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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Beauty of ZIPPERS

Zipper with a cover at the top; SMART!
Zippers?  Yes, zippers.  This is my last post of the A-Z challenge and since I've kinda been slacking most of the whole way through, I decided that I wouldn't go out with a bang, but just continue on my slacking. It fits me these days.

Really, though, zippers are AMAZING and I'll tell ya why!  Specifically, I love them on baby's sleep and plays.  I HATE having to button up a zillion buttons, especially at the stage when they're squirming and wiggling around and just want you to. stop. messing. around. and. pick. them. up.  Gosh darn it!

Zippers are quick.  They take like 2 seconds or less and then you're ready to go.  Even if your destination is 5 steps to the couch to relax and eat bon bons as you nurse and your baby passes out in your lap.  Know what I'm sayin?




I hope you all had as much fun as I did on this challenge. I know at times my posts were obviously slacking.  That happens.  I am not used to being forced to write every single day, or at all, I'm not a very disciplined writer and really only write when something strikes me to write about.  This was a good experience, a great exercise in being disciplined and I'm grateful for the challenge.  I can now say I survived an A-Z challenge and I hope to be back next year!
I hope you'll come back and visit my blog once in awhile!  I really enjoyed reading your comments and visiting all the blogs some of you linked back to!  
Blessings!!

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Beauty of YAMMY

Yammy and Phia at Cheshire Farm 2012
My mother would kill me if she knew I was writing about her.  So, once she reads this, I'm sure you'll read my obituary soon after.   Oh well.  It's worth it!

My kids' name for my Mom is 'Yammy.' She has 23 grandchildren (and counting), most of whom call her Yammy. When my niece and nephew (the first two grandkids) were small, I made up this name for her as a an unconventional and more exciting name than 'Grandma' or 'Gram'  Don't get me wrong, the traditional 'Grandma' is fine, but it's always fun to have a different, more unique name to call a grandparent.  Yammy seemed to fit my Mom and her personality quite nicely.

In many ways, Yammy does fit the conventional ideal of a grandma. She is little, round and often has baked goodies (whether freshly-made brownies or packaged cookies from the store) at her house for the grandkids to eat.  But there's so much more to her than that.  She gives freely almost anything in her home, be it those delicious sweets, clothing, or random knick-knacks.  While in her home, she practically forces food on you (though you don't have to tell my kids twice to eat!), and though things can sometimes be chaotic, she welcomes everyone in.  You always know that her house is your house and that you're always welcome there, even if it's overwhelming for her at times. I know it's very difficult for her to be around a lot of noise, and with seven children all having babies year after year, it's almost impossible to escape it.  But, she charges on like a trooper, all for the love of her grandbabies.

Mom often expresses a sadness that she can't see our children as much as she would like.  She sees my siblings' kids way more often because they live closer and she doesn't have to worry about driving far, which is difficult for her. She has a hard time seeing in the dark so if she does visit, it's earlier in the day.  But my kids don't ever question if she loves them. They just know.  She comes with a smile and hugs and a small amount of discipline...and an occasional treat.  She makes sure to tell them she loves them.  She visits randomly, never needing a specific reason.

As I write this, she has just left my house not too long ago with a dear friend of ours, Sherry, after a few hours' visit.  The two of them, both grandmas, drove up here together to help me with my daughter's First Communion dress, and check out my chickens and share some coffee and croissants and apples.  My kids were so excited when I told them she was coming along with our friend, and when they left, they were sad to see them go. 

One day (hopefully not til the very distant future) Yammy will not be around anymore.  I pray that my kids will always remember the visits with her, especially when she has us at her house, the random bins of toys she keeps for them, the generosity of treats and food and love.  I pray that they'll look back fondly on the memory of their Yammy much like I do on my memories of my Grandma Anne, and remember her sweet smile and funny personality. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Beauty of James XAVIER

My sister and her hubby named their first son James Xavier and I was so excited!  I have always loved the name Xavier.

Baby James Xavier (whom I love to call Jax) has two doting older sisters. I'm sure they will take wonderful care of him.  He is very blessed to have been born into the family he was.  His bright eyes and cute little face melt your heart every.single.time. 

Part of the reason for my sister and her hubby giving him that middle name was to honor St. Francis Xavier.  Information on St. Francis Xavier's life can be found here, but to to summarize it: he spent much of his life traveling to many countries, preaching the gospel and converting people to Christianity. James Xavier will hopefully grow up to one day become a servant as St. Francis Xavier did, telling people of God's Word and bringing them to Christ.

Love the fists these cousins are making.  Perhaps they're starting early -            Serve God.... or else!  :-)

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Beauty of WORK

This past Winter, our business had very little work as it did not snow much.  My husband spent the Winter in a state of despair, not necessarily because we had no income, but because he was not busy.  He gained some weight.  He sort of wandered through the house unaware of his surroundings, withdrawn into himself.  I've noticed that he gets like this even through the season, if things are slow and he's not out working in the sunshine doing what he loves.

It makes me think about the subject of WORK.  God ordained that human beings work, that they not be idle.  Proverbs 18:9 states "One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys."  Why is this?  Why is it that God says that if you are lazy, you are basically destructive?  I can only guess based on my own experience.  And that is this:  When my husband is home and not doing anything, somehow, even without my thinking about it, it affects our day.  It throws off our schedule, it agitates the kids, it creates an atmosphere in our home that is not very positive.  The rest of us don't feel like doing anything either, inspired by the 'slack' in the attitude of our day. Now, that doesn't mean that ANY time he's home things are like this.  There are the appropriate times when his presence is appreciated and welcome.  But during the times when he is to be working and can't or doesn't, it does cause strife in our household.  And the source is not just because he isn't working, it's his soul.

In his soul, he knows there is a calling to be doing something. When he's not, his soul reacts.  As the saying goes, "idle hands are the devil's tools."  Ecclesiastes 10:18 says "Through laziness, the rafters sag; because of idle hands, the house leaks."  Could this not translate into our own lives, not necessarily specifically about our physical home, but the dynamics of the family within it?  Surely if we do not take care of the house God has given us, and work to keep it up, it will indeed fall apart but this is ALSO TRUE of our family itself.  Working out in the world is my husband's job.  If he isn't doing that, it ripples back to our family and whether it is because of lack of income, or just because of the state of his idleness and all that creates, it is destructive to our family.  Working on the relationship of our family is also true in this.  We can't just get married, have children and go about our days not really acknowledging that we are one unit.  We all have to work together to keep our family strong.

One of my favorite Bible verses about work is this: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters." (Colossians 3:23)  This means that no matter how much money we make, our joy should be for the Lord in our work.  We shouldn't matter what others think of us, we should be worried about what God thinks.  And it means that the work we do for our family, to keep our family strong, should be for the Lord.  Not what the world thinks we should be doing.  We were once told by family that I should go back to work in the world so that we can have enough money to do whatever we want, have whatever we want.  But that's not what God says. My heart aches for all the people in the world that put money and things above their family, above what the Lord calls them to do.  I can't imagine how many people are completely missing out on the purpose of their life because their eyes are not fixed on working for the Lord, but working to make as much money as they can to be able to have as much stuff as they want.  And I ache for those who do not work because they don't feel like it or feel they deserve an unrestricted break. 

When working, my husband is one of the hardest workers I know.  He works to support his family and to glorify the Lord.  His focus is not on being a "success" in the eyes of the world, but to please God and live a life that mirrors what He asks of him.  His soul is in turmoil when he cannot work, as he knows the effect it has on our family.  Work keeps us close to the Lord, as He worked tirelessly His whole life as well, for God's glory and according to the purpose for His life.


(all Bible quotes from NIV)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Beauty of VINES

Today's post will be a link to a previous post from 2010 on Training Up Children.  What do Vines have to do with Children, you may ask? 

Click on this link to find out!



Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Beauty of UGLY

Some people are ugly because their heart is ugly.  They can be attractive on the outside, but their actions and mannerisms and words are ugly.  They treat other people with little respect, they talk down to others, they try to control them, and they dismiss them unless they are deemed useful to the [ugly] person.  This is true UGLINESS.  Yet God loves them anyway.

What our world deems as 'ugly' is usually based on our outward appearance.  Think of the story The Ugly Duckling.  The duckling wasn't deemed beautiful because it did not have downy white feathers as the rest of the ducklings did. "Ugly" by today's standards is the same idea. It's all about what you look like. People who don't have the prettiest face, bone structure, slender waist, perfect hair, are all deemed ugly.  Some people go to great lengths to look beautiful according to the world.  Some even go dangerous routes to do so, going under the knife to alter their appearance.  It's a superficial stance, one that really warrants its own makeover.

But the beauty of "ugly" in either scenario is that these people - fat, thin, short, tall, "pretty" or not so pretty, and even mean-spirited or not, really are not ugly but beautiful because they were made in the image of GOD.  God is LOVE.  Love is beautiful.  Try to put that under a scalpel to dissect and rearrange.  You can't.  No matter how badly you want to erase all the mean people of the world who are truly ugly, or even the ones you don't find attractive, beauty will exist in each one because of God's love. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Beauty of TREES

Last year, we got three fruit trees and planted them in our back yard.  Two apple (Granny Smith and Honey Crisp) and one peach.

I was so excited when I noticed peaches actually growing, as the guy at the orchard told us nothing would grow on any of them that year.

We ultimately lost the peaches to some sort of fungus early on, but the anticipation of having a sweet juicy peach from my very own tree hasn't worn off since then.  Not one bit. I thought ahead to this year when nature would try again and we might actually get to pluck a big fuzzy peach off our tree in August.

So far, I have been incessantly reminding hubby about spraying the natural stuff on our trees and making sure we take good care of them.  They survived the two Winters beautifully and have grown bigger over this past year.  Hubby put a bunch of really good soil around them and mulched them, too.  There are bright blooms on all three trees and I'm super excited to see what we get this year.

It may be just a start, but these three trees will follow us to our new home (whenever that happens) and will become just a few of many we want to have in our own orchard.  I have big plans for these trees and I am hopeful that those plans will come to fruition!

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Beauty of SISTERS

I have seven sisters.  Four biological and three sisters-in-law.  I am very blessed!

Growing up, my sisters and I fought just like any siblings do.  We fought over clothes, space, friends. I used to physically beat the bajizus out of my younger sister, Mary, and my sister, Kate, who is just a year and half my senior. Good times.

As we grew older, the dynamics of our relationships changed. I lived with my sister, Kate, for awhile.  Big mistake.  I lived with my oldest sister, Cori, briefly, too.  Bigger mistake!  You'd think I would've learned after the first time that living with siblings when you're older isn't always so much fun.  Plus, I won't lie, I was a little crazy....

Now that we are all even older, with families of our own, the dynamics have changed again.  Now we call each other for advice, support, encouragement, to vent or ask for prayers, or talk about our crazy mother. (Just kidding, Mama!)  It's so nice to have them in my life in this way, to be able to share so much with them, without all the fighting!

I have two sisters in law who joined our family by means of marriage to my brothers.  My life has been blessed so much by their presence, as they have made their place in my heart and our family as easily as if they had been born into it.  We, too, have shared so much over the years, from exciting news to sad news, advice and concern, baby clothes and prayers.  The dynamics of our relationship are not so different from that of "blood-related" sisters.

I also have another sister in law whom I gained in my life when I married my husband.  She was a teenager at the time and we formed a pretty good bond back then.  I cherished having a "little sister" I could be a "big sister" to, as I was unable to be that with my younger sister due to my mental health issues at the time I should've been acting like her big sister.  I was so thankful God placed this new sister in my life to help me learn a new form of servanthood, love, and giving.  While our relationship is no longer as close as I would like it to be, I am still blessed by the fact that she is my sister, and I hope that one day things can be even better.

There are so many different personalities between all of us.  It's so fun!  I love spending time with all my sisters.  God's blessing of them is an amazing gift. I hope all of my sisters know how much I love, cherish, value and pray for them.

PICTURES OF MY SISSIES:
Chris and Me at Heather & Billy's wedding
                                               
Mary, Heather, Me at the wedding


Mary and Me at Mary's 1st baby shower
Our babies born 1 day apart! Us on her Rose's baptism day

My oldest sister, Cori (AKA Pickle) on her son's (our godson's) baptism day


Kate and Me, before fights over boys



Kristen (Hubby's sister) holding Bella


Kathy (married to my brother, James) holding Jeremiah


Kate (right) and Me (left)
Kate, Mary, Me the night before my wedding

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Beauty of RAIN

Rain.
When it rains a lot, my whole backyard is a big river and my kids are unable to play in any area of our property for days afterward.  The rain makes my hair even more frizzy than it already is, and if I happen to straighten my hair on any given day, if it rains, my hair gets curly again.

I especially hate the rain when it's cold.

But now that it's Spring and actually FEELS like Spring, I won't dwell on the fact that the rain of this past Winter was dismal, cold, awful, never-ending and depressing.   Maybe that's my SAD talking but I really really really don't like it when it rains in the Winter. Did I say really?

Spring rain feels purposeful and is therefore acceptable.  You can dance in it without feeling a chill seep clear down to your bones.  And it is needed.  The growth of Spring needs the rain.  What is the saying, April showers brings May flowers?

Yes, yes, I know that rain at any time is probably needed.  In the Winter, it fills up my well just as it does in the Spring and Summer!  And Winter rain is probably being stored in the ground for thirsty hiding plant life to sponge up through their roots in anticipation of the Spring burst.  Or something.

I'm really trying to find the beauty of rain, I swear...

Okay... 

In all honesty, I do like rain for the most part.  I love how sometimes when it rains, a slow, gentle fog floats along the street, swirling around objects, adding a bit of mystery to an other-wise normal day.  I love the sound rain makes pelting the overturned tin basin in our yard. I love how sometimes, it brings with it memories of childhood- sitting on the curb outside our family home, dropping leaves into the stream of water flowing down the street.  Watching earthworms appear on the sidewalk as if they, too, fell from the sky.

And there's just something about the smell, and the feeling of newness that comes after a good rain, when the sun is peaking out.  And the reminder of God's Promise when a rainbow graces the sky!  Rain tends to give the feeling that the old is washed away.  That there is a renewal of life around you. 

Plus, jumping in the puddles is so much fun! 

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Beauty of QUIET

It's just a few minutes before 11 PM.  I'm usually up at least this late every night, though most people think I'm nuts.  They'd be right.

With five kids and A LOT going on in our household, 11 PM is mighty late for a tired mama to be staying up til.  But, I can't help it.  It's sooo incredibly quiet right now.

Quiet times are few and far between here during the day.  Usually, if we have them, it's because I duct-taped the kids' mouths and threw them all in a closet.  Ok, not really..... But that does give me an idea.  Note to self: buy duct tape.

Honestly, I relish this quiet like it's my job and I. mean. literally.   I need it.  Even if it means losing precious sleep.  I need the quiet to calm my anxiety, pray a little, wind down my frazzled mind.  It's in these moments where I find myself coming to terms with my day.  Whether good or bad, if I take these moments of quiet, spend a few actually thinking (which is hard because my brain shut down back at about 4 o'clock), I can put to rest some of the anxiousness I've had, soothe my worries, and remind myself that there is always tomorrow.  And if there's not, everything else won't matter anymore anyway.

Quiet is useful to really hear the breath of God in your heart.  There is so much I've been praying about lately and I can't seem to ever really hear a definitive answer.  There is always so much noise.  But when I take some time and focus on His presence, I find myself with some answers, though many are still elusive as before.  In His time, I tell myself. In His time.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Beauty of PRAISE

Even Especially on my worst days, in my soul, I recognize the need to PRAISE my Father in Heaven for the MANY blessings He bestows upon me and my family.  For the gifts He has given me.  For life itself..  Do I always heed this deep urging to do so?  No.  Sometimes, I'm like a rebellious child throwing a proverbial tantrum at His feet.  Stubborn and angry, my cries are more demanding and accusing than anything else.  And sometimes, when I am not having a rough time, it's just that I am lazy.

But there are times, numbering many lately, where I give in to that pull on bad days and good, and just praise Him!

And oh, the peace that comes over this tired soul when I realize that yes, that is exactly what I needed.  Even when things are okay.  Even when the day is running smoothly and I am not feeling too worn, I can feel it seeping in- the healing balm that comes through praise. It could be a short prayer of thanks while doing laundry, or even a few lines from a song.  But it is what returns me to center, refocuses my soul to what is important, turns my attention outward to the needs of others.

One of my favorite songs from VBS as a little girl went something like this:

Praise Him! Praise Him!  Praise Him in the morning, Praise Him at noon time.  Praise Him! Praise Him!  Praise Him when the sun goes down.

It has other similar verses like Love Him, Serve Him, etc...  But I find this one verse running through my head a lot lately, and it's so comforting.  Especially in those dark moments where praising Him is the last thing I feel like doing.  But it's required.

Praise in the face of uncertainty or difficulty is a very important aspect of FAITH.  Praise at any time is an important aspect of LIFE in Christ.

Have you PRAISED our Lord today?


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Beauty of OPTIMISM

I am not, by nature, an optimistic person, though I wouldn't go as far as saying I'm a pessimist.  I have to fight really hard sometimes to see the positive in a very difficult situation, but I try.  I've gotten a lot better about it over the years - I think having children and being changed by their innocence and wonder has helped with that.

As my husband and I have faced many difficult happenings over the years, there are many lessons I've learned about the beauty of staying positive and clinging to HOPE.  The following are a few instances in which being optimistic has really paid off.

*Being optimistic about our move to PA, away from family and friends, helped ease us into our new life.  Though it was very difficult, trying to find the positive aspects of our move really brought closure to the previous chapter of our life; and gave us hope for our future.
*Being optimistic after we lost a baby in 2010 helped to heal our heart-ache and remember that God plans for every single baby.  It helped to turn to Him in our grief and cling to the knowledge that He has specific plans for our family life.

*Being optimistic and praying for guidance when our business starting going downhill after a really really good year has led us to places of trusting in the Lord we hadn't known before. It was so easy to want to give up and think bad things, but we pushed through and saw the positive. It's also led us to cling to each other, strengthening our relationship and bonding us deeper than ever before.

*Being optimistic while facing difficult extended family situations has led to a deep examination of heart, a realization which has helped to handle things a little better, and a humble reminder of the fact that we are all called to love and serve people, no matter how difficult it may be. 

The beauty of having an optimistic attitude is that it can be used by the Lord in so many ways, and counteracts the use of pessimism by Satan.  It's an aspect of JOY and does in fact kindle the flames of HOPE.  It calls us to LOVE.  It reminds us to PRAY and TRUST in God's infinite mercy. And being optimistic just feels better.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Beauty of NESTS

A nest we found in the flower box on our shed.
In the Spring I am always inspired by the robins flitting about, collecting random objects with which they build their nest.  I often see them carrying very large pieces of material in their tiny beaks, flying and resting, and flying and resting as they make their way back to their nest-site.  Robins' nests usually consist of all kinds of materials, from grass and paper to twigs and feathers. Though I've seen them carrying some other very interesting objects as they fly around.  They finish it off with a soft bed of grass or feathers. I find it very fascinating that no matter what the location of the their nest, they take great care in creating it to be a safe, comfortable haven for their young.


Likewise, a mama such as myself and so many other women I know love to ensure our family home is a safe haven for our children.  We search around for the perfect materials to create a special ambiance- welcome and comforting - in which our kids and families feel secure.  If we have knick-knacks, they are either kid-friendly or are not so important that if they got broken, we'd be upset.  With five young and boisterous children, this is important! We try to instill in our children that "things" are not valued above them.  In our living room, we have plenty of blankets and pillows for our kids to snuggle up with on the couch.  Their rooms are their own unique spaces of retreat.  Our home, our nest, is a place of warmth and comfort, a place that as our children grow, they will always want to come home to.  It can be chaotic and crazy at times, but I try to smooth the roughness of all that with a measure of love and calm, fun and laughter.  Though the materials used to beautify a home can have their place, what makes it our safe nest is that soft finishing touch!

My 5 little "birdies" in our nest at Easter
5 eggs!  PERFECT!

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Beauty of MARRIAGE

I've written before a couple posts about my hubby and me, tidbits of our marriage, and you can find a few here and a recent one here.

The following are a few of the beautiful things I have found out about marriage in my eight + years of being married to Joe:

*It doesn't matter what kind of example was set for us, we don't have to follow suit, especially if the experience and examples we have to go by are wrong.  Hubby came from a broken background.  His parents divorced when he was very young, his dad remarried twice after that.  He had no clue what a happy, functional, real relationship looked like.  I can remember the first two + years of our life being overshadowed by this gloom of anticipation as to whether or not it really would work. His usual first response, even over something trivial, was 'maybe we shouldn't be together.'  I also did not have the best example as to how married couples should treat each other, though my parents are still married and by the grace of God I was aware that they loved each other and me.  After some time of really focusing our attention on the baggage we each brought to our own marriage, Joe and I realized that we had to break the cycles we each experienced and work diligently to take out anything that would tear our marriage down.  Truly putting God in the center was the #1 thing we had to do, and then we went from there.  It was only in the last three-four years that we have really seen major changes.  Things aren't always perfect, and it's often tempting to start looking for that back door, but we both can trust that there really isn't one.

*Our relationship comes first, above anything else except God.  It's so easy to succumb to the duties and craziness of having a large family, and allow that to interfere with the closeness of our relationship.  This is especially difficult for me, as the main caretaker and organizer of our home life.  We have had to work very hard to make our children understand that Mommy and Daddy's relationship needs to be respected, and that we need time to talk and spend with each other, without a million interruptions.  Not only that but that we are united and that the effects of their negative behavior are not allowed to come between us. This idea also extends out to our other family members.  We have had to really draw closer to each other, making very difficult decisions, and not always doing things we would like to do with or for them because it would put a strain on us and our marriage in various ways.

*People do change and Love really does bear all things.  My husband and I have both changed in SO MANY needed ways.  I would have to think really hard about the changes God has made in me, and probably wouldn't be able to truly articulate them, because I don't really see them in a tangible form I can describe.  I often feel like I fail miserably constantly and that I'm still a scared 22 year old trying to figure out my life.   But hubby says I have so you'd have to ask him and our family about my changes.  I wrote a post about my husband last year for his birthday and the changes he's undergone in the time I've known him. I'm in total awe of how GOD has changed him.  Joe has worked hard and God has blessed his efforts, creating the changes which he needed in becoming the man that God wanted him to be.  We both have a long way to go, still, but we recognize our small victories, and thank God for  getting us this far.  We realize the truth stated in the verses in 1 Corinthians, that Love bears all things!  Joe and I have been through SO MUCH - anger, depression, abuse, alcoholism, broken trust, broken extended relationships, loss of income, loss of babies, loss of friends, change of state, change of church, the births of our babies, new business, new home...And our Love, fused together with God's Love, has seen us through it all.

*Babies are a blessing to marriage. As much as people have told us that babies are burdens and we should stop having them, the Truth says otherwise.  As Christians, we are called to be open to life. As difficult as it is, as much of a sacrifice welcoming new life can often be, it is our calling.  Closing ourselves off to these gifts from God for the rest of our marriage would only start us down a very dark path.  The only reasons we would have for being closed to new life are selfish ones.  The children God has blessed us with have changed our lives for the better and I can't imagine the self-absorbed people we would have turned out to be if we had decided after our first two that we were "done."

*Marriage is a sacrament.  It has the power to bond two people together from the moment they express their vows on their wedding day, literally until death do them part. It is one of God's blessings for a man and a woman, and should not be entered into lightly.  There are so many things I wish I knew about God's purpose and design for marriage before we ever got married, but I'm glad God is showing them to me along the way.  If we don't treat it as the sacred union that it is, partaking in the grace-filled blessings such a sacrament bestows, we are doomed to failure.  It is up to us if our marriage lasts. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Beauty of LAUGHTER

I love to laugh!  I'm sure most people do.  One thing I am thankful for is that my husband keeps me laughing A LOT.  My children's laughter is contagious, and music to my ears.  Bad days are almost ALWAYS turned upside down by their laughter, or some of my own.

Here are some benefits to laughter (taken from this source):

  • Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
  • Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
  • Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
  • Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
Laughter has also been shown to help lower blood sugar levels and help one get better sleep. 
There is a reason they say laughter is the best medicine!

Have you laughed today?

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Beauty of KIDS

My KIDS on Easter Sunday
The other day, I found and posted this article to my FB page.  My friend made a funny comment about how the author must be nuts to think kids keep us youthful.  My response was:  "When they're running around, being silly, asking innocent questions, wonder and excitement lighting up their sweet little faces over the smallest new discovery, that is infectious! When they're screaming their heads off and asking you for the same thing a hundred million times....not so much. It's a give and take, I think! Ten years younger for all that wonder; ten years older for all that noise."  My brother wisely lamented the fact that it's all about our attitude.

And it's true.  Kids do have the power to keep us youthful.  If we are willing to allow them to.  Right now, I feel sort of old, but I have noticed many times lately how my view of life has changed drastically since beginning to have children, and has been influenced by how they see life.  Children see life on a completely different level than adults do.  They view things in simplistic ways, without all the grit and noise and of life clouding their imagination or their understanding.  Children are humble, grace-filled and often awe-inspiring.  

There are many people in the world who do not believe so.  Kids are too much work, too much effort, too much energy.  Some people decide to not have any at all.  My sister told me that one time, while pregnant with her third baby, she and her husband along with their two other children were at a restaurant and some couple stared at them the whole time and then one said to the other, "glad we don't have any kids; go us!" loud enough for her to hear.  It is this type of mindset that is what makes our society so completely negative and disrespectful of the value of life, especially of children.  It's what makes a married couple use abortifacient contraceptive methods in order to prevent any or more children from gracing their marriage.  It's what keeps extended families from making the effort to visit the children in their family.  It's what makes a mama of four, five, six, children from being afraid to go out in public even when her kids are well-behaved. 

But woe to you who refuse to have kids, or refuse to allow the kids in your life to change your heart, to be more open to spending time with them, or allowing God to bless you with more.  For you are missing out on SO MUCH.  Kids are a blessing!  They are a gift!  When you look into their eyes and see innocence and wisdom all at the same time, you know you are in the presence of something really special.  In the Bible, God tells us that children are a gift from the Lord, a reward.  The more you have, the more you are blessed!  The more time you spend with them, the better a person you will be. 

(And on that note, I have to go get my busy little 7 month old away from the computer plug. WHY do they like electrical things so.darn.much??) 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Beauty of JOY

For Christmas one year, I purchased a set of votive cups that were red and they each had a letter on them.  Put together, the letters spelled out the word JOY.  After Christmas, I decided to leave them up on the shelf in my bathroom where I displayed them throughout the Christmas season.  Not only did they match the other decor in my bathroom, but those cups were a constant reminder to be joyful in my daily life, no matter what.
 
So many people get Joy and Happiness mixed up. But they are not the same.

There is a reason why joy is different than happiness.  Happiness, because it is fleeting and often subject to the whims and catastrophe's of our fallen world, our imperfect flesh and human emotion, falls short of fulfilling our soul's innermost desire to REJOICE.  JOY is everlasting and dwells in that innermost spot of our soul, where regardless of what goes on around us, it affords us the strength to express a more profound reaction to life than just happiness.

Many times, I've had people say to me that they had no clue that I was facing something difficult or something was upsetting me, because I didn't act like it.  Many people look at the outward actions of a person and think, 'well, she's engaging in regular conversation, she's laughing, she's participating in life.... she must be happy, everything must be good.'  But this is not always the case.

FOR ME, as someone who is immersed a lot in fog and darkness and is very sensitive to life's painful happenings, it is often difficult for me to push aside the fact that I am not happy so as to allow my joy to shine through.  But I try. As often as I can, I try.  I choose to allow the joy that Christ has blessed me with through His love, to be a band-aid for my depression and anxiety and stress, to help me shine outwardly so that not only is my suffering not forefront, but so that others may know what true joy looks like.

The beauty of joy is that no matter how sad we may feel at times, no matter what is going on in our daily life, we can choose to allow the everlasting joy that is deep in our souls to shine forth, even when we don't feel happy, even when it hurts.  Joy is healing.  It's protective.  It reminds us that this life - and all the things we face, including the absence of "happiness"- are all fleeting. 

God tells us in James 1 that we should be joyful particularly when we face trials of any kind: "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials."  (NAB)  In Galatians, He tells us that joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit.  Not happiness.  But JOY.

What about you, is it difficult for you to be joyful despite a lack of happiness, amidst trials you are suffering through?  Do you know the difference between joy and happiness?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Beauty of the IMAGINATION

My 8 year old creates colorful pictures of fairies and princesses and tells me who they represent (me, her friends, etc) and how we're having tea parties and dancing in the ballet.  She makes nonsensical, funny jokes and plays dress-up with her sisters, pretending to be their best friend or their teacher. She holds her baby brother and tells him she's his mommy, cuddling him close and asking him if he is hungry, that she'll take him to the store in her car, and they'll go play at the park.  She likes to play Barbies, making them have elaborate conversations about life.

My 7 year old draws me brilliant pictures of Angry Birds in battle with the Pigs.  He fills the whole page with color.  He puts scenes together of dinosaur stickers and tells me stories about how they warn each other of the approaching T-Rex.  He flies through the house with paper airplanes, on a mission to bomb the dog, or another equally destructive task. 

My 5 year old pretends she's a mommy; usually her little brother is her child.   She's also a midwife, helping her sisters to birth a baby.  She dresses up in silly mismatched clothes and my shoes.  She ties herself up outside, waiting for her older brother to come rescue her from "danger."  She brings me trays of plastic food and tells me I need to eat or I will starve.
My 3 year old comes to me with pen and paper, sparkly dress and pig ears, says she's taking orders for lunch.  She talks about her "collection" a lot, though I'm not really sure which it is at any one time- crumpled papers, stolen lip gloss or a hodge-podge of tangled bracelets, necklaces and hair-ties from her dress-up bin.  But they're all equally important; treasures she's stolen from a dragon (her oldest sister?), or found in a secret cave.

I run through the house with a tiara on my head; I am the zombie princess (or so says the kids), chasing after my prey.  I'm eating air-cupcakes and drinking plastic milk as we sit around a pretend table.  I tell my daughter stories of her pet "Piggie," detailing our day as Piggie and I had lunch together and went swimming at the park.

My husband is a monster, hiding from the children, waiting to jump out and scare them.  He's a horse, a knight, a punching bag as they gang up on him and fight to save their kingdom.  He partakes in the food made of air and plastic drinks.... and even a tiara occasionally adorns his head.


The beauty of the imagination is that it is limitless, ageless, effortless.  It draws an ordinary family together so as to create and store away extraordinary memories.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Beauty of HOMESCHOOLING

Homeschooling and I have a love/hate relationship.  I hate that I seem to always compare myself to other homeschooling moms and my efforts seem to always vitiate in the shadows of their greatness.  I hate that I feel like I am never doing enough because my kids aren't where kids in public school "should" be in some areas of their studies.  I hate that I feel like a schedule would be too confining, but that I really really need one. Desperately.

I hate these things.

There are days when I wake up and think 'what the frack am I doing?????,' pour a cup of coffee or five and sit down at the table (in our PJ's - which I LOVE!) and work on "school."  It's taken me until this- the end of our third- year to let it sink in that school really isn't just about spelling and math and history, and it doesn't matter what other kids are doing or not doing in the brick-and-mortar schools.

And this is what I LOVE about homeschooling.  This is where the beauty lies-

Planting seeds as we discuss the various vegetables that will grow, anticipating when we'll see the tiny green sprouts, learning about germination....  This not only covers Science, Math, Home-Ec and Health/Nutrition, it covers more important life-skills like sharing, helping, learning patience, and learning the value of hard work and the excitement of the payoff.  Plus, we got a little dirty; what kid doesn't love that?!

Raising chickens!  Yes, I said chickens.  In our tiny "rural" neighborhood just outside of the town's "borough," in our smallish yard, our chickens have found a home.  About 2 weeks ago, we adopted 2-  3 week-old chickens whom hubby and I lovingly dubbed Lavern and Shirley.  The kids love helping to feed them, get them new water, even helping me (a little) to clean out the box we have them in right now until we move them to their coop.  We'll be getting 4 more in a few weeks as well.  We discuss chickens, what they like to eat, how we are to take care of them. My son is especially interested in the physical differences between a hen and a rooster, as he thinks just because Lavern has orange-ish coloring around her neck that she is actually a roo.  They are learning responsibility, hard work and animal health and nutrition.

Creating fun insects and animals from pom poms and pipe cleaners.  Art, Math, Science are all covered as we go through our projects and discuss the various creatures and where they live.

And yes, yes, of course some of these things I mention could be done in brick-and-mortar schools.  But if you think that is comparable to what goes on at home, you're completely missing the point.  As the saying goes, I am preparing my kids for life, not a test.  Their success will not be measured in SAT scores or what colleges they get accepted into, but how much of God's truth they understand and acknowledge and what kinds of servants they become, as God calls us all to be servants. It will be measured in how many souls they lead to Christ and how they express unconditional love. 

There is much to be said about homeschooling.  The thing I love most about it is that I get to spend time with my children more than the average parent of school-agers, not only teaching them, but learning along side them, learning FROM them.  I am filled with joy as I watch their faces light up when they finally get something that was difficult to understand, or master a word they stumbled over the previous week while reading.  I love being able to give them spelling tests, paint pictures, teach them about God, working on Math skills, really spend time getting to know their personalities and their hearts.  And allowing them to crack mine wide open and teach me about life.

I love that I get to do all that with them for as long as I want during the day, and that if they want to learn about flowers by spending the day exploring our yard and collecting various types, instead of reading a colorful book with diagrams and then moving on to the next subject, we can.  And.....Maybe I'm selfish but I just can't fathom allowing another woman or man all that precious time with my children that I could have myself.


Is homeschooling hard? You betcha!  Do I really hate it sometimes? Yes!  Do I fail at the academics aspect of it?  On occasion!  But this is a calling for our family and nothing could be more fulfilling, or more beautiful.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Beauty of Being GENUINE


ME:
I am loud and it's most likely because I feel inept in a social environment.  I am gullible to a fault.  I love fiercely, especially when it's my husband and my children.  I like to sing but not in front of other people (I'm terrible!). I love to write, especially when it's for the purpose of doing a brain dump, or to glorify God.  I have five babies but do not really enjoy being pregnant.  There could be more and though I am seriously afraid of that notion, I'm inwardly ok with it.  I think.
I am goofy and funny but I am not very witty.  
I love dark chocolate.  And salad.  And coffee.
I complain a lot.  I often do not notice the blessings I am given on a daily basis.  I am really mean when I'm seriously angry. 
I'm the type of person that likes to be straight-forward about stuff.  This gets me into trouble.  A lot.
I'm often a very intense person. 

I like to give everything I have if I can.
If I tell you I love you, I mean it.  If I say I'll pray for you, it's true; I will.  If I tell you I'm worried about you, I really am.  If I offer you anything- money, food, advice, a place to stay - it's from my heart.  I WANT to serve you.  But I'm not perfect; I don't always take every opportunity to serve other people; I often let my feelings get in the way of being charitable, or my tiredness or depression to keep me from serving others.
I'm profoundly convicted of the fact that Christ calls me to move past 'self' and to serve others anyway, so I'm working on that.  There are many times my flesh tells me I don't want to do any of that, and to think only of myself, but I can and do get past it and serve despite my not "wanting" to. And I know this pleases Him more than when it's easy for me.
I'm convicted of my beliefs and the truth of Christ and His sacrifice for our sins.  If you don't believe the same, it doesn't mean I don't like you.  If a relationship with you is challenging, I thank God for that challenge as it shows me how I don't want to be, and/or it draws me closer to Him.

I'm misunderstood.  A lot.
I'm learning how to not care about anything other than what God thinks of me, and if I'm pleasing to Him.  


That's my GENUINE.

What's yours?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Beauty of FAITH

The Beauty of Faith is like this:

when you're wandering around a dark tunnel in life and you're not sure what's in there with you, or how long til you see the light, Faith is what assures you that nothing can harm you and there is a light there somewhere

and

when you're hanging onto sanity by the last thin thread you can find, worried that it will break, Faith is what assures you that it won't

and

when you're in agony over something really difficult, making you feel weak and vulnerable, Faith is what reminds you how strong you are in Christ

and 

when you have nothing in your bank account and half your bills are still due, Faith is what assures you that God will always provide

and 

when you find out you're pregnant with another baby and aren't sure you're even doing right by all the others, Faith is what assures you that God fills in where you fail, and your children will grow up with hearts for Him

Faith takes you beyond the fear and doubt and vulnerability of your sinful, desperate soul and lifts you up to realize the infinite love and mercy of Father God.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Beauty of ETERNITY

I think about Eternity.  A lot.

I think about how perfect I will be; how I will be able to actually sit at my Father's feet and praise Him, sing to Him in perfect tune, kiss Him endlessly.

Sometimes at night I think about Heaven and how, when I shut my eyes there (if sleep is needed), I will not have to worry about how haggard and worn and sorrowful my soul might feel in the morning.  The groanings of its interior and the emptiness I often feel here on earth will be filled to the brim with beautiful light and unending peace.  Perfected by the fulfilled promised of Christ's blood on the cross.

It's humbling and at the same time, it is still often very difficult to think much past the here and now, on this earth.  I fail so much still and sometimes, His death is not enough.  Sometimes it's forgotten about; shoved to the corner recesses of my mind as life looms and weighs on me.  But we are called to live not for this life but for Heaven, for Eternity.  To keep in mind the simple fact that Christ died so that we might live in Him.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Beauty of DOUBT

The beauty of doubt is that it is just another tool to pull you closer to God.

When you doubt yourself, it could be for good reason-


Doubt is just another opportunity to PRAY!


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Beauty of CREATION

Every Spring I am in total awe of the new life sparked by its onset.  Sleeping plants and animals emerge to remind us that the world isn't dead after all, bringing with them the hope that life will indeed continue for a time.  As the brown barren earth gives way to Spring flowers and patches of green grass, my heart yawns and stretches with nature, and I am overjoyed that everything looks bright again, especially after a bleak winter and endless gray skies.

It's easiest to be in love with creation in the Spring.  Winter is so cold and though it has its perks like the beauty of freshly-fallen snow and the stillness of nature, it's hard to work past the chill in my bones and the feelings of darkness that creep in every year.  I often wonder why so many people have a difficult time during Winter and feel so much more alive once the Spring hits; as though our bodies depend on the warm sunshine to feel content, to thrive.  Humans are such interesting beings! God created us in His image, giving us a soul which nothing else in creation has, and calling us His children. He gave us this world to take care of, to enjoy.  No matter what the season.


And yet, there is a method in all of it.  There is a reason why in Winter many animals hibernate, why people slow down a bit, why the silence of the season has such a powerful affect on the soul if only we'll stop and take the time to acknowledge it.  There is something special about Winter, despite its harshness and cold.  You see it in the bright red winter berries and in the evergreens; colorful gifts to remind us that nothing lasts forever, especially not the gray and frost. Then in Spring, when everything and everyone seems to come alive more fully, things grow, animals appear, the sun shines more brightly.  Life moves on.  It's a process; a perfect cycle.  It's the give and take of humans and nature.  It's the beauty of God's creation.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Beauty of the BODY


When I was in the doctor's office the other day waiting for my PCP to come in, I was still reeling a bit from my weight check.  My body, while NO WHERE near what I would like it to look like, has changed quite a bit since having my fifth baby six months ago.  Everything fits differently and I feel smaller.  But I stepped on that scale and to my surprise, I weighed more than I thought I did.

As I sat on the exam table, I read the weight/height chart strategically secured to the back of the door and found out that apparently, I am 26 pounds "overweight."  Say what??

Since that moment, I have scrutinized every detail of my stretch-marked belly, the small hump on my back, the roundness in my shoulders. I've smoothed and pinched and smacked the extra skin I still have lingering right in the very middle of my abdomen.  I've thrown my shoulders back in attempts to straighten everything out. I dread looking in the mirror and actually avoid full-length ones if I can help it.  But why do I do this?

Because in the tragedy of our fallen world, people have sunk so low as to view others as either USEFUL or USELESS; something to be consumed.  Pornography sets the stage for so many relationships; the standard impossibly high for the average woman.  We're not viewed as attractive unless we're skinny and fit.  Regardless of the fact that my husband finds me attractive and often tells me I'm beautiful, I have that in-grained thought in the back of my mind that maybe I am not.

And it's a shame.  Because I believe there is beauty in ALL types of bodies.  All shapes and sizes.  My body has been home to seven babies.  Seven!  Five of them I was blessed to grow to term.  But this has wreaked havoc on my once-tiny waistline, as well as the rest of my body.  Perhaps the beauty my husband finds in my body is the fact that I have carried his children within me. That the extra flab on my belly is from my body literally stretching itself, and sacrificing parts of me to accommodate our babies and give them life.  Maybe it's just that he can't see past the love I show them and him as I relax more comfortably in my role as wife and mother, despite my insecurities with my ever-changing body.

Perhaps it's none of those.  Perhaps it's just that he doesn't view me as either useful or useless, or something to be consumed.  Perhaps my husband sees what the Creator sees, something made in His image, something to be cherished and loved no matter what I look like, no matter how much weight I've gained or lost.  I'm not sure because I've never asked.  One thing I am sure of, though, is that there is beauty in everybody; fat, thin, short, tall, young, old.  Beauty does not rest in the eye of the beholder, but in one's own innate value and purpose.  Some are able to see it.  Others are blinded by the world.

So women, especially all you mamas out there busting your behinds to become someone else's vision of the perfect body, here's some advice (which I clearly need to listen to myself):  Exercise to be healthy, but don't beat yourself up because you can't get rid of that last ten pounds or aren't losing weight as you would like.  Rejoice in your stretch marks because they're proof that you sacrificed much to grow another human being within you.  Be gentle and loving to your aging, changing body, especially if you're post-partem.  And NEVER let anyone tell you that you aren't valuable or beautiful.  Don't let them make you feel less than you are.  God created you in His image; you are beautiful and valuable to Him, no matter what your body looks like. And that's really all that matters.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Beauty in AGING


Grandma Anne was 91 when she died.  I remember many things about her, some painful and some wonderful.  The two things that stand out in my mind in stark contrast from one another are: the last few years of her life as it was shrouded in the horrendous abyss of Alzheimer's, and her beautiful silvery hair.

My mother used to wash Grandma's hair with that water-less shampoo you can buy for people who can't necessarily take regular baths or showers.  She'd suds her up, and then brush her locks, the long strands of silver shining brightly in the lamplight.  Like fine silk, it flowed through the brush under my mom's strokes, soft and brilliant.

I loved her hair. One of my favorite things while visiting was to give Grandma a kiss on the cheek and touch the back of her head, feeling her thin, soft hair between my fingers, the silver often catching the light playing off her bobby pins.  Grandma was always concerned about her hair; even in moments cloaked in the darkness of her dementia, she'd smooth her hair with her wrinkled hand or ask for a comb.  Grandma loved her bobby pins and when my mom would put them in Grandma's hair, she took special care to place them just so.

I'm glad that even before Alzheimer's took over all reason and sense, Grandma was not one to dye her hair. It was that beautiful silver gray in all of my memories of her and I never once considered her "old" because of it.  At times, her hair served as a reminder that no matter how wrinkled and yellowed she looked, or even how disoriented and mean she acted, she was still my Grandma, still beautiful, still there.