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Domestic Church Ink Slingers Kasey Lent Liturgical Year

My Liturgical Suitcase: The Penitential Psalms

My Liturgical Suitcase
I never felt a weight associated with the liturgical seasons until I had children.

From the moment I held my eldest son, I knew I had the grave responsibility to raise him as a good Catholic in a world that, at times, can be a very hostile and cruel place.

Selfishly, I also wanted memories.

I wanted the cookie baking, card making, St. Nicholas shoes filling, Easter basket earning memories of a home that was built on the shoulders of a Catholic tradition.

The issue was that I wanted traditions that I hadn’t been raised with myself and I was floundering in the Pinterest perfect social media posts of bloggers and friends who had already found their secret sauce.

I was also a hormonal new mom looking for purpose and I was drinking deep from a well of insecurity.

So naturally, I tried everything.

I handpainted Jesse Tree ornaments.
I baked traditional Easter cookies that my baby couldn’t even eat yet.  
I spent hours looking for an Advent wreath that would fit on our tiny apartment table.
I agonized over the Masses I missed because of sleep deprivation and nursing troubles.

And ultimately, I felt like a failure. There wasn’t a way to do everything and be everything in the throes of early motherhood.

And then a streak of real life happened.

It started with a nasty bout of flu during the Triduum.

A pregnancy that made it difficult to enter our church because of the incense.

And recently, two Christmas seasons that were spent with very ill grandparents.

This past year, my sons and I flew across the country to be caregivers for my mother-in-law who had fallen ill during chemotherapy.

No tree.
No gifts from us.
And a church that felt foreign.

I cannot say this was ground zero. I will not lament over an important duty. It was the only right decision.

But it did break me.

It disconnected me from the constant stream of expectations I had built up for myself.

It gave me a suitcase with actual limits and asked: “What are you bringing with you?”

After essentials, there was room for three things: my Bible, my missal, and a cross to hang over the door.

As Christmas approached we were no longer hanging hand painted ornaments on a lighted tree branch. We weren’t singing Christmas carols or baking cookies. But we were returning to scripture every day. We were together and I could breathe into a season of hope in a time when I felt very alone.

For Lent, I have decided to simplify my season routine again and to focus on reading scripture with my children. My husband introduced me to the seven penitential psalms and I thought their history was worth sharing.

These particular psalms are grouped together not only because of their expressions of sorrow for sin but also because of their association with the seven deadly sins. They have often been interpreted as a type of spiritual ladder in which the reader embraces a separate virtue as he or she reads each psalm. Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly assigned them as such:

Psalm 6: Fear of Punishment
Psalm 32: Sorrow for Sin and the Desire for Confession
Psalm 38: Hope of Grace
Psalm 51: A Love of Purity and Mercy
Psalm 102: A Longing for Heaven
Psalm 130: Confidence in Divine Mercy
Psalm 143: Joy  

However, the grouping of these psalms extends much further back than Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly’s. St. Augustine of Hippo mentions them as early as the 5th century and is said to have had copies of them posted near his deathbed. Up until 1972, minor orders and those that received tonsure were assigned these psalms as part of a daily prayer practice.

Personally, I am planning to focus on one each Sunday of Lent, with hopes that I will reflect and re-read them during the weeks leading up to Easter. We are also holding on to our family fasting traditions, but I will be taking this time to reassess my general approach to liturgical living and to define the limits of my proverbial “suitcase.”

What am I bringing with me?

With Lent here, I have given myself more permission to look up from my daily “to-do” list. It’s been a hidden gift. I have had time to truly reflect on the talents of my friends.

Each of the Catholic ladies in my life has a beautiful and unique suitcase of their own- different shapes, depths, colors, and filled with different essentials. I have crafty friends that build Lenten roads that span the entirety of their house, friends that dig into their prayer life with saintly devotion, friends that attend morning Mass every week, friends that bake traditional breads, and friends that host every single person that is without a home regardless of their budget or chair count.

Truly, I am blessed with their example.  

Whatever you fill your suitcase with, I am honored to be traveling with you towards the same horizon. May you have a blessed and fruitful Lent.

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Domestic Church Ink Slingers Interviews Kasey Saints

Interview with Chantal Baros of Shining Light Dolls

 

I was lucky enough to meet Chantal Baros at a lively All Saints celebration that a very generous mutual friend hosted for a group of local moms in Chicago. Earlier that morning I had begun to cull through my own “liturgical celebrations bin” (i.e. the catch-all tub that carries all the items I have yet to find a permanent place for) to pull out items that I would need for Advent. Among all my little treasures was a precious hand-sized doll that my son’s godmother had gotten for him when he was a baby. He carried it around for months before we carefully packed it away so that we could stuff it into shoes and enjoy it the following year.

That afternoon at the party, I was floored to see that my sweet mama friend had an entire collection of these little saint dolls on her family altar. They were so cheerful and festive. I made a passing comment that I loved them and typed a little reminder into my phone to look at the website later that night.

Fast forward (literally) a few minutes later and I found myself talking to a mother who had children that were of a similar age to mine. She had the perfect amount of sarcasm. I knew we could be friends. She also happened to be the founder of Shining Light Dolls.

I don’t feel like I need to advertise for Chantal. Her work speaks for itself. It’s colorful. It’s inviting. In my opinion, it introduces children to the saints in a very accessible, fun way. What truly amazes me about Chantal is her ability to thoughtfully blend her Catholic identity, her vocation as a mother, and her gift as an artist into a fully integrated life.

She was kind enough to let me inundate her with questions so I am just going to step aside and let you meet this wonderful Catholic girl boss.

Give us a brief introduction to who you are and your life in the Church.

I am a cradle Catholic. I owe my parents everything because they gave me my faith. My mother is a daily Mass-goer and has a very strong faith. She loves the saints and has probably read every book on the topic. So I guess you could say I feel like I grew up with the lives of the saints always around me. No matter the topic, my mom had a saint story for me. That isn’t to say that I didn’t have the normal teenage rebellion against my childhood faith- I did, but I think that having such an incredibly strong foundation made it easier for me to “own” my faith in my college years. Now I love everything about the Church. There is something for everyone. No matter who you are you have a place. I guess that’s why I still love the saints so much, aside from the obvious fact that they’re all just super cool and amazing people. It’s that they are all so different from each other. Everyone can have that beautiful connection to God. The Catholic Faith is simultaneously simple and incredibly rich. I love the theology, the traditions, the ritual – all of it.

How has your business shaped your faith? How has it overlapped with your spiritual practices, your job as a mother, and your creative outlets as an artist?

Wow, that’s a good question! The business took my faith from my head into my heart. Prior to starting Shining Light Dolls, I had a very intellectual faith. The business gave me the opportunity to experience, for myself, all the amazing things God can do when you hear His call and take that leap. Starting a business is a scary thing, even when you know it’s what God is asking you to do. I’m a mom, and I feel like the closest comparison is the call to have a child. Even when you know it’s what God is asking of you, you don’t always know the outcome. So the early years of the business were like pregnancy – a mixture of excitement and fear. Like having children, you learn that you can only do so much and then the rest is up to God. The business has definitely increased my patience, my fortitude, and my trust in God’s providence.

Back when I started Shining Light Dolls, I was just dating my now husband. So the way that I’ve related to the business over the years has changed as my family life has changed. If anything, I think the business has really flourished since I became a mom. I have less time but the love I have for my children inspires me to create differently, to work harder, and to use the time I do have wisely. My two books, “The Virgin Mary-Around the World” and “Saints on the Go” were inspired by my son. The first, a board book, I wrote when he was a baby- and then the second when he became a vehicle-obsessed toddler. I think the books have been so successful because I wrote them for him.

Starting a business is hard enough – but you started it in the throes of early motherhood! What have been some unexpected challenges and some unexpected joys in regards to your business?

Starting a business at the same time as starting a family is definitely tricky! Even though having babies is HARD (at least it is for me) – my biggest obstacle has always been myself. Life is never easy- and at some point, I woke up and realized that there was never going to be a “perfect time” for anything. There is no such thing. Life is always going to be complicated. I really have to keep my life pretty streamlined in order to have time for the business after taking care of the kids. Each new chapter of our family life brings new challenges to the business. There have been times where I stopped working because of motherhood (pregnancy sickness, postpartum recovery), and that can be incredibly frustrating. As an artist, I miss the freedom to create whenever I want- whenever inspiration strikes. BUT- the difficulties are actually the parts that have made me mature in ways I don’t think I would have otherwise. I learned that I could become a morning person, a list-maker, a work-an- hour-at- a-time artist. I learned that I can wake up at 5 in the morning and still have the energy to cook dinner. I learned how to prioritize my life around my vocations as wife, mother, and artist/business owner. I learned that I don’t need to feel like creating to create. I honestly love the balance of work/art/play my business and children give me. I’m a better artist/business owner because of my children, and a better mom because of my business. My work recharges my batteries, and my kids recharge my heart. They are a constant reminder of why I do what I do, and also keep my priorities in order.

What does your creative process look like? Do you create saint dolls that have a personal meaning to you? Are there saints you have connected with since making them into dolls?

My creative process has evolved over the years. In the beginning, all of the “TheVirgin Mary Around the World” dolls were first drawn by hand – pencil to paper on my kitchen table. Prior to starting Shining Light Dolls, I was a full-time oil painter specializing in portraiture (so pretty much nothing like the Shining Light Doll style). After a novena to the Infant of Prague, the idea of the company sort of just hit me. It was the cliché “light bulb moment”. I was like- that’s a great idea – but I have no idea how to do that! So, I used Youtube video tutorials to teach myself how to use Adobe Illustrator. Now, five years later it’s all I use. Coming from a traditional oil background, I never thought I’d be creating my art digitally, but I really love it now. I also dream of switching back to traditional media but maintaining the Shining Light Doll aesthetic- the possibilities feel exciting and endless. Each year I add more saints to the “Saint of the Day” Facebook posts. These are the images that later become dolls. I research the Saint, making notes on their imagery, symbolism, dress, time period, country of origin. This is especially important for the Saints featured in my books. I really want to make sure I illustrate a real place and time. “Saints on the Go” was such an interesting book to write/illustrate. I learned so much! It was fun trying to find Saints that actually were documented on different vehicles. I learn new things through my work all the time- I knew that St. Teresa of Calcutta had her “call within a call” on a train in India, but I had never actually seen a picture of the Toy Train to Darjeeling until I started working on my book. I always feel like I know these Saints more intimately after peeking into the world they lived in- they become more “real” to me. Choosing Saints to turn into dolls is SO HARD. They are all amazing. At the risk of suffering from analysis-paralysis though I try to create balance within the company. I like to look at the macro and the micro. How will these dolls work together in the larger collection (am I representing men and women, different religious orders, different time periods, ethnicities, etc.) as well as the individual Saint as it stands alone (what is their imagery, what are their traditional colors, what is their patronage, etc.). Now I receive a lot of feedback on the Facebook page about which Saints people are looking for, and that definitely influences which Saints are going to be produced next.

I realize this is a very big question, but from your perspective, what role can the Catholic artist play in their churches and communities?

I think there is a popular lie that the age of Catholic art and the Catholic artist ended with the middle ages. Catholic art is still relevant. Religious art is not antiquated. It also doesn’t have to be done in a Renaissance/Baroque/iconic style to be good or holy. My parents did me a huge favor in teaching that God gives us our talents for a reason and we are called to use them. Art is such an important part of any culture – and without good Catholic art what are we exposed to? I think that creating with the intention of producing beautiful work to glorify God, regardless of style, is SO important and will help to heal our culture. New Catholic art isn’t something to be feared; it doesn’t detract from the depth and solemnity of the faith. It has the ability to reach and touch people in a new way. I love traditional Catholic art, but I also love contemporary Catholic art. The Catholic artist in today’s world should do what the Catholic artist in any time period did – use the popular tools of the period to create work that glorifies God and points man toward the transcendental. Art can change the world; you just have to have faith that God is giving you the permission to create it. If God gave you a talent- don’t be afraid to use it.

Clearly, you are very busy. If God gifted you with a 25th hour to the day- how would you use it? (Sleeping is a totally appropriate answer.)

I would use an extra 25th hour (assuming my kids are asleep and I get to use the time to myself) for creating. I would paint, or draw, or do any other number of things- but it would definitely be creating in some form. (Although I should probably be using it to clean my house ) – or maybe to be more social, between work and the kids I don’t get out much (other than playgroups!).

Chantal’s way more productive than I would be with my 25th hour. She is constantly creating new dolls so check her out on her website- www.shininglightdolls.com. She can also be found on Facebook and Instagram under the handle @shininglightdolls.

Categories
Ink Slingers Kasey Sacramentals Saints Spiritual Growth

My Island of Lost Things

I’m not quite sure when I officially began calling my eccentric Catholic behavior a “ministry of lost things.”

I’m not even completely sure if calling it a ministry is completely stepping over some sort of invisible line in the sand.

However, I can pinpoint when it all began.

My family had just moved. We had traded our tiny apartment, in a fancy neighborhood, for a flat just a couple miles west. The new abode came with a backyard, a dishwasher, and in unit laundry. All this might seem mundane to the non-urbanite but for those of us who hail from the concrete jungles of the world- it is well established that moving a couple miles can often feel like moving to a different planet.

I was very happy that my new planet was laundromat free.

However, what I didn’t foresee was how much I was going to miss the little town center in which I took many of my evening walks. It had little boutique shops. There was a bakery with just the most delicate little pastries glistening in the cold case. There was an independent bookstore that served wine and hosted book clubs.

In the middle of a bustling city, it was quaint.

And I liked that.

My new place is certainly an upgrade in many ways (holy dishwasher Batman!) but it is primarily flanked with convenience stores and gas stations.

It wasn’t long until I found myself a little un-enchanted with my evening walks. What was my destination now? Where was I going to go for inspiration and the post-parenting refill I had so desperately come to depend on?

That’s when I found my janky thrift store.

It didn’t smell as good as the bakery- like, at all.

It wasn’t artfully put together like all of the boutiques I aimlessly wandered around even though I was newly married and completely broke.

It wasn’t as hipster chic as the bookstore that crammed people into the little cafe area for book discussions and angry poetry.

But it is quiet and quirky.

And I could walk to it and pick up funny items like lost artifacts, turning them over in my hands while wondering why someone would have gotten rid of a hand painted mug of their own face.

It has become my little island of lost things.

My first real “find” happened several weeks into my weekly adventure. It was hidden behind a box that contained an automatic salt and pepper shaker. (Yes, I guess that’s a thing.)

My first find was a statue of St. Tarcicus- the patron saint of first communicants. I recognized the image right away. He was similar to the stained glass image in the church where I had done my student teaching. He was young, innocent looking, and holding a chalice in his hands.

He was also $1 which seemed extraordinarily cheap considering he was beaten to death in the streets of Rome while trying to bring the Eucharist to Christians in prison.

I thought about putting him down but then a memory popped up into my head like a “Whack a Mole.” A few years previous to this experience I had been walking through a rather colorful neighborhood in Chicago when I had seen a statue of the Virgin Mary collecting dust in an eccentric second hand clothing store.

 

Shrine of Christ the King- Chicago, IL

She had clearly been in a church at one point.She was also wearing a sombrero and a “Jesus is My Homeboy” shirt. 

I felt so frustrated and sad as I walked past the store. Who do these people think they are? Why is it funny to mock us? Would they do this to items that are considered holy for other religions?

I got home and told my husband.

I was expecting him to side with me.

And he did- sort of.

“Why didn’t you just go in and buy it?” he asked.

The thought had never occurred to me. I tried to explain to him that we didn’t have a lot of expendable money. How could we afford a church sized statue? Where would we put it?

I can’t remember what he said… exactly. But I remember how I felt afterwards.

Perhaps we didn’t have tons of money. Perhaps it would have looked funny to have a huge statue of the Virgin Mary in our tiny kitchen.

But she belonged to us and in a place where people would love her and treat her with respect.

She was a part of our shared culture with other Catholics.

And ultimately, it is everyone’s responsibility to protect our story, teach others to respect who we are, and to collect and distribute useful holy items.

I could have easily found a church or religious group for the sombrero wearing Mary.

Back in the present time, I dug around in my back pocket and pulled out a crumpled dollar that I was saving for a popsicle from the palates man. (I could write a whole post about Mexican popsicles… but I digress)

St. Tarcicus now sits on my window ledge with other orbiting bits of Catholic life that I have found in the cracks of thrift stores and basements. I have collected a Ukrainian Mary and Jesus picture, stacks of icons, a Lladro Jesus, a few Marian themed vases, Catholic missals, Bibles, and a box of medals and scapulars.

Some of these items have stayed with us but most have left and now sit on the shelves of other Catholic homes and churches.

And I would like to believe that, once again, they are loved and used properly.

I think we live in a world which trends towards a sort of romanticized monasticism. We regularly get pitched buzzwords like “mindfulness” and “minimalism.”

I am not here to disprove the importance of living in the moment or to argue that capitalism and materialism are actually the true paths towards eternal happiness.

They aren’t.

I certainly believe that gratefulness and intentional stewardship will lead one’s soul into a more permanent and robust sense of joy.

But what I love about the Catholic Church is that there are so many “yes, and” moments. In this particular case, “YES, you can be a good steward of your wealth AND the items you use can (and should!) be beautiful.”

YES, the body of Christ can be found wherever two or three are gathered in His name AND we can make the space we do regularly meet in a beautiful representation of what we believe.

Sts. Volodymyr & Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church- Chicago, IL

Catholic art- converts.

Stained glass windows- soothe aching hearts.

Icons of saints- teach us about a faithful life.

The Catholic Church has a working definition of truth, goodness, and beauty that extends through centuries of liturgy, art, and music. In a very (very, very, very) small way, I feel like my mini ministry can pay homage to the preservation of our identity and the belief that in this crazy, upside down world, the Catholic life will continue and ultimately prevail.

Perhaps for me- one thrift store at a time.

Categories
Confession Ink Slingers Kasey Spiritual Growth

Something Beautiful

I have a love/hate relationship with social media.

I have given up on most platforms.

Twitter seems like a savage wasteland to me.

People don’t really care about “linking up” with you on LinkedIn if you have had the same job title for almost ten years, never check your messages, and have no idea how to congratulate someone on their “work anniversary.”

If I am going to streak- it’s not going to be on Snapchat and do people even use Tumblr anymore?

However, I am an avid Instagram and Facebook user.

I love catching everyday, unposed pictures of my kids doing school work and silly obstacle courses through our house. I want them to be able to look back and fondly remember all the small cracks of our life that made it interesting and funny. I also love watching my friend’s children grow up- even those who live very far away.

But what social media has offered me in terms of connection and friendship has often been balanced out, if not sometimes completely tipped over, by negative feelings that are often centered around envy, regret, narcissism, and rejection.

Sometimes the feelings are simple to sort out.

Should I really be a part of this mom’s group or is it an occasion of sin because it leads me to gossip and exclude others?

Those questions, once asked clearly, are often pretty easy to answer.

But sometimes the feelings are more complicated.

Recently, I found myself in a hole.

It was the type of hole I fall into on sleepless 3am nights- endlessly scrolling through the social media account of an ex-best friend.

I know, it sounds really dramatic.

(No, I didn’t leave any snake emojis.)

In truth, I have come to accept that our falling out was the result of mutual poor choices and growth in separate directions. However, the loss of this friend felt like a marital divorce and it has taken a very long time for the pain to plateau into something manageable.

At the height of this friendship, I would have called this person my soul friend. We were this scary life force that moved in separate but highly coordinated patterns- calling out of the blue because the air suddenly began to crackle.

I told her everything.

Everything.

And for an introvert with bookish tendencies- this is a big deal.

But, for both complicated and uncomplicated reasons, it ended.

It had to.

And I understand that now.

But here I was in the dead of night passing through highly curated pictures and this awful ugly feeling started to well up inside me. As I reached closer and closer towards the years of our friendship, I realized how carefully I had been cropped out of this person’s life.

Any photos of us together were gone.

Any reference to holidays that we used to spend together were negatively vague.

Things we used to enjoy together were now being enjoyed with others.

Friends we used to share are now sharing glasses of wine with a woman who wanted to make sure than any reference to our relationship was wiped from existence.

I was angry all over again.

I felt justified to hate her all over again.

And, if I let myself admit it, deep down inside, in my loneliest of places, I was just so uncontrollably sad.

And for the first time in a long time, I allowed myself to go into the shower, turn on the water, and weep. And it was freeing to just allow myself to be frustrated; to not have anyone in the room telling me that I should “just get over it” or list off all the reasons that this particular person was terrible. I didn’t have other voices deciding whether or not my “grieving process” was healthy.

The truth?

I’m glad my heart is still soft.

I loved this person.

And sometimes, when a song comes on the radio that reminds me of a concert, or a birthday, or a funny car dancing moment, I want to know that my heart is still tender. It lets me know that I am not completely closed off to other relational possibilities.

That being said, the hardest part is knowing that I keep my heart insanely guarded- even from people that have more than proven themselves worthy of my friendship and vulnerability.

Fellow Catholic Nerd Friends

I mean, nothing can bond you to another mother quite like a phone conversation in which someone walks you through taking your infant’s rectal temperature, am I right?

I have found that any anger I hold onto grows hot in my hands and makes it impossible to reach out to others.

To heal.

I needed to forgive this person.

Again.

When I thought all this was settled.

In these moments, I try to lean into scripture but I often feel like I am wading through murky waters. For example, up until the moment of the resurrection, Biblical forgiveness and punishment always seems pretty straightforward.

God asks for you to repent, you say you’re sorry or… the whole world might be flooded.

Hey Pharaoh- let those people go…

…or the angel of death might come knocking at your door.

Even as children we are given this ultimatum- say sorry for hitting your brother in the face or you have to sit in time out.

There’s a transaction. Someone has to be sorry and change or there is a punishment- natural or otherwise.

And then the Cross comes and the transaction changes- God is on both sides of the proverbial table.

God with the human mother who can speak on behalf of creation and God who is supernatural and can act as judge.

I have struggled with how to apply this concept to perennial pain- especially when I feel justified and the recipient could care less about my internal war with how to come to peace with them.

My biggest stride in this intellectual quandary has been coming to terms with the fact that Jesus walked the road of Calvary for me and for the person I am trying to forgive. In a sense, we are on the same side of the transaction.

I am not the judge and jury.

My job is to repent and to learn.

My job is to fairly recognize and identify my own pain and shortcomings.

My job is to grow in holiness.

My job is to trust that God knows what is fair.

God can set up the consequences.

Secondly, I have been told that time heals all wounds and hopefully, at the end of the end, that will be true.

But one look at the Sacred Heart of Jesus tells me that, even now, His heart is encased in a vine of thorns. My choice to recycle my forgiveness- to give it even when it isn’t asked of me, removes a thorn from that entrapment.  

That is love.

That makes all of this worth it.

The last time I felt this way I floundered for a few weeks. I moped. I allowed my kids to watch too much TV while I meandered around cups of coffee and half-finished chores. My husband finally sent me to Mass by myself. I complained (mostly because I had to put on outside clothes) but he pushed my butt out the door and said, “Well, at least you can enjoy the silence.”

And then he locked me out because he can be dramatically right sometimes. (Don’t tell him I said that!)

As I sat in Mass I fumbled around an examination of conscious. I hadn’t been to confession in a couple of months. I finally made it in where I blew my nose into an entire box of Kleenex. After a few minutes of ugly crying, my confessor gently reminded me that feeling bad about the loss of a friendship was not, in fact, a mortal sin. I thanked him for his saintly patience, he allowed me a moment to pull myself together, and then I huddled in the back pew licking my wounds for the rest of Mass.

I took the long way back from church, cruising down Lake Shore Drive, looking at the city lights on the left and the lake on the right. Slowly, the realization dawned on me that the church never abandons us in times of trial. Standing right in front of me, in that confessional, was a path.

I can stand in line for the confession.

I can recognize that I have pain that needs healing.

I can confess my sins.

I can be honest with myself and with trusted others about my anger, resentment, and sadness. I can be honest about the ways in which I have contributed to the situation through action or inaction. I can forgive myself for those transgressions. I do not have to be okay all the time.

I can receive advice from my priests

I can receive advice from confidants who have my best interests at heart.

I can submit to the process of the reformation of my heart.

I can also submit to the process of rebuilding new relationships that lean on the wisdom of past mistakes.

I can accept God’s forgiveness.

I can remember that God can forgive both of our shortcomings. I can choose to view this person as someone who is loved by God and who has given me cause to reach for the higher fruits of virtue.

I can pray and do penance for both of us.

I can ask to be a friend of God’s and, in return, He will shape me into something beautiful

Categories
Domestic Church Ink Slingers Kasey Motherhood Parenting Spiritual Growth Vocations

Perfection or Perdition

We were sitting at the dining room table when it happened.

I was reading one of our homeschool books aloud while my older son was fumbling around with a pair of scissors- awkwardly trying to cut out puzzle pieces to glue to a frame.

Predictably, he was doing an inexact job.

In a sudden fit of frustration he threw down his project, crumpled it up in his tiny fingers, and screamed, “If I can’t do right then I don’t want to do it at all.”

I was shocked.

First of all, this is a child who spilled an entire bag of flour over my kitchen table and added spoonfuls of water to make pancakes. When it didn’t work, he simply sprinkled sugar all over the mess and licked it.

“Tastes the same, Mama.”

::insert eyeroll::

But more importantly I was shocked because, only the night before, I had said this exact phrase to my husband.

“If I can’t do it right then I don’t want to do it at all.”

Perfect.

Or nothing.

It was particularly memorable because I was soaking wet at the time. I know, sounds thrilling. Truly, it was just because my baby puts me in chokehold any time water runs out of the bathroom faucet.  

The phrase would have been lost to time.

Except it wasn’t.

It was sitting on the lips of my five year old.

Perfect.

Or nothing.  

I called “time out” and decided that we needed to regroup. Something about my son had changed- I was sure of it. I decided to spend the rest of the week carefully watching him. And what did I conclude?

Well, my son is a sponge. His mood is immediately lifted when we are laughing. He is concerned when his brother cries. He has memorized several well-worn books on his bookshelf. He pouts when he doesn’t get his way. In short, he currently (and accurately) reflects the world around him.

He hadn’t changed.

I had changed.

And he was reflecting that back to me.

Perfect.

Or nothing.

I can’t speak for everyone but, in my life, personality changes tend to take the scenic route. It’s only after years of journaling and reflection that I can see the boulders that moved my boat into different, and sometimes difficult, waters. But in this particular case, it was glaringly obvious.

My increased need for perfection started the moment my husband and I made the decision to homeschool our children during their early years. I can remember the immediate sense of duty and weight that accompanied our decision. I had a new hat.

Teacher.

And I wanted to wear it with pride.

I was excited.

But with that excitement came a tinge of uneasiness.

I have worked in public schools.

I have worked in private schools.

I have worked outdoors with children, in camps, at libraries, and in museums.

I know what the general population thinks about homeschoolers.

Homeschoolers are unsocialized.

::beats dead horse with another dead horse::

Homeschoolers are weird.

Yeah, probably. But weird kids are weird- no matter what four walls you drop them into.

Homeschoolers are behind.

You know, except for all the stupidly evident examples of homeschoolers who excel at the same rate as their peers.

The funny thing is- people don’t seem to often question your decisions and motives when you take the “traditional” education route.

They don’t assume that you are anti- “whatever the other person is doing.”  

SPOILER ALERT- we’re not.

They don’t assume your house must be a wreck.

They don’t assume that your children are being socialized improperly.

They don’t hold your life up under this tiny little microscope and say, “Oh that weird behavior- IT MUST BE THE HOMESCHOOLING.”

Unfortunately- even people I generally adore in every other realm of my life have not always been accepting concerning this particular choice.

And instead of letting that go, I decided to show them up.

I know, how gracious and Catholic of me.

Homeschoolers are dumb.

Fine- then my kid is going to read classics ONLY. We are going to have a rigorous curriculum, never mind that he is in kindergarten!

Perfect.

Or nothing.

Homeschoolers have messy, unorganized lives.

Fine- then my house is going to be immaculate!

Perfect.

Or nothing.

Homeschoolers aren’t socialized.

Fine- then we are going out every day and I will show you just how motherlovin’ friendly my kids are!

Perfect.

Or nothing.

Clearly- this had become a little demon foothold. It was not only perfectionism but pride. I now carried the weight of everyone else’s opinion on my shoulders. I had fooled myself into believing that I could be a perfect Catholic and a perfect mother and a perfect teacher and a perfect homemaker…

Clearly I forgot- perfection is not a part of the human condition.

It’s a part of God’s condition.

I need supernatural grace.

I cannot get to heaven by myself.

I need the church.

Moreso, I was robbing my children of a parent who was pushes down into the grittiness of life so that I can grow, confess, and be changed by the gospel. Who needs confession this week? I have this life handled!

I was robbing my friends of true intimacy that is built on a foundation of understanding and service. Instead, I built up walls of judgement and resentment. You don’t like what I am doing? Well, look at how more put together and calm I am? You wish you were like me!

I was robbing my spouse of opportunities to serve our family. He will just mess this up anyway! I need to do it!

I wasn’t just setting a bad example for my son- I was slowly curling my fingers around the fruits of original sin.

Perfect people don’t need God.

They don’t need the sacraments.

They have this life thing handled.

Perfect.

Or nothing.

I wish I could have some incredible conclusion to this cautionary tale. I wish I could say I “figured it out.”

I don’t have very many lightning in the sky moments.

The people who thought we were crazy- still think we are crazy.

But should I be seeking their approval? Should I be worried about debunking their stereotypes? Or should I be concerned about the particular stewardship that God has given to me and be seeking His approval?

For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? or am I striving to please men? if I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ.” -Galatians 1:10

I don’t have it figured out.

Maybe all my critics will be right and next year we will be putting our kid on a bus to public school.

Maybe all my critics will be wrong and my family will homeschool everyone until they are brooding, smelly high schoolers.

Maybe, as a Catholic and a homeschooler, I just need to focus on my particular children and ask myself every day, “What’s God’s story for us? What does He want our particular situation to look like? What will bring Him glory?”

This week- it meant something real simple.

I sat down next to my son and I took out the coloring book. I grabbed the markers and I scribbled outside the lines.

Donald looks fabulous.

And when my son freaked out and told me I was doing it wrong I simply said, “It’s okay, it doesn’t have to be perfect to be something beautiful.”