Monday, November 29

A Babe is Born!

Head over to Sarah's blog and wish her happy anniversary. And ... congratulate her on the birth of her first son. What a fantastic present! How on EARTH will her husband top that she gave birth to his first son for their anniversary?

Anyway, babies are always a welcome gift in this world. Go tell her hi!

Wednesday, November 17

"[A] shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom."

A few years ago, I'd heard about a tradition called the Jesse Tree. It seemed like a neat idea: each night during December, you read a bit about our salvation history, working your way through the Old Testament, and see how God worked throughout history from Creation through the Fall and up until Christ came into the world. And each day, after reading your Scripture, a child could hang an ornament on the tree.

Really, it's a beautiful thing. And it really reinforces the idea that at no time was God absent from our lives. At no time did He forget His promise to Adam and Eve: that one day, Someone would come to set the world to rights again and redeem mankind.

It's something that can get lost in the whole Christmas preparation. Goodness knows it's tough to even focus on the true meaning of Advent when we have Christmas trees up in stores on November 1 and Thanksgiving decorations on clearance before November 10. Really, Advent has been completely lost to the greater part of our culture. We move from Thanksgiving to Christmas season.

But Catholics ought to know better. And, if we're paying attention to our readings - daily or Sunday-only - we'll be reminded of the fact that we are about to enter Advent, the time we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ. Not just as a Babe in the manger, but at the end of time. Thus, our readings focus on the Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell.

Doesn't quite jive with "Jimgle Bells," does it?

But Advent is important. Advent is the time when we take stock of ourselves and try to make ourselves presentable to the King. We ought to be paring back, focusing on what's important: Christ's coming. Because we don't know when He's coming back, but we need to be ready. We're going to hear Jesus tell us that in Noah's day, there was eating, drinking, and merry-making among the people who were about to be wiped out. We're going to hear John the Baptist warn us to repent, to avoid imitating the brood of vipers who rest easy, thinking their salvation is secure without any more effort than calling themselves children of Abraham. Then we'll hear Jesus praise John the Baptist, and call us to look to the Old Testament prophecies to see the foretelling of His coming. And, finally, we'll hear of Joseph's obedience to the Lord - and of his trust in God's providence.

Funny, but until this moment, I hadn't thought to look at all of Advent's readings at once that way. But look at that message!

Prepare, for Christ is coming. Judgement will be upon you when you least expect it. Do not think that just because you sit in that pew every Sunday you're safe. Examine your life and repent! None of this is new information: the Scriptures clearly tell us of God's plans for us all. And imitate Joseph, humble and obedient to God, even when he didn't understand the entire plan. Take Jesus into your heart as your own, just as St. Joseph did.

This is a great reminder for adults. But for children, how do we help them focus on the real meaning of Advent? How do we help them prepare properly for Christmas?

The Jesse Tree has been our answer to this dilemma.

There are plenty of different sites for Jesse Tree activities, and the readings can vary from place to place. The important thing is that they all do focus on the preparations God made for His people for the coming of the Savior. Symbols, too, can vary. Each ornament tends to be a symbol of the reading for that day. Our family uses this site's information for our readings, and the girls chose a symbol for each reading from the list given there. We made bake-able play-dough so they could create their own ornaments, as well. (Originally, we used a branch and paper ornaments, but I could see that they wouldn't last very long.)

For the tree, I set up our Christmas tree, which is pre-lit, and put absolutely nothing on it. Each evening, one of the girls reads the verse and the other hangs an ornament up. And, slowly, the tree starts to fill up. (We add no other decorations until Gaudete Sunday, which is when the whole house gets the Christmas treatment.)

Because of these readings each night, the girls have begun to see the connection between the Old and New Testaments. And they stop and contemplate God's mercy each evening. It's like an antidote to the rest of the world, who all seem to be rushing at Christmas at breakneck speed and who will throw the whole thing out on December 26.

Which, incidentally, is only the second day of Christmas. But that's a whole other post for you.

If you're looking to really get your family honed in on the true meaning of Christmas, then the Jesse Tree is for you. It doesn't need to be elaborate, either. You could make paper ornaments and a paper tree to hang on a wall or on your refrigerator and tape the symbols up. You can find pre-made ornaments online to print, color, and cut out. Some even come with reflections ready to print!

Or, if you want to come back here each day in December, you can find links to the readings we use, as well as a picture of the ornament my girls made for our tree. Posts will come up automatically throughout December.

UPDATE: If you'd like the readings we use, all ready to go in a PDF file, just head over here and download away!

Wednesday, November 10

Wordless Wednesday: Birthday Edition

Happy 235th Birthday, United States Marine Corps. Thank you for your service.

The Lord bless thee, and keep thee.

The Lord shew his face to thee, and have mercy on thee.

The Lord turn his countenance to thee, and give thee peace.

-Aaron's Blessing

Saving Our Children's Purity, Part II

I started with Part I here, which might be helpful to read first. Because of the deeply personal nature of this post, I previewed it with Big Girl and obtained her permission to post it as it appears for you below.


"Do you want to sit down?" I asked her as she stood by our bed.

She sighed. "Yes. This could take a while."

And so began the torrent of tears. Big Girl is going to a NET Ministries presentation with the youth group from church, and I'm going to a Moms' Night Out. So Travel Man is taking Little Girl on a date. She wants to go see

Unfortunately, we'd told Big Girl that we probably wouldn't go see it because it's expensive to go to the movies (all four of us) and we've been kinda spendy for the last few months. So she's upset that she isn't seeing a movie she wants to see, but Travel Man is taking her sister to go see it.

But that's the tip, and it was abandoned almost immediately for the more pressing issues: that we aren't letting her have a boyfriend or a cell phone or to go on a "date" with a boy she likes.

I had to really, really think about this. Because there's something WRONG with a 12 year old having a boyfriend. (The cell phone thing, we determined pretty quickly, was a battle she knew she wasn't going to win, but she wanted to vent about it since she thinks everyone sees her as a total freak for not having one.) That, and she was tired of school. It's hard in seventh grade, suddenly there's a lot of history and writing and these are both new - at least in the quantity that they're coming in.

But, back to the boyfriend thing. It's WRONG, for sure, but I couldn't put my finger on it. On the fly, I prayed my favorite prayer to pray when I'm in trouble and need immediate input.


It's actually quite effective.

Travel Man had handled the movie thing already, and I suddenly had my answer for the boyfriend issue.

"If you have a boyfriend now, what's left for later?"


"If you start dating now, at 12, and you have a boyfriend, what's left to happen later, say, in four years?"

"I have a deeper relationship with him later."

Oh, horrid words! She has NO IDEA what that means to a 16 or 17 year old boy!! She's so innocent!

Trying not to cringe, trying not to pull punches, I finally realize that I have to let her have the information I didn't really think I'd need to share with her for years. But, let's face it: she's not me. She's not, at 12, the size of her nine year old sister. She's not bespecled, she has no acne. She isn't a "carpenter's dream." She's not so socially awkward that she sometimes hides from people she knows in public so she doesn't have to say hi to them. She is BEAUTIFUL and smart and funny and confident and outgoing and did I mention beautiful? (Protecting her innocence might be a real nightmare for my poor husband.)

When I was 12, boys ignored me. Unless it was to throw gypsy moth caterpillars at me. I liked being ignored better.

Not Big Girl. She's amazing. She's who I wanted to be at 12. And now I see God's wisdom and protection in the late-blooming nature of my whole life.

I have to tell her that the "deeper relationship" very often turns to sex. Girls lose their virginity. They have babies. Her aunt delivered a baby for a mother who was my precious Big Girl's
age. The culture is a cesspool, and even though I do everything I can to protect her, and even though she obeys me without question when we're walking through the mall and I order the girls to "look down quick!" so we can run a gammet of disgusting pictures and displays in shops, stuff is there. And it seeps in. And for boys, it is FAR worse! I try to explain as best as I can without details, that the visual makes boys' and men's brains fire like mad. Her dressing modestly protects not only her, but also the boys she knows. That it's scary-hard for those boys who want to remain pure for their future wives because the cesspool is EVERYWHERE. I get frantic (partly to snap her out of her hysterics, partly because, dammit, I've been holding this in for years): I can't walk through the mall without eight six-foot by four-foot signs of women in their underwear being plastered in front of SANTA CLAUS AT THE MALL! I can't check out at Wal Mart without magazines discussing things that children should never see! I don't mention that I'm sick of pedophiles designing clothes that try to make my innocent girls look like hookers. But she starts to see a little.

I explain again:

"Honey, if you start dating now, you have a boyfriend now, in four years, if you want to show your love, what's left? Where do you go?" Now she's just staring at me, wide-eyed. "Honey, those boys are so pressured now ... "

Here I turn to my patient husband, who's been listening to me try with all my might to help her understand what I'm protecting her from without actually going too far.

"Honey, it's worse now. How bad was it for you when you were a boy?"

"Awful. And now is just as bad, and I'm an old married guy."

I turn back to my wide-eyed daughter.

"Big Girl, sweetheart, those boys are so pressured into thinking that the way you express that deeper love is to give up your virginity. That is so dangerous for so many reasons, but let's remember the most important is that it puts your very soul in mortal danger. After being with someone for three, four years, you WANT to show them how much you love them. But you can't get married when you're 16."

She's already said that she wasn't going to do that. But I know better. Sadly, I know better.

"When you wait to have a real boyfriend until you're 16, then when that three or four years go by and you want your love to be deeper, then you're *ready to be married*! And that's why we don't want you to have a boyfriend. Because you need to save that special time for when you are ready, emotionally, to have a boyfriend."

At this point, she was starting to feel a little overwhelmed. She started getting silly, laughing a little, and changing the subject. I pressed her for an answer, though. "Even if you don't totally agree, do you at least *understand* our reasons now?" She did.

And, at 11:45 PM, she skipped upstairs to go back to bed.

Monday, November 8

Saving Our Children's Purity, Part I

Our family is weird by today's standards. In more ways than one.

The first oddity is our undying devotion to the Catholic Church and all she passes on to us from God. Yes, all. No, we don't think women priests are a good idea - it can't even be done. No, we don't think that contraception is okay sometimes. No, we don't think that abortion is okay in the cases of rape and incest - those babies are not guilty of anything. No, we don't think that homosexuals are able to get married. Yes, we love our priests and bishops and the Holy Father. We pray for them all, and we obey the Church, even when it's hard. That not only makes us weird in the general world out there, it also makes us weird to a lot of Catholics. That makes me a bit sad, but that's life, you know?

Next comes our strange decision to keep our kids with us at home and teach them here. Homeschooling is more accepted than it was 15 years ago, and I am so grateful for the parents who fought so hard to gain reclaim our right to be the primary educators of our own children. The Church teaches that all parents are their children's primary educators, and when I applied for the religious exemption in our state, I referred to this right in my explanation of why I'm homeschooling. It's a God-given right for me to teach my children, to have them educated how I see fit, in order that they gain Heaven.

Even though homeschooling is not frowned upon by most people any more (thanks, Tebow family!), we are still looked at askew sometimes by parents who cannot imagine having their children around them 24/7.

Me? I like my girls. I love having them around, and it's not because I want to shelter them. They're really neat people. They're funny and smart and witty and great to be around. I feel a little bad for parents who don't like being with their kids. I feel bad for the kids, too, because if your parents don't like you, who will?

But anyway, we are weird for homeschooling. We do things like have school in our PJ's sometimes, or take field trips that last a week, like when my parents took them on a field trip to Washington, DC. Or take tours of old churches as part of school. We read Shakespeare and the kids make my husband and I act out the balcony scene in Romeo & Juliet, or the scene in Juliet's tomb, with me lying on the couch while my husband pretends to stab himself and die on the living room floor. Because doing that while your third-grader cheers you both on is really not very normal. (It should be. Lemme tell you what, ladies. Try acting out that balcony scene with your husband and then try containing yourself until the kids are in bed! WHEW!)

We're also weird because we shelter our kids from a lot of things we feel they aren't ready for. Things that are now considered normal for kids to have or do. While they do have access to a computer for schoolwork, both girls have parental controls on the internet browser that limits where they can go. Neither of them are allowed on YouTube to just watch videos, even of stuff we think might be okay. (You NEVER know what those "related videos" will be!) They are not allowed to have Facebook accounts, which is not a big deal for the nine year old, but does make the 12 year old look strange to her friends.

They don't have cell phones, either. Oh, there have been times when they're away all day on a Youth Group trip or a dance rehearsal where we'll loan them a phone (Travel Man has a work cell and a personal cell). But they don't have their own. And they won't for a long time. We've said to them both that we'll start the discussion when they turn 16 and start doing things like drive and work. Until then, they'll live. Heck, I didn't have a cell phone until I was in my 20's, and I lived. I'm sure they won't implode.

This is actually something we've had to really explain - not to other parents, usually. The ones who say anything are usually the ones who lament the day they bought a cell phone for their child. The ones who have no regrets don't usually try to persuade us; maybe we look like we just don't care what they think. But to the kids, and especially to Big Girl, who is blazing the path and has to be the first one to ask for everything.

The thing is, there is an unrestricted internet on that phone. And texting. And calls to who-knows-who. Frankly, I don't let them just call anyone on the house phone, or just start sending emails to just anyone. (As a matter of fact, the kids are white-listed on their email accounts. Each new address sent to or received from must be approved by a parent first. Permissions can also be rescinded.) But with a cell phone, that's impossible to control. Not only can I not control much who's called, I cannot control who is sending messages to my girls. And, while at 12 and 13 that's probably not a concern, I know what happens when hormonal teenagers have cell phones with video, still cameras, and an unlimited texting and messaging plan. And why take the risk of exposing them to any of that early? At this point, neither of them have enough sense to know who should have their phone numbers. I know they'd give them out to everyone they're friends with!

Now, it's super-hard to protect their purity when we go out. I'm not even talking about the mall, where we avoid an entire section to avoid Victoria's Secret's gigantic soft-p*rn window-display posters. I'm talking about walking between Spencer's and a T-shirt place where my kids have almost nowhere to look without taking the chance of them seeing something vile. I'm talking about Wal Mart's checkout line where Cosmo sits, usually without the blinders, proclaiming that it has great ideas for … well, you know. But while Cosmo is still out in front on the smut parade, even the more tame magazines display big headlines about being sexy and the gossip magazines talk brazenly about hook-ups, shack-ups, break-ups, and babies out of wedlock as though it's all peachy-keen, hunky-dory, good and healthy stuff.

And teen girls are being pressured to start dating earlier and earlier. You're a loser if you don't have a boyfriend when you're 12. If you're not getting to go out alone with that boyfriend by 13 or 14, you're just really a weirdo. Don't forget to wear that sexy outfit! Lace leggings and a miniskirt! Yippee!


This Culture of Death is trying to dress my girls like hookers, push them into dating early, and then will throw condoms at them and tell them that they just can't help themselves because they've got hormones and stuff and gosh if you love him then why not it's just sex and everyone does that eventually get that virginity thing out of the way and have you seen Sex and the City yet?

*double barf*

Well-meaning people have asked me, "What's the big deal? To her, having a boyfriend means they sit together and like each other."

I had to think a lot about what that means. Not to her, but for real. What, in real life, does it mean to have a boyfriend? Where does it lead? What is the reason people date? Do I even WANT her dating, or do we want more of a courtship situation? There is something I don't like about it, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

I've been praying since my Big Girl was born about how to answer these questions - and questions about growing up and human sexuality - because I needed to be ready with good, clear answers with reasons behind them that I could explain. My answer had to be more than "No," and "Because I said so."

I was finally confronted with having to give answers recently, and I'll share those answers with you in Part II.

(UPDATE: Part II can be found here.)

Who are your heros?


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