God’s Faithfulness — Part II

In Part I I told you about my prayers for a friend and my last minute decision to attend the Immaculate Heart of Mary Homeschool Conference on a Friday afternoon in July.  After hearing Ginny speak, I was moved to tears and certain that we needed to bring the kids back home for school.  I purchased a few books on my list and then headed to On the Border to enjoy a meal and fellowship with 15 or so other mothers.  I was one of the first to arrive and took a seat across from some familiar faces.  We jumped into conversation and began catching up to date with the events of one another’s lives.  Then, two women whom I did not know or recognize joined us at the table.  I introduced myself and some of the other ladies sitting nearby.  We began to discuss Ginny’s talk and I shared the story of my father’s healing at the Shrine.  Clair, who had just moved from Georgia to Texas two weeks earlier, commented on having visited the Shrine herself about ten years ago.  As it turns out, her family immigrated to Green Bay like mine had in the late 1800’s.  We got to chatting and decided that we needed to get together soon to continue getting to know one another.  As the Nine-O-Clock hour rolled around, I excused myself to head home and get to bed.  I was filled with joy at all the afternoon and evening had brought.  For the first time in a long time, I had peace about bringing my kids home to learn again.

Over the weekend, I saw a post about tickets for sale for the Edel Gathering in Austin.  It was just a few weeks away, but some of the ladies could no longer make it and the tickets were being sold via Facebook.  I snatched one up quickly and looked forward the Edel weekend.  It was on a whim that I made the purchase, so I reached out to see if there was anyone with whom I could share a room and/or a ride.  Clair was also going and offered to give me a ride.  Jenny had a friend, Elizabeth, with a room and agreed to hook us up for the weekend.  As it turns out Elizabeth had attended Texas Tech with my nephew and his wife!  Also, my daughter Allison babysits for them on occasion.  Everything seemed to be falling into place quite nicely.

The following Tuesday I loaded up the kids and headed East to Forney, Texas to visit Clair.  The plan was to help her organize her school room, but we ended up visiting the entire day.  She said that she had spoken to her grandparents and that she was a descendant of the Allen’s as well, but her grandfather told her that ‘Allen’ was a popular sur name and that it was unlikely we were related.  I agreed and added that our ancestors were Allen, but the name had been changed from Hallaux when they immigrated from Belgium.  We continued to visit and something in our conversation spurred me to want to show her something I had seen on the internet.  We headed upstairs and I waited while she booted up the computer.  It was then that she noticed the email from her grandmother and opened it.  What was the original sur name I had told her? What was the name of my great, great grandfather who came from Belgium?  And in that instant we knew that we were related.  There on the screen was a digital copy of the immigration document of Josef Hallaux from Belgium to Green Bay!  Clair’s mother and I would be fourth cousins, so that made us fourth cousins once removed–my children were her fifth cousins!  God had sent me a friend and just to make sure I knew it was from Him, God had put his fingerprints all over the experience.

You see, when I first prayed for a friend over 17 years ago–before the HENS existed–God sent me my friend Karen.  Patrick and I had known Karen from years before.  She had attended classes with my sister in college, her mother and Patrick’s mother were friends, our fathers knew each other through church and business relationships.  When we met again it was in our children’s preschool class on “Meet the Teacher” night.  But, what we came to discover after several years of friendship–those same children now in junior high–was that Patrick and Karen were fourth cousins.  I was teaching our children Texas History and their first assignment was to research how their families ended up in Texas.  It was in researching for this project that we discovered that Patrick and Karen share the same great, great grandfather; but have different great, great grandmothers.  Yes, fourth cousins.  No, I’m not joking.  Only God can do these things.  He sees the big picture and He is always faithful to those who place their trust in Him.

 

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God’s Faithfulness–Part I

shrine olghIt was mid-July and I was feeling especially fearful about the prospect of homeschooling again in the fall.  My husband and I had agreed that we would divide our duties differently.  Since we were working together in our home-based business, we would work together to get the household chores and homeschooling tasks accomplished as well.  Still, my heart raced and my stomach flip-flopped at the thought of it.  So, I prayed.  I prayed for wisdom, for God’s will and for a friend.  For the first time in many years, I prayed for a friend.  It seemed silly, really since God has blessed me with so many faithful friends I am rich beyond belief (Sirach 6:14-16)!  But, my original tribe, The Hens, are in a very different phase of their lives—almost empty nesters—while I am still years away from an empty nest.   I prayed for a friend that could help me get through the loneliness and redundancy that one finds as a homeschooling mother: long days without adult interaction, math facts, grading, laundry, meals, etc.

The week had been a rough one.  Sick kids and stresses in our family life and marriage were taking its toll on my mental well-being.  Friday rolled around and our weekend plans had to be cancelled.  Then, I remembered the Catholic Homeschooling Conference was being held that very day.  Yes!  Yes, I could still make it and even sneak in the social dinner gathering that Jenny had organized.  I remembered seeing her post on Facebook and quickly replied that I would attend after all.  It was only out of desperation for socialization that I was attending this conference.  I still was not convinced that homeschooling was the right fit.

I arrived at the conference around 2 o’clock.  The first observation I made was how many women I knew.  Their faces made my heart fill with joy. “God has blessed me,” I thought to myself.  I must have seen, visited and hugged at least twenty women in that first hour!  As I was catching up with one mother, Ginny Seufert walked by.  She has spoken at almost every homeschool conference I’ve attended for the past 16 years.  She caught my eye because she looked particularly youthful and beautiful this day.  I told her just as much.  She was just on her way in to give a talk.  My friend asked me if I wanted to hear Ginny speak.  I wasn’t going to attend the talks.  I still was not sure that I was going to homeschool.  I was almost certain that I had heard it all before.  This would be my 18th year of homeschooling IF we were to homeschool, that is.  Still, I agreed to go in and listen.  Ginny is always good for straight talk and hearty laughter.

I was not prepared for her talk this time around.  Her topic was something to the effect of “Why You Should Persevere in Homeschooling No Matter What.”  She pointed out all of the confusion in the world, the opposition to natural law and its infiltration into the educational system of even the youngest students.  She then went on to discuss the Peshtigo Fire in 1871 in Northern Wisconsin and the miracle at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.  Fascinating topics on their own accord, but especially relevant to me.  You see, I was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin almost 100 years after that horrific fire.  My ancestors were Belgium immigrants living in the area at the time of the Fire. Adele Brise is a relative by marriage in my family tree and I had heard the stories of the fire and the miracles for many years.  But, even more relevant because my own father was healed through the intercession of Mary at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help on August 15, 1937.  If not for that miraculous healing I would not be here today.  My second observation for the day was that my life has a particular and unique purpose.  Like Adele Brise, I heard the words in my head, “Teach the children the way to salvation…I will help you.”  Moved to tears, I knew I would and I could return to homeschooling.  Mary would help me as well.  It was time for us to formally consecrate ourselves and our children to her.  Mary always leads us to her Son, Jesus Christ; intercedes in begging grace for us; and protects us and guards us as she protected and guarded her own Son, Our Lord.

Brave New World

Seven weeks into the new school year a new groove has formed.  Life follows this new path revealing once unseen landscapes and vastly different views.  Yet, I can’t help but seek out the old and familiar sights.  Longing for the companionship of other adult women and seeking for social outlets for my remaining lone-homeschooled child, the Bible Study sounded like a perfect blend of opportunities for us. “Bring along your children, your Bible, your journal and pens,” the Facebook post beckoned to me.  It sounded like the superb opportunity beginning with the Holy Mass, ending in fellowship centered on the Word of God, and coming to a church in my neighborhood this Friday.

Daniel ran fever all day on Thursday, which meant no school on Friday and my plans for Bible Study seemed lost.  I crawled out of bed earlier than usual this Friday morning at 7:45.  Angela met me in the hall with bright eyes and excitement.  “Sorry,” I said, “we can’t go because Daniel is sick.”  She quickly offered a rebuttal that Dad was working from home today.  We could still make it if we hurried.  I glanced at the clock and dismissed morning Mass quickly.  I was barely out of bed and my regular routine takes 40 minutes.  But, I conceded that we could still make it to the Bible Study for 9:30.

We arrived to the welcoming greeting of one mother with her lively three boys and waited for the others.  After some time, we discovered that we were in the wrong room and a group of women and children could be found down the hall, already finished with the kids’ craft and Bible story.  Beautiful women, beautiful children and such a great opportunity being offered; yet, as I sat there I could hardly contain the anxiety welling up within me.  My own two children were calm and at ease with the coloring pages, but the activity in the room was proving too much for me to handle.  I tried to listen as one mother explained the hope for what the new group could become.  Something about rotating responsibility for overseeing the children while the other mothers met for discussion in an adjacent room.  All I could think was (and pardon my expression), “hell no!”  My energy was completely drained in a matter of minutes from the simple, normal activity of young children.  I attempted  to explain why I couldn’t/wouldn’t be able to oversee the children, but just felt completely awful about not being able to take a shift every other month.  After all, we only would be meeting every two weeks.  I politely thanked them all and truly enjoyed making their company, but I desperately needed to head home.  By the time I walked out of the room, I could barely walk.  This was not where I needed to be.  Not any more.

God has a way of stripping away our false identity in order to reveal our true selves–the self He created and wills.  My identity has been so closely tied to young children and mothering for so many years and now it is not.  I have a heart for mothers with young children because I know the struggles and joys so well.  But, for some reason God is blocking this path at this time in my life.  He seems to continue to refocus my energy to self awareness, self love and self care.  He knows that if I am in a room where others are struggling or children are in need, that I will pour my energy out to them and leave nothing for myself.  I know it too.  That is why my energy drained so quickly.  My body sensed it, and like a frustrated spouse throwing up his arms in exasperation, my body let the energy drain from itself as if to say, “Your going to give it away anyway, so what’s the point?”  But, I’m not.  I won’t be going back.  I will pray for the success of the group for the other mothers and their children.  It is a beautiful apostolate and truly needed, especially for homeschooling mothers.  I will, however, continue this journey of self discovery and for the opportunity for Angela to socialize while her siblings are at school.  While I will fondly remember the beautiful landscape of roads once traveled, I will try to embrace the ever changing landscape before me in each and every moment.  Part of me grieves for my old, familiar self: always a baby in the arms or a toddler on the hip (or both).  But, I know that I am called to serve another purpose now, to serve in a different capacity for the sake of God.  In the proper time, He will show it to me.

The Healing Journey

I’m still climbing that mountain, y’all. It is actually getting a little easier to climb with each day. In fact, I’ve been doing so much climbing I failed to share my journey with you and for that I am sorry! Even if my story can touch one heart and encourage that person to keep going, well, I feel like I should share it. I left off last Fall and the new year brought lots of changes to my life.

My faithful friend who came daily from 9am-2pm to help with the kids was ready to move on to a new chapter in her life as her youngest began school. So, I hired two young women to replace her. The change of helpers from day-to-day and the struggle to keep everyone on the same page with homeschooling and kids’ schedules and needs was real. My helpers were great, but then one of them got a better job offer in January and the other was having a baby. At this same time, my oldest daughter went into super-achiever mode and graduated from high school 9 months early and started her new phase of life as a…wait for it…Nanny.  For other families.  And that was a great move for her, but it was another huge blow for me.  God was telling me that it was time to take the training wheels off and ride this bike on my own. I was scared. I just didn’t think I could do it.  Taking one day at a time, and sometimes one hour at a time we  somehow, someway (spelled G-R-A-C-E) made it. I was riding the bike all on my own again, a little wobbly and lots of huffing and puffing. It was very challenging.  And it was Lent.

One of the most fascinating aspects of my journey has been how it seems to follow the liturgical calendar and this Lent was no exception. The first week of lent was my first week without those training wheels.  And just to prove His point, all six kids and I caught a cold that week, so I didn’t have the option of bringing in help even if I could find someone to hire.  That first Sunday in Lent we went to Mass and Fr. Luke offered the Sacrament of the anointing of the Sick. My son looked up at me, his eyes locking with mine and the message came across loud and clear, “Mom, you better go up and receive this Sacrament or I will pull you to Father myself.” He didn’t even say a word and I knew what he was thinking–I was thinking it too. As I waited patiently for the lines to form and move forward, I felt that I would be healed. It was an interior message and my heart and my mind recognized it at the same instant.  After receiving the anointing of oil on my forehead and hands, I was instantly free from the emotional torment, the struggle with anxiety, depression, guilt was all gone. It was incredible.  I told Patrick when we got home, but I was reluctant to share with others.  I still had doubts and didn’t want to be disappointed if I fell ill again.  My body was still weak from the fight. Lent proved to be a time of rebuilding my muscles and my thought process. It was a time of re-learning who God created me to be. It was a time to rise again, pick up my cross and continue to move forward.  And it was a time to learn to trust the Lord.  To trust that He can and did heal me.  To trust that whether I fell ill again or regained 100% health, the Lord was, is and always will be in control–He created me, He loves me and He will never abandon me.

On Good Friday, we went up to Larryland (affectionately named by my children, Larryland is 70 raw acres of natural Texas beauty land belonging to my brother). I had mentioned to Larry that we wanted to spend Good Friday out there and hike while reflecting on the Stations of the Cross. Well, he and Julie arrived ahead of us and marked off the “Stations” with white tape.  The hike would take us down and through a deep ravine, climbing the hill at the 14th station, marked with a six-foot cross they had made from some cleared cedar wood. It was incredibly moving. It also marked the first mile-long hike I was able to walk in several years. Easter Saturday was at my sister’s ranch in East Texas with family, fishing, a pot luck lunch and the big Egg Hunt. Sunday was the highlight with Mass, followed by 8 of our 9 children and Patrick’s parents joining us for lunch and a day of relaxation and games. And I was still standing on Monday morning, praise God!  It was a true blessing and a small miracle for me when one considers that the March before I was unable to even leave my bedroom due to paralyzing anxiety.  Easter is truly the greatest miracle of all as Christ rose from the dead and promising us all new life in Him.  It is an incredible gift to share in even a fraction of His suffering and the experience of His resurrection.  Alleluia!  He is Risen Indeed.

The Need for Community

“Every day, as long as this ‘today’ lasts, keep encouraging one another” (Heb 3:13)

Whether we are inclined to be social or prefer solitude, God created us to live in community and unity.  Throughout the Old Testament, we see examples of this:  The Israelites were a community separated out from the rest of the world by God.  No matter what place they called home, they were still a community—a grumbling, complaining community as they wandered in the desert for forty years; but, still a community.  The early Christians lived in communities of believers and drew strength from that strong sense of community.  The New Testament is packed full of St. Paul’s letters to these various communities scattered throughout the lands.  He continuously extols them to keep living the life they were called to live, encouraging them in times of need, and admonishing them when they fall into sin.  Even though the communities are scattered world wide, the Church unites them under one mantle.  This is how the Catholic (universal) Church was established by Jesus Christ:  small scattered communities (known as the Church Militant), united together under one creed and eternally connected to the Church Suffering (saints in purgatory) and the Church Triumphant (saints in heaven).  It is such a deep and beautiful plan!   And theme of unity and community are a repeating pattern in the tapestry of life.

Fast forward to our present time and the need for community has not diminished.  Almost every family I know is suffering today.  Not just small matters, these families are afflicted with chronic illnesses, alcohol or other addictions, economic turmoil, divorce, etc.  One cannot help but feel that the evil one is attacking with great fury.  And like scattered sheep we are in more peril the more isolated we become from the flock.  As one who has suffered from chronic fatigue and burn out for close to five years, I understand the humiliation in having to ask for help and expose my weaknesses and vulnerability.  But, I also deeply understand the need for community as God intended.  We desperately need the face-to-face interaction within our community.

It is too easy for the devil to trick us into thinking that social media is true connection, when in fact it is a shallow form of communication that does not allow us to enter into a deeper union with one another.  We need to teach our children the importance of community and face-to-face interaction.  We have a need to look into one another’s eyes and get a glimpse at their souls.  To open ourselves to healing by crying and laughing with one another as we share our burdens and joys.  This is the principal of solidarity that St. Pope John Paul II taught us.  It is great to March for Life in DC, but it is even better to shelter a woman in a crisis pregnancy, bake a meal for a family in time of need, or babysit without pay for the frazzled mother with several small children.  It is lovely to wear a pink ribbon or run a marathon for a noble cause; but it is worth even more to take a woman battling breast cancer to her doctor appointment, laugh with her as she recovers, or cry with her as she shares her fears and frustrations.  It is an excellent thought to lobby for the rights of the poor or illegal immigrants, but how much more noble to physically feed them, shelter them or employ them so they may live with dignity!

Now no one can do all of these things, but God is calling us to do small things for those in our immediate family and community.  There is no shortage of need.  If we but open our eyes, ears and hearts we cannot help but hear the cries for help.  At the same time, we must not be hesitant to express our own needs and graciously accept the help that is offered to us.  This is the way families and communities become strong: pray for one another, assist one another and “for as long as this ’today’ lasts, keep on encouraging one another.” (Heb 3:13)

A Letter of Encouragement

Dear Lindsey,

I don’t remember catching your last name, but I wanted to tell you “Thanks!”  I really enjoyed getting my baby fix at Mass on Monday.  We attended church in Mansfield (not our regular parish) when your beautiful 2/3 year old girl caught my attention right after communion.  As you passed by our pew, she was voicing her opinion and knew she had you right where she wanted you!  Your hands were full with the new baby and the three other young girls in tow, so as you tried to reign the toddler in, she knew she had the upper hand.  I remember those days well!  I quickly whispered for my children to stay together and followed you back to the cry room.  “Let me help you, Momma,” I said. And you gave the baby to me without hesitation.  Thank you!

I miss the softness of a new baby’s head.  I miss the rocking motion and holding that little life in my arms.  Your baby was so precious, but your toddler tugged my heart strings just as much!  Strong and independent, she was not afraid to rebel and state her case.  You were awesome with her.  You firmly and persistently reminded her of the rules and stood your ground (or squatted at face level) until she verbally acknowledged you.  Then, you turned to the three other girls and reminded them not to climb, not to sit on  the sill, and that Jesus was present in the church.  You may have left Mass that day wondering if it was all worth the effort.  It was!

Everyone who witnessed your attendance at Mass, witnessed evangelization in motion.  While most adults make excuses to not attend a Holy Day Mass and most children aren’t even aware they exist, you came. You prayed. You conquered 5 small children by yourself for 95% of the Mass.  And you are living the example for your children to follow, which is even more valuable than all the above.  Yes, I have lots of kids too; but, my children were spaced out until the last six.  When my younger six arrived back-to-back, I already had older ones that could help hold a baby or reign in a toddler.  I rarely had to take them anywhere alone, if I took (take) them at all.

Not only did you take the girls to church, I imagine that most of your errands have all 5 kids in tow as well.  I just want to say, Keep up the good work.  You will be rewarded in ways that you cannot even imagine.  Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help because it may be just as much of a blessing to your helper as it is to you–maybe even more.  Because of my own family and health limitations I don’t get to offer help to young mothers like I want to, my own daughter included.  Just being able to help those last few moments of Mass was an amazing gift to me.  I hope to meet you again soon!  Until then, God’s blessings upon you and your family!

Sincerely,

Jill

Magnetic Months

I am a planner.  Organizing is a hobby for me and gives me energy.  So, with the start of school came the excuse to organize and plan for the school year.  I have younger children that still are trying to understand the days of the weeks and months of the years.  They still confuse “yesterday” with any day before the current one, and “tomorrow” as any day that follows.  It just made sense to give them a visual understanding of when events will take place:  when Lauren will be home, when a birthday will be celebrated, when we go to church, etc.  I pulled out the trustworthy Melissa and Doug magnetic calendar only to discover that many of the numbers were missing and the magnets for activities did not cover our personal needs.

But, have no fear, I have a large magnetic dry erase board that serves as a command and teaching center for our entire home.  I decided that I would post one week at a time and label the month and year at the top.  In addition to our weekly activities, I like to plan the meals out as well.  This makes grocery shopping more efficient and it eliminates the end of day decision making for “What are we going to have for dinner?”  I didn’t want to waste the M&D magnets, so I reused them by putting stickers on top. aweek pic Sophia enjoyed putting small round stickers over the numbers and these became our new “marks” for our reward system.  amark pic We customized the other magnets by printing 1×1 pictures our favorite foods on labels.  I cut the labels to size and the kids covered the magnets.  I also just use blank labels and write in activities that seem to re-occur on a regular basis.

My older children are each responsible for planning and making a meal or snack.  The magnet system has worked well in helping them plan the meals out for the week and takes all the guess work out of meal times.  Another addition I have made is to incorporate the Liturgical Calendar.  I bought these stickers of feast days several years ago.  It took a little bit of work, but I placed the stickers onto magnetic paper and then cut them out.  Someone should really produce these as magnets! It really helps to tie our days together with the days of the Church and is another way to remind us why we are really here and where our journey is headed. afeast day pic Learning about the saints encourages us in our own journey and continually reminds us that God is an awesome God!

One last suggestion is to buy the magnetic paper and print directly to the magnetic paper.  I used labels and the wooden magnets from Melissa and Doug only because I already had them on hand.  Although, the thicker wooden magnets are easier to grip; the magnetic paper would eliminate several steps and is relatively inexpensive.

Happy organizing!