Tips to Make Your Kids’ Valentine’s Day About True Love (No Crafting Involved!)

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I’m about to write something extremely controversial and provocative. Proceed with the pitchforks and torches if you must. It will not change my opinion. Here goes. I’m glad—no, downright gleeful that my kids’ Catholic school does not celebrate Valentine’s Day. There. It’s officially out there. I’m truly happy there will be no shoebox “mailboxes” wrapped in red and pink paper and plastered with colorful stickers and foam heart decorations. No cutesy purple cupcakes heaped with gobs of frosting and sprinkles. No party with pastel streamers, balloons, Pinterest-inspired crafts, sugary drinks paired with adorable polka-dotted straws, and candy galore. Some of these things I look back on fondly from my own youth. I did really love those candy hearts with the pithy little sayings… miss you, be mine, kiss me. And taking my stuffed mailbox back to my desk where I opened each valentine with eager anticipation—I’ll admit—it was fun. And yet, I don’t want that same pleasurable memory for my own kids? There’s a reason I’ve taken such a counter-cultural stance against the feast of February 14th. In one sentence, we’ve lost our minds, folks. We took a turn towards Cuckoo-Ville, accelerated, and haven’t looked back.

Call me an A-1 party pooper, but I don’t want to spend time making homemade Valentine’s Day cards for all 25 kids in each of my three kids’ classes. Heck, I don’t even want to buy the cheap-looking ones from the store, which are NOT cheap at all. They’re over-priced and over-the-top. While they used to include corny puns and a blank line for the child’s signature, now, they come with bubble wands, pencils, erasers, scented tattoos, gel clings. Because nothing says “Happy Valentine’s Day!” like a super sticky, mini gel red hand meant to be thrown at the wall. In short, junk. Some poor people in China toil away their lives in factories so we can send our kids to school with all this stuff, so their friends, in turn, can take them home and promptly throw them out.

Our kids titter and giggle about whether or not their crush gave them a card. We inadvertently confuse them about romantic love when they have no real business concerning themselves with it at this stage in the first place. Ick. We fete the day with extravagant parties that room moms have painstakingly planned over the course of several meetings. They discuss colorful menu items, Valentine’s day-themed games, and how to make the holiday a hit for their little ones. They spend too much money. Trust me. I know. I’ve been one of those moms. BUT STOP!

As Christians, our Valentine’s Day should look different than the consumeristic holiday it’s become. If you’re not following me, walk into any grocery store at this time, which most of us are required to do, and it’s like a hot pink volcano exploded, spewing flowers and pink confetti in every aisle. I’m down with love. I LOVE love! This is not love we’re celebrating. We’ve merely reduced it to the cheesy romantic love that plays out in greeting cards and Hollywood rom-coms, but not authentic love that involves sacrifice and selflessness. It’s a cheap imitation. The world takes something beautiful, contorts it, puts pretty packaging on it, and sells it back to us at a steal. Only $4.99 for all this cheap plastic? Wow! Yes, gimme 25.

What does the Catholic church say about St. Valentine? While the origin is undoubtedly Catholic, there is speculation about the real St. Valentine. It is believed that he is based on the amalgamation of three martyrs from different places and times who showed profound love to God and His church, such love that they each died for it. In 1969, the church dropped the observance of the feast from the Roman liturgical calendar since they couldn’t pinpoint the historical accuracy. But this idea of profound love for the Lord and others, this is the beacon we need so badly, in order to steer us out of this worldly pastel fog.

Those of you moms who would be devastated if little Jonny wouldn’t get to hand out or receive Valentines this year, consider some more powerful ways to incorporate love into their day. Make this Valentine’s Day about authentic love. Here are my tips to bring Christ to your Valentine’s Day celebration this year.

1. Before and after school bring up the subject of loving God and others. Suggest they perform an act of kindness without anyone else knowing. Pick something up in the lunchroom for the lunch ladies. Remind them to love the way God loves them: without condition or barrier. When they come home, have them share one good deed or selfless act they performed that day. Did he or she exhibit the love of Christ to a teacher or student today? Did they go out of their way to include someone who was being excluded? This is Christian love.

2. In morning family prayer, witness to your kids the beautiful, practical ways your spouse or a loved one expresses authentic love. Say out loud for little ears to hear, “Lord, I’m grateful for the way my husband patiently listens to me when I’m angry, upset, or overwhelmed. I am blessed that he puts our family’s needs ahead of his own and loves us unconditionally. I love that he knows I need help with the dishes more than a bouquet of flowers.”

3. Have them write a love letter or prayer of thanksgiving to God. It could be as simple as having them offer up a prayer of gratitude in family morning prayer or have them meditate on it during the day. Then they can share God’s blessings for evening prayer.

4. Read a saint story that exhibits a profound love of God and others. Other people’s stories resonate in our own lives and make a big impact. There are countless Saint options here. Some of our family’s favorites: Jose Luis Sanchez Del Rio, Gemma Galgani, Mother Teresa, Dominic Savio. Google a saint, read his or her story. Discuss. Done.

5. Write Valentine’s Day cards to the elderly. This is when you can tap into your craftiness for a good purpose. Make cards for a nursing home or an elderly neighbor. Deliver them and watch Christ’s love transform the giver and recipient.

These are merely small ways to make Valentine’s Day more Christ-centered. But they all echo something much bigger—real Christian love—not the frothy, frilly consumer version that is shoved down our throats. For the record, my kids get to wear pink or red on Valentine’s Day. They assemble “blessings bags” for the homeless. The ziplock bags are filled with donated toiletries and other useful items the kids can hand out to those we encounter on our daily commute. Coincidentally, we will also be celebrating our parish’s feast day this week, while the rest of the world revels in sugary sweet confections. Our Lady of Lourdes appeared to a young, poor French girl in 1858. Mary had a simple message: she told Bernadette to pray and make sacrifices for sinners. Talk about true love.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

*Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

Exercise?! I thought you said extra fries!

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Since one of my New Year’s resolutions is to be more authentic, I admit that the fun title for this post came from a little framed art piece I spotted in the aisles of JoAnn Fabrics. While I would prefer to confess my inspiration springs from all that Kierkegaard, Tolstoy, and Shakespeare I’ve been poring over lately (NOT!) or the endless hours minutes spent in daily prayer and reflection… I’m certain God continues to seek this undeserving soul’s attention. And He will undoubtedly work with what He has. Sometimes that’s the clearance section of a big-box fabric store.

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DON’T STEP IN IT! 5 Things you should NEVER say at a Family Gathering

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I’ve been on the receiving end of countless awkward comments. Unfortunately, I’ve uttered plenty of them too. Navigating social situations is a bit like dodging roadside IED’s while blindfolded. The obstacle course often gets more treacherous at family gatherings during the holidays. Christmas get-togethers are already rife with turmoil and stress. Merely sharing surnames and relatives doesn’t mean anyone will agree on anything: faith, politics, diet, fashion, or even what’s funny. Why would anyone want to pile on and make an already difficult situation more strained? “Pass the green bean casserole, Uncle Ned, you pony-tail wearing, commie-loving hippie!” Obviously, not appropriate. But what about the more veiled remarks delivered with the best of intentions? These little conversational nuggets are the dirty bombs of small talk. The gift that keeps giving—like my father-in-law’s homemade sugar-free cranberry sauce which packs a bitter wallop upon first taste, but the memory of that punishing, mouth-puckering sharpness lingers a lifetime.

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Where’s the Beef This Advent?

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If you’re as ancient as I am, you’ll remember those Wendy’s commercials from the 1980s which featured a spritely grandma who takes apart her fast-food burger to reveal two comically oversized buns with a pathetic, tiny piece of meat nestled on one of the halves, barely detectable. It’s dwarfed by the pickle chip. An unwitting spokesperson, this little gray-haired lady, heroically takes up the voice for the rest of America. She, like all of us, is tired of being ripped off, as she rightly demands, “Where’s the beef?” (If you don’t know the commercial, trust me—it’s a laugh riot, but you should stop reading now so you can finish your spelling homework.) The point of the commercial is that other fast food joints try to pass off tiny burgers in enormous buns to unsuspecting customers, while Wendy’s clearly has their priorities straight. It’s all about what’s sandwiched between the gigantic slabs of bread, the generously portioned all-beef patty. That tiny speck of meat the other restaurants are peddling will never truly satisfy.

Recently glancing at the calendar as November winnowed away, I noticed an interesting juxtaposition of notable days. To my surprise, sandwiched between the two biggest consumer holidays of the year is the weekend which marks the beginning of Advent. I must have realized this before, but for some reason, it was the first time I really made the connection. In other words, God turned a nightlight on for His daughter. To my shock, the crucial Sunday when we begin to prepare liturgically and spiritually to welcome the Savior of the whole wide world—just happens to be bookended by Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Situated poetically between a day for hardcore bargain hunters which inspires fistfights in the aisles of Walmart—and a workday when adults opt to remain in their jammies staring at blue light for hours trying to score killer deals, we find the kick-off to Advent. Is it just me or is the world committing a dastardly sleight of hand, playing up the non-essential part of our lives in the lead up to Christmas and seriously downplaying the only part that truly matters? Am I so unsuspecting and gullible as to fall for a trick like that? Not this year. I’m looking back at what the world has to offer and demanding none too politely, “Where’s the beef?”

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Hate This! Not That!

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Years ago I used to enjoy the mind-numbing babble of a popular national morning show while I got ready for work. One segment that caught my attention was, “Eat this! Not that!”  The ultra-skinny host whose own diet clearly consisted of an occasional rice cake topped with kale would run through a display of mouth-watering dishes, often well-known fast food items. With the help of an “expert” guest, the bobble-headed anchor would compare the fat and calorie information of each. By comparison of the nutritional facts, they would conclude, “Eat this grilled chicken sandwich which has 50-billion fewer calories than that one loaded with mayo and fried in gobs of fire-retardant lard. (Gasp.) And for heaven’s sake, don’t ever eat that!” But the greatest shock entertainment value came when they compared seemingly healthy salad entrees against obvious fat-laden dishes like pizza, or hamburgers and fries. The plates piled high with greens and veggies often contained—wait for it—double or even triple the calorie content of the junk food items! The moral of the story: unsuspecting customers were often hoodwinked into heart disease by the lurking fat in “healthy” salads. Poor shmucks! “They should eat this delicious all-beef patty! But not that deadly harvest salad piled with carcinogenic croutons and dreaded trans fats! It contains enough calories to nourish a small town for two years. Just look at all that BACON and RANCH!” Yum…

Recently, I came up with a twist on the morning show game which has shed some light on the problem of recurring sin in my life.  Let’s call this little game of spiritual discovery, “Hate THIS! Not THAT!

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G.P.S. (God Positioning System)

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Recently, I wrote about how God spoke to me through an incidence of eavesdropping. You can read about it here. In His not-so-subtle way, the dear Lord woke me up to a weakness that regularly plagues me: I don’t trust Him. I constantly question the benevolence and guidance of the One who created me.

I pray. I read scripture. I love God. And sure I’m totally on board with His leadership when everything is running along just fine. I’m a happy passenger. But I hit a random bump in the road, or find myself in unfamiliar territory and oh boy, I’m gonna grab that wheel from the Almighty. It’s nothing short of a herculean task for me to surrender to His infinite love and trust. I think we all struggle with this to some degree, but when you tend toward the controlling end of the personality spectrum (my hand is raised real high right now) it can seem downright impossible. Maybe some of you out there can relate.

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How This Introvert Got Super Involved at Her Parish

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I was caught off guard recently by someone’s response to meeting me. While shaking her hand, I made the customary smiling introduction. “Nice to meet you. My name is…” I had barely gotten my name out when recognition instantly spread across her face.

“I totally know that name! I see your name attached to everything here.”

With that string of innocuous words, I was suddenly rendered self-conscious and exposed, as if she’d said, “I can tell you had spinach for dinner. You have a hideous green thing in your teeth.”

I answered her tentatively. “You’re probably right…” Nervous laughter. “We are pretty involved.” Awkward pause. “I’m not quite sure how that happened. My husband and I aren’t normally joiners, but…”  What I said after that is a blur because my mind was racing with the implications of her statement. No doubt her comment was meant in complete kindness, but I felt a wee bit of shame for being the person who’s name is “attached to everything”—mainly because it was just so unlike me!

On the drive home, as my husband and I sat at a red light, I broke the silence to voice my concern, “How did that happen? How did you and I, a couple of introverts become so involved? We’re at the church a lot.  All of a sudden, I’m that lady. Weird…” A sudden intake of breath. “Oh dear God, I’m a Church Lady!”

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