The Divine Comedy–Taking my family to Church

What is it about going to church, that makes me want my family to look perfect?

Why is it that that is where I notice, the other families who seem so nicely put together.

Unlike mine.

Have you ever seen them? These nice big families where the children are all sitting quietly, the girls all have their hair done, their all dressed nicely . . .and I’m sitting there thinking why can’t I do that?? Now, I’ve gotten to know enough of these moms to tell you that they actually are human too. But I’m still working on not comparing.

And so it was, a few Sundays ago, I was herding all of my dear children into church–late of course–hoping for a nice, quiet, well-behaved, inconspicious entrance when, well . . .the comedy began to unfold.

My husband stepped out for a moment to take a phone call and I couldn’t find a pew empty enough to accommodate all 7 of us so I figured half of us could sit in one pew and half of us could sit in the pew behind. Sounds simple enough. So I march my little ones, myself and my daughter into a pew and motion for my boys to sit in the pew behind me.

But they won’t budge. So I’m gesturing away. And their gesturing back and I’m gesturing bigger and . . .

then the people behind us brought to my attention that the people next to us had actually moved so there was room for all now.

Yes, Mass was going on the whole time.

So now with everyone settled, I’m sitting there, trying to throw myself back into the Mass but feeling like everyone around me must be looking at me, judging me.

You know how when the kids are little and they’re doing things like running out into the aisles and making noise and you feel like you’re running a three-ring circus right in church? That day, I realized there was more than one way to run a circus.

Or how about the time a couple months ago, when we were heading to the early Mass and it was time to go and my 4 year old could’t find his shoes? So I said just get in the car and so we get to church and  I’m looking down at his feet  and his socks don’t even match, now completely exposed since he’s actually wearing no shoes.

Sometimes Mass feels more like a comedy of errors than a prayer.

But the truth is, the only thing that’s hurt in these situations is my pride. And yes, the kids can be quite distracting in Mass but so can my own pride, my fear of being judged and me looking around judging others.

You know, we women love to compare.

But that’s not why we come to Mass. Not to judge, not to be judged. Not to have our ego fed.

We come to be in the presence of the God of the universe and to have our souls fed and our will strengthened to continue to do this crazy parenting thing.

The kids are distracting enough . . .let’s try not to distract ourselves with things we don’t really need to worry about.

Personally, I think God smiles at mismatch socks.

My summer of nothing

I know what you’re thinking…

It’s summer–why haven’t I posted my list of my goals for this summer? I mean, I always a list of goals for every season, right? Lent, Advent, summer, new year’s, starting the school year…

But not this time.

This time, and for this summer, I’m taking a different approach.

Because for the last two summers, I’ve been blind-sided by how busy we were and how fast it all went. At the beginning, I had these visions of slow moving days, time to read, time to play, time to get projects done….

And by the end, I’m left wondering what the heck happened. Those summers are past. Summers are now filled with baseball games, driving kids to retreats, and work crew, and VBS, and other volunteer opportunities, and sports camps and then football practice…

And all sorts of odds and ends in between.

I have a schedule for my kids on their days off that include morning prayers, working out, chores and then spiritual reading later in the day, but these past two summers, we have had very, very few days when anyone could possibly do that.

So it was that this year, I just wasn’t inspired to plan any lofty goals. Even vacation plans or family excursions seemed kind of sparse.

And I felt kind of bad about that. What exactly would my kids remember from this summer? What would they say they did over the summer when they went back to school?

So my first trip in the beginning/middle of June to take my son to Indiana for his retreat, I drop him off and stop in the chapel to pray.  I expressed my concerns to God about the summer.

And I heard: let it be what it is.

Let it be simple. Let it be boring even. Just let it be.

And so just recently, baseball is winding down. I came back from dropping my daughter off in Cincinnati for her mission trip/retreat. And I find myself at home with a day with nothing to do.

I need to do dishes and laundry and but should we go to the zoo, or the park or….

And then I decided we don’t need to go anywhere.

I decided we would just have a lazy day at home. I decided we didn’t need to fill every spare day with activity.  Because we go, and go and go . . .and  just maybe for once even the kids would like to not have to do anything or go anywhere. Maybe not. But either way, I decided, they don’t need to be constantly entertained and fulfilled all summer long. And maybe we needed a few more days to just do chores and play in the yard and do our reading and to just let that be enough for a day.

So, yeh, there are a few plans for the summer. We went camping, we’ll be visiting family in New York and taking a weekend trip to Lake Erie. Maybe we’ll go to the zoo. Nothing amazing.

And you know, I’m kind of happy about that.

I think for once I’ll let it be.

 

 

Saying no to the good

Whenever I look around, there is always more to be done than can possibly be done in the time allotted.

Do I  do dishes, laundry, bills, sort papers, clean floors, exercise . . . .

Well you know I could go on and on.

I’m  not going to sit here and try to tell you how to make an organized schedule–that’s not me and if you have any tips in that direction I’ll take them!

But my point is that we can’t do everything.

So sometimes we have to decide what the best thing is. I remember a priest saying in a talk to women, that just because something is a good thing, doesn’t mean its the right thing for us. Just because something is good to do, it doesn’t mean its best for us.

So the question isn’t, “Is it good?” The question is, “Is it the best?”

For example, last March there was a one day women’s retreat close by and I knew a lot of people who were going. In fact, two of my closest friends were going. Now, wouldn’t I love to go spend a day with my closest friends growing in my faith? Yes, definitely.

But, for a variety of reasons, I’d been away from home a lot and I knew I had a weekend retreat coming in a month. For me to spend a day away from home again? It didn’t seem like the right fit for my family. So I said no. I said no to something that would be fun and faith-filled . . .because it wasn’t the best thing for me and my family.

My friend Nancy is really good at this. Through experience and discernment, she knows what she needs to get done when to make her schedule work for the week. If we’re making plans for a girls get together, she might say, “I can’t do it then. I’ve got to grocery shop during that time.”

I once had  a friend reschedule a lunch with me because after looking at her schedule for that week, she knew she had to use that time to shop for an upcoming kids party.

The discipline and foresight of these women stand out to me because this is where I still need work. A chance to get together with friends? The schedule be darned!

But we all need discernment.

Look, what works for you doesn’t necessarily work for me because of my family life, my upcoming events, my temperament. . .so maybe my friends can say yes to the retreat, but I need to say no to this good thing because in my case, its not the best thing.

How do we discern? Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. Pray about it. Do you have peace thinking about doing it?
  2. Ask your husband. His opinion might put things in perspective.
  3. Ask yourself some basic questions. How will this affect me? How will this affect my family? Will it be any big deal to put off what I was planning on doing with that time? Am I putting an unnecessary burden on someone else to be able to do this?
  4. Consider what part of your desire to do it is because it’d be fun or nice not because it actually makes sense for you  or your family.

Time management is a constant struggle. I’m still learning but through what I’ve learned so far, I know sometimes I have to say no to the good so I can do what’s best.

 

My toenails weren’t even painted

The first thing you need to understand is I have really ugly toenails. Not just in a normal way, but mine are thick and have black spots.

The second thing is toenails were only a small part of my problem. It was Holy Saturday and my family was to be at Mass in a mere seven hours. The clothes weren’t ironed, no food prep for the next day’s meal had begun, I still had a couple items to buy, the baskets had yet to be assembled, and the laundry the packing for our 5 day trip beginning Monday hadn’t even begun.

The third thing is that I was on the way to the hospital. I was on the way to the hospital for the second time in two days, for one of many, many times in the past month. My mom was in the hospital (again) and as I drove there, my head was full of all the things I needed to be doing.  Baking, laundry, getting all those clothes ready and what if I wanted to wear toeless sandals to the Easter vigil? I hadn’t even painted my toenails.

How was I going to get it all done?

Obviously, going to see my mom was the important thing . . .so what about all this other stuff?

Could I help the stress I was feeling given the circumstance? I mean it was logical given how much I had going on to feel that way. Still, I sensed something was a little off with my thought process.

So I asked myself this question:

what would happen if this stuff didn’t get done?

I went through the list in my head, and the answer was . . .

Nothing. Nothing at all.

Does anyone aside of me care if my kids clothes were ironed? What if we wore jeans to church? What if I didn’t make our traditional bunny cupcakes and what if I didn’t get to laundry and we left late in the day on Monday for our trip?

Nothing.

And what if my toenails weren’t painted?

I don’t think anyone else even cared except me. It was an ideal in my head . . .and ideal doesn’t always work. So it was time to change the picture.

After that I was able to take a step back and let go. I would do what I could and the rest I would let go.

After a nice visit with my mom, I went home, took my son to practice, stopped by Dollar General to get pantyhose and little girl bobby socks. I was then able to iron the clothes before throwing dinner on the stove and picking my brother up at the bus station, going back to the hospital for us both to visit mom. I got home just in time to throw my Easter dress on (the kids had miraculously dressed themselves) and get to the Vigil Mass.

And, what a beautiful Mass it was.

After Mass, (at 11 pm) I was assembling the breakfast casserole for the next morning and yelling at my kids to get to bed when my husband said, “it seems like we are always too busy preparing to ever enjoy big events.” How true it was. But this year, I was doing everything that I could . . .but I wasn’t worried about the rest.

And you know, the next day was just as hectic but my mom was discharged and home in time to enjoy Easter dinner with us.

Was Easter ideal? No. Not even close.

But, it was beautiful. It was just right.

And you know, the more of these silly details I let go of, the more it became about what it was supposed to be about and the less about what I wanted everything to look like. Come to think of it, maybe that’s way I enjoyed the Mass so much this year.

Moms, we do, we do and we do. But sometimes we can’t. And if we are driven to do it all when we can, it has to be ok with us when we can’t. I don’t want to spend another holiday or even another birthday party not enjoying it because I’m worried about all the stuff I that I think needs done that wouldn’t actually be the end of the world if it didn’t get done!

That’s my life lesson this Easter.

Now somebody make sure to remind me of it in a few weeks when I’m getting ready for my kids’ birthday parties.

Hello, Lent!

They say not to give up chocolate for Lent. They say it’s a rote sacrifice not a meaningful one.

But in our family, we have a way to give up chocolate and make it meaningful.

You see, it’s about the m&m’s.
IMG_1391 Yep. Because what we do is earn m&m’s for good deeds. Share with your brother, give a compliment, help mom without being asked . . .it goes into the bowl to be enjoyed on Sunday. And then to liven it up even more, each kid has a specific color of m&m. And so, on Sunday the person with the most m&m’s get a milkshake.

That’s how we do Lent.

That’s the ideal anyway.

But that’s not all.

If you’ve read my blog you know, I like to take Lent, Advent, New Year’s, the beginning of summer and anything else I can think of as opportunities for us to set goals to help us grow in holiness. And if you read my blog you know, it doesn’t all get done well or at all. But, as you can see, I keep doing it . . .because I’m hoping that whatever small percentage we actually do accomplish (remember, Advent–35%?) is making a difference, somehow, someway, some small difference.

So as we walk towards holiness this Lent, here’s what we have on the agenda (in pictures):

First we (and by that I mean I), set family Lenten goals centered around prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

IMG_1057

These are posted in the wall. (As you can see, someone was also practicing writing their name on the paper, lol!)

To this end, we have prayer: weekly family Rosary, weekly Adoration (this may only be 5 or 10 minutes since we still have little ones!), do kind deeds to earn m&m’s, do a kind deed for a family member everyday and read scriptures at dinner (notice this is a renewal of a New Year’s resolution).

Fasting: no chocolate

Almsgiving: blessing bags for homeless. I can’t remember exactly where I saw this idea but I’m looking forward to putting these together with the kids this year. These are like gallon sized freezer bags filled with socks and say non-perishable foods and a card saying we are praying for you (no names of course), and maybe a $5 gift card to McDonald’s that you can give to homeless you see on street corners instead of handing them cash! I will post a picture when we put them together . . .hopefully this weekend!

Our other item under Almsgiving is to earn the money for Yesenia’s jar. You’ve heard me mention Yesenia before–our sponsored child from Guatemala through the organization Unbound. She was a present to the kids one Christmas so technically it’s their responsibility to earn the money we give to her every month, but with our busy lives, it doesn’t usually work like that. So during Lent, I fill her jar up with chores that the kids need to do to earn the money we donate to her. It looks like this:

IMG_1394 IMG_1396

 

 

 

But believe it or not, I’m not done. Those are our family goals. I ask the kids to set individual goals as well. This year, I tried something new to help them set their goals. It was this Lent questionnaire:

 

 

IMG_1058

Based on the questions in this questionnaire, I asked them to set four goals (which I discussed with each one individually): how I can help family members get along better, prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

I was very pleased with what they came up with. For example, for prayer, one child decided to focus better, one decided to give a full 15 minutes a day and even my 5 year old decided to say 3 Our Father’s a day.

The fasting didn’t have to be food and they responded by things like doing spiritual reading before any TV time, and giving up complaining.

The almsgiving is tricky because they have no money but they decided to gather food for our homeless program at church and give things away everyday.

And for family relationships, they chose things like don’t retaliate, be kindest to the sibling I struggle with the most, not talking when others are talking, and not taking toys away from others.

And that is a look at our Lent.

Whew! It’s a lot to write about and it’s a lot to commit to, but you know what? We’re all in this year.

How about you?

Setting Goals–Again

Since I like to share with you my goals for Advent, I think it’s only fair, I share with you the results.

Yes, I know it’s February.

At least my Christmas decorations are down!

As foar as reaching our goals this year, I’d give us (me) about a 35%. Yep, I’d say we reached about 35% of our goals.

That’s a failing grade of course, but it is what it is.

  • We did our Advent wreath most of the time–our daily devotional reading maybe half the time.
  • We got nowhere on our spiritual goals.
  • And for the first two weeks of Advent, we neither went to Adoration or said the Rosary.
  • We did pretty well earning our hay for Jesus.

At the end of the day, I definitely spent  a portion of Advent stressed about Christmas cookies and christmas cards and teacher baskets and getting gifts, etc.

I’m not proud of it, but I’m just being honest. I was only on my A game for, well, less than half of Advent.

And forward we march.

Every New Year two of my friends and I spend time in the Adoration chapel, asking God what He wants for us this new year.

This year, He is asking of me some self-discipline.

My theme for the year is: Do!

You know why? Because my goals from last year are almost exactly the same.  Which means I accomplished almost exactly nothing last year.

And then I decided to keep it simple with the kids.

I’m tired of setting my sights so high–and then at the end of every season, looking back with a sigh at how little we did.

Let’s face it: I’m terrible at follow-through.

So our New Year has begun, imperfect but still holding on.

So this year–we’re going try a monthly family Rosary. We’re going to try 5 to 10 minutes of Adoration a week. We’re going to try to read through the New Testament at dinner. And we are going to work on praise–To God and to each other (one little trick we are using for this last goal is on everyone’s birthday go around the dinner table and everyone says something nice about the birthday person).

And the good news is, Lent is right around the corner! Another time to assess–to begin again. The church in her Wisdom!

And so lastly, my quote for the year, from the book, Sacrament of the Present Moment, is

Keep firm, go on, fear nothing.

P.S. Some of my personal goals include, losing weight, establishing a better bedtime routine with kids, blogging more, eating healthier as a family, and read 10 spiritual books!

Feel free to share some of your New Year’s resolutions with me!

Our Big Christmas

I admire people who get Christmas right. And by get Christmas right I mean not feel the need to get their children tons of things and who don’t feel the need to create some dramatic exciting scene of them coming down the stairs to find all of the presents Santa left….instead these family keep the focus where it should be and still enjoy giving and getting a few gifts while not buying into the consumer culture.

We are not those people.img_0573

I’d like to be, but my husband and I can’t get over the nostalgia of Christmas. Blame our parents for fond Christmas memories or blame the movies for presenting such heartwarming scenes of a big Christmas. But whatever it is, we have not yet been able to talk ourselves out of giving our kids those magical Christmas memories of trying to get to sleep so Santa will come and waking up to find eaten cookies and a plethora of presents.

Still despite all that, I long for my children to know and appreciate the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of our savior. I want to get it right but I can’t talk myself into it!

So we try–to show them not just to get but to give. Some of the things we’ve tried over the years:

  • Every year for as long as I can remember, we set up the nativity without Baby Jesus in the manger and they earn a piece of hay to keep Him warm for every good deed they do. They find him warm in his manger on Christmas morning.
  • We have baked extra cookies and  brought them to elderly neighbors who are alone.
  • And then every year for the past few years, we’ve given them the gift of giving. It all started a few years ago when I felt like there might be too many presents. My then 3 year old had been saying she wanted a little sister, so we decided to have them sponsor a child. We wrapped up the picture of a sweet little two year old girl from Honduras and put it under the tree. Since that time they help earn dollars and change to pay our monthly pledge as well as write letters back and forth with her which they absolutely love.
  • The year after that, they earned money and we went to the dollar store and bought toys and socks and took them to the homeless shelter.

This year….
I admit I hung up list for the kids to write down what they want for Christmas well before Thanksgiving and started my shopping by ten too to make sure I get those things that may  become hard to find (thank goodness none of my kids have mentioned hatchimals!!).
But I’m asking them another question too–

How are we going to give this year?

christmaslists

Our Advent

Hows your Advent going?

Here we are in week two and we are doing so-so on our goals to grow in holiness and have our hearts ready for Jesus when Christmas day comes.

I was going to include a picture of our wreath looking all perfect by itself but I decided this was much more realistic!

I was going to include a picture of our wreath looking all perfect by itself but I decided this was much more realistic!

I don’t know why Advent always sneaks up on me! Actually I’m so focused on Thanksgiving–I can only prepare for one thing at a time.

As far as goals go, I’m trying to keep it simple, realistic (as our lifestyle seem to keep getting busier and busier) and not too overwhelming.

Anyway, here’s what we are focusing on as a family:

  • Advent wreath with special prayer and Gospel reflection (from Magnificat companion) everyday at dinner
  • family Rosary once a week
  • family Adoration once a week (which can and probably will be brief)
  • Earn hay through kind deeds to put in the manger so that baby Jesus will be warm when He comes on Christmas day (a little more on this in the next post)
  • And this year, instead of focusing on the virtue we need to work on the most, we are going to try something different: focus on improving our greatest virtue.

This last goal is an experiment based on advice from Eva’s religion teacher who said that if you improve your already strong virtues, your weaker virtues will improve too. And that this is a much less discouraging process than focusing on our weaknesses. I’m much more inclined to have them set a goal to improve on weaknesses–like the story of Saint Therese going out of her way to be nice to the Sister she liked the least–but we will try it this year!
We all took a virtue test to help Eva with a school project in religion, so we all have an idea of what our strongest virtue is. (To take the test, follow this link: https://www.viacharacter.org/www/ ). Then they each set a concrete goal to help them work on that.

I also asked the kids how they were going to focus on giving, not getting this season. I’ll have more on that–and their goals–in my next post.

We are not the best at setting these goals and especially at following through (not for 4 weeks straight anyway) but as always I’m hoping that whatever we actually are able to accomplish has some positive effect on their character and their spiritual life.

Here’s to our imperfect Advent walk!

What does your family do during Advent?

Thanksgiving Project

I’m not a crafty person but thanksgiving-clothyear for as long as I can remember, I have the kids do a thankfulness project before Thanksgiving.
I think it’s because I always feel like we are focused on the wrong things for the holidays (the days before Thanksgiving, all we did was clean!) and because I always feel like my kids are not thankful enough.

I look for any way I can to get  them to reflect on how much we have to be thankful for.
This year’s project, a thankfulness tablecloth was a repeat of one we did several years ago.

 

Here are a few of our other ones:

 

img_1147

img_9970

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

img_3821

img_3846

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favorites that I didn’t find a picture of: we drew the body of a tree  on posterboard and they wrote their thank yous on different colored leaves we glued on the tree and falling to the ground. I also remember doing placemats one year.

I think I’m running out of ideas, but we will keep doing something! My small effort to teach my kids to be thankful!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not complaining

img_0231

For the last few weeks, when people ask me how I am my standard line was “I can’t wait until football is over.”

I blame football for my burn-out. Really.

In my opinion, football is the most intense of youth sports. And with two sons playing, it’s 5 days a week and some Saturdays we can spend 6 to 7 hours at the ball field just to get all the games in. Long days, running back and forth, rushing to get homework, showers, dinner, etc.

My husband works a lot of evenings so I’m doing coordinating, driving, getting kids ready by myself most evenings.

And then there’s the conflicts. Since our kids are in Catholic school but play sports for the city, we don’t know a lot of families . . .so what to do when two (or three) kids need to be somewhere at once? Awkwardly asking for rides from people who barely know us, or trying to figure which practice, which game, which place to go with which kid . . .

Yeh, football season gets long. It got to me. So I started to always say, “I can’t wait until football is over.” And then I realized . .

I sounded like one of those moms.

You know the harried mom. The perpetually stressed mom. The mom you feel sorry for because she’s lost all perspective and everything just seems like a big hassle to her. That mom.

I thought, I must sound like I’m really unhappy with my life.

But I’m not. I’m just busy. And perhaps just looking for a little sympathy.

But that’s not who I want to sound like and it’s definitely not the way I want to be.

Am I busy? Yes.

Stressed-sometimes and burnt out-sometimes.

But being a stay-at-home mom to five beautiful kids is exactly where I want to be. And if the life and activities we choose to follow sometimes leads to stress, burn out and a few dropped balls, well, that’s okay. Or at least it will be once the pieces are picked backed up. We figure it out.

 

So I stopped saying it. Not to be dishonest about how I’m feeling but actually to be more honest. I’m happy with my life.

I’m not too busy to remember that.

So from now on, I’m not complaining.