Children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb, a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children born in one's youth. Blessed are they whose quivers are full. They will never be shamed contending with foes at the gate. ~Psalm 127:3-5

Friday, December 10, 2010

Little Star - A Book Review

I received a copy of Little Star by Anthony DeStefano in the mail and happily agreed to do a review. My kids really enjoyed this creative and colorful book about a small star with a very big role - to warm the baby Jesus on the night of His birth. The book opens with a little boy asking his father which one is the star from that miraculous night. The father lovingly tells the tale of how the brave Little Star burned out long ago, giving himself in Love. Little Star was a haggard star, the smallest one in the sky, and all the other stars made fun of him. When they got the news that a King was to be born, all the stars in the sky excitedly got ready for the big night. They each wanted to shine their biggest and brightest. But as soon as they learned that Jesus was to be born as a poor baby in a lowly stable and not in the way they thought a King should come, they all lost interest - all of them except Little Star. Little Star was the only one who got the message of Love which Jesus came to share with the world- a message that was made even more significant by the humble way He entered the world. So Little Star mustered up all his might and shined the brightest he had ever shown, to make sure the baby Jesus kept warm all through the night.

Mr. DeStefano's portrayal of the legend of the fictional Little Star, and how he lives on in the hearts of all of us, is sure to delight even the oldest readers! It is a simple telling of one of the most beautiful messages - that Jesus came to give us Love, and the correlation between the star atop our Christmas trees and this little hero tickles the imagination of adults and children alike. Truly a wonderful addition to the classics we read our children! Every year, during Advent, we read one story each night leading up to Christmas. Sometimes we wrap the books and let the fun ensue as the kids excitedly choose a book and unwrap the surprise title. But sometimes we leave them in a stack near the tree and let the kids choose. This year, Little Star is already a favorite, sometimes being picked several times in the same week from the stack.

I highly recommend this book to all of you! It is a beautifully-illustrated, simply-written book of a deep and heart-warming nature. Much thanks to Mr. DeStefano for giving me the chance to share it with you all!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Losing a Baby

When my son was born, my midwife made an interesting discovery: he should have had a twin. The evidence- from the two chambers in my placenta to the two-weeks of extra gestational time- pointed to that idea and I knew somewhere in my heart that it was right. Even though at the time it actually happened I was unaware of what was going on (and thought it was my monthly visitor), the fact that I had indeed miscarried clung to me. It didn't hurt too badly because I had a newborn baby boy to care for, one who needed my attention in so many ways, who unknowingly soothed the ache I felt inside every time I thought about the fact that there should've been another one. It still hurt but I moved on a lot easier than I would have if I had known from the start. His presence in my life has been bittersweet.
We found out two weeks ago that I am pregnant with what technically is our sixth child; a huge surprise but also a joyous one. We waited to tell my family until we saw them on Thanksgiving. I made a shirt for my youngest to wear that said "Big Sister 2011" with stick figures of all the kids and a baby carriage, and we made a game of seeing who would notice it first. Everyone was so happy, and despite my misgivings and anxiety over another child to care for so soon, I truly was a happy mama.
New life inside me always brings so much with it. There's always a slight fear- how will I stretch myself even more to meet the emotional, mental and physical needs of one more child? And the worry- how will we pay for this birth? But canceling out those feelings of weakness and vulnerability are the ones that say babies are a blessing, no matter the circumstance. One more baby I have allowed the Lord to bless me with is one more soul I am in charge of to raise for His purposes, one more child who will teach me about love. This child is a gift.
But as I sit here writing this I am experiencing the end of a miscarriage that began the day after Thanksgiving. I am still in shock and still grieving. It hasn't yet been a week. This one is different in that I am aware of it, I'm experiencing it knowing full well exactly what's going on and that this baby no longer is living inside of me. I'm trying so hard to process it and yet I find myself unable to grasp the right reasoning, the right statement, the one that fits exactly what I need to ease this pain, to sooth the ache I feel inside every time I think about the fact that there should be another baby.
It's so difficult.
My sister in law recently shared a sentiment with me about her set of twins which she miscarried early in her marriage to my brother. It was in reference to a baby-feet tattoo she got in memory of them, with a purple rose in memory of my grandmother (her favorite color was purple). She believes my grandma is up in heaven bouncing those babies on her knee. My grandmother was not very lucid or healthy when we grandchildren started having our babies so she never really got a chance to enjoy her great grandchildren before she died. I'd like to think as well that maybe my babies who I have lost are being bounced on their great-grandmother's knee as they sit in God's amazing presence experiencing a love I could have never come close to giving them.
A friend sent me a prayer that Mother Angelica wrote for women who have miscarriages. I think it could actually be used for anyone who has lost a child in any stage of life, and it is an encouraging set of words. It does give me some peace as I go through this experience, as I have been telling myself since the first positive pregnancy test I ever had that babies are here for God's purposes; they are His children, not mine. It does not matter at what stage of their life He decides to take them home to Him. I may never see the reasoning for this baby's short life, a tiny soul hidden in the secret darkness of my womb only for a few short weeks. I do know that her existence already began to stretch me in ways I wasn't sure it could, and maybe that was the only thing she was created help me to remember that there's always room for more love to be shared.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sisters and Brothers

As God's children, we are all considered sisters and brothers of His son Jesus Christ. How cool is that? I mean, I guess I never really thought of it in serious terms, but rather abstractly. In the back of my mind I knew that I could decipher our relation to Him that way...but in my daily dealings with life, I hadn't really thought "wow, I'm actually related to Jesus Christ!" And, when I think about the sacrifice He made for me, you, all of his sisters and brothers, I think how amazing that is for my brother to give up His life for little ol' me.

I think about the two brothers I have and I remember from growing up that one of them always tried to beat me up and the other one always tried to steal my stuff, much like Swiper the Fox. Only unlike Dora, I didn't say "James no swiping! Jaames NO swiping! James NO swipiiiinnng!" and assume it would work. Forget that; I went straight for the big guns and busted his lip with a sand bucket to the face! Ah, memories! Back then I never would have dreamed that they'd be the friends they are to me now. Would they give their life for me? I have no idea but I at least have a good relationship with them. With one, I share a special bond along with his wife as we have children who are all around the same age, and we have somehow traded our fist fights and sleeper holds for hugs and prayers especially when encouragement is needed. The other one I like to tease and poke fun with, share my writing with and ask computer advice from. With both of them I share a unique sense of camaraderie when it comes to our faith, as we are all consistently aware that our brother Jesus has given His life for us.

Right now, one of my brothers is having a really tough time and I have to surrender myself and my feelings to keep from getting angry at God about it and ask why he's struggling so much when I know he loves the Lord and wants to serve Him. Stopping myself usually consists of praying because I don't know what else to do. Satan really has a hold on him and I guess if I'm being honest, I am mad at Satan and I want to beat the crap out of him and tell him to pick on someone else for awhile. (This is MY brother, only I am allowed to beat him up!) My brother's spirit is weak and he cries out for answers that don't seem to come and I just want to wrap him in my arms, but instead of squeezing him to harm him, I want to squeeze him to love him, to help him feel God's perfect love flowing through me straight into his heart to rejuvenate him and refuel his hope.

What I've realized is that because of the privilege of being God's children and in turn Jesus' siblings, we have a long road to travel to reach the kingdom we are meant to inherit, the kingdom Jesus gave His life for us to have. Just like in any really good story, our travels will include battles with demons, stumbling blocks and wasted time. But it will also include making friends and weeding out enemies using our morals and logic as our guide, uncovering hidden treasures we can use on our journey like love and hope and strength, discovering parts of ourselves we didn't know existed, and most importantly, finding opportunities to help others along the way. As we are all sisters and brothers who are all on the same journey, it is imperative that we fight- and in a sense die to ourselves- for each other so that we can help each other reach the common destination. In a sense, we need to be like our brother Jesus and give our lives for our sisters and brothers so that they too can experience the love of God and the richness of His mercy.

It's a hard lesson to learn that we are sometimes called to suffer and to surrender in order to find peace in the arms of our Father. We fight through life and we steal so much garbage from ourselves and each other in order to get the bigger picture- a future of love and mercy and peace.

My twin brothers, Billy and James at a young age: they are 3 years older than me.

The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him so that we may be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. ~Romans 8:16-17

Monday, October 4, 2010


My heart is breaking. Again. I don't know how much more I can take. I watch my husband flinch at the slightest mention of his family. I see the words form on his lips, hear them drop into the air with such weight and motion, falling and bouncing back to slap him in the face. I see his heart- the wounds still open and raw, still being formed, still bleeding with intensity. And he smiles at me, tries to cover it up, tries to take back the words he just said. Doesn't want to admit he hurts more than I do.

I recently did a post about family and how important unconditional love is, even if there is only one side offering it. I have been thinking about the matter that makes up such a statement; the importance it carries, what living it really entails. As I stated, I know that sometimes the only way to love someone is by praying for them.... and how often I failed at that. And I still do. When disappointment after disappointment and hurt after hurt flowed through our lives and shattered our spirit, praying was often the last thing on our minds. Especially for my husband.

It's hard to do the right thing. It's hard not to let the hurt build walls, harden your heart, make you want to turn away. Especially when someone you love is hurting and there's not a damn thing you can do about it. I ache at the thought that things will never be any different. That we will be on this terrible ride for the rest of our lives, making stops to show our smiles glazed on our faces like porcelain dolls, nods and stiff hugs just as a formality. Never knowing how anyone really feels. Then jolting back into our seats, flying through the winding roads, waiting for the next stop that does not bring rest but only more pain.

Time does not always heal. And to be honest, I'm not sure I am okay with that. God gives us families for a reason. I fail to see much more than a glimmer of what I think is the reason my husband was given the one he was. I know free will plays a huge role in their failure. And I am trying to hold on to that glimmer, the one that says he was given this family and I became a part of it so that we could love them. We have to love them because they don't know what love is. We have to pray for them because they don't know the fullness of God. They don't even have an inkling of their calling as His children. They are broken, just like the rest of us. But just like the rest of us, they have a purpose and a worth.

So I dig. Very deep. I dig deep and I try to pull out the one speck of strength I have to muscle through this with my husband, offering my love and support and encouragement. I have tried many times to convince him to try to make amends; that maybe this time around things will be different. But I have to admit that sometimes, self-preservation is the only thing left to mix in the pot with loving them from afar and praying for them.

He hides in armadillo's armor, building his walls, burying his pain. I pray for the perfect breath of Christ to consume him; heal him. I pray that one day this ride will end and either there will be real smiles and hearty hugs, or even through the formality, a warm peace that can only come with handing over pain and disappointment to the only One who can relinquish it.

I love you, Joe. I always will.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Props to the Fresh Air Fund

I don't know how I keep getting contacted lately to do reviews and mentions of different things but I have been loving it! Recently, Sara from The Fresh Air Fund contacted me to ask if I would please make mention on my blog of a very worthy cause. I told her sure even though all of about 5 people read it! (Okay, I see that I have 16 followers and I know from SiteMeter that I get others passing through on their way to finding more exciting information such as how to keep your children from saying embarrassing things in public or which bra for a nursing mama is best......but..) ;-)

Anyway, I naturally wanted to do a little research about this cause before I wrote anything about it. So I went straight to the source. First, a little background: The Fresh Air Fund is a not-for-profit agency which provides fully-funded opportunities for inner city kids from New York to spend time in the country. The program has host families in 13 states as well as Canada, and also Fund Camps in upstate NY. These families and camps provide the children with the opportunity to experience the country atmosphere, which is a huge contrast to their smoggy city living where blacktops and alleys serve as backyards, and leaving basketballs and toys outside is not an option at all if you don't want them to get stolen. According to their site The Fresh Air Fund has helped 1.7 million children since its founding in 1877.

This program is especially important because these children would not otherwise have the opportunity to experience a few weeks - or even a whole summer - where they can breathe in fresh air, play in fields, splash in streams and experience the sights and sounds of uninhibited nature, as they soak up life outside of the city like thirsty sponges in the sun. These children are from disadvantaged communities and some may not even know that there is life outside of the city before taking part in this program.

Funds are primarily donated from private sources, but there are fundraisers always taking place. The next fund-raising event is on November 7. It is a marathon and The Fresh Air Fund is in need of both racers and sponsors to raise funds for these children. Click here for more information on how you can be a part of this awesome event! The program would not be possible without participants and sponsors dedicating themselves to it.

I'd like to add that I think that this program, which I only found out about recently, is a perfect showcase of God's love and grace through the open and willing hearts of the host families and camps. This is one of many ways to be His servant and we are called to serve those in need. Children are definitely in the category of needy people, whether their home is a farmhouse in the country or a small apartment in the Bronx. And from the stories I have read from both sides of participants in this program, it seems the inner city kids aren't the only ones who are getting something out of it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why God Matters - A Book Review

Recently I was solicited by the owner of Tribute Books to write a book review on a newly-pub'd book entitled Why God Matters - How to Recognize Him in Daily Life. This book is co-authored by a father/daughter team: Karina Lumbert Fabian and Deacon Steven Lumbert. Why God Matters is a book geared toward Catholics, and its purpose is to help the reader to recognize Christ's presence in their lives.

The forward is written by William T. Ditewig (Professor of Theology & Religious Studies at Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, Florida). It is in the forward that readers first catch a glimpse of the depth to which Karina and Deacon Steve encourage and challenge us to allow God to be present in our daily lives. Mr. Ditewig writes: "Grounding their reflections in the everyday lives of Christian disciples.....Karina and Deacon Steve suggest, echoing St. Patrick, to 'breathe with God's breath.' This breath, the Spirit of God, creates, inspires and sustains all believers, and it is through this breath of God that God's own Word- Christ- is proclaimed to the world. In other words, the very everyday life of Christians can be the most fundamental and effective form of evangelization itself."

There is much about this book that I enjoyed. The writers take personal life-happenings and apply them in a faith-based way to the instruction of a God-centered Catholic life. In this day in age, I think people really need to be approached in a very humble and personal way in order to allow them to see not only Christ in you, but to see their own need for Him through your offering. Through the small stories which are told in turns, both Karina and Deacon Steve relay humility, kindness and encouragement based on their personal struggles, achievements and lessons-learned.

I also enjoyed the "Life Lessons" and the excerpts from the Catechism which accompany each story. They are both uplifting and helpful as we apply them to our daily life. One of my favorite "Life Lessons" came from the chapter entitled "Love in a Pot of Rice" written by Karina. In this lesson, she writes: "God calls us to be the first teachers to our children in living a life of faith, hope and charity. How did your parents teach you this? How are you teaching your own children? Spend some time in reflection and prayer today......."

It is great to come across a book written by two people who are in the same family yet have come to the Catholic faith in two very different ways. It is interesting and inspiring because even though their journeys have been different and their experiences all their own, their stories collide into a refreshing and simple depiction of what it is to be Catholic and live out the faith in every day life.

Why God Matters is a very easy-to-read book. The layout of short chapters alternating between Karina's stories and Deacon Steve's make it one you can read in between laundry loads or while picking up toys! Their stories are uplifting and the quotes from the bible coupled with the excerpts from the Catechism and the Life Lessons make it an even stronger work of encouragement, inspiration and hope.

Why God Matters can be purchased here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Case for NFP

NFP:Natural Family Planning. No, it's not the rhythm method, and yes, it does work. The more I openly talk about it, the more questions and- most alarmingly- sneers and negativity I get about it. But there is so much about natural family planning that people don't understand, and there is a depth to it that some might not ever understand only because they don't want to try. The truth about NFP has yet to be studied or even accepted by a lot of Christians and that is something I don't understand.

My initial interest in NFP came when I was pregnant with my second child just 8 short months after having my first one. Fairly-newly married to a man I had a hard time loving, resolving myself to live the life I had chosen, and trying to grow up enough to accept my adult decisions, I was searching for a plan to attach myself to the small measure of sanity I had so that I could find my footing secure. Having a few babies so quickly was not really in my plans but sometimes God works with whatever He can and often even outside of the perimeters we like to set for Him; and this makes me feel somewhat alarmed and also somewhat comforted.

Needless to say, my search was not serious enough because I didn't think about NFP again until I was already pregnant with my fourth child. THIS would be the time, I told myself. After having 4 babies in 5 years, I definitely needed a break. I would never resign myself to thinking "I'm done," as I just don't desire that much (or any) control of my life to be taken away from God. But a break was certainly in order. I needed to figure out how to be a good- no great- mother to the children I already had, concentrate on really growing and working on the still-wavering relationship I had with my husband, and allow my body to rest and heal before jumping back into the art of procreation. Yes, I said art.

In studying and practicing NFP, I have come across so many wonderful and beautiful things about it; things I hadn't really thought of before. I mean, to be honest, I wanted to stall having babies for awhile without using any artificial means and without cutting God out of the equation. That was pretty much it. But to study this natural way of family planning and truly understand its depth and the foundation for its practice was like being told of a not-so-secret way to bring myself into further obedience to God's natural design for life, all the while building a bond with my husband I never knew could exist.

The first point I want to talk about, which is probably the one with the most skepticism attached to it, is that yes, NFP does actually work. It consists of carefully charting your cycles which requires taking your temperature every morning at the same time and recording signs of fertility which you learn about by reading a book on it. It really isn't that difficult and it only takes a little bit of extra effort each day. I figure if I can do it even though I have 4 young children to care for, a husband to love, a business to run, a house to clean, food to prepare and a part-time job to work, pretty much anyone can find the time to do it. Your body was designed to have certain parts of the month in which it's fertile and certain parts in which it's not. There are tell-tale signs to help you decipher these specific times of the month, as was God's design, and if you do that, you can practice NFP.

The second point, which is the one with most curiosity attached to it, is that no, my husband is not "poor." People always say "poor Joe," or they ask "how is your husband handling that?" Well, in reality, and sorry if this is TMI, but we are more intimate now that we're doing NFP than we were when we weren't doing it. I didn't stutter; I did say more. One of the best things that has come out of practicing NFP is that I am more willing to be ready for -and desirous of- sexual intimacy with him when I know there is only a specific time-frame in which we can. And before you start rolling your eyes about this, let's be real here.... you know that I know that you sometimes think it's a chore and that "not tonight honey, I have a headache" (or something equivalent) has come out of your mouth at least once (if not more) in your marriage. There are studies about this, I'm sure. Most women are just tired. Especially if they are stay-at-home-moms with four small children underfoot.

Piggy-backing off this thought comes my destruction of the idea that you are supposedly harming your husband by "rejecting" him and not letting him have "it" when he wants it. I can't even begin to count the number of times I have heard this. And to be honest, I think it is totally ridiculous. First of all, NO ONE should have ANYTHING whenever they want it just because they want it. I feel like this falls under the category of Bad Ideas, right under giving your children whatever they want when they want it. Men need to learn self-control, self-respect, respect for their wives, and patience just as much as the next whiny person. NFP helps us to remember that sexuality is about much more than personal satisfaction. Husbands should be completely involved in the NFP process, not just ready and waiting when it's time to get busy (and acting like a baby until then). They should be getting busy the entire month - that is, busy SUPPORTING their wives in the effort to reach their common goal. Some husbands get completely involved and help the wife remember to take her temperature and record her observances of fertility, etc. Some are involved by being respectful of their shared effort, loving their wives despite the agonizing waiting period they endure. Agonizing I'm sure.

This third point is probably the most important one. My experience with the gift of NFP is that it brings about a respect for not only my own body, but that of my spouse's, and of the relationship we share; and most importantly God's design for human life. Going about using artificial means to control whether or not I have a baby totally negates this respect. I would basically be taking something God Himself designed and saying "it's not good enough for me." NFP allows for each of us to give ourselves - as we are at that particular moment - fully and completely to each other. The relationship between a husband and wife who are in mutual agreement about the use of NFP is so unique and amazing. We are basically striving for the closest and most unifying way to love each other faithfully, selflessly and completely. Using artificial birth control takes out the factor of being fully and completely giving of oneself. The act of sex was created by God to bring about new life. But He did not plan for every single act to create new life, which is obvious in His design of a woman's fertility cycle. NFP truly is a collaborative effort between the married couple AND God. If you delete Him from the equation, you are losing a very vital part of achieving a God-centered marriage.

There is such a bond that has formed in the small amount of time that we have been practicing NFP. I can't even describe it. There is a higher level of mutual respect that has resulted; as well as an intimacy that transcends the boundaries of the actual act of sex. Is it sometimes difficult? Of course it is; and not just for my husband. What's really great about it is that it causes us to communicate more. I could only imagine how little communication goes on each month or even daily between a couple who is using some form of artificial birth control, especially when it comes to procreation. After all, it's already taken care of so there is no need. With NFP, we communicate practically on a daily basis about our life, our future, our children, and when there will be more. We communicate on our feelings about waiting, our anxieties, our difficulties with the wait period before my time of infertility, etc. We re-examine our decision to practice NFP as a form of family planning every single month, and look forward to a time when we can use it as a means to achieve pregnancy (although I'm sure with my being Fertile Myrtle, it won't be too difficult.)

It's so much more than being given the secret to obedience to God's natural law of life. It's like winning the lottery but with a payout that will not only last the rest of our child-bearing years together, but will continue to grow in interest exponentially day after day, year after year. And to be living that truth on a daily basis is something I definitely desire.

As an after-thought, though I told myself this post would not be a total artificial birth control bashing....I just wanted to mention a few reasons I am against it totally apart from NFP:
As for chemical birth control including IUD's, etc, I feel it is a total lack of stewardship of the body God created for our souls to live in to poison ourselves with these sorts of devices. Not only that, but the environmental impact of the usage of birth control pills, and even just the manufacturing of all of that junk is so tremendously negative. You never really hear much about this from the talking heads of the "green movement" and I just don't get that.
Also, most birth control pills are abortifacient in nature. Why risk the possibility of the death of your unborn child by using these methods? There is a reason it's called birth control, not pregnancy achievement control.
And, another plug for NFP - it has NO negative effect on either your body or the earth...and definitely not your relationship with the One who created both.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


What is family?

Growing up, I was taught by example that family consists of people who unconditionally love each other even if they are not necessarily blood-related. Family can consist of the traditional group of a mother, father and children, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents. But it can also consist of people who are around so much that they've become a permanent fixture, giving and taking as every other member does, loving unconditionally and being loved unconditionally as well. As the children get older, that love can branch out to specific friends and boyfriends or girlfriends who have stuck around, then spouses and new children, siblings of these outsiders.

My parents' house was always buzzing with not only the seven children that were their children, but several friends who would come and stay for days or at least visit on a daily basis. My parents always joked that they had many more kids than seven. They always treated our friends as if they were their own children, as the case often was that these kids had no real home to call their own, or parents who cared enough to be distracted from their busy lives to notice their children and fulfill their needs. Though my dad was often one of those parents himself, there were times when he was around, times when he did take notice and payed attention to not only us but our friends as well. We also had several of my parents' friends who we considered part of the family. Oscar. Leo. Pat. Patty. Sherry. Mike. Trudy. Cristal. Rosemary. They were all in essence members of the family and became constant factors in the ever-changing tapestry of our childhood.

When I got married, I was so excited to carry on this tradition- welcoming others into my life as part of my family, not just in the sense of in-laws but on a deeper level; a real true connection. I wanted so badly to share the love I had been given and I wanted so badly to be given that same love in return. But I quickly learned that there are all types of families that are different than mine and the one I married into, while not awful, was not the type I was used to having. I realized through many tragically crushing events that I did not know how to exist in a family such as this and I found myself on my face a lot.

It took me quite some time (and one last crazy event) to really understand that all those times that I was on my face, I should've been praying. But I didn't. Not a lot. Sometimes I would but the hurt I felt and the consistent struggles I went through did not allow me to be mindful of the fact that I should have been reaching out to my Father on a constant basis, and showing this family the love I knew I had for them. And it took me a good portion of my healing process to realize that not only did I need to reach out for Him to truly heal me, but I needed to reach out to Him and pray that He would heal them as well.

After all, we don't necessarily have to have a close and perfect bond with others to give them unconditional love. There doesn't have to be a deep connection or friendship with them to love them despite how they make us feel. And we shouldn't base our love for them on how much or how little they love us. We don't even have to ever see them. But we should pray for them. And that is the ultimate act of love, especially when there is a treacherous ocean between us that seems impossible to cross. This has been such a hard lesson to learn- to come to an understanding that the equation that makes up a family can include all sorts of factors, but the one thing that remains constant is the end result. It always equals family, even if only one side factors in unconditional love.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Understanding God

A few days ago a little boy who was just shy of turning 1 passed away from AT/RT cancer. His name was Declan Carmical and his battle was not only awe-inspiring but it was also a huge testament to the strength and abilities within every single person on this earth, young and old. I had the privilege of getting to know the story of this sweet baby through his family members who openly shared on Facebook the heartbreaking events that led to his passing. Every day there was something new to share- ups and downs, joy and sorrow. And the entire human experience not only touched my heart but changed my life. My heart goes out to Declan's parents Stan and Sherri, his twin brother Cole and 2 older brothers, Will and Brady, as well as the rest of his family. I can't imagine the hurt of such a loss and I am praying for their peace and strength.

Yesterday, I received a message from Declan's great aunt, Rosemary- a lovely woman who has been around my family since I was a little girl. Her existence in my life has been mostly through Facebook in the recent years but I can't think of my childhood, especially my Catholic upbringing, without her face gracing the images in my mind. I was a little surprised by the nature of her message to me, as it was a most painful cry for answers- answers I always expected someone like her to have. Now I was the one being solicited for these answers and I wasn't sure I had them. It humbled me to realize that no matter how old we are or how much experience we have, we are all children of God- children who sometimes falter in our faith, who sometimes weaken in our abilities to remain standing through life's most difficult trials.

I started typing a response through my tears, pleading to God to give me the right words, hoping that even one could touch her heart and pull her back to His gentle embrace. In my thoughts, I expressed the reality of human nature as I experienced it and as I believed it to be. I knew questioning such a tragic event is part of our humanity and I knew that our faith is tested in some of the most painful ways. But I also knew that we are not to understand these circumstances and events; we are only to trust that they are part of our journey for a reason, as a means to complete the bigger picture that He is creating for His kingdom. But sometimes this notion does not help. Sometimes it is just incapable of being the healing balm to our wounds that are often left open and raw for years.

In tragic times like this one, we ask God why these things happen; why an innocent child had to suffer so much only to lose his life and leave behind so many who loved him. We wonder, as this dear friend did, why God couldn't have allowed our loved one to heroically win the battle and go on to be a servant of the Lord, bringing others to the foot of His cross. But everything happens for the ultimate result of good, even if the means to get there aren't so good. Declan's life was one of greatness. Even as a helpless baby, he was a servant of God in the most amazing way and he may have very well brought others to the foot of the Lord's cross. I know his life deepened my faith, as I myself went through the process of questioning God's reasons and came out on the other side with a deeper understanding of how His love pours out onto His children through the lost lives of precious babies such as Declan.

Even when we feel weakened in our faith, it often steps in anyway, sometimes in unexpected ways, as our doubt takes a backseat in order for us to grieve and pick up the pieces of our shattered hearts and lives. Heaven is our home, and this earthly life is just a place to begin our process of being worthy of such a home. This world doesn't mean much compared to eternity; here is where all the pain and sadness live. Through the tragedy of his short existence, Declan lived as a reminder that our time here is short, our life is very fragile, and that all of us belong to God and are alive only for His purpose. In all honesty, I envy Declan, and every other soul I know who has gone before him to be with God. They are not experiencing any hurt, any anger, any pain. They are living their lives where they belong, rejoicing in God's holiness and soaking in more love from Him than we could possibly imagine here on earth. How awesome is that?! How great it must be up there, and how blessed we are to have those souls in heaven praying for us, on our side to help prepare us for the time when He will call us home as well.

No, sweet Rosemary, Declan's life was not in vain. In honor of Declan and all the babies I know of who have gone home to Jesus, I remember to look at my own children and thank God for the privilege of being their mother; and I am convicted to be a better parent, to fix my eyes on His purposes for my life and the lives of my children, blessed and humbled by how short our time in this world really is. We may not understand the way God works, why exactly He would create someone like Declan and then take him home so soon. But we have to trust that it is part of His perfect will and that Declan's short life had a purpose for the greater good. Rest in peace, Declan and please pray for us!

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" ~Proverbs 3:5-6

Monday, August 16, 2010

Praying for the Crazies

It must be me. I mean, it has to be. I either have a sign on my back, my forehead, somewhere where I can't see it...or there is this air about me, a scent (eau de crazy?), or maybe a mannerism. But whatever it is, I think it's safe to say that I am a magnet for crazy people. And people with drama...which, incidentally, can go hand-in-hand but does not always.

The not-quite-so-funny thing is, I have a soft spot for these people. And I'm not sure if it's a result of their draw to me or if it comes the chicken...or is it the egg? Whatever. All I know is that I am not only a magnet for these people who don't really function completely on a normal level but I am often hurt by them as well. I'm kind of sick of it, actually.

But then I am reminded of something I have had a slight inkling of my entire life. A really wonderful lady in my life said just the other day that God probably sends these types of people to me (and some of my family members, as the attracting of weirdos seems to run in my family) to get the gentle acceptance they need. Wow. Really? Okay, I digress. I am being used. Apparently. Lets just hope it is only by God. I don't like being a puppet on a string unless I know Whose hands are holding the other end.

Not so long ago, I was a crazy person...with lots of drama. I didn't have someone in my life that wanted to give me gentle acceptance and point me in the right direction to a sane and normal life centered in God and His plans for me. I mean, I had my family but there was only so much they could do. There was no random person I seemed drawn to, even if I wasn't sure for what purpose. There was only me, a crazy person flying around the atmosphere buzzing in and out of other's lives, smacking into glass walls sometimes, searching for even just a sweet morsel of an answer to my life's questions....a meaning to my existence, a purpose for why I'm here. And there were people I used to get what I wanted. And there were people I'm sure I hurt.

So here I am, years later, on the flip side. There have been people who have used me, some even just recently. There have been people who have hurt me, some who continue to do so. And the only thing I can think to do is pray. I pray for them because they obviously need it. I know a lot about where they are. And I pray for myself because I need it. I need the strength and wisdom to deal with these people with grace and love. I need the right words breathed into my ears by the only One who knows what they are, as well as the correct force and direction to help them get from my ears to my mouth unadulterated. If I am being used, I want to be used correctly. Otherwise, I might go crazy..... again.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Desiring God's Plan

Growing up, it was my heart's desire to one day own horses. Horses were my favorite animal and I can remember there being times when I could think of nothing else. I read stories about horses, I wrote stories about horses. I relished every movie I could watch about them. And not only did I dream of owning horses, I dreamed of living on a lot of land. We lived in an area that still had some farmland around it but by the time I was in highschool, most of it had been developed. Drives in the "country," became a thing of the past, as the developed land gave way to mostly wooded areas toward the mountains that surrounded us and the lush rolling hills of early childhood and before had all but disappeared.

When we moved to Dillsburg, it seemed like a good place to chase after my childhood dream. There is a lot of undeveloped land here and while the area is slowly being developed and growing into the 21st century (finally!), there are so many opportunities to glean my desires that have been growing in my heart for so long. Much of the surrounding towns in our area aren't even as developed as our town and there seems to be a genuine interest in preserving a lot of it, despite the development. What's funny, though, is that over the years, my heart's desire sort of became a little bit dull, and not so important to me. I don't know if it was the weight of the fear that I would never have what I wanted that led me to push it to the back recesses of my mind, tucked away and hidden in a corner of things never to be, or if it was just that my crazy life sort of took away everything I thought possible for my future, robbing me of my desire to even dream at all for awhile. But I remember there being a time where I grew to like that I was close to neighbors, as I was afraid of the world when the sun went down, and I didn't mind living with no land to explore because I was too afraid of what I'd find.

But my dreams were still growing without my knowledge and since we moved here, since we had children, since we started building a life and a business, planning for our future in each aspect of our lives, I have come back to this dream. I have opened it up to grow and stretch into all areas of my mind and heart, daring myself to ever believe again that it would not be fulfilled. A few details of the dream have changed a little but the important thing is that I have come to hope again.

My husband and I have been really anxious about wanting to move and expand our business- find our place in God's design, and it has caused us to be a little bit impatient. We'd like to move, and soon. But we might not be ready yet in God's eyes. He might see something we're completely oblivious to that needs to be taken care of before we are fit for His gifts and blessings. And I've come to accept that God's desire for my life is what's most important. My desire has taken on a new path, one that hopes for what He wants for me, and though I pray that it is that we have land and a unique house big enough for our family to grow and love and learn in, as well as a place to expand our business, I know that if it is not His plan, it will not happen. And I'm okay with that. And I'm even okay with never having a horse.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ah, Summer Camp!

A few months ago, hubby and I decided to send our little monsters to a two-day-a-week Christian summer camp starting late-June. Our three oldest would attend and I would get two mornings out of the week to spend in what I hoped would be quiet bliss! I would still have my baby but she naps most mornings and I was in heaven dreaming of the quiet and space I would have; my time spent writing, praying, maybe even napping, while I relaxed on the fringe of total spoil.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my children. I love their company and I even love their dependence on me, however insistent and "inconvenient" it might seem at times. After all, I am a mother. Their mother. And I love every minute of it, even the difficult ones. But I also love peace and standing still for a minute, and I love being in a thick silence in the mornings after I drop them off, something I haven't had the pleasure of drowning in for quite some time.

Also, hubby and I made the decision that we would try to spend some good quality time together on these mornings, unless he had a job or work he couldn't possibly get out of. His self-made schedule is very flexible and it allows for such pleasures as going out to breakfast with only a complacent baby to tend to, taking drives searching out land to dream about, having an entire conversation without being interrupted 50 million times....and the best part, being free to be who we are when we're not playing the role of parents with every aspect of our beings. We get to enjoy each other's company and revisit the aspects of our identities we kind of had to push to the back burners as we began our lives together as parents.

Not only that, but I get to miss my kids. And I do. Having them away from me, doing something I know will only enrich their childhood, is good for them but it's also good for me. When I am feeling suffocated by the weight of my role as a mother, my daily duties, my fears and struggles, my frequent inability to be patient and loving, it is hard to see their value and to see what their roles in my life mean. It is hard to really appreciate them as little human beings that will grow up to be servants of God. But a small break, even just two mornings a week, allows me the time to ponder all that I am as their mother (which I do; it's not just bon bons and bubble baths while they're gone!), and it allows me to focus on really cherishing every minute with them. It helps me to recharge a little, grow a little, and find the strength I will need to take on the next disaster which will inevitably happen the second they get in the car when I go to pick them up!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Training Up A Child

Two years ago, I asked my husband if we could make a small area in our backyard into a little prayer garden. It was already closed off to some degree by 2 walls of trellises and wooden fencing, with a roof of trellis overhead. Since then, we’ve been developing it, trying to create a place of retreat in which I can unwind outdoors. My prayer garden has a bench where I can sit, on my own or with someone else, sheltered yet open. I can pray, read, write, all while listening to the soothing sounds of the water fountain on the deck just steps away or the waterfalls in the pond a few yards beyond that. On another trellis which we placed there last year to provide the front piece of privacy, grows purple Climatis, a transplant rescued from an obscure corner of our backyard where it was unable to be admired. I also have pink Knock-Out Roses, unique Day lilies, Astilbe and Hukera; as well as a few decorative stepping stones and garden d├ęcor.

My husband bought me a beautiful climbing honeysuckle plant to be placed in my garden near a newly-installed trellis. The purpose of this fourth trellis was another way to add a final degree of privacy, while offering the ability to still experience the sights and sounds of the rest of the yard if desired. This honeysuckle is such a nice compliment to all of my other plantings. Just the other day, the landscaper in my husband emerged to show me how to “train up,” the vine so it grows up, not out. He said that when I see that the small vines are starting to grow outward, gently pull them back toward the trellis and intertwine them with it, allowing for a proper anchor to help them in their climb. As a writer mama whose heart is rooted in what God wants for my children, I naturally and immediately thought of an analogy between training this honeysuckle and training my children.

How true is that we are supposed to be training our children to grow up, toward God, toward Heaven, instead of growing out into the world? How many times have I thought about this, prayed about this, or written about it on this blog? The purpose of children is to bring glory to God, not just by having them but also by raising them with hearts for him, teaching them about His love and directing their paths toward His will for their lives. I think parents represent that landscaper, or gardener, gently pulling the delicate vines of our children’s hearts so that they may anchor themselves by the proper means (solid family life, modest behavior, prayerful hearts, like-minded friends) to be able to grow upward toward Him. It is our duty, our calling, to do this and yet, we often forget and find ourselves trying to strong-arm straggling vines back to their anchors, and sadly, some of us might give up completely.

It doesn’t take much to coerce those happy little vines outward, let me tell you. Just this morning I walked out, having forgotten about last week’s landscape lesson (shhh, don’t tell hubby!), and found many growing wildly outward, reaching for other anchors – weak anchors, unbefitting of the needs of the vines, drawing them into the shadows of the dark corners of the garden. Such is the same for our precious children, only exponentially worse. Everywhere we look, there are many of these weak “anchors,” many means for our children to be pulled out into the darkness. We can’t even turn on the T.V. without being assaulted with commercials from companies whose message not-so-subtly implies some sort of sexual agenda alongside their attempts to get you to buy their products. And how many packs of children run rampant in our neighborhoods, well past dark, unaccompanied by any adult, parents unaware of where their children are at any given moment? And what are those children doing? God only knows....literally.

Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.” If we do what we are supposed to do, as God’s servants raising His children, if we stick to His teaching about taking these vines of our children’s hearts and anchoring them in the proper way, we will be rewarded with beautiful children whose hearts are deeply anchored in the important things of life, growing strongly toward Him, and the knowledge that we succeeded in this aspect of serving and bringing glory to Him.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Fragile Life

Life is very short. It can be gone in an instant, a single flicker of a butterfly's wing - swept away in a moment we probably didn't even see coming. In the whirlwind of our daily lives, we don't really ever have the chance to stop and think about the fragility of life. And maybe it's not that we don't have the chance; it's that we don't take that chance. In the secular world, people are always speaking about how life is too short, so have fun and live it up as best you can; take risks, do whatever you want. We are taught more and more that all that matters is the "here and now" and living "in the moment." But living in the moment isn't always a good thing; and just doing whatever you want regardless of the outcome is never a good thing.

For the past week, I've been contemplating how very fragile life is; something I don't do very often, but especially as a mother, should. I have witnessed several times throughout my life the paper-thin reality of existence, and I am in awe of how far out of our control it is. It's out of our control when and how we die - our time here in this world just part of the sweeping momentum of the bigger picture; stirred up one minute, gone the next. It is hard to grasp this idea, to really understand its weight and meaning; to define how it affects our lives. But the truth is, we have to try. We have to think about these things..... But think; don't worry. Worry is so easy for us mothers to do but that is where God's design for Faith is supposed to step in and sweep us up into its strong embrace, whisking us away to be placed in the lap of our Father. We are only to think about life's teetering and smallness in regards to how our thoughts will produce actions that are pleasing to Him and follow His will for us.

Some of these actions for mothers look like this:
*Raising our children with not only the knowledge of Him but the experience of His love poured over us like warm oil, releasing us from our burdens and strengthening us within
*Spending time with Him, listening to His breath, His plans for us; searching for His gentle reminders of where our place is in His grand design (and showing our children how to do the same)
*Teaching our children to always be aware of their thoughts and actions, that they should be pleasing to Him in even the smallest of ways; and setting that example ourselves

I look into the faces of these beautiful blessings which God has given me to raise...and I see such an innocent wisdom, as if they know what my job is as their mother and are just waiting for me to fulfill it. I see my purpose buried deep within the irises of my daughters' eyes, daring me to become the strong, servant woman written about in Proverbs 31, modeling to them God's design for one who belongs to Him. I find my drive hidden in the expectant smile of my little boy, challenging me to teach him by example what it means to unconditionally love all who God places in our lives. I am often paralyzed within these moments of searching them this way, holding my breath because I'm afraid it's my last and I have so much more to do for them, and for Him.

Yes, life is fragile and so very short. But it's not about living out our days doing 1,000 things that make us happy or making sure we enjoy every single second. It's about taking this small amount of time to take in each breath we have to share with our families, our children, using every last millisecond preparing ourselves and each other for what God has called us to do for Him.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Serving Him, Serving Them, Serving Where I Am

A fellow blogger had a wonderful post on her blog yesterday that really spoke to my heart. It was about serving where we are. As I read her post and then contemplated its meaning and significance in my life, I was convicted of its message. No matter what season we are in in our lives, how many children we have, or what our daily list of duties entails, we are to serve Him whenever and however we can.

I often have anxiety about doing what I feel God wants me to do as His servant. It's like I'm always running uphill in order to get to where I think He wants me to be. I feel bogged down by my daily life sometimes; chasing after four children, trying to keep some semblance of order and structure in our household, really dedicating my very being to loving my children unconditionally, and teaching and disciplining them in that love. I am often impatient, anxious, exhausted. I don't usually get relief from these feelings unless I make time to actually sit in the quiet with God and mediate on His love for me and the boundless grace He bestows upon me each day.

The thing is that in my relinquishing to Him the aspect of child-rearing, in my total commitment to raising these children to be His servants as well, in my complete devotion to loving them the way He designed love to be, and in my willingness to abide by His rules for our life as a family, I am serving Him. I find it difficult to remember this sometimes. When I desire to be writing for a bigger audience, possibly getting published, when I want to be helping other people, volunteering my time, and when I wish to be talking with friends who need to find Him in their lives, I lose sight of the idea that at this time, in this season in my life, I just need to trust that what I am doing at home is what is important and that if there is a "bigger picture" that needs to be addressed, He will bestow upon me the time, the space, the energy for me to do so.

But for now, serving Him where I am means serving my children and my husband: nursing my baby, making meals, cleaning my house, changing diapers, doing laundry, and maybe even writing on this blog when I get a chance. I need to be content in the notion that He has me where He wants me to be, no matter which moment of my life I am existing in.

Thanks, Judy for such wonderful insight to a topic I am in constant battle with!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Laying Hurt at His Feet

You know you’re getting over something hurtful when the emotional vehicle driving your pain loses its steam and the desire to talk about it to anyone who will listen has dulled. I recently was victim of a hurtful event and at first, I was so much more devastated than I really was ready for. I hadn’t anticipated said event at all and the way it affected me was debilitating, at least for the first day. The second day, after I had talked with numerous people about it, I was left to continue to wallow in my sorrow. As I mulled over the whole thing in my mind, I felt a tiny bit of relief breaking through the surface but only for a moment. Still, I was weighed down by my sadness and my inability to truly process everything I felt about the situation and I went into the third day feeling sick to my stomach. I needed some relief and I was still grasping at straws, trying to figure out where it would come from.

It’s times like these that I really don’t know what to do with how I feel. Praying about it doesn’t always heal it, not immediately. I often try to sort through things on my own, picking up certain ideas or thoughts, sifting through their meaning and matter, wondering how I could allow them to continue to hurt me. Talking about things doesn’t always help either. In this case, I kept searching for the right person, the one who would make it all better, the one who would say the magic words to erase the loss that I felt, the utter despair I was feeling over my inability to just get over it. But there was no such person. Not one. Several expressed their sympathy, not knowing much else to say. Some gave me some insight on why a person would do such a thing. Some just sat and listened, letting me vent, and then took their leave. I am grateful to all of those people, for I know in their ways they have loved me while I deal with this. In their ways, they showed me that love by allowing me to move through the process at my own pace without making me feel like a child, or like I was being ridiculous, or that my feelings didn’t matter.

But they were not the magicians; they held no magic hat to pull the secret answer from. I sought to enlist as many ears as I could, not really digging for anything but the ability to give voice to how I feel, to have it heard and be validated.

And then I realized, in the quiet of my heart, in the secret thoughts I did not share, in the silence that rang loudly in my mind at times, He was there. He knew everything I felt and everything I thought before I could form the words on my lips. He knew my heart and He knew my hurt, and I had only to lay it all at His feet and allow Him to heal me from it. It wasn’t about praying. It was about trusting. It was about turning to Him knowing that I could collapse anywhere within His arms and He’d hold me as I faced my feelings and pieced them back together. He reminded me that I don’t always have to understand things in order to move on from them; I don’t always have to have reasoning to dictate my ability to heal. But I do always have Him to guide and sustain me.

Tonight, my emotional vehicle has lost much steam and I don’t feel like talking about it a lot anymore. I guess that means I am moving on. I still feel a lot of hurt. I already passed through the short period of anger and I am just contemplating where to go from here. It’s always a challenge to figure out whether there needs to be something said to someone who has hurt you (especially when they have no idea), or if you should just leave it alone. I am now facing that decision. But I know now, as I’ve always known but had just forgotten, that I have His hand to guide me and to hold me no matter what else happens.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Guiding My Childrens' Paths

Yesterday marked my sixth Mother's Day. My first one was when I was newly-pregnant with my daughter, Angelina. I look back on the person that I was then, and I feel as though I've grown in so many ways, slowly but surely becoming the mother God wants me to be for my children. But I also see that I had no clue what motherhood would mean, what it looks like, how I could grasp in a tangible way what God's intention for it truly is. I had little knowledge that motherhood would mean more than just feeding, clothing, and sheltering these little babes. But as the years passed, I became more and more convicted of the depths I am to extend to, the difficult paths I am to travel, and the ways I am to spread and stretch in order to bring them up as not my children, but His.

As my children grow with each passing year, I am more aware of the fact that their time with me is short. It seems like only yesterday that I was chasing my oldest through our tiny condo in Maryland as she toddled away from me squealing with glee. Now she's almost 6 and I can't believe how time has flown. I look at these past 6 years and I wonder how many times I've thought about the person that Angelina will be, how I can lead her into God's hands, what I can do or say to help her grow up with a heart for the Lord and a passion for serving Him and others. While I feel like it is a lot, it probably isn't enough. In the busyness of life and the chaos that sometimes consumes my mind, I often forget that I am to be in constant prayer for her, and for all of my children, and that I am supposed to not just sit and watch them grow up, but help them grow up to be the type of person God wants them to be, the type at which today's world looks down and scoffs.

My job as their mother does go beyond making sure their basic needs are met. I am to teach my daughters how to respect themselves, how to be strong but not head-strong, to respect other girls and women, to be patient and kind, to be sensitive and loving. I am to also teach them how to relate to males the way God intended females to in each different stage of their life. I am to teach my son about all of these things and relating to females the way God intended males to, respecting them and cherishing their identities as daughters of a King.

If I had known how difficult the path of a mother truly is, I might have given up before I even became one. I don't think very many people actually contemplate what it means to be a mother, or father, until they're in the throes of parenting. Even if we have an inkling of our path, there is no complete understanding until we get there. And then some even choose a different path, the path that seems a lot easier, the path that still gets their children through to the other side but with not nearly enough understanding or training for life the way God intended it to be. With the world teaching all the things I know are wrong with bull-horns in the various forms of the media, it is horribly difficult to be heard. But starting now, when they are young, speaking quietly to their hearts, is where I lay the foundation for them to hear me, to hear God, above all that is shoved and spewed and screamed at them, drawing their attention in the opposite direction.

Life isn't about 'whatever happens, happens..' It is making our own futures, and the futures of our children, into what we want them to be, according to God's perfect will. I want to start out my seventh year of motherhood immersed in finding ways to rear my children how the Lord wants me to. That means taking them by the hand and leading them down that difficult path until the day comes when He's the one holding them.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Healthy Eating

Ok, I admit it. I'm not the most healthy momma out there, especially lately. As I fly through the whirlwind of each day, I am definitely over-stressed and under-nourished. I sometimes forget breakfast, often don't eat lunch and then my dinners consist of wolfing down in 5 seconds flat whatever I made for the fam., as I balance a baby on my knee and jump to fulfill the myriad of requests my other 3 children and/or husband make. When the two extra girls I am currently caring for are here for dinner, I don't even sit down to eat until long after all the kids have eaten, but I'm still left feeling like I didn't taste one bite. As I write this, my microwave is beeping every minute to remind me that I have food in there - last night's dinner reheated. But I hesitate to get it. Not because it's disgusting - quite the contrary, it's delicious - but because what makes it delicious is not all that great for my already exhausted and out-of-shape body.

While I'm confessing here, let me add a sub-confession of the fact that I am a junk-food junkie. Or sugar addict, if you must give it that sort of label. I love sweet stuff and I love thick, stick-to-your-ribs food. My favorites are pasta, cheese, potatoes, bread...yeah, all the carbs. I do have to say, though, that when I can, I buy whole wheat pasta and I always eat whole wheat bread. However, give me a big heaping bowl of home-made macaroni and cheese made with elbow or mini bow-tie pasta and I'm a very happy camper. (Incidentally, that is what last night's dinner was, complete with small pieces of chicken and some spinach thrown in for at least the effect of healthy eating!)

I do have to say that I also very much LOVE fresh veggies and fruit, salads and all the good, really pure stuff. I actually prefer that over the much loved/much hated cheesy pasta potato dishes I often crave. And this is the part of me I try to pass on to my kids. Growing up, green beans were my favorite vegetable. Cooked or raw, it didn't matter, I'd eat 'em! Do my kids like green beans? Not really....yet. Aidan likes to peel them apart and eat the tiny peas out of them, leaving their pods crumpled and mushed in the middle of his plate. Angel eats one or two but only after she's promised dessert as a reward. Bella...well...forget Bella altogether right now. She doesn't seem to like much of anything, sporting a very picky 'no-I-won't-try-that-for-a-dollar' attitude, which I'm sure she gets from her father. We often have those "show Mommy how the piggies eat" scenes at the dinner table.

I think about the fact that I do not like giving my children much sugar, but being the sugar addict that I am, I will sit and eat chocolate right in front of them. Most of the time, it's like 70% cacao dark chocolate which has very little to no sugar in it.....but still. They don't know that. All they see is that Mommy is eating "candy" and they can't have any! So then I really have to wonder if my example is not a very good one. Okay, I don't wonder. I know. And to prove it, I think I am the way I am because I can remember my parents being the same way! Of course, they gave us tons of fruits and vegetables while growing up, that is how I acquired my love of green beans... But there was also always the never-ending supply of Doritos, that box of Cheez-Its or bag of Chips Ahoy....and nothing ever said (or taught by example) about moderation.

In their (and my) defense, however, I look at the way the world is today and the parenting techniques of most when it comes to the eating habits of their children and I see a lot worse. Just the other evening, I was at the grocery store and in the check-out line was a mom with her teen-aged daughter. Most of the food in their cart was pre-packaged, preservative-laden junk, soda and maybe a bag of carrots. Her daughter ran to get a box of some sort of crazy amped-up caffeine drink and her mom said "no," but with just a tiny bit of protest from her daughter, she bought it anyway. In front of her was another mother with a boy of about 10 or 12 and he was guzzling a Pepsi Max. (It was 8:00 on a Wednesday night. But maybe if they have that sort of crap every day, the sugar and caffeine don't bother them anymore.) By the way, both children, while not obscenely obese, were definitely over-weight.

In a world that teaches us little about self-control and a lot about doing whatever makes us happy, I'm quite concerned for my children. And that goes on so many levels but we'll stick with the food habits just for today. There has been an explosion of seemingly-positive opinions advertised about how one should look healthy, etc.. but these are often driven mostly by the agenda of sex appeal, not health. Why do I want my children to be privy to that sort of influence? The answer is, I don't. So it's up to me to be the one that teaches them about health and nutrition and being good stewards of our bodies. That means leading by example. I guess that means I need to make sure I eat every meal of the day and cut back on the fatty, carb-amped dishes and sweets. And I guess that also means last nights' dinner in the microwave might just sit there while I find a better-suited lunch to fuel my tired bod!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Heaven on Earth

Heaven is in the face of my little boy, the innocent love in his clear blue eyes, the way he says "mommy, I love you in your heart." Heaven is in the face of my oldest child, her songs and laughter filling my heart with joy, her strong will humbling me at times. Heaven is in the face of my third-born babe, her brown eyes lighting with mischievous plans as she races down the hall, the way she hugs me tight when she knows that I am sad. And Heaven is in the face of my baby girl, her dependence on me to sustain her life, the smell of her skin imprinted in my mind. Each child I have, every time I say 'yes' to God, I am that much closer to understanding the beauty of Heaven. Every child is a gift and I am in awe of the glimpses of Heaven I receive each day just looking into their faces, getting lost in the wonder of Heaven on Earth. How can you tell me that I have too many children? Are you just jealous that you don't get to see Heaven as much as I do?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Broken Pottery

For almost 6 years I've been immersed in the most difficult assignment I think God has ever given me. And I have examined it from every angle, dissected it at times, analyzed it and experimented with it....And yes, maybe even ignored it a time or two. To say that I was adequately prepared for this assignment, or even remotely conscious of what it would entail, would be an overstatement. At least, at first glance. When I was first given the knowledge of my assignment, I was a different person. Sort of dull and scuffed and broken in some places, I resembled a piece of old pottery that had been buried beneath some dirt, weighed down and damaged by the shifting earth.

It took a lot to even want to be pieced back together, a mottled past blinding me through the cracks and crevices it created in my heart. But I was given an assignment and I knew I had to obey. In total recognition of everything that I was, everything that I am, and everything that I aspired to be, I was not too confident in my abilities to complete the assignment at all, much less in the way I knew I was expected to. But I had to try, didn't I? I knew somewhere deep down that I would be given what I needed to not only complete the task but complete it well.. But could I search for these virtues, knowing the road would be trying at times, feeling like I was far from the perfect person to do this job?

Philippians 4:13 says "I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me." But back then, I did not know Christ, not really. I knew of Him and had a slight understanding of the Love He had for me, but did not know what that Love looked like in my own life at that time, as the sinful person I was, as the broken and scarred soul which I knew He saw. I did not know that He wasn't done with me yet, and while I may have not been exactly ready, may have had some cracks here and there, a blemish or two and a dull facade, He was the Master after all, and I was clay in His hands.

First, He took the broken pieces of my life and shined them up like new. Then He put a mirror in front of me so that I could just glimpse the smallest idea of what He really saw in me. Then He told me He was going to crush me. And I was not afraid. I had already been buried under the weight of my life, fragments scattered around, dirty and shattered and waiting to be pieced back together. But He had a much different plan than the one I had imagined. He did crush me. And it felt amazing. After that, the pieces of my life He thought were too big, He made smaller. The ones that were too small, He made bigger. He shaped and refashioned me, molding me into His image of me, and then shined me up even brighter than before.

And then He stuck me in front of a mirror again. "I am still not done with you yet," He whispered "I still have much work to do, but this is a start." As I looked myself over in the mirror, I felt His breath warming within me, new air in my lungs and a fire in my heart. And as I traced the line of stretching skin around my belly, which would grow bigger with each passing month, I knew I would also grow bigger as He filled me with everything I needed to complete this assignment.

I don't remember exactly what day that was, when I decided to parent the baby growing within my womb. All I know is that was the day that my life really began.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Time Flies On The Hem of a Dress

It's that time of year again - the seasons are changing; Winter has reluctantly released its grasp on the world and Spring is in full bloom! The weather is warmer, the sun seems brighter and it's just about that time to break out the kids' shorts and flip flops. But anyone with children knows that breaking out those shorts and flip flops also means the long process of packing away the Winter pants and boots, sorting through clothes that might still fit from last year, trying to decide who will fit what. And in that time of loading up bins and trash bags of outgrown items, pulling out old and buying new and bigger ones, there might also be a few trips down memory lane, a tear shed, a laugh enjoyed, and especially for this Momma, an aching heart shifting and sighing as it adjusts to a newly-acquired fray: discovering how fast time flies.

In my recent days of clothes sorting, I came upon a cute little pink and orange dress and I was instantly transferred back in time to last summer. Barely gracing the tops of Angelina's knobby knees, this dress could be seen flitting about in the warm breezes as she danced by us in her bare feet, chasing butterflies and laughing with her brother. In it's heyday, this dress saw daylight at least once a week, if not more, always the favorite to wear while spending the afternoon in the sunshine and pulling up dandelions, and even on the occasional search for worms. Many times, it would be dug out of the dirty clothes basket just to be worn indoors as she raced through the house singing and dancing until bedtime.

I think about the times when I have pulled out Angelina's hand-me-downs for Bella, reminiscing about how small Angel used to be, the cute outfits she wore, how young she really was. And how Bella has grown to fit them already. And how putting away these clothes at the end of the year always leaves me a little sad, and yet a little hopeful. This pink dress is too short for Angelina this year and it will be returned to the bin for Bella when she is a little bit bigger. It will get a second life and I will get one more year of memories and laughs before I am putting it away once more, exchanging flip flops for Winter boots and remembering just how fast time really does fly.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Trip To The Salon

Yesterday I indulged myself for a half hour at a salon. I got pink streaks, 2 different hair styles, make-up applied with a paint brush, and enough frizz teased into my hair to launch a small rocket from. I had this all done in exchange for some lip gloss and maybe a hug or two as a tip. If you'd like to visit the salon I went to, it's right on the corner of 5th Year and Make Believe and there are two amazing stylists there named Angelina and Kaylii, each with their own specialty.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What Comes With Age?

A few days ago, I turned 28. Having kind of rushed through the last 6 years of my life, birthing babies and trying to be a good wife, I sort of missed the anticipation of getting older. When I started this new life at the young age of 22, I was still in many ways a baby myself. I found myself growing up quickly in order to become (or at least start trying to become) the person, the adult, I knew God wanted me to be, as well as the woman and mother my children needed me to be. And then after that, it was a blur. Six years later, I sit here in the quiet of my office, all FOUR of my children asleep in their beds, thinking about how each passing year has changed me. I am not sure I can ever get back the slender figure I had at age 22 nor the means to eat whatever I want and not gain an ounce. I feel older and a bit wiser now, as I have spent my days filling my head with knowledge and my moments with experience.

But what else comes with age?

The passing of each year, adding another candle to the birthday cake, putting another notch in the belt of life, has found me with a sense of being not just older but fuller. (And I'm not just talking about my body shape here, people!) Fuller, meaning that I have stretched myself in order to accommodate all that God has placed in my hands; I have welcomed all of it, drawing it close to me, making it part of me. My children, my husband, the good and the bad - all of the shards and splinters of life graphed together to grow with me as each moment, each year slips into the next. I have become this vessel that is overflowing already but willing to take on more, willing to be more.

What comes with age is not just the knowledge we get in books, or even the experiences we capture and place in our minds to recall and learn from and create our identity with. For me what has come with age, the last six years especially, is not just a few extra pounds and more understanding of how to be a good mother to my children or a good wife to my husband. As with any and all things, time has given me the opportunity to change every aspect of who I am, to strengthen areas in my life that are weak, to let go of people and places and characteristics of myself that make me weak in fulfilling my purpose. And to learn about God's will for me, growing in that knowledge so that I may one day be completely full, ready to make my journey home to Him.

For me what has come with age is really the simplest of ideas hidden beneath the murky waters of a disquieted past, lost in the brilliant rays of a hopeful future, and rooted in the One who makes all things age..... A love for life and a willingness to abide by His plans for it. No matter what age I am, that will never change.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Parenting Dance

Two nights ago we had the kind of parenting nightmare that they won't utter even a single word about, or allude to with some sort of facial expression (fright would do in this case) in even the closest support groups for parents of more than one child. It makes me think about how I grew up, a family of seven children, born to a tired mama who had to face a lot of parenting events alone. And there were times, I'm sure of it, when we were all sick at the same time, or when my parents just had one of those nights where they just couldn't dance well with each other, or maybe even not at all.

The evening started out as usual: dinner, then getting the kids ready for bed. Teeth brushed. Pajamas on. Story time in the girls' room where we read one, two or maybe even three books if each child insisted on picking out his/her fav. I don't even remember how many books we ended up actually reading that night; those minor details have been blurred somewhere in the exhaustion of the sleeplessness that ensued later on. After stories were read and lights were out, there were the usual "go to sleep or else.." warnings from us, the giggles and squirming and calling across the hall to each other that siblings sometimes do (at least in our house), and then finally, a little quiet and mommy and daddy headed off to bed.

First thing - A fussy baby. Unable to really settle in for the night, our six month old had been awake and aware from around the time we decided to go to sleep. Then a while later came Angelina's cries. "I peed in my bed." Angelina, who is five, is well past potty-trained but has an occasional accident if she is too tired or too slow to get to the bathroom at night, especially when she has already been asleep. And of course, this woke up Bella, our two year old, who is currently and temporarily sharing Angel's bed. A trip to the bathroom. Change of p.j.'s. Strip the bed, which thankfully had a water-proof cover on it. Remake bed with new sheets. Tuck girls in. Kisses. Good night.

Return to bedroom where a fussy tired baby awaits what seems to be the only thing that will get her to sleep: mommy's breast.

A little while later and from the girls' room: Coughing.

More coughing. Then gagging.

Then.... "I puked!"

We both get up to investigate and calm Angelina down. She hadn't been feeling very well at dinner but sometimes she just doesn't want to eat so we didn't really think she could be sick. But there it was - evidence - all. over. her. bed. She was indeed sick.

Already exhausted, we stripped the bed again. This of course wakes Bella up for the second time as we pull everything off the bed and tend to Angelina's sickness. All the while, Joe and I are not in-tune with each other. It was more like a pitiful attempt at hiding the large elephant in the corner - neither of us know how to least not with each other. And we stepped on each others toes and mumbled expletives (him) and hurt feelings (me) and annoyance (both of us) under our breaths. I was a little late jumping up in the first place, leaving him to deal with the initial shock of throw up on the bed and a crying child on his own at that late hour. Strike one for me. Brownie point for him. But still no congruency to our parenting dance.

Kisses for Angelina. Grumbles to each other. Back to bed, Bella in tow to keep away from Angelina. We figured we'd be in for the long-haul at this point because no kid ever throws up just once. At least not in our house.

Sometime later, in stumbles Aidan in a half-naked stupor. "I peed in my bed." Aidan will be four in May. He just finished potty training (they say boys are always harder than girls) but still forgets sometimes that he doesn't wear a diaper to bed. I blame it on the general lazy nature of males.

I remember Joe telling me that I was getting up with them in the morning as he made his way out of the room. I got up again and went to the bathroom with Aidan to wipe him down while Joe started pulling the sheets off his bed. One load of laundry had already been started and another pile was quickly growing in the hall. A bed was made out of extra pillows and some blankets, a little bird's nest on our floor, as we did not have more sheets for Aidan's bed. We tucked him in and snuggled down in our own bed. That dance had gone a little smoother, our steps keeping time with the beat of shifting kids, stripping yet another bed and starting more laundry. Less grumbling, more compassion as we felt a kinship in our plight as parents on this particularly exhausting night.

After things were slightly settled - Phia in her crib, Bella in our bed, Aidan on our floor, no sign from Angelina that there would be another round of puking, we settled back in. Exhausted. It was well past 3 AM at this point and we had a small glimmer of hope that we might get a few hours' sleep.

And then.....

Bella started whining.

Then she started gagging.

Then she threw up. All over our bed and floor.

At this point, we just took it in stride as we stripped her down, stuck her in the tub, cleaned up puke, changed our bedsheets and started another laundry load. Somewhere in Joe's trips downstairs to the washer and my trying to tend to Bella, nursing Phia who had awakened once more, and shushing Aidan back to sleep, we started to dance together even more smoothly. Our rhythm took on a more subdued path as we laughed and cried in our delirium and mopped up puke and changed diapers and clothes and sheets.

Our attempts at a smooth dance had been thwarted earlier in the evening by our secret selfish desires to each be the one who got to skip this parenting event. I wanted to sit it out more than anything. I had not caught up on my lost sleep from the previous weekend or the few nights before when Aidan and Joe were the ones who were sick. I had a baby attached to me, unable to really get comfortable for most of the time that all this was taking place. But I knew in my heart that I could not just lie there while the kids were puking and peeing and crying and Joe was crumbling from lack of sleep and efforts to remedy the situation on his own. But in the beginning, despite my attempts to be part of the tango, we still couldn't quite smooth ourselves into the rhythm of the each other's parenting dance.

But somehow, after the second time Bella threw up and our small hope of getting any sleep had been flushed down the toilet with it, we finally felt a connection, commiserating over our experience of the night and loving each other all the more for it. Maybe it wasn't really one of those "parenting nightmares" no one will talk about. I find myself thinking back on it with humor, and a huge willingness to talk about it! It was to say the least a little frightening, at first. A ginormous hassle. Time lost.

Or maybe time spent....not in such a way that is lost completely but perhaps shifted around and stripped down in the wee hours of the night as Joe and I finally learned to dance.