Monday, November 25, 2013

25 Festive Stories For Advent & Christmas GIVEAWAY!!

Curling up beside the fire with a basket filled to the brim with our favorite holiday books is one of the most treasured traditions that our family enjoys together during Advent and Christmas.  Every year, I love adding one or two new titles to our library, even though the children never tire of hearing the "old" ones over and over again.  All of the stories on our list are picture books geared toward younger children, however, don't be surprised if your older children take an interest in them too! 

This list does not include traditional tales such as The Nutcracker, the St. Nicholas Story or the biblical stories that accompany the Jesse tree.  You may find that these, and several other "obvious" selections, are missing from the list (I didn't include every book in our basket), but I hope that you find a new title that sparks your interest!

* All of the titles listed below are linked up to Amazon for ease of reference.  However, I highly encourage you to patronize your local bookshop or Catholic/Christian online retailer first, if you can! One of my favorites is Adoremus Books and Gifts.

Please be sure to sign up for our GIVEAWAY that begins today, Monday, November 25th and ends Monday, December 2nd.  
Three lucky winners will be randomly selected to win a book of their choice from the list!  I will announce the winner on Monday, so be sure to check back here to see if you are a winner!  

- 1. -
Christmas Day in the Morning  tells the story of a  young boy who is motivated by a deep love for his father to find him the very best Christmas present.

- 2. - 
The Carpenter's Gift  is a lovely story of generosity, hope and paying it forward.

- 3. -

Mr. Willoughby's Christmas Tree  is delightfully humorous, a classic book that encourages good stewardship and sharing.

- 4. -
Wild Christmas Reindeer.  Brett's beautifully illustrated story has a lot to say about the importance of treating others with respect.

- 5. -
Song of the Stars is a wonderful telling of the truth that everything on heaven and earth is created to praise the Lord.

- 6. -
Room for a Little One A perfectly sweet story of the nativity that your youngest children will especially enjoy.

- 7. -
A Certain Small Shepherd is a Christmas story set in the Appalachian mountains. It shines with themes of kindness, generosity, the treasure of family and hope in miracles.

- 8. -
A Very Merry Christmas, from the Classic Pooh series, is just what you would expect, a story of friendship, sharing and of course the traditional illustrations of characters we've all grown to love.

- 9. -

A Christmas Carol is a story many of us are familiar with, perhaps through the television events shown during the holiday season.  The story becomes even richer when read aloud to the accompaniment of the beautiful illustrations in this edition.

- 10. -
Christmas Mouse in the House Every Christmas book basket should have at least one lift-the-flap story in it! This one's text is charming and illustrations adorable.  

- 11. -
Christmas in the Big Woods The beauty of the Christmas season shines bright and pure through Laura's expressive stories which are focused on family unity and the immaterial blessings of the holidays. 

- 12. - 
This is the Stable Gentle rhyming and sweet illustrations make this depiction of the nativity a favorite that our little ones ask for over and over each year.

- 13. -
Christmas From Heaven  If you or anyone in your house enjoys history, this is the perfect Christmas story for you! 

- 14. -
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey.  Last year's new addition to our basket, and easily are favorite story of the season.  Get your tissues ready, it's quite a tenderhearted tale!

- 15. -
The Twelve Days of Christmas by Laurel Long. After seeing the breathtaking illustrations, I wondered why I waited so long to purchase this little treasure based upon the traditional song of the same title.

- 16. - 
Good King Wenceslas is one of my all time favorite stories to read during Advent.  The illustrations are magnificent (boys will especially appreciate the grandeur of the king and his knights).

- 17. -
I don't think I'd be exaggerating if I said that I've read The Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher at least 100 times since we've added it to our collection.  The boys just love it! The illustrations are hilarious, and even I cannot hold back the giggles!

- 18. -
Bear Stays Up for Christmas is an adorable story about the joy of serving others. Kids will easily pick up on the themes of friendship, thoughtfulness, sharing, joy, sacrifice and encouragement.  

- 19. -
The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree A beautiful story is made even more poignant when it's words are matched with equally beautiful illustrations. This is one of those stories, which also ranks high on our list of favorites!

- 20. -
Tonight You Are My Baby is a gentle story of the birth of Christ from Mary's perspective.  It is beautifully written with a tenderness and warmth.

- 21. -
Father and Son A Nativity Story is a tender story of St. Joseph and his overwhelming feelings toward raising the son of God.  I love hearing my husband read it to the boys every year.

- 22. -
The Gift of the Magi is a thoughtful demonstration of the exemplary virtues of generosity, sacrifice, and self-gift lovingly enacted through two individuals during the Christmas season.  Though the text will be too advanced for little ones, if they are patient listeners, the language can be simplified and explained as the story is read aloud.

- 23. - 
Who is Coming to Our House? is a perfect story for Advent.  I added it to our basket a few years ago (read about it here!) and has been read dozens of times since then.

- 24. -
Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo is a precious of a little girl whose heart is awakened to the needs of the less fortunate, and the measures she takes to extend kindness to them.  

- 25. - 
Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect  was one of the first books I bought for our library many years ago. It encourages discussion on why Christ came into the world and how we can model His self-donating love to others.

Friday, November 22, 2013

7 Quick Takes: Family Funnies, Fabulous Photos & A Few Favorites

Woo-Hoo Friday is here!! I realized this morning as I was shipping our oldest son, Ben, off to school that the real reason I love Fridays is that I know that for the next two days, our children will not be shuttled in different directions.  Life continues to be busy, but we experience the crazy together as a family, over the weekend, and I really love that precious time!

Here's my short and sweet 7 Quick Takes for the week.  Wishing you all a wonderful weekend!!

1. Side Splitters
My friend, Stacey, has a great sense of humor, and I can't resist sharing this little bit of hilarity that she shared on Facebook this week.  If you have had 2+ babies or are currently expecting, you may want to take a trip to the loo before watching.  You've been warned!!

2.  Baby Makes Eight!!
In case you missed it earlier this week, Steve and I announced that we are expecting our 6th little wonder in June.  We are over the moon, and of course the boys are loving all of the baby talk too - only because they are assuming we're having another boy.  Wouldn't it be nice to surprise them??!!

3.  If It Works For Chickens, It Works For Me (He Says)
This morning while I was trying to select the least nauseating breakfast, Steve came in to the kitchen and asked me to hold out my hands. Then, he proceeded to dangle a metal washer attached to a string above my hands.  
"What in the world are you doing??" I inquired.  
"I'm trying to find out if we're having a boy or a girl." 
WHAT??? "
"Yeah, one of my buddies told me yesterday that this is how he figures out the sex of their chickens."
Oh, good gravy.

I realized at that moment that our decision to let the sex of the baby be a surprise at birth is completely unrealistic.  Holding out until June is just too much for my guy.  And, even if his will power is super strong on the day of the sonogram, I'm still going to have to put up with these chicken tricks for the next 6 months.  Sheesh.

4.  Say NO to Auto
Four years ago, I took the plunge and bought a really nice camera, and ever since then it's been baby steps learning to be brave enough to wean my lazy self off of the auto settings.  I have found many great tips and tutorials on several photography blogs, but I'm really looking forward to learning from this workshop hosted by Capturing Joy with Kristin Duke. You can purchase it in PDF form or Video form at a reduced price until December 2nd. A big thanks to my friend, Kathryn, at Team Whitaker for sharing!

5.  A Peek Inside Our Christmas Book Basket & 
Giveaway on Monday!
Advent is just around the corner, which means I can't wait to share my list of our favorite family books that we will be reading throughout the Advent and Christmas Season.  Be sure to stop by on Monday to see my favorite picks and to sign up for my giveaway.  Three lucky winners will get to select a book of their choice from the list!

6.  Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!

What I wish my laundry life looked like:
Reality (sans dress):
Many of my friends have been posting on Facebook one thing that they are thankful for every day of November.  I'm kind of a fair-weather Facebooker, so I thought I'd share just one little big thing I'm truly grateful for today, and that's my Samsung washer and dryer.  Folks, I'm telling you, e-ve-ry time I throw a load in, I think about how much I love my man, who bought the set for me when we moved. The amount of clothes this baby will wash in one load is so mesmerizing it's down right life-changing. After three months of constant use, I'm still in awe! The settings and features are super specific, but all very simple to navigate.  The best part?? Our clothes get clean-clean - really nice, soft, lovely, happy clean!!  I LOVE it when appliances deliver!! Thank you, honey xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxxo!  

7.  Kitchen Incarceration
Sunday after Mass, we all ran in the house and did our usual 10 second peel out of the dress clothes and into the sweats routine.  I realized after a few minutes of being home, that I didn't know where Charlie was.  We all started calling out for him, and running through the house looking for our little guy.  This is where we found him:
 Sitting, pitifully, quiet as a mouse underneath our kitchen bar stools.
Upon our discovery, the boys were instantly reduced to side stitching giggles.  "Oh, no, Charlie is in jail! Poor, poor Charlie ! Did you put him in time-out, Mom??" Sure, blame me.
I wonder what made him decide to crawl inside of there? Perhaps he was simply curious, or he suddenly realized that it was the perfect quiet space to sit and think.  Children are so beautifully intriguing, thoughtful, imaginative, dreamy, silly and pure.  We welcome all the more of those delights in June!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The 9 Month Maternity Marathon ~ Yep, I'm Running It!

Yesterday, I shared this little tid-bit on Facebook:
"Steve and I are excited to announce that I'll be running my FAVORITE marathon for the next few months.....It's the toughest race, but has the BEST view at the finish line, and the post-race party with the boys is always awesome!!"

I'm sure you guys aren't too surprised, as I am always writing about how yummy babies are and what gifts and graces flow when we are open to life, and how I've become a professional at handling the misguided, thoughtless comments of others when it comes to fertility and family size, etc., etc.

What you probably didn't know is that after I had our 4th little wonder, Mr. Henry, my body's endocrine system said, "Hasta la vista, baby!" (It did, I heard it). It completely left town, abandoning it's duty of helping me function like a normal human being.  My adrenals, thyroid and hormones made a swift disappearing act. So, that was fun. (I won't go into the boredom inducing symptomatic details - Google can fill you in.) Luckily, I have a great doctor who didn't think I was a hypochondriac and was willing to get to the root of the issues.  Slowly, the trio was revived and I started feeling better, which, to our great joy, made it possible for me to receive the gift of our 5th son, Charlie.

After Charlie's birth, the same dang thing happened again.  Only, this time, I never really felt like myself again.  All of my cooperation with the Dr.'s orders, still didn't result in a strong and sustained system.  Deep down, I knew that the possibility of having another baby was slim, but I kept hoping and praying that if God had plans to trust us with another life, He would give me the grace to trust in Him. I've already been asked if this little one is a surprise, to which I must answer, "yes!" followed by, "BUT, you didn't mean oopsy did you?? Because our baby isn't an oopsy, it's a miracle."  Everyone also wants to know if we were trying for a girl.  Really? Really?????
The boys are giddy with excitement, and so are we!  I'll be even more excited when my hyperactive gag reflex settles down a bit, and the waves of exhaustion pass.  I don't want to scare anyone off, but funny things happen when you experience your sixth pregnancy.  For instance:

 :: 6 minutes after you tinkle on the stick, you start to show. (Bye-Bye blue jeans, hello yoga pants.)

:: 6 questions are asked 60 different ways by your children how this really happened.
(Our precious sons always look at me for answers, but I divert them with cupcakes.)

:: 6,000 kegels are what it would take to re-gain control over peeing your pants after sneezing and giggling. Raise your hand if you despise kegels.  What's a kegel?

::6 pregnancies x 9 months = 54 eternities without wine (that's nearly 5 years people!)  The next time you uncork a bottle, think of me!

:: 600 mental attempts at rearranging the entire house are what my mind goes through at night while laying in bed trying to convince myself that another baby and all the baby stuff won't shrink our square footage.

:: 16 times a day I have to explain to the boys why  our ninja wars on the trampoline will hereby be suspended until mid-summer. We are currently looking for a less violent form of quality time.

I hope you guys are ready to run through the next 6.5 months and all of the baby bananas with me! We can do this, right?? Raise your glass of OJ with me: 
Here's to the constant carb cravings, feet swollen to the next shoe size, 
support bands and bigger boobs (hey, for some of us, that's a major benefit!).

Have a great day, my friends!! 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Praying With Our Kids ~ Preparing Them For Reconciliation

I have been thinking about writing this very post for a few months now.  I know, I tend to be a procrastinator. Sometimes, I think that the Holy Spirit nudges me in a particular direction with blogging, and when a certain idea continues to weigh on my heart and my mind, I know I'm being asked to work the idea into a post.  Sometimes, the writing comes naturally, but other times, I feel a little burdened by the depth of the subject, and do not trust myself to do it proper writing justice. This time, the latter has been the case, as the topics of sin, forgiveness, and the formation of a child's conscience are not exactly light and easy writing. They deserve some thinking time....two months of thinking time, to be exact.

While this post may seem directed toward Catholics, I hope that it will not be exclusive to Catholics alone, as I am sure that all Christians can relate to the immensity of the gift of God's mercy, and as well, the need to acknowledge our own failings before the Lord, so that we can experience reconciliation with God, and with others, at the very core of our journey toward heaven.

A final note: entire books have been written on the subjects of mercy, grace, confession and reconciliation. My intent is not to dig into the theological details - you can study that on your own (see links to resources below).  The real purpose of the post is to help parents consider the value of their role in forming their child's conscience, and how our positive participation in their spiritual lives can potentially bear great fruit.

The list of topics I will briefly touch upon:
1.  First, setting it up with a story.
2.  This is where the rubber meets the road: We must know the problem (sin) to embrace the solution (salvation in Christ).
3.  Considerations for the formation of your child's conscience.
4.  How to begin formation, and why it's appropriate to begin instruction at an early age.
5.  A gentle examination of conscience for children.

On Halloween night, Steve and I sat down on the floor with the kids flanked by bags overflowing with a variety of sweet treats. Just looking at it made my teeth ache!  We decided to let each child choose 5 pieces (beyond the gazillion they had already consumed) that they could keep and enjoy at their own discretion, the rest would be put into a community basket to be handed out as rewards or for spontaneous enjoyment.

The next day, running downstairs to George and Henry's room to deliver the laundry, I discovered a countless amount of candy wrappers strung out all over the floor.  I knew that someone had taken far more than the 5 pieces they were allowed to keep.  Pausing here for a moment, I will say that this is probably a typical experience for most parents - kids sneaking candy.  But, in sharing the ordinary story, I hope to point out that in the natural daily occurrences of life, there are ample opportunities for parents to guide their children away from sin and toward virtue.

To a certain extent, hoarding a handful of candy isn't isn't the end of the world. However, when I stopped to think about the fact that the boys had to scheme, plan and execute a mission to break into the community stash and steal their favorite pieces, instead of just asking me for more, I saw how their poor decision could eventually become a habit, and habitual sin often times turns into bigger sins. This situation provided an opportunity for me to speak briefly (not lecture) the boys about honesty, self-control, and obedience as well.

Beginning to dialog with your kids at an early age about sinful (yep, I said it, SIN, SIN, SIN, let's just call it what it is, folks) behavior vs. virtuous behavior paves the way for future spiritual growth, whether it's preparation for the sacrament of confession for Catholics, or, for people of other faiths, spending time in honest self-reflection and contrite prayer before the Lord.

As Catholics, when two people get married, they make a promise during their vows to be the primary teachers of the Faith to their children.  To me, that promise is not to be solely fulfilled by school teachers or religios education volunteers at church. Those generous individuals are here to assist us, but we as parents are the primary educators of our children.

With that in mind...
Three of our sons each made their first confession around the age of eight.  Preparing them for that new spiritual experience was quite a mission, a mission that is on-going. The first time Steve an I prepared our oldest son, Benedict, to receive the sacrament, we were both nervous, wanting to be sure that Ben knew the 10 commandments, what the effects of sin are, the proper step each person goes with the priest during confession.  We were fresh at this, careful to cross our t's and dot our i's as if there were some formula to it all. Our heart's intentions were noble, but our methods a bit mechanical.

A child's mind is so very impressionable, and their little hearts so sensitive.  More than we give them credit for, I believe.  In essence, to place a young person before a crucifix, a staggering image of both suffering and hope, and tell them that Jesus died for our sins isn't simple stuff.  Proclaiming that Christ died to save you and me is a statement of ENORMOUS proportions. What can it possibly mean to a child??  And yet, even as adults, we hear it over and over again, all of the time. But what does it mean to us?? To our kiddos??

Surely, this is a primary argument against the Catholic Church encouraging confession at such a young age.  Perhaps.  I can relate to certain points of the opposition.  But, objective knowledge of the truths of the sacrament of reconciliation combined with personal experience of seeing the fruits of preparing a child to receive sacramental grace is an undeniable good. The opportunity to help our children grow in virtue is one not to be missed.  So how do we make "Christ died for you and me" real and desirable for our children rather than scary, bewildering, or overwhelming??

Going back to the image of Christ on the cross and the communication of His coming for our salvation, (for me), is where the rubber meets the road.  The Old Testament is filled with stories and images that reveal humanity's deep, deep need for a Savior.  One who could redeem us by paying a debt we could never pay, one who could save us from our own sinfulness by inviting us to share in the outpouring of His graces, a Savior who can strengthen us, through his example and through his mercy, with the courage to forgive others as we, ourselves, have been forgiven, a Savior who heals, who loves, who longs to draw us into Himself and lead us to spend eternity with Him in heaven.

What does that mean for us, and particularly for our children? To state that a SAVIOR is coming to SAVE can only imply one thing: that we need to be rescued, pulled out of the muck and mire, away from the attachment to our selfish, sinful ways, to free us from that which binds us (sin), that which keeps us from embracing what is true, good and beautiful.  But, if one cannot, or will not, recognize a problem (sin), then what need is there for a solution (Christ)??

The words, "He has come to set us free from sin, "He has come to heal the broken-hearted," "He has come to SAVE us" means nothing to a child (to any person) who cannot or will not recognize a need to be saved.  If a child's conscience isn't lovingly formed to recognize right vs. wrong, virtue vs. sin, and in turn, shown the beautiful, passionate love of Jesus to help us, to guide us and to free us, when the time comes for the child to go to confession, confession will merely be a formality, another Catholic "hoop" to jump through, another parental "because it's just what we Catholics do", a routine without reason. Or, worse yet, their little hearts will reject the idea of confession, sorrow and contrition entirely and never embrace it's essential importance in their life's journey toward heaven. Jesus longs for us to be with Him in heaven.  Heaven is our goal! Children really can embrace this truth!

The primary way, then, in my opinion, to help a child turn toward Christ, without fear or hesitation, is to gently begin to dialog with them about sin and virtue.  The church recognizes that most children do not reach the age of reason until 6 or 7 years old (for some, it's younger), and therefore, are not as responsible for their own misbehavior as an older child would be.  But, we have found that around the age of four children are very receptive to simple yet specific instruction. For example, if a child hits another person, a natural reaction is to say, "NO, NO! Don't do that! That's naughty!"  Instead, try pausing, bending down on your knees, holding the child's hand and saying, "Our hands are for love. When you hit others you hurt them.  Hitting does not make Jesus happy." In doing so, you take the moment beyond scolding.  The child will eventually make the connection between the virtuous choice (our hands are for love) and the sinful choice (hitting), and is encouraged to choose that which is pleasing to Jesus.

Then, it is very important to encourage the offender to ask for forgiveness. Saying "I'm sorry" to another is never easy, but encouraging the child to be contrite and then receiving his/her contrition with affectionate reassurance will only strengthen them in the virtue of humility as they grow and mature. This is just the beginning of the formation.  Gentle and simple.

By the age of 6 or 7, the child can receive even more specific formation.  It is important not only to recognize when a child falls short of virtuous behavior, but to catch them doing good.  Teaching the power and beauty of virtue is equally as important as your instruction on sin - they both are essential for formation of conscience.  I cannot place enough emphasis on being careful that you do not fall into "scold and preach mode" with your children, especially for the sake of being right all of time. Doing so will quickly and easily discourage the child, and he/she will either solely desire to please you (instead of the Lord) so as not to be in trouble, or worse yet, they will rebel against your authority and their hearts will become hardened and insensitive.

Let me give you a simple example of this type of positive formation. If one of our children is seen sharing freely something that they value with another, I might say something like, "Thank you, Henry for sharing! You are being very generous, and that is a virtue!  God is so happy right now!" If the child refuses to share, encourage them with, "Henry, I believe that you can be virtuous in this moment and share your toys.  I know it isn't easy, but it pleases the Lord and makes others happy too!"

This same approach can be used effectively with older children as well.  Our oldest son, Ben, is nearly a teenager, and responds so well to conversation, affection and instruction.  When we see him behaving in a virtuous way - especially when it would be so much easier to choose the easy, sinful way, whether it be selfishness, anger, fighting, disrespect etc, we praise him for the specific virtue that he exercises (self-control, generosity, prudence, etc.). We can immediately see in his demeanor that our praise is meaningful to him, because it balances out the more difficult instruction that we are often called to work on with regards to his struggles with particular types of sin.


PLEASE know that there are times when we do not succeed in teaching according to methods I'm sharing with you.  Honestly, on the days when I feel that hell can't possibly get any deeper, catechetical methodology is the last thing on my mind. Sometimes I'm completely overwhelmed and exasperated, and I don't feel like talking to my son about why he shouldn't throw a book across the room out of anger at his brother, knocking pictures off of the wall, shattering them into pieces. Sometimes that kid just gets sent to his room, is then forced to do a multitude of chores or miss supper, because I'm too frustrated to gently remind him why acting out in anger never bears any fruit.  That's real life - and I get it.  But, if you have a long term spiritual goal to form your child's conscience, don't give up! Even on the hardest days, we must keep trying! With a little effort and cooperation with God's grace, our attentiveness to our children's souls, with consistent encouragement and instruction, will bear a multitude of fruit.

As well....sometimes kids are just going to be kids.  They are going to be fussy, emotional, ornery and crazy!! Sometimes you just need to let them be.  Don't hyper-analyze their every word or action. Use prudent judgement when it comes to focusing on certain sinful behaviors that you see are becoming habit and work with your kids on those.
Once a week, Steve or I sit down with the boys in the evening for a general examination of conscience. All of the children are invited to join us if they choose, but when they reach the age of six or seven, we request that they always participate with us in this form of prayer.

Examination of conscience may sound formal or technical, but really it's just a way of thinking about the way you have lived your life over the course of the day, week, or however long it's been since you last contemplated your actions and the positive or negative effects your actions may have had on the state of your soul.  For our kids, it's once a week (the older kids are encouraged to include it in their own personal nightly prayers).  There is a simple format that we use. And, we don't stick to it rigorously.  Sometimes, we ask different questions, say different prayers, or talk about the life of a saint and how he or she struggled, just as we do, toward heaven.

The goal for this examination experience is that it be NATURAL. The atmosphere should be peaceful and positive.  Remember, the goal isn't to pull out your naughty/nice measuring stick - it's to help the child recognize his/her weaknesses and to praise their virtuous strengths.

The questions used in the examination of conscience (step #4 below) are structured around the Ten Commandments.  While it's good for your kids to memorize the Commandments, they will need help with the application of the Commandments in every day life.  This approach helps the kids to embrace the good news that God wants us all to be free, to be healthy, to be happy.  His laws aren't meant to be a ball and chain, they are meant to liberate us from that which is harmful to our happiness, to our health (sin) so that we may know and live the fullness of the abundant life He desires for us!

Our prayerful examination is typically is experienced in these steps:
1.  Find a quiet place where you can sit together and begin with the sign of the cross.
2. Opening prayer:
 My Lord and my God, I firmly believe that you are here, that you see me, that you hear me. 
I adore you with profound reverence, I ask your pardon for my sins, 
and the grace to make this time of prayer fruitful. 
Mary, my Immaculate Mother, Saint Joseph my father in the Lord, 
and my guardian angel, intercede for me. - Amen.
3.  Allow several minutes of quiet personal reflection.
4.  One parent will read the questions (noted below) aloud as the child contemplates the question       quietly in his or her heart. *  End the examination with and Act of Contrition (below).
5. The parent(s) may then confess his or her shortcomings for the week, ask for forgiveness, and request that the their children pray for them. Remember, we lead by example.  Humility is not an easy virtue to exercise, but if we lead in love, they will surely follow.
6.  The children may then confess any of their own struggles (but, they DO NOT have to), and ask for prayers as well.  This step can be huge for kids, not only are they practicing humility, but also patience with and compassion toward the shortcomings of others.
7.  The parent(s) spend time praising the virtuous behaviors that they have seen in their children that week (being very specific - see link to list of virtues below).
8.  The children may then praise one another as they so desire.
9.  Take turns reading select verses or parables on God's mercy from the bible (see list below).
10.  Recite a litany of your favorite saints, followed by "Pray for us."

*This is a good time to remind the kids, especially if you are reading the questions in preparation for the sacrament of confession that three things are necessary for reconciliation: 1. Thorough confession of the sin 2. True contrition for the sin 3. Fulfillment of the penance given by the priest.

Questions For Examination:
As the children get older, based upon their maturity, you may ask more detailed questions specific specific to each commandment.  These are simply our suggestions, you may fill in your own questions as you like.

 - 1. -
I am the Lord your God. You shall not have any other gods before me.
Did I make time to visit with the Lord today?
Did I speak about the Lord with joy and courage? Or did I turn away in embarrassment or fear?

- 2. - 
You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.
Did I speak the Lord's name in a way that was disrespectful?
Did I honor the Lord's name in prayer and praise either aloud or in my heart?

- 3. -
Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day
Did I grumble over going to Mass/church on Sunday?
Was I disruptive or did I misbehave at Mass/church on Sunday?
Did I skip going to church in order to attend a sporting event or other activity?
When children are young, it is the responsibility of the parent to prepare the kids for church, to teach them about the liturgy, to help them learn their prayers, to dress them appropriately, and to lead by example through personal reverence and joy.  Therefore, this question, for young children, should be focused on behavior and attitude.  For older kids, you may wish to include questions related to doing unnecessary work on Sundays or skipping Mass in favor of extra-curricular activities or if they are expected to drive to church on their own, and simply choose not to go.
- 4. - 
Honor your mother and father.
Did I treat my parents with love and respect?
Do I listen to and respond to my parents' requests with promptness?
Have I tattled on a sibling or a friend today?
Do I honor and respect the authority of my teachers, my grandparents?

- 5. -
You shall not kill.
Did I recoginze the needs of others and help, or did I turn away?
Have I caused physical pain or harm to anyone today?
Were you too hard on yourself today?
Did I speak positively of others? 
Did I recognize others hurts and seek to comfort them?
Was I a leader to my peers by virtue and good example or did I lead anyone astray?

- 6. -
You shall not commit adultery.
Did I look upon others with charity (and purity - for older children)?
Did I look at any pictures or watch any television that might cause me to think impure thoughts (older children)?

- 7. -
You shall not steal.
Did I take anything from anyone which didn't belong to me?
If I borrowed something that belonged to someone else, did I return it promptly?
Did I share my blessings and gifts with others today?
Was I quick to be generous, or did I choose to be selfish with my possessions?

- 8. -
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Was I truthful in all matters today?
Have I stretched the truth at times to make myself look good to others?
Have I said anything dishonest about another out of spite, so that they might get in trouble?

- 9. -
You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
Am I demanding of my parents' time together, or do I allow them to have personal space? 
Am I controlling in my friendships, or jealous of others' relationships?
Do I exclude others, or do I invite others to join me and my friends in play?
Do I think of myself as better than others, or do I try to see the good in everyone?

- 10. -
You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.
Am I thankful for the gifts God has given me, or do I wish to have what others have?
Am I content with what my parents have provided for me, or do I complain?
Do I share my material possessions with others?
Am I thankful for the strengths and talents God has given me? Do I use them to serve Him?

Act of Contrition:
O, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you. I detest all my sins because of your just punishment, but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.
- OR - 

For little ones, a simple, yet earnest prayer can be said with them.  For example:
My Jesus, I am sorry for the wrong that I have done.
Please forgive me.
Help me to do my best and to be my best each day.
I love you! Amen.

Scripture Verses For Memorization and/or Reflection:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. - Micah 6:8

Christ came that we might have life and have it to the full.  - John 10:10

You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you.  - Psalm 86:5

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. - Hebrews 4:16

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us. - Ephesians 2:4

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. - 1 John 1:9

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 
- 2 Corinthians 5:17

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.  - Psalm 103:8-12 

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that we should not perish but have eternal life. - John 3:16

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. - Galations 2:20

Above all, love each other deeply, for love covers a multitude of sins.  - 1 Peter 4:8

Parable of the Prodigal Son - Luke 15:11-32

One of the beautiful messages I have learned from spiritual direction through Opus Dei is the phrase, "begin again."  Our lives are full and busy and at times very overwhelming, so much so, that most people, myself included, would probably admit that it is difficult to find time to pray, or to direct our attention toward the Lord throughout the day.  This is where the examination of conscience comes into play and can be so very helpful in the spiritual life.  You aren't just working toward temporary earthly goals, but toward the greatest goal of all, which is heaven. God's mercy is new with each and every day, so even though we fall again and again, we can also, with courage, begin again and again!!

We spend all kinds of time ensuring our kids can catch a pass, shoot a free throw, sing on key, are bilingual and can do long division in their heads, and all of those things are good and noble.  But, whatever we place a strong emphasis on, whatever we demonstrate as important through our actions, our children will also deem important and value as priority. With the parent's leadership, working together, as a family, toward spiritual goals can be a natural part of daily life.

Printable Version of the Guide for Examination: 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Raising Boys: 10 Loving Lessons Just For Moms

After receiving a number of e-mails from new readers asking questions on the topic of raising boys, I thought I would reach out to them by re-posting the following article that I wrote last spring. 
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If someone would have told me 13 years ago that I would someday be the mother of 5 boys, I'm not sure if I would have laughed or ran screaming in the opposite direction!!  Raising our sons has offered me greater challenges and deeper joys than I could have ever imagined.  And, while, I would dearly love to have a daughter, I wouldn't change a chapter of this story for anything!

When our first son, Ben, was born, I had read so many books on motherhood that I thought for sure I had it all down, and that it would be just that - textbook, predictable, planned.  Go ahead and laugh, because I am!! Good golly, I even tried to apply the "textbook" method to Ben's labor and delivery, and (of course) it went NOTHING like I imagined it was supposed to. Life has a terrific way of humbling us, doesn't it??

Nearly 13 years and 5 sons later, I have learned a great deal from many incredible parents, grandparents and numerous experts a wealth of essential tips and truths on raising healthy, happy boys.  Without any girls to identify with, I'll readily admit that, at times, I have felt overwhelmed and confused, to say the least. Some of the lessons have been difficult, and yet others have come surprisingly natural to me (I account those to grace alone.).  And, I'm still learning - every day, I'm learning.  Thankfully, I have an amazing husband by my side to help me understand the (sometimes) maddening mysteries of manhood! 

I often hear parents say, "We raise all of our children the same, none are ever treated's only fair, really."  Pardon me, while I respectfully disagree with that for a moment.  While I applaud any parents' aspirations to be fair and just, what we must realize is that fair doesn't always mean "same" or "exactly alike." Every child deserves to be raised as an individual, as they each have different needs, different personalities, and different gifts.  And, I know this is going to be a shocker, but boys and girls should not be raised the same.  Loved equally, yes, absolutely.  Raised identically, no. I hope that as you read on, you will find sincerity as well as objectivity in my explanations. 
Are you still here?? Great!! I'd love to share with you some of the lessons that I have learned about raising, nurturing and understanding the heart of a boy, lessons that may seem obvious to a dad, but ones that perhaps a mom might appreciate hearing from the heart of another mom.  In the end, I hope you come away from this post feeling encouraged and supported in your very important, irreplaceable role as a mother.

1.  This may be an obvious one, but boys need to have the freedom to wrestle and climb, to roar and grunt and karate chop your house plants. They do not have ADD, they have energy, and they need an generous amount of time and space to run free.  Don't freak out when they act a little wild, a little fearless. Don't take them to the doctor, don't Google symptoms of hyperactivity, and don't suffocate them by constantly telling them to calm down, sit down and be quiet.  No, I don't mean let them behave destructively or disrespectfully (more about that in #2), but do not stifle their enthusiasm.  If you do, they will rebel and probably find a way to channel their energy into something else, something unhealthy.  I see many young boys engaging in video games, because they truly feel as though they have nothing else to do. This is a travesty. Trust me, it is very, very difficult to mend a boy's broken spirit.  Let them play!  You will have to repaint your walls, reinforce their bunk beds with scrap iron, and patch holes in their jeans.  Accept that, and then let them be off on their next adventure.

2.  As a natural response to #1, please know that I am speaking in terms of balance, not extremes.  That being said, boys do need to be taught self-control, prudence, the value of being polite, having manners and demonstrating proper etiquette.   Don't make excuses for them when they are thoughtless, rude or sloppy, by saying, "Oh, he's just being a boy!"  If you patiently teach them that times and situations call for a particular type of behavior and attitude, they will not only become natural leaders, but they will also gain self-confidence as well as the respect of others. Moms, it is proper for us to expect good manners at the supper table, "please" and "thank you" in daily interactions and please, never, ever allow your son(s) to speak disrespectfully to you (your husband should always be at your side in these situations). Knights were once required to learn proper etiquette/manners before they could wield a sword. It was the beginning stage of proving their worth as knights. Why? Self-control and discipline in the small things opens the door to strength and wisdom in the bigger battles of life.

3.  This lesson was inspired by Dr. Dobson's Bringing Up Boys, and I'm sharing it with you, because we've heeded it with every single one of our boys, and hold fast to it's importance. As moms we hold our baby boys close with all of our motherly love and attentiveness, as we should, but when our sons turn 2, it is very important for us to use those arms to toss them towards daddy! Step back a bit.  Allow more father-son time to take place, one-on-one.  This will help foster the natural masculinity of your son, because he will be able to identify more assuredly with his father.  You don't need to be gone for long periods of time, just an hour or two each week.  Consider going for an evening walk a couple of times a week, meeting up with friends, shopping for groceries or encouraging your "men" to go outside and play together or work on a project while you make supper.  Your son won't love you less - in fact, he will love and appreciate you even more! Let him go out and be a "big boy" with his papa.  He needs this from you.   In addition, I have seen many moms over the years who have an excessive (controlling) closeness with their sons, sons who are young men or even adults.  Cut. The. Cord.  Your main man should be your husband, he is first in priority of your love and attentiveness, not your son.  Your son should know his place in the family, without question.....and so should you.

4.  You didn't think I would forget to add how horribly and horrifyingly gross boys can be to this list did you?? If your boys should ever get lost in a forest and are near starvation, they will not hunt for berries or edible plants.  They will eat their boogers and then yell, "MOM!!!" until they loose their voices.  The whole booger issue totally mystifies me, and I find them everywhere, I mean everywhere!!  And, then there's the poop saga.  I have literally gone into my sons' bathroom 3 days in a row and seen no toilet paper on the ring.  Seriously??  Then, I get to the laundry and I see the damage that 3 days of no toilet paper can do. Uuuggghhhh!!! (I KNOW you can relate!!)  "Stop picking, please wipe, don't forget to flush and, for the love of Pete, wash your hands!!" will be on repeat for all of us moms until our boys flee the nest.  The only real way to deal with this unfortunate circumstance is with wine.  Lots and lots of wine.

5.  Cook for your sons.  They will never forget how beautifully you loved them in this sacrificial way. I know it seems small or old-fashioned, but some of our best family conversations have taken place around the supper table. And, I get the BEST hugs after a killer meal!  Food can also be used to achieve particular goals.  Are you followin' me here??  If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, so too be a boys!  Hold a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies above their heads and their rooms will be cleaned faster than you can say dust bunnies.

6.   Chill out a bit with the toy weapons.  I once had a neighbor who would not let her child play with my boys, because we allowed them to have wooden rifles.  However, she thought that swords were just fine - you know, a more civilized way of engaging in warfare.  Oh, I get it!! No, I don't, I'm lying right now. {Sigh.} Like it or not, here's the facts: If you keep every plastic pistol or pirate sword out of a boy's grip, they will find a way to fashion some type of weapon out of tree branches, tinker-toys or chop-sticks.  Your boys are not violent, they are not killers or haters, and letting them play with toy weapons isn't going to turn them into monsters.  Boys are born to be protectors, and if their instincts are nurtured in the proper way, someday they will protect your freshly sprouting garden from pests and more importantly, they will protect a lady from a predator - without hesitation.  Your sons are in more serious danger of developing a violent nature when they engage in violent video games, television and movies than they are if allowed to participate in innocent, imaginative play with friends. Just ask your father or grandfather - those "great" generations - about this.

7.  The world is pretty good at telling boys that they aren't as good as girls or really any different than girls, so they shouldn't act different or be different.  This is a terrible lie.  Don't buy into it.  Boys absolutely need to be boys and feel no shame or make no apologies for that. Praise and admire their masculine strengths!  Our sons natural talents should not be minimized because they are faster or stronger than their female peers, and they shouldn't be punished for it either.  As men and women, we're made to be complimentary not competitive, unique, not uniform.  It is our very complimentarity that brings beauty, strength and individuality to the world.  When you embrace your authentic femininity as a mother, you actually help your son grow to become an authentic man. 

8.  If you were ever a cheerleader back in the day, now is the time to practice those chants.  Boys don't need us to tell them how to throw the ball or tackle the opponent (even though many of us are awesome at sports and could easily coach our sons!), they need us to cheer for them, to encourage them, and then to let them know that we'll be their most loyal supporter, win or lose, whether it be on the football field or in the classroom.  Don't be a boss.  I've been to countless athletic events where the mom is  screaming red-faced at her son while the dad stands by texting on his phone. Those aren't tough-love moms, they're misguided moms.  And Dads, oh, dads, (slap-slap) wake up.  As parents we are here to guide, not take over the coach's job, and not make our sons feel as though their very lives depend on a touch-down pass.  Rah-rah, that's your job.  Now do it.  Do it proudly, moms!

9.  This one is closely related to #8.  A boy's (and a man's) biggest fear is failure.  So many mom's out there want to raise "good" boys who are virtuous and successful in life.  But, I know from experience, that when I'm on them all of the time with everything (school work, chores, fighting with siblings etc.) they can easily lose confidence in themselves.  They are already putting enough pressure on themselves in every aspect of life, they don't really need us to drop a few hundred extra pounds on their shoulders.  There are times when I've gone to bed at night and felt contrite for being too nit-picky with my young boys, for being too hard on them, for taking discipline too far, for lecturing too long. Let things go once in a's okay.  Sometimes they need a hug and a pass more than they need a lecture or a punishment. (Isn't that true for us as well??)

10.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I must confess that one of the most difficult aspects of living in a house full of boys is dealing with my own sensitive nature.  As women, we are more easily hurt, offended and slighted than men are.  It doesn't mean that boys are insensitive or cold, they just aren't wired the same way that we are, and as moms, we need to show them how to be more tender without belittling their personhood or being overly dramatic.  One thing that has helped me when I'm tempted to fall into loneliness or self-pity after being slighted by a son is this: Whenever one of my sons draws me a picture or writes me a note of any kind, I save it in a special place.  And, when one has hurt my feelings or is struggling with a particular discipline issue that is difficult for me to handle, I go back to the pictures/notes and remember the love that my boys have for me, and the love that I have for them.  It truly does mend a broken heart.

A boy is Truth with dirt on its face,
Beauty with a cut on its finger,
Wisdom with bubble gum in its hair,
and the Hope of the future with a frog in it's pocket.
~ Author Unknown