Epic Pew: Laudato Si and 17 Practical Ways to Embrace Stewardship

Summer time has been busy, so my writing has been focused on the three Catholic websites I am now a contributor for. I will return to regular blogging when things slow down a bit and I get through my final exam for Theology of the Church. Today I am writing over at Epic Pew:

The Catholic Blogosphere has been on fire since Pope Francis promulgated his second encyclical, Laudato Si. The best thing that you can do is read it for yourself. When it comes to Church documents, it is much better to read the document yourself, rather than relying on the analysis of someone else. The worst thing a Catholic can do is rely on the analysis of a secular media organization. Temperance and stewardship are nothing new to an authentically Catholic way of life and go all the way back to Genesis. Here are 17 practical and easy ways to incorporate temperance and stewardship into your daily life.

1. Buy things used

I know that recycling has become more and more popular over the years. Why not establish a self-imposed recycling system in your house? Buy cars, clothes, furniture, lawn items, etc. used. My husband and I have been doing this for years. It saves us money and it gives things a longer life. Consider how much money you lose the minute you drive a brand new car off the lot?! Buying used is also fiscally smart.

2. Grow a garden

I am not saying that you have to get crazy like my husband and I are about gardening. Our garden is literally bigger than our house. Our goal is to really offset our produce needs through fresh veggies and canning. There is nothing like a tomato ripe off the vine in your own backyard. It tastes amazing! It is a taste you cannot find at the grocery store. Pick up a couple of 5 gallon buckets and plant some tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, kale (this is a great producer for months!!!!), or any other veggie you like. Your garden can be big or small, low maintenance or high maintenance. Not only is gardening good for your body, it helps us connect with God through His creation.

3. Hunt

We save a ton of money by supplementing almost all of our red meat with venison. It takes a little getting use to if you are die hard beef fan, but it is leaner and highly versatile. You can save even more money if you learn to butcher the deer yourself. It also reminds us of what a blessing the meat is that God provides for us. If you don’t like to hunt, then find a friend who does and offer to offset the cost. We hunt for many of our friends.

4. Shut off the electronics every now and then

In our highly connected world, this can be a difficult request. I struggle with this one, but in actuality, my struggle points to my addiction to my iPhone or laptop. We need to step away from the virtual world in order to pray and serve the people around us. Shutting off electronics not only cuts down on electricity, it cuts down on the ways we block one another out through a focus on the virtual rather than the actual.

Read the rest over at Epic Pew…

Monday is for Beauty: Sunset on a Rose Petal

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This morning I was out watering my flowers in preparation for a hot day. My rose bushes are in full bloom and I found this beauty of a rose petal laying in the grass. There on this tiny petal is a sunset. I wondered and marveled at it and then put it in my book where I dry flowers. This little treasure blessed me today. My rose bushes were planted in memorial of each of the babies that I have lost in miscarriage. I have three rose bushes, each unique, just like my babies. This particular bush is for my son, Caleb Augustine. What are small wonders and gifts of beauty that you have found today? God is THE Artist. Sunsets on roses. Amazing!

Today is Memorial Day in which we remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Take a moment to pray for those KIA and their families.

Love Changes the Ordinary, the Mundane, and the Ugly

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Yes the picture above is an ordinary dandelion. The weed that is the bane of gardeners and lawn owners in their quest for spring and summer perfection. To adults it is nothing more than a pest to be rid of. In fact, most people would either look at this image that I took with derision or scorn. What they do not realize is that this dandelion was a gift from my 3 year old daughter. My birthday is Friday, Good Friday. She knows that it is coming, so she ran up to me with this bright yellow “flower” and presented it as an early birthday gift. My cup floweth over.

My daughter had found something of beauty and wanted to give it to me as a gift. In that moment she transformed that pest and weed into a thing of love and beauty. And I saw it. Mothers tend to see it. We see how much our children desire to share their wonder and fascination in the ordinary with us. I took the dandelion in my hand with great joy.

Christianity is where paradoxes meet and mingle. This truth is a major theme of the writings of G.K. Chesterton. I thought about it in light of my dandelion gift. Our Lord took an instrument of torture and fear and turned it into a gift of love. On Good Friday, Catholics hold up the Cross in veneration. We look upon the crucifix and experience joy and sorrow. We experience them together, not apart. One of the great mysteries of the Incarnation is the transformation and return of Creation to God. The transformation of sin into redemption. The combining of joy and sorrow. Torture is made into love.

Is this a bit much for a dandelion? No. Everything around us has been transformed in light of the Cross. This Holy Week is the culmination and fulfillment of our return to grace. All because of an act of love that changed the cross from an instrument of power and torture, into Divine Love and Divine Power. Love, in its truest sense, changes the ordinary into the extraordinary.

My daughter’s act of love changed that dandelion into a gift of self. She wanted to give me a gift. A gift to me, who is an avid gardener, and lover of all things that grow. She found a beautiful yellow weed and changed it into a flower of love. No the object itself is not changing. It is still a dandelion, but in her hands to mine, it becomes her joy and mine and a thing of great beauty.

You might not ever look at a dandelion the same way again. I hope you have a very blessed Holy Week.

Let God Woo You

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This morning I looked out the window and was reminded of one of my favorite movies: Shadowlands. It is the story of C.S. Lewis as played by Anthony Hopkins. It focuses on Lewis’ years well into his conversion when he marries his wife, Joy. At one point he is sitting in a library at Oxford talking to one of his Inkling friends about March, that is late winter. He talks about how the snow is gone and the gray rains have come. Not the beautiful rains of April or May, but the dark rains of winter. He calls this time “the waiting room of the world”.  If you have not seen the movie or read any of C.S. Lewis’ work, I highly recommend it all. My favorite of his is the novel Til We Have Faces, which I read every year or two.

Looking out my window, I see his point. The grass is still brown and the sky is that gray that is only seen in winter. If I was in Montana, I would expect snow, but here in Virginia it is rain. The hope of spring is beginning. The world around me is in a yawning phase. The bulbs are beginning to poke out of the ground, except for the daffodils which are standing erect waiting for a sunny day to open up their golden blooms. Many of my daffodils were destroyed by our heavy snowstorms last month. They came up too early and our typical mid-February storms ruined them. There are a few that will bloom, but many I will have to wait to see again until next year.

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Spring is a glorious time of year in these parts. There really is nothing like it. The trees bloom in incredible colors and the tulips dance in the breeze. Perhaps my love of spring is tied to my April birth, but more than anything it is my connection to dirt and flower that solidifies my joy. This time of year means that garden season is near. That time when I can wander local greenhouses and Lowe’s to find new beauty for our yard. All the colors, shapes, and sizes remind me of what a joyful Artist God is in His Creation. Whether it is a delicate little flower or a large tree, God demonstrates Himself to us through His secondary causes (think creation).

The cliche of stopping to smell the roses is a cliche precisely because it is true. In our adult lives we can quickly abandon the beauty around us because we are so busy and focused on ourselves. I am thankful that I have never lost my childhood wonder. It is something that neither of my parents have lost either. My mother taught me the love of earth and flowers, and my dad has taught me the wonder of theology and philosophy. Growing up in Montana, the grandeur of nature becomes imbedded in the soul and experience. Moving to Virginia showed me a different side of God’s beauty, as has every other place that I have lived whether it is the coast of California, the white buildings of Washington, DC, or the farmlands of central England.

Beauty is everywhere and it is universal. It is everywhere because God is beauty and that is reflected in His creation. Since He is beauty, it would be impossible for us to live in an ugly universe. It may be hard at times to see it, but we only have to open our eyes to find it. I see it in my daughter’s smile, the sun streaming through her hair, or in her laugh. I see it in my husband talking to our daughter after temper tantrums or him sketching out plans for our garden. I see it in this “waiting room” through the increase in birds flying about and the green of tulips beginning in my front yard.  I see it in the buds on the skeleton trees that hold the promise of May. I see it in the strength and courage of people who are afflicted.  Beauty is in the quiet places and in the hard places. It is God whispering to us. I see it most clearly in the Blessed Sacrament who is Christ Himself given as our manna from Heaven.

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We have to look, though. We have to look up and out. Instead of internalizing and focusing on the millions of things we have to do, we must take moments to pause and wonder. There is a reason Jesus tells us to be like little children.  Children wonder at everything. The world is new and glorious. Adults are marred by pain and suffering, but that wonder cannot cease. That wonder can be found in a novel, a building, a person, flower, mountains, ocean, blades of grass, the universe is the limit. I frequently go into Google Images and search out beauty that I have never seen before.

When I was a child of 8 or 9, I wanted nothing more than to be an Astronomer. My prized possessions (besides the Pink Panther stuffed toy my mother had given me at birth) were two books about the planets and universe. We couldn’t afford many, so these were truly special to me. I would spend hours pouring over them and looking in amazement at the vastness and indescribable beauty of it all. Venus was my favorite planet. Unfortunately, my love was tempered by my lack of gifts in mathematics and the natural sciences. God had something else in mind for me. I still search out images of far off galaxies, stars, planets, and beauty. Looking at a picture of the Horsehead galaxy still takes my breath away. I can almost hear the angels of Heaven singing to God’s glory when I see it; the beauty is that amazing to me.

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In our fast paced culture we can lose sight of the beauty around us. As a friend of mine frequently says: “God woos us through beauty”. God wants to share His love and beauty with each one of us. God is always giving Himself, which is infinite, but we have to accept. Think of a courtship, in order for a woman to be wooed, she must accept the affections. The same goes for God and each one of us. God gives everything to us, most especially in the Sacraments, but he will not violate our free will. He will not force Himself on us. A lover, in its truest sense, could never force themselves on their beloved. We must accept the love given to us.

God is going to use His beauty on each one of us in the way we were created. I love to dig my hands into the dirt and watch God’s artistry in my gardens. I am drawn into amazing scenes whether mountainous or an ocean. I am also drawn in by the small things. A blooming tulip can stop me in my tracks. I will stand and admire it for quite some time. God knows that I have a deep understanding and love of His creation.

I was watching a movie with my daughter last week. It is the new Disney movie Big Hero 6, which I enjoyed.  There is a scene where the robot, Baymax, has just been fitted with his military grade suit. Hiro, the teenage boy who outfitted him, is showing off his new tech when a butterfly lands on Baymax. Baymax then proceeds to walk off following the butterfly. I saw that and laughed because that is me. I can be ready to go and focused on a task at hand, but then, some beautiful thing will stop me and I will follow it. That is because that beauty is revealing an aspect of God to me and it is more important for me to investigate and hold onto that gift.

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God is using beauty to woo you. Are you paying attention? One of the ways we can evangelize is just by pointing out the the beauty around us. Reason can at least get us that far and God infuses us with supernatural Faith to help us to get to Him. The next time you are overwhelmed, stop and look around. How is God trying to speak to you? Listen and watch your children, spouse, or friends. Whether you live in a city, the country, or in-between, God is using secondary causes to show us His love. Today, take a moment in this “waiting room of the world” to find some beauty and let God woo you.

Gardening: Playing in God’s Creation

You care for the earth, give it water;
you fill it with riches.
Your river in heaven brims over
to provide its grain.

And thus you provide for the earth;
you drench its furrows;
you level it, soften it with showers;
you bless its growth.

Psalm 65

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This morning I was out in the morning sunshine picking kale with my daughter in our garden. I then blanched it and prepared it for freezing, so that when I need it, I can use it for soups. We are avid gardeners, my husband and I. He loads the manure, tills it into our garden, and prepares the earth each spring for our bounty. We plant from spring to fall. It is a real blessing to be able to walk into our backyard and pick fresh produce. It is also a great joy for me to find new flowers and ideas to turn our yard into a reminder of God’s love.

Working the earth is something that unites my husband and me with God. After all, he gave us the ground and seed that it might produce an abundant harvest. Working out in God’s creation gives a real sense of Christ’s presence in the world. I can hear Him whisper to each plant: grow. I can also see His Glory in each flower that I plant in our various gardens. I recently added a rose garden. Each rose bush I planted represents one of the three babies that I have lost in miscarriage. I could not place their little bodies in the earth and have a funeral Mass, so this is my earthen memorial to each of them. A beautiful rose bush to remind me of how I love and miss each on of them, but also a reminder of God’s love and beauty as each rose opens up to sunlight. A foretaste of Heaven.

My husband and I both work the earth with our bare hands. We dig into the dirt and spread it around underneath our hands. The feel of the earth increases the sense of God’s wonder and magnificance. The cool promise of prepared soil. There is also such a deep sense of childhood in planting flowers and vegetables. Our daughter loves to play in the dirt, and it appears, so do my husband and I. To me it is a reminder of innocence and it brings tremendous peace and joy. Our fearless daughter will search the newly tilled garden for worms. She likes to watch them wriggle and will pick them up and squeal with delight. Being outside and working in our suburban garden truly helps me to hear God. I may not have been consciously focused on Him the whole time, but afterwards I know that He is with me as I play in His creation.

Gardening not only brings me closer to the One who created me, but also, gives my husband, daughter, and me a closer bond. Our daughter has already helped us plant the spring and summer gardens this year. She is already cultivating a love for things that grow. She wants to be a part of our work and the rewards that come. It can be a challenge for a three year old to be patient enough to wait for each seed to go in the ground. We may get some peas in our potatoes this year. She has already experienced our harvests of kale and bok choy. Somewhere she remembers the sweetness of summer ripe tomatoes growing on the vine. Since she could walk, she has gone out to the garden each summer and feasted on deep red tomatoes while standing, juice driving down her face and arms, while her feet feel cool dirt.

Not everyone enjoys gardening, as a few of my friends have joked in horror at my love of dirt. But, for us, it deepens our Catholic Faith to be working in God’s earth. To help in His creation. To pray for our crops and rain through the intercession of St. Isidore the Farmer and St. Francis of Assisi. It is a reminder that all comes from Him. We got that reminder when we lost every single one of our 48 broccoli plants this spring because of a very cold April. He gives and takes away, always showing us the path to holiness. We don’t always understand the work he is doing in us, but we continue moving on. We plant again in faith. I pray that this summer Our Lord may grant you abundant harvests and beautiful flowers to marvel at each day.