5 MUST-HAVE School Supplies to Keep Kids on the Path to Heaven

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It’s that time again when moms and dads across this great land finish checking off a mile-long list of obscure, annoyingly specific school supplies. We scour the internet, traipse through aisle after aisle of every big box store and office supply emporium around, trying to find the correct color, brand, and amount, at the right price. But there’s always one item at the bottom of the page that is nowhere to be found—that elusive pre-sharpened number 2 red Ticonderoga training marking-pencil with a white eraser fashioned out of rare unicorn dust and angel feathers…?

We’ve come a long way from my school days (way back in 19—ahem, never mind!) when the list consisted of at most four or five items—pencil, scissors, crayons, glue, and paper. This gets me thinking about what kids actually need to get across the finish line of school and ultimately life. Here’s a hint: you can’t get it at Walmart. What spiritual tools can I provide my children to help them navigate the more arduous path to heaven? A couple years ago, I compiled my first list: The Top 5 Must-Have School Supply Items for Every Catholic Kid. In the spirit of growing lists, I’ve added to it. For a refresher on what is at the top of my list, check it out here. Now for my 2019 new & improved edition of the essential spiritual school supply list:

5. St. Benedict Medal

Sadly, there’s no way to shield our kids from all of the evil that lurks in this world. But we can prepare them to combat it. Why not arm them with one of the strongest sacramentals out there? This medal is not only a reminder for kids to make good choices throughout their day, but it is also a powerful spiritual weapon. On the face of the medal is an image of St. Benedict, known as the father of western monasticism and the patron saint of students. As a young man, he saw his fellow pupils squandering their God-given gifts on pleasure rather than the pursuit of truth. Hmmm. Sound vaguely familiar to our modern educational system? Benedict is a potent intercessor for spiritual protection, helping to fight temptation and angst. On the back of the medal are the initials of an exorcism prayer that relates to an event in Benedict’s own life:

Begone, Satan,

Do not suggest to me thy vanities!

Evil are the things thou offerest,

Drink thou thy own poison!

There is a lot more behind the medal which you can read about here. You can purchase them at any Catholic gift shop. Get your medal blessed by a priest. Then remind little Janie or Johnny to stick it in a pocket or on a necklace and use it. St. Benedict, pray for our youth!

4. Holy Water

We wouldn’t dare send precious Buffy or Biff to school without a water bottle. They might have to use the water fountain. Gasp! Instead of making germ-free hydration our top priority, maybe we should be focused on leading kids to the Living Water. Keep a container of holy water on hand near the door. Before the kids leave, hit them with a few sprinkles to remind them of their baptism as new creations in Christ. When it’s a particularly harried morning, you can have some fun with it. “Ow! Mom, you got me right in the eye!” “Oops. Don’t know how that happened.” Consider offering them a quick blessing too. I like to say, “Provide Jesus a warm and loving home in your heart today,” or “God never tires of loving or forgiving you. Now be Christ to everyone you encounter.” These special moments of connection can be one of those traditions they pass on to their own children someday.

3.The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism

This book series is the spiritual equivalent of an at-home electric pencil sharpener. When things get a little dull, this book will keep kids on point. It’s got everything they need to know about church teaching, written in an easy-to-follow question and answer format. It’s meant for kids in about the third grade, but in my opinion, is helpful through at least 8th grade. I didn’t discover it until the third decade of my life. It could have prevented a lot of turmoil by answering some basic existential questions. Get this book! Keep it somewhere in the house that gets a lot of traffic. It’s a great source for discussion and can lead kids to deeper faith if they get some of the whys behind what we do and what we believe.

2. Inspirational Bible Verses

I know a lot of parents who put notes in their kids’ lunches which is super sweet. “Buford, eat your veggies! Love, Mom” Why not add a quick Bible passage? You could also put it on a post-it note and stick it to the seat in front of them for the commute to school. We can all stand to learn more scripture. Choosing a Bible passage means we adults have to put down our devices for a moment and crack open the Sacred Word while offering some inspiration to our kids. Win-win! If you have a child who is experiencing a particular struggle, cater the Bible verse to offer support and guidance for that issue. The verse could be a good entry point for some hearty discussion at the dinner table. When a kid is well-formed in scripture, they will have the benefit of wisdom to safely lead them through life’s fires. Wondering where to start? Open any of St. Paul’s epistles.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

-Romans 12:21

1. My Identity as a Son/Daughter of God Prayer

Wow, these prayers hit the mark! If you’re not familiar, allow me to be the first person to put them on your spiritual radar. They are poetic, yet powerful reminders of our noble purpose here on Earth.

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Written by Father Ignatius Mazanowski of the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit, the Identity prayer arms a tween or teenager with the knowledge of who he/she is, a son or daughter of the King. Look no further than the staggering news accounts of mass shootings, bullying, and depression to understand the depth of confusion and isolation in young people. Praying is an effective way to combat all the negativity, hate, and competition that is rampant in schools and on social media. It is too easy for an adolescent to lose sight of his true identity as a child of God. We can easily fall into the culture trap of finding our worth in what we do, or the labels other people give us. Reciting this prayer regularly can help build a kid’s self-esteem on a solid Christian foundation. Print a bunch of these. Post it on the bathroom mirror. Slip it in a backpack or the glove box. Use them as bookmarks in textbooks. Tack it to the fridge. Recite it as a family in the evening. Kids need to get hit with messages multiple times before they stick. Seize all the opportunities available. Stand back and marvel at the transformation!

Making saints is tough work, but take heart, it’s also a heck of a lot more rewarding than buying the perfect protractor. While graduation is certainly a noble goal, let’s lead our kids safely across the eternal finish line. May God grant all parents the strength and zeal to bring His children home. A holy and happy school year to all of you!

Parenting Like a Convert

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I’m not a convert, but sometimes I wish I were. I come from a long line of cradle Catholics. It has undoubtedly been a grace to grow up simmering in the rich soup of faith seasoned over time with enduring traditions and profound familial witnesses. What a blessing! So why am I so darn jealous of converts? You know that superstar Catholic who dramatically joins the church after a lifetime denouncing the “whore of Babylon”? I can’t get enough! Who doesn’t love a captivating Scott Hahn story with all those twists and turns that ultimately lead to Rome? Or better yet, what about those amazing creatures who have come to faith after years of card-carrying atheism? Their stories are nothing short of remarkable and bear the stamp of God’s own imprint. They come to the Faith with such zeal, humility, compassion, and moral courage. 

And then there’s me.

I don’t mean to downplay my own “reversion” going from a barely checking-the-boxes pew warmer, to one who longs for deeper intimacy with Jesus and His church. But it’s certainly not the thrilling stuff of, say, Saints Paul and Augustine, Blessed Cardinal Newman, or Edith Stein. Or more recently, Jennifer Fulwiler, Tim Staples, and Leah Libresco. Needless to say, I admire their fire, grit, and heroic journeys of faith, risking so much to heed God’s call. I, however, was born into it, with the proverbial silver baptismal spoon gently nestled in my mouth.

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Universal Weirdos

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This is the second chapter of my short memoir, “Chasing Normal.” It details the acute period of grief right after my mom died. I posted the first installment earlier.

I felt surrounded by the grave. The last time I had been to my grandparents’ Florida home, I had accompanied my mother. Back then, I was a carefree teenager. A lot had changed. My grandmother had courageously fought mouth cancer, enduring a significant part of her palette being removed. She did not survive. I could not have conceived at the time that her firstborn, my mother, would follow just two years later from lung cancer. It was strange being in that home with two crucial people missing.

The home was completely different. My grandmother’s soft, feminine touch was nowhere to be found. Instead, every available space had been covered in a swashbuckling nautical theme. My grandfather had hung paintings of ships and seascapes, sadly erasing almost every trace of his deceased wife. It was unsettling, but not completely surprising. While hey had eked out forty-nine years of marriage, I suspect it was not always the happiest of unions. They used to bicker—a lot. His hearing was going, so she would raise her voice. “John!” was often punctuated with heavy sighs and exasperated eye-rolls. It never erupted into a full-blown argument, but there was always an undercurrent of seething.

I liked my maternal grandma. Although, I sometimes sensed that there was a time limit or expiration date on our welcome. Past that window of time, we grandkids were interlopers. It was understandable; She had raised seven children, almost single-handedly. As a typical husband of the 1940s and ’50s, my grandfather dutifully provided for his family. He was away a lot while serving in the Navy, and later, as a U.S. postal worker, who moonlit as a musician. Grandma had finally retired from the business of child-rearing. This was in contrast to my dad’s mom, my Italian Grandma Pippa. She couldn’t get enough of my brothers and me, as if her happiness depended on breathing the same air as ours. As different as they were, both were as good as gold and surprisingly linked through their deaths. Grandma Pip had died about one year after my maternal grandma, and precisely one year before my mom. Three years, three deaths. The matriarchs of my family were dropping like flies.

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Chasing Normal

I’m working on a short story about a series of random events that happened shortly after my mother died. Her death is a theme that makes its way into much of my writing. This is the first edit of my first installment. 

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Armed with a Cucumber and Cheap Ham

In the days and weeks that followed my mom’s sudden death, I was feeling anything but normal. Yet circumstances and the people surrounding me seemed to be marching onward. It was all strangely just as before… Oh, but it wasn’t.

We buried my formerly vibrant mother. I headed back to college to complete the last days of my senior year. Finals. Not sure how I managed. It could have been the result of a handful of professors who took pity, although I don’t know if anyone actually knew. Or maybe I was on a mission and the distraction offered a sort of respite from the darkness, allowing me to become hyper-focused on my studies. My mom had happily anticipated my graduation after all. Whether it was attaining that noble goal, or a blind eye from the administration, or a combination, I will never know precisely how I passed—with an impressive 3.5 G.P.A., I might add.

Graduation followed without my biggest fan present. Troubled and searching for her in the faces of all those happy onlookers, I reached for the diploma. My dad and brother were there, albeit late. There had been a panicked minute or two where I thought no one from my family would witness my proudest achievement to date. When they rushed in, visibly harried, I let out the breath I had been holding. They were emotionally lost and grieving as well. But I couldn’t help thinking that she would’ve been on time.

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Anatomy of a Catholic Snob

I’m not gonna lie, Pope Francis scares the living daylights out of me. Can I get an AMEN from the rest of you faithful pew warmers who consider yourselves orthodox Catholics? I certainly don’t take issue with his beautiful message of mercy. And he may even be right about the Our Father translation, but some of the things he says, or more importantly refuses to say… alarming, right? Try as I may, my response to the Holy Father is rarely measured. Justified or not, the pope is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to my struggle to resist falling into a prideful superiority complex. I’ve judged many of my brothers and sisters in Christ and found them not up-to-snuff.  That’s due to my predilection for Catholic snobbery. What is a Catholic snob? Here are a few simple questions that will help you spot the signs and find out where you land on the Catholic snobbery scale: Do you regularly turn up your nose at other Catholics and Christians? Is your personal piety beyond reproach? Are you constantly flaunting your superior Catholic cred? You may be a Catholic Snob. Continue reading to discern whether your nose is in the air and you just don’t care! 

You may be a Catholic snob if…

1. You have no funny bone.

In order to really appreciate our human condition as well as our Catholic faith, it’s important to be able to laugh, especially at ourselves. Laughing at our own foibles with a sincere and contrite heart is a small step towards sainthood. St. Francis de Sales remarked, “Humor is the foundation of reconciliation.” St. Padre Pio is credited with saying, “Serve the Lord with laughter.” However, the Catholic Snob finds very little funny. They can be severe and make many harsh judgments about others and themselves. If they are found laughing, often it is because they’ve met someone who prefers the guitar Mass to Gregorian chant.

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A Face for Radio

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I was on Relevant Radio’s Morning Air show recently. If you haven’t heard of Relevant, it’s a wonderful Catholic radio network that broadcasts all over the country. You can download the Relevant app and listen LIVE in case you don’t get it in your neck of the woods. I’m still trying to figure out why they’re interested in talking to me. I’m no theologian, nor a psychologist. I’m just a wife and mom who loves her Catholic faith. Nonetheless, I’m so honored to be able to talk about what the Holy Spirit has put on my heart.

My interview was set to begin at 6:30am Denver time, 8:30 on the East coast. So I said my prayers, injected some black coffee into my veins, fired up the old laptop, and quietly tiptoed to our basement. It was my hope to not wake up the rest of the house. I prefer to have serious talks about the faith when my kids aren’t screaming and horseplaying in the background. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I lose serious credibility when I can be heard shouting, “You kids are killing me! STOP doing cartwheels off the coffee table NOW!!!” As I sat nestled on our downstairs couch in the beautiful silence of our basement playroom, my phone decided it wasn’t going to cooperate. Mere moments before I was slated to be on, as I was attentively listening to the interview preceding mine,  my phone reception started breaking up. This is a sample of what I heard:

Next, we’ll be talki—KSSHHHHHTTT—She’ll tell us abou—KRRRRRRRRSSSSHHHT—and join us fo—SSSSHHHHPLEK!

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Shedding Light on Classical Education

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I worked in media for years before becoming a mom. As a writer/producer, I learned the importance of simplicity and brevity in crafting a message. In film school,  I was trained in the art of delivering the mythical elevator pitch—a famous director bumps their grocery cart into yours while perusing the organic fruits section—you better be ready to summarize your idea in a concise, persuasive manner before they finish selecting their non-GMO, pesticide-free dragon fruit. Otherwise, your amazing script idea is DOA. (In case you’re wondering, the opportunity to wow Martin Scorsese never actually materialized. I’ve also never laid eyes on a unicorn.) With experience, I’ve gotten better at pitching ideas to people. Often, I hit the mark, other times—not so much.

Ever since my kids started their Catholic Classical school I have assumed the role of unofficial spokesperson. I may not be on the payroll, but my love for Classical education inclines me to share with everyone I encounter, much to the annoyance of friends and family. For those willing to listen to how amazing my kids’ school is, the natural follow-up question is, “So, what is classical education?”  Easy enough, right?

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