Children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb, a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children born in one's youth. Blessed are they whose quivers are full. They will never be shamed contending with foes at the gate. ~Psalm 127:3-5

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Family Prayer Time

When I was younger, on many - albeit sporadic - occasions my mom tried to wrangle the seven of us kids into the living room, along with my dad - who was inevitably tired and grouchy after a long day of work - and engage in some semblance of family time. A lot of the time, prayer was on the agenda, but often got drowned out by the heightened emotional drama that bounces around the atmosphere of a small house with nine occupants and not a lot of really good communication skills.

In many ways we were a close-knit family, and in many ways we were as broken as the rest of them. But despite all that, my mom tried her best to do what she knew God asked of her as our mother, and I love her for it. It has been this specific example of "family time" she so lovingly and desperately tried to set for us that has challenged me to attempt to do the same, only hoping to have a much better outcome.

There are some nights that have followed long, exhausting days, and the entire family morale is not exactly at its highest. It is on these nights I have to do everything I possibly can to drag myself out of my hole and make sure we spend at least a few minutes with each other in prayer, thanking God for our day- however horrible it may have been. It's a tough feat on many occasions. And, yes, sometimes I do fail. Thank the Lord that the older 2 children - ages 5 1/2 and 7 (and often, my almost-4 year old as well) - have some awareness of the need because they will most certainly make it known that we will miss family prayer if they just go off to bed. Which is a very important ingredient, that awareness, especially at times like those which teeter painfully close to the edge of failure. Family prayer time has become a ritual in our house; one that started in spurts and even with my best intentions at its core, stopped for long length of time. It began anew about a year ago. With a sense of gusto and determination, we began one of the only traditions our little family has made so far in our seven years together.

It is always a joy to come together as a family, even after the most complicated and heart-wrenching days (which are oft to happen, what with 4 small children, a business to run, homeschooling, and an anxiety-ridden husband). It is so amazing how the innocent mumblings of a fidgety 4 year old can melt the contents of even the hardest days into little more than a memory, replacing the darkness with a peaceful, gentle light. Or to hear our 7 year old thank God for the opportunity to "have a great day" and ask Him to give her a heart to be obedient.

Good stuff, eh?!

My favorite part, I have to say, is when our 2 year old starts us off. She closes her eyes (she used to put her little hands over them), leans forward to bury her face in the covers on our bed and mumbles words mostly inaudible and incomprehensible to us. Sometimes we catch the phrase "thank you for this day," which is said by each of us when we take our turn. The rest...we can only guess at. But God knows, doesn't He? And I can be pretty certain that He is listening intently, probably chuckling a little, and is taking the opportunity to settle Himself in her tiny 2-year-old heart so as to awaken in her a sense of Him- His infinite love and grace.

We usually have an entire evening ritual. I am unsure as to whether I've yet written about how HORRIBLE our evenings usually go with actually getting the kids to go to sleep. Somehow, our prayer time before-hand helps a little. They still usually end up staying awake for what seems like years after we finally tuck them in. But somehow, it's more bearable to deal with...most nights. Our ritual consists of getting their jammies on (sometimes they have baths but let's be honest here, they do not get one every night!), brushing their teeth, going around to each member of the family to say out loud whatever we have on our hearts. We then read a story..or five. Finally, it's off to bed.

I kinda like that cheesy phrase "the family that prays together, stays together." I feel like it's true in many respects, because we are forming bonds with each other using the strongest thread there is - prayer to a gracious and loving Father. Certainly He wants us to maintain that bond and will give us the tools we need to do so. So I pray that God will bless our efforts and that even through the years, we can maintain our tradition and use the time we spend in this way to grow with each other in the strength of our faith and family life. I also pray that even if life's difficulties get in the way sometimes, that our children can always look back on this time and see the intentions; see the efforts and take them as their own, attempting to make the outcome far surpass anything we ever do right now.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Strange Addiction

Something very interesting has been happening to me over the past few months. I've become addicted to something. This addiction has caused me to change my outlook on life- some in good ways and some in bad, depending on my mood and how often my cravings are satisfied. I'm sort of frightened by this addiction, especially in times when I forget to replenish my fix before it is completely gone. Because at those times I see the world as this squirming, dying mass of darkness, and despite the fact that my heart knows that it's not really that way in most senses, in those moments it cannot see otherwise.

It's a strange addiction because it's not chemical nor emotional. It defies all reasoning of any definition in which the world would normally categorize an addiction. It floats beyond that grasp of understanding; no check list of symptoms will suffice. It really cannot be properly diagnosed, though you can try. I could try.

So what is it that I am addicted to?

It's God. It's the Holy Spirit. The immortal and powerful Word which He gave to us as guidance for our lives. It's scheduling in quiet moments in which I spend time with Him, drowning myself in His radiant light, being filled up with grace and strength and purpose for His divine and perfect Will. I can't get enough of it lately. I am hooked.

I have recently tried to share this notion with several people in my life, in a more subtle way than defining it as an addiction, yet I was met with silence, much the same as I pointed out in this post. It's strange to them. They do not understand. I really don't blame them. I'm not sure I even do.

What I do know is this:

When I do not make time for prayer - and I mean real prayer, not just the "can you please let me have this, or will you do this for me" sort of prayer (which has its own place and time), but real deep silent prayer and meditation in which I open my heart to Him, empty out all the garbage floating around in my head, and bend myself to His Will - I feel peaceful. I feel a sense of joy that, regardless of whether or not I am happy with any particular circumstance or moment in my life, surpasses that fact and shines brilliantly to mask all the garbage that I just released. I feel sort of high. Really.

I then spend my day patiently attending my four small children. Lovingly and respectfully serving my husband. Motivated to do not just what's on my schedule but whatever else I can do to help our home run smoothly. I possess more strength to face the anxiety which has haunted me over the past few months years and can quietly subdue it into a corner in my mind without thinking it's going to attack me the second I turn my back. More than that, is the basic quiet gentleness with myself, and my new-found understanding that I am indeed the daughter of a King. I want to run to Him and spend more time at any spare moment of the day. To get my fill of grace and love. To get my fix.

And when I don't make time for prayer:

I find that when I haven't spent a lot of time in prayer and reading the Bible (I particularly like Psalms these days), I am crazy. Literally.

I lose my temper quickly. I do not like my children. The world seems to look like that dark mass of nothingness I mentioned in the beginning. I lose all sense of purpose and worth. Everyone is my enemy. I hate myself. And the most terrifying: Satan is laughing and giddy and smoking cigars in the corner, unloading all my garbage on top of me as he slaps himself on the back and high fives all the minions he has charged with wandering after me daily. Ugh. I can feel him sliding himself along the floor, inching closer to me and suffocating me with his thick despair. He paralyzes me.

Case in point: I did not spend a lot of time today in prayer. I hadn't yet read the daily readings that I usually do (which, by the way, are linked at the top left of this blog!). My kids were nuts doing what kids do, and I couldn't take it. I was really irritated. I snapped at them. I wanted them to get the heck away from me so I could do what I wanted to do (write my blog post). And then I realized I hadn't been talking to God today much. I went to my daily Mass readings linked here and read the readings and the gospel. I said a silent prayer for peace and grace. I felt much better. I was then able to patiently deal with two of my kids who had apparently sneaked the rest of my dark chocolate bar at some point today. Normally, this would enrage me, especially if I hadn't had my "fix" of God. You just don't mess with my chocolate! Nor do you do something you know is disobedient and disrespectful. But there I was, calmly doling out appropriate punishment for the partners in crime. When whining and crying and backtalk ensued, I was still able to lovingly and quietly tell them I was standing my ground on the punishment and that was that.

But you know, sometimes, I am unsure whether I like how this is. Honestly. Today I was thinking that if I didn't have such a need to begin my day in prayer and go to it throughout the day, I wouldn't have the downs that I do. (Many happened this morning) It makes me sort of angry. Because before it was not like this. Before when I was mostly unaware of this need and could go along as I pleased (something which I have found can be described as spiritual darkness), I found that even the bad times weren't as bad. Ignorance is bliss. Right?

Maybe not.

If I think about it, perhaps that is true for the most part. Perhaps the "bad" times didn't seem all that bad. But then again, there was a different direction for my life, one I'm not sure if God was heading up or not. But now.... now that I know my true north and am trying to follow it, the stakes are higher, aren't they? More is required of me so when I fail, I am punished more. Now that I know how I am to be, act, live, my Heavenly Father expects much more from me. It's kind of the same with older children vs. younger children. I expect my 7 year old to behave more responsibly than my 2 year old. If she fails, her punishment would be more severe than that of my 2 year old if she failed in the same way. My 7 year old knows better. My 2 year old does not. Luke 12:48 is a perfect verse to pull out for this: "Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more."

So, in essence, since I have been entrusted with more, He expects more from me than He did before. Once I came to that understanding, I was on a new level of expectations. And a new level of consequences. My "addiction" to spending time with Him is really just a new understanding of my calling as His beloved daughter. And the consequences that ensue if I fail are actually there to remind me that I need Him. Daily.

Addiction or not, it's what I need and though it might sound strange to some, what matters most is that you can't go wrong when you're addicted to God.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When Talking Is Too Much

I talk a lot. Always have. In grade school, I was constantly shushed by my teachers; my report cards would come home and below the chart depicting my [good] grades would be a note penned from my teacher, "Rebecca is a bright student. Her grades are wonderful. She just talks too much in class." I have to admit that as an adult, I am quite the talker. I talk out of turn. I talk a long time. I talk a lot. I realize this has its faults and yet, I am still having a hard time with just shutting up.

Especially when it comes to God's truth.

So I have found that depending on who I am talking to, this can be a bad thing. I love sharing exciting tidbits of information about God's truth in regards to my own life; like how it affected me in my past, how it turned my life around, how it brought me deeper into my Catholic faith, or even now how His word inspires and uplifts me when I'm having a bad day. And sometimes - a lot of the time - I am met with A) no response at all or B) defensiveness. I'm not sure what the silence is about. I still haven't figured that one out. Did I actually render someone speechless? Was it God's holy word that just brought so much peace to their heart, it made them be quiet..indefinitely? Or something else? Of course, my sensitive mind could think of a million negative reasons but I try not to go there. That's a bad place- one I like to avoid as much as possible.

Then there is the defensiveness. I am not sure I get that. I am only left to assume that it's really a matter of the heart for the other person. Maybe they don't feel the same way I do. Maybe they aren't following God's truth. Maybe my intense conviction that X is the right way for me to live/think (because it's God's truth) makes other people feel convicted by me because they don't live/think that way. Maybe they just feel convicted in general and want to blame me, a la "kill the messenger" style. Maybe they're intimidated by my ability - however faltering it is at times - to follow God's truth and be sustained by it.

I was once told that my talking about these things lets people know where they stand "with me," but I'm not sure I understand exactly what that means. If I'm talking about myself or if I'm sharing God's truth with someone else, how does that make others know where they stand with me? Are they assuming that because I live this certain way or because I am proclaiming God's truth (because that's what He calls Christians to do), that they are any less of a person in my eyes? Or that I don't respect them? Or that I don't love them? God, I hope not! I try to love and respect everyone in my life regardless of what they do or don't believe or how they live their life. Not only that, but I can humbly say that it really doesn't matter what I think. What matters is what God thinks. People should be more worried about that.

In any case, I have a Jewish friend, a Buddhist friend, and several atheist friends. I have Christian friends who believe that pre-marital sex is okay. I have friends - Christian and non-Christian alike - who believe abortion is okay. Or artificial birth control. I am acquainted with several homosexuals. I am Catholic yet most of my friends are not. I have friends and family who do not see eye-to-eye with me on so many different important issues. And I love and pray for them all, and for our relationships. We can all have many respectful conversations about important matters without worrying about whether or not the other person is judging them. It's not about judgment at all. At least not on my end.

Granted, I'm not perfect and loving even my husband is often very hard, let alone someone who challenges every single aspect of my life. But the point is that I kind of have a hard time being quiet...not necessarily about life, but about LIFE, and it has seemed to bite me in the butt more than it has blessed me. My sister was telling me how she, too, has a hard time being quiet but that her wise husband said to her one evening that sometimes it's just better not to say anything at all. BOY IS THAT HARD! One of my friends and I had a discussion about this very thing because we know that we are definitely called as Christians to learn, pray about and share God's word and His truth with others, especially non-Christians. It is our charge to bring others to Him. And yet, so many efforts are misconstrued, taken the wrong way, turned around, taken as judgment, spit on, rejected, etc, etc. So then we worry; are we at all responsible for this person come judgment day because they refused to acknowledge these truths in their life? Could we have done more? Was there something else that could have been said? What about accountability?

What I find very interesting is the word "judgment." That word is thrown around these days like no body's business. And that's the point. People say it is no body's business what they do and others should just leave them alone. To some extent, this is true. But if one person does wrong, they usually aren't just affecting themselves, they are affecting so many other people with their actions. Not only that but often, if someone says "this is the right way because God says so" to another, that doesn't mean they are judging that person; they are merely sharing what God's truth is. Of course, it has to be relayed in a loving manner. But even that is misconstrued by super defensive people. I could call my friend up and excitedly tell her I just found this incredibly uplifting verse in Proverbs and how it relates to my wanting to be a better wife, and because of her own guilty feelings and defensiveness, she might automatically assume I am trying to tell her that she isn't a good wife and she should be like me and read Proverbs more, and then change. Um...what?? Similar scenarios have actually happened to me and I really have a hard time with that.

I think what makes it incredibly personal for me is that often, a person hasn't taken the time to really get to know me, to know my heart, and they automatically assume (because of their own issues or experiences with others) that my motive is negative, judgmental, manipulative, or whathaveyou. The truth is, while I'm not perfect and I do falter and fail and give in to the weakness of my flesh, I do strive toward a holy lifestyle, to be a clean and open vessel for God to dwell in and use to do His work. My soul thirsts for Him. So for someone to just automatically assume the worst of me and my intentions without making the effort to get to know me - and I mean really know me, not just assume they do - it still hurts. Even though I try to remember that it's really their issue, not mine.

It is often better to just not say anything at all. But how do you choose? When do you decide you should just shut your mouth and not say a word, without it affecting your call to share God's truth? My friend Colleen told me today that often, actions are better than words. So I am trying to use that fact as motivation to pray more, talk less, and let the Holy Spirit guide me when I'm dealing with these situations or trying to decide if I should share tidbits of my own life out of excitement or example of how it affects me. Oh it is a fine line, isn't it? And yet, I know deep in my heart that while I am called to bring others to Christ, this does not always mean with my words and hopefully one of these days I really can get to that point of letting go of my need to talk about it, and just let my actions speak instead. I think that would be the best way to love others and bring them to Christ. Not in tongue, but in action.

"...let us love not in word or speech, but in deed and truth." 1 John 3:18

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Children and Mass

Recently, I asked my sister what she thought of my not worrying about my oldest daughter going to Mass. My daughter is 7 and is in the First Communion program at our church. Joe and I had the idea that during the Sunday School year, we'd take advantage of only having one child with us while we attended Mass. The first week, we got them to Sunday School and then we all attended Mass at our regular time of 11 o'clock, but not until after almost an hour of craziness in between the end of school and the start of Mass, and a very horrific experience during Mass. The second week, we put them in school and went to Mass with just our youngest. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this was probably not a good idea. My wise sister made the point that it's very important for my daughter to be going to Mass, especially at this critical time in her religious education. She should be able to experience the Mass first-hand (not just read about it), watch what is happening on the altar and really work toward understanding that Christ is indeed present in the holy Eucharist.

But before I really could admit that this was very important for her, specifically at this time, I had one major thought in my head. She doesn't even pay attention. As I wrestled with this thought pitted against the importance of her attendance, I really had a hard time. Which is why I asked my sister what she thought. And I have to admit, I already knew the answer; I think that's why I asked. I wanted a little extra motivation to beat that idea out of my head and give in to what I already knew was right. If I had someone other than God (my daughter's godmother no less) to be accountable to, it would make it a lot easier for me to do what was right. Funny how that works out, isn't it?

I also discussed it a little with my mom. She told me that she remembers that when she received her First Communion she was pretty indifferent to it. She didn't like going to Mass and she didn't really care all that much about Communion. She said it was the age and that the older she got, the more she understood and the happier she was to go. I think she's right. Most kids, especially those who are more prone to having a short attention span *cough* Angelina *cough* probably don't really care all that much about paying attention and really focusing on the importance of Communion and what it means to actually be receiving Christ's body and blood during Mass. This age is sort of a turning point for them; they are just on the cusp of delving into their Catholic Faith and really being able to grasp some of the most intimate and sacred details of such a faith. It's often difficult territory for them because they are also still only children and have a lot of tendencies which inhibit such a process.

I remember bursting into tears while I reamed out my children one day after Mass for their being so disrespectful during the service, particularly their (loudly) begging to go home. I sobbed through my tears, "Mass is a gift. Don't you understand that? Christ is not just present there because we all go there to worship. He's there in the Eucharist, in a very profound and significant way much more important than Him being here in this car or in our home... and it is a gift and blessing to be able to receive Him in that way; to receive the grace He bestows on us through our reception of Communion. You should want to go to Mass, not beg to go home because you're bored." My kids sat wide-eyed and staring as they took in my words and probably secretly wondered if their mommy had lost her marbles. But the truth is, they didn't get it. And I realize now that regardless of the first few sacraments they receive, they probably won't truly get it for a long time.

In general, we expect a certain level of reverence and quiet attitudes from our children while we are at Mass. If for no other reason than that it is respectful of other people's right to have such an atmosphere. But fidgety children make it often difficult to maintain this specific air, and those of them who are at the age of receiving one of their first sacraments are really no exception. Up until a few months ago we had been attending Mass as a family, sitting in the cry room. Our former head-priest, Father Waldron, used to affectionately refer to this room as Purgatory. For anyone who has ever had to subject themselves to such a room knows exactly why. It took great courage for us to remove ourselves from that room and decide to chance it in the main church in the pews with all the older folks who had teenagers or no young kids at all. The older people sort of scared us because we've heard stories of others who have been belittled by Granny sitting behind them clucking her tongue or making comments because she has forgotten what it was like to take young ones to Mass.

We have since learned, though, that for the most part people are accommodating. Or at least tolerant. Our kids aren't really very noisy except for the occasional bout of crankiness from the 2 and 4 year olds (like today). But they are "busy," and move around quite a bit. And they don't pay attention very well, which really is to be expected for their ages. This morning, Sunday school was canceled so we all went to Mass together at 11 o'clock. My 2 year old was pretty cranky over an issue with one of her siblings and she threw a rubber bracelet at the face of the 40-something lady sitting in the pew behind us. This lady was very gracious and retrieved the bracelet off the floor for my husband who apologized profusely as I quietly scolded our daughter. Should she know better? Probably. But 2 year olds have a little bit of a lack of self-control still and I was hard-pressed to remember this as my cheeks flushed red and I thought to myself "this is why I wanted to just go by myself."

Regardless of this morning's antics, and because of my determination to do what is right for Angelina, our plans for the Sunday School year are for me to go to Mass with her at 7:30 and have hubby take the kids to Sunday School and then attend the 9:00 Mass by himself. The times when Sunday School is canceled or not in session (summer), we'll go as a family and try to maintain a quiet reverent atmosphere, without stressing too terribly if we can't. The most important thing is to make sure our daughter is getting as much first-hand experience as she can to really be able to understand the things she is learning in her class- the things I so naively expected her and her younger siblings to just get as I tried to explain it through my tears all those weeks ago. As the others get older, they will go to Mass during the school year too, and we will start going as a family all the time again... eventually. I would love to be able to take them to Mass during the week as well.

I will say that today something was slightly different with Angelina as we attended Mass. She was actually paying attention. For the most part. She wanted to see what the priest was doing when he was preparing the gifts and she asked me what her hands are to be doing when we make the triple sign of the cross before the Gospel reading. She wanted to learn. She was trying to participate. It made me feel very hopeful, and I suspect that our early morning attendance at Mass together will be a wonderful learning experience....for both of us.