Monday, February 26, 2007

Church Girl Runs Home

As I was updating some of my other sites today, I came across this post, which appeared on my "Streams of Mercy" site a year or so ago. This doesn't have anything to do with Canticle, specifically, so I'll understand if you decide not to read it. But if you're a convert to the Catholic Church (or know of someone who is considering it), you might appreciate knowing the story of (dare I say it?) one of your favorite editors.... Peace and Mercy.

[In the Eucharist...] The Lord Jesus, "the way, and the truth, and the life" (Jn 14:6), speaks to our thirsting, pilgrim hearts, our hearts yearning for the source of life, our hearts longing for truth.


As a young girl, I was taught that there are certain places good Christian girls do not belong: sitting with a boyfriend in the backseat of a Firebird, frequenting movie theaters or karaoke bars, or venturing within fifty miles of Hollywood or Las Vegas, cities so inherently sinful that God must one day destroy them in a torrent of hellfire, or dig up both Sodom and Gomorrah to

Yet there I was, well within the L.A. “strike zone,” wandering the streets and wondering just how I had gone so far off track. I had spent most of my life in one Christian church or another – playing the piano or teaching a Sunday school class. During Bible school, I had even taught at a Christian academy in Dakar, Senegal. A few years later, I spent a summer leading a Christian outreach team in southern Poland.

Yet somehow along the way, I lost my faith. I’ll never forget those awful months when I realized what had happened. My prayers bounced off the ceiling. My family was thousands of miles away. My college friends had moved out of the area, and the small church I had attended was in a state of upheaval: the pastor had resigned because he sensed God was leading him to, of all things, become Catholic.

Later, over lunch, I couldn’t help but notice that, for a man who had just lost his livelihood and the support of his friends and family, he seemed awfully upbeat. I, on the other hand, was a mess. The outreach had ended badly, the team split between the charismatic Poles and the conservative Americans. We had spent the last two weeks of the tour in eastern Germany, living out of our bus because the organizer had not arranged accommodation for us. I could not understand why God had led us there, only to be stranded in the middle of the German countryside. My questions deepened when I returned home to find that my father had suffered a collapse.

Going to church was the worst. After my experience in the previous church, I switched to a non-denominational “megachurch,” hoping to find a sense of peace in the beautiful music and the eloquent sermons. Instead I felt like a child with my nose pressed up against the glass of a candy store, hungry but unable to reach what I wanted most. God, where are You? All my life I have tried to love and serve you. Your Word promises that You will never leave me. So why do I feel so alone?

In the early morning hours, I would get up and put on my headset, and stroll the neighborhood past the old mission-style church on the corner. One morning I listened to a tape my pastor friend had given me on the Eucharist. “When God came, He did not send a book. He did not send another prophet. He came Himself. God with us, in the person of His Son. ‘Take this… This is my body broken for you… Unless you eat my body and drink my blood, you have no life within you….”No life within you… That, I understood at the very core of my being. “Lord, I need your life in me. Show me how to find it.”

As that thought went through my head, I found myself on the steps of that old church. A strange fear gripped me; surely God would not be there, in such a “dead” and solemn place. I needed the joy of the Lord, not more rules and regulations…For a week I walked past that church, arguing with myself about the futility of darkening the doors of yet another church. I told myself that I just needed to pray more, read more, spend more time alone with God.

And yet, something drew me unmistakably toward that place, and I finally went inside.Unlike the church I normally attended, this one was dark and quiet, with soft strains of organ music in the background. At the front was an ornate altar, with a large golden box off to one side, where someone had once told me the Eucharist was kept between services. Torn between wanting to get a closer look and not wanting to draw attention to myself, I slipped into one of the back

On the other side of the aisle, a Hispanic laborer knelt in prayer, his stained fingers clasped on the back of the pew. In front of him, a genteel elderly matron fingered her rosary, her mouth moving soundlessly. As the pews began to fill up, I marveled at the cross-section of humanity represented here . . . the very old and very young, rich and poor, cultured and rough, devout and indifferent. A woman a few years older than me tapped me on the shoulder and asked if she could sit with me; she showed me how to use the missal, and during the service explained in low tones what was going to happen.

As I listened to the Scripture readings, I began to relax. The familiar story of Jesus welcoming the children made me smile. In that moment, I was feeling very much like a child. I did not know the prayers everyone else recited by heart. I had to watch carefully to be sure I didn’t sit or stand at the wrong time. And when the others went forward to receive the Eucharist, I held back, unsure of whether it was OK to go.

“Go on,” the woman coaxed me. “Just cross your arms like this, and the priest will bless you.” So I got up and walked toward him, as he held a little round wafer aloft for a moment before giving it to each person in line. “The Body of Christ,” he intoned. “The Body of Christ.” He smiled at me reassuringly as I clutched my hands in front of me, then he traced the sign of the cross on my forehead. It was the first time anyone had ever done that to me, and I remember feeling lighter inside as I returned to my seat.

Over the next few weeks I went back several times; finally (not realizing it was inappropriate to do so) I went up and received Eucharist. At that moment, two thoughts came to me: First, I needed to talk with someone about what was happening to me. Second, my sense of isolation was gone, wrapped in the ancient embrace of something much bigger and more permanent than myself.
It was the difference between a teenage crush and a marriage: With puppy love, the pair wants to be only with each other, just as for many years I went through life supposing “Jesus and me” was enough. Marriage is very different: through this sacrament, a couple is given a context of love – sharing generations of their families, their friends, and (in time) their own children.

In the same way, I began to discover within those ancient walls a deposit of faith safeguarded since the time of the apostles through the writings of the Church Fathers and other holy men and women who knew God as intimately as I wanted to.

While I had known God all my life, the conversion process was more painful for me than it is for some. For years I had labored under the delusion that I was the final authority on truth, if only for myself. In reality, my faith was rather superficial and highly subjective, based on what I believed the Scriptures said, what I felt God was saying to me. If I didn’t agree with the pastor or teacher, I simply found another church. Now God was showing me plainly that this was not the way of transformation. Those weeks of isolation and depression revealed the truth: I am really just a child in desperate need of healing, and I must trust the Great Physician even when I do not understand what He is doing to me.

This sense of inner transformation, or conversion, caught me by surprise. I had believed in Jesus and gone to church all my life. And yet, God had to take me outside my comfort zone so I could hear Him clearly. I was a little surprised to experience God’s presence so powerfully in the stillness of an ancient liturgy. But then I remembered the story of Elijah (1 Kings 19), when the
prophet encountered the Almighty. He was not in the great wind, or in the earthquake or fire that followed, but in the still, small voice after the tumult.In my frenetic religious activity, I became too “busy” to become quiet and listen for the beloved voice of my Father. It wasn’t until I became like a kid again that I rediscovered it, not in the rush – but in the silence.

Dinnertime Dilemma?

We've all been there. The pressure is on to produce a thousand words by close of business day ... and the "emergency" frozen dinner was used for last week's emergency! So, what do you feed your hungry family tonight?

Deadline's a Comin' Sante Fe Chicken

Throw this in the crockpot (preferably with those handy little no-mess liners you can find in the grocery store right next to the Saran Wrap) in the morning, and when dinner rolls around you're all set to go!

Place in the crockpot in the order listed:

4 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 bag baby carrots (or 3 regular carrots, peeled and coined)
1 large onion, diced
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can whole-kernel corn, WITH juice
1 package (about 1 pound) chicken -- boneless breast or thighs, fresh or frozen
1 tsp coriander (dried, ground cilantro seeds -- optional)
1 16-oz jar of your favorite salsa. Spread to cover chicken completely.

Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours, or on high 4 hours. Serve with fruit salad and tortillas. Bonus: Tastes great for lunch the next day, too!

OK... now that our housekeeping chores are done, let's take a look at what's going on at Canticle today!

I'm working on a feature on Alice von Hildebrand for our May issue, and would like to find someone who has read her book The Privilege of Being a Woman and would like to write 250 words or so about it, including a favorite short quote to give readers a taste. If you're interested, contact me at [NOTE: A reader has now come forward to write this for me. Thanks!]

Psst... Have You Heard? We are eternally grateful to God that Johnnette received 100% of the money she needed in her latest appeal. Thanks to all those who responded with love and true charity. While it was never a possibility that Canticle was going to fold (or that we were going to stop paying our writers), we are thankful that the financial situation has eased for this dear lady, who has so many other irons in the fire right now. Thanks for your continued prayer, support ... and subscriptions!

Also, if you would like to be notified when I post another entry to this blog, please send me your name and e-mail address to my personal e-mail address (above), and I'll add you to my list!

Thanks ... and Happy Trails!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

"No God a Lod"

Christopher has penmanship like his father's: A cross between a serial killer's and a neurosurgeon's. With a burst of newfound literacy, his words run together without capitals, spaces, uppers and lowers jumbed together. It has a profoundly confusing affect. We offered him a dollar for each exercise page, a knock-off of a typing exercise from decades past: "The quick brown fox jumps. The lazy dog sleeps." To no avail.

So you can imagine my mixed feelings this morning, coming out to find the following sign posted on his bathroom door: "Sarah is not a lod in this bathroom!" It was his first independent expression ... a cry for privacy. I took it down and put it in the pile of papers to be saved. The sentiment was not exactly condusive to peace and tranquility (if Sarah were old enough to read, I imagine she would camp out in the bathroom just to get her brother's goat). But to me it was a sign that my little boy is growing up.

Christopher's handmade sign has implications for each of us. As we contemplate our Lenten offerings ... no candy, no alcohol, no (gasp) T.V. ... most of us have some area that would be especially difficult to offer back to God. For me, it would be either Diet Coke or lunchtime "Judging Amy" reruns. When I was in the full-time working world, I gave up Diet Coke -- it turned out to be more a sacrifice for my secretary, who treatened to quit if I ever pulled a caffeine deprivation stunt like that again.

As we enter the Lenten season, let's take a moment to consider not only what we will offer God out of a desire to grow in perfect love for Him. Candy ... and compassion. Alcohol ... and adoration. Diet Coke ... and the desire to keep it a secret from the world around me, making my little sacrifice a true labor of love.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Why Can't I Get Any Writing Done...?

In your vocation as wife and mother, do you sometimes wonder if you will ever see your name in print again?

The next time you feel discouraged, check out my latest post on the "Mommy Monster" blog, entitled "A Day in the Life of a Foster Mom." You'll feel better. I promise. Go to

Under the Mercy...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

So ... You Want to Write for Canticle?

The other day I had an unfortunate experience with a writer that I'd like to share with you, not to embarrass the poor (and unnamed) soul but to educate my faithful writers on some of the finer points about the selection/acceptance process.

When I work with authors to develop articles, I always try to remind them that I cannot guarantee that after it has been submitted in "final" form a piece will appear in print. The vast majority of the time, it does ... and yet, there have been a couple of times (thankfully, only a couple) when I've had to delay publishing or even reject a piece after accepting it for a particular issue. After I pull together each issue, it is reviewed by a small group of people who may decide to change or omit something. In the most recent example, I had to pull two articles from our Lent issue in order to make room for a piece about Lent. (oops.) This doesn't happen often -- as I said, only a couple of times -- but it has happened.

Other times, the execution of an article fails to deliver on its original pitch, even after some back-and-forth. I've done this myself (for other magazines), so I know how frustrating it can be. When I first joined Canticle, I sometimes ran a less-than-perfect piece anyway, just because I needed something on a particular topic. But as good writers have continued to submit pieces to me, the need for this has declined noticeably. Thank God.

Finally, I've had some writers contact me to ask about the status of an article they submitted over a year ago ... Some going back even longer than that! If this is you, I'm afraid you've slipped into the "editorial black hole." Please reread the writer's guidelines and resubmit if you think it's something we can use.

Now ... if you still want to write for us after all this, here are some things I can really use:

  • Articles (NOT biographies) on the saints. Choose one whose feastday is at least four months away, and pitch it to me first. We have an excellent one on Elizabeth Seton in the most current issue.
  • Articles on "hot button" topics that face real Catholic women. We've covered domestic violence and eating disorders most recently. Upcoming issues will cover divorce, homosexuality, and other real-life problems. What does it mean to "stand in the gap" when someone you love is struggling?
  • Stories related to Women of Grace -- retreat and study group experiences, etc. Also evangelization-related articles about how to share God's love with another person.

Hope this helps! Happy writing ...

Under the Mercy.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Authentic Catholic Womanhood


Welcome to this first installment of "The Silent Canticle," where I give my favorite writers (you know who you are) the inside scoop on developments in the magazine, and other literary tidbits that cross my desk. This is for those who have already read the writer's guidelines as well as the actual magazine (bonus points if you subscribe!).

This is also the place that I invite you to offer your thoughts and other constructive input about the magazine -- what you like, what you don't, and what you'd like to see more of. Just as I try to offer my writers constructive criticism to help them grow as writers, I need your help in order to do my job better!

Last week I was in Florida, meeting with Johnnette's team, and we discussed the mission of the magazine. We also made a significant decision regarding format: Starting with the May issue, we will be going full color interior ... and will be reducing the page count to 32 pages. This means that there will be fewer articles in each magazine -- and that writers need to pay even closer attention to word count than previously.

However, today I'd like to share with you a short reflection that I put together for the meeting, in hopes that it inspires you. When we say Canticle's mission is to help women live out their vocations with authentic Catholic femininity, what does that mean? How are we most “authentic” (being most genuinely the person God created us to be)? Can we ever hope to emulate (that is, to “equal or excel”) the perfection of any other human person?

While the examples of holy men and women may inspire us to run the race with greater confidence, God is best glorified when we are most fully ourselves. “Let us run with endurance… fixing our eyes on JESUS, the author and perfecter of our faith.”

Resolved: To be “authentic” in Catholic womanhood is to grow in perfection (that is, in love) according to the state in which we find ourselves, recognizing that this perfection must be attained both within ourselves and in relation to one another, particularly within the family (the domestic church) and the Church (both within our immediate faith community and by drawing from and applying the treasury of our faith). (See CCC 1368).

Authentic in our lives: Transparent yet humble and consistent in our witness, making progress in virtue, faithful to our families, and diligent in service to God and His Church.

Authentic in our praise:
Recognizing God as the Source of all we are and possess, and seeking to know, love, and understand that Source through every means He gives us.

Authentic in our sufferings: Allowing God to turn weakness and pain into empathy (bearing one another’s burdens) and holiness (replacing false securities with authentic virtue).

Authentic in our prayer: Like an iceberg, far more of the spiritual life transpires away from the public eye than is accomplished in it. As women, our ability to carry out the tasks entrusted to us depends upon the consistency with which we allow God to transform us from the inside out … through prayer.

Authentic in our work: Our task is not to compare our own progress or our individual accomplishments with those of other women. It is to discern and take up willingly what has been entrusted to us, confident that He will give us what is needed to carry it out. It is to recognize the seasons of life and of family, and offering ourselves wholeheartedly in the measure and manner appropriate to that time and season.

Let us all help one another to grow in perfect authenticity

Under the Mercy...