Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Father knows best

    I was reminded this morning, as my youngest son climbed into bed with his father and I and proceeded to talk our ears off at 8 a.m., that God is so good. It occurred to me, as he babbled on and on and had my husband and I in stitches, that though I know of quite a few children (and adults for that matter) who were the product of unplanned pregnancies I don't know of any whose parents later regretted the decision to go through with the pregnancy.

        Our fourth child was a bit of a surprise to us. At the time we found out I was expecting again, we had a five year old, a two and a half year old, and a 14 month old already filling our home with commotion and pandemonium. Though I had every intention of someday adding to our family, I felt totally unprepared to face another pregnancy, and welcome another baby, so soon. My initial reaction was not one of joy but instead a sense of fear and exhaustion.


        In fact, for the first few weeks my shock and fear continued to plague me. I just did not feel ready for a new baby and was completely dreading the long months of pregnancy. I kept reassuring myself that God would send me an uneventful pregnancy and a very easy-going baby because He knew I could not handle anything more.

        As the weeks progressed, I discovered I was not very good at determining God's plans. My first trimester was fraught with scares. I had three ultrasounds and numerous calls to the doctor. I had at least one weekend where I was sure a miscarriage was eminent. Thankfully, it never came. Though I was emotionally unstable throughout the pregnancy, the pregnancy did continue. I had only one more unexpected ultrasound before baby was born because his heart rate was unusually high, but that too turned out to be okay.

        Then came the last month of my pregnancy. By this time, I was at peace with the situation, after all I truly love babies and this one was coming soon whether I was ready or not. Soon, turned out to be a relative term. That last month was one of the longest of my life. For some reason, I was terrified about the upcoming labor and delivery.

        In addition to my apprehension, I could not stand because my back was killing me, I could not sit because I was plagued with Braxton-Hicks contractions, I could not lay because I had such bad heartburn. I was completely over being pregnant, yet I was terrified about giving birth. I was miserable. I kept telling myself, this was going to be an easy baby. It had to be, God would not send me a challenging baby after all this.


        So finally, the day came to welcome our new baby boy. Amazingly the labor was not too bad. I got quite nauseous though and the doctor gave me some medicine to help. The medicine made me feel very light headed and out-of it. The delivery was a bit hazy. Perhaps this was one little stroke of luck, because our baby was so big he got a little stuck on the way out and the doctor had to pretty much pull him out by force, as I was later told. I was unaware of it all in my slightly loopy state. I just remember looking at him afterwards, and upon seeing the rolls on my new baby's arms and legs, asking my husband, "Now do you see why I was so uncomfortable?" At 9 pounds 4 ounces, he was about a pound and a half bigger than any of our other newborns had been.


        Was he the easy-going baby I had expected? You've probably guessed by now, that he was anything but.  He would cry for hours every evening. He did not sleep through the night for months. He seemed to create a lot more laundry than his siblings had, between unending drooling and peeing out of his diapers regularly. He was a total mommy's boy and wanted to be held for the first 12 months of life. This was no easy feat considering his size and the fact that there were three other little ones also demanding my help and attention. Yet, God strengthened me (both emotionally and physically) and we persevered.  And, of course, despite his demands and fussy times, my littlest boy was lovable and adorable and a blessing right from the start.

        Four years later, our youngest son is the most amazingly happy, charming little guy you'd ever meet. He makes friends everywhere we go and is incredibly easy-going now.


        I tell my son often that I am so glad God sent him to our family. Sometimes God sends the most unexpected blessings and with them can come the greatest lessons of our lives. God is so, so good.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Too Much Whine In My Life

What is your favorite.... is one of my children's favorite games. I will ask about their favorite foods, games, movies, etc... They enjoy answering these questions and I have the opportunity to find out what is important to them. We recently played a version of this game while camping with friends of ours. It started out with each of us naming our 5 worst foods, then our 5 favorite foods. Because the kids were all enjoying it so much, we played for quite a while and eventually I asked," What are the 5 things that make you the most mad?" I don't remember what the children answered but some the other parents decided to chime in with answers of their own. As the kids lost interest and moved onto more entertaining diversions, us adults ended up compiling a list of the things our children do that upset us most. Tops on the list, for all of us, was whining! Other popular answers included disobedience, disrespect, and ingratitude.
It was interesting, and maybe a bit comforting, to know that our friends were struggling with many of the same parenting challenges that Tim and I grapple with daily. And upon further contemplation, I suppose it makes sense. All children have their whiny moments. They are all disobedient at times, disrespectful in certain situations and ungrateful for many of the things we do for them. In fact, as the fallen, sinful people we all are, don't we ALL struggle with these same weaknesses? There are many times I know that God is asking me to be patient and kind towards others, especially my own family, yet I refuse to do so for some reason or other. I have days when I am completely self absorbed and hardly even take the time to spend with God, let alone praise and thank Him as I should. I am oftentimes the disrespectful, disobedient, ungrateful child of my heavenly Father, just as I accuse my children of being towards me.
Now, unfortunately, at the time of our camping trip chat there were ten children running wild in a field and a storm rolling in quickly. Our conversation never advanced to a discussion of solutions. However, though these problems are somewhat universal, it does not mean we can avoid addressing the issues in our children and in ourselves. And though we may never fully overcome our weaknesses we must strive to do so as much as we are able.
So how do we attempt to teach our children to be less whiny, more respectful, more obedient, and more grateful? How do we cultivate these same virtues in ourselves. I believe the answer is discipline. For us, that means the discipline of daily prayer including an examination of conscience, (at least) weekly attendance at Mass, and regular participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. For our children, it means firm, but loving correction. Our children must understand that we are in authority over them, just as God is in authority over all of us. God has given us, as parents, the responsibility to guide our children to Him and we can not accomplish that if we allow them to be in control. It is our duty to let them face the consequences of their actions and choices. Furthermore, we owe it to them to discipline them when their choices are the wrong ones. We must be tireless and consistent in upholding our standards and expectations. Hopefully, we will set an example of self-discipline that will further encourage the development of virtue in our children.
So will discipline forever solve the problem of whiny, disobedient kids? Well, as much as I wish it would, I realize that even the best most consistent discipline will not entirely wipe out all whining or make our children into perfectly respectful, obedient little robots. They are, after all, children and we must be patient with them as they grow and mature. We must accept that they will have moments where they push us and test their limits. We must expect that they will occasionally re-lapse into whiny, sassy unpleasant little children. If we remain in control and firm, these moments will hopefully pass relatively painlessly. And in time, through God's grace, we can all hope to grow in respect, obedience, and gratitude.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

How much value does life really have?

I have always considered myself to be very pro-life. I have protested and prayed outside of abortion clinics- both in high school and as an adult, with my own children in tow. I have been to the March for Life, walking in freezing weather to support the overturning of Roe v. Wade. I have participated in fund raising walks for our local crisis pregnancy center. I have done "spiritual" adoption of at-risk babies, praying for nine months at a time for the preservation of their precious lives. I have worn the t-shirts advertising my beliefs. I have four children of my own, with the fifth coming in a few short months.
A few years ago I heard the story of the friend of a friend who was told her unborn child would be born with many disabilities. She decided to abort her child rather than face a lifetime of caring for a special needs child. It was at that time that I first found myself wondering about the strength of my own beliefs. In the back of my mind, I wondered how pro-life I really was. I could relate to the fear and uncertainty this woman must have been filled with. I wondered, if I were faced with similar news, would I too want to avoid the difficulty of the situation by "terminating the pregnancy"? Though I certainly hoped not, I was not entirely sure how I would react to the news of an "imperfect" baby.
God has given me the opportunity to find out. I went to the dr. for a routine appointment and was told I had to have a repeat ultrasound. I had one at 18 weeks of pregnancy and the technician was unable to view our baby's entire spine. Now this may indicate nothing out of the ordinary, as baby was in an odd position and may have just made it impossible to see everything at that time. Unfortunately, it may mean something more. There is a possibility of abnormalities that caused the spine to be un-viewable. We will not know until I have the next ultrasound, this time a level 2 conducted by a specialist. The next ultrasound will not be for another 2 weeks. Last week, after receiving this news I went through an amazing range of emotions. It is hard to even describe the depth of my mood swings and the unending string of thoughts and feelings I experienced while processing the possibility of what the future might hold.
What I can try to put into words, however, is how God is working in this situation of uncertainty and worry. Amazingly, I did not find myself filled with thoughts of escaping the situation. My first thoughts were not of myself or the sacrifices I might have to make. My worries did not center around my expectations or my disappointment at having a possible change in plans. Instead, my initial reaction was one of fierce protection for my unborn child. I wanted to do all I could to give her the best life possible. I still don't know what that might mean or how I might do that but my prayers are more about her than me. I have not once considered not welcoming this baby into my life and our family. Though I do feel scared, I still very much want this baby and eagerly anticipate meeting her and caring for her. I still feel grateful to God for sending her to our family and blessing us with another little person to love.
I have always struggled with a tendency to be somewhat self-centered, lazy and weak. I know it is only through the grace of God that I am able to look towards the uncertain future and be willing to face whatever challenges God sends our way. I know He is strengthening me to trust more deeply, to love more fully, and to want to serve more selflessly than I have ever done before. I am still praying for a healthy baby. I am still hoping for a happy outcome and a (relatively) predictable future. At the same time, I love God completely and know that He wants what is best for me and my unborn baby. I know that He is with us and will bring good out of any situation we face in life. I know He loves me and that he loves my baby even more than I do. I know that my baby is in His strong loving embrace and I take peace in the knowledge that He is in control and will certainly do what is best for us all.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My secret to serenity

I have a little secret. It is a silly but very well kept secret that no one would ever guess. I secretly enjoy doing some of my housework. Now if you saw my house you would understand why this secret will never get out and why in a million years no one would ever suspect. My house does not look well kept most of the time. That is because my house is not well kept most of the time. I try to keep up, I really do, but most of the household chores are tedious and thankless. Most of the tidying up I do goes completely unnoticed and totally unappreciated because by the time I finish any one chore, the children have already gone behind me and undone most of it. That is the main reason I do not enjoy more of my house work. The other reason is that I am basically lazy and would rather sit down on the couch with my feet up reading a book than anything around the house.
Thankfully (and surprisingly), there are a couple things I really do enjoy doing around the house. The first one is mopping my floor. This is really one of the biggest wastes of energy in my life because it never stays clean for more than an hour at a time. However, I enjoy it because mopping is a time of contemplation for me. The children stay away while I mop. They are probably afraid I will draft them to help, but instead I really savor the time to myself to do my mindless mopping and let my thoughts linger deeply on matters of consequence. I have done a lot of spiritual soul searching while mopping the kitchen. I always feel a bit more at peace when I am immersed in the solitude of wiping up sticky spills and dirty footprints. When I find myself worrying more than usual or wondering how to handle something in life, it is a perfect time to tackle those soiled floors and take the time to really ponder the situation.
I sometimes wonder if in the "olden days" women were more content being at home and keeping house because there were so many more mindless jobs to do. They had so much more time to really reflect and savor the stillness and simplicity of life. They had time to just think while they washed clothes all day or baked bread for hours on end. Now life is always hurry, hurry, hurry and noise, noise, noise. There is no time alone with one's thoughts. There is no time for gratitude or perspective. No wonder I look for opportunities to put my feet up and escape into a book. It is hard to find a chance to escape into any other part of life, but thankfully, for me, there is always mopping.
The one and only other household task I regularly enjoy is folding laundry. Now again this is a monumentally useless waste of my time. The children are all responsible for putting their folded pile of laundry away and no one's clothing actually makes it very far still neatly folded. The clothes are all rolled in a ball and shoved in an overcrowded drawer by the time the children are finished with their part of the job. Nevertheless, I dutifully and carefully fold each and every item and place them neatly in the appropriate piles. There are two reasons I am so dedicated to the laundry folding. First of all it is the only job I can do while sitting down and putting my feet up! I can park myself on the couch with the basket of clean clothes next to me and fold away without ever moving from my spot. Even more meaningful to me, really, is that laundry is the one thing that I can make go exactly the way I want. I can make sure each clean garment is lined up and creased just so. I love to make every shirt, sweater, pair of pants, jeans, and shorts perfectly neat and tidy. Towels are actually my favorite because I can fold them symmetrically and pile them up so orderly. I am a total control freak and laundry seems to be the only thing I can really control to my satisfaction. And the sense of satisfaction that comes with each beautiful pile of clean fresh laundry is amazing. Now, I realize that in the grand scheme of life it is probably pathetic and sad that it brings me such peace but in the short term the sense of accomplishment is lovely!
As a full time wife and mother I am obviously the main keeper of my house. I wish I were a better housekeeper and a better home maker. I wish I could keep up with the clutter, stay on top of the messes, and live in an immaculate house. I have come to the realization that that will never happen, though. And so, I am content with my lived in home. Though there will never be visible proof of my efforts, I take comfort in the knowledge that my floors get mopped and my laundry gets folded regularly and beautifully. As for the rest of the work....well for now that is enough.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Not quite what I had pictured...

Expectations. It is not really a bad word, yet in my experience it probably should be. For me, expectations have been the cause of most of my disappointments in life.
When I got married I expected my marriage to be like a fairy tale. It didn't matter that my parents had a normal marriage with ups and downs, good days and bad days. Though they loved each other and were committed to each other through hard times and easy times, theirs was not the marriage I expected. Mine was going to be more like Cinderella's. I was going to have the happily ever after, blissfully perfect, the prince-exists-only-to-make-the-princess-happy kind of marriage I had seen in the movies. I'm sure it comes as no surprise to anyone else that the reality of marriage set in pretty soon after the wedding. Of course, Tim had not entered into this relationship thinking his entire existence was now about making me happy. Like almost all of my unmet expectations, marriage has been a huge learning experience for me. I have come to see, over the years, that relationships can not be so one-sided and self-centered if they are to be truly fulfilling to either person. I have had to learn to give a little in this relationship and not simply take, take, take.
My marriage truly is wonderful. Tim is amazingly patient, supportive and forgiving of me. I could not have asked for a better Prince Charming. Yet, we have a marriage that is a lot more like my parents' than like Cinderella's. Tim and I disagree, we fight (mostly about money, obviously not a problem for all the princesses who had unlimited funds), we have days where we are just not getting along for one reason or another. We struggle through the most mundane of challenges- should we put sod in the front yard or put a down payment on a new car with our tax refund money, what is the best way to get our four year old to stop sucking his thumb, who's turn is it to vacuum the family room. This is not what I had pictured when I was a teenager envisioning my future. It took me a while to realize that this is real and real really is better. Real is where we learn to serve God, where we learn to love others like He loves us, where we learn that we were made for so much more than taking- we were made for giving and sharing.
Once I learned that you'd think I would be on the right track as far as setting realistic expectations...not necessarily! After the reality of marriage set in, Tim and I decided to start our family. I think in the back of my mind, all those years ago, I expected motherhood to fill in those blanks marriage failed to address. I knew I was a selfish person (marriage had made that painfully obvious) but I figured having a baby would automatically solve that problem. So we welcomed our first child 6 weeks before our 2nd anniversary. Once again, reality did not quite meet up to the expectations of perfect parenthood I had envisioned. I was still a selfish person, and did not always want to get up in the middle of the night with a screaming infant. I did not enjoy poopy diapers, endless laundry, or ill-timed spit up on my shoulder. Having a baby did not feel as much fun as it had looked when I watched other people experience it. Our oldest child is 10 1/2 years old now. We have three other children and a fifth on the way. Though I have come to terms with motherhood in much the same way I came to terms with marriage, I still have days I wake up in the morning and think; this is what my life is all about? Cleaning up spilled milk, facing a sink full of dishes- all the time, refereeing fights over coloring books, where is the glamour? Where is the bliss?
Is this really where God wants me to grow in holiness? Of course it is, and if my expectations of ease and paradise had been met I would never had grown at all. I would never truly appreciate God’s grace and mercy in my life. I would have missed out on a real life of giving and growing. And if I had known that life would be all about endless wiping, scrubbing, and picking up, kissing scraped up knees and dealing with whiny kids, running to the store to buy coffee for my husband so he could get his daily caffeine fix and making sure he has chips and salsa to snack on in the evening; would I have still signed up for this vocation? Without a doubt-- why should I have expected anything less?


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