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, April 30, 2012

M is for Morals

So most of you who know me - and I mean really know me, not just think you do and don't actually understand half of what I'm about - know I have morals high on my priority list!  And you same people know that this was not always the case for me as I did a lot of stupid things when I was younger.  To be honest, back then, following my moral compass wasn't a high priority per se, but that compass was always a constant in my life, something that despite my frequent wanderings away from its direction, gently thudded against my heart no matter where I had stashed it out of sight.

I like to talk about morality.  A lot. And no, it's not out of judgment or out of a need to control. It's out of love and encouragement. It's out of respect and charity; concern and yes, even fear.  As a Christian, I'm supposed to talk about morality. I'm supposed to talk about what God says. I'm supposed to challenge people to seek Him, to be better, to find His path for their life.  It's not hypocrisy.  It's not "I have learned my lesson and so should you."  It's a humble, meager offering of a deep love which I long to give but only God can provide.  It's obeying His commandment to love one another as He has loved me.

I have a really difficult time sometimes shutting up about it.  I wrote about this in the recent year.  But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop!  I have tried to be more abbreviated in my speech, more aware of the other person's place in their walk in life.  I have tried to remember to be charitable and make sure I don't sound judgmental.  I have a problem with that word. Oh boy, do I!  Being judgmental really means that you are deciding that another person's actions/thoughts/words are going to end them up in the hot place.  It's like telling someone else their religion isn't "Christian" (unless of course it's really not, i.e. it doesn't teach Christ as Savior) just because it follows a set of rules and has traditions that date back more than 2000 years.  That's an extreme case of judgment.  But these days, it seems that that word is thrown around so much and it doesn't make sense to me. 

When I am sharing what God desires for His people, trying to encourage others to not engage in X behavior, it doesn't mean I'm judging them.  It means I care and I want to spread the message of God's amazing love.  God does love us, regardless of what we do.  But He also wants us. Badly. And if we aren't following His path for our lives, it's a very sad thing.  Because it means we don't really understand what that love is about.  It means we haven't actually acknowledged it and felt it seep into our very souls, allowing it to change us into the people He has called us to be.  It's sad because not only are we missing out on so much, but we're also running out of time.  The world will not go on forever.  Living our lives running completely against the divine grain which God has created for us will leave us missing out on not only the blessings He planned for us in this life, but the blessings He has planned for us in Heaven.

Matthew 5:17-20 (NAB) says:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”

This part of Matthew tells me that I am to follow God's commandments (the basis for morality), teach them to whomever I can - especially as a mother, that would include any children given to me by God to raise - and not help others break the commandments in any way.  I have been in situations where I refused to do something that would help someone else break a commandment (like allowing 2 non-married people who otherwise co-habitate anyway stay in the same bed at my house); but it was looked at as judgmental or hypocritical.  But it's not!  It's my job to keep the commandments and encourage others to do the same.  If I help someone else break a commandment or even make it easier to be tempted to ('thou shalt not commit adultery' in that scenario), it's as if I broke the commandment myself.  And my soul suffers because of it; not just the other person's.

Matthew 6:19-20 (NAB) says:
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal."

In this day in age, where success and money are a top priority for most people, I'd say this passage is so easy to ignore.  But there is a reason why we are not to worry about such things in this life, and concentrate more on what we're storing up for heaven.  This life is fleeting.  It is so short, we don't even realize it.  We always lament over the passage of time, "I can't believe my kids are so big.."  But we don't actually realize the fullness of that statement; of the passing of our life in general.  I just turned 30 last month.  I honestly can't believe it.  I feel like it was just last week that I was 22 and finding out I was pregnant for the first time.  And here I am, 8 years, 5+ kids, a still-thriving marriage, and 2 dogs later..  And what have I stored up for this life?  Well I'll tell you, not a whole lot.  And to be honest, though it's been tough, I like it this way.  We rely on God.  We don't worry too terribly much about how much money is in our bank account.  Sometimes we worry but we are always called back to the comfort of His arms, gently reminding us to put our trust and faith in Him.  Always.

And what have we stored up for heaven?  Well....this is something I could talk about all day. And not in the way of "look at me!  I'm making waves in heaven!"   It's just an exciting thing to know that God has used me in the creation of life - 7 little ones to be exact - that will go to eternal rest in Him; little souls who will praise and worship Him for all eternity.  (Two are already there.)  I am raising my kids to know and love, serve and follow the Lord. Every time I say "yes" to God and open my heart and my life to another little being to be entrusted to me, I am storing up treasures in heaven.

So what do those two things have to do with morality? When we (as a married couple) close our life to children, or we put money and "success" first in our life, it does something to our hearts.  It turns our hearts inward toward ourselves.  It doesn't open our lives up to the rich blessings that flow abundantly both on earth and in heaven through our complete reliance on God.  It stunts our growth and paralyzes us in many ways. It's immoral to have a selfish heart.  For a selfish heart draws us to do immoral things.

By definition morality is the conforming to the rules directing us on what conduct is right. Right means right; not by our standards but by God's.  We can't rewrite the laws He has set in place for us.  We never have to justify what is right or feel badly because we follow what is right.  We don't even have to justify why we are trying to help others do what is right.  But it seems there is always a need to justify what is wrong.  Why is that?  I think it's our inherent need to follow what is right (like that moral compass I often tried to bury back in my younger years), even if we don't realize that need.  We know somewhere in our hearts that whatever it is, is wrong and we feel guilty, which causes us to want to justify our choice.  The intricate way God designed our spirits to be aligned with His has left room for a long "leash" we often wander out on.  It doesn't take a lot to stretch it far, though it does take much to break it.  But if we do what is right, keep His commandments and follow His path for our lives, we'll find ourselves winding in closer to Him, where we belong.

Where it is right.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

L is for Lunatic

Yes, I admit it, I'm a loon.

Every day lately it seems I am sinking further and further down into total lunacy.  But I don't know why.  Some would look at my life and say "'s because you have 4 kids...and one on the way..."  or maybe it's "you homeschool and run a business..."

But no, I don't think it's that. I don't really think it's my kids at all. Or my schedule. I think it's just me.  God placed every aspect and detail of my life into my hands, along with the grace and capabilities to handle all of it.  Extra things, yes, I need to discern wisely what I can add, what should be taken away, etc.  But He gave me these children, each one lending a specific personality and set of characteristics to HELP me grow and change into the person He wants me to be.  Can't let go of them.

He gave us this business, knowing full-well that in the beginning, I'd have to be a major part of helping run it.  Eventually, we'll be able to hire people on to help us in the areas I am taking care of.  He also put it on my heart to homeschool.  This is a decision we visit each year and right now, it seems to be that yes, we are meant to continue. Can't let go of those, either.

So I'm back to me.  I think I'm just not seeing what it is that I need to change in order to be able to do all this stuff without being a lunatic.  Ok, I think I am seeing it; but I'm a little slow at responding to the convictions. I know I need more patience. Perhaps I need to be MORE busy. I mean, sometimes there are days when we get the essentials in - homeschool, food, some laundry, and nothing else.  We did have a good schedule going for awhile where we followed a routine of chores and school and eating all in specific time-slots of the day. Things seemed to run much smoother then, and I didn't feel so crazy.  But one day out or a sick kid usually messes that up. I guess I need to be more diligent about getting back into that habit.  They say 10 days make a habit.  I think that for LIFE, that's not really true.  Or they should add a disclaimer onto that which explains that 1 bad day breaks a habit.


Lord, help me to put all my trust in You, that You fill in the gaps where I fail, You erase the bad days  years from my children's minds, and despite everything I mess up on, You create in them hearts to serve, to follow Your will and to trust You in every moment of their lives.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

K is for Kick

So I don't know why I thought of this but K is a difficult letter so I thought I'd do one of those brain throw-ups and just spew out random thoughts. Hmm..what can I write for K? I thought.. Oh...I know... And my random thought for K came out to be based on the word kick:

When I was younger, our house was bustling with chaos, noise, love and more chaos. WE ALL had some sort of anger problem, too. Every single one of us punched or KICKED a hole in the wall at least once in our time there.

Everyone except for my younger sister, least for a very long while.

One day Mary was upset. I don't remember why, probably because I was mean to her. I was a very mean sister back then. And she kicked a hole in the wall in our bedroom. What did we all do? Get upset? Tell her she shouldn't have done that? NO!

We all cheered. It was like she had finally come to that right of passage. She was one of us.

Does anyone else notice that kick rhymes with sick?

J is for Joseph

As much as I would LOVE to do a post about the husband of blessed Mary, Jesus' foster father, Joseph, this is not about him today. Today it's about MY Joseph, my husband, my friend. When I was younger, I used to pray that God would send me "someone" that would love me, complete me and make me want to be a better person. What I didn't realize was that God already had someone picked out, and that although he wasn't the "someone" I had envisioned in my head, he would be so much better.

Joseph Allen Mack was born on this day in 1975. (For all you slow-pokes without a calculator, this means he is 37 today! And yes, that means he was a healthy 7 year old before I ever came to be.)

Joseph has had somewhat of a tough life. When he fell into my life at the young age of 28, he was sort of lost and unsure of his life's path. He was fun-loving and seemingly care-free but deep down, I could tell he was a troubled soul. Some say that's what drew me to him. Maybe that's true. I have always had a thing for lost puppies. haha However, I myself, at the young age of 21, was sort of lost as well. It's like I had this map and a set of directions but I just couldn't understand them and I didn't really want to follow them anyway. I had recently been through "some things" and wasn't sure where I wanted to go at that point.

We were quite a match!

One thing I loved about Joe (and still do) is that he always seemed genuinely concerned about me and when he hugged me, I could sense the strength in his arms, and it made me feel safe. It was interesting to me back then that despite the strength relayed in his arms, he didn't really seem like a strong person. But even still, those arms and his eyes relayed a strength that went far deeper than I knew.

We were good friends right from the start. But had much to understand about life and each other, not to mention ourselves, and we had a lot of craziness between us. Fast-forward through that craziness, much heart-ache and pain, sinful behavior and the birth of a baby, to today. We have been married since 2004 and have 5 children (one still being knitted). We have lost 2 other babies. We live in PA and own a thriving landscape business. We have been through so much that it feels like perhaps it's been a lot longer than just over 7 years since we married.

And my husband, he doesn't seem so lost anymore. I have seen him grow and change and bring forth that strength I knew he had. I've seen the Lord break him down to pieces and build him back up again. I've seen him at his worst and at his best and I've loved him through it all. I've seen his beautiful brown eyes light up at a moment of realization or new understanding of what this life, our marriage, our family is about. I've seen him weep in desperation and frustration at his misunderstanding and confusion. I've listened to him pray, begging God to help him find his path. I've prayed with him in thanksgiving, confession, and behest.

And through it all, he has loved me, too. Not always in ways I understood or wanted, but in his effort and his own way. It hasn't always been easy but I look back on all the bumps in the road, all the highs and the lows, all the joys and the sorrows and I wouldn't trade any of it. Not one part. Not even the most painful times. Every second of our life together was already known to our heavenly Father and yet, He put us together. He knew every moment, every day, every year we'd travel together and every single detail of it all. He gave us everything we needed to make it through, grow together, grow in our love and our dependence on Him. He gave me Joseph to love me, complete me and make me want to be a better person. And it's been far more than I could have ever asked for.

He has become quite the someone.

Happy Birthday, my sweet dear love!! I love you with everything I am.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I is for In-laws

Disclaimer: The above cartoon is not an accurate portrayal of how my in-laws are (I don't think?! hehe) but it's still funny!

I completely believe that God places us in the lives of other people, and them in our lives, to fulfill His purposes. Sometimes we make mistakes and sometimes we get hurt or hurt others. But God always brings about good through any circumstance, if only we'd turn to Him. There has been so much that I have learned and experienced having the specific set of in-laws that I have. They have added their own essence to who I have become at age 30. I am so thankful for every step I've taken with them, even if some of those steps have been hard. I am so overjoyed that we are at a place of understanding and respect with each other and that we can move forward with love and peace. And I hope they feel the same. But it hasn't always been this way.

I always thought when I got married, I not only wanted to be the perfect daughter-in-law but I wanted to have a close relationship with my new family, especially my mother-in-law . I mean, what girl doesn't want that? I know it's not a super common thing but just seeing how my mom interacted with the people who married into our family, as well as knowing other families and the dynamics of their in-law relationships, I was pretty set on the idea. When I got married, I was blessed with two mothers-in-law as my husband's parents aren't together and his dad remarried long ago. This has come with a ton of challenges and a ton of blessings. And I also received a sister- and brother-in-law as well.

I have to admit that finding my place in a new family- one that is unique and has its own dynamics, characteristics and traditions- has been quite a feat. I have not been the perfect daughter-in-law at times. Or the perfect sister-in-law for that matter. There have been times when things seemed so drastically at the polar opposite end of what I always dreamed they'd be that I wasn't sure they'd ever make it back. A lot of it was just a difference of opinion. Some of it was over-stepping bounds with opinions on the life-choices my husband and I made for our family. Many times, it was just misunderstanding of things said or done. One thing that used to bug me was that despite my attempts, time was never really spent getting to know me and who I am at the heart.

There was a period of 6 months after our son was born that my husband's mom wasn't talking to us. There was a period of 2 years where we severed all ties with his step-mom in order to preserve our marriage after some really awful things happened. That was the hardest decision I think we've ever had to make. It seemed so drastic and yet so necessary for that time-period where we were already floundering on our own and couldn't stand even the smallest bit of weight to tip us over completely to drowning. It wasn't even that she was at fault all the time for that weight, it was that we didn't know how to deal with a lot of the things that came up with her in the way we were supposed to. We didn't know what else to do but to avoid any problems completely. There was also a time that we just came out of where his sister wasn't speaking to us over several misunderstandings.

No, this was definitely not the dream I had in my head when I envisioned what it would be like to enter into another family. There has been so much that has happened in the seven + years that we have been married that it's hard to even think about what has kept us going, kept us trying, made us succeed to come to where we are now.

You see, despite all the misunderstandings, hurt, difference of opinions and silence, there has always been something at work in each of our hearts. I can't really speak for the others but I can speak for what has been in mine. I have prayed constantly. At times when I wanted to let my flesh win over and say "F it all...", I prayed the hardest. Because I knew that even if things couldn't ever be the way I had always dreamed they'd be, I knew that how they were wasn't what God wanted them to be. As I grew up a bit, I realized that I am not called to be liked by everyone. In fact, there's a funny saying with truth at its core that goes something like "If you call yourself a Christian and you don't have at least one person mad at you, you're not being a very good Christian after all..." or something like that. But regardless of the things that have taken place because of our complete belief and reliance on God in our family life, I am still not called to be liked by everyone. It wasn't supposed to matter if my in-laws liked me or not. What mattered was if God was happy with me.

With that realization came the idea that the only thing I had control over was how I behaved and what I was called to do in any relationship with anyone God places in my life. That meant that no matter what happened, I was called to love my in-laws, serve them, and be charitable even and especially at times when it was difficult to do this. I was meant to look past the weakness of their flesh and see them as God sees them, having compassion for them in their journeys and praying for them daily. I prayed that God would bless my efforts, however meager they were at times (and really, at times, they were so meager, I wasn't even sure I was making them). I prayed that God would fill me with the love I knew He wants us all to have for each other. And I prayed that even if they never got to that point with me, that I would continue to serve Him by serving and loving them in any way I could. I had to change a lot about myself in order to do this. I had to look past my own needs and desires and concentrate on theirs. Sometimes I failed. I also prayed that He would help me with those changes about myself, make me the person He wanted me to be so that I could be the in-law they deserved.

So, in the super magnificent way that God works, He has blessed me not only by allowing me to really be able to see more clearly the weakness in my own behavior, attitude, thoughts and feelings in a certain situation so that I may really approach it with a new perspective, but He has blessed me with the love from my husband's family that I never thought I'd get. I prayed at times that they would be able to see past my weaknesses (such as the way I said things that didn't always come out right which seemed to be big a huge contributing factor to the incongruity of our relationship) and figure out a way to love me despite my failings. I wrote exactly one year ago about a new chapter we were beginning with Joe's step-mom when we finally started talking to her again, and how hopeful I was about it. I feel like in the last year or so that we've had her back in our life, there has been a major progression of our relationship. Things seem so much more at ease and there is a new understanding of the dynamics and how we are to interact.

His sister has come to a place of wanting a relationship with us again and that is a very exciting thing as well. It's so nice to be able to be on the same page with people in your life. It doesn't necessarily mean everything is always perfect or that there aren't blips that come along. And it doesn't mean everyone always has to agree on everything. But it is a chance to show mutual respect and love toward one another; making the willful act of kindness and courtesy to say, "I want to try." And to me, that is enough.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

H is for Happy Day

My birthday was a month ago. March 12th to be exact. I turned thirty. Yup, the BIG 3-0. I can't say I feel a lot different but I can say it definitely has made me stop and think about how fast this life is chugging away. Thirty. I just can't believe it. I remember being a little girl and running barefoot down the sidewalk in front of our house in races with my brothers. I remember middle school and trying to learn how to fit in with crazy curly hair and knobby knees. I remember high school and oh my..lets not even go there. And now I'm thirty. I'm a wife. I'm a mom. I have five children. And I still have crazy hair and knobby knees.

But, instead of being too terribly philosophical or sentimental about the turning of the page to open a new chapter, a new decade of my life, I'm just going to talk about my wonderful party we had to celebrate!! We waited until after Lent to throw it so it just took place today. Slightly over a month after my actual birthday but it was worth the wait! My sister Kate and friend Jenn (who I consider my sister, too) helped my husband plan and execute a day that I will cherish forever. Even when I'm 90 and my curly haired, knobby-kneed great-grandkids are schlepping me across the room in my wheel chair at their mother's 30th birthday, I will remember mine with a joy-filled heart. (And probably try to reminisce about it to anyone who will give old great-grandma an ear.)

We had a good turn-out of people. I think it was something like 60 or so. About half were kids. Ha! Ha! We had some delicious food and fun music. (I really like Oldies..and I mean real from the 50's and 60's, not the 90's for all you young whipper snappers out there who don't know what a true Oldie is!) And we had even better company. It was so nice to enjoy the day with people who I am certain care deeply about me and who came to show me their love. I got a few bouquets of beautiful flowers, some very nice gifts and heart-felt cards, and had the opportunity to sit and eat without having to get up a hundred times to get my kids anything. (I know, right?!)

It was a day I'll never forget. Thanks to everyone who made it happen and who came out to share in my turning yet another year older. I am truly blessed with the abundance of love and generosity that flows through our family.

*Photos from top-bottom: Joe and I sharing a dance to "Only Have Eyes For You" by the Flamingos, Gorgeous bouquets of flowers, Cupcakes my sister Kate made, My nephew Adam enjoying his cupcake.

Friday, April 13, 2012

G is for Gifts

I am going to just say right now that this is going to be a short one. Because it's my second post today and because I am tired.

God gave us each gifts and talents. Figure out what they are. Use them. But not for your own purposes. For others. To serve them. To love them. To serve and love Him.

The end. :-) Happy Friday!

F is for Family

I have a big family. In my family my parents have 7 children (and their spouses) and 21 grandchildren. If you can imagine get-together's with that number, I'd love to see the illustration in your head. If you think of chaos, you're right. But there is so much else, in the midst of that chaos, that I'm not sure there are illustrations that would do it justice. It would help if you knew us, I think. I could try to describe us but I'm not sure even my words would suffice. But I'll try.

We are comprised of an assortment of these characteristics: goofy, smart, witty, philosophical, spiritual, high-strung, anxious, dependable, crazy, compassionate, humble, forgetful, helpful, sarcastic, perseverant, blunt, wise, stubborn, joyful, and strong. We all have our faults, we all fail at times. But my family, despite its size and our different personalities, beliefs, mannerisms and attitudes, all have one fundamental characteristic about each of us and that is unconditional love. It's so amazing to see the movement of such love in action. Because we are big, when we all come together to express that love in a specific way or circumstance, it's like an enormous tide of calm water washing over the receiver(s)' life, aiding them back to shore. It is indeed a mirror of God's own love.
And that is what I adore about my family. I love that despite the times we have hurt each other and despite issues we have faced, we could always count on the unconditional love and support from each other. There is no question of that. Never has been one. We have understood it for as long as we were capable. It didn't matter that it didn't always feel like love. It didn't matter that we were each often in unreachable places where the darkness kept us from seeing the love with our eyes. But always, always, there was an indescribable, unadulterated knowledge that yes, indeed, it was there. Pride often got in the way of admitting to that fact. Sometimes we forgot that our flesh is not to be the one that gets the last word, that despite our human nature and the devil's pursuit our souls spoke louder, saw clearer and knew deeper.

I am thankful to God that He placed me in the family that He did. He made plans for each of us, knowing full-well long before He knit us in our mother's womb, that we would be each other's siblings. He knew who our parents would be. He knew who each of us would marry. He knew the children He had in mind for us to have as well. He knew every intricate detail of our life and the extent to which our life would reach and He knew how far we'd stray from His path and when. He planned for the exact details of the circumstance that would bring us back to Him. We can regret what we have done to hinder the expression and growth of our love and friendship, but we must not ever regret the circumstances that drew us together as one unit intertwined together by the struggles, uncertainties, joys and accomplishments of this life. We have been challenged by each other and have learned so much from each other. We were wise enough to allow even the most difficult circumstances between us to pave the way for- at the very least- the deepening of our love for each other, and even greater, our walk with the Lord. Family is the essence of who we are designed to be; the foundation for what God wants us to become.

*Pictures above from top to bottom: My mom and dad, me and my sisters a LONG time ago, with my niece Victoria in the foreground, and my brothers holding their babies, Patrick (left) and Lucia (right).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

E is for Expecting the Unexpected

Last night I worked at the pregnancy center I've been volunteering at for almost a year. I have to say I've sort of had my guard down these past few weeks because the client list has consisted of several STD-tests and it seemed like I was always the one who got to take them. So I've become a pro at that. It wasn't just any STD-test clients, it was usually teen-aged boys. Very interesting experience, let me tell you! I never thought I'd be in a position of talking to teen-aged boys about sex or STD's and especially not about the risks and gruesome information, complete with a flip chart of pictures showing signs and symptoms of certain STD's in VIVID COLORFUL detail. I know I'm doing something not a lot of people would ever consider doing. I know I'm making a difference, however small it might be. But it was getting monotonous a little bit and while I spent as much time with each client as they wanted me to and answered as many questions as they could think of (even the immature and silly ones), I breezed through these appointments pretty easily. Does it bother me how rampant STD's are these days, how completely ignorant not just teens are but adults too of how irresponsible they are being, how sad it is when you have to help someone figure out if their partner is cheating on them and if that's how they got the STD? Of course! It's a total reminder of the breakdown of society, of how far removed we are as a whole from the plan and design for sex and our relationships with one another, which God created.

However, as I was saying, these appointments are relatively easy and don't make me lose sleep at night. The ones that do are like the one I had last evening. It was a pregnancy test. Nothing in the book noted that the client might be abortion-minded. Usually, there is a note if this is the case so we can give them the information they need to make an informed decision, something most Planned Parenthood's and other abortion facilities do not do for their clients. I did not expect the client to tell me she had already had a few previous abortions. I did not expect her to tell me she didn't know what she was going to do with this new baby, if in fact she was pregnant. I should have but I didn't. I wasn't expecting this unexpected situation. At all.

I was completely caught off guard by her cool mannerism and her complete lack of emotion when it came to her prior abortions. My heart broke. I tried to pray to God to help me say the right thing. To be compassionate and understanding of her situation. To be gentle and kind and loving. But I feel like maybe I was just saying all the wrong things when I did speak. God did give me grace and I was compassionate and gentle and loving. But I didn't say much of what I'm trained to say. I didn't go through very many of the psychological, emotional or physical risks associated with abortion, especially with multiple ones. We did talk about some of that stuff but she didn't act like our visit helped her in any way. She didn't seem put off nor agreeable to anything that was relayed to her. She just seemed numb.

A half an hour of intake, chatting and 3 cups of water later, she took the pregnancy test. It was negative. Praise God! (I don't think you will EVER hear me say that about a negative result unless it's the one of a person who is abortion-minded.) Her quick, muffled sigh of relief told me that her emotions are in there somewhere. It was a small relief for me to see her relief. And it's not because I think she should be a certain way and that she needs to feel badly for what she's done. I don't feel that way. It's because despite the heinous nature of her past actions, despite her deliberate attempts to be numb to life, specifically this aspect of it, she is still human. She still has some feelings in there somewhere. She still understands that there is something inherently wrong with what she has done, even if she doesn't quite grasp it more than a pinch. Some day, some how, she will come to terms with that reality. And it will be then that she is able to receive and embrace the gift of the perfect love and forgiveness of God. And that's something she definitely won't expect.

Monday, April 9, 2012

D is for Demons

Yikes..yet another sort of morbid and scary topic. I'm sorry. I actually think about this subject a lot. It's not something everyone thinks about even a little, or at all, really. But I do. I don't know if you're aware of it but there are demons all around us at every single moment of the day. If you are a Christian, count on legions of them. I don't mean to scare you but it's the truth and it's something we Christians need to be aware of.

Aware but not afraid

In Anthony DeStefano's The Invisible World, he gives a great explanation of the spiritual world we do not see. The concept of an invisible world does sound like a bunch of sci-fi b.s. to the average person, and maybe even to the average Christian. I have to admit that even though I've been aware of Satan at my heels since I was very young, the idea of an "invisible world" as a reality sort of chaffed me for a few days when I first heard it put that way. I remember a show I used to watch when I was younger, called Are You Afraid of the Dark. (Think ghost stories for tweens.) In one episode, there was this other world which wasn't really seen except with a special pair of glasses which were found in some creepy magic shop. So when the main character had the glasses on, he could see shadowy people playing basketball on the court his friends were also playing on and in other scenarios as well. But no one else could see them. So that is what I immediately thought of when I first heard the idea of an "invisible world."

But as I thought more about it, prayed about it, read the bible, looked at my past, read Mr. DeStefano's book, etc, I realized that it was more than just a world we cannot see or a "mystical realm" of good vs. evil where demons and angels battle; it was in fact a reality that is at the very core of who we are as children of God, our purpose here on earth, and the defining nature of our fragile souls and the danger they are constantly in. I also realized that perhaps the fact that the world does not take seriously this concept and is moving further and further away from God has played a huge role in my hesitation. I mean, just having the experience of that show and the numbing effect of so many other movies and shows, not to mention the great movement in society to recognize as "perfectly okay" all the things God deems as sin and evil, no wonder it's sort of mind-boggling and almost unbelievable at first glance.

This may sound sort of strange as well but I have always been very cognizant of a presence in my life that was not good. It has always been like there was a darkness in every corner of every room of every place I entered. When I was doing bad things or in bad situations with other people, the darkness seemed multiplied. But it wasn't overpowering. It's not like the scenes in those horror movies or on TV where the darkness just envelopes the person. It's just sort of there, hanging out in the background. It's not really visible to the naked eye, more of a feeling, a knowledge of it. It wasn't until very much later, when I started to turn my life back to God, that I realized how much I had invited that darkness in. It was like I gave Satan and his minions an open invitation to tea and cake. And they constantly were accepting and often inviting their friends.

The thing is; I'm not afraid. I think I used to be; when I didn't realize what it was that I was facing. And mostly when I was completely unaware that I had control over how much darkness was surrounding me at any given time. The truth is, if you are following God's path for your life, the darkness might be there but it won't have as much control. And that's not due exclusively to the fact that you are "being good," it is due to the fact that there are also angels surrounding you at all times as well, battling for you. The concept of angels battling demons is as old as the world; but it's not a fairy tale. Many depictions of angels from art history show angels with swords. There is a reason for that. Just read the bible. They are here to defend us; to defend our souls. And it's not when the "end of the world" comes that this defense will take place. There is in actuality a GREAT battle already being waged at all times around us. Each of us could have legions of angels and demons in the midst of a bloody fight right in our living room and we don't see it.

And why not? Why don't we see it? To tell you the truth, I'm not sure. I don't think there will be a moment when we automatically see this invisible world in its true depth and entirety as if we had put those glasses on like that kid in the show I mentioned. But we can become more aware of the fact that there is one; that the battle is actually taking place. We can become aware of God's miraculous hand in our life, the angels He sends to protect and defend us, and even the demons which surround us each day as well. The more in-tune we are to our souls, to our call from God, to our lives which He has given us and the purpose He has chosen for us, the greater ability we have to "see" this invisible world. The knowledge of the darkness in the corner and our guardian angel co-existing in one place grows stronger each time we ask God to put us on His path for our life and do our best to stay on it, asking for His strength at every moment.

But what if we aren't aware of that path or our purpose? I think as the daughter of a very devout Catholic Christian, I was able to be aware of such darkness even from a young age because my mother prayed for us constantly and taught us about faith and God and a lot of what He expects from us. And perhaps part of it was Satan's own desire to make sure I knew he was there, in an attempt at scaring me, which he did often in very real ways when I was younger. But the thing is, if we aren't taught and aren't prayed for and aren't aware of God's will for our lives, and we choose to do the wrong things and we choose not to see the truth, we are easy targets for these demons. We are their prey. And a lot of the time, we are COMPLETELY unaware of it.

A lot of people live in complete spiritual darkness and don't even realize it. Even Christians. Even people who attend church on a regular basis and are generally "good" people. They suffer and so do their children. No one is perfect, of course. But the failings of our parents have a lasting effect on us, not only emotionally or even physically but spiritually. The main job of parents is to raise their children with the knowledge of God, His love, His presence in our life, His purpose and will for us. We were all created with a purpose. We were all meant to serve.

One of the greatest ways Satan keeps us from fulfilling our purpose is by paralyzing us, which is marked by those times when we aren't aware of that darkness and the battle. It's those times we don't want to step in and guide our children because we think they should be allowed to figure things out on their own. It's those times when we just make plans for our life without consulting God. It's those times when our desire to be practical, successful, comfortable or in control causes us to say no to God in His requests to give us new life (a baby), to change our situation, to change our circumstance, to change where we live, where we work, our relationships, etc. It's those times when we refuse to stand up for what's right like defending the sacrament of marriage, unborn babies, the poor, the weak, the oppressed. It's those times we say we are happy with where we are in our relationship with Him and don't want to make an effort to make it even better. We are paralyzed and live in spiritual darkness in these situations, and we don't even know it.

And make no mistake, there are times that I forget about this darkness. Every time I fight with my husband or I am impatient with my children. Every time I selfishly choose myself and my own desires and plans over what's best for the good of our family. Every moment when I ignore the opportunity to plant seeds in my children's hearts about God's love and His will for their lives, and Satan's desire for their soul. Every time I make a plan for our future without asking God if it's in His will. Every day I let pass by without thanking Him for it, regardless of how hard it was to get through. It is in these times the darkness closes in and I often don't see it until it's too late and the damage has already been done.

And that's when the demons are rejoicing. Because even if they don't have our soul, they have put us in a position where God doesn't necessarily have it either, and it's easier to sway us. It's easier to keep us from His blessings and inheritance. It's easier to destroy us, which is THEIR purpose. But there is no reason to actually fear this. If we desire in the depths of our heart to be a true servant of God, to follow His will, to lay our life down for Him, there is no reason to be afraid. But we have to decide and stick with our decision. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. Even the next five minutes are not guaranteed. There's no question about that. The question is - Do we want to live in spiritual darkness with those demons closing in on us, taunting us, pulling us closer to them, or do we want to live in the light of Christ, in His purpose for us, His design and calling?

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen..

Friday, April 6, 2012

C is for Cancer and for Cross

So I debated about whether or not to write about this. A) It's a morbid topic and I'm tired of hearing that yet another adult or child has cancer. And B) I don't have any first-hand experience with cancer because I've never had it. But as I was thinking about all my second-hand experiences with cancer, as a bystander watching life slow down and change drastically for so many people, minimally involved or not at all, I thought I'd give it a little thought or two.

My first experience with cancer (that I can remember) is when my best friend growing up told me her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was the summer after 8th grade and as a naive 14 year old, I didn't really think too much about it. Back then, breast cancer wasn't as rampant as it is now. I didn't know anyone who had it. I remember her being sick and not feeling well on our beach trip that year and not knowing why. I think she hadn't found out yet at that time. I remember the following summer when we went camping and her newly-bald head from chemo treatments was sad and beautiful at the same time. She didn't want pictures taken. She said this was a time in her life she'd rather forget.

When I was twenty, a good friend from work talked to me about her journey with breast cancer. I don't remember how recent it had been for her and I didn't know her when she had it, but I remember her telling me how it had changed her family life, her marriage, her whole world. I gained new understanding of this thing called cancer and I wanted to support her any way I could as she was still grieving and healing emotionally from it. I remember walking with her at one of those fund-raiser walks and holding her while she cried. It was a moving experience for me.

Another cognizant memory of cancer is more recent. If there have been incidences in between the first one and this one other than my friend at work, I have tucked them so far into a dark corner in my mind, they refuse to stand out in the light of day. When I was newly-married, my mother in law was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was such a shocking bit of news and as a new-comer to the family I was unsure of my place in the whole support system. I quietly supported her by praying for her, wearing a pink ribbon necklace and I even contemplated shaving my head when her hair started to fall out from her treatments. She is a 5+ year survivor.

Then there is little Declan. Declan and his story stole my heart a few summers ago when I found out he was dying of cancer. He died just a few days shy of his first birthday. I've mentioned him several times on this blog. He is the great nephew of a close friend of my family's. His parents, Stan and Sherri started Journey4ACure and work tirelessly to raise funds to help find a cure for pediatric cancer. Sometimes, stories like his just make you sit down and weep with the sudden knowledge that we really have absolutely no control over life and that it does in fact rest in the mighty hands of God. Mysterious are His ways and we lack the power to understand everything this side of heaven.

After Declan, there was my husband's aunt, also diagnosed with breast cancer. She also made it through, after surgery and treatments which we heard only a small amount of information about. But she has shared how horrible it was for her and her desire to be an encouragement to others who face the same walk in life. Her story serves as just one more reminder of how close cancer has come to our family.

Last year, a very close friend of two of my sisters was diagnosed. I have had many interactions with her and always admired her wit, her motherhood, her writing style and her genuine love of the Lord. Her family and friends started a support group on Facebook as she underwent surgeries and treatments, and her journey has been documented in the group, mostly by her, with humor, honesty and humility - all with a very strong focus on God's perfect hand in all of it. It is inspiring to read. From the goriest details she'll allow to grace the Facebook world to the day-to-day aspects of getting back to "normal" life, she relates such thought-provoking and awe-inspiring truths about our Heavenly Father, her journey with Him by her side (and often carrying her), and His love for her as His daughter.

One final one I'd like to mention, and again there may be others that I just can't remember, is our dear friend Art. I met Art's wife, Ruth, almost four years ago in a MOMS group I became part of a year after moving here to PA. We didn't start getting close until the next year and over the last two years, Ruth and I have grown very close, as have Art and my husband Joe. They have sort of adopted us into their family and have been our local parents as we've faced so much in the last few years. Art was diagnosed with prostate cancer I believe before we met or shortly after so we were unaware of the initial diagnosis. But we have seen his struggles and shared in his and the family's pain as he's battled, won, faced other complications stemming from treatments, etc. His humility, strength and trust in the Lord is also awe-inspiring.

A few years ago, I read a really great article that I thought could pertain to not just the people actually diagnosed with cancer but to the family members, friends and even acquaintances of such people. It's called Don't Waste Your Cancer. It is very deep and speaks of how to draw closer to the Lord, and not waste the blessings that even a horrid, painful and challenging thing such as cancer can bring about. The point is that God has designed cancer for the people who are diagnosed with it and for their families. In this fallen world we live in, such tragedies exist where we lose our children and other loved ones to this awful disease, and other such atrocities. But God allows it because even in the midst of such painful circumstances, He is able to bring about good. If we allow Him to. If we will just open our eyes and see. The message of this article, which I really encourage you to read, can also pertain to so many other paths of difficulty in any one of our lives. It is through our suffering that we draw closer to Him and through our suffering we receive more blessings and gifts than we could ever imagine.

For many, cancer is a cross that is borne in many ways that don't always coincide with how the person originally thinks they'd carry it (some better, some worse), or more importantly, how God desires them to. ALL our sufferings do contain a great purpose and a sure ride to God's divine deliverance. This is a perfect reminder as we face just one more day of the Lenten season where we have been solemnly observing the greatest suffering of all - Christ's death on THE cross, and the promise and blessings God delivered to us when He rose from the dead and gave us all new life.

"Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us". ~Romans 5:3-5 NIV

B is for Babies!

Of course I'm going to write about babies! I am going to be having my fifth one in the early Fall! We are very excited...and a little scared. But, as always, babies are a blessing. It doesn't matter what circumstances we face, nor does it matter how difficult it might get. God blesses people with babies at the exact moment He chooses to and He NEVER makes mistakes. We have been willing to open our lives to whatever His will is for us; no stipulations, no conditions, just 100% YES. And have we been blessed. Even in the most tragic and trying times, blessings have poured out in abundance from our willingness to allow the Lord to plan our family and our life.

The loss of our last baby has haunted us in this pregnancy quite a bit. But we are reminded with each new day that even in that baby's short time of existence, s/he had a purpose and it was God's choice whether or not we ever got to meet our precious one this side of the womb. We don't have that choice. No one does but God. I wish more people understood that. I wish more people would see how amazing it is to believe in God's infinite wisdom, His boundless grace and mercy, especially when He bestows a gift upon us such as a tiny new life in the middle of very difficult circumstances. It speaks of His awesome power and generosity. It speaks of His perfect everlasting love.

Now, I won't mar this post up with a lot of my thoughts and truths about respecting life. I think I speak about that a lot and sometimes, I get tired of it. I get tired of the heart-breaking reality of abortion, the lives I see destroyed because of it, the siblings and other family members of aborted babies who will never know their laughter, touch or tears. Thinking of the women who can't have babies or have a difficult time in that area, yet there are others who choose to get rid of theirs. I don't want to go there today.

Today I want to rejoice. I have been feeling my own baby move within me a lot more lately. I have had such a peace about his/her existence. Despite our circumstances right now, despite how completely inadequate I feel, I praise my Father for His perfect timing in creating this new life for me and my husband and our other children. I praise Him for the blessings AND the challenges that will come (and have already), and for His strength, which is sufficient enough. I may not be able to do everything on my own. Motherhood is one of life's greatest challenges, whether you have one baby or ten. But God provides everything we need to take it on- not always with confidence or even success, but with the assurance that He is filling in the gaps where we fail, strengthening us for the journey, carrying us when we can't take one more step on our own. This baby is a sign of hope. A sign of peace. A sign of love. You can't EVER go wrong with any of that. No matter what anyone says.

*The picture above is of Angelina and Isabella welcoming their little sister Sophia just hours after her birth. The little hands off to the left belong to Aidan, still the only boy but we'll see with this next one!*

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A is for Apples

Yup, that's right. I went with an easy one. And actually, I'm not sure how good I'll be at keeping up with a post a day from A-Z. I'm not even officially in the blog challenge for April as I procrastinated too long at making my decision to join. Typical.

Anyway, my post's theme might be "easy" as in pretty common when you're thinking of a way to finish "A is for..." but as I was thinking about it last night, I realized that if I did A is for Apples, I wouldn't necessarily be copping out, would I? Would I? Why are you just staring blankly at the screen? Oh wait..I didn't finish my thought.. You see, a few weeks ago, we bought 2 apple trees. We planted them, along with a peach tree, in our back yard with the plan that we would be moving sometime in the next year and would be bringing them with us. (Which we better be, because we planted all 3 trees pretty close together!)

These apple trees are more than just a means to save money on fruit and supplying ourselves with tasty treats which we'll make from our apples. We wanted to get a jump on growing them, as it will take about 2 years to see a hefty harvest. If we waited until we move and then planted trees then, it would be longer to have to wait for apples. I have big plans for our fruit orchard we'll have some day. Our apple trees represent so much more than just a theme for my blog post. They represent hope. We have been anxiously waiting for the Lord to move us. We know it's going to happen. How? We just know. There are so many plans that have been put on our hearts (we believe by Him) to grow our business and family on some acreage in a different part of PA. We are desperate for that time to come as we are quickly outgrowing where we are now in both business and family areas.

It has been a long road to get to a place of patience, waiting on the Lord for His perfect timing and plans to come to fruition. I have written about it a lot on this blog. In buying and planting our apple trees, we have turned over a new leaf of hope when it seemed like all hope was lost when we realized we wouldn't be moving this Spring like we had thought we might, and maybe not this year at all. Those trees represent the beginning of a new-found trust and patience in the Lord. Every time I look out my window or venture up to check on them while outside, seeing the new growth, the little buds, the life they represent, I am reminded to have faith, to hope, to be patient and wait on the Lord.