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.

Advent Series: Awaiting the Feast

Timothy Johnston, diocesan director of the Office of Worship.