One Part of the Whole Body

Welcome to any visitors from Em’s Estuary!  I hope you enjoy what you read here.  Feel free to browse the archives, follow me, or come back again.  And welcome back to my regular readers!  Emily shared my post on Veiling here.  Feel free to click on over to Em’s blog and her Veiling project.  Now back to our main programming . . .

As women living in the 21st century we often take for granted our choices and freedoms.  Both my mother and mother-in-law were told that they could not go to college.  They were to get married and raise children and leave the higher education to the men.  Both of these women are highly intelligent and both went on to work full-time jobs to help to support their families.  Hours could be spent dwelling on the injustice of their limited choices; but dwelling on the past rarely moves us forward.  Reflecting on the past, however, can teach us many lessons.  I admire both my mother and mother-in-law for the lives they live, the lives they raised and the countless ways in which they continue to touch all of our lives today.  When you look at the tapestry of their lives, when you reflect back on the past, you can see God’s handiwork throughout.

I was raised with the mindset that I could do or be anything I wanted to be.  I was the first girl in my family to graduate from college and I am proud that I achieved that goal with honors.  I was determined not to be a stay-at-home mother:  I would have a career and a family.  Shortly after graduation I began to work in the buying office at Dillard’s.  I was an assistant to the Juniors’ buyer for swimwear, dresses, and knits.  It was part of the Management Training Program, an elite position where only fourteen were chosen from over 300 applicants.  After six to ten months in the buying office, helping with merchandising in the stores, and lots of grunt labor which included everything from gift wrapping and cashiering to loading trucks at store closings, we were given management positions in the stores complete with salaries and full benefits.  I learned quickly that “salary” meant much more than a 40-hour work week and “retail” meant nights, weekends and holidays at work.  Patrick and I were already engaged when I was promoted to Area Sales Manager in Odessa, Texas.  Needless to say, that job position didn’t work out.  Six hours away from my fiancé and soon-to-be-daughter was not a good arrangement.  When my requests for a transfer were denied, I resigned and found another management position closer to home.  By the time our wedding day arrived, I realized that retail would not be a good match for family life.  Patrick hired me for part-time work with his company for a morning shift, while I apprenticed with a seamstress in the afternoons, hoping to eventually start my own line of children’s clothing.  This also enabled me to pick Missy up from school instead of leaving her with a sitter.  Within six months I wanted nothing more than to be a stay-at-home mother and wife.  I would spend the next twenty years trying to prove that it was a worthy venture.

 All these years I felt like I had to account for my time and every.single.accomplishment.  Read a book– What could I have been doing that was more productive?  Take the kids to the park—not until the house is clean, the laundry done, and the refrigerator stocked with groceries.    In the quest to be equal, I tried to keep up with my husband.  If he was doing physical labor 8-10 hours a day, then I should be as well.  If he didn’t have time for a nap, why should I get one?  I invalidated all the stay-at-home mothers in America, by not validating myself.  Even after adding homeschooling to our daily regimen, I didn’t cut myself any slack.  We started homeschooling in 2001 and from 2003-2011 we added a child into the mix at an average of every 17 months!  The snowball was heading downhill and the sewing, reading, and any semblance of free-time went straight out the window.  And I actually wondered why my health was failing. 

I am finally beginning to understand that God is the one, and the only one that I have to please.  It was Him calling me to stay at home in the first place, to home school the children, and to help Patrick in his business ventures.  Providing a loving and stable environment for our children is in itself validation enough for any mother.  Anything we add to that to encourage and support our husbands, to build a stronger marriage, or to raise up our children to be good stewards will bring glory to the Lord.  Working ourselves to the bone, neglecting ourselves at the sake of our well being, and pushing ourselves so much that it leaves little energy for our relationships only fuels the myth of the worthless, misused and maltreated stay-at-home wife.  It was me all along.  I didn’t acknowledge my own dignity and worth in the vocation that God had called me to.  How did I think that others would see what I could not?

I see it all so clearly now.  I see my loving and supportive husband beside me the entire time: cheering me on, helping me out and lifting me up.   I see our nine beautiful, independent and happy children and realize that they are confident and secure.  I see our grown daughter and son-in-law raising beautiful, confident and secure children of their own.  I see our college girl spreading her wings and finding her footing.  I see my husband and I working together to build an even stronger and healthier marriage.  And I see myself acknowledging the good I have achieved by cooperating with God’s plan.  These are the things that bring glory to the Lord.  It is only through His grace, love and mercy that we have accomplished them.  Our dignity lies in following the will of God.  It is a calling that is unique to each of us.  St. Paul actually said it pretty well:

 

*12As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.g13For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.h

14Now the body is not a single part, but many.15If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.16Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?18But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended.19If they were all one part, where would the body be?20But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body.21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.”22Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary,23and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety,24whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it,25so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.26If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. (1 Corinthians 12:12-26)

 

Maybe I would do well to read my Bible a little more frequently, and then maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t take me twenty years to realize that I am exactly where God wants me to be.  I am taking my role in His body and I am going to try hard to just be the finger: and not the whole hand, the head, the feet and the right ankle.

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Frozen Reflections

Disney’s Frozen has turned out to be one of my favorite movies.  I saw it for the first time only a couple of weeks ago when the DVD version was released.  We rented it from Netflix and still have the DVD sitting here, having viewed it at least a half-dozen times since it arrived in the mail.  Like most fairy tales, it requires an act of true love to save the princess.  Unlike the traditional fairy tales, the act of true love is not a kiss from Prince Charming, but a true act of sacrificial love: the laying down of one’s life for another.  The Gospel message is played out through the entire movie and by most of the main characters. 

Elsa believes that by hiding herself away and distancing herself from others that she is loving them.  Her actions are falsely motivated by fear, however; and it will take a painful awakening before she realizes her mistake.  In her attempt to avoid hurting the ones she loves the most, she actually inflicts pain upon them.  Anna doesn’t understand why her sister suddenly avoids her after being so close and having been such good friends.   We often think that the opposite of love is hate when in actuality the opposite of love is fear.  In 1 John 4:18 we read, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” 

It takes most of us a lifetime to become perfect in love.  In fact, the majority of us will probably need some extra time to weed out all of our vices and will only be made perfect by our suffering in purgatory before enjoying the Beatific Vision.  Suffering and love go hand-in-hand, we only have to look to our Savior Jesus Christ as the perfect example.  True love requires sacrifice and we often fear the sacrificial aspect of love.  What will love ask of me?  Will I be able to give that much?  Our journey in life should be learning how to love like Christ, weeding out all fear and all vices that hold us back.  Elsa recognized the lesson when Anna died for her and then came back to life (hmm, any Gospel similarities there?).  We should recognize love in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.  We should recognize it at every Mass when we see Christ–body, blood, soul and divinity–in the Eucharist.

Anna demonstrates love throughout the movie.  She doesn’t stop loving Elsa, even when she feels rejected by her.  Anna doesn’t understand why Elsa keeps her distance, but she never stops seeking and loving her.  She knows in her heart that she experienced love from Elsa.  Despite the appearance that Elsa no longer wants to be around her, Anna trusts her heart and seeks the good of others without fearing for her own well being.  Anna reminds me a lot of Ruth in the Old Testament.  She has the same magnanimous love for Elsa that Ruth had for Naomi.  In addition to her heroic love, Anna is humble and doesn’t even recognize her actions as noble.  Her ability to love so freely leaves her vulnerable however and Prince Hans seizes the opportunity to prey upon her.

The trolls are called love experts.  They take in the orphaned Kristoff and his pet reindeer, Sven.  They are willing to raise him as their own, to make him a part of their family despite their different customs, appearances and traditions.  Kristoff is grateful for their love and returns love in kind by acting with virtue and integrity, especially when it comes to helping Anna.  But, it is loveable Olaf that grabs our hearts from the very beginning.  Olaf only knows love.  “Hi, I’m Olaf and I like warm hugs.”  He does not have the quickest wit, nor is he physically strong or resilient; but, he is not afraid to love others.  He exemplifies the true innocence and tender love that is often found in people that we label “disabled.”  I dare you to spend some time with a “disabled” person and not walk away changed for the better.  These are the souls that remain close to God and His angels.  And we call them disabled.  Ha.  They are closer to achieving the goal of love perfected than we could ever hope to achieve on our earthly journeys.  Yet, in our strange and twisted world, these are the very people that we abort at the rate of 90% (see termination rates of Down Syndrome diagnosis) or argue for euthanasia.  Fear is indeed the opposite of love.  How are we (you and I) allowing fear to keep us from perfect love?

Into Great Silence

I borrowed the title of my blog today from the documentary of the same name.  Into Great Silence is a documentary about the monks living in the French Alps who take a vow of silence, as in they do not talk. ever.  Well, they speak at prayer and they have recreation time one day a month or something like that.  But, I cannot comprehend living without talking and I am in awe of them.  If you have never seen it, it is well worth watching.  In any event, I have stepped into great silence this weekend.  Originally, we were going on our annual extended family camping trip.  My path was redirected when we were struck down with Salmonella poisoning from some undercooked chicken.  I had already had three late nights when the first child came in vomiting at 10:30 pm and didn’t finally settle down until 3 am.  My husband and I took turns tending to him as he fought his body’s natural instinct to rid itself of the poison.  Each time he fought it and then reacted with greater violence when it overtook him—and his pj’s, his blankets, and his pillow.  It was one of the most emotionally draining exercises I have ever partaken of. 

The second day was calmer, but nighttime brought the same drama and I wondered if an exorcism was in order.  So, when day three—or rather night three—came around I did not hesitate to grab a dose of phenergan for the poor guy.  He needed to sleep and his body needed the break from the constant contractions of his abdomen and stomach.  There was nothing left in the poor guy.  So, as he relaxed into a deep and restful sleep Patrick and I sunk into our bed praying for the same.  It was not to be.  It was the next child’s turn.  At least this time Sophia was a real trooper and didn’t fight it.  She recovered in less than 24 hours.  By Thursday Patrick and I had managed to get some sleep and were almost functional.  It was a difficult decision for me, but I decided that camping was not the best activity for me.  I also had Salmonella, but it never manifested as anything more than cramping.  I knew that my body was fighting it and, all totaled, I was running on a deficit.

Patrick stepped up to the plate.  He went to the grocery store, planned and packed for the weekend, loaded all seven kids into the Suburban, and headed out to the campgrounds.  Allison jumped into action as well and helped with the packing, loading, and kid management.  So, here I am alone in the quiet and comfort of my home loving every minute.  If you knew my history you would understand why this is a huge milestone for me.  I have never liked being alone in my entire life.

As a child I had horrible separation anxiety.  I have vivid memories of crying all day after being dropped off at a new Kindergarten, of being alone before and after school at seven and eight years old, and feeling alone and misunderstood as the youngest child that was always “too little” to join my siblings in their games.  I took this into adolescence and adulthood by dating at the tender age of 14.  If I didn’t have a boyfriend to validate me, then I must not be pretty enough, smart enough. . . fill in the blank.  Even after getting married, if Patrick went on an overnight trip I had to stay with my mom or have a friend come over and stay with me.  Having kids with me did not count as company by the way.  If it wasn’t another adult, I was alone.

My turning point came as recently as this Fall when my adrenals crashed.  I was terrified to go on my retreat, but I also knew that I didn’t have a choice.  For the full eleven days I never once felt alone.  In fact, I basked in the quiet and soaked in the rest and relaxation.  The truth is I was never alone.  God was with me the entire time and I was fully aware of His presence.  He was physically present in the Eucharist in the chapel down the hall, but he was also spiritually present to me wherever I was.  It is not that He was not present with me in Kindergarten, or my childhood home, or even now.  It was that I did not acknowledge His presence.  I did not search for Him, rather I searched for earthly answers to my feelings of isolation.  Now, in this moment as I sit in my living room alone I feel such a strong sense of peace and serenity.  It is a presence that lifts me up.  I can literally feel the healing in my body and soul as I contemplate God’s love and mercy for me.  For the first time I can understand the desire of the Carthusian monks because God is found in the silence.  Seek Him there.

Lesson Planning 101

I may be an anomaly, but one of my favorite things to do is to write lesson plans.  I enjoy looking over my book selections, dreaming about added activities or hands-on projects to reinforce the lesson, and bask in putting it in a simplified order to meet my goals for the year.  Even when I purchase lesson plans or enroll with a homeschool program, I change the format to meet my own expectations and desires based on the particular needs of my children or family.  For the first few years I enrolled my daughter in Seton Home Study School and followed their lesson plans.  I would pencil in the plans each week for my daughter and I to follow and make the necessary adjustments for sick days, field trips, or spur-of-the-moment outings.  Pencils are my favorite.  I can make changes without throwing my OCD tendencies out of control.  After adding in a few more students, however, hand writing a weekly lesson plan quickly became a burdensome task.

Excel worksheets became my new best friend.  I have written detailed daily lesson plans in an Excel workbook.  Each week became its own new worksheet within the workbook.  I saved them from one year to the next and may adjustments for the new student fairly easily.  I would like to note that some programs allow you to purchase their lesson plans, like Mother of Divine Grace; while others only allow you use of the lesson plans for the current student, like Seton Home Study School.  I only save and reuse those plans that I purchased or wrote on my own.  Seton actually has an excellent lesson plan printer for currently enrolled students.  I import the days and weeks I want into Word and then cut and paste to get it to one or two pages.  I must say this option alone makes it worth enrolling in their program!  Just remember to delete them at the end of the year so you do not violate copywrite laws, and be sure to return or destroy any printed lesson plan material.

So, if you aren’t enrolled in a program that provides lesson plans how do you go about writing them?  For me, simple is better.  Let’s take Math because it is one of the easiest subjects to break down.  Math is typically done five days each week for 32 or 36 weeks depending on your school year.  36 week school years usually include one week of review for each quarter, technically making it a 32 week school year with study time and make-up days built in.  So, I guess the first thing you have to decide is what determines your school year.  I use 32 week plans and we finish the year, when the plans are complete for all core subjects.  If we get it done in 24 weeks, we are finished.  If we have to take 40 weeks to complete it, so be it.  The school year ends when our goals are met.  This is another reason to keep the lesson plans simple.  It is easy to add in assignments and activities in order to master a concept, it is much harder to skip assignments and risk missing a critical building block of knowledge.

Back to Math.  Most Math books contain more lessons than can be completed in a single school year.  Also, in elementary grades the first part of the book will review basics at the beginning of each year.  If your student does not need this review, then adjust the plans accordingly.  Sometimes, I will give them the first or second test just to get a feel for their placement.  If they score 90% or higher, that is where we begin the year.  Let’s use Johnny as an example.  He tests well on Test 2.  Math 101 typically gives ten lessons and then a test.  So Week 1, Day 1 of Johnny’s Math lesson will begin with Lesson 21.  Everyone following me, here?  He will do a Math lesson each day of the week, so his lesson plan in simplified format may look like this:

                   
Mon    Tue    Wed    Thur  Fri

Week 1  L 21       L 22        L 23       L 24     L 25

Week 2  L 26       L 27        L 28       L 29     L 30

Week 3  Test 3     L 31        L 32       L 33     L 34

 Sorry. The formatting isn’t cooperating. It is one lesson or test per day of week 😉

You will continue to write this out until you have 32 weeks of lessons filled in.  Now, you can get even more tailored with these plans and go through the book page by page, eliminating some lessons or adding supplemental lessons as needed.  Some kids grasp concepts quickly and too much repetition will just make the subject less interesting.  I teach to mastery of concepts, so once they have complete mastery of the idea, we move on to the next concept.  If the concept is still escaping them, most programs will have supplemental material that can be added in for additional practice.  I have one student that is very advanced in Math, so one year he only did workbook pages three days each week.  The other days he worked with Cuisenairre rods or other manipulative materials where he could explore Math on his own.  There are even Lego math sheets on-line that teach math concepts while playing with legos.  My point is that you can do whatever your little heart desires and have fun!  If you feel you may have to make lots of adjustments during the school year, keep your lesson plan as simple as stating a goal:  Math 4 will end at Test 12.

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 Writing lesson plans for other subjects is similar.  It does take time to look at each book and think of each child as you write the plans.  Just remember to set a goal for each subject and then break it down into weeks and then days per week for that subject.  Typically, elementary students will do four-day weeks, leaving one day each week open for appointments, make-up work or field trips.  Subjects like History, Science and Art may only be done one or two days each week as well.  I cannot write out each subject for you because that would be a book instead of a blog post.  If you have a specific question, just leave it in the comments section and I will be happy to share my opinion and advice.  Happy planning!

Something Other Than God

I wish I could take credit for the incredible title of this blog post, but it is actually a reference to Jennifer Fulwiler’s freshly released <a href="“>book Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness And Accidentally Found It. I haven’t read the book yet because I am not one of the privileged few who got a preview copy, but I did pre order the book last December and am scanning my mailbox daily awaiting its delivery.

Jen Fulwiler is a Catholic blogger who writes for the National Catholic Register but has been on hiatus since the birth of her last child. I strongly recommend reading her archived articles at NCR. In addition to NCR she continues to blog on her personal site at Conversion Diary. Jen is inspirational, down-to-earth and full of creative insights. She has even answered a few of my personal emails, so I feel like I could meet her for a cup of coffee the next time I’m in Austin; but, she is probably just being really polite. I promise I’m not a stalker, Jen. I pinky swear it.

Some of my other favorite reads in the blogosphere are Fr. Z, Simcha Fisher, and Camp Patton. Fr. Z keeps me posted on the current news as it relates to the Pope, the Catholic Church and me. He promotes frequent confession and the Mass in the Extraordinary Form (Latin Mass), and he is not shy about standing tall for the teachings of our Faith in the face of opposition.

Simcha Fisher, also a blogger for National Catholic Register and Patheos, is a witty, funny and snarky blogger that gives me food for thought and laughs for the journey. She also released a book recently that I think every married and engaged Catholic should read. It is called The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning. It is a very realistic look at Natural Family Planning and doesn’t hide the fact that to practice NFP is a form of carrying the cross. There are lots of benefits, but it ain’t all butterflies and rainbows. Living our faith out loud is not easy, but Simcha’s book gives us insight and inspiration with real and practical advice. And she’s funny too.

Camp Patton is really a diary of this young mother’s life with three toddlers and a newborn (Congratulations, Grace!). She shares her fashion favorites and funny quips and pics of her adorable children. When I first clicked her link I didn’t think I would read her blog again, but somehow I just get pulled in and come out feeling like I just chatted with a comrade in battle. Her little Julia reminds me of a couple of my own cutey-patooty girls. In addition Grace’s husband is a resident doctor and so her life reflects the life of my nephew and niece: also parents to three toddlers and a newborn, he is a resident doctor, and she is a SAHM. This is my just for fun, light reading enjoyment. I am in awe of how many posts she has done with a less-than-two-week old baby!

In addition to Fr. Z, Simcha and Grace, I also love to read Bad Catholic on Patheos. His reading takes quite a few brain cells and his posts are not as frequent as I would like, but when he does post he really hits the nail on the head and helps me to think about current events on a whole new level. Matt Walsh is also on my daily read feed. He can be offensive to some because he is often sarcastic and straight forward, but overall he really says what I often feel and I find myself cheering him on. Lastly, Heather at Momma Knows Honeychild makes me laugh out loud every time I read a post. I wish I could make people laugh like that. She just got a fancy shmancy new blog site and illustrates all of her posts with stick figure drawings that really help to round out her hilarious tales.

So, there you have a list of new books and blogs to read and check out; but, don’t leave me behind. I’m just getting my feet wet with this blogging expedition and I cannot even begin to tell you how much I am enjoying it. I hope you are too. I would love your feedback and input, and if you share my blog with friends and family that would be awesome too. Happy reading!