Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Tips for Taking Kids to Mass

Tips to Help Take Kids to Mass

Taking young kids to Mass is hard. The baby and toddlers years were difficult but you thought it would get easier by the time they hit preschool or elementary age. Hmmm. Not always. Engaging young kids at mass can be a difficult and really hard but so important.

As parents we are the primary teachers of the faith. Our children learn from us, not just what we say, but also what we do. They need to see us worship to understand how integral mass is with our faith. God made us to worship with each other in community and that community includes our kids. As Jesus said – “let the children come to me.” Matthew 19:14

Yes, you’re saying. I agree, it’s important, but HOW do I do it? How do we survive as a family through mass with young children? Unfortunately there isn’t a secret pill or magic solution. It’s going to be tough like almost everything else in parenting.

I’ve assembled a few tips that helped us with our kids at mass from the preschool years to now.

Before Mass

Getting Dressed
– Most people will suggest lying the clothes out the night before, but I’ll take it one step further. To simplify getting dressed for my family when my Birdie was a preschooler, we found a dress that was her “church” dress. She wore that dress to church every week. When the seasons changed or she grew, we picked out a new one. Her knowing what she was putting on every Sunday eliminated a major meltdown. There was not a choice in clothing, which really calmed her. It worked so well for her that her older brother started doing it also.

Before you Leave the House
– I know it seems obvious, but I have to say it. Feed your kids before Mass. A hungry child is a cranky, difficult child. In addition, take them to the bathroom before Mass starts.

Review Readings – Talk about the readings before you leave for mass or discuss them in the car on the way to church. Help your children know the topic of the readings or let them know if a reading will be part of a story they recognize. It will give them something to anticipate and familiarity during the Liturgy of the Word.

Set Expectations - Go over what you expect from them at mass. Review why we attend mass, how we participate, and how we behave at mass. Be sure to set realistic expectations based on your kids.

One Thing – Ask your child to pay attention for one thing that speaks to them at mass. Before mass they can pray to remain open to God to notice the one thing He wants them specifically to experience. It could be a line of scripture, a prayer, song, or any moment that stands out for them. The idea is that it keeps them watching/listening for it and to share it as a family after mass.

Arrive Early – Sit where you want, go to the bathroom and get settled. Arriving late or in a rush sends the wrong message to the kids. Get everyone settled, take a really deep breath and remind everyone to stop and pray before we start. And it’s ok if your prayer is a thanksgiving for getting there and asking God to help everyone to sit nicely for the next hour!

At Mass

Sit in the Front – I know, as a parent that’s scary, really scary. But how difficult is it for you to sit and look at the backs of people’s heads and not get distracted? Now what’s it like for a kid? They have a better chance of being interested in what’s going on if they can see. If you have a choir up at the front, your kids might like to sit where they can see the choir. That is always a favorite for us.

Children’s Liturgy – If your parish offers children’s liturgy, try it out. Being out of the pew for the Liturgy of the Word might help them sit nicer for the rest of mass.

MagnifiKid – This is one of my favorite things on this list! MagnifiKid is a weekly missal for elementary age children. It offers the mass readings, a glossary of the big words, activities, and a full missal of the mass. It is especially helpful during the Liturgy of the Eucharist for my youngest to follow along with the priest’s prayers.

Readings & Song – For pre-readers and beginning readers, it helps them focus if you run your finger under the words of the readings or during the songs.

Leaving Mass - If you take your child out of mass for behavior, come right back in once they are settled. Don’t let them learn that if they act up they get to leave mass for something more interesting like running around in the hallway or foyer. Kids are pretty smart and will pick up on it fast.

Participate in the Mass – You must model the behavior you want them to have in mass. Sing, Pray, be attentive. Children should be encouraged to sit when you sit, stand when you stand, kneel and face front. Even if they are preschoolers they should join in to the mass. Sing! Pray! They can participate in the mass, especially if you help them understand what and why we are doing what we are doing. And always, take them up with you to communion. If nothing else, it’s an opportunity to get up!

Talk to them through Mass - Describe what they see and what you do quietly in their ear. Don’t be afraid to point out discreetly what’s going on to help them stay engaged. When the priest holds up the host, help them remember to look at Jesus. What do you pray? Why do we cross ourselves in 3 places before the Gospel? Whisper it to them as you do it. Did they notice the priest putting water in wine? What do the altar servers do? There is so much actually going on during the mass for them to notice.

Homily – The homily is an exception to the above. This is their time to have a small book, a notebook with a pencil/crayon to keep them busy if they are too young to listen attentively. For us, that lasts until the middle years of elementary school. But when Father sits down, their notebook or book goes away because it’s time to pay attention again.

You know your child best. Adapt and do what works for your family. Don’t expect perfection from them. As they grow from toddlers into kids they are more and more capable of sitting and participating at mass. Depending on your child and how often they attend mass, it might be earlier than you think.

Remember, most of us have been there. Our kids were little once. We know it is such an important but difficult thing. It will get better with perseverance and prayer.

If you get the evil eye from fellow parishioners, please pray for them. They might have forgotten what it’s like to bring little ones to mass or their attitude might be about something entirely different. Either way, your kids deserve to worship the Lord in mass as much as an adult. Trust in that and pray.

After Mass 

Reward - Reward them for incremental improvement. Give them the donut after Mass or stickers or whatever is a reward for them. Help celebrate the baby steps.

Share - Talk about the readings, the songs and your “one thing” after mass. You might be really surprised what they picked up while you thought they weren’t paying attention.

Don’t give up – Go, go, go – They more you attend mass as a family, the faster it will get easier.

If it didn’t go well and you need to have a cry, then go for it. Sometimes that’s the reality of attending mass as a family. Just remember, the reason you are at Mass is to worship God and receive Jesus. You can do both of those even if you were busy with your kids, don’t remember a word of the homily or were not able to pay much attention at all. Sometimes those experiences at mass bring you even closer to God when you receive Jesus in communion.

God gave you your kids. He understands what you’re doing in the pew on Sunday morning. You’re a parent bringing your children to Jesus. Take comfort in that and don't give up.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

LENT - How We Love God, Others and Ourself

Lent - How We Love God, Others, and Ourself

Lent is the perfect season to re-dedicate ourselves as followers of Christ as we prepare to celebrate His resurrection on Easter.  As children, we might have decided which of our favorite foods, toys or games to give up for 40 days, but Lent is so much more than giving up Chocolate or TV.  The focus, as I was very recently reminded by Kathryn Whitaker at Team Whitaker, should be on Love.

Lent should be about how we love God, others and ourself.  So, rather than look at these thinks below to incorporate them all or a bunch into a Lenten plan, read them with the idea that something in one may speak to your heart about where you are on your Journey with God right now.

40 Ways to Give During Lent #Givefor40Find something that will help bring you closer to discipleship in preparation for His Resurrection.

I start my list with my favorite because it came from my family.  40 Ways to Give for 40.  My kids and I a couple of years ago tried to think of ways to serve others during Lent. We merged our Sacrifice, Almsgiving and Prayer into a list of ideas for Lent.  It is my "go-to" list when I find myself thinking about how I can see Jesus in others and serve them during Lent.  

Remember, don't be overwhelmed.  Lent is about doing (or not doing) something to grow closer to God.  There isn't a checklist and sometimes there really isn't a plan.  It's a journey of sacrifice, prayer and giving that ultimately leads to the most gracious gift ever given to us.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

7 Quick Takes - Pride & Valentines

It's been a while, long while since I tried 7 Quick Takes but here I go again...

To get us moving and grooving in the morning we sometimes turn up the tunes before school.  Our new favorite this week is "It's a Good Day," by Jaime Thietten on the album Love Along The Way.  She performed the song last year at the Houston Women's Catholic Conference (which is coming up again) and it stuck with me.  It will have you tapping your feet and smiling in no time.  Which is perfect on those tough - let's get ready and get you to school without another tardy type of mornings....  Please tell me I'm not the only one that struggles getting my kids (or one specific kid really) out the door in the morning.

Go grab it on iTunes or the whole album Love Along The Way on Amazon.  You won't be sorry.


While I'm on the subject of my almost tardy every day child, she said something really funny the other day.  My phone was playing random songs (not on a playlist) and "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" (also recorded by Jaime Thietten  although on a different album) started playing.  The first lyrics to the song are, Jesus Christ is Risen Today, Alleluia. Our Triumphant Holy Day. Alleluia.

Birdie listened to the words and said, "How is it triumphant if she is singing it so slowly?"
Big smile from me!  That is so my Birdie. I don't think I'll ever hear that song the same way again.


It's mid-February and I'm already thinking about summer. So wrong, I know but VBS won't plan itself.  Our Everest VBS starter kit from Our Sunday Visitor arrived this week.  I also need to select a week for my kids to all go to The Pines Catholic Summer Camp in northeast Texas.  This is will be their third year (Birdie's second) and they can't wait to go back.

Do you help with VBS at your church?  Let's swap tips!  Also, if you don't know about The Pines, you must check it out!!


I know pride is a sin, but I am one proud mom this week!  My oldest served as cantor again at our parish 9 am Mass last Sunday.  Only thirteen years old and she has the guts (and the voice) to sing by herself from the ambo in front of 700 people.  Crazy!!  Of course I took video and a few pictures during mass.  I've posted the video over on our Of Sound Mind and Spirit Facebook page.  Go check it out.

On top of that, this week she joined the Track and Field team at middle school.  What??  Her dad and I were stunned.  She's never shown interest before in running, or even in playing any sport since she left soccer at 6 years old.  This is the child who absolutely hates to try new things.  When I picked her up from the first day of practice she was white as a sheet and whispered, "That was really hard."  But she kept at it all week, pushing through the fatigue and soreness.  Now she's looking forward to trying the hurdles next week???

Seeing her this week really brought tears to my eyes after the struggles she's had with anxiety over the last four years.  But that's another blog post.


Not to leave my son out of this quick takes, Daniel celebrated his Arrow of Light (Cub Scout graduation) in January and is a new Boy Scout.  This weekend he is off to his first Boy Scout campout without my husband or I going with him!  There will be plenty of other parents going, so we really aren't nervous.  It's just a sign of more things to come for him as he gets older.


You may remember a few months ago I shared that I was helping to plan my parish's first Catholic Ladies Retreat. Well, the actual retreat occurred last month and it was a huge success. I seriously owe you a blog post (or two or three) all about it.  But when I came home I was a little emotional about the experience and the weekend as a whole.  Maybe by putting it out here I will make myself finish writing about it, because God was truly at work with the women of our parish.  And He still is...


Happy Valentine's Day!!!  

My family woke up this morning and was shocked to learn that I made them a Valentine's Day treat!   I'm so excited about it I just have to share:  Chocolate covered Valentine Twinkies on a stick! Oh Yes!!!
Chocolate Covered Valentine Twinkies on a Stick

It's Pinterest project - you can find it here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Attending Church: Reflections on the Mass

Photo by Sonny Carter, used with permission
The Minor Basilica of the
Immaculate Conception
Natchitoches, LA
Photo by Sonny Carter
As we approach Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season, consider this question: Where are you with attending church today? 

Just like getting up early to exercise physically, it can sometimes be a chore to get up early to exercise spiritually.  Maybe, like many of us, you have a spouse or kids who may not feel so devoted or excited to be pulled out of bed on Sunday morning or told to stop what they’re doing, shower, and get ready on Sat or Sun afternoon for church. What would their response be if you said to go to the movies?  To go out to eat at your favorite restaurant?   Why not church! 

You probably know the arguments.  My faith is between God and myself.  I can be close to God anywhere; my faith is not about a building or other people.  Yes, your faith is your personal relationship with God  - and to grow in that relationship you need to spend time with Him, in His house, surrounded by your brothers and sisters in Christ. When your dad invites you to come over to the house for dinner with your family, do you accept his invitation or do you tell him you’ll only meet him on your terms, your needs? 

God Speaks to You
Have you ever had a moment when you’re struggling with something? Maybe finances, maybe something going on at work or school that is preventing you from feeling close to God. You come to church because you have to and the first song strikes you right in the heart.  Or one of the readings, or the Homily, just “speaks” to you, as if God Himself is saying I know what you need to hear right now. Maybe last Sunday you were sitting, disconnected, mulling over your latest worry, when suddenly the lector began the second reading saying, “Brothers and sisters: I should like you to be free of anxieties.”    

Do you have a Parish Home? 
For 11 years St. Bernadette served as our home parish. It’s where my children received their sacraments. Where I taught my first CCE, served on committees, and felt embraced by an extended family community. Even after we moved away 2 ½ years ago, we visit every year for Epiphany. We still recognize the same families and are warmly greeted. It still feels like home. Changing Parishes was difficult and requires an open heart and a willingness to serve.  When we moved across town, I purposefully volunteered at our new parish, in order to get to know the people and make a new home.  In some respects it’s been different from our former parish, but after two years it’s starting to feel comfortable.

Catholic Calisthenics
Catholics often catch a lot of flak for moving around so much in Mass.  When speaking to our teens, the Pastor called this posturing “Catholic Calisthenics.” Stand up - sit down -  kneel.  It’s often confusing for non-Catholic Christians visiting a church, yet Fr. John explained it very simply. When you sit you are receptive. When you stand you are active.  When you kneel you are reverent. We sit when we listen to the readings, to the homily; we are open and receptive to God’s word. We stand when we are actively hearing the Gospel, praying, participating. We kneel in reverence for the blessing and in the presence of the Eucharist.

Participating with Music
There are often debates about what type of music should be offered during Mass and it varies from parish to parish. Some churches stick with traditional, some are more contemporary. I love them all. From the Latin chant (which is underused today in my opinion), to the post-Vatican II songs of my childhood, to the Praise & Worship contemporary Christian music used during the “Life Teen” Mass on Sunday night. There is a time and a place for each type of music to praise God and make you feel at home. St. Augustine of Hippo is often (falsely) credited with saying, “When we sing, we pray twice.”  What a beautiful way to praise God with our voices.

So, how do you feel about attending church today? Do you have a parish home that offers you a prayerful opportunity to hear God speaking in your heart? As Lent approaches next week, consider visiting God in His house this season. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

26 Point Something - A Houston Marathon Review

My husband Brian joins us here on Of Sound Mind and Spirit to share his experience running the 2015 Chevron Houston Marathon.


It’s 3:45am on a Sunday morning and my alarm is on its second snooze cycle. As I roll out of bed, I pull the short chain under the lamp shade and peer around the room. It’s early, but I’m not tired, not today. In fact, for the first time in several weeks, everything is in perfect order. My clothes are neatly positioned on the foot of the bed as if someone were already wearing them, my shoes are fully open with the tongue pulled completely out, and my gym bag is overstuffed with two pairs of everything. Today is going to be a good day. Today is Marathon Day!

For the past six months my family has endured the monotony and annoying habits that accompany a marathon runner in training. Friday nights have been transformed from late night Mexican food dinners with queso and margaritas to early light dinners and sunset bedtimes. My spouse has come to grips with the simple fact that “us time” and “date night” will always be on a Saturday evening during running season. Furthermore, all of our weekend planning revolves around a 9:00am Saturday morning start time, any earlier is a show stopper. Want to leave town Friday after work? Nope. Skip the Saturday morning run you say? Not an option. There’s an unhealthy level of guilt accompanied with a sharpened sense of disappointment that makes the sheer thought of this unbearable. Rain or shine, hot or cold, sick or heathy, the run happens. Such is the mindset of a runner. Don’t believe me? Ask a runner what they did the past weekend, I guarantee you the first thing they will do is explain their Saturday run, and most likely, you will receive a lot more detail than you really care to know.

This morning I was going to run my second marathon. But even though it was something I had done before, I was anxious and started obsessing about the most trivial things. Did I pack enough food? Did I bring enough clothes? Did I put on enough body glide? Looking back, I think there was a certain advantage to the pure ignorance of what I was about to undertake the first time I did this. I was overthinking it, and I knew it.

I arrived at the convention center at precisely 5:00am. The volunteers opened the doors and I was in. The next two hours seemed to pass within an instant. At precisely 6:30am, the loudspeakers chirped and the announcer told everyone to start heading to the corrals. For those that are not familiar with race logistics, corrals are designated areas in which runners start the race at different times to help balance out the field of runners. In theory, it is a way of managing the flow of runners in throughout the course. I was assigned to the third corral, corral C. I picked up my bag and headed to the exit. At that moment, it hit me. No, not the gravity of what I was about to do, that would have been too easy. No, the nerves had my kidneys going into overdrive and I had to pee. Once that was over with, myself and 30,000 of my closest friends headed out to my corral.

Starting Line Selfie
The race promptly started at 7:00am. I crossed the starting line at 7:20am. A few minutes before I took out my phone and snapped the obligatory selfie and texted it to my spouse with some kind of ridiculous message like “I’m off!” or “On my way!”. And just like that, it was on. Just like the prior year, the first 8 miles were very congested. Runners are shoulder to shoulder weaving in and out of any open spaces trying to find their pace. This is where you really see the true nature of people. Some are friendly and say “Pardon me” if they bump into you, others are more than happy to give you an elbow and look at you like you just slapped their mother. Such is life.

 Mile 8 is really where an air of blissfulness begins to fall onto the course. Mile 8 is where mental clarity and spirituality merge to form a higher level of harmony. But most importantly, Mile 8 is where the 1/2 marathon runners turn to the left and the full marathon runners veer the right. The prior year, this point of the race was a defining factor me. It was uncharted territory. I literally said out loud to myself “Wow, I’ve never been this way before”. It was fresh, it was new, it was exciting. This year, the same feelings persisted, only I sported an immense grin and forwent the comment. I was glad I doing it again, and I felt good.

My Family at Mile 9 - Houston Marathon
Up until this point in the race, I had not really rested. I had fast-walked through the first three water stops as to not spill water all over myself and I had not seen my spouse and kids. Mentally I was starting to tell myself that I needed to take a break, even though physically I was fine.

 At that moment, I looked up from the pavement could see four people in the crowd wearing bright orange waving their arms and calling my name. It was my wife and kids, and they jumped up and down like puppies that had not seen their owner all day. It was an amazing moment and exactly what I needed at that point in time. I stopped for a few moments, hugged and kissed them all and started back on my trek. A few minutes later I saw some people from office that had come out to support us. They were just excited and it gave me a certain level of pride knowing that they cared enough to come out to cheer us on.

At this point, I knew mile 11 was getting close. Mile 11 is notorious for a large overpass and can be a mental feat on any given day. It was just around the corner and I could see it. Thinking back while on a long run this season, a friend of mine I was running with asked me what my plan was for the marathon. I had never heard of a marathon plan. She informed me that one of the items on her plan was to walk this overpass and conserve her strength for the later mileage. As I came around the corner, this echoed in my mind. I trotted about half way up the hill and walked the rest of the way to the top. Downhill, however, is a completely different story. We are taught the downhill is your uphill reward and that you should take full advantage of it. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see people racing the downhills only to see them walk again at the bottom completely out of breath. I took mine at a ginger pace as to not wear myself out.

At mile 13 I saw my family again and had another milestone, the halfway point. This is a milestone that is easily quantifiable and to be honest, there’s something bliss about hearing yourself in your own voice that you have more behind you than in front of you. After mile 13, I decided to focus on the pavement as a distraction. With my head down and the crowd cheering, I tried to block out the ambient noise and try to make some distance.

 About a mile later I happened to look up and directly in front of me was my friend Cintia, she was in the same mode doing the same thing, just focusing on each footstep. I tapped her on the shoulder, smiled and asked her how she was doing. She simply replied, “Brian, I’ve prayed three times already.” I laughed and said “well, I think I did too!” I realized at that point that laughter was going to be my crutch for the rest of the day. From that moment forward, whenever things started to get tough, or my legs started to hurt, I would laugh and try to think of something witty to say about the pain.

Cintia of and Brian at Mile 16 - Chevron Houston Marathon
Cintia and I ran into my family again at mile 16. She saw my spouse holding up a sign that had her name on it, she ran over and gave her a big hug. I got the distinct feeling that this really meant a lot to her. I just leaned over and said “She’s a fan of yours”.

We continued to run and focus on the positive things that were happening. One of the things that kept our spirits up is and became a running joke was spectators shouting out our names. In order to keep track of the runners, the marathon organizer issues every participant a bib with a unique number on it. This is what identifies you in pictures and links you to your overall time and results. In addition to the number, the marathon also prints a name of your choosing on the front of the bib. Most people choose their first name, as it encourages spectators on the course to call out your name. Cintia had lamented that because her name was not necessarily a common name that people would not scream out her name very often. Sure enough, every few minutes someone would yell “Go Brian!” and my friend Cintia would just shake her head. Again, it was a good distraction and worth a good chuckle.

At mile 18 my friend Sean jumped on the course to run with me from 18 to 22. Sean was great. He did a masterful job of keeping my mind off of the pain in my legs. He was also a witness to my hysteria. I would be giggling under my breath, Sean would turn and ask me what was so funny, in which I would reply, “I hurt so bad its funny.” His humor and quick wit made 18 - 22 bearable.

My Cheering Section at Mile 22
At mile 22 my entire work crew was there to greet us. It was a great moment and I gained another running partner. Stephanie had agreed to run me in from 22 into downtown. Stephanie was the exact opposite of Sean in terms of her approach. Whereas Sean was a master of distraction, Stephanie was strictly focused on the goal. She started out by telling us that there was some news in the headlines, there was a shooting outside of the Vice President’s house and there was a car chase in process that the Houston Police were hoping would end before it hit the marathon route. “Now we have that out of the way, let’s run!” she said.

At mile 24 I got the wild idea in my head that we should “sprint” the last two miles to the finish. I wished Cintia luck and Stephanie and I picked up our pace. In the beginning, it felt good. After about a 1/2 mile I began to feel a slight cramp in my right quad muscle which rapidly turned into a full blown charlie horse. With only 2 miles to go, my right quad made it feel like 20. When we arrives into the shadows of downtown Houston, Stephanie saw one of the marathon pacers in front of us holding up his pace sign. She instantly became laser focused on directing me to catch the pacer, and at one point I thought I just might be able to.

With less than a mile left to the finish line my leg cramped up again. The grand finish I had imagined of running full speed across the finish line with thousands of people cheering me on was suddenly looking like it might turn into a brisk walk with a dash of hobble. At this point Stephanie had to leave the course as non-bibbed runners are not allowed to cross the finish line. She continued to run with me the last 8 blocks by running on the sidewalk, dodging through people while continuing to encourage me to move forward. I am incredibly grateful for her tenacity and dedication, anyone could have just stopped at that point, but she pushed me to the very end. When I rounded the final block, I could see the finish line and the large digital time clock ticking up the time. I was 100 yards away and I was 2 minutes faster than my total time from the previous year. I had 120 seconds to achieve my goal. I crossed the finish line 1 minute quicker than my time from last year.


The following Monday I had the opportunity to tell everyone in my office the story and the chain of events as they unfolded above. It’s interesting to observe the looks that you get when you are telling your tale and the way people unconsciously shake their heads in a “no” fashion. It is usually followed up with a comment like “I don’t know how you did it” or “I could never do that”. I make a point every time to tell people “If I can do this, anybody can do this”. I think it all comes down to a quote I read the Friday before the marathon that really resonated with me throughout the entire race. “Running a marathon is 90% mental. The other 10% is just in your head”. This rings true in every way. You do not really know your true self until you have run a marathon. Don’t believe me? Do it. Get to know yourself. It’ll be the best day of your life.

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