Upstairs, Downstairs

This poem was written for my former downstairs neighbour and dear friend who has now returned home to Egypt with her husband and children. It was an honour and a joy to share our lives with them, and to find a warm connection that overcame any differences.

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms everywhere!! Peace be with you. May you always be supported, embraced and encouraged by your fellow moms all over the world! Go team! 🙂

 

Upstairs: a crazy crew of kids

six littles bouncing, dancing, singing, banging.

Downstairs: two small sweeties,

running, shouting, playing, laughing.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the mothers scold, cook, cuddle and caress.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the mothers mother

day and night.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women sing

in Arabic and English,

songs of faith and lullabies

unique yet universal,

of one heart.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women weep,

mourn lost babies–

precious ones snatched away too soon–

in each other’s arms

these mothers find warm comfort.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women pray,

observe Lent and Ramadan,

break their fasts and rejoice together

over homemade sweets.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women hope,

cherishing the new lives

nestled in their wombs…

little tiny babies

due at the same time.

May they be best friends!!

 

In the world there is hatred

but not in our house.

Upstairs, downstairs

there is love.

 

The Key to this Generation’s Biggest Problem

 Today I’m happy to share with you a guest post by Alexandria Robinson, who tells the story of her struggle with an eating disorder, and how faith helped pull her out of it by helping her to realize her true value and worth. In our age of many struggles with mental illness, the message that we are infinitely precious and loved, even in our brokenness, can’t be spoken enough. Enjoy!

There’s a conversation that we need to have. We’re starting to have it, but there is still so much more we need to do surrounding this issue. It’s something that directly impacts 1 in 5 people, so all of our families. Unfortunately, we need to have this conversation with younger and younger children. Although mental health is a decreasingly taboo topic of conversation, there is still a stigma surrounding it. At church, I am part of a new mental-health and emotional-wellness ministry. At our last meeting, I was heartbroken when a sweet mama shared her struggles with her teenage sons. One of them was on the right track, going to a counselor for his severe depression. When he told his girlfriend about it, she told her friends, and a slew of hateful text messages arose. What’s a mom supposed to do?

I’ve had several conversations with mental health professionals who say the church is perfectly positioned to help those in mental distress. I know for me, my faith was the game-changer in my mental health struggles. Like a lot of young women, I have struggled with body image since my pre-teen years. I remember talking to my friends about all of our tips and tricks on how to avoid food in front of our parents or throw it up later. Although I knew the long term damage I was doing to my body, I had no desire to stop or ask for help. It wasn’t until I came to know Jesus that things changed. I now know that my body is a gift from my creator, and he thinks I’m so beautiful that I am ‘to die for’, at any weight. Having respect for my body helps me to honor my king.

After my brother was diagnosed with depression, I became obsessed with finding out everything I could about mental health. I was one of the people in his primary support network and, more importantly, his big sister. I love my brother dearly–he’s my best friend–so when I found out he was self-harming and having thoughts of suicide, it brought me to my knees. He is agnostic, but because he is an intellectual, we are able to have great conversations about the questions that really matter–things like the meaning of life and suffering. The great existential questions that those with a mental illness often ask are answered by religion. Unfortunately, we often write off church as something we only have to do on Christmas and Easter. But I would challenge anyone who is experiencing a mental health difficulty, either directly or indirectly, to start making it a habit to get into the Scriptures.

“‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”  Isaiah 54:10

I like to think of the Bible as our roadmap on life’s journey, and that without it, we are just wandering around aimlessly. Coming to know the one who made you can help you answer the all-important question of: “Why?” When you have your “why,” it makes all things easier. I know my “why”…or at least part of it. I write online Catholic bible studies on my blog. As a convert, I spent a lot of time online searching for answers. I came across a lot of amazing resources, but there was no Catholic voice readily available. That’s what I’m working to create.

Although I am involved in my bible studies, YouTube channel, and church ministries, I realized there was still something missing. People need help just opening the Scriptures. That’s why I wrote a book, A Catholic Millennial’s Guide to the Bible. In it, I answer some of the most common objections to Bible reading. Have you ever asked, or heard your child ask, questions like: I don’t know where to start; do Catholics even read the Bible; how can you read such an old book? I certainly have, and I answer all of those questions in the book. A Catholic Millennial’s Guide to the Bible is a short, easy read, written by and for Catholic millennials.

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. ”  1 John 4:9-11

We need the Lord, now more than ever. Spending time in the Bible can help us on our tough days. In my lowest moments, I remember my body is a gift to be respected, not garbage to be abused. This realization comes only from being rooted in the Word of God.

Alexandria Robinson is the author of the new book, A Catholic Millennial’s Guide to the Bible. In it she explains how to the Word of God is relevant to our lives in the modern day, the Church’s relationship with Scripture throughout history, and how the Bible came to be. It is written by and for young Catholic laity to encourage them on their long journey home to our Heavenly Father. It will make a great Lenten read or Easter gift. For more on Alexandria, check out her blog at www.TheGenesisFeminist.com.

 

Prairie Fire Under Snows

There is a flame the cold can’t quench

and so we joy-filled fill

this giant wooden teepee with song

We reach for the hand of one

whose wounded one reaches for ours

Sheltered in this house of God

by a cone of boards bound with nails

like a teepee sewn together

—holes through pierced skin—

protecting us from the winter storms

Like the people of Jerusalem we process with palms

but instead of hot sand the snow swirls around us

a soft spring snow

full of hope of future harvest

as the fire-golden wheat fields lie hidden

under the cold kiss of a blanket of snow

the way you lie hidden

the fire of your divinity

submerged in the wheat coloured wafer

we receive

We remember

We hope

We live in the shelter of his love

the humble king of glory

On fighting discouragement

The other day I was reading a little book of Lenten meditations by Pope emeritus Benedict about the true meaning of fasting. He describes how Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fighting the temptations he was offered…to the world’s power, to enslavement to the physical world (bread), and to spiritual pride. It made me think…what temptations do I need to fight to be more free? And I don’t just mean the temptations to scarf boxes of chocolates…but deeper things.

Are we tempted by discouragement? By anger? By sulking and blame? These are the kinds of demons we can fight off during Lent, so as to become more happy and free. So how about instead of giving up something we like, or maybe as well as that, taking up arms to fight harder against what we don’t like…what drags us down and brings misery and isolation.

It is amazing how these demons of discouragement prey on our weakness. We recently watched the excellent movie “A Man For All Seasons” as a family. What struck me most this time, because I have seen it before, was what great destruction came through a weak man. Richie Rich, poor and soft man, is corrupted by bribery and the lure of wealth and power. He becomes a powerful man externally, but inside is still incredibly weak and can no longer follow his conscience when tempted, and ends up perjuring himself. St. Thomas Moore is killed because of Rich’s lies in court. It is very sad to see how Rich destroys himself and others…perhaps after certain point he no longer believed it would be possible to reform. It is so important to be both humble enough to receive mercy and forgiveness and strong enough to persevere in the truth when times are tough.

So why do we fail, make mistakes, commit sins? Many times out of weakness. Why do we yell when tired? Weakness. Why do we slam drawers when too hungry? Weakness. Why do we fall into discouragement when the house is exploding with mess and the floor seems a distant memory? Weakness. But if there is one thing we must always hang onto despite our weakness, it is hope, and the knowledge that we are loved. Discouragement comes when we look only at ourselves and all our failures, all at once. Then the amount we need to change and then improve becomes utterly overwhelming.

Can you imagine a baby looking ahead and envisioning all the things they would have to do and learn as one giant, looming to do list? Learn to walk, run, jump, speak thousands of words, dress themselves, read, write, learn sports, to cook, get a job, change careers, etc. It’s exhausting to think about all at once. But why aren’t babies stressed like the rest of us? Because they live in the moment and in trust: “Mommy and Daddy are here and they will teach me.”

What we adults have to do is spend less time looking at ourselves and more time looking at God, who is perfect love, who is infinite mercy, who is glorious king and wise and loving Father. It is he who will give us the strength and grace to improve. It is he who will teach us. Of course it won’t be all at once, but a little bit at a time, each day hanging on to hope despite our failures. Babies are so delighted with life…it would serve us well as adults to spend more time marvelling at the beauty of life as well, practising gratitude and making a point of savouring the good little memories each day provides.

Ultimately, Lent is about learning to love better, and we have opportunities to do so every moment of each day. St Josemaria said to be a true friend is to honour the image of God in others…”as you do to the least one of my brothers so you do unto me.” No matter how long our to-do list, we can always afford time for a smile. May God give us all the strength to love well, and the hope to grow each day, seeing self-knowledge as an opportunity to improve, rather than a cause for discouragement.

Lent: on taking it one step at a time

Lent is here. It’s a time when many people choose to spend more time in reflection and prayer. It’s a time to come to grow on the inside. Like a bulb planted underground in the winter struggling through the cold dirt, we can struggle through the reality of our mistakes and imperfections, without losing hope. We can persevere like that little green shoot peeking out through the snow into the frosty air to find the sun. But all this requires patience, something our immediate-gratification-loving world is sorely lacking.

I got to thinking about patience this evening when I was trying to teach my daughter to draw a cube. She was trying again and again to make it look right, but it kept looking lopsided, like a tent.

“It’s all about getting the lines parallel,” I said. “You can’t draw it too fast, you have to go one line at a time focussing only on making it parallel to the one across from it. Then it looks straight.”

So she kept trying and filled pages with these 3-D boxes.

“Why can’t I get it right?” she asked. “I’ve done so many and they’re still not perfect!”

“It’s not about getting it perfect; it’s about practicing–building your drawing muscles so you can get better and better. And that’s why we do it with a pencil, so we can erase our mistakes, and readjust things to make it better.”

Isn’t it the same with our spiritual lives? We get easily frustrated with the time it takes to get things looking straight. We don’t want to be lopsided boxes, we just want to be that perfect cube right now! But that’s not how it works. We need to have the patience to make little strokes with our pencils, realizing we can erase our mistakes and readjust things every day. We can say sorry and begin again with new hope, that’s what Lent is all about.

Our lives are not written in stone, or even permanent ink, so we only need to humbly keep trying, while paying attention to the little things. Ultimately our lives are a picture made up of many tiny images. Every little line adds to this picture. So the only way to improve ourselves is by paying attention to the little things, readjusting day by day to try to make the picture that we want. Shaping our lives a little bit at a time, and trying to do so with patience, humour and love.

Of course, it helps if we know ahead of time what we want that picture to look like. This is where life goals come in, and knowing what kind of person we want to be helps us to take steps to get there. So having an ideal image to strive for—that perfect box, that amazing hero, that inspiring saint—can help us to break down that image into concrete pieces, and discover little positive habits that we can acquire to become not them, but the best version of ourselves.

Habit Building: How always is easier than sometimes…

So I’ve been pondering the virtue of order again, as I always seem to be, because I’m not what the homemaking guru the Flylady calls a B.O. (born organized). So this Lent, more than focusing on giving up something, I’ve been focussing on aquiring something, namely the virtue of order. I’m hoping to bring more rhythm and smoothness to my week, so that certain things can happen more naturally, because that’s now simply when we do them, rather than waiting for them to happen in a fragmented and haphazard way…

So this scatterbrained poet is cleaning bathrooms on certain days, and doing laundry on certain days, and things like this. But how did this come about? Moving and Lent. Moving was a great way to have a fresh start…to hit the reset button and begin again. And this happened to coincide with a great spiritual impetus for interior growth and change for the better, which is the season of preparation for the joy of Easter. 

These things complement each other well, because as when more things are planned (like meals, daily topics for homeschool, some daily and weekly chores) my mind is freed up to be more contemplative. I can read or pray without being quite as distracted by my revolving to-do list spinning about my head. I find those tiny household decisions take up a lot of brain power, and prevent me from being as peaceful as I’d like. (Who feels peaceful at 4:45 pm if you don’t know what’s for dinner and the kids are gnawing on your ankles?) So in this sense, knowing when I’m going to do certain things, rather than restricting me, has actually made me more free. 

 
One of the things I’ve been trying to do this Lent is do the dishes right after each meal, instead of getting distracted by the kids, phone, next project (squirrel!) and letting them pile up. I’m actually generally doing better with them than I did when I had a dishwasher! And often it’s over the kitchen sink that I think of new blog posts…my little reward!

Both the routine and a spiritual motive make it easier to do my work promptly. Somehow it’s easier to make myself do certain things when they are simply part of the routine, instead of something I might do now…or maybe later…when I feel like it (because honestly, when will I feel like cleaning a toilet?). 

The kids agree that stuff you do always is easier than stuff you do sometimes. My 9 year old told me, “It’s like making my bed…when I do it every day, it’s easy, but when I used to just do it sometimes, it was really hard each time.” So each week I am trying to add just a few more little things that we do on scheduled days. I don’t have really specific times for each thing, because too many details would set me up for failure…and be too much pressure. But little by little, I’m hoping to make this ship run more smoothly, with the idea that more pirate adventures can be had with mended sails and a swabbed deck!   

Do we live with reverence for creation?

What strikes me when I listen to Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si” (find it recorded here) is an attitude of reverence…both for nature as created by God, and for every human person as part of that same creation. The poor, the humble, the sorrowful sinner, the bird with the broken wing, the glorious sunset…are all beautiful manifestations of God’s infinite creativity. As such, all can be approached with a gentle reverence that inspires respect and care, rather than judgment and selfish dominion.

So what resonates deeply with me, is the Pope’s assertion that the way we treat nature is a sign of, and even affects, how we treat people. If we take all created things for granted, as items to be used for our own pleasure and financial benefit, it leads us to also objectify our fellow  human beings…to use and abuse them as well. We become disconnected from creation, and unable to relate to those who suffer because of our selfish actions; our vision becomes microscopic, and we only see things as they affect us. 

We forget that everything we receive is gift…air to breathe, the sunrise, fresh food to eat, laughter, joy. When we see such things as rights instead of blessings, we fail to appreciate them. We get caught up in trying to cram our souls full of new gadgets, acquisitions to fill the emptiness that should be filled with gratitude for all we already have. 

  
But what if we tried to live with more simplicity? What if we tried to make our money stretch a little further, so we could have more to share with those who really need it, for whom every dollar counts? We had a Lenten meal at our parish in Sunday, and ate a simple meal of soup and homemade pretzels. All the donations for the meal were given to help build a school for poor children in South America. We watched a little video of these beautiful kids with great big brown eyes, smiling and full of hope as they shared their ambitions. “Yo quiero soy un professor,” (I want to be a teacher) said one little girl. (Forgive me if I spell the Spanish wrong!)

That soup tasted like a million bucks. I wish I had a million to send to those kids. They are the little ones whose world we must take care of. The ones for whom we need to lift our eyes behind the screen of our iPhones to look into the future. Let’s tread gently, and live generously, so that as many of them as possible can grow up to fulfill those dreams, and in turn also make the world a better place. 

5 Simple ways to grow in the virtue of poverty this Lent

  
One of the things my family is trying to do this Lent is to grow in the virtue of poverty, in order to better appreciate our many blessings, and to be able to share them more with others. We were inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si to be more aware of what we consume and to not waste food when so many go hungry. 
Here are some simple ideas you could try as well.

1. Unless you plan to freeze it right away, make just enough food for your meal. Often leftovers get left for too long and end up in the compost! Or if you do have leftovers, take them for lunch instead of eating out at work. 

2. Try to use up what’s in your cupboards, instead of always buying more food. Sometimes this is a good creative challenge! This week I made French Onion soup with my many onions, Chocolate Pumpkin Loaf with a can of pumpkin in the cupboard, Lentil Dahl and rice with my cans of tomatoes and coconut milk, gnocchi with frozen peas and rosé sauce, and some good old beans and toast! Instead of a fancy salad, we had slices of apples or fresh veggies on the side. 

3. Eat more vegetarian. Things like beans, rice and veggies are cheap and nutritious, and can be cooked in tons of different delicious ways. Go on Pinterest for inspiring yummy photos.

4. Make use of the last drop…After my morning coffee I’ve been pouring that little extra bit of coffee from my French press into a glass Starbucks bottle, then adding a little milk and sugar and putting it in the fridge. Voilá! Now my afternoon coffee is ready! 

5. Don’t buy anything unnecessary. Shop from your closet. Find those things you forgot about in the back of your wardrobe and combine them in new ways. Enjoy the liberty of choosing to be happy without those new shoes or that new gadget. You are bigger than that. Our hearts weren’t meant do be filled with mere stuff. 

Perhaps it does not appeal to give up things or be frugal, but we have to ask ourselves, if we can’t give up even little things for a short time, are we truly free? Also, the less we “need” the more we can give, and the richer we truly are. 

What do you like to do to live more simply?

Meet Tami Kiser, mom of 10, who organized The Catholic Conference 4 Moms!

Interview with Tami Kiser, founder and creator of http://www.CatholicConference4Moms.com


Please tell us a little bit about yourself:

Gladly. I am Tami Kiser, aka, Smart Martha in some circles. I live in Greenville, SC with my husband of 28 years. We have 10 children (ages 3-26) and 5 grandchildren. DH is a headmaster at a Catholic School and most of my time is spent managing this large brood providing family dinners, essay edits, haircuts, rides, stories, and lots of advice (mostly unsolicited). I also teach dance part-time and work on this exciting conference whenever I get the chance.

What is the “Faces of Mercy” 2016 Catholic Conference 4 Moms?

It is simply an online conference for this coming Year of Mercy, particularly catered to moms. It is set up so that Mom’s groups or parishes can use the presentations to put together their own simple conference/retreat/mom’s day out. So far, we have about 25 parishes all over the US hosting the conference. But, starting January 20, we are opening it up for individual moms to attend at their own convenience in their own homes throughout the rest of Lent.

What gave you the inspiration to do a project like this?

I was familiar with online webinars. I was also familiar with Protestant groups doing a similar thing focused on just one presenter (for 1000’s of $!). And I also ran a mom’s ministry, called Smart Martha, where I traveled to parishes and held one day seminars. I blended all these concepts together and came up with this idea. I consecrated the whole thing to Mary, and this is where we are today.

I understand the need for moms to be encouraged in their vocation and faith. I also understand how difficult that can be to fit into busy schedules. This conference with the focus on Mercy is the perfect solution. It’s even better if moms can find other moms to share it with–in a parish mom’s meeting, or at a friend’s home while kids play. And if that’s not possible, then part of an early morning quiet time or a treadmill run at the gym. The conference has the flexibility that moms need along with the great messages moms need to hear.

So the day the conference begins is February 20th?

Yes, this is the day which we are asking everyone to set aside for the conference so that we can all be united in mission and in prayer on this day. We will be live streaming a presentation by Jennifer Fuller at 10:30 EST and at 3:00 EST, we are asking everyone to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy together. But that being said, the online conference is very flexible and can accommodate many different days and weekends. If that day doesn’t work for a mom or even a mom’s group, the conference is still available from February 20th to the end of Lent in order to accommodate everyone’s busy schedules. So anytime during Lent, you can view these presentations.

Is there a cost? 

For individual moms online, registration is about the price of one book, $14. Not only does this get them full online access throughout Lent, but it also gets them a conference “swag bag” which is full of online gifts and offers suitable for mothers. It also includes every presentation as a downloadable MP3. As part of the publicity of the conference, there will be great prizes awarded every day from February 8- February 25. There are discounts available through the conference affiliates for an even lower registration price.

Thank you for the interview! For all my readers, please feel free to use my coupon code “Eastland” to save $4 and register for only $10.99 (American)!  Register here! Enjoy!

The Catholic Conference 4 Moms

Anything that makes someone feel more loved is an act of mercy. 


Have you been looking for a way to grow in your faith this Lent? Perhaps you wish you could get away on retreat, but with all your little kids at home you can’t. Is there nothing for you? There is! Check out this year’s Catholic Conference 4 Moms. This year’s topic is the many Faces of Mercy. It is inspired by the Holy Father’s proclamation of the Jubilee year of Mercy.

We are called to share God’s love and mercy with others as well as to receive it ourselves. How can you spend these 40 days aquiring more merciful heart? One of the best ways to start is by hearing personal stories of how mercy touched other people’s lives and transformed them.

To hear many uplifting talks by moms, priests and theologians from the convenience of your home, sign up for the Catholic conference for moms. Feel connected and be inspired. Most conferences cost hundreds of dollars, but this online one is only $14.99, or use my coupon code “Eastland” to save $4 and make it just $10.99!  This includes a digital “swag bag” full of goodies like free books to download and discounts at your favourite Catholic websites such as Holy Heroes and Fransciscan Media.

The 2016 “Faces of Mercy” Conference will offer:
-20 + All New Popular Presenters and Presentations (Check them out!)
-Plus a Spanish Track, featuring presentations specifically for Hispanic moms
-Every Presentation is available all of the time, throughout all of Lent, after the conference begins Saturday, Feb. 20th.
-Live-Streamed Session Saturday Morning Feb. 20th featuring Jennifer Fulwiler
-And Live-Streamed Session Saturday Afternoon of the Divine Mercy Chaplet
– HD Videos also Available as MP3 /Podcasts that you can download
-Valuable Digital Swag Bags for all Online Attendees
-Available for individuals Online or for your Mom’s group!

I loved last year’s talks, like having heart to hearts over coffee with awesome friends, and hope you’ll join us this year!

Click here to see the website:

Faces of Mercy