Why Prayers to the Queen Are the Will of God

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Why is it that it takes me so many hours to finally come to rest my burdens on Jesus after a long day?

If you’re a stay-at-home parent, you know how much can happen from the time you and the kids wake up, until the time (Praise the Lord) your kids go down for a nap, if you’re still being graced with one of those glorious break times. By the time I come around to relaxing and praying a rosary, I find myself completely exhausted on all aspects, especially spiritually. Today, instead of focusing on my prayers and glorifying the Lord, I’m distracted by my regrets of the day so far. Why did I once again turn to food to “help” with my stress? Why did I have to spend so much time disciplining my toddler while my 5 month old cried her sweet little self to sleep? Why didn’t I pry my eyes off my stupid phone so I could instead be truly present with my kids? Why did I waste precious moments on dreaming of a newer home or going shopping for new things to burn off some steam? And now why, God, why didn’t I come to you in those very first moments of weakness???

God is here. God was there. He’s been waiting for me. HE’S been waiting for ME! Little, helpless, feeling like a failure, me. He was there with His hand on my shoulder, while I explained to my daughter why we must share with our friends, and He was there comforting my youngest as she fell asleep. He was the little reminder in my head that pizza and chocolate won’t actually make me feel any better about myself, but rather will do just the opposite. He was bringing beautiful smiles to my girls’ faces as I stared away blankly at that God-forsaken mobile device. He was ripping my mind away from criticizing our home and veering my eyes toward the pictures of our happy daughters on the wall. And when I finally got that peace and quiet and gave myself up to a moment in genuine prayer, He revealed His love for me once again. Though I will never deserve it, He took away these burdens and He offered me His mercy, just as He does every single day.

We are urged to “pray without ceasing, to give thanks to God in all circumstances” (1 Thes 5:17-18). This is what God is calling us to do. This is the way to love your day. It’s truly the only way to to feel that you’ve done God’s will throughout your day. He is there in our everyday moments, no matter how pitiful we feel they may be. He is calling us to find peace. He wants us to do the right thing, resulting in a greater love toward Him. He wants to pour out His graces upon us. That can only happen if we let God in. He was there waiting for me to let Him in, but I kept running away. It was His own mother, the Queen of Peace, who stopped me in my tracks and sent my thoughts to her Divine Son. This is how I know any prayers to Mary will only bring you closer to God.

As a mother, I’ve always had a special devotion to Mary. I feel it’s easier for me to relate to her, as she was also human, though an incredible one. She is the perfect example for motherhood. She is the perfect example of trust in the Lord. She has the closest relationship of anyone with Jesus Christ. She is also our Mother. And what does our Mother want more than anything? For her children to join her and her Son in heaven. She loves us and she wants nothing more than to bring us closer to God. She wants no glory for herself, but only for God. And God loves her. He loves her so much that He provided her the grace to always say “yes” to Him. He loves her so much that He entrusted His only begotten Son to her care. He loves her so much that He brought her, body and soul, to Heaven. And He loves her so much that He affords her opportunity to dish out her grace upon us, the rest of His children. That’s why I pray the rosary. That’s why I ask for her intercession. And that’s why you should too.

Blessed Mother, Queen of Peace, Pray for us!

Lord God, Our Father, Have Mercy on us!

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Advent and Kids: 10 Inexpensive Ways to Instill the True Meaning

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We are already about 1 week into Advent, and here I am finally trying to find fun and spiritual things to do with my kids to help them grow up knowing that Christmas is truly about the birth of Dear Lord Baby Jesus instead of Elsa the Ice Queen, candy, movies, mischievous elves, or whatever the hay it is they want Santa to bring them. It can’t be an easy task to achieve in our world today, and since my girls are so young (2.5 and 4 months), I figure the earlier, the merrier. Is that a saying? It just felt festive.

SO here ya go:

10 Cheap Ways to Instill Truth During Advent

1. Pray! Now I know I used the words “cheap” and “inexpensive” but this one is a real winner. I mean, come on, prayer is free! Unless you count the expense of time and energy and trying to get your children to actually pay attention… but we won’t count it because Jesus happens to be worth it. Besides, it’s important to at least set the example of daily prayer, even if our kids aren’t fully participating.

  • I like to start every day with a quick prayer before breakfast, whatever is on my heart. It’s a good opportunity to teach your kids not only to start out the day with prayer, but also how to pray.
  • The Angelus at noon is also a great one to do with kids. It’s fast and easy, and it’s the perfect reminder of The Annunciation and the good news that Jesus is coming! (Got this idea from a great article by Jenny Uebbing over at CNA).
  • I also like the  Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3:00 every day.
  • And of course there is the beautiful, comfort of the Rosary(tends to just put my girls to sleep, which is not always a bad thing).
  • I don’t know about your parish, but ours was given complementary Advent prayer and reflection booklets that are AMAZING! Here is a link of several others that you could order if your church isn’t offering them: https://www.avemariapress.com/category/PM60/Advent-Resources/ We’ve been reading the reflections after the daily readings at our dinner table every evening, which leads me to the next activity

2. Dinner by Candlelight Advent wreath candlelight that is. Advent wreaths are a given when it comes to celebrating the season, but do you take the time to sit down for a family meal most nights and actually light the candles? Try it! Kids love to help light the candles, with caution of course, and there is something so special about enjoying time with your family by the candlelight. My husband always says “the dinner table is a sacred place.” Plus, if you don’t already have an Advent wreath, you don’t have to go out and buy a fancy one. Make your own or buy some cheap candles at the store with some cheap candle holders, or even use whatever you have at home.

3. Advent Calendar This is another that you can easily make yourself or find printable online. Hit up Pinterest if you want to get real crafty. It’s another that children get really excited about. I remember my own anticipation to get to move the little marker on the countdown when it was my turn( I have 5 siblings). Some parents get super creative and make calendars with an activity or craft to do for each day. See this idea here.

4. Baby Jesus Ornament This is something we are going to start this year instead of the popular Elf on the Shelf. We are going to use a small baby Jesus ornament to hide on the tree for our 2 year old to find in the morning. We also thought we could make it a tradition that whoever finds the ornament first on Christmas morning gets to open a present first.

5. Dec. 6th: St. Nicholas’ Feast Day Celebrate the day by teaching your kids about this glorious Saint. We do the Santa Clause thing, but this is a perfect time to establish who this Santa Clause figure is and how he set a tremendous example of generosity for us to live by. Veggie Tales has a fun little movie over St. Nick for the kids to watch. You can also start the old tradition of leaving a shoe out the night before and leave a little surprise for the kids in the morning.

6. Christmas Lights Adventure Many cities have outstanding Christmas light shows to go see, and what’s more is they’re free to attend. Our favorites in Oklahoma are in Yukon an Chickasha. Do some research and find one near you. If it’s not possible, just drive around neighborhoods to look at them and come home to enjoy hot cocoa as a family. Who doesn’t love Christmas lights?

7. Go See/Participate in a Live Nativity Another free and enriching activity that many cities and churches host. It really brings to life the story that we tell our children over and over. It’s just another learning platform to utilize to be sure your kids remember the birth of Jesus. Look for one near you!

8. Volunteer at a Charity Event Every year our diocese does a Christmas shopping event where those who cannot afford gifts can come and pick out gifts and wrap them for their loved ones. It even offers free babysitting while you shop! They always need volunteers and donations. You could volunteer at a soup kitchen, you could donate canned goods to the local food pantry, you could ring the bell for Salvation Army. Every parish has multiple opportunities for giving during the Advent season. Make the effort to find something for your family to do together each year.

9. Go to Adoration There is no better way to spend your time than to spend it with Christ’s living body, and what an amazing example for your children! It makes God so incredibly happy that you are willing to take time to be with him both spiritually and physically and that you are introducing your kids to Him. Even if it’s just 10 minutes on your way to get groceries. Take the time to do it. It really makes a difference, and your kids will really come to enjoy it. Trust me! Trust Our Lord! We need this.

10. Go to Reconciliation Another big need! And what a perfect time to be absolved of your sins! We like to go at least once a month, and we aren’t afraid to bring our girls either. Why? One, we are sinners. Two, it’s healing. And three, we want our kids to understand that!  This sacrament is such an amazing one that really ought to be used more. The more you go confess your sins, the more aware you are of what you need to do in order to become closer to God, and the more graces our Father bestows us. Also, I’ve never had a priest get onto me for bringing my little ones in with me. When my husband comes with me, then of course I leave them at the pew with him, but if anything, I think it sets a good example and will hopefully alleviate their nerves for Reconciliation when they get older.

 

Well, there they are! Please leave comments if you and your family have some cheap but meaningful Advent traditions. We’d love to hear!

To you, O Lord, I lift my soul. Show me your paths and teach me to follow;
guide me by your truth and instruct me.
 (Psalm 25)

Much love and God bless,

Olivia Swyden

 

Italian Pizzadillas

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Yuuuuuuummmmm!

If you’ve seen a similar recipe before, please don’t tell me. I’ve avoided Googling “Italian Quesadillas” specifically because I got creative in the kitchen this evening, and I don’t want to burst my own bubble just yet.

And guess what? Even if you have seen a recipe like it, I’m gonna share mine anyway. So, there!

The only downside is I didn’t think to take any pictures and blog about it until after we gobbled up every last bite… oops. These things just happen, ya know? (Pictures to come soon… I WILL be making these again, as they are that good!)

And P.S. Theeeeeey’re heeeeealthy (and economical). Wink face.

Here goes, folks:

Italian Pizzadillas

  • 1 bag Italian cheese (use 2% if you want to cut some fat/cals)
  • 1lb seasoned grilled chicken strips (I used a 2 lb frozen bag and reserved 1/2 the quesadilla mix to use for a pasta dinner on another night)
  • 1 can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup or more fresh spinach, chopped
  • 8- 10″ Whole wheat tortillas
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • Low fat sour cream and marinara sauce for dipping (we dipped in both and it was delish!)

Directions:

Heat large non-stick skillet to medium heat. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil and cook chicken until heated through and golden. Toward end of cooking, add in chopped spinach. Stir and cook for about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Drain the can of tomatoes and add to the mix.

Place skillet back on low to medium heat. Prepare pizzadillas. Spread a handful of cheese on a tortilla, followed by a decent amount of the chicken mix, then top with a little more cheese and another tortilla.

Cook the pizzadilla until golden and crispy on each side. Makes 4 pizzadillas.

Good alone, but ohmygoshicantstopeating amazing when you dip them in both sour cream and marinara sauce.

If you did like me and cooked a whole 2 lbs of chicken, use the other half of the chicken and veggie mix by adding it to your choice of whole wheat pasta and sauce. Makes life easy, saves money, it’s healthy, yummy, and your family is gonna luff you.

Let me know what you think!

A Letter to Edith: Your 2nd Birthday

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My Dearest Edith,

Tomorrow, you become a 2 year old. Sometimes it’s not fair how fast time seems to fly. Two years ago from this very moment, I was packing and getting things prepared for the next morning, the day you would be born. For most parents, the delivery of their child comes unexpectedly, but you, my little bear, decided to be different. You were breech. In other words, you chose to keep your head up toward Momma’s, forcing the doctors to plan a Cesarean section. So your Dad and I left the house around 4 in the morning and you entered this world at 8:18 am.

The first thing I heard your Daddy say once you were born was “She’s got my toes!” You’ll understand what he means by the time you read this yourself. When I held you for the first time (it brings tears to my eyes every time I think of it), my life changed. It was the best feeling of my life. I said, “Hi, Edith, I’m your mommy.” And I could tell that you already knew this. You stared at me, and it was peaceful and right. God gave me you. God gave Dada you.

Now, it’s April 30, 2015, and every day we love you even more than the last. God’s love is amazing and a true mystery. How is it possible for us to love this much and for it to grow exponentially each and every day? This is only a glimpse of the love that our Creator has for us. Truly a miracle, yet you’ve helped your Dad and I to understand it more than we ever could have before. Life is such a beautiful and remarkable gift, and your life has already changed so many others’ for the better.

To enlighten you on just how wonderful you have made our lives, I will begin to reminisce on this past year with you. You’ve learned so incredibly much, and you’ve done spectacular things.

Even though we thought you’d walk super early, you didn’t work up the confidence until your 14th month. Your dad and I were in shock when we saw you steps away from the ottoman, holding your rosary. You had the biggest smile on your face and were giggling at our excitement. Now, you run all over the place! You especially like running down the slope in our backyard.

To be honest, Dada and I are convinced that you are without a doubt the most intelligent child of your age. Months before your 2nd birthday, you practically mastered the ABCs song and you dominated counting (I believe you can now count to 20). You got really good at your shapes puzzle and can name colors and shapes when you see them. You have learned to recognize letters in the alphabet. You do prayer hands and on occasion will participate in the Sign of the Cross. You sing “Pinkle pinkle, little star” and sometimes mix it up with the ABCs, after all, they do share the same melody. Gramma Bear Swyden taught you “Happy Birthday” a few months ago, and you’ve loved singing it ever since. Two of our favorite things that you started this past year was saying “Oh dosh” when reacting to something and the second is saying “Mon” while waving your hand, directing us to come play whatever you have in mind. That has transitioned into “Tome on, Dada or Damma or Momma or Reid. You love Reid. You love going down to Shawnee to play with him and his stuffed animals and cars. You love “fwinging.” You adore all of your grandparents and uncles and aunts and having time with them. Gramma Bear is so good at playing with you and goes with you wherever you wish. Grandma & Grandpa make you laugh and always take you outside. Grandma ALWAYS gives you treats to eat, especially fruit chews. Grammy Sue & Papa take you to the park and let you slide down their stairs. You also love Bob the dog, and of course Millie.

You can carry on conversations with us, and it is soooo much fun! A few weeks ago I painted a wall in Momma and Dada’s room. You took notice, asking me “What did Momma make?” I replied, “I painted!” Then you told me, “Oh wow, dat looks awesome!”  Just last night I asked you when you are turning two, and you said “Friday.” Then I asked how old you were that very day, and you said “One!” You are able to grasp a lot of complicated concepts and ideas. You love pretending! You like to play in your kitchen and “cook” for us. Many times during the day, you pretend to call Dada or one of your grandmas and have conversations with them. You like to pretend you are playing in the snow and will throw snowballs at me and make snow angels. Sometimes, you pretend to “make sand.” Last week, you told me you wanted to “be like Mary,” so I took a blanket and draped it over your head and you loved it! You love going to adoration and holding the statue Jesus’s hand. You love singing and dancing along with several of your favorite Disney songs. You also love “Ring Around the Rosie” and insist on Momma and Dada to join you. Your favorite movie is still Finding Nemo, which is why I have decked out our house in Nemo decor for your birthday party this year. You also love watching SuperWhy, mainly because of the puppy on it. You love to color, paint, and color with chalk outside. You love blowing bubbles, going to the park, and riding in your blue car. You adore books. Your favorites right now are Brown Bear, Brown Bear (you like to “read” it to us as well), Easter “Hullaboo,” and princess stories. You love getting into Momma’s bed with her, yet you also love your Edith sleeping bag from Grammy Sue and Papa. You like to help me, whether it’s cleaning or cooking or shopping or anything. You loooove taking care of your babies. You are going to be the most amazing sister to Baby Cami once she’s here in just a few short months. The other day you put your soft bear up to my tummy so Cami could “feel.” You are also always looking out for your friends that come over. You make sure they have their drink cups and you tell them “Let’s be nice!”

Of course, you are more beautiful than ever, and you get SO MUCH attention because of it. We never go to the store without someone talking to you and telling you how great of a helper you are and how “you sure are pretty.” Your hair is blonde with soft curls, and your big blue eyes are showstoppers. You have a few precious freckles on your face, and you still have Dada’s toes, just not as pronounced as when you were born.

Speaking of your Dada, you love him. He took you to the park last night, just the two of you, and on your walk back you kept saying, “I love my Dada.” You love him as he is, too. Many times you would ask me, “Where’s Dada?” and then without giving me time to answer, you’d say “Oh, blowin’ his nose.” Now, you’d probably say he blows his nose “like an elephant.” His heart melts for you, and he is so good at playing with you, teaching you, giving you baths, and making you laugh. When he gets home from work, I love watching both of your faces light up because you both know it’s time to play.

Your Dada and I pray for you every day, and most of all, we thank God for you. You have given our lives so much meaning. Because God gave us you, we aren’t Ryan and Olivia; we’re Momma and Dada. Because God gave us you, we have grown closer in love as a family. Because God gave us you, we have more to laugh about, more to cry about, more to rejoice about, and more to live for. Thank you, Edith, for being you. And thank you, God, for giving us Your beautiful daughter to call our own in this life.

I love you,

Momma

Life and Death

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This morning I became aware of some incredibly disheartening news.  I saw an article captioned, “Mother wins case to kill her disabled daughter.”  It seems that lately in our world, bad news comes quite often, and many times I try my best to avoid hearing about it. However, I know that ignorance of the wrongdoings in this life will not promote much change or lead others to the Lord. Reluctantly, I clicked on the link, http://liveactionnews.org/mother-wins-case-to-kill-her-disabled-daughter/, knowing that reading this would bring depression to a so far wonderful morning with my sweet daughter.  After reading, feelings of depression and some deep thoughts were well under way, and I realized that the story needed to be shared.  I have an opinion for a reason, right?

The news of this death along with the story of Brittany Maynard(click this link if you want to learn about her http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/29/health/oregon-brittany-maynard-video/index.html) have made me feel incredibly sad for the way so many people are viewing life and death.  For the mother of Nancy, she sounds like she has a better idea about death, stating that death will bring Nancy peace.  However, she decides to kill her daughter, who apparently no longer has any human rights, and she does so by a brutal death of starvation and dehydration for a total of 14 days.  She was right to say that Nancy is in peace now; I do believe she is.  It’s the mother I’m worried about.  The mother that solely made the decision to end Nancy’s life because she, her mother, could not bear to suffer anymore, because she was done fighting.  I daresay the battle she will be fighting will continue for the rest of her life. She will live dealing with the pain and regret of her choice to kill her daughter, just as any mother who chooses abortion will.  My prayers go out to this mother.  I pray that she will come to know God’s love and great mercy.

This story is truly about life.  And what is life all about?  Dying with Christ, laying our lives upon the Cross.  Though this includes much suffering, we have hope that God will bring us joy, we have faith that God knows what’s best for us, and we have love because God gave us a life to live in the first place.  He first loved us, he knows us, and his plan for our lives is unfailing.

Now for Brittany’s story.  Her story is all about death.  At least, that’s how she sees it, and this is the real problem.  I see no hope in her eyes when she speaks.  She speaks of death as the true end.  When she dies, she has nothing left.  Her family will still be here, and she just hopes that they will be proud of her in her decision to end her life.  She wants her death to mean something to this world, yet we should really be thinking about what our lives mean to God.  She wants justice, pride, and she wants to “die with dignity.”  She wants no one to take away her “autonomy,” yet she is not realizing that God gave her the right to life in the first place.  As I was just discussing this with a friend, I was reminded of Hunger Games.  It reminded me of the way Peeta and Katniss viewed their deaths.  If you’ve read the books, you know how depressing the stories are.  My friend explained that the books were set in a world with no God and no hope on purpose, to display a futuristic image of what a world without religion and hope would be like.  It’s a sad life, one with no meaning.  But our lives do have meaning. There is a God.  There is a Heaven and a Hell. God gave us life.  If we live our lives for Him, then there is no such thing as death.  Then Brittany’s story is not about death.  It is truly about life.  If we follow God’s path, if we live and die for Him, then we approach our earthly death in peace, we endure the pain and suffering, we offer it up to the Lord, knowing that a much greater life is ahead of us. It’s a time to remember how great the Lord suffered for our sins to give us this life in Heaven.

The first reading today was as follows:

Reading 1EPH 6:10-20

Brothers and sisters:
Draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power.
Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm
against the tactics of the Devil.
For our struggle is not with flesh and blood
but with the principalities, with the powers,
with the world rulers of this present darkness,
with the evil spirits in the heavens.
Therefore, put on the armor of God,
that you may be able to resist on the evil day
and, having done everything, to hold your ground.
So stand fast with your loins girded in truth,
clothed with righteousness as a breastplate,
and your feet shod in readiness for the Gospel of peace.
In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield,
to quench all the flaming arrows of the Evil One.
And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit,
which is the word of God.With all prayer and supplication,
pray at every opportunity in the Spirit.
To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication
for all the holy ones and also for me,
that speech may be given me to open my mouth,
to make known with boldness the mystery of the Gospel
for which I am an ambassador in chains,
so that I may have the courage to speak as I must.

Can you believe how perfect the Word is? God is our shield. Persevere through prayer.  Put on your armor of God so that you can resist the temptations of the devil! Our struggle is not with flesh and blood! These words are affirmation for both of the situations I’m talking about in this post. Amazing, isn’t it?
I’m going to end with that, as well as with a prayer for the mother of Nancy and for Brittany Maynard.  I pray that they both find the meaning to life, that they fully understand why God gave us this life, that they accept God’s love and mercy. I pray that the mother finds healing one day in her grief and in her struggle.  I pray that Brittany is healed of her brain cancer in this life.  I pray that if it is your will, Lord, you give her a chance to change in this life.  Help her to not be afraid of death, help her to realize that death is not to be a decision that we make.  Help her to give her life to you, to place it in your hands.  Help us all to do just that.  Help us all to appreciate you to our fullness, to love you to our fullness, and to work hard to be better every day to live out your will for our lives. Amen.

What a Life!

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Have you ever been so happy that you are almost scared because you know that it all could be taken away in an instant? It’s a very great blessing to feel this way. I know there are many people who have never felt that happy, and sadly may never feel it. 

In my recent past, I’ve spent many nights laying in bed wondering what I’ve ever done to deserve the life God’s given me. Lord, I’ve made so many bad choices that have hurt You much more than they’ve hurt me or anyone else, yet You have always provided me with way more than what I need. You gave me the most amazing husband who has no idea how incredible he is and has held my hand, pulling me along the glorious and narrow path to You. I’m a completely different person than I was before I met him, and I couldn’t be more thankful and joyful due to these changes. Then, you blessed our lives with Edith…there are no words. Ryan and I cannot imagine our lives without her. We reflect on the days leading up to our marriage and the short time after the wedding when we would tell people, “We probably won’t have a kid for a couple of years so I can get through the sonography program and we can save up a little more.” We had our own plan. Well, guess what? God had a way better one. When we have kids and when we don’t should never be our own plan… God’s the one that decides when His creations will be entering into this world, not us. God granted us with the wisdom to understand that now, and man, are we gracious for it. We are so excited to be fully and completely open to life. We are ready for another baby as soon as God wants us to have one.

We’ve learned that this decision to give our lives to God makes Him incredibly pleased. Besides the facts that God is beyond merciful and also gracefully generous, I believe that He blesses my family and I so much because He knows that we are seeing these blessings. We tell Him so, not near enough of course (we still have a very long way to go), but we thank Him for our lives and the blessings that surround them. Because we love God, we all have to give Him the only feasible thing we have to give and that is ourselves. Our entire being. We must “deny [ourselves] and take up [our] cross.” That means there is no more me, there is just God. My wants should only be God’s wants. It’s extremely hard to do this. It’s really, really hard to fight the temptations of the devil. It’s difficult and it takes a whole lot of courage to follow our Lord, but when we do it, God makes it worth it. He blesses us, he fills us with joy. When I’m not listening to God, I find myself to be very unhappy for a number of reasons, but the underlying reason for my unhappiness is because I disobeyed my Father. Deep down I am sorry because I know that I failed and hurt the One that I love and the One that loves me more than anyone in this world could ever love me. Because I don’t want to feel this way and because I love God and want to be with Him in Heaven, I try to deny myself every day and take up that cross. 

For anyone who has yet to feel the happiness and joy that comes from following Jesus, I send out some prayers, that you will find the courage to take up your cross and love God. Please pray for me too, people! 

P.S. Also say a prayer for my godson, Oliver, who is on his way into this world right now, as well as for my sister in law, Stephanie, and my brother, Brian!