When Scripture Has Just the Right Words

There are days that just start out on the wrong foot, you know? We all joke about Mondays being, well, Mondays. Monday can be a drag. It has a bad rap. For me, today, a Friday, is my Monday. The boys woke up acting sick–partly faking, in my opinion, and God knows why, since we have a birthday party tomorrow and vacation soon…Then they were fighting, yada yada. It’s just a blah kind of a day. My to-do list is a mile long, the baby is likely getting into some sort of mischief, and since we start our summer break from home school, I still have yet to spend a day relaxing. I see no point from here until after July 4 when I’ll feel like I can really relax, unless I make it happen. Today feels like a drag, like the stereotypical Monday.

Yuck.

And yet, there is still time for better! It’s not yet 9am. I made time to sit in stillness and semi-quiet about an hour ago, to read and pray with my favorite all-time devotional, A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms. Today’s verse was just what I needed. It’s just what we all need, everyday, I think. A beautiful reminder that God has *every grace* ready for us, so that we’re not just filled to the minimum and barely getting by, but we’re filled abundantly. Abundantly!

So, go and find some quiet to sit in prayer, soak up the abundant graces just waiting to fill you, and begin your day anew. It doesn’t matter if you’re nearly at the end of your day. Let God’s love and grace fill you, so you have more than enough for all your good works. I know I was deeply moved when reading these words, and am ready to start again, hopefully making the best use of the graces God’s blessed me with.

blue abundant grace

Feel free to copy these images and print them.

pink abundant grace

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How to Get Things Done…Or Not (But be at peace about it)

“But when I finally had the time to prayerfully prioritize my approach to each day, it was so much easier to keep my life in balance. I could finally say with a shrug:

“Well, Lord, I guess that long list of things I didn’t do today isn’t that important. You could have either given me more time or put those things at the top of the list if they mattered in your plan, but since you didn’t, I’ll forget about them for tonight and go read a book in bed.”

^^If these words from Jennifer Fulwiller’s blog aren’t meant for me, then you can call me crazy. I mentioned recently how I’m feeling called to simplicity, but I’ve been struggling with how to do that. How do scale back, when the 5,937 things on my list seem really important. After all, this first week of Lent? Fail. Can you say “two chiro appointments, lunch date with wives at my house, baking cookies and 10lb potatoes for fish fry at church, baby shower…” Yup, all that has been on my list for this week. Also, add in the normal things, such as school, feeding the family (they are always hungry), trying to workout, … … You get the idea. The whole simplicity thing? Not really becoming reality here. Yet.

But I am committed to it!

And now I know what I need to do to make it happen.

I need to pray, and pray about how to prioritize my day. Chances are, God has a good idea of what is the most important thing I need to check off on the ol’ to-do list. Chances are, if I open up my ears for half a second, I’ll get a glimpse of the simplicity He is calling me to, know what to tackle first, and I’ll find peace.

Ah, peace. That elusive thing I yearn for…

Quiet time with The Best Love, Jesus

 

But sitting in prayer, especially when I have a chance to be *this close* to Jesus in church, does bring me peace. Last night, I stopped in for a few brief minutes after dropping off my Little Man for children’s choir practice, and the message was this: “Relax. It will get done.” Great! Relax!! I am all for relaxing. But “it”…what is “it” that will get done, that maybe I need to put some attention to? That “it” is a bit of a mystery to me, but I put my trust in God that “it” will get done, and “it” will be what is most important. For now, I keep putting my days’ goals and plans in His hands, and trust that what matters most is what draws my attention and energies.

For example, I posted about all my plans for Lent. Ask me how many we are slacking on (er…prioritizing differently), and I will tell you “it depends on the day”. We are praying for a different person daily, and we are adding food to our donation box. This week we will do Stations of the Cross, if not at our parish then in our home. We’ve read the daily devotions about 3 or 4 times. My kids are keeping up with their personal sacrifices very well. Overall, so far, “it” is getting done. Knowing that God knows our hearts and intentions, I pray He’s also gently molding us more into His image each day.

I know I need to relax more in order to simplify. That probably is going to mean focusing on the task in front of me and getting it done to the best of my current ability before stressing about the next 53 things on the to-do list. After all, if God Himself took His time creating the world and bringing about His plans of salvation in Christ, how much more should I take my time about my daily tasks? God could have just snapped His figurative fingers and all of creation could have suddenly existed, yet He took days to complete it. I can’t snap my fingers well, nor twitch my nose like Samantha from the old show “Bewitched”. I can only give my best to one thing at a time, and relax.

And so I will. Now that I have given my best to this post (after a week), I am hitting post, and moving to the next thing on my list.

The Penance I Struggle to Make Work

“You have searched me Lord, and you know me.” -Psalm 139:1

Before Easter, I rounded up my four and we headed to our parish penance service. I was going to meet my husband there. We needed the sacrament, of course, and it would be the second time our oldest received. And then, at the last minute, our 5 year old came down with a fever. The boys were cranky. I was at the end of my rope, and figured we’d skip our parish service and find another before Easter. I told our oldest, the “Passionate Princess”, and heartbreak spread over her face. She was looking forward to going! (Amazing! I am so grateful to our DRE for her hard work, and the second grade RE teacher, for making the sacrament not scary to these young souls! I was always afraid and dreaded going, even into adulthood.) Because my girl wanted so badly to receive the Sacrament of Penance, we went. I knew there would be extra graces in store for my younger kids, making a sacrifice so their sister could go to Confession.

We loaded up, met with my husband, and waited for the service to begin. I was stressed, to be sure, but not overly so. I wasn’t crying, I wasn’t a frumpy mess from not having time to dress appropriately. From all outward appearances, I was “put together”.

Since I had all the kids, my daughter and I got in line first so we could get back home quicker. I was in line for a face-to-face confession with a priest I’ve met before, but isn’t our parish priest. He also barely knows me. He might have remembered that I am the mother of 4 little children.

I made my confession, carefully, but without giving my life’s history of each sin. No “I was so stressed from a long day of homeschooling and preparing meals for our dietary challenged selves that I snapped and did XYZ.” Nope, I don’t roll that way. It was “I yelled, lost my patience…” etc. The specifics, but not too much information.

And then he spoke. But it was Jesus.

He told me, as part of my penance (and I feel comfortable sharing this, because it is part of how I am growing and walking along my journey, and how I am working to be a better mother raising my someday-saints), to take time for myself. Take time for myself! Inside, my jaw was dropping. How could this gentle, joyful priest know that I had been working non-stop to care for my family, struggling to have any time to rest in peace? How could he have known? He couldn’t, if not for the graces our priests have in the Sacrament of Confession. He couldn’t, without Christ being in him and using him in those moments. He also told me to rest in God’s Word, especially meditating on the story of Martha and Mary.

Martha and Mary. They always come back to me. I am too much of a Martha, struggling to be a bit more like Mary.

And I was told by our Lord to slow down, find some time (or make it!) for myself, and be with Him.

 

I struggle with this penance. It is a gift. It is like being given a certificate for a spiritual spa day, a spiritual pampering, but feeling guilty about using it. I don’t deserve this! And yet, our Lord’s mercy is a gift. It is a wonderful, amazing gift, and right now, it’s the kind that makes me feel warm and happy inside. I cried with joy at the priest’s–Christ’s–words to me.

I told my husband, who said, “I’ve been trying to tell you to get more time for yourself.”

I know. It’s true, and he kept trying to get me away to have time for myself. Bible study, wives’ nights out, running errands, whatever it may be. And it wasn’t “enough”.

This past weekend, it struck me. Even with the short prayer I kept adding throughout the day, the times out my husband was giving me, I needed something more. Those were all “Martha” times. I needed “Mary” time. Running errands without the kids, it’s great. But it’s not restful. It’s not “me” time. I realized that all the time I have been taking, it’s not at home. It’s not quiet. It’s not allowing me to be with Christ, or do the things that energize me, like my hobbies.

So, I decided to take painful measures to make this penance work. It is penance, after all. Even if I’m still gushing over the priest’s words to me, amazed with how Christ worked in him to see into my soul and bless me with such a wonderful penance, it is penance and penance can hurt!

I am waking up at 5:30am, to be alone and have time before the demands of the day must be met. It is time I can sip my lemon water, pray, blog, work on photos with Photoshop. It is my time. I begin each morning thanking God for another day, spend some time with His Word, and then I do what I don’t have time for when my family is awake. This short time in the morning is my “Mary” time, and the rest of the day, I can feel better about being “Martha”, because I have filled my tank already! I am filled so I can better serve my family and my Lord.

It is beautiful. It is hard to wake up at 5:30am. My littlest has been waking up at 5:30am these last few days, putting a cramp in my plans, but I have a feeling this is going to work, most days.

“You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.” Psalm 139:2-3

How Does a Mother of Four Slow Down?

So, I wanted to spend this week, Holy Week, taking it easy. You know, waking up, making breakfast, then reading Bible stories to my children and resting in a calm, slower-paced, week. It was going to draw us all into the Passion, the stories, prayer. We would have had a beautiful, serene, “pretty” experience of Holy Week.

And then God saw my thoughts, read my mind, and laughed. Maybe not laughed, but shook his head in a loving way like good fathers do when they know what their children want, and know they won’t get it. I am not getting what I wanted this week. Not in the slightest. God had other plans. His plans? To live the Passion.

Yes, our Lord sees it fit for me to live Holy Week, praying through sickness, stress, worry, myriad household chores, tummy troubles for two kids, and more. This is not serene, calm, nor slow-paced. This is my personal Passion. It is, apparently, what I need. I keep falling. I keep getting up. Soon, maybe I will get a Simon to help me, and a Veronica to comfort me. In the meantime, I pray desperately for the grace to carry my cross like Jesus, with love, humility, perseverance. I unite my cross with His.

(and I wonder, how would I slow down anyway?)

To Be a Mary, or At the Foot of the Cross

Lent is now nearly over, and it seems that nearly every day our Lord has been teaching me that my ways and plans are not His. It is not that I am deliberately turning away and saying, “nanny nanny boo boo! I don’t want to, you can’t make me!” to his plans. It is more of a father gently telling me, often by letting me fall, “that way is not meant for you…stop, slow down, let me lead. I know a better way for you on this journey. Stop trying to leap over the rocks in the path, carefully and slowly walk around or climb over. Stop leaping. You can’t leap.”

I always try to leap…do too much at once, plan to get things done quicker than I can with four small children, “bite off more than I can chew”, you get the idea. I am sure many of us homeschooling mothers find ourselves in the same trap: there is so much to do, lesson plans to keep, household duties to attend to, liturgical plans we’d like to turn into real-life rituals in our homes…and if you are like me, you want to do it all, now, perfectly. Yes, I identity with Martha more than with Mary.

Ever since my last Confession, maybe even before then (but I am not always the best listener), God has been nudging me to slow down, rest, find peace in Him. My confessor told me to read the story of Mary and Martha, dwell with it and the lessons, and begin to take more time out for me, to be a Mary. I have tried, and tiny bits of progress are occurring. Tiny. But it is happening. After all, I am listening to the promptings of the Spirit now.

I was excited for Holy Week, and all the things I would do with my kids. Then, last night, my daughter (God’s Princess) started feeling sick, and was sick in her bed twice. Two loads of laundry, one candy cane, two cups of ginger ale, and 5 total hours of sleep later, I was staying home from Mass to care for her. Surely this is also part of God’s plan. He is symbolically throwing a wrench in my plans, forcing me to slow down and ditch all hopes of a beautifully crafted and liturgically decorated Holy Week. He is calling me to deeper prayer, prayer which has me on my knees begging for the grace to make it through one more night-waking. He is calling me to the foot of the cross, where his mother stayed, praying. He is calling me to his feet, listening and faithful in prayer, as Mary, his friend, was when he visited her home. Christ is calling me to forget about lovely decorating. Forget that, and sit with me. Bring your children to me, in the chaos you feel. Rest. Pray. Live this Holy Week with Me, carrying your cross.

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added.” Jesus is speaking those words right to me, now. Yes, I will. I will (try my hardest!) to forget my ideal celebration of Holy Week, and live it at the foot of the cross. I will read Bible stories with my children in place of our regular studies, and listen to God speaking to us.

I will stop, slow down, and seek peace and rest at Jesus’ feet, and God-willing, that will be shared with my family, too.

Homeschooling and Practicing Love

My oldest is seven, completing second grade equivalent work at home. This is our second year homeschooling, after one year of preK and then Kindergarten in a public school. We chose to homeschool when we moved to California (reasons which might be detailed later). It has proved to be a special kind of learning experience for all of us, one fraught with struggle and drama lately.

These times are made for prayer, and practicing love in a truly supernatural way. If not for prayer, deep breaths (in which I literally breathe all the way to my toes and back out again…counting to ten s-l-o-w-l-y so I don’t explode from sheer frustration and exasperation), and what has become nerves of steel, I would enroll the Passionate Princess in school, right now. Or yesterday, in fact. Oh, our days would be smoother, quieter, more predictable…until she came home from an exhausting 6+ hour day, with homework to complete. Then the battles would begin. I have heard it said recently that homeschooling magnifies problems that already exist, because parent and child are always together. It’s probably true.

Even in Kindergarten, as an above-average reader and good student (read: one quiet enough to not get into trouble, liked just enough to not be forgotten or lost in the “cracks” of the system), we struggled with homework. Assigned once a week, it was a dreaded time. She just loathes (if you were a fly on my wall, you would know this is no exaggeration) to write, do things she thinks are too easy, or put her mind to a task that seems hard. She writes beautifully. Her penmanship amazes family. She pens stories on her own time. Her creativity and grasp of language exceed her age. This is not a matter of ability. It is entirely a matter of applying herself and doing her best. (If you happen to be a wiser and more experienced mother than I, please feel free to gently share your gems of wisdom with me.)

I have found homeschooling to be a test of love. Patience, yes, but more love. If it were not for love, I would not be in this epic struggle to begin with. If it were not for love, I wouldn’t care about how patient I was or wasn’t. If it were not for love, I would give up. Surely, I sound like a clanging cymbal many days, but I am trying to grow in love just as much, even more, than I am trying to be an example of virtue to my sweet offspring.

Love is my driving force. You know what? Love hurts. It hurts like labor and childbirth hurt. Love hurts like dying on the cross. Now, I have no idea what Jesus’ death felt like, but I do know that I have to carry my cross each day. Picking up my cross every morning and trying to carry it joyfully, that is love. Last week, on Catholic radio, someone said, “If the greatest man who ever lived carried a cross, so should we, and we are blessed to carry one after his example” (or something very nearly like that). What wisdom there is in this!! Christ calls us to love, he calls us to pick up our crosses, he calls us to imitate him.

And I fail, miserably. But I keep getting up, under the weight of my cross, after I fall. I keep trying. That is what matters. That is what makes a difference in my children’s lives. It hurts.

Last week, it hurt. It hurt me, it hurt my oldest, it just hurt; which now brings me back to where I started: love and homeschooling. Last week began with Drama. Yes, Drama with a capital “D”. It was an event of magnitude, a cauldron of emotion was boiling over from within my oldest, stirred up by her writing assignment. Remember, she is an excellent writer, but hates it. This spewing of emotion was so great that the resulting consequences to clean up her spew-age HURT. I really dislike the “tough” side of discipline, but it has to be done to enforce boundaries. Last Monday was one of those days. Sent to her room after spewing anger all around, she continued to scream about it, upsetting her younger brothers. After she’d calmed to a dull simmer of emotion, I took her a notebook with an apology to write and Bible verse to copy. Suffice it to say, her anger continued to boil over. It wasn’t until Tuesday afternoon, around 1pm, that the apology was carefully finished and the unfinished work started again. She had to skip gymnastics for the week, having behaved poorly and not completed work. She missed on Thursday for the parish penance service. Yes, Love hurt last week.

But Love gave new life.

Oh, did we ever see a change. For the rest of the week, I held my breath, waiting for another outburst. Instead, my oldest surprised me (and delighted me) with raising the standard on herself. She did her work, without complaint, and neater than I’ve seen yet. She asked for more to learn. When Thursday evening rolled around and my 5yr old came down with a low-grade fever, my oldest was  truly disappointed she might miss going to Confession. I dragged us all out so she wouldn’t miss it. (Lord, please give my youngest three extras graces for bearing their time quietly while waiting). By Friday afternoon, she was still joyfully completing her work, helping extra around the house, even waking early one day and cleaning the kitchen for me.

Wow.

(If you are still with me by now, thank you.) I learn about love daily. I learned a lot last week, that sometimes, in loving and lovingly disciplining our children to be their best selves, sometimes the results are slow to appear. And sometimes, the fruits of our labor grow quickly. We can never tell, but we can always love, and wait patiently for God to do the rest.

Prayer Challenge: Pray for Your Sons

Prayer is powerful. Someday I hope to know exactly how powerful. In the meantime, I trust that it is a most amazing way to communicate with God and allow Him to work miracles in our lives.

Today, a friend of mine posted about an upcoming prayer challenge. It is 21 days, dedicated to praying for our sons. I love the idea of dedicating prayer to our boys. Sponsored and hosted by the MOB Society (Moms of Boys), a duo of friends who are raising their boys to love Christ, the challenge begins in May. Go sign up now! I am looking forward to it! Here is where to sign up: prayer for sons.

Lent is for…

This week, I started a great post about homeschooling and practicing love. It is still in the works, because the events inspiring said post have been unfolding daily. What that means is that Passionate Princess challenged me to love her through a struggle.

In the meantime, while we practice love, I have been in a funk. Many things contribute to it, but the bottom line is, I have been reluctant to do what I need to do. I don’t feel like getting up early to have a few moments alone, but I dread being woken up by the voices of hunger. I don’t feel like prepping three meals a day from scratch, but I have no other option while we journey towards better health for my husband and children. I don’t want to wash (what feels like 853) dishes from all the cooking, but I would feel terribly awful leaving them all day until my husband is home. Etcetera, etc. In the midst of it all, I get impatient, snarky, resentful. Most times I keep it bottled up nicely, but Jesus knows my heart. It hasn’t been lovely.

But nightly, while sitting with the boys as they fall asleep, I have been praying. I have been praying an entire 5 decades almost every night. In my prayers, I seek peace in our house, physical and spiritual healing, guidance with homeschooling, guidance with discipline…you name it. Once I offered my prayers just for me. Tonight, it was simply “for all our needs, Lord. You know them best.”

After finishing, I immediately opened up the iPad. (I will be honest. I crave the down-time after the kids are sleeping). In reading email, I opened one that I don’t usually. It was from Catholicmom.com. And I read this post, about Lent Re-do. http://catholicmom.com/2012/03/21/a-lenten-redo I recommend you read it. As I read it, it was if the post was written for me. Joy? Lacking. Grumbling too much? Yup. Wincing at every request and repeated request from my children? You bet. I admit it. (Thank goodness our parish Penance Service is tomorrow!) I still have time for a redo this Lent.

Lent is for God working on our hearts. “Change our hearts, O God…create in me a clean spirit…” I my have had ideas of what to “improve” upon this Lent, but God knew otherwise. He has been working on my heart every day. I am quite sure that every impatient moment, exasperated sigh, crumb swept, nose wiped, temper tantrum calmed has been like fertilizer for my Father working on my heart, mind, and soul. Without all that, how could I have been in a funk, as I mentioned? And if not in a funk, how would I know that I need to work on living more joyfully?

Maybe it is not a redo at all, but a growing in realization, a deepening self-awareness and embracing more of God’s will in my life. It is not enough that I merely raise my children, feed them and clothe them, educate them. God is calling me to do so joyfully!

Maybe you are like me, and think Lent is not for joy. That is why we fast, right, and do penances? Joy is for Easter, the Resurrection! Surely that is true. Yet, if my Father in heaven sees fit for me to swallow my pride, stifle my grumbles, and smile instead of sighing at my children’s requests, then joy it is. This Lent, at least what is left of it, joy is for me. If being more joyful rubs off my family, that is all the better.

Little Man and Morning Prayers

This morning, I found myself still in the boys’ room after some middle of the night snuggles. I woke up just before 6am, to hear Little Man (he is three and a half) praying. Now, this is a boy who often wakes up singing, telling stories, just full of chatter and happiness. He’s also a kid who laughs and talks in his sleep. Maybe it was “talk” in his sleep, but even so, to have prayer so imprinted on his being that he prays out-loud in his sleep, or just upon waking…that is touching. Hearing him clearly recite the “Our Father” and then add some prayers for family makes all the nights of wrangling his wiggly self during bedtime prayers worth it. Posture seems much less important when the prayers are learned, when he practically begs for more time to finish is prayers before Daddy begins to close bedtime prayer, when despite his wiggling and somersaults while we end our day with our Lord, he knows his prayers well enough to wake up in prayer. Something is clicking. God-willing this habit will stick for life.

God’s Princess

My 5 year old has the sweetest soul. She is tender, reserved, deeply-devoted and loyal, and as innocent as I could hope for in a child. She’s also fiercely passionate and stubborn, which left us with many hours of screaming and kicking between the ages of 2 and 3 (though, this has been much resolved with a change in diet). My sweet girl is the one in our family who says it is hard to smile in pictures, but when I can catch one, it is brilliant, joyful, and so real. Sometimes her genuine smiles bring tears to my eyes.

…And so does her love for God. Last week, I stopped by her room to tuck her in for bed. She said, “I was just praying while I waited for you, and I heard God call me his Princess. Then I prayed for some other things.” This was the second time she’d told me God call her a princess. There is something special growing between her and our Lord, and I pray it never goes away. I asked her if it made her feel special, “Yes,” and told her it is very special. It touches my heart to know she’s developing a personal relationship with God, to know she’s taking our words to heart when her Daddy and I tell her that we can pray anytime and anywhere.

Lord, I know our sweet girl is your Princess. May she always know your incredible love for her, may your Spirit keep her strong and devoted, and may she seek your will for her life. Amen.