Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Letting Him Call, Having Them Answer (on respecting and encouraging their vocations)


Ever since I can remember I've been somewhat uncomfortable with the oft touted idea of encouraging or promoting vocations in the Church.  At least, I am in the way it seems to be meant.  The phrase is so often used and for me, I find it a bit…forced.  Perhaps part of it is the confusing language of it all.  We talk simultaneously of vocation as something that every person has to discover in their journey to heaven (and that, of course, should be encouraged) but when it is used practically, so many times it is only used to specifically speak of a higher calling to the priesthood or religious life.  

Everyone has a vocation, a calling from God.
God's well taken care of that.

The Church Herself is very clear that the vocation of a person refers to the calling that each and every person has from God.  And if a vocation is what we claim it is in a general sense, a calling by God for each particular person to pursue holiness via a particular way of life, then I'm not sure we need to be encouraging God to call people to specific vocations.  I assume He already is, you know?  I don't think He's forgotten about the need for priests and religious and faithful Marriages.  He's calling.  My job as a mother is to do everything and anything I can to help them develop a heart that listens and desires to follow that invitation.

The Catechism speaks clearly to this:
2253    Parents should respect and encourage their children’s vocations. They should remember and teach that the first calling of the Christian is to follow Jesus.

I love how that is phrased.  To respect and encourage.  Respecting implies that it is not up to us to decide or persuade one way or the other.  And we are to encourage but the wording makes it clear that to encourage means that we actively and sincerely desire for our children to follow what the Lord is inviting them to - whatever and wherever that may be.  It is THEIR vocation.  And discerning that vocation is only done through FIRST becoming a disciple of Christ.  The phrasing is so beautifully worded to detach us parents from our will and allow the Lord to work how He wants in the life of each of our children.  They are His first.

Whew.
That kind of takes a huge burden off of the whole vocation thing a bit, doesn't it?  I mean in a certain sense.  He's the one calling, not us.  It's not really about us at all.  Our job is to bring them to Him and our one sincere desire should be that our children follow Him.  That's it.  Whatever, wherever that may be.  Our primary job is to invite them into relationship with Jesus and help them learn to hear His voice.  He'll take care of the rest.

So how do we bring our children into that relationship and prepare them for whatever God may be calling them to?  
Well, we're certainly no experts in all of this but we feel led to do it in several ways:

Careful Conversation and No Pressure
In discussions with our children, we are very very careful to qualify our statements about vocation and not 'favor' one or the other.  Perhaps a big part of my trepidation with vocation talk and children is my own experience growing up. It wasn't anyone's fault, of course, but for years all the talk of the "vocation crisis" within the Church and the push, push, push for more priests and religious really began to turn into an interior pressure I felt strongly.  The pressure was turned up through well-intentioned questions and conversations and I began to feel I owed it to God and the Church to enter religious life  (and I know I am not alone in this).  It became a battle in my heart and I began to view the vocation of Marriage as a sort of "failure" or second best option.

With our children we try very hard to use specific language whenever discussing their vocations.  "If God is calling you to become x…" and we are very clear to them that we want them to do whatever it is that God wants and that we don't have any stake or favorite in the matter.  All options are presented and valued and we speak often about what God may want them to do.  While we do hope and expect them to follow God's call for them, we don't place any pressure on what we think that call might be for that is between them and Him.  Several of them have expressed desire to become priests and while we very much encourage that exploration (they have a Mass kit and play vestments, for example) we intentionally stay a bit neutral on the matter and express equal excitement for other future plans they may also happen to express.

A Joyful Witness to the Options
Of course, part of their discernment will be even knowing what options are available and knowing that within each of those callings lies joy and the potential for holiness.  In this way they can better see where and what God might be stirring in their hearts.  We are blessed to have lots of faithful Married couples in our group of friends to provide that witness of joyful Married love and have the same with single friends.  However, we do feel we lack a bit in having an equivalent from the priesthood or religious life in our local area.  We pray for it, though, and we are blessed that the priests we do know locally are very friendly and the boys love to greet them and chat with them after Mass.  But our ideal would be to have a greater exposure for them to priests and religious who are close to our family and alive and joyful in the Faith, coming to family gatherings and being involved in our lives just as our other friends are.  Maybe someday...

A Strong and Attached Parent Relationship
Every man is called to some sort of fatherhood and every woman is called to some sort of motherhood.   Whatever specific vocation they are called to, they will need an example of that in their lives to know what true fatherhood and motherhood looks like and they will be better prepared for any vocation if they come to it with that knowledge in their hearts.  I feel a bit of guilty relief for the moment in having all boys because I get let off the hook a bit.  The example of my husband is crucial for them in developing a healthy understanding of fatherhood, whether they are called to the priesthood or Marriage.  My husband takes this responsibility very seriously and recognizes the importance of his role in our sons' emotional and spiritual maturity for its own sake but also so they can answer God's call in a healthy and emotionally mature way.  That means praying with them, wrestling with them, counseling them, comforting them, forgiving them, leading them, protecting them, throwing the baseball with them.  In short, being a really good dad.  I guess if this little one in utero is a girl, I may have to up my game a bit ;)

Fostering a Life of Service
Every vocation is about serving.  In order for them to be prepared for that, we try to foster an attitude of service in our family.  We have chores and we expect the older children to serve the younger ones as they are the "least of these" in our domestic church.  We try (though admittedly it is an uphill battle…heck, we're still learning it ourselves!) to help them learn that this life is not all about them and that their life is a gift to be used in the service of others and that only in that will they find true happiness and fulfillment.  As they get older the boys are expected and encouraged to serve at the altar and we do our best to engage in different works of service and charity outside of our home.  As they grow, I'm excited for them to continue those works on their own via mission trips, volunteer work, and other opportunities that may present themselves.

Prayer for Them 
My husband and I pray often for our children's vocations, first and foremost that they know him intimately and learn to love Him and desire to follow Him anywhere.   We then pray that they will learn to hear and answer His voice well.  When we remember, we pray for their potential future spouses, parishes, or communities as well.  I imagine as they get older and their discernment becomes more serious and decisions more imminent, those prayers will only increase in amount and fervor.

Prayer With Them
Part of fostering a sincere openness to His will is helping our children develop their own personal and unique relationship with Him and that can only be done through prayer.  So we pray with our children as a family and individually.  We teach them how to pray, both in formal prayers and in spontaneous prayer.  As they grow, they will (hopefully!) learn how to quiet their own hearts and listen for His voice and develop that unique relationship with God outside of us.  Our goal for them is to answer their first vocation, to follow Him.  Discerning their specific vocation well can only flow from that personal relationship.

Limiting the Outside Noise
We also recognize that just as there are ways to foster an ability to hear His voice, there are (probably many more) ways to drown out that voice.  So we are very careful with the "noise" which we expose our children to and we try our best to keep out the influences of the world that will make it harder for them to hear His voice well.  We limit the influences and messages of pop culture and we distance ourselves from fads and the ever insistent pressure to follow the crowd, even if in small ways.  We want them to have a firm grasp on their own identities and become confident in their true selves.  We are involved in their choice of friends and will do our best to foster relationships that will help them become whoever God wants them to be.  We try to train their eyes and ears to recognize the beautiful even in the simplest of ways and limit their exposure to the ugly, especially in this critical period of conscience formation.  If the One Who calls them is Beauty itself, then we want them to have a good foundation of how to recognize it so we try to follow our gut when not letting them hear, watch, read, or play with certain things.

A Frequent Sacramental Life
Frequent Confession, Eucharist, and exposure to His Word are incomparable in maintaining an openness to His will in their hearts.  The grace of the Sacraments and Scripture is so powerful and the more they are in His Presence through these ways, the more they will learn to hear what is (and what is not) His voice.  We bring them to Him and He does the work.  


As I said, we're certainly not experts, but we are doing our best to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit and relying on the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage to help us in all of this.  And we also know well that there are no guarantees.  Our job - our vocation - is to lead them to Him the best we can and they will always have the freedom to accept or reject His invitation.  Sobering?  Yes, in some ways.  But also freeing.  Because He loves them more than we ever possibly could and He, Love Himself, is infinitely better at the calling than we could ever hope to be.  

I'm joining with Gina at Someday (hopefully) They'll Be Saints in her vocation series Love's Calling.  Please click over to see more posts in the series!
Thank you, Gina!



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Friday, February 27, 2015

(The Best) Homemade Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread Recipe


I've had lots of requests over the years for my whole wheat sandwich bread recipe so I'm finally sharing it here!  I have tried a lot of sandwich bread recipes and this has now been my go-to recipe for at least three years.  It evolved from a combination of different recipes, technique and ingredients being tweaked and changed many a time to fit our tastes and ingredient preferences.  And it's finally perfect, I think.  I love that it makes two loaves at a time.  Currently, I make two batches at a time and bake them all together, yielding four loaves at once.

It was really hard finding a whole wheat sandwich bread that didn't contain a lot of added ingredients, sliced well, and tasted good (I don't like how most whole wheat breads are super sweet!).  Even the ones at the store had lots of extra softeners and preservatives OR were way too pricey for the amount we'd use.  So homemade it is.  But this, my friends, I think is the final recipe.  We now go through about half a loaf every lunchtime and seeing that we'll probably be up to a loaf a day in several years or so, I'd best be teaching the older boys how to do it, too, eh?

Alrighty.  Enough blabbing and onto the recipe.  And because I hate saving recipes and having to scroll through tons of pictures every time I use it, I'll give you the synopsis here and then a clearer description with pictures below.


(The Best) Homemade Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
(makes 2 loaves)

2 3/4 c. heated water
1 Tbsp. active yeast
3 Tbsp. sugar 
(I use unrefined organic but if sugar ain't your thing, you could sub in 4 Tbsp. honey)
3 1/2 c. white whole wheat flour
3 c. whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp. salt
1/4 c. olive oil

Heat your water to approx. 100-110 degrees F.  I stick mine in the microwave for 1:20 and it is perfect. Pour in mixing bowl and add in yeast and sugar and stir gently.  Allow yeast to proof 5-10 minutes until grown and creamy.  

Add in flour, salt, and oil and using your mixer's dough hook, knead about 1-2 minutes only until dough pulls together and is well combined.  You could knead by hand, I suppose, but in full disclosure, I've never tried it.  Oil your bowl and cover.  Allow to rise about 30 minutes or so until doubled.  Punch down and knead a few times and form into two loaves.  Place each loaf in a well oiled loaf pan and allow to rise again approximately 30-45 minutes until doubled.  (I place mine in a warm 120 degree oven.)  Keep in oven and turn oven on to 375 degrees and bake 30-35 minutes until golden.  Allow to cool about 10 minutes or so before removing from pan.  Enjoy!

A bit more description:
After heating your water, pour it in mixing bowl and add yeast and sugar.  Allow to proof about 5-10 minutes until it's nice and creamy and looks like the pic on the right.

Add in the flours, salt, and oil and knead in your mixer for about a minute until the dough pulls nicely together...

and looks sort of like this.  Spray your bowl and flip your dough around so it's well oiled, too, and cover.  Allow to rise in a warmish place about 30 minutes until doubled.  (FYI, did you know you can use olive oil with a little bit of water added in a normal spray bottle and it works just as well as the spray oils with all the yucky additives?  True.)

After it's doubled, it should look something like this.  Except in one bowl.  I'm making a double batch here.  Punch down dough and divide in two.  Knead a bit and form each half into a loaf.

Place in a well oiled bread pan and allow to rise again for 30-40 minutes.  I heat my oven just a bit to 120 degrees or so and place the bread right in to rise quickly and without the need to transfer for baking.  In case you're wondering, I don't notice much of a difference between the glass and stoneware pans.  I think I prefer the glass only because it shapes nicer and I can see through the bottom to make sure the bottom has baked well.  

After the rise they should look something like this (again, with just two loaves ;)
Leave the loaves in there.  Set the oven to 375 degrees, the timer to 35 minutes, and bake until golden brown.  (With baking four at a time, sometimes I have to switch the top and bottom shelves for the last few minutes to make sure they bake evenly.)

Take 'em out and let them cool about 10-15 minutes.

Admire your beautiful loaves.

Keep admiring.  And smelling.

After the 10-15 minutes is up, you can now carefully remove them from the pans.  I first release them on the sides with a metal spatula and if the pan was well oiled, they should then come out easily.  Once completely cooled, three of my four go in a gallon freezer bag and into the freezer until needed.  

The other gets ogled by the boys until lunch is made.

Enjoy!

Please hit me with any questions in the comments!  I hope you enjoy!



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Thursday, February 26, 2015

February Snapshots


Life here has been pretty quiet.  I will try not to yammer on about the seemingly endless weather misery that has been our February since we all know about that.  But just for future me and posterity's sake:  it's been bad.  We started February out just fine but several weeks in a row of below zero real temps and snow upon snow upon snow has taken a toll on everyone's psyche.  We're breaking records and we've been homebound a lot.  I'm not sure why we live in a place where for much of the year it literally hurts to go outside.  But thankfully we have stayed pretty healthy, we have the huge blessing of a working furnace, and I thank God that most days we have no place we truly have to be.  

Anyway.

Thought I'd share a few of our semi-notable February moments... 


{pretty}
St. Valentine cookies (which I can proudly say I let my boys decorate with abandon)

The cutest of Indian hobbit boys


 {happy}
I came in the room one afternoon and saw the two of them hanging on the couch like this.  It's good to have a brother sometimes.

Some Fat Tuesday paczkis at the local donut shop.  The plan was for our traditional pancake dinner but with the freezing cold, the hens have barely been laying so we didn't have the eggs.  Plus, me = tired.

John Paul caught this pic on my new fancy phone when I was getting David ready to play outside on one of the "milder" days (read: 10 degrees).  For some reason, I love it.

During dinner one evening I caught a glimpse of something outside the window.  It was our neighbor para-boarding out in the field behind the house!  He was flying and the boys were in awe.

And my new fancy phone also lets me capture moments like this and send them to Papa at work.  Luke at our co-op.  He just started his own little Montessori class and was quite proud.

And random homeschooly moment:  I was at the table paying bills when they somehow organized all this.  Two had traced themselves and were coloring in their bodies (David's complete with organs and bones) and the other was illustrating Charlotte's Web.  So pretty much they don't really need me in this homeschooling thing, I think.

Yay!  Brian started work on building new built in benches for the kitchen.  We long ago outgrew our table and seating situation in there.  I have been hankerin' for some benches to simplify floor clean up and to fit more little bottoms.  He had many little helpers for the project.

Wood delivery

Did you notice how great the cellar looks?  I mean, for a cellar and all?  It was scary rough down there but Brian spent a whole lot of nights in late fall and December painting and cleaning it up and now it's not a horribly disgusting place to be!  


Learning from the master

I spotted an owl hanging outside our window the other night.  John Paul looked it up and it's an eastern screech owl.  It hung out for a while and didn't even fly when we put the flashlight on him!

{funny}
These pictures look so adorable, right?  I mean before you look closely and realize they're training their animals for battle...

Ah, boys...


One of the many icicles from our house…the boys thought it glorious fun to precariously lean out the upstairs window and yank a few down...


Three post bath boys in a box.  The radiator traps the heat in there so they were warming up :)

{real}
Yet another batch of elderberry syrup in progress.  So very thankful that all we've dealt with so far this long winter is a mild cold.  There are so so many yucky things going around this year.  I started adding in fermented cod liver oil to our breakfast smoothies just to up the hippie/nutrient factor a bit.

Even when it's seven below outside, the chickens still need to drink

and what few eggs there are need to be gathered.

Our sidewalk has been getting narrower and narrower as the month has worn on.

As has my driveway opening.  You can't tell and I'm far too wimpy to go out for a better picture but the van can barely squeak out between the drift and shovel piles.  

Dear spring, please come soon.


Once again doing the linkity up with Like Mother, Like Daughter!



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Monday, February 23, 2015

Seven Helpful Gifts for the Postpartum Mom


One of the sweetest things I can think of to do for a newly postpartum mom is to bring something for her.  So often, people bring something for the baby, which is lovely and generous, of course, but a gift for mom is a beautiful, tangible way to let her know that her job is important and that she's remembered, too.  And usually baby is already well taken care of, it's mom who needs a little TLC, right?

I truly believe that the way we treat the pregnant and postpartum mom is a good reflection of how much we truly value a culture of life.  And I have a few ideas to share over at Jenna's as she gives her postpartum self a blogging break and bonds with her sweet new Theodorable bundle.





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