Children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb, a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children born in one's youth. Blessed are they whose quivers are full. They will never be shamed contending with foes at the gate. ~Psalm 127:3-5

Friday, 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.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Love Anyway

Sometimes, despite your best effort and hours and hours of prayer, the reality of losing something still gnaws at you ravenously.  You can't shake it, no matter how hard you try.  And it is in these moments you realize how desperately you need God.  Because even through the anxiety and sadness, reaching out to Him is the only thing that will bring you peace, even if not right away.  It is the only thing that will bring clarity, and the strength to really let go; to heal and move on.

But letting go is hard. And in the meantime, you're left waiting, sometimes not-so-patiently, for that moment of peace to come.  You often think you have it, as levels of understanding are gained.  But then the gnawing grief returns.  You go over and over in your head everything you could say or do, everything you did say and do, everything left undone.  Did you ever really have what you think you did?

The answer is no.  Always no.  It was an illusion brought on by your desperate desire to have it. Nothing more. In a perfect world, you would've had it. In a perfect world, things would be different. There would be no confusion, no lack of trust and respect.  Only love and understanding. In a perfect world.

But this is not a perfect world.  And people are broken.  You are broken.  And no matter how hard you try, you just can't be what you want to be to them. They can't be what you want them to be to you.  No matter how much effort you make, it's never enough.  Not to make blind eyes see.  Not to break down dividing walls.

And that's why there's that aching desperate need for God, His holy grace, His gentle hand, His fierce eternal Love.  He's the one that lets you see that all you really need is Him. He's the one that lets you know that you are cherished and loved by Him.  He is the one Who binds your broken heart; heals the wounds inflicted in battle.  He is the one who raises you up above your pain and grief and loneliness, breathing new life into your tired soul and relinquishing all the pain others have caused you.  He reminds you that no matter how blind others are, no matter how hurtful and broken they are, He loves them, too, and so must you.

So you take up your cross, haggard as you are; you take His conviction and His truth, and you just love.  Desperately, you love.  Even if it's never returned the way you need it to be.  Even if it hurts.  You do it anyway.