The Advent wreath

I’m trying this again. I’m trying the traditional route of Advent. Growing up there were certain traditions my family definitely participated in. We hung stockings over our fireplace in anticipation of St. Nick on December 6.

Then at church we would choose a construction ornament from the giving tree, giving us a suggestion of a gift to buy for someone less fortunate. I always liked picking out books or mittens. Warm thoughts and warm hands are always welcomed in the winter.

Our family was always focused on giving to others, and I’m so grateful for that experience and ethic that is ingrained in me. But I never truly understood the concept of Advent until I lived some painful personal truths. At church I knew we lit candles in anticipation of Jesus, but it was quite the concept to wrap my child mind around.

Advent is to understand that we are gradually building light to embrace the darkest night of the year. That each of us takes this time to work on ourselves to BE that light, for others, for ourselves, for our loved ones and for strangers, to remember the lost and those living in that darkness of fear and pain.

It is a stirring in us of hope; it is belief in the impossible, the absurd, the miracles and the hopeless cases. It is a chance to be ridiculously optimistic and excited. It gives us a chance to open space in our hearts for whatever hope brings.

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

Advent brings Christ, the Christ in ourselves, so we can BE Christ to each other and bring His presence forward in what we do. So I have made my wreath this year, and I will light it, and pray with it. It’s a daily reminder to bring out the light I have to share. I hope you will, too.



Bring on the darkness

I don’t know why it is, this time of year, that I gear up for action. Once Daylight Saving Time ends, I’m ready to go. Most people tend to simmer down when the cold weather seeps in, the nights get longer, the house gets cozier, and the soups just sound more delicious.

I’m ready to get OUT. Let’s lose some weight! Yes! Right before and during the holidays! Yes: that makes perfect sense! In fact, let’s get all the outside projects done while the night approaches and we work in the darkness. Because who doesn’t love not seeing what they’re doing?

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

Honestly, where was all this energy during the summer when it could be more useful? This flummoxes me every year. But what helps me feel a little more normal is that it nicely lines up with Advent. Maybe it’s a little earlier than the season, but you get the idea.

I get EXCITED when the nights get longer. It forces me to contemplate. It makes me go inside myself and do some really difficult work. Darkness lets me dream more, and my dreams are little messages from God helping me through that work. It helps me free up emotional and spiritual space for more adventures—lovely adventures that open your life up to the spirit of Jesus and never-ending possibility.

I think sometimes we just stuff ourselves silly with the status quo of our lives. We keep our stuff because it gives us security and confidence, and we don’t want to ever waste anything. Some of this is completely appropriate, but I’m pretty sure there are areas in our lives that need to be thinned out. Are we scared to have vacancy somewhere? Does that make us vulnerable to … what … despairing need? Or does it open us up to more rewarding opportunities?

Sure I could wait until Advent to get started, but personally I think this process takes longer than 25 days. Clear out those cobwebs. Let’s REALLY get ready for Jesus this year, starting now.

Messy spiritual allergies

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Much like a food allergy, I’ve found that something just isn’t sitting right with me and the Church. My experiences in spirituality, what I find inspiring and comforting, just don’t make sense with Mass anymore.

Imagine writing that on a religious blog. Eesh.

So what do you do with a troubling spirit or food allergy? You find the source! You put it all to the side and slowly, ever so slowly, you sip each aspect. Let it sit and ruminate in you. See how you react—see if your soul sings! Or flops.

My process is both arduous and lazy. I’m finding I lack discipline when I don’t fear the wrath of God so much. But I am approaching my delicate questions with sincerity and a quiet determination to resolve them.

Do I know Jesus as a person? And Mary? The Bible tells me certain things, but what were they really like? Ohhh, I love Catholicism and its myriad of prayer styles. This will help me.

Are you still Catholic? Yes. I may not be making sense of my devotion at the moment, but I am aware of other religions and can at this point absolutely say “Yes.” I am trying to be Catholic.

What do you miss of Mass? The community, the ritual, and perhaps the discipline (although I’m not a fan of being judged for not partaking in certain disciplines). This all or nothing approach really wounds people.

Why are my most spiritual experiences considered sins? Ah yes, there it is. There’s the allergy—my Church wound. I haven’t balanced this one out yet. Still working on it. It’s probably the hardest to reconcile.

This is a long, long process. But honestly, it feels right. I can’t explain it. I get little nudges every now and then to continue on it, so I am, and it’s healing. I’m healing my Church wound. This is hard for me to write about, so I hope it’s received in understanding. But I happen to think that with so many people my age choosing to not tie down to a religion … this might mean something. So, I thought I would share.

Emily Crook, a good friend of Sister Julia’s, says the only appropriate place to put this mess is Messy Jesus Business! It’s not possible to contain all the holiness that goes on in this place, but with this blog, it’s at least easy to read and enjoyable to view. We hope you like it! 

A hand in a miracle

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Photo credit:

Imagine you’re making your way throughout your day, doing your job, or maybe just going for a walk. And suddenly, you are dazzled, bewildered, so incredibly confused, but there’s this stunning image in front of you. A ghost maybe? Some ethereal being, that’s for sure. I mean … she’s floating.

There’s a smell of roses maybe, or a feeling of incredible peace. And then, suddenly, she’s gone. Did she just speak to me? What … what did she say?

You go back to work or your home, share this news with a handful of people, and pretty soon you are that guy – that guy with the visions, the strangely healing visions. Which isn’t the best way to be known, seeing as there are some pretty intense suffering going on elsewhere for people experiencing visions.

She keeps visiting you. At this point, it would be nice to see more of her, maybe prove something, but do you kind of want her to go away?

What does she want?

Oh God. Make it stop or help me prove it.

And He proves it.

Oh Goodness, here we go.

Today, right now, if you saw Our Lady of Guadalupe, if she appeared to you and shared her message … would you recognize it? Would you believe it? Would you trust your experience enough to know that this was something sacred? Would you share it?

Can you imagine if Juan Diego didn’t?

Take some time to recognize and share your sacred experiences this Advent. You may just have a hand in a miracle.


In Its Time

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” (Eccl 3:11)

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I am sorry to disappoint everyone but this beautiful passage, spoken ages ago, passing the test of time to get here today, was written just for me. I am sure of it. For the past few years, I’ve been a student of journeys. I’ve walked with others, and I’ve certainly been on my own. You learn a few things when you’re the witness of some deep suffering and exalted joys.

1: You can often feel bipolar because huge climactic changes can happen in the flip of a switch. These moments cause you to reflect on the moment before and freeze that emotion, whether it was calm, peaceful and excited, or moody, dark, and anxious.

2: There is an immediate reactionary building period to those changes. It’s where you set your resolve, your personal priorities and rudimentary boundaries. This event might change you as a person and you want to make sure you have the inherent qualities you like about yourself.

3: In between those moments of change come big expansive times of anxious doubt (Why hasn’t anything good happened in a while? Am I chasing the wrong dream?) and envious comparison (Everyone seems to be happy and have their desires. Sigh).

4: Peppered in that anxious doubt are moments of excited clarity. I can feel something is about to happen, but what? How do I prepare for this?

5: And then BOOM another change, another moment, and you start the process all over again.

It’s exciting stuff, change. Life. And the older I get, the more I appreciate the unfolding of it. Six years ago I started my awareness of infertility. Three years ago I was suddenly notified of my impending divorce. Since then I’ve been focused on healthy healing and patient waiting with quiet, such quiet anxious hopes. It’s so hard to trust. It is. But I can firmly say that I have definitely tried my best at it. And wouldn’t you know? I’m getting married this Saturday.

Indeed, He has made everything beautiful, in its own time.


I can’t wait for the days of my future fame – when some high-strung reporter asks me “how did you do it? How did you know?” Because at this point in my life, I plan on being at least 60, not caring much for social graces anymore, and I will totally respond in some graceless method laced with mild profanity: “Pfft. I’ve no idea.”

I have dreams of grandeur still, despite my chosen professional track. And though my adult self completely realizes great money and fame will never be in my cards (and really, that’s okay), it seems my inner child still expects a ridiculous amount of awe.

Yet, it’s hard to feel worthy of praise when the “success” of work is completely not because of you. In fact, it’s even better when you’re clueless, in a way. I’m not advocating that every professional dumps their hard-earned knowledge or skills. I just happen to be in the very unique position of quasi-counseling.

I don’t medically counsel people; that would be dangerous for both concerned. My style is more to provide a simple, subtle, optional direction for life. No pressure or anything; just someone’s happiness at stake. And routinely, my answer to people who ask how I do what I do is a blank stare with a feeble “I’ve no idea.” Which terrifies them, I think, and a little me, too.

Emily's reaction to her life at times, in very impractical shoes. (Photo Credit:
Emily’s reaction to her life at times, in very impractical shoes.
(Photo Credit:

And then add to that mix your own poor, personal decisions blowing up in your face. Well, it just doesn’t add a whole lot of confidence, you know? “Here, let me guide you in major life choices as my own life currently disintegrates behind me because clearly… I know what I’m doing.”

Oh, Lord.

(And then God’s like, “Get your ego out of this, I will take care of it!”)

And suddenly I realize that it’s not about me. In reality, people kind of like it when you screw up but yet retain some semblance of sanity and pull it back together. They need to know that you don’t know what’s best so they can figure it out on their own. And honestly, if I knew all the answers, if I knew how it was done, if I knew the master plan and what you were destined to be, well, that would just ruin God’s surprise, wouldn’t it?

Emily Dawson, a vocation director for the FSPA and a friend of Sister Julia, writes from La Crosse, Wis., where she and Sister Julia sometimes visit coffee establishments and movie theaters together. Enjoy more of her cheeky style: she writes over at

The saint and the sisters of St. Rose

Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration Affiliate Emily Dawson works at St. Rose Convent in vocation ministry. She was asked to write about the correlation between St. Rose of Viterbo, the patron saint of the FSPA (whose feast day is today), and life in the convent.

When I asked a FSPA in the know about St. Rose of Viterbo and how the saint relates to life in St. Rose Convent, she gave me one of those deep, quizzical looks that made me question every ounce of my education. Then, after sharing a brief historical synopsis; the knowledge that the patron saint was bestowed (not necessarily chosen); and the promise of literature in an email, she sarcastically wished me luck with making this connection and bid me on my way.

Oh, now it’s on. Now it’s more than just historical reflection. This is a battle of the minds, people, and I am no theologian (so please be kind).

It turns out that St. Rose wasn’t a theologian either. Well, how could she be? She was 17 during her mid-12th century heyday and a woman to boot. There was very little text meant for her. Yet, she was dangerous.

Real life image of Rose of Viterbo
Contributed by FSPA

And, might I add, seemingly crazy. I actually mean no disrespect. Crazy is a subjective term we give to things we don’t understand. And St. Rose was so mystical, so obstinate and so progressive that people didn’t quite know what to do with her. So, they stuck around to watch.

Her danger came in her ability to organize people—but not the right people. She organized women publicly (!!!). She taught others the road to salvation: something heavily debated at that time (with little theological background) which made those scholars nervous. She taught from the heart and had this intense passion for God that had to be shared with others.

Despite threats to her family, their eventual exile, the cold they embraced living in the snow and her unexpected death, St. Rose’s short life and ministry—while not entirely documented (due to a fire that destroyed several documents)—made enough of an impact to live on for centuries. Her body did too, apparently (blech!).

Rose of Viterbo window2-LZ-crop
Photo by FSPA

But no, I don’t know how there would be any similarities between Rose–an obstinate, progressive, mystical young woman; and the FSPA of St. Rose Convent–a group of (lovingly) obstinate, progressive, mystically minded, lovable wave makers. These women are theologically grounded yet continue to reach out to teach the way of salvation to God’s people—all because of this deep-seated passion for God. Nope. No idea.

I guess all that’s left is to embrace my little rebel St. Rose inside and defy defeat. Happy Saint Rose Feast Day everyone!

Note: In my first paragraph, I’m being facetious about my “FSPA in the know,” Sister Jean. She’s a fabulously sassy Sister whom I very much admire. Thank you, Sister Jean, for your insight into St. Rose!

Downward Mobility

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Photo credit:

by Guest Blogger Emily Dawson

I am writing this in a laundromat. I used to have my own wash machine and dryer, house and garage and lots and lots of counter space too–used to. Basically, life happened. And I will say that while washing, drying and folding your intimates in the privacy of your own home is a luxury, you do learn to adapt and perhaps even cherish downward mobility.

Experiencing it is not exciting. There are very few honorable people who willingly choose this: to move their social status down a notch. Most of the time this happens against our will and it becomes a personal test of strength and surrender. Old habits and routines are broken as we hesitantly release our comfort and sometimes end up feeling unfortunate.

It is, however, also a time of freedom. A time to release possession from our possessions. I don’t have a washing machine anymore, but I also don’t have any responsibility if it breaks.

I do not own property and my living space is drastically smaller, but I don’t need to shovel snow, mow the lawn, clean or organize much–if at all. And I don’t have that weird compulsion to compete with my neighbors over how successful I am anymore. Blech.

What I get in return for this drastic change, this perception of “loss,” is more of me. I get more time to focus less on things I had and more on experiences I want to have; ideas I want to create; and conversations I want to share. I end up giving more too–more time and even money to my community and to those who need me. I’m finding my life much more enriching these days.

But I won’t sugarcoat downward mobility. It’s rough, especially if unplanned. I miss the plans I used to have for my stuff (as ridiculous as that sounds, but watch any Home Depot commercial and you’ll know what I mean). Yet now I can appreciate that even a mundane activity, like laundry, becomes an event: a time I can’t do anything but have for myself.

You should be so lucky. 


Really, how hard is peace? Where does it start?
Because really, I could handle peace a lot more if everyone else would just behave themselves. Like if that woman in the grocery store would be cognizant of her physical space boundaries, and move her cart over so I could get through, instead of gabbing on her phone forever, I could get at my cereal.
And if my friend showed up on time, we wouldn’t have to scramble to find seats at the performance. If the car in front of me was actually going the speed limit, I would have made that light and not be late to work.
If. If. If.
If I were to stop objectifying people, and instead acknowledge their own trials, this may turn out differently. Would I feel different about that woman in the grocery store, had I known she was having one of the last conversations with her mom? Would I forgive my friend had I known she had complications with her car? Would I have more patience if I’d known the driver in front of me was dealing with flashbacks of an accident she was in three years ago?
Peace. Peace of the heart comes when we understand each other. When we stop trying to use each other. When we start respecting each other just because we are human. Today is the International Day of Peace – a day where around the globe, people lay down their violent hearts. Hundreds of thousands of children are immunized because of this day. War-torn neighborhoods have a moment of respite. A moment of hope.
Peace Day sign
Your neighborhood might not be at war, but I bet your heart is. I invite you to take a moment and step out of your shoes into those of another. Acknowledge the truths we have, celebrate the differences, and pray. Pray that acceptance comes easily.
Happy Peace Day everyone.
p.s. To see if there is a peace day activity near you, visit If you’re near La Crosse, Wis., meet up at St. Rose Convent’s Mary of the Angels Chapel for a prayer vigil at 3 p.m. Then head over to UW-La Crosse for evening entertainment!