Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The little things can become the big things

We can all probably recall a time when we first noticed an ant trail marching back to its colony. And perhaps how we fought the temptation to stomp on a few, just to see what would happen.  It is human nature to ponder the frailty of life, and also how it can persist against all odds.

It was one such moment like this that I taught our eldest son his first lesson on respecting life. We were walking with friends and we happened across a preying mantis. After much oohing and ahhing and picture -taking, no one realized that my toddler was about to stomp on the unsuspecting preying mantis.  We didn't catch him in time and he did stomp on the bug. Fortunately it scuttled off looking no worse for the wear.  No bugs were harmed in the making of this story. But the incident presented a teachable moment. We talked about how we would never hurt something unless we were trying to keep ourselves safe (or hunt, for those who do). Now as our young sons begin to practice martial arts, that's a lesson that is repeated in many different ways each day in our home and in our conversations.

The little things can become the big things.

As our children grow, the issues we face as a family are changing. We still talk about being nice to bugs, but the respect for life mentality has developed into discussions of how to treat people who are different from us at school, to why we seek to buy goods and services that support fair trade practices. Our children are not yet at an age where we discuss current news events, and issues such as abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment and embryonic stem cell research, but we know the time will come. We also know that we have no guarantees that our children will always make the wisest choices, but we know our duty is to equip them to do their very best.

As parents we are our children's first and most important teachers. What we underscore in our homes, they will carry with them in their hearts. It is never too late to step in as a parent to initiate these discussions. The Advent challenge I post for us all today is to discuss one of these topics with our children today, or to choose a family activity which especially inspires a culture of life.


- Create an album of ultrasound pictures from your pregnancies, or take out your children's baby books while they are still young and impress upon them how sacred their own life is and how much they are loved.
- Life is a gift from God to be cherished. Let our children hear us give praise to those who work each day to protect, defend and improve life for others.
-Remind our children that their bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit.
- Teach our kids that every person has value and God-given dignity, regardless of how people appear or what they do. We are all made in God's image.
- Show respect to the elderly, encourage children to care for the elderly members of your family in small ways.
-Ask your child to have the courage to reach out to a student that seems lonely, or picked on, and show kindness.
- Be mindful as a parent and monitor inappropriate and violent media. Listen to your instincts and act on them.
- Collect baby items or clothes to deliver to a ministry for unwed mothers/pregnancy outreach center.
- Visit an animal shelter and help feed the animals or take them for walks.

Let us pray that as a nation, we can encourage each other to work together to form children who are sensitive to life at all stages. And may we never doubt that our words and actions, as parents and teachers, have the most profound impact on our children.

“The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally prolife: who will acclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation.  A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” 
Pope John Paul II

Monday, December 3, 2012

Thinking outside of the "gift box" at Christmas

The other day, I was kindly asked what my children would like for Christmas. So, I surveyed their bedrooms, looked through their toy bins and took stock of their clothes and shoes. But I came up totally empty.

My husband is an unabashed geek and being technologically savvy is the bread and butter of our existence, but we try to keep our kids as unplugged as possible.  So they don't have hand held devices or even the Wii, and the little screen time they are permitted is more than slightly policed.  Scratch out video games, for the time being anyway. 

Feeling a bit lost, I sat down with a catalog that came in the mail, and tried to narrow down a few things. But I couldn't run away from the vision of the lego debris all over the floor (that never seems to subside in our house), and the matchbox cars that I find under the piano and in my purse on any given day, and the stacks of old board games which no one seems to have the time to play.  Stacks + Piles + Debris = dusty garage sale items. Eeek. Scratch that.

Then I began thinking along the lines of practical things, like fishing gear, a tool box, a telescope or an archery set. But those require time to acquire a certain skill, time which is hard to find at this stage of our parenthood. 

The only thing that makes sense to me is books, since we love to read with our children and reading is my favorite way to spend time with them. If I had to ask for anything, books are the clear winner (cue the confetti!)

But stuff? No, we don't need any more stuff.  Recently we were generously given  by family some great new board games, puzzles and a few fantastic movies. I will wrap those up, with some new shoes that I bought for the boys.  My hubby is launching some secret backyard project, and maybe this will be the year we will get that bike trailer so we can take family bike rides. And we will all be giddy about that!

We are a country of blessed abundance, but that can turn into a culture which makes us feel like we are depriving our children, and ourselves, if we are not showered with gifts at Christmas. It is way too easy to get caught up in the commercialism of giving store-bought presents instead of adoring Christ’s holy presence. It can turn into a fanatical frenzy of trying to find the “perfect thing” for everyone, when really the “perfect thing” is simply to spend time as a family worshipping our Lord and sharing loving acts of service with our community.

In the spirit of St. Nicholas' generosity on his feast day today, why not challenge our families to do something a little different this year.  Children are hungry for meaningful experiences, and really benefit from family growth opportunities. These are lessons that might shape their future careers and families.  Here are some ideas of how we can think outside of the box with gifts we can bring to Jesus and to each other this year. 

Gifts of Service
  • Buy gifts for needy children through the Angel Tree project at the parish. You can also volunteer to help wrap those gifts as a family, or deliver them to homes.
  • Visit a hospital, or the elderly at a nursing home as a family or offer to serve a meal at the nursing home close to your home or a soup kitchen. Our family sings Christmas carols at our local nursing home, and it’s a beautiful way to share the love of Christ on His birthday.  Many are lonely and without family on Christmas Day.
  • Sign up to deliver Christmas dinner to the needy, or have your children help you stuff grocery bags to deliver to a nearby food bank.
Gifts of Worship and Prayer
  • Attend the Christmas cantata or concert at your parish as a family, they are usually free!
  • Share an extra adoration hour as a family
  • Visit a “living nativity scene” and bring some neighbors or friends along to witness the true miracle of Christmas. This is a very special experience for young children!
  • Read the Magnificat as a family and write about your reflections, take turns faith sharing with your friends or family.
  • Attend the Advent penance service as a family
  • Sing Christmas Carols in your neighborhood.  Talk to a few neighbors ahead of time so they know to have egg nog and cookies for you, or at the very least go out of town ;)
If you’d like to do spend your money in a way which can bless a family or community, there are numerous non-profit organizations which devote themselves to breaking the cycle of poverty in underdeveloped nations in very innovative and effective ways. These are a few of my favorite organizations. You will be amazed what a few simple U.S. dollars can do for a family across the world.

Gifts that give twice.
  • Work of Human Hands Sale sponsored by Catholic Relief Services– Purchase Christmas beautiful handcrafted gifts by artisans from impoverished nations. The money you spend goes directly to the person who made your gifts! Also, you can even set a sale up in your own parish! Visit website.
  • Heifer Ranch International – End world hunger by buying a chicken, or a rabbit, a tree or a cow for a whole village to share. For just a few dollars, you could help feed a whole community of people, who will then be able to save their wages to send their children to grade school and eventually college.
  • Christian Foundation for Children and Aging - Catholic organization for sponsoring children  and the elderly
  • Make a donation to Catholic Relief Services  to help bring aid to people facing true crisis, here in the States and across the world, such as those still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy. (
Peace be with us all at the beginning of this Advent season. As we prepare our hearts to enter the mystery, let us all be inspired to believe that our prayers and our actions can make small miracles happen that may ripple throughout the world at Christmas, and continue in the New Year. Let us give ourselves permission to quietly step back from the frenzy, and invite others to follow us, because we have something far more important to be doing.

Let us look to the manger for the greatest gift of all and remember what He asks of us. Love, and more love. 

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.  ~ John 1:14