As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Through The Years

2006 - Bob the Builder and the Cutest Little Tiger

  2007 - Percy and Thomas

2008 - The Three Musketeers

2009 - Pirate, Spider Man, and Toddler? (Can't remember what Stephen was that year, and I don't have any photos)

2010 - Mario, Kitty Cat, Wario, and Mickey Mouse

2011 - St. Luke the Evangelist, St. Edward, St. George, St. Peter, and Mary, Mother of God.

2012 - St. Michael, St. Elizabeth, St. Stephen of Hungary, Pope Leo the Great, Mary Mother of God, and St. Francis

2013 - St. Nicholas, St. Clare, St. Elizabeth, St. George, St. Josephat, and St. Francis

Happy Halloween!  All you holy men and women - Pray for Us!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Looking In

I had an experience early in the summer that has really helped me to see my life in a different way.  I saw my life, the way others see it.  Just for a moment, a brief, hurried, frantic moment.  As I walked past a window on my way to the emergency room, six kids nine-and-under (including one in a car seat and one sobbing in pain) in tow. It had been a doozy of a week.  Jeff was working crazy-long hours, and it was Wednesday, our busiest day of the week because I needed to have the school day done and the kids fed and out the door by 12:30 so I could drop the youngest at the sitter's and take the oldest to piano.  I had planned on picking the kids up from the sitter after piano and going to my parents' house for the evening because I didn't want to be alone, but when I got there my four-year-old daughter was doubled over with stomach pain, and had been inconsolable since I left.  The pain seemed to come in waves, and under normal circumstances I probably would have waited it out a little bit, but on this day when I knew my husband's night shift was starting in a matter of hours, and that if I waited too long and ended up needing to make a middle of the night trip to the ER I would be doing it alone and with sleepy kids, I panicked.  I called and arranged for both he and my mother to meet me at the ER, he to stay with the other kids until she was able to pick them up and bring them back to her house, so I could focus on my daughter.

It was under these circumstances that I caught a glimpse of myself.  It was almost enough to stop me in my tracks.  I remember thinking, "this is why people stop me all the time."  It's true, I get comments all time time about how I have my hands full, and asking how I do it.  It always takes me by surprise, because to me it's just my life, and it doesn't look any different than anything anyone else is doing.  That is, until that day.  Now I get it a little bit.  And having seen myself in that circumstance gives me a sense of freedom, that it's okay to admit that sometimes life is hard.  Beautiful, fulfilling, blessed, of course.  But also, sometimes hard.

Yesterday evening again I caught a glimpse of myself, but it was under very different circumstances. Jeff was out at a meeting and the kids and I were sitting down to supper.  I recently rearranged the seating at our dining room table, and from my new seat directly across from the patio door I caught the sight of our silhouettes, one tall person surrounded by six little ones.  And it made me smile and realize how incredibly blessed I am.  To be surrounded by these little people makes me feel like the richest person in the world.  To not only share this space with them but to see the way they love me, how they look to me, how they crowd around me and share a meal with me every single day - what a life!

There was a time when supper time without Jeff was enough to break me.  It was the most stressful time of the day, and I so looked forward to him being home that if he wasn't, all the stresses of the day seemed to come crashing down on me.  It was always such a disaster when they were all so little, and I am so thankful for the ways we've all changed, that allow things to be so much more peaceful.  I'm certain it has a lot to do with the fact that I have older children.  You relate to older children in a different way, and although they are not the same as adult company, I find that they help me to strike a balance between them and their very demanding younger siblings.

I have been trying very hard lately to pay attention to all of my kids better, but especially my bigger ones.  To look them in the eye, instead of buzzing about, intent on my schedule.  So seeing us like that yesterday was a real blessing, something that caused me to slow down and drink up this beautiful moment that is my life, and to be grateful for the hard things, and the fact that the many years of doing hard things has transformed them into the sweetest of blessings.

Thank you Lord, for the opportunity to see my life from the outside.  To know that it's okay to admit that sometimes life is hard, and to be affirmed of the fact that it is still at the same time so very, very good.

Monday, October 28, 2013

What We Do

A friend and I were talking about Halloween this weekend (because I am obsessed with it, I know, I need to get over it a bit).  But it's been a bit of a big deal for me, because it's really got me thinking about why I do what I do, and in particular that I don't want to be doing the right thing just for the sake of doing the right thing.  Not taking part in something just because it's perceived to be evil, or taking part in something because everyone around me is.  Jeff and I listened to a talk with a friend this weekend on the topic of "How is the presence of Christ born in our experience", and afterwards my friend commented that seen in this light, the whole conversation of whether or not Halloween is moral, should we have only saint costumes or just not scary ones, should we have candy or not, just seems to be so superficial.

I do it with everything.  I always think I'm not doing enough.  Should I pray a full rosary (instead of the three hail Mary decade) like this family?  Should I pray the liturgy of the hours like this family?  Should I get to adoration like this family, or weekday Mass like this family?  All of those things are good, don't get me wrong.  But they need to be born of a deep conviction of the heart, not a desire to check things off a list of things I've drawn up for myself that I think will make me a good Catholic.

The things we are most faithful to are unique.  We pray a prayer for the unborn everyday (the simplest prayer I've ever stumbled across!) because one of my kids picked up a prayer card after Mass one day with it on the back, and decided we should pray it as a family.  We pray a litany for priests that I stumbled across one year because we have a few dear friends who are either priests or seminarians, and also because a few families we know and look up to are very good at taking care of their parish priests, and it convicts me that all priests need to be well prayed for and lifted up by the people they serve.  We say a (shortened) rosary because another family (who has probably had the single greatest impact on my formation as a wife and mother) used to do that back when I was hanging out with their kids, and I spent many an evening joining them in family rosary.  We don't need to do what everyone else is doing, and a good faithful Catholic life looks so different from one family to the next.  The things that endure and that will lead us closer to Christ are the things born of our heart's desire for Him, a response to a call so intimate that it needs not be judged against anything but Him.

We need not ask, what is everyone else doing.  Only how is the presence of Christ born in our experience?  And there we meet Jesus and follow Him, wherever He leads us.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Choices We Make

A few years ago when I began my first full year of homeschooling, I got connected with an amazing group of Catholic homeschooling families.  It has been an amazing journey and resulted in some beautiful friendships between Moms and kids, but also carries with it the opportunity to be challenged.  Nothing will teach you more quickly that different families have very different reasons for making very different choices than spending time around families like these.  These are not families who have just happened into life.  They are families who care very involved in every aspect of their kids' lives, and have good and passionate reasons for doing the things they do.  Or not doing the things they don't do.  Like Halloween.

Two years ago was the first time an All Saints party was proposed to me as an alternative to Halloween.  I loved the idea, and rejoiced at the opportunity to grow deeper in friendship with my newfound friends and their children.  We dressed up as Saints, met in the church basement, played games, ate candy and had fun.  It was awesome!  I said as much to my husband on the way home, who said he didn't agree.  He missed trick-or-treating.  That got me feeling a bit badly that I had railroaded the holiday, and determined to plan it so that next year we could attend the party, and be home early enough to trick-or-treat our neighboorhood.

I had a few concerns about the way Halloween is sometimes approached, and voiced my concerns to my friends, who had equally good reasons to be weary of participating in Halloween in their neighboorhoods.  I want to be clear that their reasons are good, and in no way do I intend to give the impression that All Saints parties in lieu of trick-or-treating are bad.  I think it is a very good way to bring Christ into a holiday that, like most of our holidays, has pushed God out.  But we also agreed that there could be good and valid reasons for trick-or-treating too, and that doing so does not make you a bad Catholic.  My friends were the most supportive they could possibly be and in no way giving the impression that I was doing a bad thing by considering trick-or-treating.  As it turned out I had a brand new baby last year at Halloween and opted to stay home to hand out treats, and my husband opted to take the kids trick-or-treating in his childhood neighboorhood across the river.  They had a decent time, but he still wished they could have done our neighboorhood. I was home when our neighboor, who had gone to the trouble of making them each individual treat bags, delivered them and the kids were gone.  I was also here to see their best friend eagerly hoping to catch a glimpse of them in their costumes as he arrived at our door, only to see his disappointment when I told him they weren't here.  They were home too late to go to anyone's house in our neighboorhood, and once again we had neglected our own community.  The community where we live, where we know the people around us, where we have friends.  I felt guilty.

I don't want to be the family that is always leaving, because I don't think that people see that and think, "gee what are they doing, I think I'll check it out."  I worry that they think, "why do they think they're too good for us?" I want the opportunity to share Christ where we live, where I believe the Lord has planted us, with people who love us and who we love in return. Steve Bell wrote an article a few years ago that has vastly changed the way I approach Halloween.  In it he writes,

I miss the good ol’ days when the town would be crawling with kids and parents greeting, laughing at each other, walking together, knocking on the doors of the elderly who might otherwise never get a visit, celebrating the community by being out in it.

And so this year, well in advance to Halloween, I floated the idea of an All-Saints party on All-Saints day instead.  I was hoping that maybe I could do both things, because I really didn't want to be the only family who couldn't attend the All Saints party.  It didn't work.  As most of those families had made a deliberate choice to do the All-Saints party as an alternative to Halloween (and had been doing so for years, and felt equally convicted about it) they naturally didn't want to change for me.  They did suggest changing to an earlier start time to accomodate me, so that I could attend the party and still have time to go trick-or-treating.  Unfortunately when they decided to open it up to the parish, they reasoned that most families work and needed time to get home and change before heading back in town.  They were right, I am just one family.  I was trying so desperately hard to do both things, when maybe the Lord didn't want that. I had to make a decision.

I realized I was trying too hard to do two things instead of confronting a choice on my own and being confident in it, even when I was the only one making that choice.  For some reason when we choose to do something that is different, even when we feel the Lord is calling us there, we think everyone is looking at us as a crazy sinner.  These kinds of feelings manifest themselves in a desperate attempt to post article after article backing up our way of thinking, an unwritten defense to those who do not agree with us.  None of my friends has ever made me feel bad about trick-or-treating.  And yet, I still feel a desperate need to defend myself.  I shouldn't.

The Church by the way, has no official teaching on Halloween.  I wish she did, it would make my life so much easier!  But I think that's the point.  I think it's good for us to wrestle with things and make good, prayerful decisions.  And also to recognize that there is more than one right answer, more than one right way of doing things.  On issues where there is a clear answer, the Church responds with clear and definitive teachings.  But on issues like Halloween, she allows us the freedom to discern for ourselves where the Lord is calling us.  And whether that be to a church basement to celebrate the glory of God and foster deep relationships between Moms and kids, or to the neighboorhoods where we live to share our faith with the people we see every day, as long as we are willing to walk where the Lord is leading us, we will never be led astray.

I read an article this morning by Simcha Fisher which, although it talks about homeschooling, deals with many of the same principles.  Homeschooling is another one of those areas where those who do not homeschool (even if it's for reasons they have legitimately discerned) feel the need to push back and defend themselves against those who do.  Maybe it's legitimate, but often I think it's not. It is a symptom of our wrestling against being different.  I am completely okay with being different than the world.  Being different than our closest friends is hard.  Sometimes that's what the Lord asks of us though.  We can't resent our friends for that, and we can't act like we're doing a great thing and when-are-they-going-to-wake-up-and-get-it right.  As with Halloween, there is no official church teaching on homeschooling.  And as the Church educates in her teachings and allows each family the freedom to make decisions based on those teachings, I believe we also must not only give each other the benefit of the doubt, but presume to have the benefit of doubt given to us as well.  Especially when we are talking about our friends, who love us and are walking the same path as us.

Grant oh Lord that we would be confident in the decisions you have led us to, discerning in our approach to every moment of life, humble in walking on a different path if that is where you lead us, and loving of those who do not feel called to do the same as us.  Help us to know that faith is not about conforming everyone to our own way of thinking, but in trusting you to be the ultimate guide for our lives.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dear Man Giving Me Dirty Looks At Mass

I've started writing posts on this topic many, many times.  I think it's something all parents of small babies encounter at least once when bringing their dear little ones to Mass.  It's so frustrating, and I always want to tell that person exactly how I feel, but I never finish the post because it always ends up sounding really obnoxious.  I think probably that's because it is.  I often, in an attempt to explain myself, come across as thinking myself better than the other person because I am more "tolerant", like my presence at Mass is more valuable than theirs because mine involves more of a "sacrifice".

I am often very thankful that I didn't post any of those previous posts.  But I thought of them again after Mass this week. Some dear missionary sisters were invited to speak after the homily about their missions, and it being a suppertime Mass my littlest ones had had just about enough sitting still and being quiet.  Even the little sister at the podium was taken aback, and joyfully said, "oh, that little baby has strong lungs - she must be meant to be a missionary and proclaim Christ to the ends of the earth!"  Another gentleman was not so kind.  He turned around and gave the most condescending look to my one-year-old and I. I caught his eyes and gave a big smile, which normally diffuses the situation, but it didn't work this time.  He stared me down for another solid minute, and then turned away disgruntled.  And I shrugged it off.

I ended up taking my two littlest ones to the back of the church for the remainder of the homily.  My husband had to leave with our three-year-old shortly after I brought them both back into the church, and as I sat there with the rest of our children, doing my best to keep them both still and quiet, I decided it best not to take my kids' behaviour personally.  I can't control the fact that my three-year-old is bent out of shape.  It is frustrating to not get your own way, and he can't possibly reason yet that this is not a good time to voice disapproval, and that he should wait until after Mass to plead his case.  Nor can I control that my new walker wants nothing to do with being up in arms, and can't understand why independance that is praised at home is stifled at Mass.  I can't control that an extra twenty minutes is a long time to sit still for fidgety boys, who are active by nature, and hungry by supper time.  And I can't even control that the poor soul a few rows in front of us was counting on some quiet time with Jesus, and that my family just happened to ruin that.  I can't control that he did not accept my offering of a smile, nor what he thought of that offering.  All I can control is my heart's disposition.

The Gospel reading this week speaks of this exact thing:

Jesus addressed this parable
to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else.
"Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity --
greedy, dishonest, adulterous -- or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

How often do I say to myself, "I thank you Lord, that I am not intolerant like that person."  Or "I thank you Lord, that I am forgiving, and loving."  Are my offerings of peace genuine?  If I smile at the person giving me dirty looks, and then come home and post a nasty facebook status about them (which I have most certainly been guilty of doing a time or two) is that what the Lord wants of me?

Facing disapproval of our children when we're trying our best is really, really difficult.  But that's not an excuse to mistreat or belittle anyone who hurts our feelings.  We are called to be just as loving towards them as we wish they were of us, even when we feel they don't deserve it, even when we want sooooooo badly to just give them a piece of our minds, if for no other reason than for them to just know that we are trying (and that they're wrong!)

And so, dear man giving me dirty looks at Mass, thank you for teaching me how to love properly.  For picking at that desperate desire I have to be approved by everyone, for showing me that I am not (and probably will never be) and for helping me to understand that it's okay.  I hope that you prayed for me, and I will most certainly pray for you as well.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Despise Not Our Petitions

A few weeks ago a friend of ours was facing a pretty dire circumstance.  When I got the news it completely consumed me for the rest of the day, and I found myself immersed in the words of the Memorare.  I was familiar with it, but memorized the beautiful words under the desperate circumstances of that day,

Remember, oh most gracious Virgin Mary
That never was it known
That anyone who fled to your protection
Implored your help, or sought your intercession
Was left unaided
Inspired with this confidence
We fly unto you
Oh virgin of virgins, our Mother.
To you we come, before you we stand
Sinful and sorrowful.
Oh mother of the Word Incarnate
Despise not our petitions
But in your mercy hear and answer us.

The more these words settled in my heart, the more I realized that Mary was better able than me to plead the case of my dear friend. And as I recited them over and over, the burden was transfered from my shoulders to the loving arms of our Blessed Mother, who cares as only a mother can.

Somehow in the past few weeks, life has become crazy.  I don't know how, and it strikes me funny to think of how often I write that sentence (and why does it always take me by surprise?) Chaos is the norm not the exception around here, and how the circumstances come to be really is irrelevant.  I really believe this is the work the Lord is doing in me now, to break me of my own will and the things I cherish most - namely a sense of calm and control.  And I have been struggling.  As I look ahead at our family calendar we have a daunting three weeks ahead that are packed just about as full as they can be, including weekends.  And it terrifies me a bit.  I have to really work at being in this moment and not letting myself look ahead, because I panic.  How can I handle it?  There is still so much ahead of me.   Nowhere to run, no way to avoid it - this path laid before me is one I must travel.  How do I do it when I feel so very weak?

On the encouragement of my husband, I have been making a special effort not to let catechism fall off of our daily school schedule.  Last year it became the thing we didn't need to do when things got too busy, which translated to us never doing it.  But this year I have pursued it with renewed zeal.  And it is turning out to be the most life-giving part of the day.  We reflect on the mass readings at the beginning of the week, and I always find the psalm speaks to me most powerfully of all.  Consider the last few weeks:

In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge (September 8)
I will rise and go to my father. (September 15)
Praise the Lord who lifts up the poor. (September 22)
Praise the Lord, my soul! (September 29)
If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. (October 6)
The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power. (October 13)
Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. (October 20)
The Lord hears the cry of the poor. (October 27)

The Lord is showing me, through these, that I need to trust Him.  Most especially I find myself identifying with the use of the word "poor".  It is not lost on me just how poor I am before the Lord, so much of my struggle comes from trying to walk through this poverty myself.  I don't have anything on my own, not even time - and yet, what a blessing that is.  Because it is so much easier for the Lord to help someone who truly needs help, who is truly deperate, than someone who can make it on their own.

This afternoon I put a show on for the kid, drew a bath, and had a little retreat from the chaos that looms ahead.  I reflected on the words of the psalms from the past few weeks and begged the Lord to meet me in my poverty, when the words of the Memorare came flooding back to me, and I realized that my own circumstance was no less dire than that of my friend that called me so much to prayer a few weeks ago.  That with the same fervor I used to plead her cause I needed to plead my own, because although we have difference circumstances we both have the same need - to be met in an impossible situation, and carried by God.  I was so grateful to have memorized those words then, because I so need them today.

Oh mother of the Word Incarnate
Despise not our petitions
But in your mercy hear and answer us.

May the Lord have mercy on me, a sinner, and may He lift me up in times of struggle.  May I never presume to walk alone, but rely on the One who promises to carry all of my burdens.

Friday, October 18, 2013


Alone is not something that I am very often.  I am constantly surrounded with people. My beautiful children, my wonderful husband, our families, our very close and dear friends, the homeschooling community I am part of.  No, it is not very often that I am alone.

And yet, sometimes I feel as though I am. I think this is one of the biggest lies I tell myself.  As the great Dr. Seuss says in one of my very favorite books,

I'm afraid that some times
you'll play lonely games too.
Games you can't win
'cause you'll play against you.

All Alone!
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you'll be quite a lot.

I am not alone.  But sometimes it's easy to feel like I am.  To feel like nobody knows my daily struggles.  To feel like nobody understands what it's like to walk a mile in my shoes.  And maybe they don't.  But it doesn't mean that I am alone.  Because this feeling is not unique to me.  In fact, everyone feels alone at some point in their lives.  But if we allow that feeling to cut us off, to alienate us, that is when we find ourselves in real danger.  Because then we run the risk of isolating ourselves, of shutting people out, and creating the very thing we suffer so desperately with.

It's true that nobody in my inner circle can possibly get my life.  And sometimes that makes me feel like I can't really talk to them about it.  I don't want to be pessimistic, I don't want to complain.  And too often as a result, I find myself saying, "things are great!" When really, they're not.

This morning, for example, was one of the worst I've had in a long, long time.  Despite my little one just turning a year old and being down to four nursing sessions a day, I have come down with another clogged milk duct.  These things plagued me for a good two months when she was younger, and I really thought I was done with them, but it's been a week already and still not much improvement.  And it's so frustrating!  When she nurses (which I try to do often to keep the breast empty) there is such searing pain for the first little bit, and when this happens at a time when the four oldest are clammoring for my attention for school and my toddler is breaking Lord knows what or getting into something he really shouldn't be, it's a recipe for disaster.  I have had several clashes of will with my older children over the past few days, and I know it has very little to do with them and everything to do with my disposition these days.  After a huge outburst in response to them not listening to me (does any 6, 7 or 9 year old listen consistently?) I retreated to my room and collapsed on my bed.  I sobbed and sobbed, and poured my heart out to God.  "It's just so constant sometimes," I said.  And it is. Nobody can plan that.

I texted my husband and asked him to pray for me too.  And I started to feel just a little bit better.  I realized in that state of brokeness how destructive it can be to think that you are alone.  And maybe Satan thrives there.  I began to think, Oh wouldn't you just love for me to think that there's nobody who understands me? And it's true, he would.  Because there is nothing so completely debilitating.  I chose instead to not let that happen.  I would not let the enemy have the upper hand.

I stepped out of my room and the kids, God bless them, were sitting and waiting to start school.  My baby toddled around the corner and gave me a huge smile, that I believe in certain moments really is life-saving.  I am not alone, very far from it.  And these people that surround me, my kids, my husband, my family, my friends, they all have the same desire in their heart as me - to love and be loved by God.  Though the circumstances may differ, every person can tell you of something in their life that pushes them to the brink on a daily basis, and we can all be united in our desire for goodness.  This is what I need to remember, this is why I need to give voice to my struggle.  Because in doing so, not only do I release the power it holds over me, but I also find that others are walking the very same road, and that I am not nearly as alone as I sometimes think.

May I always draw strength from the people You have placed in my life, and find freedom in knowing that we are all on the same path.

"Pray, pray to the Lord with me, because the whole world needs prayer. And every day, when your heart especially feels the loneliness of life, pray. Pray to the Lord, because even God needs our prayers." — St. Pio of Pietrelcina

Thursday, October 17, 2013


We're having some authority issues with one of our kids.  Nothing major, just slight little things that I notice, which at first seemed to be not that big of a deal but as time goes on, tend to be a symptom of a greater problem - this child rebels against authority.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does need to be properly formed.  I want my kids to be capable of being leaders on their own, and I don't want them to blindly follow every person who claims authority over them if that person has proven themselves not to be worthy of it.  But there are situations where they need to know their place, and that they are not in charge, that they need to follow someone.  The law - that needs to be followed, whether or not you agree or feel like it.  Children need to listen to their parents.  Students need to listen to their teachers.  Without a basic understanding of authority life would fall into imbalance.  Pushing is how a child learns to discern where they can step out and be a leader, and where they must fall back and accept someone else's leadership.

So this little guy does things like deliberately stay one syllable behind everyone when we're having family prayer.  Or sings his prayers when the rest of us are saying them.  He often interjects whatever question pops into his head whenever feels regardless of the fact that I am in the middle of teaching a school lesson.  Despite repeated, "don't do that, don't do that, don't...don't...DON'T!!!" he'll go right on doing what you're asking him not to do. I know it's not uncommon.  But I'm trying to be aware of even the slightest clash of wills so that I can be deliberate in expecting him to follow when he needs to. If I try to be proactive before a situation escalates, I may be able to keep him from pushing me until I feel like I'm going to snap.  Of course, I think I still need to be aware of the times when I need to allow him the opportunity to be a leader, and give him freedom to deviate from my authority a little bit if it's not really required.  We both need to learn to live with each other, to be firm when it is required, and less stubborn when it's not necessary.

And so, as we gathered around the table for lunch today, my dear little guy trailed just a syllable behind us during the Angelus.  I stopped a couple of times to tell him that he needs to keep up, and still he did it.  I know he's not deliberately trying to go against me, I think that more often than not he's just not paying that much attention.  But I want him to learn to pay attention, to look to someone else.  And so I start.  "My dear boy," (I wish I was always so proper, but maybe that was the gist of what I was saying!), "there are times when you need to follow someone in authority over you.  You are not in charge right now, I am.  I am the parent, you are the child, and you need to follow me.  You need to keep up with the rest of us while we pray as a group.  There will be many opportunities for you to be a leader, but now is not one of them. Right now, you need to follow me."

And right then, without skipping a beat, my almost-three-year-old weighed in on the whole thing, possibly sensing his mother's frustration at being in continued oposition with his sibling.  And with wisdom uncharacteristic (or maybe completely characteristic) of his age, in the sweet and slightly dragging voice that is unique to toddlers said, "And WE ALL follow JESUS!"

He is right.  He is so right!  People look at me as a veteran, like I have it all together because I have so many kids.  But there are still so, so many firsts and so much uncharted water to navigate.  So many times I feel like I'm treading along with my head just barely out of water - other times I feel like I've slipped beneath the surface and am struggling to breathe.  And that is when the Lord speaks, plain and clear as day, through the humblest of His servants.

We are all under authority.  In the discipleship of my children, may I never loose sight of the One whom I follow.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Did anyone else think that they'd see today through a lense of extreme gratitude, that everything would be wonderful and rosy, and that you'd skip along into the sunset tremendously thankful for your life.  It is, after all, Thanksgiving. That's what I hoped for today.  But so far, it's not what's come about.

I always forget how busy holidays are, and Thanksgiving is no exception.  It's not a bad thing necessarily, but it does add that extra bit of excitement that sends the kids into a whirlwind of delight, which often translates to disobedience and frazzled parents.  Running here, there and everywhere to take part in joyful celebrations can lead to a bit of exhaustion.  A happy exhaustion, but exhaustion nonetheless.  And under these circumstances, we often find ourselves low on patience, and quick to anger.  On this day of all days, when we should be thankful, we find ourselves frustrated.

But maybe, that's not a bad thing.  Because maybe, that's reality.  Like most other holidays, Thanksgiving has become a bit distorted by our current way of thinking.  A culture that doesn't want to see the hard things, that runs from the struggle and seeks to "always look on the bright side" robs us of the true meaning of the day.  You see, it's easy to be thankful for the good things.  Being thankful even when things are difficult, that takes discipline.  And that's what leads to true gratitude for the things in our lives.

It's not easy to have have six children, but we're thankful for them anyway.  It's not easy to get up and go to Mass every Sunday morning, but we're thankful anyway.  It's not easy to wrangle your whole crew together not once but twice in one weekend to see family that you don't often get the chance to see, but we're thankful.  And we are richly blessed by all of these things.

Being thankful isn't something that just happens.  We don't just wake up on this holiday morning to a perfect world, perfect families, or perfect lives.  We wake up to our reality, with all its goodness and all its trials, and in the midst of everything make the decision to be grateful.  This is what bears fruit in our lives.  This is what changes our hearts.

May we not seek the easy way out, but rejoice in the goodness and the challenges of our every day lives.  May we be thankful for every bit of our lives.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A lot can happen in a year

My baby turns one today.  ONE!  Birthdays naturally have a way of causing you to reflect a bit, but first birthdays in particular are pretty special.  It blows my mind to think that a year ago, we were doing this:

 Which somehow, in the blink of an eye, became this:

When babies approach one around here, I find myself in the constant expecting, anticipating, (and maybe even a bit nervous) dance between thinking I'm pregnant and thinking I'm not.  I gave up taking random pregnancy tests after my last miscarriage (my pregnancy just before Mary's) because I realized not only that I was wasting tons of money to appease my nerves, but also that psychologically it was not good to always "need to know".  I figured that if I was pregnant my body would let me know soon enough, at which point I would buy one (and only one) pregnancy test, money well-spent at that point since it was a response to my reality and not simply my own nerves.  

I don't think that Mary is our last baby, but of course I can't know that for sure.  Every morning I wake up either convinced I am pregnant, or convinced I'm not.  One day I"ll be certain that my body is showing signs of pregnancy, and the next I'll be certain it's not.  I've not had the one, tell-tale symptom for me - morning sickness. And so for now, I wait. A new baby would bring much joy for sure, but also much change for us.  A new vehicle, for starters.  And the loss of the comfort we've started to acquire now that little Mary is a bit older.  A more reliable schedule, greater ease getting around, my body back (mostly!)  

So much is unknown now, as I suppose it was this time a year (less a day) ago, when she was still in my belly.  We didn't know who she was, or even if she was boy or a girl.  Even her name was a surprise, because while Jeff and I usually agree on names together, hers was not one of the ones we had talked about before (and the only other baby Jeff named on his own was our oldest, because I knew I wanted to name our first girl after my Grandmother, so I told Jeff he could have the naming of the first boy).  We had not decided that he would name her on his own, but that's just how it went.  She was born and, as always, the doctor asked, "what is her name?"  And when Jeff announced this beautiful name that was so new to me, I knew she was a treasure.

Mary Clarice.

Mary of course after our Blessed Mother, and Clarice (prounced Claire-iss, which rhymes with Paris as my mother likes to say) after Jeff's dear Nanny who passed away not long before Mary's birth, and my own mother.  Growing up I had never met anyone else with the same name or pronounciation, and people were constantly mispronouncing it. It was such a surprise when I found out Jeff's Nanny had the same exact name and pronounciation as my mother.  It is so fitting for our girl to share the same name as these beautiful women, and already I can see she is very much like them.  She has a spark to her, a joy and wit like her Great-Nanny. She loves to tease, loves our Blessed Mother, and she LOVES sweets just like her Great-Nanny McCann.  And she is sweet, kind, and a friend to everyone, like my mother.  We didn't know anything about her one year ago, but the Lord did. And I believe He knew what He was doing when He placed that name on Jeff's heart.

And so we walk not only with joyful anticipation and trust in the unknown path ahead of us, but firm in the reality God has placed in our grasp right now, this beautiful girl who is our treasure and a joy to our hearts.  Whether or not there will be more is irrelevant.  The question of the day is not, "when is the next one coming along?" but rather, "how will you celebrate this one, and the rest of these little ones who are in your life right now?"  And of course today it begins with the joyful acknowledgment that one year ago today, this beautiful soul entered and forever changed our lives.  And we are forever blessed.

Happy Birthday sweet Mary Clarice. We love you so, so much!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Random Thoughts from a Busy Mom

I have so many things going through my head, and every time I think I want to write about one of them, there's not enough substance to be worthy of a whole post (I don't think, anyway).  But I did want to collect them together, if for no other reason than to capture this moment in time. The biggest reason I blog isn't readership (somehow I think the ten subscribers I have would be just fine if my blog went off the grid!) but more for personal memories. Here's what's been going through my head for the past week or so.

Age of Frustration
My second youngest is just shy of three years old, which in my house tends to be an age wrought with frustration (for both parent and child).  The past couple of weeks since school started have been challenging, because the next child up from him (and last year's partner in crime during the school day) started school this year, leaving him with only the eleven-month-old for companionship during this time.  Naturally, I can understand why this doesn't seem to satisfy him as much as the older sibling did.  And on top of that, he has some, shall we say "jealousy issues" setting in around the baby.  So while she is used to being carried in my arms during the school day, he now wants me to do the same for him.  He is constantly trying to shove his way onto my lap or up into my arms, and he's big! And he's a screamer too, which I suppose they all are at this age. All of this creates a perfect storm in which I struggle to operate calmly and peacefully.  It's tough!  But I know it's tough on him too, and I've been making an effort to try and see things from his point of view.  Even if I can't soothe him in the particular way he is looking for, I can find other ways to help him feel better. The other day for example, after we had decided to take away his security blanket for good (because it makes him a little tyrant - which is a whole other post for a whole other day!) I told Jeff that I would give him some human comfort to replace the material comfort he was lacking, and sat down to read with him until his tantrum subsided.  At Mass or out and about when he wants up and I can't pick him up (because I've got the baby in arms) I try to put my hand on his shoulder, or stroke his hair, or something that lets him know I still love him even if I can't scoop him up in that instant.  I don't know if it makes a difference to him, but it sure helps me to keep a proper perspective on his tantrums, instead of just being frustrated all the time. Please feel free to pray for me in that regard - it is such a challenge!

Buzzing About
I've started noticing that with all my schedules paying attention to time, and being organized and all that (yay!) that I've started buzzing about the day somewhat rigidly (boo!) Which makes me a little sad.  Nothing in particular happened, just one morning I could feel frustration setting in for no good reason, and caught myself right in the middle of "I can't have a blip in my school day or the whole day will be shot!" line of thinking.  And the kids were all being great, and the day was on track, so what gives?  I came to the sad realization in that moment that I had been going through my day a bit like a robot - being efficient and getting things done, but with a certain coldness.  I realized that I don't often look my kids in the eyes or even touch them when I'm in "school mode", and that made my heart sink.  So I've resolved myself to deliberately look them in the eyes, or put my hand on their shoulder when I'm standing next to them.  To look for opportunities for affection in our day, and hopefully lift the self-imposed burden of schedules a little bit.  Don't get me wrong, routines are good.  They just need to be in their proper order.

Time Management
On the topic of schedules - I find such freedom in watching the time closely.  The trick for me has been to not try and squeeze things in when my time has gone by and I haven't done what I should have done. I wrote a few days ago about time not waiting for anyone, and I really feel like I need to stop trying to bend it.  Yesterday for example, I slept in, which meant a later start to the school day.  At first I thought about how I was going to squeeze the work in before noon, but then I caught myself.  Instead I decided that we would eat, get dressed, and do whatever subject we were supposed to be doing when we were ready to start school (like you would if you arrived late in public school - your teacher wouldn't hand you everything you missed and say, "catch up", she'd get you to join what was already in progress, and you would make up the rest later. Which is how we did it yesterday.  The subjects we missed were finished at homework time, and I didn't operate within this pressure cooker of gotta-get-this-done-now! for the whole of my school day.  I really only have one moment, the one in front of me, and it takes so much work to just focus on that instead of looking ahead to what I still need to do, or behind to see what I've missed doing. Baby steps.

Work Blessing
I've been busy in the last couple of weeks working on a freelance project that's taken up quite a bit of time in the late evenings after the kids have gone to bed.  As the deadline approached, and wanting to be productive and timely I always prayed, "Lord please bless my work" anytime I sat down to work on it.  Yesterday was the first afternoon I didn't need to do anything with it, and yet I still found myself in the quiet of the afternoon saying the same prayer, "Lord, please bless my work." It occured to me that I need to approach my family life, the things I don't get paid for, with the same dilligence.  Since then I have been trying to keep that prayer ever before me.  I'm so grateful for the little ways the Lord meets me in my everyday life, and stitches the smaller events together to a much higher purpose.

Older Brother
A few weeks ago at Mass the gospel reading was the Prodigal Son. I had been having a real low week, for no reason that I could pinpoint, and when I heard the words of the older brother I could see myself in him - what about me Lord?  And the words of the Lord right back to me, "you are always with me, and everything I have is yours."  I began praying with that imagery, and trying to hold on to the promise the Lord makes to that older brother.  Sure as anything in the days that have since followed, I catch myself thinking these words so often.  This wound of the older brother is so deep within me, "what about me Lord?"  And His promise is everything - "All that I have is yours".  This is where I need to put my trust.

Baby Love
Three friends of ours were all expecting babies at the same time.  Two have been born and we're all on the edge of our seats waiting for number three to arrive!  It has me reflecting very much on the gift that a baby is to the whole world, and what a beautiful sacrifice it is for parents to say "yes" to.  People who say they never want to have children find their hearts softened by new life.  People who are hurting and grieving find new hope in them.  People who, like me, may have found themselves thinking thoughts like, "maybe we should just wait a little bit, I just got my body back" find themselves swooning over a new babe and changing their line of thinking.  I live with the same shortcomings as anyone else, and I am always taken aback to find how much I need to work at being open to life.  So the joyful witness of new couples and their new babies helps me to keep a proper perspective on it.  We have no news as of yet, but as I approach my mid-thirties I am becoming more aware that I don't have all the time in the world anymore, and that someday I won't be able to have babies anymore.  And then I suppose the witness of friends with their new babies will be even more of a gift to me.

I believe that does it.  And now I'm off to the duty of the moment, which happens to be a six-year-old who has been patient beyond his years, and is very much deserving of the story he has been asked to wait for.  I do love this little life!