Thursday, December 21, 2017

What We Do

My son asked me what door to open on his chocolate Advent calendar this morning. Is it really the 21st already?

Happy Winter Solstice friends. On the longest night of the year, I have some beautiful news to share...THE LIGHT IS COMING.

Yes the days will be longer, but I speak of that Light which defeats all darkness. We are Children of that Light.

Yes it certainly is the 21st! I don't know how to feel about that fact with the logistics of this household.

Anyway!My friend Nicole and I were chatting online at the beginning of this month and she asked me a question. I was asking if her little boys were understanding what is going on around them with the festivities of the season and she replied that she knows they understand Santa Claus but she is not sure if they quite get the real meaning. And then she asked me for any suggestions?!?!?!?!?

Wait! I have blog where I can answer this very question!! Maybe other mamas wonder what it is I do? And what I do may look very different from what Nicole ultimately ends up doing, but this is the beauty of being sovereign in your own home! And understanding that you are sovereign would be the first step to teaching the meaning about Christmas: KNOW that this is YOUR job. Don't  be intimidated by this, have great confidence in trusting that the Helper will give you the graces to raise...a Christian.

So when we wonder about the meaning of Christmas for our kids, I wonder if any of us adults really get the meaning. That this Father of ours, this Creator, decides, out of love, to initiate contact in a way He never has before. He could have done so in a lot of really cool and "epic" ways, but he decides to glorify the small. He also decides to glorify motherhood. Our Lord became dependent on a woman, whom He always had in mind for this particular task, and yes, h
e comes to us a baby. He takes on our flesh.

That is a big thing to think about!

And so I think in one's home it might be most helpful to the littlest child to have a sense of wonder about this particular baby. And my three year old is getting this...that the baby is not out at the nativity right now! We wonder when the baby Jesus will be born. We are waiting!

We are waiting for the baby Jesus to come.  When I first set the nativity up, I stopped and asked her "Where do you think we can put baby Jesus?" and we found a nice spot. I think it is important to ask for the child's help, after all it is their home too.

I want her to take ownership and, my little one, you hide the baby Jesus...and then you can take him out on Christmas Eve...and you will help bring Christmas to our home. I found this beautiful ceramic nativity at a thrift store. I personally love spending $5.00 on things like this because then I can be ok with my littles touching the nativity and then when something does break, we aren't all flustered about it. That's a Christmas spirit killer... "I broke Mama's St Joseph and she is so mad."

If you have multiple nativities, all of their Baby Jesus figures are also in your safe space. Oh how beautiful that for our Lord His waiting was in the womb of His mama; in our home it is a drawer.

Hhhmm? What else? Oh yes!

An Advent wreath in the middle of the kitchen table is always so simple too! The children love a flame. They love the colors purple and that one pink candle. We can wonder about this light that is making its way around the wreath. I like to place Mother Mary in the middle of our Advent wreath, she was waiting in a most particular way.

So...I can continue to list out all of our traditions. Baby Jesus hidden...check! Advent wreath...check!  But at times I we make our way through chocolate calendars and the sort...and we don't even do elf on the shelf..I wonder...if we even have too many traditions? CAN YOU HAVE TOO MANY? I think we can. So, let's have a baseline in our homes that we try to be very intentional and yet as I write thinking of Nicole and her two boys in beautiful Alaska, I think we must remember...that very young children have what Dr. Maria Montessori called the "Absorbent Mind."

So...yes...maybe...we TRUST the child's sponge of a mind. We decorate our tree. We play absolutely BEAUTIFUL Christmas music. We take them to Mass and they see candles and they dip their hands in Holy Water and they see the purple and the LARGER Advent wreath that the small Advent wreath on the kitchen table always pointed too.

We take them to the sanctuary and they see this image of the Blessed Mother again there and deep down they might wonder at this Lady.

I think I would say to Nicole...model JOY in this season. Joy in making cookies. Joy in making a Christmas Craft. Joy in letting THEM put the ornaments on the tree. Joy in visiting a jovial plump man at the Christmas tree lot. Joy in sipping cocoa. Joy in watching a goofy elf in tights walk around New York City or a bunch of Whos singing around a tree.

Their little minds will tuck this away...they will start having a collective memory, "I like my home at this time of year."

Their little minds will be drawn to "how happy mommy and daddy are, how peaceful they seem" this time of year. Ha! I know...I am not always happy and peaceful but we must have goals!

They will start to make connections that go MUCH deeper than we could guess, and not because we sat and read and tested them about the Who that this season is about. Maybe we just read the gospel account of His Sacred Birth once in front of the tree. We light a candle and Papa reads and then that's it. No explaining. No going on and on and on. Just essentials.

We TRUST the amazing brains and the tender souls of our children to pick up on how intentional we decorate. How lovingly we do the small things, and this is what we do...we allow mystery. We as their parents acknowledge and honor the truth that deep down these children will connect with what they see. Why? Because they are made in His image. We are not teaching them anything, it is really a gradual work of the Holy Spirit in that the child, in an environment that lays good soil, that the truth inside of them comes out.

"I am made in His image! It is this time of year that I remember He came as GIFT to us!"

So, we go about cultivating a space for our children that points to that inner truth. It can be through music or prayers or pictures or food, and the great beauty is that every HOME will look different.

So, I hope this relieves any stress any of you might be feeling, especially with little ones, about whether or not they "get" what is going on. Someday dear friends, you will see the fruit of being intentional in these younger years. Your children will say things like, "I want this from Santa, but I know that is not what Christmas is about."

So...go cuddle up with your little ones with a good Christmas book and ENJOY GIFT my friends! And remember...Christmas is a GREAT FEAST so stretch it out...go all the way to Epiphany! Don't worry my tree will be very dry too...its absolutely wonderful. ;)

God bless

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Waiting for Response

Hello friends! How nice that we have this limbo week...has your home felt busy...with the the Feast of Christ the King and then Thanksgiving

and in this home, a birthday...

and then we get to breathe just a little before the First Sunday of Advent. I like this in between time very much. I am getting my home in gear and all set for...waiting.

Well, preparing really.

I always think of waiting as being in a line.

Does waiting mean we are expecting someone to show up any minute? Does it mean our patience is being tried? Do we even know how to wait anymore?

So maybe we say.. Advent is a season of joyful expectation.

Because when I think about who is really "waiting" in this season, it is Jesus who is waiting on me.

 He is waiting on me to show up.

He is waiting for me to surrender to the vocation.

He wants me to focus.

He wants me to settle into the work.

I was struck by something that I read in Fulton Sheen's Mary Mother of God, which I am about a chapter away from finishing. Somewhere in those beautiful pages he writes about how in the Eastern religions it is always man who is initiating and almost perfecting himself to be with God. In Christianity, it is God Who takes the first step...ALWAYS.

And so it continues to be, that He is preparing our work for us. He is in His own kind of Advent waiting for our Yes. I have this childlike confidence that He likes to see genuine effort toward the work He has put out in front of us. He is waiting for us to take up the work, joyfully. He simply wants a joyful response. He doesn't even want perfection, He is ever so patient with us and the mess with our, but He is looking for a smile.

Take Up the Work.

I am waiting for you to Take Up the Work that I created you for. Will you say yes?

I am thinking about this wisdom from Sofia Cavalletti from her book The History of the Kingdom of God:

"From the beginning of the world, up to today, the history of salvation has been gradually constructed through a continuous dialogue between God and humankind. It is a dialogue in which God always has the first word but in which he also awaits the response of all and of each person.

The history of salvation is the history of every person.

It requires the contribution of all people for its construction and fulfillment, until the dialogue - in which an ever-increasing number of people throughout the ages will have come to participate - will become a choir singing the praises of God in unison."

Monday, October 30, 2017

This Joyful Home Bit

I absolutely love that peak season is right around the corner. I act like I am the only person in the world who really loves fall. Surely no one can love it as much as I do?

I sound spoiled don't I?

Well, did I tell you that I actually am super spoiled because by the grace of God the Level One Atrium at our parish is up and running and really just doing what it does so beautifully and that is...provide a peaceful and holy space to sit and wonder about the Good Shepherd with children?

YES. Oh it is just awesome seeing this work in action.


Did I also tell you that I wanted so bad to bring an atrium to our parish for two years only to realize it is my own home that is the atrium? My own home is the prepared environment that points to the Church? My own home can be the "peaceful and holy space to sit and wonder about the Good Shepherd with children!"

And so that has been on my mind much lately...what a Joyful home looks like.

I think a joyful home starts with humble beginnings. Mustard seed moments. A proper ordering of the day with intentional time to wonder.

I think a joyful home starts with a surrendering.

There is this rumbling that is happening, and I dare say, an awakening among His people, and I think we truly find that it is in the hidden and humble things that our world will be sanctified. To know the proper order of things in our own lives and to surrender to that order, namely to surrender to the vocation, will defeat Satan every time.

What if...what if we think about that pride of the angel Lucifer...what if we think about him being too great and full of himself to obey, to KNOW and surrender to the proper order of things.

Can we mamas be the ones to embrace this order? You have your pride World.  I will bend my knee. You have your pride Crowd. I will stay hidden. You have your pride Satan. I will be content with my pecking order.

And our anthem is:

'Tis a Gift to be Simple
'Tis a Gift to be Free
'Tis a Gift to come down where we ought to be.
And when we find ourselves in a place just right
It will be in the valley of love and delight.

When true Simplicity is gained
To Bow, to Bend, we shant be ashamed.
To Turn, to Turn, it will be our delight.
'Til by turning, turning we come round right.

What is going on?

Oh I will tell you.

I receive texts like this from my dear friend Jennifer in Wisconsin: "Happy Friday! We had a rainy day today and read a lot along with much free play, legos, and cross stitch. I wanted to share how much I have been enjoying my kids and how blessed I feel to spend all day with them! What an honor it is that He led us to this work!"

Boom. Take that Feminist agenda, take that you monster ever growing State. Jennifer's little stay at home day is a small pebble that can take YOU down.

My friend Lindy and I talked about this for an hour last week. This LIFE'S WORK! Lindy in Anchorage, Alaska. Hidden. Raising two small boys eighteen months apart. Oh she is in it, yes, this good good work.

We talked about wanting to do things well. I want to do six well. She wants to do two well. What does well look like we asked? I told her I bet it includes making sure everyone's nails are clipped.

The world that wants to destroy the holy space of the home smirks, "I'm too busy routing memos and doing grant work and hashtagging cool things to stoop to caring for children. Clipping toenails is beneath me!"

I say: Caring for children is not beneath me.

In fact, I want to do it my whole life. I do.

My four month old woke up in my bed this morning with a diaper that was wet all the way up her back. I thought...yes, I did want to change those sheets again! How lovely that she reminded me! I'm not quite that joyful yet!

But I did see my Pearl's beaming smile and I thought, "Let's do a quick warm bath to make sure you really get all cleaned up from this rather messy morning."

I could have went with a quick baby wipe "wipe down" but I wasn't in a rush, and the morning was young, and I HAD tackled the kitchen before's do this WELL.

Oh she LOVED it. Our tub had a nice huge pump bottle of generic baby wash all ready and I scrubbed in all those great skin folds and she sucked on her fist. I had fresh towels folded on my vanity for the occasion and clean clothes to put her in. She happily went into her buzzy chair so she could watch me finish up breakfast.

I can be proud of that. I did something well. I have a happy, clean baby. My baby is happy!

Up until now...nobody knew that she was happy! Maybe the other kiddos in my home saw that our Pearl had a bath, but that wasn't profound to them. I didn't post it all over Facebook, #motherhood, #lovethemwhiletheirlittle, #welovebathtime. I didn't tell my husband, he doesn't really think about those things. He doesn't think about those things because I DO.

I have a point here somewhere and it is this. I think what I want to tell myself and Lindy and the other mommies is well we do the little things in our home matters very much.

I have a Biblical proof.


Read about the first thirty years of Christ's life.

And you are like...we don't know much about his childhood!

Ha! There it is! The Bibilical proof of how important our work is!  Romana Guardini would suggest that, it is in the very fact that we don't know what the Holy Family's life was like that makes it so very sacred.

The Messiah's formation was so important, so vital, that it was kept sacred and hidden.


So important was His mission, Who He was, that Mary and Joseph led a quiet and hidden life in Nazareth. So sacred was the home life that we know nothing of it. We are not in the pecking order to know.

Speaking of future kings..I would love to see what a typical day at home for Prince George looks like. I read somewhere that the Duchess had little chicks in the home that her children loved to watch grow. (And then I promptly got in my van and went to the nearest farm to get my I didnt!) But really, how hidden the modern day Royal Family's life is. At least they try their very best to keep it private, because, well, Western Civilization needs a good leader in little George. They "release" a picture or two on birthdays and such, but otherwise, who are we in the pecking order to get to be privy to the details.

How do you view your own homelife? If we belong to who we say we belong to, as part of our Baptism, our families are raising saints! Do you see what you do in your home as sacred? My blog is a bit of a contradiction because I do share pictures and stories!!!! But really, I want you to see my piece of beach in the Toehold, not to compare but only to encourage. It is all His anyway.

And THAT is how our God works. He uses the small and the hidden. When we stay small and hidden and do so with joy we are cooperating with the GREAT INNER STRENGTH that makes the mustard seed grow.

Off to bed I go as I have a little one turning three tomorrow.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Our Cause

"Culture derives from woman - for had she not taught her children to talk,

the great spiritual values of the world would not have passed from generation to generation.

After nourishing the substance of the body to which she gave birth, 

she then nourishes the child with the substance of her mind. 

As guardians of the values of the spirit, 

as protectress of the morality of the young, 

she preserves culture, which deals with purposes and ends, 

while man upholds civilization,which deals only with means."
Fulton J. Sheen

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

His Vision

My husband and I had a beautiful talk around the kitchen table recently about how faith and hope were different.  My husband explained that faith was about total trust. That many of us are hopeful, but we don't all have faith.

And yet one will hear that faith is a gift, which seems a paradox to me, because you have to CHOOSE to TRUST.

You trust in the gift of faith.

I look back on our six children in our thirteen years of marriage and I see how generous He has been. I honestly feel such great peace with the faces of the people around me, in this home, my people. I had written a few posts ago how I feel a new call to be THIS baby's mama totally. Not just when she turns 18 and moves away, God willing, but that I will never stop being her mother.

Motherhood is a lifelong vocation.

And yet, I see these thirteen years of marriage and I see that I have been quite the fidgety little sheep. I see myself on my Good Shepherd's shoulders and his mouth so close to my ear and I see that even through all the years of having our children, I have been restless with His ultimate design for marriage. He was gently whispering to me as He held me steadily on His shoulders, and I look back at my response to His whispers and see: a constant fight and wrestling over the matter of trying to live a good NFP life...trying to reconcile my idea with child spacing and His! The thought of this makes me restless in my writing and kind of uneasy about what it is I stand for.

I took my NFP writings completely down from my blog about a year ago as I had a complete crisis of faith in my own understanding of marriage. The trigger for this was reading the book Covenanted Happiness by Cormac Burke and also meeting some very faithful friends. Yes friends and reading will usually do it, and a steady dose of people who have walked the walk, like Leila Marie Lawler over at Like Mother Like Daughter.

So I found myself in this perfect storm really of God dragging me kicking and screaming from my comfort zone in Alaska to being dumbfounded by truth. Truth that you can't unhear.

I'm irritated that there had to be so much searching on my part to come to a very simple truth: married men and women have children. I think about how complicated we have made it. We the Justin and I. We the current generation. We the Church. It hurts my head.

Before I married Justin I was in the muck of it all, the birth control muck of trying to decide what to use out of thousands of birth control options. All of it was mind boggling, as if I had to CHOOSE someTHING out of all the treatment options for my perfectly normal..fertility.

EVEN when the obvious choice was NFP, thanks to books like the Hahn's Lifegiving Love and the encyclical Humane Vitae, it all seemed hard. Hard in the way that I was a "good Catholic" hard and I had picked my cross of doing NFP unlike all those other not so Catholic faithful in the pews. And so that was my still use birth control?

I fundamentally did not believe people got married to have children.  Children were something that came along after a few years of marriage. There were steps and plans and degrees and homes and pets and careers and THEN children. There was even a way it was supposed to all LOOK: not too many, not all at once, at least look responsible about it, wipe their faces and match their socks for goodness sake! Some of the most hurtful comments came from the mouths of my own family as they told me "three was a lot of responsibility" how I  "was ridiculous" or asked why "four wasn't enough?"

Its funny how much I let those comments hurt me, you can't make someone see gift. All I see now is gift...and I can hold my chin up, see...look at the fruit..

So I came across an article on Facebook  recently and it was the same old boring song: If you want 12 kids fine by me, go ahead you rock! Wanna see a cool trick? Say 12 kids to my husband and his face turns white (this is where you laugh). She went on to say she had five but having 12 kids wasn't the vision for her family and the big question was if NFP was EFFECTIVE in your last years of fertility and then came a lengthy article of women who HAD used it EFFECTIVELY etc. She had to add she didn't want to be one of those moms having kids when her eldest was having babies, its just not her thing.



I have six children and I think about two years ago I might have sang the same song: ok Stephanie, time to hunker down for the long haul of "trying not to have anymore children."

But...but what if...there is no serious obstacle other than your own vision? No really, no severe handicaps in the family. No high risk pregnancy issues. No money issues other than sacrificing vacations and things. What if I could spend my years coming down the fertility mountain actively trying to be ready for another yes?

My sixth pregnancy I had severe pain from varicose veins in my second trimester but it was literally all gone by my third! My third trimester pelvic pain was at times unbearable, especially first thing in the morning. I had never had pelvic pain before and I learned and my friends were right, that it goes away once the baby is delivered, which is what happened!

So...ok Stephanie, that's do you and I'll do me!

No. That can't be right?

Then you are telling me there isn't one truth? You are telling me my searching for this meaning in marriage was so silly because when it comes down to it: Do what feels right for you.

I'm so confused by the you do you and I'll do me culture because it isn't Catholic!

I  have put SO MUCH energy into planning out the spacing of my children that essentially...even with NFP...I was still telling God...YOU do YOU and let ME do ME.

God, I don't want YOUR vision for my marriage. I want my vision. Are we, as in, the PROUD NFP using Catholics really giving God a big fat giant "You do You!"

I know the fruit of ME do ME. I know the pill. I know the worry. Lots of worry and control everything. I also know the charting and the temperatures and the multiple pregnancy tests to see if this "natural method" works. Yep...all of it is WORRY..the worry of it not fitting my vision.

The fruit of when I held this little one in my arms..was JOY. There was no WORRY. Just JOY.

I was flat out told a few weeks ago at my women's Bible study a "you do you." I explained how it doesn't feel like work anymore with this sixth one, and it was then clarified by a friend, who I know meant well, that "we aren't all meant to have six children."

Oh...I felt so little in that moment as I was surely not trying to tell others to have six children, I had an agenda like that when I was a new NFP warrior about ten years ago on my "I am open to life and better than thee" high horse.

I was just sharing my gift. I was doing exactly what Anna did when she left the Temple. What the woman does when she finds her coin! What the Good Shepherd does when He finds His sheep! When people are cured and healed by this Man they GO and SHARE and say "See LOOK at my Gift!"

 I will keep sharing my gift...and joy might make others feel uncomfortable. Maybe they are uncomfortable because they are wrestling with the "what ifs" of another baby as well.

Well if I'm not an NFP warrior, what kind of warrior am I?

I humbly say,"Oh no! I'm not a warrior, I'm actually trying not to fight anymore! I am an unprofitable servant. I am passive. I want to just surrender to His will and vision. My blueprint for my life was crap, His will for me has the best fruit."

Isn't that what we were talking about in Sunday's Gospels? The vineyard and the fruit it bears?

 So little ol' unlearned Stephanie is putting this out there...what if we lived our marriages constantly seeking His Vision?

Let's pray about this together xoxo

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Old Ways

"We dropped our books and rushed out with her. This was our chance to watch the campaign to 'Destroy the Four Olds' in action."

"Our beloved Chairman Mao had started the Cultural Revolution in May. Every day since then on the radio we heard about the need to end the evil and the pernicious influences of the ' Four Olds' : old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits. Chairman Mao told us we would never succeed at building a strong socialist country until we destroyed the "Four Olds" and established the "Four News." The names of many shops still stank of old culture, so the signs had to be smashed to make way for the coming of new ideas."

This is taken from a memoir by Ji Li Jiang about her childhood in China 1964. This is how we do history in our homeschool. I simply cannot do textbooks. Funny how someone's story of having lived through an experience seems to always hold better with my children. That story speaks with much more authority over a topic than any textbook can, and I search for authority.

Wow. I read about those "Four Olds" and I got chills. I reread it to my daughters and it sparked a wonderful conversation. Old ideas? Old culture? Old customs? Old habits?

That happened in China not so long ago.

We asked the question, what were some of the four olds in our own home?

I looked at my book shelf lined with unabridged books. Unabridged as in "old" books, the way they were originally written. I think those are Four Olds, old ideas? Old language?

 I asked my girls what they thought the most important of our old books was...and we figured it out.

We thought about the old Valley Forge American flag on our mantel. We thought about what that flags old idea. We thought about how much we love that flag.

 In Williamsburg we can hear the national anthem played at Camp Peary every old song and an old custom to greet the new day by raising the old flag with the old song.

Ok are you ready for the first picture I took?

We sometimes hear the sounds of the training that goes on at the base, our lifeguards in the summer can distinguish the boom of thunder versus the boom of a Camp Peary exercise. The sound of what protecting the old idea of "liberty" looks like.

In Williamsburg we have the old all around us in what is known as the Historic Triangle. Colonial Williamsburg keeps the trades alive, hiring apprentices to learn with their hands, the old ways of doing things.

As I was reading about China's Cultural Revolution and the erasing of the past, I got an eerie feeling that if we do not value and protect and see the beauty of our own olds, the same things could happen right here in our own country.

I thought about this when a friend lamented the other day on social media that the public schools do not teach cursive handwriting. That highschoolers do not know how to "sign" their name. Wait! Where would we be as a nation if John Hancock didn't have that LARGE John Hancock?!!?!? I teach my girls cursive because I want them to be able to read the old original founding documents. Copies of them, of course, but SHOULD they so desire it that they could go to our nation's capitol and read the original themselves!

An old way of writing...and that the school felt it necessary not to teach the old. It makes me nervous.

When I was a cadet at the US Coast Guard Academy, as a freshman we cringed at having to learn celestial navigation. Why oh why do we need to learn this OLD way if we have a NEW way? I could only wrap my head around the way of the sea. I could only wrap my head around this idea that all of this knowledge is passed down and that even radars and equipment on a ship can break, but the stars stay for us. The old stars.

So we have this book and I have been thinking about old ways. I have been thinking about how lovely it is that my husband taught himself guitar and that he can play, for us, for our enjoyment, you know, an old form of leisure. I think about read alouds or how my daughter has been obsessed recently with baking because of the Great British Bake Off, and that there are old recipes from around Europe often featured on the show. It is nice to have things, like bread and desserts, made the old way by hand.

What if we tried to keep the Old Ways alive in our homes? What if we thought about the way things are passed down...a collective memory....

What if we lived marriage the Old Way? What would the Marriage Prep class look like if the teachers, or our Church leadership, went with the Old Way and just said,

"Children are the absolute best gift of your marriage. Do not frustrate what is most natural. Enjoy your creative love. See your love four, five, six times and don't look back."

Add caption
What if we raised our children the Old Way? Dirt. Sweat. Sun. Laughter. Hugs. Books. More Hugs. Cuddles. Contact. A Table. A Meal. A Bath. A Sibling...or two...or three...or five.

My dear friend Mary Clare had an idea recently that we could make a study of Norman Rockwell paintings. He always seemed to capture home life just right. His paintings were realistic and honest and that made things beautiful. They are Old fashioned...and I'm all about it.

Image result for norman rockwell home for the holidays

And I'm not sure how to keep the Old Ways, how to have the most discerning eye toward such things, and then the girls and I thought of something very old that we do every Sunday, a particular Feast we share in, a Thanksgiving.

We thought about how that is the best Old, because it is the Old that makes all things New.

I think that if we keep well that one Old, all the other Old Ways will be safe.

I'm curious if anyone would mind sharing if they have appreciated an "Old" recently that they may not have before?