Tuesday, January 29, 2013

14 Ideas to Bless Your Marriage in February

February is always a rosy month of winter in my life, since it is filled with festivity in our home. My husband and I both have birthdays, and we have a number of friends who also share the birth month with us. There is always the hope of a light snow in Central Texas in February, since it happened two years in a row. And then there is Valentine's day to celebrate, too.  Yup. There's no doubt about it. I love February!

After a very difficult and tiring bedtime routine, I was rocking our two year old back to sleep and took the opportunity to pray about what I could be sharing this week. A moment later, my husband brought me a cup of homemade amaretto cocoa since he knew I'd be staying up late to write (I know, right??!!)  and then my heart heard its answer. February is a month that celebrates marriage in a special way. In the same manner in which I prepare myself during Advent and Lent to anticipate a joyful celebration, why not do the same for World Marriage Day, with daily reminders to lift up this holy vocation.

 It can be challenging for us, nearly 10 years into our marriage, to demonstrate love for each other as we did when we were first married. Deep in the trenches of parenthood, we feel drained and harried during the day, and at night we get pulled into our different interests. Often these days, love takes the form of letting someone sleep in or making their favorite meal, or folding the laundry together while watching "Dr. Who" on Netflix.  We all need reminders to tune up our marriages, and we are no exception! :)

 Here are 14 ideas to bless our marriages in the month of February.

 1) Ask these 5 questions every week. Allow the quieter person to initiate the conversations. My husband and I have been doing this for a few months and we  really look forward to it (and he appreciates getting air time!)

 2) Trade roles for one day. Maybe the husband can prepare dinner one evening while the wife takes the kids for a walk around the block.

 3) Make eye contact. Hug and kiss in front of the children. Be positive. Meditate on the way God has loved your spouse since the moment they were born.

  4) Unplug your devices. Put away phones, close the laptop, keep the t.v. off.  Light candles and put on your favorite music instead.  The Jack Johnson station on pandora is a fave in our home.

 5) Love letters! Decorate an extra shoe box alongside the kids for special Valentines for JUST you and your spouse. Write words of affirmation and be specific about what you love about your spouse.

 6) Pray for each other. Ask each other for prayer intentions and then pray for those intentions together.

 7) Date night! If you don't want to brave the crowds on Valentine's day, then have one earlier or later in the month, but get out of the house and do something together, it doesn't have to be extravagant to be special. Take turns planning future date nights by buying tickets in advance or saving money in designated envelopes. Commit to making one envelope for every month of the year.  Line up a sitter so you have extra accountability! :)

 8) Praise each other in front of friends and family.

 9) Let the early bird sleep in and bring them breakfast.

 10) Read Pope Benedict's first encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" together, and refresh your memory on the Catholic history of Valentine's Day.

 11) Attend a marriage vow renewal Mass or celebrate World Marriage Day with friends whose marriages inspire yours.

 12) Make a top ten list of your favorite romantic movies, and see how many you can watch during the month. Let the less opinionated movie-watcher have the input! Here's my list if you're interested!

 13) Be silly. Have a pillow fight, a food fight, a dance party. Swing on the swings at the park, jump on the trampoline, with and without the kids.

 14) Take some quizzes on the For Your Marriage website and browse through the many great ideas and resources to strengthen your bond with your spouse!

 ‘'How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in home, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice … Nothing divides them either in flesh or in spirit … They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church and partake of God’s banquet; side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts … Seeing this, Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present.’' - Tertullian 

Thursday, January 17, 2013


I have been contemplating the unique role of godparents this month, since my husband and I began the new year by celebrating the baptismal date of our sweet goddaughter with a family dinner. We lit her baptismal candle for a song and prayer with her family, and she opened a gift from us with dessert. The evening was treated as a spiritual birthday party and it was absolutely perfect.

We have waffled in the past about which traditions we would like to create and continue. We felt so glad to find one which fit so beautifully for the early years. Unfortunately for us, our other godchildren live out of state. So we are giving some serious thought to what we can do which would have the most lasting significance, as the children are growing.

My own godmother lives in India, and we wrote to each other when I was young. I would marvel at her letters written on parchment paper sent in crinkly blue envelopes with foreign stamps. She came to my First Holy Communion, and my wedding, and she always remembered me in prayer, with lovely gifts, and gave me the best advice. She has been like a spiritual mother to me all throughout my life.

I did a little reading about the origin of godparents in our early Church history. As I understand it, the tradition first began during the rule of the Roman Empire when the Church was being persecuted. The sacraments of initiation were all performed together, and it was critical to appoint a guardian for each Christian child in the event that the parents were martyred. The role of the godparent sponsor was not only to make the profession of faith on behalf of the infant, as well as to promise to instruct that child in the faith if his parents had failed in their duty to do so…but also to pledge to assist them in preparing for the remaining sacraments and helping them to live out their call to the Christian life.

The Arnolfini Portrait, by Jan van Eyck 1434
So much more than a warm and fuzzy title, this is a spiritual parenthood we are taking on. Just like with most roles and positions in our faith, the higher the honor, the more true servanthood it requires. This is clearly about so much more than having people bow to kiss your hand every time they see you (no disrespect to the Godfather Trilogy, of course).

I spoke with some women in the Catholic community of Bryan/College Station and asked for some of their experiences. For Stephanie Arnold, having godparents was truly a way for her to experience the faithful love of God. She grew up in a family which she felt let her down in many ways, and her godmother was always there in her moments of need. “I chose my patron saint after her, St. Joan of Arc,” Stephanie says.  ”And their children have become my children’s godparents now. They come from out of town to every single celebration for our kids, and whenever they are with all of our kids, they pray a rosary together.”

Jessica Gerngross is blessed to be part of a big family and shares several godchildren of varying ages with her husband. “With our teenaged godchildren, we usually send them for example a Matthew Kelly book, or media like the Matt Mahr cd or a movie like The Nativity Story. We also send Kerusso shirts.” Another treasured family tradition is to send godchildren a Fontanini figurine to add to their own nativity scene when they begin their own home. “Also, we try to stay current with our godchildren by sending them texts and emails, and we try to send to them good articles that we’ve read,” Gerngross says.

For convert Terri Duhon, living in a Catholic community is helping her to establish the Catholic roots she so desires for her children. She says of her eldest daughter’s godmother “she marks her baptism birthday every year and shares memories and pictures of the day. My daughter looks forward to hearing the story of her baptism.”
We will all come from different backgrounds in our Catholic heritage, some of us will be richly blessed by years of tradition, and others will feel as if they are starting from scratch. But as parents and godparents we must try to get the most important thing right, we must remember to walk the extra mile to make a spiritual investment in the lives of our godchildren. It may come in the form of money on special days, or treasured books or keepsakes. Maybe it is letter writing or becoming a source of constant prayer and making it known. Whatever it may be, it is sure to make a difference when that difference is needed most!

“Then, too, from the day when we first heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and requesting that you be filled with the knowledge of his will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of God, being pleasing in all things, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened in every virtue, in accord with the power of his glory, with all patience and long suffering, with joy, giving thanks to God the Father, who has made us worthy to have a share in the portion of the saints, in the light.”  Colossians 1:10

Any traditions or memories you can share with us here? Please do!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

25 Ideas to Pray as a Family in the New Year


Despite what some feared might be our last few days on earth on the twenty-first of December, our Lord has given us the gift of a fresh, new year of life, and all around us people are forming resolutions for self improvement.

I myself have a modest list of resolutions this year, and at the very top is "more family prayer." Going through the seasons of the liturgical year as an adult has taught me a few things, and one of the more practical lessons that has remained with me has been how to set spiritual goals which are realistic and specific. It's not that I don't have a million things I should improve, but more that I realize I need to tackle the ones that matter the most, first.

I find that I can be very impatient with myself.  It seems as though where prayer is concerned, some people are scaling mountains and slaying dragons while I feel like I keep lighting a small candle that the wind blows out several times a day.  It's good to keep in mind that as we seek to grow closer to Jesus and the promises of heaven that we remember that there is no finish line in the pursuit of holiness. Everyone will be going at a different pace, and the path will not always be in an upward linear fashion. There is a lifetime to reach our goals and to discover the rich treasures which our Faith gives to us. We must not be afraid to make mistakes,  bounce back from set-backs and reflect on what we feel have been failures. These are all parts of our spiritual growth and journey. The important part is not giving up!

In my searchings, I came across this article written by a Catholic author named Paul Thigpen in 1995. I found his suggestions for family prayer to be very wise and thorough, and I asked him for permission to share them. If you too are looking for inspired ways to pray with your family, do not wait for the perfect "thing"to happen, or worry about what another family is doing that isn't working for you. Just start with something small that fits with your family, and see where it leads. God will bless and multiply your efforts!

25 Ways to Pray as a Family
1. Find a regular time for daily family prayer that fits everyone's schedule, then make it a priority. A thousand distractions will try to keep you from establishing this discipline in your home, but persevere. No matter how much you pray alone, your family needs to pray together as well.

Try setting aside ten minutes a day at first. Once you've formed the habit, you can expand the time without much difficulty. The important thing is to get started and stick with it.

2. Teach your kids the basic elements of prayer. Making requests is only one aspect of talking to God. To remember the other important elements, think of the letters of the word "ACTS":
  • A is for Adoration: praising God for who He is.
  • C is for Confession: admitting to God our sins and telling Him we're sorry.
  • T is for Thanksgiving: recalling all that God has done for us.
  • S is for Supplication: making requests, both for others (intercession) and ourselves (petition).
Not every prayer needs to have all these elements. But taken as a whole, our prayer times should reflect a balance of them.

3. Join family prayers to the Scripture. Pray a psalm responsively as you do in church. Read together from the Scripture lessons designated for the day and let the words shape your thoughts in prayer.

4. When you pray together, combine spontaneous prayer with fixed forms of prayer such as the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be. Both kinds of prayer are important: Fixed forms help us find the right words, remind us of concerns we might otherwise have forgotten, and relieve us of the burden of trying to make every prayer new and different. Spontaneous prayer, on the other hand, allows us the flexibility to tailor our prayer to the needs of the moment and keeps us aware that we're having a conversation with a living Person.

5. Make song a part of family prayer. Music can lift our hearts to God and allow us to express our feelings in ways the mere spoken word can't even touch. Sing praise songs throughout the day. If no one in your home is musically gifted, don't worry--as one old Bible translation puts it, just "make a joyful noise unto the Lord!" (Psalm 66:1 KJV).

6. Tell your children that prayer is a two-way conversation. We should spend some time listening to God as well as talking to Him. Sometimes after a few minutes of silence in His presence, we can hear in our minds His words of comfort, discipline or direction, or we can simply feel His love and concern.

7. Teach your kids that prayer is a discipline and a privilege. So much in our culture leads them to assume that to be worthwhile an activity must feel good and be entertaining. Let them know that even though prayer is often a pleasure, it is also work. We pray, not for fun, but because it's the right thing to do.

8. Divide up intercessory responsibilities when you pray together as a family. Make sure each person has at least one concern to focus on, then take turns leading in prayer.

9. Any time family members have a concern they want others to bring to God, have them add it to a family prayer list on the refrigerator door. Then pray through the list during family prayer times.

10. Take on a prayer project with your kids. Discover a need someone has that only God can fill, then commit yourselves to interceding for the situation until you see an answer.

11. Encourage your children to start a prayer journal, perhaps in the form of letters to God. Writing down their conversations with the Lord can help them clarify their thoughts. Later they'll profit from reading over what they wrote in light of later events.

12. Keep a "thanksgiving book" of your family's answered prayers. Review it whenever you need to stir up your faith in God's provision. Swap stories of answered prayer with other families.

13. Pray together for people and situations in the news, especially government leaders and victims of war or natural disaster.

14. Build a family habit of taking problems to God as soon as they arise. Make prayer your first response to a challenge, not your last resort.

15. Pray about the small things together. Whatever concerns your children concerns the Lord. Be specific and concrete in your prayer requests.

16. Pray your family table grace in public places without embarrassment or apology. Show your kids you're not afraid to let strangers see your faith.

17. Be on the lookout for the "prayable moment." Maybe you and your teen have just watched the sunrise at the beach, and you feel close to God just now. Perhaps a favorite pet just died and your preschooler needs the Lord's comfort. Some occasions naturally invite us to pause a few minutes and talk with God.

18. Make basic, perennial concerns permanent items on your family prayer list,such as the Church, the poor, the sick, and the government. Honor the Holy Father's request that children everywhere pray for world peace.

19. When your family receives a bit of good news -- the announcement of a new job, the birth of a nephew, top grades on a report card -- celebrate together bypraising God on the spot. Give the Lord a round of applause, a rousing cheer, or anything else that says to Him, "Thank you!"

20. Help your children practice daily self-examination in prayer. Bedtime is the traditional time for a brief review of the day, with thanksgiving for God's favors and confession of our failures.

21. Discuss the meaning of the words in the prayers of the Mass so your kids will understand what they're saying in Church.

22. Pray the rosary and an occasional novena as a family. Talk to your children about how the words of repetitive prayers can press themselves deep into our hearts and free our minds to meditate on the mysteries of faith.

23. Teach your children about the saints and how God has granted us the great favor of their intercession. Join your family in asking them to pray for you.

24. Tell your children about their guardian angel and teach them to ask his protection daily. Read to them what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about the role of angels in our lives (see sections 328-336).

25. Finally, remember that the best way to teach prayer is to model it to your children. Make prayer a way of life. If your family sees that you and God have frequent, intimate conversations, they'll be more likely to want to build their own friendship with Him.

Wishing you and yours a very happy and blessed new year, and may you prosper with God's blessings in all you seek to do!