Be Like Abram

There’s a detail in today’s First Reading that was brought to my attention several years ago which changed the way I see this story now. Abram was questioning God’s plan. God came to him promising rewards and Abram wondered what good the rewards would be since he had no son to pass them down to. He was concerned his inheritance would go to his servant. 

God’s response was to take him outside and tell him to count the stars – that’s how many descendants he would have. This had to have been rather hard for Abram to believe because he and his wife Sarai were old and unable to conceive a child. But Abram put his faith in the Lord. He trusted that while it seemed impossible, if God said it would be so, then it would.

He then followed God’s direction to sacrifice some animals and here’s the detail in verse 12 that is important: “As the sun was about to set….” Then in verse 17, we read “When the sun had set and it was dark.” 

When God took Abram outside and asked him to number the stars, it was daytime! There’s just one star in the sky in the day and it’s the sun. Abram saw that one star and he believed it would be sufficient. He believed that despite his lack of children so far and counting just one star, God would keep his promise of many descendants.

We can pray for trust like his. We can ask for the grace to be patient and wait, believing that God will keep his promise. Even if something seems too small, God can make it great. Maybe, like me, you wonder how you can help make this sad, broken world a place where God is glorified. What can I, just one person, do? 

I can begin by trusting God. Trusting he has a plan and even if I can’t see all of it, it will come to fruition. Today, I can do one thing to help make this world better. I can love one person a little more. I can shift my gaze from myself to others and lastly to Jesus. I can have faith that by looking at what is in front of me today and trusting God, all will be well.

Even if it seems like it can’t possibly be enough, it can be. Just ask Abram how it turned out for him.

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Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids.  She loves finding God in the silly and ordinary.  She writes for Ascension Press, Catholic Mom, and her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Eucharistic Adoration is expected to be released summer 2021. You can reach her at merridith.frediani@gmail.com

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Swimming Upstream

I think it’s interesting that as a practicing Catholic I am counter-cultural. It’s not a label I expected to be slapped to my shoulders. In today’s Responsorial Psalm I’m reminded why this counter-cultural stamp is true, because in Psalm 19 we read about law, specifically God’s law and this is something that makes people uncomfortable.

We live in a time of your truth, my truth, his truth, and her truth. It’s all good. We each know best. We’re not happy, at peace, or joyful, but we cling to this ideology. But in Psalm 19, we not only acknowledge the goodness and rightness of God’s law, we rejoice in it and celebrate it. The culture that I – and probably you too – seem to be counter to can’t abide by any sort of truth. There cannot be right and wrong because then someone is wrong and that’s not nice. We signal our love for someone by accepting as truth whatever works for that person, regardless of consequences.

Let’s swim upstream: who invented the universe? God. Who keeps the universe going? God. Who created you and me? God. Who keeps us waking up every morning? God. It seems that the one who does all the creating and maintaining should surely be the one who writes the rules. 

The rules are good and not arbitrary. The psalmist sings in praise of these laws from a perfect and trustworthy God. These laws give us joy. They are precious.

There is great comfort in knowing we are led by a Father who acts out of love, who we can trust, and who wants only good for us. Because of this he gave us laws. He knows us, he  knows what we face, and he knows that his law will help us, not hurt or hobble us.

The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.

Alleluia!

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Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids.  She loves finding God in the silly and ordinary.  She writes for Ascension Press, Catholic Mom, and her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Eucharistic Adoration is expected to be released summer 2021. You can reach her at merridith.frediani@gmail.com

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Jesus is the Bread of Life

A while back, I went through a faith reversion and I was participating in a small faith sharing group. One morning I told the group I had felt empty when I went to a non-Catholic church for a wedding. I couldn’t identify why. The people were full of genuine love for Jesus and there was beautiful music, but I walked away feeling a strong desire to rush to my home parish. I realized that at any Catholic church I had ever been to I felt a sense of something. I couldn’t find the word but my fellow group members knew what I meant.  

One of them, clearly wiser than me, said in a gentle voice, “It’s Jesus.  He is there in the tabernacle.” Even though I am a lifelong practicing Catholic who believes in Jesus Christ’s Real Presence, it took that “ohhh” moment to make me realize I also know it’s his Real Presence. I felt it in my head and my heart and recognized it for the gift it is.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus clearly tells us that he is the bread of life and if we come to him and believe in him we will never hunger or thirst. This passage is the beginning of the Bread of Life discourse in John where Jesus tells his followers that they need to eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life. He tees up the institution of the Eucharist that we read about at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday. He doesn’t back down from this teaching. The disciples comment that this is a hard teaching and they aren’t wrong. It is a hard teaching. When some followers left, Jesus didn’t run after them and clarify. He didn’t recant and say he meant we need to eat a symbol of his body. He let them leave. 

A survey by Pew Research found that 63% of Catholics do not believe that during Mass the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ (transubstantiation). That’s how hard this teaching is. Yet that leaves 37% of Catholics who do believe in it. I feel blessed to confess this truth. I feel blessed to be able to go to Mass and receive Jesus in this concrete way. This reality is so powerful that at Holy Thursday Mass, our pastor teared up during the Consecration and I suspect I wasn’t the only one who, when hearing his voice crack and witnessing him wiping his eyes, felt moved to my core with gratitude. My own tears came a few minutes later when one of our seminarians gave Holy Communion to his sister. I was so overcome with happiness to be back in church for the Triduum, to be able to receive this gift of himself that Jesus gave us.

Jesus is the bread of life. It’s a hard teaching but it’s an important one. Jesus didn’t mince words with this one. He said he is the bread of life and we need to eat his body and drink his blood. We are blessed to live in a place where we can do that freely. 

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Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids.  She loves finding God in the silly and ordinary.  She writes for Ascension Press, Catholic Mom, and her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Eucharistic Adoration is expected to be released summer 2021. You can reach her at merridith.frediani@gmail.com

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Winter Waves

The wind today is particularly aggressive and our little portion of Lake Michigan is turbulent. As I drove up the lakefront after work I noticed how violent and unsettled the water was. I could see the whitecaps all the way to the horizon and the waves breaking closer to shore reminded me of the ocean, crashing into each other at improbable angles. They seemed to be approaching from both the southeast and the northeast. The water was the color of coffee with just the right amount of cream. 

It wasn’t the first time I sat in that lot and took a crummy phone video of the waves to show my family. There is something that pulls me in there whenever they are active. 

I wasn’t alone. Several photographers arrived with cameras with long lenses around their neck. One squatted down to get the perfect angle. Another set up a tripod. Over on the beach, surfers were rejoicing. A mother shivered next to her son who pointed at the breaking waves. A father called his daughter off the rocks. Couples walked past and a runner stopped and sat on the rocks for a few minutes. People in work clothes jumped out with their phones for a few shots and people in sweats posed for pictures with the waves behind them. We were all pulled to the water. 

I realized the waves looked like how my heart feels – unsettled, at odds, moving in different directions. I wondered if others’ hearts felt the same. 

In this time of an unsettled heart, I am consoled by the plea heard in today’s Responsorial Psalm. “Let my cry come to you. Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress.” (Ps 102: 2-3) Yes! This is our cry when the waves are crashing.

I wonder if God sees the same beauty in our turbulent hearts that we see in the turbulent lake. I think he does. I think it is in those times when we feel out of control and we cry out to him that he smiles, not because he is glad we are troubled, but because we go to him. At any moment he can still the water and our hearts. 

And he does. “The LORD looked down from his holy height, from heaven he beheld the earth,

To hear the groaning of the prisoners, to release those doomed to die.” (Ps 102: 20-21) He hears our cry, he sees our distress, and he rescues us. He sent his Son to save us from death and he comforts us when the waves in our heart are churned up. He is so very good. 

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Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids.  She loves finding God in the silly and ordinary.  She writes for Ascension Press, Catholic Mom, and her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Eucharistic Adoration is expected to be released summer 2021. You can reach her at merridith.frediani@gmail.com

Feature Image Credit: photo taken by Merridith Frediani

Persistence In Prayer

We hear in today’s reading and Gospel about the importance of not just prayer, but persistence in prayer. Queen Esther spends the day praying to God for help in freeing her enslaved people, the Jews.  She is described as being in “mortal anguish” as she lay on the ground begging God to give her the right words. This passage is just the beginning of a much longer prayer but in it we see elements of a perfect prayer. She begins by praising and blessing God. She knows he is the God of her forefathers and that he answers prayers. She acknowledges – twice – that she is alone and dependent on God. She approaches him with humility and faith in his good will. 

Then she asks God for what she desires – help in saving her people from death. Her husband, the king and his chief minister were planning to kill all the Jews in the empire. Being Jewish herself, Esther couldn’t let this happen and knew she was in a position to help but she didn’t know how. So she turned to God fully believing that as he had saved the Jews in the past, he would do so again. She knew that it would be him working through her that would save them.

Today’s Gospel follows the theme of persistence in prayer. Jesus exhorts us to ask, seek, and knock. He assures us we will receive and draws the parallel of God as our father. If we as sinful people, would grant our own children’s request, so much more will the perfect Almighty Father give good things to us. Jesus assures us all we need to do is ask him. 

We can be bold in approaching the Father because Jesus came to earth to restore our broken relationship with God. He is the door to our Father; he is the Way. God is not an unreachable deity in the sky who sits dispassionately in judgment. Rather he is a loving Father who desires good for us. Does this mean we can ask for and receive a money tree for our backyard or anything else equally silly? No. What it means is that we can go to Him in prayer, praising him, thanking him, and knowing he sees us and hears us. With our faithful hearts we believe that while we may not get what we think we want, we will get what God knows we need and that is always perfect. 

We are blessed to be the children of a Father who will not be outdone in generosity. When we go to him, whether it is in sorrow, fear, confusion, or anxiety, we are assured that he is with us and will give us what we need to continue to grow more in love with him. 

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Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids.  She loves finding God in the silly and ordinary.  She writes for Ascension Press, Catholic Mom, and her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Eucharistic Adoration is expected to be released summer 2021. You can reach her at merridith.frediani@gmail.com

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Our Families and God’s Family

Families are messy. From the outside, a family can appear ideal but underneath it all, every family, even the one that seems perfect, has issues by virtue of the fact that all families are comprised of humans and we are a messy bunch.

It seems every family I know has that one person who creates drama or that one who is quite different from the others. A large family can absorb this and still function well; a smaller family feels the ripples of the sheep who doesn’t fit well with the rest of the flock. To be fair, the friends of that sheep probably feel bad for that sheep being subjected to such a family and wonder how that sheep made it through so well. Messy.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus declares that whoever does the will of God is his brother, sister, and mother (Mk 3:35). This is good news! We are invited into the greatest of all families – God’s family. And while it is filled with some rogue sheep, it’s okay because God is our Father, Mary is our mother, and Jesus is our brother. Here in this family we are beloved daughters and sons. We are wanted. We are valued. We are adored.

God created each of us with intention and purpose and he has a plan that includes us. In this family we don’t need to worry about being hurt or forgotten. Many of us have been hurt by our earthly families. Our sinful nature causes us to wound those we love. Perhaps you have a parent who was abusive, withheld love or was overly critical. Perhaps you have a sibling with whom you fought and had a competitive relationship. 

This lived experience of family can make it hard to trust God’s family and your place in it. If your relationship with your earthly father was strained, it could be hard to accept that God the Father isn’t the same. If your earthly mother was judgmental, it can be difficult to imagine Mary opening her mantle for you and interceding on your behalf. But, God is the perfect father who loves without limits. He is love and he created us in love. Mary is the perfect mother who desires to point you toward her Son, Jesus, the brother who doesn’t break your stuff or tattle on you. 

These things are truths. They may be hard to grasp and accept but if you take them to prayer and tell your Heavenly Father what is difficult for you, he will help you open your heart to your valued place in his family.

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Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids.  She loves finding God in the silly and ordinary.  She writes for Ascension Press, Catholic Mom, and her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Eucharistic Adoration is expected to be released summer 2021. You can reach her at merridith.frediani@gmail.com

Feature Image Credit: Carlos Daniel, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/12658-alegria-familia

Worshipping Amid Oppression

Today’s First Reading about the oppressing city struck a chord in my heart. I sometimes feel like we are in a time of oppressing cities. During the lockdown essential businesses were allowed to stay open. Sadly this included liquor stores and abortion clinics but churches were shuttered. I fear for the religious freedom our forefathers fought the Revolutionary War to win. I am frustrated at the hypocrisy around me. Today’s reading and Gospel bring me comfort.

Zephaniah is clear in his prophecy regarding the wickedness of the nations. “Woe to her that is rebellious and defiled, the oppressing city! She listens to no voice, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord, she does not draw near to her God,” he writes. As I grow more in love with Jesus, I am more bothered by the wickedness in our world. I am more outraged at the people who are trying to squash my right to worship the God of the Universe. This doesn’t stem from a place of judgment or superiority as much as wishing others trusted the Lord and desired to draw near to God. Imagine what an amazing world it would be. I have seen firsthand the wonder and generosity of God. I want others to see that too.

But these attempts to restrict our rights to freedom of religion are aggravating. Zephaniah reminded me of something that has brought me much comfort this past year – when we die, every one of us, whether we believe in God or not, has to stand in front of him and give an account of our life. That means the people who kept abortion clinics open but closed churches have to explain that decision.

And I too will have to stand before God and explain myself. This fills me with fear because telling the One who created me and has loved me unconditionally how I hurt him is going to be rough. But it also fills me with comfort because, as we read in today’s Gospel, our God is a God of mercy who welcomes our repentance. How many times have we said “No” to what is right but then changed our mind and done it anyway or sought forgiveness for that “no.” The tax collectors and prostitutes initially said “No” but when John the Baptist and Jesus called for repentance, they answered that call. They asked for and received forgiveness. We can do that too and what a glorious Father we have in Heaven who offers this to us.

None of us know what is going to happen to anyone else. I, for one, am glad I’m not involved in the judgment of anyone’s soul. That is God’s role and I trust in his justice and mercy. What I do know is that prayer is important and that even if, heaven forbid, every religious freedom we have is eroded away, no one can take God from our hearts and souls. In the end, well, we already know that Jesus won the war for all mankind. Amen.

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Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids.  She loves finding God in the silly and ordinary.  She writes for Ascension Press, Catholic Mom, and her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Eucharistic Adoration is expected to be released summer 2021. You can reach her at merridith.frediani@gmail.com

Feature Image Credit: Exe, Lobaiza, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/3690-chica-oracion

It’s Going to be OK

In all the other years of my life, even ones that were less than great, I haven’t taken much notice of the Scripture passages we read as we came to the end of the liturgical year. That’s not to say I was oblivious but the end of days seemed too fantastical and far off to cause me much interior unsettledness. After this year, though, I suspect we are all sitting up a little straighter in the pews. What if this is it? What if this is the beginning of the end? Perhaps the sickles are soon to be swung across the earth separating the saints and the sinners. Maybe the destruction of the temple is upon us. Our nation is rising against itself, there were a record number of wildfires, a record number of tropical storms, and some weird clouds of dust that blew over from Africa.

I’ve posed this question to my husband several times this year as bad thing kept following bad thing. The poor man shook his head because he doesn’t share my embrace of memento mori, that is, the remembrance of one’s own death.

For a while, I secretly kind of hoped it was the start of end days. It’s been a tiring year of wave after wave of events that make me want to crawl back under the covers in the morning. Let’s be done with it, I thought. But I’m reminded of some wise words from St. Paul in his letter to the Romans. “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts” (Rom 5:5) and “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom 5:20).

As we hear about the end of the world in our liturgical readings, I suspect this isn’t it and that’s ok. I could be wrong, and that’s ok too. There’s much we don’t know and the uncertainty is hard for many of us. What we do know is that we must remain hopeful. We will die one day and the world will end one day. As Christians we deal with that through the virtue of hope in eternal joy with God in heaven. Our time here on earth is tiny compared to our time in eternity. Hope in this reality will not disappoint us.

We find further comfort knowing that even though there is a lot of sin and ugliness right now and it may feel bleak, God will shower us in grace. And in the end, whether we’re talking about our life, our world or just this rotten time, it’s going to be ok. Have hope and pray for grace. It really is going to be ok.

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Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids.  She loves finding God in the silly and ordinary.  She writes for Ascension Press, Catholic Mom, and her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Eucharistic Adoration is expected to be released summer 2021. You can reach her at merridith.frediani@gmail.com

Feature Image Credit: Rory Hennessey, https://unsplash.com/photos/FQxII3eqkJk

The Fruits of the Spirit

I don’t remember the exact path of the conversation but the Fruits of the Spirit came up and my daughter who was 17 or 18 at the time rattled them off as one word, ending with “self-control oh oh!” After I stopped laughing (because who expects their teen to know the fruits let alone sing them), I gave a little thank you to God for both Catholic education and this amazing girl he allowed me to be the mother of. My daughter quickly directed me to a YouTube video of the song she was singing and I quickly learned that the fruits of the Spirit aren’t a banana, a watermelon, or a lemon. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

These are important virtues for us to strive for and are needed now. Paul warns the Galatians of the works of the flesh and sadly these are still present in our world today: immorality (abortion), impurity (sex outside of marriage), idolatry (spending more time pursing money than Jesus), hatred and rivalry (it’s an election year), outbursts of fury (violence and looting), acts of selfishness (so many examples), dissensions and factions (lack of civil discourse). Paul is very clear what the consequences are: “those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God” (Gal 5: 21). This is where we may say “whoa! too far. Are you saying these people are going to hell?” Well, it kinda reads that way.

Our job as Catholics is to avoid that list of things and focus on the fruits by keeping our gaze on Jesus. We can put the fruits of the Spirit into action not only pro-actively but reactively as well. Just because we are surrounded by immorality, selfishness, and division doesn’t mean we have to join in. We can pray for others and avoid getting sucked in.

We can fight against the evil of abortion through how we vote. We can leave work at a reasonable hour to spend time with our families or go to Mass on our lunch break. We can respond to those who disagree with us with patience and self-control.

Sometimes I get frustrated that I can’t change the world but then God gently reminds me that it’s not my job to do that. I can change me and how I interact with the world. It may be a tiny ripple but it is important. If each of us commits to living our lives with the fruits of the Spirit, there will be a lot of little ripples that, I believe, will one day create a wave. So don’t be a banana, be a fruit of the Spirit.

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Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids.  She loves finding God in the silly and ordinary.  She writes for Ascension Press, Catholic Mom, and her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Eucharistic Adoration is expected to be released summer 2021. You can reach her at merridith.frediani@gmail.com

A Cracked Foundation

Back in the day when lords and ladies were more of a thing, their titles held authority. The peasants listened to and obeyed the lord. (It may not have been a willing consent, but that is irrelevant for this article.) The lord ruled the house in the 1300’s. While we don’t embrace the feudal system any longer, the question Jesus asks in this Gospel is still pertinent – why do we call him Lord but not follow his commands? Better yet, why do I call him Lord and not follow his commands? I can’t control others, but I can control me.

We can know a tree by its fruit and a good fruit-bearing tree has a strong root system below the surface. I want good fruit to come from me, but like the person in the Gospel today, it seems my roots are shallow and my house isn’t built on bedrock. Too often the wind and waves threaten its stability. Too often I fall prey to despair and frustration. Too often I think I know best. Thus, the answer to the question “why do I call him Lord but not follow his commands?” Pride.

There is good reason why it’s considered the root of evil and is the base of Dante’s purgatory. Pride leads to stubbornness and laziness. It fosters arrogance. It steals trust and trust is important. I thought I had my house built deep enough but when Covid got going, the house started shaking. For many of us the current state of our society is the clichéd perfect storm – pandemic, riots, contentious presidential election and quarantine. Loads of uncertainty about what is real and what is ahead plus good old-fashioned fear have, I suspect, shuddered many of our foundations. Why didn’t we follow his commands? We’d be better off now instead of wallowing in this tide of torpor and sea of unsettledness.

Here’s what I realized: it doesn’t matter why. The why isn’t as important as the fact that the choices I made led me here. I have a choice- free will given generously to me as a beloved daughter of God. You have the same choice. I can choose to berate myself for not building a strong enough house. After all I know what I need to do to keep my interior life in order so I can weather the storms. I can make up excuses. I can blame the world. It won’t change the feeling of being unmoored or the sense of disquiet.

Or, I can acknowledge that I messed up (again), come humbly before Jesus and ask for forgiveness. God is astoundingly merciful. I can turn to him in my struggle and he will help me get grounded again. He will help me with that foundation so that I am prepared for the next storm because friends, the storms will keep coming, but we don’t have to have our peace rocked every time.

God is God and his love is big and merciful and if I ask for forgiveness he will send his grace. If I commit to following his commands and ask for his help, things will get better.

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Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids.  She loves finding God in the silly and ordinary.  She writes for Ascension Press, Catholic Mom, and her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Eucharistic Adoration is expected to be released summer 2021. You can reach her at merridith.frediani@gmail.com