Archived Family Faith enCOURAGEment articles, published in our Parish Bulletin:
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September 27, 2020: I have a confession. I do not like change. I do like routine, consistency, and ‘normal’- whatever normal is. I am a planner, a type A personality, and I like to be in charge. Well, this year has taught me that I am most definitely NOT in charge.
Over the summer, my family discovered that we are unexpectedly expecting our fourth baby! There was a little shock at the thought of adding another baby into the fold when there’s a global pandemic, my Dad is having a major surgery, and we felt quite comfortable with our family size and three amazing daughters.
My husband and I discerned that our family needed to make a move in order to comfortably fit everyone and care for the needs of each child, so in addition to wrapping our minds around the new baby coming, we have also been packing and renovating our new house. Remember how I like control? Well, moving makes you feel shockingly NOT in control. Something about packing everything you own into boxes and then unpacking them in a new place after discovering there is some creature living in the basement, the electrical needs to be redone because the wires in the outlets are crossed, and the contractors are all backed up because of COVID so the projects we wanted done have to wait that makes you realize, nope- I am NOT in control. (Don’t worry the electrical is being fixed ASAP and that creature is being removed promptly too! The contractors we are waiting on are drywall for the basement and bathroom contractors.)
2020 has been a year where I think we have all felt a lack of control over our lives, and mentally that has been a BIG challenge for people like me.
Yesterday, I attended my twelve week OB appointment and was able to hear the baby’s heartbeat. That sound reminded me of the amazing beauty that comes from not being in control. I am so excited for my growing family! I am so excited that God is blessing us with a new baby!
Maybe 2020 has been mentally arduous for you. Maybe you’ve been faced with the reality that control is not something we ever really have in this life. And maybe, just maybe, you’ve found beauty in the fact that God is in control. God has this. He is holding us in the palm of His hand. His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts, but He loves us and lavishes love upon us in the most unexpected of ways.
May God bless you and your loved ones,
September 14, 2020: I was chatting recently with my good friend Fr. Jake (yes, the one who was our associate!) about how much I miss Holy Water fonts. His response was “I know a guy who knows a guy…” which of course made me laugh for a good long time. I might still be laughing about it in all honesty!
This exchange also made me think about the other ‘things I miss’. Typically, I try not to dwell on things that are lacking, or even to focus on the things that are different. I try to just take each day as it comes. But I realized that to not admit to myself the things that are different that I miss, is to do a huge disservice to myself too.
Now, this is not a complaint about how COVID 19 changed everything. Because some of the changes I have been pretty pleased with! I took my four year old to the dentist recently, and I texted them when we arrived. They texted back when it was time to come inside and we were in and out of that office in 25 minutes; with a four year old who now had sparkly clean teeth. This is the sort of efficient change I can get on board with forever!
But there are things that I mourn not having present in my life. Holy Water fonts, receiving from the chalice, the sign of peace, squishing together into the pews to make room for more families, the rustling of hymnals, and the way the church is filled with singing when one of the old hymns that everyone knows and sings is selected and played at Mass.
I know that in family life, and faith life, the world seems topsy turvy. Our children are perhaps attending virtual school, perhaps they are being homeschooled, perhaps they are attending a new school because that was what we discerned was best for our situations. Over the past few months we have made rapid fire decisions regarding our families and their best interests. And these decisions have had to be made. They have been hard and for many families I have spoken with, they have been agonizing. Yet, here we are, as parents, grandparents, and family members, making the decisions, discerning, and moving forward each day because what else can we do?
If you, like me, have been faced with many different balls to juggle during this time, you may have done what I’ve done- not allowed yourself to feel the gravity of the decisions and changes that are affecting you. So today’s family faith encouragement is to allow yourself some quiet time to feel and mourn the changes, to recognize what you miss and to name it. To sit with your husband or wife with a delicious beverage of your choice and to talk about what has changed and how making all these decisions has made you feel. It is good for us to take a time to recognize that we do have feelings that surround all the chaos that has happened with the beginning of the school year and the COVID 19 world.
Feelings, when shoved into the darkness, fester into anger. We are not an angry people, we are a joyful people! But we are allowed to name our feelings, to mourn for things we miss that remind us of a simpler time and to feel the weight of the crosses of the big decisions we as parents have made.
And the beautiful thing is that even Jesus wept. Jesus is with us in the midst of it all, and He will sustain us. Be honest with yourself, and be honest with Him. My prayer is that you’ll find thinking through these things healing in a way you didn’t even know you needed. That is certainly what I found!
May God bless you this week, and always,
September 6, 2020: It’s officially here. The start of ‘fall’. I know that technically we have until the equinoxes, but meteorologically, fall actually begins on September first! So here we are, beginning a new school year, and transitioning into new routines with our family.
I never realized before how many transitions take place in the month of September. Back to school, back to routine, back to regular bedtimes, back to structure, back to well- everything! Of course, the differences in this year compared to the other years are profound. This is my point: we have had to adapt and adjust and do things in ways we never ever thought about this year. And, we’ve grown. My- how we’ve grown!
When I think about the person I was before ‘quarantine’, and when I think about the person that I am now, I realize that I have become more adaptable, that I have problem solved, I have discerned what is best for my family, and I have faced obstacles that I had never considered as being issues. Multiple Zoom calls at a time in the family- got that figured out! Multiple devices being needed simultaneously- got that figured out too! Keeping the two year old off the Zoom calls…still working on that!
I know that times of transition can often feel overwhelming to adults- and more so even to children. But my encouragement to you today, is to look back and to think about how you’ve grown since ‘quarantine’. This won’t be a normal year, but it will be a year that will undoubtedly challenge us, that will allow us to problem solve, to trouble shoot, and if we have the heart and the courage to let God in to our lives- He will bless us immeasurably.
So no matter how you’re schooling this year, no matter what decisions you as a family have made, know that you are valued and loved by the God who made you. His strength will hold you steadfastly through any obstacle.
May God bless you this week and always,
July 12, 2020: This quarantine (things I never thought I’d say!) has been busy in so many ways. As a wife, and as a mother, navigating working from home all while taking care of three young children has been a nonstop ride. Sometimes I feel like I’m on a carousel that only stops at meal times! (And snack times, because three little girls are constantly asking me for snacks.) It has been stressful, and absolutely chaotic.
That being said, without the pressures of running outside of the house to ALL the places- I’ve managed to somehow learn some new skills! I realized a few years ago that I love learning but for most of my motherhood, I did not fill that part of myself up nearly enough, and myself and my family was negatively impacted by this neglect of a key aspect of my personality. This insight into my own personality means that I know that in times of great stress or need, I have a drive to learn- to grow, and to take advantage of the opportunities for growth that have been presented.
Perpetually looking for the bright side can be exhausting and I realize how incredibly difficult these past few months have been for many. In no way do I want to downplay the struggles we have faced, but I do tend to consider myself a ‘glass half full’ type of person, so here’s my good news. In terms of opportunity to learn new skills, the bright side of quarantine is that I have been able to learn some really neat new things- things that I enjoy and that will help me in my vocation as wife, mother, and even as a faith formation coordinator!
What I have realized is that when I do not take into account my own needs, my family suffers. The truth of the matter is that I’m a beloved daughter of God, and I am called to serve my family. However, as a beloved daughter of God, my care of the mental, physical, and emotional abilities that God has given to me IS important. These past few months have been challenging in ways that we could never have imagined. And in family life, it’s so easy to forget ourselves, and to forget that WE (the parents) are beloved children of God. So, my encouragement to you, is to look for ways to bolster your own needs. If it’s a quiet walk alone once a day, if it’s painting or drawing, journaling, or learning new skills, playing a sport, and especially time in prayer- make that a priority for a week and see how your family benefits from you having some ‘you’ time.
May God Bless Your Week,
March 19, 2020: The landscape of the world we live in has seemingly flipped upside down over the past week. There is a lot of togetherness for our family on the horizon. And, I mean, a lot. Like any family, we will have moments of joy and laughter, and also moments of struggle as we figure out this new normal. Being thrust into homeschooling a first grader and preschooler, (and of course still keeping an eye on a toddler) will be a challenge to not only us parents, but also the children! Their routines are impacted just as much, if not more, than mine! In thinking about this, and acknowledging that times ahead will be an adjustment, I thought about where I have turned to in the hard times.
God has blessed me with a love for the Eucharist through a wonderful dream experience that led me to where I am today. In my adult faith life, the Eucharist has been a staple for strength in hardships and hard times. I draw upon the strength in the Eucharist as succor for my own journey, and there are many times when I have not had the strength, so He’s lent His to me. That’s the amazing love Jesus has for us and it has played out over and over again in my life.
So, in a slight sense of bewilderment I struggled through livestreaming Mass this past week because again, the world is different and this is not how we Sunday in regular circumstances – and the Eucharist seemed distant. Thankfully, the Lord is so good that He allowed me time to reflect on the readings after Mass Sunday. I was amazed when I read the entire long form of the Gospel. Jesus says “my food is to do the will of the One who sent me.” I felt like a mic drop happened in my brain. Nothing right now looks like anything I had planned. But, it’s obvious that the will of God right now is for me to take care of my family.
Right now receiving the Eucharist is something that I am unable to do. And yes, I miss the comfort of visiting our Lord in adoration to draw upon His strength. But, right now – I am taking comfort in the fact that caring for my family and their education and well-being – that is the will of the One who sent Him (Jesus). And I expect amazing graces to come from honoring this task. Because, the Lord has never once refused me when I asked for His strength. The Lord has poured grace upon grace into my life in some very difficult situations. Cancer diagnosis of a beloved parent, surgeries for my children, miscarriages and infertility, financial difficulties and marital struggles all have been lifted before the Lord and in each struggle He has given me a taste of His love. He is with us here and now, and He is pouring into us the graces we need to live a holy life.
I will make my spiritual communion, and I will love my family and do my best to honor God’s will for my life at this time. I would like to share with you a prayer that came into my heart a few months ago. I pray it often and hope you will join me in asking the Lord for His constant love and protection over all those we love. I suspect that this prayer will be a great source of strength and courage in the days ahead.
Lord, I tuck (names), into the wound of your most Sacred Heart. Cover (names) with your grace. I unite myself and all I love to your flesh in the Eucharist. Graft me onto the treasure of your mercy. Fill me with your love that I might do Your will and love You with all my heart.
Peace to you and your family, Olivia McCarthy
December 29, 2019: I love New Years’. I love the promise of a New Year, a better version of myself, a blank slate with nothing to mar it. I have enough optimism to think ‘maybe this year will be the year no bad things come to our family. Maybe this year will be a year full of so many blessings and only joy!’
I also have enough realism to know that in any life there is joy, but there is also sorrow and suffering and pain. From difficulties with children, to a diagnosis rocking everything the family holds dear, I’ve experienced it. Loss, pain, sorrow, and suffering have all been part of my years and will continue to impact my life.
But, just like anything – there is another side to this story. That other side is how I will respond in the face of the ‘tough stuff’. Two words that have inspired me frequently as I have been meditating on Scripture are words I want to share with you for 2020. The words are courage and hope. Saint Paul says that “we are courageous”. The reason for our courage is because we hope in Christ. In the midst of pain, and sorrow, or joy and abundance, we hold our hope of Jesus Christ’s eternal life in our hearts.
It is far easier to despair than it is to have hope. Yet, this year, no matter what comes, I will cling to Jesus. I will place my hope in Him and His everlasting reign as King of the Universe. I will place my family – my children, my husband, and myself, under His protection and loving arms and I will continue to turn my face toward Him, even when hard things come my way. I invite you to consciously do the same. After all we know that “all things work together for good, for those who love God.”
This New Year may hold a trial that seems insurmountable. Turn to Him. Have hope in Him. This New Year may hold an abundance of blessings and joys and wonderful news for your family. Turn to Him. Have hope in Him. Enter into this new year with the peace that comes from hoping in the Lord and loving God with your heart. Without hope, we have nothing. With hope – we have everything!
Perhaps there’s only one New Years’ resolution I need: Hope in Jesus, always.
May God bless you this New Year.
December 22, 2019: Last year, I wrote an article about how some Masses, all I do is manage my children’s behavior and try to prevent the baby from crawling three pews back, or forward. And, that even if I don’t really hear a word at Mass, I still receive blessings and immeasurable graces by being there. And, even if the baby cries through the entire Mass, she still receives blessings and immeasurable graces too. I received so much positive feedback on this article that I think it’s worth revisiting!
The truth is that Sunday Mass for the past six and a half years has been challenging for me simply because when I’m there with my children, there is the inevitable squabble over crayons, ‘Mommy I need to go potty’ whisper, or the determination to take every single wipe out of the container and then have a tantrum when I put a stop to that delightful, but wasteful activity. Going to Mass with young children is hard – worth it – but hard. I do often feel like I didn’t hear a word at Mass.
I don’t have all the answers, but something I have begun doing this new liturgical year that I have found incredibly fruitful is to read the Sunday Mass readings in advance and reflect on them in a quiet space. Not just the Gospel, but the first reading, the responsorial psalm, and the second reading too.
Even if I spend most of Mass in the gathering space chasing a very determined and incredibly mobile toddler, I have allowed the Word of God to penetrate my heart. I have allowed God’s love to be poured into me through His word and through the gift of the Mass. And, despite the difficulties of having young children in the pews with me at Mass, I have allowed the form of the Mass to impact me. I have listened for words that stood out to me in my reading. Even if I only hear one word in between the chaos, I know that word, and it has meaning for me.
So, I encourage you – especially those of you who come to Mass and relate to my struggles because you too have young children with you right now – pull up the Sunday Mass readings online before coming in. Take five to ten minutes out of your lunch break to read these readings in advance and know the graces that God is pouring over you each time you come to Mass.
December 15, 2019: My children are so excited about the pink advent candle. They have been anticipating lighting the pink one since advent began. In fact, if they had their way, we would have lit the pink candle first and maybe added the purple ones in later. In a house with three daughters, pink is a well loved color.
Something that my children have taught me this Advent is that waiting is hard. Waiting and being still is even harder. Sometimes I, just like my children, have to be busy. What I’ve learned is that there is a big difference between business for the sake of not being still and business because you are working hard at meaningful tasks.
So, for these next two weeks of Advent, there will undoubtedly be preparations. I will mail out Christmas cards, wrap presents, and bake. We will be busy. And, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this busyness. These traditions are great ways to come together as a family, to share our love with our friends, and to celebrate the greatest gift the world has ever been given! But all these tasks will not lift my spirit up to the Lord unless I also take time to be still. To go to adoration, to go to Mass during the week, to pray quietly and journal- these are all just as important ways to prepare for Christmas as the physical, busy and often chaotic tasks that can consume a family so very easily this time of year.
I think about when each of my three daughters was born. How I just sat there and lovingly looked at them. I could not believe they were (finally) here! I remember how before they were born I often sat and just enjoyed a little peace because I knew that once our new baby arrived things would become busier and harder to manage. In the midst of everything, before my world changes, I know how much I need that stillness. The thing about Christmas is that it isn’t just my world that changed that night, it was the whole world. As we prepare to welcome the Christ Child into our hearts anew, we all need that peace which can only be found when we slow down and allow ourselves to be still.
November 3, 2019: This past August, my husband and I participated in a sprint triathlon on the west side of the state. In addition to being the most fun athletic event we’ve ever done, we had the added bonus of doing something together and carving out a night away without our children. Our three daughters were so interested in what we were doing that they even hosted their own version of a sprint triathlon at their grandparent’s house on our race day. We didn’t try to force our interest on them. We didn’t ask them to do any training with us. (Admittedly the younger ones did sometimes run with us in the jogging stroller and they came with us to the beach when we were doing our swimming training.) We simply explained what we were doing, were joyful in the training process, and showed them that we were excited about our race. That was all it took for their interest to be piqued. They were fascinated with the fact that Mommy and Daddy were doing something and they wanted to participate.
I’ve found that joy is infectious, it spreads. People who are truly joyful in their lives are fun to be around! People take note of what joyful people do. They try to find out what interests these joyful people, and often, they try to imitate it because everyone wants to be joyful. And- good news – when it comes to parenting and raising our children up in the Faith, that’s no different.
This leads me to a series of hopefully thought provoking questions for you to reflect on. Are we joyful in our vocations? Are we carving out time to regularly spend with the Lord in prayer? Do our children see us praying? Do we feel confident enough in our primary role as beloved children of God to tell our children that we are praying – especially if we are struggling in that moment? Do we pray not just for other people, but also for ourselves? Do we ask for the graces we need to be the parents God calls us to be, for more patience, more gentleness, more kindness, more understanding, more joy? Let us especially pray for more joy this week because, when our children see our joy in the Faith, they will take note – they will be interested, and they will even try it out on their own.
Peace and joy to you and your families this week!
June 16, 2019: A few weeks ago my oldest daughter piped up from the backseat with a comment that made me laugh at first, and then ended up being rather thought provoking. What she said made me think about identity. When I asked her what she needed to do, she responded with, “We are McCarthy’s! We use our noodles!” (As in, in our family, we think!) At the age of five, my daughter is rooted in her identity as a McCarthy. But, even beyond our small family identity, there is a bigger identity that we all share! We are Catholics! But even more so than being Catholics, we are all beloved sons and daughters of God! This common identity that we all share extends to every person in our parish and beyond. The good news is that Jesus gave us instructions for how we are to act as His followers. Pretty explicitly, He says “whatever you do to the least of these, you did for me”. So, as part of a broader parish family and also in your own family unit – this week I encourage you to look for ways to serve the least among us. The children, the elderly, the poor, the hungry, the thirsty – there are many among us who we can serve!
June 9, 2019: Children have a natural joy, a natural inclination to curiosity that makes sharing the Good News of the Gospel with them so fun! But, sharing the Gospel with small children can seem scary or complicated. If you’re thinking ‘I can hardly remember my grocery list, I can’t remember if God created the fish or the stars on day four of creation! How am I supposed to teach the faith to my children?’ I want to encourage you- You are NOT alone! And, teaching the faith to young children is easier than you might think! One of the most effective ways I have found to share the joy of the Gospel with my own children is to ask them questions. Simple questions like, ‘where did you see God today?’ (known as God-sightings), can be an awesome addition to your family dinner table. Other times we try ‘what do you want to ask Jesus for right now?’ (this is teaching petition, and sometimes I have to remind them we are not asking Jesus for more candy), and recently I tried this one “why do you love Jesus?” This question took me aback because the way my three year old daughter responded was so beautiful. At age three, my daughter responded “because He is so good.” How amazing is that truth! Jesus is SO GOOD. And, even very young children can have a relationship with Him! So, this week, try it out- ask your children a question about Jesus, and be amazed at the simple wisdom hidden in their responses.
June 2, 2019: Our family is busy. Between school, and housework, and work, and play dates, and trying to have fun, sometimes I find myself reducing our days to checklists. Though a to-do list is a very useful tool, I was reminded that it is the acts of love we give to our families that actually bring the most peace. I’m not sure if the thirteen month sleep regression is an actual thing, but nevertheless, our family is currently experiencing it. Though this is frustrating, it recently became a moment for great grace. Instead of doing laundry, or dusting, or whatever other task was on my mind, I found myself sitting in the nursery, rocking my one year old baby, and feeling the sweet weight of a child in my arms long after she should have been asleep. This was a wonderful reminder of what is truly important in my life. For those precious minutes, the most important task I could accomplish was to be still, and to let my daughter feel the peace and love of my arms. Incidentally, it was the time when I felt the most loved by God. I was reminded of Psalm 46, verse 10, “Be still and know I am God.” If I am a beloved child of God, how am I resting in Him? Am I taking time to rest in Him? How could I add more time of stillness into my life? Into the life of my family? This time of rest and stillness is so important for all of us. This week, I challenge you to look for ways to incorporated moments of stillness and quiet into the joyful chaos of family life. May God bless your week! ~ Olivia McCarthy
May 19, 2019: I recently got a bike, and after six years of not riding a bike, I was rather nervous before my first ride. The first few wobbly rotations of the pedals, as my bike rocked precariously off balance – I wondered “is it true, do you really not forget how to ride a bike once you’ve learned?” Good news here – yes I can still ride a bike. As a young woman with a family of my own, I can now appreciate on a much deeper level the foundations that my own parents laid for me. I see how the time my parents invested in helping me to pray, to be kind, to be a team-player, and how to persevere in things despite difficulties; all these times were times my parents laid a solid foundation for me to build my life on. This is something I am so thankful for! I also see that these foundations are what I hope to pour into the lives of my children. Things like prayer, kindness, perseverance, and patience… these are things like riding a bike. You don’t unlearn them. As parents, we are able to model these foundational principals by the way we live our lives, and our children will learn them from us, and, once they learn them they have them forever! May God bless your week! ~ Olivia McCarthy
May 12, 2019: There is a phrase that seems to float around when it comes to marriage and family life. “Marriage is under attack,” or “families are under attack” seems to pop up from time to time. I am not disputing the spiritual battles that we all face in our vocations, but today I want to share an experience with you that reminded me in such a beautiful way that God’s grace is sufficient for us. His grace is more than sufficient – His grace is all we need! I recently attended the funeral of my great aunt. She was in her nineties and her husband had passed away a few years ago. Shortly before the funeral a different relative was talking about how things became harder for her once her husband died. They were married for sixty six years before he died after all! God is so beautiful and so gracious! As we all found out, the very day of her funeral was in fact their wedding anniversary. The day that would have marked seventy four years since they were married was the very day that she was laid to rest next to her husband for eternity. This couple, Virginia and Bernard, faced untold struggles and spiritual attacks in their life as a married couple, we all do. But their marriage was permeated by God’s grace. When I learned that the day of her funeral was also the day of her wedding anniversary, I could just imagine her husband running to meet her and welcoming her to their new home. What a moment of God’s grace to ordain that these two dates coincide. Marriage and family vocations are challenging, and truthfully we are up against an enemy. But, the good news is that God loves us. God loves marriage. God loves families. And God pours His grace and mercy down upon us through whatever struggles and trials we face. God’s grace is more than sufficient for us, and He loves us. May God bless your week, and may you always know that whatever you are experiencing in your life, your marriage, your family, God’s grace and love is bigger than the trial. God bless you! ~ Olivia McCarthy