Friday, September 12, 2014

5 Tips for Walking with God in the Little Years

Hi sweet readers! I published this piece on this past Wednesday, and just realized that I ought to share it on Humble Handmaid as well. Let me know what you think! And if you have any tips to add to mine--please share with us in a comment. The Lord knows I for one can use all the help I can get...:) God bless you! -Erin

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After the evening I've had, I can't believe that I am actually writing a post on “thriving in the Little Years.” I am the mother of a four-year-old, a three-year-old, and a 16-month-old, and today was more about surviving than thriving. We finally got the kids in bed a few minutes ago. The past four hours of my life involved LOTS of fussing (from the kids) and yelling (regrettably, at the kids) and at least one almost-fight (in front of the kids).

Tonight reminded me that some days (or weeks or months) are a little more about survival than others. Anybody with the goal of thriving in every moment of every day as a mother of little ones is setting herself up for disillusionment. Take it from me. Because we are all sinners, it's just not a totally sound spiritual or practical goal in this beautiful, but often-exhausting season of the Little Years.

What is a sound goal for a Little Years mother? I’m no expert, but my thought now is that the goal is, very simply, to walk our journey with God: with humility, with all our ways acknowledging Him, and with the help of the sacraments and a deep personal prayer life.

Even with my helpfully amended goals in motherhood, some days you’re still going to find me in Survival Mode—not that I think that’s always a bad thing. Our vocations are meant to make us lean heavily on the Lord. And in my most honest moments in prayer, I thank Him from the bottom of my heart for bringing me closer to Him through the challenges of marriage and motherhood he has permitted for me so far.

One of my favorite books for mothers living in the Little Years is Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic. At the time she wrote the book, Rachel was mother to five children under five years old.

Rachel writes that, "the opportunities for growth abound [in motherhood]--but you have to be willing. You have to open your heart to the tumble. As you deal with your children, deal with yourself always and first. This is what it looks like, and feels like, to walk as a mother with God."

Walking with God is what is keeping me afloat. It is how I’ve survived, and have sometimes thrived. From one mother of little ones to another, here are a few things that have helped me walk with God in these Little Years.

- 1 -
The Treasure of Titus 2 Friendships

Titus 2:4-5 instructs "older women" to teach younger women how to "love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, [and] to be kind..." Unfortunately, our culture just doesn't naturally draw women together for the kind of "Titus 2” female friendships that were such an important part of older cultures. How wonderful and helpful those relationships can be, though!

Younger mothers need to pray for and seek out these kinds of big sister-type friendships with older moms--don't be shy! (As a lifelong introvert myself, I get to say that.) Also, one thing that I have learned in my five years as a mother is that you become a Titus 2 woman much more quickly than you might think. Make sure that you keep your eyes and your heart open for “younger” or “older” mothers around you. We all need encouragement. We all need holy women to admire. We all need friends.

I looked up to several amazing mom friends of mine when I started having children, and their beautiful, holy mothering made an enormous impact on me. Those friendships, which began with them being a sort of "big sister" to me, have evolved into deep, mutual friendships that I treasure. Whether I get to sneak away for coffee and good conversation with her, or I simply notice something like the respect and gentle affection a friend has for her husband, a Titus 2 friend is always a teacher to me.

If you don't have any Titus 2 mom friends, look around again. Maybe you have an amazing sister-in-law, or your own mother, or some holy women in your church’s MOPS group. Don't be afraid to pursue friendships, ask questions, and even ask for prayer. Your humility and courage can actually lift up those women by making them realize that they aren't doing quite as badly as they think they are. Sometimes Titus 2 moms need a little encouragement too. :)

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If you feel like you've lost yourself…that can be a good thing.

If you are feeling lost in these Little Years-it doesn't necessarily mean that you're doing it all wrong. First off, mothering one, two or several little ones is an objectively, incredibly hard job, maybe especially in this day and age (fellow blogger Jennifer Fulwiler has an excellent piece on this topic). 

Secondly, we hear over and over that in every vocation, we are meant to find ourselves by first losing ourselves. St. Pope John Paul II wrote profoundly that "man...cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself" (Gaudium et Spes 24). In the end, our vocation is not about us. Just because we mommas have walked down the aisle and subsequently given a big, brave, labor-ious Yes! to motherhood, doesn't mean everything is going to magically make sense in our lives for ever after. 

So, I've come to understand that it is a natural thing to wrestle with a loss of self in these early years, especially in the vocation of marriage, "where two become one" (and sometimes many). Part of what I think is so hard for moms in the midst of young marriage and parenthood in the Little Years is that we are forced to give so much of ourselves, very quickly and very completely. It's difficult to take a step back for enough time to wrap our heads and hearts around how to transform all that giving into a "sincere gift of self." Maybe, I think, that part is a lifelong learning process.

Even just a few years into this vocation, my identity is so much more rooted in God than it ever was before. It has to be. I can no longer secretly define myself by my job, for example, or my major, or my bright future with my fiance, or my ministry work. 

I am a daughter of the King, and I work in the mission field he has planted me in. My heart's desire is to love, to know intimately, and to serve God here in line with his will for my life. I work toward my heart's desire by doing the work of my particular vocation: striving for a good and holy marriage, disciplining my children wisely and patiently, cooking dinner and cleaning bathrooms and running to Walgreens for more Infant Tylenol at 2am. 

God introduced me a few years ago to the writings of St. Josemaria Escriva, who spoke and wrote often about finding holiness in the ordinary work of your everyday life. St. Josemaria explains that "Heaven and earth seem to merge, my children, on the horizon. But where they really meet is in your hearts, when you sanctify your everyday lives." Every young mother wading through marriage and early parenthood needs to hear that holiness is possible--yes, even for her!--when she sanctifies the ordinary, unglamorous work of her day.

On that note, Colossians 3:23 has also been a help to me: "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for God and not for men." Because sometimes those babies aren't the most grateful little souls in the world, you know. :)

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Deal with yourself, always and first

In Loving the Little Years, Rachel Jankovic is spot-on with reminding us to deal with ourselves "always and first" as mothers. It goes back to the familiar verse in Matthew 7 where he says to "first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

What an important passage for me to keep in mind as a mother of little ones. My own sins are so often deeper than the multitude of childish "speck" sins that I constantly point out and work to correct in my children.

How many times have I contributed to the escalation of a tense situation with the kids by my own poor attitudes and selfishness? Am I being snippy with the kids because my husband accidentally took the leftovers I was looking forward to eating today? Did I rush the kids through the bedtime routine just so that I could watch the season premiere of my favorite show? Am I overreacting to the toothpaste in the dog's water bowl because I just finished cleaning the kitchen and gosh-darn-it I can't take one more mess today!?

It takes practiced self-awareness to stop and discern your proposed words or actions before responding to a situation. I have found myself slowly learning to "hold my horses" before responding to tense situations at home with just my first-instinct emotions for a guide. Often, if I find myself overwhelmingly angry, frustrated or bitter, there is something I need to deal with in my own heart before pointing out issues that my husband or children have in theirs.

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Get up on time. 
Getting up before my family wakes up in the morning is so, so helpful. Saint after saint after much-more-experienced-mom-than-me get up at least an hour before the rest of the house. First, they pray. After they pray, they do a few practical things around the house to get ready for the day. Simple. Hard. But so fruitful.

Getting up “on time,” as I try to call it, is always a struggle for me, but it is one battle that I think I am finally starting to win more consistently. I am in a season of my life that leaves me few excuses for not getting up on time in the morning (read: my children all sleep through the night…please don’t hate me:). The fruits of me getting up earlier than the children are so apparent to both me and to my husband. There is less morning chaos. I am less stressed. I am able to feed my soul with Scripture and prayer before having to feed others.

I love St. Josemaria’s take on “the heroic minute,” in his book The Way. “Conquer yourself each day from the very first moment, getting up on the dot, at a fixed time, without yielding a single minute to laziness…here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to your body. If, with God’s help, you conquer yourself, you will be well ahead for the rest of the day.” (191). 

Getting up earlier than the rest of the house is not always possible. New babies or sick children obviously throw a kink in the plan, as would the blessing of one of those children whose God-given internal clock says every day, “4:59 a.m.! Time to wake up!”  In general though, waking up before the rest of the house is a good goal to look forward to whenever it becomes physically or logistically possible for you.

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Take care of yourself.

Jesus asks us to love him with all of our 'heart, body, soul and mind.” A tall order. And one that many of us mothers of all ages may need to reflect on more seriously. The fact is, there are moms out there who suffer deeply with undiagnosed depression, anxiety, and a host of other medical problems that mean they physically cannot offer their whole, best selves to their families. 

Addressing deeper, undiagnosed problems in our mental and physical health is not something that I've seen a lot of Christian women writing about. If we are writing about mental and physical health, it usually seems to involve "taking care of ourselves" by making sure we have "me time," or more prayer time, or enough sleep, or appropriate fitness and weight-loss goals. Those things are important and are challenging for many of us. However, some very real and more-common-than-you-think health issues can't be completely solved with those kinds of fixes.

Turning to the Divine Healer in prayer is absolutely vital in dealing with health struggles, but sometimes prayer alone will not heal us. I want to encourage you, if you feel physically or mentally unable to be reasonably what you wish to be for your family, to give some honest thought to the idea that there might something you need to deal with emotionally or medically.

Sometimes, what we think is normal or “just part of this season of life” is not normal at all. It takes honesty, prayer, and often the counsel of some solid, wise friends to figure out if it is time to rule out anything medical or counseling-related that could be going on. On the mental health side of things, there is nothing wrong or weak about seeking out solid Christian counseling, or medical treatments or medications that help your body and your mind be where they need to be to let you be what you need to be.

As Jesus showed us on the way to Calvary, sometimes surrendering to a cross involves having the courage to get help in carrying it.

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Wishing each of you the joy of the Lord and grace for the moment!

Friday, August 22, 2014

It's braver to have a good day

I had a good day today. I actually woke up on time this morning and got some morning prayer in. I got Gabriel to school on time. I made it to the gym. I played outside with the girls, and read them a book about princesses. I microwaved chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese for lunch, and threw some salad and ranch dressing on the plates to make me feel better. The girls took long naps this afternoon, and I got most of my chores done for the day. I (gasp!!!) wrote this blog post. My aunt and uncle stopped by with my grandmother and I made them brownies and coffee and we visited.

It's been a nice day.

I've been thinking lately about how infrequently I tell my husband if I've had a good day. It's almost like I am scared to do that sometimes. And I've talked to plenty of friends who admit to the same thing! I think I can safely start to unpack this little mystery with a couple of good guesses.

First, I just don't have a lot of wonderful, smooth days with the children right now. I don't have to remind any fellow MMSC (Mothers of Multiple Small Children, and yes, I made up my own acronym) out there that there always seem to be at least a few ugly moments with little ones during the day, no matter how early I get early, or how great my prayer time goes, or how organized and on top of life I am. There are some entire weeks that I discipline one or more of the children every five minutes while they are awake. You know those days. Days filled with normal, small-children problems like whining, grumpiness, refereeing a silly toy dispute that got physical, and teething babies wailing constantly when they're not on your hip, and supposedly potty-trained youngsters who suddenly begin pooping in their pants again. Don't get me started on how sometimes you call your husband at 4:30pm with a crying baby in the background (you could have walked out of the room, buuuuttt...) and you start to go on and on about how you forgot to buy one of the main ingredients for dinner when you went to the grocery store this morning (the kids were SO CRAZY by the way!!) and why don't we just order pizza tonight?!

It's just how it is right now, ya'll.:)
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Secondly, I think I have this nagging, oh-so-common-but-deeply-felt suspicion that I am misunderstood, and that the world and even my husband don't really understand how hard this Stay-at-home Mother of Small Children Stuff is. Some icky, deep part of me whispers to my heart that if I tell Michael that I had a good day, then he would think my job was easy or (gasp!) fun. (Can anyone else smell Pride Issues from The Depths of You Know Where?!)

But seriously, when would I be satisfied that my husband-or anyone else for that matter-gets it? If he shouted out my praises from the rooftop? Wrote an op ed to the newspaper about how mothers are under-appreciated in our society? Or came home from work one day and immediately pushed me out the door to go to Eucharistic Adoration, dinner at La Madeleine, and a homemade gift card for One Full Weekend of Sleeping In?

Hmmm...that last one just might work.  (cough*, cough*)

The truth is, sometimes it is an act of humility and bravery to admit to ourselves or others that we have had a good day.

And the truth is, MMSC have some nice days every once in a while. We even sometimes have a little fun. In any case, if we have our heads on straight even just a little, the irresistible adorableness of our small ones makes us at least smile many times a day.

Another point that has been on my heart lately: On the marriage end, who out there can't wait to come home to somebody who never has a good day? Not me. Not my husband.

So, I have been working on being more positive when I'm talking to Michael about the children or just about my day. I think that we have to be brave, and hopeful, and humble, and make a generous, good-hearted effort to be positive about our motherhood where it's merited. Maybe then, when I actually have a Very Bad Day (or week or month), perhaps Michael will have a more accurate radar of when I really need him to be my hero. I think lately he has known I needed some extra lovin' actually. I want to include a praise report for my good husband. He has been so sweet to me these past few weeks. Flowers, chocolate, general helpfulness, cheerful service, patience with the kids...he's been amazing. :)

I don't know if all of it stems from me being kind of a wreck last month with our wild children and life in general, making him realize a real need to step in and pamper his Fragile Wife....or if my Brilliant Idea about being "more positive" (which I really have been trying to do) has worked some marital magic. In either case, I have been very grateful for him lately. His goodness has had the effect of giving me even more courage at the end of the day to admit to him when the day has been rough or kinda-maybe-a-little-bit nice.

Peace be with you! And may each of us open our hearts to learn one day how to find joy in "this, [the] day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad!" -Psalm 118:24

Oh, and I thought I should include some evidence that I do truly have good days once in a while. As long as I'm being brave and admitting to it and all...:)
My sister-in-law and brother-in-law visited from Cleveland last week. We only get to see them once or twice a year right now. It was such a huge joy to see their two little girls playing with our kids. Faith and her cousin Lucy really hit it off, and it was beautiful to see their sweet little friendship blossoming for the first time.
We had beignets at Morning Call in City Park in New Orleans, then played on the play sets next door. It was a fun morning! 
On a recent trip to Houston, my cousin Liz and I got to go out for dinner and cocktails. This drink was so good (and strong) that I can't remember for the life of me what it was...
Some of the Messy Stuff had to make it in here, right? :) 

Miss Sassy Stuff with her big girl ponytail! 
Gabe started Pre-K last week...I couldn't find his first day of school picture, but will post when I can!

Those kids. 
I didn't see this one coming. Personality-wise I mean. Sugary sweet one moment and drama queen the next. She's beautiful even when she's angry though.

I caught this precious moment a few weeks ago. Poor Gianna was so tired. My brother just moved "home" from Mississippi for a new job here in Baton Rouge, and the day he got home and held Gianna to say hello, she just melted on his shoulder. It was so sweet. My siblings are the best aunts and uncle I could ever ask for. 

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I snapped a selfie on the way to my ten-year high school reunion...which was kind of an surprisingly fun and nice evening. :)

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Michael and I celebrated our sixth anniversary August 8th. We went out to a jazz dinner cruise out of the French Quarter in NOLA. We actually bought the cheesy lifeboat preserver picture they made us take before we climbed on board. It was only $10. And the food on the cruise was delicious, anyway.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Mountaintops and valleys, crosses and consolations

Today I am thinking about mountaintops and valleys, crosses and consolations. 

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ, in which Peter, John and James have the very first "mountaintop experience" of any Christian. Jesus takes the three disciples up to the top of Mount Tabor to pray, and he is transfigured in divine glory in front of them. 

I think that most of us Christians know a little about mountaintop experiences.

Looking back, I have had many mountaintop experiences in my own life that, together, provide a firm foundation for my hope in Christ even when crosses in my life can weigh heavily upon me. 

Beautiful moments in prayer as a child. Strong friendships and my active, supportive Catholic community in college. Profound experiences on retreats and youth ministry events. The summer I met my husband at camp. Mission trips. My wedding day. The births of my three children. And so many other small moments of joy, consolation, and unity with God along the way.

I read an excerpt today from a homily by Pope St. Leo the Great that for the first time made me think about the Transfiguration in light of my own life:
"The great reason for this transfiguration was the remove the scandal of the cross from the hearts of his disciples, and to prevent the humiliation of his voluntary suffering from disturbing the faith of those who had witnessed the surpassing glory that lay concealed. With no less forethought he was also providing a firm foundation for the hope of holy Church. The whole body of Christ was to understand the kind of transformation that it would receive as his gift. The members of that body were to look forward to a share in that glory which first blazed out in Christ their head."
Don't let a few fancy vocabulary words (i.e. "the scandal of the cross") get in the way of the powerful message. 

Christ gave these three disciples the gift of a real-life mountaintop experience that imprinted itself so mightily on their hearts that the "scandal of the cross"--the upcoming Passion and Crucifixion--would not be able to "disturb" their faith in the Resurrection. 

That is what the mountaintop experiences in our lives are meant to do for us. They cement our faith and help us to carry on with hope and trust during hard times. They are a blessing in the moment, and a consolation as a memory. We have to find our own "firm foundation" of peace in knowing where all of this--and hopefully all of us--are headed: "a share in that glory which first blazed out in Christ [our] head." 

May God bless each of you with grace for the moment and a firm faith in His goodness and mercy! 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Happily Ever After Moments

Just as we can't expect to totally relax on a family vacation with little ones, we can't expect our entire motherhood experience to be Happily Ever After. We all know here that sometimes--and by sometimes I mean often for many of us--we would rather be a thousand other places than dealing with what we deal with some moments of the day. (Bathtime, anyone? Waking up at the crack of dawn to cries of "pee pee! PEE PEE!")

Just like we have to look for those vacation moments, we have to look for those Happily Ever After Moments in our days.

I try to cultivate an attitude in myself that helps me look for those Happily Ever After Moments. The surprising thing that helped me to start really being intentional about that was my Facebook feed. I know so many wonderful mothers who post about funny or sweet things their kids do. I have a handful of friends who have probably the funniest kids on the planet, and I love reading about the hilarious things they do and say. Reading those posts always reminds me to enjoy the Happily Ever After moments with my kids. It's funny how social media makes the genuine joy of these mom friends so contagious to me in a good way. God uses many things to draw us to him. :)

We've had some good summer backyard baby pool fun this week. We had popsicles on the back porch today while we watched the afternoon thunderstorm roll in. We talked about how God is kind of like the wind, "because you can't see Him but you can kind of feel Him." Faith picked flowers from the pots and gave everybody a flower for our hair (even her brother). 

They sleep in the same bed now, and they literally go to sleep giggling and wake up giggling every day. When they woke up early from naptime today, I popped some popcorn and we snuggled and read books on their bed while a thunderstorm finished rolling through. 

We spent the morning with my cousin and her little ones, and Faith put on that princess dress and proceeded to put on that So Stinkin' Cuteness that almost-three-year-old girls are so good at. "I'm going to school, mom. See ya later crocodile. I gonna vacuum first though." 

Why is it that I love to just look at my babies while they sleep? A mixture of how beautiful and kissable and perfect they are...and certainly some momentary relief I think...

Michael and I actually got to have a mini vacation earlier this summer. Some friends invited us to their camp on Lake Ponchartrain for the weekend, and we spent a couple of days with some of our best friends (and without our kids) hanging out on the lake. It was a wonderful, wonderful weekend. I even got in the (chilly) water and did some tubing. Yay for a Vacation Moment and a Happily Ever After Moment! We even got to go to a lovely mass by ourselves on Sunday morning--bonus points?! 

So...we took the kids to Magic Kingdom for the day. It was an awesome day. Really and truly. The kids were great. Michael was a superb trip leader. Every one of us had fun. Even little Gianna was clapping and laughing with delight in the Ariel ride. 

This baby makes me smile so many times a day. She certainly gets fussy a lot lately, especially in the evenings (it's like my right hip is the only thing that makes her happy sometimes!), but she is so darn delightful most of the time that I forgive her very quickly.

One of my favorite recent pics of the Franklets. It captures one of those moments when the three of them are just enjoying each other. It is in these moments that I catch a glimpse of a special part of my gift to them as a mother--each other. 

Peace to you and yours this week! Here is a little Scripture to ponder this week as you keep your eyes out for a few Happily Ever After Moments of your own. This verse always reminds me that my children are my love and service to God, and they are really not my own. Also, I always laugh at myself when I read this verse because I think of all of those times that my kids aren't acting super-loveable, and I don't feel like being Nurturing and Sweet and Infinitely Patient with them because they are being incredibly ungrateful, annoying, disrespectful, etc. When it comes down to it, I just try to remember to do what I do for Christ, who gives all and takes nothing. 

"Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others." -Colossians 3:23

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Vacation Survival Guide for Catholic Moms

Here's the link to my latest post for It is something of a spiritual "survival guide" for those of us who are honest enough with ourselves to admit that family vacations often aren't exactly a walk in the park for us mothers. Even if you are not a mother or a parent, there are definitely some tips on this list that you might find helpful on your next trip!

If you have any other vacation tips--practical, spiritual or anything else--feel free to leave a comment. :)

God bless!

BONUS TIP: If you're traveling for multiple hours in a vehicle with multiple small children, all I can say is that a DVD player and large quantities of snacks should be on your packing list--up there with things like "underwear" and "passport." Also, have at least two backup packs of baby wipes, an entire roll of paper towels, and also at least two extra sets of clothes per child on hand. Just trust me on this. :)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Why yes, I do have my hands full" and some other things it's time I admitted to

Precious Gianna, 1 year old

A few weeks ago, a priest friend of ours, Fr. Pettit, called out of the blue and asked if we and some mutual friends could have dinner with him on Wednesday night. We were delighted to hear from him, since we hadn't seen him in three or four years and he had never met our two youngest children. It was too late to find a babysitter, so we decided to go over to the home of the other couple, our friends the Romeros, and have dinner there.

The evening was not a total wash, but it was pretty close to one, at least for me. One-year-old Gianna inexplicably cried about 80% of the evening (we found out the next day that she had double ear infections...yay). I was constantly excusing myself from the table and stepping out of the room. The big kids kept falling and fighting and generally being amazingly needy despite our brilliant plan to feed the kids first and then put Frozen on in the back room. I was so busy with my children the entire night that I was barely able to talk to Fr. Pettit. By the time we had finished loading up the kids to go home, I nearly burst into tears as I hugged Fr. Pettit goodbye.

As much as I fight it, hate it, deny it, or think I've avoided it, I fall into a stereotype of the frazzled, busy mother of multiple small children all the time. It alternately drives me nuts and humbles me to the core.

I am the iconic "You've Got Your Hands Full" mom. Behold....

Temper tantrums in Target. And Old Navy. And lobbies. And other people's houses. And parks. And parking lots...

I've been to Target on a "night out" just because it's strangely calming in there and, hey, retail therapy is a thing

I feel like I'm on vacation when I get to go grocery shopping alone

I've packed up my crew and headed to the drive thru at McDonald's, then gone to the park, because the thought of cooking something I don't feel like eating + three more hours until the kids' bedtime is slightly stress-paralyzing (thanks for the awesome vocabulary word, Mom's Night Out)
I've put the kids to bed in their play clothes as a "special treat"

Every time one of my siblings calls me, somebody is crying or fighting in the background

Every time I call to catch up with my certain friends, I end up boohoo-crying on the phone

I boohoo-cried during the closet scene in Mom's Night Out

I have to psyche myself up to give my kids a bath

I treasure my kids' naptime (read: my nap time/quiet time/time to get things done) so much that I have to make sure I pray for the grace of detachment from it

I get mini panic attacks if we get to church late and have to sit in the middle of the pew with other people on both sides of us...or if we have to sit all the way in the front

Michael makes fun of me because I usually don't remember the last time I showered

Sometimes I accidentally talk to Michael like he's one of the kids (for example, "Mike, do you want to get the kids' pajamas out now or in five minutes?" True story.)

Saving the best for last.

The last time somebody commented that I had my hands full, and then proceeded to ask if "we were done," I told him that Michael and I were going to "keep going until we got an ugly one."

I know. WHO says that?! I'm a horrible person, even if I wasn't trying to be rude. The man was just trying to be nice, and I did realize that at the time. I had read a list of funny responses to the "are you done?" question on a blog somewhere and was honestly trying to be lighthearted and funny. But...I am pretty sure I horrified both him and my husband. Lesson learned.

Sometimes I get frustrated with myself for falling over and over again into such common struggles as a mom. (Don't even get me started on all the stereotypes I've fallen into in marriage at one time or another.) In the end, though, so many of us go through this craziness that it's got to be important and it's got to be necessary for this vocation. I always go back to a great quote from St. Josemaria, in which he writes that "our ordinary activities are not an insignificant matter. Rather, they are the very hinge on which our sanctity turns." 

I try to look at the virtues that these common struggles make me work on: humility, selflessness, order, faithfulness, patience, gentleness, endurance, joy, and so many others. Mostly importantly, maybe, a dependence on God alone for my peace and happiness. A holy marriage and a holy family need those things and they need them from me, through the grace of God.
Vocation selfie

Am I all-in or what with this God stuff? Do I trust him with my life and in everything that happens to me--or not? If I'm in, then my faith says that nothing happens to us, good or bad, without his permission. He works all things together for our good--whether it feels good or not.

One of the best ways I've heard it explained is this: We pay human doctors to do surgery on us, to cut away and repair and heal us, but we have trouble trusting the Divine Physician to work on our souls in similar ways.

At least, as a parent of small children, I generally get plenty of opportunities for laughter each day. I hear that laughter can be the best of medicines.

Some things to think about. :)
Faith loves to push her little sister in that swing
Faith Lucia, 2.5 years old, smart as a whip, cute as a button

Gabriel, 4.5 years old, all-boy, all-loved by his mom and dad. He is a child that gives us special joy because he is the first to do everything.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A "Mom's Night Out" review after my Mom's Night Out

We got home at dinnertime from a Mother's Day lunch at my in-laws' house in New Orleans. I forfeited all the leftovers in the fridge to divvy up between the kids in the chaos that is we-just-got-back-from-a-full-day-event-requiring-a-long-car-ride-and-no-naps-for-anyone-and-OMG-what-do-we-eat-for-dinner-and-why-do-I-always-let-a-meal-we-eat-EVERY-SINGLE-DAY-creep-up-on-me?! 

I'm not sure what Michael ate for dinner. I didn't eat dinner, as I was trying to change out of my stained clothes from the day, feed the kids, put the kids to bed, and throw some refresher curls in my hair for my mom's night out to see Mom's Night Out. 

Despite my good husband's assistance all evening, I was a little fried and a lot ready to escape by the time I hopped in the Odyssey to head to the theater.

I LOVED the movie. I laughed so hard that I literally had tears streaming down my face. I may have cried a little, too. Please go see this movie, especially if you're a mother or father (especially of small-ish children), have friends who are parents, want to be a parent one day, or just need a good laugh that's clean and maybe a little good for you. None of the (surprisingly) God-centered encouragement and inspiration in the movie is new to me, but somehow hearing it from a movie that GETS this crazy motherhood gig so well was really moving.

My friend Katie told me earlier this week that seeing this movie was "like looking in a mirror," and I'd say that was pretty spot on for me too, tonight. I think the movie had me from the opening sequence in which we meet the main character, Ally, a stay-at-home mom (and aspiring mommy blogger) who is the frazzled, kind-of-disenchanted mother of three small children. There is a scene early on in which Ally just incoherently mumbles and sobs into her husband's chest after a Really Bad Day. It's supposed to be funny, but it was hard to laugh when it was all I could do not to boohoo-cry in front of the entire theater, because honey, I've been there, far too recently than I want to admit. Obviously, I know that I'm probably the exact target audience of this movie, but I think that a much wider range of people will be able to laugh in this movie and learn a little something from it too. The movie doesn't take itself too seriously, except for a few times when it does take itself seriously in a remarkably graceful way. 

Happy Mother's Day for the next hour at least to all of you mothers reading this post. If you are grieving or struggling in any way today, know that I am saying a special prayer just for you tonight before I even press Publish. Also, remember that there is more than one way to be a mother! I am thankful for all of the women in my life who have mothered me in some way over the years. We are all made to be mothers to someone, and so many of us fill a motherly role in someone's life, big or small, and we don't even realize it. 

Just before I started typing this, I polished off a few crumbs of leftover, stale-ish brownies I found on the counter. A surprisingly satisfying way to top off the delicious McDonald's cheeseburger I cheerfully inhaled on the way home from the movie. I won't tell you how far away that particular McDonald's location is from my house, because that could be embarrassing. Sometimes you just gotta give yourself permission to grab a cheeseburger at 10 o'clock at night on the way home, you know? Mom's Night Out sort of reminded me to let that be okay sometimes. 

I hope you enjoy this little clip I found:)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Patience Song: Rewritten by a Four-Year-Old

I'm re-using this meme from my old post about the Patience Song. It's such a good one, though:)
A couple of years ago, I came up with "The Patience Song." I taught it to the kids and they have to sing it when they are getting impatient about something, usually at the table or in the van. It can be amazingly helpful in bringing cheerfulness back into the situation, starting with the fact that it's tough to be mad at your kids while singing. Genius, right? The Patience Song is sung to the melody of "Frere Jacques?" and you can read this old post about it if you like.:)

Here are the words:

Patience, patience, is a virtue
Waiting a while with a smile
Trusting God will always bring
Everything we really need
Patience starts with a thankful heart

Even after singing this song for a couple of years, Gabe still doesn't get the words right most of the time. I caught him singing the song the following way a few days ago. I thought his version was surprisingly profound.

Patience, patience, is a hurt-you, 
Ending a while with a smile, 
Trusting God will always bring
Everything to rally thee,
Patience starts with a thankful heart

See what I mean?

God bless!

Back to the basics

I'm a stay-at-home mom with three children under five years old. It's me versus three most of the time: always a blessing, often lots of adorable fun, and sometimes absolutely exhausting. I'm in the trenches too with some special crosses and big changes and (don't you know it) marriage too. 

In all of that, I desire so much to know how to navigate every hour of my day to the glory and pleasure of the Lord. I want to learn how to better raise my children in a Godly manner. I want to learn how to truly forgive and to truly love selflessly. I want to cultivate a better attitude about doing the daily work of my vocation. I want to stop getting upset about small stuff. I want to learn how to trust Jesus with all my heart and with all my hopes and fears.

Where I personally am in life right now, I don't do a lot of spiritual reading and I don't have personal prayer time at the same time every day. It's a combination of my life being busy and full right now, and me just not making the faithful prayer time happen. I know that God should be my Number One Priority, and that I should ideally schedule everything else around prayer and the sacraments. But that just isn't happening to the extent that it needs to happen. Don't get me wrong--I pray quite a bit during the day, most days, small prayers of thanksgiving and (maaaaaybe a little more often:) pleas for help throughout the day. To be honest, I feel like those times that I was consistent in prayer and regular spiritual reading were times of great spiritual growth for me. I miss it. But at the same time, I realize that I probably have a tendency to idealize those times in my life and then feel a little overly disenchanted with my current season in life. I also realize that the power of God's grace is such that we have no idea how or when God works in our souls. 

In mass this past Sunday, I was praying hard in the minutes leading up to consecration. I told Jesus that I wanted so badly to live a holy life for Him, but that I was frustrated because I couldn't keep up with faithful time--not to mention energy--for spiritual reading and X, Y, and Z to improve myself. I told him that I felt discouraged by struggling so often in the little situations and conversations of each day; yelling at my kids, being mad at my husband, dwelling on some cross of mine, or saying something unnecessary in conversations with friends. 

During the consecration, I really felt a tug in my heart remind me quietly about the Gospel reading for that day: the Road to Emmaus. The two disciples on the road realize after Jesus leaves them, "Were not our hearts burning within us as he opened the Scriptures to us?" Later, the passage says that "he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread." 

My thoughts and prayers just kind of quieted down all of a sudden. Scripture and the Mass. Start there. 

Back to the basics. Of course. 
"My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding--indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones. -Proverbs 2:1-8
"A renewed impetus in Christian living passes through the Eucharist." -St. Pope John Paul II
Scripture and the Mass really are perfect places "to start" when I'm in a place where I am back to the bare basics in my faith. For a Catholic, both are so important and also so beautifully intertwined. Everything flows from them. I have also done a consecration to Our Lady for a couple of years now, which has taught me much and has also helped me to realize how much Mary can and wants to help me to know her Son.

During the day, I also do now by habit a Morning Offering before my feet even touch the floor--just a very short, heartfelt prayer asking for the grace to give my fiat to God in everything that happens that day. The Closing Prayer to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the rosary (especially when I'm in the car), the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, the Angelus, and just praying with my children every night before bed are all things I do--thought certainly not all of them every day. Maybe a lot of having a relationship with God is responding to that tugging of the Lord to connect with him, even just briefly, in the little moments of the day.

I also want to add that confession is very important to keep up with. Even if I can't go monthly, that's my goal even now. Michael and I recently discussed holding each other accountable as a couple to going to confession once per month, and we even decided on a specific way to make that happen by having the other one plan to babysit while we were gone for that time.

I think it's okay to be a little child in His arms sometimes. I love the beautiful picture of Jesus and the little child that I found for this post. Sometimes when life is hard, all I want is to jump up into His arms and bury my head in His shoulder. I think he probably likes when we run to him like that, though (just like my husband, who is my stand-in when I need a hug from Jesus, and who has really nice, big, muscly shoulders and likes when I run into his arms:). Didn't He tell us that we all have to come to him "as little children?" Perhaps that is where we should be counting ourselves blessed to suffer a little or a lot--to have things in our lives that make us run into his arms. Such nice-sounding words--right?--that "suffering is a blessing." Hard to hear more for many of you than for me, God bless you! But spiritually-speaking, suffering is the stuff of life, of growth, and of a deeper union with God. Even though I talked earlier about not having a lot of time for spiritual reading, I have to confess that there is a little book that every single one of you should buy and read. It's called Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence. It has really helped me learn how to look at suffering and how to live and love God's will for my life.

May God's peace be with you!

**Note: I did go back and significantly edit this post from when I originally posted it. Sometimes writing late at night makes for slightly weird writing, poor flow, and bad word choices! I had been feeling uncomfortable about some things I wrote in the post, so I decided to just go in and take them out altogether. When in doubt, edit it out. :)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Hold on tight

I went to adoration a couple of weeks ago, and I was feeling and also praying at my wit's end about a few things. The Lord spoke so beautifully to me in prayer that night that I have been wanting to share it ever since. I hope that what He gave me encourages some of you as well.

First of all, though...poor Jesus! When I finally get a chance to go to adoration, I am pretty much always at my wit's end about something. I know it's not supposed to be that way with prayer. But until spiritual maturity kicks in...Lord have mercy.:)

Anyway, I had grabbed a Bible on the way in, and I finally sat back in my chair, picked up the Bible, and told Jesus, "I need you to talk to me today. I'm about to open this Bible and I want you to tell me what to do about all of this." 

Of course I then had to go and add something like, "Because you know it's a miracle that I'm able to be out alone and at adoration by myself and so my precious time with You needs to count and blah blah blah..." I know. Yikes. Poor Jesus. But, again, until spiritual maturity kicks in...the Lord is so merciful. And I think he accepted my immediate apology after that little speech. Because I opened to this:

"Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good." -Romans 12:9

This simple passage spoke powerfully to the exact crosses and struggles that I had been praying about.

"Hate what is evil." Struggle itself is not evil. Sin is evil. It's easy to hate what is hard or painful for us, but we have to save our hate--our righteous anger--for sin, starting in ourselves. So often the crosses and struggles He permits us give us opportunities to identify and reject sin in ourselves. I needed to hear that again. Also, sinfulness in other people is what we should "hate"--not the people themselves. When I pray about my own struggles, I need to also pray more faithfully for the souls of any others involved, most especially when those people are struggling with sins of their own. 

"Hold on to what is good." How encouraging and helpful this short little sentence is to me. I've got to hold tightly to my faith, first and foremost, and I can't allow myself to lose hope or to despair about things. Close behind, I must hold on tightly to thankfulness for the "good" of my many, many blessings. Remembering what is actually good about a person or a situation, and sometimes being honest about what is actually going well in my life, can put things into perspective for me so much. 

The closing prayer of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy has been especially helpful for me very often this past year, which has probably been the most difficult year of my life so far. It is worth committing to memory. In moments when I realize I need to surrender a cross or a struggle all over again, I always pray this prayer. At least for me, it just says everything I need it to in the moment, every time.
"Eternal Father, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion is inexhaustible, look kindly upon us, and increase your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we may not despair or become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to your holy will, which is love and mercy itself." 
Probably every sweet soul who reads this post is going through a rough patch somewhere in his or (more likely:) her life. From one child of God to another, I encourage you to hold on tight with me to our faith. Pray that closing prayer to the Chaplet and let God center you again on the truth that he is solid, faithful, and is working everything in your life together for your good. With Divine Mercy Sunday coming up this weekend, let's pray for one another to open our hearts even more to the Divine Mercy and the plentiful graces He sends us to live a holy life. 

Jesus, I trust in you! 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Oh, that Southern charm

If you've never been to West Feliciana parish in the spring, you ought to put it on your bucket list. It is truly a gift to visit this beautiful part of the state. I haven't been in a couple of years, and I was thrilled this past Friday to be able to take Michael and the kids to see St. Francisville.

A friend of mine from Houston, Mary Lou, just moved to St. Francisville with her family, and she was able to meet up with us for lunch and some sightseeing. I think it's safe to say she was completely enchanted with the area. We only went to Afton Villa Gardens this year, since small children prevent one from being too ambitious with this sort of outing. Even though the mansion burned down years ago, the grounds and gardens are well, well worth the visit. The children had a wonderful time running free and exploring, as you'll see. I would love to live in a place this lovely one day.

I should warn you that there are a lot of pictures. Michael took most of these. This was his first time to St. Francisville, and I think you will be able to see why he got so camera-happy. He was charmed.:) 


Gabe and Faith just ran and explored everything. It was a pleasure to watch them.

My friend, Mary Lou, and her PRECIOUS baby boy, Joseph, who is Gianna's age.

They just sat down next to each other like this and soaked in the beauty...for about 15 seconds.

Faith was so proud of the "treasure" she found on the ground

The plants on each side of the path are yellow tulips. We came a few weeks too late to see the tulips and azaleas at their peak. Can't you imagine though how beautiful this part of the path would be with rows and rows of golden tulips on either side of it?

Now THAT'S an old wisteria.

Mary Lou's husband, Bronson, was able to stop by for a few minutes with us.

Now that's a view I wouldn't mind having.

I love azaleas. 

Repeat above caption...
Old live oaks with Spanish moss hanging down like beards

Those Southern planters sure knew how to make a driveway

I am kind of silly this way, but I like to get photos of just Michael and I when I can. I wish I would have thought to have the whole family take a photo here. How lovely. 

We were trying to go for romantic "dip" shot, but I think I am too ticklish...

A shot as we were leaving the property. Until next time, then. :)