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.

Ego vs. Spirit

Much of my healing journey has been about acknowledging my emotions instead of shoving them ever deeper into my subconscious mind.  This has been the most difficult aspect of my healing by far.  To face my emotions is to face the naked truth of myself.  It is to strip away the facades that I have created in order to be presentable to others.  It is the lie of the deceiver that starts very young: you have to change who you are in order to be loved.  In fact, God loves me and sees me as I truly am and He is the only one I should be concerned with pleasing.

I have always been a pleaser: the good little girl who played quietly and stayed out of the way of adults, or the entertaining story teller when others wanted to be entertained, the quintessential teacher’s pet, the one who got along with anyone and everyone, the peace-keeper.  It is true that is the personality that God gave me, but it is also true that He didn’t intend it to keep me from living out His Holy will; an excuse from becoming the woman He created me to be.  I have always searched for outside affirmation for my words and actions.  The slightest judgment or criticism set me awhirl of distress and my joy was quickly lost.  As I started to recognize the gifts within myself to intuitively make decisions, I recognized that my intuitions were “right”, while others’ opinions of what decision should be made were often “wrong.”  At first, this new experience of recognizing truth within myself was manifested as a feeling of pride–my ego–saying, “See, I was right!”  I quickly realized that this satisfaction was misplaced; that the “right” I recognized was God’s truth manifested within me.

So much of our human disagreements and division are grounded in this very same experience of the human ego vs. Truth.  Because we feel so strongly about this issue or that one, we come to trust that instinct within us that we must be right.  The error comes about when we do not center our truth or filter it through God, through the Holy Spirit.  We either distrust the Holy Spirit whispering within us and search for human affirmation, or we trust our own ego so much that we overpower and block the Holy Spirit from directing us.  To find love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (the fruits of the Holy Spirit) we must be willing to put our own ego aside AND listen intently for the whispers of direction.

I know that I am not saying anything new.  I have heard it all before many, many times myself.  But, for some reason my journey to fully grasp this concept has taken me 46 years.  It is always simple, but rarely easy.  May the Holy Spirit dwell within each of us, may we let our egos submit to His Holiness, and may we have the grace and courage to follow where He leads us.

Enjoy one of my favorite new songs.  “…sometimes I gotta stop and remember that you’re God and I am not…”

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.

Fighting the Good Fight

My path remains firm as I travel an unknown road. I wake every morning and give my day, my life, my will to God. Moments later, I grab some of it back—not wishing to fully release control. It’s a false sense of control, but a comfortable myth that I’ve lived for 45 years. The anxiety sets in, the stress increases and I pray, begging God for grace and direction. He patiently leads me, gently reproaches me. I fall asleep and wake up, offering my day, my will. I try harder each day to not seize it back like a toddler who won’t part with a security blanket. I try praying a few Hail Mary’s, an occasional Rosary, reflecting on the Divine Office; but, the struggle continues and the anxiety is ever waiting for a weak moment to sneak in and steal my peace. It sounds like a hopeless battle, but I know the battle has already been won. My peace will not be taken. My hope is not defeated, because my hope is not found in my success or failure, but in my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I know there has to be a better path, a clearer route.

This is the daily struggle I was facing this week as I turned 45 and reflected on the course of my life. I was in an irritable mood when my husband and I went out to dinner. I wasn’t totally unpleasant. I just felt unsettled interiorly and that made me short and easily frustrated. Unable to verbalize my feelings, we headed out to the movies. Hopefully, I would unwind and enjoy this time with my husband. We went to see “War Room” as it had been recommended by several friends and, more recently, my mom and sister. It had a profound impact on me. It wasn’t an epiphany, but more of a “Duh! I get it now” moment. I had been praying regularly throughout the day. I had been intentionally giving each day to God. What I wasn’t doing was strategizing for the battle I face every day.

The idea of “putting on my armor” and letting God fight for me was a piece I had overlooked. The next morning, I woke up and gave the day to God. I took the kids to Rachael’s for school and posed to them that we take that time during our commute for a daily Rosary. Joshua agreed to lead us and when we were finished I wanted to shout, “Let’s do this!” I felt protected and ready to take on the day. After dropping them off, I headed across town to confession. A local church has confession on Wednesday mornings and it is always a great opportunity for quiet time with The Lord. Then I headed home. Father had given me some great spiritual direction. The grace and absolution from Christ in the Sacrament of Confession left me with a profound sense of Joy. Now, it was time to fortify my own war room. I gathered my spiritual reading, paper, pens, journal and my Bible. I set a few statues up on the window ledge, lit a candle, diffused Frankincense and just basked in the presence of the Lord for twenty minutes.

My

My “war room”

It wasn’t until after four o’clock that the exhaustion hit. Once the kids were picked up from school and I was busy juggling the six of them and my office work, it didn’t take long for my energy to drain. I didn’t even have the energy to make dinner, or clean up afterwards. I felt tired, but there was something more going on. I didn’t have the words to convey it. It was an interior struggle and a panic attack was just over the horizon if I didn’t take action. I slept restlessly and woke feeling like I had been in a battle all night long. My limbs felt filled with cement and my head was foggy. “Why?” I asked myself as I forced my way over to the war room. I said my prayers and gave my day to God. Then I lugged my tired old self to the kitchen for breakfast. I took my coffee out to the garden and began the Divine Office and the fog lifted. The burden became light in an instant. It was then that I realized that the heaviness and the struggle began when my focus shifted away from God. I had declared battle with the demons in my life and then I set down my weapons. Prayer is powerful. Intentional, strategic prayer is unstoppable because it allows God to fight the battle, and we—me—I just have to get out of the way.

I Can’t Homeschool

I know it has been a while since I wrote a post–months actually.  I realize that I said I would do better, but the words just didn’t come.  I just seem to be stuck in a rut in all aspects of my life.  I am transitioning from trusting in myself to turning it over to God and completely trusting in Him.  That is why I’ve come to the conclusion that I cannot homeschool.

Let’s face it.  It is an impossible task.  Even though Allison will graduate at the end of August, I still have six children to educate, a house to run, a husband to love and support, and somewhere in all of that I have to find time to pray and discern God’s will.  Not. Possible.  Not by myself.  I’m not strong enough.

I can’t tell you how much I’ve grappled with the idea of homeschooling.  This past spring left me literally paralyzed at the very thought of all that is required of me.  My health is steadily improving, but at the mere thought of going back to school in a few weeks, my heart begins to palpitate and the feeling of being overwhelmed begins to creep back in.  I attended the Immaculate Heart of Mary Homeschool Conference here in Arlington and felt encouraged and renewed.  The speakers were terrific and said exactly what I needed to hear.  Yet, I still struggle with the whole idea of year 16 of homeschooling. As I browsed the vendors I prayed for God to direct my purchases because I would buy up the whole inventory if I had the opportunity.  In the end, I settled on three books (for myself): one on fighting spiritual battles, one on discerning God’s will, and a third book–which I had previously owned and read, but could not find–called “A Mother’s Rule” by Holly Pierot.  I’m reading them all at the same time, so I can really digest the information and have time to implement simple changes.

Holly’s book is frustrating for me to read.  Not because it is poorly written, but because it is so well written and parallels my journey so closely.  I shake my head and wonder how I could have read this book before, followed the suggestions and still ended up taking the wrong path at some point in time only to end up back at square one.  So, I will learn from my mistakes and start back up the road one step at a time, one day at a time.  I will carefully set prayer times into place throughout my day and start each day asking God what he wants of me and allow Him to lead me.  I will make my to do list based on His priorities and not mine, and will be ready to surrender when the plan changes mid stream.  I will homeschool my children.  God willing, we will persevere through another year and grow closer to God and to each other.  I will thank God for the strength and grace to do His will and praise Him for the gift of being able to teach my children their Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, but most especially for the honor of teaching them about our Savior Jesus Christ, his mother Mary and the beautiful faith entrusted to us in the Catholic Church.  And I will homeschool.  I will do it because He has asked me to do it.  God does not ask and then abandon.  He will provide the grace and strength and I don’t have to be strong enough.  “I can do all things in Christ who gives me strength.” Phillipians 4:13

Arrow of God

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“An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties it means that it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus, and keep aiming.” Unknown

A few weeks ago this quote came across Facebook in the form of a meme. It really jumped out at me, because after hitting the low in December 2013, I had really made strides of improvement. I thought I was over the hump in my health journey and things were going quite well. One year after my retreat, I was back to home schooling, managing the home and venturing out teaching classes on Essential Oils. January 2015 brought new struggles, however–and call it what you will (physical ailment or spiritual warfare)—each time I planned a class, a break, or down time I became ill and my wings were clipped once again. I dug deeper, prayed harder for more strength, more grace to carry my cross; but, I just couldn’t seem to get on top of it all. I thought I needed to do more or be more.

After several weeks of fighting this battle of my perceived weakness, I cried out in prayer, “Lord, make me stronger. Help me to carry this cross and offer up the suffering.” He answered. Not the way I was expecting though. On the way home from church that Sunday my left temple began to throb. By the time I crawled into bed I had a massive migraine that left me weaker than I began the day. As I lay crying and wishing the pain to stop, I quipped to my friend, “I just wish Jesus wouldn’t hug me so tightly. Dude, take the crown off first.” We laughed, but it brought some sense of peace knowing that I could unite my meager sufferings with His.

The migraine would last for five days. It was stressed induced, nothing major, nothing that couldn’t be healed.  But, it set me back. Back in bed. Back to severe adrenal fatigue. Back to no energy and relying on others to care for me. I am that arrow and God was pulling me back, so that He could make me fly even farther than I dreamed. He hasn’t released me yet. I sit taut, focusing, aiming, waiting for His perfect timing to hit the mark. I have had to look inward at my sinfulness and pride. I am learning to hand the control back over to Him and walk in complete faith. I am healing old wounds through humility, compassion, mercy and encouragement.

Humility in the form of panic attacks so crippling I couldn’t leave my room for weeks. I had to reach out—yet again—to ask for help in caring for my children. Yet, once I humbled myself, I was blessed with a pouring out of love and care that words of gratitude cannot suffice. My husband made changes of his own and has stretched and grown. He’s been so supportive and open to change. This is truly what sacramental marriage is all about. What an awesome opportunity God has given me to see how much I am loved.

Compassion. One cannot go through suffering without becoming more attune to others’ sufferings. Each person I contacted had an equal or even greater burden of suffering. By sharing my story, they opened their hearts and released their own burdens to me. We weep together and it makes the journey more bearable.

Merciful. How can I condemn another for sinfulness, when I am a sinner? I understand the addict better, because after five days of continuous and excrutiating pain, I can imagine wanting to do something, anything to make it stop. Without support, I could have fallen into the temptation just as easily. After being judged wrongly, I have mercy for those who cause injury to me. “Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do.” I recognize that others’ reactions are a reflection of their own woundedness and not of me. And I pray for them as well.

Encouragement. Charity. Love. These are the tools to remedy ill and sin. I read recently in some spiritual readings that there are three ways for wisdom to abound: 1. Confess your sins 2. Give thanks and praise to God 3. Use edifying speech. I had to look up the definition of edifying. It means to encourage one another to do good and avoid evil. I think this is pretty sound advice. Simple, yet life changing.

So, as we continue the Lenten journey, I ask you to pray for me and for my family. I encourage you to seek the Sacrament of Confession and pour out your burdens to Christ, the Healer. This is not an easy time, but it is still a time to praise and thank the Lord for His blessings and His lessons. So, I ask you to join me in praising God for all His blessings—wanted and unwanted. And lastly, I will continue to lift you in prayer as well. May His grace and peace be with you every step of life’s journey.

First Things First

Years ago I read the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families by Steven Covey.  I took away lots of great insight and advice from the book, but one analogy has stood out the strongest over all these years.  In short its message was “Put first things, first.”  I have tried to continually put it into practice and to pass this important lesson along to my kids.  Then, the opportunity presented itself for a tangible lesson and teaching opportunity.  And because of that teaching opportunity, I also gained material for a blog post.  So, win–win, right?

My kids have lots of toys and I try to organize them in a way that we can maintain a clean home, have space to play, and have access to games and toys without complete chaos in the wake.  One of the recent favorite toys to pull out and play with for hours and hours are the Playmobile sets, known as Mo-mobile sets in our home because that is how Daniel heard it called and it stuck.  image The problem with mo-mobile is there are lots, and I mean LOTS, of tiny pieces.  The best way to keep up with it all is to have one large storage bin for all three sets.  Everything is in one place and we don’t go insane trying to match up parts to specific sets.  (DISCLAIMER:  this does not include Samuel’s set.  All the pieces are in their precise designated location, kept in the original box in the top of his closet, off limits to all siblings.)  But, for the not-so-OCD-Mach children, the remaining sets are fit very well in one large bin–IF you put them in the bin in the proper order.  And here is where the teachable moment fits in.

My children, including Samuel, want to get the toys picked up with the least amount of effort.  Good.  Efficiency is good.  They will toss the pieces into the bin in no particular order, and finding that the lid will not fit on the bin, begin to push and cram the pieces hoping to get the desired results.  It never works.   Stephen Covey tells us in 7 Habits that we have to put the “big” stuff in first.  We have to put important things like prayer, marriage and parenting into life before we can add in the activities, the parties, or even work at times.  If we put the big things in first, all the little stuff will fit in much more easily.  The other night it was Joshua who was assigned to clean up the mo-mobiles.  In his rush he tossed the items into the bin, but couldn’t get the lid on.  With frustration and irritation in my voice, I said, “You’ve got to put the big stuff in first, Bud.”  He tried to scoop the small items to one side and slip in the largest house.  He even figured out how some pieces nested together to save space, but still the lid would not shut.  So, I got down on the floor and showed him how to do it.  image image image I removed the large pieces and set them to the side.  Then, I dumped all the pieces out onto the lid with only a few spilling onto the carpet.  I replaced the large pieces and lifting the lid, I carefully dumped all the little pieces into the bin.  In less than one minute they were all neatly in the bin, lid on, and slid into their home on the shelf.  His eyes were wide with amazement.  Not only did everything fit, it was easier and faster to do it that way.

The analogy was not lost on me and I hope it rooted deeply into Joshua’s heart as well.  It sometimes seems for me that time for prayer, relaxation, or any activity apart from hearth and home will not fit into my busy day.  I try stuffing it all in, but like toys that get lost or broken in the process, I too can become lost and broken.  I get in a hurry to get it all done and in the end nothing gets done well, if at all.  I put it off because the thought of fitting it all in is just overwhelming, but then I realize that I just need to focus on the big things first and take them one at a time.  When I finally set all the little things in my life to one side, I can see more clearly where the big things can fit in.  If I start my day with prayer, work on my relationship with my husband and kids, and focus on my main job of teaching; somehow I have a little time here to read a blog or two, a little time there to play a game, and another spot of time to work on growing my business (new venture, I’ll post details soon).  It all fits and it is easier and less stressful to boot.

Now, I just need to remember to put it into practice daily.  Old habits die hard.