March 8, 2017

Lent: Not About The Perfect Start

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Lent is a season that pushes us  out of our comfort zones and asks us to dig deep and feel the burn of denying ourselves so that we can follow Christ better.  

That being said, it is also my least favorite season…probably because I need it so much.

I think it was about my sophomore year of college when Lent finally “clicked” with me.  It wasn’t just about giving up cable TV or chocolate for 6 weeks… it was a journey into deeper intimacy with the Lord.  And as I came to understand it as a journey, I also realized how important it was to prepare for that walk in the desert.  

I’d prepare by spending some extra time in prayer, usually in the adoration chapel, journaling my Lenten commitments so that I had a clear goal in mind. And the preparations weren’t limited to prayer; I would also try to get my living space as clean as possible before the Lenten journey began.  Sometimes I would rearrange the furniture in my bedroom, or just give it an early spring cleaning.  This was a way for me to enter into Lent with a breath of fresh air, a renewed mindset, and the visual difference in my environment helped me to focus on the fact that I was entering into a whole new season.  

Oh the glorious Lenten preparations of my life as a single woman in my early twenties!  

Fast forward about ten years.  

Married, two kids 2 and under, working full-time, and my husband and my daughter catch the flu (or something) a few days before Ash Wednesday.  

I made plans early in the week to clean our bedroom, the living room, the kitchen….  I was going to journal, perhaps even write my first blog post for the year to kick off the season with a bang!  Maybe I’d get some extra time in the prayer space my husband created for me for my birthday.  Such plans!!!

Tuesday night I found myself in a living room of unfolded laundry, mountains of tissues, a fussy toddler, and after kids were asleep I had to run up to the Church to get some things set up for the Ash Wednesday Masses the next morning.  Though I did manage to get to the sacrament of reconciliation that evening, by the end of the day I mostly felt disappointed.  

I wasn’t ready.  How on earth could I possibly have a good Lent if my house is dirty, my family is sick, and I haven’t spent time in prolonged silent prayer?  And to top it off I could feel the cold coming after me too!  I went to bed frustrated and thought, If I can’t start Lent perfectly, according to my plan then what’s the point?!

Oh wait… 

In those final moments of the day, I realized that perhaps I’d been focusing too much on starting Lent perfectly.   I had been trying so hard to replicate the “perfect preparations” of my early 20s that I had forgotten to ask God to help me in the here and now.  I’m not who I was at 19, 20, or 21 years old.  My relationship with God and my spiritual life have changed a lot even since getting married 3 years ago!  Why would I expect to start this journey in the same way I had almost a decade before?  

I had forgotten that God doesn’t ask us to enter into Lent with a clean slate and then maintain perfection until Easter Sunday.  No, instead He invites us to take up our cross, wherever we are, and follow Him.  He invites us to turn towards Him with our mess, our pain, our weakness so that through the Lenten journey He c
an make us new.  

Do I have an idea of the praying, fasting and almsgiving that God is calling me to offer this Lenten season?  Yes.  Am I perfectly prepared for what’s ahead these next 6 weeks?  Nope.  And that’s OK.  

Lord, meet us in our mess this Lent.
 Meet us in the chaos, the confusion, the messy house.  
Meet us in the snot covered noses of our children,
and the never ending lists of things to do.
Draw us close to you, even though we are imperfect.  
Lord, you make all things new.  Make us new this Lenten season.
 

January 7, 2017

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December 31, 2016

Just Be With Him

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The night before Christmas Eve I was in a minor panic.  

Alright, let’s be honest… I was a hot mess.

There was so much I wanted to get done before Christmas… how was I supposed to get it all done?  The house was a disaster, there were gifts to be wrapped, and we still had not decided if we were going to brave the overflowing 5:00pm Mass or try our hand at the 10:00pm Mass with two little ones (under two). 

When we finally got our toddler in bed and the baby settled, all I could think about was how much we still needed to do!  All the cleaning… all the wrapping.. all the things!  Michael did his best to try to keep me calm and reassured me that even if all the things didn’t get done, Christmas would still come and we would still be fine.  

But all the things we need to do!!!

Before I finally went to bed, I made a long list of all of the things that (I thought) needed to get done before we went to Christmas Eve Mass.  There was laundry, the kitchen, presents for my husband and the kids, presents for our godsons that needed to be wrapped, we needed to go up to the Church to help put some things in the pews in the morning, we needed to prep things for Christmas morning breakfast with friends, oh yeah and at some point in the day I needed to shower and wash my hair.  

List maker that I am, writing everything down was helpful in the sense that I knew everything I wanted to tackle on December 24th.  We’d wake up and start doing all the things, because all the things needed to get done.  

Christmas Eve morning, after what was probably a rough night of sleeping for me and the baby, I woke up to the happy shouts of our daughter, Alexandria, standing beside the bed.  “Hi Mommy!  Good morning!”  It’s worth mentioning that Alexandria is the happiest morning person I’ve ever met.  I have no idea where she got it from.  

In her typical toddler fashion, Alexandria told me about her baby, some other toy, and then very loudly pointed out her brother sleeping next to my bed.  I pulled her up on the bed while Michael went to make breakfast.  Alexandria went through her morning litany of requests, “Cold milk please.  Oranges please….”

Just before my mind could wander off to my “things to do” list, Alexandria got very quiet and wiggled her way into the blankets.   “Nuggle?”  (Snuggle) she said,  resting her head against me with her arms around my side.  

And for just a minute, maybe longer, maybe less, this incredibly busy little person was just with me.  No demands or commentary.  She just wanted to be with me.  It was amazing.  And as a Mom it was one of those moments you try writing on your heart so you never forget it.  

Then, just as quickly as the moment came, it was over.  Alexandria sat up, mumbled something about needing to see Daddy, and she plowed her way over my belly, slid off the bed, and ran on to the next pressing thing on her toddler agenda for the day.  

I looked on my side table and saw my “things to do” list for December 24th.  It was going to be a busy day.   Cleaning, wrapping, planning…

And then I remembered my moment with Alexandria, specifically how as her Mama I really enjoyed that rare quiet moment with my child and how I wish it had lasted just a little bit longer.  

Ah yes, I see what you did there Lord.  

How often do I dive into the “To Do List” without starting my day with God?  How often do I quiet myself long enough to just be with Him?  No demands, no commentary, no agenda.  Just me and Jesus.  

When do I make time for that kind of silence?  

I’m still adjusting to this role of being a wife, mother of 2, and working full-time.  If there is one thing that I know I need to focus in this New Year it is learning how to just be with Him.  Whether it’s a silent moment in prayer before the kids wake up, or time in the adoration chapel, there has to be time to just sit with the Lord in a quiet space.  

Yes, there are certainly times for giving the Lord our long list of intercessions.  And of course there are times when we need to quiet ourselves so we can hear what the Lord is whispering on our hearts.  But there is also a need for that sacred silence, those moments where we just sit with Him.  

We look at Him, and He looks at us… nothing more is needed than to rest in that moment.  

There are plenty of things that I know I’d like to do in this New Year.  It’s tempting to make the list and run forward without a second thought.  After all, there is SO MUCH that needs to get done right?  Cleaning, unpacking, organizing, finding time to exercise, keeping the family watered and fed… all the things.  

There’s a time for list making and goal setting.  The start of the New Year is a great time to do that.  But in the midst of all the making and doing, let’s find time to just be with Him.  

It could be the most important thing we do this year.  

December 21, 2016

A Year Later

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December 15th marked one year since the miscarriage of our son, David.  Throughout the day I struggled to pin point exactly what and how I was feeling.

There is a sadness there, of course.  The details of that day are still a vivid memory for me, some parts of it being more painful than others.   

There is a sadness, and yet there is so much joy in our home right now.  Simon is our “rainbow baby”.  And while I’m not crazy about the term, I do acknowledge that there is something very special about the baby you have after experiencing a loss.  I keep thinking that Simon wouldn’t be here if we had not lost David… and I’m so grateful for this beautiful baby boy.  However, I still miss the baby I never met, the child I never got to hold.  

So on December 15th of this year there was an ache, a sadness, but also gratitude for the healing that has taken place in my heart since then, and for the gift of my son, Simon, who I believe was given to us for a very important reason.  

Over the past year, I’ve met so many women who have experienced child loss of some kind.  I’ve been connected to women who had miscarriages similar to mine, women who lost their babies even later in the pregnancy, and women who have had multiple losses.  This is not a cross any of us would have chosen for ourselves, and I think we all recognize how a loss like this changes you forever.  Everyone’s experience is different, everyone’s journey towards healing is different… but we share that same ache and longing.  

A year ago I was hurting physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  I was grieving.  At times I was so angry at God that I couldn’t participate in Mass without crying.  I think part of me was also afraid of what this meant for our family’s future.  

A year later, the ache is still there.  But the pain is soothed by the joy and blessing of our son.  In no way is Simon a “replacement” or a reason to forget the baby we lost.  I think Simon is a reminder that God hears the ache of our hearts and He answers in His own perfect timing (which makes Simon’s name extra meaningful!).

I know there are many families right now for whom the pain is still very raw.  There are couples still waiting for their rainbow, and others who are struggling to find peace within the ache.  Our journeys, our stories may be very different.  But please know that I am thinking of you and praying for you, especially during this Advent and Christmas season.  

God hears and God answers.  And His timing is always perfect.

 

November 16, 2016

God Hears & God Answers: Simon Nathaniel

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He’s here!  He’s finally here!

There’s so much to say about the days and hours leading up to my son’s arrival (and a birth story is in the works).  But the one thing that keeps coming to mind every time I cradle him in my arms, nuzzle him close to my chest, or smell that intoxicating newborn scent is I’m so glad that you are here.  

I still remember, quite vividly, the night I found out I was pregnant.  I stood in the bathroom waiting for the flashing dots on the digital tests to reveal our fate.  I was having an internal conversation, my mind swirling with all the reasons why there was no way it could be positive, but everything came to a screeching halt when I looked down and read the word “Pregnant” on the screen.
I gasped.  I think I may have even said the words “Oh no” out loud.  

Unlike my previous 2 pregnancies this was not a moment filled with joy and excitement.  I burst into tears.  I was scared.  It had barely been two full months since the miscarriage and I was pregnant again.
How could I do this?

  Why would God let this happen? 
The doctor told us to wait 3 months before trying to get pregnant again… 
…did I put this child in danger because I didn’t chart correctly?  

Am I going to lose this baby too?

I’m not ready…

What if…
[insert a million different worries here]  

I walked out of the bathroom and into my husband’s arms.  His reaction was perfect.

“This child is a gift.  It’s going to be OK.”

It took me weeks to really accept the news.  I didn’t want to get too attached or too excited.  I had to protect my heart from being hurt again… Yet in those weeks of waiting to hear my son’s heartbeat for the first time, God was working on my heart.

He reminded me that this child deserved to be loved from the very beginning, just as I had opened my heart to love Alexandria & the child that we lost.  God was asking me to trust Him, to surrender all of the fear and worry over to Him.

It was a slow process, and one I struggled with even up to the moment my son was born, but this pregnancy was an exercise in surrendering my anxious heart to Christ.

Now, as I hold my son against my heart, I can’t imagine life without him.  Where there was once fear and worry, all I can think about now is how grateful I am that he is here.

I will never know why we lost our baby last December.  I will never understand why that had to happen.  But as I hold my beautiful baby boy I realize that I wouldn’t have him if we hadn’t suffered that loss first.  God said “let there be life” and here he is!

How We Chose His Name

With all of our pregnancies so far we’ve been “Team Green”, meaning we don’t find out the baby’s sex before he or she is born.  We try to come up with our top 2 boy and top 2 girl names and then wait and see which one fits the baby best.  
Getting any name on the list seemed more challenging this time around, but when we settled on the names they just felt right.  

Nathaniel is one of the names that we had on the boy list for our firstborn.  For me, the meaning of the name is what kept drawing me to it.  God has answered.  ‘Nuff said.

The name Simon, on the other hand, sort of took me by surprise.  My brother-in-law, Matthew, was visiting us in August and one night we were going through a name book that had some of the most ridiculous sounding names in it.  We were laughing at the thought of naming our child something strange like “Queezimus” and then Matthew started going through the S names and said “Simon”.  “Actually that’s not a bad name,” he said before moving on down the list.  Something about that name caught my attention, so I googled the meaning:

Simon: Hebrew origin. God has heard.  


Simon Nathaniel. God has heard & God has answered.   That’s the name.  My husband agreed, and it was the only boy name we put on our list.  About a week later I went to daily Mass on the feast of St. Bartholomew (whom I learned also goes by Nathaniel), so that was enough confirmation for me that we’d chosen the right boy name. 

What I didn’t know at the time was that the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude was October 28th, a week after my due date.  Simon Nathaniel Johnston arrived on Friday, October 28th  at 1:12am.  

Well played, Holy Spirit ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m grateful for the many prayers for me and Simon during my pregnancy and all of the prayers that covered us during the 12 hours of labor.  I’ll share Simon’s birth story later this week, but I gotta say God’s hand was definitely all over the labor and delivery process!

St. Simon and St. Jude, pray for us!