No, We Can’t Fully Protect Our Children From Suffering

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

G.K. Chesterton

Our culture seeks to hide suffering behind closed doors. The elderly are left in nursing homes while the unborn are “humanely” disposed of in abortuaries. We pretend that suffering can be fixed with a small pill, a drink, one more car, another cheeseburger, or dull it with copious amounts of television, drugs, alcohol, or pornography. I see the attempts to hide suffering in the media. We are supposed to keep our children protected from the suffering of this harsh world. This is a lie parents tell themselves and it is an attempt to avoid reality. It is impossible to hide the Fallen nature of this world from our children.

We worship the God-man, who suffered a torturous death on a Cross. Our churches–at least they are supposed to–have a Crucifix front and center as a reminder of the central reality of Our Faith that is the Crucifixion and death of Our Lord. Our homes are also often adorned with this instrument of torture, as a minute-by-minute reminder of the price and sacrifice offered in love for each one of us. As Catholics, there is no hiding the reality of suffering. It’s front and center in our Faith.

Children already know dragons exist. The idea that we can hide pain and suffering from our children comes up against reality once our children come into contact and develop relationships with other children. They see quickly how difficult human relationships are in our Fallen state. Each child comes to learn that they will eventually be left out, mocked or made fun of, left to the mercy of another’s moods or whims, hurt, and that the people we love eventually let us down, move, or even die. It is impossible to hide these realities from children. They know. And, like us, they also know that it’s not supposed to be this way. They rail in angry frustration at the injustice of it all because they know instinctively that we are made for more.

We can’t protect our children from suffering. Last year my own daughter went through a death scare with my husband when he became extremely ill at a rapid rate. At five-years-old she confronted the reality of her own father’s mortality. Thankfully, he survived and is now in what appears to be remission, even though he will have Wegener’s Granulomatosis for the rest of his life and it could take off at any point. It’s something that is always in the back of our minds.

She knows the realities of suffering in her daily life. She knows the pain other people inflict on one another through the disagreements and occasional nastiness of her friends. She sees it when her father and I let her down when our own sinfulness hurts her. She cries the tears of pain when she learns that her best-friend is moving on her birthday and she cries in frustration when she isn’t treated as well as she should be by a friend or their family.

As her mother, I can’t pretend that suffering isn’t a reality for each one of us. I can’t sugar coat it, and often, I don’t even have the power to make it any better. In fact, this has been one of the greatest lessons of surrender that I have learned as a mother. Many of the moments when she is hurting all I can do is hold her close and cry with her. I am not called to protect her from the suffering. I am called to teach her how to embrace it and offer it up to Christ. I do so by standing steadfast alongside her as she cries in agony, even as my own heart bleeds inwardly, longing to relieve her pain.

It is in those moments that I catch a tiny glimpse of what Our Heavenly Mother endured at the foot of the Cross. She shows me how to stand strong in the midst of intense suffering. Our Mother shows me how to love my daughter through the pain and to embrace her Cross alongside her. I remind my daughter to offer it to Christ and to allow Him to help her through it. It isn’t easy. Our Fallen tendency is to flee from the Cross, but as Christians, we are called to embrace it. We are meant to walk together in communion. So often we make the same mistakes of the first Apostles, except St. John. We flee when we are called to endure.

As parents we have to learn to relinquish our own will when our child suffers. It is impossible for us to suffer for them. We can only suffer with them. Suffering is a part of the sanctification process for all of us. It teaches how to love. Suffering shows us what love costs and it is through this pain that we learn to love more deeply. We can’t truly love if it doesn’t lead us to sacrifice a part of ourselves on behalf of the other.

We can’t protect them from suffering, but we can lead them to the One who will help them to persevere, provide them peace, rest, joy, and love them as they are meant to be loved. Other people, even people who love us and who we love, will let us down and hurt us. It is only in Christ that we learn to receive the love we are made for and through Him we learn to love others as we ought to.

My daughter is going through one of those difficult times when she is suffering pain and disappointment and I can’t take it away. What I can do is love her through it and stand fast when the tears start flowing. I can show her my own vulnerability and the tears I shed on her behalf as her loving mother. In some small way, I pray we are both brought closer into the loving embrace of Our Heavenly Mother, whose great desire is to lead us to the Most Loving and Sacred Heart of Her Son, Jesus Christ.

Catholic Exchange: On Being Human and the Need to Wonder

I stood on a cold, frosty afternoon looking out the window at my daughter playing in the snow. She was bedecked head to toe with winter gear to protect her from the bitter wind, a wind she hardly noticed. Her fuchsia snow pants insulated her knees from the icy snow and she sat contentedly eating snow. She examined each handful before placing it in her mouth. She was struck by the uniqueness of each new handful. As I watched her, I was drawn into her wonder. I was struck by the obvious joy of that moment for her.  I realized in that moment, children often have their priorities in order, while we adults grasp at all the wrong things.

A pile of dishes was awaiting my attention, textbooks for my graduate courses sat opened, reminding me of work to be done. My elliptical machine, cold and mechanical, stood in the living room corner as an oppressive force of health and fitness. My mind was running with an endless list of things that must get done. And yet, I stopped to see what my daughter was doing in our backyard on a bitter cold winter afternoon. She had been begging me all morning to go outside and I made her wait until it hit 25 degrees. I have grown soft living in Southwestern Virginia; away from the arctic subzero temperatures of my upbringing in Montana.

I couldn’t help, but stop. There she sat, engrossed in wonder and serene contentedness. The very same serenity that alludes so many of us in adulthood with our deadlines, duties, and responsibilities. I realized that my daughter’s work was probably much more important than what I felt bound to complete in a begrudging sort of way. She was examining the secondary causes of God’s free and self-emptying Creation. I stood watching her examine each snow crystal before she placed it in her mouth. I entered into her wonder, her total giving of self to the moment. How could I not be drawn in along with her?

She did not feel the cold or complain about the weather the way we adults often gripe. Instead it was an opportunity for joy, play, discovery, imagination, and love. It was a moment for her to experience God through the beauty of His creation. She was living the good, the true, and the beautiful. How often do we brush off our child’s excitement over something seemingly mundane? How often do we miss out on the opportunity to enter into their wonder and joy of discovering something new for the very first time, or even the twentieth? How much do we ignore that God calls us to fully live in the present? Our children teach us the presence of God, but we pay little attention.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Letters from Homeschool: Jumping from Preschool to Kindergarten

Child reading  pile of books.

Last month I formally, well, semi-formally, started to home-school my 4 year old daughter. We did letter crafts and other activities over the past year, but it wasn’t a set curriculum I was using. I had decided to order the Catholic Heritage Curriculum for Pre-school to get us started. The set came with what we needed, including lesson plans. I started looking through the workbooks and noticed, much to my wallet’s chagrin, that Michaela already knew most of what was provided in the Pre-school packet. I told my husband that I needed to buy some Kindergarten materials to supplement. He told me to wait a little while to get into a routine. I agreed.

In the beginning it was a bit difficult to get her going, but then out of nowhere, her learning exploded. She started writing letters and drawing non-stop. She began to grasp sounds and was retaining a ton of information. Even though she would battle me at times during school, I found that she was absorbing it anyway. My husband and I knew that God had given us a very bright daughter. In fact, I often tell people that she is smarter than my husband and me put together. I struggled to find materials to keep her busy and I cut back our time at Co-op because she is ahead in much of what is offered for her age.

So here we are mid-October and I absolutely have to jump her into Kindergarten. Yes, she is 4. The temptation is to just let her have a year of freedom and wait to start until next year when she is 5. The problem is that she wants to learn. She keeps telling me that she wants to be able to read. So, sure, I could hold her back, but why would I? Yes, we home-school because we have concerns about the public school environment these days. My husband and I both went to public schools and things have changed drastically since our time. While our Catholic faith is a part of our reasoning, my biggest reason for homeschooling is to teach her at her pace.

Human beings are not carbon cutouts of one another. Some kids her age are still mastering colors and learning to count to 5. Some kids are already reading at her age. I want her to learn at her pace, not some arbitrary pace set by some bureaucrats who really don’t care about sound education. Pardon my cynicism after having taught in public schools briefly which resulted in my radical shift away from teaching high school.

I have decided to encourage her and teach her at her pace. At this point she will graduate a year early, but in reality we may hit a year where she really struggles in a subject. Then we have the option to put on the brakes and focus, even take an extra year if we have to. Part of the beauty of home-schooling is that the child leads in their own education. She may get to high school and stumble over Geometry and Trigonometry like I did, or she may breeze right through it. She may need time to emotionally mature and we can slow down so she doesn’t graduate too early, or she may be ready for whatever vocation God calls her to.

I was sitting in the waiting room at the optometrist’s office the other day listening to my daughter talk to a fellow patient. She was writing down letters and sounds for this woman and the woman was shocked that she is 4. I said we home-school and she said now it made sense. It’s not that intelligent people don’t go to public schools. Plenty of intelligent kids go to public schools or private schools. The problem is that many of those kids are bored to tears because they are ahead or frustrated because they cannot keep up. There are a good many who are content in the middle. Why shouldn’t education meet the needs of each individual and unique human being? Quite frankly, it should. That includes in technical areas that don’t require a college level education.

At this point my daughter is ready for Kindergarten and I am along for the ride. Homeschooling isn’t easy and I have days that I need serious patience, but then she shows me that she is learning even if she is having a battle of wills with me. What an amazing, difficult, and sanctifying journey we are on. Pax Christi.

Liturgical Living Made Simple: Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. My husband and I love the Rosary, but I must confess, we are still implementing a family Rosary at night with our 4 year old daughter. It’s a struggle for her to sit still for five minutes, let alone 20-25 minutes. We have gone through periods of praying it each day and periods where we haven’t. It is a definite goal for our family to pray the Rosary daily. It is a beautiful prayer and meditation on the life of Christ through Mary.  I am a huge proponent of the Rosary.

I kept our liturgical celebration simple. I decorated our table with a statue I have of Jesus and another of Our Lady. I don’t have any depictions of Our Lady of the Rosary at this point. I then pulled out a couple of our Rosaries and put them out along with flowers; blue in honor of Our Mother. I explained the feast to my 4 year old while we ate dinner. I made an Israeli Spiced Chicken. I got the idea from this recipe. I didn’t actually grill the chicken. I roasted organic boneless chicken thighs, but I used the marinade in the recipe. It was so delicious! I also made a pearl cous cous salad with tomatoes, bell pepper, and parsley with lemon and olive oil. I sprinkled goat cheese on top, which added a rich creaminess. I didn’t make a dessert. We are trying to eat healthier, so I save desserts for our really big feast days. Pinterest is a great place to find recipes from around the world to use for various feast days. Next week is the feast of St. John Paul II, so I will be searching for Polish recipes. When my husband gets home tonight we will pray the Rosary as a family. It is a quiet, beautiful, and simple celebration of the gift of the Rosary and Our Heavenly Mother.

I am new to liturgical living, so I like to keep it simple, but allow it to guide the rhythms of our family. There is no reason for us to make liturgical living complicated. We can live the calendar of the Church without feeling like we need to be able to provide a huge celebration for each day. Pick a few a month that are special for your family and decide how you want to celebrate that saint or feast day. I like making an ethnic meal, occasionally making a fun dessert, doing a craft if I can find one or have the time, and decorating our kitchen table with flowers and whatever items I have around. You can also print out pictures for each feast day. Find what works for you and your family. No matter what it is a tremendous blessing to live with the rhythms of the Church. Happy Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary! Mother Mary, ora pro nobis.

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I Gave Up Facebook Again

Photo by Brandon Russell
Photo by Brandon Russell

I gave up Facebook, again. Anyone who has read my blog over the last couple of years knows that I have one of those personalities that struggles with temperance when it comes to Facebook. I like to read the news, watch the Church, and engage in discussions with people. What I have discovered over the course of the last few years is that most FB conversations are not discussion, they turn into fights that typically end with ad hominem attacks. For whatever strange reason, I get sucked in.

Facebook is not a bad thing. In fact, it can be used for great good. It has allowed people to stay connected well past the relationships of previous ages. We can stay informed in real-time and share a bit of ourselves on our tiny slice of the Internet. For someone who tends towards introvert in social settings, it is an opportunity to express myself without all of the awkwardness of idle small talk. It is also a great place to share writing projects, get feedback, and have people share your work. I am very thankful to the people who have shared my writing over the years. I want to be honest, though, in the hope that my weakness will help others. I have allowed my iPhone and Facebook to take over my life.

I have forgotten how to sit in stillness. I cannot even seem to sit for five minutes in the car without my phone when my husband runs in the store. At night, my husband sits and watches TV, I am on my phone or laptop, and our daughter is either vying for our attention or on her tablet that we got her for school use. I have become one of those mindless drones. I have forgotten how to live in the present.

I am ashamed admit this out loud. The only other people who are aware of it are my regular Confessor and my family. I am sure people have guessed who are friends with me on FB. They see my frequent posts and know that I have been sucked in. That I have chosen to use the distraction of Facebook to try to quiet the restlessness in my own heart. It became my go-to “distractor” (as my husband calls it) after my miscarriages and when the post-partum depression/anxiety was so bad. It became a way for me to engage in adult conversation when my husband was traveling for work. It started off as simply a way to connect, but then I allowed it to consume me.

I have seen people argue that we should not leave Facebook because we have an obligation to evangelize. I disagree. Perhaps God is calling me to evangelize in a different medium than social media? If I cannot use it in a temperate manner and I allow it to take time away from my family and my life, then it is no longer a good in my life.

I convinced myself that I needed it to be a writer. If I was going to get my work out there and find writing gigs then I need a social media presence. That is a lie. I am already a regular contributor for one of the largest Catholic websites available and the other sites that interest me are only looking for submissions, not my blog presence. I do not need Facebook to be a Catholic writer. I am already a Catholic writer.

How many of us struggle with our isolation or loneliness through an overabundance of social media? I suspect it in a few of my former Facebook friends who like me struggle with living in that moment. Mine stems from periods of existential dread and a battle with sloth. I realized the answer to my struggles in two very different experiences.

Yesterday was the Feast of the Holy Archangels. It is a huge feast day in our home because our daughter is named after St. Michael. I went out of my way to make it a special celebration. We made cookies, cards to deliver to Catholic friends, and I made a nice traditional dinner. I was living the rhythms of the Church and sharing it with my daughter. I felt the most profound joy and peace. It reminded me of what kind of life I want to live and how I want to lead my daughter.

Today is the exact opposite. I woke up tired from my hormone issues and didn’t want to accomplish much. I spent the morning on my laptop while my daughter played and watched PBS. We did about an hour of school with her practicing her writing. I am a bit of a zombie today. I then got into an argument with someone on Facebook in which we were probably both a little right and then I got irritated with my daughter. After that moment I could see clearly, once again, what I was doing. I was wasting my time arguing with someone whom I do not even know in person. Yes, a fellow brother in Christ, but he was not the flesh and blood daughter standing in front of me.

Our culture tells us social media is wonderful and that it is okay to be on it all of the time. To be clear, I am not condemning social media. I am cautioning against its overuse, especially in the face of loneliness. It quickly becomes the way we see the world. We are constantly looking at our phones or computers instead of the people around us. There are plenty of people who use social media in a healthy manner, at this point I am just not one of those people. So this is me being honest. I am addicted to Facebook and I just gave it up again. This time I pray for the long run. I have gone months and months without it, but then I get back into it for whatever reason. This time I want to focus on the gifts of my husband and daughter and see where God leads me. I want to quiet that restlessness through the stillness of God. Giving up Facebook means that I can devote time to my family, studies, and write the books I want to write. So I am walking away from it. God bless.

Honesty About Being a Stay-at-Home Mom

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There are a lot of mommy blogs out there and I read various authors to get ideas for my daughter and my home. I am not crafty or creative in the same sense as many of these mothers, so I appreciate their help. Sometimes, though, I wish stay-at-home moms would be a bit more honest. In our rush to fight the stigma that has been manufactured against mothers who choose not to work outside of the home, we can put on airs that isolate other women.

Here is my honesty. Being a stay-at-home mom is hard. There are days I am bored out of my mind. Days I am not sure how to keep my insanely active daughter entertained. How to get through the drudgery of singing Old McDonald for the twentieth time in a row. How to establish the ideal schedule for us. I struggle to find the organizational system that we need. I am starved for adult interaction because, let’s face it, being the mother of a young child means isolation. I battle my call and desire to serve my daughter with my desire to write or engage in intellectual pursuits. There are days those two are at war within me.

To put it in perspective you have to understand my life before I was a stay-at-home mom. It is similar to many other women. I worked for over a decade before I got married and had my daughter. I had a job that college graduates only dream about at the age of 20, thanks to the Navy. I lived in Europe and traveled all over. It’s always amusing when someone finds out about my past, which I don’t discuss often these days, and says “Oh, you did something before your daughter?!” It’s as if it is impossible for people to realize that I worked before I was stay-at-home mom. It is funny, but also strange.

My biggest struggle is the very active intellect God gave me. I want to be engaged in profound and deep study and writing. It’s a drive he gave me, but one that has to take a backseat to my daughter. That is the great struggle for me; doing what I am supposed to do versus what I want to do. That is the meaning of vocation.

In the end a vocation is our slow dying to self. It is where we learn to serve God and to allow things to happen in His time rather than our own. It isn’t that God does not want me to engage in these pursuits, I am in grad school, it just means that I must learn a proper ordering. While prayer is a priority, reading for leisure is not. I have to choose between the book I want to read and playing soccer with my daughter. The latter is more important in most instances.

I think that there are some women who naturally enter into motherhood. I have met women like this and I am amazed. I am not one of them. Motherhood has been a major struggle and change for me. I love my daughter with a type of love I did not know I was capable of before her. I know that staying home is the right thing for her, but that does not mean that it is not hard for me some days. There is nothing wrong with being honest about the hardships. It makes it more real. It also doesn’t mean that I would or will change things. I am firmly set on being home and schooling my daughter for the foreseeable future. It does mean that God is doing some serious pruning within me in the process.

Let’s remember that when we have tough days, it is good to be honest. It does not change our choices or question our decisions to be open. Yes, others will take it as proof that all women should be working, but other women who are isolated during this period of time will know that they are not alone. They will also be reminded that this is only a season. My daughter will start co-op this fall and soccer, so the isolation will not be quite as intense.

We also need to be honest with God. We need to ask him for the grace and strength to persevere. He is the only one who can truly help us in our moments of frustration and loneliness. He gave us this vocation and He will provide what we need to endure. We have an amazing task in staying home with our children and denying a part of ourselves in the process. This is the sanctification process and it has very painful moments. In the end, the goal is holiness and we can only get there by the slow process of dying to self and putting others first. Just remember, this too shall pass, and the reward is truly great. God bless.

Catholic Link: 7 Things I Didn’t Fully Understand Before Parenthood

Each of us has a vocation from God and mine happens to be marriage.

My husband and I got married nearly five years ago and I was pregnant with our daughter four months after we got married. That means my husband and I went into parenthood right away and both of us have learned a lot in the four years we have been parents. Parenthood is a journey as these parents will tell you.

Read the rest over at Catholic Link…