“I’m God’s little lamb and I belong to the Good Shepherd”. Familiar Bible stories frequently remind us of this, but do we really believe it? God began teaching me my true lamb-y-ness about ten years ago when my husband and I adopted our son from Guatemala. We brought him into our family with two big sisters, ages 10 and 12. Part of the reason I wanted to adopt was because I thought I had finally figured out how to be a good mommy and I kind of wanted a do-over. His sisters had to put up with a mommy who had a long learning curve when it came to parenting and I wanted to “do it right” this time. As each child brings unique blessings and challenges to the family dynamic, even as an “experienced mom”, I still was tripping over my own habits and umm, uhh…selfishness. But my heart still desired to be better, to be more than a source of rules and food for my children. I still had much to learn. God wanted me to learn to be less. Small. Like a lamb.
As my son became a toddler, a snippet of something a dear friend had recommended to me surfaced from the recycle bin of my memory. She had spoken of something called, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. I decided to look into it and I liked what I saw. A little while later I took the year long training for catechist certification. The following year I was certified in CGS Level Two. What I learned there, transformed my parenting, ignited my passion as a teacher, and prepared me to begin to create deeply spiritual, yet lighthearted, children’s stories.
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, the Montessori based program that introduces young children to the Bible and builds a foundation of faith in Christ, taught me how to…whisper. Everything in the CGS learning environment (called an Atrium) is peaceful, orderly and quiet. For God to choose me as a CGS catechist is like Po as the Dragon Warrior in Kung Fu Panda. I’m passionate, creative and ADD. It was very difficult for me to learn to be quiet. CGS catechists speak softly, always use positive phrases and take the time to do everything with great care. In order for me to be a model for the children, I had to exercise heroic levels of self control. I learned to parent with (miraculous) calmness and discovered that the true way to share my faith with anyone is through genuine JOY!
One of the key concepts in CGS is that “God loves what is little”… little towns like Bethlehem, younger brothers, shepherds (who sometimes become kings), and lost little lambs. When we come alongside of children to teach in a humble way, becoming little ourselves, we acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is the true teacher…for both of us. In a classroom OR in a home, our humility is what teaches…and best demonstrates how God cherishes each one of us.
Over time, a longing grew in my heart for more families to experience some of the deep ways God cherishes each person’s life that I learned in CGS. Setting up an Atrium is a long labor of love and typically only small numbers of children experience it at a time. Was there a way to make some of the life changing experiences of Atrium available to larger numbers of children and adults? A small inspiration inside me said, yes. When I co-authored “Easter Bunny’s Amazing Day” with my sister, I loved bringing the tiny little bunny into the loving arms of Jesus. God loves what is little: like bunnies, and the children who can love a bunny the way God loves them. Even having the bunny trapped with Jesus in the tomb inspires a deep comfort in us, knowing we are never alone in a dark place. Some of the essence of CGS could be shared in a picture book.
Now, I’ve created a new story called, Little Lamb Finds Christmas from Liguori.org . I hope it will be like a moment in a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Atrium in your lap. In this beautifully illustrated Christmas book, you meet Lemi, the little lamb who always gets lost. He introduces us to Shabaa, his “good shepherd” and to the Holy Family who welcomes lowly shepherds. Then, in a final surprising twist, the story invites us to reflect on how, even as a baby, Jesus is the Prince of the Peaceable Kingdom. CGS is one of those rare gifts in which the catechist is touched as deeply by the Holy Spirit as the children. My prayer and hope is that God will use this story in the same way, that the adult reading aloud will peacefully sigh along with the child when, in the end, they reflect in a little deeper way that remaining close to Jesus brings peace inside our hearts and peace among us all. When I first decided to include a lion in the story, I wanted to create tension and drama so little boys would enjoy the story. I smiled later on when I realized the deeper symbolism: Jesus brings peace even between predators and prey. The Holy Spirit is still my teacher. I am the little lamb, following my Lord and Shepherd with the privilege of bringing these sweet stories to you. And my 10 year old son from Guatemala who inspired it all? He is my favorite editor who continues to inspire and invite me to love, and write, in humility.
We are taught as CGS catechists that the first prayer of young children is one of gratitude. Jesus, our Good Shepherd tells us that having the heart of a child is how we get to heaven. May we each realize that “I am a sheep, and the Good Shepherd knows my name.” and whisper a prayer, “Thank you Jesus, for Loving little lambs like me.”