Tuesday, March 31, 2009


It is amazing to me how many people consider themselves Christian but have an incredible disconnect from it in their daily lives. Claiming to believe in God and, even loving Him for an hour on Sunday mornings, does not constitute living a Christian life. As I look around me, I see so few examples of a true Christianity. What I do see is a lot of people focusing on their favorite television shows, their latest shopping trip, their plans for the evening, their hairstyle, basically, just plain, focusing on themselves. I see so few people really trying to serve God each and every day. I, unfortunately, would be completely hypocritical if I did not admit that even when I look at my own life and choices I struggle to see a real example of Christianity. I see a lot of my energy put into my lunch and dinner choices, my quest for a nap, and my desire to control my house in the tiniest of details.
I wonder if, when God looks upon His beautiful creation here on earth, He is as disappointed as I imagine Him to be. If only we weak and fallen humans could put as much thought into what we say in our prayers as we do into what we will wear to church how much better we would be.
Where did all this pessimism come from? I checked my Facebook site today and found another long list of all sorts of silly quizzes my friends and family had taken. As usual, I sat in front of my computer totally disillusioned by it all. I couldn't help but think, if only we were not all so concerned with our favorite beers, where we should live, or which Star Wars character we are most like. Wouldn't we all be happier if we spent our time, instead of in front of the computer answering goofy questions, in prayer with our Lord and Creator? Again, I need to look at myself first. If I turned my computer off, I would discover so much more time to devote to prayer and spend so much less time feeling cynical about the focus of the world I live in. I need to pray for my friends and family instead of "keeping in touch" with their lives through meaningless internet posts.
Lent is God's perfect invitation to examine our lives and our focus more closely. There is only a week and a half left of Lent. If you, like me, realize your Lenten journey has not been as fruitful as it could have been, up to this point, take heart. There is still time to pray with fervor, time to ask for God's guidance, time to get back on track. God is waiting, will you turn your computer off?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Why I love to torture myself!

Though we have been a home school family for four years there still are many days when I sit in our classroom amongst the whiny children, the sloppy papers, the broken pencils, and the overwhelming responsibility of educating our 4 children and wonder, why? I ask myself, at least once a week lately, why I do not just send my children off to the local public elementary school each morning with their backpacks and a friendly wave. If I did that, I could have my days all to myself. I could sit down to my computer after they left, blog away, and enjoy the silence of a morning without children. I could entrust their educational needs to a paid professional with a college degree and a state certification proving qualification and competency.
It sounds so tempting. I really could avoid the battles over math lessons and missed spelling words. I wouldn't have to grade worksheets while eating lunch. My life would never be reduced to searching, in vain, for a pencil with an eraser-- every ten minutes. I would no longer worry that I am not doing enough and that somehow some essential piece of information will slip through the cracks and not get covered, causing my children a loss of opportunities later in life.
Home schooling is not always easy. It is like every other aspect of parenting really. Some days are great and I feel full of confidence. Some days I am a fabulous teacher and mother and the kids are wonderful, obedient students. Other days feel like a disaster. I am impatient and crabby. The kids just don't feel like working. The lessons are boring or tedious, the phone is ringing off the hook, etc.... But, like parenting, if I home schooled for completely selfish reasons I would never have survived the first week.
My life, my vocation is not about pleasing myself. It is about pleasing God. As a wife and mother, it is my duty and my calling to do what is best for my family. Without a doubt, even on our rough days, home schooling is right for our family. Despite the challenges, it has been a blessing in so many ways. I am closer to my children now than I was before. They are closer to each other. We have so many discussions about our faith, our family, our country, and our world that we would never have if I did not home school. I am able to talk to my children about anything and, even more importantly, they are able to talk to me about anything and everything. I learn along with them, and from them, each and every day- even the bad ones.
Recently a wonderful friend of mine, another home school mom, took my children for the day to give me the day of quiet I had been dreaming about for years. As she spent the day with her own 6 children and my 4 on top of that, I was able to indulge in a little shopping all alone, lunch with my husband, and an uninterrupted half hour nap on the couch. It was a blissful day for me. What stands out the most, though, was the atmosphere of her house when I dropped the kids off in the morning. When we walked in, it was obviously an ordinary day in the life of a big home school family. Some of her children were already at work at the dining room table. Her toddler was walking around in his p.j.'s. The oldest was helping out with their baby. I was filled with such a sense of family togetherness and cooperation. It reminded me to truly appreciate all of the blessings of our own ordinary home school days. It helped me to remember that all the challenges are worth it. I needed that little lesson in perspective as much as I needed the day to myself. Now, I am actually filled with gratitude that I have the opportunity and freedom to spend my days with such terrific people as my own children.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I discovered yesterday as I checked my "Facebook" page that a few of my "friends" dumped me off their lists. I was surprised by my reaction to this occurrence. At first, I felt a twinge upset at the discovery but then I actually felt a little amused. One of my friends (a person I actually see and interact with) had recently had a conversation with me about whether or not it was okay to un-friend someone on Facebook once you have accepted them onto your list. My discovery was proof that it was, at least to some people, perfectly acceptable to do just that.
Now I was amused about my apparent removal from the friend list, both because of its timeliness to my recent conversation and because of many discussions my husband and I have had about Facebook over the last few months. When he and I both joined the world of online socializing we were thrilled with the whole concept. It was so much fun to build our own sites, add our info and pictures, and search the internet for friends and acquaintances we had lost touch with over the years. Tim was able to link up with many friends from high school and college. I, too, found friends from my own high school years whom I hadn’t seen or talked to since graduation. We both signed up with friends we had known when we first started dating each other. I was even able to find people I had gone to elementary school with. People I hadn’t had any contact with for over 20 years, after my family moved several states away following my eighth grade year of school. It was amazing to see those familiar faces show up on my computer screen after so much time. Of course, we all looked a little more mature but part of the fun was seeing the changes and reminiscing online about all the old memories. I was genuinely excited to recover friends I had thought about from time to time but had had no idea how to find.
Despite my excitement and the fun of the initial “oh my goodness, I can’t believe I found you” conversations, the thrill of my discoveries tended to be short-lived. Though I had great intentions of really re-connecting with these wonderful friends from my past, I found it was not as easy as I thought. In fact, after twenty years of separation, there was just too much catching up to do than could realistically be done through an online networking site. I did not know where to begin. Now, if only we could have sat down together over a mocha frappuccino and really talked I suspect the years would have just melted away and we truly could have re-established our friendship. I wanted to really re-connect with so many of those familiar faces but on the computer that is really all they could be- faces from my past and good memories to cherish.
In order to re-establish old connections, I’ve figured out that you have to actually find ways to connect. Tim and I have talked about how we’ve been let down by the whole Facebook experience. It just turns out that the computer hasn’t provided a genuine connection in the way either of us had hoped it would. Facebook hasn’t proven to be, at least for me and in most instances, as much a connection as it is a peek into the lives of others. A real friendship can not start, or even re-start, with a peek but instead needs a bond. The truth is the computer is way too impersonal, and “Facebook” gives too contrived a picture, to take the place of a face-to-face conversation.
So, for those few old “friends” who have kept me on the list, I think I may try an old-fashioned approach and sit down with a pen and paper. Maybe a hand written letter is a better way to tell them what they meant to me and how happy I am to have found them again. I know it will be more personal and meaningful to me than posting a few words on the computer for the whole world to view and chime in on. If we cannot re-connect through old fashioned “snail mail” I just might invite them to Florida so we really can meet for a heart-to-heart over some coffee. Old friends are just too valuable to delete!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Our days are numbered....

I received some very sad news the other night. One of my grandmother's closest friends passed away. I did not know the woman very well, but she and my grandma had been friends for over 60 years. Knowing how upsetting the news was for my grandma it filled me with sadness as well. It also really got me thinking. Grandma's friend was 92 1/2 years old. She was obviously blessed with a very long life. Yet, her death made me wonder if 92 years was enough. I have found myself really thinking, over the last day or two, if she had used her 92 years the way God wanted her to. I also wondered if she hadn't, would God have given her a few more years to get things right? Of course, I know that life doesn't work that way. Of course, I know that is why we have the beautiful gifts of Reconciliation and Last Rites. Still, I found my thoughts really lingering on that question.
I don't know much deep theology but I do know that God blesses us with our life and each day is an opportunity to serve Him. There is no 2nd chance life if we do not live this one the right way. I pray for the repose of the soul of my grandmother's dear friend.
I am also praying for the souls of those living who are not living the life God intends for them. I am especially aware of the missed opportunities in my own life. I am not living the way I should. I have a very long way to go to achieve real holiness. And I realize I may not get 92 years to get there. I need to wake up every morning and fall to my knees in prayer. I need to search each day for God's will and follow the path to holiness He has laid out for me. I need to rise above my weakness and sinfulness. I need to stop making excuses and telling myself there is always tomorrow. Recently at Mass the priest said, during his homily, "You need to live each day as if it is your last and one day you will be right." Wow, powerful words. I'm not sure I took them to heart the day I first heard them but today, I truly feel God calling me to follow this wise advice.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Serving myself

I have been praying for humility lately. There are many virtues I need to grow in but I feel this is the one I really need to focus on right now. I figure that more humility in my life would minimize all my other struggles, at least a little. My prayer has been that God will help me to look for occasions to build others up instead of using others to build myself up. This is a very personal prayer for me and a very personal struggle. I feel I am living my life focused more on gaining the approval of others than on serving God. I am afraid I have always focused more on approval than service. Lately the Holy Spirit has been revealing to me my need for greater humility.
My path to humility has been a rocky one to say the least. I decided Lent would be the perfect opportunity to give up a little of my self-absorption. In an attempt to be more positive right from the start, my Lenten promise was to be more encouraging. I did great for a few hours on Ash Wednesday. That afternoon things sort of feel apart and I gave up the encouraging words for the comfort of my old sinful ways. The next day I was determined to do better, and I did. In fact, that first week I had quite a few days of positive, considerate encouragement for my friends and family. Unfortunately since then, I have again slipped into my old habits of thinking first of myself and my needs, and then, if I have time, about the things I can do for others.
God has been trying to help. The opportunities for greater humility abound! I just inevitably avoid them as much as I can. Humility just feels so humbling. I prefer the feeling of being exalted. Hasn't that been my problem all along?

Oh, God please strengthen me. Show me how to be humble and meek, and help me to embrace the gift that it is to let others shine. Please in Your absolute mercy and compassion; help me to rise above my feelings and to imitate Christ in His love toward others.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The right sort of friends?!?!?!?

I have written about this before but it is a subject that keeps coming up in my life. I struggle almost daily with a parenting question that I just cannot seem to figure out the answer to. Is it my duty as a mother to protect my children from bullies and cruelty by sheltering them from the "wrong sort of kids" or is it better for me to try to teach them how to deal with people like that? My natural inclination is to try to remove such negativity from the lives of my still quite young and impressionable children. My mothering instincts tell me that it is best to avoid influences that are in contrast to the message of Christian love I am trying to instill in my children. Yet I feel guilty keeping my children in a protective bubble of safety and I worry I am not equipping them for the challenge of dealing with all kinds of different people. I also wonder if the message comes across to my children that we are better than these people and so will not associate with those who are "below" us. That is certainly not the message I want to send but I am sick of watching my kids be bullied and hurt by other children outside of our circle of church friends.
You see, my children have two sets of friends. The children in our home schooling support group, who all come from strong Catholic families like us, and the children who live around us in our neighborhood. Our home school group is wonderful. All the children play together, cooperate, help out, and treat each other with kindness. It is amazing to see 30-40 children all running around the park together playing capture the flag or hide 'n seek tag. No one feels left out, no one's feelings get hurt. The older children help the younger and everyone is included and having fun. In contrast, every time my children get together with the neighborhood children there seems to be strife, conflict, and anger. I hear fighting and teasing out the window every ten minutes. I have seen sticks fly, children ostracized, and feelings being purposefully hurt every afternoon this winter. If I did not know it could be different I might buy into the belief that children are just children and this is how they play. I have seen different though. I know better and my children know better.
So, for now, my solution is to try to keep the neighbor play to a minimum. This is, in and of itself, a huge challenge because we see the neighborhood kids everyday. But, the less contact my children have with them the better, as far as I am concerned. Occasionally I do allow it, but afterwards there are a lot of conversations about how we should treat other people and how we ourselves deserve to be treated. We discuss quite often the Christian cliche WWJD?.
I also try to have as much play time with our Catholic friends as we can. For they are the good influence that I want my children exposed too. This, too, can be difficult as we are all busy home schooling families who are pulled in many directions.
Thankfully, my children have each other. There are four of them and most of the time they play together well. I am grateful that even when there are no other children around to play with my children have been blessed with one of the greatest gifts ever, their siblings who are built in best friends and who will always love, accept and forgive them.
I would love to know how others handle this type of situation though, any suggestions?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Boys against the girls!

I will be having an ultrasound in a few weeks to check on the development of our unborn baby. We are all so excited to get a glimpse of the baby and to see if we will be welcoming a new little boy or girl into our family. This baby will be the tie breaker, so to speak, because we already have two girls and two boys. My sister asked me when I called to let her know the date of the ultrasound, if I had a preference. There once was a time when I very much had a preference but I have since learned so much about trusting in God's plan.....
Before I had children I wanted a house full of kids. But what I really wanted was a house full of little girls. Little boys just seemed too noisy, too active, too rough, and way too dirty.
When I was expecting my first child I was secretly worried it might be a boy, and I would be disappointed. I was so grateful when my first born arrived and God had sent us a beautiful, healthy baby girl. She was quiet (most of the time), gentle in her play, and very clean and tidy (except when she was eating). She was just what I would have ordered if I could have. Our next child was born almost three years later, and this time God had other plans for us- a boy! And oh, he was ALL BOY, right from the start! And, surprising to me at the time, he was also so lovable, right from the start. He captured my heart immediately and has had me wrapped around his little finger ever since! He, and his younger brother who came along three years later and after another beautiful, dainty little girl, have taught me lessons about love that I could never have learned without them.
The truth is both of my boys have proven my preconceptions to be absolutely true. My boys are noisy, active, rough and dirty. They love to wrestle, dig holes in our backyard, climb trees and terrorize their sisters. They track their grime into my house, they burp all the time just to show us they can, they have batting practice in my family room, they scream and yell and chase each other through the kitchen with plastic light sabers and dart guns. My happy home has become a filthy dirt pit, a battle ground and at times a baseball field. So why do I feel so differently about all of it than I thought I would? Why would I not change it for the world? Why, in fact, do I wish more people understood and appreciated the joys of boys?
Because in addition to the craziness they've brought into our lives my little boys have brought me a better understanding of the Lord. I have learned about my own capacity for love, but even more, about the unending love of my Heavenly Father. My oldest son, the most active and impulsive of both my boys, has the most amazing spirituality. His prayers are so deep and so heartfelt, and I look at him in awe and wonder when he kneels in church and bows his head, all on his own, in quiet reflection. He gives of himself so easily and without the complications his sisters always seem to struggle with. But most significantly, from the moment I laid eyes on him as a newborn I have felt a flood of love for him that I truly did not think I could feel for a little boy. He was the first gift that God sent me that was completely different from what I thought I wanted. My son was nothing like what I would have ordered if I had had the chance, yet he is such an indescribably wonderful and amazing child . I have never, since the moment he was born and the doctor announced, "it's a boy! ", felt the disappointment I had once been so sure would come with those words. Instead he, and his little brother, are every bit as incredible a blessing as their beautiful sisters are. And, like all children, they are a constant reminder that God always knows what is really best for us and loves us enough to give us the best. I trust that that is just what He will do this time around as well. So, as we await the ultrasound (and ultimately the birth), we ask for your prayers that baby is healthy, that is honestly the only preference I have.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Name that baby!

Choosing a name for our baby has always been one of my favorite parts of being pregnant. I have always loved trying out names, playing with combinations of first and middle, and then seeing how each one sounds with our last name. I even like to look at the potential initials to see if they go together well. In the past, Tim and I have had a lot of fun discussing possible options and all of our children have had a name well before their arrival. We are now eagerly anticipating the birth of our fifth child. With each baby, the name game has gotten a little harder. This time around it seems next to impossible....
I started the conversation about names within days of finding out baby was on the way. I was so excited to start the process of choosing the perfect name and I looked forward to the fun of the discussions. Tim apparently did too, because all of our discussions have been nothing but fun. Almost as soon as I start to mention a possibility Tim (who incidentally likes rock music, not classical) gets silly and starts suggesting ridiculous names such as Ludwig Von Burke. Now, clearly, this was a fine suggestion when Beethoven's mother and father were expecting a baby over two hundred years ago, and living in Germany (or was it Austria?)! But for an American baby in Clearwater, FL in the year 2009, it is not truly a viable option! Tim is not the only one having a good time with silly, impractical names. Our youngest daughter has really been fighting to call the baby Daisy Doodle Burke if it is a girl. Lucy Doodle Burke, is her second choice. She thinks no matter the first name, Doodle would be a perfect middle name. Other suggestions have included Evan Longoria (if I am not mistaken this name is already taken by our favorite baseball player!), Iris (Tim knows I have a distaste for all things relating to eyes), Rock (I'm not sure where or how this one came up, maybe because of Tim’s favorite kind of music, but really--Rock Burke?!?!?), Van Von Burke (in case there was no way I was going for Ludwig), and Loggafleur (our 4 year old son’s contribution, I have no idea where it came from) just to name a few.... With the way things have been going, I am not having quite as much fun as I had hoped!
We still have months to go until baby will be here and need to be called something. I am really starting to wonder if there is enough time to come up with a real name that Tim and I can agree upon. Somehow, the other children have gotten the idea that they also have a say in baby's name. So when (and IF) Tim and I ever come up with a name it is sure to get voted down by the majority party in our house (the children who outnumber us two to one)! I fear for our poor innocent baby who, at least for now, has no idea that the fate of his or her future name is in the hands of a bunch of goofballs who can not take this responsibility seriously enough to even consider a feasible selection.
For now we have taken to calling baby “small fry“. While this little nickname was never intended to be the baby’s given name it just may end up that way, because as frightening as it sounds, it is the only thing we’ve been able to agree on so far.....

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Pride and prejudice

I like to think of my family as really, very nice. We are certainly not perfect but I like to think we are likeable people. Sometimes others make this difficult to believe...
A few years ago there was a family with whom we were acquainted. They were certainly not good friends just people we occasionally saw and were friendly with. For some reason, unknown to us and without warning, they stopped waving hello and smiling a greeting and instead started casting angry glances our way. Just the other day their son ran into our son and told him the cause of the tension. It seems his father had done a favor for us over four years ago by fixing something we never realized had broken, when we were not aware that he was fixing it. We never thanked him and they were very offended by that. We never knew the good deed had been done and obviously failed to appreciate the kindness. So for four and a half years they have been carrying a grudge around and harboring anger towards us while we went along baffled but basically unaffected. It seems a shame for so many reasons. Mostly because it takes a lot of energy to be angry for so long. But also it seems a rather small reason to carry around such resentment. Admittedly, I myself have carried grudges for even longer over even smaller things. How silly of us to be so petty. How silly of us to be so prideful.
For me, it is often very difficult to be humble but I think it becomes much harder to be prideful. In pride, we put ourselves through so much pain and suffering trying to believe we are entitled to more than we have gotten in life- be it respect, thanks, appreciation, credit, or even a big fancy house and a sports car. The truth is we are not entitled to anything. God does not owe us anything. Our friends and acquaintances are not obligated to provide us with affection. Even our families are under no requirement to fill our lives with warmth and good feelings. Though it is surely God's wish that all people know the love of their friends, families, and neighbors no one is entitled to that love and respect. I'm not sure we even deserve these things, after all, we are all sinners, we all fail at times in our lives.
In light of these revelations, I wonder why we all struggle so much with our feelings of entitlement and our tendency to always desire more than we have. Our culture does not encourage humility and selflessness so perhaps that is the cause of our self absorption. More likely, it is just our fallen human nature. Either way, I rest assured because God always know what He is doing and always seeks to guide us closer to Him. He understands our feelings and tendencies yet tells us to be humble and meek. Though He knows it is not easy He desires always to help us.
In His great wisdom, I think God gave us the gift of free will to counteract our sense of entitlement and to show us real love. When we truly value our free will, and that of others, it becomes the perfect antidote to entitlement issues. Free will is what allows us to really love others and to really be loved by others, without obligation. Without free will we would not know what it is like to be truly loved and valued. Though it allows others to choose to dislike us as well, without it love does not have meaning.
Our greatest gifts are those things which are intangible, things such as affection, respect, compassion, forgiveness, love. They are great simply because they are offered as gifts. We appreciate these things because they are given in love, by choice, not out of a sense of duty or obligation.
Of course, it is hard to feel hurt and mistreated, but though it is painful we are not here to judge or to condemn, but to love and forgive, freely of our own will. I pray that God will give me the strength to let go of my grudges, and that in doing so, just maybe, I will inspire others to "let go, and let God" as well.


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