Thursday, February 9, 2023

Love Them To The End

Life changing moments often come when you least expect it. 

There are times when life appears to be going along at a fairly controllable pace. Then something happens. In an instant, the fragility of life smacks you in the face and it becomes undeniably apparent that the control we seem to have is a complete illusion. 

Several days after Christmas, our daughter-in-law's mom had a scheduled surgery to replace a heart valve. Liz's mom had no other health issues, was in an excellent hospital with an excellent doctor, and all expectations were for a successful, uncomplicated surgery with a full recovery. At first, everything supported those expectations. Patti went through the surgery with no problems. She spent a couple of days in the ICU as was planned and then went to a regular room on the cardiac floor. Patti was making great progress. 

Until she wasn't. 

The day her doctor talked about sending her home, Patti collapsed. Patti's recovery was hijacked by massive blood clots that traveled to her heart, lungs and brain. Instead of going home that day, Patti spent the next 10 days in the ICU as doctors tried to save her life. It was a nightmare rollercoaster ride for her family as each day would bring small moments of hopeful news followed by devastating realities as the damage to her heart and her brain continued to unfold. As more and more damage was discovered, it became obvious that Patti could not be healed this side of Heaven. Patti passed into Eternity on Saturday, January 14th surrounded by her loving husband and daughters, and several other members of her family that were so incredibly supportive during the entire devastating journey. 

Patti was more than just my daughter-in-law's mom. Patti was also my friend. I've been blessed to know Patti for about 4 and a half years. Andrew and Liz had been dating for about 10 months when we got a chance to meet Patti, her husband, Chris, and Liz's sister, Tori.  They came to Andrew's college graduation party and from the moment we met them, they felt like family. Liz's family is kind, faithful, and genuine. They fit right in with all our friends and it felt like we had known them for a long time, even though we had just met. When Andrew and Liz got engaged only a few months later, it truly felt that we were combining our whole families. It was an incredible blessing for all of us.

Those last ten days of Patti's life were incredibly painful for me. As a mom, my heart was just breaking for Liz and Tori and the grief they were carrying. As a wife, my heart ached for what Chris was facing. As a friend, I was grieving hard at the thought of Patti not being a part of my life. 

Patti just had so much more life to live...especially with a little grandson that she DELIGHTED in and another grandbaby on the way. I cannot emphasize enough how much pure joy Patti felt at being a "Gramma". Patti lived her whole life for love of her family. You could see it in her body language, hear it in her voice, and feel it in the acts of love that she showed to all those she cared about. Patti loved with her whole heart and her family was everything. I saw it in the way she cared for her dying brother alongside her sisters. I saw it in the joy of being in the presence of her sisters and their love of each other. I heard it in the way she spoke with such love and happiness for her niece, all of her nephews and their wives and children. I saw it in the pure love and acceptance she had for her special needs nephew, Stephen. I saw it in the happiness she shared in at the weddings and receptions of my other son and daughter. Patti was just filled with life and joy. Everyone that knew her experienced it and were touched by it.  

As the stress and bad news increased in the last week of Patti's life, I was blessed to be able to spend some extra time with Patti's family. I drove up to Patti and Chris' house a couple of times to spend part of the day with Xavier while everyone went to the hospital. As often happens in tragic situations, the desire to do something to help carry a loved one's burden was so strong. Just as strong was the helplessness of how little I could actually do. What I could do was be emotionally present-especially with the deep grief everyone was carrying, bring and prep food for dinner and for snacks when they had family and friends stop by, and do dishes and other simple tidying around the house.(Xavier was always enthusiastically encouraging me to vacuum the family room. Apparently that's his new favorite chore.:) It felt like so little, but it was a way to show how much I care for all of them and to lighten the burden they all carried in some very small way.

I was so grateful just be able to "do" something. I did find it really hard to be in Patti's home. There was a feeling of intruding in the sacred space of another woman's kitchen when I was rifling through drawers trying to find measuring spoons or a can opener. I know if she was there, any question would have been answered in seconds and the necessary tool pulled out of the proper place. Without that familiarity, I was left to search and apologize in my head to Patti for stepping into her domain. I know that Patti knows that I was just trying to love and care for her family as she would, but it still felt wrong.

The first day that I watched Xavier was the day that the family had a big meeting with all of Patti's different doctors who each gave a thorough report and their opinions on her prognosis. It was that day that the yo-yo of emotions started to settle as it became more apparent that, without a miracle, Patti was not going to survive. There was much grief, but there was a peace that descended on Patti's family that was completely missing when I arrived that morning. I held a sleeping Xavier when Chris texted me the details of that meeting. As they drove home, I sobbed. I cried for the loss they were all facing. I cried for the coming loss of my friend. I cried that I was sitting on Patti's couch, in her home, holding our precious, sleeping grandson. She should have been the one there enjoying that peaceful moment. I felt so much guilt over that. My heart was just breaking.

Even within all the grief and loss of those hard 10 days, there was even more love. There was an incredible outpouring of prayers from family and friends. There was a constant presence of support from family and friends at the hospital and at their home. Chris' sister, her husband, her daughter, one of her sons and his fiance were at the hospital multiple times. They all came to the house multiple times with food and the desire to spend time with Chris and the girls and show them as much support as they could. Two of Patti's sisters came to be with Liz's family as well, and many of her nephews and their families drove for hours to be at the wake and funeral of their beloved aunt. Chris' best friend, John, made many supportive visits. He and his wife, Nancy, even opened up their beautiful home to host the reception after the burial. The outpouring of love and generosity was awe inspiring. The support that carried Chris, Liz and Tori was faith in action. God's presence in the midst of heartache and tragedy was felt through the outpouring of love from so many family and friends. It reminded me of this quote from St. Teresa of Avila:

"Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which Christ looks old
His compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours."

— St. Teresa of Ávila

Through these very hard moments, I got to see the kind of man my son, Andrew, has become. The care and attention that he showed to his wife, his son, and his in-laws made both Jay and I so proud. Andrew and Liz temporarily moved into Chris and Patti's home to be as supportive as they could for Chris and Tori. Andrew was driving all of them back and forth to the hospital every, emotionally filled day. Most days, Andrew had Xavier with him and kept him occupied while everyone spent time with Patti and met with the doctors for updates. (And Xavier was such a source of consolation for his grandpa and auntie. At 18 months old, Xavier doesn't understand what's going on, so his happy smiles and hugs were a much needed balm to hurting hearts.) Andrew made sure everyone was drinking water and eating meals...especially his pregnant wife. But most importantly, he was incredibly emotionally present and supportive, not only to Liz, but also to both Chris and Tori. In one of the hardest moments of his young adult life, Andrew leaned in to his faith and that Grace helped him to support his family throughout the entire difficult time. Seeing his care for all of them just touched my heart. #proudmamamoment

I feel like I got to share in a "highlight reel" of Patti's life in some ways. I know that she certainly had crosses to carry in the time I have known her, but we got to share so many amazing memories. Watching the beautiful video that Chris and Tori put together for Patti's wake, I was brought back to one of the most joy-filled moments of both of our lives as Liz walked out of the bedroom in her wedding dress for the first time. I also saw the picture of us from the night Andrew and Liz announced that Xavier was on the way. I will never forget Patti's hands as she hurriedly tried to rip the wrapper off of the special fortune cookies Liz and Andrew had ordered or her voice as she asked/exclaimed to Liz, "Are you pregnant!?!?" as it slowly dawned on all of us that something really special was being announced.  I will never forget the night that Liz went into labor and Patti and I spent the entire night going back and forth with Andrew and each other as we waited for the news that our grandchild had arrived and mama and baby were both ok. 

I found myself feeling incredibly grateful to God for the gift that Patti was. I'm grateful that she and Chris were open to life and brought two beautiful, loving daughters into the world. I'm grateful that God chose their daughter and our son for each other and brought both of our families together. I'm grateful for all the wonderful moments we shared. I'm just so tremendously sad that there won't be more.

Patti's wake and funeral Mass were truly a celebration of a beautiful life filled with love. Though wrapped in deep grief, there were moments of just pure beauty that I will carry with me for a long time. I wish it wouldn't have been a completely inappropriate moment to take a picture, because watching Liz, Andrew and Liz's dad and sister walking up the church aisle behind the casket holding each other's hands linked in support for strength and love was just incredibly touching and beautiful. Their hearts were broken and hurting but their love for Patti and each other, while being lifted by the prayers of everyone present (and even those who weren't), gave them the strength to endure the hardest day of their lives. 

Patti's pastor knew Patti and her family well. Fr. Larry gave a beautiful, tear inducing homily about the faithful, loving wife and mother Patti was. You could see that Patti's unexpected call home had really affected him. Three and a half years ago, Fr. Larry had concelebrated Andrew and Liz's wedding. He has an amazing voice, and I remember how excited Patti was that he agreed to sing the Ave Maria during the wedding ceremony. At the end of the funeral Mass, Fr. Larry walked off of the alter, stood right in front of Patti's casket, and sang that beautiful song just for her. I don't think there was a dry eye in the church, but it was so touching. It was just another example of how the love that Patti exuded in her life inspired everyone around her to love in return.

It seems so surreal that Patti is really gone. How can a person that was so full of life and love not be with us anymore? How can a person that is still so needed by her family not survive? Sometimes life just doesn't make sense. 

Patti's death has affected me greatly. I know I'm blessed to have lived this long without facing the grief of losing a friend, but it's still really hard. Everything feels different. I feel like my perspective has shifted. How can you not be affected when someone close to you passes away and it highlights the finiteness of our existence in this life?

Patti's death has triggered a good amount of fear and anxiety that I've had to work through.(and am still working through...) Her death has also brought up a lot of questions to ponder; such as, How can I live my life more intentionally? What do I want to focus on at this point in my life? Are there things in different areas of my life that need to be changed or tweaked in order to live more intentionally? Do I have any real goals for this season of my life? What are steps I need to take to reach those goals?

Can you tell that I'm in the "mid-life crisis" zone of life? Or, as Matthew Kelly calls it, "mid-life opportunity."

Life is passing by so quickly. I don't want to waste it. The path is changing as we get older and our kids grow up and start lives of their own...I haven't figured out exactly which way my new path is heading. It's hard to feel lost...and it's uncomfortable. It's an opportunity to grow and to stretch, but it feels pretty torturous when you're stuck in the messy middle of change.

Though the path certainly doesn't feel very clear right now, my ultimate life goal is summed up in John 13:1. 

"...Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, 
having loved his own who were in the world, 
he loved them to the end."

Love our own in this world and love them to the end....that's certainly what Patti did.

This is Tori, Chris, Patti and Liz celebrating with us at Sarah's wedding in August.
I can't believe we had to say goodbye to her just five months later....
I'm so grateful that Patti was a part of our lives.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Isaiah 40, Desert Wanderings, and Punctuation

During Advent, which honestly felt so much like Lent that Jay and I started calling it "Lentvent" and the "Lentiest Advent ever",  there was a particular scripture that caught my eye. It really struck me and I spent the rest of Advent and the Christmas Season with it mulling around in my head. I wanted to write a blogpost about it before Christmas, which I started doing, but it felt clunky and I just had such little time to write that I never finished it. I considered that it might be something to ponder on my own, but I'm still thinking about it all these weeks later. And even though it's clearly no longer Advent..or Christmas...I think that it's still relevant. (Hopefully you do too!)

One particular line caught my eye from the reading of the day back in mid December. The structure of the sentence was actually different than I always thought it was. It made me think of this meme: 

Photo credit:

The scripture was from Isaiah 40:1...
"A voice cries, "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, 
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God."

When I hear that verse read out loud, I always thought it went, "A voice cries in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord..." And it actually does in the Gospels, which I discovered as Advent went on.(See Mt 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4, and John 1:23)  

Do you see the subtle difference in the comma placement? It just really jumped out at me when I read it. I've thought about it almost every day since then, mostly trying to figure out why this small punctuation change struck me so much. Here's what I've figured out so far.

The way I always heard the verse when it was read in the Gospel readings, "A voice cries in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord", always spoke of John the Baptist.  He was the voice crying in the wilderness, (literally), for people to repent. As can happen when you hear a certain scripture verse over and over again, that one was easy to just gloss over. It was quickly dismissed from my head..."that's just the one about John the Baptist trying to get people ready for Jesus." 

But seeing a simple comma placement changed all that.

When I read Isaiah 40:1-11, it made me think in a whole new way. 

"A voice cries, "In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord...." Isaiah 40:3
(emphasis mine)

Let's start with the part of the sentence that I highlighted, "In the wilderness". We are supposed to prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness. What does that mean? When I see "wilderness" in the Bible, I automatically think of the Israelites wandering around in the desert wilderness for 40 years until they were able to enter the Promised Land because of their unbelief and lack of trust in the God who freed them from slavery in Egypt. During Advent, I happened to be reading a book called Just Rest by Sonja Corbitt. The book is a a study about the spiritual lessons from the Israelites' Exodus and how to apply those lessons to our own desert, (or wilderness), areas that we have in our own lives. I highly recommend it. (Quick tangent: I got to hear Sonja at a Women's Conference in the Fall and she was amazing. She also has a podcast called the Bible Study Evangelista that I also love and would recommend checking out.)

So what's our wilderness? Well, our wilderness is the broken places, the unhealed places, that we all have in our hearts. It's the areas in our lives where we struggle to trust God and where we rely on ourselves to get what we need because we think that's the only way we will be filled. Our wilderness is the places where we have put up walls around our hearts because life has been hard and we have believed the lie that only we can protect ourselves. Our wilderness is the broken family relationships, the broken friendships, the sins we struggle to let go of, the way of grief when we have lost someone that we love, the unhealed trauma and anything else that keeps us from living fully and authentically.

"A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God." Isaiah 40:3 

These words of Isaiah are a direction for us. They are an encouragement. God knows what we are going through and He is coming to us. He wants to heal us, forgive us, and bless us. He wants to fill us with all that we need. We are not forgotten or abandoned. But we need to be open to Him. We need to "prepare the way" in our hearts to let Him in. We need to put down our defenses and our self sufficiency and all the unhealthy ways, (big and small), that we self protect and trust that He will come and take care of our needs. (And, wow, is that so NOT easy!!)

That Isaiah verse reminds me of Hebrews 12:13. 
"and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint 
but rather be healed."

How we act and react in times of hardship and pain can make us more predisposed to healing or make everything even harder for us in the long run. (I, unfortunately, have more experience with the latter.)\

Because after we "prepare a way for the Lord", what happens next?

"Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the lord shall be revealed..." Isaiah 40:4-5

God will take away the obstacles, He will heal our grief and brokenness. His Grace and Mercy will be apparent to us. But it will most likely happen in the desert, because in the desert, God is teaching us trust and reliance on Him and a whole slew of other lessons that aren't easy to learn in the moment but make us stronger, more loving people in the long run.

God wants us to bring our needs to Him, and then He wants us to trust Him to take care of them. He doesn't expect me to find my own way out of the wilderness...that's His job, not my job. My job is to remain open, to be patient, and to watch for Him. God always gives us the next step. It might take longer than we would like, it will most likely involve people we don't expect that help us along the way, and it might be a path that isn't our preference, but He will show us the way. Our job in the wilderness is to "prepare the way of the Lord", and that starts with the disposition of our hearts.  

Sonja says in Just Rest, "Needs are an invitation to experience God's love and provision, and to overcome our bondage to fear and bitterness." 

I just automatically want to look at that word "need" and turn it into "needy", which is such a negative connotation. The world..and the devil...lie to us. They tell us that "I" can do it all and "I" can have it all and I..I..I..I..I. But we were made for a purpose and for relationship and yes, God gave us needs. And those needs are good and necessary because it lets each of us be a conduit of God's Grace and Love to our family, our friends, and even to strangers that God places in our path. 

With age brings wisdom, (at least sometimes!), and I've learned more often than naught to realize when I'm stuck in the wilderness. Unfortunately, I still find myself wandering around my personal deserts complaining like the Israelites instead of relying on God and being in awe of all the ways that He provides for me I'm stuck looking at my circumstances, trying to figure out my own way out, and not preparing a way for God to have access to my heart and my problems. Reflecting on Isaiah 40 is helping me to lean into my desert experience and to wait on God. It's going to help build my "trust muscle" which, between you and me, needs a lot of work. 

(Another important thing that I've learned is that I don't want to be stuck in my deserts longer than I have to be!  I want to learn the lessons and get to the milk and honey...or maybe hot chocolate and cheesecake.) 

If I had to give a "cliff notes" version of what I've learned it's this: 
less self reliance and more reliance on God.....

.....And, of course, that commas are very important!

Monday, November 28, 2022

Healing What is Hidden

I recently attended a funeral for my friend's dad. A funeral is always somber and emotional. Even though I didn't know my friend's dad, I still found myself tearing up as his grown children and the teenage and young adult grandchildren comforted each other. Loss is difficult, even when someone has had a long life. It's just so hard to say goodbye. 

The Gospel reading the family chose was the story of Lazarus. Listening to it reminded me that I had written a blog post a while was June!!! my journal when I felt inspired in adoration. It never got onto my blog because I was waiting for the right timing and then I completely forgot about it until the funeral. When I went to try and find it in my journal, which I figured would take me a while, I opened up right to the page where it was written! I'm taking that as a "God wink" that the timing is now.:)

"When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary sat in the house. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you. Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? She said to him, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the son of God, he who is coming into the world."(John 11:20-22)

Entering into Martha's grief, I feel the emotion in her words to Jesus. I hear the "Why, Lord?"  I also see the trust. Martha knew and believed who Jesus was. Martha had hope in what Jesus could do in this life and, more importantly, she had the hope of eternal life.

I cry out "Why, Lord?" to God in really hard situations. Grief is so painful to go through. Avoiding grief doesn't work. Although our minds think that it's self preservation, stuffing our feelings just makes everything harder. Having to go through grief reminds me of one of my kids favorite children’s books, “We’re Going On a Bear Hunt”. Here's my spin on it:

“Uh Oh, Grief! We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it. Oh no, we have to go through it.”

I wrestle with the why in difficult life situations, especially in moments of great loss. I wrestle to understand and make sense of the pain. So did Martha. It had been four days since her brother had died. More than that since Mary and Martha had sent word to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” They had been living the fear, angst, and grief of loss. 

Both Mary and Martha told Jesus at separate moments, “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died.”(Martha in verse 21 and Mary in verse 32.) Mary fell at Jesus’ feet weeping in grief as she said the words. I have done the same; weeping in adoration as my broken heart continued to break as I cried to Him, "If only You had not let this happen to us.”

And just as He felt with Mary in verse 33, Jesus’ heart is “moved in spirit and troubled” when we pour out our broken hearts before Him. Just as He asks Mary, “Where have you laid him?”, Jesus asks us in those moments that grief overwhelms us, “Where is your brokenness? Where are your dead places? Show me the places where you only see brokenness and despair.”

This Bible story doesn't end with Martha and Mary's grief. This is a story about God's plans being greater than our plans. This is a story of miracles and healing. When does healing happen? I think that there are three steps that Jesus shows us in the healing of Lazarus that we can ponder in our own lives.

"Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see."

The first step towards healing is when we tell Jesus, “Come and see.” Martha and Mary brought Jesus to the source of their pain. We need to do the same. When we show Him where our hurts are and when we show Him where our brokenness is....that's when we open ourselves to the grace to start the journey towards healing.  

What did Martha and Mary expect to happen at the tomb? Not the miracle of their brother being raised from the dead. They were too grief stricken. They thought all hope had passed. They thought that they missed out on the miracle that could have been..."Lord, if you had been here...". 

But Jesus had another plan. He always has a plan. We often don't understand or "see it". We get trapped in our grief and stuck in everything that seems impossible and hopeless. We forget the words in Matthew 19:26; "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." That's the second step; Faith. Can we push past our limited vision and be open to possibility...especially impossibilities? Can we be open and vulnerable even it we don't have the answers or the final outcome all worked out? That's not easy!

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb; it was a cave and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?"

Jesus says "Take away the stone" and Martha says, "Lord, there will be an odor." Martha could not see past the pain and loss. She saw no other possibility than the reality of the moment. It cost too much to hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. But Jesus knows and understands how much Martha is hurting, so He encourages Martha. "Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?" I hear those words spoken with a tone of comfort and gentleness. I hope you can too.

Jesus encourages us to open our brokenness to Him. He encourages us to allow Him access to the areas in our life that are dead and seem hopeless. That's the third step. We have to "roll away the stone". We have to let down all of our modes of self protection-all the walls we've emotionally erected to try and keep the pain away. We need to step away from all the distractions that we try to avoid looking at and feeling our hurt and brokenness. We need to not be afraid of the "odor" of our festering wounds caused by others and by our own sins. We need to be willing to reopen the wound, because what is hidden cannot be healed. 

Don't just skim over that last sentence. Say it slowly and let it sink in. 

What is hidden cannot be healed.

This time of year is filled with lots of  traditions, family and checking things off the endless lists to create special holiday moments. For many of us, this time of year also carries a lot of sadness and big emotions that we can often try to white knuckle through. Using sheer will to "get through" the holidays isn't good, and in the end just leaves us with more brokenness. It also steals our joy. Advent is the perfect time to let His light into the darkness of our hearts. 

Where are your broken places? Where do you feel dead inside? Where have you lost hope? Bring Jesus to those places. Remove those heavy stones and see what Jesus' plan is. Let's all try to bring our brokenness to God, have faith(and patience) while we wait for Him to show us His plan, and roll away the stone around our hurts to give God access to bring true healing. 

"What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him." 1Cor 2:9

Monday, October 24, 2022

Celebrating Love and Marriage

 “Love between man and a woman cannot be built without sacrifices and self denial.”~John Paul II

Monday, October 24th, is a big day for us. The 24th marks 30 years since Jay and I said “I do”. We started this wild and crazy journey together on shaky ground…young and in love and completely ignorant to living life as adults. While it’s true that “ignorance is bliss”, reality certainly crashes through soon enough and we both had lots of learning to do! 

There was a big learning curve in those first few years. Learning to communicate with each other had its challenges. I had unrealistic expectations that Jay would understand my feelings and needs because….how could he not? It was so obvious! 

Case in point, when our first son was just an infant, Jay had been at his college classes all day and then, shortly after he got home, was going to lift weights with a friend. He thought all was good because I hadn’t said otherwise. But in my head….I had convinced myself that he didn’t really love me anymore and didn’t want to be with us. So when poor Jay ran in from classes to change, he found a tearful wife who shared those worried thoughts. He was like a deer caught in the headlights! My fears were unfounded…(clearly, since I’m writing this blogpost;). But that moment was just the first of many over the years as we learned…and are still learning…how to communicate our needs. I’m still figuring out that men’s brains don’t work the same way our brains do, and being open and honest is important because they really have no clue what is going on in our minds!(Even after 30 years of marriage!)  

Life is filled with so many different seasons, but the need to work on communication is something that has always continued to come around. Which makes sense because as life changes, our needs change, and how can we understand each other if we aren’t talking about how we are feeling? Unless our men finally get the ability to sense our subtle..(and sometimes not so subtle)… cues and learn to read our minds? Anyone have any luck with that? Me neither! So I guess we have to keep on talking about the real things on our heart…

Open and honest sharing is not always easy. Life gets busy. I might have something that’s bothering me but Jay’s really tired…so I decide to wait to address it. And the next night I’m really tired and don’t feel like dealing with it. And the next night one of our kids has needs that need to be met. It’s easy to push it all off until I finally just push the thoughts aside completely because “maybe it isn’t really that important anyway”. Except that it almost always is. By brushing it off, I’m actually keeping a part of my heart from my spouse and not giving him the opportunity to know me in that place. I’m also not allowing myself to be known in that vulnerable place and to be seen, acknowledged, validated and comforted. 

You would think that after 30 years(!) I would have this communication thing down pat! Except I absolutely don’t. In fact, changes in life stages seem to highlight just how much we still have to work on and grow in as a couple…even in a good marriage. Life is so busy! We had so.many.years with babies and toddlers and lots of little kids to take care of. Then, for good measure, God gave us a couple of bonus babies to add to our crew. We had all the things most families have…lack of sleep, stomach bugs, school projects, years of sports practices and games. We have also had some big crosses like losing a child, raising a child with profound special needs, and having a fracture in our family. All of these seasons and struggles have brought their own challenges and highlighted the need to continue to connect as a couple. We have been blessed with a marriage that has survived all the statistics. We survived getting married very young, we survived after losing a child, and we have survived while raising a child with severe autism. Just one of these life situations has a high percentage of divorce…never mind all three! I know that it is lots and lots of Grace that has kept us together through all the storms we've endured and continue to endure in our marriage. 

We are now entering a different stage of our marriage. We have only half of our children living under our roof. One is Peter, who is an adult but will always be with us and requires a whole different focus inplanning for his future as he ages and we age. Another is Ellen, who is also an adult and halfway through college and well on her way to being independent. Then there are Luke and Kate, who at 13 and almost 11 are very independent in their own ways. The dynamics of our family have changed greatly, and so have the conversations Jay and I have. We are trying to shift our focus to “smaller” family living.(I know 4 is still above average for many people, but for us it’s a lot smaller!) We want to concentrate on making memories for the kids still at home and “family vacations” don’t always mean traveling with our whole crazy crew. 

There were lots of years that Jay and I struggled to spend time together as a couple. Now that our lives have shifted again, we need to make scheduling more regular “us” time a priority. It’s easy to just let the weeks pass by because they are so busy and full, but the day isn’t too far off that the kids’ schedules won’t fill our lives. We need to make sure that we have fun and meaningful connections as a couple now to help to keep our marriage strong and growing.

As our kids get older, the biggest change has definitely been for me.  Over the years, Jay has coached little league teams for our older boys and, more recently, run youth groups for our teenagers and middle schoolers on a monthly basis for the past 11 years. I have always been the one at home taking care of little ones. Now things have least a little. Right now, I'm taking care of my 18 month old twin grandsons three days a week. My days off give me some time to work on some personal growth amidst the many tasks of running a household. It's taken me several years to try and figure out what adventure God has for me to pursue in this new season of my life. It's hard to shift gears when more than two decades of my life had been spent carrying, birthing, nursing and nurturing babies and small children. 

I still can’t believe that three whole decades have passed since we got married! That’s just such a long time! Most days I’m trying to figure out how I got this old and how fast life is going by. Nothing makes you face the truth to life going by and getting older more than your own children getting married and grandchildren being born! I could ignore the fact that I was getting older just fine until Andrew and Jon got married and before too long we were watching our grown kids having babies! I blinked and we were planning Sarah’s wedding and I am now completely steeped in the reality that time is passing faster than I would like it to.  

This new season of life is growing and stretching me in new ways. It is teaching me to live in the moment and to be more present and attentive. Experiencing how much changes as my kids become adults and how fast it all goes makes me want to be more deliberate about how I live my life and spend my time. I also want to be more deliberate about spending time as a couple and setting goals and making plans for adventures, both big and small. 

A selfie from our little 30th Anniversary adventure!

God willing, Jay and I still have lots of life to live together. Communication….and lots of Grace(!)…will be key as our life continues to shift and our family changes and grows.  I think St. Zelie, St. Therese of Lisieux’s mom, says it best:

“It is necessary that the heroic becomes daily, and the daily becomes heroic.”

May all of us have the Grace to live her message in our vocation of marriage!

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

The One Where We Gave Our Daughter Away

It's taken me over a month(!)...that seriously felt like it went by on warp speed...but I'm finally ready to share about Sarah's wedding day.:) It's very surreal that another one of our children has gotten married and started a life of their own!

How do you begin to sum up a day that is so much more than just the "play by play" moments. The road to giving our daughter away at the alter felt very different than either of our sons' weddings. It was a different level of emotion for both of us...but especially for Jay. All of our girls have always been very attached to Jay. "Daddy's little girl" is certainly a living phrase at our house. Sarah was the first to have her daddy wrapped around her little finger from the moment he saw her for the first time. Letting go has not been easy.

Sarah and Mike's wedding day was sunny, clear and VERY hot! It was right in the middle of those couple of weeks of extreme heat we had at the end of July/beginning of August. I made sure to get up early and get all the AC's in the house going strong to keep everyone comfortable!

Our day started early with the make-up artist arriving before 7am followed shortly after by the two hair stylists. The day had a real deja vu feeling for the last 3 years both Liz and Marisa got ready for their weddings at our house. 

Having those two experiences certainly helped with the timing of the day. As I kept an eye on keeping girls jumping into hair or make up chairs as soon as they were vacated, Jay helped to make a special breakfast to make sure no one got "hangry". (Especially the's a Hamel trait!) Breakfast consisted of fresh bagels made by Sarah's favorite local restaurant, Jay's special breakfast potatoes, scrambled eggs, bacon, linguica, apple chicken sausage, and fresh fruit. 

Everything moved smoothly and before we knew it, everyone's hair and make up was done and wedding time was approaching. After a quick lunch/snack of sandwiches and fruit, it was time for everyone to get dressed and get ready to head to the church. Ellie and I helped Sarah to get dressed. It seems like just yesterday that the two of them would play dress up and hold pretend weddings with their Barbie dolls. I'm not exactly sure how we actually found ourselves with a daughter old enough to get married, but here we are.

While Sarah was getting dressed, Jay was helping get a cooler together with ice water for after the wedding.(because it was SO hot!) Sarah did not want to leave my bedroom until she was sure that Jay was in the living room so he would see her in her wedding dress first. All she cared about was his reaction. For one last moment, her Daddy was the only man Sarah had eyes for. As she walked out of the bedroom, her gaze locked with Jay's and she headed right towards him even as her whole bridal party ooh'd and aah'd. It’s definitely a moment engrained in my heart. #passthetissues

We all piled in the cars, headed to church, and it was "go" time! Jay did a very good job handing Sarah over to Mike after walking her down the aisle. I saw only a minor hesitation. (Which was a big improvement from the rehearsal the day before when Jay walked Sarah up the aisle and clearly paused when Fr. Ryan said to give Sarah's hand to Mike....I could see Jay fighting himself in his head! One of the bridesmaids whispered, "Mr. Hamel, you could always just pick Sarah up and run back down the aisle and out the door!" To which I answered, "Edilia, don't give him any ideas! He just might!")

The wedding itself went beautifully. The bride and groom were all smiles...and those smiles didn't leave their faces for the rest of the day. And just like that, we had a new Mr. and Mrs. in the family....but this time with a different last name.

While everyone watches the bride walk down the aisle, I like to watch the groom's face. 
And we were sitting in the perfect spot for a good shot:)

The reception was lots of fun. Lots of beautiful pictures. Lots of dancing with family and friends. The bride and groom certainly have lots of amazing memories to last a lifetime! 

me and my girls
me and my girls

Mike's Mom and Dad

Daddy/daughter dance:
They danced to Steven Curtis Chapman's "Dancing with Cinderella"
Sarah and Ellie used to play this song when they were younger to make Jay tear up!
If you need a good cathartic cry, click here after you finish perusing the rest of the pictures:)

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

My Kindred Spirit Moment With A Turkey

Last week, as I was driving to do some errands, I passed a house where a turkey was walking back and forth frantically along the outside of one section of a chain link fence. The turkey would stop, peck at the fence, and then trot over to the other end of the same section and stop and peck there. It continued to walk back and forth, clearly very agitated, stopping and pecking over and over again. 

In the less than 10 seconds it took me to drive by that particular house, I have to say that I felt a real connection to that poor, frazzled bird. Like we were kindred spirits. Seeing that poor turkey, and the deep compassion that welled up in me at its momentary plight, made me realize how very much I have been feeling just like it. I've been frantically "pecking" at a section of emotional "fence", getting more and more stressed as I continued to go back and forth over the same details of the situations that I feel "trapped" in right now.  I can't seem to find the answer or the opening to move forward and find the peace I'm looking for. 

I wish I had time to stop that day..(and the confidence that I wouldn't get my eyes pecked out by a stressed out turkey(!)...and that I had been able to convince that poor, frantic bird to walk just 16 more feet to the left. Then, that turkey would have found the end of the fence and a completely open space to easily head to wherever she(or he?) wanted to go. 

I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about that 10 second moment over the last week. It's funny what God can use to speak to us. If I had to take a gander at what He was trying to tell me, it's that He wants me to stop panicking and stop trying to "peck" my own way through the circumstances in my life that seem impenetrable. I need to keep moving forward and trust that there's an opening that I just can't see from my current view.

Or, in in Cliff Notes version, stop being a turkey.;)

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Countdown To Another Wedding

This might feel a little deja vu to my readers that have been around for a while...but we are planning another family wedding. This time it's our daughter, Sarah, preparing to walk down the aisle. It's very surreal to think that once we get to August, in the last three years, three of our children will have gotten married and given us three grandsons! 

In another deja vu moment, Sarah's bridal shower, that was supposed to take place at the end of June, had to be postponed because Covid went through most of our house. Some of you will remember that Jon and Marisa had quite a few rescheduled and altered wedding plans back in 2020. It is so crazy that we are still dealing with it 2 years later!

Thankfully, the rescheduling was only a (frustrating) hiccup and "Take 2" of Sarah's shower happened this past weekend. The weather was amazing and so many people helped to make the day really special. It definitely took a village, but it all came together. Sarah was so excited leading up to the shower and she enjoyed every moment of the day! Once the shower ended, Sarah kept saying how happy she was and that her face hurt from smiling so much.:)

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I will share a bunch and let them speak for themselves.

We had a few party crashers...but they were so cute we let them stay;)




Thank-you so much to all of the family and friends that helped to make this such a special day for Sarah!