Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Make the Most of Little Blocks of Time

As a mother, I often find that I have short spurts of down time when my children are engaged in some activity. This was true even when my children were very small. These are admittedly little blocks of time – maybe 5 minutes. If I am really lucky I might get 20 minutes. So I have learned to make the most of these moments. I don’t know if it is a gift that God bestows on mothers upon the birth of their first child or if it just comes out of necessity, but most mothers I know are incredibly productive people. We simply have to do more with less time.

So, the key becomes to take advantage of the time you are given. What can you do in 5 or 10 minutes? You can speed-clean a room, making it at least look presentable. You can skim a newspaper and get caught up on your favorite comics. You can read a couple of magazine articles or part of a book. You can say a few decades of the rosary or engage in some moments of meditation. You can sort through your most recent pile of photos, making piles of those you want to keep, share, or toss. You can check your email. You can empty the dishwasher or dryer. You can water the flowers. You can take a powernap Embrace the little bits of time you are given. You don’t need to have huge blocks of time to accomplish something.

Monday, July 30, 2007

"The Other Mothers"

I think that one thing that is inevitable as parents (especially mothers) is that we tend to compare ourselves with others. It seems like no matter what I do, there is always another mother doing it better. And "better" can be on totally opposite sides of the spectrum. For example, I have one friend whose children attend a prestigious Montessori school from the time they are 4 through the time they are 7. In addition, her children are involved in numerous educational and social activities such as piano lessons, sports, girl scouts, etc. They travel extensively and are deeply involved in their faith community. Her children are cultured, very intelligent, well-behaved, and polite, but also have incredible imaginations and are fun to be around. On the other hand, I have another friend who homeschools her children. Her children do not in general move in such high-brow circles as those of the first mom. They play sports intermittently, and are incredibly committed to their faith. Two of her children dressed up as saints for Halloween! Her children are also pleasant to be around and are incredibly "good people." And the list goes on. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by incredible moms. I love these people and enjoy their friendship, and at the end of the day feel totally inadequate by comparison. And then there are those, generally in my own family, who just throw criticism my direction. Sometimes, I just want to cry. Heck, sometimes I do cry (in private).

Today I read an article by comic Paula Poundstone in the April/May 2007 issue of Body and Soul magazine called "The Other Mothers" which speaks about this phenomenon. She writes of admiring the other mothers who seemingly have it all so together. She feels like these mothers must look at her with disdain. But then, one day, another mother turns to her and says "'You know, I always watch how patient you are dong homework with your kids. I wish I could be more like that.' Surely, I thought, she's talking to someone else. When I could catch my breath, I looked behind me. No one was there. As it turns out, I, too, have been an Other Mother all along."

I know it is horrible, but sometimes I can't help but hope that maybe some other mothers see something (anything!) to admire in me. Maybe everyone doesn't have it as together as they seem to. Maybe there is some hope for my parenting ability after all!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Building a Marriage One Nail at a Time

My husband and I recently celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. As a gift, my sister generously offered to take our two children for the weekend. Most couples would take such an opportunity to mark the occasion by having a romantic weekend away. Not us. No, we decided the best thing we could do for our marriage would be to build a shed!

Home improvement projects run deep in our marital bloodline. The home we bought as newlyweds was the ultimate fixer-upper. There was an uneven cement floor in the kitchen and a big hole in the ceiling. The bathroom shower was held together by a piece of metal and a rope that hung from the ceiling. Most of the bedrooms needed new ceilings and flooring as well and several of the windows simply wouldn’t open. There were no back stairs (we had a bucket to stand on to get down to the ground). The living room and dining room sported 1970s orange shag carpeting and there was a tree branch sticking through the roof that needless to say, needed to be replaced. I look back now and can’t help but wonder, “What on earth were we thinking?” But we were young, and what we lacked in financial resources, we made up for in enthusiasm and creativity.

I had never tackled a home improvement project in my life before I was married, but I was eager to make that house a home. Our first project was painting the living room and dining room to brighten them up a bit. Next, I tackled the kitchen walls. The kitchen was ugly, but at least it could have a happy color on the walls. Other projects would have to wait. We would save up some money and then tackle one room one project at a time. Around the time of our first anniversary, we decided to wallpaper the bathroom. It was a tiny little room and it was the hottest week of the year. Wallpapering looks so easy until you actually try to do it! This was the first time our home improvement skills were truly tested. The two of us were confined to that room sweating up a storm using language I certainly would not want my children to ever hear me using. I was convinced that if we survived that week, our marriage could survive anything! Over the years, I became much better at wallpapering (although it did become one project I would work on by myself), but we would go on to tackle many more projects together. We would rip out floors and kitchen cabinets. We would install ceilings and floor tiles and build bookcases. Eventually, we even got a real showerhead! Our results were not always beautiful and our methods were nearly always unorthodox, but we created many memories in the process.

After seven years, we sold the fixer-upper for a decent profit and moved to a new home in a much quieter neighborhood. There were no major projects to work on here (thank goodness!), but I missed working with my husband to create something. There is something to be said for working as a team. So, last year, we decided to build a gym set for the boys. We had a babysitter come over to watch the kids while we followed the kit instructions step-by-step. It took us twelve hours and a few minor mishaps (who writes those directions?), but at the end, the gym set was actually standing and usable. The boys loved it and we could say that “we built it ourselves.” Therefore, when the opportunity presented itself this year to delve into another project, I was eager to begin.

We spent two wonderful days bonding over wood siding, supports, and roofing. We got rained on and the hot sun beat down on us. We laughed and moaned at our aches and pains – these bodies just aren’t as young as they used to be! For us, home improvement is an exercise in working together and trusting your partner and keeping your sense of humor in the face of adversity. It is a reminder of who we are when we aren’t being parents and an opportunity to remember all the projects that came before.

Yes, we did take a break to go out to a fancy restaurant to commemorate our ten years together. We also took the time to watch our wedding video and marvel at how much everyone has changed. It really was a wonderful weekend of looking back at all we have shared. However, every time I look in my backyard and see that shed I will remember this anniversary and know that we are continuing to build our marriage one nail at a time.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Buying Organic Without Breaking the Bank

Like many of you, I try to buy organic when I can, although I have to admit that sometimes it still comes down to a cost/benefit analysis. I want to support organic practices but I also live within a budget. Here is a good article on Buying Organic Without Breaking the Bank

Book of Jane Book Contest

Lisa Hendey of Catholic Mom asked me to help spread the word about her new book contest:

I wanted to ask your assistance in spreading the word about a contest I'm running this month at www.CatholicMom.com. Broadway Books, publisher of The Book of Jane, has generously donated several copies of the book for me to use as giveaways. To enter, readers just need to drop me an email with "The Book of Jane Contest" in the subject line. While not written by Catholic authors, this book is squeaky clean, lots of fun and has a great message. Readers can learn more about the book and read my interview with the authors at http://www.catholicmom.com/br_dayton.htm

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Book Review - Choosing Forgiveness

Choosing Forgiveness
by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006

Who do you need to forgive in your life? What resentment do you continue to harbor? What walls have you put up so as not to be hurt again? Nancy Leigh DeMoss invites us to take an honest look at our lives and make the decision to forgive those who have hurt us.

DeMoss doesn’t resort to simple solutions. She knows that the pain that readers may have experienced run deep. There are situations of physical and sexual abuse. There are times when loved ones have been hurt deeply or have even been taken away through murder. No, forgiveness is not easy. Nevertheless, it is what God calls us to do.

Withholding forgiveness hurts not only the person we hold in bondage but ourselves as well. “Though it may feel right, though it may seem justified, though it may appear to be the only option available to us . . . The very weapon we use to inflict pain on our offender becomes a sword turned on ourselves, doing far more damage to us – and to those who love me – than to those who have hurt us.”

In addition, many have difficulty accepting God’s forgiveness. “When we refuse to forgive, something is blocked in our relationship with the Father. [There is] a clear connection between our willingness to extend forgiveness to others, and our ability to appropriate and experience His forgiveness for our own sins.”

DeMoss also addresses the need we feel to “make people pay.” We may feel that by forgiving people, we are not holding them accountable. We are “letting them off the hook.” This is not the case. “According to God’s Word, wrongdoers will get their just due.” Romans 12 tells us that “ ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay,’ says the Lord.” “Forgiveness releases the accused from your custody and turns him over to God . . . the one and only One who is both able and responsible for meting out justice.”

DeMoss has penned a thought-provoking and insightful book. All of us can use the reminder to forgive, and the encouragement to work through the pain of our past, to wipe the slate clean. She makes the case that forgiveness is a decision, much more than a feeling. She invites us to reconsider what it means to forgive and most importantly, she calls us to forgive.

Being Flexible with the "To-Do" List

I had such plans to get work done tonight, but then six-year old David just couldn’t get to sleep. He has been doing better “being brave” lately and falling asleep without my sitting in his doorway freeing up more time for me to work on the computer. Tonight, however, the bad dreams were in full effect and falling asleep took an hour. My first reaction was to be annoyed (although I did not tell him that), but then I realized that there was nothing I could do about it. I make use of my time in the doorway reading or praying so it isn’t time wasted. But even if I had nothing better to do than simply sit there and rest, being there for my child when he needs me is more important than anything I need to get done with the computer. Oh yes, the work still needs to get done, although some of it will certainly be pushed until tomorrow. Sometimes, being productive means doing what is most needed, not what is first on the “to-do” list.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Prayer for Mothers

In my drawer cleaning, I also found this prayer which was given to be by my friend Eileen when I was pregnant with David.

God be with the mother.
As she carries her child,
may she carry her soul.
As her child is born,
may she give birth and life
and form to her own, higher truth.

As she nourishes and protects her child,
may she nourish and protect her inner life
and her independence.

For her soul shall be her most painful birth,
her most difficult child, and the dearest sister
to her other children. Amen

For All Mothers

My sister had sent me this in an email several years ago when David was still just a baby and I was pregnant with Isaac. I came across it while cleaning out a drawer a few days ago. I did an on-line search and couldn't find an author for it. I think it is beautiful. I hope you will agree.

Once upon a time there was a child
ready to be born. The child asked God,
"They tell me you are sending me to earth
tomorrow, but how am I going to live there
being so small and helpless?"
God replied, "Among the many angels, I
chose one for you. Your angel will be
waiting for you and will take care of you."

The child further inquired,
"But tell me, here in heaven I don't have to
do anything but sing and smile to be happy."

God said, "Your angel will sing for you and
will also smile for you everyday. And
you will feel your angel's love and be
very happy."

Again the child asked, "And how am I going to
be able to understand when people talk to me
if I don't know the language?"

God said, "Your angel will tell you the most
beautiful and sweet words you will ever hear,
and with much patience and care, your angel will
teach you how to speak."

"And what am I going to do when I want to talk
to you?"

God said, "Your angel will place your hands
together and will teach you how to pray.

" I've heard that on Earth there are bad men.
Who will protect me?"

God said, "Your angel will defend you even if
it means risking it's life."

"But I will always be sad because I will not
see you anymore."

God said, "Your angel will always talk to you about me
and will teach you the way to come back to me, even
though I will always be next to you."

At that moment there was much peace in heaven, but
voices from Earth could be heard and the
child hurriedly asked, "God, if I am to leave
now, please tell me my angel's name."

"Her name is not important.
You will simply call her "Mom."

Monday, July 23, 2007

National NFP Awareness Week

July 22 - 28 is National NFP (Natural Family Planning) Awareness Week. As many of you are aware, my husband and I have used Natural Family Planning for our entire married lives. It was important to me to be in keeping with Church teaching, and my husband loved me enough to go along. Natural Family Planning is effective, natural, and free and can be used both to help conceive children and to avoid pregnancy. It also helps women know more about their bodies. I would encourage all women to learn about their fertility.

To learn more, visit http://www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/nfp/index.shtml
or contact your local diocese.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Making Time for Prayer

Jesus entered a village
where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
“Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me.”
The Lord said to her in reply,
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her.”

Luke 10: 38 - 42

As some of you might be aware, I contribute to the CE on Time blog on Catholic Exchange. The primary focus of that blog is to help readers make the most of the time God has given them. The other writers and I offer suggestions on organization and household chores and work-life balance. All those things are incredibly important and necessary for our daily lives. After all, the laundry is not going to get into the washer all by itself, and only in my wildest dreams are my young children going to get themselves up, fed, dressed and out the door for school without any help from me!

No matter our state in life, we all have responsibilities. There is always something or someone demanding our attention. There is always one more thing that could be done before our head hits the pillow. Yet, by far, the most important thing that needs to be done in our lives is prayer. At the children’s mass this week, our pastor used a large clock as a prop for his homily. He asked the children sitting around him what time they got up in the morning, had supper, went to school, watched television, etc. Each time someone answered he would move the hands of the clock to that time. Then he asked them, “What time of day do you pray?” There were those who did have a definite time for prayer. He emphasized, however, that while it is wonderful to have a set time for prayer, the crucial thing is to make sure that we do pray each day. We need to set aside time to be with God.

St. Paul tells us to “pray always.” In many ways, our life’s work can be part of our prayer. In our work and family life, we serve others. We tend the creation that God gave us. We love others. We can offer the work of our hands to God as a gift. These are all good things. But we must also set aside time to truly just be with God, to raise our hearts and minds to Him.

I find it easier to keep a schedule for my prayers, to say certain prayers in the morning and others before bed. That way, it is part of my routine and doesn’t get put off. Other prayers I say throughout the day, often while I am engaged in other tasks like pushing my children on the swings or driving the car. In addition, there are often situations that arise in the day that require an immediate request for divine assistance. By the same token, there are moments that call for divine praise and thanksgiving.

We all have time for prayer. In fact, the busier you are, the more you need it. You can’t go out and meet the needs of all the people who depend on you if you haven’t allowed God to fill up your inner reserves first. I can feel it when I haven’t taken the time to center myself with my prayer time. I get more easily aggravated. I try to rush and make bigger messes of things! My day just doesn’t go well.

If you don’t already set aside time each day for prayer, I invite you to do so. Start with 5 minutes. Everyone has 5 minutes. Say prayers that you know or use a prayer card. If you feel more comfortable simply talking with God and bringing your needs before Him, do that. You may also just want to be still in His presence. There is no right or wrong way to pray. God is always there waiting for us to make contact. Prayer is the single most important thing you can do to have a productive day because God will help you spend your time where He wants you to spend it. What could me more productive than that?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Book Review: Prayerfully Expecting

Prayerfully Expecting: A Nine-Month Novena for Mothers to Be
by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle
New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2007

Even before I had conceived my first child, I had searched for a book on the spirituality of pregnancy. I knew I wanted that time in my life to be prayer filled. I knew it would be a time of tremendous change and possibility and I wanted God to be at the center of it all. “Prayerfully Expecting: A Nine-Month Novena for Mothers To Be” by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle is a fitting companion for the journey of pregnancy.

As Cooper O’Boyle writes, “Motherhood is truly a lofty and blessed vocation. By responding to life with a generous ‘yes,’ you have entered into a partnership with God, cooperating to bring a new soul into this world. What could possibly be more worthwhile than this?” Perhaps as in no other time in life, pregnancy makes you aware of the passage of time. You measure your life by the number of weeks along you are. Each month’s progress is marked by visits to your doctor or midwife. Cooper O’Boyle has divided her book into nine sections as well, one for each month, and one for each part of the novena.

Each month includes scriptural excerpts, personal reflections, information on what is happening with your baby, and appropriate prayers for that month. There is also space for you to write your reflections on that month. Each month is meant to be read and used independently as you pass through that month. Some of the prayers are repeated in more than one month.

As in all of Cooper O’Boyle’s writings, she is strongly pro stay-at-home mother which might make her readings less palatable for those who either must work or choose to work after her baby is born. That is unfortunate, because she has much to offer in terms of helping one’s pregnancy be an occasion for spiritual growth. Also, Cooper O’Boyle speaks only positively about the pregnancy experience. While an amazing time, pregnancy is often also difficult, both physically and emotionally for the woman involved. It might have been helpful to explore those aspects of pregnancy and offer them up in prayer as well.

Despite these criticisms, “Prayerfully Expecting” is a very good book. It encourages a pregnant woman to focus on more than just the physical changes. It is an invitation to prayer and reflection and that is always a welcome call.

Prayer to St. Anthony when Discouraged

St. Anthony is often called upon to help find lost items. I do this myself. It is amazing how quickly he can help me find that missing piece of a toy that my children just have to have right now! More importantly, however, he is known as the patron of lost souls. Here is a simple prayer for help when we are discouraged.

By your example and your prayers for me,
come to my aid, Saint Anthony, when I must face difficulties and disappointments.
By your help may I realize more deeply that God loves me and is always with me.

The Motorist's Prayer to St. Christopher

Grant me, O Lord
a steady hand and watchful eye.
That no one shall be hurt as I pass by.
Thou gavest life,
I pray no act of mine
May take away or mar that gift of thine.
Shelter those, dear Lord,
who bear my company,
From the evils of fire and all calamity.
Teach me to use my car for others need;
Nor miss through love of undue speed
The beauty of the world;
that thus I may
With joy and courtesy go on my way.
St. Christopher,
holy patron of travellers,
Protect me and lead me safely to my destiny.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Be Not Afraid.net

I can't even imagine how devastating it must be to receive a diagnosis of severe disability in an unborn child. How much harder it must be when your medical practitioner recommends abortion. BeNotAfraid.net is a resource for parents in that difficult position who have chosen life despite the advice to the contrary.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Patience with Children's Learning

My goals for this summer with the kids' learning have been to teach them how to write correctly (David got into some very bad habits in kindergarten so I am trying to help him break them - with Isaac I am trying to prevent bad habits from forming) and help them with their reading. The thing is, my efforts are benefiting Isaac to the greater degree. He is 4 1/2 and can read at a first grade level. David is 6, could care less about reading, and views it as one more way I am trying to torture him. David has always been easily frustrated and hates to be made to do anything. He can read some small words when he tries so I don't think he suffers from any learning disabilities. The light-bulb in his head just hasn't clicked yet where reading makes sense to him. It is much easier to have his mother read to him the things that he is interested in rather than struggle to read basic books that don't hold his interest. He has a wonderful memory and can remember anything he sees on television, experiences, or is read to him. Isaac, on the other hand, can read but not retain. In that respect, he takes after me. And so, David and I continue our struggle, as I have no doubt we will continue to do for the rest of the years I need to help him with his learning.

Yesterday, I read an article in Home Education Magazine on the topic of teaching children to read. Tamra Orr was telling the story of how her four children learned to read. Her first child learned at six and was reading at a high school level by age 9. Her second child learned at age 12. Her third learned at age 13. Child number 4 taught himself to read in an hour when he was 6 and has been reading ever since. All of her children now read and write well, regardless of the time-table. She states:

I became continually more aware of how much this culture focused on reading as the hallmark of intelligence. Illiterate equals stupid, right? . . . Well, believe it or not, there was a time would no one could read. Were all of those people stupid? No, they simply found alternate ways of learning. . .

Don't misunderstand. I think reading is pretty essential in today's world. . . My personal literacy formula is three part: 1) Be a role model and read yourself for education and pleasure; 2) Read to your children, and 3) Have books all around the house so that kids can pick them up when they want to. Perhaps I should add 4) Recognize that every child has a different timetable for reading and while s/he is not reading, s/he is learning all the time in other ways.

Well, I do 1, 2 and 3 on that list and I know #4 is true as well. I don't think I would have the patience to wait until David is 12 for him to learn how to read. Nor do I have that option as I have chosen to have him in school. So, somehow I need to find a balance between having patience with David's personal timetable and getting him to meet his school's timetable. Just one more challenge on the parenting journey.

Find More Time

The July 2007 issue of “Reader’s Digest” had a wonderful article on “Find More Time: 23 great ideas for getting it all done – and getting the most out of life.” In the article, author Camille Noe Pagan profiled three time-crunched individuals and had productivity pros make suggestions on how to improve their lives.

Some good suggestions included:

1) If your commute is horrible, try leaving a few minutes earlier or later to see if you can miss the rush.

2) Start the day with a few moments of peace to focus you for your day. (The article suggested spending the time in silence. I would suggest prayer.)

3) Check email only a few times a day.

4) Be willing to accept less than perfection in most things. Consider an 80/20 rule. Only 20% of things need to be done perfectly. The rest can be “good enough.”

And my favorite:

5) Get a reality check: Appreciate all you really do get done in your life.

For more information, check out:

For those of you who would like more productivity tips check out Lisa Hendey's new productivity blog at http://productivityathome.typepad.com/my_weblog/

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Why I Like Being Catholic

I recently read “I Like Being Catholic: Treasured Traditions, Rituals, and Stories” edited by Michael Leach and Therese J. Borchard. It is a wonderful collection of reflections from people in all walks of life on all the enjoyable things about being Catholic. Many spoke of the wonderful diversity that we find in the Church, quoting James Joyce, “Here comes everybody!” At a time when so many find so much to criticize about the Church, this was an incredibly uplifting optimistic portrait of our faith.

It is interesting to note that “I Like Being Catholic” was published in 2000. Those were somewhat easier days for the Church, before the sex abuse crisis came to light and before Pope John Paul II went on to his eternal reward. There is no doubt that the Church is going through growing pains, and will come out stronger and better for it. In the meantime, however, as we struggle to move forward, it can be helpful to embrace a more positive outlook and reflect on the things that we enjoy about being Catholic.

Here is my list (in no particular order). I invite you to leave a comment and add your own favorite aspect of being Catholic.

1) The mass. We have such a gift in the mass, in the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I enjoy the ability to go to any mass anywhere and know what is going on. It is often when I am at a Church in a strange place that I appreciate most what it means to belong to something bigger than my local community.

2) The sense of community. The community that exists within my parish and the Church at large is the lifeblood of my existence. I truly don’t know what I would do without them.

3) The sacrament of Reconciliation. I don’t go to confession nearly as much as I should, but when I do, I am so grateful for the gift of being washed clean and getting to hear the words “I absolve you from all your sins.”

4) First communions. There is something about seeing children receive the Body of Christ for the first time that always bring tears to my eyes.

5) Life rituals. I love the way the Church has sacramental ceremonies for all the big moments in life: baptisms, confirmations, weddings, holy orders, and funerals. From cradle to grave, we are wrapped in God’s grace.

6) The music and art. Our Churches are beautiful to behold. Whether traditional or modern, the architecture is designed to give glory to God. The art that the Church and our faith have inspired has shaped western civilization. The songs also give praise in wonderful ways. From Gregorian chant to the folk group music of the 1970s and 1980s that I grew up with, the songs stay with you and bring the scriptures and our faith to life.

7) The saints. I can’t imagine life without our friends up in heaven. The stories of their lives inspire and encourage, and their prayers for us are always welcome.

8) Catholic schools. My parents attended Catholic schools. I spent 20 years in Catholic schools and now my children attend as well. The dedication of the religious communities that founded them as well as the lay people who staff them today is very inspiring and has changed the lives of millions for the better.

9) Catholic social agencies. From hospitals to soup kitchens to homeless shelters, Catholics practice what they preach about reaching out to those in need.

10) Our Diversity. People of every color in every nation, from red states and blue states, rich and poor, with different languages and backgrounds, all come to the Eucharistic Table. We are all brothers and sisters in the Lord. There is room for everyone.

The Relationship of The Catholic Church to other Churches

There has been much in the media lately about the latest document issued by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and what it says about the Church's relationship to other faith communities. As is often the case, the media picks and chooses what it wants to emphasize (the more controversy the better). To get the full story, read the actual document:


While I can certainly understand why it would ruffle the feathers of some Protestant denominations, nothing has really changed in the Catholic Church's position. It is just a restating.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The ABCs of Abuse-Proofing Your Children

This is reprinted with the permission of Heidi Hess Saxton. It is such an important issue that I wanted to share it with you.

The ABCs of Abuse-Proofing Your Children
Copyright 2007 Heidi Hess Saxton. Reprinted by permission. Contact author at hsaxton@christianword.com.

If you met her on the street, you would never suspect Karen had been a victim. A pretty and outgoing cheerleader, Karen was active in her church youth group. She dreamed of becoming a fashion designer.

All that changed her junior year, when Dave entered her life. After that she didn't have time for anyone or anything. Dave didn't want to hang around her family, or with Karen's friends. He wanted her all to himself. When they weren't together — by the bleachers in the gym, sitting by themselves in the cafeteria, out in his car in the student lot — they were on the phone.

"He's a sweet guy," Karen assured me. "He's always doing things for me and giving me little presents. He says I'm too good for him — he always puts himself down like that. His parents really treat him badly. But if I'm patient, he'll start to feel better about himself."

Unfortunately, it went the other way. Karen dropped out of cheerleading, then stopped using makeup. She stopped wearing her own fashions (at once stylish and modest, thanks to her parents' influence), and started wearing oversized sweatshirts because Dave didn't want her "showing off" in front of the other guys at school. He even hated Karen wanting to spend time with her family. "Who's more important — your sister, or me?" he yelled at Karen one day.

Near the end of her senior year, Karen called long-distance to ask me if I would be her bridesmaid that summer, when I was home from college. "But I thought you wanted to go to design school," I argued.

"That can wait. Dave says we should get our own place and work for a while first. So, how about it?"

I could hear the excitement in her voice. I hated to disappoint her — but I felt honor-bound to tell her what I thought. "Karen, I think you're making a mistake. If you marry that guy, I'm not sure I can even come to the wedding." A short time later, Karen and Dave broke up. Secretly I was delighted, but was silenced by her obvious pain.

The next time I called home, Mom told me that Karen had started dating someone much older; within a few months she was pregnant. The guy dumped her, her humiliated parents told her to take her stuff and leave... and the next thing we knew, she and Dave were married.

The next time I saw Karen was at my grandmother's 70th birthday party, almost a year later. Karen had lost a lot of weight, and had bruises on her arms and legs. She finally admitted Dave was beating her. She left him only after he threatened to kill both her and the baby. She was pretty sure he meant it.

Dating Violence: Is Your Daughter Safe?

In retrospect, Karen admitted that from the very beginning Dave had exhibited behaviors that should have warned her away from him. Would your daughter recognize these red flags? Help your child cultivate healthy friends and dating relationships by talking about these "danger signs." Give her a checklist of questions to consider privately:

Does your friend ever:

Give excessive compliments and gifts, especially early in the relationship? Does he say things like, "You're too good for me. I don't know why you like me." Don't argue — he may be right!

Believe that he is entitled to treat you differently than he expects to be treated (by you or others)?

Keep you "off balance" with frequent mood swings, one moment being sweet and charming and the next silent, moping, or angry?

Say things to make you feel guilty, anxious, or bad about yourself?

Become jealous, or try to control how you look, what you do, or whether you spend time with family and church friends? Does he get mad when you spend time with anyone other than him?

Express anger inappropriately — destroying (or threatening to destroy) property, hurting animals, or humiliating you or others?

Give you the feeling that he is "checking up" on you? Does he want to know where you are every minute?

Become angry when you have to change casual or last-minute plans, even if it's for a good reason?

Call you names or use manipulation or physical force to get you to do things you don't want to do?

Threaten to hurt you, someone you love, or himself if you try to break up with him?

Don't mistake these signals as a sign of love or commitment. Those who are genuinely committed to our well-being do not "use" us or try to control us. They want us to be happy and to realize our full potential. Real love frees us to be the best we can be.

ABCs of Keeping Teens Safe

There are a number of ways that parents can protect their children from inappropriate and destructive relationships.

1. Acknowledge and eliminate factors that will attract abusers.

Many women who become victims of domestic violence are first exposed to abuse or neglect as children, by a parent or other authority figure. In her book Real Solutions for Abuse-Proofing Your Child, child psychiatrist and family therapist Dr. Grace Ketterman identifies fifteen "red flags" to signal that a parent may be capable of child abuse:

Parent feels excessive and unrelenting stress

Parent has feelings of helplessness, low self-esteem, or isolation

Parent struggles with social or financial problems

Parent puts own needs ahead of child's

Parent has difficulty recognizing or controlling anger

Family relationships are uncomfortable

While an individual factor may not necessarily signal a problem, the existence of several factors within a family could be cause for concern. Parents who recognize the above tendencies in themselves may simply be in need of some temporary assistance. Or the parents may need professional help to break unhealthy patterns of control or discipline.

Ignoring these tendencies, however, could have far-reaching consequences. In Karen's immediate family, for example, two out of three of her siblings later became involved in relationships that were physically or emotionally destructive. As a child, Karen's mother had also suffered abuse at the hands of her alcoholic father. Her mother's need to control her environment had tragic consequences in the lives of her own children.

2. Boundary setting and maintenance.

Teach your teen to trust her instincts, and to avoid associating with anyone who makes her uncomfortable. Karen observes, "Whenever teens experience that 'Uh-oh, something's wrong' feeling in the context of a dating relationship, they need to know to talk to someone else about it — to get an unbiased perspective other than their partner's."

There are many things a parent can do to help their children make healthy choices in future relationships:

Give clear limits and consistent correction. You have the right and responsibility to intervene when your children put themselves at risk by what they wear, with whom they associate, and how they spend their time.

Express confidence in their ability to make good choices. Avoid forms of discipline that are harsh or vindictive. Respect an older child's need for privacy. Encourage healthy friendships, and affirm all the ways they are using their gifts to serve God and His Church as well as the world.

Acknowledge their need for greater autonomy and responsibility. Discuss candidly and positively physical changes associated with puberty. Talk with your child about how to handle someone who uses pressure or manipulation tactics, and how to spot emotional "predators." Consider a self-defense course for your college-bound senior (and for you).

3. Confidence is contagious!

Predators and "players" tend to seek out and isolate those with self-esteem problems, who need a boyfriend to "prove" how beautiful and popular they are. By contrast, children who grow up secure in the love and respect of their parents (particularly the parent of the opposite sex) will seldom try to get their need for affection filled in unhealthy ways. When the "war of independence" is raging during those difficult teen years, try to defuse the power struggles by trying to see both sides of the problem, and by acknowledging and respecting your adolescent child's feelings even as you hold the line on the family rules. If and when they make mistakes, encourage them to take responsibility for their actions and do what is necessary to repair the damage to property and to relationships. All these things help to instill a sense of dignity and self-worth in a child, and teach her to expect the same treatment from others.

The transition from childhood to adulthood is often as difficult for parents as it is for our teens. Our children need us to continue "standing in the gap" in prayer, asking God to watch over them when they are away from home. It can be frightening to think of turning our children loose in such a sex-saturated society. And yet, the Lord tells us,

"In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

Heidi Hess Saxton is the editor of Canticle (http://www.canticlemagazine.com) and the mother of two young children. She has a blog for writers (http://heidihesssaxton.blogspot.com) and adoptive parents (http://mommymonsters.blogspot.com).

For a limited time, get a dollar off your subscription to Canticle Magazine by mentioning code SCO7.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Some things money can't buy

Shared cabin for 5 days on Lake Champlain: $400
Food, Souvenirs, and Gas: $150
Teaching a child how to fly a kite: Priceless

(my apologies to MasterCard)

The Importance of Unplugging

I spent the past few days in northern Vermont relaxing on Lake Champlain with my husband’s extended family. Although the weather was less than ideal (it rained for at least part of every day we were there), it provided a wonderful opportunity to unplug for a while. We are so dependent on modern technology. I know I find it hard to believe that I didn’t even learn how to type on a computer until I was in college. Remember typewriters? Without the internet, the way I work would be radically different and considerably harder. But the internet has made it possible to work from anywhere, thereby making it that much harder to take a real vacation where you leave the world behind, at least temporarily.

My husband telecommutes for his job. This is a wonderful thing. When he wanted to bring his laptop on vacation with us, however, I asked him not to. He is so attached to his laptop, at times I feel like it is actually an appendage on him. It is his source of work, news, and entertainment. So, for five blissful days, we were laptop free, computer free, and internet free. I would have liked to have gone TV free as well but the other 6 people with whom I was sharing our cabin would certainly not have embraced that idea. I was not pushing my luck. Just taking the break from the computer was good. It was necessarily to provide the psychological break from work.

Of course, now I am back, and the emails have piled up and there is work to be done. My husband was on a conference call this afternoon, just a couple hours after we returned. Life has quickly returned back to normal, but we are refreshed and relaxed. We had a true vacation and that is how it should be.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Blog Break

I will be on blog break for the next few days. Hope you all have a great week!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Sacrament of Healing

I read something recently that referred to the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a Sacrament of Healing. I had never thought of it that way, but that is exactly what it is - we come with our weakness and sin and brokenness and God cleanses and heals us. No matter how many times we are broken and are in need of healing, God's forgiveness is always there.

At the beginning of mass, we offer the following prayer:

I confess to almighty God,
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have sinned through my own fault,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done,
and in what I have failed to do;
and I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin,
all the angels and saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord, our God.

It is there that we acknowledge the community aspect of our sin as well as our ability to pray for each other. This prayer has been on my mind lately. It is time to offer my brokenness to God.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Sharing Space

Charla Bilinski has an interesting article on Catholic Exchange today on Breathing Space about having siblings share a room. Her boys have reached an age where they no longer want to share a room.

My boys used to have their own rooms. Isaac was the original non-sleeping child, often up for hours at a time in the middle of the night - not crying, just up talking to himself in his crib. It wasn't until he was over 2 that he began sleeping through the night with any consistency. We didn't want him to wake David who was still pretty little himself so we just kept them in their own rooms.

Once Isaac was moved into a bed, however, his nighttime wanderings often took him into David's room. One night, they decided that they wanted to sleep in the same room. Both said that they didn't want to be lonely at night anymore. It worked for us. Within a week, Bernie had claimed Isaac's old room for his at-home office and there was no going back. The boys have had bunk beds for over a year now and love it. Sharing a room works for them because they are both boys, so close in age, share the same toys and even some of the same clothes. I imagine there may come a time, however, when they will get sick of sharing and want their own space, at which time we will need to reevaluate.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Is it Real?

My children have reached an age where they are very interested in what is real vs. what is pretend. Some distinctions are easy to make. Bert and Ernie from “Sesame Street?” Pretend. Benjamin Franklin? Real. Spongebob Squarepants? Pretend. Their Great-grandparents? Real. Other distinctions aren’t so easy. Laura Ingalls Wilder? Real, but everything in the “Little House” books didn’t necessarily happen exactly the way the books are written. King Arthur? Yes, there most likely was a King Arthur but the exploits of the Knights of the Round Table and Merlin fall under the category of legend.

Then, there is the Bible. Most evenings we read a Bible story before bed. Some things they accept without question. The existence of the main characters – Abraham, Moses, Noah, Jesus, etc. they eagerly believe. They accept miracles. Water into wine? Not a problem. Parting of the Red Sea? How else would the Israelites get across? Some things, however, do cause them to question. Noah living to be 950 years old? Something isn’t quite right there. The world being created in 7 days? How could that happen, Mom?

I admit I don’t have all the answers, or even most of them. When it comes to what is real or not in the Bible, I try to take a lot on faith. Some questions I can answer rather straightforwardly – the world may have been created in 7 days, but God’s time is not our time. One day could have been a billion years. Other questions, I just don’t know. The people in the Hebrew Scriptures seemed to live awfully long times and have children at extremely advanced ages. It might have happened that way or it might not have. The numbers could be symbolic or there may have been a different way of counting years.

The question of what is real or not in the Bible does not have a definitive answer. Some Biblical scholars spend their entire lives searching for solutions. Archeologists scour the Holy Land for clues. Theologians debate the meaning of certain passages and what they mean for our lives and our relationship with God. All of which makes answering the questions of a six and four year old that much harder. Is it real? Well, yes and no.

I don’t want my children to view the Bible as a work of fiction, because it is not. I want Scripture to be important in their lives. At the same time, I don’t want them to get bogged down in the details. I want them to live the message. So, I try to explain that even if things didn’t happen exactly the way things are written in Scripture, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Bible still teaches us how to live. Loving God and neighbor is most important. Trusting God when life is difficult and the situation seems hopeless is a key theme. Following Jesus and doing what he says matters. I want my children to believe in the Resurrection and the gift of eternal life. Even if you strip everything else in the Scriptures away, that message is what remains. Is it Real? I’d bet my life on it.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

FAQ's About the Catholic Church

Sometimes I am asked questions about faith and spirituality in general and the Catholic Faith in particular. I welcome such questions and am happy to help however I can. In my search to find answers for someone today, I came across this page of FAQ's about the Catholic Church. While it is certainly not an exhaustive study of the Catholic Faith, it does provide a good introduction of why we believe and do what we do.

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