Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bye-bye baby

            So….. as I mentioned previously my “baby” is almost three years old.  I am not at all sure how three years can fly by in the blink of an eye but here we are with another “big girl” in the house and no baby anywhere to be found.  Our littlest one is almost passed that age when everything that comes out of her mouth is funny and every new development and discovery is adorable.   We really only have a few more months of “Awww, that was so cute,” before she has completely mastered the English language and honed all her gross motor skills to pre-schooler perfection, leaving behind her immature toddler jumps with only one foot actually leaving the ground and the awkward arms-pumping run that still doesn’t get her anywhere near as fast as her siblings.

            For now, I am enjoying what is left of toddlerhood.  I love that she uses the “ya” sound for words that have “th” in them.  She says “I luff yat,” for “I love that,” and “I don’t yike yose” when she means, “I don’t like those”.  And there is a lot she doesn’t “yike”.  She is a very picky eater, as so many two year olds are.  Her favorite foods include “drawberries (strawberries), booberries (blueberries), saw-me (salami), and cereo (cereal)” and she will eat little else.    She especially dis-yikes beans, tomatoes, and potatoes.  

            I also love that she now plays happily with her older brothers and sisters, joining them in their pretending games, their Lego play, and even their favorite past-time-- movie quoting.  It is quite impressive how many movie quotes she has memorized in her little life, especially considering I don’t allow that much screen time.  I hope this is an indication of how well she’ll do when it comes time to memorize her times tables.  :)
            She loves shoes- boots, flip-flops, sandals- you name it, and has asked for “barkly shoose” (sparkly shoes) for her birthday.  She has come a long way with her swimming lessons (or as she calls them, her as “fwimming” lessons).  She knows how to spell her own name or, at least knows which letters are "hers".  She loves books and has a few of her favorites memorized so she can “read” to us when we get to the point that we have read so many books to her, we simply cannot utter another word.  At least, she occasionally uses her memorization skills for something worthwhile.

            Anyway, she really is still adorable to us and so, so lovable despite the fact that this past year has truly been the “terrible twos” full of temper tantrums, attitude, and stubbornness.  She has spent an awful lot of time in timeout, or what we know around here as “the whiny kid zone”, but her trips there are getting fewer and farther between.  

It is amazing how little by little, day by day, our children mature before our very eyes, starting out so small and helpless and quickly becoming their own little selves- with their own ideas and their own independence and their own ability to express themselves.  

Monday, July 30, 2012

Looking back, looking ahead....

            It is almost August!  Our summer is almost over.  I had planned to start school on August 1st but after spending the last 1/3 of July trying to discern a call to missionary life in Africa and being so emotionally charged by that whole experience, I am sort of re-considering our start date again.  August 15 is sounding just about right.

I am still a little surprised that summer is so rapidly passing.  August does not only mean the start of our 8th year of home schooling, it also means my “baby” will be turning three in less than 2 weeks.  She is now completely potty trained (even at night!) and she has been sleeping in her big girl bed for months.  She is really not a baby and I have been aware of that for a while, but somehow the number 3 just drives home that point all the more.  

It is these milestones-- another school year beginning, another birthday to celebrate, another season giving way to the next, that make us look at the clock and the calendar in shock and remind us that time is racing by.   As much as we’d like to slow it down, we have no choice but to float along with it. 

This summer has been such an interesting one.  June meant a new job for Tim and getting used to that- accepting that God’s plan was different than mine, adjusting to a different schedule,  helping Tim buy new business wear after four years of being away from the corporate world.  It also meant putting the finishing touches on my novel and getting it published.  It was a lot of “hurry up and wait” along the way and a lot of my personal deadlines pushed back, but finally we uploaded the finished manuscript to createspace and then at long last, I was able to hold in my hands my completed work.  Amazing!

July was all about promoting my book.  It has been a bit of a whirlwind of activity and excitement- meetings, phone calls, e-mails, e-mails, e-mails but things are coming together in unexpected and incredible ways and I am awed and humbled by it all.  Just to give you a little hint as to what all is going on- there are several reviews and blog posts circulating, there will be a radio giveaway soon, my novel has been presented to a few “big” names in Catholic media and publishing, it is under consideration for mention in Catholic publications and is being backed by pro-life organizations.  It is all still in the works but there is potential for great things.  I am learning so much about marketing and networking.  I am also continually praying and putting the project into God’s hands, He will do with it what He wants and I am just along for the exciting ride.

Then, of course, there was that opportunity to go to Africa when everything else was put on hold as we waited to see what God had in store.  I have secretly been still hanging onto hope for it, even though it has been a few days since Tim told them we couldn’t pursue the job any further.  I had decided that if somehow, $40,000 dollars dropped out of the sky over the weekend, then THAT would really be our "burning bush".  Then, we could go back to the mission and tell them that, as a matter of fact, we are interested.  But now it is Monday and no money has materialized, so I guess God really does have someone else in mind for the job.  I have been praying for that person and coming to terms with the fact that my life is here in Florida.  

And here in Florida, I have the new school year to get ready for and a third birthday celebration to plan and more exciting developments in the sharing of my novel.  It has been an unbelievably crazy summer but now it is **almost** time to try to put it all behind me and move forward to the next unpredictable season God has planned for my family….

Friday, July 27, 2012

The call of Abraham

            “The Lord said to Abram: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land I will show you.”
            What if God said the same to your husband?  What if God called your family out of the land of your kinsfolk and out of your father’s house and sent you to a faraway distant land of wilderness?  What if you were asked to leave all that you’ve ever known and set off for a foreign country abandoning your home, your friends, your comforts, and all that is familiar?
            What if these were not what ifs? 
We have spent a lot of time lately asking ourselves those very questions, especially that last one.  Yesterday, Tim had a conversation with someone about a missionary job in Africa.  If he decides to pursue the job and we, as a family, discern that this really is what God wants of us, we will be leaving in a matter of weeks for a two year commitment to live and work in a mission located in the impoverished and somewhat unstable country of Liberia.  

How do I express the thoughts, feelings, and conversations that have surrounded this possible change in our lives?  Tim applied for the job about a week and a half ago.  He did mention it to me first and my reaction was the same as his, let’s try it and see where it goes.  Within 24 hours of applying, he heard back.  They had a few questions but were willing to consider him.  

I freaked out a little.  We can’t move our family to Africa!  We are used to cheerios for breakfast, peanut butter and jelly for lunch.  Sometimes we order pizza for dinner and it gets delivered to our door (okay VERY rarely, but still-- it is an option). We’ve never known life without air conditioning when the temperature reaches over 75 degrees.  We have always had indoor plumbing, bottled water, shopping malls, grocery stores, convenience marts on every street corner.  

But even as I thought all these things, I thought about Abraham and how he was called out of his ordinary comfortable life and when called—he did not hesitate.   

He went. 

And I thought about exposing my children to different cultures, about having the opportunity to really drive home the lessons of charity, gratitude, loving God above all other things (even pizza delivery and air conditioning).  I thought about the amazing blessings associated with mission work and the chance to see the world.  I thought about the reality of living and working in Africa and the once in a lifetime opportunity this might be.  I looked at the mission’s website and studied the pictures of the compound, the children, the school over and over trying to picture my family there in the midst of it all.

I was terrified and excited all at once.  In the end, I did not tell Tim to please call the mission people back and remove his name from consideration.  I told him again, let’s see where this goes.

So then this past Tuesday, he got an e-mail from the mission requesting a phone call and a chance to talk about it all.  I freaked out again.  Could I really pack up a few of my worldly belongings, say good-by to my family and friends and leave for two years?  Could I really walk out of my house not knowing if I would ever come back to it?  Could I really live in a place practically on the equator with no air conditioning, no Wal-Mart down the street, no weekly visits to Starbucks for a vanilla rooibos tea and a few hours to talk with friends?  Could I really take my children from their friends, from their comforts, from all they have ever known and plunk them down in the middle of a simple rustic Franciscan mission full of poor, orphaned African children in the middle of the “bush”?

Tim and I prayed about it and decided, if God wants us there, then yes we could do all those things (I think).  We figured if it is truly God’s will and He is really calling our family to mission work, then first of all we cannot say no, and second of all, He must know the blessings would far outweigh the sacrifices.  Still, Tim said he wanted a “burning bush” that would tell us, undoubtedly, one way or the other, if it really is God’s will for us.  

So, we prepared a list of our questions—is there indoor plumbing?  Is it safe?  What are the health risks?  How about medical care if we need it?  Etc….  And yesterday at noon Tim had his phone call.  I sat by my cell phone praying and anxiously awaiting his report on everything.  Was God calling us, like He called Abraham?

Here’s the scoop--  we could get cheerios for breakfast if we wanted even in Liberia, there is indoor plumbing and even private bathrooms at the residence we would likely be in, the compound is very safe with security guards and safety precautions in place, there are health risks but vaccinations before we left would take care of those, there is medical care available and insurance would cover the cost.  All our questions were answered even better than we expected.  

Then, the woman mentioned that though Tim’s travel costs would be covered completely by the mission, they could not afford to fly the rest of us over and that expense would have to be covered by us.  

We crunched a few numbers, checked out the cost of flights and figured out it would cost us roughly $18,000 to fly six of us to Africa.  Before that there would also be passports to secure, visa fees to pay, the cost of the medical exams and vaccinations, etc…  That would be another $2000-$3000.  Then, of course, we’d need to get back home- another $18,000 for that and we were looking at a cost of nearly $40,000.    

We don’t have $40,000.  We cannot come up with it within weeks, and even if we could raise the money, there are so many other unknowns—what about our house and mortgage payment, the car payment, the fact that when the two year commitment is up we would be facing unemployment and re-adjustment all at once, and maybe homelessness too. 
We figure this is our burning bush.  Tim told the mission that we would not be able to further pursue this amazing opportunity.   I am slightly relieved and surprisingly, a little more than slightly disappointed.  I am sure this all happened for a reason.  I am sure there are a million lessons in our discernment process and prayer of the last 10 days.  Not the least of which is that there is much to be done right here in America and that must be where God wants us to concentrate our missionary efforts.

Monday, July 23, 2012

An American Catholic

            I recently overheard a conversation that got me to thinking.  The conversation was between my brother-in-law and my seven year old son.  My brother-in-law is a very well educated, very intellectual man who has no children of his own, and very little opportunity to spend time with children.   We only see him once every few years or so.  Yet, he is fabulous with my own kids and talks to them as though he truly cares what they think.  Listening to him and my son chat was truly fascinating.  

The conversation started as all the adults in the room talked about politics and religion.  We, grown-ups, had been discussing the upcoming election and the place that religion plays in our voting decisions.   Somehow, my brother-in-law and my seven year old started some sort of a discussion of their own.  I did not hear the whole conversation but here’s what I heard--  

My brother-in-law asked my son, “When you think of yourself, as a person,” at this he pointed at my son, gently touching his little chest right where his heart is and he looked him in the eye, “when  you think of yourself, do you consider yourself to be first an American or first a Catholic?”

My son answered without even the slightest hesitation. “First a Catholic,” he proudly proclaimed.   

I realized, though it was only a fraction of a second, that I had been holding my breath wondering what answer my young son might have.  I suppose I should not have wondered, our faith is a part of ALL we do, it is who we are.  Still, it was a reassuring to hear that my son, even at the tender age of seven, recognizes that his Catholic faith is the most important thing.  It was very cool to hear him answer the question so quickly and so easily.  

 I’m not sure my son has ever had a conversation about his faith or beliefs before.  At his age, there just aren’t a lot of people who ask him what he believes or thinks.  His faith has always been the faith of his parents, but when his uncle asked, he immediately spoke up- he is a Catholic and that comes first.

Later, Tim and I talked about how we were both impressed by our son.  We do not know what the future holds, and let’s be honest, there have been events in our country recently that do not bode well for us Catholics.  Tim and I recognize that it is possible that things may happen that cause us to stop calling ourselves Americans, but we will never renounce or be willing to part with our Catholicism.  If ever we move, if ever our country falls, if ever our life as we know it changes- one thing will not change ever.  We are Catholic, first and foremost.  What peace it gives us to know, our children understand that as well.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Family prayer and a little Distraction

             We’ve have been praying the rosary together as a family for years now.  When we started, our oldest child was about 10 years old, our youngest only about 3.  Since the kids were so young, we started with only one decade a night, right after dinner, before anyone left the table.   You can read more about those early days here.  Our youngest (despite his episode with the scissors) was really pretty good about respecting our prayer time.  He was quiet and rarely disrupted our rosary.  

            Some things have not changed over the years.  We still pray the rosary every night as a family.  We still do it right after dinner.  Our son, who used to be the youngest, is still relatively quiet and respectful during the prayers.   

            Some things have changed though…. now we retreat to the family room for our prayers because instead of only one decade we pray the whole rosary.  And, our youngest son lost his place as the baby of the family when we welcomed his little sister.  She is now almost three years old.  And she is a very different toddler than he was.  

Maybe that is why she has responded very differently than he did to our family rosary.  Maybe it’s because it takes a bit longer to pray the whole thing than it did to pray only one decade.   Maybe it’s because she can’t stand that we are all focused on God and not her.  But where her brother would play quietly by himself or would wander off to his room to check out his toys while we prayed, she has decided that rosary time is prime time for showing off.   

As soon as we bow our heads, she starts up her antics.  It is like she is a performer in a three ring circus, running from one ring to another trying to top herself with everything she does.   She usually focuses on distracting her siblings because they are the easiest to lead astray.  She will tickle their feet, say silly things to them, and try switching rosaries with them until everyone has a different one than they started with.  She will turn somersaults, shove toys in their faces, and tug pillows out from behind them.  When all else fails, she will announce loudly that she has to go potty.

Last night Tim decided enough was enough.  He declared, before we even started praying, that no one was to pay the little one any attention whatsoever.  He commanded that we all IGNORE her no matter what adorable or obnoxious thing she did.  She listened as carefully as everyone else to the decree.  

And so we prayed.

Knowing it would get her nowhere; she abandoned her siblings and instead set her sights on distracting mommy and daddy.  First, she started by sitting at Tim’s feet and acting silly, tickling his toes and showing him her cutest smile.  He fought, with all he had, the temptation to laugh or even smile.  He averted his eyes and continued praying.  So she gave up and came to me.  Now ordinarily, I am the only one who can truly ignore her and focus completely on my prayers.  I simply close my eyes, set my mind to the mysteries, and pretend there is no rambunctious toddler in the room.  It is no longer even a struggle for me.  But, of course, last night, after Tim’s emphatic command to ignore her, I found it hard to do so.  I knew I needed to set the example, both to my youngest and to my other children as well.  She, of course, knew all that too.  

So up she climbed onto my lap.  She rubbed my arms and smiled her sweet not-at-all-innocent smile at me.  I tried to ignore.  She moved closer, trying to hug me around my rosary.  I tried and tried to ignore.  Finally, she pulled out the big guns.  She looked right into my eyes (that would just not cooperate and stay closed) and said over and over, “Mommy, I luff you.  Mommy, I luff you.”  Despite my herculean efforts, I smiled and faltered in my prayers.  She took that as a good sign and kept it up, “Mommy, I luff you so, so, so, so, so, so, so much.”  By then I was hiding my face behind a pillow, as much to hide my laughs from her, as to block her chubby little cheeks and triumphant little smile from my view.  The pillow did no good.  She knew she had won.  I did my best to regain my composure as she climbed down from my lap and resumed her normal rosary position in the center of the room for all to see.  The rest of us struggled through our prayers while she acted out, just like every other night. 
I can only hope that our prayers still count, that we still receive graces from them, and that God has as big a sense of humor as my two year old does….

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sunny skies and dark clouds

            It is the rainy season here in Florida.  Every day starts out sunny, with beautiful blue skies and the stifling hot sun beating down.  Every afternoon, the dark clouds roll in.  Rumbles of thunder warn us that the downpour is coming.  Streaks of lightning flash across the sky, bright and white and scary.  Then the rain comes- quickly in sheets drenching the yard, pounding on the roof, dripping from the trees, creating puddles up and down the street.  It rains and rains for an hour, maybe more.  Then it stops.  The thunder and lightning disappear.  The sun peeks out again.  

            I have said it before, I love living in Florida.  I love our beautiful climate, our gorgeous beaches, our majestic palm trees, and mild winters.  I even love our rainy season, when we get a little shower in the middle of our steamy summer afternoons.  I love to sit with my kids in front of the window and watch the storm advance.  I love the sound of rain pattering overhead.  Nothing makes me feel cozier and safer in my own little house than the booms of thunder and zig-zags of lightning outside.

            Summertime in Florida sounds a lot like life, doesn't it?  Our life can be going along so nicely and peacefully, but then the storms of life inevitably come along- they rain on our plans and block out the bright shining sun for a time.  But the storms of life, like the storms of summer, do pass.  

In Florida- with the overwhelming heat of summer- we need our daily thunder storms.  The rain is a welcome break in the heat and a reprieve from the oppressive humidity.  In life, I guess we need our storms too- they give us perspective.  They make us grateful for the good times and remind us to turn to God for safety and comfort. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

The grass is always greener....

            It is a part of  our human nature.  We always want what we don’t have.  We always look at what we don’t have and convince ourselves that it is much, much better than what we do have.  

Case in point--  Not so long ago, my children and I were anxiously, really anxiously, anticipating our summer vacation.  Nothing sounded better than a few months of no schedule, no academic responsibilities, no rigid routines, no pressure to get things done…..  It sounded like bliss!

For the first few days, we just unwound.  We had to adjust to the idea of filling our days with recreation instead of work.  But, we welcomed it joyously.  We delighted in the freedom of summer.  

It didn't take long to settle into our summer routine of sleeping later, stretching our leisurely mornings out till lunchtime, lazing around accomplishing very little.   It was enjoyable to have the opportunity to relax but relaxation started to look a bit like sloth.

Now, we are in the thick of summer.  The days are hot, humid, and long.  Our laziness is looking more and more like a bad habit that might just want to stick around into autumn.  The lack of a schedule and regular routine is starting to wear on me and the children are getting bored with all those summertime activities they longed for during the school year.  
I find myself looking forward, with great anticipation, to getting back into our school year.  A little structure to our days is sounding... well, blissful really.  I am seriously considering moving our first day of school up a few weeks and starting on August 1st instead of August 15th.   The new school books are ready and waiting....

My only fear is-- once we get back into the grind of math worksheets, daily spelling tests, perplexing grammar concepts, complicated science lessons, etc….  summer vacation is going to look like a wonderful treat once again.  I worry that a few days into our brand new school year, I will find myself looking longingly backwards and wishing again for the lazy days of summer…..


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