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

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

They were wrong. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Mother Teresa of Calcutta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Mother Teresa of Calcutta

When Busy is Beautiful: Transforming Frenetic into Fruitful

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I once wrote the following to my kids:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published in 2012

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photo by Amy Reed on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

... we can't find the money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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Printable Summer Reading Log for Kids and Adults

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COSTUMES

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

EOWYN

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


ARWEN

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


GALADRIEL

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


GALADRIEL'S CROWN

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

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


FRODO AND ARAGORN

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


ARAGORN

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

  • Pants and shirt: Thrifted.

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

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

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

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

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

  • Staff: Made by Crash

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FRODO

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

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

  • Pipe: Handcrafted by Crash 


ELANOR

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

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



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

This is Mount Doom. 

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

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

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EYE OF SAURON

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

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Directions: 

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

When you’re done, stuff them with…

Gollum’s Goodies:

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


INVITATIONS

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

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The text read:

You are hereby requested to join

INSERT NAME
a.k.a Aragorn

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

Insert Date
Insert Time
at the shire
Insert Location
middle earth

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

Please RSVP…
etc. etc. etc.


PARTY GIFTS AND FAVORS

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

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

*Handcarved daggers, staffs, and pipes.

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

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

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

*Favor Boxes contained: 

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

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LEMBAS

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


DECORATIONS

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

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

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GAMES

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


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The Party Speech game

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

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

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

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

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

I wish we would have recorded some of them. 

Elvish Name Game

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


GIFTS RECEIVED

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

Lord of the Rings Risk

Lord of the Rings Pez 

Wood burning kit

Wood carving Kit

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

Whittling Book

Tac Force Folding Knife


WHY WE LOVE LORD OF THE RINGS

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

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


Originally published in August 2014

The Hard Truth About Raising Catholic Teens

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

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

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

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

Let me explain…

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

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

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

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

1) PAY ATTENTION TO A SHIFTING CULTURE

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

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


2) IDENTIFY OBSTACLES TO GOODNESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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3) DISRUPT THE ENTRENCHED PATTERN OF BAD CATECHESIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Rock Confirmation Celebrations (in 7 Quick Takes}

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

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

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

1. DOUBLE THE GRACES

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

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

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

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

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2. FOLLOW THE RULES

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

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3. BE FLEXIBLE

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

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

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

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

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4. ORDER GOOD WEATHER

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

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5. HAVE CHOCOLATE. REALLY GOOD CHOCOLATE.

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

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

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RASPBERRY & CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE TRIFLES

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

  • 8 oz. CREAM CHEESE, room temperature

  • 3 Tablespoons SUGAR

  • 1 cup WHIPPING CREAM

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

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

  • Additional chocolates for garnish

Instructions

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

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

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

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

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


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

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6. BE PREPARED

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

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

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

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

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 7. ALWAYS DIY

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

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

VENI SANCTE SPIRITUS!!!

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*BONUS TAKE*

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

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

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

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

Linking up with Kelly for 7 Quick Takes Friday

The Essential Gluten-Free Sugar Cookie Recipe

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

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

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

ICING

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

GLUTEN FREE

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

COOKIE CUTTERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Enjoy your cookies!

The Essential Sugar Cookie Recipe

Go Activist or Go Home: Why I Came Back to Catholic Blogging

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I wrote this in the Summer of 2014 after taking an extended blogging break to just live and to discern. I revisit these words from time to time and I find that I still mean every word of it. For those of you who are new here... welcome! This is why I blog. This is why I have occasionally quit. And this is why I keep coming back. Since I wrote this, I have ushered two of my teens into adulthood and two more young ones into their teens. And it’s all still true.

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Go Activist or Go Home: Why I Came Back to Catholic Blogging

I'm supposed to be on long sabbatical… but I changed my mind. I came back to support a friend, to share life-changing books, and for fellowship. I stayed because I have teenagers. Teenagers really change everything...

I used to have a family with several adorable little people. I was a Catholic mom; open to life and living in our little domestic church where nothing could touch us.

And then they grew up.

It happened so quickly that we almost got blown off course. One day, my son was taking swimming lessons at the local Y, and the next, he was swimming every day of the week and breaking records. Another day, we decided to have the kids play CYO volleyball (just for fun) and shortly after that we were making hotel reservations for national tournaments. One day, I  was reading Dr. Seuss all. day. long. and the next, I was crying in a natatorium (that's fancy for "big pool room") because swim moms are mean.

And remember the kid next door whose parents gave him booze at parties when he was three? Yeah, well, now he's driving and he thinks your daughter is hot. Good morning, mama... Drink your coffee black. The battle used to be in the streets but now it is on your driveway, your front porch, and in your home.

I woke up one figurative morning and had a loud thought that I was just tired of being a Catholic always fighting the world on the world's terms. So we left enemy territory for a while and returned home to strengthen our small army. We quit a bunch of stuff and patched up our wounds. We returned to our cloister to regroup and we emerged as something slightly different than we were before.

We came face-to-face with silence again. With ourselves. With God. I wouldn't say it was the most comfortable time but it was fruitful. We learned a lot about who we really were as individuals and as a family...

My son was a fast swimmer. Then he was more. My daughter was starting setter. Then she was more. My little ones were gym/pool rats. Then they were more. 

And me? I'm a mommy. A wifey. A dreamer. A talker with a keyboard. And more.

And...

I'm an activist.

A Catholic activist. I'm a traditionalist-charismatic-vernacular-liking-Latin-loving-praise-and-worship-singing-Holy-Spirit-petitioning kind of Catholic activist.  I don't wear a mantilla but my teenage daughter has... because she wanted to. I don't kneel to receive Jesus when there's no altar rail, but my kids often do. They just got it into their heads that God is awesome and showed me a thing or two about love. I do wear bathing suits to swim and a miraculous medal everywhere except the pool (until the babies break the chain... they always do.) I don't eat fish during Lent (or mostly ever) but I like to make a mean grain-free chocolate chip cookie for feast days. 

I have a soft spot for priests and bishops but I hate when they peddle pablum, compromise on the Church's moral teachings, and abuse or overlook abuse. I worship God, not men. I follow truth, not silver tongues. I tell my discerning sons that if they grow up to become that kind of priest that I will haunt them after I die. And my rather literal teenage son frowns at me and tells me that's impossible.

Which is impossible? I ask. Both. I laugh out loud but he does not... because he just doesn't think it's funny.

My kids are growing up and our cloister is... well... it's different now. Those first magical years are really gone for good; we averted some heavy storms and now, we stand at the door together and face the giant world. 

My kid once started a pro-life youth organization because he was tired of just speaking love of life instead of doing. 

They are killing babies, Mom. 
Yes they are. 

We need to speak up and stop it. 
Yes, we do. 

We need to pray and work for justice for these little ones. 
Let's go then. I'll follow you.

I’ve written many times about scandal in the Church and how good people are looking the other way while evil happens. I know why this happens... It happens because pro-life is HARD. Harder than repeating a few slogans. Harder than holding a sign. Harder than going to a nice pro-life dinner or giving a pro-life keynote or writing a pro-life blog post.

The pro-life message IS the Gospel message. And it says...

"Don't you even think about hurting any of My precious little ones. Ever. And don't you let it happen either."

The real scandal of every horror and corruption in the Church is not that people pretending to love the Church are doing evil things. The real scandal is that believing Catholics are doing NOTHING to stop it. I would have come back to this blog just to say that. If we are comfortable pro-life Gospel-livers, then we are doing it wrong.

So I'm here writing because I have teenagers to raise into men and women of God. And I want them to know that love means activism. Even a cloistered nun is an activist. She gives everything for the cause of Love and perpetually petitions the highest Authority for justice and mercy. 

Because I want my children to know how to speak their love with confidence, I must speak when I lack confidence. They know my limitations but they also know my passion. I have obligations and limitations that keep me from being out there... however, I can come here to be a witness.

It is my testimony to God's blessing in my life and it is what I owe Him. I have a platform and I'm using it so long as it is consistent with God's will for my life.

I have made a spectacle of myself in some ways over issues that many people don't even care about. But I'm a Catholic activist. I am fighting and advocating for Love. For those babies who are never born because of our bishops' corrupt foreign aid program. For the younger moms who are about to get painfully blindsided by the culture of death as their babies become teens. For victims of any kind of abuse. For my own babies. For the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For the dignity of all human persons. For a restoration of Catholic culture.

For many years, I thought it was enough to have a large family. Isn't that pro-life enough? But while we are busy with our littles, the enemies of life are active. They are activists. They are changing laws and cultural tides and overcoming the weak. And they are waiting for the day when your children are older and take their first steps outside your cloister. Don't just teach your kids how to live, show them how to do it. 

So here I am. A bumbling activist. With a good looking husband, a busy homeschool, a passion for natural healing, and a fascination with beautiful things. My little pleasures are reading, theology, writing, speaking, creative projects, and blogging… with a side helping of microblogging on Instagram and a tendency to poke around on Pinterest. Welcome to my digital domicile... and to my life of blossoming joy.

Breaking and Healing the Hearts of Our Children

It is an insomnia season. A season when all the elements converge and conspire against the coveted commodity called sleep... deep sleep. And in spite of my fondness for Instagram, I  lay tonight's struggle partially at the feet of that glorious time sucker. (As a friend wisely said, I wouldn't have the extra worries if I didn't go seeking them out on social media!) I met a mom there recently whose struggle looked a lot like mine and when she shared a little piece of her grief, my own heart broke. So here I am... awake. 

The grieving woman on Instagram wanted to know if we moms can entertain a reasonable hope of repairing the damage we do to our households over the years. Tell me we can! she begged. Tell me we can go back and reverse what we have done!  

I whispered a tiny and sad no inside my head and in the following seconds, my racing mind was flooded with a torrent of memories; all personal failures I have owned in the last 21 years of motherhood. Some of them stick to me like fly paper and the guilt is so heavy that if I dwell too long, I go down, down, down into the ugly deep. But I didn't dwell this time, I simply let the projector reel of time run out as I held my breath, as if riding out a labor pain. I answered on Instagram then... and I answer now as I lie awake, preoccupied with the gravity of this question...

No. You can't go back. You can't repair all the damage. The hope lies in the possibility of renewal, repentance, and healing - but the scars will probably stay. Some will stay for a little while and some for a lifetime, heedless of our grief and the gripping, aching guilt of regret.

The children forget our mistakes when they are 12 months old but it doesn't take long before the memories stick. They are formed under our love.... and our sin. My first two children have entered adulthood and I know that when they walk out the front door, they take all the hidden heart wounds with them. Perhaps they’ll over spend the rest of his life healing from and forgiving me the consequences of my sins...

My laziness.
My impatience.
My lack of charity.
My selfishness.
My willful ignorance.
All of those things which fall into those categories in big and small ways.

Countless hours of my motherhood have been spent lying awake, grieving over my words and actions and raising my fist against the injustice of the human condition… 

Why must it be that we are destined to leave these marks on the souls of our children when it is our deepest desire to raise them to be whole and healthy and happy? 

There simply is no answer apart from The Fall and The Cross. Jesus is the Savior. And I am not He. In our journey toward sanctity, we eventually realize that either He will be the answer to the heartache of our homes... or no one will. 

For years, I spent much of my motherly frustration on those outside of my home who hurt my children, dwelling on the difficulty of free will. Why, Lord, do You allow people to choose evil? To choose sin? To hurt my children? And then... the day came when raised my hands and yelled: 

WHY? Why, Lord, have You allowed ME to wound?  

I love my large family and take tremendous delight in watching it grow and thrive; however, the process of sanctification in this vocation can be intense. And perhaps that's putting it mildly. The walls that used to get washed... don't.

The attention I used to have for one... I must somehow divide by seven.

The virtues I thought would blossom in my life... have proven to be remarkably weak under pressure.

My plans for holiness and household peace and perfect... skuttled by the reality of human will.

We love and we wound. They adore us and then feel our weakness pierce their hearts. We make them the center of our vocation, and then they remind us that they are not meant to be bent and molded and pressed... but to be mentored and to fly. In my imagination, I saw that I would become better and more competent over time. I never would have believed that I would feel that the opposite was happening.

Motherhood will not be planned. Children will not be controlled. And against every prayer and supplication, God will always allow more struggle than the person can handle. Would we ever turn to Him if He didn't?

For years, I thought it was just me. I thought that I was the lone failure among my friends and my community. I knew others were struggling, but in my self-centered anxiety, I thought that I must be at the bottom of the barrel of incompetent mothers.

Over the years, this belief (coupled with a heavy dose of postpartum hormonal imbalances) brought a period of depression which led into a lingering sorrow and a companion anger that comes with a feeling of cosmic injustice…

If large families are a blessing, then WHY am I suffering under the burden of my inadequacy? If this is the right equation, then I must be the wrong answer. Why would God allow my beautiful children to be placed in the care of such a weak, wounded, and ridiculous mother? 

I couldn't find an answer because I did not understand that His perfection only comes in our weakness. In the cloud of my monumental pride, the grace of God was obscured. All that was visible to me was my failure.

This harsh and deep sorrow softened over time and was eventually companioned by a deep and strengthening faith. I acknowledged my constant failure and recognized that I would always fail. I read adult versions of the lives of the saints and recognized their humanity; their allergies, their tempers, their errors, their conflicts. I began to know them a little better and to forgive in myself what I had previously seen as unforgivable.

At the beginning of my motherhood, I grew in confidence as I led my little army. That great confidence faded as I saw my failures mirrored to me in the lives of my growing kids. My pride lay stretched out and broken on the living room rug every single day. There didn't seem to be a way out of that. Mary, Mother of Sorrows became an ally for the first time. And the Cross of motherhood, once a lovely but distant mystery, became nestled deeply in my heart. My greatest consolation was the abiding love of God. He made Himself very present to me, even as my broken heart bled out into every area of my life.

Why did He allow this kind of stripping of soul? Perhaps because once I knew that I was absolutely nothing without Him, I might finally learn how to pray and truly seek Him.  

The grace of God began to rain down upon me and carried me through what I have privately referred to as my adult childhood. I had to learn how to walk again and to relearn what it meant to be alive as a child of God. Formerly, I thought that faith would make me a shiny flawless saint, like the drawings in my children's picture books. The hard lesson was that the pursuit of perfection did not mean that I could be perfect in myself, but only by allowing Christ to fill my soul entirely. The Refiner's Fire was consuming me. Terrifically painful (and ongoing)... but still a place of Life and unparalleled joy. 

How was I to grow in sanctity and perfection? How was I to learn to stand up straight and tall in the midst of my failures? It really boils down to the annihilation of my pride and the pursuit of only one vision: God's.

I am now in a stage I can only refer to as the fighting stage. I see that I am overwhelmed by losses to my own sinful nature, my kids' free will, and the many obligations of life that I do not feel equipped to meet. And yet... I know that I am fighting for souls. I used to want to build the perfect Catholic dominion... and now I am fighting for each step against many enemies and odds, to simply love all my people into heaven.

I do not count the wins as a general would, I tend the soldiers and the wounded, regardless of whether the battle being waged is won or lost. The larger battle will never be mine to fight. My battle is love and love alone.

We were made for greatness. We were made for everything good He ordains for us, be that with a short obscure life or a lengthy stay in the midst of a large community. My fiat is not my yes to success... it is my yes to faithful obedience and an act of faith with the promise of joy. My failures are like stepping stones to grace. Each time I fall, He lifts me up higher than I could have gone without Him. And if I get to heaven at all, it will be because I have simply let Him carry me the whole way. 

This vocation... It doesn't look at all like I thought it would. The sorrow is still there. The crosses seem to multiply at times. The stakes are higher. It used to be about simply keeping the children alive and clean each day and now it's about their immortal souls. It is hard in a startling way and perhaps that is why God gives us the easy stuff first. Pregnancy, labor, and bloody breastfeeding ain’t got nothin' on teenage/young adult growing and stretching pains and the realization that I've screwed up more small and big things than I can count. My pride has been sorely touched by this new stage in motherhood. 

Eventually, all of the days of humiliation and dying give way to days of rising. You will fall hard. And your children will fall hard. It is on those days that you will know without question where your true priorities lie. You will drop everything and run to tend to their skinned knees and hearts (and sometimes even harder, clean up after the wounds they have inflicted on others) and you will question everything that you do and why you do it. 

Our tendency is to run, fast and hard, away from that pain and discomfort and our culture does this with a will. As Christians, we feel the struggle coming on and are tempted to turn and start running with everyone else. It makes sense…

Leave it, medicate it, drink it away, distract, cover, deny, pretend, and shout it down. But we... those moms who know the heart and hurt is all for Christ... we stop mid stream and do an intentional turning. We see our crosses waiting behind us and we turn and take them up with love. 

I'm not going to leave.
I'm never going to leave.
I give myself in love for you.
I will work until I'm old and gray (and beyond) for you.
My talents are yours.
My treasure is yours. 
My time is yours.
My cheerful, joyful, sunny days are yours.

But my anger, resentfulness, selfishness, and crankiness? Those are mine. And I leave them at the foot of the Cross for Jesus to sweep away. Because His name is Mercy.

To the beautiful Instagram lady who came face to face with her priorities, I just want to let you know that it is a day for rejoicing. God has chosen to gift you with holy vision. And now? He will give you the grace to press on. Thanks be to God.

Halloween {A Failed Catechesis on Holy Death}

This article was first published in 2014.


I wasn't going to write about Halloween this year. Honestly, I'm still recovering from last year when I learned the hard way that the classical standards of debate are all but dead on the internet. When I said I haven't recovered, I mean it. I still feel the loss. I still hear the silence from disrupted relationships. So I promised myself that I wasn't going to write about Halloween again. It was enough. But... I changed my mind. Fickle, I know.

I'm not trying to start any drama. I'm not writing for anyone, to anyone, or about anyone in particular. I'm  writing here to flesh out ideas and offer them as food for thought to anyone else who is interested in the topic.

Please remember... this article not about you. You are welcome to consider my viewpoints and take them or leave them. You take care of your own people and I'll take care of mine, okay? If you want to talk, I welcome a public rebuttal of points made. You are welcome to call my ideas stupid... but only if you offer an intelligent rebuttal of my actual words. But if you go off and tell everyone what an ignorant jerk I am without addressing actual content, I'll probably take offense. And you'll also probably ruin my relationships with other people. I know this. I speak from painful experience. But I think we can do better than that that. Let's give it a go...

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Halloween {A Failed Catechesis on Holy Death}
 

There are several reasons why I do not celebrate Halloween -- the most superficial being that we dress up for All Saints' Day and ain't nobody got time to make two costumes each for 7 kids. Aside from that, I think that secular Halloween practices often run contrary to a life of virtue and hope -- and that even a benign costume and candy celebration on October 31st tends to undermine the greatness of the feasts of All Saints' and All Souls'. But I'm not going to focus on those today...
 

Today I'm going to write about death. And why Halloween teaches the wrong thing about the most important thing.
 

I've had death on the brain lately. I spent the last half year immersed in the subject of dying (specifically miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss) as part of my bereavement doula certification process. I don't love the thought of death but I found my studies fascinating. It brought mortality very close to my daily life and, ultimately, was a spiritual shot in the arm. I thought more than usual about the fragility of life and the state of my soul. I also learned more about what grief does to the survivors and how it can grip and squeeze the heart into a state of unimaginable pain. Ultimately, I became convicted that understanding of and care during the time of death is a fundamental element to building a Culture of Life.
 

How does this relate to Halloween? 
 

It didn't at first... until I began my training course in psychological first aid. I was in the middle of a module about caring for survivors of trauma, specifically children who have learned (suddenly) about the death of a loved one. The recommended approach was determined by the age of the child. The youngest ones would presumably have little experience with death and a vague or non-existent understanding of what death means. But it was the description of the next group that stuck with me. These kids were a little older and mature enough to know what it means to die but still too young to have much experience. The material described the primary obstacle to communicating with this age group: That their understanding of death was generally limited to the known skeletons and monsters of Halloween. As a result, the primary response to death was one of ignorance and fear.
 

Most people fear death to some degree. That's not the issue. What struck me as noteworthy in this case was that this secular disaster relief organization recognized the cultural practices of Halloween as an inhibitor to a child's healthy understanding of death. The reality in a faith context is that our American version of Halloween is terrible catechesis. In fact, I would call it anti-catechesis for providing the wrong answer to life's most important questions. 
 

Such an attitude is typically modern American. We rush through grief. We sweep it under the rug. And we run from age and pain and death with a frantic passion. Halloween practices encourage this dysfunction by contributing to confusion and ignorance of something that, when rightly ordered and supported, is actually our greatest moment of grace on earth. 
 

I use the term "secular" Halloween practices but it begs the question: What are Catholic Halloween practices? They aren't defined by the Church. We do know that All Hallow's Eve (the Eve of All Saints'), is the vigil of one of the greatest feasts of the liturgical year. Feast day vigil masses are celebrated at this time. The day after All Saints' is All Souls' Day - the day that Catholics traditionally focus on the dead. So what role does the Eve of All Saints' (Hallow'een) technically have? Truly? Not much.

The celebration of Halloween has become a mammoth secular creature of our own making with the average American spending almost $80 on costumes alone. In an effort to "baptize" our cultural practices, modern Catholics have made the vigil into something of a Catholic cultural festival centered around the topics of death and fear. My non-scientific observations tell me that many have simply found a convincing justification for throwing a good creepy party. Or at least bringing in a good candy haul.
 

"Consult not your fears but your hopes and dreams" ~ Pope St. John XXIII
 

How does our cultural Halloween fail us?  The psychological first aid training drew attention to the problem: We teach our children that death is something creepy to be mocked, to be looked at as a piece of fun darkness. As a consequence, that darkness becomes the primary lens through which our children see death.

Many bereavement professionals will tell you that the American cultural approach to death is unhealthy. As Christians, this is a matter of grave consequence. We fool ourselves into thinking that the deepest parts of our human nature can be trivialized without spiritual consequences. Truly, a good death is the one thing that every soul should long for. This is why the saints entered their death scene with joy and hope. This is why we celebrate their feast days on the memorial of their deaths. For the saints, the day of death is a day of rejoicing, not of darkness.
 

"Death is nothing else but going home to God, the bond of love will be unbroken for all eternity." ~ Mother Teresa of Calcutta
 

Am I suggesting that we can never be "real" about scary things? Absolutely not. Am I suggesting that we can never jump out from behind a door to scare someone? Or put that horrible rubber rat in the pizza box to wait for a victim? No. What I am postulating is that the cultural secular Halloween is not a healthy context in which to explore the subject of death. We do not need to enter into sin to overcome sin. We do not need to don a mask of evil (especially in a superficial plastic costume way) in order to rise with Christ to new life. Jesus has won the victory through the Cross, and consequently, the Cross is beautiful to us. But only because the sacrificial act of Love is beautiful... not because we love or glorify the horror of the crucifixion. 
 

With our renewed understanding of the gift of the body through John Paul II's Theology of the Body, it is a wonder that we still tolerate the gruesome depictions of the flesh on Halloween night. Personhood is lost. Morphed into a mass of bleeding flesh and parade of hideous creatures. If we could put a true face on our sinfulness, perhaps this is what we would see. But the Truth, Christ Himself, is also within us, and demands sacred respect. 
 

St. John Bosco once called the Christian cemetery "an eloquent sign for those who enter in faith and prayer." Not creepy or frightening but "an eloquent sign." How beautiful! Unfortunately, it seems to be the human condition (concupiscence) to make ugly what God has made beautiful and to lose sensitivity to the joy of the eternal. 
 

Shall we mock death? Shall we mock our own moment of grace? The best way to "mock death' is to live so fully alive in Christ that fear is annihilated. To immerse oneself in the Word of God that promises that death brings peace to the pure soul. To enter into the fullness of Sacramental life so that life is a shower of grace. And then to step out, full of the power of the Holy Spirit, to serve the needs of the suffering. 
 

Mother Teresa did not throw a Halloween party to "mock death". She walked the streets of Calcutta and saw it in the eyes of the people and saw Christ Himself there. She picked up the abandoned, dying people of God whose wounds festered and were sometimes infested with maggots. She touched faces of pain and kissed the sores there. Was she too grave and rigid? Or shall we learn the lesson of her life as living catechesis. In light of her example and the model of all the saints, the modern Halloween custom becomes a mockery of true Love, which is the only worthy goal. 
 

We do not need to look far for real fear. Beheadings, wars, ebola, abortion, violence, human trafficking, accident trauma, personal loss. How are we teaching our children to prepare for death? Shall we usher them into a classroom of darkness in order to learn? Or shall we keep them wholly in the light as the inevitable pain and agony come to visit them?

What do I ultimately want for my children? A good death. The moment of death is a sacred event that will hopefully see us washed in unprecedented graces. It is the moment we have lived for, when a soul devoted to Love steps into the arms of mercy forever. Secular Halloween celebrations are often at best, a distraction from that goal and at worst, a distortion.
 

I have read many attempts to explain how the use of evil imagery draws us closer to Christ. The annual articles are starting to roll in and one defense in particular caught my eye yesterday. It already has hundreds of Facebook likes and is filled with big words and language that sounds like authoritative Church.  The author tells the reader why Catholics should absolutely participate in a dark Halloween. The ideas seem (on the surface) lofty and Catholic and spiritual. The Catholic author writes on a Catholic site:
 

"Halloween rejoices in this triumph through playful parody, or exultant mockery, of evil by subjecting the powerless symbols of the devil to satirical derision. Witches, goblins, ghosts, skeletons, and the other grotesque objects of man’s imagination are the caricatures of a dethroned evil. There is no fear in these, or even in the devil himself, by the indomitable strength of Christ. Men are the masters, and no longer the servants, of these elemental creatures."
 

This is wholly unsupportable through Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition. There is no approved tradition whereby we put on the mask of sin in order to prevail over it. The demons and angels are not "elemental" but spiritual and powerful. Nowhere are we exhorted to dance among the symbols of evil. Even if there is merit in the piece (which I contest), the reality is that most Catholics who like the article will use it primarily as a defense of their participation in the vacuous secular celebration... which is neither lofty, nor Catholic, nor profoundly spiritual. 
 

What is it that the Christian longs for more than anything in life? A GOOD DEATH. A holy death. Scripture tells us that "the sting of death is sin" and that "death has been swallowed up in victory." (Romans 8:31-39) Christ has conquered! There is nothing left to fear except the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. And yet we insist on spending our time playing in the dark. Mocking death.

Where is that exhortation in Catholic tradition? I have not yet found it.

I remember the day I delivered my lifeless baby, Matthew. He was two inches long and marvelous. Some might have seen his little body as gross or gruesome since his skin was translucent and bloodied and his eyes still unopened. But I thought he was beautiful. On that day, my soul also began to yearn much stronger for eternity. The mystery of death was slightly penetrated. And although I grieved heavily, I found that I was less afraid of death. Because of his life and loss, I no longer see death in a "Halloween way." And I do not wish to. Horror will come... sorrow will come... fear will come... all unwilled and unwanted. The true test of our culture is how we have prepared ourselves to deal with it. 
 

My own kids will someday wear blood and hold death in their hands. They will see tragedy and trauma. They will probably witness a beheading or live murder recorded on the internet. I will not shield them from the reality of death. My goal is to prepare them to serve the suffering and wounded who seek the merciful compassion of Christ. They will see plenty of horror on that journey. We don't need a night of candy and plastic ghouls to guide our souls to a Catholic understanding of these things. The real lessons come in the down and dirty of living the works of mercy in the context of a sacramental life. 
 

And that can get downright scary. Jesus, Light of the World, have mercy on us.
 


And again Jesus spoke to them, saying: "I am the light of the world; he who follows me with not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)


A Catholic Girls' Guide to Unmasking a Predator

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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. 

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Flotsam, Jetsam, and Homeschool Consolations

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Several years ago, we were trying to figure out how to fit in as homeschoolers in a vibrant, school-based parish with a DRE and pastor who weren't super supportive of homeschooling. We had previously enjoyed years of support and encouragement but our pastor was forced into retirement (he desired to serve longer) and the administration turned over to people who did not share his approach to shepherding. 

For years, our parish had been a place of joy, consolation, and respite. Suddenly, we were outsiders. 

There was rarely an open hostility but the passive aggressive punch that confronted us constantly became more than we were willing to absorb. This is not the way home should be and not the way children should be raised in the faith. We eventually left. But I haven't forgotten those difficult days and the important of encouragement and consolations that come when we most need them. 

If you need that kind of consolation today, I have a story for you...

I was in the parish office turning in some paperwork for the CYO team I was coaching and ran into the new DRE of our parish. It was not an encounter I wanted to have, especially since we had recently informed her that we would be exercising our right to opt out of her sacramental program for our Confirmandi. 

We said our hellos and she said she was praying for my family. That was much appreciated, especially because she was a religious sister! But she looked quite distressed and I got the idea from her countenance that perhaps she was praying for us specifically because we were bad eggs who needed urgent Divine intervention.

Our interactions in the past hadn't been exactly joyful. The general formula went like this:

Sister: Asks me if I got an email about upcoming events.
Me: Pleasantly acknowledges receipt of email and politely declines.
Sister: Bursts into tears and walks away

So I was already accustomed to constantly feeling like a thorn in the sides of... well... all the spiritual leaders of my home parish. Not a great feeling. But this, one of our final interactions, has stuck with me over time. It really did sting. And it really did contribute to our departure from our happy parish home of a decade. 

Immediately following her promise of prayers, she looked like she was going to cry, shook her head mournfully and said...

 "The homeschooling situation is so sad. They are going to be so behind." 

I was struck dumb because she was so obviously talking about my family. In spite of the fact that I was standing inches from her. In spite of the fact that there really was nothing sad at all about our "situation" nor with the healthy and happy homeschooling community which had flourished in our parish up to that point. In spite of the fact that my family had never been anything but kind to her and my children were obviously well-formed and flourishing. 

But she really didn't see us.
She didn't ask me what I thought.
She didn't ask me what I love, what I pursue, what I dream about...
What my family loved about our homeschooling life.

She spoke at me, not with me. 

I was a problem child and she had to figure out what to do with me... and I was not invited to the discussion. She was consumed with her own sad drama. And that is sad. And extremely difficult to engage fruitfully. 

Part of me wanted to stand up and fight the ignorance. I was completely fine with dying on that hill. But I chose silence at the time. Eventually, my family also chose to silently leave. And while homeschooling itself didn't get any easier, we were free from an institutional pressure to view our life as deeply flawed and "sad."

That's a lie straight from the mind of the enemy of God and I'm sorry that Sister fell for it. But I won't live by it. 

Shortly after that encounter, I read a book by Father George Rutler called Cloud of Witnesses: Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive. It is not a book about homeschooling and I was certainly not expecting a homeschooling consolation from it; and yet there it was, right in the forward.

I don't suppose I'll ever be in a position to use the phrase "flotsam of their own infecundity" with any angst-filled educator, but it is awfully satisfying to hear Father Rutler use it!

Any homeschoolers need an arm to lean on today? A word from someone who knows why you do what you do?

Fr. Rutler offers you his. Enjoy! 

"While I have spent a lot of time in schools, the lives of people themselves are the best schools. When a friend asked me to coax his daughter, who had announced after her first day of kindergarten that she did not want to go back, I replied that the girls seemed to have sensed something quite right. With some rhetorical excess I said she should abandon kindergarten altogether, for it was my experience that school interrupted my education. It locks you in with your peers. That is a mistake. One's social circle should avoid one's equals. As a child I found children unexceptional and preferred the company of adults. I got to know lots of people who are dead now whom I never would have known had I waited a few years. So I have a collective memory, and oral tradition, that goes back to the eighteenth century, having spoken with people who knew people who knew people who knew people who lived then. The only real university is the universe and that is why an expression like New York University missed the point that the city is the university.

I exercised the child's father by suggesting that, instead of school, children should spend time in restaurant kitchens and shops and garages of all kinds, learning from people who actually make the world work. One day spent roaming through a real classical church building would be the equivalent of one academic term in any of our schools, and a little time spent inconspicuously in a police station would be more informative than many hours spent on social science. Formal lessons would only be required for accuracy in spelling and proficiency in public speaking, for which most public speakers in our culture are not models; and in exchange for performing some menial services, a child could learn the violin, harp, and piano from musicians in one of the better hotels or from performers in the public subways. I urged my friend to keep his child out of kindergarten because kindergarten will only lead to first grade and then the grim sequence of grade after grade begins and takes its inexorable toll on the mind born fertile but gradually numbed by the pedants who impose on the captive child the flotsam of their own infecundity."

How Can We Help? Please Reply. A Letter to Catholic Families

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The letter was a stunner. I sat at my desk with tears streaming down my face, reading the words from a friend which seemed to open old wounds and heal them at the same time. He was asking for my thoughts (and the the input of other Catholic families) as he and his wife discern their family's role in living out the Gospel message. And now they have granted my request to share this letter with you. 

My friend is a faithful Catholic man married to a beautiful woman of God, and their marriage is a blessing to those who know them. Like other families, they carry crosses, and have been carrying the heavy cross of infertility for 8 years. I have watched them blossom beautifully, watered by grace, even under that difficult weight; and I have been so blessed by their continuous and fervent effort to discern the will of God for their lives. 

In the midst of their own trials, they have observed the unique crosses of Catholic parents and are wondering how those burdens can be lightened. 

They know that their primary call is to holiness... but they continue to pursue the "what" and "how" of the specific call of their marital vocation... and they are asking for input. In asking "How can we use our vocation to help support other families?" they are also asking "How can we help restore Christendom?"

Will you please take a few minutes to read and to answer his questions? Put your thoughts in the comments here or on Facebook, or email them to me and I will send them along. Also, please share this post and get this conversation rolling among the larger community. Perhaps we will all learn something in the process of pondering and sharing. 


Dear Friends, 

I am increasingly convinced that my wife's and my role (and perhaps mission) in this season of life is to serve in some way as support and aid to others attempting to raise their families in an authentically Catholic way. Everyone included here is already doing a wonderful job of raising beautiful families - I'm just wondering if there's some way it could be even better. I've spoken of this to many of you already, and want to pursue the idea to see if and how it might develop. 

Right now, I'm not sure what this means (if it means anything at all) or how it looks; but, the more I think and talk about it, the more beneficial and needed it appears. This may not lead to anything, but not pursuing the idea will certainly lead to nothing. So please take some time to thoughtfully consider together as parents and spouses and respond, which will help both us (in determining if this even a thing for us) and potentially many others.

The question at the heart of my idea is basically this: If you could have help in raising and forming your family, what would that help look like?

I think many parents have become inured to the challenges, struggles, and difficulties of raising a family, and accept them as "normal." And, of course, there will always be those. But how might they be lessened or eased? What would "someone to help" look like?

Would it be someone...

  • ...to help tutor/homeschool/supplement kids' education?
  • ...to help clean?
  • ...to help babysit?
  • ...to have adult conversation with?
  • ...to just come visit and spend some "quantity time"?
  • ...to help arrange real-education related events/trips?
  • (e.g. a trip to a farm to plant vegetables or collect eggs is far more educational than reading a book about gardening. Mom may not be able to take age-appropriate kid because younger kids need attention, but what if a trusted family friend could help chaperone a group of age-appropriate kids from several families? Etc.)
  • ...to help develop a more-enveloping/holistic vision for Catholic culture/community?
  • ...to recommend reading/music/media?
  • ...to help share the good ideas and experience you've already had with others?
  • ...to....? Dare to dream!
  • I've included several friends who represent different stages of family life, demographics, needs, and means. But everyone at least shares a commitment to raising Catholic families in some way. And everyone has something to contribute, no matter where on the family-life spectrum you are. 

I've been developing my own understanding of what Catholic culture (which will only be rebuilt through the family) looks like; most recently based on Anthony Esolen's book Out of the Ashes, and the concepts of Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option. In short: real friendship, real community, built on Truth and a pursuit of virtue and true human formation. But I want to hear from you "in the trenches," who have real day-to-day experiences in this thing.

Finally, I anticipate some resistance to your thinking and replying on this. Some of the things you might think:

  • "I don't want to bother anyone."
  • "This is my family and I chose to have the kids, so I don't want to burden anyone else by asking for help."
  • "I don't want anyone to think I'm a bad mom/dad."
  • "I don't want to admit it's hard."
  • "I don't want anyone to see my messy house."
  • "I don't want anyone to judge me."
  • "I don't need help."
  • "Nothing will change anyway, this is just fantasy."
  • "I don't know what I don't know."

Please, please, please do not allow fear, pride, vanity, negativity, or a sense of "bothering someone" prevent you from thinking, replying, and embracing this idea. I don't know where this will lead (if anywhere), but I do know that not asking the question, and not trying will lead exactly no where. The perfect guarantee of nothing changing. I'm not trying to create a "program" or impose obligations - just trying to figure out if there's a way to help serve the needs of good friends raising good families.

The world and secular culture is encroaching and the Enemy is ever seeking to destroy the family. We must take those threats seriously stand firm and do something to help one another in this spiritual battle for the souls of our families and friends. I hope just asking these questions will help foster some ideas as to how we might work together in love, friendship, and virtue to rebuild and re-claim authentic Culture. I look forward to your thoughts!

Oremus pro invicem,
Your brother in Christ

What I Wish They Would Have Told Me About My Parents' Divorce

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As the Catholic discussions on divorce, remarriage, etc. increase as a result of current events in the Church, I throw in my unsolicited pennies and beg Catholics to avoid one thing during those discussions: Never, even under the generous umbrella of mercy, allow adult pastoral considerations to divert attention from the great needs of the suffering children of divorce. A faster annulment process (or other changes) may or may not be good for the Church... But it doesn't fundamentally change the crushing blow that divorce is to the family. Even when it is necessary, it is still a great suffering.

When we minimize the language of what divorce really is, we also minimize the real affect on human beings... and we unfortunately communicate lies to kids: "There must be something wrong with YOU to feel so bad and broken over something that isn't really a big deal."  It makes kids (and abandoned spouses) feel isolated and crazy. My own experience was that it caused me to bear an unwieldy burden of guilt even as a very young child. Over and over again I heard variations on the following...

"It's for the best."
"It's good for your parents... you should be glad that they can live happier lives."
"Don't you want them to be happy?"
"It is better this way."
"They did a brave thing."
"Nobody should have to live with someone they don't love."
"You'll understand when you're older."
"You are not being fair to them."
"Children do not understand what makes adults happy."
"Be grateful you didn't have to grow up in an unhappy household."
"You will learn to think and feel differently with time."
"Do you want to make your mom cry?"
"You were too young to be affected by it... you're just trying to get attention now."
"You are being ungrateful."
"God does not want your parents to be unhappy."

And over and over again I was pierced by the pain of isolation and brokenness that seemed to only have it's roots in MY guilty stupid soul. If divorce was "good" "better" and "best" and my parents were wholly justified and excellent decision makers, than I must have been a worthless person for all the sadness, grief, and anger I carried. While my own parents were lifted up and extolled for their courage by the long list of counselors, friends, and priests I sought out for help with my runaway grief, I was crushed under the knowledge that my grief (which I was helpless to) was standing in the way of their happiness.

In spite of the fact that I was very young when my parents divorced (and who received a declaration of nullity), I still had to process the loss through each developmental stage. Understanding does not come all at once. Grief progresses through the journey of understanding. That included not only my own developmental stages but theirs as well, as they entered into new relationships, changed jobs and homes, and progressed through their relationship with each other. Divorce isn't a one time event like getting a tooth pulled. It is a dramatic, traumatic, and ongoing change in human relationships.  (In my parents' defense, I do not think they understood those complexities in my life and did the best they could under the circumstances.)

I repeated the lies told to me by others for years because I thought my real feelings were wrong. I stuck to the party line: "Yeah... my folks split. It's for the best. I'm glad they're happier." The truth is that the best for any child is a loving intact family. While I know that it isn't always possible and that separation is sometimes necessary, I maintain that the tragedy and dysfunction should be acknowledged so that the child is fully free to grieve... and to heal. 

I caution those reading against telling children that divorce is a "good" thing. It might be a necessary thing, but that is a different matter entirely from good, better, or best. If it is a necessity, it is a *tragic* necessity. It is tragic that there is some kind of danger that would necessarily break a family apart. Recognition of that truth allows plenty of room for gratitude for safety and health and whatever respite comes from a necessary separation. But my caution is against speaking of the division as a good in itself. It doesn't compute in a child's mind... to say that it is "good" that their family is broken. Tell them you are sorry. And then allow them to grieve and heal. I am not a mental health professional and I don't know what every child needs...  but I know I would have given a lot to hear these words:

"What happened between your mom and dad was bad. Families are designed to love each other forever and that didn't happen in yours. Your family was dismantled without your consent. And now you are left with an anger and sorrow that are justified. Everything you are feeling is NORMAL. And you will grow through it... and thrive. God will bring joy out of suffering. And I will walk with you."

That wouldn't have fixed everything but it would have taken a burden off of my soul and freed my heart and mind to begin healing much earlier. But the counselors, teachers, priests and professionals in my K-12 years didn't say it. Not in Catholic grade schools, not in the first grade when I made an appointment with my pastor, not family friends, not the high school professionals; not even in the junior high and teen divorce support groups I joined in school desperately seeking a balm for my ongoing guilt and grief. Those groups focused instead on affirming my right to feel in general, but then attempted to change those feelings as if they were disordered and out of place. They were not. I was normal. But I didn't know. 

I live a good and happy life and the Lord has healed up so many of my childhood wounds and relationships. But I regret to see that the conversations in the Church still center around the feelings of adults to the detriment of the grieving children. If I had a dime for every time I heard a parent tell me his or her kid was "fine" after their divorce, I might not be rich but I'd be able to have a nice steak dinner for two! "Kids are resilient." Yes, they are. But they are not made of stone. And they are deeply impacted by division in the home. It becomes a part of their soul formation. 

It is very difficult to speak truth in love to people in a divorced situation. We worry it will damage relationships or make friends or family angry with us or cause the child to think poorly of their parents. But the alternative is letting a child believe destructive lies about themselves. The injury already exists and our acknowledging it does not make it appear where it wasn't before. So let's all just get over ourselves and speak life to children...

"Some things hurt because they are fundamentally disordered."
It's okay to tell that to kids. And... it's okay to tell that to their parents. 

To all my readers who have been touched by divorce... this post is not a judgment on your situation. I assume the best of you and am so sorry that this sorrow has come into your lives. I write only to draw attention to those children who are suffering while adults are preoccupied with adult needs. It is my great hope that conversations like this will help Catholics bring the needs of those young people into greater focus. You are invited to share your (charitable) stories and comments below. 

P.S. Some people ask if I would choose not to have my stepmom in my life. Would I erase all of that good to live in an unhappy household with married bio parents? That's not a fruitful question. God allows free will. He allows us to choose to hurt and to divide. He also brings tremendously beautiful fruits from the seed of suffering. I am grateful. 

Leaving the Door Open for a Perfect Lent

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The perfect Lent usually comes to me as a surprise package, gift wrapped and delivered with a flourish and fireworks. It wears a big tag that says:

For your sanctification, with my deepest love and affection. 

Love, 
Your Heavenly Father


The truth of the matter is that regardless of what amazing mortifications I have planned for myself, I'm always outplayed by the challenges of life... the crosses... the hidden gifts. I never see those road bumps coming because I'm busy putting the comfortable touches on my own Lenten preparations. 

When I go "big" with Lenten prep, I'm usually pretty impressed with myself. But the real secret of a fruitful Lent is what I do when my carefully designed, Pinterest-friendly disciplines are blown up and replaced by the uncontrollable and the downright ugly.

The real secret of Lent for me is not coming up with super creative, impressive ways to pull myself closer to the heart of Jesus... but learning how to use what I have been given to fall in love, embrace my crosses... and allow Him to draw me to Himself.

I once had a very wise and holy friend counsel me during a difficult time. I was feeling helpless that I did not have more to offer for a loved one who was undergoing a great trial...

Perhaps, I said, I should ask God to send me a greater suffering so that I might offer it. With a gentle smile, she responded: Don't ask for more. Not now. When your loving Father sees fit to give you more, He will do it because He knows your heart. And what He allows will be more than you would ever have the courage to ask for. Pray for grace and mercy and faithfulness and trust... the suffering will come in His time, when you are ready.

I was in my 20's at the time. I'm now 41. I get it now. The opportunities to suffer are always present. It is not really our job to make sure those sufferings keep coming, but to focus on drawing close to Christ through every opportunity.

Lent is a training ground. Giving up the cookie is just preparation for the bigger battles.

I have learned over time that God uses Lent efficiently if we let Him, whether or not we accomplish any exceptional self-imposed mortifications or clever crafts with the kids. Those are good practices and habits but they don't necessarily move the soul where God desires it to go. Many of us don't have the courage to push ourselves into life changing self-denial.

We line up the sacrifices and then BOOM! Derailed by the cookie. 

There have been Lents during which he has permitted very obvious sufferings in my family like car accidents, broken bones, family stress, a difficult pregnancy, or serious illness. Other Lents were not so obvious... just a floundering in a place of personal failure or the good old Winter blahs. Perhaps it is lazy of me, but I have stopped focusing heavily on the extra mortifications during this season and have just been really focusing on the ones that I already have. There seem to be plenty enough for my weak soul. Someday. Someday I may be ready for more and I trust that He will know.

This year? I've got a short list of pious sacrifices and then a great big space where I assume God will work. 

We are all in different spiritual places at different times. While you may be adding to your daily prayers, I am likely fighting just to maintain mine. When fasting might be relatively easy for one, it might be a source of great trial for another. While one mother is struggling to make Lent meaningful for her children in the daily household activities, another must accept the limitations of her cancer...

Where God chooses to take us during Lent is intensely personal and individual. The key is to embrace it wholly and willingly. Take me where you want me to go, Lord. Show me how to love you more.

A few years ago, I read a lengthy article criticizing the decision of two prominent Catholics to lead a Lenten retreat on a cruise. The crux of the argument was that a cruise is meant for luxury, not mortification, and the decision to lead others to water (as opposed to the desert) during the Lenten season was a very bad one.

I don't know... it seems to me that God can find our hearts on the open seas and pierce them the same as He would do on dry land.The beautiful surroundings can't keep out the fire of Divine Love. I do not know why the good men chose a cruise as a Lenten retreat venue and can see how it might seem odd. Perhaps they've lived through enough Lents to know that it will all work out just fine, for the greater glory of God and the sanctification of their souls. Perhaps they know, too, that leisure (according to a truly Christian understanding) is consistent with Lent in that it is ordered to bring our minds, bodies, and souls back into focus on the goodness of God.

Based on my personal experience of past Lents (and life in general), however, I would say that their likelihood of contracting some terrible stomach virus during the cruise is quite high. Or likely, they will hit some choppy seas, get paired up with a bunk mate that snores, or find that their sciatica is acting up. Or perhaps, they will be blessed with enough space and grace and time to come face to face with a deep and buried grief or interior suffering...

... because Lents often come packaged like that.

Some years I'm sent a rocky sea or spoiled shellfish. Other years, I find myself on a sinking ship. Other years it's just that stupid cookie. But always with a flourish and a bang and that handwritten note from God. And at the end of the note, it says...

P.S.   I give you these gifts because I love you beyond all telling or imagining. Everything in the package is a treasure. You will not know how to use it at first.... but I will show you. Keep close to my heart. We will walk together through each moment. I will set your heart on fire. And when you feel that you cannot walk a moment longer, I will take your cross and raise you up with me. Easter is coming... Let us begin.

The secret of the perfect Lent is simply to rely more on the transformative power of the Holy Spirit than on our checklist. To walk slowly, humbly, quietly along the path of personal holiness; ready to die to self so as to be ready to rise with Him. Letting Him lead... Even when it hurts. 

If that Lenten secret includes the carefully planned sacrifices you willing make? Thanks be to God. But it might also include some bad shellfish.... and that's often where the real sanctification happens. 

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!