What Not to Do This Summer – Part 4

beingThere are four hindrances to diligence (we’ve already talked about the first three: being preoccupied, being hasty, and being anxious) that, if we think about it, might also be seen as hindrances to making the most of our summer! The fourth and final hindrance to diligence, St. Francis de Sales suggests, is “a desire to do too much,” and it’s the one of which I am most guilty.

 “There is no need of wearing ourselves completely out in the exercises of virtue, but we should practice them freely, naturally, simply, as the ancient Fathers did, with good will and without scrupulosity. In this consists the liberty of the children of God: that is, in doing gladly, faithfully, and heartily, what they are obliged to do.” – St. Francis de Sales Continue reading

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Sneaky Superstition

Friday the 13th is the feast day of superstition. I’m not sure what faith this feast represents, but it isn’t the Catholic faith but something more sneaky, more insidious.

Perhaps you think I’m being a bit severe. Aren’t common superstitions just innocent fun?

Don’t drop that mirror or you’ll have seven years of bad luck.

Don’t walk under a ladder. Continue reading

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Raising Resilient Human Beings

resilientSeveral years ago, I found myself sitting in the waiting room of a therapist’s office with my heavy-hearted middle-school child. I couldn’t figure out how we got here. My husband and I were focused on forming a faith-filled family, and raising strong, healthy, happy children. We believed by raising our children in the Faith and loving them unconditionally, they would be protected from unhappiness and wounds. Perhaps we were naïve.

We watched with confusion and alarm as we saw our 13-year-old daughter crumble before us in seventh grade; the light faded from her once bright eyes, in spite of our prayers and God’s promises. The pressures of social drama and academics were heavy. Our child stopped seeing herself for who she was and instead internalized things other people said about her. She thought she didn’t measure up to other’s expectations and began to believe this was the core of her identity.

Somehow these things spoke louder than the message we had been trying to build in her for 13 years – a message of love and worth as a child of God. We thought we could raise happy, successful children and protect them from wounds of the world by the sheer force of faith and love.

I felt like a failure as a parent, but I had to put those emotions aside, trust God and walk into this darkness I never imagined facing. It takes humility, and a willingness to carry pain you can’t fix, to walk through suffering with your child. The word compassion comes from Latin, meaning “to suffer with.” We lived compassion. And my husband and I had to live it quietly because this battle was not meant for the public. By the grace of God, we found a great Christian therapist our child connected with and had the courage to open up to. Step by step, we saw her walk through this struggle and find her smile again.

Meanwhile, I turned to God for support. I had a paradigm shift after speaking with a priest about the terrifying new landscape before me. I was grieving the fact that I hadn’t been able to protect my daughter from the pain she was going through. After listening, he quietly said, “Kerrie, would you prevent your child from having the experience of Mercy?” This was it for me. I didn’t need to go farther than my Rosary and Bible to see the trauma that Jesus suffered in his passion and death, as a refugee child fleeing to Egypt with Mary and Joseph, when he was left behind in Jerusalem for three days, and when St. Joseph died. I saw Mary’s trauma as well. She was threatened with divorce, had no place to give birth, fled to Egypt in the middle of the night, and ultimately had a sword pierce her heart.

After many, many days of prayer, I came to realize that our faith does not make perfect people, it makes strong people, healed people. Healed people experience difficulty, trauma, sin, weakness, and failure, and become strong through the experience of mercy. They become something stronger than successful, they become resilient.

Years later our daughter still has battles, but with a strength and maturity born from the struggle, a struggle we would have done anything possible to protect her from. Indeed, all things do work for good in those who love the Lord (Romans 8:28).  If I had been successful in shielding my child from challenges, difficulties, and failures, I would have taken away her chance to develop resiliency and experience the mercy of the Father.

My parenting goals have shifted. Instead of trying to protect my children, I focus on raising resilient children who, God-willing, will become resilient faith-filled adults.

Here are six lessons I’ve learned. I share them with you not as a therapist, but as a mother who hopes to encourage you on your parenting journey.

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

-Leonard Cohen

Lesson 1. Don’t shield your children from all challenges and failures. It’s more loving to let them learn to navigate challenges as children and teenagers, while we are walking by their side, than to have the big brick wall of reality hit them for the first time during their adult life.

Lesson 2. Be a safe place. Teenagers may blame you, spew unkind words and roll their eyes at you. Paradoxically, it may be because they know how much you love them, and because they trust you.  In a difficult world, you, their family, may be the only place they feel safe enough to let it all out.  Stay calm, help them process their feelings. Don’t take it personally. Do not accept disrespectful behavior, but don’t let it ignite your emotions. Tell them when a behavior is unacceptable and calmly give them consequences for their actions.

Lesson 3. Teach them to reframe. Reframing involves recognizing negative thoughts, analyzing them, and seeing reality through a different, more positive frame or lens.

Lesson 4. Model brave love that isn’t striving to “be the best” but to “give your best.” Resilient people are not crushed by failures, rejections, wounds, and traumas, but know that God heals and builds love through adversity. Resilient people are less afraid of being hurt and freer to love others no matter the circumstances. Praise kids for how they are loving others and themselves, rather than for the results of their efforts, which are not often in their control.

Lesson 5. Speak the hope that you have in faith. As parents, model selfless love that has an abiding peace, even in the face of pain and difficulty.  Be honest about challenges but recognize and articulate the good in the situation. If the circumstances are so dark that you can’t see the good, recognize and verbalize to your children that it will come, and that sometimes we have to walk through darkness before we see the light.

Lesson 6. Teach kids they are worth more than what they achieve. The pressure to succeed socially, academically and athletically is enormous. Instinctively, we want to protect our children from adversity and failure. Stop. Let them face dragons. Let them fail. But be there beside them. As parents, we need our kids to see we value who they are more than what they achieve and that they can come up with solutions to problems on their own. Show this by praising their efforts and character instead of just their accomplishments.

Resilient people are positive and optimistic. In an angry, broken world, resilient people live with a clear view of reality, but also with compassion, mercy, and hope. They look for solutions. Their optimism gives them the energy to do the hard work needed to make it through something difficult, or to help someone else through challenges. Some kids are naturally optimistic. Encourage this. Some kids aren’t. Accept this and help them develop the skills needed to build their hope and optimism. Help them learn to look for the good in any situation and keep that as their focus. If they can’t find a good, help them think of a good they can create and encourage them to work on that, as St. John of the Cross said, “Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.”

Yes, they may fail. And if they do it will be ok.  Recently my 5th-grade son came home from school talking about a principle they were working on in the classroom.  It’s this, “FAIL means First Attempt In Learning.” I love that. Maybe I should go back to 5th grade…

Spiritual Resources

Pray a lot.  Pray, let God guide you and let him guide your child. Sit in his arms and let Him love you through this. Ask for the gift of trust, and lay this burden at his feet. It’s for him to heal, not for you to carry and try to control.  Here are a few spiritual resources that help me with this.

  1. resilientMary Un-doer of Knots: I put my children and their challenges in her hands.
  2. All things work for good in those that love the Lord (Romans 8:28)
  3. This illness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God. (John 11:4)
  4. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Phil4:13)
  5. Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Whatever happens, give thanks, because it is God’s will in Christ Jesus that you do this. (1 Thes 5:16-18)
  6. Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you are involved in various trials because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But you must let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing (James 1: 2-4)
  7. The Guardian Angel Prayer- pray it for your kids. “Angel of God, her guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits thee near, ever this day, be at her side, to light and guard, to rule and guide.”
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What Not to Do This Summer – Part 3

summerIn Part 1 of What Not to Do This Summer, we learned to not be preoccupied, and give ourselves fully to the present moment. In Part 2, we learned to not be hasty, to allow summer to slow us down. The third hindrance to diligence (and making the most of our summer) is anxiety, for, as St. Frances de Sales suggests, “the time spent peacefully is doubtless most usefully employed.” 

  1. Don’t Be Anxious

The saints call it Interior Sweetness, that deep and gentle peace that comes from a trust that all is in God’s hands. Says St. Jane Frances de Chantal, “So if you desire your work to be better and less burdensome, you must correct this anxiety and solicitude, striving to work with fidelity but, at the same time, with calmness and spiritual sweetness.” Continue reading

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What Not to Do This Summer – Part 2

summerIn Part 1 of What Not to Do This Summer, I suggested that the four hindrances to the virtue of diligence paralleled, strangely enough, things to avoid in order to have a joy-filled summer! St. Francis de Sales taught us in Part 1 to not be preoccupied, to spend this summer being present with the ones we love. Here’s step two to having a saint-inspired summer.

 “Beware of [haste], for it is a deadly enemy of true devotion; and anything done with precipitation is never done well. Let us go slowly, for if we do but keep advancing we shall thus go far.” – St. Francis de Sales Continue reading

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The Worst of Times?

worstIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

– Charles Dickens, a Tale of Two Cities

This is written for failed students of history, those who avoided the subject or those who forgot what they once learned cramming for a test. Continue reading

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Internship and Community: Bread and Butter

If I want to accomplish something, I sometimes get bulldoggish about it. “Single-minded” describes this trait in a positive light; “stubborn” and “myopic” describe it too. When I flew to Detroit for 12 days this summer for a gathering of Legionary writers, for example, I had no idea the city was practically in Canada; my sights were focused on writing. I wanted to get things done, put words on paper, and lots of ‘em. Read, write, submit, publish—that was the agenda. I could feel that little germ inside me whispering the familiar lie, “You are only as valuable as your work.” But my regal reception in Michigan put that pathogen in its place. Continue reading

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Summer Saints

Summer is a time for friends and celebrations, and we belong to a church that loves to celebrate.  You’ll be in good company with these five saints who have summer feast days.

mercy

Tapestry: Communion of Saints by John Nav

June 22nd– SAINT THOMAS MORE

mercy

Painting: St Thomas More by Hans Holbein

“I die the king’s faithful servant, but God’s first.” – St. Thomas More

Champion of truth, St. Thomas More is a great friend to have in this era of moral relativism. Everyone needs someone who can help you see clearly and counsel you to make the right decisions, regardless of the consequences. St. Thomas More has your back.  In the midst of life-and-death tension, he never lost his sense of humor- a sign of his unwavering trust in God’s will. At his death, he even lightened the moment for the executioner, saying, “Cheer up, man, and don’t mind doing your job. My neck is very short, so see you aim straight. You don’t want to spoil your reputation!” And, “Stop! I must put my beard aside. It would be a shame to chop it off. After all, my poor beard is not accused of treason.”

Continue reading

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What Not to Do This Summer – Part 1

summerA few years ago I stumbled upon a book called A Year With the Saints, and instead of reading it cover to cover, I pick it up every once in a while and read one of the twelve chapters, each one corresponding to a different virtue. It’s always the virtue I’m especially lacking at the moment: I read the chapter on Simplicity when I was feeling especially frazzled, the chapter on Humility when I was acting particularly haughty, and the chapter on Diligence when it seemed that everything I did, I put in half the effort – or less – than I should. It was this chapter on diligence, peppered with quotes from the presumably diligent St. Francis de Sales, that stuck with me, and comes back to me, ironically, as summer begins.  Continue reading

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The Personality of Jesus Christ

personalityI was working on a short story for my creative writing course when I ran into a problem. The story is about knights and castles, and I wanted the King, Cherathon the Flame, to be an allegorical Christ-figure. But an author can only portray a convincing character if he understands him through and through. What is his temperament? How does he think? What are his motives? This all came down to one key question for me: what is the personality of Jesus Christ?

Luckily, my team here at the seminary had just finished a long discussion on personality types. We based it on the four-characteristic, Myers-Briggs system. So, I took everything that I learned from the conversation and sat down at my desk, tapping my pencil against my head as I tried to sketch this complex figure, the Messiah, the carpenter. Continue reading

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