Celebrating the Feast of St. Hildegard of Bingen: September 17

{This post contains affiliate links. I may receive compensation for purchases you make through my links. More info Here.}

St. Hildegard of Bingen peg.jpg

There are many ideas for celebrating the life of St. Hildegard of Bingen in this post. Her feast is on September 17th but I encourage not to worry about “missing” the date if you’d like to celebrate…simply choose a day in the month when something works for your family. Feasts are for living, not for box-checking! Let’s enjoy. Saint Hildegard, ora pro nobis!

But first, it is important to clear up some misinformation about this dynamic woman of God to avoid being misled by enemies of the Church…

For the majority of my Catholic life, I intentionally avoided St. Hildegard. I had come to associate her with the many New Age practitioners, wiccans, and dissident Catholic nuns who like to claim her as their own. I had lived in that sphere and I didn’t want to go back.

She doesn’t belong to them, of course, and she never ascribed to their heretical and spiritually deviant ways. But because her writings are not as accessible as other saints and her ways a bit uncommon, they have been more easily co-opted and distorted by people with an agenda.

I once brought a St. Hildegard peg doll to a peg doll exchange. One astute woman there asked me why I had chosen Hildegard…and I knew why she was asking. Because generally, it’s not the faithful Catholic women who bring Hildegard to the party.

I assured her that I wasn’t in line with the dissidents and their fiction…

Those distortions are bunk and should be thrown away like the garbage they are. Most of the information readily available in books and online is unreliable. Many translations are done by those with an agenda. Not every quote on the internet is hers. Not every quote that is hers is properly translated. Not every work is interpreted with her faithful Catholic vision. Her letters should be read with caution since some have been proven to be false. In fact, I give you warning ahead of time if you go looking, you will find a lot of false information and should be extremely discerning of what you choose.

So why did I bring Hildegard to the party?

hildegard-von-bingen.jpg

Hildegard was a deep ocean, full of life and fire, music, wildcraft, salves, painting, visions, poetry, theology, and prayer. She was an Abbess, an artist, a preacher, mystic, healer, composer, polymath, and Doctor of the Church. She loved the earth and saw that “God has arranged all things in the world in consideration of everything else.” She challenged the corruption in the Church around her and raised her voice against it while demanding fidelity from her shepherds. She was not tame…

But she was obedient. To the Church and to Christ. If you see information which varies from that…you will know it isn’t true. She did cause her convent to be placed under interdict but it was ultimately lifted when she was found to have been falsely treated by the bishop. The feminists love to use this as a weapon against patriarchy and proof of her defiance, but the opposite is true…

She obeyed the interdict but also fought to have it removed. She loved the Church and the priesthood even when she was treated unjustly. She served truth.

She was NOT an ecofeminist, a proponent of “global humanism,” a witch, an earth-worshipper, a gnostic or a goddess.

She was, in fact a contemplative cloistered nun living under the Rule of St. Benedict which she loved. Within the Catholic faith, there is room for a creative fire like Hildegard. And the silence and prayer which formed her for many decades, became the school in which her soul burned with passion and flourished with productivity.

To listen to the voices of dissent in the Church who want to remake her into their own, you’d think she was as defiant against orthodoxy as they. If you present them with the facts so prevalent in her writings, they will dismiss those facts by saying that she was a product of her times and didn’t fully realize her own enslavement.

How disrespectful. How dull. How wrong.

She once preached to an Archbishop saying: “The tower is assigned to you. Protect the tower and cause the whole city not to be ruined and destroyed. So watch out, keep the discipline with an iron scepter and educate yourself. Grease the wounds of those who have entrusted themselves to you.”

She was hardly the dissenting radical she has been portrayed to be. But she was radical in her own way. Aren’t all mystics? All saints?

She was made for her time and for ours. She raised her voice passionately against the clerical abuses of power and money and perversion. She did not give bad leaders permission to follow their own path into sexual or spiritual confusion…she spoke vehemently, exhorting religious men and women alike to return to purity, grace, and zeal for the Lord.

Quite the opposite of of a progressive modernist, she fought vehemently for a return to truth and fidelity to the faith.

And frankly, she does come across as a bit unusual.

She embraced the natural world, recognizing God’s Presence in every cell of creation. She expressed that passionately, in a way that modernity often finds uncomfortable. But if only the hearts within the Body of Christ would burn with such passion! We would see that God has neglected nothing in His care for us. And perhaps we would sing like Hildegard.

In celebration of her life and with a fervent prayer for the renewal of the Church, I put together a list of ways we can celebrate with our families. Let us rejoice with St. Hildegard, Doctor of the Church and handmaid of Christ.

Let’s celebrate!



IDEAS FOR CELEBRATING THE FEAST DAY

First, look up the beautiful compositions of St. Hildegard and flood your home with her music. Learn more about her life HERE. Then consider one or more of the following…


HILDEGARD’S COOKIES

“Take some nutmeg and an equal weight of cinnamon and a bit of cloves, and pulverize them. Then make small cakes with this and fine whole wheat flour and water. Eat them often. It will calm all bitterness of the heart and mind, open your hear and impaired senses, and make your mind cheerful.” (Physica, Hildegard von Bingen)

Hildegard's cookies.jpg

Obviously this loose recipe quoted above leaves the modern reader with a bit of room for interpretation! Many of the adapted recipes on the internet add sugar and butter to balance the bitterness (and appeal to tastes formed by Oreos). When I made them, I did not…but I added honey to stay closer to the original purpose of bodily health. I also replaced the wheat (or spelt) with almond flour, which Hildegard wrote would give strength. (Both wheat and spelt have gluten which won’t fly with a healing celiac.)

The cracker/cookie was still somewhat bland but I like that it does indeed promote good health through the beneficial chemistry of the spices and nourishing ingredients. And definitely doesn’t trigger a cascade of sweet cravings! Interestingly, it comes remarkably close to the first “sweets” I was able to eat when first beginning my healing journey.

You can try your hand at adapting your own recipe from Hildegard’s instructions or go for a more dessert-like cookie like this one HERE. I also found this recipe HERE to be much closer to Hildegard’s original (plus brown sugar) but you have to convert the grams (I know, Americans, this is tough…but at least we have online converters now!).


HILDEGARD PRINTABLE

Print this St. Hildegard quote and draw, color, paint, or paper piece images of God’s creation:
ST. HILDEGARD QUOTE PRINTABLES

And please tag me on Instagram if you would like to post your finished piece! I would love to see them all. Here are some that my family made…

St Hildegard Quote 1.jpg
St. Hildegard Quote 2.jpg


NATURE HIKE

Go for a hike and collect and identify plants, rocks, scat, anything (I don’t mean that you should collect the scat unless you really want to…we won’t be doing that. lol) There are so many fun (and free) nature journals for the kids to take along. And great books (like these Fun With Nature guides) which are really helpful for helping to identifying and record findings.

Nature walk.jpg

GATHER AND DECORATE WITH HERBS

Gather a bunch of fresh herbs to decorate the table then use them in your meal. Hildegard studied the earth and it’s plants and elements, giving glory to God for his abundant treasures and their beneficial properties.

Display dried blessed herbs from the Feast of the Assumption if you had them blessed. Or find local sources to dry, display, and use. (See our Assumption herbs below)


MAKE ELDERBERRY SYRUP

Hildegard used the gifts of God’s creation to make healing food and remedies. Make a batch of elderberry syrup to prepare for the sniffle season. September is the perfect time! Freeze using a silicon form for individual servings or just use an ice cube tray. Then store in freezer bags.

I adapt this basic recipe (which is delicious, by the way!), adding additional essential oils, herbs, or astralagus root depending on what I have on hand or the level of immune oomph I’m looking for.

Elderberry syrup.jpg


PRAY

  • Pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet for the priests, bishops, cardinals, and religious men and women who have lost their faith or are causing scandal. St. Hildegard received permission to leave her cloister later in life so that she could travel and preach repentance to the corrupt clerics of her time…and also to exhort others to fervent fidelity to Christ and His Church.

  • Pray a Rosary in imitation of Hildegard’s deep love for Blessed Mother.

  • Spend time in silent contemplation after reading Scripture. Do this outside if you can!


STUDY

  • Read the Apostolic Letter proclaiming St. Hildegard a Doctor of the Church (JPII 10/7/12)

  • Look up the Rule of St. Benedict to see how St. Hildegard lived. Inexpensive book and kindle options HERE. I did not find a reliable translation at our public library but I did find free PDF’s online.

  • As I mentioned, there are many translations and books about St. Hildegard of Bingen which are unreliable and tainted by agenda. But I was pleased to discover the recent publication of Hildegard’s Book of Divine Works (Liber divinorum operum). It is considered her magnum opus and is a meditation on a mystical experience of the Gospel of St. John. I wouldn’t call it light reading, but it does provide insight into a soul on fire for God and has inspired me to expand my eye for His goodness. I am no mystic and do not pretend to understand the sometimes unusual expression of her vision. Pretending to understand her fully would be false…but I can weakly imitate her fearlessness in prayer and the surrender of her vision to Christ.

Hildegard of Bingen.jpg

PLAY

Let your little ones delight in this little St. Hildegard doll from Shining Light Dolls. Paint a peg doll. Have a woodland adventure. And follow me on Instagram this week and enter to win one of my hand painted peg dolls! Above all…delight in life and give thanks with your family for the goodness of creation, designed by God for His beloved children. He considered us in everything.

Shining Light Hildegard.jpg
Hildegard peg.jpg

What Catholic Parents Need to Know Before a Son Enters Seminary

seminary mountain 1.jpg

This is Part 2 of a series on solving the vocations crisis and preparing our sons to answer the call. It was written with parents in mind but maybe helpful for all Catholics. Read Part 1 here: Solving the Vocations Crisis Crisis: Serviam


When my son was 5-years old, he rushed into our room in the middle of the night and announced that God wanted him to be a priest.

How do you know?
Because he told me!

And we moved on with life, doing what we had always done, living a life centered around the liturgy, learning, playing, and living life fully together…knowing that the true test of vocation doesn’t generally come like a flash in the night but through a steady relationship with Christ.

His interest in the faith continued to grow alongside his athletic and academic interests. He loved to serve at the altar and studied about the liturgy during his free time (and also when he was supposed to be doing his Math). We homeschooled, which allowed more flexibility in allowing Thomistic and liturgical passions to grow; and his interest in life, the fairer sex, and the priesthood grew together in a natural progression to manhood.

Eventually, he decided to give the Church the “first fruits” of his discernment and take a step towards the priesthood. He attended several discernment events, one of which was a weekend at a college seminary. He enjoyed the weekend but decided he was not a good fit for the community.

The seminarians hosting him didn’t display much interest in the faith or liturgy outside of the fact that they were, in fact, in seminary. They wanted to play video games and talk about secular music and movies. And the one thing that was a driving passion in his life, the Catholic faith, seemed a taboo topic among young men who should have been most excited to engage. Some were openly irritated that he wanted to hear their thoughts about God.

He came home with the understanding that many young men (at that seminary anyway) were entering those doors as a blank page, with a sincere but vague idea that the priesthood was somehow just about bachelors helping people. They may make wonderful priests someday, but this is not an ideal scenario for a young man going into seminary — any seminary.

When a man enters the seminary doors, he walks onto a battlefield. He is giving his assent to be fitted with the future crown of martyrdom. Like the Apostles before Him. Like Christ.

Before entering, he should already be a man, with a healthy spiritual, mental, and physical formation. He must be open to learning while, at the same time, prepared for the possibility of having to navigate wrong teaching and complicated peer and formator relationships.

While God can work through any situation to bring about transformation and holiness, the reality is that American seminaries are not generally a green house for orthodoxy, where young shoots can grow under the loving hand of a St. Charles Borromeo and a community of holy, intelligent, and manly saints. Perhaps a great saint could run such an enclosed institution successfully without allowing a platform for abusers. However, St. Charles is gone and the seminary crisis in the United States is a horror story of institutionalized dysfunction that continues to be protected and perpetuated by corrupt and weak prelates ensconced in powerful positions.

In Dr. Alice von Hildebrand’s autobiography, she tells the story of one of her public college students, an angry and depressed young man who was raised in a devout Catholic family but lost his faith in seminary. He was accepted into the Maryknolls who “torpedoed his faith with their ‘new theology’ and modern Biblical scholarship.” He fell into despair and into a wild life. He eventually returned by the grace of God via von Hildebrand’s classes. But the story of his fall is not uncommon. And it doesn’t always end on a happy note.

Nestled solidly among the many good priests, a legion of bad ones have been placed in positions of power and have manipulated the system to perpetuate their corrupt ends. They are not in love with Christ. Some are liars and thieves. Some are abusers and violent criminals. Some are satanists. Some are mentally ill. Some are political and ideological activists who deliberately feast off the Church while working to destroy it. Some are simply badly formed and weak. And they have been in charge of forming, destroying, and confusing generation after generation... and putting up obstacles for the army of good men the Lord has raised up.

This is not new. This is the diabolical thread woven through Salvation History.

GAMING THE CATHOLIC SYSTEM

One of the most striking examples of how this happens is the Legionaries of Christ, whose perverse and narcissistic founder (Marciel Maciel) created the appearance of almost perfect institutional and personal piety while abusing so many and protecting other abusers.

He gamed the system and masterfully designed his own structure within the broader institution. He was so effective a manipulator that he fooled millions of Catholics and even a saintly pope, and became one of the wealthiest, most powerful, and most damaging men of the modern Church. The ripple effect will touch generations of souls.

We see similar methods of manipulation (to varying degrees) employed within some major religious orders (both men and women) and diocesan seminaries. The evidence rolls out daily as we clean up the bloody mess created by people who don’t love Christ or His Church…or those who are ill-equipped to lead through the confusion. In certain religious and priestly communities, there has been a deliberate network of deviancy that perpetuates and feeds disordered desires. These men and women know how to appear pious enough (like Maciel did with alarming perfection) and how to repeatedly fool the faithful who are so quick to love and to trust.

It is not that Christ has left His Church…but that evil has done what it always sets out to do. It is a liar, a thief, and a destroyer.

As a mom with several sons and a public Catholic platform, I am often asked where I would send my sons to seminary if they feel called. My current answer is: I’m not sure. It’s complicated. Am I willing to give my sons in service to the Church? Absolutely. But I will not quickly hand an inexperienced young man over to a seminary that is marked by tepidity, confusion, sexual immorality, leftist ideology, or externally pious but narcissistic clericalism.

WHAT SHOULD A CATHOLIC PARENT DO?

It is difficult to be constantly immersed bad news and it isn’t always the best use of our time. But we are living in a time of great sorrow and witnessing the collapse of an institutional house eaten through by the termites of the enemy.

We live in a time when one of the most powerful cardinals in the world — close to popes, an influencer of domestic and international policy on sex abuse, education, liturgy, politics, etc. — was discovered to be a vile and faithless pedophile fraud. McCarrick was surrounded by men who knew him and his lifestyle and who are still in positions of power in the Church.

These are not times for the tepid priest. It is a time for martyrs.

In the last few decades, the faithful have been able to live in the relative peace of ignorance, largely oblivious to the evil behind closed doors. If you think I’m extreme or negative, then you have either been protected from it or haven’t recognized it yet. But if you desire to help your sons be open to God’s call to the priestly vocation…

It’s time to wake up.

It is not within our power to fight the monster on our own. We must turn first build a foundation of personal holiness and raise our children to respond to the call of holiness (which I discussed in Part I). Then, we must prepare for battle.


DEFINING THE BATTLE

I know a man who, after decades, finally approached his diocese about the horrific things that happened to him while at seminary. To name those in authority who knew what was happening, covered it up, and are still in respected positions today. For decades, men who knew that seminarians were being abused continued to be given responsibility over the formation of the priests of a diocese. Unconscionable.

His is only one story of many. The physical, mental, and spiritual damage to young men leaving or graduating from seminary is Catholicism’s special trail of tears.

The crisis isn’t over. It is actually escalating. The enraging truth is that the enemy has been identified and very little is being done. Not in local dioceses or religious orders. Not in Rome. For every one abuser or heretic removed from office, a dozen more remain in place, going unpunished or permitted to defy the disciplinary actions assigned to them.

In order for our sons to answer the call, they must become warriors before they ever approach a seminary door. Or they may become casualties against an enemy that does not love, does not believe, does not care about your son, and continues to shout with the enemies of Christ: Non Serviam! I will not serve.

TAKING ACTION AS THE PRIMARY EDUCATORS OF OUR CHILDREN

I obviously don’t have all the answers and this article is not definitive; rather, it is what I would tell parents who approach me with questions about seminary for their son. If you’re open to entering into this discussion, consider printing this out, praying over the ideas brought forth, talking about them, doing battle with them. You are certainly not bound to accept my perspective but what I am begging you to do for the sake of your sons and the Church, is to at least be willing to wrestle with it.

Our rosaries and the hours on our knees on behalf of our children may be enough in the end but then again, they may not. Prayer moves mountains but bad formation is not undone simply by a mother’s fervent desire. If we throw our kids into a den of hungry wolves and then pray a rosary for their safety…well…we shouldn’t be surprised to see their bodies torn to shreds.

How can we prepare our sons to answer the call BEFORE they get to seminary? The following ideas and suggestions are a good place to start the conversation in your family and community. I explain each of them following the list below:

  • Seminary is not a good place for the weak man

  • Vocation formation should happen long before seminary

  • Reconsider college seminary

  • Teach your son to read well

  • A strong prayer life is essential

  • Serve at the altar and love the liturgy

  • Teach your son to recognize grooming

  • Stay close to your son

  • Teach your son his civil rights

  • Help him understand his canonical rights

  • Enter the battle.

  • RISE UP


SEMINARY IS NOT A GOOD PLACE FOR THE WEAK MAN

The strength of a man’s character is not necessarily evident in his outward demeanor. A man may be quiet and studious with great humility but still have the lion-heart of a St. Thomas Aquinas. That is not weakness but gentle strength. The weakness I am talking about is the kind which predisposes a man to be dominated, bullied, or too easily led by others. A warrior can be magnanimous, open-minded, and deferential, but he must not be easily overcome by the strength of another.

If you know this about your son, then please know that the seminary system is full of predators and narcissists who will seek to dominate him. He will become a target by bad men even in a relatively good institution. With this weakness, he odds of leaving most seminaries without significant wounds is unlikely.

If your son has known addictions (from drugs to porn to video games), these should be addressed prior to entrance. Seminary is not a treatment center! Addictions will not disappear simply because they walk through the doors of a seminary.

We all have weakness in our characters and having a submissive personality does not mean that a man cannot be a great saint or that he cannot grow to be a person of strength. This point is a practical one. Do not send a 120 pound athlete into an NFL football game…even if he has a big heart. He will be crushed.

This weakness may simply be the natural immaturity of youth. Even a mature 18-year old will not be equipped as well for battle as someone who has a few more years of experience. The solution may be simply waiting longer before applying to seminary, to gain some healthy life experience and develop stronger interpersonal and physical skills. (See “Reconsidering College Seminary” below).


VOCATION FORMATION SHOULD HAPPEN LONG BEFORE SEMINARY

Your sons should know what vocation means before they hit high school. The practice of holy discernment should be common well before seminary becomes an option. Enter into the liturgical rhythm of the Church year and model examples of faith in the workplace, at home, and among community.

Freely express the fire of your own love for Christ and make opportunities for ongoing formation as individuals and family. Make sure that there is silence built into each day. Teach him to pray. Teach him to serve. Teach him to read (more about that below). Provide him with exceptional role models in multiple vocations. And when you think he is mature enough, have discussions about clerical sexual abuse and homosexuality to help him wade through the increasingly porn-distorted culture.


RECONSIDER COLLEGE SEMINARY

I used to think that college seminary was a good idea. I’ve changed my mind in light of the current challenges in our seminary culture. It seems to me now that a young man should be a little older before he has to face the specific challenges of a seminary system. Greater life experiences may help him to navigate potentially complicated relationships and situations. Greater maturity may help him to understand if he is being manipulated by authority or through his education.

Catholic moms are sometimes afraid that if we allow our sons to go out into the world, that the young men will lose their vocations. We know that a hundred pretty girls lie in wait for a good Catholic man to come along and that seminary hardly stands a chance! Or we might be worried that the spirit of the world will overtake his desire for holiness.

Do not be afraid. If God wants your son to be a priest, He will pursue him. And if your son is inclined to be swept along by the attractions of the secular world, he will also face those challenges in the priesthood.

It is not a greenhouse. It is a battlefield.

Greater maturity will not harm him and may protect him. Even some secular professionals are now encouraging parents to give their students a gap year or more to mature before facing the dangers of college. The same case can easily be made for seminary for similar reasons.

To reiterate, these are my current thoughts - just opinions - open to change as new information and individual discernment enter the equation. I am not pronouncing judgment on your sons who are in college seminary nor on you. My own son went to college seminary with my blessing. But I would do things differently now.


TEACH YOUR SON TO READ

Teach him to read difficult material that includes great works of literature, history, philosophy, and the doctors of the Church. He should already have a grasp of Salvation History and the Scriptures. He should be familiar with the Catechism and the writings of the saints and the great encyclicals. His knowledge (and library) should include the documents of Vatican II and preceding councils, and he should have spent some hours familiarizing himself with St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica, the works of Chesterton, the spiritual writings of the saints, and have a solid grasp of the moral teachings of the Church. He should be encouraged as often as possible to refer to original sources and not simply to accept without question the opinions presented in popular textbooks and by modern Catholic authors.

I highly recommend having your teenage sons read Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Fulton J. Sheen to begin to see the through eyes of a holy and happy priest.

If he cannot do this, he will not be intellectually prepared to engage in the academic battle being waged in seminaries everywhere. In this cultural climate, he must be able to intellectually engage or he may be easily swept away by a persuasive and kind (or bullying) professor who has authority and respect within a closed diocesan or religious system. He will be an empty bucket into which his professors will be able to pour their ideas…for better or worse.


A STRONG PRAYER LIFE IS ESSENTIAL

A strong prayer life should be established before going to seminary. It is the height of foolishness to expect to be strong without this element. As parents, we cannot control this in our children. They may be outwardly praying the rosary while inwardly thinking about football. We cannot know. It is not your responsibility to control his interior life and you cannot do it anyway. What is within our control is our own example of piety, creating a peaceful home environment conducive to prayer, opportunities for true silence, and frequent access to good spiritual leadership.


ENCOURAGE SERVICE AT THE ALTAR AND LOVE OF THE LITURGY

A surprisingly large number of seminarians and priests have only very shallow knowledge about serving at the altar and liturgy in general. Depending on the seminary, liturgy is not always prioritized and may only make it into one semester of study. That limited study may be led by a professor who is ideologically driven to change the liturgy to reflect a distorted theological or moral perspective.

Encourage your boys to serve whenever possible and also study the liturgy on their own before seminary (I will try to put some helpful resources on this in the near future and link here). Encourage them to become at least somewhat familiar with the Latin as well as the English — it is, after all, part of their heritage and will help them develop an appreciation and understanding of the liturgy as a whole. This will also help them know when the liturgy is being abused, taught incorrectly, or is invalid. As a priest, there will be no higher good than celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Their heart must begin there in the Eucharist and return there.


TEACH YOUR SON TO RECOGNIZE GROOMING

Our boys must know how to recognize the signs of grooming and defend themselves and others. Not all grooming leads to sexual abuse but it can lead to an abuse of power in other ways, especially in a system designed with a hierarchy of authority where those in power have control over your daily life and vocation. Hierarchy isn’t bad…SIN is bad. The grooming behaviors of a non-sexual narcissist can be extremely damaging, especially when combined with spiritual formation.

I wrote an article called A Catholic Girls’ Guide to Unmasking a Predator and I think that the general guidelines can be helpful for a young man in seminary as well. The details will vary but the basic guidelines are the same. I have adapted the list (only slightly) here.

Red flags to watch out for in superiors or peers:

  • He is a bad Catholic (faithful in externals but does not privately live the Gospel).

  • He is a liar.

  • He is secretive.

  • He isolates you physically and emotionally.

  • He is vulgar.

  • He is divisive.

  • He is mean.

  • He pressures you to abandon your morals.

  • He is immersed in foul music and media (or porn).

  • He doesn't want to talk to your parents (or let you talk to your parents)

Some examples of grooming behaviors are emotional or physical isolation; creating a barrier between healthy relationships and the seminarian. All help is cut off and the formator has complete control of the most important aspects of the seminarians life.

Another example is breaking down boundaries and rules by degree. Sharing alcohol under forbidden circumstances and laughing it off. Watching a movie or listening to music together which breaches the boundaries of purity. Making off color jokes or using crude language regularly and generally pushing the boundaries until the seminarian is comfortable with a degree of “naughty.” This not only allows a truly evil formator to push boundaries further but to also have leverage against the seminarian in the future. Blackmail.

This grooming process is one reason why the culture of silence is the norm and why the laity are ignorant. If an evil man can draw a good (but weak) man into an indiscretion, he holds then power over the most important things in the weak man’s life. If a good man can get through the seminary in one piece, he still has to contend with the authority of corrupt power.

Teach your son to be a wall of strength against such predatory behaviors…and to think through ahead of time (like a war strategist) what he would do in different circumstances.

  • What will he do if he is threatened with expulsion?

  • What will he do if someone lies about him?

  • What will he do if a formation or spiritual director crosses a physical or emotional boundary?

  • What will he do if he is told not to tell the Bishop?

  • What will he do if his fellow seminarians are engaging in immoral behavior (with men, women, or media)?

These are not questions to think about as they are happening but well ahead of time. If you are starting to feel panicky…pray for the spirit of a warrior and to have the courage to walk through your fear. "O blood and water, which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus as a fountain of mercy for us, I trust in you"


STAY CLOSE TO YOUR SON

When all is said and done, the system which promises to be mother, father, teacher, and spiritual director to your kid may abandon him or deeply wound him. You may not even know. Be there. Be the constant thread in his life that doesn’t waiver and doesn’t harm. Be the constant offering of sacrificial love in prayer and action. Build a home of peace to which he can safely visit or return. Also, be the eyes and ears of wisdom which can help identify the dysfunctional behaviors in those in power over your seminarian.


TEACH YOUR SON HIS CIVIL RIGHTS

In an institutional system where obedience, humility, and authority carry meanings and applications different than the secular understating, it is vital that a man understand precisely what his rights are.

He should understand his American civil rights which are built upon natural law. These are not abrogated simply because he enters seminary, regardless of what a formation director says! The seminary staff should respect the natural rights of each seminarian which include the right to privacy, safe environment and health needs, freedom from whistle blower retaliation, freedom from harassment. If your son finds his rights violated and chooses to object, he may find himself out of the seminary one way or another, but that is a decision he must be able to make clearly.

Even a generally good seminary experience can include strain between one person in power and a seminarian who has no power at all. It can become a no-win situation in which the seminarian knows that there really is no one to turn to since the ones he would be reporting are also the ones responsible with recommending him for another year in seminary.

In a dysfunctional situation, righteous anger has no legitimate expression. The virtues of obedience and humility are used as weapons by a director to gaslight and manipulate a seminarian into submission and dependency. It is an injustice which cannot be corrected, an injury which can only be turned inward, and one element which ends up creating the next generation of narcissistic priests.


HELP YOUR SON LEARN HIS CANONICAL RIGHTS

Knowing canonical rights is equally important in these situations in which the external and internal forums are so closely intertwined. In the case of one seminary (known for its orthodoxy), it was a regular practice of one spiritual director to share seminarian details with the formation director. This is a grave violation of seminarian rights but the directors simply thought they were above that important rule. The end result was that the seminarian ended up leaving because he was not permitted to express himself against the injustice in a way that satisfied all parties.

The seminary handbook should lay out both civil and canonical rights and any points of concern should be clarified. The seminarian should know them and also have thought through what he will do if they are violated.

  • What will he do if his spiritual director reveals protected information to his rector?

  • What will he do if his physician shares private medical information with his rector?

  • What will he do if his rector demands obedience in areas which violate natural and canonical rights or face expulsion?

  • What will he do if he discovers that his formation director regularly lies to him and to others?


ENTER THE BATTLE

We sometimes fall into the trap of thinking of Salvation History as the antiquated version of Marvel comics. Excitement, adventure, horror, romance! All wrapped up neatly in a collection of literature for our convenient perusal, entertainment, and edification.

We have to root that tendency out and come alive again to the reality of the Incarnation. Salvation History isn’t a thing that happened to people living long ago. It is happening now. We are in it. We are in the middle of the battle and it rages around us and even in our homes.

The enemy still prowls and attacks. Still destroys souls and nations and commits unspeakable atrocities. And I think because we have been granted a brief historical period of comfort and wealth, we forget…

Evil doesn’t care what you think. It doesn’t care if you forgive. It doesn’t care if you are compassionate. It doesn’t care if people suffer or die or weep in agony. It isn’t sorry. It doesn’t repent. It doesn’t care if you lose your faith. It doesn’t care if your son loses his faith in seminary or is molested or humiliated or lied about by a superior prelate. It doesn’t care if he is bullied out of seminary.

Evil delights in those things and boasts and dances in broad daylight in its perverse pride. It mocks us openly. We cannot afford to be naive.

As Christians, we believe that good will triumph. We’re not wrong in this. But we have a wrong understanding of what the battle looks like and have been protected from the worst by the blinding comfort of our American lifestyle and also by certain corrupt institutional systems designed to hide it.

We think the best of people, even the evil-doers. We look at sinful actions as “mistakes” and we are quick to forgive, but we are naive. When faced with the reality that the smoke of satan has not only entered the Church but is also wearing bishops’ mitres and Roman collars…well, that’s just very difficult to process. But it’s certainly nothing new.

Famous Catholic convert, Bella Dodd, worked with the Communists in the 1930’s to infiltrate the Catholic Church. She sought Confession and counsel from Venerable (soon to be Blessed) Fulton Sheen and described to him (and subsequently to the US government) how the she had followed the order of Stalin to “infiltrate Catholic seminaries and religious orders.” She personally placed over a 1000 false men into seminaries and worked with at least 4 cardinals who were active Communists.

Dodd’s close friend, Dr. Alice von Hildebrand writes about the infiltration:

“What I am writing on infiltration is not meant to deny that some bishops, some heads of religious orders, some priests have not fallen into the very grave sin of either closing their eyes to the horrible sins committed by people under their authority – but to make aware of the fact that a key factor hardly ever mentioned or mentioned at all, is that many of the worst culprits were not Catholic priests who had fallen prey to “unbridled lust” but infiltrators who had obtained false baptismal certificates and were plainly agents of communism. I heard from Bella Dodd that these evil men had even infiltrated the Vatican – for the Catholic Church is the arch enemy of Communism: and they know it.”

We are living the drama of Salvation History.

We cannot be afraid of hearing the negative. We must permit ourselves to experience the sorrow so that we can grieve and then gear up for battle. We now know that the Vatican knew about the sordid character of the Legionary founder, Maciel, as long ago as 1943 and did nothing. He was suspended as superior general and expelled from Rome for four years in the 1950’s for suspected pedophilia before being reinstated.

We must know.
We must make it our business.
We must decide to fight.
And if no one in authority will listen or act, then we must do it ourselves.

That there are good, holy priests fighting the good fight is absolutely true and I give thanks to God for these men who lay down their lives for us daily. In the midst of the chaos (although sometimes scattered and isolated) there is army of these good men! They know more than anyone of the danger within their own ranks and our failure to engage in the battle only harms them. It isolates them. It pierces them.

Let us stop our pearl clutching over harsh or negative news. We cannot escape the battle. And that means that we must choose which role we take in the fight.

IT COULD BE YOUR SON

When a lay person, priest, religious, bishop, or cardinal is being mistreated, abused, manipulated, silenced, or harassed by someone in authority over them, they often have nowhere to turn in the Church. Abuses are often ignored unless a civil court demands restitution for a proven crime or the laity yell loud enough. Groomed and abused seminarians are left to struggle with severe depression and loss of faith and identity. Priests are punished for their orthodoxy and  threatened with removal of faculties or even mental institutions. Good bishops are ignored by Rome. It is a painful thing but there is often no higher authority to which we can turn…and no outlet to which an abused or bullied member of the Church can use without increasing the abuse. Except…

Except for those in the Church who have been willing to look evil in the eye and call it out. And build again starting with the family.

As a parent of a young man discerning the priesthood, you must understand that those abused, harassed, alienated, and silenced priests could be your son…especially if your son is a particularly faithful Catholic. Start listening. Start speaking.

It’s time to level up.

Once you have begun to understand the true gravity of what is happening in the Church, you will have no choice but to cling to Jesus Christ, His promises, and His call to holiness. You will go through the grief and the doubt and then turn your heart back to Him with renewed fire and desire to serve and love and raise your sons to His Sacred Heart.

You will be able to stand in confidence and say “Enough! I’ve had enough.” And you will commit yourself to defending Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. It’s a battle with a known outcome. Now we just need to stand up and take our place in it.

Rise up, Church!
If God is calling men to become priests, then let Him call ours… and let us be prepared.

To again quote Dr. Alice von Hildebrand:

“What are faithful Catholics – aware of the gravity of the situation – to do? The answer is the one the Church has given us from the beginning: prayer, sacrifice, and the glorious conviction that the Forces of Evil shall not prevail.”


To Solve the Vocations Crisis: Serviam (Part 1)

Serviam Alter Server.jpg

Every Catholic knows there is a vocations crisis. We see how few laborers there are in the vineyard and we thirst for the guidance and fatherhood of those missing shepherds. We also know too well the the crisis of corruption which causes an even more painful and powerful destruction in the heart of the Church. Whether the crisis of the priesthood is the absence of the collar or the desecration of the collar, the solution is the same…but we have lost sight of it.

We have become lazy in our speech, in our efforts, and in our prayers. Our fervor is reserved for parish drama and keeping our church buildings from closing, but we seem to have lost our passion for the heart of vocation. We have forgotten what it means. Forgotten why we should care. And the upcoming generations have been formed by our failure. They have seen that our passion and love for the things of faith never surpass the fire we manage to breathe for youth sports…or politics…or technology.

As a consequence, we have also lost sight of the solution to the crisis.

We think it's about...

  • Numbers

  • Worldly appeal of the Gospel message

  • Praying harder

  • Better pizza at youth group

  • Married priests.

And we're wrong. Completely and devastatingly wrong.

One of the consequences of our collective forgetfulness is that the discerning man or woman is left to wander. They have not forgotten what vocation really means...they simply have never been taught. They have also not been taught the fundamental importance of healthy human formation. In other words, we get good priests by raising good men, but we are neglecting the foundation of what it means to be a good man.

“The vocation of humanity is to show forth the image of God and to be transformed into the image of the Father’s only Son.” — Catechism of the Catholic church, 1877

VOCATION

The truth is that there is only ONE primary vocation for all of humanity. And that is the call to HOLINESS. There isn't a soul alive that is not called first and foremost to this most noble vocation. 

It is the secondary (or particular) vocation which is considered to be in crisis. This is the one we fret over and focus on. People generally mean the priesthood when they say "Pray for vocations," but there are other particular vocations: Holy Orders (priesthood), Consecrated Religious Life, and Holy Marriage. If these are all in crisis (they all are), it is only because there is a crisis of holiness. 

The young man raises his arms to heaven and cries:
Lord! What is it you want me to do with my life?? 

And God answers:
Love and Serve. Take up your cross and follow me.

The young man thinks that the magic pill for holiness will come through his secondary vocation but he has it backwards. And so does his community. Pray for vocations! we shout. But we are forgetting - or maybe we were just never taught - that vocation of any kind doesn't start with some Catholic pixie dust that falls down from heaven when we pray "for vocations." It does not come from better youth groups or having a bigger parish community center…

Vocation begins in the heart of Christ. 

The closer a person draws to the Sacred Heart, the closer he or she draws to the very purpose of their life: Holiness. And then to the particular work for which they have been made. We should be praying unceasingly for these things and we must have prayer in order to draw close to Christ. And it is in that prayer that the courage to do the work begins. 

"You should be a priest, young man!" 

Perhaps...but first, he should recklessly pursue sanctity. Then when someone asks him what he is going to do with his life - where he thinks God is calling him - he will answer: SERVIAM! {I will serve.} When the mind, body, and soul of a man are formed to listen and follow the will of God in all things, he will hear his specific call and he will answer. 

“The Priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.” — St. John Vianney

static1.squarespace.jpg


FORMATION

When my son entered seminary as part of his discernment, people would frequently say "Oh! You are going to be a priest!" he would answer:

“No...I am going to study and grow so that I may know if God is truly calling me to be a priest.” 

He knew that he had a long way to go in that discernment process. Whether a man is ultimately called to be ordained or to enter the married or religious life, his healthy formation as a man will be paramount. If it is truly successful, regardless of what his particular vocation may be, he will be prepared to raise the cry of the Christian soldier. And his valiant actions will match his speech because he will have been prepared in mind, body, and soul for the long battle ahead. Regardless of our secondary vocation, whether we are male or female, young or old...  we are all to cry out with one voice:

SERVIAM!

I will serve. 

That courage does not come from just the act of saying the words of a prayer, but in calling the very presence of God into our lives, uniting our will and our actions to His divine will, and allowing everything — EVERYTHING — to be transformed by grace and the love of Christ.

MOVING FORWARD

It is easy to write about the ideal. It is significantly harder to walk the Way of the Cross in the footsteps of Christ. It is not a journey which should be undertaken without a proper understanding of what is required mind, body, and soul to become a healthy priest in the service of Christ and His Church.

The obstacles are many and there are practical matters to be considered when sending a son off into an institutional system which is unfortunately tainted with corruption in many dioceses and orders. The enemies of God pursue righteous men relentlessly and seminarians (and their parents) must know what they are facing ahead of time. They must be prepared to be warriors from the very beginning.

Part Two in this series is for parents of boys and young men who think that God might be calling their sons to discern at seminary. It is also intended to be a resource for the men themselves. But by directing it to parents, I hope it is understood that this preparation should start well before a son has left home. And preferably during the early years of childhood…

What Catholic Parents Need to Know Before a Son Enters Seminary (part 2)
(Look for this link to go live soon)

How I Healed My Feet and Fell in Love With Barefoot Shoes

After wearing medically-prescribed orthotics and expensive stability shoes for over 35 years, I have healed my feet and now prefer to live barefoot or in minimalist shoes. I never imagined that I would be able to write such a statement. I assumed my “flat feet” and pain were permanent. I was told they were by numerous doctors and convinced by DECADES of agony and dysfunction. But…

They were wrong. I was wrong.

This fascinating and wonderful revelation comes as yet another perk from my overall healing of a lifetime of chronic pain and illness. That is a long story and can be found partially HERE and also in my upcoming book. The short version is this:

I spent decades with underlying Lyme disease and a cascade of autoimmune conditions which developed as a result. Without a correct diagnosis and with no assistance from medical doctors, I reached a point of desperation and embraced radical lifestyle changes.

I eliminated all inflammatory foods, body products, and household cleaners and watched the seemingly miraculous unfold in my life. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have severe pain in my feet and lower body. But I was still dependent on my stability footwear. I didn’t realize that my restrictive shoes and orthotics had prevented my feet and ankles from developing strength and balance. Decades of misuse and lack of use had stunted that development and I had no memory of things being different. So I continued to view my lower appendages as an unfortunate but permanent liability.

CHANGING MY LIFESTYLE TO CHANGE MY FEET

A few years later, after seeking further help from functional medicine doctors and finally receiving correct diagnosis’, I made even more changes to my lifestyle and and nutrition. I read more about good posture, healthy movement, and gait. And for the first time, I wondered if it was possible to set aside my expensive orthotics.

It was just a minor thought but I started to go barefoot more around the house and do little exercises for my feet here and there. I thought I was really getting wild and crazy when I went barefoot to exercise in my living for the first time. Prior to that, I would not even do vigorous stretching without my footwear.

It was a slow and incremental process. I felt weak and sore when I went without my shoes. And insecure and uncomfortable with shoes but without inserts. Such a silly thing…but the memory of so many years of pain and injury dies hard and the process is slow. It was not weeks but many months which slipped into a solid year.

A few years ago, my podiatrist told me that my running days were over and he sent me home with a walking boot to help ease my pain. Yesterday, I went for an 8-mile hike in the woods with my husband… in minimalist shoes. My feet were tired and sore but only in a normal way. And when I awakened in the morning and wondered if my feet would be on fire… well… they weren’t.

Is it possible that I could run again? Is it possible that my old shoes were actually damaging my body? I read more and found evidence that it was certainly possible. I also found evidence that suggested that my shoes were actually a contributing factor to the neuropathy in my feet. For the thousandth time in this incredible journey of healing, I felt hope rise.

Once a week, my family leaves me to myself in the house and I get some things done in the silence and I do a wonderful and free workout without anyone watching (difficult to do normally with my house full of people!). During that time is when I have tentatively expanded my barefoot strength. A little dancing. A little jumping. A little lateral work. And then… a little more.

Quite frankly, the transformation has been almost unbelievable.

FROM FLAT FEET TO BALLERINA FEET

It rained this morning and I stepped outside to catch a few drops. My feet went through the puddles and then back onto the dry stone porch. I looked down briefly at a dragonfly and saw a footprint. Mine. Pictured at the top of this article. With an arch that I’ve never had in my life.

Instead of a flat pancake of a print…I had an arch. And nothing I could do would flatten it to the stone. I sat down and examined my foot and wondered what ballerina had switched feet with me in my sleep. I’m sure no one else would compare my feet to a dancer’s but I was quite taken with my beautiful firm arch.

Miraculous…but not. Because our greatest healing often comes when we align our actions to the biological design of our bodies. Once my pain was managed, I started to feel my feet again. Once I felt my feet again, I was able to properly care for them. I’m sure a gait specialist could look at my footprint and tell me how much dysfunction still remains. But I’m on my way.

NEW SHOES…NEW LIFE

My favorite pair of shoes is now a minimalist sandal from Xero Shoes and I’m gradually transitioning all of my foot gear to friendlier fashions. (That’s a very happily shared affiliate link, by the way. So if you purchase your own, I do benefit.) I will be buying my first pair of barefoot boots with them this coming month since I live in the Northeast and I’m excited to experience my first “barefoot” winter.

I used to feel such relief when I would put on a pair of stable shoes after walking barefoot. My feet were weak and had been trained to need that support. Now, I feel relief when I take my shoes off or use a minimalist shoe. The difference is amazing and I thank God for this shift in understanding which has led to healing.

I realize this article is a much simplified version of my overall story, but the path to healing is quite simple. Not easy, but simple. The difficulty is found in the daily decisions which ultimately lead to a recovering and strong body. To heal my feet, I did three things:

  1. Managed my pain and swelling through an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle

  2. Strengthened my feet and ankles and slowly weaned off of my restrictive support

  3. Introduced footwear (or went barefoot) to maintain a healthy gait

Those steps are simple. It is the small decisions not to drink the daily can of soda or to eat non-nutritious, inflammatory foods which derail us. It is the choice to buy the cute work shoes over the less-preferred style. And the hours at a desk without movement. But the effort to interfere with our dysfunction is worth it. It’s all worth it. Even if you aren't willing or able to make the major changes that I’ve made, I know that every little bit helps.

If you want to restore the health of your feet, start by taking off the narrow restrictive shoes and stretching them. Imagine that it’s possible. Then maybe eat a healthy meal…and start walking.

Barefoot shoes.png



Beyond the Stick Figure: Homeschool Art Program Review

{This post contains affiliate links. I may receive compensation for purchases you make through my links. More info Here. I also received several lessons for free in exchange for an honest review.}

Screen Shot 2019-08-13 at 10.00.38 AM.png

When I was a child, there was nothing I wanted more than to be an artist. As I grew into an older teen, that desire remained solidly intact but I lacked the understanding and guidance to make that happen. I never got the chance to go to art school but I never lost the deep urge to create. So…

I got married and had a bunch of beautiful babies who are growing into amazing people. And I have expressed my creative inclinations through my motherhood and interactions with the world. I have no regrets, but there is one thing I wish that I could have brought with me into my vocation…

I wish that I had been given a broader technical knowledge of art so that my hands would be free to produce something beautiful when my heart was overflowing with the desire to express it.

I’ve gone through several art programs in my homeschool over the last 17 years of homeschooling but none have really captured me. It’s always felt too much like “school” to me and I’ve been wary of dampening the delight of the children in their creative abilities. Not all of my older children had an interest in art but I do regret that I wasn’t able to open more doors of expression for them.

When I had the opportunity to review Beyond the Stick Figure, I was torn. I didn’t want to expend energy and time on another stuffy program that we didn’t want to finish. But after watching an introductory video, I was hooked. The instructor, Sally Stanfield, is an artist and homeschooling mother. And some of her first words to homeschooling moms convinced me this program was for me. She said (I’m paraphrasing):

Don’t squash their delight. Let them discover without pressure. Allow them to make their own mistakes and to learn the medium through experience, not henpecking.

Ah, I thought. She knows me. I’m a lover of art and embracing the wrong answer. Let’s do this…

(Scroll all the way down for my 10% discount code!)


Screen Shot 2019-08-13 at 9.59.54 AM.png

ALL CHILDREN ARE ARTISTS

The premise of this program is that all children are artists. It’s not something that some people are born with and others aren’t. Just as we are taught to read, we can be taught the foundational skills of art. And just like the emerging reader will someday be able to read the works of Shakespeare, the crayon scribbling toddler can also develop the ability to create something beautiful through art.

For a Christian, this give another avenue of expressing the truth built into creation by our creative God. We, who were made in His image and likeness, can learn to more fully express that joy.

FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

Beyond the Stick Figure is a program that can be used by almost every person in the family. We are currently using it with four students ages 6, 8, 12, and 15. And occasionally, the 3-year old will join us and contribute his own masterpieces! Everyone participates in the same lessons but brings his or her own degree of experience and fine motor maturity. There’s no reason why an adult cannot also enjoy the process.

Please note: This is also the perfect program for a non-homeschooling family because it isn’t cumbersome. It doesn’t add a burden to an already full schedule but makes itself available to a ANY child interested in pursuing a greater knowledge of art.

Screen Shot 2019-08-13 at 10.03.02 AM.png

SHORT LESSONS

I’m convinced that the best way to teach a child is to spend a brief amount of time instructing and then GET OUT OF THE WAY! lol Sally does a wonderful job of keeping the lessons only a few minutes long so that the student can spend the majority of the time practicing. There is no greater art teacher than the experience of manipulating the medium over and over…allowing the brain to connect with the hand…and enjoying the experience. A more advanced art student will perhaps need more rigorous training (to which they willingly submit) but for young ones, the majority of their experience should be a pleasure.

MANAGABLE FOR MOM

By the time most homeschool moms fit in all the basic courses we want for our children, art class can feel like a burden. Beyond the Stick Figure takes that load off. The price includes lifetime access and can be used by children independently or all together. The time required is minimal. And it can be done at your pace. You don’t have to be an art expert to run this class and you don’t have to grade papers.

REPEATABLE/REUSABLE

As I said, once you have purchased the course, you can use it for all of your students as often as you like. There is no limit to the number of times a student can go back and watch the lessons and practice the skills and techniques.

AFFORDABLE

The purchase is one time for all time and all children. From the comfort of your own home (yes, I know you don’t need another lesson to drive to!) with the option of allowing the kids to post their work to the online community. This program can work for multiple years, especially since a maturing student can repeat the lessons but with the ability to layer experience an their own innovation. Click the link HERE to go to the Beyond the Stick figure website for more information. And don’t forget to use my discount code for 10% off! ARTFORYOU19

Screen Shot 2019-08-13 at 10.15.40 AM.png

SUPPLIES

The supply list is one of my favorite aspects of this program! It is extremely simple. It is also focused on good quality materials which make the experience so satisfying for the children. For those moms hesitant to give professional art materials to young children, I will give you an example of how supplies can make or break the experience for a reluctant artist:

Did you ever gone to a restaurant and as a kid where they give cheap crayons to color the menu? You pull out the beautiful green crayon and start to color the dinosaur and… oh… it’s mostly a light, waxy, inconsistent smudge of color. You thought you were good at coloring until you tried that crayon! You know what you can do with a Crayola and although it’s just a restaurant placemat, it’s still disappointing and annoying.

That’s the difference. When your child has a real art marker in their hand and the heavy pigment first bleeds onto that paper… they will be delighted. You can certainly use whatever materials you like (you’re the teacher!) but I do recommend using her list. We use her list all the way down to our 6-year old but the 3-year old gets Crayola markers. :)

The supply list:

  • Quality alcohol ink markers like Prismacolor (set of 12). A typical price is around $20. A great price is anything under $20. Using coupons at a local supply store like Joann Fabrics can be a great way to save.

  • Quality art pad like Strathmore for lessons and filing art. This does double duty as a work space and a portfolio.

  • Copy paper. We use the same paper we buy for our printer.

We also purchased a flat plastic bin for each child at the Target dollar section to hold their supplies and a washi tape for identifying their markers. She does teach the kids how to care for their materials and one suggestion is to use tape to identify markers with multiple students. Smart lady! We thought the colorful washi tape would be an easy way to do that.

Screen Shot 2019-08-13 at 10.06.49 AM.png

Our bins neatly fit the kids’ materials. Most of the children have the set of 12 Prismacolor markers but the older two girls received a larger set of 24 last Christmas with a nice carrying case (above). That purchase was made well before we discovered this course (because I already believed in giving the kids good supplies) so we were extra excited to be able to use them with this course. Be savvy and SHOP THE SALES!! Even on Amazon, a search will reveal different prices by multiple sellers. Right now, I see one seller selling a 12-count for $17 and another for $25. Before Christmas last year, we found the 24-count with case on sale for 50% off at a small online art store.

Screen Shot 2019-08-13 at 10.04.26 AM.png

He’s 100% happy with his $1 Crayola markers.

Screen Shot 2019-08-13 at 10.08.27 AM.png
Screen Shot 2019-08-13 at 10.10.44 AM.png

Sally cautions not to criticize or force the child’s learning to satisfy our motherly pride or desire to control. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that approach and also that reminder. This process is not about me and what I look like. It is to benefit and bless our children and our first order of business is to honor their need for home to be a safe and inspiring place to learn.

Screen Shot 2019-08-13 at 10.12.09 AM.png
art.jpg


Every one of my students looks forward to doing this program and enjoys the new lessons… and I do as well. Sometimes the most critical ingredient to the long-term success of a homeschool program is really whether or not mom likes it! I’m a fan. And I think we’ve finally found a program that fuels the joy of creating instead of trying to compartmentalize it.

TO PURCHASE

Visit the Beyond the Stick Figure website, select your program, and use the 10% discount code: ARTFORYOU19

Enjoy! And may your school year (and life) be richly blessed with the creative love of Jesus Christ!

Screen Shot 2019-08-13 at 2.34.08 PM.png


Fixing Stupid: Learning to Love the Wrong Answer

I did not love school. There may have been a time when I did love it but it is not something I remember. As a very little girl, I found school a terrifying ordeal. Everything was cold, loud, and urgent, and I always felt like I was doing something wrong whether it was getting in the wrong line or going too far ahead in the reading book. I did have many positive experiences during those years but they are overshadowed in my mind. I suppose that’s human nature.

As an older student, my stark fear gave way to a steady anxiety. Classes and teachers changed but there was always the same crude, frantic, phony world surrounding me and to which I had adapted. I was naturally intelligent (as most children are) and I cared about my grades and pleasing my teachers. Yet somewhere along the way I lost confidence and hope, overwhelmed with a sense of failure and fear.

In addition to the fear of being ridiculed by my classmates, my greater fear as a little girl was of humiliation via the ubiquitous wrong answer. It was the enemy of all happiness. It haunted my homework, my tests, recess, lunch, and my classroom experience. The wrong answer brought the red ink, the frown of a teacher, the mocking laughter of my peers. It said YOU are an idiot. 

As a small child, I believed that I could learn everything and do anything. I hadn't yet learned to distrust my teachers or the system. I believed what they said. I was told I was smart. That I was a good student. And I never questioned that in the beginning.

Yet as the wrong answers started to pile up and the hard system wore down my flimsy confidence, I stopped believing adults when they said that I was intelligent. I could see the message clearly, scribbled in red ink, that I was not. Even when I knew the answer when called on in class, I was paralyzed by my lack of confidence and, doubting myself, would even give answers I did not believe to be true.  I thought if I was answering a question, odds are that I was wrong. I was shy with my peers, terrible at "comebacks" and ignorant of current boy bands. Those things, among others, sealed my conviction:

I am stupid.

In my early years, I was considered a bright student and was at the top of my class, often receiving special recognition and honors. When I hit junior high, I earned a new label: underachiever.

To me, that label translated to one thing…

You suck. You are so unalterably stupid that you can't even do anything with the smarts that you do have.

My teachers still talked about how smart I was but now it was in a wistful way... as if remembering something that had been lost. My parents knew I was smart and communicated that to me, but that made it more painful; to know that there was nothing I could do to repay their confidence in me.

I wasn’t really stupid, I just hated school and myself. My soul and body were gripped by despair and pain and I wanted to disappear… to die. But that’s a story for a different day. That was MY story but grades aren’t nuanced enough to communicate those things. And ultimately, the reasons wouldn’t have been helpful to my teachers. Their job was to evaluate the grade and not to parent me…and I understand that. So I hobbled along with the labels and grades, struggling to find the motivation to keep trying. To keep living.

Fast-forward to my adult years during which I have struggled to overcome the ingrained belief that I am truly an idiot...

When I first started home educating, I taught my children fear of the wrong answer and unfortunately, they learned the lesson. They learned to run from it just as I had learned. They learned that it was far better to clam up than to risk looking like a real fool. The deer in the headlights stare of a school student is simply the youthful equivalent to pleading the fifth on the adult witness stand.

I refuse to incriminate myself. Think me stupid either way but I won't prove it publicly.

I passed along the disease of our educational system in my homeschool... and I have been working to heal that wound ever since.

I now want my children to embrace their wrong answers because I understand that there are no true right answers without them. In our search for the truth, we must engage our options and grapple with possibilities. Without wrong answers, we do not truly own the right ones. We become automatons who spit back information that someone fed to us. That is not true education. It has no place in my homeschool.

As a younger home educator I jealously guarded the teacher manuals. I was the keeper of the right answer and you may not have it, child, unless I choose to release the secret.

 It took years for me to realize how ridiculous that was. The turning point was reading John Holt's How Children Fail. I read my own story in those pages and shook with emotion as my eyes opened.

I am not stupid. 

“When children are very young, they have natural curiosities about the world and explore them, trying diligently to figure out what is real. As they become "producers " they fall away from exploration and start fishing for the right answers with little thought. They believe they must always be right, so they quickly forget mistakes and how these mistakes were made. They believe that the only good response from the teacher is "yes," and that a "no" is defeat.” ― John HoltHow Children Fail

Once I realized that my response to a fear-based education was normal, I handed over many of the teacher manuals to my kids. I soon found that there was less fear, less temptation to cheat, fewer tears. They had access to the secrets… and the magic pill to real learning wasn’t in that manual… it was in the hard work they would put in to make the knowledge their own. Our focus turned slowly from testing to learning and we began to correct the ridiculous but ingrained notion that the test exists to expose stupidity and teachers to correct the ignorant.

I deeply regret passing on the dysfunction that I learned in school to my children. But the human spirit is resilient and my kids are doing just fine. They are slowly learning that wrong answers are a gift and a part of the positive process of authentic education. They naturally crave truth and knowledge and do not need me to frighten them into pursuing those things. And I am learning how to change my language and methods to reflect the confidence and respect that I have for them.

There are indeed "right answers" in the world and I do teach them to my kids. Objective assessment is an important tool in our lives, especially for students hoping to move on to college. But I do strive to defend my children from an education that emphasizes perfect testing over authentic learning. Eventually, children must learn to seek, educate, explore, and uncover a passion for truth without your constant direction. Otherwise, they are just your little robots. For the short term.

At some point, they will begin to question... and they will either be prepared for that journey to self-knowledge or they will not. They will meet the wrong answer many times on that journey. Will it inspire fear? Or will they lean into the obstacle with enthusiasm, knowing that it will inevitably lead to true growth and knowledge?

Homeschooling moms... Do you have a struggling student? Want to bless their day? Put away the red pen for a while and just let them relax and learn without fear.

Don’t worry about perfect. It’s a chimera. Just strive to learn with deep love for the whole person.


Photo by Daniel Watson on Unsplash

The Lie of the Apostolate {How I Left My Children Poor}

go home and love your families (1).jpg

They said that I should have an apostolate if I wanted my kids to grow in faith. That I should build up the kingdom. Use my skills. Be a leader. Be salt and light to the world. They said that it wasn't enough to love my kids...that God made me for more. 

They were wrong. 

My family is my apostolate. My home is my headquarters. My husband is my fundraiser. If God calls me to do some further outreach, it will only be that which does not leave my family unloved, uncared for, or with only the leftovers of who I am. 

My apostolic works have often been excuses... distractions...ways of feeling like a productive Christian while avoiding the harder work. A way of breaking up the boredom of sacrificial work done without devotion. 

I would have been a better woman, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and homeschooler over the last 20 years if I hadn't bought into the idea that I needed to become some kind of minister to the world. Some moms have the gift of being high energy. I am not one of them. And I have expended myself in so many different directions, convinced that my outreaches and apostolic works were the moral equivalent of what I was doing at home. I was wrong. 

I once printed out the words of Pope St. John Paul II when speaking about the poor of the world. I wanted to recall them during my daily work. He said:

"You must never be content to leave them just the crumbs of the feast. You must take of your substance, and not just of your abundance, in order to help them. And you must treat them like guests at your family table."

I fancied myself a real winner because I thought I understood his message. Give to those less fortunate and give until it hurts and costs more than a mild inconvenience. I knew what it meant to be on the receiving end of Christ-like sacrificial love and I knew the power of the mercy of Jesus and I wanted to be that for others.  My problem was that I didn't see the hypocrisy of leaving the crumbs for my own children while I fed strangers.

I didn't see them as guests.
I didn't see them as the poor.
I didn't see them…
Not through the lens of Christ anyway, but only through the vision of a self-oriented mom. 

Oh, how the narcissism of our age seeps into the cracks of our ships! 

It was preceding Mother Teresa's canonization when I heard her words with a new intensity. And I realized that I never fully understood her in spite of the boldness and simplicity of her message. I was too busy patting myself on the back for being apostolic. 

I had distorted her words into placards with which to console myself that I was doing just fine. Point to Jesus. Love all the people. I did. But...it was the easy way out. Kind of like buying pretty trinkets at the Dollar Tree to feel good about saving money instead of showing up for work to pay the bills. An apparent good which distracts from the hard work to which we are really called.

It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.

— Mother Teresa of Calcutta

We are all called to spread the Gospel, but it is a lie to say that spreading the Gospel to my children is not enough. The Church has enough apostolates. What she needs is a revival of sacrificial hardcore love in the domestic church. Not just a put-'em-in-a-good-school-so-the-experts-can-do-it kind of revival, but real transformation. It has always been that way because real love is not about big numbers...it is about one soul at a time. 

As parents, we ARE the experts designated by God and by virtue of our vocation and our sacramental graces. And it IS our apostolic work to raise our children to know the love of Jesus Christ. If we have been faithful in that mentorship of love, perhaps someday we will see our children go out and give Gospel witness to all the world - and to the souls with whom they have been entrusted.

They will carry the fire.
They will witness through their lives.
Others will ask your family the cause of your hope and the reason for your joy. 
And that is how true apostolic work begins. 

We hear the truth over and over again. Go home and love your families. And yet we are always seeking elsewhere... as if our path to holiness can ever be found elsewhere than in loving God and the souls He places in our paths. Those little hearts need us as badly as our neighbor does. And they have been given specifically to us. They are our poor and it is for them that our hearts should burn with compassion.

It's not an either/or when it comes to loving family and neighbor. It's a both/and. And yet... and yet... one must take priority in the order of love. 

The truth is that we only need fund-raising, event-holding apostolates because our shepherds have wavered, Christians have sold their inheritance, and our families have abdicated their roles as the domestic church (Ecclesia Domestica). It's a truth that stings and I take responsibility for my part. I repent... 

If I bless another soul, let it never again be at the expense of the ones with whom I have been entrusted.

I am not saying that we should never engage in any apostolic work apart from our home and families. Many families are doing this work together in a beautiful and life-giving way. But there are plenty of people who have led neighboring souls into the Church while their own families were starved for love. God will always work where people are seeking Him. But those families can tell you about the lie they bought at the price of their children's hearts. It is a painful lesson to learn. Let it not be said of us that our families were left starving while we worked for the Church...or that our families flourished in spite of us.

Our great works become just dusty monuments to our own pride if we have sacrificed our children in order to build them.

If I were asked for advice about whether a mother or father should start an apostolic work in addition to their labors at home, I would say: Yes, do it if it is God's will. Let it be an extension - an expansion - of the life-giving love present in your family. But don't ever do it in such a way that Mother Teresa has to call you out on the lie. Mea culpa.

Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater developments and greater riches and so on, so that children have very little time for their parents. Parents have very little time for each other, and in the home begins the disruption of peace of the world.

— Mother Teresa of Calcutta

When Busy is Beautiful: Transforming Frenetic into Fruitful

It has been several years since I first published this and we walked away from a lifestyle centered around youth sports. I have no regrets…


We used to be busy. I mean B.U.S.Y... with practices and lessons and coaching and training and tournaments. There were times (embarrassed as I am to admit this) that we actually spent 20 to 40 hours in one week investing in the sport of 1 to 3 children. Our kids were successful and success can be like a vacuum. It sucks you in, demanding more and more... until it sucks the very soul out of you.

We have reached the one year anniversary of our departure from B.U.S.Y. We have spent quite a bit of time floundering about trying to reestablish our identity as a faith-centered family and it has been a time of tremendous growth and learning. Not the least for me.

Busy can be a state of affairs (as in, "we have a lot to do") or it can be an identity.

I AM busy. This activity in which I am involved is WHO I am. I identify myself with it. I am not me without it. I am a swimmer. I am a volleyball player. I am an athlete. I am the mother of an athlete.

But when it comes down to it... I am a follower of Christ. And how does the busyness in my life reflect that without question?

When we walked away cold turkey from club sports, we told the Lord...

We are opening up our lives to You... please fill us up with Your Divine Will. Choose our adventure!

It was a scary but exhilarating time and I first wrote about it this way:

”We have pulled our highly talented and successful athletic children out of all team sports... and we are recommitting our time, talent, and treasure to the Lord.

That statement encompasses so many months of prayer and discernment, tears, confusion, rejoicing, discovering, dreaming, worrying... I just don't know how to cover it all adequately. It was something like delivering a baby. Painful, but rather worth it. I will just tell you one thing...

When God wants to do great work in the family, the family has to make room. We made room and now we are in an uncomfortable, yet exciting, period of rediscovery. It is time to uncover God's greater plans, not because athletics aren't a good thing when properly used, but because they were preventing us from being open to something better.

We are definitely fumbling around a bit. Wandering. Growing. Spending much more time at home while we wait for God's plan to unfold a bit. We have been dabbling a little in music and expanding our  involvement in pro-life work. There is a lot to say but again, it's almost too much to speak to yet. Here’s to new beginnings! Thanks be to God!”

Now, one year later, He has answered that prayer in this take-us-whereever-You-want-us-to-go adventure. It is not walking in blind faith because our eyes are open and fixed on Him, but the details certainly continue to surprise.

I have an intense fondness for the sporting lifestyle and could be easily tempted back into it. I like the energy and the challenge and the rises and falls. I like coaching. I like the smell of the gym and the pool. I like braiding hair and feeding kids and cheering and comforting. I even like the thrill of getting up at 3am to make sure that food and bags are prepared for the 8am meet with a 7:30 arrive time and a 2-hour drive preceding... and certainly the haul of medals and ribbons for the way home.

1469494704152.jpeg

I will always love the beauty of well performed athletic action. We didn't step away because sport is intrinsically bad but because we don't compete halfway... and modern youth sport culture demands life blood as the price of success. For example, if Cookie were playing in her well-deserved position on a team aiming for a national championship this year, our family would be spending Easter in Baltimore. And every year thereafter. Thank God for clear signs. This particular one served simply to highlight all the other misdirected decisions we were making.

Not even for a college scholarship. We will not sell our family for a bag of gold.

As we conclude this pivotal year, we have been unexpectedly given a period of pure B.U.S.Y. and the competitor in me is jazzed and ready to go. But not for sport... for the dignity of all people, for the greater glory of God, for Love. This is a new busy. At the moment, it is rather intense and requires the kids to explore a new set of skills and experiences. But that adrenaline rush is still there. For all the right reasons this time.

To be completely honest, I have become quite comfortable with our slower pace. Even a little spoiled by it. We have commitments but they are carefully chosen and two nights a week are "busy" with Holy Mass. Although I used to taxi all over creation for sport, I whine a little now when I have to be disengaged from the house, especially when there's a fire in the wood stove! But I'm ready for an expansion. We've done a lot of healing. And even with this growing pregnant belly, I know that I can plan and tote car seats and pack food with the best. But this time, I pray that my heart will be focused on the work of the Lord.

I pray that our hearts will continue to be centered around the sacraments and our domestic church. That God will be glorified by all of our busy days. That He will provide the grace and strength that we need to reach out when He calls us to do so... and to retreat to our hearth when it is best for our souls.

IMG_0203.jpg

I once wrote the following to my kids:

“I pray you always remember the final goal. Don't forget that there will always be someone faster than you. Always someone stronger. Always someone who can jump higher. There will be times when you lose because someone cheats; when you lose because someone on your team gives up; when you lose because you just didn't give your best; or because of injury.

There will be times when people hate you for your success and times when they will attempt to hurt you because of it... you have felt that sting. You know. There will be times when you give everything you have and it will not be enough. And times when people give you too much credit, too much attention and praise... and you will be tempted to forget to Whom proper gratitude is due.

Remember the lessons of the pool: "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?" ~ Mark 8:36

Do not forget the final goal. Pursue goodness. Pursue truth. Pursue beauty. There are millions of other people pursuing success in your sport. If fighting for success costs you permanent things, then let those people have success. And let it go. It is fleeting... and you will never regret the prize you have gained in its place.”

Since I wrote that, they have grown so much. I know that they miss it but they also understand that giving up their primary identity as athletes was a critical step in discovering the adventure that God has chosen for them. A year after we walked away, my oldest commented to me:

Imagine if we had kept going! We would have been completely swept away by now. There would be no end to it. More money. More time. More drama. Further and further from where we should really be. For what? 

And that comment came from my most intense competitor. Praise the Lord! He shown us how to make busy beautiful.

Originally published in 2012

The Longest-Shortest Morning Offering and How to Be at Peace with Distractions in Prayer

I have a morning prayer routine that, on my better days, is lovely and slow and focused. But before I even open my eyes in the morning, I have developed the habit of saying a simple morning offering… because one just never knows how the morning will go. Before I roll over, before my feet hit the floor, before I stand bleary-eyed before my toothbrush... I make sure my day is covered.

There are those days, however, when even that little prayer gets the better of me. I believe I tried to say that Morning Offering seven times yesterday. I just couldn't finish it without wandering into a million separate muddled thoughts. My eyes were too heavy to open but I knew I wanted to get through that one little prayer and kept beginning again and again and again. Finally, I managed to finish but completely bungled all the words. What did I just say? *sigh* So, I gave up.

Instead of giving Him a bouquet of carefully arranged roses, I gave Him a few dried petals…

Lord, I’ve been praying that same prayer for over a decade but I can't say it today. I'll just tell you in a less lovely way and move on. I briefly offered my whole day to him, consecrated myself to the Divine Mercy and the Immaculate Heart of Mary (in an off-the-cuff kind of way) and offered my day for all the intentions and people I wanted to but couldn't particularly recall (YOU know, Lord.). I think the whole thing took 30 seconds.

It was a fine day although I stumbled in a fog through most of it. I got some things cleaned but not most things. I managed to get most of the children through the day without any bruises or scrapes… but not all of them. I consciously thought of God… but not much or often. Dinner was a success… but I didn't get the dishes done. The green juice (for St. Patrick's Day) was a hit… but no one really liked the pudding.

“Love you, St. Patrick”… I mumbled through my mental fog and clutter. But I forgot the Angelus.

I wanted to walk five miles but only walked four and irritated my knee doing it. I tried to read but couldn't focus. I hoped to get to bed early but was still up at 1:00 am. Doing what? I don't know... wandering around in a sleepy, distracted haze.

As I laid down on the same pillow on which I had struggled with that Morning Offering so many hours earlier, I tried to do my delayed examination of conscience. I immediately thought about the dishes and had to begin again. I thought about the dentist and began again. I thought about how I'd rather be a mom than anything I ever dreamed of being as a kid... and had to begin again...and again... and again...

What is it with me today, Lord? I'm as scattered as a snowstorm. But I love you. I love you...and I’ll keep trying…

And I slept.

Some days are low-powered like that. Foggy. Slow. Mildly productive. And it's all right. Good sleep is important and tomorrow is another day. Moms need sleep. I need sleep. A lot more than I had been getting.  In those slogging days, I'll run on adrenaline, grace, and the longest-shortest Morning Offerings ever prayed. And while I stumble on, He'll read my heart and know all the thoughts my mind won't form and all the words my tongue doesn't say.

I trust that He knows. He is Mercy. He made me. And He knows I need some sleep.

The next morning, I prayed a quick and easy Morning Offering and found the rosary that I hadn’t prayed the night before in the middle of my blankets. I returned it to my dresser, knelt down next to my bed, and began my day with focused prayer. I only thought about breakfast once… and about my to-do list a couple times. And maybe the dust bunny by the door for a brief moment.

Fortunately, It’s not a failure to be distracted. It’s only a failure to stop trying. God is not a bean counter but a lover… and prayer is not a box to be checked but a relationship to be nurtured. If today was not your best day, He will be waiting for you in the morning.

Potty Training 101: Stay Cool, Communicate Well, Embrace the Mess

{This post contains affiliate links. I may receive compensation for purchases you make through my links. More info Here.} 

Potty Training.jpg

We're currently potty training our 8th child. It is about this time that I wonder if it would really be so terrible to let the kids wear diapers just a little bit longer. But he's almost 3 years old and diapers are expensive... so on with the adventure!

For those of you who haven't done this yet, I’ll share one of my favorite potty training interactions with a child and then provide a convenient list of helpful tips. I am not an expert. I just have a lot of experience in the ups and downs of it all…


In this memory from several years ago, Little Cub came running up the stairs in nothing but his new underpants. Where are you going? I asked...

To the bafroom.
Did you already pee in your pants?
Yes.
Okay. Go sit on the potty and I'll be right there to help you.

*Child does a sumo wrestler walk up the stairs, trying not to let his legs touch his wet unders*

As I followed him up, I stepped into wet carpet where he had been standing and sighed, making a mental note to come back to that.

Once in the bathroom, I noted a little puddle on the floor in front of his little potty and his soiled pair of pants next to that. He had been watching a Veggietales video with his sisters and missed his body cues. I calmly sat down on the edge of the bathtub and smiled encouragingly as he concentrated while still trying to pretend that I wasn't paying too much attention to him.

I'm done! he shouted. And he lifted up the little bowl filled with his accomplishments. I smiled and told him what a great big boy he was becoming and we flushed together.

I then put a diaper on him. It was getting late in the day, you know. Enough is enough. We can scrub up and cheer on more tomorrow.

I sent him on his way back to his sisters and proceeded to wash the carpet, the bathroom floor, the little potty bowl, and do the proper thing with the underpants (if you must know, I threw them into the bathtub until I could get them into the wash later on).

That's reality and it's okay. I trust that they will be trained by high school and relax. For those of you new to this (or just needing a little multi-child boost), I offer you a list of helpful hints based on my experience...

1. If you have carpets and plan on potty training more than one child, replace the carpets with hard flooring asap if possible. I know carpeting is comfy, but it will only take a couple accidents before you know the value of my advice.

2. Embrace the mess. It happens. Sometimes all over the place. Don't freak out. Say a prayer and just clean it up. If you freak out, you'll just make it harder on yourself and the kid.

3. Don't yell at the kid for an oops. Just don't. It never helps and just freaks them out about the whole experience. Express your frustration audibly one too many times and you will be rewarded by a fearful child who suddenly figures out how to hide urine-soaked underpants… probably under your couch.

4. Don't throw a party every time they go. Enthusiasm is warranted but try not to give the thing more than it deserves. Just act like it's the most natural thing in the world. Give smiles and hugs liberally but not disproportionate to your normal encouraging behavior. Remember that there will probably be momentary lapses... and if your general approach is even and not overboard, the child won't feel like a horrific failure during the oops times. Instead of "OH NO! WHAT DID YOU DO???!!!" try "Oops... oh well, it happens. Try to get it into the potty next time okay? Don't forget to come get mommy if you need me to fly you there super fast. Shall we get you another pair of underpants? Uh oh... they're all dirty. That's okay. I have an extra diaper."

Communicate and love well. Refrain from excessive drama and your child will take your cue and transition more calmly

5. Encourage a healthy relationship with the "big potty" as soon as possible. If the child is overly attached to the little plastic trainer, peeing at Grandma's and in public restrooms is going to be challenging. This is physically challenging for tiny people but not impossible. You know how they can move the chair, climb onto the counter and find the candy you've hidden on top of the fridge? Yeah... they can handle the potty with a little practice.

6. Refrain from buying an expensive neon singing training potty. See #4. I like our plain white Baby Bjorn (pictured at the top of this post) because it is so normal looking. No frills. Get on, get off, move along. I also really like this potty seat topper for the same reasons and because it is soft and secure for the big potty transition.

7. Bring sanitizer wipes, plastic bags, a towel, and DIAPERS in the car and keep them there while training. No need to be a hero. Prepare well. This is a process.

8. Try to schedule the first days with underpants during warm weather. This will make it a whole lot easier to manage laundry since there will be fewer clothes to soil. There is also more time spent outside in the grass instead of on your living room carpet.

9. Every child is different. Honor that if you're working on kiddo #2 or beyond and be flexible with expectations.

10. Some children will do well during the day and not so great at night. Some kids are naturally very deep sleepers. We have had two of these (a smoke detector sounding in the same room would not wake them so wet sheets certainly made no impact). Don't panic. Don't freak out. If you are losing sleep and changing sheets DAILY, just buy pull-ups and gently work on it. You need your sleep. Don't talk about it in front of others and don't put undue importance on the matter. Just love them through it and make sure you find the wet pull-ups if they try to hide them under the bed.

11. Ask them frequently if they have to go and learn the signs of "holding it." Seriously, this is a big part of the process. They need to learn how to pay attention to and evaluate their body signals and it is not as easy as we imagine it should be. Even if they say "no".... just use your mommy sense and take them when it seems like it should be time.

12. If your boys are too short to reach, do not attempt to teach them the standing up method yet. In fact, even if they are not too short, don't teach them that yet. You will regret it. Everything is a target and you won’t regret buying yourself some time. Just sayin.’

13Don't be afraid to wait for readiness. I know there are mamas out there who claim to be able to train babies. I admire that but have no experience with it. My own experience is with toddlers and that the process goes a lot more smoothly when maturity (mental, emotional, and physical) is in line with my goals.

14. Practice firm, loving discipline in all areas of life. Don't freak out. Communicate well.

I'm sure there are more. Add them in the comments if you'd like. Here are a few possible obstacles (there are countless) to potty training to be aware of:

1. Child is afraid of falling in the toilet and getting flushed.
2. Child is afraid of a little black thing on the floor that looks like a spider.
3. Child is afraid of his own stool. I'm not joking.
4. Child is afraid of being in the bathroom by himself.
5. Child is afraid of turning on the light by himself (or is unable to reach it).
6. Child does not wish to interrupt playtime in order to go and would rather sit in it.
7. Child has an extremely laid back temperament and simply isn't interested.
8. Child is accustomed to being allowed to throw terrible fits when anything doesn't go his way and refuses to cooperate (this is a much larger discipline problem that will certainly affect potty training).
9. Primary caregiver (that's most likely you, mama) has issues with drama/temper and has undermined the child's confidence.
10. Child doesn't like the color of his underpants. Please see #8
11. Child has an underlying health issue.

The answer to all of these obstacles is patient, calm, firm, and attentive caregiving. Just like everything else in parenting. There will be many times as they grow that you wish parenting was as easy as potty training. This moment is a blessing and, by the way, makes hilarious memories. 
Stay cool, mama... and love well.


Photo by Amy Reed on Unsplash

When There is No Money Tree: Stewardship in a Large Family

piggy bank (1).jpg

Several years ago, my daughter and I stood out in the rain looking out across the yard. I wasn't facing her but I could feel her strong presence and her eyes looking down on me, waiting to find out why I had brought her there. She has been taller than I since she was ten. She's now a teenager. She took off her socks so they wouldn't get wet and waited for me to speak. I hesitated to explain, hating the way I had to disappoint her. I didn't know the right way to say it, so I just said what I knew..

We can't afford it. We don't have the money. I'm sorry. You can't play this season.

She stood as still and quiet as a statue. A beautiful statue. The only movement I saw was the slight flicker of pain in her eyes and a tear that gathered there, not quite ready to fall. I kept talking but mostly just to fill the space and to try to somehow comfort her. In the back of my mind, a memory was playing of a conversation I had just had with another mom at the gym. We were talking about the expenses that seemed bigger than our husband's paychecks. The woman said:

Oh, I know what you mean. It's so much money. But it means so much to her that we just find the money somehow.

I wanted to ask her what she meant. I have heard that phrase many times over the years and I really don't know what it means. How does a family just find money? Do they find it under a mattress? On a money tree? Rob a bank? From generous family members? Do they take on more debt? Or find it in their healthy retirement account or their kids' college funds?

How do I explain to my talented daughter that we looked and looked and we cannot find that money... but somehow, everyone else can?

This is one of those moments in parenthood when a husband wonders why he can't provide certain things for his family... even though he provides everything essential. And when a wife wonders if it's time to get a job, even though her hands work so hard at home. It is a moment when all priorities are hastily thrown into a huge pile and carefully and painfully put back into order.

The temptation is to redesign the order. To bump things up that should stay down and to demote those priorities which seem to be holding us back... but are actually the glue that holds us together.

The girls had already been practicing and scrimmaging together. The coach had already given her an integral place on the team. They already cared about her and they'd made t-shirts together. They had prayed together and picked prayer partners. Then they told us about the added tournaments. And...

... we can't find the money.

We live in a middle class culture that doesn't understand those words. We pick up debt like we pick up a dirty sock off of our living room floor. We throw it in the laundry basket hoping it all turns out okay in the wash. Easy. Until we find that debt is not like dirty socks but more like a cancer that denies what is life-giving and steals from the future. In my family, we fight debt like cancer. And when we have it, we work diligently to repay those to whom we are indebted.

So we stood in the rain and cried in each other's arms, knowing that sport is not the center of life... but hurting like crazy all the same. If guided by my emotions, I would give her everything. Thank God for the safety net of Biblical wisdom and long-sighted husbands. She wouldn't be the strong and grace-filled girl she is today if I had my way.

My confident and strong girl. With the beautiful nurturing heart. Who longs to give support and grace to souls. My mini-me who has already surpassed her mama in so many ways. The girl who is constantly inspiring me to be better than I think I can be.

She told me that she understood and that it was okay. And then she stayed up late writing me a love note and attached a picture of her smiling face. She was letting me know she was okay. I opened it in the morning and cried in gratitude.

I couldn't help but think about the popular women’s conferences I had longed to attend but could not. And the retreat that I would pass up and opportunities that I let fall by the wayside. The truth is that I crunched the numbers to see if it was possible for me to do these things even while knowing that it wasn't. I thought maybe I could find it somewhere. And like my daughter, I wondered how it is that all these other people can find it precisely when they want it.

We are not destitute. We have all of our needs met and much more besides. I often feel like a princess in my nice home looking out on wooded acreage. It was always my dream. My husband is a good provider and has kept us above water and one of the ways he has done that is by saying no to what we can't actually pay for. Because of that, it sometimes seems that we have less. We never went on a honeymoon. We rarely vacation. A good portion of our clothes are secondhand. We have never owned a brand new vehicle. We waited for years to put some carpeting in our concrete-floored family room. We went without a shower for months while we saved to pay for a bathroom reno. First world problems. Our hope is that in the end, we will find that we have made the right investments... and that the reward will have multiplied.

Stewardship seems pretty straight forward... but it is a hard, hard lesson learned in the rain and through the tears.

The one and only thing that should ever be at the top of our priority list is to do God's will. Perhaps it is is His will that my daughter have the experience of high school sports on a Christ-centered team. But if it truly is God's will, I know that He is big enough to provide the means for us to do it. Since He has not, I think the answer is pretty clear.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

1410933260676.jpeg

How to Heal Broken Motherhood and Change the World

Six women walk together along the road, silent in their thoughts. Each one is lonely, suffering, and yet comforted by the presence of the others. They are sisters - although they come from different homes - and they hold hands as they walk. Occasionally, a tear slips down a lowered cheek and a grip tightens in encouragement. Beautiful sisters. When one stumbles, the others keep her strong and straight. They support her until her heart can bear its own weight.

Unique. Loving. Suffering. Lonely in their own ways but united in the gift of their femininity and the call of motherhood; physical and spiritual. They are pouring themselves out to nurture the world and to  bring humanity closer to the heart of Christ, like Blessed Mother, one heroic step at a time...

The first woman is infertile. The harshness of that word grates at her soul and her arms ache to hold a life that springs forth from her womb. It is a longing that cannot be satisfied even as she lives life fully, using her unburdened arms to serve the needs of the world; an ache that persists even during happy times. The world is impatient and insensitive. The cross is hidden within her heart and she bravely smiles and loves. I am a woman seeking my motherhood. Sweet Jesus, where are my children?

The second woman is fertile and has born children. She is confused by the paradox of joy and suffering in her motherhood. She loves her babies and yet stumbles under the weight of the beloved little ones. The world does not see the pain of her failures and weariness. It sneers at her messy life and mocks the mystery of spousal love. The cross is hidden within her heart and she bravely smiles and loves. I am ill-equipped, Lord. How can I go on?

The third woman is a spiritual mother, a consecrated religious. She has given her motherhood and spousal love to God and has countless spiritual children. He is her beloved and she gladly offers her life for him, but the heart sometimes yearns for the loving touches of flesh. The world does not understand such sacrifice and strikes at the wound. The cross is hidden within her heart and she bravely smiles and loves. You are enough, Lord... why do I still yearn?

The fourth woman has embraced the children of others. Adopted them to be her own. She knows both the longing for love and the heaviness of sacred treasure in her arms; a heart mama who gives her body to sacrificial love. The world sees a romance while she builds a kingdom with her blood, sweat, and tears. The cross is hidden within her heart and she bravely smiles and loves. My own. Not my own. Father, how can I replace what they have lost?

The fifth woman has lost her children. Her womb was full but now is empty and she breathes through the aching like a woman perpetually in labor... and the world expects her to silence her cries of agony. She serves others heroically and gladly even while the loneliness pierces her heart. The cross is hidden within her heart and she bravely smiles and loves. Why are my arms empty, Lord?

The sixth woman has lost her child to abortion. She regrets giving over her motherhood to the hands of liars and grieves deeper than eyes can see. She has children at home but is missing one. The pain is staggering and silent but it is not her desire to forget her own... and so she embraces it, loves passionately, and stumbles on. The world rejects her grief. The cross is hidden within her heart and she bravely smiles and loves. Dear Lord, when will my soul be at rest?

If the women walk alone, they risk sinking into their pain and losing sight of joy and eternal things and the dignity of their nature. God beckons and loves and blesses... but the heart has a tendency to turn in on itself. The eyes are easily blinded by pain. A woman so easily crumples to the ground and despairs. But if she is walking side by side with her sisters? Her path is different but parallel… and she will not be left behind.

We are sisters. We belong together. If I cannot see your cross, I trust that it is still there... or that it is coming to you someday. Our Lord does not withhold the cross from any of His beloved because he wishes us to share in His Easter. Do not despair, my friends. You are not alone. And your Easter is coming.

Do not be deceived by the hollow call to be Superwoman - it is a worldly lie designed to tear you down - but be refreshed in your title of Beloved.

You are called to love with everything you have. Get up and walk. Again and again. That is all He asks. It is the path to your healing and the beginning of freedom. He is Grace. He is Mercy. He will not let us fall farther than His grasp. He treasures the gift of our womanhood and made us to thrive. We are beautiful and gifted, not because we have struggled for it, because He has willed it. Just open the door, let Him in, and trust that His dream for your life is perfect.

Your motherhood is not about what you have missed, lost, or broken... it is about the pouring out of your love; pouring out what is beautiful and nourishing to a parched and lonely world. Pour it out, ladies…

Pour it out!

 That is the gift of our femininity. And that is how we can be healed of our own brokenness and ultimately, change the world.


Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

Printable Summer Reading Log for Kids and Adults

summer reading log3.png

Summer is a short but healing time in the Northeast and a little bit of planning can help maximize the impact. Combine the cathartic effect of reading a good book with the power of the sunshine, nutritious foods, and good rest… and we’ve got the potential for a powerfully restorative season.

The school year is just wrapping up here for my kids and a couple of the more ambitious among them have started making their Summer book reading lists. My high school aged daughter is particularly excited to have more time to dive into all of the books that she’s wanted to read but which have been squeezed about by the Ancient Greeks and Biology texts.

Since one of the books she wants to read is a book that I am scheduled to review, I asked if she would like to write a short review of her own that I can include in my write-up. She enthusiastically agreed and decided it would be fun to write a brief review (for personal use) for each of the books she reads.

I headed to the computer to put together a reading log that she can use as a cover page and that her siblings can also use. Then I added three more designs just for fun (and so that the boys would have non-floral options). Then I thought…

I bet some of my readers would enjoy using these as well! Please feel free to print off as many as you like for free and share this post with others looking for simple solutions to the fleeting and fruitful days of Summer.

Summer reading log2.png

Fill them in, color them, doodle on them… however they fit your life… do that! I will be printing one off for myself as well and putting it in my planner. I read less often than I used to and need some accountability.

I’ve included my 14-year old’s Summer book list at the bottom of this post. Some of them are her requests and some are my recommendations. She does not need additional motivation to read but I know that some kids do… and having a record of accomplishment and effort can definitely help the reluctant.

Summer reading log.png
...

Tentative Summer Reading List for my 14-year old daughter:

I’ll preface this list by saying that this kid reads voraciously and has read a large portion of our library and beyond. So this list has been curated to both challenge and entertain, with the goal of increasing knowledge, goodness, and comprehension.

She’s starting with 9 (in any order she chooses) and if she does more, will start another record sheet!

How to Throw a Lord of the Rings Party on a Budget

{This post contains affiliate links. More info Here.} 

My idea of a really good party is curling up in front of a roaring fire with a good book and an empty house. So when I tell you that I hosted a theme party for my kid, complete with costumes and *gasp* guests, you will have a full appreciation for what it took to get me there mentally. The last theme party I threw was 3 years ago at someone else's house (which is a good deal easier).

Never mind that I postponed this one about 6 times and celebrated 6 months after his actually birthday... we got there. And I think my fellow Lord of the Rings geeks are going to like it. I know that most people’s LOTR these days are based on the movies but ours is based on the literature. A brief note about we we love Lord of the Rings specifically (and exceedingly) is at the end of this post.

(Note: This party was originally hosted in 2014 and I haven’t hosted another theme party since… so I’m feeling guilted by my own blog into hosting a Narnia party in 2019… stay tuned!)

COSTUMES

I'm going to take you through our cast of characters first. The kids did a great job putting these together on a tight budget. And I got away with very minimal sewing...

EOWYN

image.png

I had great plans for making this costume from scratch but relieved and delighted when we came across a $5 costume at a garage sale. It was a medium women's gown but I did some heavy last minute costume editing and we made it work. The head piece came with the dress. We washed, parted, and braided Button's hair the night before to get the waves. 


ARWEN

image.png
image.png

I picked up a gorgeous silver embroidered formal gown for $7 at a resale shop many months ago with this party in mind. It was perfect for Cookie and the embroidery was remarkably similar to the Evenstar necklace which I found on Amazon. The cape was a cream colored crushed velvet. No sewing involved. We just tied the ends of a large rectangle (in a last minute attempt at a little more modesty) and it perfectly completed the outfit.


GALADRIEL

image.png

Again, I had wonderful plans for a fully handcrafted gown but was saved by a last minute discovery. A few years ago, I picked up a $3 First Communion gown at a going-out-of-business sale and in a desperate closet search for something (anything!) that would prevent me from having to sew all night, I found it. I added a glittery blue sash and a silver cape and topped it off with a handmade crown.


GALADRIEL'S CROWN

I'm rather pleased with the way the crown turned out. I used a soft and thick florist wire (found at Joann Fabrics) to fashion it since it is so flexible and forgiving. I started by measuring her head and making one loop of the wire to fit. Then I added a second, making the twists and turns I wanted as I went. (Yes, this was hastily done.) We found a beautiful glass bead and affixed it with jewelry wire and then I took a hammer and lightly tapped the front wire to flatten it and secure it. Doing this too hard will break your wire so take care if you try it yourself. The back of the crown is secured by curving and hooking the ends. Nothing fancy.

LOTR crown.jpg
image.png

We fixed her hair by washing, parting and braiding (many little tiny braids) her hair the night before. We simply brushed it out shortly before the party.


FRODO AND ARAGORN

image.png

Here is the birthday boy (Crash aka Aragorn) and his little brother. I love this picture. Cub actually looks like a little hobbit under Aragorn's protective presence. 


ARAGORN

image.png

Crash found most of his outfit the morning of the party (we know how to make things exciting) at the local thrift shop...

  • Pants and shirt: Thrifted.

  • Boots: Hand-me-downs from a relative. 

  • Cape: Made by me from a heavy grey stretch knit. 

  • Sword: He purchased this Medieval Broadsword with his own snow shoveling money. It was smaller than he thought it would be but other wise has been very pleased with it.

  • Elf Stone: Crash crafted this (to be worn either around the neck or on the forehead) from costume jewelry and a decorative glass stone (both found around the house). 

  • Leaf Brooch: Amazon for a couple bucks. I have looked since and the price has doubled but you know Amazon... up and down. It was pretty cheaply made but perfect for the job.

  • Staff: Made by Crash

Aragorn costume.jpg

FRODO

image.png
  • Full outfit: This Frodo costume was the only costume that we flat out purchased. I had Amazon credits from the blog (thank you to all who purchased through my links!) and it worked out. Not super duper high quality but complete and perfect for the purpose. Adorable, in fact.

  • Dagger: In addition to the costume, Cub had his dagger (Sting) which was purchased for him as a gift from Alejandro's shop the year before.

  • Pipe: Handcrafted by Crash 


ELANOR

image.png

Okay, so this was a bit of a cheat. We just stuck a pretty dress on the baby and called her Baby Elanor. Here she is being given a balloon by Rosie Cotton.

image.png
IMG_2294.2014-07-26_211251.JPG

Group shot of all who attended in costume. I've already identified most of mine but see if you can find cousins Goldberry (can you believe she made the dress herself!!) and Samwise. The guy in the suit is mine but he decided that putting together a Gandalf costume was a bit over his budget so he was our self-appointed sommelier...



On to the party details, the first of which is a major cake fail which worked out in the end...

This is Mount Doom. 

image.png

I was running low on time and originally trashed the idea of a theme cake. I'll be glad if I can crank out any cake at all is what I was really thinking. So I picked up three boxes of gluten free brownie mix and planned a layered brownie cake, not recalling that gluten free brownies do not hold together well. So I made three layers in a round spring form and they all fell completely apart. So I transformed the mess into Mount Doom. Added some color by adding food dye to powdered sugar glaze and drizzling along with chocolate like flowing lava. Then I added three tall red candles found in a drawer and some sparklers... and end up with something close to success.

Don't let the small size fool you. That baby was rock solid brownie. (Thank you, Hannah, for lending your carving skills!) And delicious. Here is the “before picture just to keep things real. This is often what my party prep looks like and am happy to say that I’m a relatively adaptable person.

mount doom cake.jpg

EYE OF SAURON

image.png

It is so fun when we get to smash the bad guy. And really, the only pinata I know how to make is a balloon shaped one... so the Eye of Sauron it was! 

image.png

Directions: 

Blow up a large balloon, apply newspaper and glue mixture according to internet directions, apply paint until it sort of resembles the look you're going for. I’m being intentionally vague because I found the process a little tricky and mine started to shrivel… and I don’t really know how to do a better job. So I leave you to the internet!

When you’re done, stuff them with…

Gollum’s Goodies:

The pinata was filled with treats I was very proud of but that were inhaled before I could take a picture. I printed out labels that said: “GOLLUM'S GOODIES” and stuck them on individual bags filled with gummy worms and swedish fish. They were adorable but the kids were only concerned with the candy, not the crafty awesomeness. Someday, they will have their own Pinterest accounts and they will understand the offense given.


INVITATIONS

The invites were nothing complicated. Just some inexpensive parchment colored paper with a black and white map (found on the internet) printed on one side and the party details on the other. We used a free LOTR font found on the internet. Of course, the edges had to be singed because boys always need a reason to play with matches…

LOTR invite.jpg
LOTR map.jpg

The text read:

You are hereby requested to join

INSERT NAME
a.k.a Aragorn

and the Fellowship of the Ring
on a noble quest to celebrate
his 12th birthday

Insert Date
Insert Time
at the shire
Insert Location
middle earth

second breakfast will be served
(middle earth attire is welcome but not required)

Please RSVP…
etc. etc. etc.


PARTY GIFTS AND FAVORS

image.png
image.png

As any LOTR fan knows, Hobbits give gifts on their birthdays. Aragorn is a clear fan of Hobbits and so we went to town putting some special things together for his guests.

Everyone received a handcrafted gift labeled in Elvish. (Instructions for writing and reading HERE) Once they decoded their name, they were able to have their gift...

*Handcarved daggers, staffs, and pipes.

These were all made by Crash. It took him many blisters and weeks to work through them, but it was worth it. The sheaths were made out of duct tape and cardboard and have a loop to be worn on a belt. I’m sorry that I didn’t get a photo of the knives out of their sheaths but hope to unearth a pic and add it soon.

Hobbit birthday gifts.jpg

*Handmade fairy dolls
I love making these little dolls and we whipped up some woodland lovelies for the girl guests.

Fairy doll.jpg

*Handcrafted flower jewelry
My daughter made glass pendants using real pressed flowers and these were given to the ladies.

*Favor Boxes contained: 

A ring pop and homemade green "glass" candy (supposed to remind people of the Elfstone)
The boxes were from the Martha Stewart wedding collection. Pricey from the store but I found them brand new in the package for a song at a thrift shop.

image.png

LEMBAS

image.png

I had great plans for the lembas. I was going to come up with a great GF recipe and cut leaf shapes out of fabric. But time just flew by and rice krispy treats and green napkins ended up working out just fine.


DECORATIONS

image.png
image.png

My original plans included decorating various areas to look like different LOTR locations. I wanted a Lothlorien and Shelob's Lair and a Prancing Pony. We simplified out of necessity. This Prancing Pony sign was a must though and I hung it in the kitchen area.

To make the sign I used foam core poster board as the base. I sketched a pony on a separate piece of regular poster board. I googled images and chose my favorite one and eyeballed it. Then I cut out the pony and glued it to the foam core. (That effort was largely to avoid messing up the more expensive foam core but it ended up "popping" in a cool way.) After that, I got out all my paints and used what I had to make it decent. I had no brown and ended up using gold and black for the wood. You can't really tell from the picture but I thought the shimmery effect was nice. 

Prancing Pony.jpg

GAMES

We borrowed white lights and hung them in a couple places. And then we created a party room where we set up a "speech table." The picture is so-so because I don't have a flash but it gives the general idea...


image.png

The Party Speech game

This is a Hobbit-ish version of the classic Toastmasters 60-second speech exercise. Rules:

1. Everyone writes down a word on a small piece of paper. Any word at all.

2. All words are folded up and placed in a jar.

3. Participants choose a word randomly from the jar. Words written down included words like “grapes” and “philosophy.”

4. The speaker must then give a 60-second speech. The speech must include the word on the paper plus a reference to the birthday or the birthday boy.

I wish we would have recorded some of them. 

Elvish Name Game

I already mentioned this but we had people translate their names from elvish to identify their gifts (pictured in the guest gift pics above). If we had more time, we would have had people try their hand at writing.


GIFTS RECEIVED

I had to stick this in here because Crash really did receive some fun and creative gifts which I highly recommend for 12-year old boys:

Lord of the Rings Risk

Lord of the Rings Pez 

Wood burning kit

Wood carving Kit

Protective Kevlar Gloves (Yes. Get these. You can avoid a trip to the ER and nauseous mother. I speak from experience)

Whittling Book

Tac Force Folding Knife


WHY WE LOVE LORD OF THE RINGS

We love the fantasy world of Tolkien but we also make sure that the kids are aware of the deeper thees of the books and the Catholic ideas woven tightly throughout. Fantasy for its own sake can be problematic for a young mind (that is a much larger discussion)… but if it has a deeper Christ-oriented to which to point, fantasy can be an excellent source of delight and good formation throughout life.

Lord of the Rings falls into this category in our household and we do our best to make sure that it is read in a proper context. For the older children (or as soon as they are able), we encourage the lectures and writings of Joseph Pearce who brilliantly expounds on these ideas. There are also a few other works that we recommend and enjoy.


Originally published in August 2014

Fitness Meets Faith in a Catholic Alternative to Yoga {SoulCore Review}

1453944340784.jpeg

There is so much in life that draws us away from our primary purpose. When I find a resource in any category that draws me straight to mine, I cling to it. As a Catholic, that primary purpose is always Jesus Christ... and if a thing doesn't draw me closer to Him, it probably doesn't belong in my life. 

This is where the meeting of the secular and the sacred often causes confusion... because it isn't always clear cut. Excellent homeschooling materials (for example) don't always have to explicitly mention the name of Our Lord in order to help a person develop in His service. But boy, when you stumble upon a really excellent and thoroughly Catholic resource... it's a lot like winning the lottery.

I have always been committed to fitness in my life (body, mind, soul) and yet the last few years have demanded that I focus intensely on what it is that I need to do to be well. Healing from chronic illness and immune dysfunction can be a long road and I’ve chosen to share much of the journey publicly.

I want to introduce you to a challenging and beautiful Catholic fitness series called SoulCore. It's not yoga but it uses some of the same principles of movement that people find so effective... "a combination of core-strengthening exercises and isometric exercises, stretching and overall strengthening of the entire body." The biggest difference is...

Jesus Christ. 

Overt, joyful, focused, prayerful, physical and mental movement toward the Savior of the World.  The SoulCore project is consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. That's really the core of who we are. Beautiful. 

The exercises are set to a full rosary so it's a really fruitful way to spend time when you have little to spare. It is a full workout and a full slow rosary. But there are additional benefits to that method: 

1. The prayers are the counting method. You move and pray. As a Catholic, I know the Hail Mary so well that it's like breathing. In this workout, I find myself easily entering into that prayer... sometimes less focused if I'm struggling with an exercise (but I know the prayer well enough to keep it on my lips) and sometimes more focused as my body and soul are both oriented toward work and heaven. Ora et labora indeed.

2. This is not just work and prayer but work as prayer. Our bodies are designed to serve the Lord. And the real gift with taking care of them with right purpose is that the care becomes a service to Him as well. It is not just a way to strengthen us for vocation but is actually a part of our vocation. SoulCore draws the mind to this reality directly.

As I said before, the exercises can be challenging even for those who are accustomed to working out. But they are also easy to adapt; lighter weights (or no weights), fewer reps, knee push ups. When I’m pregnant, my belly forces me to make some of those modifications, but the workout is still wholly accessible to me. 

So is this just “Catholic Yoga” with all the elements of yoga just wearing a Catholic label? I don’t think so. There are many similar movements to yoga but frankly, there are only so many ways that the body moves! The way the creators combine the movements, organize them, and combine them with the Rosary creates a unique workout that is wholly Christ-centered and sufficiently disrupts yoga connections and sequencing. I also recognize elements of many common fitness movements (like pilates) which have no connection to yoga.

Multiple formats for the workouts are currently available. There are DVD’s for sale as well as digital downloads. And then there’s a wonderful Online Studio which gives subscribers access to a library of workouts at the touch of a button. These include prenatal workouts, chair workouts, and many workouts related to the Mysteries of the Rosary. The website is full of inspirational material, accessories, local class info, and the inspiring story of the mission of the founders.

For those interested in learning more about why I no longer practice yoga, here is a brief overview of my experience and my Catholic Perspective:

Weaning with gentleness

weaning-2.jpg

This post is from 2013 as I was weaning my 7th child, and find that every bit of it still rings true...


I have begun the weaning process with Cub and it's shaping up to be a different sort of thing than I've experienced before. With my first kids I was brutal...

You're done. Deal with it, kid.

But a large part of that approach was motivated by cultural pressure and a faulty idea that there exists an objectively perfect and correct time to wean. I was afraid of going past that point because I was afraid, frankly, of being wrong. After a few more children, I've become a little more humble, flexible, and gentle with each child and I've found that parental sweet spot that brings child and mama optimal peace. 

I prefer to stop at two years (or pregnancy) but I think gentle weaning is kinder to the child who so naturally loves and trusts and clings to his mother. It tends to take a little longer but it seems more natural to my motherhood, which is inclined toward relationship and not calendar watching.

Cub is still one but his second birthday is closing in on us and the poor child has no clue that he will be forced to wean in the near future. It simply has never crossed his mind that this particular source of nourishment and comfort will someday come to an end. We've talked a little about it but he mostly just ignores me and keeps nursing. Telling a child that you are going to take away something he loves does not cause him to relinquish it, but only makes him cling to it more tightly. The conversation goes something like this:

You know, Cub, big kids don't nurse. (I then rattle off the names of all the other people in the house who do not breastfeed.)

Cub nods at me while he continues to nurse.

Your brothers and sisters are big boys and girls. And you are getting to be a big boy, too.

More nodding.

That means that you will be just like them soon... and you will stop nursing.

The little head is still and silent for about 60 seconds as it absorbs this thought. He finally lifts his eyes to mine for a moment and, to my everlasting astonishment, announces...

I'm a baby.

1436227356212.jpeg

Which brings me to another point. Which is that it is more complicated in some ways to nurse an older child who is verbally advanced. While younger children are still pointing and squeaking to get what they want, this child says very clearly:

Mommy, I want to eat. Can I please eat? Get the monkey blanket, Mommy. Can I nurse? Please? Sit down, Mommy. Let's go.

It is at those times that I look at my husband and say: It's time to wean. Today.

Even at this young age, my little guy can verbally communicate almost anything he wants to and when his precious heart pours forth into words, I am rendered largely helpless...

I want to nurse, Mommy.

Not now, Cub.

Yes, Mommy.

No, dear. Wait until later.

I'm cryin', Mommy.

Yes, I see that. Would you like some scrambled eggs?

No. I want a hoc gog.

No hot dog. How about some eggs?

Okay, Mommy. And water? Can I have water?

Yes.

Can I nurse, Mommy?

No. Not right now.

Yes, Mommy. I want to nurse.

You may nurse later.

I'm a big boy?

You're a big boy.

Can I have a hoc gog?

Yes.

Toddler Genius. There are smoke and mirrors and confusion and then all of a sudden, mother is sitting down and eating the hot dog that she said that she wouldn't make for her child... while he snuggles happily in her arms and nurses when she told him he couldn't.

When Cub was born, I made a resolution that I would not let the days slip away carelessly. I know how many times I let "busy" steal my attention from the babies. I was there, but not there, know what I mean? So I decided that I would cherish the moments and breathe this baby in. And I have done it. And the time still flies by distressingly fast. Now that I have come to this point of weaning again, I notice something different about myself: I simply don't care what anyone else thinks.

I can see that the relationship is good and that breastfeeding is healthy and rightly ordered. There is a time for weaning but it always does seem to break a child's heart. All six times I have done it have been sad and confusing for them. They simply don't understand. Although it isn’t my intention to nurse a child for several years, I do understand why some moms do. Because they know the relationship is pure and good... and they don't wish to make the child cry. But there is a way to wean without completely breaking little hearts...

Slowly. Considerately. Affectionately. And when the day does come and the child cries from the loss, it's okay to cry with them. Because this most precious, innocent, and safe moment has passed... and the harshness of the world is one step closer.

A few minutes ago while writing this post, I heard a tiny, sleepy voice calling me from upstairs.

Mommy!

I heard it through the baby monitor and started to hustle upstairs. When I reached the middle of the staircase, I began to say what I always say:

I'm here. I'm coming. I can hear you.

But before the words left my mouth, I heard...

Mommy...You are here? You are coming? 

He was sitting up and waiting for me and held his arms out to me as I approached.

Yes, I am here.

Can I eat? Can I nurse?

I hesitated as I recalled the words I had just been writing. I thought that perhaps tonight should be the night to tell him no. And then I thought that it was not a good night for us to cry. Not yet.

Yes, you may nurse. Just a little while.

Just a little? 

Yes. and then you need to go to sleep like a big boy.

Okay, Mommy. Okay.

And I wrapped him in my arms until he slept.

It occurs to me now that this ability to converse with a weaning child is a precious gift, a great opportunity to communicate hearts and minds. Weaning will be a loss in some ways and we can talk about it together. And it will be a celebration in other ways and I will tell him how proud I am that he is so big and brave. Eventually, he will rest his little head on my shoulder and sigh with big sad eyes... but he will not ask the question anymore.

It is a stupid and callous culture that mocks the nursing relationship and tarnishes the purity of the bond between mother and child. I know that now and simply refuse to consider it's opinion about when I should wean my children.

JUST to clarify... this post is not about you. It's about me and my little guy. I promise I don't mind if you nurse or not or for how long you do it. And I trust that you love your little people and know how to take care of them. :)

2015 UPDATE: As I said at the beginning, I am now in the process of weaning another child; my youngest, who will be 2 in just a couple of weeks. We are having conversations and our hearts are breaking just a little. Last night, she cried and turned her big, sad, damp eyes to her daddy. What's wrong, little one? he asked. Mommy not nurse me. 

He held her tight and she put his forehead between her hands and kissed him with a big sloppy kiss. Then she scooted over to me, rested her head on my shoulder... and slept. By that time, her tears had dried. But mine flowed freely.

2018 UPDATE: My youngest is approaching his third birthday and we still have not yet weaned. I realize how much my previous decisions have been impacted by a culture that sexualizes everything having to do with the human body and shames what is right ordered. I will wean him when it is time. It is almost time. But not yet.

The Hard Truth About Raising Catholic Teens

Hard Truth Teens.jpg

Everyone tells you not to blink... because your kids grow up that fast. What people fail to point out (because they are probably just being polite) is that while our kids are applying for college (about 5 minutes after you changed their last diaper), you are getting OLD. I ought to know. I've leveled up this year to being a mom of two adult children and with two high schoolers hot on their heels - and I'm noticing for first time that I'm moving into grandma territory with alarming speed.

The point of this post is not to highlight the ways in which I am feeling the strain of having slipped past 40; it is more about the changes that I have seen in my 21 years of motherhood. How culture has changed. How I just never expected it to, especially within the Church, and why it's important for young (and middle and old) parents to know.

When I was a young mother, there were a lot of little families like ours, praying rosaries and boycotting Disney and talking about modesty while our kids played. We chatted about homeschooling and which curriculum we were using, and had All Saints' Day and St. Valentine's Day parties at which we actually prayed together.

As the years have flown by, our lives have changed (mostly because our children have grown) and we have had to decide how to respond to the pressures of the culture. I'm not going to lie. It gets messy in both families and communities. It isn't really enough to go to daily Mass and pray the rosary and bake feast day cakes. I'm not saying that Jesus isn't enough. Just that, as parents, we are not enough.

Let me explain…

We can pass on the faith to a point, but we can never force a soul to receive it. A child has to develop that relationship with Jesus and begin to personally embrace and love His Word. Otherwise, all those hours of family adoration are just one-sided and our tallest kids might be approaching the Eucharistic table unworthily, with hardened hearts, and a growing antagonism toward the things of God.  

We don’t know what is going on in their hearts.

I have spent years pondering the secret to really passing on the faith; to presenting it in such a way that it is more inviting than all the attractions of the world. Personal prayer is essential... but it must be accompanied by heroic actions that allow Christ to work strongly within a family and keep the lures of the world at bay. My motherhood demands sanctity. My vocation is made for it. And as we know, the saints had to battle the world, many of them only achieving popularity in the hearts of the Catholic faithful well after their deaths. It is not my job to mold my children into saints. It is my job to give them every opportunity, motivation and protection to allow them to say yes to Jesus. Then He is the one who will make them saints.

I'm in the midst of my vocation which means that I am a rough work in progress. Before I continue my rambling, I want to make three points. I bother to make them at all because if we are going to raise up a new generation of faithful Catholics, we have to start turning our American Catholic cultural ship around...

1) PAY ATTENTION TO A SHIFTING CULTURE

First, I see that the trend in Catholic families has shifted in the last 20 years. Instead of encouraging each other to keep the culture of death at bay, exhorting one another to practice heroic virtue, and helping to keep each other accountable, many are falling into the mindset that we can have our cake and eat it, too. That we are so secure in our personal journeys that the music, media, movies, books, clothes, and lifestyle we consume will not harm our ability to keep Jesus at the center of our lives. 

My perspective as a mother of teens is that it is hardly possible to keep the secular culture from consuming the hearts of our children if we do not stand up and deny it entrance to our activities and homes. That post is bigger than I'm able to write but I'm living it and I want to give you that warning. Jesus promised us we would be persecuted for righteousness sake. If you are not feeling that pressure as a Catholic parent, I guarantee you that you are doing it wrong.


2) IDENTIFY OBSTACLES TO GOODNESS

My second point is actually a short list of the primary means through which a culture of death reaches our children. Before you denounce me as a Puritan wannabe, examine your family culture for holes. Go through your kids' phones and rooms and your own and ask: Do these influences honor and glorify Christ?

PEERS - In my estimation, this is the single biggest contributing factor to the loss of faith in our young. If your kids are not homeschooled, your immediate obstacles are greater than mine in this regard. But homeschoolers are not shut off from the world and negative peer influence can have a profoundly damaging effect. Don't underestimate it. It sometimes happens that bad kids will change for the better because of your good kids. But human nature being what it is, that is not the typical the result.

MUSIC - Music is a powerful force on our minds, bodies and souls. If our kids listen to music, they are being mentored and formed by it. Pretty much every kid listens to music... so how are their choices forming them? Most pop culture music teaches them to accept (even passively) a culture of death.

INTERNET - Oh, heaven help us. I don't have the answer to the problems this marvelous beast creates. Let me just say that there is no such thing as "moderate" internet access. The door is either open or it isn't. I am not impressed by security features and whatnot. Eventually, the door opens, often even before we realize it has. And then you'd better be a praying mama who isn't afraid to lose household popularity.

MOVIES/TV - The kids are learning. Absorbing everything. Do we teach them God's commands and then undermine it with garbage on the screen? They learn quickly that we don't really mean what we say. We are hypocrites if we don't live out our love for Christ by setting proper boundaries for ourselves and our kids. They see everything.

BOOKS - Fifteen years ago, moms I knew were banging on the doors of the local Catholic school wanting to know why trash was in the school library. That rarely happens anymore. We have lost our collective identity, our sensitivity, and our nerve. 

Making saints.jpg

3) DISRUPT THE ENTRENCHED PATTERN OF BAD CATECHESIS

Younger families, please pay attention, because you don't know yet what a difference the next decade will make in the life of the Church and you should be prepared for the sake of your kids...

My generation, the JPII generation... has failed to properly catechize younger Catholics.

We thought we had it all together and that our kids would catch the same fire we had. We thought we had fixed the errors of our parents' poorly catechized upbringing and that we would do it differently with our own kids. And then they would fall in love with the Church just like we did. Some of us still believe that is what is going on - and perhaps it is in small pockets around the country. But the broader truth is not as pretty.

We are now seeing a new generation of failed catechesis. Worse than the one before. Because let's be honest, the ones who poorly formed us (before we caught Holy Fire) are still teaching... and they taught the teachers... who teach our kids. And us? We are still working through our own limitations, especially if we had later conversions or were poorly catechized ourselves. We too heavily rely on a support system that has not fully recovered from a near death blow. The ship is full of holes but we just cheerfully keep repainting the hull.

Many of the young people I am seeing grow up in the Church (who fill our youth groups and Catholic colleges) can be marked by a defining characteristic: Their faith is only skin deep.

They love being Catholic in all the fun and cool ways. They appear devout and attend youth group and go to Steubenville conferences every year. They go to all 42 chastity talks put on by their church and school. But they aren't really living the moral teachings of the Church. And if they are, they drop it as soon as it is no longer convenient. They are becoming the next cafeteria Catholics, with a minimal understanding of what it means to pursue virtue and almost no understanding of a real spiritual life. And they have a lot of people completely snowed, including their youth group leaders, their priests and their parents. This does not exclude homeschoolers. In fact, homeschooled kids with wandering hearts are often exceptionally good at playing the role of dutiful child.

I'm generalizing. Obviously. But, by virtue of being a mother of teens, I have unwittingly entered the drama of youth and I'm going to be very blunt here about what I see. It is difficult beyond what I imagined to find holy friendships for my teens; friendships where there is a mutual effort towards sanctity and faithfulness. I thank God for the blessing of friends in my children's lives but it does not look at all like I thought it would. I thought it would be somehow... bigger. I thought there would be more families who hadn't given up the fight. I thought my kids would be perfect. I thought I could make it happen.

So I'm getting older. And part of my oldness is that I don't care nearly so much about what other moms are doing anymore because I'm just busy fighting like heck for the souls of my children and climbing my own mountains. I was that mom who thought MY teens would be different. And they are. I have good kids who I love and like (well, usually). But it’s not what I thought it would be.

When young moms publicly share their struggles with having multiple small children and their deep desire to just get a shower and a few hours sleep... and about reading Green Eggs and Ham for the hundredth time while all the kids are crying at once and the baby pees in her lap and the toddler accidentally swallows the miraculous medal he ripped off her chain... well, I secretly kind of wish I had those days back with my older kids. If I did, I would do some things differently…

I would slow down. I still have little ones around me but it's different now and I can't really ever go back to that treasured time. Time is flying and we are getting older. It is a breathtaking, exhilarating, beautiful adventure. And wow... I just wish I had been a little better prepared.

To all you young families who are relying on your Jesse Trees and daily rosaries to get your kids to heaven, I have hard news for you. There will come a day when your best weapon will be your knees hitting the cold floor. Like a reality game show where you create your masterpiece going a mile a minute and then the buzzer sounds and... hands up!... done. Whatever you left undone remains undone. And you start learning a few more things about prayer and long suffering. Because your kids have free will. And the culture is a devouring lion. Do what you can now to instill not only a solid liturgical rhythm in your home, but also a strong culture of Christian mission. Of radical discipleship. 

Does it honor Jesus? No? GET RID OF IT. Tell your kids why. And build them an alternative that outshines the allure of sin.

I'm not writing just to rant for others. I'm writing for selfish reasons. Because I need a Catholic community that is courageous in virtue and radical in discipleship to catch my kids when they step out of the nest. I am an imperfect mother and long for support. I am not content with what exists right now. We were made for something greater.