Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Grateful Dreamer

As I mentioned when I finally wrote about New Year's Resolutions, I generally have a problem with overly optimistic expectations. I think big. I dream bigger. And some part of me actually thinks I should be able to do it all. I will blame that on the feminist girl power culture and American individualism. Ugh.

Then there is the parable of the talents. If you are given a gift, you have a responsibility to use it for God's glory. Nobody will dispute that I am a natural leader and an organizer. I thrive when I am organizing events and leading teams of incredible people. My energy level is fed by such work. Just a few of the many things I would love to lead:
  • Start a dinner club (Rachel is to blame)
  • Start a mom's book club (like this)
  • Lead another Catholic homeschool conference (last year's wore me out)
  • Organize a Catholic homeschoolers podcast (not practical)
  • Organize a seminar for Catholic homeschoolers in Spanish (in the works)
  • Contribute to a blog about Catholic homeschool conferences
  • Compile a book of essays about Catholic homeschooling
  • Get involved in pro-life work again
  • Begin a Catholic homeschool co-op
Nevertheless, I want to change the world. One moment at a time.

So, when I created my super list of wonderful ideas, to give myself some positive goals for the year, I was optimistic that I could discern what things to tackle first and get started. I began with prayer and started planning (by purchasing Kelly's book!). Then, my boys got the flu, all three of them, and I sat on the couch for a whole week, with one of them (or two) feverish and draped across me. all. day. long. I could not make progress towards very many of my goals at all. Sad mama.

But as I sat still (so, so hard for me!), and felt more and more depressed while we canceled outings and trips to stay home and get well, I found myself pondering how I can dream big and still be content with my blessed life. The past several years my heart has been seeking gratefulness. Thanks to Ann Voskamp, who first gave me a concrete way to count my blessings, through the grace of God, I have been able to embrace each season and live more for the moment than before.

Sally Clarkson's new book Own Your Life is now challenging me to not only be content with now but to move forward with purpose in pursuit of God's calling on my life. To many of you this will certainly be obvious, but to me amidst the tissues and the Tylenol, stuck at home far away from home, this soul progression finally makes sense...

One can only accomplish tomorrow's dreams when she is recognizing the dreams God is making a reality today.

I am slowly learning to be a more grateful dreamer. Have you tried counting gifts? What are your dreams?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Normal, Average, Regular Homeschoolers?


A "normal" homeschooling morning
 Stories about homeschooled kids doing incredible things bother me. I couldn't figure out why, or rather didn't put any mental effort into figuring out why, until Monday when a mama I admire and respect, Mrs. Elizabeth Foss, shared that her son made Forbes' 30 Under 30 In Media list. Just like many of her other FB followers, I am so happy for her and her family, but (apparently just like her) I was bothered by some of the comments about how homeschooling was a big reason he earned such an accomplishment.

First of all, I know that, yes, homeschooling was a big part of why he was named, because it is a big part of who he is. But, could he have won without homeschooling? Absolutely. There were 29 others on that list, and probability implies that they weren't all homeschooled. As Elizabeth says, "It's taking every opportunity, every learning experience, every chance and working his tail off to make something of it. That's Michael. That's quality." Her entire post notes that there is much more to such great accomplishments than simply being homeschooled or not.

Honestly, not being his mother, none of that is what bothered me. Here was my thought process this week, more or less:

As a homeschooling mom, there is more of a likelihood that my children will be capable of doing something extraordinary. That's what everyone says, right? Homeschooling gives kids more opportunities to follow their passions and develop their God-given talents. Is there a statistic somewhere about the higher percentage of homeschoolers than traditional schoolers that become Rhodes Scholars or win national or international awards? Probably.

An extraordinary homeschooling afternoon at Frontier Museum
We know that homeschoolers score 15-30% higher on standardized tests than public school students and show a higher college retention and graduation rate than the general public. Homeschoolers are known for starting charities and launching incredible service projects. They excel at national competitions such as the 2014 National Moot Court Competition where 11 of the top 16 competitors where homeschoolers. For years, homeschool students have been winning all sorts of awards, spelling bees, and contests.

But, if there is a greater probability for amazingness in homeschooled kids, if they don't end up impacting the world in some amazing (and public) way, did I do it wrong? Did I mess up? Am I providing them with enough opportunities to find their awesomeness? We hardly do any fine arts anymore. What if that's one of their things, and I miss it? How does one identify his/her future wonderful? And if they don't, and they turn out normal and average and regular, is that good enough?
Wow. This is where God stopped my mommy brain from imploding with worry. Clearly I was spiraling away from reality. And, this is how He stopped me.

I am normal and average and regular. But I'm not. In God's eyes, no one is average; we are all special. I have not (yet) done anything to attract national or international attention. But, of course, I wasn't homeschooled, and that's not a requirement anyway. Plenty of traditional schooled kids do amazing things, too. Do I want my kids to turn out like me (normal, average, regular)? Sort of, but better? Overall, though, with an amazing God, yes, I am good enough, and if they turn out at least as good as me, I'll be proud. Wait. If they turn out nothing like me, I'll probably be proud, too. As long as they don't make a total mess of their lives!

An average, extra-special homeschooling field trip to a farm
So, here is what I'm thinking on Friday: My children are who God made them to be. It is not entirely up to me (or homeschooling) to figure out what will make them live impressive lives. In fact, most saints were not well-known, so measuring success based on a huge, noteworthy accomplishment is pure rubbish. Recognizing such accomplishments is not rubbish, though, so congratulations Mike Foss! Nevertheless, I think it is beautiful when children excel, and I want to find more ways to help my children excel. That is going on my list for 2015!

Am I the only mom with these types of crazy-worry thoughts? Please tell me no! And, how have you led your children to find their passions and develop their talents?

P.S. Thank you to Elizabeth Foss for sharing her proud mama moment and inspiring me to think enough to let God remind me how awesome my children are and stop worrying about how awesome they could be!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Orbis non Sufficit

I love making lists, so one would think that New Year's Resolutions would be fun for me. And they used to be. B.C. (before children).
I think my entire journey into motherhood has been a battle of expectations. There is nothing that triggers my dissatisfaction quite like defeated expectations, and I found myself frozen like a deer in headlights again this year when it came to resolutions. Somehow, while my husband was in law school, and we had two small children, I managed to create and hold on to realistic expectations in order to survive. But now, I want so much more. Sigh.
Knowing I could announce to the world or even compose in my head a lovely list of resolutions that would be dashed by Candlemas (or let's face it, by Epiphany), did not sound appealing. Why bother? As Mark Twain said...
Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual. Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath. To-day, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient short comings considerably shorter than ever. We shall also reflect pleasantly upon how we did the same old thing last year about this time.
How does one avoid this quandary? Resolutions are good things. Our call to holiness demands that we constantly seek growth. I definitely prefer Chesterton on this topic...
The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.
So, how have I resolved this dilemma? (pun intended) First of all, no resolution is a good resolution unless the change we want is also what God wants. I realize that I must focus my thoughts more constantly on God. That is my first resolution, and I will remind myself to let go of whatever is keeping me from loving God and those around me. I will refuse to cling to unrealistic expectations.
One way I hope to do that, thanks to an excellent Fr. Barron video, which I discovered fortuitously on an old post of Lauren's, is take as my motto for the year:
Orbis non Sufficit
This is my "word" for the year if you want to call it that. "The world is not enough." I think this will be a wonderful way to remind myself daily that the things of Heaven are so much more important than any expectation I might have for myself or others.
My new motto also goes along nicely with the other part of my solution: I am in the process of making a list of every little thing I would like to accomplish this year, knowing full well I will not be able to do it all. This will be a new way of coping with my fixation on expectations. Instead of setting my expectations low in order to survive, I am envisioning the ideal and planning to prayerfully consider my daily decisions on a daily basis. Plus, since the motto came from James Bond, I am excited about the inspiration of a superhero! (Did you know the Bond family was probably Catholic?)
Thanks to Mystie's reminder that a brain dump is therapeutic, I feel so good about this year's resolution list, even as it approaches three pages. You see, none of us know how much time we have left in this world, but if I can visualize the end, perhaps I can cooperate with the growth that God wants for me and avoid making myself into the deity. That's what we do, you know, when we try to be perfect without consulting the Lord. It becomes all about my health, my virtue, my perfection, not God's.

EDITED TO ADD: Let me be clear. I have absolutely no intention of completing everything on my huge list of personal goals. In fact, I do not even believe I will get close to half of them crossed off, but a dear friend just sent me Brandy's Five Steps to Making New Year's Resolutions, to which I want to shout "Yes! This!" This year I am giving myself permission to dream and attempting to learn to be gentle with myself while still challenging myself to great heights. Perhaps I can get out of last year's rut of: since I simply cannot accomplish everything I want to accomplish today, I will sit here and waste time doing not much of anything.
I am curious. Have you made New Year's Resolutions? Are they realistic? Do you think my experiment will work? I will try to let you know at the end of the year. (Oh, and is anybody interested in seeing my insane list?)
Bless Your Mother's Heart!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Birthday Wish

I do not remember if one is supposed to share their birthday wish or not, but I am going to do it anyway. Today I turned 38. It is a little close to 40 for my comfort. In fact, I can barely believe I am this far into my life. It seems only yesterday that I was holding my little newborn girl, adoring the rare moments she was peaceful. That little baby is 12. Time flies when you're having fun.

It hasn't all been fun and games, of course. I battle with a mighty temper, so there have been plenty of ugly days. Since the birth of my little girl, we have moved across the country three times, four if you count our current little expedition. I have delivered three amazing sons and suffered three early miscarriages.

But, as I gazed at the shining faces gathered around our breakfast nook table tonight, when they were finished singing Happy Birthday and I studied the one white candle in the middle of the frosted brownies I had baked (from a mix, don't judge) for my "cake," I had one wish:

Lord, give me more of this.

I want more of the laughing and singing. I want more of the shining eyes and the giggles. I want more of us together as a family at the dinner table. I want to enjoy the deep questions they ask. I want to savor the demands for hugs. I want to hear them beg, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy over and over. I want snuggles and stories and schooltime. And I want my husband to keep looking into my eyes, to keep repeating I love you, to keep pulling me close at random times. Please, God, give me many, many more years of this.

My parents call me every year and sing Happy Birthday, no matter where I am and no matter where they are. They have only missed one year to my recollection, and it was because my Dad had open heart surgery that day (excuses, excuses!). I asked them tonight after they were done singing if they would keep on singing until I was 60. Dad answered, if we're still around! It feels a little silly to be 38 and have my parents singing to me over the phone, but you know what? If they didn't sing, I would miss it. A lot. I look forward to that call, and I want more of those calls, many more.

This life that I have is so richly blessed. I find these days that it is easier to think gratitude than grumbling, and that is my prayer for all of you. I pray that you are able to slow down long enough to look around you and revel in the gift of your unique mother's life.

Bless Your Heart!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Stillness and Joy

It has been a wild and crazy fall, my friends! My husband is taking some coursework for a few months at the University of Virginia, so we have rented a house and are here as a family for a bit. What a tremendous blessing it has been to cancel all of our obligations for a few months, load up the van with clothes and books, and drive halfway across the country for a new adventure! If we were not homeschooling, if I was not a stay-at-home mom, this would not be possible. But, it is!

And, joy! Joy is permeating everything, which is exactly as it should be during Advent, right? Actually, that's not entirely true. I am seeped in joy, a deep settled peace that isn't really wavering with the tween drama, toddler meltdowns, and brotherly battles that have accompanied me these past few months. So, I wonder if perhaps I am the only person in my family who feels this deep down wonder at it all. Truly, it is a gift.

You see, I do not have all of my stuff. I do not know a single soul IRL here in Charlottesville, and I have absolutely no obligations other than to love these people, these precious, perfect people that God has given me! I cook. I clean. I shop. I teach. I bathe. I read. I change. I pray. It is remarkable how every moment has felt like a gift, even on our challenging road trip, which I had to make on my own after dh had already arrived in VA.

There is a lot of talk on these interwebs the past few weeks about finding inner peace and joy and about what it is all supposed to look like on the outside, but I am finally discovering that Advent has nothing to do with what is on the outside. Duh! We do not have our gorgeous nativity set. We do not have our Christmas tree or ornaments. We do have each other. So, I am forced to make the most out of the traditions I was able to bring, and they are not really that important. Being together. Being truly present in the moment to one another is.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by what you have not done (yet) this season, please stop and breathe. Go read the wise, soothing counsel of Elizabeth Foss (she is offering an incredibly inspiring Advent workshop for free titled Comfort & Joy; it is not too late to hop on over and exhale with her) or the poetic, faith-filled words of Ann Voskamp and remember again what this waiting is all about. Focus inward on yourself and the people around you. Just do one thing each day to embrace Advent with your children. Let go of your dreams of doing it all: Advent wreath with prayer and signing, Jesse tree with homemade ornaments, picture books wrapped for each day, etc... and just let it happen.

We are lighting our Advent wreath at dinner but not saying any special prayers. We are reading Ann's gorgeous new book but not making the ornaments. We are reading our picture books, unwrapped, sometimes a few at a time, as we miss days. And Christmas is STILL coming! Jesus is waiting for us to be still with Him, over the kitchen sink as we do dishes, on the floor as we tie a shoe, in bed as we snuggle with our tired, worn-out husbands.

My prayer for each of you is that you can find the stillness and the joy that comes from embracing God's will each moment, even if that moment is not at all how you planned or pictured it to be. Each of you remains in my prayers during this Holy season, and I hope to write more as the days and weeks pass.

Bless Your Heart!


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