Monday, November 29, 2021

Kresta in the Afternoon!

Easter Vigil Bonfire at our parish, St. Mark’s 

I was floored when I was invited to be on Al Kresta’s “Kresta in the Afternoon” radio show last week! He wanted to talk about my story for the Coming Home Network, and how could I say no to such an honor?

He was so easy to talk to! He gently reigned in my propensity for rambling and helped me get unstuck when my mind went blank. It was a lot of fun, and I truly enjoyed it!

Our local radio station, Salt&Light Radio, made a podcast of it, which is here, just in case you want to listen. 

Friday, November 5, 2021

"From High Church to the True Church": My Story for the Coming Home Network Newsletter


Two years ago, on the anniversary of our family's coming into the Church, my pastor, Father Ben Uhlenkott, called the Coming Home Network to tell them about my family and me. (His dad saw an ad in the National Catholic Register and told Father to call, and so he did.)

I was floored that the two of them thought so much of our conversion story! I couldn't believe it when I got an email from CHN telling me about Father's phone call and asking me to submit!

After 18 months of thinking, writing and polishing, I finally had a version to send to CHN. Some more polishing, and then it was published in the October newsletter. It has been very exciting! 

To read the story, which includes elements of our family's love of Tolkien and Lewis, the Blessed Mother and the Sacraments, you can go to the link of the newsletter PDF: "From High Church to the True Church"

I have some new blog traffic because of the CHN story, and so a big ole "Welcome!" to new readers!

I write full-time for the Idaho Catholic Register, and I don't have much time for blogging anymore. However, you can read some of my articles on the website, and you can also subscribe to the hardcopy of our paper, which comes out about twice a month:

As my youngest gets older, there's hope that I will write more. Maybe even write a book!

No matter where you are in your journey when you read this, I pray God blesses you and you know how much you are loved by Him!

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Hello, Dear Friend! (Five Years After Becoming Catholic)

A lot of us get a good laugh at this little meme going around the internet:

I certainly didn't get the answer right!

Five years ago, when we became Catholic, I thought I'd still be homeschooling, teaching more in the co-op, and starting a few classes toward a masters in education. To say I got my vision wrong for 2020, is an understatement.

I knew that, God willing, my two eldest children would graduate from high school, but I didn't know I would have another child to take the title of "the youngest"— a happy surprise for sure! I figured we'd have rough spots— there are no smooth roads on this earthly pilgrimage. But I didn't foresee the trials and sifting that would start almost as soon as we walked through the church doors and out into the world as freshly anointed Catholics.

"Do you regret your choice?" asked a friend one day.

"Not at all," I said with complete truth. 

I was most at home in church when I was a child. My mother was always volunteering in the Episcopal Church, no matter where we lived— and we moved often! I loved going into the sanctuary to try and catch an angel guarding the altar or to see if I could get a glimpse of God Himself.

My mother consistently taught me that God loves me and Jesus is my Best Friend. "I'm not perfect," she'd say. "But God is and He loves you." I would cling to that love and sit on the altar steps with complete faith, while my mother was in the sacristy, and ask God to hold me in His lap.

My heart would soar with joy every time we visited Catholic churches with their statues, candles, and holy water. When I was a teenager, we lived in a small town in Kansas, and I would walk a few miles to the old Catholic church. The heavy wooden doors were never locked, but I would still hold my breath when I walked in, fearing that someone would stop me. Then seeing that it was empty, I would go up to the front to light a candle and pray. Sometimes I would just sit in a pew and admire its ornate windows and paintings.

As an adult, I would continue to go to Catholic churches to pray, still holding my breath when I opened the doors. I wanted to talk to God with simple childlike faith, reaching back to my days when choices were simple and the day's joy held enough satisfaction without worrying about tomorrow. 

"Hello, Jesus. There's so much going on, but I know You love us. And I know You reign," I'd whisper in prayer. All the drama of life would melt away in peace, and I would walk out of the doors with renewed strength and clarity.

It's not that I didn't pray outside of church buildings. My mother also taught me that God is with me everywhere. She prayed constantly, and she taught me and my siblings to do the same. 

But there was always a transcendent presence when I walked into a church.

I still go into churches when things feel heavy. When I can, I go to the Adoration Chapel to be in uninterrupted silence. Just me and my Best Friend.

One of my fears about becoming Catholic was that the Church would get in the way with my friendship with Jesus. Catholics talk a lot about the importance of community, that Christianity is more than the feel-good theology of just "Jesus and me." And there is a lot of truth in that. 

My life has been so enriched by the Catholic community of our parish and diocese. Christianity done solo, with its self-gratifying tendencies, has a lot of sinkholes. I am grateful for the people in my life who keep me going toward the Truth, even when it's hard and uncomfortable.

"Life is fragile," the saying goes, "handle with prayer." Though I still can't wrap my mind around the mystery of prayer, I am grateful for all the friends who pray for me and who let me pray for them.

I have found that as my friendship grows with the saints, earthly and heavenly, my friendship with Him has grown, too. Mother Mary and the communion of saints are not hindrances, but are a constant source of help. 

As for the Sacraments, they don't detract, as I feared they would. They reinforce my faith. Confession is not an obstacle to intimacy with God; it is a venue of a deeper relationship. Communion is not a mere ritual, a box to mark off on a to-do list. Communion brings a deep connection with Christ that before I was Catholic, I had not known.

And trust me, everything I've said in this post has been tested. Ad. Nauseum. 

The last five years, even before ye ole coronavirus plague, have looked pretty askew, like the pictures in the photo above. The lessons of perseverance, fortitude, and "pressing-in" were impressed upon me as a Protestant, and they haven't been less needed as a Catholic.

With it said that community and the Sacraments are of undeniable importance, I have found that nothing takes the place of Him.

Someone told me five years ago that being Catholic meant never walking alone. I knew there was some truth in what she said, but I also knew enough about the saints to know that loneliness on the path is par for the course. 

Whether Protestant or Catholic, all Christians face, at one time or another, long nights and cumbersome days when you struggle with your Best Friend. Though all the angels and saints walk with you through it, that struggle is intimate. There are some places in the heart only He can know; He alone is God.

He struggled in Gethsemane, and we all have our own seasons of struggling in that thorny garden.

But the night doesn't stay. The desert eventually makes its way to greener terrain. Although the night is cold and the desert is hellish, those heart-to-heart exchanges with your Maker and Friend in those harsh places are unmatched treasure.

What I have found, though, is that no matter where I am on the path, in blissful ease or heartbroken trudging, there is still an unspeakable joy when I go into the church. There is transforming love at every Mass; unbridled Hope beckons each time the Host is elevated. 

And when I go into the Adoration Chapel, my heart always leaps. Because no matter what is going on in the outside world or in the ups and downs of my heart, there He is. The longer I'm Catholic, the more dear Adoration is to me.

Five years ago, I did not think Adoration would become so important to me.

The Blessed Sacrament is the physical appearance of the grace of His True Presence. Yes, He was with me in my errands, during my chores, and as I worked, but what a mercy it is for my human, physical self to be able to kneel and adore with all my senses. 

I can't help but smile when I go in and say (silently) in my heart, "Hello, dear Friend!" And all the burdens, all the disappointments, get laid down. All the blessings become easier to see, and sweet thanksgiving overflows with joy. In that silence, His voice overcomes the voices of the world.

 Listening to my true Shepherd, my Best Friend, speak to my soul in the little chapel, helps me recognize His voice, His prodding, better in the rush and busyness of the day.

I didn't see what was coming five years ago, and I don't know what will happen in the next five years. I know Him, though. 

And despite my insufficiency, He is more than enough.

©2020 Emily Woodham

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Finding God in Joy

While researching for an article, I came across a lament from a Jesuit author that Catholics talk a lot about finding God in suffering, but not so much about finding God in joy. I think this is because it's a surprise to us humans when we find God in our misery, making it truly remarkable. So we can't help but write and speak about it. 

However, finding God in joy seems natural, expected— making it easy to take for granted without taking note. It's so easy to find God in joy that us mortals often forget that He's the Giver. How many times do people find joy in the things they think they deserve in life: accomplishments, rewards, wealth, fame, and power. 

Who doesn't love a good bonus check or a pat on the back? And those are indeed good things which should be delighted in and enjoyed! But when we forget who the ultimate Giver is, the Giver of our talents, the Giver of our very lives, then we shift from humble acceptance to prideful entitlement. 

Entitlement leads to despair. Maybe not immediately, but eventually.             

Eight years ago, I discovered through a commentary that the word "fruit," in the "Fruit of the Spirit" of Galatians 5, is singular, not plural. I also discovered that in the Greek, Galatians 5:22-23 can be rendered with the singular fruit as love and then all the other virtues as manifestations (or traits) of that love. Written more like this in the English:

 "Now the fruit of the Spirit is love:  joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."  

This discovery has stayed with me through the years and is a frequent meditation.

It doesn't take long in the Christian walk to realize that this love, and its joy, cannot be manufactured on our own. However, too many Christians still use these verses, and others like it, as an excuse to deny the bereaved of mourning, the brokenhearted of weeping, and the victims of injustice of crying out.

When I research and write about the saints for the Idaho Catholic Register, I get to see the Fruit of the Spirit in so many aspects of the saints' lives. The saints seem to testify that it is truly a singular, multifaceted fruit, that can only come through an intimate relationship, a true friendship, with Jesus. 

I believe each saint would be happy to tell you the Fruit of the Spirit cannot be forced. Although it can be (and should be) cultivated through cooperation with the Holy Spirit, it is a process of growth, and attempts to fake it only hinder growth in oneself. I think they would also say that false expectations of perfection in yourself or others is merciless— a denial of love and the sin of pride. It is humility to be real with yourself and others.

That said,  the saints consistently find God in their joy, just as they find their joy in God. And this is seen in their thankfulness. They truly see "every good and perfect gift"as coming from above (James 1:17). Their childlike faith rejoices in the little blessings as much as in the big ones. 

I believe this is also key to their joy in God even when they suffer. They may be hard-pressed on every side, but still they see God's love for them in the little gifts of truth, goodness, and beauty that they encounter throughout the day. 

It was this faith-filled sight to see God's love in the ordinary and to rejoice in it that made them seem a bit crazy, a bane to those who hated God yet irresistible to those who longed for Him. 

Love brings irrational, frivolous joy. Joy and love are inseparable, along with peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

Joy that is unloving, hostile, impatient, unkind, stingy, unfaithful, harsh, or self-indulgent is not true joy.

Searching for joy in sin is like eating ice cream with arsenic: it may seem harmless and be delightful to the senses, but at the end is pain and death. If you find joy in your anger or in controlling others, or in any of the "works of the flesh" in Galatians 5:19-21, then you're on a blind death march.

We only find God in joy when it is part of the Fruit of the Spirit. All other joy is an impostor of His grace. 

©2020 Emily Woodham

Monday, March 30, 2020

Chasing Sunsets

I came home from cantoring the Saturday evening Mass. As I looked back toward the street from the front door, I gasped at the beauty of the sky. My eldest was reading in the front room and looked up to see it, too. Then I grabbed my Canon and away we ran— she with bare feet and I in high heels. We dashed across the street to the sports park that is nothing but baseball and soccer fields, hills, and trees. We took turns snapping pictures with the Canon, racing to get to the top of a large hill so that we could take it all in before it disappeared.

We knew there would be other glorious sunsets, but we also knew there would never be one exactly like the one we were chasing.

It's easy to recognize a moment of glory.

It should be no problem to acquiesce to the demands of beauty.

That day, how easily my daughter and I abandoned ourselves to what was so obviously a Providential gift of color and light. 

Surrender (that s-word in Christianity that so easily gets bandied about) is usually not given a second thought when you're faced with the magnificent. The Hand of God is obvious; His goodness is tangible; His greatness is unquestioned. 

When times are difficult, sad, or all out tragic, it's harder to see the goodness of God.

St. Paul said he learned to be content in every situation. This kind of contentment can only come through Christ, who strengthens us (Philippians 4:11-13). Being grateful and satisfied in all things, I think, though, comes from more than a transcendent grace of God. I believe contentment comes from putting our hope into practice, and that includes embracing the grace of beauty at every opportunity.

Beauty is a balm; beauty gives strength.

When times are grim or exhausting, it is far too easy for us to dismiss beauty out of some strange sense of grown-up duty. We get weighed down. We shun fragrant flowers, roll our eyes at a child's drawing, and refuse to chase sunsets. Our thoughts cease to focus on things above, and we get weighed down by things below. When we deny our souls the sense of wonder, it gives more room for worry to choke our faith.

Bills must be paid; children must be fed. We have responsibilities, and there are unpleasant consequences when we neglect the necessary. However, I have found I must make time for awe and train my eyes to see in wonder. I must let beauty touch my heart. For it's in beauty, that we remember how intimately He knows us and how vast His love is.

©2020 Emily Woodham

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Staying Home

Through illnesses while homeschooling, I have a bit of experience with staying home with just family for days and weeks on end. Those days were full of homemade treats and reading books aloud. (My kids' favorites were The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Harry Potter series. My husband read to them The Lord of the Rings at night, which they loved, too.)

The kids played in the backyard throughout the day (rain or shine), made up languages, and had epic light saber battles.

Back then, I strictly limited screen time, and so my house was in a constant flux of puzzles and art projects and free play. Which is to say, it was also on the messy side!

Our days started with "Bible Time." We read the Bible and a devotional or a short story about virtue (our favorite readings were from Karen Santorum's Everyday Graces). We wrote prayer requests on a big white board and prayed. We also went over the catechism, and usually this led to more questions from the kids that would send me on a search for answers. Bible Time could last for an hour, but it held meaningful discussions.

After Bible Time, everyone was hungry for a snack before schoolwork. Sometimes this led to chaos that would need to be reigned in.

Ideally (and ideals have a way of being chased off by necessities or overpowering whims to just dillydally), the kids who could work independently went in another room to study in peace. Then I worked with a child who needed instruction and direction. This would last for about 30 minutes to an hour, depending how long the older kids could go without needing help. After an hour, though, we all needed a break no matter what. Then back to schoolwork.

Schoolwork with breaks usually went well until an hour after lunch. By then, everyone was tired of writing and math. So I made tea, and I read aloud to them.

After reading, unless we had a test to tackle, school was over. Believe it or not, until you get to the middle school years, this is usually all it takes to homeschool. Once you enter more difficult math and science, the task of teaching the littles while making sure the teens are still grasping subjects becomes a recipe for chaos—or at least it did in our home. (Every home is different, and all have a purpose — so don't get discouraged or uppity about your differences.)

Sometimes it works well to have older kids teach their younger siblings while you work with a child who needs individual attention.

Sometimes you've been up all night with a puking kid and homeschooling consists of watching The Lord of the Rings, Extended Edition and old episodes of Myth Busters.

Sometimes you just want to play with the kids and make the best memories you can messing around with homemade playdough, making blanket forts, and singing silly songs while eating nutella sandwiches.

My most successful days were the ones in which I was flexible with a realistic set of stubborn goals. In other words, the days I chose wisdom over being right were our best days. 

My school age kids will be home for the next two weeks, with some long distance learning, which I'm relieved will be provided by the schools!

I'm looking forward to the time with my kids. It will be different this time around because I will be working from home, but I am also eager for afternoons with tea and stories, the giggles over homemade bubbles and dirt pies, and the shared wonder of blooming flowers and butterflies.

©Emily Woodham 2020