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, April 29, 2011

The Stuff Memories Are Made Of

Giggles at 5 AM.

There's a storm screaming outside; torrential rain, rolling thunder - the works. And two littles are hunkered down in our bed, having wandered in still half-asleep after a particularly loud crack of thunder.

A small flashlight illuminates the darkness and the kids shift and wiggle, commenting nervously about the storm- the thunder and lightening being just a little too dramatic and difficult for their young little minds to not run crazy with. I draw them close and assure them it's just God up there doing His thing. I tell them He's bowling (thunder) and that his candles (lightening) are flickering in the wind as He, like us, has no electrical power right now. They seem to like this explanation (5 AM is just too early for a science lesson), and accept it more as they relax and settle deeper in the covers...and then they start to crack jokes.

Aware that I'm probably not going back to sleep anytime soon, and wanting to see how these moments play out, I let them giggle and wiggle and banter back and forth. I shush them a little but only playfully. I'm having too much fun. Aidan often doesn't hear things right so when I say something to the affect of "lay down and get some sleep," he replies in old-lady fashion "heh? you want me to sweep?" or something equally nonsensical. This of course makes us all laugh and in typical little-kid fashion, a game ensues of rhyming silly words with anything anyone says thereafter. Joe is in and out of broken sleep but I am awake, cherishing every moment with my two older kids. The two younger ones are asleep in their beds, no doubt completely ignorant of the storm outside and the comedy club in the next room.

Aidan holds a flashlight for his sister as she makes her way to the bathroom. He leans over his snoring daddy to shine it toward the bathroom across the hall, instead of walking with her as she begged him to do. A little brother's love sometimes only goes so far, especially at 5 in the morning.

This reminds me of the times when I was young and we had overnight storms. No matter what fights took place earlier, we'd all ban together to accompany each other to the bathroom, hold a flashlight for each other while getting some water or a snack, or just snuggling under the blankets as we tried to pretend we weren't really scared of the storm. My favorite memory from these times is having a big "camp out" in the tiny hallway that connected our bedrooms. Not quite sure how 7 of us fit in that space with our blankets and pillows and the all-important stuffed animals. But somehow, we managed. Close to the bathroom and our parents' room, we hunkered down in the dark hallway, sharing giggles, worries, blankets and hugs; comforted more by our warm bodies and closeness than the single flashlight we shared between us. Of course, mom was usually part of the equation at some point.

Comforting words are shared between the two in my bed when nervousness ensues after a loud explosion of thunder and lightening. Hiding under the blanket making sure all body parts are covered. Quietly acknowledging we're in this together. This is the stuff that memories are made of. Nights like tonight remind me to take each moment with my children and help them to create lasting snapshots of childhood which they can pull out when they're older and comfort themselves with in the midst of even the craziest and difficult storms of their life.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Big No Thank You To Being PC

When did being "PC" become more important than morality?

I'm just wondering. Because last I checked, God hasn't changed at all even though the world has. Of course, we could all use a little brushing up on 'speaking the truth in love,' but I have to remain solid on my belief that just because you know that what someone else is doing is wrong, doesn't mean you are automatically judging them/being insensitive/arguing..etc..etc.. and that you have to keep your mouth shut. As a society we have fallen deeply into this HUGE lie which Satan has whispered into our hearts and minds called political correctness. Make no mistake; I'm not saying we should all go around bashing each other for what we do and say or how we act and live. I definitely don't agree with hostile protests and attacks supposed "Christians" partake in against their "heathen" peers, belittling or angrily scoffing at them . There is a very important verse about taking the plank out of our own eyes before trying to remove the splinter in someone else's, referenced several times in the Bible. It's valid and definitely worth a ton of consideration and prayer.

However, there is also another verse, in Ephesians (a), which states "Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another." This means that we are called to tell the truth to each other to keep the unity which God intends. Speaking that truth does not mean saying "to each his own." It does not mean saying "well the law says it's OK." And it certainly does not mean swallowing our words and turning a blind eye in the name of being politically correct. One of the things that is completely wrong with being so PC is that it focuses on the me in everything. It is a selfish outlook. More and more, people are forgetting that their actions don't just affect themselves. They affect the nation; society as a whole is hurt by the wicked actions of one man. Even if it's not directly, that little tear in one man's life can vein out and destroy so many others. A great example, which I hesitate to use only for the reason that this woman has since become a Christian and regrets her actions of early life, is the woman whose case Roe vs. Wade became the irrevocable turning point in history when our culture became a culture of death. (Icing on that cake, by the way, is that she never even had the abortion she fought so hard to gain the right to have.)

Another even more pertinent verse is written in the wise counsel of Proverbs (b). "He who says to the wicked man, 'You are just'-men will curse him, people will denounce him; But those who convict the evildoer will fare well, and on them will come the blessing of prosperity." God is telling us that if we hold accountable those who do wrong, those who go against the laws which He has set for us, we are in the right. We will be blessed by Him because we are speaking out in His name. This isn't passing judgment; that is God's place. If we do it right- speaking the truth in love- we are fulfilling that calling. God set His laws up so that we are unified in our actions and in our journey to Him. If there are ten Christian woman in a group and one is thinking of having an abortion (yes, there are "Christians" who actually believe it's OK!!!), the other nine are called to speak the truth in love and steer her away from that decision; NOT say "well it's none of my business and to each her own." Regardless of what each woman thinks, from the very day the one woman puts her decision to action, there will be a great divide among them. God's plan is not for us to be divided but to be united in Him, in Christ His son whom He sacrificed for us in order for us to be able to live with Him in paradise. To ignore this type of parasite or to take part in it yourself would be to basically spit in His face, spit on the cross to which Jesus was nailed and tell Him it's not good enough.

Abortion is just one of many things we are being forced to be politically correct about. Preachers can't even preach publicly anymore about the sinfulness of homosexuality without fear of being arrested or worse. Once again, this is NOT passing judgment for him to do this, it is reiterating the Word of God to His people, encouraging each other to not accept this ticket to hell-in-a-hand-basket which we all seem so eager to take in the name of political correctness. There are even some denominations which say it's OK to be homosexual. God loves every single one of His children the same; He does not hate any of them. He does, however, hate their actions which defy His laws and create a divide not only among His people but between Him and the offender. Think about it in terms of your own children. You can never actually hate your child for eating a piece of candy before dinner after you've explicitly told him not to. But you can hate his actions and you will punish him for them. This doesn't mean you love him any less and in fact, it means you do love him a lot- your discipline for his defying your rules is a measure of that love. It's the same thing which God does with any of the sins which cause us to be separated from Him. There are consequences to the actions we take that go against the laws He has set for us out of His own love for us. There are many more we are told to be PC about but those are just two I wanted to mention.

We also can't be too caught up in how others react to what we say. If we make sure our intent is love and we are acting out that love through our words, if the other person takes it the wrong way or gets defensive, that is on them not us. I have had this issue with a very important person in my life and everything is taken as judgment when that's not my intent. There are many factors which play a role in this person's automatic defensiveness but I have to believe that one of them is probably that in their heart, they know that I am speaking the truth. It's a natural reaction sometimes, especially if you are quite sensitive and conditioned to be defensive, to react in that way when you feel bad for your actions. It's a crazy cycle but one we have to break, for ourselves and each other. The natural defensiveness we often feel in these situations is because we know somewhere deep down that what the other person says is true and it makes us feel bad. People who have not given their soul to Satan, which I venture to say is most people, have a deep longing within to be good, to follow God's laws and love and serve Him, even if they're unaware of that longing. If we break His rules, we naturally feel bad but if it's brought to our attention, pride can often stand in our way of being able to recognize the truth, and instead we react defensively.

This push to be politically correct within our society feeds that pride. It feeds the arrogance which backs the "to each his own" argument. Being sensitive to- and respectful of- other people's beliefs is completely different than saying "your sinful actions are just." Whenever I hear those prideful declarations, I want to not only take the plank out of my own eye but beat that person with it until they understand! OK, not really, I'm just joking...but I think it's one of my biggest pet peeves. You know why? Because it sort of declares that that person is copping out. They don't want to go against the PC rule; they don't want to go against the crowd. They want to hide behind their fear of getting involved. They're kinda like Pontius Pilate in a way. He washed his hands of Jesus' destiny. He left it to the crowd - a crowd which all joined together and sneered at Jesus, screaming to crucify Him. He copped out because he didn't want to stand up for Him. But you know what? Jesus still asked His father to forgive these people. He loved them that much. Not only that but the search for divine Truth is not supposed to end when we are made to feel uncomfortable with what we currently believe. Political correctness stunts and stalls that search; it turns it around to the search for self, a search which only leads to spiritual death.

This life is not about being politically correct. It's about living for eternal life with our Father, storing up our treasures for Heaven. I'd rather live now going against the grain of political correctness, then be dead after this life because I refused to follow the rules which are set in love for us by our Heavenly Father. It's His love which we must proclaim with each other through our journey, a love that sets those rules for us to follow precisely so that we can reach the promised land which, if you think about it, is not politically correct at all.


(a)Ephesians 4:25 (NIV)
(b)Proverbs 24:24-25 (NIV)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Presence of God

I am really convicted of the importance of teaching my children from a young age about the presence of God. "He's everywhere," I tell them "in all things..." "He's in the trees?" Aidan asks in awe as he peers out the window at the pine trees bending and swaying in the breeze. "And the flowers?" chimes a hopeful and delighted Angelina who just loves all flowers. "Yes, everything. He's in everything that He has made and He is with you all the time. Even when Daddy and Mommy aren't with you, He's there. When you're all alone in your room, He's there." Angelina stares at me as if she's trying to decide whether she actually believes me. I want so badly for my children to believe me, especially her.

In the new routine I've gotten into during the day I have found my times in prayer have so much more depth to them than prayer time used to. Especially when I go through my list of others' needs. In these moments I am drawn to an emotional aspect of my connection with my heavenly Father. It often makes me cry, hearing the words I say- things I already know in my heart like how much He loves His children and how merciful He is. It just somehow seems to dig a little deeper into my heart, hearing these things said out loud in own my voice to a quiet empty room where I know He is with me.

I recently had a conversation with someone about moments in which our faith just sort of overwhelms us. Like at Mass or after confession or in quiet moments spent in prayer and reflection during the day. Thinking about it over the past few weeks when I've really had such a special time in my specific moments of prayer, I have realized that these times of being overwhelmed are not just being overwhelmed by my faith which has carried me and brought me such strength in my journey, but by God Himself. His presence is even more tangible in these moments and it only makes sense to be overwhelmed by Him because He is almighty, ever-living, omnipresent, sovereign and just. He's loving and forgiving and merciful. He is not bound by time nor space nor circumstance; and He's definitely not bound by any box we try to put Him in. He works mysteriously but for the good of our souls, our relationship with Him, His purpose for our life. How can one not be overwhelmed by all that when you're sitting in the presence of His Holy Spirit, praising Him and relinquishing control of your life to Him?

So how do you explain this to a 5 or 6 year old? How do you tell them of the power, wonder and beauty that is our heavenly Father and that He's not just in the trees and flowers but in each of them? How do you explain the connection that can occur when you're spending time with Him, thanking and praising Him and petitioning for the needs of others and your own?

I'm pretty sure it's inherent in all of us- even if we aren't aware of it- to long for Him; to know these truths already somewhere within our souls, to desire to spend time with Him and drink in His perfect and overwhelming love. Unlocking that longing and knowledge is the first step in teaching our children about Him.. Finding ways to relate everything back to God and His son, Jesus and the Holy Spirit which fills us with His love is the best route to take with the young ones. Starting out with the trees and flowers and empty rooms where He is with us speaks to the child-like innocence and wonder of any one's heart. Our children are blank slates and the position we have to teach them about the love of God and His will for our life is a very powerful one. It's not just about helping them to believe us; it's about helping them to believe Him; to let their faith take them to places of being overwhelmed by His presence and basking in the knowledge that He is indeed with us in all things, everywhere.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Affliction

Affliction - noun
(uh-flick-shuh n)

1. a state of great suffering of body or mind
2. deep sadness especially for the loss of someone or something loved
2.

There are many synonyms for affliction; struggle can be one, or cross, hurt and anguish. We often find it hard to recognize that affliction is a good thing and if used correctly, holds the secret to a very important aspect of our lives as Children of God.

One of my favorite passages in the bible is Romans 5:3-5. The domino effect of affliction is cast in a positive light, its course streaming along through the darkness to reach the flip side: hope. Along the way to hope we meet endurance and proven character and all three of these- the offspring of affliction- lead us to the realization that God loves us. But how does one get from point A to point B; or rather, from affliction to knowing God's love? Do we just read this passage in Romans and we are then suddenly transferred there by way of a teleport machine? God, I wish it were that easy.

My siblings and I always joke about having a teleport machine. When we're on the phone and talking about a yummy food (as we often are), one of us will say "did you get that teleport machine fixed yet, send that stuff over?!" Or if we wish we could be there to help, hold or hang out with one another, it might be "darn it, how come no one has invented a teleport machine yet??" Small potatoes, I know, compared to moving from affliction to hope. The wait for that yummy morsel of food or a visit with family is probably a lot easier and less treacherous than the path of affliction. There is a reason why teleport machines haven't been invented. And there is a reason why affliction takes the path that it does in order to reach that glorious hope at the end.

Right now, I'm facing great affliction. There is a lot of stuff going on but one main thing that is at the forefront of my mind is, not so surprisingly, something having to do with a family member. I am in agony as I try to figure out exactly what I did wrong. It's like playing a guessing game with a mute. This family member whom I love so dearly isn't speaking to me or my husband; our kids have been in recent situations to clue them- or at least my older daughter- in to the fact that something is not quite right. And honestly, I want to throw a bubble around them and not let them experience any of this ridiculousness and unnecessary hurt because it has nothing to do with them. But, like all things related to sin, there is always damage, maybe a few casualties, and sometimes there is a whole lot of loss of innocence as the real world comes a little too close for comfort and we have no choice but to explain it.

In talking to a very wise person recently about the situation and what to do; I was told to just let it be and continue to pray for this family member. I was also told by someone else that this situation the kids are experiencing isn't going to be that difficult for them and they'll bounce back and move on. I keep trying to restrain my Mama Bear instincts to protect them from any hurt - big or small - because I know that some things are better left alone. They will go through this affliction with us and will realize the truth on their own and it will disappoint them and it might hurt them a little but they will move on to their "new norm," get used to things as they are and if we do this right, we'll teach them to just pray for this person as we have been because that's the only way we can love her right now.

But then there's me. I'm sensitive. I love so much it hurts. I don't want anyone mad at me. If someone is mad at me, I want to know why. I let things bother me much more than is healthy sometimes. I mean, I have my own life to live. I have a family; 4 babies to take care of, a husband to love, a business to run, a writing career to sort out (?)... I don't have the time to be spending on thinking deeply about this, wondering what I can do to fix it (nothing), what I did wrong (again, nothing). Worrying. Crying. Hurting. Afflicted. The wise advice I was given also assured me that the problem is not me and that I have to recognize that because I've done all I can do, including apologize (for something I didn't do), and pray. Apologize and pray. Does that produce endurance or proven character? Or is it both? Where is my hope? When can I see that last part?

I try not to be angry. I go in spurts with that. But for the most part, I am just incredibly sad and hurt. I'm sad to see this codependent behavior take over someone who at one point wanted nothing more than to be the exact opposite of a codependent. I'm sad to realize that everything I've been told by this person over the years has been a big fat lie. I'm sad to know that everything I've ever done in love was taken the wrong way, twisted and spit back in my face long after; rejected after the fact because this person thought it was judgment or an attempt to control. I'm sad to realize this person has never known who I am.

It seems that everything I know about this person's issues with me/us, and the things I can pretty much guess at, aren't even really true and there isn't a just cause for her anger. I can sit and analyze all I want but the truth of the matter is that it doesn't matter. It doesn't even matter if I try to set the record straight, as I tried once with one of the issues I knew she had. It didn't matter and it won't still if I continue to try. I was thinking about this the other day as we approached Passion Sunday. Jesus' very crucifixion was based on things people thought about Him that weren't exactly true; some of it was probably based on jealousy, some probably on blindness and pride. Yet He didn't bother to set the record straight or analyze anything. He had a purpose. He knew His purpose and that it needed to be fulfilled. So He let them hurt Him. He let them cause affliction to His body. He let them do it because He knew it would produce hope. He died to bring about that hope.

Of course, my affliction is far less than Christ's and yet, we are connected just the same in the fact that every affliction, no matter how great or how small, takes the same course if we let it. Endurance. Proven Character. Hope. So, I'm running this race that is set before me, dying to myself so that I can love this person and reach that hope at the end, basking in the love of God. I'm crying out to the Lord for strength and even thanksgiving for this affliction. Because I know that it IS producing endurance, proven character, and hope. Not necessarily hope that things will work out with us because maybe they won't. Given that this is Holy Week and I am acutely aware of the meaning and purpose of our Lord's Passion, I cling to Him even more. I hope in Christ, who died for us while we were still sinners, proving God's love for us through His affliction.


"......knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us." ~Romans 5:3-5 NAB

Definition of Affliction produced by Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online, Pronunciation by Dictionary.com.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Making Amends

Something exciting has been transpiring over the past few months. In December, we invited Joe's step mom up for a visit after over two years of no contact with her. What happened to warrant a disconnection from her is a big long story in and of itself, which I have often alluded to on this blog. We basically were hurt repeatedly by negative attitudes, unwarranted judgment, and hurtful words and actions, and we found the only answer we had at the time was to stop talking to her indefinitely. We were at fault in ways but we didn't know how else to deal with the situation because we couldn't see clearly in the midst of the chaos. We were failing in our marriage and to add the stress of figuring out how to deal with any outside force was no match for that. It was a tough decision, one we felt we had to make for the sake of our marriage but not one we'd ever want to repeat.

During that time, as we prayed for healing and understanding, we came to a place of taking a leap of faith and really placing the situation in God's hands. It's been an arduous journey. There was a huge part of the past two years that we knew we should try to make amends but were too afraid of being hurt again. It came down to a lot of debating, a little coaxing and some time of letting go of those fears in order for my husband to agree to try.

The visit in December went really well. I know we all felt a little nervous but it seemed like things worked in such a way that the kids felt comfortable, we felt comfortable and it all seemed to flow nicely. After that, his step mom and I started to rebuild our relationship by talking through email, though it seemed my husband was still a little hesitant of things moving forward and has yet to talk much to her. There was so much that had happened and a lot of hurt in the past but being as I am a little further ahead in my faith when there are difficulties in our lives, I pressed on, determined to make it work this time.

The Lord has worked slowly but surely in this process and our path in this journey seems right. It probably will be some time before all those fears are completely gone and trust is restored 100% but I feel confident in His purposes for our relationship with her. It has me thinking about the every day small miracles that can occur. In the beginning of the two years, we were pretty sure we would never see or talk to her again. Not necessarily because we wanted that, but because we thought things were irreparable. In that time of adjusting and brokenness, we weren't really considering what God might want for us in this situation. Our hearts were fearful of doing anything but cutting ties indefinitely and moving on with our lives, putting all our focus on our marriage and family life.

One important thing I did, even as we cut ties with her, was apologize for any behavior I contributed to us getting where we ended up with her. I meant it, too. I couldn't believe things had deteriorated that much to bring us to that place of disconnection. It really broke my heart. I have always felt it is very important to apologize when I know I've hurt someone or not acted as I should. A heart-felt apology shows the other person your love, it helps place a foundation for change and amends, and it aids in the cleansing of your soul. Another thing I did was to eventually forgive her for the hurt she caused. It's difficult to do this when you don't get an apology but it's important nonetheless. It frees you to heal and move on; it gives the other person grace, it brings you an amazing peace and a strong connection to the Heavenly Father Who is the Ultimate Forgiver. He forgives us even when we haven't yet said we're sorry. He bestows grace upon us when we finally confess our sins to Him, cleansing our souls of our transgressions.

Even though our hearts began to soften to the situation a few months after our decision was made to disconnect from her, it still took a little time. When the dark clouds had moved out and we could see clearly again and breathe like we hadn't before, we knew that things could not continue this way. For the remainder of the time, it was in the back of our minds working its way slowly to the forefront. God used that time to heal our hurt (mine especially), to work in my heart and to remind me to pray. I didn't always but I tried to remember as often as I could to pray for my mother-in-law and for the situation. He also used it to strengthen our relationship as we made great and sometimes painful efforts to get it to a place where nothing could affect it so negatively again. The outcome is a huge testament to God's work and His plans for our lives. If we have willing hearts and a conviction to do what's right, serving Him by loving others who might be a little difficult to love, He will bless us. I see that time of struggle and prayer as a definite blessing as I look back on it now. This time of rebuilding our relationship is also a blessing, and I hope for the blessing of a close bond with her sometime in the future.

Amends isn't just about saying you're sorry. It's about making things right. It doesn't always include hashing out details of the situation, but that is often a huge part of it. For us, it didn't seem to need to be though at some point in our journey there might be things that need to be resolved; questions we have or feelings we need to get out. But the journey we are on is so far a good one. I see so much that has changed in her as well; God had also been working on her in that time and the changes He has made in both of us has allowed for the path to not be as difficult as I had thought it would be.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

From On Top of My SoapBox: A Challenge To All Mothers

I decided today I'm going to be on my soapbox. Because I think that it's time and because I think it is needed. I see too many mamas out there who don't do very much, if any, of what I'm going to write about, and it saddens and angers me all at the same time. BUT I stand on my soapbox today with gentleness and good-nature. My soapbox is not really a means to be annoyingly overbearing on what I think, but just a step up because I'm kinda short and want to make sure you can see me!

Today from my soapbox I am giving you all a challenge. This challenge is directed at mothers, whether Christians or not, though the very nature of a mother was planted in us by the Hand of the loving God Who made us.

My challenge to you is this:

Love your children. Really love them. Seek every opportunity to look into their faces, searching their eyes for that connection which resides between every mother and child, and strengthen it. Search their hearts and seek out new and deeper ways to speak to those radiant hearts in Love. Teach them to be kind, to be gentle, to be patient by being these things yourself. Show them what true Love really is.

Discipline your children. In love, not anger. Don't be afraid to correct them when they are out of line. Teach them self-control, honor, and respect. Don't give in just because they cry a lot. Start early with this. It's never too soon but it can be too late before you know it.

Spend time with your children. Play with them. Don't make them feel like they are a burden just because they want your attention at the most inconvenient time. Mothering isn't about convenience. It's about sacrifice. It's one of the vocations in life which require you to go completely outside yourself for the good of someone else.

Hold on to your children. Hold their hands. Hold their hearts. Hold their whole bodies and snuggle on the couch. Don't be too quick to wish they'd just grow up. Relish every second you have with them. Not only because they grow up way too fast anyway, but because any single moment with them could very well be your last.

Finally, let your children change you. God gave each child a very specific personality and set of traits designed especially to teach us lessons and mold us into His image. How amazing is that?! Let your children change you, grow you, help you become the person God intended you to be. Don't write them off just because they are children; even though they might not be aware of it, He is using them as tools to chisel and shape you. Let them. Let Him.

Please don't think I'm giving you all this challenge without taking it to heart myself. I will be first to admit that I am sometimes a failure in some- if not all- of these areas. But more and more I am convicted of the fact that we are not promised another day, hour or even second on this earth (thank you to my sister Mary for reminding me yet again of this very important fact), and I need to use my time wisely. God gave me these children for a specific purpose; a mission was given to me the moment I was aware of their presence within my womb. I have to own that role, take on that mission and raise my children for His purposes. It's a scary and crazy and often bumpy ride but I would be a complete failure all the time if I didn't give the reigns to God, follow His lead and be the mother He calls me to be.


"If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much." ~Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis



(Image: "Motherhood" by Mary Cassatt)