• The one about Lent

    “What are you giving up for Lent, Mom? I am giving up milk.”

    Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

    My oldest child is giving up pouring milk on her cereal. I wonder what she plans to eat for breakfast now, since we are pretty much a cereal-7-days-a-week family. There, I said it. I’d like everyone to believe I feed my kids a protein-packed, hearty breakfast before I send them off to face the day, but that is not the case. At least their cereal is fortified with vitamins and minerals — that has to count for something, right?

    Charlotte, the middle sister, says she is giving up chocolate. Shiloh, who is 4, says she isn’t giving up anything…and if you know her, you wouldn’t expect anything else.

    The girls aren’t the only ones talking about what they are going to sacrifice for the next 40 days. Luke and I have talked about it. Groups of friends have been talking about it. Before long, I will see posts on Instagram and Facebook memorializing many vices, from coffee to sweets to French fries to social media in general. #SeeYouin40Days

    Last night, as I was snuggling with Charlotte before bed, we were talking about Lent, church, and all the things. I told her how I planned to attend the Ash Wednesday mass with her school the next day, and she was excited.

    “Mom, you will get to hear my favorite part of church! Father Dudzinski always says, ‘Now where are my Kindergartners? Ok, what color is my vestment today?’ And I always know the answer!” All this from the same child who feigns mysterious illness each and every Sunday in an attempt to skip church.

    As we were making our way out the door this morning for school and the morning Ash Wednesday mass, Leo got ahold of some brown eyeliner and drew all over a piece of furniture in our bedroom in addition to his hands. Frazzled and rushed and running late (like always), I was snappy with the girls and unhappy to be wrestling an almost 2 year old into his car seat.

    Pulling out of the garage, I managed to swipe the front corner of the van on the side of the garage door. As Noelle is trying to tell me a synopsis of chapter 29 in the 5th Harry Potter book, I lose my grip and start to cry. Well, really… I threw a fit.

    “WHY DOES EVERYTHING HAVE TO BE SO HARD?”

    I cried out. I picked up the phone and called Luke who was already at work due to an early meeting. He was going to be meeting us at mass 45 minutes later, and I called to tell him that I was not going to be joining because I just couldn’t do it.

    I couldn’t wrangle Leo. I couldn’t pretend that I was happy. I couldn’t pretend that I felt prayerful on this first day of Lent. I couldn’t pretend that I wasn’t distracted by the 4 piles of clean laundry that need folded and the dishes from yesterday that need cleaned.

    I couldn’t, and I wasn’t gonna.

    Luke’s response was, “That’s fine. I want you to do what you think you should do.”

    He’s learning. He didn’t try to talk me out of my feelings. He didn’t provide me with guilt or a lecture. He knew I was suffering from my own guilt and sadness, and I didn’t need him to add to it.

    The rest of the drive was pretty quiet. After I dropped my girls off at school, I followed the parking lot around to the church, passing it by.

    But I pulled in and parked. Maybe I would just sit in the parking lot and pray while Leo was secured in his car seat.

    I recalled an article a friend sent me the day before — talking about how God doesn’t really need our sacrifices of Starbucks or chocolate or wine or Facebook. Sure, He is happy with your effort to prayerfully go without “that thing” you just love so much, but what He really wants and really needs “for Lent” is you.

    He wants me, in that moment when I was ready to turn my van around, head home, and drown my sorrows in Diet Coke and trash TV.

    He wants me, with tear stains in my makeup and mascara smudges under my eyes.

    He wants me, after I yelled at my kids for the silliest offenses and cursed at the garage door.

    He wants me, even when I can’t look myself in the mirror after how I have lost my temper with my kids or have been a resentful wife or an unsympathetic friend.

    So I went in. I sat near the back so I could plan an escape if needed.

    Moments later, Luke walked in and assumed the role of Leo Wrangler.

    The gospel reading reminded me that the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are personal and private.

    Matthew 6:1 “[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them…”

    Matthew 6:5 “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them.”

    Matthew 6:16 “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting.”

    Lent can sometimes, secularly, look like a way to lose 10 pounds before Easter or get a Spring Break body by restricting sugar or fried foods, rather than a way to help us grow closer to Jesus. Afterall, fasting without prayer is simply a diet.

    I, myself, have been guilty of proclaiming my Lenten sacrifice for everyone to know, sharing how hard it has been or how I can’t wait until Easter so that I can go right back to my vice of choice.

    But I know now that this is not what God wants from me.

    He just wants me. And whatever I need to sacrifice, pray for, or give that will allow me to show up for Him these next 40 days — that’s what I am “doing” for Lent.

    After the gospel reading, Father Dudzinski walked down the steps and began to talk to the school children in front.

    “Now, where are my Kindergartners? What color of vestment am I wearing today?”

    As the group of sweet babies said in chorus, “Purple!”…I knew my Charlotte was one of them.

    I smiled. Her favorite part of church.

  • The one about pain

    I woke up last Monday, and Luke said to me, “Write something this week.”

    It has been several weeks since I last transformed a thought into written word. The last time I wrote a post, it was to explain that we had been trying to have another child for nearly a year without success.

    We have now crossed that one year mark, and there has been no change. While the both of us are at a loss of what to do or say, life must somehow go on.

    Unfortunately, for most of January and February, I have been experiencing neck and left arm pain that sometimes turns into complete numbness down to my fingertips. Along with that has been crippling headaches. I have always been somewhat of a headache sufferer, sensitive to weather changes, smells, etc, but my first experience with a headache that kept me from getting out of bed came this summer, on my 34th birthday.

    I woke up happy and thankful to be another year older, and then I was quickly hit with the headache from Hell. I spent nearly the entire day in bed while my kids just took turns coming in and out of my room and seeing if I was OK. They made their own meals, watched TV, and even took care of Leo, who was just over a year old at that point. My oldest, who is 8 years old, came to me and said, “Mom, Leo has been crying so I got him out of his crib, changed his diaper, and gave him a bottle since you didn’t wake up.” What a wake up call — literally.

    The arm pain and numbness came shortly after, and by the end of that week, I decided I needed to see my doctor. I was convinced I was dying.

    We started a treatment plan that included physical therapy for my arm and neck because my muscles seemed extremely tight. But when I had to reschedule my physical therapy four different times (without ever actually going) due to lack of childcare or scheduling conflicts, I decided that I would just deal with it and moved on with life. Why can’t these facilities have built-in childcare options? If IKEA can do it, can’t medical offices do it, too?

    Somehow, my symptoms subsided and I made it through the next several months. But after the holidays, my arm pain flared back up, my neck turned stiff, my fingers went tingly, and I have had a severe headache or migraine everyday for almost two weeks. I have been in my bed nearly every waking hour, and I have just been taking advantage of Leo napping twice daily and my other kids being in school most of the time.

    I have cried myself to sleep many nights. The pain has been unbearable. No medicine has helped. During the day, I do my best to pull myself together. I splash water on my face, load up on the best OTC pain relievers I can, and get through it 15 minutes at a time.

    I went back to my doctor a couple of weeks ago because I knew I couldn’t continue to live like this, and I was referred to a neck and spine specialist. I saw him this week, and we have a plan of action steps to see what will help me (including actually going to physical therapy this time), some different medicine, and working our way toward an MRI if it is necessary.

    Every night, I ask Luke to tell me how he knows I don’t have a brain tumor. He goes over everything he knows on the subject and does a few tests on me to help reassure me that he is 99.9% sure I don’t have a brain tumor and brighter days are ahead.

    You may be wondering why I am writing about this. You may be thinking I am looking for sympathy or making excuses for not exercising or being in a bad mood all of the time. I am not. Sympathy actually makes me feel really weird. I like to be thought of strong. Unbreakable. Revealing my weaknesses is not easy for me.

    The reason why I am writing this is that I have learned a lot through my pain— both the acute pain I have been experiencing for the past several weeks, and also the aching, nagging, emotional pain of this year of trying for a pregnancy to no avail.

    We spend a lot of energy avoiding pain, don’t we? If we have an ache, we want medicine to make it go away. We will do everything in our power to keep our children from experiencing pain, both physical and emotional.

    We like to be comfortable. We buy comfortable shoes and beds. We like cozy chairs and soft blankets. We learn this at a young age, as my children are asleep down the hallway with the most delightful pillows and blankets.

    Avoid pain. Be comfortable.

    But pain gives us an incredible opportunity to seek and receive help — from friends, from family, from God. To express that you are in pain and in need allows people to show up for you. It allows them to pray for you. It allows them to understand you. I set aside my discomfort in asking for prayer from the women in my bible study, and I now receive random, yet well-timed, messages of love and support. Sometimes that’s all we need to get over the next hurdle.

    To be in pain and in need of comfort gives you a chance to grow closer to God. I have cried out in sadness, anger, frustration, and pure exasperation over the past 12 months, wanting to know why we haven’t had another baby yet. And each and every time, I have been met with the nearness of God.

    On Valentine’s Day last week, I was driving my girls to school. I don’t usually do this as my husband’s office is right next to their school so he typically does drop-off, but he had a meeting so it was my job that day. As we were driving, we noticed the most incredible sunrise.

    I love sunrises and sunsets. My girls know this about me. I have pulled over on the side of the road and gotten out of my car on many occasions so that I could get a photo, or I have chased a sunset until it fell below the horizon.

    Well, that day, the sky lit up in purple and pink. My daughters thought it was amazing since those are “Valentine’s Day colors.” I kept stopping along our drive to get a photo, but then I would turn onto a new road and realize that the view just kept getting better and better. I literally snapped 5-6 photos along the way, until the final photo took my breath away.

    God is never finished — not with you, not with me. Pain can be healed. Broken hearts can be put back together.

    With every turn, expect something good to happen.

  • The one about having a hard time getting pregnant

    When I was pregnant with Leo, my most repetitive prayer was for a feeling of completion, finality, peace…that when Leo was born, I would know that he was the missing link, and I wouldn’t want to have any other children.

    But completion, finality, and peace were the furthest from what I actually felt. As soon as I saw his face, I wanted to have another baby. As the weeks, months, and now almost 2 years since his birth have gone by, the desire to add to our amazing crop of kids has grown exponentially.

    Adding another baby to our already busy group of four children felt a little crazy. We already get side-eyes and raised eyebrows when we fly on a plane, go out to eat as a family, or simply try to go grocery shopping (thanks to ClickList, we don’t have to do that as a group much anymore).

    Thankfully, one of the most freeing parts of being an adult is not caring what other people think.

    In February, we began planning and praying for another pregnancy. We actually really wanted to have a small age gap between Leo and his younger sibling (18 months was preferred). I also was hoping to have the baby long before my 35th birthday, so as to avoid the “geriatric pregnancy” label on my chart (35 is far from geriatric, but I don’t make the rules!).

    I can’t remember exactly, but I believe the longest we ever had to “try” (that phrase makes me cringe) for a baby was 5-6 months.

    So now, as we rapidly approach the 1 year mark without a pregnancy, and no chance of a baby being born before I turn 35 this summer, I feel confused. I feel sad. I feel frustrated.

    I feel foolish.

    I am so aware of other couples who have yet to have chance to bring one baby into the world, and I have four beautiful children already. Am I being greedy? Do I have any right to complain? Shouldn’t I just be thankful for what I have and accept that another pregnancy likely isn’t part of our plan?

    I feel alone.

    For the above mentioned reason, I don’t want to offend or upset anyone who has been struggling for a longer amount of time. I also think about how silly it would be to say to a doctor, “Yes, we have four children already, but we really want a fifth and it’s just not happening — so can you help us?” I am aware of how ridiculous that sounds.

    So I have bottled it up, only confiding in a few friends. Which has lead to feelings of isolation, depression, and incredible anxiety. It has been a painful way to spend nearly all of 2018.

    I feel like a failure.

    I think it goes without saying that it’s easy to place blame on yourself when something like this happens. What is wrong with me? What am I doing wrong? If I lost 30 pounds, would that make a difference? If I ran marathons or stopped drinking Diet Coke or prayed more, would that help?

    And even though an overall healthier lifestyle obviously wouldn’t hurt, the overwhelming sadness I feel always pulls me in and holds me down, perpetuating bad habits and making things worse.

    What I do know is that the enemy thrives in isolation. If you can be alone with your thoughts and fears long enough, you can convince yourself that you are a loser. A failure. Unworthy of love and happiness. That you are being punished, that God doesn’t hear you or care about what you want. That other people are more deserving because they are better fill-in-the-blanks.

    So by expressing these thoughts and feelings, even by way of this blog, somehow, I am less alone. I am less inside my own head. I am less isolated, which means maybe I am less susceptible to taking the blame for something that is likely beyond my control.

    There are many of us out there — women who want just one baby, or more babies, and for whatever reason, it’s harder to get there for some than for others. We put on brave faces and go about our daily lives. We laugh and smile so people don’t think we are upset or down all the time, but inside, we struggle. We struggle to live in the present when we desperately want to see the future. We struggle to trust in God’s plan when we just want to peek at the blueprint. We struggle to practice what we preach – what we know to be good and true – to stay positive, to have patience, to practice gratitude.

    To love the lives we have right now while we wait – we struggle.

    May 2019 bring what it brings, but mostly, may it bring acceptance.

  • the one about staying in the struggle

    “Hey, everyone! I am going to write in my blog everyday for 30 days!”

    …10 days of silence.

    A couple of things.

    This is a lesson on grace. And the power of evil. And the joy of struggling.

    The older I get, and the deeper I dive into my faith, the more I am able to recognize patterns in the way the devil will try to get to me.

    Immediately after I made a public vow to write everyday for 30 days, I immediately felt the need to quit. Negative thoughts flooded my mind.

    “No one cares about what you write.”

    “What you say isn’t important.”

    I posted about how weekly date nights have really strengthened our marriage, and then Luke and I have argued and bickered more since that post than we have in months.

    At first glance, I called it a funk. At second look, I called it a phase. Upon deeper introspection, I know exactly what it is. It is the force of evil, planting thoughts of doubt and insecurity into my mind, allowing me to believe that I am not worthy of love or success or praise. The same force has rejoiced over the past week as I allowed myself to make excuses and find endless reasons why I am not good enough.

    I know this can sound like a bunch of fluff — but I really believe it. And now that I am aware and can identify the source of all of my insecurity, I know that it isn’t really an issue that I need to take weeks or months to fix. I know that with some prayer and, really, some power, I can muscle through these feelings.

    I can overcome the power of evil and all my negative thoughts by resting in the truth, which I have written about before. Knowing exactly who I am, and whose I am, gives me the strength to say, “Not today, Satan.”

    But it took me 10 whole days to snap out of it. And that’s where grace comes into play. I should have done that from the start — the second those negative thoughts washed over me and subsequently washed me out. I should have, but I didn’t. I wallowed in it. I felt the feelings. And then I figured it out. I am not going to punish myself for not snapping out of it sooner. I am going to give myself the gift of grace and know that there actually is joy to be found in the struggle.

    No one likes to struggle. In general, it isn’t an enjoyable process. Turmoil. Fear. Anxiety. We don’t typically wake up and say, “Yes! I am going to struggle today and it is going to be AWESOME!”

    But…

    I have come to learn that the struggle is where God finds us, pulls us closer, gives us our “chin up” pep talk, and then helps us back on our way (which might be a completely different direction than what we originally planned).

    The struggle is where, in the midst of pain, uncertainty, and doubt, you can find nearness, comfort, and unconditional love.

    We’d never recognize the light if we never endured darkness.

    Stay in the struggle.

     

  • The one about Christmas gifts for kids

    Yesterday, I wrote about my desire for a simpler Christmas this year. Today, I am writing about what will be the biggest challenge in this simplicity mission – gifts for my kids.

    I am a gift-giver. It is who I am as a person. I have always loved picking gifts out for others, and when I became a mom, buying Christmas gifts for my children was so, so fulfilling. I loved creating magical Christmases for them year after year, mainly because my parents did that for me.

    But last year, on Christmas night, my eyes were opened as I walked into my girls’ bedroom where they had been playing with all their new toys, and I found every single package ripped open and the contents strewn about the room. It looked like a bomb went off in the middle of a tornado. They weren’t actually playing with any of the toys. They were just opening one thing and going to the next. Dolls had already lost their shoes, puzzles had already lost a few pieces, and Mama had lost her damn mind. I was so upset that all of these brand new toys that made them so happy just hours before were nothing more than plastic shrapnel all over the ground.

    I knew that no matter how much I thought I gave my children all they could ever want that I actually did the opposite – I overwhelmed them. I spoiled them.

    When I saw the mess and the way they treated their brand new possessions, I got upset. I yelled at them. On Christmas. I felt awful, and I knew that this wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.

    Fast forward to a couple months later when we did a playroom purge, and I was shocked that many of the items that they absolutely “had to have” in December meant nothing to them by February. Lots of like-new toys landed in the donate pile, which is fine because I am sure they are getting plenty of love from other children. However, a little part of me died when I realized that this was all a result of the kids having too much.

    My children are good, grateful, sweet kids. They deserve to feel loved and adored on Christmas, their birthdays, and every day in between. For this reason, it is incredibly hard for me to show restraint in gift-buying. However, I have to honor the fact that watching my children become overwhelmed and oversensitized is not helping them to feel loved.

    I have been thinking about how to transition our children to a simpler way of receiving gifts on Christmas. I honestly think that they will barely notice if we cut back on a few gifts, but I know it will be an adjustment for me.

    There are lots of great ideas out there, and one of the more popular concepts seems to be the 4 gift rule, which is buying something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. I think this is a great way to make gift-giving well-rounded and manageable. This might be what we try this year.

    One thing we have tried to do is minimize The Santa Influence. In our earlier Christmases, Santa brought everything. Now that the kids are older, we have wanted to make sure they know that mama and papa gives them some of their gifts, and they can also pick gifts out for their siblings to open on Christmas morning. We are hoping that minimizing Santa will make it less disappointing for them when they realize that…well…you know.

    On that note, we may have mama and papa give the “4 gifts” (want, need, wear, read), and then Santa brings one gift for each child – hopefully something at the very top of their lists. In addition to our sibling gift exchange, where they each are assigned one other sibling to “buy for,” this will give each child 6 gifts. We also like to do one family gift – something we can all enjoy together, whether it’s a membership to a museum, a family movie day, or just a game we can all enjoy together.

    With four kids, that’s still 25 gifts under the tree, which really doesn’t seem that simplified, but I promise this will be an improvement in both the categories of intentionality and quality over quantity.

    I think this seems very doable and like a great first step in streamlining our Christmas. How do you handle gifts for your children? Do you hope to simplify the process this year?