Is It Any Wonder?

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Why decorate ornaments when I can decorate me?

Do you ever have visions of how you think a certain aspect of your life will turn out and then get to that point and think….what happened?

It can be a two-sided coin really…or…are there any three-sided coins;)? Sometimes I look around and think, “I could not have planned it better, this is “perfect”.”

Then there are other times that I think, “Oh dear, this definitely isn’t what I wanted, can and should I change it?”

And every once in a while I have times when I think, “This really is best, but it’s not what I planned or even could have imagined.”

The last thought is what I’ve had with Christmas over the last few years. My husband and I decided a few years back that the going here and there, and doing this and that, which had been our custom at Christmas, was really taking away from the peace we felt we should be feeling at this time of the year. We vowed to focus more on our own nuclear family and keeping things low-key and Christ-centered.

We noticed an immediate change in the spiritual environment in our family. Things were indeed happier and more peaceful. Actually it felt just how we thought it should….but….why did I always have a bit of a melancholy feeling during some days of the Christmas season?

I finally decided that it was a my psyche “mourning” the visions I had created and the traditions I had left aside in order to find the best way for us.

So strange huh? Even though you know something is “best” or “right” for your family and yourself, sometimes you still yearn for “what might have been”, even though you know the fantasy you created in your imagination is next to impossible? And probably not even healthy.

Well, this year I found that my melancholy temptation, that I usually can just push aside, was being more persistent. I blamed it on pregnancy, lack of sleep, a travelling hubby, some stress over finances and changes that need to be made in our homeschooling, trying logically to explain it away and move on so I could enjoy the season and more than that make it a happy season for my family.

I would wake up and get myself motivated for a few hours but it seemed that I was running out of the ability to fake it. The last few days it was taking nearly every ounce of energy I had to get out of bed and keep the act going.

Finally this morning I really didn’t think I could do it. During my morning prayers I pleaded with the Lord, “Please, please, please, I have to do this. I know my life is not bad and I know there are people out there that are much, much worse off to worry about, but I have to have your help. I need to make this day special for my kids. If I can’t be happy I need you to help me fake it so they can be happy. This day is not about me, please, please help me.”

The Lord never lets me down. It was a bit of a bumpy take-off to the day but I finally just said, “I can’t, you have to support me through this.” And a little miracle happened. I let go. He took over. And it was a good day. I became happy. At first it was an act, and then it was real.

After I put the kids to bed I was pondering on what happened….what was the turning point? What happened?

I finally concluded that the Lord opened my eyes so that I could really see, more than anything see my kids. Children are so wonderfully happy with simplicity and reciprocate such an overflow of love with the smallest acts of love shown to them.

On our way home from watching a movie and delivering some Christmas treats my 9 yr old son said, “ Mom, doesn’t it seem like it feels happier on Christmas?” When I asked him why he felt that way he said simply, “It’s probably because it’s Jesus’ birthday.” It was then that is hit me. Is it any wonder?

Is it any wonder that Christ was sent as a baby to the earth? Is it any wonder that we call babies “bundles of joy”? Is it any wonder that no one can resist the laughter of a small child? Is it any wonder that though the textual references in the bible are few in regards to Jesus’ childhood we do know,

And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him. [Luke 2:40]

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” [Luke 2:51–52]

Today is was confirmed to me once again that our children are not only our responsibility, but also our teachers. They are wise beyond their years, they understand what is truly important and know truth when they hear and see it. Is it then, any wonder that the greatest gift to mankind came in the form of a child?

John 3: 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

For this wonderful gift I will be eternally grateful. Even more amazing that we can not only be eternally saved but like I was reminded of today, we can be saved…day by day.

Merry Christmas!

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Loaded: A Lesson in Affliction

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As I came around the corner to the laundry room it was if her little face was saying, “Come on Mom! This laundry thing is fun-stop complaining!”

So I think I’ve mentioned before that we have a Family Night each week in which we have some gospel learning time, usually a treat, and usually some fun activity to do together. We try for Monday nights and tonight I kept thinking back to two talks I had recently read/heard that seemed to be hollering at me:)

The first was a talk that was given in our Worldwide General Conference that our church holds every 6 months, you can read the whole thing here.

The second was a short talk that we read in our devotional this morning during homeschool, you can read the whole thing here.

Both talks covered the topic of challenges or afflictions, and the necessity of having trials in our lives. I thought back with a bit of shame to the middle of last night when I found myself praying, ” Can’t you just make her sleep through the night?” as I sat up with Button, whom has suddenly become an insomniac after  over a year of being my best sleeper.

There are bigger things though, and there have been times when I think, “Can’t I have a break?” But then what would I be learning?

So over the last few years I’ve tried to change my prayers during times of trial from “Why? Can’t you make it stop?” to, “Ok, Lord. Show me what I’m supposed to be learning. And please give me the strength to pull through this better than I was.”

It’s not a perfect science, for sure, but it’s amazing what my change in attitude has done for my ability to confront challenge and also to trust and rely on the Lord.

Anyway, I created this The Power of the Load as part of our Family Night tonight, trying to explain it in a way that my kiddos would understand. Well, at least they thought the old lady doing weights and the baby reading a book were funny;)

Teaching Children through Symbols: Easter Week, Plan B

IMG_1726                                                                                         As usual, Elf is eating more than she’s making, but good times non-the-less!

So do you ever have those days, weeks, months, when nothing goes according to plan? That was my week this week.

Mostly we just had some low-key days with Mom and kiddos needing to take care of their health. That meant kids were much more in charge of their homeschooling this week and we did not get out and about much at all.

It was still a good week, just definitely not what I envisioned. But I’m learning more and more that what I envision may not be what is best in the long run. 🙂

Over the past several years, we have really been striving to teach our children the symbolism associated with Christianity. Especially those in connection with holidays (you can read more about our Christmas traditions here)

We feel this aspect of teaching is important because it gives LIFE to tradition and causes the children to focus more on the activities. Don’t you find yourself more focused on an activity if you know WHY your doing/learning about it?

But perhaps even more so, we feel teaching our children symbolism helps them understand Christ’s teachings better. He taught through parables and symbols, in fact nearly all of his direct teachings in the Bible are taught in this way. Also, many books, especially Isaiah, cannot be fully understood unless one looks beyond the obvious and uses tradition and symbolism to interpret the full meanings.

Of course, we will always have the Holy Ghost to guide our insights in the Scriptures, but we feel that the Holy Ghost works better when he has more to work with (ie: a knowledge of symbolism and Christian traditions).

Like with Christmas, my mother gave us a book
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that helps act as a guidebook through the many symbols and traditions associated with Easter. We really love it because it includes all the main scriptural references to the major events in the last week of Jesus’ life, as well as the major traditions and symbolism associated with his time, culture, the Atonement, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. It has been a wonderful resource for our family!

We started the week with our Family Night on Monday. We talked about Palm Sunday and the significance of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, the symbolism of the white donkey and the palms (Great article on sybolism of Palms here.)

We also told the story of Jesus last week on earth with symbols, hidden inside plastic eggs (You can find a link for telling a similar story here) We made it into a scavenger hunt this year and the kids had fun looking for all the “ingredients” for our Jesus’ story “egg hunt”.

IMG_1771                                                                       Just the unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and “wine” (aka:Acai juice) this year:)

We had our Passover meal on Tuesday. We did it “Mexican Style” this year, including the traditional foods with some homemade refried beans, guacamole, and veggies.

Usually we have a full Seder Plate, this also opens the door to discussions on Jewish culture which helps children understand the dynamics of Jesus’ day and the cultural and political events that helped lead to His Crucifixion.

But this year we stuck to the essentials that are mentioned in Exodus, during the first passover. Well, we just talked about the lamb, and we don’t drink wine so we used Acai Juice;) The kids were really interested this year in learning the symbolism of the Passover and I had to giggle when Fiesta asked, “But Mom, what does the guacamole signifize (aka: symbolize)?)

IMG_1730                                                                              Fiesta liked cutting up all the marshmallows for our Resurrection Rolls

On Good Friday we made our Empty Tomb Rolls (aka: Resurrection Rolls), discussing about how this day was in remembrance of the day that Jesus actually died and was put in the tomb.

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IMG_1742IMG_1743      Today I think we FINALLY (hopefully) wiped up the last of the flour that got scattered throughout the house;)

We covered them with foil and put them in the refridgerator so that we can bake them on Sunday morning and open them to find that the “tomb” is empty!

IMG_1748                                                                                 Button was trying to talk me into letting her go in the pool, “Poo, Poo Mommy!”

Today we did some of our normal Saturday cleaning in preparation for the Sabbath, but to make it a little different we also “purged” a bit of our excess. Each of the kiddos chose some toys (one for each year of life they have had) to give away to someone that could use it more than they.

I thought this was a good way for the kids to realize that Easter time is a time to reflect and renew, getting rid of things that are not in alignment with living a Christian life. Not that toys are bad, just a symbolic way they can look at their little lives and decide “I don’t really need this.” I’m hoping that we can discuss this some more tomorrow as we watch our traditional Easter movie.

We were going to go to a special park that is a ways from our home that has some trees that remind me of Olive trees, to talk about the Atonement in the Garden of Gethsamane. We did this a few years ago in Peru when we lived near a park with Olive trees and my son still remembers it. Unfortunately, Button had a fever and was NOT a happy camper, so we will have to save that outing either for tomorrow afternoon or sometime next week.

IMG_1752IMG_1758                                                                                  It turned out that some time in the pool with big brother was just what she needed to feel better!

We finished off the day with some swimming as a family and Engineer made us a good hot-dog roasting fire and helped the girls roast (burn?) theirs, which also helped him sign off some of his Scouting assignments.IMG_1761                                                          You can’t eat hot-dogs at the dining table! Improvised picnic….

 

IMG_1772                                                                                        I’ll explain in a separate post how we’re doing the Boy Scouts of America program in Mexico🙂

He also helped Mom this week when she was mostly on the couch to take care of lots of domestic duties and even made a couple meals, which also helped him complete some Boy Scout activities…can we say win-win?

All in all it was a rewarding week and we’re looking forward to celebrating the Resurrection tomorrow as we attend our church meetings, sing in the choir, deliver Resurrection Rolls to friends and watch videos about the life of Christ together as family.

We will also enjoy a “Jerusalem meal”, that will include foods that were typically eaten in Jesus’ time, this will also be a scavenger hunt as I list off the foods and the kiddos can go find them in the fridge and cupboard to put on the table.

We hope that the peace, hope, and joy that comes from the celebration of Easter may rest in your homes as your celebrate with those you love 🙂

On Loan

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Some of the beauties that I have “On Loan” at the moment….

She looked up at me with a tear-stained face, not even capable of holding back the fountain of tears that had pushed their way up from her broken heart. “I don’t even want to try anymore,” she managed to whisper. She was still recovering from a painful miscarriage, just a little over a year after watching her son, barely a day old, die in the hospital, from what could have been a preventable infection. Honestly, I just wanted to run away. The pain was too deep and the agony was palpable in the room. I ached as I sat closer and gave her a hug. There was nothing I could do, that was the worst of it. It was all in her court. That and in the arms of the Lord. Only He could carry her through…

Being a woman, especially one with children in the home, you seem to learn more of these tragic stories either from your own experience or the other women in your circle of influence. Miscarraige, still-borns, infant death, child death…then there is a different side of the coin that is equally heart-wrenching, women who spend their whole childhood dreaming of someday being a mother and then they are unable to conceive. Some of them move forward with foster care and adoption and have to deal with the unsympathetic bureaucratic nonsense that often leaves them childless once again as they are forced to give up a child, one they have often put their heart and soul into raising and bonding with, that has become THEIR baby.
When I hear of these stories they are often close to home. I have had three miscarriages myself and nearly every woman I have been close too has a very similar story of heartache to tell. I have pondered on this subject for years. Where is the justice? Where is the mercy? What is the purpose?
When my niece died of SIDS I remember falling to my knees in prayer, nearly screaming at God, WHY!?? WHY HER? WHY THIS? That is the only time I can remember ever being angry with God. It just didn’t make sense. I knew He was a loving God, how could he allow this to happen?
The Lord comforted me and though I didn’t have answers I was able to move forward with the thought, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
It wasn’t until very recently that answers slowly began to come. I started looking at the bigger picture and as I put together all my ponderings I realized that the Lord had wanted me to find my own answer.
There were two very influential statements said during this time of pondering that helped me shape my answer. One came from a dear friend that constantly inspires me with her devoted life, amidst seemingly impossible odds. She was sharing her experience of how she began to want to change her life and become a disciple of Christ, eventually leading her to baptism in our church. She said essentially, “When I came to the funeral of my sister’s infant son I felt something different. I felt that it was time to change my life…I know that part of his (the baby that had died) mission in this life was to bring me back to Christ.” When she said that it was like a lightning strike of truth entered my being. I knew what she said was true.
I believe everyone comes to earth for a specific purpose and when it all comes down to it, our main goal as brothers and sisters in God, is to make sure that we all make it back to Him. I just had never thought about even a baby having a mission and that it could be fulfilled in just a few short hours of living. As I looked back on my niece’s life I could see how she too had become a catalyst to lead many members of our family closer to Christ.
As I pondered this on the back burner of my brain, another memory came. My dear step-father had shared with me his insights with me during my first miscarriage. He too, had lost a baby when she was a mere few hours old and he shared from his journal an insight that came to him during this time. He said basically (I’m paraphrasing horribly), “We need to remember that nothing that we’ve been given is actually ours, everything belongs to the Lord. That means even our children are “on loan” to us, they don’t belong to us, they are part of our stewardship and if we prove worthy and teach them correctly then through the mercy and power of the atonement of Christ we can all live together forever. That also means that in order to follow Christ we must as he said, be willing to give up everything, even our children, whether it be for our better good, their better good, or the good of the kingdom.”
These two thoughts seemed to fill in a huge piece of the puzzle for me. We all have a mission, even our children. Sometimes ours, or their mission in this life can be fulfilled in a moment. And sometimes the only obstacle standing between us and Christ, is our inability to let go or something that really isn’t even ours to begin with.
As I’ve tried to apply these principles to the many heartaches I have witnessed, at times it is still very hard to accept.
I know a wonderfully amazing young woman that has had her share of hardship. But never the sun goes down on a day that she has not made better for someone else. She inspires me with her dedication, wisdom, creativity and tenacity. She is also among one of the army of remarkable women who whether for a time or a lifetime, has been unable to conceive.
Instead of viewing it as a set-back, she has chosen to move forward and share her mothering and nurturing talents in the foster care system. She amazes me because she knows that these children may only be with her for a matter of weeks or months, yet she puts her heart and soul into raising them as if they were from her very own womb.

It is because she is a mother, regardless of biology, she knows that as a woman, her divine purpose on this earth is to lead and guide children back to Christ. She knows that, regardless of their origin of birth, they are children of God and she will lead them back to Him. My belief is that is her divine mission.
These children, regardless of their age or future circumstance will always remember her influence and wherever they might go in life they will know that they were loved by a woman that loved Christ and taught them to love Christ. They will feel it. I believe very strongly that through these foundations, even if they stray, they will feel the pull of their heartstrings that will direct them back to Christ. The heartstrings that she, so lovingly, tied for them.
It is a journey. This relinquishing of our own will to align with God’s purpose for us and others.
All of these ponderings finally led me back to the story of Hannah and Samuel. To me, Hannah is a woman that really understood the process of consecration, that nothing is truly ours, as she gave her only child (at the time she did not know she would have others) over to life of service to the Lord.
It is also interesting to me that Hannah only raised Samuel for a short time (she gave him over the priesthood after he was weaned). Yet, Samuel was able to remain worthy, righteous, and eventually even become a prophet, despite the wickedness that surrounded him in the priest Eli’s household.
This story gives me hope and comfort. Whether we give birth to them or not, though a child is with us for a childhood or a few days, we as mothers can make a difference in their lives. Truth will find the heart, and there it will stay. Either growing or waiting for the day when it can.

A Different Kind of Christmas

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Each year since having our own children my  husband and I have searched and planned for ways to make Christmas meaningful. I’ve learned over the past few years that many activities and going and doing EVERYTHING does not equate to a Merry Christmas. Actually we’ve found that simple is best. My plans for Christmas this year simplified even more after reading this quote (by Jeffrey R. Holland) in one of our family devotionals.

There are so many lessons to be learned from the sacred account of Christ’s birth that we always hesitate to emphasize one without considering all the others…

One impression which has persisted with me is that this is a story of intense poverty. I wonder if Luke did not have some special meaning when he wrote not “there was no room in the inn” but specifically that “there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7; emphasis added). 

We cannot be certain what the historian intended, but we do know these two were desperately poor…

Perhaps this provides an important distinction we should remember in our own holiday season. Maybe the purchasing and the making and the wrapping and the decorating should be separated, if only slightly, from the more quiet, personal moments when we consider the meaning of the Baby (and his birth) who prompts the giving of such gifts.

The gold, frankincense, and myrrh were humbly given and appreciatively received. And so our gifts should be, every year and always. As my wife and children can testify, no one gets more giddy about the giving and receiving of presents than I do. But for that very reason, I, like you, need to remember the very plain scene, even the poverty, of a night devoid of tinsel or wrapping or goods of this world. Only when we see that single, sacred, unadorned object of our devotion—the Babe of Bethlehem—will we know why the giving of gifts is so appropriate.

What Joseph must have felt as he moved through the streets of a city not his own, with not a friend or kinsman in sight, nor anyone willing to extend a helping hand. In these very last and most painful hours of her “confinement,” Mary had ridden or walked approximately 160 kilometers from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea. Surely Joseph must have wept at her silent courage. Now, alone and unnoticed, they had to descend from human company to a stable, a grotto full of animals, there to bring forth the Son of God.

I wonder what emotions Joseph might have had as he cleared away the dung and debris. I wonder if he felt the sting of tears as he hurriedly tried to find the cleanest straw and hold the animals back. I wonder if he wondered: “Could there be a more unhealthy, a more disease-ridden, a more despicable circumstance in which a child could be born? Is this a place fit for a king? Should the mother of the Son of God be asked to enter the “valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4) in such a foul and unfamiliar place as this? Is it wrong to wish her some comfort? Is it right He should be born here?”

Perhaps these parents knew even then that in the beginning of his mortal life, as well as in the end, this baby son born to them would have to descend beneath every human pain and disappointment. He would do so to help those who also felt they had been born without advantage.

At this focal point of all human history, a point illuminated by a new star in the heavens revealed for just such a purpose, probably no other mortal watched—none but a poor young carpenter, a beautiful virgin mother, and silent stabled animals who had not the power to utter the sacredness they had seen.

Shepherds would soon arrive and, later, wise men would follow from the East. But first and forever there was just a little family, without toys or trees or tinsel. With a baby—that’s how Christmas began.

Today we had very few gifts, those which we did have were mostly homemade, we had good food and spent the majority of our day in service. Everyone was happy, it was one of the most memorable Christmases I’ve had thus far. I’m recording this now so that each year I can look back and think about how the first Christmas really was, and that truly HE is the REASON for the season.

A New Beginning

ImageNOTE: Yes, I realize this is an extremely unflattering picture of myself. But it just fit the bill for how I was feeling on the subject!

 

Yep. It happened. I was trying to figure out a way to avoid it but then I figured eventually it just had to happen. This past month I turned 30.

Though that may not seem like a big deal, for some reason, to me…. it was. I have very few clear memories of my younger years but one of them was when I was 15 years old. I was recovering from some health issues and felt a renewed sense of urgency to become a better version of myself. I remember writing a letter to myself that I could not open until I turned 19. In the letter I wrote about what kind of person I thought myself to be and what I wanted to become by the age of 19. I had character and practical goals enclosed in the letter.

I also clearly remembering opening that letter at age 19 and feeling elated to know that I had reached most of my goals. Looking back I think it’s interesting because many of my practical goals were homemaking oriented and I remembering the urgency and desire I felt to learn these things by the age of 19. I see now that the Lord was preparing me, I left home at 19 (not my original plan) and married at 20 (ditto).

I remember as I wrote that letter to myself that I looked forward to see myself at 30 years of age. Now that I’ve hit that milestone I do not feel the same as I thought I would. Honestly, I thought I would have been more “accomplished” in terms of education and “traveled” in terms of visiting and sight-seeing. I thought I would know more, that I would feel more secure in my decision making. Now that I’m here I see that no amount of education or traveling would have prepared me for the life I’ve lived. My life has taken a different course with VERY different timing than I imagined at the tender age of 15.

As I was reflecting on this at first I began to feel discouraged. Then I looked around and knew that no matter what I thought was best at the time, it just wasn’t. The Lord led me a different way and that was best. I feel confident in the path I’ve taken. In that knowledge, I am happy. But still, should I have done more? Am I not working hard enough?

Then a very intense thought hit me…..Jesus Christ began his ministry when he was (about) 30. That means all of that time leading up to his 30th year was really just preparation for his mission. He had only begun to live!

While I would in no way compare myself to Jesus Christ, it did give me comfort in knowing that I can still strive, and do, and become….this is only a beginning.

So, for my 31st birthday I’ve already prepared my gift for myself. It’s going to be a letter!

Pondering Mary

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In the spirit of celebrating motherhood, I find my thoughts once again turning to Mary. Can we ever really know, really understand the kind of woman that Mary was, and is? For Christ to be the man we know Him to be, his mother must be remarkable, angelic, divine, virtuous, the epitome of womanhood.

I’ve been pondering on Mary more and more as I continue to become more and more involved in my role as a mother. My thoughts deepened around Christmas time of last year when I viewed this video: http://youtu.be/ugV6QGcafEE . Not only does the music stir your soul but the images portrayed of Mary reminded me of the very few scriptures shared about this heavenly woman.

For Jesus to be the man he was he had to have had a mother like Mary. He knew not only the scriptures but how to apply them to live a higher moral code. Could he really have learned such application by merely reading and memorizing? Would He not have to have been mentored and guided from childhood to have such a deep understanding? We know that Mary was a devote woman (Luke 1:38, Luke 1:46-55) and her Son is another testament to her piety.

Mary also did not question the angel when he mentioned the Messiah, she knew and believed in the prophesied mission of the Savior. We see this as she did not question the what and why, but merely the how (Luke 1:34 ). Her complete willingness to follow the Lord “ … be it unto me according to thy word.”( Luke 1:38); submitting her will to the Father, in complete faith. So we need not be entirely surprised as her Son also let His will be swallowed up in the Father’s as He partook of the bitter cup.

Can you imagine giving birth in a stable and then within hours having strangers come to visit you and your newborn child? Mary let the shepherds come to see the Savior on the same night she had just given birth, people she had never met before, what compassion and graciousness. So is it a surprise that her Son fed 5,000, healed the ear of the very guard that would lead Him to his trial, wept with those that wept, let the children come unto Him, and blessed and helped people day after day even when he was tired and hungry and spiritually exhausted?

Mary was there to see her own child crucified, what kind of devotion would that take? Even though she knew, what intense pain she must have felt. So, is it really a surprise that Jesus went to Mary and Martha and even shared in their mourning for their brother Lazarus, even when He knew He would raise Him from the dead?

All that being said, it is hard to believe that Mary was even mortal. But we know that indeed she was mortal, and thus a finite and carnal being. She must have felt the inadequacy and discouragement that we as mothers feel at times. Despite any weakness she may have had, she raised the only Begotton Son of God, the Savior of all mankind. He grew up and fulfilled all that he was meant to do. So what was her secret? Well,…. is it secret? We are told that she asked, trusted, submitted, obeyed, glorified and pondered (Luke 1:34 Luke 1:38, Luke 1:46-55Luke 2:19 ). I think it is quite clear that Mary was not a blind follower but an active agent in the work of God. A beautiful example of virtuous strength and faith, the perfect mother for the Son of God.

And isn’t it wonderful to think that we too are raising the Children of God? What a marvelous responsibility and gift! Every day I marvel at the trust God has shown He has in me by sending me such remarkable children. Ought I not to have the same trust in Him? Besides, he knows me and my children better than anyone else and He also knows what we CAN be. He knows that the combination of us, as mothers, and our children, as our children, CAN become a divine combination. We must simply look to Him.

Happy Mother’s Day!