Saturday, April 30, 2011

Single parenting weekend

I'm coming to the end of my weekend sans husband. Thanks to technology, we haven't been out of touch - we've talked on the phone, texted, I've sent him pictures of the kids and he's commented on my Facebook statuses. But I really, really miss him. We're not fans of being apart.

I can appreciate small things about going solo, however. The house stays so much neater when he's not around. Don't get me wrong - I'd rather have him and the mess. But whenever he has to be gone for a few days, I am surprised at how much easier it is to keep things picked up and clean. I suppose that's helped along by the fact that I tend to skip cooking real dinners and go right to frozen corn dogs or, the treat of last evening, McDonald's (because let's face it, my kids barely eat anything at dinnertime anyway, so cooking a big meal doesn't make much sense); so that does cut down on the dishes.

I'm great about getting the kids to bed on time when he's not here. When he's home, I often push bedtime (since I'm the timekeeper of the family, who has to announce - upstairs to bed! - or nothing will happen), because I see him enjoying time with our kids after work and I don't want it to end. But we do have to be careful because our kids need their sleep. Being on my own all day, I'm more than ready for them to go to bed when bedtime rolls around!

Not having him here makes me appreciate when a great dad he really is. He's helpful and involved. He's loving and affectionate. He scoops up our kids with hugs and kisses until they squeal for him to stop. A father's love is so vital to a child and he gives it in abundance. I can't wait for their faces and shrieks of happiness when we pick him up at the airport tomorrow.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Diet as a metaphor

I'm working on losing weight, which isn't much fun, but neccessary nonetheless. It can be tough to stick with my diet (and by "diet" I mean, how I'm eating to lose weight, not some gimick or fad diet) even in the best of times, but my husband left town for a conference this morning and he won't be back until Sunday.

Being on my own with the kids for four days isn't that big of a deal, although I do miss my husband terribly. But not having that relief come walking through the door around dinner time makes my evening a little more tense than I'd like. Tonight I found myself raising my voice and getting frustrated over things because I was just done. My daughter was throwing her food on the floor, the boys were complaining about dinner and all I could think about was how much longer it was until bedtime.

That, and the mountain of Easter candy in my pantry.

I really, really wanted to dive into all that chocolate and ease some of my stress with creamy goodness. It was so tempting. We have some good stuff in there. But I knew that I didn't have any calories left after dinner (I keep track of my calories and set a target for each day) and I already splurged a little last night before my husband left town. So another splurge wasn't a good idea if I want to make any progress in the weight loss department. Heck, I wasn't even hungry.

I am happy to say, I resisted the urge to throw caution to the wind and indulge in a bunch of chocolate. I did have a couple M&Ms as I handed out an after dinner treat to the kids, but a couple M&Ms was not what I had in mind at that moment. Tthe whole thing got me thinking about how much the discipline for me to resist those urges and temptations is like a metaphor for the whole spiritual journey we're all on.

It brought to mind a verse in Matthew:

"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few." Matthew 7:13-14

It would have been easy, and immediately satisfying, to have a handful of chocolate. It would have tasted good and I would have enjoyed it quite a bit - in that moment. But what happens after that moment? After I've convinced myself that it's no big deal, it's ok, I can have just a bit and it won't hurt? After the momentary pleasure goes away, what am I left with? I feel guilty for having eaten too much. I'm frustrated with myself because I know I can't eat like that and make any progress. I realize the cost wasn't worth the moment of pleasure I got out of eating all that chocolate.

The gate was wide, and easy. And in the moment, it was nice. But the consequence wasn't worth the reward.

Lightbulb moment!

Things that give us temporary pleasure are sometimes fine. But sometimes they aren't the right choice, they're just the easy choice. If we always follow the easy path, it can lead only to destruction. If I ate chocolate in copious amounts every time I got stressed, I'd weigh a ton, putting my health and well being at risk. In the moment, I'd feel good, but that momentary pleasure would come at far too great a cost. But if I discipline myself to eat well and not eat junk out of stress, in the long run I will be healthier, and as a result much happier, than I would be if I indulged in every stress induced craving that strikes.

So it is the same with many things in this life. The easy way is often very enticing, and the immediate gratification is tempting. But what are we left with when that moment passes? Guilt, frustration, anger at oneself. It impedes our progress, keeping us stuck in a never ending cycle that only leads downward. If we always take the easy path, the wide gate, we won't keep growing or turning toward God.

And that was a lot more satisfying than the chocolate.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Listening and trust: a current personal dilemma

I've been discovering all these fabulous new blogs to read and inspiring doesn't even begin to cover it. Today, I was reading a blog post and the writer talked about how she's been spending time praying and working to discern God's will for her in regards to her writing. And she's come to some good conclusions for her - about what her goals are, and what she considers success.

I really need to do the same thing.

For a long time, I've longed to be a "real" writer, particularly a novelist. I've had dreams of bestsellers, of books flying off the shelves. In my more reality based dreams, I simply write something good that is published and hope for the best :). But I also do other types of writing, and I've really struggled, especially since motherhood and the subsequent changes to my lifestyle have made novel writing feel like a far off dream. What should I focus on? What should I write? For whom? And why?

What I need to do is pray about it and allow God to lead me and I've been making some attempts at that. I know, how hard could that be, right? "Dear God, please help me to know how I should use my writing talents (if they exist as I think they do)? Amen." But that's not enough. The key, and what I'm working on right now, is doing so with a humble, open, and willing heart.

Because what I really mean is, "Dear God, please tell me that you want me to write fabulous novels that people love and if it works out, I might even try to throw in an angle that could be construed as spiritual and maybe, just maybe, would lead someone to you. Sure."

I need to work on my humility, and my trust. See the thing is, I believe that God knows what is best for me. I believe that if I follow His will, things will work out in the best manner they should for me. I know that, far more important than material successes or accolades to feed my ego, if I follow God's will and use the talents He has given me, the spiritual contentment will lead to far greater happiness than any bestseller. Then why is it still so hard?

Trusting God is not something that comes naturally to me, even though on some level I believe it is the right thing, and the smart thing, to do. Because I still keep thinking that what I think I want is what is best. Even though, intellectually, I realize that what He wants for me will be far better than anything I could imagine for myself.

So I need to make a greater effort to pray for His guidance, and be willing to not only hear the answer, but to act on it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Small steps and tangible signs

For a long time I've had the desire, if only at the back of my mind, to live out the Liturgy more fully at home. I think its important to make our faith a part of our daily lives, not just something we do on Sundays. I am very conscious of how we are bringing up our children in the faith and I want to make sure we are showing them by our example, that we participate in the faith of the church and why it is important to do so.
It's a process, and a slow one for our family. But we're working on it.

Last night was Holy Thursday and in the past I've made half hearted attempts to observe the Holy day. But this year I feel like I took a step, albeit a small one, in the right direction, with something incredibly simple. Unleavened bread.

It wasn't the first time I'd made unleavened bread. My mom often made it for Holy Thursday when we were growing up and I've recreated her recipe a handful of times. But this was the first time we, as a family, were consciously participating in Holy Thursday. I made small circles of bread for each of us, adorned with a cross. And the bread itself turned out delicious - a bonus in my book, since everyone scarfed it down and asked me to make more next year.

It brought home for me why we use tangible things in our sacraments. Granted, our little feast of stew and bread wasn't a sacrament. But I had a moment of understanding as to why we use things we can see, taste, touch and smell. In that small act, of sharing unleavened bread with my family, we observed Holy Thursday more deeply than we ever have before. A new tradition was born, a starting place to begin living the Liturgy at home more fully. It was something tangible that we did a little differently, that had meaning and it gave us the opportunity to share more of our faith story with our children. Such a simple thing, but it had so much meaning for us at the dinner table last night.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


I'm not an overly emotional person when it comes to my faith. In college, I went to a worship service type thing (not sure what to call it exactly - it wasn't a regular church service, mostly just music) with a couple friends. There were nice things about it, but what didn't resonate with me was all the getting up and throwing your head back as you sang, or lifting your arms up to the heavens. People would, at random, stand and throw their arms skyward in a very emotional display of praise.

Now don't get me wrong, I wasn't put off by it, or feel the need to criticize. But there was an emotional component to it that I didn't get - I didn't feel. I grew up being taught that you're supposed to love God, and I have plenty of friends who would happily sport an "I heart Jesus" bumper sticker, and really mean it. But I've struggled with what it really means to love God. What does that mean? Am I supposed to feel something? I know what love feels like. I love my husband, my kids, my family, my friends. But does loving God feel the same way? And how do you sustain that feeling, once you get it?

Those were questions I grappled with a lot as my husband and I searched for our church home. We spent some time in a small evangelical church. We know the people who essentially started it, so we tried it out. There was a lot of emotion involved. Emotion provoking sermons (either by a pastor, if they had one, or a recorded sermon if they didn't), emotion provoking music. They, and others we know of similar religious persuasion, often talk of what they "get out of the sermon" or "what church does for them" and how they "feel" when they go.

All of this was perpelxing for me, coming from a Catholic upbringing. Not that I found Catholic mass emotionless, but that never seemed to be the purpose of attending. And although I know my mom, who was the primary person in my young life to introduce and teach me the faith, has a deep relationship with God, she's also somewhat private about it. So those open displays of faith-emotion were a little foreign to me.

And it got me thinking - do I really love God? How do I know?

I came to realize, over time, that similarly to the way I choose to love my husband or my family or my friends, I choose to love God. Even though I don't often feel any deep emotion when I think of God, or when I pray - that's ok. Loving God isn't only about feeling something. It's about making a choice.

Having said all that, I had a rather emotional moment at mass this morning. I had just received Communion, and was back at my spot, which happened to be in the front row (for good or ill with three little kids). I closed my eyes to pray and found the words came so easily, it was almost as if I didn't think of them myself. I thanked God for my life, for my family, for our wonderful parish and the community I was surrounded by. I felt more open to God than I have, maybe ever - asking Him to do His will through me. To give me an open heart to do His work in the world while I am here. And I found myself thinking, in my prayer, "Please fill me up with your grace and love, because I love you."

And I felt it.

It took me a little by surprise because I don't normally have moments of such spiritual emotion, especially when I'm hodling my unruly 19 month old daughter, and having to worry about what my boys are doing as they get bored at the end of mass. But I did. I felt a deep and grateful love for God and the sacrifice of Jesus. It was really wonderful.

I don't practice my faith for the sake of those emotion filled moments. But I'm grateful for the one I had today. I feel open to God, to recieve his spirit and live out my faith. I hope I can live up to the challenge.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Why I believe in God

Although I was raised Catholic, and raised to believe in God, there was a time in my young adult life when I seriously questioned what I really believed. Did I really believe in God? Did I really buy all this religion stuff? Did the Catholic Church make any sense?

I questioned everything, but in questioning, it began to bring me to some solid answers and certainly put me on the path to real faith. But before I could get to where I am now, I had to answer the fundamental question - do I believe in God?

Eventually I came to the conclusion that yes, yes I do believe there is a God. I even made the leap that yes, I believe in Jesus and the God of Christianity. And eventually, my questioning led me home to Catholicism.

But why?

I think it goes back to our purpose, the reason this infinite, all knowing, all powerful, and ever loving God decided to make creatures like us in the first place. He wanted someone like Him, insofar as they are able to turn towards Him, and love Him back. To have a relationship with Him. To be His friend.

To this end, I think we were all created with an innate need to be connected to God. There is a hole, if you will, inside us all (and I know I'm not unique in describing it this way). There is only one thing that can fill that hole - the love of God. A relationship with God. A connection to Him.

But we're selfish, often confused creatures. And we seem to think we can do everything on our own, our way. We try to fill that hole with other things, convinced that it will do the trick, that we will find fulfillment somewhere else. It is easy to name the destructive things we use - drugs, money, power, alcohol, sex. But vices aren't the only things we attempt to plug ourselves with, to assuage the emptiness inside. Spouses, children, volunteer work, careers, hobbies - things that are fine in and of themselves, but don't take the place of God.

Some people feel the emptiness of that hole. They are always looking for something to fill it, always searching for fulfillment. They might climb the career ladder, travel to new places, buy bigger and better homes and cars, have more children, or throw themselves into raising the children they already have. But nothing is ever good enough, never "more" enough. They're always searching for the next thing that will surely bring the fulfillment they are after.

Other people try to dull the hole, make it's presence less sharp. They try to drown the hole with alcohol or drugs, try to bury it in food. They try to escape it by jumping out of airplanes or riding mountain bikes down ski slopes. They seek to leave it behind by escaping into anything that will dull the reality of the ever present aching, a longing they can't understand or put an end to.

And some people are so good at ignoring the hole, they deny it's very existence. They have convinced themselves that real happiness doesn't exist, that the purpose of life is simply to get by without being too miserable. If you asked them if they feel unfulfilled, they wouldn't understand the question, or would deny feeling so. They've turned so far away from their spiritual needs, they hardly remember they exist.

We all have that hole, it's built in. And there's only one thing that fills it. As hard as we try to fill it with other things, none of them will do. I've tried my share. I've only come to feel the beginnings of that kind of fulfillment, of true contentment, since I've began attempting to follow God's will for me, to connect myself to Him. There, in turning towards Him, stretching out our hands to meet His, can we find what we've been searching for. I'm beginning to realize it can't be bought, it can't be earned, it can't be found anywhere else. It's all in Him. It's what we were made for.

So why do I believe in God? Why did I take that leap? Because deep in my soul I long for Him and I think everyone does, they just don't realize it. And I've found that the fulfillment I was seeking for so long was right there all along. I just had to turn around and accept it.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Feeling disconnected

Lately I'm feeling very disconnected from my church, and I'm not sure what to do about it.

Let me first say, I love our parish. It is located just across the main road through our city, so whenever I go anywhere outside of my neighborhood, I drive right by. For a long time before we started attending, I would drive by and see the sign and wish, deep down, that we could go there. For a lot of reasons, I didn't give voice to that wish, and I tried to be open to other possibilities (mostly because I didn't think my husband would ever want to become Catholic), but the call was there. And once we did start attending, both going to Mass regularly and meeting with the RCIA group, I felt a great sense of peace, of community, of belonging. We were home.

Fast forward to now and it has been nearly a year since my husband was Baptized and received his Sacraments of initiation. Our family are all full members of the Catholic Church and we strongly believe this is where God has called us to be. But it has also been nearly a year since we've been participating in something other than going to Mass. We used to have RCIA every week, but since last Easter, we haven't. My husband has gone sporadically and was even considering sponsoring someone else this year, but that didn't pan out and we've fallen into something of a rut.

I feel a real longing to be a more active part of our parish. We do teach the baptism prep class for new parents, but that is only two evenings every other month, so it isn't the same. I miss getting together regularly with a group of familiar faces. I miss the discussions, I miss the sense of belonging we had.

I know that there are plenty of opportunities to get involved. We could both be sponsors again (I sponsored someone while my husband was a catechumen). We're friendly enough with the Pastoral Associates (a husband and wife team), I know we could ask to be put to work somehow and they would happily find ways for us to be involved.

So what's the problem? Time. Childcare. Working up the motivation to find both time and childcare.

I know this is something I need to address, and soon. My husband and I are both feeling the lack of participation in the church community. As he used to say, going to something at church on a day other than Sunday helped shore up his spiritual armor, getting him through the rest of the week. We both need that and I need to take a more active approach to finding a way to make it happen.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

An experience of the power of prayer

My mom is in the hospital recovering from brain surgery. She had the procedure on Tuesday (and today is Thursday) and already they're talking about sending her home - possibly tomorrow, possibly Friday. She's amazing.

On Tuesday I spent the day at the hospital, along with my stepdad, brother, sister, her boyfriend and one of my uncles. Before they took her back for surgery, we were able to spend time with my mom and you know what was amazing - she was so calm. Earlier that morning they asked her to rate her anxiety level from one to five. She said she was about a three. My stepdad chimed in and said he was a six, so could they give him something for that? She was about to face brain surgery and she was calm, and smiling.

They wheeled her away from us, and she was still smiling. She probably fell asleep with a smile on her face. And you know what, when we came to see her afterwards, in the ICU, she was still smiling.

We spent the day in the waiting room, playing games on our phones and ipads, reading books and magazines, eating in the hospital cafeteria and waiting. A lot of waiting. It is a strange thing to sit and ponder the fact that your mother's skull is currently cut open and there is a man probing around at her brain.

But through it all, I wasn't riddled with anxiety. I was calm, and I didn't expect to be. Perhaps it is because she's my mom, and she hasn't lost that "she can do anything" luster yet. Perhaps it is because I was surrounded by family and we held each other up. Perhaps it is because I kept myself distracted and never allowed my mind to drift into the "what ifs..." I think my state of calm is partially due to those things. But honestly I felt something else at work that day, and I think she did too. The power of prayer.

I posted about her surgery on Facebook, both a few days before to let people know what was going on, and on Tuesday morning. I am still so touched by the outpouring of support I saw there. Many of the people I'm friends with on Facebook have never met my mom, and probably won't ever meet her. I have a lot of "online" friends - people I have met on message boards who live all over the country, even the world. They don't know my mom. But they prayed for her. I feel like I rallied the troops and got something in motion and the peace and love of God washed over us like a cool breeze. The prayers of my friends and family surrounded us with hope, with calm and with peace. The love of God was palpable for me that day, and I think she felt it too. And I truly believe that the prayers of so many people made the difference, made the day bearable.

She's recovering well now and I continue to pray for her health and strength, and for her peace. It has to be difficult to walk into the hospital completely healthy and strong, and face leaving it barely able to walk. But God is lending her His strength and I can feel it. And I'm so grateful to everyone who has been praying for her - more grateful than I can properly express.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


I wrote in my journal recently about worry. I'd been reading a bit of the Gospel of Matthew and came across:

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today. ~Matthew 6:34

There is so much in Matthew that I fail to live up to, but right now this one screams at me pretty loudly. I have three children and in the last week and a half, the oldest and youngest have both been quite sick. The middle one broke his arm about four weeks ago and we had some unexpected, and expensive, complications this last week. We have serious medical bills staring us in the face and we just found out the life insurance policy we were applying for will cost us three times as much as we originally thought. Our health insurance coverage is getting worse than it already is and the icing on this already large cake of stress is, drum roll please, my mom is having brain surgery on Tuesday to remove a tumor.

Worry? Stress? No, not me. Not at all. <insert sarcasm font here>

I've been thinking a lot lately about trust, and how to place my trust in God. This is a challenge for me. How do I place my trust in Him, be open to His will and His guidance, still do my part, and know the difference between what I think I should do and what He wants me to do. Because when it comes to what is right for me, I'm betting my money on Him every time. Then why is that so hard?

I don't know when my kids will be healthy again. I don't know if my three year old will need expensive physical therapy on top of the two surgeries he's had to fix his arm. I don't know how we'll pay for our medical bills. And I don't know if my mom will be ok. And I don't even know that praying about these things is going to get me the outcome I'm hoping for. Because it just isn't that simple.

And yet, will worrying about any of these things, right now, this moment change anything? It doesn't help to get myself twisted in knots over our finances or my mom's health. If I go to bed tonight at peace it won't make a lick of difference in whether the bills get paid. Stewing over the stresses of every day life doesn't do anything but make me miserable. So maybe Jesus was on to something there...

This has been a tough couple of weeks. A tough month, really. Struggles can serve a greater purpose, however. It reminds me that I am not alone, nor am I capable on my own. It reminds me that I have to lean on Him, on His grace and love. I need to be open to God's guidance and stop putting my own plans and ideas first. He might actually know what He's doing, and I ought to quiet down enough to listen.

What to write about... a beginning.

I'm a writer, yet over the last several years I've been bogged down with anxiety about what to write. I've blogged before, usually focusing on life as a mother. And although I do enjoy writing about parenting, I find that so often I'm so intent on coming up with a catchy angle, a topic that will be interesting and get people to read my posts, and I wind up writing nothing. By the end of the day I'm worn out, my brain is tired and I'm not exactly at my most creative. I've gone through a rather lengthy writing dry spell.

I'm also on a journey of discovery when it comes to my faith. I grew up Catholic, but strayed away from the church as a young adult. After becoming parents, my husband and I both knew we needed to step up our game faith wise and go from "sure we believe in God but we don't do much about it" people to "living our faith as a good example to our children" people. And we've come a very, very long way. For a host of reasons, we chose to explore the Catholic faith together, resulting in an extremely rewarding trip through the RCIA process at our local parish. Last Easter vigil (2010), my husband was baptized into the Catholic faith and now we're a fully baptized and confirmed Catholic family. Our marriage has never been better, our faith never stronger. But that was only the beginning.

I've been thinking a lot lately about writing and about my faith. So I decided to give this a go. I want to write about my journey; about my questions, my thoughts, my struggles, my triumphs. I need an outlet to better explore my faith and help me on this road and I need to spend more time writing. Blogging about it seemed like the natural solution.

I don't know if anyone will ever read this. I don't know if I'll decide to link it to my Facebook profile or tell my friends I'm writing. I think I need to not worry about those things now. I just need to write about things that are important, or perplexing, or interesting to me right now. And if someday, someone reads this in the immense sea of blogs out there, then that's fine. And if not, well, that's ok too. I'll just put it out there into the digital universe and see what happens.