“Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.” ~ John 15:13 (NRSVCE)

This weekend is both Memorial Day weekend and the Solemnity of Pentecost. While many families are preparing for BBQ’s, family gatherings and the endless advertised sales along with other activities, many others are taking this weekend as a time of reflection and solitude. Memorial Day is a time to remember sacrifices and the hope they have brought. A time to remember those who have laid down their lives for us.
Speaking for myself, Memorial Day weekend is usually a challenging time for me. It is a time where I remember, reflect and, sadly, withdraw into myself. I usually find myself a bit edgy and distant and spending far too much time strolling down memory lane. I remember those I served with. I remember all of the patients, whose names I’ll never know, who came through my trauma room. I remember some of the most heart wrenching and difficult trauma situations that I worked during Memorial Day weekend.

I remember friends and family who have died from various causes ranging from natural causes, illness, accidents and, sadly, some by their own hand. Those are those most painful.

While I didn’t deploy to a combat zone during my time in the Army, I saw plenty during my time in the Trauma / Pedi-Trauma unit and during my time working EMS & Rescue prior to enlisting. Sometimes, I feel not deploying during the different armed conflicts that occurred during my time in the military is worse. Where I was, trauma (and on far too many occasions) death was a regular staple of my day. Then, there is the guilt.
I have since come to terms with the guilt and shame I felt over not deploying. But for years (decades, actually) I was ashamed that I didn’t go overseas during these conflicts. I felt guilty hat I survived and some of my friends didn’t. I felt burdened that I was their medic and wasn’t there for them. I felt that I didn’t do enough and wondered if I was even a real Veteran (something that I was accused of by someone at the VA hospital).

For years, I refused to talk about my service outside of saying that I served and “was just a medic”.

You may have heard of the “22”. According to statistics, 22 Veterans take their own life each day. Recent studies show that actual number is more than likely over 40. Too many I’ve served with, met and cared about are amongst those statistics. For many of those, they never we’re able to come to terms with their service and all of their experiences.

President Reagan once said “Some people live an entire lifetime and wonder if they have ever made a difference in the world. A veteran doesn’t have that problem.”

I must, however, disagree. Far too many of us that served constantly question if we really made a difference. I still do at times even to this day.

I have been quite fortunate to have found a group years ago that helped and over the past couple of years, the biggest and most positive changes in my life I can directly attribute to getting involved in my parish, my involvement with the Knights of Columbus and the rosary. The Knights have been a family to me and I’m unable to adequately express how much they have done for me and how much I have changed for the better since joining them.

So, yes, I’m not the most pleasant person to be around during this time of year. As usual, when not isolating, I’ll paint a smile on my face and keep myself busy. Then once alone, I’ll seek the solace of solitude.

To help, this weekend, I’ll be running a market with our new family business, Edwards Family Entertainment and I’ll be going to Mass on Sunday to celebrate Pentecost.
Granted, things this year is a bit different than years past. My family is scattered and won’t be getting together. We’re still facing a number of challenges as mentioned in my last post. As a family, we’re in the midst of a transition (and my lack of trust and being on edge doesn’t help).

We’re still trying to figure out what is the best situation for my parents, how are we going to handle various challenges, especially with our elderly parents and family issues. Where is it that we are called to be and is it time to move onto a new parish. Okay, that changing parish part is more my issue yet is something I’m seriously praying about and have begun a search. Personally, I think it’s time to move on.

So, I’ll focus on praying the Sorrowful Mysteries all weekend, spending time in prayer and giving thanks for my family and for all of those no longer with me, giving thanks for them having been part of my life.

But, what do I know… I’m just a simple rosary maker.

“We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!”

Lent is over and we’re well into the Easter Season. Reflecting back on this year’s Lenten season, I’m a different person than I was heading into it. And not for the reasons I expected.
Leading up to Lent, though already facing some challenges, I thought I was properly prepared. I had set goals and had laid out an ambitious (and what I thought was great) plan to have a meaningful Lenten experience and to encourage and support others to have the same.

But, as with most best laid out plans, the plans were thrown out in a matter of minutes.
I had laid out a plan of scaling back obligations that distracted me. I would lead the rosary live online daily. I would add to my prayer time. I would fast as prescribed and serve others. Such ambitious plans that I had. Maybe, I was too focused on those and my own growth and became too self-centered and self-reliant.

Ash Wednesday began well enough. I had started the rosary in the early hours and had already led the morning rosary live. In scaling back, in the previous couple of weeks, I had resigned from Pastoral Council at my parish, stepped down as a Lector and withdrew from the Sacristan training program. Granted, these were more due to personal issues and conflicts. But, I felt that by removing myself from these situations I would overcome the hurt and betrayal I felt. I would put the bitterness and resentment behind me and focus more on drawing closer to the Lord and His passion.
I even stepped away from my role on my parish’s Fall Festival Committee, though that was more due to the time required and it conflicting with my other obligations.
Many of you know that I have an ongoing relationship with PTSD. With this unique relationship, I frequently find it very difficult to open up to others and to trust others. During difficult times, I find myself withdrawing and isolating far too often.

As I said, Ash Wednesday began well enough. That evening, my daughter and I went to the Ashes service followed by going to dinner together. That’s when everything fell apart.
We had just ordered an appropriate Lenten meal at a nice Italian restaurant by our place when my Dad called that he had fallen and thought he broke his leg. I still laugh at his nonchalant way he let me know he was hurt.
“Uh, John, sorry to bother you but I think that I might have a problem. I didn’t call at a bad time did I? Oh, anyway, I think I broke my leg”.

Needless to say, we immediately canceled our food order and rushed over to my parents’ house.
Dad was on the floor and while experiencing discomfort was in great spirits. We called EMS and they came. evaluated him and took him to the ER as a precaution due to his age ( he’s 84). At the time they thought it was just a soft tissue injury. Sadly, it wasn’t. The fall had broken his hip.
We found out the next morning that he needed surgery to “secure “it. Turned out that he needed a nail and several screws to fix his hip. After a couple of days in the hospital, he was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital for physical therapy where the plan was for him to come home in a couple of weeks once he was walking and stronger.
But, like I said, things don’t go as planned. The day after Dad was admitted to the rehab hospital, my Mom was also admitted to the same rehab hospital due to the staff noticing not only mobility issues but issues with dementia.
Another issue we were facing as a family at this time was that the day my Dad had his surgery, my mother-in-law in Ohio was moved to in home hospice care.
As a family, we were stressed and concerned. My wife was grieving about her mother and being 1400 miles away. We were worried about the care of my parents and what awaited us when they came home.
Sadly, during this time, while Mom was improving, Dad seemed to be going downhill. He was having low blood pressure, was weak and unable to do a lot of his therapy and, worse, he was experiencing confusion. I was watching my Father deteriorate before my eyes.
There were disagreements with family members about what we should do about my parents and at times harsh words were exchanged. Battle lines were drawn and familial relations were fractured along numerous fault lines.
On March 15th, almost three weeks after my Dad’s accident , he and Mom were moved to an assisted living facility near my sister – over 50 miles away. I haven’t seen my parents since then.
During this period of time, all three of us (my wife, my daughter and I) took turns fighting illness. My stress levels were high and at times so was my blood pressure (dangerously so). My PTSD was in full bloom and add in some issues at my parish, I felt overwhelmingly alone. I further withdrew from most family members due to the tensions (my wife, son and daughter not included), from my parish and my brother Knights.
I found myself at times questioning my faith and more frequently questioning whether it was time to find a new parish or not. I found myself not knowing who I could trust and somewhat unwilling to try and find out. I chose to keep my own council and to keep to myself, focusing only on the daily tasks before me.

So, while I didn’t “sacrifice” traditional things for Lent, I instead sacrificed my will, my self-reliance and self-confidence , my own understanding of things ( and at times my sanity). I was forced to trust only in the Lord at this time as I felt that I could trust no one else.
So, while in a place of doubt and darkness overwhelmed by my fears and insecurities, I found a new reliance on trusting Christ right where I was.

While the challenges still continue, I am slowly finding peace and trusting the promptings of our Lord.
My parents are still at that assisted living facility on the other side of town (probably for the best), though we do talk on the phone regularly, my family is still fractured (I doubt there will be anymore holiday family gatherings), my mother-in-law is still in hospice care, and I’m still leery of my parish and questioning if I will stay (though for the time I will because of my brother Knights).

Despite all of this, I am hopeful.

I guess, this Lenten season was fruitful after all. I drew closer to Jesus in my fear and brokenness, finding strength and solace in His Passion.

But, what do I know; I’m just a simple rosary maker.

do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” ~ Isaiah 41:10

The new year is upon us and the unknown awaits us. With each new year, I , along with many others, set goals along with making plans for the upcoming year with hope and even a bit of trepidation.But, we don’t have to travel alone or in fear.We have the communion of saints watching over us and interceding for us, we have our Mother Mary and most importantly we have our Lord, Jesus Christ with us.
Even with all of the intercessions, guidance and protection we are still prone to challenges, distractions,disappointments and fear. Many times , including his first speech to the Masses after being chosen for the Seat of Peter, His Holiness St. Pope John Paul II exhorted all of us to “Be Not Afraid”.

“Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch…. I plead with you–never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.” ~ Pope St. John Paul II

Back on December 23rd, while preparing for Christmas and all that was planned I began writing this article on choosing a saint and focusing on what was really important. I wrote:

“It is brutally cold outside. As I sit here and write this, the current temperature outside is 25F with a ‘feels like” temp of 15F. And while this anomalous event bears down on SouthEast Texas, I gratefully sit in my den enjoying my fireplace and Christmas tree, grateful that I have power, food, water and not experiencing the catastrophe that we went through in February of 2021. I’m grateful that my family is safe and so are the kitties that I look out for in our neighborhood.

Besides checking on family, friends and kitties I have been preparing myself for Christmas.Last minute gifts being either bought or made and presents being wrapped. Dinner plans with family for Christmas day being finalized.But along with the last minute push to finish things, I have taken advantage of this arctic blast to just be. To enjoy the small things about Christmas that I enjoy ( such as the tree and fireplace) and to cherish time with family.

Prayer, especially for others, has also helped make this Advent and Christmas a more meaningful season. As I mentioned in my last blog post,I have been taking time to rest, focusing on the simple and more important things, especially the reason for this season.
Opportunities to seek the face of Jesus and pray for others and seek the intercession of Our Mother and the saints have been abundant.Prayers not only for our community during this weather event and those at greater risk, but for all in need.

Sadly, while we get caught up in the “Christmas Spirit” and many times become mesmerized by the twinkling lights and shiny ribbons and bows, we forget that this can also be a difficult time for many.There are those alone. There are those seeking shelter, warmth and food during this dangerous weather. There are those who are hurting. There are those grieving.There are those without the love of Christ.”


I didn’t get a chance to finish the article as plans went awry, but in the long run these events brought greater meaning to Advent and Christmas, my quest for a saint and guidepost and my preparation to walk into the New Year boldly, serving as Jesus directed me.

Christmas Eve, I was to attend the early evening Mass and serve as a Sacristan in training followed by our traditional family Christmas Eve dinner at Denny’s. But, on the way to church we started having car problems with the car stalling out just as we made it to church. We ended up leaving and not making it to Mass as we wanted to get the car back home before it got dark. Shortly after arriving home, my wife became ill so my daughter and I went out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant next door to us.All was well and my daughter and I made plans to attend an early Christmas morning mass.
Granted, we were still experiencing the arctic blast and frigid temperatures at this time which led to our next adventure early Christmas morning.

A little before 7 am , we were woken up early with a phone call from my parents that the freeze had broken a pipe in their house and one of their bedrooms was flooding.We rushed over there and thanks to the help of a brother Knight who arrived before we did, we were able to shut off the water and begin the clean up process. Something that we’re still contending with.

The New Year brought a round of us taking turns being ill and word that my mother in law had fallen, fracturing her femur in multiple places requiring surgery to repair. She’s still in the hospital,facing several health issues but covered in prayer. At the writing of this, my wife is preparing to fly back to Ohio to be with her mother.

It was in the midst of all of this that I began focusing more on where Jesus was leading me and what he wanted me to focus on.” What is being asked of me and where am I being led?”. I continued to ask myself.With all that I experienced over the past year and especially these past weeks, while a bit distracted, I felt that it was even more important to share my journey on choosing a Saint to walk and grow with and a word to be a guide post for the upcoming year.

Last January, I wrote about walking with and choosing a Saint for the New Year. While you can read the article by following this link, here’s a short snippet from that article to “set the stage” and open the discussion

“In the early part of my journey, one of things I had to gain an understanding of is the concept of praying to the saints and Mother Mary for their intercessions. I must admit that for me this was not a stumbling block as it appears to be for many non-Catholics. This concept when shared with others has brought me many less than polite comments and messages from those who do not understand.
While the word pray can be used to define worship, it also has other definitions. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word pray also means to entreat, implore, request, plea. To make a request in a humble manner.
In short, we’re not worshiping Mary and the saints, but asking them to pray for us.
In regards to the saints and whether or not they can hear us or intercede for us, two things immediately come to mind. First from the Book of Hebrews:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.” ~ Hebrews 12:1-2, (NABRE)

And, in the Apostolic Creed, we profess belief in the “communion of saints”.”

Developing a relationship with a saint doesn’t take away from our relationship with Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To the contrary, it deepens and enhances it as the Saints along with Our Mother consistently point toward Jesus. Not only setting an example of being heroes of the faith, they’re mighty prayer warriors who, having fought the good fight, kept their faith and finished the race,are ready to intercede on our behalf. Just as we pray here for one another, so do the communion of saints pray for us.

The tradition of choosing a Saint for the new year began for me shortly after being received into the Church on Christ the King Day in 2020.Up to that point in time, my focus had been discerning a confirmation saint.In choosing a saint for confirmation. My sponsor along with some others whose guidance and insight I greatly respected encouraged me to spend time in prayer and to be open because many times we don’t “choose” a saint, they “choose” us.This was the case for me in selecting my confirmation saint.

While conducting my prayerful search, I had considered and prayed about several before finally picking St. Padre Pio.

Days after my confirmation, my parish’s Director of Evangelization and Catechesis and dear friend of our family began encouraging others to choose a Saint and word for the coming year. I was fascinated. After some time in prayer and thoughtful consideration, I chose St. John Paul II as my Saint and for my word I chose “Courage” based upon his “Be Not Afraid” speech for 2021.
Like I did with my confirmation Saint and Saint for 2021, I chose my Saint and word for 2022 after time in prayer in reflection. In reality, it felt more as if they chose me and drew me to them rather than the other way around. For 2022, I had been led to St. Maximilian Kolbe and the word “Sacrifice”. Little did I know at the time, but that combination was exactly what I was going to need throughout 2022 with its challenges and blessings.
In my opinion, developing relationships with new saints in addition to showing me living examples of heroes of the faith and lessons in growing closer to the Lord,it stretches my faith and life, forcing me to learn and grow in new and unexpected directions. It forms a personal coterie of saints , an inner spiritual circle I can learn from that are pointing to and praising Jesus without ceasing.

Some advice I received in choosing both my confirmation saint and the saint for the new year was to trust in the Holy Spirit and keep my mind and heart open to unexpected possibilities. Along with spending time in prayer, I should search myself and question where I was in my life and where I was hoping to go in my walk with the Lord.

To some extent, I used a method outlined by Andrea , owner of “Sparkle with Grace “(@sparkelwithgrace on Instagram) in discerning my word for the year and for the selection of my saint for the new year.. Andrea, a busy Catholic business owner and mom, specializes in helping entrepreneurs and small businesses streamline organization and goal setting, especially the busy moms juggling home life, children and running a business. In a seminar she held on goal setting, she talked about choosing a word for the upcoming year as a focal point.Andrea gave the following tips on finding a word for the year:

• Ask yourself what you need in your life right now
• Think about the traits or qualities that are important to you
• Make a list of words that resonate with you
• Pay attention to words or themes appearing in your life
• See if your goals for the year share a common theme
• Don’t overthink it , let the word come to you

While selecting my saint to walk with and words to guide me through both 2021 and 2022 was a fruitful experience, it didn’t have the twists, turns and surprises that this year’s challenge brought me.

All Hallow’s Eve of 2022 presented the opportunity to not only learn about various saints and relics, but to experience over 150 relics of the Church through Father Carlos Martins’ “Treasures of the Church” exhibit that came to my parish. Father Martins brought to life not only the relics of the saints and their importance, but also the story of a young saint named Maria Goretti.

I had first heard of St. Maria Goretti, ironically, when I was researching last year’s article on choosing a saint.
I was trying out a random saint generator one Catholic blogger suggested in her post about setting goals for the New Year and choosing a word and possibly a saint to help guide you towards your goals for the upcoming year.Via the random saint generator, Maria Goretti was the one chosen for me.
By that time, I had already been led ( or chosen ) by St. Kolbe , so I read a little about her and filed her name away for future reference. But once I heard Father Martins tell the tragic story of this young saint and her forgiveness and intercessions of others, I was deeply affected.After his presentation, Father Martins invited all of the attendees to adjourn to our parish life center where we would have the chance to experience all of the relics he brought. Prior to dismissing us, he encouraged us to say a “prayer to the saint unknown to us” who was seeking a friendship with us and to be open to the possibilities.I still have difficulty expressing all that I experienced in the presence of the relics.I can say that my primary rosary is now a relic of many saints and my St. Maximilian Kolbe rosary is a relic of the Polish Saints , St. Kolbe, St. John Paul II and St. Faustina.

Over the next few weeks, St. Maria began popping up at various times in my life and her message and patronage of forgiveness and mercy began to resound within me and call to me.

The call to forgive and to show mercy to others and myself grew persistently stronger.

It became abundantly clear to me that St. Maria would be my saint for 2023 and “Forgiveness and Mercy” would be my guideposts.

Normally, this would be the end of this story. A seed was planted, over the next several months it grew and I was brought to a point where it all came together and my saint and word was chosen for me. A sweet, simple happy ending.But growth ( and callings ) are rarely sweet and simple.

By Christmas time when I was beginning work on this article, I was tired. I was drained not only physically, but mentally and spiritually as well.Granted, I was grateful and despite some trepidation, I was optimistic about the coming year.

I had detailed some of the challenges and growth in my last two articles, one of which I posted just a few days before I began work on this one (The Three Wise Men and Their Wise Bear). And it was while writing the early attempt that I posted at the beginning of this story that I was evaluating and re-evaluating my direction.
It was during those quiet moments at night, hiding from the frigid temperatures outside and enjoying my tree and a pleasant fire in the fireplace that I kept coming back to the word “simplicity”.

I read and reread what I had written while examining my conscience and goals for the new year. WIth a starting point of my newly selected guideposts of “Forgiveness and mercy” I pondered some wounds I was nursing. I had lost trust in some and was hurt. I was questioning who I could trust, my motives, my serving and at times even my faith.
I even found myself feeling as if “maybe, I wasn’t doing enough. Maybe I should be doing even more”.
It was then, in the middle of the night, relaxing alone by the fireplace that it hit me. I didn’t need to be more, but less. Not do less, but be less.Become smaller.To become more childlike, not childish.Regardless of my desires, my fears and even my hurts, I should cheerfully offer myself and my fears, discomforts and sufferings to the Lord.
And I readily knew of a saint whom I admired and was drawn to that wrote about exactly that. A saint I already sought and longed to know better. One who wrote about the joys of serving in the small things with her “Little Way”.

In her Autobiography, “Story of a Soul”, St. Therese of Lisieux wrote of the “Little Way” in which she sought to do ordinary things with extraordinary love.It was in the small, simple things done in love that drew her closer to Our Lord.Her only hope being Jesus.

“I’m not relying on my own merits, as I have none, but I put my hope in Him who is goodness and holiness Himself.” ~ St. Threse , “Story of a Soul”

Yes, I was drawn to St. Therese of Lisieux. I had found that “saint unknown “ who wanted a friendship and a new word and guidepost…”Simplicity”

I began my Advent journey convinced I had found my words and saint and was focused on getting on with Christmas, only to have an epiphany of my own, realizing that there was another reaching out to me.

So, what was I to do? Two different saints calling to me and two different guideposts for me to follow.

I chose both.Or, should I say, they chose me.

I don’t know what this year holds for me, but the focus on “Forgiveness and Mercy” and on “Simplicity” and with the intercession and friendship of two amazing saints, I do believe that it will be an interesting year.

But, what do I know … I’m just a simple rosary maker.

St. Maria Goretti , Ora Pro Nobis
St. Therese of Lisieux , Ora Pro Nobis

Christmas is almost upon us. The tree is up and decorated. The Nativity scene is set up and the three wise men and their faithful companion the wise bear are traveling.
Oh, you haven’t heard of the wise bear? He’s a distant relative of the bears in 2 Kings 2: 23-24 , a faithful companion to the wise men and the one who ate the little drummer boy for disturbing Mary’s rest with his drum solo. Okay, so my sense of humor is a little twisted but there is a point somewhere in all of this.

I started this season with big plans and great intentions. Normally, I decorate to a level that would make Clark Griswold proud and this year was to be no different. I had updates to the website planned and blog posts outlined with a regular timeline scheduled. I even had a timeline laid out mentally for cleaning,decorating, shopping , displaying my 40+ Santa’s and other festive activities along with preparing for and setting up at various Christmas markets.

But, things don’t always go as planned. I found myself busy taking care of family, busy with church commitments and then illness spread through our house like wildfire where we all took turns being ill. And to top it off, I ( just like everyone else in Southeast Texas), have been preparing for an arctic blast that is coming just before Christmas bringing with it temperatures in the teens. And, like most in the area, I have been rather anxious about what we will face, especially after what we all experienced with the “Snowpocalypse” of February of 2021 where most lost power for days and many suffered broken water pipes and other calamities.
I find myself constantly reassuring myself with St. Padre Pio’s famous quote’” Pray, hope and don’t worry”.

I have really begun to appreciate all of the mothers out there even more trying to balance everything this time of year. Between taking care of their families, their homes, preparing meals and for Christmas along with whatever outside jobs and commitments they may have , they’re in need of a rest. They need a wise bear to come and eat their detractors and distractions.

Yet, despite all of the distractions and my grand plans not coming to fruition, I’m finding this becoming a more fruitful and rewarding Advent and Christmas.

Instead of decorating, I have spent more time at church. Instead of planning, I have spent more time praying. Instead of busy work, I have spent a little more time resting ( partly due to my body forcing me to) and meditating on what is more important. Meditating on the small and simple, namely a small child born to a young girl in a simple stable. A child that would be “called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace”.

A child who would be the Messiah of all and his sacrifice foreshadowed by the three wise men and their gifts. Gold representing his royalty, Frankincense hid divinity and Myrrh his death of the cross for our sins.

And as Mary was needing rest after her journey and labor, so do we all. Not just in the physical sense but mentally and spiritually. A rest that only the child in Mary’s arms can provide.

“Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” ~ Matthew 11:28

So, as we all try our best to prepare and enjoy this Christmas, let us take time to rest and to focus on that small child in Our Blessed Mother’s arms that would one day be the sacrificial lamb for us all.

And if it takes a wise bear to help out, so be it.

But, what do I know… I’m just a simple rosary maker

While the New Year is a month away, liturgically speaking, the New Year began this past Sunday with the beginning of Advent. At this time of year, I find myself reviewing the past year, searching myself and asking myself “ What changes do I need to address, which Saint is speaking to me/ calling me to develop a friendship over the next year and what goals (especially with my walk with my faith) do I have?”

Honestly, 2022 has been a difficult year filled with various challenges.

While it started off with high hopes and lofty goals for me and for Easter Pup Creations, I found myself distracted, inconsistent, overwhelmed and even discouraged and despondent at times. Life just has that way of throwing us unexpected curves and taking in us directions that we didn’t plan on. As a family, we faced Lizzy’s migraines getting progressively worse and numerous challenges in finding a neurologist that would see her, Donna being hospitalized for Kidney stones and sepsis and the seemingly unending battles with her insurance to get her the surgery she needed to address the kidney stones, the health challenges and needs of my elderly parents and helping them and the various health issues all of us faced throughout the year.

There have been financial challenges, sleepless nights, and challenges to the business along with cancelled markets either due to the previous mentioned challenges or to unruly weather, supply chain interruptions and even at times challenges to my faith. There were even times I found myself wanting to give up and withdraw into myself.

Yet, with all of these challenges came blessings.

Through these difficulties, I found myself growing closer to my family and clinging to faith with a deeper sense of urgency and reverence. I found great solace and guidance in the Sacraments, Adoration, praying the rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet, learning about various saints and seeking their intercession, learning more about my faith and seeking Jesus, diving into scripture and diving deeper into serving at my parish.
I admit that getting more involved presented its own challenges and opportunities. Last January, I was put on Pastoral Council and in May I was made an officer in my Knights of Columbus Council. In addition to this I worked on our parish’s Fall Festival Committee and was also Chairman of my Council’s Chili Cook-Off benefiting the American Wheelchair Mission. While wonderful opportunities, these also became quite time consuming. And at times I was overwhelmed.

These opportunities also forced me to closely examine my interactions with others and to broaden my view of things and become more open to others ideas and viewpoints.
It also forced me to learn to pace myself, take more time for myself and to occasionally say “NO”.I developed closer friendships while learning that it’s okay to care about people while at the same time distancing myself from toxic situations and relationships
As I mentioned, one of the things that helped me during difficult times was the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

“Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.”

That quote from the closing prayer of the chaplet stuck with me. Meditating on it soothed my soul and gave me strength. Praying the rosary along with the Divine Mercy Chaplet and spending time meditating on both led me to question “ Am I showing others mercy? Am I showing mercy to myself and more importantly accepting the mercy of Jesus?”

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the “Treasures of the Church” exhibit led by Father Carlos Martins, CC and hear his presentation along with being able to interact with over 150 relics of the Church and the Saints. I was deeply and profoundly moved and affected by the presentation, especially Father Martins’ presentation on St. Maria Goretti. Listening to her story, I felt as if someone reached into my chest and grabbed my heart. Her lesson of faith, mercy and forgiveness in spite of such a horrific and tragic attack forced me to further ponder mercy and forgiveness. If you’re unfamiliar with her story, please take a few moments and look her and her story up. You won’t be the same afterwards.

By forgiving others and myself, I have found forgiveness. By showing mercy, I have found mercy.

Yes, I’m still a flawed man subject to all of my failings, fears and insecurities but through the challenges and obstacles, I have grown not only as a man, but as a person of faith. I still have my goals and plans yet I am more confident than before because of the growth gained through the challenges over this past year. With the love and support of my family and my growing and deepening relationship with Jesus and Mary, I feel better equipped and prepared to pursue these goals and face the obstacles that I might face.
My simple and final thoughts: Be kind, show mercy and forgiveness. To others AND yourself and give your challenges, fears and successes to Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

But, what do I know; I’m just a simple rosary maker.

To learn more about The Treasures of the Church exhibit :

Tempus Fugit. Time Flies. 

That is the theme rattling through my head today, for today my youngest turns 18. Seems like only yesterday, her and I were having tea parties with the cats. Now, here we are preparing for High School graduation and the transition to college.

This a hectic time of year for my family filled with celebrations. Yesterday, my sister and one of my uncles celebrated a birthday, today is my daughter’s and at the end of the month is my son’s. The first few days of February will bring my parent’s 61st wedding anniversary on the 3rd and my mom’s birthday on the 6th. All dates which I’m grateful to be able to celebrate.

Family is very important to me.

His Holiness, St. John Paul II wrote:

“To maintain a joyful family requires much from both the parents and the children. Each member of the family has to become, in a special way, the servant of the others. “
“In the newborn child is realized the common good of the family”

I consistently fail at fully expressing in words the love and admiration I feel for my parents, my wife and my children. My children are a constant source of pride and joy for me and find myself smiling with excitement as I watch them blaze their own trails and continue to outshine me. I wouldn’t have it any other way and continue to cheer them on as they scale new summits in their lives.

As we all know, family isn’t all rainbows and unicorn dust. Its challenges, heartaches, hurt feelings and concern. Its nights spent in prayer over the obstacles that we seem powerless over.

January is also the month of “The Most Holy Name of Jesus”

Without our Lord Jesus, I wouldn’t be able to face the daily challenges that life presents. And to be rigorously honest, I haven’t always done so in a healthy or positive manner.
My parents are octogenarians and are regularly in need of assistance due to the challenges that age has brought forth. Health challenges and changes are a regular occurrence.
 And my daughter suffers from chronic, debilitating migraines. Another reason we’re celebrating her 18th birthday with joy and excitement. Now that she’s 18, she can finally see a neurologist that specializes in her ailment.

Lizzy doesn’t suffer with what most would experience with a migraine or headache. Her symptoms and experiences have been at times extreme. She experiences (we believe at this time) hemiplegic migraines.
According to various sources such as the NCBI, the Cleveland Clinic, the CDC, the WHO and Texas Children’s Hospital:

”A migraine is a common disorder occurring in 15% to 20% of the population. Hemiplegic migraine is a rare condition, with a reported prevalence of 0.01%. A study done in Denmark indicated the prevalence of sporadic hemiplegic migraine is 0.002% and familial hemiplegic migraine is 0.003%.
Women are 3 times more likely to be affected. The average age of onset is 12 to 17 years”  

Along with severe, throbbing pain, symptoms of Hemiplegic migraines can include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, weakness, numbness and tingling (especially in the arms and face), loss of balance and coordination, and impairments to speech and vision.
In short, many times these episodes can present themselves as a stroke.

Situations like these not only affect the sufferer, but the entire family.

Lizzy began experiencing migraines around the time she turned 12. Sadly, as time has gone on, they’ve gotten worse and more symptoms have appeared. We’ve been to several different doctors and tried many avenues of treatment over the years.
We’ve been told a variety of diagnosis’s ranging from PMS and PMDD to its “it’s just part of puberty” .We’ve had CT scans, MRIs and other tests done. We’ve attempted many different medicines. We’ve even looked into diet and environment.

Like I said, it affects the whole family. If one member of the family hurts, the whole family hurts.

Many times I’ve found myself wondering if I would get a call from the school to come get her. Would I get to sleep through the entire night? Or, would she even make it to school the next day. Sadly, I must admit that at times I questioned her on how ill she really was.
We’ve had to change plans based upon how she was feeling and if where we were going could possibly trigger an episode. Which colleges she’s looked at seriously have had the added criteria of support for her ailment and “how quickly could a family member be there to assist her?”
Far too often, I’ve found myself sitting with her on the couch at 2am with only the fairy lights on the mantle on, holding her and trying to comfort her.
Even attending Mass has been difficult at times.

Last year at the Easter Vigil, Lizzy was confirmed. Though she got through it like a trooper, the incense and the choir was beginning to affect her. How appropriate that she chose St. Teresa of Avila as her patron saint. St. Teresa (the patron saint of headache sufferers) suffered migraines and other painful ailments.
Her writings, inspired by her sufferings can be a source of inspiration and enlightenment to us all.

“God calls to us in countless little ways all the time. Through illnesses and suffering and through sorrow he calls to us. Through a truth glimpsed fleetingly in a state of prayer he calls to us. No matter how halfhearted such insights may be, God rejoices whenever we learn what he is trying to teach us.” 

“Pain is never permanent”

Despite it all, Lizzy has remained upbeat, compassionate and an inspiration to me (actually, all my kids, including my daughter in law are sources of encouragement and inspirations to me). She remains an honor student near the top 10% of her class. She regularly serves in our parish and is without ceasing, supportive of me and Easter Pup Creations, even when I’m unable to be.

That’s another reason why we’re celebrating Lizzy turning 18. The hope that with the options now available, we’ll be able to find more answers, new treatments and a way of helping her live her life to it’s fullest.

Yes, family has its challenges. Challenges that I’m still learning to accept and face with the love, support and strength of my family and Our Lord Jesus.

And yes, I’m grateful for my family, warts and all.

But, what do I know … I’m just a simple rosary maker.

St. Teresa of Avila, Ora Pro Nobis

A dream fulfilled. A prayer answered. A journey coming to an end and a new journey beginning. A place to belong. 

Those are some of the thoughts and feelings I experienced On Christ the King Day in 2020 when I was finally received into the church after longing to for over thirty years. The whole story is one for another post, but part of it does relate to this one, “Finding and Walking with Your Saint in 2022”.

In the early part of my journey, one of things I had to gain an understanding of is the concept of praying to the saints and Mother Mary for their intercessions. I must admit, that for me this was not a stumbling block as it appears to be for many non-Catholics. This concept when shared with others has brought me many less than polite comments and messages from those who do not understand.
While the word pray can be used to define worship, it also has other definitions. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word pray also means to entreat, implore, request, plea. To make a request in a humble manner.
In short, we’re not worshipping Mary and the saints, but asking them to pray for us.
In regards to the saints and whether or not they can hear us or intercede for us, two things immediately come to mind. First from the Book of Hebrews:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.” ~ Hebrews 12:1-2, (NABRE)

And, in the Apostolic Creed, we profess belief in the “communion of saints”.

Throughout my journey and especially towards the end leading to my confirmation, learning about the saints, their examples and asking for their intercession became a regular part of my life. I found that in doing so, especially when I was asked to choose my confirmations saint, that their writings, prayers and examples not only gave me comfort and greater focus, but helped me draw even closer to Our Lord Jesus. Padre Pio (my confirmation saint), St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Josemaria Escriva and St. John Paul II were ones I regular asked for intercession from and whose words and examples were of great benefit to me.

So, when at the start of Advent and the Liturgical New Year right after my confirmation when the lady at our parish who is the Director of Evangelization and Catechesis encouraged others to choose a Saint and word for the coming year, I was fascinated. After some time in prayer and thoughtful consideration, I chose St. John Paul II as my Saint and for my word I chose “Courage” based upon his “Be Not Afraid” speech for 2021.
Like I did my with my confirmations Saint and Saint for 2021, I chose my Saint and word for 2022 after time in prayer in reflection. In reality, it felt more as if they chose me and drew me to them rather than the other way around.

My Saint and word I chose at the beginning of Advent for 2022 (which I’ll address a bit more) is St. Maximillian Kolbe and the word was “Sacrifice”.

As we approached 2022 and for the first several days of the New Year, I had received emails and saw numerous posts on social media in regards to selecting a word and saint for the year. Many were sharing random generators and others encouraged writing out your goals for 2022 and go from there.

One business owner whom I follow and have interacted with shared some great ideas is Andrea for “Sparkle with Grace “(@sparkelwithgraceon Instagram). Andrea specializes in helping entrepreneurs and small businesses streamline organization and goal setting, especially the busy moms juggling home life, children and running a business.
Andrea gave the following tips on finding a word for the year:

• Ask yourself what you need in your life right now
• Think about the traits or qualities that are important to you
• Make a list of words that resonate with you
• Pay attention to words or themes appearing in your life
• See if your goals for the year share a common theme
• Don’t overthink it , let the word come to you

As I mentioned, I chose mine after prayer and consideration in preparing for Advent. To some extent, I used the method shared by Andrea. I spent time considering and praying on where I was, what I experienced and learned in 2021,where I was headed and where I was hoping to go. Where I wanted Easter Pup Creations to go and more importantly where I wanted to be as man.

St. Maximillian Kolbe kept coming to me, his words kept touching me and it seemed that everywhere I looked I either saw something of St. Kolbe or something that reminded me of him. Choosing him seemed natural and meant to be. AS if he chose me (the same feelings I had when I chose St. Padre Pio as my confirmation saint).

I must admit, that when the word “sacrifice” kept coming to me, I was a bit befuddled. I associated the word sacrifice with great acts such as those of St. Maximillian when he offered himself in Auschwitz to spare another, the acts of those I served with in the military – especially those who gave their lives to save another and most of all I think of Jesus sacrificing himself to a criminal’s execution on the cross to redeem us from sin.
But when pondering the words of some others, such as St. Therese of Lisieux, I realized that there is so much more to sacrifice and so much more I needed to do. Many things within myself I needed to sacrifice.

“Prayer and sacrifice can touch souls better than words” and “Love proves itself by deeds, so how can I show my love? The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love” are two quotes from St. Therese that touched me.

And when thinking of Easter Pup Creations and my goals, sacrifice didn’t seem to connect with my rational (in reality irrational) mind. But with prayerful consideration, I was brought back to the original mission of Easter Pup Creations. Yes, to be a successful business for my family and me, but to also be a ministry and source of encouragement to others.

To do so, I would have to make changes. I would have to make sacrifices. 

Along with the easily recognized changes that would be required, such as sacrificing time and energy to work on my business, learn more and to serve others and forgo “me time”, I would have to do more.
I would need to sacrifice comfort at times, especially when I didn’t feel like praying, reaching out to others or when called to speak up and share the love of Christ.
I would need to sacrifice my pride, ego, my fear, my sense of self and my own understanding.
I would need to sacrifice my self-created self-defenses, tear down the walls and be more open to others and to the prompting of Christ through the Holy Spirit.

None of these will happen overnight and many will require me to daily revisit and examine myself. I can only do these things by learning from the saint, asking for theirs and Our Mother Mary’s intercession and most importantly running to the foot of the cross and embracing Our Lord, Jesus.

As Jesus said in the Book of Luke, “Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” ~ Luke 9:23-24 (NABRE)

The exercise of choosing a Saint and word for the year provided not only the opportunity to set some goals, learn more about a saint and their devotion to Christ, but an opportunity to examine myself, my motives, my heart and my relationship with Jesus. In deciding to find and walk with a saint in 2022, you will have a prayer warrior interceding for you and as you learn more about them, you hopefully will find yourself delving deeper into the scriptures and drawing closer and closer to Jesus. And drawing nearer and dearer to Jesus is really what it is all about.

Take some time and pray. Write out your thoughts and goals. Allow Our Lord to show you your heart. In doing so, I believe that your walk in 2022 will be one of greater focus and, hopefully, one that draws you closer to Jesus.

But, what do I know … I’m just a simple rosary maker.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” ~ Matthew 11:28-30 (NABRE)

“Memento mori-remember death! These are important words. If we kept in mind that we will soon inevitably die, our lives would be completely different. If a person knows that he will die in a half hour, he certainly will not bother doing trivial, stupid, or, especially, bad things during this half hour. Perhaps you have half a century before you die-what makes this any different from a half hour?”
~ Leo Tolstoy
“Thou know’st ’tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.”
(Hamlet – Act I, Scene II, Line 75)

Memento Mori – a Latin phrase meaning “remember you must die” or literal translation, “remember death”.
Since the early days of Easter Pup Creations, one of the most popular and (  in my humble opinion) most meaningful creations has been our Memento Mori rosaries. Yet, initial reaction has been wide and varied due to misunderstanding the true meaning.
Reactions have ranged from thinking they were “cool” to disgust saying that they were sacrilegious. Others believe that they were merely a cultural item representing Dia de los Muertos.
Despite the rising popularity and interest over recent years, memento mori isn’t something new and hip relegated to and promulgated by youth and the “YOLO” ( you only live once ) generation.
First off , death has been a subject that pondered and written about over the ages by sages, poets, artists and philosophers. And, of course by the saints and the bible.
For Christians, we understand that our life here on earth is merely a blink of the eye and our next and unavoidable appointment with Our Lord is for eternity. That is where ‘memento mori’ comes in. To remember our death and what comes next is of vital importance. By focusing on our own mortality, our next destination and the love and mercy of Jesus , we live a life in preparation and hope. A life well lived with our eyes on Christ.
Going back to the earliest days of the church , memento mori and the usage of skulls have a long and rich tradition. Many of the cathedrals , early artwork and iconography bear skulls as a reminder of our temporal state. Many artworks and statuaries depict a skull at the foot of the cross representing Christ’s victory over death. Often, a saint is depicted with a skull representing not only our own mortality, but the saint’s wisdom and prudence.
Caravaggio’s masterpiece “St. Francis in Prayer” , c.1602-1604 , depicts the saint holding a skull gazing thoughtfully at it.
Several cathedrals and churches, such as the crypt of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini have a plethora of skulls that are displayed in a place of reverence and honor. Even the catacombs beneath of St. Peter’s Basilica is known to have a necropolis.
But what about rosaries ?
Some of the earliest known rosaries , usually associated with the clergy , bore skulls. These skulls were usually carved from wood or stone and were a physical and visual reminder not only to the priests or nuns who used them but as a teaching tool to those whom they ministered to.
Yes, a memento mori rosary is great during Dia de Los Muertos and especially the month of November. Both are times when we honor, remember and pray for those who have gone on before us. A time when we pray for the faithful departed and the souls in purgatory. And by remembering the meaning and traditions behind memento mori ,we not only focus on our own mortality but remember those who have died before us – those who are asleep in Christ.
Personally, I believe that a memento mori rosary is a beautiful ,rich and traditional way to deepen our prayers and spiritual walk.
But, what do I know … I’m just a simple rosary maker.

In my many adventures and misadventures over the years, I’ve had the privilege of meeting individuals from all backgrounds and walks of life. Such experiences have been both informative and enlightening for me, seeing the world through the eyes of someone with different views and experiences than myself.
Since starting Easter Pup Creations and regularly doing various festivals and Farmer’s/Artisans markets, this has become even more pronounced and varied.
So, lately, I’ve been thinking ( yes, a dangerous pastime – I know ) , and it seems that some of my best customers and favorite people I’ve gotten to visit with at my booth have been “misfits”. I can already hear some of you yelling at me, “’ MISFITS’! How dare you refer to people like that?!”

Let me explain…

First off, I’ve always been a bit of a misfit. Despite outward appearances and the mask I wear showing me as a confident and outgoing person has been just that. A mask I wear. As far back as I can remember, I always felt as if I didn’t fit in and just wanted to belong somewhere. Unfortunately like many others, that desire had led me down some undesirable paths in my past. In school, I had become a photographer (a rather decent one if I may say so) because I not only loved the art, but because I could be included in many things without really being seen. It’s quite easy to hide behind the camera. I intended to pursue a career as a professional photographer but somehow along the way I was introduced to EMS and that took me down a different path with mixed results.
In my spiritual growth and journeys, I was lost. I was a seeker. I was afraid to open up yet, I longed to fit in and belong. Granted, I have since found and become an active member of an amazing parish that is open, diverse, caring ,loving and warm. There, my family and I found ourselves welcomed and received with open and welcoming arms.
Even though I’ve become rather active ( I’ve got this issue of opening my mouth too often and find myself involved even more) , I still at times feel anxious and afraid. Afraid, that I don’t belong or fit in.

So, that brings me back around to what I originally started talking about. Misfits.
At a recent festival, I had a customer walk by and when she saw rosaries , she stated “Rosaries!” while crinkling up her face as if she had just smelled the most foul odor. I had another well dressed , mature couple come to my booth interested in my creations, but was not only offended by my memento mori collection due to the skulls but proceeded to tell me how they were inappropriate and question me if I was a real Catholic.

A recent customer of mine whom had purchased a memento rosary turned out to be a popular Goth model on Instagram. I wasn’t aware of her being such, just that she was a very sweet young lady who I enjoyed visiting with. I didn’t discover it until she had posted her rosary and tagged us on Instagram. Through that post, I saw a video she had done on YouTube showing off her rosary and was discussing how many treated her when she dressed up in Goth outfits. I must admit that I was disturbed by the reaction she had received at Mass by others there making unkind, judgmental remarks. That video and her experience is part of what got me to thinking about my experiences with customers and being a misfit myself.

That being said (I have many more stories of incidents like that) I have been approached by many individuals who might be called bikers, goths, emos ,convicts, , the broken, the lost , heavily tattooed, etc. Many of these have been some of my best customers. More importantly, though, are the amazing conversations I’ve had with these individuals whom society chooses to label as outcasts and misfits. Do they always purchase something? No, but that isn’t important. What is important is that they feel welcome and accepted while interacting with us and they usually are more receptive to learning about the rosary with an open mind than many others I’ve dealt with. What wonderful opportunities this has presented me to share not only the rosary and Mother Mary, but the love of Christ.
Sometimes, all someone is needing and looking for is a friendly, nonjudgmental ear to listen to them and show that they genuinely care.

When thinking about outcast and misfits, my first thoughts to Our Lord Jesus.

 “And as he sat at dinner[a] in Levi’s[b] house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting[c] with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. 16 When the scribes of[d] the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat[e] with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” ~ Mark 2:15-17 (NRSVCE)
And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” ~ Luke 15:2 (NRSVCE)
These are just a couple of verses that quickly came to mind. Jesus came for the lost and the sick. Jesus came for the outcast and misfits. Jesus came for you and me.
Also, think of our Mother Mary, who constantly points away from herself and to her son, Jesus. If you look at some of the approved apparitions of her, she chose to appear to the simple and marginalized.
Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to a poor and simple native, Juan Diego with a message of love. In Lourdes, Our Lady appeared to a simple girl with little education from a marginalized family, Bernadette Soubirous , at a garbage dump. And, Our Lady of Fatima appeared in 1917 in Portugal to three young Shepard children with a message of hope, love and repentance. Always pointing to Christ.
Point of my ramblings – Jesus loves the misfits, and, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re all misfits. Misfits needing the love, acceptance and forgiveness that only Christ can offer.
So, in reality I’m a rosary maker to misfits.

But, what do I know. I’m just a simple rosary maker… and a misfit