Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Ninety-Nine Left Behind

Reflection based on Matthew 18:12-14 (Published in the Advent Magnificat 2003)
            “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray?”
Our Church is blessed by many who consistently and dependably do God’s will every day. They are the ninety-nine sheep, trusted by the Good Shepherd to do His work until He returns.
The obituary of a friend described him as a lifelong “good Catholic.” He was a man of character, who practiced kindness without fanfare. His steadfast faith and charity as a husband, father, soldier and businessman transformed daily tasks into holy works that touched the lives of others.
            For the past eight years, I have volunteered in my parish’s RCIA program, where adults prepare to join the Catholic Church. When I ask what attracts them to Catholicism, they almost always cite the quiet example of a friend, co-worker or family member who is a “good Catholic” in the midst of mundane, everyday responsibilities. They see in this “ordinary” Catholic a solid foundation for growing in holiness, and want that for their own lives.
            Few of us will be called to do spectacular deeds in the name of Christ. However, when we bring Christ to the everyday work we do, we may witness spectacular results.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Gift and Investment of Time

My novel, The Saintmaker, has been receiving some good reviews. Thanks to all who have taken the time to read it.

Time is the greatest gift you can give an author. We don't mind the royalty money, but any good author is driven by love of the written word and the passion to tell a good story. Time is what we pour into our work, and receiving that gift back is the best payoff of all.

The older I get, the more I treasure this gift, or investment, of time. As long as you are healthy, you can make more money. However, we all have a limited amount of time on earth, and none of us know how much we have left. Reading a book is taking a risk and using up something that will run out.

That fact alone makes me SO grateful to anybody who takes the time to read my book. You are giving nine or ten hours of your life to me. Whether you love the book, hate it, or are somewhere in between, that is time you will never get back. Thank you. I hope your time was a good investment.

I tried very hard to write the kind of book I would like to read. I miss the authors I enjoyed, who either passed on or are unable to write any longer. I welcome and encourage other mystery writers, who love the genre and their faith, to join me. Please get writing!

To read a review of The Saintmaker, please see Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fundraising 101

My day job is to help raise money for a Catholic campus ministry, so the following is influenced by my experience. During this time of year, when we are often inundated with requests to give to worthy causes, I'd like to explain a few things about fundraising that I didn't know before I actually did it for a living.

  • It takes money to make money. As much as I'd love to think that all the world is interested in my worthy cause, if they don't know about what we do and the impact we have on the Church and world, they won't give. Hence, appeal letters, newsletters, websites, etc. Even though we are good stewards, we can't get all this done for free. The real metric isn't how much the organization spends on fundraising, but how much these communications instruments further the mission of the organization.
  • People, rightly so, feel good when they help others. My job is to invite folks to partner with us in the good we do. They, of course, can say "yes" or "no." My job is to merely ask.
  • Some of the most beautiful fundraising instruments are the least effective. I've learned not to go for classy, take-your-breath-away graphics unless they will impact the bottomline. A wonderful example of this principle in action are the tacky, tasteless used car commercials on TV. They work in selling cars, which is what they are meant to do. It's okay that they aren't great art.
  • There is a role for volunteers and a role for paid staff. It is a rare volunteer who is willing to totally take responsibility for a project and meet a hard deadline no matter what. If you find one of them, they are a treasure. The more typical volunteer (and we love them!) wants to help, but they offer this help without the commitment to "own" the results. If you have a project where something needs to be done on time, within a strict budget and done regardless of whether your car is in the shop or your kid is sick, you better have a staff person involved.
  • Finally, we are all in this world together, and there is so much good work to be done. My organization's mission WILL appeal to many, but not all. That's okay. God has a pile of work for each of us to do. Our job is to find this pile and get working!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

What I'm Thankful For

Well, our family planned to go to Mass today and take a bit of time to thank God for all of our blessings. BUT my daughter woke up with a hurting elbow, and it took us quite awhile to get her back to sleep, and then us back to sleep.

So, although this is a poor substitute for the thanksgiving of the Eucharist, I thought I'd just give a random list of things, small and great, for which I'm thankful.

  • That all of my aches and pains are just that--nothing more. I can lead my life, and do the things I'm called to do and want to do.
  • That my family is healthy.
  • That I have a husband and kids who love me and whom I love.
  • That we have a home and enough to eat.
  • That my husband and I have jobs we love and that let us make a difference in the lives of others.
  • That our kids are doing fine--in school and in life.
  • That I hit the "lottery" of life when it came to getting good parents. Although they are now in eternal life and I miss them every day, I am enriched by their love and what they taught me.
  • That we didn't spend money on landscaping before realized that the Texas drought was going to be going on for awhile.
  • That I can still fit into my pants even though I've gained a few pounds.
  • That my car can get me where I need to go.
  • That I have several books on my "must read" list to look forward to.
  • That I can watch the parade right now, and the Texas A&M vs. Texas football game tonight on the big screen.
For these and so many other blessings, I'm truly thankful.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wal-Mart Has it Right

One thing I've learned in my dealings with the poor and disadvantaged:  when facing a problem, they often lack resources and options. If I were ever short of cash, I have a lot of friends and family members who'd help me out. I'd do the same for them. But what if everybody else I knew was also financially challenged? Perhaps the only choice I'd have would be to use a payday lender or face eviction. What looks like a foolish decision becomes one of survival.

Those of us who use the banks have noticed that we are being "fee-d to death." When Citibank recently sent a letter informing us that we had to maintain a certain large balance or face a $15 monthly charge, we bolted to our friendly credit union. Just like us, the poor and disadvantaged, who want to responsibly use banking services, are bolting to keep more of their hard-earned money in their pockets, or rather, on their debit cards. Enter Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart is providing fixed-cost, modestly priced debit cards. Of course owners of the cards are more likely to shop at Wal-Mart, but they don't have to. They can use the cards in other places and online.

Yes, I know it's fashionable to decry Wal-Mart as the "big box" that is ruining Main Street, but Main Street banks were more than willing to exploit the poor and not-so-poor with fees. Wal-Mart saw a need, and met this need at a reasonable price. They are good at that. Kudos Wal-Mart.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

All Saints Day and Happy Birthday!

Today is just one of those days when my emotions are all over the place.
  1. It's the birthday of my fantastic daughter (and saint-in-progress), Anna. She's 18 today, a legal adult in the US, and I'm just not sure how to feel about that.
  2. It's the day when I, both personally and along with the universal Church, honor my relatives who are the uncanonized saints, most particularly my own mother.
Yes, you may think it's a bit presumptuous to believe, as much as I believe anything, that I have some saints in my family tree, but I do. I do pray for them and will pray for them tomorrow (All Souls Day) too. I'm sure God understands me hedging my bets.

A little about both:

At 10:10 a.m. on November 1, I gave birth to Anna. She's been a blessing to our family in two ways. First, she's given us great joy, (humble) pride, wonder in how such a great kid came from us, and a sense of hope for the future. She taught us to see the world with the eyes of a child, where everything is a toy, and everything has potential and wonder. I can't wait to see how life turns out for her.

She's also a blessing in another way--like most kids, she gave us a laboratory of "virtue development." She made us PhD and Masters Degree educated parents realize that there's a lot we don't know. She taught two "professionals," respected in their fields, who thought they could control a lot in how their day-to-day lives unfolded, that control is an illusion.

She also taught us that we were tougher than we ever thought possible, but we were still no match for her. For example, Anna NEVER slept. It was amazing. Okay, she did sleep, but it was in 20 minute increments scattered throughout the day. We read every book, tried every trick, etc. to get that kid to sleep longer. I went home and cried in envy when a friend said that her son woke up every three hours and it drove her crazy. I couldn't remember the last time I had that much sleep at one time.

When I showed our pediatrician Anna's sleep log, he too was amazed. Anna was just fine. We just had to surrender. Lesson learned--there are just some things you can't control. You have to accept the way things are, the way people are, and live with it. You CAN live with just about anything if you know it won't last forever. This too shall pass, and it did. We could choose to have the sound of a crying baby in our house 24/7, or we could carry her around, doze when she did and just make the best of it. That's what we did.

We learned to keep our mouths shut when well-meaning people gave us their advice on how to make our kid sleep, how to get the baby to relax (yeah--like we hadn't thought of that). We learned that the tenacity and persistence Anna exhibited as a baby are only annoying BECAUSE she was a baby. Those same qualities have served her well in school, sports and life-in-general. Looking back, I'm glad she was tougher than we were back then.

And today--well rousting a teenager out of bed can be a different kind of challenge too.

I can't let this blog about Anna pass without saying a few words about my mother, who began her own journey in eternal life almost three years ago. I miss her every day, but there are times that I hear her voice coming out of Anna's mouth. The genes run true there! It's a comfort to know that the qualities I loved about her (and some that I didn't) will be a part of my life as long as I have my daughter.

Happy All Saints Day, Mom; and Happy Birthday, Anna. I love you both so much.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why Bookstores will Die

I sent a very polite email to a book reviewer asking her to consider reviewing The Saintmaker, my Catholic genre mystery novel. She emailed me back saying that as a mystery bookseller she was offended by my linking to an online site where the book was available.

First, I didn't realize she sold books; and if I had, I wouldn't have linked to Amazon--I'm not totally insensitve. I read a lot of books, both print and e-versions. I can't remember the last time I actually walked into a bookstore and bought one. Coffee, yes; books, no. This doesn't make me a bad person, but rather one who is in the midst of a changing business model.

This bookseller should feel threatened. The bookstore model of business just doesn't work very well right now, and won't work at all much longer. It's not working for authors (the suppliers). It's not working for the stores, who have become "showrooms" for on-line purchases.

  • Authors want to make more money. Look at the price of your favorite print book. The author's cut is probably between 10-15%. That means a whole lot of books must sell for the author to make real (quit your day job) money. It takes a long time to write a good book. The $ just aren't there to justify this effort for 10% of the take.
  • With technology, more authors will take their knowledge, passion and expertise and make it work for themselves, especially through ebooks. An author can publish an ebook and keep 60-75% of the take. All the services that a publisher provides an individual author can "buy": editing, cover design, marketing and publicity, and still be better off. Publishers have been whining for at least 15 years about how hard their business is and why they have to keep a firm hand on royalties, but I'll leave that for another blog post on another day.
  • Consumers are liking ebooks more and more, and are "pushing back" at the higher sticker prices of printed versions. If I pay $20 for a print book and don't like it, I feel cheated. If I pay $5.99 for an ebook and don't like it, I'm annoyed. If I pay $5.99 for an ebook and love it, I feel like a savy consumer who found a great bargain.
  • And, the author of the $5.99 ebook is making more money on that consumer's happiness (or annoyance) too. This is a win-win. If somebody doesn't like my book, I'd rather have them be mad at me at the $5.99 level than the $20 level.
  • Through recent incentives to authors, online ebook publishing sites are causing them to consider dumping traditional publishers. For example, for books with a price point less than $10, Amazon will offer the author 70% royalties on ebooks. What author in her right mind wouldn't jump at that vs. 10-15% of the print price?
  • The nostalgia for books is fading fast. My kids are used to doing research, reading and socializing on-line or with their smart phones. That's their world. Assuming that most of our kids are going to outlive us, 30 years from now they won't be reading paper books. Yes, there will always be a few who like "the old ways," but certainly not enough to sustain the current bookselling business models.
  • Green, green, green. E-books are green. Enough said.
So, to my offended bookseller, you better have an exit strategy. You won't be making money selling books much longer, if indeed you are now. You are right to feel threatened, and I'm sorry I accidentally rubbed your nose in it.

Shameless self-promotion: You can get The Saintmaker for less than $5.99, less than $4.99, less than $3.99. Yes, that's right, for $2.99 you can get a mystery that you will either love, be annoyed with, or be somewhere in between. Such a bargain. Click here to order for the Kindle Version, Click here for other ebook versions.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Movie Review: The Mighty Macs, a Chick Flick of a Different Kind

Last night my daughter's high school basketball team and I went to see The Mighty Macs. A quick plot summary: a small, underfunded Catholic college women's basketball team goes on to become the national champs. I heard the movie referred to as "Hoosiers for Girls," and while it is a compelling story, the adrenaline rush just wasn't there.

Yet, The Mighty Macs is a nice chick flick of a different kind. It shows a happily married woman (Cathy Rush, who sadly got divorced in later life) determined to help other young women live their dreams without trying to "find themselves" through a series of  relationships that leaves them empty and unfulfilled--over and over again.

The movie is also a reminder to young women about how really tough it was to be a female athlete only a few short years ago (1970s). Today's athletes enjoy so many more advantages simply because our "foremothers" loved their sport so much that they didn't let inferior equipment, early morning practice times, lack of school support, and ugly uniforms keep them from playing. Although The Mighty Macs won, they represent countless other foremothers who played high school and college sports and didn't win championships. Today's athletes, including my daughter, reap their legacy.

Another contribution the movie makes: The Mighty Macs show that strong women, whether they be the nuns, Cathy Rush, the team, or the alumni supporters, can be faith-filled and feminine, and still get the job done.

SO--if you have young women in your life, athletes or not, an outing to see the Mighty Macs is a fun lesson. Showing up, working hard, and believing don't guarantee that your dreams will come true, but NOT doing these things will give you a life of regrets.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A bit of Purgatory for a Good Cause

Yesterday I dedicated two hours to the "Ethics and Integrity" training that the diocese requires for anybody in just about any ministry. Well, I think if your ministry involves only healthy, physcially and mentally fit adults, then you can get an exemption. Otherwise, you have to attend full-scale training once, and a "refresher course" every three years.

I hated that I had to spend time learning about sexual abuse, even though I am not and never was an abuser. I hated to be reminded of the the minority of priests who broke the sacred trust the faithful placed in them, and the majority of blameless and dedicated priests who have suffered because of the scandal. I expecially hated that the session reminded me that the majority of bishops (yes, that's right, a majority of the successors to the apostles in the US) were in some way complicit in enabling these priests to abuse our children. Well--that fact was not highlighted in the training, but I was reminded of this, not in a "holding grudge" kind of way, but in a "we must never allow this to happen again" kind of way.

Yet, if we want to ensure that abuse never happens again to a child or vulnerable adult, all of us in ministry must be trained to learn the signs of abuse, the appropriate and inappropriate behaviors regarding children or vulnerable adults, and what to do if we become aware that something just isn't right.

The training is all about the kids and those who can't take care of themselves, and making sure that the Church is a welcoming and safe place for them--not about me, my comfort level, or the little sacrifice I made to attend. The training also reminded me that I can be aware of what's going on around me without treating priests, friends in faith, and ministry partners with suspician.

Not my favorite way to spend a Saturday morning, but it was the right thing to do. However, I'm still shallow enough to hope that I racked up at least a few purgatory bonus points.