Open Book – March #openbook

An Open Book 800W

I’m joining with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for Open Book!  Here’s what I’ve been reading for the past month!   It’s Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent!

 

Into Glorious Light

Into Glorious Light:

Memoir of Converting from Exhausted Atheist to Joyful Christian.

by Paul Keough

Amazon Synopsis: Warning to the hate-crime police: this memoir is not politically correct. What it is, though, is a story very appropriate for Valentine’s Day. It is a story of searching for truth and falling in love with something greater than oneself, greater than humanity, greater than nature, the world and the universe. Paul quickly realized – even as an atheist – that there is no point in trying to make everyone like you. No matter what position you take, there will always be someone on the opposite side of that opinion. Given that, we might as well pursue the truth and do what we think is right, correct?

Truth reveals itself as seen here in these three strange occurrences that challenged his concept of truth:

1. How does an atheist scientist end up married with several children? Is not the world overpopulating from the totalitarian perspective? If that is true, wouldn’t having several children be irresponsible? Why would a trained doctoral scientist from a top university do such a thing? Was he not shocked when he found scientists, business leaders, doctors, scientists, engineers and other intelligent rational professionals were having more than two children?

2. How does a Wall Street analyst in New York City, often considered the center and top of the world, voluntarily leave Wall Street when there was more and more money to be made? Had he lost his marbles? What could be better than making a ton of money? But then we look around and see that most Wall Street professionals do leave Wall Street on average about four years after starting… so the fact that Paul lasted twice that time also seems unlikely.

3. Why would a nerdy science geek break up with a handsome woman who comes from wealth? As an atheist, why would it matter that she claimed to be a witch? If there was no such thing as a witch, or anything like that, why care about any label she gave herself? Except … was there trouble coming from being with a person claiming to be a witch?

My review: Paul Keough has written a compelling memoir of his journey from atheist to Catholic Christian. The eighth of twelve children, his sometimes mentally unstable (Catholic) mother and abusive non-Catholic father made his early life difficult. Often retreating to the safety of his imagination, Keough’s dysfunctional family was not unlike many families.  His religious upbringing was limited to a very brief stint at a Catholic school and CCD.  Eventually, he chose not to continue practicing any faith and, by age 16, he had embraced atheism.  The author takes us on a step-by-step journey from his childhood, college years and young adult life to his years on Wall Street, to his eventual conversion.  Recently published, this book is an ideal gift to those friends, relatives and acquaintances who may be dabbling with atheism.  Highly recommend.

 

Bakhita.jpg

Bakhita: From Slave to Saint

by Roberto Italo Zanini

Amazon Synopsis: In 1948 Aurora Marin arrives with her family at the convent of the Canossian Sisters of Schio, Italy, where Sister Bakhita has just died. Aurora was hoping to see her before she died. She gathers her children around the picture of Bakhita and tells them of the incredible life of the woman that had raised her as her nanny.

Born in a village in Sudan, kidnapped by slavers, often beaten and abused, and later sold to Federico Marin, a Venetian merchant, Bakhita then came to Italy and became the nanny servant of Federico’s daughter, Aurora, who had lost her mother at birth. She is treated as an outcast by the peasants and the other servants due to her black skin and African background, but Bakhita is kind and generous to others. Bakhita gradually comes closer to God with the help of the kind village priest, and embraces the Catholic faith.

She requests to join the order of Canossian sisters, but Marin doesn’t want to give her up as his servant, treating her almost as his property. This leads to a moving court case that raised an uproar which impacts Bakhita’s freedom and ultimate decision to become a nun. Pope John Paul II declared her a saint in the year 2000.

My review: I’m not quite finished reading this book, but I’ve been inspired by its contents, and especially the dictated entries of Saint Josephine Bakhita to one of her fellow sisters.  Her story is one of great suffering and yet she shares her horrific journey with no sense of embellishment or exaggeration.  The strength of this book is in these entries, although the story behind the story is interesting too.  Highly recommend.

PBC

Poor Banished Children by Fiorella de Maria

Amazon Synopsis: An explosion is heard off the coast of seventeenth-century England, and a woman washes up on the shore. She is barely alive and does not speak English, but she asks for a priest . . . in Latin.

She has a confession to make and a story to tell, but who is she and from where has she come?

Cast out of her superstitious, Maltese family, Warda turns to begging and stealing until she is fostered by an understanding Catholic priest who teaches her the art of healing. Her willful nature and hard-earned independence make her unfit for marriage, and so the good priest sends Warda to serve an anchorite, in the hope that his protégé will discern a religious vocation.

Such a calling Warda never has the opportunity to hear. Barbary pirates raid her village, capture her and sell her into slavery in Muslim North Africa. In the merciless land of Warda’s captivity, her wits, nerve, and self-respect are tested daily, as she struggles to survive without submitting to total and permanent enslavement. As she is slowly worn down by the brutality of her circumstances, she comes to believe that God has abandoned her and falls into despair, hatred, and a pattern of behavior which, ironically, mirrors that of her masters.

Poor Banished Children is the tale of one woman’s relentless search for freedom and redemption. The historical novel raises challenging questions about the nature of courage, free will, and ultimately salvation.

My review: This is on my To-Read shelf.

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Intimate Preparations #ValentinesDay

candlelightSmallFebruary is the month of Valentine’s Day, so below is a reprint of an article I originally wrote for Catholic Mom and Amazing Catechists years ago.

“And so I take (my wife) not for any lustful motive, but I do it in singleness of heart. Be kind enough to…bring us to old age together.” Tobit 8:7

“..Now, gird up your loins and arise…”  Jer: 1:17

Which scripture verse more accurately describes how a couple should prepare for the conjugal embrace?   Praying for a singleness of heart, without lustful motive…or girding up one’s loins for “war”?

Yet many couples prepare for intimacy by “girding up their loins:” wearing condoms, inserting diaphragms, taking a pill, putting on a patch, having an IUD inserted, undergoing an operation. It seems to me that these couples are preparing more for “war” than for the marital embrace, “protecting” themselves against unwanted pregnancy, “protecting” themselves against their spouse’s fertility.

Compare that to the couples who do not use contraceptives.  They are generous in opening their marriage to children, and when necessary, they use Natural Family Planning and abstain in the fertile time.  They’re not girding up their loins; they’re not “protecting” each other from an unwanted pregnancy.  When they give of themselves in the marital act, it is a total gift, not a partial one.

The question is: How do you prepare for intimacy?

Some might answer, “We watch porn.”  Others may say, “I make sure my diaphragm is in place,” or “We keep a packet of condoms by the bed.”

And yet…are these really appropriate ways for a couple to prepare for the most intimate act between husband and wife?

Obviously not.

So how can a couple prepare? Here is a short list of helpful ways:

1. Pray Together

Marital prayer is an ideal way to prepare for intimacy. When marital prayer is frequent, praying before relations becomes a logical extension.  The conjugal embrace is itself a prayer.  Let’s review what makes this act so holy and meaningful.  In the marital embrace, with their bodies, husband and wife renew their wedding vows.  Becoming one with our beloved spouse is the ultimate spiritual, physical and emotional experience. We become one flesh…so much so that sometimes, nine months later, we must give the representation of that oneness a name.

2. Throw Away the Contraception

No, I’m not asking couples to have as many children as possible.  But what I am saying is that for the conjugal embrace to be honest and life-giving, it must be free, total, faithful and fruitful.  Natural Family Planning allows a couple to love each other as God loves: freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully.  NFP couples chart the wife’s fertility signs and, if avoiding pregnancy, abstain in the fertile time. They are not using devices; they are giving themselves fully and they are open to children with each and every act of marital relations.  See my previous post on the Theology of the Body in a Nutshell.  For more information on NFP, check out my previous post on NFP.

3. Healthy Relationship

I know a few couples who fight constantly. These same couples brag that they have a great sex life.  Well, they may have a lot of “good feelings” but when a couple is not getting along in their day-to-day life, sex, even ‘good’ sex, is not going to fix that.  What about the husband who treats his wife in a condescending, critical manner, then expects her to be ready and willing to engage in the marital embrace…or a wife who constantly nags her husband, then wants him to be affectionate to her?  Communicate with one another; treat each other with kindness, respect and love.

4. No Pornography

Some secular marriage counselors recommend that a couple use porn to “spice up their sex life.”  Instead of “enhancing” a marital sex life, viewing sexually explicit videos has the potential of destroying a marriage. Blessed John Paul II said: “…the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.” Porn trains people to be selfish about their sexuality, not selfless. It teaches them to think about sex as something they take, not something they give. Any behavior that causes a person to be self-centered or selfish is never good for marriage. And…pornography can be highly addictive.  Mary Anne Layden, co-director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of PA’s Center for Cognitive Therapy, called porn the “most concerning thing to psychological health that I know of existing today….pornography addicts have a more difficult time recovering from their addiction than cocaine addicts, since coke users can get the drug out of their system, but pornographic images stay in the brain forever.” 

5. Single Candle Light

I enjoy romantic, candlelit dinners with my husband.  Well, why not a candlelit conjugal embrace? In the 15th century, it was common for painters to place one solitary lit candle in their paintings to symbolize the presence of Christ. If you have small children or might fall asleep too quickly afterwards, perhaps you can use an electric candle/light…or set an alarm…but be prudent. A simple, solitary light can bring more symbolism to your intimacy.  And…it can help put you both in the “mood.”

6. Focus on Your Spouse

“Intense love does not measure; it just gives.” This quote from Blessed Mother Teresa is an ideal quote for marriage. Marriage isn’t all about “me.”  It’s about “us.”  What are your spouse’s needs?  Think of his/her needs in all facets of your relationship. Intimate ‘memos’ bring a couple closer.  Notes in your spouse’s lunch, special messages left on his workbench or on her desk, daily texts are all ways to intimately connect during the day and let your spouse know you are thinking of him/her.   The important thing is to focus on the other in all things and when it comes time for the marital embrace, this selflessness will follow naturally.

7. We Can Work It Out

When you consider all the day-to-day challenges like children, work, fatigue, family bed, stress and sickness, it’s often a miracle that a couple has the time to engage in marital intimacy at all.  The spontaneity of early marriage eventually gives way to planning for intimacy.  “Family bed?”  Consider another location for the marital embrace.  Mom too tired?  Perhaps Dad can take the kids out to the park while Mom gets a well-deserved rest after dinner. Dad too stressed?  Mom can have a hot relaxing bath waiting for Dad when he arrives home.

Do you want to prepare for the holiest, most satisfying intimate experience possible?  Treat your spouse with respect, pray together, focus on your spouse, don’t use porn and be creative in finding time for intimacy.

I’ve made the Kindle edition of my book, Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship only .99 for the entire month of February. To download your copy, click here.

An Open Book February 2019 #openbook

An Open Book 800W

I’m joining with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book. Here’s what I’ve been reading for the past month:

 

place called sat

A Place Called Saturday by Mary Astor

Synopsis: In 1968, when abortion was still a matter of controversy, Mary Astor wrote this heartwarming story of Cora, who was raped by a young, unknown assailant and becomes pregnant. Go with Cora as she faces the obstacles that will affect her life, her husband’s, and that of her unborn child. (from the inside flap)

My review:  This has been on my book shelf for a while and I listed it as one of my “To Read” books several months ago.  I finally picked it up and when I did, I couldn’t stop.  It’s the late 60’s. Cora is a young married woman. She and her husband have been trying to conceive for a couple of years. One hot summer afternoon, she is raped and a few months later she discovers she is pregnant.  She realizes that the baby is likely the product of the rape, but she refuses to consider abortion, which at the time many doctors would perform in the case of rape.  This makes the relationship with her husband difficult because he doesn’t think he can raise his wife’s rapist’s child.  Cora reminds him that the child is 50% hers. The author, Mary Astor, knows the topic of abortion well because she had at least two abortions in her early career (even if an actress was married, she would be pressured into having an abortion because of career advancement).  Astor later became Catholic and sincerely regretted her abortions.  I suspect that Astor created Cora partly to repent her two abortions.  The writing is a bit stilted at times, but overall, a great read. 4.5 out of 5.

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Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship

On Sale on Kindle for only .99!

Synopsis: Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship is a celebration of faith and enduring love. This compilation contains 12 courtship/dating stories which will inspire, captivate and entertain readers. Some of the stories include: a widow with eight children meets a widower with six children; a man asks his live-in girlfriend “what if we stopped having sex,” and is greeted with tears of joy; an atheist falls in love with her Catholic Prince Charming; a woman prays to God for a husband and years later finds herself falling in love with a seminarian; a sailor prays a novena to marry the right girl. What these and all the stories illustrate is that God is the ideal matchmaker.

My review: This is a book I edited and published eight years ago with the help of my friend, Kathy.  It’s a beautiful collection of courtship stories and is only .99 on Kindle (the entire month of February.)

tears in a bottle

Tears in a Bottle by Sylvia Bambola

Synopsis: Becky Taylor, a young woman burdened by great expectations, is lying on a cold recovery table in an abortion clinic when she hears a man’s voice, then gunshots. She holds her breath and lies perfectly still behind the curtain. When the gunman is finished, Becky is the only one left alive in the clinic. This act brings together two strangers who both seek answers to life’s most wrenching questions, mainly: Are God’s love and mercy big enough for every sin? The answer transforms multiple lives.

My review: This is an excellent pro-life novel (although at least one of the antagonists is rather one-dimensional (womanizing and alcoholic) with a compelling story and believable story line, especially in 2019. The characters are generic Christian (not Catholic). I bought this book 20 years ago at a pro-life conference. I’ve read it numerous times and read it again recently. It’s surprising that this book was originally written 20 years ago. It is especially pertinent in light of the State of New York’s recent decision to allow abortion up to the moment of birth.  Disturbing, sad and enlightening, this story is a must-read for those in the pro-life movement. Highly recommend! 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship Only .99 #bargain

Come My Beloved web

To celebrate Valentine’s Day, for the entire month of February, Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship is on sale on Kindle for only .99!

Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship is a celebration of faith and enduring love. This compilation contains 12 courtship/dating stories which will inspire, captivate and entertain readers. Some of the stories include: a widow with eight children meets a widower with six children; a man asks his live-in girlfriend “what if we stopped having sex,” and is greeted with tears of joy; an atheist falls in love with her Catholic Prince Charming; a woman prays to God for a husband and years later finds herself falling in love with a seminarian; a sailor prays a novena to marry the right girl. What these and all the stories illustrate is that God is the ideal matchmaker.

Read excerpts here (scroll down to the bottom of the page).

Reviews:

Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship is a Song of Songs, a book of praise, a treasure-house of faith and romance par excellence!  This truly beautiful collection of Catholic courtship stories is a must-read for anyone discerning a vocation, especially the call to marriage; and for those courting, engaged, already married, or widowed. What a great gift to Holy Mother Church, and a powerful witness that God does make marriages in heaven.  Lisa Mladinich, author, Be An Amazing Catechist: Inspire the Faith of Children, and True Radiance, Founder, Amazing Catechists

Whether you’re courting, engaged to be married, newlyweds, or celebrating your jubilee years together, this terrific resource offers something for anyone looking to grow closer to God and to one another in a loving relationship.  Lisa Hendey, author, The Handbook for Catholic Moms,  The Grace of Yes, Founder and editor, Catholic Mom

Fabulous book that I can’t wait to recommend to all my single and married friends. You truly created a gift for this generation! Dawn Marie Roeder, author It Doesn’t End Here

Pick up a Kindle edition of Come My Beloved for only .99!

If The Morning – March for Life #uniquefromdayone

Since the March for Life is being held today in Washington, I wanted to again share the words of the pro-life song my husband wrote as a teenager. It’s called “If the Morning,” and these lyrics are also included in my novel, Emily’s Hope:

If the Morning

Words and Music by James Hrkach

If in the morning the Savior didn’t rise
Would there be sunshine in your eyes
And in the springtime if the world wasn’t new
Would love still see its way through
And do we stand only to lose it all
By standing just a little too tall

Save the baby, save the baby
Because I know he’s got the right
I know he’s got that right
Save the baby, save the baby
Because I know He’s got it right
And I know that we have got it wrong

And if the dreamer never woke to tell his tale
Would hope be born still by our hands
And if the baby never sees the light of day
Will nightmares conquer all man
And do we stand only to lose it all
By standing just a little too tall.

Save the baby, save the baby
Because I know he’s got the right
I know he’s got that right
Save the baby, save the baby
Because I know He’s got it right
And I know that we have got it wrong.

And if the baby never saw the light of day, of day, of day…

Lyrics copyright 1978 James Hrkach
Photo copyright 2011 Josh Hrkach