Living authentically

It seems to be a new catch phrase, “live authentically.” Yet, as a Catholic, sometimes that is harder than it appears. For me, this time of year is especially difficult. It has nothing to do with Christmas. Next week we mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion. It is not news to anyone who knows me well that I am a practicing Catholic and I do not hide my faith. I have encouraged Confirmation students to wear their faith like a coat. Not like a Sunday coat or Wednesday night coat (because you have to go to religion class), but every day. This is hard advice to dispense when I, myself, find myself not necessarily wearing my coat when talk around office, on the street, in the store, or wherever there are conversations and debates that split society and, in cases, split Catholics themselves.

I often go back to another question. “If you were on trial for being a Catholic, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” I got started thinking about this after a homily on Sunday where a visiting priest told us to remember that someday, in heaven, we will see someone and we will remember that we could have done more. I think this applies to individuals, as well as our faith. There is always more we can do to defend our faith, our beliefs – even those hard ones – where we are challenged. In my case, it is not doubt in what I believe, but lack of confidence in the face of belittlement, shaming, and implications about a lack of intelligence, as though Catholicism, especially certain teachings, are ignorant or misogynistic. Though I do not understand how believing, fundamentally, that life begins at conception qualifies for those labels.

We all have a faith unique to us and our process of discernment is a continuous process. Our ‘action plan’ for our faith evolves, as opportunities come up and changes force us in a different path. But is that path always moving in the direction of God? We can’t jump on and off the Catholic bandwagon depending on the issue. We can’t be on God’s team only when it is winning. This isn’t football and the Minnesota Vikings. (Speaking of which, imagine if we showed that same level of enthusiasm supporting our Catholic “team.” Wow!)

Our faith defines us. Are we authentic or are we putting on a show? Are we the same person in church as we are in school? You don’t need to be an evangelist at every opportunity, or a saint, to be a faithful Catholic. You can be you. That is enough for God. At the same time, are we speaking up to defend what we believe?

Matthew 5:14-15 says “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”

Regretfully I admit to covering my faith with a bowl to avoid those difficult conversations. Yet, even if you do not have faith bold enough to stand on the top of a hill with your light, it can be shared. I have done so more quietly, in my own way. I know that is not enough. It is not truly authentic. We have dark corners to light. We have truth to share.

Rather than hiding it, I think we need to remember that our faith may have an impact on another. It is a deeply personal thing, but if you own it and really wear it, it will touch the people around you and it will make a difference in your families, to your friends, to complete strangers. God gave us a voice, to sing (though my case not very well) and to speak. To declare our belief that January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court got it wrong…very wrong.

This new year I am going to try harder to wear my coat, not just Sundays. I am going to try to be found guilty of being a Catholic at every opportunity. I am going to focus on that prayer we say often, but perhaps do not consider closely enough. Where we consider and ask for help “in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.”

To my friends who are bold, who are walking proud in the March for Life, thank you for using your light. You have my admiration. I want to be as guilty as you of being Catholic.

Sheila Hellermann is a member of St. Rose of Lima Church in St. Rosa. She works at St. John’s University as a program and department coordinator for several academic departments. Read more about Sheila on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

The Strength of a Woman

I came across a blog by Abby Johnson a while back that really struck a chord with me. It was titled “7 Things I Learned at the Women’s Convention About Feminists and Abortion.” There were a lot of crazy things she encountered at the convention as a pro-life feminist (in the truest and best sense of the word), but the truth that has been resonating in my heart since reading the blog was this: that the abortion industry, now more than ever, is playing on women’s fears and insecurities in order to convince them that they’re not strong enough, not ready enough, to be a mother. Abby wrote:

To them [the abortion industry], being able to kill women in the womb is totally pro-woman. Being able to exploit women’s fears of not being strong enough to be a parent is empowering. But pro-choice feminists know nothing of women’s empowerment.

“Oh, you are pregnant and in school? Well, there’s no way you are strong enough to finish your educational goals and be a mother. We will capitalize on your fear, make you feel weak, and give you an abortion.” Or maybe, “Oh, your boyfriend just left you and you are pregnant? Well, there’s no way you are strong enough to be a single mother. Let’s just get this abortion taken care of so we can keep convincing you just how weak you are.”

Pro-life feminists refuse to choose. We can be mothers and have careers. We can finish our education with children in tow. Is it a challenge? Yep. But women are made for challenges. We are strong enough to handle the challenges presented to us. It’s what we were made to do.”

Women are made for challenges. Can I get an amen?! This article has really made me start to think about what it means to be strong as a woman. What, at the very core, is the strength of a woman?

I think the feminist movement (in its worst form) has distorted what it means to be a woman so horribly that “strength” is often be equated with physical power or intimidation or ‘lording it over’ men, or even just trying to be like men and proving that we can do everything they can do. But if God made us male and female, He obviously had a reason!

Women weren’t made to live for ourselves—we’ve been given such an ability and desire to nurture in a maternal way, even if we’re not physical mothers. The feminine heart wants to love intensely, even when it’s hard and scary and there’s the risk of that heart being broken by loving broken human beings. But we were made for this challenge, for the challenge of loving with everything we are.

I think of the strongest person I know—my mom. She’s physically strong, born and raised a true farm girl, but her deepest strength lies in her love, giving herself totally to others and allowing her heart to be broken out of love. I think of Mary, the ultimate example for all women, allowing her heart to be broken by love, courageously suffering the incomprehensible agony of watching her son die the worst kind of death. The strength of a woman lies in this kind of love—giving ourselves completely and risking the pain and demands of love. I once heard that our capacity to suffer is in direct proportion to our capacity to love, because when we love another person with everything we are, their suffering becomes our own. What a beautiful gift— and a daunting challenge! It reminds me of a quote by C.S. Lewis from The Four Loves that pierces to the heart of what it means to authentically love:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

This is true strength. This is the strength of a woman. It’s not “strength” to abort a child in order to avoid the messiness and demands of love. Selfishness is the antithesis of strength. Let’s stop trying to convince women otherwise. You are strong, you are beautiful, and you are enough. Don’t be afraid to let your heart be broken for others—It’s what you were made to do.

–Nikki

Tricia and Nikki Walz are proud Minnesotans who were born and raised in the heart of St. Cloud with their younger sister Briana. Read more about them on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

‘Jangling around gently’ and other words of wisdom

On this Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I was looking at The New York Times Book of the Dead, a cherished gift from last Christmas given me by my most cherished niece. It is a collection of 320 obituaries that ran in The New York Times.

As I paged through, I came across the obituary of Satchel Paige (July 7, 1906-June 8, 1982), one of the greats of baseball’s old Negro leagues, and indeed one of baseball’s greats of any league.  In those days, because of the ban on blacks in the major leagues, blacks had their own league.  Many of the best of these players played baseball year-round, in the U.S. in the spring, summer and fall and in the Caribbean and Central America in the winter.

The NY Times obituary tells us that Paige pitched in his lifetime some 2,500 games, had 55 no-hitters and “he once started 29 games in one month in Bismarck, N.D., and he said later that he won 104 of the 105 games he pitched in 1934.”

When Jackie Robinson finally broke the color barrier in 1947, Paige was already in his 40’s.  This didn’t prevent him from pitching most of five seasons in the major leagues.  He pitched for the last time September 25, 1965, at the age of 59, the oldest ever to appear in a major league game. “Joe DiMaggio called him ‘the best I’ve ever faced, and the fastest.’”

The NY Times obituary ends with what they called Satchel’s “master’s maxims” as a reason for his longevity.  When I read them, it occurred to me how wise they still are.  Let me share them with you.

  1. Avoid fried meats, which angry up the blood.
  2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
  3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
  4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social rumble ain’t restful.
  5. Avoid running at all times.
  6. Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.

Pretty decent points of wisdom, I’d say.  Dieticians, spiritual directors, psychologists all can find something to their liking in that list.  Maybe, even, it’s a good list, still early in this year of 2018, to adopt as a guide for healthy living, especially that thing about ‘jangling around gently as you move.’

(Find the obituary in The New York Times Book of the Dead, ed. William McDonald, 2016, p. 616-617).

Father Tony currently serves as pastor of Christ Church Newman Center in St. Cloud.

Word of the Year {Part 2}

This is the second in a series.

Right around the same time that baby Joy entered my world via a computer screen, another face also joined hers. This one was slightly familiar, but only by name and photo. Her name was Mallory. Another Facebook post from a friend led to Mallory’s Caring Bridge site and her story which was just unfolding. I had connected with Mallory’s mom several years prior when both of us were just blogging moms whose paths happened to cross. I met Lori twice in recent years and found her to be a faith filled woman whose smile and kind heart left an imprint. Now her family needed prayers as Mal was diagnosed at Christmas time (2016) with rhabdomyosarcoma, a fairly rare malignant pediatric cancer. After a few initial procedures, an MRI and then a CT scan were ordered, and it was confirmed that a cancerous mass was in Mal’s left nasal cavity.

Feeling inadequate, being limited by miles and connection with the family, our family started to pray. It was all that we knew to do in order to help in some way, just as we were praying for baby Joy at that same time as well. With each Caring Bridge update and photo posted, even from across a screen something still came through in great prominence. Mal’s family motto during her hospitalizations and treatments followed a theme, that of St. Padre Pio: “Pray. Hope. And don’t worry.” Their own persistence in prayer and faith began to lead and deepen my own. While I’d always been prayerful, it became evident early on in our following Mal’s journey that God had more in store. Our family became constant prayer warriors for Mal, along with sending words of encouragement and love as often as we could during the months that followed. We connected deeply with this family whom we barely knew, celebrating the triumphs of cancer treatment and hopeful prognoses, along with the heartbreak of new challenges Mal faced.

Photo taken Oct. 30, when Mallory was visited by Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla, daughter of St. Gianna Beretta Molla.

Through it all, Mallory’s faith never faltered, she never saddened or lost hope in God. And one day as I stared at the screen captivated by the face I saw there, I realized what it was that I was seeing. JOY. As if for the first time, I recognized it. My word for the year wasn’t for my own happiness in what life was going to bring me in 2017. Joy was something I was going to learn. It was being shown and taught to me by following the example of a simple teen whose focus was on Christ while she traveled down an unexpected path. Throughout her suffering, she still shared joy and a smile. She was showing people like me how beautiful life in Christ really is and accepting that He would use her as an instrument for others. From what I’d read over all those months in comments and journal entries, it sounded like young and old alike found joy through Mal’s life and the faith she lived out daily, even before a cancer diagnosis.

Mallory with Sarah’s daughter, Gianna.

In September, our family met up with Mal’s family in Duluth while we were in town for a few days. It was a surreal encounter for all of my family and being able to touch the person and spend time with the family for whom we’d been praying for months. I think I still feel her embrace and playback her gentle smile. While that was both the first and the last time I’d touch her physical body, it will not soon be forgotten. Not two months later, on November 7, Mallory’s earthly fight was over and her eternal life began.

At Mass on the Sunday after Mal passed away, I remembered how much Mal loved Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. After communion I had this overwhelming sense of the joy that Mal was feeling as she beheld the throne of God and the unexplainable magnitude of heaven. It was the first time in days that I caught a glimpse of some meaning behind Mallory’s passing. Her place in heaven was prepared, she was ready and she no longer needed to go through the earthly pain.

Sometimes with joy also comes sorrow. Had I known when JOY was placed on my heart what it truly would mean, I wouldn’t have imagined it quite the way that it ended up. God’s intricate weaving is like that sometimes, creating beauty within a tapestry of sadness that our human minds cannot grasp.

You can read Mallory’s Caring Bridge journal and share in her story at her site by clicking here.

Sarah Heidelberger is a wife and homeschooling mom of five who keeps her days steady with her planning and organizing skills. Read more about her on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

Word of the Year {Part 1}

It’s become a practice of mine over the last several years as one year closes and the new is in view, to think and pray about a word to focus on/intentionally seek out for the upcoming new year. They tend to pop up unexpectedly and yet so perfectly. Three years ago, the resounding word that popped up everywhere that December was FIAT (meaning ‘yes’) and I tried to push it away. The main reason? My primary point of reference for fiat was Mary’s ‘yes’ to the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation. The human, tired mom side of me felt that God’s prompting to me with the word fiat couldn’t possibly mean an unexpected ‘yes’ from me to embrace and carry another pregnancy. Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I most definitely were open to having more children. I just don’t know that the realistic side of me was ready to accept it beautifully, but God knew. Looking back, He had already been preparing me and my heart to be open even where I didn’t see it. And guess what? Shortly into that new year of 2015, we found out we were expecting a new little one in September. Oh gosh, how I laughed (and cried)! And you better bet that pregnancy took more ‘yeses’ and being resigned to God’s plan rather than my own “perfect” one. You also should know that fiat turned into a boy that we couldn’t possibly imagine our family without. Fiat definitely was meant to be for 2015.

Fast forward to December of 2016 and I became aware of the word JOY entering around every corner. Brushing it away, assuming it was because it was near Christmas and that word is often used in décor and references everywhere, I continued to seek something different. There was no avoiding it. Even as the first days of 2017 began, joy still found its way. I wondered where I would perhaps find new joy or maybe a different way to be joy-filled each day in my vocation. I most certainly could use a brush up in attitude and true happiness in my life and vocation, so I was up for it.

It didn’t take long for me to learn that joy was to be found in circumstances and two particular people, a toddler and a teen, to stir me to the core.

Within a day or two of solidifying JOY as my word, God put before me the story of a little girl, baby Joy, as I opened my Facebook newsfeed one early morning. I read the horrifying story of a toddler, not much older than my youngest, who was in a coma due to a drowning accident over Christmas (read Joy’s story here). Tears filled my eyes as I read Joy’s story and the urgent request for prayers. Her parents’ faith and humble intentions that she just be given the chance to survive, prodded my own belief in a miracle.

My family and I joined prayer warriors across the globe who heard about baby Joy. My heart connected to Joy’s mother, Kristin, a woman whom I’d never met, but with whose motherly heart I could identify. In the days and weeks that followed, I checked Facebook for any updates as often as I could each day. There was something about being united in prayer, but also witnessing a miracle as it unfolded. Joy had gone from being without a heartbeat for nearly thirty minutes, to coming off of a ventilator and out of a coma, to smiling and laughing. Later in January, Joy left the hospital and I watched the video with tears streaming down my face and cheering her on.

I kept praying for Joy and her family, thinking of them often. I still followed her journey on Facebook and was delighted to read any updates I found (especially this one at National Catholic Register).

I learned a lot about the power of prayer and the impact of a single life in the world. I’ve seen how the smile of a radiant, life-filled toddler who is a walking miracle can draw the family of God together through even the most tragic life events. I also found that what God was teaching me about joy would be a link to deeper, unforeseen relationships to the body of Christ.

This is part one in a series.

Sarah Heidelberger is a wife and homeschooling mom of five who keeps her days steady with her planning and organizing skills. Read more about her on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

Wisdom for the Best Year Yet!

It’s that time of year when we all start making our list of New Year’s resolutions. We feel super optimistic that THIS is the year we are going to change our lives! Making it to the gym past Feb. 1, paying off student loans, and catching up with old friends are common occurrences on my list.

This year I started thinking about my resolutions, and they started to look quite similar to past years. So instead of just repeating last year’s list, I decided to talk to some people I look up to in my Catholic faith and ask for some help. I asked each of these people what advice they would give a young person in college, or in their 20s or 30s, so that we can live our lives more fully and make this year’s resolutions more meaningful than the usual vague goals we have set in the past. I never expected to be touched as much as I was by their advice!

Here is some of the wisdom that was shared with me:

“Take your faith seriously and have a personal relationship with Jesus.”

 “Value your relationships and health; don’t take it for granted.”

— Linda, 70

“The best gift you can give is your presence.”

 “Write down your dreams and the things that mean something to you. Use those things to remind you of who you want to be.”

 “Giving is like receiving twice; it’s the best gift you can give yourself.”

 “Read good things, even a little quote frequently; feed yourself like you do lunch and supper. Feed your soul and it will change how you think.”

 “Stop criticizing, condemning and complaining; find something good in every negative experience you encounter, and you will never be upset again.”

— Diane

“My dad’s uncle told me as I was going into the service in 1955 just three words: ‘Pick your company,’ and I have lived by that rule my whole life.”

 “Do as your parents ask because after they die it’s too late.”

 “Learn the hard way to forgive and forget.”

 “Learn what you can before it’s too late.”

— Gene, 83

“Make sure you find your servant’s heart because every day there is someone that needs a random act of kindness.”

— Karen, 62

“Enjoy life and follow the Ten Commandments. Keep your faith strong; stay active in your faith.”

— Father Greg, 80

I think the greatest thing as I reflect on these pieces of advice is that these people actually live this out, which touches my heart in more ways than I can put into words. I truly hope I can be like all of them one day — giving advice that I actually live out. These holy people inspire me to make real progress this year and I hope they inspire you as well! I encourage you to pick one of these and make a specific concrete goal for this upcoming year. Happy New Year!

— Tricia

Tricia and Nikki Walz are proud Minnesotans who were born and raised in the heart of St. Cloud with their younger sister Briana. Read more about them on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

Advent Series: The fourth week of Advent (even though it’s only for one day!)

In preparation for Christmas this year with my family, I have been baking a lot of cookies. I started weeks ago searching the internet for ideas and inspiration and dreamed of how my cookies would turn out. I inevitably waited until the last minute and ended up frosting cookies late the night before leaving. While I felt rushed, I also took a brief moment to look at the counter full of baked and decorated cookies in front of me, that had been mere ideas and dreams just days before.

We usually get more time in the final week of Advent to finish our more internal preparations of the season. This year, the fourth week of Advent lasts just for the day. In today’s Gospel, we hear of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary to give the news that she will bear a child. It calls me to reflect on what this season is about, a real child, a real birth, about God coming into the world. This is something I don’t reflect on as often as I maybe should, but when I stop to think about God coming into human form I am always truly amazed. In my life of prayer and in my ministry, sometimes I can fall into thinking of God in more of the abstract and as wholly different than me and those around me. The Christmas season is a reminder of God incarnate, of God being with us in a tangible way.

Today I will surely be scurrying around to finish up some last minute Christmas preparations, but I will also spend some time in final preparation for our celebration of Christ’s birth. I invite you to reflect on the real ways you see God in our world and in one another during these last hours of preparation and for the Christmas season to come.

Bailey Ziegler serves as the director of human resources for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

 

The (empty) seat at the table

This and every holiday many of us gather missing some of our loved ones. Not everyone can attend our gatherings and we miss them.

Then there are those (some we love the most) who have died and will never again gather with us in our earthly spaces.

“How do I get through these days?” is a common question I hear and a common thought I have had.

When we lose someone whom we deeply love and have greatly enjoyed spending time with, the celebratory moments can become a mix of emotions, thoughts and feelings.

The sadness may exacerbate and feel overwhelming. The moments of quiet may change from relief and re-energizing to hours and nights of deeper loneliness and overwhelming sadness. For many people grieving, holidays can become some of the most difficult of days…and nights.

Pretending these emotions are not present does not help. I suggest that we move into those moments. Now I am not suggesting we move into a place of sadness and despair for the holidays and settle into being in that place. What I do suggest is that we recognize, name, embrace and move into our continued healing.

Those we gather with may, too, be hurting and mourning the loss of beloved family and friends missing. The need for support can be great and so I offer some suggestions that may be of help.

A photo of us at one of our last family weddings together.

Having experienced the past three years of Christmas without my beloved has been very difficult. It will again this year have moments of deep pain. But I have also identified some practices and actions that I have found to give support and comfort to my healing. I hope you may, too, find these to be of help.

 Recognize the loss
Those in my life and our sons’ lives are very aware that my husband, their father, has died. To hear Dave’s name spoken gives us great hope, hope that he is not forgotten and hope of a life well lived that did indeed impact others as well. Dave remains on our mind. Saying his name honors him and us, that is healing and supportive.

Include your beloved in your holiday gatherings
We have three candles that we have placed at the empty space on our table when we gather. The empty chair recognizes the reality that we have people missing from our table. Dave, my father Gerry and father-in-law Robley remain with us in spirit and love. We light the candles and say their names. We include them in our prayers. We honor their lives and our loss. Invite others who gather with you to light a candle and name their beloved as well. They will be grateful.

Sharing of Stories
Encourage stories of beloved family and friends to be told. Telling the stories can be great ways to remind ourselves of the great moments and events in our lives. Our stories within the greatest story of our faith can give meaning and hope to our days. Passing on funny stories, favorite memories and ways our beloved impacted our gatherings can be great steps to honor and heal.

 Have a backup plan
If you just cannot bring yourself to join in gathering, festivities or celebrations, it is okay too. Sometimes the pressure I placed on myself in my early days after Dave’s death was heavy and unbearable in its own place. To shorten times at gathering or give your self permission to skip and event is okay.

Be gentle, kind and understanding with yourself
Protect yourself and be comfortable doing the best you can given the circumstances. Allow others to help, most of us love helping others. Extend that gift to others with grace for them to support you.

Allow time to honor your grief
Recognize the grief and your need for time and space. Embracing the pain of loss can allow us to reconcile the pain and heal. Remember, as my friend and author Alan Wolfelt writes, “to live well we must mourn well”. Allowing yourself to recognize the pain opens you to healing.

For me these days are among the most challenging. I will continue to grieve and mourn all the days of my life. That is the consolation of love and loss. And I pray, I continue to pray for myself, our sons, our families and friends and yes, I will this year be especially be praying for you!   Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

 

Geralyn Nathe-Evans has been called to the vocations of wife, mom, Lay Ecclesial Minister, nurse and friend. Read more about Geralyn on our Meet Our Bloggers page.

Candy cane coffee cakes create custom of giving

Janet Dusek (left) and her mom, Marilyn Muellner, pose with the well-worn “Betty Crocker’s Cookbook” from 1971.

Janet Dusek’s mother, Marilyn Muellner, has always had a knack for making the Christmas season special for her family. As long as Janet can remember, her mom lovingly decorated their home and tree with angels and other treasured ornaments, baked cookies of all kinds and one year sewed each of her children special stockings that they cherish to this day.

A holiday tradition that warms Janet Dusek’s heart is baking Candy Cane Coffee Cakes with her mother, and her sister, Jill Muellner. Marilyn has been creating the festive sweet breads since Janet was in elementary school.

Jill Muellner, Janet’s sister, kneads the dough for the coffee cakes.

“I really have fond memories of these coffee cakes,” Janet said. “They are rich and full of fruit — and also encourage the act of giving. The recipe makes three beautiful cakes. Our family tradition was (and still is) to keep one and give the other two away. Making these cakes is time-consuming as there are several steps in the process and the dough has to rise for about an hour. But, I love that as it allows us to spend more time together and we can use the time to drink coffee and catch up with each other.

“My assignment this year was to chop the sticky fruits,” Janet added. “Jill kneaded the dough and, after all these years, Mom is a master at braiding it.”

Candy Cane Coffee Cakes
Submitted by Janet Dusek

Coffee Cake:
2 cups sour cream
2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115°F)
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
About 6 cups flour
1 1/2 cups finely chopped dried apricots
1 1/2 cups drained, finely chopped maraschino cherries

Extra soft butter or margarine

Thin Icing:
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 tbsp. water

Heat sour cream over low heat just until lukewarm. Dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in sour cream, 1/4 cup butter, sugar, salt, eggs, and 2 cups of the flour. Beat until smooth. Mix in enough of remaining flour to make dough easy to handle.

Turn dough onto well-floured board; knead until smooth, about 10 minutes. Place in greased bowl; turn greased side up. Cover; let rise in warm place until double, about 1 hour.

Heat oven to 375° F. Punch down dough; divide into 3 extra parts. Roll each part into 15×6-inch rectangle; place on greased baking sheet. With scissors, make 2-inch cuts at 1/2-inch intervals on long sides of rectangles.

Two of the braided candy cane cakes are ready for the oven.

Combine apricots and cherries; spread 1/3 of mixture down center of each rectangle. Crisscross strips over filling. Stretch dough to 22 inches. Curve to form cane. Bake the cakes at 375°F for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Create icing by blending confectioner’s sugar and water. If icing is too stiff, stir in a few drops of water.

While coffee cakes are warm, brush with butter and drizzle canes with the thin icing. If desired, decorate with cherry halves or pieces.

Yield: 3 coffee cakes

Notes from Janet: Mom always uses butter for this recipe. The original recipe is from the 1971 edition of “Betty Crocker’s Cookbook.”

A note from Carol: Janet Dusek is the administrative assistant for the diocesan Office of Marriage and Family. She and her husband, Rod, and their children, Katie and Andrew, are members of St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud. Marilyn is a member of St. Joseph Parish in Grey Eagle. (Katie took the pictures for this blog post.)

Carol Jessen-Klixbull is a copy editor at The Visitor. She is a former Family and Consumer Science teacher who has a passion for all things “food.”

Advent Series: What we don’t know

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Mary did you know” written by Mark Lowry. I like all renditions, but recommend googling the Pentatonix version.

I think a lot about the lyrics:

“Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?”

No, I don’t think she did. The journey she accepted was already overwhelming, knowing the situation with Joseph and the public scrutiny she would face. Imagine if she knew the full story – what Jesus would do, how He would suffer, how He would change the world. What she did have was tremendous faith, despite the unknown.

We cannot purchase faith, sell it or give it to our friends. Wouldn’t it be great if we could? It would make shopping so much easier. Here is a wrapped up package filled with faith that your grandpa will get well. Here is a cute box with a bow filled with faith about your children and their choices. Here is a gift bag, with extra tissue paper, filled with faith that the major decision you made was the right one.

How often do you wish you could just hug someone and transfer the belief you have in them, to them, giving them comfort and confidence? How different do we see ourselves, than how others see us? Wouldn’t it be a gift if we could change that? Unfortunately that doesn’t work and faith does not come in a store, with a receipt for returning it.

As we think about Christmas, faith and those gifts we wrap, I think there are two important things to keep in mind. What seems not very important to you, like casual conversation, may be vital to someone else. Those words of criticism that seem like jokes or kidding, or the verbal praise you don’t say because it’s no big deal or “we just don’t do that in our family” — are more important than you think. Words are so much more than verbal gift wrapping. And remember, someone else is keeping your words and actions close to their heart, recycling over and over in their minds what we said…or didn’t say. Think about what is actually the greatest gift you can give someone. (Hint: It can’t be gift wrapped.)

On the other side, we need to keep remember what seems damaged can still have value. We are more than what our circumstances appear to be to other people. We need to see ourselves in the mirror as God see us, not the rest of the world. This is what I think Mary did know – very well – about herself and her son. I think this is especially important during this season, because while many look forward to everything that comes with the traditions, others are scared, hurting and very much alone. Remember the first Christmas. Mary giving birth in a stable, with everything (physical and emotional) surrounding her at the time.

Finally, the song also asks Mary, did you know “when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God?” I hope you will think about that this week as we head into Christmas. Each and every person we meet provides us the opportunity to demonstrate our faith, and what is truly important.

If following the model of Mary seems overwhelming, and the approaching pressures of the holiday is overwhelming, remember one more thing. This time from another of my favorites, the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet. (I know, huge swing from Mary to the Grinch.) But he figured out that Christmas comes without ribbons and tags or from a store. Christmas “means a bit more.” Christmas is about a simple, humble stable, and had someone scared, who really didn’t know how it all would work out. Maybe we are more like Mary than we think.

Sheila Hellermann is a member of St. Rose of Lima Church in St. Rosa. She works at St. John’s University as a program and department coordinator for several academic departments. Read more about Sheila on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.