Five Dreams for Your Child

Parents and kidsJoe McGonigal has been bugging me to help him post some articles from Tony Dungy’s All-Pro Dad site.  (This blog, after all, was his idea.)  Yet, his name is conspicuously missing from our list of contributing bloggers.  As the fathers of daughters–Joe and Denise have four, Nancy and I three–we share some attitudes and wishes for our girls.  This article is a nice compilation of some of my wishes and, undoubtedly, some of his.

(My strategy here is to post the articles that Joe and I talk about, beat him to the punch, and shame him into posting some of his own.  It doesn’t appear to be working.)

When our children were growing up, I told Nancy I had four goals for them while they lived under our roof.  I wanted them to go out into the world:

  • with healthy self-esteem.  Not OVERLY healthy, just healthy.
  • with great problem-solving skills.  Theirs are better than mine, thankfully.
  • with straight teeth.  All that orthodontia was purchased for a reason.  And, finally,
  • with the ability to operate a manual transmission.  This,alas, was our main failing, as only one of the three can reliably operate a clutch.  Of the four, however, this last one is silly.  But if they had been boys, it would have been at the top of the list.

Speaking of silly, I wish I had found this 20 years ago.

Date my daughter

In closing, then, I offer this passage from Matthew 18:

At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”

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Do You Need God in Your Marriage?

Posted by one of our favorite guest bloggers, Anne Johnson Slamkowski.  Visit her blog when you have a chance, please.

I was sitting at a meeting the other night and several of the women were talking about how they were doing this “Husband Project” with their husbands (the book is “The Husband Project: 21 Days of Loving Your Man–on Purpose and with a Plan” by Kathi Lipp).  It involved following steps and treating your husband with respect (at least that is what I heard them say).  I liked the idea.  It certainly sounded like it was working for the most part for each of them.  It made me think about my own marriage relationship.  I am not sure I need a book to do good things for my husband, but I am also not so sure that Pete wants me to follow a book.  I think the premise is wise, but it might just miss the point of keeping your marriage alive.  There are varying statistics on the divorce rate in the USA, but it is somewhere between 40-60% depending on the area that you live.  That is HUGE – 40-60%.  WOW!

Busy-Parents

Pete and I have spoken at marriage retreats (in fact we are due for a speaking engagement coming up at our own church).  We have looked at our marriage from different viewpoints to see how we can make it better (which by the way, you always can improve upon your marriage).  We recognize that we speak different Love Languages (“The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman).  We also admit readily that children thrown in with marriage complicate your relationship in good and bad ways.  In addition, let’s throw in your family of origin (the preconceived ideas that you bring with you into the marriage) and your communication skills, and let’s just say that marriage doesn’t seem to have much of a chance with all the baggage that we overload it with.  BUT overall Pete and I both would agree that our marriage has been strengthened tremendously in the last six years because God has become the center of it.  We finally realized that God must be part of our relationship in order for it to work.  Without God, our love for each other will be nothing but physical.  Mentally, we need God to make it all fall together.  We need God in our individual lives and our married lives in order for this to work.

No books, no steps, no love languages will ever equal what God does for your marriage. healthy habits happy homes Recognizing that God is part of the marriage will give you the mental and physical passion that is needed within the sacrament of marriage.

Colossians 3:12-19   So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;  bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.  Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.

If we are going to fight to keep our marriages together in this country, we must find a way to put God first in our own lives.  We must find a way to put God in the midst of our marriage.  No marriage can survive (at least with joy and happiness) without God as part of it.  The Colossians verse above says, in order to be holy and beloved we must put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  How can we do any of that without God as part of our life?  How on earth can we forgive our loved ones and not hold grudges if God is not part of our life?  It goes on to say, “let the word of Christ RICHLY dwell within you.”  Richly gives me the feeling of soil that is ready to farm.  Once we let Christ dwell within us and get us ready for the seed of Marriage, then we are ready to produce a beautiful family that will survive anything.  If we start with rocky or weedy soil, the marriage becomes a little more complicated.  We have to somehow find a way to fertilize our life with God after the fact.  When we complicate things with pre-marital sex, co-habitation and multiple partners, it is like starting with rocky soil.  I am not saying that if you have made these choices that your marriage won’t last.  What I am saying is it will be more difficult for your marriage unless you fertilize it with God in your life.

Throughout my book, “Revealing Faith: Learning to Place God First in Your Life,” I continually stress that my choices were not good ones in my twenties.  Pete and I started with rocky soil.  Although God was present in my life by the time we married, He wasn’t the main focus of my life.  It would take years for Pete and me to build and fertilize our soil so that it would withstand tough struggles that lay ahead.  We even added children into our marriage before we had fully fertilized our life with God.  It was a struggle.  Once we both refocused our life toward God (which we did after a wonderful marriage retreat at our church in Champaign, Illinois), we realized that we were missing a very important person in our marriage: God.  As our individual faith lives grew (over many years), our soil became more and more fertile.  When we finally gave birth to our third child, Katie, we were faced with a tremendous struggle.  Katie suffered from multiple medical problems at the age of one (she suffers from complex partial seizures).  Later we would find behavioral issues and anxiety laced with depression to be part of Katie’s life.  If Pete and I had not fertilized our life with God, I could see where this would have made our marriage very complicated and difficult (and trust me it still is a struggle), but with God in the center of our marriage it all seems doable.  We rely on His strength.  Our kids rely on His strength.  We thank God to this day that He entered our marriage and let us re-fertilize our family with his Wisdom.

My favorite part of the Colossians verse is that we admonish one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.  Well, Pete and I don’t go around singing to each other (thank goodness), but we do listen to praise and worship songs together, we sing psalms at church together, and we find ways to love each other by sacrificing our selfish desires in order to place God’s Will first.

happy young couple

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz on Love

man and woman“Couples, like individuals, acquire virtues through the repetition of particular practices and behaviors. They make the virtue their own by freely choosing to act in certain ways, every day.”  

Introduction to the “Marital Virtue of the Month” Series By Archbishop Joseph Kurtz   (An initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.)

Archbishop Kurtz continues, “Love, of course, is the more excellent way that includes all the virtues. As a couple grows in virtue they also grow in love. Hand in hand they walk the journey to holiness. I pray that you may persevere in this journey, knowing the love of God, the encouragement of the Church, and the support of the many couples who are walking this journey with you.”H

This up-to-date piece continues the conversation we’ve been having on this site, i.e., the responsibility of spouses not to simply strive for perfection on their own, but to bring their spouse closer to God as well.  We do that not by encouragement/arguing, active evangelization or subtle pressure, but by prayer, by living a committed Christian life, and by creating a wake with the power of our spirit that eventually overtakes our less-committed spouse and becomes irresistible, a wave that can help him along the road to faith.  As usual, we must allow The Holy Spirit to work in our lives and those we love.  And acknowledge that these things take place in God’s time.  Amen.LSE Papyrus logo

Get Connected – Turn Toward Your Partner to Create Intimacy

Cute-Romantic-Love-CoupleHere’s another nugget from John Gottman, courtesy of the Alabama Healthy Marriage Initiative.  This piece discusses the specific types of connections we make with our spouses, how some are positive and some are negative.  Mastering the art of opening positive connections–leaning in versus leaning away–with your spouse invites a warm, open relationship in which conflicts heal quickly and intimacy is part of everyday life.

Get Connected – Turn Toward Your Partner to Create Intimacy

The story many of us tell ourselves is that our marriages are imperfect, that they are what they are, and there’s no point in trying to re-build them.  But what we also see are research reports, by Gottman and others, that suggest practical techniques for improving our relationships.  That yours, and mine, is imperfect is due to the fact that each of us is imperfect. We are all sinners.   And, therefore, it’s not so much about finding the right person as it is being the right person.  If our marriage appears to be failing, we will be taking some of the reason for that with us in the pursuit of a new, improved marriage.  Logic dictates that even in the unlikely event that Spouse #2 were, in fact, perfect, it would bode poorly for the success of the relationship.marriage-vs-money

Marriage literature suggests that most marriages go through three distinct stages.  Euphoria, that unmatched feeling early in the relationship when it seems the sun, the moon and the stars rotate around your intended spouse.  Disillusionment, when you realize the natural order of the universe and where exactly you and your spouse, and probably children, fit in it.  And, finally, That Third Stage, in which the partners either don’t work it out, manage some kind of peaceful coexistence, or, at best, feed and maintain a relationship built upon respect, trust and intimacy, both emotional and physical, and thank God for that person, for the loaning of your partner’s spirit, if only for a short time, that is at the core of sacramental marriage.

The practice of leaning into your spouse when discussing important issues is what the Masters of Marriage do.  It allows couples to resolve the inevitable conflicts that arise in marriage quickly and without any need for retribution.  It is a skill, and can be developed by anyone ready and willing to try to improve their marriage.  The story we need to be telling ourselves is that we can improve our marriage if we want to and if we enlist the help of The Holy Spirit.  As Nancy constantly reminds me, “The door is open.”

old-couple in love

Tammy Darling on Keeping your Marriage Fresh

cropped-sunset-lovers.jpg14 Ideas to Keep Your Marriage Fresh is the most recent post by Tammy Darling at Catholic Digest.com.  Her tips are practical, simple and inexpensive, and are easy to fit into busy lives.  The vocation of marriage, as we all know by now, requires care and attention if it is to keep blooming.

For more ideas like these, sign up for our April 20 marriage retreat.  Love’s Sacred Embrace offers a wealth of ideas and concepts that will breathe new life into your marriage.  Come join us for a day of reflection and sharing on April 20.  Seating is limited, so please sign up early.

Beatitudes for Young Mothers

Of the eight beatitudes from The Sermon on the Mount, several can be applied to our marriages and to each of us in our roles as parents.  When we fail to respond to Christ’s calls to these heavenly blessings, we not only tarnish our hopes of seeing heaven, but we can damage our relationships with our families.  When we turn some of our worries over to God, we are better able to handle those that remain. 

Busy-ParentsI am going to assume that, all other things being equal, in the early part of the 21st century, American women, young and not-so-young, do more parenting than their men.  That WAY more of the burdens of caring, planning, packing, arranging, scheduling, and doctoring, are borne by our wives, no matter how liberated we husbands claim to be.  (As for playing with our kids, that may be a draw.)  I infer, then, that way more of the pressures of parenthood end up on the moms.  This vestige of the days when we lived in caves seems almost universal.  Therefore, I suggest that two of the three Beatitudes discussed here are more relevant for mothers.  (Men are welcome to shoulder the other five, and will probably become better fathers in the process.)

As I see it, from the perspective of 38 years of marriage and three children, the most important of the Beatitudes for young parents tells us that the merciful will be shown mercy.  As the speed of life increases, as our families grow, and as the demands upon us from one another, our children, our parents and our siblings continue to build, we often reach a point at which we must release pressure.  How we release this pressure is important.

Although I routinely confess to having cursed A LOT when I go to reconciliation, I do everything I can to avoid cursing at Nancy.  In the worst of our arguments, over almost four decades we have used next to NO profanity.  If cursing one another is a regular feature of your lives, whether you’re fighting or not, you are chipping away at the foundation of trust, respect and intimacy at the core of your marriage.  And over long periods of time, a damaged foundation will be prone to collapse when under stress.  Agree not to curse at one another.  Ever.  It’s not that hard.

To me, it’s not surprising that so many working mothers are stressed out.  To me, the wonder is that not ALL working mothers are stressed out, followed in short order by mothers, period.  (Heck, maybe they are, and I’m just too old and out of touch to realize it.)  Raising children takes more out of people than almost anything else I can think of.  I applaud our readers who are doing everything they can to be good parents.  During Lent especially, I pray that mothers everywhere can find it in themselves to show their children, and their defective, fallen husbands, mercy.  Even when they don’t deserve it.  For the fathers, I pray that you fully grasp the mental and physical challenges involved in being a mother, and that you not only appreciate her efforts, but do all you can to lighten them.

Earlier, Christ tells us that the meek shall inherit the earth.  Today, for many of us, the meek are, in fact, our own children.  They are the ones depending upon us for all of their needs–physical, emotional, intellectual.  When we release our pressure on them, we probably cause harm.  We may instill doubt in their hearts, doubt that we truly love them, and this can be a corrosive concern for a kid growing up.  Our children need have no doubts that they are loved by their parents, even on the worst of days.  Shielding them from our impatience is a grace from God, received through prayer.  Short, momentary bursts of prayer during the day, staying in touch with God, staying cool, staying in tune with the universe.  🙂

Most of us know people, women generally, who like the idea of being surrounded all day by five kids under the age of six.  At our bible study last fall, one of the young women at my table, working as a nanny to put herself through school, asked God for forgiveness for having had all three of her charges in tears that day at the same time.  This latter person is, I believe, far more common than the former, although most of us know women like this, and some of us have been blessed to have them look after our own kids at times.  But if this isn’t you, it doesn’t mean you can’t be an effective and loving mother. It just means you need to pray harder.  You’re already doing all you can.  So get help–invite the Holy Spirit to lend a hand when doing it all alone seems to be too much.

I wrote a witness for bible study this week in which I observed that I never really got along very well with my own mother.  She was something of a perfectionist, I was anything but perfect, and an only child, to boot, and her continuous disappointment with me colored our relationship until the day she died.  If you’re a young mother, and you’re struggling, you may want to pray about how your child will remember his or her childhood.  If, during times of stress, you remember that we are called by God to be gentle, that the meek shall inherit the earth, it may be easier to maintain your composure and allow the rough moments to pass, so that they easily recall good times growing up.

Finally, it is the peacemakers who shall be called children of GodThis, thankfully, applies to husbands and wives, mothers and fathers.  If our children grow up amidst chaos, they will seek it as adults, and will find themselves in tumultuous relationships.  Our home should be our refuge, and all of us crave the comfort and security that comes from a home that is one of warmth, love, understanding and acceptance.

Sure, things get wild, maybe every day, and hopefully on purpose; our homes are not meant to be tombs.  But they are, at some point, and on some level, where we rest our heads and our hearts.  Couples willing to spend half an hour together after the kids are in bed putting their homes back together for the next day’s festivities are, again, sharing God’s grace.

There will be more basketball games on TV.  There will be more IMs on Facebook.  But there will never again be a time when you can have this much positive influence over your kids and the adults they will one day become; their peers are gaining on you.  The world is filled with people who regret not having been more engaged parents.  There are relatively few people out there who, looking back over their lives, regret not having watched more basketball.

God in skySo, during this Lent, let us all promise to do more to promote peace, love and understanding in our own homes.  Husbands, fathers, let us support our wives in their roles as mothers, and let us all show mercy to our own families first, and the rest of the world in its turn.  While it’s not as good as having been there for The Sermon on the Mount, we will be integrating the word of God into our daily lives.  He will be pleased with us.

5 Reasons to Speak Positively about your Spouse at Work

This is a nice short piece explaining why it’s a good idea not to speak badly about your spouse at work, by Kevin Lowry at The Integrated Catholic Life.org.  Like me, Kevin is a convert.  Unlike me, he is devoting his life to evangelization and bringing Protestants into the Catholic faith.  Here’s his post from earlier this week:

“Sorry, I can’t do it tonight. The old ball and chain gets ticked off if I’m out late.”

How many times have we heard derogatory comments like this about spouses in the workplace? Even worse, snide remarks can give way to all-out whining: “My husband is such a jerk sometimes” or “My wife completely lost interest in me after we began having kids.”

Sacramental marriage should be in a different league than this, but we all live in a culture that hasn’t done the greatest job honoring the institution. In reality, we also know that even the strongest sacramental marriages sometimes go through serious challenges.

So what’s a good Catholic spouse to do?

Well, brace yourself for some good news. There are things we can do to honor our spouses in the workplace, and not be swayed by the cultural winds that sometime blow all around us. How about this one: always speak positively about your spouse at work. Why? Here are five reasons – and they just scratch the surface.

  1. Complaining about your spouse lacks class. Oh, maybe it’s fashionable to gripe and assume an attitude of superiority over your spouse. But does that make it right, and does it really make you happy? Probably not. Besides, if your spouse is such an idiot, what does that say about you, the person who made sacred vows to him or her?
  2. How you speak can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Have you ever noticed how good spouses make each other winners, and bad spouses make each other losers? Words matter. Speaking with honor is part of acting with honor – even when your spouse isn’t around.
  3. It protects your marriage. Even when things are rough at home, airing your grievances at work is the wrong venue. Co-workers who complain about their spouses open up an avenue for support from other co-workers, including those of the opposite sex. This can progress to inappropriate emotional intimacy, and worse.
  4. It’s good for your career. Many of the virtues that make for a faithful spouse also make for a great employee or co-worker. Besides, getting in the habit of speaking positively about others (including your spouse) behind their backs helps build a better culture for everyone in your workplace.
  5. It’s good for your co-workers. We are affected, for better or worse, by the attitudes and behaviors of our co-workers. Demonstrating charity and understanding towards our spouse might just inspire others to do the same.

We can’t single-handedly change the state of marriage in the world, but we can do our best to honor our own marriage vows – and our spouse. Speaking positively about our spouse in the workplace is a great way to improve our marriage, our workplace, and our walk with Christ.