A Mother's Faith: An Interview with Colleen

I remember my mother's prayers and they have always followed me.
They have clung to me all my life.
~Abraham Lincoln

This is the fifth in a series of interviews on faith and motherhood. My goal is to interview fellow mothers/bloggers of different faiths and have a little window into each of their lives...and to see in the end, how we are all trying to achieve the same thing...to prepare faithful, loving, compassionate, children to go out into the world and lead productive, purposeful, meaningful lives.

We are all more similar than we are different.

Different doctrines, different traditions, different rituals, different beliefs, but our fears, our love for our families, and our hopes for our children are all so alike.

Here is an interview with Colleen, a Catholic mother to four, soon to be five.

What are the strongest values and beliefs of the Catholic religion?
The Apostle’s Creed is a prayer that states our beliefs as Catholics:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son Our Lord, 
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into Hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; 
He ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
 I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. 
We have such beautiful traditions and can actually trace the beginning of our Church back to Jesus Christ!  How amazing is that? 
I think being a Catholic means living a moral life (following the Ten Commandments), trying to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and using the gifts and talents we have been given to help others.

What are your family's daily and/or weekly worship/prayer rituals?
 We attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, which is obligatory.  However, since we believe the Eucharist is the true body and blood of Christ, we try and go to daily Mass as much as possible.  When I was a stay-at-home mom, this was much more do-able!  As for daily prayer, we just try and incorporate it whenever we can.   I am sure we could use a lot of improvement in this area.  But I say morning prayers in the car with the kids on the way to school, we say grace before every meal, and we say prayers at night before bed.  We try to either say a Rosary or a Chaplet of Divine Mercy each night as a family.  We love that motto: “The family that prays together stays together!”


What are the most important concepts of the Catholic religion that you wish to teach your children?
I want them to know that God created them to love, serve, and honor Him in this world in order to be united with Him in the next.  Truly, if all my children can one day enter Heaven for all eternity, I would be a very happy and successful mom!

Will you make decisions on schooling for your children based on religious values?
YES!  We already have all four children in a wonderful, small, Catholic school that goes from preschool through 8th grade.  My husband is the Department Chair of Theology at our Catholic high school, and so our children will attend Catholic high school as well.  Education is very important to us, but what does it matter to gain knowledge if you lose your faith?  We want the best for our children, and for us that means a Catholic education.  We do whatever it takes to be able to afford this gift to our kids.

Food and faith are so tied together...what are some culinary traditions?
 I wish I could say that I’m one of those moms who plan meals around feast days, but I’m not that put-together!  We definitely fast during Lent, and give up some of our favorite foods during Lent and Advent in preparation for Jesus’ Resurrection and Birth, respectively.  And of course we feast on all the major holidays.  Most of our family time occurs when we are gathered around the table or preparing food in the kitchen, so we make the most of it.

What are the most common misconceptions that many people have when it comes to your religious/beliefs/appearance?  Have you ever been offended or dismissed by others because of your faith?
 With the exception of ashes on our forehead on Ash Wednesday, Catholics look like everybody else.  It’s how we live our lives that should set us apart.  I think for me, the most common misconception people have about my faith is that we are all holy-rollers who look down on people of other religions.  We are supposed to model our lives after Jesus Christ, who would never look down on anyone.  In fact, He loved to party with the sinners.  Ok, maybe not party, but you get my point J.  We are human and flawed like everyone else, but like the saints, we need to keep striving for Heaven in our daily actions.  It ain’t easy, but will be so very worth it in the next life!
I think I have been most offended by the remarks about how Catholics view sex.  Many people think the Church is against sex.  Not the case!  The Church is very much in favor of sex, as long as it is done in the way God intended, which is:  1) In marriage 2) Prolific and unitive.  Those are the only rules! 
    People assume that if you have a large family, you must be a poor Catholic who doesn’t know any better in the matters of birth control.  It’s not that we don’t know about artificial birth control, it’s that we cannot use it (hence the prolific clause).  We are allowed to use Natural Family Planning to space out our children if we have a serious reason to do so.  That serious reason is a decision made by the couple, in prayerful conversations with God.  And as for the unitive clause, that means that the action must be a loving, unifying act (no conception in a lab, no forced sex, etc.)  I think these rules are set up to allow us to be completely free and happy, and feel sad that people think they are too strict or hard to follow.

Have you ever questioned your faith?
 Growing up, I never questioned the Catholic faith.  Any questions I would have that I couldn’t quite answer fully, I would just tell myself that I would ask God if and when I get to Heaven.  I had a very simple faith.  My husband, however, loved to play devil’s advocate in questioning his faith, and now he can answer any question his students throw at him, which is wonderful!  As I’ve gotten older, I enjoy reading more and more about apologetics so that I too will be able to answer people’s questions about the faith.

Have you ever had a profound spiritual moment that has stayed with you forever?
 When I was sixteen, I entered an essay contest to win a trip to see the Pope when he came to New York.  It was a national contest, and I was one of sixteen winners!  Seeing Pope John Paul and meeting the other contest winners, all “normal” high school students who had a strong love for their faith, really made me realize I wanted to go to a college where there were more people like that.  I visited Franciscan University of Steubenville that same year, fell in love (with the school first, and then my husband – whom I met there) and continued to be challenged and grow in my faith.  I could have gone to more “prestigious” schools, as academics came easy to me, but knew growing in my faith and education was more important than education alone.  When I studied abroad in college, I was able to see the Pope two more times, and vowed to name my first-born son John-Paul, which we did!

Do you see your spiritual beliefs playing a large part in your marriage?
 Oh my yes!  We rely on each other only almost as much as we rely on God.  We believe that we should love God first, our spouse second, and our children third.  We received a poem on our wedding day that reads something like: “A successful marriage takes not two, but three.”

What is the single most difficult struggles you have overcome and how did your faith play a part in bringing you peace?
We have been so blessed, and have not had many family tragedies.  For us, it seems that our financial affairs are what cause me the most stress.  But being a Catholic means fully trusting in God’s Divine Providence.  That means believing that He will always take care of us if we do the right thing.  It may not be in the way we want, but it will be in the way we need.

What is your favorite spiritual quote when it comes to inspirational mothering?
I have two, the first being from Mother Theresa: "How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers."
And the second is from Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty: “The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral -- a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby's body.... The angels have not been blessed with such a grace. They cannot share in God's creative miracle to bring new saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other human creature. God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation.... What on God's earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother.”


I Love Babies

A few photos I took of a beautiful baby girl, Finley Rose:

My favorite:  (it could be my obsession with swaddling that makes this my favorite?)

I am so happy for my cousin and her husband.  This is a much-tried-for first baby, and the journey was not easy.  I told my cousin that when she finally gets her arms around her baby, she will have the gift that some others do not...it's a secret gift that you pay for with heartache, but that pays you back with a double-than- normal dose of appreciation, gratitude, and a heart bursting with an extra-ordinary amount of joy. 

"A babe in the house is a well-spring of pleasure, 
a messenger of peace and love,
a resting place for innocence on earth,
a link between angels and men."
Martin Tupper


Happy Birthday Mom!

Things I know (and love) about my mother:

-She is a calm, secure, quiet, and gentle.  I can honestly say I never remember my mom raising her voice at us. I can never remember her getting "really mad" at anyone.  Yes, she raised FIVE children this way....teenage years, and all, and trust me, we weren't little angels.  Well, I was of course, but my brothers, and sisters, no way!  (That is a joke, please know, angel I was not.)

-She taught us, by example, how to like living simply, without lots of stuff, and how to keep things neat and in order.   She taught us to appreciate little things.  She made each birthday and holiday so special and exciting, because she didn't ruin it by overdoing it all. She concentrated on the real meaning of all the holidays, but left the fun in them also.  

-My mom is the most consistent person I have ever known.  When we were children, we knew we would have chores posted on Saturday, we had set bedtimes, we had a snack waiting for us after school every day. We had a nicely set dinner table every night, with a meat, a vegetable, a starch, and ate as a family.  Church on Sundays....every Sunday.  I appreciate that so much now, because I know how hard it is to be consistent with all the change that takes place in a family.  

-My mom is an expert in child development. (Really, she is.) She knows SO much about how children's brains work, from infants to young adults, and what should be expected of them, or what cannot be expected of them.  Add this in with a calm, secure, loving, consistent environment and you just have the ideal place for growth.   

-She knows education is where it's all at.  And she sacrificed to send us to the best schools in the area.  

-She has to go to bed early.  Really early.  It could be that in her 70's, she still works full time (see below) teaching classrooms full of junior high students, and wakes up at 5 a.m. to do so.  I learned from her that the early bird gets the worm.

-My mom is an incredibly passionate educator.  Jeff always says that wherever my mom teaches, they'd have to replace her with three people if she left.  It's totally true.  

-She gave me the gift of loving to read.  She would take my sisters and I to the library in the summer and we were allowed to get out the maximum number of books...and really, we would read them all.  We almost never went shopping, but she often took us to the little local book shop to spend our money on Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden.

-She is so smart.  Now if you asked my mom who Jennifer Lopez is, there is a good possibility she will say, "Who?"  Which is why she's smart, right?  She doesn't waste her time on all this dumb stuff that means nothing... she really really thinks about the bigger picture of life....the things that make a difference.  I don't know how to describe it...sure history, literature, religion, culture, psychology, of course she's really smart that way...that is important too, but that's not what I'm talking about either.  She knows what it means to fully accept someone, she weighs words carefully and knows when to step in and when not to and what to say when she does, she understands that everyone grows in different ways, and stages, and places and is so aware and careful of that.  She is not one to interfere, but one to sit back and know that usually the only way towards growth is the path you discover yourself.   Everyone would always say to me, growing up, (she was the youth director at our church for a long time) "your mom is the best listener".  She just has this inner emotional scale that knows how to deal with all sorts of people from all walks of life.  

Happy Birthday Mom... 
...and thank you for everything you have done for me, from the bottom of my heart!


40 Days Tips and Tricks: The Real Issue

You say, 'If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.' 
You make a mistake. 
If you are not content with what you have, 
you would not be satisfied if it were doubled. 
--Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Last year when I was introduced to this Lenten challenge, I really ransacked my house. And I found that at the end of it all, I was a bit disgusted in myself.  I really thought that I, who was someone who liked to keep a simple, uncluttered home, could never find 40 bags of "stuff" to get rid of.  But I did easily.  And it really got me thinking.

This year I've had it much easier because of all that thinking.  I have really changed my ways, and it has NOT always been easy.  It's about discipline (no matter how bad you think you might "need" that new book, frame, pair of shoes), accountability (it's easy to fritter away your pennies if you don't keep track of them), and just plain old contentment and gratitude.

Sure, with a family of 7 (now 8), there is bound to be things to throw away, things that are outgrown, or just little pieces of junk here and there creeping in.  But I found the main culprit in the accumulation of all the this STUFF was ME. 

I started thinking:
1. How many times have I thrown something in my cart at Target or Michaels or wherever, either because I didn't really think about if I "loved" it...I just wanted it at the time?

2. How much of our hard-earned money (the money my husband makes working his days away!) did I fritter away easily on things I didn't need?  I started thinking about "instant gratification" and what I was teaching my children.  Needs vs. wants and waiting, being patient, really thinking about something...and buying something special, not some junky thing made in a factory that means nothing to me.  And taking care of what I had, instead of just wanting something new to replace the old.

3. The whole contentment issue again.  Looking through some magazine or seeing an idea on a blog and thinking, " I really need (ha!) a new purse like that, or a new look to this room, or this fancy pan in the kitchen."  Consumerism, materialism....yuck.  It's like this endless cycle of in and out.  Just like that quote at the top of the page...if you are always wanting more, something else, something different, you are never appreciating all you have right in front of you.  And this may seem cheesy, but I have read so many great books this last year, set in the late 1800's, early 1900's.  They lived so simply, saved their pennies for things for YEARS...a new fry pan, a doll, a dress, a pretty vase.  And because they had waited for them, made sure they were well made, and would last forever, they took care of them, and treated them as precious objects.

4. Once I was a nanny in a mansion.  Like really...MANSION.  The couple spent SO much of their time on stuff...not just time spent earning the money and then buying all these fancy things, but then having to turn around and spend even more money on the things they bought just to care and protect it all-the maintenance, insurance, fancy confusing alarms.  And their daughter sat lonely and neglected among it all.  I walked away with a lesson from that job, I'll tell you.  All these possessions, all this money...wasn't adding to their life, but taking away from everything that is truly important.  And whether or not it's that extreme, the truth is, the more you have, the more you have to care for, and the more time you spend on the things you have.  How freeing to have less!  It's getting to the core of the good life...where the "real happy" exists.

5. And most importantly, in the end, if I wanted to show my children where the "real happy" is, then I had to model the behavior I wanted them to see.  I had to say "no" to myself, even with little things, to teach them they could say "no" to themselves also, or hear it from me or Jeff, and the world wouldn't end.  Soon that little thing will be all forgotten about.  And you know, all our children want is US anyways.  They want to play with us, be with us, have us listen to them, more than any toys or gadgets.  And that costs absolutely nothing.