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Keeping Your Kids Engaged Throughout Lent

Kids and LentCan you believe that we are having a conversation about Lent already? Weren’t we just swaddling the infant Jesus and celebrating His birth? I feel as though I really haven’t had time to prepare myself for the sacrificial season of Lent. Although it’s no longer my responsibility to keep my kids engaged throughout Lent, when they were small I always had a game plan to engage them in the season and promote conversation around our faith story. We were blessed to belong to a church where there were plenty of activities for both adults and children to participate in, which made for a great support system for us. I thought I’d share a few of the ideas we used with our kids for those that may not have the same kind of support system or just want to supplement what their church may be doing; perhaps even begin something new themselves.

For as long as I can remember, our church provided Friday evening Soup to Stations. We’d pack up our pot of meatless soup to share, along with our kids and head to the church where we shared a meal with our faith community, followed by Stations of the Cross. It was a fun way for adults and kids to socialize, share an array of meatless soups, swap recipes, and forge new friendships. Because everyone had their kids with them, our kids never felt like they were the only ones at a church event. They saw that other families prayed together, making it a comfortable place for them, even into their teen years. There were different formats to the weekly Stations of the Cross. One week the prayers might be through the eyes of Mary, another week it might be scriptural, then the traditional, and when I was a Youth Minister, I organized a Teen Stations of the Cross. This included a PowerPoint with visuals, contemporary music and the best part, the teens created the prayers with a contemporary and relevant script for each station.

The Seder meal is commonly celebrated the same way by Jews all over the world. It is a fulfillment of the biblical command from Psalms 145:4, “Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts.” It is an orderly retelling of the Exodus from Egypt leading God’s people from slavery to freedom and has a growing interest for Christians. The Seder is a wonderful teaching experience that tells the story of God’s grace in history and calls us to share in the experience as our own. It broadens our awareness of the importance of the Old Testament as our history and the sacredness of our liturgy and sacraments. Although there are slight variations to the Seder meal, the custom includes telling the story of the Exodus, partaking of symbolic foods placed on the Passover Seder Plate, drinking four cups of wine, eating matzo, and sharing in a celebratory meal. 

I found two websites that elaborate on this celebration. The Voice describes the event and meaning in great detail, while Jennifer Dukes Lee site lists step by step instructions for a Christian Seder that incorporates the elements of the Last Supper Jesus celebrated with his disciples. There is a printable copy and link to recipes, etc. I also found, in the comments, information that we Catholics don’t always hear too much about or are even aware of – the explanation of the fourth cup of wine and its absence at the Last Supper.

If you have younger children and are trying to teach them about charity, alms giving or penance, a simple idea that also engages dinner conversation is the Good-Deed Jar. Draw the outline of a cross on a large piece of poster board and hang where all can see it. Place a jar filled with something like ripped scraps of paper, lima beans, flower petals, etc. on the center of the table. Discuss what “Good Deed” they did that day to help Jesus carry His cross. After dinner, take whatever item you chose to fill the jar and glue it inside the poster board cross and watch the progress in filling the cross.

If you don’t already have one, creating space for a Family Altar is a beautiful addition to your home. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Psalm 78:4 remind us that WE, the parents, are our children’s first teachers and it is OUR responsibility to pass on the faith, our history, our story, to them. Our home is the Domestic Church and where most of our time is spent. A family altar is a visual reminder of our faith offering comfort during difficult times and reminders to offer thanksgiving for the simple, tender moments of family life. A place to stop and pray with our children for a bit or simply to gaze upon offering a quick thank you. An altar can be as simple as a corner shelf, your dining room hutch or a cabinet; placed in a central location that you pass everyday or a quiet corner within your home. Some items to include:

  • Crucifix
  • Bible
  • Statue of the Blessed Mother
  • Holy Water
  • Rosaries
  • Candles
  • Pictures of Saints

Other people include linens that change with the liturgical season, books, incense, etc. If you like to do crafts with your children, some of these items can be homemade as well. I found two great websites that offer various suggestions for family altars – Catholic Icing and Catholic Mom.

My kids love their father’s Italian heritage, especially when they could sneak a sweet treat (St. Joseph Sfinge) on the Feast of St. Joseph in the middle of Lent – March 19th. I recently saw another Italian tradition that could be lots of fun with the kids called the St. Joseph Table. This ancient tradition, celebrated more fervently in the southern region, goes back to the Middle Ages. It is a day to pray to St. Joseph for his intercession, but it cannot be for personal gain, it must be for the benefit of someone else.

The stepped table includes the statue of St. Joseph holding the baby Jesus with candles and flowers surrounding him. Many Italians also place homemade wood crafts on the table in memory of St. Joseph. The foods surrounding him are foods that grow wild in the field, those of vegetables and wheat – no meat. Breads and sweets are also displayed. An added element for kids is performing small acts of work as an offering. St. Joseph took great care of Mary and Jesus and did so with a loving, giving heart. He provided food, shelter, and protection for them faithfully and lovingly. Doing small tasks for another person, in secret, not expecting it can be offered up to St. Joseph, for his intercession, as he presents it to God as a gift of love. For more in-depth information and step by step instructions on setting up your own St. Joseph’s table, I found this website chock full of information.

I loved to cook with my kids when they were small. It’s a great way to keep their hands and minds busy while enjoying simple conversation. It was also a great time to share stories with them about our faith, using the food and ingredients in front of us. Over on my blog, I share a few of my favorites over the years in Cooking Through Lent With Your Kids.

Whatever the tradition you and your family choose to partake in this Lent, be sure to keep our story alive and well for generations to come.  Many blessings to you and yours.

 

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Caitie Ink Slingers Spiritual Growth

Nunsters and No-Funsters

By day, I am a Catholic high school Theology teacher in my small hometown in Indiana. By night, I am a sassy single gal, navigating the oh-so crazy world of dating in my 30’s.

Yes, I have stories from both times of the day that would make you pee your pants laughing.

But by weekend..

By weekend, I am a fake nun.

(No, I don’t wear my costume on dates.)

 

See, my best friend Michaela (Mikey) and I started this little act about 10 years ago. As volunteer leaders for a local youth group, we were encouraged to come up with a skit for the kids. Our first one bombed. We wore bedsheets. We lip synced to the “Sister Act” soundtrack. The kids fake-laughed politely.. It was bad, my friends.

But little by little we came up with something that was kinda… hilarious! Kids told their parents about us. Parents booked us for mom groups and private parties. The elementary schools booked us for teacher retreats. Mikey and I invested in some legit-looking habits from a costume retailer and we were auctioned off at a fundraiser (uh, we went for almost $8,000, by the way… NBD). We even gave surprise wedding toasts to some of the youth group kids we had started the whole thing with!

Before we knew it, we’d given ourselves a name and “Nun & Nunner” took off. Our Instragram account blew up. We were featured in Glamour magazine, on Catholic Teen Posts’ Live Stream, in an issue of FaithConnect. We are the latest episode (#6) on the current season of Leah Darrow’s “Do Something Beautiful” podcast. We will be on CatholicTV’s “The Gist” with Rachel Balducci this fall and are booked at colleges, high schools, parishes and conferences all over the country through May 2018!! ProjectYM just named us one of the “Top 12 Catholics to Follow on Instagram!” We were thrilled!

Nowadays, as Sister Mary Rose and Sister Maria Stella, we might tell our “vocation stories” with a Disney medley or talk about before-convent-boyfriends with a 90’s R&B mashup. We bring Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran together to talk about needing to go to Confession before receiving Communion. We love the Q&A time afterward when we tell the kids about how we’re “not real”, talk about our friendship, reflect on our beautiful faith and praise our Holy Mother Church. And we tailor each show to the group that has booked us — never doing the same show twice! It has become something pretty fun AND faith-filled!

But I’d be lying if I said we’d planned it. Mikey and I never publicized ourselves or even imagined it would take off. It was all God. God has been pushing us forward in the most amazing ways.

 We’re totally enjoying the ride and pray so much about our act- from what shows to take on to what to say in interviews to taking the intentions of our growing followers into our hearts to reflecting on constructive criticism from friends. While writing each show, the cutting room floor becomes littered with jokes that will never see the light of day. We love to find that fine line of reverent comedy and it’s usually through prayer that we figure out if we’re getting close to crossing it. We call upon St. Philip Neri (he had an incredible sense of humor!), St. Ephraim (who used to change the words to popular songs and make them about God!), and St. John Paul II (talk about an evangelizer!) to guide us.

But lately, as we’ve gotten more Insta-followers (who we’ve come to call “Nunsters”), we’ve also collected a tiny handful of people who aren’t so kind. We don’t mind if some people don’t understand or like our comedy… even Jim Gaffigan or Judy MacDonald have those who would pass on their latest shtick! We think there are plenty of cups of tea to go around and we don’t have to be everyone’s.

What gets us… I mean REALLY gets us, are nasty and rude comments that a few crabby people must have ordered gall-in-bulk to be able to leave. Really, it’s only been a couple of messages, but they’re surprisingly aggressive! We decided to call these people the “No-Funsters!” I won’t even take the time to repeat their words, but I’d like to show you the one that put it all in perspective!

A couple weeks ago we posted this picture, a beautiful work of art by Michael Belk from one of my favorite series, “Journeys with the Messiah” (LINK IN: http://journeyswiththemessiah.org/). We talked about how, even in the depths of despair, we are always in God’s hands. People responded beautifully and we got into some great discussions! And then we got this message…

Uhhh…

Say what!?

This seems so silly now, but I’ll be real with you… it took us a while to laugh! At first, we were sick about it. Mikey and I talked on the phone and really reflected on the photo, spending way too much of our precious time dissecting this re-donkulous diatribe to ensure we hadn’t really offended God!

Finally I said, “Hold up!” I shook my head, “Girl, we are in Crazy Town and we need to head home. We posted this picture with the best of intentions. If some lady finds this ‘too sexy’, that is all on her! We cannot possibly be responsible for the reaction of a woman who goes into a venomous rage at the sight of Jesus’ six-pack, for Pete’s sake! Lots of people commented with beautiful sentiments and we got so many messages with beautiful reflections. Why are we fixated on one lady’s opinion that, prayerfully, we don’t share!?”

We vowed to put this behind us and focus on the good.

But after this week’s controversial Break-Dancing-Priests scandal (did you miss it? Read my favorite recap and reflection here) I realized that it’s not just Nun & Nunner that the devil is dancin’ on.. We can all relate to this!

 

We could get all the praise in the world and be steeped in prayerful discernment, but one loud-mouth tells us that we are on the wrong path, going in the wrong direction, wearing the wrong shade of taupe for this time of year and we lose our you-know-what. ✢ We post something that moves us as witnesses of Christ on Facebook, but decide to delete it when someone responds with a snarky, “Are you really this ignorant?” comment. ✢ We’re leaving the park in a great mood when Perfect-Mom #3 comments on the number of old popsicle sticks in Messy Child #7’s hair and the whole fam-damily knows; it’s gonna be a hostile ride home, baby. ✢ We love a certain song at Mass and hum it all day long, but are afraid to admit that we like to pray that way when we hear someone toil on about it’s lowliness. ✢ We rejoice in our parish’s strengths until a newcomer asks why we don’t do things another way.. “You know, in my old parish..” ✢ We have a great day at work until we get one email asking us to do something differently and suddenly we’re contemplating dramatic resignation.

For Pete’s sake!

When are we doing to let the chatter die out — including our own ranting voices — and zero in on the one that matters?

God’s!

St. Catherine of Siena gets it. But sadly we can no longer be surprised when people — even fellow Christians — try to douse our fires with big, crabby, stone-cold buckets of not-so-holy water. “Ew… You’re on fire. Stop it. You’re distracting people. You’re doing it wrong. You’re not being a true, oh-so serious Catholic. Ew.”

(Eyeroll).

Girl, you gotta be able to take it to prayer, wring out your Talbots and fire-on.

You are a daughter of Christ with a true and needed purpose in this world! You cannot be somebody who backs down from God’s call every time you get criticized. How committed are you to your calling, friend?

The key here is “being who God created you to be,” not just living off of our own whims and fancies. And truly, we figure that out most fully through prayer. In order to feel secure in our actions — even our mistakes — we’ve got to be able to know in our souls that we’re on the right path. It takes contemplation. It takes knowing the Word. It takes a regular visit to the Sacraments. It takes the honest feedback of good friends. It takes time. But it will come. The certain knowledge that we are in the right place is incredibly empowering; not because we’re so strong and we’re so right, but because we’ll know we’re in the hands of the One Who is.

For Mikey and I, those rude messages might have had a place in our story had we gone on some crusade with Nun & Nunner and pushed so hard for it’s success, feeling and ignoring the current of God’s will pushing us backwards.

But it is precisely God and His divine plan that has pushed us up the Mountain of Faith! He has opened doors and busted through windows and torn down walls for Nun & Nunner all the while allowing us to use our gifts to bring Him glory in a way only the two of us can! Anyone that has a problem with it needs to talk to Him and we’re not the first to be misunderstood.

We have got to be able to let go of the idea that to be Christian is to be perfect or be the same. To be Christian, my friends, is to be His and we are His in so many ways. We simply need to look at the saints to see this is so! We have got to stop jumping on people and digging our claws into them when the way their faith overflows from their hearts looks different from our own! And we’ve got to be able to withstand the attack and stand in Christ when someone does it to us.

We are all trying our darndest to make this journey. And we all have a unique role to play in building the Kingdom of God! Mikey likes to say that Nun & Nunner is “the pinky toe” of the Body of Christ and I love that. Hey, somebody’s got to be! Whatever part you are, I pray that you grow to love it and feel proud of the purpose God has for you, no matter what others say!

If you have a “No-Funster” in your life, pray for them but consider breaking away from their claws so that you can cling to God and become more of who HE wants you to be. And whenever you find yourself being a “No-Funster” (because we all do at times), stop and pray to see the world, not with your own eyes, but with the loving, patient, generous eyes of Christ.