Prayer Journal Pondering

Make Room, Make Haste, Make Holy

I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for two weeks. After all, January is almost over and it’s my New Year’s Resolution. But I just couldn’t seem to get the words from my brain to the Word document with all the other things going on. Perhaps I should have put “Be More Organized” on my resolution list this year!

This resolution, or more accurately, this phrase, came about through the process of prayer journaling (surprise, surprise!). The first segment—Make Room—came to me during Eucharistic Adoration in late December. I was pondering what the Holy Spirit would have me do next, specifically in 2018, and this thought popped into my head: Make Room. Make room for what? I wondered. I worked through the possible meanings over the next week and ended up with several thoughts: I need to make room in my schedule—that’s a little challenging but can be done. I need to make room for discipleship and kingdom-building opportunities. Makes sense. And I need to make room in my heart for the Holy Spirit to move. Hmmmm, that one’s slightly intimidating. But I am committed to praying for the Holy Spirit to come into my heart and clean house to make room for amazing things in 2018.

Make Haste entered into the mix when I was reading about the wise men and the shepherds in the fields who heard about the birth of Jesus and made haste to go find him. They didn’t doubt, they didn’t question, they didn’t ruminate—they dropped what they were doing and they made haste.  According to one of my previous bosses, instead of a “Ready, Aim, Fire” person, I can be more of a “Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim” person.  Guilty as charged (although I did defend myself by saying that at least I wasn’t a “Ready, Fire, Aim” person). Admittedly, I love the idea generation phase of a project, but I get bogged down in the execution. I second-guess. I want more time to test. I need to go over things with a fine-tooth comb one more time. I hesitate to pull the trigger. Yea, if I was one of the shepherds, I would still be sitting on a rock contemplating the pros and cons of heading into Bethlehem, and wondering if I really did see angels singing, while my fellow shepherds would already be gazing into the glory of the manger. I don’t make haste. But my new saint friend, Catherine of Siena, has been getting under my skin with her quote, “Start being brave about everything.” So when an opportunity presents itself in 2018, I plan to be brave and jump on it.

And finally, there’s Make Holy, a phrase that popped into my head at the precise moment when the priest at Mass was saying, “Make holy these gifts…” It’s kind of the cherry on top of the resolution ice cream sundae. Make Holy is a way, as St. Francis de Sales says, to Live Today Well. It means elevating my everyday acts and encounters to a holy level. To offer up my entire day to God, so he can sanctify the situations and sanctify me and take my meager offerings and make something holy out of them. Cue the Little Way of St. Therese: Doing dishes can be made holy. Getting groceries can be made holy. Making phone calls can be made holy. I don’t have to accomplish anything newsworthy—I can know, instead, that when God adds his grace to my everyday actions, they can be made holy. I just need to ask.

So there you have it.  In 2018, I hope and pray to Make Room, Make Haste and Make Holy.

Oh, and maybe become better organized while I’m at it…

Catholic Treasure Chest

The Need to Kneel

When I returned to the Catholic Church in 2013, it truly felt like a homecoming. I was back in the once-familiar sacred environment I hadn’t even realized I had missed. Back among the statues, the artwork, the stained glass windows, the choir music and all of the sacramentals that add layers of beauty and meaning and value to our faith. And it was as if I saw everything with a fresh set of eyes. I was drawn to the mystery of the tabernacle. I studied the face of Mary in the Pieta. I learned (for the first time?) that the mammoth stained glass windows in our church actually depict the mysteries of the rosary. And I filled a bottle with holy water to take home for my newly-purchased font, like I had when I was a kid (and which, btw, would often have a thin layer of ice on the top of it on the extra-cold winter mornings in my unheated upstairs bedroom!). None of these holy elements were present in the Protestant churches I had attended for 25 years. And my soul had missed them dearly. It puts a grateful lump in my throat just to write about it five years later.

But do you want to know the most surprising item in Church that I never knew I missed and craved and needed in my spiritual life all those years away?

The kneelers.

That’s right. When I came back to the Church, I also returned to the custom of kneeling on a regular basis: Kneeling during Mass. Kneeling during Adoration. And kneeling to pray every morning before the crucifix that hangs near my prayer chair.

I missed kneeling to worship my God. When I was a lukewarm cradle Catholic, using the kneelers was an automatic response to certain words and moments in the liturgy. I put no thought into it (other than when the kneelers would slip and make an embarrassingly loud crash on the marble floor!). I took it for granted. And the Protestant church we attended had no kneelers whatsoever, so the practice simply faded away.

But, oh, my dear friends, how we need to kneel.

That thought came rushing back to me this morning as I read Laura Kelly Fanucci’s reflection in the Blessed is She Advent Journal, “In the Beginning.” She was pondering the visit of the three wise men, and their instinct to fall down and worship the infant Christ Child when at last they found him. She surmised it was an overwhelming mixture of awe and wonder and joy that compelled them to fall to their knees.

I can name several times in my life when I fell to my knees, but it was not in awe and wonder and joy. It was in desperation: When my father-in-law coded after his heart surgery. When my dad died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. When my first baby was lost to miscarriage. Those are times when we involuntarily kneel because we can no longer support ourselves and we need the arms of Jesus to hold us, lift us, carry us.

But now, in this holy season of Advent, as I consider anew the coming of the Savior of the World, I want to fall to my knees more often. In awe and wonder and joy. But also in utter thankfulness. And in surrender. When I am on my knees with my head bowed, it is a posture of humility and surrender and reminds me that this is what my Lord wants from me.

“All He wants is us—not our wealth, or achievements or status or power. Just the open gift of ourselves. We can give Him this. There is nothing to achieve this Advent. There is only ourselves to surrender. He only wants you,” says Laura in the journal. “Sink to your knees. Turn to wonder and worship. Bow your head and let your heart rest in His in joy.”

She knows it. The three wise men knew it. And after decades away, I figured it out too.

We need to kneel.

Sink to your knees–at your bedside, at Mass, during a walk in the woods–wherever!–and give yourself to your Savior this Advent. It’s the best gift you could give him.

Catholic Treasure Chest

An Advent Journal

Here’s a peek at what I plan to use as a prayer journal prompt for the upcoming Advent Season. “In the Beginning” is published by Blessed Is She, one of my favorite groups of Catholic sisters, and is written by the talented Laura Kelly Fanucci of I can hardly wait to dive in! It covers the beginnings of all four Gospels, and walks us through an Examen-like approach to read, reflect, respond, act and pray. I anticipate learning a great deal and, as the journal says, preparing my heart “for the One who is waiting to transform our lives.” There’s still time–order one for yourself today!

Praying with a Pen

The Luxury of a Look-back

One of the true advantages and joys of prayer journaling is the ability to look back through your journal pages and see how God has been at work in your life. It’s a consolation, an encouragement and an inspiration to keep moving ahead with your spiritual life! By marking your lessons and insights and realizations (I call them Holy Whispers or even Holy Moly Moments) in your prayer journal, you can easily return to them and recall how God loved you through a difficult phase. Here’s how I (and others) explain it in Praying with a Pen:

“…Don’t let my excitement over Holy Whispers and Holy Moly Moments received in prayer journaling give you the impression that I get these experiences all the time, every day and with the same constant pace that dirty laundry piles up in the laundry room. I don’t. The examples I’ve shared in this book have come to me over the course of many years. I am not a mystic or a saint or even someone who feels extra close to God all day, every day. I am a passenger on the struggle bus, just like you. I am someone who has gotten much better at being quiet and listening, thanks to prayer journaling. But I have a long way to go. In fact, most of the time when I figure out something significant, I want to shake my head and say, Duh, Mary Beth! How could you have not realized this before? And I often go days or weeks without feeling I’m making any progress at all. But that’s another reason to prayer journal and mark your “moments”—when you feel like you are going through a time of spiritual dryness, you can open your past notebooks and smile and have renewed hope and faith. You will know that you are drawing nearer, daughter of a King, one page at a time.

St. Augustine is quoted, “God loves each of us as if there was only one of us.” This means the Holy Whispers you receive will be different from my Holy Whispers, and your Holy Moly Moments will be different from my Holy Moly Moments. God will speak to you in your own language. “If I sense something from the Lord, I write that down,” says Debbie Guardino. “The more you pray, the more comfortable you are in knowing whether it’s the Lord’s voice you hear. The Lord is never speaking above my head in prayer journaling.”

You will want to track those unique-to-you whispers and moments so you will be able to appreciate your steady spiritual growth and progress. I had always known God’s hand was at work in my life, but when I began to track my spiritual growth and insights through my journal pages, I was floored. I could clearly see that grace was changing me, that prayers were indeed answered, that I felt greater peace despite any upheaval that was going on in my life at the time.

Prayer journaling will help you see what God is doing in your life, too, if you learn to mark your moments. Adriene, Jackie and Debbie have all seen the benefits of tracking and reviewing their journal entries. “It is so wonderful to look back at past entries—I can see just what God was showing me during all seasons of my life,” said Adriene. “One of the best things about journaling is it allows me to trace God’s hand of faithfulness,” Jackie said. “When I feel like God isn’t hearing me, I can go back in my journal and see where God has been faithful even though he didn’t answer my prayers like I thought they should be answered (Ha—why do we think we know better than God?).” Debbie adds, “I rely on looking back on my previous prayer journaling experiences when things are difficult: ‘You did hear me and you answered!’”

My friends–mark your prayer journaling “AHA!” moments so you can have the luxury of a look-back!


Prayer Journal Pondering

Forward in Faith

Wowza, is this world a hot mess right now.  Violence in our schools, deadly mass shootings, incredible natural disasters, government scandals and corruption—and that’s just on the national scale. Every day it seems we are faced with some new challenge in our own little worlds too: Challenges to our belief in goodness, our belief in humanity, and even our belief in a loving, ever-present God.

In one week in October, we had two deaths in our family. One was a long life well-lived, yet still came as a surprise. The other was a life sadly cut short, but was anticipated after a five-year bout with cancer.  I’m the first to admit it’s hard to make sense of it all.

In times like these I turn to an encouraging phrase that came together for me one morning in prayer journaling.  After reading the day’s gospel about Peter who tries to walk across the water to meet Jesus and then takes his eyes off Jesus and starts to sink, I wrote, Move forward in faith. Not just move forward, passing through the tragedies and the illnesses and the unfortunate events we are forced to deal with. There are millions in this world who simply move forward. The trick is moving forward in faith.  Not turning away from God, or being paralyzed by fear, or losing hope, but letting Jesus accompany us through our grief and confusion, allowing him to fight our battles with the evil one, and inviting him in to tend to our physical, emotional and spiritual needs.  Moving forward in faith means keeping our eyes on Jesus as we attempt to sort out and sift through life’s chaos. It’ the only guarantee we have against outright sinking.

Forward in Faith has helped me hand off my adult son to God this year, when the mom in me was desperately trying to hang on to my role (can anyone else relate??).  Forward in Faith has helped me leave a close-to-my-heart, part-time job behind as I make room for better things. And Forward in Faith has helped me slog through the grieving process and comfort others along the way.

I wrote this a few pages later in my prayer journal:

Jesus, you tell me: “Take courage, It is I. Do not be afraid. I am with you. I love you and you are mine.” So… Forward in Faith we will go together. Help me to be unafraid and always willing to move forward in faith with you.

Don’t try to go it alone, girlfriends. Focus on Jesus and go Forward in Faith!


Praying with a Pen

Jump Those Prayer Journaling Hurdles! Hurdle #5

Does prayer journaling sound a little too much like keeping a diary to you? Have no fear—there are important distinctions that we can make between the two. Read on…

Prayer journaling hurdle #5: I feel funny keeping a diary at my age. Does the idea of prayer journaling bring back embarrassing memories of your annoying brother finding your diary and telling the world that you had a crush on that cute boy in your class? (This may or may not have happened to me.) Well, here’s the good news: Prayer journaling is not the same as keeping a diary. Oh sure, there will be times when you will need to review your day, discuss a problem with Jesus, or try to work through a life event. And you will want to keep your journal private as you would a diary. But prayer journaling is not a litany of your daily actions, or the hilarious thing your cat did or your ongoing diet challenges (although it’s OK to pray that you will stick to your healthy eating plan—speaking from experience here!). Prayer journaling is prayer. It’s praying, but with and through a pen. It’s a time to be with God and “discuss” spiritual matters. It’s a time to converse with Jesus, give thanks, pray for others, track your spiritual progress, explore your faith, flesh out those Holy Spirit elbows you keep feeling in your ribs, reflect on Scripture and dive deeper into your relationship with God. It’s a place to record your spiritual goals and spiritual questions. It’s a place to review those sins that seem to repeat themselves and a place to feel God’s mercy for the forgiveness of those sins. It’s a way to discern your gifts and talents and how to use them to build God’s kingdom here on earth. It’s a place to document observations, personal reflections and notes on books you are studying. You can save your inspired realizations (I call them “Holy Whispers” –more on those later.) You can log your spiritual growth and the healings you have experienced. And you can simply have a conversation with the Father. Or Jesus. Or the Holy Spirit—whatever you feel like doing when you open your notebook. The possibilities are endless! It is your alone time with Jesus and your opportunity to be still and learn from Him. No annoying brothers (or cute boys) allowed.


Praying with a Pen

Jump Those Prayer Journaling Hurdles! Hurdle #4

The fourth in our series of prayer journaling hurdles is for you folks who assume you need to have writing talent in order to prayer journal—not true!

Prayer journaling hurdle #4: I hate to write; I just hate it. Don’t panic or hyperventilate over this one, my friend. Prayer journaling is a low-stress form of writing—no brown paper bags will be needed to keep you calm. Your writing is never graded, it doesn’t require those tedious footnotes that made us all despise writing term papers, and it doesn’t have to follow any particular style. It’s just you and the pen and the paper and whatever you want to write, however you want to write it. You don’t even have to write in sentences! Now that’s not something your high school English teacher would approve of, but believe me, God doesn’t care about spelling or grammar or sentence structure or the legibility of your handwriting. Neither should you. And breathe even easier, my friend: no artistic talent is necessary in prayer journaling. All those new, trendy journals that promote drawings and decorations and multi-color pens and pencils are not the point here. It says “stress-free” in this book’s subtitle, right? We’re going to keep it simple. It’s about heart-to-heart communication with God, not creating a work of art or writing a best-selling novel.




Praying with a Pen

Jump Those Prayer Journaling Hurdles! Hurdle #3

Are you ready to take on the third common objection I hear when I suggest the practice of prayer journaling? It’s probably the most popular one of all, and with good reason. It’s legitimate!

Hurdle #3: I just don’t have time—I can barely manage to brush my teeth every day. I hear ya. I recall when my first child was born and I was on maternity leave. My husband would return home from work at the end of the day and find me still in my bathrobe—I had two college degrees but I couldn’t find a way to take a shower while I was caring for my newborn. Happily (for all of us), I settled in to a routine and managed to figure out how to fit in appropriate personal hygiene. Here’s the ugly truth, girlfriend: For most of us, it’s all about priorities. And taking that first intentional step. And maybe setting your alarm a few minutes earlier, or giving up some social media time, or asking for a little help in the mornings if needed. In later chapters of my book, we go over some tips and tricks to finding the time to spend with Jesus. Prayer journaling will soon become part of your routine.

Praying with a Pen

Jump Those Prayer Journaling Hurdles! Hurdle #2

We are on to hurdle #2 of our series of 6 Prayer Journaling Hurdles we can all overcome. Take a big breath and leap into prayer journaling! You won’t regret it!

Hurdle #2: I’m afraid I’m going to mess it up somehow. You are God’s beloved child. Remember? Beloved! This is your time to just sit back and be his daughter while you journal. If you stumble and fall and stop journaling for a while, forgive yourself (He does!) and get back to it as soon as you can. No one is keeping track or tallying the score. Just the fact that you’re reading this post and have a desire to talk more to God already makes him smile. He is delighted by your effort and intention. You can’t mess it up.

(Taken from my new book, “Praying with a Pen: The Girlfriends’ Guide to Stress-Free Prayer Journaling” available October, 2017. ) 

Praying with a Pen

Jump Those Prayer Journaling Hurdles! Hurdle #1

Have you always wanted to try prayer journaling but have had reservations? Are you uncertain how to begin? You’ve come to the right place, sister! This is #1 of 6 objections/concerns I hear frequently when I discuss prayer journaling. Let’s jump these hurdles together, OK?

  1. This is just too weird. “Writing to God” could be something really foreign to you, I know. Many Catholics, especially those of us who are—(cough, cough)—middle-age, are unfamiliar with this notion of talking to God beyond using the prayers we were taught as children. During the twenty-plus years I spent away from the Catholic Church, years when I attended a Protestant church with my husband and children, I learned many wonderful things from my Christian brothers and sisters. One of those blessings was the importance of unscripted conversation with Jesus. They made it all so…simple. Uncomplicated. Personal. I had missed that lesson in my Catholic upbringing, and unfortunately, many from my era did too. Younger Catholics may find it just as challenging. Let’s face it: In a world that increasingly seems to barely recognize God, informal prayer can be challenging no matter what age we are. But through prayer journaling, informally conversing with Jesus eventually became more comfortable for me, and it will become more comfortable for you as well. After a few weeks, all of the “weirdness” will disappear, I guarantee it!

(Taken from my new book, “Praying with a Pen: The Girlfriends’ Guide to Stress-Free Prayer Journaling” available October, 2017. )