• One of the best surprises in the world was last week when my son Michael walked through the door, shocking us all with a 2,500-mile long trip home, just two weeks after major jaw surgery. I saw a guy with a baseball cap and backpack heading toward our back sliding glass door and, since we are having work done in the yard, I thought, “Why does the landscaper have a backpack and why is he just walking in the door without permission?”

    Then it hit me — this was no landscaper. This was my son!

    As my mind processed what my eyes saw, I exclaimed, “What? What? What! Michael? Michael!”

    I jumped up and down and hugged him. The girls upstairs heard my happy screams and came running downstairs to see why the commotion. “Oh my gosh!” each screamed as she saw him and rushed to hug him as well. While he had permission to work from home for three weeks, he said other than his wired shut jaw he felt good and that if he was going to work from home, he might as well work from this home, with us. Hallelujah!

    That night, I made him a thick, hearty, cabbage, sweet potato and garlic soup for him to puree for dinner. When his father came home from work, just as unknowing of the surprise as we had been, Michael looked up from the table where he had been sitting, working on his computer, and my husband’s jaw dropped.

    “Mike? Michael? Michael!” he rushed to him and squeezed him tight. Happy tears welled up in his eyes. He was squeezing him so tightly I didn’t think he was ever going to let him go. “What are you doing? Oh my gosh, Mike! This made my day!” Happy tears.

    A few days later another son (this one expected as he was attending a wedding locally) arrived, and our daughter, learning that two brothers would be home at the same time, decided on a whim to drive up from Indianapolis. We were only missing one son, and yes that left a hole, but we appreciated the rarity of having eight of the nine kids home at the same time. We’d take what we could get.

    It’s amazing how the feeling around the house changes when the adult kids come home, how whole we feel again when we are together. The younger ones hang on the older ones literally and figuratively, on their every word. There are walks, talks and sitting on the back patio, and drives to get ice cream. Sometimes there is euchre or a planned event, but mostly there is the rhythm that once used to be when they were littler, familiarly coming back, like an echo.

    When people talk about raising large families they talk about expense. It’s true. Big families are incredibly expensive. While the cost of raising five children does not quintuple from raising one — because of hand-me-downs, and certain other facts such as heating a house remains constant whether there are seven people or three sitting in it — you can’t argue that raising a brood of children is cheap. It isn’t.

    And yes, there’s not only a money cost to raising a large family but a sleep cost too. And a time cost. And sacrifice. And lots of tears as they move out to carve out their own lives, even while knowing it’s best that they do.

    But there are also many benefits — the treasure of having many unique human beings grow up together under one roof is just one. Synergy occurs when a kid talented in art shares her gift with one who can’t draw worth a lick but can play and create music by ear. The gifts of one are shared by another and all are enriched.

    The children learn patience and waiting ones turn, different perspectives, which are born from different personalities. They learn to understand an idea they didn’t think of, and consider it. They become protectors and stand up for underdogs, even under their own roof. They fight, yes. But they learn to resolve. They learn the art of compromise. Basically, they learn to love. It is not every family’s call to be great in number, but for those that are, it is a call to be answered, generously, with a big heart, for the rewards are many, even as are the sacrifices.

    Last week briefly, the lives of most of my children and their parents once again converged. Bonds were strengthened. Laughter exchanged. Advice given. Encouragement offered. This occurred with more than enough to sustain until next time. We missed the one missing, but he will be back with us soon enough. I always tear up when we separate but only momentarily. For life is a gift. Family is a gift. I will gladly welcome the suffering of when we are apart because of how blessed I am when we are together.

    Posted on October 1, 2015, to:

  • Our society is mesmerized by the modern superhero. Whether it is Captain America or Thor, there is something appealing about a strong, sure man who rises up for good. In a way, I think that superhero movies are the contemporary yet retro comic book twist to the old westerns, which depicted strong cowboys fighting the bad guys, the white hats versus the black hats, if you will. At any rate, the box office shows that the public is responding incredibly positively to the genre of superhero films.

    Interestingly, this is occurring when Pew Research indicates that Christians in America are declining sharply as people who identify as “unaffiliated” increase. It seems we simultaneously want a savior, a hero, but reject the One. As a culture we are turning away from Christianity — recognizing Jesus as savior of the world — and turning instead to … an Avenger? Yes, we are, sadly, because let’s face it, Captain America is fun to watch and isn’t going to ask anything of us.

    I’m not labeling Jesus as a “superhero” because that is to minimize and trivialize Him for sure, but it is interesting that recent statistics show that while our obsession with superheroes is high, religious devotion, faith in the One who can really save, is waning.

    Let’s sit with that for a minute and consider how this relates to our daughters.

    As a mother of six girls, I think about the following a lot: what kind of men are we counseling our daughters to look for in a date, and eventually in a husband? Are we putting value in the qualities found in a fallible Thor-like god or those found in Jesus, one who is God Himself? Are we encouraging our girls to develop a strong relationship with Jesus first, which is and should be primary, and which will in turn become foundational in her relationship with her future husband? We should be. We should be introducing her to Christ in the Scriptures and most certainly in the sacraments, and by doing so, we raise the bar for herself, and for the human man who may one day be her spouse.

    We need to turn our daughters’ thoughts to Jesus, to teach them how to fall in love with Him, not in a romantic love per se, but the kind of total love of a created being for her Creator, one that permeates her to the core and challenges her to become what she is, a love that makes her — no compels her — to be the best she can be, pouring out then that same love to everyone she meets, and ultimately, intimately and personally to her husband and children, if that is her vocation.

    We should counsel our daughters to know Christ well and first, and then to look for Christ-like qualities in the young men they date, which is the pool from which they will eventually marry. This means they date young men who, like Christ, challenge them to be good and heroically lead the way.

    Additionally, while physical attraction is not to be dismissed because it is after all part of God’s plan to get two people together initially to see if they are compatible, good Catholic mothers (and fathers who will lead by example) must tell their daughters that they should look beyond physical attraction for enduring virtues and qualities in a future spouse:

    • A man who has faith

    • A man who has patience and strength

    • A man who will provide and protect his family

    • A man who possesses wisdom

    • A man with self control, not full of folly or attachment to frivolous things

    • And perhaps most importantly, a man who is willing to sacrifice for her and for the family

    A man like Christ

    These qualities mentioned above manifest in a human are but a shadow of the real One she must seek. Jesus. She must also strive to emulate His virtuous example. Obviously, perfection does not exist in this world, and I’m not suggesting we hold people to unattainable standards. I’m merely suggesting we look beyond societal definitions of “heroic” and think about what really is.

    God’s plan is different for each daughter. Some may have a religious vocation or stay single, but most will marry. God is the ultimate Truth, Beauty and Goodness. The more someone reflects those traits, the more he reflects God. Let us teach our girls to strive for that in themselves and to look for that in their future spouses. After all, the real hero we must teach our girls (and boys) to emulate and seek, the One who really saves, is Christ.

    Posted on August 18, 2015, to:

  • One of the most fun (and naïve) things I ever did was to order 10 little ducklings (eight Pekin and two white crested) from an online bird catalogue store.

    The little peepers arrived at the small post office branch five minutes from our home, and five of my little girls and I, already having stocked up on duck care supplies, went to retrieve them. I had studied the topic of raising ducks for months, poured over every article online I could find, and bought several books to get me up to speed. I had purchased all the necessary supplies — heat lamp, sturdy large containers for temporary baby housing, feeders, food, lots of fluffy terry cloth towels for keeping them dry … I even had a nice spot picked out in our attached garage, not the pole barn, for the garage is insulated and I wanted to be near my little adopted babies. We were ready … I thought.

    When I opened the door to the small post office, excited girls trailing behind me, I could hear the tiny, baby ducks. Their cries sounded like they were baby squeeze toys  — chirpy and squeaky. The post office worker opened the box holding them, and there they were, each situated it a little indented area, much like eggs in an egg carton. They were the cutest little things I have ever seen, fuzzy and yellow and their teeny little orange beaks were perfectly shaped. “Awwwwwwww!” the girls all said at once. “Can I hold them?” “No, I want to hold them!” and so on.

    We gleefully climbed back into the car to a chorus of chirping little fluff balls.

    “Mommy, there’s 11 of them!” one daughter squealed, “We got an extra one!” Sure enough, there were 11, the store’s ‘good practice’ in case all the little guys didn’t make it through the mail to their destination.

    The next days were a blur. Everything was about the ducks. Feed the ducks. Clean the cages of the ducks. Let the ducks run around. Make sure the hawks don’t get the ducks. Gather the ducks. Count the ducks. The ducks were sloppy little guys — knocking over their water, defecating everywhere, then splat, splat, stepping over each other and everything. They got filthy. So daily I bathed 11 little ducks, all assembly-line like, and then my daughters towel dried them. Since it was cool outside and we wanted to avoid them getting chilled, we also blow-dried them. I cleaned out their cages and patted them dry. Then I washed all the towels, which soon became rags. We did this every day, for weeks.

    The night of my son’s prom, we had pictures at our house. At one point I saw six or seven dressed up boys out back. They were ready to be photographed but couldn’t find their dates. I found their dates. They were in the garage, surrounding the boxes, cradling baby ducks in their arms.

    My daughters named the ducks that we were going to keep: Lily, Cubby, Phineas, Perry, Bartholomew Cubbins and Rainbow Sparkle Shine.

    Bartholomew Cubbins grew quite hefty. He was Grace’s duck, and she had intentions of showing him at the 4 H fair. There would be a parade at the fair before the showing, she was told by the 4H leader, and the duck had to be on a leash. A leash?  Have you ever heard of a duck on a leash? Neither had we. Nevertheless, I bought a leash for the duck, who as we quickly found out, would have none of it. I can still see Gracie chasing BC around the field with the leash, and him waddling speedily away from her…

    As the ducks got bigger, (actually, huge) they had free reign of the backyard during the day when we were home. When they heard a plane pass overhead, they would stop and tilt their heads, first one side then the other, listening. When they were hungry, they would come up to the windows near our sunroom and quack in chorus until one of the girls went outside to feed them. If someone looked at the ducks and asked, “Do you want to go swimming?” the ducks would bob side-to-side, waddle hastily to the large children’s plastic pool and wait for someone to fill it up. Over time, the ducks learned to come when called. They were actually pretty smart, for poultry.

    Some of the ducks went to live on a farm away from us, others to a golf course. (Don’t ask). Unfortunately, the ducks we had reserved for our personal pets did not make it to a ripe old age. I won’t go into detail but there was a loose gate and some wandering Siberian huskies. Suffice it to say one summer day there was great wailing and gnashing of teeth in the Thomas household over the loss of our beloved pets. The most mourned of course was Bartholomew, whom Grace was sure would have taken home first prize at the fair had he lived.

    So now I get to the last part of my story. I had been naïve in bringing home 11 ducks. I didn’t expect to be washing and blow drying ducks. I didn’t expect to be trying to leash one. I didn’t imagine how hard it would be when the ducks died, or that I’d actually become attached to them, so in a way you could say I was naïve, maybe dumb, in getting them.

    But then again, maybe not. You see, I also didn’t imagine the sweetness in watching my girls care for almost a dozen of God’s creation. I didn’t anticipate the hearty laughter that occurred daily on account of those silly little ducklings just doing duck things. I learned a lot about my daughters and myself through this experience. And during all the commotion of duck tending, I know it might sound silly but I feel like I became closer to God who is Creator of these animals. This hands-on experience with nature refreshed my soul and brought me closer to my girls.

    And so, I recommend enjoying nature and embarking on some sort of little adventure with your children. For us, it was getting ducks. Just a word of fair warning, however — if you decide to get ducks, make sure your washing machine is in working order and that you have plenty of towels and a sense of humor. While the experience is worth it, it never hurts to be prepared.

    Posted on July 7, 2015, to:

  • From the driver seat of my car in the school parking lot today, I watched as a nice looking, sandy haired, high school boy carried my daughter’s books out to the car. My daughter’s backpack was weighed down heavily as was evidenced by its bulkiness, and later I found out she had cleaned out her locker since it was the last day of school and finals were about to begin.

    The heaviness of the bag didn’t seem to bother the boy, who chatted and laughed with her as they walked. When they reached the side of the car, the boy nodded toward me, opened the door and plopped her bag on the seat, and then said goodbye. My daughter was smiling and thanked him warmly before he went back into the school building. “See you tomorrow!” she called after him. Last week, a different but equally thoughtful young man had carried her books out to the car with similar enthusiasm. And my daughter had smiled, talked and thanked him too.

    My daughter isn’t dating around (or whatever the modern term is for that these days). In fact, she’s not dating at all. Per her dad’s and my desire to delay one on one dating until age 18 or beyond, she is simply learning to enjoy friendships. She is enjoying being a girl. The young men who walked with her out to the car in friendship and assistance the last couple weeks seemed to enjoy carrying her books. They looked confident as they did so. They walked with a purpose. It seemed each had a certain kind of pride about offering this basic courtesy and really seemed to enjoy being a helpful guy.

    A giver. A receiver. An offer. An acceptance. Politeness. Kindness. It was nice, kind of like a dance of sorts. What’s more, the action was completely natural, even while some may find it quite surprising that a couple of modern 17 year olds from 2015 were behaving traditionally and graciously, without prompting, as though they had stepped out of the 1950s.

    My daughter’s younger sister, who was in the back seat of the car this afternoon, commented when we had driven off, “Geez! Why do all the guys want to carry your books?”

    “I don’t know,” the other daughter replied, looking out the window thoughtfully, “I guess they know I need help and when they offer and I tell them thank you, they know that I really appreciate it.” They want to be nice. They want to please.


    I believe that young or old, a man’s natural inclination is to be helpful and protective, chivalrous even, and a culture benefits when that is welcomed warmly. The word “civilization” has the root word “civil” in it. To be civil is to bring up from barbarism; to train to live with others. Politeness and chivalry build strong civilizations … cultures that are orderly and pleasant and help people be the best they can be.

    In modern society, however, chivalrous behavior is not always valued. One of my sons recalls several instances of opening the door for a girl when she followed behind him into a college classroom. He rarely heard “thank you” or received a warm smile, but instead received a snotty “I can do that myself.” Or “I don’t need you to do that for me. I’m capable.” With this reaction it sure would be easy to stop trying to do polite things when one is not only not met with appreciation but is met with snarky-ness instead.

    What a shame.

    Society benefits when women and men embrace their natures, when men chivalrously offer to do helpful things when appropriate, and when the women are sweet and gratefully accept assistance that is offered to them. Politeness helps the relations between any two people, but especially when opposite sexes interact. Men and women each bring different unique gifts and talents to the table, both because of their maleness and femaleness and because every person is made distinct, unique and special. Thank God there are differences. Thank God when there is chivalry and acceptance and civility.

    Alice Von Hildenbrand, philosopher and author of “The Privilege of Being a Woman” said once in an interview, “… Men truly become ‘themselves’ thanks to the love of their wives … wives are transformed by their husband’s strength and courage.” If this is indeed true, then surely this begins when men and women are boys and girls and their natures, which are hardwired by biology, are allowed to develop instinctively.

    When the Book of Genesis speaks of “help,” “it is not referring merely to acting, but also to being. Womanhood and manhood are complementary not only from the physical and psychological points of view, but also from the ontological. It is only through the duality of the ‘masculine’ and the ‘feminine’ that the ‘human’ finds full realization.”

    As I watched the exchange between my teenaged girl and her friend this afternoon, those lofty thoughts swirled in my mind. And I came to a simple conclusion. The world needs a little more offers and acceptances, politeness and kindness for seeds of peace, a truly civil society, to grow. The world needs a little more of God’s own plan, and it can start with our youth. Boys, be the carriers of backpacks, and girls, be sweet and appreciative. Together, in this way, little by little, both sexes can reclaim a bit of goodness in the world.

    Posted on June 2, 2015, to:

  • Yesterday, I was sitting on my bed, wrapped in my “cancer quilt” (a quilt made for me by friends when I fought the disease 10 years ago), complaining to my husband after a challenging day. I was frustrated and feeling old. It started with a couple of small things — having to purchase 2.25 magnification reading glasses (up from 1.25 in just a few months), and while listening to songs on the radio on my drive home, it hit me that the pop singers were my children’s ages. My premature, bone-on-bone, knee arthritis (yikes — that’s what grandmothers talk about) was acting up. There was the usual hectic-ness and busyness of raising kids, getting them here and there, answering the phone, arranging to have a repairman to come to the house. At the moment, I had just come inside after pulling my winter coat, yes, winter coat in April, around me outside tightly as the wind blew. And, it was raining.

    Pathetic fallacy is a literary device that attributes human qualities and emotions to inanimate objects in nature. It’s like when Shakespeare’s King Lear wanders, bemoaning, in a storm-blasted terrain, with the tumultuous weather mirroring the pain in his own heart.

    At that moment, I felt I was in a Shakespearean play with pathetic fallacy raging all around. The stormy weather reflected what was going on in my heart. I was feeling rained on, washed out, drained, old. Cold. Frustrated, and, sitting on the bed in that moment, awash in my tears, under my cancer quilt, I was sharing it all with my husband.

    Yes, I am always this melodramatic. Poor David.

    Anyway, the icing on the realizing-time-is-passing-quickly-had-a-bad-day-on-top-of-it cake was that I had just been exchanging texts with one of our young adult children, our fourth child, who graduates from college in just a couple weeks. Both at the moment and anticipatorily I missed him. After graduation he is headed out for a great career opportunity … 2,000 miles away. That makes four chickies out of the nest. Four children grown. And one on deck to boot. My mind flew (like the wind, of course) toward nostalgia.

    I used to spend hours trying to inspire and motivate my children. I used to draw pictures, first on the second-hand chalkboard in our schoolroom, then on the whiteboard in our kitchen, of ripples from thrown pebbles in a roughly sketched pond to illustrate a point.

    “See? This can be you!” I’d tell my children. “These could be the effects of ‘your’ good deeds, ‘your’ influence on the world! You can’t change everything, but you can change something. We each have something special to do. God has a unique mission for you! Find it! Do it!”

    Being the metaphorical geek I am, I’d try to bring home the point in other ways. … Blowing the seeds off of a white, ripe dandelion when the children and I were on a walk, I’d say, “Our family is like this dandelion, but some day you have to go, like these little seeds, and spread out goodness in the world.”

    The kids grew older. I told them that as long as they keep their faith and live with integrity and character, their dad and I will support them wherever they go, in any honorable and upright career aspiration and job situation utilizing their talents and interests — electrician, plumber, street worker, dentist, astronaut, politician, lawyer, writer, missionary, artist, financial planner, actor, president. …

    My husband and I told our children it is between them and God to figure out their vocation — married, in the religious life, or single, and that we would help them live it well, whatever they choose.

    “What is important,” we said, “is that whatever you do, you do with honor and integrity. Be the best you can be and try to set the example.” We told them faith without action is hollow, and that actions speak better than words, that people are always watching so keep good the family name, that our prayers will follow them until our dying breaths, and that not only is it okay that they leave home, they “must.” They must forge out their own adult lives, find their own missions in life, make a difference, and live honorably, for themselves and for God.

    Shoot. They took us up on it, and left.

    I say this only tongue in cheek. We sincerely meant what we said, and there comes a time when stage setting is over and the curtain must come up. But where there is deep love there will be suffering, and the inverse of the beautiful quilt of life and family is the messy stitching and rumpled heavy batting on the other side, the joy and pain of children growing up and moving out.

    It’s not easy raising a family — and even when things turn out right, there are challenges and sacrifices and little sad moments, even amidst deep satisfaction. God entwines and juxtaposes them all together in this fabric of life: Happy/sad. Hard/easy. These are stitched together, complementary colors, side by side, each highlighting the other. They make a beautiful pattern, if we step back to really look, and which I believe we shall see clearly and fully in all its glory one day, when life on this earth is finished.

    Yesterday I thought the weather couldn’t get worse and life couldn’t get more complicated. It is snowing today. My “to do” list is twice as long, my eyes are no sharper and my kid is still moving out. But something is different.

    I know it’s going to be okay.

    I’m completely healthy 10 years after I was diagnosed with cancer. I have a quilt that tells me by its existence that friends care. The quilt is old and torn and faded in places, but it’s a reminder of caring and it keeps me warm. I have a husband who loves me and helps me weather external (and internal) storms. He makes me coffee in the morning before I get out of bed and sometimes brings me chocolate. Even when he can’t fix the weather (inside or out — it’s an act of nature, you know), he sits there patiently when I feel like a demoralized character in a Shakespearean play, hugs me and says, “I get it.” And he does.

    In the soft quiet of the evening tonight I heard God say to my heart, “Yes, your children will leave, one by one, into the life I am giving them. They will know joy, like you do, and yes there will be pain, but I will be with them. I promise. I give you the sun and yes, I also give you the rain. It makes the seeds grow. And I give you this life, and this quilt and these friends and this man, who not only lays down his life for you but also just gave you chocolate and a hug…

    …You have everything, my daughter. What more do you want?”



    Posted on April 28, 2015, to: