Thursday, November 21, 2019

Compressing as a Remedy for Stressing

Sometimes when a muscle or joint is super tight a therapist, rather than stretching the area, will compress it in order to get it to relax. It seems counter intuitive, but it works to help that area to relax. The other night I found myself in one of those parenting moments of heightened anxiety. Maybe it was the storm outside, or the cancelation of practices (I am horrible with changes to the schedule), maybe it was the soundtrack of our life with the thump - thump - thump of the ball against the wall and the chatter of the girls interrupted by thunder outside…regardless, I found myself in the kitchen barely keeping it together.  I took deep breathes and tried to show prudence in my response to the little loves and their requests, all the while feeling a constriction in my entire torso.  I was at that moment that I just gave in. I gave into the tightness and stress and confusion in the schedule. Rather than continuing to stretch myself I constricted. I turned inward. I grabbed my rosary and went room to room asking each of the kids at home if they wanted to join me for the rosary. Right now.  In the dinning room. I sat with my 13 year old and we just prayed. And as promised a peace came over us and over the home. There are three things in this situation which were bold and new for me.

1) I prayed in a very public space.
2) I invited the kids to join me instead either demanding it, or hiding from them.
3) I added something sacred during a time of day when I typically was simply responding to the needs of others.

Let me tell you that in moments of intense frustration, I rarely have the wisdom to turn to prayer. But just as it is counter intuitive to compress a muscle that needs to be stretched, when we are stretched beyond what we think we can tolerate, we too must compress, and rest in the Lord. And sometimes that means adding something to an already full or overwhelming situation. Rather than stripping away tasks on the list, sometimes we need to add prayer to the top.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Towards Contemplative Motherhood




It has been quite a while since I last blogged so my sincere hellos and welcome back to those of you who have been on this journey with me. The past year has been a wonderful time for reflection and direction setting, and I feel as though I am finally hearing the whisperings clearly. This post has a far larger introduction than normal but I with such a break in writing here I fear I need to bring you up to date…

As many of you know a few years ago, as my youngest entered 5 day a week school, I took a part time position with a ministry I loved. As much as I passionately loved the work I was doing, I found myself restless. When I was working I was missing home things and when I was doing home things I was missing work. I felt dissected in some way. I also found myself landing an opportunity to serve our diocese by starting a podcast called Parenting Smarts. I blame the success of the podcast for the decline in my blogging as all my creative energy and writing time was directed towards cultivating content for this podcast. It has been a pure joy to work on this project and I sincerely hope it continues in the future!  But after working on the podcast for a few months I found myself scattered; I needed to streamline my non-family time. I tearfully stepped away from my part-time job and threw myself into the podcast and another writing project. I spent more time each day in prayer, went on a silent retreat, and found a spiritual director.

Moving from a paying job, albeit small, to working on projects that don’t provide any additional income for our family was harder than I anticipated. I missed the title that I lost. I missed the extra money in the account.  I missed the appreciation from others when I contributed in a unique way. In our culture we show appreciation with monetary rewards. I lost that. My family loves and appreciates me, sure, but they don’t see my intellect, my creativity, my problem solving as a skill. They just see it as Mom. It is part of my individual being. It isn’t something to be heralded.  As few weeks ago, I was approached to apply for a new position. Initially I said no, but I was soon persuaded to apply. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. I would be recognized, I would gain a little vacation money, I would have an occupation beyond mother and volunteer.

But it isn’t what I am called to do or BE.  When I first converted, I gave a lot of thought to my vocation as a mother. Honestly, if I had converted as a teen I may have become a contemplative. I love the quiet. I love my prayer time. I love thinking and reading and writing. I have a contemplative calling. But I came to believe, wrongly (!) that the contemplative life is not compatible with motherhood. We respond, we react, we think of others and their needs, wants & desires. We are self-sacrificing. We don’t have the luxury of thought many days. I asked my sister one day “how are you?” and she responded “I don’t have the luxury of thinking about that question – I have no idea how to answer it”.  And that is certainly true for much of motherhood. It is a responsive vocation. It is a service oriented and action oriented vocation.

But does it need to exclude contemplation?

I saw recently a post where a sweet mom said she felt guilty that when the baby napped all she could do was just sit there. She couldn’t muster the energy to take care of the chores or even craw into be herself.  I responded that there isn’t anything wrong with just sitting there. That is healthy.

Why does our culture tell mothers that they shouldn’t sit in the silence? Why can’t we take an hour to read a book, or journal, or pray without feeling guilty.  Motherhood is perfectly compatible with the contemplative life.  When our children nap, when we finally tuck them in, when we kiss them goodbye in the mornings, we are perfectly oriented for quiet. Our normal life of service, of sacrifice, and of being self-donative is perfectly primed for times of utter quiet.  We are physically exhausted but many of us are not intellectually challenged.  Yet we have at our fingertips the ability to read Chaucer at the library while the kids are singing those silly songs, or to sit in prayer while our little one nurses at 3 am.

With all four of my munchkins in school, most days I still have a full day. And whereas the stranger on the street may not appreciate the rosary said or the time spent in adoration, I know that that time was not squandered. What better way to help my family than to pray for them? What better way to grow as a mother than to grow in my spiritual life? What better way to strengthen my marriage than to talk with God about it? My education and my intellect is not being wasted because I am not receiving a paycheck. I say this to myself as much as to you. My job as a mother I to raise little saints for heaven. It is to support my husband in his role as our protector as provider. Sometimes that means ironing his shirts, but sometimes that means praying about a problem we are facing, and really spending time to listen to the Lords guidance.

“It is to this silence [contemplative prayer] that we are called”. – Henri Nouwen.

We live crazy, busy lives. Learning to slow down and intentionally NOT join the craziness is counter-cultural. Some families really rely on two incomes. Other moms are parenting solo and work just to put the food on the table. Even in these situations, I encourage you moms to do everything you can to cultivate times of contemplation into your every day. Developing a contemplative life within motherhood means making time for prayer daily, being intentional about setting aside time and not being discouraged when your vocation as motherhood pulls you away from your conversation with the Lord. God isn’t a Genie that poofs away when a child enters the room. He is always there. We can’t always sit in quiet meditation but we can seek oneness with the Lord in the everyday.


My favorite Saint, St. Theresa of Avila says “contemplative prayer in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us” CCC2709. –St. Theresa of Avila

Thursday, February 8, 2018

How to be a good mother in 5 sort of easy steps


How to Be A Good Mother...

According to our pastor, being a good mother really isn't that hard.

And as much as I have to laugh at the suggestion that parenting is easy, he made enough points that I started to take notes. With his permission I have summarized and compressed and paraphrased and added to put together a join list of 5 sort of easy things you need to do to be a good mom.

1. Consecrate our child to God.  Baptism is the first step here. We should consecrate our babies to God and bring them in communion with God and His Church.

2. Give your child Jesus. My Pastor brought up of the old adage "you can't give what you don't have".  Mothers should be setting aside time to develop their own personal relationships with Jesus so that this can act as a model for normal living. Just as you may give them an appreciation for sports, or art, or music, or literature, you too can give them Jesus.

3. Be sacrificial in your mothering.  Serve with love - not begrudgingly. Don't hang on to the past or worry about the future - just give what you have to give. My father used to say "if you don't go to bed tired, your didn't do enough".  Never is that more true that with mothering. Somedays it feels like we don't do enough, yet we go to bed (and some mornings wake up) exhausted. Motherhood is a sacrifice and we often have to do things that we dont want to do... but we know we are going to do them anyway so put a smile on your face and take a deep breathe and bring God in to your moment to moment acts of service.

4. Pray for your child. At all stages in their lives. And don't stop praying.

5. Bless your child. Numbers 6:22-27 instructs the israelites how exactly to bless their children and we have adopted it as our bedtime blessing.

The Lord bless you and keep you!
The Lord let his face shine upon 
you, and be gracious to you!
The Lord look upon you kindly and 
give you peace!
So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites, 
and I will bless them.

It gets a little awkward now that my oldest is bigger than me, but I still try to bless him at every opportunity.

Too often, we moms set ourselves an impossibly high bar. Our kids have to be the smartest, prettiest, most polite, most creative, and most athletic or we have failed. Our measure of motherhood shouldn't hang on the snippets of our children's behaviors, but rather should focus on what we are doing in these five areas. Beyond that we have to let go. Our children have free will. All we can do is love them, keep them relatively safe and well fed, and give their spiritual life a firm foundation so that they can develop a relationship with Christ.  Now doesn't that seem easy?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

What Your Kids Wished You Knew About Gaming

The World Health Organization just declared that video game addiction is an actual mental disorder,  leading all the talking heads to pontificate about video games. Of course many of those talking about the issue, and calling into the shows, and writing the reports don't actually have children with video games, they don't allow their teens to have cell phones, and they are years removed from the rapidly changing culture in which our children are growing.  Yes, video games are addictive. I am not going to argue that here. My problem is the public outcry for responsible parents to ban video games, and the lack of an educated discussion among and with parents who actually have gaming systems in their homes.



I hate video games. Let me just get that way out in the open. I have not-so-fond memories of spending hours on my boyfriend's couch watching him try to beat another level of Sonic the Hedgehog. Good Grief.  No, I didn't marry him.

That said, we have two gaming systems in our home, I can tell you where the 3 closest GameStop stores are, and my eldest son is determined that when he is of age he will get a job at one of them. 

We have allowed video games into our home. We do not think they are inherently evil.  We recognize that there are some social and maybe even emotional benefits to having them around. 

Video games are different now. Most adults focus on how realistic the games are, or the action and blood and gore. In reality the biggest difference between now and then, is how they are played. Most systems now allow for only one player on one unit at one time. That means that the only way kids can play with their friends is by connecting on-line, or by bringing over your whole playstation and TV to set up at your friends house. My two boys therefore can only play the same game while sitting in different rooms. If they plan on playing with friends on a Saturday night they won't all get together at one boy's home to play - they will all connect online. They will talk to each other through the headsets, sneak up on one another on the screen, play jokes on each other, laugh and harass just like boys do. But they do this all on-line. They put together strikes and assign roles and carry out elaborate missions all from their own bedrooms. When they mess up they apologize, they harass again, they tease and laugh and they move on. The video games are ways to just hang out. My son can have his gaming unit turned on and he can be playing one game, while talking to a friend through the headset who is playing another game. Video games are in some ways the neighborhood park of yesteryear. People who say "just don't let the play online don't understand". 

Some of you may be lamenting the days when boys used to wander the neighborhood tipping over trash cans and playing stickball in the park. Okay. I get it. That sounds great. But it isn't today's reality. Boys who are not connected online with the video games miss out on a opportunity to bond with their friends in some neat ways, and not just throughout the action of the games, but through the time spent just chatting. In a world where teens are increasingly loosing the art of verbal communication, I see the headset banter and chatting as a real opportunity for my sons to continue to develop some of those skills that are harder to come by in an "I will just text him" culture. 

But what about this link between depression and gaming. There have been some reports of the association between depression and gaming. Gaming can help children who struggle with feelings of powerlessness and have an external locus of control. Jr. high children almost universally struggle with the self-regulation of feelings. It is one thing that makes them so enduring and so difficult. The emotional highs and low and confusion over feelings can be overwhelming for parent and child alike. When kids are down for NO reason, playing a round of video games can give them a boost. It gives them an opportunity to be successful and work towards mastering a skill while doing something that they really like. Much in the way that sitting down to practice and then master a piece of sheet music, or practice a physical skill towards mastery. But the successes come faster and it can be done rain or shine. When children are faced with serious depression, rather than just moody blues, they need to seek help. 

In small doses, with clear guidelines for usage, video games can be a tool to help children navigate some of the hormonal lows and social awkwardness of the middle school and junior high years.

But what about the addiction stuff? Yes, video games can be addictive. Some games are actually created so that you can not stop the "raid" until it is over (and there are no time indicators), or you will be penalized and be unable to go on missions of that type in the future. Some video games give you extra points if you check into the game frequently. Some have new down loads each week to keep you interested and active. Yes, they can be addictive and they are designed to keep people playing. Guess what else can be addictive? 

Jigsaw puzzles. 
Netflix. 
Legos.  
A really good novel. 
Chocolate. 
Soccer.
Television.

And these are just the addictions we struggle with in our home.  My oldest son spent his preschool years obsessed with pirates. He had a pirate birthday party three years in a row. One of my daughters is currently obsessed with Horses.  I think one of my sons may still be secretly obsessed with ninjas. 

We live in a world filled with fabulous things and Yes, we battle with our boys over their video game usage and screen time. We have tried a variety of strategies that work at various ages to various degrees. Now they are learning to monitor their own video game usage with our guidance, and we are battling with the over binge-watching dumb shows on Netflix. There will always be some battle - That is just parenting.

It is our job to take those battles on and help our children to grow. Kids need boundaries to help them grow in self-control, and parents need to move those boundaries based on the children's growing competencies. We have had success in the past with a M-Th ban on electronics. We have been able to lift that now because the boys have shown self control with their usage, and because they are less apt to binge on the weekend when they can have little snippets of gaming during the week. We instituted the no-more-than-2 hours-screen time rule each day for many years in our home and have that rule with our younger children as well. We have a A/B only rule for grades and lower than a B leads to no screen time at all. All chores and homework has to be done before anything goes on. 

Now we are intentionally trying to help our older children work towards self-master their usage of screen time, while still being sticklers with the little ones. Some days we do well other days we do not. We had a rough spell when all the boys wanted to do was play video games (or soccer - always soccer) and we got through that. Luckily my children have a lot interests, they just sometimes need to be encouraged to pursue those other interests as well. 

You need to find what works and then adjust as your children grow in age and competency. The rules may be different for the 15 year old than they are for the 5 year old and that is not just okay - that is great. The reality is that children are going to grow into adults who are surrounded by technology. My job as a parent is to protect them yes, but also to help them grown in competencies. Banning video games from my home will not achieve that goal. Helping them to self-regulate, the self-monitor their time, to have a variety of interests, and to have healthy social relationships, those are all things that will help them to grow into competent individuals. 


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

No Advent Fails


As usual I had lofty goals for Advent this year. My Advent journal was prepped and ready, the decorations were up, many of the gifts were purchased, and I even bought my purple and rose colored candles ahead of time.

And as usual my goals of really entering into the season, and spending time in deep contemplation about the arrival of my Lord and Savior in the form of a little baby, went unrealized.

Each year I have some excuse. This year I got sick. Not deathly ill, or even super sick requiring Rx or a trip to the doctor. No, I just got a really persistent upper respiratory something.  It came the first Sunday of Advent and just hung around all month. It sucked my energy, my motivation, and kept me at an arms length (or more) from many friends and families.

And it slowed me down. In a time of hustle and bustle, this little bug dropped me into first gear and I sort of trudged through life. The result of this dampening of energy meant that the class party I had to organize was fine rather than great (no one seemed to care that the hot cocoa was actually chocolate milk), the Christmas cards did not go out (or even get addressed), the family ate quite a few more take-and-make dinners than normal (and enjoyed every bite), the gifts were simplified all round (who cares if the packages have bows), and we left the Christmas party early (unnoticed I am sure).

So what if we only lit the Advent candles a few nights each week. Advent isn't about lighting candles, or planning the perfect party or sending an amazing card. Like all of our special times in the church calendar, Advent is about living life differently. Sometimes those special times are feast days, sometimes they are fasting days, sometime they are seasons of preparation, but they are different for a reason. They shock our system. They help us to notice a truly Joyful or Reverent time. Advent is a time to prepare for that truly Joyful time of Christmas.

Too often we hope for a grand revelation during our Advent or Lent season. We look for a conversion of our own heart, without realizing that when align our hearts to Christ, we are continually being transformed. This Advent I had to slow dow.  Really slow down. I had to choose what was important, what was urgent, and what could be left out. And then I just let go of it all. I stead of getting out of bed to read my journal and write and reflect, I stayed in bed and just prayed. Good prayer. Just talking with Jesus in the silence of the early hours and resting in His love.  And that is how I prepared. It wasn't extravagant, or complicated, or even recommended, but it worked. It wasn't a Fail. And now we get to celebrate.

As this New Year approaches what sort of goals are you going to set for yourself? Are they going to be lofty-impossible-to-achieve goals that leave you deflated and defeated as the first flowers of spring pop up, or are they going to be less measurable goals that lead to a transformation in your heart and mind?

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