Reminder: Teach Your Children The Beauty Of A Hug. Especially At The Holidays.

child hugging man image

With the Christmas season approaching, family get-togethers hold the promise of Christmas cookies, funny stories, and joyful traditions. But they could also be a time when our children hear the wrong message about consent and physical affection.

With all of the sexual harassment charges circling in the media recently, you may find yourself advising your children to withhold physical affection from well-meaning family and friends. It’s understandable if we feel wary about physical affection right now, but erring too far on the side of caution could also have negative effects on your children.

Think of it this way: telling your child that she doesn’t have to hug a family member or friend could be sending the message that physical affection is bad–that we should be fearful of speaking this language of the body. It can convey that it is some sort of trading commodity–something we either “owe” someone or not–rather than a gift to be freely given. And while caution and vigilance are certainly in order, our children also need to be protected from withholding the kind of love that others might truly need.

I have an aunt who used to smother me in kisses and hug me until it hurt every time I saw her. I couldn’t have escaped her hugs even if I had tried. But I never felt violated by it. It was simply how she expressed her love. And now that same aunt sits in a lonely nursing home. She suffers from dementia. Her mind may not be there, but her body still is, and she obviously loves the comfort of physical touch. She is someone who I would encourage my children to hug. It can be appropriate to nudge our children a bit out of their comfort zones to learn the love language of another.

I’m not talking about forcing, but rather, teaching our children how to speak a language that will carry them through their dating years, marriage or a religious vocation, and the final days of their lives here on earth. In a world where “connection” is defined more often by our internet speed than by physical proximity, the language of the body is becoming a lost art.

But we were made for this.

“The Theology of the Body tells us that we were made for love and that even our bodies are wired for love. [Studies show that] children who received extravagant levels of affection demonstrated the greatest degree of those skills associated with good moral decision making. If parents want moral kids, we need to do much more than sheltering kids’ innocence and telling them the difference between right from wrong. Parents need to prepare their children’s brains for the work of moral decision making by rooting them in extravagant physical affection and generous displays of parental love.” (read Dr. Greg Popcak’s full article on this topic here.)

Physical affection is good for our kids (and for all human beings), and they need to know this! Certainly, I want to protect my children from true sexual predators, but I also don’t want their need for touch to become so starved that they’ll do anything to feed that hunger.

Our children can learn the lines that shouldn’t be crossed, while at the same time learning to give of themselves freely. They can be encouraged to give their well meaning uncle a hug “because that tells him it’s nice to see him again” or give their aunt a kiss on the cheek “because that’s how she knows you liked her gift.” If our children simply won’t do this in the moment, then of course they don’t have to–but it’s okay to continue to nudge them along in their understanding of the language of the body.

The body is a gift and it’s language is powerful. To truly master it, our children need to practice speaking with it–generously yet appropriately.

And what better time to shower our kids with physical affection than Christmas–the moment when God Himself became flesh so that He, too, could speak the language of the body.

Copyright 2017 Charisse Tierney

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Posted in Family Life, Freedom, Language of the Body, Love, Relationship, Teaching, Theology of the Body, TOB for TOTS | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Soul Project Week 12: Love Of Family

Zelie and family hospital Christmas

The Tierney family on Christmas Day 2016 with baby Zelie at Children’s Mercy Hospital

“It was the best Christmas we’ve ever had!” That’s still what my kids say about last year’s Christmas–the Christmas we spent at the Ronald McDonald House near the hospital where their newest sibling, Zelie, was fighting to overcome a severe heart defect. And even one year later, I have to admit that I feel pulled to return to that hospital. I want to walk through the front doors with my healthy baby and remember how grateful I am.

Immediately after returning home from Zelie’s open heart surgery, I felt so happy just to be. It really didn’t matter where I was or what I was doing–I was just glad to be out of the hospital, with a healthy baby, and the anxiety of her surgery over with.

But, over time, the elation of her homecoming has worn off. And I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter where our life’s journey has taken us, we will always have exhausting days, times of down heartedness, and discouragement in our own failings.

This week, as we’ve talked about the importance of family, we’ve recognized that even the most loving of families can’t keep us from experiencing sorrows in life. We read about St. Louis and Zelie Martin, parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, who buried four of their babies. They were sad. They suffered. But they still made beautiful memories with their family and inspired an unsurpassing love of God within their living daughters.

It’s incredible how the love of family can turn a nightmare into an experience that only radiates love. It can turn a hospital into a haven and a Ronald McDonald House into “the best Christmas ever”.

That’s why I feel pulled to return. Because in the midst of the struggles of every day life, it’s the pulling together of family in times of real suffering that reminds me of how much I am loved. It’s the love of family that is the reflection of God’s great love for us.

For more ideas on teaching the Catholic faith to your children, see Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s book Feeding Your Family’s Soul: Dinner Table Spirituality.

Copyright Charisse Tierney 2017

Image credit Charisse Tierney. All rights reserved.

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The Soul Project Week 11: About Sin

“Sin is an offense against God…Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1850

At this year’s Midwest Catholic Family Conference, I heard Catholic evangelist, author, and tour guide Steve Ray give a talk. One of his stories especially stuck with me: “Someday,” Steve said, “my hope is that I will get to the gates of heaven. Once there, St. Peter will look for my name in the Book of Life. Hopefully, he will find it there and open the gates of heaven for me. But just before I step through those gates, I’ll see my neighbor across the way and realize that he is being directed away from the gates of heaven. This is a neighbor who lived next door to me for most of my adult life. While on earth, we would exchange pleasantries whenever we saw each other, and even though I knew he didn’t go to church regularly or live a life focused on Christ, I avoided the subject and just focused on keeping the peace between us.

But in that moment, as we stand across from each other between heaven and hell, my neighbor will look at me and ask St. Peter, ‘Why is he getting into heaven and I’m not?’

And after St. Peter explains that I knew the teachings of the Church and lived them, my neighbor will look at me with accusing eyes and say, ‘You mean you KNEW all of this and didn’t tell me?’”

Sin is a touchy subject. It’s difficult to tell our neighbor when we see an error in their ways. While we mustn’t ignore the plank in our own eye, we are also called to help our neighbor remove the splinter in his. This is how we help our neighbor and fulfill our calling as Christians to take as many souls to heaven with us as we can.

And while balancing prudence with true charity is a challenge with many of the people in our lives, I think it comes a bit easier with our own children. Certainly, it is our duty as their parents to shepherd them to heaven. And this means we must talk to them about the dangers of sin, the horrors of hell, and that even though it is the grace of the Cross that will bring us to heaven, we must guard against choosing to cut ourselves off from that grace through sin.

I find that my children readily accept these teachings on sin. They are eager for guidance and want to know how they can one day get to heaven.

As for me, it’s painful to think of the earthly separations that are sure to come between me and my children. It hurts to think that someday we will not all be gathered around a table together on a daily basis. It hurts even more to think that there may be Thanksgivings and Christmases in our futures when we will not all be together. I look forward to watching my children grow and mature, but motherhood is forever bittersweet.

Which is why I talk to them about sin. Because my greatest joy will be the day that we are all gathered together for eternity around the heavenly table–to share in the Supper of the Lamb.

For more ideas on teaching the Catholic faith to your children, see Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s book Feeding Your Family’s Soul: Dinner Table Spirituality  and companion video.

Copyright 2017 Charisse Tierney

Posted in Book Review, Books, Family Life, Hope, motherhood, Sin, Teaching, The Soul Project | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Soul Project Week 10: Learning About Prayer From the Saints

soul project st praying zelie rosary image

One night, I was telling my children about the Fatima apparitions and the requests Our Lady made known to the three children. “She told them that we should pray the Rosary daily,” I said. “Well then we should do it,” my 11-year-old son replied without hesitation.

At that moment, I understood why Our Lady of Fatima appeared to three young children. My own children remind me so often what real faith looks like. Their acceptance of the teachings of the Church is so pure, so trusting, and instantaneous. In their hearts, they possess the wisdom to know what is right and act upon it.

This is the type of wisdom we see in the saints as we examine their prayer lives. They come to God with complete trust, so simple in their love for Him.  In her book, Feeding Your Family’s Soul, Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle tells us St. Therese of Lisieux’s description of prayer: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”

Our family has been looking to the saints over the past week for inspiration on how to improve our own prayer lives. We’ve been working to incorporate a daily decade of the Rosary together, with the hopes of working up to a complete five-decade daily Rosary. Admittedly, we’ve had a few nights when the day has gotten away from us, and have felt too tired to pray before bed. One night, after a long day, my husband and I simplified our bedtime prayer routine, leaving out the Rosary decade. Before being allowed to be tucked in, our 6-year-old son said, “But we didn’t say our Rosary!” I told him he could say the decade on his own before he fell asleep–and he told me the next morning that he did.

I’m continually amazed at how God fills in the gaps. How, if I just try to teach my children something, He picks up where my sometimes exhausted and inadequate humanity leaves off. It doesn’t take much to inspire a spiritual habit in our children, who so readily turn their simple looks toward heaven. When Jesus said that heaven belongs to such as these, He was reminding us to pay attention to the saints-in-the-making who live under our own roof.

I am continually inspired by the prayer habits of the saints–but I am sometimes even more inspired by those who will (hopefully) someday join them in heaven. My own children are being formed by the prayers of the saints in heaven every day–I just need to remember to pay attention.

Copyright 2017 Charisse Tierney

Image credit Charisse Tierney. All rights reserved.

Posted in Book Review, Books, Faith, Family Life, Fatima, motherhood, Prayer, saints, Teaching, The Soul Project | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Soul Project Week 9: The Communion of Saints

Soul Project communion of saints image

My children love hearing the stories of the saints. The saints make holiness a reality for all of us. They help us to see that we can embrace our flawed humanity and still maintain hope in God’s mercy and heavenly promises. The saints give us practical insights on how to navigate the challenges of this world, while always growing closer to the next. They inspire us with their heroic acts of faith, their perseverance in prayer, and their humility as they work to overcome their own personal failings.

This week, instead of the goblins and ghouls of Halloween, our family focused on the real-life subjects of the upcoming feast of All Saints. Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s book, Feeding Your Family’s Soul, inspired us to ponder these holy lives and their heavenly realm. O’Boyle’s reflection questions from this chapter encouraged our family to talk about how to become a saint, and all of the good work the saints can do for us by their prayers in heaven.

peg doll playMy children had already been drawing closer to their saintly friends by making and playing with saint peg dolls. More than just a fun craft project, these dolls have led us to research the saints’ lives as we decide how to dress them and what accessories they should have. And as my children incorporate the dolls into their play, I hear them saying things like, “Francisco, do you have your Rosary?”  –yet more proof that the saints have always, and will always, work to draw us deeper into our Catholic faith and one day bring us to heaven with them.

For more ideas for teaching the Catholic faith to your children, see Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s book, Feeding Your Family’s Soul and the companion video.

Copyright 2017 Charisse Tierney

Images by Charisse Tierney. All rights reserved.

Posted in Book Review, Books, Crafts, Faith, Family Life, Hope, Peg Dolls, saints, Teaching, The Soul Project | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Feeding Your Family’s Soul Week 8: Honoring Mary

The policeman seemed to emerge from the shadows right next to our van, wearing a bullet proof vest and carrying his weapon in a defensive posture. He walked along the street, eyes darting, attempting to penetrate the darkness as he searched. My husband picked up speed as we tried to find our way through the maze of emergency vehicles that blocked our usual route home.

We had the baby with us, but we’d left our other five children at home under the watchful eye of our 13-year-old. We’d hoped to bring some of the peace and relaxation from our date night home with us, but our tension only built as we wondered what we were returning home to.

Fortunately, we got out of the crime scene safely, and the street on which we lived was quiet. The Hail Mary’s I’d been silently repeating in my head dissolved into relief as I walked in the door of our house to find all of our children safe and happy.

We soon learned that during an attempted robbery in the neighborhood through which we had just driven, a homeowner had been shot and the “armed and dangerous” suspect had fled on foot.

Right here in small town Kansas.

In a good neighborhood.

Where my husband and I had just been driving, right around the time of the crime.

You can try to do everything possible to keep your family safe. But no matter where you live, or what you do, there will always be an element of evil in the world that is completely beyond your control.

That is where our Blessed Mother comes in.

fatima procession bannerThe messages of Fatima tell us that Mary is aware and interested in everything that happens in our world. From our personal interior lives, to the realm of the political sphere, she is there. She is fearless. And she is fighting for all of us. She carries our prayers to our Lord in a splendor of purity and glory–she prays for us in a way that we never could on our own. At the Fatima apparitions in 1917, she warned us of the imminence of world war, and of our fate if our hearts are not fully converted to the Lord.

Because she cares. Deeply.

When an assassin attempted to murder Pope John Paul II on May 13, 1981, the bullet narrowly missed vital organs. Although badly injured, the pope recovered, and was convinced that it was our Lady who saved him. As he said, “One hand shot, and another guided the bullet.” Even the assassin himself revealed in an interview that he was shocked his bullet had missed its mark. He seemed to realize that an unseen force had worked against him.

This is why we honor Mary, and why we teach our children to honor her. Her yes to be the mother of Jesus was also her yes to be a mother to us all–a yes to do everything possible to bring the world to her Son.

My children have loved hearing the story of the Fatima apparitions during this specialfatima procession sunset anniversary year. We continue to make an effort to pray the Rosary together as a family, and we all enjoyed an evening at a local IHM novitiate house where we shared a meal, joined a procession with our Lady of Fatima, and prayed a Rosary with several hundred others.

And I am grateful and relieved that I can give my children a mother who, unlike me, is  perfect. A mother who will watch over my children when I cannot. A mother who will help me as we work together to carry them to heaven.

For more ideas on sharing the Catholic faith with your children, see Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s book Feeding Your Family’s Soul: Dinner Table Spirituality.

Copyright 2017 Charisse Tierney

Posted in Book Review, Books, Faith, Family Life, Fatima, Hope, Mary, Prayer, Teaching, The Soul Project | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Soul Project Week 7: Grateful For Life

Soul Project Life image

We had our first real taste of fall weather this morning. As I sat snuggling my 9-month-old, savoring the warmth of her little body while the wind whipped outside and the furnace hummed inside, I felt grateful. Grateful for this little life, saved by modern medicine from the effects of a severe heart defect. She is our rainbow baby–our first living baby after the loss of miscarriage. There is nothing like losing a child to make you more fully appreciate the gift of another.

Our entire family felt the loss of that miscarriage deeply. My other children instantly understood that the tiniest baby in the womb is a life to be treasured. We all still talk about Julian as a valued member of our family, waiting and praying for us in heaven.

And just as we’ve learned the value of life from its very beginnings, so too, have we learned the value of life wrapped in the innocence and humility of disability. I’ve witnessed my children help my handicapped sister tie her shoes, climb a flight of stairs, and walk up to receive communion. My sister was my mother’s first child. When she became pregnant with me, her doctor advised her to have extensive testing done. He said that if any results of those tests looked at all questionable, she should consider having an abortion.

Thankfully, my mother chose life from the moment she conceived me. No testing, no questioning, just life. She chose life, and now my sister has a tiny army of spiritual warriors in my six children–a whole army to educate with her priceless lessons in patience, sacrifice, and love.

Now, my children are getting older–and so are my parents. And even though there are times when my children would rather be playing video games or hanging out with their friends instead of visiting with grandma and grandpa, they are also learning to appreciate the wisdom and unconditional love that comes with age. They are learning to appreciate the gifts that only a well-seasoned life can offer.

This week, our family discussed the value of life. We talked about the evils of abortion and euthanasia and the importance of praying for an end to these practices. But most of all, we simply built upon the culture of life that we’ve built into our family. We’re hoping to attend a Mass with our bishop outside of a local abortion clinic later this month. My daughter recently toured a pregnancy crisis center with her Little Flowers Girls’ Club group.

I’ve been amazed at how simple it is to present these pro-life values to my children. It makes sense to them. Trying to explain to an innocent child what abortion is starkly reveals its horrors. My children have seen for themselves that the beauty of life isn’t in its perfection, or ease, or convenience. They’ve seen firsthand how some of the heaviest crosses in life are the most beautiful, and how openness to life is a gift worth sharing.

Copyright 2017 Charisse Tierney

Art in photo by Jean Keaton

For more lessons in the Catholic faith, see Feeding Your Family’s Soul: Dinner Table Spirituality by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle.

Posted in Abortion, Book Review, Books, Family Life, Freedom, Hope, Love, Miscarriage, motherhood, Teaching, The Soul Project | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments