Emily | A Year of Living Adventurously
I would not have wanted to be a first century wedding planner.
Instead of an event that last a day, these weddings went on for multiple days. People knew how to party in first century Israel. And anyone who’s ever planned a party knows that the two most important things you have to provide are drinks and food. What humans like hasn’t changed that much.
And you also had one heck of a guest list. No wimpy “plus ones” at these events. Jesus was there with Mary and all the disciples. Can you imagine that today? “Miriam? Hi, this is Mary, down the road…we’d love to come to Elizabeth’s wedding. My son will be coming, and about twelve of his closest friends…”
So we have the wedding. And then we have the party–a days long party.
With apparently very bad planning, because the wine ran out. Early.
At these parties, you started with the best wine you had, and then, as people “enjoyed themselves”, the wine got progressively “less good”, shall we say. It was prudent not just monetarily, but after a day or so of drinking, people probably weren’t noticing the quality anymore.
But at this wedding, there was no wine, of any vintage. Imagine the scene in the classic film A Christmas Story, after the dogs have devoured the holiday turkey: “No turkey! No turkey gravy! Or gallons of turkey soup! Gone, all gone!”
The wine was indeed gone. All gone.
Now, Mary had probably thrown a few parties in her day, or watched her mother do it. There was probably a party when she and Joseph became officially engaged. And like many seasoned hostesses, she didn’t panic. She simply turned to her son and said, “they have no wine.”
Now Jesus, like sons (and daughters) throughout the ages, had a little “do I have to” moment. (Remember, Jesus was human, in all ways but sin). “My hour has not yet come.”
Mary ignores this, and calls over the servants. “Do whatever he tells you,” she says. Then, Jesus performs his first miracle–he turns the large jugs of water into wine. And not just any wine–wine so good that the chief steward is amazed at its quality.
This is a “fun” miracle. No one’s life hangs in the balance, but the appearance of the wine saves the hosts from a lot of embarrassment that would probably be mentioned at every social gathering until the Second Coming. (It’s a quirk of human nature that we remember the ‘imperfect’ parties, but not the perfect ones.) But it’s also a nice reminder that Jesus and Mary care about the small events of our lives, things like parties and celebrations. We can turn to them in all times, when we need a healing, but also when we just need a party to come off without the turkey falling on the floor or someone spilling red wine all over the carpet, or the kids destroying the leather couch or the basement dry-wall.
Jesus and Mary were involved in every aspect of humanity, and that included the social aspects. In Lent, we’re probably not throwing a lot of parties. But we can remember that our heavenly family cares about everything we do, even our feasts.
Catholicism isn’t just a religion of the cross, although that’s an important aspect. It’s as Hilaire Belloc said: “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine/ there is always laughter and good red wine.”
Hello Ladies. Today I want to discuss the dinning room as read in Hallowed Be This House or its alternate title, Splendor in the Ordinary.
A certain theme struck me as I reread this late last night, after figuring out what our Mass plan was for Ash Wednesday. This chapter on the dinning room spoke about the room itself and the happenings there more formally than I would have expected, and yet it made sense–even in my somewhat chaotic feeling life at the dinning table with small children.
Many years ago, my husband had the opportunity to dine with some cloistered monks. After the meal, I asked how it was. I was so excited to hear him say he really enjoyed it. I of course asked for more details, hoping for some supernatural stirrings. He replied it was so nice…no one fell out of their chair, no one spilled the salad dressing or their milk or their brothers water. No one needed their meat cut up or cried because the meat was cut up and they wanted it whole. No one complained or had to be coaxed into eating.
Perhaps for all our zeal in the pursuit of spontaneity and innovation, we are missing the stark truth about what we are: highly ceremonial, even ritual, creatures who move at the tag end of a millennial-long procession of humanity who have all ceremonialized things.
Hallowed Be This House: Finding Signs of Heaven in Your Home
This idea of “ceremonialized” and “ritualized” seem a bit stuffy and cumbersome to me, a mother of many young children. But this is a necessary in their development–spiritually, physically and emotionally.
We were created from the Author of order…not confusion or fly by the seat of your pants or let’s just mix a pinch of this with a smidge of that and see what we come up with. He is a God of order. We are made in His image and likeness so we are a people of order.
I was thinking the other night about some of the memorable moments from 2012. Of course Leo is at the top of the list. But as I thought harder, or maybe deeper would be the word, I thought of a memorable experience related to his birth, or rather his arrival home.
My best friend had come and stayed with the children while I was in the hospital that day, and then my sister came and stayed the night while I was in the hospital and for almost a week later. I can still vividly remember the day we brought him home. The last day at the hospital always leaves me a bit stressed and antsy…ready to get home, but not ready to leave the care available at the press of a button.
The day we brought Leo home, Chris pulled the car into the garage and I slowly climbed out of the back seat of the car holding my new baby son. I opened the familiar creaky laundry room door. The laundry room which had laundry piled ready to be washed when I had left, was now neat and tidy…no trace of dirty laundry waiting. The late afternoon sun was streaming through the back door and windows and it smelled fresh and clean. I continued into the kitchen/dinning room. The kitchen was bright and sparkly and the dinning room orderly. The living room was freshly scrubbed; the sun did not have to fight its way through sticky finger prints left on the back door. My bedroom was clean and neat as well. The blinds were opened to let the sun in and the bed was smartly made.
I walked into a house of order.
And that homecoming felt almost ceremonial as I walked from room to room, christening each room with the presence of a new little soul meant to grow in wisdom and in grace in its confines. My children proudly showed us what they had accomplished under their aunt’s watchful eye. An eye for order that had been sorely missing the last long months of pregnancy.
The recollection of that day a couple of nights ago, pricked my conscience. ”Chris should have that same experience each and every day he walks through the creaky laundry room door.” The world he moves and breathes in is a disordered place. He should come home to harmony and peace.
There are preparations needed for a ceremony or a ritual. These do not have to be harsh or formal. They do need to be consistent. They do need to have for their ultimate good, the message of sacrifice.
The ritual of the Holy Mass, is a ceremony of sacrifice.
The ritual of welcoming guests or more importantly daddy, should be a ceremony of sacrifice.
This idea of sacrifice is clearly established at the dinning room table. Father gave of himself to provide the furnishings and the food. Mother and children gave of themselves to provide the atmosphere of the room and the preparation of the food. This mutual exchange is a reflection of the the sacrifice on the altar. Jesus’ life for ours…our life sacrificed for life with Him. There is an economy at work here, the economy of supernatural sacrifice built upon a heavenly order.
One of my broader goals this Lent is the proper economy of order, not only in my home, but more importantly in my soul.
My life for theirs. A continual recognition of Christ’s life for me. An appreciation of Chris’ life for me. A greater awareness each time my children make an offering of themselves.
**Please go read one of my all time favorite Elizabeth Foss posts on keeping a home, Why Bother?
Theresa Thomas | Everyday Catholic
One of the best ways to keep your family close as it grows and adds members, either by birth, adoption, or later on with your child’s own marriage and children, is to integrate storytelling into the rhythm of your family life.
Storytelling need not be elaborately organized, and you don’t have to have an English literature or speech major to do it well. Simply sharing anecdotes about your early life, your family’s past and history and inviting loving relatives to do the same is all it takes to forge bonds, build closeness and give your child a sense of belonging.
When you snuggle up on the sofa with your child and open an old photo album you are showing more to him than just a glimpse of the past. You are showing him a peek into his ancestry, his history, and giving him a sense of his special place in this world.
Sitting at a dinner table with Grandma and Grandpa and listening to Grandpa give an account of his life as a young man provides a unique treasure to the listening child, who can learn from his elder’s experience many of life’s lessons- the value of perseverance through a struggle endured or the makeup of true enduring love.
Children may find themselves curious about their relatives’ pasts when those relatives take the time to share the stories of their lives. How did Grandma and Grandpa fall in love? What hopes and dreams did they have when they were young? Listening to stories from relatives can expand a child’s horizons and help him understand things about his kinfolk and his heritage. Grandpa is no longer seen as merely the sage older guy in the family, but a living, growing, interesting fellow on a journey through life, just like the child himself.
Telling family stories also helps a child learn about the world and history in a general way. What was it like living on a farm? Did Uncle Mac really have to borrow a tie and a too-big suit for his First Holy Communion? You mean back then people didn’t usually have a selection of dress clothes? Great Aunt Marge liked to drink tea and sit on her porch visiting with her sister every single night after dinner? What do you mean when Mom was six she had to fold diapers? How do you fold diapers? That’s really how moms kept babies dry before Pampers? And so on…
Storytelling also benefits older members of the family. Sharing stories bonds the older person with the younger one. The elder can pass on his knowledge and wisdom, as well as factual tidbits of life that otherwise may be lost. The older relative generally has a very interested audience, and he and his perspective are appreciated.
“Family stories work to construct family identity,” states one study, entitled “Family Ties: Communicating Identity Through Jointly Told Family Stories”, which appeared in the professional journal Communication Monographs.
“…Story framing, perspective-taking, statements about selves-in-the-family, and identifying as a ‘storytelling family’ emerged consistently as positive predictors of family satisfaction and functioning.”
That’s good news for just about anyone wanting to delve into one’s shared ancestral past with her children.
Look at this summary of the benefits of family story telling. It:
-Helps create and maintain a child’s sense of identity
-Helps a child connect with the past and/or older family member/s
-Helps a child see himself as a valued member of the family
-Helps a child see himself as the unique person he is
-Gives the child an exclusive reference as to how he fits it- gives him a sense of his place in the world.
-When uplifting stories told, gives a child a sense of pride
-Helps a child learn valuable life lessons
-Increases a child’s knowledge of history, both personal and general
-Helps family members make sense of and cope with difficulty
-Helps an older family member feel valued and appreciated
-Helps an older family member feel satisfaction for his life experiences and a sense of purpose in his own life
How to Implement Family Storytelling
So, how should you start to implement family storytelling in your family?
Simply invite family members over for a meal and evening and start asking!
Generally, simply asking a relative to share some story from his past will get him talking, but sometimes we all need a prod. Use these questions, with yourself and your older relatives, to launch into a discussion with your children.
What was going on in the world when you were a teenager? What were the popular clothing styles? Songs? Did you live near other family members? What were YOUR grandparents like?
What did your bedroom look like as a child? Did you have any hobbies?
Who was your best friend?
What was it like on Sunday morning when you went to Mass? Did you all go together? Was it a big church? Small? What do you remember about that experience?
(If you are a convert to the Faith) What made you interested in becoming Catholic? What is the story of your conversion?
Is there a time you were afraid and overcame a fear? What was it?
What’s the scariest thing that happened to you?
Did you ever make something as a child? What was it?
How did you celebrate Easter?
Did you pray together as a family?
How old were you and where were you when you met your husband/wife?
My Own Experience
When my children were very little I often called my mother to share with her some cute thing they did. Her advice seemed silly at the time but now I know is invaluable:
Write it down! She said. And I did. I’m so glad I did because memories do fade and I now have a large box filled with notes, scribbles on napkins and torn off pieces of paper, reminding me of what life was like with five children under seven, and the cute and glorious things they did and said. I can now share those things with them and eventually with their children.
And that’s the other side of the family storytelling. You not only tell about your or the older family member’s experience, but you also share the younger one’s experiences with him and the older members to firmly cement the bond. (Keeping personal, private or potentially embarrassing events quiet, of course, out of respect. This goes both ways.)
Not only is it important to share with your children what life was like in the extended family before them, but they also need to know what life was like when they were alive, but before they could remember. Sharing with them the cute things THEY did and said to you brings you closer and confirms how special they are to you.
My father-in-law was a bombardier in World War II. He hadn’t even finished high school when he enlisted in the army air corps to serve and help protect his country. One story he loved to tell… (By the way, repetition is good. It never hurts to hear a good story over and over. After all, don’t you enjoy classic fairy tales recounted more than just once?) Anyway, one story he loved to tell was about when his plane was shot down and he had to bail out of the aircraft, which was on fire. He parachuted to a little town in Belgium, (luckily for him it was friendly territory), and he was greeted by schoolchildren. He gave to the children all the chocolate that was provided in his flight suit. Soon, curious women came to see the man who fell from the sky. They were enamored with his parachute- made of silk, and which was, coincidentally, the same material they used for stockings. He gave them that and was a little bit of a hero, and a legend.
When my children heard that story for the first time, they no longer saw their grandfather as simply the golf professional and loving patriarch that they knew he was, but also as a hero and a young man of courage, and kindness.
My own father came from very humble beginnings. His mother had only a sixth grade education; his father an eighth. The pinnacle of his father’s success was working his way up to manager of a local A & P grocery store.
When my dad was young he used to hitch hike to the country club outside of town, to caddy, in order to earn some money for the family. He was under twelve. He carried heavy bags. He removed greens pins for putting. He washed clubs and cleaned shoes. On Saturdays after working 18 holes (about four hours on a nice day), he might turn around and do it again, all in the name of bringing home money for the family. Now, hitchhiking is generally not recommended any more and I would never let my children do it but it was a different time and I think it’s great for children to hear this story, even with mama’s protestations that Great-Grandma shouldn’t have let Grandpa hitchhike! That rebel, Great-Grandma!
After hearing the stories of Grandpa working double shifts and even almost being kidnapped (really!) our children have a new found appreciation for the person he is today. That’s why he values hard work and hates lazy attitudes, they surmise. That’s why he made his kids work outside jobs the minute there was one available. His experiences contributed to his personality, and his mental toughness…
We all have stories like these in our families. Find out what they are in yours and share them today with your children. In doing so, you will be passing along a treasure of inestimable value. You will be giving the gift of generations—stories of life and love and learning.
Theresa’s second book, Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families will be available in April. If you would like information when it is available for pre-order, contact her at TheresaThomasEverydayCatholic@gmail.com with a subject line of “Book Preorder Information.”
Every so often I have these moments where I feel like I live in two different time periods; the period of a young mother because I have a baby and the time of an older mother because I am a mother to older children. Now granted they are only teens, but compared to an almost one year old, yes, I mother older children.
I’m not sure any of this is making any sense…I know the grace it took to get here and now. I know the grace needed to continue. I am acutely aware at times that in four very short years I may not be waking my oldest from her top bunk. I am painfully aware that in four short years my baby will be 5…my that seems like a life time away.
I have these pangs of “Relish the time now because you could have never imagined your baby being 14″ and the perplexing questions of “Where will Chris and I eat dinner once all the children have moved out? Will we eat at the table where we all cram in now or will we eat at the bar?”
And then I laugh at myself because please God I have at least a good 18 years before that question will have to be answered.
Join us each week as we pause, look back on the week, and relish those moments–Moments of Grace.
Connie | Contemplative Homeschool
I’ve always loved beauty. I’ve often dreamed of being an interior decorator. So it’s no surprise that I used to subscribe to House Beautiful and pick up copies of Better Homes & Gardens at the grocery store. I’d flag some pages and make notes in the margins. I was planning my dream house while living in a tiny apartment.
Catholics say that beauty is one of the transcendentals that has its origin in God. God is Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and Unity. So beauty is not just a good thing. It’s necessary for a full life.
Back when I was single, I was working three jobs for a total of sixty or more hours a week. Some days I was so stressed, I needed outside help to find peace. I would drive to the Minneapolis Institute of Art a couple miles away and stare at my favorite paintings. Suddenly I’d be taking those slow, deep breaths that clear the mind and seem to clear the soul. A sense of well-being would flow over me. Then I could go home and greet my roommate with a smile before I hurried off to my evening’s work.
Eventually, I bought a poster of Gerome’s The Carpet Merchant, framed it, and hung it in my hallway. Now I didn’t need to go to the art museum to find peace. I had beauty in my own apartment.
About this same time, I was a novice in the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. Preparing to make our first promises, we studied about obedience, chastity, and—gulp—poverty. Now, I grew up in a family with ten siblings and a father without a college degree. We had never had much money. As an adult, I was always struggling to make ends meet. My friends probably thought I was stingy, because I had to watch my purse so closely. So why was poverty a big deal for me?
I had my dreams. I didn’t want to give them up. I dreamed of a beautiful, spacious house. Soft pillows piled on the bed. Perhaps carved bed posts with a canopy above. Carpets I could bury my toes in. A large, but traditional, kitchen. A library where I could sip tea, write at my secretaire, fall on my fainting couch when I wanted to relax, and have every great novel within reach. Wasn’t that how life was supposed to be?
But I wanted to be a Carmelite, so I had to embrace poverty. Could I do it? Then it dawned on me: beauty and luxury were two different things. I had been confusing them. Living with beauty didn’t mean owning a McMansion. It didn’t mean buying lots of stuff that was purely for show.
The bare cell of a cloistered Carmelite—like the one my brother was later to occupy as a monk—was beautiful in its simplicity. A sunset could not be a status symbol. And great paintings were beautiful not because they portrayed the sumptuous, but because they touched on the transcendent.
I canceled my subscription to House Beautiful. I gave away some of my surplus possessions. And I married a man who wanted to work for the Church. But before that, I made my first promises.
We bought our current house four years ago. Since we were making a long-distance move, I let my husband make an offer without my seeing it. Let’s just say his digital pictures didn’t do its neediness justice! It’s not at all what I once dreamed of.
Our books are on put-together shelves from Menard’s in the homeschool/family room. The Carpet Merchant, whose glass suffered from a stray ball, is in the storeroom. The kitchen has a 1950s counter and a vinyl floor that is peeling at the edges. But at least we have painted our bedroom, so it’s no longer fire-engine red!
I still have lots of artwork on the walls, some secular, some religious. But that is not what makes my home truly beautiful. That role belongs to my husband and sons, who every day show me more about God and His goodness. I am living Gospel poverty, and I am steeped in beauty.
LuAnne | Winterpast Family
That day started out like almost like any other. A bit too early, a bit too cold. The middle of January is like that.
Socks and books and papers strewn all over and crumbs still needing to be swept up. Just life, really.
Life as I know it. It’s usually all good, really. I don’t usually have much trouble counting up blessings at the end of the day.
But that day the emotions of three teenagers seemed perilously close to the surface and the ordinary back-and-forth bickering turned into fighting and angry words bubbled up and burst out without warning.
And I asked the “why?” again and again to those three boys who are fast working their way to manhood.
“Why fight over this trivial thing?”
They don’t answer. They don’t seem to notice me. They don’t seem to notice anything but their anger and I don’t really understand and I ask again “why must you fight”, but it seems that I might as well ask the wind why it has to blow, because I don’t get any answers.
Boys-nearly-men have their own agendas. That I know nothing of.
Agendas that include one-ups-man-ship, or whatever it is that my dad and their dad calls it. To find their place in the world of men. I guess.
I still don’t understand.
I question myself. Question my mothering.
Of course I do. Because that’s what I do. Because I raised them and shouldn’t they know BY NOW not to throw mud at each other?
I quiet. Stop asking questions because obviously I don’t have the words. I whisper prayers instead. Silently. I beg Him for the words I need to say. I don’t hear them.
I do hear the slam of a door. Two. Three.
And I question – can even this day be a good day? Can I take this – this day that God gives me – and thank Him for it?
I should. I know I should. “In all circumstances give thanks” He says and I know He means the “all” part just as much as the “thanks” part.
I just don’t know how to do it.
I sweep crumbs and swallow words because I don’t really know what words to say. I whisper prayers inside for grace and peace and the words to say, but I don’t hear the words.
I do hear the stomping of feet.
And then the opening of a door. Two. Three.
I hear what sounds an awful lot like boys talking – not yelling.
I plunge hands into warm water brimming with bubbles and start to scrub the dried egg off of the breakfast plates. Try hard not to listen to what’s coming from upstairs. Try to brace myself for more slams.
I don’t hear them.
I hear feet running down stairs. Into the living room.
I scrub on.
And when I finish with cleaning the morning’s mess, picking up socks and books and papers, I wipe tears from the eyes as I hear apologies spoken from three sets of lips that are fast approaching manhood.
And I question myself. Question my mothering.
Of course I do. Because that’s what I do. Because I raised them and I should know by now that they know by now. Because everyone makes mistakes and how amazing that we can say we’re sorry and be forgiven and know that this is how love works.
I quiet. I stop asking God for the words to say to my children. Obviously He spoke directly to them.
I start speaking thanks instead.
Last week, an ordinary mother not unlike you, in fact perhaps very much like you, went with one of her older children to Confession.
And when I say ‘one of her older children’ I actually mean ‘young adult’ because although the aforementioned person will always be his mother’s ‘little boy’, he is in his early twenties, lives many miles away and was only home on vacation, so he of course isn’t a child any more. And when I say ‘went with’ what I really mean is ‘took’ because while this offspring of hers practices the faith of his childhood, he may quite possibly not have chosen to go to the sacrament that day, had the mother not said she was going and suggested that he tag along and that then they could stop for coffee afterwards. She is unsure about whether he needed this nudge or not but she is his mother and loves him fiercely and has a long history of risking nagging for the sake of the greater good. So she nudged.
This young adult, of course, is quite capable of managing his personal spiritual life, yet this mother still worries whether she is doing enough to support and encourage. You see she made a promise when the son was a newborn infant- a promise to help him grow in faith in every way she knows how, with all her strength until the day she dies. And she is not dead.
On that day she made that promise, she also begged God to watch over and protect this child morally, physically, emotionally, all the days of his life, and told God she will do whatever it takes – forever- to cooperate for this intention and help accomplish this. When she invited this son to Confession despite the fact that she had gone less than a week before, she was delighted that he had accepted.
Now, the mother and son are standing in line for Confession together:
The wait is long and the line is slow and the mother is secretly worried that her son will want to leave because the wait is long and the line is slow and he is quick-thinking, quick-deciding and not unlike her, somewhat impatient. In fact, after awhile, the mother herself wants to leave because the wait is long and the line is slow.
But she doesn’t.
As the mother stands there waiting with her son (her own impatience growing, now she has something more to confess), she catches a glimpse of the exposed Blessed Sacrament, there on the altar, also waiting…for her. And suddenly, unexpectedly, something hits her like a roaring train on the tracks of an unsuspecting small town:
He is here.
She remembers and realizes the reality of Who is there and why He is there and the significance of Him- the Son- being there …while he – her son- is there, with her.
And she recognizes the opportunity present, and has a sudden urge of inspiration to re-dedicate this child to God and renew the plea for His protection of him.
Spontaneously, she whispers in a wave of emotion:
Here he is, Lord. I brought him to You today. Pierce his heart and soul with Your Love. Give him Your grace and courage and peace and strength. Keep him close to You and help him now and always…whatever it takes from me…whatever it takes….
This mother prays these ending words whatever it takes not because she thinks that God is a punishing God who only bestows gifts only for a trade-off of pain but she prays these words because she knows He is a loving God who allows His creatures the privilege of participation, and she knows the the beauty and restorative power of redemptive suffering that occurs when one, even if just a mother, unites her suffering to His. She does not know what her son needs but she knows whatever it is, God will provide it and she offers her life –spiritual and physical- again for him.
Because God is a loving and merciful Father, the mother who helps bring forth the physical life through birth to her children- is granted too the opportunity, indeed daily is granted the opportunity, to also bring them in part, in a very small way, to the threshold of God and eternal life, mysteriously, through her cooperation and merits. She and her life can become vessels of grace again and again.
Clearly, quietly and firmly in this mother’s heart she hears an answer to her spur-of-the-moment prayer: YES.
Yes! It is distinct and profound and quiet, very still. And she feels the warmth and presence and sweetness from the altar, the dwelling place of Him and she feels her heart will burst in the significance and renewal of this moment.
Then a door closes and the mother looks up. Her son has entered the confessional. Moments later she does too.
In the days that follow, the mother contracts the flu, just as the abovementioned young adult child is about to depart on a plane back to his place of residence and work thousands of miles away. She does not hug him goodbye nor stand and look face-to-face into his eyes before he leaves, as she normally does, for fear of exposing him to her illness and fever. Instead, she stands in the door of the room, 15 feet away, as he turns with his duffle bag and she ‘air hugs’ him. He air-hugs her back. She will probably not see him for months, but she remembers that even little sacrifices like foregone hugs can contribute to the good of those she loves when she unites these actions with Christ.
The days that follow her son’s departure are full of daily mundane challenges- and the now familiar thought of noble redemptive suffering punctuates itself in another inconvenience, when this mother discovers her email has been hacked. Hundreds of people have received messages about discounted Rolex watches from her account. And because this mother didn’t catch this hacking for several days (she has been sick and offline you know) her Twitter account has also been compromised, and shut down. But she deals with these problems, as well as mountains of laundry that have amassed in her illness, patiently and carefully, not because it is in her nature, but because there is a higher reason and an intention for which to pray, and she knows that work and suffering can be prayer. There is an acceptance because there is a purpose.
When the jury selection order appears in her mailbox, on the heels of this trying week right when she is scheduled to resume homeschool with her youngest three children, and when she calls the bailiff to ask for a deferral until summer so she can meet her state’s 180 day education requirement, and when the bailiff is cold and indifferent to her plight and is in fact rude when she finds out the mother homeschools, and denies her request, the mother does not succumb to frustration in the least. Because of an encounter earlier that week, in fact, she smiles.
This mother, this ordinary mother not unlike you, in fact perhaps very much like you, thinks about the new month of January, full of promise and opportunity and new beginnings. She thinks about the sacrament of Confession and its opportunity and new beginning as well. She thinks of Him, and him, and her. And how they are all intertwined in love and sacrifice. She thinks of how acceptance can be a gift.
And this mother ponders the turn of events in the previous week, amazed at the God who allows not just her but all mothers the opportunity to be living gifts to their families. They–we are not just gifts in physical ways such as doing the laundry and preparing meals and kissing boo boos of young children. No, they–we can be gifts in large and significant ways, united-in-redemptive suffering ways, in leading-our-children-to-Christ ways.
We can be gifts to our families in eternal ways by dedicating, praying, leading, suffering, accepting, and uniting in Christ what we do. The profound can indeed be quiet. The significant can be simple. And we need to remind one another of this, as ordinary mothers. The consequences of what we do can be everlasting.
by Elizabeth Foss
originally posted at In the Heart of My Home, November 17, 2009
Good Morning Suscipio Ladies,
You know how generous Elizabeth Foss has been in opening her archives to Suscipio. As we head into a busy and often stressful time of year, I thought her message contained in this post, Surrender: Find God, was very timely and helpful. Do not think this post is only for homeschooler, it is for each one of us as we look around instead of up. Enjoy!
As I mentioned in my Daybook this week, I’ve scrapped the idea to write about depression. Ever since I mentioned burnout last summer, I’ve been struck by the emails I’ve received from mothers who were suffering burnout and even depression. They are not the same thing, but writing about burnout often prompts readers to tell me about depression. I’ve experienced both.
What was curious about my mail this summer, though, was that much of it — most of it — was from experienced, veteran homeschool moms who were looking at a new school year and struggling to find the joy and inspiration they’d always had for this way of life. It was as if some great plague was sweeping through the homes of established home educators and putting out all the lights. Dark and foreboding, this plague threatened to extinguish a great good in our society.
I believe in spiritual warfare. I believe that the good guys and the bad guys are duking it out up there ( out there?) and that evil prowls the world for the ruin of our souls. And that evil has a vested interest in our children and their future. Where better to fight the fight than at our kitchen tables and home libraries, on our field trips and nature walks? And how better to wage war than to zap the energy and enthusiasm of the mother who is laying down her life for this grand adventure in holy, alternative education?
Indeed. The Commander of Evil had a battle plan: Put doubt and discouragement in the hearts of the experienced mothers, the mentors, the teachers. Rob them of their joy; dry up the wellspring of their gratitude.
Instinctively, we turned to prayer. How, God, did we arrive in this barren place? Show us how. Give drink to thirsty souls who, despite the discouragement of our days, do long to joyfully do your will in our homes with the children you have entrusted to us.
We saw that discouragement and burnout creeps in little by little, one sleepless night at time. We have more children now and find that big kids rob us of sleep in an altogether different but no less exhausting way as small ones. And if we are blessed to have both big and small, sleep is a stranger indeed. Sometimes, we are so tired that we don’t even recognize that it is tiredness we feel. It’s a blurred line between fatigue and despondency. We are so weary we can’t even remember why we thought that this lifestyle was a good idea in the first place.
Burnout begins to erode the rhythm of our days when our guard is down and poor habits take root. The bright, fresh resolve we had as new homeschoolers frankly gets a little tarnished around the edges. We get a little lazy. We are still working hard, but yes, if we are honest, we see sloth in the corners and crevices. It’s time to fine tune the habit training for everyone in the household, time to commit again to the principles we know to be true.
Discouragement is allowed to fill the rooms of our heart when emptiness leaves space for it. A curious thing seems to happen in the middle years of home education. Loneliness. Co-ops become much trickier to navigate because they don’t fill the needs of varied ages. Mom’s Night Out is given over to carpooling teenagers. Time alone with our husbands becomes such a precious commodity that we guard it with our lives and rarely sacrifice it for time for female fellowship. Inevitable differences in philosophies of education further separate us from each other. And so very many of our comrades choose school in the middle years. The ranks dwindle. We are increasingly alone.
What to do?
That’s all. Find God. In the beginning, we can be carried through the challenges of this lifestyle on the shoulders of great ideas and good friends. But that’s not enough for the long haul.
Because God knows that this is our vocation and that vocation is all about becoming more like Him. He must increase. I must decrease. I must let go of my notions of magazine-cover homeschooling success. I must let go of my dreams of children growing up in a community of completely like-minded families, never to be challenged by the world or left alone by a bosom buddy. I must let go of my idea of what this is all supposed to look like. Less of me. More of Him. Until it’s all Him. We’re climbing Calvary here and it’s getting steep all of a sudden.
My prayer must be the listening kind. Not the wish list kind. What is it, God? What are you telling me?
+Let go of the failures. You see that child who did something you never thought a child of yours would do? You see that test score that is so not what you imagined? You see that house that doesn’t look at all like the one you envisioned? You see failure? I see grace. My grace is sufficient. My plan is perfect. I will take those apparent failures and in the broken emptiness, I will pour abundant grace. I will grow there. Not you.
+Don’t listen to the sideline conversation about the excellent education at the topnotch private schools, the promises of intellectual rigor and growth in virtue. Don’t hear the women talking about all the good they are doing in the world outside their homes. Don’t even incline your ear towards the glowing reports of homeschooling success. Quit comparing. Take joy-genuine joy–in knowing that others are doing God’s good work. But don’t compete. And don’t compare. I want to see you improve and you will only improve if you fix your focus on me, not them.
+Be prepared to set aside your plans. Oh, dear, I know you love those plans! They give you great pleasure, crafting them and sharing them and envisioning how they will come to life and bless your children. But be prepared– because life will happen. And your plans will be cast aside. I will force you to bend until you break. And into your brokenness, I will pour my grace. First though, you will have to be emptied and laid bare, without the crutch of your own design. My plans are bigger, better. My plans are for salvation.
+Finally, know that you will be be scorned. When you receive only reproaches and blame, when the world looks aghast at the work of your hands, if you can know that you have done my will, you will know peace. And you will know joy. Real joy. The kind that sustains you and lifts you and lights the darkness and warms the cold, tired emptiness. Do my will. Live for me. Do you trust me? Can you surrender?