Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Slippery Slope of Spirituality

Photo Source

If you aren't moving forward spiritually you are slipping back.  

This was a statement, a reality, a truth, that I came upon during my RCIA classes. It may have been in a book, or it may have come from a speaker.  But I loved the quote because it highlights the danger of being luke-warm in our faith- we show up to church usually and check the attendance box.  Gone to church? Yup. I am done for the week. I am a good Christian.

We all think we are more pious than we really are.  Closer reflection and prayer leads us to a more accurate assessment - reality.

For instance, I am a far cry from my monthly confession goal.  I like to think of myself putting my faith first, but there is a concrete example of me NOT doing that.  And facts are facts.

Our need to have an accurate understanding of our own spiritual life is even more important when we are raising children.

If we don't set the prime example, if we skip mass, if we don't take them to their catechesis classes or have them involved in ministry or service work, what baseline are we setting for them? Our hearts pull us closer to the church and we make excuses- no confession this week because we have that birthday party and the soccer game and there just isn't time.

The kids don't ever see the pull, the evaluation, the careful mental negotiation- all they see is the end result (confession, mass, volunteering, or birthday parties and soccer games). Of course we want to let them go to birthday parties, but sometime we need to say no and choose something that is better for them. We need to ask "what do they gain from this experience?", and "Is it worth all the running around to achieve that goal?".

Stuff is going to slide- so what do you want to be the "stuff" that slides?

As parents we have to establish the baseline - then add to that. For our family, baseline is mass on Sundays, boy involved in one ministry each (liturgical reading, altar serving), and my husband and I are each in a small group, and we adopt-a-family each Christmas. We can't do any less than that, but we can add to in comes daily mass when we can, journaling, Jesse Tree during advent most years, praying the rosary occasionally, frequent confession. For many, our extras are their baseline- and that is okay. We do what we can, when we can. Maybe someday I can get to that point too. But having outlined things that are "essential and non negotiable" gives me a solid footing to build upon as we try to grow in Christ as a family.

So I ask you, what is your baseline? What are you reaching towards? What is helping you grow closer to Christ and how are you helping your children to grow closer to Him as well? Because after all if you aren't helping them move forward spiritually you are holding them back.

Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Top Posts of 2016, Plus That One That Went Unnoticed

Top in 2016
As 2016 draws to a close, I am excited to provide you with some of the top posts for the year, plus one of my favorites that ended up under the radar and is worth visiting if you haven't yet had the chance.

1.  A Good Enough Advent is a short post about giving up our lofty and maybe unrealistic goals and finding what works for each of us. You can read it here. It is short and simple as things really need to be this time of year.

2.  One of the most personal and also most clinical posts of the year was my post-hysterectomy write up. I think I must have the write search-words for that post. If you or someone you know is thinking about a hysterectomy they should read this. Or you too if you are into reading about the nitty-gritty! You can find it here.

3.  Being a Bricklayer (here) gets the award for the least descriptive title ever.  It is about finding balance in our lives and learning to take things one day at a time. I have renamed it Focusing on Today: Learning to be a bricklayer. I really loved this one!

4.  The post Tattle-Tailing on your Friend's Kids provides some tips for navigating that uncomfortable conversation we all have to have sometime. I wrote it after a friend had to tell me about my daughters mis-deeds. Oh the opportunity for humility that parenthood provides us! Read it here. 

5. and 6. As I looked through the titles I came to realize I had two very similar titles that thankfully did NOT have the same content: How to Survive the Seasons of Parenthood and Surviving the Seasons of Motherhood. The first (here) is more about accepting the changes of parenthood and redefining our normal (rather than pining for our past life).  The second post which I renamed Transitioning through the Transitions (here), is about the constancy of the changes in parenthood. I love this post because with 4 kids it seems like someone is always dealing with something major (but thankfully still minor in the grand scheme of things).

7. How to Make a Catholic Education Affordable (here) was written for a link-up on Catholic Education. It has a lot of tips and links to education support/grant/scholarship opportunities and is super practical.

8.  The best one that went unnoticed is certainly the post Teaching Forgiveness (click here).  In it I discuss the importance of learning to say you are sorry.

You can read other's great Top 2016 posts over at Revolution in Love (click here). My friend Bobbi has opened up her site for all of us so be sure you check some of my buddies out there. Thanks for your interest and support in 2016. I am looking forward to much more writing in 2017 so tune in next year for more. Until then, thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Good Enough Advent: No more Advent fails

This time of year, as advent draws to a close, it is easy to have a heavy heart about what I call my Advent Fails.  The advent wreath that was lit once (yes once), the mad scramble to purchase gifts, spending more time making sure thing are even and balanced under the tree than on the thoughtfulness of each gift, the prayer journal that has many, many more blank pages than it does completed ones, and the utter exhaustions that comes from running at sprint speed for a marathon season.

But take a minute (just a minute because you have cookies to bake), and give yourself a break.  Look into your heart and ask yourself three questions –

Have I spread Joy?

Have I sought Peace? 

Have I shown Faith? 

Have I brought Hope?

God doesn’t care if your advent wreath was lit each night.  God doesn’t care if your packages have perfect bows. God doesn’t care if your house is adorned in Christmas lights.  What counts this season is what is in your heart, and how you show that to those around you. 

Today I was determined to bake gingerbread men with my girls. Why? I don't know. It seemed like a good idea.  We are gluten-free so baking in rare and more complicated and generally less satisfying that it used to be. But I found a recipe... and two hours later I was near tears. Stupid stupid stupid gingerbread men. I don't even like gingerbread. I don't know how people make them so pretty.  Mine are sticky blobs. And then my sweet third-born said "Mama that is the best gingerbread Santa I have ever seen!" My girls didn't care that they were ugly blobs. They were having fun.

Intentions count. So does attitude. God knows what is in our hearts.

I am not saying blow off Advent, quite the opposite - Strive for more, but strive for the right things and the right reasons and realize that there is no such thing as a perfect Advent because should all be striving towards more. Strive to have peace in the unrest. Strive to keep perspective about gifts and giving. Strive for what is really important. So we didn't get the nice lights up outside. Oh well. Maybe we can take some walks around the neighborhood instead and enjoy their lights. 

Strive to do a little more, but also a little less of the stuff that distracts you from preparing your heart for His coming. If we do this right, then each year we may feel like we want to do just a little bit more spiritually than we did last year - and that is a good thing. 

Be intentional about what you do today. Maybe you bake gingerbread cookies, maybe you don’t.  Chat with the Lord throughout the day. Pray while you bake or wrap or shop. Buy a little meal for the guy on the street with a sign. Don’t make it complicated. Spread joy, seek peace, show faith and bring hope.

And hey, if you don’t light your wreath this year, finding Advent candles will be one less thing you will have to do next year when the season comes back around.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Being Present in Mass Despite the Chaos

Photo Credit: Ben White

Each year on Thanksgiving, I wake up, get the turkey ready, and then I run off to morning mass - by myself. It is the only day of the year I intentionally attend mass alone. But I need it.

The rest of the year I am in mass with my little ones. Currently ranging in age from 4 - 13, my little ones are at times quiet and respectful during the service. No scratch that.  They are, most of the time quiet, but we are still working on the respectful part. When my oldest alter serves he is definitely quiet and respectful. The rest of the time... well it isn't always pretty. But I digress.  Despite attending mass weekly and during the school year twice a week, they struggle to get through the mass. They act like a bunch of children.  Which they are.  When the big ones were little ones, I used to to dream about the time when they would all sit quietly and listen attentively. I don't know if that time will ever come.

Here are the two truths - they are the only two things Mom's need to know about surviving mass with children.

1) You aren't at mass for your children's benefit. You are there for YOUR benefit and YOUR relationship with God. Sure it helps to set a good example. But you are His daughter and He has requested your presence.

2) Jesus said "let the children come to me".  God wants them there, present, with you.

I have read countless pieces of advice and given a little advice of my own, on how to survive mass with children. Top tips include having special 'quiet' toys or books for mass time or leaving them in childcare, taking children out of pews, keeping children in pews, sitting close to the front, standing far in the back, whispering and threatening and kissing and, well, spanking. I have found that the best influence on behavior for my children was just time. Once they started kindergarten at our parish school, and start attending mass weekly with their class, they really seemed to get the hang of it. I know that is not super comforting to the mama of a 15 month old. Sorry.

Although The Baby still likes to pretend she is sleeping and thus she can't participate, and my older boys just can't seems to keep their hands to themselves, I can say we have graduated to a stage in family life that we can survive mass without turning red in anger (or embarrassment), or having to pull children out of the pews. Most weeks. It isn't because of any magic parenting voodoo I perform. Quiet the opposite. I mentally check out to what is going on besides me and mentally check into what is going on before me. Because even once the children can sit in the pews, they are still super distracting. So I had to carve out special time and lay down some ground rules.

My older children have learned NOT to interrupt the Homily to ask mommy about what is for lunch (or whatever). They do NOT interrupt me when I am kneeling in prayer. And that is pretty much it.

"Are you more important than Jesus? Because you are interrupting and we were just talking"

"Did Jesus ask you to ask me that? Because I am pretty sure he inspired the priest to give us this homily and now I am missing it? Wait your turn."

Now every family is different and we can't check out mentally the whole mass, but having these two times as really sacred times in mass, when I can really be present, makes the rest of the mass much easier. I do the readings before we come because I get them sent to my email In-Box via Blessed is She each morning. I have already taken a few minutes to read and reflect before I even get out of bed. If I miss a little of the responsorial psalm because I am separating the boys (already!), then that is less of a big deal. If I have to take The Baby to the bathroom during the offering I am fine with that. If someone has kicked off her shoes, whatever, I really don't care. In the grand scheme of things it isn't worth getting worked up over.

I am here for Jesus & Jesus wants us (even the kids) to be here.

So relax. Take a deep breath. Go over the readings before you arrive. If you attend mass with a spouse talk about carving out your special time during mass when you really expect the children (and spouse) to not interrupt your time with God. With a little intentionality maybe you can learn to become really present in mass despite the commotions around you.

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Transitioning through the Transitions of Parenting

"Enjoy these times…. they go so fast"

When the midst of battling a 3- year old who won't use the potty, a 2-year old who insists on standing in the grocery cart, a 16 month old who refuses to eat anything but applesauce, or getting up every 3 hours to nurse the baby, it can be hard to really appreciate 'these times', and they certainly don't seem to be going by fast

My father-in-law said something like that once and I responded by responded (with love and gentleness in my heart that I hope came out in my voice) "What was so great about when your kids were young? Do you even remember those times?" and he chuckled admitted that part of life was a blur. Much like the hours or days of a mother's labor, the early years of parenting thankfully are often a blur for parents and children alike.

Children don't actually have the capacity to remember the early years because their brains aren't developed (click here) in that area. And it is a good thing too. I think our children's rate of brain development is a gift from our Lord so that they can't hang those early parenting mishaps over our head "Mom, remember when you…"

Appreciating the early years of parenting can be a challenge because parenthood is just so exhausting. Once you have been through a challenge or milestone with one child, it does become easier to appreciate that challenge with subsequent children because you enter into the circumstance with both experience and perspective. As you encounter a tough stage you have the recognition that you WILL get through this. It was so helpful, when struggling with Gracie and the "blending" on her homework, for me to remember how much I struggled with JR.  He HATED reading aloud to me. He HATED sight words.  We made up a sight-words tickle time to get through it. So I took a deep breath with Gracie and reminded myself that in a few weeks or months this wouldn't be our daily battle. She has now joined her brothers in making me crazy if I call "lights out" because like me, they all obsess about books.

Just try to keep things in perspective. The things that are a struggle today won't necessarily be a struggle tomorrow. Most kids are potty trained before school starts. Your children will be too. If they don't like carrots, keep trying but also give them peas. They won't always need help packing their lunches for school.  They will learn to read, and write, and add and subtract.  And they will eventually sleep too.  Although walking them through many of these things will become less difficult for you.

Christy from Fountains of Home wrote about the difference in a parent's perspective on newborn sleep from the 1st baby and the 5th. She writes:

"I remember staying up at all hours, rocking, nursing, shushing her and completely believing this was how the rest of my life was going to play out. I would never sleep again. Ever. And I believed that with my whole being.

Because it was my first baby and I had no concept of a baby's insanely fast growth and the heightened speed of time once you have children, and thus could not fathom a time where my child could ever function, let alone sleep at all, without my constant attention. Sure, I was completely exhausted and irrational, but the thought of ever sleeping again seemed to be at similar odds as an alien landing on my lawn."

Christy speaks a truth that resonates with us all as we venture through a new tough season of parenting.  Maybe it is parenting a hormonal teen, or a sassy 6 year-old.  Some of the seasons end more quickly (due to our awesome parenting?), other seasons we just muddle through hoping it is just a stage and not the new normal.

For those who are stuck in a really tough time - a house fire, a divorce, grieving the loss of a loved one, job struggles, a really sick child or spouse, or other really hard times, your stages are different and I just can't speak to that. I can only pray that the larger the struggle and the longer the battle, the more grace God will poured over you. And at some point, God willing, you will have the ability to look back at the sleepless nights and gallons of tears shed, and you will be a beautiful example to others. You will have survived that nasty season of life.

In 20 years, we may look back at our earlier years of parenting with some nostalgia, but for now as I look at my friends with littler ones I can smile and think "I am so glad we are past that stage".  And when I am in some tough stage itself, I am trying (with God's abundant Grace) to appreciate the struggle for what it is, and how it is shaping me, knowing it won't last forever.

Thanks for stopping by and hang in there!

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