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Review: ‘Cravings will leave you satisfied.’

Dennis spotted this early review of one of my new books, Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God, coming from Ave Maria Press on December 17.

Here’s what the reviewer at GoodReads had to say in her five-star review:

“Cravings will leave you satisfied.” This book addresses issues with food, low self-esteem, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Shows you ways to improve your life with food and God. Prayer, mindfulness, and meditation are essential for all of us as we walk this path.

“At this point, most of us have tried everything but the one thing that can truly change us: God. When we shift our focus away from our false perceptions and onto the love poured out for us in the person of Jesus Christ, we begin to take those first steps away from the path of self-hatred and self-destruction, out of the darkness and into the light of life.” (NSS note: This is taken from page 34 of Cravings.)

Each chapter follows with questions to ask yourself and meditation. This is an example:

We are so willing to believe
the negative voices that echo
in our hearts and head,
the labels that make us think
we can never be good enough,
the words that cut like glass.
But our God has called us by name.
Our God holds us, treasures us,
loves us without conditions.
Is that enough for us?

“Thank more and need less.” This is a book for all to read and apply to your everyday life

Cravings is now available for pre-order at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and through Ave Maria Press

Remembering the ‘people’s priest’

Photo by Marcus Yam/New York Times

From today’s “City Room” over at the New York Times online comes a story/obit that will make you stand back in awe of those Catholics — Father Flynn, in particular — who go out and walk the walk, no matter the cost or danger or difficulties.

Be sure to click through to the rest of this story and read more about Father Flynn, who used to tell those who visited him at his nursing home: “I can’t remember my name and address but I can remember we are supposed to be helping poor people.”

Here’s the story by Winnie Hu:

The Rev. John C. Flynn could have been a monsignor, but as he told the story in later years, he refused the elevation because he already held a title more to his liking: the people’s priest.

Father Flynn, 83, who spent a half-century championing the poor, the disadvantaged and the forgotten of the Bronx, died on Monday at the Schervier Nursing Care Center in Riverdale after a long debilitating illness, according to his family.

“He did not need any title, he did not need any accolades, he just wanted to be a parish priest,” said Heidi Hynes, the executive director of the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center, who used to receive regular visits from Father Flynn asking what could be done to help the needy. continue reading HERE.

A week without Facebook, and why I’m back

Last week, for the second time in a month, I decided to deactivate my Facebook account. I’ve taken brief sabbaticals from social media before, but closing my account, even briefly, made it feel more drastic, and I wanted and needed drastic.

My most most recent break lasted about one week. Mainly I wanted to get away from the habit of Facebook, but I have to admit that it went deeper than that. I was doing some soul searching, and I really started to ask myself, “Who cares if you made a delicious farro salad last night? Who cares what your kids did this weekend? Who cares about your crazy work deadlines?” I started to believe that perhaps Facebook is nothing more than a modern-day version of navel-gazing at best, narcissism gone mad at worst. And so I deactivated, hoping to discover that Facebook was totally unnecessary, even for those of us who kind of need it for promoting books, posting blogs, and spreading the Good News.

The first day went by without much fanfare. Although I’d occasionally walk over to my computer, thinking I’d pop in to see what everyone was up to, I didn’t really miss it. In fact, it was a welcome break. But issues began to mount pretty quickly after that. I couldn’t even update or access my own author page because you need a personal page to get to it. Dennis had to post my blog entries for me. Oh the tangled webs we weave. Within a couple of days, it became apparent that this sabbatical was going to be more difficult than previously expected and possibly detrimental to my real-life friendships.

One friend’s mother died. Another friend’s sister was suddenly faced with life-threatening illness. Another friend asked for prayers for a little girl on our prayer list because she was in a fight for her life. I knew about these prayer needs only because Dennis was getting them through his own page and was forwarding the really important stuff to me via email. Suddenly I started to realize that Facebook has become a significant part of my spiritual life. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. I don’t even know how many other prayer requests (not to mention delicious recipes, inspiring quotes, and funny clips) I might have missed while I was away.

I also began to miss my distant friends, people I love but only get to “visit” and see through Facebook. Without my news feed, I had no idea what they were doing or if they needed anything or if they had any wonderful news to share. I couldn’t even email some friends and neighbors because my only access to them is through social media. Maybe that says more about my contact organization system than it does about Facebook, but, either way,  I need this outlet to connect, especially since I’m already so isolated in my home office.

And so I reactivated, tentatively at first, posting only birthday wishes for my baby because who could argue with that. I still haven’t decided what I want Facebook to be in my life or how much time it deserves, but there’s no denying that it has its place, and an important one at that. So if I missed your birthday or some other important life event, please know I wasn’t ignoring you; I was just deactivated, and I missed you all.

You can get there from here

My July Life Lines column, now running in Catholic New York:

I’m not really a fan of the popular GPS navigation systems designed to get you from Point A to Point B with no advance planning. I just don’t trust the technology. Give me “Mapquest,” with its printable directions, or, even better, a good old-fashioned road map. Remember those?

Dennis bought a portable GPS for our van a few months back. The first time I had to travel out of state, he loaded it up with my destination coordinates and told me I had nothing to worry about. Since I always have something to worry about, I went on the computer and printed out directions, studying them before I left home so I would know if our GPS, whom we affectionately refer to as Katniss in honor of the Hunger Games heroine, decided to lead me astray. Every time Katniss would bark out a command, I’d run through my mental directions to ensure we agreed on the route. I was prepared, at a moment’s notice, to go my own way. Read more

What would you do if you were fearless?

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

This moth makes me think of that quote from Eleanor Roosevelt. Imagine how fearless this little moth must be to land on the hand of a giant human. Anything could have happened. But there he is.

What would you do if you were fearless? Where would you land? Do one thing today that scares you. It doesn’t have to be as big as stepping out into some totally unknown and possibly dangerous place. Start small. But start.

Happy Birthday, Olivia

Twelve years ago (actually the real anniversary happened at 2:57 a.m. today), I was waiting — not so patiently — for my second born to arrive. She was a week overdue and predicted to be quite large. They were preparing to induce me since my blood pressure was starting to rise. But I didn’t want any medication whatsoever. So my wonderful midwife — the same one who helped me birth Noah — called me up around 7:30 p.m. on July 5 and told me that if I really wanted to do this without intervention, I could drink a castor oil-orange juice-baking soda cocktail and see if it worked for me. I drank it about an hour later, and around 1:30 a.m. I woke up in hard labor.

With Noah labor went on for a while. The first time around, I ate an egg breakfast, took down our Christmas tree, paid some bills and did some cleaning, all with contractions about five minutes apart. I expected more of the same with Olivia. When Dennis called the midwife around 2 a.m. and told her I was already on the floor, she told us to high-tail it to the hospital, which we did — with me insisting that we could park in the regular garage instead of emergency. But, fortunately, calmer heads prevailed and we parked in ER, zoomed up to labor and delivery and waited for my sister to arrive to watch Noah and the midwife to arrive to catch the baby. Midwife got there and immediately put on scrubs, which confused me since I expected to walk around and breathe heavily for a while. Nothing doing. We called my sister to find out why she wasn’t there yet (We wanted Noah present for the birth but knew we needed an adult to keep an eye on him). The car was still parked in ER. The camera was nowhere to be found. Noah was shoeless because of our mad dash out of the house. It was all a blur.

Less than 30 minutes after I entered the hospital, and only minutes after my sister arrived to hold Noah’s hand, Olivia Irene blasted onto the scene — all 10 pounds of her. I don’t really even remember pushing. Maybe once. She just powered her way out and then proved herself to be a champion nurser to boot.

Twelve years later, I look at my girl in amazement. She is smart and funny and beautiful and artistic and athletic and curious and kind and all of the things I had hoped she would one day be. She was a gift when she arrived in that Austin hospital in the wee hours of the morning, and she is a gift today. We are blessed. Happy birthday Olivia. We love you. Here’s a brief look at Olivia’s life in photos…

Her baptism in Austin in the chapel at St. Edward’s University with Deacon Orton and godparents Aunt Linda and Uncle Fred:

At E-ma’s 90th birthday party almost ten years ago:

Mindfulness minus the monastery

So yesterday my original plan was to head to a Buddhist monastery (Don’t worry, I’m not switching teams) for a Day of Mindfulness. I wanted to see how it’s done in other traditions and had hoped to experience a Buddhist walking meditation in addition to a dharma lesson and some really good vegetarian food. All for the price of a donation of my choosing. But, due to some nagging neck pain, I thought better of spending three hours round-trip in my car on top of almost two hours of sitting on a cushion on the floor and decided to do my Day of Mindfulness closer to home.

After getting the last of the kids off to school, I headed to the YMCA for my first spin class. Some may not think of this as mindful, but, in my world, any sort of repetitive motion that lets my mind settle into a deep place is the perfect recipe for mindfulness. Once I got past the jitters of knowing what to do and not to do in this class, I sank into that deep place, peddling fast, going up “hills,” singing to the music, closing my eyes, and disappearing from the world.

I left refreshed and ready for Phase Two of my homegrown Day of Mindfulness. I loaded up my juicer and made a great big green drink for a late breakfast. This juicer sat in storage in a basement cabinet for 12 years. No exaggeration. I almost gave it away at least five times, maybe more. But every time I’d change my mind at the last minute in hopes that some day I would return to this healthy habit. Lo and behold, I came across a super cool book about healthy eating, drinking, and living — Crazy, Sexy Diet by Karen Carr — and my juicing mojo kicked in. The recipe changes from day to day, depending on what’s in my fridge, but here’s a general idea in case you want to give it a try:

3 or 4 stalks of celery
1 cucumber
1 granny smith apple
a handful of spinach
a few leaves of romaine lettuce
1 carrot
a few strawberries or a few cubes of watermelon (or both) depending on how sweet you want to make it

That makes one really big glass of green juice. It’s surprisingly delicious and filling. Give a whirl if you have the time, equipment, and willingness to wash and peel and scrub lots of veggies. (If everything is organic, you don’t have to peel.)

After my green drink, I did some professional housekeeping that probably shouldn’t have been part of a Day of Mindfulness, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Still, I didn’t obsess or panic or get too caught up in the email or even Facebook (that’s a hard habit to break).

For a brief moment I considered that this might be the end of my Day of Mindfulness, but then I dragged our speaker out to the sunporch, loaded up my iPod with a recording of a yoga class by the teacher I had at Kripalu back in December, lit some incense, and proceeded to do an almost 90-minute series of centering, breathing, asanas, relaxation, and meditation. It was too awesome for words. I could hear the birds chirping, a lawn mower in the distance, leaves rustling. And when I was down on my mat, all I could see outside were trees and sky, allowing me to forget for a moment that the woods around us is gone.

Yoga was followed by a long shower and a healthy lunch of leftover couscous salad and a whole wheat pita with some lemon probiotic tea to wash it down. Then I moved onto the deck and sat in the sunshine while reading The Fire Starter Sessions. I’m using this fun and helpful book to reignite my creative fire, which was burned out after doing two books back to back. Good food for thought here and lots of helpful exercises and suggestions for all aspects of life.

Finally it was time for the kids to come home, the end of mindfulness, although I did try to at least remain calm, if not always mindful. The day proved to me what I already knew: I don’t have to leave home in search of a monastery in order to bring mindfulness to my daily life. In fact, it’s even better when it can happen right in the midst of the usual chaos. I still plan to get to the monastery for a “real” Day of Mindfulness with the monks and nuns, but, for now, I’m content with my own brand of meditation in motion.

If you like the idea of bringing mindfulness to the actions of your own sometimes-crazy life, stay tuned for my next book, Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality, which will be out in November. I give you ten chapters chock full of very practical ways to bring the divine into the mundane. There’s even a section of exercises in the appendix. I can’t wait to share it with you. More to come on that front as we get closer to liftoff.

Signing off for now. Have a mindful and peaceful day.

What if you’re already perfect?

I came across this passage in The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness by Pema Chodron and just had to share a little Buddhist philosophy to complement the whole Christian idea that we are loved unconditionally exactly as we are right at this moment, “flaws” and all, by our awesome God.  (I guess I’m channeling my inner Thomas Merton today):

“Our wisdom is all mixed up with what we call our neurosis. Our brilliance, our juiciness, our spiciness, is all mixed up with our craziness and our confusion, and therefore it doesn’t do any good to try to get rid of our so-called negative aspects, because in that process we also get rid of our basic wonderfulness. We can lead our life so as to become more awake to who we are and what we’re doing rather than trying to improve or change or get rid of who we are or what we’re doing.”

So your mission this weekend, should you decide to accept it, is to contemplate your juiciness, your spiciness, and your craziness, not in an effort to change or “improve” but in an effort to see yourself as a brilliant whole, wonderfully made by God. Can you embrace the good along with the slightly off kilter? Try that attitude on for size and see how it feels.