Monday, January 31, 2011

The Story of Mr. Blart

In honor of Catholic Schools Week, please enjoy a re-post of my son Joe's story, Mr. Blart, which he had written last year as his Academic Fair project in his final year of school at St. Matthias. He created this story in what's known as a "big book" format. The entire story was written on poster board. For the artwork, he used computer generated pictures of Mr. Blart in various scenes and for the face of Mr. Blart, he used Kevin (Brian Baumgartner), a character from the TV show "The Office." His teacher was convinced that Joe couldn't possibly have written this story on his own, it was that good! So, she googled it to see if he might have copied it, and she found it....on this blog! At this year's Academic Fair, people who visited the "big book" room were still talking about Mr. Blart!

The Story of Mr. Blart
By: Joe Bender

Mr. Blart was not very smart.
Instead of a car he drove a grocery store cart.
“Today,” Mr. Blart did start.
“Today I will buy a car at Wal-Mart!”
When he got there he met Mrs. Dart,
a lady who worked right there at Wal-Mart.
What she said tore Blart right apart.
“We don’t sell real cars, cross my heart.”

That left poor Blart feeling real glum,
“A car at Wal-Mart, boy am I dumb!”
To cheer himself up he took out some gum.
It was his favorite and it made him say “YUM!”
But that still left him sad and his heart still numb.
Then poor Mr. Blart he started to hum
and on a guitar he started to strum.
Though nothing he did could make him not glum,
because after forty-three years he still lived with his mum.

“That’s it!” shouted Mr. Blart with might.
“I’ll change my life and I’ll put up a fight!”
Then Mr. Blart felt he reached a new height.
He felt like he was flying just like a kite.
He always wanted to feel so light.
He had never felt so cool so tight!
As he skipped home into the night
a smile came across his face full of delight!

He spread many books across the table.
He’d study all night if he were able.
One book had a very interesting label.
The title for it was Anne of Green Gable.
He read the book ‘til he didn’t feel stable.
Then he clicked the remote and fell asleep watching cable.

He had a dream about when he was a lad.
He got into trouble and acted real bad.
When the teacher yelled at him he got so mad
that he quit school and the whole life he had.
Waking up he felt very sad,
but only just a tad.
He wished that he still had his dad,
Though he knew he got shot by a Russian named, Vlad.
“I’ll do it!” Blart said “I’ll do it for dad!
I’ll do it for the dad I never had!”

And for him Mr. Blart went out on a limb.
He went to his old teacher, Mrs. Kim.
Mrs. Kim knew his chances were dim
but out of pity decided to help him.
Her husband, Tim,
bought some books on a whim.
With help from Mrs. Kim and Tim
he felt much smarter and they were so proud of him.

Then after that Mr. Blart was just fine.
He had an IQ of 2009.
He was so smart he could create things with some sticks and some twine.
He made a house, a garage, and a car with an engine 409.
He had lots of women all waiting in line
for Blart to say to one “You are mine!”

And so Mr. Blart turned his life upside-down.
He now wears a smile instead of a frown.
So the morale is if life’s got you down
and you’re always the loser in town,
work hard and you too, can turn your life around.

The End.

Friday, January 21, 2011

One Thousand Gifts

Ann Voskamp. Could she be the woman who has the power to change my life? To change me from a bent over, tear releasing, withering woman to one who learns how to feel joy again, no, more than feel it, to live joy? To live His joy-the joy He surely must have meant for me when He created me as a speck in my mother's womb? That day, nearly forty-six years ago, when He reached deep within her thirty-eight year old tired body, already the carrier of eight lives before my own, and changed me from His thought to a real, living human being?

I've been reading Ann's A Holy Experience blog ever since I started to write Imprisoned in my Bones in my effort to release the God that for too long I had kept bottled up inside of me, as if I were trying to contain the essence of EVERYTHING and seal Him back up within this real, living human body that He created. My first visit to Ann's place and I fell in love. Everyone does. Who could not love that little farmer's wife, mother to a brood of six homeschooling wonders, who turns mere words into wisdom and poetry and love; whose heartbreakingly beautiful piano music and photography of her family and her farm makes me turn to her page again and again; who took her own pain- unspeakable pain- and lifelong depression, and turned it into joy with a list. That's it. A list.

I've made a few stumbling attempts to follow her example, you've seen them right here on several Mondays. But, I didn't number my gratitude like she does. I simply wrote it. Maybe that will change now. Her book came in the mail this week. The book that I had pre-ordered online over a month ago; the book that arrived on a day so busy that I was going to go right from work to the school gym where I was signed up to volunteer at the admission table for my son's basketball tournament, collecting dollars from guests who came to cheer on their sons; the day where I would leave the house at 6:45 in the morning but wouldn't arrive back home until 10:30 at night.

But first...

First, I placed a quick telephone call home to say hello to my husband, and breathe a word of love to him through the phone line. He said, "Do you have a minute to stop at home and get your book?"

He didn't have to tell me what book he was speaking about. "It came? YES! I will be right there!"

Walking in the back door, I saw it, still in the cardboard cover, right next to a sandwich brimming with ham, lettuce and tomatoes for my supper. My husband loves me well. I quickly unwrapped One Thousand Gifts and embraced it close. I took my book, my sandwich and my daughter and headed to the gym where the rest of our family would meet us when it would be time for Jack's game to start.

In between taking the dollars from the sports fans-parents, grandparents and siblings who were bursting with pride for the young basketball player in their lives, and in between bites of my sandwich, and in between conversations with my daughter about her future hopes for marriage at age twenty-two with two children to follow, ("Not five, or seven, or ten?" "No, Mom, they might be bratty children and how would I handle so many of them?" "No life in a convent praying to the God you are so madly in love with?" "No, Mom, I will always, always be madly in love with God, but I don't want to be a nun.") -I began to read Ann's words. Her words of wisdom, poetry and love.

And when I read these words on page twenty-six-
"For years of mornings, I have woken wanting to die. Life itself twists into a nightmare. For years, I have pulled the covers up over my head, dreading to begin another day I'd be bound to just wreck. Years, I lie listening to the taunt of names ringing off my interior walls, ones from the past that never drifted far away: Loser. Mess. Failure. They are signs nailed overhead, nailed through me, naming me. The stars are blinking out. Funny, this. Yesterday morning, the morning before, all these mornings, I wake to the discontent of life in my skin. I wake to self-hatred. To the wrestle to get it all done, the relentless anxiety that I am failing. Always, the failing. I yell at children, fester with bitterness, forget doctor appointments, lose library books, live selfishly, skip prayer, complain, go to bed too late, neglect cleaning the toilets. I live tired. Afraid. Anxious. Weary. Years, I feel it in the veins, the pulsing of ruptured hopes. Would I ever be enough, find enough, do enough?"

I could feel my head nodding. Me too, Ann-Ann without the fanciful 'e', as she puts it. We share a name with or without an 'e', and we share pain. But, we both know that Ann(e) means "grace" and who better to show me how to live His grace, to accept His grace, to deeply live His grace, than a kindred Ann(e).

And I haven't gotten very far in the book. This morning, two days after receiving it, I open the book that I thought I would finish before leaving the basketball game and find that I am only on page forty-seven where she shares her story about how writing her list of One Thousand Gifts makes her feel happy. She says:

"Long, I am woman who speaks but one language, the language of the fall-discontentment and self-condemnation, the critical eye and the never satisfied...Well, if all these were gifts that God gives-then wasn't my writing down the list like...receiving. Like taking with thanks. Wait. 'And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them...' Gave thanks. This crazy-dare gift list-it's language lessons in eucharisteo! For real: But eucharisteo-it's the word Jesus whispered when death prowled close and His anguish trickled down bloody. He took the bread, even the bread of death, and gave thanks. I look down at my list. This thanks that I am doing-it seems so...crude. Trivial. If this list is the language of eucharisteo-this feels like...guttural groanings. But perhaps the "full of grace" vocabulary begins hauntingly, simply, like a child, thankful for the childlike. But doesn't the kingdom of heaven belong to such as these?"

I thought that I would pick up Ann's One Thousand Gifts and not put it down until I had devoured every last word along with my sandwich. The sandwich is long digested, but the book is going to take me forever to read through-each page gives me so much to consider, to contemplate. This book is taking me deeper into who God means for me to be. Thank you, Ann, without the fanciful 'e' for sharing your lessons with me, with everyone, and for carrying us along with you in your quest for gratitude.

It's time for me to really start my list...

1. rebellious son who wakes and finds me here typing, holds me long with his stretched out arms and whispers love, then asks "What time will you take me to confession?"

2. husband chef, who makes delicious sandwiches that nourish with love

3. kneeling low at a Holy Hour for life before an elaborate golden monstrance that houses the Author of life, and words from transitional deacon Christopher Klusman spoken in that glorious American Sign Language reminding all of their beauty that comes from the One who formed us fearfully, wonderfully, and I believe him, I believe that I am beautiful

4. words-words that drift from my mind through this keyboard and are shared with everyone on this blog, and with a few in intimate email messages, words of mine and words of others that have healing properties, words spilled out from me and words graciously meant for me, given to me by others, words that give love

5. women like Ann Voskamp who bravely share their pain and their searching for His grace so that I may learn how to find His grace as well

Thank you, Ann, for One Thousand Gifts!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Spoon Under My Pillow

"They say that these are not the best of times
But they're the only times I've ever known

And I believe there is a time for meditation

In cathedrals of our own

Now I have seen that sad surrender in my lovers' eyes
I can only stand apart and sympathize

For we are always what our situations hand us

It's either sadness or euphoria"

Billy Joel- Summer, Highland Falls

How disappointing it is to work so hard for something only to see it slip through your fingers and escape your grasp. We've been getting a bit of snow here lately and my children were desperately wanting a snow day. An interesting story began to spread around the school and was inevitably acted out in our home. It was told that if they wore their pajamas backwards and inside out, placed a white crayon in the freezer, flushed an ice cube down the toilet and placed a spoon under their pillow before going to bed for the night, school would be canceled the next day due to excessive snow.

Can you imagine the excitement in my home when my two youngest heard this tale and decided to follow the directions? What great hope they held that they might be able to sleep in and avoid school the following day! But, when daybreak arrived and all of the snow had been shoveled and plowed away, the looks of disappointment on their faces made me want to cry right along with them!

Spoon Under My Pillow

For don't we all know
that deep disappointment,
that crushing of dreams, the letting go of our desires?

We want so badly to have control
of our little lives, but God
always sends surprises and we must humbly accept

And we find a place of comfort
deep within our hearts
where we can release our sorrow if only for a moment

We fall to our knees
bury our brokenness in our hands
and release the tears until numbness takes their place

But somehow we must hold on
to the hope that tomorrow offers
believing that God will carry us through to a new day

And so we place a spoon under our pillow,
a relic in our palm, a seed within the garden
and faithfully carry on

We trudge on through the snow
we pray and work our normal day
believing that tomorrow new joys will come our way

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Calling Me Closer

Having just come from Tiffany's blog, Family at the Foot of the Cross, I find that I have been deeply moved by her story of a recent experience at Adoration where she witnessed a woman who was clearly in a deep love relationship with the Lord, and I feel that my whole perspective on my relationship with the Lord has been challenged.

Whenever I go to Adoration or attend a group Holy Hour or daily Mass, I always sit in the back (unless I'm the lector.) I guess it's my way of saying I'm not worthy to come closer and I also enjoy being able to see all of the other people who are there, drawing a feeling of loving community from them, realizing that we are all there to offer praise and worship to the Lord. I'd been in the habit of looking at all of the people gathered as one, and I always ask God to please hear all of our prayers, not simply my own.

But, maybe I've got it wrong-maybe I should be right in front, as close as I can get. Perhaps God is calling me to come closer in prayer and not let all of the other people distract me from Him. Maybe for the short time that I spend in worship at Church and at Adoration Chapels, He wants me all for Himself and wants me to feel His love as a gift for me alone. Could it be that through that hour of close and loving rest near His Eucharistic Heart, I will be strengthened to carry on with all of the responsibilities for which He has commissioned me?

O Lord, draw me close to you. Let me inside of Your Most Sacred Heart, where love and peace abound. Give me the courage and the strength to carry on Your will for me in this world of temptation and pain. Keep me forever within Your love. Amen.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Humble Love

Again...He holds my sins and failures before me...reminds me that all I need is humble love.

Why is it so hard to remember? Like a child with attention deficit disorder, His lessons go through me and disappear. I need reminders-and they always include pain.

A rebuke from my supervisor.

An argument with my son.

A little word of restraint from a friend.

I wince when I learn once again that this life is meant to include sorrow, that this journey to the perfection of heaven means that I am not perfect yet, but must continue to work towards that ideal.

And then He brings me to silence. Bowed before Him in adoration, watching the blood spill from His side, wanting so much to stop it, to cup it in my hands, to hold it forever...but it drips right through my fingers.

He wants me to stay small and to give my love to others over and over again, even when I grow weary and would rather not put any effort into loving. Like His blood that keeps on flowing, my love is meant to continuously be given to others, not pridefully kept to myself.

Humble love...grown in the silence that follows hurt pride and embarrassment...requiring restraint of tongue and abandonment of's His gift to me; the one thing that I can hold on to forever, if I will only remember...

“At some ideas you stand perplexed, especially at the sight of human sins, uncertain whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide, ‘I will combat it with humble love,’ If you make up your mind about that once and for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force; it is the strongest of all things and there is nothing like it.” — Fyodor Dostoyevski

Sunday, January 9, 2011

My Beloved Child

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17

Sitting at Mass today, looking around at those who were sitting in the pews surrounding me, I was swept over by a warm feeling, a peaceful feeling like I hadn't known for a long time.

I realized that all of the other people present at Mass are beloved by God, just as much as His own Son is beloved by Him, and I offered a prayer of Thanksgiving for these beautiful people whose only desire is to draw closer to His loving heart and to carry a bit of that love in their own hearts throughout the coming week.

I thank you, God, for:

~the man who was sitting in front of me with his three children, the man who has given so much of himself to teach Christian formation to the children of our parish for so many years, as he bowed his head into his hands and wept while we listened to a recording from Archbishop Listecki explaining how the recent announcement that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy can be a sign of hope for us all.

~for our Deaf community, and our deaf Deacon, gathered week after week in the front rows of church where they can easily see the interpreter, joyfully signing the Mass responses.

~for the little girl with down's syndrome who smiles and hugs everyone around her, easily drawing us all into her joy.

~for the girls on my daughter's basketball team, many of whom were present at Mass today with their families.

~for my long-time friend who was the lector at Mass.

~for the young boy prodigy, not more than ten years old, who is learning to become an organist at Mass, and who plays with so much talent!

~for the entire community present at this Mass, who filled the church as if it were Christmas Day, many of them friends, more of them strangers to me, but all of them beautiful.

~for Fr. Dave, who took this occasion of the Baptism of Our Lord, to remind those who are seeking the Sacrament for their children, of the lifelong responsibility that Baptism requires of parents.

~for my son, John, who had attended Mass on his own the evening before because he is working on weekends, and for my son, Jack, who stayed home from Mass because he is sick with the flu. Both of my sons suffered in missing this Mass, Jack, simply because he was ill, and would much rather have been at Mass, and John, because he so enjoys lectoring, cantoring and singing with the choir at Mass and now, because of his job, those opportunities of service are much more limited.

~for my loving and wonderful husband, who is always by my side at Mass, worshiping the Lord with my children and I, setting the example of how a beloved child of God is to return to our Father all of our gifts at the weekly hour of worship.

Thank you, Lord, for blessing us all with peace. Amen.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ecce, Fiat, Magnificat

"This is the one who came through water and Blood, Jesus Christ,
not by water alone, but by water and Blood."
1 John 5:6

Have you read Consoling the Heart of Jesus by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC, yet? It’s a wonderful book, a retreat that can be completed in a weekend for the purpose of comforting Jesus who continues to suffer from our sinful natures and our rejection of the love He offers to us. The entire book was wonderful with many references to St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Faustina. I found myself profoundly moved by Fr. Gaitley’s suggested breathing prayer. There are three parts to the prayer: holding a breathless moment, the inhale, and the exhale.

After releasing an exhale but before inhaling once again, he suggests that we hold that breathless moment, recognizing that here, in this empty space, we are weak and in need of God’s mercy. At this moment the prayer is Ecce-“behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord” and we offer ourselves just as we are.

While inhaling, the prayer is Fiat. We tell God “yes, let it be done to me” and a flood of merciful love flows into our hearts.

Finally, upon exhaling, we pray Magnificat and let our soul magnify the Lord. We offer praise to God for all of the good things that He has done for us. (This part reminds me of St. Bernard’s Four Degrees of Love-the second degree-Love of God for self’s sake.)

According to Fr. Gaitley, this entire prayer is an act of trust, and can become a spiritual communion. “It becomes one if we make it our intention when we inhale to receive God’s rejected merciful love into our emptiness. It’s especially like receiving Sacramental communion if we imagine that the merciful love we inhale is coming down from the pierced side of Christ as blood and water.”

ECCE, FIAT, MAGNIFICAT-Lord, let me breathe in Your merciful love, fill my emptiness with a flood of Your blood and water and allow me to console You and praise You for all that You have done for me. Amen.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Take Heart

"Take courage, it is I. Do not be afraid." Matthew 14:27

Today I learned that the Latin root word for courage is 'cor' or heart, and I think of the young girl who was told to rest her head upon His breast, to take His heart for her own. While adoring our Lord in the exposed Eucharist, He came. He showed His heart to her and asked her to spread devotion and love to Him through His Sacred Heart, pierced for our sins and on fire with love for all. He gave her a special friend, Fr. Claude de la Columbierre, SJ, to be her spiritual director and to help her promote this devotion. And reflecting upon the experience that St. Margaret Mary had with our Blessed Savior, I am inspired to take heart in my own life.

I've had a few rough weeks at work recently that included some difficulty getting along with co-workers resulting in misunderstandings, humiliating treatment from my supervisor, and the need to own up to my own sinfulness and mistakes that contributed to those problems. On top of that, the kids have been bringing home more than the usual difficulties from their schooldays like excessive projects that require the purchase of seasonal items that are hard to find at this time of year and their own misunderstandings with their teachers.

But God; God knows what to do to ease my worries and sufferings. He shows me that it's important to 'take heart' through the trials at work, because the clients that I serve, well, they really need and benefit from the WIC program and I so enjoy serving God by listening to the concerns and worries of these young mothers and by showing them a little compassion and care to help them meet the burdens of raising their families in poverty. And just when things seem black and ugly and I begin to wonder if I would be better off searching for a new job, He sends me some very special women who share their gratitude for the WIC program with me and my heart melts, and I remember the passion I have for my work, and begin to forget about the behind-the-scenes stress.

And then, as if He feels that He needs to prove His love to me beyond the visits from grateful women at work, He gives me a tangible sign, something that I can always hold on to when the going gets rough, something that will easily cause me to "take heart."

During the past year, I have been developing a particularly DEEP devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Last June, during the month of the Feast of the Sacred Heart, I began a Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and on the second day of the Novena, I was blessed to find a red piece of sea glass that looks just like a heart with a gash in the side where sword of steel pierced the heart of my Lord. In gratitude for this precious sign, my family and I enthroned our home and consecrated ourselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus with the help of a very special priest. I feel that Jesus' heart, throbbing with love, letting drops of precious blood fall with every pulsing beat for me, blood that saves me from my sinful nature and purifies me-slowly, steadily, unceasingly-is forever united to my own, and He uses his Sacred Heart to give me rest and to keep me close to Him by guiding me to others who also have a DEEP devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

So, when God united me in friendship with Fr. Jim Kubicki, SJ, it was no mere coincidence. I believe that God meant to bring Fr. Jim into my life because He knew that this was a man whose own heart beat in constant love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus and all of the mysteries and beauty contained within that lovely vessel stabbed through to the very center and crowned, not with gemstones, but with sharp, prickling thorns. Jesus knew that Fr. Jim would encourage and nurture my devotion to His Sacred Heart, and through him and his kind and gentle words and beautiful loving actions, I would delve ever more DEEPLY into the world of love contained within His Most Sacred Heart. Recently I had shared a beautiful story with him from the blog Evlogia about a relic of the Holy Innocents. I told him that I wish that I had a relic of a special saint that would look over me with love and care, someone that I could turn to in times of need and look up to as a role model in faith.

Today my sisters and I spent some time helping at the Apostleship of Prayer's monthly volunteer day. After Mass and a pleasant morning spent working and visiting with the other volunteers, Fr. Jim, who is the National Director of the Apostleship of Prayer, told me that he had something very special for me. It was a relic of St. Margaret Mary, the very saint to whom Jesus entrusted His Most Sacred Heart devotions! He said that he was so happy to share the relic with me because of my own devotion to the Sacred Heart and because he felt that with this relic, St. Margaret Mary would help me to fall DEEPER into love with Jesus, to move DEEPER in hope and joy and faith to the very heart of God. At the very moment when Fr. Jim placed the relic in my hands, I felt a shift in my own heart, a DEEPENING, an awareness of the presence and love of God like I had never known before.

With this gift, I take courage; I take heart, and feel as though I have spent time resting on His breast just like St. Margaret Mary did. I am renewed and I know that with the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I do not need to fear trials at work or difficulties with my children and their education; I know that His perfect love will cast out all of my fears and together both Jesus and I will strengthen our wounded hearts until the day when we are permanently united in heaven with hearts that beat in unison for all of eternity.

"From the DEPTH of my nothingness, I prostrate myself before Thee, O Most Sacred, Divine and Adorable Heart of Jesus, to pay Thee all the homage of love, praise and adoration in my power. Amen." - - St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Love of God for Self's Sake

It seems to me that the only proper way to begin the New Year is by professing my "Love of God for Self's Sake" degree that I currently find myself in with constant gratitude to the One I love for all of the blessings He has bestowed upon me that draws me into love with Him. It seems to me that most of us must live life at this stage, seeing that we are blessed and loving God for all that He has done for us.

Giving love to God through gratitude becomes my gift for the infant Jesus, my offering to lay at the foot of His crib. Ann Voskamp at Holy Experience has the right idea; she's been keeping a gratitude list for the past few years and is now counting praise in the thousands! Here's my latest contribution of thanksgiving to God for the blessings in my life, the things that cause me to love God for my own sake, as I work toward St. Bernard's Third Degree of Love: Love of God for God's Sake.

Today I am grateful for:

My faith-Catholicism; full of wonder, mystery, traditions, beauty, suffering, joy and romance with God-this is my greatest treasure.

While teaching my daughter the family tradition of making Czechoslovakian kolaches, hands working dough and hearts feeling love, she sweetly professed a desire to be just like me. Had she said this a year ago, I would have smiled and thanked her, but inside I would have prayed that she would grow to be anything but just like her mother; why would I wish a life of pain and depression for her? But this time, I truly was grateful for her loving comment, and thought, yes, I do hope that she grows to be like me in many ways, and can already see so much of myself in her-the good things and even some of the not-so-good, but I know that regardless of what type of adult she grows to be, she will always be in God's loving hands and all will be well.

On the last day before the air warmed and the snow melted in our area, I took my children and my great-nieces sledding at our favorite hill. What fun! Wind blowing past my face, weaving and whipping down the slope, screaming and laughing all the way down; it is my favorite childhood joy that I never tire of re-living.

Midnight hooting and hollering from the boys as they arrive home from a victorious Buck's basketball game with Dad; even though their voices woke me from my sleep, it was such a lovely sound to hear them all having fun together.

Watching my daughter happily playing in her first basketball game with Dad as her coach, and the joy of seeing her score two points...for the other team!!! And the greater joy of her upbeat attitude about her mistake.

For the fun of fortune cookies! My favorite ever fortune: "You are domestically inclined and will be happily married."

I am so blessed with a wonderful co-worker and friend, Melissa, who lets me share all of my faith stories and struggles, even though we don't share the same faith-she is a spiritual friend whom I can always count on when I need to speak of God and His works in my life.

I love the Feast of the Epiphany! Years ago when my children were little, we would celebrate the feast of the Epiphany in a joyful way. We made crowns for each of the children and we would place the baby Jesus from our creche in a far-off corner of the house. Then, one child would carry the star, three children would carry the kings from the Nativity Scene and one child would carry the "gifts"-which were chocolate covered stars, Starbright Peppermints and Starburst candies. While singing "We Three Kings" we would process throughout the house following the star to find the baby Jesus. When we'd find Him, we'd celebrate by enjoying the "gifts."

It was such a lovely way to use our family heirloom Nativity Set from my childhood and leaves much gentler wear on the pieces than the way I used to use it as a child, which was throwing the pieces at my brother when I'd get angry! Kidding, of course! It was my brother who threw the pieces at me! No!!! :) But I don't know how else to explain all of those nicks and cracks and glued together pieces. I guess this set has just been well-loved through the years!

And, something about my broken-down manger feels right, after all, when Jesus was born in the stable, I'm sure it wasn't perfect; clean, fresh, and bright with all brand-new animals and farming implements-no; surely it was filled with some old and sick animals, a tired and worn down shepherd, tools that were worn and well-used, and a manger in which many animals guzzled their food. I think my worn down stable fits more closely with the actual scene that must have occurred that long-ago night in Bethlehem.

But wait! Who's that adoring Jesus in my manger? Oh! It's Archbishop Dolan! Well, he certainly gives those worn-down and broken manger pieces much more class, doesn't he? His picture of adoration on his card is so lovely and I decided to frame it so that all year I will be reminded of our need to adore the Holy Child.

(The trick here is the lovely Christmas Card that he sent to my family, tucked into our scene.)

And today, I am most grateful for the HOLY NAME OF JESUS-the name of which I never tire of saying or hearing, the name that brings more joy to my heart than any other, the name I vow to take deep into my soul until He spreads and grows and flows out from my soul to the world around me and my entire life will be deeply surrounded by His Holy Name-Jesus!

Won't you join in praising God with your own list of gratitude; your reminder of all those things for which you Love God for Self's Sake?