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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

'Tis STILL The Season

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the home page to see the newest webstrip.

Friday, December 23, 2011

On The Eleventh Day Of Gracie

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the home screen to see day 10 of the 12 Gracies of Christmas.  To see the newest one and all of the others, visit http://greetingsfromgracieland.com/


We would like to encourage you to share a family meal and Gracieland together.  Each week we will be posting some discussion starters that you can share with your family.  Share the webstrip with your kids, grab a plate, pull up a chair, and talk.

Ask your child:

Do you think Gracie did her homework?  Why or Why not?

What does it mean when you say, “it was my fault”?

Why is it so difficult to change something you have being doing for a long time?

What did you notice about the responses in Mass recently?  What is your favorite?  What is the most difficult to remember?

Do you think Gracie’s teacher is nice?  Who is your favorite teacher?  Why?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

On The Tenth Day Of Gracie

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the page to see Day 10 of the 12 Gracies of Christmas.  To see this week's new strip and all of the others, visit http://greetingsfromgracieland.com/


We would like to encourage you to share a family meal and Gracieland together.  Each week we will be posting some discussion starters that you can share with your family.  Share the webstrip with your kids, grab a plate, pull up a chair, and talk.

Ask your child:

Are Gracie and Anthony being kind to each other?  Why should they be nice to each other?

In what ways did God make you unique?

Why do you think, in that moment, Mr. Brennan is looking forward to Gracie and Anthony going to college?

What are you most looking forward to when you live on your own?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On the Ninth Day of Gracie

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the home screen to see Day Nine of the 12 Gracies of Christmas.  To see the new one from yesterday and all of the others, visit http://greetingsfromgracieland.com/


We would like to encourage you to share a family meal and Gracieland together.  Each week we will be posting some discussion starters that you can share with your family.  Share the webstrip with your kids, grab a plate, pull up a chair, and talk.

Ask your child:

What does Gracie want to do?  Do you think that is what the teacher meant?

Why does she think doing her way will get her into trouble?

What would you do?  Why?

What does she mean when she says, “sometimes its hard taking the easy way out”?  Do you agree or disagree?

What things would you like to take the easy way out of?  Why?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On The Eighth Day Of Gracie

Click on the Gracileand icon on the bottom right of the home page to see today's brand new Christmas webstrip.  It is not too late to join in the 12 Gracies of Christmas.  Simply share the strips on your Facebook page and you will receive a signed and numbered print.  You need to share all 12!


We would like to encourage you to share a family meal and Gracieland together.  Each week we will be posting some discussion starters that you can share with your family.  Share the webstrip with your kids, grab a plate, pull up a chair, and talk.

Ask your child:

Why is Gracie disappointed?

Tell me about a time when you were disappointed.

Do you think teachers sometimes play favorites?

Who would you most want to be in the Christmas pageant?

Monday, December 19, 2011

On The Seventh Day of Gracie

Click on the Gracieland icon at the bottom right of the home page to see Day 7 of the 12 Gracies of Christmas.  To see the newest and all of the others visit:  http://greetingsfromgracieland.com/
Check back here tomorrow to see a brand new Christmas Gracieland webstrip.


We would like to encourage you to share a family meal and Gracieland together.  Each week we will be posting some discussion starters that you can share with your family.  Share the webstrip with your kids, grab a plate, pull up a chair, and talk.

Ask your child:

What is Gracie’s problem?

What word is hard for you to say or to remember?

Do you get nervous before you speak to a crowd?

Why is the Brennan family embarrassed?

Tell me about a time when you were embarrassed.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

On The Sixth Day Of Gracie....

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the home page to see the 6th of the 12 Gracies of Christmas.  To see the newest one and all of the others, visit: http://greetingsfromgracieland.com/


We would like to encourage you to share a family meal and Gracieland together.  Each week we will be posting some discussion starters that you can share with your family.  Share the webstrip with your kids, grab a plate, pull up a chair, and talk.



Explain that Gracie created a new word, “peeplings.”


Ask your child:


Who are your peeps (friends)?  Why do you like them?

To whom are you peeplings? (meaning who are mom and dad’s friends)  Why do you think we like them?

Can you invent your own word like Gracie?  What would you like your new word to be about?

What does Anthony mean, we he says, “we are all God’s peeps”?

What could our family do this week to show we are God’s peeps?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

On The Fifth Day of Gracie....

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the home page to see the fifth of the 12 Gracies of Christmas.  To see the newest strip and all the others, visit:  http://greetingsfromgracieland.com/


We would like to encourage you to share a family meal and Gracieland together.  Each week we will be posting some discussion starters that you can share with your family.  Share the webstrip with your kids, grab a plate, pull up a chair, and talk.

Ask your child:

Who is your patron saint?  What do you know about him/her?

Explain that everyone can have a saint/s that they look up to and that help them understand Christ.  Explain that saints can be the “go between” for us and Jesus.  They can ask Him to help us.

How can saints be helpful to us?

What saint would you like to learn more about?

What can you say next time you lose something?

Friday, December 16, 2011

On The Fourth Day of Gracie....

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the home page to see today's 12 Gracies of Christmas webstrip.  To see the newest Gracieland from this week and all of the others go to:  http://greetingsfromgracieland.blogspot.com/



We would like to encourage you to share a family meal and Gracieland together.  Each week we will be posting some discussion starters that you can share with your family.  Share the webstrip with your kids, grab a plate, pull up a chair, and talk.

Ask your child:

Do you know what a Spiritual Work of Mercy is?

Explain that is takes many forms including: teaching others about God, giving advice, correcting people who are confused about God, forgiving others, comforting those that are hurting and praying for people.

How is Gracie’s mom trying to help others?

What can you do to help someone?  What can we do as a family?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

On The Third Day of Gracie...

Welcome to our 3rd of 12 Gracies of Christmas.  Click on the Gracieland icon at the bottom right of the page to see today's strip.  To view all of the strips, including this week's new one, go to:  http://greetingsfromgracieland.com/



We would like to encourage you to share a family meal and Gracieland together.  Each week we will be posting some discussion starters that you can share with your family.  Share the webstrip with your kids, grab a plate, pull up a chair, and talk.



Ask your child:

Why do you think your school is special?

What makes Catholic schools special?

Is it really fundraising?  Or are Gracie and Anthony being silly?

What would be a fun thing that you would like to sell?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On The Second Day Of Gracie...


Click on the Gracieland icon at the bottom right of the page to reveal the 2nd day of Gracie webstrip.  You can see this week's new one, True Colors, and all of the others at: http://greetingsfromgracieland.com/



We would like to encourage you to share a family meal and Gracieland together.  Each week we will be posting some discussion starters that you can share with your family.  Share the webstrip with your kids, grab a plate, pull up a chair, and talk.

Ask your child:

Why do you think Gracie is excited to go to Mass?

Should we be excited for Mass?  Why?

Explain to your kids that at Mass, in that special time, Jesus is very present here on earth with them.

What class would you most like to have shortened?  Why?







Tuesday, December 13, 2011

True Colors


Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the page to see this week's strip.


The 12 Gracies of Christmas starts today! Share this strip and every strip for the next 12 days on your facebook wall, and you will receive a signed and numbered Gracieland print! Please share directly from the "A Gift of Grace" facebook page.  
o read all the strips to date, Check out http://greetingsfromgracieland.com/


This week we also introduce "Tuesday Table Talk With Gracieland."

We would like to encourage you to share a family meal and Gracieland together.  Each week we will be posting some discussion starters that you can share with your family.  Share the webstrip with your kids, grab a plate, pull up a chair, and talk.

You may need to refer back to last week’s webstrip, “It Has A Good Beat And You Can Dance To It.”  Ask your child:

 Why do you think not everyone appreciated Gracie’s song? 

Do you think Gracie was being disrespectful?  Or expressing the joy of her faith?

Do you sometimes feel that adults seem to squash the fun?  Give an example of a time that this happened to you.

How would you feel if you were Gracie?

Lesson- Explain to your children that the purple candles in the Advent wreath represent penance and have a serious feel.  The pink one (which we lit on Sunday at Mass) represents joy because we are getting close to Christmas.

What do you think Gracie means by saying “I’m a pink candle girl in a purple candle world?”

Are you more of a purple candle (serious) or a pink candle (joyful) kid?  Why do you think that?

What can we do as a family this week to show our joy that Christmas is coming soon?

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Twelve Gracies of Christmas

Click on the Gracenotes link above to hear this week's podcast.  Learn about a great way for you to get involved with Gracieland and receive a signed and numbered print.

Friday, December 9, 2011


Advent is a liturgical season of hope.  Think about something you are hoping for in your own life.  The dictionary tells us that hope means we “desire with anticipation.”  Hope means it can be fun to wait.  We can plan and prepare for the time when our hopes are realized.  Kids show us this during this time of year. They anticipate that Santa will come.  They go to bed having left cookies and milk prepared for his visit. 

If I found out someone I hadn’t seen in a long time was coming to visit, I’d clean the house, prepare a special meal, and wait for the doorbell to ring.  Simply because my friend said he or she was coming. I would anticipate it.

Advent is about anticipation.

How would you feel if you really believed you were going to get this thing you are hoping for? You’d rejoice if you believed it was going to happen.  Why do you think small children are happy this time of year?  They believe their hopes will come true. 

Advent is about rejoicing.

The key to hope for me is the realization that to truly hope means you “expect to obtain” what you hope for.  Many of us say we are hoping for this or that but never realistically expect it to come true. For hope to be authentic you have to believe you will get it.  Otherwise, it is just wishful thinking.  I might wish to win the Lotto, but I don’t even play the game so I don’t hope to win.  Hope takes a stand on your part.  You have to be willing to say, “I’m banking on it.  I know this will happen.”

Advent is about expecting.

Think back to the thing you said you hoped for moments ago.  Now look at it in this advent context.

            Do you anticipate it?  Plan for it?  Prepare?
            Do you rejoice at the thought of it coming true?
            Do you fully expect to get it?  Are you willing to bank on it?

What does this all have to do with faith?  Advent gives us the time and space to hope in Christ.  It gives us time to anticipate His working in our lives. We can prepare and make plans. It allows us to be happy about it. We can say, “God works in my life and it makes me joyful.”  It allows us to bank on Him.  We can say with confidence, “Christ is in the world and in my life.”

If you are frazzled, stressed, running, baking, wrapping etc.  I dare say, you have lost your hope.  A hopeful person doesn’t sweat the small stuff.  Take the season to rejoice, be with the ones you love and look forward with hope to the days ahead.

Please enjoy this short but poignant video describing more about this holy season.




Thursday, December 8, 2011

Ask Ellen…And The Winner Is…




Thursdays are Ask Ellen days on AGOG.  I want to thank all of you who have submitted your questions to me.  I also want to encourage you to keep sending them.  If you have submitted questions, you know how easy it is.  If you haven’t, allow me to explain the process to you.  Click on the Ask Ellen tab on the left side of the home page.  That will take you to the most recent question.  On the top of the page, written in blue, is the Submit A Question tab.  Click on it and simply fill out the form.  The question will come directly to me and I will do my best to answer it.  I have a few that I received in the last few months.  But I will need many more in order to explain the things you want to understand.  It is my favorite feature of the site because it allows me to know what you want to know.  So please keep them coming.

But this month on AGOG is about you, our loyal readers.  I cannot thank you enough for your encouragement and support.  But I can offer a token of my appreciation to one lucky reader.  Anyone who submitted an Ask Ellen question this year was entered into a raffle to win AGOG merchandise.  Today, I am so pleased to announce the winner….

Kim Fetter in Pennsylvania has won a super sassy A Gift Of Grace Coffee Mug.  Kim, please send me your address and your mug should be under your tree by Christmas. 

For a chance to win our next Ask Ellen contest, submit your question today

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Are You Afraid Of Change?

Many of us have just experienced our second weekend Mass with the changes to the English translation.  Last week is was new and interesting.  But this week many people seem just plain frustrated.  The changes to the Mass have caused me to think about what change means to us.

The dictionary tells us that change is “the act or process of making things different.”  The opposite of change is “fixation and stability.”  We crave stability because it makes us feel safe.  But something that is stable is not improving.  It is simply holding its own.  It lacks personal growth.

Change is hard and it can be scary.  When we stop changing, we stop growing.

The dictionary also tells us that change can also be a “metamorphosis.”  This means a change brought about by supernatural means.  This is what happens during the Mass.  I think we should spend more time discussing this change that happens in the Mass and less time obsessing about the changes to the words we say. The Mass offers us the opportunity to really change and grow and gives us the superpower to do it….grace! That’s the change I’m talking about!

So why did they mess with the words?  The video below shows the process of how it happened.  I’d like to focus on two reasons why I agree with it.

The first is the universality of the new wording.  We all say the same things as Catholics everywhere else.  It allows us to unite more fully with our Catholic family.  This became apparent to me through the appeal of Gracieland.  Jimmy and I make the strip based on things we (or our kids) experience as Catholics.  The cool thing is that any Catholic who reads it gets it one some level, even if they haven’t been to church is years.  They get it because of the universality of being Catholic.  If I walk into a Baptist Church here in Maine and you walk into your local one, we would see two very different things. But if I go to Mass in your town or anywhere else on earth, we would be experiencing and saying the same things. The new words help us connect more fully with others.

The new words also convey a higher level of holiness.  The elevated language is meant to reflect this holiness.  At first I thought, “Oh great! The Church goes out of its way to become less relevant to the people in the pews.”  Then I thought about it.  Mass IS a holy experience, one I will never fully understand.  Nor should I. It SHOULD be above me because it is the point where heaven meets earth.  I think the language should reflect that.  We can spend life grappling with truths, studying Greek and memorizing Scripture.  And I intend to do just that.  But for one hour each weekend, I will be reminded that I will never have all the answers and understand it all.  I’m OK with that.  I am hopeful that one day it will all be revealed to me in heaven.

Until then I intend to embrace the changes to remind ME to grow.  I don’t want to stabilize.  I want to grow.  I want to welcome change.  It keeps things fresh and exciting.  Won’t you change with me?

Check out this great video below for more information on how the changes to the Mass came about.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ue4GaotluU4
 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

It's Got A Good Beat, And You Can Dance to It

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right go the page to view this week's webstrip.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ask Ellen: I Need Your Help!


Time for more questions!  I need a new stockpile for 2012.  What have you always wanted to know about Christianity?  Or Catholicism?  Or Gracieland?  Or AGOG?

No question is too silly.  Remember when I answered who I liked better: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John or John, Paul , George or Ringo?  Just send them in.  You may see your answered in 2012 on Ask Ellen.

You can submit a question through the AGOG site.  Simply click on the Ask Ellen tab.  At the top of that page, click the “Submit Your Question” tab.  It is that easy.

I will be drawing a winner from all the questions submitted and answered in 2011 in December.  One lucky person will win some lovely AGOG merchandise.

Submit yours today.  You know you want to know….

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Facebook, A Roman Road?


Our last “f” to be thankful for is a more humorous one.  I am thankful for Facebook.  It connects me to the family and friends that we focused on this month.  Surprisingly, it also connects me with my faith, our focus in the first week of November.  Here’s a list of what Facebook has given me recently:

Private messages from my flower peeps that encourage me or make me laugh or make me feel loved

A chat with a best friend from Philly that prompted a phone call to catch up on life

A picture of a friend from high school’s new baby boy.  Something I never would have known about otherwise.

A way to keep up with a friend battling cancer in Oklahoma.  It reminds me to pray for her.

A positive message every morning from another friend just to get the day started well

A status to know if my cousin led his high school football team to a win

A way to have people see my friend, Gracie and her family.

A way to have more people interact with AGOG.

An update on the Pope.

I could go on and on.  But I want to focus on the way Facebook has caused AGOG to grow.  We have used the AGOG Facebook page to introduce Gracieland to the world.  We watched it spread to more people than we could have ever imagined.  It showed me that it is a vehicle that can be used to spread a positive message.  It also showed me how many people want something positive in their lives.

This made me think of the Roman roads.  They were built to keep people under Roman control.  The idea being that the Roman army could move swiftly upon these roads to keep order throughout the Empire.  I know you are thinking, “Honestly, Ellen, what do the Roman roads have to do with Facebook?”  Hold on a second.

Paul used those same Roman roads to spread the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire.  Take a look at the places he sent letters to and note that they are all along Roman roads.  See one person, in this case Paul, used what was already there to move his positive message of Christ swiftly. 

Facebook exists.  It works.  And some people use it in a negative way.  No doubt.  But what if we were different?  What if we used it to uplift others?  To tell them about what Christ?  What if Facebook was our Roman road?

Hop on Facebook and tell us something that it has added to your life.  Maybe even tell us what AGOG does to improve your day.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ch-ch-ch-Changes

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right to see this week's webstrip.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thankful For Facebook?

Click on the Gracenotes link above to hear this week's podcast.  Are you thankful for Facebook?  Check back tomorrow for a new Gracieland.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gee, Thanks

Click on the Gracieland icon at the bottom right of the page to see this week's strip.  And Happy Thanksgiving from Gracieland.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Best Of Week

Click on the Gracenotes link above to hear one of your favorite podcasts.  Check back tomorrow for a brand new Gracieland webstrip.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ask Ellen: Do priests actually plan those inane homilies, or do they just ramble on aimlessly until their throats hurt? Dan, NJ


Ouch!  Dan, I understand your frustration about the message sometimes.  I cannot speak for all priests but the ones I respect often try to make the message relevant.  One of the things that is unique about being Catholic is that the Scriptures are set.  We all follow the same pattern.  Unlike Protestant ministers, our priests can’t choose what passage they would like to preach on any given Sunday.  They get what they get.

This provides them with the challenge of preaching on a wide variety of subjects, not just what they want to focus on.  I think sometimes we hit on an area they are comfortable with and sometimes we don’t.  I wouldn’t want to be asked to speak on a topic I wasn’t very familiar with.  Would you?

I think we should cut the priests a break.  They have a lot on their plates.  And everybody has a bad day now and then.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Who Is In Your Bouquet?


We continue the month of November focusing on the “fs” in our lives and we are thankful for them.  Last week we focused on our family with a tree as the visual aid.  This week we focus on our friends using flowers.

I thought of my friends and what they mean to me.  Then I tried to fit them into a category that would describe them in a way applicable to you.  Then I visualized a flower that served that function to help you label yours.

The first kind of friend in my life is a dandelion.  Yes, I know that it a weed.  But work with me.  These are the friends that appear at certain times of your life and serve a certain function.  In my life, these are the friends who have kids the same age as mine.  They have changed many times over the years.  I had a different circle of friends before my kids were school aged.  Now my dandelions are the parents of my kids’ friends.  I am blessed that these people have become friends for this season of my life.  I know deep down though that when my kids move on, so will we.  And they will spring up in someone else’s yard for a season.  I don’t want to weed these people out of my life.  Time will likely do that for me.  But I am blessed to have them now.

Another kind of friendship in your life are the carnations.  These are the people that fill out your bouquet.  Likely they are your friends at work or school or in your garage band.  You are together because you share a common goal.  It might be to finish a project or cover an REM song.  These friends aren’t your soulmates but you have a good time hanging out.  Carnations are easy to find.  They are pretty and hardy.  They stay this way because you probably don’t risk sharing much of yourself with them.  It keeps them from becoming too fragile.

Most of your friends are probably dandelions or carnations.  They are, in many ways, a dime a dozen.  But they bless your life anyway.   You are truly blessed you have at least one of two types of flowers: the rose and the orchid.

The orchid is the friendship that was knit together through some experience.  The orchids in my life helped me through life’s rough spots.  They walked into the hothouse when the lamps were on.  They helped walk me through the pain, confusion and hurt.  Orchids are stunning but very fragile.  If you have an orchid in your life, you have risked your inmost thoughts and feelings with this person.  If she became an orchid, it is because she stuck it out with you.  Now you have this stunning relationship that nothing can damage because you both protect each other from life’s frosts.  I am so thankful for my orchid.

The last type of friendship is lifelong.  It is a rose.  It speaks its beauty by simply being.  This is the one person who has known you forever and loves you anyway.  You have grown up together.  He or she has forgiven you too many times to count.  Mostly because you were young and stupid.  You share life’s stages together.  And you are secure in knowing that real love never ends, no matter the time or distance between you.  You know you can pick up the phone and start where last you left off.  Even if its decades.  I am blest to have roses in my life.  They bring me unspeakable joy and comfort.  The roses in my life have taught me what love is and for that I am blessed.

How about you?  Who are your dandelions and carnations?  What do you share in common with them?  What makes them special in this season of your life?

Who is your orchid?  Who stepped in when everyone else stepped out?  Who is your rose?  Meaning who never really left?  Call them and tell them thanks.  And explain how empty the bouquet of your life would be without them.  I’m calling mine now.  Is your phone ringing yet?  If not, learn to be a rose and an orchid.  If you do,  I promise your phone will ring.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gracieland: A Donut With Your Homework

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the page to see this week's webstrip.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Friendship Flowers

Click on the Gracenotes link above to hear this week's podcast.  Check back tomorrow for a new Gracieland webstrip.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ask Ellen- . Can you provide a 'top ten' list of things parents can do with children to bring their faith into their homes on a daily basis? Joanie, ME


This is a great question, Joanie.  But the only way I can answer it authentically is to tell you the things I do with my own kids.  I admit I only came up with five.  But here is a list of what I do with my own children.

1- bless your kids
2- pray with them
3- read Scripture to them
4- pray for them…and let them see
5- make faith relevant


I make the Sign of the Cross on my kids’ foreheads before they leave my presence as often as I remember.  In fact, before leaving for school, they line up to be blessed.  I do this to remind them that God is with them when I am not and to ask God to protect them in my absence.

In our house, we mix formal and informal prayer.  My kids know that we pray before we eat.  They take turn saying the prayer they both learned in preschool, “Thank you God for family, friends and food.”  Simple but sweet.  I also encourage them to actually talk to God before going to bed.  This is less formal and more conversational.  This works well if they are anxious about something.

I try to tell them the story of Scripture.  This only works if you know it yourself.  Learn it so you can teach your kids.  Then talk about the story.  This is natural for kids and they love a good story.  We are part of the Greatest Story Ever Told.  Include them in it.

The best thing you can do for your kids is to let them see you pray.  Kids know when you aren’t being authentic.  They will see through you if it is a show.  It has got to matter to you if it is going to matter to them.

Making faith relevant is difficult.  Many kids feel that faith is what you do on Sunday or when you actually go to Church.  They aren’t interested in that.  It has to be a natural part of your conversations.  This can be done while you watch the news.  I have had conversations with my kids about what they have seen others doing.  I try to explain that we do things differently in our house because we have faith.  I would love to see more resources for parents on making faith relevant.  In fact, I’ve made it my life’s work.  Stayed tuned for Gracieland.  My prayer is that it helps in this area.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Mighty Oak

This week we focus on our families and why we are thankful for them. I am not surprised that we use a tree as a visual aid when describing families. In order to get my point across, I will use my own family as an example. Here goes: I have two parents, a husband, two kids and no siblings. Because I lack in the sibling department, I will include my four cousins in my tree. As an only child, I am closer with my cousins than might be the case if you have siblings.

When I think of my tree, I think of my mom and dad as the roots. They have grounded me. They have loved me selflessly and always put me first. I am so blessed to have them in my life. I realize not everyone has a positive experience in the parenting thing. But there is good news. Most of us have two chances in the parent department: Being parented and parenting. Either way I think it is our job to give kids roots. A place that keeps them grounded.

The next part of the tree is the trunk. In my mind this is what your marriage should be. It is the thing that connects you to everyone else. Your husband or wife should provide you with the nutrients you send out to all the other parts of your tree. This nutrient is the love and intimacy you share. If it is real, it is the sap (pun intended) that keeps everyone else alive. I realize that many people have blended families these days. And I think the trunk of marriage can anchor all the different branches. Be thankful if your marriage is your trunk. If its not, pray that God either makes it that way or sends you someone who will allow your love for each other to anchor everyone else.

Next come the branches. I think this is your siblings. (in my case cousins) They are the people that experience the same growth that you did. You share the same history, the same parents, lived at the same time. Yet you grow up and shoot off in many directions. I often think about not having siblings, or branches, as my parents get older. I will assume the responsibility and grief of losing my parents alone. Then how I will long to have branches. Branches can also provide the fun for the tree. Just hang a swing. Or they can provide drama. You can fall off one and break your arm. Regardless, branches are the people in your life that help extend you to the world. Maybe its siblings, cousins or really close friends. They take you out of yourself and propel you forward. Be thankful for your branches today.

Finally, I have leaves. These are my kids. They are the point of all my personal growth. They are the result of the roots my parents gave me. They sprung out of the intimacy of my marriage and they depend on my branches for support. They remind me to get over myself and pour it all into them. When I do it well, they dance in the breeze.

This week think about your tree. Who has grounded you? Who do you share your most intimate self with? Who extends who you are to others? Who do you pour yourself into? Draw a diagram of your own tree and label the people. And each day this week, thank God for sending these people into your life. Your tree might not look a thing like mine. But you have roots, a trunk, branches and leaves. Just label them. Then give them a call and thank them.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Letter Never Sent

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the page to see this week's new webstrip.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Thankful For....Families

Click on the Gracenotes link above to hear this week's podcast. Check back tomorrow for a new Gracieland webstrip.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ask Ellen: What’s the deal with relics? Is there any Biblical basis to it? Pat, MD

I saved this question for this week as we celebrated All Saints Day .  Thanks for asking, Pat.  Relics are items that are associated with a person declared a saint by the Church.  There are different classes of relics depending on how close the object came to the person.  For instance, you may have something that touched the body of a saint or you might have a piece of cloth actually worn by the person.

I’d like to focus on the Biblical basis for the practice because I think many people will be shocked to know that it is in fact in the Bible.  Catholics get a bad rap for saints in general and this relic stuff specifically.  You can imagine my joy when I discovered the practice of keeping relics within the very pages of Scripture.  I know I am outing myself as a true geek right now.  But I really was legitimately excited when I found it.

I’ve kept you waiting long enough.  The practice is described in Acts 19:11-12.  Allow me to quote it to you:  “And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and evil spirits came out of them.”

Bingo!  There it is.  Right in the Bible that some claim to follow literally.  Please promise me something, faithful Ask Ellen reader. Don’t automatically assume that everything Catholics do is extra-Biblical.  In fact, if reading Ask Ellen has done nothing else for you, I hope it causes you to pause and question.  Dig deeper to find out why we do things as Catholics.  I think you will be surprised is most cases that the answers are both logical and Biblical.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Who Is Your Agnes?

Does Halloween have anything to with Christianity? Not much anymore, I’m afraid. But it sure did in the past. Now for me the closest Halloween came to my Catholic faith was the year I dressed as a nun for the occasion. It was quite the costume made with love by my Nana. It was identical in every way to the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters’ habits, who taught me throughout my twelve years of school. How could I not win the contest that year? Even more fun, my parents surprised me with their costumes. I knew they were going as the same kind of nun as me and a priest. Imagine my shock when my dad came down dressed as the nun and my mom the priest. What fun! So, you see in my house, faith and Halloween were intimately connected. Ok, enough joking around.

Halloween got is name, meaning “holy evening” because of the day it proceeds. All Saints Day is November 1st. It is a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics in the United States. In it, we remember all the people who have lived and in some cases died for their faith. In times gone by, Christians would dress up like their favorite saint on the night before the Holy Day. Who would you choose? Maybe Saint Francis of Assisi? Maybe Saint Joan of Arc? Or maybe you would choose some modern day soon to be saints like Blessed John Paul or Mother Teresa? What one aspect of their personality would you want reflected in your costume?

I love the tradition that my children’s school has. On All Saints Day, the third grade dresses like saints. I love to hear why they chose each one. My daughter chose Saint Agnes when she was in third grade. This surprised me because I didn’t know much about her. She also chose Agnes as her Confirmation name the year before. Through her research for this event, she learned something about Agnes that tickled her fancy. But it also provided her with someone to have on her side throughout her life. She chose Saint Agnes because she is the patroness of Rome and died a martyr’s death at a young age. My daughter had just returned from Rome and felt a connection to Agnes. I still smile when I call her by her full name and include Agnes. Of course it is usually when she is in trouble so don’t tell her that I’m smiling inside. My son has his chance next year. I let you know who he chooses.

I like the way the Church’s liturgical calendar enhances the secular one in November. We begin the month of Thanksgiving remembering those who have given us an example of faith that we should be thankful for. On November 2nd, the Church celebrates All Souls Day, in which we remember those saints who may not get the recognition of formally being declared a saint but have won the race nonetheless. This provides us with the opportunity to begin this month of thanksgiving by pausing to remember the people in our lives who have touched us and strengthened our faith. Who would you most like to imitate the faith of in your own life? A grandmother? A friend? Who will you pause to remember on this All Souls Day..today!

I think AGOG should start the month the same way the Church does. We should pick a saint and act like them. Even for just a day. We should choose one soul from our own lives and dedicate the month to paying forward what they gave us. Who do you choose? I’d love to know. Hop over to Facebook and tell us your two. Or simply comment below. I will post mine as well. Let’s see how many we can honor this month.

The month of November will be the month of Gratitude on AGOG. Each week we will focus on something we are thankful for. I encourage you to interact with each other as we count our blessings. This week we are thankful for people of faith in our lives. Tell me about yours.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Gracieland- The Power of Babble

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Monday, October 31, 2011

A Month of Gratitude

Click the Gracenotes link above to hear this week's podcast. And check back tomorrow for a new Gracieland.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ask Ellen- What is the apocrypha? -Cindy, NC

Great question, Cindy. Thanks. The Apocrypha is a name given by some to the seven books that have been removed from Protestant Bibles. Catholics do not call these books the Apocrypha because they are part of our Bible. The books are: Sirach, Tobit, Wisdom, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and Baruch, as well as longer versions of Daniel and Esther

To put it in the simplest terms I can, Luther and many after him rejected these books based on the fact that they were not part of the Hebrew Canon at the time of the Reformation. Most Protestant Bibles do not contain these seven books or have them in section in the back known to them as The Apocrypha.

The Catholic Bible accepts the books for two reasons. Firstly, the Jewish Canon was not fixed in Jesus’ time. Therefore, we cannot be completely sure which books were included. But more importantly, the first Christians, including Paul, used the Septuagint to preach to the Greek-speaking world. This version contained these seven books. Jesus Himself actually quoted Scripture from the Septuagint. When the Catholic Church developed its canon it used the Greek translation of the Septuagint that the Apostles and early Church Fathers used which included these books.

If you’d like to learn more about this, I recommend the following article: http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0120.html

Oh and one more thing that bugs Ask Ellen….If you throw out Maccabees, how do you explain Hanukkah? It seriously perplexes me.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

When Life Throws A Curve

I plan the AGOG weeks about a month out. I must admit a month ago I hoped that this would be a week dedicated to talking about my favorite team, the Philadelphia Phillies, in the World Series. As many of you know this is not the case. The Phillies were eliminated weeks ago. If you do not follow baseball, this might mean nothing to you. If you do know something about baseball, you probably know that the Phillies had the best record in baseball and were the favorites of many to win it all. But, if you are a Phillies fan, you might have known better than the experts.

As a lifelong Phillies fan, I have grown accustomed to disappointment. For most of my life, the Phils simply stunk. This has not been the case in recent history. Yet, almost all of the time, they fall short. This year was no exception.

Those closest to me were very concerned the days following the Phillies elimination. In past years this has not been pretty. There has been some whining and moping in my house. One friend asked before the last game, “If this doesn’t go your way, how bad is it going to be?” Another texted the morning after the loss, “How long of a mourning period?” So, you get the picture. But this year I refused to allow it. I knew I had to answer to you and I knew there had to be some moral lesson in it for Ask Ellen herself and for you, my gentle reader. But what was it? Obviously, we could discuss the fact that often when we are picked to win it, we fall short. Just look at Moses. He was certainly on top of his game. He led the whining Israelites faithfully for years. He lost his temper, struck the rock and boom…he was out. I see the similarities with the Phillies. They kept winning and winning until they couldn’t. In fact, they couldn’t even score one run to save themselves in the end. That happens. We all have bad days and blow a sure thing.

But I think the bigger lesson for me and maybe for you if you are a Phillies fan or have been through seasons of disappointment of any kind, is what to do with it. Let’s look at those same Israelites that Moses led. They suffered some disappointments. Wandering around in circles for forty years and not reaching the Promised Land sounds like it to me. What was their attitude? They grumbled, complained and whined. They looked down their noses on the things God gave them like manna and quail and shoes that never wore out. In short, their attitudes were in desperate need of adjustment.

Now I am not comparing the Phillies plot to the Israelites. Well, maybe I am. I do so tongue in cheek. But I think it holds a life lesson for any disappointments we experience. I admit it would be great if my biggest disappointment in life was Ryan Howard striking out. But it isn’t and there are far many worse ones to come. Yet, the lesson remains the same. There are no guarantees in life, even when you have the best record. Disappointments and tragedies happen. And we have a choice on how we deal with them. We can bitch and moan or we can dig deep and try to learn something. We can become stronger. We can help others who are going through the same thing. We can do what out mothers told us and “offer it up.” Sounds silly and trite but it is actually quite profound. We can simply say, “God, this didn’t go my way, but thanks anyway.”

I am very aware that is this much easier done over baseball than real life. But I hope you see my point. As for me, here’s what I plan to do about my beloved Phils: I will wander another forty years (God willing), cheering and being disappointed. Hoping every once in awhile for that sweet win. After all, they are sweeter when they are few and far between. And if you are looking for me in March, I will be at Spring Training because I’m not about to give up on my boys. Are you with me?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Gracieland Tuesday: We Will Be #1

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the page to reveal this week's webstrip.

Monday, October 24, 2011

World Series Week

Click on the Gracenotes link above to hear this week's podcast. Check back tomorrow for a new Gracieland webstrip.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ask Ellen: What is your favorite Christian song currently? Hope, ME

This is very difficult for me to answer. I love music and try to surround myself with it. I go through phases where I listen to one song over and over and then other times when I don’t listen to the song for months.

At this moment, I would say my favorite is “How Beautiful” by Twila Paris.

Cut and paste this link to hear the song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJfSp_rceFs

The song came to my attention last year at a presentation at my daughter’s school. A family friend who is a Sister Servant of the Immaculate Heart of Mary came to school to do a presentation on vocations and in particular her order. She shared a video with this song in the background. The video was of Sisters taking care of fellow nuns who were old and infirm. The song showed how beautiful this was. They were taking care of their own. What made it more powerful for me is that these were the Sisters who educated me. I couldn’t help but think that some of those nuns that required care were Sisters who taught me. It comforted me to know that they were being cared for with such love and compassion.

That is what we are called to as the Body of Christ. We must be willing to pay the price. We need to have humble hearts that give.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Where Is Our Sense Of Belonging?

Fall is my favorite season of the year. I love the colors of the trees, the crisp nights with extra blankets and wearing my fuzzy sweaters again. We can learn a great deal about what Fall can mean by looking at the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. If you participated in our Book Club, you will remember that Jacobs built a booth in his living room and lived in for seven days. He was observing this Feast. The Book of Leviticus commanded the Jewish people to build booths made of palm branches and dwell in them for seven days. It was meant to remind them of God’s protection of them during their forty years wandering in the desert.

You may be thinking, “Great, Ellen, thanks for the ancient Religion lesson, but what does it have to do with me? I think this Feast can teach us three important lessons. The first is to use the cycles of nature to bring us closer to God. Secondly, it can teach us to look forward while we look back . Finally, it can help us renew our sense of belonging. Admit it, that is way deeper than a fuzzy sweater.

This Feast used the cycle of nature to bring people closer to God. At the end of their agricultural year, the Jews would gather the grapes. As a wine lover, this excites me. It is also called the Feast of Ingathering. To ingather is to bring together, to pick. Our culture does not ingather well. We like it on Facebook or tweet it and forget about it. This feast calls for us to intentionally pick what we choose to spend our time on. This week I’d like you to think about who you ingather and why? What changes could you make to let people know that you intentionally choose them?

The feast taught the Jews to look forward while looking back. At the “turn” of the year, or in our case when the leaves “turn” they were called to build tents and pause. The modest tents were to remind them of their humble past. They set aside a week to remember. They took the time to thank God for the harvest He provided. This was a reason for hope. As they examined God’s faithfulness in their lives, they remembered that He would continue to act on their behalf. Sometimes we need to look back to see where we are headed. This week pause and examine the ways God has moved in your life. It is in looking back that we see where we are headed.

This feast was communal. Everyone gathered the grapes. Entire neighborhoods were filled with these tents in yards and gardens and even on roofs. Water was poured down the Temple steps to symbolize the Jewish faith reaching out to the world. They took care of the poor among them, helping to make tents for them. They shared meals, prayer, singing and dancing. This renewed their sense of belonging.

We live in a world in desperate need of belonging. The more we connect digitally, the less we are ingathered. Fall and the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles gives us a reason to pause and reconnect. Choose some or all of the following suggestions and try to put them into practice during the Autumn season. If you do, I promise you will feel more connected to God, to yourself and those you pick.

1-Use nature to bring you closer to God
2-Gather in those you love and are most thankful for
3-Take a humble look at your past and God’s faithfulness in it
4-Define your hopes for what the next seasons will bring
5-Help the needy around you

Any or all of these will renew your sense of belonging as it did for the Israelites many years ago.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tuesdays In Gracieland

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the page to reveal this week's webstrip, Lost And Found.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fall Week

Welcome to another week at A Gift of Grace. This week we talk about Fall. Click on the Gracenotes link above to hear this week's podcast.

Friday, October 14, 2011

"Best Of Weeks" Continues...with a Q and A with the Co-Authers of Gracieland

Today, we post a Q and A explaining the origins of Gracieland with creators Ellen Toole Austin and Jimmy Gownley

Q: What inspired the creation of Gracieland?

Ellen: Jimmy was helping me create the AGOG website and my Mother-in-law suggested that we combine our talents and create something for Catholic kids.

Jimmy: I remember very clearly getting the call from Ellen. My favorite moment was when she suggested we do a "comic type thing." It was hilarious, because she couldn't QUITE bring herself to say "comic strip" or "comic book.

Ellen: Since most of my memories from high school involve Jimmy rambling on about things like Cerebus and Zot, I choked on my own words when I suggested the idea.

Jimmy: Which was mild really considering my first reaction to her suggesting it was to have an aneurysm. But once we both got used to the idea, it started to sound like fun.

Ellen: It is difficult for me to believe that less than a year later, I have a Scott McCloud book on my nightstand.

Q: How did you go about the actual work of developing the idea?

Jimmy: The first step was to create the characters. Obviously, this is the most important part of creating a new property, because people need to love the characters. But it can also be the most fun. One of the weird things about this particular project is that it was accomplished almost completely on Skype or over the phone as we live like five states away from each other.

Ellen: This was a totally new experience for me. This stuff is second nature to Jimmy. What struck me was how easy it was for me to catch up. The characters quickly took on lives of their own.

Jimmy: Actually, that was very surprising. Comics are an odd medium, and collaboration is always tricky. But it was unbelievably smooth, really. My main concern was to make sure that Gracie was not just a Catholic school version of Amelia McBride. I think we accomplished that. Gracie feels very much like her own person to me.

Ellen: Gracie was the focus from the beginning and she is very much her own person. I thought it was neat to see Anthony develop in the background only to emerge in his own way through Gracie's story.

Q: So tell us about these characters. What can we expect from them?

Ellen: Gracie is a free spirited second grader who gets into trouble quite a bit. Yet she has a sweet side and always wants to do the right thing. Plus I love the glimmer in her eye.
oh, and the band-aid

Jimmy: For me, the neat thing about Gracie, and the main difference between her and Amelia is that Gracie isn't quite as... ahead of the curve let's say... as Amelia is. But my favorite character might be her brother Anthony. Most of my characters tend to be boisterous eccentrics, and I love that he's a much more gentle and mild little boy.For me, the neat thing about Gracie, and the main difference between her and Amelia is that Gracie isn't quite as... ahead of the curve let's say... as Amelia is.

Ellen: Anthony is so sweet. As the mother of a son, he stole my heart but mostly because he loves baseball. Since the series will encompass the whole family and some of Anthony and Gracie's friends, I think that most people will find a character they relate to, both kids and adults.

Jimmy: Plus there's a dog, Donut. I resisted doing a "funny animal" for my whole career, but the thing I like drawing best in Gracieland is her dog, Donut. That's the type of thing that can only come out of collaboration... something that pushes you outside of the comfort zone of what you would normally do.

Q: Can you tell us about how a Gracieland strip is created?

Jimmy: Sure. The first thing we did was to just brainstorm a list of Catholic School things. We decided we really want to focus on that aspect a lot in the webstrip. Once we had the list, we whittled it down to the ones we thought would be the most fun to work on, and which would give us a chance to show off all of our characters. Then we would just take a topic and start looking at it through they eyes of these characters. Tossing scenarios and dialog back and forth between Ellen and myself. The whole time we're doing this, I'm doing sketches and taking notes. By the end of that process, we have a fully scripted and roughly sketched comic strip which I then take and do the finished art for.

Ellen: We are also working on a series of Gracieland books but publishing can be a slow process. We wanted to find a way to get the characters out quickly so we thought of the webstrip. People can follow Gracieland on agiftofgrace.net while they wait for the next book to be published.

Question: When will people be able to meet Gracie and her friends, and how often will new strips be published?

Jimmy: There will be a new one every Tueday after that.