Sunday, December 10, 2017

Inspire Children to Serve with Picture Books {A Works of Mercy Wise Men Tradition}

Happy second week of Advent. 

Three years ago, I shared an idea for marrying picture books, magi figurines, and service to create a new family tradition

{Disclosure: Some links which follow are affiliate ones.  Should you click through them to make any purchase, we may receive compensation at no extra cost to you.}

Since then, our "Works of Mercy Wisemen" tradition has continued.  Daily during Advent, my children find the Wise Men from our Tales of Glory Nativity Playset 
getting into stories, sometimes with other items nearby.  After the children discover a Wise Men vignette each day, we chat about the story and what Work of Mercy or virtue the Wise Men might be suggesting we work on that day.  

So far this year, our vignettes have been quite simple and our acts of service and kindness, too.  Still, the tradition has brought fruit and focus to living our Advent journey with eyes toward encountering Jesus.

Pair 8+ Books with Works of Mercy

On the first day of Advent our Wise Men were found among three books: Bartholomew's PassageThe Christmas Story, and If He Had not Come.   Minutes later, the Wise Men "whispered" in ears about how we could actively prepare our hearts for Our Lord through action.  

Among the ideas we came up with were:

  • Praying for the Living and the Dead: Inspired by If He Had not Come, we thought about how different the world is because Jesus did come and also because of the people He's put in our lives.  We decided we will spend extra time praying for the living and the dead this Advent and, as a part of that, continued our St. Andrew Novena with special intentions for specific people.

  • Preparing Ourselves to Instruct the Ignorant:  We cannot share the good news of Christ if we do not deepen our knowledge of and love for Jesus.  So, we decided to re-read The Christmas Story (which we know well) as a way of centering ourselves on the reason for the season and, then, reflected briefly on the beauty and meaning of Jesus' birth.

    We also went out to find a tree branch to act as our Jesse Tree and asked our Lord to speak to us through the stories and scripture that we read as we hang each of our Jesse Tree ornaments so that we can share Salvation History well with others when we are called to do so.  
    Further, as we gathered for our Advent Wreath time and began reading Bartholomew's Passage, we took time to reflect and pray.

  • Clothing the Naked:  Additionally, we decided to take bags of our out-sized and excess mittens, gloves, and winter wear to donate for those in need.

On the second day of Advent, our Works of Mercy Wise Men were found reading the St. Nicholas page of Saints Lives & Illuminations and getting into cough drops.

Since the children knew we were to attend an early St. Nicholas Party and Service event, they decided our Wise Men were telling us to
feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

Recalling St. Nicholas' generous spirit, we joined friend to stuff wool socks and warm gloves full of sundry daily supplies (toothbrushes toothpaste, tissues, cough drops, floss sticks, and more) to be given to homeless people in our area. The children enjoyed this small service project and I encourage others looking for a service activity to try it.

On the third day of Advent, the children found our Works of Mercy Wise Men among a bunch of laundered, but old towels, reading The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy.  After chatting, they decided we should help shelter the homeless (animals) by donating the towels to a local animal shelter.  Thus, we rearranged our morning plans to go do so. It didn't take very long, but, hopefully will bless some dogs waiting adoption.

On the fourth day of Advent, our Wise Men were getting into a bag of candy cane packages next to some bread and 
the St. Nicholas page of Saints Lives & Illuminations again (because I had yet to get any of the other St. Nicholas books we've read in the past out of the library again, such as: Saint Nicholas, A Gift from Saint NicholasThe Legend of St. Nicholas: A Story of Christmas GivingThe Legend of Saint Nicholas, and The Legend of Saint Nicholas.

The children quickly decided to
feed the hungry, instruct the ignorant, and comfort the afflicted by making a small secret St. Nicholas Basket to drop on a neighbor's doorstep...

... and also by secretly "candy caning" people who are suffering from infirmity or limitations of advanced age as well as those who may or may not know much about Jesus.

On the fifth day of Advent, our Wise Men were stacked up to read the Saint Ambrose pages of Once Upon a Time Saints the the Loyola Kids Book of Saints (which I just saw is currently selling for 60% off hardcover!), focusing particularly on the words "something hard".

As we though about how St. Ambrose was known for doing hard things, even when surprising turns of life arose, we decided to admonish sinners in a way, by doing something "hard" for us - staying home all day and night and spending extra time focusing on responsibilities we might fail to focus on at times: lessons, extra chores, remaining patient with one another, spending extra time in prayer.

On the sixth day of Advent, our Wise Men were reading Mary, the Mother of Jesus for the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and we decided, again, to pray for the living and the dead,focusing on our usual morning, mealtime, and evening prayers, plus adding midday "emergency" prayer for a friend, and prayers for others whose intentions we brought to Holy Hour with Divine Mercy and Mass.  Further, as we thought about how Our Lady was conceived without stain of sin and how we are washed clean of sin with our Baptisms, but, then, sin again in our humanity, we gave thanks for the gift of mercy offered each of us and prayed for grace to pour down on everyone.

On the seventh day of Advent, our Wise Men were reading a board book called One Baby Jesus with a pageant script nearby.  The children agreed we should "instruct the ignorant", or, rather, prepare to share our Lord's birth story, by taking time to rehearse for our parish pageant.  We also continued to pray for the living and the dead by praying with our local Children's Rosary group.

Today, on the eighth day of Advent, our Wise Men sat with some gifts for our parish Giving Tree and the book The Christmas Coat.  Thus, the children knew it was time to
clothe the naked again by donating items for children in need.

As Advent continues over the next two weeks, my children and I look forward to our Wise Men encouraging us to revisit other favorite seasonal reads and to find new ones which will inspire further Works of Mercy.  We welcome your suggestions for inspiring picture books and seasonal saint stories.  Please share your favorites with me.

If you'd like to find other picture book-service ideas, please click through the image below to find some of our some past ideas.

May your Advent be filled with service and special moments as you prepare yourself to encounter Jesus - past, present, and future.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

When Preparing to Prepare Pays Off...

A season of joyful waiting
      of (sometimes) quiet anticipation
               of prayer
                         of penance
                                    and of preparation 
  as we ready our hearts and homes to celebrate 
       the commemoration of Jesus' arrival in the manger 
       in Bethlehem
               His coming again at some point in the future
                          and our every day opportunities 
                          to embrace encounters with Him 
                          in our interactions with others 
                          and as recipients of immeasurably grace.

Last night before bed I readied our home for this beautiful liturgical season by cleaning and organizing parts of our house before setting out supplies for some of our family's Advent traditions. 

Then, today, as my children delighted in each tradition, I smiled with gratitude and joy.  My efforts to prepare paid off with warm memories in the making that focused us on faith.

Among other things, a basket of instruments...

...had us ringing in the New Liturgical Year!

{Disclosure: Some of the links which follow are affiliate ones.  Should you click through them and make any purchase, we may receive compensation at no extra cost to you.}

Our Nativity Playset...

...brought squeals of "I remember that..." and immediate unfolding of play.

Our Advent Chains...

...enticed eager hands to begin our Christmas countdown, and, later, inspired all of our hands to set to writing out notes for our first Advent Chain Work of Mercy for this season and to fixing food for one another. 

And, yes, this year we do have TWO Advent Chains, because one child wanted to create a personal mini-one.

I am all for self-starters who seek to spread more love and kindness while preparing for coming of Christ.

A table set for the first day of the Liturgical New Year prompted the children to begin filling "Jesus' manger" with hay when they made small sacrifices.  It also invited them to offer coins for a local Respect Life concern.  (We no longer Count, Pray, and Give with the annual Baby Bottle campaign, since the children have grown out of that, but we still eagerly do the giving.  In fact, the children were excited this past Friday after Holy Hour and Mass to see the baby bottles out and could not wait to take one home!)

Because it is not Christmas yet, many of our nativity sets are not in their full glory  Instead, on our table Joseph was sleep "at home" and Mary was hearing God's plan from the angel Gabriel.  This reminded the children of Bible history and also prompted them to remember our Star from Afar, which we use a little differently. Thus, throughout the day, they kept their eyes pealed for the star among a mess that we could fix.

My daughter found it and is eager to have us all clean where it was tomorrow so she can re-hide the star in another part of our home that needs help.  (There are plenty of those!)

The living room table, thankfully, is not one of them.  Instead, last night, I cleaned it and, then, set supplies on it.  So, this morning the children were excited to discover our Works of Mercy Wisemen back in action there reading not one, but THREE books to inspire us.

Minutes later, the Wise Men were "whispering" in ears about how we could actively prepare our hearts for Our Lord through action today, remembering The Christmas Story and thinking about what the world would be like If He Had not Come

The books also offered us a cozy read together time later in the day.

In afternoon, spotting our Advent Wreath with a Jesse Tree ornament inside reminded the children we still needed a branch to serve as our Jesse Tree.

So out into the woods we went to find one...

Later, after reading related Old and new Testament verses for the day, as well as the book Genesis, my youngest hung our first ornament.

He was also thrilled to have it be his turn to light the Advent wreath.

And I was equally delighted with the rapt attention and occasional laughter our first candlelight reading from Bartholomew's Passage brought.

Read togethers, our St. Andrew Novena, our Jesse Tree, Advent Wreath time, and bedtime blessings sure made a beautifully blessed close to our day for the children and me.

Now, before my own bedtime as I reflect on our day, I think about how much faith, fun, and family time were shared due to relatively simple preparations in our home.  I also imagine how much more amazing the results of preparing our hearts will be.

Already, blessings and grace are apparent in this life - some causing us to literally sing out with joy.  Envision how much more abundant they may be one day if we stand in Our Lord's presence in Heaven.  It's almost impossible to conceive the rapture.

Truly, if preparing some things around the house brings moments of joy, peace, and prayer to the present, imagine what preparing our hearts can do for eternity?

May each of our preparations this season pay off in joy here as a foretaste to triumph that awaits us if we keep welcoming Jesus into our hearts and extending His love to those around us.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Poetic Round Up of Tried-and-True Advent Ideas from 12+ Families

Happy Christ the King day!  As we celebrate our Servant King, I am reminded that the beginning of Advent is but one week away.  If you're still deciding how you'll approach life and learning during this beautiful liturgical season, you are not alone.  Many other folks are, too, including me!  And, if past years are anything to go by, some of us may be preparing to prepare right up until Advent begins next Sunday, or even a bit beyond that.

To help us all, I thought I would share a poetic Advent season round-up.

Please enjoy this musing I wrote earlier today, which I've since linked to oodles of Advent ideas and inspiration from different Catholic bloggers.  Perhaps the Spirit will use a phrase from the poem or a post linked to it, to speak to you about how you might begin your Advent journey this year.

    'Twas a week before Advent
    and across blogosphere
    Mamas were asking:
    What are you doing this year?
    To keep this liturgical season
    in its rightful place, 
    which Advent traditions
    will you and yours embrace?
    while 'Christmas is here!' madness
    seems to sweep across the nation?
    How might we kick off 
    Advent observances this year
    How best can we celebrate Jesus' coming-
    present, future, and past?
    What will help us create meaningful
    How do we find balance
    in the sometimes chaos of this season,
    with all the blessings that brings?
    Might we help children move from "the gimmes"
    to simple gratitude,
    modeling thankfulness, joy, and humility
    in our own attitudes?
    Might we enjoy activities
    that focus on time spent together?
    Might we add new tweaks
    to past traditions that we treasure?
     Might we mark the days with Scripture
    that points to our Lord,
    as we hang up ornaments
    and spend time reading the Word?
    Might we each unplug and make time
    to let the Spirit's voice come through?
    ...Yes, the questions are a-flying,
    and some answers are, too.
    cautionary tales...
    Wisdom and reflections...
    prayersponderings and practical advice
    for managing daily life
    and preparing for heavenly paradise.
    In heads, hearts, and homes,
    thankfully, persists:
    Advent is nearly upon us,
    and that means it is time
    to prepare to celebrate our Lord,
    so merciful and sublime!
    However we do that,
    and may our response to God's will
    ring out with a resounding, "YES!"

    Thank you to the following folks for ideas shared through the links above:

      May you have a blessed and beautiful Advent!

      Sunday, November 19, 2017

      Celebrate Saint Clement and Blessed Miguel Pro Simply

      It's no secret that we love to learn about saints and celebrate their feast days here.  It's also no secret that our home and lives are rarely picture perfect.  Tables get covered in stuff.  Groceries get low.  Life gets full. 

      So it was in our home on the feast day of Blessed Miguel Pro and Saint Clement last November 23.  Luckily, I didn't let all the imperfections stop me. Instead, I gathered what I had on hand and spent the morning getting reacquainted with Blessed Miguel Pro and Saint Clement through prayers, books, a CD, some coloring, some conversation, and a simple floor picnic, followed by a few saint-inspired lessons.

      {Disclosure:  Some links which follow are affiliate ones.}

      Since I did not 
      have any Mexican or Roman-inspired foods in the house, the floor picnic I set out for my children had symbolism through drinks and candles instead.  Water reminded us of the story of Saint Clement that we read in Once Upon a Time Saints and cocoa and chocolate chips reminded us of Blessed Miguel Pro's cocol. Likewise, a white candle stood for the purity of Blessed Miguel Pro's and Saint Clement's love for our Lord, while a red one recalled their martyrdom.

      My children were delighted with our simple celebratory breakfast and dug right in, proving to me that what I thought might not be enough was actually just right.

      The rest of our morning followed suit.

      praying and reading about Blessed Miguel Pro in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints, my youngest helped with some on-spot geography by finding Mexico on a map.

      He also found Rome after we read about St. Clement in 
      Once Upon a Time Saints.

      Then, after chatting about the two saints, comparing and contrasting their stories and 
      discussing history, the children set to coloring free printables from Paper Dali while listening to a
      Glory Story about Blessed Miguel Pro.

      Later we enjoyed a spelling game and some other lessons inspired by the saints, too.  

      So, what started as me accepting imperfections and simply offering up the meager "loaves and fishes" of what we had around our home, we ended up blessed with the fruit of learning about history, virtue, literature, geography, and more related to Blessed Miguel Pro and Saint Clement - simply, relatively spontaneously, and all due to the grace and glory of Our Lord.

      Indeed, each time my children and I make an effort to learn about and celebrate the saints, I am struck by what God can do when we just say "yes" to His will for us.  No saint was perfect - and neither are we.  Yet, through loving God and letting Him work in them and through them, the saints made amazing impacts on others, and, eventually, were able to join our Lord in Heaven.  Oh, that we may do the same one day as well.

      Whatever imperfections you face today, may you not let them stop you from seeking to know and love God.  May you be inspired by stories of the saints and be unafraid to take the next step in whatever story our Lord wishes to write with you.

      Blessed Miguel Pro and Saint Clement, pray for us!

      Wednesday, November 15, 2017

      Join Us for the Super Girls and Halos Blog Tour {with a Review and Giveaway}

      Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.

      Welcome visitors new and old.  Today, I am excited to be a part of the Super Girls and Halos Blog Tour, where every day from November 8 through 22, a different Catholic blogger from around the world is sharing thoughts on award-winning author Maria Morera Johnson's thought-provoking new book which explores the Cardinal Virtues of Justice, Prudence, Temperance, and Fortitude through pairing heroines of science fiction, fantasy, and comic books with inspiring female saints.

      Now, if you've been following Training Happy Hearts for any length of time, you're already aware of how much my children and I enjoy learning about and celebrating the saints together.  So, my interest in Super Girls and Halos makes sense. However, if you know me in real life, you also might be aware that I invest little to no time in reading about nor watching pop culture heroines in action, and the closest I ever got to being a true superhero fan was taking my Dad's military hat as a child in the 70's, stuffing my hair into it, and doing Wonder Woman turns with my sisters and the neighborhood girls in our front yard.  (Okay, maybe we had some "bullet-proof" bracelets and a golden lasso, too.) 

      But, seriously, science fiction, fantasy, and pop culture have rarely been my thing.  Moreover, the strong feminist push of our culture in recent years - which tends to stray far from the virtues, values, and strengths I believe women are created to embody -repulses me more than it excites me.  Thus, I tend to eschew anything that screams "woman power". So, you might wonder why I would want to read a book where over half the pages delve into analysis of
       Wonder Woman, Rey, Black Window, Scully, Storm, Hermione Granger, Katniss, and Lt. Uhura - fictional heroines whose stories I have rarely, if ever, read or watched and have had zero interest in getting to know.

      Truth be told, when I first cracked open Super Girls and Halos, I had no desire to read about these "super girls".  I simply wanted to learn more about Sts. Katherine Drexel, Clare of Assisi, Mary Magdalene, Marguerite d’Youville, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Cunegunde, Mary MacKillop, and Kateri Tekawitha.  I was also interested to see how Maria Morera Johnson would highlight each of these saints as examples of real life individuals who overcame challenges and flaws through embracing Cardinal Virtues.  

      Of course, though, because I was reading 
      Super Girls and Halos for a review and not simply for my own pleasure and edification, I was honor-bound to read every page of it - even the parts about the fictional heroines I cared little about.  So, I did, and guess what?  Instead of being bored or rolling my eyes as Maria examined each female pop culture character, I found myself drawn in, interested in Maria's enthusiastic analysis of how each fictional heroine exhibited human virtue.

      I appreciated how Maria recapped key elements of characterization and storyline so that even those who are not pop culture fans could relate to the super girls she highlighted.  I also loved how Maria wove words from St. John Paul II's apostolic letter, The Dignity and Vocation of Women, into commentary about Wonder Woman, and I discovered a new perspective on Rey, who I had been non-plussed by upon seeing one of the new Star War films when my parents invited our family to it. Likewise, I recalled why I'd liked Scully in the few episodes of the X-Files that I had previously seen and delighted to hear that in later episodes, the Catholic faith actually was brought into the storyline.  I also thought about how, if my children suddenly got into the Avengers, X-men, or Star Trek, I might not cringe and could, instead, now easily point out some virtues in the casts of characters.  Finally, I decided that although I still won't ever encourage my children to read Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, I can find redeeming value in the series should my kids choose to become immersed in them.  Indeed, I found Maria's treatment of modern day super girls
       clever, thought-provoking, and on-point.  

      Better still, I loved how Maria paired the fictional super girls with both both well-known and lesser-known saints, highlighting similarities in the virtues between the super girls and saints, while also honing in on a key difference: the fictional heroines overcome obstacles through superpowers or crafted twists in plots and, sometimes, fall to their flaws, while the saints face challenges and move beyond human failings trough God's face.  By operating from a place of virtue, faith, and grace, the saints made difference in their own lives and in the lives of people they touched while living here on earth - and even still through their examples, legacies, and intercession.  They also challenge us to do the same - to seek a virtuous life, to seek god, to seek God! 

      As Maria encapsulates each saints path to holiness, we cannot help but to see how God's grace empowered them to live with virtue despite all too human circumstances.  We see how St. Katherine Drexel quietly used her wealth to benefit marginalized Native and African Americans.  We recall how St. Clare of Assisi put her trust in Jesus Christ, thereby saving others.  We recognize how St. Mary Magdalene remained steadfast in love and faith and also shared about the Resurrection. We learn about how St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross came to Jesus and, then, to offer up her suffering with dignity for the Jewish people.  We hear about how St. Cunegrade moved from being an empress who funded churches and monasteries that still stand hundreds of years after being built to spending her final 20 year in prayerful retreat.  We witness how St. Marguerite d'Youville overcame taunting to build a health network that is lauded even today.  We are inspired by how St. Mary MacKillop stood firm even through temporary excommunication and defended her order while changing the face of Catholic education in Australia.  And, we witness how St. Kateri Tekawitha endured wrongs and isolation as she sought to love and serve Jesus.  In short, we discover how each saint responded to circumstances with love and faith, and we are encouraged to emulate them.

      Through Maria' the collection of fictional and real heroines that Maria curated in Super Girls and Halos, we are remind that even in our humanness, we are called to be saints.  When we seek the greater good, when we choose what is morally right, when we stand firm through difficulties as we strive for what is good, when we maintain healthy discretion and self-mastery, and when we take time to ask what step toward Jesus can we make today and then do it, we respond to our calls to sainthood.

      Whether you're a pop culture aficionado, a saint enthusiast, or someone seeking a fresh look at how to live the Cardinal Virtues, Super Girls and Halos makes a worthwhile read.  Maria:

      • presents strong analysis of fictional characters and saints
      • shares persona anecdotes
      • defines and gives examples of virtues
      • weaves in quotes from fiction
      • highlights portions of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
      • quotes from popes
      • offers periodic questions for reflection
      • challenges readers to tap into the supernatural powers God grants each one of us so that we may become saints

      She makes pop culture and saint stories accessible to modern reader, presenting edifying examples of virtue.

      Truly, I believe that Super Girls and Halos is a refreshingly unique take on how to live with truth, justice, and heroic virtue that any adult - or adolescent - can benefit from reading.  In fact, I am going to recommend it to my parish collaborative to use in youth ministry and have also already recommended to a local friend who is involved with a Catholic book club.

      Who Doesn't Love a Giveaway?

      In conjunction with the blog tour, Allison at Reconciled to You has put together a great giveaway.  You can enter below.

        a Rafflecopter giveaway

      Who is YOUR Supergirl Saint?

      I knew nothing about St. Mary MacKillop before reading Super Girls and Halos and found her story intriguing.  To think of bring excommunicated and still standing firm in faith, and, then, eventually becoming a saint.  Wow!  

      Who is YOUR SuperGirl Saint? Please share in a comment!

      Disclaimer:  I received a FREE copy of this product from Ave Maria Press in exchange for my honest review.  I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.  All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations.


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