Brave New World

Seven weeks into the new school year a new groove has formed.  Life follows this new path revealing once unseen landscapes and vastly different views.  Yet, I can’t help but seek out the old and familiar sights.  Longing for the companionship of other adult women and seeking for social outlets for my remaining lone-homeschooled child, the Bible Study sounded like a perfect blend of opportunities for us. “Bring along your children, your Bible, your journal and pens,” the Facebook post beckoned to me.  It sounded like the superb opportunity beginning with the Holy Mass, ending in fellowship centered on the Word of God, and coming to a church in my neighborhood this Friday.

Daniel ran fever all day on Thursday, which meant no school on Friday and my plans for Bible Study seemed lost.  I crawled out of bed earlier than usual this Friday morning at 7:45.  Angela met me in the hall with bright eyes and excitement.  “Sorry,” I said, “we can’t go because Daniel is sick.”  She quickly offered a rebuttal that Dad was working from home today.  We could still make it if we hurried.  I glanced at the clock and dismissed morning Mass quickly.  I was barely out of bed and my regular routine takes 40 minutes.  But, I conceded that we could still make it to the Bible Study for 9:30.

We arrived to the welcoming greeting of one mother with her lively three boys and waited for the others.  After some time, we discovered that we were in the wrong room and a group of women and children could be found down the hall, already finished with the kids’ craft and Bible story.  Beautiful women, beautiful children and such a great opportunity being offered; yet, as I sat there I could hardly contain the anxiety welling up within me.  My own two children were calm and at ease with the coloring pages, but the activity in the room was proving too much for me to handle.  I tried to listen as one mother explained the hope for what the new group could become.  Something about rotating responsibility for overseeing the children while the other mothers met for discussion in an adjacent room.  All I could think was (and pardon my expression), “hell no!”  My energy was completely drained in a matter of minutes from the simple, normal activity of young children.  I attempted  to explain why I couldn’t/wouldn’t be able to oversee the children, but just felt completely awful about not being able to take a shift every other month.  After all, we only would be meeting every two weeks.  I politely thanked them all and truly enjoyed making their company, but I desperately needed to head home.  By the time I walked out of the room, I could barely walk.  This was not where I needed to be.  Not any more.

God has a way of stripping away our false identity in order to reveal our true selves–the self He created and wills.  My identity has been so closely tied to young children and mothering for so many years and now it is not.  I have a heart for mothers with young children because I know the struggles and joys so well.  But, for some reason God is blocking this path at this time in my life.  He seems to continue to refocus my energy to self awareness, self love and self care.  He knows that if I am in a room where others are struggling or children are in need, that I will pour my energy out to them and leave nothing for myself.  I know it too.  That is why my energy drained so quickly.  My body sensed it, and like a frustrated spouse throwing up his arms in exasperation, my body let the energy drain from itself as if to say, “Your going to give it away anyway, so what’s the point?”  But, I’m not.  I won’t be going back.  I will pray for the success of the group for the other mothers and their children.  It is a beautiful apostolate and truly needed, especially for homeschooling mothers.  I will, however, continue this journey of self discovery and for the opportunity for Angela to socialize while her siblings are at school.  While I will fondly remember the beautiful landscape of roads once traveled, I will try to embrace the ever changing landscape before me in each and every moment.  Part of me grieves for my old, familiar self: always a baby in the arms or a toddler on the hip (or both).  But, I know that I am called to serve another purpose now, to serve in a different capacity for the sake of God.  In the proper time, He will show it to me.

The Healing Journey

I’m still climbing that mountain, y’all. It is actually getting a little easier to climb with each day. In fact, I’ve been doing so much climbing I failed to share my journey with you and for that I am sorry! Even if my story can touch one heart and encourage that person to keep going, well, I feel like I should share it. I left off last Fall and the new year brought lots of changes to my life.

My faithful friend who came daily from 9am-2pm to help with the kids was ready to move on to a new chapter in her life as her youngest began school. So, I hired two young women to replace her. The change of helpers from day-to-day and the struggle to keep everyone on the same page with homeschooling and kids’ schedules and needs was real. My helpers were great, but then one of them got a better job offer in January and the other was having a baby. At this same time, my oldest daughter went into super-achiever mode and graduated from high school 9 months early and started her new phase of life as a…wait for it…Nanny.  For other families.  And that was a great move for her, but it was another huge blow for me.  God was telling me that it was time to take the training wheels off and ride this bike on my own. I was scared. I just didn’t think I could do it.  Taking one day at a time, and sometimes one hour at a time we  somehow, someway (spelled G-R-A-C-E) made it. I was riding the bike all on my own again, a little wobbly and lots of huffing and puffing. It was very challenging.  And it was Lent.

One of the most fascinating aspects of my journey has been how it seems to follow the liturgical calendar and this Lent was no exception. The first week of lent was my first week without those training wheels.  And just to prove His point, all six kids and I caught a cold that week, so I didn’t have the option of bringing in help even if I could find someone to hire.  That first Sunday in Lent we went to Mass and Fr. Luke offered the Sacrament of the anointing of the Sick. My son looked up at me, his eyes locking with mine and the message came across loud and clear, “Mom, you better go up and receive this Sacrament or I will pull you to Father myself.” He didn’t even say a word and I knew what he was thinking–I was thinking it too. As I waited patiently for the lines to form and move forward, I felt that I would be healed. It was an interior message and my heart and my mind recognized it at the same instant.  After receiving the anointing of oil on my forehead and hands, I was instantly free from the emotional torment, the struggle with anxiety, depression, guilt was all gone. It was incredible.  I told Patrick when we got home, but I was reluctant to share with others.  I still had doubts and didn’t want to be disappointed if I fell ill again.  My body was still weak from the fight. Lent proved to be a time of rebuilding my muscles and my thought process. It was a time of re-learning who God created me to be. It was a time to rise again, pick up my cross and continue to move forward.  And it was a time to learn to trust the Lord.  To trust that He can and did heal me.  To trust that whether I fell ill again or regained 100% health, the Lord was, is and always will be in control–He created me, He loves me and He will never abandon me.

On Good Friday, we went up to Larryland (affectionately named by my children, Larryland is 70 raw acres of natural Texas beauty land belonging to my brother). I had mentioned to Larry that we wanted to spend Good Friday out there and hike while reflecting on the Stations of the Cross. Well, he and Julie arrived ahead of us and marked off the “Stations” with white tape.  The hike would take us down and through a deep ravine, climbing the hill at the 14th station, marked with a six-foot cross they had made from some cleared cedar wood. It was incredibly moving. It also marked the first mile-long hike I was able to walk in several years. Easter Saturday was at my sister’s ranch in East Texas with family, fishing, a pot luck lunch and the big Egg Hunt. Sunday was the highlight with Mass, followed by 8 of our 9 children and Patrick’s parents joining us for lunch and a day of relaxation and games. And I was still standing on Monday morning, praise God!  It was a true blessing and a small miracle for me when one considers that the March before I was unable to even leave my bedroom due to paralyzing anxiety.  Easter is truly the greatest miracle of all as Christ rose from the dead and promising us all new life in Him.  It is an incredible gift to share in even a fraction of His suffering and the experience of His resurrection.  Alleluia!  He is Risen Indeed.

The Need for Community

“Every day, as long as this ‘today’ lasts, keep encouraging one another” (Heb 3:13)

Whether we are inclined to be social or prefer solitude, God created us to live in community and unity.  Throughout the Old Testament, we see examples of this:  The Israelites were a community separated out from the rest of the world by God.  No matter what place they called home, they were still a community—a grumbling, complaining community as they wandered in the desert for forty years; but, still a community.  The early Christians lived in communities of believers and drew strength from that strong sense of community.  The New Testament is packed full of St. Paul’s letters to these various communities scattered throughout the lands.  He continuously extols them to keep living the life they were called to live, encouraging them in times of need, and admonishing them when they fall into sin.  Even though the communities are scattered world wide, the Church unites them under one mantle.  This is how the Catholic (universal) Church was established by Jesus Christ:  small scattered communities (known as the Church Militant), united together under one creed and eternally connected to the Church Suffering (saints in purgatory) and the Church Triumphant (saints in heaven).  It is such a deep and beautiful plan!   And theme of unity and community are a repeating pattern in the tapestry of life.

Fast forward to our present time and the need for community has not diminished.  Almost every family I know is suffering today.  Not just small matters, these families are afflicted with chronic illnesses, alcohol or other addictions, economic turmoil, divorce, etc.  One cannot help but feel that the evil one is attacking with great fury.  And like scattered sheep we are in more peril the more isolated we become from the flock.  As one who has suffered from chronic fatigue and burn out for close to five years, I understand the humiliation in having to ask for help and expose my weaknesses and vulnerability.  But, I also deeply understand the need for community as God intended.  We desperately need the face-to-face interaction within our community.

It is too easy for the devil to trick us into thinking that social media is true connection, when in fact it is a shallow form of communication that does not allow us to enter into a deeper union with one another.  We need to teach our children the importance of community and face-to-face interaction.  We have a need to look into one another’s eyes and get a glimpse at their souls.  To open ourselves to healing by crying and laughing with one another as we share our burdens and joys.  This is the principal of solidarity that St. Pope John Paul II taught us.  It is great to March for Life in DC, but it is even better to shelter a woman in a crisis pregnancy, bake a meal for a family in time of need, or babysit without pay for the frazzled mother with several small children.  It is lovely to wear a pink ribbon or run a marathon for a noble cause; but it is worth even more to take a woman battling breast cancer to her doctor appointment, laugh with her as she recovers, or cry with her as she shares her fears and frustrations.  It is an excellent thought to lobby for the rights of the poor or illegal immigrants, but how much more noble to physically feed them, shelter them or employ them so they may live with dignity!

Now no one can do all of these things, but God is calling us to do small things for those in our immediate family and community.  There is no shortage of need.  If we but open our eyes, ears and hearts we cannot help but hear the cries for help.  At the same time, we must not be hesitant to express our own needs and graciously accept the help that is offered to us.  This is the way families and communities become strong: pray for one another, assist one another and “for as long as this ’today’ lasts, keep on encouraging one another.” (Heb 3:13)

A Letter of Encouragement

Dear Lindsey,

I don’t remember catching your last name, but I wanted to tell you “Thanks!”  I really enjoyed getting my baby fix at Mass on Monday.  We attended church in Mansfield (not our regular parish) when your beautiful 2/3 year old girl caught my attention right after communion.  As you passed by our pew, she was voicing her opinion and knew she had you right where she wanted you!  Your hands were full with the new baby and the three other young girls in tow, so as you tried to reign the toddler in, she knew she had the upper hand.  I remember those days well!  I quickly whispered for my children to stay together and followed you back to the cry room.  “Let me help you, Momma,” I said. And you gave the baby to me without hesitation.  Thank you!

I miss the softness of a new baby’s head.  I miss the rocking motion and holding that little life in my arms.  Your baby was so precious, but your toddler tugged my heart strings just as much!  Strong and independent, she was not afraid to rebel and state her case.  You were awesome with her.  You firmly and persistently reminded her of the rules and stood your ground (or squatted at face level) until she verbally acknowledged you.  Then, you turned to the three other girls and reminded them not to climb, not to sit on  the sill, and that Jesus was present in the church.  You may have left Mass that day wondering if it was all worth the effort.  It was!

Everyone who witnessed your attendance at Mass, witnessed evangelization in motion.  While most adults make excuses to not attend a Holy Day Mass and most children aren’t even aware they exist, you came. You prayed. You conquered 5 small children by yourself for 95% of the Mass.  And you are living the example for your children to follow, which is even more valuable than all the above.  Yes, I have lots of kids too; but, my children were spaced out until the last six.  When my younger six arrived back-to-back, I already had older ones that could help hold a baby or reign in a toddler.  I rarely had to take them anywhere alone, if I took (take) them at all.

Not only did you take the girls to church, I imagine that most of your errands have all 5 kids in tow as well.  I just want to say, Keep up the good work.  You will be rewarded in ways that you cannot even imagine.  Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help because it may be just as much of a blessing to your helper as it is to you–maybe even more.  Because of my own family and health limitations I don’t get to offer help to young mothers like I want to, my own daughter included.  Just being able to help those last few moments of Mass was an amazing gift to me.  I hope to meet you again soon!  Until then, God’s blessings upon you and your family!

Sincerely,

Jill

Magnetic Months

I am a planner.  Organizing is a hobby for me and gives me energy.  So, with the start of school came the excuse to organize and plan for the school year.  I have younger children that still are trying to understand the days of the weeks and months of the years.  They still confuse “yesterday” with any day before the current one, and “tomorrow” as any day that follows.  It just made sense to give them a visual understanding of when events will take place:  when Lauren will be home, when a birthday will be celebrated, when we go to church, etc.  I pulled out the trustworthy Melissa and Doug magnetic calendar only to discover that many of the numbers were missing and the magnets for activities did not cover our personal needs.

But, have no fear, I have a large magnetic dry erase board that serves as a command and teaching center for our entire home.  I decided that I would post one week at a time and label the month and year at the top.  In addition to our weekly activities, I like to plan the meals out as well.  This makes grocery shopping more efficient and it eliminates the end of day decision making for “What are we going to have for dinner?”  I didn’t want to waste the M&D magnets, so I reused them by putting stickers on top. aweek pic Sophia enjoyed putting small round stickers over the numbers and these became our new “marks” for our reward system.  amark pic We customized the other magnets by printing 1×1 pictures our favorite foods on labels.  I cut the labels to size and the kids covered the magnets.  I also just use blank labels and write in activities that seem to re-occur on a regular basis.

My older children are each responsible for planning and making a meal or snack.  The magnet system has worked well in helping them plan the meals out for the week and takes all the guess work out of meal times.  Another addition I have made is to incorporate the Liturgical Calendar.  I bought these stickers of feast days several years ago.  It took a little bit of work, but I placed the stickers onto magnetic paper and then cut them out.  Someone should really produce these as magnets! It really helps to tie our days together with the days of the Church and is another way to remind us why we are really here and where our journey is headed. afeast day pic Learning about the saints encourages us in our own journey and continually reminds us that God is an awesome God!

One last suggestion is to buy the magnetic paper and print directly to the magnetic paper.  I used labels and the wooden magnets from Melissa and Doug only because I already had them on hand.  Although, the thicker wooden magnets are easier to grip; the magnetic paper would eliminate several steps and is relatively inexpensive.

Happy organizing!

Movie Review

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Oops!  I totally missed July’s book review and now we are two weeks into August.  Sorry.  I attended the IHM Conference (Immaculate Heart of Mary) in July and had a very difficult time choosing which Catholic movies to pick within my $100 budget.  With the assistance of the owner of the bookstore, I was able to pick 5 movies and have watched nearly all of them already.  Instead of a book review for July/August, I will give you my very humble opinion on the flicks that I have enjoyed thus far.

The Footprints of God Series by Dr. Stephen Ray (Ignatius Press)

This is a collection of 6 separate movies including: Abraham, Moses, David/Solomon, Mary, Jesus and Peter.  Each comes with a study guide making it a great Bible study or apologetics tool as well as being entertaining.  Dr. Ray (Patrick always calls him George because he looks like the Seinfeld character George–no offense, Dr. Ray) walks us through the Bible on location in the Holy Land.  It is really an incredible experience for those of us who cannot travel to the Holy Land, but it also makes the Bible come to life as we see the places where these events took place.  It is a great way to teach Salvation History to your children or just expand your own understanding of the these historical people and their stories.

Solanus Casey: Priest, Porter, Prophet  (Ignatius Press)

This was a personal pick for me.  My father was a novice at the monastery in Detroit where Fr. Solanus lived at the time (1950’s).  My grandfather, believing that Fr. Solanus was a saint, instructed my father to save a lock of hair.  You see, my father was assigned to the barber shop during his novitiate.  My father did as he was told and I remember that lock of hair sitting on his dresser for all of my childhood and hearing the story of Fr. Solanus.  My father sent the hair with documentation of how it was obtained to Rome.  Fr. Solanus is currently referred to as Venerable Solanus Casey as we await one more miracle and pray for his canonization.  This documentary includes actual photographs and video footage of Venerable Casey.  It is always good to read and learn about the saints and other holy people who serve as role models for our own lives, but this was especially meaningful knowing that he lived in America in recent time.

Please join me in praying for the beatification of Venerable Solanus Casey

Please join me in praying for the beatification of Venerable Solanus Casey

 

St. Guiseppe Moscati: Doctor for the Poor (Ignatius Press)

Very entertaining and inspiring, this movie chronicles the career of Dr. Moscati as he lived and practiced in Italy.  Some theatrical additions were added to the story for entertainment purposes, but the essence of his story remains true to life.  A small booklet is included with the film that discloses the added literary features.  This a movie vs. documentary which will grab your attention and hold it throughout the film.  The original format is in Italian, so you have the choice of subtitles or an English version.  We found the English version to be entertaining all on its own as the lips and words don’t quite match up.  I was so inspired by St. Moscati’s story that I mailed the movie to my godson who is a doctor in Nebraska.

 

Padre Pio: Between Heaven and Earth (Ignatius Press)

Also a movie version vs. documentary, this film kept my attention for the duration.  It also captured the attention of my teens and ten-year old son who were in the room with me.  It is a two-part film and I had to wait to watch part two until the other three were available to watch it with me!  Like Venerable Solanus, Padre Pio was also a Capuchin monk living at the same time but at a monastery in Italy.  This movie was originally filmed in Italian as well.  The English translation is off in some places as well as the pronunciation.  I found the subtitles to be more accurate, but they did not match the spoken words.  This could prove to be a distraction, but not so great as to not learn and benefit from viewing the movie.

 

Ocean of Mercy

I have this one out on loan, so I am not certain of its publisher.  Is that what you call it for movies?  Anyway, this is my absolute favorite, all time Catholic movie and I learn something new each time I view it.  Ocean of Mercy was filmed while Pope John Paul II was the current Pope and, obviously, still living.  Since then, he has become St. Pope John Paul II and that makes this film that much more amazing when you view it.  It is a three-for-one punch as it covers the lives of three saints:  St. Faustina, St. Maximillian Kolbe, and St. Pope John Paul II.  Their lives overlapped physically and spiritually during the 20th century just prior to and during the Second World War.  You will be inspired by the heroic acts and divine intervention in these Saints lives during an incredibly dark time in human history.  If you only watch one movie, it should be this one.  You will not walk away untouched.

 

I’ll keep you posted on more great movies!  Remember, my friends, family and fellow CATH members all have access to my movies and are welcome to borrow them at any time.  These are wonderful entertainment pieces, but they also speak to our hearts and souls calling us to our higher purpose.  And don’t forget the popcorn!

Pray Always

“Pray without ceasing.” 1Thes 5:17

Our home altar

Our home altar

It was put on my heart to share with you how our family incorporates prayer into our daily life. Words cannot express how inadequate I feel to be writing on this topic. I just googled the verse above in order to know its source. I did read all of 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, however and was struck by how applicable it is to my life, our lives, today. So, grab your Bible, google the verse or search it on the Bible app on your smart phone; but, definitely read the entire verse.

I have the greatest ambitions for incorporating prayer into my daily life and into our school days. I have printed morning prayers and put them on the front of binders. I have set alarms on my phone with bells chiming to call us to prayer at noon and 3pm. I have made resolution after resolution that we would say prayers as a family every night before putting kids in bed. I have even planned on reading a chapter of the Bible with my husband every evening, envisioning deep spiritual discussions and renewed hope. Did these plans work? Sometimes. And often, when I am successful I succumb to spiritual pride. “Look how well I did,” I would tell myself. When I fail, which is often, I berate myself for how much self control I lack, how lowly my spiritual life is, or what a weakling I truly am. I compare myself to other families that—in my mind–manage to attend daily Mass, pray the rosary in the car to and from Mass, pray the Angelus three times a day, and then say another family Rosary before bedtime.

The truth of the matter is that I have been approaching prayer all wrong. It is not an item on my “to do” list, something simply to complete and check off. Prayer should be a continuous process, like breathing. It is conversing with God! Imagine this. You call your husband (or other significant person in your life) during the day to check in on how their day is going. As he shares his story with you, you only half-way pay attention and keep thinking that you just need to get through this phone conversation so that you can get back to your life’s tasks. You finish the conversation, tell him “I love you. Bye.” And then say to yourself, “What a good person I am for checking in with him today. Gosh, we have such a great relationship.” It doesn’t really jive, does it? So, I have to work on this. I need to approach my conversation with God with my full heart and mind in it. When my bells chime, I need to think of it as God calling me—that’s His special ring tone. I should answer with all the excitement and joy that I would if it were my husband, my best friend, or even the Pope on the other end. And then I need to listen. He speaks so softly that I have to listen carefully. I should also remember what a great listener and counselor He is and share my heart with Him. He is never in a rush or distracted so I can just go on-and-on –and-on until my heart’s content sharing my woes, joys, and frustrations.

My pastor recommended a book during a homily a while back. It is called Practicing the Presence of God  by Br. Lawrence. I believe it is available as a free e-book on Amazon. It is a simple read where Br. Lawrence is telling us how to be present to God in every moment of our lives. This is truly praying without ceasing. It has been a great resource and encouragement for me. Along these same lines, I have found it extremely helpful to have images and statues throughout my home. They serve as constant reminders of God’s presence in my life. I know that many Protestants think that we worship these statues, but it is truly a complete misunderstanding. Just like I have family photos hanging in every room of my home, or placed on a shelf; I have images of Jesus and His earthly family (Mary, Joseph and the Saints) throughout my home as well. A few years ago, I even made a home altar. I have a basket of prayer cards, some statues, and other sacramentals placed on it. It serves as a focal point for family prayer. It is both a logical and useful place to store all of those prayer cards that we don’t want to stuff in drawer or throw in the trash. In addition, it is my opinion that every Catholic family should have a crucifix in every. room. of their home. Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection is central to our faith. When we fix our eyes upon the cross and see Christ in His most vulnerable state, we are reminded of our own weakness. We are reminded of our own sinfulness that caused His suffering. We are reminded that we are not alone in our suffering, our persecution, or in undergoing any trials of injustice or affliction. We are reminded to forgive the sinners at our sides. We are reminded that death has no hold on us and that we were made for Heaven. The cross without Christ is still a reminder, but the crucifix tells us the whole story.

My cross above a pew from the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (cherished gift from my parents)

My cross above a pew from the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (cherished gift from my parents)

To be successful in practicing the presence of God, we must desire to do so, incorporate ways to remind us and call us back to God, and never grow weary of starting anew when we fail. Soldier on, my brothers and sisters! Pray without ceasing, or at least fail to cease trying. Come along with me on this journey. We will stumble along and find our way together as we continue to cry out to our Lord and Savior. I will continue to lift you in prayer. I beg your prayers for my family and myself.