Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Girls on the run, kids on a roll, life in a nutshell

A heartfelt thank you to our dear, beautiful friend Olivia Gulino for taking some family pictures for us. On a warm Sunday morning, we drove over to the green space behind the neighborhood next door and prayed that we would get at least one picture where everyone was looking at the camera. God didn't answer our prayer (ahem, Gianna)...but we did get a couple of cute ones.:)   
This is a delightful child.
No children were injured in the making of these family pictures. Despite the best intentions of some involved.
Yay for cute pajamas. Yay for the precious sound of giggling from small, happy children. 
We call it the Stink Eye. It's her little way of pouting. She will fuss and fuss and then...silence...and the Stink Eye. The adorable thing is that since this picture was taken, we have turned the Stink Eye into a trick of sorts. We will say, "Gianna, where's the Stink Eye?" and she will do it to be funny and make us all laugh.  
My darling cousin Lynsey has three children my kids' ages. It's been such a blessing to have her friendship, and our kids get along beautifully too. I love that my kids are such good friends with their cousins. Lynsey's oldest, Wyatt, is Gabe's age. Wyatt loves to go hunting and do all things outdoors with his dad, my cousin Daniel. We went over to their house one Saturday morning a few weeks ago, and Daniel had just returned from squirrel hunting with a friend. Before I knew it, Wyatt was parading around the yard with one of the dead squirrels. I just rolled with it, and so did my kids. And it was fine. This picture makes me go "Ewwww!!!!" and "Awwww..." at the same time... 
I caught this little moment between Michael and Gianna the other day. They stared at each other quietly like this for well over a minute with Gianna holding Michael's hand like that. So sweet. Michael is seriously the most wonderful father to these children. They light up when he walks in the door--and so does he. I have to remind him to kiss me before the kids...
Lunch with my two favorite little ladies. I'm lovin' on that fancy table and gourmet fare. It looks like we took a break that day from PBJ or leftover red beans and rice. Nice. 
This was the only picture I was able to take of Gabriel at his Grandparents' Day program last week. Good thing it's kind of a cute one. Goodness...that little boy cried and fussed like you wouldn't believe that morning because he had to wear pajamas to school, and he was worried about being embarrassed. I tried to tell him the story of when I was a little girl and got sunburned with purple streaks on my face, and my dad made me go to school even though I looked completely awful and my face hurt...my empathy was lost on him.  
My sister Rivers and me, AFTER we finished our first 5K together last weekend.:) It felt so amazing! We are training together for the 10K race at the Louisiana Marathon in January. My sister in law is coming in from Ohio to run the half marathon that weekend, and my brother in law and his girlfriend are also running the half. I am so proud of each of them. Not sure if I will ever feel called to run a half marathon, but never say never...
Eating some Smarties they scored from the local fire department's annual Santa Claus drive-by. Every year since I was a kid, they drive through all of their stations's area neighborhoods, sirens blaring and Santa on board throwing out candy to solicit food bank donations for Christmas. It was surreal and sweet at the same time experiencing it again with my kids in the same front yard where I experienced it every year as a kid.
My cousin Liz gave Gabriel a Guardians of the Galaxy Lego set for his birthday. He has loved it! He and Michael sat down and made the star ship tonight--it's pretty cool. I love the father-son time. I also love seeing Gabriel work on a project like that from start to finish, working through frustration and learning a little more about how to ask questions and be patient with himself and others.
Crazy Static Hair from the slide at the park! 
More crazy static hair!
Goodness I love this picture.
Can you spot the funny in this picture from Grandparents Day at Gabe's school?
Dinner at one of my favorite restaurants with some wonderful old friends from college. The guys all lived together in a ramshackle old house in the Garden District their last year of college. We all got married within a little over a year! The fifth roommate is now a Capuchin brother in California (almost a priest, come February!). We try to get together for a nice dinner at least once a year. It is so good to have these friends to grow with and walk beside in marriage and parenthood. All of them are so solid and faithful. Having that longtime spiritual connection and support, especially in our mutual vocations to marriage, is such a blessing.
The kids earned a donut in our church's "coffee shop" after mass last Sunday. That's kind of a big deal for us. Most Sundays lately have not been Donut Sundays unfortunately. Mass is still difficult sometimes. Pray for us:)
I liked this picture because it looks almost exactly like the one we used for the Save the Date magnets for our wedding. Six years or so of marriage. So much has happened and yet so little has happened...thoughts for another day, though. :)

God bless!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Goodness gracious sakes alive...Gabriel is turning FIVE!

December 2014, 5 years old

Goodness gracious sakes alive! Gabriel is already FIVE!

Time flies. Five years ago today, I had my first child, a 6lb, 5oz wrinkly, red, skinny baby boy who stopped crying as soon as he was laid on his mother's chest.

We love him so much. He can write his name. He likes pizza, oatmeal, broccoli, cookie cake, juice, cars, planes, pirates and anything that shoots stuff. He asks me to rub his back and sing to him every night before bed. One of his top love languages is definitely touch. Along with words of affirmation. He is incredibly thoughtful. He will hear me tell his sisters that they need a spoon, and he will go and grab one for me before I even know it. He says sweet things like, 'Mom, you are sweet like a grandma" and "Mom, your hair looks like Elsa today!" (I pin my long hair up a lot). He can be discouragingly unremorseful and then amazingly eager to please the very next moment. He shares a room with his little sister, Faith, and they go to bed and wake up giggling and talking in funny voices and singing bits of songs from church or Frozen.

Oh goodness did I take a lot of pictures. This one was taken in the tiny living room of our second apartment in Houston (the one with the stinky fridge).

Please laugh with me. This was our ill-conceived attempt to take our own Christmas pictures. No, we didn't send these to anyone. No, no babies were harmed during this photo shoot. I'm deliberately not posting the picture Michael and his parents took of Gabriel hanging out of our crawfish pot with a Santa hat on. Or the ones of Gabriel asleep holding a Christmas ornament-sized replica of a bottle of Jack Daniels. 

Me and my fancy new baby wrap. I thought I was pretty cool stuff in that thing.

Can you tell I was completely exhausted and about to burst into tears because nursing hurt so badly? I know, I know...poor technique and all of that. I am a little more of a pro after three babies now, but that first one had a doozy of a learning curve. 

As they say in Cajun country, cher baby! 

We had someone hand down to us all of these adorable, hipster baby clothes, like this little cap. I seriously pray that God would continue to send us kind benefactors for our kids' wardrobes.  *Ahem, ahem* :) 

We had this sweet girl  named Jaycee Mills do baby portraits for us. She volunteered to do them for free since we were desperately broke new parents and she liked us. :) God bless her!

One of my all-time favorite pictures of my kids...Gabriel holding Gianna in May 2013. He was three. 

Gabriel and Faith. Not sure where that old-fashioned baby outfit she has on came from...

Christmas 2012, 3 years old

My soccer star...sort of. He was one of those kids who kind of stood on the field and scowled and half-heartedly ran a few feet behind the pack...I think we started him too young.

And for your reading pleasure...some posts from the archives that you might find amusing. My first months of being a mom AND a blogger. Apparently, I liked the idea of "Part 1 and 2" posts...go figure. Hope you enjoy these! Nothing groundbreaking, but five-years-ago me is kind of sweet and cute at points. I think you'll like her.:) 

5 Tips for Going from Grinch to Grateful

My inner Grinch snuck up on me again. He likes to surprise me with a visit towards the end of the year, peeking over the corners of shiny family Christmas cards, and winking at me from amid the numbers in the Christmas budget that will never add up. He gleefully nudges me to be jealous and discontented--rather than delighted and inspired--by the successes, blessings, and talents of others. His most clever and diabolical trick, however, is making me forget about my successes, blessings and talents.

He’s a mean one, Mr. Grinch.

So much of living our faith has to do with rebuking our thoughts with the truth. We have to learn how to capture inappropriate thoughts and emotions, and then talk ourselves back to a right heart. And a right heart is a grateful, trusting heart. Ugly, unbidden thoughts and feelings themselves aren’t the sin; it is when we dwell on them that is the problem. As a wise priest once explained to me, growing in holiness means that we just get faster at tossing the bad thoughts out with the trash.

Here are five battle-tested tips to shut down your own inner Grinch and nurture a steadfast heart of gratitude. I pray that these ideas are as much a help to you as they are to me!


Don’t compare your outtakes to someone else’s highlight reel. 

Tape this quote to your fridge, bathroom mirror, or the top of your computer screen if you have to. Facebook, Christmas cards, and so many of our social interactions simply show us other people’s highlight reels. We don’t have the full story of anyone’s life but our own. Highlight reels are not bad. God can use them to delight and inspire others! But Satan and his sly little helper, your inner Grinch, love, love, love to tempt us to despair about anything and everything. The thing is, because we have been redeemed by Christ, we can never despair. It’s not in keeping with the truth. And when we do despair about something, it means that we have lost the right perspective.


Borrow God’s smile.

An old friend of mine recorded a great song a few years ago that helped me develop a little prayer that helps me when I am down. In the chorus, the singers ask, ‘Can I borrow your smile?”

Whenever the good fortunes or successes of another bring a little pang of jealousy, I immediately ask God if I can “borrow” His smile of joy in that person’s joy. It takes some discipline, for sure! The key is to make your desire to have a right heart be your strongest thought--no matter what ugly emotions and thoughts come to mind initially. And you have to let that holy desire for a right heart manifest itself in your words and actions accordingly. A simple, “I’m happy for them!” is not insincere if you desire to truly feel that way for love of our Lord, despite any lingering negative feelings.


Trust Him. 

Trust that God will guide you and your family to where He wants you, in major things and in small things too. Whether it’s your personal fitness, a new job, or getting on top of housework, when you need to make a change He will work all things together for you to move in that direction. It is helpful for me to remind myself that God’s idea of “need” and “want” is always going to be in favor of the needs of my soul, rather than my body or state in life. In that light, it is also helpful to ponder the idea that if we truly needed something not currently in our possession (or skill set or ability), then we would already have it.


Let the successes of others help you look—gently—at your own life.

God uses others to nudge us in new directions or different directions sometimes. He has done so many times for me! The things we admire in others are often things that we desire for ourselves. Find a time and place where you can dispose your heart correctly, and gently examine your life. What are those areas where a little jealousy or discontentment may be alerting you to some necessary or helpful changes? Better yet, take a list of ideas or topics for discussion to your husband, and schedule a prayerful date or time away to get his opinion on things and talk through the list.


Ask Mary to lend you her heart. 

Yes, more spiritual borrowing advice here! Mother Teresa had a deep devotion to Mary. Often throughout the day, Mother Teresa would offer up this short prayer: “Mary, lend me your heart!” I have received much grace through praying this prayer. When I am aware in some moment that my heart is not where it should be, I ask Mary to lend me her heart. And time after time, after praying that prayer I am able to live whatever virtue I most need in that moment.

I wish each of you full hearts and abundant blessings this Advent!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Have a little Faith

Three-year-old Faith Lucia is such a blessing to me. She is also my only baby who "looks like me" so far. She is incredibly smart, perceptive, imaginative, and downright delightful. My five-year-old son was barely talking in full sentences at three years old! He and his sister are so different. I am still loving my special time with Faith this fall with Gabe now in school. With Gianna still taking a morning nap, I have one-on-one time with Faith just about every day. Not to mention that having "just" the two girls out and about is so much easier. All three of the Franklets together is a handful, I admit it!

At three years old, Faith already knows most of her letters, letter sounds, and numbers 1-10. She knows all her shapes and colors. And this is purely from her picking up on what Gabriel is talking about from school, what she picks up from educational TV shows, and what I read to her. (I somewhat regularly play Starfall with her, or do a couple of little dollar-section-at-Target Pre-K workbooks.) She learns new things incredibly quickly, and once she learns the word for something, it sticks

There is a little pond next to our YMCA, and after we go to the gym, we often go feed the turtles (in the summer) and the resident flock of Canadian geese (in the winter). I feel like I always have the ends of bread loaves and stale Cheerios stored in my diaper bag for impromptu trips to the pond. The kids love it. There is a big bridge over the pond that is great for watching dozens and dozens of turtles or geese flock underneath you. I have us up on that bridge when we feed the geese usually, since they are about the same size as my children and can be mean.:) 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Rule of Life baby step

After being introduced to the idea of a Rule of Life in our Domestic Church formation last month, Michael and I have been tossing around different ideas for starting to lay out one of our own. One of the "rules of thumb" we thought might be a good idea for our family was to plan just one major event per day on the weekends (if there are multiple things going on that day to choose from). For example, doing a family 5K run on Saturday morning would nix a birthday party that afternoon.

St. Paul tells us in Romans 12:2 that we should "not conform to the pattern of this world." If the pattern of this world isn't BUSY, I don't know what it is.

I think that the biggest reason behind Michael and I wanting to have a rule about the number of activities we do is the need for our kids to get enough rest. We don't need a home visit from Captain Obvious to know by now that both us and our kids will be MISERABLE at some point that day
 if the kids don't get enough sleep. For me in particular, it is honestly hard to fully enjoy an outing when I know I'll have to 'pay for it' later when I have three very tired, very whiny young children to put to bed.
A restful moment. Courtesy of Faith's Imagination.

Weekends are where Mike and I tend to overdo it the most. So many times we have said yes to just a little too much, and by Sunday night, we are ships passing in the night. Michael's ship most often heads to the couch to catch up on his favorite shows. My ship busies herself with trying not to be grumpy while cleaning up weekend messes and making over-ambitious to-do lists for the upcoming week. My ship then heads back to harbor to turn on her trusty sound machine and go to bed super early. True story I'm afraid. (Although I would be exaggerating if I tried to convince you that we are so popular and social that we have a dozen events and invitations to choose from every weekend. We do have some lovely, low-key weekends fairly often.)

Here's to hoping that Mike and I's little baby step toward creating our rule of life helps us to have more energy for one another more consistently, especially by Sunday evening.

Speaking of Sundays...I smell some pondering in my future on God's commandment for us to keep holy the Sabbath day and to make it a day of "rest." Observing the Sunday commandment with a right heart isn't something I've talked or read a lot about, and it's something that I think a lot of people kind of gloss over.


You might have just read the beginning of an upcoming post on keeping Sunday a holy day for rest and for honoring God. Because I'm curious...and I may or may not have just found a whole section about it in our awesome Catechism. Also, I've had a nagging feeling for a while now that somehow my family's busy, social lifestyle can be tempered just a little bit more for the glory of God. To be honest, I feel like Sundays for us feel almost always just like a Saturday, but with the morning blocked out for mass. I'll let you guys know what I find.:)

God bless!

This little cutie pie loves her rest

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Mother Teresa's Fragrance Prayer

I have been taking the children to Catechesis of the Good Shepherd apostolate of the Missionaries of Charity here in Baton Rouge. While the children are in the atrium for their class, Gianna and I spend time in the sisters’ little chapel, and we visit with the other waiting parents and any sisters taking a short break from their evening chores. We also usually play long games of Chase-the-Eighteen-Month-Old up and down the long main hallway, with the sisters in the kitchen occasionally peeking out to coo and giggle at my admittedly adorable offspring.

Not surprisingly, these last few months I have subconsciously been recalling what I know of Blessed Mother Teresa’s spirituality and that of her order. One of my favorite things from her, which I first heard in high school, is her Fragrance Prayer: 
Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly,
That my life may only be a radiance of Yours.
Shine through me, and be so in me
That every soul I come in contact with
May feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!
Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine,
So to shine as to be a light to others;
The light, O Jesus will be all from You; none of it will be mine;
It will be you, shining on others through me.
Let me thus praise You the way You love best, by shining on those around me.
Let me preach You without preaching, not by words but by my example,
By the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do,
The evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You.
The spirituality of Mother Teresa is so evident in every Missionary of Charity I have met. They all have big smiles, genuine concern for others, incredible work ethic, and just a beaming kind of beauty that is hard to describe. I gravitate toward that in others, and I really seek this kind of living in my own spirituality.

If we are actually and truly growing in our faith, then we can’t help but give testimony to the Holy Spirit’s work in us with our warmth, our affection, our enthusiasm, and our thoughtfulness. What is more, it seems to me that the evidence of God’s work in our hearts will always show in our attitudes towards our duties, towards our crosses, and towards those around us.

Something to think about.:) Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Most Important Christians They'll Ever Meet

The Act of Contrition is one of my favorite prayers. It is generally said after receiving absolution in the sacrament of confession, but I like to say it before bed as I review my day in prayer. We said this prayer every afternoon at my Catholic elementary school, something I am very grateful for now.
O My God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all of my sins because of thy just punishment, but most of all, because they offend Thee my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.
Even as a child mindlessly glossing over this daily prayer many times, as I grew and matured in my faith I remember when this prayer started to draw me into a true desire to get to know this God who was “all good and deserving of all my love.”

I remember as a very little girl asking God sincerely to help me be good and to avoid sin. Of course, I also remember being very little and quite sincerely asking God to please not make me be a nun, even though I knew that just-like-Moses-sometimes-God-wants-you-to-do-the-exact-thing-you're-really-scared-to-do.:) 

There was one time, though--I was maybe ten or eleven--when I was for some reason incredibly moved in my young faith by God’s goodness. I remember vividly standing in my parents’ carport for some reason, and suddenly I was overcome with emotion as I prayed, and I asked God to take care of my soul always so that I would never be away from Him. I told him that I wanted to be with him one day in Heaven. 

I recently ran across some interesting research from the Barna Group, a research firm specializing in the intersection of faith and culture. They found that most people have their spiritual foundation in place by the age of nine.

That's four years from now, for my first-born. 

I feel that Michael and I are doing a good job with our children, by the grace of God, but I pray often for guidance and inspiration about how we could be doing a great job of instructing our children in their faith. For all of our efforts, I know that we can accomplish nothing without God. It's his grace and mercy that allow any fruit at all to come from our work. That is a humbling thing. 

But maybe there's something good about realizing that the things we do don't guarantee success in our children. At least for me, I am then drawn toward perfecting who I am in Christ. I look again at St. Monica, and especially our Blessed Mother. They remind me that my focus should be on dealing with myself, first and always. Living a holy life, being in every virtue and in grace exactly who God created me to be. 

All of that sounds lovely-but-lofty, right? 

I think it comes down for me to making sure that my children see that Christianity--lived out--should mean something. The most important Christians my children will ever meet are their mom and dad. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Three on Earth, One in Heaven

Michael and I suffered a miscarriage this month. We named our baby Kolbe Joseph. We both think he was a boy. 

I was mysteriously sick for two or three weeks (with pregnancy symptoms, we realized later) before we actually found out we were pregnant. It gives me comfort to know now that I endured some happy suffering for our little one. :) 

Just a few days after seeing that powerful little cross on the pregnancy test, we were devastated to find out that we were losing the baby. 

I have pondered many things in my heart these past few weeks. First, I have a renewed thankfulness for my three children. Three little souls to chase after, and read to, and be delighted by many times a day. Three little noses to wipe and three soft little foreheads to bless with a kiss and a prayer when I put them to bed. Three little souls that God has entrusted Michael and me to take care of here on Earth. And now one special little soul to pray for all of us from Heaven.

I have also been pondering lately on what it means to be “pro-life.” A few days after finding out we had miscarried our baby, I had to stop by the Women’s New Life Center, which is located directly across the parking lot from the local abortion facility. 40 Days for Life is going on right now, and I happened to drive up on one of the busiest mornings of the week for the abortion facility. There were a couple of dozen people praying in front of the center, which had a full parking lot. I happened to have about 40 minutes of time I needed to waste before an appointment, so I unpacked my girls and we joined a group of students from LSU’s Students for Life.

I have taken my children to pray in front of abortion clinics before, but this morning was very different for me. As I prayed for each precious woman, couple and baby who walked in those doors, I thought about how much I had wanted my baby. I thought about how much my friends and family struggling with infertility want a baby. I thought about how many people I know wait months and years to adopt a child. My grief for the unborn and their parents, my sadness for our culture of selfishness and death, and my passion in prayer were more real and felt than before.

I also thought about the thousand different things that must come together for conception to even occur, and the thousand different things that must come together to sustain and bring a pregnancy to term. “Babies are a miracle” seems like such a cliché thing to say…but if each of us understand how much has to happen to conceive, grow and then deliver a healthy human being, I think we would all have more positive, life-affirming attitudes toward conception and pregnancy.

Finally, I thought about the dignity of each human life, from conception to natural death. Dignity is not something that we can be arbitrary about. We cannot award dignity only to those souls whose bodies happen to have developed correctly or to a certain stage. We cannot award dignity, sympathy and protection only to those souls who are wanted. Who was it that said, “It seems to me that the only people who are for abortion have been born"?

I am grateful for the family and friends whose ongoing love and support have given such dignity to us and to the tiny life we lost. Your kind words have been a blessing to me, and your prayers have been absolutely felt. It was also a comfort to me to enter our baby’s name into the Book of Life at the Church of the Holy Innocents in New York. This church’s beautiful ministry, free and open to all through their website, is to families of children who died before or at birth. A candle is kept burning constantly in the children's memory, and on the first Monday of every month, a mass is said in honor of the children and for the comfort of their families.

I am thankful for this little one whose short life has drawn me closer to my Father and to my husband, and has given me a greater depth of love for the unborn. Baby Kolbe Joseph, pray for us! 

Friday, October 3, 2014

30 Ideas for Passing on the Faith to Little Ones

So, you are a mother (or father) of little ones. Really little--under five years old. If you're wading through The Little Years with me right now, you are probably interested in learning how to pass on faith to your children. Did you know that research has found that most people's moral foundations are in place by age nine? Or that a person's spiritual beliefs are generally set by around 13? Yep, we have big work to do with our little ones! As parents, we are the most important teachers our children will ever have. Our job requires creativity, perseverance, conviction, and lots of prayer (not to mention coffee). 

If you don't know where to start, or even if you have a few good ideas already, this post is for you! Here are 30 ideas for passing on the faith to your little ones and cultivating a home with Christ at its heart. 
"In our own time, in a world often alien and even hostile to faith, believing families are of primary importance as centers of living, radiant faith. For this reason the Second Vatican Council, using an ancient expression, calls the family the Ecclesia domestica. It is in the bosom of the family that parents are "by word and example... the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children…."
                                                              Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1656

1. Pray as a family, every day - Yes, it will be like nailing jello to the wall sometimes. Maybe a lot of times. Have you been to my house?! But press on with me. Repetition and consistency go far. Don't become discouraged (even though little children's apathy and immaturity can often be discouraging!), but trust that God is multiplying and honoring your efforts. Make a big deal with children over small improvements--and let yourself "count" those small improvements in your own heart. Remember that God honors and multiplies every baby step we take towards Him. Also, we've found that lighting a candle and lowering the lights can really get the kids' attention. There is still the obligatory occasional fighting over who gets to blow out the candle or sit in Mommy's lap, but that's to be expected.:) 

During prayer, we like to go around and say what we are most thankful for that day. I love to hear the sweet things that sometimes come out of my children's mouths (when they aren't saying something like, "Jesus!" or "Mommy and Daddy and brother and Mommy and Daddy!" We also sometimes go around and ask Jesus for help with a virtue that we need to work on. I will help the children "remember" something that they need to work on, as well as sharing my own, and we thank Jesus together for giving us the grace to do better tomorrow. 

2. Say a blessing before every meal. And teach those babies the Sign of the Cross. We actually physically hold our babies' little hands together during prayer, smiling and encouraging them with our eyes while we pray, and we help them to the sign of the cross. Eventually, each of the kids have been thrilled to get lots of praise for starting to do it all on their own. Doing the Sign of the Cross and praying with everyone else makes them feel like part of the family in a new and special way for them.

3. Eat at least one meal per day as a family - Spending time together over a meal cannot be underestimated in maintaining unity as a family. 

4. Start by singing - Even the smallest infant loves to be sung to. Sing simply hymns to your baby while nursing or before bed. "Immaculate Mary," "Amazing Grace," or "On Eagles Wings" are favorites of mine. :) We usually sing a song during Family Prayer at night. 

5. Celebrate liturgical seasons - Find one or two small ways (read: "don't be too ambitious!") to celebrate major liturgical seasons. For example, sing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" during Family Prayer or before meals during the season of Advent. Blogs like Catholic Icing have tons of awesome crafts, activities and ideas for celebrating every feast day, season, saint and Bible story you can think of. 

This past Lent, I did a Crown of Thorns with the kids, in which we all got to take a thorn out of Jesus' Crown of Thorns whenever we made a small sacrifice for him. The older kids (2 and 4 at the time) really got into it at points (although I had to make a concentrated effort to keep the sacrifices going for everyone all during Lent). For Christmas, I'd like to do a Jesse Tree (but maybe not this year...still may be too ambitious if I'm being honest.:)

6. Invite children to pray with you all through the day -  I try to pray a midday Angelus, and a 
3 o'clock hour Chaplet of Divine Mercy (or just the closing prayer). I often say the Angelus with the kids as I put them down for naps after lunch. If they wake up in time, I invite them to join me on the couch for a quick Chaplet or prayer if they wake up from their naps during the 3 o'clock hour. Seeing mommy pray and inviting them in, even just to cuddle with me for a couple of minutes, is teaching them something important. 

7. Take a field trip to church - Take a field trip to your church before or after mass or on a special day. Spend time in front of the tabernacle, statues, and special parts of the church. Teach them the names of things, and by your example show them how to be prayerful and respectful. When you go to mass on Sunday, ask each child, "where is the tabernacle?" or "where is the crucifix?" or "Wh
ere is Jesus who loves us very much?" If you attend mass on a feast day where they use incense, 
The sights, sounds and smells of our churches are meant to engage us in every way in contemplating our faith. During May, the month of Mary, start a family (or friend group) tradition of doing a "pilgrimage" to a favorite Marian place, church or statue. Pray a decade of the Rosary, bring flowers, sing a song, and enjoy a picnic afterwards.

8. Find Catholic coloring pages and books - Again, there are tons of places online with great (free!) printables. You can also check out the great selection of coloring books on the life of Jesus at Holy Heroes. In fact, to celebrate a special feast day or liturgical season, try just quickly printing out a coloring page you find online and talking about the picture for a minute before letting the kids have at it with markers or crayons. 

9. Make a family prayer space in your home - Set up a little table with prayer candle, Bible, some special books, religious statues and rosaries.

10. Cultivate thankful hearts - I remind my kids all the time that "a thankful heart is a happy heart" (thank you, Madame Blueberry). 

11. Watch religious/Christian movies - Start a collection of wholesome Christian DVDs. Try Veggie Tales, Brother Francis, and a host of other movies made about Bible stories or the lives of the saints.

12. Listen to Christian children's CDs - We love the "Hide 'em in Your Heart" CD, but there are tons of great CDs out there. The Catholic family-owned Holy Heroes company is my favorite. They have beautifully-produced audio CDs on the lives of the saints, the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, and more. They also sell a large selection of books, toys, games and other items. 

13. Ask for religious-themed music, DVDs, toys and games for birthday and Christmas presents from family members - I know my kids' grandparents love to have a little direction sometimes! (I've sent everyone the Holy Heroes link a few times now for Christmas in particular)

14. Teach your children how to apologize well - I feel like I make my two older children apologize for something all day long some days! A quick (and insincere) "Sorry!" is not an acceptable good apology in our home. My kids know that the only "correct" apology is, "I was wrong to ______. Will you please forgive me?" And they have to do it respectfully, with eye contact, and no wiggling. So many people go through their entire lives never saying a real, sincere, I-take-responsibility apology. It's a life skill and it's a soul-building skill.

15. Teach your children how to be obedient and respectful - Learning obedience and respect for parents' authority points to obedience to God. In the South, we accept only "yes ma'am" and "yes, sir" etc. When we call a child, that child must respond with, "Ma'am?"--never a "what?!" Also, we never let the children get away with speaking disrespectfully to us or to one another. We do a lot of "re-do's"!

16. Don't hold a grudge - When discipling your children, move past discipline moments quickly--"forgive and forget." Don't hold grudges or stay in a bad mood, even if you feel like you discipline somebody every five minutes all morning long. Wipe the slate clean--just like God does with us. Moving past discipline moments quickly will model for little ones how to move on quickly from those situations as well, especially when they are the ones that have been wronged.

17. Don't use the words "good" and "bad" to refer to your child - Make sure that you emphasize that a child made a bad choice--don't refer to the child herself as 'being bad.' Praise children when they make a good choice by telling them so. I have already seen in my oldest child that when he feels like he is "a bad boy," he kind of "gives up" in a sense, and succombs to making even more bad choices. So many adults follow that behavior too: when they feel they have disappointed someone or failed at something, they feel there is no turning back, and they dive headlong into more poor choices. Speak often to your children about good and bad choices. Remind them that good choices make things go well for them and for everyone else, as well as making Jesus very happy. 

18. Pray in the car - Little kids move constantly, so when they are all strapped in and you have them reliably in one place for a period of time...why, use that time well, honeybun! My oldest is in school, and on the way to school every morning, we pray a Morning Offering together and ask for Jesus to help us with something we need help with that day, whether it is "being nice to my sister" (usually Gabe) or "patience and gentleness with the kids" (usually me). If you are heading to an activity or sports practice, pray over the activity or over the child about to perform the activity. Before a road trip, stop and pray as a family for the safety and peace of the trip. 

19. Say a Morning Offering - We say a Morning Offering either before the kids get out of bed (they sleep in the same room) or on the way to school in the van. We use a children's morning offering that has hand motions (always a plus with little ones!). It goes like this: 
"Good morning, dear Jesus
This day is for you, 
We ask that you bless 
All we think, say, and do." 
(On "think," point to your head with both index fingers. On "say," point to your mouth. On "do," hold out your hands like you are offering a gift.)

Since we started praying a Morning Offering together, I've added another prayer that we say right after it:
"Sacred Heart of Jesus,
I offer you my thoughts, words, joys and sufferings today,
Jesus, I trust in you!
Please be my comfort,
And the King of my heart."

20. Celebrate children's saint name feast days (if they have one) - Again, don't get too ambitious! First, put your family's special days on your calendar (with reminders, if possible). Then, simply plan for a special dessert or meal that day. You could also simply print out a little coloring page to do as an activity that day, during which you talk about the life of the saint and what they teach us about living as a Christian. You could also go all Super Together Mom and buy them a small religious gift.

21. Sneak Scripture into everyday life - Find ways to sneak Scripture into the everyday. If you have a child who often gives up easily on tasks, encourage her with "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!" (The "I think I can! I think I can! mantra of the Little Engine that Could is helpful too, by the way) Or when something good happens, make a habit of exclaiming "All good things come from our Father above!" You get the idea. :)

22. Introduce them to redemptive suffering - When a child isn't feeling well, do a little spontaneous prayer to ask Jesus and "Momma Mary" to help him feel better soon. Ask him who he would like to offer up his "sick feelings" for. What a beautiful, simple way to introduce the idea of redemptive suffering to little ones.

23. Say a prayer together when you pass an ambulance - When you pass an ambulance in the car, stop the conversation and say a quick prayer for the sick or injured. Ours is: "Hail Mary full of grace, to the suffering please make haste!"

24. Donate food to the poor every time you go to the grocery store - There is a donation bin right by the exit at our local grocery store. When I remember to, I try to pick up one extra item that the kids can donate on the way out. If possible, I try to let them pick the item themselves.

25. Start teaching your children the Rosary - There are some great ideas out there for teaching little ones about the Rosary. The Rosary is also such a great way to introduce the life of Jesus, since in each mystery of the Rosary we are meant to meditate on an event in our Lord's life. I have heard, for example, of making little books with pictures of each mystery for children to look at during a family rosary.

26. Take your children to adoration -
Adoration is not only for silent, personal prayer for adults, although it is of course be charitable to mindful of the distraction the kids may be to other adorers. It can be a lot less daunting to take noisy little ones to adoration when you know you won't be the only one with children there! Remember that Jesus said, 'Let the little children come unto me." If there's a children's adoration program near you, try it out one day. Or ask your church if you can start one.:)

27. Kiss the cross - Have children kiss a small cross before going to bed and upon waking up in the morning. Hang it low somewhere in their room. 

28. Decorate your home with Christian art, statues, and Scripture - Don't worry so much that your house is "going to feel like a church." Decorate in such a way that the people who matter most--you and your family--will be uplifted and inspired by the beauty and presence of thoughtfully chosen and placed religious decor.

29. Bless your children - Before anyone in your family leaves the house for the day, bless them with a short prayer and a cross drawn on their forehead with your thumb. Some families may prefer to also (or instead) bless each child before they go to bed. Either way, blessing your children is a beautiful, intimate tradition that they will keep with them--and treasure--well into adulthood.

30. Grow in your faith--and in your marriage - We cannot give away what we do not have. Continuously seek to deepen your faith, both your relationship with Christ and your love and understanding of your Catholic faith. Both are necessary in order to form your children fully in their own faith. If you are married, what is also necessary to form your children spiritually is a mother and father who love one another. Speak well of one another. Show affection. Be playful and silly. Be unified in discipline, firm, fair, and humble in leadership.  

There are so many other little habits, traditions and ideas that can help to bring God into our homes and our children's hearts. But remember that we don't have to do everything--especially not at first. And "at first" means right now for most of you reading this, including me. I will say again that if your oldest is under five, and especially if you have multiple children under five, it’s likely that you don’t have the bandwidth or maturity level in the kids to “do” more right now! Despite the fact that I wrote this nice epic blog post with all these lovely ways to pass on my faith to my kids, I don't do all of these things every day or all the time. We have to trust that God will guide each of our families to where He wants us to be (which is not always where we think we need to be!). Remember that where God guides, He provides. 

Start by doing something little, praying a lot, and knowing that all the small things you are doing really do add up. 

“Do not grow weary of doing good, for at the appointed time you will reap a harvest.” –Gal 6:9

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A family update as we near our one-year move anniversary

As we approach the one-year anniversary of moving back to my hometown of Baton Rouge, I thought it would be a good time to write a family update. If you have followed my blog for a while, you probably know that we spent a wonderful, busy 5 1/2 years in Houston. In that time, Michael and I had three children, worked five different jobs between us, and started a business. We also developed an incredibly close community of friends that we still miss very much.

The biggest "update" I'll share is that this one-year move anniversary is also the one-year anniversary of living with my parents. I know, I know. Your eyes are widening in disbelief as so many others have when I mention our living situation. It's okay.:) I am happy to speak volumes to my parents' goodness, though, to anyone who wants to listen. They have been so amazing. Their unfailing support, respect, and faith in Michael and I all this time have touched both of us deeply.

Believe it or not, we all still like each other after all this time! Call it a miracle if you want...certainly I personally point it all to God's grace! But I think you could also say that there are four adults in this home who have stepped up to the plate in mutual respect, support, unselfishness, and thankfulness. Not to mention the four of us have all learned pretty well by now not to sweat the small stuff.:)

The first seven months or so of living here, financial stress prevented us from being able to buy or even rent a home for our family. And yes, that was an incredibly stressful, hard pill to swallow! We were literally putting offers on houses when we first moved to Baton Rouge, but nothing worked out for various reasons (and praise God for that!). We were originally only supposed to stay with my parents for a couple of months. As things played out, though, we have obviously ended up staying with them for much, much longer. Somehow, God and four good-willed hearts have made it work--not perfectly, but very and kind-of-miraculously well.

Over the past few months, we discerned (to our great surprise!) a direction toward buying property and building a home, with the understanding that we would continue living with my parents until the house was built. Buying a small amount of property to raise our family on has always been a dream of Michael's, and more recently, mine as well, as I have seen my children get a little older and find such joy in the outdoors. Lo and behold...we found a lovely piece of property (2.038 acres!) five minutes away from Michael's new job (which he loves, praise God!). The property is also adjacent to a lovely little neighborhood (I went to high school with our closest neighbor too--how crazy is that?). I love that I will have sidewalks to go walking, and neighbors close by for community and safety's sake. All I can say is that God made the path straight for us to buy this property. Even up to walking in the door at the closing office, we prayed fervently that He would shut this door firmly if it wasn't in The Plan.

Speaking of The Plan...right now our plan from here on is to hopefully build our home within the next two years. Sooner than later would be wonderful, of course! The Lord will have to make a hundred more paths straight for us before we walk over the threshold of our future new home, but we (and my parents) are okay with that. Where God guides, He provides...in His timing and wisdom. We are expecting to work hard, save a lot, and buckle down for the long haul. I'll keep you updated when anything exciting happens. :)

Oh, how the timing of the Lord has been incredible this past year! There are so many other stories and pieces of information about the past year that I can't include on this post. The past year has been so difficult but so in God's control on many levels for both Michael and me. Suffice to say, God has been doing mighty work in my life and also in my marriage. Every time I pray, He reminds me to trust, trust, trust.

Some other family updates...

Gabriel is excelling in Pre-K at our church's elementary school. He has struggled a little with behavior at school (read: We make a BIG deal out of a smiley-face on his daily behavior chart) but nothing too out of the ordinary for an active little boy in school for the first time. He is almost writing his name, he has a passion for painting and crafting now, and he can spell a handful of words and name all the letters in a word you show him. All of this in about two months of school from a kid who couldn't even sing the ABC's correctly on Day 1! I love that he is learning so much at school. Faith, on the other hand, is learning rapidly as well. She is definitely going to be starting Pre-K next fall ahead of the game. I imagine that I will be doing a lot of the same work with both of them next year...Because as of now, we are actually discerning homeschooling the kids next year (Kindergarten for Gabe and Pre-K for Faith). There are a lot of resources and good community here in Baton Rouge for homeschoolers (I actually have several close friends who homeschool here too), so I feel like God has been trying to affirm me that all will be well for next year if we do end up going that route.

I have LOVED having "only" Faith and Gianna during the week these days. Two little girls who generally get along--and one who naps half the morning still--has been such a breather for me. The summer was extremely hard for me with all three kids, all the time. I feel like school has brought with it both rest and help with establishing a more consistent routine for my family. Also, Michael and I realized early on in the school year (to our surprise!) that 6:30pm is the Magic Bedtime for our kids. All three of them seem to need that much sleep to be their best selves--especially Gabriel with his all-day school day now. Having all the kids solidly in bed by 6:30 has been so nice! I have more time with Michael, or time to blog, read, or go to bed at 8:00 pm if I want to. It has been a real gift for me.

This fall, I have enrolled the older children in a small Catechesis of the Good Shepherd class at a church downtown. The Missionaries of Charity run the program, which is held in their convent. I have loved seeing Faith and Gabriel grow in sweet little ways in their faith over the several weeks we have been going. I have also really enjoyed spending time in the sisters' chapel with Gianna, and also getting to know the few other moms I have befriended whose children attend as well. Parents are not allowed in the atrium during the sessions, so we all wait outside in the hallway and visit, or we spend time in the chapel. It's a very small program--maybe 10 children--so you get to know everyone quickly. I am so thankful for the opportunity to put my children in a Good Shepherd class!

I am also still doing my radio show, Faith and Good Counsel. I co-host about once per month. I love the opportunity to share my faith and interview incredible guests on topics including marriage, spirituality, family life and parenthood. I am currently waiting on construction to finish at a new podcast studio near my house, where I will be producing a weekly Humble Handmaid podcast that will probably start up by the beginning of next year. God has kept me on the path toward this new project, despite all my doubts and distractions! I'll keep everyone updated for when my podcast goes live.

Michael and I are coming near to the end of the first few formation months of Domestic Church. I can't explain what a help, a comfort, and a unifier Domestic Church has been for us since we first went on the couples retreat last December. We are thrilled to be having a retreat for Baton Rouge-area couples set for the end of November (although any couple is welcome to go). I am helping to coordinate the retreat, and it has been a joy for me to be able to share this gift with couples here in Baton Rouge. For Michael and I, Domestic Church is simple and practical: as Catholic couples, everything you "do" with Domestic Church is what we should be and want to be doing already. We have gotten so much from Domestic Church's gentle accountability, the support of other like-minded married couples, and this movement's focus on cultivating a strong marriage united in prayer.

I am currently doing a Bible study on the Psalms with the women's group at our church. I am learning so much about how to pray! One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 34. Just as the Psalms are meant to, Psalm 34 puts into words what I cannot put into words myself. The first few verses, in particular, are the inspiration for why I would share this pretty personal update of my family for my readers at all. I only hope that knowing a little more about what God has done in my life will points others to God's goodness, mercy, and saving power!

Psalm 34:1-18

I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together!

I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him,
and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good!
Happy is the man who takes refuge in him!
O fear the Lord, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no want!
The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Come, O sons, listen to me,
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
What man is there who desires life,
and covets many days, that he may enjoy good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
seek peace, and pursue it.

The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous,
and his ears toward their cry.
The face of the Lord is against evildoers,
to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears,
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted,
and saves the crushed in spirit.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The school of holiness

Lately, I have been praying often for a strong marriage and family. I want so much for my children! I want so much to be a wonderful wife and mother! I have had real comfort in knowing, though, that I am in the best of positions for becoming the woman and mother God made me to be for my family: because the family itself is a school of holiness. 

If we can forgive, share, and serve outside the home, that's great. But if we can do it inside our homes--that is where it counts maybe even more. Because it's harder. I don't know about you, but it is so much easier for me to "be a good person" when I'm not at home. It's easy for me to be a cheerful servant, a thoughtful friend, or a forgiving coworker when I don't know all of someone's flaws, or fold their underwear, or remember how they always do that exact same annoying thing, or discipline them all day long...or have to potty train them. 

Often over the past few years, I have read that meditating on the Holy Family--Jesus, Mary and Joseph--can be an amazing way to help us seek day-to-day virtue in family life. It's the idea that the more like Mary a mother is, and the more like St. Joseph a father is, the more like Jesus their children will be. 

Some of you out there may be thinking at this point, "but we shouldn't be looking to Mary and Joseph as an example--we should only be looking to Jesus!" Well, of course we should be looking at Jesus! :) We should be studying His life and devouring His word and spending time with Him constantly in prayer. 

But in family life in particular, we learn about God. The structure of the family points us to God because it is an image of the Holy Trinity. And when we look to the gift of the one family in all of history that imaged the Holy Trinity perfectly, we can learn a few things about how to live in ours. We should always look to the life of Jesus, but what Scripture says about the lives of the Holy Family is important for us as well. Fathers can learn much from St. Joseph's quiet strength, service and leadership. Mothers--but really all of us!--can learn much from Mary's total trust and surrender to God's will in every moment of her life--from the annunciation to the crucifixion. 

Another reason that it is so helpful to meditate on St. Joseph and Mary as parents is that parents are the most important teachers their children will ever have.  To be the best parents we can be, we must strive to be the holy men and women God created each of us to be. Often that means that our own dreams and expectations for our lives have to change or fall to the wayside. Joseph and Mary are perfect examples of being exactly and just what God created them to be, which was a far cry from what either of them expected God to ask of them! Sounds like marriage and parenthood, doesn't it? :) 

When my children leave my home and head off on their own adventures one day, I pray that they will have learned to serve. I pray that they will know they will always find themselves most profoundly when they give themselves away. I pray that they will love goodness, and strive for virtue in everything. I pray that they will have deeply converted hearts for Christ. I pray that their minds will educated and well-versed in their faith. I pray that they will be people of action and courage. I pray that they will be a blessing to others. 

Don't get me wrong, I definitely pray as well that my children will all get full-ride scholarships to the college of their choice, but my greatest gift to them will not be second-to-none schools and a fully-funded college education. I hope that my greatest gift to them will be that I was fully and consistently the woman God created me to be for them and for their father. 

What use is a brilliant political career if a person has not learned to be a servant? What kind of spouse will a person be if she doesn't already know how to choose to love even when it hurts? 

On another level, will your child's future college roommates be horrified because he can't clean up after himself, do his own dishes, or share his Xbox? 

I've got lots of work to do before that moment when I boohoo-cry as my oldest child walks down the aisle at his high school graduation, but I've got a little time, the hope and promise of grace, and some pretty awesome Heavenly role models to help me along the way.

And now for some snapshots of my own holy family! 
I LOVE hoodie bath towels on my babies. 

Playing well together at last! My girls, my girls, my beautiful girls!

My brother, Ryan, and his fiancee Mitzi, with the kiddos

Mom (aka "Lulu") playing iPad with all three kids. Adorable. 

Gianna being adorably sleepy tonight. She just lay down in the middle of the kitchen floor next to Emma. Then she just stared at me with this sad expression for about 15 minutes. About 45 minutes later, she threw up. A lot. And don't I feel like the WORST mother because she threw up a what turned out to be a horrifying amount of DOG FOOD.;/ I have a few ideas of how she could have come to ingest it all...there was a major spill in the kitchen yesterday (a three-year-old with initiative, yes I do know of that child of which you speak)...and Gianna did play out on the patio while I was in and out a few times checking on the gumbo (did the dog not eat all of her food?? And I thought that stuff on Gianna's hands was dirt??!!) Suffice to say dog food access at our house will be nill from this point on. My poor baby!