Children (and adults) sometimes wear name brand clothing as a badge of honor. My daughter was nine, when she came home comparing her clothes to those of a friend at school. Brigit's classmate bragged, "This blouse cost $50 because it's the best. And these are designer jeans too." Brigit felt discouraged. There were no flashy labels on her clothes. She was beginning to get the message that money was to be used to show off.
But the truth is we don't have that kind of money at our house. In fact, many of Brigit's favorite clothes come from the thrift store or yard sales. And those are the kind of places some children are taught that only "lower class people enter." So it was time for a lesson. We visited the thrift store that day. And God provided as always! A nearly new, name brand shirt, in exactly my daughter's size, practically jumped off the shelf into her arms. The price tag was $1.
We talked about what it meant:
* Would you rather spend $50 so you could say you got that at a fancy store, or spend $1 here so you have $49 for more necessary items such as food?
* And this shirt is practically new. So someone spent a lot of money to buy it, but hardly wore it at all...Do you think that is wasteful? Should you buy something just because others will think it's "cool"?
* Our world offers hundreds, maybe thousands, of flashy new products every single day. Some people spend hours looking at them, and they frown on anything that speaks of poverty or a lack of money, such as these stores. But we are finding good and useful things here. Do we really want to spend hours fantasizing about things we don't need and being tempted to spend money we don't have, for such things?
There are a lot of lessons to be learned from a secondhand store or yard sales. Lessons about waste, consumerism and the value of a dollar. And there are spiritual lessons too as we consider what is truly important. What do we really value? Have the things of the world been turned into "gods"?
I began to take Brigit with me to the secondhand store on a more regular basis. One day we ran into her friend with the flashy clothes there. The girls both seemed embarrassed, but in a few minutes they were running around the store trading ideas about what looks good--without regard for whether it's a name brand!
I let the pigeon fly free. We have two of these birds--given to the children as pets. And the pigeons have been living behind a divider wall inside the chicken coop. But I worried that they needed more space and opportunities to really fly. So one day, when my son had tucked them in his jacket to keep them warm, I told him he could let them fly outside the chicken coop. One of the birds flew high and far. She was impossible to catch. The other returned quickly to the safety of her enclosure.
The pigeons are like children. Some like to play it safe, eager to follow the rules. But others are risk takers, always testing the limits and boundaries of family life.
"A member of our family is missing?" my husband said with moist eyes after I admitted that I let the pigeons fly free and one of them hadn’t returned. My husband is a worrier. He went outside in the cold wind and stood by the chicken door, hoping the bird would come nearby and he could personally welcome it home.
I had assumed the bird could find its way back through the various holes in the coop. But my husband didn't believe it. As the day wore on, he was convinced the bird would be dead within hours, attacked by other birds or dashed to the ground by the now fierce wind. As our family watched from the windows, we spotted our bird with its distinctive markings, trying to get acquainted with other pigeons. They seemed to attack her. Our bird was chased out of trees and off the telephone wires.
And so we prayed for the pigeon. "What else can we do but pray?" I asked my husband. He looked over his glasses with an accusing stare. "Not let them out in the first place. That would be a start," he said. But once a thing has happened, prayer is an answer.
Why do we minimize it? Prayer is a great answer!
I prayed that the children’s pet would be safe. And I prayed that my husband would forgive me if my impulse to give more freedom, caused the bird's death.
That afternoon, when I went out to feed the animals, the wind was so punishing, there were no birds anywhere in sight. I wondered where they all hide when the weather is bad like this. Our yard is normally filled with sparrows and blackbirds and pigeons.
I went to the chicken coop, ready to admit it--the worst had happened. That's when I heard cooing. I looked behind the wall. Both pigeons were there! And they were climbing all over each other--happily saying, "You're safe. You're home. All is well."
My husband continues to playfully repeat, "There is a bird missing."
In a way, he is acknowledging that when a family member takes a step toward independence they take a part of us with them. He was also acknowledging in his playful way that I was right to have faith in the bird's ability to find her way home. And, it is important to trust in God who said He watches over everything, even the little birds.
But my husband's words, "A bird is missing," are also a reminder to me that we parents need to find a balance between supporting our children as they try out new things, and keeping them safe. They need both the boundaries and the options--the parent who would give them freedom to explore, and the one who would guard them.
And they need our prayers for those times when we can’t be present. Our children need their heavenly Mother to watch over them at all times.
Let us pray, "Mother Mary, guide our children as they explore the world. Be with them to keep them safe and show them how to live a life saying 'YES' to God."
I was reading an old text that recommends “silence in the heart.” Saint Diadochus of Photice, a bishop of the fifth century, said our mind should be like still waters. Then we can see the pollutants (temptations) and recognize “the fish” (grace).
It sounds wonderful. Such great advice. But it seems impossible to achieve in this modern era, especially in busy houses with children. How is this possible?
Today, for example, there is no school because snow has enveloped the state of New Mexico. And the children have important projects to do which means lots of interruptions for questions. And the barnyard animals are struggling with the severe cold so we are going outside more often to bring warm water. And I have a big editing job due soon. And the living room is a mess because of all our projects. And the kids eat all day long so the sink is full of dishes…
And…And…And. You get the drift. Chaos reigns.
Silence would be wonderful. But I don’t suppose St. Diadochus meant it would be easy to achieve. In fact, he says we need the assistance of the Holy Spirit and a persevering nature.
So here is my plan to still the waters of my soul. For whatever it’s worth, maybe it will help someone else.
1) Discipline. Getting up just a bit earlier means there is time for quiet prayer.
2) Repetition. It’s possible to repeat simple prayers over and over to drive away the distracting thoughts and temptations. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, help us.”
3) Holy Spirit Help. The Holy Spirit comes into our hearts with a simple invitation.
4) St. Michael Help. St. Michael drove Satan out of heaven. He is a good protector.
5) Breathe. Breathing puts us back in our bodies and helps achieve stillness.
6) Study. Reading the Bible or other spiritual material opens the heart to long for Jesus.
7) Pray. It’s like a corridor to heaven!
8) Sacraments. Frequent reception of the Eucharist is a gift. We make room in our hearts for Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit. Into the troubled waters of my soul you come. Bring silence. Help me to calm my mind so there is room for You.