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

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On the Fourth Day Of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me: A Lesson In Humility

For Unto Us A Child Is Born.*

It is the fourth day of the Christmas season and even though I am not naive about the world, I am still always surprised how quickly it gets over Christmas. People are already taking down trees and decorations and I'm trying to figure out how to keep my tree alive for the next week and a half to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany with it still intact. If you don't know, Epiphany is the celebration of the wise men coming to visit Jesus (which, contrary to popular belief was NOT on the day He was born!). Lately, I have been thinking of the 12 days of Christmas, and that song - which is kind of annoying - runs through my head. I kept trying to figure out words I could replace the original words with, indicating my "true love" as the real True Love, Jesus Christ. But for some reason my brain just doesn't want to cooperate. Chalk it up to the craziness of the past week, and my mommy brain of course. (I like to pull out that card AS MUCH as possible, by the way!) Epiphany is on the 12th day of Christmas, January 6th. This year it's celebrated on Sunday the 8th. I forget why...maybe I should look that up.

In any case, I am contemplative of the fact that there are so many celebrations of the holiday within my family and circle of friends and they range in varying degrees of meaning - from "gift exchange" to "celebrating Christ's birth" and everything in between. We have had two celebrations already, each of which were one of the two kinds I just mentioned, and we have a third one to attend this Friday, which is the 6th day of Christmas. For the past three years, I've tried to make the Advent season a time of true preparation, and not just for the celebrations and gift-giving. I've tried to prepare my heart, and work on instilling in the children a sense of wonder and desire to prepare theirs as well. After all, it is in fact a celebration of the birth of our Savior, a the King . The festivities that ensue of course are fun, and in our own limited human nature are a good "representation" of the joy and exultation we Christians feel in our hearts as we commemorate the birth of Christ. But at the same time, they often get out of hand, stressful, overwhelming to the point where we forget the true purpose and meaning of Christmas.

I can't tell you how many times I heard someone talk about how overwhelmed and stressed out they were trying to plan and shop and bake and decorate. For weeks, I heard about sales and discounts and deals, yet very little of preparing our hearts and minds for the coming of the Lord. What a relief it was at Mass every Sunday of Advent to hear our priest talk about not just preparing ourselves to celebrate the birth of Christ- the first coming of God, but to remember that we are to be preparing our hearts and souls for His second coming; the return of the King, which can happen ANY time.

It was a relief and a challenge, for I myself was one of the people stressed out about the preparations for the celebratory aspect of the holiday. And the challenge didn't just come from our priest, it came from other sources as well. Right before Christmas, I lamented to a friend on one of my down days that I was frustrated with my husband for not helping more. He has been home as the winter season is slow for our business, yet hadn't done much to help me prepare for the three different family visits that would take place to celebrate the holiday. It was stressful for me, as I had all these visions of what needed to be done, I was hard at work planning and creating thoughtful gifts for his family and mine, planning what to get and do for the children, leading them in Advent activities and prayers, baking and decorating. I was doing almost everything I thought needed to be done on top of my regular duties, and I was just exhausted, my frustration oozing out in the direction of my unsuspecting husband.

My friend, however, is so wise and loving that she challenged and admonished me in such a way that made me think about the fact that my heart was slowly moving in the wrong direction in regards to celebrating this joyous occasion. On Christmas Eve I received her response to my email to her. She challenged me with Philippians 4:8: "think on what is true, what is right and lovely" and she asked me what we really NEED to have a Merry Christmas. Could I be frustrated with Joe in my heart and truly except the gift of God's Love and salvation through the Christ child? One thing I have been trying to instill in my children is a heart to serve, as I have been working on that in myself as well. My friend gave me another passage in Philippians to contemplate: "In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus...he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself...."**

I was humbled by this passage. Not only was I losing focus and throwing away all the efforts I had made over the last 4 weeks of Advent to prepare my heart, but I was allowing myself to affect my relationship with my husband in a negative way because I was unable to be in the same mindset as Jesus. I wasn't viewing my physical efforts to get ready for our celebrations as an act of servitude, I was viewing them almost as drudgery - a burden for which I had no help. But how much of a servant was God for sending His only Son; for Christ to humble Himself by becoming a helpless baby born in a stable surrounded by animals, and then leading a life as a servant of God's people?

I was challenged by these verses, humbled by their nature. And by my friend's question: What do we really NEED to have a Merry Christmas? Her The answer: a heart ready to accept the salvation God offers us by sending His only Son to die for us. In this culture, even Christians are entrapped by the illusions of the season, the stress of preparations for the perfect day, regardless of their intentions at the start. Most holiday music invokes in us a sense of excitement and anticipation but the focus of that excitement is wrong. It focuses on the tree, the stockings hung by the chimney with care, family spending time together (which isn't a bad thing in and of itself), food, traveling, shopping, baking, gifts. But in in the midst of everything a voice is calling out to us, massaging our hearts to awaken to the true spirit and wonder of the season: The Christ child, born in humility and servitude, sent to die for us as a sure sign of God's perfect Love.

The greatest Gift of all.

Today my husband is in bed, sick. As I continue to keep in mind the joy of the season and rejoice in the truth of God's perfect Gift, the position I am placed in to care for Joe reminds me again that we are to be humble servants, continuing to prepare our hearts for Christ as we approach the feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany ends the Christmas season and brings us into Ordinary Time until Lent begins. Lent, like Advent, is a solemn time to prepare our hearts but for THE greatest act of humility, servitude and Love- Christ's death and resurrection. But every day should be used as an opportunity to humble ourselves as Christ did. As an infant God took on the most perfect form of innocence, wonder, and humility. To be like-minded, we must humble ourselves in the same way, viewing life through the eyes of a child - the Christ child - and serve in much the same way as He.

*(Isaiah 9:6)
**Philippians 2: 5, 7,8 (NIV)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Person's A Person. No Matter How Small...

Yesterday marked one year since I lost our baby. I remember the first few months being so numb and dark after I learned that I was miscarrying our son or daughter. It was a devastating time but in thinking throughout this past year of the short life my baby lived, how small s/he was, and even the great sorrow of my loss, I saw glimpses of the greatness that s/he represented, reminding me of a very important fact of life: A person IS a person, no matter how small. And God's gift of life is the greatest of all.

(Note: In the interest of making more sense with less words, from here on out, I will refer to the baby as "he" or "him" in the parts about the loss of my baby.)

We found out in mid November last year that I was pregnant, and decided to tell everyone on Thanksgiving. The first people to find out that day were our "PA parents," two generous and loving people who have taken us under their wing, treated us as if we were their own, and last year had invited us to Thanksgiving dinner at their home. We adorned Sophia with a shirt I decorated with puffy paint. Four stick figures were drawn across the bottom, and a baby carriage. The shirt read "Big Sister 2011." That night, we joined my family in Frederick for dessert. I can't remember who was the first to notice the shirt but everyone was ecstatic by the time the news rolled through the house. But the next day, I started bleeding. The following week it was confirmed that I lost the baby.

Just 6 or so weeks along he was. And yet, his personhood had already indented a place in my heart. At 6 weeks his own heart was formed and beating, the areas for his legs and arms were little stubs ready to spring into growth. He was but a few millimeters yet his presence was enormous. He was an individual soul, living inside of me, borrowing my body for a short time, just like each of his siblings before him. He was a huge life changer, both by his life and his loss.

Yesterday also marked a sad occasion for someone else. A friend of my sister's buried two of her own babies. Lost at 24 weeks gestation, her twins, Josephine Angelina and Nadia Rose, were laid to rest after suffering complications from a torn placenta and then TTTS. Their mother went into preterm labor on a Sunday morning and her babies could not be saved. These babies, whose very lives hung in the balance for so long, these same babies that were so small and so fragile, were huge life-changers for their parents and family, both in their life and in their loss.

This past summer, just a few short months ago, marked the 1 year anniversary of the loss of a little boy named Declan. He was just shy of his first birthday when cancer claimed his life for good in August of 2010. Declan's battle with cancer was courageous. It was difficult. It was awe-inspiring and the details of it, which were so painstakingly related to us through the humbling blog of his parents, were relentless in their challenge to the hearts of many. That challenge simply was - fight for our children. Declan, too, was small, but he was a huge life-changer for so many of us, both in his life and in his loss.

All 4 of these babies, and all the babies who have ever been miscarried or who died soon after birth, were individual souls who were created for purposes unknown to us. They were tiny lives that were lost before they got to know what life is really like here in the world. But they did have a life inside the secret darkness of their mothers' wombs. Declan had almost a whole year outside of the protection of his mother's body. The twins knew only moments of this world. But they all knew some measure of a life of comfort and peace, of complete dependence and warmth. Of undeniable love. From the moment they were conceived, they had a soul. They made their mark in the Master's painting and made a splash in the lives of all who loved them.

There are so many differences in the stories of each of these precious babies. The situations and details surrounding the life and death of each one are incomparable. Yet there is one thing that each baby has in common. That is that they were people. At 6 weeks gestation, at 24 weeks gestation, or a few weeks shy of a first birthday, each baby mattered. Each baby's heart beat. Each baby knew love and pain. Each baby was a perfect gift; a special individual created by God for His purpose. It was His choice when and how they lived, and when and how they died.

The grief attached to losing a child knows no bounds. Some say that if a baby dies in utero, it's not the same as the loss of a baby who has already been born. I don't believe that's true. Ask that young mama who just lost her twins at 24 weeks, watched them take their first breaths..and their last within moments, and then had to suffer through a funeral for them. And then ask every single mother who lost a baby very early on in pregnancy, only to go through the next year a shadow of a person, mourning the loss of a baby they never got a chance to hold. Neither one would say that their situation is worse because most women know the value of a human soul - no matter what "stage" of life its body was in. It is often in these dark and painful moments of grief when we realize the power of one individual soul, his or her significance to the bigger picture of God's world, and the reality of his or her presence - or lack-there-of - here on earth.

"So let that be a lesson to one and to all...A person's a person. No matter how small." ~Horton the Elephant in Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss

Monday, November 14, 2011

Preparing for Advent

It is now mid-November and I am struggling to figure out where the year has gone. Peering out my window, I notice dark clouds looming close on the horizon, threatening yet another rain; reminding me that I also have no idea where Fall has gone. The weather is sort of warmish today but it comes on the heels of many bouts of cold and rain since Fall officially began. In fact, we have had much rain this year since the onset of Spring, and I'm left puzzling over this fact as well.

And yet, time still ticks on.

So we have seen from the calendar pages flipping steadily from month to month, leading us closer and closer to ending the year; much too close to ushering in a new one for my taste. Christmas decorations have been up in stores since before Halloween. Thanksgiving is but a week away. It seems this last quarter of the year seems to fly by so fast, creating a whirlwind of activity and chaos that often leaves me on the brink of despair.

Advent is fast approaching and I'd like to devise a plan for this year that surpasses my half-attempts from last year. One which solves all of the age-old issues of bustling through the season leading up to Christmas without knowledge of where the best of intentions end and reality begins. Last year we did a few activities which kept with the theme of "Jesus is the reason for the season." I have to LOL here at that phrase. It's so corny yet SO TRUE. And we often forget. In the chaos of shopping and running around and fighting crowds, we do forget why we have this holiday.

CHRISTMAS. It is about Jesus- His entrance into the world, God's gift of love to us poor sinners. And yet, sometimes shopping and "holiday" parties seem more forefront and looming- like those dark clouds threatening rain outside my window. We're not big shoppers. As much as we'd like to be, we're just not. Even if we had the money to be big shoppers, I'm not sure we would be. I'd like to be a big MAKER. Yes, a maker of fun/yummy/interesting home-spun gifts. I'd like to spend my time creating thoughtful gifts that speak to the hearts of the recipients; ones which remind them that they are in my heart and perhaps speak to the joy and love of which this beautiful season is about. I do this on a small scale, but I'd like to do more. My gifts can never be as grand as the ultimate Gift that was given to the world thousands of years ago, but I'd like them to be more special than a brightly-colored plastic thing-a-ma-bob from China.

Advent is a time to prepare our hearts and minds to once again receive that special Gift that was given to us so long ago. It is so important to convey the real reason for the season to our children and make them a part of our preparation. Making an Advent wreath and lighting the candles each week, creating a Jesse tree, making religious decorations and cards are all fun activities to do with the children in preparation for Christmas. Last year we had an Advent calendar that I made from an old Christmas table cloth and in the pockets, I put scraps of paper with a bible verse from the nativity story and an activity idea written on each piece. Sometimes, the pockets also contained a small treat for each child- a piece of chocolate or a mini candy cane. We read the verse from the nativity story and colored a corresponding picture which I printed out from a resource on the Internet. Then we did our activity. Sometimes, it was just saying a prayer for someone. Other times, it was creating fun crafts like cinnamon-scented ornaments, or shopping for gloves and hats for less-fortunate kids.

Every year I feel surprised by how fast Advent approaches and yet, I shouldn't be, should I? Even in the busyness and chaos of our daily life, I should be looking forward to the times throughout the year that we are called to remember and celebrate God's greatest Gift to the world. I shouldn't feel surprised because they happen at the same time very year and I have all year to prepare. And yet, I don't prepare enough. So this year, I'm going to attempt to spend more time preparing activities for the kids and our family to do to remind us of Jesus, preparing my heart for the blessings of the season, and helping to make our home into one that celebrates Him and His infinite love for us.

What do you do to prepare for the season? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Also: Here are some resources for Christmas crafts and activities to prepare for Advent with your children:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Family Prayer Time

When I was younger, on many - albeit sporadic - occasions my mom tried to wrangle the seven of us kids into the living room, along with my dad - who was inevitably tired and grouchy after a long day of work - and engage in some semblance of family time. A lot of the time, prayer was on the agenda, but often got drowned out by the heightened emotional drama that bounces around the atmosphere of a small house with nine occupants and not a lot of really good communication skills.

In many ways we were a close-knit family, and in many ways we were as broken as the rest of them. But despite all that, my mom tried her best to do what she knew God asked of her as our mother, and I love her for it. It has been this specific example of "family time" she so lovingly and desperately tried to set for us that has challenged me to attempt to do the same, only hoping to have a much better outcome.

There are some nights that have followed long, exhausting days, and the entire family morale is not exactly at its highest. It is on these nights I have to do everything I possibly can to drag myself out of my hole and make sure we spend at least a few minutes with each other in prayer, thanking God for our day- however horrible it may have been. It's a tough feat on many occasions. And, yes, sometimes I do fail. Thank the Lord that the older 2 children - ages 5 1/2 and 7 (and often, my almost-4 year old as well) - have some awareness of the need because they will most certainly make it known that we will miss family prayer if they just go off to bed. Which is a very important ingredient, that awareness, especially at times like those which teeter painfully close to the edge of failure. Family prayer time has become a ritual in our house; one that started in spurts and even with my best intentions at its core, stopped for long length of time. It began anew about a year ago. With a sense of gusto and determination, we began one of the only traditions our little family has made so far in our seven years together.

It is always a joy to come together as a family, even after the most complicated and heart-wrenching days (which are oft to happen, what with 4 small children, a business to run, homeschooling, and an anxiety-ridden husband). It is so amazing how the innocent mumblings of a fidgety 4 year old can melt the contents of even the hardest days into little more than a memory, replacing the darkness with a peaceful, gentle light. Or to hear our 7 year old thank God for the opportunity to "have a great day" and ask Him to give her a heart to be obedient.

Good stuff, eh?!

My favorite part, I have to say, is when our 2 year old starts us off. She closes her eyes (she used to put her little hands over them), leans forward to bury her face in the covers on our bed and mumbles words mostly inaudible and incomprehensible to us. Sometimes we catch the phrase "thank you for this day," which is said by each of us when we take our turn. The rest...we can only guess at. But God knows, doesn't He? And I can be pretty certain that He is listening intently, probably chuckling a little, and is taking the opportunity to settle Himself in her tiny 2-year-old heart so as to awaken in her a sense of Him- His infinite love and grace.

We usually have an entire evening ritual. I am unsure as to whether I've yet written about how HORRIBLE our evenings usually go with actually getting the kids to go to sleep. Somehow, our prayer time before-hand helps a little. They still usually end up staying awake for what seems like years after we finally tuck them in. But somehow, it's more bearable to deal with...most nights. Our ritual consists of getting their jammies on (sometimes they have baths but let's be honest here, they do not get one every night!), brushing their teeth, going around to each member of the family to say out loud whatever we have on our hearts. We then read a story..or five. Finally, it's off to bed.

I kinda like that cheesy phrase "the family that prays together, stays together." I feel like it's true in many respects, because we are forming bonds with each other using the strongest thread there is - prayer to a gracious and loving Father. Certainly He wants us to maintain that bond and will give us the tools we need to do so. So I pray that God will bless our efforts and that even through the years, we can maintain our tradition and use the time we spend in this way to grow with each other in the strength of our faith and family life. I also pray that even if life's difficulties get in the way sometimes, that our children can always look back on this time and see the intentions; see the efforts and take them as their own, attempting to make the outcome far surpass anything we ever do right now.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Strange Addiction

Something very interesting has been happening to me over the past few months. I've become addicted to something. This addiction has caused me to change my outlook on life- some in good ways and some in bad, depending on my mood and how often my cravings are satisfied. I'm sort of frightened by this addiction, especially in times when I forget to replenish my fix before it is completely gone. Because at those times I see the world as this squirming, dying mass of darkness, and despite the fact that my heart knows that it's not really that way in most senses, in those moments it cannot see otherwise.

It's a strange addiction because it's not chemical nor emotional. It defies all reasoning of any definition in which the world would normally categorize an addiction. It floats beyond that grasp of understanding; no check list of symptoms will suffice. It really cannot be properly diagnosed, though you can try. I could try.

So what is it that I am addicted to?

It's God. It's the Holy Spirit. The immortal and powerful Word which He gave to us as guidance for our lives. It's scheduling in quiet moments in which I spend time with Him, drowning myself in His radiant light, being filled up with grace and strength and purpose for His divine and perfect Will. I can't get enough of it lately. I am hooked.

I have recently tried to share this notion with several people in my life, in a more subtle way than defining it as an addiction, yet I was met with silence, much the same as I pointed out in this post. It's strange to them. They do not understand. I really don't blame them. I'm not sure I even do.

What I do know is this:

When I do not make time for prayer - and I mean real prayer, not just the "can you please let me have this, or will you do this for me" sort of prayer (which has its own place and time), but real deep silent prayer and meditation in which I open my heart to Him, empty out all the garbage floating around in my head, and bend myself to His Will - I feel peaceful. I feel a sense of joy that, regardless of whether or not I am happy with any particular circumstance or moment in my life, surpasses that fact and shines brilliantly to mask all the garbage that I just released. I feel sort of high. Really.

I then spend my day patiently attending my four small children. Lovingly and respectfully serving my husband. Motivated to do not just what's on my schedule but whatever else I can do to help our home run smoothly. I possess more strength to face the anxiety which has haunted me over the past few months years and can quietly subdue it into a corner in my mind without thinking it's going to attack me the second I turn my back. More than that, is the basic quiet gentleness with myself, and my new-found understanding that I am indeed the daughter of a King. I want to run to Him and spend more time at any spare moment of the day. To get my fill of grace and love. To get my fix.

And when I don't make time for prayer:

I find that when I haven't spent a lot of time in prayer and reading the Bible (I particularly like Psalms these days), I am crazy. Literally.

I lose my temper quickly. I do not like my children. The world seems to look like that dark mass of nothingness I mentioned in the beginning. I lose all sense of purpose and worth. Everyone is my enemy. I hate myself. And the most terrifying: Satan is laughing and giddy and smoking cigars in the corner, unloading all my garbage on top of me as he slaps himself on the back and high fives all the minions he has charged with wandering after me daily. Ugh. I can feel him sliding himself along the floor, inching closer to me and suffocating me with his thick despair. He paralyzes me.

Case in point: I did not spend a lot of time today in prayer. I hadn't yet read the daily readings that I usually do (which, by the way, are linked at the top left of this blog!). My kids were nuts doing what kids do, and I couldn't take it. I was really irritated. I snapped at them. I wanted them to get the heck away from me so I could do what I wanted to do (write my blog post). And then I realized I hadn't been talking to God today much. I went to my daily Mass readings linked here and read the readings and the gospel. I said a silent prayer for peace and grace. I felt much better. I was then able to patiently deal with two of my kids who had apparently sneaked the rest of my dark chocolate bar at some point today. Normally, this would enrage me, especially if I hadn't had my "fix" of God. You just don't mess with my chocolate! Nor do you do something you know is disobedient and disrespectful. But there I was, calmly doling out appropriate punishment for the partners in crime. When whining and crying and backtalk ensued, I was still able to lovingly and quietly tell them I was standing my ground on the punishment and that was that.

But you know, sometimes, I am unsure whether I like how this is. Honestly. Today I was thinking that if I didn't have such a need to begin my day in prayer and go to it throughout the day, I wouldn't have the downs that I do. (Many happened this morning) It makes me sort of angry. Because before it was not like this. Before when I was mostly unaware of this need and could go along as I pleased (something which I have found can be described as spiritual darkness), I found that even the bad times weren't as bad. Ignorance is bliss. Right?

Maybe not.

If I think about it, perhaps that is true for the most part. Perhaps the "bad" times didn't seem all that bad. But then again, there was a different direction for my life, one I'm not sure if God was heading up or not. But now.... now that I know my true north and am trying to follow it, the stakes are higher, aren't they? More is required of me so when I fail, I am punished more. Now that I know how I am to be, act, live, my Heavenly Father expects much more from me. It's kind of the same with older children vs. younger children. I expect my 7 year old to behave more responsibly than my 2 year old. If she fails, her punishment would be more severe than that of my 2 year old if she failed in the same way. My 7 year old knows better. My 2 year old does not. Luke 12:48 is a perfect verse to pull out for this: "Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more."

So, in essence, since I have been entrusted with more, He expects more from me than He did before. Once I came to that understanding, I was on a new level of expectations. And a new level of consequences. My "addiction" to spending time with Him is really just a new understanding of my calling as His beloved daughter. And the consequences that ensue if I fail are actually there to remind me that I need Him. Daily.

Addiction or not, it's what I need and though it might sound strange to some, what matters most is that you can't go wrong when you're addicted to God.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When Talking Is Too Much

I talk a lot. Always have. In grade school, I was constantly shushed by my teachers; my report cards would come home and below the chart depicting my [good] grades would be a note penned from my teacher, "Rebecca is a bright student. Her grades are wonderful. She just talks too much in class." I have to admit that as an adult, I am quite the talker. I talk out of turn. I talk a long time. I talk a lot. I realize this has its faults and yet, I am still having a hard time with just shutting up.

Especially when it comes to God's truth.

So I have found that depending on who I am talking to, this can be a bad thing. I love sharing exciting tidbits of information about God's truth in regards to my own life; like how it affected me in my past, how it turned my life around, how it brought me deeper into my Catholic faith, or even now how His word inspires and uplifts me when I'm having a bad day. And sometimes - a lot of the time - I am met with A) no response at all or B) defensiveness. I'm not sure what the silence is about. I still haven't figured that one out. Did I actually render someone speechless? Was it God's holy word that just brought so much peace to their heart, it made them be quiet..indefinitely? Or something else? Of course, my sensitive mind could think of a million negative reasons but I try not to go there. That's a bad place- one I like to avoid as much as possible.

Then there is the defensiveness. I am not sure I get that. I am only left to assume that it's really a matter of the heart for the other person. Maybe they don't feel the same way I do. Maybe they aren't following God's truth. Maybe my intense conviction that X is the right way for me to live/think (because it's God's truth) makes other people feel convicted by me because they don't live/think that way. Maybe they just feel convicted in general and want to blame me, a la "kill the messenger" style. Maybe they're intimidated by my ability - however faltering it is at times - to follow God's truth and be sustained by it.

I was once told that my talking about these things lets people know where they stand "with me," but I'm not sure I understand exactly what that means. If I'm talking about myself or if I'm sharing God's truth with someone else, how does that make others know where they stand with me? Are they assuming that because I live this certain way or because I am proclaiming God's truth (because that's what He calls Christians to do), that they are any less of a person in my eyes? Or that I don't respect them? Or that I don't love them? God, I hope not! I try to love and respect everyone in my life regardless of what they do or don't believe or how they live their life. Not only that, but I can humbly say that it really doesn't matter what I think. What matters is what God thinks. People should be more worried about that.

In any case, I have a Jewish friend, a Buddhist friend, and several atheist friends. I have Christian friends who believe that pre-marital sex is okay. I have friends - Christian and non-Christian alike - who believe abortion is okay. Or artificial birth control. I am acquainted with several homosexuals. I am Catholic yet most of my friends are not. I have friends and family who do not see eye-to-eye with me on so many different important issues. And I love and pray for them all, and for our relationships. We can all have many respectful conversations about important matters without worrying about whether or not the other person is judging them. It's not about judgment at all. At least not on my end.

Granted, I'm not perfect and loving even my husband is often very hard, let alone someone who challenges every single aspect of my life. But the point is that I kind of have a hard time being quiet...not necessarily about life, but about LIFE, and it has seemed to bite me in the butt more than it has blessed me. My sister was telling me how she, too, has a hard time being quiet but that her wise husband said to her one evening that sometimes it's just better not to say anything at all. BOY IS THAT HARD! One of my friends and I had a discussion about this very thing because we know that we are definitely called as Christians to learn, pray about and share God's word and His truth with others, especially non-Christians. It is our charge to bring others to Him. And yet, so many efforts are misconstrued, taken the wrong way, turned around, taken as judgment, spit on, rejected, etc, etc. So then we worry; are we at all responsible for this person come judgment day because they refused to acknowledge these truths in their life? Could we have done more? Was there something else that could have been said? What about accountability?

What I find very interesting is the word "judgment." That word is thrown around these days like no body's business. And that's the point. People say it is no body's business what they do and others should just leave them alone. To some extent, this is true. But if one person does wrong, they usually aren't just affecting themselves, they are affecting so many other people with their actions. Not only that but often, if someone says "this is the right way because God says so" to another, that doesn't mean they are judging that person; they are merely sharing what God's truth is. Of course, it has to be relayed in a loving manner. But even that is misconstrued by super defensive people. I could call my friend up and excitedly tell her I just found this incredibly uplifting verse in Proverbs and how it relates to my wanting to be a better wife, and because of her own guilty feelings and defensiveness, she might automatically assume I am trying to tell her that she isn't a good wife and she should be like me and read Proverbs more, and then change. Um...what?? Similar scenarios have actually happened to me and I really have a hard time with that.

I think what makes it incredibly personal for me is that often, a person hasn't taken the time to really get to know me, to know my heart, and they automatically assume (because of their own issues or experiences with others) that my motive is negative, judgmental, manipulative, or whathaveyou. The truth is, while I'm not perfect and I do falter and fail and give in to the weakness of my flesh, I do strive toward a holy lifestyle, to be a clean and open vessel for God to dwell in and use to do His work. My soul thirsts for Him. So for someone to just automatically assume the worst of me and my intentions without making the effort to get to know me - and I mean really know me, not just assume they do - it still hurts. Even though I try to remember that it's really their issue, not mine.

It is often better to just not say anything at all. But how do you choose? When do you decide you should just shut your mouth and not say a word, without it affecting your call to share God's truth? My friend Colleen told me today that often, actions are better than words. So I am trying to use that fact as motivation to pray more, talk less, and let the Holy Spirit guide me when I'm dealing with these situations or trying to decide if I should share tidbits of my own life out of excitement or example of how it affects me. Oh it is a fine line, isn't it? And yet, I know deep in my heart that while I am called to bring others to Christ, this does not always mean with my words and hopefully one of these days I really can get to that point of letting go of my need to talk about it, and just let my actions speak instead. I think that would be the best way to love others and bring them to Christ. Not in tongue, but in action.

"...let us love not in word or speech, but in deed and truth." 1 John 3:18

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Children and Mass

Recently, I asked my sister what she thought of my not worrying about my oldest daughter going to Mass. My daughter is 7 and is in the First Communion program at our church. Joe and I had the idea that during the Sunday School year, we'd take advantage of only having one child with us while we attended Mass. The first week, we got them to Sunday School and then we all attended Mass at our regular time of 11 o'clock, but not until after almost an hour of craziness in between the end of school and the start of Mass, and a very horrific experience during Mass. The second week, we put them in school and went to Mass with just our youngest. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this was probably not a good idea. My wise sister made the point that it's very important for my daughter to be going to Mass, especially at this critical time in her religious education. She should be able to experience the Mass first-hand (not just read about it), watch what is happening on the altar and really work toward understanding that Christ is indeed present in the holy Eucharist.

But before I really could admit that this was very important for her, specifically at this time, I had one major thought in my head. She doesn't even pay attention. As I wrestled with this thought pitted against the importance of her attendance, I really had a hard time. Which is why I asked my sister what she thought. And I have to admit, I already knew the answer; I think that's why I asked. I wanted a little extra motivation to beat that idea out of my head and give in to what I already knew was right. If I had someone other than God (my daughter's godmother no less) to be accountable to, it would make it a lot easier for me to do what was right. Funny how that works out, isn't it?

I also discussed it a little with my mom. She told me that she remembers that when she received her First Communion she was pretty indifferent to it. She didn't like going to Mass and she didn't really care all that much about Communion. She said it was the age and that the older she got, the more she understood and the happier she was to go. I think she's right. Most kids, especially those who are more prone to having a short attention span *cough* Angelina *cough* probably don't really care all that much about paying attention and really focusing on the importance of Communion and what it means to actually be receiving Christ's body and blood during Mass. This age is sort of a turning point for them; they are just on the cusp of delving into their Catholic Faith and really being able to grasp some of the most intimate and sacred details of such a faith. It's often difficult territory for them because they are also still only children and have a lot of tendencies which inhibit such a process.

I remember bursting into tears while I reamed out my children one day after Mass for their being so disrespectful during the service, particularly their (loudly) begging to go home. I sobbed through my tears, "Mass is a gift. Don't you understand that? Christ is not just present there because we all go there to worship. He's there in the Eucharist, in a very profound and significant way much more important than Him being here in this car or in our home... and it is a gift and blessing to be able to receive Him in that way; to receive the grace He bestows on us through our reception of Communion. You should want to go to Mass, not beg to go home because you're bored." My kids sat wide-eyed and staring as they took in my words and probably secretly wondered if their mommy had lost her marbles. But the truth is, they didn't get it. And I realize now that regardless of the first few sacraments they receive, they probably won't truly get it for a long time.

In general, we expect a certain level of reverence and quiet attitudes from our children while we are at Mass. If for no other reason than that it is respectful of other people's right to have such an atmosphere. But fidgety children make it often difficult to maintain this specific air, and those of them who are at the age of receiving one of their first sacraments are really no exception. Up until a few months ago we had been attending Mass as a family, sitting in the cry room. Our former head-priest, Father Waldron, used to affectionately refer to this room as Purgatory. For anyone who has ever had to subject themselves to such a room knows exactly why. It took great courage for us to remove ourselves from that room and decide to chance it in the main church in the pews with all the older folks who had teenagers or no young kids at all. The older people sort of scared us because we've heard stories of others who have been belittled by Granny sitting behind them clucking her tongue or making comments because she has forgotten what it was like to take young ones to Mass.

We have since learned, though, that for the most part people are accommodating. Or at least tolerant. Our kids aren't really very noisy except for the occasional bout of crankiness from the 2 and 4 year olds (like today). But they are "busy," and move around quite a bit. And they don't pay attention very well, which really is to be expected for their ages. This morning, Sunday school was canceled so we all went to Mass together at 11 o'clock. My 2 year old was pretty cranky over an issue with one of her siblings and she threw a rubber bracelet at the face of the 40-something lady sitting in the pew behind us. This lady was very gracious and retrieved the bracelet off the floor for my husband who apologized profusely as I quietly scolded our daughter. Should she know better? Probably. But 2 year olds have a little bit of a lack of self-control still and I was hard-pressed to remember this as my cheeks flushed red and I thought to myself "this is why I wanted to just go by myself."

Regardless of this morning's antics, and because of my determination to do what is right for Angelina, our plans for the Sunday School year are for me to go to Mass with her at 7:30 and have hubby take the kids to Sunday School and then attend the 9:00 Mass by himself. The times when Sunday School is canceled or not in session (summer), we'll go as a family and try to maintain a quiet reverent atmosphere, without stressing too terribly if we can't. The most important thing is to make sure our daughter is getting as much first-hand experience as she can to really be able to understand the things she is learning in her class- the things I so naively expected her and her younger siblings to just get as I tried to explain it through my tears all those weeks ago. As the others get older, they will go to Mass during the school year too, and we will start going as a family all the time again... eventually. I would love to be able to take them to Mass during the week as well.

I will say that today something was slightly different with Angelina as we attended Mass. She was actually paying attention. For the most part. She wanted to see what the priest was doing when he was preparing the gifts and she asked me what her hands are to be doing when we make the triple sign of the cross before the Gospel reading. She wanted to learn. She was trying to participate. It made me feel very hopeful, and I suspect that our early morning attendance at Mass together will be a wonderful learning experience....for both of us.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Courage Under Fire

(I love Willow Tree and this angel is perfect for this post!)

So I've been a little busy lately. We started homeschooling this past week, though today we are taking a little bit of a break. It's not so much because we need to be away from schooling, but because I need to take a "mental health" break. Not only have we started school but I have started something on my own. I am in the process of training at a crisis pregnancy center to become a volunteer counselor. I am very excited. But I know that it is going to be a battle with Satan, as I have already experienced in the four weeks since I made the decision to sign up.

It's going to take buckets of courage to travel this road. I have always been pro-life. Even when I found myself in a very difficult situation: pregnant and unmarried at a relatively young age (mentally I was younger), I still knew with absolute certainty that all life is to be protected. Of course I thought about how much my life would change and how much I'd have to give up to even bring her into the world, let alone parent her. Some even believe it "ruins" your life to have a baby when you're not ready. But as Mother Teresa so eloquently said, "It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you please." I didn't want to live as I pleased if it meant my baby could not live at all. I rescinded my life to choose life for her.

And now, I hope to help others choose life for their babies as they find themselves in similar - or even more difficult - situations as I was in almost 8 years ago. I am acutely aware of the fact that I will not always succeed in this aspect of the mission. But God has called me to a higher purpose than just trying to help them to believe in the sanctity of human life. He has called me to show these broken women His perfect love, regardless of their choice. It is going to be difficult. Even the training has had its moments of difficulty. Last night we learned about abortion, which I already knew a lot about anyway but it never gets easier to hear about. We also had to watch a movie that was graphic and sickening and informative and raw. I had a hard time and I was afraid. But it was necessary, despite how painful and scary it was to endure.

The unsurprising thing about this whole process is that Satan has been right on my heels the whole time. From the moment I discerned that volunteering at the center was what God was calling me to do, I felt Satan slink in ever closer. He planted so much in my head that first day of training. I was irrationally fearful of the drive to the center. It was one I had never taken before but was in reality very easy. I even talked to Joe about maybe driving me even though it was a ridiculous request because of the kids and the time-frame. And then I thought about not going at all. Then, my wonderful husband said, "didn't you drive to Florida all by yourself when you were younger?" Ah, yes I did, honey. Yes I did. I did it when I was even more shy, scared of the world, and had a huge lack of self confidence. So that was the boost I needed. Strike one for Satan.

And from there, a slew of other lies and misunderstandings of situations which have caused me to question what I'm doing have descended upon me like a thick heavy cloud. Last night I left that very difficult training session completely drained. There were other factors in that state of emotional stress that in a round-about way linked to this battle I'm fighting, and I felt suffocated as I mentally dissected each particle contributing to my angst. I prayed a million Hail Mary's as I drove home, and rested in the knowledge that I was going to be guarded with all the forces of God if I would only remember to ask Him.

But that Satan is a sly one.

I went to sleep very very late last night; the last thoughts in my heart being a prayer to God to help me to not have nightmares of what I saw on the movie we watched. And He was faithful. But as soon as I awoke, images from the movie floated into my head, stabbing my mind into a state of paralysis. It didn't help that it's gray and raining outside or that I was still dealing with other factors that make me question my abilities to spread God's truth. I spent the first few hours of the morning not getting up and launching into my routine with prayer, exercise, breakfast, homeschool, but snuggled with my hubby, hunkered down in our bed with the children who filed in one by one, watching cartoons and praying for peace.

I realize that I have joined this war in a more definitive role than I have ever played before. And that comes at a price. Satan has me on his radar, even more honed in than he's been my whole life. And he will use whatever means, and whoever he can (even if they're unaware of the fact that he's using them), to plant even the tiniest seed of doubt and fear in my heart. I will be ridiculed, I will be called wrong, an idiot, opinionated, biased, close-minded, and worse... There will be attempts at knocking me on my butt like I have been today. In this world we live in, where anything goes, every one's thoughts are considered mere opinion and there is little regard to God's truth, I will be fighting the fight to protect human life. At times I will lose. At times I will feel alone and depressed much like today. But I am the daughter of a sovereign God, a God Who is unmoved by the lowly attempts and puppets of Satan, and He is protecting me as I serve Him in my role.

Today's reflection on the daily Mass readings from was exactly what I needed to feel secure in the above knowledge once again. As I seek to spread God's truth in the world - a task He asks of all Christians - He will protect me, guide me, lift me up, and reward me. He is the source from which I draw my courage and strength and therefore, I too will be unmoved.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Yes, God Even Cares About Our Trash!

Okay, so as much as I would LOVE to make this post about recycling, caring for the earth, being less wasteful, etc...which are all things on my mind A LOT, it is about something almost completely unrelated to those subjects.

I was just thinking today about the small things that God sometimes uses to say "see, I'm here, I care about even this." I was reminded about a little blessing that came this past week in the form of...well, a trash can storage bin...or whatever they are called. Yes, I'm talking about trash - and those large wooden or plastic bins with doors that people hide their trash cans in. Are they kind of unsightly? Maybe a little. We got ours from someone who thought it didn't go with their new landscape. But we were excited to receive it, as it really was a small blessing.

Here's the story:

In our neighborhood, which I guess is considered somewhere between rural and suburban, we have a lot of random animals roaming around, which often get into our trash. LOTS of homeless cats, a few foxes and deer from neighboring fields, and the occasional squirrel feeling extra saucy. We have woken up on many a morning to find a cornucopia of rotting veggies and meat, and other items - food and nonfood alike - trailing across our back patio area where we keep the trash until trash day. Of course, the culprit is almost always long gone, carrying with them whatever prize they dug out of our very accessible trash cans, probably laughing (do animals have a sense of humor?) at the mess they left in their wake.

So for the past few years (yes years!), we've put it on the "to do" list to find a remedy for this situation as we were both tired of cleaning up the garbage strewn about our yard. Okay, hubby was tired; I vehemently refused to do it!

We even went to Home Depot to price those plastic trash corrals - or whatever they're called - and were appalled at the amount H.D. was charging for a plastic bin that probably cost someone in China about $5 to make. HUNDREDS of dollars these things were. Really. Appalled. We left H.D. wondering how in the heck anyone could even spend that much on something like that. I mean really. It's trash. We have a big family. There's no way we can shell out a couple hundred bucks to buy one of those things.

Lowes was much the same, by the way.

So lately, the stench has been more of a problem than pesky critters searching for a midnight snack, and I have been curious as to what to do with this little issue of ours. Not only that, but the area where we keep the trash is really the most convenient and practical place to have it, yet it also is in the area of our backyard where we keep the grill. Who wants to smell smoldering trash on a hot summer day while trying to enjoy some toasty hot dogs at a bar-b-q? Not me. And probably not our guests. We'd move the grill except that it too is in the most convenient and practical area of the backyard, as it's tucked neatly into a spot we created out of the existing counter area that the previous owners had built. I think about it, and it used to be a very stressful thing....but it hasn't been like at the forefront of my mind too much lately. I mean, who thinks about their trash that much?

Enter Joe. And our business....both of which have been changing and growing so much lately. (That's not really pertinent to my trash tale but I thought I'd throw that in you honey!) He had a really big install with a residential client this week and the client really liked what he did with his pool area. He liked it so much, that this trash hideaway thingy - or whatever it's called - seemed so much like an eyesore against the backdrop of his newly - and beautifully, I might add - landscaped yard, that he asked Joe if he wanted to take it. What? A trash thingy in really good condition; one that would normally cost several hundred dollars, for FREE?? Of course! Yes, we'd LOVE to take it!

So as I'm watching Joe and his brother haul this thing into the backyard from the truck, I'm just smiling to myself...although at first, I was a little unnerved by the disgusting condition it was wonder the guy thought it didn't "go" with his yard... But then I said to myself, "it's for TRASH Rebecca, who cares that it's dirty?!" So I was smiling. But it didn't hit me til a few hours later that we just got a blessing delivered to us.

God says that He cares even about the hairs on our head. I never really thought that same care would extend to our trash but apparently it does. And maybe it's not so much about trash than it is about the trash bin thingy being a vehicle to deliver His love to us; a small reminder that He is still here and He does care about us. It's that simple.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Next Item On The List Is......Nothing!

List making. I LOVE it! I love writing down all the things I need to do, buy, fix, remember. What I love even more is being able to go back and check them off one by one. The organization which list-making provides is critical to my sanity, especially when it comes to my "to do" list. I can never remember everything and writing it down serves as a tangible in-my-face reminder of the many things I need to get done as a mommy of four littles, a wife, a homemaker, a business owner and a woman of God.

Since having children, mental lists just don't seem to hold their substance anymore. Usually, they dissipate the second I get distracted and then trying to recall each item is like trying to wrangle a child's favorite blankey away from them on wash day. There is one list, however, that seems to constantly be at the forefront of my mind, almost mocking me as I realize none of the items on it are able to be checked off.

This mental list is a list of things I'm waiting for. This list is often detrimental to my sanity because it is made up of things I cannot control. I have no say in when I will be able to draw a thick black line through any one item. I have to keep waiting and praying and hoping that each thing will be resolved in the perfect timing of God. It's a difficult thing to do sometimes, because I like to have some say in these particular items. One of the main items on my list is the future of our business. We want so many things to happen. But I've been re-learning lately that it's not about what I want or think I need or what my timing is, but what God's will for my life is and when it will come about according to His divine plan.

Getting to that moment in my faith walk where I really had to let go of things was a long and arduous journey. I'm sure there were many times in my life where He's tried to get me to give up that control, only to find that I was just like that determined child trying to keep my blankey near me even though it was time to let it go to get cleaned up, repaired, or even put away for good. I didn't trust Him enough to know that my "blankey" (my life) was in safe hands and that His plans for it were more important than what I wanted or thought I needed. I had to trust that He had my best interest in mind but at those times, I just couldn't, not always. The first real time I had to do it was when I found myself pregnant for the first time. Since then, I sort of back-tracked into a hole, afraid of what lay ahead, not always trusting in His perfect will.

Fast-forward to 2009 and hubby has just lost his job for the second time in 1 year, due to the recession. I was pregnant with our fourth child and there were no job prospects in sight. Talk about having no choice but to give up all control to Him and only be able to trust that He has our best interest in mind- the perfect plan He's been waiting to bring to fruition! We were at a cross-roads. I knew it. Joe knew it. We had to take a leap of faith and trust. So we did, and our company New Growth Landscaping was born. That year was difficult. But not as difficult as we anticipated. We meandered through each day, holding our breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for the moment when everything would fail. We didn't have much control in the situation at all and yet, we still couldn't quite believe that God was carrying us. But He was. And we didn't fail. In fact, we went through that first year, bills being paid somehow, food being put on the table every day, our family building in spirit and momentum as we took our new life and ran with it. The numbers don't add up but we survived anyway, solely on the grace of God.

Our bottom line that first year was only in the negative by a few hundred dollars. The second year, we showed a profit in the 20 thousand's. This third year has yet to show how well we've done but to us, the numbers don't really matter. Our first year proved that very fact when we realized we survived without the numbers making any sense. What matters is what God wants. Our future is in His hands. My mental list is in His hands. I can stare at it all I want, wishing I could see those lines through each item, but they will not appear until He wants them to. It's something I'm working on really being at peace with. Most of the time, I resign myself to be at peace and those things on that list don't seem so glaring. But other times, I find it difficult to remain peaceful as I see a few of them beaming through another layer of dust.

One of my favorite verses is Jeremiah 29:11. "For I know well the plans I have in mind for you says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope." (St. Joseph Edition of the NAB) I recently came across this verse in a most unexpected place. But it came in such perfect timing, as I was overwhelmed with anxiety over one particular item on my list that concerns the future of both our business and family lives. At that moment, a warm peace washed over me and though I often feel slightly anxious when I realize I don't know what our future holds, that peace is still there, plus a joy I never could have imagined. All because I know that God knows well each item on that list, and I can rest knowing that I really DO NOT have to keep the list in my mind; that He will take good care of it, remembering all items in perfect succession and using His divine pen to cross them out according to His plans. He has them in His mind and that's good enough. I don't have to do a thing.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Moment of Your Time To Save A Whole Lifetime of A Child

What if this picture was of your child?

Today marks the 1 year anniversary of the passing of Declan Carmical. If you don't know how the story of Declan touched my life, read last year's post here.

As I think about all that has happened in this past year, I realize that while life for us has moved on in a major way, life for Declan's family has not moved so much. They are still mourning. They are still suffering. They are still fighting his fight. One week shy of his first birthday Declan died of AT/RT cancer, one of the many types of pediatric cancers which still have no real understanding, as funds for research are minimal- the majority from the National Cancer Institute are reserved mostly for drugs and information on other cancers. While every type of cancer deserves attention and a voice, I fail to understand how pediatric cancer has more or less fallen to the wayside, neglected; lost in the darkness and tears in the hearts of each family who loses a child to it; stunted by the breast cancer awareness movement and others. Our future depends on our children. So why then do we fail to protect them from one of their most prominent enemies?

As I read many posts online today about Declan and his family, I remember how deeply I was struck with his story around this time last year. It affected me in such a way that for days after his passing, I was numb. I can't even imagine how his own mother felt; it's a grief of which I can only scratch the surface to understand. I know in my heart that all things work for good and that our lives have a purpose that far surpasses our understanding of it. I know this. And yet, as I am numbed again by the memory of Declan's suffering and death, the comfort from this fact is shadowed by pain, a pain I imagine is slighted greatly by that of Declan's family. There is no point to trying to understand why pediatric cancer exists; that question is reserved with the many others that are unable to be answered until we get to heaven. But it's possible to know - and we all deserve to know - why pediatric cancer research is not funded more, why there are so few advances in treatment, why our children aren't given more of a chance.

While life for us has moved on since this time last year, Declan's story and the fact that he is just one child of many who were failed by the NCI, has never left my mind. Three percent of NCI's funds goes toward pediatric cancer research. THREE percent. And that's for ALL types of pediatric cancer combined! The statistics for children developing pediatric cancer are astounding. It could be my child at any time. Or yours. It could be our children's children. Something has to be done. We need to wake up to these facts! We need to do more.

One small step you can take in helping this cause is to vote for Journey 4 A Cure in the Vivint Gives Back Project. Every day you can vote to help J4AC win money to fund actual research for pediatric cancer. It only takes 30 seconds or less, but it may just give another child 30 more years (or more!) on earth. Please vote! Our children deserve it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Pie Chart for My Anxiety!

These moments are both painstaking and vicious.

My brain approaches cautiously but then ceases to understand or comprehend that there are actually moments beyond this one, so I am locked in a tunnel, swirling around in the vacuum of thoughts and feelings I have created within myself.

These moments are full of silent screams that echo through me and come out in a myriad of ways: short temper with my kids, lack of energy to do chores, angry tears. These moments define my life lately and I'm at a loss to even begin to understand how I can creep away from them with my sanity and my soul intact.

The children are only a small percentage of the equation. The hardships a mother endures as she is raising her children are justifiable and really, they are the norm. She faces the unmistakable conviction of wanting to do the absolute best she can to raise them to be servants of the Lord and takes it hard when she feels she is failing. Nothing is easy. Never in a million years did I think raising children would be. I remember what I was like as a child. I remember my 6 brothers and sisters, too. But I don't think I ever thought that it would be this hard. My mother is a freakin' saint.

If I could do a pie chart to represent all the things that make up my anxiety, that little sliver you see on similar charts representing the nominal cut would probably be that of my children. Really. Because while yes, they do create a sort of chaos to my life and it is definitely difficult to raise four children under the age of seven, there is just so much more that my anxiety is made up of. Often, my kids are my solace. Like this afternoon when I was trying to find Sophia (who just turned two) to put a diaper on her before nap. I wandered through the house looking for her because she disappeared off my bed in the time it took me to get a diaper from the next room... I found her hiding in my closet. I opened the door and with a delighted grin and a mischievious giggle, she declared, "I wos juiced hidin', Mawmy!" Times like these are what keep that percentage low.

The general subject of "children" really is only about 10% of my pie chart. So what makes up the rest you ask?

It's me.

Yup, that's right. My big fat rump sits covering the rest of the pie chart. I just can't seem to get out of the way. Part of it goes into the piece where I allow the reality of my small house to paralyze me when the four children - who are just being children - are running through it, and are under my feet, and are screaming and fighting over toys. I'd say that makes up about 40% of my anxiety. It's not them, it's my way of dealing with it. That gives me anxiety; the fact that I can't deal with it lately.

The next piece is also a rather sizable piece. It's the business piece. Our landscaping business is doing great. I know we're on the path God wants us to be on. But there's so much about running a business and there's so much that is put on my shoulders on top of everything else from our personal life. And this year, coming to the end of our third season, we are desperate to move on and start next season in a different place. Not just physically - like where we're located - but in general. Our plans for the next phase of our business include so much. Like having help. Like planting a tree and perennial farm. Like Joe being more involved with his customers and not having to do the maintenance end of things. This part is probably 35% at least. Because again, I don't know how to deal with it properly.

The next piece makes up the final 15% of the chart. It's my marriage and all the baggage that came with my husband. Of course, I have baggage too but we're not talking about me now are we? Oh wait.. Uhhh... Maybe we are? It's not really my marriage and my husband; it's me. It's how I handle things. The crazy cycle that my thoughts go through. My inability to trust. To cope. To heal. To love. I'm whacked sometimes. I have baggage. Really.

Soooo....Is my anxiety a direct result of my self-induction of it? Does that even make sense? I stress about not doing things perfectly and not having things the perfect way. And I squeeze myself into this tunnel and I create the vacuum and I lose myself in my thoughts. Is it easy here? No. Is it easier than out there?? No, not really. So why do I do it? I have no freakin' clue!

I pray about this all the time. What is wrong with me? Why can't I just let it go and give it to God and have peace about it? Is He trying to offer me peace? Maybe not yet. Maybe I need to just sit here in this uncomfortable place until I'm ready to take it. Maybe I just need to allow the viciousness of the moments pass so I can draw in the gentle nature my Heavenly Father has with healing me.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Win a FREE Book!

My friend Judy from BenMakesTen and Homeschool Faith And Family Life has a give-away on her site for Suzie Andre's book, "A Little Way of Homeschooling." This book is an account of 13 different families who felt called to homeschool which eventually led them down the path to "unschooling."

The contest ends at noon on August 21, 2011, and Judy's tenth and youngest child, Ben, will draw THREE lucky winners' names from a jar!

Enter here for a chance to win!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Family Vacation

We just got back this week from a 6-day vacation in East Tawas, Michigan. I don't know about you but when a big family goes on vacation, especially if there are several little ones who are pretty dependent still, it's more stressful than it's worth. Most of the time. This time, it was different.

Thanks to my wonderful friend Colleen, we got to enjoy some really serious vacation time. Serious, meaning it was a REAL vacation where we actually got to relax.... not just a "get away from normal life" vacation. There weren't really too many stresses that got packed in our luggage to follow us to Michigan, as is usual when we take a trip to the beach. Of course, with 4 little children in a strange place, there is definitely some stress. But it was stress that could be soothed with sunshine, pool time, splashing in the lake, s'mores. It was doable stress, the kind that seems to melt away the second you look out over the calm waters of Lake Huron and watch the setting sun.

So, what did we do on our vacation?

We drove 11 hours to arrive in East Tawas around dinner-time. The ride was uneventful. The kids had DVD's to watch, art bins full of snacks, crayons, notebooks, a canteen, and stickers, and of course their all-important "Ishies" and pillow pets to snuggle with when they grew tired. The last two hours proved to be a little bit anxious for their tiny bodies to deal with but we made it without incident and with everyone in good spirits. Juliet (the dog) didn't even throw up once!

Coming into East Tawas, we could see the clear waters of Lake Huron stretching out to the right of us. Gorgeous! Lots of Evergreen trees dotted the backdrop and a slightly-cool northern breeze floated through the open car windows.

We checked into our cabin (which I have to say, I was unimpressed with and it was really too small for our 6-person family with a dog..definitely something we have to do differently next year.) Colleen came with her daughters to welcome us and bring us a basket of Michigan goodies - fudge, blueberry jam, banana nut muffins, a mug with packets of organic green tea tucked inside. Very thoughtful. But I hungered more for the sight of her and her girls, as we haven't seen them in half a year. The only one missing was her son who was visiting his grandpa. That evening, we met her mom and step-dad at the Dancing in the Streets event the town has every Tuesday, where the kids can dance to a live band, blow bubbles and draw on the street with chalk.

After that, the week began. On Wednesday, we swam in the pool at our cabin and then drove to Colleen's mom and step-dad's 30 acre property. There, we cooked out, fished, rode the four-wheeler, ate s'mores and visited with some of the most down-to-earth and loving people I've ever met. The kids put on skits, chased the chickens and stuffed their faces til dark.

The rest of the week was spent much in the same relaxing way. We visited a Lumberman's monument, where we walked 280 steps down to the water (and back up again, me carrying a 3 year old most of the way up!). We went to the lake a few times to splash and cook out. We headed back to Colleen's family's place to hang out again, where we drank homemade wine, canned pickles, ate, fished, shot at targets with Joe's gun, and chased the chickens some more. Colleen and I got to have lunch together on our own, walk around to the many little quaint shops, and catch up. We walked the dock and looked at the yachts and sailboats as the kids bonded, Aidan pledged his love to Emily with a smiley bouncy ball and a shy attempt at a marriage proposal, and Stephen and Joe bonded over fart apps on their phones. (Boys are so icky!)

We attended Mass on Sunday morning at Holy Family with Colleen and her kids and her mom and step-dad. It was a very beautiful church. We ended our last evening there with dinner and drinks with the 3 of us adults while Megan and Steven took care of the kids at Colleen's house. Somewhere in the midst of that night, a poopy diaper was changed by 3 kids wearing rubber dish gloves!

We had a lovely time and already miss our friends! Can't wait to go back next year! God has blessed us with amazing opportunities to enjoy His creation and share special times with special friends.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


What's at the heart of discontentment? Is it ungratefulness? Is it selfishness? Is it conceit or pride?

To be honest, I really have no clue. Right now I'm just a tired mama in the middle of the very slender neck of a bottle, squeezing my way through ever so slowly, being squished and disfigured as I try breathlessly to make it out of this particular spot.

I need air. I need to breathe. And yet, I can't.

I can't stand where I am right now but I'm not exactly sure why. Is it because I feel like I am suffocating? Or maybe it's because I can't move or do anything I want to do; the discomfort I feel gives birth to negative feelings for my surroundings and the season of life I am currently in. Whatever it is, it's making me tired and I feel the depression and anxiety creeping in again.

I'm just going to lay it all out right here because I don't really talk to anyone about it and it's begging to be let out. So here it is..

There is this old farmhouse about ten minutes from here. It sits on 12 1/2 gorgeous acres. It has a pool. It has an orchard and a pond. It has 4 bedrooms and lots more space. It has huge potential for not only our family life but our business as well. And it sits not only ten minutes from here but just out of my reach as it is over half a million dollars. OK, so that's waaay out of my reach. But, if this house were sitting quietly in the picturesque country hills outside of my hometown, it would be well over a million dollars. Little comfort, ya know?

So there is that house and here I am, in my cute little home that is 3 bedrooms and little room for a family of - currently - 6 people. It sits on 3/4 of an acre on a semi-busy road just off Route 15. Everywhere I go in my house, I can hear all the noise from the rumbling and stomping, screeching and squealing of my 4 boisterous children. Every. Where. I. Go. My bedroom is three steps in either direction from the kids' rooms and has a three inch gap at the bottom of the door. Three inches of space at the bottom of our bedroom door. Three steps away from little ears. You see where I'm going with this?

Don't get me wrong, I love my home... at least I did. Right now I have a small affection for it like a starving person might have an affection for moldy bread from a dumpster. I need this house. I am grateful we have it. I know there are many much larger families who have lived in less. I know this. I try to remind myself of it, even through the loud laughter and fighting that goes on in the middle of the day which incidentally almost always wakes up my two year old an hour and half before she should be woken up from nap. This house was an amazing blessing for us when we moved. We had two children and it seemed like a lot of space. But now we have four and a business and a dog. And I am tired.

I know God has a plan for us. Sometimes I have nightmares that it's going to include this house and rocking chairs and gray hair growing out of my head. Sometimes. But I'm pretty sure most of our desires for our family and business life are part of His plan, so I know that those nightmares won't come true. I guess it's just the waiting. I am working on the being content thing. I'm working feverishly, believe me. I just go in these spurts and I feel like it's probably just the devil messing with me. I mean, isn't that what he's really good of the things, anyway? He magnifies our desires so they take over our life and shut out everything else that is important. My desires of a bigger home and the growth of our business and possibly our family are probably just as bad as any desire he likes to toy with people's minds over. Right? At least they are when they take over my days the way they have been, rendering me useless and completely unable to do anything but the bare minimum.

This past week has been really bad and I have been feeling like a trip to confession on Saturday is probably a good idea. Pray for me, that I can allow God's grace to dissolve my feelings of discontent, be even more thankful for His gifts and blessings, place my trust in Him, and wait patiently on the Lord for His plans to come to fruition.

"Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." ~1 Thessalonians 5:18

Thursday, July 7, 2011

In Light Of......

.......the current events... i.e. Casey Anthony and the murder of her daughter Caylee....I just had to say something.

There's a lot going around cyber world and in the "public square" about how Casey Anthony is guilty and she must pay. We have to have justice for Caylee, right?


We don't have to have anything.

Believe me, as a mother of 4 small children, I'm just as angry that a little girl's life was snuffed out probably by her mentally ill mother. I'm angry that if Casey is guilty, the jurors couldn't figure that out; that they didn't feel they had enough evidence. I even start down that road of cynicism toward God and want to ask Him why? But it doesn't matter why and I will never get the answer I think I want anyway. I'll get the truth, something I already know. Because He is God and the small smudge we live in is just a tiny part of a much bigger picture which He is painting of His world.

I'm more upset over the fact that the anger of a lot of people is being spewed outward into society over this case and is causing the anxious stirring that it has. It's like a virus, passing along from one person to the next, breeding even more anger and hatred for this woman and for the judicial system, which we all already know has its flaws. Some of us know this better than others, sadly.

But you see, it's not up to me - or you - to take our feelings and go out with guns blazing and shouting like mad people into the world, across Facebook and blogs and- if you're lucky enough to get your 15 minutes of fame- on T.V.

Why not?

Because this world means absolutely nothing compared to our eternal home. We are here for a far greater purpose than to sit and stir our pots of anger, hatred, misfortune, jealousy, etc. We are here to serve. In my experience, the best possible way to serve is to pray for other people. People like Casey Anthony. I know it's hard not to act on our angry impulses in the way we naturally feel led to. I have failed miserably at keeping mine in check at times in my life. But the more I seek to serve others, which ultimately means serving God, the easier it is for me to work on that aspect of my human nature, to allow the Holy Spirit to consume me and calm the emotional charge I feel inside whenever I hear anything that makes my heart ache. And then I can turn it into a positive action.

What does talking about it in this hateful manner do anyway? Does it bring Caylee back? Does it give Casey a different sentence? The answer to both of those questions is NO! All it does is breed contempt, hatred, violence - all the things that drive someone to do something so despicable anyway. The ones who act this way only serve their own purpose - self satisfaction - and the end result is a furthering of the downward spiral we are in as a society.

We have to move on from this. We have to let go of our feelings and just give them to God. We have to have faith that God sees the entire picture He has painted and that it fulfills a greater purpose. Life is not ours; it belongs to Him. I am convicted of this every time I look into the innocent blue eyes of my oldest child, a life which was created to fulfill His plans at a time when I could only see mine. It was for His purposes. Not mine. Not my husband's. His. Same with my other three- little lives entrusted to us by their Creator; lives which ultimately don't belong to us at all. He could take them all tomorrow and there's nothing I can do about it. And I just have to trust in Him that it was part of His bigger plan which is made out of love.

How hard is it to look at what we deem a monster and say I love you? Very hard, no doubt. Very hard but possible. God calls us to love. He calls us to hate sin but He does not call us to hate the sinner. Very hard as well. Love Casey Anthony. Pray for her soul. She will get whatever sentence the Ultimate Judge sees fit to give her, and little Caylee might not have justice in this world but it doesn't really matter now that she lives in eternal happiness in the next. She's not looking down on her mother wondering why. She knows why because she's happily bouncing on her Father's knee as He shares all of the secrets of the world with her, including why she died. She is probably in heaven praying for her mother's soul, just like we should be here on earth.

I pray for everyone, including myself, who have felt bitter anger over this situation, and any other situation in their lives. I pray that the peace of the Holy Spirit will settle in our hearts and help us to turn our negative feelings into positive action, to change our own lives and that of at least one other person.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

On Writing

The past few days have been very odd for me. I have had trouble sleeping for like three weeks now and my brain has been very fuzzy, but all of the sudden- even though I had horrible trouble getting out of bed- on Tuesday morning I grabbed my laptop and started a story. A fiction story. I wrote all day. Somehow, I'm not exactly sure, the kids were pretty compliant with my neglecting them. I mean, I didn't neglect them completely. I fed them, made sure they were clean and dressed and all of that. I took a few breaks to interact with them minimally- "Yes, you can watch a movie." "No, you can't go outside right now; it's too hot." But that was it. No chasing after them through the house, no reading any stories. At least the first day. I wrote 5,000 words by the end of day one. As I read them to my husband in bed that night, he asked, "and then what happens?"

Ahhh, the perfect words that every writer wants to hear. "What happens next?" I was elated. He seemed excited to hear what would take place in the coming pages and not only that, but he didn't seem bored while listening. And, no offense to him, but he's not exactly the type who would know that's what I want/need to hear so I took that as a good sign.

The next morning- yesterday- I woke up again with the need to write. So I continued writing. Another day sort of neglecting my mommy duties. But I did manage to get some laundry done at some point and straighten up the house, not to mention move furniture around in the living room. I think I called it quits for a little while around 4 to do so. I did read some stories to the kids somewhere in there but really, the whole day is much of a blur as I immersed myself in the fiction story I am writing. Fiction. Me. Writing fiction.

I'm sorry, I just have to laugh at myself for a second. It's really not like me to write fiction. The last time I wrote fiction was when I was like 8. I used to write cute/stupid stories about horses and all kinds of fun things. But somehow I got away from that...I think in my teen years, when I became that melancholy person who filled journal after journal with my sad poetry and suicidal thoughts, something clicked over to reality and I was unable to write anything that might inspire a smile or laugh from anyone, including myself.

So here I am, writing fiction. I have no idea if it's good. I'm pretty hard on myself so I'll just take the plunge here and say it's probably garbage. But at least hubby likes it.

Today I haven't written yet. I powered down my laptop last night around 11 with 18,347 words staring at me from the screen. I can't believe it really, but again it could all just be garbage. The thing is, I feel so differently than I have in a very long time. Like it was all just sitting there waiting to come out. And whether it's good or bad, it doesn't really matter much to me because I just needed to get it out. It makes me feel like I have been neglecting a certain aspect of my personality for too long- my creative side. I write on this blog sometimes and I had been working on a nonfiction piece for awhile but those aren't the same as this.

The only similarity is that I do just kind of spill it out, my hands flying over the keyboard without my thinking too terribly much. The little child inside every writer- which Anne Lamott writes about in Bird by Bird- is hard at work in there. She's handing me things I don't even have time to look at before they're already on the page. Pretty soon I'm staring at 18,000 words of hopefulness. Hopefulness because I have no idea what these words mean for me. They could sit in my laptop for a hundred years and never grace the shelves of the literary world in the form of a published book. I could peck at them for the next 10 years, twisting them and erasing much and shaping what's left into what I think sounds best, the way I did with my nonfiction work. But whatever happens, it matters not because I'm writing. And writing does something to me I've never been able to really understand. It's who I am and I guess in a way I finally feel secure in it.