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You Matter

18 Apr

Guys, I’m struggling a lot lately and I know a lot of other people who are, too. It just seems like so many of us can’t catch a break. We don’t feel seen, we don’t feel heard. A myriad of big and little hurts has piled up and we can’t catch our breath for the weight of life pressing down on us. This is hard.

 

But here is what I know to be true: We matter. You matter.

 

flowers stock photo

 

Pope Benedict XVI said,

We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.

 

You are necessary, friend. You are valuable. You were thought up and planned out and you are important.

 

I’m going to take some time today to meditate on that truth, the truth that I’m necessary and I’m loved. I’m going to dig deep and breath deep and do my damnedest to feel it deep in my core that I am a remarkable creation, deeply loved by God, redeemed by Christ, and pursued by the Holy Spirit. And you are, too.

 

You are so incredible. I hope you know that.

 

xoxo,

Mary Susan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo via https://www.pexels.com/photo/flowers-flower-pink-17666/
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Holy Week! And a Passion Play Set for Kids!

23 Mar

I hope your Holy Week is going well! Easter is my favorite holiday forever of all time. Add to that the fact that the kids are old enough to really start grasping the story and I’m just really excited to share it with them.

 

I did a little Pinterest hunting (you can follow me here if you’d like) and found some really great Holy Week activities to do with little ones. We’re going to attempt a foot washing mini-service with some of our best friends on Thursday, we’ll do hot cross buns on Friday, and watch Prince of Egypt on Netflix a few times this week.

 

I managed to put together a Passion play set for the kids the other day and they’ve really liked it. (Former children’s librarian talking here…giving kids tools to tell stories is so good for early literacy. Narrative skills help with vocabulary development, drawing conclusions, and story comprehension, so story play sets of any kind are great to have around!)

 

Anyway, I thought I’d share the links I found to be helpful and the pictures of our play set in case anybody else wanted to make one!

 

I got most of my inspiration from these two blog posts:

When You Rise – preschool activities for Holy Week

When You Rise – Passion story telling set

Because I’m both classy and Catholic I thought it was only fitting to make the tomb of our Savior out of an old Dos Equis box. Other than that, I used paper and had the kids color the scene with markers to finish out the tomb.

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You can sort of also see that the tomb has a trap door to make the Resurrection possible. The kids LOVED showing their daddy that the tomb was empty!

 

For Golgotha, I used an old flower pot turned upside down and some sticks and fake moss from Maggie’s Fairy Princess birthday party the other day. I chose the flower pot because it looked like a hill, but also because it has a drain hole that Jesus’ cross could easily fit into. Eventually I’m hoping we’ll be able to act out all of the stations of the cross, so it was important that Jesus would be able to “carry” his cross. I had some old kabob skewers lying around, so I used rubber bands and the skewers to make the crosses.

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I found an old peg doll that makes the perfect Jesus. I sewed him a little outfit, used some fabric scraps for burial cloths and we were good!

 

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So, there you go! Anybody else have good links or ideas for Holy Week with kids? I’m always interested in hearing what other families do to celebrate. 🙂

Happy Almost-Easter!

Mary Susan

Liturgical Living – St. Patrick’s Day!

7 Mar

While we try to celebrate at least one liturgical feast every month, I must confess that we kind of fell off the wagon after the Christmas season.

 

But, St. Patrick’s day is coming! We come from some green blood on both sides of our family, so I’ve always loved St. Patrick’s day. I love it even more now that I’m Catholic. There’s such rich heritage that comes from St. Patrick, so I’m excited to jump in and celebrate his feast right this year. (I will refrain from harping about mainstream St. Pat’s celebrating except to say, ugh.)

 

Here’s a link to my St. Patrick’s Day board on PinterestI’ve gathered a few good ideas there, but I think I’m going to focus on keeping it simple. The feast of St. Patrick falls close to the day we’re celebrating Mag’s birthday this year, so I’ll be doing some serious party prep and I don’t want to overwhelm myself.

 

I also want to focus a lot on the story of St. Patrick, his ministry, and the culture of Ireland. So, in the days leading up to St. Pat’s, we’ll be learning the Prayer of St. Patrick…

Prayer of St. Patrick

Christ be with me.

Christ within me.

Christ behind me.

Christ before me.

Christ beside me.

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me.

Christ above me.

Christ in quiet and in danger.

Christ in hearts of all who love me.

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

 

The kids have already memorized a few prayers, so this is a great and fairly simple one to add to our arsenal.

 

We’ll also be hunting down some books on St. Patrick. I’m thinking specifically the Tomie DePaola book, but we’ll see what the library has.

 

I’m also planning to do this Trinity Shamrock craft.

 

As far as Irish culture goes, we stumbled upon Song of the Sea, a fantastic and gorgeous movie that is based on many old and lesser known Irish legends. It specifically deals with selkies, which are some of my all-time favorite creatures, so I was bound to be in love. (Growing up, we actually had a Great Pyrenees puppy that we named Selkie because she looked so much like a baby seal. Best dog ever.) The movie is directed by Tomm Moore who also made The Secret of Kellswhich I also loved. I thought Song of the Sea was just as lovely as Kells and a lot less scary for my kids. I did have to do a lot of explaining, but they loved it so much that we watched it again immediately after we finished it the first time. There are so many good lessons to take away from this film…it deals deeply with sibling relationships, the value of both positive and negative emotions, the power of bravery and love. I could go on and on and I’m pretty sure I’ll be thinking about this movie for weeks to come.

Common Sense Media has a good list of other Irish movies that might get you in the St. Patrick’s day spirit.

 

Other than that, I think I’ll be playing the Celtic station on Pandora and probably watching Riverdance. Sorry, not sorry, I have always loved the cheesy charm of Michael Flatley.

Lord of the dance, indeed!

 

 

What are your plans to celebrate St. Patrick? Let me know in the comments…especially if you’ve got a good recipe for Irish soda bread! I try a new one every year and haven’t settled on a winner.

 

xoxo,

Mary Susan

On Bodies

22 Feb

I knew it would happen sooner or later. Kids are curious and vocal, so I can’t say I was super surprised by the question my five-year-old posed to another mom after story time.

 

“Do you have a baby in your belly?”

 

Shit.

 

She clearly didn’t. I mean, she was wearing an empire waist dress, but she was obviously not pregnant. Also, we’ve got a hard and fast rule about saving your questions/comments about other people’s bodies until we’re in a private place.

 

The mom (a new and wonderful friend even after the comment, thank goodness) brushed it off with a self deprecating comment about how her belly was just “big” – she’s got a body I totally envy, by the way – and we got on with our conversation. It really wasn’t a big deal, except it was. It is a big deal.

 

Body image is a huge deal to me, something I desperately want to get right with my kids. I know without a shadow of a doubt that these little souls in my care are completely and utterly beloved by their Creator. I believe that more than I believe almost anything else in the whole world. They are glorious creatures and I will fight to the death for them to know that and hold it as truth deep within themselves.

 

I feel like I’m in a losing fight, though. I mean, I’m just one person and these sweet babies are living in a broken world, a twisted system that has been screaming the opposite from the moment they were born. My five-year-old girl has already been so inundated with labels, and appearance, and the importance of prettiness…it’s second nature to her and to me, too, if I’m honest.

 

I also feel like I’m up against a ticking clock. Right now, these kids take my word for Gospel. But that window is rapidly closing and we all know the day will come when my opinion won’t count half as much as the opinions of their peers. And I get that it’s just the way it goes.

 

I’m also very aware of politeness. I mean, it’s generally pretty rude to make comments about people’s appearance. And the Southerner in me is horrified by the thought of having impolite children.

 

But, after the episode at the library, I couldn’t bring myself to chastise my daughter because I really didn’t feel that she’d done anything wrong. I refuse to squelch her curiosity and I felt like the whole thing was more of an issue of tact than anything else. Honestly, I had no idea how to broach the subject with her.

 

Because the whole damn thing is a catch 22, isn’t it? At our house we believe that all humans deserve dignity and respect because they are creations of God. We believe that all bodies are worthy of respect…big, fat, tall, skinny, whatever. Those are descriptors. All bodies are valuable and, because of that value, they are beautiful. But we also believe that words have power. So, even though I know the word “fat” is just a descriptor, and even though I know that  am fat and most days I’m okay with that because the word “fat” in no way negates my value as a human, I also know we’re functioning in a broken system. I can’t very well teach my kids that words like “fat” are just descriptors and send them out to the playground. The first time they describe someone as “fat,” they’ll be accused of being mean and that’ll leave them so confused and hurt.

 

So what do I do? How do I teach my daughter to love her body and to recognize all bodies as valuable and worthy of love in a world that won’t play ball?

 

I stewed over this for weeks and finally called my best friend who gave me some good advice, ’cause that’s what brilliant best friends do. Acknowledging the weird double-standard of the situation, we agreed that my aforementioned rule of “don’t talk about people’s bodies until we’re in a private place,” should stand. And then she suggested that I give the kids some options. And it’s brilliant. In my experience, children respond better to alternatives than to just being told to say or do nothing. Teaching kids methods of self soothing as an alternative to violent outbursts is far more successful than just telling them not to get mad, for example. Also, I don’t like the idea of children internalizing things and not being allowed to ask questions. We need more question askers in my opinion.

 

So, instead of saying, “Is there a baby in your belly?” my daughter can say, “I love the happy colors in your dress,” and then feel free to ask me about the baby thing when we’re one-on-one.When I discussed it later with the kids, it went a little something like this,

We know that it doesn’t matter what you look like, a person’s heart is what makes them beautiful. But not everybody knows that. Sometimes people believe that you have to look a certain way to be beautiful or people sometimes think that there’s something wrong with their bodies. And it seems kind of silly to us because we know that that’s not true, but those people are confused and it makes them sad to talk about their bodies. We always want people to feel loved when they’re with us, so we don’t talk about things that might make them sad or hurt their feelings.  If you have a question about someone’s body or how they look, that’s totally fine, but wait until we’re alone and then you can ask me about it without being rude.

 

And then I gave them some options of what to say instead.

“I love the way your eyes look when you smile.”

“I like your purple shirt; that’s one of my favorite colors!”

“You look really strong/happy/joyful/healthy today.

“I really like playing with you; you’ve got great dance moves.”

I also think it’s important to consider how to compliment and comment on the person rather than just their appearance.There was a fantastic article by Sarah Powers in the Washington Post on how to compliment little girls that addresses this really, really well. Haley over at Carrots for Michaelmas also has a good post on how to nurture a positive self-image in our girls.

While I certainly haven’t solved the world’s body image issues here, I think I’ve found a solution that will work for our family. We’ve practiced what we might say in certain social situations, but I’m not naive enough to believe that there won’t be more awkward gaffes in our future. And that’s cool because that’s how we learn. Ultimately I just want to raise some decent humans who make other humans feel decent, too.

What are your thoughts on teaching young kids about body image and respecting others? How would you have handled the situation? Lemme know!

xoxo,

Mary Susan

Another Announcement!

12 Sep

Guys. I’m beyond excited to announce that a dream of mine is finally starting to take shape. I’ve wanted to become a birth doula for a long, long time, but becoming certified through the organization I’d like to use is something that’s a little bit out of my/our reach at the moment. Between finances and kids and schedules, we just haven’t felt comfortable jumping into it right this minute.

At the same time, I feel like I’ve been surrounded by more and more beautiful people who are experiencing pregnancy losses. Be it terminal diagnoses or miscarriages, I’ve just felt that I’ve been made very aware of a need to serve families who are going through the unimaginable. It’s almost as though I can’t get away from it…like being a part of this is something I just have to do.

When I began researching doula certification, I stumbled upon Still Birthday, an organization devoted to serving people before, during, and after pregnancy loss. Their tagline is, “Every pregnancy loss is still a birthday,” something that truly speaks to my heart. Something that bothers me about many (not all, but many) pro-lifers is the neglect shown toward miscarriages and early pregnancy losses. Every loss is still a birthday. Every one. I can think of nothing more honorable or humbling than being allowed to be there for families during the births of these babies, nothing more rewarding and challenging than walking with them as they process their grief. I can’t think of anything more exciting than being able to work with mothers to bring their babies into this world, no matter how long they’re here. And SBD certifies doulas.

The certification is online, affordable, and something I can totally do right now with our current job and kids’ needs. So I’m happy to announce that, starting October 6th, I will begin an 8-week online certification program to become a certified Still Birthday Doula. I still plan to certify as a birth doula through another organization, like DONA, and I want to get my childbirth education certification as well (you can tell I’m obsessed with birth, right?), so this certification is my very first step toward making all of these dreams a reality.

I’d really love it if you would pray for me as I begin this process. I feel very under-prepared and under-qualified. Really, I feel unworthy of this calling. I’ve never experienced a pregnancy loss, so I somehow feel like I shouldn’t be allowed or something. But this is not something that will let me rest; I’ve pondered over this for over a year now and I’m blessed to have a husband and family who understand and encourage me to pursue this goal. Guys, I’m so, SO excited about this, and honestly intimidated and scared. But I know I’ve got an incredible group of supporters, so thank you in advance for your thoughts and prayers. You know by now that you’re coming along for the ride in all of my endeavors and I hope you know that I’m extremely grateful for your presence in my life!
Much love! Mary Susan

Recognition

17 Jun

I read this beautiful blog post today and something in me clicked.

 

“Every day I have this desire to accomplish something. But every day it feels I accomplish nothing. I try to clean something, but I don’t finish…. I try to write, but this little person cries for all of my attention when I sit at the computer. I clip coupons and price match, and still go way over on our budget. Agh. At the end of the day, there’s nothing to show for the last 9 hours of exhausting effort. Of doing what?”

 

Yes.

Yes.

Yes.

 

“You kept me safe today Momma, you kept me alive. You kept me fed, and rested. You played with me, and made me laugh. Does that count Momma? Am I one of your goals Momma? Just to be together? Even if no one sees it? Or knows it?”

 

Click.

 

Even if no one sees it. Or knows it.

 

I realize now that I’m much too preoccupied with recognition. I’m ashamed of my home, of my days, of myself because it doesn’t look like I’ve been doing anything. In my mind and my heart, I live in a world in which the quality of the house reflects the quality of the person. My messy house screams, “Neglected! Lazy! Worthless!” I look around and chastise myself for not being capable of accomplishing the simplest of tasks, sweeping the floor, for instance. It’s always covered in…something. Yet I neglect to remind myself that that damned floor doesn’t reflect me. It isn’t me.

 

I’m so worried about my environment reflecting me and my daily activity that I fail to remember that this house is incapable of mirroring us and the depth of what we do.  My filthy floor is covered in baby food puffs because I’m exhausted from rocking that baby through his nightmarish bout of teething. My floor is covered with books because we read None of our clothes are folded because we had to play dress up and somebody bonked her head and the kitchen is a mess because everybody got to crack eggs today. The table is sticky because I didn’t manage to wipe up all the spilled milk because after the third time the cup got knocked over I honestly stopped caring.

 

If you walked into my home you’d see an episode of Hoarders waiting to happen. But my days are full of love and effort and sacrifice and tears and just hanging on by a thread because three babies under age four is hard. You might not recognize all of that through the piles of laundry and that dining room chair that’s still in the living room from the fort two we built weeks ago. And I need to be okay with that.

 

“Do you remember when I said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me?” (Matt. 25:40) “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward?” (Matt. 10:42) Do you not see it here Child? 

All these days you live at home to serve this fragile girl, what you really are doing is serving Me. For whatever you do unto her, you do unto Me. So let me ask you:

Am I enough?

What is My worth to you? In the secret places, where no one sees? Look deeper Dear One.”

 

 

No one sees. No one recognizes. I’m not getting credit. I’m not being graded. I’m doing Christ’s work, being the hands and feet for these little ones.

 

But I’m failing and I’m trying and I’m realizing that I’m addicted to recognition. I crave the credit and I’m ashamed when I’m not producing a readily tangible finished product at the end of my day. But the thing about children is, they’re not a floor to be scrubbed or a sink to be rinsed. They’re souls to be cherished and nurtured and respected.

 

Henri JM Nouwen said,

“We are not what we do. We are not what we have. We are not what others think of us. Coming home is claiming the truth: I am the Beloved Child of the Creator.”

 

It’s time to let go of that desire to be recognized, that deep seated longing for approval. It’s time to come home, even if that home has messy floors and unwashed hair and is wearing the sweatpants from yesterday and the day before. Because if I can claim the truth of being the Beloved, I can love these three little souls wildly, which is what I was called to in the first place, clean floor or not.

Thoughts on the Cross

15 Mar

Things have been pretty quiet around here lately, partially because life it eternally nuts and also because I’ve been wrestling with some really weighty issues. Maybe it’s because we’re getting deeper and deeper into Lent so I’ve got these things on my mind already, but I find myself struggling with anger, fear, frustration, guilt, and feelings of unworthiness, loneliness, and doubt. So basically, I’m Catholic. (Ba-dum-ching!)

 

Did you get that that was a rim shot? ‘Cause it totally was.

 

I think this happens to us all from time to time. Not bad sound effects, though those happen too, but these moments of spiritual, mental, and physical grief. These are times when we just can’t wrap our brains around situations, around suffering, around life. And these are the times we need the cross.

 

And I don’t know about you, but the times when I so need the cross are the times I feel the cross is so unfair. When I’m struggling with my sins, the cross is hard for me to handle. The cross is ugly. It is violent. It asks too much of Christ. I hate that I so selfishly seek my own comfort when Christ went through such agony on the cross.

 

Sometimes I feel like life asks too much of us all, that God asks too much of all of us. Obviously, I understand that the Cross had to happen, has to happen, for us and for our salvation, but that doesn’t make it any less hard.

 

Now, I’m a firm believer in free will, and in knowing that bad things happen as direct consequences of the choices we make, not necessarily because God wills bad things upon us. God is not malevolent, He is not vengeful or spiteful. He’s not out to make me pay for my sins. Quite the opposite, actually.

 

In all the negativity, the struggles, the fears He is present. And what’s more, He wants to make me better. It is in the wrangling with sin that I find redemption. It is in the fighting to find goodness that I see that it’s been there all along…I just needed the grace of the cross to see it.

Quote from Shane Kapler at Just a Catholic.

 

 

I’ve been getting these daily Lenten reflections from Fr. Robert Barron and I really like them. The other day I read something in regards to the cross and Christ’s sacrifice that has really stuck with me:

“So the Father sent the Son all the way out into the furthest limits of God-forsakenness, but why? To usher into those places the divine light. Is death a place that God is not? No, because God is present there in Jesus. Is suffering a place that God is not? No, because the Son entered into suffering. Is sin a place where God is not? No, because God became sin on the Cross, says Paul.

Through Jesus, the divine light journeys into our worst darkness. His aim is to divinize us, to allow us to “share his divine nature” in St. Peter’s words, even in those dark places and conditions. Sin is a turning away from the divine life, and death is a fearful place that seems alien to God. But Jesus invades all those places, and thereby illumines them. He offers us new life even when we’ve wandered as far as we possibly can from God.

In that sense, the Cross was necessary for our salvation since it allowed the Hound of Heaven to hunt us down, even in the darkest places.”

 

I like that. I like knowing that I am hunted, pursued by a Savior who desperately wants to be with me in the midst of the darkest, most dismal places I find myself.

 

And there’s a deep, deep comfort in that. He’s not asking too much; he’s just asking to be with me.

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