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

Sunday, August 18, 2013

GUEST POST: My Infertility Journey: A Shout Out to NaPro Technology

The following post is written by my sister, Kate Lynch.  It is an inspiring story- full of heart ache, hope and faith.  I hope you will take the time to read it.

If I have learned anything on my journey through infertility, it’s that when you say that you are going to trust God with any area of your life, fully and completely, you will be tested. 

When I married my husband in 2004, we made a commitment regarding family planning to each other and to God.   We committed that we would let God decide how many children we would have and when we would have them.   We both wanted children and we were open to whatever God wanted for us.   We agreed that we would not “try” to conceive and we would not do anything to prevent conception.  We made this commitment because we both knew, before we were married, that there was a possibility that together we would not be able to conceive a child.   In our teen years, we both had to have surgeries that directly affected our reproductive parts.   But, neither of us knew to what extent.    We both agreed, because of our personal beliefs, that we would not consider a lot of the modern methods for achieving pregnancy.  We were not open to IVF at all, and although we differed on our opinion of using medications to get pregnant, we agreed that we would not use them either.    We were open to using techniques that were natural and taught me to pay attention to the fertility signs that God gave me, but we did not want to get caught up in that being the focus of our relationship as husband and wife.  If all else failed, we would just adopt.    We thought we had it all figured out. 

After we got married we were really strong in our convictions, for a little while.  But after a year of “trusting God” our conviction on the subject didn’t feel as strong.  Disappointment, heart ache and even anger set it.   We wrestled with the belief that trusting God would grant us favor with Him and in turn, the blessing of children.   Oh, how mixed up our faith was.   In that year long period my husband asked his doctor about getting a sperm count test, but the doctor brushed him off, saying he had nothing to worry about.   We believed him, and continued to “trust God”.  

In the fall of 2005, a little over year after we were married, I found out I was pregnant.  FINALLY, proof to us, that our bodies did work, and that God was rewarding our trust in Him.    Sadly, I miscarried at 11 weeks and ultimately had to have my left ovary removed due to complications with the miscarriage.   The loss of the baby and of my left ovary was enough to plunge me into a big black sea of doubt.   My conviction about trusting God was shattered into a million pieces.   I no longer wanted to trust; I didn’t care about trust.  

But God is faithful, despite our doubt and anger and lack of faith.  In May of 2006 I was shocked to discover that I was pregnant again.   I didn’t want to believe it was true; it took us so long the first time.   I convinced myself that something bad was going to happen.   I went through the motions of a “happy pregnant woman”, but inside I held my breath waiting for the other shoe to drop.   I remember the moment in my 6th month of pregnancy that I broke down crying, finally allowing my heart to admit that I was going to have a baby.  Up to that point, I would not allow myself to get attached to the gift I was carrying inside me.   

January 20th, 2007 our son was born.  It was and is one of the best days of my life.   God has truly blessed us with Adam.   I cannot imagine my life without him.    The test, however, was just beginning.  

After Adam was born, JT and I decided that we would continue to “trust God” to plan our family.  Trusting was a little easier now, but that didn’t last very long.   We went back to not “trying” and not preventing.   

The next part of our journey has lasted almost 6 years.  During that time a lot has happened.  Shortly after Adam was born, JT decided to become self-employed and we had no insurance.   In some ways, we considered it a blessing that I did not get pregnant again.   We knew that all the “practical” reasons for not having kids were true in our situation.  We didn’t have insurance; we didn’t have any extra money; or even enough money sometimes.    But our hearts yearned for more children. We watched as our friends and family around us had one child after another.   We tried to be happy for them while our hearts felt like they were being ripped apart.    People who knew part of our struggles frequently asked why I had not gone to the doctor to find out why I was not getting pregnant.   It was easy to explain to them the part about not having insurance- that they could understand, but it was harder for them to understand when we would simply say that we are trusting God to plan our family.   Most people associate that with couples who have 10 kids and counting.   We were not the textbook “trusting God” family.   I admit, it was hard for me to comprehend also.   I didn’t expect that my commitment to “trust God” would mean 1 child.    

A couple of years later in 2010 JT stopped working for himself and got a job with a regular paycheck and health insurance benefits.    Three years had passed since our son was born and our desire to have more kids was as strong as ever.   Friends and family encouraged me to go to the doctor and finally find out what was wrong with me.    It didn’t feel right to me though.  I felt like doing that would somehow prove that I didn’t really “trust God”.   But in late 2010, I started having a lot of pain and very heavy bleeding each month.   These symptoms started suddenly and since I hadn’t really been to the doctor in almost 3 years, I was worried that something was very wrong.   I saw one doctor who dismissed my symptoms and wanted to focus instead on my infertility issues.   I left that doctors office and never went back.   I found another doctor that tentatively diagnosed me with endometriosis and recommended surgery for a definitive diagnosis and treatment.  It was a relief to have a diagnosis that explained both my current symptoms and possibly the reason for my infertility.   I thought that this was God’s way of providing me with an answer without me breaking the “trust”.   In early 2011 I had the surgery which confirmed the endometriosis, but there was no other obvious reason for my inability to get pregnant.    At my 6 week follow-up visit my doctor advised that she didn’t have a lot of options for me.   Most women took birth control pills to control the endometriosis.   Something I wasn’t willing to do, not just because I wanted to get pregnant, but also because I didn’t want all those fake hormones in my body.    I left her office with nothing more than a prescription for extra strength pain killers and a heavy heart. 

I was so hopeful that the surgery would provide me with a definitive answer for my infertility issues, but it just left me with a lot of maybes.    I was thankful that the surgery took away the pain and heavy bleeding, but I was angry that I still wasn’t getting pregnant.   I figured that God was still asking me to trust Him to plan our family, so I reluctantly accepted that as my answer. 

I continued to struggle while my friends and sisters easily got pregnant and had one baby after another.   On the outside and in a small place in my heart, I smiled and was happy for them.  I love all new life and believe it should be celebrated.   But on the inside, and in private, I would scream and cry and wallow in self pity.   I begged and pleaded with God, trying to make all kinds of deals with Him, promising all kinds of things, if only He would give me another child.  Oh how thankful I am that He was so patient with me while I threw my childish temper tantrums!  

As my husband and I continued to pray together about what God wanted to do with our family, we both began to feel that having a definitive answer to what was causing the infertility was what we needed.   This was the first time in our journey that we both felt strongly that God was leading us in the direction of getting answers.   We both thought that it was so that we could close this chapter in our life and move on to the chapter that involved adopting children, something we have always felt that we would be doing in the future anyway.   

So I began my search for a doctor that could really help me.  I didn’t want to go to the highly recommended doctors in my area because I did not want to feel pressured into discussing treatment options that we did not agree with.  I didn’t even want to be in an office that performed those procedures on a regular basis.   So I knew that I would be very limited in my options.  A family member suggested that I look into the Fertility Care Centers of America because of their methods for helping women.   Up to this point I had never heard of them.    I found a website online and read a little about NaPro Technology and it sounded exactly like what we I was looking for.   A program that respected life, at all stages, focused on getting to the core of the problem instead of just treating the symptoms, and respected me, the patient.    The closest office that practiced this method was over an hour away in a different state, but I was willing to make the drive if it meant answers from doctors that would respect me and not dismiss my concerns. 

In the spring of 2012 I had my first appointment.   I was so nervous; I had so many previous bad experiences with doctors dismissing my concerns, and ignoring me as a person.    I remember meeting the doctor and her asking me what I wanted from them as a practice.  I told her that I wanted her to get me pregnant.   She laughed and said that only my husband could do that.   She then offered to help me and my husband achieve that goal.   I was instantly at ease and I knew right then that this doctor was different.  She was not going to dismiss my concerns or treat me like a number.  I knew she saw me as a person.   She explained that every patient starts with learning to track their cycles using the Creighton Model and that many of their patients are able to achieve pregnancy with that alone.   If that didn’t work then we would move onto hormone tests and go from there.   I was a little disappointed because I wanted answers right away, but I knew in my heart that this was the right path for me to be on so I tried to be patient.    She also suggested that my husband have a sperm count done.  I cringed inside because I did not think he would want to do that.  But once she explained that they encouraged husbands and wives to do this part at home, together, I was so happy.   This was another sign that their practice honored not only me as a person but also the husband/wife relationship. 

I spent the summer learning the Creighton Model of charting.  I was so blessed not only to learn this method of charting but by learning other scientific things that were never mentioned in any of the other methods of charting I had studied.    In the fall I returned to the doctor with my chart in hand.  I was happy that I learned to chart but was disappointed that I was not pregnant yet.  The doctor looked at my chart and advised that everything looked normal.   She recommended that we test my hormone levels.  That meant going to the lab, every other day, to have my blood drawn.  Again, everything came back normal.   Again, I was disappointed that I was no closer to an answer.    We discussed how the pain and bleeding due to my endometriosis had returned and she suggested that I have laparoscopic surgery again.   She explained to me that the techniques they used were very effective in removing the endometriosis so that it did not grow back and also minimized scar tissue.   She recommended that while I was having surgery that I have procedures done to check on the health of my uterus and whether my tubes were open or not.    She also explained that a lot of women had success getting pregnant after the surgery.   I agreed to the surgery, not because I thought it would help me get pregnant (I had given up hope at this point) but because I didn’t want to be in pain anymore.  

This would be the 4th surgery that I would have in my life and I decided that, as much as it was up to me, it would be my last.   I no longer cared what that meant long term.  I was so tired of being cut open and dealing with the pain of healing.  I was tired of all the emotions that came along with knowing that there was something wrong with my reproductive parts.   I really thought that I would much rather have a hysterectomy at age 32, than go through any more pain and heartache.   Going into my surgery, my doctors were positive and hopeful,  I was apathetic and I had given up hope. 
On February 22, 2013 I had the surgery.  My doctor told JT that I had a lot of scar tissue and endometriosis causing the inflammation and pain.   She also said that both of my tubes had blockages in them and that they were able to mostly clear the blockages.   She couldn’t say for sure that the blockages in my tubes were the exact reason I wasn’t getting pregnant but said that it was most likely a contributing factor.   Recovery from my surgery was difficult, but within a few weeks I was feeling significantly better than I had felt in years.   

On April 9th I had a follow up appointment with my doctor to discuss what to do next regarding my infertility issues.   She encouraged me to take advantage of this time right after surgery, advising me that most women get pregnant within the 6 months immediately following surgery.    I listened to her speak and said I would be sure to follow her advice, but in my heart I was convinced that I was not going to get pregnant.  I still felt hopeless. 

On April 11th, just 2 days after my follow up appointment, I woke up in the morning and took a pregnancy test.  This was not unusual for me.  I took tests a lot.  Anytime my chart indicated that I was “late” I took a test.   It was always the same routine.  I would take a test, wait 3 minutes, see the negative results and throw it away.   The morning of the 11th I followed this routine.  I barely looked at the test as I went to toss it in the trash.  But then that second line caught my eye.   I thought I was imagining it.  I couldn’t possibly be pregnant.  After all, I had given up on the idea that I would ever carry another child inside of me.   I had to show the test to my husband and ask him what he saw.   He assured me there were two lines on the test.   PREGNANT!  It took a Costco-size box of digital tests and some blood work later to confirm and I finally started to allow myself to accept it.   I am currently 22 weeks along in my pregnancy and there is still a part of me that can’t believe that after 6 years of struggle and heart ache, I am pregnant.  

I have no explanation for why God had us waiting for 6 years, except that I needed to learn what it meant to truly trust Him.   My idea of trust at the beginning of this journey looked nothing like my idea of trust now.   I thought that trusting God meant that I would get what I wanted.   But trusting God is about believing that He knows what I need and when I need it.    

I am so thankful that I found a group of Doctors that joined me in my journey, helped to heal me, and did it in a way that respected me and my beliefs. The most wonderful thing about NaPro Technology is that it honors the way that God designed our bodies.  It supports that design and seeks to restore our bodies to that original designI would (and do) recommend them to anyone suffering from infertility.

Check out The Guiding Star Project for more information about Infertility, as well as other information related to women, families, babies, healthy relationships and more...

Monday, August 5, 2013

Taking a Break....

Earlier I was spending some time with my face buried in my blanket, as I sprawled myself across my bed, head down, praying.  I had a prayer book that my loving brother, Billy, had given to me but for the most part I was trying to leave my mind as blank as possible, hoping the Holy Spirit would whisper to me in the silence.

And that He did.

I was convicted to take a break from my blog.  There are many reasons for this, some of which I don't even understand, but I have to obey.

Occasionally, I'll post a guest blog post from someone else but other than that, I am going to spend some time doing other important things and clinging ever more to my Father as I wade through all that is going on right now in my life.  Perhaps I will be back with something inspiring to share.  

I'm not sure when I'll be back, or IF I'll be back, but for now, I'll say 'ta ta!'

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Put One Foot In Front Of The Other

I have never in my life felt the anxiety I have over the past few months or so.  It's painful.  My chest hurts.  I can't seem to shake it. I wake up in the morning and it's there, looming with the sun.  I go to bed at night and lay wide-eyed and sleepless for hours.  A zillion things racing through my mind.

In the last week, more has been added to the on-going heartache with extended family.  But we already made the decision to make a huge effort to put it aside. After everything hubby has been through with them in his life, after all the hurt I have felt from them, it just has to be over.  It has to be that we pick up the pieces and move on because there are more pressing issues to face, things I can't even go into.

But what I can go into is this-

Through my anxiety and through the weight of the desires of our hearts concerning our business and home, I have tried to obtain humility and to remember to be thankful.  I have tried to glorify God in our sufferings and to also reach out to others in His name.  I am failing a lot.  But I go on.  One foot in front of the other.  I hope for a time when I can praise Him to people, glorify Him still, but for bringing about something amazing through all the suffering, and not just for the suffering itself.

Yesterday was a particularly difficult day for me, and the painful anxiety I have felt searing in my chest was high.  I couldn't get away from it and spent much of the day crying.  It was hard to do anything.  In fact, aside from a little summer school work with the kids, I don't think I really did much else.  But I knew, in my heart, I need to work past this. I need to continue to put one foot in front of the other.  My mother always tells me "just do the next thing; you've got to rise above this and do the next thing."  Sometimes this is hard to hear. And it's even harder to do. But I do need to both hear and do it.

This morning wasn't a whole lot better. I woke before the kids, which is a rare thing these days, but I just couldn't seem to get up and take advantage of the time.  I did end up getting out of bed before a few of them were awake.  When I did get up, I was greeted with the usual anxious feelings as I fumbled around trying to make coffee.  As I began the day, I realized that I needed to work extra hard to overcome my anxiety and try to enjoy the day and make it productive.

This became more apparent as I watched my husband work hard in our yard. I had climbed the broken steps up our small hill in the back and surveyed our property below.  Freshly mowed and everything put where it belongs, it looked wonderful. The colors of all the different flowers popped.  Even the messy pond seemed to not be such an eyesore. I thought about our desire to move. I thought about everything this place has been for us.  Three of our babies were born here.  This is where we truly fell in love for the first time.  This is where our marriage was saved.  This is where we started our business.  This has been our shelter in so many storms - figurative and real. We have chickens happily munching in their run who give us fresh eggs daily, three fruit trees we've been trying to keep alive, many beautiful plants my husband has planted for me over the years, and a garden which will hopefully be producing tomatoes, cukes and peppers soon. And even though I felt in that instant so  grateful and so appreciative of this place, I still felt like I am ready to move on.  I sat on the steps and cried.

And it was then that I realized how desperately I needed to just DO something.  Get my mind off of everything we're facing and everything we want.  Put one foot in front of the other and just do the next thing.  I spent an hour cleaning out the kids' pool. I started a load of laundry and put the ingredients for fresh bread dough in my bread maker.  I made plans to make butter out of the cream I separated from raw milk yesterday.  I played a game with my daughter and held my four year old tight.  I spent a lot of time journaling and reading the Bible. I sent an email to a friend to make plans for us to visit.

I am so blessed.  I am so blessed and I want to be a blessing to others but I'm not sure how to do that. I'm not sure how to allow God to use me as He wants.  I believe that every Christian is called by God; but that there are many who aren't willing to do what He wants them to do for Him.  I definitely used to be afraid of that.  I have had to remind myself over and over throughout the years that the Holy Spirit once specifically told my mom "the Lord will do great things through each of your children."  I had to whisper those words every time I found out I was pregnant again, fearful of allowing another life to be placed in my imperfect care.  I am so convicted of God's call that I don't seem to be able to move out of my paralyzed state in order to answer it often enough.

I need to put one foot in front of the other and just keep doing the next thing.  I pray that God can use each step I take.  I pray that I can always be convicted of His call to be His servant and glorify Him.  Through my suffering.  Through my anxiety.  Through all the blessings He places in my life. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Joy In Life Comes From Trusting God

When we started our business 5 seasons ago, people thought we were crazy.  The economy had just taken its big downturn shortly before that and we knew very little about owning a business.  But the fact remained that Hubby had been laid off twice in one year due to the economy and as we prayed about our path, we felt the Lord calling us to take a big leap of Faith and trust that He would sustain us in our business venture.

And so it was that New Growth Landscaping was born.

To say that it has seemed to be all Joy would be an untruth.  There were many moments where we failed to even look for the Joy much less acknowledge it.  But, more and more lately, as James 1:2* encourages, we have been attempting to consider all aspects of our journey joyful, even the trials.

The truth is, we've seen more dark times than anything.  I'm not going to lie, even through the light of Joy and the knowledge that God is indeed taking care of us, there is the reality that it has been quite difficult.  But that is okay.  God has never promised that this life would not be difficult.  He has, however, promised us His deep abiding love that is enough to sustain us and allow the strength to get through the difficulties.  He's also promised the availability of the fruits of the Spirit which are obtainable through trials, through suffering, through His grace.  Those, too, are the nourishment to our souls when we are weak.

And there is indeed much Joy to be found.  I find it when my husband comes home after a long day of working in the world.  I see it on his skin- the sunshine saturating to the bone, and in his tired eyes- a day's hard work etched in the iris.  I sense it in his embrace- his aching body leaning into mine for support when he walks in the door.  I smell it on his hands- the earthen scent permeating.  I know it's there in his willingness to break his back working to make someone else happy, to give them the beauty they desire in their landscape.  It's there in his creativity, working into the late hours of the night to get a design perfect for a client.  And in the daily reminder that every cent he makes is a testament to our Faith in God's unending Love, whether we make a lot or just a little.

I have no idea if our business will ever take on a status that will afford us pretty much anything we want. I actually hope it doesn't.  With wealth comes much responsibility and one must be very wise in order to handle having that luxury.  Just because one has the means to obtain almost anything one wants doesn't mean one should obtain it.  Many people we know and love live in excess and their focus is on "success" and money.  It's a terrible tragedy because especially for some of them, it seems to blot out the truly important things in life: Faith. Unconditional Love. Time with Family. Service.  That's some food for thought as I think about where our business is going and if we will ever be at the point where we can pay our bills and have something extra.  We both want what God wants. If it's to have the ability to just pay our bills and live each day in service to Him through the workings of our business, then that's fine.  One of my most favorite quotes by Mother Teresa is "God does not call me to be successful.  He has called me to be faithful."   We try to live by that, however difficult it is in this material world.

When I think about the saints, and especially about St. Joseph and also Christ's mother, Mary, I think about how poor they all were in the monetary sense.  Some even gave up their wealth to follow Christ.  And they are now saints.  How marvelous!!  Even though it's difficult to live in this world and not want so much, the deep longing of our hearts is to be humble, to live simply, and to lead others to Christ. I hope that the Lord will use our meager business to bless others, to shower His graces upon those whom we meet, and to spread the Truth of His Love.  That is the true joy of owning a business.

*"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials," James 1:2 NAB

Monday, June 24, 2013

Pep Talk

I always know when I'm on the right track with my journey because the people in my life who are on the completely wrong track are getting to me - whether it's by purposeful and outright attacks on me for my lifestyle or family, behavior they display that I notice, or, like with hubby's family and all the pain they've caused me, it's sometimes just my inability to refocus myself away from the hurt people cause me.  But my experience as of late serves as yet another blessing.  

Thank the Lord that He has blessed me with the ability to realize how badly I need Him.  Anyone who thinks they can get along in life just fine without Him as the center really has some serious problems.  I know because I've been there.

I have a sticky note on my computer that says "YOU ARE OKAY."  I need it.  Daily.

I need that pep talk and every ounce of grace that the Lord wishes to bestow upon me, so I can continue my path.
Sometimes I give myself this type of Pep Talk..bad
The anxiety I have felt as of late has been paramount.  I don't understand it.  I want to believe that it's just more proof that I'm on the right path.  There is so much I am facing.  My battle with PPD has been dwindling, which I am so thankful for.  I have, however, phased into this weird almost bi-polar state which kind of scares me.  I have had some extra physical health issues that point to the possibility that perhaps my mood issues are part of a larger problem, and not a different phase of the depression I am facing.  Doctor appointment has been scheduled.

When I get into my lows, I rehash the problems I have faced lately and trouble myself with wondering what I could have done differently.  Analyzing past behaviors with the desire to change future ones is usually a good thing.  I'm not so sure in this case it really is.  I have realized, however, that the one main thing I could have done all along (and this seems to be a recurrent theme in my life because I'm just so darned blunt about things), is to just keep my mouth shut.  WHY do I always fail at this?  WHY does God's grace come AFTER the fact and not before?

When I look at the pain I've been in over specific things, namely the issues with hubby's family, I am still in a raw state.  I try so hard to move past it.  But the bi-polar type symptoms I have experienced seem to govern my ability (or lack thereof) to heal from it.  And therein lies my problem.  HOW can I let such a broken, hurtful family get to me SO easily and SO deeply?  I have realized that on my path to become a better person in Christ, I am more susceptible to pitfalls.  I am more susceptible to the devil's hand in all things.  I am more of a failure.

So what does all this mean? What does carrying on as a Christian witness, finding the ability to heal and forgive, as well as uncover the ability to move on look like?

Silence.  Prayer.

That's right.  Silence and prayer.  I can no longer make attempts to reach out and understand and try and lay myself out there on the line just to get stomped all over, and run the risk of retaliating harshly. So I have to keep silent and let God do the work.  I have to be still and know that He is GOD.

And I must pray.

My most fervent prayer lately is that I stop failing so much and recognize..and more importantly accept the fact that I CAN'T do anything else.  All my attempts have been in vain.  And the seeming fruitlessness of them has left me in the near occasion of sin.  There's only so much hurt I can take before I lash out in terrible ways.  Speaking truths with harshness on my tongue has been the worst of it this time.  But next time?

That's why there cannot be a next time.  I am just too fragile right now.  The level of anxiety I feel and the other things I face at this point in time are just too much for me.  I do not want to act like they have. I just can't do it.  As easy as it would be for me, I just don't want to go there.

It's been difficult enough watching my husband struggle through his own pain in this.  He is so broken and it's all their fault, and as his wife, I want to "go ghetto" as my friend would say and give them a taste of their own horrible medicine.  See if I can get them to feel as awful, low, stepped on, unloved as they have made him feel.  But I know I can't.  Even the thought in my head of such an action isn't right.  Sometimes my flesh is so very very weak.

Lord, forgive me.

So, this wrestling I've been engaging in, between the weakness of my flesh and the knowledge of what I should do, how I should act, has got to come to an end, no matter how I feel.  AND I have to get to a point of not feeling the way I have.  Everyone of us is broken, everyone is imperfect.  Everyone needs the Lord.  Some just don't understand that yet.  Some pretend that what they do is right, not really realizing how very wrong it is.  Some people will never change.

It's a give and take, this letting go.  I have to keep the faith that regardless of how I feel on any given day, I am in fact working (even if at a micro-crawl many days) toward the goal of a deeper relationship with Christ, and the means to live my life as a witness to that relationship, and as a sinner.  I fall short of His glory just like everyone else.  I, too, need His precious blood to save me from my sins.  I cannot allow others to throw me from this path.  I am so thankful for the people in my life who are constantly reminding me of this through their love and friendship. I am so grateful to God for placing so many amazing people in my path to guide me, sustain me and remind me what my purpose is and what His expectations of me are. I'm in awe of the conviction He places in my heart to do better, to keep trying, to be that person and fulfill that purpose which He planned for me as He lovingly knit me in my mother's womb. And I'm thankful for all the people who have admonished me in love, and the ones who have told me that I have inspired, helped, encouraged them, for I am humbled by their words and grateful to the Lord for using me as an instrument of His love and peace through my own sufferings.  I only hope that I can always remember to give Him the glory and never ever take it for myself.

I am continuing to record the things I am thankful for, the little and big blessings I have uncovered in my daily life, through the good and the bad, the highs and the lows.  It's made an enormous difference and I am so blessed by the two women in my life who prompted me to take part in this challenge.  I want to again encourage anyone reading this to do the same. I promise you won't regret it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Hurtful People Are Gifts, Too

Yes. They. Are.

I have to keep telling myself this over and over and over again.  I have to remind myself that every single person I cross paths with will leave some sort of mark on my life, and I have to believe in the grace that comes with every mark- be it a  gaping slash that wounds or a gentle caress of love.

It's so much easier to recognize the caresses of love.  And so much easier to see them as gifts, to accept them with hands open, to be thankful for them.  I wish that every mark felt like that, looked like that, breathed like that.  But reality is- life unfortunately is- that there are other marks, darker marks, marks that make one bleed, marks that take awhile to heal.

And that's what I'm wrestling with.  I am trying to heal.  I'm trying to get over being hurt so deeply in such a way that I never saw coming.  Or maybe I did see it.  Maybe there were signs and I chose to ignore them because I'm just crazy like that; because I'm just that needy in the way of desiring acceptance and respect and love from others.  Maybe I fell under the same spell of rejection and pain as my husband, taking up his cross as my own, desiring something I have always told him he probably will never get himself. Maybe.

As I've been writing down gifts on a daily basis, the ones I see etched in the faces of each little person in my house, the ones splattered across the skies of morn and of eve, and the ones hidden in the chaos, I am reminded over and over that even in difficulty there are gifts.  Even in anxiety and sleeplessness and crowded space and polarized emotions, there are blessings and the grace which God desires to fill me with.  And that includes the difficult people.  It includes the heart-wrenching and the anger and the sadness associated with dealing with these people.

In the moments I find myself rehashing things in my head, trying to understand, I have to fight hard to remember this grace, these gifts.  I have to listen for that slight whisper which I know to be there. I have to keep the faith as I dig down reeeeally deep.  When I wonder how one can be so broken as to not be able to maintain a normal relationship with me.  When I fail to realize that it isn't really about me, but them.  When I have completely forgotten the recent unearthing of explanations as to the nature of one's personality.  When I am desperate, wondering why I can't just be loved by them.

I remember- or try to- the infinite love of God and the graces He fills me with in dealing with all of this, of the pinpricks of emotion that jab at me and gape my heart open in the most unexpected moments.  The realizing my purpose is not to be understood or loved by everyone, but to be light to everyone even through the darkness of misunderstanding, even when they refuse to see it.

My brother recently posted one of those FB memes on my timeline which read "Never waste your time trying to explain who you are to people who are committed to misunderstanding you."  The day he posted that I was in great peril inside myself.  And he didn't even know it.  It was like a little love note from God.  He used my brother to remind me that life isn't about me, that it doesn't matter how misunderstood I am.  That I don't need to crack people's heads open and stuff them full of information about myself that they'll just immediately drain out their ears or use to their advantage to gain control.  Because they just don't want to understand me.  And their issue isn't about me.  It's about them.  It's about their inability to cope with life and reality, and their rejection of true and unconditional love. 

And life is really about Jesus Christ anyway.

Christ was completely misunderstood by those who never took the time to really get to know and follow Him.  People didn't want to turn from their ways and realize they were wrong so they refused to understand, they refused to acknowledge His nature, the Truth.  They refused to change in order to love.  They accused Him of things He didn't do and backed away from a relationship with Him, because of fear.  And then they killed Him.

By conforming my sufferings to Christ, I am attempting to push past the pain I feel, continuing on in my journey to be light and salt to the earth; to fulfill my calling as a servant of the Lord. And as a servant, I must cultivate love.  I must try to see my dealings with difficult people as the gifts that they are. Their very nature has caused me to draw closer and cling ever more to Christ, to reflect on myself and my own failings, to realize the truth of brokenness in human relationships.  It has caused me to love my children harder, to be more gentle with my husband and myself.  It has caused me to grow stronger, and seek the ability to draw lines, set boundaries and really scratch the itch for healing and wellness in the exact spot that is needed. If those aren't gifts, I don't know what is.  So I'll take them. Wrapped in brokenness and haphazardly held together with fear, they will serve as some of the best gifts in my life.  And I am thankful for them.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Beauty in the Ugly

As I'm reading through Ann Voskamp's "One Thousand Gifts," I am consistently inspired to keep searching for more.  I go through my days, dialogue with myself in my head, thinking, 'how can I see this moment for what it truly is?'  Each moment is different, each occurrence in my daily life either sings or whispers beauty, whether it's a good moment or a bad one.  And I am challenged as of late to find beauty in the bad ones. Ann calls them the Ugly Beautiful.  

In the past few days there have been several bad moments that jump out at me.  The beauty is there, whispering on soft tongue, but I am straining, have strained, to find it.  A son with a consistently bad attitude.  Where can I find beauty?  In his searching eyes, his knowing I am his mama and he is my son and he's walking dangerous lines with his words.  Yesterday, brief exchanges of reality with my second mother in law, forcing me to acknowledge the truth of things, cutting and scarring all over again, and yet....yet...freeing, somehow. The late evening, my daughter entrenched in the throws of Lyme disease, hallucinating, crying, frightened.  What can I do with this?  I am blessed to hold her, when she'll let me, to realize that I do not have the control....that God does.  And then, late late hours of the night, fighting.  Husband reeling in anger over something so trivial.  Harmful words float out, unable to be wrangled back in.  Prayer.  Healing, if only for one at the moment.

As I have traveled through the past year in a darkness I have never known, steeped in the emotions that try so relentlessly to govern my life (and I allow them many times), I have missed all the gifts in moments like these.  I have allowed myself to be drowned by anger, sadness, disappointment.  Expectations of myself have been too high.  Irrational thoughts upon myself too binding.  And, even rational expectations of others still too much as the disappointment seeps and slithers and I am left wanting. Too many instances of realizing that not everything I desire is attainable.

The Lord blesses us in so many ways.  It's easy to bask in the glorious sunset and feel the might of a gracious Lord who would paint such a beautiful varying tapestry for us to enjoy every single night.  It's easy to look into the bluest eyes of your child snuggled in your lap, feeling the Love He has created in the bond of motherhood.  But what of the dark gray clouds that often mar that sunset, or angry hot tears in those innocent blue eyes?  Beauty, still, and I'm challenged to find it. In those moments, God is whispering, deeply; in the silence He calls.  We answer with thanksgiving if we are listening with bended ear, knowing and acknowledging these spirit-filled gifts. Seeing the sunlight through the gray.

Today I reached the recording of my 100th gift.  A far cry from a thousand but I am still moving forward, anxious and eager to lap up every ounce of every gift I can find.  And I am sure there have been so very many I have completely missed. I have randomly posted several of my gifts on my Facebook timeline for others to enjoy reading, if they want.  I decided that if I can remember (because my brain is so crazy), I would like to give something to someone for each set of 100 gifts I write down.  I don't know what that something will be, but I hope the Holy Spirit inspires me to give the perfect needed thing to the specific person who needs it.

In the meantime, I encourage anyone reading this to start your own journal of thanksgiving.  Challenge yourself to look even in the most difficult moments to find the gift(s) that are buried there.  Find the beauty even in the ugly and you will also find much joy.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


Some women are dripping with diamonds, Some women are dripping with pearls
Lucky me! Lucky me!  Look at what I'm dripping with: Little girls!

I have three girls.  And when I say girls, I mean GIRLS.  With the exception of my middle one- she is a bit of a "tomboy" like I was when I was young- these girls are all about Barbies, princesses, tiaras, finger nail polish...But now that I think about it, even the tomboy-ish one doesn't shy from fancy dresses or the all-important role of mother to her baby dolls (and to her baby brother when I'm slacking).  In any case, my three wonderful girls are a challenge in so many ways.  But the challenges, I've come to realize, are just the vehicles by which I can grow in understanding of the perfect design of children, and most especially little girls!

Recent challenge: HAIR.

Just the other day, as we were getting ready for an important family event, I realized that one of my biggest fears as a mother of three girls is never being able to master the art of french braids.  Okay, okay, maybe not one of my biggest.  But seriously.  I have THREE girls (I did mention that, right?), I have crazy curly hair that I could do absolutely nothing with as a child, so I'm unfamiliar with the relatively straight hair all my girls have...and I do not know how to french braid! I mean, yes, I get the logistics of it, the basic premise.  I understand how it should look.  But there's a slight huge disconnect between what my brain wants me to do and what my hands actually do, and the end result is kind of like a weird, lopsided braid that looks like the girls rolled around on the carpet for awhile just after I finished.  Yet they didn't, I swear.

Thank the gracious Lord that He knew what He was doing by giving me these little girls, who will probably never have a perfect french braid donning their heads...ever...but who planned their personalities, talents, characteristics and even their gender, specifically for the purpose they have in my life and more importantly, in the world.  I know that french braids or any stylish coiffure are not a sign of beauty, femininity, who a person is, or how much value they have.

My "tomboy" is 5 1/2 years old.  She likes her hair crazy most days, but enjoys the occasional [regular] braid.  She plays Barbies, but she's also not afraid of a wrestling match with her older brother, getting dirty,  or holding slimy worms between her small fingers.  She has an affinity for pretty necklaces, and for sloppy mud pies.  She is sweet and generous,  but also has a bit of a temper: mother hen to her baby brother one minute, angry mobster over a toy the next.  I think God has big plans for her life.  One of the biggest, so far, has been to teach me the intricate and delicate balance of the nature of girls.  Even at age five, she displays a wealth of wisdom, and has a deeply nurturing spirit.  Her emotions are often CA-RAZY, but at the same time, a reminder to me and her daddy that she needs gentleness and patience to handle her.  She is strong, but also, fragile.  She deserves protection, love, respect.

I am  in constant awe of her and my other two girls, their personalities and the fact that even if they added absolutely nothing to my life, they have so much worth and beauty as individuals.  Their unique personhood and intrinsic value is God-ordained and has nothing to do with me. Nor does it have to do with the way they look, if their hair is braided perfectly, whether they like princesses or Angry Birds. And when they grow up, this will be truer still.  As women, they will hold the vast and sacred ability to be life-givers.  They will possess an even richer beauty, one that has nothing to do with my - or the world's - view of them, especially as they come to an understanding of whatever wonderful pre-ordained purpose God has for their lives.  And I pray that they will know all of this.  That they will feel confident in their beauty and worth- two absolutes which are not defined by the latest fashions, views from other people, or experiences they've had, but the true, raw unadulterated and inherent absolutes shaped and formed in all of us as we were knit in our mothers' wombs.

***I'm honored that a similar version of this article has been posted on The Guiding Star Project blog here.  I have volunteered to write for the blog of this incredible group and I hope you will visit their site and support them however you can.***

Friday, May 31, 2013

Daily Thanksgiving

If you haven't been following along, I have been having a really difficult year emotionally, physically and mentally.  The past few months have been especially difficult and I have found that I need to choose wisely who I rely on, who I trust, who I can expect anything from in regards to support and love...and who I can't.  One thing I know for sure is that if no one else is there, God is, and I've been exploring the many ways in which my need for Him can be fulfilled.  One such way is through thanksgiving.

Recently, within a week of each other, two friends randomly suggested to me that I read Ann Voskamp's "One Thousand Gifts." I had the experience of reading the inspirational photography book based on her bestseller last year when I bought it for my second mother in law to encourage her through a difficult time she was having.  I gave her a journal and challenged her to record a thousand things she is thankful for, offering that we could do it together when she was ready.  I never heard from her about it.  Now, with this challenge on my plate from two friends in my own life, I thought it was time to stop waiting around and do something for myself for a change.

I started reading the book and immediately was inspired to begin my list.  One of the things I have come to realize is that a lot of the "luxuries" I thought were making my life easier were in fact inhibiting my ability to notice some of the gifts and blessings in my life, rendering me unable to acknowledge and then be thankful for them.  For instance, we finally got a new dishwasher.  After spending much of 2012 and the first few months of 2013 without one, my husband decided it was time to get one.  At the time, I was a little nervous. I had enjoyed my time washing dishes by hand and with my daughter's on again/off again ailments, she had not had to do so much and the task fell mostly upon my shoulders.  I painted a piece of wood to put above the sink with St. Teresa's quote: "God walks among the pots and pans" to remind me of the fact that in all things, especially chores of the home, I could find Him, find solace and strength and the means to draw closer to Him.  It was a huge blessing to do this in the unhurried nature of washing a sinkful of dishes.  On the other hand, though, I was sort of tired of doing the dishes.  I almost longed for the old days when it took just a few minutes to load the dishwasher and then there would be nothing left on my counter, not even the clean dishes left to dry as before.

But, over the last few months that things have been difficult, and even more-so as I began my list, I realized that I really have missed the blessing of washing dishes by hand.  Yes, it's also a blessing to have a dishwasher.  But the blessing of spending some time, my hands soaking in hot soapy water, thinking about the gift of the meal we ate together as a family, the semi-quiet spent in prayer as I said a Divine Mercy Chaplet or just spoke to God in random utterings, burns deep and ignites the soul.  You don't get that as easily or as long when all you have to do is rinse and load a dishwasher.  The nature of doing it that way seems to shirk the desire to idle there at the sink, immersed in the chore, taking time.  Breathing.

There have been other things, too, which have shown themselves to me...little reminders that even in the smallest of things I can find a blessing, something to be thankful for.  Early in her book, Ann writes about a plate of grated cheese and the blessing this cheese is; how she photographs it showing her thanks in that particular way.  The joy with which she writes about a plate of cheese is crazy to me, and yet I find myself desiring that.  Desiring the joy that seems so elusive though is always right there in front of my face.  In my children's eyes.  In my husbands embrace.  In the slowness of the mornings when coffee drips hot into a mug and I stir cream into the black liquid.  In the tired murmurs of a nursing baby, and the way his soft tufts of new hair curl around his ears.  In the hum of the vacuum and the sloshing of the laundry turning in the washer.  And I stop and think about these things and wonder how many of these types of moments and these small gifts I really have ever contemplated before, acknowledged, and thanked God for....and how many I completely missed.

Ann also writes about how putting a blanket of thanksgiving over life in such general terms is not the same.

It's not the same. And yet, I find it difficult to really articulate these specific things, each moment, each tiny detail that I SHOULD be thankful for, but don't make time to express.  Or worse - soil the blessings and gifts with scolding tongue or harsh looks, instead of drinking them in for what they are - laughing children, creative hands, laboring through a house impregnated with unending supplies of joy - and offering up a prayer of thanks for them, for the blessings that they are, for the flow of abundance despite my being unworthy to receive them.  They are daily, hourly, moment-to-moment gifts, many of which I miss out on.

And I undisciplined and amateur as it is, it has been another gift because I find it so freeing and so comforting to be able to express myself with scrawled words on pages, thoughts unbridled, raw, and to also sometimes receive people respond to me in various ways telling me they know, they understand, they are thankful for what I write.  And I am thankful too, as God has shown me many things about myself and others, through that which I write.  And it has saved me many days from despair.  And that is a gift, something to be thankful for, because this life is not about me.

It's not about me.

A few months ago, I wrote this blog post about our blessings, and unfortunately, it was like a one-hit wonder because since then, I've been hard-pressed to continue to take inventory.  I am hoping that will change, that this list I am keeping will grow and it will become second-nature to me- this acknowledging gifts God blesses me with- so I can cultivate as much joy as He will allow me.

And in doing this project, digging deep to find the tools to be able to acknowledge each gift for what it is, and hone in on the purpose of my life, I am living.  I am living despite my soul wanting to sleep. I am living despite my desire to turn inward and focus only on myself.  By acknowledging every small gift I am given, I am seeing much of the bigger picture of life.  I am freeing myself and drawing closer to Christ, and realizing that even my suffering is a gift.  Even my dark moments are gifts.  And I am thankful.  And I find joy.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Generation Duck Face

The Duck Face.

You know the face I'm talking about.  Every girl in the age bracket of 13-25 (and sadly, sometimes older) plasters their pictures all over Facebook wearing this weird expression.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, you are either seriously lame or maybe just blind.  If it's the latter, you're excused.  Not that the duck face is something to be excited and proud of. It's not. It's really really not.

Here's why:

1.God made every single girl - perky and young to wrinkled and old - BEAUTIFUL.  You didn't know this?  Thought you needed to attempt "beautiful" with the duck face?  You're sadly mistaken.  Believe me, the duck face adds absolutely NOTHING to your natural beauty.  If God wanted everyone to look the same, to show off the different features of our face by contorting it into a weird smoochy grin, He would have made us that way naturally.  But He didn't.  And we're still beautiful.  Not to mention the fact that God already made ducks. They have webbed feet, they quack and waddle around... I think they have that gig covered.

2.The duck face kinda makes you look trashy.  Maybe it's just the stigma that goes with it; I mean...have you seen some of the pictures of these sad people with their duck faces?  They're wearing practically nothing, have tons of makeup on and are trying to make themselves look sexy by pursing their lips out.  It's not sexy.  It's really not.  It just makes you look...well, trashy.

3.It's confusing.  What are we trying to convey in a picture where we are holding our children or next to our husbands or boyfriends and our lips are all puckered up into this ducky expression?  What is that about?  What happened to a good old fashioned smile?  Did you know regular smiling releases endorphins?  Does the duck face??  I don't know.  It's unclear.  What is more unclear is what the purpose of the duck face is. I STILL have yet to understand.  Can some enlighten me, PU-LEEASE??

4.Maybe you're too old for the duck face. Okay, so, yes, silly teenagers will be silly teenagers.  As a teen, I loved making funny faces in pictures.  I may have inadvertently made the duck face at some point in my teen years.  (Back then, it wasn't the trend it is now.)  But the fact remains that the duck face is SILLY.  It looks ridiculous so we do it for fun.  As a child.  I feel like once you hit the 18-20 year mark, perhaps you should trade in your duck face for a little bit more of a mature mug.  A slight smile.  A big grin if you're really happy.  A teasing eye roll if you're in a really silly mood.  Duck face?  No! It's one of those things you DON'T wear after a certain age.  (And really, if you are thirteen and expose your duck face in pictures for the purpose of being "sexy," see #'s 1 and 2 above.)

In actuality...the ONLY person who can pull off a duck face and not look absolutely ridiculous is a baby.

So ladies, please do us all a favor and don't express the duck face any longer.  Just say NO to DUCK.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sponges On the Shoreline

I've been thinking a lot lately about life.

I am thirty-one years old and I have five children.  Yet I often feel like I'm still a crazy twenty year old with no clue.  I feel like I have no idea what I am doing. I feel like I am failing all.the.time.

I've been thinking about my parents.  How they taught me so much, but also not enough.  How they did the best they could at the time.  How I've always felt very loved, I knew what unconditional love looked like, but still craved more.

I think about what they could not save me from. How that bubble we'd all like to wrap our children in was as much an impossibility back then as it is now.  And I often wish it hadn't been. I often wish it had been real, that I could have been protected from the grit and mar of the world.

Maybe there'd be things I wouldn't have had to see.  Maybe there'd be things I wouldn't have had to endure.  Maybe I wouldn't have made terrible decisions at times. Maybe I wouldn't have scarred my soul as much as I did.  Maybe.


My kids are still so young. They are a whirlwind of energy, naivete, innocence and wonder.  They are yet unblemished, still so wide-eyed and searching, gullible and soft- thirsty sponges on the shoreline of the uncharted ocean called life.  I think about all the things that my husband and I are already failing at, and I worry about how it will affect them as adults.  Will we stunt their souls, abilities, or understanding of life?  Will our parenting leave them still quenching and hungry for more?  I've written about this before.  I have never stopped worrying about it since.

And yet, I know I can't be perfect. I know I am not even close.  I know that one of the most powerful tools I have in my parenting arsenal is prayer.  My daily prayer concerning my children is always, "Lord, please fill in the gaps where I fail."  Because I will fail a lot.  I already have.  I will never be the perfect mother.  My husband will never be the perfect father.  We each have examples that were set for us from imperfect parents as well.  It's our job to take the good examples and build upon them, and take the bad examples and learn from them- allowing them to urge us through the grind knowing it's not how we want to be.

I pray that I can always be convicted of this. That I can always be convicted of the selflessness parenting should display.  That if when I fail God will be there to smooth it over in some ways, making good come out of the bad, working all things for His glory and purpose.  I pray that when my children grow up, they will have the knowledge that I loved them as deeply and fiercely as I possibly could despite my failings and shortcomings, that I still do...and I pray that they will know how to take that love into their lives, into their relationships and express it there. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

That Pesky Darkness

The last few weeks have been noticeably bleak.  In my mind's eye, I've seen a spiral downward I hadn't really anticipated.  It's surprising, actually, because I've been pretty good at shoving things off and moving onward- sometimes haphazardly- toward each new day. Shuffling one foot in front of the other.  At least pretending like all is hunky-dory in my land.  Until now.

I am not sure I've been in this position since high school and even then, I honestly don't think it was quite this bad.  Most of it was situational back then.  Before these past few weeks, it was also mostly situational, though some was hormonal and some was that bit of darkness that follows me everywhere, always.

This is different.

Somehow, it's not so much the little things that swell up and bother me as it is the giant wave of darkness I seem to be riding day after day.  The ebb and flow conquer any thought that I might just be making it after all.  I'm not.

I smash the little things onto a plate and stick them under a microscope to verify that they are really the little things and not the entirety of my state: Five children under 9.  Homeschool.  Wavering business. Desire to move.  Rejection from extended family. Feelings of failure.  Wanting to write more than I can.

Nope.  I think I got those covered for the most part.  I can deal.  They seem to often be salt on a much larger wound, but they are not the wound itself.  So I am left with this...this nothingness....that darkness that follows me everywhere, always.  It is too large to fit under a microscope, and my hypothesis is that it will grow regardless of whether or not I feed it.

But feed it I do. With the little things.  The salt to add flavor and flair.  I fool myself into believing that if I just think some of these things through, get my feelings out about them, it will make everything better.  But it doesn't.  Only worse.

So there it is; that pesky darkness.  It has become much more than the science project I wish it were.  It's hiding in every crevice of my life.  It's there when I shut my eyes and when I open them in the morning.  I regret getting out of bed daily.  I keep hearing those words from a Cymbalta commercial running through my head: "depression hurts."  That it does.  That it freaking does.  But I don't think Cymbalta can help.

Really.  I've thought about this a million times. I've prayed about it.  I've gone back and forth about taking some synthetic drug to make it through the days without feeling this way in such voracious intensity that sometimes I feel like I'm drowning. I've noticed that this descent has coincided with a shift in my spiritual life; one that has taken me a little bit backward.  I need more prayer. I need Jesus Christ. I need His healing voice in my soul.  I haven't had it lately.  I've been craving it.  I try to pray and my heart freezes up. I try to listen and all I hear is the white noise in my head.

I just got this book called A Garden of Visible Prayer, by Margaret Rose Realy, which is a guide to help you create a sacred space that will truly usher you, even in the design and execution of said space, in drawing closer to God.  I have a prayer garden right now but I hardly enter it.  It's not what I want it to be.  I'm hoping this book, along with the help of my landscaper-hubby, will actually guide me in creating a space that is better-suited to my needs.

Until then, maybe I'll revert back to more exercise and consuming placenta pills, and try to find a few extra quiet moments in which to divert my spiritual life back on track.  I also feel I should meditate on these verses:

Psalms 40:1-3 I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.

Psalms 42:11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Please pray for me, my friends.