Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Family Reunion-- chaos and joy!

    Growing up, the third child in a family of four children, I had some “middle child” issues.  Sometimes, I felt a little left out.  Sometimes, I felt like the “black sheep” of the family.  I was always a little shyer than everyone else, a little nerdy-er than my popular, social sisters and brother.  Still, my family has always been pretty close.  And though I didn’t always feel like I fit in with my siblings, I have many wonderful memories from my childhood-- of family vacations together, family holiday celebrations, family parties and even plain, old family dinners at home. 
    This week, my whole family is in the same state for the first time in years.  We are celebrating my mom’s birthday with a family reunion.  My sisters arrived with their families over the weekend, but we have yet to be ALL together.  We are scattered along the Gulf Coast of Florida-- my brother & his family live in the Ft. Myers area and my closest-in-age sister is staying there with her family.  My parents live on beautiful Anna Maria Island and my oldest sister and her family are there.  My family, of course,  is here at home in Clearwater.  Even when we are all within a mere 3 hours of each other, it is hard to get together.  Thursday is the “official birthday party” but Tim has to work and cannot make it, my sister-in-law has jury duty and may be unable to attend also.  There are just always so many unavoidable things pulling us all in different directions.  Friday we have planned a family photo with EVERYONE in attendance.  We did this one other time, about 7 years ago, but between my sisters and I we have added 5 more children since then.  There will be 22 of us, all dressed in blue jeans and white shirts, hopefully smiling happily, despite the inevitable chaos of getting everyone ready and in the right place on time.  I am praying it will work out and we will get our picture.  It is what my mom wants most for her birthday, next to having all the whole family together to celebrate. 
    It has been two years since we have been able to pull off a whole family get together like this.  We celebrated my dad’s birthday in Gulf Shores, AL in 2008, renting a house that fit us all (only 20 ½ of us then, oh and my grandmother- so 21 ½.  If you count Ike, the hurricane that blew by a few hundred miles to the south, the number goes up to 22 1/2).  We had a whole week ALL together.  It was a wonderful week of happy chaotic fun.  My kids still talk about it all- swimming with their cousins, staying over night together, and playing, playing, playing.   One afternoon , my sisters, mom, and I talked about leaving the men with the kids and hitting the outlet malls.  Our husbands warned us if we tried it they’d give the kids beer and cigars all afternoon.  Of course, we assumed they were joking.  A few days later we followed through on our shopping plans, only to come back to pictures of the kids all lined up on the front steps holding plastic beer cups and cigars, as promised.  My nieces and nephews were happy to pose, excited about holding cigars and pretending to drink beer.  My own children were traumatized by the whole event though the cigars were wrapped in plastic and the cups were completely empty.  Years ago I would have seen this as another example of me being a little different but this time, Tim and I just laughed.  It was nice to know we were raising our kids with such strong views of right and wrong that they were afraid to go along with the joke, but it was just a joke, and a funny one at that! 
    Anyway, I’m not sure any of us appreciated our growing up years when we were all under the same roof-me, least of all- but now I can see just how precious time together truly is.  Despite our differences, I am so very grateful for the family God has made me a part of.  And, I am looking forward to all the memories we will make together this time around!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Seeing clearly

    Things are not always as they seem.  One of the most valuable lessons to be learned in life.  I’ve encountered it over and over and yet still don’t always “get it.” 
    That person I admired in the past, the one I thought was perfect, always so put together, always smiling so happily.  In truth “perfect” turned out to be a gross exaggeration.  “Normal” may have been a better description.  “Troubled” even fit at times.  Struggling, just like me. 
    So many events in life that I viewed as tragedies later turned out to be nothing.  All I needed was a day or two, and a little perspective, to see it all clearly.
    Bad news so often turns out to be good news in disguise. 
    It all comes down to just letting go.  Trusting everything, EVERYTHING, to God and taking life as it comes, one day at a  time.  I have heard people say to expect miracles in life.  I may not be quite there yet but I have learned to believe that good things are to come.  God really does want to bless us.  We just have to learn to see the blessings for what they are-- sometimes unexpected, sometimes surprising, but always what is best in the long run…. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book review: Christian Self-Mastery

      Do you ever find yourself wondering why you struggle with the same sins over and over again?  Do you have great intentions in life but many times fall short on the follow-through?  Can you relate all too well to St. Paul’s words in his letter to the Romans (7:15), “For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate?”  I feel my life is quite often a perfect example of St. Paul’s wise words.
    I ordered Christian Self-Mastery, knowing that I needed help in overcoming my struggles and hoping for inspiration.  But when Fr. Basil Maturin’s book arrived, I found myself getting a little defensive.  Fr. Basil begins his book by making a lot of assumptions and speculating a lot on how your thought process goes.  He writes with confidence, as though he can look into your mind and know your personal thoughts.  And, many of his assumptions and speculations are less than complimentary.  But as I read more and more of the book I discovered that his insights into the human spirit and the struggle against sin and temptation were so accurate it almost did seem at times that he could see into my mind.  In fact, in the pages of his book he addressed exactly what I had been feeling and fighting against.  He explained, in great detail, all the reasons I had ordered the book to begin with.  The more I read, the more I was rewarded with a greater understanding of my own weaknesses and the real reason I tend to fail in self-discipline.
     I ordered the book hoping for inspiration but I gained more than I expected.  I came away with a better understanding of myself and my efforts, a deeper appreciation for God’s grace at work in my life, and a stronger sense of direction to move forward in attaining true "christian self-mastery".   At times, as I read, I did feel convicted, at times, I was comforted, and in the end, I found the inspiration I was hoping for.  It was not necessarily an easy read but I would highly recommended it to anyone who sins!

You can purchase this book here.  I wrote this review for the Tiber River Blogger Review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, your source for Baptism Gifts and First Communion Gifts. For more information and to purchase, please visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.
Tiber River is the first Catholic book review site, started in 2000 to help you make informed decisions about Catholic book purchases.
I receive free product samples as compensation for writing reviews for Tiber River.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Around the world in 8 short weeks

    It is summer time!  My blog has been pretty depressing lately but today  I am going to focus on the positives.   Every year since I started home schooling, we have spent our summers working on “fun” learning projects.   Not that we don’t have any fun during the school year, but in summer I am more laid back and our “schooling” is even more fun than normal. 
    This year as I thought about our summer plans, I decided we’d go on an around the world trip.  A trip around the world with 5 children in a few short months- quite a lofty goal, huh?  Thankfully I’ve planned our trip to be simple and cheap.  You see, we live in an area with dozens of libraries.  Within a 10 mile radius of our house there are probably 10 of them.  A few miles out farther there are, at least, another 10.  Yet, when we set out each week for our regular library outing (usually coming home with 30-some books practically bursting out of the canvas bags that hang from our sagging shoulders) we always head to the closest one.  It is one of  the smallest in the area and my children are convinced they have read everything worthwhile there.  I am inclined to agree, not only because they are such voracious readers but also because the shelves are lined with a lot of garbage and the good books can be hard to find to begin with.   In fact, the canvas bags have been a little lighter and less full in recent weeks as the selection gets harder and harder.  Anyway, I decided we would spend the summer checking out all the other nearby libraries- taking a trip around our town to explore a new selection of books that will open up the world to us as we delve into their pages.   A different library, every week, all summer.
    So far, we have visited two new libraries.  The children have enjoyed so much seeing the amazing children’s sections they have, much better than our own library’s boring line of shelves and tiny rack of puzzles with missing pieces.  The first had a gazebo in the middle with soft cushions inside for curling up on top to read the array of beautiful books displayed all around the room.  It had tables of toys and bright colorful decorations.  And the books!  It took only moments to fill the bags to overflowing and I had to tear the children away from the shelves before they checked out the whole library.  Library exploration number 1 was a huge success.  Yesterday we hit library number 2.  If our first outing was a success, our second was an absolute triumph!  Library number 2 was quite a bit farther away but we had errands to run in that area and I figured it was worth the time to stop in.  Was it ever.  Library number 2 had a whole wing for the children.  A wing full of toys-- it looked like a preschool classroom with stations of playthings- blocks, a pretend store, a boat to climb on, a toddler-sized teeter totter.  The little ones played so happily that for once the older ones could explore to their hearts content.  No leaving this place because the baby was whiny and had had enough of the stroller.  This time she was the one we had to tear away.  With all the playtime, I personally never got a chance to browse the shelves of books but when we did leave, the bags were full, the children were happy, and the rest of the day was spent engrossed in interesting stories.   Clearly, our trip around the world is off to a great start.
    In addition to all our “travel plans,” we are finishing up the history lessons we never quite got to.  I had ordered a new history program last year, all excited about the great reviews it got, but was disappointed in it once we got started. We really gave it a good try but it got tossed aside around December.  This summer we are going to learn history the right way- through stories.  
    So, in a way, we are traveling not just around the world but through time as well.  I’m pretty sure there’s no better way for the kids and I to spend the next few hot, humid months than discovering new and exciting places and times through a summer-full of stories.

Monday, June 6, 2011

So, how are we REALLY doing?

    So here we go again into a world of financial worries, an uncertain future, and an open book for God to write whatever He wants in.  It has been almost a week since Tim found out his full time job will be eliminated in a matter of weeks.  A few people have commended us on our faith and peacefulness in the midst of this.  I feel we should come clean about the whole thing though…. How are we really faring? 
    In all honesty, we were doing fabulous all last week.  We were models of Christian patience and trust.  We kept looking at each other and saying, “You know this is absolutely for the best. God has something great planned for us and it will be exciting to see where He leads us.”  We meant it, too.  We really were filled with peace.  We really were curious about the future, it being so unpredictable at this point in life.  And we talked about how our last bout with un-employment was so full of God’s blessings and opportunities to grow in faith.  Like I said, we really meant it all and were fine.     
    Today starts week number 2 and, though Tim is still going to work in the mornings as before (for now), the reality of our uncertain future keeps rearing its ugly head and our stomachs knot up in stress and anxiety.   I find myself, especially at bedtime, counting the days of “normalcy” left and wondering what will come next.  Sleep has taken a little longer to come the last night or two.  It has come, and been restful at that, but it has been preceded by a time of tossing and turning and trying to ignore the “what-ifs” that plague me in the dark.  Even during the day, there have been  moments of panic when I think about no money, and bills that won’t go away, and weeks stretching into months.  Peace usually returns pretty quickly but there is a sense of fear sort of lurking nearby, ready to pounce and steal it away again.  If we are truly to rely on our faith to get through this, or any other trial in life no matter how big or small, it is not really about how we react in the peaceful moments though.  Rather, we live our faith in those moments when we are racked with fear and worry and cannot figure out how we might put food on the table and stay on top of our bills without enough money coming in.  It is then that we must turn to God, throw our hands up in defeat, and hand it all over to Him, “Provide for us Lord, as only You can.  Help us to depend, not on worldly comforts, but on your love.  See us through our present anxiety and be with us in our moments of doubt.”
    When life feels predictable, when it feels easy and things are going my way, I sometimes forget to think about God.  I sometimes feel as if I have it all under control and don‘t really need Him much.  The truth is, no matter how much I want to be in control, no matter how much I feel in control, I am not in control.  Not when life seems predictable and easy, not when life seems to be going my way, and not when life is falling apart around me either.  None of it really depends on me.  It is all in God’s hands and a part of His plan, and though I will surely continue to have moments when I lose sight of that and feel swallowed by fear, all I really need to do is turn to Him.  I know that this may not be an easy road ahead of us.  Certainly worse things could happen, but peace will probably continue to be fleeting, and fear and worry will likely continue to pursue us.  Still, if our goal is heaven (not just a new job) and, of course, it is, we must keep going forward in faith.  We must follow the path God has laid for us, letting Him guide us… through the desert, over the mountain, wherever He may take us.  Am I at peace with that?  Not necessarily.  Certainly not every moment of the day, but we are in the situation we are in and worrying will not change it.  We have no choice but to rely on our faith.  The coming weeks and months may not be easy or fun but this latest turn in the road is sure to be an exciting and unpredictable part of the journey, a journey I cannot even imagine taking without Jesus to guide me, and, at times, to carry me through.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Here we go again....

    When I was about 4 years old I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I was sure of it and never changed my mind.  I wanted to be a mommy.  Now, more than thirty years later, I am a mommy.  I am still sure this is what I am supposed to be and I would not change it for the world.  Tim was a little less sure about his future growing up.  When he and I started dating he had just left the seminary, after spending most of his college years there studying to be a priest.   He wasn’t quite sure which direction to go in.  He felt sure that God was not calling him to the priesthood but he wasn’t sure where God might be calling him instead.  He wasn’t sure either, where he, himself, wanted to go.  He got a job at a music store and changed majors a few times as he continued his college education without a clear goal in mind.  As he finished school, finally settling on a major in literature, he worked his way up to management in the music store and later in a book store.  We married and had our first child.  He continued to work at the book store and go to school and finally graduated with his bachelor’s degree in literature a few months before our second child was born.  With a growing family to support though, and no real literature-related jobs presenting themselves, he just kept on working in retail stores for years.  He never loved it but it paid the bills.  Finally, he had had enough and decided to try something new.  He took a  job as a financial advisor.  For 2 ½ years he worked hard trying to establish a name for himself and build a client base but, try as he might he was not a salesman, and in October 2007 they let him go.  We found ourselves facing unemployment.  It was a long, scary time but God saw us through and amazingly led Tim back to where he started, in a sense, for he was offered a job in ministry and he took it.  He became the youth minister for three local churches.  He would work for all three churches but lead one joint youth group for them all.  After one year, one of the three churches pulled out of the program, citing rising expenses and declining donations as the reason.  The other two churches agreed to make up the difference in Tim’s salary and keep the program going.  That was two years ago.  We found out this week that a second church has decided to end the program and pull out their involvement and their money. 
    So, here we are!   Facing, not unemployment exactly, but certainly under-employment and in the worst job market we have ever seen.  We are, of course, in good company.  Quite a few of our friends are also struggling in this economy and we know men who have been out of work for years.  While misery does love company and it is good to know we are not alone, it is not a comforting thought to know there are so many others looking for work as well.  Oh well.  We really are at peace.  We have our faith, we have our health, and we have each other.  And now, we have yet another opportunity to trust completely in God and see where He will take us on our next adventure in life.


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