I am so honored to be featuring Wife/Mother/Home-schooler/Writer Theresa Thomas, as this month’s Dreamer in the Spotlight! She is the co-author of the recently released book, BIG HEARTED: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and blogs at Theresa Thomas~Everyday Catholic. She also writes articles for The Integrated Catholic Life and Today’s Catholic.
A funny thing that I have to share is that while preparing to do this interview, I discovered that Theresa’s family and my family actually went to the same small parish at the same time until I moved to Tennessee. When I saw her beautiful family photo on her blog some members looked familiar, but I didn’t make the connection until I discovered that she lives in South Bend, Indiana. It’s a small world for sure! I often marveled at how well- behaved all her children were during Mass!
Anyway, without postponing this inspirational interview any longer, here it is! As you’ll see, it’s packed with great wisdom and touching moments!
How do you balance writing, homeschooling, and caring for a large family?
Well, it’s like golfing. You aim toward the pin (set your goals) then you hit the ball where it lies (roll with the punches). If you think too much you’ll ruin your swing (rhythm, routine). You have to find your own personal feel, react decisively on instinct and be natural. Yes, I’m married to a golfer. 🙂
Seriously, balancing these things can be like a tightrope walk, but the best way I’ve found to approach it is with love and humor. Things go wrong sometimes- that’s just life. Also, I’m going to make mistakes- we all make mistakes- but just diving in, trying hard with focus, keeping a smile on my face and love in my heart (even when the rice spills all over the floor or I can’t find my car keys or someone loses her spelling book, or one of the girls informs me that her toe poked through her ballet slipper and her instructor said she has to have new ones by next class in one hour) is my best advice and the way I balance!
I try always to put family first. I made a vow to my husband and to God. So everything –and I mean everything- comes after my responsibility to them. That being said, taking care of myself is part of that- it’s important because I’m no good unless I’m well nourished and rested. Moms can only give what they have, so I try to take the time to eat well, exercise, pray and get enough sleep. I do that for all of us. 🙂 I wrote about this all here.
Raising a large family is a challenging endeavor. Children need attention in a myriad of ways. Meals have to be made. The house has to be cleaned. My first responsibility is my vocation of wife and mother, and homeschooling is part of that vocation, a chosen part of that vocation so it is integrated into our daily life.
Writing mostly comes early in the morning or late at night, when everyone is in bed. I have a column due each month for Today’s Catholic and I try be organized and write ahead, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say sometimes I’ll have a noon Friday deadline and it’s 11:25 and I’m still punching out at the computer! That’s just life! Because of the topics of my writing, I’m often invited to speak on various radio programs. Twice I’ve forgotten a scheduled interview and had to wing it. Once was at 6:50 a.m. and I was actually still in bed when the phone rang. I jumped up and seeing the caller ID was the radio station, I cleared my throat about six times before I answered. I scrambled around while it was a commercial and I was able to quickly make some coffee while the producer was putting me on hold for the host. Once we got talking the interview actually went fine but boy, was my adrenaline pumping at first! So, am I balanced? Sort of. Most things get done, although not always perfectly! And thank goodness for radio where you can do interviews in your pajamas. 🙂
In regards to homeschooling—
David and I determined after much research, prayer and discernment 18 years ago that God was leading our family to homeschool (until high school), and it takes 100% of our time. Homeschooling is a way of life. It’s a way we parent. It’s just part of the rhythm of our days, and one way we try to say ‘I love you’ to our children. Homeschooling isn’t for everybody, but it is for us, and I believe that somehow it is an important part of my children’s formation for their eventual mission in the world.
God gives different families different charisms, different gifts, and as parents we are to discover God’s will not just for us and our children individually, but also for our individual families. I believe that homeschooling is part of what God is calling our family to do. Other families have other callings. This is ours.
I struggle just the same as everyone else with balancing work and play in a large family. My house is not always in order, and worries and concerns pop up here just like everywhere else. Sometimes, like any other mother I slump down in a chair and look up to heaven and ask, “Really, God?” One day, in the midst of a particularly trying day, I sat down at the kitchen table and started laughing hysterically- nothing more could have gone wrong that day and it was the only thing left to do. One of the girls walked in and I’m sure was like, “Mom has lost it.” No, that’s how I find it- peace that is. You have to be able to laugh. Life is ironic and funny and challenging, sad and sorrowful and a million other things. There’s time for seriousness for sure, but knowing when to laugh keeps levity and right perspective.
Being a mother is like being a baby who is learning to walk- you try, you fall, you get up and try again. It’s the only way, really. You just keep moving forward with joy and hope. Then one day you’ll be standing there and look back and say, “Hey, I did that!”
How would you define what it means to be big-hearted, especially in the context of family life?
Being big hearted is a way of thinking and acting. It is putting others first. We have a few little favorite catchphrases in our family. One is “it is a privilege to serve.” Ten and twelve-year-old big sisters know this when their little sister asks for a drink of water. Big brothers know this when a younger sibling asks if they’ll play catch. My older sons who have graduated from college and are out of the house are great. They will phone or text their younger siblings to find out what is happening in their lives and give advice and encouragement. Being big hearted is looking out for others ahead of yourself, and that starts first with siblings and family, and extends out to the rest of the world.
Being ‘big hearted’ doesn’t necessarily mean having a big family- it can mean that of course, but families are big hearted when they welcome a child with a disability, adopt, open their home to grandparents, or in a thousand other ways serve others. Being big hearted can be doing small things in the home with great love. Big-hearted families are easy to spot. They are not perfect. They simply try to love radically. Inevitably, these families are marked by joy. Their hearts are open. We can all be big-hearted.
You shared some great personal stories of your own family in BIG HEARTED. Could you share another special big-hearted moment that wasn’t in the book?
Well, I don’t frequently share that I battled cancer eight years ago, but I did. I was personally challenged to big-heartedness in April of 2005. I had to accept the cross that was offered to me. On April 5, 2005 I gave birth to my ninth baby. Within two weeks, my 20-year-old youngest brother was killed in a car accident, and the day of his rosary at the funeral home I went in for a biopsy. Two days later I was diagnosed with cancer- Hodgkins lymphoma to be exact. The story of part of my struggle was published here.
Through this experience I was challenged to be true to my Catholic faith and reject artificial birth control. It wasn’t easy.
On a lighter note, one personal family big-hearted moment occurred recently when my husband and I were sitting in the family room after dinner together. Our two youngest daughters surprised us by calling us in the basement to visit their ‘restaurant’. Of course we dropped what we were doing and went downstairs. Children need the gift of our time and when we gave it to them that night, we were really the ones who were blessed. The whole story of that is here.
Being big hearted is not just doing amazing things outside your own family, but by doing little things with great love inside the family too. Parents can be big-hearted daily simply by giving their children their time and attention. They will find that that type of big-heartedness reaps big rewards.
Do you have a favorite book, quote, song, or movie that motivates and inspires you?
It’s a Wonderful Life is one of my all time favorite movies. What a gift to be able to know what your sacrifices and love have done for others! I think some day in heaven we will all look back and see the ripple effect we had on others’ lives, both good and bad. This movie is great on so many levels- it has a hardworking, feminine, beautiful loving mother (Mary), a selfless, honorable, full-of-hope-and-dreams father (George). It’s a story of integrity, hope, love and meaning. It captures so much about what life is all about. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is truly a big screen big-hearted story!
I have several favorite quotes:
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13)
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” (Mother Teresa)
“Do small things with great love.” (I think this has been attributed to several sources including St. Therese and Mother Teresa)
And this, which I’ve had taped on my wall for many many years.
“Let nothing disturb thee. Let nothing dismay thee. All things pass; God never changes. Patience attains all that it strives for. He who has God finds he lacks nothing: God alone suffices.” -St. Teresa of Avila
Thank you, Theresa, for sharing so much of yourself with us today!
For more about BIG HEARTED, please read Theresa’s interview with Randy Hain.
Have a blessed weekend, everyone!