What are we supposed to be doing?

Today’s homily was inspiring. For the past couple of years, we’ve been discussing extra-curricular activities. Should we have our kids in them? Which ones? How many? Should we let it take time away from our family time? Isn’t it kind of insular, isolating and anti-social not to be going out and participating? And isn’t it a great gift to be able to do certain things? Like play piano, survive in the woods without complaining, be physically fit, competitive and victorious… All these are good things. Can we live without them? What happens if we do? We might become like that family down the street whose kids are all alike, quiet, friendless, incompetent, and still living at home at age 25. We want our kids to have accomplishments for their college applications too. What if they get to college anyway and can’t play baseball with the other boys? What if they could have played the piano and roused a group of companions to joyous memories, but can’t because we never gave them lessons? What if the state of music in the church continues in a state of horrible decrepit decline because we didn’t train our children to be musicians? What if they miss out on friendships because they weren’t in scouts or youth group or team sports? Ah, all these things are good things. So we must do as much as we can! SO one year, when our oldest was in 4th grade, we had him in baseball 3 times a week, choir at church once a week, scouts once a week and occasional weekends, piano lessons once a week, and CCD once a week. All of these were good things. He never had a break. He had homework every afternoon too. His piano teacher said he was “the most talented, most intelligent, and most interested student” he had ever had. SO that was wonderful, we had to continue that. It was the most beneficial thing we were doing. Baseball was getting him outside and doing something together with other boys and being challenged physically, choir was getting him involved at church. What could be more important than that? And scouts was making him a strong, competent male, and not a pansy, not afraid of the great outdoors. CCD got dropped. After all, faith is just a natural part of our lives anyway, and it’s not good to stress kids out with too much activity.

Then Benjamin was put in Gifted English at school, and then gifted Math. Awesome. So obviously he was doing great. Everyone else had to wait around a lot and we were never home and had reduced the number of meals we ate together as a family. But these are the kind of sacrifices one must make for one’s children.

Benjamin complained a lot and always wanted to stay at home.  He was exhausted after school, didn’t want  to practice piano, or play baseball, or go to scouts, or choir. He wanted to stay home. It was stressful for all of us really. We all wanted to stay home. We missed quiet evenings at home with just the family. We missed dinners together around the table. We couldn’t figure ut what to do, but take something out of our schedule. It was too much. Plus no one else got to do anything. Well, Peter played tennis once a week, and Gabriel went along to scouts. But the week was full. There wasn’t any time left for anything else. We were just trying to survive the schedule we’d gotten ourselves into.

So we talked about what had to go. Then we talked abut what we could allow the other kids to to do. By this age, Benjamin had gotten to do all these activities, plus he’d tried soccer and taekwondo, he’d gone to  kindermusik class, and he’d been in numerous playgroups. He’d never made any lasting friends in any of it though. We were still praying for that. All Gabriel had ever gotten to try was baseball once, and soccer once, and piano once, and he liked to fish. And all Audrey had gotten to do was try gymnastics once.

So we needed to clear Benjamin’s schedule to make room for everyone else to put things on the schedule. It just wasn’t fair to everyone else to never get to do anything. We wondered what amazing talents we might uncover. What interests lay hidden in each of these our unfurling gifts of children?

So the next year, we did less. Peter got to play tennis. Audrey took a few horseback riding lessons, and a girl across the street taught her tumbling lessons once a week, Gabriel went back to cub scouts, and went fishing as much as he could. Benjamin went to guitar lessons, scouts, and that was it. He went on camping trips and a week of scout camp in the summer.

Benjamin was invited to the honors Club in school, joined 4H and got himself elected secretary of the club, won some honors in 4H, was named Student of the Year, was still in gifted, and had a lot of homework.

Pretty impressive huh?

We’d had another baby, and were now really really missing evenings of quiet at home as a family. This new plan hadn’t resulted in much improvement. A little, but we still hadn’t reached peace.

The scout leader was/is a truly wonderful, devout Catholic who went on pilgrimages to Europe from time to time and was always highly complimentary of our son. This was flattering. We wanted to drop scouts because we were exhausted and longed for family time, but we didn’t because we thought it would be good for Benjamin to go through scout camp. Then the big decision came down from the top of Scouting that made it seem like a hundred year old bastion of morality and goodness safe for boys and men would come crumbling down, and we didn’t want our son caught in the rubble. But he’d made friends, become more capable, and learned so much as a scout.

We dropped guitar, because Benjamin wasn’t practicing and Granny stopped bringing him. Easy enough. But now there was no one learning music in our home.

We started homeschooling for a million reasons, but one of them was to try to get all this extracurricular stuff out of our family time and into the afternoon during the school day. Scouts is still in the evening, and CCD is back in the evening. But everyone definitely gets more time at home and feels less rushed and panicked.

We have 3 evenings a week that are peaceful. But sometimes overflow gets stuffed into them. Social visits, errands, housework, appointments. Life.

But we do have most of our evening meals around the dining table together as a family. We are at least not a part of that sad statistic that means the family is falling apart and therefore society’s building blocks.

But life is busy. It needs careful planning structure. Even leisure time must be carefully planned and guarded. That is fine and orderly. But are we there yet? What are we supposed to be doing?

Last week, I was under so much stress, not from our schedule but from a huge drift of ordinary little crises that all happened in one week, that I had a migraine headache for 2 days as I went one foot in front of the other through all the duties I had set up for myself. I smiled as I conversed with so many lovely people at CCD, at Speech and Debate, with a friend at her home over coffee, meeting new friends at another home during a special class for the middle schoolers, talking to eye doctors and optometrists, the water company and the bank, the garbage company…. It took me a while to realize that it was a migraine because I am not accustomed to them. Stress. Every last nerve in my body felt like it had been run over a cheese grater. I was frayed, shredded, completely shot, and had to keep going. I took medicine and slept Friday night.

What is it that God asks of us? I am Catholic. I believe in the fullness of God’s teachings. Who am I to disbelieve the truth which was in existence before I was even a thought? I have 6 children as proof.  I homeschool them to protect the passing on of that truth. I believe in something bigger than me and my understanding and abilities. And I bow down and say, Do with my life as You Will. I am your humble servant. Not my will but thine be done. Not by my own understanding, direct my paths. I trust in you King of Kings.

      5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.

6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and turn away from evil.

8 It will be healing to your body
And refreshment to your bones.

Proverbs 3: 5-8

What have I been doing? What are my priorities, my goals? Heaven of course. Becoming a Saint. For my children to become Saints, for my husband to become a Saint.

What do I think about? What do I worry about? Money. A clean house. Presentable (read:nice) clothes, a hospitable (read:beautiful) home. Money. Time. What my kids minds are filling up with. Books, music, friends, TV, and video games. Whether my kids know history , religion, Latin, logic, philosophy and where they’re placed in math. Money. Whether I got all the bills plugged in right. Our future and dreams of living on land. Being accomplished in homemaking, sewing, cooking, decorating, oil painting. Many things. I am busy with many things.

41But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42

But what does God ask of us? To love him, know him, serve him. And to love our neighbor as ourselves. He asks us to come to him first. To seek him first. To seek to please Him, and take His burden on ourselves. Because if we do, all these things will be added unto us, and because his yoke is easy and his burden light.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly[a] with your God.  Micah 6:8

37Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’c 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’d 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  Matthew 22:29-32

But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Matthew 16:23

How important are all these worries? How important are these good things we think our kids must have?

Our family history can become a conglomeration of vignettes of rushing around and activities which isolate us from that which makes us what and who we are: the family out of which God formed us, and in which God nurtures our souls, teaches us love and a sense of belonging and gives us rest.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29

31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Matthew 6: 31-34

If we place God first, if we come to Him and listen and turn our eyes, our ears and our hearts toward Him, then everything else will fall into place. As Mother Theresa said: “Pray First, and you’ll have time for everything else.”

You can’t serve 2 masters. You can’t serve the world and God. You can’t seek to be pleasing to your friends and neighbors and even family members and God at the same time. It doesn’t work. You can’t do both because they are different lives. You don’t want to love the one and hate the other.  You have to choose. And then if you choose to serve God, you have to fight a lot of pulling and pushing and voices and urgings to question yourself and to look at how good these other things are. It’s a battle we’re in.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Luke 16:13

 

This is it. The beginning of something new. I am tasked with the teaching of music to 27 children ranging in age from 6-10. Not such a huge deal, but a huge deal! I want to pour into them a love a music and beauty and watch the response blossom forth and bear fruit. Like planting seeds. How to make fertile the soil? How to prevent and pull out weeds? How to water? How to step back, let go, and watch. The beauty of music and voices rings in my mind in my ears. The love of the transpiring sublime we aspire to that inspires us. Breathing, in and out. Spiro. To breathe. So basic, so necessary for life. Breath of God. I cannot make it. I cannot force it. It is a butterfly I must let fly and not pin to a card. I must let the joy fly free and not control it. How hard to not control. How hard to let go to set free. And yet it is what we all want and long for. To be set free. And the Truth will set you free. And beauty is truth and truth beauty. Freedom in beauty. Freedom in truth. How did I get the gift to be able to have the ears of these children to try to transfer to them what I know and love in my way. Not a trained way, not the proper way maybe even, but a way which is filled with love, a timid, and scared-to-breathe kind of reverent awe for a subject whose mysteries I have yet to unlock and almost wouldn’t dare. Can I touch the sacred thing? I am not right. I am too base, too low, I will surely break it, crush the fragile life within it. You cannot grab hold of joy and make it happen in someone else. You cannot make someone’s mind be inspired. You can only feed them the nectar of the Gods and watch them to see what it produces and how they become transformed. Let them walk in the Garden, Make their own discoveries and reflect the diamond facet of God they were created to shine through. Let God teach us about Himself through them.

And then there’s Benjamin. A lack of harmony is there. We must back away and not crush the butterfly. We must try to not let him crush it in himself. The Spirit of the Living God must be allowed to do His work in the young soul of the boy unimpeded by our clumsy shadowy vision, our clouded way of seeing. We must step back and watch, and water and encourage.

Dignity in adulthood. We too must grow up. We must transform ourselves outwardly to reflect our gratitude to our Creator and our gratitude to our fellow man for even stooping to share the same airspace with us. So great should our reverence and awe be for one another. So great, so great. And we communicate it to each other thus. To treat one another as little kings and queens, with graciousness and civility of a higher level. Our reverence and gratefulness to our Creator through his createds.

And so, I dress better, and I act reverently toward my fellow man, and I reverence the innocent, and I open up beauty for others to see and hear, and I elevate them, lifting them, transferring them from this plain to the next one. Just a tour guide, just an elevator operator, a bus driver, a fellow sight seer. A fellow pilgrim through the realms of majesty, the domes of splendor. Come children, let us explore!

Catholics live every day in a riot of miracles

In discussing trying to communicate across the Tiber with our Protestant friends, and explaining just what it is they can’t understand, my brother rounded up his statements with this paragraph:

As Catholics, our fears are different: we fear straying from the teachings of the Magisterium. We live, in fact, in a raucous luxury, where scriptural interpretation is not a matter of sweating fearfully through details, but skipping to the bookshelf to see what one of our thirty-odd Doctors have said about it over the past two thousand years, or looking through literally thousands of other sources — all of them completely authoritative and inspired by the Holy Spirit. We are doing nothing less than sitting at the feet of Christ himself, and listening to His very own teaching, because the Church is His continued teaching presence on Earth. Catholics live every day in a riot of miracles.

Wow. I am still amazed to be Catholic.

Like Water for the Soul

It’s been a long time. I stepped away from the world of homeschoolers and park days and getting together with other Catholic homeschooling moms 3 years ago. I have missed them ever since. It was hard, grievously hard, for me to walk away from these friendships. So why would I do such a thing? At the time, it was the peace of my home versus homeschooling. If I stepped away from homeschooling, I stepped away from my friends. I chose the peace of my home. I chose my husband and my children over close Catholic friendships. I’ve asked God for close Catholic friendships for my family and myself ever since. We’ve found none. Now we’re back to homeschooling and it’s been a lovely trickle of social coffee get togethers at my house with a few mom friends while their kids and mine play. My spirit has been greatly restored and refreshed by this contact with other moms who are my friends. But there is a danger.

The danger is in familiarity. Thomas a Kempis talks about this in “Imitation of Christ”. This is how he says it:

“We think that by getting together with others we will be a comfort to one another and find relaxation by discussing the things that burden us; but the end result of all this gossip about things we like or dislike only leaves us with a guilty conscience.”

One reason we returned to homeschooling is that we lack community with fellow Catholics. We can’t find it. We’ve found a tidal wave of secularism everywhere else we’ve looked. After walking through the desert for several years, finding very little to refresh ourselves in the way of fellow Catholics, friendship, fellowship, and a mutual love of our Lord and his Church, we have felt a great deal of joy in anticipating the lively return of these edifying relationships to our lives.

Already, I have been disappointed. I thought I had learned this lesson long ago when I was in high school. I thought I had a good grasp of it even now. If we place our hope in anyone or anything but God Himself, we will surely loose our peace and expose our soul like a boat tossed about in a storm at sea. A boat without navigation. Our relationship with God must be protected above all else. Friendship with our Lord is the main thing in life. Our trust must rest in Him. Elsewhere we will find no peace.

Here is what Thomas a Kempis says next:

“But the sad part of it is that all we say and do is for nothing; for the comfort we recieve from others hinders us from receiving the comfort that comes from God.It is better to watch and pray so that we do not waste time in idleness. If you have leave to speak and it is expedient, then speak of God and of those things which will edify.

So we must navigate the waters of friendship with this in mind: that nothing tresspasses our primary relationships. First, our relationship with God. The groundwork for each day should be laid in Him outside of whom everything crumbles. Second, our spouse. Our best friend. Our earthly refuge in this world. The gift of marriage is a great gift. God blessed this relationship in a special way and infused it with His grace. Our journey through this life alongside our spouse is a great adventure always deepening the relationship to one another and to God.

Out of that deepest of earthly relationships is born our children. “Fresh from heaven do we come from God who is our home. Heaven lies about us in our infancy…” Oh the gift! The gift! The gift! Where angels fear to tread, we have been given this greatest of responsibilities. No outside relationship should trespass the sacredness of their home. Too much familiarity can violate the castle of the parent-child bond.

Each home, each family with it’s mother and father and children, must choose how to live. What to do, where to go, how to spend it’s time. Our time is the blank paper on which we draw the picture and write the story of our lives. Itself is a gift. A blank canvas and free will. How shall we design it? Will it be filled with peace? Will it be a place of refreshing and deep love? A place where contentment runs deep? I hope so.

“No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to this Rock I’m clinging.”

Let us get together with friends with these priorities in mind, with the desire to lift one another closer to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Such friendship is like water for the soul.

Thomas then describes the best way to conduct ourselves in conversation with our fellow Catholics:

“A bad use or neglect of our spiritual progress makes us careless of what we say. However, devout conversation on spiritual matters is beneficial to the soul, especially when people who are congenial in mind and spirit are drawn together.”

It seems that to enter into conversation without being first recollected through prayer is unwise. It is why our first approach should be to God in the morning. This sets the foundation upon which each day is built. It sets the stage in which the actions are played out. Let us frame our lives in beautiful scenery and be filled with peace as we proceed.

“When peace like a river attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll,

Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Be kind to others

I have been thinking lately about how important it is to smile at others and to be kind. It can make a huge difference in a person’s day and even in their life.

I was at the store the otehr day and someone sneered at me or was slightly ugly. This small gesture of  unkindness disturbed my inner peace enough that I was feeling a little bad the rest of the day. If I had been someone in an already tumultuous state of mind, it might have led me to make a very poor decision or to do something awful to resolve it. Like what if someone was contemplating suicide or something else awful? Being slightly ugly to someone could just push them over the edge.

Likewise, I can remember several occasions when a stranger has smiled at me or complimented my children or specially made a point of saying something nice to me which has completely boosted my mood and made me feel positive about the world and my possibilities within it. I thank God for such people and ask Him to bless them. It encourages me to be kind to others as well and spread this little example of love to other people. Kindness inspires kindness.

And likewise I believe it could change someone’s life. What if someone in the store had had a terrible day and a stranger made a point of smiling at them or doing some other simple kindness. This could relieve the pain of their day just slightly enough to make them kinder and gentler with their loved ones at home. This could then cause a ripple effect within the family and one kind act could inspire another kind act and another and another.

My strategy in dealing with strangers has heretofore been to avoid eye contact and not speak to anyone, because I am afraid of criticism and of getting hurt by an ugly look from a stranger. But Jesus calls us to something greater. He tells us that love is an act of sacrifice. That it can hurt. Withdrawing from the world to protect ourselves is to choose not to love. To make ourselves vulnerable to injury by being kind to others is to love our neighbor. Even if they bite our head off. Jesus went so far as to say that “Greater love has no man then to lay down his life for a friend.”

Instead of protecting myself by withdrawing from the people I must live around in this world, I wish to try to bring a little joy and healing and love into the world by smiling and being positive.

“Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:16

The Comfort of Home

It’s true. There’s no place like home. My husband and I spent the weekend getting away from it all- the kids, the housework, and the town we’re so used to seeing everyday. We wanted new sights in our eyes, we needed refreshing as a couple and just as two tired people. We needed a vacation. Without much money to spend and not wanting to go too far away from our beautiful children, we decided to just spend some time in neighboring towns an hour away.

We had a nice time, but I was edgy about the bugs in the country half of our weekend, and we were both edgy about the filthiness and crime in the city half of our weekend. We both much preferred the country half, and agreed that only one night would have been plenty of time. By mid-day after our afternoon,evening, and night away, we missed our kids. And I found myself missing our home too. I missed the safety and the security and the association with our kids and us. I just couldn’t relax until I got back there.

Through the experience I realized how content I really am. I realized how much God has blessed us with his Providence. He provides. Our home is messy quite often, because our kids make sure of that. It was nice to have a couple of days without continuous cleaning. I needed that break, that chance to get my mind back together and be away from the everyday. That was good. But I wanted to go back. There’s no place like home. Even though it isn’t perfect, everything at home is home. We don’t have everything we want, but everything there is the way we like it. I missed cooking things my way, and I missed the baby being right next to us at night, and I missed sharing all the moments with the kids. I missed relaxing on our couch for a chat instead of being on someone else’s turf. It’s just not possible to relax in very many places except at home.

Ordinarily when I get away for a period of time like that especially staying in a hotel or some such place, I feel in absolute luxury because of the cleanliness and the professional taken care of feeling. But this time, I knew I had roughly that at home by my own hands, and I missed home. In fact my confidence was boosted in my ability to take care of our home and family because in many ways, I could see where I do a better job than the paid professionals.

And our kids. We were both so eager to get back and be with them. It’s like having part of our heart stretched very very far away, and we just couldn’t relax without knowing they were near.

We came home and after we had restocked our refrigerator, we and took our beautiful children to the park where we had a magnificent time, just playing and walking around. What a relief it was to be home, be with our kids, and know we were content right here in our own small imperfect little niche of the world where we live. I didn’t expect to be revived by coming home.

We also decided that respite for us could be accomplished in just one night away or even in just a 3 or 4 hour date. And time sent as the family which God has caused to flourish because of our love is the most refreshing and fulfilling thing ever.

We’re so grateful for eachother, for our children, and for where we live and how we are blessed to be able to live because of God providing plenty for us.  No we don’t have everything, and we can’t spend money frivolously, but that’s not even what we want. To be content with what God has given is truly to be happy. We have such richness in his love and in knowing it is He who cares for us.

Another interesting thing happened after we came home. The Monday after our weekend, a friend called me to ask if she could come over and share some news. She said their family was moving. I felt so happy for her, but surprisingly not jealous. She described the idyllic town where they were going to move and the massive financial scacrifice they were going to make to make this dream a reality. They had even sold their house the day before. She’d been keeping this a secret for 2 months. Now that it was all settled her husband felt comfortable with spreading the word to friends. This particular friend and I have had many conversations about our wish to live elsewhere. Somewhere prettier, somewhere with more of the resources and support for healthy living, somewhere with less of of a redneck reputation. And I was sincerely happy for her to be finally getting to a place more well suited to her family’s desires. But I was surprised to be able to find no envy within myself. I even told her I was jealous, but I wasn’t really. I even told her that if they found my husband a job, we’d move there too. But I didn’t feel the least bit hopeful that that would happen. I discovered by this challenge that it was no challenge at all, and I really have attained a state of contentment with our life as God has laid it out right nwo. It isn’t a good time for us to sell our house and move. Maybe in a few years, but now is not the time.

Oddly I was struggling to find this inner unrest about where we live, but I haven’t found it. that old familiar feeling is gone. What was there, was the knowledge that for us to move to a new better place would be very exciting for us, but not necessary for us to be happy. I am happy loving and serving my family with what God has given us. And where He has us. I am content to simply be in His light. And to watch my children grow in his light and my marriage to grow in His light.

The light has come into the darkness and the darkness has not understood it. It’s like one more little dark corner of my heart has been illuminated and transformed into a thing of Beauty by the love of God. He is so merciful to us and His grace is great to give us this gift.

On whether to have more children

When I think about the question of whether to have another child, I must think about the reality of the conflict I am in and where I am actually standing. I feel myself actually looking into the eyes of my possible child. His or her existence hangs in the balance while I debate over issues such as money, practicalities, my ability to sleep, morning sickness, and I realize that I am comparing the question of whether my child’s life is welcome to those temporary things. I am looking into the eyes of my child and he or she is looking back at me and waiting for the answer. And of course I can only answer a resounding “Yes! Of course you are welcome, I welcome you with open arms. All the rest is the grace of God anyway. I trust Him to give me what I need for you, and to give you what you need. We are all in his arms. To worry is to fail to trust Him fully. I welcome you, of course I welcome you! Come!”

What if I were to get into the future, into my comfortable post-children phase of life and look back and see that, well I decided not to have more children so I could have more money, or a cleaner house, or an easier life. Then how would I feel? But if I give my all now. If my house is a little messy, if my life is harder, if I never had the money or the leisure to go to Europe, then how would I feel? I think the children are the better choice. To get to the end and know youdi it all and that you have nothing you’d go back and do again, that you didn’t keep anything aside for yourself, but that you really gave everything, you laid down your life. Then you could die with peace, with fulfillment, having emptied yourself and poured out the love of christ and having had it flower into more love, more trust, more fruit. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies…