“…Accept Children and Bring Them Up According to the Law of Christ…” Part 1

  I’m so delighted to be guest-posting on my dear friend Amanda’s blog while she’s honeymooning! Her series on the questions of intent and marriage vows is lovely, and writing this post to share has been fun. We do, after all, have some experience in this topic. 😉

 

Marriage isn’t just something to do when you love someone and think they’d be swell to live with for the rest of your life. Not even close! I’ll let you know, I love my husband. He is swell. But we don’t always get along, we don’t always have the same ideas about how to raise our family, we don’t always speak the same language, we don’t organize things the same way. Marriage is not always swell! But it is worth it. Marriage just so happens to be one of the various vocations to which a person can be called. It’s a vocation, because it’s a call from God on how best to live our lives and serve Him in this world. Do it well, and we hope for a place in Heaven alongside our spouse (and kids!) for the grand feast and perfect joy that comes with being united finally with God.

The Church has a few things to say about marriage and what is important. She teaches these things because, well, Jesus gave us the Church to guide us. The “rules” are in place to guide us, teach us, help us as we learn to live in the love of Christ.

It’s a big deal. And so, the things which a couple must understand and consent to–the things the Church has to say about marriage–are also a big deal.

One of them has to do with children.

Read the rest on Amanda’s blog!

 

Advertisements

Food for the Poor {printable}

This Lent, we are doing a new practice for almsgiving. It’s an idea I’d saved last year, but we were in the middle of moving so it was just not a good time to add this sacrifice to our list.

We are going to take one non-perishable item from the pantry each day, and add it to a box for donating to the local soup kitchen run by Catholic Charities. Certainly we have enough that one item per day is do-able, and I hope that by the end, we’ll have seen just how much we’ve been able to give up, and how much we’ve been able to help those who are hungry.

2014foodforpoorlabel

I created a little sign to attach to our box, with words from the Gospel of Matthew, to help us remember that when we feed the hungry, we are serving Christ Himself. Find it here for use in your home, too!

Kindness Challenge

For the last few years, I keep wanting to have a project to help my kids grow in acts of kindness, love, and service. We do things like collect food to donate to the food pantry, write letters to our elderly neighbors (who aren’t neighbors anymore since we moved years ago), buy “Giving Tree” gifts for other children at Christmas time. Still, I want to do more, have it become something so natural to them that they can’t help but spread kindness all year long.

Blessed Mother Theresa, one of my heroes, lived kindness. She said, “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.” This is what I want for me, for my kids, for our whole family. The world changes through kindness. We’re here to change the world (and we have enough children to do a pretty good job of it!). Blessed Mother Theresa has also said that we can’t do much good if we don’t start in our own homes first.

That’s what we’ll be doing this week. I saw a sweet idea pinned on Pinterest, and followed the link to the blog about 100 Acts of Kindness. These may be ideas found on a blog specifically for parenting toddlers, but the ideas work for any age. Leaving love notes around the house? We all can do that. Messages left on the mirror? Fun and kind wrapped into one sweet package. This week’s challenge with the blog is to love our family. Who’s in? You can’t go wrong by doing things to love your family.
Getting ready for love notes and #100actsofkindnessWe are going to be leaving little hearts around for each other this week, as well as send cards to friends who need a pick-me-up, and tonight we’re taking dinner to a friend who recently had a baby. Since talking yesterday to my crew about the project for adding more acts of kindness into our days, I’ve noticed them offering the last helping of favorite foods to others, my oldest noticed me coughing and brought a throat lozenge, my 4 year old offered to help mash the baby’s food. *That* is the best part, seeing them internalize kindness and thinking of how to be kind on their own initiative.
I hope you’ll think about adding a project like this to your family’s life. Even if you just try one thing each day, you’ll be amazed to see the transformation take place over days added up…Change the world, starting with one simple act, in your own home. 🙂

Tough Love

Parenting is hard. Having to raise children and train them, guide them, discipline them in hopes of them one day exercising their God-given free will in a saintly manner is tough! It pains me when my sweet babes are making poor choices, when they continue on the path to undesirable consequences. I can only imagine the pain our Father feels each time we choose a way different than the one He designed and offered us.

Lately, we have had a lot of tough love around our home. For whatever reason, our girls have found it funny (literally, tonight) to disobey. The privileges are running short around here! I won’t go into details of their poor choices, but they are five and seven…you can probably imagine myriad ways girls can find trouble, as we all have before. I find myself needing a system to deal with it, something more effective than what has felt like on-the-fly reactive discipline.

Last week, gymnastics was taken away for one practice time. Sadly, it might be a lost privilege for the rest of the season, which really breaks my heart. My girls are good at the sport, and truly love it. They have joined a mini-team, have special team leotards, and a mini-meet in two weeks. We have spent lots of time on this…I so much want to see them perform their routines. And yet, the lack of obedience, respect, and attentiveness to school work means they cannot participate. I pray they make good choices in the next few days! This is consequence I fear I might regret enforcing so rigidly.

My husband and I talked about a system to encourage good behavior. During Lent, we had a sacrifice bean jar. Each time the children did something kind, sacrificed something, did what they were told right away, etc, they put a bean in the jar. They loved watching their sacrifices add up. We decided to take the idea through the year. They each have a jar, marked with their initial, to collect pretty colored beads in for each good deed, obedience, kindness towards family, etc. we are hopeful this will encourage them. As they see their good deeds increase! I am considering rewarding them when a certain amount of beads are collected, as even more encouragement!

Something else I have considered is a list of rules or consequences for poor choices. These would be specific, like for talking back, refusing to complete a chore, not completing school work, fighting, arguing, etc. Each poor behavior would be followed with a predetermined consequence, always the same. I hope to make a list soon, and post it where we can all see it often. My girls will be reminded of what discipline they face,many my husband and I will be on the same page!

This part of love is tough! But I must remind myself that love is also patient and kind! What a delicate balance in raising our children to be saints.

Easter Doesn’t Mean Easy, but It Is Joy

Alleluia! He is risen! Death cannot and will not prevail!

Those words–and nothing like them–we’re the first in my mind or on my lips this morning. First of all, it was 3:35 am and my youngest was up, hungry. “grumble grumble, are you sure you’re hungry?” I ask, knowing that I will get him something to eat, tick him back in, and then fall asleep with him to save everyone else from waking.

Twenty-five minutes after, (roughly, I was sleeping again and didn’t check the time), I was awoken again. My oldest (aka the Passionate Princess) was up.
“Mama, I am dressed!”, she whispered in her Easter excitement. Of course, I am sure she was mostly excited for finding her Easter basket, but it was joy nonetheless. To which the sleepy, grumpy Mama replied, “That’s nice, honey, but it’s 4am. You can still get a few hours of sleep. Change and go back to bed.” Then I rolled over and fell asleep again.

Maybe an hour later, I stumbled back to my own bed, snuggled up with my hubs for a bit…and was awoken again by our oldest. She was dressed, again, and hungry. It was 5:45am. I walked her down to the kitchen for food, and the youngest woke up. Again wanting to spare the rest of the family, I let him stay.

And so began my Easter…I was not happy. They ended up cranky within hours because of missing out on sleep. I kept reminding us all that it was Easter, a day of joy. I reminded us all, over and over again, that we ought to be joy-filled instead of cranky. I told myself over and over again to breathe deep and put on joy, hoping to set the tone for everyone. I even donned the silly yet festive apron I have. Still, cranky! I told my husband that it still felt like Lent.

Even the first Easter still felt like mourning to the Apostles and Mary and the women, at first. Even after they knew our Lord rose from the dead, it was hard. Thomas doubted. They hid in fear. They questioned what was next. Maybe that is where I am, doubting, (wanting to hide from the whining), and questioning. When will they learn? When will I? When, what, how?

Easter is hope for the life yet to come, hope in our own resurrection with Christ, a new beginning. But it sure isn’t easy. Easter is the time of beginning…taking action while still waiting on the Lord, still learning what it all means. Today was joyful, because I hope all this I do with and for my family, will save us a spot at the eternal banquet which is the hope of Christ’s Resurrection.

Who is Raising Who?

(forgive me if I am using bad grammar in my title. I have never figured out when to use “whom” appropriately.)

It has struck me that I’m not the only one doing the work of raising others to sainthood in this family. In my head, of course I know that as a family, we are each working together to get each other to heaven. Don’t we all “know” that? It sounds so nice and noble when we talk about our vocations, our little domestic churches…the words are pretty. Talk is just talk, though, until our talk comes from the heart, from lived experience. And you know what? On my walk this Lent, Jesus has seen fit to teach me that I’m not just raising, I’m being raised.

Raised by my kids. Raised by my husband. I am no closer to heaven than they, and if it were not for them, who would be in the business of raising me to sainthood? I don’t say this disparagingly about them. They are incredible souls, each with great gifts from God. That is what I mean, really. Incredible souls show us the path to holiness, show us more joys of Christian living, show us that we don’t really know all there is to being people of God. I am learning from them! I am learning better how to live by following my own family. My 3 year old wakes up singing, and from him I learn joy. My 5 year old speaks to God and listens for His voice, which she actually hears. My 7 year old lives with an intense passion, and is asking to be able to receive the Sacrament of Penance again before Easter (we just went last week!). My husband is faithful in-spite of his own “dark night of the soul”, and thanks God daily for his job (a job which is less than ideal and full of great stressors, but a job providing for our family). My 2 year old is silly, deeply devoted to his siblings, and smiles with his whole being. They are raising me, teaching me about growing in faith, love, understanding.

Now I am realizing from my heart this truth about “the family helps each member to get to heaven.” I am living it, by way of the humbling experiences each day in which I learn from my children and my husband. We are raising each other towards sainthood, daily, through our simple lives.

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.

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.

On Teaching Virtue

Previous to the last 6-9 months, I had no idea people actually worked to teach their children virtue. Then I started seeing blogs pop up with “Character Studies” and “Virtue Training” lesson plans. My first thought was, “Really? That is CHEESY.” Yet, the idea was planted in my head, and slowly, as the days wore on and the tempers flared with the Passionate Princess, I started to think, “There might be something that character study idea after all…”

Truthfully, I have yet to “officially” make it a practice in our home. We spent one week trying to follow the plans for an “obedience” study, reading selected stories from the Bible, answering discussion questions, and anxiously waiting for the fruits of the study to grow, right now. Too bad the Spirit’s fruits don’t grow that way. Perhaps I need some spiritual “miracle gro” for my kids’ souls.

Or perhaps I’m not a lesson-plan follower. After all, I can barely get through a week of my own lesson plans for our homeschool without a bunch of chicken scratch all over the week’s outline, changing our plans not once but twice and even three times. Every single week this happens, I kid you not. It is what I call “schooling with life”. Life happens, school comes next. And that is how I find “character” and “virtue” studies to go, as well. Life happens, and all of a sudden, the virtue I thought we needed the most work on, isn’t the most needed virtue. I was left scrambling, seeking new Bible stories that would cut to the heart and be a life-changing read for my children, especially the aforementioned Passionate Princess. “What is going to get through to her the fastest and effect the biggest, best change in her heart????” I wracked my brain. I chose. I failed. It didn’t work.

I deleted the “starred” message from email, the one in which I sent myself a link to a blog with lesson plans for character studies. Why bother? It was working, I couldn’t find time for it in our day, and by the time bedtime stories and prayers rolled around, we were too tired to give good thought to virtue anymore (save praying for a better day tomorrow).

My husband and I would often talk about the attitudes in the house, I would rant about the tantrums from our oldest and her poor work ethic. We would pray for all four to learn obedience, respect, etc. And then I’d plod through the next day with no specific goal driving my instruction, spiritual or otherwise. (I have always been a spontaneous, go with the flow type of person. In college, my work-study boss told me I was not going to be on his liturgy planning team if I didn’t keep track of life on a planner. I rushed to get a planner. He looked over it with me weekly. For three years, it stuck. Then I graduated, got married, and went with the flow all over again, for 6 years, until homeschooling…I have yet to find my niche in planning…) I would post on FB, to a Christian mothers’ board, to a Catholic homeschool board, practically begging for the magic advice that would turn things around for me, especially with our oldest (The Passionate Princess). The advice never came. Advice came, but not the “magic”, not the secret “plan to follow and all will be right”.

Then I picked up a book on January 1 of this year, one which I had begun to read on October when it came to me from Amazon. It is called, “A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms” by Lisa Hendey. It is a treasure, every mother should read it. Each week takes me on a journey with a new saint, a new friend, a new intercessor in this vocation. St. Monica is now a dear friend of mine. I’m sure you all know who her son is, right? St. Augustine, the rowdy party animal of his time. I stopped each day of that week with St. Monica and reminded myself how her prayers changed her son’s life. I don’t think my oldest is a rowdy party animal, but I now know that my prayers are the secret. My children each have a beautiful free will, a great gift from God, and far be it from me to control it. I can only guide it, give it directions, try to light the right path…but they are human just as much as I, and only through my example, prayer and the grace of God will I raise them to be saints. There isn’t a magic formula, or set of steps to follow (aside from pray, pray, pray some more). Each week, the new saint in the journey “fits” our needs exactly, and each week, I pray more for me to be filled with virtue so that I can be an example.

How could I ever expect to teach that which I do not practice? How silly. It would be like me trying to teach my kids soccer, a sport that I have never once played. Obedience? How can I teach that when I am not exactly being obedient in my spiritual life, not giving enough time to our Lord in prayer.

This Lent has been a turning point as well. We are reading from the book by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, “Bringing Home Lent with Mother Teresa.” Each day, we pray, read some beautiful and inspiring quotes, and talk about fasting and alms-giving. We are making sacrifices together, working on virtue while fasting from negativity and sin (generosity instead of selfishness, etc), and talking about it often. Shock! This business needs to be talked about, openly, freely, and with love with our children. This felt odd to me at first, because I don’t remember doing much of this type of talk as a child. Each day, it becomes easier. I am able to suggest to my children, “The best way to be obedient in this situation is to …” or “Wow! I am so impressed with your generosity and sharing with your brother right now! You are really learning how to be selfless. Thank you for making a sacrifice.” They are young! They don’t know these things yet if I don’t tell them and live it with them.

Now I am working daily on virtue in our home. Maybe one day I will pull out some stories and attempt a more formal “study”, maybe not. First, I will pray and see how the Holy Spirit leads me. After all, all these virtues and spiritual gifts I wish for my children are from Him, not me.