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Sacramental Stories

Recently I read the new book by Allison Gingras, Encountering Signs of Faith: My Unexpected Journey with Sacramentals, the Saints, and the Abundant Grace of God. Interspersed with stories of Allison’s own spiritual journey as she and her husband adopted a profoundly deaf young child from China is “sneaky evangelism” about grace and the ways it’s shown to us—and the ways we hold our faith in our hearts. Allison had to make the faith visible and tangible to her daughter, but the Church made that easy for her through its traditions of sacred art and sacramentals.

 

This book contains not only a fascinating testimony but also an invitation to make your faith personal, by incorporating meaningful devotions, developing relationships with saints, and learning to see God’s grace and providence in every aspect of your life.

 

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As I read Encountering Signs of Faith, I was reminded of the many sacramentals with which I’m surrounded every day. I’ve had this little prayer card of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in my kitchen window for at least fifteen. My grandmother kept a larger version of the same image in her kitchen, and having this image in my kitchen not only helps me recall my grandmother, but reminds me to look to the Blessed Mother as an example of my motherly vocation.

While I didn’t inherit my grandmother’s picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, I do have her statue of the Infant of Prague. That’s another treasure from her house that is now in my office, behind my desk, watching over me (and my work) every day. I remember from my childhood that my grandmother would keep blessed candles in front of the statue, and if a bad storm came, she would light those candles and pray there. I don’t know the story behind that devotion, or whether it’s something she did on her own, but that was her custom.

 

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This little grouping of crosses hangs near the Infant in my office. I have several San Damiano crosses around the house; as a Secular Franciscan, those are precious to me. There’s so much going on in that icon! I purchased the tin Sacred Heart cross at the Catholic Marketing Network trade show one year, and my daughter gave me the milagros cross, which she purchased at the Shrine of Saint John Neumann in Philadelphia.

 

 

In my office window, you’ll find this tiny Nativity scene, figurines of various saints (those move around; some are on my desk as prayer reminders, and others are near the window), my jar of rosaries and chaplets—which would be full if I collected the ones in my handbag and on various tables around the house—and a big bottle of holy water.

 

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My sacramentals might be a little dusty, but they’re reminders of what I believe in and what I’m here to do each day. To me, they’re simple treasures.

Ask for Encountering Signs of Faith at your local Catholic bookseller, or order it from Amazon.com or the publisher, Ave Maria Press.

 


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Photos copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Your purchases made through the Amazon affiliate links in this post support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

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New Season, New Devotionals

‘Tis the season to think about a new devotional. Whether you prefer a daily or weekly format, you’ll find something to love about these five new prayer resources. The first three are weekly devotionals; the final pair offer daily reflections.

One Sunday at a Time by Mark Hart

I’ve had this book for weeks and have been impatiently waiting to really begin reading it—because it’s designed to help prepare for Sunday Mass! One Sunday at a Time: Preparing Your Heart for Weekly Mass by Mark Hart is a companion to the Cycle A readings that begin in Advent (November 27 this year), from Ave Maria Press. This is a companion to Cycle A (2023, 2026) so I’m hoping we can expect similar volumes for Cycles B and C.

You’ll want to have the readings available when you use this book (or a Bible where you can look them up). After an opening prayer, you’ll get a look at the message in these readings—and some behind-the-scenes info, always fascinating to me—and then there are some journal questions and a challenge for the week. You can even use the journal questions as conversation starters! This book will help you dig deeper into the meaning of each Sunday’s Mass readings and apply them to your life.

As a musician in my parish, I admit that I need to be focused on the next cue, to be ready to start hymns and acclamations at just the right moment. This means I’m not paying attention to what I’d really like to pay attention to. I look forward to using this book this year, outside of Mass, to help fill in what I’ve missed.

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Loving God, Loving Others from Blessed Is She

Of the five devotionals listed here, this one wins the prize for Most Likely To Be Given as a Gift. Loving God, Loving Others: 52 Devotions to Create Connections That Last is a beautiful book that would make a lovely gift for a friend, mother, or sister. This multi-author volume is set up in a fascinating way: each of the six authors has written a particular section of the book, each exploring the different types of relationships we experience throughout our lives and sharing from her heart about her own path of growth within that particular type of relationship.

Authors Beth Davis, Megan Hjelmstad, Nell O’Leary, Bonnie Engstrom, Sarah Erickson, and Emily Stimpson Chapman offer three-page-per-week meditations, followed by a brief recommended Gospel reading and two questions for prayer and journaling. A brief discussion opens each section, and reflections are interspersed with simply illustrated pull quotes. The book is printed on lush, thick paper and includes illustrated end papers, a white ribbon bookmark, and a dedication page.

Loving God, Loving Others is not tied to the liturgical or calendar year, so you (or your friend) can begin praying with this book at any time.

 

Reflections on the Sunday Gospel by Pope Francis

Reflections on the Sunday Gospel: How to More Fully Live Out Your Relationship with God by Pope Francis (Image Books) is a compilation of homilies or talks given by the Pope at the Angelus prayers over the years and readings from the Church Fathers. Each weekly entry begins with an excerpt from that Sunday’s Gospel, but not the full Gospel, so you’ll want to have a Bible or missal nearby.

The homilies are brief, running about 3 pages each, with an additional page or so for the reading from the Church Fathers. The Introduction by Pope Francis is excellent, accessible catechesis about paying attention at Mass, teaching our children, and “encountering the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord”—and what the homily is there for in the first place.

Reflections on the Sunday Gospel is for the Cycle A readings only, though I had to go hunting to verify that information. The back of the book provides dates for each Sunday in the next 3 incidences of Cycle A (2023, 2026, 2029) and a table of sources for both the Pope’s and the Church Fathers’ selections.

 

What Matters Most and Why by Jim Manney

For anyone interested in Ignatian spirituality, Jim Manney’s What Matters Most and Why: Living the Spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola offers 365 daily reflections inspired by Ignatian wisdom. Each daily entry begins with a quote, mostly from Jesuits throughout history but from other sources as well, including Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, the wisdom of Alcoholics Anonymous, and occasionally Scripture. Following that is a brief two-paragraph reflection on this quote.

Jesuit spirituality ultimately invites us to a way of living and leading characterized by heroism, self-awareness, love, and ingenuity. (Chris Lowrey in the Foreword)

The entries in What Matters Most and Why follow monthly themes, including Awareness, God, Love, Freedom, Work, Desire, Humility, Compassion and Trust, Choosing Well, Relationships, Practical Truths, and Becoming the Person You Are Meant to Be. This daily devotional is a good way to dip your toe into this powerful spiritual way of life.

 

 

A Year in the Word by Meg Hunter-Kilmer

If your goal is to read the Bible in a year but podcasts aren’t your thing, Meg Hunter-Kilmer has your answer with A Year in the Word Catholic Bible Journal from Our Sunday Visitor. You’ll need your Bible handy as you use this journal. A one-year reading plan is the first thing you’ll find as you open this book, with a checkbox next to each day’s reading, so if you miss a day (or more than a day) it’s easy to pick right up where you left off.

You can start using A Year in the Word whenever you want, as the reading plan is not tied to the liturgical or calendar year. In the Introduction, the author explains that her reading plan (which includes a psalm or part of one, a section from the Gospels, and chapters from either the Old or New Testament each day) is not a chronological approach but one that mixes the “harder books” with easier ones (her words) to keep you moving along and motivated to do so. By using this reading plan, you’ll actually work through each of the four Gospels twice.

This hardbound journal, with its sage-green cover, thick cream-colored pages, and simple design, will appeal to men and women alike. Wide lined spaces at the bottom of each brief daily reflection invite you to record your thoughts, and a timeline at the end traces the writing of the books of the Bible and the major events in salvation history.

 

 

 

 

 


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Images: Canva

New Advent Resources for All Ages

‘Tis the season when you can find books and booklets designed for Advent devotion and meditation. If you haven’t done so yet, check a couple of items off that to-do list: purchase your Advent candles and decide on an Advent prayer practice for yourself or your family. Try one of these resources:

For the Whole Family

5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath by Lisa M. Hendey. This booklet is filled with Scripture-based, simple prayers for the Advent season, plus questions to ponder for each day as you prepare to welcome the newborn Christ. These Advent prayers are appropriate for individuals as well as families, classrooms, and small faith sharing groups. Available in paperback or Kindle format. Read my full review. (Ave Maria Press)

 

nullThe Adverbs of Advent: Daily Devotions for Children and their Families by David Mead. This devotional covers the story of salvation history, from Creation through the story of the Adoration of the Magi, with hints at what is to come for the Child born in the manger. Each day, one adverb is chosen as the focal point. A brief Scripture passage, short meditation, and prayer comprise the daily entries. Best for families with children in primary grades. (Bayard Faith Resources)

 

nullLight Shines in the Darkness: Family Devotions for Advent by Karla Manternach. Some of the activities in this booklet require a printable coloring sheet. There’s a QR code inside the front cover to download and print the page. Family members can take turns coloring the sheet, or each person can use his or her own. Along with daily Scripture verses and a brief reflection and one-line prayer, this booklet offers a call to action based on each day’s reflection. Best for families with children in elementary and middle school. (Bayard Faith Resources)

 

 

 

For the Kids

nullCome! Lord Jesus: A Coloring Book of Advent Devotions, illustrated by Brian King. Independent readers will enjoy this coloring book with two daily entries on one side of a spread and a picture to color on the other. Each entry includes a Scripture verse, short meditation, and prayer. Appropriate for children ages 5 and up. (Bayard Faith Resources)

 

 

 

For Teens and Young Adults

nullIt’s About Time! Daily Thoughts for Our Advent Wait is a devotional focused, very gently, on the virtue of patient waiting. It’s not a heavy read, and the writing is in a very informal tone. Bible verses are referenced but not included in the text, so readers will need to bring their own. (Bayard Faith Resources)

 

 

 

 

 

For Adults

nullMessages of Light for Advent and Christmas 2022: 3-Minute Devotions by Michael White and Tom Corcoran is an uncomplicated daily devotional in a conveniently-sized format. Monday through Friday, entries begin with Scripture passages and end with a call to action, and weekend devotions are structured differently. Saturday’s reflections are the Responsorial Psalm from daily Mass, and Sunday offers a devotion and call to action but no Scripture. Available in paperback or Kindle format. (Ave Maria Press)

 

nullWelcoming the Christ Child with Padre Pio: Daily Reflections for Advent by Susan De Bartoli offers longer reflections for those able to devote more time to daily spiritual reading during this season. Because this book is undated and can be used in any year, there may be more reflections than you need—but in 2022, with Christmas on a Sunday, you’ll need them all! Franciscan spirituality is incarnational, so this book’s focus on Padre Pio’s love of Advent and “hope that he would one day be with Jesus and Mary in Paradise” (1) fits right in with that. Bonus content includes a brief outline of important events in Padre Pio’s life. Available in paperback or Kindle format. (Ave Maria Press)

 

nullMy Daily Visitor: Advent 2022 by Fr. Patrick Mary Briscoe, OP, focuses on the hope of the season. Each single-page daily entry in this small booklet begins with a Scripture citation (bring your own Bible!), then includes a brief reflection, prayer, and call to action. At the beginning of each week of the season, a longer reflection sets the tone for the week ahead. This booklet offers daily entries through January 9, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (the last day of the Christmas season). Daily video messages based on the reflections in this booklet are available free at MyDailyVisitor.com, and a free newsletter is also available. (Our Sunday Visitor)

 

Behold: A Guided Advent Journal for Prayer and Meditation by Sr. Miriam James Heidland, SOLT continues Sr. Miriam James’ ongoing Lent-and-Advent series of journals. As are the others in the series, this is a beautiful book, with weekly art by Josiah Henley and plenty of room for personal journaling. This undated book can be used in any year. The themed Advent journal focuses on the journey of the Holy Family: Mary as healer, Joseph as protector, the Child Jesus, and the Holy Family. Each day’s entries include a Scripture quote, one-page meditation, two journaling pages (with a writing prompt for each day) and closing prayer. Visit AveMariaPress.com/Behold each Sunday in Advent for free companion videos. Available in paperback or Kindle format, but I don’t recommend the ebook format as this is a journal, meant to be written in. (Ave Maria Press)

 

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Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image: Stencil
Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!
Books listed above were received from the publishers for uncompensated review.

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One-Verse Reminders

Every morning I begin the day with Liturgy of the Hours and the daily Mass readings, along with the Daily Gospel Reflection from CatholicMom.com.

That means I’m reading parts of three psalms every single morning.
The Psalms have the power to derail my morning prayer—or, more accurately, switch it to a different track—like no other element of the readings and prayers for the day.
Usually that’s because, as a musician and sometimes cantor at my parish, I can’t help but hear the melody for those psalms from when I’ve sung them at Mass. (This is only a bad thing when the verses I’ve sung before are different from the verses I’m reading now.)
But Psalm 42:3 (from yesterday’s responsorial psalm) hits different.
Athirst is my soul for God, the living God.
When shall I go and behold the face of God?
I don’t hear a melody behind that one: I hear a voice.
There’s a woman in my parish who served faithfully for many years as a sacristan for daily Mass and a frequent lector. When I read that psalm, which comes up fairly frequently in the weekday readings, I hear Cathi proclaiming it. Her accent (there’s more than a hint of New York City) sounds like home to me, so that might be the reason her delivery of the first part of that verse made such an impression.
Athirst is my soul for God—the LIVING God.
That’s not a word I would have emphasized, but every time she did so, I’d lose track of the rest of the psalm while I mulled over how it’s important to remember that God IS a living God. Living, present, active, and loving. And our souls long to see Him. We were created for exactly that.
I suppose it’s OK to be derailed a bit if you’re actually thinking about the message of the readings, as opposed to your grocery list or how behind you are on the laundry or how you’ll solve this or that problem at work.
If you’re a lector, your natural inflection and emphasis can lead the reader to contemplate in a way you probably never expected. You are bringing the LIVING Word of God to your parish. And our souls long to hear it.
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Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images created in Stencil

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

An Open Book: October 2022

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. It’s been quite a while since I’ve done these! I always enjoy recapping the books I’ve read … but sometimes things get away from me. So here’s a taste of what I read this summer. Mostly, this is a Kindle recap, because if I got a library book that I’ve since read and returned, all bets are off.

Recently I reread In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this book. The Kindle version I purchased had a fascinating introduction that I’d never read before and isn’t included in my print edition. Rumer Godden is an amazing storyteller and this is one of her best; it’s so easy to lose yourself in the story of a woman with a late vocation, entering a Benedictine monastery in rural England in the early 1950s. (And while Philippa is clearly the main character, another principal in the story emerges as the heroine for me: Abbess Catherine, who famously prayed, “I can’t, so You must.” Best prayer in a novel, hands down.) I’d give it 10 stars out of 5.

 

nullI grabbed a Netgalley offer for a cookbook and I’m glad I did. Tastes Better from Scratch: Easy Recipes for Everyday Life by Lauren Allen introduced me to a new recipe source. I liked that the book was packed with pictures, because I like to see what I’m going to be cooking. The author also included hints for modifying the recipes to allow for different cooking methods (make-ahead, make from frozen) and also modifying for different tastes. These recipes were easy to follow and left the door wide open to personalization. This is a good family-style cookbook. 4 stars.

 

Victoria Everleigh’s The Hope We Vow completes her Vows for Life series. Sadie Rosati, sister to the main character in The Love We Vow, has returned to the faith and is trying to figure out what God wants for her life after her boyfriend doesn’t react well to learning the secret that’s burdened her since her teenage years. Sadie’s explorations lead her not only to new relationships but to the possibility of consecrated life; exploring that possibility opens a door for her to use her musical gifts in a new and unexpected way. A satisfying end to the series. 4 stars.

 

The debut novel Grieving Daughter’s Club by Andrea Bear brings together a cast of characters who might not ordinarily meet (much less become friends) but do so because of a book discussion group at their church. Many of them share the bond of having lost a parent. This is a wonderful story of developing friendships, and of women who literally come to the point of being willing to lay down their lives for each other. By the end of the book, you’ll feel as if these characters are your friends too. Worth a reread! 5 stars.

 

I don’t remember how I heard about Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, but this middle-grade historical novel set in Depression-era Kansas was a delightful read, despite the hardships 12-year-old Abilene has endured in her lifetime. Sent to Manifest on her own by her father, Abilene sets out to find out what really happened during her father’s childhood and unlock the long-buried secrets of the town. The side characters are just as winning as Abilene. 5 stars.

 

The dads take over the PTA in Schooled by Ted Fox, a hilarious novel about rival stay-at-home dads running a cutthroat campaign for the presidency of the PTA in the socially competitive school their young children attend. If you thought PTA moms were bad, they’ve got nothing on Jack and his childhood nemesis Chad, who seems willing to stop at nothing to make sure he wins this election. Plenty of politically-correct everything, but the story is worth getting past all that. 4 stars.

 

And in a completely different vein, The Girl They Left Behind by Roxane Veletzos is a deeply tragic World War II story, which begins in Bucharest when a three-year-old is found on a doorstep, abandoned by her Jewish parents who hope someone will care for the child while they hide in a neighbor’s attic. They think it will be just for a little while, but things don’t work out the way they had hoped. The story follows Natalia into adulthood and is an eye-opening look at life behind the Iron Curtain. Compelling, but be sure to have a light read afterward as a palate cleanser. 4 stars.

 

One of the best books I read this summer was Amy Matayo’s They Called Her Dirty Sally. Journalist Finn Hardwick arrives in a small Arkansas town reluctantly, assigned to cover the 30th anniversary of a tragic hospital fire that killed several newborns and young mothers. He encounters unexpected resistance from the locals who are unwillling to give up the town’s long-held secrets, and discovered that the hospital fire seems to have a tie to his own life as well as to the reclusive, mysterious woman known as “Dirty Sally,” who has not spoken a word to anyone since the day of the fire. 5 stars.

 

In Perfectly Human, Joseph Dutkowsky, M.D. describes his journey from engineering student to pre-med and on to a series of academic and professional opportunities that led him to dedicate his medical career to caring and advocating for persons (mostly children) with disabilities. It’s evident from the very first page that Dr. Dutkowsky loves his work, and that his patients have been as much a gift to him as he has been to them. Dr. Dutkowsky looks into the eyes of his patients and sees the eyes of Jesus looking back at him. One of the best parts of this book is the love story of the doctor and his wife. If you’re a teacher or the parent of a child with special needs, don’t miss this one. (Review copy received from the author)

 

Visit today’s #OpenBook post to join the linkup or just get some great ideas about what to read! You’ll find it at Carolyn Astfalk’s A Scribbler’s Heart and at CatholicMom.com!

 


Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

Where indicated, books are review copies provided by the author, publisher, or Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

Book Review: The Little Way of Living with Less.

Letting go is hard. And maybe that’s the reason for the subtitle of Laraine Bennett’s new book, The Little Way of Living with Less: Learning to Let Go with the Little Flower. In this new release from Sophia Institute Press, Bennett shares her musings on a “less is more” manner of living, inspired by the writing of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

 

 

Arguably, the saint’s life as a cloistered Carmelite nun automatically lent itself to the kind of simplicity that mothers in the 21st century will never hope to see. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from this saint’s words and example, and apply those to our situation, examining what to keep, what to share, and what we might not even need in the first place.

I admit it: I’m very attached to my stuff. I keep a lot of things I “might need someday” but probably never will … and it definitely goes against the grain for me to donate those useful objects—but, looking back, I’ve always been more than willing to give something I was saving for that elusive “someday” to a friend or neighbor who needed that particular thing right now. My challenge, I guess, is giving up the things without seeing the faces of the ones who will be using it.

Reading this book has pushed me to re-examine my relationship with the things I keep. Do I need all of them? Do I even want all of them? Would I benefit more if I moved some things along, by having more open space in my closet and on my shelves: do I have to have everything filled to the brim all the time?

Reading this book at this time of year has been a good push to examine the clothing I keep. As the weather gets chilly, I’m putting away the summer blouses and bringing out the winter fleece. How much of each of these do I really need? When’s the last time I even wore that? Why am I hanging on to it if I’m not using it? As I sort, I’m filling a box—and when it’s full, I’ll arrange for it to be picked up for the next clothing drive, along with the big box of handmedown kitchen stuff left behind by my kids after they finished college.

My favorite chapter in The Little Way of Living with Less is chapter 7: “The Tranquility of Order.” I want that tranquility, the peace that comes from having what I need—because peace doesn’t come from hanging on to stuff I don’t.


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for my review.
Amazon links are included in this article; your purchase supports FranciscanMom.com at no cost to you.

Start Your Advent Preparations Now!

It’s September 30. Do you know where your Advent candles are?

I do, because I bought about 6 packs in bulk a couple of years ago, and we’re still working through that supply. I don’t have an attic; we keep them in a mini-closet in the basement where the Christmas decorations live (which automatically means we can’t go too crazy buying Christmas decorations, because I insist that we keep the Christmas decorations there, and only there.

So I’ve got my candles (and enough for a few more years) and now I have the brand-new Advent devotional by Lisa M. Hendey: 5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath.

 

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This booklet is filled with Scripture-based, simple prayers for the Advent season, plus questions to ponder for each day as you prepare to welcome the newborn Christ.

These Advent prayers are appropriate for individuals as well as families, classrooms, and small faith sharing groups.

If you’ve spent any time around this blog, you know I’m hardly an expert about Advent. Around here, it’s the season where table manners and fire collide. But now that all my kids have come out the other side of the teenage years, I’m figuring that maybe—just maybe—we can add in some devotion to our family Advent-wreath ritual.

It’s only 5 minutes a day. We can do it! Join me!

And it’s not too early to think about Advent, my friends. It’ll be here before you know it: Advent begins November 27 this year. And all the craft stores are already putting Halloween stuff on clearance, so if you don’t have candles yet, don’t wait. And while you’re buying your candles, go ahead and order this book, too.

5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath is available on Amazon, through Ave Maria Press, and at your local Catholic bookstore.

Ave Maria Press offers even more Advent devotional materials based on this booklet: check those resources out for free!


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photos copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.
Article contains Amazon links; your purchase through these links support FranciscanMom.com at no cost to you.
I received a free review copy of this booklet from the publisher and was not compensated for this review in any way.

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Walk With Me

“Walk with me,” she beckons, one hand outstretched as if to take mine, and one hand over her heart. That heart, ringed with a garland of beautiful flowers, has been deeply and thoroughly pierced with a sword.

Her smile trembles as her eyes brim with tears about to spill over—but her eyes do not leave mine. She does not shy away from meeting my gaze, even in her own pain.

Young—so young—and newly postpartum, she reaches out to me, inviting me to hold her hand as I shoulder the cross of my troubles, that ever-heavier burden of cares and worries that knocks me down at times under its weight.

“I’ll help you up,” she assures me, reaching out her hand again to lift me off my knees, to catch me as I stumble forward, my vision blurred by my own tears.

“I’ll walk with you,” she promises. Sorrow and joy are no strangers to her. As I cast down my cares with each bead that slides between my fingers, she listens.

She knows all my pain—the pain I’ll talk about, and the pain I feel I have to keep inside. She knows. And she cares. And in my pain, I know I’m not walking alone. I know she is beside me, holding out her hand to guide me, to lift me up, to hold me up.

“I’m here,” she assures me, as every mother assures her little child in fear or pain. “I’m here.”

And as I stumble along, bolstered by contemplating the joy, the light, the sorrow, and the glory she has witnessed, I look into her eyes, answering her trembling smile with my own.

Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.

 

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Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photos: unattributed painting of Our Lady of Sorrows, found in Resurrection Parish Adoration Chapel, Delran, NJ; photographed by Barb Szyszkiewicz

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The Only Bag I Need Today

I dug my trusty tote bag out of the closet yesterday.

I have other totes. Several of them, in all shapes and sizes. Most of them are fancy and professional-looking, and some even have a special place for my water bottle. Most of them aren’t stained in places, and their handles aren’t frayed.

But this is the tote I dug out of the closet yesterday, because today I’m going to need it.

 

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I’m going to need my Caregiver Bag.

This bag has gone with me to medical visits for at least a decade. It has room for my water bottle. And tissues. And waiting-room snacks. And the book I’ll bring, but definitely won’t read, in the waiting room. And whatever papers we’re handed, with instructions and arrangements and marching orders.

(And a rosary, though there are already 3 of those in my handbag.)

It’s been a decade, and this bag and I are in it for the long haul. Maybe that’s why, every time I get a shiny new bag, I hang onto this one despite the stains and the frayed handle.

I’ve hung onto that handle on some very dark days. And I’ve held it on the days when we heard good news, when we walked out of hospitals breathing a sigh of relief, because this time we were sure we were done with this.

So today, I’ll pack up that bag again with the snacks and the water bottle and the tissues and the extra rosary and the book I won’t read. I’ll grab onto those fraying straps and walk confidently through that familiar parking garage and into those halls I’ve walked so many times before, and I’ll remember that this is not a burden I have to carry alone.


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photos copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.

On My Bookshelf: Perfectly Human by Joseph Dutkowsky, MD

Is there anything better than a warm chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven? I believe we’re handed them by God all the time and too often don’t notice or can’t figure out what to do with them. I’m a firm believer that when God hands you a chocolate chip cookie take a big bite out of it! (173)

Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky, or “Dr. D” as he signed off when he emailed to tell me he’d sent me a copy of his memoir, Perfectly Human, spent his life taking big bites of the chocolate-chip cookies God handed him, and the world is better for it.

 

In this fascinating book, Dr. D describes his journey from engineering student to pre-med and on to a series of academic and professional opportunities that led him to dedicate his medical career to caring and advocating for persons (mostly children) with disabilities. It’s evident from the very first page that Dr. D loves his work, and that his patients have been as much a gift to him as he has been to them. Dr. D looks into the eyes of his patients and sees the eyes of Jesus looking back at him.

Dr. D has not only worked hard as an orthopedic surgeon to help his patients enjoy their lives by assisting them in overcoming mobility challenges, he has led by example in looking and listening and helping to meet the needs of his patients and their families.

Through the patients, families, and community providers whom I serve, I learned the fundamental truth that you cannot take care of a child with a disability without taking care of their family and community. (82)

Throughout the book, Dr. D shares stories of encounters with patients and acknowledges that he was changed as much as the children and adults he has treated over the years. The thread that holds all these stories together is Dr. D’s deep reverence for the gift of life, no matter how imperfect that life might be in the eyes of an unfriendly world.

Particularly timely in these days of post-Roe vitriol against those who protect the vulnerable unborn is Chapter 16, “The New Eugenics.” Many of Dr. D’s patients have been individuals with Down syndrome. He observes,

Worst of all, this new eugenics is even threatening their lives. Through medical science, new tests exist and are being developed to genetically and morphologically examine a fetus in the womb. In the greatest tradition of medicine this information would be used to make early diagnoses that could lead to prenatal treatments to enhance the life of the child in the womb and after birth. In the worst tradition of medicine this technology is being used to terminate the pregnancy of an “undesirable” child. (168)

In this powerful chapter, Dr. D decries a culture that penalizes women “economically, socially, and professionally” for having children; a culture in which easy access to abortion enables men to use women; a culture which views easy access to abortion as a “solution to poverty” (169).

Dr. D told me, when he sent me this book, that it’s not a book: it’s a movement. He’s right. This book, which I called a memoir but might better describe as a call to action disguised as a memoir, is a spiritual push to see the intrinsic value of each person: born and unborn, healthy or ill, strong or weak, ambulatory or wheelchair-bound.

It’s also a love story, dedicated to his late wife, Karen, who supported him in the adventures that took him from New England to Tennessee, from New York to Peru and back again.

And it’s a testament to the faith of a man who has come to see all of life as a gift from God, packaged as a series of chocolate-chip cookies and ready to be enjoyed in a way that, in turn, glorifies the God who created it in the first place.

Perfectly Human is a book that will make you smile and cry—sometimes within the same page. I’d particularly recommend this book to young people entering the medical field, whether as doctors, nurses, or allied professionals, and to educators as well.


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Image: Stencil

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.