Monday, March 31, 2014

Retreat to the Desert

I feel like I don't have enough time in my day.
Either that, or I am not organized enough.

The laundry isn't put away,
the dishes are sitting next to the sink.
I am behind on my writing deadlines,
emails sit unanswered.
My desk is piled high with mail,
baby clothes need to be organized,
bathrooms need to be cleaned,
closets need to be purged.

Queen B, what is going on?  Isn't Lent the time for projects like these?
Not this year.  Not for me.

This year, I realized I needed to do something different for Lent.  
I realized that Lenten projects of past years-- cleaning, organizing, giving away--
had distracted me from what I really needed, more time with God.

This year, as I prepared for Lent, I reread a Gospel passage describing Jesus' forty day retreat to the desert.  He had just been baptized by John and was about to start His public ministry, spreading the good news of the Gospel.  But, after being baptized, Jesus didn't rush right out to get started.  First, he retreated to the desert to pray, and not just for a few minutes, a day, a week.  He was gone for forty days.  

I have very little free time these days.  Between school drop-offs and pick-ups, meal-times and abbreviated naps, I have very little time by myself.  The chores are constantly clamoring for more of my time, and I am constantly tempted to lay my babes in their beds and frantically tackle the To-Do list.  But this Lent, I am trying to set aside the To-Do list and tackle prayer first.  Everyday, it is a struggle for me to do this.  The biggest challenge for me is that when I get done with my prayer time the laundry is still unfolded or a mess is still staring me in the face, but it is school pick-up time or nap time is over or the kids are waking up or it is simply too late to do another chore.  

My house and email inbox look a bit more disorganized than usual this Lent.  But, I am hoping that my soul is just a tiny bit more organized, more centered, more patient, more peaceful, more loving.  I am also hoping that come Easter,  the Lord will bless these forty days of prayer, perhaps with a renewed sense of direction, a renewed energy to tackle the waiting projects.  Perhaps, as a result of this prayerful detour, my Easter path will be more clear.  

“Come now, miserable mortal, flee for a brief time from your occupations, leave for a while your tumultuous thoughts. Move away at this moment from your grave anxieties and put aside your exhausting activities. Attend to God and repose in him. Enter into the depth of your soul, exclude everything, except God and what helps you seek him and, having closed the door, say to God: I seek your face. Your face I seek, Lord.”  
~Saint Anselm of Aosta

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Daily Works of Mercy

Occasionally, I am tempted to feel overwhelmed by all the needs and hurting in the world.  The overachiever in me sometimes feels restrained by the demands of daily, family life.   Really, can I do any good for the wider, broken world in the midst of meal prep, laundry loads, potty training and nap time?

In those moments, I need to settle my restless heart with a reminder from Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta:

To help this needy, hurting world, I need to change the way I see the work in my day, not shirk my responsibilities within it.

Mother Theresa also once said,

Which reminds me of one of my favorite prayers from Saint Teresa of Avila:

Jesus has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. 
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless his people.

So, with new eyes I review the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that we, as Christians, are called to bring into the world:

The Corporal Works of Mercy                                   The Spiritual works of Mercy
Feeding the hungry                                                   Admonishing the sinner
Giving drink to the thirsty                                              Instructing the ignorant
Clothing the naked                                                      Counseling the doubtful
Hospitality to the homeless                                            Comforting the sorrowful
Caring for the sick                                                         Bearing wrongs patiently   
Visiting the imprisoned                                                      Forgiving all injuries
Burying the dead                                                      Praying for the living 
                                                                                                       and the dead

When I reflect on these works of mercy with new eyes, they suddenly sound remarkably similar to many of my daily responsibilities.  God, grant me the mercy to complete these great works with great love.  Then I would be truly helping to change the world.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

March Milestones

March brings a change in season.
This year, it brings lots of other changes in our house as well.

J-Bear is standing with the help of the furniture.
She greets us from her crib with a wave and a "hi!"
She says "bah-bee" as she snuggles her blankie and dolly.
Her delighted clapping keeps all of us smiling.

Buddy Bear and I have decided to tackle potty training.
This time we're serious.
I've gotten out the plastic pants and foregone diapers.  
The most effective rewards are chocolate coins and Disney Jr. shows.

E-Bear went snowshoeing with T for the first time.
He is reading family names and simple words like 'Mom' and 'Dad' by himself.
He tells me, "Mom, I feel ready for Kindergarten."

G-Bear knows her doubles math problems by heart.
Her reading is so fluent now.
She was sport of the month in gym class.

This crew is growing up so fast!  Sometimes it is hard for me to keep up!
I am hoping that March goes out like a lamb...
and a stair safety gate....
and a pair of dry underwear...
and kid who loves school...
and a Sport of the Month.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Filling Up Again

"When we spend time with God, we bring something with us for others, and that is supposed to decrease, to be lessened while it enriches others.  No water boy should complain that the bottles get empty when he goes down to the field. His job is to go back and fill them up again."  ~Dr. Edward Mulholland, Benedictine College

This Lenten season, I have tried to spend more time with God in prayer.  I have been encouraged by the excellent book, Time for God by Father Jacques Philippe.  This extra prayer time, when I have made time for it, has been a blessing!  Father Philippe makes the simple point that no matter what our daily schedule holds, we MUST prioritize quiet time with God in prayer.   Returning to the loving, peaceful presence of God is infinitely valuable and healing for our souls.

When my prayer time is over and I return to the fray of family life, though, it is not long before I feel as though my spiritual and emotional stores are draining again.  "What happened, Lord?" I wonder.  I feel as though my children, neighbors, and responsibilities,  important as they are, are like little vacuums sucking up the peacefulness, patience and loving presence that I experienced during my prayers.

The quote above, part of a larger Lenten article by Dr. Mulholland, helped me to put these feelings in perspective, as did our Holy Father's Lenten message.  "He became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich," we are encouraged by 2 Corinthians 8:9, the focal scripture passage for Pope Francis' message.

Rising up from prayer, I can emulate our Lord by offering the riches of my prayer time to my children, my husband, my neighbor.  Yes, as I delve back into the business and messiness of the world, I may feel a drain of my peace and patience and loving kindness as I interact with others.  By God's grace, others may be enriched by the Living Water I have to offer from my time with Him.  If I feel "poured out" from sharing these spiritual blessings with others, I am learning that this is something to celebrate, not resent!  And, when I feel my tank is empty, may take the time to return to the Lord, that He might fill me up again.   Even Jesus retreated often to be alone with the Father in quiet prayer, and so must I.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Skiing in Lutsen

We did it!  
What a blessing!
We went skiing for the first time with our whole crew.

We had a wonderful time.

 Papa has been dreaming of skiing with his grandkids for years now.  
We couldn't pass up the chance to get away with willing grandparents for a brief Lutsen ski weekend.

Even Nana traveled up to join us!  
She hadn't skied in years, but she impressed us all with her adventurous spirit.
She unanimously earned the "Super Duper Trooper Award." 

So, just how did we make it happen with so many little ones?
Thank goodness for the bunny hill. 
"Flapjack" was the perfect height for our crew, complete with a "Magic Carpet."

Buddy Bear and I riding the "Magic Carpet" to the top of the hill.
After a few parental tutorials on the hill, G-Bear and E-Bear took a ski school lesson for a few hours.
They quickly learned how to take their own skis on and off,
how to get on the Magic Carpet alone,
and how to make a "pizza slice" with their skis.
We were impressed!
T and E-Bear at the top of "Flapjack"

Buddy Bear learned how to ride his skis down the hill between our legs.
He loved it!

Nana was on hand to help little J-Bear, who seemed too little for skis this time around.

MoMo impressed us all.  Check out that knee bend! 
You would never guess this woman has had 2 knee surgeries in the past year!
She shredded the slopes like her youthful self.

 And don't forget the best. Dad. Ever. 
T took charge of bunny hill duties one afternoon so that I could ski off with Papa.

Later, MoMo and Papa offered to take the kids for hot chocolate treats in the chalet so that T and I could ski a bit by ourselves. 

I felt like I was in heaven at the top of the glorious hills, overlooking Lake Superior, 
skiing with my love.  

Before our lift tickets expired, we rode the Gondola as a family, 

took the kids on several tours up the chairlifts, skied down with them between our legs, and made countless trips up and down Flapjack.  G-Bear even learned to turn both ways on her skis.

Our leg muscles were burning.  Our hearts were pumping.
But the smiles, laughter, and moments of triumph were worth it.

I think I even saw Papa get misty-eyed at one point, when we realized he was skiing again with both MoMo and his grandkids.  We experienced many blessings that we never thought we would see.

Lutsen, we hope we'll be back!  Thanks be to God for a wonderful ski trip.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Getaway to Lutsen

This week was spring break.   

We escaped to the North Shore, where it doesn't look much like spring.

Even so, we fell in love with a place called Lutsen.

A pioneering spirit is alive and well here.  
Lutsen Resort is a world away from the hustle of everyday life.  

 It was just what we needed. 

My parents vacationed at the resort years ago, and rumor has it that I even made it up here a time or two as a child.  

While the resort's rich, rustic charm is perfect for adults, it is wonderfully family friendly.   Our kids were in (wintery) heaven.

While we were in Lutsen, we played in the sunshine and snow with MoMo, Papa and Nana.
We played games and ate dinner together in our rental condo.
We snuggled and giggled in front of the fire.
We read our Jesus stories and our daily prayers.  MoMo spoiled us with morning mochas.

We soaked in bubble baths,

and sun baths.

We swam in the pool and played checkers in the Lodge, which is full of character and ambiance.

We went on walks by the water, admiring the ice, snow and gorgeous North Shore scenery.

 And each morning, after breakfast, we boarded the shuttle bus to head up the mountain
and ski.

 I can't believe I am saying this: 
we were hooked.  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Happy Birthday, Nana!

Happy Birthday to our dear Nana!

Thanks to Nana for joining us for her birthday this year!  It is such a treat to celebrate a woman who has given so much to all of us over the years.  We love you!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lent so far

"If in Christ we have been tempted, in him we overcome the devil. Do you think only of Christ’s temptations and fail to think of his victory? See yourself as tempted in him, and see yourself as victorious in him. He could have kept the devil from himself; but if he were not tempted he could not teach you how to triumph over temptation."
- St. Augustine of Hippo

What I am reading....
An awesome book on prayer

The history and impact of a national movement

What I am playing...

What we are eating...

Prayer pretzel rolls and black bean soup
perfect for Ash Wednesday or any Friday Lenten dinner.

See J-Bear's little bowl in the corner?  Even she enjoyed her dinner!

Blessings I have received....

A note from G-Bear after school. 
This particular day, we were working on letting other people go first as our Lenten discipline.

She even drew the beans so she wouldn't forget to add them to our basket.
The best part was that I got to hear the story represented by each bean.

E-Bear has made a consorted effort to help Buddy Bear.  
He rarely asks to put a bean in the basket, but he is always thrilled when I acknowledge his efforts by rewarding him with the chance to add a bean.

Buddy Bear can't wait for story time each night.  He loves the Jesus stories we are reading as part of our Jesus Walk.  He is always disappointed when I tell him we are only reading one.  He always has an extra one picked out for us to read, just in case.

G-Bear resolved at school on Ash Wednesday that she wanted to make her bed more often to be helpful during Lent.  She has really taken her goal to heart.  I was especially impressed by her efforts while we were on vacation this week for spring break:
yes, this was after she woke up and made the bed in the morning....

Lord, thank you for going before us.  Help us to make this time of Lent fruitful!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Welcoming Lent 2014

Dear ones, Lent is upon us. 

It is time to set aside the Ordinary Time of winter and embrace the beauty and simplicity of the Lenten season.  Did she really just refer to Lent as beautiful??  I did.  Naturally, I will have plenty of groan-worthy moments during Lent.  We all will.  Lent is beautiful, but not because of it’s glitz and glamour; not because of an ease with which we perfectly perform.  Lent is beautiful because it is an opportunity to cast off the sin that so easily entangles us, embrace God’s charge to love others more deeply, and, despite our inevitable failures, grow closer to our loving, forgiving, resurrected Lord.  As Archbishop Caput has said, “Lent is an opportunity and a grace, not a burden…..Unless we understand our own sinfulness, unless we understand the urgency of repentance and reconciliation, the Cross makes no sense; the Resurrection makes no sense.” 

This year, I used the extended time between Christmas and Ash Wednesday to prepare for our Lenten journey.  Why prepare for a season of preparation, you may ask?  As parents, we make weekly meal plans so we are ready to prepare nightly dinners, as students we gather the materials we need to make our study and test preparation time fruitful.  Similarly, I realized through years past that our family’s spiritual journey is fuller during Lent when we have a road map to help us make the most of all forty days. 

The three pillars of the Lenten season are prayer, fasting and alms giving.  I have come to center our Lenten celebrations around these three themes.  When I first started searching for Lenten activities to do with our children several years ago, I was amazed by the wonderful and reverent ways that many families were celebrating Lent together.   Over time, we have embraced many of these traditions as our own.  What follows is my plan for Lent.  


Our focus on prayer this year will center around morning prayer, afternoon prayer and evening prayer together as a family.  For morning prayer, I am planning to use the “Box of Blessings” scripture cards that my children received from their Godmother earlier this year.  Each morning at breakfast we’ll take a scripture card from our Lenten calendar, read it and then say a prayer for our day.  In the afternoon after school, we’ll draw one of the Christmas cards that we received during the holidays and pray for those family members or friends.  In the evening, after dinner, we will read a Bible story aloud and say a special prayer together.  In the past I have read from our Jesus Storybook Bible.  This year, I bought the Jesus Calling Bible Storybook.  I am planning to give it to my kids today as a Marti Gras gift.  In keeping with the Jesus Tree concept (a Lenten continuation of the Advent Jesse Tree -- a tradition I admire and have tweaked for our family), the stories we read each night will be from Jesus’ life and ministry, leading to his Passion and Resurrection.  During the final two weeks of Lent, I get out our Stations of the Cross Eggs, which I made last year, inspired by this at Catholic Icing.  For those days, we read a Station of the Cross each night at dinner and open the corresponding egg.  My kids loved doing this last year.

There are many excellent versions of Lenten reading journeys for young families.  Some of my favorite Jesus Tree examples can be found at A Holy Experience, Shower of Roses and Jesse TreeTreasures.

None of my children are of official fasting age, and as a nursing mother I am exempted from the full obligation of the Lenten fast.  Nonetheless, we fully intend to embrace this important part of the season.  We’ll enjoy meatless Fridays, of course, probably with meals of soup and pretzels (a reminder of us to pray!).  For Ash Wednesday, I am planning to make black bean soup and bread to introduce another part of our fasting that our kids always enjoy.  I set out a jar of dried black bean on Ash Wednesday, next to a small Easter basket.  Each time the kids do something particularly loving, selfless or helpful, they get to put a “bean in the basket.”  On Easter morning, when we celebrate the way Christ makes all things new, our black beans are replaced by jelly beans.  The presence of the dried bean jar on our table serves as an ever-present reminder to fast from un-loving habits and give up more of ourselves to God.

Alms Giving
In an effort to help my children see a connection between our fasting and our giving, every Friday after dinner they will get to take a piece of food from our pantry and put it in our family food basket for the poor.  I also hope to do some of our giving together as a family on Sundays.  T and I will describe the work of a few charities to our children and let them choose the one they would like to support.  We read about our family members doing this last year and loved their reflection. 

In years past, I have eagerly undertaken the “40 bags in 40 days” challenge, in which we tried to give away 40 bags of items during Lent.  Upon reflection this year, I realized that I spent so much of my free time and effort last Lent working on this, that it squeezed out time that I would have spent praying or reflecting (there is only so much free time during nap time!).  This year, I am going to try to focus on prayer time first during naptime.  I love the spirit of this challenge and may use the Easter season to follow through on some of my spring cleaning/giving ambitions. 

Marking the Days

Aside from the three themes of our Lent, there are many ways to mark the passing of days.  I realized after Christmas that our enthusiasm over Advent calendars can easily translate into Lent calendars.  This year we are going to use the Lent color calendar from Catholic Icing.  We are also going to do a Lamb of God craft.  We’ll assemble lamb out of construction paper on Ash Wednesday, make 40 circles on it and add a cotton ball to our lambs each day.  We’ll have lovely lamb decorations in time for Easter! I also admire the 40 Ways in 40 Days idea from Dixie Delights.  We can add a "Way" card to each day of our Lenten calendar!

As our Lenten journey begins tomorrow, my prayer is for all of our families, that we will embrace this season with intentionality and love, looking toward our loving Savior for strength and example.