Never underestimate the power of a small group. As Christian pastors, organizers, ministry leaders and educators have experienced for several years across all denominations and regions, the small group approach to sharing and connecting has been proven practically fool proof. Our hearts were not made to live in solitude, living out the seasons of our lives with only our immediate family members within the walls of our homes.
I wonder if there has ever been another generation in the history of mankind where society’s expectations have ever moved us more closely toward a life of material accomplishments, busy schedules, self centeredness and ultimately – loneliness. For hundreds of years, I can only imagine how living the village life likely offered more opportunities to truly share each other’s burdens, witness each others’ tempations and hardships and celebrate the victories and blessings together. To see the same challenges, heartaches and insights of one’s own life play out in the lives of others, before your very own eyes – has a way of changing our hearts in a way that simply reading or hearing about it, cannot do. For these reasons, I think, must be why our Lord called us to ‘love one another’, in the union that we call our Church.
This post has been on my heart and whirling through my mind for the months that we have spent settling into our new home, culture and drastically different schedule. Amidst the hometown heartbreak and faithful surrender that initiated our move away from our very special small group in Texas and transition into ministry life here in Melbourne, Florida, we have indeed found answered prayers, abundant blessings and a hope for a bright future for our family. The kindness that has been shown to us never ceases to amaze me. We are leaning in toward six months here soon, as April springs into play.
Melbourne is a beautiful place and our Church here is a dream come true. I don’t think we could have dreamed up an Irish priest so full of faith, passion, character and dedication to Catholic education. This is, hands down, Scott’s most treasured position in all of his career, of both his professional and ministry background. Our older boys have acclimated well to life in private school here, moreso than their mother who still misses them terribly some days after years of home schooling. The time that I have been granted to relish in my short years home with my two littlest ones, without school planning and study hovering over our schedule is a gift that I am openly accepting. As a mother who has watched my older boys grow up seemingly overnight, the reality of how fast it all goes by is a constant reminder for us to relish in these toddler and preschool years, as trying as they may be sometimes.
Beyond all that, we live three miles from the beach.
We go every day that presents the opportunity. It is a healing place for us and perhaps God’s most beautiful natural amusement park for our boys. If ever we second guess our path that led us to ministry life, with its pay restrictions and non-traditional hours, this ability to watch witnesses unfold, walk to our Church, school, and job or quickly drive over to the beach within seven minutes, usually quiets our doubts and reminds us of the love our Creator has for us. He truly knows the yearnings of our hearts.
Yet still, there is one piece of the ‘new home’ puzzle that is out of place for me here. I have nothing or anyone else to blame but my own heart for not yet diving into community life in Melbourne, as we have so easily done before. Scott and I have spent many nightly conversations examining the whys and hows, but deep down, I know the truth. The communities we left behind in both Austin and in my hometown were so real, so loving, so divinely appointed in a dozen different ways, that they sometimes feel impossible to ever replace or surpass. Are God’s people ever really granted that kind of community blessing so many times in a short lifetime? I know, I know. Oh, ye have little faith! I am working on it.
Today, on this day between the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord, I am called to examine our own family life as it looks today. My hope is that our faith will be restored and resurrected that we can, indeed, put our faith in a lasting community life here, as well. It will be one that we will not have to leave behind as soon as we all fall in love with God’s timing for us to be part of others’ lives around us. Today, my heart is pulled in several different directions.
Upon returning to my hometown almost two years ago, we prepared to settle into what is typically referred to as part of the Bible Belt of Texas, boasting a plethora of splendid sola scriptura, protestant Churches of many Christian demoninations, but especially of the Baptist, Methodist, and Cowboy-Come-As-You-Are varieties. Catholic Churches in this kind of eastern countryside are not usually large enough in numbers to share much more than a few young families. We honestly did not know if there would even be one single family like us: devoutly and passionately Catholic, ready to sacrifice other parts of our lives for that dedication and love to the teachings and culture of this Church that we know in the very fiber of our being, is what Jesus came to initiate during His time on Earth. For us, this meant a life full of ministry and several rowdy boys to home school.
Within our first few weeks there, however, we spotted our first Godsent gifts of friendship. It was Mother’s Day and as the moms of the crowd were called closer to the altar during Mass for a mother’s blessing, there were two of us holding little squirmy babies or toddlers. Immediately, I sent up a mother’s prayer of gratitude for that one little sign of hope that we would not be alone in our time here in Livingston, not knowing how long our Lord wanted to keep us here.
After Mass, this family of three smiley girls, their sweet ginger topped mother named Melissa and kind looking father named Chris approached us with introductions. They already knew who we were, from mutual friends back in Austin and had only moved into the area within the few months just before our arrival. We were fast friends, discussing our plans to home school, our treasured commonalities from living in central Texas and marveling at God’s plans to send our families back to this little town at the same time. As I had been given indications of someday returning back to that little town in dreams over the years, Scott’s job offer had solidified those notions. For our new friends, a job offer had also brought them back to Chris’s hometown as well.
We spent that summer scouting out other families like us. We were welcomed with open arms into the beauty of the ecumenical small town culture of Livingston, where pastors’ wives and ministry leaders joined often to share our stories and journeys or simply revel in time together to discuss a book or laugh at our children’s most recent shenanigans. We were surprised beyond belief to discover more profoundly dedicated Christians, home schooling families and holistic minded naturalists.
Melissa and I were determined to join forces in the efforts of forming a home school cooperative that would offer our children what we had both left behind with our moves to Livingston. We knew we wanted to keep true to our Catholic teachings and values, offer our children a sense of community and set accountability standards for curriculum. The details of the ‘how’ and ‘when’ wavered over the summer planning months. Finally, three weeks after the birth of our fifth son, Joseph, we were able to hold our first day of classes, back at the place we had first met in the Family Center of St. Joseph Catholic Church.
In searching out other families to join us, God led us to a handful of families that became this very special small group. We didn’t neccessarily set out to read a book for discussion, nor meet up on any other certain day other than our midweek class day. We had no idea how much that small group with a very serious purpose would transform all of our lives. In setting out to educate our own children, with a priority and devotion to Catholicism, God recognized our efforts enough to bless us all with friendships and sacraments that will last a lifetime.
Our search led us to a sweet family whose husband had grown up Catholic and were currently wavering on where to find unity in their faith life, much like where we had been seven years ago, before my own personal conversion and joining of the Catholic Church. They had been studying much of the same resources we had chosen for our core curriculum of Latin and classical studies. This sweet mother of three, Tatiana, slowly came to ask more questions in our days together at what we named Holy Family Homeschool. She often helped Melissa in the room with our high energy threenagers and gave so graciously to our group. In her questions that slowly came up, I could hear all of the same thoughts that had surfaced only several years earlier in my own mind. She became one of my best friends.
In our lovely Catholic parish in this retirement community an hour outside of Houston, we were truly welcomed and showered with love from people of all ages and walks of life. One of the first to greet us was another memorable ginger haired retired nurse named Peggy with a huge smile and a boisterous energy. (We obviously love gingers!) Essentially, she set us up on a lake date with her son and daughter-in-law, James and Amber, with their four children. We laughed at the dynamics of it but eased our way slowly into a very real and transforming friendship with their whole family. Both Peggy and Amber graciously agreed to help Melissa take care of our youngest students during the school days that we joined together for studies. Amber inspired me beyond belief with her patience and kindness she gave to our little Gus, while I helped teach some of the older students Latin, Language, Creative Writing and Literature Classics during these days together. She also became one of my very best friends and sources of encouragement.
Just before school started, we spotted another young couple with two children in Mass, sitting a few rows behind us. Their names sounded familiar from home schooling forums within the small community once I placed names with faces. Imagine our delight to see that they attended St. Joseph as well! After parking lot introducations, and a few emails and calls, in stepped Odie & Fred into our home school community, just in time to start school. Odie was always glad to help and host a gathering in her home anytime the occasion surfaced. She loves to laugh and celebrate life in general. Every small group needs an Odie. Again, God sent me to one of my new favorite friends.
Another huge part of our small group gathering and homeschooling initiative fell on the shoulders of one last family. They had both recently come into the Catholic Church as researched converts in the last three years. Our wonderful RCIA leaders of our Church, Karen and Dewayne, pointed us in their direction, as they lived outside of Livingston and often drove to another closeby parish for weekly Mass. We sought them out by social media first, inviting them to return to a Mass at St. Joseph to talk more about home schooling. Michael and Amanda, together with their four children, were an intregal part of our cooperative dynamics as Michael agreed to help teach the older students Science, History, Math and Catechism while leading up the Latin classes in the morning.
Michael and Scott became fast friends as they offered our group loving, dedicated fatherly examples for our students. Scott, Michael and Chris, as well as the rest of the husbands in our group, eventually came together to form a fathers’ prayer group and gathering. That group is still changing the world there, bit by bit, in little Polk County.
Although both the Hopsons and our family were both called to positions and ministry life within the private Catholic school culture for the following next year, we will always treasure our time together with these families – this small group that helped change our lives so much. We enjoyed eighteen months full of family gatherings, campouts, dinner parties and playdates. In a time that could have been very lonely and disappointing, God blessed us with friendships full of authenticity, vulnerability, and common priorities of our young families and faith.
Today, had financial resources worked in our favor, we had planned to return to our little small group to help them all celebrate this very special Easter for so many of their families. This evening, at the traditional Easter Vigil, Tatiana will enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. Melissa will be her RCIA sponsor. Their family will also be preparing their oldest, Gianna, to receive her first Holy Communion. Frank and Tatiana also had their marriage sacramentally blessed a few weeks ago. Even though I will not be there physically, my heart is focused from afar on these sacramental blessings of unity that God has granted these families, starting today.
Amber and James also had their marriage blessed in the Church a few months ago and will be baptizing all four of their children into the Church tonight. Somehow Peggy knew how much we would all love each other when she arranged our little lake date a few summers ago. When Amber called today to ask questions about selecting godparents, my heart sank for a moment. I knew had we been able to make it home, we would have been standing there, as witnesses and help for the bold little family that they are raising up.
When Scott accepted this position here, we found that leaving our family and small group there in Livingston would be the most difficult part about this new chapter. Our first friends there, Chris and Melissa, did something completely unpredictable, full of faith and sacrificial love. Chris left his financially rewarding and lucrative career in long term retirement care to step up as the new Director of Religious Education in Scott’s place. We were completely and utterly swept away in the timing of God’s plan and calling that had been interweaved into all of our lives. In many ways, we are still clinging to that beautiful mystery of the small group that He led us to in such a short time. We all changed each others’ lives in amazing ways. Families were united, faith was restored, sacraments are unfolding before our eyes and both youth and family ministry continues in our absence. We were oh, so much more than a small group. We were family. We were a village. We were what our Christ prescribed when he said:
“Love thy neighbor as you do yourself.”
We miss you and love you very much, our Holy Family Friends! Happy Easter!
This morning, I plopped myself down in a soft recliner with my phone cued up to the iRosary app in one hand and a tall glass of water in the other. Not 30 seconds later, was the cherub of my own little Augustine perched upon my lap, asking if he could slide the virtual beads up a notch after each prayer. These mornings and naptimes with him by my side in this rosary habit-making journey have been so tender, while learning prayers that I had not yet fully memorized as a convert (Apostles’ Creed and Hail, Holy Queen) and meditating upon artistic images of Jesus’s life together. Stopping occasionally to explain something like the meaning of the word ascension, has been pure sweetness.
Today, my shoulders slumped a tiny bit when I came to discover that today’s mysteries were the sorrowful ones. In times that I often feel overwhelmed by responsibility, loneliness in a new community, and the sleep deprivation of JoJo toddlerhood, my natural tendency is to perk up a bit more to see the beauty of the joyful, luminous or glorious mysteries come to life upon my little handheld world of virtual reality. But life is so much more than just the sunny days at the beach that I often share within my social media circles. Real life and real love often involves suffering too.
“What’s wrong, Mama?” Gus had noticed. I shrugged it off, hugged him closer and settled in anyway. We had barely started the meditation of Jesus’s Agony in the Garden, when our rosary session was interrupted by the image of Gus, dressed up like a pilgrim, hugging one of his long lost best friends, Lily. My sweet friend Sarah was calling, prompting the image of our 4th children to appear together, alongside her name on my smart phone screen. She may have been the only person in the world I would have answered for right then. I am so glad I did.
Her friendship was a precious touchstone from my very first mothers’ group, a necessary mainstay in my life since and is among my most treasured gifts ever received along the treasure hunt of embracing the vocations of motherhood and married life. When your strongest, most faith-filled friend calls you with worry and news of a hard day, it is such a blessing to be able to answer the call, listen to, cry with, pray for and remind her how wonderful she truly is. Before we hung up the phone, I promised her that I would say my rosary today for her and a quick, “I love you. I will check on you later.”
St. Sarah is my Godsent friend, who long ago, was the first to ever to say to me, “I fell asleep praying my rosary for you.” She was also the first one to tell me that on those weary, difficult days full of young motherhood, needy little ones, mounds of housework and years of second guessing ourselves, that we could crawl into bed at the end of the long day, pull our sheets over our head as we would the mantle of our heavenly Mother’s cloak. For, she, together with her Son, our Lord, sees all of our work, worry, second-guessing, and sacrifice. We should cling to her, as her little children, beholding who our King referred to when He used some of His very last words here on Earth to instruct His most beloved apostle John to “Behold, your mother.”
I have often witnessed my protestant friends’ confusion and condemnation of praying the Holy Rosary, dismissing the possibility that these prayers meditating upon the most sacred events of Our Lord’s life could ever bring us closer to the depths of His love. In the last month of praying the rosary, that vision has come to life in a deeper way as I have contemplated Jesus’ life through the eyes of His mother. She has brought me to know my Lord deeper. Mary, does indeed, bring us closer to her child, Jesus. Through each set of the joyful, luminous, glorious and sorrowful mysteries, we are offered reminders and glimpses of the beautiful love story between this mother and her child, as according to this wondrous plan of salvation set forth by our Creator himself.
As I returned to my rosary and glanced back toward to this image of Jesus, sweating blood and water, as depicted by scriptures referring to the agony in the garden, I was reminded of this recurring realization that has surfaced several times since starting my attempts at a rosary habit. We need the sorrowful mysteries most of all. Without the sorrowful mysteries, how would we ever be able to relate to this heavensent God-man who did not suffer in the same specific ways that we do in our own lives?
This story of this mother and her son that contained clear elements of sorrow and suffering illuminates every kind of pain and hardship known to mankind. Our God thought of everything.
He not only came to save. The word passion actually means “to sacrifice”. Jesus came to exemplify precisely this kind of sacrificial love. He came to conquer all that we fear; even death.
As mothers, we can internalize these realities as we draw nearer to our Lord, lovingly and gratefully. Most of us rarely suffer all of these hardships symbolized in the images of the sorrowful mysteries, especially not all within any one lifetime. Let us not allow those extreme times of suffering to distract us from the ways we may relate to our Lord’s suffering today though. Let us not doubt our invitation to unite our sufferings to His. Although we may never endure some or all of these inflictions of the flesh, I cannot imagine that He would want us to not align these events, seasons and opportunities of growth and suffering in our own lives to Him. He came to save all, inspire all. In failing to recognize this, do we not in some degree let all that He endured be in vain? Let us offer up our sufferings!
As I continued on through my rosary, I aligned the images of the sorrowful mysteries to the lives of those mothers closest to me. More images came to mind of times in my own life and those of others that made me stronger, more humble, more loving, more compassionate and more faithful. By the time I had completed my five decades and contemplated all five of these sorrowful mysteries, I had been gifted a deeper way to unite my suffering to those of my Lord, and to the whole body of Christ.
The Agony in the Garden, for the new mother:
These remind me of the physical aches of exhaustion and isolation of knowing that only you can birth, feed, nourish, and care for this child as their mother. Remember those first few nights sitting up in the middle of the night, rocking a hungry baby in the dim light, wanting so desperately to just go back to sleep, but knowing that no one else could nurse that baby with the most perfect food that God had created just for him, in me. No one else had been blessed to carry this child in their womb, or wear the distinctive scent that this innocent gift of life already recognized as “Mother”. No one else could care for this child so completely as his God-given mother.
While the rest of the house sleeps and returns to work quickly, life carries on in the rest of the world much like before. It is you that is required most to realize what must be done to foster new life. It is you that will be required to sacrifice the most for this new innocent life now dependent upon you.
When the days seem endless and challenging, we must turn back to that woman we were and look how far we have come! Look how much we have nurtured that little firstborn! Look how much more we understand the true meaning of love! Mostly, we must look to our Lord, who agonized alone in the garden, full of prayer and full realization that only He could give this gift of eternal life for the sake of love.
The Scourging at the Pillar, for the physical suffering and for the mothers of many:
Because Jesus is God, He knew exactly what attaining our salvation would cost. He knew what kind of pain and sacrifice lay ahead. His Passion prevailed, not by merely exclaiming to love us so deeply or obsessively, but by sacrificing His life. There is no passion without sacrifice. The story of our tortured King on a Cross should best illuminate this kind of sacrificial love, this kind of passion, that many of us may not fully understand.
How may we as mothers relate to the brutality of this extreme, chivalrous act of love? Have we not tasted a glimpse of this kind of love with our first child? Do we not recognize fully what another precious little soul to love will mean as we brave our way through another painful labor, nurse another infant, and all the years that will follow of sacrificial love expressed in so many ways?
It is certainly not that we never notice the changes of our physical bodies, often bearing the battle scars of a baby well grown, the demands upon our energy levels, and those hormonal roller coaster dips. We know exactly what lay ahead for our life-bringing, perfectly designed female bodies; these costs of bringing forth new life for the Kingdom of God. We love more than fear the risks, more than the costs. May we unite these physical sufferings and sacrifices of motherhood to the sufferings of Christ as we embrace the true beauty and gift of our feminism.
The Crowning of Thorns, for the emotional suffering of motherhood or for anyone who has ever felt mocked, unappreciated, persecuted, or misunderstood:
Undoubtedly, the act of placing this crown of thorns upon the precious head of our Heavenly King, his persecutors exemplified mockery. They could not understand or appreciate the words he proclaimed to them as the Son of God. Nor did they possess the capacity to appreciate what exactly He came to do for them. Through teary eyes, and blurred vision, He wore his crown and still walked the path of love.
Through teary eyes, have we examined life entirely and uniquely different after becoming mothers? Our perspectives are forever changed as our focus shifts from our own needs to meeting the needs of someone else. We live in a time and culture that often treats pregnancy and motherhood like an illness, burden or punishment. To step away from that culture in slow detachment of material, secular worldviews means that we may alter the paths of our educational or career choices.
We may be misunderstood when we make choices that benefit our children more than it may benefit our income amount, our professional status or the size and beauty of our home or physique. We may even witness our own kind of persecution if we dare explain why we make these choices based on love for someone other than ourselves. As our children grow older, it may take time for even them to see what exactly we sacrifice for them. We must still walk the path of love, blurry vision, tears and all, because it doesn’t matter if they see all of these acts of love. Our model of love will carry on through the generations but more importantly, Our Father Almighty sees and knows our hearts above all.
Jesus Carries His Cross, falling three times and stopping to console His mother: for all of us, who carry our unique crosses patiently toward the end goal of salvation for all that we love:
This wooden cross that our Lord carried, fell with Him when He fell – three times. He remained patient, never complaining or abandoning the burden of this mighty weight. As mothers, we have our own unique crosses to bear, of different shapes and sizes. Whether it be the demands of a large family, the heartbreak of those who may struggle with infertility or barreness, the constant second-guessing and sheer exhaustion of the working mother balance, and for some, the weight of the world that falls upon the shoulders of widows and divorced mothers.
And do we ever fall?! How many times a day do I fall! Our God is a Father full of grace though, who through the example of suffering that His Son came to give us, we are blessed by our crosses; saved by the cross of sacrificial love. As Pope Francis recently exclaimed, “If you fall, get up! Get up!”
I pray that during my own journey of this vocation called motherhood, I should often remind myself of the example of Our Lord, who courageously carried that cross quietly, without abandon but accepting help in times when it became too heavy. I pray that I will channel my temptations to complain to my Heavenly Mother Mary, who was indeed, a woman of such few words, but of such a powerfully loving disposition. May I always surround myself with other devout prayer warriors and loving encouragement that if need be, shouts the words, “Get up! Get up!”
The Crucifixion, for the universal and uniting nature of all mothers who worry and face fear:
He came to conquer the very worst fear of all: death. He came to show us that through love, suffering and childlike faith, we have an eternal life, full of love and abundace awaiting us after the brokenness of this fallen world. He came to show us that in our worst nightmares, should we ever face the most frightning or paralyzing of what this world may throw at us, it doesn’t end there. We have an eternity of love ahead, should we choose faith, hope and love in this very short life here.
The book love letters and of history, so long ago written has already proclaimed, “It is done.” Our pathway to salvation has been offered up by our loving King. This same book also referenced His first miracle at the wedding in Cana, as requested by His mother, the Queen of Heaven. What biblical King has not turned to their mother in their reign?
This is where the rosary begins, to follow the prayers of the Apostle’s Creed and an Our Father; petitions for increased faith, hope and love. What mother could not use an occasional miracle or at the very least, a little more faith, hope and love? Mother Mary, pray for us!
(All Sorrowful Mystery images credit to iRosary iPhone application. I highly recommend the utilization of smart phones for the purpose of prayer.)
For years, I have felt the nudge of commitment to begin praying regularly with the Holy Rosary. My typical call to those crystal blue beads given to me upon my entry into the Church almost seven years ago, fell anywhere between sporadic, specific prayers for friends and family to reciting the words as an emergency plea to Mother Mary for quick intercession in circumstances gone beyond my comfort zone or level of control.
Somewhere from the back of my mind, my protestant beginnings to Christianity would often creep in with taunting words that mock or doubt the idea of Mary’s ability to intercede as Queen of Heaven, mother of Jesus, our King. For years, I wrestled with this, despite her patient, recurring blessings and guidance that have become so recently and clearly evident in the life of our growing family.
My husband began praying a daily rosary several years ago during one of his first Lenten seasons working part time as a youth minister. In the years since, I have marveled at his ability to see the light and possibility of reconciliation in grim scenarios, keep his optimism in times of my own dimwitted complaints and frustration, and maintain his faith life like no one else I have ever known.
“Do you know why Lent is 40 days?” I have heard him ask teens and friends alike in passing conversations. “It takes 40 days to create a habit.” That was how he started. By making these meditative prayers a priority every single day for 40 days straight, he had created a habit; a habit that has absolutely benefitted the spiritual growth and health of our family.
In our recent move, I have found myself in unfamiliar territory. Not since my first few years of college, have I felt like such a stranger to an area and culture. Much like then, I know this is where our God wants me; all the while acknowledging how my dearest of loved ones and safe havens feel so terribly far away. My husband is now a full time director of youth ministry in the close-knit Catholic community of Our Lady of Lourdes in coastal Melbourne, Florida. We arrived in late October and have spent the last few months in awe and wonder of this new adventure that God has laid before us. The people here have been extremely warm and welcoming, as have the beaches along the Atlantic.
In efforts to settle into this new gift of a community in which God has planted us, I have done what I would not have done so easily in my first years back in college. I joined a few ministries; specifically ministries for mothers. Hence, more nudges to look toward Our Blessed Mother Mary followed. Just before we spent our first Christmas here in our new home, I accepted an invitation to hear a group of devout Catholic women share their stories of how of our Blessed Mother Mary had specifically interceded prayers on their behalf, in a response to a rosary devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. In a lovely Melbourne living room during the last December days of 2015, my heart was moved by the witnesses of a handful of women who introduced two blessed images of Our Lady of Guadalupe. These framed images would weave their way through the homes of our group of mothers who had gathered this evening to share, encourage and remind each other to look to Mary, our most Holy model of motherhood more often.
Surely, she knows firsthand how to step out in faith, away from familiar surroundings, make sacrifices, and do it all with an abundance of grace. I was inspired by these women to begin my one and only New Year’s resolution of praying the rosary daily on the first day of 2016, also known in the Catholic Church as the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Fortunately for me, Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent this year falls on my 41st day of praying the rosary.
In this time of rosary praying, I have watched the Gospel of Luke unfold, reliving the moments of Christ’s life and passion through the eyes of his first and original disciple. I have gratefully soaked in the profound witnesses of the saints who have come before us that have also found peace, increased faith and love in praying the rosary. I have pondered the beauty of oral tradition, remembering that the memorization of prayers and songs of praise were the means of preservation that originally brought us the sacred scriptures before the times of the printing press. I have marveled at the parallels in numbers of rosary prayers and that of the Biblical psalms. I have fumbled my way through a whole series of aha moments in the discovery of newfound science supporting prayer and the perfect alignment with how to pray the rosary.
I have come to believe that without a doubt, this image referenced in the apocolyptic verses of Revelations is one more way that our Lord points us toward our Mother Mary. Who can deny her divine appointment in this beautiful plan of salvation? Just as she brought us our Lord in the flesh, she brings us closer to Him in the spirit as well.
In anticipation of our Lord’s return, we are called to remember His words: “Behold, your mother.” He spoke this to His most beloved disciple, John. In bringing us into the story of salvation, the family of God, He also gave to us his most cherished gift of life on earth: His mother. Mother Mary, pray for us! Pray with us, for us and for all of our habits to become more holy, more filled with grace, and always bring us closer to your son, Our Lord!
What a week! What a month! What a year! My last completed publication rehashed our first year in our new community of Livingston. My most recent posts have been slowly completed in the time since. Occasionally, I find the energy and availability to steal away some time to update the blogosphere with Hoey Happenings. Today is one of those lucky days by way of these Seven Quick Takes.
For a listy look at more interesting and talented writers offering their perspective of life, faith and family matters, please treat yourself to Kelly Mantoan over at This Aint the Lyceum.
1. On Spiritual Warfare & Rocky
Every single place we look, Christians can find elements of spiritual warfare whirring around us. Between visions of persecuted Christians from afar, Texas Marines killed or the numbers of murdered babies for sale from our closest Planned Parenthood facility – our lives are filled with the presence and the looming threat of evil. We must fight to hold onto our peace, our faith and control over our emotions in the midst of it all. This week, I finally finished editing this post about fatherhood from several weeks ago, relating the relevancy of a Catholic boxer’s victories to the challenges that we have before us in family life. It is my prayer that every family has a Rocky in their corner.
2. St. Ignatius Loyola
While Rocky may not exactly be everyone’s choice on spiritual advising, may I present the Saint of the Day, St. Ignatius Loyola. As founder of the Jesuits, author of the Spiritual Exercises, a mystic, and the patron saint of retreats, this saint that came along just as the Catholic Church came under threat of division in the first stages of the Protestant Reformation. I will not recap his life story here, but I encourage anyone to look up his incredible contributions to the Church, history and other Christian communities of his time. Father Dwight Longenecker, over at Standing on My Head, had great insights today into how these messages may specifically inspire us to find courage for our times. PLEASE READ IT!
3. Maria Montessori & Sophia Cavaletti
As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have been blessed with the opportunity to join a wonderfully passionate group of mothers, grandmothers and educators in Round Rock, Texas who are in formation to adapt the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd ministry into our lifestyles and to the religious education of our children. Upon attending a series of classes this summer in a retreat styled presentation offered by a wonderfully enthusiastic and passionate catechist, I have fallen even more in love with Dr. Maria Montessori’s scientific approach to education. If not for her fundamental discoveries already in place, Sophia Cavaletti (the founder of CGS ministry) may have taken many more years to connect these dots of early formation, spiritual development and an educational approach based on preserving dignity of every life, no matter what age. I will be attempting to stay up to date with posts as we venture into the creation of our atrium, our CGS classroom, for use of our local home schooling co-op and for use of religious education at our local parish. I gushed on and on in this post about how these two Catholic, Italian, genius women should serve as reminder for us of the gifts that God is continually offering to His children who request His assistance in preserving the curiosity, innocence and spiritual formation of the next generation of Christians.
4. Jo-Jo Milestones
This week was a big week for our littlest Hoey Boy. On Monday, we were super busy with a big kid book club lunch, and I was only able to snag this snapshot of my sleeping giant baby to document his 11 monthday mark. He has been teething and a bit clingy, but nevertheless, super sweet as usual. On Thursday, we met some of our Austin-transplant friends in Lufkin at the nearest free splash pad for some summer fun.
It was little Joseph’s first time. Other than the few times he was surprised by a squish of shooting water straight to the face, he marveled in delight.
Another fearless water baby for our brood of boys!
5. Breastfeeding Support in Our Local Community
A dear friend of mine has helped to organize a Latch On Event to encourage support for our mothers feeding our children in the way that God designed. We have had an exciting amount of local support and enthusiasm in anticipation of this event scheduled for next Tuesday. I will be honored to participate alongside some of my favorite natural minded mothering friends.
6. Construction Zone
This month has seen the start of an interesting renovation project of the rental home that we moved into in the Spring. While I have not-so-humbly endured the sharing of one full bathroom with all of these menfolk, our gracious landlords agreed to a win/win of a deal. The expansion of one of the three upstairs small bedrooms and the addition of a master bathroom/suite has now been underway for a whole month. The subflooring will go in over the weekend, before the addition of the exterior supportive walls. The husband has been hard at work, early in the morning and late into the cooler temps of the light filled evenings. Just in time for cooler Fall temperatures, we should have the project completed. We will enjoy a little more comfortable spaces and our friends who own the house will have acquired greater value in their existing floorplan. Just please pray that my husband doesn’t endure a heat stroke in the meantime though, friends.
7. Home School Co-op
Holy Family Home School may be having some growing pains, but none that should slow us down too much. We are all busy in prayer, consideration, communication and planning for the year ahead. This week, we await the final decision of where we will meet. We have also been considering transitioning into a preliminary Classical Conversations group while trying to keep in place a Catholic perspective on subjects such as history and Catechism. We are discerning the implications of what it will look like to host our group at a place other than the family center of our own Church. In the spirit of remaining ecumenical and giving more back to the Christian community at large, we are excited about what this next step may mean. Considering that we somehow pulled off a pretty exciting first year with only a few weeks preparation and a three week old baby in tow, I have no doubts that this year will exceed our expectations. That God of ours likes to keep us on our toes!
Here’s to keeping up with life on the tiptoes in the coming week, friends! Happy Friday!
When we are right smack in the midst of this task/gift/transformation of raising children, we may often feel the bewilderment and magnitude of our choices and lifestyle. Some of us may feel quite confident in finding the perfect set of instructions to accompany this most important job. Others may not. If you’re anything like me (part of the ‘others may not’ group), you may have related once or twice to that deer in the headlights phenomenon:
WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
THIS IS HARD.
NO ONE PREPARED ME FOR THIS.
WE ARE OUTNUMBERED.
THIS IS HARD.
EVERYONE IS WATCHING.
WHAT IF WE REALLY MESS THIS UP?
WE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME.
We love our children more than we ever thought we could love. This love offers up a chance to give us a mere glimpse of God’s love for us, His children, of whom He created. Those instructions for how to convey that love and that history may sometimes feel hidden in tests and trials, woven between scriptures that sometimes take years to grasp the maturity to understand. This is no small task or mediocre job that we can only give our leftover energy and love to. Our vocations of parenthood often offer us the greatest pathway to sanctification. This job is the most important in our lives; carrying on His love, His story, our story as we fit into the history of it all.
In the Catholic Church, we are asked to attend a series of meetings or a weekend retreat often referred to as marriage prep classes. These are offered in attempt to prepare us spiritually, emotionally and realistically for the lifelong commitment of marriage. However, what do we have in place of preparation to guide us through this all encompassing, sacrificial act of parenting, the inevitable gift that will bear the fruits of this marriage?
How do we understand how these little people grow, think and learn to love God and others?
Do not we find ourselves, to some extent, at the mercy of the family cycles of those loved ones in generations of parents before us?
Surely, it could not have always been this way. Mothers have not always felt like it would be more difficult to be home with their children than to enter the work force. They haven’t always been made to feel as if they would ‘lose’ something if they stayed home to raise children. Fathers have surely not always felt the pressure to work outside the home 50-70 hours a week to provide a home of luxury and excess. We are taught to crave false senses of stability and materialism to an extent now that offers up a potentially dangerous impact on our family values and patterns of important choices. Surely, God saw this. He saw the deer in the headlights culture coming around, the attack on the family, the invention of contraception, the sexual revolution, etc. He saw all of it because HE is God. He sent Jesus long ago for our salvation, long before all of this.
Through studying the lives of the saints, we are often pointed toward holy people that God sent at just the right time in the history of mankind to guide His people toward sacrifice, understanding and overcoming the challenges of their time. In with the time of excess, too much waste, too much stuff, too much noise, too much want, too much distraction, came two privileged, educated, Italian, Catholic geniuses, Dr. Maria Montessori (born 1870) & Dr. Sophia Cavalletti (born 1917). Dr. Montessori’s principles of education and the religious studies of Dr. Cavalletti would be brought together just a few short years after Montessori’s death by Gianna Gnocchi, who had trained under Dr. Montessori. Through a spontaneous observation of a small but joy-filled child named Paolo, upon introduction to the scriptural Genesis story of creation, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd was born in 1954. It was the beginning of a timeless, classic, effective masterpiece of education and religious studies that would transform catechists, parents and young children alike in 32 countries across the world over the next 60+ years.
Through Montessori’s worldwide, time tested, incredibly successful approach to education, came an opportunity for us to embrace minimalism, simple but substantial wooden materials, practical life applications and quiet time enough to internalize truth and creation by way of less distracting noise, stimulation and material possessions. As there are plenty of ways to approach the education of our children, surely this methold provides answers for the over stimulated, quiet seeking, plastic-toy loathing majority of us modern day parent educators. Surely there has to be an alternative to the test-focused, time-consuming, sports obsessive, media heavy culture of education for our youngest citizens. Surely, there is something available that encourages our children’s curiosity and desire to learn above and beyond what the next test may cover. Surely, there is a way to preserve that “light in their eyes” upon continuing a love for learning. Just in time, Dr. Montessori, just in time.
This quick video (also shared on the home page of our own local Montessori school in Livingston) offers great insights into “Why Montessori?”
In relation to the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd ministry, this Montessori method encourages our little people a chance to encounter these confidence boosting skills, practical life approaches alongside their spiritual development. The world we live in today, in contrast, sometimes dictates a compartmentalization of our faith. We may often fall guilty of the Sunday-morning-only-kind-of-Christian attitude, not applying our faith and morale to every aspect of our lives. I want more for our children.
By introducing these aspects of physical and spiritual formation side by side, we offer our children the chance to learn from the very beginning to apply the quiet, unseen, interior realizations to every other aspect of their lives. It encourages quiet time with Jesus, prayer life and meditation on truth in a space that is safe from loud noise, interruptions, flashy plastic toys, electronics and imagination-stifling screen time.
It will be an honor to share upon the space of this blog, our first few pieces that our community will be coming together to construct and create over the next few weeks. Our introductory atrium will be a compilation of efforts; a ministry in itself to create these child sized materials for the sole purpose of drawing our youngest students into a deeper relationship with Jesus and understanding of who exactly He is. As we are able to add more time relational pieces throughout our liturgical year, there will be images shared. What a journey we have been invited to embark upon, friends! What a gift for our the spiritual development of our children, but also for guiding our parenting and education choices we have ahead of us still.
I pray only that I not fail anyone standing by, from within our local co-op community of Holy Family Homeschool, or anyone from afar, now or later, that may be so brave or inspired to create an atrium of their own. May God continue to bless us, use us and inspire us to grasp this God given ministry, established specifically for the spiritual development and formation of the Christian children of our time.
Two events shaped my days this week; Tropical Storm Bill & the annual Diocesan Youth Convention for the Diocese of Beaumont. With Bill came a whole lot of hype, a substantial amount of rain and wet, gray windows. With the convention, came solo parenting while my husband traveled to downtown Houston to chaperone and attend three days of inspiring music, speakers, workshops and worship opportunities for a few thousand young Catholics of our diocese in east Texas. Most of our week has therefore, been shaped by too much indoor time for any single boy mom to endure without a good measure of chocolate and/or wine. I am not endorsing solo parenting with too much of either of these, by the way.
Some boy moms may feel so inclined to lay on the floor and build Lego bots for hours on end on days like these. Others may read books upon books of adventurous stories to little boys piled all on top of her single recliner parked at the center of a bustling, noisy playroom. I would like to say that our days have looked something like that.
They didn’t. Where my guilt for ever resorting to TV time usually leads me to turn the big bright, sound machine off, this week, I begrudgingly turned it on. I somehow settled to go with the flow, surrendering to my boys’ pleas for a Rocky marathon. Seriously? Yes. And it was everything I ever thought it wouldn’t be.
Now don’t judge. Yes, Rocky is full of fighting. And it’s probably not exactly rated for my youngest kiddos who were not really paying too much attention anyway, honestly – because we scattered way too many bins of Lincoln Logs across our playroom floor. It has a few kissy parts, yes. But underneath all of that is a story of a humble Catholic man, full of heart and determination. He is not particularly smart, good looking or wealthy. His challenged faith, struggle and victory epitomizes the American dream and masculates a beautifully written Cinderella story.
The Rocky movie debuted two years before husband and I. As a baby, my young parents’ favorite dog was named Rocky. After the divorce a few years later, a strange twist of fate found my father with the unusual job of raising a girly girl and a baby boy with special needs. Anyone who has ever known my father, can attest to his unique, unpredictable character. He’s not always easy to relate to, or convince that he’s ever wrong, but man…is he a fighter.
I never saw him physically fight another person though. I saw him fight for us in court. I saw him fight to drag himself to a physical, messy oil field job that maintained roughly the same hours as his children’s school days. I saw him fight for stability in the best way he knew to provide. I saw him fight back tears. I saw him fight depression, alcoholism, and poor self esteem – and win. He wasn’t like the other Dads I knew. He didn’t dare shrug his responsibilities at home. He didn’t golf, play ball or yell at the TV during a heated football or basketball game, although politics would often stir him up enough for that kind of behavior. He has since replaced some of his TV pastimes with the Discovery Channel or Ninja Warrior, but one sport he has always followed was boxing. Hence, my familiarity with Sly Stallone’s six part series of Rocky.
Last summer, shortly after moving back to Livingston, in part to live closer to my dear old Dad, my boys fell ill with the worst stomach virus I have seen in my career as a mother. It was brutal. For almost a week, my husband and I took turns cleaning pools of ‘mess’, doctoring sick kids and trying to maintain our sanity during the last home stretch of the pregnancy of our fifth son. On the horizon of this hellish week came our first Rocky marathon. We enjoyed looking at the movies through a Catholic lens so much, that we made a deal to make it a yearly summer tradition.
When my older boys reminded me of that this week, I surrendered. Because solo parenting five rambunctious boys is not for the faint of heart, my friends. In fact, in all honesty, I still have a lot to learn, even after several years of such conventions, retreats and commitments. You’d think that I may have mustered up enough grace by now to sweetly, supportively embrace this suffering with a confident hug and best wishes to my husband upon his departure. Nope.
I still find myself living in preparation denial although these kinds of events are marked upon our family calendar for months on end. A week before he leaves, I start to ask a few more questions. Three days before he leaves, I have some variation of a meltdown. Following said meltdown, my husband’s reassurance talks me through my capabilities and pinpoints spiritual warfare as the attacker. For the remaining days, my husband is subject to a whirlwind of rollercoaster emotions somewhere between the silent treatment and “No, really. We’ll be ok. It will be fun,” range to “Can’t you send someone else?” to him dousing me with a sprinkle of holy water while I grumble my way very ungracefully into the laundry room with mounds of little boy clothing surrounding me. (That happened this week, really.)
Anytime solo parenting happens here, I find a greater appreciation for the single parents out there, the military wives and the widows. I find a better sense of gratitude for all that my one-in-a-million-kind-of-man husband does here in our home to make our lives easier, brighter and more faith filled. And at some point, I ponder how I would ever in a billion, gazillion years pull off this parenting gig without him, the optimist fighter that he is.
Some time ago, the two of us shared with each other the songs that we felt like embodied our trials, character and life experiences. Long ago, I had chosen “C’est La Vie” by Emerson, Lake & Palmer. This song of haunting melody, French lyrics and soul deep rumbles of a barrel organ always manages to sweep me away to another place that I have never been while also jumbling up some of my most familiar, treasured memories of this life thus far. “That’s life,” the words summarize for me; recalling all that it has been and all that I still hope to discover and conquer.
My husband’s selection, however, is a complete reflection of his humble optimism, put to action. Often, I will worry about the yesterdays and tomorrows of our realities. I will conjure up far too many words to express these fears, regrets and catastrophized what-if’s that creep up on my confidence and faith. This husband of mine, this father of five impressionable little boys, minimizes his words as he encourages me to minimize these kinds of words and doubts of many kinds. He strives to live out the words of one of his favorite saint quotes, by St. Francis of Assisi:
As you can imagine, my longer blog posts are often referred to by him as ‘wordy’. He’s right. That is totally not his style. Hence, his instrumental selection of Rocky’s Reward, so appropriately sums up his bigger picture vision that so often contrasts to all the little distracting details that occasionally bog me down. He is much better at staying focused on the reward, the eternal Heaven that awaits us after this temporal life of hard fought battles of mind, body and spirit.
There are a number of battles that Christians are fighting all around us. To name a few: temptation, despair, anxiety, envy, greed and complacency. The fathers of our time have their work cut out for them as the spiritual leaders of our families. They must be willing to set examples of prayerful warriors, ready to fight for what is left of good and right and holy in our fallen natures and Godless-leaning western culture. With Father’s day awaiting us at the end of this marathon weekend, I am blessed to call the father of my children a Rocky of sorts to help me fight the good fight, to weather the storms, and keep me focused on the ultimate reward. May we all be so fortunate to have a Rocky like him in our family corner.
Today, on St. Joseph the worker’s day, I am simply amazed by the ways that time, sacrifice and the saints have drawn me nearer to understanding our Father in heaven. When I consider the lives of those who have come before us in this timeless, universal family of faith, I am reminded of the way that Jesus taught His people while walking this land, taking note of the repetitve nature of stories found throughout our Holy Scriptures. Isn’t it all about the stories that stick with us? What beauty there is to behold in the lives of the saints and their stories!
Despite how insignificant or mundane our stories may feel at times in our day to day lives, they slowly play a part of the larger story; a movement of people either growing closer to our Lord or falling away. This is my story upon this blog, scattered upon posts sometimes months apart. It’s been one of those non-stops seasons over the last few months. Yet, today, I return for a flashback of our first year here. One year ago today, May 1, on the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker, the Hoey family arrived in Livingston, my little hometown that I had once sought to leave.
Oh, what a year of work! And change. And growth. And of trying to understand a bit more about the character of the man who had been chosen to protect the Holy Family all those years ago.
This week marked the end of two different ministries that we felt called to serve here in our new home. When Scott accepted this job as the Director of Religious Education, our future seemed so vague. We knew we were doing what we had been called to do, but there were no glimpses of what to expect. So many doors were shutting in Austin and so many doors here were opening; including the start of a brand new homeschooling co op housed at our new Church family center. We did not know how God would pull us through both of these beginnings, but He has. And one year later, here we find ourselves again, rich in ministry, family and community life while surrounded by the nature of the great outdoors, more spring chickens and even some farm animals to care for.
At the very start of it all, my sweet husband warned me: our Spring semester will be crazy busy. Dizzy busy. As busy as we have ever been and then some. He could have never dreamed that he would be moving our family to a different home in the middle of this season. Or starting a prayer/fellowship group for the local fathers of our area. And then he did. The Hoey boys have needed more explanation, energy, comfort and guidance during all of this transition. And in the last few weeks, as Easter preparations have slowly tapered off, sweet young excited Catholic children prepare for their first Holy Communion and the faithful youth group students ready themselves to proclaim their continued faith in Christ through Confirmation – our first Sacramental Spring has arrived. Hence, these are several of the beautiful happenings of real life that have delayed the sharing of our little story.
On Wednesday evening, I was asked to attend the end of year party for our Religious Education classes at St. Joseph’s. All year, my role has been more about taking care of our littlest Hoey boys as Scott planned and led the events and discussions among our next local generation of devout Catholics. I knew that there were a few people who had been planning to thank him for his service here, but nothing prepared me for the outpour of love, friendship and gratitude that was offered toward the end of our prayer centered gathering.
Through the extra efforts of a handful of some of our closest new friends, came heartfelt thank-you’s for my sweet husband’s time and faith in these endeavors our Lord has called us to. Behind the scenes, the faith filled women of our new community had spent the last week making plans, gathering and creating gracious gifts, and passing the word along to others. Some of Scott’s closest new friends took center stage and a few minutes on the microphone to share the testimonies of our story. It was not merely a story of one family, but of several families, working together and brought together by a greater plan.
This incredible basket was then presented, filled with gifts of encouragement and gratitude from a whole Church community in which we have been blessed to call our home, for one whole year. And yes, that is a list of people who have offered up babysitting favors to allow us a few date nights (with privacy protection edits). Our hearts are filled to the brim. My cup overflows.
Holy Family Homeschool was the other ministry that we felt called to serve, but had no idea how it would all come together or work out so quickly upon arrival. Yet again, doors were opened and another community of faith-centered, truth-seeking, family-prioritizing, home-educating families were drawn together and housed by the Family Center of St. Joseph Catholic Church. This week, we met under this roof for the last day of classes of the 2014-2015 school year.
Then our families gathered together for dinner to discuss the future and details of next year’s growing homeschooling co-op. Next week, we will meet at a private park to kick off the summer with a field day/play day event. If all goes as planned, these same families will be spending Memorial Day weekend camping together as a group. Only our Lord knows the things that we keep this close to our heart – and community is one of the big ones for us. Once again, He provides.
All of this happened in a baby year: a year we welcomed a new baby into our family, one we named after the recurring saint that seemed to be leading us here, to this new life. And isn’t that just what a new baby does? They offer us new life, new joy, new love and new opportunities to experience our Heavenly Father’s love for us, His children. We have enjoyed witnessing many milestones over this last year in our family, all in addition to the gift of life we have been given by the birth of Joseph Anthony.
We celebrated ten years of marriage. Nate learned to ride a bike. Isaac learned how to read and lost his two front teeth. Vinny stopped taking naps and is trailing Isaac fairly closely on reading with Bob books.
Gus can write his name and is potty trained! YAYYYY!!!! And JoJo, now at 8 months, is regularly sleeping six hour blocks and making two repetitive sounds that sound very much like, “Hey!” and “Yeah!”
Well that sums up our year pretty accurately, I think.
While I have been blessed to share in the joys and rewards of such ministries mentioned above, there is another unique ministry in town here that has graciously showered the mothers of our community with encouragement, fellowship and guidance. Our local Methodist Church kicked off a new ministry this year called Mothers Together, just days apart from our beginnings of this year’s adventures in Religious Education classes and Holy Family Homeschool at St Joseph.
It has been one that has fed, welcomed and nourished the souls of over fifty mothers in our area, who otherwise may not have ever known or made time for more friendship with other mothers during this season of life. Twice a month, this ministry gathers this ecunemical group of faith filled women for fellowship, guest speakers, crafts and mothers’ outings. It has been truly a remarkable group of women to watch pray for each other, grow together and sacrifice their time for one another.
This Monday, we will be gathering again to offer the whole town a unique opportunity to shop for mothers and support local mothers all at once at the Mothers’ Together Mother’s Day Bazaar. I know we are all looking forward to this together. I will be setting up shop with my Mary & Martha business and several yards of Mexican Oilcloth for sale. If you are local or living closeby, please plan to join us!
If you are in search of the perfect day Mother’s Day gift and would rather order any of these beautiful pieces online, I have provided my Mary & Martha online shop here.
There are plenty of times that I have stepped back and taken a look at what our days and weeks look like to others, and think that surely we have lost our marbles. It is a busy life. There are days that I declare: OVERCOMMITTED. And then, are all the other days, when I think back on what God has offered up for us to grasp – and I never regret all that we have reached for thus far. Someday, our children will leave our home. We will get more sleep. Our house will be more orderly. Hobbies will be more of our own. We will eat more of what we want and less of little people’s requests …BUT, we will never regret this full house, this full life and these full hearts.
After all, we are still spring chickens, right? AND who knows what we still have ahead?
For a fun list of other Catholic bloggers who are sure to outwit, outwrite and outlaugh this week’s post, be sure to visit Kelly Mantoan over at This Aint the Lyceum.
So….I have been rambling on about my favorite oilcloth for how long now, friends? A really long time. Now that my world has been condensed to small town living, my little trips to El Interior in Austin for my seasonal dining room faves are no longer a reality.
What is oilcloth? Some of you may wonder. This colorful happy fabric is a mother’s answer to dining room mishaps. It is durable. It wipes clean. It protects your table from the heat, sticky, and crafty souvineers from wee ones. It’s like that favorite birthday/special occasion tablecloth that is almost invincible from spills and messes. And it comes in some really fun prints: gingham, polka-dots, paradise lace (pictured below in brown – looks much like a damask), stripes, plaid, floral, and some truly cheerful fruit varieties. Some even call it vintage, as oilcloth did celebrate its beginnings back in our grandparents’ day. But the new patterns, oh so fun! It is one of my little guilty pleasures of this season of motherhood.
And since I no longer have easy access to my little downtown shop, I am bringing the shop to me. And you, if you like. I have started this little endeavor with only six of my favorite prints for this season, with some helpful feedback from a few of my social media friends. I hope you love one or more of these as much as I do!
This is how I use mine. We wrap approximately two and a half yards around the table top of our main dining room eating space. Although not everyone prefers this style of attaching it neatly underneath by strong, solid staples – it is a must in my house with five energetic, hungry boys that spend many of our waking hours sitting around this table. You just never know when the toddler or the one in the highchair will pull a hanging corner and everything on the table onto his lap or someone else’s. Hence, staples, friends.
Pictured above is the orange gingham; a fun favorite that easily adds an element of traditional surprise to the seasons of Spring, Summer and Fall. It runs a tight race for favorite in my book. This image also offers a closeup of how snugly the cloth fits onto the tabletop. We also used it to acommodate our favorite red head’s request for an Irish birthday party this last weekend.
We like to keep it fun around here.
All selections measure 47-48″ wide. To calculate how much fabric your table will need, you will need to confirm that the width is wide enough for wrap/drop room and measure the length of your table. Most standard tables of six will use approximately two and a half yards of oilcloth. More photos will be coming soon of how each print looks on a bigger scale than the sampling in the image below, featuring (from left to right):
Paradise Lace in Black, Aqua Polka Dots, Fuji Aqua (Tree blossoms), Orange Gingham, Stella (Cherries) in Aqua, Paradise Lace in Brown
Prices are as follows:
$9 for full yard
$5 for half yard
$5 for shipping
Payment can be arranged by emailing me for an invoice to: firstname.lastname@example.org
or by PayPal here:
Last Spring, when we moved to Livingston, we were filled with wonder for what God’s will would hold in store for our family. Every single sign pointed us in the direction of this move, and as reluctantly as my Austin-loving heart responded, our time of discernment eventually led us to a place of doubtless reassurance. He would provide. And oh, how He has!
As I have mentioned before on this blog, the most difficult part of our relocation was leaving our community and Regina Mater, our homeschooling co-op in Austin. As daunting as the idea appeared initially, we wavered all summer long on how to begin rebuilding that part of our lives here in our new home. How would we ever be able to recreate this essential part of our community and home school life for our children? How would God pull a group of faith filled families together and make this happen, just weeks after the August birth of our fifth baby? He did.
As we have shifted into our second semester as the growing co-op of Holy Family Homeschool, hosted at our new parish of St. Joseph, family dynamics of all involved left us pondering what changes we would need to tackle for the future of our new home schooling community. It quickly became apparent that our next area of focus and transition would need to take place in our youngest students’ class; our pre-k and kindergarten group. Just as soon as we said these words aloud, proposing our own idea of a solution while turning it over to prayer, He provided a better answer. And isn’t that just His way?
Early last week, I received an email from a dear, sweet Holy woman who led our littlest ones in faith at our previous co-op. She reminded us of her continued prayers over us and of our prayerful conversations about bringing the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program to our new community. She included the details, time and contact information for the next CGS class that would be taking place in the Austin area…in three days. Three days. This was on a Monday, two weeks ago.
“I know that I am supposed to be there, I just do not have any idea how we will pull this off,” I said to my husband that night over dinner. Once again, we wavered on even making our first attempts. How would we cover the cost? How would I be able to attend weekday classes with so many little ones in tow while my husband worked the remainder of his two jobs that week?
“Well, I guess if it is God’s will, He will make it happen,” my faith filled husband replied. That is how we left it that night.
On Tuesday, I awoke to the usual routine. School, laundry, and baby care took hold of my morning. Just before lunch, I welcomed a surprise visitor into our home with a gift that I would not even fully understand until a few hours later. This gracious member of our St Joseph parish community, whose family has supported every effort we have made thus far in renewing our religious education system, our youth ministry program and the building up of the home schooling community, came to present the school with a sizable donation. The donation was to cover specific expenses with half of the donation; leaving the other half to use for whatever the school needed most.
I hugged and thanked our guest, not fully realizing yet that the amount remaining was exactly what we needed to cover the first costs associated with the CGS class. Once we put the numbers down on paper, we were again blown away by God’s way of providing, just in the knick of time. Seeing that the costs were being covered by this Godsent donation, my sweet husband looked further into the details of who would be facilitating and hosting this class. Thankfully, he had collaborated with one of these ladies back in Austin for our oldest son’s First Holy Communion retreat last year, during our very last weekend in town before our move. He contacted her to find that indeed, my place in class would be available. Also available was one more place in the nursery for our little Gus. The wheels were now set into motion. I would keep Baby Joseph with me. Our oldest, Nate, would travel with us to do what he does best; help his Mama. Our middle men, Isaac & Vinny, would float between work with Daddy and staying at their grandparents’ house, here in my hometown. Immediately, upon making phone calls for Austin area accommodations, we were welcomed with cheerful hospitality from both of Joseph’s godparent families; some of our very closest friends from our Regina Mater community.
The four of us left shortly after classes here at Holy Family Homeschool with our family vehicle packed to the max for our four day adventure. As God’s timing would also have it, we arrived to the Gablers’ home just in time to surprise Nate’s best friend, Nathaniel Gabler, for his 10th birthday dinner. The excitement in the room upon our entry took my breath away. Nathaniel had already asked his parents if there were any way possible that the Hoeys would be traveling to Austin for his birthday weekend. They had assured him of the unlikelihood of it just days before our phone call on Tuesday afternoon. With God, anything is possible.
We enjoyed the first of a few lovely meals with the Gabler family that evening, allowing plenty of time for Joseph and his godfather to become reacquainted by way of grabbing hold of facial hair. It’s kind of his thing. This photo was actually one of three that I have now, of the two of of them doing this.
Thursday morning, I loaded all of our luggage, Gussy and Joseph up again for a short drive in the rain from Cedar Park to St. William’s Catholic Church in Round Rock. Nate totally lucked out by going with the Gabler boys to Regina Mater to spend a day with all of his old friends. Since our curriculum selection is largely based on their program, he was fairly familiar with most class discussions.
Welcomed ever so graciously by Felicia, our local facilitator, and Kay, our formation leader who had traveled all the way in from Amarillo, I found a class full of like minded mothers, grandmothers, youth ministers and teachers who all shared their stories of how and why the ministry of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd had inspired and changed the spiritual lives of their families. I was thrilled to find a few familiar faces from Regina Mater, who had also been moved by the atrium in which all of our children had met each other. I was swept away with gratitude all over again.
However, Gus was not nearly as impressed with the idea of spending time away from Mama in this new unfamiliar place of the nursery. True to his namesake, our little Augustine played the early rebel card all morning long that day, insisting upon his own way. Many sad tears were shed, both his and mine, as I sent up a prayer saying something along the lines of, “You got us this far, God. Please make this work somehow.”
After a morning full of back and forth and long walks down an otherwise quiet hall of St. William’s education center, our lunch hour paved the way for a more peaceful afternoon. Our group of discerning women moved back and forth from classroom discussion of symbolism, theology and study to presentation and observation inside their glorious atrium classroom. This iconic presentation (pictured above) stood at the center of their lovely atrium, drawing Gus into his next role as the (almost 3 year old) model for the child’s response to the atrium. The images below only capture a few of the many beautiful presentations contained in the atrium.
This particular class centralized on teachings that resonate best with children ages 3-6. I watched as the soft-spoken leaders of our class took my anxious situation and turned it into a beautiful thing. My eyes became teary once again upon the realization that the next little son of ours that would have benefitted from the Regina Mater atrium, like his brothers had, would now be able to experience the gift of CGS, if we were to successfully bring this back to Livingston with us. Just in time. The rest of the afternoon was spent like this, marveling at Gus’s awe and interest in the many stations of the atrium, or reminding him to color a bit more quietly while we took notes in the classroom. By the end of the class, I felt renewed, inspired, blessed, unworthy to be called to take on this important endeavor … and exhausted.
Who better to greet you after a day like this than the sweet smiling face of your best friend and baby’s godmother? How perfect that I finish this day off with St. Sarah, who has been my mentor, confidant and the one who had led our family to Regina Mater. (I wrote all about that Godsent friendship and journey here.) Sarah had changed her commuting arrangements of the day to include picking up Nate alongside her other three children who attend Regina Mater. Hugs were distributed all around as Sarah’s oldest daughter, Mary Catherine, took charge of JoJo care for long enough to recap the days’ events. What gracious hospitality we received for the next few days at the McRorie home! The smell of homemade pizza dough and sound of laughing children filled their gorgeous home as we made plans for our time together and for completing my class. Soon we were tackling bedtime routines with our combined seven children, complete with story time, singsong litany of the saints, and alas, prayers for all.
We wrapped up our late night with more co-op talk, kid stories and other fun things, before calling it a night. St. Sarah had also insisted that she would successfully pull off teaching a class full of preschoolers Science with both her 3 year old Lily, and my little Gus in tow.
These two have been the best of buddies since they were little enough to even realize it. We laughed and laughed at all of the little conversations they shared over the weekend, now that they are both talking so much. Thanks to Sarah, we now have a whole new collection of Lily & Gus photos to add to that book-to-be that we will be compiling someday.
With the support of St. Sarah and many of our beloved teacher friends at Regina Mater (Mrs. Lanicek, Mrs. Gahan, & Mr Gabler to name only a few that were reported), my second and third days at my CGS classes were incredible. Without my beautiful, head strong toddler, it became perfectly clear how necessary this class should be for all Christian parents; not just those committed to teaching and building up this ministry. This beautiful program was indeed the culmination of all of these intergal worlds colliding:
Joseph cooperated beautifully (most of the time) allowing me to take almost as many notes as I would have liked and only chirping loudly enough for a change of scenery on occasion.
He napped in his stroller behind me in the classroom, as I sipped coffee, snacked, jotted down notes and took in all the glory of such a powerful message that I knew God needed me to hear. With these child sized presentations, our children have the opportunity through child’s play to learn the concepts of such biblical and traditional elements of the faith as:
With all of these concepts spinning through my head, I wondered how a beautiful, meaningful atrium much like this one had been right in front of me at Regina Mater, and how I had not asked more questions and been led to this formation class much sooner. My answer was found in the realization of God’s timing. Always, always, God’s timing. For the timing of now, I am profoundly, gratefully honored that God has placed this upon my heart.
All of these things, I was able to share pieces of, sprinkled between conversations at the McRorie home during my last evening there. For our second night, our hosts welcomed even more friends (and the accompanying large number of children) into their home for a wonderful gathering of families who had all shared in the friendship, commuting tradeoffs and educational journeys of our children in previous years; a community brought together by our children. Our reunion was icing on the CGS class cake for me! Thank you, McRorie, Gabler & Rosas families for always making us feel so loved!
After my third wonderful day of class on Saturday, I returned once again to the McRorie house to find more adventures of Lily & Gus had transpired. Two days with Gus had Sarah endured. This is no walk in the park during these last weeks of the infamous age 2, friends! Gus has a way of keeping us all on our toes right now. And then some.
I tried not to tear up as I packed up all of our things again. Once the tears start flowing with Sarah and I, they take a while to stop. Such a blessed friendship we have been given and how appropriate that it had been her to help walk me through this next step of my spiritual journey, in every way she could offer! Thank you from the bottom of my heart, St. Sarah!
As I had finished my class and packing, Nate had joined many of his Troops of St George buddies in participating in the pro-life walk in downtown Austin. When I arrived back to the Gabler house, who had helped lead these young troops in their peaceful protest to save innocent lives, we were served dinner and offered more gracious hospitality. Thank you on behalf of all of us, Gabler family! Scott is still incredibly bummed that he was unable to join us to visit with his most respected mentor and treasured friend from Regina Mater.
We left Saturday night for a quick drive to my mother’s home in Waco, only an hour and a half away. We would be able to sneak in a short visit while decreasing our dreaded travel time home on Sunday. As always, my mother also welcomed us graciously and took great care of us during our stay. While my Mom kept a rambunctious Gus, I was able to attend a special Mass on Sunday morning with Nate and Joseph, only to accidentally stumble into the Confirmation Mass of the area, led by the Bishop of the Austin Diocese, Joe Vasquez.
By midday Sunday, I started feeling more heavily the effects of the annual cedar fever that I had suffered the twelve years that we lived in Austin. All of my excitement about this opportunity had completely trumped any fears that had surfaced about returning to the area during the worst part of cedar season. Now two whole weeks later, I am finally recovering from a cedar induced head cold enough to process the beauty of the gift that has been given. It is a gift that I cannot wait to share with our new church and school communities.
This gift was one that transcends age, time and Christian denomination; full of the Holy Spirit, community love and hope for our children’s generation. When today’s culture often leaves us feeling like deer in the headlights, wondering how in the world we will hold up to this job as mother, educational leader, nurse, etiquette school and all of the roles in between, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd has spoken to me in the silence. True to the nature of the program, this whole opportunity, although I feel overwhelmingly under deserving and under qualified, I have faced an encounter with Christ – one that was not preached or taught, but one that reached out to my childlike soul – one that I hope to share with the littlest of our Christ followers of tomorrow.
Please pray for me, friends.
1. The Beautiful Mess
This about sums up my days lately. We are off to a new semester, a new year and a new opportunity for improvement. Last semester, I allowed myself to claim the crutch of a new baby, a new town and a new co-op to justify those days in which we may not have pushed our two oldest boys to prioritize our school work quite as well as we should have. We played a lot in the midst of fabulous fall weather leading up to the excitement and celebration of our Christmas break.
Now, here we are; in the dead of whatever Winter Texas will throw at us this year. While my boys groan about not having quite as much outdoor time, I cannot help but to return to my standby question of, “What did mothers like me do during this time 100 years ago?”
And then it all makes sense again. When the boys could work/play/roam/create adventures outside, they would. When winter time confined them to the life of indoor domestication, they picked up the slack on household chores….AND they studied. This was their prime time for hitting the books and furthering their education. I dare not to disrupt this natural order of things. As God would have it, our gift of a Hoey Boy #5 has taken this time to demonstrate his perfect contented heart in pacifying himself to sleep right in the middle of the big beautiful mess of laundry, phonics, legendary mouse tales of heroic battlegrounds, handwriting practice, nursing covers and baby wipes. Although my Mama heart is already concerned about what this thumbsucking habit may do for JoJo’s teeth, jawline and speech later, I am accepting this gift of the season.
2. Walker Milestone
I have to confess; we are approaching one of my favorite stages in the world of babies. This first big reveal of a jump in alert observations, grabbing for their surroundings, the studying of every single thing that comes into their sight, and eventually, sitting unsupported. We are almost there. This week, as I was reading Redwall in the middle of a circle of little boys, with a babe in my lap, I was somehow caught off gaurd by this little tiny person who kept grabbing for the colorful cover of our paperback. A lovely friend of mine with five girls exactly our boys’ ages lent me this great little device for a few months. Lo and behold, we have discovered a bit more school time until the novelty of the new toy wears thin.
3. Matthew Kelly & Spiritual Food for Thought
I have a treasured friend back in Austin who sang his praises long before we moved, but the Australian accented wisdom of Matthew Kelly didn’t creep into my brain until the last few months. In this season of sneaking personal reading into our juggling act, I picked up a condensed audio version of his book that has patiently been awaiting time for completion upon my nightstand. While visiting a new friend at a Houston area parish, there sat a basket of complementary CDs by the exit door, calling my name. And just like that, I’m hooked! Oh, audio books! Where have you been all of my life?
My husband and I have both taken turns at soaking in the Kelly wit and wisdom, while driving around town, laughing at the absurdity and truthfulness of his assessment of the American diet and accompanying undisciplined lifestyle. The one nugget of truth that has remained in my thoughts though, above all humor and instruction, was the declaration of how books change us. They provide opportunities for spiritual growth that just cannot compare to the worldly satisfaction under the realm of physical expectations.When I think back to some of my favorite AHA moments in my adult life, it has often pointed me back to a piece of spiritual reading. As suggested, my new year’s resolutions are not merely a list of exercises, physical training, weight goals or diet restrictions. At the top of my list are a growing list leaning toward ten books to complete in 2015. I’ll save the completed list for another post. What’s on your list? You are what you read.
4. Sparkly Eucharist
As Catholics, we realize the gift of the seven sacraments as introduced by the earliest Christians that evolved from Jesus’ first original twelve disciples. For 1500 years, if one was Christian, one was Catholic, practicing and experiencing the seven sacraments of baptism, confession, confirmation, matrimony, holy orders, annointing of the sick and most importantly the Eucharist in the sacrament of Holy Communion.
As someone who did not grow up in The Church or experience the bulk of these sacraments until age 30, my children’s pure, innocent perspectives and sacramental experiences often take my breath away. Such was the case with my little rebellious Augustine last night, offering me a glimpse of magic from the child we named after one of the most influential converts of Christianity, St Augustine. Little Gussy, stood on the side of my bed, taking a break from “helping” me place new clean sheets upon the mattress.
On a nearby bookshelf, sit three Willow Tree gifts from three of my favorite people, given to me during some of the most transitional times of my life. My boys have all found their share of marvel while carefully handling the intricate woodwork of these iconic figurines often symbolizing familial relationships. Who knew Willow Tree could spark such theological discussion from my almost three-year-old boy? The conversation went something like this.
Gus: “Mama, is this JoJo?”, pointing to the baby cradled to the Mommy & Daddy figurine.
Mama: “Yes, Sir.”
Gus: “That’s Mama & Dada?” flashing a serious expression of contemplation.
Mama: “Yes, Sir.”
Gus: “Are we married?”
Gus: “Us. Us. Are we married?”
Mama: “You mean our family?”
Gus: “Yeah, us.”
Mama: “Well, Mama & Dada are married. Then God gave us five little boys. That made us a family. But you’re not married yet. Someday, you will be. You will marry a wife and have a family.”
It took a few moments to realize that he was not pleased with this news. His little curly blonde head turned down with sad eyes before glancing back up with big curious puppy dog eyes.
“No,” he simply said. I assumed that meant that I had taken it one step too far ever offering the consideration that we would be any less than the family that we are right now, all living under one roof. Staying open to the idea that at least one of our boys may someday consider the holy orders of priesthood, I attempted to shift the conversation away from whatever had made him sad.
“Or you could be a priest?” I offered cheerfully. “Like Father Chester?” Our boys really love our priests at St. Joseph, often running to greet our new priest from Africa, Father Chester, with hugs and high fives. His eyes lit up.
For someone who usually appears to be paying attention to everything but what is supposed to be our focus during Mass and especially during our route to partake in Holy Communion, his next contribution to our conversation blew me away.
Gus: “And I can hold the sparkly thing?”
Mama: “Hmmm, the what thing?”
Gus: “The sparkly thing, the circle. Sparkly,” as he held up an imaginary idea piece in front of his innocent, clearly focused big brown eyes.
Mama: “You mean Communion, Gus? The host?”
Gus: “Yes! You eat the sparkly! I hold it!”
You can imagine my response, having never exactly seen the Holy Eucharist sparkle. Oh, but through the eyes of a child, we are granted this kind of magic. He waited for my response.
Mama: “You can hold it! You can be a priest, Gus. You can hold the sparkly! Father Gus, you can do anything you want,” I answered through hearty laughter, a huge smile and an even bigger hug for my sweet boy. And just like that, in our own kind of way, we covered the sacraments of marriage, holy orders and Holy communion. Thank you, Willow Tree!
5. Simple Living Cravings
It seems that every winter, while holed up in our home a little more, I ponder the lifestyle of our modern American families a little more. Every winter, I find myself pulled between tending to diapers, feedings, cleaning, the schooling of little boys and seeking personal fulfillment of my own in this spiritual journey toward holiness. Every winter, I find myself feeling guilty for whichever side of this balancing scale I lean toward. It seems near impossible to take care of it all.
Every winter, I wonder if people who have smaller homes, less stuff, less costly bills to maintain have fewer stresses. I wonder if they find time to enjoy their wee ones a little more without the constant nagging feeling of keeping up with this over indulgent American lifestyle that often dictates, “more is better; bigger is better.”
Last winter, during this phase of restlessness, I came across this fascinating construction alternative to the mortgaged route of a home. Everyone laughed at me as I rambled on about earthbag homes.This year, I have started reading more about hay bale construction.
In my odd little fairy tale world, a community of friends all join together in giving of their time and talents to build one of these archaic forms of sturdy homes, much like they did in days of old. I wonder about the days in which the women were surrounded by a village of support and the fathers were more available to teach their sons how to be men. I wonder about a time that people did not tie themselves to a 30 year mortgage that left the father feeling like the best way to take care of his family was to work outside of the home for 40-50+ hours of the week, tending to this costly mortgage (and/or housing costs) and expensive way of modern life. I dream of a ministry that teaches our young boys of a better way to live for their future. I yearn for a simpler time. Surely, I am not alone in this.
6. Trade Days
In that modern style of attempting my own contribution to making ends meet in my world of reality, I have decided to sample my very first experience of Trade Days in Livingston this weekend. I am actually really excited about joining the wise gypsies and retired folk who travel in their campers from community to community, partaking in the Trade Days and meeting new people. Something about this sounds wonderful to me. I will be talking about old fashioned hospitality and fellowship while taking orders for the beautiful line of home decor and serveware offered through my Mary & Martha business. The weather is forecasted for absolute perfection for January. Wish me luck, friends!
7. While I wrap up my weekend at Trade Days, my husband will be joining the youth in our Diocese of Beaumont in the Right to Life Rally this Sunday (January 19th from 2-4 pm) at St. Anne Catholic Church in Beaumont. I may throw in the towel early if there is room for me in our Expedition, but chauffers to these kinds of events are often scarce. If you or anyone you know would like to contribute your time or your multipassenger vehicle to the participation of this peaceful, prayerful event, please contact me or my husband, Scott Hoey by private messages or comments upon the blog with your contact information.