Here’s to journeys…

Its been a year at least since I’ve had a moment to sit and reflect here.  Even now, I don’t really have the time, just the need for it.  What a year of growth, heartbreak, friendship, loss, opportunity and closure it has become.  I spent the past year at the Pentagon watching God resuscitate my career path.   I am humbled and in awe.  I said goodbye forever to two cousins.  One, 5 years old to leukemia.  One, 23 to a drug overdose.  Both tragic.

Over the past year God has reminded me of my value to Him and His purpose for me.  I have also suffered relational wounds that have torn at the core of my identity and self-worth.  My children have grown and blossomed in the most amazing ways.  I have learned more about my God than I ever imagined.  Yes, we have walked some rocky paths, He and I, and in many ways the foreseeably hardest trials are on the horizon.

I so desire to commit at the onset to submit this road of pain to Him–to learn and grow rather than shrink back in the faith.

In a matter of weeks, we dump the box out again.  New job.  New location.  New community.  New life.  Though, this time, its different.  It isn’t a complete dumping of the box.  I have a foundation on my immovable Rock.  I am stepping out in faith, but not ravaged.  Not because the trials haven’t come.  It’s just this time I am able to not lose heart because of the mercy of God.  While I myself am as fragile as a clay jar, He is imbuing me with His surpassing power.

…afflicted in every way, but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair,persecuted but not abandoned nor forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed…

Proverbs 31:25

“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” Trusting in who God is gives us courage to overcome any fears we have about the future.

From: Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford

 

Vow To Breathe
Monday, January 20, 2014 by Rachel Macy Stafford

During my highly-distracted years, life was a blur-the to-do lists took over . . . my life was a constant mad dash to a finish line that couldn’t be reached . . . and my devices were gripped more tightly than the hands of my loved ones.

Thank God things are different now.

Now I strive to open my hands, eyes, and heart to the moments that matter. And on this particular day, What Really Mattered was on my radar.

Out for a morning run while on vacation, I spotted a helpless starfish sitting in a tide pool. I couldn’t remember the last time I saved a starfish like I did when I was a girl.

But on this day, it felt like the right thing to do.

I reached into a shallow tide pool and pulled out a starfish missing a limb. I turned it over expecting to see no movement, but amazingly its tiny tube feet waved at me. The starfish was alive-and it was fighting to survive.

“Breathe,” I whispered to the broken creature. “Breathe.”

Suddenly, it became crystal clear what I didn’t want my life to feel like. Here are the thoughts that went through my head that day-words that have become my daily prayer, my Hands Free mantra, my vow to breathe:

Vow To Breathe

No longer do I want to feel like I’m always running late.

No longer do I want to feel like I‘ll never catch up.

No longer do I want to feel compelled to rush my children through life.

No longer do I want to feel the brush of a hurried kiss on my husband’s lips.

No longer do I want to feel guilty when I sit down to rest.

No longer do I want to feel depleted and empty.

No longer do I want to feel like each day is a blur.

No longer do I want to feel half alive.

Instead, I vow to breathe.

I vow to look my children in the eyes and step into their world.

I vow to remember what my heart loves to do and then stop making excuses.

I vow to close my eyes in gratitude and open my eyes wide in wonder.

I vow to have face-to-face, soul-to-soul connection with the ones who share my life.

I vow to:

Read a book.

Dance in the rain.

Say, “Take your time,” and mean it.

 

I vow to:

Give a good kiss.

Leave a surprise note.

Do absolutely nothing every now and then.

 

I vow to:

Rest

Laugh

Pray

Wait

Dream

And breathe.

And breathe.

So I can truly live.

It’s been three years since I made this vow. My journey has not been perfect. Sometimes I stumble, but I get back up by reminding myself that the to-do list doesn’t contain the most important tasks of the day. God’s gentle urgings on my heart tell me what I need to flourish and thrive-as long as I stop long enough to listen.


 

 

Tired of losing track of what matters most in life, Rachel Macy Stafford began practicing simple strategies that enabled her to momentarily let go of largely meaningless distractions and engage in meaningful soul-to-soul connections. She started a blog (www.handsfreemama.com) to chronicle her endeavors and soon saw how both external and internal distractions had been sabotaging her happiness and preventing her from bonding with the people she loves most. Now she’s written a book: Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters! Order your copy today.

 

Hey America, Pregnancy: You’re Doing it Wrong by Kendra Tierney

Hey America, Pregnancy: You’re Doing it Wrong

 
I’ve debated writing this post for a while, because really — who wants to be the poster-child for “irresponsible pregnancy?” But, you know me, I can’t resist a can of worms. And I think it needs to be said. So, here goes: You know all that stuff you’re not supposed to do while you’re pregnant? I do pretty much all of it. And mostly, I think you should too. Because the English-speaking world has a fundamentally flawed way of looking at pregnancy. 

 
 

I turned up pregnant a month after the husband and I got married. So, of course, I immediately consulted the internet. I learned that I wasn’t to run or hike or jump up and down, I had to be sure to eat a lot of fish while being very careful not to consume any fish. I was to have no alcohol, no soft cheese, no caffeine, no tap water,no cured meats, no sushi, no hot tubs or hot baths. I was to do no painting, no gardening, no microwaving, no housecleaning, and no pet care. I probably shouldn’t talk on the phone or use a computer. I needed to get all the recommended prenatal ultrasound and doppler testing, but be sure to avoid bombarding my baby with sound waves.

And, of course, no feeling stressed. It’s not good for the baby.

But all that just didn’t seem to me like it could possibly be right. Pregnancy is a natural thing that happens to women, often many times, and it’s been happening throughout time and all over the world and how could it possibly be that fragile and burdensome? 

Thank goodness my first call was to my very reasonable family practice doctor who told me that being pregnant was not a disease. He had some expertise in the field of fetal alcohol syndrome, and helped me to understand how very rare it is (a woman who consumes 18 drinks PER DAY has a 30-33% chance of giving birth to a baby with FAS). He explained that the safest place a baby could possibly be was inside its mother. He said I should feel free to continue to live life like a normal human being. So that’s what I did. And that’s what I’ve done through all six of my previous pregnancies, and what I’m currently doing during pregnancy number seven.

Because here’s the thing: all that unscientific fear-mongering just serves to degrade a culture of openness to life. How can a woman be expected to avoid all of those things for all of her fertile years? The answer is she couldn’t. So if my view of pregnancy is that it’s something that’s dangerous to mothers and babies, then I’d have to treat fertility as a disease to be cured. I’d have to “plan parenthood” so as to make very, very certain I didn’t everaccidentally ride a roller coaster when I might unknowingly be pregnant. Or have a glass of wine. Or eat a bologna sandwich. I might have to abort a perfectly good baby just in case.
  

But for me, my fertility and pregnancies (and breastfeeding and newborns and children) are all a part of my normal life. I didn’t stop out of real life and into a sterility bubble to carefully breed two children. I embrace both my fertility and my real life at the same time. Because my fertility and my real life are the same thing. 

So when I’m pregnant, I make very few if any changes to my normal routine: 

 

  • I continue to drink 1-2 alcoholic drinks per week (butrecent studies and all of history and most of Europe suggest that up to 7 drinks per week is completely acceptable). 
  • I continue my normal routine of exercising: running up until the last month or two of pregnancy, then walking instead. 
  • I continue to eat in a moderate and healthy way, and limit my weight gain to avoid feeling overweight and miserable during and after pregnancy. This has been a great benefit toboth my physical and mental well-being.
  • I go on roller coasters and water slides even into my third trimester, brazenly daring the teenaged minimum wage theme park employees to accuse me of being pregnant.
  • I drink caffeine.
  • I take hot baths.
  • I eat sushi and brie and prosciutto because they are yummy and because they have never yet given me food poisoning, pregnant or not.
  • I don’t smoke or take drugs, but I also don’t do those things when I’m not pregnant. 

I have been fortunate enough to never lose a baby to miscarriage andto have given birth to six children without disabilities or special needs. But I do not attribute that fact to anything I do or do not do during pregnancy. It just is what it is, as they say. Plenty of women do everything just right and still lose a baby. To point fingers and try to figure out what they did to cause their miscarriage seems unhelpful and just plain mean. Tragedies happen, and we don’t always get to know why.

And the thing is, most of this pregnancy advice seems to me to come, not from actual scientific research, but rather from theme park lawyers, internet conspiracy theorists, and Victorian novelists whose heroines will insist on going horseback riding against the wishes of their husbands and can be counted upon to miscarry and learn an important lesson about docility.

 
 
 

I don’t think any of those three are better sources of lifestyle advice than the whole of human history in which, for many women, pregnancy was the rule rather than the exception for 20-30 years of their lives. And they didn’t have time to sit around letting Google freak them out about it. They knew that pregnancy was just a natural part of life. 
   
That’s how I view it as well. I have now been pregnant or nursing for over twelve years straight. And, for me, it mostly hasn’t felt like a sacrifice or a burden. It hasn’t felt like something otherthan real life, like a season of illness or misfortune to be weathered until better times return. And I think being able to have a glass of wine with the husband or go on a roller coaster with my kids has been a big part of that.

————

And hey, it’s Sunday so you get to see what I look like pregnant today and what I wore to Mass:

Dress and Belt: Old Navy; Shoes: Zappos; Necklace: Personalized Creations; Earrings: a gift; Bump: 26 weeks!
And, if you’re wondering about that big accessory in the background . . . why yes that is our new BIG van (and my first new car ever!). Thanks to the fine folks who like Catholic All Year on Facebook and responded to my cry for help, we test drove the Mercedes Sprinter, Ford E350, and Nissan NV.
 
I think any of the three would have worked for our family. But, I felt like the Mercedes was a combination of too spartan on the inside and too fancy (or at least too fancy a name) on the outside. I just somehow don’t feel qualified to be driving around in a Mercedes. Even a decidedly unsexy one. The Ford seemed very utilitarian, so it certainly would have gotten the job done, but then we drove the Nissan and IT felt just right.
 
While the other two had a rather industrial feel, the Nissan NV really seems like a consumer vehicle. It’s got things like a usb port, gps, a back-up camera, and little slide-out cupholdersunderneath each of the seats. And this one wasn’t white (hallelujah!) so we went ahead and bought the thing.

It’s going to take some getting used to, but I’m really very happy with it. Twelve seats! Imagine the possibilities. Now we just need to figure out if we’re keeping our old 2002 Chevy Venture, too, and if the new one will fit in the garage, and how we’re going to get three cars back up to LA. Jack’s pretty good at Project Gotham Racing on Grandad’s Xbox, but I’m not sure how well that would translate into real life driving skills.

Thanks to the good ladies at Fine Linen and Purple for hosting yet another What I Wore Sunday. Head on over to check out what everyone else wore to Mass today!   
 

 

22 things I learned in my first ten years of parenthood by Jennifer Fulwiler

As I was sitting here thinking of all the awesomeness that this wonderful, new, non-2013 year will hold, it occurred to me that my oldest child will turn ten this fall. Ten! I have officially been a parent for a decade now, and I’ve had six kids during that time.

When I took a step back and considered that I’ve been living in Baby Central for the better part of my adult life, it occurred to me that I must have accumulated some knowledge during that time. I mean, surely I’ve learned at least one or two things about this whole “keeping small human beings alive in your home” thing, right?

yaya jen 22 things I learned in my first ten years of parenthood

Yaya and I behold the new baby, my first child, in 2004. I had no idea what I was in for.

Since I have a bunch of important but not-fun work I’m supposed to be doing, naturally I decided that creating a list of everything I’ve learned about parenting since 2004 should immediately become my top priority. All of this is probably obvious to everyone, but I need to procrastinate, so here it goes:

skid row dolly 22 things I learned in my first ten years of parenthood

Doll face-down in urine on the couch (2010).

1. It’s important to carefully select the parenting philosophy that you will use to ensure that you have happy, well adjusted children. This will provide you with some long, loud, much-needed laughs after the 857th time you find yourself violating every principle you hold dear just to get through the day.

2. Having a romantic dinner alone with your spouse is one of the best things you can do for your kids.

3. Never in human history have mothers had kids all up in their faces all day, every day. If you feel like you desperately need to get away from the kids for a while, it’s not a sign that you’re a bad mother. It’s a sign that you’re a normal person who’s doing her best under very unnatural circumstances.

4. Don’t pile a bunch of unnecessary rules on yourself during pregnancy. Listen to Kendra on this one and have that glass of wine with dinner.

5. If you think you smelled poop, you did.

xmas card 22 things I learned in my first ten years of parenthood

Failing at Christmas card photos in 2007.

6. If your child reads at age four and sits quietly in church and joyfully eats a wide variety of healthful foods, it probably has less to do with your parenting skills than you think it does.

7. If your child is behind in school and often acts like an animal and refuses all food except noodles and ketchup, it probably has less to do with your parenting skills than you think it does.

8. Breastfeeding is a priceless gift you can give your child. So is being a sane mom. If nursing doesn’t work out, don’t waste energy beating yourself up about it.

9. The ability to enjoy baking with young children is a rare super-talent that God bestows on only a select few people. Carefully discern whether or not you have this gift before announcing to a group of toddlers that we’re going to try that fun cookie recipe mommy found in Gourmet Magazine. (This life rule is known as The Insight I Came Up with After that Time Joe Found Me Twitching, Muttering to Myself, and Covered in Flour on the Kitchen Floor.)

7qt201 gingerbread house e1383630830455 22 things I learned in my first ten years of parenthood

Ginger bread houses: never again (2012).

10. No matter what your family size, there is always going to be someone out there who disapproves of it.

11. Whether or not Goldfish crackers constitute a reasonable main course for dinner depends on what kind of day you’ve had.

12. It’s more important to raise kids who love to learn than it is to raise kids who get into impressive colleges. The two aren’t necessarily the same thing.

triple stroller 22 things I learned in my first ten years of parenthood

Back before we outgrew the triple stroller (2008).

13. Think very carefully about your sleep personality before following the old advice to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” I have never been closer to having my head actually explode than one of the many times a baby woke up just as I was finally drifting off for a much-needed nap.

14. Almost every mother has had a moment where she stares at one of her children and wonders if he or she is seriously insane.

15. It’s not always possible, but if you can make a habit of getting up an hour before everyone else in the house, it will change your life. (I say this as the biggest non-morning-person in the universe. There are vampires who enjoy watching the sun rise more than I do.)

16. In our culture, there is no parenting decision so insignificant that it won’t be debated on blogs and discussed on news programs and argued about on Facebook. Don’t get sucked into that. That time you spent wondering if you’re a bad parent because you didn’t put sunscreen on your kids’ elbows before that trip to the park is 15 seconds out of your life that you can never get back.

shopping cart 22 things I learned in my first ten years of parenthood

Bought one too many kids at the store again (2013).

17. That mom whom you perceive only cooks organic foods hand-picked from her garden probably fed her kids PBJ tonight.

18. Before you commit to the opinion that the world is a terrible place and your whole life is a hopeless mess made entirely of fail, take a moment to ask yourself if you’re suffering from tired-think.

19. It would be awesome if your kids could have a mom who had the holiness of Mother Teresa, the energy of Mary Poppins, and the domestic skills of Martha Stewart. But if you’re not there yet, saying “I love you guys and I love Jesus and I’m doing the best I can” works too.

pin tail 22 things I learned in my first ten years of parenthood

When you forget the blindfold for Pin the Tail on the Donkey, you improvise (2011).

20. If you find yourself spending a lot of time ignoring the kids to stare at your smartphone, it’s probably because you desperately need breaks you’re not getting, and you’re clinging to these little virtual escapes. Or maybe you discovered Kim Kierkegaardashian on Twitter, in which case, carry on.

21. It never feels like a good time to have kids. There could always be a little more room in the house, a little more money in the bank, and a little more time in the day. There are times when you really do need to avoid pregnancy, but don’t let perfectionism deprive you of the gift of a son or daughter.

22. If you have recently pretended not to see a child who was drawing all over her face with marker because she was finally being quiet and you were in the middle of reading something really funny on the internet, you probably shouldn’t write lists about what you know about parenting.

xmas card 13 22 things I learned in my first ten years of parenthood

Still failing at Christmas card photos, 2013.

    

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Revealing Your Calling by Dr. Tony Evans

Revealing Your Calling

Jesus says the way to find your life is to lose it for His sake. When you do that, God will reveal your calling to you, and the puzzle of life will begin to come together.

My oldest daughter, Chrystal, was a puzzle fanatic when she was younger. She was always putting puzzles together. One day I brought home a one-thousand piece puzzle.

She took the puzzle, went to her room, but came back a couple of hours later looking very upset. “Daddy, why did you buy me this puzzle? It has too many pieces!”

Life is like that. It has too many pieces. If you try to put them together by yourself, you will only frustrate yourself. It you want to put the pieces of your life together, God must own you. He is the One who holds the finished image of your calling. Putting together a puzzle without seeing the image of the final product is nearly impossible. Look to Him because He knows where He is taking you. In fact, many Christians are living their lives with a feeling of insignificance because they cannot see how they relate to the much larger, comprehensive puzzle called God’s purpose. You may be a fancy piece, pretty piece, handsome piece or well-crafted piece, but until you connect to the greater meaning for which you were created, you are just a piece without a picture.

The picture that God has created us all to form is the maximizing of His glory and the expansion of His kingdom through the impact of your good works. If you are a Christian, then whatever you are called to do will achieve both of those things.

A WINDOW ON THANKSGIVING by JMI

Posted by JMI on Nov 12 2013

Gala #4

If you were at the JMI Benefit Gala this year you saw a video that included the girl I sponsor in Grace House expressing her excitement over the big window in her new room.  I believe her exact words were summed up by “Wow”!

A window.  Thrilled!?

I’ve been thinking about that moment quite often and Thanksgiving seems like the perfect time to blog about it.  After all, how many kids do you know who would be ecstatic over their window?

At first I thought it was the view, which is a rather picturesque vista of the capital city.  But Chisinau isn’t Paris by a long shot!

Then I remembered the windows in the orphanage of Falesti where Ala grew up.  Like all of Moldova’s orphanages, the windows are barred.  Whether that is to keep thieves out or the kids from climbing out their windows, I have no idea.  Probably both.

Either way, Ala feels blessed to have a window she says she could “never have imagined.”  I suspect it gives her a sense of freedom and a new perspective on life.

What’s the view look like from your window today?  How many of us are living with the big issues of our lives obstructing our views and barring our happiness?  Our jobs.  Our finances.  Our kids.  Our marriages.  Big issues tend to suck the marrow out of our bones.  How easily our blessings can erode into wastelands.  Ever feel like Job and want to cry out, “I curse the day I was born!?”

Maybe it’s true….maybe life truly does consist of attending to the little things.  An evening walk together.  The V.I.P. greeting we get every day after work from our dog.  A baby’s hand clasping your finger.  Your children’s laughter.  The smell of apple cinnamon crisp baking in your kitchen.  One of the Master’s brilliant sunsets.

All of this can easily be missed if we aren’t mindful; if we forget where we’ve come from; if we forget the simple things that used to be the best things; if we fail to be attentive to the little things.

Like windows.

And orphans.

a sorting out of sorts

Ever just come to the same beaten, dead horse in your life and wonder when you will stop having to look at the thing?  You don’t know what to do with it, or even if you can do anything with it–so there it sits. A heaped up crumple of mess that no human can restore.  I have a few relationships in my life that look like a mangled corpse.  Its wearying, this wondering if things will ever get sorted or whether you’ve inadvertently sinned against someone.  In my head, I know I cannot be responsible for how they feel or react.  I cannot control their perceptions or behaviour.  But the futility of broken relationships is a trying thing.  If I keep doing the same thing I’ve been doing, I cannot expect different results.  But if I look at my actions and have a clear conscience, then there is nothing to change.

The Scriptures tell us to live at peace with everyone as much as we are able.  Clearly, sometimes it is not up to us.  And sometimes you just can’t go back and fix something.  We humans break things all the time–irrevocably so.  Can they ever be put back together?  God is the Craftsman of all things; He can surely mend and re-build anything.  But we all know that this isn’t always the case.

When do you re-evaluate your part of a relationship for potential sin?  Something that was ok and reasonable last year might not be so this year.

Similarly and somewhat related, I think it is easy for us to develop relational habits that we can nurse like an overgrown child.  Something that was benign has evolved into something ugly and grotesque without us ever being aware, yet we still coddle and snuggle it comfortably as it saps the life out of a relationship.

There are few things more stifling to me than the feeling of watching chains wrapped around my wrists with no visible way of breaking free.

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (Gal 5:1).  Once you find full freedom from a suffocating enslavement, other controlling entanglements seem to repel with an unparalleled force.  I think these relationship feel so binding in their attempts to control or manipulate or otherwise punish.

I am so done being an agent of relational destruction, but on the otherhand, I feel powerless make things better.  Lord, I’ve come to the end of myself.

I believe God for good in these things because He is the source of all good.  He has promised to work all things for good.  But it is hard, and heavy, and wearisome.

but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Is 40:31).  But when does the strength come?  When does the trial stop sapping?  Where is the renewal?  I believe Him for it.  I ache for a total redemption where all things are made new in Him.  That time when we can say:

‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

Maybe not this side of heaven, but I have to go on in this hope.  Love  always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Cor 13:7). My faithful love for God is shown in my tenacious hope in Him and His promises.  It is an obstinate belief that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do.

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24).