"God made us for joy. God is joy, and the joy of living reflects the original joy that God felt in creating us." (St. John Paul the Great)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"Love does such things!"


[The] journey of God from the everlasting into the transitory, this stride across the border into history, is something no human intellect can altogether grasp. The mind might even oppose the apparently fortuitous, human aspect of this interpretation with its own ‘purer’ idea of godliness; yet precisely here lies hidden the kernel of Christianity. Before such an unheard of thought the intellect bogs down. Once at this point a friend gave me a clue that helped my understanding more than any measure of bare reason. He said: “But love does such things!” Again and again these words have come to the rescue when the mind has stopped short at some intellectual impasse. Not that they explain anything to the intelligence; they arouse the heart, enabling it to feel its way into the secrecy of God. The mystery is not understood, but it does move nearer, and the danger of “scandal” disappears.

None of the great things in human life springs from the intellect; every one of them issues from the heart and its love. If even human love has its own reasoning, comprehensible only to the heart that is open to it, how much truer must this be of God’s love! When it is the depth and power of God that stirs, is there anything of which love is incapable? The glory of it is so overwhelming that to all who do not accept love as an absolute point of departure, its manifestations must seem the most senseless folly. (Romano Guardini, The Lord)
http://www.credomag.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/incarnation.jpg

My Advent prayer today: Lord, may we know Your love, may we accept Your love, may we allow Your love to change us, and may we return Your love to those we encounter today.

Monday, December 2, 2013

$1.87


$1.87 -- that was all Della had, after scrimping and saving, to buy her Jim a Christmas present. So she sold her long beautiful hair -- her prized possession -- to buy him a chain for his watch -- his prized possession -- only to learn that he had sold his watch to buy her combs for her hair, which was now gone.

I read the kids one of my favorite Christmas stories this evening -- “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry. “The magi, as you know, were wise men -- wonderfully wise men -- who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents.”

We talked about sacrificial giving. And we talked about the bits of selfishness, the lack of generosity, and the sense of entitlement I have noticed creeping into their hearts of late and how it saddens me. One of the kids came back an hour later, with tears in her eyes. Her conscience had told her Mom might be right.

Later, as I sat and pondered my day, I was painfully aware of my own selfishness and lack of generosity. I didn’t get near what I wanted to done today. I was annoyed by interruptions. I was irritated by having to do and say the same things more than once. I wanted to be left alone. And I reflected: How often do I respond to love’s demands in this way? Too often.

Judging by my reflection, it becomes clear to me that my time could be considered my prized possession, and I am aware of the misplaced desire in my heart that my time be my own. And so an Advent resolution becomes clear as well: To sacrifice this prized possession for love of my family. To look up from my work into the eyes of the child pleading for my attention. To put aside a to-do list in favor of a board game or a book once in a while. To put my arm around the child who wants to talk, rather than to hurry her off to bed. To let go of what I think I need to do at any given moment and to pay attention to those around me. To be so ravaged by love as to outdo myself in generosity, as Della did.

“And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Turn

The Christmas liturgy includes these beautiful verses from the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Wisdom: “For while all things were in quiet silence and the night was in the midst of her course, thy almighty word leapt down from heaven from thy royal throne….” The passage, brimming with the mystery of the Incarnation, is wonderfully expressive of the infinite stillness that hovered over Christ’s birth. For the greatest things are accomplished in silence -- not in the clamor and display of superficial eventfulness, but in the deep clarity of inner vision; in the almost imperceptible start of decision, in quiet overcoming and hidden sacrifice. Spiritual conception happens when the heart is quickened by love, and the free will stirs to action. The silent forces are the strong forces. Let us turn now to the stillest event of all, stillest because it came from the remoteness beyond the noise of any possible intrusion -- from God. (Romano Guardini, The Lord)

“This is the year,” I say to myself every November -- the year when I will work frantically all month so that the frenzied pace that is December will be evaded and the Advent for which I long will be possible.

Then the first Sunday of Advent arrives. I look at my list of things that need to be done in less than four weeks and I sigh, “Oh well, maybe next year.”

This year is no different. I had illusions of gifts bought and wrapped, cards addressed and mailed, and lists made -- all before Thanksgiving. My Advent days would be perfectly planned and I would spend the dark days of December fostering “quiet silence” in my home -- prayers around the Advent wreath, story time in the warm glow of the fireplace, an Advent playlist of songs that would turn our hearts to Bethlehem and our infant Lord.

Today is the First Sunday of Advent and I find my illusions evaporating in the clamor that is life. I just now sat down for the first time today. I am at my sister’s in Minnesota spending time with my nieces and nephew while my sister and her husband take a well-deserved break on the beaches of Cancun. The cousins are having a blast together -- Wii dance parties, hot tub time, fort building, and movies. But “quiet silence” isn’t exactly a phrase I would use to describe my day.

I find myself tempted to think, yet again, “I hate Advent.” It doesn’t seem fair -- all these things that need doing. And right now. Despite trying to fight the the-Christmas-season-starts-the-day-after-Thanksgiving-(if-not-sooner)-and-ends-on-December-25th-at-midnight cultural mentality, I find I’ve been sucked in. I need to find the perfect presents. At the perfect price. On the right day -- Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday. I need to wrap those presents. And mail them in time to arrive by Christmas Eve. I need to design a card. Something clever. With a great family photo. And update the card list. And address the envelopes. And buy the stamps. And mail them in time to arrive by Christmas Eve. I need to bake twelve different kinds of cookies. And plan parties. And menus. And outings. All on a budget. 

Sigh. 

And then start hyperventilating.

The reality is I will never have the Advent for which I long if everything has to be perfect by the time that first purple candle is lit. And to sigh and give up before Advent even begins is to miss an opportunity -- an opportunity to quietly overcome that which is bombarding me from every side, an opportunity for hidden sacrifice, an opportunity to let my heart be quickened by love. I can’t control the “noise” all around me -- I can’t even avoid it. I have four children -- seven, this week. Most of the stores I regularly visit have been playing Christmas music for a month already. Christmas specials fill the television programming. There are radio stations dedicated to playing Christmas music from now until December 25 (when the Christmas season actually begins!). Hustle and bustle and "Christmas" are all around me.

But the “quiet silence” for which I long isn’t something external. It’s something I have to intentionally create in my heart. Intentionally create, and carefully guard. Whether I have seven loud children around me, or only four. Whether I’m in a store blaring Christmas music or at home alone being bombarded with the clamor of the lists shouting inside my head. Only then will I be able to foster that silence in my home and in my children. In the midst of the “superficial eventfulness” that our culture has made of the month of December, I must superimpose that “inner vision” of what I know Advent to be -- a turning “to the stillest event of all, stillest because it came from the remoteness beyond the noise of any possible intrusion -- from God.” 

Let us all turn to Him and find in Him the “quiet silence” within which we can hear His voice. God bless your turning this Advent.




Friday, June 14, 2013

Regarding My Blog Break

I have taken long breaks from blogging this past year or so. It wasn’t an intentional decision. Upon reflection, it’s been a difficult year and a half, and I think part of me felt like a hypocrite every time I logged on and saw the above picture of my family looking so happy and the reminder that we are made for joy -- the reality I was experiencing was so far from the truth I believed.

The years of graduate school took a toll on us, both financially and, more devastatingly, in terms of family life. I had unrealistic expectations that once my husband had graduated and was working in his new career, life would magically be transformed -- we would own a house again; Daddy would be around more -- and everything else would just fall into place. I think I was able to deal with everything at the time because I knew it would end once the degree was in hand. But the degree has been in hand for two years already. And my dear hubby just finished his third school year in the new job. And life is still hard. We had to buy a home I don't like. And my husband is just as busy, if not busier, trying to get things going with a brand new job and a brand new program. And now there is no magical end in sight.

Graduate school was a choice we made together -- a choice I don’t regret in the least. The choices on how to spend our time and money that came along with that choice sometimes didn’t feel like choices, but they were. And now trying to undo the damage sometimes feels harder than I can bear. I am constantly hearing a voice in my head screaming, “Why does everything have to be so hard!?!” Being intentional is hard. And it makes me tired. And there is so much work to be done. It’s easy to get discouraged.

But I have learned in this year and a half that being self-focused has got to be one of the most miserable of human experiences. It is good to turn inward and reflect, but I have been so caught up in the imperfections of my life, I have been unable to see the good in a constant pursuit of the better. I have become a master of self-pity and complaining. I have not been pleasant to live with. I have not been a good wife, a good mother, a good friend. I have forgotten to be intentionally grateful -- gratitude isn’t something that comes naturally for me -- even though I am fully convinced that the holy joy for which I long is born of gratitude, even though I know I have so much for which to be grateful.

I am more convinced than ever that we are where we are supposed to be. There are wonderful things happening at the University and here in the Diocese. It’s exciting to be a part of it. And we’re taking baby steps to move toward where we want to be as a family. And I have to be content with that. We've created a family mission statement and are trying (over and over and over again) to make decisions based on that mission. We’ve created a budget for the first time in years. And while it feels so hard sometimes to make a grocery list and bring my calculator with me to the store, there’s also something very freeing about knowing I can only spend so much on this or that and I now have a criteria by which I can say no. My hubby and I are slowly this summer trying to re-prioritize and get our family life back to where we want it. I think the older kids were left to their own devices so often when Dad was in school and Mom was trying to hold down everything else, that now we’re not quite sure how to just be together. And that is painful to see. But we're aware, and that is a good place to start.

I am resolved to start blogging more regularly again -- not because life is easier than it has been, but because there is joy in every day and this is a place for me to recognize it. I share it with you, my readers, but I am doing it for me. So that I can see the good and be grateful.

I recently ran across the third chapter in Lamentations. It captures beautifully where I’ve been and where my hope lies. And I share it with you. Have a blessed weekend!

Michelle


My life is deprived of peace,
I have forgotten what happiness is;
My enduring hope, I said,
has perished before the LORD.
The thought of my wretched homelessness
is wormwood and poison;
Remembering it over and over,
my soul is downcast.
But this I will call to mind;
therefore I will hope:
The LORD’s acts of mercy are not exhausted,
his compassion is not spent;
They are renewed each morning --
great is your faithfulness!
The LORD is my portion, I tell myself,
therefore I will hope in him.
Let us search and examine our ways,
and return to the LORD!
Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands
toward God in heaven!
You drew near on the day I called you;
you said, “Do not fear!”
(Lamentations 3:17-24, 40-41, 57)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Thankful Thursday - Fathers

One of the things I have been profoundly aware of and grateful for since moving to the Diocese of Bismarck is how many good and faithful priests we have here. Today six more were added to their number. Deo gratias!

 photo courtesy of Bismarck Diocese

Today I also remember in a special way another father for whom I am grateful ... Happy Birthday, Daddy! Ad multos annos!

 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Merry Easter!

Happy Easter! 


So it's a little late ...
(like just about everything else around here lately).
But, hey, it is still the Easter season ...

Come to think of it, I never wished you a Merry Christmas! either.

 

And Christmas is more what it feels like around here. 
It has been cold and snowy for far too long. 
My vitamin D level needs a boost. 
Like major time in the sunshine. 

Everybody has more than a smidgen of spring fever. 

And everybody is ready for the school year to be done.
Not least of all, the teacher.

Last Tuesday, in an effort to defy Mother Nature, 
I made potato salad and boiled some brats in beer for grilling.

Then the weekend came. 
Bismarck ended up with a new one-day snowfall record of 17.3". 


And I decided, if you can't beat Mother Nature, join her.

Unable to get the van out of the driveway, 
we pulled The Princess to Mass Sunday morning in a sled. 
(The Baby must have a new blog name, don't you think? 
I'm not sure what it should be, 
but since she loves all things princess, I'll go with this for now.)

And when we got home we celebrated Christmas. 

We made a big brunch.

We plugged the Christmas lights in, still on the house because of the long winter. 

 

We baked snowman cut-out cookies 
and listened to Christmas music while decorating them. 

  
The girls said, "Even this snowman looks unhappy."

We watched "It's a Wonderful Life."

 Because, after all, it is.

And spring will come.

Until then, Merry Easter!

Monday, February 11, 2013

For Our Beloved Holy Father

On this historic day, our love and prayers are with our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, and with the Church.


O Lord, we are the millions of believers, humbly kneeling at Thy feet and begging Thee to preserve, defend, and save the Sovereign Pontiff for many years. He is the Father of the great fellowship of souls and our Father as well. On this day, as on every other day, he is praying for us also, and is offering unto Thee with holy fervour the sacred Victim of love and peace. 
 
Wherefore, O Lord, turn Thyself toward us with eyes of pity; for we are now, as it were, forgetful of ourselves, and are praying above all for him. Do Thou unite our  prayers with his and receive them into the bosom of Thine infinite mercy, as a sweet savor of active and fruitful charity, whereby the children are united in the Church to their Father. All that he asks of Thee this day, we too ask it of Thee in union with him. 
 
Whether he weeps or rejoices, whether he hopes or offers himself as a victim of charity for his people, we desire to be united with him; nay more, we desire that the cry of our hearts should be made one with his. Of Thy great mercy grant, O Lord, that not one of us may be far from his mind and his heart in the hour that he prays and offers unto Thee the Sacrifice of Thy blessed Son. At the moment when our venerable High Priest, holding in His hands the very Body of Jesus Christ, shall say to the people over the Chalice of benediction these words: "The peace of the Lord be with you always," grant, O Lord, that Thy sweet peace may come down upon our hearts and upon all the nations with new and manifest power. Amen. (Pope Leo XIII)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

School Update - Part 3

And the conclusion to what's shakin' in our schoolroom ...

Art: After taking a couple of years off of formal art study, we returned to Artistic Pursuits this year. What I love about this program is that it is a combination of art appreciation and history with learning techniques and applying them. This year we are focusing on American art and the elements of art and composition.

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History: We continue to love Story of the World and just started Book Two on the Middle Ages. It takes us about two years to go through a book because we only do history one day a week and there are (again!) so many good things to read and do. We like to listen to the audio version of these books. If you've never listened to Jim Weiss, you're missing out. If you're not using Story of the World, check out his other stuff from Greathall Productions.

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Geography: We've had a smattering of geography here and there over the years with our history and literature studies. We've memorized the capitals and done some basic map work. We made North Dakota lapbooks our first year after moving here. We subscribe to magazines like Faces and own geography boardgames. My kids really enjoy studying different cultures, though, so this year we began a more formal geography study with Around the World in 180 Days. We have been focusing on one continent each quarter, and so will use this book for two years. Our studies include identifying land forms and defining geography terms, map work, and cultural studies, but the book also includes history and religion sections as well. The kids have studied Africa and Asia so far this year, and we just moved on to Europe. They have enjoyed making travel brochures and planning and preparing cultural meals among other things.

http://maxcdn.nexternal.com/rocksolid/images/Around_World_180_Days_StBk1.jpg

Music: Here's a subject where we've been sporadic at best. Although I'd love the kids to have knowledge of the great composers and their major works, as well as be able to read music and play an instrument or two, I just haven't been good about fitting this into our curriculum. I don't feel too badly though, as they all share my love of music, and someone is almost always singing around here. This year I did purchase the Classical Kids series, and (when we get around to it) we all enjoy it. So far we've studied Beethoven and a little Handel. We're going to study Tchaikovsky this quarter. In addition, Miss Sunshine started playing the piano last summer and I just love listening to her playing some classical stuff like Mozart's Rondo alla Turca, Bach's Minuet in G, and Pachelbel's Canon. The Boy continues to work on his guitar skills. And Miss Rose has been bugging me to find her a flute teacher -- another thing on my list of "haven't got around to yet."

http://i43.tower.com/images/mm106532341/tchaikovsky-discovers-america-classical-kids-cd-cover-art.jpg

And, Physical Education: Our area homeschool group has a great program we attend once a week. Each month they focus on a different sport/activity: soccer, tennis, flag football, basketball, bowling, volleyball, rhythms, swimming, gymnastics, and track and field. But what we ALL really miss in this German state is Irish dance!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

School Update - Part 2

I started posting yesterday about what we've been up to this year. Here's some more ...

Language Arts: This is another area where we started with one approach and ended up with something totally different. When we first started homeschooling, the kids had separate books for reading and grammar and handwriting and vocabulary and spelling. It seemed like a lot. And it was. Then I found out about Total Language Plus and Learning Language Arts Through Literature at a homeschool conference. We've tried them both, but I definitely prefer Total Language Plus. The integrated approach makes a lot of sense to me and works really well for our family. Each quarter, the kids have a primary work of literature which they read and about which they answer comprehension questions. They also write short answers or paragraphs which focus more on critical thinking skills than on comprehension. Their vocabulary and spelling words (which are extremely challenging, I think) are the same and taken from the work of literature. The study guides for the younger grades contain grammar lessons; for the older kids, there are dictations and proofreading exercises. The guides also contain many ideas for enrichment activities, ranging from art projects to field trips and everything in between, though we seldom do many of these. I have the girls do their dictations in handwriting to get practice there. And I am kind of a grammar nazi, so I also have them practice Daily Paragraph Editing. So far this year, the girls have read Rifles for Watie and Julie of the Wolves. They are currently reading The Light in the Forest and will finish up the year with Out of the Dust and Crispin: The Cross of Lead. The Boy, my slower reader, spent the first half of the year studying The Courage of Sarah Noble and has now moved on to The Whipping Boy. The kids choose their own novels from the list I provide.


Italian: For our modern language study, we have been using the Rosetta Stone Italian Homeschool Curriculum (in the hopes we will one day be spending a semester abroad). I brush up when I can (which is not very often!).

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Science: Here's a subject where I think I've done something different every single year. But I think I've finally found something I'm going to stick with for a while. It's called NOEO Science (from noeo, the Greek word for "understand," and referencing Romans 1:20). There are three levels each of biology, chemistry, and physics. The instructions are easy to follow. There is no textbook, but rather a selection of books from different publishers on different topics, and they are great. And, the best part is, get this, the experiment kits are included! We've done more experiments this year, just because I didn't have to make sure we had the supplies on hand! The teacher's guide, books, and experiment kits all came in one box! (Can you tell I'm enthusiastic about this program!)

http://www.noeoscience.com/sitebuilder/images/Chemistry_II_web_button_Scan-255x250.png 

Not done yet ... stay tuned for more.

Monday, January 21, 2013

School Update - Part 1

Today we started our third quarter. (As a side, that means we're officially halfway through the school year already!) Since I didn't blog at the beginning of the school year, I thought I'd share with you what we've been up to. I love that at this point in homeschooling (seven years in), I'm happy with almost everything we're doing and have very few changes/decisions to make each summer.

Religion: This year we took a break from formal catechesis to focus on growing in virtue. A friend of mine recommended PACE (Program for Achieving Character Education), and I have found it to be a great resource. I started out intending to focus on one virtue each month (there are ten), but there was so much good stuff (prayers, short stories, recommended novels and biographies for book reports, quotes to copy and memorize, Bible verses, saint studies, discussion questions, writing exercises, plus additional enrichment activities, including art, music, and nature studies) that I decided to focus on one virtue each quarter and stretch the program out for two years. One of the best parts has been reading and discussing the short stories from William Bennett's The Book of Virtues and The Moral Compass around the dinner table as a family. It has also been good to have such an extended period of time to concentrate on getting better at one thing. I highly recommend this program for use in any Catholic family, homeschooling or not.
 
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Math: Math has been a weak point (for the girls at least) since the beginning. We started out in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade with MCP. Then we switched to Shiller Math, a Montessori-based curriculum -- which does have its strong points and worked really well for The Boy. (If you're interested, I'm looking to sell ours -- I have all seven student and teacher books and most of the manipulatives.) This year we switched to Math-U-See and I'm happy to report my fifth and sixth grader are (finally!) learning their multiplication tables with ease. I had all three of my older ones take the placement test and they all three ended up in the same book, much to the girls' dismay. I've been making them work double time in math this year, so that by the end of the summer they should be back on track. Happily, also, their math grades this year are much improved and the level of math complaining and tears have decreased dramatically.

 
Latin: We continue to use Memoria Press for our Latin instruction. The Boy will complete Prima Latina this year and the girls will complete Latina Christiana II. I'm not sure where to go with them next year. Any suggestions?

http://www.memoriapress.com/images/book_images/Latin/LC2-Set_210h.png

More to come ...

Friday, January 18, 2013

Seven Quick Takes - Volume 17

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-- 1 -- 

The absence I took from blogging was unintentional, but, I suppose, necessary.
I've missed it and hope I'm here a little more regularly in 2013. 

-- 2 --

I've been thinking a lot about this quote I saw on Facebook earlier this week: 
"What screws us up most in life 
is the picture in our head of how it is supposed to be."

Hmmm ... I have so much to say about this ... perhaps a future post?

-- 3 --

 I hate stinky dishclothes.
I started knitting some new ones for myself.
(I've only knit dishclothes as gifts in the past.)
This year I'd like to break away from dishclothes and learn how to make caps.
I wish Ginny, or her son, could show me how.

-- 4 --

My sister-in-law painted a North Dakota landscape for our living room.
Now I can get started on painting and decorating that room.
First order of business, scraping the "popcorn" off the ceiling.
Anyone ever done this? Any advice?

-- 5 --

 Ever heard of the paleo diet?
 
The Paleo Diet is based upon eating wholesome, contemporary foods from the food groups our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have thrived on during the Paleolithic era, the time period from about 2.6 million years ago to the beginning of the agricultural revolution, about 10,000 years ago. These foods include fresh meats (preferably grass-produced or free-ranging beef, pork, lamb, poultry, and game meat, if you can get it), fish, seafood, fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and healthful oils (olive, coconut, avocado, macadamia, walnut and flaxseed). Dairy products, cereal grains, legumes, refined sugars and processed foods were not part of our ancestral menu.

I'm not into "diets," so I'd rather refer to it as a lifestyle.
This one intrigues me and I'd like to learn more about it.
I'm especially reluctant regarding the absence of dairy products.
I'd love to hear your thoughts.
 
-- 6 --

The best part of our day this fall and winter 
has been the half hour after our "recess."
This is the time we spend all together around the fireplace.
I read to the kids; they listen and color or knit or just lounge.
We read The Hobbit in the fall and just started The Fellowship of the Ring.
Many days our half hour gets stretched -- 
 I can't ignore the pleas of "just a little more, Mom."

-- 7 --

Today is Friday. I am looking forward to date night.
Enough said.

For more quick takes, visit Jen, and say a little prayer for her and her baby while you're there.