My Marian Consecration

Today is Monday, July 16, 2018.  Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, a Marian Feast Day in the Catholic Church.  Today I have consecrated myself to Jesus through Mary after attending mass celebrating this feast.  Today I would like to share with you my thoughts and preparations leading up to this consecration, preparation that I made using the book 33 Days to Morning Glory by Michael E. Gaitley.

How did I learn about Marian Consecration?

Two years ago, my mother-in-law recommended that my husband and I read 33 Days to Morning Glory and by starting in November, we could consecrate ourselves on December 8 for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  She had heard a talk about it and had gone through the consecration herself with her husband and highly recommended it.  She said it would make a good devotional study, even if we decided not to consecrate ourselves.

As I am always down for a good bible study, my husband and I read the book together.  My husband did decide to consecrate himself at the feast.  At that time, I did not.  While I read the book with him, I did not feel comfortable consecrating myself because I did not understand what consecration was and I did not understand many of the Catholic dogmas about Marian theology.  33 Days to Morning Glory is not a beginner’s book to Marian theology.  For me, it was like trying to read a calculus book without knowing multiplication.  Since then, I have done further study into Marian theology and accepted the beliefs that were holding me back before.  Having moved past those barriers, I decided I wanted to give the book a second chance to learn more about Marian Consecration.  I didn’t start the book thinking I would consecrate myself, but wanted to use it as a good devotional study, one that I could more fully participate in this time around.

(If you do not know much about Marian theology, I recommend reading my posts: How Mary is Revealed in 3 Types in Old Testament, 5 Characteristics of Mary, and Mary’s 3 Roles in the Church Today)

What is a consecration?

The Catholic Church defines a consecration as “an act by which a person is dedicated to the service and worship of God by prayers, rites, and ceremonies.”  While it is similar to a blessing, it differs because the person is elevated to a new status to which one will never be changed back from.  For that reason, you can only be consecrated once; however, there are many different forms of consecration.  Should you decide to consecrate yourself to Jesus through Mary does not inhibit you from consecrating yourself to Divine Mercy the next year or to the Sacred Heart of Jesus after that.  Since a consecration can only happen once, it is solemn and serious.

What is a Marian Consecration?

A Marian Consecration is when a person dedicates him/herself to the service and worship of God “by relying upon Mary’s powerful intercession, experiencing her tender care, speaking to her from his/her heart, letting him/herself be led by her, having recourse to her in all things, and trusting her completely” (126).  It is determining to be more like Jesus by depending upon Mary.  Jesus first depending upon Mary when He trusted Himself completely to her care within her womb and then again when He trusted her to nurture and teach Him in the Hidden Years prior to His active ministry.  Consecration to Jesus through Mary is acknowledging that when Jesus said during the “hour” of his Passion, “here is your son; here is your mother,” He was talking not only to John but to every disciple.  When you consecrate yourself to Jesus through Mary, you are saying “Yes” to his request to take His mother into your home so that she can transform you into a model of Christ.

Why do I want to consecrate myself?

I want to consecrate myself for three reasons: (1) to fulfill my utmost desire to live a life that is pleasing to God, (2) to enrich my current spiritual life, and (3) for my prayers and sufferings to be offered up in the most appropriate manner to benefit my family or those in need.

It is my utmost desire to live a life that is pleasing to God and to follow His will in my daily actions.  I struggle with this desire because I feel like I am at a stage in my life where I am uncertain of what the Lord wants for my life.  In the past, I have felt capable of discerning where the Lord was calling me to be.  I have felt lead to do City Year, to become a Youth Group Director, to move into the City, and to marry my husband.  These calling led me to believe that I would live in Detroit, raise a family, while working for a nonprofit doing God’s work.  And while I am living in the city, raising a family, I am not working for a nonprofit.  While that doesn’t mean that I am not doing the Lord’s work, it means that I struggle with the confidence that I am doing the Lord’s work in the capacity He wants me to be.  By consecrating myself to Jesus through Mary, I am embracing Mary’s motherly devotion to me and allowing her to lead me into the Lord’s will for my life.

Raising two toddlers has taken a toll on what my spiritual life looks like.  I have less time to pray, read the Bible, and participate in Church life.  While I teach my children how to pray, I forget to pray.  Often times I find myself confessing to God of my fear to not be placing Him first in my life.  I desire that this Marian Consecration transforms my spiritual life.  By having Mary lend me her heart, I can better love Jesus.  As a mother, I know there is no creature who loves my children more than me.  As a creature, no one loves Jesus more than Mary, especially given her Immaculate Heart.  By asking Mary to keep me in her heart, I trust her prayers and spiritual guidance will led me to a better devotion to God.

Every day, I pray that the Lord bless my daughters and make them into saints, a task that is never accomplished until they arrive at Heaven’s gates.  I pray for my family and those who have fallen away from the church’s teachings.  By consecrating myself to Mary, I provide her the use of my prayers and merits.  While I still can pray for whomever I chose, I let her be the final say on where those blessings may be placed.  While this is terrifying, it is also reassuring in that, one day, I may have children who are suffering in faith and not feel comfortable to tell me about it.  But Mary knows their heart and can direct my prayers and merits over to them when I would not have for being oblivious to the pain they are feeling.  And should my family not need my prayers, Mary will be able to direct those prayers to those in most need.

What does it mean to consecrate yourself to Jesus through Mary?

When I began writing this post, I almost saw me writing a book review summarizing all that Michael Gaitley discussed about Marian Consecration.  That would be a big disservice to you, as if you are interested, it comes much better from him for I am no Marian theologian.  Instead, I will merely state some of the things that stuck out to me, which influenced my decision in deciding to consecrate myself to Jesus through Mary, this time around.

⦁ Saint Louis De Montfort believed that the main reason why we sin is because we forgot our baptism vows, when we declared to reject Satan.  He has us renew our baptism vows to Mary to place this declaration in the forefront of our hearts and minds, as well as, enlist Mary’s support, because the Lord has “place[ed] an enmity between her and Satan.”  (36-37)

⦁ De Monfort’s prayer of consecration to Mary emphasizes a special and intimidate gift of self to Mary, where one offers her (1) his/her body with all senses and members, (2) our soul, with all its powers, (3) our exterior goods of fortune, (4) our interior goods of fortune (merits, virtues, and good works).  We offer up these to Mary so that she can make use of them to her best discretion, relying upon her will that is completely aligned with the will of God. (38)

⦁ Saint Maximillian Kolbe wished to “consecrate his entire life to a great idea.”  My freshmen year of college, my roommate told me she was out at a party talking to stranger.  Somehow they got on the conversation of roommates, and the stranger asks, “wait, you’re Detroit girl’s roommate?”  Upon hearing her story, I couldn’t be prouder that the one characteristic people knew me by was my passion for Detroit (or countless number of sweaters and wide brim hats displaying the Old English D).  I would like to consecrate my life so wholly to Jesus it becomes a part of my identity.

⦁ Kolbe pondered the phrase “I am the Immaculate Conception” for most of his life and determined there are two Immaculate Conceptions.  The uncreated Immaculate Conception (Holy Spirit) and the created Immaculate Conception (Mary).  While Mary was immaculate conceived, when she said “yes” to the Lord’s will at the Annunciation, and conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit, she became the spouse of the Holy Spirit.  As such, just as a woman takes a man’s name in marriage to represent that they have become one, she takes the name of her spouse. (52-54)

⦁ Saint Mother Teresa acknowledged De Monfort’s intimate gift of self to Mary and focused this gift on the exchange of hearts. Mother Teresa prayed that Mary would lend her heart so that Mother Teresa could better love Jesus. She also asks to be in Mary’s heart, creating an intimate union with Mary.  With this covenant comes rights and obligations to which Mother Teresa spells out for all interested. (76-80)

⦁ Mother Teresa mediated on the phrase “I Thirst” during the Lord’s Passion and realized his thirst was for love and it was her desire to take away the continual suffering of Jesus by bringing disciples to him to satiate his thirst.  Am I properly responding to Jesus’ proclamation of thirst and doing my best to take away his suffering? (70)

⦁ Saint Pope John Paul II explains that Mary’s role is unique in history as our maternal mediator.  While there is one mediator to God and that is Jesus, God is generous and wants all of us to share in this role, in cooperative and subordinate ways.  This consecration to Jesus through Mary is our “ongoing, post-baptismal transformation in Christ.” (101)

How will I consecrate myself?

For 33 days I have read, studied, and reflected upon the devotions to prepare my heart for saying yes to Mary.  I have done the three things Gaitley recommends (nothing is required): (1) gone to confession, (2) write and print out the prayer of consecration to sign and date after, and (3) got a miraculous medal to carry around with me.  I also attended adoration for an hour to reflect upon the serious nature of this consecration and my desire to consecrate myself.  I will attend the Feast of the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel’s mass and say my prayer afterwards.  From there, I will try my best, with the help of Mary and the Holy Spirit, to live an attitude that brings me closer to the will of the Father and to mimic the life of Jesus.  What this looks like, I do not yet know.

 

PhotoShop Challenge: 4 Fun Filters

Happy Photography Friday! Man, it felt so good to get back into Photoshop and play around. It’s been over a month since I have been able to edit photos because of my laptop breaking down. (Didn’t hear the story? Read about it last week: Photography Challenge: Shapes.  I also covered the criteria I wanted for my new laptop for top Photoshop performance).

As such, I wanted to make this post easy and fun. Here are four fun filters to mess around with in Photoshop:
–Convert to Black and White
–Create Bokeh after the fact
–Add an Oil Paint Effect
–Convert green trees to a fall scene

I learned these four affects by reading Scott Kelby’s How Do I Do That In Photoshop?  Kelby covers MUCH MORE than I ever will cover on my blog, so I highly recommend renting the book from your library or purchasing it using my affiliate link, which adds no additional cost to you but provides me a small commission.  With that, let’s have some fun!

Convert to Black and White

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but I imaged converting to black and white to be difficult or something that needed to be perfected after multiple tries. In fact, it's really simple and Photoshop does most of the work for you. Follow these simple steps.  (1) Click on the Create New Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and (2) choose Black & White from the pop-up menu. Suddenly, your image will convert to black and white, yet you can still use (3) the sliders to tweak the conversion.  You'll see how adjusting these colors affects it. In the picture below, I slide the red slider to the left to darken the lips and highlights in the hair. Not sure what you're looking for? You can use (4) the presets for different affects.

Create Bokeh

The best way to get that dreamy blurry background look is by doing in camera instead of in Photoshop. Don't know how to do that, check out my Photography Challenge: Achieving Bokeh. But if for some reason, you didn't get the shot at the time, you can attempt in Photoshop. I decided to use a picture of my daughter, that I originally wanted to have a bokeh.  At the time, I didn't have the right lens nor did I realize how I would need to place my subject for the picture.  I reflect upon this failure in my post 5 Things I Learned From 3 Weeks Without a Photography Challenge.  Below, I attempt to achieve Bokeh again, within Photoshop.

(1) Go to the Filter menu, Blur Gallery, and choose from Iris Blur. When you do this, it creates a large oval in the center of your image with a slight blurring outside the oval. When you look at the background of this original image (2) you can see how in focus it was. Now, look at how the background was changed below.

One of the reasons why I couldn't ahcieve bokeh in camera was that my subject (girl) was too close to the background (flower tree) that I wanted blurred. In order to get the picture, I needed to position my subject in front of the tree a few feet. Ironically, this is the reason why when I create a bokeh affect in Photoshop, the image still seems off. The subject is touching the tree so to have her in focus and the tree out of focus doesn't create a believeable affect as her arm seems to disappear into the blurry world behind her. I fixed this by picking a different picture where my subject is in front of the blurry background by some distance.

It's a much more believable bokeh, but you can still tell the difference when looking at her feet.  The sand within the oval is different than the sand outside.  When (3) the oval appears, you can resize it by clicking and dragging on the edge of it. Moving it is easy as you click and drag the pin in the center. You can rotate the oval as well by clicking on one of the control points on the oval and it changes to a double headed arror and you click and drag as it spins. To increase the amount of blur, use the (4) blur panel. You can slide it one way or the other and it will change immediately. You can also change (5) the light, color, and range of light.

Add an Oil Paint Affect

This is a fun affect, which I recommend for nature, plants, landscapes, even buildings. However, I attempted a picture of my daughters and while I tried my hardest, I couldn't get them to look not terrifying. If you can pull it off, more power to you. Once you choose your picture, go to the Filter menu, go down to Stylize, and choose Oil Paint.

Your Oil Paint panel will pop up and you can create different affects depending on how you slide the scales. I recommend clicking "Preview" so that you can see how it will affect your image before you save it. Also, I had a hard time seeing any change unless I was zoomed up really close in my photo. I realized to get the affect that I wanted I needed to resize my image. (You do this under the Image menu, Size Image). My photos were something like 6000x4000 pixels and I changed it to 1400 or even 700 pixels for the width. This made a HUGE difference when I applied the Oil Paint filter.

Insert Fall Instantly

Everyone loves capturing fall photos: smiling in front of those gorgeous trees with leaves changing colors. But the leaves change colors for a week and then fall, so if you miss that golden week, you are left with a dead looking background. But you can fake it, as long as you still have green leaves, such as the picture above, inside the zoo's aviary where the leaves never change color.

Once you open you image, go to the image menu, go to mode, and pick (1) Lab Color. (It will be on RGB Color by default). Then go to the image menu, go down to (2) Apply Image, and the Apply Image panel will pop up. Under Channel, select "b". Then under Blending, select "Overlay". Click Ok, and then remember to change back to (4) RGB Color. In the two picture below, the trees were green.

There you go! Four fun photoshop challenges that are quick and easy. I am still really new to Photoshop so these were fun for me to play with. As we go along, I am looking into more complicated photoshop challenges. Until then, I hope you enjoy having fun with me.

Interpreting The Call of the Holy Spirit

It was close to midnight. There would have been stars if it wasn't so cloudy. It was silent except for the squeaking of my swing going back and forth. I always enjoyed swinging; it normally cheered me up to feel close to flying, but it wasn't working on this night. I was upset at the Lord, for He was calling me into a mission I did not want to do.

Six months earlier, I about to start my senior year and had finished all my college applications over the summer break. Now, begun the hunt for scholarships. One of the scholarships I found was a grant program in exchange for a year of service: AmeriCorps.  I printed out the information and tossed it into a pile of all my other scholarship possibilities and continued hunting.

Arriving at school, I found out one of my favorite teachers was starting a new club: a Debate Team. I decided to join because I enjoy public speaking and it was something new and different. The topic for the year was:
Resolved: The United States federal government should establish a policy substantially increasing the number of                                         persons serving in one or more of the following national service programs: AmeriCorps, Citizen Corps, Senior Corps,                                 Peace Corps, Learn and Serve America, Armed Forces.
Having no knowledge of debate or the topic, I randomly decided to join the affirmative team and so begun my year of extensive research into America's National Service programs and building a case for increasing participation within them.

Debate Team: for our first year, we walked away with some trophies. Not too shabby

By the time Halloween came around, my best friend Lindsay and I decided we would room together at the University of Michigan the following year. She had received her early acceptance letter and we were expecting mine to arrive shortly after.  My letter did arrive; however, it stated that they had not made a decision regarding my application at this point and they would return to it again with the general admission applications. I was heartbroken. I had applied to many other schools and gotten into others, but the University of Michigan was the only place I wanted to attend.

Unsure of my college plans, I continued forth with scholarship applications and deadlines. Going through my pile, the AmeriCorps print off surfaced to the top.  City Year Detroit was the specific program that was being advertised on my print off. They were holding an open house and I decided to go, for the sake of Debate Team Research.

My heart was strangely warmed while attending the City Year Open House. City Year Corps Members spent a year in the city, tutoring at-risk youth Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, they spent the day either in job training or doing large-scale physical service. Two year earlier, my brother had been categorized as an at-risk youth and sent to a boarding school miles away. Every kid in the pictures I saw reminded me of the pain of living at home without my brother and how badly I wanted to help him.

On the drive home, I decided that I would postpone college so that I could do a single year of national service with City Year Detroit. That way, I could take my ACTs and SATs again to raise my score and write a powerful essay and be accepted into Michigan the following year.  I told no one these plans.

The Broomball Tournament is a serious tradition of Spring Hill Winter Retreats

In January, my church Youth Group attended a youth retreat, as we did every winter, to Spring Hill. It's a weekend filled with praise bands and sledding hills and worship services and most importantly, a broomball tournament. The theme of the year was "Listening for God's Call" and it seemed every speaker was telling me that I should do City Year.  I felt called to start telling everyone I know about my plan.  So feeling on fire with the Spirit, I did.  I resolved that even if I was accepted into Michigan, I would defer enrollment for a year so that I could do City Year.  As soon as we got home, I told my parents my plan; they were not convinced. I told Lindsay; she was devastated and told me not to give up on my Michigan acceptance letter. She was sure it was coming.

Sure enough, a week after I told everyone my plan, my University of Michigan acceptance letter arrived. I was ecstatic! I could go! I could be roommates with Lindsay! Everything we had planned could occur as we had discussed. Two days later, at church, my pastor gave a sermon about Jonah running away from his calling. I felt like she was starring me down the entire time. The service finished by forcing me to sing "Here I Am, Lord" and I felt in my heart that I was singing the words yet refusing my service to God. But the acceptance letter had arrive, maybe I had misinterpreted what I felt at Spring Hill? Maybe God didn't want me to do City Year after all. But I could not shake the feeling that the acceptance letter was God's way of making me choose. He knew that I had agreed to City Year out of a lack of choice: I couldn't go to Michigan so City Year was a way of improving my application for the next year. God wanted me to serve with a service heart, not a reluctant, self-serving heart. I applied to City Year Detroit, because, who knows, maybe I wouldn't be accepted? One could hope...

In the Methodist Tradition, we focus on Lenten Studies to prepare for Easter. I have always done one. This year's Lenten Study studied the difficult road to discipleship. The fear disciples endure and the callings that they accept are not ones desired by secular society, such as imprisonment or martyrdom. When my City Year acceptance letter came, my Lenten Study suddenly became 40 days of discussing with a large group why I felt my calling of a single year of service was harder than the years Paul spent in a Roman prison leading up to his execution. So I reluctantly agreed to do City Year again.

Some moments of your life are ingrained on your heart. It's been 11 years since I told Lindsay in the hallways of our High School that I was deferring my enrollment to college but I can still vividly recall the look of devastation in her face. My heart ached as I felt like I was betraying one of my best friends.

It was this moment that led up to my silent mediation on the swings. I still had not sent in my acceptance letter to City Year and my deferral request to University of Michigan. I could still go to college next year and feel like a normal teenager. I could start planning out what my dorm room will look like and decide what is the best mini frig to buy with Lindsay. I felt so lonely not going to college. I wanted God to talk to me on the swing that night and say with a big and powerful voice, DO THIS. But the night was silent; I heard nothing. I walked home crying, unsure of what my future held.

Harvey Harris came up to me in church the morning after the swing set. He is one of those people you try to avoid if you are in any rush to get somewhere. The grandfather of the church who talks to all the visitors, shares the same stories with you over and over, and gives out his advice to anyone within range. He came up to me and once again, the memory is again engraved on my heart:

"Michelle, I want you to know, you changed your hair and I noticed. You cut it. And its a different color. You use to look exactly like your mom, but now you look different. You are grown up. Now, what? You're a senior, now, right? Yes, you'll be leaving home soon. But I am not worried about you. You have grown into a wonderful young lady who can hear where the Holy Spirit is calling her. You're different but your parents are proud of you because you are growing up. I am proud of you too.  I know the Lord will accomplish great things in you."

If that wasn't a big and powerful voice saying DO THIS, I don't know what is. It was the final cherry on the top of a whole year of the Holy Spirit leading me towards City Year. I mailed off my letters that afternoon and my life was forever changed for having listened.

I was the MC at our Opening Ceremony Celebration

One of our physical service days: Building a Playground in Detroit

6 Recipes to make with 12-18 month olds

In my household growing up, we knew it was dinner time when the fire alarm went off. My brothers occasionally hide the hamburger that was thawing on the counter because they were sick of Hamburger Helper. And I set the microwave on fire the first time I was home alone. We were not a family of cooks.

In my husband’s household growing up, at the beginning of the month, his mother planned out each night’s dinner for the whole month. Their kitchen was filled with fancy kitchen gadgets that were used on a nightly basis. And in High School, my husband cooked dinner 2-3 times a week. By dinner, I mean, actual family handed down recipes that take 1-2 hours to make from scratch such as homemade spaghetti sauce. We’re not talking Hamburger Helper here.

My husband said he appreciated his mother teaching him how to cook because he was spoiled with great meals growing up and it wasn’t a give-in that a future spouse would know how to cook. And she didn’t. Besides being essential for feeding yourself in your adult life, learning to cook has many benefits, especially for children. Children learn concentration, following directions, fine motor skills, math, reading, science, and healthy eating habits. The best part of teaching toddlers cooking is that you don’t have to be a great cook to do it. Don’t believe me? Look at me, one who could burn cereal, has been cooking with Miss Monster for a year and a half now. Below are 6 simple recipes that my 12-18 month old can fully participate in cooking and 6 tips for to stay sane while cooking with toddlers. .

Recipes for cooking with 12-18 month olds
The hardest part for me when cooking with Miss Monster was trying to find recipes to do. Before 18 months, there is a real limit on what a toddler is capable of doing in the kitchen.  I wanted recipes that she could be involved in for the whole process. I also thought I needed to introduce new recipes each week. You don’t, and actually, its better not to. Let them perfect the skills they need in just a few recipes before trying to introduce more. The main skills I want my 12-18 month old to practice are: (1) cracking eggs, (2) stirring, (3) measuring, (4) pouring, and (5) kitchen safety when working with the stove and oven. These recipes allow my toddlers to practice all five skills.

  • Scrambled Eggs
    I cook scrambled eggs once a week, every Sunday with my children. It’s great because it lets them focus on cracking the egg over and over again. Between the three of us, we need six eggs.  When first introducing this activity to your one year old, you may have to guide his/her hand the first time so s/he understand how hard s/he must strike the egg to get a crack. Toddlers also learn about stirring with a whisk and using a measuring cup to add milk. Scrambled eggs is a great first recipe for toddlers to learn about the stove. They are able to be up close to the pan and stir the cooking eggs. They can feel the heat but the frying pan has such a low wall that they don’t need to keep their arms high to avoid touching the pan. My daughters also love adding cheese right before the eggs are done because they can steal a few handfuls from the bag.
    Side story: At 14 months old, Miss Monster loved to make scrambled eggs. One day, we were at Grandma’s house and Grandma pulled out an egg to crack. Miss Monster reached for the egg, but Grandma cracked it herself, unaware of Miss Monster’s intention or desire. Instantly, Miss Monster clenched both her fists, burrowed her frow, and gave the most angry, frustrated growl. It was the first time I ever saw her angry and she was letting Grandma know she was unhappy about not being able to crack the egg.
  • Pancakes
    I cook pancakes once a week, every Wednesday with my children. Our Bisquick recipe requires eggs to be cracked, the flour mixture to be measured, and milk to be added. A 12-18 month old can attempt to measure out the flour, and then I show them how to level it off with a knife to get the exact amount. My young toddler can whisk the mixture together, but usually needs me to get it smooth and ready. At the stove, I show her how to measure batter and pour it on to the pan. I usually offer to let her try, guiding her hand if needed. If making blueberry pancakes, I let her drop the blueberries on. I do all the flipping, with her watching.

    Little Shark (15m) is stirring the batter, while Miss Monster (30m) cracks the egg into a separate container

    Side story: Miss Monster has been making pancakes for 18 months now and can do the whole process herself now, including pouring the batter on and flipping the pancakes herself.

  • Banana Bread
    I like banana bread because it uses those really black bananas that are just about needing to be thrown away. The bananas are always so soft that my 12-18 month old can still mash them up without needing any assistance. With banana bread there are lots of ingredients to be added and stirred. Since you don't use a whisk, it introduces the need for additional cooking utensils for similar tasks. We always add raisins to our banana bread, which are fun to steal when adding them to the mixture. Banana Bread is an easy recipe and introduces the oven. My daughter's enjoy looking in on their creation throughout the cooking process.
    Here is the Recipe for Banana Bread that I use: Betty Crocker Banana Bread
  • Muffins
    Muffins are another easy oven recipe that I use with my 12-18 month old. It involves lots of measuring of different ingredients, lots of stirring, and scooping batter to put it into the muffin tins. We add frozen blueberries or raspberries to our muffins.  It's a tradition for the girls to add one blueberry to the batter and one blueberry to their mouth, and so on and so forth. Notice a pattern in these stories? While I tried at first to institute a no-eating until the end policy, I have failed so far. As their will power increases, I will try again.
    Here is the Recipe for Muffins that I use: Betty Crocker's Blueberry Muffins
  • Macaroni and Cheese
    Homemade stove top macaroni and cheese is actually fairly easy to make and takes the almost the same amount of time to make as Kraft. While measuring ingredients takes a few minutes longer, you get the added bonus of no artificial flavors or coloring or preservative. For full disclosure, I don't always make homemade mac n cheese, but I have the goal of making it at least 25% of the time, and maybe increasing from there.

    Miss Monster (15m) cooking Mac-N-Cheese

  • Jam
    Miss Monster has discovered she LOVES peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. As such, we are going through jam at a rapid pace. I made 8 jars of pint sized jars of jam two years ago, which ran out earlier this year. I made another 8 jars in early June with the girls and in three weeks, we used three whole jars. So, we've been making and will continue to make lots of jam this summer. It's actually really easy to make and preserve. My mother-in-law lends me her hot water bath to seal the jars, but if you don't have access to one, you can purchase one on Amazon or do freezer jam, if you have the freezer space. My daughter's love the whole process. They love picking the berries fresh from the farm. They LOVE mashing the berries. Finally, they enjoy adding the sugar over the stove and stirring, watching the liquid get thicker as it cooks. If you have never made jam before, I highly recommend giving it a try. I was shocked the first time I made it at how easy it was and how much my toddlers enjoyed jamming with me!

Tips For Cooking With Toddlers

  1. Pre-measure Ingredients
    In my experience, toddlers from 12-18 months old struggle with scooping ingredients and filling up the measuring cup properly. When baking, it's important to exact ingredients so I found it easier to pre-measure my ingredients and put them into separate containers (such as empty butter dishes) before bringing my toddler over to participate. This way, I could provide the correct dish to my toddler and she could focus on the difficult task of just dumping it into the bowl. At 18 months, I transition my toddler to scooping ingredients. Now that I have two toddlers, my two year old scoops and levels off the ingredients with a knife, dumps it into the butter dish, and then passes it to my 14 month old who dumps it into the mixing bowl. Perfect teamwork.
  2. Different Container for Eggs
    Cracking eggs is difficult and you can expect to get some shell dropped in. I always use a different bowl, one egg at at a time, so that it's easier to remove the shell before adding it to the other ingredients. For my 12-18 month old, I always let them whisk the egg before combining with the other ingredients too. My daughter's eyes lit up when they see the yoke break. Finally, I pick a bowl with a sharp top so that it's easier to crack the egg on, such as a Tupperware bowl (see pancake picture above).
  3. Wet Wipes
    When working with eggs, expect that your toddler will get eggs on their hands and then want to put their hands in their mouth. When it was just Miss Monster, I taught her that we always wash our hands after touching raw eggs. With two young toddlers, going to the sink was just not possible. I realized that keeping wet wipes near by, I can quickly wipe away raw egg that gets on hands or the table.

    I love my children's learning towers!

  4. Learning Tower
    Keeping toddlers safe while learning how to cook is important. My children work in their learning tower, which lifts them to the appropriate height to work at the counter, table, and stove with me. By being surrounded in their tower, I do not have to worry about falling, which can happen when they are concentrating on a cooking task so intently that they misstep. I learned how to make our learning tower using this blog: Happy Grey Lucky.  Or you can purchase one on Amazon using my affiliate link below (which does not add any additional cost to you but provides me with a small commission).

  5. Proper Sized Tools
    I see a huge difference when one of my daughter's try to use my kitchen tool verses their own kitchen tools. Having a whisk that is their size helps them be able to properly stir batter. Having a spatula their size helps them to have better spacial awareness when stirring eggs on the stove, which prevents accidentally touching the pot with their wrist. My husband has fancy non-stick pans, which cannot have any metal used in them, so I was ecstatic when I found these child sized cooking tools (rather than play kitchen toys).

  6. Patience & Plan for Mess
    There is no getting around it, you will need patience when cooking with toddlers. Always plan for a recipe to take double the amount of time it would if you did it alone. Likewise, it will not be a clean endeavor you partake in. While the more you cook, the easier or cleaner it will become, it takes time. But the skills toddlers learn while cooking and the memories you are creating with your kids are more than worth it.

 

Hope you enjoyed these insights on cooking with Toddlers!  Comment below with some of your favorite recipes to make with very young children!

Photography Challenge: Shapes

I am so excited to be back online and posting about photography! A quick message about why I have been in remote silence for the month of June:

Back in late May, my computer stopped working in PhotoShop. I suddenly couldn’t edit any photos. Any time I tried to do any little change to a photo, I would get an error saying “insignificant RAM.” I had a laptop with 4 GB RAM, which is all Photoshop claims it need. However, I went onto Photography Blogs and everyone says that Photoshop usually uses 5 GB just to run and 6-7 GB if you’re editing multiple photos at a time. So strange that I was able to edit photos before and then suddenly couldn’t. I decided to look into another option for editing my photos. I looked at what I would need a new laptop to do for top performance of Photoshop. I looked at tablets that would be cheaper and still accomplish what I needed. I even looked a little into desktops; unfortunately, I do all of my blogging and editing during nap time–in a dark room while my girls sleep–so a desktop wasn’t an option.

Then, my keyboard stopped working on my laptop, especially “g” and “h”. Try typing a blog post without “g” and “h” and you’ll realize how those are two very helpful letters. So, I needed a new laptop for blogging and photo editing. I read all the blogs and articles I could find about the best computers for photo editing. For those interested, the best website that states the criteria you should consider when looking for a laptop with the specific purpose of photo editing is here and includes:
⦁ A newer processor for high performance, such as a Intel i5 or i7 processor
⦁ At least 8 GB of RAM, and ask if there are extra RAM slots, if you need to upgrade later
⦁ 256 GB “SSD” Storage (this would require you to also have an external hard drive to store your photos on) or 1 TB of Storage (to store your photos on your laptop)
⦁ 2 GB of Dedicated Graphics, which helps with editing high resolution photos
⦁ Full HD Display with Good Color Accuracy
Armed with this criteria, I then searched and messaged over 100 people on Craigslist, OfferUp, and LetItGo for used laptops for sale that matched the criteria I needed and offered a price within my budget (which wasn’t very high). I am happy to say that I found a computer and I am back to blogging and photo editing. With that, my next PhotoShop Challenge will be next week as I have been spending all day downloading Creative Cloud onto my new computer.

My newest Photography Book recommendation is “Picture Perfect Practice” by Roberto Valenzuela. I recommend this book so highly that I bought it, rather than renting it from the library. Valenzuela is a world renown portrait photographer who has won lots of prestigious awards that I have never heard about and teaching expensive seminars to train people in his craft. His book is written like he’s personally teaching you. It is filled with his insights and knowledge about creating masterful photography and has photography challenges at the end of each lesson. If you enjoy my mini photography challenges, this book is for you.


Today, I tried to implement his first lesson: using shapes to create visual interest. Shapes are one of the first things that we learn to distinguish. My toddler will learn a new name for a shape and then find it everywhere around us: in our home, in the park, at the lake, grocery store… literally I cannot escape the many circles she finds. But as we grow up, our minds stop processing these shapes in our daily life. By using shapes in our images, it draws the eye to these geometric shapes and creates interest. There are three main ways that you can use geometric shapes: framing, balance, background.

Framing
Framing is the most common way to use shapes in portrait photography. It’s seen in Pinterest images of a couple kissing through a window or holding up a picture frame in front of their faces or someone placed within a door frame. You use a shape to frame your subject. It’s common because it’s very effective in creating eye catching images. Here are a few of my attempts below:

My attempt at framing my daughter within a swing set rope ladder

Balance
Balance is less common and therefore has the potential of surprising your subject with interesting images. It requires you to use an shape to add depth or dimension to your portrait. Below is my attempt to use a sign to balance the picture of the children on the swing. Without the sign, the image would be flat but instead it adds character and a story line.

Background
Background is also pretty common way to use geometric shapes. You could capture someone in front of a brick wall or a wall of windows. Or you can combine both background and framing by framing someone inside an arch of a multiple arch bridge. While it is pretty common, I have not yet captured an image that I have liked to display below. When I do, I will update this post.

Photography Challenge: Shapes
Go out and capture five pictures of each shape: circle, square, rectangle, triangle, and oval. Capture it using one of the three methods: framing, balance or background. While this challenge seems easy enough, you will find it is actually harder than it appears! I was surprised when I attempted it!

8 Benefits of Summer Farm Days for Toddlers

This post reminds me of those beginning of the school year reports of "what I did with my summer vacation."  Starting in May, my daughters and I have been having farm days, twice a week. My neighbor, Alice, is an urban farmer, owner of Fields of Plenty. We go to her farm on Thursdays to help with her fruits and vegetables. We attend Mr. John's Farm on Wednesdays. His farm is not actually a farm, since he grows and cares of animals for self consumption and not profit. But his side yard is gorgeous and is a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. (Which means the property is recognized for its commitment to sustainably provide essential elements of wildlife habitat: food, water, cover, and places to raise young).  While at his farm, we feed the chickens, rabbits, and birds, while checking in on the tadpoles and bees.

Both farms are within a few blocks of my house, so I ride my bike, with the girls in the carriage behind me. I chose these two farms so that the girls will connect the word "farm" with both animals and plants. Saturdays, we attend a local farmers market, and often see Ms. Alice there and purchase items from her booth. This summer experience brings everything full circle: planting, harvesting, purchasing, and consuming. Two months in, and I look forward to our farm days. What's more, Miss Monster does too! Each morning, she asks "momma, what we doing today? We going to the farm?" Here are 8 reasons why farm days are summer days well spent.

1.  Develop Gross Motor Skills
Gross Motor Skills are those skills that use your whole body. These activities are essential for getting proper exercise to stay healthy and for muscle development  for young children. Farm life has gross motor skills everywhere. Miss Monster often helps move the wheel barrow or uses her farm tools to dig holes for planting. Pulling weeds takes more arm strength than I realized. She uses a measuring cup to scoop chicken and rabbit feed out of barrows and then carries it over to their containers to pour it in. She carries the animal water containers and uses the hose to fill them up. Usually on farm days, I can count on a pretty easy go down for nap because of all the physical activity she has done.

Miss Monster using her garden hoe to tear up a row of pea plants that were done being harvested

2.  Develop Fine Motor Skills
Fine Motor Skills are essential for learning to write because you are engaging your hands for careful and precise direction. When planting, Miss Monster has gotten practice at pinching the baby plant at the bottom of the stem to lift it out of the planting container so that she doesn't harm the root system. She then carries it over very carefully and places it in the pre-made hole and moves the dirt around to plant it. Similarly, when harvesting, she needs to use a pincer grasp to remove the berry from the plant or the spinach leaves from the stalk. These simple tasks require lots of fine motor development and concentration. In addition, when she pours the chicken, rabbit, and bird feed into their appropriate feeding containers, she is using fine motor skills to direct the feed and not spill.

Both girls taking turns filling up the chicken feed

3.  Develop Body and Spatial Awareness
Body and spatial awareness are very important developmental skills for toddlers to learn; otherwise, they are doomed to continuously run into the table or the door frame by not calculating their body movements correctly. On Ms. Alice's farm, Miss Monster has excelled at learning how to move around the baby plants and not step on them. We are working on  her awareness of her movements, as well as, where she sits while harvesting a plant in front of her and where the plants are behind her.

teen

Miss Monster navigating between plants

4.  Learn Where Food Comes From And Growing Seasons
In today's culture, it is so easy for children and adults to be removed from where food comes from. To be able to see food being grown and raised on a farm gives my children first hand experience of knowing that the grocery store is not where it originates from. In addition, they understand that strawberries grow on vines close to the ground, potatoes and beets are underneath the ground, raspberries are on bushes, apples and pears on trees, eggs are laid from chickens, and meat from animals (such as Mr. John's meat rabbits). They are also sensitive to growing seasons, since the strawberries have just finished, Miss Monster is sad to know that they are done growing, but is aware that now raspberries are being harvested. Knowing growing seasons is helpful to understand that certain produce have very specific criteria for growing and how the environment affects their growth.

Attending a local farmer's market and seeing Ms. Alice selling at her booth

5.  Expansive Vocabulary
Toddlers are rapidly expanding their vocabulary, no matter what activity you engage in with them. Even so, I think the vocabulary Miss Monster learns on the farm is very exciting.

Botany Lessons
Miss Monster is learning how to distinguish between different plants. When asked, she can lead you to the beets and cucumbers she planted. To her own sampling delight, she can identify strawberry and raspberry plants. For instance, while on a walk, we came past a community farm we had never seen before. Miss Monster instantly identified the strawberry plants in the back row and ran up to gather some. She also is learning the parts of the plants, such as the stem, leaf, roots, and flower. She is learning the cycle of plants, starting from seeds that are planted and grown, to being able to identify seeds in fruits to tearing up rows of plants that are no longer needed or dead.

Creepy Crawler Lessons
There are many insects on the farm. Miss Monster is learning the names of different bugs: from different kinds of spiders, to moths and butterflies, to ants or pillbugs. When we find a new insect, I either name it, ask for it's name, or take a picture so that I can look it up later to name at a future time. Miss Monster knows many insect names, and while she doesn't correctly identify them all the time yet, she will get there eventually. I also try my best to pick up the insects to show her that they will not hurt her, that she should not hurt them, and they provide benefits to the garden. While Miss Monster likes to observe them, she is not at the stage yet where she wants to touch or pick them up.

Miss Monster identifying the parts of the beet

6.  Identifying Colors

There are many colors found on a farm, from the colors of flowers to the colors of edibles to the colors of the eggs. Miss Monster is also picking up on color variations, such as lighter and darker. This is especially true when picking ripe berries. She has learned that strawberries start green, turn white, turn pink, turn red, turn dark red--and the dark red ones taste the best. Miss Monster loves naming the colors of the hens at Mr. John's farm and the bunnies too.

7.  Sensory Activities
Sensory activities are ones that engage a specific sense--touch, taste, sight, sound, smell--which is prefect to concentrate on while visiting a farm! Plants feel different, some are soft, some are more prickling, the animals fur or feathers feel different, and even eggs can feel different (eggs recently sat upon are warm opposed to the cold eggs not sat upon). Of course, there's alot of tastes happening on the farm and we use our vocabulary to expand upon if something is sweet, bitter, or tart. Farm animals make lots of sounds to listen for and mimic. Who doesn't love smelling herbs or flowers? And while I don't love smelling bunny poop, it's a powerful scent for my toddler as well.

Miss Monster petting one of the new baby bunnies

8.  Develop a Sense of Responsibilities
Miss Monster is learning about responsibilities and taking care of animals when we go to our farm days. At Ms. Alice's farm, we don't quit until we finish a row of the task assigned. At Mr. John's farm, we have our tasks we must finish ourselves. Miss Monster woke up one morning and we had this conversation exchange:
Miss Monster: Momma, what we doing today? We going to the farm?
Me: Yes, we are going to the farm today.
Miss Monster: Ms. Alice's farm? Or Mr. John's farm?
Me: We are going to Ms. Alice's farm because it's Thursday today.
Miss Monster: Okay momma. Ms. Alice is sad.
Me: Why is Ms. Alice sad?
Miss Monster: She need help on farm but I have to eat breakfast first.
Me: You're right, she does need your help, and she will be very happy to see you come today after breakfast.
Miss Monster: *squeel of delight* Yay! I make Ms. Alice happy!

With that, I encourage all of you to seek out farm activities for your toddlers. Miss Monster is currently 28 months, and has rapidly improved on her farming skills at such a young age. I am excited to see her skills development in following years and her responsibilities become more complicated, but even young toddlers can help alot on a farm.  Don't let a young age scare you away from some great outdoor time with your children. Even Little Shark, at 14 months, is developing gross motor skills, vocabulary, fine motor development (she picks berries too!) and exploring with all of her senses.

How might you find farm activities for your kids? Go to a local farmers market and ask around. Very small growers might be excited to have your help. Or attend u-pick days at different farms and visit animal farms.   If you have any sense of a green thumb (I don't) or space in your yard for animals, you can always do your own farming! However you do it, get out there, enjoy the sun and the farm!

Independence Day Books for Toddlers

Happy July everyone! Today is the first of the month, which means June passed and I didn’t write a single post. Wow. It was a whirlwind of a month, as my husband was in Germany for two weeks, my computer broke so I couldn’t do photo editing or write posts, once I bought a new computer, it was hard to get back into the swing of things, then my girls started fighting nap time, which took away my writing time. But, it’s a new month and a new start! What better way than to start thinking about the upcoming holiday!

Miss Monster loves books; she loves stories. We read before bed every night, and most of times she asks during the day. She demands to have a book read on the potty and often will fake using the potty or delay getting off the potty to continue the marathon of stories. Little Shark is finally starting to get into books as well. Often, I will find her in her room by herself, flipping through a board book looking at the pictures. She will tottle over to me, book in hand, at bedtime. She enjoys books with photographs of kids or animals or ones with flaps she can discover or fabrics to feel. Since stories play engage both girls attention so intensely, I have become aware of how to use books for the benefit of teaching lessons we are currently learning about: farms, space, animals, you name it. So with the holiday in a few days, here are my reviews of the best Fourth of July books that I read to Miss Monster and Little Shark. You still have time to get them from Amazon or rent them from you library.

NONFICTION
All of these are basically the same book, but geared at different ages. They have photographs and talk about the history of the holiday and how we typically celebrate this year.

 

Fourth of July – Weekly Reader / The Fourth of July – Kathryn Kyle
These two books are perfect for ages birth to 3 years old. Little Shark loved reading these because they have great photographs of peoples’ faces close up. There was only a sentence or two per page so it was quick enough that Little Shark could last til the end of the books. Meanwhile, Miss Monster also enjoyed the pictures and the sentences were easy enough for her to understand. These books taught her the basics about the Fourth of July.

Fourth of July – Lynda Sorensen
This book is perfect for ages 2 years old to 4 years old. It went more into the history of the holiday and the pages provided more details, which Miss Monster followed and enjoyed, but Little Shark was bored.

 

Happy 4th of July – Abbie Mercer / The Fourth of July – Debra Hess
Both of these two books had pictures and talked about the history of the holiday. The pages contained more details, which was a little long for Miss Monster but I think it would be perfect for her next year and up til grade school.

FICTION
These books have story lines and engaged Miss Monster and Little Shark a little better than the nonfiction books. Some were really good at weaving together a story with some of the basic facts about the holiday, while others were barely Fourth of July books.

Happy Birthday America! – Mary Pope Osborne
This was my favorite Independence Day fiction story book. The story follows a family that is attending a Fourth of July Festival together. You see many of the different ways that people celebrate the Independence Day, including a reading of the Declaration of Independence. It was both an entertaining narrative that engaged both my children and provided talking points about what Independence Day is. I am considering purchasing this book and pairing it with one of the nonfiction books for future years.

Fourth of July – Janet McDonnell
This was Miss Monster’s favorite Fourth of July book because it features a white poodle that escapes it’s owner and gets painted red, white, and blue. The story went into some of the basic elements of how we celebrate Independence Day and I would re-rent it again because of Miss Monster’s enjoyment of it.

Happy 4th of July Jenny Sweeney – Leslie Kimmelmon
Similar to the story above, this one follows a dog that gets loose on Independence Day. As you follow the dog and girl around town, you see the many different ways to celebrate, including a parade, fireworks, BBQ, an immigrant family gaining citizenship, and the mayor giving a speech. It rhymes and as a good flow. Miss Monster enjoyed reading this one and I would consider buying it.

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White Stars, Blue Sky –
The pictures in this book are gorgeous and I would consider buying this book. Each page only has a few words on it, and it matches up American symbols with American life. It is a good book for talking points and asking Miss Monster to explain what she sees in each picture and expanding upon what catches her eyes.

Apple Pie and The Fourth of July – Janet Wong
This was an interesting book about a Chinese immigrant’s experience about the Fourth of July. Working in a Chinese take out restaurant, a little girl wants to attend the typical holiday activities and discovers that she holds a place in celebrating America’s birthday. Miss Monster enjoyed this book and we had Chinese food for lunch so that she could connect the story with her life. It was enjoyable, but didn’t teach much about Independence Day.

Hats Off For The Fourth of July – Harriet Ziefert
This book is about a parade. Miss Monster enjoyed watching all the floats, cars, and marching bands pass by as we flipped through the pages. It has rhymes and rhythm, but for the most part, it doesn’t talk much about the Fourth of July at all. It’s a fun story, but not high on my re-rent list.

Looking for Uncle Louie on the Fourth of July – Kathy Whitehead
This book is also about a parade, told from the perspective of a young boy from Texas. He is attending a parade and looking for his Uncle Louie. It doesn’t teach anything about Independence Day so I probably won’t rent it again, but Miss Monster did love this book. She would flip through the pages and repeat “Uncle Louie? Looking for Louie! Uncle Louie? Uncle Louie!!” It was the easiest one for her to pretend to read to Little Shark, having heard it only once before.

Those are the books I read this year. Hope you are able to get your hands on them, one way or another, and cuddle up and celebrate our nation’s birthday with your toddlers! Happy Fourth of July everyone!

Mary’s 3 Roles in the Church Today

Mary intercedes on behalf of the wedding couple

Today is my final blog post, in a three week series, reflecting upon Mary, the mother of God.  I am reflecting upon the mother of Jesus because I realized that I can learn so much about Jesus by getting to know his mother.  After all, Mary is the one who nursed him as a babe, who sang him to sleep, who taught him his first words and how to walk, who encouraged him throughout his childhood and teenage years, who saw him through his whole ministry and all the way to the cross.  Just like getting to know my mother, you will learn more about me, by getting to know Mary, she will teach you more about Jesus.  Mary is the fulfillment of three types in the Old Testament: Eve, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Queen Mother.  She has five supernatural characteristics that describe her: she is the mother of God, she is sinless, she is a virgin, she is in Heaven, body and soul, and she is a mother to us all.  Finally, she has three roles in the church today: to be Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate.  Today, I will cover the Mary's 3 Roles in the Church today.  If you missed the other posts, you can read about her Mary Revealed in 3 Old Testament Types and the 5 Characteristics of Mary.  These insights come from Scott Hann’s Book Hail Holy Queen and Mark Miravalle’s Book Meet your Mother (or Love Her More), both Catholic books on Mary, because if we are going to learn about Mary, we should learn from the ones who have been getting to know her the longest.

Note: I will be quoting these two books throughout this post.  Scott Hann’s page numbers go from (0-150), while Miravalle’s go from (170-700) because I was using the Kindle version on my phone.  Therefore, I do not always say the author but you can tell who it is by the page numbers.  If you would like to learn more, I provide links for these books at the bottom.

Mary’s Roles in Today’s Church

We have covered where Mary was foreshadowed in the Old Testament and the five characteristics of Mary’s nature, which brings us to why is this relevant for today because there are three roles Mary plays in today’s Church: Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate.

Mary as Co-redemptrix

Mary holds the role of Co-redemptrix because her suffering is used for the redemption of sinners.  All Christians are called to work with God in the redemption of sinners, which is why Saint Paul states we are “co-workers of God” (1 Corinthians 3:9).  This works because in our Baptism, we literally become members of Christ’s mystical body.  As a member, we can release spiritual graces to anyone we choose when we suffer and offer our suffering as prayers to God, with the intention of uniting the suffering to that of Jesus on the cross (641).  Here, the prefix “co-“ does not mean equal to God, but working with God, for all redemption comes from God only.  He does not need our help, but chooses to work with us, to help us become mature sons and daughters in faith (125).  Just as I do not need my daughter to wash dishes with me in order to accomplish the task, and honestly, I can do it faster without her, I choose to include her in the process to help her learn and grow, so does our Heavenly Father include us in the work of His redemption through our suffering/work.

While we are all called to be co-redeemers, there is no other co-redeemer like Mary.  For all of us sin—and as a result there is a gap between what we want and what God wants—with Mary, there is no gap.  The church then “ascribes to Mary an unlimited capacity to merit” (135) and through her consent to conceive Jesus, she consented to suffering while he suffered.  She followed Jesus’ to the cross, never once speaking out against the grueling crowds, quietly suffering and offering her prayers up for the redemption of us all (742).  So having merited the graces through suffering to offer up for us, she then is able to nourish us with those blessing as Mediatrix.

Mary as Mediatrix

While we can offer up our sufferings for the saving grace to whom we choose, Mary also offers her saving grace to any she chooses as Mediatrix.  These saving graces nourish and educate us spiritually; just as any maternal mother feeds and educates her offspring.  When Mary asks Jesus to perform his first miracle at the wedding of Cana, she is embarking on her role of Mediatrix.  She has chosen to provide a grace to the wedding couple, who do not even appear to be followers of Christ.  She has chosen to intercede for them even though they have not gone to her or Jesus to ask what to do.  She merely sees the need and goes to Jesus.  As such, we can assume that even today, Mary is “not restricted to Christian disciples of Jesus, but is active in all humanity, in the variety of our wants and needs… even the most seemingly mundane needs of our lives” (859).  This leads to insight on why Muslim’s also believe in Mary’s intercession on their behalf.  It is important to point out that while it is Mary’s will that decides how to distribute these saving graces, because her will is perfectly aligned with God the Father, all the blessings are used how He would want.

Mary as Advocate

Similar to how Mary provides graces to those she chooses, those who choose can approach Mary for requests to bring to Jesus, because of her role as Advocate.  This role was established with the Davidic Kingdom in the role of Queen Mother as Advocate for the people.  Of course, we do not need Mary to talk to God for us, for Jesus mediates as the High Priest between His Father and His children (1 Timothy 2:5).  Similarly, I do not need my church to pray for my husband when he deploys for God to hear my singular prayer, but I ask anyways and they pray anyways.  Saint Paul warns against any competing or parallel mediators to that of Jesus Christ, but he does not warn against participation in mediating, and in fact, often asks the congregations he is writing to pray and intercede for him and one another.  So, while I do not need Mary to be my Advocate, allowing her to assume this role brings great intercessory power, which there is no equal for even Solomon said to his mother, “Make your request, my mother, for I will not refuse you” (1 King 2:19).  When we approach Mary to be our advocate, we can do so with confidence and courage for she is not only the Queen Mother of Heaven, but she is also ours (123).  As I intercede for the benefit of my children, so will Mary on behalf of hers.

God is a Family

                Throughout salvation history, God has revealed to us that He is “not a solitude, but a family, since He has in Himself fatherhood, sonship, and the essence of the family, which is love… God is not like a family, God is a family” (19).  As a family, He wants to reveal Himself not only as this love but to share it with all of us, first with Adam and Eve, and then in the covenants with Noah, Moses and David.  Unfortunately, while Adam was the first, he was not the only to fail to live up to the covenant promises.  Only God is capable of keeping his promises, so our ever loving God became man to form a new covenant with God, one that will never be broken.  By being baptized in the name of the Trinity, we are given our new family name and become sons of the Father and are adopting into the Heavenly family.  On the cross, Jesus provides us a mother for our family, one who suffers for us, nourishes us, and pleads for us, like any faithful mother does.  As such, Protestants and Catholics can give Mary respect and admiration as the fulfillment of Old Testament types, the greatest of saints, and her position in the church, while reserving adoration and worship for God alone.

I hope I was able to present Mary in a way that provides a deeper desire to get to know the Mother of Jesus, to invite her over for dinner and hear her thoughts and opinions.  To learn more about Mary, read my blog posts: Mary Revealed in 3 Old Testament Types and 5 Characteristics of Mary.  If this has sparked an interest for you, I recommend reading the two books that I have summarized here.  I will also be reading 33 Days to Morning Glory, by Michael Gaitley.  I will be starting on June 13, 2018, so that I can consecrate myself to Mary (if I so choose) on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, on July 16.  If you would like to accompany me on this Bible Study, I would love the company.  You can pick up any of the three books below using my affiliate links, which do not add any additional charge to your order but provide a small commission to me.  You can read more about that on my disclosure page.

 

 

Photography Challenge: Bokeh

This photography challenge encourages you to get those dreamy blurry background photos that you see all over, this is referred to as bokeh.  Besides getting a dreamy look, bokeh can help make the background undistinguishable, which is great if you’re shooting in a less than ideal background setting.  Figuring out the tricks of bokeh took me longer than I want to admit, but now that I got it down, it’s really quite easy.    Here are the 3 tips to getting the affect.

Shoot in Manual

For these photos, I used my 50 mm prime lens with an f/1.8 setting.  You won’t get a bokeh affect, if you don’t have a lens that can shoot at a high aperture.  You need to shoot with a high aperture setting to get the background to blur.  You also want to shoot in manual mode so that you can control how much light the lens lets in.  Since the lens will be wide open at the high aperture, it is going to let in a lot of light, so I increased my shutter speed so that it wasn’t open too long.  I took these photos at 8AM, when the sky was cloudy, so that the daylight wasn’t too bright either.  I had an ISO setting of 400, my aperture setting at 1.8, and my shutter speed was 1/250.  I had to play around with a couple of shoots to figure out what the appropriate settings are.  If you are unsure, start with your ISO at 100.  Then put your aperture to the lowest number you can.  Take a picture and see what it looks like.  If it is too dark, slowly increase your ISO.  If it is too bright, increase your shutter speed.

Proper distance of the subject from background

Originally, I was putting my subject too close to the object that I wanted to have the blurry focus.  If you think about it, this makes no sense because the camera will apply the same affect to everything at the same depth.  So if I want my subject in focus, who is standing right next to a tree, the tree will also be in focus.  I found shooting at a focal length of 50 mm, if my subject was 10-15 feet in front of the background, it provided the best ecstatic for the blurry background that I was wanting.  If you want the background more in focus, put your subject closer.  If you want the background less in focus, put your subject even farther.

Proper distance of you from your subject

Similar to above, you need to be aware of your proper distance from the subject.  In the picture below, the subject was 10-15 feet away from the trees; however, I was 25 feet away from her.  When I focused my camera on my subject, and took the picture, the camera focused everything that was at the same depth of my subject, including the trees that I wished it to blur.  While the trees past the opening are blurred, much more of the picture is in focus than I intended.

Too much of the image is in focus due to my distance from the subject

Focus your camera on the subject

This is also a duh moment, but sometimes when I was rushing to get the shot, I snapped the picture before properly focusing the camera.  Here you see the background is in focus, but my subjects are not.  This is great to know so that when I want to accomplish this affect, I can do so.  It would make a great engagement photo when shooting through the trees to spy on a couple that’s having a picnic in the park and sharing a kiss.  However, for this picture, the focus was wrong.

Background and not subject is in focus due to lack of properly focusing the camera

So, that’s it, as I said, really simple.  Find the right settings on your camera, figure out the best distance away from the background, distance away from your subject, focus on your subject, and then BOOM, beautiful bokeh images to brag about on Instagram and Facebook.  Also, print some out to hang on your wall, you’ll love looking up at them.

Here are my best ones from today:

Check out that model shoot; not bad for a two-year old

Sisters are different flowers from the same garden

There's no better sound than a baby's laugh

5 Characteristics of Mary

Angel Gabriel greets Mary "full of grace"

Last week, I reflected upon how much I love meeting my friends' parents.  You can learn so much about your friend, but getting to know their parents.  I feel like I am constantly understanding my husband better, the more we hang out with his family, and we've been married almost four years now.  So I am almost embarrassed to admit how much I have neglected to learn about Mary, Jesus' own mother.   After all, Mary is the one who nursed him as a babe, who sang him to sleep, who taught him his first words and how to walk, who encouraged him throughout his childhood and teenage years, who saw him through his whole ministry and all the way to the cross.  Just like getting to know my mother, you will learn more about me, by getting to know Mary, she will teach you more about Jesus.  Mary is the fulfillment of three types in the Old Testament: Eve, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Queen Mother.  She has five supernatural characteristics that describe her: she is the mother of God, she is sinless, she is a virgin, she is in Heaven, body and soul, and she is a mother to us all.  Finally, she has three roles in the church today: to be Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate.  Today, I will cover the 5 Characteristics of Mary.  You can read my blog posts about Mary Revealed in Three Old Testament Types and Mary's Three Roles in the Church today for more about Mary.  These insights come from Scott Hann’s Book Hail Holy Queen and Mark Miravalle’s Book Meet your Mother (or Love Her More), both Catholic books on Mary, because if we are going to learn about Mary, we should learn from the ones who have been getting to know her the longest.

Note: I will be quoting these two books throughout this post.  Scott Hann’s page numbers go from (0-150), while Miravalle’s go from (170-700) because I was using the Kindle version on my phone.  Therefore, I do not always say the author but you can tell who it is by the page numbers.  If you would like to learn more, I provide links for these books at the bottom.

5 Characteristics of Mary’s nature

Now that we have covered the three Old Testament types that foreshadow Mary, we can look to the New Testament to tell us five characteristics about her nature.

Mary is the Mother of God

Mary is the mother of God; here, Protestants and Catholics fully agree.  The naivety story clearly describes that Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ, who is fully human and fully God.  It is something I have heard throughout my whole childhood and never really stopped to comprehend it fully or understand why there would be some debate on the matter.  Apparently, early in church history, there was a heresy going around that Mary was the mother of Jesus the man, but not the mother of Jesus the God; for a creature could not give birth to her creator (218).  This was a heresy because it separated Jesus’ divinity from his humanity.  What can be said on the matter is that “Mary is the Mother of God the Son made man, who is truly God” (235).  She is not Mother of God the Father, nor Mother of God the Holy Spirit.  As the Trinity is above our ability to fully comprehend as creatures, we must just accept this as what we know.  Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is fully human and fully divine.  She felt him grow in her womb, she felt him kick and hiccup, and she gave him his X-chromosome.  Jesus’ bones and muscles grew as a result of the oxygen and nutrients that Mary provided and she gave him “the appearance and character under which He should manifest Himself to the world.  He was known doubtless by his likeness to her to be her son,” states Hann (96).  Miravalle describes it this way:

“A mother is classically defined as a woman who gives to her offspring a nature identical to her                                   own… What did Mary give to Jesus?  His divine nature and divine priesthood came from His                                         Heavenly Father.  Mary gave to Jesus a nature identical to her own—in this exceptional one time in                           history case an immaculate (flawless) human nature.”

Mary is sinless

Catholics believe that Mary is sinless, which is the hardest concept for me to wrap my head around as I grew up believing that the only one who ever lived a sinless life was Jesus Christ.  So I found it interesting to hear that Muslims and most Protestant founders, such as Martin Luther, believe/d in the Immaculate Conception.  The Immaculate Conception is the belief that Mary was conceived without stain of Original Sin (brought forth from Adam and Eve).  I struggled with this because it seems to raise Mary to a level equal of that of God, but that is not true if you consider Adam and Eve before the fall.  God created mankind in his image and for a while, they lived in a state where they were both human and sinless.  For that moment in time, it was possible for Adam and Eve to be both human and sinless without equating them to being equal with God.  But sin did enter the world, and as such, we all need God’s salvation from sin.  Mary was saved by receiving grace at the moment of her conception, grace which was won to her by Jesus’ death on the cross.  It’s like the best back-to-the-future time-travel mind kick because “God, who is out of time, can apply the graces of redemption at Calvary to Mary at the moment of her conception.  Mary as a daughter of Adam and Eve, needed to be saved, and was saved by the grace of Jesus Christ—applied to her soul at the moment of conception” explains Miravalle (433).

But where in Scripture can the Immaculate Conception be revealed?  First, in Genesis, when the Lord promises to put “enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed,” it shows a parallel between Mary and Jesus being in total and absolute opposition (definition of enmity) to Satan (416).  In order for the Lord’s promise to be fulfilled, the woman could not participate in sin because she would not then have enmity between her and the serpent.  Second, comes when the Angel Gabriel greets Mary with the term “full of grace.”  Miravalle points out that the phrase used in Greek is “kecharitomene,” which is a perfect passive participle.  Explaining the grammar, he states that it refers to “an action completely entirely in the past, but with relevance to the present” (427).  So the Angel Gabriel is addressing Mary by stating her grace that was completed in the past (at conception) is relevant to the News he will deliver.  Then, when reflecting upon the meticulous instructions for building the Ark of the Covenant to contain the Word of God, I would image God being just as meticulous in the creation of the body and soul which contained the Word of God in flesh to ensure holiness.  For as Mary would pass along her physical likeness through pregnancy, she would also pass along the stain of Original Sin if it was within her soul.  Since Jesus is without sin, He could not have received the stain within in blood.

Mary is a virgin, forever

Similar to Mary’s soul being without blemish, her body remains in a state of innocence, as both Catholics and Protestants believe in Mary’s virginity during the conception of Jesus.  Scripture is very clear that Mary was a virgin, both in the Old Testament prophesies and in the Gospel accounts.  Christ needed to be born of a woman, in order to have a real body.  He was born of virgin to make clear His Divinity, so that there would be no question in the role of a man for His birth.  However, once He was born, Catholics believe Mary remained a virgin her whole life.  The Vatican teaches that “the body expresses the person” so Mary’s intact physical virginity is an outward expression of Mary’s complete devotion to God, body and soul (294).  Skeptics question her virginity as a result of the passages referencing Jesus’ brothers, such as in Mark 3:31, where it states “Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him.”  But the Hebrew word for brother is the same as cousin, near relative, or kinsman so it does not necessarily imply additional children of Mary (329).  Alternatively, in John 19:25-26, when Jesus says to Mary, “Woman, this is your son” and to John “This is your mother,” this depicts a scene where Mary has only one child, Jesus.  If she had other children, according to Jewish law, she would go to live with them, instead of John, a close friend (314).  Since Jesus came to fulfill the law perfectly, He could not break it while on the cross.

But why would Mary stay a virgin?  Because she took a vow of celibacy, which is revealed in her remarks to the Angel Gabriel.  Gabriel tells her that she will conceive and give birth to a son, to which she replies “how can this be, since I know not a man?”  This conveys again that she is a virgin, but reveals much more than just that.  Mary was engaged to be married.  Since Gabriel never provided a time table, Mary could have assumed that once married, she would conceive this child.  Except in her heart, she knew she never intended to consummate the marriage.  Furthermore, the verb tense used in Hebrew expresses a permanent commitment, rather than something that has not happened in the past (318).  So from this remark, it can be assumed that she had taken a vow of celibacy earlier in her life.  Perhaps Joseph had found out about it and it had become a vow of his too.  Either way, Mary was rightly confused of Gabriel’s news as she never expected to become a mother as a result of her vow.

Mary was taken into Heaven, body and soul

Catholics believe that Mary is that she is in Heaven, body and soul, which is referred to as her Assumption into Heaven.  Psalm 132:8 states “Arise, O Lord into your resting place, you and the Ark which you have sanctified.”  With Mary as the New Ark, sanctified by the Immaculate Conception given through the grace of the cross, Jesus can bring Mary into the resting place together (497).  John’s description of Mary in Heaven during Revelations (when describing the Ark) also supports the belief of the Assumption because of the details of what she and her clothes looked like.  In addition, because of her Immaculate Conception, and sinless life, it implies she was assumed into Heaven since death and disease entered the world because of sin (491).  Since Mary is sinless, she could not have died as a result of old age or disease.  Outside of Scripture, traditional leads to this belief as well, for there are no relics (bones) of Mary, unlike the many relics of the Apostles that were often fought over.  Finally, scripture does tell us that Elijah and Enoch were taken up to Heaven, because of their holiness and dedication to the law.  If I can believe that God can bring a person, body and soul, to Heaven, as in the case of Elijah and Enoch, why would I think he would not do it for His own mother?

Mary is Mother to all Christians

There is one more thing that Catholics believe and teach about Mary; however, it has yet to be declared a dogma (official, infallible belief by the Vatican): Mary is mother to us all.  We are all adopted sons of God the Father, a grace given to us at our baptism when we receive the Holy Spirit.  This is a real relationship with God, not a saying or a metaphor.  Divinization occurs because “the son of God became a son of man so that the sons of men might become sons of God” (119).  This was always God’s intention for mankind when he created Adam and Eve, who desired divine life without God, rather than the divine life that was already granted to them.  Therefore, Hann points out that “salvation is not only from sin, but for sonship—divine sonship in Christ” (120).

As such, right before Jesus died on the cross, He gave His mother to His disciple whom He loved.  While the disciple was John, his name is not included so that it applies universally to every disciple Jesus loves, past, present, and future.  How can we know that this message was one to apply to all of us, rather than just a logistical task for Jesus to check off His to-do list before dying?  Because on Calvary, everything Jesus did from the cross had a universal impact.  He died for everyone’s sins, past, present, future, and to them, He gave His Mother as their spiritual mother.  Just as one can choose to accept Jesus’ sacrifice and salvation or not, one can choose to accept Mary’s spiritual motherhood or not (588).  Hann encourages all believes to choose to accept Mary, for “if we are to know the brotherhood of Jesus Christ, we must come to know the mother whom we share with Jesus Christ” (91).

I hope I was able to present Mary in a way that provides a deeper desire to get to know the Mother of Jesus, to invite her over for dinner and hear her thoughts and opinions.  To learn more about Mary, read my blog posts: Mary Revealed in 3 Old Testament Types and Mary's 3 roles in the Church.  If this has sparked an interest for you, I recommend reading the two books that I have summarized here.  I will also be reading 33 Days to Morning Glory, by Michael Gaitley.  I will be starting on June 13, 2018, so that I can consecrate myself to Mary (if I so choose) on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, on July 16.  If you would like to accompany me on this Bible Study, I would love the company.  You can pick up any of the three books below using my affiliate links, which do not add any additional charge to your order but provide a small commission to me.  You can read more about that on my disclosure page.