As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year

This is a time of year that naturally lends itself to reflection.  It occurred to me just the other day that this time last year we were mourning the loss of the baby we miscarried, and this year we have a beautiful two-month-old to share our Christmas with.  We never forget that little one, or the first baby we miscarried in 2005, both of whom we invoke prayers during our nightly family rosary, and who each hold a special place in our family.  God is so good and continues to bless us through these many trials.  Life, in all its forms, is beautiful!

 I find the topic of resolutions an encouraging one, and am grateful that if nothing else, New Year's Eve gives people a reason to evaluate their lives and make changes for the better.  The Lord has been chipping away at SO MUCH in my everyday life that it is too much to even put into words.  Suffice it to say that I find it so startling and humbling that after fifteen years of following the Lord seriously, ten years (almost!) of marriage, and eight years of parenting, I still have so very much to learn in all of these important relationships.  Every time I think I have this loving thing down, I realize (through the many mistakes I continue to make) how very far I have to go.  If you don't believe me, ask my kids - I'm sure they'd be happy to fill you in :)

Possibly the single biggest challenge has come in my personal relationship with the Lord.  Through reading that I've been doing everywhere for the past several months now (most notably this book and readings from this group) I'm slowly discovering that God is in every moment - that every moment is an invitation to find Christ present in my life, and respond as He is calling me.  And it's so tough!  Because while I'm eating up everything I read (you know how sometimes you can read something and it totally goes over your head, and then other times it's as though the Lord has prepared you to hear all of it because it's the right moment in your life?), I'm finding it so difficult to put into practice.  It's like a curtain has been opened, and a new and deeper world has been revealed to me - bringing along with it the revelation that I have not come as far as I thought I had, and that I still have a lot of work to do. But that's okay, because I'm a firm believer in the goodness that comes through work.  And so, it begins!

The other thing I am working through particularly since the Christmas season began in this feeling of uselessness.  Of course I know that many beautiful and generous people would be very kind in saying that the work I do is not useless, which of course I know it's not.  But I think the Lord is allowing me to feel this way so that I can seek my consolation from Him, and not from what I perceive to be doing a good job at.  So please don't feel the need to affirm me - in fact, I think it would be the opposite of what God wants.  It's been difficult, and in moments of despair I have looked desperately for some kind of affirmation from different people, all the while finding nothing.  But once I get past feeling sorry for myself I am always quick to find the Lord gently tugging at my heart, and I can see that it is His mercy that allows me to feel this way.  I'm not very good yet at translating that into something my heart knows however, but I feel like it's a good starting poing to begin a New Year.

So I guess these would be a few of my general resolutions, though I expect to find many moments ahead to change or add to them.  I guess my number one priority this year will be to keep working on finding Christ in each moment, and changing the things I need to change as the Lord reveals them to me.  New Year's Eve is a good reason to start thinking about these things, but to wait around until next year to re-evaluate would be a shame.  May the Lord be ever present in my life and yours, as we each continue to listen to His gentle voice in each moment of our lives.

May the grace of the newborn saviour fill our lives with peace as we enter this new year!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Joyful Waiting

My infant daughter is discovering faces.  She finds a feature she enjoys and then locks on, super intent, before finding your eyes and exploding into a smile of pure delight.  She will continue to repeat the whole thing for as long as you have patience to sit with her.  As a result, we're spending a lot of time like this:


Contrary to what you might expect, babies have a way of slowing the pace of family life, and helping you focus on what's important - what's right in front of you.  I encounter many people in the run of the day who think I am a martyr for doing what I do, and I'm sure they assume I live my life in a buzz of neverending and thankless activity.  And while it's true that some days can be like that for me as much as for any other person, it's these little guys who help me keep life in perspective. 

I hate to sit still, and I always feel like there's something else I should be doing.  But yesterday afternoon I sat in my chair like this for at least a half hour, while each of my children took turns snuggling up next to me, eager to see for themselves just what it was their sister was doing that had their mother so delighted.  And she rewarded their patience with a smile all their own, which made them feel that they were the most special kids on the planet!  How much joy she brings to us.  In those precious moments, I wasn't concerned with the million other things I "should" be doing - I knew they could wait.  There was someone more important to attend to.  Not to change, or feed, or clothe - just to be with.  To be present to her, and in so doing be present to the other kids as well, and to allow my heart to be filled.

I think that Advent is to Christmas what a new baby is to an already large family - not just one more thing to tack onto an already busy life, but a centering, grounding force, meant to point you to your real purpose.  Advent is not about finding something else to do, more crafts to make, more readings to do, to take away from our Christmas preparations...it is meant to ground us, to draw us deeper into the mystery of Christmas - the Christ child born to us as one of us, so that when our Saviour arrives we encounter Him not with heads swirling amid too many things to do, but in a quiet moment of peace and joy, gazing deep into His eyes and being present to Him.  And in so doing He gazes upon us, into our souls and - if we are patient - rewards us with His smile so deep that His pure delight radiates our very being, and we cannot help but be filled with Joy.

May this Christmas season find each one of us ready and waiting, prepared to welcome our Lord into lives here and now, in every moment.  And may we never forget the joy that comes from gazing into the eyes of a baby.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Running the race with laces tied

Through all the great pearls of wisdom I have been reading lately, God has been saying one thing to me - live in the moment.  Every moment carries with it the opportunity to surrender to God's will.  Every moment is positive, because regardless of the circumstances Jesus is there.  He created me for this moment.  He is in THIS moment.  This is my reality, and I will only be happy if I can meet Jesus right here and now, and respond the way He is asking me to.

This of course is nothing new.  Every person who thinks about there life and what it means will tell you one thing - you only have control over what you are living right now.  And yet for me, I spend so much time just trying to survive the now, always looking back at the mistakes I've made in shame, or looking ahead to what I hope to be - a holier wife, a better Mom, a person who always acts with love and patience, and brings Jesus into every decision I make.  For the past few months I have been struggling with how to make this happen in my life.  How do I transition from this genius (and yet so simple) knowledge that Christ is in each moment, and if I slow down and seek Him instead of trying to survive while it passes me by - to actually living that way?

Thankfully my life is not devoid of opportunities.  Actually, nobody's is.  Because regardless of what your station in life happens to be, every day contains something to distract us, and Someone gently pulling our hearts back towards Him - the mystery that is the purpose of our life, the reason for our existence.  Mine takes the shape of a busy household of little ones who need to be taught how to live, how to respond to this very question themselves - and therein lies the brilliance of family life.  The lesson I need to learn most in my own life is the one I need to teach them.

Yesterday morning I was putting a load of laundry into the dryer.  My infant daughter, overdue for a nap, was strapped to my front in her carrier.  My three oldest boys, having been given their school work and instructed on what to do, were upstairs distracting each other from their work instead of doing it (something that makes my blood boil).  My preschool daughter, such an eager student and very fond of repeating things over, and over, and over, was at the kitchen sweetly calling, "I'm-done-my-page-mommy-I'm-done-my-page-mommy-I'm-done-my-page-mommy-I'm-done...." And my toddler, who was under the weather, was crying nonstop, lamenting the fact that he can't be carried by me constantly which he rarely wants to do, except when he is not feeling well.  And as I listened to the chaos upstairs, finishing the job I had set out to do so I could respond to each one of these children as I needed to, the day full of promise (as the early-morning blessedly is), I breathed deeply and prayed, "Lord, help me to find You in this moment."

Too often I feel my efforts are heroic or sacrificial - like I am being holy by uttering a prayer in times like this, and like God, to reward my holy efforts, will respond with an outpouring of saintly grace to carry me through.  But yesterday I was instantly struck with the fact that this is not heroic or sacrificial, that it is just smart.  That looking for God in each moment is no different than tying your shoe before setting out on a journey.  Sure, you can walk without doing that.  But you reduce the likelihood of falling on your face if you prepare first.  Nobody is writing about the genious runner that tied his shoes, it is barely worth mentioning.  And yet, it is key to his success.  His greatness a an athlete comes from being prepared first.  All the hard work effort and effort that makes his accomplishments worthwhile didn't just magically happen because he, in a heroic effort, put one lace over the other and tied them tight. Neither does the work I need to do just happen simply because I, to avoid a moment of desperation, uttered a simple prayer.  Smart, I will give you.  Much better than freaking out and losing it.  But no more heroic than a runner who ties his shoes and sits down.  Prepared for my journey I must put one foot in front of the other.

I listened to my two-year-old screaming in frustration, and it hit me - this is the call on everyone's life, in every moment.  Two-year-olds of course, don't know that.  It is my job to teach him, all of my children.  Not because it's smart, or holy, or pious, but because it is directly related to their happiness.  How often do I react the way my two-year-old does?  How often am I like a screaming toddler, unfulfilled and frustrated, crying in despair?  They will learn through my example, and I, in being a good model, will find ultimate peace and happiness.  Because God created each of us, young and old, with the same promise - a promise of peace.  This is why we can be joyful no matter what chaos surrounds us - because Jesus is present in every moment.  And finding Him makes all the difference between surviving, and thriving.  Like tying your shoes before the big race.

Brilliant in its simplicity.  Small, yet everything. May my life's journey always begin with finding You.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Date Day

Back when my third son was born, I had this genius idea that I should take each of the kids on a date day once a month, to make sure that I was getting enough one-on-one time with each of them.  Not the baby of course, who took most of my time anyway and who, quite frankly, could care less at that age.  But the older kids who were so deprived of my time while I tended to this new little one - they were the ones who needed me. 

It is genius. And yet, for some reason, I have never been able to make it happen on any kind of regular basis.  More often than not months will go by, at which point I will notice some behaviour on the part of some child that indicates to me that maybe he or she could benefit from some time alone with Mom.  It usually takes several weeks of coordinating to make an evening away with just that one child possible.  While I still wish I could take each child out once a month by themselves, I am grateful at least for the opportunity to make it happen when I see a need.

Near the end of my pregnancy I got a vibe from my second son that he was just feeling a little left out, and made the grand announcement to him that someday soon (I didn't know when) we would have a date.  His little eyes lit up, and he carried the anticipation of that time alone with me day after day, frequently reminding me of it and so very much looking forward to it.  As my pregnancy approached its 40th week and it became apparent to me that I just wasn't going to be able to get an evening out before the baby's arrival, I delicately floated the idea of maybe, possibly, having a date after the baby was born and bringing the baby with us.  Which, thankfully, suited him just fine.

Five weeks after the baby's birth, this date was still heavily on my mind.  I grew more and more exasperated each day, the guilt weighing on me.  Why haven't I been able to make this happen yet?  I know why.  I went from being a (huge!) pregnant, homeschooling Mom with extra doctor's appointments and no energy, to a no-longer-huge-pregnant mother of a newborn, who also homeschools and juggles weekly extra-curriculars for all the kids.  Time is not in abundance for me.  This poor little guy has been so patient and chipper waiting for his mother to make good on her promise.  I am so very, very grateful for his good attitude in the midst of his waiting.  He never left my heart, not once in that whole time.  But sometimes a great opportunity takes a while to find you.

I recently took on a small cleaning job.  It's once a week in an office, and takes me about two hours to complete.  I had all the kids in town on an outing one day last week and had arranged for my husband to meet me and get the kids, so I could clean the office before heading home. Then it dawned on me - bring him with you.  I figured I could get him to help me out, pay him some of the money I earn, and spend some time with him at the same time.  This little guy loves to help out, and when I told him my plan his eyes lit up! 

My sweet boy, looking all distinguished
He was a pure delight to have with me, and despite only being six years old was a very competent helper. We laughed and joked as we worked together, and I got to listen to his stories uninterrupted.  It was a true joy to spend our time together. As I packed him into the car on our way out he said to me, "wait a minute Mom, remember that date we were supposed to have?"  And my heart sank.  I took a deep breath and tried to glamourize the situation as best I could, praying that the time we had just spent would be an acceptable compromise for him.  "Well, that's what I was thinking when I brought you along," I told him.  "I had some work to do and I've been having a hard time finding a day for you and I to go out, so I thought we could hang out at the office and do some work together, and you could have a chance to earn some money at the same time."  He grinned from ear-to-ear and said, "this is our date?"  And I said, "It sure is!  Wanna grab a treat on our way home?" And he was delighted.

This is a lesson I learned long ago with this boy - that I don't need to move mountains in order to create a "perfect moment" for us to spend time together.  He is so happy just to be included in my grownup world, and this day that I hoped and prayed would be sufficient to him turned out to be extraordinary for him simply because I let him be part of it.  I let him work with me, and he was revelling in being useful and in being with me.  What I can't give him is more hours in a day, or more days in a week.  But the thing I can give him is myself, by opening my life to him.  What a joy to know the thing he needs the most is what I already have.  Lord help me to be more attentive to my kids in my everyday life, so that I can allow them to share in these moments with me, and not let their little lives pass me by in search of a perfect moment that can never be constructed.
So grateful for this boy!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Of Truth and Trust

We are having an issue with one of our children and lying.  I know it's normal for kids to grow through, and that some kids will struggle more with it than others.  When I was growing up what I remember most about the way my mother related to me was how she always treated me with dignity, and relied on the strength of our relationship to discipline me.  I didn't make a habit of lying to her but when I did, the words, "I forgive you but it's going to take a while for me to be able to trust you again," carried much more of a sting than any grounding ever could.  I knew that when I had children of my own I wanted the same kind of relationship with them - one of mutual respect, one where if they damaged my trust, the loss of that would be enough to effect a change.

Fast forward to today, where I am the parent of children who do not relate to things the same way that I did.  This is no surprise to me, of course - I know that everyone is not created the same.  The child who is struggling with lying these days also happens to have the exact personality that doesn't respond to guilt, that shows genuine remorse for wrongdoing but turns the page so fast that the long-lasting effects of that trusted line that worked so well on me carry little to no benefit with him.  No problem, I figure.  My kids are still young, and I'm still learning what works.  I'll just keep talking to him about how important it is to be a person of truth, and that people will never be able to trust you if you lie all the time, and pray that eventually it sinks it.

This theory however bit the dust in my mind this morning, as we found our children confronted with a somewhat dangerous situation in the yard with their friends.  One little boy got hurt and had to be taken home, and while my husband was walking the little guy back to his house I questioned my boys about what happened.  My boy gave me a story about how this little guy was doing something he shouldn't have, and he told him not to but the little guy didn't stop.  I told him he should have come to get us, and told him how when a situation is dangerous you can't just sit by and watch.  I walked away thinking about how that little guy can be trouble sometimes, and wishing my kids would have come to get me sooner than they did.

Then my other boy came in.  When I asked him what happened, I got a very different version of the story.  It seems all the boys, including both of my own, were taking part in this wrongdoing (something incidentally that they had already been spoken to about by my husband).  I called my boy back in and asked him the question again, instructing him to "choose your words carefully before you answer me."  He admitted to his wrongdoing and I sent him to his room, angry that I had trusted him earlier.

I know my kids are not very old, and this happens on a regular basis (looking me in the eye and promising one version of a story, when in reality there is another).  They know when they are lying and I hope and pray that they will, with proper discipline, pass through this phase to become truthful, honest boys.  I think what got me this morning however was that someone got hurt, and I didn't question my boy's story.  Worse, I wrongly laid blame on another little boy based on that story.  I thought about the concept of trust being something that needs to be earned, and it dawned on me that this wasn't true in this case - that by all accounts I should not have trusted my boy's first story (given his recent history of not being forthcoming about details that can be incriminating to him).  And yet, I did.  And you know what?  I think I always will.

So - that's what I told him.  I told him that he is my son, and I want to believe him.  I told him that I believed what he told me in the first place, and that's what hurt me so much.  I told him I will probably believe him the next time he tells me something, and I want him to know that.  It is a little scary to me that I laid myself out like that ("Woohoo!  Mom's going to believe anything I tell her!")  But I hope that in time, that early knowledge of a trust that doesn't have to be earned, that is just inherent in our relationship because of who he is to me, will form him into the kind of person who won't want to lie to me.  I don't know - he's still young.  But I think it's far better than placing the unrealistic expectation on him of acting the same way I would react ("how can he squander my trust that way?  Doesn't he want to please me?") 

What I do know is this - that God always has 100% trust in me.  No matter how many times I screw up, no matter how often I squander this gift, it is always freely given back to me.  How can I not be willing to be the same kind of parent to my own children?  Time will tell if telling him this has any effect, and I will try not to get any preconceived notions or expectations about it (this is new territory for me!)  But in the meantime, I think it is much better for me to approach our own relationship in the same way that the Lord relates to me - not as someone handing out trust and taking it away based on merit, but as someone who give all of Himself to me always, believing in me 100% even when I don't believe in myself.  It's easy to trust someone when they've given you every good reason to do so.  Trusting someone when they've hurt you?  That's love.   Please help me Lord as my children get older to discipline with the same gentle wisdom you show me - firm and reasonable, but also completely self giving.   May I react with love and not anger, and be for my children a safe refuge in times of error, gently guiding them onto the right path not because I deserve to be treated better, but because they deserve to be loved no matter what.

And if that doesn't work, I'll get their little sister to take care of them.  She'll keep them in line!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Little I Have

Life with a four-week-old brings something new every day.  And this being my sixth time around, that's no surprise to me.  I've gotten pretty good at going with the flow of each day.  Except when that day begins at the end of a long night involving little sleep. 

Usually I can count on at least a few hours of sleep in between feedings (if the baby won't go down in her crib, then I just lay down with her and we both drift off to sleep - it's kind of nice).  But occasionally, as was the case last night, she has a restless night.  Which means even when she's with me she's grunting and groaning and twisting, and not much interested in nursing.  Have you ever tried to sleep with a grunting, wriggling baby?  Not happening.


Not much of this going on last night
I woke up this morning in despair.  Not only are all the usual demands of daily life facing me today (homeschooling three kids, feeding, clothing and otherwise entertaining my brood, mediating sibling squawbles, keeping the house in order, laundry-laundry-laudry!) but as it turns out my husband has a meeting to go to and will not be home at supper time (possibly even at bedtime) which, as any parent knows, is the most stressful time of the day.  I, in my sleep-deprived state, will be all alone with these six little angels (I'll tell you if my opinion of them changes by the end of the day!)  It's terrifying!
My husband, who is not usually quick to respond to my whininess, prayed with me on his way out the door.  He shared with me some of the things he's been struggling with, and how he's found grace in choosing to love me in his moment of weakness instead of giving in.  And that made all the difference to me.  I was (and am) feeling like I have nothing to give today.  And through his sharing, he helped me to realize that it is my nothingness that my giving means everything.  I have to love these kids, to choose to be patient even when it's not in me.  This is when the depth of my love is truly put to the test.

Enjoying a quiet moment
People tell me all the time, "I don't know how you do it." And I usually respond that the kids are easy on me, and that's how I do it.  But the reality is that in those times, it is easy.  My challenge is to still do it when things get rough.  Not to turn the page on these hard days and look for greener pastures, but to embrace these days as the fullness of my call to motherhood.  I am so quick to forget about the bad days or to want to move beyond them, but in reality they are what define me.  What kind of mother am I on the worst days?  How well can I love these little ones when I haven't slept all night, and the craziness of my day (not knowing any better) still comes at me full-force bright and early the next morning?

Loving them when things are good?  That's easy.  Loving them and treating them with dignity and respect when things get tough - that takes work. And that is where I will find my truest fulfillment, where my bonds with them will deepen and grow, and where I will find the tender love of the Father waiting to hold me up and show me I don't need to do this alone.  And if I am smart I will settle there, and allow Him to make up for what I lack.  Let's pray that I am smart today.

"And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny.  And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, 'Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all who are contributing to the treasury.  For they have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.' " (Mark 12:42-44)


My true treasure

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Better and Better

I read a blog recently of a couple who had been cautioned against having children too early in their marriage by well-meaning friends, families, and leaders in their faith community.  The justification, which has become a sort of anthem for newlyweds these days, was that it was better to give yourselves a few years to be "just a couple" - to do the things you want to do first, build a solid foundation with just the two of you, make some money and build financial security, and then have a baby.  When they found themselves expecting within months of their marriage and their first child born before their first wedding anniversary, all they could think was, "why did people tell us to wait for this?"  They saw all the beauty that bringing a new life into the world with your new spouse can bring, and just like that it washed away any of the lesser benefits of waiting.  Sure it's practical and logical in many circumstances to do the things they were advised to do, but what you gain from those things pales in comparison to the way a child transforms your life.

Having just welcomed our sixth child three weeks ago, I can relate.  People ask us all the time if we're crazy, or think we're some kind of super-family because we have as many children as we do (and are open to having more).  And with each new child, I just don't get it - why do people think this is bad?  What makes people so afraid of having children? 

Here is what I know to be true, from my own experience of having children every 1 1/2 - 2 years since my husband and I got married.  That every time a new child enters the world, I fall in love with my husband all over again.  I see his tender care for me, for our new child, and the children that we already have, I soak it all in - and fall head over heels.  In a world where couples routinely fall out of love and romance dies, ours continues to be challenged, taken outside of itself and driven to new heights, not because of anything we read in any self-help book or saw on Oprah, but because having a a child with someone you love just naturally does this.  And it's beautiful.

And every time a new child enters the world, we go right back to square one with our household routines, and the things we thought we had under control.  We put everything else on the back burner to accomodate that new little baby, we slow down and relax, and search for a new groove without putting too much pressure on ourselves.  We drag ourselves out of bed several times a night to change a soggy bum and feed a hungry baby.  And in case we haven't gotten good at serving others before ourselves, we have a whole new reason to get lots of practice.

And every time a new child enters the world, our older children rise to new heights that we previously could not have conceived.  My last "baby" will be two later this month, and has been super clingy and *a bit* tempermental.  I was so worried about how he would be with the baby and you know what?  He has not been jealous, not once.  Even though I only have about 10% of the time to devote to him that I did before the baby came along, he's cool with that.  And he loves that little baby, they all do.  Want to see how quickly your heart can melt?  Watch the way older siblings will coo over a brand new brother or sister.  It's just beautiful!

And every time a new child enters the world, I get one more time to do this motherhood thing from scratch again, and hopefully try to make good on some of the mistakes I made with my earlier children.  My second child was much more demanding than my first and I didn't handle it well at all.  One of my biggest regrets as a mother is that I expected too much of him from the beginning, and it breaks my heart to think of how little patience I had with him, even as a brand new baby.  But you can bet your flying stars that every time I have welcomed a new baby since, I do so with no expectations.  This baby could cry day and night, and that just has to be okay, because I never, ever want to be that way again.  There are many more things I could list that I hope I will be able to overcome this time around (and soon enough that my older children can benefit from my newfound virtue!) but these are things that only prayer, time and experience can help with.

And every time a new child enters the world, it forces us - all of us - to give a little more of ourselves.  Our kids have one more person to share their toys with, to bunk in their room, to share their space and their lives with.  My husband and I have one more mouth to feed, one more person to cart around on family outings, to tend to in sickness, to plan a birthday party for.  What better way to teach a family, parents and children, that the world doesn't revolve around you, and that we have a duty to serve each other and to share our lives with one another?  I used to feel bad that my children didn't have their own rooms, but now I see the benefits that come from the fact that they just need to share each others' space.  Sure they drive each other crazy at times, but they also have this crazy bond that comes from staying up past your bedtime and chatting with your brothers (or sisters).  They are necessarily good sharers, and would sooner leave their toys in common areas for everyone to use, even when given the option with really special toys to put them away and bring them out only when the others are not around.  They look out for each other, they are conscious of each other, because that's what is natural to them.  And it's beautiful.

There are so many other things I could say, but I will end here.  I'm living in the newborn stage of being completely, romantically, hopelessly in love with life.  It's no cake walk to be sure - babies are a lot of work.  I don't sleep much, I don't get much free time, and my brain is always racing with things to do - housework, school for the kids, change-nurse-burp-repeat!  But just like with any good relationship, you know it takes work.  And the things you love are worth it.  There is a beauty, a joy in the work.  Being a wife and mother is the most fulfilling thing I have ever done.  Wait to have babies?  No way!  Are we crazy?  Nope - just living life. If you found a wellspring of the sweetest nectar, wouldn't you keep going back?  That's what we're doing.  Sure we could have stopped long ago.  But the benefits that come from having the children that we did far outweigh anything that could have come from not having them.




Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Frailty

These days my own frailty is being made painfully clear.  I have not been able to find a good groove since school began in early September, and now in my last week of pregnancy have had to make peace with the fact that I just can't do everything.  It's funny how demanding these last few weeks can be, in a time when you have so little to give - because you know that no matter what, very soon you will have even less to give, so you'd better do what you can now.  The balance of living in what is my reality for the moment, while at the same time knowing that very soon I will have a whole new reality, can be both challenging and encouraging at the same time.

I attended a women's adoration at the beginning of the month.  In the days and weeks leading up to it I found myself not only confronted with my own burdens, but also those of several people close to me whom I love dearly, and I found myself before the Blessed Sacrament asking the question, "what is humanity?"  Immediately the answer came back to me: frailty.  And it occured to me that each one of us present that evening had her own burdens, her own problems that she was bringing before the Lord.  In fact that every person in one way or another is burdened, is frail. Sometimes we run from it, sometimes we embrace it, and sometimes we bring it to Jesus.  But regardless of how we deal with it, we are all the same, so very fragile.

And being ripe with child, the beauty of the parenthood analogy is ever before me.  No newborn baby refuses their mother's help.  They beg and plead for it endlessly, until it is satified and they are at peace.  And we look at that and say, "isn't that beautiful?"  We don't scoff at the child's lack of independance, or turn down our noses that they didn't make it through on their own.  Why then do we expect so much of ourselves?  We were made to be needy, so that our need would direct us back to the only One who can satisfy us, our Heavenly Father.  And so it makes sense that sometimes, especially for stubborn people like me who want so desperately to feel like they have it all together, God allows everything to fall apart.  So that I can beg and plead for Him, and He can wrap me in His arms and take care of it for me, until I am at peace in His embrace. Sometimes God allows you to feel the weight of your burden so that you know how much you need His help.

"Cast your cares upon Him, lay your life upon Him for only He is worthy to stand. In tribulation trial and sorrow, when you can't see through tomorrow, He'll reveal to you the frailty of a man." (John Michael Talbot)


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Life These Days

...is exhausting!  The last weekend of summer was a crazy frenzy of parties (for friends going away, visiting family, and birthdays) that I wouldn't have changed for anything.  Summer went out with a bang, and boy what a summer it was.

But then I didn't slide into fall quite as easily as I thought I would.  There was of course the neverending cycle of housework that went undone over the holiday weekend, that was mine to contend with.  Along with the start of a new school year, which in my household means homeschooling three little ones from K-3.  And oh yeah, I'm 36 weeks pregnant.  Which means that there is a neverending amount of work to be done, that requires a neverending amount of energy and motivation.   And some of those things are in short supply around here.

I have been feeling pretty desperate these days, as the reality sets in that I am getting bigger and am physically just not able to do everything I used to.  No problem, right?  In a few weeks the baby will be here and my body will be back to normal.  Wait a minute...in a few weeks THE BABY WILL BE HERE!!!  Meaning I will have all of this stuff to do on top of caring for a newborn!  How will I cope then, if I'm barely keeping my head above water now?

Through our school of community, a group of friends and I have been thinking about the question, "is reality always positive?" for some time, and these days that is what gets me through.  Because my particular situation - shere exhaustion and occasional overwhelmedness - is only a small part of reality for me.  Taken on its own, that's pretty negative, desperate even.  And yet, there is a bigger picture that is my life at this moment, that is anything but negative.  There is the joy of living with this incredible family, with these incredible kids.  There is the wonder of the new life that is growing inside of me, that I will (finally!) get to meet in a very short time.  There is the miracle of Christ present to me each day, in each moment of despair, saying, "I am with you, just breathe.  I will take care of you."  And you know, He really does.

Yesterday about mid-afternoon, I was standing over the sink about halfway through a mountain of dishes when I felt completely physically overwhelmed.  I could have put my head down then and there and had a nap.  My thoughts drifted to everything I had left to do - the vaccuuming, the laundry, supper - and I thought, "if I stop now, none of this will get done. But how do I work through this when I am so pregnant and so tired?"  I decided I would offer up the rest of this work as a prayer.  For sure I would finish the dishes, since it didn't make sense to leave them halfway done.  I had to do supper.  Vaccuuming fell off the list that day, and the kids were able to help with the laundry.  And though I pushed through, I still didn't feel good about my day, because I hadn't accomplished what I set out to do, what I could normally do any other day.

And then my husband came home. And the first thing he said was, "wow, the kitchen looks great!"  Then he went to the bedroom and shouted, "and you got a lot of laundry done too - you've had a productive day!"  And he really liked the supper I made, which is pretty good because I'm a kind of hit-and-miss cook (sometimes it turns out great, sometimes not so much!) and he is a very honest subject.  Then this morning he texted me from work to say how good it was to come home to such a clean house, and that he was so grateful that I loved him so well.  And all of it in the moment seemed to be so much work, and so much desperation.  But Christ was there, walking me through it, so that even though I didn't realize that the work I was doing was good, the good was nevertheless there.  It has been my great joy to see it in hindsight, having missed it the first time around.

I know the Lord is challenging me to let go of my own preconceptions about how life should be, and in particular what a perfect day should look like (how a good Mom does it).  As life continues to become more intense in my house, I pray for the grace to do the work I need to do, and the flexibility to change as is necessary for the good of my family.  To let go of the things I can let go of, and learn to depend on those around me.  To continue to do everything I can to care for the ones I love so much.  To not think any task is too small to make a difference, and do all things in love.  And most of all, to do all things with my eyes fixed on Jesus, who guides my weary feet along this path.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Five Years Ago

Five years ago, amidst many an "I hope this is a girl!", I delivered my third child who was, just like the two before him, a perfect little boy.  I can't say that I didn't utter those words myself, but it was very early on in the pregnancy.  It's funny, because with the first two it didn't seem to matter as much - your first is your first, and then to have another boy for my first to play with just seemed appropriate.  But when I discovered that I was expecting another baby, my heart just automatically moved to wanting a girl.

I knew that whoever this baby was, it was from the moment of conception.  And so, while I hadn't found out the gender of the baby for the first two pregnancies, I decided that I wanted to for this one.  I didn't want to spend the entire pregnancy hoping for a girl if it was a boy - I wanted to be excited for whoever this baby was.  Convincing my husband however, proved to be challenging.  And while he was adament that he didn't want to know, in my stubborness I decided I would just find out anyway (I could, after all!) and that I would just not tell him.  Thinking I wouldn't be able to keep the secret to myself, he resigned himself to finding out as well.  And just like that, the decision was made in my favour.

Somewhere along the way I was praying about the baby, and was really struck with the mystery of who this little one is.  The more I prayed the more I realized that the life this child was living inside my womb was one completely closed to my eyes.  And I imagined that it was a time, probably the only time in their whole entire life, where their existence would be just between them and God.  For nine months the baby lives in this world closed off to everyone else, and I just completely fell in love with that side of my baby, the one known by God alone.  I knew then and there that I wanted to leave it until the birth day, until I fixed my eyes on the baby for myself (and not a digital image), so we could meet each other for the first time at the same time.  I knew then I wanted to wait.

And the Lord changed my heart for this baby.  No longer did I find myself wanting one gender over the other - I was excited simply to be having a baby.  I was beside myself with joy at the announcement, for the third time, "it's a boy!" on the day of Stephen's birth.  I remember feeling so much peace in the weeks following his birth, and this sense of completeness that if this is all the children I ever have, I am happy.  If I only ever have boys, I am happy - he completed our little family.



To this day as the middle of our five children, he still has that unique way of rounding out our family.  From the very beginning he just slid right into our lives like he had always been there.  He was such an easy baby, and but for a few bumps characteristic of the early years, he continues to be that calming, gentle spirit that completes all of us.  He is bright, confident, and full of joy - and has a way of wrapping himself right around your heart.  He did that even before I ever knew who he was.

Five years ago, I could never have imagined what a beautiful boy he would become.  He makes my heart happy for more ways than I could ever put into words, but mostly because of who he is - my boy, my third boy, my little spark of life, my Stephen.

Happy fifth birthday Stephen.  You are the joy of my heart!



Sunday, September 2, 2012

Wanting for Something

I am five weeks away from delivering my sixth child, and am doing some serious nesting.  Getting my little home ready for one more child has been thrilling, because with each new move not only am I closer to meeting my new baby, but I am also discovering that the space I have, while small, is everything I need to be happy and raise a family - even a large one, even with more children after this one (God willing). 

It was only a few months ago that I really began to feel settled in this space that I have.  For the first time in my life I have been living with the feeling of being completely satisfied with what I have.  None of my debt disappeared, my house didn't expand, and we didn't win a lottery - what happened within me was even more profound, a moment of grace where the Lord made me understand that what He has given me is good, is enough.  Since then I have been living with this euphoric freedom, almost giddy about my tiny little house, with as much children as can possibly fit jammed into small bedrooms together (two in one, three in the other).  I feel satisfied.

And then, through a school of community that meets at our house once a week to study readings together and share our own personal experiences of Christ in our everyday lives, we began talking about this word, satisfied, in the context that we should never feel that way, because then we stop searching.  And I struggled with this, because for so long (and even still) it is the word I most feel describes where I am at with life, and even with my relationship with the Lord - I am satisfied.  And I find freedom in that.

Who are you baby?  We will know soon!
This evening after tucking the kids into their respective beds, after a successful week of pairing my toddler and preschooler together in one room (even putting them down together, awake, without issue!) and spending some time in my now vacant nursery, with the blue blankets on one side and the pink ones on the other (we don't know the gender of the baby yet) I was filled with gratitude.  And as I puttered around my kitchen tidying up a weekend's worth of mess that had been neglected to spend time with family and friends, I was happy.  And it dawned on me that the change that has happened in me is not that I am totally satisfied with every aspect of my life, but that I am satified with the things that are given to me as a gift - that I am not longing for material things as much as I once did, the bigger, perfectly clean house that always looks spotless when friends come to visit. The Lord is teaching me that people are far more valuable than things.  But I realized also that this while satifaction with my material goods, simple though they are, is a good thing - it is not enough.  I need to allow that to point me Heavenward; to be satisfied with the little I have on earth is not enough by itself because it is not my permanent home, it is a temporary step on a journey to perfection that cannot be found in this world, but CAN be found in the next. 

Lord, may my happiness with the gifts I have been given in this world always allow me to feel Your touch, so as to awaken within me a desire for You and the joy that awaits me in eternity.  May my longing never be for material things, but for the joy found in You alone.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Chicken Farming

The kids were on board from day one
For the past three months, we have been chicken farmers.  It's something my husband has wanted to do for several years, but took quite a bit of coaxing to get me on board.  I thought they would smell.  I thought they would make a mess in our yard.  I thought they would be even more living things demanding my time when it is so scarcely scattered among the living beings that already occupy my household.  Bad idea, I thought.  Bad.

Baby chicks, cozy in our mud room. 
And yet, as it turns out, 2012 was the year to dive in and give it a try.  And I am so glad we did.  Because true to his word, my husband has assumed 100% responsibility for the care and maintenance of these birds (which, apart from building the infrastructure to house them, is quite minimal).  And they add so much to our property, not the least of which is farm-fresh eggs which we collect daily.  We got them as day-old chicks at the end of April, and kept them in the house for the next two months while my husband and some good friends worked tirelessly to finish the coop and outdoor run.  We got four "pullets" (grown hens) in July and they began to lay several weeks later. The ones we got as chicks are not laying yet, but will start hopefully in the next couple of weeks.  It has been an adventure.

One of our boys feeding the fully-grown meat birds
In addition to the laying hens, we also got meat birds.  These are birds whose sole purpose in life is to eat, get fat, and be slaughtered for food.  It has been interesting to confront the attitudes we (and others around us) hold about animal slaughter, but something I am happy to be doing as a family.  It's never any fun to end the life of a living creature, especially one that you have nurtured and cared for from a baby.  And yet, most of us don't think twice about going to the supermarket and picking up a pre-processed chicken to feed our family.  I like being connected to the process.  I hope it helps us to respect the animals, who give their lives to feed our family, and to never be wasteful or take them for granted.  And I am comforted that the birds in our care receive good care for the extent of their lives, while often times the birds on commercial farms are kept in less-than-humane conditions, and are not cared for as pets. 


Most importantly, I am happy to be contributing in a more direct way to our family's food supply.  I visited a farm with the kids last fall and was so struck by their way of life, their connection with the land, and how their labor was so initimately linked to their family's livelihood (they tilled the soil, they worked the land, they harvested the vegetables that fed their family - they rarely bought food at a grocery store). In the future I hope to take on vegetable gardening as well.  But that's another journey for another day.

In the meantime, I am sincerely appreciative of the many blessings God gives my family to make our own place in this world.  And I am happy to have these little animals in our family, to care for, to provide for us, and to enrich our lives.  Farm life, I think I'm going to like it.
Visiting the laying hens
Collecting eggs

These little guys are not so bad after all

Monday, July 23, 2012

Time Marches On

Little water boy!
Summer.  The time of year when weeks and months go by and you feel like you barely have time to blink.  When you teeter aimlessly between total exhileration and complete exhaustion, and try not to get sunstroke in the process.  It's crazy, it's relaxing, it's fun, it's exhausting.  And before you know it, it will be gone.

Of course there is nothing I can do about how quickly this time seeps away.  I want to enjoy every minute, and make the most of this beautiful season before it is gone.  It is an exciting time for the kids, who get to visit with people they don't have much opportunity to see through the year, or go on day trips to fun places that are just too much to squeeze into a normal school week.  They get to escape the hot house with Mom and relax on a beach, or spend days at a time playing - just playing - in the yard with their friends. 


He found a lady bug!
And then September rolls around, and Mom breathes a sigh of relief.  No, I'm not the Mom from the Staples commercial skipping through the store picking out school supplies and singing, "it's the most wonderful time of the year" while my kids mope along behind me.  This is my fourth summer with school-aged children, and it's the first where I've felt completely free to enjoy them, because it's not a ticking alarm telling me when it's time to hand my children back over to the school system for another ten months.  Up until the birth of my fifth son almost two years ago, my entire parenting journey had been burdened with these kinds of things, that made the passing of time seem so dreadful. First was maternity leaves, which I always measured in fractions of how close to when I needed to go back to work (the first half was great - but I spent the second half trying not to think about the fact that I had less time ahead of me than behind me).  And I will never forget the summer before my oldest started Kindergarden.  It was all I could do not to sulk the whole season away.  Every day that passed was a day closer to when my little boy would be out of the house for the greater part of the day, for most of the week.  When my fifth son was born in November of 2010 my oldest was still attending a private school, and I will never forget how sad it was that we were all home and bonding with this brand new baby, and he wasn't there.

I made the decision to homeschool not for myself, but because I saw a need in my son that I worried could not be met in the traditional school system.  I had a brand-new baby (and three other young children) when we took it on full-time in January of 2011.  I was scared, but courageous - I was doing it for my boy.


Visiting with an ox - he was a bit scary!
And an amazing thing happened - it completely transformed me.  It wasn't completely unmanageable, and I wasn't being nearly as heroic as I thought.  There was no need - all God was calling me to do was simply to live.  That in devoting myself 100% to each member of my family I would not be spread-thin, but that I would discover the complete substance of who I am.  It was all the logistics around getting him ready and off to school, packing lunches, making sure homework was done, dealing the endless string of discipline issues that comes with having a spirited boy in a class full of spirited children (which, let me tell you, is emotionally draining!) - those were the things that nearly broke me in two.  As is God's way, sometimes you can't see the whole picture until you follow where He is leading you.  Only after you've walked a little way are you able to look back and see the wisdom with which you were guided.


Feeding some goats
This year three of my children are school-aged.  Which means that I have three very big reasons to be extra thankful when September rolls around.  For the first time in my entire parenting journey I don't feel like the summer is being taken away from me.  I don't feel regret every time something comes up that I just can't say no to - I am free to enjoy these days, this special time, and to watch the excitement in my children as they soak in the best that summer has to offer. All without regret or worry, because come the school year nobody is going anywhere.  Which is good news all around, because we have some serious bonding on the schedule with a certain someone who is set to make an appearance somewhere around October 9.

Hurray for summer!  Here's hoping I have the energy to keep up with everything this season throws our way.

Lazy days of summer

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Peace Prayers

Yesterday was a bad day. Life has been crazy lately, and yesterday I was feeling the weight of it all.  Not to mention the day was grey and the kids couldn't go outside.  Needless to say, we were all pretty bummed out.

At eight, six, four 1/2, three and 18 months, each of the kids has their own "quirks" that challenge me according to their particular stage in life.  I struggle on a good day trying to walk patiently through these days, but with everything going on and the miserable day that it was, I was completely empty.  For the first time in a long time, I lost it - several times.  I felt awful.  I texted my husband and said, "I don't want to be everything, and I don't want to be nothing...I just want to make it through without being crushed."  I spent the day up and down between high and low points, calling on the Lord for help and lamenting my crazy, unpredictable schedule.  

I heard the words to a familiar song, and was tremendously comforted.

In my heart
there’s a sadness building up
Every turn adds to the cup
As the losses match the measure of my gains
In the shadow of this curse
Where the best implies the worst
If you’re like me you’ll need to hear somebody pray

·        May the Lord bless and keep you
May His face shine upon you
May His graciousness be like an endless stream
May the Lord show His favour
To your house and your neighbor
Until last remaining strains of striving cease
May He grant you peace.
(Steve Bell, For the Journey). 

It reminded me of another time a few years ago when I had a similar moment, that time on my way out for work in the morning.  I was struggling trying to get all of the kids ready when one of the older boys refused to get dressed - and I lost it.  I felt guilty all day about it, even though I apologized and he moved on pretty quickly.  I couldn't shake my guilt over the whole thing, and I was driving somewhere at noon hour that day and heard that song, and my heart just opened up in a prayer.  Sometimes, we really do just need to hear someone else pray - may the Lord grant you peace.  And then, as yesterday, the Lord filled my heart with peace, as I set about my journey once more.

It's easy to drown in guilt, especially when the mistakes you make are so huge.  But that's not where God wants us to stay.  Guilt can be a tremendous motivator for change I think, but if we stay there it can also bring us down into deeper despair, and consequently deeper sin.  Wherever you are on your journey, whatever your struggles, know that people are always praying even when you can't pray yourself.  May He grant you peace for the journey, as you strive to walk each day along His path.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Holy Day

This past weekend we celebrated a milestone in our family - our oldest child's First Communion. We have all been looking forward to this day all year, working and preparing him to receive Jesus: body, blood, soul and divinity.  I am pregnant now and always love receiving the Eucharist while there is a little child in my womb, because this is the closest this little one will be to Jesus until their First Communion.  And this week, one of our children got there - apart from me, all on his own.  What a beautiful day!

For a variety of reasons the weeks leading up to this big day have been hectic, and I have not been able to put a lot into planning a big celebration for my boy.  My husband's siblings were all in town from various cities across the country two weeks prior, which also happened to be the week that we got chickens - ten of them.  The week after his siblings left, his beautiful grandmother who had been ill for some time took a turn for the worst, and passed away.  We were very blessed to spend so much time with his family remembering her beautiful life, and her funeral took place three days before his First Communion. 

My husband (who had been devoting all his spare time to building a chicken coop to house the birds that have temporarily taken up residence in our basement) had some errands to run the morning before the First Communion, and brought our son along to buy a new suit for his big day.  I was so happy he was able to do that!  I thought at least if we can't get him anything else, a new suit is special.  I hoped he would agree, that he would feel special.

The evening before his big day, one of my closest friends was celebrating her birthday.  As we couldn't find a babysitter only one of us could attend, and I was so torn about whether Jeff or I should go.  Grief-ridden over still not having been able to do anything really big for my boy, I chose to stay home and concentrate on preparing properly for his special day (which was also Mother's Day, did I mention that?) - laying out clothes, making a card (because I didn't have a chance to get out and buy one), and preparing gifts for my mother and mother-in-law.  As I got things together, I instantly felt guilty that I didn't have a small something special (a plaque, a rosary, a pin) to include with his card.  My heart sank, and I hoped he wouldn't notice and feel that we didn't care.  I didn't want this to be a day that just snuck up on us - and it wasn't.  In all the right ways, we had prepared.  We had been studying together all year (we homeschool, and catechism is part of our curriculum), we talked often as a family about the Eucharist and what it means to receive the Lord for the first time, met with our parish priest several times, attended the practice run and class with the cathechism kids, and we have been praying.  That evening in a panic, I prayed that was enough.  That all the interior work we had been doing until now was enough to make him feel special.

Looking back over the events of the week, I can really see the Lord's wisdom in allowing things to happen as they did, and I am truly grateful.  Instead of planing a lavish gathering à-la-birthday party (which this clearly was not) we spent the weeks prior to his First Communion living and celebrating life in the very best ways, with the people who are most dear to us.  In the same week that his Great-Grandmother went to be with our Lord, our son received Him in the Holy Eucharist for the first time - and on Mother's Day!  I could not have coordinated a better celebration of such an important day if I tried.  And God knows that.

I am so happy for my boy. And very proud, because I think he gets it. The day was so special for him, not because we lavished him with gifts and momentoes, but because it was special in and of itself. I wrote him a note in his card telling him how proud we were of the young man he is becoming, and his face lit up when he read it. And it made my day. He didn't need presents, he didn't need me to neglect him or our family, or any of the other things that were important in the weeks leading up to it. He needed affirmation, and prayer, and guidance - and those can be given in any circumstance (even if it's not during shopping hours). 

 Thank you Lord for the gift of children, the beauty that is growing up, and blessing of family.  May Your presence live within all of us as we continue on this journey, and burn especially bright within my son and all who made their First Holy Communion with Him.  May they never forget how this day feels, as they continue to become the men and women You call them to be.

So happy for my boy!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

My Girl - How I Love Her!

Everyone makes a big deal about my fourth child, and with good reason.  In this boys' land, she is my one and only girl.  And oh, how I love her.  But not just for the reasons you might think.

You see, she is three years old now.  And three has traditionally been an age that has been, shall we say, trying.  And I have not handled it well with any of my three older boys.  In fact, I barely survived it (I am sure there will be at least a bit of time in purgatory for me over these years, Lord have mercy on me.)  And now I find myself here once more, in these beautifully trying years, with a little girl.  And wow, what a difference!

She has proven so far to be the most difficult for me.  I think it would be too naive (and unfair, to be honest) to blame it on her girlhood.  I think (in fact, I know) that it has as much, if not more to do with me.  Because I'm a girl too, and she reaches me in a way that the boys never did.  At the worst of times with them, I still managed to be mostly in control of how they acted.  I could threaten to take something away and coerce them away from the edge.  I never had one of my older boys throw a public tantrum.  But my girl, once she is going that way there's no turning back.  And I think part of it is because she picks up on my subtle cues, that I think the boys are mostly immune to.  If I'm loosing it inside, a cool exterior does nothing for her, because she knows.  She's in my head.  She's in my heart, and so tremendously sensitive to me.

And while I have weathered some of the worst tantrums in the history of my household over the past few months (and thrown more than a few of my own, I am sorry to say), I can see progress on both of our parts.  God in His mercy is giving me a heart for this beautiful girl, and the way that she loves me so much and so well that she is completely wrapped around my own heart.  There's no putting on a show for her - I can't do this job halfway.  I have to push on towards further conversion that truly allows me to love her through these difficult years, without taking every outburst on her part so goshdarn personally.

Yesterday in particular I could see how this time of trial is really pushing me to grow up, and how good it can be when I actually do.  I had a friend over visiting when my darling little girl launched head on into a full-blown tantrum.  It was late afternoon and she had been up two times the night before, so I knew she was overtired.  Let me say this - I HATE it when my kids misbehave in front of other people (I think most people do!) and I wanted to crawl into a hole when nothing I could do could talk her down from it.  But sometimes having people around is good, because it forces you to act the way you know you should when they aren't around.  And so I took a deep breath and remained calm.  I told myself this isn't going to last forever, this is just a season.  And I am going to love her through it.

She screamed through her entire three-minute timeout.  And when it was over, I called her to me and got her to take a deep breath.  I explained, calmly, why she had gotten in trouble, and that she couldn't keep falling on the floor and crying that way.  And she said sorry, and she hugged me.  And I discovered that there is a sweet little girl underneath all that frustration and confusion, and she just needs me to believe in her.  Just like there is a good Mom underneath all my frustrations - and I just have to allow that to be what comes out in me.  Because I have more time and experience in dealing with myself than my three-year-old does.  I have to be the example to her of how to walk through trying times with dignity and grace.

My little girl is three-years-old, and it's beautiful.  She is beautiful, because she loves me in a way that is so much different than the boys.  She does have a way of reaching right into my heart, and pushing all of my buttons.  She knows how to make me angry in a million more ways than her brothers ever did, and she gets under my skin.  But it's not because she's trying to, it's because that's where she lives, she is so deeply connected to me.  She calls me to be a better person, a holier person.  She calls me to love her unconditionally, with my whole being - the way that she loves me.  And my, how I love this little girl!

Monday, May 7, 2012

On Sunscreen...and Parenthood

Today, after much protesting (and a few days of neglecting) I finally dug out the sunscreen.  It's the time of year when you are just teetering on the days of summer, but the carefree days of early spring when it was so easy to just send the kids outside without a second thought are still so fresh in your mind.  "Oh come on," you're probably thinking.  "What's the big deal about sunscreen?"  Nothing really.  Except that in my house, it takes a good 10-15 minutes to properly apply it to all my little kiddies.  So I've been dragging my feet on it, forcing the kids to play in long-sleeved t-shirts whenever possible, knowing that once the sunscreen bottle was out it would be part of my daily routine for the next three or four months.

When my three-year-old's cheeks started getting rosy, I began to guilty.  It was a beautiful day in the late teens, and the kids were running around playing with water guns, taking their shirts off, and enjoying the sunshine.  I couldn't put it off any longer.  And so, I began the dreaded task.  As I applied sunscreen to each little one, I was aware of their own unique chemical and physical makeup.  "Make sure you get it all over yourself," I said to my fair and sensitive skinned second boy, "you burn easy."  I was careful to get the backs of the boys necks and ears, while my little girl was much easier, since she had her hair down and it covered her ears and neck (a big difference from last summer - how she has grown!)  And with my third boy I was careful to get his ears - we always tease him about how much his ears stick out (it's so cute!) I was sure those puppies would be extra vulnerable in the sunlight!

It occured to me in such a simple way that though each one of these little guys came from me and is being raised by me, each is so different.  As obvious as it is in their physical features, sometimes it can be easy to forget that in every possible way they are their own little people, with their own thoughts, feelings, personalities, and ways of relating to the world.  In this small way today God revealed to me a profound truth that of course I know (most parents do, I think) but tend to forget in the rush of the day - that they are unique, and that I need to be aware of that.  I can't expect to treat them all the same and get the same results.  I have to learn to look at their individual traits and characteristics, and treat them in the way that brings out the best in them, by learning how to relate to them all - one on one.

How beautiful it is, life with kids.  Even in the most meaningless of tasks, there is always something to be learned.

So many personalities - one incredible life!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Love Endures

I attended a friend's wedding last weekend.  The couple had chosen the scripture reading from Corinthians (Love is patient, love is kind) as their second reading, and during the homily the priest gave a reflection about what those words mean to us today.  He suggested that new couple re-read the scripture, inserting their own name in the place of the word "love", and use it as something to strive for in their own lives.  I thought it was beautiful, and as he read down through the scripture using the names of the bride and groom, one part grabbed at me - "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."  Immediately the word "endures" gripped me, as I wondered to myself, Do I endure all things with love?

I am winding up my first full year of homeschooling.  This is a beautiful time of year when we are finishing up workbooks, the end is on the horizon, and I can breathe a sigh of relief that we will indeed hit the benchmarks for this year, and we have indeed learned what we were supposed to.  It has at times been a trial, especially in the early days with so much still ahead of me.  Most of our subjects had a bit of breathing room, but with my second-grader's math there were days when I wasn't sure we would finish in time.  I had budgeted two pages a day in order to finish by the end of June, but when we hit a spot mid-year that took a bit more work and it was evident that two pages on some of those days would have been overload, I worried.  What if we don't finish?  I thought maybe it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if we continued a few weeks after the school year was over in order to finish the book, but I didn't really want to do that either.  With all of this pressure mounting on me, when we hit days (which are very common) where my little student was less-than-focused, I would snap.  "We have so much work to do!"  I would tell him.  "You couldn't tell a public school teacher you don't want to do this today!" I often said.  Sure, I got through it.  And thankfully, we are now on track to finish maybe even a bit before the end of the year.  But did I really endure it with love?  I have my doubts.

The other challenge has been my kindergardener.  My first went to preschool, Kindergarden and half of grade one before beginning homeschool, so he was taught to read by professionals.  My second-born, on the other hand, only had me.  Not only that, but his personality is dramatically different than my first, and where my first is eager to show anyone and everyone what he can do, #2 holds back if he has the slightest hesitation, preferring to remain silent rather than be wrong in his attempts.  There were so many times I felt like I knew he could do a better job than he was doing, that he knew the words better than he was letting on, but I kept that to myself while gently (and sometimes not-so-gently) trying to coax him through it.  It seemed for a while that he was not progressing beyond a beginner reading level, until just recently I started him on some new levelled readers, and now he is taking off!  And after a year of stalling, it is so rewarding to see his confidence growing and now, finally, a desire to move forward and excel.

While I have not always been the most patient and trusting of teachers, I am nevertheless seeing the benefits of enduring with my children.  I could have given up.  I could have handed them back to the professionals, who could surely do a better job, or at the very least wouldn't yell as much as I did.  But there is something to be said about standing on this side of things, looking back and seeing that we made it.  We did it.  We endured - together.  I hope and pray that for the remainder of this year, for every one that follows, and that for every thing I do on this journey of parenthood, that God will give me the grace to endure everything with love.  To cling to the hope and the belief that I am doing this because I believe it is the best thing for my family.  To not just survive these days, but to thrive in them, rejoice in them.  May the lessons of this year and the mistakes I made serve to build us up, as together we continue to walk on this beautiful journey that is our family life.

Bright days ahead with these beautiful boys