Author Archive for Charisse Tierney – Page 2

Summer Spirituality for Kids

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The Spiritual Works of Mercy move beyond the needs of the body to the needs of the soul. They nurture others at a profound level, bringing them into deeper union with others and with God. We are sometimes presented with the opportunity to carry out these works of mercy when we least expect it. The practical suggestions below will help even small children feel prepared for those unexpected moments. Pray the Holy Spirit prayer that accompanies each work of mercy so that you will “not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say.” Trust that, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, “you will be given at that moment what you are to say.” (Matt 10:19)

1.  Admonish the sinner

  • Don’t be afraid to tell your children (who have reached the age of reason) that immoral behavior is an objective sin. (“Playing my smartphone when I told you not to was disobedience. That was wrong and a sin.”)
  • Encourage your children to charitably remind their siblings or friends of the right thing to do when they see a bad choice being made. Role play some example scenarios.

Holy Spirit, please give me the fortitude I need to speak up for what is right and encourage others to follow God’s commandments.

2.  Instruct the uninformed

  • Have older siblings teach a Bible story or a principle of our Catholic faith to younger siblings. Get creative with a puppet show, play, or craft!
  • Ask one of your children to invite a non-Catholic friend to a fun parish event.

Holy Spirit, please fill me with Your gift of understanding, so that I can teach others the Truth about my Catholic faith.

3.  Counsel the doubtful

  • Encourage your children to look for reasons to praise each other. Use the power of positive reinforcement to confirm good choices.
  • To give good counsel, we have to be good listeners. Ask your children to tell you something interesting (not gossip) that they heard as they went about their day.

Holy Spirit, please give me the gift of counsel so I will know what to do and say when someone is feeling scared or unsure.

4.  Comfort the sorrowful

  • Come together as a family when someone is sad or sick. Have each family member think of something nice they can do or say.
  • Explain grief to your children at an age appropriate level. Have them help you make a card for someone who is suffering — just to let them know you’re thinking about them.

Holy Spirit, please give me the gift of knowledge, that I might see my life the way God sees it. Help me to share with others that everything that happens to us works for a greater good.

5.  Be patient with those in error

  • Teach your children calming techniques (deep breathing, taking a “time out” from a heated situation, getting a soothing hug from Mom or Dad). Tell them to use these techniques when they start to feel angry with someone so they can use a gentle tone of voice to work things out.
  • Remind your children that your family loves people more than things. Even if a sibling breaks a treasured possession or interrupts a fun activity, teach your children to show respect and kindness toward him or her.

Holy Spirit, please give me the gift of wisdom so that I can love You, and those made in Your image, above all else–even when I feel sad or mad.

6.  Forgive offenses

  • Give your children the words they need when they claim they “hate” someone who did something they didn’t like. (“Instead of ‘I hate him’, try ‘I didn’t like it when he smashed my Lego truck.’”)
  • Help two children who were upset with each other find something fun to do together once they’ve cooled off. Assist them in repairing their relationship.

Holy Spirit, please gift me with a healthy fear of the Lord so that I will be filled with a desire to please Him and forgive others as He forgives me.

7.  Pray for the living and the dead

  • Make a “spiritual bouquet” for someone who needs your prayers. Send them a card filled with paper flowers — one for each prayer you will say for them.
  • Write down the names of deceased relatives and friends in a prayer journal, and light a candle while you pray a decade of the Rosary for them.

Holy Spirit, please give me the gift of piety, so that I will remain obedient to the prayer life you have chosen for me.

Image credit: “mercy” by Andrew Parvenov (dreamstime.com)

Is Your Marriage Safe?

couple in loveI made my husband an apple pie the other day. It was a simple gesture, but it carried a lot of meaning. We’d been out of the house most of the day, so I wasn’t sure I’d have time to get it done. Slicing and peeling six cups of apples, getting the crust just right, and making sure I didn’t leave it in the oven for too long are all tasks that can become complicated and stressful when an active two-year-old is around to “help”.

But I felt compelled to do something just for my husband. It was his favorite pie. I knew the kids wouldn’t even eat it. But it had been too long since I’d done something special just for him–too long since I’d made the effort to recapture the romance and eagerness of our courtship days. As it says in the book Good News For Married Lovers: A Scriptural Path for Marriage Renewal by Charles Gallagher, SJ, and Mary Angelee Seitz, “How often do we fall into a lonely married holding pattern: we aren’t fighting, but we simply stop growing closer? Where is the eagerness for each other?”

We hear so often that marriage is under attack right now. But marriage has been under attack long before man-made laws and rainbow flags. The devil didn’t simply tempt both Adam and Eve that fateful day in the garden. He first tempted Eve, then convinced her that luring her husband into sin was a good thing. He drove a wedge between the two of them before they even left the garden. He pitted husband against wife, forever contaminated the purity of their love, and created a pattern of sin that plagues the offspring of even the best marriages to this day.

Oh, how the devil hates the institution of marriage! He gnashes his rotten teeth in his distress over something that images the Holy Trinity to our fallen world. He clenches his gnarled fingers when the love of husband and wife brings forth new life. He waits in eager anticipation for the moment when bitterness, anger, weariness, or passivity will open the door enough for him to worm his way in.

We are all vulnerable. None of our marriages are safe. In fact, it is the holiest marriages that he watches most intently, waiting patiently for a weak moment.

And so we must always be on guard. It is not enough to live with “good enough”. We must always be running toward our spouse. It is this eagerness, this desire to give all that we have to the other, that is our protection. And when we protect our marriage, we protect our children. A couple who is constantly growing closer can’t help but fill their home with love and kindness, compassion and trust. A couple who grows closer loves to extend that closeness to their children, and a pattern of virtue begins to replace the pattern of sin. In this way, a holy marriage has the power to change the world for the better. A holy marriage bears good fruit with exponential effects.

Starting today, take that first running step toward your spouse. It isn’t always easy, but it also doesn’t take much to please the one who loves us. Make a favorite food, sling the baby up and take a walk together, finally plan that date night you’ve been talking about, or just leave the housework for a moment and give your spouse a spontaneous kiss. Because when we fill our marriage with these kinds of gestures, we leave no room for the one who tempts us. We only leave room for the grace of God.

Resources to protect and strengthen your marriage:

When Divorce Is Not an Option and For Better Forever by Dr. Gregory Popcak

Image Credit: Getty Images (thinkstock.com)

Nursing a Two-Year-Old: It’s Normal for Us

I could see the idea forming in her mind by the way she looked at me. She fidgeted. She fussed. She wriggled her entire 31 pounds of two-year-old chub around in my lap until she had assumed the familiar position, head in the crook of my arm and eyes looking up at me longingly. Not ready to give in quite yet, I attempted to distract her. Cheese crackers–refused with disdain. Water bottle–given “the hand”. Fuzzy bunny book–an audible “Uh-uh!” and a decisive head shake. I had to act fast, before the situation (and her vocalizing) escalated. I had choices, and it was time to choose. So right there in the pew, somewhere between the Responsorial Psalm and the Gospel, I lifted my shirt.

I’ve implemented the concept of child-led weaning with every one of my five children. This means that I follow their lead in the weaning process. I allow them to help me determine when we are both ready to stop nursing. I’ve only had one particularly independent child self-wean before the age of two (he’s still a big-time Daddy’s boy), and my longest nurser required some gentle convincing from his weary mommy at the age of four.

madonna nursingI’ve nursed through four healthy pregnancies. My children’s identities have been nurtured by the intimacy and security of an extended nursing relationship. And I’ve become quite adept at nursing discreetly in public. So I never minded when people caught me feeding my baby in a grocery store or restaurant. Nursing an infant in public never seems too surprising to the average observer. I’ve often received looks of affirmation and smiles of awe as I sat feeding my adorably dependent infant.

But those looks change when I suddenly find myself nursing a two-year-old. Fortunately, I haven’t been faced with very much blatant animosity toward my parenting choices, but I do see looks of surprise, doubt, and questioning. Nursing no longer feels like the “normal” thing to be doing.

But it’s normal for me and my child. This is where she finds comfort, stress relief, and nourishment. This is what makes her body strong and her mind sharp. This is a huge yes that I can still give her in a world filled with so many no’s.

The frequency of nursing does lessen as a child grows in size and independence. Most of the time, I am able to nurse my older baby in the privacy of our own home. But there are still times when that same child poses the question and insists on an answer, regardless of where we are.

And there’s really only one answer I can give when she takes my hand and pulls me toward a chair saying “Mama, Mama.” There’s only one answer I can give when a scraped knee or complete exhaustion leaves her in a puddle of inconsolable tears. And there’s only one answer I can give when my child needs me under the shadow of the crucifix during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. That answer is myself, freely and completely, until we are both ready to move forward into a new phase of independence.

40 Days in the Desert

Cactus Pic

Displaying a cactus in our home during Lent reminds us of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert. Our family purchased a mini cactus at Walmart and printed a simple card with a picture of Jesus in the desert and the scripture passage “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” (Deut. 8:3)

The cactus and prayer card can be placed in a prominent place in your home or on a prayer table as inspiration for reflection. Or use the following prayers and activities based on Jesus’ responses to the devil’s three temptations. Let Jesus‘ time in the desert inspire your family to respond generously to God’s will as you travel through the desert of Lent.

FAST

“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” (Deut. 8:3)

Dear God, please help me to do what You want me to do, even when I really want something else.

Fast:  Give up one of your favorite things to eat

ALMSGIVING

“The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” (Deut. 6:13)

Dear God, please help me to remember that You are more important than all of my toys, my clothes, and anything else in my life.

 Almsgiving:  Clean out your room and give some of your extra clothes or toys to a charity.

PRAYER

“You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” (Deut. 6:16)

Dear God, please help me to completely trust You with everything in my life.

 Prayer:  Show God you trust Him by spending time in prayer every day.

 

Please Pass The Joy: The Promise of Candlemas

“Be merry, really merry.  The life of a true Christian should be a perpetual jubilee, a prelude to the festivals of eternity.”  St. Theophane Venard

Joy. I could sure use some after spending three weeks cooped up in a sick household. The beauty of flickering candlelight. The warmth of the sun. The hope of eternal happiness. At the end of the long month of January, we are gifted with a feast that gives us all of these things.

Celebrated on February 2, the Feast of Candlemas is the antidote to the mid-winter blahs. It is a day for reigniting the joy of Christmas–a day for remembering that all we need for real happiness is Christ, the light of the world.

presentation of Christ in the temple by Hans Holbein the Elder

Presentation of Christ in the Temple by Hans Holbein the Elder

There is a lot to understand about this feast. Candlemas celebrates the Presentation of Our Lord and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary–two reminders of the Holy Family’s Jewish heritage and their obedience to the laws of their faith. But at the center of these customs is a Light. In the midst of laws and rituals and rules is a Presence that inspired an old man to proclaim, “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.” (Canticle of Simeon at the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple)

Simeon’s joy is obvious. Can’t you see him forgetting the formality of the moment in the temple as he steps forward to express his joy over seeing the Christ-child?

I want Simeon’s joy to overflow into our era. Rather than burden my young children with too many explanations and history lessons, I want them to simply experience the essence of Candlemas. I want to rise early and smile and giggle over a breakfast of crepes and pancakes. I want to attend morning Mass and return home with a boxful of blessed candles and the grace of a day started right. And when twilight falls, I want to light every candle I can find and watch my children’s eyes grow wide with wonder.

This is the essence of Candlemas. The beauty of candle flames, the hopeful expectation conjured by light pushing out darkness, tastebuds tingling with sweet treats, and eyes brightened by cheerful colors. Celebrating our Catholic feast days trains the senses to fall in love with faith and family. Someday, one of my children might be struggling, or hurting, or questioning, and they will eat a bite of crepe or see the light of a candle and it will all come back: that beautiful day and their loving family, all centered around Christ and His Church. They will see the light and, like Simeon, they will have to follow it. Not because I explained everything perfectly, but because we lived the joy.

May Candlemas bring the joy of the light of Christ to your family!

Resources for Candlemas information and inspiration:

http://catholicfamilyvignettes.com/2009/01/22/in-preparation-for-the-feast-of-candlemas/

http://catholicism.about.com/od/holydaysandholidays/p/Presentation.htm

The Force

I was a little jealous of my husband. I thought I had created a moment with my daughter in the art room at the children’s museum. I’d made her a beautiful card that said, “I love you,” and she looked so pleased when I showed it to her. She quickly got to work on a new project, and I expected her to reciprocate my loving gesture. Surprise and disappointment rushed over me when I looked at her paper and saw “I love u daddy” printed in kindergarten scrawl. Seconds later, she scurried out of the room saying, “I have to find Daddy and give this to him!”

I sat and waited, happy for my husband, but with the definite prick of envy prodding my heart.

loveLove is a funny thing. It is so vulnerable to the deceptions of Satan. The love created to unite a family is his favorite playground, and we are easily blinded to the beauty that God is weaving.

The love I feel for my daughter could never be reduced to a “moment.” It is a way of life. It is a binding thread designed to flow through all of the members of our family. She graciously extended my love for her to my husband that day in the children’s museum. My small gesture bound our family tighter and increased our joy. It was a perfect model of God’s love for us: a generous love, an extravagant love, a love that does not discriminate, and a love that is meant to be shared.

In the words of St. John Paul II, “To the family is entrusted the task of striving, first and foremost, to unleash the forces of good, the source of which is found in Christ the Redeemer of man.”

The card I made for my daughter was a force of good. Using a piece of card stock as His medium, God transferred the love between mother and child to the bond between husband and wife.

As our family drove home from the children’s museum later that day, I heard my daughter rustle through her bag of craft projects and pull something out. I heard her tell her brothers about the card Mommy made for her, and as she repeated the words I had written on the card over and over again, I smiled. The force of good was once again unleashed.

Have Yourself a Simple Little Christmas

I’m going to do it this year. I’m going to find one evening during Advent to sit on the couch with my husband and sip a mug of hot cocoa while watching It’s a Wonderful Life from start to finish.

I say it every year. I’m going to find time to savor the season, deepen my prayer life, nurture my family’s faith, and prepare our hearts for our Savior’s birth. But, all too often, I find myself in a flurry of shopping, wrapping, baking, Rosaryletter writing, and decorating. I put off preparing my heart in favor of preparing my house, my pantry, and the consumerism mentality that creeps into the minds of even the best of us.

As I was meditating on the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary the other day, I found them to be a fitting guide for how to better prepare for the season of preparation. Consider using the following points as meditations for your own Rosary prayer time, and allow Jesus and His Blessed Mother to lead you into a more meaningful, peaceful Advent.

 First Joyful Mystery:  The Annunciation

 “May it be done to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38

Now is the time to sit in prayer and ask our Lord and His Mother to show us how we should spend our Advent season. How can we say “yes” to God during this time of anticipation? Is there a particular virtue or aspect of our spiritual lives that our family, as a whole, needs to work on? How can we simplify the season and make more space for Christ in our hearts?

Second Joyful Mystery:  The Visitation

“And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Luke 1:43

While I love to reconnect with friends and family over the holidays, I usually find my Christmas card list quite daunting. How can we simplify getting in touch with others, while, at the same time, making our contacts more meaningful? A shorter, more concise Christmas letter? Send a simple, handwritten card to fewer people? Forgo the letter writing altogether in favor of getting together in person with some loved ones we haven’t spoken with in a while?

Third Joyful Mystery:  The Birth of Christ

“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

I love sitting in a darkened room with only the twinkling lights of a pine-scented Christmas tree.  But, this year, I want to take an honest look at my Christmas home decor. Do I decorate too much and too early? Where is the focal point of my decor? Mary and Joseph were simply looking for a space on that first Christmas — a space for Jesus. Our family plans to use these weeks before Advent to declutter our existing stuff first, so we will have space to gradually add some meaningful decor during the season of Advent. Some of our favorites:  a Jesse tree, a creche (with an empty crib until Christmas Day), and a real, live Christmas tree that we cut as a family just before Christmas.

Fourth Joyful Mystery:  The Presentation

“They took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” Luke 2:22

What gifts does my family bring to Christmas Day? Do we always end up buying too much for our kids? Does the focus become more, more, more of the perfect presents? How can we simplify and limit our gift-giving this year? Can we give fewer, more meaningful gifts? Can we use some of our family gift-giving money to give to a needy family in our community instead? How can we give more of ourselves in the spirit of the infant that personifies Love?

Fifth Joyful Mystery:  Finding Jesus in the Temple

“Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” Luke 3:48

I love gathering with my family in one place, all of my children happy and accounted for! And nothing seems to accomplish this more effectively than a delicious, home-cooked meal, or a freshly-baked plate of Christmas cookies. All too often, though, meal preparation ends in frustration with cries of hunger, tears of impatience, and someone covered from head to toe in flour! This is the scenario that plays out when I don’t allow time for the little hands that want to help.

How can I make the extra holiday baking and cooking less stressful this year?   Can I sit down now and create a holiday menu plan and stock my pantry with the required non-perishables? What can I make now and freeze for later? Can I focus on the virtue of patience, and allow my children to help in the kitchen? Can I accept less than perfect cookies in favor of finding a more loving relationship with my family members?

Most importantly, I hope to make intentional, prayerful decisions as I choose how my family and I spend our time and resources this Advent. I pray that Jesus finds the space He is looking for in our hearts and home.

A Thinking Prayer

This year marks the 800th anniversary of Our Lady’s gift of the Rosary to St. Dominic. That’s 800 years of miracles, hearts softened, and prayers answered through the intercession of our Blessed Mother.

saint dominic rosary flemish schoolThe Rosary is a powerful prayer. Mary is a powerful woman. While great wars have been stopped and lives have been saved due to devotion to the Rosary, what I find most compelling is its power of conversion.

The soul is a mysterious entity to us mere humans. We think we know our own, until we are humbled by a sin we have been overlooking. We wish we could convince other souls to unite more closely with God’s will, but it is never by our words alone that this can be accomplished.

We are unified beings, body, mind, and soul, and the formation of the soul requires a unique combination of grace, knowledge, and wisdom. We need ways to turn to God that stretch our intellect, our devotion, and our love. And, being the fallen and flawed human race that we are, we need a lot of help along the way.

So, we turn to the Rosary. As I heard Janet Moore describe at a retreat I attended recently, the Rosary is a “thinking prayer.” The more we meditate on its mysteries, the more our thoughts become like Jesus and Mary’s. And it is from our thoughts that our words and actions spring. I found it immensely helpful to have Janet lead our retreat group through the Rosary, providing ideas and scripture for meditation as we came to each mystery.

Prayer takes practice. There are always new ways to enter more deeply into ancient devotions. That’s the beauty of these gifts of our Church. There is grace attached to them that is living. We have only to create space in our hearts for Jesus, Mary, and the Holy Spirit. As Janet pointed out, Mary was with Jesus His entire life. She was at the foot of the cross and witnessed His thirst for souls. She has so much to share with us–so much to say as she guides us into His embrace. She wants to form us just as she formed Jesus in her womb.

Consider the assistance of a spiritual director or a Rosary meditation book as you pray your Rosary this month. Read the Bible stories to your children that the mysteries are from. Find some way for you and your family to enter more deeply into this beautiful, “thinking prayer.” Mary is waiting to take your hand and show you the way.

Kindergarten Blues

“Sometimes attachment parenting means being willing to mourn with our children while gently nudging them along the path God has laid for them.”

I’ll never forget how it felt to become a mother for the first time: joy, elation, amazement at the strength of my own body, and complete awe for the vulnerable, adorable, and demanding little person that I cradled in my arms. It was exciting to embark on a new chapter in my life, to grow up a little (or a lot), and to stretch my mind and emotions in ways they had never been stretched before.

But, two or three weeks into motherhood, it hit me. I had left my old life behind. My world would never be the same. I was still happy to be a mother and loved my baby dearly, but there were times I found myself mourning my old, carefree self. The days of pacing the floor with a fussy baby, trying to figure out how to take a shower, and sleepless nights seemed to stretch endlessly before me. I had more responsibility now, and could no longer think only of myself and my husband.

Charisse's daughter ready for school!

Charisse’s daughter ready for school!

Things had changed, and change is rarely simple.

My five-year-old daughter could tell you. She could tell you what it’s like to love a change while at the same time mourning your previous existence. She could tell you that growing up and accepting new responsibilities is sometimes painful, although exciting at the same time.

But I guess that’s what it means to die to self. It’s hard. It’s painful. But it’s also deeply satisfying to reach a new level of self-control. It feels good and natural to sacrifice for those we love. And a spring of joy bubbles up within us when we consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, we will be worthy to see the face of God in heaven one day.

My daughter struggled with the first few weeks of her first time at school, but I knew her struggle wasn’t with the school work, the structure of the day, or her teachers and classmates. Her struggle was with the sadness that pervades a soul before joy has time to mature. Her struggle was with the mourning that accompanies a drastic life change. This mourning was good. It meant that my daughter has had a wonderful childhood, and that she has a healthy attachment to her family and home.

But then I had to ask myself, “Is she ready to learn how to let go a little? Is she ready to die to self and grow in virtue? Is this sadness conveying a real need or just a strong want?”

I know my stubborn, strong-willed, spirited daughter well, and I knew she was ready. And so I met her need of mourning her old life with her while conveying my confidence that she was ready for this next step.

I didn’t become a joyful mother overnight, and I couldn’t expect my daughter to instantly become a joyful kindergartner. But she is making progress. She talks about how much she likes school, even though I know a part of her still yearns to stay with me each morning.

Sometimes attachment parenting means being willing to mourn with our children while gently nudging them along the path God has laid for them. Sometimes attachment parenting means being the one they can cry with, pout with, and complain with when life seems to get just a little too hard. But then they realize that we’ve taught them the joy of the triumph of the Cross–the dying to self that reveals to them the strength of God that is always ready to help a selfless heart.

Oh, Boy!

Henry

Henry

I sent my three oldest children off to school today, and I found myself at home with my toddler and my three-year-old. My inquisitive, fearless three-year-old. Henry.

Henry is the kid who pulled out his own feeding tube as a premie in the NICU. Henry is the kid who could unscrew light bulbs and open “child proof” medicine bottles as a toddler. Henry is the kid who appears to have the ability to scale walls and won’t let anyone stop him if that’s what he decides to do. He likes to take things apart. He wants to know how everything works. He loves to wrestle, kick things, jump from high places, and throw things. Henry constantly seems to be testing the limits of his mental, physical, and emotional powers.

“It is extremely important for young men to learn the limits of their power. It’s a challenge they feel bound to confront, and it’s why they climb mountains, race cars, and wrestle. It is about understanding what they have inside and how far they can take it. It’s when they hit the wall that humility begins to set in.” Meg Meeker, Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons 

Henry has a lot going on inside that little head and body of his, and I want to help him understand it. So I have a plan. A plan for seeking power. Not in a take over the world with an evil cackle kind of way, but in a cover the world with hope and charity way.

Yes, my plan does involve a lot of park playing, nature hiking, throwing things just to throw them kind of days, but I also want to seek ways he can feel the power of charity. I want to challenge his three-year-old heart and brain to help our family organize some simple service projects. I want to put his physical energy to good use and see how many cans of food he can carry to the food bank. I want to challenge him to be loving and generous towards his family and friends.

“…boys need to learn to apply their skills, their power, to helping others. Boys need to serve; it is good for them; it directs their energies and helps them define the useful purposes of power; it tempers power with responsibility.” Meg Meeker

I plan to help Henry “hit the wall” and learn humility in safe, responsible ways. Testing his limits is what God created him to do. This is a good thing. With the right guidance, this is what will help him take over the world some day with an outpouring of virtuous fervor.

See more about raising strong, healthy boys in Meg Meeker’s book, Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons.

How to Be a Prayer Warrior While Fighting the Battle of Parenthood

“Only God Himself can enlighten a heart charred by the      

fire-breathing dragons of this world.”

“Here there be dragons” is a phrase found on some medieval maps to describe dangerous or uncharted territory, sometimes accompanied by a picture of a dragon, sea serpent, or other mythological creature.

While our modern day physical world is well mapped out, our society faces other  dragons that seem to be multiplying rapidly.  Marriage, religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family are all under attack.  And while we witness the daily attacks on these God-given institutions, we wonder where it is all headed.  We wonder what will be attacked next, and how serious the persecution will be.

Saint MichaelI often wish I could put on my armor and slay those dragons myself.  But how do I go about doing this?  How can I convince the world that Hobby Lobby (or the Catholic Church, for that matter) is not out to render women powerless, that a “marriage” between two people of the same sex is not really a marriage at all, and that life from conception to natural death is sacred?

The truth is, I can’t.

I can continue to teach the truths of the Church and hope that hearts will be open to accepting them, I can live the example of the joyful freedom that accompanies the practice of these truths, but I have no power when it comes to people’s hearts.  Only the Holy Spirit can bring the mystery of conversion home.  Only God Himself can enlighten a heart charred by the fire-breathing dragons of this world.

And so, parents, we must pray.  Parenthood is a battle.  Not a battle with bed times, tantrums, and picky eaters (although some days it feels that way!), but a battle with the “evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.” (Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel)

We are in a spiritual battle, and the world needs our prayers.  Our children need our prayers.  But when to do it?

As parents, we have our own dragons to slay on a daily basis.  Dishes being pulled from the kitchen cupboards by toddler hands, a seven-year-old sobbing in the corner because he isn’t a Master LEGO Builder, and a nearly potty-trained three-year-old copping a squat in the middle of the living room rug are all normal parts of my day right now.

It’s difficult to find time.  It’s difficult to find silence.  But we must persevere in our prayer life.  The devil wants nothing more than to drive a wedge between us and our Lord, using our own children as leverage.

I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that if I can’t pray an entire Rosary in one sitting, I just won’t pray at all.  Or, sometimes I simply don’t feel like praying.  If I don’t feel the immediate consolations of God, or hear an answer from Him while in the midst of prayer, I succumb to the temptation of spiritual sloth.  And before I know it, a whole week has gone by, at the end of which my prayer life is malnourished and thirsting for attention.

Sticking to a daily lifestyle of prayer, and simply remembering to keep God at the forefront of my mind helps me through those challenging periods of dryness, as well as those times when my children keep me so busy that I’m not quite sure how to squeeze God in.

The following is a list of the five times of day I try to remember to devote to God in prayer.  Choose one of the suggestions below each time frame, depending on how your day is going and how demanding your children are being on your time and energy.  The point is to do something–to spend some amount of intentional time with Our Lord and His Mother throughout the day, and trust that the answers and consolations will come when you need them most.

1.  First Thing in the Morning

Rise early, say a Rosary, and read the day’s Gospel or another Scripture passage.

OR

Read a short quote from a saint and say a decade of the Rosary while eating breakfast (Small Steps for Catholic Moms by Danielle Bean and Elizabeth Foss is a wonderful daily devotional with Mom-sized meditations).

OR

Simply say, “Good morning, God!”, and ask Him to guide your choices that day while you grab a few minutes alone in the bathroom or nurse the baby.

2.  Nap Time

Finish your Rosary, say a Divine Mercy Chaplet, and/or do some spiritual reading or journaling while baby sleeps and older kids have some down time with books or screens.

OR

Take a moment to step outside and listen for God in the silence.  Dedicate the rest of your day to Him.

OR

Say a Hail Mary while you nurse the baby to sleep.

3.  3:00pm

Pray the Angelus or a Divine Mercy Chaplet.

OR

Pray a decade of the Rosary while doing dishes or folding laundry.

OR

Have a cup of coffee or tea, and ask God to clear your heart and mind of any tension that has been building throughout the course of the day.

4.  Near the Dinner Hour

Take a few moments for yourself while your spouse spends time with the kids, and pray the Evening Prayer (I like to use the Magnificat publication for this).

OR

Offer your kitchen clean up or last load of laundry to the glory of God and a special prayer intention.

OR

Pray grace with your family before and after dinner.

5.  Before Bed

Mentally review the events of your day, make a good examination of conscience, and say an Act of Contrition before going to bed.

OR

Do some spiritual reading while sitting with a child who needs some company to fall asleep (or pray quietly if the light is too dim for reading).

OR

Pray an Act of Contrition while nursing the baby to sleep.  Give your day to God and ask Him to renew and refresh your spirit as you sleep.

Of course, we all have days when our families require the bulk of our time and attention, but I find that if I strive to keep prayer a priority, God seems to increase my time so I can fit it in.  Do your best, and you will keep your relationship with God thriving, even during the busiest seasons of parenthood.

Now, put on your armor, and go slay those dragons!

Ten Years

Picture1Ten years. I’ve been a mom for ten years. I keep repeating that fact to myself, as if I’ve reached some magical milestone filled with wisdom and maturity.

But instead of wisdom bursting forth in triumphant glory like so many flowers in spring, I feel a bit of all of the seasons vying for space in my heart.

The revelation that loving my children is easy–that I simply have to follow their lead, take an interest in what they enjoy, and have fun just playing with them has brought the carefree days of summer home to my soul.

The fire of faith and the urgency to teach them all that I know before I run out of time hovers about like brilliant fall leaves giving all their glory to God before being blanketed by the snows of winter.

Vulnerability, dark cloudy days, fear, and weakness are all characteristics of the season of winter that allow for the most drastic and hopeful transformation to occur.

And, yes, there is a little of the season of spring in my heart as well. A sense of hope, a peaceful joy, a growing up, a gaining of wisdom.

As a parent, you quickly realize that the seasons of life change rapidly for young children. No wonder so many emotions can crowd a mother’s heart at once! How many times has a distraught, tantrum throwing child filled me with both a longing to run away and a longing to do whatever it takes to soothe her torrid soul. How many times have I hoped my toddler would finally go to sleep so I could lay him down while at the same time soaking in the wonderful feeling of a soft, cuddly body in my arms.

My heart is constantly laughing, crying, rejoicing, hurting, and feeling with them.

But that’s the way God made us. To be in tune with one another. To be sympathetic. To be empathetic. To be in relationship. And so even when it’s hard, even when it’s exhausting, even when it hurts, it hurts so good.

My parenting journey has seen a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of pots of coffee, and a lot of sacrifice. Most of my time has been spent with my children instead of eating out in nice restaurants, taking fancy vacations, or even having many nights out with my husband or friends.

But after ten years of this, I see a ten-year-old who is secure and confident. I see a ten-year-old who isn’t afraid to admit that thunderstorms still scare him while at the same time exhibiting a sense of independence that often surprises me. I see a ten-year-old who I am proud and happy to call my son–who fills my heart with an indescribable sense of having fulfilled my vocation well.

Just the other day, I was on a nature hike with my son and a group of his friends. As they ran up the trail past me, he stopped long enough to give me a quick hug and an affectionate smile. Then he was off with his friends, and I watched as they disappeared among the trees, laughing and being boys. Yes, it hurts so good to encourage attachment and then learn to let go.

Happy Birthday, dear son. I treasure your hugs and I honor your independence. May I always be a stop on the path that God has laid before you.

 Photos of the birthday boy!

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