Friday, December 12, 2014

Well-Read Mom Creates Place For Women to Read Together


Marcie Stokman has always had a passion for literature. She loves looking for books and finding new authors. As a wife and homeschooling mother of seven and grandmother of five, Marcie focused a lot of her attention on children’s literature. She has taught writing and literature in a homeschool academy in her area and traveled around speaking on the topic. Later, she transitioned her focus to adults, specifically women, and put together a lecture series called “Well-Read Mom.” But when Marcie left her speaking venues, she often felt sad for the women who attended, because they repeatedly told her they were simply too busy to read.

In this day and age, Marcie said, we are reading less but “scrolling” more online. When there are links to the articles we are reading and we click back and forth, we end up using our brain’s frontal lobe, which is meant for problem solving and multi-tasking more than reading. However, when we read a book, which is linear—left to right—a different area of our brain lights up. We think, ponder and reflect, when we read books. But when we don’t read books, we lose our focus, concentration and ability to think deeply. “And if we lose that, we are robbed of something essential for our humanity,” said Marcie.

At the same time she was meeting women who were too busy to read, Marcie also was having discussions with her daughter and daughter-in-law, who were new moms. They were frustrated that their mom’s group was too focused on the surface things of motherhood, such as the best diapers to buy. They wondered where they could find other moms who wanted to have intellectual conversations and grow deeper in their humanity.

Marcie’s conversations with the busy moms who were not reading coupled with her daughters’ desire for deeper relationships motivated her to “create a real place for women to come together.”

And with that, the Well-Read Mom book club was born.

Starting Small and Growing Fast
In the fall of 2012, Well-Read Mom began in Marcie’s living room. She sent out postcards to women in her small town in Northern Minnesota, inviting them to join her in reading quality literature from Catholic and Western tradition. The very first evening of the book club, 20 women showed up ready to read and discuss.

At the same time, her daughter started a Well-Read Mom group in St. Paul, and another friend started one in St. Cloud, Minn.

Then, in early 2013, Marcie hosted a Well-Read Mom conference, and 80 women attended—more than were in groups. Immediately after the conference, 21 Well-Read Mom groups were established. It continued to grow to 50 and 80 groups.

Now, in fall 2014, just two years after Well-Read Mom began, 210 groups are reading together in 28 states and four countries.


“Something has hit a core,” Marcie said. “Women are realizing that there is more to life, and everything has greater meaning when we relate our life in Christ with our purpose on earth. We live and parent differently when we are open to becoming His.”

To read more about Well-Read Mom, please click over to CatholicMom.com!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

#WorthRevisitWednesday :: A Mission Embodied Within Human Limits


Last Advent, I was very blessed to be part of a group of writers who reflected each day on part of Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). When I was asked to be part of this by my friend Kelly Wahlquist, I admit, I didn't really know what an Apostolic Exhortation was. But I learned quickly that it is essentially a personal plea from the Holy Father to us, the Church. Pope Francis is inviting us to put first things first and to remember that above all, we are missionaries called to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in whatever corner of the world we live in. This task is not just for priests and religious, college professors and Bible scholars. This task is for everyone, including moms and dads, grandparents, single aunts and everyone in between. This task includes women and men, young and old.

Pope Francis is inviting us to be part of something spectacular: the New Evangelization. He is sharing his vision as Pope and his joy for the Gospel, and he is asking, Won't you come along?

So, throughout Advent, we read and prayed and reflected with Pope Francis and other faithful Catholics. My reflection first posted on Dec. 7, 2013. I just re-read it this morning, and thought, Wow! I really needed to read that! You see, I am having a really hard time this Advent. I am having a hard time focusing on Jesus, preparing my heart and being filled with the joy and peace that I long for this season. I am paralyzed with anxiety and overcome with perfectionism. I can tell anyone else to trust, to let go, but when it comes to telling myself, I get stuck and give in to the lies that I am not doing enough and that I am not enough.

Reading our Papa tell me that perfection is not possible,” perhaps I can listen to him. Like a spiritual father, perhaps I can trust his words as truth and coming directly from God.

So, for what it's worth, I'm re-posting my reflection as part of Allison's #WorthRevistWednesday series, for those who might be feeling a bit overwhelmed two weeks before Christmas ... as much as I'm reposting it for myself!

***

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reminds us—the People of God, the Church—that first and foremost we are missionaries called to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to whatever corner of the world we live in. This calling is not just for priests and religious, college professors and Bible scholars. This calling is not just for those selected to literally go to the ends of the earth. This calling is for all of us—moms and dads, business professionals, retirees and everyone in between. Each of us is invited to be part of something ever-new and always exciting!

And this, my friends, is incredible!

And at the same time, this can be challenging. (And maybe even a little scary, too.)

Such a good thing can appear challenging and scary, because as ordinary, everyday lay Catholics, we may feel inadequate and unversed. We may wonder how our simple, normal lives can possibly be missionary and evangelistic. But they can be ... and they are! Because God is calling each and every one of us to partake in a mission that is “above and beyond [our] faults and failings” (44).

As a stay-at-home mom of six children, my primary goal is to love my husband, and together help our children enter Heaven someday. “It is in the bosom of the family that parents are ‘by word and example ... the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children’” (CCC 2204; LG 11). Right there in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I am given my mission field: my family.

As a mom, I do many different tasks. I cook, clean, read aloud, snuggle, nurse the sick, wipe away tears, and make hot chocolate. The most important things I do involve passing on the Catholic Faith to my children—by attending Mass, frequenting the sacraments, teaching them to pray, introducing them to the saints, and celebrating feast days and holy seasons within our domestic church.

Some of my tasks I do quite well, and others ... not so much. In my mission, I am faced with my own limitations more often than I’d like to admit. But in all the trial and error, triumphs and failures, God allows my “shoes [to] get soiled by the mud of the street” more than once, so that I can realize that “perfection is not possible” (45).

What is possible is love and joy and faith. What is possible is taking “a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, [which] can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties” (44). No matter what our calling—whether priest, scholar, business man or homemaker—God is inviting us to step out in faith, to proclaim the Good News to our corner of the world. It doesn’t have to be fancy; it doesn’t have to be deep. In fact, “variety serves to bring out and develop different facets of the inexhaustible riches of the Gospel” (40). All it has to be is you. You, “expressing unchanging truths in a language which brings out ... abiding newness” (41).

With “the expression of truth [taking] different forms” (42), I bet Pope Francis would encourage us to make sure of one thing: keeping it simple. “The precepts which Christ and the apostles gave to the people of God ‘are very few’ ... ‘so as not to burden the lives of the faithful’” (43). I think this is a wonderful concept to ponder, as we close this first week of Advent. Within our vocation, within our own call to evangelize, Pope Francis is reminding us of very few precepts, small steps and limits. How merciful and gentle is our God!

What small step can you make to embrace your role as missionary in your corner of the world? What few things are you doing, either alone or with your family, to keep Advent simple this year?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Lessons I Learned From an Advent Wreath


Every year, when I take out our Advent wreath, I cannot help but smile. Not only is the Advent wreath one of my family's favorite traditions, it also has a story that I enjoy reliving—and retelling—each Advent, for within the story of our Advent wreath is a lesson that I need reminding of each year.

In fall 2009, I finally purchased an Advent wreath online. Prior to this, I had made one each year with pillar candles and greenery. But as my children were growing, I wanted a wreath that was ours, that represented tradition and consistency.

I kept waiting and waiting for the wreath to arrive. And then, I found out it was on backorder! Of course, I panicked, as Advent drew closer and closer, and we were without an Advent wreath! I remember desiring a more peaceful approach to Advent that year (OK, every year). But I realized that even though I was trying to keep Advent free from cluttered busyness, my approach was all wrong, and my perfectionism was ultimately interfering with the real peace of Advent.

The back-ordered Advent wreath was a wake-up call for me to stop trying to make a perfect Advent. We can't buy or make Advent. But we can experience Advent and pray Advent and focus on Advent. We just can't force it. So, I let go of my ideas for my wreath, as well as other plans that I thought had to happen. I created a wreath out of some white votive candles and some greenery. This simple wreath ended up setting the tone for that entire season ...


... And when my real Advent wreath finally did arrive, well, it was in pieces! Was there even more that I needed to learn? Had I not learned it with the waiting? Did I need to learn more in broken pieces? Was God telling me I needed to keep working on letting go of perfectionism and focusing more on the interior preparation of my heart that was far more important than any decorating, baking, giving and making that I was trying to do?


After getting a huge apology and refund from the company from which I purchased my wreath, I was about to throw it away, because really, I had already let go of it weeks ago when it was on back order. Maybe this wreath was not meant to be. Then, my handy husband said, "Wait! I think I can fix it." And he did.

And in 2010, our family had our Advent wreath. My husband wasn't sure if the Advent wreath would last long, because the material that it is made from was difficult to make sturdy again. But I didn't mind! That year, I didn't have to worry about finding a new wreath or making another one, and I loved lighting the traditional purple and rose candles once again.


Well, it is 2014, and this Advent wreath has remained intact and has blessed our family's Advent for several seasons now. We usually light it during dinner, and someone always blows out the candles too early or when it's not their turn. Sometimes, we'll light it after dinner, during our family prayer time, too.

Some years, I add some greens and pinecones to it, because I like the natural wreath look, too.


The tradition of the Advent wreath is indeed a blessing in our family. We have many other Advent traditions, but this simple ritual is at the top of our list. Other things can happen or not happen, depending on the year, but our Advent wreath is a constant; something that keeps us grounded in hope, peace, joy and faith, no matter what's going on around us.



There is an Advent wreath link-up at CatholicMom.com. Grab a cup of coffee and be inspired by all kinds of wreaths and how they are used within various families. And if you are so inclined, share your wreath at the link-up to inspire others, too!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Month of Thanksgiving—29 (Last But Not Least)

This November, I plan to post 30 days of gratitude. Here is Day 29, my last day of A Month of Thanksgiving.


229. The first Sunday of Advent
230. All the hope, excitement and potential that Advent brings
231. Opening my Advent devotionals (Even though both start Dec. 1, I couldn't wait! I am OK with re-reading the messages again tomorrow.)
232. Later-morning Mass on the first Sunday of Advent
233. The privilege to proclaim God's Word as a lector
234. Singing the Lord Have Mercy in Greek and the Lamb of God in Latin
235. Sitting close to good friends at Mass
236. Visiting with friends after Mass
237. Ordering pizza with a store-credit for lunch
238. Greg taking our three oldest to adoration and the Advent reconciliation service this afternoon
239. Quiet time to read a bit more in my Advent devotionals and journal about hopes and longings of my heart
240. One more slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream
241. Two generous grandpas who buy raffle tickets from each of their five (school-aged) grandchildren
242. Visiting with Greg's dad
243. Slow-cooker beef and vegetable soup
244. The kids drawing names for "Kris Kringles"
245. Sharing chocolate Advent calendars that also help other kids in need
246. Lighting the first Advent candle, blessing the wreath and saying our prayers
247. The hope that by Christmas, Jesus will come closer to me, and I will come closer to Him
248. Reading a book from our Advent/Christmas book basket
249. Freshly bathed children
250. Jenny, who invited me to join her in posting 30 days of Thanksgiving this November

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Month of Thanksgiving—28

This November, I plan to post 30 days of gratitude. Here is Day 28 ...

'Twas the Night Before Advent ...

209. A very part-time job that I really enjoy
210. Finding Christ-centered wrapping paper at Hobby Lobby
211. Deciding on (at least) one thing to cut back on this Advent, even though it's so hard for me to say "no" to good things
212. Making progress on my Christmas-gift list
213. My Advent bin with our Advent wreath, candles and Jesse Tree tucked inside
214. Decorating for Christmas slowly throughout the Advent season
215. Our Jesse Tree ready for tomorrow
216. Anna helping me sort through our ornaments to make sure they are ready to go
217. A date night with my husband
218. Delicious ravioli at an Italian restaurant
219. Wine with dinner
220. Uninterrupted conversation
221. Being able to really talk with my husband
222. Shopping around Best Buy and Target with Greg
223. Buying colored lights for the house, because they are FUN
224. My kids enjoying The Sound of Music when we arrived home
225. My kids on a mission to sell ALL of their raffle tickets by the end of the weekend
226. Watching Once Upon a Time with Greg
227. Bags filled with Christmas gifts hidden in my closet and in the basement (Shh!)
228. Advent is tomorrow!

***


Linking up with fellow blogging friend Jenny from The Littlest Way. If you would like to join us in counting your blessings each day in November, please share your link or just your list each day in the comments section on her blog.
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