Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Heading home....

Tim and I have lived in Florida for over 12 years now but we are actually from the Midwest. Tim was born and raised in St. Louis, MO and I lived there for most of my teenage years and into adulthood. We consider St. Louis to be our home town. We still have family there and countless memories of growing up and our early years together. When we first moved away we went back to visit all the time. As life has gotten busier and our family has gotten bigger the time between our visits has stretched to every few years instead of every few months. In fact, somehow time has flown by so quickly that over four years have past since we have been back “home”.
It is high time for a visit, and so, we are getting ready to pack up our suitcase and our, now, five children and head back home for a week. I am excited to go back to see all our favorite places again and to visit our family and friends who are still there but I am also a little apprehensive about the trip. We are driving back because flying is out of the question, financially speaking. We will, all seven of us, be squeezing into our 7 passenger minivan for a ride that will likely take upwards of 18 hours. In order to further keep the costs down, we will be making the ride all in one trip rather than breaking it up into two days and staying in a hotel along the way. We have found, in the past, that driving over night is the easiest way to do it. We will leave our house in the late afternoon and drive, straight through, arriving sometime mid morning the next day. Tim and I will trade off driving duties through the night, trying to sleep when it is not our turn. Last time we did this, we only had four children and they were all considerably smaller. This time there will be not an inch to spare and the children will have to somehow make themselves comfortable while still buckled and squashed like sardines in the back. I anticipate I will not feel quite so alone as I take my middle of the night shift this time around, as I am sure someone else will be awake and complaining that they cannot get comfortable enough to even doze off for a minute or two. It promises to be a really long night.
In addition to the tight quarters while traveling, I am slightly stressed about the space in our suitcase. I will be responsible for packing enough clothing for seven people for a week making sure everyone has weather appropriate outfits, pajamas, personal care items, and, of course, those oh so special things they cannot sleep without. And speaking of weather appropriate clothing, if you have ever been to the Midwest you probably already know, but the weather there is very unpredictable to say the least. Last time we visited temperatures were in the 70’s when we arrived and by the time we left, a few days later, it was snowing. I feel, to be truly prepared, I should take along the entire contents of each of our closets. As that is clearly not a realistic option, I will attempt to pack layers for everyone, short sleeved shirts, long pants, and sweaters or jackets to pull on or take off according to the weather of the minute. This will still require a gargantuan suitcase, which thankfully we do have. It will also require me to spend hours upon hours doing laundry in order to have what we need clean before we leave and then, of course, after returning there will be hours and hours of laundry to get caught up again.
So... why are we making this trip anyway? Believe it or not, that is an easy question to answer. It is simply because I am sure the memories we make will be well worth all the trouble we will face getting there(and back home again), after all, there is no place like home.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Kids say the Darndest Things Friday

I was invited to participate in a blog hop entitled Kids say the Darndest Things Fridays from the lovely ladies at mysticalrosedesign.blogspot com.   I am so excited to be a part of the Friday fun.  Check out all the links at their website and enjoy a great end-of-the-week laugh!
I’m sure my own kids have said hundreds of funny things but I can’t seem to remember any of them (I hope this doesn’t mean I don’t listen to them like I should).  I do have a funny story to share that sort of involves us, however.
We have always lived paycheck to paycheck, having as I once heard from someone else, more kids than money.   Well, a friend of mine who is really pretty comfortable financially, was talking to her son one day about why they could not go get fast food for lunch.  She told him they could not afford it right then and that they would have a lot more money if she did not buy him so many new toys.  He thought for a moment and then said (thinking of us), “I guess the Burke’s must be really rich.” 
    “Why would you think that?” she asked him, knowing how off base he was. 
    “Well, they hardly ever get new toys!” he said.
Of course, as far as I am concerned my friend’s son is right.  We are really rich, just not in money (or new toys apparently).  Instead we are rich in love and togetherness, which is what matters most anyway!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Good Wife

    Being a wife and a mother has always been my greatest desire in life.  When I was young that was what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Since being blessed with my wonderful husband and children I have defined myself by my vocation.  I am a wife and mother.  That is my career, my calling, my identity.  I know many women feel that being a wife and mother is not meaningful enough.  They need their own identity, separate from their family.  They need to do more to feel worthwhile.   I have always been proud to identify myself as a wife and mother.  I have never felt that it isn’t enough to care for my husband and children.
    Sometimes, though, I do feel like I need something for me.   It is not that caring for my family is not enough to keep me busy.  Or that raising my children and supporting my husband is not enough of a ministry.  But, sometimes I just want a creative outlet, just for me.   I enjoy writing and scrap booking.  Both give me an opportunity to express myself, and to preserve my family’s memories at the same time.  Yet, I often feel guilty when I take the time to write or to scrapbook.  I feel like my time could be better spent on cleaning or playing with my kids.  Popular culture tells us we must take care of ourselves first so we will be able to take care of others but that doesn’t seem to be the same message I find in the Bible.  The good wife described in Proverbs chapter 31 does not go get a massage once a week to revitalize herself so she can then serve her family.  There is nothing about getting her nails done, or going shopping with her girlfriends or even taking a half an hour to write her blog because she spent the morning home schooling the kids, running errands, and doing laundry and now she is feeling a little burnt out and desperate for some time to do what she wants.  The good wife serves her family first because that is her calling.  Likewise, as I read the Gospels I notice that Jesus never put his own needs or desires before those of others.  When he was tired and needed rest he attempted to go off with his apostles to a place to pray yet the crowd (much like my ever demanding children) followed him and ask for even more of his time and attention.  Jesus did not yell at the crowds pointing out all he had already done for them and insisting that he deserved some time to do what he wanted for once!   No, he was moved with compassion for them and put his own desires aside in favor of serving the people. 
    I know, as a wife and mother, I am called to a very high purpose.  With five children and a husband, there are the needs of so many people to consider.  I want to do it all yet I also know my own limitations.  I do get burnt out at times.  I do feel overwhelmed at times.  I wonder, is it ever okay to think of myself?   Upon further examination and meditation on Proverbs 31, I think I get a little clue to the answer.  As I read about the good wife’s very busy schedule I see that she does an awful lot of sewing.   Verse 13 says, “She obtains wool and flax and makes cloth with skillful hands.”  Verse 19 states, “She puts her hand to the distaff and her fingers ply the spindle.”  Verse 22 says, “She makes her own coverlets; fine linen and purple are her clothing.” And verse 24 tells us, “She makes garments and sells them and stocks the merchants with belts.”  Clearly the good wife is a very creative and resourceful woman.  She uses her creativity as a way to serve her family. As I think more about the Gospels and Jesus’ perfect example I see that even Jesus did take time to get away and think of his own needs.  He always took care of others first but when there was time and opportunity he did go away to a place by himself and regroup so that he could continue to serve selflessly. 
    So, if I desire to use the gifts of creativity that God has blessed me with, I need to make sure that my family is taken care of first.  I need to make sure I am not neglecting my house and my duties there.  Then, when all my responsibilities are attended to, I can take the time to add a few pages to our family scrapbook albums or to write a blog.  My ministry can include the pursuits I desire for myself as long as I do not seek them selfishly without thought to what I am truly called to do, which is always to glorify and serve God in all I do.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Baby curls!

     “Hair, hair, it’s everywhere…” ~Graham Tether in The Hair Book.  I don’t know how Mr. Tether did it, especially since the book was written way back in 1979, but that line must have been written about my family.  I, myself, have a ton of thick, coarse, black, curly hair.  My two older daughters both inherited heads full of beautiful ringlets, though theirs are lighter in color.  My oldest son has unruly auburn waves of hair that grow so fast we cannot keep it looking neat and tidy no matter how often we cut it.  My younger son sports a buzz cut, only because that is the easiest way to tame his coarse, curly, brown locks.  Even Tim, whose father and brothers were all pretty much bald by their mid-20’s, has a pretty nice head of brown hair.  He keeps his very short to avoid the inevitable wild waves that have a mind of their own.  In fact, the only one without much hair around here is the baby, who at seven months old, has just a bit of dark brown peach fuzz covering her little round head.  Ironically, the baby seems to be the only one in the house who really loves all our crazy, curly hair.  She is so enamored with hair she seems always to have a fist full of it.  Most of the time, it has been forcefully ripped from my head.  Once in a while, she will get her chubby baby hands near one of her sister’s heads and they become her latest victim.  There is evidence of her hair fascination wrapped around her fingers, and wrapped around her toes.  There are stray strands in her crib and all over her soft fluffy blankets.  I have lost so much of my hair to her little baby grip, I am surprised I do not have bald spots all over my head! 
    Lately, I have been worried about hair for even more reasons that just the constant loss of my own.  I have started to worry that, somehow, though I cannot begin to imagine how, the baby is not going to share the telltale family curls.  Her hair, though there is still so little of it, does not seemed to curl or twist at all, even when it is wet from her bath.  Though I never loved, or even liked, my own hair growing up, I have come to appreciate curls now that my children are sporting them on their adorable little heads too.  Curls are just a given in our family, at least so far.  If the baby does not get curls of her own, I fear what her hair might look like as she grows up- I have never styled hair that does not curl.  I do not have a clue what to do with straight tresses.  So, though I have not lost much sleep over baby’s lack of curls (only baby’s own lack of sleep), I really have been a tiny bit concerned.  But then, thanks be to God, the other morning as I was going over some schoolwork with the “big” kids I noticed one tiny little flip of hair on the back of the baby’s head.  We all got so excited when I showed it to her siblings.  Her sister immediately reached out to touch the miniature curl and it fell as quickly as her little face did when we frightened the poor, confused baby with our squeals of delight.
     Only time will tell what our beautiful baby will look like when her hair finally does come in but for now, I guess I’ll just have to be content with the fact that she does have some curls- I just wish they were on her head instead of in her hand!

Monday, March 15, 2010

What's your story?

    The power of stories is amazing.  Jesus told stories to teach the people about God’s love and His will for their lives.  Ancient people told stories to pass on their history.  Good teachers use stories to teach their students about the world around them.  Stories teach us, they connect us to our past, they touch us and they can change us if we let them.  Stories are powerful. 
    My children, like most children, love to hear stories.  They love the stories we read in books from the library and the ones on our own bookshelves but most of all, they love the stories Tim and I tell them.  Not a week goes by that we do not hear, “tell us a story from when you were little.”  They have heard all the stories we can remember, by now.  They have asked their grandparents for stories of their childhood as well, and they have heard all those stories by now, as well.  Yet they never get tired of hearing them.  They like the story about when I watched Frosty the Snowman in the middle of summer.   They love the story about the day a little girl I went to school with jumped off a swing on the playground and broke her tailbone.  They especially love the story of the time their daddy accidentally shot someone in the bottom with a B-B gun.   Though it is sometimes hard to remember interesting stories, it is really very special for Tim and me to share our memories with our children. 
    One day, when posed the question for about the millionth time, I turned the tables on the kids.  “Why don’t you tell me a story from when you were little?”  I asked them.  They smiled and pointed out that I knew every story from when they were little, after all being their mother, I have been a part of nearly every story of their lives.  “By now, you know all my stories too,” I reminded them.  It took a little coaxing but eventually they started sharing.  They told me stories they thought were funny like the time when my five year old was just a baby and he spilled his sister’s chocolate banana smoothie all over the counter in front of his high chair and then proceeded to suck the smoothie off the counter and when my eight year old son was a toddler and he climbed out of his high chair and ran off to play in the middle of dinner with the seat belt still fastened around his waist (though, obviously, no longer fastened to the high chair).  They told me about their scariest moment in life, when a few years after his high chair escape, my older son darted quickly into an elevator at the mall only to have the doors close immediately and take him to the second level all by himself.  That event traumatized my oldest daughter (and me) as much as it did her brother.  Then they told me about their very favorite story from when they were little.  The time my good friend and I planned a surprise weekend trip for the two of us and all our children.  I heard about how exciting it was that day when they thought we were just going to the park with their friends and then they peeked in the back of the mini van and saw a big duffel bag.  They got to talk to each other through walkie-talkies on the ride to Orlando where we stayed in a two-bedroom condo.  They got to go swimming together, to go the grocery store together to buy special treats like chocolate pop-tarts and m&m’s, and then to spend the night together, only to wake up to eat their pop-tarts and go swimming together again.  The smiles on their faces as they talked about that memorable weekend were priceless.
    Sharing my stories with my children is always a special time but having them share their stories was even more meaningful.  Though I did know all the events they talked about, it was great to hear them from their perspective and to find out how much the memories mean to them.  It was a chance to find out what matters to them, what makes them laugh, what scares them, and what memories they hold most dear.  Stories have a way of uniting people and there is no one I’d rather unite with than the people who I hold most dear.   I thank God for the stories I have already experienced with my wonderful family, and the many more we are sure to experience together in the future.  I pray that your life and your family have just as many wonderful stories as mine.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I dare you!

Ever play truth or dare as a kid?  I remember playing it lots of times.  I played with my friends when we had sleepovers and I even played, occasionally, with my sister and brother when we’d stay up late together giggling and goofing off instead of sleeping.  Though it was supposed to be fun, truth or dare always made me nervous.  The truth part wasn’t so bad- I have always been a very honest person, but the dare part always caused me stress.  What if I was asked to do something I just didn’t want to do? Or something I knew I wasn’t supposed to do?  I almost always chose truth and avoided the dares as much as I could. As an adult, the opportunity to play truth or dare hasn’t come up much.  In fact, until recently I have been able to completely avoid the challenge of dares in my grown up world just as I attempted to do when I was younger.
    So, how has truth or dare manifested itself in my life again?  Last year, good friends of ours told Tim and me about a unique way of observing Lent.  They had seen the movie Fireproof and had purchased the companion book entitled The Love Dare.  They decided to use the 40 days of Lent to journey together through the book, which consists of 40 days of “dares“.  Our friends’ excitement about their personal Love Dare results inspired Tim and I to try it together this year. 
    We are about halfway through Lent, and about halfway through the Love Dare book.  So far, it has been a little reminiscent of my past truth or dare experiences.  It has been a little unsettling.  Day one of the Love Dare was entitled “love is patient”- the title alone was enough to make me anxious.  The dare itself was to not say anything negative to your spouse.  It sounds easy enough but immediately I started trying to analyze it.  Does it just mean that we should not criticize each other or does it mean, like it says, that we can’t say anything negative, like no complaints?  No venting?  No snapping in frustration over little annoyances?  Needless to say, I didn’t quite perfect day one, yet we moved on.  Day two was “love is kind”- this time we were dared to perform an unexpected act of kindness.  This was a lot easier, but the reading that preceded the dare itself spoke of gentleness, helpfulness, and willingness.  None of which are my greatest strengths.  Now I won’t go through each of the dares we have so far confronted, but I must admit they have all challenged me in one way or another.  The readings have enlightened me and the dares themselves have revealed a lot of truths about myself and my marriage. Thankfully the truth is, I have a wonderful marriage and an amazing husband.  I, however, often think more about what I want to get from my marriage than what I want to put into it.  The Love Dare has helped me to see how much more I can do for Tim, and how much more I can do to strengthen and nurture our relationship. 
    I’ve always shied away from dares because they take me outside my comfort zone but in marriage sometimes that is just what we need.  It is so easy to get into comfortable routines and to lose sight of our spouse’s needs.  Marriage is a beautiful sacrament, a sign of God’s grace in our lives, but it needs to be nurtured.  I have found out that a little dare can be a great way to grow in truth…and the truth is we can all be more loving, can’t we?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Wild week!

    Sunday morning, 5 am…I am enjoying the solitude of the wee hours of dawn with the baby when I hear someone in the bathroom.  I go to investigate and find my five year old son, who has obviously awoken with a nasty stomach virus, getting ill very near to, but not quite in, the toilet…and so begins another crazy week in my life.   I stay home with the sick child and the baby while Tim takes the other children to Mass.   For the next 48 hours my son battles his stomach bug, several times we are sure he is better and then it starts up again. 

Tuesday morning, he is finally better and I am praying that no one else get sick.  My two older daughters and I, along with my mom, have tickets to go see Little House on the Prairie the musical at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.  We bought the tickets back in September and have been so looking forward to the show.  Thankfully all tummies seem sound at 5 :40 when we set off for the theater, which is about 45 minutes away.  After being in the car for close to two hours, most of which was spent in an endless line of creeping traffic we arrive at the show with only 2 minutes to get to our seats.  Somehow, we make it.  The show is fabulous, worth every minute of the stressful drive and the sprint to our seats.  The girls are both beaming as we leave the theater.   We decide to treat them to milkshakes on the way home and quickly realize that we never received our change from the parking attendant before the show.  In our mad dash to make it in time we handed him $20 for the $5 parking fee and, whether intentionally or not, he kept it all.  

Wednesday seems a normal, uneventful day until we are leaving for my 8 year old son’s baseball practice at 6 pm.  My oldest daughter looks at me, quite suddenly and says, “I feel sick”.  She stays home with the phone nearby and uses it to call me about 20 minutes later to inform me that she has caught her little brother‘s stomach bug.  When we get home from baseball I, too, start to feel a little funny.  “I’m sure it is all in my head, just paranoia because the kids are sick,“  I tell Tim.  No such luck.  My daughter and I spend a very long night outside the bathroom together taking turns running quickly in to be sick.  

Thursday morning, 5 am… the baby awakens for her normal early morning snack.  I wake Tim up and tell him there is no way I can nurse her, then retreat, once again, to the bathroom.  He tries unsuccessfully to rock her to sleep and ends up giving her a jar of baby food and then falling back to sleep with her on the couch.  At 9 am, he gets our, now perfectly healthy, five year old to pre-school and calls in sick to work so he can care for the other children while I am out of commission.  The day passes in a blur for me.  I, somehow, make it to the couch where I do not move until about 6 pm, completely worn out.   In the evening, I drag myself up to totally disinfect the bathroom,  hoping to prevent any further illness.  I throw in a load of laundry, which has been mounting to frightening heights through all this.  The next day is my middle daughter’s 7th birthday so Tim and I hang 7 balloons on her bed, a family tradition.  Then, finally, I get myself to bed hoping the baby will sleep well.

Friday morning, my daughter’s birthday.  Tim has taken a (previously planned) vacation day to celebrate with her.  She requested a month ago to go camping for her birthday.  We booked the campsite right away.  Though the winter had been unusually cold we were sure by March 5th it would be perfect camping weather.  We were wrong.  The forecasted low temperature is 40 degrees.  This, coupled with my still not-quite-normal tummy, makes us adjust our plans.  We decide to go spend the day at the campgrounds but to go back home to sleep.  When we head out I still have not felt well enough to eat since dinner on Wed. and I am nervous that it may be a disastrous day but it is my daughter’s birthday and I don’t want to ruin it.  I spend the ride hoping and praying that my tummy is okay and that the stomach bug does not hit my little girl on her special day.  God, thankfully, obliges and we have a wonderful day.  Once home, we set up a play tent in the family room and tuck the kids into their sleeping bags.

Saturday morning.  I wake up and look around the house.  It is painfully obvious that I spent two days doing nothing.  The house is trashed almost beyond recognition, the laundry is literally taking over, and the refrigerator is bare.  I am overwhelmed with all that needs to get done.  As I attempt to clean up the kids are rambunctiously playing, they are underfoot, loud, and wound up.  I snap and yell at them.  I have had enough!  “I’m going out,” I announce as I grab my grocery list and storm out.  God bless poor Tim, he is left with all 5 kids and, of course, the messy house.  I head straight for church, the groceries can wait.  I need time before the tabernacle to pray, to regroup, and to relax, its been quite a week.  I arrive at church only to find that the oratory, the small chapel at our church where the Blessed Sacrament is kept, is locked.  Apparently it is open only during the week.  I am not deterred.  I decide to drive to the next closest Catholic church.  I know it is always open.  When I arrive there, I am greeted at the door by a man in a suit with a name tag from the local funeral home.  Yes, you guessed it, unless I want to crash a funeral Mass I am not going to get in there either.  At this point, I figure I have two options.  I can either cry or laugh.  Amazingly, by the grace of God, a smile slowly spreads across my face.  I decide to pray right where I am, “Okay, God I get it.  Here I am trying to escape my life, if only for an hour, to focus once again on serving you and striving for holiness but I know my crazy, busy, unpredictable life is my path to holiness.  I know that in my home, with my family, is where I serve you best, even if it is hard to see at times.  Thank you Lord for the reminder, and thank you so much for helping me through another wild week.”  And then I set off for the grocery store.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sounds like my life

 I was flipping around through various radio stations the other morning after dropping my son off at pre-school.  I don't listen to a lot of country music but every once in a while I will tune into the local country station when I can't find anything good on the Catholic radio station we have here in the Tampa Bay area.  So, as I was driving home and thinking ahead to my day of home schooling the older kids, cleaning up my messy house, cooking dinner, and all those other exciting tasks I get to tackle day in and day out, I flipped to the country station and heard a song that sounded like it was written for me....
"...I say hey man, what’s going on
He said I don’t know where to start
Sarah’s old car’s about to fall apart
And the washer quit last week
We had to put momma in the nursing home
And the baby’s cutting teeth
I didn’t get much work this week
And I got bills to pay
I said I know this ain’t what you wanna hear
But it’s what I’m gonna say
Sounds like life to me it ain’t no fantasy
It’s just a common case of everyday reality
Man I know it’s tough but you gotta suck it up
To hear you talk you’re caught up in some tragedy
It sounds like life to me..." ~Darryl Worley

    It was almost frightening how much it did sound like life to me, my life!  The broken washing machine (for us it is the dishwasher this week), the teething baby, the bills to pay and the worries about how we're going to pay them, it sounded like it was straight out of my own life!  The song made it sound almost humorous how we can let life's little nuisances get us down but it really spoke to me.  I, too, find myself frustrated, even depressed at moments, about all the little things that can go wrong in life. I, too, can let all the challenges in life drag me down and wear me out.  I lose perspective, I forget about my blessings, I feel like no one really understands how hard it can be at times.  Thankfully, you won't ever find me drowning my sorrows in alcohol but I do, do an awful lot of wallowing some days.
    I guess this song is proof that I am not the only one who struggles with discouragement and despair over life and all its trials, both big and small.  So, if your life seems to be as full of broken appliances, fussy, whiny kids, mounting utility bills, and self-pity as mine is these days, maybe you, like me, are focusing a little too much on the ordeals of life.  Maybe, it is time we start counting our blessings and offering our suffering up for those with even bigger problems than ours. 

(post script-- for those who are familiar with the whole song, the reference to an unexpected pregnancy in the second verse does not happen to apply to my life right now but I have experienced that, too.  To read all about my surprise pregnancy click here).


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