Sunday, October 30, 2011

Battling for the saints...

            Some days of my life feel like nothing but a battle.  It is a battle to get my 2 year old to eat anything healthy.  It is a battle to get my 13 year old out of bed in the morning.  It is a battle to get my 6 year old to focus on his school work.  And my 8 year old daughter and 10 year old son seem to constantly be in battle over something.  Ever hear the phrase “pick your battles”?  That has sort of become my motto.  The 2 year old and her picky eating habits are a battle I do choose to fight.  The 6 year old and his desire to play Lego’s instead of work on math is another battle that I fight.  I’m not fighting with the 13 year old about sleeping in, (she is responsible enough to decide if she wants to get up with enough time to eat breakfast and get herself dressed or if she wants to go to math co-op in her p.j.’s).  My ten year old son’s sloppy hair is another battle I just am not going to fight. 

            So, what else is important enough to fight for around here?  Well, Mass attendance is tops.  And not only attending Mass, but doing so appropriately dressed and as a family.   I used to let it slide if the boys came out of their room Sunday morning in a pair of nice clean shorts, or a neat, spotless t-shirt but lately they have been required to wear long pants and collared shirts.  The girls, including me, wear dresses or skirts.  I have a friend who shared her battle to get her kids to sing the songs and audibly pray the prayers during Mass.  I have to admit that is one battle I have never worried about.  I guess I have been too concerned with whether or not they were sitting still and being quiet to worry about the singing.  So, that is one I really have to think about….  

     When I was a teenager, I often skipped Mass.  I just didn’t want to get up early so I stayed in bed and missed Mass.  (yes,  I, like my daughter, am more of a night owl than an early bird)  I got away with it.  In Tim’s family, Mass attendance was expected but he would often go on his own to a Saturday Vigil Mass or a later Sunday morning one.  While that is very admirable of him, I want to do things differently for our family.  We will go to Mass together.  Our faith is something we share.  Our Church is more than a building. It is a community, it is the Body of Christ.  We will share the experience of worship as a family.

            Which brings me to another battle I have recently had to fight…. in our Catholic home schooling group we celebrate All Saint’s Day with a family party each year.  The year we started home schooling it was one of the first events we attended.  I was immediately impressed with the group.  The atmosphere of that wonderful family party full of strong Catholic moms, dads, and kids celebrating and enjoying the beauty of our faith together really hit me.  This was where we belonged, this was where I wanted to raise my children, amongst families who valued their faith, valued their families, and valued their time together.  Unfortunately, as my children have gotten older, they have decided they no longer love the All Saint’s party like they used to.  They used to get excited in October as we planned for the upcoming party by choosing which saint they would learn about and dress up as on (or around) November 1st.  Apparently, they are not alone in their new opposition to saint costumes and presentations.  It seems it is the age.  Saint costumes are for little kids, the older kids would rather just come to see their friends, and eat the yummy snacks and desserts, or not come at all.  
        I have really thought about it. Is this a battle worth fighting, really? Much to my children’s disappointment, I have decided it is.  

Here is why….   This is one of the only events throughout the school year specifically planned for families that celebrates our faith.  Our home school group has a ton of fun activities each year.  We have an opening school year Mass and picnic.  We have a May Crowning Mass and picnic.  We have park days every week where we have, in the past, prayed a Rosary or Chaplet of Divine Mercy. We have a St. Valentine’s party and more, but none of those events are planned at a time that many dads can come.  So, though we have fun and share our faith at them, we do not do it as families.  We do have some fun family events each year.  We have annual family hoedowns that are a ton of fun, and family Christmas caroling parties.  These are wonderful too, but they are not particularly spiritual in nature.  The All Saint’s party is really the one event each year where we come together as families and share the joy of being Catholic.  The reason Tim and I decided to home school was to share the beauty of our faith and to make our life and family Christ-centered.  So, we will attend the All Saint’s party every year we can.  We will be there as a family and each of my children will learn about a saint, and present their saint to the group.  If they balk at the idea that is okay, it is a battle I am willing to take on….

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Happy 15 years!

Today my wonderful husband and I celebrate 15 happy years of marriage.  There is so much I could say about the life we share and the love between us, which is truly a gift from God, but this song by Brooks and Dunn seems to say it more perfectly than I could (it is almost our story exactly except my father is most definitely not a farmer and we got engaged in my tiny studio apartment instead of a field)...

Monday, October 24, 2011

"I would never..."

            When I was expecting my first child, I worked in a children’s clothing store.  In my oblivion about the realities of parenting, I often looked at the parents shopping with their small children and thought, “I’ll never be like that.”  There were quite a few parenting decisions I disagreed with, but worst of all, in my mind, was laughing at children’s misbehavior.  The store had a few little plastic rocking chairs that sat in front of a television set and, at least once a week, some child would pick up one of the chairs and head out the door of the store with it.  Most parents would react by laughing at their child’s antics.  Now, I would stand there and smile along with them as if I got it, but inside, I was wondering what was so funny about a child stealing a chair?  Their child had not done something cute or funny, or even original, and did they know they were only encouraging the behavior by laughing about it as though swiping a chair was a good thing?  I vowed when my child was born, I would never smile at stealing, or saying bad words, or hitting, or any misbehavior my child might attempt (of course, I was still under the delusion that I would be a perfect parent and my child would be perfect as well but if it came up, I would not laugh).
Of course, the first time my adorable little one decided to take something of her father’s or mine and run out of the room with it in an attempt to make it hers, what did I do? I laughed!  The first time she muttered a swear word (that she certainly had never heard from me), what did I do? I laughed!   Even with my fifth child, after years of seeing each of my older children make those first connections and try to get away with those minor infractions of toddler-hood, I still laugh at her misbehavior at times.  It is not that bad behavior is funny, it is that watching your own precious child discover the many choices of life and watching them try out new things, good and bad, is exciting and joyful and, well, sometimes funny.  I would never have understood that before I had children of my own though.

You'd think I had learned my lesson about saying things like, “I’ll never….” But alas, I had not…..
            When my first son was in pre-school I went to a talk at his school by a wise and wonderful deacon.  He spoke about family life and about not over-scheduling children.  He talked about the importance of down time and family dinners and a slower paced life for kids and parents alike.   I sat there thinking again, “I would never over schedule!”  You see, at that time our life was still quite simple.  We had four young children but did not have them signed up for sports or classes or any extra-curricular activities.  We did not have a full calendar but instead spent our time with each other at home most days.  I patted myself on the back for keeping things simple and went home feeling great about myself.
            Now, somehow I find myself eating my words again.  Though, we still do not have the kids signed up for any sports and we keep the extra-curricular activities to a minimum, somehow our calendar has filled up nonetheless.  Somehow, each day seems filled to capacity and each week is scheduled out way ahead of time.  We are so busy at times, my mind cannot settle and I feel perpetually rushed and overwhelmed.  I wonder how this has happened but I am pretty sure it is just life with 5 kids.  I honestly don’t feel I’ve over-scheduled things, the calendar is actually clear on quite a few days this month, but somehow, our life has ended up in overdrive anyway!
The good news is despite our busyness, we do still have dinner together almost every night.  And, I have finally learned to be VERY careful about saying, “I’ll never do that!”

Friday, October 21, 2011

To get where we're going

    It is still relatively early in the day and already today has been an adventure!   Friday is our busiest day, with the children all enrolled in classes at a nearby community center.  It is so nice that they offer a great variety of classes and we have found something for everyone at our house there.  The only problem is that the classes all start at different times.  My oldest son needs to be there by 9:30 for his 1st class, my oldest daughter starts hers at 11:15, and then all four older children have  classes at 1 pm. 
    The first week, the littlest one and I just hung out at the community center all day long, watching her siblings dart from one classroom to the next and admiring their work in between.  It was a long day of sitting around trying to entertain a 2 year old with very little to work with (how many times can you read the same Family Fun magazine before you start to go completely crazy from Kleenex box crafts and animal-shaped desserts?)  The next week we decided to drop off the older kids, run a few errands, and then come back to meet them in time for lunch and the afternoon classes.  This worked out much better, though it was a lot of back and forth and in and out of the car for my youngest daughter and I.  Still it was the best scenario and so we have kept it up over the weeks. 
    This morning, I pulled out of the driveway not even thinking and was halfway down our street before I realized I had headed off in the wrong direction.  Turning around would be more trouble than  it would be worth, we would just have to go the long way to our classes.  Then when we were almost there we reached a long line of traffic at a complete stand still.  It was much too late in the day for rush hour and though the “snow birds”, Florida’s winter residents, have started coming back there are not enough of them around yet to account for so many cars backed up.  I pulled off onto a side street to avoid whatever was causing the traffic jam and ended up meandering through a residential neighborhood that I was not quite as familiar with as I had thought.  I drove along, blindly following the car in front, assuming they knew better how to get back to the main street than we did.   Thankfully, they did and my son darted into his class right on time.  The younger children and I set off for our errands and drove right past the cause of the traffic problems, a big car accident at the main intersection closest to the community center.  At that point, I realized my wrong turn out of the driveway earlier may have been for the best.  Had we gone our normal way, we might have happened upon that accident as it was happening, we might have even gotten mixed up in the middle of it. 
    We were lucky to not be involved but only inconvenienced a little.  Our morning commute ended up taking twice as long as usual and necessitated quite a few detours and unanticipated twists and turns though.   At one point, a policeman directed us to turn on a road we had never taken, at another, we had to turn around and go back the way we came for a time before getting back on track.  As I drove, and tried to keep all the hassles in perspective, it occurred to me that my drive this morning was a lot like my journey in life.  
    Sometimes, as I try to follow Christ and find my way closer to Him, I end up running into road blocks, problems and obstacles that I cannot see the end of and that seem impossible to get through.  As I search for the right way, I end up following the paths of others, hoping they know better than I do.  Sometimes that works out, sometimes not.   Sometimes I am directed to go in new directions and must trust those in authority, again hoping it will get me where I want to go.  Sometimes, I feel like I am heading backwards and I wonder if I am making any progress at all.   Sometimes, days that start out with mistakes turn out to be God steering me away from dangerous situations. 
    The road to heaven is never a straight, easy path.  It always seems to be full of dangers, detours, and wrong turns but, like my little expedition this morning, if we follow the road set before us and trust in the One in charge all will turn out just fine and eventually we will make it to our destination….at least, I hope.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A peaceful Mother

    Tomorrow is the anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun in Fatima, Portugal.  Tomorrow, in our Church and in our home, we will remember and commemorate the miracle and we will turn our minds and hearts to Our Lady of Fatima.  I don’t usually share about our family’s celebrations of feast days for 2 reasons.  First of all,  I am not great about keeping up with them all.  Usually, I will remember that it is a special feast day at about 3 in the afternoon (if at all) and then I will casually mention it to the kids without any special celebrating.   Second of all, when we do remember to acknowledge the special feasts of our faith, our celebrations hardly seem worth mentioning to others.  They are not very significant, not very creative.  Yesterday, for example, to commemorate the Feast of Our Lady of La Leche, we drank milkshakes together before bed.  Will milkshakes encourage my children to be better Catholics or increase in them a devotion to our Blessed Mother?  Would other families be inspired by our idea of celebration?  You see why I do not share more often…..
    The story of Our Lady of Fatima is one of my favorites though.  I love the simplicity and innocence of the three little shepherd children.   I love that they never wavered in their insistence of proclaiming Mary’s message to the world.  I love the accounts of the Miracle of the Sun, witnessed by thousands in a little sheep pasture in Portugal.  It was an amazing event that changed hearts and brought about the conversion of many. 
    Earlier this week, I heard about a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Fatima, that was going to be traveling to different parishes in our diocese this week to celebrate the miracle and, hopefully, inspire greater devotion to Mary.   The statue would be at a parish very near to our home on Wednesday, but just for the morning and early afternoon.  I made the decision to take my children to see the statue, hear the stories, and pray before Our Blessed Mother.  But then yesterday, Tuesday, we had a very long and exhausting day.   Before bed last night (and before our nighttime snack of milkshakes) :) I told the kids I had changed my mind.  We would not attempt to get up early and out the door to attend the Mass and presentation.  It would just be too much. 
    This morning, (by the grace of God?) I had another change of heart.  Despite our busy, overwhelming week so far (or rather, because of our overwhelming week, so far), I really thought we should be there.  So, I woke the children early, practically having to drag them out of bed, and we made it to the 8:30am Mass, where Our Lady’s statue sat in silent peacefulness up front.  After Mass, we moved a little closer and listened as a woman spoke of the miracles that had followed the beautiful statue of Our Lady as "she" had traveled the world.  The parish priest joined us and added his own spiritual miracle to the list, sharing his own devotion and attributing his vocation, at least in part, to his connection to Our Lady of Fatima.  Then, the children and I got a few moments to pray before the statue while holding 1st class relics from Jacinta and Francisco, two of the young shepherd children Mary had appeared to for the last time almost exactly 94 years ago.  
    It has been one of those weeks.  A week, not only of busyness and chaos, but also of questioning myself and doubting myself and looking for God but not feeling like I was finding Him.  But, today,  as my children and I knelt in prayer before that amazing replica of Mary, the Mother of God, I was at peace.   Through the beautiful example of His mother, Jesus gave me just the renewal I was so in need of.   And He reminded me, once again, how important it is to trust, to let go of my perfectionism, and to believe in miracles, even little miracles like peaceful home schooling and a calm, relaxed mommy.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

On tolerance....

    “Tolerance is so important.”  I heard this this morning at Mass.  It is a sentiment one hears everywhere these days.  It is a sentiment I disagree completely with, however.  Tolerance, to me, is a problem.  It is not the answer to all of the world’s problems as it seems to be, to so many people. 

We are told that what the world needs is more tolerance.  We, as a people, are encouraged to tolerate people’s differences, tolerate the choices of others, whatever they may be, tolerate new ideas of good vs. evil (ideas which change and vary from one person to another).  Tolerance, it seems, has become synonymous with acceptance, and acceptance, synonymous with peace.  Tolerance is held up as the ultimate expression of morality.

    But, no matter what “the world” wants to believe or to preach, tolerance is not synonymous with love. To tolerate means to withstand the unpleasant effects of something, or to be willing to allow something to happen or exist.   It has come to mean further, to recognize other people's right to have different beliefs or practices without attempting to suppress them.  Whatever definition you prefer, tolerance is dealing with something, living with something, but it is not the same as embracing something, or for that matter, someone.

    Jesus loved but He did not tolerate.  He loved all people, called all people closer to Himself, reached out to all people, but never once did He tolerate.  He went way beyond acceptance of each person He encountered, He loved them.  He loved them right where they were, and just as they were, but He never let them stay there.  He called them all to something more, something better.  He called them away from their sinful ways and mediocre existences.  He pointed out their areas of weakness, of misunderstanding, of sinfulness.  He told them to rise above it, to turn to God and live a better life. 

Jesus would never have tolerated, nor preached a gospel of tolerance.  Because tolerance, especially in today’s definition of it means allowing, even encouraging, sinfulness.  It means leaving each other alone to do right or wrong (most often wrong it seems to me) without ever trying to help anyone to do what God wants of them.  Tolerance is not about helping others to heaven, or even helping others to happiness.  It is about leaving others to wallow in their weak, sinful ways without helping, without loving.

I think Jesus would be incredibly disappointed in a society that stops at a level of tolerance, that does not strive for so much more.  True love never stops at mere acceptance.  Tolerance is such a cop out in many ways. 

We are called to love and love means wanting what is best for others.  It means we must never tolerate the sins of others, sins that hurt and affect us all.  We must do all we can to lead our friends, family members, neighbors, and even strangers, if we can, to a life that rejects sin, not a life that celebrates it.  Jesus teaches us to love the sinner and hate the sin.  Our worlds seems to ignore the sinner and embrace the sin.   If that is tolerance, then tolerance is selfishness.

I would never allow my children to simply tolerate each other.  In our home, we strive each and every day to love one another.  It is not always easy.  There are all those little annoyances, all those petty disagreements, all those opportunities to criticize and tease and stir up trouble.  Maybe if my children could just tolerate each other things would be quieter at my house.  But quiet can be quite overrated.  Quiet is not the goal.   

Simple tolerance is not an option.  I expect love.  I want a family full of love.  Love, kindness, joy, and true feelings of gratitude for one another.  I am hoping for, praying for, real Christ-centered love that manifests itself in an enduring desire to help each other to a place of growth in holiness and virtue in my home.... and in the world around it.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A novel experience

    Back in August, I heard about a website, and a contest, and a chance to try to fulfill a dream of mine.  I ran across a brief reference to “NaNoWriMo” on a blog I found and I decided to try to figure out what the heck it was.  As it turns out, NaNoWriMo is not a strange old Native American word.  It is a sort of abbreviation for “National Novel Writing Month.”  It is also a website, and a contest.  The idea behind it is to encourage members to write a novel, a whole novel, start to finish, in a month.  After visiting the website, I thought about it for a while. 

    I’ve always loved writing.  I’ve always wanted to write a novel.  I have always had stories weaving their way through my thoughts whether I’ve invited them or not.  Stories are such a part of my thoughts and my life and I’ve always wanted to get them down on paper and share them but I have never been confident enough, or had the time enough, to actually do it.  So, crazy as it sounds, I signed up. 

    November is national novel writing month.  So, on November 1st (and not a minute before) the contest officially begins.  The challenge?  To write a 50,000 word novel before November 30.  The website provides support, encouragement, and the official word count.  The participants must provide their own stories and their own time. 

    I am a home schooling mother of 5.  My husband works about 60-70 hours a week outside the house, and is pursuing his master’s degree in an online program that requires some 10-15 hours of work each week from home.  I am responsible for shopping, cleaning, cooking, educating, caring for, and chauffeuring to gym class, art class, cub scouts, etc….   I have trouble keeping up with the laundry and dishes.   Where I will fit in time to write 1667 words of original, interesting, coherent narration each day for a month, I do not know.  I am so excited to try to find out!

    I shared my goal and excitement with my children and they too were intrigued.  So, on November 1st the biggest challenge may not be whether or not my story is any good, or whether or not I can even find time to sit down and write.  It may be, whether or not I can get near my computer to do my writing.  You see, NaNoWriMo has a young writers program, too.  My two oldest children have signed up.  My middle daughter will join us in writing a story also, though not officially through the website. 

    The four of us have spent the last few weeks working on our story ideas, developing plot lines, and naming characters.  Everyday lately one of the kids will ask, “How many days till we start?”  Then we go check the countdown at the website and feel nervous and excited and anxious all at once. 

    I am not sure I will make it to 50,000 words.  I am not at all sure it is even possible, there just might not be enough hours in the day, or days in the month.  But, if nothing else, the attempt to complete a whole story in a month, with my children, will be such a novel experience, it is sure to be worth a try….

Monday, October 3, 2011

Another close call

On our latest camping trip….  As soon as we arrived, my oldest son jumped out of the car and ran quickly to our campsite to start exploring.  All of the sudden, he went from running excitedly to stopping dead in his tracks.   We weren’t sure why until he ran back to us and informed us that he had almost stepped on a snake.  Here is a picture of the “welcome committee” that greeted our son with a venomous smile! 
The snake at our campsite- alive and well

Thankfully, our slithery little friend showed no sign of aggression.  It also showed no sign of fear, and did not even flinch when my husband stood far away and threw sticks at it in the hopes of spooking it and sending it slinking back off into the woods.   Instead, the snake sat unfazed basking in the sun and “standing” his ground.  I, meanwhile, looked for the number of a park ranger who could come and help us out, while the children huddled fearfully in the back of the van next to all the yet unpacked camping gear.  All the children except for my oldest son, that is.   He stood on the picnic table nearby and watched his father continue to battle the snake.  My husband, armed with nothing more than a few sticks and logs, which he threw repeatedly at the snake, finally triumphed.   It was not until the poor reptile was already gravely injured, that it shook its tail warningly and reared up, opening its mouth to show sharp little fangs and hissing loudly.  A few more direct hits from the big campfire log and there was no more hissing, no more tail shaking, no more chance of danger.  Then, we were able to commence with the camping.   When we finally caught up with the park ranger and showed him the picture I had taken, he informed us that what we had seen was a pygmy rattlesnake.  I shudder to think what could have happened, and just thank God my son wasn’t bitten.  
Smashed under a log, no longer a threat to anyone
My son pointing out a picture of the snake he saw.
    This was not the first time he has had a close call in life.  My now ten year old son was born with his umbilical cord tied in a knot and wrapped around his neck.  It was at that moment, I figured he had not one guardian angel, but a whole army of them, all watching out for him, and somehow, keeping him safe. 
    At about 9 months old, he scaled a book case in the family room.  The shelves were the adjustable kind that just sort of sit on the case, not firmly attached, and the top one tipped up knocking my baby boy to the floor and dumping an entire shelf full of heavy books on him.  I was terrified.  He was fine.  So fine, that he was back to climbing up the book case almost as soon as I had put everything back together again. 
    At about 2 years old, he refused to go home with me and his sisters after a little walk around the block.  I tried that old, “If you won‘t come, I‘ll just have to leave without you” trick and I walked slooooooowly off, assuming he would follow as soon as he realized I was serious.  I was only about one house away when I glanced back to check on him.  He was standing on the sidewalk at the end of a driveway not paying any attention to me or anything else, when I noticed a minivan in the driveway starting to back up to leave.  Just before I was able to scream in terror, the driver happened to look back and somehow, though it doesn’t seem possible, see that short little toddler in the rear view mirror.  Once again, I was traumatized, my son was completely unscathed.  Needless to say, I have never tried that trick again!
    Leading up to the rattlesnake encounter, there have been other, thankfully less dramatic, moments too.  I’m thinking God must have some pretty big plans for this kid.  Plans that must surely require a lot of courage on my son’s part, a lot of trust on mine, and a whole lot of overtime on the part of the legion of angels watching over him!


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