Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Book Review: “Flight Plan: Your Mission to Become a Man”

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Flight Plan
by Lee Burns & Braxton Brady
PDS Publishing, 2010

Obviously, I have little first-hand knowledge of the challenges that come with growing from a boy to a man, yet I am in charge of raising two boys who will all too soon be facing this transition. It is through those eyes that I eagerly read “Flight Plan: Your Mission to Become a Man.”

Written by Braxton Brady, the chaplain of Presbyterian Day School, and Lee Burns, headmaster of the same school, “Flight Plan” grew out of the curriculum of that school. The book is designed for boys age 12 and up. It offers Bible based instruction and reflection questions on many of the challenges facing teen boys.

What does it mean to be a man? “Every male becomes an adult, but not every adult male becomes, truly, a man. Growing into that man takes careful thought and planning. . . Man’s purpose in life is to glorify God in all he says and does.”

How does one do that? By making good decisions when it comes to friendships, dating, sex, family, and school and keeping one’s eyes and focus on God. Brady and Burns explore what it means to be a true friend, to actually love a girl (there is a wonderful list on what Christian girls wish guys knew!), to make discerning choices regarding music, books, and movies, and to maintain a good relationship with one’s family. They also cover the changes and challenges of puberty. They offer a wealth of good advice.

The only negative was in the handling of self-stimulation. They certainly condemn it, but acknowledge that it is likely to happen, and urge boys not to fear that this will cause God not to love them. While this is all true, in the Catholic tradition, these acts are sins and must be said in confession.

“Flight Plan” maintains that God has great adventures planned for men who follow Him. It encourages boys to trust in God and turn their lives over to them. I plan to have my boys read this book in a couple of years. Honestly, there are some men I know who I wish would read it as well. If all men lived by the principles in this book, the world would be a far better place.

Book Review: “A Time to Plant”

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

A Time to Plant: Life Lessons in Work, Prayer, and Dirt
by Kyle Kramer
Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2010

I admit it. When I received a review copy of “A Time to Plant: Life Lessons in Work, Prayer, and Dirt,” I cringed. A book about back-to-basics living? No, thank you.

In my defense, I do try to be a reasonably responsible steward of the earth. I recycle almost everything, try to limit consumption, give things away rather than put them in the trash, etc, but no one would ever accuse me of being earthy-crunchy. I live in a city. If my family was dependent on my gardening abilities for survival, we would have died a long time ago. Being forced to go camping is my idea of a nightmare. Yet, even with all that working against it, “A Time to Plant” was still well-worth reading.

In 1999, Kyle Kramer, who is the director of lay degree programs at Saint Meinrad Archabbey, “bought a rough patch of neglected ground in a rural corner of southwestern Indiana. . . and committed [himself] to its healing and care.” In the past decade, amid myriad ups and downs, he has honored that commitment. In “A Time to Plant,” he shares the tale of his call to live off the land as well as his more personal story of his spiritual wanderings which finally led him to the Catholic Church and finding the extremely understanding woman who is now his wife and the mother of their three children.

Kramer is an honest man. He tells of his failures as well as of his successes. He shares his darkest hour which came while he was attempting to build a house for his wife and new twin daughters, who were at that time living in a pole-barn apartment. “It was five degrees in the unheated shell of the house as I worked by battery-powered headlamp down in the dark basement, my feet blocks of ice; my ungloved, unfeeling fingers fumbling to measure, cut, and solder copper pipe . . .I sat down on an overturned five-gallon bucket, rocking back and forth in a near catatonic struggle to remember even one good reason why I had taken on this gargantuan, impossible project. . . My prayer was a simple and desperate cry for divine help.” God heard his prayer and slowly, things did begin to improve. His marriage survived and the house was eventually completed.

Those who dream of living a life close to the earth will love this book, although Kramer is the first one to acknowledge that there is nothing simple about living a simple life. His idealistic dreams didn’t get fulfilled quite the way he thought they would be. At times, he grows restless and questions this commitment to one place. Yet, overall, he lives with hope and has the connection to the land he always wanted. He and his family are an inspiration.

For those less agriculturally inclined, “A Time to Plant” offers a great deal of wisdom on vocations and their evolution, as well as what it means to develop a true home. It is a very well-written and thought-provoking book.

Book Review: Stories for the Homeschool Heart

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Stories for the Homeschool Heart
Compiled and Edited by Patti Maguire Armstrong and Theresa A. Thomas
Waterford, MI: Bezalel Books, 2010

As the title suggests, “Stories for the Homeschool Heart: Heavenly Stories of Inspiration, Hope and Joy” is a compilation of stories by homeschoolers and friends of homeschoolers intended to bring support and encouragement to others traveling the homeschooling journey. Patti Maguire Armstrong and Theresa A. Thomas have done a commendable job putting together this treasure-trove of stories. Some of the featured writers include Armstrong and Thomas themselves as well as pro-life blogger and speaker Leticia Velasquez, Catholic Exchange editor Mary Kochan, author Nancy Carpentier Brown, creator of the Little Flower’s Girls Club Rachel Watkins, and author Elizabeth Foss. Divided by topic, the stories discuss things such as being called to homeschool (for most of us it comes as a surprise. God really had to hit me over the head with a 2 x 4 to get me to do it), lessons learned, faith, prayers answered, and the fact that learning never ends.

The section that spoke to me most was “It’s Not Always Easy.” I think sometimes homeschoolers try so hard to put a positive spin on homeschooling (and there are many positive things) that we hesitate to acknowledge all the hard days that can come along with the territory. It can be comforting to know that others struggle and yet manage to keep going. In particular, the section “A Word from your Father” featuring encouraging Bible verses is so helpful it should be taped onto every homeschoolers wall or refrigerator for a pick-me-up on tough days.

The writers of these stories are all incredibly faith-filled people whose life journeys have led them to homeschooling, some for a season, some for many years. The only caveat I would offer to readers of this book is that the vast majority of stories are from people with large families. As a Catholic homeschooling mother of two, I feel it is important to acknowledge that Catholic homeschooling families can come in all shapes and sizes. Overall, however, “Stories for the Homeschool Heart” is a great gift to the Catholic homeschooling community and I thank Armstrong and Thomas for bringing it to fruition.

The Importance of Parents as Teachers

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

I was recently reading the September 2010 issue of “Living” magazine. Not surprisingly, inside of it was an ad featuring Martha Stewart. What was surprising was the subject matter. Martha was not touting the latest home beautification item or her paint or furniture line. Rather, the headline read “Behind every famous person is a fabulous teacher.” The small print then went on to explain that for Martha, that fabulous teacher was her mother. She states, “Mom was a great teacher. People ask me all the time how and when and where I learned how to do all those things. It really was my mother who taught me so much.”

Most of us have been blessed with a few good teachers in our academic careers. Perhaps there was one who had a particular influence on you, who brought something out in you that you hadn’t known existed, or took the time to offer some extra help which made all the difference in understanding a subject. Teachers in schools have one of the hardest jobs on earth and are not valued nearly as much as they should be.

But it is important to remember that no matter how incredible the teachers are in school, parents are their children’s first and primary teachers. I look back on my own life and know that to be the case. I was blessed with an excellent Catholic school education with many great and memorable teachers. Yet, it is my parents who shaped me into who I am. From my mother, I learned my faith. Prayer and her relationship with God was and is her priority. I am eternally grateful that she passed that gift along to me. From my father, I learned the value of hard work and persistence. He was also always happy to play a game with me. Those are lessons I have always held on to – work hard and play hard and do all you do with purpose.

Now that I am on the other side of the parenting fence, I realize what a huge and awesome blessing and responsibility it is to teach one’s children. Our children look to us for so much in life, and what we do matters more than what we say. They watch how we spend our time, how we use our money, how we treat others, and how we care for them. In my own life, I have taken the role of parent as teacher one step further in that I homeschool my children. It wasn’t a role I had planned on, but one that God called me to. We start our third year tomorrow. It has been, and will no doubt continue to be, a challenging and rewarding journey.

People have varying reactions when they hear I homeschool: Are you crazy? I could never do that! I would love to do that, but I would never have the patience. You must be a saint! Truly, it isn’t as hard as people think, and I would encourage anyone who wants to do it to try it. But every parent, regardless of whether they take on full responsibility for their children’s academic careers, is a homeschooling parent. Every parent who sings the ABC’s, or helps her child with her homework, or teaches them to ride a bike or tie their shoes or to cook or do laundry is educating them. Especially in matters of faith, a parent’s example is of the utmost importance. Every parent who takes his child to Church or says prayers with them or shows them the value of charity is educating his child.
The lessons learned at home, for good or bad, are the ones that stick. Make them matter. Your children will appreciate it someday.

BooK Review: “Where do Priests Come From?”

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Where Do Priests Come From?

by Elizabeth Ficocelli
Waterford, MI: Bezalel Books, 2010

From a child’s perspective, priests can sometimes seem very mysterious. After all, they dress differently and live differently and do different things than all of the other people in their lives. It can be hard to imagine that they were once little boys. Elizabeth Ficocelli has written a charming, informative book “Where do Priests Come From” which attempts to answer many of the questions children might have about priests and the lives they lead.

Ficocelli talks about how priests are called by God to the priesthood, how they may have dreamed of being an astronaut or a doctor or a fire-fighter, but one day they heard a quiet voice in the hearts inviting them to become a priest and they said “Yes.” She discusses the discernment process and the time in seminary. She mentions the different types of priests and the vows they take. She mentions the long list of ways that they minister to other people, but also emphasizes that they are still people who also have a need to relax and enjoy hobbies. They also sometimes make mistakes and need to go to confession (this was the fact that my own two sons were most surprised by!)

This book is intended for young boys to encourage them to think about becoming a priest. As such, it is a great vocation tool. Ficocelli has done a wonderful job with this book. One can only hope that there will be a companion volume for girls: “Where Do Sisters Come From?”

Book Review: “The Bible’s Best Love Stories”

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

The Bible’s Best Love Stories
by Allan F. Wright
Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press

When one mentions love stories, I’d be willing to bet that the first thing that comes to mind is not the Bible. One tends to think of romantic movies or novels. Perhaps one might think of couples one knows whose love stands out in the crowd. Yet, God is the author of love and the Bible, as the word of God, is a wonderful place to look for examples of love and role models for our own relationships. In “The Bible’s Best Love Stories,” Allan F. Wright examines some of the very human love stories contained in the pages of scripture. These stories do not show an idealistic portrayal of love. Rather they show the full range of deep emotions and all the challenges along the way. Wright does not only study the portrayal of romantic relationships, but also the love of good friends and familial relationships.

Wright begins his examination, as one might expect, with the relationship between Adam and Eve, “the world’s first lovers.” Before the first sin, they had the beauty of the ideal relationship; it was a union of the whole person – body and soul. They loved each other as God loved them. But then, they thought they knew better than God and sin came into the world. Their relationship, which had been so perfect, now was one of shame and blame. Things would never be the same for them, or us, again. We will come up short, yet we are all called to still strive for that original self-giving love that existed before sin.

Wright then turns his attention to other famous pairs of the Old Testament: Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachel, Abigail and David, Tobiah and Sarah, and the unnamed lovers in the “Song of Solomon.” He also explores the familial love of Joseph and his brothers and Ruth and Naomi and the bonds of friendship that existed between David and Jonathan. The New Testament features fewer romantic relationships, but Wright looks at Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, and Priscilla and Aquila. Some of Jesus’ friendships are highlighted, such as those with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, as well as his bond with Peter. His relationship with the “sinful woman’ is also examined. The relationship between Saint Paul and Barnabas, and that which existed among Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John are also looked at. While some of these stories are relatively familiar, Wright looks at them with fresh eyes, pointing out things we may have missed in the relationships and holding up certain aspects for special attention.

The Bible illustrates all the different types of love. It shows that loving anyone will require commitment and sacrifice. There is no such thing as an easy love, although some days will certainly be easier than others. Love will sometimes need to be waited for, but trust in God is paramount. Wright has done a beautiful job portraying these stories with understanding and wisdom. For each story, he offers a prayer, a relevant quote, reflection questions, and an idea for putting love into action in one’s own life. These additions help make this book ideal for a bible study or for private reflection.

Accepting Forgiveness

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

My two children (ages 9 and 7 ½) were playing a trading card game outside earlier today with one of their friends. These games can get quite heated between them, no matter how many days their father and I try to impress upon them that it is just a game. They are both very competitive. At one point, my older son came running in and stated “I’ve turned into a monster!” and then went and hid in the bathroom. When I went to see what was wrong, he told me that he had gotten really angry at his brother and ripped one of his cards in half. He was horrified by his own behavior, felt guilty for what he had done, and was scared of what his punishment would be. This was not a good emotional state.

For his punishment, I told him that he should give his brother one of his own cards to make up for the one he had ruined. He said that he had tried, that, in fact, he had attempted to give him more than one, but that his brother had refused. His brother had taped his ripped card back together and simply continued playing. As far as my older son was concerned, this was not a satisfactory resolution of the situation. He wanted to force his brother to take the cards in payment. He didn’t want to accept the forgiveness he was being offered.

We adults are often like this as well. As hard as it is to forgive (and we all know how hard that can be!), it can often be even more difficult to accept forgiveness. This is especially true when we have screwed up very badly, committed some wrong that simply can’t be rectified by any means within our power. We want to keep beating ourselves up about it. We want someone to be angry with us, to hold us accountable. We want somehow to make up for it and find ourselves frustrated that we can’t. It all seems wrong. Yet, someone finds it in his or her heart, perhaps with a healthy dose of God’s grace, to forgive us. What do we do then? Do we find a way to accept that forgiveness and move forward, or do we continue to torture ourselves with our past mistakes?

The same holds true when it comes to God. Many of us, perhaps most of us, have things in our past, sins we have committed, that we regret to our very core. God offers His forgiveness unconditionally. Do we truly believe that we are forgiven? Can we accept His forgiveness and start anew? I have heard that it is a sin of pride to believe that we have committed a sin that God can’t forgive. There is nothing we can do that is beyond God’s forgiveness. We only need to open our hearts and receive it. Sometimes, that can be the hardest thing to do, but it is the only way we can truly move forward.

Learning to Share

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

I was recently reading “Ramona the Pest” by Beverly Cleary with my children. A classic from a generation ago, it features a five-year-old Ramona and the trials and tribulations of Kindergarten. One chapter features a battle between her and her neighbor and fellow classmate Howie. She and Howie are really not friends, but their mothers are. Therefore, they end up spending a great deal of time together. In this particular scene they are fighting over a red ribbon. They both have what they perceive to be a rightful claim of ownership to the ribbon. As mothers are prone to doing, one of them tells the two children to share the ribbon. She even suggests that they can cut it in half, thereby solving the problem. About the only thing that Ramona and Howie can agree on is that this is a bad idea! They do not want to share.

As parents, we spend a lot of our time telling our children to share. Sharing does not appear to be an inborn trait. We humans like to own things and keep them for ourselves. Even as adults, sharing is not always easy. This week’s Gospel (Lk 9:11b-17) features that very problem. Jesus and the disciples have 5,000 hungry people on their hands. The disciples want to dismiss them so that they can go find food for themselves. Jesus in turn tells them to feed them. They counter with the fact that they only have 5 loaves and two fishes available. Yet, somehow, once that choice is made to share, there is plenty for everyone. Over the years, I’ve heard different explanations for this. The most obvious one is that Jesus performed a miracle and multiplied the food that was available. Another explanation is that once the disciples started sharing, the people in the crowd started sharing as well. Everybody shared what they had with their neighbor and then there was plenty. I wasn’t there and I don’t know what happened, but, if that was the scenario, then I would say that was a miracle unto itself.

Sr. Kathryn James Hermes reflects on this Gospel in “Living Faith.” She writes that the disciples in wanting to send the people away were guilty of “stingy thinking.” Some of the time, maybe even most of the time, each one of us is guilty of that mindset. We worry that if we share, we won’t have enough for ourselves, instead of trusting that God will multiply our gift freely given and return it to us. If we share, we will always have enough. That’s a tough lesson for both children and adults to comprehend and accept. I am as guilty of it as the next person. When money is tight, there is always that temptation to cut back on charitable giving. What I have found is that those are times I actually need to increase it. When I finally make the decision to be brave and trust that God will provide, the financial pressures ease a bit. Learning to share is one of those things that takes a lifetime to master.

“She Made Home Happy”

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Families have different ideas of what they view as a “fun” adventure on a beautiful day. Some enjoy amusement parks or going hiking or going to the beach. My family? We enjoy going on a good grave hunt! (Yes, it is entirely possible my children will be discussing this with their therapists when they are older.)

I’ve always enjoyed cemeteries. I find them peaceful places. As a child, my parents would take me as they dutifully brought flowers to the family gravesites. I would explore the nearby graves with interest. Who were all these people? What were there lives like? As a teenager, my father taught me to drive in a cemetery. As a young adult, one of my best friends lived right next to a cemetery. We spent many enjoyable evenings walking the grounds. I’m trying to share my love of cemeteries with my children.

To make these cemetery trips more interesting for them, we try to find certain graves for them to look for, a treasure hunt of sort. This past week found us at the Stockbridge Cemetery, about an hour from home. We were searching for three graves in particular: artist Norman Rockwell, theologian Reinhold Neibuhr (author of the Serenity Prayer) and Elizabeth Freeman (a freed slave). Amazingly, we were successful in finding all three.

As we searched the graves, I made a point of praying for the souls of the people whose remains laid beneath the ground. Many had left this world a long time ago. Who knew the last time someone had said a prayer on their behalf? But our time is not God’s time, and prayers for souls are never wasted. If they are not needed by the soul for whom we are praying, they are applied to another soul in need. Just as when as I when a little girl, I still wonder about the people whose names are on those stones. A life cannot be summed up on a tombstone. Most modern stones offer little more information than a name and two dates. Older stones offer more of a tribute to a person. The one that struck me most on this particular journey was that of Mrs. Julia Hawkins Brown. She died on January 18, 1898 at the age of 74. Her epitaph reads “She Made Home Happy.”

What a wonderful tribute to a person! How thankful I would be if, as a wife and mother, I was remembered as making home happy, of bringing joy and peace to our domicile. Of course, there are other things I’d like to be remembered for. I’d like to be remembered for being a good Christian, for being kind to others, for being a hard worker, and for being a good writer. Yet, if I do all those things for the rest of the world, and fail in my domestic duties, I really haven’t accomplished much of anything. After God, my family is my first priority. I hope that I succeed in making our home a happy one. I hope that is how my children and (hopefully) grandchildren will remember me. Maybe they will even put it on my gravestone, and some stranger will come by a hundred plus years after my death and stop and say a prayer for me and think I was a good woman.

Love and Beauty

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

A doctor was helping a woman give birth to her fifth child. Her four previous births had been at home, but this had been a difficult pregnancy, so he suggested that she give birth in a hospital this time around. Thankfully, the birth went well. As the doctor cleaned up the baby, he couldn’t help but notice that the child was one of the ugliest babies that he had ever seen. He put extra baby powder on the newborn, figuring that if the baby wasn’t cute, at least he would smell good! He then nervously placed the baby in his mother’s arms. As the mother excitedly held her child, her immediate reaction was, “Isn’t he the most beautiful baby ever!”

My spiritual director recently shared that story with me to illustrate the power of a mother’s love. It has been said that love is blind. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that it is only through the eyes of love that we truly see. Love enables us to see the beauty that lies beneath the surface, that which might not be readily visible to others. Love allows one to see all the potential present in another person. While true love still sees the faults in another, it also is willing to see past them. Love is able to see the growth possible, the ability for a person to be all that God has made him or her to be.

Without the gift of being loved, a person may never come to know the beauty that exists within him or her. Every person should have the experience of being loved unconditionally by someone. Ideally, that first experience of love comes from one’s parents. Like the mother in the story above, we should wrap our children in that gift of love.

Mothers know their children better than anyone else. We see their faults. We see their limitations. We see the unflattering reflections of our own behavior. Sometimes, we can be so quick to criticize. Yes, it is part of our job to correct our children’s behavior. Yet, with a full measure of love in our hearts, it is more important that we see the beauty in them. We need to point out all the good in them so that they will see themselves as good, strong, capable people who are loved, not only by us, but by God. To a child, a parent’s love is a reflection of God’s love. Without the one, it is very hard for them to grasp and appreciate the other. Without being loved, a child will have a very difficult time learning to love others.

The same holds true in the other relationships in our lives. Everyone needs love. Everyone needs people who believe in them, who can see beyond the messiness of life and see them the way God sees them. Each day, we have the opportunity to reflect God’s love to those we come in contact with. We can see the beauty within them and appreciate them. We can help them be the best they can be. Only love has the power to see the true beauty of another person.