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An Open Letter To Overthinkers

I know it’s a not a matter of being hard headed. Actually, you probably have an incredibly sharp intellect that wants to believe everything you read in the Gospels so you dedicate yourself to the path of understanding. Brilliant. A hunger for truth puts you in the good company with the likes of Augustine and Aquinas. So why can’t you just get on board with the idea of how simple faith is?  If you could only believe the wonderful promises of Jesus Christ… this would not be a difficult task. I’m sure you’d willingly walk through fire laden down with the cross. Because Jesus said we would not be overcome. Jesus said this was the way to truly follow Him. Jesus said there is merit in this. And Jesus said He was going ahead of us to prepare a place in His Father’s house.

So rise up and go.

Oh, you can’t?  It’s not that easy, you say? I know, because I’ve said the same things. The good intention is there but so is the doubting and the analyzing. “What if it’s all a lie?”  “How can I make sense of a benevolent God in face of all the suffering in this world?” “What if Christianity is a masterful delusion and becoming worm food is the end of my story?”

“Just have faith!  Keep praying! One foot in front of the other!”  These are usually the answers from devout Christians. (As if we don’t want to have faith or move forward in the hope that they seem to have.) But what they don’t understand is that you’re stuck wondering if these characters are part of the fairy tale chasing a fantasy castle or credible, rational, tried beings who simply haven’t thought this issue out as thoroughly as you.

Pascal and Peter have already offered some guidance for those of us plagued with second-guessing. Pascal in reasoning that it doesn’t matter if it’s a worm-destined fairy tale or not… we’ve got nothing to lose by buying in.  And Peter by reasoning “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”  Peter was no philosopher. So he hadn’t weighed out the nihilism of Nietzsche or the atheism of Dawkins. But this fisherman did have some business savvy. He knew hope when He saw it. He knew which path offered life and which one didn’t. So he picked his investment accordingly, and unto death, by the way.

Well there’s a third route to faith for non-simpletons, that isn’t as famous. It’s a second-hand, rabbit trail through the woods of your intellect.  And it is good.

If you can’t buy into faith because it’s a smart gamble, and you can’t buy into faith because it is the most attractive narrative explaining human existence (relativism being patently irrational and worm food being patently depressing), perhaps the proper marketing technique is celebrity endorsement.  And I’m not just talking about “Oh look how awesome Mother Teresa was! I want to be in her club.”  There are hundreds of extraordinary examples of saints.  But before going on, I want to preemptively address the devil’s advocate in you that wants to retort “So what? Gandhi was awesome and he wasn’t Christian. Buddhism produces nice people. And my atheistic neighbor is one of the most generous people I know!”

And I say “Good for them!” There will always be exceptions because Truth trickles its way into every human heart, regardless of the straw house resistance we might unwittingly put up around it.  But even you, YOU—the one who prizes science and logic— can’t overlook the data while maintaining intellectual honesty. This isn’t as cursory as “There’s been more admirable Christians than people of other faiths…” because numbers aren’t enough to justify the fairy tale.  However, what you begin to learn… what you begin to experience upon studying the saints of history and by rooting yourself into a life of prayer (even if it’s praying to a God out of a Petrine default, rather than having a zealous belief in Him), is that something changes.  You change. Prayer is always heard. Always answered. But a god of any sort can’t be confined to our finite understanding.  Letting go of the demands we want to make of Him in light of the intricate, stringy mess we are facing, and trusting the Weaver’s Hand to do His work on the other side of the loom will do massive work to you and for you and in you.  It will slough off pride. It will expand the heart. It will inspire true compassion and a beautifully genuine faith.  And you will access that part of your spirit that can’t be counted, classified and filed into your mental hard drive.

And it will be good. You will be good. The kind of good that reverberates through the ages because Love that lives in these changed sorts of people never dies. These are people from every age and from every nation. Universal people. Easter people!  Magdalen. Francis. Kolbe. Bahkita. Miguel Pro. And countless others who’ve lived hidden lives in the shadows of the cross. These are the lives well lived. These are the ones who spilled their blood with a love that lived on far longer than their bodies. These are my people. The ultimate non-conformists who mastered their intellects by subjecting their wills.  When I am skittish about Pascal’s wager… when I lack the devotion and certainty of Peter’s commitment… I think of what kind of person I want to be. How do I want my story to play out? To end?

So I rise up. I pack up my doubts, intellectual hesitations and fears in my rucksack to carry with me through the woods. They are part of my cross as I stumble towards the light. Because who wants a god that can be fully comprehended anyway? Folly or not, the love that the saints had transformed their characters. If they were wrong, I want to be wrong with them— but going down that mental vortex is ultimately a fruitless exercise. Because genuine love doesn’t die and can’t be convincingly imitated. By its very nature, love transcends our mental calculations and understanding. These people were radiant and fully alive. So the idea of believing and living and dying like these saints is enough. And meeting up with them for the greatest after-party we could ever possibly imagine is far too enticing for me to pass up. That’s where I want to be.

How about you?

Very respectfully from my own overthinking, underloving heart-under-construction:



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Saints Through the Year in Picture Books

While I have a “motherload” list of Catholic picture books, I wanted to update and talk specifically about saint books.

When you find a beautiful picture book about a saint… you have a treasure indeed. And this book will do more to form the heart and mind of your child than dry readings from a text or even a decent saint anthology.  The Church Triumphant is our victory crown—our brothers and sisters in Christ who’ve run the race and attained the prize. Nothing in life matters except getting to Heaven.  So emphasizing the stories of those who’ve gone before us in a lovely and accessible way is of extraordinary importance to a child’s education. Many books exist that are great for read aloud times and don’t need picture illustrations. (I am a big fan of the Once Upon a Time Saints series for example, especially to share more obscure saints with kids) But picture books specifically, offer a unique way for young children to metabolize and begin admiring their faith.

How to Incorporate Saint Stories into Your Day

There is no sense in purchasing saint books if all they do is sit on your shelf making you feel guilty for never using them.  I have three favorite methods of incorporating saint picture books into our lives, for three types of people:  The Ambitious Ones. The Focused Ones. And then The Rest of Us. Many of the picture books on my list focus only on a particular legend or anecdote of a saint’s life or even just illustrate a prayer they composed. I like to follow up these books with a very brief biography from a solid anthology of saints.

-For The Ambitious: The answer is obvious. Read the saint stories on their feast days. In my glory years, I had created a liturgical year booklist complete with all the titles I owned and their corresponding feast days. I would pull out the books each month and have them sitting in our monthly picture book basket along with our other seasonal titles and simply read that saint’s story on his or her feast day.  It worked very well. I still practice this method when I can, although my summer saints suffer from neglect with more outdoor/less scholastic-reading time in general. So I just do a modified version of this and try to read about the saint in the month the feast is celebrated. A goal of mine was to have at least one or two saint picture books in the book basket for each month of the year. This is why I’m listing them in monthly order on my site.

-For the Focused: Save all your saint picture books for November—the month of All Saints. And dedicate that month to getting to know our heavenly family better through the reading of their lives. Consider using All Saints Day as an excuse to gift picture books on saints to your family or godchildren.

-For the Rest of Us: Practice the ancient art of “strewing”… and simply leave saint picture books lying about where children can discover them at their own leisure. On coffee tables, in the bathroom, on nightstands, etc. Making sure the saints are part of our everyday lives is important in demystifying them and living the faith in a holistic way.

Disclaimers, Exclusions, Alternatives

As with all my picture book categories, I don’t list every single book on the market simply because life is too short for the mediocre. You’ll find other St. Francis of Assisi books than the ones I have listed, for example. But I only bother including picture books if they are worth the time and can hold their own on at least some level of beauty.  Children are naturally attracted to the beautiful and the true.  So I avoid the Saturday Morning Cartoon illustrations even if they are saintly themed! This last point is personal preference. You may find a deep enjoyment of titles like this or that. Further, perhaps there is a great place for graphic comics like this for your older children.  That’s fine! Just not the focus of this post. The picture book industry has boomed in recent years with its offerings of faith-themed books. Sadly, most of these are repeats of older stories… that had better illustrations anyway. (How many new St. Patrick books do we need anyway?!  Why can’t someone produce an excellent picture book on St. Kateri or St. Francis Xavier)

I have (with hesitation) decided not to include some beautiful books that have been published regarding saints of the Orthodox Church. If the saint is recognized in the Catholic Church as well, those are included.

I have read most, but not every single title here. I included books that appeared—from reviews and research— to be worthwhile. Lastly, while you can be sure that despite my passion and diligence in research to create a very thorough and quality list… I may have overlooked some books that rank as treasures in your mind. In all things, to God be the glory.

The Books

Onward now to the list.  I intend to keep this post updated with the best of what’s out there and encourage you to chase down the out-of-print titles listed here as well… they are worth it.





St. Anthony the Great

St. Felix

St. John Bosco


St. Brigid

St. Pascual

St. Scholastica

St. Modomnoc

St. Valentine

St. Valentine


St. Patrick

St. Patrick

St. Patrick

St. Cuthbert


St. Bernadette

St. George

St. George


St. Brendan

Our Lady of Fatima

St. Joan of Arc

St. Joan of Arc

St. Joan of Arc


St. Kevin

St. Boniface

St. Columba

St. Columba

St. Josemaría Escrivá


St. Junipero Serra

St. Benedict

St. Benedict

St. Christopher

St. Christopher


St. Clare

St. Tekla


St. Teresa of Calcutta

St. Joseph of Cupertino

St. Ciaran

St. Hildegard

St. Sergius

St. Wenceslas

St. Wenceslas

St. Jerome


St. Barnaby

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

St. John XXIII

St. John Paul II


St. Martin de Porres

St. Martin de Porres

St. Martin de Porres

St. Frances Cabrini

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

St. Catherine of Alexandria


St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

St. Lucy

“In every young person, a point of goodness is accessible and it is the primary duty of the educator to discover that sensitive cord of the heart so as to draw out the best in the young person.”

–St. John Bosco 

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2 x 2 = Faith


The 2nd grade class of St. James Catholic School in Oregon City, OR was not a particularly bright bunch in 1989. We slouched our socks and picked our noses and jockeyed to be Teacher’s Pet. There was seriously not a lot to write home about this particular group of kids. We were also forced to memorize the multiplication tables through the twelves. Did us puny, distracted 8 year olds really know anything about the grouping of numbers? No. I don’t think we were even taught what it meant to multiply until another year or so. But we drilled those rote, memorized facts every day, until the whole class knew their times tables forward and back. And when we did progress through the years and get tested periodically, we were glad to have those facts at the ready. We plugged those facts into our problems, confident that they were true… even if we didn’t know why they were true.

I was thinking about this the other day when I was knocking my head against the wall in trying to fully comprehend what it means in the Bible where it says “Faith is a free gift…” I used to beg and beg and beg for this free gift and wonder where the heck it was?! Why didn’t I ever feel all warm and fuzzy and start ordering mountains around and such?! I prayed hard for faith all the time! Well, because I am the queen of strange (and sometimes, mildly inappropriate) analogies, my 2nd grade multiplication tables came back to me. Those facts have been a “free gift” to me my whole life. And while I’m no math whiz, I clearly understand the methodology behind the number facts now. But for a very long time, I didn’t. I could just plug in the right answers because I knew they were right… not because I understood them.

This is very often my faith life as an adult now. I’ll be honest. I don’t “get it” more often than not these days. I can not intellectually conquer the theology behind Romans 8:28: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him…”. But the older I get, the more delighted I am to become childlike in ‘not getting it.’ After decades of trying to research and philosophize and “grasp” Catholicism, I have reached a point where I just throw my hands up now and want to leave that to smarter people than me. Plumbing the depths and breadth of our faith is so far beyond what my brain can handle in the context of the life I’ve been given… I am content anymore to simply play in the shallow end of the pool where I just take everything at face value.

Jesus says “Have no fear.” Okay. Jesus says “Eat my body.” Okay. Jesus says “Have faith.” Okay. Trying to master the enormity of what that means is just plain too hard. The Catechism defines faith like this: “[Faith is] both a gift of God and a human act by which the believer gives personal adherence to God who invites his response, and freely assents to the whole truth that God has revealed.”

There is nothing about warm fuzzies there. Joy! Faith is an act of the will, a choice to be made. A response to a gift we receive from God but don’t necessarily understand or feel! I’m pretty sure Flannery O’Connor is considered on par with the Catechism right?! Well, she is responsible for my very favorite definition of faith of all time: “Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not.” Amen.

So when I’m faced with extraordinary situations that challenge my relationship with God and my identity in Him… I think of Romans 8:28. Then I shrug my shoulders and say “Okay. I choose faith. I choose He who has the words of Eternal Life…”

Because I’ve got no better answer to the question. Thankfully the cheat sheet to the Exam of Life has already been imprinted on my mind. 2 x 2 = 4 whether we understand that fact or not. And God has us in the palm of His hand and is working constantly for our good… whether we understand that or not. What a relief.

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a goodbye blessing

My son, riches I have not to offer you.
But still, I can baptize this departure.
May my whispered prayers continue to ring in your ears,
long after the din of the world has faded away.
May my embrace be a warm foretaste of the One who has called you
and claimed you long before I was ever made your mother.
May I inhale the scent of your innocence with sorrow.
May I exhale only love.
I will annoint you with these tears, my son.
Let their salt nourish you.
And if indeed, it is possible to die of a broken heart,
like it so often feels to be, I will go to meet death with willingness
and kiss him with tender lips,
if it means you will have life.

I love you.

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FRBO: A Heart

If you take down the No Vacancy sign posted on your heart… all the amenities will attract Him in— He Who is known to frequent such places. And what decor!

-Blackout curtains to prevent light from coming in.
-Linens crafted with the blend of Treachery and True.
-War and Peace weighing heavy on the sagging bookshelf.
-Cockroaches in the corners, cobwebs collecting dust and the faint, musty scent of hidden mold.

But the water always runs hot! And the price is only one, human crucifixion, even during the high season! It’s His favorite type of suite to occupy.

Lodging fit for a King.

He’ll rest His Head here.
Crack the window.
Replace all synthetic fabrics with pure ones.
Abridge Tolstoy.
Scatter the varmints and wash the walls with His blood.

It’ll be like a brand new place…

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Littleness, Truth and Happy Endings.

Last week, I worked particularly hard one day. Hard for one not accustomed to fast-paced, public work anyway. And I walked home. And it was hotter than the breath of a devil. I collapsed on my couch, curled up in the fetal position and just wanted to be left alone. Ironic since being alone is so manifestly available to me lately—and resented.  Yet there I was. Ever the ingrate. Ever self-seeking. And my beautiful seven babies were restless. They did not see the grueling pace of what I had been doing for the past several hours. They could not understand why I didn’t want to bounce right up and devise infinite avenues of fun to be had in the heat of this evening’s devil breath. And they begged. Bordering just enough on whining but still able to stay on the side of rational where I would hear them.  “Mama, mama! Come play!” “We need to do something!”

And I resented them. And my body screamed “Go away! I love you to pieces but I want you all to just snuggle here with me and fall into blissful slumber. But you want to actually be active right now?! You want my attention right now?!  Dear God, say it ain’t so!” But—to my surprised horror– I heard my mouth utter a “Fine, go load up in the truck and we’ll take the kayak out”…  granted, it was spoken with a few extra pounds of resignation, and not nearly the levity of cheerfulnesss that I wished I could’ve mustered.

And we went. And we made the best of it. There were a few minor scuffles about who sat where in the truck and who got to be first on the water but by and large, a solidarity is usually found at the water’s edge for my family. Hermit crabs were poked and prodded and captured. Baby bums were soaked at unbalanced tottering along the rocks. And so on. The older children loved being in the kayak. They loved the freedom and independence of paddling out there alone. The little ones loved going out for rides with Mama. I loved… well, pretty much only that they loved it. And the fantasy that I could potentially love kayaking someday if only it came dressed up in peace and solitude.

Then the fight to get everyone loaded back up and home. The ill-timed bathroom needs. The smell of seaweed and the grit of sand in the folds of skin.  And it was hard. And my patience had run out. So we bumbled our way home and ate some cheese and crackers called dinner and tottered into bed, with protests and resistance.

Then I cried. And I let exhausted tears wash my cheeks and then my valiant mind tried to war with my bitter heart for being such a weakling… but my heart won. And my “Yes” to the present moment was nullified since it decided to show up heavily saddled with all the baggage of qualifications and conditions of my will that a selfish woman like me likes to carry around. So I rebuked myself and fell asleep.

The end.

It’s true. There was no happy ending that day.  When I wrote this initially, I wanted to be able to weave in a tidy,  little lesson of virtue here.  I’ll even share with you what I drafted out:

Then, I leaned into my weakness by clutching my miraculous medal and recited my favorite 3-word prayer (“God have mercy”) and allowed myself to fully feel my littleness. My reluctant will. My incomplete surrender.  My heart empty of virtue. And instead of turning in on myself and filling this vacancy with thoughts of shame and disgust and irritation… I offered it to Him. My baby Jesus to come fill this filthy-barnyard, smelly, manger of a soul with His presence.  And my pride died a mini-death. And what I then said “Yes” to… was my very inadequacy to do or be any good outside of Him.  And I nearly smiled in being nothing—yet everything— because I was simply His tiny, pathetic daughter. My ramshackle soul presented so much space for HIM to transform and heal and fill…. I imagine like those fixer-uppers on TV who get so excited transforming homes when they have a generous amount of money with which to work.  How excited must my Jesus be to fix-up my heart when His budget and energy are inexhaustible?! I am His perfect project.

And I found some freedom in that. And peace. And God. What else could I possibly want?!

I know. It sounds so meaningful and heartfelt, right?! And it was.  But it wasn’t very honest. I didn’t end that day with holy, peaceful inspirations. I fell asleep on a pillowcase wet with tears and drool and completely devoid of sanctifying thoughts. (And if, through writing, I am anything other than honest, I have no business saying anything at all.)  As it is, I wrote that little paragraph as an editor would like to revise a script that she just read. “Well, everything seemed to be going smoothly, with a moderate amount of interest… but your ending was just really, really crappy. So let me fix that up here…”  That’s the ending I wish I would’ve had to that night.

But I have to believe there is some merit in retrospective goodwill. I have to trust that the desire to revise my life script counts for something… and further, that it inspires something for future chapters. Sometimes  writers or bloggers seem to have the pretense of authority or “figured-it-out-iveness” that has always bothered me.  (Pride hates pride, see…) And I never want to be like that. The intention of this little corner of cyberspace isn’t to preach anything to anyone about how I’ve mastered my vocation, my faith, or life.  I am here as a fellow sojourner… pointing out interesting sights along my path… offering to share a bench with others as needed… chattering about beautiful books to read along the way… running out of fuel sometimes… and wiping off my face, just like anyone else who bites the dust often. I’m little and foolish, that much is true.  But that much does indeed purchase a liberty in which I will be delighted to end my life’s story.


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Life in Plan B

No one ever chooses to stand outside of Time. It’s only in moments of tremendous grief or personal upheaval that time itself serves an abrupt eviction. And standing there in a cosmic void of uncertainty, you can only examine the wreckage of expectations with a primal instinct. And lacking any cues to survival, the best that can be done is to begin searching through the rubble for any fragments of ‘normal’ that can be found. And so begins the long, hard work of rebuilding an identity.

* * *

I am a single mother of seven children now. I am not a widow. I am not a divorcee. And I am sacramentally bound to my husband until death do us part. But the process of legal separation has been a brutal reality check on a life that I thought I had all figured out. An identity I thought I had all figured out. I have been with this man for half of my life and on our 15th wedding anniversary this past December, barely a word was spoken between us.  When we started dating, he was my world. I looked to him to show me and tell me who I was, for better or worse. When the ring was on my finger, I delighted in being “his” wife and the Mrs. in front of his name. When the children were born, I thought we were complete and that hand-in-hand we’d let the fire of our love ignite and evangelize the world through the raising of good, wholesome children. I knew there’d be trials… but never, ever dreamed that I’d have to come up with a Plan B.

Yet here I am. 35 years old and navigating how to make sense of Plan B as best as I can. I have to provide for my family for the first time so I work in a restaurant to supplement the child support in order to make ends meet. I am not a stay-at-home wife anymore. The lives of my children have been thrown into extraordinary trauma, so they’ve all been enrolled in school. I am not the home educator anymore. Years of tending babies throughout the night now leave me restless and awake at all hours, haunted by the silence.  And my breasts ache to nurse the baby who is denied his mother’s embrace. I am not an attachment parent anymore. I do not go out on dates. I do not enjoy Valentine’s Day. I do not feel the complete happiness and satisfaction I once knew hanging out with our married friends, but I have no place among the young singles either.

* * *

What is most bewildering is the forgetting that happens outside of time. Faces you know and love may come to visit. And they will offer some comfort: a breaking of the bread or companions in the search for artifacts of consolation. “A sorrow shared is a half joy.” But the faces know what the native can’t seem to remember: life goes on. Elsewhere. Inside the proper laws of time and space and a reasonable continuum of normal.  A place where babies are born, brides are kissed and dogs are played with at the park. So a choice has to be made. Build a bridge to this Elsewhere. Or stay longer and continue to water seeds of bitterness that can never bear fruit. Keep trying to warm the dead body with a torn up blanket or take the blanket to a friend and have her help you stitch it back together.

* * *

Plan B is a no-man’s land in the world of devout Catholicism. While broken families are the norm in the larger culture, being separated with children makes you a demographic ghost in my particular community. People aren’t quite sure how to make sense of what happened to our family and without cutting through what fragile threads of privacy I imagine to remain, I am forced to live with question marks tattooed on my face and speculation following me around like a personal rain cloud. It’s not my job to correct misunderstandings about how the public perceives my situation. It is only my job to be who I am and be that well.

My identity now is the same as it’s always been; I’m  just seeing it for the first time. My self-worth and character are not in the context of another person and should never have been. I am the daughter of a good, royal Father who wants nothing but the best for His children. So He gives us the Cross. Married, single, religious, or ghost… it doesn’t matter, He gives us the Cross that becomes our identity. If we can drain our ego enough to fill up on the Blood and Water that gives us life, we won’t just “accept” our cross, but we will long for it and kiss the beloved wood that will carry us to Heaven.

I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t know how much more I will have to lean on the extraordinary charity of all my friends—my myriad of Simons— to help me carry this Cross. I don’t know how much longer I’ll vacillate wildly between laughter and tears, hope and grief. I don’t know if my husband will ever be open to reconciliation. I don’t know how God plans to shield and save my children through this. I don’t know the end to my story. But I am trying to be patient and faithful in living it. For some people, it’s not even so much that He’s exactly authoring our story… but that He’s ripping pages away from the book we thought we had all written out already, The Divine Editor if you will. When all is said and done, we do know that He promised to work all things for the good of those who love Him.  His ways are mysterious— to be sure. But I know that I love Him the most that a broken, little fool can and thankfully… that is enough.

* * *

Time won’t wait. And time won’t promise to never toss you out again. He is cruel. But there is a way to beat him. At least, I hear it’s so.  Bury down deep, into the beating, bleeding heart of the One who beat time at his own game. And time will roll over you, high above searching for his victim, thrashing and gnashing about, like a storm inciting the ocean to a boil.  But beneath the waves,  inside The Heart, you can’t get tossed.  Time will call your number but the Heart has already called you by name.
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Pride: A Self-Inventory

Have you ever been tired of your tummy pudge and after consulting Dr. Google, found out that the idea of “spot toning” is really not a viable one?  Depressing isn’t it? When you realize that you can’t just do 50 sit-ups a day and poof! the spare tire will disappear.  The reality is that, any physical trainer worth their salt will recommend a much more holistic approach and be sure to  include cardio and strength training along with healthy eating in order to combat excess weight.  There are no magic short-cuts for long-term changes.

So it is with the spiritual life. Some people recognize how much they struggle with gossip, so they start to shut their mouths and ears just a little bit more and hope to beat it.  Others have a short temper… so they practice deep breathing techniques and maybe invest in a punching bag.  And these things will help.  Every isolated struggle we face can be addressed and combatted head on and small changes (with varying degrees of success) can be expected.

But it won’t work for the long haul. There will be backsliding. You’ll wonder why your list of sins sounds like a tired old record player, even though you feel true contrition and have true amendment to change. To be forged by fire into who we are called to be, I.e. saints, there’s only one painful path:  taking a shotgun and firing a heavy round of buckshot into your ego.  As pride is the father of all sins, humility is the mother of all virtues.

I have loved praying the Litany of Humility ever since I first heard about it… but it’s alway been a struggle to pray it with sincere enthusiasm.  Over the years, and after logging a little more time in at the Range of Life Humiliations, the prayer has become a comforting salve to me, healing and protecting me from the inevitable defects that set me back. But I keep returning to it, so prone I am to the inflammation of pride. And it does its job on some level—reawakens in me the desire to be grounded in my identity as nothing other than a fool for God. Indeed I only grit my teeth a tiny bit now, toward the end of the prayer… I’m still a work in progress.

Anyway, one of the things that has taken me many years to learn is just how interwoven pride is in so many of my character defects.  I’ve never had to uproot it so thoroughly from my heart as I have lately and turns out that pride is a nasty weed that has a quite the complicated root system.  (As an aside, if a gardener could do his weeding with a shotgun, I’m sure he would, but the rest of us will have to labor through my awkward, mixed metaphors here with patience.) Something like ‘being a control freak’… is a form of pride.  Obsessing over your imperfect looks… a form of pride. Wanting to divulge others’ secrets… a form of pride.  I was stunned when I learned that even the horrible feeling of “self hate” is a mutated form of pride (Fr. Jacque Philippe said so, okay!  And that means it’s Gospel.  The two cent version of this concept is that if we loathe ourselves, it’s because we have created a false idea of who we are supposed to be and rely on our powers—rather than God— to be that way… despairing when we fall short. More or less anyway.)

I thought it might be useful to make a corollary list for sinners like me to go through.  I got all excited thinking how useful it would be to my readers and how great of an idea it was before I found out that St. Josemaria Escriva (and probably hundreds of others) have already been there, done that, and I’m only a couple hundred years late to the ball game.  So. I will only distil some of what far smarter people have already conceptualized for us (and before I forget, the chapter called “The Great Sin” in Mere Christianity is an absolute must read for all Christians. Read that chapter every other month or so, in fact.)  Please don’t use this list as a prompting to scupulosity. Most of these aren’t sins per se, but warts on our character that just need to be filed off to really maximize the efforts we are making to truly grow in virtue.  As with all the vices, the way to beat pride isn’t to just try and eliminate it… but to replace it by practicing the opposite virtue.

Self-inventory for the Litany of Humility

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus.

  • Do I enjoy being considered pious, virtuous or holy and try to demonstrate what that “looks like” outwardly?

From the desire of being loved…

  • Do I try to make myself seem interesting or unique to win the esteem of others?

From the desire of being extolled …

  • Do I bat away compliments in an effort to hear them emphasized or repeated?
  • Do I forget that all the gifts, talents or blessings I have are simply on loan to me, and not my own?

From the desire of being honored …

  • Do I make a point to name drop so others will be impressed by my associations?
  • Do I get annoyed when I feel like someone is patronizing me?

From the desire of being praised …

  • Do I purposefully put myself down in an underhanded attempt to get people to contradict and praise me?

From the desire of being preferred to others…

  • Do I get jealous of the attention others get from people I admire?

From the desire of being consulted …

  • Do I like to be considered an expert in any area (cooking, web design, babywearing, fantasy football, etc.)?
  • Do I regularly offer my opinions when they are not asked?

From the desire of being approved …

  • Do I make a point to demonstrate how witty, knowledgeable, or special I am by inserting my anecdotes into conversations?
  • Do I try and serve only the best food or wear only the most fashionable clothing or drive only the nicest cars?

From the fear of being humiliated …

  • Do I hide or make excuses for my flaws or bad decisions?
  • Do I refuse to accept help or charity even when needed?

From the fear of being despised…

  • Do I avoid controversial situations or debates because I don’t want people to think badly of me?

From the fear of suffering rebukes …

  • Do I have the need to get the last word in an argument… even if I’m right?
  • Do I refuse to back down on a position even if I’m wrong?
  • Do I resist apologizing to others, especially under the reasoning of ‘they don’t deserve it.’?

From the fear of being calumniated …

  • Do I have to clear my name whenever I perceive it to be sullied?

From the fear of being forgotten …

  • Do I always have a story to share in group conversations?
  • Do I like to be in the know regarding the details of everyone’s personal lives?

From the fear of being ridiculed …

  • Am I embarrassed by doing menial jobs or not having certain possessions or lifestyles?

From the fear of being wronged …

From the fear of being suspected …

  • Do I act defensively or deny wrongdoing rather than sometimes, bearing wrongs patiently?

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

  • Am I envious of the happiness in others’ close friendships and/or romances?

That others may be esteemed more than I …

  • Do I think my ideas are always the right or best ones?
  • Do I resist taking the advice of others?

That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease …

  • Do I want to be considered the “life of the party”, the “brains behind the operation”, the “deep thinker” or “the fantastic host” etc. ?
  • Do I insist on having my own way?

That others may be chosen and I set aside…

  • Do I put myself in position to be recommended or chosen in some way?

That others may be praised and I unnoticed …

  • Do I get hurt or annoyed when I hear others being complimented or praised, even if they don’t deserve it?
  • Do I make sure people see me being generous or doing good works?

That others may be preferred to me in everything…

  • Do I get upset if I’ve not been invited to social events, chosen for a leadership position or selected for promotion?
  • Do I compare myself to others all the time?

That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

  • Do I have ‘spiritual envy’?
  • Do I get discouraged when I sin and dwell on my shortcomings?
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Springtime with Kevin Henkes

In the same way that Jan Brett shines best in winter, Kevin Henkes was made for springtime.  While he is now a prolific picture book author/illustrator, it seems that all his best works embody spring somehow. Maybe it’s his color palette… simple but strong colors in very restrained but delightful shapes. Whatever the case may be, his books are always strong favorites in my house for the younger set… so I wanted to highlight his best of spring themes. I’ve always thought it would be fun to gift a certain THEME of books among my children— I’m thinking Easter baskets here; certain author themes would fit this well too!

Brand new this year and nearly wordless… four eggs hatch and an unexpected friendship ensues.

Last year, this book stole my heart for its burst of color and sweet text. A wonderful primary-age celebration of spring.

The sweet little “Mama loves you” story… also available as a board book!

Let the birding season begin! This is my very favorite *early* bird book.

A board book perfect for a toddler’s Easter basket… an ode to candy basically. 😀

A potentially bad day… reframed. Not just for kids.

Gardening season is beginnning! Kick it off with this imaginative girl…

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Spiritual Direction for Each Temperament

Ever been too intimidated to try reading the Summa? Or found little, pithy lessons on Proverbs to be “fluff”?  It’s probably just the type of person you are…

Well, I found something genius.  I’ve read so much on the temperaments over the years that I tend to gloss over the details nowadays. But I read that entire file and soaked up every word.  Honing in on the right kind of spiritual path for each person is really an excellent way to grow in virtue.  And what works for a Sanguine will not work for a Phlegmatic necessarily… so knowing the base tendencies we are sort of born with can really help us figure out the best way to stretch our hearts and grow in faith.

If you don’t know your temperament, I recommend this test. I think it is the most credible one you’ll find on the web and the same one found in the excellent book, Temperament God Gave You. Remember, we can’t use our temperaments to excuse bad behavior or make stodgy claims like “Well, that’s just the way I am!” Christ Himself is said to be the perfect embodiment of all the temperaments. And many saints worked on their characters so hard as to mitigate the negative side of their inborn tendencies while simultaneously cultivating characteristics that may not come naturally to them.

Once you’ve got a pretty good idea of what your base tendencies are, you can begin looking at what *type* of spiritual direction is ideal for you… assuming you don’t have a real, live, holy human at your ready.

I used Fr. Christian Kappes’ analysis of the temperaments to make a suggested reading list for each type of person.  I recommend reading the entire analysis to “know thyself” but here are just a few book ideas for each type to get you started:


(“The melancholic needs to experience tenderness and love of her soul created and cherished by God. Thus the melancholic must refrain from literature that exacerbates despair and a sense of guilt that already (for the melancholic) penetrates to the bone.”)

Introduction to the Devout Life
Finding God’s Will for You
I Believe in Love
The Power of Silence
Searching for and Maintaining Peace
In the School of the Holy Spirit
The Reed of God
Into Your Hands, Father: Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us


(“She needs to hear and acknowledge her defects and pride as personal sins to be attributed to her own volition. The devil is usually the scapegoat for the choleric.”)

The Twelve Steps to Holiness and Salvation
The Imitation of Christ
Preparation for Death
The Spiritual Combat
The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for our Lives Today
Humility of Heart
The Way, Furrow, the Forge
Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and the Gospel on Prayer


(“…because of her weakness for immediate and gratifying pleasures, short, pithy say- ings and stories will speak to her temperament. Lengthy biographies and tomes on the spiritual life are often lost in distractions and overwhelming spiritual lethargy.”)

Way to Happiness: An Inspiring Guide to Peace, Hope and Contentment
Peace of Soul
Called to Be Holy
Reflections on the Psalms
Mother Angelica’s Private and Pithy Lessons from Scripture
Anima Christi: Soul of Christ
Saintly Solutions to Life’s Common Problems


(“Recommended are the more passionate and less intellectual and ideational works.”)

The Fulfillment of All Desire
Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas
The Life of Christ
Abandonment to Divine Providence
The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Divine Intimacy
The Joy in Loving: a Guide to Daily Living
Interior Castle


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