Amy’s top ten…

March 29, 2010

 …reasons for home schooling!

10. No sitting in car lines, car-pooling or waiting at the bus stop in the rain.  

9. You get to spend A LOT of time with your kids!   Ok, that one could go both ways! 🙂

8. You can schedule a family vacation whenever you want.

7. You never have to attend PTA meetings.

6.  Your kids can go to school in their pajamas and the teacher can too! (Not that we’ve ever tried that.)

5. You can declare it’s  a “snow day” and take the day off, even if you live in Florida!

4. You’ll never have to buy and eat 20 candy bars because your kid didn’t sell enough of them for the annual school fundraiser! (Ok, that one could definitely work both ways!)

 3. You’ll never have to stay up late to finish (oops, I mean help your child finish) meaningless busy-work or a ridiculous science project.

2.  You can choose the curriculum that is best suited for your child.

And #1:

You and your children can talk about and practice your faith throughout the school day without…

… the principal telling you that you’re politically incorrect

…the school board scolding you for infringing on the rights of  others

… or the teachers contradicting the moral values and theological beliefs you’re trying to instill in your kids

[Disclaimer and Qualifier: This is meant to be a semi-humorous, semi-serious list of some of my reasons for home schooling my kids, not a judgment against anyone who chooses to put their kids in school. While I’m happy with the results we’ve seen with home schooling I am not a home schooling mom who believes it is the only or best option for everyone. At his point in life, it just happens to work for us. By the way, if your kids are in school and they’re selling chocolate candy bars don’t hesitate to send them my way! :-)]

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What He Wants

March 26, 2010

 

Dear Claire and Ella: 

If there’s one thing I pray you understand at a young age, it is this:

God is more interested in your holiness than He is

in your temporal happiness.

This is a lesson I’m still learning but I do know it starts with understanding that holiness comes by way of love — His love for you flowing through you to others. That is is why He wants all of you. He wants all of your heart so He can fill it with His love.

Because He wants your heart He’ll allow all kinds of circumstances in your life in order to draw you to Him. Sometimes He’ll court your heart with wonderful consolations and blessings in this life. Of course we all love these sweet circumstances and moments in life.  But, He also knows our human weakness and tendency to become attached to the consolations instead of The Consoler, attached to the gifts instead of The Giver.

Amazingly, instead of abandoning you in your weakness, He loves you enough to do whatever it takes to get your attention so you will let go of those things which get in the way of love. Sometimes He withdraws his consolations and waits for you to seek Him, to seek His heart and not just His gifts. At other times He redeems the painful consequences of living in a fallen world by using them to draw us to Him.

His desire for your holiness is not based on some puritanical rule but instead a desire for you to have a  heart of pure love for Him and for others. This is what we were created for. 

That’s why he won’t leave you where you are, even if you are happy. No, if you truly desire Him, if you truly want to love Him and love like Him, then He will use the circumstances of your life to challenge you to let go of your selfish attachments to this temporal life and grab hold of Him, of His love, mercy and grace.

It may surprise you to hear this but, this is His gift of grace to you.

Anything that draws you to Him is a grace because left to our own devices we would not seek Him. The key is recognizing his hand at work in these difficult circumstances. Seeing that something greater is going on. This seeing requires eyes of faith. It requires you trust that He really does have your best interests at heart. Acknowledging this truth is the first step in surrender. I say step, because surrender is a process.

Surrendering means you stop fighting His will and you finally let Him do the work in you and through you. But remember, surrender does not make everything all better. The work He is doing may still be painful and difficult. But, when you begin to trust that He is working all things together for your eternal good then you can begin to find moments of peace in the midst of the pain, moments of trust where there used to be fear and worry.

Those moments most often come when you seek Him, when you place yourself before Him in worship, adoration and in stillness and quiet. They come as you receive Him and His strength in Communion. They come as you renew your mind and heart with the truth that this is not your final home; this temporal life is just one part of the journey. And they come when you serve and sacrifice for others.

This is why I take you often to Mass and Adoration. I want you to learn to give Him all of your heart in worship, to turn you eyes from your own circumstances and pray for others, and to spend time contemplating what Jesus did for us on the cross.

I want you to learn now because as you get older there will be times when it seems hard to surrender. In those moments remain faithful, continue to seek Jesus. Things may not change overnight. You  may not change overnight. So be patient with the process. Be patient with yourself.  It’s natural to want to avoid difficulties and pain. Your emotions will tell you to protect yourself in selfish ways, to run or to fight the process. And there will be times when you might give in to your emotions. Do not worry about this. Repent and turn your heart and mind back toward God.

As you give more of your heart to him and learn to constantly turn to Him for your strength you will find that you are more than your emotions; you are His and His Spirit can transform you. And as He transforms you, you will know more of His love and see it flowing  through you to others.

And finally you will see what He has known all along…

In holiness there is more happiness than you could have ever imagined!

Love,

Mom


Keeping Silent

March 24, 2010

 

 Here’s something to think about the next time you feel like being critical of someone else…

Sometimes our passions rule us and we mistake it for zeal. We are critical of the small defects in our neighbors, but overlook the serious faults in ourselves…We are quick to complain of what we put up with from others, with never a thought of what others suffer from us.

If we would see ourselves as we really are, we would not find cause to judge others severely…Those who are turned to God…find it easy to be silent about the deeds of others. (The Imitation of Christ, p. 75)

 Lord, keep my eyes turned toward you so that no unwarranted judgment about another will even form in my heart much less escape from my lips. Amen.


on “being evaluated”

March 23, 2010

The girls had their annual home school evaluations last week. All went well. The results were what I expected. They passed and are progressing as they should. Which means, as any honest home school parent will tell you, the teacher passed too!  Whew! 😉

Evaluations are funny things aren’t they? Be it a test, job performance review or any informal evaluation…their sole purpose is to measure and assign some kind of value. That fact alone has all kinds of implications on various levels. Especially given that everyone wants to measure up.

Now a single test here and there or job evaluation may not have weighty implications for you. Though for some it might.  For most of us it’s the cumulative formal and informal evaluations we’ve undergone (and put ourselves through daily) that carry greater significance.  

At the very core of our being is a need to know we’re valuable, significant and worthy to be loved. It’s written in our DNA. It’s there because God made us in his image and his image is the picture of perfect love. After all, God is Love!

We know things got screwed up in the Garden. And it’s more than just a black and white, good vs. evil thing. When sin became part of our spiritual DNA it sure did a number on us.  

The enemy was able to get Eve to question her significance. He tempted her to believe she needed to be more than who she was, that God hadn’t made her complete and was holding out on her. She took the bait, ate the fruit and tried to become like God.

Ever since, we’ve been trying to measure up, striving to find our significance and value. Most often we try to do this a part from God. And oh the places that has taken some of us.

For some of us it’s lead to dark and scary places while others found bright and appealing places that proved to be  full of the empty promises of human praise and esteem.  I know the places it took me and they’re places I don’t want my girls to go.

That’s why I see this home school journey as so much more than providing an academic education for my girls. Although at times I worry if I’m doing enough, if I “measure up” as a teacher, deep in my heart I know my girls are going to learn.

I know that more important than passing these annual evaluations, than excelling at math, reading and writing, is instilling in them an understanding of God’s immense love for them and an understanding of who they are in Christ.

I know that if they trust in God’s love they will never have a reason to look for love where true love can’t be found. If they know their dignity and worth as a child of God, which was made possible through Jesus’ sacrifice, then they won’t need to chase after human praise and approval which seems to always lead to sin and greater selfishness.

That’s why I daily remind them they’re precious daughters of God; His Spirit lives in them and they are His. Sometimes I whisper it in Ella’s ear when she’s sitting on my lap in the morning. Or, I remind Claire when she’s sitting close to me in the pew at church. 

I try to tell them often and in simple ways that their worth and value is not based on whether they’re smart, cute, talented, accepted by others etc… 

I want them to learn that our Father’s love can not be earned; their adoption into His family at their baptism was a free gift of grace given when they were helpless babies, unable to even approach Him on their own. Now, there’s a picture of unmerited favor and love!

There’ll be countless evaluations to come in Claire and Ella’s lives. Just like you and me they’ll find they’re being evaluated by others and they’ll constantly be tempted to evaluate themselves. At times they may feel humiliated and even defeated by these evaluations. And in some evaluations they may find confidence and take great pride.

But, my prayer is that not one of these will compare to the evaluation our Father made of their worth when He asked Jesus to die for them on the cross. It’s in this evaluation alone they will find both true humility and their greatest confidence.


The Dirty “R” Words

March 22, 2010

 

When I was a Protestant there were two dirty “R” words.

Religion and Ritual.

I can’t move forward with talking about the Mass without at least addressing the ritual word. And while I’m at it I might as well address the religion word.

Let’s start with RELIGION.

As an Evangelical Protestant (of sorts) I can’t tell  you how often I heard people say that it’s not about religion it’s about a relationship with Jesus. I heard it so much that I started saying it myself. I admit that I used it most often when talking to Catholics.

Now let me say this, “it” is always about a relationship with Jesus. BUT, somehow, this little saying has turned religion into a bad word.

There is a negative connotation associated with this word among non-denominational Protestants. We defined religion as being separate from a relationship with Jesus as if those who were religious didn’t really love Jesus. It’s almost like we took pride in the fact that we weren’t “religious” but instead we were in a right relationship with Jesus.

Now, here’s what is interesting to me. Have you looked up the word religion? Do you know what it means?

Religion = Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power recognized as the creator and governor of the universe. A particular integrated system of this expression.

Hmmm, it sounds to me like our shared faith in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is indeed a religious belief. And, I bet if I examined your life and the way you express this faith I’d find an integrated system of your faith.  Which appropriately leads me to the next dirty “R” word:

RITUAL

As a non-denominational Protestant I was proud of the fact that I didn’t practice religious rituals, especially archaic, man-made rituals. And, I was more than willing to point out to Catholics that they were caught up in a few of their own.

But, all I had to do was look up the word to realize once again I was being hypocritical.

Ritual = A detailed method or procedure faithfully or regularly followed.

By that definition, my life was full of rituals.

Physical rituals: Like the way I get ready in the morning (I put my contacts in first, then brush my teeth, then put on my makeup, then do my hair) or the way I clean house (first the kitchen, then the bathrooms, next the floors, and finally the dusting).

Psychological rituals: Like the way I make lists and go over lists in my head or prepare for a teaching lecture.

Religious rituals:  Like the way I read my Bible, pray, worship with music and of course the order of worship at my church.

And even relationship rituals: Think about your close intimate relationships and you’ll see rituals in your communication and behavior.

The reality is, rituals are a huge part of life.  But what’s the point or value of these rituals? 

Rituals bring order to life. They bring routine which creates efficiency. More importantly, regularly followed procedures help us to know what to expect. When we know what to expect we’re free to fully engage in what we’re doing in the present without anticipating what comes next. This is especially true when it comes to corporate worship.

Now please don’t tell me that at your church you do not practice rituals (unless of course every Sunday is a free-for-all and there is absolutely no order to what happens in your church service). 

If there is any order in your church then there is ritual. If there is a “method or procedure regularly followed” then there is a ritual.  And, I hate to tell some of you this, but those procedures are man-made. The order of your worship service was created by your pastor or some group of people associated with your church. It is no different from those “religious and ritualistic” Catholics I once criticized and perhaps you still criticize.

Some people snub their noses at repetition and ritual in worship, claiming it’s boring or irrelevant. But I can’t help but wonder if their boredom has more to do with their desire to be entertained than a desire to offer up worship to their creator and the one who should be the love of their life.

If you entertain me, if you keep my mind interested with new distractions then I really don’t have  to do anything. I don’t have to enter into worship and listen closely to the words of the prayers. I don’t have to center myself in Christ, go deeper in my prayer life and listen to the still small voice of the Spirit. I can “feel good, have fun, and enjoy myself” without offering all my heart, all my soul, all my mind and the members of my body as a living sacrifice to God.

Instead of thinking of ritual in corporate worship as boring consider that it is like dancing a waltz with a partner. If you don’t know the steps, if the steps are changed in the middle of the dance then you’re likely to be worried about what comes next. You may look down and focus on your feet and yourself instead of focusing on your partner and the beauty and movement of the dance. But, when you know the dance steps you don’t have to focus on what’s next. Instead you can move freely to the music and focus on your partner as you put your heart into the dance.

I think it’s time we reclaim these two “R” words and take them out of the gutter.

Folks, Christianity is a religion and if Christ is an integral part of your life then you are religious. 

And rituals are a part of who we are as humans. Our God is a God of order and we are created in His image. Don’t snub your nose at rituals in worship. Embrace them because they offer the freedom to fully worship in the present without anticipation, self-consciousness or the need to be entertained.


Sit, Kneel, Stand…Repeat

March 16, 2010
[My last three posts have been about the Mass. This is post #4.]
 

So we’ve finally made it through the door. Now it’s time to have a seat, right?

Wait, not so fast. Not before we start you on the Catholic Calisthenics program.

You think I’m kidding, but if you’ve been to a Mass then you know we use just about every part of body to worship. Some Protestants don’t know what to with us. And most don’t know what to do when they’re with us. 

We Catholics can’t seem to sit still; we kneel, stand, sit, make the sign of the cross, genuflect, and bow several times in the span of one hour. And it begins before you even get in your pew.

Why you ask?

It’s a lot like the idea I mentioned before: We’re a sensing people and God reaches and teaches us through our senses and not just our spirit.

Not only does God reach us this way but we reach out to Him in this way too. We have bodies. Bodies that are temples of the Holy Spirit. Bodies created to worship and glorify God. As Catholics we do this during Mass by kneeling, standing, sitting, bowing, and genuflecting.

You see, the liturgy is literally “the work of the people.” The entire Mass is our worship. We differ from some “contemporary” churches in that we don’t sing a few songs and then sit down to listen to one person speak. We are called to worship throughout the Mass as we participate in the prayers, the music, the reading of the Word and Communion. We do this not just internally with our hearts and minds but with our bodies as well.    

Our participation starts with genuflecting before we sit in our pew of choice. 

Why do we genuflect?

The simple but not so simple answer:

Catholics believe the consecrated bread is the Body of Christ (Read the Book of John Chapter 6). We call the consecrated bread the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist, Jesus. And in every Catholic Church Christ’s Body in this Blessed Sacrament is kept in the tabernacle of the Church.

That means we believe that Christ is present in a tangible and real way. His presence in the Eucharist is different than the presence of Christ we each carry in us because of the Holy Spirit.  Just like our experience of Christ’s presence in heaven is different than our experience of Him while we live on earth. Because we believe in Christ’s real presence in the Blessed Sacrament, when we enter and exit our pews or pass the tabernacle we genuflect out of respect and love for Him.

That’s the simple answer. What’s not so simple for some Protestants who might read this is our belief that the consecrated bread and wine actually are Christ’s body and blood. And, I certainly understand why. 

I’ll go into the Biblical and historical reasons for this belief when we talk about the Liturgy of the Eucharist. For now let me say this…

Some may think this believe is far-fetched and ridiculous and scoff at the idea that Jesus would make himself truly present to us, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the substance of bread and wine.

Others may think that God would have no reason to lower himself in such a way. We have no need for such a silly belief in the divine becoming tangible for us humans.

You might be one who looks at the bread and wine and thinks Catholics are crazy for believing this. Afterall, the bread looks like bread. And, the wine looks like wine. It doesn’t look like flesh and blood right?  

If you find yourself scoffing at this belief, consider this…

There were (and still are many)  who thought it was ridiculous to believe that Jesus was indeed God incarnate. They couldn’t conceive that God would lower himself and come to us in human flesh.

There were plenty of people who mocked the disciples for believing He was the Messiah, the Son of God. Afterall, he didn’t look like God, he looked like a man. How could he or anyone else claim that he was divine, holy, the God of the universe.  An impossible, ridiculous, crazy belief right?

Just something to think about.

Ok, back to the Mass.

Once we genuflect, out of love and respect for Jesus and His real presence, we sit down. But, not for long because then we kneel in prayer to prepare our hearts for the Mass. During this time it is common for Catholics to examine their hearts and confess to God any obstacles and sins that have kept them from walking in His love and grace. 

After we kneel and pray we stand for the processional and opening prayer, which starts of course with the sign of the cross. Once again we’re reminded we our children of God, His family, gathered to worship Him.

And now finally, the Mass has begun…

… in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.


What’s up with the holy water?

March 12, 2010

 

I promised in my last post that I’d follow-up on the holy water “thing.”

We’ve probably all watched those movie scenes where the priest throws holy water on the possessed man who then writhes in pain as his skin comes into contact with this substance. Entertaining for some I suppose but its a bit dramatic. And no, it doesn’t happen at Mass. 🙂  Although on some ocassions the congregation gets a good sprinkling (more on that later).

Holy water isn’t some “magical” cure-all Catholics use as it’s often portrayed in the movies or on TV. And it’s not something we place our faith in above or apart from our faith in Jesus. But, as I explained in my last post, it is a daily part of the practice of our faith at church and the sacramental life of the Church.

Catholics believe in sacramentals which are sacred signs that possess a likeness to the sacraments.

 [Note: A sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace. We celebrate seven sacraments in the Church–Baptism, Reconciliation, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick.]

Holy water is a sacramental.

Jesus, God, became a man and used the things of this earth to communicate the truths of the faith. Because we’re not just “spirit” but we have bodies and we’re a sensing people he gave us tangible sacred signs of the faith for the Sacraments he instituted through his ministry and the Church. (i.e. He used bread and wine for Communion. He was baptized with water.)

The Bible is full of stories about how God used water to cleanse and set His people free (Noah, the parting of the Red Sea, baptism). At a baptism the priest or the deacon prays and blesses the water. Scripture tells how the Spirit hovered over the waters of the earth in Genesis. In a similar way he asks the Spirit to come upon the water.

 It’s important to say that the blessed water is not all of the sudden some magical remedy or potion. But, by faith we trust that the Holy Spirit comes upon the water, thereby making the water a holy sacramental.  

As the priest or deacon baptizes with this water in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit this person is washed of their sin, born again in Christ and given the Holy Spirit (see my last post for Scripture references). The holy water is the sacramental sign of having your sins washed away, of purity and holiness. 

I like how our pastors put it, God takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary The bread and the wine, the water, the oil, they’re all ordinary things but in God’s economy they become extraordinary. That even goes for us.

We are, in a certain way, like sacramentals – we are ordinary a part from God’s touch of grace but through His Spirit we become sacred signs of the faith for the world to see. We’ll talk about that more when we get into the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

As a Protestant I probably would have shunned the ideas of sacramentals or so I thought. However, our deacons and pastors often anointed people other with oil when we prayed. When I served on a women’s retreat we prayed over the crosses given to the women to wear. We had baptismal fonts and we used bread and grape juice for our symbolic remembrance of the Last Supper.

Although we never called these sacramentals, the idea was very similar. Like holy water, they were material signs and reminders of our faith. And just like Protestants who anoint with oil for different types of blessings and prayers, we use holy water for different blessings. The most common being when we enter the church, which was the focus of my last post. 

Bottom line: When Catholics use holy water it’s as a sacramental sign that points us back to Christ, our baptism, holiness and the forgiveness of sin. This practice is rooted in our faith and trust in what He’s done and is doing for us.

So there you have it. Amy’s unofficial explanation of holy water.

Whew, we’re finally through the church doors (took a while I know). Come back soon. Mass is about to begin…