Fighting the Good Fight

My path remains firm as I travel an unknown road. I wake every morning and give my day, my life, my will to God. Moments later, I grab some of it back—not wishing to fully release control. It’s a false sense of control, but a comfortable myth that I’ve lived for 45 years. The anxiety sets in, the stress increases and I pray, begging God for grace and direction. He patiently leads me, gently reproaches me. I fall asleep and wake up, offering my day, my will. I try harder each day to not seize it back like a toddler who won’t part with a security blanket. I try praying a few Hail Mary’s, an occasional Rosary, reflecting on the Divine Office; but, the struggle continues and the anxiety is ever waiting for a weak moment to sneak in and steal my peace. It sounds like a hopeless battle, but I know the battle has already been won. My peace will not be taken. My hope is not defeated, because my hope is not found in my success or failure, but in my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I know there has to be a better path, a clearer route.

This is the daily struggle I was facing this week as I turned 45 and reflected on the course of my life. I was in an irritable mood when my husband and I went out to dinner. I wasn’t totally unpleasant. I just felt unsettled interiorly and that made me short and easily frustrated. Unable to verbalize my feelings, we headed out to the movies. Hopefully, I would unwind and enjoy this time with my husband. We went to see “War Room” as it had been recommended by several friends and, more recently, my mom and sister. It had a profound impact on me. It wasn’t an epiphany, but more of a “Duh! I get it now” moment. I had been praying regularly throughout the day. I had been intentionally giving each day to God. What I wasn’t doing was strategizing for the battle I face every day.

The idea of “putting on my armor” and letting God fight for me was a piece I had overlooked. The next morning, I woke up and gave the day to God. I took the kids to Rachael’s for school and posed to them that we take that time during our commute for a daily Rosary. Joshua agreed to lead us and when we were finished I wanted to shout, “Let’s do this!” I felt protected and ready to take on the day. After dropping them off, I headed across town to confession. A local church has confession on Wednesday mornings and it is always a great opportunity for quiet time with The Lord. Then I headed home. Father had given me some great spiritual direction. The grace and absolution from Christ in the Sacrament of Confession left me with a profound sense of Joy. Now, it was time to fortify my own war room. I gathered my spiritual reading, paper, pens, journal and my Bible. I set a few statues up on the window ledge, lit a candle, diffused Frankincense and just basked in the presence of the Lord for twenty minutes.

My

My “war room”

It wasn’t until after four o’clock that the exhaustion hit. Once the kids were picked up from school and I was busy juggling the six of them and my office work, it didn’t take long for my energy to drain. I didn’t even have the energy to make dinner, or clean up afterwards. I felt tired, but there was something more going on. I didn’t have the words to convey it. It was an interior struggle and a panic attack was just over the horizon if I didn’t take action. I slept restlessly and woke feeling like I had been in a battle all night long. My limbs felt filled with cement and my head was foggy. “Why?” I asked myself as I forced my way over to the war room. I said my prayers and gave my day to God. Then I lugged my tired old self to the kitchen for breakfast. I took my coffee out to the garden and began the Divine Office and the fog lifted. The burden became light in an instant. It was then that I realized that the heaviness and the struggle began when my focus shifted away from God. I had declared battle with the demons in my life and then I set down my weapons. Prayer is powerful. Intentional, strategic prayer is unstoppable because it allows God to fight the battle, and we—me—I just have to get out of the way.

I Can’t Homeschool

I know it has been a while since I wrote a post–months actually.  I realize that I said I would do better, but the words just didn’t come.  I just seem to be stuck in a rut in all aspects of my life.  I am transitioning from trusting in myself to turning it over to God and completely trusting in Him.  That is why I’ve come to the conclusion that I cannot homeschool.

Let’s face it.  It is an impossible task.  Even though Allison will graduate at the end of August, I still have six children to educate, a house to run, a husband to love and support, and somewhere in all of that I have to find time to pray and discern God’s will.  Not. Possible.  Not by myself.  I’m not strong enough.

I can’t tell you how much I’ve grappled with the idea of homeschooling.  This past spring left me literally paralyzed at the very thought of all that is required of me.  My health is steadily improving, but at the mere thought of going back to school in a few weeks, my heart begins to palpitate and the feeling of being overwhelmed begins to creep back in.  I attended the Immaculate Heart of Mary Homeschool Conference here in Arlington and felt encouraged and renewed.  The speakers were terrific and said exactly what I needed to hear.  Yet, I still struggle with the whole idea of year 16 of homeschooling. As I browsed the vendors I prayed for God to direct my purchases because I would buy up the whole inventory if I had the opportunity.  In the end, I settled on three books (for myself): one on fighting spiritual battles, one on discerning God’s will, and a third book–which I had previously owned and read, but could not find–called “A Mother’s Rule” by Holly Pierot.  I’m reading them all at the same time, so I can really digest the information and have time to implement simple changes.

Holly’s book is frustrating for me to read.  Not because it is poorly written, but because it is so well written and parallels my journey so closely.  I shake my head and wonder how I could have read this book before, followed the suggestions and still ended up taking the wrong path at some point in time only to end up back at square one.  So, I will learn from my mistakes and start back up the road one step at a time, one day at a time.  I will carefully set prayer times into place throughout my day and start each day asking God what he wants of me and allow Him to lead me.  I will make my to do list based on His priorities and not mine, and will be ready to surrender when the plan changes mid stream.  I will homeschool my children.  God willing, we will persevere through another year and grow closer to God and to each other.  I will thank God for the strength and grace to do His will and praise Him for the gift of being able to teach my children their Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, but most especially for the honor of teaching them about our Savior Jesus Christ, his mother Mary and the beautiful faith entrusted to us in the Catholic Church.  And I will homeschool.  I will do it because He has asked me to do it.  God does not ask and then abandon.  He will provide the grace and strength and I don’t have to be strong enough.  “I can do all things in Christ who gives me strength.” Phillipians 4:13

Have Mercy on Me, O Lord! A Sinner

First, my apologies if anyone has been waiting for a new blog post. My health improved, so I took the kids on a trip for ten days to give my husband a quiet and less stressful home (and time to finish taxes). Well, we came back with strep and exposure to chicken pox. So, two weeks of kids taking turns with strep and ear infections was closely followed by two weeks of all seven kids with severe chicken pox! The good Lord answered my prayers that they all got them at once, but it was a rough two weeks for the lot of us. My kids were amazingly brave troopers through it all and I wonder just how many souls were saved through their heroic suffering without complaint. This week was less eventful, but still involved bed rest for Allison and I as we both recovered from chest colds. Will this school year ever end? In God’s time is the only answer I have for that.

plague2015

Today, I wanted to share some thoughts on mercy.  Mercy is the word that keeps coming to my mind. Pope Francis declared this to be the Holy Year of Mercy beginning December 8, 2015 and ending on the feast of Christ the King in 2016.  Maybe the news of this declaration has something to do with mercy being my latest buzzword.  My initial reaction was that a “Holy Year of Mercy” seemed a wimpy declaration. I thought, what does that mean? Images of Jon Stamos in Full House came to mind. “Have mercy,” he exclaimed each episode in reaction to a beautiful woman or car. But, then I started to really think about what mercy is, the Divine Mercy, the most merciful Lord and savior. And as I looked around my world, I found a desparate lack of mercy. I smiled to myself as I was reminded once again how foolish I am and how great and wise is the Holy Spirit to inspire a Year of Mercy. We can certainly use it!

Don’t believe me? Well, just turn on the news; listen to a talk show; or read comments on any on-line forum, article or social media. There’s a deplorable lack of mercy. Pay attention to your inner voice as you react to any news you hear. Is it like mine with an automatic critical or negative thought? Are you quick to judge, like me? The fact is that we never have all the facts. So, when reacting to the “big story” in the news we are participating in sinful gossip. Commenting on-line is a dangerous tight-rope walk not easily balanced with facts and charitable discussion, but easily igniting anger and bitterness. It makes my heart so heavy. First, to know I am guilty of such criticism and lack of charity—even if I just think it for a brief moment. But, then to see it play out in our world brings a heaviness and sorrow that I can not explain in words. How quickly lives are destroyed and the pain and suffering ripple out!

My duty is to tend to my own soul and those souls of the children still under my care. It is a full-time job and not a fun or glamorous one to be sure. My soul is filthy and dusty and grimy. So, it is much more appealing to me to work on other people’s souls, until I see that it really doesn’t get me (or them) any closer to God. But, extending love and mercy? That draws us to unity with God and one another. Mercy is not the condoning of a sinful act, but the openness to growth and change when one repents of that action. It is the taking in account of our fallen human nature and loving one another despite it. In Fr. Lang’s Dictionary of the Liturgy, he describes God’s mercy as the “willingness of God to draw near to human beings in a loving and saving encounter. . . Those who come to know God and experience Him in this way can live only in a state of being continually converted to Him.” So, basically, if we try to work on our own souls to live out God’s will; then we have no need to worry about the criticism of others and can disregard it as such.  (This is not to say that it will be painless or free of suffering.  One only needs to look to Jesus on the cross to understand that even this perfect and sinless human was a victim of mob mentality).  In living out the Will of God we cannot help but recognize our own faults and weaknesses and understand that we are NOTHING without God. Then, we can more easily understand the weakness and failures of others and extend mercy towards them; mainly in the form of prayer and fasting.  Likewise, it will strengthen us to avoid negative thoughts and actions.  As others feel this mercy, they will naturally turn towards God and begin to improve their soul and lives accordingly. The ripple of love and mercy will be a conduit of evangelization throughout the world. I can’t think of a time where our world has needed it more than the present moment.

"For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world."

“For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

Arrow of God

bow-arrow-13614860

“An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties it means that it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus, and keep aiming.” Unknown

A few weeks ago this quote came across Facebook in the form of a meme. It really jumped out at me, because after hitting the low in December 2013, I had really made strides of improvement. I thought I was over the hump in my health journey and things were going quite well. One year after my retreat, I was back to home schooling, managing the home and venturing out teaching classes on Essential Oils. January 2015 brought new struggles, however–and call it what you will (physical ailment or spiritual warfare)—each time I planned a class, a break, or down time I became ill and my wings were clipped once again. I dug deeper, prayed harder for more strength, more grace to carry my cross; but, I just couldn’t seem to get on top of it all. I thought I needed to do more or be more.

After several weeks of fighting this battle of my perceived weakness, I cried out in prayer, “Lord, make me stronger. Help me to carry this cross and offer up the suffering.” He answered. Not the way I was expecting though. On the way home from church that Sunday my left temple began to throb. By the time I crawled into bed I had a massive migraine that left me weaker than I began the day. As I lay crying and wishing the pain to stop, I quipped to my friend, “I just wish Jesus wouldn’t hug me so tightly. Dude, take the crown off first.” We laughed, but it brought some sense of peace knowing that I could unite my meager sufferings with His.

The migraine would last for five days. It was stressed induced, nothing major, nothing that couldn’t be healed.  But, it set me back. Back in bed. Back to severe adrenal fatigue. Back to no energy and relying on others to care for me. I am that arrow and God was pulling me back, so that He could make me fly even farther than I dreamed. He hasn’t released me yet. I sit taut, focusing, aiming, waiting for His perfect timing to hit the mark. I have had to look inward at my sinfulness and pride. I am learning to hand the control back over to Him and walk in complete faith. I am healing old wounds through humility, compassion, mercy and encouragement.

Humility in the form of panic attacks so crippling I couldn’t leave my room for weeks. I had to reach out—yet again—to ask for help in caring for my children. Yet, once I humbled myself, I was blessed with a pouring out of love and care that words of gratitude cannot suffice. My husband made changes of his own and has stretched and grown. He’s been so supportive and open to change. This is truly what sacramental marriage is all about. What an awesome opportunity God has given me to see how much I am loved.

Compassion. One cannot go through suffering without becoming more attune to others’ sufferings. Each person I contacted had an equal or even greater burden of suffering. By sharing my story, they opened their hearts and released their own burdens to me. We weep together and it makes the journey more bearable.

Merciful. How can I condemn another for sinfulness, when I am a sinner? I understand the addict better, because after five days of continuous and excrutiating pain, I can imagine wanting to do something, anything to make it stop. Without support, I could have fallen into the temptation just as easily. After being judged wrongly, I have mercy for those who cause injury to me. “Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do.” I recognize that others’ reactions are a reflection of their own woundedness and not of me. And I pray for them as well.

Encouragement. Charity. Love. These are the tools to remedy ill and sin. I read recently in some spiritual readings that there are three ways for wisdom to abound: 1. Confess your sins 2. Give thanks and praise to God 3. Use edifying speech. I had to look up the definition of edifying. It means to encourage one another to do good and avoid evil. I think this is pretty sound advice. Simple, yet life changing.

So, as we continue the Lenten journey, I ask you to pray for me and for my family. I encourage you to seek the Sacrament of Confession and pour out your burdens to Christ, the Healer. This is not an easy time, but it is still a time to praise and thank the Lord for His blessings and His lessons. So, I ask you to join me in praising God for all His blessings—wanted and unwanted. And lastly, I will continue to lift you in prayer as well. May His grace and peace be with you every step of life’s journey.

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)

 Ten Things Parents Can Do to Make Mass Successful with Children

Attending Mass with young children can be a challenge for any parent whether it is your first child, or your fifteenth.  Children will be children and to expect otherwise is setting yourself up for disappointment.  For twenty years my husband and I have been attending Mass with young children.  Some days I felt like the ushers should be handing out T-shirts saying, “I survived Mass today” because just making it through the liturgy was an exercise in patience and physical endurance.  Most of the time Mass is enjoyable and the kids are very well behaved.  This didn’t happen by accident.  We made our share of mistakes, but the well-sought advice from parents who had walked in our shoes made the most difference.  Here is a list of the actions that have worked well for us.  With our youngest children ages 3, 4 and 6 I am happy to report that we rarely have to do much past steps  4 or 5 any more.  (Of course, now that I posted this on my blog, I will probably be eating some humble pie really soon.

1.  Set the Stage

As the kids are strapped in their carseats on the way to Mass, my husband shuts off the radio, gets everyone’s attention and  makes the same statement EVERY week.  “Okay, guys.  I expect good kids in church.  Good prayer hands.  Stand on two feet.  Sit quietly.”  Then he goes through each child by name and gets their commitment, “Yes, Dad.”  This is so much of a routine that the kids even know the stoplight and intersection to expect this conversation.  Consistency is key.

  1. Be an Example

If you truly believe in the presence of Christ:  body, soul, blood and divinity, then your actions will speak your beliefs loudly.  Practice reverence and fold your hands like you were taught when making your First Holy Communion.  Those little children will mimmick your actions and melt Jesus’ heart with their innocence and purity.  Our church still rings the bells at the consecration.  Take the time to whisper that Jesus is present on the altar, so the children can become aware of the incredible miracle taking place before them.

3.  The Look

My kids know the “look” and correct themselves fairly quickly.  The older they are, the more effective it is.  I don’t have to explain this.  Everyone knows a parent’s look.

  1. The Snap

For a child that is sitting in front of you or a few people away from you, a snap of your fingers followed by the look is a quick and unobtrusive way to let them know that their behavior needs to change.  Like the “Look”, my kids understand the “snap” and correct fairly quickly.

5.  The Redirect

Sometimes children just need physical redirection.  A gentle squaring of their shoulders with your hands to face them towards the altar, or to keep their foot from kicking the pew or others are some examples of this.

6.  The Squeeze/Pinch

This one may seem controversial to some, but I have used it will all of my kids and found it to be extremely effective.  Beginning at one year old or when your child understands, “no” this tool can begin to be implemented.  The point is not to hurt the child, or to cause physical pain; but to draw attention to correcting undesired behavior.  When a child in his mother or father’s arms wants down, begins to wiggle/wrestle, or makes loud  noises, the parent gently squeezes the child’s thigh and says,”no” with a firm voice.  You have to use your judgement with this as each child is different and we are not trying to stop kids from being kids, but simply train them for proper behavior.  Think Pavlov and don’t expect immediate results.  The results come with consistency.  As the child’s understanding increases, the squeeze becomes more firm.  At ages 6 and above, it is a pinch to get their attention because if you have consistently practiced steps 1-5 for their lifetime, you should not have to get to number 6.

  1. The Take Out

Most people will take screaming kids out of Mass.  Do the Take Out before it reaches that point if you are able.  If the gentle squeeze did not correct the behavior, then warn your child that you will leave Mass.  If you take them out, it should not be a reward.  Sometimes I spank, most of the time I simply restate my expectations for their behavior.  I go to a quiet corner or outside and get at eye level to speak with them.  Before returning to Mass, they verbally commit to improved behavior.  Ie:  We are going to sit still and be quiet, right?  Then, we have found that having the child lay his/her head on your shoulder when returning shows submission and is effective in making them feel loved and secure even after being corrected.  They have lost their privilege to sit on their own and will spend the rest of Mass on a parental lap.  Many naps have followed this scenario.

  1. Cry Room Criteria

If the Take Out did not get the desired results, it is probably time to go to the Cry Room.  Some families start out here, but personally I think that is a mistake.  Our cry room is very small as well, so it is unfair for entire families to take up this vital space.  But, that is just my personal opinion.  In any case, the cry room does not make for a play room!  When we have to go to the cry room, my kids know it won’t be fun.  They are not allowed off my lap and can not take any books or toys with them.  All the crying and fit throwing in the world will not earn them freedom and this is clear from the moment we step foot out of the main church.  In all honesty, my babies are the only ones who have ever cried in there.  Mostly the kids sit in my lap in awe of the kids that are climbing and talking and playing and running wild.  Once their behavior is corrected, the baby is nursed to sleep, or I feel confident enough– I return to our seats with our family.  I have rarely spent the entire Mass in the cry room.  It is an over-crowed place of distraction with lack of reverence and I dread every minute I have to be in there;  but am thankful to have a place to go with an unruly child, a hungry infant, or a stinky diaper that needs immediate attention.  Yes, that is the only changing station in the church facility.

  1. Practice

For children age 4 or older, sometimes we just need a little more practice standing still, sitting still, or folding our hands.  If we had a difficult time doing these things at Mass then we practice once we get home.  A rule of thumb is one minute for each year of age.  So a 5 year old can practice sitting quietly for 5 minutes.  We set a timer while we are making lunch and explain what we are doing and why: always reinforcing the expectation that was announced to begin with.  Consistency.  Reinforcement.  Gentleness.  Patience.  Any of these things done with anger will defeat your original purpose of teaching and training your children to understand and love the beauty of the Mass.  Yes, I have done them in anger.  No, they were not effective.

10.  Daily Mass

This was my biggest boost when we attended regularly.  Once my older kids learned proper behavior, the younger ones followed suit.  Daily Mass first and foremost filled me and my children with graces.  The days we attended daily Mass, things seemed to go more smoothly and set the right tone for the week.  The regular church goers fussed over my kids and lavished them with praise and treats, which made attendance so much more rewarding.  There is also a playground that I used for bribery purposes.  I am not ashamed to admit this.  Finally, the Mass is only 30 minutes long so it is not as demanding as the hour to hour-and-a-half long Sunday Masses.  It is the perfect place to begin to learn the prayers and rhythm of the Mass.  I speak of this in past tense because we haven’t attended since Ben was born due to my health issues.  I look forward to getting this back into our daily routine.  My college age daughter still attends daily Mass and my 16 year old goes whenever she can break away from helping me.  I don’t want to deny that to my other children as I fully understand that the weight of a Mass cannot be measured in earthly terms.

I hope that these are helpful to other parents with young children.  Hang in there as these young years don’t last forever (just twenty some years in our case).  One day they will be out of diapers, out of the nursery, and out of your home; but, God willing, they will never leave the Mass that they were taught to love from their very first moments.

Best Water Bottle Ever

a mug

I purchased this stainless steel water bottle in red from LL Bean as a Christmas gift for myself.  It seemed a little pricey at $25, but I have been looking for a spill proof bottle that can handle essential oils.  Stainless Steel is the better option as glass is breakable.  My husband bought 4 malt cups for just this use, but because they are not insulated they are extremely cold to hold when containing icy beverages, they have tons of condensation issues, and they are easily tipped and spilled by children.  Needless to say, my LL Bean cup is perfect!  It is indeed spill proof, can hold cold or hot beverages and maintain that temperature, fits into our vehicle cup holders, and is easy to handle with one hand.

I am not reaping any rewards from LL Bean, but just sharing this fantastic find.  But that’s not all!  I have a $10 off gift card that expires soon.  First come, first serve.  Enter this code:  2000120911881788393  PIN 8746  This card expires on February 11, 2015 and can only be used one time.  LL Bean offers free shipping on all purchases as well.

I also have a 20% off coupon.  These offers cannot be combined.  So, if you missed out on the above gift card, enter the promo code DJ 7303 8873 91  at checkout and receive 20% off your entire purchase.  There is no expiration on this, but it can also be used only once.

If you use either of the above, please comment to let the readers know that it was taken.  And, let me know how you like your water bottle!  Thanks for reading my blog.  Have a blessed new year!