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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


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Monday, November 28, 2011

Thankful For Facebook?

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gee, Thanks

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Monday, November 21, 2011

A Best Of Week

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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

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Friendship Flowers

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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

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Thankful For....Families

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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!

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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