Tuesday, December 31, 2019

So long 2019!

This year was a tough year for us. I would say, it was probably one of the most difficult years of our marriage. Funny enough they say the 7th year is always the toughest. However, ours was a struggle for reasons that are not listed in all online polls. Ours was a spiritual and emotional struggle with things beyond our control, a sort of spiritual warfare seeping through our family life.

We survived.
We learned.
We've grown in our trust for God and His providence.

Suffering can be in vain or it can be a life lesson spurring us to grow and stretch our hearts in ways we never thought possible.

Our experience was the latter.

What we learned from 2019:

  • Family life has challenges that are meant to make us stronger and grow towards holiness.
  • Family life should push you towards selflessness.
  • Sometimes God asks us to do things we never dreamed of doing; You do them and He always provides.
  • Marriage is the heart of our family and not the other way around.
  • Simply family all together is probably the best gift you can give your children.
  • Technology steals from the intimacy of family life.
  • Prayer is not only essential but required in marriage.
  • When there is no prayer life, there is no peace.
  • We can only handle one big project at a time.
  • The desires of our hearts, no matter how good they may seem, are not always what is best for our family.
  • A faith community can fill in the gaps in your faith life at home.

Now it's time to turn the page and start a new chapter in our lives. As usual, standing on the threshold of a new year has its promise and hope for 12 months' opportunities.

It's 365 days of possibilities
52 weeks of starting fresh.

We've gone through many unfinished resolutions year after year and one thing we have learned is that being reasonable and practical in our goal setting is probably the wisest thing we can do. Being specific rather than vague also makes for achievable resolutions. 

Our hopes for 2020 are:

  • Spend more time sharing as a family; one outing a month. 
  • Pick up our nightly rosary again.
  • Pray a family rosary on Sundays.
  • Introduce boys to night prayer (liturgy of the hours).
  • Take time for a monthly holy hour (with or without the family).
  • Take on Hail 15 a Catholic fasting program for mind, body, and soul. 
  • Pray for one person every day, all year and watch God do His marvels in that person's life. 
  • Finish one unfinished project in the house every three months (being realistic here).
  • Finally, make our wedding photo album.
  • Exercise 3-4 days a week for 30 minutes a day.
  • Serve more fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Plan a family camping/hiking trip.
  • Learn to ski.

What are your lessons learned in 2019 and what do you hope for in 2020? Have a blessed and happy new year and may 2020 be filled with Christ's blessings through our Blessed Mother.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Our hearts, a dwelling place for the Lord tonight!

The Lord of the universe was born in a manger. Do you know what a manger really is? It comes from the old French word mangeure, which stems from the Latin word manducat- or "chewed". It is literally a trough where animals feed. It most likely was not made of wood as most of us imagine it. Wood was quite scarce in those parts of Judea. “The manger would have been hewn of stone."
Jesus would have been laid in a trough that already foreshadowed the tomb he would lay in three days before His resurrection. It even foreshadows his becoming food for the Salvation of the all mankind.

The child Jesus is to be born tonight. Again? No! His birth was and is for all eternity. Just as his death, the Lord's birth is outside of time and in aeternum.  His birth tonight is for each of us and yet, for the Salvation of the world.

But the real question to ask ourselves today is, where will He be born this evening? In a cold and uncomfortable manger? or in the space, we make for him in our hearts? Jesus desires to come into our hearts this evening! He wants you to make room for Him.

Is there room? What state is your heart in? Is it ready to receive the King of the World? Is it cold, uncomfortable and full of grime? You can clean up your heart, prepare it for the Savior. It's not too late. Go and receive the beautiful sacrament of Reconciliation. Make room for Him. Remove all sin and grime. He wants to come and take possession of your heart. He wants to dwell there, stay there, transform your life there!

One of my most favorite Christmas stories is probably one of the simplest. The Lord can take our sinfulness and even our old habits and transform them in one instant. Are you ready?

St. Therese of Lisieux, the great saint we know today was not such a saint all her life.

"She was a stubborn and childish little girl. Her mother was terribly worried about her. 'One cannot tell how she will turn out, her stubbornness is almost unconquerable...nothing will make her change.”

Therese writes in the "Story of a Soul" (some paraphrasing).

When I got home from Midnight Mass, I knew that I should find my shoes standing at the fireplace, filled with presents, as I had always done since I was little, so you can see I was still treated as a baby.

Father used to love to see how happy I was and hear my cries of delight as I took each surprise packet from my magic shoes, and his pleasure made me happier still. But the time had come for Jesus to cure me of my childishness; even the innocent joys of childhood were to go. He allowed Father to feel cross this year, instead of spoiling me, and as I was going upstairs, I heard him saying: “Therese ought to have outgrown all this sort of thing, and I hope this will be the last time.” This cut me to the quick, and Céline, who knew how very sensitive I was, whispered to me: “Don’t come down again just yet; you’ll only go and cry if you open your presents now in front of Father.”

But I was not the same Thérèse any more; Jesus had changed me completely. I held back my tears, and trying to stop my heart from beating so fast, I ran down into the dining room. I picked up the shoes and unwrapped my presents joyfully, looking all the while as happy as a queen. Father did not look cross anymore now and entered into the fun of it, while Céline thought she must have been dreaming. But this was no dream. Thérèse had gotten back forever the strength of mind she had lost at four and a half.

You can read the full article from Aleteia "St. Therese of Lisiuex was never the same after the Christmas of 1886." here. 

Let us ask the Lord for a Christmas miracle in our own lives. Let us clean up this dwelling place for the Lord, our hearts. Let us, through the intercession of Mary, the first dwelling place of Christ, ask that he repair our hearts. Let him transform our hearts. Transform our lives so that we may become a dwelling place for Him always.

A very happy and blessed Christmas to you all.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Boyhood is not a disease!

When you are faced with a child who is inattentive and extra energetic, you can't help but think that perhaps he has ADHD. I have done my fair share of reading on this topic. I have been reading about it from all angles, from what the symptoms are to does it really exist? Being a teacher myself I have seen what ADHD can look like. I've also seen the ramifications of what medication does to a child and even older adolescent children. The bottom line, it is not pretty. But when it hits home, everything changes.

I am not going to write about what ADHD is. I am not going to write whether it is a real diagnosis or not. What I will write about is what we, as a family, are going through as we are being bombarded by comments, suggestions, and recommendations to have our son evaluated. I have my fair share of opinions on how ADHD can sometimes simply be immaturity and how ADHD is overdiagnosed.

For starters, our son is very energetic. Does energetic necessarily mean hyper? Outside the classroom he is high energy, inside the classroom, it means hyper and mental illness. ADHD is classified as a mental illness. Whatever happened to just good old-fashioned high energy and since when is it so wrong to be full of energy? I see the difference between one son and the other and one is definitely in more need of movement. Why does that have to be a mental illness? Fifty years ago we accepted all different personalities in our classroom and dealt with behavioral problems. Now we diagnose, label and medicate. Some teachers and administrators do not want to be bothered.

Then there is the boy crisis. Boys "are three times more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than girls." However sexist this may sound, it is a fact, in all my years of teaching, that boys tend to be more distracted than girls. It is also true that the educational system we have set up is more geared towards a girls way of learning than boys. Ask any mother of both boys and girls and they will tell you, a grand majority, that the boys have a much harder time sitting still for long periods of time than a girl. Of course, it goes without saying, that this is not always the case, but it can be typical. Boys need more movement. Heck, children need more movement!

Then there is plain old immaturity. In speaking to our pediatrician, we were pleasantly relieved that she was on our side. She said that it was completely ludicrous to diagnose a child under 9 with ADHD. There are so many levels of development and maturation that there is no way to draw the line between an immature child, who is easily distracted, and a true ADHD diagnosis. What happened to kids being kids and not wanting to sit down for hours on end doing math drills and reading comprehension? What kid would not rather play than do "work"? What adult wouldn't rather relax than do work they do not enjoy?

Finally medication. In all my years of teaching, I was never so saddened than when I witnessed a child on stimulants. Currently "12% of school-age children and as many as 20% of teenage boys, are diagnosed with ADHD." This is staggering. Stimulants are given to children for ADHD. Ritalin (Methylphenidate) and cocaine are classified as a central nervous system stimulant drug. Yes, you read that correctly, they are both in the same category. I realize that for some children it would be almost impossible to function if they did not take these drugs on occasion or often. I am not here to judge anyone's parenting choices. I am here to simply write about our family's experiences and thoughts on this very dividing topic. Medication should not be the first option. In fact, it should be the very last option!

The fact of the matter is that apart from our son being easily distracted and high energy, he understands all concepts and is able to get some of the highest grades. Yes, albeit probably to the detriment of his teachers. But is teaching supposed to be easy? I never found it easy? You are dealing with a lot of personalities and learning styles at once, not to mention personal issues and family problems that they bring with them every day. Teaching is not for the faint of heart. The human person is complex. We cannot expect, as teachers or as parents, to have all the same little robotic children who will do what we say when we say. It should be no different in the classroom.

Perhaps I am rationalizing our situation. Perhaps I am finding reasons to avoid evaluation. Whatever may be happening, I am firm in my belief that although ADHD may be a very real mental illness, we have to certainly take a look at all the variables in a child's life and consider that some children are just different. Some children are just more high strung. Some children are more easily distracted. Some children are lazy. Some children are more laid back. Some children are more focused. Shall I go on?

If you have a child that you are being told may have ADHD, I strongly advise you to talk to many professionals both in and outside the psychological field and really do your research before you get your diagnosis. "Nearly 1 million children in the United States are potentially misdiagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder simply because they are the youngest- and most immature- in their kindergarten class." And an even higher percentage of this misdiagnosis are boys! Fight for your boys, fight for your children and do not let them be labeled just because they are more energetic and easily distracted. Childhood is all about distractions and energy. Let us not make childhood a disease! Let us not make boyhood a disease.

A highly recommend this extensive article for anyone who is considering an ADHD evaluation for their son: "The Drugging of the American Boy" by Esquire.com

Photo by unsplash.com

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Advent traditions

Advent is a time of preparation. It begins four Sundays before Christmas and means venire which is "to come to," in Latin. For Christians it is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ in His birth at Christmas, however, it also symbolizes Christ's Second Coming at the end of time.

In today's world, everything comes to us in an instant. We can binge on Netflix or with one click and in just one day, have anything we want on Amazon. It's almost as if instant gratification cannot be avoided. Advent, is a reminder that "the best things come to those who wait". Literally! We wait for Jesus.

As a family, we have decided that Christmas would be all about, well, what it is: Jesus' birth! The gifts are wonderful, the tree beautiful and the feeling in the air, splendid but there is more to it. The focus has to be turned towards the one that is the reason for all this celebration. 

If it weren't for the birth of Christ, our stores would not be jam-packed with Christmas decor and sales for all sorts of gifts. It is amazing how so many have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas and how some do not even know who Jesus is.  

Here are some beautiful Catholic traditions you can bring into your family and celebrate with your children. One you may know already, it is the Advent wreath. The Advent wreath (circle) is used to symbolize God the Father and eternal life. It holds four candles which are lit over the four weeks of Advent. There are three violet (purple) candles and one rose (pink) candle, each representing 1,000 years a total of 4,000 years that humanity waited for the Savior.

The progressive lighting of the candles symbolizes the expectation and hope of our Lord’s first coming into the world and the anticipation of His second coming to judge the living and the dead.
Traditionally, each of the four candles has its own meaning:
  • The 3 violet candles symbolize the prayer, penance, and preparatory sacrifices and goods works undertaken during Advent. 

  • The 1 rose candle is lit on the third Sunday which is known as "Gaudete Sunday" it is the Sunday of rejoicing because it is the midpoint of Advent and it's close to Christmas.

But another tradition you are probably not familiar with, that we've been doing for a couple of years now, is the Jesse Tree. The Jesse Tree dates back to the middle ages and came from Europe. You may even find a Jesse Tree design in stained glass windows in old cathedrals.

The Jesse Tree comes from Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Jesse was the father of King David. The Jesse Tree is decorated with handmade ornaments that represent the people, prophesies, and events leading up to the birth of Jesus. The ornaments of the Jesse Tree tell the story of God in the Old Testament, connecting the Advent season with the faithfulness of God across four thousand years of history.

One way I (we) can learn that instant gratification is not normal and is actually not good for us, especially children, is to spend Advent preparing for the coming of Christ.

Here are some of the ornaments I have made out of felt. You can also have your children make them out of paper. 

Day 1: Symbolizes the World Created by God– Globe – Genesis 1:24-28

Day 2: Symbolizes the First sin by Adam and Eve – Snake and Apple– Genesis 3:1-24

Day 3: Symbolizes the promise of God to Noah after the Flood – Rainbow & Ark – Genesis 6:11-22; 86-12; 9:11-17

Day 4: Symbolizes the promise of God to Abraham – Camel & Tent– Genesis 12:1-7:13:2-18; 18:1

Day 5: Symbolizes the Ram sacrificed instead of Isaac – Ram – Genesis 22:1-14

Day 6: Symbolizes Jacob – Ladder – Genesis 27:41-28:22

Day 7: symbolizes Joseph – Multicolored Coat – Genesis 37:1-36

Day 8: symbolizes Moses – two tablets --Deuteronomy 5:1-22

The great thing is you learn so much! You learn how all these events and Biblical figures foreshadowed Jesus & led to His birth. It makes the time leading up to Christmas all about what it should be. You read the appropriate Bible verse each night and the child(ren) places the specific ornament on the tree.

This tradition does not interfere with a Christmas tree, as it is not a Christmas tree in and of itself. There are literally hundreds of ways to do this. I have seen some creative things on-line. There are also tons of recourse books...Catholic and non-Catholic alike as this is not strictly a Catholic tradition.

I used this one:

The remaining days are as follows but there are dozens of variations on symbols and passages.

Day 9: Symbolizes the promise land-Numbers - Grapes - Numbers 13:1-2, 17-18, 20, 23, 27
Day 10: Symbolizes Ruth - Sheaf of wheat - Ruth 1:15-2:3
Day 11: Symbolizes Miriam – Tambourine – Exodus 15:19-21
Day 12: SymbolizesSamuel – Lamp – 1 Samuel 3:1-21
Day 13: Symbolizes Jesse – Branch – Isaiah 11:1
Day 14: Symbolizes King David – Harp – 1 Samuel 16:14-23
Day 15: Symbolizes King Solomon – Crown – 1 Kings 3:3-28
Day 16: Symbolizes Isaiah – Throne – Isaiah 6:1-8
Day 17: Symbolizes Jeremiah -Heart - Jeremiah 31:31-33, Hebrews 9:13-15
Day 18: Symbolizes the Angels – Angel – Hebrews 1:1-14
Day 19: Symbolizes Malachi – Trumpet – Malachi 3:1-4
Day 20: Symbolizes Zechariah and Elizabeth – man and wife - Luke 1:39-45
Day 21: Symbolizes Mary – Mary– Luke 1:29-35
Day 22: Symbolizes John the Baptist – River – Matthew 3:1-6
Day 23: Symbolizes Joseph of Nazareth – Hammer/Saw – Matthew 1:18-25
Day 24: Symbolizes Bethlehem – Star over town– Matthew 2:1-12
Day 25: Birth of Christ – Crib – Luke 2:1-7

A happy and blessed Advent to you all. May this time teach each one of us that the best things in life take time and bring us joy and hope. Come, Lord Jesus!