To Solve the Vocations Crisis: Serviam (Part 1)

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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

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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.

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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.}

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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!)


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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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}

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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!

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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

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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.

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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.

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...

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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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FRODO

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  • 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

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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EYE OF SAURON

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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! 

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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…

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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

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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.

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

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*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.

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LEMBAS

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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

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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. 

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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...


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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}

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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

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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.

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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

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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. 

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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. 

How to Rock Confirmation Celebrations (in 7 Quick Takes}

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you make through my links. More info
Here.} 

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As we head into another Confirmation season, I dug into my archives to remember some of my favorite ways to celebrate. Kiddo number 4 will be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit in a few weeks and so we will be busy about things like spiritual preparation and counting plastic forks. The spiritual and material inevitably collide and thankfully, we usually managed to celebrate sacramentally and materially without much stress. (Just a little. Not more than usual. Perhaps a little less. Mostly.)

Diving into the memories and my 7 top favorite ways to rock a Confirmation celebration in my big Catholic family…

1. DOUBLE THE GRACES

We once managed to get the timing just right and get two kids Confirmed at one time. It was so fun, so lovely, so fruitful, and so... so efficient that we'd love to have the rest of the kids sealed with the Spirit in pairs. It won’t happen this time around but since my current Confirmandi has asked her older sister to be her sponsor, it still feels like a sweet pairing. And they clearly were a very fun pair.

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We don’t break the bank for sacramental apparel since it is the overall appearance of respect and celebration that we are going for and not brand names. We picked up the jacket for the 13-year old (above) at Goodwill for $6. My daughter’s lovely dress (you can’t see the white lace overlay in my blurry photo) was 40% off at Lands End. Finding modest, contemporary, high quality lovely dresses for teen girls is not easy. This was a true win on all counts.

Probably the biggest expense of the event was finding a last minute pair of shoes for my daughter which would fit the gigantic bandage from a toe injured the day before. What would a celebration be without a little bloody excitement thrown in?

My son has since traded in his bargain jacket for lace… obviously also the work of the Holy Spirit…

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2. FOLLOW THE RULES

Hey, when the DRE says that they really prefer that you not take pictures, what she probably means to say is "It's okay to take grainy pics of the back of people's heads standing in the aisle with your phone as long as you don't disturb the Bishop." So... we're good.

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3. BE FLEXIBLE

Cakes implode. It happens. Especially when it's a gluten-free recipe that you haven't tried before. (Gluten is a phenomenal binding agent, by the way.) When it happens, beg Facebook to fix it for you and all of your friends will come to your aid within minutes. My deepest gratitude to CharlotteEllenKatieJanaMary, Meredith, Lena, and Kendra for the cake rescue help. (Good cake clearly takes a village.)

My daughter and I took the inspiration and ended up with cakes in cups that looked Pinterest-y (more or less) and tasted pretty darn good. Buttercream, yellow cake, whipping cream/cream cheese topping, a little edible gold spray (not visible in my low quality pic but pretty in person), gold and pearl sprinkles... done. And remarkably easy to serve. 

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The kids really wanted to reproduce these cookie successes from our previous celebration but I had to choose between cookie making and cleaning the house. This photo is regular cookies but we now make them with a gluten free 1-to-1 flour and they turn out perfect. Not health food but that’s not the vibe most party-goers are going for anyway. Recipe and more pics and tips can be found here: The Essential Sugar Cookie Recipe

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Also, yes… my icing is runny. I’ve gotten better at that over time but I think it suits the fire effect… kinda wild in a Holy Spirit way. Overflowing hearts with grace and passion!

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4. ORDER GOOD WEATHER

When you forget to feed your toddler and you need to make a hasty exit in order to correct that increasingly noisy problem… you will be so glad that you planned for a sunny day. And since I live in Northeast Ohio where the odds are (at best) 50/50, we were fortunate to get the sunshine. Toddler was pacified. Mama got to see the actual Confirmations.

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5. HAVE CHOCOLATE. REALLY GOOD CHOCOLATE.

From the word go, I was fully committed to the idea of some kind of decadent chocolate dessert. I found a wonderful recipe and made several batches of Raspberry and Chocolate Cheesecake Trifles. Wow. Recommended. Instead of fresh raspberries, I drizzled some raspberry syrup on the top and it was perfect. I modified the recipe to make it gluten free by replacing the chocolate cookie bottom with crumbled gluten free brownie. I replaced the Dove chocolates with chocolate chips to save money and it was still amazing.

I can no longer find the recipe on the Dove website or their Pinterest page and so I’m just going to drop my notes here in case anyone wants to try. The number of servings is not listed… sorry!

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RASPBERRY & CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE TRIFLES

  • 4 oz. DOVE PROMISES SILKY SMOOTH DARK CHOCOLATE, 16 pieces (or equivalent)

  • 8 oz. CREAM CHEESE, room temperature

  • 3 Tablespoons SUGAR

  • 1 cup WHIPPING CREAM

  • 8 CHOCOLATE SANDWICH COOKIES, coarsely chopped (or crumbled brownie)

  • 1 cup FRESH RASPBERRIES (or just drizzle raspberry syrup or jam)

  • Additional chocolates for garnish

Instructions

  1. Place chocolate in microwave safe bowl, heat at 30 second intervals until almost melted. Stir until smooth. Allow to cool slightly.

  2. Beat together cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add cooled chocolate and mix well.

  3. Whip cream until stiff peaks form. Add half of whipped cream to chocolate mixture.

  4. Assemble - place about a tablespoon of chopped cookies in the bottom of each 8 oz. jar, layer on 2 tablespoons of chocolate cheesecake mixture, 4 raspberries, a tablespoon of whipped cream. Repeat layers ending with whipped cream.

  5. Garnish with an additional unwrapped DOVE Promise. Cover and refrigerate until serving. These can be made up to 1 day ahead.


We also made up little favors with Dove dark chocolate and Swedish Fish. Get it? Dove? And the fish as a symbol of our profession of faith. 

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6. BE PREPARED

We are a homeschooling Catholic family with a lot of faith-based resources on hand for sacramental preparation. There's everything from the Baltimore Catechism to Lighthouse audios lining our shelves so there's plenty to choose from. In spite of that, we added an additional Confirmation resource this year called Decision Point, a program designed by Matthew Kelly. I'd like to write a full review in the future but I'll just say this for now:

It isn't the Summa Theologica. It isn't a complete presentation of the entire deposit of faith. It isn't sufficient on it's own without a richer context. But... it's a pretty rock solid program that inspired my entire family to love more and dig deeper into our faith. Kelly presents the Truth with so much real joy that it's difficult not to respond from the heart.

The material is not difficult but neither is it fluff. I've seen the program trashed by some who call it vanilla garbage. I don't agree. I think it's simple, but not simplistic. And I think that, especially in a broader parish context, it is the right combination of meat and refreshment to draw in some hardened hearts. I wouldn't rely on it alone but I'm very glad we added it to our homeschool program. 

A final positive note: Last I checked, the entire program - with DVD’s, student book, and manual - was only $16 shipped.

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 7. ALWAYS DIY

More low quality pictures of lovely things. I made this banner for Professor's Confirmation and was so excited that I didn't have to make anything like it again this time around. It was an easy project the first time and a finished project the second time. A great relief. Here’s how I made the banner…

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I used a Joanne fabric gift card that I'd been hoarding to purchase fabric for a Pentacost/Confirmation banner. I found a sturdy pretty (clearance) red fabric in the home decor section and used a lightweight printed cotton for the letters. I printed letters for "Veni Sancte Spiritus" off the computer in the desired size and font and traced them onto the fabric after I had ironed on a layer of Heat 'n' Bond. The ribbon (which is not very visible in the photos) is white satin with gold swirls. A little cutting, a little ironing, a little sewing later... I had a rather nice reusable banner.

VENI SANCTE SPIRITUS!!!

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*BONUS TAKE*

I couldn't post this without telling you briefly about the greatest blessing of the party preparation. It came at the price of humiliation and a wounded heart (not mine) but if that's what it takes to bring me to my knees, so be it...

I did pretty well overall about staying even tempered while trying to get a pretty messy home ready for a lot of company. It's always a funny contradiction; a stressful household preparing for a sacramental celebration! I wasn't too uptight but I was rather tired. And in spite of my general success, I lost my cool with one of my littles.

I repented immediately, scooped the child up, and ran to the nearest cuddling couch. I told her that it wasn't her. I told her that she meant more to me than any party. I told her that I would rather have our guests come to a messy, stinky home than to burden her heart with my sharp words again. She cried and I cried and we sat there for a long time, leaving all the urgent things undone. 

My whole day changed in that moment. I didn't forget my priorities again (at least not that day). She's more important to me than any party. She's just as treasured as our most honored guest. It's not worth it. The pride-based stress isn't worth the bruised hearts of my children. And I went into the rest of the preparation with a sad, humbled, and rejoicing heart. He allowed me to see my priorities and set them straight and I would not dismiss the gift. Thanks be to God.

Linking up with Kelly for 7 Quick Takes Friday

The Essential Gluten-Free Sugar Cookie Recipe

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you make through my links. More info
Here.} 

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If you are expecting this to be a healthy cookie recipe, well… not this time! This is nothing of the sort. It is gluten free and that is the best I can say for it other than that it makes beautiful and delicious cookies! I am sharing it because it is our go-to party cookie to make feast days and special events a little more colorful… and to provide a make-ahead dessert for a crowd.

Last time I made these cookies, I made 200 of them and they all went. So… I figured you’d want the recipe, too. The recipe is at the bottom of the post and in between are a few pictures from our celebrations over the years with notes about making them.

ICING

There’s no fancy (and awful tasting) Royal Icing for these. Just a quick and super colorful and delicious glace. Even your kids can do it. Vary the thickness of the icing to get different consistencies for piping, drizzling, dipping, or spreading. They can also roll out the dough because (with a little care) it rolls and cuts beautifully even with the gluten free flour. Easy measure and stir recipe at the bottom.

GLUTEN FREE

I have been very pleased with the gluten-free version of this recipe. It is literally a one ingredient swap, trading regular wheat flour for Bob’s 1-to-1 Gluten Free Baking Flour. I don’t know if other brands work as well because I’d rather not mess with success on frantic baking day!

COOKIE CUTTERS

Any cookie cutters will do but my favorite are the Wilton Colored Metal cutter sets (see pink flower below). They get a nice crisp edge but seem to hold up a little better than the plain metal. Maybe it’s my imagination… I don’t know. But I like them. There are endless shapes including Spring flower sets, tea party sets, garden sets, baby themes, princess theme, Autumn shapes, etc. The choices are endless.

If you are looking for an unusual shape, you can almost always find a tin cutter by googling or checking on Amazon. Among shapes I have searched for in the past are dinosaurs and swords.

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We started making these for Confirmation parties and then advanced into Easter, graduations, First Communions, and Christmas. They make pretty place setting decorations, gifts, and basket stuffers. I’ve included some pictures of ours over the years. Please forgive the quality… I usually took the photos while standing exhausted in the middle of my dark kitchen and covered in flour.

Per usual, I’m a little loosey-goosey when it comes to making familiar recipes. I stick to the game plan when it comes to the cookie but do whatever feels good in the moment with the icing. If I’m trying to make desperate haste (because it’s midnight and I still have 100 cookies to decorate for Christmas) I might just let that icing get a little runny.

But let’s be honest here… I’m almost always rushing. And you can probably tell from my photos which were more carefully crafted and which were born of panic.

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We made SO many Christmas cookies last year because we just. couldn’t. stop. When we ran out of one color, we’d just mix up a new one and add to our beautiful collection.

The cookies below were wrapped up and used as place settings or little gifts. My vision for the green wreath was different (not runny) but I was in a hurry and just went with it. I also wanted to pipe full names onto each cookie but again… super runny mixture. They still turned out pretty!

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Confirmation cookies were one of my first attempts and again, I ended up with some runny flames of fire! No big deal… I’ve gotten better at that over time but I think it suits the fire effect. Kinda wild in a Holy Spirit kind of way. Overflowing hearts with grace and passion. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

We had doves, tongues of fire, and sword cookies (not pictured).

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These Autumn leaves were part of my plan for a Miss Suzy birthday party decor and spread. If you don’t know who Miss Suzy is, just stop what you’re doing and go buy the book HERE. She is so beloved in our household! Piping thicker icing around the edges of these leaves made filling in with swirling color so much easier (and more fun!) later on.

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These graduation cookies were a little non traditional which is exactly how I wanted them. A little sweet, a little sassy, and lots of pretty color. They seemed to fit with her theme “Act justly, Love mercy, Walk humbly with your God.”

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Enjoy your cookies!

The Essential Sugar Cookie Recipe

How and Why to Grow Broccoli Sprouts Even if You Don't Garden

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you make through my links. More info
Here.} 

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If you want to pack a huge amount of nutrients and disease fighting properties into the smallest possible food, then you will want to learn about growing your own broccoli sprouts! Since the management of both lupus and lyme is largely directed by my intake of large quantities of vegetables, it’s great news when I don’t have to spend as much time chewing. As much as I love eating, there is something to said for efficiency, especially when you are eating consciously to heal the body.

Why broccoli sprouts? Let’s break it down…

NUTRITION

Good news for both broccoli lovers and haters: sprouts have all the nutrition of broccoli and even higher amounts with certain important phytonutrients. For example, the anti-cancer and anti-diabetic properties are much higher in sprouts than mature broccoli thanks to a nutrient called sulphoraphane. The heart benefits are also huge. Go here for a more detailed breakdown: Broccoli Sprouts Vs. Broccoli It’s all very impressive.

ABSORPTION

Nutrients don’t do us a whole lot of good unless we can absorb them and use them! Sprouts have a much higher absorption rate of sulphoraphane than broccoli… 74% versus 19%.

NO DIRT OR BUGS

I’m a wannabe gardener with a lupus-induced sun allergy. I want to garden but I cannot… yet. In the meantime, I grow sprouts neatly and successfully on my kitchen counter with zero dirt, zero bugs, and zero gardening knowledge. Plus… it’s really hard to kill a sprout in the 4-7 days it takes to grow. This is the ultimate confidence building project!

WHY NOT JUST BUY THEM?

You certainly can. But you will pay a lot more than the pennies it will cost you at home. More importantly, the greatest nutritional benefits in sprouts are found in 3-4 day old sprouts. That’s farm to table age and your typical grocery store probably isn’t able to provide something like that.

HOW TO EAT SPROUTS?

Easy. Any way you want to. A little handful on top of a salad or in a sandwich are obvious choices. But they can literally go on top of any dish you want. Top a potato or bowl of soup. Put them in a smoothie. Or just eat them plain.

HOW TO GROW BROCCOLI SPROUTS…

WHAT YOU NEED:

  • Organic broccoli sprouting seeds

  • A sprouter

  • Water

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It really doesn’t get simpler than this! You provide the space and a little water… the seeds (designed so perfectly to do this by God) do the rest.

The most complicated this ever gets is figuring out which sprouter to buy. I would love to buy this gorgeous $70 clay sprouter I found on Etsy but let’s be real… I have many kids and they break my pretty things. And sometimes in my haste, I also break my pretty things. Since it is not yet my season for fragile decor, I opted for a frugal option that still grows lots of sprouts, is easy to care for, and has a small countertop footprint.

I buy Organic Broccoli Sprouting Seeds from Handy Pantry in bulk (because I’m in this for the long haul) and I use this inexpensive sprouter with a small countertop footprint. It washes easily with vinegar and houses plenty of sprouts. No complaints! I also gave one to my sister-in-law for a birthday present with seeds… and I hope she still loves me. How could she not? Sprouts are a universal love language, aren’t they?

Handy pantry also has jar kits (which are adorable and not plastic) and complete starter kits with a variety of sprouters and seed selections.

Sprouting involves rinsing the seeds and sprouts daily 1-3 times for up to 7 days depending on the temperature. Direction vary slightly according to the sprouter you are using and do come with the spouters I have linked and direction also came with the seeds.

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I am a little silly with delight when my sprout babies start to grow. And no, my sprouter isn’t pretty. But that is quickly excused when I see the beautiful sprouts!

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It is an amazing feeling to grow what you eat! When the sprouts are ready to serve, I just swish them around in a bowl of water to knock most of the seed pods loose. I don’t mind having a few so I’m not uptight about this.

And that’s it! If you are serious about health and beautiful food, you should definitely sprout! Enjoy!

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