It is summertime; so how will you spend your summer days? Will the title of your summer performance be the hazy lazy days of summer or a “midsummer's night dream?” Are you vacationing together as a family at the annual beach trip or going on a cruise? Will you tackle a home project together or find ways to serve as a family in the community? Will you live at the pool or become couch potatoes in front of the television? Will you attend daily Mass or take a vacation from your faith? There is no cookie-cutter, perfect way for a perfect summer to take place. Each family is different and each summer is different. One thing does remain the same mom; you are the captain of the ship. You can steer your ship into the familiar waters of “we have always done things this way.” Or, you can begin a journey into the unknown where the family has never been before. It is really your choice. You will get out of summer what you put into it.
One of my favorite ways of conversing is to ask questions. It fits my personality as well as my role in the Body of Christ. I am a writer, a speaker, a radio cohost, a blogger and a mommy mentor, as well as a wife and mother of eight. I am also a wordy woman. Asking questions gives me ample opportunity to learn from others. It is also my way of not monopolizing the conversation. One of my favorite questions to ask moms is “What do you do with your children during the summer?” I gain so much from each mom I meet. Their response usually fits their personality and temperament. This month I want to hear from you. What ideas have worked for you and your children over the summers?
I, who am both a type triple “A” personality and a planner, never let summer just take place. In order for summer be a fruitful experience, I spent time in advance in prayer and in planning of what I wanted it to look like. When you have a large family, it is essential to always pray and plan. I decided to look back on the summers gone by when I was raising small children and give you a few ideas of things that worked for me.
Summer always seemed to be the perfect time to train up my children in the way of the Lord. In order to raise your children to grow up to be men and women who are full of character and godly wisdom, you have to teach them by word and of course with prayer. Before summer began, I, the planner, would purchase nine poster boards. At the beginning of summer, usually the second week, I would explain the plan. I always let the first week be a time to chill out, kick back, and do whatever they wanted to do. This was like a Sabbath rest, so they could recoup from a school year of schedules, early wake up, homework deadlines and of course making the grade. It was a change from go-go-go to the slower pace of summertime.
Once they had ample time to just enjoy the moment, I began the summer adventure. Since I had the first six children in twelve years, they were all able to participate in some capacity with this summer activity. As a family we took the months of summer to focus on virtue and growth in character; in other words accessorizing with virtue. Here is what we did. We would choose a virtue a week to work on. Each week I would gather the children around and explain what the virtue was and some ways we could practice the virtue as a family. Then taking one of the blank poster boards, together we would transform it into a beautiful creation. The first week I would write the word “JOY” in big letters in the center of our poster board. Instruction was then given to the children to draw on the poster board things that illustrate what joy is to them. Some would draw a picture of a shining sun, others a “happy face,” while others some flowers. All art is beautiful to the artist. In no time at all our poster not only had the word “Joy” on it but it was full of Joy. We hung the poster in the family room in a prominent place for all to see.
My next instruction was to explain how this was the theme of our week, “This is JOY week!!!” Cheers went up from the crowd giving their approval for a joy-filled week. I applauded and we all jumped for “Joy.” I had already purchased some stars in advance to be placed on the poster throughout the week for each time a child chose to walk in joy. Everyone was encouraged to take a frown and turn it upside down, and choose joy and gladness instead. As we chased the “grumpies” away each day, laughter filled our home. We learned to change attitudes and rise above feelings. I, being a Bible buff, used the scriptures each week that fit our theme to be sung, quoted and put in practice. I would make scripture a natural part of our conversation; creatively trying to use it whenever I could as a teaching point. We were like the von Trapp family, only with bad voices, often breaking into song without a moment’s notice. On “Joy Week” our favorite song was “The Joy of the Lord is our Strength.” By the end of the week we had found many opportunities to practice the virtue of Joy. We had plowed, watered, weeded, and planted in our hearts the seeds that grew a harvest of the fruit for the week. In no time at all, seven short days, our poster shined brightly with stars that displayed, " A job well done!” Most importantly we learned that it did not matter how we felt, we could always put on the garment of gladness and joy by changing our attitude. We learned that sporting a smile instead of a frown was a great way to chase the “grumpies” away. Practicing the fruit of Joy made our hearts healthy and pleased the Lord Jesus.
Before we knew it Joy Week had flown by and it was time to bring out our next poster to begin “Love Week.” We repeated the steps, starting with our next blank poster board, ready to learn to accessorize with another virtue. We all gathered together again, while I explained the virtue of Love and some ways we could practice it this week. Then after hugging one another at least twice we were ready to begin. I placed the poster board on the floor and grabbing our magic markers to decorate our Love poster until it was our second masterpiece. The finished product sometimes sported, bright red hearts, flowers or even people holding hands. Sometimes one of the children would draw a cross representing Jesus’ love for us. On “Love Week” I selected some heart stickers instead of stars, to place on the poster as the reward each time I saw a child show the virtue of Love. This week our song selections, scripture choices and teachings revolved around love instead of joy. The top song choices of Love week were of course, “Jesus Loves Me” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” That week the children practiced sharing their favorite toys, letting others go first and going the extra mile. I must say that “Love Week” was a family favorite. At the end of the week we could look back to discover that putting others needs ahead of our own and laying down our life for one another taught us how to be family. By loving one another we all grew closer to Jesus. The more love we poured out the more love God filled us with. By the end of the week by practicing the virtue of love, we had all borne great fruit. Love filled our hearts and our home.
The third week of summer began and the fruit of “Peace” became our theme of the week; patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, generosity, modesty, gentleness, self-control, and chastity followed. I selected a different virtue each week to be the focus for our family. For many years, I used this format for our summer activity. To me it was the easiest way to teach the children how to grow in character, wisdom and virtue. It bore the most fruit. Whenever I speak to young mothers about summertime, I suggest this activity. I also encourage them to be creative and make it their own. As the children grew in age, different activities replaced these. However, I knew that I had laid in my children the foundation for godly character. Once planted in their soul through songs, scripture, teaching, and practice, I knew it would continue to grow a harvest in their hearts. This is what God promised in His word; “Train up a child in the way of the Lord and when he gets old he will not depart from it.”
My tag line for my ministry, “Little Pink Dress Ministry,” is to “Accessorize With Virtue.” I teach women that before they leave home, along with reapplying their lipstick and finding just the right earrings to make their outfit complete, to put on Christ. No matter if we are 2 or 22, a preschooler or a high schooler, a newlywed or an empty nester, a new mom or the mother of many, we are never too old or too young to accessorize with virtue. Virtue is what set the saints apart to do a work for God. As they emptied their hearts of sin each day God filled them with Godly character. In order to grow the fruits of the Spirit in our lives it takes plowing the soul of our hardened hearts, pulling out the weeds of sin, fertilizing our lives with prayer, planting the seeds of good deeds, and watering the soul of our hearts with the sacraments. Practice makes perfect! We must put action to our faith. A wise mother will cultivate a life of prayer, virtue and frequenting the sacraments. She will follow the Saints as they followed Jesus, and pass her faith down to her children.
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Summertime is the perfect time to teach your children just how to “Accessorize with Virtue.” Our vocation as mothers is very, very important. We are raising the next generation. Mom, what are you planting in your children’s hearts? What fruit are you harvesting? If they learn to put on the garment of praise, they will learn to walk with the joy of the Lord as their strength. If they learn to lay down their life for their siblings they will be able to lay down their life in service to Jesus Christ. If they learn how to walk in virtue as a child and practice it daily; they will grow a character of godliness. How about making it a contest like we did one summer while vacationing with our grandchildren? At the end of each day their parents would select who would had won the crown. Then their dad would place a crown on the head of the daughter who was the "Queen of Virtue" for that day! Competition between siblings is a great catalyst in promoting growth in virtue.
Teach your child to accessorize with virtue and they will always be in style. They will be an example to others, just like the Saints, and lead others to follow Jesus. Let summer begin! Mom you are the captain of your ship; set your direction heavenward! If you dress yourself in virtue, you will be fashionably blessed.
Copyright 2016 Ellen Mongan
About the Author
Ellen Mongan, a Catholic writer and speaker, has been married more than 40 years to Deacon Pat Mongan. They have 7 children and 12 grandchildren. Ellen is a host of WOW Radio Podcasts, a religious columnist for the Augusta Chronicle, and has spoken on both radio and television. She is the founder of Sisters in Christ, Little Pink Dress Ministry, and Women-Fests.