Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Merciful Lent as a Mother

+JMJ+

What are you doing this Lent? Or what are you not doing this Lent? Or perhaps, what are you changing/giving/praying/(insert your own gerund here)?

I've always felt that Lent is such a "big" time of year. And, of course, it is. After all, it's an entire season filled with prayer, fasting, almsgiving, preparation, reflection, and repentance. When we take a step back and reflect on the nature of Lent - on the cruel temptations our Lord endured in order to reveal His divine mercy to all the world - it can sound downright harrowing. In a way, Lent is the solemn bridge we must traverse in order to arrive triumphant over the grave at Eastertide. 

Because of this, I think many of us find the entire concept of Lenten sacrifice to be daunting. I mean, how do we choose the "right" thing to do? Is it enough? Is it too much? What if we "fail" to uphold any Lenten promises or fall short of reaching a particular goal? How easily we forget that the only "goal" is to work hard at becoming holy! 

Striving to become holier looks completely different from one person to another; likewise, the paths to holiness can look like Big sacrifices - or perhaps an array of faithful, small actions. Regardless of the specifics, Lent is a liturgical season that seeks to refine and edify us in preparation of what is to come.

In the past I used to dedicate a great deal of thought and/or prayer to finding the "right" Lenten sacrifices for myself. I spent unnecessary amounts of time second-guessing my choices and/or failing to follow through on my plans. Nowadays? Not so much.

To be sure, I still make an effort to consciously choose specific things to put into practice or work on throughout Lent (because it's difficult to follow-through on anything if I'm just winging it without a concrete list to refer to)...but I honestly don't worry too much about it.

That might sound flippant, but I do not mean that my decisions lack thought or discernment; I literally mean that I choose my Lenten focus then do not let myself worry about it. The temptation to second-guess, to do more, to add or delete items on my Lenten list of things to do/focus on/improve was very much a struggle for me in previous years - which I can only see now thanks to the clarity of hindsight.

Truly, I think the perspective I gained in becoming a wife and then a mother has caused me to shift my priorities in manifold facets of my life - including spiritually. Now that my time is consumed by caring for little ones I no longer have the luxury of attending daily Mass (at least not without some major hurdles!) or enjoying uninterrupted, peaceful prayer time on a consistent basis. As my children and I grow I hope to get back to that place someday - but for now I must be content with a prayer life that largely consists of quick petitions for patience (or grace or energy) to get through the day or offering up the monotonous task of washing dishes or clearing a path on a floor strewn with toys as an act of my love for my family and my God. When this is what my daily life consists of, my approach towards Lent must adapt accordingly.

And so it does.

I have chosen a few, tangible things to do this Lent...and I will humbly trust that He will accomplish the rest within my heart or through me.

The fact of the matter is that motherhood offers us a continual Lent of sorts; every little deed that we offer up out of love for others has the ability to refine us. Still, I feel that I'm at a point of being able to do a bit more this Lenten season beyond simply being a mother (and if that's all you can muster up this Lent, then by all means please be merciful on yourself and don't force yourself to do more! After all, it IS the Year of Mercy).



To be clear, I'm not suggesting that mercy is a pardon for laziness. It would be naive (at best) for me to think that I can grow in holiness without putting in any honest effort. However, I think many of us spend too much time seeking the "right" things that are holy enough, deep enough, challenging enough, etc. At some point I think we need to recognize that all of that second-guessing or feeling as if what we are offering to the Lord is not enough...really is enough.

So what am I hoping to do this Lent? God-willing, I will:


And that's mostly it! That list is essentially the bare minimum of what I would like to do this Lent (because I'm open to doing more should the Holy Spirit inspire me to do or learn other things), but if I "fail" I will not allow myself to be disheartened. Instead I will just trust that He has other, better plans in store for me.

Jesus, I trust in You. And that's what Lent is REALLY all about, is it not?


"I am Love and Mercy itself. When a soul approaches Me with trust, I fill it with such an abundance of graces that it cannot contain them within itself, but radiates them to other souls."

-Jesus speaking to St. Faustina, Diary (1074)

Friday, February 19, 2016

A Jubilee and Faces of Mercy

+JMJ+

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that many of you dear readers are either: Catholic and/or mamas. If you happen to be BOTH of those things, this one's for you!

Y'all have heard of the Year of Mercy, right? Right. It began on December 8th, 2015 (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception) and will conclude on November 20, 2016 (the Feast of Christ the King).

What is a jubilee year (or holy year), you ask? Thankfully, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website has summarized a helpful response to that very question:

"The practice of a jubilee year has ancient roots in the Jewish tradition and evidence for it can be found in the Old Testament (for example, see Leviticus 25). The jubilee year was called every fifty years and was a time for forgiveness. It stood as a reminder of God's providence and mercy. The dedication of a year for this emphasis provided the community with a time to come back into right relationship with one another and with God. As the practice of the jubilee year was adopted into the Catholic Church, these themes of mercy, forgiveness, and solidarity continued." (Source.)

In the Catholic Church we have a jubilee year every 25 years, but this Year of Mercy is set apart from this ordinary cycle of jubilees - making it an Extraordinary Jubilee. In other words, this holy Year of Mercy is pretty exceptional in the history of the Church, no?

So, what can we do to make the most of this Year of Mercy?

Well, lots of things! But I think it's always good to start with something tangible and simple. And if I may be so bold as to make a suggestion, I would recommend you begin (or continue - because I know some of you have already thought about this a lot) by checking out the "Faces of Mercy" Catholic Conference 4 Moms (CC4M).


The CC4M is an ONLINE video conference that you can attend from the comfort of your own home! OR you can experience and participate in the conference alongside some of your sisters in Christ in a group setting in someone else's home or at your local parish. It's a conference that can be done individually or within a group setting, which gives us busy moms something that is music to my ears: flexible, convenient, personalized options.

The beauty of this conference is that it's available online throughout all of Lent, beginning on February 20th (tomorrow!). This means that you can conveniently watch the videos or reflect on the discussion questions whenever it suits your schedule.

There are a couple components of the conference that will be live-streamed tomorrow (Saturday, February 20). If you don't know of any parishes or groups hosting the conference in your area, you can still "attend" these components alongside thousands of other moms by tuning in for a presentation by Jennifer Fulwiler at 10:30 EST and praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3:00 EST. 

If you would prefer to use this conference as an opportunity to connect with other Catholic moms in your area, please consider hosting it at your parish or in your home! Along with 3 other moms I'm helping to lead a local conference tomorrow at a nearby parish - and I can honestly say that all of the planning has been SO EASY. All of the materials (including marketing images, pre-written bulletin announcements, helpful suggestions, discussion questions, and more) are easily accessible if/when you decide to host.

Motherhood offers us endless opportunities to grow in mercy, so what better way is there to dive into this holy Year of Mercy than to learn, reflect, and pray alongside other mothers as we all strive to grow in holiness and mercy?



For more information regarding the Year of Mercy (i.e. why it's happening now, helpful resources with suggestions of what we can do, explanations about the Holy Doors, etc.), check out these resources:




"God's mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones (cf. Ez 37:1-14). ... Let us be renewed by God's mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish."

-Pope Francis, Easter Urbi et Orbi message on March 31, 2013

Thursday, February 11, 2016

When Your Child Schools You On Prayer

+JMJ+

This morning I received a text message from a friend who had plans to host a playdate tomorrow; she was taking her son to the doctor and asked if I could host our friends tomorrow instead. "Yes, no problem! I hope he feels better!" I replied.

Whenever my 2-year-old hears the text notification on my phone he usually asks, "Who is that, Mommy?" and promptly answers his own question with either "It's Daddy!" or "Ickinuh?" (the way he says Aunt Christina). Naturally, he is always curious about who I may be in communication with, so when I sat back down at the table to join him while he slowwwly finished his breakfast I told him who it was.

As I explained which of my friends it was (by informing him whose mommy she is, of course), I went ahead and told him in simple terms what she said: his friend was going to the doctor because he wasn't feeling well.

Cue the look: the sweet, pensive look of concern Gabriel expresses any time he hears anything to suggest that someone is hurt or sick. I could tell that he was really soaking in this information and trying to figure out what to do or say about it. He had paused eating and seemed at a bit of a loss, so I suggested that we say a prayer for his friend to feel better.

Gabriel immediately said yes to my proposal and I offered a brief prayer while he listened. He seemed to feel better once we prayed and soon picked up his spoon to resume eating his oatmeal. Then, the remainder of the conversation went something like this:
Me: We can always pray for our friends, can't we? Because when we pray God can help us. Jesus wants to help us - and all we have to do is ask.
G (nodding and holding one finger in the air as if to make a point): Mmhmm. Because we just have to ask Jesus to help someone... (trails off thinking)
Me: That's right.
G: ...And Jesus can help someone feel better!
Me: That's exactly right. 

And just like that I was FLOORED. Not by the fact that my son (who is barely 2.5) understood what I was telling him and responded as such (although that part did make me smile). Rather, I was floored by his reaction to the entire situation.

As a mom of young children living in New England, I wasn't the least bit taken aback by the fact that some child seemed to be ill in the middle of winter. I mean, that's just how life is this time of year, isn't it? Hearing a mom friend say their child is sick always makes me pause and offer sympathy or wishes to get well because we've all been there and know how challenging it can be. And sometimes I may even tell them they are in my prayers...but how often do I immediately sit down and thoughtfully say a prayer just for that child, mother, or family?

More often than not, any prayers I have promised are offered in the evening when we sit down and do our family prayers. But this morning my child made me realize that it was important to pray for our friends before continuing on with our day.

My son did not resume his meal until we had paused to pray for his friend. Only then did he move forward with ease...which also allowed me to see that it was helpful - not just for the people we were praying for, but even for us - to offer our prayers as part of our day rather than putting it off until later.

So, as I attempted to be instructive about prayer my child actually (unknowingly) instructed me. 

As soon as I realized the valuable lesson God had given me through my son, I thought to myself how true it is that our children will be the ones to lead us to Him. What a beautiful reminder to begin this Lenten journey!


Thank you, God, for blessing me with the gift of being this child's mother.

But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Matthew 19:14

Monday, February 8, 2016

"Peace on earth and mercy mild"

+JMJ+

I mentioned previously that 2015 was a year in which we had plans to spend Christmas with my husband's family, but as it happened we actually spent time with both of our families (and only had to travel once)! Win-win.

Since my sister and her husband have a house down the road from us, my mom and younger sister came to stay with them and we got to see them a good deal before and after our trip to Ohio.

Once my mom and younger sister arrived we spent the final days of Advent trying to get all of our family together as much as possible. We took turns with my sis hosting family dinners in our homes, my sister and her husband hosted an Advent party, and before you know it all 11 of us were ringing in Christ's birthday at a vigil Mass on Christmas Eve.

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!
My boys and their cousins with my mom/their Grammie
Peter with my little sister/his Godmother and the stocking my older sis made him

Christmas morning we opened stockings at our respective homes, then we piled our kids and gifts into the car and joined all my family for a morning of opening presents at my sister's place.



Considering that 5 out of the 11 people present were 5 years old or younger I would say that the morning actually went really smoothly! We got all the gifts opened and the children had a good amount of time to play together before Michael and I needed to get home, shower, eat a quick lunch, and high-tail it to the airport for our early afternoon Christmas day flight (we're crazy, I know).

My mother-in-law picked us up at the airport where I frantically (but safely) installed the new convertible car seat we purchased for my in-laws' house. Then we met up with almost all of my husband's family (his grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and immediate family) for a BIG Christmas dinner...Asian-style (which I must admit is FAR more enjoyable when you're not pregnant and totally averse to all kinds of seafood smells like I have been every other year).

The next 4 days basically looked like this...

Photo credit goes entirely to my sister-in-law on this one!
The boys with their Nai Nai and Ye Ye

...because my husband and I are the only ones in his generation that are married with children at this point in time. Those boys were loved and doted on like you wouldn't believe! I mean, just look at them (says their totally unbiased mother....)!



Being back in the Midwest was a breath of much-needed fresh air for Michael and me and I'm so grateful we had that time to see everyone. It's never easy traveling with young children and I'd be lying if I said every moment of each day in Ohio was smooth sailing (poor Peter's sleep was so thrown off!)...but all the sweet memories make the challenges worth it in the end.

And I think Gabriel only asked for his new "red guitar" (a Christmas gift from St. Nicholas pictured above) about 7 times - so I had to keep explaining that we didn't bring it to Ohio on the plane and it was waiting for him back in the Boston area. He really likes green and red right now, so when we spotted this "big green guitar!" before departing the Cleveland airport he was SO EXCITED (and beyond ready to get his hands back on his red guitar at home).


Upon returning from Ohio we had a few more days before my mom and younger sister left, so I don't remember all the details but I know we tried to visit with them while we could. New Year's Eve was particularly memorable because we hosted everyone for an evening of playing games and watching the ball drop at midnight. Michael and I even broke out our crystal wedding glasses (a precious keepsake gift from my mom) for our midnight toast!


Throughout my childhood we typically spent NYE playing board games with some close family friends before watching the ball drop, so it was really nice to be with my sisters (and our husbands and kids) and my mom doing something similar. 

It's not always easy to gather my family at this stage in our lives (especially considering how many far-away places Michael and I have lived in recent years), nor is it simple to get to Ohio from Boston with our young children...yet we achieved both this Christmas season! For this I am sincerely grateful. 

God is good. All the time (but especially during His birthday season). ;)

---

And because the super stylish Sarah requested I link-up with her Christmas outfits post I'm adding my piece about, oh...6 weeks later? Head over to Sarah's if you're interested in seeing what others wore to celebrate Christmas!

Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn king
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With angelic host proclaim
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
With angelic host proclaim
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
-Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Friday, February 5, 2016

Early December {A Photo Diary}

+JMJ+

Blogging breaks are hard. Not taking them, that is - but returning from them! I always find myself at the start of the new year with lots of photos, stories, and memories of the holiday season that never got documented in a timely fashion because I just can't seem to blog when family is visiting, we're traveling, or my husband has time off work. And that's okay. That's what I choose. It's my blog and I'll do what I want, right? 

But...I want to catch up before an entirely new season is upon us! Because something about blogging about Christmas in Lent just feels so wrong....

Realistically, I won't have time to hash out what we did for all of December and January before Lent begins - but if I resort to mostly posting photos without much writing I just might catch you all up through New Year's before Ash Wednesday. So that's the plan.

I already wrote about my birthday (which was in mid-December), but I have quite the collection of images I never shared from the earlier parts of the month. Without further ado, here they are! This is what early December looked like for us:


We moved from our apartment down the road into a new townhome merely days before Thanksgiving, so we spent the first week of the month unpacking ALL the things. That photo is a glimpse of our new living room almost entirely put together!

Then, my dad came to visit my older sister's family and mine for a weekend. He came bearing some early gifts for all the grandchildren, which they had lots of fun with.


Gabriel is becoming a pro at riding that little bike all around the house, which means he is also developing some mad skills to follow all the rules of not riding into any doors or walls and staying on the (fake) wood floors only - NOT the rug (which is where his baby brother usually is). Come springtime he will be so well-practiced with his pedaling that he will be cruising effortlessly down the sidewalk!

Later that same evening we all attended a Christmas party, which gave my nieces the perfect excuse to wear ridiculously adorable holiday outfits...and play with their toy ponies (of course).


Thankfully, they were kind enough to bring plenty of ponies to share one with Gabriel because we totally did not get the pony memo.


Then, after church on Sunday we went out to brunch and spent the rest of the afternoon just visiting with my dad before he needed to head back to the Midwest. We also tried to get photos of my dad with all of his grandchildren, although we failed to do it before Gabriel said his goodbyes and went upstairs for a nap. Come to think of it, Peter slept through all the photos, too:


What can I say? My kids need their naps (and thanks be to God, they usually get them).


Since we had eaten brunch at the Cheesecake Factory, we took home an entirely-too-big seasonal peppermint cheesecake. It was delicious but OH so rich - so we brought it with us to a St. Nicholas party we attended that evening with a few other families. The kids did a surprise gift exchange and the adults got to eat THIS:


Since it was a party on the feast of St. Nicholas, you know there was a very special guest who made an appearance for all the children....


Most of the kids were really wary of this jolly man who came bearing gifts, but my sister did a good job talking up his introduction. Gabriel hung back most of the time, but (probably thanks to all the Christmas books I had stocked up on from the local library and all our talk of who St. Nicholas was) I could tell that he was dazzled in a good way:


After St. Nicholas passed out lots of goodies, some (not all) of the kids were comfortable enough to get their picture taken with him - although the crying babies had no say in the matter.


My screaming nephew and Gabriel's expression...perfect.

In all seriousness, though, this was the first year Gabriel was old enough to learn about St. Nicholas and it was SO FUN to have discussions with him all throughout Advent; it really helped build the anticipation we try to create leading up to Christmas in a new way Michael and I had not yet gotten to experience as parents. St. Nicholas even left him a little Shining Light Doll of - you guessed it - St. Nicholas in his stocking on Christmas morning (Peter received St. Patrick, who mysteriously disappeared last week...so if you have any clues regarding his mischievous whereabouts do tell).

“The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic 
His giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves.” 
-St. Nicholas of Myra

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

28.

+JMJ+

Happy birthday to ME!

Just kidding.

Well, kind of....

Let me back up. Today is not actually my birthday. However, I did have a birthday not too long ago - which I'm finally getting around to writing about today (only about a month and half later).

Just for fun, here's a little recap of what was going on in my life on my birthdays in recent years/since getting married:

  • 25: I was a brand-new newlywed of only a few months, living in Michigan, and pregnant in the first trimester with Gabriel. I remember I had a cold, but Michael and I made some fun memories exploring nonetheless.
  • 26: We were doing a brief stint living in Florida (I know, my husband's career has taken us all over) and considering our baby was 4 months old I was figuring out all this parenthood/life balance which made fun for a fun, tired, beautiful time in our lives. We were blessed to have my sister and her family visiting us that week!
  • 27: We had been living in Pennsylvania for nearly a year, Gabriel was 16 months old, and I was a little bit beyond the first trimester with Peter. On my actual birthday Michael was temporarily in Colorado for work, but I found myself surrounded by the beautiful community God gave us during our time there as we celebrated - and prepared to say goodbye with a bittersweet move coming up less than a week later. I also made some comment that since I took no pictures, I would have to get a picture with my TWO kids on my lap the next year to make up for it.... ;)

So, 28!

My actual birthday (which is 10 days before Christmas) was on a weekday, so we made plans to celebrate with my sister and her family on the preceding Sunday evening. Since it was Gaudete Sunday (apropos of a celebration in Advent, no?), we had fun decking our little Christmas tree. It was the first time Gabriel (age 2) got to help hang up ornaments and potentially make some tree-decorating memories, which automatically made it a sweet endeavor.


Let me back up and say that the night before we enjoyed a family outing to our local Whole Foods (Saturday night at Whole Foods - stop the presses for these party animals!) so that I could pick out a special birthday dessert. In the past few years Michael and I have developed this tradition of going to whatever nearby grocery store we feel has the "fanciest" desserts in order to choose our birthday cake/cheesecake/whatever we want. Personally, I love the sentimentality of baking cakes (or cupcakes!) so I will continue doing that for our kids - but my baking skills are not nearly as much of a treat for my foodie husband and I know I'm not baking myself a birthday cake EVER, so...that's where we stand on that.

While we were having fun at the grocery store we discovered that our Whole Foods has b.e.a.u.t.i.f.u.l flowers at no higher cost than the ones at our usual grocery store - so naturally I asked my husband if I could get some flowers for my birthday. And, of course, he said yes because he is a good man.


If there were a love language for having your entire home spotlessly cleaned (and unpacked after a recent move!), a decorated Christmas tree brightening up your living room, and a vase of some of your favorite fresh flowers in the middle of the kitchen...that one could possibly trump "words of affirmation" for me. In other words, I was in a very happy place by the time my sister and her family arrived for dinner!

I've already forgotten what we cooked for dinner (baked ziti, maybe?), but I remember clearly the most important parts of the evening - namely, being with people I love, listening to all of them sing Happy Birthday to me, blowing out candles (with Gabriel's earnest help, of course), and eating a most heavenly strawberry shortcake.





It was good.

And then, only a couple of days later I felt the birthday love again when my husband came home on my actual birthday with more gorgeous flowers! Red roses and lilies, to be exact.



What can I say? Michael's love language isn't gifts, but the man knows how to give his wife some flowers (am I right or am I right?).

The flowers and family dinner(s) were more than enough of a gift to remind me how incredibly blessed I am, but Michael also ended up gifting me with some new non-toxic products to add to my growing collection (love!) and an Indiana necklace that has a heart cut-out over Bloomington (where we met! Love love love!).

And yes, I DID get that photo of me with my two boys on my lap after all!


Truly, my 28th was a very happy birthday indeed.

"I'm not getting old, I'm getting better."
-Anonymous