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Monday, December 21, 2015

A Holy Christmas

On Saturday morning, I was blessed to spend some time with a few fellow moms in prayer. We wanted to take time away from the busy to be with the Lord and reflect on the end of this Advent season. The prayers and reflections I shared can be found at this link if you're interested. The file contains nine pages of loveliness I collected from around the Internet for our morning together. I also read an excerpt from this lovely book.

At the end of our time together, I wanted us to close by sharing a few ways we intend to make our family's Christmas a Holy Christmas. For me, I find that Advent is full of traditions and feast days to focus on the Reason for the Season, but our Christmas traditions sometimes have a more secular feel.

So, I asked the moms to share their ideas to center our celebrations on Christ. We decided that the best way is to sprinkle prayer and the presence of Jesus here and there throughout our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. These were some suggestions:
  • Whether we go to Mass on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, we do not open gifts until we have attended Holy Mass.
  • Christmas Eve we do a candle lit procession to put the baby Jesus(es) in our nativity set(s), singing a hymn. The little ones carry flashlights instead of lit candles, and Dad reads the Bible story.
  • We replace our Advent candles with white candles and put an image of the Christ child in the center of the wreath, lighting those candles throughout the Christmas season (at least until Epiphany or the Baptism of the Lord).
  • We take time to sit before the lit Christmas tree and sing carols that center on Christ.
  • We bake a birthday cake for Jesus and sing to him after our Christmas dinner.
  • We celebrate the wonderful feasts between Christmas and Epiphany: St. Stephen, St. John, Holy Innocents, St. Thomas Beckett, St. Sylvester, and Feast of the Holy Name.
I have found a few more nice ideas to consider, as well:
  • Fast from one meal on Christmas Eve and give the money to the poor.
  • Before opening presents pause to say a brief prayer to thank all of the people who got us gifts and to pray for those who do not have gifts to open on Christmas.
  • Be Christ to others by taking treats to a neighbor or someone in need.
  • Wrap the baby Jesus that goes in the family nativity set, so He is the first gift you open.
  • Invite someone who might be lonely to share your Christmas dinner.
  • Set a place at the Christmas dinner table for Jesus.
  • Watch The Nativity Story movie.
  • Have a birthday party for Jesus, complete with balloons and games.

I am sure there are many other suggestions you could share.
How do you plan to keep your Christmas Day a Holy Day?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Get Behind Me!

So, yesterday at Mass our beloved priest began his homily by mentioning that it's never too late to have a good Advent and encouraged anyone who feels they did not really commit to Advent yet to start today. His words are particularly relevant to our upcoming study of mercy in the Jubilee year, because God's mercy applies to each one of us.

But then, he continued, explaining that there are others who probably had a first week of Advent full of peace and joy and prayer. It is easy in the beginning of most endeavors to have high expectations and to plow through all of our plans eagerly. Unfortunately, he reminded us, this is when the devil jumps in and tries to thwart those plans...eagerly.

Busted! He opened my eyes in an instant that this was happening to me. On the way to Mass, I was pondering how I had the most wonderful prayer experiences and overall pleasant days up until Thursday, but when our daily routine changed for the weekend, my devotions and prayer time evaporated. I had committed to a lot and when things were easy, it was not only do-able but enjoyable and beneficial.

The devil came along, saw his opportunity, and pounced! She didn't get her devotion time in on a busy Friday? Good! I'll make sure she neglects it on Saturday, too! Sure enough, on Sunday morning I felt behind and stressed and sad that I hadn't kept up with my quiet time with Jesus.

Fortunately, our priest's words snapped me out of lamentation and urged me to change my ways and let Christ make all things new that day. I went home and devoted several hours (with plenty of interruptions) to catching up on my devotionals and truly savored the time with Christ, demanding that the devil get behind me and no longer deprive me of prayer.

Today I feel was a success. I didn't have the lengthy prayer time I had daily last week, but I did wake early to ensure I would have adequate time to receive God's grace for the day. And I plan to do that again tomorrow. My heart longs for time with the Lord, and I will fight the evil one who wants to keep me from God.

How did your first week of Advent go? Were you slow to start? Did you hit any opposition yet?


Friday, December 4, 2015

Celebrating the Jubilee Year of Mercy in My Home



I have been working all week to prepare for next Tuesday, December 8, the beginning of Pope Francis' Jubilee Year of Mercy! While my devotion to Divine Mercy is relatively new, I definitely feel drawn to reflect on God's mercy for us, his pitiful children, and am excited to join my children in reflecting on this theme in the coming year.

Below are my rough notes on what we plan to do each month. This will be our catechesis for the spring semester in our homeschool (currently teaching grades 7, 5, & K). You will notice the second half of the year is not yet planned. That's called margin! I deliberately did not choose themes or activities yet, so I can see how the year goes and complete those plans as we go (just like I only plan one term of homeschool lessons at a time!). Prices are next to items I don't already personally own and need to purchase, although most of the resources are free!  Disclaimer: Amazon links are my affiliate links.

The information below is also available as a Google doc here if you want to print it and scribble all over it yourself. I hope you can find simple ways to make this year special for your family. God's mercy is deeper and more complex than we could ever imagine, and I pray that each one of us grows in understanding and holiness through the Year of Mercy!

Jesus, I Trust in You!

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Official Website

Monthly Goals


Mom’s Goals


December – (ADVENT) Learn about Year of Mercy


January – God’s Mercy in Scripture


February – (LENT) – Spiritual Works of Mercy

March – (LENT) – Corporal Works of Mercy

April – Divine Mercy, St. Faustina, & Other Saints of Mercy


May – Mary, Mother of Mercy


June – Confession: the Sacrament of Mercy



July?

August?

September?

Our Lady of Mercy (September 24)

October?

Saint Faustina (October 5)

November?


Other Ideas

Print this packet to use throughout the year

Keep checking this growing list of resources

Use this YouTube playlist for kids about mercy

Archdiocese of Philadelphia Year of Mercy Booklist to Complement Reflection Themes

M = Mary, Mystery, Mission
E = Eucharist, Evangelization, Encounter
R = Reconciliation, Rosary, Renewal
C = Consecration, Community, Conversion
Y = Your Family, Your Parish, Your YES!


Other Books to Consider Purchasing for Me/Big Kids/Moms' Group Study:

YES!



MAYBE



Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Lay It All as an Offering

A wise and holy priest once counseled me on a practical way to shed worries and burdens, which continues to renew me regularly nearly 20 years later. He invited me to enter into prayer and imagine myself in our church before the altar. Take a moment and picture your own church when it is empty and quiet. Then, I picture in my mind some tangible item that could represent each worry or burden and move each item from within me onto the altar, one by one until they are no longer my cares but offerings to God.

My children and husband are often up there, sometimes in duplicate but with slight variations representing specific concerns. I generally stack up some homeschool books, including my planning binder, and something related to finances. Friends or colleagues of mine stand next to laundry baskets and a mop. Those dirty dishes are near terrorists and some extended family members along with my NFP charts and that neglected treadmill. It's always quite an eclectic mix!

I still return to this practice, quite regularly, and I invite you to try this prayer exercise if you are the worrying type or feel particularly burdened these days. The most remarkable element of these times with God, for me, is when I finish my prayer and open my eyes, leaving those items up there on the altar. It is oddly therapeutic to spiritually walk away from them, knowing they are in God's hands, for now. In fact, throughout the following days and weeks, a mental picture of those items lined up next to each other often comes back to me whenever I am tempted to despair in worry and stress.

What items would you line up on the altar to unburden yourself today?


Monday, November 30, 2015

An Abundance of Advent Assistance!

For all the evil and temptations out there, I have to admit that I love the internet. It's existence is making motherhood and homeschooling so much easier for me since, like many moms these days, I'm not around the block from my family the way things used to be.

So many beautiful talents are on display, and I'm grateful for each one who shares a little of their light, allowing Christ's mercy and God's goodness to shine. If you are one of those who share online, whether by blogging, through social media, or in some other way, thank you for the way you share of yourself and allow the rest of us to benefit from your gifts.

Proof of this is in the multitude of Advent help we can access from devoted men and women who are walking the journey to Christmas with us. There are definitely ideas for family and for children, but I specifically want to point out the resources that I feel can benefit moms at home. In fact, this is the first Advent I really feel like I have a plan for ME to grow these days leading up to the celebration of Jesus' birthday.

Admittedly, my ambitions are high, and you will see from my list below that I do have too many things. But I am looking at these all as options. Some days I will get to prayerfully reflect on all of them. Many days I will only enjoy one or two, and inevitably, there will be days (plural!) that the shortest Advent email I receive will be the only thing I read.

If you have not yet found something to inspire you in this season of preparation, try one (yes, just one) of the following (free unless noted):
Comfort & Joy: Living the Liturgy During the Advent Season ebook by Elizabeth & Kristin Foss ($9)
Waiting in the Word: A Mother's Advent Journey ebook by Laura, Nancy, & my friend Nell ($8)
The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas ebook by Ann Voskamp ($6.30)
Danielle Bean's Advent Daily Prayer emails
Dynamic Catholic Best Advent Ever email videos
Bishop Barron's Daily Advent Reflections emails
Advent Daily Dose emails by my friend Katie
Advent Boot Camp post by Meg

And then, not Advent specific, but I'm also enjoying:
Pray More Novenas email subscription
Divine Mercy Daily email subscription from Lighthouse Media
Morning Offering email from The Catholic Company

What are your favorite ebooks or email subscriptions to help you with daily prayer, whether they're Advent-specific or not?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

It's Never Too Late to Cross It Off Your List

Your lists are made, at least in your head, if not on paper. (Mine are half in my head and half on paper, so I don't have to face how long and unrealistic they are!) You have Advent plans for your family, your homeschool, and (hopefully) yourself. You have feast day plans and social plans and family gathering plans. You definitely have Christmas plans and even New Year's plans are starting to form. Most of us are doing too much, or trying to do too much.

It's the first Sunday of Advent, but I want to tell you that it's never too late to cross something off of that list! It's never too late to cut back, do less, simplify. Because what happens when we do less is that we pay more attention to the things that we do and, more importantly, the people that we do them with. We aren't halfway through one thing and already thinking about the next.

So just because you did it today or planned it for tomorrow doesn't mean your list can't change. In fact, I urge you to take your fancy lists and cross off at least a quarter of the things on it. I challenge those of you with longer lists to cross off at least half of those things. Your family will still feel loved. You will not be less of a mom than that other mommy or less of a Catholic or less of a homeschooler. As you set things aside, you will encounter love and peace like never before.

I'm learning this. Little by little by little. Rest and margin are key to peace. And a mama without peace does not create a happy home.

Please tell me in the comments what one thing you are crossing off right now!

Monday, July 27, 2015

And God said, “Don’t worry. I’ve got this.”

Con mi familia en Cholula, Puebla

I heard from a few of you that just reading my previous post made you tired. No kidding! Me too! Writing all of that out was truly an exercise in humility, wondering how in the world it is I do all of those things and reflecting on which of those things, if any, I’m not truly called to be doing.

As I gear up for our school year, typing courses of study and lesson plans, organizing books and materials, my brain is on overload, and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. Understatement. We start in a week, and I’m not done. And I’ve committed to attending a moms’ retreat this week, every morning! The devil is definitely trying to get me to cancel that encounter with Christ, but I keep reminding myself to punch him in the face and not listen (thanks for the awesome image, Kelly).

Anyway, it’s abundantly clear that I can’t do it all. I want more than anything for these precious children to be the center of everything I do, and yet, most of my volunteer service really pulls my focus away from them. I love doing it, but I definitely feel guilty that they sometimes get slighted by meetings and emails and events. On the other hand, by my actions, they learn how important it is to serve others and to serve with a generous heart.

So what to do? God has given me two answers this summer.

One came through the challenging words of an honest friend at one of these meetings who reminded me that if I need help, I should ask for it. Therefore, I will repeat to myself over and over as I work on all of my volunteer activities: delegate, delegate, delegate. Let it go! Teach someone else to do it!

Last summer, when I was overwhelmed, it was because my business relied only on me. I couldn’t delegate. I could only do as much as I could do. The rest wasn’t going to get done, and it wasn’t enough to be profitable. So, I closed the business. But, running a non-profit is different! I have wonderful volunteers to whom I can delegate and who truly want to help! I just have to learn to be humble and let go of my illusion of control.

The other answer, mercifully, came today. I was on my way to Mass, by myself, to a Spanish Mass, because it was the only nearby Mass that fit into my one-car crazy schedule for today. My husband’s car speakers were blaring some Matt Maher, and I decided to put it all out there. God, I said, I know you are calling me to do these things, but I know I can’t remain peaceful amidst it all. You’re just calling me to do too much!

Well, I’m not sure if it was more humble or more stupid to contradict God in that way, but as I’m straining to comprehend the Spanish Mass (I did study abroad in Mexico and lived with a lovely family while attending Universidad de las Americas in Puebla*, but that was over 18 years ago!!!), I began to understand the first reading was about Elisha and the bread of God. I froze, because I knew what was coming for the Gospel.

Isn’t our Church amazing? We know what’s coming! And, here is why our God is unbelievably awesome. This summer, our Catholic homeschooling moms’ group studied Sarah Mackenzie’s Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace. In it, Sarah writes about giving God our poor efforts each day, our measly loaves and fishes that cannot possibly feed all the people we are supposed to feed. You know the rest of the story.

So, I’m trying not to cry as the Gospel is read and realizing that God is speaking directly, intimately to me. He does that. Really. Sometimes you can go years and years without hearing Him, but He is knit into our very being. He knows us and loves us and wants to speak to our hearts the words we need to hear at that moment. He is asking me for my loaves and fishes.

Sarah also reminds us in her book to start each day acknowledging that we are going to mess up. At the start of our academic year, I admit, I will mess up. Probably a lot. But I also know that if I offer my insufficient efforts to God every day, He will multiply my efforts and work through me and many others to make beautiful things happen!

*More proof that God knows our heart. The second collection at this Spanish Mass at this parish I’ve never attended before was for the paint and floors for a new mission church being built in the state of Puebla. So, I took my last $5 in cash that I was planning to use to buy a sweet tea this afternoon (while I waited to meet a few moms to pick up their peg doll saints) and put it in the basket. When I ordered my sweet tea and presented my free cookie coupon to the cashier, intending to charge the tea, and she tells me not to worry about paying for the tea. That was when I knew God wanted me to write this post while I waited. We are each desperately loved by our God. I wish I could stop forgetting that!


Are there activities in your life you should be delegating, whether by recruiting more volunteers or enlisting your family to assist you more? And, when have you offered God your poor efforts that couldn’t possibly be enough but resulted in something more wonderful than you could have imagined?

 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

I don't know how you do it




Twice in the past few days as a result of our latest monthly Moms breakfast, someone has said to me, “I don’t know how you do it.” What I hear from mamas who say that to one another is, “Something you do is something I want to do, and I am not sure how to make that happen.” Or, “I am so exhausted doing what I do that there is no way I could do the things you do.” Let us look at those for a moment; then, I will try to answer the HDYDI question.

Something you do is something I want to do

Then do it! What is stopping you? Are you afraid you will fail? How will you know if you don’t try?

I find that doing things I love to do happens easily and actually gives me positive energy to do the rest of the stuff I have to do. I do not love to cook or clean, although I know mamas who do. I love to connect other women with one another. Doing that feeds me, both because I get connected and because my personality-type (ESTJ) thrives on organizing and belonging to groups. (Go here to find your Myers-Briggs personality-type if you don’t know it.)

If you have a dream and you wait until the right time to do it, it might never happen. Sure, there are seasons in life where we need to say no to things, but if you are truly unsatisfied, that could be a prompting of the Holy Spirit to step out in faith and be the one to fill a need in your community. Serving one another selflessly is too rare in our individualistic culture, and sometimes the unfolded laundry has to get piled on the bed in order to have a few moms over for coffee. (And, yes, I realize inviting those mamas to help fold laundry would be even better, but I am a recovering perfectionist and not there yet!)

I am so exhausted there is no way I could do the things you do

Chances are, then, you are not called to do the things I do. Focus on what you are called to do and how to find internal rest in the chaos.

Are you going through a season of motherhood where you aren’t sleeping much? Then, find a way to nap or at least put your feet up twice a day and quiet yourself. Go to bed earlier and put aside the millions of things you should be doing, choosing rest, for now. This, too, shall pass.

What refreshes you? Make a list of the things you love to do, including big and little things that fill your tank. Plan to do at least two small things each day that bring you joy. I call this my joy list, and it includes things like turning on music or doing a quick word puzzle. I keep magazines or a book in my bathroom at all times and sneak a few pages while…

What do I do

For those of you who don’t know me IRL, here are the projects I am currently involved in running outside of my home:
·       Co-director of Saint Anne Homeschool Support Group (www.sacatholichomeschool.org), which founded the San Antonio Catholic Homeschool Conference 4 years ago

·       Leader of Grace Days™ initiative in the San Antonio area (www.gracedays.net), hosting Days of Grace for homeschooling mothers 2-3 times a year

·       Leader of Saint Anne’s Summer Series, directing discussions on various homeschooling topics weekly in the summer months

·       Hostess of Catholic Homeschooling Moms’ Breakfasts, leading monthly potluck breakfasts in my home for fellowship and discussion on some topic relevant to our vocations

·       Coordinator of random swaps among mamas, such as saint peg dolls and activity/busy bags for toddlers and preschoolers about twice a year

·       Trying to start a Catholic homeschool co-op in my area, two attempts two years apart which both failed due to lack of space to hold classes (maybe we will just start a park day this year)

And I clean my house (sometimes and never by myself), educate three children at home, keep the fourth (a toddler) out of trouble (mostly), make three homemade meals a day (usually), keep up with laundry for two little boys and two adults, shop for groceries and run other errands, etc. I check Facebook at least three times a day. I read blog posts that inform and encourage me, except lately my reader has been abandoned, and I only click through from Facebook links. I listen to podcasts. I read real books, usually with one fiction and at least one nonfiction going at a time. I talk with and watch movies with and enjoy time (at home) with my husband regularly. And I blog. Much, much less than I would like.

How do I do it all

I don’t. The end.

You just think I do. There are things you do that I do not do. My dinners are not elaborate. My big kids wash, fold, and put away their own laundry, clean bathrooms, sweep floors. Those floors only get mopped once a month, just before those monthly moms breakfasts. My husband is not an extrovert like I am, and we have no family in town. I rarely leave town. We are not involved at a parish beyond Sunday Mass and fellowship afterwards. It is rare for us to go anywhere on a Saturday, except perhaps to run errands. If it costs money, we stay home. Law school loans. Too often, I tell my kids to leave me alone to do my “work,” forgetting they are my primary “work.” Daily prayer where I sit down to be alone with God is, unfortunately, rare.

And I type this post hurriedly, just before rushing out the door to take a kid to the doctor. That means one kid (who will be going with us) is still asleep. One is playing Wii Lord of the Rings longer than he is supposed to be playing. I do not have shoes or glasses on, so I better…

But, but, but…

Yes, I do accomplish a lot. It’s the way I’m wired. I like it. I have some posts in mind to share my planning process on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis. It’s not perfect. I’m far from perfect. I like a lot of chocolate throughout the day, hot tea in the morning, sweet tea in the afternoon, and a Shiner or a margarita at night (red wine is nice on rare cold days).

Some of my obsession with productivity is learned, too. My father practically raised me on the adage “Much good work is lost for the lack of a little more,” while my mother kept reminding me to “Bloom where you’re planted.” I know that I have talents, and I feel obliged to use them to serve my family and my community.

How do you do it?

So, the honest answer is: by the grace of God. Sometimes I get burned out, because I do too much. Sometimes my family suffers when I make poor choices. Sometimes, though, I see that I helped another mom in her journey towards Christ, and that brings her children closer to Christ. And that’s why I keep saying yes and keep trying to find balance and failing. When I see how God uses me when I serve others, it’s all worth it.

I do it as an offering, as un-humble as that sounds to “say out loud.” I want my kids to notice that I didn’t go to bed one single night where I didn’t spend my day wholeheartedly trying to serve God through serving my family and others. I want to fall into bed exhausted, knowing I gave everything for Him. I want to do the best I can to take care of me, my family, and the people God has put in my life. My love language is acts of service, so I serve in order to love others.

 P.S. This blog post took 9 days to write.

What amazing thing did you do today? Did you listen to a five-year-old’s nonsense story? Did you bite your tongue when criticism was on its way out? Did you accept a phone call from a difficult relative? Did you keep your cool with your over-emotional teen? Did you reach out to another mother in need and encourage her?

 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Saint Anne Homeschool Support Group

My time online these past several months, aside from emails and the time vulture others call Facebook, has been creating and filling our local homeschool support group's website. You can check it out here if you want - www.sacatholichomeschool.org We are especially proud that we are trying to connect the many local Catholic homeschooling support groups in one place and post links to Catholic curricula options.

Saint Anne Homeschool Support Group was started as a nonprofit by my friend, Margaret, and me in order to launch an independent Catholic homeschool conference here in San Antonio. We ran three successful conferences and decided to take this year off, as our volunteer team was stretched too far the previous year.

The year off has resulted in a couple of wonderful things and other ways for me to spend my time in service to others. You see, I love connecting Catholic homeschooling mothers. As I mentioned yesterday, I think that women need to connect with other women in real life, and especially homeschoolers need to support one another. A dear friend recently quipped, "I have never worked as hard in my life as I do now as a homeschooling mom!" We need to be around others who understand that while we work harder than we could have ever imagined, we choose this vocation.

So, inspired by Maureen and Michele's Grace Days initiative, I coordinated a Day of Grace for Catholic homeschooling mothers at our beloved Mission of Divine Mercy. The day in late April was a mixture of prayer and fellowship and a fantastic success to push us forward to finish out the academic year with grace. It was such a gift to myself and the other women that I am already planning our second Day of Grace to be held in San Antonio in early August to start off the school year.

Because we did not host an independent conference this year, IHM Conferences came in and hosted a half-day conference of their own. This ministry, funded primarily by Seton Home Study School, is a generous outreach to Catholic homeschooling families. Saint Anne's participated through a book sale and providing local volunteers, but I feel very strongly that IHM Conferences only present one style of Catholic homeschooling. Being a universal Church, there are endless styles, methods, and curricula a family can combine to be successful homeschoolers.

Therefore, I created the Saint Anne Summer Series. We are meeting once a week for six weeks and offering free discussions on topics related to Catholic homeschooling for parents. I will post more details about our topics and how this worked another time, as we have only had one session, so far, but our topics range from why should we homeschool to what curricula options are out there to housework while homeschooling.

As you can see, I am keeping busy with Saint Anne events, and this is yet another reason I have neglected this poor ol' blog, although I love writing and sharing with you!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Friendships for the Lonely Homeschooling Mama


This debate roams the Internet on a daily basis. How much time do we invest in online relationships versus how much time do we pour into our IRL friends and family? For homeschooling mothers, it really is a delicate balance, because we are, in many ways, isolated from the opportunities most other women have to nourish friendships. And it’s one of the reasons I am intimidated to intentionally create community here on this oft-neglected blog.

We all need friends. Period. The end. If you say you don’t need friendships, you are wrong. Our husband should be our first and best friend, but since as women we were created with different gifts than men, women need women. Girls need girls. A man can do his best to try to understand our thoughts and emotions, but ladies, they just aren’t built the same way. It’s important to remember that Christians are not meant to live in an inward-focused isolation. Our Catholic Church is an invitation to live in Christian community with one another, in service and in love. How do we do that when we are at home most of the time in order to homeschool?

This generation has a tremendous gift in the web and social media. We can make and nourish online friendships in a variety of forums from blogs to Facebook, from Twitter to hangouts, from email to Instagram. Online relationships can be convenient for busy mothers, because conversations usually happen outside of set time frames. You often don’t have to be in the same place at the same time to enjoy one another’s company. I also find that online friendships work for both extroverts and introverts, because you decide how much you talk and there is a layer of protection between a shy individual and her keyboard.

But we still need the flesh and blood interactions, too. A hug from another woman, a smile, even a raised eyebrow and a snarky chuckle are essential to our humanity. IRL friendships with faraway friends are often inevitably converted into online relationships. I propose we need to be more intentional about nourishing our nearby IRL friendships and maybe step out on a limb to make new friends or deepen existing friendships in order to grow in humility and holiness.

Years ago, most families didn’t move from state to state, following jobs and dreams, over and over. Consequently, we often don’t have those tight-knit life-long friendships or nearby extended family that our grandparents enjoyed. The internet allows us to keep in touch with IRL friends from far away and to find friends who share the same values and mesh with our lifestyle even if they live far away.

A skill we might be losing, though, is how to make friends with just about anyone. If we are only making friends with people like us, which I have deliberately chosen to do in certain seasons of my motherhood, we cannot truly be open to the prompts of the Holy Spirit to influence change in our lives or to be an instrument of change in the lives of others. Stepping out of our comfort zone at the park with moms who are “strangers” or joining a new group to meet new women can give us that shot in the arm we need.

I also believe that online interactions can be key to filling our emotional tanks as homeschooling mothers. We need a sense of community that, perhaps, men don’t need as much as we do, and it’s very hard to find the time to meet with local friends with nursing babies, teenagers in transition, math lessons, soccer practices, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and everything else. It’s hard enough to find time for the occasional date night with our husbands. Being online can mean the difference between surviving and thriving in this 24-7-365 vocation we have chosen!

Still, I also believe we need to nourish those friendships we have with women nearby, even the ones that seem to take more work than we are willing to give. We were created with a need for one another. Couldn’t you use a real human hug more often than not? To ignore that desire, is to ignore how God created us.

Saint John Paul II said both, “The feminine foundation is relational and other-focused,” and “Friendship, as has been said, consists in a full commitment of the will to another person with a view to that person’s good.” Surely, it is putting our femininity to good use by developing friendships and nurturing other women both online and in real live.


How can you reach out today to a friend IRL? Can you call or text her? Stop by with a plate of cookies or flowers from your yard just to say hello?

 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Busy

I have been reflecting some on what it means to be busy and whether it is a good thing or a bad thing or neutral. I am definitely a busy person. I like being busy. I make myself busy whenever I can. I often take on too much to keep busy.

But my real internal debate is what it means when someone says, "How are you?" and one responds, "Busy." Is that a complaint? Is it a boast? Is it simply the truth? It could be all of the above.

I feel that if my life were not busy, I would be sad. I want a full life, and I enjoy the busy that comes with being a homeschooling mom of four. I even enjoy the busy that comes from serving others outside of my home, particularly serving other busy, homeschooling mothers.

Now, the trick, I think, is to be sure the busy is God's will and does not prevent us from stopping to smell the roses, so to speak. I must constantly guard against my busy causing stress and negatively affecting those I love. I have to temper my desire to "do it all," because I can't. Some days that's easier than others.

In truth, on the days it works, it's not that hard. I just keep repeating "Jesus, I trust in You." I take the time to listen to my children, read with my children, go outside with my children, love on my husband, and everything else seems to fall into place. God is good that way.

Because really when our busy is serving the Lord, it is a blessing. It means we are giving Him everything we've got and holding nothing back! I have to constantly remind myself to turn back to Him over and over and that all I do is to glorify Him. Then, He gives me rest when I am weary and reminds me that the worry is pointless, enabling me to relax into the busy and find peace despite the rapid pace of my days.

What keeps you busy? Are you good busy or unhappy busy?


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Why join a peg doll saint swap? - Top 10 Reasons

During Lent some friends of mine (and their friends) joined together for a peg doll saint swap. If you haven't heard about how it works, basically each family chooses a saint to paint and paints multiple copies of the same saint. Then, we get together and swap to get a finished set of diverse saints. I figured I could get 20-30 families together, and we could create a set of saints as Easter gifts for our children. In the end, much to my surprise 47 families joined, mostly from Texas but not all from San Antonio. I just couldn't turn anyone away! Here is our almost-completed set (a few families fell behind on their timeline, and that's okay in my swaps!):



So many of us enjoyed the swap and had so many friends and family members asking about how to do it, that I am coordinating another swap this summer. This one will have several options, subdividing families into groups based on if they participated in our Spring swap or not, quantity of saints they are willing to paint, and even some Old Testament figure swap groups!

Why did we enjoy adding one more thing to our plate during Lent, especially those of us who are less than artistically gifted? After talking to several of the moms over the past couple of weeks, I have compiled the top ten reasons I have heard from our swappers for participating in such a swap. Lacy has a great list of reasons, too!
  1. It was time well spent! There are many things we do that, in the end, are not really worth the time we invest, but both the process and the outcome were so fruitful that it was a good use of our time.
  2. It required sitting down! Or at least remaining still for relatively long periods of time. Our lives as moms are busy, and we always seem to be moving. Focusing on painting our saints was a gift to our weary bodies.
  3. It provided time to think and pray! Many of us stayed up late at night to paint when our little ones were in bed, and it gave us quiet time to ponder our own thoughts and spend time in prayer with our saints and the Lord.
  4. It was affordable! Except for the women who lived out of town and had to pay postage to ship their dolls, each family paid around $40 for the materials for a set of 48 saints. One saint on Etsy, while definitely painted by exceptionally talented individuals, runs about $30.  
  5. It resulted in a finished product! Most of our work as mothers is undone just as soon as we do it (think laundry, cleaning, cooking), but standing back and admiring our saints has been quite gratifying.
  6. It forced us to be creative! Being creative has been linked to all kind of therapeutic benefits. Those of us who aren't naturally artistic were still able to create saints with unique personalities, even if some are much simpler than others.
  7. It brought beauty into our homes! These are wooden toys, which are solid and beautiful. Beauty truly brings us closer to God, the source of all beauty, and our children are drawn to them.
  8. My little children love them! To see their little hands grasp these saints and for them to choose their favorites for play is remarkable. They are a great size for little hands and inspire them early to make friends with the saints.
  9. My big children love them! Not only do they study them and name them and ask about them, the bigger children even want to paint their own, releasing their creativity and cultivating craftsmanship.
  10. My husband even loves them! This is a totally personal note. My husband hates clutter and knick-knacks, but even he is proud of our collection, allowing them to be prominently displayed in our home.


So if you are interested in joining us this summer or have any questions about how to organize your own swap, let me know in the comments below! I'm not going to post links to our guidelines and sign-up form, because I do need to know a bit about you before you join us, to make sure you're legit.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Best Easter Gift Ever!

I'm nearly exploding with enthusiasm over here, and I'm terrible at keeping things from my kids. My husband would not truly appreciate my level of excitement over my plan. So, I'm here to share it with you! Aren't you lucky?!

A few months ago, thanks to Sarah's glowing recommendations, I read aloud The Green Ember by S.D. Smith to my children. It's tagline is "A new adventure with an old soul," which is right on target. We are on a Read Aloud Revival (episode 12) inspired streak, and the big kids and I have only missed one day of reading aloud together for pure pleasure (not for homeschooling purposes) in 172 days (and that includes our three-month trip to Virginia and back). When I say that we loved The Green Ember, that's putting it mildly.




I was overjoyed, seriously, to find a modern book with such value for my family. It's well-written compared with most. The vocabulary is excellent. The characters are relatable (blogger tells me that's not a word, but you know what I mean) and somewhat complex (for kids). The plot is full of adventure, mystery, love, family, good guys, bad guys, suffering, and joy. And the lessons! Oh my! Teaching my kids about courage and loss, trust and deception, leadership and faith, this book is a gem.

Need I say more? Okay! I will.  #rabbitswithswords - truly the best element! The book began as a story S.D. Smith told his own children and developed from there. You can hear his story about how the book came to be on Read Aloud Revival Episode 21. My children are doodling rabbits in the margins of their math books! It's an adventure story, a page-turner, and we never wanted to put it down! Back to my super secret plan...

I have created a #rabbitswithswords Easter gift basket for my kiddos! It includes:

The Green Ember in paperback (we read the Kindle version)
The Green Ember audiobook
4 sets of rabbit ears found at the Target Dollar Spot
4 swords found at the Dollar Tree

Ssshhh! Don't tell! They're going to be SO excited! Those of you who have read the book, am I missing anything in my gift package? Maybe a bunch of carrots? :) Now, as Sarah says...
I’m going to be crazy bossy here and tell you this: if you read nothing else to your kids this year, read The Green Ember. This is a book that will steep your family’s imagination in the good, true, and beautiful. The characters encounter tremendous difficulty and face them with indomitable courage. You will laugh, cry, and find your heart racing. You will wonder if you could possibly live up to the nobility and fortitude Heather and Picket.
You will, in short, fall down a rabbit hole. :)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Jesus' Questions: Day 26

I'm trying something new this Lent. My goal is to find a simple way to talk about living our faith with my children on a daily basis, outside of our (more) formal studies of Scripture and Catechism. This series is based on the questions Jesus asks within the Gospel of Matthew. I am brainstorming here some ways to discuss these passages with each of my children and am sharing with you in hopes that you and your children might be blessed by daily faith sharing. If you try this with your children, I would love to hear about your conversations in the comments!
Are even you still without understanding? Do you not realize that everything that enters the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled into the latrine? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile. ~ Matthew 15:16-18
Focus ~ Ew! Gross! Jesus was talking about our digestive system? He is actually pointing out to the Pharisees that they are too focused on following the strict Old Testament dietary laws and not being careful about what they say to one another and to Him.

Littles ~ What kinds of words would Jesus like us to speak all the time?

Middles ~ What would you say to Jesus if you could meet him?

Bigs ~ How do our words, even after they are spoken, hurt our hearts?

Moms ~  Talk about how, in your life, words you have spoken hurt others and how they hurt you at the same time.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Jesus' Questions: Day 25


I'm trying something new this Lent. My goal is to find a simple way to talk about living our faith with my children on a daily basis, outside of our (more) formal studies of Scripture and Catechism. This series is based on the questions Jesus asks within the Gospel of Matthew. I am brainstorming here some ways to discuss these passages with each of my children and am sharing with you in hopes that you and your children might be blessed by daily faith sharing. If you try this with your children, I would love to hear about your conversations in the comments!
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They do not wash their hands when they eat a meal.” He said to them in reply, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?" ~ Matthew 15:1-3
 
Focus ~ Just because everyone does it, doesn't mean it's right. Everything must be subject to God's law before common practice.

Littles ~ Can you name one of God's commandments?

Middles ~ Give an example of something a lot of people do but breaks God's laws.

Bigs ~ Give another example of something a lot of people do but breaks God's laws.

Moms ~  Talk about common sins in our culture and the struggle today between tolerating differences and respecting God's laws, appropriate to your children's ages.

Monday, March 23, 2015

My Lenten Moments

As mothers, there are these moments we give to God, often without realizing it. Whenever we go against what our selfish desires beg for and do what is most important in that moment, our sacrifice is for Jesus. It's better, of course, if we are conscious of the gift in the moment, but I believe even if we are not thinking of it, the Lord is pleased.

This Lent, my goal has been to spend two thirty-minute chunks of time sitting in a designated chair for prayer. I've managed to do this about 50% of the time, so far, and it has been wonderful. My natural inclination, of course, is to berate myself for the 50% of the time I fail to meet my goal, but I am trying to be gentle with myself and grateful for the time I do get with God.

Now, you might be thinking about how impossible this would be for you. You have small children. You have too much to do. You can't sit still. You dread the thought of waking up early. You don't want to give up your "free" from children time. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too.

The wonder of this practice is that I am consciously deciding by the physical act of putting myself in the chair that this time is for God. I get interrupted. The 12 year old and 9 year old know to try to leave me alone as best as possible, but the 4 year old and 2 year old do not. But, knowing I am deciding to be in the presence of God, I respond to them with love, more often than not.

While I have been counseled by countless priests to stop thinking of prayer as something to check off of my to-do list, the reality is that I have to have a plan or it doesn't happen. Fortunately, such wise counsel reminds me that while prayer is something I have "to do," by setting the time limit, I let go of the litany of prayers I think I should accomplish: pray divine office or Scripture, write in my Lenten Journal, read Fr. Barron's daily reflection, do my spiritual reading, etc... and I sit. Sometimes I write, read, and pray quietly. More often than not, I write a few words in a journal, respond to 20 questions, pray a quick aspiration, read a book about fire trucks, read a Quiet Time post from the Restore Workshop, redirect sibling battles, and close my eyes to rest in the Lord. It works, somehow.

Sitting still is the hardest part. And I do get up to tend to little ones, but I sit back down. I force myself into that chair and remind myself that my goal is not thirty uninterrupted minutes but thirty minutes given to God, whatever I do during that time. It has been blessed.

At first, I didn't wake up early. I am not a morning person. But now, after enjoying some snippets of time with God, I find myself more motivated to get up early to hope my thirty minutes can be uninterrupted and more peaceful. Of course, like this morning, as soon as I pour a cup of tea, often my little ones wake up, no matter how early I get up!

And, I am trying to put the littles down for their naps and going straight to my chair, but it's much easier for me to sit first thing in the morning. The second thirty minutes is a much bigger sacrifice, because once I'm moving, it's really hard for me to slow down and choose sitting over doing. When I do, as we all know, the rest of the day usually goes more smoothly.

What Lenten practice has been the most helpful to you, so far, this season?



Jesus' Questions: Day 24

I'm trying something new this Lent. My goal is to find a simple way to talk about living our faith with my children on a daily basis, outside of our (more) formal studies of Scripture and Catechism. This series is based on the questions Jesus asks within the Gospel of Matthew. I am brainstorming here some ways to discuss these passages with each of my children and am sharing with you in hopes that you and your children might be blessed by daily faith sharing. If you try this with your children, I would love to hear about your conversations in the comments!
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" ~ Matthew 14:31
 
Focus ~ Most of us struggle with doubts at some time in our lives. Sometimes we often doubt the power of God to really change things, or even more challenging, to truly change us. But God is all-powerful. He truly can do anything He wants to do.

Littles ~ What can God do?

Middles ~ Name something amazing God has done (perhaps in the Bible).

Bigs ~ Name something amazing God has done (perhaps in your life).

Moms ~ Share about a time you doubted in God and how you overcame your doubts.