Monday, August 17, 2009


A couple of years ago, a local parish school was in a tight spot. Their 7th and 8th grade language arts teacher had a broken foot and an injured back. “Would you consider subbing for about four, maybe five weeks,” the principal asked. I agreed to help out temporarily, but when health issues prohibited the teacher from returning, the principal said the position was mine if I wanted it.

Just weeks earlier, I had decided I liked being a stay-at-home mom and occasional freelance writer. Indeed, I was quite happy with my little life. A contemplative by nature, I spent my days reading and writing and well, contemplating. I did not want to return to the classroom after eight years’ hiatus from teaching, and I certainly didn’t want to take on middle school students in a K-8 setting (my previous experience was in secondary and tertiary instruction).

But by the time I realized the classroom teacher wasn’t coming back, I had become attached to the students. Somewhere along the way, they had become my students. I cared too much to subject them to another transition. So, I signed contract and finished the year at Immaculate Conception School.

Almost immediately, I noticed that many of the students routinely jotted the initials JMJ at the tops of their papers. I had read Story of a Soul. Although a new convert, I knew that St. Therese had written JMJ on every page of her diary as a physical reminder that she dedicated every page of her life to the Holy Family.

I thought it was awesome that my students were doing this small thing for God, too. Dedicate every little thing to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Yes, even a page of notes on characterization and story maps could and should be given back as an offering of love.

What I found really offensive, though, was the occasional incident in which a student cheated, and my eyes always went to the JMJ at the top of the student’s page. The cheating seemed to stink like rotten meat when it was done on a page dedicated to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. What does JMJ mean to them anyway? Does it really make a difference in how they live their lives? Is the dedicatory heading so routine that it has become a mechanical scrawl at the top of the page, along with their name, the date, and the class title? Shouldn’t it affect how they live their lives? At the very least, shouldn’t it deter them from cheating on the very page that boasts the Holy Family’s initials?

Sometimes, I would talk to my students and ask them these questions. I never singled out the offender du Jour. I suspected they all could benefit from a moment of self-reflection. So, I occasionally brought it up for general reflection and made a few comments about the importance of matching our words (both written and spoken) with our actions.

What about me? As the year came to a close, I realized that I had offended Our Lord more than any one of those students who carelessly jotted JMJ at the top of the page and moments later let their eyes roam to a neighbor’s paper or slipped a cheat-sheet from their desks. I had told myself that this year was for them. I was here for them. I loved them so much that I wanted to stay with them for the year and save them from another transition. In truth, I routinely went home and complained to my husband about how much our lives had changed by my going back into teaching. I told God He could have this year, but next year - well, next year would be different. No more mornings that began at five. No more falling into bed by nine in the evening. No more stacks of essays. No more cheating students. I wanted my life back.


With only a handful of weeks left in the school year, I paused for reflection - and I reflected on my life’s page. JMJ was clearly scrawled across the top of my life, but I was not living out my promise to the Holy Family. My life was not completely dedicated to God. I realized with great shame that my life was dedicated to me.

Give me the grace, Blessed Mother, to live my life for your Son and not for myself. JMJ - every minute of every day.

No kidding. No compromises. No self-deception.

It is so like God to use children to teach us an important spiritual lesson. Strange, isn’t it? And for seven months, I thought I was there to teach them.



  1. I loved what you have written. I too write JMJ at the top of every paper .. and I too have cheated in life even with the mechanical etching of the JMJ.

    JMJ for me now is my life, my family and my legacy to my kids as they grow. Do keep me in your prayers, so that I may one day receive the grace to live my life in the trueness of word and action.

  2. Dear JMJ Bless me,

    You have no idea how much I needed to have a reason to go back to this posting. It is Dec. 23rd, and I woke up with a to-do list a mile long. I had written JMJ at the top of my proverbial to-do list, but I have been simultaneously lapsing into self-pity.

    So strange - and humbling - to have my own words convict me.

    Thank you for your comment and for being a venue for grace. His grace is sufficient to restore us to the true path of Jesus-Mary-and-Joseph living.

  3. I stumbled upon this post as a result of googling +jmj. I found a signature book from my high school graduation party. Among many of the signatures there is a 4 page prayer from one of my great uncles who passed just a few months ago. I've been out of high school for six years now and am struggling with making good on my promise to dedicate my life to God. The passage from my late. Uncle has +amdg scribbled in the top corner of the first page and +jmj on the last. Ironically, the prayer my uncle shared with me is for the gifts of the spirit so that I may turn my affections away from things of this world and aspire only for the eternal. I was touched that this passage from my uncle spoke to me so clearly years after the fact and was curious as to what those scribblings meant on the corners of the pages. I'm convinced that God used this to lead me to your blog too. Your words , "give me the grace, blessed mother, to live my life for your son and not myself" found me at the perfect time. Thank you for inspiring new to continue to live well. Peace to you.

  4. Valerie, so glad that this posting was a moment of grace for you. If you haven't uncovered the mystery of +amdg, this is the answer to that riddle. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (ad-MA-yor-em DAY-ee GLOR-ee-um),which means All for the Greater Glory of God. May God continue to lead you. And the gifts of the Holy Spirit are yours: wisdom, understanding, right judgement, courage, knowledge, reverence, wonder and awe in the Lord. Blessings! Denise

  5. Great post. This is such a beautiful tradition, and one that it's nice to see honored. It really should give us pause and cause us to think about what we're writing. God bless!

  6. Thank you to The Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg, IN. Each and every paper, each and every day we were taught to write JMJ at the top left of our papers. And to this day when the ambulance siren is heard I say a prayer for the person in the ambulance. So many memories of these nuns and their sharing.