Thursday, July 31, 2008

In the Potter's Hands

Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel.
Jeremiah 18:6

Pottery is one of those things that looks easy to do, until you actually try it. As part of my art major in college, I had to take pottery. It was probably the hardest class I ever took in my life! I would spend hours kneading that clay (at least it was a good stress reliever!) and working at the wheel, only to come up with nothing. My bowls were too thick and when I would try to make them thinner, the things would collapse. I came out of that class with one very sad looking blue bowl to show for my semester of effort. I still have that bowl, as a reminder to be humble, as well as for its humor value.

I always remember that experience when I encounter this verse in scripture. Thankfully, God is a much better potter than I am! He can make amazing things out of the clay in his hands, each with a different purpose, each with a different beauty. It also means that we need to be worked a bit. You can't just take a lump of clay and throw it on the wheel. It needs to be kneaded to get the air out. Sometimes, there needs to be a course correction in the middle of the process. The clay needs to be smushed back together in order to create something new. In life's hard times, remember that they are part of the process, necessary to create a magnificent finished product. We are indeed clay in God's hands. Let us submit to his craftsmanship.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Links for Saving Money

In the perfect world, we would simply rely on God to meet all our needs. Unfortunately, in this world, we actually need to go grocery shopping! Times are tough right now and everyone is trying to find ways to stretch the budget. Here are a couple of sites to help you enjoy life without having to spend extra money.

Restaurant.com offers gift certificates to restaurants at 1/2 price. I checked it out and in my area, anyway, there are no chain restaurants listed, but there are lots of smaller local eateries, perfect for a night out.

mommysavesbig.com offers discount codes on everything from entertainment to food items.

I also checked out Coupons.com. They didn't really have coupons on anything we use, but you might want to check it out as well.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Homeschooling Links

I'm always excited when my local library gets in a new copy of Home Education Magazine. This is the magazine that 1st introduced me to homeschooling way back in 2002. It leans toward unschooling which is a philosophy that focuses on child-led learning. I think that there is a lot of value in that and I do try to follow my children's lead when they are interested in a topic. For example, today we looked up what animals eat ducks as well as when ice cream was invented. If they have questions, Google usually has answers! But, I also want to be sure that my children know what they need to in order to pass the standardized test that they are required to take at the end of this year. Hence, we also did worksheets on fact families in math today and did our daily dose of reading practice. (Yes, I know it is summer, but we are doing about 1 hour a day to keep their skills sharp as well as get them into a routine).

In any event, I always get some good ideas from the magazine. This issue offered two good resources I wanted to share with you.

Bingo Card Creator offers free printable Bingo cards suitable for homeschooling or in-class use on a number of topics.

If you have a child that loves card games as much as my son Isaac does, you will want to check out this site: Card Games. I've actually found that playing cards is a very good educational tool for math. Playing simple games is great for little kids in terms of number and symbol recognition and number order. Playing "Blackjack" is great for addition practice.

Thank you for the prayers

Thank you to all of those who said a prayer for me this past week. I am coping with my computer woes, catching up with the work that needed to be redone. Also, my husband didn't get the job he was trying for. He was disappointed, but took it in stride. It obviously just wasn't the right job or the right time.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I Don't Need You!

Author Note: This was an article I wrote a while back and tried to have published in a print publication. Unfortunately, I had no luck (sigh!), so I decided to use it for my weekly Catholic Mom and Catholic Exchange column this week since I am buried in work and just didn't have the heart to write an article today. I hope you enjoy it. Thankfully, since the time this was written, Isaac has decided that he needs a mother after all. :)

My five-year-old son has decided he no longer needs a mother. He tells me this almost every day. Of course, I can see the humor in the situation as he stands there telling me “I can take care of myself” while he has his clothes on backward and still needs me to pour his milk for him!

It is natural for children to want to be independent. Indeed, my son's outbursts are all part of the process that will lead to him eventually leaving home and living an adult life of his own. Unfortunately, as we grow up, we sometimes think that not only do we no longer need our earthly parents to take care of us, but also that we don't need our Father in heaven, either.

It is so easy to think that we can make it on our own. This is especially true when life is going well: when everyone is healthy; we have people to love us; we have a solid roof over our heads, and a good job to go to every day. How many times have we ignored God in situations like this? Maybe we still continue going to mass each week and say some routine prayers, but do so more out of habit than out of any real desire to be with God. Maybe we forget God altogether and put our faith on the back burner. Maybe we put all our faith in the next technological development. Who needs God when we can have a car that recognizes voice commands or a phone that gives us access to the internet with the touch of our finger? Maybe we put our faith in our friends and family, trusting that they will always be there for us. Who needs God when we have a loving home to return to at the end of the day? Who needs God when we have friends we can call at 3:00 am?

Indeed, who needs God? Aren't we just like the child staunchly maintaining that “We don't need a Father?” We tell God that we don't need someone to look out for us. Life is good. We can do this all on our own. Can't you see God shaking his head, laughing? “She thinks she can make it on her own! This coming from a person who can't keep the sun in the sky, or make it rain, or create the air that she breathes, or heal her child of sickness. Ha! She would not even be able to think if I did not give her the ability to do so. She would not be able to love. She would not even be here except that I loved her and willed her into being. What could she possibly be thinking?” We are standing there with our pants on backward.

But then, life falls apart. The job gets outsourced. Our savings dwindle. The “new” technology becomes old within days. The prognosis from the doctor is not good. The family member dies. The friend moves on. Suddenly, like the child who cries out for his mother to help him, we do need God. We remember that we have a Father in heaven who loves us and we get down on our knees and pray. We reach out. We ask others to reach out! We realize that there are many things in our world that we do not control and that we need a higher power to help us out. We realize that we can't do it on our own.

Yes, we all want to be independent at times. We want to be in control of our destinies, masters of our domain. There are many things that we do control. God gave us free will and we do make many choices in life that shape the journey. But we can never forget that we need God. Even when life is going well, we still need to pray, to get in touch with God, to listen to his Word. We need to remember that without God, this great big beautiful world would not exist. We would not exist.

My five-year-old can do many things on his own. He is learning more and more each day. But, whether he realizes it or not, he still needs me. So it is with us and God. Even on the days we feel like we don't need Him, he is there, loving us, providing for us, waiting patiently for us to acknowledge His place in our lives.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Difference

This is a rather famous poem and you most likely have heard it before, but it offers an important reminder:

THE DIFFERENCE
Author Unknown

I got up early one morning
And rushed right into the day;
I had so much to accomplish
That I didn't have time to pray.

Problems just tumbled about me,
And heavier came each task.
"Why doesn't God help me?" I wondered.
He answered, "You didn't ask."

I wanted to see joy and beauty,
But the day toiled on, gray and bleak;
I wondered why God didn't show me.
He said, "But you didn't seek."

I tried to come into God's presence;
I used all my keys at the lock.
God gently and lovingly chided.
"My child, you didn't knock."

I woke up early this morning,
And paused before entering the day;
I had so much to accomplish
That I had to take time to pray.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

When Adult Children Leave the Faith

It's a fear that most Catholic parents (or parents of any faith tradition) have - that their children will grow up and reject all that they have been taught in regards to their faith, that they will stop going to Church, or worse yet, stop believing in God. This has happened in my own family. My three nephews were all raised Catholic. None of them currently practice. One is an athiest. I worry about my own children, still far from adulthood. Every time they complain about going to Church on Sunday, I wonder whether the importance of that ritual will really take root in them. I wonder if they will ever see that it matters.

The July/August issue of Catholic Digest features a couple of articles on that very topic. Basically, the consensus is that all you can do in that situation is pray and offer a good example. There was a very good quote by Woodeene Koenig-Bricker who wrote:

An elderly woman whose children hadn't turned out well was asked how she could be so serene about it all. She answered, "Children are like cookies, and God isn't through baking mine yet." Pray always for your children and never lose hope that with a little more time in the oven, they will turn out right in the end. Though you can't guarantee that your kids will stay Catholic, you can guarantee that you've done your part in passing on the faith. What they do with it after that is up to them - and God.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Lot of Changes

We were helping my sister move out this evening. She had come to live with us back in November because her life was in upheaval and she needed a place to stay. It was an adjustment when she came - we hadn't lived under the same roof since I was 10! And now that she is leaving, it is an adjustment as well. I'm really going to miss having her around.

Also, my husband is considering a new job that would have him traveling a great deal. The boys and I could certainly manage. He's traveled before although not on as quite as extensive a level, but it would mean adjusting my life a great deal. I would need to give up my volunteer job at my Church because I wouldn't have the availability to leave the house for an hour here and there like I do now. It would also mean no escaping for a walk on my own a couple times a week. It also means he would need to stop running Bingo, which is currently keeping our parish school afloat. Maybe someone else would step up to the plate but we have no idea who. Volunteers have been in short supply. The extra money would be a blessing, however. I honestly don't know what is best for our family or for him and so I am praying. Somehow, it will all work out.

And to top it off, my main computer died this week. Just died - no warning, no acting up in the days before hand - it just died. My husband did everything he could to retrieve the data, but it was no use. I didn't lose everything, but I lost enough to put a lot of extra work on my plate recreating things, especially for a deadline I have next week.

As you can imagine, my stress level is rather high right now. Please say a prayer for me!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Can We Hide From Evil?

This week's gospel (Matthew 13:24-33) has Jesus telling the parable of the wheat and the weeds. A man went out and sowed his seeds of good wheat. While he was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat. The wheat and the weeds then grew up together until the time came for harvest, at which point the weeds were collected to be put into the fire, and the wheat was gathered and put into the barn.

We all want to be the wheat. We try to be the wheat. Like the wheat, however, we are surrounded by weeds. Most of us try to limit our exposure to evil. Especially when it comes to our children, we try to protect them from the weeds in our world. We censor what they listen to, and watch on television, and what they read. We try to make sure that they make friends with other children from families that share most of our values. We try to keep them safe. It is tempting to think that if we do enough, we will be able to safeguard our children. Yet, sadly, despite all of our efforts, our children will still experience much that is evil.

The simple truth is, no matter how much we might want to hide from evil, in this world it just isn't possible. Since the first sin, evil has been part of what it means to be human. We could take our children and escape to a desert island, and the “weediness” within ourselves would still be there. Even hermits must confront the capacity for evil within their own hearts. We don't need to seek evil. It is everywhere.

So, then, what do we do to help ourselves and our children grow as strong stalks of wheat to be gathered in for the harvest? How do we resist the weeds that threaten us and them? First, we must nurture our own spiritual development. We can't hope to raise our children with the strength they need if our own faith is weak. We can't parent alone. We need God's help, and the only way we get that is through prayer and learning about God. Second, we must give our children the tools that they need to stand firm against temptation. We must pray with them and teach them to lean on God in their hour of need. We must take advantage of the sacraments and teach them to do the same. We must read and share the Word of God with our children. We must pray with fervor the words of the Our Father: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

An important part of what it means to be Christian is to bear witness to Christ's example and message. It isn't always easy for adults or children to stand up for what is right when everyone around us seems to be doing what is wrong. Peer pressure is a powerful force no matter what our age. From time to time, we all end up in situations where the weeds seem to be in control. That is when our commitment to the faith is most tested. That is when it is most important for us to be the good example, to be the wheat standing tall. There are also times when the weeds take root within ourselves. We all sin. It is then that we need to seek God's forgiveness and to resolve to do better, so that we can once again take our place among the wheat.

No, we can't hide from evil, no matter how much we might want to protect ourselves and our children. Evil will find us. We can, however, prepare ourselves and our children for the inevitable confrontations with evil. We can be the wheat standing strong among the weeds.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Can you write your memoir in six words?

Every now and then life (God) just hands you a gift. Today, for instance, I brought the kids to the library to see "Bubble-Mania". The show was part of the summer program. The same bubble artist had done a show last year and we loved it so they were eager to go again. Once there, the librarian kindly asked if parents of children ages 5 and up would be willing to just have their children attend the show to allow more room for more children. So, I was suddenly given an hour of alone time in one of my favorite places - the library! I used the computer to check my email and post the previous post on this blog and then settled in with the most recent copy of Writer's Digest.

This particular issue featured the 100 best websites for writers - one of which was Six Word Memoirs by Smith Magazine The point of the website is to have people summarize their lives in six words - a daunting task, don't you think? I've never been known for being wordy, but even I have trouble being that succinct. Yet, many people have met the challenge.

What is your life story? Can you say it in six words? I was thinking that I would write, "I plan. God laughs. I adjust." or perhaps, "I love. I pray. I create." What do you think?

Feel free to comment and share your own six word memoir. I would love to read them!

Download Free Issue of Canticle Magazine

Click Here to read the July/August 2008 issue of Canticle Magazine. It's a great magazine featuring many writers who I am pleased to count among my friends, and I just renewed my own subscription yesterday!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Help for Men who have experienced Abortion

"Columbia" magazine, a publication of The Knights of Columbus, included a very informative article on resources to help men who are suffering as a result of an abortion. It is a myth that abortion only impacts women, especially because men have no legal rights when it comes to abortion decisions.

Men who regret abortion decisions fall into three categories: "those who advocated or pushed for the abortion, those who knew about the abortion but failed to intervene, and those who did not know. The first group repents of actually killing the child, while the second group experiences guilt over 'the sin of omission.' The third often react with great anger that it happened, that the law did not grant them any right to know or decide, and that they could not stop the abortion from taking place."

If you know of a man who is experiencing pain over an abortion in his past, there are places and people that can help:

The National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation & Healing:
www.menandabortion.info
noparh.org

Guys for Life: www.guysforlife.org

Fatherhood Forever Foundation: www.fatherhoodfoundation.org

Pro-Life Joes: www.prolifejoes.com

Fathers and Brothers Ministry: www.lifeissues.org

New Faith and Family Blog

Faith and Family has started a new blog at http://faithandfamilylive.com/. They describe the blog as a place "where everyday moms offer one another inspiration, support, and encouragement in Catholic living. Any mom grappling with the meaning of life or the cleaning of laundry is welcome here." It features a wonderful line-up of writers including Danielle Bean, Rachel Balducci, Lisa Hendey, Arwen Mosher, and Rebecca Teti. It really looks like it will be a wonderful resource.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Seeing Rocks in a Whole New Light

As a child, I loved to collect rocks. I can remember walking down the street with my father, picking up specimens to bring home. I would spend hours studying them and sorting them and placing them in the special box that I kept them in. They were my special treasures! Fast-forward twenty-something years. I admit, I haven’t thought much about rocks during the interim.

My two boys also love to collect rocks. There are some differences, however. When I was small, I chose rocks based on color or shape. As far as my boys are concerned, size is the primary consideration – the bigger, the better! My rule is that they have to be able to physically pick the rock up in order to add it to their collection. My rocks fit in a box. They have set up a rock “museum” in their tree house.

Children inherently see more than we as adults do. Children see magic and mystery where we only see the ordinary. When my children look at their rocks, they see all sorts of different shapes and images. Their rocks aren’t just rocks. They are faces and boats and cartoon characters. They even have one rock they claim is the spitting image of the United States. If I look really hard, I can actually see what their imagination so easily provides.

They are discriminating in the rocks that they choose as well. We recently went on vacation up at Lake Champlain in northern Vermont. The shore where we were staying was covered with rocks. I had told the boys that they could each bring home eight rocks – one for each day that they were there. My goodness, it was a difficult choice! They would pick their favorites each day, and then have to rotate out some so that they only had a total of eight. They picked the ones that appealed to them most, the ones that were unique and stood apart from the others.

I have to admit that their love of rocks has reawakened my own. As an art major in college, I was taught to truly look at objects in order to reproduce them in a drawing or painting. As a student of theology, I learned to appreciate the wonder of God in all of His creation. Combine these two ways of seeing, the physical and the spiritual, and “simple” rocks take on a whole new meaning. I found myself studying the rocks on the shores of Lake Champlain with a much greater appreciation than I might otherwise have had. I marveled at the way the waves kept hitting the rocks, slowly shaping and smoothing them. Such a simple process, really, but one I hadn’t paid much attention to before. God is always working on the earth’s creation. It is a constant work in progress. The rocks are so beautiful, each one unique with a story of its own. God cares enough about the rocks, simple inanimate objects, to put such care into their creation. How much more does He care about us, who are made in His own image! How much more beautiful are we in His sight! Honestly, I never thought rocks would have so much to teach me!

Perhaps sometime this week, you might want to take the time to simply sit with some rocks. If you can do this with a child and get his or her insights, it would be even better. Take the time to truly look and appreciate. Take the time to wonder at God’s creation and be thankful that we are a part of the beauty of His earth.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Back from Vacation

I'm back from a glorious week spent at a cabin on Lake Champlain up in northern Vermont. This is the first time we've taken a week vacation since our honeymoon 11 years ago! I really wasn't crazy about going. It's a lot of work to get ready for a vacation, and I'm not a big fan of traveling, but by the middle of the week, I truly didn't want to come home. It was just so quiet and peaceful there. My in-laws came with us and they took care of the kids a few hours each day so I got some alone time for me and some alone time with my husband as well. I got lots of quilting done and read 3 novels!

My husband and I took one day and went to nearby Burlington, which is a small college town. The University of Vermont is located there. My husband stopped to use the restroom at the Admissions building and we ended up being invited to go on a tour, which was actually very fun and informative! I always feel very at home on college campuses and now I know a great deal about UVM! After that, we went out to lunch. It was wonderful! I also learned some things about boating. The kids caught their first fish which they were very excited about! The countryside is very beautiful up there as well. I took lots of photos, some of which I am sure will end up on my Moments of Beauty blog.

Of course, the trip wasn't without it's issues. Our van decided to stop working. Thank goodness for AAA! We were able to get the van towed and fixed. Unfortunately, we were $300 poorer. Also, my husband ran out of gas in his motor boat in the middle of the lake when he went out fishing yesterday. Oops - he forgot to check that! Thankfully, another boater was able to tow him in!

Overall, though, it was great, and it was hard to come home to face the mountain of laundry and emails full of problems that I now need to contend with. But, life goes on . . .

Exrtraordinary Moms Network

A message from my friend Heidi Hess Saxton:



Dear Friends in Christ:

Have you ever been in a place where you wondered just what God was asking you to do with your life? I have, especially lately. Like most moms, I find that the demands on my time almost always exceed the “budget,” and yet I also know God never asks us to do more than we are capable of doing. Which means, if I’m overextended … chances are, “something’s gotta give.”

The last time I felt this way, in 1989, I flew to Acapulco and spent two weeks traveling by bus across the Mexican countryside. At the time I was trying to decide whether to stay in publishing or accept an invitation to become a short-term missionary in Singapore. By the end of that trip, I realized God was saying, “Neither.” I packed my bags and moved from Minneapolis to California to continue my education.

Over the past few months, I felt that same restlessness coming on, and I’ve been asking God to show me what He has in mind. Then a couple of weeks ago Sarah Reinhard and I pack our kids into the car and took off on the “Jet Setting is for Sissies Road Trip 2008,” to go to the Catholic New Media Celebration and visit several of our blogging buddies and other important people. I blogged extensively about our adventures at Mommy Monsters.

Several tremendous blessings came out around the time of this trip, which I’d like to share with you now.

Just prior to our trip, Cheryl Dickow at Bezalel Books volunteered to bring out a Spanish edition of my Mary book (entitled Contempla a tu Madre), and to recover Behold Your Mother at the same time! The new edition is now available through Amazon.com, and includes special journal pages at the back of the books where you can insert your own meditations on the Blessed Mother.

To celebrate the new edition of Behold Your Mother, Sarah and I will be hosting a “Mary Moments” Carnival on the 15th of each month at Behold Your Mother. The first “real” Carnival will be held August 15, to celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary … and feature posts about favorite Mary books (besides mine, I mean…). You may submit posts directly to the Carnival here, or send the link to me via e-mail.

The other significant development that I’d like to tell you about is the creation of the Extraordinary Moms Network, which I’ll tell you more about in the next newsletter. The Extraordinary Moms Network website, which was designed by my friend Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur, is still very much a work in progress. However, in time I am hoping that this will become a useful resource for all women who are looking to grow as truly extraordinary mothers: adoptive and foster mothers, step mothers and other women raising children to whom they did not give birth, as well as mothers of large families and children with special needs.



All of us need encouragement from time to time in order to continue investing ourselves in the lives of the children entrusted into their care … and I’m hoping EMN will become just that source of encouragement for you. My long-term goals for the network include a weekly podcast, book club, and e-zine (and phase out my multiple blogs over time). Please pray with me, that God would guide me in the way He sees best.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on to others you think might be interested in hearing more about the Extraordinary Moms Network, or about the “Mary Moments” Carnival. God bless you!

Under the Mercy, Heidi Saxton

Friday, July 04, 2008

Blog Break through July 13th

Happy 4th of July! I hope all of you had a very festive day.

This blog will be going on break as I enjoy vacation with my family.

Best wishes,
Patrice

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Time for God

My friend Rose sent this to me:

God,
when I received this e-mail, I
thought...

I don't have time for
this...

Then, I
realized that this kind of thinking is.... Exactly,
what has caused
lot of the problems in our world today.

We try to
keep God in church on Sunday morning...


Maybe, Sunday night...

And, the unlikely event of a
midweek service.

We do like
to have Him around during sickness....

And, of course, at funerals.

However,
we don't have time, or
room, for Him during work or play...

Because.. That's the part of our lives
we think... We can, and
should, handle on our own.

May God
forgive me for ever
thinking...

That... There is a time or place
where..

HE is not
to be FIRST in my life.

We should
always have time to remember all HE has done for us.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Book Review: Falling Into the Arms of God

Falling Into the Arms of God:
Meditations with Teresa of Avila
by Megan Don
Novato, CA: New World Library, 2005

St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) was a Carmelite nun best known for her reform of that order and for her mystical relationship with God. Her best known book is Interior Castle which she wrote due to the prodding of her spiritual director. In that book, she wrote of seven dwellings or mansions that indicate different stages on the spiritual journey towards God. Her writing was aimed for the sisters in her religious community although her words have much to teach the world at large.

Megan Don has taken Teresa’s words and reflected upon them in Falling into the Arms of God: Meditations With Teresa of Avila. Don has also divided her book into seven sections with several meditations for each section. The meditations themselves are brief – a couple pages at most, but they are filled with meaning and applicability to twenty-first century life. Don has a true talent for taking Teresa’s meaning and expanding upon it, making it extremely relevant for today’s reader. She discusses detours and pitfalls we may experience on the spiritual journey as well as the glories that await those who persevere.

Teresa’s words themselves are challenging. One cannot read her words and not feel humbled by the realization of how far we need to go in our spiritual lives. The road to union with God is not an easy one. It wasn’t easy for Teresa herself and Don points out the doubts and trials that Teresa experienced. Yet, Teresa was also a person of great joy who enjoyed the fun in life. She insisted that the sisters in her community spent at least an hour in recreation each day, because everyone needs a break from work. That in and of itself is an important reminder in today’s 24/7 world.

“Falling into the Arms of God” is meant to be read in small sections. It can be read front to back, one meditation at a time, or it can be picked up and a meditation read at random. Don also offers instructions in how to use it in a group setting. No matter how one uses this book, it will offer a deeper understanding of the workings of the soul. Don has created a book that this reviewer feels St. Teresa of Avila herself would approve of. She has kept the message and weight of Teresa’s words while making them accessible to a larger audience.

Making the Most of our Children's Time

I received a complimentary copy of Home School Enrichment Magazine. It discusses home-schooling from a Christian perspective. There was an article on "Beating the Summer Boredom Bug" by Cindy Puhek. The article offered a unique perspective on choosing activities for your children:

Many Christians ask the question, "What's wrong with doing this activity? If it doesn't involve something blatantly immoral, why not?" Steven Maxwell of Titus 2 Ministries teaches that we should change our question from, "Can I do this?" to "Is this activity the best investment of our God-given time?"

The gift of time is precious, and even for our children, what they do with it matters. Obviously there is a place for fun and it is extremely important for both adults and children, but choosing the right kind of fun matters. I had never heard the question put quite this way and I thought that it offers a good standard for making good use of our children's time (as well as our own).