Thursday, December 31, 2009

Maybe I should change my name for the New Year...

When I started my blog, a little over a year ago, I wanted a really unique, creative name for it. I was unable to come up with anything I thought would really fit it, so I turned to Tim for a suggestion. He came up with "Overflow" and though I never did figure out where he got the idea, I took his suggestion. Of course, like many of my great ideas, it came to me much later that I should have called my blog "Happy Chaos", because that is how I often refer to the busy, tiring, lively atmosphere of our home. Happy Chaos is the most accurate description of my home and my life that I have come up with. Most of my blog posts are an attempt to capture a little of this. With 5 children, a husband who works two jobs, the responsibility of educating, as well as caring for the children, and, of course, all the housework, errands, and unexpected mishaps of life, I am surrounded by chaos constantly but I love my big family and want even our chaos to be happy and joy-filled.
Lately though, there seems to be much more of the chaos part of things than the happy. Lately, "overwhelmed" might be a better title for my blog than "Overflow" because that is how I have felt in recent days. Maybe it is the added stress of the holidays, maybe it is the sleep deprivation that has been building for the last four months as I've been getting up with the baby most nights since her birth in August, maybe it is just my own lack of discipline and organization but life in the last few weeks has ceased to be much fun and is instead a whole lot of work that never seems to be done.
With the New Year looming I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to decrease a little of our chaos and increase a bit of our happiness so that my home might be restored to its former state of joyful bedlam. What I'd like is to hire a housekeeper but since there is no way I'm going to fit that into the's what I have come up with:
1. more discipline. I need a schedule and I need to be disciplined enough to really stick to it.
2. less stuff. We took four big garbage bags of toys to Salvation Army the other day. It was not enough, we need to clean out even more. There is still way too much stuff around my house cluttering up the rooms and overwhelming my mind.
3. more exercise. I have slacked off with my workouts lately and it is showing in my mood and my waistline. Time to get back on track.
4. less time spent playing on the computer. If I took the few minutes here and the few minutes there that I currently spend checking my e-mail or peeking at my Facebook page I would probably have at least a half hour more to devote to doing the dishes or folding the laundry.
5. more prayer. Okay, so this one should have come first, prayer should always come first. In fact, if I can be more consistent about putting prayer first, I will probably be better at accomplishing all the other things on my list.
God knows I need a lot of help if I am really going to make the changes I need to make, in order to be more productive, more peaceful, and more happy in the New Year. In fact, I will willingly accept any prayers you, my devoted (or at least curious) readers, may offer on my behalf as well. With love and gratitude, I thank you and I hopefully anticipate many more happy yet chaotic days to come in 2010!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A life of ease

I spend an awful lot of my time trying to make myself happy. I try to do all the things I want to do and avoid the things I don't want to do. Everything in the world and popular culture tells me this should be the very best way to achieve real lasting happiness. I have noticed, though, that even when I am successful in doing only the things I like to do and getting out of doing all the things I dislike, I am never really as happy as I should be...
For example, I cannot stand to do dishes. I just loath standing at the sink working my way through piles of sticky, soggy, dirty dishes encrusted with such appetizing fare as half-chewed meat, mushy cereal and other equally disgusting yet totally unidentifiable leftovers. Thankfully, I have figured out how to avoid this dreaded job entirely. I have delegated dishes to the kids. It sounds perfect, doesn't it? If the kids do the dishes then first of all I don't have to, second of all, they will learn responsibility and third of all they will be doing their part to help out around the house. Unfortunately, it never seems to work out so perfectly. My four year old is suppose to unload the dishwasher but before he actually does the job he usually spends about ten minutes laying on the floor crying and whining about having to do it. My 8 year old and 11 year old take turns loading the dirty dishes into the dishwasher but they must be nagged repeatedly before they get around to the work. And then they feel the need to argue about whose turn it is every single time they are reminded that the sink is overflowing. Which brings me to yet another problem, the sink is always overflowing. It seems the children can never stay on top of the job because they are so much better at creating dirty dishes than cleaning them. So, though I should be thrilled about never having to face the filthy plates myself, the current "solution" hardly makes me happy. It really would be easier to just do the dishes myself.
In contrast, one thing I love to do is to sleep in. Getting a few extra hours of rest in the morning sounds like the greatest luxury to me. This week, because the kids and I are on our Christmas break and Tim is on vacation from work, I have had the chance to indulge in this oh-so-rare treat. The baby, who just a few weeks ago was sleeping through the night, has completely regressed and is now getting up every few hours again so that makes sleeping in all that much more appealing. This morning I had the opportunity to sleep until 10 am. How wonderful! Except, when I did get up, the kitchen was a total disaster. The overflowing sink was now completely buried under a mass of dishes that overflowed off the edge of the counter. The table had even more dirty dishes scattered all over, sticky spills covered much of the wood finish, and the gallon jug of milk sat spoiling in the midst of it all. The floor too was covered in sticky spots and crushed cereal. It was practically lunch time before I could get myself a little breakfast because it took that long to locate a spoon and clear a spot in the sink to wash it. I guess getting up an hour earlier probably would have made for a happier morning.
My life is full of so many examples like this. Everyday there are opportunities to be disciplined enough to make my life and my house more efficient and organized and so often I miss the opportunities because I am too busy trying to take the easy way out. Yet, always the easy way turns out so much harder and makes me so much less happy. Why, I wonder, does doing what I want make me so miserable and make my life so much more difficult? I guess the real question should be: why can I not see more clearly that doing what God wants me to do is what truly makes me happy even when it requires so much more sacrifice?
I suppose I am just weak, slow to learn, and maybe even a little selfish but, thankfully, God is patient and He will guide me and strengthen me if only I ask. So, I pray, "God help me to rise above my desire for laziness and ease so that I may serve You better and know the joy and peace of doing what is right and good."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My letter to Santa Claus

It has been a lot of years since I last wrote a letter to Santa Claus but this year I think I may do just that. My letter this year will not be like the letters of my childhood, which included long lists of toys and presents I hoped to receive and, of course, my assurance that I had been good enough to deserve them! No, this letter will be a little different.
I suppose I should explain a little. You see, my family is blessed enough to have found the real Santa Claus and to have been photographed with him for the past 12 Christmases. Now I know the real Santa is very busy this time of year but somehow he has found a little time to sneak away from the North Pole to visit sunny Florida. He comes to an upscale shopping district in Tampa, FL known as Hyde Park Village. It is about 45 minutes from our house and we discovered he was there when our oldest child was only three months old. He is real in every way possible. He has real round cheeks, a real round belly, real white curly hair, and a real long white beard. His clothes are not the traditional red suit with a big black belt and big black boots. Instead, he wears a Victorian style long flowing robe , in a deep shade of crimson and lined with fur. He looks exactly like I picture St. Nicholas would look. Everything about him is authentic and beautiful. He smiles cheerily when greeting the children and spends time with each of them. He is genuinely interested in making them feel special. Every year it is one of our most special traditions to make the 45 minute drive to spend just a few minutes with this wonderful man. And every year he is there. Every year we have seen him. Every year we have sat our children on his lap and had them photographed. Every year they have shared with him their hopes and wishes (except, of course, that year or two when each of them were toddlers and terrified to even get near him!) Every year, for the past twelve years, it has been the same man with the same real white beard and infectious smile.
Last year, because he has been so special to us and such a part of our Christmas traditions, I brought along a scrapbook album I have been keeping of just our Santa Claus pictures. Imagine his surprise as he flipped through the book and saw our children, and our family, grow and seeing that he has been such a special part of it all. He was so impressed with the album and had us show it to Mrs. Claus, who was, thankfully, along that afternoon. We talked for a few extra minutes last year just to let him know how much he means to us.
This year, as all seven of us filed into the tiny store front where his big red chair was set up, his eyes lit up in recognition. We all squeezed in for our photograph and the children proceeded to give him their lists. Then he looked at Tim and I, with real tears glistening in the corners of his eyes and told us how special it is to him that we come back every year to see him. He told us we are the only family that he has seen every year and that it means so much to him to see us and watch the children grow. He, then, turned to our oldest daughter, the now tall and lanky eleven year old who first sat on his lap as a tiny bald baby, he took her hands in his and thanked her for coming. His eyes, still moist, looked into hers and he encouraged her to keep believing.
Now, I know that the tradition of Santa Claus is not the holiest way to celebrate the birth of our Lord but I can assure you the spirit of Christmas was never more alive than in that tiny little store front as we shared a few minutes with that beautiful man. He truly made us feel special and I believe we did the same for him. We shared the love of Christ and the joy of the season just by sharing our true gratitude and love for each other.
As it turns out, Santa has a business card. We picked it up and were happy to see he has a local address, only about 45 minutes from the shopping district (in the opposite direction of us). So, I think I may write him a quick letter to really thank him for all that he means to us, to tell him he is in our prayers, and to wish him the very merriest of Christmases. I pray, also, that all of you reading this may be as blessed as we are to truly know the love of Christ, the generosity of others and the joy of the season this year.

Monday, December 7, 2009

My Never-Ending To Do List

Every morning I wake up with a long list of things to do. Every night I go to sleep with an even longer list for the next day. My to do list includes all the necessary things to keep my house running smoothly, such as laundry, mopping the floor, cleaning the bathrooms, grading papers, etc.... I just never seem to get to most of the things on the to do list (though obviously, and amazingly, I did sneak in some time to write this blog. It was written in 3 minute increments over the course of several hours and at least, partially one-handed while nursing the baby, but it did get written!).
The reasons for my lack of productivity are almost as long as my ever-growing list. The main one I suppose is that I am never as disciplined or organized as I should be. Lately, though it is not all my fault. Lately, I seem to spend at least half my time walking around the house singing to the baby, who has been quite fussy the past few days. The baby who is the youngest of five children, is so cute, so sweet, and these days, so demanding! She wants to be held and she does not nap. Now, I cannot complain about sleep because she is pretty much sleeping through the night, which for a child of mine is unheard of at 3 1/2 months old but it would be nice if she would at least snooze for a few minutes during the day.
So, my days lately have consisted of walking a lot of laps around my way-too-messy house with a sometimes cranky, always very snuggly baby, and feeling stressed about all the housework that isn't getting done. As I traipse through the kitchen, singing "Kookaburra" I notice sticky spots on the floor, fifteen cups, all of them half full, on the table, and ungraded spelling tests and math worksheets on the counter... As I move onto the family room, and sing the theme song for "Elmo's World", I take note of the throw pillows all on the floor, legos scattered literally everywhere, and four pairs of shoes and socks kicked off in front of the couch. I can feel my blood pressure rise as I start to sing the alphabet and the baby can obviously tell that it is not meant to be sung through gritted teeth because she starts to fuss all the more. Ahh, the blessing of motherhood.
Today, it finally pushed me right to the edge, which is obviously right where God wanted me to be, because I just decided to surrender. I finally realized that though I had a list a mile long of things I thought should get done, God's list consisted of just one thing, that one thing was just what I was already doing. I looked at the baby and declared out loud, "Okay you win! I guess God doesn't care if I fold the laundry or write out my Christmas cards. I guess His plan for my day is to walk around the house and snuggle with you!"
I am not kidding when I tell you she stopped fussing almost immediately. Maybe this is proof that, as I have suspected all along, she is spoiled rotten and just wanted to know she was going to get her way, or maybe it was because God could see that I had finally learned my lesson, at least for today. My agenda should always be to serve God and do the work He has placed in front of me. It is not easy for me to lay aside my plans but when I do my home is more pleasant and peaceful for everyone in it. And the laundry will still be there to fold tomorrow....

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

All are welcome, the tall and the small

I love the whole Christmas season. I love the time of Advent as we prepare for the birth of Jesus and the many opportunities it provides to spend time together with family and friends.

Several years ago a Protestant friend of mine invited my children and me to join her at her church for a Christmas concert the choir was putting on. Though, my friend had never before attended the annual Christmas concert at her church she had heard that it was a very family friendly event. It sounded like a wonderful evening and I gladly accepted. At the time, she and I had two children each and they were all toddlers. So with the four kids in tow we entered the church to find that we were the only ones with children at the event. Still, being a cradle Catholic and used to having children, sometimes lots of children, around during any and all church functions I did not think much of it. The Pastor's wife apparently did. It seems at their church children were not a part of their worship time. Children went to Sunday school during their church services and this concert was, in fact, not really a family event after all. The adults who had gathered to listen to the beautiful Christmas music were not expecting to have four giggling, screeching children as the background singers. We were encouraged, within minutes of our arrival, to please put our children in the nursery. We dutifully gathered them up and set off only to find the nursery room dark and locked up with no nursery attendant anywhere to be found. After letting the children run around on the church walkways for a little while we put them back into their car seats and set off for home. Though I could certainly understand that the concert was much more enjoyable without the children there, I remember thinking how sad it was that the kids were not welcome in the church.

This past Sunday our own church announced that they would be having an Advent prayer service followed by a pot luck dinner on Dec. 1st. It sounded so wonderful, as I had been really hoping to have a spirit filled, prayerful time of preparation for Christmas this year. Of course, Tim and I now have five children of our own and though they are not all toddlers, they are very energetic and full of youthful exuberance. In contrast, our parish, being in Florida after all, is primarily retirees and elderly people. We realized and fully expected that if we attended, Tim and I were likely to be younger than all the other worshipers. Still we really wanted to go and share in the prayer time and furthermore, we wanted to participate as a family. And so, despite our reservations, we packed the children up and set off, optimistically toting our steaming hot pot luck dish along with us. Before going into the church, we dropped off our pot luck offering in the parish hall which had several elderly people milling around. Our boys, who are 4 and 8 years old, immediately started to run, weaving between the tables which were beautifully decorated in purple tablecloths with candles glowing in the centers. So far, it wasn't looking like it was going to be the peaceful, prayerful evening I was hoping for. Nevertheless we went into the church which was dark, quiet and filled with the scent of burning incense. We took a seat not far from the cry room, anticipating that we would end up there in short order. As I looked around the church I noted that we were one of only a few families there, and the only one with five small children along. Almost immediately a women got up and approached me from the end of our pew. "My name is Sister Deborah," she said, " I just want to let you know that if your baby fusses do not worry about leaving, it is music to God's ears."

Now, I probably don't have to even tell you how the rest of the evening went. My heart was filled with such joy to be so blessed to be a part of the Catholic church, a church that encourages big families and supports and welcomes us all. The children, though not perfect, were fairly well behaved and the baby made only happy little cooing sounds but I suspect I would have enjoyed the evening just as much had they been less than pleasant. I appreciated the fact that we were all there together and that each and every one of us was welcome there. I could feel that our beautiful Church was overflowing with the love of Christ, alive in the tabernacle and in hearts of all those around us. What better way to celebrate this joyous time of year.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thanking God for Fun

I have been trying to focus, this month, on all that I am grateful for. After the love, mercy, and guidance of God in my life, I am most thankful for my family. I am thankful not only to have my family, my husband and our five children, but especially for the family that we are and all the fun we have together.
I am grateful, first and foremost, that Tim and I are so close and that our marriage is a source of laughter and joy as well as companionship and cooperation. As a child, I used to love spending the night at friends' houses. It was so much fun to stay up late talking and goofing off together, giggling late into the night, and then waking up to do it all over again the next day. Obviously, marriage is not always like that but it is pretty wonderful to be married to my best friend. There are many nights Tim and I do stay up late talking and laughing. There are occasionally mornings, when we don't have to rush off to work, school or some appointment or errand, when we can start the day together talking and laughing some more. Even on our normal mornings when life is busy and we are just bustling around getting ready and juggling the preparations for the day at least we can do it together. Our marriage is far from perfect and we do get angry and frustrated with each other, as all couples do, but for the most part Tim and I truly enjoy spending time together, and that is something to be really grateful for!
Parenthood, like marriage, is not always fun and easy. In fact, many days it is an overwhelming task that leaves me exhausted or even frustrated, sometimes both. However, like my relationship with Tim, my time with my children is often marked by giggling and goofing off. Our family dinners, which in the past have been a source of stress, these days are filled with so much laughter and fun we often end up at the table for over an hour after the food is gone, just because we are enjoying the time together. The kids recently started initiating dinner time games, such as "I spy" and "20 questions". They have also added a few games of their own making into the mix, including one called "What's your answer?" that is pure nonsense, and one where we all must avoid saying words that begin with the letter "p". Tim and I enjoy these games as much as the kids do. It is not a time of meaningless fun, though it probably looks like that. Instead, I really believe having fun together and having our own family traditions strengthens our family bonds. I am grateful for the joy that fills my home and I pray these happy memories will stay with my children and serve to remind them that the love of family will always be there for them.
I am grateful, too, for the time we share in more serious moments. As a family, we talk about our feelings, our plans, and our beliefs all the time. We pray together throughout the day. We learn together throughout the day. We share so much more than just a house and bloodline. I feel so blessed not just to have a family, but to be a part of this family. I feel so blessed to share my life with each of my five children and my wonderful husband. I am so impressed with each of the members of my family and feel honored to spend my days surround by their love and goodness. And so this Thanksgiving, I will not only thank God for the gift of my family, I will thank Him for the blessing of the family we are.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Finding the extraordinary in my messy house

The weather has been gray and rainy for the past three days here. It is unusual in Florida to have too many days like this. Maybe it is because of the gloomy weather but lately I have been feeling a little bored and unfulfilled in my life. I feel like my life has been reduced to one monotonous day after another. I look forward to each day anticipating nothing more than whiny kids, a sink full of dishes, laundry and dirty diapers that never seem to end, and school work I cannot keep up with grading.
This morning, as I looked at my calendar, the day did not look much different than normal . Nevertheless, I dragged myself out of bed and as I did so I prayed that God would bless the day and help me to do my best to face the normal everyday challenges. Tim had the day off work for Veteran's Day and I would be spending my morning helping out in my son's pre-school classroom but the whiny kids, over abundance of dirty dishes and unending laundry would be the same. I was not feeling very energetic, or very grateful, as I went through the motions of yet another day of life as a stay-at-home mother. Now, don't get me wrong, I love my life... most of the time. I wouldn't want to be doing anything else and I know this is the path to holiness that God has chosen for me. I know all that but lately I have not been feeling it. I have not been feeling like my contribution to the world has much value, nor have I been feeling very motivated to do much more than just get through each day.
So today went along as usual. After a few loads of laundry, a little straightening up of the family room, and a long list of other equally exciting things I finally found a few minutes to lay down next to the baby as she napped on the couch. I laid there watching her sleep and wondering why my life has been feeling so boring and hollow lately. Tim was working on a puzzle, the kids were, amazingly, all playing nicely and quietly together, the house was peaceful and I had a rare moment to really think. It occurred to me that if life never had anything more to offer than this-- a husband who I love and who loves me, 5 healthy children, a roof over our heads, and our Catholic faith, it would be enough. This really is all that I ever wanted. No, it isn't glamorous. No, it doesn't always feel fulfilling, exciting, or important. No, I don't receive a lot of recognition for the things I do but this is my vocation. And, taking care of my family, taking care of my house, educating my children, well, these things are infinitely more important and meaningful than they may ever seem. Though I sometimes lose sight of it, these are the things I am most grateful for in life.
It is rare that I can take the time to step back and see my life as God sees it but this afternoon, as I watched my infant daughter sleep, I think I got a tiny little glimpse. This is just where God wants me to be. For it is in the ordinary-- a quiet afternoon at home, a peaceful sleeping baby, my less than perfect home and the normal everyday routine of caring for my family, --that I can find the extraordinary-- a glimpse of God's love and goodness, a moment of true peace and contentment, opportunities to serve- if only I remember to focus on God.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Blessings all around me

My children love decorating the house for holidays. They started talking about our Halloween decorations in late September and insisted on pulling them out right on October 1st. On November 1st, after a month of pumpkins and skeletons, the children were ready for new decor and so packed up the spooky embellishments in favor of cornucopias and turkeys. So now, surrounded by Thanksgiving reminders, my thoughts too turn from candy and costumes to all the things I am grateful for this year. I decided, in honor of the season, I would try to focus all my blogs this month on gratitude.
The first thing that comes to mind as I ponder what I am most thankful for is the bucket of Halloween candy and the cute pictures of my kids in their costumes. I am kidding (mostly, I mean I do appreciate chocolate in the house and the pictures of the kids all dressed up did turn out so, so cute!).
Actually I find myself thinking back to where I was in my life a year ago. At that time, Tim and I were seriously discussing whether or not to add to our family. It was a discussion that had literally been going on for more than a year. We talked about it, prayed about it and struggled to discern God's plan as well as our own desires, which seemed to fluctuate depending on our four children's behavior. As we agonized over the decision many things weighed heavily on my mind. I worried about our finances, the added challenge of another child, and the thought of another long pregnancy. Our conversations seemed to go in circles, one minute we greatly desired a baby and felt God calling us to have another child, the next we felt sure that was a crazy idea. Finally, we decided the only way to truly tell what God wanted was to trust in Him enough to put it completely in His hands. We threw away our NFP chart and prayed that God's will be done. It was only a few weeks later that God revealed His plan and we found out we would be welcoming baby #5. Despite my previous uncertainty and indecisiveness, as soon as I found out we were expecting I was instantly filled with overwhelming gratitude.
It was the weekend before Christmas that we found out about baby and we told our children on Christmas Eve. What a beautiful memory it is to think about sharing the news of our new baby as we celebrated the birth of baby Jesus. All the Mass readings that week spoke of rejoicing and blessings and that is how we felt. A few days later, I lost sight of rejoicing and I was instead filled with fear and worry about our unborn baby. After having four beautiful healthy children I started wondering if, perhaps we were asking too much to hope for another healthy baby. I was plagued by thoughts of all that could go wrong and almost expected that at any moment one of those things would come to pass. I spent the first trimester of my pregnancy in terror, losing sight of our prayer that God’s will be done and our decision to trust in Him. It was around the end of my first trimester that we announced my pregnancy to people outside our family. A friend, upon hearing the news, said to me, “Oh God must be so proud of you and Tim, trusting in Him and being so open to life.” Her statement was just what I needed to hear. It was true, we were cooperating with God in His plan, and He was blessing us for trusting in Him enough to be open to life.
And so, this Thanksgiving I will say a prayer of thanks to God for His plans, He always knows what is best for us even when we, try as we might, can’t seem to figure it out. I will remember to be thankful for good friends, who so often bring me closer to God and remind me to keep things in perspective. And, of course, I will be mindful of my greatest blessing, which now includes our five beautiful, healthy children, my family.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Getting honest about money matter how much you have you can always use more, right? I consider myself sort of an expert on always needing more. Tim and I have never had much. We were still in college when we married, and neither of us had had much worldly success before we started our family. To be honest, by the standards of many people, we still have not had much worldly success! And, to be honest, we still don't have much money.
However, strange as it may sound, I honestly have never really worried or cared about money. Tim and I got married, bought our first little townhouse, and started our family all without much thought to whether we could afford it all or not. We had decided early on that I would not work when our children were young and so after our daughter was born I quit my job, again without really worrying about how we would make ends meet. I remember during those early years, having only about $20 dollars to live on after paying all the bills. Somehow or other, there was always food on the table, gas in our cars, and diapers for the baby though. Thankfully, our income has grown a little over the years. Of course, our family seems to have grown much, much faster and so we still live paycheck to paycheck, sometimes not sure how we will afford everything we need. Yet, still there is food on the table, gas in the cars, and diapers for the baby.
If I do not really worry or care about the size of our bank account, why, you may ask do I bother "blogging" about it? The truth is I know too many people who make their life decisions based on money and it makes me sad. I have friends and family who lose sleep over money. I know many people who are unhappy about the state of their lives and the choices they have made but feel they have no other option, because of money. I have heard too many stories of people who wish their life was different but feel they cannot change it, because of money. How many mother's claim they desperately want to be home with their children but can't, because of money?
On our limited income, Tim and I have had to do without a lot of things. Our children do not have all that their friends have because we cannot afford it all. I think, though, of all the people I know who struggle with too little money, Tim and I have had to sacrifice the least in life. We have not sacrificed time with our family. We have not sacrificed raising our children the way we think is right. We have not sacrificed our sense of peace because of money. And through it all God has provided.
Living within our means is getting harder. With five children, mounting medical bills, and a house that seems to be falling apart around us some days, a little more money would come in very handy. I do find myself wondering lately how God is going to rise to the challenge to provide for us now, yet He never lets us down. He provides for all that we need to live physically. And even more importantly, He provides us with peace and comfort if we just trust in Him and do what he has called us to do by putting our family first. I hope and pray that others, who are in a similar financial state, can learn to worry less, trust more, and follow God's plan even if it doesn't pay well.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Broken rules, mended relationships

I worry about my children...A LOT. In these days of 24 hour news channels, hundreds of parenting books, and sensational tabloid magazines informing us constantly of all the dangers the world has to offer, it is hard not to worry. Parents are so much more aware of child predators, chemicals in our environment, and rare but deadly diseases than ever before. Being the informed mother I am, I do everything I can to keep my children safe. My baby sleeps on her back, my older children wear helmets when riding their bikes, we all wear sunscreen when spending time outside, we filter all our water before drinking it . The list goes on...
I am usually overly cautious and careful as can be, but recently I knowingly broke an important safety rule. It was one of those days, the kind that starts with bickering children and spilled cereal. After breaking up fights and crunching through my kitchen my patience was waning when the children and I set off on a few errands. The kids were continuing their earlier disagreement as they buckled themselves into our packed minivan like a bunch of little sardines. The van, which seats 7, left no spare space for our family of 7 and the children were sitting shoulder to shoulder without even an inch between them. In a moment of weakness, impatience, and perhaps incredible irresponsibility, I invited my 11 year old daughter into the, previously forbidden, front seat. I know the guidelines say that children under 12 are safest in the backseat but I needed a bit of peace in my car and I knew I wasn't going to get it as long as the kids were sitting practically on top of each other.
A most unexpected thing came out of this chaotic spur of the moment decision. My oldest child, who tends to be a lot like her father and keeps to herself much of the time, started to talk to me. She was not asking for a snack or complaining about her math work. She was chatting with me about her thoughts. In my busy, sometimes crazy household of 5 children, I struggle to find an uninterrupted minute to spend time alone with each of them to just talk and hang out. I am, many times, distracted and preoccupied at home. My oldest daughter is quiet. She does not always want to share her thoughts and feelings with others and I have found the more I push her, the more she withdraws. At times, I have worried about our relationship, wishing she was more comfortable coming to me and talking to me about anything. I have prayed, in the past, that God would show me a way to grow closer to her.
I never would have thought the answer to my prayer would be to break the rules but sometimes God does work in mysterious ways. It was a few weeks ago when I first invited my daughter into the front but ever since, she has remained my talkative travel companion as she rides shot gun. In this time, she has shared with me many stories, ideas, and opinions. I have had the opportunity to listen, relatively undistracted, and to see her get excited about sharing things with me. I have enjoyed the chance to spend more time with my daughter who, for the first two and a half years of her life was my only child, my constant companion, and my favorite little buddy. I am so impressed with the young lady she is growing up to be and I am so grateful she is willing to share her thoughts with me. Though the experts may not say it is safe, our new travel arrangement is working wonderfully. My daughter and I are once again growing close and our van is now a more peaceful place to travel...except, of course, for the younger children whining from the backseat, "why does she get to sit in the front?!?!?!?"

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The failure that haunts me still....

Growing up I was always a good student. I did well in reading, math and art class. I got good grades in science and social studies too. The only thing I really struggled with in school was P.E. class. I was just never very athletic. I remember dreading my class’ weekly hour in what we called gym class and wishing I could somehow get out of it.
I could never get a hit when we played baseball. I could never make a basket during basketball. I could never serve the ball over the net when it was time for volleyball. The only time I did not completely embarrass myself was on the rare occasion we would enter the gym to find stations set up with different activities to do as individuals. There would be hula hoops to play with, stilts to walk on, mats to tumble on, and my sister’s all time favorite-- ropes to climb. Then there was that other station. The one I most clearly remember. It consisted of two plastic crates, one full of colorful scarves and the other small plastic balls. This was the juggling station. The idea was to practice juggling the scarves and, once that was mastered, move on to the balls. Now, in all honesty, even on individual stations day, I still did not excel at P.E. I was not great at the hula hoops, I could only stay on the stilts for a minute or two. I could hold my own with somersaults and cartwheels but never progressed to any fancier tumbling. I did okay on the ropes but always got very nervous the higher I went. But the scarves, well, that was actually a little bit fun. I enjoyed tossing those colorful scarves and than quickly trying to catch them all again before the gently floated to the filthy gymnasium floor. I could keep up with two scarves at a time and eventually graduated to three. Because this was something I was okay at, I did not want to ruin it by pushing myself too far. I never even attempted to juggle those little plastic balls. I steered clear of the second plastic crate and stuck to what I was most comfortable with.
The good news, all these years later, is that failing at P.E. has not held me back in life too terribly much. As a 34 year old mother of 5, I cannot tell you the last time I even had the opportunity to play basketball or walk on stilts, let alone the need to do it well. But the juggling station...well now I can see it would have been well worth the effort to have truly mastered the art of juggling. The truth is I do wish now, that I would have tried so much harder to really succeed at the juggling station. How I would have benefited from trying my hand at keeping several of those small plastic balls up in the air all at once, instead of concentrating on the scarves which presented no challenge to me at all.
As a home schooling mother, I could really use those juggling skills I had the chance to perfect so many years ago. These days, I feel our home classroom is a lot like a three ring circus. I have a fifth grader, a third grader, and a first grader to teach and instruct, all while caring for a 2 month old infant, and all of this, in between drop off and pick up at my 4 year old son’s preschool. Juggling my life is a whole lot more like the hard plastic balls, which would sting if they fell on your head, or would roll away if you let them drop to the floor, than like those lovely bright scarves that just floated in the breeze.
I guess this experience just goes to show me that every opportunity to learn in this life is worth taking! Now, though, it is time to sign off, because my children are demanding my attention. And since I am not a very good juggler, I guess I need to concentrate on one thing at a time!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Basking in the Son

I have lived in Florida longer than I've lived anywhere else in my entire life. Tim and I moved here over 12 years ago, just because. My parents were living here and after visiting them we fell in love with the beautiful scenery, the breathtaking views and, of course, the tropical weather. We visited them for a week in early July 1997, and literally two weeks later packed up all our belongings and moved here ourselves. We have been enjoying our life in the Sunshine State ever since.
When we first moved here we appreciated the mild climate, the bright blue skies, and the beautiful coastline so much that we spent every Sunday afternoon basking in the sun on the white sand of Clearwater beach. The beach had such an allure we started going on Friday evenings as well. After living up north for our whole lives we were truly grateful for the warmth of the south. We loved our Florida home and the lifestyle that came with it.
Over time, though our love for the Sunshine State did not really diminish, we stopped going to the beach every week. Life got busier, and we got more and more used to the beautiful sights all around us. We started taking it all for granted. The beach would always be there next weekend if we just couldn't get there this weekend.
Every once in a while I am still reminded of how lucky I am to live here though. Recently a missionary priest visited our church. He had spent 17 years serving the poor of Kenya and shared many stories of his life there. He told of people, who were so poor they had only one meal a day, walking up to two hours to attend Mass on Sundays. He went on to point out, that after the two hour walk and the hour long Mass another two hour journey was required to then return home. I was struck by the dedication of a people who, though probably weak from hunger, so appreciated their faith that they were willing to go to great lengths and great sacrifice to take part in weekly Mass. I found myself thinking about their plight and even more importantly, their faith. It struck me that perhaps, though I have plenty to eat, I am the one who is truly weak. I realized that my own faith, or at least my own appreciation of my faith and my Church, seemed to be greatly lacking when compared to theirs.
I am so blessed to live here in Florida, here in America, not only because the sun is always shining but more importantly because the Son is always available to me. I can, at any time, walk to my own church in less than 15 minutes time. I can make it there in only 2 minutes time by car. I can sit before the Blessed Sacrament or attend daily Mass and receive, into my own body, the Eucharist every day! Yet, like the sun shining in the sky above me, I have come to take the Son, shining forth His love upon me, for granted. If I don't make it to Mass today, there is another one tomorrow.
Every once in a while I look at the magnificent views around me and wonder how I can ever get too busy to appreciate it all. Yet, I am even more often too busy and distracted to appreciate the beauty and magnificence of my Catholic faith. It is so easy, in my life of ease and comfort, to lose sight of the greatest blessings in my life. It is so easy, knowing the Church is right around the corner, to put off visiting it. How sad it is that the greater our opportunities to meet God, in our Church and in the Sacraments, the less we appreciate Him. I pray I will learn from the poor how to be really grateful for the riches of faith that I have, and I pray I will not take the ability to bask in the Son for granted again.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Blessed for our efforts

Last year, at just about this time of year, our family participated in the 40 days for Life program in our local community. All six of us went to pray in front of an abortion mill and stood in a very prominent spot on the side of the road with our rosaries in hand and our pro-life message on signs that we held overhead. The experience was very positive for all of us, from Tim and I to our then three year old son. I wrote about the blessings that came out of the experience in one of my earliest blog entries entitled Become like little children. It turns out the blessings may have been even greater than I could see at that time....
This year, we were once again invited by the organizers of the 40 days for Life in our area to offer our prayers in front of the same abortion mill. Tim took our oldest two children and prayed with them on the side of the road, as I stayed home with the younger three kids and prayed from the safety of our family room. It just did not seem practical to stand on the side of the road, just a few feet from rushing traffic, with a 6 week old baby. As I prayed, it occurred to me that one year ago I would not have expected to be now holding our little bundle of joy, blessed with a beautiful new life in our own family.
Upon further thought it occurred to me that maybe I should not be at all surprised by this interesting little coincidence. It has happened before....
A little more than seven years ago the Respect Life committee at our parish launched a program they called spiritual adoption. The idea was to "adopt" an unborn baby who was at risk of abortion and to pray for them for nine months in the hopes of saving lives. Of course, one would never know the outcome of these prayers, as the unborn child was known only to God and the prayers would remain forever anonymous. Both Tim and I eagerly signed up. We took home brochures which explained the program and included information on the development of the baby from conception to birth. It even had a place to name "your" baby. We chose names and I hung the brochures on the refrigerator to remind us to daily offer our petitions. During the nine months we prayed, we were happy to find out we were expecting our third child, making our prayers for an unborn baby even more meaningful to us.
The spiritual adoption program was so well received they introduced it again two years later and again we participated. This time we were blessed with a very unexpected surprise pregnancy of our own. We welcomed our fourth child just before the nine months of our spiritual adoption wrapped up.
Now, I am not sure if it is the prayers and petitions we have offered that has made us more open to the new life God had already intended to send us, or if it is more a gift and blessing bestowed by God as a sort of reward for our pro-life efforts that has resulted in the blessings of our three youngest children but it does seem that as soon as we pray for life God abundantly answers our prayers! I am so very, very grateful for my beautiful family. My life and my home are full of 5 of God's amazing gifts of life. I only hope that He understands why I felt it necessary to warn Tim to be careful what he prayed for as he left the house for this year's "40 days" participation. I am just not quite ready to handle any more of God's answers to our pro-life prayers!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Where did my newborn baby go?

My baby is growing up too fast! I know it seems silly to say that already. After all she is only 6 weeks old and just now reaching 10 pounds, but in only 6 short weeks she has changed so much! She was born at 7 lbs, 5oz, small and dainty (though she did, even then, have very round chubby cheeks). She has filled out quite nicely and now the adjective "robust" comes to mind as I look at her sleeping in her bassinet. Her thighs and belly have rounded out to match her, now even chubbier, cheeks. And the bassinet, which had so much room for her to stretch out in when we first brought her home, now leaves her very little room to grow. The crib will have to be cleaned up and assembled this weekend so she will have somewhere to go in the next few weeks when she is officially too big for her newborn bed. Though I am so very grateful she is healthy and growing so well, it saddens me to think I am already having to say good bye to her newborn days. I wonder why the time really does fly by so quickly and why babies grow up too fast.
Speaking of growing up too fast, not long ago my oldest daughter celebrated her 11th birthday. We held her party on the same day that the baby hit exactly one month old. If you are a parent yourself I do not have to tell you that I really do not know where all the years have gone. It really does seem like days ago that I brought my first daughter home from the hospital and laid her lovingly in the crib that will now house her baby sister. I was watching my oldest and youngest girls recently as the former held and snuggled the latter. As so often happens these days, tears sprung to my eyes and I found myself pondering the eleven years of my motherhood. It occurred to me that if the next 11 years go as quickly as the past 11 years have gone, my first child will be 22 years old before I know it. I was 22 years old when I got pregnant with her!
These thoughts threaten to truly depress me at times. I really wish I could freeze the time for just a while, so I could enjoy my children's youth longer. I sometimes even wonder why does God let the time fly so fast? But then I think about the sleepless nights, the ill-timed messy diapers, the unexplainable fussy times, and my feelings of being overwhelmed that are also a part of the newborn experience. The truth is if it lasted any longer I would probably go crazy but if it went any quicker I probably would be deeply depressed. God has timed it all so perfectly!
I also think about all the fun that is still to come. If I had frozen my oldest child's infancy I would have missed out on her adorable toddler stage, her precocious pre-school years, and watching her grow from a tiny, helpless infant into a beautiful young lady. No, we cannot make our children stay little for long. We cannot make them babies forever but we can try our best to enjoy the experience as long as it does last.
I realize that I really don't want to stop time from passing. I could not handle the extreme exhaustion that I felt the first three to four weeks of the baby's life for any longer than I had to. I would not want to be forever stuck with my post-partum weepiness (or my post-partum body!). And I definitely don't want to rob my children of the amazing experience of growing up and developing into the people God created them to be.
Instead of focusing on the gloomy thought of my children's passing childhood I will try to remember to slow down and take pleasure in each moment with them. I will also remember that as a stay-at -home/home schooling mother I am blessed enough to not have to miss even a minute of their fleeting youth!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Life Marches On...

Tim and I bought a one year old minivan in May of this year. In late July we were having problems with one of the warning lights. It would not turn off no matter what we did. The problem was a bad sensor which was, thankfully, covered by the warranty. Except when we went to have it fixed, we were informed that we had voided the warranty in our efforts to remedy the problem ourselves and avoid an unnecessary trip to the dealership. We had the car fixed, at our own expense, a week before our new baby was born.

As I wrote about in my post "an ode to Swine Flu..." everyone in my family, except our new baby, came down with a highly contagious virus that left us feeling miserable and run down even after the fevers had passed. This happened a mere two weeks after bringing baby home from the hospital.

My four year old son went to pre-school for the first time that same week as all our illnesses. He loves school and is doing well. This is a wonderful thing except that getting him ready causes me an enormous amount of trauma each day. Most mornings he eats his breakfast of dry cereal from a zip lock bag while I drive him to school. One day we forgot his backpack at home. I did not discover this until I was dropping him off at school and he hopped out of the car empty handed while all the other kids toted their well packed bags on their little backs. On another occasion we were all walking out to the car after our usual hectic morning when my oldest daughter exclaimed, "hey, you need to get your shoes on!" I glanced over to see my son, ready for school, with his backpack on this time, all prepared to attend school bare footed. This event unfortunately illustrates the norm around here.

Tim's new year of youth ministry started the first week of September. He has been very busy attending meetings, preparing his calendar, and planning fund raisers. He has been working crazy hours and is often not home until the sun has gone down. Because he works a second job, out of our house over night, he often has to start working again as soon as he gets in the door. It seems he has something going on every evening and every weekend for the foreseeable future. I am attempting to handle the home front while he works hard to provide for us all.

Over this past weekend we arrived home from Mass and noticed the house felt unusually warm. As the day wore on the temperature continued to rise inside and we realized that though we could hear the air conditioner running it was doing nothing to cool the place down. We suffered through three days of hot, humid Florida weather as we waited for the repairs to be done. Then, of course, we handed over a hefty amount of money to cover the cost of those repairs.

Over the course of my long nine months of pregnancy I envisioned the first few weeks of life with baby. I prepared our house and planned our school schedule around the baby's birth so we would have time off to settle in after her arrival. I told myself I would be able to truly appreciate the time because the other children were older and more self sufficient this time around. I believed I would spend my days rocking the baby and snuggling her in peaceful relaxation. I thought we were organized enough to enjoy a few weeks of quiet serenity before we had to start back to the normal routine of school and busyness. As you can see, despite my plans, life has marched on as crazy, busy, and unpredictable as ever. As usual, Gods plans differ from mine in almost every way imaginable! As always, though, He sees me through each chaotic day and blesses and strengthens me along the way. And though I am tired, overwhelmed, and completely unorganized at this point, I am eternally grateful that God's plans did include a healthy baby and a family overflowing with love for her....and me.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Riding the waves of marriage

Ebbing and flowing. These words conjure up images of water, rivers streaming through valleys and meadows, ocean waves lapping on the sand or gushing forth and rushing back in dramatic fashion. Some years ago I heard these words used to describe marriage. At the time, I thought it was an odd way to refer to the normal ups and downs within marital relationships. Lately I can see that my relationship with Tim really does resemble a stream which drifts along ebbing and flowing.
Tim and I married young. He was 22 and I was 21. We still had a lot of growing up to do and were somewhat naive about relationships. Our early years were a lot like white water rafting, full of waves and whirl pools. It was exciting and tumultuous all at once. Sometimes we felt close and comfortable with each other and other times we were at odds with one another. We argued and fought, sometimes for days at a time. But though they lasted a while, the fights were few a far between and, for the most part, we talked and laughed together, growing closer and maturing together.
We welcomed our first child only two years after our wedding and the water got a little more rough for a while. Life was like a hurricane stirring up enormous waves and turmoil as we adjusted to the new role of parenting. We fought a lot more and distance grew between us. Though the water was rough for quite a while we toughed it out and life eventually became smooth sailing again.
Over the years, life and our relationship have continued to rise and fall like the waters of the sea. There are times I feel as close to Tim as I do to my own thoughts. And there are times I am incredibly frustrated with him and feel he does not understand me at all. I have come to realize that relationships do ebb and flow. It is normal to go through times of ease and comfort and just as normal to go through times of struggle and suffering.
Lately I have felt more like a co-worker of Tim's in the job of parenting than I do a friend and companion . As we once again adjust to a new baby in our family, our relationship, which had been flowing along beautifully for many years, is now stirred up and tumultuous on many days. Thankfully, we have learned that our marriage is strengthened more as we ride the uncertain waves of life together, than at any other time. As much as I want it to be, my marriage cannot be free from struggles and challenges any more than my life can be. It is only by facing everything in life, including our challenges, together that Tim and I can grow in our relationship. As long as we are committed to each other, and to a life of faith and prayer, we will survive the rushing torrents once again and come out all the better for it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Are you smarter than a newborn baby?

"I was not born yesterday"...I have heard these words many times, uttered in anger or screamed in frustration, as someone tries to explain that they are much more intelligent than they are being given credit for. The more time I spend with newborn babies, the more I realize that there is a lot to be learned from those who were born just yesterday. I have learned, as a mother, that my capacity for love can expand and my heart can grow in amazing ways as I peer at my newborn child. I have learned that I can survive on a lot less sleep than I ever thought possible. I have learned to do a lot of things one handed, including making p. b. & j. sandwiches and changing diapers. I have learned the difference between Huggies and Pampers. I have learned how to burp my baby, calm her when she is crying, and how she likes to be held best. This, however, is not what I am talking about...
A friend recently told me a story she had heard about a mother and her newborn child. The baby girl had been born with complications and was barely hanging on to life. She had a dangerously low heart rate and was gray from a lack of oxygen. The doctors, despite their efforts, were unable to improve the baby's condition at all. They handed the baby over to her mother and apologized, instructing her to enjoy the little time she had with the baby. The mother held her dying child as close as she could, with the baby lying on her bare chest, their hearts together. As the mother snuggled and grieved her newborn infant, a miraculous thing happened. The baby's heart rate began to increase. Her color slowly changed from gray to pink. Somehow, with nothing more than the closeness to her mother, the baby was resuscitated. My friend went on to share with me that the baby is now a healthy normal toddler.
I recently had a really rough night with my own newborn baby. I had had a few days of non stop busyness and was feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. This, coupled with the sleep deprivation from having a newborn in the house, was getting to me and I felt desperate for a good night sleep, or at least a few good hours of sleep. Unfortunately, my infant daugher did not cooperate, and instead was getting up to nurse every hour all night long. By about 4 a.m. I was completely worn out. The baby, however, was wide awake, even after her feeding. I needed so badly to sleep and was unsure of how I was going to find the energy to survive the rest of the sleepless night. After my crazy, chaotic days and this seemingly endless night of wakefulness, I was literally emotionally distraught. Knowing I was in no shape to care for the baby, I put her, crying, in her bassinet. I went out to the family room to try to pull myself together. Tim, trying to be as helpful as he could be, got her out of the bed and was rocking her in the rocking chair when I returned to our room a few minutes later. Even though her daddy was lovingly holding and rocking her, the baby would not relax. I could hear her whimpering and sighing every few moments, as Tim gently rocked her. Seeing that there was no comforting her he finally handed her to me. As soon as I took her, we both relaxed. I sat in the dark holding her, with tears of frustration and exhaustion running down my face, and she melted into me, laying her tiny head on my shoulder. Her whimpering subsided and her breathing slowed into a quiet peaceful rhythm. Within moments she was sleeping soundly and my own frustration faded away. Though she is only a few weeks old and knows so little of the world, she knew I was upset and she was upset by that. She could not relax until she was reassured that I was close by and okay. As soon as she felt me nearby and calm, all was fine in her world again.
I realized, in the dark of the night with my beautiful baby sleeping in my arms, that she has the right idea. The way to cope in life is to put all your trust in Someone and rest in His love when things go wrong. For me, for us all, there is only One who can be trusted so completely. We all have a parent who loves us even more perfectly than a mother loves her newborn infant. Our Heavenly Father is always there wanting to hold us and comfort us in times of trial and insecurity. I need to trust completely that God is there for me, that He will never abandon me, that His love and His grace are enough to reassure me. Like newborn babies, we need to be as close to our Source of Life as we can. Without the presence and comfort of our Lord, we cannot expect to have the life giving love we all so desperately need. He will comfort us, He will never let us down, He will see us through all things.
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” ~James 4:8.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Calling the qualified...

My children, who are such wonderful blessings in my life, have been driving me crazy lately. Now, in their defense and my own if I sound like a horrible mother, we have had an eventful few weeks at our house. It was less than 4 weeks ago that we welcomed a beautiful new baby into our family. It was only 2 weeks ago that my 4 year old son started pre-school for the first time. It was only 1 week ago that we all survived a bout with a very nasty virus. We have been house bound for nearly a month now and our whole lives are turned upside down. We have no schedule these days, no regular routines, and we have yet to settle into a new normal with the baby.
So, considering all that has happened in such a short amount of time, it should come as no surprise that the children are not quite themselves, and I am feeling a little overwhelmed. The bickering between the kids is getting on my nerves, the messes they seem to make and never clean up are stressing me out, the whining, the complaining, the griping are out of control. Our whole life is lacking discipline. Right now life revolves primarily around diaper changes and refereeing the older children. There are entirely too many moments lately where I want to throw up my hands and admit, "I am not qualified for this job of parenting!"
There are many moments that, not only do I feel unqualified, but I also feel very alone in my parenting struggles. As it turns out, I am not alone at all. Recently, a few friends shared some of their parenting struggles with me. Even though these friends seem to be very confident, very good parents, they too struggle with disobedient children, power struggles, and temper tantrums. My friends' children, who seem so well behaved and docile every time I see them, have just as many moments of meltdown and fussing as my children. I certainly do not want to see my friends struggle in parenting their children, but I have to admit, it is so comforting to know I am not alone! It is nice to know my children are not evil or uncontrollable- they are simply normal children who love to push their limits and who still have a lot of growing up to do.
Parenting is not easy. Neither is childhood, really. But as a family we are called to support each other in our struggles and difficulties. We are called to forgive each other in our moments of weakness. Above all, we are called to keep going and to love each other even on the hard days. None of us is really qualified but God will see us through as long as we keep our eyes and thoughts focused on Him.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

An ode to Swine Flu- this little piggy...

My first little piggy got a fever
It soared up to one oh three
My piggy laid there lethargic
Oh swine flu stay far from me!

My second little piggy was moaning
His tummy was hurting, he ached
He threw up all of his breakfast
So much for the pancakes I baked!

My third little piggy felt horrible
Her eyes and her cheeks were so red
Her head was burning with fever
She couldn't get out of bed!

My fourth little piggy was coughing
His nose was runny and sore
He had chills & his temperature climbed
I don't think we can take this much more!

My fifth little piggy, so tiny
Was the only one spared at our address.
Baby somehow escaped all the flu germs
And thanks to God I survived all the stress!

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Woman's Role in the Church

The following is a guest blog post that I was asked to write for my husband's blog Salvation is an Adventure.

What is the role of women in the Catholic church? When Tim and I started discussing this question- and he suggested I share my thoughts on the topic- my first thought was that I was not qualified to offer my opinions. After all, I am not very active at church and do little to contribute to the ministries offered. There was a time, years ago when my older children were toddlers, that I spent as much time at church as I did at home. I was the facilitator for our young mother's faith sharing group, I was on the adult faith formation committee, I sat on the board for the women's organization, I helped out with the ministry team for our parish Bible study, I planned children's parties, and volunteered for extra projects as they came up. As the years passed and our family grew it got harder to be involved at church and my participation in the activities there dwindled.
As I thought more about what I believe a woman's role in the church is, I realized, that though I am no longer as "hand's on" in my ministry and I have no real theological training, I do have something to say on the subject and I am grateful to share my thoughts.
I believe women have an amazing array of things to offer to our church. My contributions in the past, as a lay person, were certainly worthwhile. My volunteer work and involvement in the ministries of our parish family were invaluable to the building up of our church community. The support I offered to my church, as well as the support I received while I was involved there, helped to nurture my faith and the faith of others. I grew in my own relationship with Christ through the service I offered to my parish. This is one important role of women in the church. Acting as lay people, supporting our churches and communities through volunteer work and support ministries is a wonderful way for women, who are naturally nurturing and caring, to take an active role in the church.
My role in the church is now in a very different place. Though I did initially think my inactivity at the parish level nullified my participation in this dialogue, I have since come to realize it does not. My role is different now, but no less valuable or meaningful. Over the years, God has called me to another way of building up His kingdom. This role takes place, not at the parish level, but in my home. I am no longer sitting on committees or planning parish events. Instead, I am, each and every day, nurturing the faith of my own family. I am the heart of our domestic church and that, I can see, is just as valuable a role in the Church as all my volunteer work in the past. As a wife and mother I am so blessed to be able to share my own beliefs and faith with my children and my husband. I have the opportunity to watch my children grow in their own relationship with God and to play a role in guiding them closer to Christ everyday. I have the chance to support my husband in his faith and to allow him an opportunity to contribute to our parish as youth minister. I am an example of Christ's love alive in my family everyday as I care for my children and my home. It seems these days, this role of women is either unappreciated, or worse, unnoticed; but the reality is, the world still needs women to serve God by serving their families. I see families breaking down and losing the focus they once had, and I am saddened by the consequences of it on the world as a whole. Seeing children led astray and families dragged down by sinfulness I wonder how much better our church would be served if more women were willing to forego the glamour and glory of serving others outside of their home for the drudgery and hard work of giving of themselves for the good of their families right at home.
The role of women in the church cannot be easily defined but wives and mothers must be willing to start at home. We cannot truly serve God unless we do it through our vocation as the hearts of our home. The bottom line, as I see it is, that both women and men must serve God in whatever capacity He asks of us. Sometimes we may be asked to get involved at church and sometimes we may be asked to serve Him right in our home but either way, our goal in life needs to be to glorify Him in all we do and to let His love shine through us each and everyday.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Glamour of Motherhood

Less than a week ago God blessed me with my fifth child. She is absolutely beautiful and perfectly healthy. After months and months of my worrying and fretting, our baby is finally here, safe and sound, and I am extremely grateful. The last week has been so eventful and so incredibly overwhelming. I can hardly grasp the enormity of the changes I have experienced in this short amount of time. A week ago I sat here with my big round belly, feeling baby kick inside, and wondering what she would look like. Now, my belly is a little less round, a lot less cute, and no one is wiggling or squirming inside it. A week ago I was nervously anticipating baby's birth and wondering how the labor and delivery would go. Now, my body is recovering from the experience and the baby is sleeping soundly in her little bouncy set next to me.
Yesterday, as I attempted to process all I have been through, I shared with Tim how the physical changes alone are enough to overwhelm me. As I spoke of my astonishment, I sat on the couch with ice packs strategically placed to ease some of my discomfort, feeling sore in places I would rather not mention and on the verge of tears for the hundredth time in just days. I reflected on the changes and lack of dignity Tim had witnessed as he watched our child be born and the aftermath of it. Tim was there for the needle sticks as I got my i.v., had blood taken, and received my greatly desired epidural. He got to observe my water being broken, the doctor's exams as they checked baby's progress, and, of course, the actual birth itself as our family grew to 7. Ironically the whole event, which was so natural, felt anything but at times. Tim has watched me, over the past six days, burst into tears, hobble around like an old lady, and complain of tenderness and exhaustion. "I bet you are glad you're a guy, huh?" I asked him. He, very quickly and very readily, agreed! For a second, I was jealous that he could welcome our daughter without all the pain, discomfort, and lack of dignity I had had to endure.
It was truly only a second though, before I realized how lucky I am to be able to experience the gift of motherhood. I am, surprisingly, grateful for the physical changes, because they are a part of the whole experience. I would not change the events of the last week one bit, even if given the opportunity to bring forth life without the pain or emotional upheaval. I am a mother and I am amazed that God has seen me through all that it takes to become a mother. I prayed for weeks and weeks before baby came, that her birth would be a beautiful event, free of complications, and that God would be present for the moment of her arrival. I pictured a quick labor and nearly effortless delivery. Though it did not go according to my plan, and included as much frustration and pain as joy and happiness, I really would not change it. It was a beautiful event and it resulted in the greatest gift ever- a healthy, happy baby to love.
Motherhood is humbling from the moment it begins but I am learning to see and appreciate that humility brings us closer to God. Humility has helped to strengthen my marriage and though it seemed somewhat undignified to give birth in front of the audience of my husband I would not have wanted him to miss the birth of our child. Funny how the most physically unflattering thing I have ever done is at the same time absolutely the most beautiful thing I have ever done. I truly can see that God did allow me to assist Him in the miracle of our daughter and when I look at it that way, there is nothing so exalting in the world.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Whispers in the dark

It is after 9:30 pm. My children's bedtimes have come and gone. We went through our nightly routines of baths, clean up, family prayer, and brushing teeth. Everyone has been kissed, hugged, and tucked. This should be the time of day when Tim and I can have a little quiet time to ourselves. Yet, despite our consistent bedtime routine and our reminder that bedtime means, "we go to sleep!", we still hear little voices and little giggles from down the hall. I suppose this is one of those unavoidable consequences of having a big family.
You see, our children all share rooms. We literally have, on one side of the hall the boys room, with one set of bunk beds, and directly across from it on the other side of the hall, the girl's room, with another set of bunk beds. We have discovered over the years, that no matter what goes on during the day, whether our children spend their waking hours bickering with each other and annoyed at every tiny thing or playing nicely and getting along well, at bedtime everyone becomes best friends! As soon as the lights go out and the covers are pulled up the giggling seems to begin. The children will sit up and whisper and chit chat and play for hours if we let it go that on that long. It is not unusual for all the children to beg us, as bedtime approaches, to allow them all to sleep together in one or the other of the bedrooms. A family slumber party is the greatest treat! When this is not granted them, and it usually isn't because like all great slumber parties there is very little slumbering going on, we often find the girls laying on the floor of their room by the open doorway and the boys, likewise, at their doorway whispering across the hall and goofing off together when they should all be sleeping soundly in their beds. There are just as many nights when from their beds, which consequently face the doorways and therefore each other, they talk and goof off despite about 40 feet of space between them.
I would never tell my children this, but often this is my favorite part of the day. Now, the fact that I enjoy the children's bedtime would come as no surprise to them. They can tell that by the time the sun goes down and the prayers have been offered I am ready to bid them all good night and have some time with Tim. They know I am often out of patience by bedtime and anxious to tuck them all safely and snugly in their beds for the night. What they might never suspect is that, it is not so much bedtime that makes me love this twilight time so much, but the fact that my house is filled with their quiet but joyful laughter and little voices wafting down the hall. I love that they enjoy the time with each other and have that special bond with their siblings. I love that at night they share their secrets, their silly games, and their ideas and fears with each other. This time, I believe, will cement the sibling relationships I try so hard to encourage during the day. I have faith that though they should be sleeping they are doing something just as, if not infinitely more, worthwhile instead. They are strengthening our family by taking the time to be together without distractions or expectations. Thankfully, sleep is not even compromised because, as home schoolers, they can sleep in the next morning and not have to get up early to rush off anywhere.
After bedtime, when I have the perspective and peace of not being surrounded by commotion and chaos, I can most appreciate my children's silliness, delight, and enthusiasm for life and for each other. Instead of being overwhelmed by the activity and noise of their play, I can stand back, and from a distance, observe the simple moments of life that bring such incredible joy to them, and revel in the joy it also brings to me. So, while I would love to have a bit of quiet in my life, right now I am going to go and enjoy the beautiful sound of my children's banter- the quiet will come soon enough when they've all grown and moved on....

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Family Ties- unbroken

A friend of mine recently told me about a fight he had had with a family member. Tempers flared, angry words were exchanged and the relationship was definitely damaged, though hopefully not beyond repair. As my friend and I discussed the unfortunate events surrounding the argument, it came up that prior to the fight the relationship was not very solid anyway. In fact, though they are siblings, my friend told me there was never much of a relationship between them at all.
I was very saddened by the whole situation, and as much by the lack of relationship prior to the fight, as after it. I was saddened , not only for my friend, but for his family, and for all families who experience similar situations. The more I thought about it, the more I thought, is it any wonder that families are not stronger and more connected these days? After all, this world we live in, with so little face-to-face communication, has left us all feeling a little disconnected, hasn't it? Studies have been done to show that although we have practically unlimited resources for communication, and the time and opportunity to reach anyone, anytime, relationships are suffering from the technological advances that claim to connect us better. People try so desperately to connect with others and yet suffer from loneliness and isolation. Families, which used to be the center of people's lives, are now scattered and distant even when they live in the same house!
This is not a brand new problem, as my friend's situation illustrated. Families have been breaking down for years and years. I grew up in what I considered to be a relatively close family. We had dinner together fairly often. We took family vacations. We went to Mass weekly (at least until my siblings and I became teenagers and my mom decided it wasn't worth the effort to fight with us about it). Sometimes my siblings and I would even choose to hang out together...sometimes. But in our day to day life we were all going in different directions. We all had our own friends, our own after school activities, our own interests. We led very separate lives. Though many years have passed since we all lived in the same house, things are pretty much the same. We talk occasionally. We get together when we can. But our lives, and our values, are very different and very separate. This, too, makes me sad. I would love to be closer to my family of origin. Though, in many ways I still consider us a close family, I wish I had stronger connections with my siblings.
I hope and pray my children never have similar regrets. Tim and I try very hard to raise our own children with strong family ties and strong family values. We do this, first and foremost, by trying to keep God at the center of our family. The children and I pray together to start our school day. We all pray as a family before dinner, and then again after dinner when we offer up our family rosary. We pray together before bed each evening. Furthermore, we attempt to spend time together as much as we can. We make sure none of us is too over scheduled. We share dinners together every night. We always go to Mass together, no matter what! And, thankfully, we have the blessing of home schooling. Our children are with their siblings everyday. They play together, they learn together, they work together. In fact, they spend practically every waking moment together- and actually because they share rooms, they spend their sleeping moments together too! They are truly each other's best friends. I pray the connections they have now will endure throughout their lives. I pray they will always turn to each other for friendship, love, and support.
Though I know we are not doing everything perfectly, I feel confident that, with God at the center, our family will remain strong and connected. I am reassured every night during our family prayers, when we hear the children say, "Thank you God that we got to play with each other today." What could be better than that?

Friday, July 31, 2009

The day my daughter hit me!

My oldest child is going to turn 11 in a few weeks. My youngest should be born in less than two weeks. This morning I found myself contemplating my experience of motherhood, and as I looked forward to beginning the journey of a new baby, I was thinking back to the moment I first felt like a mother....
I did not feel like a mother when Tim and I decided, 14 months after our wedding, to forgo our original plan of being married for several years before having children. I had met a woman at work, who was my age and had a two year old daughter. After talking to her I realized I, too, could have a baby if I wanted. Having a baby sounded like so much fun. When I mentioned to Tim I was thinking about it he agreed to try for a month or two and if I did not get pregnant to go back to our original plan of waiting a few years. I felt a mixture of emotions when four weeks after our conversation I was holding a pregnancy test with two pink lines! I felt overwhelming fear, shock and excitement all at once, but I did not really feel like a mother yet.
As Tim and I spent the next nine months preparing for our new baby my excitement grew and my fear faded, at least a little. I worked as a manager at a children's clothing store and I enjoyed choosing little yellow and green baby outfits (we decided not to find out baby's sex ahead of time) and tiny little socks and hats while I was working. I was surrounded by babies and new mothers, and though I talked to them about their experiences I did not feel like one of them yet. Preparing for our baby felt more like playing house. Nevertheless, we shopped for and decorated the baby's room. We poured through baby name books. I counted kicks like my pregnancy book suggested. I talked and read to the baby. My family threw me 2 baby showers, and Tim took pictures monthly of my growing belly. He and I dealt with my mood swings and unpredictable emotions. Though it should have all felt very real, I still had trouble picturing us with a baby of our own.
When my due date came and went without any sign of impending labor it confirmed my doubts that Tim and I would ever really be parents. For five long days I waited for contractions to begin. They never did! On the sixth day past my due date, at about 5 am, my water finally broke. We headed to the hospital and waited some more for contractions, but again they never came! The doctor suggested helping things along with pitocin. It wasn't until about 10:30 am that the labor pains began. All through that day, with the help of more and more pitocin, I made very slow but steady progress. At about 9 pm, the doctor said it was time to push. At last, we were going to meet our new baby. Baby must have been as unsure about our parenting qualifications as I was, because it took another three hours before we got to experience the moment we had been waiting so long for. But thankfully, at 11:49 pm, our beautiful healthy baby girl was born! As I looked at her for the very first time....I still did not feel like a mother! I was exhausted and overwhelmed. I had been convinced we were having a baby boy. And I had pictured, as I had bonded with my unborn baby for so long, a little miniature me, with dark hair and brown eyes. This little squirming baby girl had light brown peach fuss covering her head, and from what we could tell, her eyes were a bright blue. She looked just like her daddy, nothing at all like me, and I felt strangely disconnected from her. In those first few moments, motherhood was nothing like I had imagined. They gave me the baby and I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do.
It was not until a few hours after her birth, when a new nurse came in, introduced herself and said, "I am going to be taking care of your daughter today." that it hit me. I had a daughter! This was my baby. And I think, maybe just a tiny bit of me, understood for the first time that motherhood was not going to be about me and my fun. It was going to be about my daughter. And whether or not I was ready or qualified she was here.
Was it the pregnancy that made me feel a mother? Was it the nearly 19 hours of labor and delivery? Not really. I think, more than anything, it was that realization that I was responsible for someone else. My daughter was going to depend on me for everything- her health, her safety, her education. Her life was truly in my hands and I had to rise to the challenge, even when it was not fun at all.
Motherhood has been an amazing adventure so far. It is almost never easy and, though there are still days I want it to be about me, it never is. Yet, it is an adventure I feel eternally grateful to God for allowing me to take. My oldest daughter is growing up to be such a wonderful young lady, and though I can take very little credit for that, I am thankful that God has blessed with a front row seat for it. Now, as I look forward to welcoming my new baby daughter I pray that God will again, help me rise to the challenge. Though I still feel unqualified most of the time, I thank Him daily for the gift of this latest journey in parenthood...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pope John Paul II vs. a grocery cart

As I have confessed before, I spend entirely too much time on my computer. I have gotten into the very bad habit of checking my e-mail every few hours and logging onto Facebook, and Twitter just to see what is going on with my friends, at least 5 times each day. I am usually disappointed to see there is nothing of significance awaiting me in the cyber world, yet I continue to visit it day after day, sometimes hour after hour. I have observed, in all my time of "social networking", that people tend to put a lot of time and energy into worldly concerns and almost no thought into their spiritual growth. Most days, I, unfortunately, am guilty of this as well.
It first came to my attention, when a friend posted a status update on her Facebook page about her grocery cart being "stolen" by another customer. She was shopping with her two young children and was hoping for the cart that was shaped like a rocket ship, with a seat that accommodated two. A woman with only one child, who was old enough to walk through the store on her own, had the cart, and did not, at any time, offer to give it up. Now, I am not saying that I would not have felt similar frustration if I were faced with the situation myself. I often let the smallest annoyances in life drive me absolutely crazy, dwelling on them for hours afterwards. However, what struck me wasn't so much the status update but the 15 comments left by others in response to this tiny little incident at the grocery store. It seemed everyone felt compelled to join in the conversation. In contrast, another friend of mine, in an effort to inspire others, had shared a spiritual quote from Pope John Paul II at around the same time as the grocery store posting. No one, not one person, commented on this posting.
It got me thinking. I started paying closer attention to the postings on my Facebook page, and to what most people seemed to respond too. I did a sort of unofficial experiment over a few weeks time. I watched which postings drew the most responses, and which ones were left unnoticed. As it turns out, the grocery cart incident was not an isolated example of everyone caring so passionately for the things of this world, and reacting so indifferently to the things of God. I have noted that worldly posts attract at least three times as much attention as anything of a spiritual nature.
We are all so quick to complain when we feel slighted in anyway in this world. We are all so quick to see the faults and selfishness of others. Yet, when God attempts to speak to us, to find a moment in our busy lives to remind us of His love and His presence, we are too focused on ourselves to even notice! How do we expect this world to improve if we are more concerned with our "right" to the grocery cart than we are with the state of our souls? I can't help but wonder if God gets discouraged that He cannot attract our attention when He is up against the loss of the rocket ship cart.
In addition, I see "social networking" as a form of sky rocketing narcissism. We are not building relationships online. We are not building the kingdom of God through status updates, yet so many of us spend more time playing on the computer than we do in prayer! As usual, I need to start with myself. The next time I feel compelled to open my Facebook page, just for a little peek- I think I will instead open the Good Book and see what is on God's mind!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Crying out in the night

About 8 and a half years ago Tim and I began a hunt. We were hunting for our first house. We had been living in a 2 bedroom townhouse and were expecting our 2nd child. We knew we needed more room for our growing family. As we searched through house after house I was surprised to discover that many of the house descriptions boasted of a "spilt-bedroom plan". This meant the houses were designed with the master bedroom on one side of the house and all the other bedrooms on the exact opposite side, with every other room situated between them. Apparently, this is a very popular floor plan in Florida. I was not exactly sure it held any appeal for me. As we viewed house after house with this wonderful concept of split bedrooms I just kept picturing myself, half asleep and groggy, tripping over the kitchen table, the couch, the entertainment center, and other various pieces of furniture and toys on the way to my crying child who needed me in the dark of the night. I am not at my best when awakened suddenly in the middle of the night! Tim and I knew we wanted a big family and I figured I would be responding to midnight cries from children for a good ten years to come. I think we were the first ones she'd ever heard it from but, we told our real estate agent to find us a home without a split bedroom plan!
Thankfully, after a lot of prayer and a whole lot of frustration, God led us to a perfect house. It was in our price range (though, at the time, on the high end), had 4 bedrooms, and amazingly, no split bedroom plan! The master bedroom was at the back of the house and the other bedrooms were a straight shot down an unobstructed hallway, about 15 feet away. In the eight years that have followed we have filled the four bedrooms very nicely by adding not only one more baby, but three and a half (officially four in August!) more! We have also created a well worn path down that hallway between the bedrooms! Though our oldest is nearing her 11th birthday she still needs her mommy occasionally in the night. Her siblings do much more regularly. So much for ten more years of midnight duty calls- I'm thinking it will be closer to twenty when all is said and done!
Last night as I comforted, first my oldest daughter who was having trouble sleeping at about 11 pm, and then my younger daughter, who had a bad dream at about 4 am, I was reminded of our house search all those years ago. I was immediately grateful that God had given Tim and I the wisdom to see what we would need in our house.
What struck me the most, however, was how amazing it is that when my children are scared and worried in the middle of the night (and at any time for that matter) my mere presence is enough to bring them comfort and peace. Again, I thank God for that, for as I said, I am not at my best in the wee hours of the day and sometimes my presence is all I can really offer!
Perhaps I had these revelations last night because, lately, I have experienced my own middle of the night fears and worries. Many nights I have awakened, and like my children, been filled with trepidation, irrational fears, and unending uncertainties. Like the child I am, when I am scared I turn to my heavenly Father for comfort. His mere presence, as I call out to Him in prayer, is usually enough to calm my worst fears and fill me with peace so that I can rest in His love as my own children rest in mine. Though God's peace is perfect and mine is often groggy and deficient, He has used this ordinary part of life to show me His love in many ways. How humbling that our Lord allows me to share even a tiny bit in His goodness by providing my children with a taste of His love and peace, as He works through me to comfort my children. How beautiful that I can see His completely perfect unconditional love for me, as I offer my unconditional, though far from perfect, love to my children. I may not be at my best in the middle of the night but God is always at His best and He has given me some of my best glimpses of His love at those moments I when I am still a little groggy and half sleep. Even with my eyes half open, I can see His perfection and love!

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Best Church Ever...

Over the past year or so several members of my family have decided to leave the Catholic church. They have found other churches they feel are bringing them closer to God. Though I am happy that they are growing in their faith, I personally do not understand how they feel closer to God outside the Catholic church than they did within it. My children have also asked me why our family members are no longer Catholic. This has sparked many conversations between my children and I about the many gifts and blessings that our Catholic faith gives us. Below is the list of the top reasons I have chosen to stick with my Catholic Faith (and why I hope and pray my children do as well):

1. I love Jesus- and this is the church He started. Though He had 12 apostles, he didn't choose to start 12 different churches. Though He had hundreds of followers, He didn't feel the need for hundreds of churches. He started His one, holy and apostolic church on the "rock" of Peter, the 1st pope, and promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Despite A LOT of effort, they haven't! (Matthew 16:18)

2. The Communion of Saints- if you believe in heaven then you must acknowledge the saints, right? And what kind of saints would they be if we could not turn to them for their intercessory prayers?

3. Our Priests and the Pope- ordained by God to work in persona Christi, they shepherd us, their flock, without the stress of being pulled in one direction by a family and in another by their church. They have truly dedicated their whole lives and their whole selves to serving God, and us.

4. The Sacraments- you want to "SEE" God? The sacraments are outward signs of His grace at work in the world. Go to Mass and open your eyes- He's all around you!

and especially....

5. The Eucharist- I can feel the presence of Jesus as soon as I walk into a Catholic church, any Catholic church. I can feel that He is there, making the space holy and sacred. There is only one Church that can give us the physical presence of Jesus. And we, as the Catholic faithful, are unbelievably blessed to actually be able to receive His body, blood, soul, and divinity in the form of the Eucharist into our own humble bodies. (John 6)

I could go on but, need I say more?


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