Sunday, October 16, 2016

Pregnancy And Infant Loss - You Are Not Alone

I have six children. Six precious, amazing gifts who grow older each day and still continue to set my heart ablaze with their wide-eyed wonder, their sincerity, their crazy antics, and their unconditional love.  But I also have two other little souls who I never got to meet.  Lost early in pregnancy, their sweet faces never got to see this side of the womb.  I never got to hold them, or kiss them.  I never got to sing them a lullaby or watch them grow up with their siblings.  One might say that I should focus on the six here with me, and not ever think of those other two who stole my heart and then unknowingly shattered it to pieces.

But they’d be wrong.

Now, I don’t live my days wandering from room to room, wringing my hands and crying for my lost babies.  We live our life pretty normally- homeschooling, playing, reading, weekly Mass, bedtime routines, prayer. We snuggle close and push each other away.  We love and we fight. We visit friends and family, celebrate holidays.  Sibling rivalry is the theme of most days, especially as the kids get older and grow into their own identities and personalities, desperately trying to snatch one more square inch of personal space to themselves. Our household atmosphere is very much like one might expect a large family’s household to seem.  Loud. Chaotic.  But definitely full of love.

So why the mention of the other two? Where are they in this dynamic?
 
My children know there are two children missing from our family photos.  They know they have a brother and a sister praying for them in heaven.  One was the twin of my second oldest.  One would have been born after my fourth.  Sometimes my children randomly mention these lost siblings of theirs, and in their innocence, still convey a level of grief most adults these days can’t begin to understand.  Some days, it jars me.  It strikes me in moments when my older son runs through the house, his shadow not followed by another kid with his same face.  Or when he has a distant look in his eyes just after he tells me he’s been feeling lonely.  Or when a niggling feeling in the back of my mind says there is someone else not gathered with us for school in the mornings or family prayer in the evenings.  It sneaks in as I stumble over the number of children in our family when meeting someone new.  It rushes through me some days, in moments of despair, and I remember the ache, the loss, the empty spaces in the photographs of our family where those children would have been.  Don’t get me wrong, most days, that ache is a dull drumming deep within me, buried enough so that I am capable of going about my life in a relatively normal manner.  But the other days (thankfully numbering less than they used to) still come in waves, the familiar grief depositing itself within my heart.

The truth is, no matter how many babies I have, there will always be two missing from our dynamic. There will always be an ache deep in my heart for the loss experienced not just by myself, but my children and husband as well.   And there will always be tender parts of my womb where those two little souls were once being knit;  unseen and untouched, they are not so much physical as they are mental, spiritual even.  They were the site of my babies’ first moments of life, the source of attachment to me, their mother.  They were where God Himself began to knit them tenderly, knowing them far deeper than I ever would or could.

A few years ago we named our babies.  Someone asked me why.  My response was that it brought us a little more closure; some comfort, but even then I knew there was something much deeper to it.  We named our babies because they lived, however briefly.  They lived tucked inside the secret of my womb, part of me.  They had a value and a purpose.  God knew them.  I knew them, even though I didn’t even realize it until they were gone.  We named them because they were ours, even for a short time, and because they deserved to be named.  A name gave them a huge piece of their identity, surpassing that of ‘those babies I lost,’ or ‘my miscarriages.’

It’s their memory which reminds me to have hope, even though we live in a cultural climate thick with the darkness of deception.  One deception is that children are an afterthought and can be thrown away; destroyed if we don’t want them.  Just like that.  We live in a culture of death.  We live in a time when the world has turned its focus inward, instead of extending its capable hands outward to welcome even the most innocent and vulnerable creatures into.  We live in a society who scoffs at families with more than 2 or 3 children, and thinks of lost babies as a taboo subject.  Because abortion and child abuse and neglect are so looming, the uncontrolled loss of a child seems to mean almost nothing.  So when a woman is grieving her loss, there are few who will validate that loss, and support the woman.

This month is dedicated to, among other things, pregnancy and infant loss awareness.   But even with a whole month dedicated to it, it is still not often openly discussed.  I think it is important in a society which views babies as a commodity and grief, taboo, to recognize that women are often left by the wayside to struggle through the aftermath of their loss in silence, because the subject of such a loss is not important enough for others to acknowledge.  But grieving mamas need help navigating those murky waters.  We need to be told that our baby is important, that our loss is real.  We need encouragement and support and understanding.  We need shoulders to cry on, listening ears, prayers, meals.  We need our space, too, of course.  And we need time.  We don’t need people telling us to move on.  We don’t need friends and family abandoning us because they feel it’s been too long to still be grieving. We need to be able to be vulnerable in our grief while feeling protected.  We need to talk, and no matter how long after we lost our child, we need to be allowed to keep talking, to remember them, to acknowledge their place in our family.  

Statistics show that one in four women lose their baby in pregnancy or infancy. One in four! If you know someone who has lost a child- and it’s likely you do, please, reach out to them, let them know you are there for them, and mean it. Even if you don't know what it's like to lose a child. Acknowledge their baby’s life, however short it was.  And allow them to shuffle through their grief at whatever pace they need to go, with the freedom they deserve, without expectations placed on their already-burdened shoulders.  Let them lay their hearts bare, no matter how uncomfortable it is for you; let their brokenness bless and change you.  Help them carry their cross. In doing so, you diminish the stigma that often overshadows grief, and you break the cycle of indifference.  You bring love in a time of pain, and hope in a time of despair.  Think about it. You very well could change not just their life and your own, but the entire world. 



PS. If you are reading this and you have suffered a loss and would like me to pray for you, please leave a comment or find my email here. I would love to pray for you.  You are not alone!

Friday, September 16, 2016

On Not Having Enough ________to Homeschool, Jesus, And His Little Flower

“I just don’t know how you do it.”

I get the statement all the time, usually followed by, “I could never homeschool, I don’t have enough-

PATIENCE
TIME
KNOWLEDGE
MONEY

Less often I hear, “I couldn’t be around my kids that long each day and not kill them,” but that’s another subject for another time.

The truth is…
I could never homeschool either.
I can’t do it.

At least...not without the Lord.

You see, any “wins” I have in this homeschooling journey are not because I have super human powers. Any perfectly-executed days with no fighting, everyone doing their work, everyone getting along and finishing everything is not because I made it happen. 

I’m just like you.  I have lots of short-comings, lots of failings.  I’m an imperfect, sinful, tired mama just like you are.

And if I’m being honest here, most days do not look anything like the picture-perfect life that is in everyone’s mind when they think about their goals for homeschooling.

More often, there is chaos.
More often, there is crying and whining (sometimes from the kids).
More often there are unsharpened pencils and lost notebooks and taking twenty-five minutes to complete a task that really should've only taken ten.
The coffee isn’t strong enough, the hours aren’t long enough, and my patience isn’t the bottomless well I would love for it to be. 

And….
As long as I’m being honest here…
Homeschooling for us isn’t just a choice.  It’s not the “superior alternative” to brick and mortar schools I painstakingly researched and took on as a “martyr” for the good of my children’s education and future.  Far from it.

Do the grave issues which define the modern public school education play a factor in the overall decision?  Of course they do.  But they aren’t *the* factor for this choice, and this is not so much a choice as a calling.

The choice here was not 'will I homeschool as opposed to send my kids to school', but 'will I answer the call which God has so obviously- sometimes blaringly- pressed upon my heart?'

Until two years ago, I was pretty happily sailing along in our homeschooling journey.  Yes, of course, there were bad days.  Many, many, MANY bad days.   The questions of my ability or desire to even continue cropped up in even the easiest of moments.  But we had *just* finally settled into a decent routine, were happy with our chosen curriculum, and I felt like I was starting to get the hang of things, finally after five years.  I felt grounded in this decision and at peace with our path.  I was feeling proud of myself.  Almost a little too proud.

And then life got caught up in a whirlwind of so many different things, as life is wont to do, and I fell pretty hard, flat on my face.  I was exhausted. I was beaten down. I was depressed.  I couldn’t imagine going through one more year with my children at home all day long, in my personal space, depending on me to educate them, some of the littles needing far too much more than I thought I was capable of providing.  I was self-focused but in all the wrong ways.  Then the self-doubt crept in.  Am I even equipped to do this?  Won’t I be failing them if I attempt to continue down this road?  The questions eventually turned into statements and I had pretty much all but convinced myself that I was completely inept and that it would be best to send my kids away to school.  I remember telling my sister that I no longer felt called to homeschool, and as any good sister and friend would do, she dug into my statement and made me think more with logic than with my emotions and heart.  With a few short and simple questions, she unpacked all of the junk I had swirling in my brain, challenging me to discern if it really was that I was no longer being called, or if it was that I was just trying to take the helm back from the Lord and steer this ship on my own.

Thank God for wise little sisters is really all I have to say about that.

At this point, we had already looked into sending the kids to a local Catholic school.  Our parish was willing to help us with tuition and we had heard from the principal that they just needed us to come for a meeting to discuss.  However, encouraged by some very prayerful and holy women who didn’t even know what I was angsting over or praying about, I started a novena to St. Thérèse.  I knew that this was a very serious, life-changing decision to make, and I couldn’t see through my emotions, exhaustion and self-doubt to really make a rational one.


I asked St. Thérèse to intercede for me.  To join me in my pleadings to the Lord, to offer prayers on my behalf to our loving Father to give me an answer.  If this was still my calling, I asked St. Thérèse to send me a rose.  But not just any rose, a lavender rose, one of the most beautiful and expensive and fairly rare roses there are.  Hardly anyone knows that they are a real thing.  I didn’t tell anyone what I had asked for, not even my husband.  I wanted to make sure that if I got my answer, that it was authentic and unadulterated.  Only then would I know for sure it was from the Lord through St. Thérèse, the little flower of Jesus.

Suffice it to say that I got my rose, and in a most unexpected way! And I knew.  I just knew that all of the thoughts, all of my self-doubt and even all the encouragement to stop homeschooling from well-meaning people who really just don’t understand- all of that was for naught.  It was a distraction.  It was a trick.

The truth is no one has enough patience, enough time, enough knowledge, enough money.  No one is equipped to do this thing called homeschooling.  Not without the proper focus and the proper truths laid as the foundation can any of us actually make it work – and I mean any of us, not even the most seemingly put together, perfectly organized, public-speaking, book-writing, workshop-running homeschooling enthusiast there is.

And what is that proper focus?

What are those truths you are supposed to lay as a foundation for your homeschooling life?
Here are just a few:

I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I lack. (Psalm 23:1)

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and He turned to me and heard my cry. (Psalm 40:1)

Entrust your works to the Lord, and your plans will succeed. (Proverbs 16:3)

And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:4)

We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His 
purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Commit your way to the Lord; trust that God will act. (Psalm 37:5)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence, rely not. (Proverbs 3:5)

And there are so, so many more truths you can find if you only seek Him out.  And not just for your homeschooling life, but for your daily life outside of homeschooling.  None of us on our own has anything that we need to make it through, but take heart!  We can find all we need in Him.

I’d love to say that our year after answering this call one more time went splendidly. It in fact did not. I was battling depression and anxiety, I was still recovering from some emotional trauma I had experienced the previous year, I was still feeling very much exhausted and depleted.  But we spent our days reading, having fun with a different approach to learning with yet another new curriculum, being gentle with each other, and praying.  The kids did very well, their portfolios were found to be impressive by their evaluator, and we not only survived another year, we thrived.  But there were still LOTS of days where everyone was fighting, kids whined about not wanting to join in lessons, pencils weren’t sharpened on time, notebooks were most definitely misplaced, and the antics of the two littlest who are not school-aged made for some very disruptive entertainment. I was self-focused in many moments. The coffee was still not strong enough; the hours still not long enough, and much of my plans and ideas for our year were thrown out the window on day three.  This year has again started much in the same.

But if I remember those truths I mentioned earlier, the very foundation of our homeschooling journey is that God is with us, God will bless us, God will uphold us and all we have to do is put our trust in Him.  On our own, we have nothing.  But with God, we have everything, and when we get out of the way to let Him steer our ship, we are guaranteed safe passage, even through these ever-murky waters of our homeschooling journey.



Jesus, I trust in YOU.

St. Thérèse, pray for us!         

Friday, May 20, 2016

Uncharted Territory

I've crossed into uncharted territory.  Never in my vocation of motherhood have I ever been here.  It's strange, new, exciting.  And...sort of terrifying.  I'm almost unsure what to do with myself.

Where am I?

I've found myself in the part of this longest labor of motherhood where I am not nursing.  I am not pregnant.  I do not have a newborn.

For a little over twelve years, those three things have been my life.  But now... Now my baby is almost two.  In the blink of an eye, her cooing and grunting have turned into actual words, her wriggling has turned into running, and her small hand lets go of mine a lot more than it used to.

And my arms are empty more often than they have ever been.

It's strange here in this place.  And I'm quite unsure how I feel.

There have been moments over the last twelve years when I've longed to have my body back to myself. To sleep more than a few broken hours during the night.  When I've felt so completely "touched out" and run down that 'heaven' to me was five minutes completely alone hidden in my closet eating a donut that I didn't have to share, while simultaneously resting my eyes.  But never in those moments did I actually understand or even dream of the reality of this one.

How long will I tarry here in this place?  Will there ever be another baby for me?  Or..is this just the beginning of a new stage in my life?

If you don't know this by now, my husband and I are open to life.  While the last year has seen me in some devastating places emotionally and physically which led us to opt to abstain at times, it's not a permanent decision and is always governed by open communication and prayer.  There very well could be another baby.  But there hasn't been so far, and this is where I am right now, floating on these unfamiliar waves, wondering if they're taking me back to the shoreline that I've been so used to, or further out into unknown depths.

My sister just had a baby a few days ago.  I got to see him when he was twelve hours old. I held him and focused on his sweet face serene in slumber.  He was swaddled up in his little cocoon, abiding there in his perfection, completely unaware of me. I never saw his eyes flutter, much less open. In the last year or so, holding other people's newborns has not lent that well-known "twinge" of longing I usually feel when my own babies have gotten just a little too big.  I have not felt that I necessarily wanted another baby, but was content to love on someone else's and hand them right back.  To be honest, at that moment, I still did not feel that twinge.  Don't get me wrong, I was instantly in love with this little boy, his smallness, his soft skin, the sweet smell of new baby, and the promises he embodied for my sister and her family.  Holding him gave me such joy.  But this joy was only partially mine, and most of it I had to give back.  So I laid it down along with him, in the little bassinet in the hospital room. And then I left.

I went home to my own brood, to my sweet little two year old who came running to me, screaming "Mommmmm" and covering me with kisses as I walked in the door.  I kissed her soft hair, smoothing a wispy curl between my fingers, and drank in her scent as deeply as I could.  This is my life now, and every moment will continue to change, moving me along gently- and sometimes not so gently- into the next.  Whether it carries me back to my familiar shoreline where I will be holding and nursing another sweet new babe of my own, or out in deep waters and resting content holding someone else's, it matters not.  Right now, my journey looks quite different than it has these last twelve years, but I trust in its purpose, and in mine.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Trust

A thousand times I've felt the weight of my laboring through this season of my life, felt its jagged edges scrape against me, the burden of carrying six souls through this world, hoping that they make it relatively unscathed. Hoping that they are not marred too much by its ugliness, and in particular, not by the failings of their haggard, desperate mother.

A thousand miles I've tread the path in stark silence, memories aching to be expelled, worries drowning out my inability to just do the next thing. Just staring into blank space.  With joyful feet around me, kid-noise echoing, and I, too unwell to even crack a smile through my pain.

I wrote once that I used to think God made a huge mistake in giving mothers just two arms to care for their babies.  I wrote this at a time in my life where that weight and the shifting grief within me over a life I had to let go of, was heavy on my mind.  When the few children I had then already felt like too much for me, and I wasn't sure if I was capable of living the life I was called to. 

Motherhood.

Of course I could live it.  Of course.  But could I live it well?

I look behind me and see the tiny toes in the sand which follow their mother's path out to sea, to the raging waters of this life where the world is vast and often dark, the depth of knowledge and understanding and love not quite known..  Those little toes stepping lightly into the weathered boat made in the crooks of arms encircling, trusting and seeking and ready.  And I, unable to shove off, to let go.  To take their small hands in mine and set sail.

I cry out:

What if I lose sight of the beacon?  What if even in the calm, angry gray clouds threaten on the horizon, and I become lost? What happens to these babies of mine?

The Lord's answer:
 

Ah! But I do not make mistakes, and it only takes two arms to clasp your hands in prayer.  Stop wringing them in worry, stop faltering upon the shoreline and focusing on the horizon, imagining things that have not yet even come.  My lighthouse looms, always in the peripheral, the light of My Love a clear direction even against the raging waters.  The silence is for rest, rejuvenation. It is not for staring into the darkness, seeking out the jagged edges felt sweeping past raw feet in the surf.  Never mind those.  Never mind the hastiness and urgency welling up inside. Let go and realize that the I, the One who made those babies and called them out to sea, also made you, their mama, strong enough to bring them safely back to Me.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Mother's Love

Dear Mama,

The other day when I visited you, I climbed into the recliner, smooshing myself in next to you, and laid my head against your chest. Instantly transported back to my childhood, I sighed deeply as the familiar comfort of your scent washed over me.  I listened to your breathing, to your heartbeat and there was something so tangible about the love emanating from your body as you let me squeeze your sides like I used to, and you rested your cheek on the crown of my head.

I listened to your voice as you talked to my sister, reverberating through your body, into my ear, like music.  You were all around me then, just like when I was small.  As you patted my back, I remembered the rhythm from another time, perhaps the long hours you carried me as a baby, walking the hall in the wee hours of the morning, shoosh-shooshing me back to sleep.  I felt that if I could just stay there, all would be right with the world.

Mama, I almost cried then, as I realized how much I miss you.  How much I wish that I could climb not just into the chair beside you, but into your lap, into your arms as often as I wanted, as much as I needed. I realized how big I am and how at 33 years old, I don't think I've ever felt more helpless than I do right now, and yet I know that you can't walk the halls cradling me, comforting me in the same way you used to do.  I realized, as I looked up into your face, my eyes tracing familiar lines as you talked, that you have grown older and yet you are still the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. 

I cradle my babies now, my own number six almost always in my arms, and I wonder if they'll still want to sit with me when they're grown, and if it will comfort them the way it does now as babes, the way it did me just the other day as I folded myself into your embrace and listened to your heartbeat and voice.  I hope that if they do, I can comfort them at a rough time in their own life, the way you did me the other day, when you let me climb into the recliner next to you and fill my empty places with the rhythm of your love.





Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Treasure of Nurslings

It's these moments that paralyze me.  But not in a bad way.  I want to stay in this moment forever.  Not move.  Not even dare breathe.  Drink it all in.

I'm nursing my baby and I want to freeze time.

She is my number six and she just turned a year old.  I can't decide how I feel about it.  Do I need to feel anything at all?

Her big brown eyes keep closing, opening.  Closing once more.  She grabs gently with her tiny fingers against my skin.  The other kids want my attention, I can tell, even if they aren't daring to open my bedroom door again.  But I'm hiding out in this room, the hum of the AC in the window, the entire measure of the moment with a single thought: Stay right here.

I tried earlier to get her to sleep.  Noise in the house and a barrage of constant interruptions kept her from making that last slip into peaceful slumber.  She had been on the cusp but wouldn't unlatch or she'd fitfully wake and reach out for me with her pursed lips and desperate cry. It continued on and on like this and there was no getting past it. I had no choice at one point but to let her stay up, let her play, hope she got tired again soon.

After lunch, she had had it.  She was in my arms and nursing in the living room. I moved back to the bedroom once more to see if she'd finally let sleep steal her away.  As I listened to her breathing change, her small chest rising and falling ever more slowly, I realized that yes, this would be that moment.  I stroked her forehead and watched her face change.

In this season of life, I don't think there is anything sweeter than the slow fluttering of the eyes of a nursling as she tries to steal one last look at her mama, the soft cooing and that sweet gentle smile as she drifts off to sleep at my breast.

And I can't help but wonder if she will be my last.  Will she be the last baby I nurse to sleep?  Will these be my last moments with her in this part of our relationship?  How soon will it change?  This one feels different somehow, our moments together more weighty; the urgency to slow down and treasure them, fierce.  It wasn't quite the same with my other babies.  With them, there was more of an urgency to break away, to be impatient. To get the job done, tuck them in, roll away and dash.  Much to do, other kids to take care of.

She has changed me.  Time has changed me.

As I review the last year, gone far more lickety-split than the first years of my other babes, I am convicted.  I'm convicted to slow down. To focus. To watch. To treasure.  This season of my life is fleeting.  Fast.  Some day too soon, she will have nurslings of her own.  And I will have but memories, dusty in my mind.




Thursday, June 25, 2015

Shoes By the Door

The kids wanted to go to Bass Pro Shops on Father's Day.  After the eternity of digging out all our shoes from the pile by the door or tracking a stray match elsewhere in the house, we ventured out into the merciless heat to make the 20 minute trip up there.  As usual, once arrived and before we got out of the minivan, I voiced our regular "what we expect" spiel, which usually goes something like this:

"Remember, kids, we expect you to be quiet and calm.  You need to respect other people's space and their right to not have craziness and noise around them.  We are representing big families and Jesus.  Show the public how awesome both are!"

Or something along those lines..

Honestly, this actually works about 98% of the time.  There's something to be said for offering an outline of your expectations JUST before you want them carried out.  If I had said anything when we got into the vehicle to leave, by the time we got to our destination, all would have been forgotten, lost in the excitement of getting out of the house and all the shiny things to be found.
In any case, this trip proved to be, for some of the kids, in that other 2%.

By the time we got to the checkout where the nine year old was buying himself a froggy doodad (not official fishing lingo), I was D-O-N-E.

The kids had asked if they could spend their dollars on something. "Something" led to picking out nine different things and not being able to decide which ONE they wanted.

And then...there it was...

"Are they all yours?"

GAH!

I sighed really loud and rolled my eyes away from stranger, pretending to focus on helping the kids pick their one item, but really just cursing low underbreath.

I was livid, really.  For so many reasons.  I took the two babies in the stroller and left.  I didn't abandon hubby, I did ask if I could take them to the car while he had the big 4 at the checkout and he said yes. They had finally picked out their loot and were somewhat quiet again.

Mind you, they weren't even loud or crazy as they chattered and chose their items.  I have serious issues when we go out. Everything they do, the decibels of their noise, it all seems to me to be so much MORE when out in public. As if I'm constantly aware of the scrutiny we get as a big family.  As if we actually are constantly under said scrutiny.  It agitates me.  I sometimes freak.

And there is the problem.

It's not really them, it's me.

I think about this fact, that I probably wouldn't be so agitated if I didn't care so much what other people think.

And then I started thinking about how it's not just the general public with their unfiltered thoughts and their self-imposed "right" to say whatever they want to anyone at all.  It's even within my own social circle.    I recently had a discussion with a friend about how she feels she is judged by big families for NOT having one.  We are both Catholic and it's interesting to me that in the same arena she feels judged for not having a big family, I feel judged for having one.  I can't even tell you how many Catholics asked me after having my fifth if I was "done."  Like the fact that they graciously brought me a meal while I was recovering lent them license to ungraciously ask me such a thing.  But not only did they ask, they then went on to talk about why they could never have more than the two or three they have.  Like having to dig out 8 pairs of shoes instead of 4 to go out somehow equals mission impossible.    That projects onto me.....how?


In any case, I was sitting here thinking about it for a minute and in case there is some lost soul who wandered here to read, I just wanted to encourage you (and this is as much to myself as to you):

DO NOT BE AFRAID.
DO NOT WORRY WHAT OTHERS THINK.

You may wonder, which is right, a small family or large one?
My answer is this: When we are steadfast in prayer and desiring to do what God wants with our family life, NOTHING else matters.  Not that nosy stranger at the checkout, not the generous meal-making mama who comes over after you've had baby #2...or baby #8.  Not Catholics with bigger families or ones with smaller ones.  When you are following the designs of God's will for your life and as a Catholic, the Spirit-inspired teachings of the Church, you are doing exactly what you need to be doing.  Everything else is just white noise.  Our lives are meant to be lived for eternity, not here on earth. Meaning while we spend our days growing, raising and loving our babies- however many we have- if it's all for the Lord, if it's all for God's glory, that's all that matters.
When we stand before God to answer for our lives, being able to say we followed Him instead of the world will be HUGE.  What following the Lord looks like in your life may be different than what it looks like in mine.  Your pile of shoes by the door might be larger or smaller.  Neatly ordered and matched, or strays lost somewhere within the belly of your home.  And that's ok. How boring would the world be if we were all called to have the same exact family size and dynamic?  God is a god of order, but He isn't a bore.  We aren't measuring our worth by the number of shoes by the door.
All of our families vary in so many ways.  As long as we are chasing His plan for our lives, the number of children matters not.

There is no point in having one or two kids and then stopping just to appease the world.  What does this teach your children about following God's will instead of the ways of the world?  There is also no point in having a dozen or more just because you can/feel you should, without also grounding their souls in the Lord.  Quality trumps quantity every single time.

Live life for the Lord, not the world, and you are always right.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Big Family. Is It Worth It?

I divide my children into two categories: my first litter and my second.  My first litter is the older four and there is no more than a year and a half between each of them. Then, there are three years between the youngest of that litter and the oldest in my next, separated by a miscarriage and many months of serious mental health issues.

So I look at these two in their vastly different places and stations in my life.  The older four, while still young, are pretty independent.  The youngest of them will be 6 in a few short months.  The second litter is comprised of a 2 1/2 year old who is ON from sunup to sundown, and a very needy 10 month old who still is almost exclusively breastfed and doesn't know how to sleep through the night yet.  I wonder if  am convinced she and her older brother are in cahoots.

So is it hard? 

Definitely.

Is it worth it?

Eh...

Am I a terrible mother for not even knowing where to begin in answering that question? It's weighty and depending on what kind of mood I'm in, if I've had my coffee or- God forbid- a shower, the answer could vary moment to moment, day to day.

I look at those cherry-sweet faces and I ask myself all the time, what if I hadn't continued to be open to life after my miscarriage?  What if I let my fears overrun me, crowding out my deepest desire to please the Lord and serve Him in whatever way He asked? I can only think of another question: does it even matter?

They are here.  And I love them.

It's a long labor of love, this parenting gig.  Whether you have 2 or 4 or 6.  When you let God design your family, when you shirk all worldly thoughts and maybe even some acknowledgement of your own feelings and capabilities as you measure them, when you just BE for a moment without all the control and pretense, you can't ask yourself questions like this.  You just can't.


Because it really doesn't matter.

You have to just do the next thing. Change the next diaper.  Nurse that baby.  Push those chubby toes out of your face at night.  And just be.  Keep going.  Labor away.

Time goes by, regardless.  Sometimes it passes at a yawning, groaning, aching pace, and sometimes it flits by in a flash, chasing after a future always out of grasp.  Sometimes it is comprised of lost babies, empty arms, foggy mind, and sometimes it's full of little hands to hold, nurslings, round bellies, full breasts.

Time teaches you, heals you, grows you, regardless of its contents.  It isn't really a measure of contents anyway, so much as allowance.

Allowance for things you may not plan.  Allowance for life to crack you wide open, and for the mighty hand of God to piece you back together in the manner He sees fit.

And really, if I think about it, if I sit down in the quiet (which, incidentally, is a rare find around here), I can tell you that yes, definitely.  It is indeed worth it.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Stripped Bare

Life can be difficult.

[Duh.]

When you're facing something that is difficult, human nature often makes you feel a little afraid.

You look down the long, dark corridor and reach into the space beside you, hoping there is a hand with which to cling.   When it's the corridor of labor, as in to bring a child forth from your body, hopefully that hand is your husband, your midwife, your doula, someone who loves your heart and is trustworthy in the feat of guiding you through.  It makes it easier.  Somehow, you are not so afraid.  When someone is with you, each step forward is much less scary.

In life, it is much the same.  But...sometimes there isn't a hand there.  Sometimes you just have to have faith that though you see no hand to hold, nothing tangible to cling to, you can walk through the corridor and come out on the other side unscathed.  Because even though there is no human hand to hold, Christ is there holding not just your hand, but your whole life.  Every breath. Your feet, your movements, your meager steps, each counted and upheld by the same hands and feet which were pierced through to save.  To save YOU.

Jude, a dear friend of mine, recently told me that my current life-state sounded so much like Lent, she wondered what Lent actually looked like for me.  That was even before Lent began!

I try not to complain but I feel like I have a lot lately.  I am weak.

But in my weakness, Christ's strength is made perfect.

Ya know, every mama gets to that point where enough is enough is enough.  It's one thing after another and in this long labor of raising children and keeping a home, there are bound to be a few moments years of rough patches, where things just keep rolling along, gathering momentum, pulling in anything and everything in its path.... One big gigantic snowball looming and ready to roll over and crush you.

I'm at that point of throwing my hands up and shaking my fist at the sky.  But....BUT last night, I remembered Jude often encouraging me to just surrender.  SURRENDER.  So I did. Palms up, in my kitchen, I surrendered.

The moment was heavy and broken.  Shards of my life weighed me down.  I was attempting to pull out a plastic cup which got lodged in the garbage disposal.  This, after retreating from a battle I didn't even begin with the hot water heater which was leaking all over the laundry room floor, soaking blankets and other random clothes awaiting wash.  That, after spending the last three days cleaning up puke and washing my hands a thousand times because my two boys have been sick with "THE PLAGUE," one currently at the hospital.  And ALL THAT after the last two years of other devastating and difficult things.  Don't get me wrong, I know everyone is battling so much. I know this. I'm not an exception. I'm not saying my issues are bigger or more terrible than those of anyone else.

But even Christ needed help carrying His cross.

So there I am, trying to dislodge this cup which was the proverbial straw for me, and I felt like I might explode. I am in the middle of this dark corridor of life, crying out into a vacuous space, and I hear a voice telling me to just surrender.   I am being stripped bare.  A lodged cup or a busted hot water heater, or even sick kids puking for 3 days is NOT the end of the world.  This I know.  But those little things on top of the larger things that remain a constant, they were just too much at that moment.

Strip me away, Lord.  Strip me away.

So last night, my dear friend Jude lends me some really beautiful words.  Words that soothe; balm to my soul. 

"Try to imagine that you are tending to Our Lord as he makes his way through the narrow streets toward Golgotha. Be Veronica...with every puke sheet you wash, every bottom you wipe, every drink of water you offer...tend to Jesus in His Passion.  Imagine Our Blessed Mother and how her heart was aching to see his open flesh and dripping blood. Imagine how she, too, must have felt that God, Her Father in Heaven was stripping her, like you, to bare bones that first Lent. Imagine how she must have felt that she could not bear one more moment. But, she did. And, so will you. You are a STRONG WOMAN, Rebecca."
Being stripped bare is no joke, people.  And if you are unwilling, it can be all the more painful and messy.  But as I look around my house, disheveled, filled with germs, laundry piling up, broken things to be fixed, and as I look into the deepest darkest corners of my heart, my life, my personality, broken me to be fixed, I see a mess, yes... but it's a beautiful mess.   All this stripping down to bare bones is teaching me something.  Everything.  I have to conform my sufferings to Christ's sufferings and continue down this dark corridor of labor, of life. 

My friend had a few other words for me which gave me pause. Made me think.  Ushered in a new perspective.

You ARE truly the Cyrenian; helping Jesus to carry His cross. It is good that you surrendered. He WILL provide the grace for you to persevere and because you are willing to accept that grace, you will make it through.”
I am helping Christ carry His cross?

Apparently I am.  And I have no doubt that He is indeed giving me grace.  I have no doubt on that dark day when Jesus was crucified, Simon the Cyrenian was given multitudes of grace.  That his selfless act of helping a broken Christ to literally carry the weight of the world up a mountain was more for his benefit than Jesus'.  Simon himself was being stripped bare, even though he could not know this.  What an amazing gift to a poor sinner to suddenly without notice be given the opportunity to carry Christ's cross!

Life can be difficult, yes.  The sufferings we experience, be they marathon sickness or broken appliances, losing a loved one to cancer or rejection of family, are all meant to gift us with grace.  To draw us to Christ.  To bring us home.  In our weakness of being stripped bare, we are made new and Christ's strength is seen.  Do not run away from suffering.  Stop living your life trying to avoid every single uncomfortable thing.  Pick up that cross and allow yourself the gift of suffering, the weakness and humility, the hardship. There is a point to it.  When the gray skies clear and the heaviness has rolled away, there is light.  A purpose.  A hope.

So step forward into the darkness!  Trudge on!  Labor away! You. can. do. it.  He will give you grace and you WILL make it through.

I promise. 


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Supporting Other Mothers, Even Post-Abortive Ones

Every year the media makes a grave mistake in ignoring or sugar-coating the mass of people who descend upon the Nation's capitol in peaceful protest of the 40+ year old decision which legalized abortion on demand. Every year.  They attempt to distract and redirect; utilizing the very tool of the Prince of Darkness which brought that decision about in the first place: LIES.  They do this and yet, it's like in Horton Hears a Who...the small rise up; we call out, "We are here! We are here! We are here!!"

I myself have never been to the March for Life.  Every year I think about how amazing it would be to go and have that experience; stand in solidarity with my fellow pro-lifers and pray the rosary as I walk, to meet new people and speak with them on this deep, difficult topic.  I think how amazing it would be to crest that hill and look back and take in the sight of the sea of people, moving together as one body; braving the cold and the anti-life protesters, joining together for the same righteous cause: sanctity of human life.  One of these days, I tell myself.   One year, I will have no needy babies whom I can't leave at home and I will be able to attend and immerse myself, and possibly my older children, in the experience.  Some say it's very emotional and spiritual. I don't doubt it. I don't doubt that when hundreds of thousands of people gather for a just cause, for the Lord, for mercy and opposition toward evil, that it isn't an amazing and rich experience. 

When I volunteered at a pregnancy center in Harrisburg a few years ago, my life was changed.  I thought I was there to help women, young girls, in situations where having a baby was less than ideal. I thought I was there to give out information, listen, encourage, teach.  But amidst all of that, something else took place.  I was encouraged.  I learned.  My eyes were opened.  I saw the hearts of some of these women who were just trying to make it alone.  I saw the dynamics between women and their partners, husbands who were just as scared as the women were to welcome another baby.  I saw the neediness of the "least of God's people," and my heart grew in compassion and understanding for them.  I spoke with women who had had abortions; women who deeply regretted them, but found themselves facing another pregnancy and wanting to do what was right, despite how hard it was for them. I saw their fear and their resolve.  I saw their strength to turn away from past behavior. It changed me indeed.

They say that if we want to know what life is really about; we just need to immerse ourselves in situations where we'll see it up close.  While I was with the center, I wrote this article on my other blog. It was my hope that people would read it and have some small understanding of what many post-abortive mothers feel.  That they could come to the same understanding I did when I worked at the center: that most women who seek abortions aren't doing it to be evil. They are broken, just like the rest of us, only maybe in a different way than most of us.  They are in need of love and support and forgiveness.  I hoped that other pro-lifers would understand that we shouldn't approach these women in anger, but surround them in peace and love and understanding instead.  Especially the women who do not feel remorse.  It's one thing to think these things in your head, to know them in your heart; it's an entirely different thing to put that into action, to actually face those women and let love do all the work.

Down here in the trenches of motherhood, we all need encouragement and support, even and especially post-abortive mothers.  Aborting a baby does not take away the title of Motherhood.  We become mothers the second our babies are conceived.  Nothing changes that. 

Today I pray not only that there will come an end to abortion, but that we as pro-lifers will seek out more ways in which we can move as one to support post-abortive mothers, to reach out to them and extend the Love of Christ, the forgiveness and compassion He so selflessly extended to us as He hung on that cross on Calvary.