Monday, May 29, 2017

Finding Peace in Chaos: Summer Survival 2017

I was having a hard time keeping my thoughts straight, hovering somewhere between "yeah I am fine" and "ah man I am loosing it". Two separate viruses had hit our normally healthy home in the last 6 weeks. Couple those with a jumbled up schedule packed with extras like sacraments and recitals and tryouts and house hunting all as we finished off the school year. It wasn't that we had so much more going on that normal. Being released from sports practices for a few weeks gave me much more than a few extra hours in the day. No, it was the complete lack of predictability that caused the unease. 

There are seasons in life where structure and planning and purposeful living comes easier. Then there are seasons like this.  

I was leaping into summer without any vacation plans in ink, without a master calendar dotted with ideas to structure out days, without team commitments for my three club athletes, crossing my fingers that my healthy ones would stay healthy and the sick ones would get better already. Oh and we quite literally did not know where we would call home the next month. 

I am a hyper-planner. I think I was blessed with a charism of administration. Scheduling the lives of the little and big people under my roof really brings me joy. And riding through a harried spring into a more laid back time of triple digit temperatures should be refreshing and instill feeling of relaxation. So why did I find myself living instead with a sense of dread? 

During Lent I had developed a beautiful practice of rising early to work through my BIS Lent journal. I am not a journalist by nature, but the concrete daily time for me to get grounding with God was life giving. But it is hard to drag oneself out of bed early. Having a Lenten promise to do so was the only reason I persisted. Plus I didn't want to get behind in the book. The perpetual student in me wouldn't allow for that. 

But Lent ended and the Easter season brought with it joy and celebration and the sacrifice of getting up early... well it was easy to give that up. I had an Easter season book study to do. On my nightstand, on the counter, in the car. It didn't matter where I put it. I wasn't getting done. I was sleeping a little later, checking in with social media, glancing over my email and getting the daily readings, making my coffee and going about my day. But it wasn't Lent anymore so why should I sacrifice sleep?

Gone was the time to just sit with God. 
Holy Spirit come. That was the simple prayer I would utter before opening my Lent journal. Holy Spirit come. So simple and so easy, and those were the first words each day. 

Today I woke up and instead of checking the feeds or opening my email even, I listen to God. I asked Him to give me peace.

Peace doesn't come from the schedule, or the plans, or the organization and structure of the day. Peace comes from God. He will provide peace in the days of uncertainty. But our God is a gentleman God. He doesn't force himself into our lives. He loves us from afar in those times when we keep Him at a distance. When we invite Him in closer he comes equipped with all the graces we need, ready to rekindle the holy gifts he has given us in baptism and confirmation. 

In Matthew 11 Jesus tell us 

"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest." 

He invites us to come to Him. He offers rest, but in the next line he offers so much more...

 "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves."

He doesn't say he is going to take away our problems. He says He is going to teach us and give us rest. 

I don't want God to take away my problems- my problems are good problems. Having many hearts to love and many mouths to feed and many talents to nurture in my little ones is a joyful problem. I need him to teach me how to enter into the fullness of life without feeling weary or burdened. I need to learn how to have faith and trust so deep that uncertain and shifting schedules don't keep me up with worry at night. I need to have confidence that my children will grow through their physical suffering and if they all end up getting sick so be it. 

"For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light". 

The load is still there because that is life in this world. 

When we take our uncertainty, the frustrations, the worries, the sadness,whatever we have weighting down our hearts and we cast that upon the yoke of the Lord, the load is made manageable. 

I still don't know where we will be living when the next season begins. I don't know what the summer will bring. But for me, putting on His yoke each morning means starting each day with an invitation to God.

Come Holy Spirit Come. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

When Rescuing is Wrong

Photo Source

We were siting around the little patio at our local pub. Just a group of us moms out for a little fellowship and some time away from our cumulative 20+ children. One of us had gotten the wrong beer or maybe it was just a stinky beer and she wasn't going to drink it. There was some passing around of the glass and the agreement at the table was that the beer was nasty and she should send it back. We all agreed that the friend who ordered it should just send it back and let the server know it was bad. But this friend was really tentative and would rather not have anything to drink if that meant she may make someone else (the server) feel uncomfortable. After some good natured teasing and laughing, she decided that maybe she would try to be assertive (see the hesitation there already?) and give it a try. As the server approached I could see the stress in her face. She hemmed and hawed and hesitated and so I just blurted out - "Can she get a new drink? This one is awful" - at which point the server smiled and acquiesced and the problem was solved.

Except it wasn't.  Another friend (who is a counselor by training and practice) looked at me with a smile and stated "You are a rescuer!"

A what?

I had never heard that term. What ensued was a bit of more drinking and lot of laughing and even more self-reflection on how each of us as the table handle conflict. 

My counselor friend is absolutely right. I am a rescuer.  I don't like conflict, but what I hate more than conflict is to see my loved ones uncomfortable, in pain, or really suffering in any way. Although it is a nice and noble thing to be willing to help alleviate others discomfort, especially when it comes to beer, being a Rescuer can lead to some rather negative parenting situations. 

Our children grow through conflict. As a mother I should be providing them with a safe and loving environment in which they have the opportunity to solve their own conflicts. I can provide guidance, I can give suggestions (when asked), I can model frameworks for conflict management, but stepping in to take away their pain, discomfort and sometimes genuine suffering, only handicaps their ability to grow into mature and capable adults. Rescuing behavior shows a lack of awareness or appreciation of the good that can come from suffering.

Children are going to have conflicts - daily - and if they have sibling it can at times seem like they life a life of constant conflict. Kids can be mean (yes even my kids) and they make poor choices all the time. I blame their poorly developed frontal lobes. But it is through their conflicts that they learn. They learn when to speak out and when to let things go, they learn how much crap they can take from their peers before they snap, they learn at what point they need to stand up for others, they learn that some friends are fun but not good for them, they learn about honesty, and loyalty, and trustworthiness. They come to value people who are virtuous and learn to avoid those who lack decency.  

So what's a Rescuer- Mom to do? It hurts so much to see our little ones hurting, but swooping in and messing with their business isn't often the best way to handle it. What we need to do is Love and Listen.

First, we are called to love. They need to know that what ever they do, however they handle a situation, they are loved by both us and by God. They are going to mess up. They are going to make poor choices. They are going to fail in some way at some time.  And we are called to loved them through that time. They need to know that good behavior is not a condition of our love. Is it easier to show them love when they are acting awesome? Yes. Will behaving well make us love them more? Nope. We may like being with them more when they are awesome, but we love them the same amount when they are awesome and awful. Our heart are designed to love them. When the rest of the world is giving them crap, we will give them love.

Secondly, our kids need to know that we are here for them when they want advice, and all they need to do is ask. We aren't too busy or too stressed or too important to listen to their struggles. We have open doors and open hearts and when they want help we are here for them. But we have the confidence in them to let them make their own choices and reach out to us when they need a little assistance.

Our children don't need us to rescue them, but they do need us to notice them. When our children are having a tough day, we ought to let them know we recognize their struggle. We don't need them to tell us everything that happened (unless they want too), but we should take a minute to let them know we see them, and we notice they don't seem quite right, and that we love them. This opens the door for the conversation and it lets them know we care. Sometimes that is all they need to push through those rough times in childhood. 

So the next time you find your little one is in a sticky situation, hold back. Give them a chance to figure it out. Let them know you are there for them, but you trust in their abilities to problem solve and to identify when the problem is bigger than they can handle on their own.  Be there for them, but let them grow through their struggles and come out more confident and competent young men and women. 

Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Listening for God's Call... Keeping our children's hearts open to vocational life

I love God with all my 
heart, mind, & soul...
yet I don't always 
respond to His call.

My children don't even listen to me... 
how do I help them 
develop the ability 
to listen to God's call?  

If I want to ensure that my children are open to vocational life, then (according to a favorite priest of mine), there are two things I need to do make sure my kids know:

1) God will call them at some time

2) They need to be ready and willing 
to answer with courage to God's call

It is fine to tell my children this on a regular basis, but how do I help them to internalize these two truths?  

* Pray the If. When we pray, we pray for their future spouse IF they are called to the vocation of marriage. By actually saying "if they are called to the vocation of marriage", we make clear that our expectation is not that they grown up, get married, have children. We are leaving open the reality that they may be called to be a Bride/Bridegroom to the Church, and that would be great too.

* Priests are people too. We try to develop personal/family relationships with priests and sisters in our community so that our children can come to see these men and woman as people, not just clergy. This can be really really hard in some communities! For those of us who don't ourselves have personal relationships with those who have been called to Holy Order it can seem impossible.  I recommend baby steps. If you don't click with your parish priests, look for a community of religious who have a vocation of evangelization or outreach in your area. Explore a little. Listen to podcasts like Catholic Stuff You Should Know and share them with your teens. The priests are hilarious, personable, and well informed. 

* Plan a little and pray a lot. We try not to plan out our child's entire life, nor do we encourage them to plan their entire life. My husband holds two masters degrees, and I hold both a masters and a doctorate degree. We obviously worked hard in school and planned ahead taking all the requisite courses. However, when my son's Jr High announced that they would offer college planning for the young students I balked. There is a season for everything and in childhood I want my child to be a child.  I want my child to do what is right - work hard, take interesting courses, explore, dream, play, volunteer. I want him to experience childhood as something more than a stepping stone to prepare him for the next phase of life. Jr. High is hard enough without having to worry about college applications and accumulating the right accolades before high school. There are saints like St. Therese who were called to religious life early, but most 12 year olds aren't listening. By setting our child up for life as an engineer (so make sure you take AP math and do the robotics club and the summer science camp!), we are sending the message that our child's will (to be an engineer) is the will which we should be facilitating, rather than facilitating the will of God for our child. 

My job as a mother is to help facilitate my child's call to holiness. Sometimes this involves helping him get to soccer practice (where he learns perseverance and teamwork and pushing beyond his own temporal needs for the greater good), and sometimes it means making him attend mass or adoration when he would rather not. It means helping him attune his ear to God. It means helping him develop a prayer life. It means switching things up and letting him drop out of youth group and instead join an apologetics club because it is a better fit for the way his mind operates. It means letting him choose his own service project instead of making him do one that I think looks fun/is easy/fits my schedule. Facilitating my child's call to holiness means recognizing the unique gifts he has been endowed with and helping him develop and expand those talents.  It means helping him to see the possibilities of life without making him choose his path before he has developed the ability to hear God's whisperings. 

Who knew being a parent would be this hard or this rewarding? Looking at parenthood from a stewardship approach can help as we really embrace the role of being stewards of their lives rather than as directors. May you continue to listen to our Lord and serve as an example to your little ones!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Journeying with Jesus

Remember that story from Luke 24, when two of Jesus's followers were walking on the road to Emmaus, and they come upon Jesus (the Risen Lord) and they were prevented from recognizing Him? They were walking along the road talking about everything that had happened, come across Jesus, and then when he asks them what they are talking about the disciples tell him all about what happened. Cleopas, one of Jesus' followers tell Jesus that he is the only one in Jerusalem who doesn't know what happened. 

I love this story because it reminds me that I too get wrapped up in the drama of the day and fail to see Jesus right before me? As hard as I try, I know that I get sucked into the reality of human life today and I am blinded to the truth that He is still here in the word and in the flesh, revealed in the breaking of the bread. I sometimes talk of Jesus as though he were a character from a book, or more intimately as a loved one who has passed away, but in doing so I fail to internalize the reality that he is still with us in The Eucharist.   He is beside me now on this road and he hears every prayer of my heart.

How can we recognize God in the day to day? The answer is intentionality. In my life finding God in the day to day translates into study, community, and service. They are three points on a triangle, three legs of a stool. I need all three in my life.

Study. I can study the word and delve into the lives of the saints who knew God through a deep intimacy. I can allow myself to be lead through scripture daily by my Blessedis She sisters or others who have a gift in this area. I tune into workshops online. I carve out prayer time each morning and visit him in Adoration as often as I can. This is how I get to know my Beloved.

Community. The men on the road to Emmaus were not traveling solo –they were together. Jesus ministered to His disciples in a group, not just one-on-one. We are called to walk to road in community with our brothers and sisters in Christ. My sisters in Christ challenge my assumptions and my biases, they support me when life gets overwhelming, and they call me to be a better version of me. Who are your spiritual sisters walking on the road beside you?

Service. The actions of our bodies, how we spend our time, and how we serve those in our lives all provide evidence of the depth of our Love for God. A common phrase around my house is “you might as well choose to serve with a joyful heart because you are going to do the work anyway”. We should strive to serve with a joyful heart, happy to be offering a sacrifice of the self for God.

Jesus' followers prayed and served in community. When we nurture each aspect of our spiritual life, study, community, and service, we are able to grow more wholly.

Do you have a tendency to get caught up in the daily drama and miss the miracles around you? How do you find His very real presence before you? How can you feed your soul today? What resources do you have to help you to better understand your faith? What physical action can you take today to serve God in love?

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Real Story: 5 Practical Tips for Surviving Mass with Kids

A little while back a friend asked for some concrete advice regarding mass with children. I had to admit that as our family has moved from stage to stage I have become less and less concerned with what others thing about my children in mass, and more about whether I am able to really enter into mass despite the chaos around us. I wrote a post to that effect (read here), but the need for concrete help and tips doesn't go away. Here is your practical pos to help you get through the hour.  

Tip 1. If your church has a childcare use it for the 1-2.5 year age. These kids are sooooo little. It is a rare child (our 3rd was like this) who actually will sit quietly at this age. For the rest of them it is just asking a lot to sit quietly for 1+ hours. Having the little ones out of the picture, let my husband and I focus helping the older kids. Once the little ones turned 2 we would start talking about the time when they would be able to come to mass: "Soon you will be big enough to come with us!" etc. You have to keep it positive though. And it is okay if they do not like the childcare. It is just temporary with the goal of having them WANT to leave it to stay with you.

Tip 2. Remind them of the expectations. We remind them all to quiet their hearts and minds as they walk into mass. "Prepare you minds and hearts for Jesus" is a great line.

Tip 3. Try to be reverent from the start. We never really did the snacks-in-mass thing. Up until age three I was fine with a sippy cup in the pew, but not really beyond that. We get drinks from the drinking fountain before we sit down and try not to get up again. We used to also give the kids one mtint each during the homily. It kept their mouth quiet so we could focus on the message but it did tend to make the thirsty. We would also bring mass/saints books. For a while we had a little backpack ready with books and religious activity pads for the littlest ones. It initially worked, but it got to be more of a hassle.

Tip 4. Touch. We are big on affection in our house. I rub the kids hands during the worship. I let the little one bring her blanket and paci in and she snuggle and often falls asleep. One daughter loves to sit in daddy's lap or beside him most of mass. We want our kids to associate Mass with Love.

Tip 5. Practice. When possible, take the kids to daily mass. It is shorter and a stripped down version of Sunday. The parts of the mass are very clear and it helps them to identify the really really important parts of the mass. The congregation is generally very quiet but also very tolerant.

Mass with children is so hard. It really is. Give yourself a little break. Work towards your goal just one week at a time. By keeping the Eucharist at the center of your lives as a family however you will be bringing God's into your life each week. Attending mass and keeping Christ at the center will keep you grounded in the most difficult times!

Thanks for stopping by!

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