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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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. 

Three Reasons to Stop Photoshopping Your Face

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I had long resisted the urge to click on the "make-yourself-into-a-star" Facebook apps. I don't click on any of them as a general rule but... after the 15th person in my feed shared her transformation, my idle and itchy social media trigger finger just... clicked. 

What I already knew is that my friends' images had been changed in ways that made me the tiniest bit sad. They are beautiful women... but they don't look like that. And I battled with myself over the questions this raised for me...

Shouldn't we all be allowed to dress up and become the "princess" every once in a while? Can't we have a little fun? Isn't this what we would all look like if we had a boatload of cash to pour into cosmetics and salon appointments? 

But we don't. We don't. And I think it's important that we (or at least I) face the uncomfortable truth that I love photoshop and all the face-smoothing apps primarily because... they don't really look like me. I don't like my face or my teeth, the way I do my makeup, or my hairstyle. I never have. These apps take away all the discomfort of having my vanity pricked. 

I was raised in a American culture that taught me to be dissatisfied with all of myself and I went through intense periods of self-hatred. I hated looking in the mirror and was ashamed (this is hard to admit) to leave the house looking like me, with my skin and my figure and my everything. 

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The picture above - a screenshot from that Facebook app - shows the face of a beautiful woman. Hollywood gorgeous. They used my picture and added my name but I know that's not me. It's a photoshopped me and what I might look like if I was a teenager with a professional team of stylists; or maybe with a talented cosmetic surgeon.

I shouldn't have clicked on that app but I did. I also spent too much time scrolling through Instagram and noticed far too many of us (women, that is) with obviously airbrushed wrinkles and smoothed laugh lines. We take the digital pen to the parts of us that we don't love before we are ready and willing to share with others... even though those who love us most already know our imperfections.

My heart sank and I headed right to my keyboard to share three reasons why you shouldn't photoshop yourself.

1. It's a lie.

Listen to me... You DO have crows' feet and gray sprinkled in that hair. The more you attack it and fuzz it out of your pictures, the more you communicate a lie to yourself: That you aren't okay the way you are.  

I'm not talking about using makeup and fashions to accentuate what is beautiful about you... I happen to think those can be important items in a feminine toolbox! There is absolutely nothing wrong with highlighting our natural beauty and and adding some color and props. But that's not the kind of photo correction I'm talking about. 

It is one thing to use a cool filter once in a while, stand in the best light, delete a big red mark on your nose, or find a flattering angle. It is another to paint over or change what is overwhelmingly real. And it is a lie straight from the enemy himself that you need to be something other than you are in order to be worthy of a ridiculous social media post... surrounded by millions of other terribly insecure people filtering their own faces.

2. You're hurting others.

Yes, it's true. Over time, we paint an unrealistic portrait of ourselves for others and contribute to the manic insecurity of the souls inhabiting the internet. I don't have to describe the comparison game for you because you already know all about it. It can crush us slowly over time. 

It's not necessarily something we can control, you know? It is an emotion that comes unbidden... this feeling of insecurity... or fear... or inadequacy. It is what we do with that emotion that makes all the difference. Does that emotion inspire joy, peace, confidence, and virtue in us? Or does it make us feel... irritable, angry, jealous, ugly, inadequate?

And aren't those latter emotions often the fruits of our social media explorations. We think we're fine and secure, but there is a deeper level at which we are learning about who we are and who others are as well. Who are we allowing to be our teachers and what are we teaching others? 

Ladies... Our friends love to see us looking beautiful. Go ahead and look like your gorgeous self! But if your 40-year old face isn't flat and smooth like a baby's (and most aren't), please allow us to see you anyway.

The truth is that it's not that important to others what YOU look like... each person is mostly just wrapped up in our own insecurities. If we see you, our beautiful friend, in all your weathered glory, it will be balm to our trembling souls. Those broken people who will find the flaws and pick at them and mock? They are dealing with their own deep insecurities and sufferings and I suspect their words are less to hurt us than to protect themselves. We don't have to let their baggage become our albatross. Let it go. Show your face. 

3. You are hurting your daughters

I recently watched several video projects put together by high schoolers. The goal was to document reactions to fellow students being called beautiful and to spread some joy. The most interesting thing about these videos for me was the surprise, delight, and sometimes even the pain that the compliment triggered. 

In one of the videos, there was even a hostile response. "Shut up," she says. "I'm going to cut your face." Others immediately feel the need to argue. "No... no... I don't think so. Thank you, but...no."

These are children and young adults and yet the pain is evident. And I think the reasons are clear.

  •  We have bought the lie that we are too deficient to be admired without a mask. 
  •  We have been deeply hurt by others who perpetrate that lie. 

What does this have to do with our daughters? 

Let me ask you: Are we preaching with our actions what we claim to believe about the beauty and dignity our children and all of humanity (including ourselves)? Our children see what we are doing to our own pictures and and they also see what we are doing to theirs. It is teaching them about what we believe is necessary to be liked and loved. 

I am not advocating that we embarrass people by posting their image in unflattering ways and then tagging them on Facebook. Nope, that's pretty careless and awful. I've been on the receiving end of that! I'm also not saying that we can't use a mild filter for a special portrait. 

But they do know what they look like and they do notice if you've smoothed out or eliminated their "worst" features in your random Instagram post. You made their eyes bigger, their hair less frizzy, their nose thinner, their lips plumper. They know that you tinkered and they LIKE the result... but they also incorrectly identify that you fixed them because they needed fixing in order to be photo worthy. 

They don't. 

Unfortunately, our tinkering only confirms their belief that they do. Ah, yes... mommy doesn't like the circles under my eyes either. I'm glad she fixed that.

She's glad on on level; but on another level, it is a blow to the very soul. 

One of the most difficult aspects of having a visual social media presence for me (as a business owner with a need to be here) is having to put my face in front of a camera, especially now that my autoimmune disease periodically reveals itself on my face. (See my unfiltered pics HERE.) All of my teenage insecurities come pouring out and I realize that I've never really fully healed. I am still overcoming that self-hatred with time and care. The first step is to simply ignore the emotion and do what needs to be done, walking past my vanity and pride and learning true humility; but I pray that the next step is a gentle and loving acceptance of my God-given skin. 

I imagine that is one of the greatest potential blessings of old age... that we can no longer hide our physical flaws. We can finally stop messing with the filter and just focus on the soul. Finally ready to be loved. 

"Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Your every act should be done with love." Corinthians 16:13-14

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Traveling With Your Sensitive Toddler

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"I want to go home."

She looked straight into my eyes and I knew she wasn't bluffing. She wasn't whining, she was insisting. We had been on the road for only an hour. Yes, this was going to be a long trip. She repeated those words many times over the next week and then finally, we were home. But the middle days... Oh those middle days.

Having raised 6 children out of toddlerhood (so far), I should be the expert. I should have been completely prepared for my 7th when she reached the age of two. Not so much. 

My current toddler is brilliant, loving, and sweet but she also happens to be highly sensitive. Call it a sensory processing issue or whatever... she's an amazing kid with huge intensity. Add a new baby brother to her world and... BOOM... many of you have toddlers and you know what that looks like!

So our recent 9-hour trip to drop my oldest off at college was a source of anxiety for me. My own stress level was only secondary to hers and that was the fundamental problem and my primary concern. She's an amazing kid who loves life in a big way; but life gets bigger and bigger for her until it overwhelms.

Too much too often too quickly too loudly.

I had no idea how we would help her navigate all the sounds, sights, smells, strange people, noises, and routine disruptions. Naturally, I consulted the Parenting Manual under the section "How to Mother a Passionate Toddler" and read...

HaHaHaHaHaHa!

Right. That's what I thought it would say. But with a little planning and a lot of compassion and patience, we made it and it wasn't horrible. For those of you who have sweet little tigers like mine - full of life and love and then some - I've compiled a few tips that helped with our trip. Again, I'm no expert and haven't experienced much of this with my other kids, but these are things that helped my girl...

  1. Pay attention to the Bucket
  2. Buy a carrier and use it
  3. Sleep consistency
  4. Grounding tools
  5. Sit down and read books
  6. Good Nutrition (No candy!)
  7. Limit activities
  8. Steady Discipline
  9. Plan B (When all else fails)

1. PAY ATTENTION TO THE BUCKET

The "bucket theory" for human beings goes something like this: The body is like a bucket and fills over time, drop by drop. When the bucket is filled with toxins, irritants, allergens, etc., it starts to overflow and react. There's only so much it can hold without negative effect. For a sensitive child (or adult), each new person, sound, smell, etc. fills the bucket and sometimes cause an overflow.

For a toddler, "overflow" = breakdown.

I can tell you firsthand that once the bucket is full, it takes a long time to empty it. Preventing the full bucket in the first place is much easier than restoring it to a healthy level. All of the tips that follow below are geared toward keeping drips below the brim while traveling. (Here's a link to a brief and helpful overview of the bucket theory for sensitive people: The Bucket)

2. BUY A CARRIER AND USE IT

For the times when the world is just too big for a toddler, a carrier is parenting gold. Being close to you is a stress reliever. You become a safe zone... home base... and they never have to leave it even on the go. 

Our Ergobaby carrier carries up to 45 pouds so it's perfect for a toddler. She's too heavy for me but my sons and husband can carry her easily. We have both the Performance model and the original and the guys really love the Performance.

3. SLEEP CONSISTENCY

It is helpful to keep sleep habits and location as consistent as possible. My smarty pants 3-year old was definitely nervous about all the places we were going since they were all new. She kept asking to go home and we couldn't oblige... but we were at least able to come back to the same hotel bed every night. We had the opportunity to stay with friends but we opted not to (much to the other kids' chagrin) and instead made an investment in stability and toddler peace. 

If location consistency isn't possible, keep the routine and accessories consistent. Same blanket. Same pillow. Same stuffed animal. Same PJ's. Same prayers. Same kisses and hugs.

4. GROUNDING TOOLS

Bring the familiar. Bring the controllable. Be prepared to place something in their hands to help help them feel secure when all else seems to them like it's hectic, scary, and unfamiliar. My daughter likes to draw and erase and she will work feverishly at a little dry erase board when she is stressed. She also likes to look at familiar pictures on our phones or other devices. I've noticed that when she's feeling anxious or tired, she usually asks for pictures. It has become something of a cue for us, letting us know that she needs decompressing.

Another tool we prepared in advance was a teething toy. Even though she's 3 now, we've noticed that she chews things to bits when she's out of sorts; clothes, books, purses, whatever. So we bought a pretty pink chewy thing in the baby section and when the going got tough in the car, presented it to her. She was skeptical at first (You mean I'm allowed to chew on this?) and a little sheepish (she knew it was for babies) but ended up falling happily asleep with it in her sweet little paws.

Calming essential oils are another wonderful tool. Find your child's favorite calming and "happy" oils before the trip and have them ready. 

5. SIT DOWN AND READ HER BOOKS

As long as she hasn't moved past the reasonable stage, this IS the magic pill of toddlerhood. 

6. GOOD NUTRITION {NO CANDY}

When my older kids were smaller and needed to spend long hours waiting at the pool or gym, I often controlled their behavior by bringing snacks or treats. Most of the time that meant candy or garbage food. I learned the hard way that candy makes people feel lousy and causes energy crashes. Yes, there are times to thank God for the well-timed lollipop but regular use backfires.

If a kid feels lousy, she will act lousy. Keeping her body nourished properly and in a timely manner saves us (and her) and lot of misery, especially when on the road. She's hungry and it's not dinner time? At this age it doesn't matter... feed her anyway. And feed her good stuff.

7. SIMPLIFY YOUR SCHEDULE

If the carrier isn't enough to keep your child steady, limit activity and known stimuli. Instead of doing five things in a day, do two. And decline the overwhelming Omnimax. I know... it's a bummer. But this motherhood thing is about loving people not collecting experiences. 

8. STEADY DISCIPLINE

I am so tempted with this girl to just throw in the towel and give her whatever she wants anytime she wants it to keep the peace, especially when traveling. But it is so important to keep steady and consistent. They crave the stability, they need the consistency, and loving boundaries will prevent bad habits from forming. 

When reasonable and loving discipline fails, distraction methods, book reading, naps, food, and cuddles have all been tried, and the total breakdown comesanyway, I have nothing really to offer except for Plan B...

9. PLAN B {WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS}

Sometimes there's just nothing you can do. You've used every tool in your box and your sweet kitten has become a raging cornered tiger. It happens. And it has happened to us more times in the last few months of my motherhood than all the 18 years combined. When hugs don't work. When bribes don't work. When food is refused and sleep is impossible. When discipline has no effect. When the child has lost control over her passions. When the kitten becomes the tiger...

  • Summon up every bit of compassion in your soul and use it liberally. 
  • Find the quietest, darkest place you can to ride out the storm with them.
  • Don't react in anger.
  • Respect boundaries (sensitive kids can get overwhelmed and might not want to be touched) but stay close for when they're ready.
  • Speak softly.
  • Pray out loud softly but loud enough for them to hear, asking Jesus and Mary to bless them with peace.
  • If others are around, ignore the prick of pride welling up. Pride brings embarrassment. Embarrassment can sometimes lead us to unwarranted anger. Prideful anger can lead us to act sinfully.
  • Take as long as the child needs. Let your plans go. 

I know it's hard but we can't give in to resentment. They need us. They are enveloped in emotion and stress and they need the love of Christ Jesus through those into whose care they've been entrusted. There's no one else in the world better equipped to love that child in their moment of need than we are. It's a cross but we'll carry it just fine. And one day, it will feel lighter again and all the love we have poured into our child will have been a part of their formation. Isn't that a beautiful thought? Formation in love. 

Happy travels! St. Christopher, pray for us!

Do you have suggestions for loving sensitive little ones during travels? Please share in the comments!

The Beautiful Thing Project (Random Acts of Kindness)

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My middle school daughter told me about a secret adventure she recently took. She was going to the store with her dad and anticipated all of the sad and anxious people she would come across. "Hardly anyone smiles," she told me. So she planned in advance to smile at everyone she saw, regardless of whether they smiled back. 

Her mission was successful (with most people anyway) and we talked for a while about her desire to bring comfort to others who are feeling down for one reason or another. She recalled the many words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta about the power of a simple smile. 

My daughter's words reminded me of a special Advent project that my friend, Colleen, does with her children. I shared the Raising Lifelong Learners blog post with my girl and she immediately decided to do something similar for the Summer months. 

And so, The Beautiful Thing project was born, because as Mother Teresa said...

"Every time you smile at someone it is an act of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing."

Here's how it works:

1. Print out this PDF page of 6 (or make your own)...


2. Buy some candy or another inexpensive happy item to give with the notes. My daughter chose Smarties just in case people are gluten free and we bought in bulk HERE. She attached the Smarties to the papers with colorful Washi Tape

3. Leave your house. 

4. Ask God to send someone who needs some kindness your way. Pray like St. Ignatius...

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.


5. Smile!

6. Give your little gifts to people who seem to need them most.

7. Always remain anonymous. Do not attach a website address, email, name, or other identification to the note. This act of kindness should not even indirectly place any obligation on the receiver, promote your website/projects/etc., or draw praise your way. Let it be a completely free gift. 

8. Repeat. Keep a stash with you in the car and when God presents a soul to love, respond with spontaneous generosity. 

9. If you are on social media, consider taking a pic of your ready-to-give notes with the hashtag #beautifulthingproject. I would love to show my girl how small acts of love are contagious! 

Finally, here is a note written to me by my daughter when she first presented me with this idea. It inspired me and hope it inspires you...

I think as Mother Teresa did, that a genuine smile is one of the most beautiful gifts a person can give to others. Not only does it give joy to the other person, it makes you feel less grumpy yourself. I like the idea of giving cards and candy to people because when I go places, I notice that not many people are smiling. In fact, many of them look hurried and sad. 

While I know that the expressions on their faces don't necessarily mean that they are suffering, I know that many people are and that sometimes the small things in life can make us sad. Maybe they are just trying to get through each day or have heard some bad news. 
A card and a smile from someone might make their day. I want to be that someone.

I also know that many people don't know Christ and perhaps they are sad and they don't know why. I want to give these cards (and a smile) to everyone who needs them, to make them happy, and to be a witness to Christ Who is the reason I smile. :)

Raising Strong Daughters in a Dog Eat Dog World

As the mother of four daughters, I have a lot of complicated thoughts about them, about the world, and about them coming into contact with the world. My own experience as an American woman plays into those thoughts heavily and I will not lie... sometimes they terrify me.

This world is dog eat dog and many women get chewed up and spit out right from the beginning. 

But because I cannot keep these girls locked up in the house (I mean, please... we'd drive each other mad eventually), I have had to face those real fears and determine a solid path for raising my little women. 

I was not a confident young woman. I was a "feminist" (because what secular young female isn't?) but it was all bluster and silliness. The truth was that I was just a young girl trying hard to be loved by someone (anyone) and not get kicked around too much by life. My self-confidence could be shattered by a finicky bottle of hairspray or a devastating break up... Sometimes it all seemed mashed up together in a sloppy painful heap. 

Unfortunately, that left me in a difficult blank space where I was neither nurtured fully as a human being nor protected from the predatory "dogs" of the world. I look back on my youth with much sorrow and regret. It wasn't until adulthood that I really learned my worth and discovered a depth of true joy...

So how do we raise our daughters to be the beautiful, sensitive, strong, wonderful women God created them to be... without hardening their hearts or turning them into dog bait? 

I don't have the answers, but I have a few ideas...

1. Stop Knocking Her Down (Be an Encourager)

If we want our girls to rise up straight and tall, we can't keep kicking them down. And moms, I mean we have to stop nitpicking the life breath out of them. I am guilty of this and I do it because I want to fix everything and make it all perfect… so that they are happy forever and ever. 

But oh my... sometimes I'm stomping on those sweet toes when I should be washing their feet. I forget my role as soul-lover and wear the gaudy hat of nagging tyrant. Awful. Fear-based mothering is a drag on the gentle soul and a bludgeon on innocent heads.

As moms, we have to keep them accountable and maintain certain expectations so that our kids can grow healthy and succeed. But we've got to make the balance of our interactions fall on the positive side, so that when they are grown and gone, the "mom voice" in their heads (yes, it will be there), is one that communicates truth, joy, beauty, encouragement, and strength.

2. Don't Let Others Knock Her Down (Rise up, Mama Bear!)

Dear sister mama bears... this is your cue. The common thought is that kids are resilient but let's not forget the dramatic rise in teen depression, suicide, and abuse. Resiliency does not mean that children can't be deeply wounded, simply that they learn coping strategies and have the ability to heal (or hide) their scars. Not every injury heals well but there are many injuries which are preventable. You daughters are vulnerable to predators (emotional, spiritual, and physical) and they need you to be "that mom" who is in the right place to mentor their young souls. 

You don't have to be helicopter mom but you do need to be alert. Do what you can to keep her physically, emotionally, and spiritually safe during her formative years and all the eye rolling will be worth it someday. 

I was a sensitive kid trying to fight my way through a dog eat dog youth culture. That did not go well. I didn't know how to fight. I needed someone to see what was going on and fight for me when I didn't have the skills, courage, or strength. I needed to know that I wasn't on my own. 

3. Teach Her How to Fight (Mentor Her as She Grows)

Okay, I don't mean sharpening her nails before a behind-the-school scratch fest. I mean that mamas have to teach their girls to defend what is good and beautiful about themselves. A feminine heart is one of God's greatest gifts to the world because it thrives on serving the needs of others. It is worth protecting. 

So, define what it means to "fight" and teach her how...

A woman's "fight" should never be an attack on others but only a defense of what is good and true. We are strongest when we lead others to be their best, not when we force them into doing what we want them to do. Our inner lioness is not designed to defend our egos... but to serve and ignite the world. 

Teach her to defend those who are weak and oppressed, marginalized and vulnerable. Teach her that she is worth fighting for and defending and give her the specific words and action steps to use when faced with someone who makes themselves her enemy. And teach her to identify an enemy... Because sometimes enemies come disguised as our greatest desires. I'm convinced that behind every angry feminist is a little girl left defenseless in the presence of "dogs"... male and female. 

4. Reveal Her Beauty (Be A Mirror To Show Her the Truth)

How ugly I felt as a young girl and woman! No shower could take away that feeling of disgust that I had for myself. I fell short in every way in my own eyes and it wasn't until I met my future husband (who then introduced me to Jesus), that I could see the truth mirrored for me. It is still difficult to believe! But the gentle love of my man and my God have taught me how to receive love without being afraid of a follow-up kick to the heart. 

The dogs of life had shouted lie after lie at me on a daily basis and I learned to believe them. As a mother, I realize that I have a  duty to show my girls who they really are... because the world will always feed them lies. 

When they are in your home, they should have no doubt that you love them and they should always see their beauty mirrored in your eyes. Tell them, show them, hug them, strengthen them. 

5. Introduce Her to Strong Women (Model Strong Womanhood)

Worldly wisdom says that "strong" women are successful, rich, and bold. True wisdom says that strong women are those who serve with such love and joy that they change the world, one soul at a time. Truly strong women are those women who refuse to become a "dog" in society and who use their feminine gifts to make the world a beautiful place where every soul knows its worth. They don't step on people to get where they want to go... they lift others up and are carried upward in the process. 

You're far more likely to find truly strong women in your own families and communities than you are on a Hollywood screen. I'm talking strong like Grandma... not brash like Beyonce. Big difference!

And be the strong woman you want her to be. Show her what it looks like. 

6. Teach Her That She Has Value Unattached to Her Successes or Failures (Be a Truth-teller)

The measuring stick of our culture is unforgiving and seems to unalterably attach our individual value to our successes. What we do becomes synonymous with who we are and inevitably, young women lose their identity in the midst of their activities. Life is rocky. And when a girl asks herself who she really is, the words that often invade her heart are...

worthless
ugly
failure
unlovable
stupid
miserable

We need to teach our daughters that they are valuable for WHO they are apart from what they do, what mistakes they have made, what victories they have won. Then when life gets a little crazy, they won't lose themselves in it. They will know... I am valuable simply because I exist.

The only way I know how to do that for a girl is to share with her the love of Jesus Christ, Who loves all, knows all, forgives all, and became man so that He could enter into our suffering... and shatter it. They not only need the consolation of such knowledge but they need the truth that accompanies it. We have a purpose. Happiness comes with discovering and acting on that purpose.

Dear Daughter,

You are amazing. Created in love out of love so that you might live in joy for eternity. Ignore the dogs. You are made for more. And when you forget that and need reminding, I'll be right here to tell you. Again and again and again.

7. Be Ready To Catch Her (Be a Healer)

She's going to get hurt. She's going to fall. Be there. 

Be that mom... 

Encourager.
Mama Bear.
Mentor.
Mirror.
Model.
Truth-teller.
Healer.

That's the best you can do. I will be praying for you!