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

Monday, December 31, 2012

Hope and Family in the New Year

I really can't believe the end of the year is upon us.  It is New Year's eve and I have been wondering where exactly this year has gone.  It feels like we were just ringing in 2012 but here we are, ready to usher it back out and welcome in 2013.

Some blessings from this year are:

The birth of our son, Jeremiah
The birth of our nephew, James
Angelina turning 8
Buying a minivan to accommodate our growing family
Helping my aunt say goodbye to the farm in Reading
Renovating an area of our house
A much-needed and free! weekend get-away before the baby came

There have been many more blessings and challenges this past year.  There have been many times I've felt like we were barely hanging on, our entire world dangling and fragile on the frayed threads of life.  I try to look at every challenge as a blessing; keeping the faith that God will keep us from letting go, from falling, from those spindly lines releasing us.  And He always does....mostly at the last minute (something I'd really like to take up with Him when I get to heaven!). But He does it in His perfect timing and our faith is strengthened and so is our resolve.

Through all the challenges and blessings, a topic that has been ruminating in my mind and heart this entire year is Family.  Attempts to draw closer to ours have been haphazard at times but I feel like this year a bigger effort was made more than ever.  Sometimes the effort was reciprocated, sometimes not.  I am not sure why but we felt really called to try to do as much as possible on our end and many moments were spent in despair, prayer and thanksgiving for all our efforts, meager, fulfilled or otherwise. It took me this entire year to realize that we can't do more than that. We can't do more than make an effort and pray that God will bless it.  In my times of despair I have forgotten this.  And I have forgotten that sometimes, though family will always be family, it's okay to let go a little and accept that things are the way they are.  "It is what it is" has got to be one of the most irritating mantras ever, but at the same time, it is so fitting for this topic, and something I've prayerfully come to as an answer many times.

Just this past week, I was blessed with a beautiful gift which gave me much hope for the future: eyes open to a part of our family I never really saw before.  Something I wasn't really aware of, something that was shown to me so that I could understand and have more compassion for family members I am often perplexed by.  Joe's mom and two of her three siblings came to our home to celebrate Christmas.  From what I understood, the desire to celebrate as a family was lacking on their end because of various difficulties they've had over the last year, including a distancing of their other sibling from them. But Joe offered to host a gathering here so that we could all be together, despite the difficulties of the past year. We hoped it would work out.

One thing I hadn't expected was the ease of the evening, the relaxed atmosphere, and the genuine care shared by all.  Emotions for some over certain topics were quite raw, but the love that was expressed was boundless.  The gift of seeing these people in their broken states, grasping at a better connection and understanding, sharing laughter and some tears and frustration, was probably the best gift I could've gotten this season.  It helped me to realize that sometimes, I cannot expect things to always be perfect. Sometimes it is what it is.  Sometimes, things are just left to Hope.

I have to admit that I had some reservations about doing anything major this year, including going anywhere but especially hosting anything, because I have been high in anxiety and low in depression for the past 6 months.  But the importance of family trumped my anxiety and reservations and I was pleasantly surprised when our get together turned out the way it did.  Joe's aunt and uncle came with food abounding, saving me from having to run around and cook and bake and do a ton of things- a welcome gift through the gravity of my anxiety.  'No worries' was their motto and as they slipped into action so easily to help as much as possible in that area, I smoothed myself into the folds of a more relaxed and calm aura about me.  It was so nice to be told that they would bring whatever I needed when we told them how difficult things had been for me emotionally and we weren't sure we were up to having anything after all. (Wine was definitely a high priority!) They delivered as they promised, and showed their love in so many ways- from bringing tons of food to shepherding children, helping clean up and spending time just being here; not in a rush to leave, not aware of the hour. 

It really spoke to me, as I was observing the dynamics of this family, their relationships and worries which they spoke of, the emotion behind their brokenness, etc, that they could still come together as much as possible and do for each other, for me, for us, despite all they felt and faced.  It's a theme I try to practice in my own life but often fail; it's a theme that speaks of Family.  For this is what families do.  They pick each other up, they give unconditionally, if they fight, they 'fight til it's done,' they move on.  The fierceness of their giving of love is as deep and hungry as their wanting of it.  Sometimes things aren't perfect. For a long time, I wondered why I just didn't get it, why I felt at odds, why my husband felt neglected.  But seeing them this Christmas, sharing thoughts and feelings - just BEING - changed that for me.  It gave me an understanding I hadn't had before; something I grasped at often, almost there but not quite.  This Christmas, I finally got it.

I was told more than once how warm our home was, how beautiful, how full of love.  Yet I think much of the warmth and love that night was because of the company.  There was joy amidst the occasional sorrow; there was laughter among the tears.  Whatever we do to create a warm, loving atmosphere in our home was illuminated by all of that, by the willingness to try.  And try we did.  It was just so easy.  We were all so relaxed; no expectations, no demands.  Even the "chaos" of the kids seemed easily navigated, and as the hours passed and the night got very late, their boisterous motoring about just became part of the symphony of the ever-closer dynamic.

Joe and I both felt it, felt the connection and love, the relaxing atmosphere, the warmth and closeness. I am so grateful for this gift as it was the perfect ending to such a trying year.  We have often been in despair from living as far as we do from all of our family, from not having the types of relationships we want with everyone, from being left out of things, from not being able to do enough for others.  Yet there was always a desire to try, to obtain understanding, to forgive, to accept and to just LOVE.

I don't know if everyone felt what I felt the other night when they were here. I don't know if they could ever understand how much I have loved them and do love them, how completely grateful I am that they are in my life. Though things are not always perfect, though there are bumps we often hit, misunderstandings to be sorted out, though we all will face hardships within our separate lives, there is always time for Family, there is always room for Love and Hope.  

As we begin another year, Joe and I wish to continue on in this state of mind: to let things be as they are, to accept more and worry less, to always have time for family no matter what.  And as the Christmas season comes to a close and we approach the feast of the Epiphany, we will carry through with us the theme of the Advent and Christmas seasons both: Hope. It was given to us the first Christmas so long ago and it is given to us every year as we commemorate that first coming of Christ. We need to keep it alive not just for this season, but every day, the whole year through.

Aunt Tonia, Lina Belle (My M.I.L.), me and the kids

The ladies.   :-)




Happy New Year, everyone, and may your days be filled with Hope!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Eight Years and Counting


 Eight years.

A wise old couple who has 50 years or more under their belt wouldn’t say that is such a long time.  They might say our life together is young and we still have a long way to go, and much to face and much more (hopefully) to enjoy.

And in a sense, they’d be right.

Eight years isn’t really that long of a time when you’re just looking at the number.  But when you look at the content of our eight years together, it might as well be fifty.  Or a hundred.

In the past 8 years, we’ve been blessed with 7 children, including the 2 we lost and the 1 we had just before we got married.  My husband has changed jobs a few times and lost 2 in one year, resulting in us starting a business which we’ve been growing for the past 4.  We’ve gone through 4 or 5 vehicles, changing to accommodate our growing family or the need for something more reliable and safe.  We’ve moved once.  We have made many changes to our home, trying to make it a comfortable, safe haven for our children to be happy in.  

But for the most part, that’s all just the practical stuff; aspects of a life together that usually come by default.

The nitty gritty of the last eight years is this:

We have welcomed 5 children into our life to change us, challenge us and make us want to be better people.  These little beings have cracked us wide open, our hearts spilling out and growing larger with each moment of their lives, each crevice they fill in with their love.  These children have taught us the true meaning of love in so many different ways.  They’ve delivered the grace of God through their spirited personalities and they’ve taught us that prayer is the best defense against the challenges life presents us with.  We’ve put aside our selfish desires to allow the gift of these children to transform our life together to be what God wants it to be.

We have been through the gauntlet, facing undesirable, ugly and difficult aspects of life.  Not many people face the same sorts of things we have, though every marriage has trials, some far worse than what we’ve been through.  But just as we allowed the kids to weave their way into the deepest parts of our hearts, so too did we allow each other.  There was a while there, when I didn’t want to open my heart up to my husband.  I had been hurt a lot in the past, and in the first years of our marriage, he hurt me so much as well.  It was really difficult for me to trust him with the most vulnerable part of me.  But he was my husband, wasn’t he?  And God put us together for more reasons than to be parents to our oldest daughter.  It took a few years, a lot of soul-searching, a lot of prayer and a heart-wrenching detachment from my fears to give him 100% of my already-tattered heart, and trust that he wouldn’t abuse it more.

 But he did.
 
And I know I hurt his, too.  In the time that I was so consumed with protecting my own heart, I didn’t really think much about how I was handling his.  A common mistake made in a marriage, especially one that didn’t start out exactly perfect.  Without going into a ton of detail, suffice it to say that our relationship was not the poster model for Christ-centered marriages.  We tried.  Some days, more than others.  But there was just so much we hadn’t surrendered.  And I had to learn how to love Joe no matter what happened.

The world would look at our relationship and say that one or the other of us was crazy for sticking it out. Especially through all the horrendous phases we went through, all the craziness and chaos that we created for each other at times early on.  But those people would be wrong.  There’s a great measure of sacrifice you make when you become someone’s wife or husband.  When you allow your whole life to be turned inside out to allow them to make their home in your heart.  Sometimes this means that you will endure things you never would imagine, and wouldn’t have even thought of as a healthy person in a non-marital relationship.  It means opening up your heart, knowing that at times, it will get hurt, but trusting that if you can keep true to your vows, and really live them, you will be ok.  Because love is not just a feeling. It isn’t some cliché.  It isn’t necessarily a fairy tale.  It’s effort.  It’s action.  

It means enduring and sacrificing even for the sole reason of showing that person the unconditional love that no one else in their life ever has.

I look back on the last 8 years and I see so much growth and change.  At one point, it seemed like it was ‘you against me’ instead of ‘us against the world’ and the reality of that wasn’t really all the pretty.   I realize that things could definitely be better still, but we are where we are right now because we agreed to love each other no matter what.  In good times and in bad.  Often we didn’t know how to do that, to love.  We each had to learn what love looked like at each moment, in every scenario.  Over and over again.  And that no matter what, we were called to make that effort to the best of our ability.  Sometimes it was 50/50, others 90/10.  Sometimes it was 100/0. Sometimes it was 0/0 and God had to pull all the weight because neither of us really wanted to. 

But we learned.  And we loved. And we made it to 8 years.  I know it doesn’t sound like very many, and we have much more to learn, more ways to figure out how to love each other, more miles to walk to meet each other in a place that strengthens our relationship and makes it last longer still.  More compassion to find, more passion to exude, more prayers to offer.  But I am grateful for - and humbled by - the last 8 years, the experience we’ve tucked into our arsenal, the moments we’ve been beaten to the ground by life, only to find each other there in that dark place and pick each other back up, realizing that it really is us against the world.  


Happy Anniversary, honey!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Finding Hope at the End of a Difficult Year



It’s such a busy time of year.  The Advent season has begun and as usual, the hustle of this end-of-the- year celebration is upon us.  And as usual, I didn’t plan activities and events that would help us to acknowledge the spirit of the season and prepare to commemorate the coming of Jesus. We’ve hardly done anything at all.  In November of last year, I wrote this post, lamenting the fact that I always have a hard time getting ready to “get ready,” and how difficult it always is for me.  Yet, somehow, this year, it’s been more of a slow start than ever.  It's been a difficult year and I guess the spirit of the season has been lost somewhere in the midst of our trials.

Usually by now our house would be decorated, I would’ve made a couple dozen cookies, some shopping would be done, plans to get together with family would be completely finalized, and the anticipation of celebrating the birth of Christ would hang in the air.  Christmas-themed books would be wrapped and in a pile under the tree for one child to choose from each night to unwrap and have read during family prayer time before bed.  Our Advent calendar would be up, an Advent wreath displayed and crafty activities a regular part of our homeschooling days.  But this year, it’s been slow-going.  We got our tree over a week later than we normally do.  I haven’t baked any cookies.  I haven’t wrapped the books.  Family plans are still not finalized on either side.  I didn’t even put up our calendar until yesterday.  I did hang lights in the house for the kids yesterday afternoon, but we aren’t going to hang lights on the outside this year.  No wreath has been lit. Only a few crafty things have been done, such as decorating a gingerbread house.

I always feel like I don’t do enough and this year has been no different.  Especially because our efforts have been meek and our attitudes not as joyful.  I have been trying really hard to do things, no matter how difficult it is for me to pull myself out of the funk I’ve found myself in over the past few months.  I want our children to have good memories of their childhood, to learn about Jesus and faith and the real meaning of the Advent season through our efforts to celebrate these things appropriately.  I don’t want to be one of those women who run themselves ragged trying to do it all.  But I would like to somehow do more.

I want to enjoy the season, though. I don’t want to be rushed to get things done and be so caught up in the frenzy of event and activity planning, gift-giving, cookie baking, that I forget to cherish the moments with my family.  We don’t ever put a huge emphasis on the gifts.  I think it’s a tragedy when people do that.  The focus shouldn’t be the craziness of the season, and I have been guilty of that in the past myself.  Last year, I wrote this post, in which I shared my thoughts about the season and how difficult it was for me to remember the importance of it, which isn’t shopping or baking or gifts.

This year has been a difficult one.  Our business has been a lot slower than last year.  We’ve faced extra bills we didn’t plan on.  There have been some health problems.  I have had some really dark days within myself which were completely unexplainable.  Our relationship has had some ups and downs.   But we’ve also had some good happenings to point out.  We had our fifth child, Jeremiah, in September.  We welcomed a new nephew into the family in November.  We found out we’ll be welcoming yet another niece or nephew sometime next year.  We were able to renovate an area in our house to make extra space for our ever-growing family.   As I take inventory of all the struggles we’ve had, and all the blessings that have come through those struggles or in spite of them, I am reminded of one of the main themes of the Advent season: Hope.

A ladybug visits Angelina at the tree farm - a blessing
Last week, when we went to get our Christmas tree, it was an unseasonable 65 degrees or so.  We didn’t even need light jackets.  Our kids traipsed up and down the hills, through the clusters of Frasier Firs and Colorado Spruces, searching out the perfect tree.  We hid in the trees, played games, ran from imaginary bears, took pictures.  Off in the distance we could hear the faint blast of shot guns, as this is hunting season.  We marched to one side of the tree farm, then to the other.  Finally, at the front of the farm, close to the road, we spotted our tree.  A beautiful Douglas fir alone on the top of the hill.  In my typical indecisiveness, I walked through the rows on the hill below “just to be sure,” and then we realized that that cute little Fir on top of the hill was it.  The one.

We stood in front of it to take a picture as is our tradition.  Then Aidan and his daddy got to work cutting it down.  For the past two years, Aidan (now 6.5) has helped his daddy with this.  It’s something he gets very excited about and those few moments of bonding over that tree is something I know he’ll cherish for the rest of his life, and hopefully will only be one of many amazing childhood memories he will make with his dad; memories he can look back on, find comfort in, feel joy from.
THE ONE!
The day we went to get our tree, Joe made a spur-of-the-moment decision to also take us down to Gettysburg and let the kids run around the battlefields because our backyard is so small and it would be time spent together, away from our home – a place which has been the center of more and more stress these days.  We didn’t end up at the battlefields but instead, the 52 acre recreation park near the heart of Gettysburg.  During our time there, I had a sense of urgency to enjoy our time together.  To really allow the slow start to the season sink in.  To find joy in the small stuff.  To be thankful for the struggles we’ve faced throughout the year which caused such a slow beginning.

A homemade Faith ornament adorns our tree
We let the kids play at one of the 3 playgrounds for a little bit and then we took a walk around the path that meanders through the entire park.  The kids made a game out of stopping at each one of the fitness stations along the trail to take a shot at the challenges there.  We stopped at the amphitheater and danced on the stage like lunatics.  We stood on the bridge and threw twigs in the stream, anxiously awaiting their slow float to the other side.   At times, as the three older kids ran ahead of us on the path, squealing and laughing and pushing the smaller two in the stroller, Joe and I found ourselves several paces behind, semi-alone, fingers entwined, taking in their joy, the warm air, the stillness of the moments.  Squirrels danced through the trees along the path, crunching leaves and kicking up twigs, making the children pause long enough to look and wonder at the sounds. Allowing us time to breathe in their innocence and curiosity. Allowing us the luxury to forget our trials of the past year for a time.

Our list of blessings, including homeschool, the birth of Jeremiah, and Mass


As I fight to climb outside of myself and enjoy the season as well as its slow start, I am reminded that in each struggle there is a blessing, if we only look hard enough.  That is where Hope is born.  That is what keeps our Faith alive: the good that comes through- or in spite of- the bad.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

For My Jeremiah

Me and my two youngest babies.
Last night on my Facebook status I asked the question, "fold laundry or cuddle a sleeping baby?" 

The answers that ensued were,"cuddle that baby!"

I agreed; it was a no-brainer.

It got me thinking about the moments that pass in the blink of an eye.  How my oldest daughter is about to turn eight and I remember when she was just a month old; soothed by my nursing her, rocking her, holding her close as she slept against my neck.  Those moments seem like a hundred years ago and in the time that has passed since then, I have lost two babies, had four others, grown older, rounder, wiser.

My baby is about to turn one month old and I don't know where the time went.  He already looks so different than when he was born; his changes marking the reality that time moves at an inexplicably fast pace whether we like it or not.  These past four weeks have been a blur of cuddling, nursing, diaper changing, spit ups, soothing, rocking, sighing.  And not much else.   

Of course cuddling a sleeping baby should be the answer.  Every. Single. Time.

Because babies really don't keep.  They grow up.  They move on.  They have babies of their own.

And we mamas are left with empty arms.  Naked necks where tiny faces once lay.  Places of our being that can only be filled once more with the joy of grandbabies if the Lord so chooses; babies that are ours... but not really ours.

My mom reminded me of the following poem, which she came across when she had her fifth child - my sister, Kate.  And it most certainly fits this time in my journey.  There is nothing more important than taking those moments with our little ones and cherishing them for a time.  Nothing.  (Not even a clean house.) 

Song for a Fifth Child
    by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton
Mother, oh Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing and butter the bread,
Sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.
Oh, I’ve grown shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren’t her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).
The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.



Friday, October 5, 2012

A Little Less Noise There...

Where to begin?

I sit here staring at the black cursor blinking quietly against the contrasting white background on which I am meant to type my thoughts... And I am feeling overwhelmed.

Truth is, it's been many months since I've had quiet in my head enough to think about getting my thoughts out.  They have been swirling around, building momentum, creating a giant wind of fury in there for many days now.  I've become sort of lost within that swirling storm over this time, as I got caught up by the cacophony of life's happenings, and I'm not sure I am capable of pulling out anything of weight or substance now that I have been finally spit back out into a more subtle, gentler way of existing.

Truth is, I still feel so very lost.

Truth is, I'm not sure I really know who I am right now.

I guess I could start at the beginning but I'm also not sure where exactly that is. Is it back in May when I last wrote this post, conveying my thoughts on suffering as if I really know what I'm talking about? As if I actually suffer enough to share something helpful or even just clever about such a very important and broad topic?

Or it could be a month or so after that, when I started having panic attacks and feeling like every.bit.of.noise bothered me.  That was about the time when I realized holy sh**, I'm about to have another baby and I still feel like a freakin child myself, incapable of doing anything right or, crap, even just good enough to pass, and who the heck decided it was a great idea to give me one child let alone five anyway?

The beginning could be just shy of a month ago when I gave birth to our fifth child; a boy.  Jeremiah.  The different one.  The little boy who freaked me out my entire pregnancy because as my body carried and grew him, I felt older and more broken than I ever have and he wasn't doing anything like my others did.  That tiny child whose labor and delivery I thought would be a breeze since hell, this is my fifth baby after all, but who threw me for a loop when he didn't want to come out so easily and took his grand old time and pushed his feet into the top of my belly so hard to help himself move downward I thought I was going to die.  He's the one who finally came out but with his hand on his head as if he was in deep thought the entire time, and didn't want to nurse right away or at all for two whole days.

Yes, we'll start there because it's been since then that I have really begun to wonder who I am. Every time things in life start to make sense and I am feeling more confident and more capable, the scenery changes, I change and I feel more in the dark than ever.  Funny thing is, even though this baby has been the proverbial straw that brought on this break, my relationship with him is the only thing that makes sense to me, the only one in my life I am truly satisfied with.  After that crazy 40 weeks of pregnancy, the long labor and all of that, it was just me and him.  And he was perfect.

The pain of those months and those final difficult hours were quickly replaced with the brilliant softness of his skin, the way his tiny little mouth would draw up in an 'o', his intensely-dark blue eyes that stared at me trying to focus.  None of that before stuff mattered.  It all easily melted away into the folds of his neck, disappearing into his whisper-soft hair, and for the past 3 1/2 weeks we got into a rhythm, he and I.  We slept close and I drew in his scent.  His dependence on me became just another motion in the day (and night) but I loved it.  I needed it. I needed the routine of diaper changing and frequent nursing and holding him up as I rubbed his back to burp.  I needed his tiny fingers grasping anything that came near them, his piggy grunts as he squirmed toward me in the night to nurse, that newness of another life entwining itself with mine.  It all replaced anything I worried about before, any pain I felt during labor, any desperation that overwhelmed me as I tried to figure out the dynamics of a life with five children.

But some of it has returned.  I've sort of fallen into a dark hole.  Another break. And it's not so much about having five children as it is about me.  And all my stuff.  Stuff that likes to hide in dark corners and only jump out to show its face when I'm feeling really weak.  Stuff that I don't know how to mend.  Stuff that cripples me at times.  Stuff that likes to bleed out, leaving me open and raw and exposed, vulnerable and terrified and all the horrible fears I've always had.  It's a daily struggle, and I keep thinking there's got to be more than this.  Something I'm missing.  A tool in my arsenal I am overlooking that will help me fight this battle with myself.

Noise has started to bother me again.  Sometimes, when Jeremiah is sleeping peacefully and a random loud noise occurs, he throws his arms up at the disturbance, often whimpering. I put my hand on his chest to soothe and reassure him, softly whispering into his ear and lightly kissing his cheek.  He goes back to peaceful but I cannot.  I am frazzled and my nerves are on end, like a cat's fur bristling at a barking dog.  There is no one there to soothe and reassure me; no one to whisper in my ear and put their strong hand on my chest to calm me down. 

I swore to my husband practically my entire pregnancy, especially the last few months of it, that God must have given me Jeremiah for the sole purpose of keeping me from either a)picking up a really terrible drinking habit or b)homicide.  Maybe both.  Okay, maybe not homicide...but in all seriousness, at times I thought maybe it was even to keep me from suicide.  Many days were dark and scary for me and there was no particular reason except that I let satan steal my joy enough to make me wonder what I am doing here.  Dangerous place to be folks, let me tell you. But after the excitement of bringing another baby into the world has worn off, the light seems a little more dim these days and as I sink back into typical routine and predictability, I'm having a hard time wondering what path I can take away from the slow familiar darkening of life around me.

I've definitely missed something in my arsenal.  But what is it?  I am digging deep down, into this Mary Poppins bag of mine, and I can't find it.  Whatever it is.  It's not there.  I look around; maybe I dumped it out or haphazardly tossed it aside in my search, but it's not anywhere.  I'm not sure I even know what I am looking for. Would I recognize it if I saw it?

It seems, like other similarly loud times in my life, many other weak moments, I find that all I can do is pray.  And I think about several people I know who are worse off than me in that they are sort of wandering through life waiting on the next thing, unaware that they have a perfect and specific plan already mapped out for them if they would only choose it.  I think of them and how terribly lost they must feel, much more-so than me.  I mean, I have a map already.  Though much of my path is hidden until I'm right upon it, and it is often dark and shadowy, I still know where it leads.  I cling to that knowledge, that faith.  Even right now, though I express all this angst, and I am terrified in moments and I am feeling lost, I pray and I know that I am on the right path still; I haven't fallen off.  And if I just hold on a little longer, I will make it through the noise and darkness and I will be ok.  NOT because I do anything heroic or incredible, but because I recognize this weakness and I recognize my need for a strong hand on my chest and a soothing word in my ear against the noise and fear. And I find strength in a Source far greater than myself.

And there it is... the tool I overlooked: Strength from a Source greater than myself.  And the source is not the universe. It's not "positive energies" sent out by friends or family.  It's God.  It's the One Who made me.  The One Who decided it was a good idea to give me not just one baby but five.  The One Who made those babies in love and gave them to a tired mama who isn't perfect and whose nerves bristle at noise, but who finds in moments like these, even when I don't know who I am, my Heavenly Father certainly does. 


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Glory in Suffering


As I was reading the daily gospel last Friday, I was suddenly struck with some thoughts about life and death.  It's something I have actually thought about a lot lately - life and death I mean- and the thoughts I had were vaguely familiar but at the same, seemed a lot more definitive than ever before.  John 21: 15-19 is the passage where Jesus asks Simon Peter several times in a row if he loves Him.  Peter of course answers a repetitive yes, and each time, Jesus tells Peter that if he truly loves Him he must feed His lambs and take care of His sheep.

Growing up, when this particular passage was taught to us in Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, or when we heard it at Mass, emphasis was put mostly on the first 3 verses:  After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them, he said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." He then said to Simon Peter a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep."  He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.

But the last two verses in the passage convey that Peter will die a death that will glorify God. At first thought, and I'm sure every time I've heard this particular gospel, those last two lines never really stand out: Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, "Follow me."

Anne and Chet Glover on their wedding day
This time was different.  The first thing I thought of when I read these last few lines was my Grandma, Anne Glover. Grandma suffered a great atrocity as a young girl but it was not the end of her suffering. With what she went through in her early life, it would be understandable if Grandma turned her back from God.  Suffering does have that temptation for us to make a deep in-ward turn and close ourselves off from the world, questioning God and what the heck He's thinking by allowing such suffering.  But if anything, Grandma used her suffering to cling ever-more strongly to the Lord.  She grew up strong, and dare I say a little feisty, and she became a woman of God.  Grandma was blessed with the love of a wonderful Southern gentleman who treated her with gentleness and respect after he married her as a wounded WWII soldier. Their marriage was the epitome of unconditional love and I can still remember the way my Grandpa used to look at her, his little "filly." One of my favorite memories is when he was lying in the hospital, hours from death and, hunkered down in her wheel chair, Grandma asked if he wanted her to get in bed with him and that she'd "do all the work."  *Sheepish Grin*  Even now, thinking about their love story gets me a little misty-eyed.  

The "Glover" side at my sister's wedding in 1995
My grandparents had two children and they did their best to raise them in the Catholic Faith.  Not only that but they spent their lives "feeding His lambs and taking care of His sheep." By serving each other, the country, their children and grandchildren, other family members and people in society, they took the focus off any suffering they may have had and gave glory to God through their life, especially through their two children, many grandchildren and ever-growing number of great-grandchildren.


Toward the end of her life, Grandma suffered from Alzheimer's.  She literally had to stretch her hands for someone else (my mom) to dress her, and often be led where she did not want to go as she was bound to a wheelchair long before the latter stages of the disease set in.  Alzheimer's is a dark void in which a person is lost.  Lost but not gone completely.  Grandma, though hidden deep inside herself, still had her personhood.  All you had to do was look in her eyes and there she was.  Past the sallowed skin of her cheeks; past the cacophony of mutterings and rantings, in her liquid green eyes you could see Anne Glover and you knew she was indeed there.  Somewhere.  
Trapped. But there.

Being trapped in her own mind must have been a very scary thing for her.  At times, I know she was drawn to places within she didn't want to go, taken back to the past to a different type of suffering, one she hadn't known in decades.  And it was these moments when you just knew of her fear and all you could do was sit with her and let her work through it.  Her behavior was irrational and yet there was no reasoning with her.  There is no reasoning with dementia. It is a sneaky beast that seems to come and go as it pleases, wreaking havoc on a person's mind, stealing thoughts, memories, ideas. Grandma always had a very difficult time of iterating what she wanted, finishing a sentence, grasping the right word to convey what she felt.  Many times, she repeated the same sentence or word over and over again in a futile attempt to get us to understand. It was a struggle for us to watch her so I know it was a struggle for her to be in that position.  But at the same time, even in that desperate state, Grandma was bringing glory to God.

With her Great-Grandson, Adam
One of my favorite things about her in the last ten years of her life was her ability to "feed God's lambs," even in the state she was in.  By this I mean her draw to her great-grandchildren.  By the time many of them came along, Grandma was already deep into dementia.  But she still grasped a sense of joy and wonder whenever the babies were around.  She still let them climb into her lap or sit near to her as she talked to them and gazed into their eyes.  I think that although they didn't understand her state, they understood her, and it seemed so natural the way they interacted.  Even through the darkness, she was able to witness to our children with love and grace.  It did not matter that she would forget they were ever there ten minutes after they left.  It didn't matter that she couldn't speak to them coherently very often, or even remember their names.  What mattered was that in those moments, she was their great-grandma and she was teaching them unconditional love.  Despite her suffering, despite her confusion and the shadows in her mind, she was loving them.  Glory to God.

With her Great-Granddaughter, Rose

Another aspect of Grandma's suffering was in the demands it made on her family.  Particularly my mom, who was the sole caretaker of Grandma for the last and worst years of her suffering. Taking care of Grandma daily, even throughout the night as if she had a newborn babe, my mother worked tirelessly to make sure my Grandma's needs were met.  It humbled Grandma. It humbled my mom.  It humbled me.  Seeing the love and gentleness in her care, and helping out when I was able to, was a very big lesson in humility.  It was that time that I started to see how suffering can indeed bring glory to God, though I wasn't sure of the depths to which it was capable of extending.  
 
And here I have to make a confession.  

I actually wrote a similar post last Friday, the day this particular gospel was part of the daily readings, and I even published it.  A glitch in Blogger somehow caused my post to be lost in cyberspace.  To say I was destroyed is an understatement.  I spent the day crying. Literally.  I was so lost within myself already and losing the post was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.  It wasn't until much later in the day, when I could get over myself for a few seconds, that I realized that perhaps it was a little lesson God wanted me to learn about my own suffering.  I wrote this long post, and it was actually very good if I say so myself, and I published it.  But within the post, I really had very little to say about my own suffering, which has been very plentiful lately, and what sort of glory I can bring to God through it.  I was not practicing what I was preaching.  And losing my post seemed to open my eyes up a little bit to that thinking which I had missed SO MANY times over the last few months:  how can I bring glory to God through this?

Grandma, like me, loved purple

In the telling of my Grandma's struggle with Alzheimer's and the many ways in which her suffering and death glorified God, I failed to mention that any suffering has the potential to do this.  I failed to admit to my own suffering and how I wasn't using it the way I should be. In actuality, we are all called to suffer throughout our life and the purpose of it is in fact to glorify Him.  God asks us if we love Him.  If we do, He demands we feed His lambs, take care of His sheep and follow Him.  It doesn't necessarily mean doing these things the way we would like to; it almost never goes the way we think it should.  And it often involves much suffering.  Not all of us will die a death that is preceded by literally being dressed by someone else and led to places we don't wish to go as my Grandmother's did.  But it will glorify Him, especially if we did live our life in service to Him and others, opening ourselves up to the type of suffering that will bring glory to God. 

In my suffering, I, much like my Grandma, have been taken to places within my mind I rather wish I didn't go.  Unlike my Grandma, though, I turned inward and sort of lost myself on purpose, so that I wouldn't have to face things and I could just think about myself and throw pity parties as much as I wanted.  I didn't want to talk about things, except to annoy my husband with repeating a hundred times what I felt without wanting to hear an answer if he so happened to have one.  I was not glorifying God.

In my weakness, I couldn't find the joy and wonder in being my kids' mom, like my Grandma did with her great-grandchildren despite her disease.  In fact, in the past few months, as I've grown more and more frustrated with my children and unable to be patient (a state that is brought on by my selfishness and the fact that I have lost myself in my own suffering), I have often wished I could just be alone and not have to worry about them anymore.  I was not glorifying God.

4 Generations of Strong, Feisty Women
Yesterday I caught a glimpse of my Grandma in the mirror.....sort of....I have her eyes. And I remembered how we sometimes had to search my Grandma's eyes to really find her.  Sometimes I wonder if I'm really still here.  But I saw her there, in the mirror, in my eyes, and I realized that I have probably disappointed her in many ways with my behavior as of late.  Not only her, but more importantly, God. And I realized that yes, I am there too, I am really still here and I need to work on climbing outside of myself in order to use my life to glorify Him. By worrying about my own "issues," I was neglecting the needs of my family.  I was blind to the fact that my children wanted to spend time with me.  I was spending my days wasting time drowning in the darkness that consumed me.  Refusing to do what I am called to do as a mother, to serve Him as I feed His lambs, was not opening my life up to glorifying God.

The demands from God are clear.  We are to love Him and serve Him.  In loving and serving Him, there will be suffering and we will need to cling to Him and follow Him. We are called to use our suffering to glorify Him.  Not on our terms, but on His.  We are not to lose ourselves in our darkness but fight that darkness to bring His light to others.  Suffering has a purpose.  I look at my Grandma's life, how her suffering was not a choice, but her willingness to be a servant of God opened her up to that end time when He could use her suffering to further His kingdom.  Three years after her death, her suffering is still working to bring others to Him.

What greater glory is there?  


Monday, May 14, 2012

Q is for Quorums

So I had NO idea what to write for Q. I've actually lost my motivation to finish this A-Z thing but I hate leaving things unfinished....so I am continuing on.

In trying to find a word that begins with Q, my husband (the man of few words) says 'what about quorum?'  Ummmm....what?   That's not a word.  Yes it is, he insists.  So then I'm trying to find it on a list somewhere in cyberspace.  It's there..only it needs an s.  He even knew the basic definition of it.  Impressive!
 
So, if you're like me and DON'T know what 'quorums' means; it is a gathering of the minimal number of members of an organization to conduct business. (Definition from Scrabblefinder.com.)

And, in case you're wondering, it will get you 18 points in Scrabble and 21 in Words With Friends.

You learn something new every day!



Sunday, May 13, 2012

My 9th Mother's Day

Gifts from my hubby, children and in-laws
I can not believe I have had nine mother's days!! 

Honestly, I know the occasion of Mother's Day began as a means to further the card- and gift industry via the heart-felt expressions of children to their mothers.  And it's really not a big deal to me in that way.  I don't really care about cards, candy, flowers, gifts.  For me, this day is just one of many on which I contemplate my vocation in life: Motherhood.

(It's just A LOT easier to do when I don't have anything else I need to do because my children and husband are doing it for me.)   :-)

I'm not a mother to just any children.  I'm a mother to God's children.  God gave me these children with specific instructions: "Teach them about My perfect Love by loving them yourself.  Raise them to know Me.  Raise them to have hearts to serve Me and others.  Be open to each gift I give to you through them; from the first moment of their tiny lives in your womb until you are no longer with them."  It's a set of simple-sounding instructions but with very complicated measures, deep meaning, and hidden truths abounding.  It's a conviction and a challenge that often brings me to my knees.  I suspect that is exactly one of the main purposes of motherhood - to bring us to our knees....constantly.

Me and Angelina (7 1/2) at my 30th birthday party


In this post 4 years ago, I wrote about the first few mother's days I was blessed to celebrate.  My first was when I was two-months' pregnant with my oldest child, Angelina.  Now, here I am with my fifth child growing in my womb and I can't seem to grasp how time has passed.  I think about my mom and how she raised seven babies, all close in age like mine, in a smallish house like mine, staying home with us like I do with mine.  I think about how much she did right, and how much she did wrong.  She herself will tell you she failed at a lot of things (though many of those I think she is too hard on herself about). I think any mother who is convicted with the truth of motherhood knows too-well how much they fail at times.  BUT, I also think about the fact that my mother did not fail at the most important aspect - following that set of instructions God buries in a mother's heart and reminds her of with each child.





My baby belly - 4 months w/#5
Sure, just like with all mothers, the means to get there might not have been perfect, the path not always straight, the timing not immediate.  But my mother did succeed in loving us, teaching us of God's love, giving us hearts to serve Him and others, and being open to the gifts He gave to her through our lives.  Despite troubled times, difficult circumstances and imperfect timing, she allowed His blessing of SEVEN babies, plus one that did not make it.  She loved us with everything she had.  She planted in our hearts the knowledge of God's love, power, grace and plans; making sure we knew that He did indeed have a specific plan for each of our lives and that we *should* follow it.  She did her best, knowing full-well that we might stray from our paths in varying shades, but giving the control to Him with the understanding that He would bring us back.  My mother did the number one act of Love that every mother should do, and that was to pray for us.  Daily.  Everything else, all the blips, faults, failures don't mean too terribly much, for the most important instruction she was given was fulfilled. 

My mom showing Aidan and Bella their new little sister, Sophia (2009)
I often ask my mom questions about how motherhood has been for her.  On my bad days, when I'm overwhelmed with the task that lays before me; my entire vocation in life seemingly shattered fragments on the floor, I am desperate for answers on how to keep going.  Her answers are always the same....Trust in God, pray, take it one day at a time.  Sometimes, I just want to hear her thoughts on the simple things about motherhood, how she treasured certain moments, how she kept from frantically grasping at the time passing by.  At 64 years of age (sorry for divulging that #, Mama!) she relates so much that I am grateful for: admonishment, encouragement, snapshots of her life as our mother, wisdom, humility, sadness, conviction.  Every aspect of her as my mom makes me feel that much more assured that I am doing pretty good.  After all, I think I turned out okay, right?  RIGHT?!

On this day, 28 years after my mother celebrated her own 9th mother's day, I am convicted of a very simple reminder: I am called to LOVE my children.  I am called to serve them.  I am called to raise them to have hearts to serve and love the Lord.  There will be times I fail.  I am not perfect.  But in my failure, in my imperfection, I am brought to the Father (often on my knees) for the strength and grace I need to keep going.  Every single mother has this same calling, and this same aide from the Lord to fulfill it.

I wish each and every mother out there a very happy Mother's Day!  May you also be convicted of your vocation, not just today but every day.  May you realize that no matter how old your children are, you are still their mother. You are still called to serve them, to love them, to remind them of God's love and their purpose in this life.  And may you have the wisdom to accept your failures as a means to draw closer to the Lord, and celebrate your successes with humility and thanksgiving to the Father for His strength and grace that allowed them.

And especially to my own mama, I love you!  Thank you for giving me life.  Thank you for loving me and my siblings, and following that difficult set of instructions God gave to you 37 years ago when you became pregnant with your first child.  For every "failure" you have had in raising us, there have been many more successes, and I am grateful to you today and every day for allowing God to move in your life so as to raise us to know Him.


Me and my kiddos today.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Winner for the Coconut Oil Giveaway!

We just did the drawing as the kids were brushing their teeth. My oldest, Angelina, stuck her hand in a bowl full of A LOT of entrants. I was surprised we had so many!!!  Anyway, the winner is.....

*drum roll please....*


KATE!

Kate, if you can give me your info, I will send it on to Tropical Traditions and they will be in charge of sending you out your FREE 32 oz. jar of Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil.  Congratulations!!

For those of you who did not win, perhaps I can do another giveaway soon, if not for another product!   Thanks for entering!! 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

P is for Prudence

I thought a lot about what I wanted to write for "P."  I have had a hard time thinking clearly or deeply lately so I was trying to avoid mumbling and rambling about something unimportant, or totally missing the mark on something of grave importance.  I pray that my thoughts on Prudence have some effect on you, my readers, and that through that, you find yourself drawing ever close to the Lord.

Prudence is defined as the ability to discipline and govern oneself by the use of reason.  It is, in essence, considered the Father of all virtues, as it takes Prudence as a foundation to be virtuous in other ways.  Prudence is not about emotions, but knowledge, and rests at the core of who I am as a Catholic and who we are all called to be as Christians in general.  It's an aspect of the connection we keep with God, directing our choices based on goodness and morality.

This past Sunday at Mass, one of our resident priests, Father Tri, was at the pulpit as he usually is for our 11 AM service.  Father Tri is often hard to understand but it's really interesting because when the message seems to be geared directly toward me or my husband, it's like we can understand him perfectly.  This past Sunday was such a time.  His homily wasn't necessarily about Prudence, but about our connection to God and to each other as Brothers and Sisters in Christ.  Father's homily included two very relevant jokes that were both humorous and thought-provoking, and happened to be about people who run a business.  As both my husband and I sat a little straighter in the pew, it dawned on us both that buried in the humor of his jokes was a little nugget of wisdom we needed to be searching for as we listened ever-intently.

Since the landscape season began this year, one thing has happened after another to sort of knock our spirits and bring us to the brink of despair.  There have been many frustrations causing us to question where God is taking us and what, if anything, we are doing wrong.  It's been a huge lesson in humility and patience as we've sort of had to become sitting ducks, waiting on the Lord to provide answers.  But as many of us know, answers don't always come immediately, and not always in tangible forms which are easily recognized and understood.  So....as we have been facing on-again, off-again challenges in our business since March, we are still sitting ducks, fluffing and preening our feathers as the rains of each storm pour down.  (At times, that last statement is quite literal as constant storms and rain delaying projects has been one of the many challenges we have faced!)

The main message of Father Tri's homily, like I said, was about our connection to God.  But as I had been turning over in my head the possibility of writing about Prudence over the previous week, I realized that Prudence plays a huge role in that connection.  We must own the ability to discern life situations wisely.  How do we do this?  Well, in regards to our business, it is seeking His guidance in each and every aspect of our business, especially when challenges arise.  We have an idea of the direction our business is to be taken yet the road to get there is dark and bumpy.  We don't always remember that He is in control.  Sometimes, the decisions we make seem to be the wrong ones.  Even if we have prayed and felt strongly that it's what we are meant to do.

So, there's that word, felt.  Prudence isn't about feeling, it's about knowledge.  For us, it's knowing what God wants from us and making decisions based on that knowledge.  Our knowledge that He wants us to follow and trust in Him has been our beacon of light.  But sometimes that light gets buried in the practicality of running a business, and not knowing which is the best path to take.  Sometimes, what the world says is the best way is NOT the best way.   In the face of practicality (without morality as its vehicle), it's difficult to choose differently.  The world is often telling us that if we want something, we just go after it, we should have what we want.  Making wise business decisions is the way to do it.  But our wise business decisions shouldn't be made for the sole purpose of having what we want.  God has made it very clear to us that what He wants is what is more important.  Wise business decisions in truth should be grounded in Him.  While being prudent does involve practicality, practicality does not have the last say.

Last year my husband was in a situation where he was having a conversation with some people who have been integral members of a very very successful business.  He was discussing our business and how much it has grown in the few years we've been running it, and how, even in the face of a floundering economy, our business has flourished.  When asked what he'd attribute that to, what good business practices could he equate with our success, he looked them in the eyes and said "it was all the Lord.  We couldn't have done it without Him, He is running the show.."  These people looked dumb-founded as he explained our complete and total reliance on God to sustain us through income-less winters, to find us potential clients, and to show us what efforts to make to build our business up.  In reality, he probably seemed much like Noah when he was explaining the coming flood to his fellow towns-people, just like we both did when we first decided to start our business in the midst of a down economy four seasons ago.

Prudence isn't just a virtue, it is a gift.  It relies on many parts to be practiced correctly and the main part is that connection with God.  If we don't connect ourselves to Him, through prayer, petition, thanksgiving, praise, the Mass, the Eucharist, Confession, it is hard to receive the fullness of God's truth and His direction in such matters as business life.  I have noticed that when we sort of step away from Him for a bit, things seem more intensely chaotic.  I don't want to say that bad things happen.  (And I don't want to say "good" things happen even when we are connected.)  But there is something missing when we aren't.  It's tangible.  It's real.  It's solid proof that to be a Christian business owner, we have to put our business in His hands. I can't tell you how many times we've been reminded of this since day one. And really, just like in all aspects of life, it's one of the fundamental truths - connect ourselves to Him, place everything in His hands and let Him guide and He will make straight our paths.

The world has been described as a "dog-eat-dog" world and to get ahead, you have to do whatever it takes.  Success is measured in dollar amounts, position, and the means used to get to the top.  Sometimes, in this pursuit, cunning and prudence are often thought of as the same thing; but this is not actually true.  Not for Christians.  While cunning can often use immoral means, prudence does not; prudence always takes into account the greater good.  It is very easy to overlook that fact when we are trying desperately to stay afloat.     

As I ponder these things relating to the running of our business, I think about life in general, especially life as a mother, and it's hard not to think of measuring my success.  Some would say that the fact that we live on one income and have so many children is not deemed successful at all.  After all, where is our big fancy house?  Where are our many cars?  Where is our six-digit account balance?  How many times have we been told, often by total strangers, that it would be better for us to put the kids in school/day care so I can get a job so we can have all the things we want

It is definitely an often-difficult lifestyle.  We have 5 children.  We homeschool.  We own a business and it is our sole income; whether we have a good year or a bad year, it's what we have.  But our connection to God, our reliance upon Him, our ability to practice Prudence in many situations, is what makes it doable.  Yes, I am taking the road less-traveled.  But it's not so I can say "look at me!"  It's not to be a martyr.  It's because it's what God asks me to do.  I could use cunning and make decisions that seem wise that would include putting my children in school and going back to work.  But where is the greater good in that?  The greater good in God's eyes does not equal financial security, or having the means to do and have whatever I want.  The greater good equals a stable family environment which we cultivate by my being home; by running our own business where my husband can be around if we want/need him; by spending time with my children and raising them to have hearts to serve.

In the beginning of my post I described the meaning of Prudence.  In our family, Prudence has played an integral role in both our home life and our business life.  We try to pray continuously, keeping that connection with God, in order to discern thoughtfully, morally and with reason the steps we are to take to make each aspect of our lives successful.  Things might not always seem successful, or easy for that matter, but when the greater good is our goal, when serving the Lord is our top priority, and when we are using moral reasoning, it really doesn't matter how it seems to us or the world.  What matters is what God sees, if He is pleased with our efforts.

So maybe I did ramble and mumble a little bit here...  But it is about something important.  Since thinking about Prudence over the last few weeks and what it means, I have been consciously aware of the fact that we need to be prudent in every situation, especially lately, whether it be about business or family life.  I believe it is a gift; something God buried in our minds to find and use to connect ourselves with Him, just one more tool in our arsenal for this path through life.