Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

Darkness and light

Yesterday at the Easter Vigil mass, Monsignor walked around the Narthex saying, “darkness, darkness, darkness.” He tends to use these mantras often. Sometimes he’ll see a parishioner and repeat their name loudly, “Peter, Peter, Peter!” And follow up by completely enveloping them with strong, loving hugs.

No lights were on in the church, candles were being passed out and the pews filled up slowly. It was similar to the darkness of the closed-up tomb where Jesus’ body lay on Holy Saturday. The stone propped in front of it. Not a sliver of light entered. A dark void.

There are days we too sit in this utterly dark space. Unsure of what tomorrow will bring or why today was filled with angst. Holy Saturday is a reminder of our reality. The beginning and the end. The alpha and the omega. The darkness and the light.

My mom has always been able to walk in the dark. She knows the path, never stumbles, and has faith in her every step. There is strength in the darkness for mom. She is one of the strongest women I know. Speaks her mind and fears very little.

There is that time of evening when the dusk descends uneasy despair in me and I flip every light in the house on, dimmers way up. That middle moment when the darkness steals the light, taking me on journeys back to places and times when fear was at the helm so I push through and focus on the light.

In the book Learning to Walk in the Dark, by author, teacher, and Episcopal priest, Barbara Brown Taylor, she says, “Darkness is shorthand for anything that scares me–either because I am sure that I do not have the resources to survive it or because I do not want to find out.” In her book, she guides us on a journey to understanding darkness — and reminds us of all the times God shows up at night. Because God does.

Some evenings fear is consuming when the darkness arrives. Then I remember, fear is normal. Fear needs breath. Someone said, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”

So I embrace courage and say my prayers and thank God for another day and night.

I thank you for joining me on my Lenten journey and hope you will follow me as I tackle my next writing endeavor.

Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

Thank you, Jesus…on Good Friday and every day

40 Reflections: 40 days of raw recollections during the Lenten Season

No. 39

My student teaching took place in a small elementary school plopped right in the middle of Georgetown. A red brick building with old wooden doors and a ton of character. My mentor teacher, Sister Maureen was a kind, quick-witted nun, with the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND). The SSND order is a group of educators whose mission is to transform the world through education in the broadest sense. A stellar teacher, Sister Mauren arrived at school early, donning her signature long, pleated skirts paired with either a freshly pressed blouse, or a teacher-themed sweater, a silver cross on a chain laying on her chest.

Sister Maureen was not a traditional habit-wearing nun – she had the pizzazz of Whoppi in Sister Act and the care and open heart of Maria VanTrap. In fact, I have her to thank for introducing me to my handsome, happy husband, a teacher at the same school. During our time teaching together, Sister Maureen taught me two significant life lessons:

Never do anything for a child that they can do for themselves.

Thank Jesus often.

  1. Never do anything for a child that they can do for themselves: We worked with special needs children at the time, and I remember the exact situation when she said this. Matas, a second-grader at the time was packing up his bag and the struggle to fit it all in caused him to yell and become frustrated. I instinctively jumped in and started packing up for him until I felt Sister Maureen tap me on the shoulder and say, “He can do it. Just wait”. After a few minutes, Matas remembered the strategies we had taught him to pack up. First, put in lunch box, next notebooks, and finally place the jacket on top. The smile of independence that ensued was unforgettable.
  2. Thank Jesus often. Anytime a lost jacket, homework, or a document was found, meetings were canceled, or a student finally understood why or how or what, I would hear Sister Maureen say, “Thank you, Jesus!” A proclamation that fit itself perfectly in the nooks and crannies of every day. I worked with Sister Maureen for several months and came out a believer in thanking Jesus, all day.

Typically, my outward cries of “Thank you, Jesus!” come after close calls like just missing the red light camera as I go through the intersection; or my son clearing his concussion test and yes, I know it could have been worse.

I thank Jesus for the plane landing safely, and for my parents having each other. For helping me unfold the emotions of kids moving on and the fear of what they will face. I thank Jesus for carrying them and bringing them home. For convincing the hydrangeas to bloom an extra week, for helping remove the tumor from my friend successfully, and thank you Jesus for the support you surrounded my two friends who lost their husbands in the last month. Thank you Jesus for the job and the scholarship and the frugal soul you built me with. Thank you for friends and siblings who know when to bring soup, or chocolate or wine…and when to agree with you even if you’re unreasonable and crass. Thank you Jesus for faith, for mercy, and for grace.

Thank you Jesus for dying on the cross for us and for your Divine Love.

Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

Why all kids need their thing…

Throwback on Holy Thursday…

I am constantly reminded that kids need their thing. ANYthing. Diving, journaling, football, video gaming. Something that is theirs. Somewhere to build their stories. A destination. Camaraderie. Right now, more than ever, kids need connections — with places, with activity, and with each other.

Here’s my Throwback Thursday Post:

40 Reflections: 40 days of raw recollections during the Lenten Season

No. 38

Today at work, I walked with a first grader to the classroom. The tousled-hair blonde with sweet, aqua eyes looked down at his untied sneakers and uttered, “I still don’t know how to tie my shoes…I mean, I just don’t have time, you know (dramatic pause) now that I play baseball.” He caught my eye to make sure I fully grasped the play ball part. I gave him an understanding, “I KNOOOW, you’ve got a lot to do!” response and he gave me the kid nod that said, “finally, someone gets it.”

Clearly, he was a busy guy. Way too busy to mess with shoe strings and all that tying. Baseball was his priority now and talking about it made him beam. He wanted to share who he was and by letting me know he was a baseball player, he was pleased with himself and satisfied I heard it from him first.

We all need our thing. Something that drives us. Something that makes us jump out of bed and start the day with a spark. Does it define who we are? Maybe. It certainly tells more of our story.

Ever notice the one question adults ask when they meet your children? 

“What DO you DO?”

When our children were younger, they would say things like, “play outside, build obstacle courses, read The Babysitter Club books.” Or they would say nothing – because being a kid is what they did.

As they got older, sports trickled in and gave them new experiences and opportunities for socializing and developing who they are and what they love.

Growing up for me in the sports world, it was soccer or soccer. As the fourth of four girls, you just follow the pack and my sister who is closest in age to me was a soccer player, therefore, I took my spot on the field as right-wing. My sister and I had two practices a week, ate dinner together, and always went to each other’s games toting sliced oranges and water wearing our reversible orange and white mesh uniforms.

Nowadays, there are so many choices for kids. From soccer to fencing, mountain biking to curling. Practices for us end as late as 9:00 pm. Some nights, dinner is eaten at different times, and homework sits on the back burner simmering patiently. As parents, we feel like we are constantly driving somewhere…but boy do I love it.

Thank God. Thank God they found something they care about and enjoy.

Naturally, over the years our kids have dabbled in a lot to find out what makes them tick. In the process, we’ve had: acoustic guitars, bass guitars, ukeleles, soccer cleats, keyboards, lacrosse goals, baking tools, chorus, piano music, gymnastics, basketball high tops, hockey pucks, baseball gloves, frisbee golf goals, shuttlecocks, tennis rackets, catcher’s gear, football helmets, swim goggles, orienteering shoes, toe shoes, tap shoes, ballet shoes, running shoes, metal cleats, turf cleats, unicycles, mountain bikes, skateboards, Ripsticks, bows, arrows, quivers, fishing rods, dart boards, ping pong balls,  and more I may have forgotten.

I certainly am not complaining. I am so grateful they have WANTED to try so many things and happy we’ve been able to afford them the chance. They’ve settled on (but are not limited to) swimming, baseball, and mountain biking (and now tennis!) plus cello, saxophone, and trumpet…a well-rounded crew.

So let them try. Let them fail. Let them know they have to give it more than a week. Tell them to power through the whole season because there is a team or group depending on them and life is about teamwork and persevering.

I know we’re busy, but as I say, it’s a good busy. It’s a time when we can relish in our children’s success, see them win, lose, fall, get up and be there just in case they need us or a Bandaid.

Trust me, we need this activity and connection with other parents as well. Where else would I find out which t-ball team has the coach who squats down to the four-year-old size of his players and says “boys – everybody have fun tonight, everybody Wang Chung tonight!” – to which parents and kids roar in laughter, or which teacher takes away recess for not finishing first-grade homework, or if Instapot really is all that?  Parent connections are priceless. 

My first-grade friend who is simply too busy to bother with tying shoes figured out what makes him happy as all kids should.

Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

Jesus picks teams

40 Reflections: 40 days of raw recollections during the Lenten Season

No. 37

I can picture Jesus standing in his strappy sandals on a hot, dusty day holding a big red playground kickball, stretching his legs amid the blowing dust, and picking teams. “I’ve got Simon, but – by the way – we’re going to call you Peter – and I pick his brother Andrew, plus James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, Simon, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot.”

Grumbling came from the first eleven picked, as they kicked the dirt around them trying to look nonchalant about Judas joining the team. But — Jesus was known for being a sharp judge of character – so they let it play out.

But why Judas? WHY?

Turns out, the old number 12 was ready to play, but not by the rules. Oh, Judas!

Judas was sneaky. On the day Judas betrayed Jesus, the masses believed his poor choices led him to be a spy. Thus the name “Spy Wednesday”. Spy means “ambush” and Wednesday of Holy Week was the day he chose to betray Christ for 30 pieces of silver.

Here are some Gospel theories on why Judas went down the path he did:

  • Mathew’s Gospel tells us he was motivated by the 30 pieces of silver he was offered
  • Mark and Luck were convinced Satan “entered into Judas” to plan Jesus’ arrest
  • John’s Gospel says his motive was money, money, money.

Perhaps the reason was that Judas, like a lot of us, felt better making God in his own image rather than the other way around.

Knowing the sneakiness behind Judas, I wonder if Jesus would rethink his kickball team.

Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

Bring them water

40 Reflections: 40 days of raw recollections during the Lenten Season

No. 35

Yesterday, in Vatican City, the somber Palm Sunday celebration returned to the square, outside of St. Peters’ Basilica. The National Catholic Reporter wrote, “Tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists clutched olive branches and braided palms emblematic of the ceremony that recalls Jesus’ return to Jerusalem.”

Pope Francis called for an Easter truce in the hope that leaders would “make some sacrifices for the good of the people.” His homily asked for “weapons to be laid down to begin an Easter truce, not to reload weapons and resume fighting, no! A truce to reach peace through real negotiations.”

“When we resort to violence … we lose sight of why we are in the world and even end up committing senseless acts of cruelty. We see this in the folly of war, where Christ is crucified yet another time,” he said.

The suffering of Ukrainians is devastating and beyond belief.

On Palm Sunday I am reminded of just how human we are. Imagine Holy Week, the original, the first take. The excitement when healing happened – all the hailing and joy, then suddenly someone’s faith waned and their hosannas faded away. Hope was lost, nails were hammered.

Would you have come running to help when Jesus cried out: I’m thirsty as he hung on the cross?

Who will bring the Ukrainians water? Who will walk among them with Jesus?

Bring your neighbor water, cling to your faith, and pray for peace.

Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

The humility of Mother Teresa

40 Reflections: 40 days of raw recollections during the Lenten Season

No. 25

Some days I overthink, overspeak, over everything.

I judge, talk over, infuse WAY too much passion, and forget to listen.

Then the guilt sinks in…and somehow my mind shifts to my days living in India. The string of animals in the street, the beautiful flowers adorning rickshaws, and the people. The lovely, lovely people. The calm in their souls is something to beseech.

Then there is the relentless, selfless giving of Mother Teresa…eye-opening and always worth mentioning.

In the 20th century, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was a missionary nun and one of the greatest humanitarians of the 20th century. Known for her charity work, she founded the Missionaries of Charity – a religious organization dedicated to helping the poor. In the Catholic Church, she is also known as Saint Teresa after she was canonized by Pope Francis in 2016.

Mother Teresa was passionate, quiet, tiny, and humble. Personally, I have the tiny and passionate parts down and am slowly working on the other two. She spent 50 years working among the poorest of the poor in Calcutta and founded an order, the Missionaries of Charity. Active in 133 countries, its mission is “to give Wholehearted and Free service to the poorest of the poor.”

Mother Teresa is an inspiration to the world and I pray every day for a sliver of her positive passion and humility.

Please pray for Ukraine

Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

Pray for the children of Ukraine

According to UNICEF: “The war in Ukraine is having a devastating impact on the country’s 7.5 million children. Humanitarian needs are multiplying by the hour as the fighting continues. Children continue to be killed, wounded and deeply traumatized by the violence all around them. Families are terrified, in shock, and desperate for safety.”

Please keep these families in your prayers all day.

Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness, Parenting/Running/Pets

This Mom gets it – embracing the new normal

I’ve spoken to numerous parents over the last few weeks about how they are managing their newfound profession of homeschooling.

Some are sitting smack in the middle of a see-saw with work and one end and homeschooling hanging off the other side, others are diving in structuring their school day one subject at a time and too many have little access to resources. They all say they are doing the best they can.

Amid all of the emails and phone calls, one mom’s profound message left me hoping all parents are able to relate to their new cadence with sanity and grace.

Here’s what she said:

“For a boy that needs his structure, he’s done well with the transition to home-based learning. We keep to a pretty good schedule-school starts here at 10am every day, and we try to be done with the bulk of the bookwork by noon. The afternoon is reserved for art, legos, creative play, reorganizing closets and cleaning, etc.

I certainly wouldn’t want to do this full time, but I think I can handle it through the rest of the school year if I had to (and honestly, that’s where I think this is heading).”

She goes onto say she and her husband both work from home…

“But we’re a flexible family, we understand that this craziness is temporary and that everyone has been thrust into the unknown. We’ll make it through. To be 100% honest, this has been a good thing for us. We are a family that is constantly on the go between soccer practices, basketball in the off-season, martial arts…so this forced stoppage is good. We’ve had homecooked dinners together every night, our house is the cleanest it’s ever been, and there have been tons of movies and old soccer games watched while snuggling up on the couch.

Who knows if we’ll ever get this time

together again.”

 

Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness, Parenting/Running/Pets, siblings

Teenagers: 6 funny reasons for bad grades

40 Days of Lenten Reflections

Day #7

I’ve read numerous articles about why we should let our kids fail. So I gave it a try.

For a few months, I was the hands-off mom. The cool, “Study…um…or not…up to you” mom. Turns out, it worked. The failure part, that is. 

Some parents regard any failure by their children as a crisis. James Lehman, MSW with Empoweringparents.com said,

“In a crisis, parents see the danger part very clearly, but often don’t see the opportunity part. They don’t see that their child has the opportunity to learn an important lesson. The lesson might be about the true cost of cutting corners, what happens when he doesn’t do his best at something, or what the real consequences are for not being productive.”

Or in some cases, the lesson may be to craft clever reasons for why they failed. Here are some popular examples I compiled based on experience and research:

1.  “SHE didn’t give me a study guide.”

Typically teachers give students tools and strategies to study for tests, but there are those kids who think their teachers should hand deliver the said study guide to their home, place it on the kitchen table, and maybe even complete it for them.

Trust me, under the crumpled paper, broken pencils, and PE clothes in their backpack lie a study guide.

2.  “EVERYONE did bad on the test.”

To be executed correctly, this excuse should be said with backbone. Stress on the word EVERYONE while holding onto evvvvvvv——eryone should help their case. Teenager’s pre-frontal cortex has convinced them that if the masses failed, it clearly wasn’t their fault.

Maybe the class is full of slackers or maybe, well, nevermind.

3.  “He hasn’t put in the grades for the work I did REALLY WELL on yet and he takes FOREVER to grade!”

(except for tests, apparently)

This excuse is usually coupled with “There’s only one grade in the grade book, so that’s why it seems like such a bad grade.”

Nope. It’s actually a bad grade.

4.  “I had THREE OTHER tests to study for!”

Helping students develop good study habits is insanely hard. Teaching them to prioritize and manage their time is even worse. Ultimately it’s up to them what they study for first if at all, but if this is their excuse, make your follow-up the classic:

“Well, you should have started studying earlier.”

5.  “It’s not my fault the teacher doesn’t know how to teach!”

Once your kids get into the harder subjects, like AP Calculus and Physics, using the ignorance of the teachers bodes well as an excuse and is surprisingly convincing…I mean the reason for not doing well is coming from a child who qualified to be in the class, so…

NOPE! Don’t fall for it! They should have studied.

6.  “I THOUGHT I did well, but I didn’t.”

This is my son’s favorite. It’s the moment when parents have two choices: admit their child did not study enough or at all; or worry they don’t understand any of the content and cancel the family’s summer vacation.

So it turns out failing is an important ingredient in life, but learning from failure is a natural consequence we can all benefit from.

 

 

 

Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness, Parenting/Running/Pets, siblings

Are parental decisions laced with selfishness?

Our kids didn’t attend pre-school. There. I said it.

We did, however, visit one in Virginia back in 2006.

It was off of Columbia Pike, a big commuter thoroughfare in Falls Church. The fancy, stone building looked more like Hogwarts than a preschool. SUV’s and minivans loaded with all the latest screens and cushy car seats lined the parking lot. Once inside, children’s Picasso-inspired artwork lined the walls and kid-sized water fountains dotted the hallways. Outside each doorway stood joyful, young pre-school teachers greeting students and when we visited the classrooms, they were filled with building blocks, endless art supplies, and dress-up costumes so kids could pretend to be whatever they could imagine.

After the tour, we figured we had to do it. We couldn’t possibly deprive our children of the chance to play and learn with kids in this amazing setting.

Or could we?

Back then, the thought of packing up my three pumpkins in the car, driving in rush hour traffic, unloading all three, leaving one and turning around for pick up in a few hours sounded as fun as running barefoot over a lego laden floor.

Simply exhausting. For me.

But as parents, don’t we sometimes lace our decisions with a little selfishness?

For instance, the other day I bought ‘cheezy’ pretzels “for the kids”…but I secretly love them and could eat the entire bag. Another time I signed all of the kids up for year-round swim tryouts slyly knowing my daughter would be the only one who MIGHT want to join the team. Deep down, I knew there was no way she would have put one toe in the water unless her brothers were suffering alongside her. Now she’s on her way to the High School State Swim Meet. Yet another decision made for the good of the group. (Ha!)

Turned out before we had the chance to try the stone-covered kid sanctuary, we moved to Georgia and much like DC and Virginia, most kids attended preschool.

Not us. We were new in the suburbs and stuck together…at home, the library, book stores, museums and lots of parks. We kept our kids home until kindergarten so they could “bond” i.e: fight, cry, laugh, play, nap, sing, learn, grow, read and just be together. Was it always easy? Heck no. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Plus, I could barely find my way to the grocery store much less a preschool.

In retrospect, best decision ever. For ALL OF US.