“You Haven’t Written in a While…”

Dear Mary Jo,

I’ve noticed you haven’t written in a while. I hope all is well for you and your family. The events of the last several months have been tough on all of us. You don’t know me, but you’ve been in my thoughts and prayers. Thanks for sharing your perspective on family life and faith and I hope you continue to write. Maybe you’ve just switched formats and I’m not aware. Either way, God bless you and your family.

Blessings,

Donna

As this thoughtful reader’s email aptly points out, I haven’t written in a while. Many of you are thinking, yeah, and so?… Well, at least Donna misses me!  First off, thank you for your sweet letter. To answer your welcome question, our skeletal staff of five here at “Late For Church,” (AKA the family) are faring remarkably well despite the roller coaster of events playing out across our country and world. Other than a nasty flu-like virus (COVID? possibly, but not definite)  which hit my son, daughter, and me at the beginning of March, we are all fine. I can readily speak to their physical health, however not so knowledgeably on their emotional, mental health. How is it that I cannot nail down my kids’ and husband’s moods when we’ve been spending inordinate amounts of time together, living on top of each other for months? I can barely grasp my own thoughts and feelings, let alone the rest of my family.

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An Ode to My Mama

I wrote this many years ago as a new mother who was just beginning to understand the depth of my own mom’s love for my siblings and me. Happy Mother’s Day to all the sacrificial mothers out there—biological & spiritual! Today, look a mother in the eyes (even if via zoom) and tell her thank you!

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My Mother’s Eyes

I remember my mother’s eyes. They were clear, light blue, deep-set with a faint perimeter of feathery skin that crinkled when she smiled. Those calm, translucent eyes managed to communicate so much. But her childhood snapshots were incongruent somehow. As a child myself, paging through tattered, old-fashioned, black paper photo albums, her youthful eyes seemed slanted and squinty, only faintly reminiscent of the woman I knew. I actually felt a little pity for my homely, little mommy. Her face must have needed to grow in order to accommodate such complex and interesting eyes. As she aged, the skin around the eyes became more delicate, thinner, and fainter, giving her penetrating eyes a whitish, oval frame. Now, when I look back at photos of her during her mothering years, I see so much light emanating from her face. I’ve heard it said those who are filled with goodness sometimes seem as if they are shrouded in light. Her goodness radiated from the eyes.

As a kid, if I got hurt she’d give me a quick, concerned once-over as if silently recounting all of my limbs. Once all were accounted for and intact, her gaze would fix on me, offering such comfort. When she was proud of one of my little accomplishments, her eyes would soften and seem to laugh. They would light up to cheer me on when I was struggling, like trying to get my first hit in softball. My stare would zero in on her eye line in the stands as I waited out the right pitch. But there were also times throughout my youth when her eyes betrayed the otherwise well-adjusted motherly exterior. I had a natural love for baking, one of only a few interests we did not share. My mom was usually exhausted after a long day of work. She was a school teacher who rushed home and did the lion’s share of the housework as well. Having the impeccable timing of a child, it was then that I would generally hit her up to help me bake cookies. Her eyes were incredulous and impatient. But soon, without much prodding, they would look up signaling resignation. In that glance, I could almost instantaneously smell the homemade chocolate chip cookies.

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Hanging By a Thread… of Beads

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Amidst the strange events that are unfolding worldwide, I have been so grateful for my Rosary. The Holy Rosary is my tangible link to the Blessed Mother who continually leads me more deeply into relationship with the Trinity. A month or so ago, I gave a talk to a moms’ Bible study group in which I shared my personal story of how I came to rely on the Rosary. A mere string of beads has been a source of strength and comfort when I had nowhere else to turn—and thanks be to the Almighty, those beads are fortifying me once again when so much uncertainty and fear abound. What a profound sense of peace to pray the Luminous Mysteries with the Pope and the rest of the world this week. I hope we all continue to pick up this powerful devotion daily and marvel at the results.

You don’t have to enjoy saying the Rosary. Truth be told, I often don’t. But, now more than ever, give it a chance. I hope the talk I’ve linked below helps you understand why.

Here’s the intro they read before I began.

Our speaker today is Mary Jo Gerd. She has been married for more than 15 years to a wonderful husband she believes God handpicked for her.

However, she is currently employed by three overbearing, domineering bosses…ages 13, 11, and 9. They just happen to call her mom which is the best and hardest job she’s ever had.

Before taking on that important role, she worked as a promotions writer and producer for a movie channel, doing trailers, celebrity interviews, and red carpets. She traded in her “glamorous” media job for the more rewarding, albeit lower-paying vocation of full-time wife and mother. She hasn’t looked back since. Well, maybe once or twice.

She and her family are active members of their Denver parish. She enjoys writing about family life and her reversion to the Catholic faith on her personal blog, Late For Church.blog. You can often find her essays featured on New Advent. She’s been regularly interviewed on Relevant Radio’s, “Morning Air” discussing all sorts of Catholic topics. And she is a brand new board member of the non-profit organization, Families of Character.

Please welcome Mary Jo Gerd.

Tips to Make Your Kids’ Valentine’s Day About True Love (No Crafting Involved!)

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I’m about to write something extremely controversial and provocative. Proceed with the pitchforks and torches if you must. It will not change my opinion. Here goes. I’m glad—no, downright gleeful that my kids’ Catholic school does not celebrate Valentine’s Day. There. It’s officially out there. I’m truly happy there will be no shoebox “mailboxes” wrapped in red and pink paper and plastered with colorful stickers and foam heart decorations. No cutesy purple cupcakes heaped with gobs of frosting and sprinkles. No party with pastel streamers, balloons, Pinterest-inspired crafts, sugary drinks paired with adorable polka-dotted straws, and candy galore. Some of these things I look back on fondly from my own youth. I did really love those candy hearts with the pithy little sayings… miss you, be mine, kiss me. And taking my stuffed mailbox back to my desk where I opened each valentine with eager anticipation—I’ll admit—it was fun. And yet, I don’t want that same pleasurable memory for my own kids? There’s a reason I’ve taken such a counter-cultural stance against the feast of February 14th. In one sentence, we’ve lost our minds, folks. We took a turn towards Cuckoo-Ville, accelerated, and haven’t looked back.

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DON’T STEP IN IT! 5 Things you should NEVER say at a Family Gathering

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I’ve been on the receiving end of countless awkward comments. Unfortunately, I’ve uttered plenty of them too. Navigating social situations is a bit like dodging roadside IED’s while blindfolded. The obstacle course often gets more treacherous at family gatherings during the holidays. Christmas get-togethers are already rife with turmoil and stress. Merely sharing surnames and relatives doesn’t mean anyone will agree on anything: faith, politics, diet, fashion, or even what’s funny. Why would anyone want to pile on and make an already difficult situation more strained? “Pass the green bean casserole, Uncle Ned, you pony-tail wearing, commie-loving hippie!” Obviously, not appropriate. But what about the more veiled remarks delivered with the best of intentions? These little conversational nuggets are the dirty bombs of small talk. The gift that keeps giving—like my father-in-law’s homemade sugar-free cranberry sauce which packs a bitter wallop upon first taste, but the memory of that punishing, mouth-puckering sharpness lingers a lifetime.

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Where’s the Beef This Advent?

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If you’re as ancient as I am, you’ll remember those Wendy’s commercials from the 1980s which featured a spritely grandma who takes apart her fast-food burger to reveal two comically oversized buns with a pathetic, tiny piece of meat nestled on one of the halves, barely detectable. It’s dwarfed by the pickle chip. An unwitting spokesperson, this little gray-haired lady, heroically takes up the voice for the rest of America. She, like all of us, is tired of being ripped off, as she rightly demands, “Where’s the beef?” (If you don’t know the commercial, trust me—it’s a laugh riot, but you should stop reading now so you can finish your spelling homework.) The point of the commercial is that other fast food joints try to pass off tiny burgers in enormous buns to unsuspecting customers, while Wendy’s clearly has their priorities straight. It’s all about what’s sandwiched between the gigantic slabs of bread, the generously portioned all-beef patty. That tiny speck of meat the other restaurants are peddling will never truly satisfy.

Recently glancing at the calendar as November winnowed away, I noticed an interesting juxtaposition of notable days. To my surprise, sandwiched between the two biggest consumer holidays of the year is the weekend which marks the beginning of Advent. I must have realized this before, but for some reason, it was the first time I really made the connection. In other words, God turned a nightlight on for His daughter. To my shock, the crucial Sunday when we begin to prepare liturgically and spiritually to welcome the Savior of the whole wide world—just happens to be bookended by Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Situated poetically between a day for hardcore bargain hunters which inspires fistfights in the aisles of Walmart—and a workday when adults opt to remain in their jammies staring at blue light for hours trying to score killer deals, we find the kick-off to Advent. Is it just me or is the world committing a dastardly sleight of hand, playing up the non-essential part of our lives in the lead up to Christmas and seriously downplaying the only part that truly matters? Am I so unsuspecting and gullible as to fall for a trick like that? Not this year. I’m looking back at what the world has to offer and demanding none too politely, “Where’s the beef?”

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Hate This! Not That!

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Years ago I used to enjoy the mind-numbing babble of a popular national morning show while I got ready for work. One segment that caught my attention was, “Eat this! Not that!”  The ultra-skinny host whose own diet clearly consisted of an occasional rice cake topped with kale would run through a display of mouth-watering dishes, often well-known fast food items. With the help of an “expert” guest, the bobble-headed anchor would compare the fat and calorie information of each. By comparison of the nutritional facts, they would conclude, “Eat this grilled chicken sandwich which has 50-billion fewer calories than that one loaded with mayo and fried in gobs of fire-retardant lard. (Gasp.) And for heaven’s sake, don’t ever eat that!” But the greatest shock entertainment value came when they compared seemingly healthy salad entrees against obvious fat-laden dishes like pizza, or hamburgers and fries. The plates piled high with greens and veggies often contained—wait for it—double or even triple the calorie content of the junk food items! The moral of the story: unsuspecting customers were often hoodwinked into heart disease by the lurking fat in “healthy” salads. Poor shmucks! “They should eat this delicious all-beef patty! But not that deadly harvest salad piled with carcinogenic croutons and dreaded trans fats! It contains enough calories to nourish a small town for two years. Just look at all that BACON and RANCH!” Yum…

Recently, I came up with a twist on the morning show game which has shed some light on the problem of recurring sin in my life.  Let’s call this little game of spiritual discovery, “Hate THIS! Not THAT!

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How This Introvert Got Super Involved at Her Parish

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I was caught off guard recently by someone’s response to meeting me. While shaking her hand, I made the customary smiling introduction. “Nice to meet you. My name is…” I had barely gotten my name out when recognition instantly spread across her face.

“I totally know that name! I see your name attached to everything here.”

With that string of innocuous words, I was suddenly rendered self-conscious and exposed, as if she’d said, “I can tell you had spinach for dinner. You have a hideous green thing in your teeth.”

I answered her tentatively. “You’re probably right…” Nervous laughter. “We are pretty involved.” Awkward pause. “I’m not quite sure how that happened. My husband and I aren’t normally joiners, but…”  What I said after that is a blur because my mind was racing with the implications of her statement. No doubt her comment was meant in complete kindness, but I felt a wee bit of shame for being the person who’s name is “attached to everything”—mainly because it was just so unlike me!

On the drive home, as my husband and I sat at a red light, I broke the silence to voice my concern, “How did that happen? How did you and I, a couple of introverts become so involved? We’re at the church a lot.  All of a sudden, I’m that lady. Weird…” A sudden intake of breath. “Oh dear God, I’m a Church Lady!”

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No Map Required

“Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.” —St. Padre Pio

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Recently, I overheard a snippet of a private conversation between strangers. While it could technically be classified as eavesdropping, I’m certain God didn’t mind my listening in. In fact, though the conversation was not expressly intended for my ears, witnessing the seemingly chance encounter may have been part of God’s plan. Looking back, he was leading me to a spiritual breakthrough. In other words, even God can bring good out of my inclination for being nosy.

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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:

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