Kid Triathlon Finish Banner
Action, Grace, Hope, Human Dignity, Humility, Joy, Leadership, Life, Love

Going the Distance: On Heartbreak, Hope, and Love


My kids, ages 8 and 9 1/2, were registered to do their third Kids-Triathlon.

Kids Tri 2014

First Tri in 2014

Kids Tri 2015

Second Tri in 2015

And then three weeks before the race this year, my youngest, Max, broke his arm (for the second time in 8 months–this time while playing the-floor-is-lava).



He was disappointed that he couldn’t do the tri, but understood.  There were tears, but Max has a positive, fun, jovial disposition.  While others might sulk, he had a moment of sad, then moved on to joking and cheering… until the night before the race, when he started to cry.  Overcome with disappointment, he cried, “I weally wanted to do this twiathlon…”


I had a choice: I could tell him to simply chin-up and deal with the consequences of his broken arm, I could join him in his devastation and call off his brother’s tri, or I could meet him with compassion and find a way to help him work through it.

It was heart-breaking.  But Max embraced his role, cheering his brother and their friends on.  We prayed.  Others prayed, and he cheered his friends on.  You never would have known Max was the least bit upset.

Kid Triathlon 2016-5

Alex, my oldest, started his race as expected: confident, nervous, excited.


His 100 yard breast stroke was steady through the cold waters of the freshly drawn pool.  

Kid Triathlon 2016-9

He ran through transition with a double dimpled smile, blowing a kiss as he ran by.

He sped out of transition on his bike with confidence.  

Kid Triathlon 2016-11

And we eagerly waited his return…

After a while I knew something was wrong; it was taking too long.

Finally Max spotted him off in the distance.

As Alex got closer, he was going too slow.  My Mom-Spidey-Senses were going off and I ran towards him.  

Kid Triathlon 2016-15

Tears streaming, Alex wailed that his chain had been broken for the whole, entire 3 mile bike.  It had fallen off three times; a volunteer helped fix it the first two, but not the third time.  So he had to walk/scoot it in, incredibly frustrating and costing him buckets of time.


Crying, he ran his bike through the end of the course, into transition.

Disappointed, Alex started his run strong… but the frustration overcame him and he began to just walk, crying.

Kid Triathlon 2016-24

Tingling Spidey-Mom-Senses, I see my son.  He hasn’t given up.  He’s discouraged, but he hasn’t given up.

Kid Triathlon 2016-26

All he can see is the failure.  The failure to accomplish the bike as he knew he could.

Kid Triathlon 2016-18

He couldn’t see the tenacity.  He couldn’t see the determination.  He couldn’t see the strength.

Kid Triathlon 2016-19

He could only feel the pain and disappointment, which were real… which were huge.

Kid Triathlon 2016-20

I saw my son cross the finish line against all odds.  But I couldn’t cry with pride, because he was simply devastated.

Kid Triathlon 2016-21

So I took him by the hand and walked him over to his coach.  A multiple Ironman, multiple ultra-marathon (100 mile) finisher, who coached kids at the YMCA for free, just to share his love of the sport.  A grandfather, who loves kids as much as he loves the sport… who is one of the best examples of coaching that this professional educator has ever witnessed in her life.

Kid Triathlon 2016-22

And this Ironman Coach Grandpa explains to Alex that his determination to finish–that he didn’t just give up–was one of the most inspirational things he had ever seen.

Still, Alex couldn’t understand.  Still, Alex couldn’t comprehend.  So Coach Grandpa asked if he could take a picture and post his story on Facebook.  Because he was certain that there were other Triathletes that would find inspiration from this 9 year old.
Kid Triathlon 2016-23

We packed up and headed home.  And I insisted that Alex read the comments on Coach Grandpa and my own Facebook posts.  For some reason, when he started to read the comments of strangers who were moved by the fact that he still finished the race, things started to shift for him.  “Wow.”

Why is it that we doubt the words of those who love us, but accept the words of those we don’t know?

Regardless, those words were heard.  The affirmations of strangers were heard.  The encouragement of his Coach was heard.  And Alex started to look at his Triathlon in a new light.

Where he once saw failure, he started to see determination.

Where he once saw frustration, he started to see success.

And I finally let myself cry, but not for hurt, or pain, or disappointment.  Rather for pride.

What may have been my son’s worst experience ever may have been the proudest Mom-moment of my life.

Because he finished.

Not because he won, but because he didn’t give up.  He finished.

My son faced adversity, felt the full brunt of it, and said to himself, “I could quit, but it’s only another 1/2 mile.  I can make it.”

And he did.  He finished.

There are so many lessons I take from this experience.

  • From Max who at 8 years old allowed himself to feel intense disappointment, yet didn’t let it consume him… rather, he chose to cheer on his friends.
  • From Alex, my tenacious 9 1/2 year old, who didn’t give up.
  • From perfect strangers who not only found inspiration from Alex’s story, but who took the time to applaud his tenacity.
  • From a man who volunteers his time, talent, and treasure to help kids find success with and develop a love of his sport.
  • From my husband who sees the moments of real, in-the-trenches-mothering, applauds them, and captures them on film.

When Jesus said to love one another as I have loved you… this is what he meant.  Yes, my kid did a great job at overcoming adversity, but he wouldn’t have been able to do it without you and me. When Jesus said “whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me,” this is part of that.

As a Mom, when I love my kid in his time of need, I’m being Christ to him.  As a community, when you reach out to someone with encouragement and love, you’re being Christ to him.  You are loving one another as Christ loved us.

This is it.  Right here, right now.  And we did it.  He finished.  And he’s proud because of you.  So thank you.


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Tent in Cayonlands
Book, Faith, Lent, Spirituality, Transformation

Pitching a Tent


I originally wrote this post three years ago, shortly after having lost a dear friend to breast cancer.  Of course, in the 3-year cycle of readings, Luke’s account of the Transfiguration is (once again) the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent. This reflection also makes its way into the first chapter of Continuing the Journey (which is now available in both English and Spanish, with a Leaders Guide–also in both English and Spanish… but I digress).

From February 2013…

My dear friend Amalour passed away last week.  And in my grief, I am still having a difficult time paying attention to almost everything.  So it  didn’t come as any surprise when I had a hard time following the homily today at mass.  The Gospel on the Second Sunday of Lent is the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28:-36).

Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.  And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.  Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.  As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.  Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.

Years ago (before kids), I facilitated a faith sharing group at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Maryland, and one of the women explained how the story of the Transfiguration was one of her favorites because it offered a glimpse of Jesus Christ glorified.  I heard her words and felt moved by her passion, but that’s not how the story struck me.

Personally, I find myself identifying with Peter, James, and John.  Like them, I would have been happy to follow Jesus up a mountain.  Like them, I would have probably been overcome by sleep.  Even before kids.  And like them, I would probably been so awestruck, I would have been happy to  to pitch a tent.

Actually, I would have been happy to have my husband pitch the tent while I set up camp.


At the Vigil service for Amalour’s funeral, her husband Brian offered one of the most moving eulogies I have ever heard.  Brian talked about Amalour’s unending quest for improvement.  In their marriage–in their lives–they’d do the work and come to a plateau.  It was a nice plateau, on which Brian was ready to pitch a tent and enjoy the view.  And Amalour would say no; we’re not there yet.  We can do better than this.  There’s more to see; there’s more to do.  Again, and again, and again in their lives, Amalour was always striving for something more… for something better… in all the ways that mattered.

I am a do-er.  I’d like to think of myself as someone who walked alongside Amalour on the path of growth.  In many ways, I know I have.  But I also know one of my weaknesses is doing too much. I have been guilty of distracting myself from the real, true, important things in life with busyness… filling my days with so much stuff that I don’t have time to think.  When I’m in this mindset, pitching a tent and enjoying the view sounds like a GREAT idea!  In fact, I’ll even busy myself with setting up camp.

Thing is, life is more of a journey than a sit-down and watch (or in my case, get everything ready to sit down and watch).  And sometimes that journey is hard.  Very hard.

I can imagine that witnessing the Transfiguration was to be a gift to inspire Peter, James, and John for the journey that lay before them.  It was not meant to be the end of the journey… or even a break from the journey.

So the challenge, I suppose, is to take those moments of grace, peace, hope, and light and allow them to inspire us along the path.  To avoid the temptation to pitch a tent as though that moment was the end-all-be-all.  To avoid the temptation to busy ourselves with setting up camp instead of doing the real work of journeying through life.

Tent in Canyonlands by [Rob Lee] licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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Pope Francis Giving Homily in Philadelphia

“What about you? What are you going to do?”


Pope Francis delivered an incredible homily during his visit to Philadelphia on Saturday morning, at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Most of you know the story of Saint Katharine Drexel, one of the great saints raised up by this local Church. When she spoke to Pope Leo XIII of the needs of the missions, the Pope — he was a very wise Pope! — asked her pointedly: “What about you? What are you going to do?”. Those words changed Katharine’s life, because they reminded her that, in the end, every Christian man and woman, by virtue of baptism, has received a mission. Each one of us has to respond, as best we can, to the Lord’s call to build up his Body, the Church. “What about you?”

“What about you? What are you going to do?”

By virtue of our baptism, we are each called to participate in building up the Kingdom of God… to proclaim the Good News… to share God’s love with the world… to share our gifts and talents… to give the reason for our hope (1 Peter 3:15).  By virtue of our baptism, we are all called to do something.

“What about you? What are you going to do?”

This is essentially the point of evangelization; kindling our passion for God such that it bubbles over into every aspect of our lives.  Young and old, women and men, youth and adults, laity and religious; we are called to love and serve the Lord.  We are called to give glory to God by our life.

“What about you? What are you going to do?”

I, for one, am excited and inspired by the Holy Father’s words.  On Sunday, October 4th, I’ll be leading a Day of Renewal for the St. Paul Mission Parish at the San Juan Renewal Center in McAllen, TX.  We will spend time reflecting on Pope Francis’ (and Pope Leo XII’s) words: “What about you? What are you going to do?”  Pray for us!  And join us if you can!

  • And think about your own answer: What about you? What are you going to do?”

For the complete text of the homily, click here.  To watch Pope Francis deliver the homily, click here.

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Leaders guide and 3 copies of Continuing the Journey
Book, Conversion, Evangelization, Faith, Friendship, Life, Small Faith Sharing Groups, Spirituality, Transformation

5 Keys for Effective Faith Sharing Groups


Adults crave quality connections with other adults, where we can have good conversations about the things in life that really matter.

For a variety of reasons, we don’t always have the opportunity to do this; to have these quality connections and conversations. Our schedules become busy with kids, work, commitments, activities, sports, responsibilities, and so on.  We often find ourselves socializing with the people who keep similar schedules in similar spaces. We talk about the things we do or the things we see, but not always what’s going on inside our hearts.

Sharing the yearnings of our hearts–our hopes and dreams, our joys and sorrows, our brokenness in pain and suffering–takes trust, vulnerability, and love.

Trust, vulnerability, and love aren’t characteristics easily found in today’s impersonal, fast paced, technology dependent world.

This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)

Yet trust, vulnerability, and love are at the heart of true spirituality, discipleship, and Christian community. Or at least, that’s what Jesus had intended, that’s what St. Paul wrote about, and that’s what Acts of the Apostles describes.

Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. (Acts 2:46-47)

The experience of quality conversations and connections is invigorating; these moments fill our hearts with love, peace, and joy. When the topics touch upon spirituality, discipleship, and Christian living, these conversations are evangelizing–kindling our passion for God.

So when, and where, and how can we find quality connections and quality conversations with other adults?  In today’s Church, we can certainly find this within small faith sharing groups.

My last post explained what a small faith sharing group is.  This post begins with a vision for what kind of experience we want (quality conversations and connections) and will focus on How to implement small faith sharing groups.

Five Keys For Small Faith Sharing Groups

Just because you get a group of people together and give them a topic does not mean you’ll get these fantastic evangelizing conversations and quality connections.  Have you ever been part of a never-ending meeting that goes nowhere?  Or one that devolves into either a therapy session or venting and complaining?

Beyond the logistics of who, where, when (and what to discuss), there needs to be a great deal of attention dedicated to how. I suggest Five Key C’s to cultivating evangelizing conversations and quality connections:

  1. Confidentiality – the atmosphere of the small faith sharing group needs to be one of trust, vulnerability, and love.  Whatever is shared in these conversations must not be repeated in any other context.  This is a confidentiality based in agapic-love, willing of another’s good… the only exception to confidentiality is if someone’s life is in danger.  Care and concern for the well-being of another always takes precedence when someone’s life is in danger.
  2. Conversation – participants enter into small faith sharing groups with the expectation of conversation.  Good conversations extend from mutual respect.  To get to a place of mutual respect, sometimes “ground rules” need to be made explicit, such as:
    • encourage laughter and joy… but never at the expense of another.
    • express concern for one another… but not by offering advice, criticism, or judgment of others.
    • recognize and validate emotions… but resist the temptation to counsel, advise, or solve problems (unless specifically asked for).
    • honor one another’s time with both brevity (when sharing) and patience (when listening).
  3. Coordination through Facilitators – a good facilitator is a good listener and servant/leader.  More than a host or a coordinator that plans the meetings, a good facilitator knows how to:
    • invite everyone’s participation in the conversation… but not force it; no one has an obligation to share.  Some folks are natural talkers who easily share; others are introverts that need time to think and process.  A facilitator’s job is to prevent “conversation ball-hogs” by making sure that everyone has a chance to speak and contribute.
    • be patient as participants share their stories… but also be attentive to staying focused on the discussion topic and keeping the discussion within the time allotted.
  4. Conversion and Application to Life – it is easier to talk critical analysis–what you think about a topic–than it is to consider how the material applies to your life.  It’s easier to talk about concepts or other people’s stories than it is to consider how the wisdom of Scripture and Tradition is personally calling you to conversion in your own life.  Faith sharing group discussions are concerned with:
    • How you currently experience [the topic] in your life – whether with success or struggles.
    • Ways in which you feel [the topic] is calling you to live your faith differently or better… a call to action of sorts.
  5. Centered on Prayer – Faith sharing groups always need to be centered on our Life-giving, Loving God.  We need to remember to:
    • begin by inviting the Holy Spirit into the discussion.
    • choose discussion material that helps us focus on how the wisdom of the Christian Tradition applies to our lives today.
    • pray over, for, with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are struggling through difficult times… even if it is in the middle of the discussion.
    • end with a prayer of thanksgiving and/or petition.

One last thing to keep in mind when working with adults in a faith sharing group setting: busy adults don’t always have the time to read and prepare.  Or sometimes they do read and prepare, but then time passes, life happens, and they forget.  In a classroom setting, it makes sense to emphasize coming to class prepared.  In a faith sharing group, the focus is on evangelization; quality connections and conversation about faith and life.

Catechesis is an essential “moment” in the process of evangelization (General Directory for Catechesis, 63).

To help adults focus their conversation, it’s always a good idea to offer a summary that reminds participants about the key points in the material before opening the discussion.

Faith Sharing with Continuing the Journey

You know what material easily lends itself to small faith sharing group discussion?  That’s right!  My book, Continuing the Journey: Cultivating Lived Faith.

Even more, you know what will help with the Five Key C’s of cultivating evangelizing conversations and quality connections?  My brand new Leader’s Guide.

I believe so strongly in the value of small faith sharing groups that I am offering the Leader’s Guide as either a free PDF (click here), or a hard copy can be mailed to you for $5.99 with free Prime Shipping through Amazon.

Note: all Amazon links include my affiliate link, which means Amazon gives me a couple of extra pennies from your purchase.

Go forth and share your faith!  And let me know if I can be of any help in the process.  In addition to these resources, I am available to offer trainings and workshops for small faith sharing group facilitators.  Just email me!

Blessings and peace as you continue your journey!

Love Julie

Sign-up now and receive the 68-page PDF Leader’s Guide to Continuing the Journey.

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Crowd of People facing sunset
Book, Evangelization, Life, Small Faith Sharing Groups

What is a Small Faith Sharing Group?


Have you ever been on a spiritual retreat and witnessed that profound change in a person?  Maybe you were on the Team giving the retreat.  Maybe you were a participant.  Maybe that person was you.

That change–that shift–is the work of the Holy Spirit.  It’s a transformation in faith.  And it’s such a privilege to witness… it’s why I do what I do.

It’s the “AH-HA” moment that teachers live for; when we get to be a part of someone making a connection between what they are learning and what they are doing.  They get it… they really get it! In religious education and on retreats, that AH-HA moment is filled with the grace and joy because we have the privilege of participating with the divine.

For it is in giving that we receive.

So we see this transformation in faith happen on a retreat.  We see retreatants come to the end of the retreat on fire with the Holy Spirit, receptive, vulnerable, open, and joyful… and asking us how to continue that retreat experience.

That receptive, vulnerable, open, joyful person on fire with the Holy Spirit is why I wrote Continuing the Journey: Cultivating Lived Faith.  I wrote it for adults to read, reflect, and journal on their own, and then come together to discuss their answers in small faith sharing groups.  It’s not that a person can’t read it on their own–they certainly can!  It’s more that those retreatants on fire with the Holy Spirit need something–deserve something–that can help them keep that fire alive as they return to daily life.

That something is lived faith.  That fire is evangelization.  And a fantastic way to do this is through a small faith sharing group.

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