To School or Not to School

That is the question. I’m still waiting for God’s answer, but I am finding more peace with the unknown as each day passes. So much has changed since last August. I thought that with my regained health that homeschooling would be a shoe in, but I’m finding that it is not the case.

When I lost my regular helpers in January, I urged my husband to look at our traditional school options. We applied to a Charter school that has been the new option for several of our Catholic homeschooling friends over the past year or so. Our youngest made it in, but the rest are still on the waiting list.

For most of the Spring, I thought that I would still homeschool in the Fall. Surely, God was still calling us to it. That Sunday was the Gospel reading where the risen Christ asks Peter, “Peter, do you love me?” three times. And three times Peter responds, “Yes, Lord.” It was so moving for me that tears were streaming down my face as the Gospel was read. When Father read the words of Christ’s reply, “Then feed my sheep.” I thought, “That’s it. You want me to homeschool.” Then Fr. Luke gave the homily and it shook me to the core.

Father said that when we aren’t sure what we should do, then we should do nothing. He used the analogy of weddings at church. During the rehearsal he advises the wedding party to look to him, the priest, for direction during the ceremony. He counsels them that if they are uncertain of what they should be doing, to do nothing and wait for his direction. He said that it was his job to make sure that everyone knew what to do and when and that it was their job to wait and follow the direction. “Okay,” I thought, “I will wait for direction before I homeschool…” and then father continued speaking. He said, the human response to confusion is one of three things: 1. Do nothing 2. Do what is comfortable or 3… well, I can’t remember exactly; but the point he was making is that we often choose what is comfortable because it is familiar and we know how to do it, even though it may not be what God wants us to do. God asked Peter to walk on the water with Him, to step out of the boat and into the storm. It was this moment where I finally let go of the comfortable, known option of homeschooling as the only option and opened my heart and mind to the possibility of stepping out into the storm, the unknown. And because I am still uncertain of what we should do, I’m doing nothing. Oh, I have lesson plans written should we continue to homeschool; but I also filled out the paperwork for Ben to start in August at the Charter school. Now, I just stay here until the High Priest gives me my directions. I do still worry from time to time, but I realize quickly that I don’t have to do anything right now. It is His job to give the directions and my job to follow them. I’ll be sure to give y’all an update when I find out where we are going.

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The Tiny Parade

For years, dating back to when my mother-in-law was a young girl, the extended family went camping for the Fourth of July weekend.  It became one of the highlights of my year after my husband and I were married.  As the grandparents aged and the family continued to extend, it became more and more difficult to continue the tradition.  We moved the camping trip to April or early May–which is much more comfortable considering Texas weather.  The result became spending Independence Day at home and wanting a tradition of our own.  So, beginning about 12 years ago, Lauren and Allison asked the kids from down the street and the neighbors next door to do a parade.  Some of the other neighbors came and sat on their front lawns and we all watched as they rode bikes, lawnmowers and pulled wagons up and down the street several times.

We haven’t been home for the parade every year, but it has continued and has become our neighborhood tradition.  The kids worked hard decorating their “floats” this morning.  They were lined up and ready to go 15 minutes ahead of schedule.  The parade itself only lasted 10 minutes.  It brings joy to my heart to see everyone enjoying the celebration.  Such a simple thing to bring a community together.  One neighbor even commented that it was “better than the Arlington parade” noting that Arlington boasts of the largest parade in the state, but it also lacked excitement.  I guess bigger is not always better, even in Texas.

From our neighborhood to yours:

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Happy Birthday, America!

The Brave New World: Living Gluten Free

Gluten was one of the first things to be eliminated from my diet when I started working with my Nutritional Therapy Practitioner.  I have a nephew with Celiac, so I was not foreign to the concept; but, that does not make it less difficult either.  In fact, I gave up gluten, soy, dairy, corn and beef.  What does that leave me to eat?  That was the same question I had! It turned out that I had plenty of edible choices.  It’s just that none of those included anything that came in a box, carton or package.  And it definitely meant that my shopping had to expand beyond the Neighborhood Walmart store.  The change was a challenge, but the results were apparent as well.  I took an 80/20- Better-Than attitude (eating clean and sticking to the restrictions at least 80% of the time and choosing options that were “better than” other options).  I plowed forward with my new lifestyle dragging my family with me.  I had the idea that I could still have gluten or corn or dairy sometimes as long as I didn’t eat it too often.

Eventually, I came to understand that gluten had a bigger impact on my body than I first thought.  Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis was showing up in my bloodwork and gluten is believed to trigger the autoimmune response similar to Celiac Disease, but the body attacks the thyroid gland vs. the digestive system.  So, I doubled down and began to really focus on removing all gluten from my diet.  I didn’t realize how critical this was until I caved in a moment of hurry and hunger and the overwhelming desire for a hamburger.  A few hours later my heart was racing, my anxiety spiked, and I was more irritable than a swarm of wasps knocked from their nest.   It took me three days to recover.  It was at that moment I truly understood food allergies and the severity.  I began to ask waiters about gluten in meals and having them double check with the chef.  I became that annoying person with the food sensitivity that we laugh at in YouTube videos (which I find more humorous now than ever before).  My mistake now was trusting the servers.

Even when the server says that a meal is “gluten free” or “gluten sensitive”, when the menu has those cute little “gf” indicators next to the items, it is still not a guarantee that it is not contaminated with gluten.  There are a couple of places that I have learned to trust in my experience: El Chico and Spring Creek BBQ–minus the hot bread ;-(.  But, eating the same thing every time we go out can be pretty boring, so occasionally we will try out a new place.  So far, I’m batting 1000 at new places claiming gf options and finding out the hard way that their claims were false.  Last week I had the worst reaction so far.   We tried a new Mexican restaurant and both the server and the manager assured me that I could eat the enchiladas espinaca.  At 2am they were proved wrong.  I didn’t sleep for the next 36 hours.  When I finally did sleep for four hours I woke up unable to move, my limbs feeling like they were filled with cement.  My sweet Angela became my nurse and gave me the supplements I needed to support my body through the reaction.  What started as a wonderful date on Thursday evening, would lead to the next 5 days in bed.

I am not happy about it.  Eating out and getting the break from planning and cooking a meal is a huge treat form me.  At the same time, playing Russian Roulette with my body is just not worth the risk.  So, I face another change of attitude.  It is a new reality that when I travel I will have to prepare my own food in advance for the length of my trip.  I will probably be packing my griddle and Instant Pot to cook in the hotel room.  And family gatherings will not mean a day of munchies and treats that I didn’t have to prepare.  It will mean extra preparation and planning to make sure that I have food to eat that is safe for me.  But, I’m no different than anyone else with special needs.  It is part of the reality and the struggle.  I’m puttin’ on my big girl pants and taking this challenge head on.  Last night we had our first date night since the incident.  I planned the meal, my kids cooked it and served my husband and I in our bedroom.  We ate at a card table with a candle.  The kids kept popping in out of newfound curiosity.  It was such a great learning opportunity for them.  It is important for kids to see their parents in love and on dates.  It was an opportunity for us to receive their service of love as well.  After dinner, we snuck out the back door and went for a swim undetected by the kids.  It was refreshing and relaxing and the first swim in years where kids weren’t on top of me in the pool.  I guess that is exactly what it means to make lemonade out of lemons.  And I’m happy to do just that.  After all, lemons are naturally gluten free.

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.

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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

Have Mercy on Me, O Lord! A Sinner

First, my apologies if anyone has been waiting for a new blog post. My health improved, so I took the kids on a trip for ten days to give my husband a quiet and less stressful home (and time to finish taxes). Well, we came back with strep and exposure to chicken pox. So, two weeks of kids taking turns with strep and ear infections was closely followed by two weeks of all seven kids with severe chicken pox! The good Lord answered my prayers that they all got them at once, but it was a rough two weeks for the lot of us. My kids were amazingly brave troopers through it all and I wonder just how many souls were saved through their heroic suffering without complaint. This week was less eventful, but still involved bed rest for Allison and I as we both recovered from chest colds. Will this school year ever end? In God’s time is the only answer I have for that.

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Today, I wanted to share some thoughts on mercy.  Mercy is the word that keeps coming to my mind. Pope Francis declared this to be the Holy Year of Mercy beginning December 8, 2015 and ending on the feast of Christ the King in 2016.  Maybe the news of this declaration has something to do with mercy being my latest buzzword.  My initial reaction was that a “Holy Year of Mercy” seemed a wimpy declaration. I thought, what does that mean? Images of Jon Stamos in Full House came to mind. “Have mercy,” he exclaimed each episode in reaction to a beautiful woman or car. But, then I started to really think about what mercy is, the Divine Mercy, the most merciful Lord and savior. And as I looked around my world, I found a desparate lack of mercy. I smiled to myself as I was reminded once again how foolish I am and how great and wise is the Holy Spirit to inspire a Year of Mercy. We can certainly use it!

Don’t believe me? Well, just turn on the news; listen to a talk show; or read comments on any on-line forum, article or social media. There’s a deplorable lack of mercy. Pay attention to your inner voice as you react to any news you hear. Is it like mine with an automatic critical or negative thought? Are you quick to judge, like me? The fact is that we never have all the facts. So, when reacting to the “big story” in the news we are participating in sinful gossip. Commenting on-line is a dangerous tight-rope walk not easily balanced with facts and charitable discussion, but easily igniting anger and bitterness. It makes my heart so heavy. First, to know I am guilty of such criticism and lack of charity—even if I just think it for a brief moment. But, then to see it play out in our world brings a heaviness and sorrow that I can not explain in words. How quickly lives are destroyed and the pain and suffering ripple out!

My duty is to tend to my own soul and those souls of the children still under my care. It is a full-time job and not a fun or glamorous one to be sure. My soul is filthy and dusty and grimy. So, it is much more appealing to me to work on other people’s souls, until I see that it really doesn’t get me (or them) any closer to God. But, extending love and mercy? That draws us to unity with God and one another. Mercy is not the condoning of a sinful act, but the openness to growth and change when one repents of that action. It is the taking in account of our fallen human nature and loving one another despite it. In Fr. Lang’s Dictionary of the Liturgy, he describes God’s mercy as the “willingness of God to draw near to human beings in a loving and saving encounter. . . Those who come to know God and experience Him in this way can live only in a state of being continually converted to Him.” So, basically, if we try to work on our own souls to live out God’s will; then we have no need to worry about the criticism of others and can disregard it as such.  (This is not to say that it will be painless or free of suffering.  One only needs to look to Jesus on the cross to understand that even this perfect and sinless human was a victim of mob mentality).  In living out the Will of God we cannot help but recognize our own faults and weaknesses and understand that we are NOTHING without God. Then, we can more easily understand the weakness and failures of others and extend mercy towards them; mainly in the form of prayer and fasting.  Likewise, it will strengthen us to avoid negative thoughts and actions.  As others feel this mercy, they will naturally turn towards God and begin to improve their soul and lives accordingly. The ripple of love and mercy will be a conduit of evangelization throughout the world. I can’t think of a time where our world has needed it more than the present moment.

"For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world."

“For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”