A Catholic Girls' Guide to Unmasking a Predator

mask.jpg

I have written this article 16 different ways trying to soften the language and avoid giving offense to anyone. The trouble is that my conscience won't allow the softening. With the sex abuse scandals exploding in every industry, sport, religion, and educational institution, it is clear that we don't have time or good reason to spare feelings over safety. Those examples don't even include the endless experiences that we have personally had in our communities and homes.

It's an evil that has become systemic. We have been culturally conditioned - publicly groomed actually - to accept a degree of certain abusive behaviors as normal. 

We feel a false sense of security because we have aggressively rooted out the most egregious offenders, put them on registries, taken away their positions of authority but, we ignore the elephant in our own living room. We have been silent. We have been complicit. And yes, we have been trained and groomed by evil people whom we allow access to our minds and families.

I have put together a short list of qualities in men that are red flags for a discerning Catholic girl or woman. These guidelines will also apply to my Protestant sisters in Christ. If even one of these risk factors exists, that is a solid reason to put on the brakes. If you want to jump right to the list, scroll down. If you want to understand the problem a little better and how you can better serve your daughters (or yourself), hang with me for two minutes. 

COLLECTIVE GROOMING

I rarely watch TV but recently fell into a YouTube vortex of shows that are currently popular. I don't know if it's just because I've been away from regular watching for so long but I was struck hard by one thing I saw...

The distinct and unhidden patterns of grooming and predatory behavior in media are constant. There is no coverup. No shame. No outcry. 

Men and women have always enjoyed the thrill of the chase and old TV shows are sprinkled heavily with the same messages, but I found the aggressiveness and crassness of the newer shows to be alarming and constant; acclimating us through clever scripting to a system that breeds abuse. It's the same culture I met so strongly in high school - having to constantly share close space with guys who were openly and aggressively predatory - and in so many other places. 

My hope for this article is to sharpen our Catholic axes so that we are better prepared to fight this battle and to help those specifically whose souls, minds, and bodies fall under our care.  I am concerned for both males and females but my gifts are more suited to helping other women - that is my unique perspective - and so my focus will be on helping protect our Catholic teen and young adult daughters from false and predatory men.

We don't have to be powerless. The easiest way to become a victim of evil is to give our consent and an open door. So... let's teach each other to retain our power. Some of our sisters and daughters will need our help to climb out of the trap of attraction, manipulation and possibly shame. Let's do this. Let's be strong in mercy, love, and willingness to go a little Joan-of-Arc on the enemy.

THE PRACTICAL STUFF 

I will go over some practical guidelines for being able to spot possible predators. This is a defensive maneuver only. There are many excellent resources out there for identifying healthy qualities in a man and I encourage you to look those up as well. 

Are you currently dating?
Are you involved in a relationship?
Are you a teen girl interested in boys?
Are you a parent entrusted with the care of young men and women?

Let's talk about our predatory culture and practical ways to protect them against the common (criminal and non-criminal) predatory male. 

SURELY YOU DON'T MEAN TO SAY 'PREDATOR?' THAT'S A STRONG WORD.

Actually, yes. Yes, I do. When I say predatory, I am referring to boys and men whose ultimate aim is not the eternal well-being of the girl, but the satisfaction of their ego and sexual urges. That is not necessarily a criminal action but it absolutely makes them a hunter/user of women and ultimately, dangerous. Whether it is a behavior that is studied and deliberate or simply learned by being a part of a hedonistic culture is irrelevant to the safety of the young woman involved. It’s still predatory. 

There's a difference between a man struggling with virtue and a man who is a predatory and we should acknowledge that. But it is also true that an habitual lack of virtue is the path to all evil actions. So... 

Some of you will get hung up on the term "predatory." I stick by it and won't soften it. I'm tired of the silence. We see where silence gets us. It gives us a broken, bleeding wound delivered by evil permitted to flourish. 

Back to the bad guys who want to date our daughters...

Some of these guys are impatient, boorish, and angry; some of them are poetic, gentle and willing to play the game and wait (some even profess a love of Christ). Regardless of the differences, both have the same end goal which is satisfaction of their own ego and physical desires. Both engage in a form of grooming.

Because this topic always seems to get some "boy mom" defenses up, I have to give the standard disclaimer: 

I am a "boy mom" of 4 boys. I married a man. I have male friends and beloved male family members. I know many good (male) priests. This post is not male-bashing. I don't hate men. I do not think men are the only ones at fault. This is wholly and simply a practical and instructive resource for single women and those who love them.

It's also a resource for teenage girls not yet ready for marriage who are uniquely vulnerable to false and bad men... and possibly a self-check for good men who don't want to be that guy

So for the record, girls: Don't be losers. Don't use or entrap guys. This post can be helpful for teaching you how not to be abusive (simply apply the points to your own behaviors) and also to avoid getting yourself caught up with one. 

DEAR MOMS OF GIRLS...

We've all been around the block a few times. We know things that our girls don't know. But our girls haven't lived in our shoes, haven't learned our lessons, and haven't undergone our conversions. We cannot assume that they are equipped to weather the storms we are accustomed to withstanding. We cannot assume that when they nod their heads in agreement with our maternal rants that they actually have a deep enough grasp of the truth or an unwavering relationship with Jesus Christ. 

We have to be willing to go to the mat for them; to make ourselves a righteous nuisance about technology, defensive protocols, and constant instruction in the art of navigating the human condition. 

I'm not going to sugarcoat this. Some of you think your girl is okay... and she's not. 

God didn't allow me to wade through the sewage in my own life only to stay silent and watch other hearts, minds, and bodies assaulted by wickedness. Here is your warning and I give it with all the sisterly and motherly love in my feminine heart:

Evil hardly ever comes looking like a monster... but usually appearing like the deepest desires of our heart. We have to be prepared. 

Evil slips through the cracks through our weaknesses and our pride. It finds our sorrows and our loneliness. It listens to our doubts and becomes the consolation and affirmation that we deeply desire. 

CATHOLIC GIRLS ARE PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE

Young women from good homes who are pursuing virtue are particularly vulnerable to the snake in the grass because they are more trusting. They are surrounded early in life by people pursuing virtue. Consequently, they more quickly believe the lies from the forked tongue of a compassionate admirer. The answer isn't to expose them to more and earlier wickedness but to better prepare them with the truth before, during, and after they hear the lies.

I love you.
I want you to be happy.
I can make you happy.

Your parents don't understand you.
I'm Catholic.
I go to church at St. fill-in-the-blank.
I will take care of you. 
You're beautiful.

Some of your daughters will fall. If they do, you will strap on your armor of maternal justice and mercy... and you can use this list to help them climb out of the hole of sorrow. To destroy lies and restore the order of truth.

I would be negligent if I didn't add that this list holds true for any person in a position of authority over our children including teachers and priests. If even one of these things is true, a relationship of vulnerability and trust should not be pursued. Safeguards should be in place. No spiritual direction or personal mentorship. No outings. No private phone calls. No car rides. It should go without saying that private meetings (closed off from others) with an adult male even without these markers are generally imprudent. 

Please note that not all of these indicate that a boy or man is bad beyond recovery or that he only has evil intentions. But the presence of even one of these factors increases risk significantly. Even one of these is sufficient to decline a single date, an exclusive relationship, and certainly marriage discernment. You don't even have to have a reason if your gut tells you "no."

Some of us fell hard to predators as young women and didn't have the support that we needed. Here's what I wish I knew... 


A Catholic Girl's Guide to Detecting a Predator

Give your guy 1 point for each of the 13 risk factors.

Scroll down for an explanation of each warning sign. Again, a man struggling with virtue is not necessarily the same as a predatory man. But he can be... and that is why this is a list of risk factors and not definitive statements. 

  1. He is not a Christian.

  2. He is not a Catholic.

  3. He is a bad Catholic.

  4. He is a liar.

  5. He is secretive.

  6. He isolates you.

  7. He is vulgar.

  8. He is divisive.

  9. He is mean.

  10. He pressures you to abandon your morals.

  11. He is fast.

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

  13. He doesn't want to talk to your dad.


1. HE IS NOT A CHRISTIAN

He may be a "nice" guy or a "decent" guy. He may claim to be a moral person and pursue natural virtues but, if he does not submit his heart and actions to Christ, there is no standard for him to follow when he feels like straying. 

This is a non-negotiable for a Catholic girl. 

"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters." - Matthew 12:30

Aside from his own comfort and passions, a man who does not follow Christ has no guide. He has no reason to be honest when it will cost him. No reason to remain chaste when he feels that he is in love. No reason to forego worldly pleasures. 

Why should he tell you the truth about anything?
Why should he wait for marriage?
Why shouldn't he use you?

Every man can eventually choose to follow Christ. But if he wants to date you and does not currently adhere to a Christ-centered worldview, he will only be able to follow his own ego and his passions. 

You cannot save him. Only Christ can save him. Perhaps he will be ready someday to discern a relationship with you... but not yet. This does not necessarily make a man a predator, but it is a significant risk since he does not yet know how to love as he was made to love. He does not yet know that love is an act of service with an aim of heaven... and not just a way to gratify ego and urges.


2. HE IS NOT A CATHOLIC

What if he's a follower of Christ but not a Catholic? I deeply love my Protestant brothers and sisters and have found them to be some of the greatest examples of Christian love I have ever seen. They've taught me how to better love Christ and express His love to others. They've taught me how to joyfully worship and how to speak like a true believer. They've taught me about what it means to suffer well for Christ and have given noble examples of red and white martyrdom for His sake. They've also been an incredible support for learning how to navigate the cesspool of secular culture. 

But because there is no one governing body or thought in Protestantism, it cannot be said that all non-Catholic Christians have the same beliefs and behaviors. 

This does not necessarily make a man a predator, but can be a relationship risk since he likely rejects some boundaries set in place by Catholic moral teaching. If he accepts sexual deviancy of one kind (i.e. homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, contraception, etc), then he may also be less resistant theologically to things like porn and premarital sex. This is a problem among Catholic men who have clear and permanent boundaries. How much more so if there are movable boundaries?

Let's be straight about this. This post is primarily for Catholic women who want to be safe and want to remain Catholic. If that's what you want, then you will have to fight hard for it and make uncomfortable, unpopular decision... because most of the world is going to think you're nuts. 


3. HE IS A BAD CATHOLIC

This is probably the most dangerous dating category for a young woman who wishes to remain Catholic. Once a predatory man finds out that she is a committed Catholic, he will know exactly what to say to gain her confidence. He knows the externals and how to appear pious. He will go to Mass with her and talk about his Catholic school upbringing. They will have deep conversations about matters of faith and he will listen attentively while she expounds on moral and theological matters. He may even go through RCIA if he was never confirmed.

He's a liar because he doesn't believe and doesn't want to believe. He's already been a Catholic and rejected it and Christ. He's been living in a state of mortal sin. And he thinks he's got a sure bet with his innocent Catholic victim. 

Another example of this is a boy or man who is living as if he is a believing Catholic but is rebellious in his heart. A priest who has stopped praying and who is sexually active but who is still in active ministry to other souls. A Catholic school teenager who goes to Mass to please his parents but who prefers the ways of the world. 

I know the observation is harsh but it is not wrong. This is a very dangerous man. And he lives in our parishes, in our schools, and all over the internet. 

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. - Matthew 7:15-17


4. HE IS A LIAR

If a man has a habit of lying, walk away. If he encourages you to lie in order to be with him, run. If he will lie to your parents or his, he will lie to you. And if he lies to you, you are not safe in his care. 

"Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" - John 14:6


5. HE IS SECRETIVE

There is no place for secrets in a healthy relationship. If you have to sneak to meet him, he's not the one. A good man will not make you jump through hoops so that he can hide in the dark. A good man will walk up to your front door and ask courteously to speak to your dad. 

If your relationship has developed entirely (or almost entirely) on the internet for the purpose of staying hidden and in isolation from your family, it is a bad relationship and you should end it. 

A good man who loves you will want to know your family and introduce you to his. He will want to become a part of your life not hide away in a dark corner with you. 

If he doesn't want to meet your parents and doesn't want you to meet his, he is a liar and a thief. His objective is to keep you away from your safety net and the people who can protect you. Run. Run. Run. 


6. HE ISOLATES YOU

Technology is a wonderful and terrible thing. In the case of relationships, it is often absolutely devastating. One primary tactic of predators is to isolate and alienate someone from their support system. They are narcissists and demand all of your undivided attention. The existence of texting, messaging via many social media platforms, and things like Google Hangouts means that you have unrestricted access to each other at any time of the day or night. In bed, at school, in the bathroom, at work, at church, on family outings... 

That. is. not. healthy.

To be fair, we are a society of technology addicts and many otherwise healthy people spend far too much time on devices. Relationship development is completely different than it was even 15 years ago and I acknowledge that imprudence is not the same as predation. 

However, predatory behavior easily includes isolating via technology. 

There is no accountability, no protection, no loved one observing visitors or phone calls in a healthy way. There is no way to ignore a communication, no way to be unobserved or to take time to yourself... UNLESS it is a healthy relationship where boundaries are observed and appreciated.

If he is constantly checking on you, jealous of your family and friends, demanding of your time, and punishing you emotionally for claiming healthy space... that's a red flag.


7. HE IS VULGAR

If your guy's mouth is dirty and you would be ashamed to have him overheard by your grandmother, father, or parish priest, then you've got a problem. This may just be a problem of his upbringing (in that he never learned it was wrong) but it is no less concerning. A man should be conscious of the dignity of a woman and take care to be polite and refrain from crude talk. If he is constantly dropping the F-bomb and talking using explicit language, he is not yet a trustworthy man. He is a vulgar boy and not worthy of your time. 

If you adopt vulgar or coarse speech as a result of hanging around him, then you are being false in order to gain attention and affirmation. It is not love. It doesn't attract true love. It does not build up, heal, bless, or make beautiful. It is ugly and you should reject it. 


8. HE IS DIVISIVE

One of the hallmark actions of narcissists and predators is to isolate a person from her support system and family.

A good man will want to know the rules of your family and abide by them. He will not put you in situations in which you are vulnerable or separated from your support system. If you find this to be the case, you may very well be dealing with a predatory person. Or at least someone who is self-absorbed and not good relationship material.


9. HE IS MEAN

If he reacts angrily or unkindly to your efforts to maintain connection with what is good and true in your life, regularly puts you down, or easily erupts into angry outbursts... end the relationship. You are headed for a life of sorrow. 


10. HE PRESSURES YOU TO ABANDON YOUR MORALS

He may be supportive at first but many predators will start to chip away at the foundation of your beliefs after they have gained your trust. They might start to do this by asking innocent sounding questions about moral issues and then increase negativity once they find gaps in your knowledge or faith. They will press into your doubt and use your affection to their advantage. 

A predatory person is often excited to learn that you are a religious-minded person because it makes the catch that much more exhilarating. They know if you want to be pure and possibly if you are a virgin. They've just entered the most thrilling video game ever

They are willing to wait a long time for you if they think they can ultimately "win." Studies of criminal sexual predators show that some of them will groom a victim for years. In relationships where a man isn't criminal but simply lacks virtue, he may also be willing to wait a long time for you if he is enjoying the ego-affirming chase. 

If your guy is pressuring you to abandon your morals and isn't Christian or Catholic, see points #1 and #2. If he claims to be a Catholic, see #3. If you are certain that he is a practicing Catholic and he regularly pressures you to abandon your moral compass, especially in matters of sexuality... see #4. Run from them all. They don't love you. 


11. HE IS FAST

You've known him for a few weeks and he already says "I love you." You've just had a first date and he gives you a full body hug (pressing thighs, hips, abdomen, chest, and shoulders together). He is quick to hold your hand, quick to kiss you, quick to talk about the future. Quick to demand the majority of your time. 

This is not proof positive of a bad man, especially since most young men simply suffer from terrible formation or a tendency toward imprudence. But just know...

Healthy discernment is not generally that fast and predators are willing to wait a long time but will also go as quickly as they are allowed to go. Pushing physical boundaries early is often a way of grooming for rapid physical intimacy. It shows them how far they can go without resistance and it shows you one of two things 1) Dude hasn't been taught boundaries and respectful behavior to women, 2) He lacks self-discipline and maturity, or 3) He doesn't care.


12. HE IS IMMERSED IN FOUL MUSIC AND MEDIA (OR VIEWS PORN)

When he gets in the car, he turns on music that would make your grandma blush. He regularly views television, YouTube videos, and movies which depict sexually explicit content. He views pornography. 

Many practicing Catholics also do these things and it can get very confusing. I have seen practicing Catholic men and women defend soft porn in movies and explicit music lyrics. I do not agree with them and have written about it before but I understand that it can be a difficult point of navigation. 

My point here is to say that if someone has become desensitized to material which degrades, disrespects, distorts, and hates the truth and beauty of God-given sexuality... that's a red flag. As for pornography... someone who currently and unapologetically uses porn is not a safe person for a young woman. 

You are made in the image of God (the Imago Dei). You were made to love and be loved. You are not an object. You deserve better. 


13. HE DOESN'T WANT TO TALK TO YOUR DAD

This is an excellent gauge of a man's integrity and strength of character. 

Not everyone likes, admires, or gets along with their dad but, if your dad is still in your life and isn't a criminal, then a man who wants to date you should be ready and willing to come face to face with him and express his interest in you. 

This practice has almost entirely fallen away in our culture but it is worth restoring even if only as a general barometer of character. Ideally, a guy should reach out to your dad first but most have never been presented with such an idea. You may have to bring it up. And then know....

A guy who refuses to talk to your dad is likely a man of secrets, lies, poor character, and a hidden agenda. He doesn't want his cover blown by dad and is averse to the proper order of relationships.

Some predators can even fool dad and Eddie Haskell their way through a meeting. But I maintain that if your guy is happy to meet with your dad (even if he's nervous), discuss expectations, accountability, intentions, etc, and shake his hand... then your odds of happiness are greatly increased. 


Now... add up the points. 

I can't tell you what to do with them because I do not claim this to be a fool proof formula for discernment. I only offer you food for thought. 

If you have one point, you need to figure out if it really is a concern or not (unless it's a non-negotiable like sexual pressure) . If you have multiple, I recommend bringing the information to someone you trust with your very life (not the guy) and prayerfully considering the potential concerns. 

I don't want to end this article... I want to keep talking about it. I want to put my arms around every girl and make sure she gets it. I had to keep it relatively brief here because the internet has robbed our collective ability to read something even as long as this post. I know most will just skim.

But let's get the conversation started. 

A girl should be prepared early on to understand her dignity and to become accustomed to defending boundaries. She will need those tools her entire life. She will need them in the Church, in school, in sports, in family life, and in friendships. 

She will be tempted to become like the culture in order to find love. The predators are waiting. 

Break the silence. Restore the culture. Protect each other. 

mask2.jpg

Three Reasons to Stop Photoshopping Your Face

stop photoshopping-2.jpg

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. 

FullSizeRender.jpg

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

stop photoshopping2.jpg

 

 

My Biggest Mistake as Mom of Teens

teenager.jpg

True story: My kids' greatest strengths are usually things that I never taught them. Remembering that helps me to be a better mother because I put less effort into molding them into a mini version of me and more into loving them into the people God created them to be. 

When I first became a mother, my plan was to mold my kids into little versions of perfect. My assumption was that I could teach goodness and talent (even if I didn't have it), they would learn it, and the outcome would be controllable. If they eventually wandered off the reservation, it would be with full knowledge of what they could have been and as such... a ridiculous option.

So... I was pretty much assured of success. 

When I started homeschooling, that mindset transitioned perfectly into our educational model. I provide the input through books, videos, experiences, etc., and they would naturally drink it in and be formed to that material input. 

Twenty years later, I am not only less confident in that model of motherhood and education, but I am convinced that I was wrong on at least one major point...

I thought that my purpose as a parent was to form my children to my own image (or at least a perfected version). I was wrong. My purpose as a parent is to love my children and lead them to God's will for their lives. What that looks like for each child looks very little like anything I ever envisioned... and it often means that I am left feeling unsettled or surprised by their actions, successes, and failures.

Oh, how painful these parental epiphanies can be! All this time I thought I was just loving them when the reality was that I was often serving my own needs...

The need to be right.
The need to be in control.
The need to be admired.
The need to be validated by my children's achievements.
The need to be successful.

In a crazy mix of pride and authentic love, I want to be that Catholic mom who doesn't have any children stray now or later. The brutal truth is that this desire is driven by two things:

 1) I truly love my children and want them to gain heaven
2) I simply don't want to be that mom. 

Teenagers have a way of knocking your pride all of over kingdom come. Some of it's their fault and some of it's mine. And since I'm focusing on on my faults in this article today, I'll just repeat it again...

My biggest mistake as a mom of teens... has been trying to raise them in my own image instead of raising them into God's vision. 

Teens can be stinkers and they push back hard sometimes. For the first time, I see the gift in that. I see that I need to be reminded of my prideful overreaching. I see that they need to sometimes fight for the room to stretch into their own space and identity. And what a tragedy it would be if they really did end up just a younger version of me.


Dear Children,

Parents dream of raising great children to great things; but true greatness lies in our capacity to love and serve others. I pray that you will grow into the beautiful elements of your parents dream for you... and then explode that mold. Make it bigger than our little dreams. Make it fruitful beyond our plans. If we have given your heart any inclination towards love and service, take it and run straight to God with it. He will perfect what we have muddled. He will heal the bruises and raise it up to greatness in His time. 

Those bruises though... I'm sorry for the times I've failed you. There's a lot I didn't know and a lot I did know but just ignored out of selfishness. I pray that my own faults will never be a significant stumbling block for you, but I won't lie... I know who I am and how I am. And I'm sorry.

If I could do it all over again, I'd probably still make the same mistakes. But maybe I would make them less often and less harshly. Perhaps I would be able to communicate God's love for you more effectively through my own witness. And yell less. And apologize more. 

Perhaps I still can. 

Love you forever,

Mom


The Beautiful Thing Project (Random Acts of Kindness)

{This post contains affiliate links Thank you for supporting my family! More info Here.} 

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. :)

Gifts to Keep Kids Active and Outside

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

We used to be that sports family. The one that lived and breathed sports until we were financially, mentally, and physically tapped out. We are an athletic and competitive family but the club youth sport culture is insane and produces insanity in otherwise normal healthy people. *raising hand to testify and give a great big Amen* We step in and out of the youth sport scene from time to time, but let it never be said again that we sold the heart of our family for the hope of a championship trophy or college scholarship.

Anyway... *climbing off my soapbox*... where was I? 

Without a regular practice and game schedule, our kids absolutely need physical outlets to stay healthy in mind and body. The following items are fun and inexpensive solutions to lure them outside where they can burn off some steam and stay strong. 


Slackline

Tightrope walking gets athletic. Slacklining is fantastic for balance and strength. There are many YouTube videos to help you get started. Since we only have one line (Gibbon Classic), the kids can get a bit impatient for their turn so it helps to set it up with the Ninjaline and Olympic rings (listed below) to keep everyone busy. 

*Photo of us slacklining at the top of this post*

Olympic rings

Olympic rings are great indoors or outdoors. Find a sturdy branch or structure and simply attach the easy to assemble webbing. Take them down in a snap. Combine these with the slackline and Ninjaline for a great obstacle course!

Camping Hammock

Okay, hammocks don't generally bring to mind images of vigorous activity but they are amazing at doing one thing: They WILL get your kids outdoors. And that is a great good in itself. 

These camping hammocks are a snap to set up, especially if you buy them with straps. They are a favorite spot to do schoolwork, put the baby down for a nap, read, chat with a buddy, find some alone time, or cheer on the backyard athletes. 

Slackers Ninjaline

My kids love American Ninja Warrior and the older ones even recently went to see some of their favorites compete locally. It's definitely one television program that motivates them to get off the couch more than stay on it. This Ninjaline is harder than it looks and is an ingenious introduction to Ninja training for kids of all ages. It's essentially a overhead slackline with obstacles. Easy to set up and take down. I recommend a chalk bag to keep little hands from getting roughed up. 

Speedminton

Think badminton on steroids and you've got the idea. Speedminton looks at first like badminton but has a heavier, faster birdie called a Speeder... with racquets that remind me of racquet ball racquets. Fast, fun, and can be played anywhere you have a little space. There are various set options. We have a set that includes portable court lines that can be set up wherever you decide to play. Addictive. Super fun. Check out the video below. 

That should keep you busy for a while! Do you have any other favorite outdoor tools to share? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

Surviving the Teen Years (Confessions of a Tired Mom)

I was that mom who was going to have the best teens ever; the ones who were obedient and cheerful and faithful. I was convinced that I would be able to mold them into happy, good people by the sheer power of my love and that there would be no arguing in my house ever. There were only two problems:

1) Me
2) Them

My plan was rolling along marvelously before they were teenagers. Those years between 10 and 12 are really deceiving... They have a mom convinced that she has successfully managed to navigate the uncertain transitional period between childhood and big-kidness. Thirteen was actually a pretty great year, too, and then 14 started to make me nervous. I sensed a little bit of stretching and pushing and expanding. And my world started to change. 

It was right and good of course. It's supposed to happen that way. And yet... it wasn't the way I planned it. My primary mistake was that while they were transitioning into autonomous human beings, I forgot to make the transition as well. I still saw them as an extension of myself, and that natural stretching of mind, body, and soul felt more like a painful tearing that I was not prepared for.

Moms of littles, don't let anyone tell you that teenagers are horrible. They certainly don't have to be that! But I've seen enough now in my own and other families to know that teenagers are often stressful on a mom... in new and wild ways that can hurt and startle. You only have a moment for a sharp intake of breath before you begin to frantically search that young-old teen face for a remnant of the 12-year old you think maybe got left behind on the last vacation.

Because seriously, that is not my kid.

I once asked a good friend why there are so many Catholic mom bloggers of young children and so few with teens. She said: Because they are fully engaged in their vocation. They do not have time for blogging. Seriously. Not only do teenagers have a way of sucking your brain and lifeblood from you but you can't post cute stories about their potty training adventures anymore either. And you can't really post their struggles and drama. They're not you anymore. They have a reputation. They are growing, growing, growing... gone.

How do you do it with all these kids? Oh, how many times I gave myself a mental pat on the back and straightened up tall and answered: Oh, well the big kids help a lot. It makes it so much easier. Now, in humility, I must admit that it's harder than it ever was... because a teenager tying a sibling's shoe before Mass in no way offsets the drama of the growing up and out years. Give me a choice and I'll take untied shoes at Mass every time. But there is no choice...

Can't go around it... gotta go through it.

No toddler is capable of doing what a fully aware stretching teen can do on a bad day... None. Give me your hairy screaming fit of a toddler at lunch time and I'll raise you the intense life or death teen drama at 2am. 

My kids are good kids. I love them. I like them. But they are kicking off the old self and trying to fly and it gets a little messy sometimes. You can't write that stuff on a blog. Not really. 

If you don't have teens yet, the best pieces of advice I have to give you are these:

1. Jealously guard and nurture your relationship with your husband.

Because one day, you're going to get kicked around a bit by those kids you poured yourself into... and you're going to turn to your husband and feel a twinge of regret that you didn't give him more. 

Those kids are made to fly. You two are together for keeps. 

There will come a day when you'll call him on the phone (especially if you have multiple teens) and you'll tell him "Honey, these kids don't like me at all and there's nothing I can do about it. I have to be the mom because I love them. But I really need someone to LIKE me today." And you'll see with new eyes how God designed your people to grow... and how he designed your marriage to blossom. 

If I could do it over again, I would still pour the same amount of energy and devotion into my kids. But I would give my husband the same... and more.

2. Remember that your kids are not you. And take care of yourself.

All of that energy and effort of mind, body, and soul that you've poured into your little kids... it's all good and worth it. But you've got a long way to go, mama... and you need to make sure you're prepared for the long haul. Take care of yourself. Not in a selfish way. But in a way that honors the God-given gift of who you are. Twenty years from now, God's going to ask you to keep serving your people, so make sure you've been a good steward of mind, body, and soul.

Make sure you know who you are apart from your children. 

3. Pray without ceasing. 

This is your lifeline. Pray, work, and trust. Lord, have mercy.

I could write for days about those three points but there are a couple more things I want you to know before I close...

I would rather clean a blowout poopy diaper than argue with a teen. I would rather deal with hairy toddler fits than teen meltdowns. I would rather break up arguments over who used whose red crayon than engage in teenage drama. Because on one end of the spectrum, the primary concern is the care of little bodies and emotions. On the other, is the hardcore care of souls. I've got three teens now. Stuff just got real. 

I'll say it again just to be sure you didn't miss it. Teenagers are incredible people. I just don't want you to be surprised or distressed when they start to act a little like you did when you were a teen. You'll see "the look" for the first time and it'll freak you out. AH! I did this to my parents! But it's okay if you remember that because it will help you have empathy when you want to kick them out...

With only the clothes on their backs.
And no dinner.
With a sign that says: "I know everything so it probably won't take me too long to get a job, a house, a car and my next meal."

I often stand in awe of these beautiful maturing people. But I also stand in authority over the not yet flown. And I have never been more grateful for the gift of my spouse. Maybe it's just that I feel so often like punting the kids through the door. Or perhaps it's simply that I have finally learned that my children have an identity. And that it's not me.  

Come, Holy Spirit. 

*Permission received from all of my teens to post this publicly. They understand that it was not written about any one of them specifically and we had a healthy laugh over some memories. :)