The Year We Signed Up…For Everything

Recently I posted this quote from Sammiches & Psych Meds on my Facebook page.

Image may contain: text that says 'Other People: Just enrolled our kids in basketball, cheerleading, piano lessons, invention camp, mathletics, and French on the weekends. Me: Oh, fun. Yeah, our kids are enrolled in "Go Outside and Don't Come Back in Unless Someone's Bleeding. Meets every day. SammichespsychMeds.com'

For the first 9 years of having kids, I operated from the second perspective.  Then beginning a year and a half ago, I felt some pressure to enroll my kids in a few extra-curricular activities.  It started out innocently enough.  A ballet class over the summer for Katie to try it out.  A few piano lessons to guide the big boys in their music abilities.  A private strings lesson every now and then for Joseph and Andrew so they’d feel comfortable when orchestra started in the fall.  Everyone else was doing it.  Why not us?

Summer ended and all had gone well.  Katie loved ballet.  Joseph and William loved piano.  Strings lessons were lovely.  So now we began to add things to the schedule in true passionate style.  If we were already going to be at orchestra for strings and guitar lessons, why not enroll in choir as well?  Ballet once a week…no, let’s make it twice!  And, of course, we had our CM co-op that we had joined the previous year, with Shakespeare class first followed by all the riches (nature study, composer and artist study, folk songs).  I continued meeting with my book club and my herb group and my mom’s group, all of which met once a month.

In the fall, we piled on the Nature Challenge and couldn’t resist committing ourselves to completing as many as possible.  Then midwinter, we added in Youth Odyssey for Joseph.  Spring brought the Handicraft fair and nature study days with the CM group.

It didn’t seem like that much.  And ALL of it was good.  Maybe not great, but good.

But a funny thing happened when we committed ourselves to so many good things.  Seeing as how our time didn’t multiply, other things had to be cut.  We kissed days of lazily lounging in the sun with a good book good-bye.  Play dates (the kind where us moms sit and chat while the kids run wild and free) were cut…and I rationalized that with all the activities, they had plenty of social time.  Both of my blogs took direct hits.  Even my evenings out with other moms began to feel more like work than play.

Suddenly every.little.thing began to feel like work.  I needed downtime.  Not time in the car toting us to the next activity.  Not time shoved in a waiting room making small talk with other moms while waiting for the kids to finish up.  Not time stuck in the car trying to manage tired kids and their unruly behavior while waiting for the other siblings to finish their activity.

We all began to suffer.

Andrew was the first to descend with a downward dive.  By Christmas, his enthusiasm for orchestra waned (which was a multi-fold situation…the private lessons he took over the summer put him ahead and he found himself bored; his ADHD tendencies reared their ugly head when he was forced to sit quietly and bored through a 50 minute class every week) and he quickly lost steam.  Co-op became a method of torture for him as he had to sit quietly first through an hour of Shakespeare (in which he was too young to participate) and then another two hours of co-op time in which his little mind wandered and he obsessed about being quiet to the point that he took nothing away from the lessons except hatred, the byproduct of being forced to sit and be quiet for so long.  I suffered watching him.  The joy of nature lessons left.  The joy of playing an instrument was gone.  The joy of playing joyfully with other children was a distant memory.  In one fell swoop, I had managed to forget that he isn’t me; nor is he Joseph or William or Katie.  I had forgotten that my little ADHD introvert didn’t operate in this world the same as us.  (I did pull Andrew out of orchestra by March in an effort to not completely kill a love for music; I strongly feel that music should be an outlet for stress, not a cause for stress.)

Then William began complaining of headaches every Monday during his orchestra lessons.  Then he began complaining of headaches every time we met for co-op.  He did fine at his private lessons.  He did fine during his school lessons.  He did fine at play dates.  My only guess is that the whole group setting was causing a little stress.  The bigger the group, the more I noticed his stress level went up (I totally get him…big groups have always stressed me out, too).

But I am not one to quit.  Nor do I want to send the message to my kids that quitting is okay.  We were so close to the finish line so we dug in and plowed through.  By April, I found myself burnt out, not even responding to text messages in a timely manner.  I almost forgot what my dear mother’s voice sounded like.

At the end of the year, I looked back and I saw what our toil had reaped.  I had two boys that could play piano as well as a strings instrument.  Katie knew the proper name for many different ballet positions and danced beautifully in front of hundreds of people at her spring recital.  Joseph made friends of his own, apart from the rest of us, in Youth Odyssey and had kayaked with his group to a little island, proving to himself that he can do amazing things without me. The kids had been exposed to beautiful art and folk songs through co-op, learned a multitude of nature related things and had succeeded in falling in love with two more of Shakespeare’s plays.  Oh and all of my children had lovingly set their hearts to making beautiful handicrafts for the fair.

I, on the other hand, had spent my year talking.  Between the moms at ballet in the waiting room and the moms suffering through long hours at orchestra with me to the moms in the front yard of the piano teacher’s home, I managed to expel a lot of words out of my desperate extroverted soul.  But even I got tired of talking.  I missed reading.  I missed blogging.  I missed the sound of my kids just playing.

I collapsed into June with the promise to never make so many commitments again.  While I saw all the beauty of our commitments, I greatly grieved for the time we sacrificed to make those things happen.  I really, really missed inviting Jessica and the boys over to just play while Jessica and I chatted.  I really, really missed long afternoons in the spring sunshine clacking away at a blog while my kids ran about and discovered lovely little spring bloomings.  I really, really missed long conversations with Lori and Leslie and Mom.  I really, really missed elaborate sidewalk sketchings and walks through our neighborhood.  I really missed that Masterly Inactivity that Charlotte Mason implores each of us to offer to our children.

Of course, August soon came around and I re-evaluated.  A break from co-op was in order.  No more orchestra.  We dropped Youth Odyssey.  I let go of my book club and changed my herb meetings to quarterly (but I still clung desperately to the monthly mom’s group for the support).

The fall came and we tentatively stepped back into our routines, preserving two days a week to have free afternoons with absolutely NO COMMITMENTS.  The children still play music (all four are now in piano), Katie still takes ballet, Joseph now sings with the Youth Choir and for a brief bit of the fall, William took an adventure in baseball (that’s a whole different story that was drastically altered by heavy amounts of rain). I started a small group for PE one afternoon a week.  All of it feels good.  And fruitful.  But not too filling.

It’s hard to learn to say no to the good to make room for the great, but it must be done.  It must be done to preserve our children’s childhoods, to give them time to run and play and be bored.  It must be done to preserve our own sanity as mamas because we, too, need downtime.  It must be done because we are all only human and there is only so much time in our days…we must learn to carve a space for the great, leave time for the necessary, and relish the time in between…we don’t get a second chance at this.

 

A Joyous Cross: Remembering Not to Suffer Alone

It’s no secret around here that I want another baby and Dax does not.

In fact, he strongly opposes the idea of adding another little one to our already chaotic lives.

But see that’s why I can so easily say I want another one.  Because he is so adamantly against it.

If I’m honest with myself, while I do want another one, the fear of having another one far outweighs the joyous anticipation of actually having one.

This month I was late. The kind of late that would potentially increase our family size.

It was a roller coaster.  First it was panic.  And worry.  Then it was denial.  Then it was acceptance.  And then it was hope mixed with love.  And then it was all swept away with a stain of blood and my heart was flooded with disappointment.

But the worst part?  There was relief mixed with that disappointment.

Because I am human and broken and scared.

And that’s what makes me sad.

After Katie, I suffered.  There was postpartum depression that had me fooled into thinking I was terribly overwhelmed and inept at being a mom.  It morphed into a thyroid issue that sent all of my hormones raging out of control.  The first three years after Katie were rough.  The good days were rare.  The bad days?  Full of anxiety, panic attacks, fear.

There are no words that describe those years.  And the worst part of all of it was the feeling so alone.  I had a lot of encouragement around me.  Lots of well meaning folks encouraging me to pray and trust in the Lord.  If I would just pray more often, He’d take it all away, they promised.  I was praying and I was trusting and I felt so lonely.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 

This was my hour of suffering with our Lord and yet it felt so terribly lonely.  How could I possibly use Jesus’ own words and yet feel so desperately alone?  Lack of faith?  Lack of prayer?  Lack of love?

It doesn’t work that way.  God doesn’t forsake us.  He NEVER forsakes us.  Forsaken means to be abandoned and deserted.  God is a loving Father.  He doesn’t throw us to the wolves and wait to see how we manage.  On the contrary, he begs us to lean on him, to allow Him to help us carry the cross.  But He never offers to take the cross away.  There is redemption and rejoicing in suffering and so He allows it.  He humbles us with trials that force us to our knees.  And I suffered.  But I chose to do it Alone.  I gave up on my God who had never once given up on me.  At some point, I stopped taking my suffering to the foot of the cross and I decided He had forsaken me.

I had gotten the message wrong…those well-meaning people who offered me advice didn’t get it.   Prayer wasn’t going to take my suffering away.  Prayer was going to make my suffering bearable.  It wasn’t my lack of prayer, or my lack of faith or His lack of love. It was my misunderstanding of how beautiful suffering can be.

And that’s why I hate that I felt relief today.  I hate that before the acceptance came the worry and panic.  Because where is my faith?  Where is my trust?  This isn’t a journey I’m meant to make alone…I have to share my burden with Him.  I have to trust that there’s a plan for this that I can’t see.  I’m His instrument.  He never promised it would be easy.  But it will be beautiful if I can just accept that suffering is an opportunity to grow in faith.  An opportunity to be humbled and molded and shaped into His vision.

Suffering, whatever form it may take, may be done joyously.

And with suffering, always comes hope.  And joy.  And redemption.  And we’re all pretty broken and in need of redemption.

So my prayer tonight?  My old favorite by Reinhold Niebuhr…

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.

 

Journaling: Keeping the Details of Our Lives from Being Lost

In her book Leaving a Trace, Alexandra Johnson tells a story about how she was given a journal that was written by a woman who once lived in the house she now owned.  She imagines the woman walking up the same steps she walked up every day and marveled at how the writer probably thought the details of her life were unimportant.  Yet Alexandra was quickly captivated by the woman’s story, which took place in 1895, mesmerized by the smallest details, drawn in by the story.  Later the journal writer records how, in an effort to gain a little extra pocket money, she and her sister had gone to a local cemetery, which was about to be relocated, to record names and dates on tombstones.  After that her journal entries changed almost as if the time spent in the cemetery had made her realize that without a journal, no one would remember all the details of her life.

And so it goes with us.  The details of our lives are ours uniquely.  Without some type of written record our details will be lost to memory at some point. 

Sometimes I wonder. One day, when I’m old and gray, will I remember all the little details of raising my children?  Will I remember how Katie cups my face in her hands and tells me she loves me?  Will I remember Andrew’s face when he discovers the tooth fairy left him some money?  Will I remember the way William stood at the kitchen window while I washed carrots asking question after question?  Will I remember how one day my sweet Joseph declared that he no longer wanted to be called Joseph, but preferred to be called Joey instead?  Will I remember picking them up, carrying them, rocking them, singing to them?  Will I remember losing sleep as I prayed for them or praising God for all their little smiles?  Will I remember the way their downy hair smelled and their little button noses felt as they snuggled right up next to me to fall asleep?

Head over to Corpus Christi Moms Blog to finish reading about how I journal to keep all the little details in our lives fresh.

For My Mom…

There are thoughts in the heart that words cannot adequately express.  Thoughts that we hold dear but never try to put on paper for fear of doing injustice to the depth of our love.  Yet, the fear that we may never get a chance to express our feelings sometimes overrides the fear of injustice.  And with that fear in mind, I attempt to express the effect on my life of the woman who brought me into this world.november-2016-008_7_1

I don’t remember the first time I met my mother.  Of course I don’t.  None of us do, however our lives were forever intertwined at that first moment of my being.  I don’t remember the first time I heard her voice in the womb or felt her hand press on my little limbs as I stretched out inside of her.  I don’t remember the first time our eyes met or the first time she held me.  I don’t even remember the first few years.  The years that I learned to crawl and walk and talk and climb.  The years I learned that when I was hurt or sad or angry, she was the one that would always be there to comfort me.  The years I learned that she would be the one that would cheer me on through all the trials of growing up and her faith in me would lift me up on my darkest days.  I don’t remember the seed of our relationship, but its fruit is the core of my being.november-2016-029_25_1

I grew up as a happy little girl in a happy home.  I found myself doing what most little girls do.  I watched my mother and soaked up what a mom was supposed to be and do through her actions and words.  I did not yet speak the same language as her, the language of woman, wife, mother.  I spoke as only a child can.  She listened but spoke as a woman, a wife, a mother.  Yet somehow she understood me.   It takes a rare kind of person to understand so many languages.  She crossed our language barrier through late morning snuggles, kisses for bumps, and a heart full of compassion.  She loved me despite my childish ways, she loved me with uncompromising empathy.november-2016-025_21_1

As I grew, she led by example.  I learned to be patient with the impossible, trust in goodness and hope for mercy.  I learned alongside her how to bake cookies, wash dishes and sort laundry.  She showed me love despite my hormonal attitude.  She showed me forgiveness despite my sulky teenage angst.  She showed me bravery in the face of her health trials.  She showed me courage when she trusted in His will.  Yet we still spoke different languages.november-2016-015_14_1

Eventually I left behind the teenage angst, the sulky frown, the overly philosophical outlook on life and I discovered what my mother knew all along.  Our relationship was beautiful.  It just needed nurturing.  And so we nurtured it together.  By that point I had finally begun to speak one of the languages my mother spoke: the language of woman.  I understood better who she was and why she did the things she did.  She had understood me all along.  I spent my college years falling in love with a best friend I didn’t even realize I had.  We spent late nights doing puzzles, eating chocolate, giggling over funny accents we used to talk to each other.  We spent our days dashing off to the library, sharing our mutual affection for books or hours in the bookstore debating over which book we would read together next.  We stayed up late watching old reruns.  Sometimes we were just there together, me studying or scrapbooking, she reading or doing a crossword puzzle.  We spoke the language of contentment together.november-2016-012_11_1

Then I met Daxson and fell in love.  Shortly after meeting Daxson, Dad got transferred up to Newport, RI.  I chose to stay with Daxson.  And so my mother moved that fall and I’m pretty sure she took a huge chunk of me with her.  I missed her.  Sure I had moved away for summers before but this was the first time she had ever left me and I missed her dearly.  I missed having her there at the end of the day.  I missed simple chats to say nothing at all.  I missed having my friend nearby.  We learned the language of long-distance love.november-2016-010_9_1

She helped me plan my wedding from afar.  She spent her spare time sewing a beautiful white dress for me.  She stood beside me as I prepared to give my heart away permanently and she told me how beautiful I was.  And suddenly we spoke another language together…the language of being a wife.november-2016-017_16_1

Years passed by and I was blessed with the birth of my first child.  Mom came down to stay with me as I got acquainted with life with a baby.  It may be hard to imagine, but I was so filled with pride that I truly thought that surely no other woman before me had ever felt so vulnerable, so in awe of a little being she had created.  For days I imagined myself as if I were the first person to have ever given birth because surely if this is what every woman felt, the world would seem a little more magical to each of us.  But the world around me kept moving forward despite my newfound fascination of little fingers and toes.mommy-daddy-and-little-joseph-together-for-the-first-time_1_1

And then suddenly it hit me.  This is exactly what my mom felt when she gave birth to me.  And suddenly, I could speak all the languages of my mother: woman, wife, mother.  And suddenly, I felt a tug on the invisible bond we shared and I knew that I suddenly understood more than I had ever bargained for.andrews-bday-june-2014-179_1_1

The years that I turned away from her…I felt regret.  The years I was angry with her…I felt remorse.  The years I shut her out…I felt shame.  The years I thought she didn’t understand…she did.  The years I hurt her with my words and my actions when I spoke only the language of child…I could not change.november-2016-028_24_1

I can only say how very sorry I am that I could not speak her languages sooner.  I suppose there is not much to be done for that.  It is the nature of children to speak as children.  But now I come before her truly repentant, with a heart full of love and gratitude.  Gratitude that she never gave up on me.  She never gave up on us.  She nurtured our relationship from that first moment and she never lost faith in it.  She stood by me, strong and sturdy, despite the strength I often used to push her away.  She never wavered.  She loved me despite my shortcomings, despite my natural tendencies to act as a child.  She loved me with unending patience and I’d like to believe that it was that faith and trust that opened the door to the world of languages for me.  Without her, perhaps I would still be speaking as a child.  Even now at 36.  Even now as both a wife and a mother.november-2016-005_4_1

Now I have children of my own.  They speak child.  I speak woman, wife, mother.  They talk back.  They declare their hatred of me when things don’t go their way.  They brush me aside for their friends.  They take out their frustrations and disappointments on the one person they know will love them despite it all.  I remind myself, it is the language of children.  I speak the language of empathy, just like my mom did and I remember that it is my job to nurture these relationships.  I hug them.  I cuddle them.  I sing to them.  I read to them.  I play with them.  I learn alongside them.  I teach them.  I forgive them.  I guide them.  I love them with every fiber of my being.  And I rest, content with the knowledge that this is how the door is opened to a lifelong relationship.  Faith.  Courage.  Trust.november-2016-024_20_1

I am my mother.

I have learned my languages well.  I have had a guide to help me speak so fluently.  Woman, wife, mother.  My soul is intertwined forever with hers.  I speak her as I speak empathy.  I hear her voice echo in mine when I practice patience.  I see her reflection when I look into my children’s eyes and offer them sympathy, forgiveness, mercy.  I lie in bed at night, staring up at the ceiling and pray with my entire being that if she ever leaves me here, I will still feel her love run through my veins, her lessons will still echo in my heart, her soul will still be intertwined with mine.

I have faith that it will be just as I pray.

I love you Mom.IMG_5307_1

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Worn out and stretched

october-2016-076_1_1I have this sweater that hangs in the back of my closet.  To be honest it’s not very flattering these days.  But before it was worn and stretched and washed and dried incorrectly only to be washed and stretched again, it was a delightful sweater.

I bought the sweater back during my junior year of college. I had been invited to spend a weekend with a friend in Boston.  Dad and I went shopping a few weeks before my trip.  I saw the sweater and fell instantly in love.  Never having been one for style, I tended to gravitate toward comfort.  And this sweater just breathed comfort.  But unlike most of my fashion choices, this sweater was beautiful.  It was charcoal gray with flecks of color splashed about.  It zipped up and had a hood.  I grabbed it from the rack and Dad agreed that it had a Boston look to it.  Very New Englandy.

The sweater and I in Boston during my visit in October 1999.

The sweater and I in Boston during my visit in October 2000.

The sweater traveled to Boston with me that fall.  And then to New York in the winter.  Philly the following winter.  Alaska in the spring.  Raleigh the following Christmas.  The more I wore it, the more it stretched.  The more it stretched, ironically, the more I loved it.  It had character and despite its misshapen identity, it still breathed comfort.  It lost a little of its beauty on the outside, but to me it remained beautiful.  A treasure that withstood the passing of time.

I pulled it out this morning, this first morning that has had a taste of fall.  The temperature is comfortable but the breeze is giving me shivers.  I just needed a little added layer to take the chill off.  Wrapping the worn and loved sweater around me and zipping it up, I relished its comfort, its history, its trek through life with me.

This sweater and me?  We actually share more than just travel and cold days.  You see, my body isn’t so perfect anymore either.  Back before it was worn and stretched and tired, it was a delightful body.  Time and babies have taken their toll.  Bits of it have stretched beyond repair and bits of it sag thanks to the law of gravity.  But this body?  The one Daxson reaches for in the middle of the night?  The one my babies snuggle up to when they’re scared?  I’d like to think it’s still comfortable.  It’s beautiful in a way it hasn’t always been.  It has nurtured life within its womb and stretched and given way to miracles.  Tiny little miracles.  Four of them here on Earth.  Two more securely tucked away in Heaven.  It has nursed my babies into healthy toddlers.  It has lifted those children and rocked them and held them close on the nights when their dreams weren’t so sweet.  It has spoken of love and pleasure to a devoted husband.  It has been pushed to its limits with my obsession of diets and working out.  It carries on despite its lack of good sleep, a rest from stress and access to a perfect diet.  It is faithful despite my nonacceptance, my constant criticism.

This morning, I snuggle a little deeper into my sweater and I look down at the stomach that is no longer flat.  Instead of criticizing, I praise the stretch marks, the sagging skin, the abs that will never boast of themselves in a bikini and I accept it all for what it is.  A vessel for love.  And my sweater?  I praise it, too.  For teaching me the beauty of a body well used.

 

 

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Thinking About Skipping Out on Election Day? Here’s why you can’t…

It’s easy to think that voting is just about the here and now.  And the here and now feels like it’s more about me raising babies than me being political.  But the truth is, voting is about the here, the now, and the tomorrow, the future.  My vote affects the future of my children.  The future of my grandchildren.

See, that guy (or gal) you voted for (or maybe voted against)?  He starts to change things.  Sometimes monumental things that have lasting effects.

Take, for instance, Abraham Lincoln.  He forever changed the slavery status in our country.  Bet there’s a mighty big number of folks who are grateful to the folks who voted in that election.

Does that feel too far removed to relate to?  A more relevant topic might be where a presidential candidate stands on abortion.  Maria Gallagher, a pro-life supporter, tells how she once voted for Bill Clinton never realizing that his Supreme Court nomination of Stephen Breyer would one day affect the women of Texas in a way she couldn’t morally support.

Really, if for no other reason, you should vote because the future of our Supreme Court lies in this election.  Pop  on over to Corpus Christi Moms Blog to finish reading my thoughts on why THIS election year is so very important…

A note to my younger self

Dear Stacie (the younger version),

I went to a restaurant tonight where once upon a time you went.  You were 17 years old, fresh with hope and full of life.  I walked past the booth where you sat and I could see the ghost of your seventeen year old self, laughing with friends, sitting thigh to thigh with your boyfriend.  I saw you throw your head back as you laughed, your eyes bright with delight yet hesitant at the moment.  I saw the way you looked at that boy as if the world danced just at the sight of his presence, your mind thinking of a million ways to save his soul, as if you actually possessed the power to save him from himself.  I saw the way you pushed your hair behind your ear, insecure at your own presence, wondering what you’d say next.  I saw you hesitate after you spoke, wondering if maybe that was the wrong thing to say.  I saw how you chewed on your lower lip, leaning in to listen to your friend across the table.  A nervous habit, one bred from years of being different, unable to relate to the conversations that teenagers typically indulge in.  Yet there you were…trying.  Not quite ready to accept who you were, but not quite ready to conform either.

I want to pull you aside and offer you the wisdom that I have now with age. There are so many things I wish I had known then that I know now.

I want to tell you (you, the people pleaser, the eternal optimist about broken people) that you can’t fix it all.  It isn’t your job.

I want to tell you that YOU are defined not by what others think, but by what you think.

That moral compass in your heart?  It’s guiding you.  Listen to it.

Don’t sell yourself short.  You are amazing just as you are and anyone who wants to change that should be ashamed.

The way you can carry on a conversation about literature and ideas?  That’s not weird.  It’s beautiful.  Too bad for the people you meet that are too shallow to converse that way.

Your insecurities?  They are rooted in deception.  You are light, dear girl, shine.

This path that is paved with peer pressure?  Sadly it will follow you your whole life.  Right now it’s drugs, partying, drinking (Don’t give in!  Hold firm to whatever it is you hold dear!) but later it will be careers, money, child-rearing.  There will always be some fad, some trend.  Hold steady…it’s not about them…it’s about you.  It’s you that you have to lie down with each night.  Only do the things that bring you peace.

Your soul isn’t to be gambled.  Hold tight to your beliefs.

Have no regrets.  Allow your mistakes to change you, to refine you, to guide you, but never allow them to dominate you.  To drive you.  To lead you to regret.  There are no shoulds in life…only the promise of a better tomorrow.

Trust in yourself.  Stop questioning your every move as if you don’t have an ounce of intelligence.  You do.  Trust it.

Be grateful.  Every day.  Find five things you are so grateful for and wax poetic about them.

Stick close to your family.  They know you now and they’ll know you twenty years from now and they’ll know you forty years from now.  And the amazing thing is…they’ll love you the whole way, so don’t push them away.  Let their love lift you up when you feel lost.

Keep a journal.  Always.  You’ll want to look back and see how much you’ve changed and grown.  You’ll want to see the big picture.

Choose wisely.  Choose prudently.  Choose carefully.  But for the love of all that’s good, choose.  Just choose something.  And then stop second guessing yourself.

Fashion trends change.  Inner beauty does not.  Spend more time worrying about cultivating your core, not worrying about your hair, your clothes and your make-up.

Make your bed.  Every day.  Trust me, a well-made bed makes any day look brighter.

Stay busy.  Productive busy.  Playful busy.  Relaxing busy.  Just stay busy.

One day you might find yourself in a position that requires self-less love.  Give it freely.  Don’t hold back.  But remember you need nurturing, too.  And I don’t mean you need to be nurtured (although that certainly won’t hurt).  YOU need to nurture you.  Give yourself a break.  Cut yourself some slack.

That perfectionism that is driving you today?  Yeah, years from now, it’s going to cause some major upheaval in your life.  Let it go.  Take Voltaire’s advice: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  The world will still spin despite your imperfect attempts.  Plus, no one is really paying attention.  So LET IT GO.

That book you want to read?  Read it.  That movie you want to watch?  Watch it.  That place you want to visit?  Visit it.  That dream you’ve been keeping close to your heart?  Live it.  Carpe diem.  Really.

There are moments you’ll want to relive.  And there are moments you will not want to relive.  Savor the good memories, release the bad.  It’s okay.  You are not defined by your moments.  You are defined by the essence you emanate.

Your kindness, your creativity, your thoughtfulness.  Let those be your allies.  Let them stay close by.  Even when someone down the road mocks your goodness, hold tight.  The world needs more kindness, more creativity, more thoughtfulness.

Your worrying?  Some days it is what drives you.  But just remember that what you’re spending hours worrying over right now will be replaced by some other worry next week, so is it really worth losing sleep over?

That desire to control?  It’s elusive.  Learn to go with the flow.

Your heart needs to be guarded.  It’s not meant to be given lightly.  And it’s only meant to be given to someone who truly deserves it.  So stop breaking off chunks of it to hand out randomly.   Save it for that someone who will, one day, earn it.

18 years from now your life will look very different than what it does now.  You will have grown up, gone off to see the world through idealistic eyes, had your heart broken, experienced college life, fallen in love with a man who actually earned your heart, had babies of your own that make your world seem a million times brighter than you ever imagined.  You’ll have changed your mind, questioned your beliefs, doubted yourself, believed in yourself and ignored yourself.

The question is will you find yourself?

Sweet girl, you are the essence of naivety, the spirit of hope, the eternal fountain of believing in good.  Don’t lose that.  Just learn to be smart about it.

Hold steady to your values, your beliefs, your dreams.  Even when you give away your heart and your soul to a man who adores you and children who call you mommy, tuck a little piece of the old you in that newly transformed woman.  Because that girl that was once seventeen years old?  She was pretty amazing just as she was.  Let her light shine.  The world will be a better place.

Love, Stacie (the older but wiser version)

 

 

 

 

 

~Priority~

If you asked me my priorities, I’d easily spout off a healthy list of the things I rate higher than others: my faith, my husband, my kids, homeschooling, reading, journaling.  Oh, but wait, I could go on.  Extended family, friendships, exercise, herb studies… When I start making a list like that, it’s easy to see why I constantly feel pulled in a million different directions.

I’ve been listening to Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism and he talks about the definition and history of the word priority.

Priority: (n) something given special attention; (adj) highest in importance

“As I have written before, the word “priority” came into the English language in the 1400s and it was singular. It meant the very first thing. It stayed singular, very sensibly, for the next 500 years! Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start speaking of “priorities.” So while we can find ourselves feeling that everything is a priority, literally by definition, it can’t be.”

That gives me pause.  One priority.  Not a list of priorities.  That changes things.  A lot.

“So while we can find ourselves feeling that everything is a priority, literally by definition, it can’t be.”

So I get one choice.  One priority.  This one has got me stumped.  I spent yesterday seeing if I could come up with a word or idea that would allow me to lump all my “priorities” into one main idea.  Pretty sure that defeated the purpose of the exercise.

“By creating the space to think and listen we can discern the first or prior thing among many other good and worthy tasks.”  Greg McKeown

I woke up early this morning before the chaos of the day sets in to toss around some ideas.  I wanted to sort out all the good and worthy tasks of my day to determine the priority amongst them.  First I tossed around the idea that obviously my kids are my priority.  But that’s not right, because Daxson and my relationship with him is just as important.  I tried to put it in perspective that without my faith, I cannot function so I considered that as my priority.  But how does that include my responsibility to care for the people in my lives.  Perhaps it does naturally.  If I make my vocation, my calling as a wife and mother, my priority, it shifts the priority from one of caregiving to one of being called to care.  There’s a big difference between caregiving out of duty and being called to care out of love and service for the Lord.  I think I might be onto something but I’m still not quite there yet.

I remember attending a funeral for a sweet little 6 year old a few years ago.  The priest gave a homily that seemed to inspire every mom within those church walls (and probably hundreds more as we all rushed forth to share the message).  His homily posed the idea that the things we spend time with here on Earth should only be the things that help lead us on our path to Heaven.  In terms of parenting, we should be selective about the activities we sign our kids up for and the ways we allow them to fill the gaps of time in their days.  Violent video games?  Not so much.  Books filled with heroic stories?  Yes, please.  Days spent with neighborhood kids that don’t share the same values just so we have social opportunities?  Skip.  Days spent in nature glorifying the magnificent handiwork of our Savior?  Definitely.  Time spent idly watching TV?  Of course not.  Time spent in the company of like-minded people?  Obviously.

But that all probably seems obvious, right?  Clearly, we want to fill our children’s lives with the good, the beauty, and the truth.  But then I stop and think about myself and all the meaningless tasks I fill my moments with and suddenly it can feel as if I am a terrible steward of the gift of time I have been given.  It seems so easy to set a priority for my children (get to Heaven) but it certainly seems more complicated to do the same for myself.

But isn’t our priority all the same?  If we are Christians then I’m afraid dear friends, that we cannot be too original in stating our priority (although I’m sure some of you with the gift of wise words could easily come up with various ways to say it).  Our priority is to get to Heaven.  The means of accomplishing that priority differ for each of us.  Some of us are called to marriage and parenthood.  Others are called to serve the Lord in the church.  Still others are called to remain single.

It seems that once that priority is established firmly in our minds, it should make it a little easier to set forth with making our to-do list.  There’s only so much time in the day.  It’s important to keep focused on our priority.

So that list you’ve got going…the gardening and the blogging and the social media time and the cooking and the laundry and the schooling and the reading and the…well, you get it.  That list?  There’s only so much time.  Choose wisely.

“When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives.”  Ezra Taft Benson

The beautiful mystery of death

There is nowhere else on earth, aside from a cemetery, where death rests so peacefully alongside life.April 2016 010_1_1 April 2016 012_2_1 April 2016 013_3_1 April 2016 014_4_1 April 2016 015_5_1

Maybe it’s harder to see in some cemeteries.  I imagine there are some spooky ones out there (or maybe that’s a Hollywood depiction of death and cemeteries…I personally have never found myself lost in a cemetery in the middle of the night, but I think with a wide enough imagination that could be a bit less peaceful) and I’m sure there are plenty of unkempt cemeteries, but even then there is a clear “juxtaposition of so much life and death all in the same place,” as Kerry Weber describes her visit to a cemetery in her book Mercy in the City, “I expect a kind of somber dreariness to the place, but pink budding trees are before me, and two rabbits are hopping across a fresh, green lawn.” It’s a bit of irony, isn’t it?  That the dead rest surrounded by so much life.April 2016 018_6_1 April 2016 019_7_1 April 2016 021_8_1 April 2016 022_9_1 April 2016 025_1_1

I like visiting the cemetery.  I find peace amongst the dead that often alludes me when I am amongst the living.  It just feels so peaceful.  And it’s not just because its inhabitants are peacefully resting.  It really is decidedly peaceful.  There’s an unspoken agreement here.  To just accept things as they are.  These people have already had their stories written in stone.  There’s no going back.  No changing things.  No regretting mistakes.  No wondering what the future holds.  No worry, no strife.  That, in itself, is a celebration of peace.April 2016 026_2_1 April 2016 027_3_1 April 2016 028_4_1 April 2016 029_5_1 April 2016 030_6_1

Or it could be that it’s just the physical quiet that makes it peaceful.  Or maybe it’s a spiritual sense that makes it peaceful.  Maybe it’s the acceptance that death is a certainty for each of us and it’s out of our control.  We simply have to live and accept our fate.  I don’t really know what it is.  I just know it’s peaceful.  And that feeling of peace when I wander from gravestone to gravestone is nothing like the feeling that settles in my soul when I contemplate death.April 2016 031_7_1 April 2016 033_8_1 April 2016 036_9_1 April 2016 037_1_1 April 2016 038_2_1

I tend to view death as an overwhelming thought, wondering what will happen to those I leave behind.  Knowing life will go on, but wondering if I will have left a deep enough mark.  I contemplate the physicality of it…will it hurt?  Will it be quick?  Will I teeter on the edge of consciousness, not understanding the process?  I also consider the spirituality of it.  How will I be judged?  Did I do enough, say enough, love enough, forgive enough, pray enough?  Will I be welcomed at the banquet of Heaven?   I know it’s a matter of faith, but it’s also a matter of being human.  The need to question and contemplate.  The need to understand.April 2016 039_3_1 April 2016 040_4_1 April 2016 041_5_1 April 2016 042_6_1 April 2016 043_7_1

But see, that’s where I’m wrong.  Death isn’t meant to be understood.  And it isn’t about me or what I leave behind.  It’s a mystery.  A great unknown.  The only thing we know about it is that God wills it and therefore, we must accept it.  Death isn’t what’s meant to be contemplated…it’s the living that’s meant to be.  Because in contemplating the living, we find peace in accepting the dying.  April 2016 044_8_1 April 2016 045_9_1 April 2016 046_10_1 April 2016 048_1_1 April 2016 049_2_1

As adults, we grasp the finality of death but sometimes lose sight of the spiritual freedom it entails.  Children, on the other hand, as in all things they do, grasp it without trying to understand it.  They accept it.  They embrace it for exactly what we have taught them to believe it is…the beginning of eternity.April 2016 050_3_1 April 2016 052_4_1 April 2016 053_5_1 April 2016 054_6_1 April 2016 055_7_1

I am Catholic, however, I do not profess to be a perfect Catholic, maybe not even a good Catholic.  But I try.  And I believe.  I trust and hope in eternal life.  It makes me wonder how depressing it must be to a nonbeliever.  How incredibly pointless this life must seem.  I find peace in my faith.  I am grateful to believe in something greater than myself.  To have hope in a life beyond this one.April 2016 056_8_1 April 2016 057_1_1 April 2016 058_9_1 April 2016 059_1_1 April 2016 059_10_1

The Church, while focusing on the living and teaching those of us here how to live to achieve eternal life, never forgets those that have gone on before us.  It is first mentioned in Maccabees, when Judas calls his soldiers to pray for the souls of the soldiers who had died wearing amulets taken from pagan temples.  April 2016 060_1_1 April 2016 067_2_1 April 2016 069_3_1 April 2016 070_2_1 April 2016 071_3_1

Remembering the dead is a prevalent practice today in the Church.  One of the Corporal Works of Mercy in the Catholic Church is to bury the dead.  It is a recurrent theme throughout the Bible, beginning most notably with Abraham purchasing a field in which to bury his wife.  A bit impractical for those of us today who are confined by city ordinances and laws about burial grounds and hard to practice for those of us who are not grave diggers.  We do not even follow early Christian traditions (at least in America), as cultural norms do not allow for us to prepare the body for burial with spices and oils. While we cannot physically be tasked with actually burying the dead, the Church does ask that when we lose a loved one, we follow Church protocol for burying the body on sacred ground.  We can attend wakes and funerals and we can pray rosaries for the souls of those we have lost.  But also, as with all the works of mercy, it is about showing compassion and mercy for our fellow man and treating everyone we encounter, dead or alive, with the respect and dignity due simply to the fact that we are each created in God’s image.April 2016 071_4_1 April 2016 072_4_1 April 2016 073_5_1 April 2016 074_1_1 April 2016 074_6_1

A more practical work of mercy for most of us is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy in which the Church calls us to pray for the dead.  This I can easily do.  And it makes me feel like I’m doing something with regards to death.  Perhaps I’m saving a soul from Purgatory.  Perhaps my simple prayer, offered for the soul of the grave I pass in the cemetery, helps free that soul from the clutches of the devil.April 2016 075_7_1 April 2016 076_8_1

Or maybe it’s not even about the spirituality.  Maybe, again, it’s about showing respect for those around us, simply by reflecting on a life lived.  I pass a gravestone and I let the deceased’s name settle on my tongue, imagining that they, too, lived a life probably much like mine.  A life of monotony, with bits of excitement thrown in occasionally.  A life marked by joy and happiness, grief and sorrow, hope and regrets.  We’re all really so much the same.  Our stories differ, but the themes behind our stories are all the same.  Each of us is just passing the time until we accept our fate to die.  For those of us who believe in Jesus, we can accept that fate a little more easily, as we are promised an eternal life.       April 2016 077_5_1 April 2016 078_6_1I may not be able to bury the dead and I may not be able to understand the great mystery of death, but I can visit the cemetery and pray for the souls of the bodies buried there.  I want to imagine that someday, someone will do the same for my soul when my body is buried beneath the ground. I delight in taking my children along with me.  I don’t want them to fear death.  I want them embrace it as the ultimate goal and destination of a dedicated Christian.  I want them to pray and wonder and contemplate.   I want them to walk amidst the gravestones, reflecting on the lives lived, the stories untold, the hope of these souls living in eternal bliss.  I want the peace of the cemetery to consume them.  So that when death is at their door, they embrace it with open arms.

 

A World Apart

(This post may look familiar, but it’s been updated and finished…there was a bit of a WordPress mishap last time and it was published before it was ready…now my thoughts are all accurately reflected!)

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I remember, as a kid, planning my future with my sister and all of our plans always included us together…we’d raise our kids together; we’d take them to the beach together; we’d go on vacation together.  As kids, we spent hours on the beach making future plans.  Our husbands would grill together and golf together while we’d spend our day at the spa (not sure if that’s really what we imagined…it may have just been a day of painting our nails, but a day at the spa sure sounds dreamy right now).  Our kids would be the best of friends.  I’m pretty sure we even planned to have our houses built next to each other.

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Life has proved to be less accommodating to our plans than our imaginations and while I only live three and a half hours away there are times when I notice that whether it’s three and a half hours or 30 hours, distance makes a difference. I see it when we visit and there are certain traditions that my mom and my sister have together like nights at the opera and quick trips to the bookstore together.  There are certain things that my nephew experiences with my parents that my kids don’t and probably never will. Weekly rituals like Sunday dinner and daily rituals like summer visits to the pool; surprise visits from Granny when they’re in the middle of school and trips to the library with her; dinner out with Pappy.  Things that are just a part of their normal routine.  Sure we get to experience those as we visit and they willingly accept us into the fold of their flock when we’re there but it’s never quite the same as what I imagined.

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Growing up, I was a military brat and so we moved around and we didn’t have extended family around.  No cousins at our birthday parties; no aunts to turn to during the teenage years when I declared my mom to be my enemy; no giant family gatherings.  Just an occasional visit to my parents’ hometown where we were readily welcomed but never quite comfortable with the intimacy of large family gatherings.  My mom’s side of the family was always quick to include us, but it still never felt exactly right.  My little immediate family felt right. That’s what I knew.  I knew my mom, my dad, and my sister.  And I just always assumed that would be my life.  I assumed it would always be the four of us in some variation. Throw in a husband for each of us and a handful of kids, but the four of us would remain steady.

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When my mom was raising us, she was far from her family.  Sometimes really far.  I know she knows how I feel…wishing the visit from Granny wasn’t such a huge occasion that we can’t do the normal stuff so she’ll never get to experience any degree of normalcy with us.  Wishing that we could all be a part of the everyday seams of one another’s lives.  But unlike my mom, I’m not married to a military man.  There is no promise of a maybe we’ll move back home someday (and I have no idea if my mom thrived on that idea…I just know that I would).  We’re here.  They are there.  I don’t see that changing.  Ever.  I have to find peace with the circumstances.  Even though sometimes my heart breaks because I miss their physical presence in my everyday life.

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My peace comes in little ways.  Sometimes I call my dad with a cooking question that I can easily look up online because I just want to hear his voice. Sometimes I call my sister just to chat because it makes it feel like she’s here and she could just bring over a cup of sugar if I needed it but, of course, she can’t.  I call and ask my mom’s opinion about something so simple just because I want to feel like she’s a part everyday life. Thank God for modern technology and free long-distance phone calls.

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However, life away from my family has offered me a different perspective.  I cherish the time that we do spend together.  There’s no time for us to argue or quibble over the insignificant…we’re too busy soaking up the moments together.  A conversation with my parents is rarely a quick mindless task, but rather, a moment I take to soak up their proverbial wisdom.  I tend to cram our days at my parents with events…we hop from place to place with my sister and nephew in tow and we make beautiful memories.  Really, my cup is full of lovely afternoons spent hiking with Leslie and Alex and mornings exploring the nooks and cranny of the city my family calls home.  Even the end of the meal dinner with everyone gathered around the table is marked with significance…it’s a chance for all of us to be together and because it isn’t an everyday occurrence, it is extremely special.  Would it be so special if we did it more often?  Seems that the more often we do things, the more we take it for granted, so I can’t pretend that this turn of events…me living away from my family…is a bad thing.  In fact, I think it might just be a good thing.  Of course, the grass is always greener on the other side…life is about learning to appreciate the grass on our own side.  And I am learning to do that.

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I remember once, when Dax and I first got married, I insisted that we go “on vacation” to visit his family.  He laughed.  Why would we do that, he wondered…they literally only lived 5 minutes down the road.  Because, I insisted, when you’re thrown together in one house and are committed to spending a weekend together, relationships happen.  He went along with my crazy scheme (as did my in-laws) and that is still one of the most memorable weekends with his family that I have.  We did things together that we don’t normally do.  It was a chance to be shoved together in a way that enforces bonding.  Which is the exact thing that happens every time I visit with my family.  While we may never be a part of each others’ every day, the times we spend together are marked with a unique code…one that makes each moment special and memorable.  A blessing in disguise.

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Moving around and lacking extended family nearby offered us, as a military family, an opportunity to establish bonds more closely within our immediate family and I think being raised that way made me think it would always be that way.  We had a lot of opportunities as military kids that other kids didn’t have and while I’m eternally grateful for those opportunities, sometimes I think I’d trade those opportunities for roots. Deep real roots. Relationships with my grandparents. Sunday dinner with extended family. Play dates and sleepovers with my cousins.  Stories about what this town was like when I was a kid.  Random run-ins with kids I played with in grade school.  Instead I have beautiful stories about the places I’ve visited, the people I’ve met and the experience of having a sister who was, not only, my constant playmate, but also (and still is) my best friend.  Hmm, when I put it like that, the lack of roots seems less important because I guess I had my own form of roots.  But the roots that I know and built my life upon have been yanked out.  And maybe that’s where this deep longing comes from…I’m still a girl without roots.  No roots to this town.  No roots to family here.  But, despite marrying into a welcoming new family and finding my groove in a town I timidly call home, I can’t just grow new roots overnight.  But I can keep trying.  And isn’t that what gives our lives meaning?  The choice to try and adapt.  The choice to allow ourselves the opportunity to grow.  Growth breeds happiness, as long as we embrace that growth with open arms.

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My life is full.  I have women close by that have become like surrogate moms to me and I have my sister-in-law who is my dear friend and feels like a sister and while its not the same, it is fulfilling and beautiful, if I choose to see it that way.  And I do choose.

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I am thankful that my kids have the roots I so desperately crave.  And they have extended family here.  While it’s not mine by blood, it is theirs.  I like that they have cousins who are best friends and we see them often.  I like that they have grandparents nearby.

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I am thankful that when I crave a large family gathering, there’s a large family here to gather with.  And that my in-laws have accepted me as one of their own and I’m welcomed as a daughter and a sister anytime I’m willing to embrace them.  And while all of that doesn’t lessen the craving for my family, it certainly softens the blow.

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I miss my family being a part of my everyday.  I am thankful for all the ways that they are present…the visits and the phone calls and the occasional note sent via snail mail.  While my sister and I may not live next door to each other, I’m thankful that it’s only three and a half hours.  Our kids are still best friends despite the distance.  Our husbands do golf together and we do sometimes take our kids to the beach together, so all is not lost.  It’s just not quite what I imagined.  And while some days, it still feels like we’re a world apart, I’m thankful for the days when our worlds collide and memories are made.  The grass on my side of the fence really is quite green indeed.

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