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!