Monthly Archives

April 2020

Uncategorized

This kind of school is new to us all

It is an odd time in our history as a country when all of our children are being led back to the home to educate. Families are experiencing mixed emotions as they enter into new territory in the middle of a school year. For many, schedules have been shuffled, anxiety and panic are escalating and the joy of learning for the pursuit of knowledge and formation of character goes out the window amid the desire to just get it all done. As a teacher and homeschool mom, I have watched these past couple weeks as social media has become flooded with complaints and comparisons. With a gentle heart, I’d like to step in and offer an alternative viewpoint and some strategies for helping navigate this unknown time.

First, recognize the time we are in. Our children, no matter the age, sense the sudden change. The fear of the unknown can be a heavier burden than the reality, even if the reality is grave. Taking time to sit down as a family and talk about why school has changed and why it is important to take these health precautions can help alleviate some of the worries and also provide a sense of family unity towards this common goal. We are all in this together. Everyone is being asked to make sacrifices. As a firm believer in holding kids to high standards, even the youngest child can rise and join the family in the new normal.

Make a family plan. Set expectations for school. Treating this moment as an opportunity rather than an inconvenience can help build character within us and our children. For instance, if you have a teenager who has been distracted in school, meeting with them and taking the time to build up their skills and helping them set up goals for learning builds up your relationship with each other as well as allowing them the independence to demonstrate accountability and build trust. In our home, it is said often that trust is built over time. Schooling at home can help build that.

Appreciate this time with your younger children.  There is so much going on in the mind of a young child; the desire to create and wonder, to explore and discuss. While curriculum is important and can be a tool to help guide this, remember that the time spent learning together is just as important as the knowledge being acquired. Keeping a journal, taking pictures of your learning together, reading books together, sharing what has been learned at the family table are great ways for your younger ones to feel involved. 

Be careful with the words we use.  The dignity of a human, no matter the age, will always grow stronger with affirmation. Choose words that present the schooling at home situation as an opportunity rather than a “catholic mom chain” around one’s neck. Do not demean yourself or your children with jokes that belittle them or your ability.  See this time at home as a gift to grow relationships within the family. Our lives run at such a hectic pace that the opportunity of time can cause panic. What do we do? Rest, laugh, go outside, read, play games, talk, listen, share time and space with each other and smile. It is amazing what an offering of a smile can be in many situations!

Trust yourself. It is being said that we are all in this situation together and indeed we are but no one situation is the same. As a homeschooling mom, our schedule has been drastically changed as outside classes, sports, music lessons, activities, and work schedules have all been altered. There is much to adjust to for us all yet seeing the opportunities within the current situation can help keep our perspective positive. This type of schooling, whether a veteran homeschool parent or one who is new to schooling at home, is not an optimal version for any of us. This is a historic time where virtue can rise and families grow stronger. Mother Teresa is quoted as saying “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” What an opportunity! what fresh beginnings we are being gifted with!

On a side note, so many resources are being offered right now to help support parents and children who are educating at home. From illustrators offering daily art classes to online support for geometry and physics, one cannot scroll social media feed and not be overwhelmed. While all these resources are helpful and can support the learning in the home, they are not necessary. It is so easy to be overwhelmed and compare how we are “doing school” to other families. It has been said that “Comparison is the thief of joy” and that is so true in these times. One does not look at one’s neighbor and say “Oh, that is how we should be setting our table. Or that is how we should dress or mow or plant our garden or raise our children. Rather through prayerful discernment, we structure our family in a fashion that supports our family values. Trusting your ability to help facilitate learning in the home will help decrease the stress level immensely.

Love of learning comes by having an environment where we are being supported, challenged, and where a love of knowledge is being modeled. So, pick up a book, take up a new skill from that bucket list and show that learning is a lifelong skill. You might be surprised by the comradery that develops with your new students while you learn at home.

Uncategorized

How to Prepare for the Virtual Mass as a Family

As Catholics around the world move to celebrate mass virtually during this unusual health crisis,  many families are seeking ways to bring the sacred into the home. As a mom of many, the challenge of gathering everyone in one room on their best behavior to participate in mass is real. Kids don’t sense the need to “be ready” for mass as the living room has been such a sense of comfort and relaxation. It is where we gather to decompress from the day of hard work but in these times it must serve two purposes. As a parent, I find myself continually setting the stage for my family to be successful. In times like these, we must also set the stage for our family to stay nourished in faith. We have been privileged to have a mass said in our home a few times when we had visiting priests so preparing for virtual mass was similar. When it comes to celebrating mass at home or virtually here are some of our family’s traditions along with some recommended by Father Dave Sizemore from St. Francis de Sales Parish in Newark, Ohio.

  1. Clear any clutter out of the room so it feels ready. For us, that means all our school books, clothing, toys, remote controls, etc. The table is wiped down and a tablecloth is placed upon it.
  2. Create a family altar. Ask every family member to gather their favorite prayer cards, holy medals, statues, and candles. I love when we have this opportunity because objects from my older kid’s youth: a little Franciscan cross, a favorite prayer card, a first communion statue and other holy objects to remind us of the church are placed upon our family altar. My youngest daughter received white roses from her father on her first Reconciliation which she dried and also places on our family altar.
  3. Have holy water in a bowl so family members can bless themselves as they enter. It reminds us of the sacredness of the moment in which we are going to be sharing.
  4. Put a crucifix in the room if there is not one.
  5. Have your bibles marked with the readings for the day or print up the readings for the mass so everyone can follow along. If your parish posts the music online, then have it available. Giving everyone the tools to participate is essential in making mass accessible whether in person or virtually.
  6. Encourage family members to change out of their pajamas.  In an attempt to remind everyone of the sacredness of the mass, we ask that pajamas not be worn and day clothes be put on.
  7. Offer your mass for someone. In our parish, we begin mass by turning to our neighbor and asking them for their prayer intention. When celebrating mass virtually we are able to ask our family members for their intentions as well as thinking of those intentions we hold in our hearts and offer our mass for them.
  8. Make a spiritual communion. One of the hardest things when celebrating mass is the longing for Jesus in the Eucharist. The longing is a beautiful thing and draws our hearts closer to Jesus. As Catholic Christians, we can make a spiritual communion during the time the priest is receiving Jesus by saying this prayer. “My Jesus, I believe that You are in the Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I long for You in my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though You have already come, I embrace You and unite myself entirely to You; never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.”
  9. Have donuts, coffee and juice ready for after mass. The social aspect of gathering together after mass is a way for us to check in with friends after mass. When celebrating mass virtually, we place the donuts, drinks, and plates on the table in the other room. There is even a mad dash by our younger kids for donuts after the last verse of the song is sung.

 As a final note, and as a mother of eight children, I think it is really important to take time to breathe in the fact that your family is gathering within the walls of your home to worship the Lord. How many Christians before us have had to do this in secret on fear of persecution and death? See the seeds of faith you are planting and take the time that has been given to us in this period of social distancing and staying at home to water and nourish them. There is no greater gift we can give our family than the gift of family rooted in Christ.

Family

Finding Balance in Family Life

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with your mind racing; filled with disorder? Or find yourself standing in the middle of your kitchen/sitting in your car… wondering how am I going to take care of all of this? If you are like me, and that is probably not the best thing to be right now:), you get overwhelmed. You see yourself plowing through the everyday not ever getting to the little extras you have at the bottom of your list.  Those extras.. the things on my list that never get crossed off because I am always taking care of others… and then I crash.

But I am on a mission this Lent. A mission to restore myself.  To be honest, this will probably take longer than 40 days, but it is a beginning. Things on the bottom of my list have been: read a book, take a walk, go to Adoration, sit and pray, date night with my husband. They never happen or very rarely because I let the other things have priority. It is coming to me lately that I make the list. I get to state the importance of each action item, and I need to reclaim that authority over my life.

I need to take care of me so that I can take care of others. There are all kinds of slogans like that: Live simply so that others can simply live. Do less so that others can do more. etc. But seriously if my cup is empty I have nothing left to give.

I listened to a podcast the other day at Messy Parenting and learned a lot about reordering the priorities into my life.  A pyramid of sorts with Prayer at the bottom of the triangle. Next comes personal care, then taking care of my partner, then peripheral… And it is shocking to me how much I can put in the peripheral.  I am thinking about this. It is making sense to me.

Prayer is the foundation for everything listed above. When I take time to pray I am listening to God as He balances my day. He lays out a plan. He brings to my heart those I need to lift up. He lifts me up! How often I am looking to others to affirm me when my Dear Jesus is right there waiting to shower His love upon me? A routine that has worked for me in the past is to set my alarm a half-hour early and have a place for prayer. Accents are important and do not need to be elaborate: a soft light, a warm blanket, a candle. I have a spot in my den where I have all the images of my family’s patron saints. I like to think of them as friends who are with me. I light the candle, sip my cocoa or tea, wrap myself in a blanket and read my devotionals. A couple of favorites right now are Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, Roses among Thornsby St. Francis de Sales, I have my highlighter and I highlight all the passages that span to me form my devotionals. Our parish is also doing a program called Alpha.  I have a Bible in a Year app on my phone and I use that as well to read my scripture.  I love the Psalms as well and sometimes I will grab the music book and sing myself a psalm or two. They are so comforting and having them memorized form being in the choir as a child has brought great comfort to me through the years.

Personal is the next level on the pyramid. Here it is: the taking care of oneself. Here is where I can give myself the time for a walk, the time to make that salad or a fresh pot of soup. The time to read a chapter of a book, and/ or grab a cup of tea with a friend. Things that used to be for others I am now opening up into my world. They are not extravagant! It is crazy to realize this!  I also am putting the time for me to do my paperwork; my thank you notes, my quick bill paying, etc. So I am making a plan. I pencil in a walk with a friend, schedule a cup of tea with a friend, schedule something each day to refuel me. So far I have read Pride and Prejudice and watched the movie! ( So good! I even shared the movie with my family and had some good family time as well!) I have gone to daily Mass a few times and shared a 2 1/2 half hour cup of tea with a friend at a local Panera. Oh! And I am trying to eat my food when it is warm:). I’m aiming for a date night coming up and have lunch scheduled with a good friend tomorrow. So the future looks bright!

Taking care of my partner; in this case, my handsome husband is pretty important to me. Getting myself and this man to heaven is my priority.  Being married almost 23 years we can get caught up with the lives of our kids and the running of our house. By taking time for myself, doing some reading, taking a walk, discussing the latest whatever with someone else gives me something else to bring to our table of discussion instead of how was the kids’ school day? I can make him a special meal. I can write him a note. Looking at my life this way is helping me to be more intentional. I was at the dollar store the other day and I picked up some cards that I can leave on his desk every once in a while with a note. We used to do that when we were younger. How fun it will be to revisit that tradition.  Love.. it has to be fanned to keep the flame alive. We are blessed with church family whom our children call aunties and uncles, grandmas and grandpas and we trust them. Their kindness allows us to grab a date night out here and there. All we have to do is make it a priority. Put it on the calendar. Be intentional. Take care of the one you love.

Peripheral is the smallest one, yet the one where I placed most of my energy. The doctors’ appointments, sports teams, music lessons, therapy appointments, friends visits, youth groups, house cleaning, laundry, etc. It’s all peripheral; It’s all in the background. I am creating a structure for laundry, chores, etc so that they flow more smoothly and are not the focus of my day. I am letting go of the crumbs on the floor and the toothpaste in the sink and taking time to recharge. I am delegating more to my kids. Surprisingly it is easiest for my smaller kids to embrace this change as my bigs have grown up with me doing more, but they are coming along.

It is my prayer that this new structure that I am trying to add into my life will make still my mind and bring it peace and balance. I pray that by seeking to find God’s will for myself and my family in all these areas, we will continue to draw closer to one another. I seek constantly the example of the saints in the church. Struggling mother issue? St. Monica. Lost Something? St. Anthony. Small stuff weighing you down? St. Therese of Lisieux is the answer. The Holy Family has always been an inspiration to me in the model of caring for self and others and how to live a life close to God our Father. May the Holy Family pray for us all

Life, Reflections

Singing Out Loud: How the hymns of my youth became the rhythm of my life

Image credit: By Zach Smith (2019), Unsplash.com, CC0/PD

My relationship with Jesus has always been a constant even from my early years. I was always mothering someone or something. I remember as a little girl dressing up as a nun. I’d pack my missal given to me at my first Communion into my purse or backpack and read it in my free time. A few years later at the sweet age of eight, I traded that in for the hymnal. I still have that same hymnal on my nightstand, such was its impact on my life.

Saint Augustine is often quoted as saying “Singing to the Lord is praying twice.” For me, it is the very focus of my prayer life. Often the melody of a psalm or the words from a hymn are my first response in times of joy and need. Of my time spent in church as a youth, this is one of the greatest gifts bestowed upon me.

As a youth, I grew up in a home where family life was tumultuous and broken. I spent a great deal of time at our church, which was built in the center of our neighborhood. I would walk there from my house. Meetings happened all around me, from parish council meetings to PSR to Pre Cana. I sat and studied in the kitchen or sat in the church and did my homework with Jesus. A little grown-up girl at the age of 8, I pretended that everything was normal at home and asked if it would be OK if I did my schoolwork here. Our wise priest, who knew his flock well, paved the way I am sure, and a plate of donuts and a bowl with apples was usually left on the table in the kitchen. He will never know how huge this act of kindness was.

The choir director noticed my constant humming and singing and asked if I wanted to join the choir. Wrapped in the arms of love by this group of prayerful people, who one day would all sing at my wedding, I attended weekly practices and became a cantor. One of the members built me a stepstool so that I could reach the microphone! I attended every Mass, every prayer service, many funerals — always singing. I would walk home after practice, sometimes in the  dark of night, and sing at the top of my lungs with my heart wide open to the Lord.

As I started home, I would begin with a “Glory and Praise to Our God,” and when I passed the house with the cavernous ditch in the back of their yard, out came the “Be With Me Lord When I am in Trouble,” as my little feet walked faster. “Bless the Lord My Soul” followed my supplication with praise. As weird as it sounds, I had songs for all the pivotal moments in my youth.

When things were scary and unknown: “Shepherd me O God, beyond my wants, Beyond my fears, from death into life. God is my shepherd so nothing shall I want. I rest in the shadows of faithfulness and trust. I walk by the quiet waters of peace.”

Watching my friends discern college and figure out what they were going to study? “Abba, Father” was a core favorite. “Abba, Father, You are the Potter. We are the clay. Mold us, Mold us and fashion us into the image of Jesus your Son.”

Loud, dangerous or scary times at home: Psalm 91. “Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble, be with me, Lord, I pray.” I knew every word, and the melody calmed my fears.

The death of a loved one: “I know that my Redeemer lives, the one who calls me home. I long to see God face to face, to see with my own eyes”: such comfort these songs brought me.

I smile with nostalgia at youthful moments as well, where these songs poured from my heart with all the drama a 13- to 17-year-old girl’s heart could hold …

The high school betrayal of those whom I thought were friends: Psalm 22: “My God, my God, oh why have you abandoned me?” I would sing that psalm and cry out the words. I would throw a stuffed animal, flop on my bed and bang it out on my keyboard.

The ache of a first heartbreak: I was the nerd who sobbed into her stuffed animal. “I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have called you and you are mine.” Now granted, I totally had the theology of this misplaced, but I think it actually was healthy and good because it showed me how much the Lord loved me and how constant He is.

Flash forward thirty years.  I am a joyfully married mother of eight children who have grown up with these songs as the backbone of their childhood. Many nights have I sat at the top of the stairs praying with them. My repertoire has changed these days.

Seeing the need for humility and servant hearts in my children: “The Servant Song.” “Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you? Pray that I may have the grace … to let you be my servant too.”

God’s steadfast love: “The King of Love, my shepherd is whose goodness fails me never. I nothing lack if I am his and he is mine forever.”

Bedtime: “Hail Mary, Gentle Woman” is a family favorite and is known in my book to have special graces to even calm down after daddy piggyback rides with younger kids and dad jokes shared in the older boys’ rooms. An eyebrow raised, a knowing smile, and the songs begin.

Some might grumble as they get a little older, but I hear them hum the “Lourdes Ave” as they nestle into bed. Even my older son whose bedroom is now in the basement will sometimes sit on the staircase with me when he comes home and finds us in the middle of bedtime, and hum along.

These are the cadences of our family’s heart, the melody that drives our days. I am so grateful for the gift of music to aid me in my prayer life as a youth and my vocation as a mother.

St Cecilia, pray for us. St Augustine, thank you. Jesus, I trust in you.