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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Ask Ellen: How Do Two People Write One Comic Strip? Hannah

Jimmy: How did I get roped in to this? “It's Ask Ellen” not “Ask Ellen AND Jimmy”

Ellen: Well Ellen doesn't do Gracieland by herself, does she?

Jimmy: Not yet.

Ellen:That won't go well, because I can't draw. ANYWAY... in answer to the question...

Jimmy: Well, it's generally started on Skype (Ellen lives in Maine, and I'm in Pennsylvania). Ellen brings a list of possible topics that might make good Gracie ideas. Some are specifically Catholic, some are based on the characters' personalities, and some are just funny ideas.

Ellen: Jimmy ignores at least half of my list, and then focuses on the one or two that interest him. Usually it's the one idea I'm least comfortable with and I end up spending the rest of the week worried about it. I think he does it on purpose! Which now that I think about it, kind of offends me.

Jimmy: Well, if I worried about offending you, we'd still be on the first strip.

(Long Pause)

Ellen: Ahem. ANYWAY... Once we select the topic we want to work on. We play out various scenarios, keeping in mind the personality of the characters.

Jimmy: Right. And we also try to be mindful of which character we've used lately and try to make sure that the whole family gets rotated in and out of the various strips.

Ellen: Once we decide on the structure, we work on the dialogue, which we usually come up with by roleplaying the different characters. Then Jimmy gets his homework (drawing the strip) which he submits to me for approval.

Jimmy: Oh brother!!!! Let's just say I draw the strip, ok? I use blue pencil for the underdrawing, and then ink it with a Windsor & Newton #0 watercolor brush and india ink. That artwork is scanned into Photoshop which I use for coloring. While I'm doing all of this, Ellen takes a nap.

Ellen: My favorite part! When I wake up there are a series of photos Jimmy texted to me showing the artwork in various stages of completion.

Jimmy: Then once the artwork is colored, I upload it to the various places on the internet.

Ellen: And I go off and write the Table Talk Questions.

Jimmy: Easy Peasy.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Talking Donkey..Yes, We WIll Go With That

We are moving from the Book of Exodus to the Book of Numbers now.  This week we meet the Talking Ass.  Most times when I post these things, I feel like one.  But let’s just focus on the Biblical character.  It can be found in Numbers 22:22-35.  Take some time to read it now.  It makes a great story!

In this section of Numbers, we see that God can truly use anyone, even an ass.  This is very good news for me.  How about you?

In the story we see some people (namely Balaam) can be closed off to God.  They can’t see what is directly in front of them.  But the ass saw and responded.  That is really all God asks of us.

So, then what gets in our way?  The donkey wasn’t hung up on being an ass.  She got over it and stood up to her master.  Often times, we do not.  We don’t because we feel like an ass, we feel inferior.  That is the issue the donkey didn’t have but we do.

The dictionary describes being inferior as “of low rank, of poor quality, of little or less importance, value or merit; situated below another, second-class, second-rate, average, common, defective, inadequate, insufficient.”

The donkey in this story was certainly situated below another, yet she didn’t allow that to define her.  Too many of us allow our feelings of inadequacy take us out of the game.

God says in Numbers 22:33, “I would have killed you; her I would have spared.”  The donkey, the second-class animal, was the savior in this story.

This really hits home with me, given what I’ve chosen to do.  When I write about Scripture or give presentations, I often think of my friend, the Talking Ass.  I think it represents what God seeks to do through me and you.  I am certainly inadequate to deliver His message.  Yet, if it needs to be said, I hope I can be used to do it.

This week think of the ways you feel inferior and remember the Talking Ass.  Remember God can use anyone.  It is often in our weaknesses where we find Him.  Open your mouth and let God use you.  You won’t be an ass, you will be something greater than you ever thought you’d be.

Ask yourself:

Do I allow my inadequacies define me?

Do I feel inferior to others?

Do I allow God to use me, even in my areas of weakness?

What can I do today to show that I am not inferior

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

She's No Walk In The Park

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the home page to see this week's webstrip.  To see all of the strips, please visit:

Tuesday Table Talk

Ask your child:

What things worry Lily?

What is your favorite thing to do on a playground?

Why does Gracie say, "see you in August?"

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ask Ellen: Why do nuns take vows of poverty when priests do not?

Ask Ellen: Why do nuns take vows of poverty when priests do not? Adrian

Thank you for another excellent question, Adrian. Most nuns belong to orders.  The orders decide which vows the sisters profess and many include the vow of poverty.

I assume the priests you are referring to are diocesan parish priests.  Many of our parish priests do not belong to any particular order. This is not to say they can’t and some do.  Priests that are not part of a particular order are not required to profess the vow poverty.

However, many priests belong to orders that do include a vow of poverty.  The Jesuits and Franciscans leap to my mind.  These orders (and many others) take a vow of poverty.

To answer your question, each order of nuns and priests determine the vows they profess and often poverty is among them.  A parish priest who is not part of any order is not required to take a vow of poverty.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Brothers And Sisters

Last week we met Moses’ wife Zipporah, the outsider.  This week she will be mentioned again.  Now we turn our sights to Moses’ sister, Miriam.  She and Moses’ brother Aaron are becoming jealous of Moses.  In fact, they accuse Moses of marrying an outsider. (But, we already knew that.)

“While they were in Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses on the pretext of the marriage he contracted with a Cushite woman.”  Exodus 12:1  The footnote is my Bible says the term Cushite might have been used to mean a “despised foreigner.”  See last week.

We learned last week that although Zipporah was not Hebrew, she was the one responsible for bringing her son into God’s covenant family.  Now Miriam is using Zipporah’s outsider status against her.

Let’s look at Miriam’s issue.  Sibling rivalry.  I can honestly say this is the one issue we will discuss that I don’t have.  Lest you think I am being holier than thou, I am an only child.  It is genetically impossible for me to have this issue.  Thankfully I can get a pass on this one.

Rivalry is described in the dictionary as “one of two or more striving to reach or obtain something that only one can possess.  Equal, match, competitor.”

Often times with sibling rivalry the children are competing for their parents love, time or attention.  The same holds true for Miriam.  She is jealous of Moses’ favored position with God.

“They complained, ‘Is it through Moses alone that the Lord speaks?  Does he not speak through us also?’”  Exodus 12:2

Miriam’s response angers God.  Look at how God describes Moses in Exodus 12:3 and 8b.  “Now, Moses himself was by far the meekest man on the face of the earth.  …face to face I speak to him, plainly and not in riddles.  The presence of the Lord he beholds.  Why, then, did you not fear to speak against my servant Moses?”

Miriam gets leprosy as a result of her jealousy.  Moses begs the Lord to heal Miriam in Exodus 12:13.  “Then Moses cried to the Lord, ‘Please, not this!  Pray, heal her.’”    This is probably evidence as to why God chose Moses over Aaron and Miriam.

Sibling rivalry boils down to jealousy.  We can learn two important things from Miriam about sibling rivalry.  The first is when children are jealous of each other and compete, it hurts the parents they are competing over.  Miriam wanted God’s attention, yet she hurt God by picking on Moses.

The second thing Miriam shows is that jealousy eats away at us.  This is symbolized in her leprosy.  When we allow jealousy in, it consumes us.  Miriam was sent away from the camp because she was unclean.  Our jealouys leads us away from others unless we deal with it.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Am I jealous of my brothers and sisters?

Do I compete with them?

Do I try to outdo them?

Has my sibling rivalry hurt my parents?

What can I do today to show my siblings that I love them?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What About Room Service?

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the page to see this week's strip. To see all of the strips, please visit: Tuesday Table Talk Ask your child: Does Gracie like breakfast? How can you tell? What is your favorite breakfast food? What do you think heaven is like?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Brothers And Sisters

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

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Standing Outside

Have you ever even heard of Zipporah?  Oh, come on this is for a gold star in Bible trivia!  She is Moses’ wife.  Let’s take some time to get to know her.  Look at Exodus 4:18-20.

“After this Moses returned to his father-in-law Jethro and said to him, ‘Let me go back, please, to my kinsmen in Egypt, to see whether they are still living.’  Jethro replied, ‘Go in peace.’  In Midian the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go back to Egypt, for all the men who sought your life are dead.’  So Moses took his wife and sons, and started back to the land of Egypt, with them riding an ass.  The staff of God he carried with him.”

What do we know so far about Zipporah?  She is the daughter of Jethro, who is not a Hebrew.  We know this because Moses is in Midian.  He fled there from Egypt after murdering an Egyptian.

Zipporah’s issue is that she is an outsider.

The dictionary describes an outsider as a “person who doesn’t belong to your group, someone not expected to win, an outcast.”

Zipporah was not part of God’s covenant family.

Let’s look at what she does.  Read Exodus 4:24-26.

“On the journey, at a place where they spent the night, the Lord came upon Moses and would have killed him.  But Zipporah took a piece of flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and, touching his person, she said, ‘You are a spouse of blood to me.’”

Remember that in Genesis God commanded the Hebrew people to circumcise their sons as a sign of their covenant with God.  Here we see Moses about to lead the Hebrew people and he has failed to mark his son for God.  The footnote in my Bible explains God is angry at Moses for failing to obey the command given in Genesis 17.  God spares Moses when Zipporah (who had nothing to do with the covenant) circumcises her son.

Even though Zipporah was not part of the Hebrew culture, she was instrumental in saving Moses.  She is the one who brought her son into God’s covenant family.

This begs the question, how do you treat outsiders?  In this case, an outsider, Zipporah was instrumental in God’s plan.  When we exclude people, we risk shutting off all that they offer us, which can be valuable.

People of faith are often most guilty of excluding people who don’t share the same beliefs.  Are you among these?  Do you shelter yourself from people who think differently than you?  Why?  What are you afraid of?

Ask yourself:

Do I include outsiders in my life?

Do I surround myself with people who think like me?  Or do I enjoy people who challenge my way of thinking?

Do I associate with people of other faiths?  Or do I judge them?

Where do I feel like an outsider?  Why?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ask Ellen: Can a woman who was married but widowed become a nun? Adrian

Thank you for your question, Adrian.  To answer it in its most general sense, yes.  A woman who is widowed is freed from the covenant of marriage.  That means she is able to enter into another covenant either through marriage or entering the convent.

My daughter's teacher is in the process of becoming a sister.  She has grown children and has made the decision to spend the rest of her life as a sister.  It is such a unique and exciting thing for my daughter to see.

I need to add that the final decision on whether a widowed woman could become a nun would belong to the order she sought to join.  A person who is contemplating a vocation to the religious should spend much time in prayer discerning God's will for her life.  I would recommend that she speak to a trusted spiritual advisor.  I would also introduce her to Saint Rita Cassia.  She can inspire and intercede for women who find themselves in the same position that Saint Rita did.  Here is a link for more information on her:

Sisters do such great work.  The Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary educated me through twelve years of school.  Their impact on my life is significant.  It is my prayer that more women, no matter what their circumstances in life, open themselves to the call to the religious life.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tis Like A Morn In Spring

Click on the Gracieland icon on the lower right of the home page to see this week's webstrip celebrating Saint Patrick's Day.

Tuesday Table Talk

Ask your child:

Why does Anthony not want to say how is family celebrates St. Patrick Day?

What is fun about St.Patrick’s Day?

What St. Patrick's Day traditions does our family have? What tradition would you like to start this year?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Zipporah Who?

Click on the Gracenotes tab at the top of the page to hear this week's podcast. We meet Zipporah and discuss what its like to an outsider. Check back tomorrow for a new Greetings From Gracieland celebrating St. Patrick's Day.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ask Ellen Needs Your Help

I need your questions!  What have you always wanted to know about Catholicism or Scripture?  Is there something you'd like to know about Gracieland or the process we use to make it?  No questions should go unanswered.

Send me a question today.  Go to the Ask Ellen tab on the left side of the page.  At the top of the Ask Ellen page there is a "Submit A Question" tab in blue at the top of the page.  Click on it and fill out the form.

Thanks in advance for your help.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What Stands In Your Way?

We have concluded our quick trip through the Book of Genesis.  Let’s review the people we met and the issue we addressed: Eve/doubt, Noah/moderation, Abraham/faith, Sarah/humor, Isaac and Rebekah/loyalty, Jacob/deceit, Leah/rejection, Rachel/perfection and Joseph/promotion.

This week we move on to the Book of Exodus and we meet Moses.  Most of us know the Moses that Charlton Heston brought to life.  This week we will look at another side of Moses.

In Exodus 3 we learned that God called Moses through a burning bush.  God tells Moses he is to lead the people out of slavery in Egypt.  In chapter 4 God confirms Moses’ mission by changing his staff into a serpent.

I want to focus on Exodus 4.  Moses is worried because he has a speech problem.  That is Moses’ issue, his impediment.

The dictionary describes impediments as “something that interferes or slows the progression of; drags, embarrass, hinder, hold back, an obstacle, stumbling block.”

Moses’ stumbling block was his speech.  Let’s look at how God responds.  Look at Exodus 4:11.  God makes it clear that He knows Moses’ impediments.  In verse 12, God assures Moses that He will help him.

Moses continues to argue.  God relents and agrees to send Moses’ brother, Aaron as his spokesman.  Moses goes on to be an effective leader and delivers the people from slavery in Egypt.  Moses overcame his impediment.

We are called to do the same.  We must recognize that God knows our obstacles even better than we do.  He asks us to trust Him and allow Him to use us anyway.  When we do, we are effective.

Ask yourself the following questions:

What things do I allow to interfere with my life?

What is dragging me down?

What parts of myself am I embarrassed by?

Do I obsess on my shortcomings?

How can I use this season of Lent to offer my obstacles up to God?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Throw It Back To Tomorrow

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

Tuesday Table Talk

Explain to children that an existential crisis is one where you question who you are and why you are here.

Ask your child:

What important season does Father think Anthony is talking about?  What things does Anthony say that makes him think this?

What season was Anthony talking about?  How do those same things apply to it?

Monday, March 5, 2012

What Is Your Problem?

Click on the Gracenotes link above to hear this week's podcast about Moses and his issue. Check back tomorrow for a new Greetings from Gracieland webstrip.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ask Ellen: Why do we say “Thanks Be To God” at the end of Mass? Should we really be that happy that Mass is over? Madison, GA

Thanks for your question, Madison.  It does sound like we are happy that Mass is over.  However, we are really thanking God for the opportunity to attend Mass and to be able to bring the blessings Mass gives us to others throughout the week.

Sometimes the responses we use at Mass can seem confusing at first.  If we take the time to think about them and study their meaning we will see how relevant each one is.  “Thanks be to God” is no exception.

This week when the priest announces that Mass has ended, let’s all respond with a joyous “Thanks be to God.”  Then we will take that joy to others in a hurting world.