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The Big Four

7 Dec

Dearest James,

Your birthday passed just a few days ago and I’ve been struggling to sit down and write this.  Your birthday is meant to be a joyous celebration, and it certainly is!  But it is also a painful reminder to me that you are growing up.  Yes, you are only four—it’s not like you are moving out of the house any time soon, I know, I know.  But, your baby days are long gone, and everything that is sentimental in me wells up at the thought of you turning into a big boy.

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When I think about one word that describes you, it is most certainly *big.*  The most obvious is your size and the fact that you and Jonah can pretty much share clothes and shoes even though he is 2 1/2 years older than you.  You wear your Dutch genes well.

2014-08-30 13.27.16 You have a big personality.  When you are around, there is an energy and demand for attention that cannot be overlooked.  You crack yourself up (your daddy has no idea where you get that from), you sing at the top of your lungs, and make a general ruckus wherever you go.  Where there is noise…there is James.

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Your heart—your love—your intense hugs…yes, they are all very, very big.  Every. Single. Nap and Bedtime you wrap your arms in a strong hold around my neck as I lean in to give you a kiss.  You squeeze and plead, “Don’t leave.  I just love you so much.”  And even when I try to pull away, you squeeze so tight that I literally cannot escape your bear hug.  This always ends in a giggle fest, and ultimately you get me to stay and snuggle…every single time.   

As you are growing, your capacity to learn amazes me.  Simply from listening to your siblings recite long scripture passages from the bible, you walk around recalling them without a single error.  The first time we heard you do this, Annie, Jonah and I stared at each other in disbelief, wondering how in the heck you had just flawlessly recited the entire Parable of the Good Shepherd.  You prefer having chapter books with more sophisticated plots read to you over picture books, and you are still obsessed with all things puzzles.  In the last few months, you have mastered 100 piece puzzles and I’m sure that in no time you will be moving on to our collection of 200 pieces.

  

You also began atrium this year and you are absolutely loving it.  You are entering into a beautiful relationship with our Lord.  Just the other day, we were praying through the Prophecy of the Light:  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light”  (Isaiah 9:2).  And when wondering about that great light, you immediately exclaimed, “It was Jesus!”  We talked about being in the darkness and you explained, “I’m not scared of the dark because Jesus’ light is always with me.  Plus, I have my nightlight, so I can always see with those two things.”  You get it, buddy.  It is my greatest prayer that you remain in that light. 

As is the tradition, I interviewed you today to capture all the favorites in your current 4 year old world:

What is your favorite color(s)?

Green and blue

What is your favorite sport?  Why?

Playing hockey because I like hitting the puck

Who is your favorite friend?

Owen because he likes to play with guns.

What do you like to do during your “free time?”

I like to color, do puzzles and play trains and dress up as a firefighter and play with my trucks.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A paleontologist and a basketball player (since I don’t even know how to play basketball).

What is your favorite and least favorite meal?

Favorite is Beef and Noodle

Least favorite is broccoli and stir fry

What is your favorite dessert?

Chocolate cake with homemade chocolate chip ice cream

What is your favorite and least favorite subject in school?

Favorite=workbooks

Least Favorite=I love all the school works.

What do you like to do with Annie and Jonah?

Play games and pretend stuff. I also like to play trucks with them on my car rug.

What do you like to do with your family?

Watch movies, read books, and play Sequence.

What is the most important thing that you know about God?

That he is the light of the world. He came first as baby Jesus and was born in a manger. Then he got to be the big Jesus. We know about Him from the Bible. He died on the cross and rose again. Now He is in Heaven.

You got it, buddy.  Now if I could just hit PAUSE and keep you in your four year old glory, my heart would be most appreciative.  But, alas, you are getting big…and, so, my heart grows with you, as you continue to teach me what it means to love and be loved with your big personality tucked into your big four year old body.

I love you, buddy!

XOXO,

Momma

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Untying

21 Nov

You know that game that your mind plays when you just aren’t sure what this or that all means.  The What If Game.

What if they find something really bad?

What if they don’t find anything at all?

What if he wasn’t “sick enough” to get the results that they wanted.

What if he has to be trekked out into the freezing, windy, snowy day again while he feels utterly miserable because they want more tests run?

I don’t know the answers to any of these things.  All I know is that we are asked to surrender over and over and over again to our Lord.

This is out of my hands; not so much out of my heart.

These children that He has entrusted us with?  They are not ours for keeps.  They are His.  They are a gift and one of our gifts has a bow that is a bit complicated to untie.

And, so another round of orders were sent in—complicated orders, apparently, as it took two tries on two different days and two different labs before they could sort out just what the immunologist wanted to have run.

10 more tubes of blood drawn.

Three more labs to analyze the results.

STAT written here, there, and everywhere.

The conversation with the head of one of the labs, who personally came to the draw center to be able to pick up the tubes in order to ensure that they were able to be processed STAT, lingers in my mind:  “Ma’am, I’ve been looking through your son’s blood history over the last two days—trying to sort out these orders.  He sure has a lot going on.”

“Yeah.  We are hoping these tests provide some answers.”

“I sure hope so, too.”

With empathetic eyes, he looked at our little guy and asked, “How are you buddy?”

“I’m fine,” he muttered, as if someone was holding his poor congested nose closed.

He always says that.

I sure hope it is true.

September 29

28 Sep

It’s been seven years since we lost our Gabriel Michael to a first trimester miscarriage. 

Seven years. 

At dinner this evening, we talked about how tomorrow, September 29, is the feast of the Archangels (who we named our own angel after) and how I’d like us to get to Mass. 

“Why do you like to go to Mass on this feast day?” inquired Annie.  “Because that is the one place in which Heaven meets Earth and it is the closest we can be to your brother until we get to Heaven,” I explained.  Jason went on to add, “…then we can all meet him and our family will all be together.”

“Yeah, I want to go, too,” the kids declared.

There were a lot of questions from our little people this year—how old was Gabriel when he died?  How did you know he died if he was in your belly?  How did he get out of your belly?  Can we go and visit his grave sometime?

It might seem strange to some that we are so open with the kids about our miscarriages, but we decided very early on that these lost children are a part of our family, so why diminish their importance in our lives simply because they aren’t here right now.  We don’t dwell on their loss and the topic doesn’t come up all that often, but when it does, the kids are always curious, reflective, and thoughtful.

With our family size feeling oh-so-small these days, these feast days sting a little bit more, for it is another reminder that our family is what it is.  Yes, God can still work amazing miracles, and I’ve not lost that hope.  But, for now, there is no planning or hoping or imagining what our life will be like when the next baby comes along.

Instead, our thoughts are turned inward and upward as we are asked to give this sorrow, this sense of loneliness, this ache in our hearts to hold that child that we never got to embrace—yes, we give it to our Lord.  And we turn to our Heavenly Mother who knows well the ache that comes from the suffering love for her child and ask that she wrap her loving mantle around us, so that we might experience joy and peace in accepting God’s will for our family.

Seven years.    There is the old saying that these sorts of things get easier with time.  But, I disagree.  

My people

21 Sep

My People.

The friends who I can send a random email to – even though we haven’t talked in weeks – to tell them that I’m losing it or to please add such and such to your prayer intentions, or by the way, isn’t this hilarious?  Thy respond back with love and good will and always a bit of humor.  Despite their own  losing it, busy lives, and needs, they let me lament my moments without reservation.  They are my faithful prayer warriors.

They are My People.

Those colleagues-turned friend who I can turn to when I need advice in handling this or that.  One in particular is my go-to for all things Catholic, especially when I’m working on album pages (lessons) for the atrium.   I’m finding it is so important to have pals in ministry who know…oh, how they know, the struggles of being in ministry.

I’m grateful these are My People, too.

Or those friends that I have known for years—the ones that I have had the honor of being god mother to their children and vice-versa because they really are like family.  They are the friends who care so much about welcoming my family into their home over a good meal that they joyfully cater to our every allergy need—down to the condiments placed on the organic meats and vegetables (because they know and understand how this diet is not a choice, but a necessity).  Their acts of love define what it means to be like Christ and thus, they are so some of My People.

And the spiritual directors from whom I’ve been blessed to seek counsel.  In this season of my life, I’m grateful for a spiritual director who gets me, whooow, does he get me.  He challenges me and prays for me and is like the wise-faithful friend who only wants what is best for me.  To be able to speak without reservation about what God is doing in my life and where I am struggling and succeeding, yeah, I’m indebted to him for being one of My People.

Those newer friends—you know the kind.  They are the ones that I knew right away that I had an immediate connection with and could instantly identify as My People.  They are the friends that I can talk with for hours on end about alternative health care choices, cooking, eating real food, homeschooling, and so on.  They are the kind of friends who think nothing of a night out ending at Holy Hour, praying before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.  Yeah, they are certainly My People.

And, gosh, I’m pretty lucky to say that my extended family is among My People.  Not everyone is as lucky as  I am to be blessed with parents who are loving, supportive, and would seriously give their lives to see me and my family happy, successful and peaceful.  And for my family that I don’t see often or spend enough time with, well, at the end of the day, I have no doubt that they are My People.  I mean, we are family and with that word comes a bond, though sometimes imperfect, that unites us.  I’m grateful to have them among My People, too.

And then there is that friend—I pray you all have one, too, that best friend who is basically the sister you always longed for.  She’s the one who has known me, prayed for me, loved me through the years–when I got a tattoo and partied my little rebellious streak out of me, when I cared more about animal rights than those of the unborn, when I came back to the faith and had questions, lots of questions.  She was there, calling me on Saturdays in college, reminding me to go to Mass.  She is the one person that I talk to almost every day and who can tell by my, “Hello” what kind of day I am having.  There is no faking it with her.  I could seriously write a book about how she is one of My People, but suffice is to say, I would be a complete and utter train wreck had this friend not come into my life many, many years ago.

Obviously, my husband is the epitome of one of My People.  Yeah, a novel could be written about him, too, but in summary—he gets me, lives with me, and still loves me (crazy, I know!).  He is my sounding board, my filter, my biggest cheerleader and would do anything to ensure my happiness.  He challenges me to grow in the areas in which I am weak, keeping one eye on who I am (and loving me) and one eye on the person God has called me to be.  It really is quite something in this society to be married to someone that you just know is the one you will spend your life with–the one who is committed to living out our marriage vows.  Yah, he’s so very much one of My People.

My People—these friends and family, if put into one room, would seem like an unlikely mixture of this and that, though in my life fit perfectly into a beautiful team of prayer warriors, soul-mates, soldiers in an army of people who are my earthly reminders of God’s goodness and faithfulness.   I’m so grateful to have them—to help me grow, challenge me to be the woman of Christ that I am called to be, and to celebrate the victories and to be there to pick me up should the day go to pot and I’m stressed paralyzed, while sitting in a corner eating chocolate and peanut butter by the spoonful.  Heck, they are the ones that would show up at the door with the bag of allergy-friendly chocolate chips and jar of PB because they just know … they are My People.

we started

14 Sep

Another year of homeschooling is underway in our household, as we will begin our fourth week of formal instructions tomorrow.  And believe it or not, I’m not totally frazzled, which is crazy considering I also began a part time job in ministry (enough said!) at our parish the same week that we started school.  

Admittedly, there have been a few instances where I’ve looked at Jason, rattled off a really big to do list and said, “Help.  What do I do next?  I’m stress paralyzed” (::sidenote::  the movie Mom’s Night Out will forever be one of my favorites for validating that such a thing exists for us mommas!  I’ve been using those words for years!)  There may have even been a few explicits thrown in there, too—you know, to keep it real.  Yeah.  It’s been crazy. 

::Another side note, James’ devilish grin says it all in his homeschooling adventures::

But, God in His goodness and faithfulness placed it on my heart to ease our way back into the school year.  For the first time ever, we didn’t start every subject in week one, but rather began with a week of review (1/2 days), added in some of the core subjects the following week, and then added in the rest of the curriculum in week three.  Genius, yes?

I  phased in new programs, like our writing, Latin, and memory work, which allowed for us to get comfortable with how they work one at a time.  This approach has really helped us to settle back into a full time schedule of formal instruction. 

 

I have high hopes for this school year, not only in regards to the curriculum that we will be covering (which is fantastic!), but also in our approach.  This summer I happened upon the Schole Sisters blog and the Circe Institute, which aims to cultivate wisdom and virtues in our children and many, many, many of the posts and podcasts have left Jason and I relishing this opportunity to home educate our children and to be able to approach their education in such a more intimate and meaningful way than my undergrad and graduate work in Education could have ever prepared me for.  I’ve got three little images of God that I’ve been blessed to give my all to in this homeschooling world (and in every area of their lives), and together, we have got a lot of learning and growing to do to become the children of Christ that we are called to be.  I’m excited for this school year.  And, even more so I’m trusting because stress paralyzed is a thing and the task before us homeschooling moms is great.  But, man, what a reward. 

Desire

18 Jun

“Desire is to the soul what gravitation is to matter.  When we know our desires, we know the direction our soul is taking.  If desire is heavenly, we go upwards.  It if is wholly earthly, we go downwards.  Desire is like raw material out of which we fashion either our virtues or vices.”

–Venerable Fulton Sheen

Last week, I attended the Michigan Catholic homsechool conference and one of the speakers began by asking, “What do you desire for your children?  What are your goals?  What is it that you want most for your children in regards to their home education?”

My first thought:  that they know that they are loved.

I want them to know the unconditional love of our Heavenly Father, and to know that Jason and I love them fiercely.

Somewhere last year in the midst of over-commitments out of the home, stressful health issues, a lack of discipline in my schedule, the need to create almost every last food item from scratch, doctors’ visits all over the state, along with the daily to-dos, I feel like I lost sight of showing my children my  love for them.

And so as of late, my prayers have been centered around being that wife and mother that God desires for me to be. 

“Look at your heart.  It tells the story of why you were made.  It is not perfect in shape or contour, like a Valentine Heart.  There seems to be a small piece missing out of  the side of every human heart.  That may be to symbolize a piece that was torn out of the Heart of Christ which embraced all humanity on the Cross.  But I think the real meaning is that when God made your human heart, He found it so good and so lovable that He kept a small sample of it in Heaven. He sent the rest of it into this world to enjoy His gifts, and to use them as stepping stones back to Him, but to be ever mindful that you can never love anything in this world with your whole heart because you have not a whole heart with which to love.  In order to love anyone with your whole heart, in order to be really peaceful, in order to be really wholehearted, you must go back again to God to recover the piece He has been keeping for you from all eternity.”

–Venerable Fulton Sheen

And in going back to God, I find Him nudging my heart to continue to make changes so that I can come ever closer to Him.  Only then, can I love like He loves.  And my first desire—love– in raising my children, while also schooling them, will be achieved.

I’m recognizing the need to create our school schedule and not ask another soul what they are doing or how they are doing it because no matter what, it will make me re-think things.  And, for the most part, the way we approach school works for us, and that is all that matters.

I’m coming to understand that I need to further step down from commitments out of the home.  At the end of the day, homeschooling is a full time job and I just don’t have the ability during this season of my life to give as much as I have been.  I’m constantly aware of this, yet I rarely have the courage to make the necessary changes.  It is always insightful when I can step back from the chaos and look back and become keenly aware of where  I was being pulled too far off course.  Now is the time in which I am making the changes so that next school year is different. 

I’m learning that I have a very tender and sensitive soul and that it is important that I surround myself with the friends and family that have the common goal of building one another up.  I need to keep those relationship that don’t do that at a distance. 

I need to scale back my expectations.  I learn and re-learn this all the time.  But, as of late, I’ve found such peace in reflecting upon Mother Teresa and her Missionary of Charity’s schedule:

Daily Schedule for the Missionaries of Charity

4:30 – 5:00: Rise and get cleaned up
5:00 – 6:30: Prayers and Mass
6:30 – 8:00: Breakfast and cleanup
8:00 – 12:30: Work for the poor
12:30 – 2:30: Lunch and rest
2:30 – 3:00: Spiritual reading and meditation
3:00 – 3:15: Tea break
3:15 – 4:30: Adoration Prayer
4:30 – 7:30: Work for the poor
7:30 – 9:00: Dinner and clean up
9:00 – 9:45: Night prayers
9:45: Bedtime

Prayer, rest, work…their days are properly ordered.  Mine?  Not so much.  But I am working to change that.  The inner voice that is constantly reminding me of my “to do” list is very slowly being quieted.  OK, some days he is still giving an all out scream fest, but I’m trying. 

I find encouragement from the book, The Soul of the Apostolate:  “1.  I will always take more time than necessary, to do everything.  This is the way to avoid being in a hurry and getting excited.  2.  Since I invariably have more things to do than time in which to do them, and this prospect preoccupies me and gets me all worked up, I will cease to think about all that I have to do, and only consider the time I have at my disposal.  I will make use of that time, without losing a moment of it, beginning with the most important duties; and as regards to those that may or may not get done, I shall not worry about them.”

Admittedly, I’m terrible at living this ideal.  But, I am trying.  And for the first time in a really long time I have a deep peace about where God has me and how I am responding to this vocation.   I’m hopeful that my children and husband understand my desire and recognize that love is at the center of all that I am and all that I do for them. 

and we are done

5 Jun

Did you hear that scream?

It was us belting, “SCHOOL IS OUT!”  I’m pretty sure the echo from that joyous scream two weeks ago can still be heard—because it was *that* loud of a holler!

Our last day of school was spent packing away our completed curriculum and and reminiscing about the year:

We started the school year a week later than normal because we had come off of the busiest summer of our lives with moving, renovating, fracturing a rib, and just trying to settle into a new life in the country.  All of a sudden mid-August arrived, and I had not ordered curriculum, our school room was still in boxes and the actual room was still in renovation mode—no carpet, the walls needed to be repaired and a fresh coat of paint was in order.  So, yeah, benefit #1 of homeschooling is flexibility.  We started “late,” but who cares?  By mid-May, we were done!

How you might ask?  Because we rocked out our curriculum like it was our full time job (oh wait, it was) and we don’t stop for the 57 snow days and in service days and conference days and Fall breaks and mid-winter breaks, etc. etc.  Of course we enjoyed holidays and field trips like any family, but other than that, we worked and we worked hard.

As any “teacher” can agree, it is hard to quantify what was “accomplished” this year, because the inner-workings of the Holy Spirit far outweigh what I can check off of our curriculum to-do list.  I’m certain He has been working in my children, as they have continued to grow, love, and learn in beautiful ways this year.  But, because I often have people ask about my curriculum choices, this is the condensed version of what we checked off of our curriculum to-do list. 

Annie—2nd Grade:

*  Religion: Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Program which prepared her for First Reconciliation and First Holy Communion.081

*  Grammar:  completed Montessori Research and Development 6-9 year old Language Arts Curriculum, Volume 1 and 4 (noun, verb, adjective, adverbs, interjections, conjunctions, prepositions, etc, along with mechanics).  She is a champ at diagramming crazy long sentences.  My former English teacher self couldn’t be prouder! 

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*  Reading:  She is an avid reader and read every book she could get her hands on.  She completed most of the books from the Angelicum Academy’s list of Good Books, along with the Mitchell series, Betsy Tacy series, the Little House Series, Christian Liberty Nature Readers, and the Moffats series, along with countless library books of her choice. 

*  Handwriting:  Completed the Montessori program for cursive.  Her cursive writing is just lovely. 

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*  Writing:  Completed the 6-Trait Writing Program for Second Grade, focusing on writing good paragraphs with strong openings, clear and interesting details, and solid closings.

*  Spelling:  Completed Level 3 (3rd grade) All About Spelling Program. 

*  Math:  Completed Math-U-See Beta (2nd grade) and Math-U-See Gamma (3rd

grade).  She is now rocking out multi-digit multiplication problems like a champ.

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* Science:  Completed “Behold and See” 2nd grade curriculum, along with Book 2 and 3 of Christian Liberty Nature Readers.   We added in a number of experiments, but I have to admit, I hate Science so I’m finding we need to beef it up next year with a better curriculum. 

*  History:  Completed year one of a two year study of Early American History through Beautiful Feet Books.  This included a wonderful set of classical literature.

*  Geography:   Completed Maps, Charts, and Graphs—Level B, as well as continued with our Montessori geography program, learning the states and capitals of the United States.

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*  Music:  continued weekly piano lessons and performed her first recital.  Annie worked incredibly hard on Pachelbel Canon, along with a few chosen pieces from her music books.  We decided to celebrate with a (very informal)recital….now for your listening enjoyment:

 

*  Art:  numerous step-by-step drawing programs, art appreciation, and various art projects related to specific curriculum being studied.

*  PE:  Gymnastics and ballet, along with a general PE course at our homeschool co-op.

 

Jonah—Kindergarten:

*  Religion:  Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Program

*  Reading:  Completed Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, Explode the Code books 1 and 2, Montessori Research and Development Language Arts, Early Childhood program that focused on consonant digraphs, completed Book 1 and 2 of the Seton readers, as well as countless easy reader chapter books.  We also read our way through the Five in a Row, volume 1 series.

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*  Handwriting:  Handwriting Without Tears, Pre-K and Kindergarten workbook series, along with a semester of OT.  This boy now has beautiful handwriting—so proud of his hard work! 

*  Spelling:  Completed the first 1/2 of the All About Spelling Level 1 (1st Grade)program.

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*  Math:  Completed Math-U-See Primer (Kindergarten) and 1/2 of Math-U-See Alpha (1st grade)   

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*  Science:  nature journals, as well as a Charlotte Mason approach to studying mammals, reptiles, amphibians, bats, and dinosaurs.

*  Music:  continued weekly piano lessons.

*  Art:  numerous step-by-step drawing programs, art appreciation, and various art projects related to specific curriculum being studied.

*  PE:  Tennis, Sporties for Shorties, Basketball, Floor Hockey, T-Ball, as well as general PE at our homeschool co-op.

As a mom and the kids’ main “teacher,” I can’t begin to express how proud I am of their hard work and efforts this year.  I’m grateful for kids who persevere when it is hard, laugh when they are frustrated, praise each other over work done well, and and are extremely easy to teach because a good attitude will always take them far in life.

We ended the year with a fun dinner and dessert and daddy, the principal, singing a silly rendition of Pomp and Circumstance while presenting the kids with their diplomas. 

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And now?  We go play outside and soak up this short window of lovely Michigan weather because WE. ARE. DONE!