I Remember

I don’t know my children’s birth dates.  I realize that most parents know these rather insignificant little details about their children: height… weight… eye color… and curiously I’ve also discovered that most parents are expected to know these things.  I’m always being asked befuddling questions like “how old is she” and “what grade is he in” and I so try to seem like I’m being diplomatic when I look to the child in question and allow them to answer for themselves.  I’ve also found it imperative to take a cheat sheet with my children to the doctor’s office because approximations are apparently not medically appropriate answers and “let me call my husband” is evidently not socially appropriate, if the looks I get are any indication.

But that’s what happens when you have eight children (and also when you’re a somewhat unorganized, forgetful, easily-distracted kind of person.)  All those little details just start getting fuzzy. You buy the shoes that are a little too big and stuff toilet paper in the toes, grateful that they’ll fit a few more months.  Cooking with missing ingredients becomes an essential (ie. daily) part of your homeschool curriculum – Creative Cooking 101 – and you consider rice and spaghetti sauce an excellent choice for lunch (extra points for ingenuity!)  Socks become optional and wearing two different shoes out in public is simply a mark of your family’s innovative sense of style (it’ll catch on one of these days, and when it does I say to parents everywhere: you’re welcome.)

But there are some things you do know. Some things you’ll never forget. You remember that your oldest daughter bought you plastic flowers every week for months, because she knew how much you loved flowers (but not how much you hated fake ones) and that your youngest son can kill a fly on the ceiling with a projectile rubberband.  You know that your youngest daughter’s favorite song is The Bandit, by Jerry Reed and her older sisters favorite doll is named after a character in Les Miserables (you even remember which character!) You remember which of your children to hide from when you have chocolate in your mouth and you never forget to dig deep into your meager reserve of courage when your 6 (or is she 5?) year old shoves a closed fist into your face and announces she has “something to show you.”  You know that your kids can process an entire deer in about two hours, milk 8 goats in less than 15 minutes and that your family can work together to sew over 250 pads from start to finish in just two weeks.  You know that when one child finds a new hobby, seven others will follow suit and that your children will always be best friends. Those are the things you know, the things you remember.

The important things.

 

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Boiling the frog

Is it wrong to admit that sometimes… just every now and then… once in a blue moon… not often at all, really… I’m just a teeny tiny bit amused when my super-organized, neat-and-tidy friend with two children complains about her messy house, her broken appliances, her general and seemingly never-ending exhaustion?  Is it wrong that I say to her, every now and then, “NOW do you understand?”

Now do you understand the fossilized banana peels under my couch?
Now do you understand the ring around the bathtub?
Now do you understand the funny smell?

Not that my friend was ever hateful about these things, just that I think they truly baffled her.  She would come over to help me clean (bless her heart) and then suggest “systems” and “schedules” by which to stay on top of things.  These would always work really well… for about two hours before my household descended into chaos once again.

But a funny thing has happened, the longer I’ve been a parent and the more children we add to our clan.  I find that these things just don’t phase me anymore.  The seemingly impossible adjustment in the beginning gives way to acceptance and even pleasure as time goes by.  What once overwhelmed now entertains.  What once irritated now amuses.  And so this is what I say to my friend, so newly on her parenting journey: Welcome to your new normal.  Settle in.  Hang on for the ride.  It gets so much better… no less messy or chaotic, but so much better.

They say a frog can be boiled alive without ever feeling any pain, if the temperature is increased slowly.

It’s a lot like that.

 

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Lisa

Six years ago, my Aunt Lisa was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  I started this post with the intention of writing about a fundraiser for the Celma Mastry Ovarian Cancer Foundation but instead I sit here struggling to find the words to express how much she means to me.  Because the thing is, I don’t just want my friends to donate to her cause, I want my friends to know her.  I want every woman I love to be blessed by the knowledge of who she is.

It’s impossible to adequately express what Lisa means to me.  There just aren’t enough words in one short blog post to convey what kind of person she is.  Not enough words to impart her warmth and light on those I wish to see and feel it.  For years, my own immaturity kept me from being as close to her as I wish I had been, but even during my darkest times, she served as a silent inspiration to me.  When faced with a difficulty a quiet voice inside would ask “how would Lisa handle this?”  When challenged with a hardship: “what would Lisa do?” Knowing her blood ran through my veins made me hold my head a little higher, enabled me to face life’s difficulties with just a little less fear. Her courage made me courageous.  Her strength made me strong.

Lisa is one of those rare people who is truly an inspiration to everyone blessed enough to know her.  She is a woman that every woman can be proud of, that every woman can look up to, that every woman can learn something from.  She is one of the most kind, courageous, compassionate, stubborn, strong-willed, considerate, generous, relentless, loving people I have ever known… that probably anyone who knows her has ever known.  She is the essence of what it means to be a “phenomenal woman” and one of those rare souls who touch the lives of everyone she meets.  Lisa has been an inspiration to me my entire life and her words of encouragement and guidance have served as a beacon of light on my path. She’s my own personal Maya Angelou, Anne Lamott, Cheryl Strayed.  In short, Lisa is who I want to be when I grow up.

And now I’m hoping you’ll help me to give back.  Lisa has been battling ovarian cancer for 6 years.  She has never given in, never given up.  She is a board member of the Celma Mastry Ovarian Cancer Foundation which has been able to provide approximately $546,000 in financial assistance to Tampa Bay area women in need who are suffering from ovarian cancer.  Last year, Lisa’s family and multitude of friends helped her to raise a little over $10,000 for the foundation and this year her goal is to raise $15,000.  This is incredibly important to her and to all those battling ovarian cancer and I’m asking all my friends to please consider signing up as a virtual participant under Team Alfonso.  I’ll be participating this year, and if you’ll let me know you’ve signed up, I’ll wear your name and take you with me.  Please help me to give back to this incredible woman.  It would mean so much to her and to me. Please help us touch the lives, in some small way, of those who are battling this disease.  From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

If you would like to participate (please do) here is the link:

One Step Closer to the Cure

Virtual participation in the race is $30.  If you’d like to donate a different amount you can donate at this link:

http://www.ovariancancerfoundation.org/donate/

If you use this link, please enter “Team Alfonso” in as the name of the person you’re donating in honor of.

NO amount is too small, and please let me know if you’ve donated!  I don’t need to know the amount, but I’d love to wear your name and take you with me!

 

Posted in Family History, PERSONAL | 4 Comments

Sanctuary

In my dream, a man was acting inappropriately toward myself and a friend.  Panicked, I searched my friend’s face asking myself “is she okay with this?  Is she okay?”  In my head, I heard a voice respond:
“Are you?
Then I woke up.

The dream became both a revelation to me and a call to action.  I felt that God had spoken directly to my heart, encouraging me to respect my own inner voice, to stand up for that deepest part of me I so often ignore.

I recently started reading Joan Didion’s book Slouching Toward Bethlehem.  In it is an essay entitled “On Self Respect.”  There she writes:

“If we do not respect ourselves we are… peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out – since our own self-image is untenable – their false notions of us.  We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait: a gist for imaginative empathy, evidence of our own willingness to give.  Of course I will play Francesca to your Paolo, Helen Keller to anyone’s Anne Sullivan: no expectation is too misplaced, no role too ludicrous.  At the mercy of those we cannot but hold in contempt, we play roles doomed to failure before they are begun, each defeat generating fresh despair at the urgency of divining and meeting the next demand made upon us.
“It is the phenomenon sometimes called ‘alienation from self.’ In its advanced stages, we no longer answer the telephone, because someone might want something; that we could say no without drowning in self-reproach is an idea alien to this game.  Every encounter demands too much, tears the nerves [and] drains the will… To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves – there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect.”

I’d never before considered what the words “self-respect” really meant.  But as I sat there, meditating on the lines before me, it occurred to me that self-respect was just that: respect of self.  It’s the act of asking myself what actions I’d most like to take and what roles I’d like to play.  It’s the act of divining my own interests and meeting my own expectations.  It’s the act of respecting myself – my own thoughts and feelings, wants and desires, just as much as I respect others and being just as willing to meet my own needs as I am to meet theirs.   Self respect is the act of paying attention and giving myself a voice.

It’s declining the invitation to the party I don’t want to attend.
It’s refusing to help with the project I’m too busy for.
It’s expressing my true feelings to those with whom I disagree.
It’s telling my date where I’d like to go for dinner.

Self-respect doesn’t mean I’ll never put someone else’s needs before my own but it does mean evaluating and honoring the needs of both parties equally.  When asked to do something I don’t want to do, there are two possible reasons I might do it anyway.  The first involves laying aside my own desires because I love and want to be there for my friend.  In this way, the “self” who at first didn’t want to help finds the desire to do so out of love.  The second involves laying aside my own desires because I feel obligated to help my friend whom I fear will be angry or disappointed if I don’t.  In this scenario, the “self” who didn’t want to help is ignored, bullied and forced into service… not just by the friend, but also by our own “outward self” who wasn’t willing to treat the needs of the “inward self” with the same consideration and regard as for the friend.   Ignoring our own inner voice in an effort to pacify or placate someone else is to attempt to take responsibility for the emotions or feelings of those we are not responsible for to the detriment of the only one we are responsible for: ourselves. In this way, we are not just neglectful of ourselves, but actively harmful – wounding our own souls and teaching ourselves that we are of less value than those around us.

I’ve come to believe that self-respect does not require us to think ourselves wonderful or better than anyone else. It does not require that we ignore our own failings or discount our own flaws.  Self-respect simply requires that we listen and respond.  Listen to the inner voice and be just as considerate and gracious toward our own desires as we are toward those of other people.  Listen to our thoughts and feelings and be willing to express them openly and honestly.   Listen to our conscience and follow the guidance that we find there.  It’s the act of giving ourselves permission and finding the courage to advocate for our own best interests.  It’s the act of loving and honoring our deepest, truest selves and insisting that our outer “self” protect and reflect our inner “self.”

It’s becoming our own sanctuary.

Years ago, I had a dream in which I stood unclothed before a friend.  I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable, but compelled to stand there, exposed and vulnerable.  I had forgotten all about this dream until somewhat recently, when the image from the dream came to me with the following words:

“Some day I will stand before you, naked and unashamed.
Not because you have created a safe place for me,
But because I have.”

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Posted in Friendship, PERSONAL | 2 Comments

Time Marches On…

The wrist brace I now have to wear to prevent pain when I’m working at the computer or sewing machine. Talk about feeling OLD!

 

“Just wait until you’re older,” my friend, just a few years older than I, told me.  We were training for a half marathon and although it was grueling for us both, my friend was complaining of aches and pains that I wasn’t feeling at all. Inwardly, I scoffed at her warning and thought to myself “age is just a number! I’ll never let myself feel old.”

Ha.

Hahahahahahaahahahahaha!

Something seems to have happened as I move closer to the ripe old age of 40. Some cosmic light has switched on (or off, as the case may be,) and it seems that every time I look in the mirror, there is some new evidence of my slow degeneration. Wrinkles that weren’t there the night before. Loose skin under my neck. Bags under my eyes, super-sized pores and I swear my butt hangs several inches lower than it used to. My eyebrows, once my best feature, are now in full- out rebellion and must be trimmed and gelled into some semblance of submission as the hair that was once on top of my head migrates to all sorts of regions it decidedly does NOT belong.

But an interesting thing has happened as I’ve been faced with these changes I can do little about. I find I’m making peace with my body, exactly as it is. Because lets face it: barring surgery there is little I can do that will alter much at this point. My breasts, long and flat from nursing eight children, just aren’t going to get any perkier. My upper arms, loose and floppy, aren’t going to firm up any time soon. My stomach, stretched again and again from multiple pregnancies, will probably always look more like a lump of dough than a washboard. Time’s march along my body is, for the most part, irreversable. And you know what? I’m okay with that… or at least, I’m getting there.

Maybe it’s because, along with the physical changes time brings, there are mental shifts that come along. Maybe it’s because… well, I’ve had eight kids, for goodness sakes, and it’s about time I give up hoping to look like anything other than the grand multipara that I am. This is the body the Lord gave me and every stretch mark, age spot, dimple and stray hair that I’ve picked up along the way tells a story. It might not be the story that I would have liked to tell, of hours spent at the gym, consistent healthy eating or regular spa treatments (ha!) But it tells the story of a woman, a family, and a little farm. It tells the story of eight beautiful, healthy children and a life lived, to the best of my ability, walking with the Lord. It’s my story. And I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Posted in Daybook, PERSONAL, Weight Loss | Leave a comment

Quick Takes – June 2017

1.

Kidding season has started and once again I’m thankful to have my own personal goat midwife to help in times of trouble, because I’m just awful at the job.  Every time these goats are in labor, I fall to pieces.  I’m completely, utterly, useless.  My youngest son feels the same way I do.  So while Bunchkin and the other kids are right in there (and I do mean IN THERE!) with the goats:

Bee-Boy and I stay a safe distance away, until it’s all over

2.

Did I mention I don’t handle crisis well?  A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law gave me a  brand-new (to me,) heavy duty sewing machine. I bought myself the sharpest, sturdiest needles I could find for the project I’m working on and upon my very first use of this new, super-tough equipment, I put the needle right through my finger when my youngest bumped up against me. I stared in horror at my finger, pinned to the machine, screaming “help!  I don’t know what to do!  I don’t know what to DO!!!”  My three youngest burst into tears.  My five oldest (ever level-headed in times of crisis [they take after their daddy]) ran for the bolt cutters.  Somehow I managed to extract my finger (without use of the bolt cutters) and a neighbor (my new best friend!) was able to take out the needle and thread. I can now testify that this machine, combined with the proper needle, can sew right through ANYTHING!!!

3.

I’m doing a lot of sewing, lately (now that my finger has healed,) because the kids are making cloth pads for a friend to save up for a saddle (you can find them on her website  www.joyfullivingnaturals.com.)  My sister-in-law and I were joking about how they force me to spend hours at the sewing machine, doing all the stitching, but in all seriousness, they’re KILLING it! These are all the pads they’ve made JUST THIS WEEK!!!  They’re determined to have that saddle by the end of Summer.

Creating these pads requires a bajillion steps and everyone helps:

The family who works together, rides together!

4.

The lack of a saddle doesn’t keep the kids from riding and they hop on bareback whenever they can.  Even the lack of a horse doesn’t keep them from “riding” … in fact, they’ve gotten pretty good at cross country:

5

There’s no doubt that even without a saddle, the kids are better riders than I am.  A few nights ago I tried getting on my very tall horse without the aid of a mounting block.  I somehow managed to get my foot into the stirrup, hoist myself up halfway, and then sort of dangled for a little while trying to get the rest of my big ole’ butt up there. Finally, I gathered all my diminutive strength and gave one last heave up… and right off the other side!!! Sometimes I really think maybe I’m not cut out for this whole riding thing.

6.

Speaking of things I’m not really cut out for…. Bunchkin and I are learning a song on the violin together that I’ve wanted to play for years.  Or, rather, she is learning both parts the song and then teaching me my part because I don’t know how to read music (bless her heart.)  So far it’s going really well.  When I asked the other day if I sounded like a “squeaky rat” she looked at me sadly and said “yes.” Then informed me: “it just gets harder from here.”  She’s also been giving me lots of helpful tips, like:

“You hit the wrong note.”
“Your bowing is backward.”
“You’re supposed to play that on the A string.”

She’s a bit of a perfectionist.
Personally, I’m taking a page from Florence Foster Jenkins.  They may say I couldn’t play, but no one can say I didn’t play!

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Posted in Daybook, Humor, PERSONAL, Seven Quick Takes, The Eigh of 'em | Leave a comment

Thriving Because Of

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“The reality is that some spouses never change, and some marriages don’t get better.”

– Charles and Michale Misja, Thriving Despite a Difficult Marriage

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I’ve come to the conclusion that all marital problems stem from one major flaw: they involve people.  Sinful, selfish, imperfect, ever-changing (or never-changing!) human beings.  A few months ago, I found myself right back where I was at the end of last year – emotionally distant, angry and ready to give up on my marriage.  Once again, I found myself struggling with my own expectations and felt that Jon and I were caught in a cycle that would never end.  Once again I found myself asking the question: “should I leave?”  But then I realized there was another question, a bigger question, from deep within my heart demanding an answer: What if, as Gary Thomas so eloquently put it, God designed marriage to make us holy, more than to make us happy?

In the following days, I struggled with these questions and could come up with only one solution I could make within my understanding of who God is, and who He wants me to be: I would have to give up hope.  My hopes for marriage, for Jon, for the way I thought relationships ought to be and what “love” ought to look like.  I would have to lay down my desires and expectations.  I would have to truly accept my marriage, and Jon, for exactly what they were instead of what I thought I wanted them to be.  I would have to make thankfulness for what is a part of my daily routine, rather than constantly striving for change.  I asked myself the cliche question “what if this is as good as it gets?” and determined to find a way to “thrive despite” … or maybe even “because of.”

After speaking with a friend about what I was going through, I wrote the following:

I feel like I have to let go of my desire for a lot of things that I want and expect from a marriage because they’re never going to happen. But in the same way that I have to believe it’s possible to be happy no matter what my circumstances are, I also have to believe that a good marriage – a fulfilling marriage – IS possible. So I think… I think I’m going to spend some time in prayer today.

Today, I’m going to pray for my marriage. I’m going to pray that God does absolutely whatever he has to do to break whatever destructive, harmful, sinful things [have led us to this place]…

But I’ll only pray this once.

I’ll only be able to pray this once.

Because I really do believe that in order to heal, in order to move forward I must – MUST – lay down my expectations for my marriage. I have to somehow give up expectation without giving up hope and the only way I know how to do that is to allow myself to hope, allow myself to pray, allow myself to believe. ONCE.

And then lay it down. (And keep laying it down, and keep laying it down, and keep laying it down because I don’t believe this is going to be a one-time deal.) And let Him, if He chooses to do so, do the rest.

Since then, I’ve come to discover an interesting thing about expectations.  You can’t hold expectations in one hand and thankfulness in the other.  At least, I can’t.  Not in this.  I’ve kept my commitment to strive to be thankful for what is, instead of striving to make things the way I think ought to be, and an interesting change has taken place.  It’s becoming easier to find things to be thankful for (and there really is so, SO much to be thankful for!)  I find myself less critical, not just outwardly, but inwardly as well.  I’m less angry, less irritable, less likely to inflict wounds with my words and more content, in general.  (An interesting thought to explore would be whether there is a correlation between the number of things we try to be thankful for and the number of things there actually are to be thankful for.  It seems to me that the more we do of the first, the more there are of the second.)  I sense a settling within myself, a peace as I make the effort to cease looking to Jon and my marriage as a source of happiness.  Interestingly, though, I feel my marriage has gotten better, although I wasn’t seeking that.  Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that my marriage hasn’t really changed at all, but, similar to what happened last year, I have.  I’m beginning to understand, just a little, what Paul meant when he wrote: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

This may be an education that requires multiple lessons, but for now, in this moment, I am learning.

“The first purpose in marriage- beyond happiness, sexual expression, the bearing of children, companionship, mutual care and provision, or anything else – is to please God. The challenge, of course, is that it is utterly selfless living; rather than asking, “what will make me happy?’ we are told that we must ask, ‘what will make God happy?’ [Paul writes]: ‘those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again’ (2 cor 5:15)… Happiness may well be beyond [us] but spiritual maturity isn’t – and I value character far above my emotional disposition.”

– Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage

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Posted in Marriage | 4 Comments