Saturday, December 22, 2018

Love Is What It's Really All About

This morning our Parish celebrated a funeral Mass for one of our beloved parishioners, Anne. Anne was a beautiful woman, inside and out. She was quick to smile and offer a kind word, always at daily Mass, in adoration multiple times a week, a Eucharistic Minister to the home bound, and just a kind, loving soul.

Being at the funeral today, seeing Anne's children and grandchildren wipe tears from their eyes and console one another was really emotional for me. To be honest, I wasn't really expecting it. I wanted to go to the funeral because of how kind Anne always was to me and how much I'm going to miss seeing her every week. When I saw her family crying, I started crying myself and had a hard time stopping.

I think the reason that the funeral was so emotional for me was because this same time 6 years ago, I sat where Anne's family sat today saying goodbye to my own grandmother.

Memories popped up for me, and I was thinking about the last time I visited my grandmother at the end of her illness. She was home on hospice being cared for around the clock by my aunts.
The last time I saw her was three days before she passed, which was the last day that she was conscious or spoke.

I had brought Kate with me, who was a couple days away from turning one. I held Kate in my arms as I stood next to my Grandma's hospital bed. One thing that I have held in my heart all these years is the way my Grandma reached out to Kate, looked up into her eyes, and touched her feet as she said, "I love you. I love you." over and over again. The tone of her voice as she said, "I love you", was one of anxiousness and insistence and only directed at Kate.

I have always felt that in that moment, my Grandma was trying to impart the years of love she wished she could have given to her littlest great grandchild in the very short time she had left. Grandma was trying with all she had to instill this memory of her love in a child who was too young to remember her.

Love it what life's really all about.

At the end of my life, what do I really want my family to remember about me? I want them to remember that I loved them well in my very imperfect ways.

Like most moms...dare I say every this time of year, I'm so tired. There's just so much jam packed into December. I love all the traditions and trying to make everyone feel special...but the amount of mom work it takes to plan, organize, and execute said traditions takes a LOT of energy. I've tried really hard this year to listen to my internal emotional levels and actually adjust my expectations and my to do list accordingly. I think I've succeeded for the most part. I'm honestly surprised at just how tired I am.

Today I left one of my Christmas lists unfinished. I nixed one of the desserts I had planned to make because I just wasn't feeling it. And I'm really ok with that. I would rather keep peace in my heart and have extra time with my family and enjoy making the multiple pies and one cheesecake I did make then to push myself past my limit and end up cranky and completely wiped out.

Reflecting on today's funeral and the memories with my Grandma reminded me to focus on the love I was trying to put into the tasks I wanted to accomplish and not just get wrapped up in checking them off my list. The timing was especially important as we enter into the festivities of Christmas week, which for me starts tomorrow with a family party we are hosting for my Dad's side of the family. My house will not be perfect...the floors never got washed and there are several Martha Stewart touches that I won't have time to complete...but I'm choosing to focus on making memories with my family rather than on the items that didn't get crossed off my list.

In the end, it's only love that matters anyway....

Wishing all of you a very joy filled (imperfect) Christmas! <3

John 3:16..."For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."

Thursday, December 6, 2018

On Sanity and Unfinished Lists(of the Christmas Variety)

I'm a list girl. If there's something that needs planning, you can be certain that I have at least one..and sometimes multiple...lists floating around to try and keep myself organized.

And I'm totally old lists are always on paper. There's just something I love about a clean piece of paper and writing in pen that makes me love list making even more! I love brainstorming on my for Christmas gift ideas or, my absolute favorite, vacation planning...and having lots of arrows and underlines and cross-outs and exclamation points for the really good/don't forget kind of ideas. I even love re-writing my lists to make a final working copy after all of my brainstorming is complete. Just to make things neater...and as an excuse to write out another list!

List making helps me to feel like I'm organized, focused, and have a plan to move forward. It brings a certain level of peace deep inside, even when I have a lot to do to accomplish whatever list I'm working on.

While I love lists, they are not my ultimate focus. It makes me feel good to have them, but my joy is not based on being able to cross everything off any particular list. This hasn't always been my go to sentiment. Getting to this thought process has taken a lot of growing and stretching over the years. As a younger mom, there where years when I felt terrible about myself when I couldn't get just the right picture for a Christmas card, or gifts didn't go over as I thought they would, or the tree fell down multiple times in one Christmas season breaking several precious ornaments beyond repair(I think our record is 3 "timbers"), or (shudder) a stomach bug or other illness makes Christmas less than the Merry I had in my head.

If I get caught up in looking at my list as something to check off rather than more of a wish list, I am literally sucking my own joy out of the Holiday Season.

I don't know about you, but I tend to over plan for the Holiday Season. What sounds good when I'm making my to do list in early December, sitting in pajamas on the couch under a blanket with a Hallmark movie on in the background, is usually completely different than actual life come December 20th. When I'm solely focused on creating Christmas magic on paper with all kinds of extraordinary ideas, I have to remember to consider all the real life "goings on" that will still be happening all December long despite all the extra projects and events that I want to add into my schedule.

For example, everyone still expects dinner every night...the laundry doesn't take a hiatus just because it's Christmas...there's still basketball practices and games...still men's group and youth group..still a regular work schedule. (You get the idea!)

"It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages boxes or bags.
Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. 
Maybe Christmas(he thought) means a little bit more."
~The Grinch

I think in our heads we all know that Christmas isn't really about all the details. Does our attitude and choices we make during the Advent Season reflect this truth? I know mine often doesn't. I get too caught up checking off my list and not remembering the real reason I have the list in the first place:
To show my family and friends the love I feel for them in my heart. To show my coworkers that I appreciate them. To show my children's teachers and therapists and bus drivers how grateful I am for all they do for my children. 

I get so caught up in the to do list that I forget to reflect on the opportunity that God is giving me during Advent....the opportunity to consider the great gift that His Son was for me. There's so much to reflect on this time of year! We have Mary's yes that encourages us to seek and follow God's will, even when we don't know all the details. We have all the innkeepers who had no room for the Holy they were too busy checking things off their list!...that encourages us to to make sure we are ready when Jesus knocks on the door of our hearts. We have the shepherds and wise men who followed the signs given them that led to the most amazing grace of meeting the Savior of the world! 

There's so much that could keep my focus and actions from being a way to shower love on my family. It's not the perfect, Martha Stewart wrapped love that could grace the cover of a magazine that our family needs.(Although if that level of decorating is your God given gift, then you go girl! Being crafty is something I admire yet have no talent in!)  The "perfect" Christmas for your family is going to look different from my family that is going to look different from every other family around me! And guess what? Your perfect Christmas will be different for your family from year to year depending on the ages of your kids, #of your kids, and the circumstances of the months leading up to Christmas. Life is always changing!

The perfect Christmas is one where love and mercy are poured into our families, friends and everyone else God places in our paths. The perfect Christmas happens when we allow God's love and mercy to pour into ourselves first and foremost. 

We can't give what we don't have!

How does that work on a practical level? We HAVE to be willing to let go of things that don't work...even good things. Maybe there are gift bags instead of wrapped presents. Maybe the menu has less items on it than usual. Maybe Christmas cards get skipped this year or go out after Christmas... which is still the Christmas Season! Maybe you only bake 4 kinds of cookies instead of the 10 you wanted to. Maybe you don't put out as many decorations this year as you did last year(or will next year). 

If we focus on getting our lists checked off but are burned out, stressed out and cranky, we are just missing the reason for doing it all in the first place. We aren't spreading joy and we certainly aren't receiving joy if we are walking around aggravated and snapping at people and can't wait for Christmas to finally be over! 

Sounds like it should be part of 1 Corinthians 13...Love does not snap at their children for crying during the family Christmas picture. Love does not throw a temper tantrum because the house was not cleaned from top to bottom for company. Love does get discouraged because the pie got burned. 

(veteran mom tip: if the family picture just isn't working out, pick a photo card that had multiple spots and just choose different pictures that you've taken throughout the year of your kiddos. It doesn't matter if a beach scene or an Easter basket ends up on your Christmas card! Truly!)

So, go ahead and make a list...but give yourself permission to pick and choose what actually gets done. Reevaluate often during the four weeks of Advent. If something's just too much, come up with an alternative. If a heartfelt handmade gift just isn't going to happen without the wailing and gnashing of teeth, just punt and grab a gift card. Save the great homemade idea for someone's birthday or next Christmas.  Pick what you love and what you and your kids have the ability and tolerance to do. Pick what will give ALL of you the most joy!

Wishing you an Advent full of sanity and unfinished lists!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Dear, November...Thanks For The Memories!

November has just sped by way too quickly! I've meant to post at least three different times but there has been lots of life being lived around here! And what better way to catch up than with a 7 Quick Takes Friday! (And I apologize in advance if the 7 "takes" aren't so quick!)

#1 The Path To A Wedding

It seems surreal that two of my children will be married within the next 18 months! Since they got engaged in May and September, we've had lots of fun conversations about wedding and reception ideas. And two weeks ago, I got to be a part of not only one, but two(!), exciting pre-wedding moments!

In the morning, Marisa invited me, Sarah and Ellie to join her mom, sister, and grandma in her very own "say yes to the dress" adventure. It was sweet of her to invite all of us and we were so excited to share in such a special moment.

The whole group started the day with breakfast....nobody wanted to be hangry during such an important moment!...and then we all arrived at the dress shop to start the search. The store Marisa made the appointment at clearly adapted their own "say yes to the dress" flair to the popular tv show. The bridal section was huge...two of the three floors of the store...and we had our own private blinged out area filled with white and hot pink furniture. Marisa had a few ideas of what she was looking for, but has watched enough "Say Yes To The Dress" episodes to know that she should be open to trying different styles.

Marisa tried on about 10 dresses. They all looked beautiful on her, and with each dress you could see her narrowing down all the specific details until she got to "the one". The dress that Marisa chose was the last dress she tried on. She looked stunning-so classy and elegant. The salesperson helping us added a veil and handed her a bouquet and Marisa was all smiles as she said "yes!" to her dress!

I'm not sharing details because Marisa wants the dress to be a complete surprise for Jon, but let's just say that the open mind she had was important for her final decision because there were several elements to the dress that she chose that wasn't what she thought she wanted!

It was SO much fun to be a part of that special moment. It was a lot to take in- how beautiful Marisa looked, the joy and excitement of her mom, grandma, sisters and future sisters-in-law, all the beautiful dresses. So many thoughts were going through my head! It's just amazing that we are entering this season of life. That beautiful dress Marisa chose is for my son on the day she becomes his wife! It sounds like such a stupid sentiment when I write it out, but honestly it's!

The store had a fun picture wall which we took advantage of!
The Happy Bride to Be

Marisa Having Fun

Marisa and her mom

Marisa and her grandma

Sisters and future Sisters in law having fun

#2: The Path to (Another) Wedding

After all the excitement and emotion of the morning/early afternoon, I just needed to go home and take a quick nap.

And then....

It was time to take some engagement pictures of Andrew and Liz for their save the date cards. We went to a nature reserve right in our town and I took about 350 pictures in multiple settings of the park. Andrew, to put it mildly, does not enjoy taking pictures. Or dressing up. So I knew the photo session would be somewhat tortuous for him. I think the photo session...and the haircut for Andrew and trip to the mall for a new dress for Liz and a new shirt for him the night before...proves that he truly loves her!

The photo session went better than I thought it would! Out of the 350 shots, Liz narrowed it down to 11 favorites that she emailed to her parents. I think she had a favorite in mind, but she wanted to sleep on it. Liz's dad is a graphic designer and is helping her create the cards. There were a lot of shots that weren't perfect for the cards, but were cute shots to save as memories of a special day. And there were plenty of shots with closed eyes and ridiculous faces that made us laugh...and made Liz delete very quickly! :)

Here are a few of my favorites...

How Andrew really feels about pictures! lol

I love that they make each other laugh!

Andrew is smitten...
...and I think the feeling is mutual <3

So much joy...and so much to process..all in one day!

#3: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was SUCH a nice day with family. We started the day with Mass, watched a little of the Macy's day parade while I made some stuffing, then headed to my aunt's house with the chocolate chip cheesecake, apple pie and chocolate cookie dough brownies I had made the day before. It was great to see most of my extended family. The food was great and the company was even better! Luke and Kate had a great time playing with two of their cousins!

On the way home, we stopped by Jay's parents house to spend a little time with them.(and have a little more dessert!) Then we met up with my parents again at their house. It was a full day with family and great food!
Jon and Marisa ran the Turkey Trot race Thanksgiving morning

Luke with his cousins, Ryan and Paul

Kate and Pa

Kate with my Uncle Jim and one of their two dogs who Kate spent much of the day loving on!

Everyone hard at work!

My cousin, Karen, her husband, Mike and their son, Paul

#4: Black Friday

On Black Friday I always go shopping with my mom and sister. We do not head out until around we aren't the hard core shoppers that end up on the news! We got some good deals and lots of names crossed off our list. Most importantly, it was a good opportunity for time shared together.

Every year I have a goal to finish my Christmas shopping before Advent starts. Usually I get pretty close. Well this year, I have broken all my previous records! Not only do I have 97% of my shopping done, I even have at least 2/3 of it wrapped! I have to go over my list one more time tonight, but other than a couple small things I plan to order on Amazon tonight and one store I need to go to tomorrow because my "Olympia Bucks" start on December 1st, I am pretty much done! I even have stocking stuffers wrapped! 

It really helps that I LOVE to shop. And, since I haven't managed to grow a money tree in our backyard, I only get to shop in volume at Christmas. I love making lists and trying to figure out gifts people will love! 

So, if anyone wants help, I would totally love to be a personal shopper! I think it would be my dream job!

#5: Pierogi Fest

This was the 11th annual pierogi fest! It started when Jay's Babi was still alive and feeling sad that she was forgetting her special family recipes. The weekend after Thanksgiving, Jay's mom brings over cabbage filling and Jay makes potato and cheese filling and pierogi dough. Most of the kids join in and they make dozens and dozens of pierogis. This year was a record! They made 28 dozen!!(We have bags in our freezer!)

Love my mil's apron!

So nice to have 2 extra (almost) daughters join in!

Jay being silly

Jon looking devious!

#6: Looks Like The Grinch Visited

On Tuesday and Wednesday, we had our kitchen and living room ceilings redone. Our house was built in the 70's and had popcorn ceilings.(don't even get me started!) Since we got some new lighting in the spring, we had several holes in our ceiling. Plus, there were spots of our ceiling that were cracked and peeling. It was also in desperate need of painting. 

I convinced Jay that it was time to replace them.(not an easy task for a man who doesn't like change!) My parents were very generous and helped us move ahead to get the last piece of our kitchen reno done.(Only took 5 years lol) 

On Monday, we emptied our entire living room. It reminded me of the scene from the Grinch when he empties the Who's House! It was several days of chaos but I know it's going to be worth it! I love our flat ceilings!!

#7: No Signs of Christmas!

Since we had to empty our living room, all of our Christmas decorations are still put away. Jay has to paint the ceiling, but we have to let them dry all the way. I was hoping he could paint on Saturday, but they aren't dry yet. We aren't getting our tree until next weekend when Jon comes home from grad school because he still wants to be part of the tree picking/decorating process.(which makes me happy) But poor Jay will be painting ceilings after work this week so that we will be ready to decorate next Saturday! Until then, I need to wait (somewhat) patiently...but I'm anxious to get our holiday on!

Have a great week!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

God Can Even Bring Good Out of Poop...Literally

Some days start really well and then slide off the rails really quickly. On a recent morning, I woke up a few minutes early, got everyone's lunches put together quickly and efficiently, and even got an exercise video in before hopping into the shower right on schedule to get myself to work on time. That's a great morning...

Cue foreboding music!

Halfway through my peaceful shower my husband, Jay, came into the bathroom. It turns out that when he took our dog out to do her "business", he stepped in her "business" from the previous day that one of our dear children failed to clean up. The bad news was that he didn't figure out this problem for about half an hour and he walked all over the house with his shoes on! The good news is that because there were so many leaves on the ground, it appears that the only affected area was right by our sliders. "But", he said, "you should probably wash all the floors later on today just in case." (sigh..another big item added to my to do list for the day. Double sigh...I never wanted a dog.)

Keep this dog poop incident in mind because it emerges again momentarily.

During this "ruin my peaceful shower visit", Jay also had to tell me that Luke just mentioned he was presenting his saint project that day and needed his costume.

Giant sigh...and there went all hope for leaving the house on time.

I did not panic immediately. Luke had just worn his St. John Bosco "costume" on All Saints Day the week before, which consisted of his black dress pants and his older brother's black button down shirt with a piece of white duct tape to mimic a priest's collar. When I got out of the shower, Luke had his dress pants in hand but had no idea where the shirt ended up. I had him look under bureaus and in all his drawers, and I looked through Peter's room and the clean laundry. Despite all our shirt.

I started to get very frustrated. One of the worst things to feel like is an incompetent parent! Luke's costume had been easy and perfect and half of it was just gone! And I was running late...and the clock was ticking.

But wait, there's more! (Kind of like an infomercial, but not about anything you want to buy!)

Jay was going to a retreat that weekend...the first he's gone to in a very long time. I was asked to have his family write encouraging letters to him as a surprise to receive at some point in the retreat. Several of the kids and I wrote letters and my daughter, Ellie, was supposed to give them to one of her friends whose dad is helping to run the retreat. Please note that I said "supposed to"....

At the same time the "costume incident" was occurring, Ellie texted me because she forgot all the letters that she was supposed to deliver. My frustration bubbled to the next level. So I had to go to plan B and send the letters in to school with Luke to give to Ellie's friend's younger sister. The same Luke that misplaced his costume my confidence was not very high that this task would be accomplished.

By that point, I was running extra late for work, trying to figure out a backup costume, putting the retreat letters into a manila envelope for Luke to hopefully deliver, and yelling at Luke for not being more organized and planning ahead and I completely lost my patience. Not a pretty moment.

But wait, there's more!

So I just gave up and grabbed one of our male family member's suit jacket from our closet, threw it in a bag with his dress pants, told him(in a loud, impatient voice) that he would have to make due but it wouldn't look right, and started to grab my purse to leave.(very late)

And that's when Luke walked in front of me and I saw it..a six inch circular spot on the back of Luke's gym shirt. I yelled, "Wait!", reached in for a sniff, yelled, "You have sh%& on your shirt!!!" and promptly burst into hysterical tears. Definitely not a stellar mom moment. :(

I threw the shirt in the wash, had Luke put on his gym shirt from last year that has a few tiny holes in it from Josie's puppy teething incidents...did I mention I never wanted a dog...then grabbed the oatmeal I never had time to eat, told everyone through tears that I loved him, and walked out the door still crying.(and now very, very late)

As I cried down the road, I was feeling horrible about everything. I was trying to process through my thoughts and why I reacted the way I did. Why did I get so frazzled about the last minute need for a missing costume? Why didn't I handle it better? I could have used the incident as an opportunity for patient problem solving...and all I did was give my kids yet another reason they will need therapy some day!

It wasn't hard to figure out. It was pride...If Luke didn't have what he needed it makes me look like a bad parent. In the next second I felt in my heart, "So since you were afraid you would look like a bad parent, you ended up acting like a bad parent." Ouch...and yes, pretty much.

Still crying, I called Luke and apologized for yelling at him. And I texted Sarah to apologize for yelling.

And I got to work late feeling a little bruised on the inside.

Several hours later and hoping for an afternoon "do over"....

I made a brief stop at Adoration on the way home from work to ask for forgiveness and patience and fortitude and all the other virtues and graces I so desperately need(!). I swept and washed all the floors in the hour I had free before the kids got home. Josie the dog ate my last pair of sunglasses.(SO don't want a dog) Got the kids off the bus to learn that Luke had forgotten to deliver the letters. (big sigh but no yelling, so I consider it a #win)

And, best of all(insert eye roll here), Luke told me, "Too many kids were on the list to present that day at school so I got moved to tomorrow." (said with what I affectionately call Luke's muppet face(just like his dad) and a quick shoulder shrug)

So even though that black button down shirt is still MIA, Luke was able to borrow an alter boy robe that looks like a cassock...which was a way better costume than the shirt!

If you've had a tough parenting week, you aren't alone. Tomorrow is a new day! (Thank you, God!) This Bible verse is worthy of memorization for those tough parenting moments...

The Steadfast Love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning,
great is thy faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-13

p.s. And in case you're wondering how Luke managed to get poop on the back of his shirt...
While I was showering, Luke was goofing with his football and pretending to be Gronk, (as in Gronkowski from the Patriots), catching balls and rolling on the ground RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE SLIDERS where the poop incidence originally occurred and prior to Jay realizing he had stepped in it. If the whole costume incident hadn't happened I probably would have left for work without realizing Luke had poop on his shirt...and Jay wouldn't have noticed because, well, "men". So I did thank God that I saw Luke's shirt when I did. The poor kid already threw up in class a couple weeks ago. If he showed up to school with stinky poop on his shirt that would have just been so awful!

And this goes to show that God can bring good out of anything...even poop!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

For All Our Little Saints

*I just want to give you fair warning...this is a very emotional post. So you may want to grab some tissues if you continue reading.

I've felt pretty unsettled all day. I have a few reasons. It's been a really busy week, yesterday was a long day with all the Halloween excitement, Luke slept lousy last night so I'm really tired, I'm behind on laundry and dishes, Jay started painting our laundry room so everything that lives in the laundry room covers the dining room table....and the wall spackle sanding he did Tuesday night has left a layer of dust everywhere that a broom just can't handle and I haven't had time to deep clean.

Even though this outer world messiness makes me a little crazy, I know that there's a deeper meaning to it all. One that I try to contain but bubbles up threatening to spill over.

And spill over it did!

Today is All Saints Day. It's the day Catholics celebrate the Saints who have gone before us leaving us such incredible examples of holiness and sacrifice. At Luke and Kate's Catholic elementary school, the kids all dressed up as saints and walked to church. It's always a super cute sight...all these kids dressed as sisters, priests, brothers, and all types of saints that fill our Church's history. Luke was St. John Bosco and Kate chose St. Bernadette.

There's also a very heavy memory that's attached today for our school family. Today is the two year anniversary of the death of my friend's little girl, Victoria, who was also a part time student in our school's Small Wonders preschool program.

My heart has an incredible soft spot for grieving moms. Because I have gone through the experience of losing a child, my heart just bleeds for people that have to suffer through that loss. Grief is a long and difficult road. It's so hard knowing how much other people are going to suffer going through a similar experience.

Before I went to mass tonight, I went to visit my grandfather to give him his night time pills. He always has the tv on. Usually I go to see him during Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy, but since I had to go earlier to get to 7pm Mass the news was on. I have not watched the news for YEARS because it's always filled with such horrible, tragic stories. After 15 minutes with my grandfather I can tell you it hasn't changed a bit! In fact, in that short time the only thing they talked about were recent tragic accidents that happened to children. No word of a lie! I heard about all the fatal accidents regarding school buses that have happened in the last few weeks. Then about a SC woman being charged for involuntary manslaughter for the drowning death of her 14 month old because she went onto a road that had been closed off due to extreme flooding after the hurricane.

By the time I left my grandfather, I was holding it all in. Barely!

Fr. Williams words at the beginning of Mass really touched me. He was talking about All Saints Day and how it's a day we celebrate all the saints in Heaven, "both known and unknown." While All Saints Day certainly brings to mind all the amazing saints the kids were dressed as earlier in the day, I can't help but think about all the saints who are unknown to the world but are held in their families' hearts: all the little ones who were called home to God before we were ready to let them go. Whether we held them for a few short years, months, days, or only in our wombs, these innocent children went straight home to God and rejoice in His presence forever.

At Mass, my eyes started "leaking" when Fr. Williams read the Gospel line, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." Thinking of all the grieving moms just broke my heart. Seeing Tori's family in the communion line made the tears came in earnest.

These little ones are not forgotten. They are powerful intercessors for all of us. So, while I rejoice today in the great saints like St. Augustine, St. Faustina, St. JPII, and all the others, I also remember and celebrate the smallest saints...the children held in their mama's hearts.

Tori, Seth, Gerard, Gabriel, Emma, Lauren, Elizabeth, Rebecca, Maria, Bartholomew, Doyle,Therese and all of our little saints, pray for us.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Our Story of the Loaves and Fishes

26 years ago, Jay and I said all those special words that made us husband and wife: For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.  We've definitely traveled all those paths over the years. We've experienced lots of "better" and plenty of "worse", some times when we've been "richer than poorer", and we've had times of physical and emotional "sickness" that were difficult seasons. Thankfully, we've had lots of years of health as well.

We were so young getting married under circumstances that were not ideal to build a foundation on. I'm sure many people that watched us exchange vows wondered just how long our marriage would last. I think in the early years, the phrase "ignorance is bliss" worked in our favor. We were college students juggling babies and toddlers without anyone around us that could really share our journey. We were figuring things out...often taking long detours because we didn't have the life experience we needed to make good decisions.(and a lack of humility to ask for help when we should have!)

Making our childhood faith our own was the glue that kept Jay and I together through all the challenges we have faced in our marriage. I don't have statistics, but I imagine that a marriage that starts at 18, faces the devastating grief of losing a child at 24, and has a child diagnosed with severe Autism when they are 30 would definitely be in the category of a high divorce rate. Thankfully, we continue to defy the odds but we still work hard at staying connected and loving each other through our own faults and weaknesses.

As a multitasking woman, I often read multiple books at the same time. I usually have a book I only read at bed time, a book I only read in adoration, and a book I read here and there when I can sneak in a few minutes of quiet time.

Recently, my "quiet time" book was Love is Patient, But I'm Not by Christopher West. I was drawn to the catchy title that unfortunately rings true for me much of the time. (Jay likes to tease me that I will never be known as St. Michelle the patron saint of patience. Unfortunately, it's the truth!)

This book has some thought provoking words and questions with very short chapters. (Which is why it's ideal for quick reads in my limited quiet time!) In Chapter Six, Love is Not Rude, West writes about what "Pope Francis calls "the principle of spiritual realism" in marriage" which is the "interior freedom to release the other person from the burden of completely satisfying my needs."(pg39) As West continues, "this does not mean denying or repressing our needs; rather, it means learning how to open them to God in prayer."(pg39)

Jay and I are blessed to have a very good, albeit imperfect, marriage. There have definitely been times in our marriage...even recently...when I look to Jay to fill a God sized hole in my heart. While Jay can be supportive about feelings or thoughts I might be struggling with, he can't do God's job of healing my heart. (And of course it works both ways. I can't fill Jay's God sized holes either!) I've had lots of practice over the years learning to lean into God and to wait on him when those holes appear. It's not always a quick fix, but it is the way that God brings true healing and understanding into my empty spaces. Not only that, but when the hurt is gone and grace is poured into those former holes, I then have more to give my family and friends. I LOVE when that happens!

Our marriage is being launched into a new season of life. The lives that our love have brought forth is growing as two of our sons have gotten engaged in the last few months. In August of 2019 and May of 2020, we will welcome two new daughters into our family. Jay and I already have thoughts of future grandbabies dancing in our heads!

There is so much to take in! As our lives are changing, I am just trying to soak in all of the joyful moments. I feel more deeply the joy of the fleeting moments of having all of my children in our home at the same time. I try to imprint on my memory the sounds of our adult children, their fiancees' and our teenagers playing games and laughing together. I snuggle with Kate and Luke on the couch for a few extra minutes past bedtime because I know the time will come all too soon when that sweet spot of child raising will be over for good.

Once the little kids go to sleep, I sit next to Jay on the couch with my head on his chest. Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the love that fills our home, for all those happy voices, and for the two youngest dreaming in their beds. God took a very imperfect love between two very imperfect people and He continues to multiply it in unexpected ways. It's our very own "loaves and fishes" story!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Avoiding a Hagar Moment

Waiting is hard.

Have you ever noticed that when you're waiting on direction from God, His GPS often leads us onto out of the way roads, up and down hills, and to places that seem like "you have arrived" only to realize it was only a short side trip?

Yeah, me too!

In the past,(and sometimes the very not so distant past!), I have been known to take that first step of God's direction very well....and then I assume I know exactly where I'm going, shut off God's GPS, and just drive.

As you can imagine, it never ends all that well.

Now that I'm a little "older" and have misused God's GPS time and time(and time and time and time...well, you get the picture!) again, I have finally started to try and pay attention to ALL of His directions in regards to whatever topic I'm seeking His guidance on at the moment. Regardless of how His plans align with my plans, (umm..almost never!), I try very hard to stay patient and wait for the next "turn right here" to come to the screen of my heart. Then there's the "issue" of timing. I try, often unsuccessfully, to not complain about how.very.long this trip seems to be taking! Being patient and trusting in God's timing is so not easy sometimes!

I read those stories about the Israelites wandering around in the desert and, as much as I want to believe otherwise, that totally would have been me! I would have been complaining and whining through the wilderness despite seeing so many amazing miracles that God worked!

I know in my head and heart that waiting on God and following His plans will work out so much better for me. Since I've had so many experiences in the past testing out this theory in a negative way, I'm much better at recognizing an opportunity to be patient and trust in God's timing in my life. It's still really hard! I still tend to be a "see a problem, make a plan, fix the problem as quickly as possible" kind of person. As I said before, God's timing generally looks a lot different than mine!

I've had too many "Hagar moments" in my life. What does that mean? Remember the story of Abraham and Sarah? While Abraham was still Abram and his wife was still Sarai, God made a covenant with him and promised that he would have a son and his descendants would be like the stars in the sky.(Genesis 15; 4-5) Abram and Sarai were pretty old. And Sarai didn't conceive right away after God gave Abram the promise. So Sarai decided to "help" God with His timing. Sarai gave her maid, Hagar, to Abram thinking this would be the way he would get a son. And while Hagar did bear Abram's son, Ishmael, that was not God's plan and caused a whole lot of stress and hurt.(see Genesis 16-18) 

So a "Hagar Moment" is when I try and "help" God with His timing in something in my life...or those close to me...when God has shown me the first couple directions(or maybe even just one direction!) on a path He wants me to take. And just like the story of Hagar, it ends up causing a whole lot of stress and hurt that I could have saved myself from if I had only remained patient and waited for God's next direction instead of trying to figure it out on my own.

Let's just say I've been a slow learner!

But I am determined to do better! I now recognize God's GPS a little more clearly. And God has used all my mistakes to teach me more about patience and fortitude. When I'm tempted to try and find a short cut, I remind myself that things never work to my advantage when I try to blaze the trail and I keep returning my gaze to God and renew my desire to wait on Him...and pray for the grace of patience in the waiting!

Currently, I'm avoiding Hagar moments in my search for direction in my new season of life as a mom of school age children and young adults who are becoming independent human beings. My kids need me in different ways now than they used to. There is a lot of joy in this new stage of life. With two engaged sons we have the exciting times of wedding planning and future grandchildren to occupy our thoughts. Since our youngest kids are 7 and 9, everyone is much more independent with self care. We have been diaper free for quite a while. I would like to say I sleep through the night, but Luke tends to have nightmares(#overactive imagination) so I still find myself woken up most nights of the week!(but that's still much different than all nighters with newborns!)

I've actually been in this season of searching for a couple of years. I did a lot of thinking and praying when Kate was in preschool 2 years ago, and last year I started on a path that led to grad school but discerned that it was one of those side trips I mentioned at the beginning of the post! None of these twisty roads God has led me on have been a waste of time. I've learned a lot as I've rediscovered myself with a life without babies and toddlers. I'm working on some issues God has highlighted along the way, like simplifying both our clutter and our finances. I've also had to grow and stretch by being open to new opportunities God has placed in my path. I've been working really hard to be in tune to God's plans for me and for our family and not to just jump at everything that crosses my path. It's not easy and I'm not perfect, but I am making progress!

In some ways, I feel like I've been in a cocoon and God has been working on my heart. I still haven't emerged completely and I'm still not sure exactly what the plan will be, but I'm trying to be content on the road that God has placed me on and I continue to have ample opportunities to work on trust!(trust has never been one of my strengths!)

Are you struggling with a "Hagar Moment" in your life?

photo credit: World Outreach Church

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and rely not on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make safe your path."(Proverbs 3:4-5)

Friday, September 28, 2018

A Joyful Moment

Linking up with Kelly...

#1: Filled With Joy
Our house is riding a "joy high" because of some very special, midweek excitement......Andrew got engaged!! We are all so incredibly happy and we all love his fiance, Liz! Liz is a warm, sweet young woman whose personality fits so well with Andrew's.

#2: The Ring
Andrew has been saving up since he started his first real job in July. I was really touched that he invited me to go pick out the ring with him. Sarah made it obvious that she would love an invite too, so Andrew included her as well. He wanted Ellie to come, but unfortunately she had to spend most of the day watching/playing volleyball with her school's teams. 

Andrew did a great job communicating what he was looking for with the sales people we spoke to. We went to two stores. At the first store, the sales woman was a little too "enthusiastic" and wasn't listening to what Andrew was looking for. She also kept mentioning financing, which he repeatedly told her he didn't want to do. Andrew had a healthy budget and he wanted to stick to it!

We went to Hannoush Jewelers next and had a much better experience. That was also where Jon had gotten Marisa's ring and we happened to get the same sales woman. (which I was very excited about bc she had been so kind and helpful with Jon!) This sales woman was very attentive to what Andrew was saying and helped to explain diamond quality and the different categories. Andrew narrowed it down to three rings...then two...and, with some encouragement from Sarah who takes credit for his choice, picked "the one". It is very pretty and classy. A round diamond in a lattice setting. (Liz loves it!:)

#3: Coaching
When Kate and Luke got home from school on Wednesday I told them that Andrew was going to ask Liz to marry him that night. They were both super excited! Kate was a little concerned though and immediately dropped to one knee and said, "He needs to do it like this." So, we sent him a picture to make sure he knew how to propose the right way. (lol) Then, Kate got concerned, "What if he forgets the ring??" She is a future micromanager if I ever saw one!

#4: The Proposal
Andrew and Liz met through Catholic Match a little over a year ago. She lives about an hour away from us, so for their first date they met somewhere that was in the middle...LaSalette Shrine. Andrew wanted to propose where it all started. They always get together on Wednesday nights and usually go to dinner and play trivia somewhere a little closer to Liz's neck of the woods. Andrew told her that there was a restaurant that was starting up a trivia game in Attleboro and told her to meet at LaSalette so they could drive over together. Liz said she was "mostly surprised". I haven't actually heard the whole story from start to finish, but Andrew says that Liz interrupted him when he took a breath and said yes. Liz says that she thought Andrew was done. It makes for a cute story and is a wonderful beginning to this next stage in their relationship.

#5: Dinner became Dessert
Andrew had planned to take Liz to a really nice, romantic restaurant for dinner after the proposal. Liz, not realizing the plan, ate a really late lunch at 3 and wasn't hungry at all at 5! Just some extra practice at rolling with life! So, Andrew sent me a text to tell them they were on their way here to celebrate and could I please go get them their favorite ice cream from our local homemade ice cream store, Acushnet Creamery. I ran out to grab double chocolate(Andrew's fav) and espresso brownie fudge(Liz's fav) plus a couple other flavors for our crew for an impromptu ice cream party. I threw up some Valentine's Day lanterns and brought out the special sign I had bought when Jon and Marisa got engaged. Our parents were able to come by despite the last minute invite. Sarah asked her teacher to get out of her night class a little early. Ellie's coach let her leave the varsity volleyball game early to come and celebrate.(Ellie plays JV and her game had ended but they stay to support the varsity team.)  Marisa even drove over after her night class let out. 

#6: The Arrival
The minute Andrew and Liz got to the door they were bombarded with Kate, Luke and Peter. Kate asked, "Did she say yes?!?" Liz had the biggest smile on her face all.night.long and they were both just so happy. Despite a few minor protests from Andrew who doesn't like pictures, I got them to take a few shots under the Valentine lights. 

Kate was so excited!(and had a mouthful of food lol)

#7: On To Planning
It was such a great night just spending time together listening to everyone talk and ask questions about the thoughts Liz and Andrew had on the wedding. Seeing Ellie, Sarah, Marisa and Liz with wide eyes, bobbing heads, and smiles on their faces as they talked about details was so special. Watching Marisa and Liz compare ideas was so heartwarming since they are both going through this special time of life together. Jay and I are INCREDIBLY blessed to be able to call both of these young women our future daughters-in law! 

Liz already has lots of ideas for the wedding. She and Andrew should have the venue picked by next week(Liz already has a favorite that penciled them in but will be checking out a few more on Saturday just to be sure) and they already spoke to the priest about the church. The wedding will be this coming August(!)...and I'm sure the time will just speed by! I'm so excited to see the choices she makes and how everything comes together. I can't believe we are at this stage of life! It is truly such a joy filled time and I'm trying to just soak it all in and thank God for these blessings.

Happy weekend!

Friday, August 31, 2018

Change and Focus

Linking up with Kelly for 7 Quick Takes Friday

#1: I have survived!

I find that when you struggle with an upcoming event for a while, (and allow yourself to wrestle with the emotions and not just "stuff" them away), when the day finally arrives it's not nearly as bad as you're afraid it will be. After struggling all summer with one of my older sons heading to another state for grad school, Jay and I spent a tear free day dropping him off at his rented room which will be his "home away from home" for a while. I think I was just resigned that this change was happening and I was ready to stop thinking about it, get it over with, and get used to a new normal.

Jon drove his car with his fiance, Marisa, on the way up, so Jay and I had a couple hours just to talk and spend time together sans kids. (As most parents of large families gotta make a "date" out of whatever time you can get!)

After lunch, a quick walk around the center of town, and helping carry in all of Jon's stuff and unpacking, we left without any tears, sobbing, or any embarrassing "emotional mom" moments.

#2: Back to Routine

School started for most of the rest of my kids this week. On Tuesday, Peter started back in his special needs high school program(which I LOVE), Luke is in 3rd Grade and Kate is in 1st Grade. A massive heat wave also started on Tuesday. Luke and Kate's school made Wednesday a half day and Ellie's first day of sophomore year ended up being a half day as well. Everyone came home with smiles this week, so at least we are off to a good start!

Peter walked up to ask and said, "Who's on my shirt?" and then he made the silliest Grumpy face EVER!
Sarah and I cracked up! Thankfully, he did it again so I could catch it!

This is Peter's real disposition. :)

#3: Five Down, One to Go
The only one left is Sarah. She starts senior year of college on Wednesday.(bc of so many high school AP credits, she is graduating 2 years early!!) We got to go out to lunch together yesterday for a little 1:1 mother/daughter time. I totally forgot to snap a pic with is so unlike me! Trying to get into a new routine has left me a little tired and discombobulated so I will blame it on that!

We had a great lunch and Sarah is excited to start a new year. She's taking 6 classes and will have to start filling out grad school applications before long. I' to take this road again so soon, so I'm just going to ignore it until at least March or April. (Sounds like a good plan to me!)

#4: Grown-up kids

It's so strange having two grown up children who are done with college. Mike(child #1) has been with his current job over a year and is still living in an apartment about 5 minutes from home. Over the last several months, the time he spends here has decreased significantly. We mostly see him on Fridays and Sundays with a very occasional weekday appearance at dinner time. 

This is (child #2) Andrew's first September since he was 4 when he hasn't been in school. He isn't sad about it at all! He is enjoying his new job and is still planning on moving in with a friend about 15 minutes away from home at some point this month. The packing process is S.L.O.W. Ellie is chomping at the bit to get her own room and is anxiously awaiting his departure.

#5: Regaining Peace
Even with all the new routines this week, I've done pretty well most days. The only tough day was Tuesday. It's always hard when my youngest two start that next grade level. With Kate in 1st grade this year, she is well on her way to becoming one of the "big kids" and that's a little hard to swallow. Monday night I stayed up way too late...I think it was a little internal rebellion to keep Tuesday from coming as long as possible, which totally backfired because it just made me really tired on Tuesday! After working in the morning, I was feeling all over the place emotionally.(A little "emotional ADHD "if you will. My thoughts and emotions felt like that Pong game I played as a kid when the ball breaks through the lower layers and bounces around spasmodically without me doing anything! I know, I'm aging myself...) Anyway, I was so tired and a little sad and a little hangry, but I made a good decision to stop at adoration for 10 minutes on the way home. I read a little from 33 Days to Merciful Love by Fr Gaitley. (For's more like 33 weeks to Merciful Love. I love this book but have been inconsistent in reading it and going through it VERY slowly. I'm getting so much out of it but I'm a little afraid to actually make the consecration.(which is a whole other blog post for another time!) 

In adoration, I read about St. Therese being on retreat and feeling nothing but aridity and abandonment. Her faith in God never wavered, and she considered it all blessing that "Jesus was sleeping in my little boat" and was "taking advantage of the repose I offer Him". In Therese's words, "instead of being troubled about it this only gives me extreme pleasure". Reading this made me think of my emotions as that storm the apostles were dealing with in the Gospel when Jesus sleeps in the boat. And I realized I was caught up in the panic of the emotional storm. What I realize I needed was to rest with Jesus until the storm passed and He helped me to see all the new directions life is heading in this Fall. In my imagination, I pictured myself resting with Him.  10 minutes after arriving at adoration with my emotions in a whirlwind, Jesus totally quelled the storm within me. I can't recommend adoration enough! Even a quick visit does wonders!

#6: The Next Best Step
After a highly emotional summer, I'm looking forward to a Fall that is filled with discerning some future goals and plans as our family grows and changes and enters into a new chapter of engagement(s?), weddings and beyond!

The first few years of my 40's has been very challenging...I've spent the last 25 years having and raising babies and as my role is changing I'm having a hard time figuring out where I fit and what God's plan is for me. Being patient is not my biggest strength, but I've certainly had lots of practice waiting on God and trying out paths that seem to be the way to go but end up being not quite right.(#gradschool) Even though I would still like a better view of the "big picture", I'm getting better at focusing on and being more content whatever baby step God seems to be putting in front of me.

#7: Fall Focus
I'm hoping to spend the Fall focusing on some topics that have caught my attention in the last few months. We are focusing more on budgeting and trying to save money for things that we would like to do. With a ton of kids, a one income household, and the high cost of Catholic high school education, we have spent lots of years just getting by. After struggling with lots of anxiety over the past year, I've tried to get a firmer grip on finances. Feeling more financially secure will be a good thing. Now that I'm working part time it's a little easier. But I still want to figure out how to do better so that we can afford to save for things like family vacation time together. I really need things to look forward to and plan...and I can't do that if we don't have the money for it. So that's one area that I have committed quite a bit of time reading up on and watching podcasts from people who have lots of tips to share. It's slow going but most days I feel optimistically hopeful.

I'm also focusing on clutter. I've been reading and listening to people talking about minimalism. While I have absolutely no desire to live in a tiny house...I get anxious and claustrophobic just thinking about it!!... I want to be more focused on getting rid of the clutter that makes me crazy. There's so much stuff we don't use and spend so much energy "organizing" and cleaning. I just want to simplify and stop any material gluttony we have going on.

Money and clutter...interesting topics that go together as we creep up to the holiday season. It's making me rethink a lot of things and I'm hoping to tweak my shopping this year. I'm trying to make my new areas of focus and my love of shopping and making my family feel special all come together in a really positive way. More on that in the days ahead, I'm sure!

Enjoy the long weekend!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Art Of Letting Go, Grieving, and Perspective...

The calendar has turned to August, and despite my internal protests, I have no choice but to face the countdown that I have tried to avoid in my head since summer began.

August is always a bittersweet month for me. I am one of those moms that loves to have my children around me and the impending first day of school always brings with it feelings of sadness for me. This year, those feelings are magnified 100 fold...or at least that’s the way my heart feels!

In less than 2 weeks, two more of our sons will be moving out. Andrew, who graduated in May and began his first real full time job at the beginning of July, will be moving in with one of his best friends since high school. It’s only about 25 minutes away and will cut his commute time to his job to less than half the time it takes from home.

It’s a big step for him...and for us.

In only 3 days(!), Jon will be heading to grad school over 2 hours away. Visits will be limited to a couple weekends a month and school vacations. This time away has a bigger meaning because it’s more like a weaning process for us. With a wedding date set for May 24, 2020, he will never move back into our house as a full time resident again.

It’s a big step for him...and for us.

I am truly excited for both of them as they take such big steps in their personal lives.  But I would be lying if I said that it didn’t hurt. It hurts a lot. I am laboring to let go of the spot they have held in my heart and our home as children and trying to comprehend this new relationship and our new rolls that we will have with these upcoming life changes. The waiting and the countdown to the day they both actually leave and the change it will bring to our lives is like giving birth all over again. When this “emotional labor” of the countdown to moving day ends, I don’t get a beautiful snugly baby to hold in my arms!

We have spent over 20 years nurturing these sons of ours. There have been good days and bad days. There are decisions we have made that we would do differently if we had the knowledge and hindsight we have now. We are not perfect parents and they are not perfect children. But we are very proud of the young men they have become and the choices they have made so far in their lives. Their stepping out of our fold and starting their own independent lives is only filled with sadness because of the hole it will leave in our family. For that, I am very grateful.

It’s just a chest filling grief that our family life as we know it is ending...and I’m just not ready. And I’m blessed because I still have several younger kids in the house, but part of me is only thinking that I am going to have to go through this over and over (and over and over) again. These children who grew in my body and I gave birth to, the thousands and thousands of hours spent nursing, rocking, walking, caring for and loving, are moving on and all that’s left is grief and loss.
Melodramatic....maybe...but the feelings are real!

It’s a big step for us...and one I'd rather not take right now. It’s yet another thing not in my control. I’m trying to focus on being grateful for the gifts they have been in our lives and not on the fact that I will have to do this letting go thing again. I know it’s a gift to have all these children. With so many you would think a few moving out wouldn’t matter...but it really does.

Two weeks ago, I got to go to a daily Mass on my own in a different parish. The priest celebrating Mass was a retired priest that we know. I was very melancholy and emotional that day. I was having trouble with "leaking eyes". After Mass, the priest was talking to another family sitting behind me and also said hello to me and asked about my family. My eyes watered, but I was able to hold back the tears while explaining I had two heading out of the house. The priest mentioned that he was from a family of 7 and when he asked his mom when they were down to 4 left at home if she liked that things were a little easier and less crowded she replied, "I miss things the way they were."

It helps to know that you aren't alone in your feelings.

It's been an emotional summer for me living with this internal countdown and trying to work through all my feelings. I've been doing lots of praying...and lots of crying...and some days I have felt like I just can't get out of my own way and long to feel more "normal" and think "why can't I just deal with all the changes and stop having so many bloody emotions!"

And then comes perspective...

Recently, we found out that one of the staff at the high school most of my kids have gone to had thier 20 year old son, Lucas,  that was diagnosed with cancer. Jon knows Lucas and his sister was in Sarah's graduating class. I feel so incredibly horrible for this family. In a moment, they went from planning a summer vacation to putting sophomore year of college on hold and facing 6 rounds of chemotherapy treatment. I can only imagine the fears that are bouncing in their minds about what the future holds. Such a big cross for this loving, faith filled family.

My cross seems a little less heavy when I think of what Lucas' family is going through. It also helps that now my grief and suffering from the change and separation will have a purpose...I will be offering it for Lucas and his family. It gave me some good perspective and helped to calm my typhoon of grief into the tropical storm size that it really is.

For all of you moms that are getting ready to drop off your babies..err young at college or facing a big life change, just know that you aren't alone. The sadness will calm down(eventually) and our lives will settle into a "new normal" as our homes and hearts adjust. Text messages and phone calls will be little treasures...and face time is even better! While our young adults will enjoy their new freedom...and adjust to the new stress of life in a different world where they are responsible for themselves...they will become much more appreciative of the home cooked meals, comfortable beds, and having people that care for them when they come back to visit.

And, if you think of it, please say a prayer for Lucas and his family. Us moms have to stick together!

See you on the other side!

Image result for cartoons about moms sad their kids are going to college