From my Heart at 3:09am

It is 3:09 am and I’m wide awake. Some of my best work is done late at night, or early in the morning. I usually listen to music when I write, but not tonight. I’m enjoying the stillness of the night. The only three things I can hear are some birds chirping outside my window, the sound my finger tips make against my MacBook Pro keyboard, and the steady sound of my roommate’s sound machine. Mariu is a doctor and works some pretty crazy hours, so she likes to turn on a sound machine so the noise around the house doesn’t wake her.

I’m working on my manuscript – Choosing to See Beauty. I am so excited for this publication. Lately, especially with all that is going on with Made in His Image, I have been reflecting a great deal on my life and what God has done to bring me to this day. It’s mind boggling really, often in prayer, I just sit there and am in awe of His healing Hands. Last week, tears of joy overtook me and I couldn’t hold them back. May God’s name always be praised and glorified!

You know something? God really wants to help you too. Whatever your struggle is, whatever your cross is, whatever your pain is, He has felt it. He is beside you right now, waiting for you to reach out to Him. He is holding you ever so close to His Sacred Heart.

Will you not allow Him to be your Savior? He gives us free will – so the choice to choose Him is our decision. He will not force Himself on us, for that is a direct contradiction of His very nature. How privileged you are to carry a portion of His cross to Calvary. Delight in it, and ask God for the grace to unite it to His suffering on the cross. My friends, it is a great gift to suffer for the King, even the angels can’t partake in this honor.

I want to challenge the world to choose to see beauty in the ambiguity of life this day. Give your cross to God, suffer with joy. And one day, either in this life or the next, you will see God’s mysterious plan unfold in your life and the lives of others. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to suffer joyfully for the one who was struck, crowned with thorns, spit at, rejected, humiliated and nailed to a cross for you.

From the Heart of a Young Entrepreneur

Yesterday someone asked me if I ever have second thoughts about Made in His Image (MIHI). I didn’t need to think about my response as I said, absolutely not. It came out of my mouth as easily and quickly as my answers in the past have been to young children I have tutored. When they have asked me what 6 x 6 is I didn’t stop and think about it. I just know it’s 36 and have never wavered on that fact. I might have chosen not to verbally answer the question, so as to help them learn, but nevertheless know with absolute certainty that the answer is and always will be 36. The person pressed further and asked how I knew for certain this was what God wanted. And I told them the answer.

I’ll be honest with you though, I really ignored God’s call for a while. Well, maybe “ignore” isn’t the right word, but I certainly wasn’t being very courageous and trusting in God’s plan. I pursued countless other jobs thinking I wasn’t brave enough to take this leap of faith to actually launch MIHI. I thought I wasn’t worthy of being the director and founder of this organization. But in reality, God’s the founder and I’m just His instrument on earth striving to honor Him with my life.

It was challenging for me to take that leap though, because I’ve always been a dreamer and I knew a lot of people thought this was just another one of my pipe dreams. But it wasn’t, and I knew in my heart it wasn’t. I had pursued so many other job opportunities, but God kept blocking them. I was testing God, which is never advisable. I was trying to see if another career would open up, when a beautiful one was right in front of me. Granted I did need to do a great deal of research and healing myself before I could officially launch this ministry. But God was ever so close to me the whole time, protecting me and loving me unconditionally despite my lack of trust. I am so thankful for His mercy and gentleness. Since taking that leap of faith, I have never been more at peace and eagerly look forward to Made in His Image opening its doors to help those in need. God’s goodness is mind-boggling and this would never be possible without the generosity of all of those who are helping me. I am eternally grateful and you remain in my daily prayers. May the Lord bless you for your generosity.

My friends today is a great feast day in the Catholic Church. Today is the feast of the Archangels, who have been venerated throughout the history of the Church. St. Michael, whose name is taken from the Hebrew who is like God, is the archangel who defends the friends of God against Satan and all his evil angels. He is God’s finest soldier and a powerful intercessor. Gabriel, which means the Power of God, was chosen by the Creator to announce to Mary the mystery of the Incarnation. Raphael, (the Medicine of God), is the archangel who takes care of Tobias on his journey.

My dear friends, one should never underestimate the power of angels, as they continually praise and adore God. Amen, Amen I say to you, you shall see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man (John 1:51).

Now war broke out in heaven, when Michael with his angels attacked the dragon. The dragon fought back with his angels, but they were defeated and driven out of Heaven (Rev 12:8). Blessed John Paul II reminds us – The continuous struggle against the devil that characterizes Michael the Archangel is still going on since the devil who seeks to take advantage of every situation, is still living and operative in the world (JP II, Address, 24 May 1987).

John Paul II also points out that we should continually pray for the Archangel Gabriel’s intercession for the sacredness of life to be protected, since he informed the Blessed Virgin of Jesus’ coming. When the sacredness of life before birth is attacked we shall affirm that no one has the authority to destroy unborn life. When a baby is described as a burden or looked upon only as a means of satisfying an emotional need, we will stand up and insist that every child is a unique and unrepeatable gift of God with the right to a loving and united family (John Paul II, Address, 7 October 1979).

Saint Raphael the Archangel is one of the patron saints of vocations and is most commonly known in the Bible for guiding Tobias to Sarah. St. Josemaria Escriva’ who is one of my favorite saints, as well as a patron for Made in His Image once said – For some the path will be the road of matrimony. This state in life is a way to holiness. Parents cooperate with God in bringing children into the world. They educate and make sacrifices for them so that they may grow to become good children of God. Commend yourself to St. Raphael that he may keep you pure, as he did Tobias until the end of the way (The Way). 

May the Archangels protect and interceded for us this day! Don’t be afraid to ask tremendous favors of them. In honor of Saint Michael here is an exceedingly powerful prayer.  Someone I admire very much told me to read this every morning before starting my day.

Salt + Light The Porn Effect – Wednesday’s Inspiration

For the past month I have been addressing the preposterous evil in relation to pornography in my weekly Wednesday inspirational post. For my newer readers, each Wednesday I post something that I like to refer to as “Wednesday’s Inspiration.” I have used Matthew Fradd’s website The Porn Effect as a reference for the past few weeks. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Matthew’s work, please read the following.

Matthew Fradd is Australian by birth and Catholic by choice.  After experiencing a profound conversion at World Youth Day in Rome in 2000, Matthew committed himself to inviting others to know Jesus Christ and the Church He founded.  As a missionary in Canada and Ireland, Matthew proclaimed the Gospel to over ten thousand teens and young adults.  Matthew has also served the Church through full-time lay ministry in Australia,Ireland, Canada, and Texas.  Matthew has been seen or heard on the BBC, EWTN, The Irish Morning Show, and Catholic Answers Live, where he has shared his personal story of sin, redemption, and healing to people all over the world.

I strongly encourage you to use Matthew’s website as a resource for someone you might know who struggles with an addiction to pornography. Also, if you are hurting because of someone else’s addiction there are resources for you as well. Please check it out.

I am vehemently opposed to the evils of pornography and will stop at nothing to expose it as Satan personified and to bring about Truth. When I see someone like Matthew who is spending his life promoting the nature and dignity of the human person, I believe it should be praised. My friends, please watch the following video of Matthew on Salt + Light, which is a Catholic channel.

Advice from Papa

Jesus tells me that in love it is he who delights me, while in suffering, on the other hand, it is I who give pleasure to Him. Now, to desire good health would mean seeking happiness for myself instead of trying to comfort Jesus. Yes, I love the cross, the cross alone; I love it because I see it always on Jesus’ shoulders. By this time Jesus is well aware that my entire life, my whole heart is consecrated to him and to His sufferings.

Ah, dear Father, pardon me for using this sort of language; Jesus alone can understand what I suffer when the painful scene of Calvary is enacted before my eyes. It is equally incomprehensible how Jesus can be consoled not merely by those who sympathise with his torments, but when he finds a soul who for love of Him asks no consolations and only wants to be allowed to share in His sufferings.

When Jesus wants to make me under-stand that He loves me, He permits me to relish the wounds, the thorns, the anguish of His Passion. When he wants me to rejoice, He fills my heart with that spirit which is all fire and He speaks to me of His delights. But when He wants to be delighted, He speaks to me of His sufferings, He invites me in a tone which is both a request and a command to offer my body that His sufferings may be alleviated.

Who could resist Him? I realise that I have made Him suffer exceedingly by my failings, that I have made Him weep too much by my ingratitude, that I have offended Him too grievously. I want nobody but Jesus, I desire nothing else (which is Jesus’ own desire) than His sufferings. Allow me to say it, since no one can hear us, I am ready even to be deprived forever of the tendernesses which Jesus lavishes on me, I am prepared to bear His hiding His beautiful eyes from me as long as He does not hide from me His love, for this would cause my death.  – St. Pio of Pietrelcina

Chunky woolen sweaters from jcrew, warm mugs of cider and cooler weather…

these are three of my favorite things about fall. Oh and I can’t forget my six year old jcrew vest and woolen ski hat. The other day someone asked if I had stopped posting anything baking related on my blog, since I was working full-time with Made in His Image. Good question, and the answer is no, I can’t forget my roots (Hi mom). I still love to eat, cook and bake; I just don’t get to do it as much. And yes mom, I do have money to buy groceries. My mom was a little concerned (as most moms I imagine would be) when I left my job for MIHI. Not because she didn’t believe in the mission, she just wanted to make sure I was provided for. She still asks periodically if I have money for food (thanks mom, I just Trader Joe’s it up).

So, it’s officially fall, and Nashville’s weather is starting to act like it with its crisp evenings and chilly mornings. All of the local cafes’ have brought back their pumpkin spice lattes, spiced apple cider and their assortment of seasonal baked goods. To follow in the festivities of the season I thought I would post a recipe for donuts. Yep, that’s right, that would be homemade donuts. So now you can save that five dollars or more that you would spend on a dozen donuts and make them yourself. Plus if you have children, they will love it! Just don’t let them do the frying, but I think that’s common sense. I made donuts with one of the little girls I tutor and she LOVED it. She went around the block with me handing them out to her neighbors because she was so proud of herself. So, making donuts can also be a confidence builder, even better!

Yeast donut dough
3/4 cup whole milk
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons) quick rise yeast
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
Other ingredients needed
Canola oil for brushing and frying
2/3 cup of the best quality strawberry jelly or seedless raspberry, apricot, or blueberry jam. I love the seedless raspberry the best. 
1/2 cup of superfine sugar 

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk and butter and heat, stirring, until the butter is melted and the mixture is hot but not boiling. Remove from the heat.

Fit a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. In the mixing bowl, combine 2 1/2 cups of the flour, the sugar, salt, and yeast and beat on low-speed to mix. Add the hot milk mixture, raise the speed to medium, and beat until well blended. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until fully incorporated, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining 3/4 cup flour and beat until the dough is well blended and smooth, about 1 minute longer. The dough will not pull away from the sides of the bowl and will still be somewhat sticky.

Scrape the dough into a large bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let stand in a warm place until well risen and increased in bulk (it may almost double in size), about 45 minutes. Use the dough right away.

Alright here we…let’s do this, let’s make donuts.

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper and brush the paper with oil. Line a second baking sheet with paper towels.

Turn the dough out onto a generously floured work surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough into a circle about 10 inches in diameter and 1/2 inch thick. Using a 3-inch round pastry cutter, cut as many rounds as possible. Use a wide spatula to transfer the donuts to the oiled paper. Gather up the scraps and repeat the rolling and cutting out donuts. Cover the donuts with a clean kitchen towel and let rise for 30 minutes. The donuts should look soft and puffy, but will not double in size.

Pour oil to a depth of 2 inches into a medium size pot that you would boil water in. Heat the oil until it reads 360 degrees F on a deep frying thermometer. Carefully, lower 2-5 donuts into the hot oil and deep fry until golden in color, about 1 1/2 minutes. Turn over and cook until dark golden on the second side, about 1 minute longer. Transfer to the towel-lined baking sheet. Repeat to fry the remaining donuts, allowing the oil to return to 360 degrees F between batches.

Spread the sugar on a large plate or in a wide, shallow bowl. When the donuts are cool enough to handle, roll them in the sugar to coat on all sides. Fit a pastry bag with a 1/4 inch round tip and spoon the jelly into the bag. Using the tip of a small sharp knife, cut a 1/2 inch slit in the side of each donut. Press the tip of the pastry bag gently into the slits and pipe about 2 teaspoons of jelly into each donut. Enjoy as a perfect fall treat!

Kitchen notes: If you are using raspberry jam it has to be seedless, or the seeds will get stuck in the tip you attach to the pastry bag. Make sure your thermometer is a candy thermometer, a regular kitchen thermometer will not measure up to 360 degrees F.

A Special Post From My Dad

I am very similar to my dad in some ways, primarily our love for the outdoors. He was a runner as a boy, and taught me to run as a young child. He grew up at the ocean, and some of my fondest childhood memories include the ocean and learning to ride the waves. One of my favorite memories during the summer is when my dad would take some of us camping on Lake Champlain. And by us, I’m referring to my siblings. I am one of seven and he would take three or four of us. Not everyone liked the idea of filtering our drinking water, canoeing to our island, killing snakes and fishing for dinner. I on the other hand, loved it. I get that from my dad. Today I asked him to be a guest writer for my blog and here is what he wrote.

Isn’t this picture so cute? This is my dad and I at the beach! I look so happy, I love it!

I am Maura’s Father.  Maura has asked me to write about my running experiences in my life.  I have been running since I was sixteen years of age.  I am now 60 years old.  In these forty-four years of running, I have learned many things about myself, others and God, for running is foremost an opportunity for me to think, contemplate and unclutter my mind of all the distractions.  Most people see running as an aerobic activity to help you be healthier so you can live longer.  I grant you those results do occur if you stay with it but that is not why I primarily run. Running affords me primarily the opportunities to be by myself to think about the day’s issues or life’s challenges.  I prefer to rise every morning around 4:30 so I can run before I go to Mass and start my professional day as a school principal.

My days are very hectic for I am responsible for the academic well being of 500 students everyday as well as the professional development of our faculty and staff which support our school.  Running provides me with relaxation from the stress and build up of tension that comes about from my daily activities of living and working to follow the will of God.  My prayer is enhanced by this physical activity for I can focus more clearly on what I need to do everyday for Almighty God

How did I start this whole experience which for me is such an important part of my day and life?  I was most fortunate to grow up across the street from the Atlantic Ocean.  I could stand in my bedroom and see the sun rise every morning and look to the horizon.  I could see the waves curl, crash and wash up on the beach.  I could hear the gulls squawking and the resultant sounds of dropping clam shells on our roof, driveway or decks to crack them open to eat.  I have found recollections of the smell of the salt drifting off the ocean and permeating my room.  I could lie in my bed at night and hear the waves and fall off to sleep.  Why wouldn’t I want to spend more time closer to these experiences?  Where I lived we had a boardwalk built by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression in the 1930’s.  A boardwalk is as the title suggests, boards laid horizontally about fifteen feet wide on top on the sand and parallel to the Atlantic.  It is here that I began my running career as a young boy of sixteen.

I am always amazed as to why I did not begin this experience earlier in my life.  At the time, running was not at all popular in America and those that ran were considered loners and misfits.  I will admit to being a loner and one who enjoyed the time to myself.  From those early years, I matured in my running to running seventy and eighty miles a week which included running a marathon every Saturday morning.  I was young and enjoyed the freedom and relaxation that running provided.  In fact, my first date with Maura’s Mother was to run five miles.

Over the years, I have decreased my weekly mileage as my responsibilities increased, varied and became more time sensitive.  Today, I run twenty-five to thirty miles a week and still absolutely and positively love it.  I try to run every day.  The medical profession says that running every day at my age is not beneficial.  For me, it is essential for I need that emotional release of relaxing as I run.

September 23

Okay, brace yourself, I suggest sitting down. This post is not meant to be read in a quiet spot, because shouts of exclamation are most certainly appropriate. I also don’t promote the reading of this post over cliffs from your smart-phones, as you might slip and injury yourself from sheer astonishment, inspiration and jubilation.

First read this miraculious story!

I am very close with my older brother James. He is a tremendous blessing to me and a beautiful witness to me. James is a Captain in the United States Marine Corps.

In August of 2009 he returned from overseas. In September of 2009 his Commanding Officer (CO), said he was sending him back. This scheduled return was exceedingly unexpected seeing that he had just arrived back in the United States. Two days later I flew out to California to welcome him home and say goodbye again.

As I passed through security at the airport it really hit me that James was leaving again. I had two hours before my plane took off for California, so with a little Lady Antebellum playing in my  ipod I walked over to Starbucks to get a Cappuccino. I always travel with books to read and reached into my North Face book bag to pull out a book about Saint Padre Pio.

Right then it dawned on me that I should pray for a miracle that James wouldn’t be deployed through Saint Pio’s intercession, as he feast day was mere days away. Why hadn’t I thought of this before, I thought to myself. This was just the sort of thing that would delight Saint Pio. Saint Teresa of Avila once said, “We pay God a great favor by asking big things of Him.” So with faith and love in my heart I prayed for James. When I arrived in California my eyes welled with joyful tears as I saw him walk toward me wearing his favorite Rainbow flip flops (total California style).

The morning that I was going to say goodbye to James I got up early to go running down by the beach. The elevator was broken and there was a sign on it that said to use the stairs. As I approached the stairs I thought it odd that they elevator would be broken because it was an extremely upscale hotel where weddings were hosted. I opened the door to go down the stairs and couldn’t believe what I saw. The entire stair case was covered with roses!! I was in awe, because roses are a sign that Saint Pio is close to you. I knew Saint Pio was doing something, especially since this was the day before his feast day.

California mornings are usually slightly cloudy and that morning was no different. I ran 6 miles just as the sun was rising and the view was breathtaking. All of the surfers were just getting to the ocean, driving up in their jeeps with their surf boards on top and morning coffee in hand. It was gorgeous.

James told me to meet him at a cafe’ for breakfast. He called, said he was running late and to go ahead and order. I ordered belgium waffles, a cappuccino and a mimosa. James and I always drink mimosas in California and I ordered mine with a smile. About fifteen minutes later, just as my waffles were served, and the steam still rising from the plate James walks in. As the waiter pours the champagne and the bubbles fizzle James sits down. “You’re never gonna believe this, but I’m not going. My CO (commanding officer) just told me I’m not going.” I knew it was Padre!! James continued to say that out of 1,000 men and women that were being deployed he was the only one told he was staying. To this day no explanation has been given to him.

Blessed be God! God is ALIVE my friends! Pray for miracles, they delight Him.

James and his wife Susan.

Today is the feast day of St. Padre Pio. Today is a glorious day. The story about James is just one of times that Padre has interceded for me. One of the things I love about Padre is his response to suffering. Saint Pio once said, “Beneath the cross one learns to love.” Everyone struggles, everyone is faced with the cross. But it is our response to that cross that determines so much. To know that a saint as holy as he is, is before the throne of grace praying for me and my intentions is mind-boggling. His life is an example of the fact that sanctity is attainable when we abandon ourselves to God.

Who is this saint who interceded for James? you may ask. What is his story? Allow me to introduce you to one of my closest friends – Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.

Saint Pio is one of the most beloved, astounding and controversial religious figures of the 20th century. He bore the wounds of Jesus on his own body, healed the sick, predicted future events, read the minds and consciences of those he counselled, and in some instances appeared miles away to help souls in need. But those who came to see him were less moved by these wonders than by his compassion, warmth, holiness and  profound love for Jesus. In his lifetime he was unjustly accused of neurosis, hysteria and immorality, In time he was vindicated, and thirty-four years after his death in 1968, was named a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

Francesco Forgione was born in 1887, in the village of Pietrelcina in the South of Italy. He was the second of five children. His parents were poor farmers. An exceedingly pious boy, Francesco had frequent visions of Jesus, Mary and his guardian angel. At the age of ten he announced his intention of becoming a Franciscan friar, and entered the Capuchin novitiate in Morcone at the age of sixteen.

His piety intensified in his late teens and early twenties, and with it his mystical experiences. Jesus appeared and spoke to him, but Satan also assailed Padre with frightening visions, numerous temptations, and even physical assaults. In September, 1918, Padre Pio had a vision in the friary chapel, the crucifix transformed into a vision of Jesus crucified, and from this vision came rays of light that pierced his hands and feet. Within a year enormous crowds were coming to San Giovanni, and Padre Pio was spending sixteen hours a day in the confessional.

St. Pio endured extraordinary persecution from jealous clergy. And from 1931-1933, Padre was forbidden to hear confessions, or say Mass in public. During this period Padre appeared cheerful. But was equally well-known for outbursts of temper towards curious pilgrims and unrepentant sinners. He underwent continual darkness and doubt as to if he was in a state of grace. He never thought of himself as “holy.”

After WWII ended, Padre embarked on a new mission, to build a hospital in the community. He began organizing a board of directors in 1946. Donations poured in from admirers and disciples around the world, and in 1956 the House for the Relief of Suffering opened its doors. It is known today as a world-class medical institution.

On September 23, 1968, 50 years after receiving the stigmata, Padre died. He was beatified in 1999 and canonized in 2002 by Pope John Paul II. Over eight million visit his tomb each year.

Saint Padre Pio, pray for us!

“The most beautiful credo is that which comes from your lips in darkness, in sacrifice, in pain, in the supreme effort of an unbending will for good. It is this which like a stroke of lightening penetrates the darkness of the soul; it is this which in the flash of the tempest lifts you and leads you to God.” -St. Pio

‎”The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self; there is no flowering of the soul to the beauty of its perfection except at the price of pain.” -St. Pio