Gift Ideas for Catholic Converts & Reverts

(This post contains referral and affiliate links. I receive a small commission through my affiliate and referral links at no impact to your shopping experience. My opinions are entirely my own. You can see my full disclosure policy here.  Thanks bunches.) 

Welcome to my Gifts for Converts and Reverts Roundup!

With the Christmas season just barely peeking around the corner and the RCIA/Religious Ed. year getting into full swing, this seems like the perfect time to pull together a gift guide. When a person is new to and still unfamiliar with the Church, there are specific items and resources that would be very helpful and welcome as gifts.

Small Catholic Businesses and Artisans
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Sweet Little Ones Shop

First off, I would like to introduce you to some small Catholic businesses and artisans that create and sell Catholic gifts online.

These are wonderful places to find handmade rosaries, beautiful prints and printables, liturgical calendars, jewelry, dolls, and more. I love to support Catholic artisans and small businesses anytime I can!

Many of these fine shops can be found on Etsy.com, so I do want to pass along that Etsy participates in Ebates! Woot! If you are not familiar with Ebates, it is a free membership that offers cash back when you shop online at hundreds of major stores including Target, Amazon, eBay (!), The Catholic Company (!!), and Etsy.  There are also in-store rebates to be had.

I have been a member of Ebates for several years; I’m not much of a shopper, but even so, I’ve gotten over $150 cash back so far – and they did pay it out. I think the minimum payout threshold is $5, so they don’t sit around on your money, either.

Finally, Ebates is currently offering a $10 Welcome Bonus to all new members who make a qualifying purchase of $25 within 90 days of signing up. So, if you choose to shop on Etsy (or just about anywhere else online) this season, check out Ebates to get some cash back on your purchases, diffuse the Christmas shopping bills, and support small businesses too.

Without further ado, ready to meet some awesome artisans?

Liturgical Calendars, Prints, and Art

Rose Harrington Shop – A variety of prints, including botanical mysteries of the Rosary.2017-2018 Liturgical Calendars

Telos Art – The liturgical year is confusing when you aren’t used to it! These beautiful calendars would make amazing gifts for someone new to the Catholic Church.

Miscellaneous Handmade
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Happy Nest Home Goods

Peter’s Square – This is not an individual seller but a “community of Catholic makers.” There are currently nearly 100 different sellers on there with a dizzying array of goods. (I am especially fond of the “Heretical Nonsense” book stamp!I love that all sellers donate at least 5% of proceeds to the Church and her ministries. Grab some coffee – you might be there awhile!

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My Little Felt Friends

Hair Bows 4 Life – Beautiful handmade hair bows including bows featuring saint medals, bows for baptisms and First Communion, bows for holidays and feasts, bows honoring the Blessed Virgin, and much more. 10% of all sales are donated to the Pro-Life community.

SaongJai – Rosaries, jewelry, cards, printables, and more.

Happy Nest Home Goods – Embroidered goods, wall art, and awesome diffuser jewelry.

My Little Felt Friends – Adorable handmade saint dolls, bookmarks, headbands, keychains, Jesse Tree ornaments, Nativity scenes, DIY nativity+scenekits, and finger puppets. Custom orders welcome!

Arma Dei – “Equipping Catholic Families.” Great selection of craft kits, books, cards, all with catechetics in mind.

Kidderbug Kreations– Christmas ornaments and a wide variety of made-to-order items.

Printables

Sweet Little Ones Shop – Religious art is important and uplifting, but it can be expensive for a convert to update the artwork in their home to reflect their faith. This shop offers beautiful printable artwork, uplifting words, and quotes from saints to affordably add to the beauty of the Catholic home.

Handmade Rosaries, Jewelry, Etc.

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AveMariaFaithcrafts – Rosaries, necklaces, earrings, saint necklaces, and more.

Relics by Rose – Handmade bracelets, necklaces, rosaries, keychains.

Additional Gift Ideas

Some other good possibilities might include:

  • Books. There is so much to learn! Check out my Reading List for an exhaustive list of books for converts.
  • A wall crucifix. We were so happy to receive one from our sponsors!
  • Prayer cards. I think a little collection of prayer cards would be a thoughtful gift; converts often don’t know the classic prayers by heart.
  • Art and home decor. Like I mentioned above, sacred art is an important and uplifting thing. If a family is starting from zero religious art and decor, this can be an appreciated and lasting gift.
In Closing

I hope this little gift guide was helpful as we head toward the holidays and through the RCIA year. The final, and really best, gift suggestion I have to make is this: time. Converts can be lonely. They may have recently lost friends and been rejected by family over their conversion. They can feel confused, out of place, worried. In short, they need a friend! Go have coffee. Invite them to dinner. Say hi to their kids. These things can be a cup of cold water to someone who is walking an unfamiliar road.

Remember to sign up for Ebates before you shop to get a $10 Welcome Bonus and cash back on your shopping!

Marian Virtue Series: Constant Mental Prayer

This post is a part of a Marian Virtue Series, running every Wednesday and Friday. It will conclude on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. If you are just joining the series now and want to learn more you can start here: Introduction to Marian Virtue Series.

Previous Blog Article: Surpassing Purity at The Lemke Lodge.

Next Blog Article: Universal Mortification at Coffee and Pearls.

This post features a giveaway from Sancta Bovina. Please keep reading to find out more!

“Won’t you take me as your child of light? Break me if you must, I do not care, ’til every breath I breathe is a song of praise, every heartbeat is a prayer.” Randy Stonehill, Every Heartbeat is a Prayer.

Coram Deo. 

That was the theme for orientation week when I was a freshman at an Evangelical college, pretty much forever ago now. Someplace, maybe at my parents’ house, I still have my bright yellow name tag with that phrase splashed across it in a bold, jazzy black font. A lot has changed since I wore it; marriage, 8 children, and a faith journey I did not expect. One thing that is the same since those days, though, is my desire and struggle to live out that theme: Coram Deo.

Coram Deo means “in the presence of God.” The idea is to live before the face of God, aware of His presence and in constant fellowship with Him. This is the same foundational concept as the fifth Marian Virtue in our series: Constant Mental Prayer.

Constant Mental Prayer

Constant prayer can sound a little intimidating if you are thinking of a narrow view of prayer, of simply verbally addressing God. Once, I heard someone refer to constant mental prayer as the activity of going through your day, continually mentally reciting a prayer such as the Our Father or Hail Mary.

If that works for you, well, you do you, friend. If I didn’t die of monotony, I’m pretty sure I’d burn the pork chops, get into a car wreck, or yell at some miscreant child, “BLESSED ART THOU! I MEAN KNOCK IT OFF!!” Mom points: 0.

I don’t think that’s what is meant by constant mental prayer, thankfully.  In an interview with Zenit, Fr. Jacques Phillipe says this (emphasis mine):

It would be better to say interior prayer instead of mental prayer, because in our modern culture, the word “mental” is associated with thoughts — as something cerebral — whereas this form of prayer is more an affair of the heart, instead of reflection. St. Teresa of Avila said that it is not an act of thinking much, but of loving much.

Interior prayer is not a question of technique. It is not a process that can be controlled because it is a meeting with God, who infinitely surpasses anything we can achieve through our own efforts.

What must be essentially understood is that there is no method, but an interior attitude. For interior prayer, there are three principles: a true desire for God; the confidence that God will allow us find that which we are looking for; and finally, humility: To accept our poverty and to wait for the goodness and love of God in all things.

And, St. Therese of Lisieux says:

“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and love, embracing both trial and joy.”

And finally, Padre Pio says this:

“Prayer is the oxygen of the soul.”

Our bodies are not always consciously breathing. But we live in an oxygen-rich atmosphere, upon which we always depend. This kind of prayer is the same – we’re not always talking, not always thinking. But we should be always striving to live in an atmosphere of love, friendship, and devotion to God as we go about our other activities.

Prayer in Mary’s Life

Constant Mental Prayer is, of course, a gift of grace – something that we strive for and ask for God’s grace in our hearts, and cooperate with that grace when we find it.

Fr. Phillipe’s thoughts on mental, or interior, prayer also help me understand how Mary, a wife and mom with daily earthly responsibilities, could still possess this virtue without neglecting her family. Her moral perfection means that whatever else was going on, she was aware of and happy in God’s presence, like we might enjoy the presence of a friend or spouse even when we are consciously focused on another task. We can know for sure that the graces given to Mary filled her with those three principles of interior prayer that Fr. Phillipe mentioned: a true desire for God, confidence in God, and her profound humility.

Constant Mental Prayer for the Rest of Us

So how can we cultivate this virtue in our lives?

Practice. While the idea at hand is one of a constant state of interior prayer, that doesn’t exclude other forms of prayer. In the book Ordinary Path to Holiness, R. Thomas Richard compares stages of prayer to stages of growth and development in other areas of our life, with spoken prayers being the first stage (but a stage that we never outgrow!). A regular practice of spoken prayer is absolutely necessary to our being able to begin to live Coram Deo – before the face of God.

Accomplishing this can be really hard. We’re all busy, some more than others, and it can be really, really difficult to squeeze that time into our day. That’s legit. I’m not going to guilt trip anybody and say that you need to be devoting such-and-such an amount of time to be truly striving after this amazing virtue. That’s between you and God. Listen to the Spirit, and if that doesn’t get you where you want to be, chat with your priest. He might have some good ideas.

Time isn’t the only challenge to pursuing prayer. Unconfessed sin, dryness, laziness, and even heartbreak can cause us to shrink back from trying to connect with God. We all have these problems, but don’t live there. That’s like trying to save yourself from strangling by holding your breath.

One way in which I try to pursue this virtue is to try to say a Morning Offering first thing when I get up, devoting everything that happens that day to God and offering it up to Him.  This frames my whole day, and helps me remember what it’s really all about. (Psst – I offer a free printable of a Morning Offering prayer as a free gift when you join my email list! 🙂 )

Mary, Untier of Knots, pray for us!

One lucky reader will win a Love like Mary coffee mug from Sancta Bovina. The mug will be a great reminder to love like our blessed mother. 

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Congratulations to Chastity F! Thank you for reading and entering the giveaway! Don’t forget to check out the rest of the posts in this series!

Sancta Bovina or “Holy Cow” in Latin sells modern Catholic gifts. Because it’s okay to have fun while striving for the good, the true, & the beautiful.

Please support this amazing Catholic artist (and convert!), and continue to join us in this Marian Virtue Series.  

Vanity, Faith, and Hard Times: Believing in God’s Love When Everything Goes Wrong

“Eight kids!? Wow, that’s great. As long as you can support them, that’s great.”

Preparing for my daughter to be released from the hospital after a long and exhausting week, I was chatting with one of the nurses. Making conversation, she had asked me how many kids we had.

I might not have really noticed her reply, other than that it was said (all unknowing) shortly after my husband had lost his job, and therefore hit me like a punch to the gut. We were in a terrifying place of uncertainty and insecurity at that time.

Let me just toss out there that no one knows, when they have a baby or two, what the next 20 years will bring. No one knows if the economy will crash, wipe out savings, and gut the field where the breadwinner is competitive. No one knows if a job will be lost and hard to replace, or a disability or injury will run up medical bills and limit employability, or a spouse will die, or a child will have special needs that preclude that second job and rack up bills.

No one knows if a shift in the political landscape will send your insurance premiums through the roof, or eject you from your policy altogether. No one knows if, after you lose your insurance, somebody will get cancer.

No one knows. So we try to prepare, as best we can, for all of them. And some of us win. Our preparations are on point, and we get lucky and evade the disaster we couldn’t have withstood.

And, some of us lose. Some plan for all the wrong contingencies, and get slammed by the crisis no one saw coming.

Then, if we “did it right” and remained self-sufficient through our kids’ childhoods (or maybe never had any kids for fear of not being able to support them), we can have a lot of pride and self-righteousness wrapped up in our “success,” as though it came from us, and not from Providence.

And for someone with kids and financial problems, there can be a lot of shame – but, paradoxically,  that shame can really be another form of pride. Our vanity is stung by our condition, and we can respond in two ways.

  1. Our problems might be “ALL our fault.” We can review every choice we ever made in the harsh light of hindsight, and become bitter against ourselves and those who counseled us.
  2. Or, we make excuses. We take our mistakes and missteps, and pretend that NONE of them were our fault, and that none of them could have possibly caused our problems.

I believe both of these responses are caused by vanity. If we allow ourselves too much pride when we land that job or promotion, buy the house or car, pay the bills and the debts, even give generously to charity, if we believe that we really did cause these things ourselves (rather than realizing that God blessed our labors, and that we may have had advantages that we didn’t earn), then conversely when we lose them, or can’t achieve them, we’ll feel the sting of shame and anger. Our wounded pride will turn on us like a treacherous friend.

And if we hit on hard times and focus too much on our shame and loss, then we are still viewing the situation through the self-centered eyes of vanity.

We might feel like we’re being humble by focusing on our humiliating circumstances, but it’s a trap, friends. Pride is sneaky like that. When we do this, we’ve made our world about us, about our own dreams or about how others view us, not about fulfilling God’s dream for us. In her excellent post on the profound humility of Mary, Chloe at Old Fashioned Girl says this:

“We often think that humility is about thinking less of ourselves, or thinking that we are not worthy. But the reality is that humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less.”

The only escape from this net of pride and vanity is through grace. The grace to embrace a holy resignation to the will of God, and to trust that things are as they should be, though we feel that our very soul may bleed out from the pain, fear, and disappointment we face. The grace to know that when a well-meaning stranger says that kids are great if you can support them, that the reality is that sometimes you might have to get help, and kids are still great anyway. The grace to know that “success” in the eyes of God has nothing to do with your credit score, whether you are debt-free, or your level of financial independence (which is largely imaginary, anyway. All of us are highly dependent to one degree or another on the social network in which we live).

Shame isn’t always a bad thing, of course. Shame as part of repentance for sin is completely appropriate. But even then, as Fr. Mike Schmitz mentions in his video on learning from the past that I put up on Facebook the other day, dwelling on these things too much and refusing to move on after we repent can also be a form of self-centeredness.  As St. Teresa of Calcutta said:

“Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in His love than in your own weakness.” 

Catholic Piety for Protestants No. 2: The Peace Prayer of St. Francis

(This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission from purchases made through affiliate links. My opinions are entirely my own. You can see my full disclosure policy here.  Thanks bunches.)

Welcome to the second post of my series on Catholic piety for Protestants and converts; in this series I am delving into some of the classic prayers of the Church. Catholic piety is not typically well understood in Protestant circles, and as a convert I found this to be an area that was both fascinating and also deeply important to my changing perceptions of the Church.

If you missed the first post in the series, check it out here.

The Peace Prayer of St. Francis
The Prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
 
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

Impact:

My conversion happened at a crisis point in our lives. As I mentioned in my Reflection after the Easter Vigil, I was feeling pretty crushed by life when I first darkened the door of the Church. This prayer spoke to my soul, that in crisis, in rejection, in sadness, loss, and even despair, with Jesus in me, I could sow joy. I did not have to be a victim of my circumstances, always reacting, always on the defensive, but I could forget myself and serve others, even coming from a place of great lack in terms of both material goods and also emotional stamina.

In conflict with our previous church leaders, I could sow peace and pardon. In a place of despair regarding our financial future, I could lean on a strength not my own and sow hope to others.

In a place in my life where I deeply felt need of consolation and understanding, I could find purpose in offering these things to others, and forget my own craving for the comforting of my wounds. Jesus was strong enough to do these things in me, without my needing to be strong enough first.

None of these ideas were really new to me, as a believer from a Protestant background. The impact on me of many things I found in the Church didn’t always come from a place of striking difference from Protestant piety, but by an unexpected similarity met by a difference in tone and fueled by the hidden power of the Eucharist. Truths that I knew in my head and strove for in my soul sprang to life before the living reality I encountered each Sunday at the Mass.

The Facts:

Welp, friends, the first thing you find out when looking into the history of this prayer is that it didn’t actually come from St. Francis

Am I the only one that didn’t know this?

The prayer originated in France in the early 1900’s, published anonymously in a little spiritual magazine entitled La Clochette.  It became associated with St. Francis by virtue of having been published on the back of a holy card bearing St. Francis’s image, but without being attributed to him. (Dr. Christian Renoux, Franciscan Archive, 8/22/2017, 10:30 am).

The association with St. Francis makes a lot of sense, regardless of authorship; the spirit of the prayer is very much in accord with the life and spirituality of St. Francis. In the words of Jack Wintz, OFM: “Francis of Assisi may not have written the words of the prayer attributed to him, but he certainly lived them.”

Further Resources:

In closing, a musical rendition of the Peace Prayer, by John Michael Talbot. I love prayers set to good music!

A Desert of Busyness

Life gets complicated, sometimes.

First off, we did move again, so here we are in a new state. We actually left North Carolina on the very day that we traveled there last year, in an odd, unplanned coincidence. Now, we’re in the middle of all the unpacking, the tortuous paperwork, and errands involved with relocating the entire existence of ten people. Again. And I’m learning to navigate a new city. Again.

I’ve mentioned before (more than once!) that we are in the middle of a lot of transition. A major faith change from Protestant to Catholic, two cross-country moves in a year, a new job landed and lost, multiple child health issues, a new high school graduate, a house bought and now on the market out of state, and looming financial issues as a stopgap job cuts our already-tight budget in half. My two oldest are learning to drive, too. (Gulp.)

If that weren’t enough upheaval, we might not be homeschooling all the kids this year, for the first time ever. We have gradually felt more and more overwhelmed with the homeschooling, what with all the other craziness, and we’re feeling like perhaps a different path would be better for our family at this tumultuous point in our lives. And so, in a last-minute scramble, we are trying to get our 4 elementary aged kiddos into the local Catholic school, in a town we just moved to a week and a half ago. School starts next week, and they probably don’t have spots for all of them, but it’s likely that at least the younger ones will get in, and Rebecca may homeschool a while longer and enter whenever a spot opens up for her. I’m more than a little nervous, though, about how this new schedule may bring even more upheaval and busyness to our lives as we adjust. Will it be harder or easier? I don’t even know. I just think it’s the road we’re being led to.

So I have kind of found myself longing for just a little blank space in my life. My days are packed full, every minute, every day. But, as I went to bed the other night lamenting to myself about my lack of down time, rest, vacation, about my breakneck firehose life that won’t seem to let up for the last few years, I thought of the Israelites complaining in the desert.

In the desert, God was leading Israel from enslavement to the Promised Land. In between lay the desert, with all its uncertainty, privation, and discomfort. The Israelites did what we all do in such a place, of course – complain. Rebel, even. They were probably really tired and no little afraid. But God wasn’t honored in their complaints, let alone their rebellion.

This long season of nonstop busyness is, for me, a kind of desert – and not the one I’m still homesick for back in Utah, either. I don’t thrive on this kind of thing – I like to smell the roses, rock my babies, and drink tea.  I like to change the diapers, do the laundry, cook tasty things, and mind my own business. I tear up a little, actually, thinking of years past when that is exactly what I did with many of my days. Those quiet days seem so long ago. Simplicity, hygge…these are the things I thrive on.

But, I have to be present where I am. God has put me in this season, this wasteland of an over-crammed schedule and endless crisis management. I can’t change this busyness, right now; all these things I’m doing have to happen, and they have to happen now. They can’t be responsibly set aside. In this my desert, I can only be faithful each day, fulfilling the responsibilities and needs before me, keeping Jesus at the center, attending to my own care as best I can, and trusting God that His manna is on its way, and that he will make a road for our sojourn here.

How about you, reader-friends? If you are in your own desert journey, leave a comment and let me know how I can pray for you. 

 

 

 

 

 

Catholic Piety for Protestants Series Part 1: The Anima Christi

(This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission from purchases made through affiliate links. My opinions are entirely my own. You can see my full disclosure policy here.  Thanks bunches.)

If I had to choose the single most striking thing about our transition from conservative Presbyterianism to the Catholic Church, it’d be a tough call. There are quite a number of things I have changed my mind about, and it all adds up to a different, better religious life than what I had before.

But the thing the had the biggest personal impact on me is probably not what I would have expected. Changing my mind about Sola Scriptura, Mary and the saints, the Pope, images…these are not small issues. But the thing I least expected is far more subtle, and yet had an enormous impact on my conversion. What is this mighty thing?

Catholic piety.

Protestants have a lot of different perspectives on Catholics, and so if I seem to paint with a broad brush, forgive me. I speak from what I know and where I was. And where I was, I didn’t understand Catholic piety and spirituality at all, or even really believe it existed. I looked at the Church and her strange (to me) ways, and saw scary, creepy heresy. I saw layers of medieval superstition, instead of the clean, spare brightness of the Reformed tradition. I saw people enslaved to the outer trappings of an empty tradition.

In other words, I saw a fantasy concocted in my own mind and imbibed from the world in which I moved.

As I mentioned in my Reflection after the Easter Vigil, a memory that had a huge impact on me was that of hearing a gentleman behind me at Mass in our early days of visiting; he was participating in the prayers, and his voice overflowed with genuine faith. That moment has since struck me as a turning point in my attitude toward the Church and toward Catholics. It was the moment when I really internalized the fact that I had been dead wrong about the question of whether Catholics possessed a living faith in Jesus.


Tweet: I had been dead wrong about the question of whether Catholics possessed a living faith in Jesus.


There was so much more to the journey, and so many questions that had to be explored. This could never have been “The Reason” I converted, but that experience has become symbolic to me as that time I recognized the presence of my Lord, and could never look back.

So, I want to start a series on Catholic prayers and piety; a basic rundown of some of the classic Catholic prayers and how they reveal the heart of the Catholic Church. These prayers are a wealth of spiritual truths, and I think I am not the first nor the last Protestant to be surprised at the depths of love and faith that the Church has to share with the world.

First up:

The Anima Christi
The Prayer:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Separated from Thee let me never be 
From the malicious enemy defend me 
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That I may praise Thee with Thy saints 
Forever and ever
Amen
Impact:

Praying and reflecting on these ancient words pulls the mind and heart to Christ. To someone who didn’t understand that the Catholic Church is all about Jesus, listening to the entirety of a large parish recite such a Christ-centered prayer with feeling was an experience that contributed to my changing perceptions of Catholics. 

The Facts:
  • Also known as The Aspirations of St. Ignatius Loyola.
  • Dates from the early 14th century
  • Often mistakenly ascribed to St. Ignatius Loyola, but predates him. St. Ignatius often references the prayer in his Spiritual Exercises
  • Often used as a communion hymn or prayer – sometimes in responsorial fashion

(Source: New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia)

Further Resources:

In closing, I’d like to share with you a beautiful rendition of the Anima Christi by John Michael Talbot (whose music is very worth exploring). I was familiar with John Michael Talbot before I knew much of anything about Catholicism, so I knew this song long before I knew where it came from.

I plan to make this an ongoing series. Do you have a favorite prayer that you’d like me to write about? Comment and let me know!

 

Catholic Piety for Protestants Series Vol. 2: The Peace Prayer of St. Francis

Linked up at: www.theologyisaverb.com and www.reconciledtoyou.com/blog.html

Math U See vs. Ray’s Arithmetic – A Review

(This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission from purchases made through affiliate links. My opinions are entirely my own. You can see my full disclosure policy here.  Thanks bunches.)

Our family has been homeschooling for 13 years now; we even have a brand-new graduate on our hands. Crazy, huh? Complete madness, really.

I’d be lying if I said it’s always been easy. Math has been my Achille’s heel for my entire life, and homeschooling has been no different. It’s been essential for me to find resources that circumvent my un-mathiness to provide an excellent education to my kids. I’ve used four different math curricula over the years, from K-12, with varying results – Ray’s Arithmetic and Math U See for the elementary years.  We did Ray’s for about three years, and then changed to Math U See. It’s been nine years since we made that switch and we’re still using it. Here’s my take on both:

Ray’s Arithmetic

In the beginning, way, way back when my new grad was just a little thing and the unwitting guinea pig to her inexperienced parents, we used Ray’s Arithmetic. I don’t really recommend this curriculum unless both teacher and child are very mathematically minded. It looks fine in the beginning, but I was lost by second grade. (Lest you think that’s me and not Ray’s, I may not be a math gal but I DID get a B in high school Calculus, to the wonder of all. So I’m not completely hopeless). I’ve heard that some math naturals love it, and I’ve seen other families get good results, but if you’d rather parse verbs than untangle equations…maybe move on. There are also some newer helps out that I didn’t have, so definitely check those out if you try this one.

When I finally realized that Ray’s wasn’t working for us, we’d been slogging through it far too long. Homeschool pro tip: if it isn’t working, change it. Don’t pussyfoot around. Identify the problem and change things up to address it.  These dang kids grow up way too fast. (Um, but don’t panic either. Be chill. Enjoy the ride and all that. Just don’t torture yourself for years with a curriculum that doesn’t fit you or your kid, that’s all).

Anyway. Sorry. Having my first grad is something of an existential mom crisis. Bear with me. Thank you. If you still want to consider Ray’s after my less-than-shining review, here’s some pros and cons:

Pros of Ray’s Arithmetic:
  • Classic. This is the classic arithmetic from the American schools of the late 1800’s, around the same time as McGuffey Readers. It’s a reprint and essentially unchanged from the original.
  • Progresses through the three developmental stages of math: Manipulative, Mental, and Abstract. This is a classical approach, which I’m all about.
  • Inexpensive. You can pick up the first book on Amazon for $8.99 new, or cheaper used. You can also find the lessons free, along with free video instruction, at this Ray’s Arithmetic website.
  • New teaching aids. This might be a game-changer on these. There are more resources available for teachers and parents using these books now than when I used them. In 2012, Cathy Duffy put out a Parent-Teacher Guide for Ray’s Arithmetics, which has good reviews and would certainly be a help in navigating the material. I haven’t personally seen it, though.
Cons of Ray’s Arithmetic:
  • Material is presented differently than most of us grew up with, presenting a learning curve for the parent/teacher. I don’t have a lot of time for teacher learning curves, these days.
  • I had no teaching aids when I tried this; it was 2008, I think when we hung up our Ray’s. I strongly recommend checking into the Parent-Teacher Guide to get the most out of it. The book itself is just the student text, no helps. In its time it was used in the classroom by teachers who were trained to use it, but I’m no Laura Ingalls.
  • The way story problems are used.The way the problems were presented ended up being a roadblock. The curriculum is touted as making kids good at story problems, but Erin, my grad, was the kid who used the most Ray’s and to this day she hates story problems with a fiery passion.
  • No key for Primary Arithmetic, which covers the first couple of years. I may be able to solve a pageful of second-grade math problems, but I do have other things to do. Even with a calculator, it’s tedious and time-consuming.

Next up after we freed ourselves from Ray’s: Math U See.

Math U See

Math U See is pretty sweet. We’ve been using it for elementary math for 9ish years now, and I have never regretted the change. The curriculum makes use of a set of base-10 manipulative blocks which are used to teach basic arithmetic all the way up through fractions and introductory algebra. Fraction and algebra lessons use additional overlays with the blocks.

We have used the Primer Lever up through Epsilon (fractions) so far, and have been delighted with the results. Like absolutely any other curriculum out there, though, it’s not for everyone. Here are the main pros and cons:

Pros:
    • Video Instruction. I’m no math teacher, friends, but Steve Demme absolutely is, and I get to pop him in the DVD player at will. Ideally, the parent and student watch the DVD lesson together and work through some practice problems before the student settles in to work on her assignment solo. (Less ideally, the parent can slap on a new (or review) lesson while she goes to help another kid with another lesson, change a diaper, stop the chicken broth from boiling over, and change the laundry. This method takes a little longer to make progress, but we get there in the end, and I have a grad to prove it.)
    • Teacher manuals. This is important for me. Have a mentioned I’m not a math teacher!?
    • Built-in hands on. Beyond the manipulatives, lessons will also take you to the kitchen or other parts of the house to study measurements, etc., hands-on.
    • Integrated Manipulatives. The lessons integrate the manipulative blocks right in. You don’t have to try to figure out how to do that yourself, it’s just part of the lesson and the practice pages, which works very well.
    • Good for different learning styles. So far, I have used Math U See with 5 kids. We have: the practical non-academic who hates math, the super-studious kid who loves math, the verbal dancer/artist who really hates math, a budding engineer who doesn’t care about school much but breezes through his math, and the seven year old who begs for school and seems to know most of his math already, somehow. They have all done well on Math U See, through calm and stormy periods in our family life. Each student can go at their own pace; in some chapters, we use all the worksheets, and some we don’t. It’s simple to go to mastery and then just move on without excessive, repetitive work. (Now and then for a tough lesson I might print up some practice sheets from the website. They’re keyed to the lesson numbers, and access is free.)
  • Systematic and Cumulative – each level primarily covers one topic, so you will be covering adding one year, subtracting the next, then multiplication, then division, then fractions, etc. Every lesson includes review and practice sections to keep everything fresh.
  • Reusable – mostly. The manipulative kit is an up-front investment, but it is used with every level. I figure that since I use 7 or 8 levels per child, for 8 children, it comes out to about $1 per year per kid if I use the used-on-Amazon price for the starter kit, or $1.50 per year per kid if I got the bigger, newer set from MathUSee.com. (If I had used it from the beginning for my oldest ones, anyway. Also, the lesson DVDs and Teacher Manuals are a one-time purchase that can be used over and over, year after year, and also have a respectable resale value if you are so inclined. Any homeschooling parent of more than one kid knows that reusable curriculum is the key to keeping expenses down. Which leads me to my first con…
Cons:
  • Consumable Workbooks. Yeah, this is a real downer. I’d love to see them switch away from this model, to a completely reusable format. I used to have the kids copy their answers into a notebook so I could reuse the workbooks, but then I found out this is illegal. I was crushed to learn this, so I hope I’m not ruining anyone’s day, but yes, it really is. So I stopped. There’s no way around this problem unless you use a curriculum that doesn’t require a workbook, like maybe Saxon, which some love and some hate. Any Saxon-lovers (or -haters), drop a comment and let me know your experience! So, yes, every year we buy new workbooks, and sometimes the test book too. Since I don’t test on every single chapter, the test booklet lasts me a few years.
  • Hard to bargain shop. I am a relentless bargain hunter by both nature and necessity. Amazon has good prices and middling selection; Math U See has everything, of course, but prices are higher and shipping prices are not cheap. Sometimes you can really score on Ebay, but you have to plan ahead and not be shopping for curriculum three days before your school year starts. Ahem.

There you have it! Our experiences with Ray’s Arithmetic and Math U See. Have you used either or both? What did you think?

Grace, Works, and a Catholic Convert

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I used to think Catholics taught salvation by works, not grace. After all, they do teach that works are necessary for salvation, and that’s pretty much the same thing.

Right?

Well, no. I’ve mentioned before that as a new convert to the Catholic Church, I was continually surprised by the faith and piety that I encountered. I still notice, with joy and wonder, every time I go to a different parish and it, too, is jam-packed with people who obviously take their faith very seriously.

The same thing happened every time I dug into Catholic theology, including on the topics of grace, faith, works, and justification. I expected to find terrible, man-centered heresy. Instead, I found truth, and beauty.

So, I had some things wrong about grace, works, and merit before I converted.

~1~

“Catholics think they are saved by religion, not by Jesus.”

This is a common charge, and I would have said something like that, back in the day. I love this quote from Archbishop Fulton Sheen:

“Christianity is not a system of ethics, it is a life. It is not good advice, it is divine adoption. Being a Christian does not consist in just being kind to the poor, going to church, singing hymns, or serving on parish committees, though it includes all of these. It is first and foremost a love relationship with Jesus Christ.”

A lot of Protestants, my former self included, would be confused at best to hear these words coming from a highly respected Catholic. A love relationship with Jesus Christ”? Sounds like something straight out of a Bible church to me!

~2~

“Catholics think they are saved by their merit, not grace.”

The Catholic doctrines of merit sound like a foreign language to Protestants. Words and phrases like “merit,” the “treasury of merit,” or “indulgences” communicate to Protestants concepts that Catholics do not intend or believe. The main thing to bear in mind is that “merit,” when speaking of the merits of the saints, or our merits before God, doesn’t refer to anything that comes from us. Consider this quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, found online here:

“The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace.” – Catechism, Article 2, Section 1

Or this quote from St. Therese of Liseaux:

“After earth’s exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone. . . . In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself.” – St. Thérèse of Lisieux, “Act of Offering” in Story of a Soul, tr. John Clarke (Washington DC: ICS, 1981), 277

For a more in-depth treatment, try this post from Called to Communion.

~3~

“Catholics think they are saved by faith + works, not faith alone.” There’s no room for grace.

You know, I remember from many conversations among Reformed friends about justification the favorite saying that “we are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.” I thought that the Catholic view that works, sanctification, etc., are all a part of justification was a corruption of the Gospel, detracting from the work of Christ on the cross.

Not so. Take this quote from Catholic Answers:

“The Church teaches that it’s God’s grace from beginning to end which justifies, sanctifies, and saves us. As Paul explains in Philippians 2:13, ‘God is the one, who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.’

Notice that Paul’s words presuppose that the faithful Christian is not just desiring to be righteous, but is actively working toward it. This is the second half of the justification equation, and Protestants either miss or ignore it.”

Or these quotes from Saint Augustine, widely loved and respected by Protestants:

“What merits of his own has the saved to boast of when, if he were dealt with according to his merits, he would be nothing if not damned? Have the just then no merits at all? Of course they do, for they are the just. But they had no merits by which they were made just” (Letters 194:3:6 [A.D. 412]).

“What merit, then, does a man have before grace, by which he might receive grace, when our every good merit is produced in us only by grace and when God, crowning our merits, crowns nothing else but his own gifts to us?” (Letters 194:5:19).

If you want to dig into this a little more, this article from Catholic Answers (quoted above) is very thorough and included a helpful compilation of quotes from the Church Fathers. Also, Jimmy Akin has a characteristically super-thorough post on Justification by Faith Alone.

~4~

The Canons Council of Orange (529 A.D.) – the Council all Calvinists should read

I’m going to get really specific here for a minute. I was a Reformed Calvinist Protestant. Anyone who is, was, or knows a Calvinist needs to read and share the Canons of the Council of Orange. (You can find it online here.) It really tears down the idea that Catholics believe that they contribute anything to their salvation that does not come from God in the first place. In trying to select some quotes, I got frustrated, because I really want to share the whole thing with you! But here is a sample:

“That a man can do no good without God. God does much that is good in a man that the man does not do; but a man does nothing good for which God is not responsible, so as to let him do it.” Canon 20

And,

“Concerning those things that belong to man. No man has anything of his own but untruth and sin. But if a man has any truth or righteousness, it is from that fountain for which we must thirst in this desert, so that we may be refreshed from it as by drops of water and not faint on the way.” Canon 22

And,

“Concerning the will of God and of man. Men do their own will and not the will of God when they do what displeases him; but when they follow their own will and comply with the will of God, however willingly they do so, yet it is his will by which what they will is both prepared and instructed.” Canon 23

While I’m getting a little more technical than usual, some say that the Council of Trent (online here) contradicts the Council of Orange. Bryan Cross wrote a good post on that a while ago, found here.

Conclusion

So, when I was investigating the Catholic Church, I found out that my preconceptions and assumptions about the Church’s teaching on grace and works were plain wrong.  You can go as deep as you want on this topic (see some recommended reading below), but Archbishop Sheen summed up the simple truth perfectly in the quote from above:

“Christianity is not a system of ethics, it is a life. It is not good advice, it is divine adoption…It is first and foremost a love relationship with Jesus Christ.”

For Further Study

What is the Catholic Doctrine of Salvation – The Christian Freethinker

The Drama of Salvation – Jimmy Akin

Justification by Faith – Peter Kreeft

Moment by Moment: the secret of happiness for moms (and everybody else)

(This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission from purchases made through affiliate links. My opinions are entirely my own. You can see my full disclosure policy here.  Thanks bunches.)

“The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for all that He, in His goodness, sends to us day after day.” ~ St. Gianna

So the last few years, my life has felt like one long stroll in front of a firehose. Can you relate? I don’t need to rehash all the things that have happened – some wonderful, some hard, some heartbreaking. Some I have written about, and some are just too personal to share with you all. We all have those times, and even in the times when life is on the calm side, kids get crazy. Like all day, every day crazy!

In the middle of it all, moms have to ride the crazy and be a mother to each of her kids. Every one of them is a blessing and a gift, and each one needs and deserves a mother who is present to them, now, even especially when life Just. Won’t. Stop.

How do we weather these days with grace? I’m not getting any younger, and neither are my kids. I refuse to lose these years to the crazy. My baby boy will only be two once; he can’t wait for when my life stops falling apart and we get all the pieces picked up.

I believe the answer lies in St. Gianna’s quote, above. I need to be present. I need to remain IN the present moment, not aching for the past or being crushed by fear of the future. Each day, each minute, each child, each and every glass of water and skinned knee and sibling squabble and knotted shoelace matters. It deserves my attention. It’s important. More important, even, than my big grown-up problems that never seem to go away.

I’ve also found that remaining firmly in the present moment is the best way to respond gently (or at least appropriately) to the endless stream of needs that a pack of kids will bring. The child standing in front of me has a need. I might feel impatient, because I have been responding to a lot of needs, all day long (and none of them mine). It can seem like somebody is always skinning their knee around here (but mostly it’s just Emily, over and over and over again. That poor kid is, um, accident-prone, shall we say??). But, assuming that the need is legitimate, the ones that came before don’t really matter, nor do the ones that will come after. The need in front of me is what matters.

It doesn’t matter if it’s the fifth band-aid I have doled out that morning; the bumps and bruises of childhood hurt just as much the fifth time as they did the first, and deserve as much mercy every time. (Even for the really clumsy accident-prone 4-year-old.)

It doesn’t matter to my 2-year-old that I have heard all his stories before, from siblings who told me the same ones years before he was born. He needs me to hear him, to delight in him, today.

It doesn’t matter how many glasses of water I have handed out. The kid is still thirsty, and deserves not only a glass of water, but a dose of love and cheerfulness to go with it.

I daresay that if we could apply this principle to how we think about not just our own children and routine chores, but also to how we think of those in need around us, it might revolutionize our attitude.  It’s great if we fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and buried the dead yesterday. The dead may be satisfied, but I guarantee the hungry will get hungry again. Every day, just like the rest of us. One more reason I am delighted to be a part of the Catholic Church is that I get to be a part of the largest humanitarian organization in the world! One person can’t do everything (even us moms, guys. Seriously). But being part of a network where we all pitch in to see to the needs of those around us day in and day out is a privilege.

So, whether life is sailing along or falling to pieces, I’m certain that St. Gianna is right. Each moment of our lives, good or bad, has value, and has a purpose. A life lived well is really only a collection of moments used well, or moments used badly, but learned from and forgiven.


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I love this quote from Archbishop Fulton Sheen:

“The second remedy for the ills that come to us from thinking about time is what might be called the sanctification of the moment — or the Now. Our Lord laid down the rule for us in these words: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Mt 6:34). This means that each day has its own trials; we are not to borrow troubles from tomorrow, because that day too will have its cross. We are to leave the past to divine mercy and to trust the future, whatever its trials, to God’s loving providence. Each minute of life has its peculiar duty — regardless of the appearance that minute may take. The Now-moment is the moment of salvation. Each complaint against it is a defeat; each act of resignation to it is a victory.” (From From the Angel’s Blackboard, as quoted in a wonderful reflection on this subject by Fr. Andrew Apostoli. Emphasis mine.)

None of this is to say that we should enjoy every moment; it not a mom guilt thing. Please no! There are so many tough moments in our lives. We just don’t need to make them harder than they are by dwelling on the ones that came before, or the ones sure to come after. Sure, there will be muddy floors, broken dishes and broken hearts in the days to come. Of course there will. And of course, we carry the scars of our past. We just don’t have to live there.

Today’s trouble is enough for today. I have that on good authority.

Linked up at  www.theologyisaverb.com and www.reconciledtoyou.com/blog.html.

 

How I’m staying sane while my world has gone mad

(This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission from purchases made through affiliate links. My opinions are entirely my own. You can see my full disclosure policy here.  Thanks bunches.)

So while things haven’t really gone swimmingly for us this year, at least they have finally calmed down a little. It’s really only the eye of the storm; we are tackling another interstate move in only 6 weeks, and Mark is still searching and searching for work. I so appreciate the suggestions from you all; we’ve decided to head for Missouri to be near family again.

So the crazy marches on. But for right now, our house is listed, and my sick kiddo is still getting better and has far fewer hospital visits and less gear to contend with. I can almost pretend life is normal.

In the lull, I’m trying to recover my sanity, while I also pack and keep my house absurdly clean in case we get a showing. Have I mentioned that we have 8 kids, a large hairy white dog, two cats, a rabbit, and a parakeet? So while I’m in the kitchen trying to make it look like no one has ever eaten anything in this home:

  • my 9 year old is in the living room accidentally spraying the walls with milk (I’m not kidding, that happened tonight)
  • my 2 year old is in the bathroom giggling while he pours soapy water on the floor
  • the dog wanders across the newly swept floor, casually shakes, and instantly sheds her entire winter coat
  • my 7 year old is knocking over another glass of milk in the dining room.
  • and what is the 4 year old is up to? Don’t ask.

Wait, we were talking about sanity. How I’m staying sane. Sorry, I got sidetracked. (Am I staying sane? Let’s just assume, for now. K? Good.)

I’m sleeping with my Rosary

Between some insomnia, and overwhelming busyness cutting into my prayer time, when I stumbled across this quote from St. Bernadette, it struck me as the perfect solution: “In the evening, when you go to sleep, hold your beads, doze off reciting them. Do like those babies who go to sleep mumbling, ‘Mamma! Mamma!'”

This is a practice that I don’t do all the time, but when I am very, very stressed out, I do find it a viable and very helpful way to keep up with prayer time.

I’m learning French.

My daughter introduced me to Duolingo, a charming little free app that lets you learn a foreign language in teeny little bits. I have my goal set to 5 minutes a day, and I’m still blazing through the surprising amount I remember from high school. I have always adored language learning and especially French, and just the little bit of something different that I love helps me feel more like me and less like a human fire extinguisher.

I’m focusing on my health. 

Months of high-stress crisis living have taken their toll on me, not to mention certain middle-agey things that seem to be happening. Did you ever wonder why women gain weight after 40? Now I think I know. It’s because it becomes physically impossible not to eat the entire jar of Nutella. Not that I’m 40 yet, but it’s staring me down, friends.

So, I’m fighting it by running again, and picking up my kettlebell more often, and trying to (mostly) eat like a normal person. This is hard, but I’m a zillion times happier on the days when I’ve done it.

I’m blogging.

This not only takes my mind off things and helps me to connect with others (which is of great value in itself), but I am also working on building this little blog into a business that can contribute to our family income. I’ve spent a lot of time and effort lately on education for myself in the areas of blogging and working from home. It’s been slow going with all the nuttiness happening, but I’m still making progress, and I love that I can set it aside when I have to deal with life.

So, with this little project well underway, I have found a lovely resource to share with you all: The Ultimate Work at Home Bundle. I was thrilled when I saw this recommended by bloggers who have been in the trenches for a good long while and who have built a solid business out of it.

I have not spent a lot of money on my business, but most of what I have spent is on educational resources.  I’m excited to dig into this bundle, which includes 30 eBooks, 14 full eCourses, 4 printables, and 1 audiobook, and comes highly recommended by longtime, successful work-at-home moms. (I’m especially delighted to see two ebooks from Jeff Goins, whose blog has been helpful to me.) It’s a complete library compiled to help you:

  • Identify your marketable skills
  • Juggle your responsibilities and find work + life balance
  • Manage your time efficiently
  • Avoid the most common pitfalls of the work-at-home lifestyle
  • Understand the legal and financial implications of your business (this is the one I need the most help with!)
  • Discover how to get into the business that most appeals to you, whether it’s a wholesale product, service-based, handmade, transcription, becoming a VA, or any other number of opportunities

It also comes with over $500 worth of bonus offers; the package includes 50 digital products and it’s worth over $2,300.

By offering the bundle for a short time only, the team at Ultimate Bundles is able to give us access to over $2,300 worth of amazing products for a whopping 98% off! It’s on sale for 6 days (including today, which is pretty much over, so we’re down to 5 days now). Consider this your heads up if working from home is something you aspire to, or already do! 🙂

The sale ends June 12th, and they do mean it. I missed out on a homemaking bundle a while back because I kind of assumed they’d extend the deadline and maybe knock the price down even more…but this one doesn’t work that way. When the clock runs out, the sale is done.

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(Disclosure: I’m an affiliate of Ultimate Bundles; sales made through my links help pay for another stinking moving truck – at no additional cost to you.)

What are your favorite self-care tips when life gets…lifey? Do share!

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