The Seven Book Challenge- The Books that have Inspired, Challenged, and Encouraged Me

The Seven Book Challenge- The Books that have Inspired, Challenged, and Encouraged Me

I was asked by one of my good friends to do the Seven Book Challenge that has been going around Facebook lately. The challenge is to post seven book covers over seven days without an explanation or review and then pass the torch onto the next friend.  It fosters a community of readers and introduces your friends to a new set of books.  I’m not usually one for these kind of Facebook challenges, but I do love sharing about books so I thought I’d give this one a go!

It was hard to narrow down the books I wanted to share to just seven. I decided to share the few that have been having an impact on me lately and a few that I’ve gone back to multiple times for inspiration. And because I didn’t want to stop at just sharing the covers, I thought I’d write a quick post for the blog, sharing my thoughts and reviews on these books.  I hope that you find one (or more) that will inspire you too! These are in no particular order, so scroll to find the ones that speak to you 🙂

The Seven Book Challenge

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1) Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver

I love the Martha and Mary story in the Bible. It’s the one story that calls me by name every time I hear it- it brings me a calmness that I don’t find many places. I read this book in college, and it helped bring everything into perspective for me. It was okay to be busy, to do all of the things, and to want perfection, even, but God had to always come first.  Weaver shares how having a “living room intimacy” with Jesus will logically lead to a “kitchen service.”  We’re called to a both/and, not an either/or.  We need to center our days around Jesus, and then allow that to change us. The book also emphasizes that while we often place our own value on how productive we are, our value is, instead, in being God’s child. Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World is such a good read for my heart, and I continue to find new nuggets of wisdom each time I read it. 

“Have you ever tried to do it all? I have, I do, and I probably always will. It’s not only in my nature; it’s also in my job description- and yours too. Being a woman requires more stamina, more creativity, and more wisdom than I ever dreamed as a young girl. And that’s not just true for today’s busy women. It has always been the case.” – Joanna Weaver, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World

Read More: For All the Martha’s in the Back

2) No-Drama Discipline by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. & Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.

I just finished this parenting book recently, and I think it will be super helpful as I get more and more into the parenting trenches with our toddlers. The author’s focus is on parenting with a whole brain perspective. He shares that when a child is misbehaving, they are often reacting with their downstairs brain, defaulting to an irrational fight or flight response.  It is our job as parents to help them learn how to integrate their upstairs brain so that they may learn how to self regulate better in future situations.  My biggest takeaway from this book is the reframing of discipline as punishment to discipline as teaching. Discipline and boundaries are necessary. But, our goal is to connect, redirect, and then teach when the child is ready to learn, instead of pounding in a lesson in the midst of a chaotic moment.  If you’re at all interested in gentle parenting and the hows and why’s, this book is a great starting place!

“You’re probably not going to enjoy discipline, or look forward to future meltdowns. But when you realize that these “misbehavior moments” aren’t just miserable experiences to endure, but actually opportunities for knowledge and growth, you can reframe the whole experience and recognize it as a chance to build the brain and create something meaningful and significant in your child’s life.” -Daniel J. Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson, No-Drama Discipline

3) Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin

This is the only book I read through again in my second pregnancy, and I will probably read through in any future ones as well. For anyone seeking a natural birth, this is the book to read. The first half is all birth stories, ranging from home birth to hospital birth.  The stories showcase the many ways that women react to labor and really puts a spotlight on some of the ways our current society medicalizes pregnancy and labor, rather than looking at it as a natural thing. The second half goes more into the details of the how’s and why’s of different labor choices and was super informative, especially as a first time mom.  What I love most about this book is that it empowers the woman in her pregnancy and labor to make the choices that are best for her and her body. Definitely a must read if you’re pregnant or at all interested in pregnancy and labor.

“What I mean by true capacities of the female body are those that are experienced by real women, whether or not these abilities are recognized by medical authorities. The way I see it, the most trustworthy knowledge about women’s bodies combines the best of what medical science has offered over the past century or two with what women have always been able to learn about themselves before birth moved into hospitals” – Ina May Gaskin, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth

4) Girl, Arise! by Claire Swinarski

Girl, Arise! is written by the creator of The Catholic Feminist Podcast (one of my favorites!). The tagline is “A Catholic Feminist’s Invitation to Live Boldly, Love Your Faith, and Change the World.” The phrase “Catholic Feminist” can sometimes seem like an oxymoron, and a lot of people wonder how these two things can come together what with the seeming disconnect between issues such as birth control, abortion, lack of women priests, and gay marriage. It all comes down to what your definition of a feminist is- Claire’s working definition is “to be a feminist is to believe that women are beautiful, unique, and equal in dignity to men.” The Catholic church is one that is focused on upholding the dignity of the person, so really, these phrases go hand in hand. I could probably talk all day about this issue, but I’ll save that for another time. This book is a great start to looking into what it means to be a Feminist and a Catholic, and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone struggling with this dissonance.

“Pro-life should be more than a rallying cry; it should be more than a slogan on a bumper sticker or tank top. It should be more than abortion, capital punishment, and immigration. It isn’t a set of laws but a state of mind and heart- one that consistently puts people over profit and puts those people on equal footing. To be pro-life means to avoid wishing harm on others and to instead put them first.” – Claire Swinarski, Girl, Arise!

5) The Grace of Enough by Haley Stewart

I raved about this book when I read it, and it had to make this list too. I had originally gotten this book from the library and ended up buying a copy so that I can read it again and/or share it with others.  In The Grace of Enough, Stewart shares how her family made the radical decision to leave their “normal” lives and move halfway across the country, away from extended family, to start a life doing an internship on a sustainable farm with no flushing toilets, all with three small kiddos. Through this journey, her family learned about slow living, sustainability, and hospitality, among other things, in a way they might not have otherwise. These are all ideas that I’d love to incorporate more into our lives, and so I am using this book as a reminder to not get caught up in the world. I want to instead focus on our family, those around us, and, most importantly, on Jesus. 

“But the heart of the matter is that our children will watch us. The most powerful antidote to the throwaway culture is when we model simplicity, hospitality, and generosity in “the domestic church.” In this school of love, the home, we aim to educate children in faith and charity so that they will not be taken in by the false promises of consumerism… My prayer is that someday my children will see something beautiful in our crazy experiment and the goodness of what we wanted to offer them.” – Haley Stewart, The Grace of Enough

6) Cultivating Virtue: Self-Mastery with the Saints

This book is set up as a daily devotional with each month focusing on a different virtue to grow in.  Each day has a quote from a saint and then a few stories of that saint or others living out the virtue that is being referenced. I have been using this book in my prayer time, allowing myself to skip to the day I’m on instead of trying to catch up.  Maybe some day, I’ll read them all!  The Lord has been using this book to really call me to growth in a lot of different areas. It makes me think deeper about what I’m doing and where I’m going and draws me closer to him in my prayer time.  If you’re looking for something to give more depth to your moral growth, this is the book for you! 

“When once we have placed ourselves totally in the hands of God, we have no cause to fear misfortune; for if any should come to us, He will know how to make it turn ot our good, by ways which we do not know now, but which, one day, we shall know- St. Vincent De Paul” – Cultivating Virtue: Self-Mastery with the Saints

7) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling

This book seems a little out of place among the others, but definitely belongs among my seven top books.  The Harry Potter series was such an important part of my adolescence and taught me so many life lessons that I hope to also pass onto my children through the books. The seventh, and final book, stood out to me as it was the end of an era. I had grown up with Harry and the gang, and it felt like the closing of a door when the last book was finally published. Even so, the books were something that I grew closer with friends and family through, and still do now (Tony and I literally quoted Harry Potter today).  The greatest thing about the books is that I can go back and reread them as if I am meeting again with old friends, even as an adult.

If you have not listened to the audio books of the Harry Potter series, I highly recommend them. The narrator does such a great job bringing the characters to life in the recordings. My family used them as road trip books, and the bond that we grew out of sharing Harry Potter together is really beautiful.  Check them out through Audible– you get a couple free audio books with a trial (and you get to keep them even if you quit)!

It was hard to pick one quote, so here are two 😉

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” – Dumbledore, JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

“It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.” – Also Dumbledore, JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The Seven Book Challenge

So there you have it, my seven book challenge! I’d love to hear what your seven books are. Maybe they’ve changed your life, they are inspiring you currently, or they are your go to old friends. Whatever they are, send them my way so that I can add them to my to-read list too!

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Motherhood Will Make Me a Saint

Brick House in the City posted a story on their social media accounts last week that rocked me. It told of how a young St. Therese would call out “Mama!” as she went down each step and would wait for her mother’s reply before going down another step. Each step she would call out, and each step her mother would call tenderly, “Yes, my child.” And so it went as she went down the stairs.

Shoot, guys, I would’ve lost it! Can you imagine the patience it would take to call out “Yes, my child” on Every. Single. Step.  I get so upset when Nora won’t go up a full set of stairs without any recognition. We’re going through a phase where she wants to be carried everywhere- especially up the stairs. So this particular story called directly to my heart. I try to convince my sweet toddler to come up the steps by herself with patience, kindness, and most of the time, I just carry her if she’s really insisting.  But, other times, I yell, or leave her crying because I have to set down the million other things I am carrying up the stairs (including her actually can’t go up the stairs by himself little brother).  In these moments, I know that God is doing His sanctifying work in me.

What Would St. Zelie Do?

I wonder if St. Zelie had this internal struggle with little Therese.  She knew it was best to be patient and encourage her little girl, but maybe sometimes she just wanted to yell “Therese, come on! Just come down the stairs already!” But her response with patience and love is probably part of the reason St. Zelie came to be recognized as a saint- she had the patience of a saint, as they say.  There are other stories of how little St. Therese tested her mother’s patience. I wonder if, really, having her little girl being as testing as she was led St. Zelie to her sanctity. If by offering up her tendencies to impatience or anger, she was able to grow closer to God.   I would bet you that her journey in motherhood made her a saint.

I want to be a saint like St. Zelie too. While this sounds a little high and mighty, a saint is really just someone who has gone to heaven, someone who is fully in the presence of God. We have “canonized” saints in the Catholic church- these are people who have obviously followed God in their time alive and then have had two miracles proven in their name (plus a bunch of other logistical steps). We have a lot of them- a lot of men and women, like St. Zelie, to look to as an example of what it means to follow Jesus.  But, there are (I hope!) so many more saints than the ones that we have canonized, and I hope to be a part of this community someday.  

Motherhood will Make Me a Saint

Motherhood Will Make Me A Saint

I think motherhood is proving to be my quickest path to get there. The day in and day out of toddler tantrums, dirty diapers, and night wakings are doing their work in me. (And we’re not even to the teenage years yet!)  I believe God is using these little moments with my kiddos to draw me closer to Him, though I don’t always see it that way. It’s in the moments we see the face of Jesus in our children that we are being sanctified.

“He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me'” Matthew 25:45

I fail at this often.  I don’t always (or ever!) respond with the sweet patience that St. Zelie responded with to her little Therese.  Instead, I get frustrated and yell. I complain to my husband. I stop being present with my kiddos. I don’t treat every little toddler or baby suffering as an act for God. Every little task of motherhood seems so menial and not worth it, everything is always undone.

But, sometimes, I do respond with patience. I give that extra hug and snuggle instead of yelling.  I swallow my complaints and smile through it.  Sometimes, I work a little harder to be more present. Sometimes I remember to “offer it up,” to see Jesus in the face of my children. I embrace the “littleness” of motherhood as my journey to heaven.

And in these moments, I feel God smiling, saying “I see you. You’re doing a great job. Keep it up!” You see, God doesn’t need us to be perfect.  He simply wants us to be love to those around us- especially to those little beings that he’s entrusted us with. He wants us to try our best every day. Even more importantly, He wants us to call on Him in prayer when we’re not doing so hot. 

Prayer in Motherhood

It’s ironic because I am both drawn away from prayer and to prayer as a mother.  I often feel like I don’t have any pockets of time in my day to give to God. Or I don’t have a moment of silence in my day. I feel like I can’t do more than five minutes, so why even start? Or, like a couple days ago, I close my eyes to pray and immediately fall asleep. 

But at the same time, Jesus is calling to my heart. He asks me to spend that time- as little or “unproductive” as it may be. He calms my heart and shows me the next steps. Even in those days where all I get out are a morning offering– He blesses my day. He gives me the patience that I need. And even better, when I’m not the mom that I want to be that day, He takes me into His loving arms and reassures me that tomorrow is another day. I get the chance to rest and reset. 

Motherhood Will Make Me a Saint

Motherhood Will Make Me a Saint

Motherhood is strengthening me in all of the different virtues, ones I knew I needed help in and others I thought I had covered. I was made to be a mother, and, yet, I am challenged every day. This motherhood thing is pushing me to rely on God so much more than I ever thought I would need to.  As I’ve been praying the St. Therese of Lisieux Novena the past week, this litany of words from it has been convicting me, especially when I apply it in terms of motherhood. I hope that they’ll call on your heart too.  Join me in the journey to being a saint- whether motherhood is making you a saint, or something else, we’re all called to the journey. Pray for me, as I’ll pray for you.

I love your people, Lord. Help me to love them more!

I reflect you to the world, Lord. Help me to reflect you more clearly!

I rely on you, Lord. Help me to rely on you more!

I accept your will, Lord. Help me to accept your will every day!

I try to forgive, Lord. Help me to forgive 70 times 7 times!

I am humble, Lord. Give me more humility!

I see you, Lord. Help me to see you more!

I trust you, Lord. Help me to trust you more!

I love you, Lord. Help me to love you more!

 

Read More From Simply Mama Bird:

Mother Teresa on How Love Can Change the World 

7 Easy Ways to Start Being a More Present Mom

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Embracing Mary as the Model of Motherhood

Embracing Mary as the Model of Motherhood

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, May it be done to me according to your word (Luke 1:38)

These words were spoken by Mary after the angel Gabriel told her that she would soon be the mother of God.  I can’t even imagine being in that situation, much less reacting with the courage that Mary had. She had to have been scared, confused, and unsure. Her only question was how this could even happen, given she had no relations with a man. I would have had so many questions, I would have wanted so many more answers. But Mary was brave and sure in the Lord, and she responded with a resounding yes that allowed the world to be changed.  This yes and all that she did as a mother afterwards is why I look to Mary as the model of motherhood.

Mary inspires me so much. You see, Nora was our surprise honeymoon baby. She came at a time when we had so many other plans for our lives.  When that plus sign showed up, we were unsure and scared, but also filled with wonder and joy. God had a different, and bigger, plan for us than we did. Much like He had for Mary. Now, obviously, Nora is not Jesus, Son of God. My role as mother is not quite as daunting as the role Mary had to take on. Even so, it is overwhelming for me at times to think that God has given me these sweet kiddos to love on and raise up as well as I can. And so, I call on Mary often to help me through motherhood.  I look to her as one of my biggest role models, and I hope to follow her example as I figure out how to mother my own children.

Embracing Mary as the Model of Motherhood | I'm following Mary's fiat as our call to being Christian mothers. May we say yes to God in our motherhood. #ChristianMotherhood #MotherofGod #MaryQueenofPeace

It all starts with a Yes

“May it be done to me according to your word” is such a hard thought to swallow sometimes. I’m sure Mary had her own idea of what she wanted her life to look like- she was about to be married, to start off on her own journey of womanhood and being a wife. And when God presented this different path for her life’s journey, she swallowed any pride she had, any visions of what her life was to be, and just said “May it be done.” 

I often have my own visions of what my life is going to be.  Starting college, I thought I wanted to go into research and become a professor, but God led me a different direction. After college, I was going to go on to be a Physician’s Assistant, and God, again, led me a different direction.  Now, I have all of these ideas of how I’m going to raise my children, where we’re going to live, and how I’m going to live my life. But God tells me to calm down, all I have to do is follow God’s plan, one yes at a time. 

Parenting, and really life, is just a collection of brave yes’s to God. Some of them are really small, like waking up in the morning ready to take on another day with my kids. Others are much bigger, like having kids in the first place! A lot of times I don’t want to say yes to God- the yes looks really hard or scary.  I don’t have all of the details, I don’t know how it will all end up. But in these moments, I can look to Mary and see her bravery. I see that God wants our yes. Our yes to the big things that He is calling us to, our yes to being present to the people he’s put in our lives, our yes to Him. 

It’s okay to screw up sometimes

We don’t get a lot of stories from Jesus’ childhood in the Bible. In fact, one of the only stories we get is probably one of Mary’s worst moments.  When the Holy Family was traveling back from Jerusalem after the Passover, Mary and Joseph assumed that their twelve year old son was among their friends and relatives in the caravan. A day later, they realized Jesus was not with them, and they returned to Jerusalem to find him. Three days after that, they finally found him sitting in the temple among the teachers. Mary, as any mother would ask, said “‘Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.'” (Luke 2:41-52)

I probably would not have been as calm as Mary was upon finding my child after missing him for four days. She listened to him, not understanding what he was saying, and then brought him back home, keeping “all of these things in her heart.”  She had to be so scared for that time- she was in charge of the Son of God, and she had lost him! While I don’t recommend losing your kid, I think it’s so reassuring to know that even Mary, the mother of God screwed up once- and did it big!

This story helps me see that I don’t have to be the perfect mom to be the best mother for my kids. I am the mother that God chose for my particular children. This brings me back to the quote “When God put a calling on your life, He already factored in your stupidity.” God knows that we’ll make mistakes, He knows that some of them might be really big. But just like Mary, we can go back, we can figuratively (or literally) find our children, and start on the journey again. 

Embracing Mary as the Model of Motherhood | I'm following Mary's fiat as our call to being Christian mothers. May we say yes to God in our motherhood. #ChristianMotherhood #MotherofGod #MaryQueenofPeace

Plant seeds for our children

Mary prompted the start of Jesus’ miracles and teachings at the Wedding at Cana. He said it was not yet his time, but Mary, as all good mothers do, knew better. She didn’t push him to do anything or tell him exactly what to do, she just told the servers to “Do whatever he tells you.” And then Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine (John 2:1-11).  Without Mary being there and giving him that little push to do what He was called to do, who knows when Jesus would have started his ministries. It definitely could have been that same day, or it could have happened much later. As mothers, our job is to plant the seeds so that one day our children may bloom in their own journey.

As Nora is getting older, I understand the temptation to plan out every moment of my kids’ lives, to want to tell them how to do every last thing.  I’m sure Mary felt this same way, knowing that her son was to go on to do really big things. But, just like Mary, I believe it is good, instead, to prompt, to open doors, to plant seeds.  This is so important in these little years that I am currently in, and probably even more so as kiddos grow up into adolescents and then adults. In the baby/toddler years, I can open their doors to learning, to kindness, and to love. I can’t make them do anything, not even sleep or eat! But I can lead them on their little life missions, planting the seeds for when they grow.

Just Be There Through it All

Mary had to go through one of the absolute worst things a mother could go through, standing at the foot of the Cross, watching her own child be tortured and crucified.  We can guess that Mary was in and out with Jesus throughout much of his ministry.  We know that she was praying for him every step of the way. He loved her dearly, and took time to address her as he was dying, telling one of his disciples to take her into his house (John 19:26-27).  One of the most convicting religious art pieces that I have ever seen is the Pieta by Michelangelo. It is the image of Mary holding Jesus after he was taken down from the cross. She was truly there from His very beginning up until His ending.

Pieta
Image by Jacques Savoye from Pixabay

While I truly hope that I will never have to suffer through one of my child’s deaths, it is our role as mothers to be there through every moment, high and low, in our children’s lives. Our jobs are never done, we must be always supporting them and, at the very least, always praying for them. We must keep saying yes to them and to God in His plan for us as their parent.  Mistakes may happen along the way, we may stumble in our path as parents, but, just like Mary, we can turn it around and start again. We must plant seeds, and prompt our children in their callings. Our journey as mothers may have twists and turns along the way, and we may feel like we have no idea what we are doing. In these moments, we can turn to Mary as our model of motherhood, knowing that she paved the way and is praying for us every step of the way. 

Keep Reading: Mother Teresa on How Love Can Change the World

If you’re looking to get to know Mary a little bit better check out one of the following books! 

(These are affiliate links, and Simply Mama Bird will receive a small compensation from any sales with no extra cost to you!)

Mother Teresa on How Love Can Change the World

Thursday was St. Teresa of Calcutta’s feast day.  I meant to get this out then, but I got busy due to changed plans and visiting family!  Everyone loves Mother Teresa, so I figured I’d still share how I’ve been inspired by her lately. St Teresa of Calcutta was, and really still is, such an example of giving unlimited love, doing everything you can in the world, and listening to God’s plan. However, looking at her life can also be a little overwhelming- she was such a brave, devout, and busy woman. She gave and gave and gave and did soooo many great things.  But yet, the lessons that she taught those around her really focused on how her actions were really just a collection of small doings.  She shared how we too can love as she did. We don’t all have to go to the slums of Calcutta or even the slums of our own cities to make the world a better place. She said, instead, that we need to start at home, performing one act of love at a time.

Mother Teresa on How Love Can Change the World | Doing small things with great love to make the world a better place is what St. Teresa of Calcutta shared through her words and actions. #MotherTeresa #LoveFirst #ChristianMotherhood #ChangetheWorldthroughlove

“Spread love everywhere you go; first of all in your house. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor. Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.”

Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed with all of the ways that I could go out and help others. Our world can be a pretty dark and depressing place with so many people hurting, so many issues to fight on, and so much that could be done. It’s hard to keep up with the latest tragedy, to read the news right now without falling into despair or, worse, being so numb that we don’t feel anything anymore.  I’m someone who likes to be able to do something, and especially with two little people in tow right now, I feel like there’s just not much that I can legitimately go out and do. This has been really hard for me, and I often feel like I’m not doing my part to make the world a better place. 

But Mother Teresa had a different idea of how we can make the world a better place. She believed that we start with the people God put in front of us first. That means that I must start by loving my family, especially my kiddos and my husband, as best as I can.  In this, I am doing the work that God has called me to do. Mother Teresa often talked about the poverty of being uncared for, of feeling lonely and unloved. I’m sure we can all look around us and find at least one person in our life who is struggling with these feelings. By reaching out and doing what we can to make them feel loved and noticed, we are taking small steps in changing the world for the better.  Even this can seem hard at times, though, which brings us to another famous quote by Mama T.  

Mother Teresa on How Love Can Change the World | Doing small things with great love to make the world a better place is what St. Teresa of Calcutta shared through her words and actions. #MotherTeresa #LoveFirst #ChristianMotherhood #ChangetheWorldthroughlove

“I don’t do great things. I do small things with great love.”

I had this quote on my graduation cap- “do small things with great love” – and I try to live by it.  It truly is the small things that add up to the big things. Each small action I do in love for those around me adds to the culture of love in my life and in the lives of those around me.  In starting with my children, I’m able to build a foundation for them in which they know they are loved and can thrive. Each ouchie kissed, each book read, each extra snuggle adds up to the great love that they can flourish out of. The same goes for my husband. Every time I clean up dinner without complaining, recognize his needs before mine, or let him rant about his latest thing, I’m able to build up love in our marriage and in our home.  

The small things play out when we’re out and about too. I can choose to smile at the people in the grocery store aisles.  I can reach out and say hi to other moms at the library’s toddler time. I can look a homeless person in the eye when we pass them on the street. I can try to shop more ethically, buying items from places that treat their workers right. I can donate food or baby clothes or diapers or whatever else we have extra of.  There are so many small ways that we can make the lives of those around us better.  Just by recognizing the people in front of us using these small actions done with great love, we are able to make the world a better place.

Mother Teresa on How Love Can Change the World | Doing small things with great love to make the world a better place is what St. Teresa of Calcutta shared through her words and actions. #MotherTeresa #LoveFirst #ChristianMotherhood #ChangetheWorldthroughlove

“God doesn’t require us to succeed, he only requires that you try.”

This one is so so important. In attempting to be love to everyone around me, I burn myself out trying so hard to be the “perfect” parent, wife, neighbor, friend, daughter, etc. By taking baby steps and doing everything with love, Mother Teresa reminds me that it is really just the doing, the trying, that matters- I don’t need to do it all perfectly. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that we can become complacent because we “tried” and that’s what counts. It’s a new effort every day of loving the people God has put in front of us the best that we can. 

On my part, I am working on loving my children by being present with them and giving them my attention instead of getting sucked into things that don’t really matter.  Some days, I may yell and have no patience, some days they may hit their heads or get hurt too many times to count, and some days they may eat mac and cheese for every single meal. Yet, if I always come back and do my best to love them, that is truly what matters.  The same goes for my husband, other family members, friends, and even strangers.  Often, the “trying” is done in just being present with others, listening to them, and being the love that they need in their life.  We need to be open to whatever and whoever God is calling us to love and not be afraid to take the leap to love them even when it might feel a little uncomfortable or we don’t know if it’ll be received well.  We must try to do what we can to create change, even when we don’t know what the end result will be.

Mother Teresa on How Love Can Change the World | Doing small things with great love to make the world a better place is what St. Teresa of Calcutta shared through her words and actions. #MotherTeresa #LoveFirst #ChristianMotherhood #ChangetheWorldthroughlove

“I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us, and we change things.”

One of my favorite stories of Mother Teresa is that of when one of the sisters in her convent approached her worrying that they didn’t have enough time to serve all of the people they needed to. Mother Teresa replied by saying that they must then increase their daily holy hour to two hours. For only through prayer would they be able to have the strength and peace to go out and do all of the work that is needed to be done.  Only through prayer do we realize that it is really God doing the work. By handing our work over to Him, He is able to multiply it, to make it more effective, and to create the world as it was meant to be.

I’m not currently able (or willing?) to have a daily holy hour not to mention two! In my stage of life, I’m happy when I get 20 minutes a day (especially if they’re in a row!) But even so, I know that when I do take that time with Jesus, I’m able to be a better mom, a better wife, and a better person in general.  I’m not sure how God does it, but He multiplies my time and keeps me present with my kids, husband, and others around me. Prayer also often challenges me to be a better person. It shows me areas I need to grow in, places where I haven’t been the kind of person God is calling to me. By giving whatever time that I’m able to give to him in my day, God multiplies it and changes me into a person who can then go out, love better, and create change in the world.

Mother Teresa knew what she was talking about, and she sure walked the walk. I aspire to be half as loving as she was, to be half as giving of myself as she was.  By following in Mother Teresa’s footsteps, as different as it may look in my life, I hope that I can become the person that I am meant to be.  I hope that I can spread love to those God has placed in my life through small actions rooted in love, and I pray that I am not held back from being love when I feel like I cannot succeed.  In doing all of these things, and in rooting myself in God through prayer, I know that I am doing my part to make this world a better place.  I hope that you’ll join me on the journey.

Want to get to know Mother Teresa a little better? Try out these awesome books! (The first is one of my personal favorites)

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How to Deal When Plans Change

Hello from Wisconsin! With Hurricane Dorian possibly coming through Florida, we had a quick change in plans in order to spend the week with our parents in Wisconsin and not be in the possible pathway. Now, it looks like it probably won’t hit Tampa super hard, if at all, but we didn’t want to chance not having power with two little humans. Plus, we got a random family vacation out of it!

Sometimes I can swing with the punches really well, and sometimes it’s really hard for me to have plans change. This time was a little of both.  Tony had been out of town for the week for work, so I was already pretty exhausted.  On Thursday, Tony called to say we should think about booking flights back to Wisconsin on Saturday so that we could beat the rush.  During this phone call, I kind of freaked out. Planning a plane trip for two little people with only two days notice is a large task. But as we started to flesh out the details and think more about why we needed to do it, the stress went away.

You see, I’m a planner. I have lists for my lists. This expedition was not written on my calendar. I was supposed to get a nice afternoon at Starbucks on Saturday and some downtime scattered throughout the weekend. At least, that’s what I had written down. But so many times, plans change and we just have to accept it and allow it to happen. This happens in big ways (like a surprise baby- Oh hey, Nora!) or in small ways (like it rained and we can’t go to the park anymore).  I’m seeing in Nora now a lot of my own stress when plans change. Who knows if it’s nature or nurture, but either way, I’m trying to work on my own self regulation methods so that I can help her when she’s having trouble too. These are some of the ones that are working for me personally right now:

1) Start with Prayer

This is the biggie. Sometimes I forget that God’s got it. I’m not and don’t have to be in control. By bringing what’s stressing me into prayer, I can find relief in one of two ways. Either, I find that it is something small that I don’t actually need to be stressing about (which is most of the time), or God helps me think through the stresser with more clarity and logic.  A lot of the time, I go in a downward spiral and start thinking about all of the extraneous details and get a little irrational. By taking a step back and giving it to God to look at it with me, I’m able to regain my senses and think a little more rationally.

I’ve been trying to start with prayer in these situations, even if it’s just a short “what am I supposed to do here, God?” when I’m figuring out how to deal with the changed plans.  Many times, I forget to give it up to Him and, instead, take it all on myself. I try to control the situations that can’t be controlled. When I do start in prayer, the stress is shorter lived and I’m able to roll with the punches with much more grace.

2) Make one decision and then the next

Often, I look at the change of plans as this huge task that I have to take on. Whether it’s something crazy like a quickly booked plane trip out of FL or something simple like hosting unexpected guests, it often feels like there are too many things that need to get done in the short time allotted. I’ve learned that by just making that first decision, no matter how small, I can bypass some of those overwhelmed feelings. I’m able to break it down into little decisions instead of looking at it as a huge problem to be solved with one swipe.

On this trip we had to decide 1) if we were even going to go, 2) when to book, 3) who to watch our cats, 4) how to get to the airport, and countless other small decisions. Thinking about all of these at once drew me into panic, but breaking it down into what decision needed to be made first and then which followed made it so much more manageable. Which takes me to my next point:

3) Make a list 

As I said, I’m a list maker. I have daily to do lists, weekly to do lists, grocery lists, goals lists, books to read lists. I have lists on my phone, lists in my planner, lists on the wall. I might be a little Type A in needing order. However, just the act of making the list often makes me feel 10 times better than I feel before it was made. Only through writing things down am I able to break tasks into more manageable sizes and maybe even see that I don’t actually have as much to do as I thought. That’s exactly what happened with this trip- when I wrote down the things that needed to get done, I realized that I was already in a good place and didn’t really need to do as much as I thought once those few first decisions were made.

With the mush that has been my brain with two small people running around, the act of getting things on paper or at least in my phone makes sure that I’m able to remember them. Otherwise, those thoughts get lost. Or else, they’re swimming around in my brain trying not to get lost, and I’m not able to focus on the task at hand. Writing them all down keeps everything in order, or at least helps me to remember what I need to do to get things into order.

4) Lean on the people around you

This has been the biggest help for me on this current trip.  When we first started thinking about what we were going to do, Tony was able to talk everything through with his boss who has been through his fair share of hurricanes in FL.  We were also really lucky to have my parents be flexible enough to take us in at last moment’s notice. Tony’s parents will host us for a couple days as well while we’re here for the week- so it’s turning out to be a random and fun family vacation. 

While it’s easier to lean on family (usually), we were also given the opportunity to lean on others that weren’t so easy.  After just introducing ourselves to the neighbors across the hallway a couple weeks ago, we decided that they would be the best people to ask to check in on our cats (if they weren’t also leaving- which they weren’t!).  I made Tony go ask them- because I’m a chicken- and they were more than happy to come over once a day and make sure that the cats had food, water, and litter changed. This was one of our biggest anxiety points, so it was so so good to be able to lean on people that we hardly know.  And such a lesson for us in reaching out too!

While, this trip was not on my calendar, none of it was planned, and we had to just wing a lot of it, we have been having a really great time so far.  A lot of times, the changed plans are actually some of the best ones! The unexpected surprises end up being way better than anything I could have come up with on my own. By stopping my mind from running away with the what-if’s, I’m able to actually be in the moment and enjoy it more.  With that said, let’s hope that there are no more changes in plans on the way home on Saturday and that all goes smoothly!

We pray for all of those who did end up in the path of the hurricane, that the damage is small and that all are safe. 

John the Baptist- He Must Increase; I Must Decrease

John the Baptist- He Must Increase; I Must Decrease

Today is John the Baptist’s second feast day- the celebration of his death/martyrdom.  When I was planning this post, I was going to write about how we can “prepare the way of the Lord” just as John the Baptist did. But it wasn’t flowing. Part of this could be because I kept getting interrupted by a baby who insisted on waking up every 45 minutes until I finally realized he had a poopy diaper.  But, I think it was really because we don’t need to prepare the way anymore- Jesus has already come! He’s done His work, is doing His work.  Instead, we need to be in relationship. We need to put Jesus at the center of our lives and allow Him to do work within us so that we may find our calling. Then, we need to introduce him to others, so that they may find that relationship and calling too.

Who is John the Baptist?

John the Baptist was a somewhat strange figure in the Bible- he wandered the desert sharing his teachings, clothed himself in camel’s hair, and lived by eating locusts and honey.  He was bold with his words, calling out tax collectors for taking more than their share, soldiers for practicing extortion, and even the king for marrying his brother’s wife. Yet, despite his brusque attitude and wild demeanor, he gathered quite a following. He baptized these followers with water as a sign of their repentance and their turn to God. He then baptized Jesus, though he felt unworthy to even “loosen the thongs of his sandals” (Luke 3:16). 

Often we feel unworthy to do the work that God has called us to do, too. Who are we to bring people to Jesus, to make change in the world, or even to parent little humans? Nobody trained us for this.  But nobody trained John the Baptist either- he heard his call and followed it, setting the stage for the Savior of the World to come. This saying has been bringing me peace lately, “When God put a calling on your life, he already factored in your stupidity.”  God knows who we are intimately, and still calls us to do the things we are meant to do. John the Baptist- He Must Increase; I Must Decrease - what John the Baptist has to teach us about finding our purpose and living the life we're meant to live #Christianmotherhood #johnthebaptist #findyourcalling

Prayer Comes First

Since we aren’t trained for the calling, it helps to be in relationship with Jesus.  I find that when I’ve put aside my prayer time or fallen out of taking time for God, everything else also goes by the wayside. I become more overwhelmed in my everyday tasks. I don’t feel any clear directions as to what we should do next. There’s no peace. But after writing about my Martha heart and starting to put some of those practices into place, I’ve had so much more peace. I’ve been able to solo parent this week with little stress (other than the now incoming hurricane!). I’ve been able to be a better mom. I’ve felt more of where Jesus is calling us next. There’s been no clear signs or written down instructions by any means, but I’ve re-centered my life on Jesus and all of these things just seemed to follow.

John the Baptist- He Must Increase; I Must Decrease - what John the Baptist has to teach us about finding our purpose and living the life we're meant to live #Christianmotherhood #johnthebaptist #findyourcalling

He Must Increase, I Must Decrease

When asked how he felt about Jesus also doing baptisms, John the Baptist said “he must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).  He knew that Jesus’ baptism was greater than the one that he offered. He knew that his preparations for the Lord were now complete and it was now time to turn hearts to the man who mattered the most. His actions were to point to Jesus. But, he wanted to be sure this was the right man, as most of us wonder at some time or another too. He sent some of his followers to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah or if they should keep looking. Jesus answered by healing them, taking away their demons, curing their diseases, and said “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard” (Luke 7:23a).  He let his actions speak for themselves.

We’re called to let our actions speak for themselves, or rather for Jesus, too. We must act as Christ acted, because He acted. This looks different for each of us. For me, I think a part of it is starting this blog and sharing my own journey so that others may come along. I think an even bigger portion of my calling includes being the best mother that I can be, bringing my children to Jesus and allowing Him to work in their lives. By centering my life on Jesus, I’m drawn into action. I need to become the best version of myself because that’s who I’m made to be. I, then, have the privilege of helping my children become the best versions of themselves. I also have this privilege with my husband and with all of the others that God has brought into my life. 

Let Jesus Work Through You

What I need to remember, though, is it is not my duty to change hearts as it was for John the Baptist. I can only lead by example, spread kindness and truth, and be the best that I can be. Because Jesus has come, I only need to introduce Him and let Him do the work in other’s lives- He must increase, I must decrease.  It is never my doing, but God working through me, fulfilling the purpose he has for me. This is a little disheartening, but also completely freeing. While I may not get all of the credit, I also don’t have to know exactly what I’m doing every second of the day.  Instead, I can ask Jesus to work his magic through me, and He will.

John the Baptist’s purpose was to prepare the way of the Lord. That’s literally what the angels told his father when he was put into his mother’s womb. He fulfilled his purpose, the way was made, Jesus has come. Now it’s our turn. Let’s build up our relationship with Jesus so that we may also discover our purpose. Let’s let Jesus do his work inside of us. Let’s introduce people to Jesus by our words and by our actions. Most importantly, we need to remember John the Baptist’s words, “He must increase; I must decrease.” 

If you’re looking to get to know Mary a little bit better check out one of the following books! 

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For All the Martha’s in the Back

For All the Martha’s in the Back

Monday was St. Martha’s feast day. As some of those who knew me in college know, I am a big Martha fan girl, and I could talk all day about her (maybe I’ll have to write a book someday 😉 ). I even led a Bible study based on Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World and the subsequent, Having a Mary Spirit, both by Joanna Weaver. For those who don’t know the reference, check out Luke 10:40-42

But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

And, man, I am such a Martha- getting distracted with all of the extraneous details of life and motherhood, making sure everything is in order before I take a moment to sit down, breathe, and remember what the point of it all is. The only reason I even knew it was St. Martha’s feast day was, ironically, because it was listed in my new planner that I’m using to keep all of my to do lists and basically my life pulled together. For the last couple nights, I spent all night checking off my to do list and left my prayer time to the very end of it. Then Charlie woke up one night and Nora the next, so there my quiet time, and thus my prayer time, went out the window.  I was angry, distracted, and tired, and there was nothing anyone could do to bring me out of that mood. But then, I remembered St. Martha and Jesus’ words to her that I had even written into my planner- Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things, but only one thing is necessary.

What does that even look like, though?  Is it bad to want order and to always have a plan and to want others to help you follow through with that plan to a T (okay, maybe not to the T!).  I don’t think so.  It’s good to have the servant’s heart that Martha has.  It’s even good to want things to be beautiful and perfect for those around you. Indeed, I think having aspects of Martha in my personality helps me to be a good mother, to be a good wife, and to do what I need to do to keep moving forward every day. The problem comes in when I’m doing all of the ordering, planning, and following through without taking the time to invite Jesus in, taking the time to sit with Him away from it all, and centering what may seem like chaos sometimes around Him.

There’s a later passage in John 11 where Martha is featured shortly again. This time she runs to Jesus and trusts him with her chaos. It’s time for me to hand over my chaos too.

So, being a Martha, I’m planning out what that looks like.

1) I want to start my day with the Morning Offering.

I put a reminder in my phone every morning at 8am with the words of the Morning Offering so that I’ll automatically do this before I can do anything else on my phone. It’s probably good to get off to a good start, right?

2) I want to find a time earlier in my day than 10pm to carve out just 15 quiet minutes to spend in prayer.

This is getting really hard lately. I’m finding that I really need that quiet time, and I’m just not getting it in my day between Nora not napping all of a sudden and Charlie not wanting to go to bed at a reasonable time. This’ll probably last a month and then go back to some semblance of normality, but in the meantime, I need to find some quiet time scattered throughout my day.

3) I want to invite Jesus into my chaos and throw up that “Jesus, I trust in you” a little more.

I tried this more today, and it did make such a difference to bring Jesus along through the potty accidents, the long nursing sessions, and the tantrums. It allowed me to have a little more patience and a lot more love to give to my kiddos. Plus, I was, admittedly, a much nicer person to Tony tonight than I have been in the last week. (It probably helps that he was able to get Charlie asleep by himself tonight!)

These are just little steps on my journey in this stage of life, as I pick up mess after mess, cook meal after meal, and kiss booboo after booboo.  I’m not going to make it through if I don’t have Jesus along, and I thank St. Martha for that reminder this week. It’s time to recenter, refocus, and remember the big picture <3

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Martha Pin

How We’re Getting Through Church Right Now

As I took both kids to church this morning by myself since Tony is out of town, I remembered how not long ago, I was trying to do this every week while he was doing his RCIA classes. He had to sit with his class and then leave after the homily, and I had to figure out how to get Nora to church while mega pregnant and then with a newborn. On one of these weekends after Charlie was born, Nora made a run for the altar after Communion. It was one of those moments that happens completely in slow motion. I saw her look back at me, smile mischieviously, and then run even faster all the way to the altar and to the priest. I chased after her, babywearing little Charlie and all, and we caused quite the scene- the look of surprise on the priest’s face when I finally got to her behind the altar will be burned into my memory forever. Many comments of Nora’s future Olympic track career happened as we made our way out after church. To say it was mortifying is an understatement, and I took a break from taking the two of them by myself for awhile.

Luckily, this morning did not include any track practice, and Nora not only stayed in the pew, but also semi-participated. Of course, she was a wiggle-worm per usual, but she also sang along with some of the songs, did the sign of peace, and sat/stood when everyone else was. Now that Charlie is getting more mobile and chatty, he’s starting to become more of a handful at Mass too. God must’ve been watching over us closely today, though, because Charlie fell asleep in the carrier sometime after the homily. It was a major success in my books, and we treated ourselves to Culvers after 🙂

Culvers after Church!

As I said before, I took a bit of a break from taking both kids by myself after Nora’s great escape and figured out Masses I could go to either alone or just with Charlie. Tony had his confirmation around Easter and could sit with us at Mass again, so Nora got to come along again. It helped so much to have another set of hands, as it tends to work best if both kids are being held, but she still is a handful. It’s important to me to introduce our children to Jesus and the Church from a young age, and I’m a full believer in Jesus saying to let the little children come to him applying to the kiddos being at Mass whenever possible. However, that’s easier said than done many weekends, and there are weekends here and there that end in tears (on both parts). Here are some of the strategies that we’ve started to make our mass-goings a little less eventful and a little more fruitful. (Disclaimer: these don’t work for us every weekend! Try at your own risk 😉 )

1) Books- in church and out

Nora LOVES books, so this works pretty well with her. Sometimes she gets angry when we don’t read them out loud to her, though, so we have to do some whisper reading at times. When she was a little younger, we did books with flaps that would last a little longer. One of our favorites is the classic Dear Zoo. Now that she’s into “big kid” books, I’ve been trying to do more faith based books. Our current favorite books are I Went to Mass: What did I See? and A Missal for Toddlers. Both of these books talk about what happens at Mass, so reading these before church helps Nora know what’s happening while we’re there. If we read them during, we have her point to where the different objects/people are at our real church. This has helped her IMMENSELY, and I’m so glad we got these. Finally, we have The Beginner’s Bible: Timeless Children’s Stories that is a little longer than a normal board book with beautiful pictures and succinct Bible stories, so it’s fun to go through at church.

2) Babywearing

I generally have Charlie in a front carrier during church so that I can have my hands free to help Nora with whatever she’s doing/ make sure she doesn’t eat it off of the kneeler she’s standing on. This was especially helpful when he was a newborn because he could nurse and sleep easily in it, and I could also hold Nora. I also did this with Nora when she was a baby, and it was so helpful to keep her content in those bitty baby months. Now that he’s a little more wiggly, he’s not as content to sit in the carrier. However, I’ll still bring it in if I think he’s going to need to nap during Mass or if it’s just me, like today. We use the Boba Wrap or the Happy Wrap when they’re really little and then switch to the Ergobaby Carrier when they’re bigger. I definitely get some interesting looks when I end up wearing Charlie and also have Nora on my hip, but I guess #catholicfamily?

3) Participating in the Mass

I’ve really started trying to get Nora to be more a part of the mass in the last couple months. We’ll point out the priest, candles, ushers, crucifix, holy water, etc. She likes to find the different objects/people- we just are working on making her “Found it!” a whisper instead of a shout… She also has been picking up on some of the songs and prayers- the Gloria and Alleluia are favorites! It’s not so much staring at the back of people’s heads if she also feels like she’s participating. Plus it’s so cute to hear her little voice as it sings “Glory to God…” and says the Our Father. It makes us feel like we’re doing something right bringing out squirmy 2.5 year old into Mass. The only thing that really kept her attention today were the songs- I told her beforehand that she had to whisper except for at the songs when she could sing as loud as she wanted to, so she even joined in with the cantor only parts!

4) Toys/Activities

I try to pack one “Activity” each week just in case we need something extra during the homily or other need to be quiet parts. Sometimes it’s lacing activities (like these or these), sometimes it’s stickers and a coloring page, sometimes it’s our Melissa & Doug Reusable Dry-Erase Activity Pad , and sometimes it’s one of our Melissa & Doug Water Wow! pads. We don’t always pull out these activities for Nora and have been trying to keep her attention mostly on the service, but they always come in clutch when we have to use them!

For Charlie (and for Nora when she was younger), we make sure to pack a lovey and some teethers to play with. Our current favorites are his ChewsLife rosary, these teething keys, and this teether. He’s starting to get chatty in Mass and never took to a pacifier like Nora did (we called it her plug), so we’re trying to figure out what level of baby chatter to allow before getting up out of the pew. So far, we’ve stayed in the pew and let him chatter a bit.

5) Snacks

This one is a little controversial. We’ve decided that we’re okay with a little bit of food if it’s seeming necessary. I’ve tried Cheerios in one of these cup things, but Nora ended up with them alllll over and it was a disaster. We’ve had success with the applesauce or baby food pouches since it’s minimal mess and it takes her a little bit to suck it down so she’s quiet for that time period. Lately, we’ve been doing fruit snacks for her. I try to hold off until the homily and then use them if she asks to buy us a little time of quiet. It’s been worth it for us to catch a little break- especially since she knows exactly where in the diaper bag the snacks live and will ask for them repeatedly until we open them. Toddlers are fun.

6) A Whole Lot of Prayer and Patience

I think this applies to all aspects of my life right now, but especially during the testing time that Mass tends to be with small people in tow. When we are actually able to get to church before Mass starts and not during the first song (about 25% of the time right now…), I include being able to pay attention and having patience with the kiddos in my beginning prayers. I find when I’m able to do this, I’m at least able to catch snippets of the readings and homily. We actually got there ahead of time today (a small miracle), and I included Nora in my beginning prayers, so they also included her behaving and being kind.

It also helps to know that someday the kids will sit nicely and pay attention, and I’ll be able to pay attention to the full mass again without pulling an endless supply of things out of the diaper bag. This is only a season! In the meantime, I’ll snuggle my babies close, whisper sing songs and whisper read books, and then catch up on the readings when we get back home.

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