The Heart of a Mother

Love creates and life grows within

Anticipation, excitement, hopes and dreams grow as well

Fear, doubt, anxiety linger

A child is born

Emotions overwhelm

The mind and heart overflow with wonder and awe

Responsibility is daunting

The desire to protect

To love

To provide

To serve

To do it all perfectly

Only to fail.

The groping with the imperfect

Of self and child

Moving forward

Trying again

Failing again

Knowing you are giving your best

Knowing that your best falls short of what is needed

Of what is expected

Of what “should be”

Reflecting on your own mother

Loving her for her efforts

Forgiving her for her shortcomings

Loving her in all her imperfections

Realizing how perfect she was for me

Wondering if my own child will ever see me as I am

Ever love me

Ever forgive me

Knowing that it doesn’t really matter

I could never stop loving her

With that overwhelming sense of awe

That was present from the moment she first existed within me

Understanding I must first love myself

In my imperfections

Forgive myself for the failings

Embrace the journey in joy and suffering

Continue to love

To serve

To know Jesus Christ is the only way

The rest is just the feeble, human experience–

Imperfect, conditional, and wounded–

Made perfect in His wounds.

Restless until I rest in Him.

–Jill Mach 11/21/17

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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)

Power of Prayer: or Be Careful What You Pray For

“Be careful what you pray for,” Patrick said to me.  “I know.  I know.” I replied, “I am only asking that He give me a clear sign of labor when the time comes.”  I was pregnant with our sixth child.  The five previous children had all be born with the same routine:  weeks (anywhere from 3-16) of contractions 3-5 minutes apart lasting ten or more hours, failure to progress, pitcoin induction on the 3rd or 4th trip to the hospital, epidural for pain, birth of a healthy baby.  A blessed outcome indeed, but a very frustrating third trimester and delivery to say the least.  This time I wanted something different, something more edifying, something empowering.

We planned a home birth assisted by a midwife and her helper.  There was no option for induction and no option for medicated pain relief, unless I changed my mind and went to the hospital.  I kept the doctor’s number in my phone.  I wasn’t afraid of pain.  I had taken Hypnobabies and was fully confident in my body’s ability to deliver a baby.  After all, I had already done so on five occasions.  My fear was a fear of contractions that would not progress into labor, of contractions that would last for ten or twelve hours and then just stop as quickly as they had started.  This had been my pattern with all of the previous births.  Each time the contractions came, the doctor told us to go to the hospital for monitoring.  We waited long hours while I was hooked up to monitors for the nurses to watch my contractions.  I was poked and prodded and told that I was not in labor; but, not released to go home because I was contracting regularly.  After half a day in the hospital the nurse would come in and announce–sometimes stoicly, other times filled with pity–“You are not in labor.  Go home, get rest and come back when your contractions are 3-5 minutes apart.”  It was humiliating each time.  With the home birth at least we wouldn’t be bothering family to keep the children, waking children and upsetting schedules, or causing Patrick to miss another day of work.  The midwife could come to us and she was happy to do so at any hour of the day.  It was her job, she told us with a huge smile.

My pregnancy had gone swimmingly well.  It was July 4, 2008, I had only 18 more days until my due date and not a single contraction wave to come over me.  I prayed that when the time came for baby to be born, my water would break–a clear sign of labor with no guesswork from me.  At 8 o’clock that night Patrick walked out front of our home and discovered a small river of water flowing across the driveway.  We had a leak and discovered it was in the city’s line at the corner of our drive.  The kids danced in the flowing water, splashed and played.  Patrick called the city to report the leak and at midnight giant jack hammers worked to repair it.  Me?  I was wandering the hallways with contractions 3-5 minutes apart for the next ten hours.

A few days later, the contractions returned.  This time it warranted a call to the midwife.  She and her assistant, Angela came to the house and settled themselves on the couch for a long night.  All night I contracted only to stop at six in the morning.  I was exhausted and frustrated.  My midwife reassured me that all would be fine as I cried in my frustration and thought about going in for an induction.  Patrick walked into the room and announced that we had a leak in the utility room.  There was a puddle of water on the floor and he prayed that it wasn’t a slab leak.  He would have to do some investigating.  I saw the irony.  Two water leaks, two rounds of non-progressing contractions.  At the time, I wasn’t laughing.  Patrick knew my prayers before I said a word.  He questioned me without hesitation, “Have you been praying for your water to break?!  Well, stop it!” he teasingly admonished.

A third time on July 17 the contractions began again.  This time my midwife advised a warm, relaxing bath and to call her if I noticed a change, or if I wanted her just to be there.  The change was noted, the midwife called and a healthy baby boy, weighing 8lbs was born in one of the most beautiful and intense moments of my life. Dan After sharing in the joy of the birth and the hours of fawning that followed, my husband was alerted to a third water break.  This one flooded the hall bath with sewage.  My husband said he went from one of the most beautiful moments to one of the most disgusting in a matter of minutes.  “I didn’t!” I stated defensively, “I promise, I didn’t pray for my water to break this time.”

 

One Part of the Whole Body

Welcome to any visitors from Em’s Estuary!  I hope you enjoy what you read here.  Feel free to browse the archives, follow me, or come back again.  And welcome back to my regular readers!  Emily shared my post on Veiling here.  Feel free to click on over to Em’s blog and her Veiling project.  Now back to our main programming . . .

As women living in the 21st century we often take for granted our choices and freedoms.  Both my mother and mother-in-law were told that they could not go to college.  They were to get married and raise children and leave the higher education to the men.  Both of these women are highly intelligent and both went on to work full-time jobs to help to support their families.  Hours could be spent dwelling on the injustice of their limited choices; but dwelling on the past rarely moves us forward.  Reflecting on the past, however, can teach us many lessons.  I admire both my mother and mother-in-law for the lives they live, the lives they raised and the countless ways in which they continue to touch all of our lives today.  When you look at the tapestry of their lives, when you reflect back on the past, you can see God’s handiwork throughout.

I was raised with the mindset that I could do or be anything I wanted to be.  I was the first girl in my family to graduate from college and I am proud that I achieved that goal with honors.  I was determined not to be a stay-at-home mother:  I would have a career and a family.  Shortly after graduation I began to work in the buying office at Dillard’s.  I was an assistant to the Juniors’ buyer for swimwear, dresses, and knits.  It was part of the Management Training Program, an elite position where only fourteen were chosen from over 300 applicants.  After six to ten months in the buying office, helping with merchandising in the stores, and lots of grunt labor which included everything from gift wrapping and cashiering to loading trucks at store closings, we were given management positions in the stores complete with salaries and full benefits.  I learned quickly that “salary” meant much more than a 40-hour work week and “retail” meant nights, weekends and holidays at work.  Patrick and I were already engaged when I was promoted to Area Sales Manager in Odessa, Texas.  Needless to say, that job position didn’t work out.  Six hours away from my fiancé and soon-to-be-daughter was not a good arrangement.  When my requests for a transfer were denied, I resigned and found another management position closer to home.  By the time our wedding day arrived, I realized that retail would not be a good match for family life.  Patrick hired me for part-time work with his company for a morning shift, while I apprenticed with a seamstress in the afternoons, hoping to eventually start my own line of children’s clothing.  This also enabled me to pick Missy up from school instead of leaving her with a sitter.  Within six months I wanted nothing more than to be a stay-at-home mother and wife.  I would spend the next twenty years trying to prove that it was a worthy venture.

 All these years I felt like I had to account for my time and every.single.accomplishment.  Read a book– What could I have been doing that was more productive?  Take the kids to the park—not until the house is clean, the laundry done, and the refrigerator stocked with groceries.    In the quest to be equal, I tried to keep up with my husband.  If he was doing physical labor 8-10 hours a day, then I should be as well.  If he didn’t have time for a nap, why should I get one?  I invalidated all the stay-at-home mothers in America, by not validating myself.  Even after adding homeschooling to our daily regimen, I didn’t cut myself any slack.  We started homeschooling in 2001 and from 2003-2011 we added a child into the mix at an average of every 17 months!  The snowball was heading downhill and the sewing, reading, and any semblance of free-time went straight out the window.  And I actually wondered why my health was failing. 

I am finally beginning to understand that God is the one, and the only one that I have to please.  It was Him calling me to stay at home in the first place, to home school the children, and to help Patrick in his business ventures.  Providing a loving and stable environment for our children is in itself validation enough for any mother.  Anything we add to that to encourage and support our husbands, to build a stronger marriage, or to raise up our children to be good stewards will bring glory to the Lord.  Working ourselves to the bone, neglecting ourselves at the sake of our well being, and pushing ourselves so much that it leaves little energy for our relationships only fuels the myth of the worthless, misused and maltreated stay-at-home wife.  It was me all along.  I didn’t acknowledge my own dignity and worth in the vocation that God had called me to.  How did I think that others would see what I could not?

I see it all so clearly now.  I see my loving and supportive husband beside me the entire time: cheering me on, helping me out and lifting me up.   I see our nine beautiful, independent and happy children and realize that they are confident and secure.  I see our grown daughter and son-in-law raising beautiful, confident and secure children of their own.  I see our college girl spreading her wings and finding her footing.  I see my husband and I working together to build an even stronger and healthier marriage.  And I see myself acknowledging the good I have achieved by cooperating with God’s plan.  These are the things that bring glory to the Lord.  It is only through His grace, love and mercy that we have accomplished them.  Our dignity lies in following the will of God.  It is a calling that is unique to each of us.  St. Paul actually said it pretty well:

 

*12As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.g13For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.h

14Now the body is not a single part, but many.15If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.16Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?18But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended.19If they were all one part, where would the body be?20But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body.21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.”22Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary,23and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety,24whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it,25so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.26If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. (1 Corinthians 12:12-26)

 

Maybe I would do well to read my Bible a little more frequently, and then maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t take me twenty years to realize that I am exactly where God wants me to be.  I am taking my role in His body and I am going to try hard to just be the finger: and not the whole hand, the head, the feet and the right ankle.

Less is More

I had a rare opportunity tonight to go visit my mom with only three of my children and one grandchild as companions. My husband had taken the older boys camping and my teen was on retreat. My father was also out of town on business, so that gave my mother and I some bonding time while the kids watched movies and ate popcorn and pizza in the adjacent room. My mom surprised me with a gift that she had stored for over 20 years. It was a VHS movie with one-half of a handkerchief that had the words “Jill More Is Less Love Mom” embroidered on it. I didn’t recall ever seeing the movie. Mom told me that she didn’t remember it much, but I had gone with her and Dad to see it at the theatre and we both cried so much that my father tore his handkerchief in half to give to us.

So we popped the movie in and watched intently, each of us expecting some great epiphany or deep meaning to come flooding back to us. In the end the movie was a disappointment and my mom put it into her trashcan. It wasn’t a bad movie, it just had a frustrating ending that didn’t jive with either of us on moral grounds. Mom apologized to me and her demeanor seemed to express disappointment that it didn’t mean more. But, the more I think about it, the more the gift means to me.

First of all, it means that my mother and I shared a common bonding and experience watching that movie together over twenty years ago—a moment that meant a great deal to her to have purchased the movie, embroidered the hankie and waited all this time before giving it to me. It says that I am special to her: now, then and always. That is a powerful message for any daughter.

As I contemplate the words “less is more” I think of how those words played out in the movie. A young woman leaves her job to care for her dying mother. She has spent her life trying to imitate her father and rebel against all that is her mother: the domesticity, the servitude, the humility. In the end she sees each of her parents for who they are and accepts them. Her father is not the perfect man that she had idolized him to be; and her mother is so much more exceptional because of her humbleness. So, I think of the woman I was twenty-some years ago and compare her to the woman I am today. I can very much identify with the character in the movie. I, too, tried to rebel against becoming my mother. Call it nature or nurture or genetics, but I am very much like my mother today and I thank God for it. I can’t help but think it was my mother’s intuition or a signal grace that prompted her to buy that movie and hold it all these years. “Less is more” could simply mean be happy with what you have in front of you, with who God made you to be. Don’t try to be something more than who you are because you are the perfect you. A message she wanted to tell me then, but that I had to learn on my own.

And then I have the handkerchief torn into two pieces. Dad loves us both and this hankie reminds me of that love. His devoted love to my mother for over 50 years of marriage and his devoted love to his children and grand children can never be called into question. My dad always kissed me on the cheek when he left for trips and he wasn’t shy about saying “I love you” either. I have never doubted either of my parents’ love for me or their pride in the woman I am today. That is a gift I will always treasure, and one I will be sure to pass on to my own children.

Thanks, Mom for the movie. Thanks, Dad for the hankie. You were right, less IS more.

If You Give a Mom a Project

Okay, Moms (and Dads), you know how you start to do one thing and it leads to something else, and then that leads to something else, and then pretty soon you realize that you are knee-deep into a project that you had no intention of starting? Kind of like the book series If You Give a Mouse a Cookie? So, today seems to be that kind of day for me; but, I’m not complaining. I enjoy the surprises that these experiences seem to afford.

Since January, we have had full-time help with the kids and household chores from 9am to 2pm on Monday through Friday. I cannot even begin to tell you what a huge blessing this has been for my family. Well, today our beloved Fidencia (Fifi) had another obligation and we are on our own. My energy has improved and I woke up mentally prepared to face the day without the extra help. By the time I was dragged out of bed by my adorable four-year old Sophia it was already 9am. The kids had made breakfast, eaten, cleared the table and were working on their school work. Patrick was back in his office preparing to leave for the day’s appointments. Daniel and Sophia wanted to do school with me, so while I ate my breakfast and enjoyed a cup of coffee we did Math and some preschool workbook pages. Benjamin joined us at the table and did his own coloring work. Since it has been months since I did school with the kids I realized how unorganized their books had become. The general reading books were mixed with the school books and coloring books. In addition some random toys, crayons and pencils had been thrown into the “school bin.” One of the books mixed in was an A,B,C Book that I had made with Joshua when he was a preschooler. I decided that I better put it in his baby box before it was completely destroyed.

A similar book made by Sophia

A similar book made by Sophia recently

After finishing up the school work, I took Sophia and Ben to the living room and gave them each an ipad to do their “school” turn, which means “educational apps only”. I turned my attention to the space above the television where the baby boxes are stored, which immediately set off the Kid Alarm. The Kid Alarm is that alarm that all children are born with which immediately alerts them to a parent who is on the phone, needing privacy, or working on a project best done alone and without the assistance of her offspring. So, before I knew it I had all seven children begging to look through their baby boxes. School came to a screeching halt and a trip down memory road commenced.

It is dangerous for me to look through their baby boxes or flip through the photo albums. A deep longing wells up within me to recapture those moments when they were younger and more innocent. The newborn pictures affect me the most. Those sweet, soft infant heads with a tuft of baby-fine hair and that new baby smell all come flooding back to me and make me wish with all my heart that I had those babies back to hold, or another one on the way.

Who couldn't love those chubby cheeks and that soft, fuzzy head?

Who couldn’t love those chubby cheeks and that soft, fuzzy head?

But, they grow so quickly and sweetness of those moments are always mixed with the exhaustion of caring for that new baby, the recovery of a body that has carried and nourished yet another life and given birth to it, and all the responsibility that come with adding another family member. It is bitter sweet indeed. The consolation is in the present. I looked around the room at my seven children present with me in the moment and then back at the photo in my hand . “Look at that sweet baby! And then they grow into sweet, little kids,” I exclaimed as I cupped my daughter’s face in my hand. “And, then,” I said with pride, “they become these awesome teenagers” and I held my soon-to-be-sixteen-already’s face in my hand. “And then,” I continued with enthusiasm as I skimmed through pictures to find our eldest child’s face, “they become awesome grownups, who get married and make more cute little babies!”  I quickly grabbed my phone and texted my daughter to invite her and the grandkids over for a visit later today. I am thankful for the quick response in the affirmative and look forward to enjoying the moments I have today because tomorrow may not afford the same opportunities.

I may never have the privilege to nourish another child within me or experience the bittersweet moments in those few weeks after its birth; but, I do have the children of the present. I have the toddler and the preschoolers with their endless energy and never-ending source of love and affection. I have the early years where the world is an open book and the mind and body are growing more capable of complex ideas and projects. I have the teenage years, where independence is on the horizon and the new wings are being tested and strengthened. I have the young adult whose wings are strong and the world is just waiting to be conquered. And I have a friend and a daughter who shares the similar struggles and joys of raising young children and building a strong marriage. Yes, the present is a wonderful place to be!

Our recent family pic taken by the talented Rachael McCoy at www.rachaelmccoyphotography.com

Our recent family pic taken by the talented Rachael McCoy at http://www.rachaelmccoyphotography.com

Now, back to organizing those books.

Ain’t It Great to be Crazy

My husband always jokes that it is our duty as parents to screw up our kids. I think our number one duty is to annoy and embarrass them. I am especially blessed in this department because I was given the gift of changing lyrics in songs to fit the occasion. This combined with my lack of singing abilities really gets the sighs and eye rolling responses that parents dream about.

In all seriousness, I love to joke and be silly with my kids. My mother and father where always fun that way and my childhood is filled with memories of laughter and singing. My mom knew hundreds of songs by heart probably because her own father, my beloved Grandpa Stich played the accordion and loved to sing. Almost 14  years ago she compiled all the lyrics to the songs she sang to us as children, typed them up, scrapbooked pictures and bound a book for each of her children as a gift.image It is one of my most treasured books with the words to 200 songs. imageSo, I have these tunes floating in my head and they just come out spontaneously always sure to garnish a few laughs.

For example, last week I saw some turkey vultures lunching on a flattened squirrel. Being the homeschooling mom that I am, I quickly took video on my phone to share with my kids. Science class? Check. After dinner, I remembered the vultures and shared the video with my children. This lead to my dramatic Angela declaring the she, “missed Stumpy!” “ Who is Stumpy,” you ask. Stumpy was a squirrel in our neighborhood that earned his name because his tail was no more than a stump, making him easy to recognize. We saw Stumpy often over the course of two years and then, one day, poor Stumpy was seen dead in the road. So, of course when Angela was feeling sentimental over the memory of Stumpy, I immediately came up with a song for the occasion. (to the tune of Grandma got run over by a reindeer)

Stumpy got run over by a neighbor,
Playing out in our yard yesterday.
He was playing with his squirrel-friends
And forgot to look both ways.

See, it’s a gift, I tell you. Of course, it needed a second verse. This came with some struggles, but the end result was satisfying if not historically accurate (well, mostly).

The vultures came to eat him,
Pick his flesh and eat his bones,
But our neighbor quickly snatched him
And buried him outside her home.

For added encouragement, my kids are cringing as I type this. They are squirming with the thought that I am putting this on my blog. Angela just told me that everyone will know that I am crazy if I post this. To which I responded:

Boom. Boom.  Ain’t it great to be crazy?
Boom.  Boom.  Ain’t great to be crazy,
Giddy and foolish the whole day through,
Boom. Boom. Ain’t it great to be crazy?