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Truly Random Thoughts, Volume 4: Alice, Anne, Money & Science

This week shows how truly “random” are the things that catch my eye/ear online.  No common thread,  just lots of interesting things to ponder.

Memory Eternal: The Life and Quiet  Ministry of “Ann B.” –Terry Mattingly, Get Religion.  I love “Get Religion”–I don’t recall it as a Patheos blog.  Perhaps that is new?   Lovely story about the religious life of Ann Davis, better known as The Brady Bunch’s “Alice,” who died this week.

Raising a Moral Child-The New York Times.  “People often believe that character causes action, but when it comes to producing moral children, we need to remember that action also shapes character. ”

A New Way to Declutter--Anne at I Need Some Inspiration.  So super glad this real-life friend she has a blog now, finally.  Anne, you just need to put an e-mail button so I can subscribe that way.  Not that I don’t have so many e-mails, but for some reason, it is a way I catch up (at least occasionally) on my favorite blogs.  I felt “inspired” by this post to tackle our own basement, which looks suspiciously like the one in the photo, except not as spacious.

 Is College Worth It? Clearly, New Data Say –– The New York Times

“We have too few college graduates…we have too few prepared for college.”

“Those who question the value of college tend to be those with the luxury of knowing their own children will be able to attend it.”  Hmm.

“Young and Debt-Free!” — Jill and Jeremy Tracey, WCIC-FM.  I found this mini-interview–about a young couple who paid off $42,000 in student loan debt in two years– inspiring and challenging in a good way.  The couple used the Dave Ramsey principles to pay off their debt on super low incomes, and it just shows it can be done . I read Smart Money Smart Kids: Raising the Next Generation to Win with Money, the newest Dave Ramsey book (from the library, natch).  I find his approach interesting–for me, it’s not the “be all and end all” on financial health, but he does have good things to say about living within your means, especially for people who have gotten into serious debt.  The book itself was a little padded, and could have worked better as a much shorter read.  I am making a note to write a post along these lines–there really “ought” to be a Catholic book for young people about financial literacy and  stewardship, and there isn’t.

“Spiritual and Secular Mix in Case for Sainthood” –New York Times.  “Saints are intercessors in heaven, but they’re also models to emulate. They live lives of heroic virtue. So the idea is to have as many models as possible.” I reviewed the book The Miracle of Father Kapaun last year– it was a very compelling read.

“Why You Hate Work” The New York Times. Such interesting info graphics here. One great quote: “THE simplest way for companies to take on this challenge is to begin with a basic question: ‘What would make our employees feel more energized, better taken care of, more focused and more inspired?’ It costs nothing, for example, to mandate that meetings run no longer than 90 minutes, or to set boundaries around when people are expected to answer email and how quickly they’re expected to respond. ”

“Why Science and the Humanities are Better Together” –NPR Science Friday. I listened to this podcast on a run recently, and I found it fascinating and informative.  Walter Isaacson is interviewed here about giving the prestigious Jefferson Lecture, and how he recalls going to see Walker Percy give the lecture more than 20 years ago.  Since my husband is a big fan of Walker Percy, and met him on several occasions, Isaacson’s admiration and homage to Percy in his own lecture was compelling to me.  I hope to listen to the entire lecture soon.

What have you been reading or listening to this week?

Random Thoughts, Volume 2

Last weekend, I was on a two-night campout with my younger daughter’s American Heritage Girls troop.  And truly, I had a great time.  I would say so even if my whole family, children included, did not read my blog.

But, to be honest, before this, I used to say to people, “You know, the closest I get to camping is Hampton Inn.”  I love the outdoors, but I really like to come home to my own bed, or a Hampton Inn.  Some of you will know what I mean.

Even though I was officially having fun, after the first restless night with lots of little girls tossing and turning and needing to go use the latrine, I was pretty tapped out during a lull on Saturday afternoon.  So I might have hiked the half-mile to the minivan to take refuge for a little bit of quiet and non-outdoors.  I am sooo glad that I did.  That’s because I caught the very end of The Moth Radio hour. I generally stay away from The Moth, as I generally find it a more pretentious and annoying version of This American Life.  While I love and find   so Catholic and catholic, so many of the stories on TAL, it can also occasionally veer into the annoying category.

So my first random thought is to share this and invite you to take a few minutes to listen to “Before Fergus,”  Lynn Ferguson’s story of when she was pregnant at an “advanced maternal age.”  Listen if for no other reason than to hear her Scottish brogue.  Lovely.  Sitting there listening to it, and having a few minutes of quiet, was just enough to help me get back to several dozen energetic girls, the campfire, and sleeping in a bunk.

More randomness:

Do our Kids Get Off Too Easy? –Alfie Kohn, The New York Times.I found his book Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes

that I read many, many years ago, utterly fascinating, and it really informed how I parent, I think because I was parented this way, without my parents having the benefit of such a book.  “Other researchers, meanwhile, have shown that high self-esteem is beneficial, but that even more desirable is unconditional self-esteem: a solid core of belief in yourself, an abiding sense that you’re competent and worthwhile — even when you screw up or fall short.”

Always Hungry? Here’s Why–The New York Times “If this hypothesis (that “rapidly digestible carbs” are the cause of hunger & weight gain) turns out to be correct, it will have immediate implications for public health. It would mean that the decades-long focus on calorie restriction was destined to fail for most people. Information about calorie content would remain relevant, not as a strategy for weight loss, but rather to help people avoid eating too much highly processed food loaded with rapidly digesting carbohydrates. But obesity treatment would more appropriately focus on diet quality rather than calorie quantity.”

The ‘Casket Catechesis’ of John Paul II–National Catholic Register.  Not new but read-worthy.  A man inspired to start a simple casket business after seeing the casket of John Paul II. “I hope that Marian Caskets is a part of this spiritual awakening, where death is accepted but where it won’t have the last word. That’s what the casket catechesis of soon-to-be St. John Paul II is all about: facing reality with humility, acknowledging our sins and asking for God’s mercy.”

18 Reasons Why This Skeptical Pediatrician Came to Love Homeschooling Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann, Aleteia.  My brother sent me this article and I found it really interesting and well-argued.  I still felt a little exhausted just reading about this family’s schedule though!  Neat connection: Kathleen attended the 2012 Behold Conference.  I got to meet her but not spend much time with her.

Who Gets to Graduate? –Paul Tough, The New York Times magazine.  Helping the most-at-risk kids to graduate.  I haven’t finished this one yet, but I find it fascinating, and want my teens to read.

What have you read or listening to randomly this week?

The Theology of the Body for Everyone

Here’s my column that appears in this weekend’s print edition of The Catholic Post.

Earlier this month, I was wretched in the throes of a nasty stomach bug going around. I couldn’t get comfortable. I was achy and dreaded any hint of food or noise. I (half) jokingly asked my husband to put me out of my misery.

As I started to recover, the soothing predictability of HGTV shows like “House Hunters” were the only thing my brain was capable of processing. I couldn’t imagine actually making it out of bed again, much less stand up long enough to brush my teeth, and I knew I would never, ever, eat again.

Being that miserably sick, and being better now, reminds me of a question I once asked a confessor. “Who’s the real me? Is it when I’m at my best, having the right amount of sleep, good food, exercise and caffeine? Or is it when I’m extra cranky because I’ve been up all night with a sick child? Or when I’ve been sick myself, or haven’t been taking care of myself?” He responded, “They all are.”

It’s a fascinating conundrum—how our souls, moods and bodies being connected and so affected by each other, for good or bad. Why did God make us this way?

A new book by an author with local roots begins to unpack some of the answers to this question.


In These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body, Emily Stimpson (originally from the Quad Cities, but now a Steubenville, Ohio-based writer), ambitiously seeks to explain why our bodies matter, and why what we do with them matters.

Blessed John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, is not exclusively about marriage and sex, as people often understand it. It’s about living a “sacramental life” in all areas of life—taking care of our bodies, the importance of labor, our leisure time, our work and our interactions with each other.

A number of things stand out about These Beautiful Bones:

First of all, just reading the introduction makes me want to hop on a plane to Rome to see many things, but among them the Capuchin bone church, if only to see the memento mori lines, “What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.”

Stimpson has a careful, nuanced writing style that lends itself well to this topic. She tells real-life stories and . And, sometime I always appreciate, the book is carefully designed and produced and has a great “feel.”.

But most of all, These Beautiful Bones helps readers see how rich and multi-faceted the Theology of the Body is in all areas of life, from how we relate to each other to how we take care of our bodies. Our bodies matter, and everything we do with our bodies means something.

As Stimpson so beautifully puts it, “When we live the theology of the body, when we live a life of self-gift in the smallest moments and the smallest ways, we live a life of witness. And in that, we bring people face to face with the Gospel.”

These Beautiful Bones is an excellent introduction to help readers understand all aspects of the Theology of the Body— how all of us are called to live the truth that our bodies speak in our actions.

Look for a future post on other Theology of the Body books that are well worth reading. 

Meet a Reader: Father Joseph Presley


How you know me: I’m the parochial vicar (assistant pastor) at Corpus Christi and St. Patrick’s parishes in Galesburg and Sacred Heart parish, Abingdon. I am also a religious, a member of a small congregation named the Institute of Charity (Rosminians), founded by Blessed Antonio Rosmini, whose charism is universal charity.

Why I love reading: In the words of Francis Bacon, “Reading maketh a full man.” By reading we can have all of the wisdom and experience of the past as a gift without the labor of having to work it out ourselves; wisdom that is perennially valid. Bernard of Chartres used to say that we [the Moderns] are like dwarves perched on the shoulders of giants [the Ancients], and thus we are able to see more and farther than the latter. And this is not at all because of the acuteness of our sight or the stature of our body, but because we are carried aloft and elevated by the magnitude of the giants. “For whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” (Rom. 15:4)

What I’m reading now:  Two books by Dietrich Von Hildebrand: Transformation in Christ and The Art of Living.

I became convinced that the personalistic philosophy of such original minds as Dietrich Von Hildebrand and John Paul II is the antidote to all the offenses against the life and dignity of the human person and a solid basis for constructing a civilization of life and love called for in Evangelium Vitae. I am reading Von Hildebrand because I find this philosophy to be extremely human(in the sense that God intended), rich and appealing, and I believe that this is the direction that God’s providence is leading humanity at this time.

I’m also reading Father Michael Gaitley’s The One Thing Is Three: How the Most Holy Trinity Explains Everything.

My favorite book: Apart from Sacred Scripture, my favorite book is The Imitation of Christ by Thomas á Kempis. It is like breathing the pure, clear air of heaven when I read it. I can dip into it anywhere at anytime and draw a profound lesson and strength and encouragement along with a clear vision of the truth. Moreover it never wears out. It never fails to re-center me on what is essential what is truly important. Definitely a book I would want to have with me on a desert island!

Meet a Reader: Maria Martin

I so enjoyed meeting Maria earlier this year when I spoke about books to the local Legatus group, and I am so grateful that she was willing to be featured as a “reader” in The Catholic Post this month.

Maria Martin

How we know you:

I am a parishioner of St Vincent de Paul in Peoria. My husband Jeff and I have two daughters – Serena, currently a junior at Peoria Notre Dame, and Alyssa, a 7th grader at St Vincent de Paul School. I am Marketing Director of Welch Systems, Inc., our family business, which just celebrated its 40th year. I’ve also been actively involved with the SVdP Women’s Guild and school.

Why I love reading: Reading is relaxation for me. I love to become completely absorbed in a book and am always searching for the next good read.

What I’m reading now: I’m currently reading Khaled Hosseini’s latest novel, And the Mountains Echoed. I also try to start each day with In Conversation with God, which discusses the daily mass readings and gives great insight into how I can relate them to my everyday life.

My favorite book: I don’t have an all time favorite. I love so many different types of books and authors but none have the distinction of being the standout. I will say My Sisters the Saints by Colleen Carroll Campbell was a truly enjoyable memoir.

Revenge of the Nerds: How Geekiness can Strengthen Faith (Part 1)

Following is the first part of my book page column that appears in this weekend’s edition of The Catholic Post.  Since it was a longer review, and I cover other books, I split it into two posts–stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow: “How geekiness can strengthen the family.”

The Screwtape Letters is C.S. Lewis’ classic book of what I like to call “epistolary apologetics,” “letters” from a senior demon, Screwtape, to his apprentice nephew demon Wormwood.

Everything is twisted in the book, so “the Enemy” is God and the advice is all backwards from what would make people truly happy. One letter has Screwtape cautioning Wormwood to avoid letting his subject have any real, natural interests or pleasures, because:

“There is a sort of innocence and humility and self-forgetfulness about them which I distrust. The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring twopence what other people say about it, is by that very fact forearmed against some of our subtlest modes of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favor of the “best” people, the “right” food, the “important” books. I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions.”

Count me firmly in the “tripe and onions” category. Whether it’s Jane Austen reading jags, pilgrimages to children’s literature sites, or my well-known and longtime love affair with dark chocolate, I embrace my nerdy obsessions and want to convert you, too.

So I might be a little suspicious of people who don’t have passionate interests, even if they aren’t my interests. (But seriously, how can you not love Pride & Prejudice?).

No surprise, then, that I loved GeekPriest: Confessions of a New Media Pioneer by Fr. Roderick Vonhogen, a Dutch parish priest with an international social media reach.


This book is a kind of spiritual/cultural memoir about how Fr. Vonhogen’s religious vocation grew up around, and because of, his own geeky interests. It’s also how he has become a social media pioneer, spreading the Gospel by connecting his passions for computers, popular culture and faith in a natural, approachable way.

GeekPriest can seem light in tone, since it’s making connections between things like Star Wars, Disney or even The Biggest Loser, and living a healthy, well-balanced life. So readers looking for the next St. Augustine’s Confessions might be disappointed.

What GeekPriest does offer is a realistic and deceptively deep look at where good pop culture intersects with our faith. Fr. Vonhogen is not writing just another “here’s why Star Wars is a Jesus archetype” story. Instead, he shares how his struggles through a breakdown and other reverses led to a more mature balance, faith and priestly life.  His honesty and ability to synthesize so well helps this book rise above the common.

I would recommend GeekPriest to teens and young adult readers, and not just because I kept “losing” my review copy of this book as teens and tweens at our house kept wandering off to read a chapter here and there.

I’d also recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about “the new evangelization,” or using modern methods and modern ways to share the Truth. Fr. Vonhogen’s an expert and an example to many, no doubt. GeekPriest offers a challenge to anyone with geeky interests: how are you going to connect this to your faith, and begin a journey to share that with others?


I’m not sure if this is the right sort of aside to share here, but I want to share two things about Fr. Roderick.  

First  is that I have never met him.  The two times I have made plans to go to the U.S.-based Catholic New Media conferences that he has organized, (even to the point of flights and hotel reservations), family needs required canceling at the last moment.  And even though I’m an avid podcast listener, I have yet to subscribe to any of Father’s many podcasts, something one of my sisters, a fan, found really funny.  So I don’t actually know Fr. Roderick, but feel a genuine kinship with his ideas and love of new media.  And now I promise to subscribe to at least one of his podcast series.

Second is that when I was searching for an image of the book to plug in here to this review, here’s what came back on my Google image search:

GreekPriestBe sure to stop back tomorrow for Part 2 of my geeky book column this month!


Q&A with Monsignor Soseman, author of “Reflections from Rome” and Book Signing

Following is my e-interview with Monsignor Richard Soseman, author of Reflections from Rome: Practical Thoughts on Faith & Family.  Reflections from Rome was the book I reviewed in my September column for The Catholic Post.

As I mentioned in my review, and as regular readers of this blog will recall, Monsignor Soseman and I have been friends for a long time, even pre-dating his friendship with the esteemed Brandon Vogt.  You can read all about that here.  So we had fun here in this interview.  Thank you, Monsignor, for being such a willing interview subject, and for letting me compare your book to eating tapas. Since you’ve spent a lot of time in Spain, I thought you wouldn’t mind.

Local readers will want to know that Monsignor will be doing a book signing at Lagron-Miller Company in Peoria on Saturday, September 14 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.   Our family will be stopping by!


Monsignor, tell “Reading Catholic” readers more about yourself and your work.

I am a priest of the Diocese of Peoria, ordained in 1992. Since January, 2008 I have been an Official of the Congregation for the Clergy at the Vatican.

Q. This book grew out of the “Faith” posts that you’ve been sharing on Facebook for some time. How/when did you start doing the Facebook reflections, and how does the book differ from those?

During the Year for Priests (2009-2010), we started an online group called “I Will Offer My Lent for Priests.” The Congregation for the Clergy tries to stress how important it is to pray for the sanctification of priests. For that group, I began to write a daily reflection, and have continued that practice since then.

In the book, then, I have collected and edited articles and essays I have written for various media.

Q. As I wrote in my review, I found your book to be like “tapas” those Spanish appetizer-y dishes. When I saw this quote in the “tapas” wikipedia entry: “The serving of tapas is designed to encourage conversation because people are not so focused upon eating an entire meal that is set before them.”

Do you think that is a good analogy for what you are trying to accomplish?

I would say it is a good analogy. My hope is that, in reading the short meditations, people will be inspired by the Holy Spirit to discover ways in which they can live more faithfully. Each reflections starts with an image, an example from my family life, from Church history, or an experience I have had in Rome, which then remind us of some element of the spiritual life or some element of faith. So many people have let me know that the examples I make resonate with their own experiences, and have encouraged me to collect them into a book, I was happy to do so. Sometimes what I write about seem to be non sequiturs, sometimes humorous images or contradictions and then all is resolved in the example from the faith.

Q. Do you have a favorite reflection shared in the book? I marked probably a dozen, but “Ligonberries” and “Whether, Weather, Wither” were two of my favorites.

Ha! I should have expected a Weather Channel junkie like you to enjoy the latter reflection. Some people who I call “weather junkies” in the essay will change all of their plans based on what they think the weather might do. I encourage people who are living faithful lives not to be to scrupulous or overly concerned about past decisions they have made, but to look forward to living in fidelity into the future. In the former essay, I use a humorous point about Italian language to remind people that we should want to get to know all we can about God, because we love him and as humans we are driven to know all we can about the object of our love.

Q.  Can you talk more about your work at the Vatican and what your office does?

The Congregation for the Clergy assists the Holy Father in supervision of Priests and Deacons throughout the world. The “Year for Priests” was our project, as was the recently revised “Directory for Life and Ministry of Priests.” As an Official, I study the issues assigned to me by the Superiors, and make my recommendations on what action the Congregation might take in the situation, if any.

Q.  What is next for you? Do you plan to write another book?

Over the last several years, I have written prefaces for several books, and will probably continue that work. Also, in Princeville we published the “Princes Prayer Book” for teens, which I continue to hand out to American teenagers who are visiting Rome. I also write essays for a cycling website in season, and have been asked to collect those essays, as well as more reflections on faith.

Finally, I am working on a book on Venerable Fulton J. Sheen. My main work remains, of course, at the Congegation, and I also teach college students a course on St. Paul, and work with liturgy at the Pontifical North American College.


Picture Book Monday: Five by Margaret Wise Brown

Picture Book Monday starts today.  I explain about it here.






Years ago, a friend’s dear young daughter–about two years old at the time– was hospitalized for a life-threatening infection. I went to visit the family in the hospital, and the little girl was just so forlorn, so small on the hospital bed.

So I told her hello, and I asked if she might like a story (and mentally berating myself for not bringing a book as a gift).

She didn’t respond.  So I closed my eyes and began:

In the great green room

There was a telephone

And a red balloon

And a picture of

the cow jumping over the moon

I knew the book by heart–surely I’m not the only parent out there who’s been asked to read a book so many times she can do it cold–and continued.

When I finished, her eyes were big, and they never left me.

“Would you like me to read it again?”

A nod.  And so I did.

The next day, I brought her mom her very own copy of Goodnight Moon, probably Margaret Wise Brown’s best-known and loved book.

If there is a more soothing bedtime story, I’d like to know what it is, so be sure to let me know in the comments.

Here’s what I love about Margaret Wise Brown at her best: she is a poet.  Her words often read like prayers.  There is humor and poignancy in her work.

She died very young and had an interesting and in some ways tragic life. I’ve got her biography, Awakened by the Moon, on hold at the library, and I will update this post after reading that. But regardless of her life, her books stand the test of time and reading aloud.

Most people will be familiar with Goodnight Moon and another of our favorites, The Runaway Bunny.

Our funny family story about The Runaway Bunny is that when I read it to my oldest, a girl, she insisted (as only an oldest, and a toddler–can) that the child bunny was in fact a girl bunny, no matter what the words said.  So that I had to substitute “she” for “he” and “her mother” for “his mother” and so forth throughout.

We stuck with our female runaway bunny until our third was born, and then he (being a strong personality) insisted it was a boy bunny, so back the original.

One of the most moving scenes in the play Wit (not for kids, but made into a beautiful movie with Emma Thompson in the main role of a demanding English professor dying of cancer) is when a visitor, her former mentor, reads her excerpts from The Runaway Bunny.

This may seem depressing, but that scene makes a person realize that The Runaway Bunny would not be a bad book to have read on one’s deathbed.

But I can still think of a better book for that purpose: MWB’s The Important Book, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard.

I almost always get emotional when I read The Important Book, for many reasons. It’s a prayer and a poem both, and Weisgard’s illustrations make it nearly perfect.

The frontspiece begins with a tiny illustration of a open book. On the right-hand side of the tiny open book is an illustration of a cricket. On the left-hand page are the words in cursive:“The important thing about a cricket is that it is black. It chirps, it hops, it jumps, and sings all through the summer night. But the important thing about a cricket is that it is black.”

And the book continues this way, though with full-size illustrations in the rest of the book. What makes—a spoon, an apple, the wind, the grass, a child’s shoe, much more, and finally, you–important.

I was so taken by this book that eventually, I made a “Grandpa and Grandma Important Book” for my in-laws. Each page of this scrapbook was about what made Grandpa or Grandma, their children and grandchildren important, with accompanying photos. (“The important thing about Grandma is that she makes the best chocolate milk.”)

I made it just before my father-in-law passed away, and now that both my in-laws are dead I treasure this “Important Book” as a family heirloom; it’s alongside our copy of The Important Book. And now I wish I had made one for my parents, but that one is in my heart.

Two other MWB books are well worth having. The Golden Egg Book is another nearly perfect bedtime book–perhaps especially during the Easter season–about both friendship, sleepiness, and adorable lifelike bunnies. Lovely illustrations by Leonard Weisgard again.

Finally, Nibble, Nibble: Poems for Children is sweet, and would be worthwhile to consider reading during April, National Poetry Month.

We’ve read many, many other Margaret Wise Brown books at our house, and we own probably half a dozen more book by her, but these are the ones I’d keep no matter what:

Goodnight Moon

The Runaway Bunny

The Important Book

The Golden Egg Book

Nibble, Nibble: Poems for Children

Do you have a favorite Margaret Wise Brown book?

Need Some Running Motivation? How about Bels Second Chance

Regular readers here will know how much I enjoy running, and I have aspirations to do a series on running and Catholic life, with guest authors writing (like I did last year) about marathon or other race experiences.

This year, I have kept up with my running.  I’ve had a goal to do a monthly half-marathon (no “official” races;, just a 13.1 mile run or longer, along with my regular runs, at least once per month), and I’ve kept up with that and more, but my times have been sooo slow.

Even with that, until last week I haven’t felt motivated to sign up for any spring, summer or fall races, even as I see friends on Facebook and elsewhere signing up for various marathons, half-marathons and other races.

After yet another far-too-slow and unmotivated run around my same-old neighborhood, and with weather getting a little warmer, I realize that signing up for some races and get myself running a little faster is in order.

I discovered a local race that will also allow me to support a great cause, one of the other reasons I love to do races.

Bels Second Chance is being directed by a local elite runner, Pat Arnold.  He agreed to do a Q&A with me about the race, and I encourage any local runners who, like me, need a little motivation for faster times, or just getting out there, to do the 5K or 10K this Saturday, April 6.  If you do come out for Bels Second Chance, be sure to say hi to me!  I’ll be at the back of the 10K pack.

Pat Arnold, race director of Bels Second Chance 10K and 5K Race

Q. What is the Bels Second Chance Race for Your Heart?

Bels Second Chance race is a 10K, 5K and kids run event to raise support and funds for the family of Bels Montgomery, a little girl who had a heart transplant last year. The races will be held at 9 a.m. April 6 at Five Points in Washington, IL.

The cost is $35. To sign up, go to

A lot of folks are planning to walk the 5K. All of the funds for the race go to the Montgomery family through a charitable organization named COTA to help with the transplant expenses.

Q. What is your role with the Bels Second chance race?

I am listed as the race director; it’s my first time in that “official” role. I am fairly active in the running community and I was asked to help with the race. I certified the course for the for the 5k and 10k and did a lot of organizational work for the race.

However, Crystal Montgomery, Bels’ mother, has a great team working with her to raise funds for her daughter’s heart transplant. They have a great deal of experience in fundraising. The race was definitely a team effort.

Q. How did you get involved with the race?

I met Crystal Montgomery and her daughter Isabel (Bels) though an early intervention program sponsored by OSF about three years ago.

My daughter Elizabeth (now eight years old) was born three months early. She did not end up with any long term issues but has had a lot of physical therapy and assistance from both Easter Seals and OSF. Bels had a heart transplant in August 2012 and I wanted to help.

Bels had three surgeries at 10 days, ten months, and three years of life. There is nothing harder than watching a child go through surgery. My daughter had a shunt implanted in her head at six months and it was one of the hardest things I ever experienced.

Isabel had three of them and she was given an extremely low chance of survival for each of them. Many children on the waiting list for organs pass away because organs do not become available and they simply get too sick. One in 125 babies are born with heart defects. A race seemed like a great way to help the family out, raise funds for someone locally, and celebrate a little girl that beat impossible odds.

We were blessed that my daughter did not have any issues. We were told that she had a high chance of being disabled and we did not know if she would be able to walk until after the first year of her life. Her sister Mary passed away in the hospital.

Mostly, my reason for getting involved with the race is so that I could help another family with a child that had medical issues.

Q. Tell me about the kids fun run associated with the race.

The kid’s fun run is a free, one-half mile, noncompetitive run for kids and their families. Many times kids see their parents at a race and want to participate. The kids run is a great way for kids to cross the finish line and get a ribbon for participating in front of a crowd cheering them on.

Q. The Facebook page for the race is pretty active, and a lot of door prizes are listed. What are some of the highlights?

We have a raffle for a lot of great prizes including running central gift certificates, a free photography session or $125 off a wedding session at Kristen Winkler photography, sunglasses from Bard, Optical, and many other local sponsors who have joined with us in our efforts to help a little girl who needed a new heart.

Q. Can you tell me more about COTA and its work?

COTA is the children’s organ transplant association. They help families raise funds to pay for transplant related costs. They started in 1986 with a family in Bloomington, Indiana whose insurance carrier would not pay for a needed liver transplant. Because the insurance would not pay for the transplant, the family could not even get on the organ transplant list. COTA was formed to help families raise funds for situations like this.

Are you doing any races this spring?  What’s your motivation for running?

Author Abby Johnson in Peoria this Week

Abby Johnson, author and speaker, will be in the Peoria area this week, and I for one am very excited to hear her speak.  She will be speaking at St. Jude Church in Peoria this Tuesday, February 5, at 7 p.m.  If you’re interested in attending, you can contact the parish for more information.

“Prayer, friendship and conversion are at the heart of a new must-read,” as I wrote in my 2011 review of Johnson’s memoir, UnPlanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line (you can read the entire review here).

This book is a great read for teens on up, perhaps especially for teens and young adults.  As I wrote in my review, Unplanned raises a lot of questions about how young people can be formed as people of life:

Young people are in a kind of “sensitive period” in their late teens to mid 20s when values and life course are being set.  How do we direct their natural idealism and energy to the culture of life, instead of the opposite?

Johnson’s conversion happened in a moment, but UnPlanned makes clear it was the sustained effort of many people praying, fasting and acts of friendship for and to her that made that moment possible.

I did a Q&A with Abby that you can read in case you’re getting ready for her talk.

I’m especially looking forward to hearing Abby tell in person how she was “loved from one side to the other.”   I’m also intrigued to hear about the new initiative she has begun, “And Then There Were None,” to help  abortion industry workers leave the industry.  Abby recently became a LIFE Runner (like me!) so I hope to connect with her there about that.

Will you be there?  Is there an author you would like to hear speak in person?