The Oft-Forgotten Recipient Who Should Be On Your Christmas List

As we begin, continue, or wrap up the crazy frenzy that is Christmas gift shopping, let’s not forget the people who should make it on our gift lists that we sometimes overlook.

  • Don't forget these people on your Christmas listMaybe it’s a special charity or organization that could really use your year-end donation to help keep their work going through the end of the year, when donations sometimes drop off while supporters are spending money on other things.
  • Maybe it’s a family, adult, or child unknown to you, whose needs are hanging on the tree in the narthex or listed on the adopt-a-family list at your parish.
  • Maybe it’s a neighbor or extended relative, who may be lonely, sick, elderly, or someone you aren’t typically friendly with, whose Christmas season could be brightened by your unexpected, thoughtful gift, even if small.

Who hasn’t made it on your Christmas giving list yet that you think could or should be remembered this Advent and Christmas season? How can you generously gift that person or group with a tangible present, a monetary donation, or the gift of your talent or time?

The famous prayer of St. Francis reminds us, “It is in giving that we receive.” In giving to those in need or those we sometimes forget during this season of generosity, we receive an immense amount of joy as we prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who gave us the ultimate gift—His Incarnate Self.

…And, before I forget, I’d love to wish you and your family a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving! As always, I am so grateful to each and every one of you who desires to join me in taking small steps toward a more meaningful and spiritual life.

The Marriage Leadership Challenge, Week 4: Service

guy at deskBlessed Mother Teresa said, “The fruit of love is service.” Serving our spouse requires us to give something of ourselves, usually in some sort of physical, emotional, or spiritual way, anticipating and responding to our spouse’s needs. Hopefully, we go beyond meeting basic needs in our service and exceed our spouse’s expectations in our love for him or her, by serving our spouse as we would desire to serve Christ in our midst. Most of us – at least this is the case for me – find that this is more difficult than it sounds, especially when you’re feeling tired, overworked, or spend time an inordinate amount of time mentally conjuring up different ways you’d like your spouse to be serving you.

This week, serve your spouse by:

  • Completing a task that would help them without being asked. Updating the budget, doing a home improvement chore, running an errand of his/hers – it’s not too difficult to get creative with this one.
  • Being there for him/her when you’re needed. Put aside something you’re doing and give them your time, especially when you know they could use your emotional attention and physical presence.
  • Offering your spiritual support. My friends Annie and John-Paul talk about their prayer for one another being a “spiritual sign of love” for each other. Serve your spouse spiritually by praying for them this week: say a Rosary for your spouse, offer up Mass for him or her, or start a novena for his/her intentions.

One last tip: See your seemingly monotonous duties this week (your regular work schedule, chores around the home, etc.) as real opportunities to serve your spouse by fulfilling your irreplaceable role within your marriage and family. Doing those little things with great love demonstrates to your spouse that it is a joy to serve your marriage and family in any small way.

***Don’t forget to post a note or set a reminder on your phone to serve your spouse more intentionally each day this week!***

Don’t miss the next leadership challenge and other great tips for leading a more spiritual and meaningful life. Sign up here.

Advent Reflections on the Characters of the Nativity and Their Lessons for Living

Characters of the Nativity Advent SeriesAs Christians, we are very familiar with Advent as a season of waiting, but really, our whole life is, essentially, a long season of waiting. Particularly, we wait for the last Advent—the last coming of Christ at the end of time. Every Advent gives us the opportunity to pause, and very intentionally focus on what we should be doing every day of our lives—preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ. How are we spending our time in waiting?

This Advent I want to explore more deeply the characters of the nativity, a seemingly ordinary and yet extraordinary cast of people, since there is really a lifetime’s worth of study and beauty that we can glean from diving deeper into the mystery of the great Characters of the Nativity Advent SeriesChristmas narrative through the experiences of the dynamic characters in play – Joseph and Mary, the Infant Jesus, the shepherds, the angels, the magi, and, as a whole, the Holy Family. The characters of the nativity can each teach us lessons for living our own lives in preparation for Christ’s coming this December, as well as for our own death and Christ’s coming at the end of time. Their examples of leadership and faith should inspire us as spiritual leaders of our own families, teaching us how to grow in wonder, obedience, trust, devotion, and in other transformative ways this season and all year.

Sign up here to receive these simple Advent reflections, which will be featured on the, to your inbox every week during Advent. As a special gift to you, I’ll send you a free Catholic Resource Guide with tons of helpful resources to learn and share your faith right when you sign up!

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The Marriage Leadership Challenge: Joy

hugBlessed Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, “Let anyone who comes to you go away feeling better and happier. Everyone should see goodness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile. Joy shows from the eyes. It appears when we speak and walk. It cannot be kept closed inside us. It reacts outside. Joy is very infectious.” How often do you exude this kind of joy in your own home? Would your spouse say this is the state in which he/she encounters you on a daily basis? This week, let’s take a cue from this holy woman, who wedded herself to Christ, and imitate her great joy in our own marriages.

This week, express joy in your marriage by:

  • Showing affection. Joy is often beautifully expressed in simple physical gestures – holding hands, giving an unexpected big squeeze hug, leaving love notes in lunch boxes or on bathroom mirrors. Do more of that this week.
  • Sharing an activity or hobby together. What is something you both enjoy doing that you haven’t done together in a while? This week, plan a time to do an activity or a hobby you share – go for a bike ride, cook together, see a movie, explore a new place…
  • Laughing/having a sense of humor. Don’t take yourselves too seriously this week. Reminisce together about funny stories from your past. Watch a comedy sketch together (Jim Gaffigan is a Catholic and family-friendly option!). Don’t let stress play too big of a role in your relationship this week, and laugh at yourself when little things go awry.
  • Capitalizing on a few of your spouses “favorite things:” *Cue Julie Andrew’s voice in The Sound of Music*: “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…” What are a few of your spouses favorite things? Watch their favorite movie, buy their favorite ice cream, make their favorite dinner, buy them a book they’ve been wanting…do, purchase, or make a “favorite thing” of theirs happen this week.

One last tip: Celebrate together this week! It doesn’t have to be a major occasion; celebrate something small: a little victory at work, an at-home project completed, the fact that you made it through a difficult day. Celebrating together => joy.

***Don’t forget to post a note or set a reminder on your phone to express more joy in your marriage each day this week!***

If you aren’t signed up to receive these marriage leadership tips straight to your email inbox, you can sign up for free here.

Two Lists to Help You With Your Christmas Gifting

Catholic Chirstmas Gift List Advent is fast approaching! I like to do my Christmas shopping early (I’m already done this year – score!) so that I can focus on Advent as a time of preparation for Christ’s coming and stay in a peaceful state of heart, unhindered by the shopping frenzy that can so easily distract us from the most important parts of the Advent season.

I also like to make sure I’ve got some great Catholic gifts in my present pile for my Catholic loved ones. So here are two lists that will hopefully help you with some creative, affordable, and useful Catholic gift ideas for those on your giving list…or to put on your own wish list! (Don’t forget that giving experiences, rather than strictly things, make awesome gifts for loves ones, too!)

Sign up here for both lists!


My free Catholic Resource Guide has tons of Catholic resources – books, audio, video, etc. – categorized by topic. It’s useful for year-round learning and sharing the faith, but also helpful during the Christmas gifting season because some of the resources mentioned are top-notch for the Catholic learner on your list.

By signing up for my free Catholic Resource Guide today, you’ll automatically receive my Catholic Shopper’s Christmas Gift List: 25 Affordable and Fun Ideas for men, women, and kids, which I will be sending out this Tuesday, Nov. 17, exclusively to my email subscribers. I’ve purchased many of the items on this list myself this year!

*If you have already signed up for the Free Resource Guide in the past, no need to sign up again…your Christmas list guide will come soon!* 


The Marriage Leadership Challenge: Healthy Conflict

punchIs it possible that I might be suggesting one of the most difficult challenges to marital improvement only in week two of this 4-Week Marital Leadership Challenge?! Leaders are made or broken in times of conflict. Often, when I think I am spiritually leading my family with my best foot forward, I have a conflict with my spouse that I handle in a terribly ungraceful way. Part of what drew my husband and I together was passion, and that same passion can just as easily tear us apart when we become impassioned with being right, proving a point…or being lousy at apologies and forgiveness. There are entire books dedicated to healthy conflict resolution in marriage, but this week, let’s just focus on apologies and forgiveness as a way to become a stronger marriage leader in our life.

This week, become more graceful at apologizing and forgiving with these small steps and techniques:

  • Say the words “I’m sorry.” These word really do carry significant meaning, and often just hearing them lifts a heaviness from the conflict, becoming that first crucial step toward reconciliation.
  • Do not add qualification. I regularly fight the temptation to say, “I’m sorry, but….” This week, just avoid the buts.
  • Accept responsibility. Your spouse deserves more from you. It’s pretty important to acknowledge that. Take responsibility when you inflict harm on them, no matter how serious and avoid the temptation to justify your actions by somehow blaming them for the offense (“If you had a better sense of humor, you wouldn’t have been upset by my comment”).
  • Express genuine empathy. Nothing falls flatter and escalates a conflict more than an insincere apology. Take the time to understand why your spouse was hurt by what you did or said, and put yourself in their shoes, genuinely seeking to feel their hurt so you can better express regret for being the cause of their pain. Yes, look outside yourself…marriage gives us plenty of practice in this.
  • Make up for it. Offer some form of compensation for the hurt you inflicted. This doesn’t have to be an expensive bouquet of roses or something (though I’ve never refused that gesture…), but can be as simple as a hug – if it’s wanted, of course.
  • Forgive truly and repeatedly. How easily we forget what Scripture has to say about forgiveness: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Could Jesus be any clearer? Be ready to forgive 70 x 7, knowing forgiveness brings a great deal of relief to both the offender and the offended, and forgive with your whole heart. Rather than saying, “It’s okay,” verbalize the actual words, “I forgive you”…and mean it.

One last thing: The ability to apologize and forgive well is largely dependent on your reliance on Christ’s love to help you grow in that marriage builder. Pope Francis told a group of married couples, “The love of Christ is able to sustain [the union of husband and wife] and to renew it when, humanly speaking, it becomes lost, wounded, or worn out.” Pray this week that you can better accept Christ’s love and pour that same love into your spouse’s life.

***Don’t forget to post a note or set a reminder on your phone to apologize and forgive your spouse more gracefully this week!***

If you aren’t getting these weekly challenges sent to your email inbox, you can sign up to have them sent to you each week here.

The Marriage Leadership Challenge: Affirmation

holding handsHow often do you affirm your spouse verbally? Affirmation is one small gesture that goes a long way in improving marital satisfaction and making you a leader in having a strong marriage. Mark Twain said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Sometimes the simplest compliment or encouraging word from my husband makes my day a thousand times better. I could always use a reminder to do more affirming, though. Life happens, and it can be too easy to forget to say intentionally kind things to my spouse multiple times per day. So here’s my reminder – and yours – to affirm our spouses more this week.

This week, affirm your spouse for:

  • Who they are (“You know what, honey? You are a very giving, self-sacrificial husband.” “Hey darling, I just wanted you to know that I think you are an incredibly patient mother to our children.)
  • What they do that you appreciate (“I noticed you finished the dishes for me earlier tonight. I can’t tell you how much that helped me.” “Thanks for encouraging me to have a night out with friends tonight; it was really fun.”)
  • Their strengths and positive habits (“I love how hardworking you are; your dedication to achievement at work is a great example to the kids and to me.” “I find your quickness to forgive really admirable, and it makes me want to grow in my ability to forgive more readily, too.”)
  • Their appearance (“You look handsome in that suit jacket!” “I love that pink sweater on you.”)
  • Their spirituality (“I love when you lead our family in prayer before bedtime.” “It inspires me to see you reading the Bible in your spare time.”)

One last tip: Speak well of your spouse to others – to your kids, your parents, your spouse’s parents, your friends, coworkers…whenever you have the chance to speak positively of your spouse to someone else this week, take it. Here are some reasons why speaking well of your spouse is so important.

***Don’t forget to post a note or set a reminder on your phone to affirm your spouse each day this week!***

If you aren’t getting these weekly challenges sent to your email inbox, you can sign up to have them sent to you each week here.


Searching for Peace: Downsizing, Simplifying, and Sundays as the Key to Peace

HH Meme15“Voltaire, eighteenth-century French philosopher and well-known attacker of Catholicism, once wrote, ‘If you want to kill Christianity, you must abolish Sunday.’

“Where the Sabbath rest and worship is forgotten, a weak to nonexistent practice of Christianity can almost inevitably be found. Conversely, those who take their spiritual life seriously know that Sunday is the key to personal and family peace, the lifeblood of Christian culture in the home.”

Read more from my recent article in Crisis Magazine: Sunday: The Foundation of Personal and Family Peace.

I’m still VERY much a work in progress when it comes to cultivating more peace in my life. I chatted about it with Matt Swaim on the SonRise Morning Show the other day. Can you relate to some of the discussion we had about downsizing and simplifying, and keeping Sundays a day for rest? You can listen here: SR Morning Show Oct

(WARNING: It sounds like I had three cups of coffee before I got on air that day. I don’t normally speak that quickly…see if you can keep up!)

Sign Up Today for the Marriage Leadership Challenge

HH Meme5As the Synod on the Family began in October, I realized how much I could use some easy tips – marriage and family life “hacks” – to help give me that boost I sometimes need in certain categories of my spiritual leadership.

So, I’m kicking off these new free, email-based 4-week Spiritual Leadership Challenges to grow -with you – through short hacks and quick ideas sent straight to your inbox, in living in a more focused way on our impactful roles as spiritual leaders within our marriages and families. For this premier Leadership Challenge, over the next four weeks, you will receive a few brief email reminders with simple but effective tips and strategies for strengthening your marriage. My husband and I will be joining you on this challenge also! Please pray for us, as we will be praying for you, and invite your friends to join in, too!

Sign up for the Spiritual Leadership Challenge below!

I’ll also send you very occasional emails with Catholic tips and musings I think you’ll be interested in.

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Our spouses don’t just need a breadwinner or a homemaker. They need us, as an irreplaceable husband or wife, committed to helping them become the person God created them to be.

Our kids don’t just need moms and dads, they need spiritual leaders. And they need their moms and dads to be those spiritual leaders for them.

In my recent book Head & Heart: Becoming Spiritual Leaders for Your Family, I discuss seven characteristics for becoming a stronger spiritual “head” or spiritual “heart” of your family, intending that this book will be an ideal resource in helping you (and my husband and I!) become a more intentional Catholic family man or woman at home. Whether or not you’ve read the book, though, this Marriage Leadership Challenge is a great and easy way to start more intentionally focusing (or improve your focus) on your marriage and spiritual life at home!

10 Mass Hacks for Catholic Families

Mass photoAs Catholics, we know that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, and Mass is really the pinnacle experience of Catholic culture that we engage in every week as a family.

So here are some tips for making the most of Mass as a family:

  1. Review the readings before Mass. This helps the readings “sink in” better when you hear them for the second time at Mass, and reading them ahead of time also gives you the opportunity to learn their context within the greater narrative of salvation history. Reviewing the readings before Mass is also immensely helpful if you have young children who may innocently divert family members’ attention away from the readings or Gospel during the liturgy.
  2. Sit near the front. For some, it seems counterintuitive to sit near the front of the Church, especially if you have a pew full of little ones, but being near the altar is generally immensely helpful in paying closer attention to what’s happening.
  3. If you have little ones, explain the Mass to them as it progressesFor older children and adults, learn about the Mass at home. Little children like to have the Mass narrated to them, so they can feel like they are “in the know” with what’s happening (“Now we are going to listen to stories from the Bible.” “Now you are going to go receive a blessing from the priest, while I receive Jesus in the Eucharist!”). For older children and adults, learning about the parts of the Mass and their Scriptural roots makes the celebration of the Mass even more meaningful and engaging. (Click the links for great learning resources about the Mass!)
  4. Dress for the occasion! Wearing your “Sunday best”
    signals to your family and to others how important the Mass is to you, and sets the stage for better concentration, appreciation, and behavior.
  5. Participate! Sing the hymns, pray the vocal prayers – be engaged! Show your family through your participation how you want to be at Mass, and they will more likely follow your example.
  6. State your expectations and the rewards of going to Mass. Talk to your family about how one should behave at Mass (for example: quiet voices, do not disturb others, stay in the pew…), and why you go to Mass as a family (Here are some great reasons.)
  7. Minimize distractions. This probably looks different for every family, but know what distracts you and your kids and then avoid those things! Some common distractors to all families include chewing gum, food, certain toys, or even bulletins (which are not intended to be read during Mass). My toddler has never needed toys during church (because he’s never had them offered to him), and is usually content with either nothing, or one religious book or a children’s rosary.
  8. Go to daily Mass when you can. When people ask me why my toddler behaves so well (most of the time!) during Mass on Sunday, I respond, “We go to daily Mass; he gets a lot of practice!” Making the Mass a more regular part of your family’s routine is always, always a good thing.
  9. Consider putting something in the collection basket, rather than tithing solely online, if you have kids in the pew. Have them participate by adding in a dollar (or a few) themselves. Watching you tithe is an important behavior to model for them.
  10. Take turns discussing one thing you each learned from Mass that day. You can do this on the ride home or at a meal time that day, but for all who are old enough, share your one “take-away” from either the readings, homily or other prayer time during Mass and discuss how you might use that tidbit of insight or inspiration as you go through the following week.

“It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.” -St. Padre Pio

For some awesome resources to help your family better learn and live the Catholic faith, check out this Free Catholic Resource Guide.