Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Sacred Work of Mothering Children in the Pew

I was recently talking with a friend about the challenges of worshiping with small children.  She was lamenting how hard it is to teach her children how to participate in the liturgy while juggling wiggly siblings and easily distracted littles.  And with every fiber of my being, I got it.

I have blogged here and here and here and probably scores of other places about how hard worshiping is with little ones.  I can't count how many times I came away from worship frustrated, exhausted, sad and even angry.  Not exactly the emotions one would hope for after worship! While we always wanted a large family, I used to joke with my husband that I couldn't even consider talking about having another child until at least Tuesday -- when the Sunday worship struggles were less vivid in my mind!

My children are older now, and while not perfect, worshiping with them is ever so much easier.  And for the most part, I hear everything and am able to actually worship.  But those days of pew struggles are still very fresh in mind.  I recall one Sunday when I was very pregnant with our third child, my husband called me up to the front of the church to use my pregnant belly as a sermon illustration.  I was unaware he was going to do that, and was not dressed for it/mentally prepared for it/psyched up for it.  And directly before he called me up (again, this was unexpected!), I was tending to my normal circus in the pew and my 2-year-old son spilled Fruit Loops all over the floor.  As I was leaning over (around my giant belly) to clean up the mess, my husband called me and the kids to the front. I was mortified as he spoke while I stood with the kids next to him -- in my un-thought-out,  rumpled maternity dress with my unruly children.  I felt like those first moments of going to the front summed up my life perfectly - messy, unprepared and a spectacle.

 Since my husband only sits with us a handful of times per year (mostly when we are on vacation), training the kids in the actual worship setting has been largely my job. It's a job that weighs heavy on me, even now.  I want my children to desire to be in worship every Sunday.  I want them to participate fully and crave God's word and sacrament.  I want them to never see going to worship as just an option -- one to be chosen only if they aren't tired or busy.  I want them, as young adults out of our nest, to first and foremost in a new environment find a church home.

But man!  Wiggly, loud, often complaining little ones don't exactly lend themselves to my lofty model! And it can be so easy to say "It's not worth it!  I'll come back to worship when they get older and can sit still!"  I felt those thoughts too - 'why am I even coming to worship?  No one is getting anything out of it!!'  But in my more lucid moments (and often those distanced a bit from the trauma of Sunday!), I knew that was Satan getting under my skin.

Even when it doesn't feel like it, little ones are getting so much out of worship!! They are watching and learning at every step.  They see you close your eyes (briefly, mammas, I know -- or someone will yank his sister's hair causing a loud wail!) when you pray.  They see you kneel and commune and share the peace.  They watch those around them do the same things.  And even if they appear to be busy torturing their siblings, coloring their children's bulletins or flinging their Fruit Loops, they are watching.  And they are learning and worshiping.  When they see you take them to church, every Sunday, without fail, they see that worship is the number one priority.  And they begin to pick up these habits themselves.  Sure, they will still poke their brothers and refuse to say/sing/pray now and then, but as they get older, your habits become theirs, and the faith that was given to them in their baptism is nurtured and grows.

And as for your own worship (or seemingly lack-there-of), mammas, my mother-in-law used to comfort me with this truth:  Even if you can't fully listen to the readings and homily and liturgy, God's word is being proclaimed, and your ears are hearing it, whether you are absorbing it all or not.   Did you catch that?? What a blessing that sentiment was to me in those early years! I might not have been able to process all that I was hearing during worship, but God's word was still pouring over me.   Even though worshiping with children is not exactly the experience it used to be, it is valuable nonetheless -- and in some ways it can be even more meaningful!

Remember when my husband called me up to the front?  I don't recall exactly what he said, but I remember it addressed the idea of mothers giving up their bodies for their children, and likening it to Christ giving His body up for us in the Eucharist.  My mortification turned to reflection and tears as I listened to his words.  Motherhood is a sacred vocation, and through it, even in the pew -- perhaps especially in the pew, we are being made holy.  Mothering little ones is hard work, without a doubt.  And teaching little ones the faith week after week is not for the feint of heart.  But through these sacrifices each Sunday, our own faith continues to grow, and the faith of our little ones blossoms through our example.

If you're a young mother struggling in the pew, keep at it!  You have a most sacred job -- nurturing and teaching the faith to the next generation.  You are their most important teacher of Christ! No one else will be able to impact their faith like you can.

Stay strong, mammas! Your work is holy!




Friday, August 11, 2017

The Week in Pictures

A few snapshots of our last week:


Last Friday, our two older kids and my husband and I went to The Art Institute in Chicago and to see Hamilton.  It was our birthday/Christmas gift to them, and it was worth the wait.  We saw some amazing pieces of art at the Institute, including this one above, one of my long-time favorites:  A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.  It was an enormous painting, and truly amazing to see!  After a quick dinner with our brother-in-law, we saw the much-heralded (and much, much listened to in our house!) Hamilton.  It was amazing. The talent was out of this world!  We all loved it!  


For the past week, I have been working on my classroom to get ready for my little ones.  I have enjoyed cleaning, planning and painting this week in anticipation of their arrival.  I'm looking forward to getting to know all of them!  I never in a million years thought I would enjoy teaching three-year-olds so much! 


This.  This is Target's back to school wall (plus a few colors to my right you can't see - I was trying not to get the Target employee who was zoning next to me in my picture).  This wall brings me Great Joy.  The color-coded organization seriously gives me peace and happiness.  Target is not especially close to my house, but for each of my kids' back to school Mommy's nights, I have driven to Target for the sheer pleasure of having everything organized thusly.  I took KK to Walmart this week, and after about five seconds realized that it was an impossible mess and we had to go to Target.  Within seconds of arriving at this wall, my world was again set aright.


This is the pile of plates and forks I needed to set the table tonight for dinner.  Know how many are there?  Seven.  The magical, perfect number for our family.  This week I've had kids at camp, and have only needed three or four or five plates, depending on the night. But tonight, everyone is home, and I needed seven.  Pulling them all out of the cabinet and counting to the correct number made me so happy.  I am thankful for my kids' experiences, which most definitely include camp, but I can't help but sigh with happiness when everyone is back home again.  

Thursday, August 3, 2017

My Girl

My eldest daughter is a gem.  She makes me think, she makes me proud, and she makes me laugh.  Her siblings love her, and she loves them.  God has really blessed our whole family with this girl.  Here are a few recent things of note regarding this girl:

On vacation, it became very apparent how much power she wields over her youngest siblings.  She and my 10-year-old son were doing time in the "way back" of the suburban (the most undesirable seat in the vehicle), when I hear quiet discussions about eating chocolate Twinkies.  The general rule in our house (which extends to the car on vacation) is that the kids need to ask before eating something, otherwise they would eat junk 24/7.  Well on this particular car ride, I noticed that my son was eating a Twinkie without asking.  When I asked him about it, he said, "But Second Mom said I could have it!' My eldest daughter had given him permission, and he truly felt like her word was law.  I think she could have told him he could take the suburban for a spin and he would have grabbed the keys and ran.

Our Western Adventure was pretty long, and involved lots of togetherness and volume.  Our family is not quiet or diminutive, and things can get crazy fast.  My 17-year-old gal takes so much of it in stride, and often joins into all the insanity.  But other times, she theatrically flops on the floor, or curls up in her seat spewing dramatic statements such as, "I can't believe this is happening to me!" and "What did I do to deserve this?" and "I'm so done!" and "I'm sorry to inform you - all my limbs are broken!".  She cracks me up constantly, and she rarely gets truly frustrated with her family.

During our trip she composed the following list on a napkin, of

Things I No Longer Want To Hear:
Goog and all variations of the word (my eldest son's COMPULSIVE nickname for his youngest brother)
Lego Batman quotes (such as, but not limited to: "The Monkey and Dawg are friends!")
LAX is Life (constant references to Lacrosse)
Shooter gun noises from my 10-year-old's plastic gun
ANYWAY! I'm Bleb (my 15-year-old son's catchphrase for her, said in a ridiculous voice)
Fighting brothers

She got her driver's license right before we left on vacation and this morning did her first long solo drive.  My heart was in my throat as I prayed for her (and her brother) while they were gone.  But she did just fine and gained some new confidence.  It's just yet another step in her growing up.  I see great things on the horizon for this girl.  I can't wait to see her continue to mature, and someday, mother her own children.  I've generously provided with her lots of opportunities to practice parenting!



Friday, July 21, 2017

We're Baaaaack!

We just returned home from our epic Pacific Norhtwestern vacation.  It was an amazing trip in so many ways.  A few highlights:

120+ hours in the car, spent chatting, laughing, sleeping, watching movies and getting along every second (ha!  you know better than to believe that, don't you?) Truly, though, the kids did incredibly well with all the extreme togetherness, and we enjoyed so much wonderful family time.

6632.2 miles logged on the suburban and pop-up.  My dear, dear husband drove ALL of them, save about 4 miles I drove locally one day.  He is a rockstar.  During all that driving he was doing, I was playing butler to the children, holding trash and about another thousand things and breaking up fights (I told you it wasn't all sunshine and roses!)

14 states traveled through

43 states, 1 US territory and 6 Canadian provninces represented in our license plate game (we were SO close to 50 states!  Darn you, Eastern seaboard and deep south!)

During the 120+ hours and 6600 miles, we saw the following sights:  Seattle, Vancouver BC, Victoria BC, North Cascade National Park,  Olympic National Park, Washington beaches, Oregon coastline and beaches, tide pools, whales, seals, beautiful lakes and mountain hikes, Redwood National Park, and Crater Lake National Park (more elaboration below)

Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria and just about every other place we saw in the Pacific Northwest was full of redheads.  Seriously.  I have redhead radar and it was binging constantly!  Redhead!  Redhead! Not sure why the Northwest had such a high ratio of redheads, but I was with my people!

Doing laundry once a week-ish, with six helpers, in 1.25 hours is THE BEST EVER.  We would be totally broke if I used a laundromat all the time, but I would have tons of extra time on my hands.  Maybe it would be worth it. . 

I am not a fan of tall bridges over major expanses of water.  Like, I close my eyes, pray, and go to my happy place.  The kids know this and are generally respectful of my anxiety, but every now and then someone busts out with a quiet refrain of "free-fallin", or the Veggie Tales' song "Drive into the river, Bob,".  They're special like that.

The scenery we took in was breathtaking.  The Northwest is among the most beautiful areas I have ever seen.  The beaches were mind-bogglingly expansive - we could see for miles.  The mountains, the lakes, the landscape in general was gorgeous.  The Redwoods were impressive and stately - everyone marveled at their height and girth.  Truly, this area of the country lives up to its reputation as one of the most beautiful areas in the country.

Each of these major trips we take with the camper usually inspires a theme song or two (here are some from other years).  This year was no different, but we all had differing ideas about what song should win.  Many people thought the Lego Batman soundtrack (dialogue as well as songs) should win, since the kids watched it several thousand times quoted it ad nauseum (after renting it twice, I bought it at a Walmart), others thought it should be Shenandoah, a favorite song of my husband's to play when we are in serene countryside. But ultimately, the Moana soundtrack won out as the theme.  The song "How Far I'll Go" seemed to work well with its line "It calls me", and the way the beauty called all of us in.

Number of Thrivent shirts spotted (not including the ones worn by us!): two

During the long drive home (spanning three days), one of my children got stuck in the seatbelt.  The child had twisted around so that the seatbelt was literally locked into place around the child's tummy.  Even with the seatbelt unlatched, the child could not get out.  After some general wailing and anxiety, we pulled over.  One child checked the situation, then I went back, and ultimately, my husband, with his killer problem-solving skillz was able to remove the child from his seatbelt prison.  Thankfully we did not have to "cut the seatbelt!!" per the seatbelt victim's wishes.  

On the day we went to Victoria in British Columbia, the girls and I went to a proper British high tea.  We drank tea as we chatted with English accents and pointed our pinkie fingers out.  We nibbled on tiny sandwiches and pastries as we took in the beautiful gardens and scenery surrounding us.  All three of us loved the experience and I'm so glad my older daughter suggested it.

We've all worked hard today, cleaning out the camper, putting things away, washing dishes, clothes and people, and generally getting things back to normal.  I'm glad to be home, for sure, but I am sorry to be done with both the vacation and all the family time.  Now that we're back, regular life starts again and we're all pulled in different directions. There was something wonderful about all the time away with just our seven.

I am so thankful my husband pushes us to take these adventurous trips.  If it were up to me, we'd probably go to the beach every year and sit on our tushies.  But he wants to instill a sense of adventure in our kids, and he wants them to see the country.  And see it they have.  To make it affordable, we've camped across the US, and in so doing, we've all seen a lot of beauty.  My husband tirelessly plans our elaborate trips and knows all the places we should stop along the way.  I am grateful for his effort and desire to foster our kids' sense of wonder and adventure, as well as show them God's glorious creation.  




Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Bits and Pieces #20


  • Sanuks.  Sanuks are sandals that are like heavenly pillows on your feet.  The sole is called a yoga mat (having never touched a yoga mat, I'm gonna take their word for it), and the top of the shoe is just fabric that lovingly cradles your foot whilst you walk miles with nary a care.  Seriously.  These shoes are the. best.  I bought a pair on Amazon and a pair at DSW.  Check them out and tell me if you buy some so I can do the happy dance for you (with my feet encased in heavenly pillows, of course!).    Neither Amazon nor Sanuk are paying me for this ringing endorsement, though compensation would be welcomed. 😊
  • Sigh.  Bath and Body Works is indeed not going to be paying me for enjoying their products.  In fact, the direct opposite seems to be more likely.  When I like a scent at BBW, it is the kiss of death.  Without fail (that may be a slight overstatement), all the scents I like get discontinued.  Mango Mandarin?  GONE.  Spiced Cider (hands down the best fall scent known to man)? GONE.  And the latest casualty -  Limoncello.  Luckily I happened to see it clearanced out and bought several tubes of body cream at a fabulous price.  But seriously!  Can I be the only one who liked these scents?  I'm not sure what's happening in their marketing department, but they have not consulted me for some reason.  #firstworldproblems
  • The following is a picture of Shadow babies (our latest nickname for him).  It is hard to see, but  I am giving him a hug (can you see my messy bun at the top right?).  Shadow is displaying what we call "crazy eyes".  It can't be that he is not enjoying my overture of love, or that I am disturbing his personal space, right?  He must be thinking of a life without tennis balls or something, and is a bit spooked at the thought. 

  • This, my friends, is the deuce.  It's our Astro van, which we bought in December of 2008, when I was newly pregnant with our fifth child.  This van has taken us on cross country trips, back and forth to school and sports and theater and scores of shopping trips and doctors visits.  This van has been with us for a long time, and now it is no longer ours.  Yes, the deuce has been sold.  A friend of ours sold it for us, and he reports that the guy who bought it is going to trick it out and make it into a hippie van.  Yep, the family truckster is now going to be touring the country like her Volkswagen predecessors did before her.  The ol' Astro is about to see a a whole lotta changes! 😳


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Three Teenagers in the Hooooouse!

Today marks my third child's entrance into the teen years.  We now have more children in their teens than not - we have a teen majority.  This basically feels crazy to me.  How on earth so much time has passed literally boggles my mind (not a hard task, btw).

We have had thirteen years to love this child, and each day feels like a gift.  He is funny, generous, passionate, loving, kind and sincere.  I am unable to imagine our life without him.  As I generally do on my children's birthdays, I've spent the day pondering his birth and his years with us.  And after I tucked him in tonight, I laid down with him (which he still allows, even welcomes) and stroked his cheek after he fell asleep.  I looked at his face -- his nose, his eyelashes, his cheeks, and thought of all the times I had done that very thing - gazed into his precious face.  And as I always do, I recalled the story of his birth:

Thirteen years and three days ago, I was admitted to the hospital at 31 weeks into my pregnancy.  I was huge and looked ready to deliver. An ultrasound had shown there were complications, and no one knew exactly what was going on, but it certainly wasn't good or routine.  The plan was to admit me, monitor the baby, drain some excess amniotic fluid and send me home to try to get baby to wait until closer to his/her due date.  Since all of this hospital staying/major test administering/very sick baby was very stressful and worrisome, we decide to find out the baby's gender so we could name him/her and be able to pray for the baby by name.

We were delighted to be told our sweet baby was a boy, but a bit stymied on a name for him.  Since there was a very real chance that he would be coming early, we knew we needed to decide soon.  We had been going back and forth with a few options, but nothing was seeming quite right.  I vividly recall laying in my hospital bed discussing names with my husband, who was sitting across the room. Slightly hesitantly, he told me he had thought of a possibility.  Looking vulnerable, he made his suggestion:  Isaac.  As I thought about the name, he went on to explain why it had come to him.  He recounted the story of Abraham and Sarah in the bible, who had longed for a child for years, and were given their son Isaac.  But when Isaac was a boy, God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, and Abraham was obedient.  But just before Abraham went through with the sacrifice, God told him not to hurt the boy, for He knew now that he feared God, seeing that he had not withheld his son from Him.

Through tears, we decided to name our precious son Isaac, and prayed that if God saw fit to take our son home to Him, that we might have faith like Abraham and Sarah's.  And that was our prayer -- as he was born before I ever left the hospital to wait it out.  As he was born not breathing and was immediately put on a ventilator.  We prayed that prayer while he was being sent that day by ambulance to the nearest children's hospital, three hours away, my husband driving behind the ambulance in the night.  We prayed that prayer as he stayed 7 weeks in the NICU at that hospital, and when we brought him home with all manner of medical paraphernalia we never thought we'd be able to handle.

And as we prayed for God's will, God's will for our baby began to take shape.  It seemed God's will was that our sweet boy grow and get healthier as the years passed.  And as he grew, we discovered another facet to his name -- laughter.  The name Isaac means laughter we later realized, and nothing could fit this child more perfectly.  He exudes happiness and joy and brings that to those around him. Laughter indeed -- so very fitting.

So thirteen years ago today was a pretty scary time.  We were holding on by faith, not by sight, and we didn't know what the future would hold. Thankfully, God knew all the time the plans He had for this child.  We have seen thirteen years of His plans and I'm in awe.

 I can't wait to see what else God has in store for Him.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Seize the Moment

Within the last 2 months, my husband and I have gone to six funerals.  We've witnessed (and felt) lots of sorrow, pain, laughter through tears, memories shared, and ultimately -- hope.  Each of the services we've attended focused on the victory Christ gave us through his death and resurrection.  Each pastor pointed us to the cross and the reunion we will have with our loved ones in heaven.  What comfort and hope we derive from those promises!

These passings have been hard.  But I've watched a beautiful thing happen, and I've seen it happen many other times over the years.  This:  a massive outpouring of love.  On Facebook and social media, and then in person at the visitation and funeral services, those whom we've lost have been showered with an overwhelming amount of love.  These friends were beloved, respected and cherished.  Their families were flooded with hugs, prayers, memories and love.  I was so thankful to witness such a testament to who each of these people were, and what they meant to so many around them.

But what I kept thinking, was. . . I bet he had no idea just how much he was cherished.  I bet she had no idea what she meant to those around her.  I bet he had no idea how many lives he changed.  I bet she had no idea how much she will be missed. And while I was thankful the family was able to see all of these things, I felt this pang that, in life, the friend who had passed was not aware the difference he had made to those around him.  And it made me so sad, but also resolute.

I have pondered this subject before - the concept of building one another up.  Of taking a moment (or two or 500) to tell a friend what she means to me.  Of pausing my life's busyness and getting together with a friend.  When I value something in a person (a good friend or a virtual stranger) I need to voice it. Life is fragile, and I am renewing my vow I made in the link above to tell people how much I value them.  I don't know why, but sometimes this is hard!  Fear of rejection; of sounding silly or over-emotional?  Fear of embarrassing yourself or the other person?  I don't know, but I need to get over it.  Because when someone goes out of their way to encourage me, compliment me, or build me up, I am buoyed by it. I'm guessing others feel the same.

So let's not wait, my friends.  Let's cherish our friends and family members.  Let's let them know how much they have impacted our lives.  Let's take a moment to tell someone what they mean to us.

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving
 one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 
Ephesians 4:32