Happy Father’s Day!

Sometimes, I think Joseph really drew the short stick when it comes to historic appreciation.

He chose to stay and helped to raise the very Son of God when he could have easily walked away from Mary and her unborn child. He took a leap of faith to protect them from Herod, who wanted to kill the newborn Jesus, by doing exactly as an angel of the Lord warned him to do – even when it meant moving his brand new family to a different country. He was with Mary as they anxiously searched for the lost twelve-year-old Jesus for three days, eventually finding him with the leaders of the temple.

And that’s the last we hear of Joseph. Joseph doesn’t even have a single speaking line in the Bible, and many assume he must have died before Jesus began his adult ministry.

But Joseph was a shining example what a great father is – he stepped up to the plate to be there for his family, leading by example with his faith and integrity. Like many fathers today, he did these things without much attention or fanfare.

I’m proud to know so many men who have embodied the true spirit of fatherhood, and on days like today, I’m honored to give them some fanfare. For all the times we minimized the role you have in our lives and the lives of our children, I am so sorry.

You are more than a helping hand to get through baths and bedtime. You’re more than the caricature of the incompetent goof dad we see on TV. You’re more than all you provide for us, which we take for granted all too often.

Your example, guidance, playfulness, discipline, provision, protection, love and support are helping to shape who our children will become and teaching them what it means to be a good man in this world. For us as mothers, you’re a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, a partner in this most important and difficult job of raising human beings.

This morning, our kids were uncharacteristically well behaved in church. We came home and had a giant Dads vs. Kids water fight with the neighbors. We dried off in the sunshine, sitting together as a family to share a picture-perfect picnic lunch. Later today, we’ll visit family and get to thank my own father for all he’s done for us and our kids.

In its simplicity, it’s been a truly idyllic Father’s Day.

To all the fathers out there, thanks for all you do. Thanks for being there for your families. Thanks for the spirit of love you show your children every time you play a game, fix a boo-boo, or teach a lesson. Thanks, especially, for the dad jokes.

We may not be the best at showing our appreciation, but I believe our lives are made better by the fathers who step up to the plate every single day. Here’s to you, dads! Xo

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The Worth of Internet Outrage

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Here’s the thing that gets me about this gorilla story. When something happens and our collective outrage swells, the media know because their numbers go through the roof. Boosted numbers means increased revenue. When something makes them more money, they promote it more, which is why you’ve seen this gorilla’s face about a trillion times in the last three days. In other words, Facebook KNOWS Americans are more likely to become emotionally charged by certain types of stories because that’s what garners the most clicks and comments, and so that’s what gets promoted into your newsfeeds.

Did you notice that not a single headline read, “Zookeepers Rescue Boy Who Fell Into Gorilla Exhibit”? Rather, they are almost all centered around the unrighteous death of the gorilla. They’re playing on trends they’ve seen in the past: we are suckers for the victimized animals. And every time you like, share, or comment (and for the love of Jane Goodall, these comments on both sides are a doozy this time around), you’re helping to promote it further.

But the thing to remember is that these stories that get the most attention, and in turn get promoted more, are the ones most likely to elicit change. When everyone gets stirred into a fervor, when passion and awareness spread like wildfire, THAT is when we are driven to action. That is when justice is sought, when solutions are made, when the lives lost come to mean something more.

So please remember that as a consumer, your response holds more power than you think. Maybe you care about all these other issues too, but if you’re only willing to publicly admit your outrage for a gorilla and not for the 13 million children who can’t go to school because of wars in the Arab world, or for the 663 million people who don’t have access to safe water, or for the 125,000 lives that are ended by abortion every day – maybe it’s time to reflect on your priorities.

Because even though there are so many of us on this planet, and even though sometimes we make mistakes like sneaking into gorilla pits or turning our eyes from our children to take a sip of a drink or help another kid off a ledge, it’s the human life that is worth fighting the hardest for. Always.

Your voice matters, and your outrage carries the power to change abysmal circumstances. Use it wisely.

Message Received

You all know that great writers are usually not great speakers. Those of you who know me personally recognize what a gift it is that, given time and inspiration, I can express myself coherently in the written word because I am awkward and forgetful and do this hand-wringing thing when I’m speaking in person. I get sweaty and kind of start to hyperventilate. Adorable!

But as you also know, if you’ve read my past few posts, I’m also trying hard to bring my faith to the forefront of my life. I’ve opened up to you about trying to quiet the noise in my life to truly listen to what God wants from me, and I’ve admitted my struggles in being able to hear His voice as much as I’d like.

Before Easter, when I was in at the height of my dedication to prayer and study, I would ask God for direction. What can I do? Where do you want me?

One Sunday as I sat in church with my family, I heard a call for volunteers to help with the children’s Liturgy of the Word. This is kind of a miracle in itself because sitting in a church service with my three kids isn’t the most conducive to, you know, hearing what’s being said at the pulpit. But I also felt this stirring in my heart, saying this is something I could DO! I already teach my kids about our faith – why couldn’t I teach other peoples’ kids? This is something I might be good at. Having committed to trying my best to listen closely and say yes to God (thanks Lysa TerKeurst!), I volunteered.

When they invited me to sit in on one of their services, my flight response kicked in. I realized I had no idea how this program worked. The children go with their families to church on Sunday, but after the opening prayer they are excused to participate in this special children’s service in a smaller chapel and return to their families in time for communion.  

I soon learned this  isn’t a church nursery. This isn’t Sunday school with crafts and snacks. This is a CHURCH SERVICE, created to mirror the same service the adults are participating in, only geared to inspire and make sense to children.

Realizing what I had gotten myself into, I wanted to run. I’m not qualified for this! I won’t be good at this! This is NOT something I can do! You guys, I CAN’T SING PSALMS.

But I noticed I was the only new volunteer who had showed up that day. The ladies who run the program were just so warm and welcoming. I felt like I had to at least try.

I’ve now been observing for a few weeks, and it’s finally my turn to lead today. That means I’ll be leading all the prayers, doing all the readings and songs, and even – EEK! – giving the equivalent of a homily about the gospel.

ME! I’m doing those things. Stop laughing and/or worrying about the children’s future.

So I just opened up the guide I was given, which outlines my week’s readings and some suggested activities, and saw this:

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The entire theme of this weeks’ readings, assigned to me weeks ago by very sweet church ladies who know almost nothing about me except that I’m not a convicted sex offender, is about is about LISTENING to God speaking to us through the scriptures, church community, and quiet prayer. It’s about how to hear and understand what the Holy Spirit is trying to teach us, and why it’s so important to say yes and obey.

They even suggested starting the service with a LISTENING GAME in which you quiet all the noise in the room and listen closely to identify sounds made by a person you can’t see. Is there a divine coincidence emoji I could insert here?

Weeks ago, I asked what I expected by fortifying my prayer life. Did I think God was just going to smack me in the face? Will I ever get a sign?

I opened this book a few days ago and saw these words, which were written for me to use in a role I’m in because for the first time, I listened and said yes when I felt the answer stirring in my  heart.

My bushes may not be burning, and I’ll probably be sweaty and hyperventilating this morning, but for the first time in a long time, I think I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.

Wish me luck!

A Song About Love

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My hum was low and gentle. I drew her closer to me in my arms, knowing the soothing vibrations of my voice would carry from my chest to hers. It was a familiar tune, the same song I’d sung to all my babies before they were even born and each day since. In fact, it’s the first song my husband and I danced to at our wedding. It’s a song about love.

As I rocked my littlest before her nap, softly humming and smiling down into her drowsy eyes, my four-year-old in the next room accidentally dropped his baseball into a bucket of Legos. Accidentally.

The crash was jarring, but I kept on humming. The pace didn’t change. The volume didn’t change. I didn’t even skip a beat.

Moments later, my three-year-old started calling out for a drink. “MOMMMAYYY!” Wait for it. “MOOOOOOOOOOM!” Wait for it. “MAAAAAAAAA!” Wait for it. Wait for it. And then, silence as she discovered the cup of water that is always on her night stand.

Through the calls, I kept humming. The pace didn’t change. The volume didn’t change. I didn’t even skip a beat.

It wasn’t long before I heard a lawn mower roar to a start across the street. When my firstborn was a baby, this scenario was a personal nightmare of mine: noise at naptime I could not control.

But instead, I just kept humming. The pace didn’t change. The volume didn’t change. I didn’t even skip a beat.

Since the time she was a newborn, I’ve wanted to show this baby that she could ignore the jarring distractions around her, that they were normal and that she could still fall asleep despite them. I hoped to show her that the sounds didn’t faze me, and they don’t have to faze her. And that although her room isn’t perfectly conducive to mid-day sleeping, she was still safe and loved and could feel secure enough to nod off.

Though certain rare circumstances beg for intervention, if I’d have jumped up out of the rocker at every loud disruption, inserted myself into whatever situation caused the ruckus and begged the world to quiet down, what would that teach her? And would she really be better off?

No, she had to learn how to thrive in a noisy world.

To master this skill, which is imperative in a house with three kids under five, she had to learn how to ignore the occasional clamor by focusing on the constant undertone of familiar love I was softly humming to her, and by holding firm to that sense of trust and security even after I had laid her down and walked out of her room.

Distractions will arise and the world can be scary and noisy, baby, but I am with you; try to focus on what we are doing here together, the hums seemed to say as I rocked her in my arms. Listen to my voice, feel it deep in your chest, and remember it even when you don’t see me.

I dedicated some time leading up to Easter to focusing on my faith. Each day, I’d distance myself from all the chatter and distractions in my life and dedicate an hour or two to listening, studying, and praying in a secluded corner of my house. It became my daily joy to work on my relationship with God, to reading and re-reading the scriptures, to be inspired by the writings of others who have been touched by God’s grace.

Now that Easter has come and gone, I’m realizing how difficult it is to maintain that level of prayer and devotion. I’ve got three kids with soccer and baseball and something called Farm Camp about to start for the summer, a husband who wants to go out on dates with me, parties to plan, road trips, and a calendar already full of commitments. The world I live in just isn’t always perfectly conducive to quiet, solitary prayer.

So what happens to my faith when I can’t regularly make time to quiet the noise in a hole in my house?

Well, it must learn to thrive in a noisy world.

When I realize I’ve gotten so busy with life that I’ve stopped seeking with my whole heart, or when I find myself being drawn to the beautiful lies of the wide and easy road, I listen for the hum. Distractions will arise, but try to focus on what we are doing here together.

When my daily news stream is saturated with stories of the violence, hatred and corruption around us, I listen for the hum. The world can be scary and noisy, but I am with you.

When people are cruel and insecurities bloom, or when the doubts and anxieties of motherhood creep in, I listen for the hum. The noise doesn’t faze me; it doesn’t have to faze you either.

When I recognize the worst of myself in my words and actions, having allowed myself to forget who I am and what’s important to me, I listen for the hum. Remember my voice even when you don’t see me.

It’s not so loud as to compete with the noise of the world, but it’s always there, I think. I hope. I believe it’s the song I’ve been hearing from before I was born. It’s a song about love.

The challenge, then, is to draw closer, recognize the low reverberations from that song deep in our chests, and feel secure enough to trust.

For more from Catherine, find us on Facebook.

 

Finding Peace in the Quiet

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One of my favorite professors once asked how many of us set aside time to exercise our minds. A room full of college students, many of whom had been up half the night studying for finals, raised their hands. He then asked how many of us regularly take time to work out our bodies. More hands raised; some were even carrying gym bags to hit Rec Hall after class. We all agreed it takes time and effort to improve ourselves.

“And how many of you regularly take time out of your day to work on your faith?” he asked. He was a theology professor, so we should have seen it coming. But most of us just awkwardly looked around the room, unsure how to answer. “Isn’t that as much a part of you as anything else?” he challenged.

That question has stuck with me in the years that followed. I’ve since graduated, married, and become a mother of three. Real life happened, and that life is busy. Making time to challenge my beliefs and strengthen my faith has only gotten harder.

Caught up in the whirlwind of a busy life — rife with meaningless distractions, anxieties and challenges too hard to muscle through alone —  I began to realize that this phase of my life, as a mother to young children, is one in which I should be leaning heavier on my faith for support, not leaving it in my carefree past. It was time for me to quiet the noise in my life and reconnect with the things that matter most to me.

I needed peace, and this season of Lent seemed like the perfect time to try.

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There’s about an hour each afternoon — quiet time, we call it — when my kids are either napping or playing quietly alone in their rooms. I usually take this time to address my most pressing need. If we’re having company over that evening, for instance, I’ll take that time to clean up the house. More likely, however, I will address my need to unwind by falling down the rabbit hole of social media and Internet news. It became clear that my first step in “quieting the noise” should be setting down the phone and backing away slowly.

I knew I also wanted to use that time to work on a need I had long neglected: reconnecting with God. Whether that meant making it through a rosary without falling asleep (hi, I’m Catherine and I’m a lazy Catholic), reading through a gospel, or just talking things out with the Big Guy, I was determined to use this time to give my faith a workout.

So I snuck off to quiet corner of my house where no one would know to look for me and let my knees find the floor. From that first day in February, this has become my new happy place.

There are plenty of days when my mind wanders and I struggle to devote the focus it deserves, but it wasn’t long before I found my heart spilling out into that tiny corner. It’s where all my anxieties come out begging for guidance, where all my shame comes out begging for forgiveness, and where I go in thanksgiving to ask how best to go forward in serving. It’s where I go to remind myself of His suffering when I’m feeling at my worst, and where I pray for ways to help my friends lift the crosses they bear, too.

In the midst of a chaotic day, this time is both humbling and calming. It’s a daily reminder that I am small but I am loved, and that I can carry this love into all the relationships in my life.

Believing that someone is listening, though — especially in quiet solitude — can be a daunting leap. On one particularly challenging day, tears were drying on my cheeks as I prayed for guidance on my hard stuff. I began to question if prayer was ever enough, if even Lightsaber Jesus could help me.

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May the force be with you. And also with you.

Pulling up the blinds on a nearby window, I looked out, desperate for answers. I was struck at once by a great nothingness.

For the first time in weeks, the sky was clear and blue. The tops of the bare trees were still, no wind imploring them to dance or bow. I scanned the periphery again and again, waiting for something. The open sky felt like a void.

I slumped back against the wall, resigning myself to the sorrowful silence. What were you expecting? I chided myself. Did I think God was going to send a messenger hawk to my window? Did I think Jesus might descend on a cloud to tell a 29-year-old suburban housewife how to deal? Why were none of my bushes burning?

I glanced over at the baby monitor I had perched on a nearby shelf. It was quiet, the green light indicating my littlest was still sleeping in her crib. With the blinds open, there was now a glare against its screen.

That’s when I realized I, too, was now bathed in sunlight from the open window. I felt the warmth on my face and arms, the glare too bright to keep my eyes open when I gazed up into the blue.

Basking in the glow, my frustration fizzled. Of course. The clear sky wasn’t just an emptiness; it was an opening for the sunshine.

Here was the quiet I craved. Here was the connection I sought after, this ongoing conversation with Him. In some small way, this was even the sign I didn’t know I needed: a gentle reminder to be still and know.

Here was peace.

And so each day, I practice quieting the noise to hear Him. I practice being still to feel what moves me. I hide in a nook by myself to remember I’m not alone.

And each day, I practice carrying this peace into my roles as wife, mother, and friend.

I’m a work in progress, but I learned a long time ago that it takes time and practice to improve any part of myself. And this is as much a part of me as anything else.

Related: Jesus and Jellybeans: Talking Easter with Littles

Delaying Kindergarten Until Your Kid Can Read Steinbeck, Grow Mustache

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It’s enrollment season for those of us with kids in school, and we’ve just signed our oldest up for another round of preschool. We could have sent him to kindergarten this coming fall — just after his fifth birthday — but he would represent the youngest in the ever-aging kindergarten set. So, like many of his peers, he’ll be enjoying one more year of play-based preschool before heading to the big leagues when he turns six.

Amid growing rumors of diminishing recess, increased state-sanctioned testing, and a more challenging curriculum in kindergarten, the choice to hold kids back before enrolling in the big K seems to be growing in popularity among parents — mostly in the hopes of ensuring our kids’ academic and emotional readiness.

I’m over at MockMom this week with some satire to poke fun of the issue, but it does speak to a darker concern creeping into the American education system. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the changing face of kindergarten, which seems to be transitioning from an emphasis on play to an emphasis on test results — including long stretches at a desk and curriculum previously reserved for first grade.

Head over to MockMom and let me know what you think. Are they pushing too much on kids today or are we parents just getting a little crazier? How old were your kids when they went to kindergarten? If they were the oldest in their class, are they now CEOs or pro-ballers? If they were the youngest, are they still in therapy for crumbling under the pressure?

How My Kids Brought Back The Magic Of Christmas

There comes a time in all of our lives when childhood begins to wane and, along with it, the magic and belief in Santa. I remember the hollow sadness accompanying the realization that Christmas would never be the same again. I knew I’d never again look up in the sky on Christmas Eve and feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end at the possibility of seeing a sleigh dart past the stars. I knew I’d never again awaken in the middle of the night to the sounds of crinkling paper and jingle bells, my heart pounding with exhilaration and fear

And then, just recently, I found myself turned completely around in the car, wagging a pointed finger at my kids in the backseat with a reindeer-shit-eatin’ grin on my face, singing along with the radio, “You better be good for goodness sake!” in that classic mom fashion that would have made my teen self cringe.

At that moment, something clicked, and I was taken aback by this sudden jolt of merry rocking my system. As I slowly turned forward in my seat again, mouth agape, I realized what had happened:

I felt it. I felt the magic again.

Excited to be up on Scary Mommy again tonight! Head on over to check out the rest of this post!