Small Graces in Hard Times

Small Graces in

It seems every time I make a resolution to get serious about my writing things get really intense around my home. I’m not sure if God is telling me to be quiet or if it is just that life just gets really intense a lot. I suspect it is the latter, so here I go.

Recently one of our children had a very near brush with death and spent some time critically ill, including more than two weeks at various levels of hospitalization. This was, of course, an intensely difficult time for our family. So much so that I am not ready to share much more about it so publicly.

But as always, there are little gifts that God gives in these times. I thought I would share a couple of them with you.

About a week before the beginning of the crisis, I sat at Sunday mass wrestling with a very wiggly, noisy baby. At 11 months old, Gwendolyn was starting to understand how pointing works so it was a little easier to point out things in the church to distract her. Each time I would ask her, “Where is Jesus?” she would look up at the crucifix and be silent and still for a few seconds. It occurred to me that this was a simple prayer I could use in the chaos of my life.

I little knew how I would rely on it just a few short days later when a prayer of words seemed to be more than I could do. In those wild hospital days, I could think, “Where is Jesus?” and know immediately that He was right there with me. It helped me to refocus on Him, to incline my heart toward Him even when I was so overcome with concern, worry, and fear that I could barely think. It really felt like that little moment with my wiggly baby in mass had been a gift. God had given me the tool I would need to use days later, watching my child cry and suffer in a hospital room.

While our child was in the hospital, my husband Jay stayed with her during the nights and I stayed with her during the days. Friends and family swarmed around us with love and care. Two friends in particular spent hours sitting with me at the hospital. They were long, lonely hours and I would have crumbled without their presence. They had busy lives of their own, but they moved things around to be there for our family. (As did many others who brought food, watched our other kids, and provided spiritual support.) At one point when Jay and I were actually in the same room for a little bit he mentioned a text message he had gotten from his brother. He said, “Yesterday’s homily was about carrying our crosses. One of the saints was quoted as saying that Jesus gives the heaviest weight to His dearest friends.”

I realized for the first time what that phrase might mean. In the past it had just made me think, Why does anyone stay close to God? If this is how He treats His friends… It seemed like a cruel sort of relationship. But in that moment I thought about how hard we had been leaning on our friends. We brought them (and they came willingly) into our suffering in a very intimate way. They saw through our eyes, they felt with our hearts. We let them do that because we love them. We did not do this to cause them pain, but because there is a certain unity in our friendship.

God does not need us in the same way we needed our friends through this crisis. But He loves us with the fiercest of loves. In our relationship with Him we find a unity beyond our relationships with people. For the first time I could see why there is pain that can come with that love and intimacy. Instead of feeling picked on, I realized just how much He loves us.

We are past the hospital days now, and are working our way back toward normal. It has been such a stressful time, but God has shown us His love and presence in so many ways. Thank you, friends who helped us and prayed us through this. We couldn’t have made it without you.

Taking a Little Break

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At bible study the other day – I was saying something and others were saying things. It was a good conversation, but it all fell to the background when a friend said the words, carefree timelessness.

She was referring to Matthew Kelly’s The Rhythm of Life, which we have gone through as a group. I had completely forgotten those words existed, forgotten that carefree timelessness was even a thing. And I knew I was missing it, my whole family is missing it badly. This was confirmation that the decision I had mostly made the night before was the right one.

Matthew Kelly has this to say about carefree timelessness:

Most of us know that the happiest people on the planet are those who are focused on their personal relationships.  Relationships thrive under one condition: carefree timelessness.  Do we gift our relationships with carefree timelessness?…We have to make carefree timelessness a priority.

I began November looking to post more, about lighter things – link ups, stuff going on, clothes, shoes, makeup, and photography, and have strangely found doors shutting in my face each time I turned around. God was trying to say something to me and I think what He was saying was:

Hush.

We have a lot of crazy things in our life, lots of misfortune and blessing. We laugh at it all the time and I get the sense that you have laughed with me. I hope you have. But as the days ticked by I have been laughing less.

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I have been running at a deficit for so long, it’s hard to keep the pace. I’m burning the candle at both ends, and there just isn’t much candle left. Survival mode is not meant to be a permanent state of being.

So I am releasing my plan for lots and lots of blog posts this month. I am scaling back in search of that carefree timelessness for myself and for my family. While the holidays seem like a weird time to try this, I wasn’t really the one who chose the time. My plate is overfull and I am scraping off as much as I possibly can right now. My plan, as it stands right now is to go back to regular posting in January. I hope it is early January, but I’m giving myself a little leeway there.

I’m okay, I really am. I am taking this break to be more than okay.

A Finger in the Dam

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I’ve been told a few times that I am honest. That I say the things that others are afraid to say, the things that isolate us come dribbling out of my mouth because I just can’t stand it – that feeling like I am the only one. When I see someone who thinks I have it together, I have to take myself down a notch in their eyes and show them what I am wrestling with. So often I find that they are wrestling with the same things. Only no one talks about these things. Shiny, happy posts on facebook never tell the inner hurts, we feel like we should have our act together about these things by now. But we don’t so we just stay silent in shame. I try to inevitably blab about those things.

But lately the shape of my life has left me feeling like it was time to keep my mouth shut. The issues that weigh the most on my heart have to do with my older kids, and I fear sharing details about their lives in my writings. And so it eats away at me. I feel like such a failure as a parent to these young adults that I dare not offer anyone another parental opinion on anything at all.

Brick by brick, I build this dam. holding all the ugly truths of my life back from here, from everyone. Until I can’t even write anymore because there is so much left unsaid that I don’t know where to begin.

Certain signs have told me that this is not working. There are cracks and fissures in my dam. I have kept my finger there, plugging the leak for too long. I am tired. I am lonely. Worse yet, I know that if I feel like this there have to be others who feel the same way. They need, I need, to know we are not alone. We may have failures as a parent, but if we let those paralyze us, we will be useless to our other children and to each other. We will be isolated and neutralized in the good we can do. That sounds like it is exactly where Satan wants us.

So I am taking my finger out of the dam. There is a lot being held back, and I don’t know how it will all come out, but I need to share and reach out.

To begin with, I have to say that my two older children are not practicing their faith. at least one doesn’t attend church at all. Another goes to church at times and even carries a rosary, but also wears a sack of crystal rocks around his neck, thinks hallucinogens are the way to clarity and talks about how Arabic is how we should be communicating.

What is a momma to do with these things? Confrontation has yielded accusations that I am just stuck in the mud, a slave to the old beliefs of a corrupt patriarchal system. I say my piece and try to love them anyway, wondering all the time if I am enabling their behavior more than I realize.

This letting go thing is so much harder than the months of colicky crying. This pain reaches deep into the pit of my stomach and won’t let go. It’s like seeing your child about to grab a cactus or touch a stove, times a thousand. There is that tense slow motion here too – trying to pick the words and realizing that they have been left unsaid while the child has marched off to do what he will.

I remember vividly some decisions I made that probably put my parents through the same feelings. I try to love my children the way they loved me. Condemnation closes doors, respectful honesty (and then shutting up) keeps them at least open a crack or so it seems. But is that enough?

My son leaves in less than three weeks for a new adventure. He says for right now that he doesn’t plan to come back. I look at the outdated pictures on my wall and wonder when there will be time to take more pictures together. Less than a year ago, my whole family lived under one roof, now we are scattered (and will be even more so soon) thousands of miles apart. And I don’t know how to do this part.

I feel like so much of my family is missing now – the two babies lost this past winter, the adult children going all over and doing whatever suits their fancy, the adolescents who openly disdain me at times, some without regard for the right and wrong we tried to teach them.

I am not a perfect parent. I do not have perfect children. I’m often not even sure what on earth I am doing wrong or if doing everything right would have given any different results. Should we have home schooled longer, been more strict, been less strict, ate more organic foods?

The hope that I hold is that their story is not finished yet. Things can change for them next week or ten or even fifty years from now, it is not for me to know. It is for me to pray. It is for me to learn to live with this hole in my heart and not let the anxiety overcome me and steal away my joy in life.

I see other older moms who have carried this cross. They never talk about it – no one wants to complain and bring down their own children. And maybe they are feeling just as lost as I am in this; this deep reservoir of hurt and shame and dashed hopes.

I’m taking my finger out of the dam. There may be a trickle or there may be a flood, but there is room for us to talk about these unspoken things, to pray for each other and our children, to try to find our way.

The Burial

It’s drizzling quietly outside and I’m wondering if I really want to drag the words for this post out of my brain. I’d rather do it sooner than later, so here goes.

On Thursday, we laid our little unborn baby to rest. It was a beautiful day, sunny and 80 degrees, and our time was beautiful as well. I wished all day for pictures of my moments, but the day was too precious to mar with fussing over a camera. The few pictures I was able to take were the times when I could take out my phone and snap a picture as quickly as possible and put it away. I’m glad I left the day in peace like that, but I still wish I could revisit the images in my head in a more tangible way.

We kept the kids out of school, which made for a morning that went at a quieter pace than usual. There is always a bustle to get this crew out the door, but there was still less stress. I was very grateful for that.

First we met Fr. L at the convent at our parish for mass. Their little chapel was just big enough for the family. The chairs are separated so that the sisters can go in and pray, so I worried about having the little ones out of reach during the mass, but it wasn’t really a problem. Gus (age 2) got our of his chair a few times and wandered, but there was no one but us for him to bother. Fr. L mentioned after the mass that it was nice to say a funeral mass where everyone, even the small children, knew the mass parts. (Very often at funerals there is very little participation.) And the kids did know the mass parts. They all sang their little hearts out!

After mass, we all had to travel to the other side of town (about a 45 minute drive)  to pick up the baby in its little casket at the doctor’s office and then drive another 10 miles to the cemetery. There was a short delay at the doctor office in getting the casket sealed, but I think that helped me to get through the cemetery part. I was able to ride a little wave of stress through it.

Queen of Heaven cemetery has a little hill in the middle with a statue of the Holy Family on top. They have reserved this hill for burying babies born before 20 weeks gestation. There is no headstone or label for individual babies, but this service is free to those who wish to have a burial for their lost babies.

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The tiny casket

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Baby Ambose’s place is almost right in front and very close to the statue. The green board was for kneeling, the hole is right under the flowers.

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Jay placed Ambrose into the grave, and each of us threw a handful of dirt onto it. This was the saddest part for me. When James threw his handful in, Gus said, “Good job, James!”

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Jay and Lily start to walk back to the car. You can see the chairs and platform under the tree where we had the little graveside service.

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Paisley carried Molly back to the car.

In setting all of this up, I really worried that I was making a bigger deal than was necessary, but I really think that this was a healing moment for our family. It was a big deal, even if we hadn’t known about the baby for very long. The kids treated the whole thing with deep respect.

After the little service, we took the family out to lunch and took the time to relax a bit. I wanted to end the experience on a positive note.

I’m doing okay these days. I’m not really moping around sad all the time. But I do find that my emotional energy is pretty low right now, so I know that I am still processing all of this a little bit, and probably will be for a while. I am just trying to give myself some space and as much down time as I can manage.

7 Quick Takes 2014 vol. 5: In Which I Throw a Temper Tantrum

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My husband and I have a sort of unspoken policy that we don’t give excuses. When the field trip money gets turned in late, when we have to turn down a position at church or school where we are desperately needed, when we have to back out of a commitment we have made – we don’t give an explanation for it, we just apologize as best we can and move on. Sure, people get angry or hurt feelings, but it’s better than the alternative which is that they just flat out don’t believe us. What we have found is that if we tell people what is really going on in our lives, they think we are making it up. It seriously sounds like we are just really bad liars who come up with a list of excuses in an effort to sound plausible. You know, it’s the kind of thing you see scam artists do all the time, they give too many details. We used to give details. But we either got people who stopped believing anything we said or people who constantly looked on us with pity. We became somewhat of a joke in the parish office for a while, because people could always count on a good bit of crisis drama coming from our household. It’s not like we were calling them about it either… they just knew. So we just stopped complaining.

But this week. This week just takes the cake. It’s actually a little longer than the previous seven days, but not by much, so I’m counting it all. And I will enumerate my list of crappy things. This is one of those weeks when I stand in awe of just how bad a week (or so) can be. I almost uttered the dreaded phrase, you know the one, it begins with “What else…” but I stopped myself because I really just do not want to know.

I know that I have a lot of things to be thankful for. Trust me, they are very much on my mind right now. And I know that there are many, many people who have it much worse than I do, but today I will officially submit my entry in the “My Day Sucks Worse Than Yours” contest.

1. I am not pregnant any more. I told the whole story of my miscarriage here, so I won’t recount it for you now. But this is how we began the week: with heartbreak. The physical part is done, but there is still a lot of road ahead of us to travel on this one. We have to get the baby back to the doctors office, call the cemetery, go to vital records and I don’t know what else before our little one can be laid to rest. It feels very overwhelming, and I want it to all be over. I have this terrible fear that when I give that little vial full of stuff that I think is my baby, the doctor will tell me it is just a clot and I missed catching the baby at all and it just went down the toilet. All I can do now is wait.

I promise, while the rest of this list is bad stuff, none of it is as sad as the above paragraph. I just had to get the worst over first.

2. Croup. The little ones have been hit with varying severity with croup or a virus vaguely resembling it. Most of them came through it with just a lot of snot, fever, and horrible sounding cough, but my little asthma girl didn’t fare so well. We’ve had multiple nights of waking her every four hours for a breathing treatment, steamy showers, and time outside at night. This is the first time I have seen her truly panicked that she couldn’t get enough air, and that was very scary. To add insult to injury, she had been doing so well that just last week, her allergist gave us a plan for weaning off of the inhaled steroids that she gets every day. She has to have had no oral steroids for 2 years to be considered beyond the need for daily preventative meds. We had made it to one and a half years. Now we are back at day one.

Midnight Breathing Treatment

3. Stomach Virus. Now you are starting to think I am making things up, admit it. Just wait. When your 19 year old can only sit and cry in between her vomiting, you know its a bad one. The nine year old was next, with a single episode of vomiting – scrambled eggs, in the car. Next to fall victim was my 11 year old daughter, who threw up with such force that she broke blood vessels in her face. I was next, with the two year old close on my heels. Two year olds throw up on everything. Oh my heavens, this virus was brutal. I don’t think I slept at all for a full 24 hours. The vomiting was bad, but the headache and body aches were much, much worse.

Among the small blessings found during those days were a cancelled G.I. doctor appointment and rescheduled jury duty. Molly had a long awaited specialist appointment on Tuesday, the very day I was very sick. There was no way I could take her, so I figured we would just have to call and take the hit of whatever fee they give same day cancellations. But they called us first, and told us her doctor was out sick and would have to reschedule. I was also supposed to have jury duty the following day, but they accepted my excuse and just gave me a different day. Whew, two bullets dodged! Thanks to God for having mercy on us!

4. Adult Child Problems. Because this child is an adult, I don’t feel like I can share their business, let me just say that this is a severe, ongoing, and worrisome problem or set of problems one of my kids is having. Please pray for this child.

5. Lice. One of my kids keeps popping up with lice. I have been doing All The Things to deal with it, but they just keep coming back. I do not have the time to spend two hours a night going through heads and changing sheets. Lice combs don’t work on her, her hair is baby fine and combs don’t catch anything, it has to all be done by hand, removing nits with fingernails. One. At. A. Time.  The other kids don’t have them ( I check regularly!), and she is currently clean as a whistle, but this morning I found one on my head. and I’m just all squicked out and overwhelmed because…

6. My dryer is broken. Again. My house is still buried in puked on towels, blankets, and clothes. I need to be able to dry everything on hot to kill all the bugs, AND MY FREAKING DRYER IS BROKEN. I quit. I Quit. I QUIT.

I officially give up on this dryer which needs to be fixed about every three months now. I’m buying a new one. This particular dryer is sent by the devil himself and breaks every time we are sick. EVERY. TIME.

7. I don’t have anything else to add to this list. THANK YOU JESUS! Our cars are working, my husband has a job, we have electricity and running hot and cold water, I have a stove and two crock pots and a microwave and a dishwasher. We do not have any life threatening health problems, we have family and friends who love us and can put up with a little temper tantrum every now and then. We have our Church and the ability to go to mass and receive Jesus without threat. And so very much more. This terrible “week” will be over at some point and life will go back to “normal”.

We will be okay. I know that. We know how to laugh at a week like this, because we have to! There is some funny stuff here, even when our hearts are heavy and we need a break.

But darn if I didn’t want to rattle off this list to a certain teacher who got crabby about a delayed field trip payment.

Again

There was not a pithy title for this post, anything seemed to casual or too blunt. Even “Again” sounds all wrong to me, but I have to stick something there.

I gave myself last week off from writing the 7 Quick Takes, even though it was my primary goal to go through March writing one every week, and even though I have already missed one so far and this one makes it two.

But my baby died on Thursday. Or maybe Wednesday. Probably Wednesday. And then I fully miscarried Friday morning. And I just really didn’t want to write about anything at all. I figured I would regret just about anything that came out of my mouth (or fingers) that day.

On Wednesday, I woke up and felt fully nauseated. And I was relieved, because I had only been feeling a little gaggy so far. I had a good breakfast and got busy around the house, taking kids to this school and that, picking them up… but I forgot to eat lunch. I didn’t feel sick to my stomach like usual. That seemed wrong. I had a snack and later on I had some soup for dinner. But I still felt just fine, not even tired really. When I still wasn’t tired and had trouble falling asleep at 10pm, I knew. I just knew that it was all over. I have never been so sure of anything in my life.

Thursday morning when I got up, I took my temperature – it was much lower than it had been. And I knew. When Jay got up, I told him that it was all happening again. He tried to comfort me but I really needed to not cry – to not fall apart until the kids were safely at school. That was hard. I broke down on the drive to school and was so thankful for loud music and my sunglasses to hide behind. I don’t know if they saw. I cried through my rosary on the way home. By the time I got home I was fully bleeding and cramping and I called the doctor.

My doctor’s office was about to fit me in at 1pm. Jay was at work on the other side of town, but my oldest kids were able to babysit and do the school pick up. I drove an hour to the doctor office. It’s usually a 45 minute drive, but I missed my freeway exit. By about 10 miles. So it was a little longer that Thursday. I arrived and checked in. Everyone greeted me with sad eyes. I was told to get ready for an exam. They asked, can the student come in? And I said no. They left before the exam to see if they could schedule an ultrasound right away, and when they came back, they brought my husband with them. I can’t even describe the relief I felt, to not be in this alone. He had called off his afternoon job and come to my side, my knight in shining armor, and I didn’t even ask. But he’s like that.

After the exam, we went to McDonalds so I could drink a bunch of sweet tea for my ultrasound. I haven’t let myself have sweet tea in at least 6 months, but I had some then. And after that we went and waited in a very crowded ultrasound/x-ray place, Jay had to stand because there were no more chairs. The ultrasound was torturous, it hurt – I was cramping badly and I could see that there was no little flashing heartbeat on the screen anywhere. I just closed my eyes and cried quietly through it.

Then there was the long drive home. Jay had to go and drop something off, so we parted for the drive. I was actually thankful for the afternoon traffic. As much as I felt bad – my head was pounding and I was cramping, I wasn’t looking forward to getting home and facing chaos and telling the kids. When I got home I went straight to bed, to cry, to ball up and try to soothe my head. Jay got home and got dinner on the table. I went out and had some turkey soup from the other night. I knew it would make me feel better. It did.

We told the kids. The big ones already knew, but the younger ones didn’t and they were confused and sad. Max, age 9, came up to me later and told me he thought the baby would be okay because he prayed two decades of a rosary for it. I don’t remember what I said to him, but it clearly wasn’t sufficient because he still was thinking the baby was going to be okay on Saturday night. Then we had to explain it to him, and he cried.

I passed the baby the next morning, about an hour before we got the ultrasound report that confirmed the miscarriage. Then I had to untell about my pregnancy on Facebook. I felt a little embarrassed, but I was so amazed at the outpouring of love and prayers from our friends. I know that those prayers have lifted us up and keep us moving. I am so thankful for the support from our friends and family.

Today is Sunday, and I am still so tired. I would like to stay busy right now, it would be an easy way to keep my mind off of things. But I keep getting a terrible headache when I am up for too long at a time. So I have no choice but to rest.

Later this week we will have a burial for the baby. We named him Ambrose, because it was Ambrose’s preaching that converted St. Augustine, and we hope our own St. Ambrose can quietly speak to our hearts and the hearts of those close to us.

No More Secrets

Last month I did something I regret. I put myself in a position of hiding a big part of myself from my friends and family. I didn’t mean to do that, it was just how the events unfolded.

On December 12, I found out I was pregnant.  Since it was so close to Christmas, we decided that Christmas morning would be the perfect day to tell the kids. All we had to do to make it the perfect surprise was to keep our mouths shut until then. We had a great plan to get an address plaque with the number 10 on it and have the kids open it as they were opening presents.

But our hopes were quelled just six days later when I miscarried.

This was our first loss. We were very sad, but grateful that we haven’t experienced this before and that if it had to happen, it was early on.  The physical part wasn’t terrible, aside from the knowledge of what it was, but I was left emotionally drained and depressed. And I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about it after the fact. I felt like I would be trying to make excuses for myself for being in a bad mood or for needing to take it easy, so I just tried to carry on as if nothing was happening.

I felt lonely and isolated from my friends – but it was my own doing. I found it hard to write or even journal because I was trying so hard not to put any of this into words at all. I was one of the walking wounded, trying to act like I wasn’t.

I remembered clearly what one friend, who has had several miscarriages, told me once, “Tell the kids right away, so they can pray for their new little brother or sister.” I was sorry that I had deprived them of that knowledge of their sibling.

I know, my plan wasn’t excessive secrecy, I was only trying to wait a couple weeks. So maybe I should have said something right away when I realized that the baby was gone. I didn’t though. I can’t really kick myself too hard since I wasn’t thinking clearly at the time.

I’m feeling better now, emotionally and physically, especially with getting this secret of ours out in the open, which is good because I don’t want to keep that secret again.

Because, in His amazing grace, God has seen fit to bless us again, just a month later. I don’t know if we will get to meet this little one in this life or if he or she will join the other baby we have in heaven. I am an older mom now, and I know that makes it all riskier. Nevertheless, I want others to have the opportunity to pray for our baby, to hope along with us, and to hold our hands if this ends in sadness.

We have hope; hope that we might meet this one at the right time, healthy and living and ready for all kinds of adventures and fun in this crazy family.

We take this next step, like we always do, excited for our future and terrified of the possibilities while trying to lean on Jesus to sustain us. I hope you will pray for us and with us for this little one.

Anything

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I have spent the last 8 weeks on a book study/bible study based on the book “Anything” By Jennie Allen. In general, I tend to have a pretty decent awareness of living in a state of surrender to God. I mean, I have 9 children, I have to live on the edge a little bit, right? But there are always those few things…

She begins by sharing a vision she and her husband shared, and a prayer they prayed. Their vision was to live in radical surrender to God. They wrestled with it for some time and then one evening finally said:

“God we will do anything. Anything.” It didn’t feel fancy. It wasn’t even a big deal. But the prayer held in it a thousand little deaths. In saying anything, it meant we were handing him everything.

One of the things that struck me is that in my life I have not so much uttered a prayer of “anything” as much as “whatever”. And I think there is a subtle difference. “Anything” seems more like a positive movement, an action of giving my life back to God as a gift, where “whatever” feels more like a surrender borne of defeat. Of course, my life was His gift to me to begin with and “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” – Oswald Chambers.

I was trying to be a limp rag doll in His hands and calling that my version of Mary’s fiat, but what He was asking of my was to be a useful tool for Him. That was my difference between “anything” and “whatever”.

The biggest revelation that I found during this study was how much fear I was harboring towards surrender. Jennie writes, ” I had prayed the prayer of anything as though I were about to launch on the Superman ride at Six Flags, my eyes closed tight and fingernails digging in. I was so afraid.”

What are you most afraid of? What would be the very worst thing that God may allow you to suffer? We all would say his character is loving and good, but do we really trust that he won’t get crazy and dish out the same life he gave Job?

 

One thing that kept coming back to me as I went through this study was one of the first verses I memorized: Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for woe, plans to give you a future and a hope.

And I really, at the core of my being, believe that anything I go through, whether brought into my life by Him or by our broken world, can be used by Him for my good. There have been plenty of rough times: being at the brink of divorce, financial troubles, a house fire, a fatal car accident, a deadly illness, not to mention the daily struggles of dying to self and living for others.  But no matter how painful, how gut wrenching those times were to live through, I can’t bring myself to wish any of them away or regret going through any of them. I came through them changed for the better every single time. Without those, I would not be who I am now.

“Anything” is not just about me being a better person. This study has hit me on other levels.  It has been about drawing closer to God, in a real communicative relationship. I learned to do a better job talking to Him.  I guess the idea of surrendering my self to Him drove me to finally have some more open honest conversations with Him. I’ve prayed all my life, but this last 8 weeks was different. (A mini silent retreat during that time helped a great deal too. Who knew I could pray for two hours straight and love every second of it?)

In “Anything”, Jennie asks a professor how someone can know God. His response was:

He began by listing all the ways we grow or know God: prayer, studying Scripture, church, worship, experiences, suffering, confession, community, and on and on. Then he said, “But obviously each of these is unpredictable . . . many people who study the Bible never find God. Many people who go to church never really know him. The only exercise that works 100 percent of the time to draw one close to the real God is risk… To risk is to willingly place your life in the hand of an unseen God and an unknown future, then to watch him come through. He starts to get real when you live like that.”

But it isn’t just the big things in which we live in a state of risk.  God isn’t calling me (at least right now) to sell all my possessions and run off to Africa. There is risk to be found even in the day to day. Sometimes the risk that is thrust upon us is in small things – a spilled bowl of cereal for example. Control is taken from me in that moment, I risk losing the momentum that I had built towards whatever else I was trying to get done. I risk my vision for that few moments. I know it sounds a little strange, but when you are really tired, momentum is a very important thing. In that moment, it is hard for me to let go and roll with it. I tend to throw a little mini-tantrum first. There are hard lessons in surrender to be learned in small moments.

Like a small child holding a puppy too tightly, God had to pry my fingers off my dreams and goals, tell me to relax a little bit and then He handed them back to let me try holding them more carefully.  At least twice in this study it looked like something I had dared to trust God with was going to be taken completely away. Once when I thought I was pregnant (I’m not.) and would have to give up my (feeble) attempts at running and losing weight. Another time when it looked like our dreams for the future were dashed. Each time I fell apart, and each time I came to a point of surrender, a point where I could trust God for either outcome. There was a rare peace there.

I have so much more to say on this but I hate to promise a series because I’m still not great on the follow through. I’ll try though!

Just Keep Swimming

I’d like to jump back in here without mentioning just how long I have been away, but I just can’t help myself.  When I pulled up the page and it told me the last post was in August… I just couldn’t believe how much time had slipped by.  To give myself a little credit, I did have a baby in that time and since then my days have been busy.  But I miss writing, and I miss really pulling my thoughts together to be able to post them here.

With the new year comes a new look for Circling Jericho, I hope you like it, and a goal of a post per week.  We’ll see how that goes. I still need to finish my series on Control and Surrender, and also get our Vasectomy Reversal Story posted.  So I have plenty to start with!

But what has been on my mind lately has been about seeking God.  2011 was a hard year for our family, and certainly taught me a lot about control and surrender, but it also left me floundering a little bit and wondering why I felt kind of alone in all my struggles.  I wondered – since God wants us to seek Him, why doesn’t He just show up when we decide to head His direction?  It would seem to make sense to reward us a little for figuring out which way we are supposed to be going, right?

The image of teaching my kids to swim came to me.  I spend hours in the pool with them in the summers, showing them, guiding them, training them in new skills.  There comes a time in learning to swim, however, when the child needs to transition from just swimming as far as they can hold their breath to being able to come up for air all on their own.  This is the crucial step in becoming an independent swimmer.

I tell them what they need to do and we practice the movements on the steps.  Then I have the child swim to me.  But instead of reaching out my arms to catch him like I always do, I take a step backwards.

The child can see my feet.  He knows his usual comfortable distance just got longer.  He feels the rising panic as his body calls out for air.  I can see him begin to get nervous and I step closer and catch him.  We go back to the steps and practice again.

The next time he knows that I am going to step back and that he has to lift his head, he really has to try this time.  It is so hard to watch a child at this point in learning to swim.  To see him struggle to combine the skill of swimming with a new one of lifting his head or turning over onto his back.

But he can’t learn it at all if I never take that step back.

That one moment of abandonment when I take a step backward and the child realizes that he has to do this is the only thing that will move him to the fun of swimming anywhere he wants to in the pool.  He has to take a breath and keep swimming.

I think this year has been like that for me.  I am swimming towards God.  I am going in the right direction, doing (mostly) what He wants me to do.  And He took that step backward, willing me to keep going, to push through and take that breath and swim the rest of the way.

I can’t say for sure if I have learned the new skill that He had planned for me.  But I know I haven’t drowned.

I’m still swimming!

Where am I now?

Writing that last post left me with a lot to think about.  God is WITH me.  I really felt the need to just spend some time with that idea and let it sink in a bit.  What does that mean to me in my life?  What does that mean to me today?

So instead of moving forward, I decided to just let that one simmer in my prayer life for a while and not force any more writing about it for the time being.  It was a good place to start the summer and it led me to a deepening of my Faith, I think.  But then time began to tick by and I wasn’t moving much beyond that, and lost  my momentum a little bit.

You see, I have struggled a little bit with this pregnancy.  As much as we were open to life and even expecting to be blessed again before too long, it happened awfully fast this time, and that left me reeling a bit.  As I looked forward into the rest of the year (always a dangerous thing to do), all I could see was an unending line up of exhaustion and work to be done.  It just looked so daunting.

Instead of marching around Jericho, I took a little break to crawl around in the mud and feel sorry for myself.  How could I ever keep up with all this?  How could I do any of the things that I wanted to do like write or read or make rosaries while under this extreme work load?

Are you seeing some of the Control and Surrender issues I have been trying to write about crop up here anywhere?

Yes, the reason I haven’t been able to take this blog topic any farther is that God isn’t done nailing it into my skull yet.  He’s working on it, though, and hard!

Then I remembered one of those little Mary Engelbreit prints:

I figured that it really was as good advice as any at this point.  I had to start from somewhere and usually, starting where I am is the very best place.  So this is my life.  Time to take stock, be thankful, and continue the journey.  Slowly, one step at a time, one prayer, one messy little kiss, one dinner cooked, (and just now – one more horrendous poop mess cleaned up) and I started to lighten up and remember that *this* is blessing.  Not some random future time when things run smoothly and “it all gets done”.  No, the good time is now.  All I have to do is keep circling around Jericho and the Lord is with me and I am molded into something I never knew I could be.

I was blooming.  Still pouting a bit, but mostly blooming right where God put me, right where He knew was the best place for me to become closer to Him and to let go of myself.  But He wasn’t done…

There was a little snag on the horizon.  I spent nearly a week in the hospital, very sick and am now just trying to get back on my feet.  It is going to take quite a bit of time and rest for me to feel like myself again.  Thankfully the baby is fine and still growing well, and I am recovering.  Family and friends have come forward to help us with meals and rides for the kids and work around the house.  I am so thankful for their help!

But I have to laugh just a little as Control is completely out of my hands once again and all I can do… in fact the best thing I can do – for myself, for my family, is to utterly surrender and just let this unfold.

To answer the question I began with: Where am I now?  I am starting again, trying to remember to bloom where I am planted (which is currently firmly on the couch) and feeling, at least for now, a little more comfortable with my lack of control.

I’m not giving up on my series on Control and Surrender.  I will continue that as the school year gets in swing and I have more time (ha ha!!) for writing again. After all, I have had such a handy refresher course on it…