I went to bed. The next morning, desperately trying to heed the alarm and wake up, I opened my email half asleep. The daily readings delivered to my inbox boldly announced October 7 as the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Nothing is coincidence. Surely, Our Lady is reminding me that I am supposed to surrender everything to God, to trust Him, and stop questioning His ways when the path is hard and appears fruitless. He is in charge and Mary watches over me as a mother quietly watches over her child.

If you'd like to develop a closer relationship with Mary, the Mother of God, here is a great opportunity to pray and mediate on the graces she offers as our most important advocate at the foot of the cross. Click on the link and get your copy today. You won't be disappointed.

If you want a better understanding on my "this-can't-be a coincidence" connection, go here to read "OF" and then read my Catholic Mom Contributor Interview.  Click on the Amazon link above to pick up your copy of Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary

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