Categories
Ink Slingers Martina Mom So Hard Series

9 Ways Two ‘Isms’ can Coexist in Your Large Family: Catholicism and Minimalism

MOM SO HARD Finessing the Intricacies of Your Modern Catholic Family

Not Naturally Organized…Naturally

It wasn’t long into our marriage that one of us (uh hem, me) decided that living with clutter and mess wasn’t suitable. Of the two of us, it became like that episode of Everyone Loves Raymond where they leave the suitcase on the stairs at the end of a trip to see just who would take it upstairs. Determined to see who would “cave” first, Debra and Ray both refuse to take the suitcase upstairs, each for their own reasons.

Not that our reasons were anywhere nearly as exciting or sitcom worthy, neither of us were particularly neat people to begin with. Married life both highlighted and compounded this problem, and while I didn’t feel pressured into doing something about it, it definitely came down to my feeling like I’d had “enough” and it was just time to make a change. I couldn’t stand looking at the endless mess due to…if I’m being completely honest here…laziness. I couldn’t pin it on anything other than our collective laziness as the reason why we lived in piles of papers, unpacked boxes, sink filled to the BRIM with dishes, clean dishwasher fully opened and unloaded (it simply became another location in which to pull clean dishes, just like the cabinets and drawers).

The Family Grows – and so do the logistical challenges

As our family grew, so did the challenges of incorporating strategies and ideas that lessened those everyday stresses. It was a lot like shoveling sand against the tide – futile. Add to that, you’ve read over and over again that I’ve said I’m not naturally organized, and you can see how I had all the ingredients for the perfect storm. Over the years, the desire to declutter was always there. What I lacked was vision and focus. Oftentimes, I would sit down to work on a project only to be derailed by hitting a brick wall on what to do next. Frustration often won out and so I would throw my hands up, give up, and walk away. It would take me sometimes years to finish a project – sad, right? The garage became the bane of my existence. After each move, it was filled with all the unpacked boxes and furniture I couldn’t part with. When we downsized, our garage was stuffed so badly, you couldn’t even walk around in it. I had to open the garage and work on boxes from the outside in, that’s how bad it was. By the time I had the first two house garages completed, we moved. One house we lived in seven years, and the other five. I often joked that as soon as the garage was unpacked, it was time to move. 

The Stakes are Finally Raised

Then we decided to move, upsizing our house after downsizing – that’s a whole OTHER post, friends. We moved in the summer and I gave myself ONE YEAR to get that garage in order – the tightest deadline, ever, lol. With our kid count at seven at that time, I had to get to work thinking about needs and how to organize the garage and I got to work.

I know the current secular push is to evaluate what you have and keep what “sparks joy” but for our large family (and maybe yours) it never really touched on sparking joy so much as it came down to sentimentality (within reason) and practicality.

Large families, by our nature, have different needs than a single person, married couple with no kids, and even small families. Add to the mix that we are Catholic, there are things that we will need to have multiples of or hang onto from one kid to another.

I finally told myself there wasn’t a problem with having a lot of something, but it really came down to its use and could it be stored adequately between uses. And that became my foundational rationalization. 

Let’s get right down to it – how do we make this happen?

So, how can Catholicism and…minimalism coexist, especially within large families?

The good news is they aren’t mutually exclusive. The Tiny House infatuation that has taken over America the past few years has highlighted something good about having less that everyone can benefit from. And even large families can benefit from this practice, too!

  1. Implement good cleaning habits. If you aren’t naturally organized, you will probably have to work a bit harder to create inroads to more organization in your family. When I began turning over a new leaf, I looked to Fly Lady for help in not just establishing good cleaning habits, but working through ways to organize. I’ll admit at the time, I only had two children, one in school and a baby at home, but as our family grew, what I learned from Fly Lady became foundational to my success.
  2. Three boxes. When you’ve got a good cleaning schedule in hand, the next step is to assess what you have and decide how to pare down. This is when three boxes come in handy: trash, donate/sell, and keep.
  3. What time of day works best? This helped immensely when it came to starting a decluttering/paring down project. Night owls might find evenings are a good time to work on a room – I’m not a night owl, so I tend to pick a block of time or a weekend and hit it hard in the morning. I rarely work on something all day long, as that just leads to a lot of frustration and overwhelm for myself. I also tend to find a burst of energy the day before trash goes out in making those final decisions on things we don’t need. Sometimes it translates to getting tossed, and other times, it means things are bagged up and put in the van to take to the thrift store. 
  4. Take your bags of donate items to the store NOW. Don’t delay. Don’t be like I was for years, driving my donate bags around town for no good reason other than just…laziness, lol. I think the record for me was something ridiculous like four months of bagged donate items in the back of the car. Never again. We have three thrift stores within a handful of minutes around, two of which within spitting distance (there’s my East Texas popping through, y’all!) of the grocery store, so no real reason not to stop by and drop those bags OFF!
  5. Take inventory of the items you DO need to keep multiples of or store for a time. Because we are large families, there WILL BE certain things you accumulate and with good reason. This varies from family to family. I’m not going to tell you to ditch X – because if I do that, and it’s something you may actually truly need, that doesn’t work. What I am saying is think it through, decide if the need is sentimental or practical, and decide where and how you will store said items. If you have the space and proper storage bins, those are things that can help factor into keeping items your family will use again. In our home, we keep shoes and clothes stored, and a lot of them! They are all stored in bins in the attic. Because our birth order alternates, we tend to hang on to clothes for a while. This has always been a practical need for our family, but that might not work for other families. Additionally, keeping garments for sacraments from one child to another is a practical need. Minimalism for large families should leave room for items we know we’ll need down the road. Plus, sentimentalism has value I’ve found isn’t worth tossing. 
  6. Toys. We have large families. I get it. Keeping toys out or easily accessible doesn’t always jive with the feel of minimalism, but there are some clever ways to tackle that. Tuck toys behind the doors of small or large furniture. Some other ideas can include a cabinet, drawers, or even a coffee table with drawers for specific toys. Barring that, if you have the space and the ability to set this up, you can peruse Marketplace on Facebook for some fabulous steals for storage. We have two locked closets in our house, one for school supplies (our former homeschool closet) and a game closet. Inside each, I was able to find two 2×4 Expedits for a steal from a local person who was moving. I have one shelf unit in each closet, and in the game closet, it contains baskets filled with sorted toys. Keeping the toys locked helps us decide when we rotate toys through and keeps the kids excited when new toys come out to play!
  7. Clothes. To keep clothes from getting out of hand, we keep bins in the kids’ closets to toss clothes that don’t fit as they grow out of them. Once in a while, we empty it, and decide what will be stored for the next kiddo, donate it to friends or the thrift store or just trash it if it’s too far gone!
  8. Books. I am a HUGE fan of books and it’s one of the few things we do not part with unless they are beyond repair. That said, you can always pare down on religious books and bless others in your community if you have an overabundance like I might – uh hem. Consider joining a local Catholic group on Facebook or elsewhere that you can both request books as needs arise as well as find takers on your overflow book stash.
  9. Rosaries, sacramentals, and consecrated material. This is one area in particular that I won’t tell people to pare down unless you have good reason. Rosaries, sacramentals and consecrated materials tend to tell a story: given by a loved one or picked up on a special trip, they should have a loving place in the home. Sacramentals that are plastic or have no sentimentality to it can be gifted to someone in need. If they are blessed, broken, and beyond repair, please please please properly dispose of the sacramentals. This includes any books that have been blessed as well. To read more on how to properly dispose of these sacred items, visit this site for more information.

As you can see, having a large family doesn’t mean you have to own all. the. things. We don’t have to be drowning in things because we think our large family requires it. The emphasis here is on active and ongoing discernment of balance in the family. There will be seasons when you will need more of X and guess what? That is TOTALLY fine! As long as the active discernment is in play, you will be able to assess your family’s needs and adjust accordingly. 

What works today, may not work tomorrow for the family. And you know what, friend? That also is totally OK. 


Thank you for reading this installment in the series MOM SO HARD – FINESSING THE INTRICACIES OF YOUR MODERN CATHOLIC FAMILY. This series is focused on taking a look at the Faith through the lens of being a Catholic mom. Using a spiritual foundation as our starting point, we walk with you and share candid and practical elements that make up our days. We will look at primary spiritual elements, recognizing that without God, nothing is possible. How do we start our day? How do we end our day? If God does not bookend our days (at a minimum), we can start to see how feeling overwhelmed or worse can creep into our day. Even the most mundane of chores and activities can be done to glorify God. 

 

9 Ways Two Isms can Coexist in Your Large Family

 

 

Categories
Advent Anni Evangelization Faith Formation Ink Slingers Spiritual Growth Year of Mercy

Sacramentals, Mercy, Advent, Oh My!

Not long ago, I attended an event where an icebreaker game was played. The icebreaker was to count up how many Sacramentals we had on each of us, and whomever at the table had the most won a prize. I happened to be at the table with our chaplain, who gave us a run for our Sacramentals, until he was told he had his own gift set aside for him.

Before he had stepped out of winning the Sacramentals game, our chaplain posed to us, “Do you think each individual is a Sacramental? Because, I count all of you as a Sacramental,” as he tried to tally us up as some of the Sacramentals he brought to the table.

His question, while posed in jest, has stuck with me several months later.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states in 1677,

Sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life.

Every baby baptized into the Catholic Church has been anointed and sealed with the Holy Spirit. At Confirmation, that child takes on a conscious decision to reaffirm the baptismal vows their parents typically, initially undertook on behalf of the child. And, the individual then becomes re-anointed and re-sealed with the Holy Spirit.

In essence, our chaplain was correct – we do become Sacramentals. We become a living, breathing, walking “sacred sign instituted by the Church,” to spread the Good News and the Joy of the Gospel.

Knowing we are sacred signs, what are we doing with that knowledge? Are we hiding our light under the bushel so as to not attract attention? If so, how do we get back on course?

I once confided to another Army chaplain that I wasn’t cut out for evangelizing. The “E word” scared me, and I was afraid I was too immature in my Faith to be able to defend it against questions. He chuckled at me, and asked me if I was a mother. I looked at him strangely, and answered in the affirmative because my oldest at the time was a year and a half old. He then shared that evangelization as a mother or father looks a little different than evangelization of others – by virtue of teaching our children their prayers, we are evangelizing. By ensuring our children go to church, we are evangelizing. By living and encouraging the Works of Mercy, as identified by the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), we are evangelizing.

Being a sacred sign comes with responsibility. Part of that responsibility is to our neighbor – to the soul we see next to us… looking past the physical presence before us, to recognize the soul behind the eyes. The Works of Mercy are such a beautiful, powerful reminder of the stepping stones to living as the hands and feet of Christ.

The saints are prime examples of having the faith and trust in God to recognize God’s children in those suffering, destitute, and in need. St. Francis of Assisi embraced a leper shortly after his conversion, while amazed at how his former self would have been repulsed to see someone else do the same. St. Damien of Moloka’i, and St. Marianne Cope would go on to not just embrace lepers, but to live amongst them, and tenderly care for them. The list of saints who lived the Works of Mercy can go on for days!

Through Christ, we get the promise of entering Heaven. Yet, in order to truly pass through Him, we are challenged to meet Him on the road, to recognize Him in others, and to extend His reach through us, to another person.

And, the Church, in her infinite love and wisdom, has shown us how to do this through the Works of Mercy. While we may no longer be in the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are still called to extend mercy to those in our lives – whether they are family, friends, or complete strangers.

So, as we enter Advent this year, I encourage all of us to spend some time focusing on how we are a living Sacramental. Commit to a Work of Mercy each day during Advent, knowing you’ll repeat some several times. Don’t be afraid to take the Good News and Joy of the Season to those to whom you may initially be afraid to reach out.

Recognize Christ in your neighbor, and better yet, be Christ to others.

It is our duty and our sacred responsibility.

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
Apologetics BirgitJ Catechism Doctrine Evangelization Faith Formation Ink Slingers Sacramentals Ten Commandments

New Year’s luck: let Jesus be your ‘Dumbo feather’!

Happy New Year!

Black-eye peas for prosperity, noodles for long life, ham for progress, cabbage for riches – these are some of the New Years foods to which good luck is attributed. In our secular world, much stock is given to all types of superstition throughout the year. While this may offer a bit of entertainment, the danger lies in assigning a weight to them that is beyond harmless fun. As with many questionable beliefs, there are also logical ways to explain what seems at first blush, to be magical. In reading an article in my January issue of Women’s Day entitled Make Your Own Luck, I found an enlightening take on just such things.

While the article also does not imply that there is such a thing as ‘luck’ it does give some interesting parallels between those who are ‘lucky’ and their views of life in general. You see, those who consider themselves lucky have certain characteristics that invite ‘luck’. They are observant, willing to be flexible, and prone to expecting a good outcome.

Interesting….

Before we go on, however, let’s explore what Mother Church has to say. For the record, horoscopes, fortune cookies, good luck charms, etc. are taboo in our Catholic faith. They give an authority to something that is not of God and attempt to usurp His Almighty Power which, rightfully, belongs only to Him. One has only to read about the Third Commandment in the Catechism of the Catholic Church to ascertain that:

III. “YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME”

Divination and magic

2115 God can reveal the future to his prophets or to other saints. Still, a sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it. Improvidence, however, can constitute a lack of responsibility.

2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future.48 Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

There is, however, something useful to be learned from those who are ‘lucky’. We can quickly make the connection with those who are bright in their outlook and their seemingly ‘lucky’ existence. If you keep your eye on the brass ring and reach for it, no matter how unattainable it seems, you are bound to come up with a bit of good fortune as a matter of course. Unlike those who appear to operate on a negative outlook, those who achieve are always on the lookout for the good in life. Their goals are set high, which assures that they will always be spurred to do their best. This way of thinking goes nicely with our belief that we are all saints in the making – a seemingly unattainable goal. How much higher can a goal be, than to reach all the way to a Heavenly home? How much more preferable is it, then, to grasp for a life that emulates our heroes – the saints – who have already achieved?

In order to make our own ‘luck’ we must be willing to make changes for the better. While the comfort of the old and familiar is certainly a temptation, we must be willing to open ourselves up to the new directions that God places in our hearts. Sometimes these new directions can be frightening in their feeling of insecurity and lack of the familiar. But we do have a ‘net’ to catch us if we fall – His Name is Jesus! So in order to advance in an entirely new direction, we must give ourselves over, completely, to His call – whether in a whisper or in a shout!

Even something as inane as a good luck charm can warrant a closer look.  It’s not the ‘good luck charm’ at all, but how that object makes you feel; it simply gives its owner a sense of well-being and confidence. My sister and I often joke about being a Dumbo Feather to each other. You remember the big-eared baby elephant of Disney fame who could fly, only if he held his ‘magic’ feather? We know that we can accomplish most of what we set out to do, but the little bit of  a boost we feel from the support of the other, takes us to new heights.
.

Our Catholic faith also gives us objects to help us literally ‘feel’ the confidence we need to achieve. They are sacramentals and our faith prevents us from assigning a superstitious quality or ability to them. But they can aid us in reaching for Heaven because Mother Church, in her wisdom, encourages blessed objects for our spiritual use. Wearing my Four Way Medal, for example, gives me a physical reminder of the power of God and prayer. I often find myself touching it throughout the day as a reminder that I am not alone – not because it offers a magical protection – but because it reminds me that Jesus, His Mother, and His Angels walk, unseen, beside me through any struggle. Our rosaries, statues, and Holy Water are there as well, to offer a strengthening reminder of our faith as we strive for holiness.

Armed with our faith in God and a willingness to be open, we can achieve unbelievable success. Our eyes (and minds) simply need to be receptive to the good things in our lives. We need to be flexible in our thinking and willing to take action on faith alone – knowing that we have our support system in place. With the sacraments and sacramentals our Mother Church provides we can attain the seemingly impossible.  Jesus is there and is more than willing to be our Dumbo Feather, no matter what obstacles appear to be in our path. So fly to the highest heights and achieve the greatest goal of humanity – armed with everything you need to succeed in this life and the next!

Jesus, I trust in You!

+   +   +

‎”Dear God,
I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.
And what you want to give me is love,
unconditional, everlasting love.
Amen.”

— Henri J.M. Nouwen
(The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life)