Assorted life non-updates

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Hello there.

This is going to be one of those all-over-the-place sorts of posts, where I basically tell you all of the random swirling around in my head.  Sorry.

First of all, that’s my oldest there in the picture, grooming a horse at the facility where my kids ride.  She worked really hard and passed the grooming class a couple of weeks ago–hooray!  But now my sons are grooming, so not to worry, I will still be spending Friday nights at the indoor arena inhaling a lot of dust, itching my eyes, and watching my kids pick hooves. 

Secondly, IS THIS WEEK OVER YET?

Some of the kids and I are under the weather, I had a Diet Coke yesterday afternoon which apparently was too late to have caffeine because it kept me up half the night, and my husband and I are going out of town tomorrow afternoon–even though I haven’t even begun to touch the laundry or do various other things that need to happen, when you leave eight kids with generous grandparents for the weekend.

In other, happier news, I’m getting back into reading, which is all kinds of wonderful.  I find that I’ll have a phase where I do nothing but read, before I slip out of the habit and then don’t touch a book for weeks or months on end.  I’m also trying to write more, although that’s been spotty at best because we’ve been busy, and I’m not the world’s most disciplined person, and I can’t seem to find a great routine. Plus it’s hard figuring out how blogging and freelancing and book writing and social media are all supposed to somehow fit together.

I’m whining a lot today.  Obviously.

There have actually been several great things about this week though, too.  Lunch and shopping with my mom, coffee at a girlfriend’s house, and binge-watching Blue Bloods and Parenthood with the husband.  (Parenthood = ALL OF THE FEELS.  I love it so much.  I don’t want it to end.)  My daughter turned in her science fair project and we got to see it on display at school.  We’re planning a couple of fun trips for the fall and shoot, my kitchen’s clean, which covers over a multitude of wrongs.

And can I tell you something I’m kind of over the moon excited about?  I’m going to a Garth Brooks/Trisha Yearwood concert, with my fellow Garth-Brooks-loving mother, in March.  Yes, it’s true, I’m a semi-closeted country music fan.  (I also used to own wrangler jeans and cowboy boots, and raise livestock for the county fair in 4H and FFA.  Oh yes I did.)  Yes, I spent an entire morning online trying to score tickets, which necessitated having to ignore a very full bladder and a child with a poopy diaper.  Because desperate times call for desperate measures, people.  Yes I may or may not have been on the verge of tears when the shows kept selling out from under me.   Yes, I pumped my fist in the air when I finally scored (floor level and only fifteen rows back!) tickets to his final performance.  So you can be sure that when Garth inevitably busts out “Friends in Low Places”, I’ll be reliving my childhood and singing along to every.single.word.

So that’s how I’ve been.

And because my life is (clearly) so riveting, come hang out with me on social media!  You can subscribe to my blog via email or reader, like my page on Facebook, and even sign up for an email newsletter.  I’m on Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.  Everything’s on the sidebar.  Thanks so much for reading and following along!

And, now that I’m all done rambling, how are YOU?  :)

On having many children

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It’s a cold, snowy morning in Denver today.

My home is {mostly} still and {mostly} quiet because most of my children are at school, everyone but my two littlest girls.  They’re certainly not the silent wallflower type, but they don’t yet bring the force and energy to our family that older kids in big sneakers and ripped jeans typically do.

The beds are made and my sink is clean, and I do love a made bed and a clean sink, so I’m sitting here at my laptop putting words, and maybe some half-decent thoughts, to a page.

Welcome to a weekday in the life of me, a blogging mother to eight children aged ten and under.

I never once dreamed of having a large family.  I was not someone who relished the thought of many consecutive years spent changing diapers and wiping noses, nor did I have any sort of moral or religious motivation for being a mom-to-many.  I was one of those other kinds women, the kind that planned her life around college degrees and the traveling I wanted to do.  I started using the birth control pill when I got married.  I felt that someday, eventually, I would have perhaps a few babies, but I was certain that they would not interfere too much with the things of life.

And then slowly, ever so slowly, it began to unravel, this grand plan of mine to have my cake and eat it too.  When hormonal contraception made me sick, angry and emotionally distraught, and wouldn’t let up no matter how much time I gave it, I had to face the idea that I simply could not have it all.  I could not prevent pregnancy and feel well, I could not finish getting my bachelor’s degree and go on to grad school and be on happy terms with my husband, and once I discovered the pill was potentially an abortifacient, I could not sell my soul to Being An Important Adult and keep my Christian faith.

Facing these facts and finally coming to a place of acceptance was not easy, not at all.  I felt as if I’d been backed into a corner, where all around me swirled choices I couldn’t bring myself to make.  I’d worked hard in college, I didn’t want marital intimacy bound by natural family planning methods that were sure to be a failure, and certainly at our respective ages of 20 and 21 we were too young for the burden of parenthood.  Again and again I weighed my options in my mind, and again and again I came up frustrated and confused.

I felt entitled to a life plan and marriage as meticulously crafted and planned as my wedding had been a few months earlier.

But it was looking more and more like that was an impossible pipe-dream, something slipping further and further out of my grasp no matter how tightly I clung on.  And one day as clear as a bell I knew the time had come to make my choice: did I want to be a happy mother or a miserably sick free woman?  I couldn’t ride the fence anymore and pretend that the pill was no big deal or that it was serving me well.  Yes it was doing the heralded job of preventing us from having a child sooner than we wanted, but it was also sucking much of the joy and happiness from my life.

So I threw my prescription in the trash, and never looked back, or at least not very often.  My days of using hormonal birth control had come to an end, mercifully.  It was not too long after when some friends shared with us that they’d learned the pill was also an abortifacient, and I didn’t want to believe that, because I was pro-life.  I didn’t believe in abortion, and I would never have knowingly ingested something that could kill a child growing within me.  And so I fought the idea but was also compelled to do the research, and what do you know, they were right.  Strike two (or ten) against the pill.

Now something really kind of interesting happened when I was forced to give up the glorious and enticing illusion of control that birth control had offered: I found myself becoming more comfortable with the thought of having children, in general.  In fact, I was actually kind of disappointed each month that we had not conceived, which made no rational sense because I also wanted to earn my degree and finish school.  I noticed that my desire for a baby grew and seemed to actually correspond to the love I had for my husband, and so when two lines appeared on the pregnancy test on our one-year wedding anniversary, we were over the moon.  We were a family.  Again, I never really looked back, even as I once more came face to face with some hard decisions, including the one to leave college to stay home with my daughter.

One that I’ve never regretted, incidentally.

It’s a curious thing, but I’ve found that so long as your hands are busy holding onto the heavy and fragile pile of bricks of control, you can’t stand before God, palms up, and say as Mary did all those years ago, “I am a handmaid of the Lord.”  You have to grip so tight and struggle so hard to maintain your grasp that an openness to God’s will is near impossible.  And you don’t realize it, you don’t know it, until you’ve finally been forced to let go and let the bricks shatter on the ground in a million pieces, and are sitting in the weeds by yourself, empty-handed, asking why things have to be this way and what are you going to do next.  That’s when slowly, subtly, everything starts to change.  You realize you don’t, in fact, need those bricks at all, and now that they’re gone you can dust yourself off and begin the business of being free.

Over the past several years I have gone on to birth four beautiful children, I have sadly miscarried three, and I have been gifted with two sons and two daughters through the joy of adoption.  I have been stunned eight times over by the way that love grows and multiplies exponentially, and by what a true gift new life is to both the individual members and the family as a collective.  It is renewal, and hope, and my husband and I hope to remain open to children for the duration of our marriage, barring unforeseen circumstances.  Children have been good for us and good for each other.  Honestly, I think this is one of the best-kept secrets of our modern age, something few ever consider because they are so wrapped up in carrying their bricks the best they know how.  I’m convinced that had I not been forced to leave my own bricks behind, I would not know this either.

All too often, in the nuts and bolts of family planning and “how many should we have”s, and the various weighty cares and concerns of everyday life, we forget to simply be, to give our yes as we stand before the Lord, to live up to our dignity as married couples by keeping the “disposition of mind and will” towards an openness to life that the holy and brilliant Karol Wojtyla spoke of.  I have never once felt guilty or uneasy for having so many children.  I do not feel badly that they share rooms, occasionally argue over the last homemade dinner roll, or bear the responsibility for emptying the dishwasher before school.  Each and every one of them is a unique, beautiful manifestation of the fullness of love, and a testimony to God’s goodness.  Some of them are survivors.  All of them are a gift to my marriage and to the world.  And I have learned that those folks on the outside, the ones that call me crazy at IKEA or tell me I have my hands full at Target, the people who either want to canonize me as a saint or demonize me as irresponsible, they’re often carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.  They haven’t dropped their bricks yet.  I know I would probably still have mine were they not pried from my hands by circumstances far outside of my control.

And it’s hard to explain to those people, this immense joy of living with hands open, of allowing God to reign as the author and giver of life, even amidst difficult things like lean years in the budget or the loss of a baby far too soon.  It’s hard to convey that it’s not so much that we are competing for a spot on a reality show or seeing how close we can get to the line of insanity without crossing over.  No, it’s really far more wild and terrifying than even that: marriage is, amazingly, ordered towards new life, and a child is an incredible manifestation of the fullness of love between a wife and her husband–a physical, tangible sign of our yes to God and to one another.

We never did sit down one day, crunch some numbers, and declare that we’d have eight children.  We mostly live day to day and week to week, and we try not to allow ourselves to worry too much for the future.  There have been a very small number of times where we have prayerfully discerned that we ought to delay a pregnancy, which brought with it the temptation to assume control of our lives to the point of hardening our hearts to what God might want to do.  And I freely admit that on occasion I think about my 20-year-old self, and feel a twinge of envy of her and anyone else whose life is so very predictable and orderly.  They don’t have to see their two children with Down syndrome off on the school-bus, and they don’t suffer the sorrow of miscarriage or secondary infertility.

But then again, perhaps they are unknowingly buckling under the weight of those bricks like I used to be, unaware of the blessings, joys, and love that are there for the taking if they’d just let go.

I will tell you that trying to live a life marked by the heart of the Blessed Virgin, who said “Let it be to me according to thy Word”, is not easy.  It is not safe.  It necessitates prayer, a grounding in the sacred scriptures and the sacraments, and an openness to God.  It demands acceptance and humility.  It has taken us to Ethiopia.  It landed us in the Catholic Church.  It requires that we work on our marriage, constantly.

And that, that is the beauty of the historic Christian understanding of marriage and family.  It has little to do with numbers, expectations or burdens, but has everything to do with love.  I think perhaps (though I cannot know for sure) this is what the Holy Father hoped to convey with his now-infamous rabbit talk, that a disposition to openness to life runs so much deeper, and is far more magnificent, than an attempt to fill a big passenger van “just because”.

Though we have, somehow, done that.  Our van and our dinner table are always, always full.  And we do prayerfully and humbly hope for more children in the future.  Which I think is okay.  We take our role as parents and shapers of souls quite seriously, and I’d venture to say that God has–in spite of all of our shortcomings–used our large family, and the orientation of our marriage towards openness to life, to cultivate love and virtue in our home.

It’s not always easy, you make adjustments along the way, you work hard to find your footing and balance when things go out of whack, and sometimes you have to remind yourself to let go of that cumbersome bag of bricks again.  But at the end of the day when your babies are sleeping soundly and the dishwasher’s running?  When the laundry’s been folded and put away, and when you climb into bed next to your husband to watch an episode of whatever show you’re working your way through at the time?

You know your life, messy as it is, is good.

You know that motherhood, as difficult as it is, is worthwhile. 

And you know that for whatever reason, mercy of all mercies, God rescued you from yourself once upon a time, and now your home is bursting at the seams with life and with love.

I’m so glad for my many children.

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New year

055Well hello, 2015.

So many people are writing “year in review” posts, and as I sit back and reflect on 2014 it occurs to me that I could fill an entire BOOK with its happenings!  We flipped another house into a rental and moved across town in March, we quit homeschooling and sent our kids to a classical charter school in the fall, I had a very early miscarriage in July, we lost some family members and friends, Kevin, Alice and I visited the Holy Land with our parish, our newest tenants abandoned the rental house and left us with a mess, we spent our December scrubbing walls and restoring said house to better than it’s ever been, and our three oldest kids began riding horses with the Westernaires.  What a year!

It was, in hindsight, a year of growth–in that I feel like we were stretched like crazy!  The tenant debacle in particular was rather stressful (oh, Colorado), but we worked hard, gave it our all, and emerged with a gorgeous finished product that should prove to have been a good investment.  Our decision to send our kids to school was wrought with mixed feelings and second guesses, but they are doing so well and are, ultimately, so happy.  We moved in March to be closer to friends, family, and our parish, which is no small feat with eight small children, but we did it.  We made it.  We’re so glad to live here.  Another year of memories, smiles, laughs, and tears under our belts.

And, you know?  Life happens.  I think that is my overriding thought these days, because my natural tendency is really to procrastinate, to assume I’ll be better equipped to do XYZ next week/next month/next year–even though moments inevitably continue slipping by and XYZ never gets done.  Because life.

So if you want something to happen, if you want to write a book and become better at having friends to dinner, if you want to redo part of your master bathroom and host a bunch of women for coffee a couple of times a month, DO IT.  Start now.  Don’t put that stuff off until your life is More Manageable, because you don’t know if a phone call or circumstance looming right around the corner will change, well, pretty much everything.  It’s a silly example, but I’d had visions of a Christmas break spent playing board games with my children and inviting friends into our home–but most of it was spent in a cold, vacant house, bleaching kitchen counters and alternately seething and laughing at everyone who voted for Amendment 64.

Which means that I need to just pick up the phone and invite people over.  Even if it’s going to be on a school night.  Or there are crumbs on the floor.  Even if my dining room chandelier (one of my favorite renovated thrift store finds in all the world), freshly rescued from our rental, doesn’t hang low enough to the dining room table right now because the ceiling’s too high and we need to get a longer cord and chain.  And I’ve been wanting to publish a book for years.  Years.  So I’m going to stop waiting around for a bigger platform to launch from, and just write it.

As an introvert I live a lot in my head and, all too often, this translates into a lack of action on my part.  This sounds so cliche and Confucian, but I’d like to find a better balance.

And so I wouldn’t say my 2014 was bad, because many things were really, really good–but it certainly wasn’t easy.  It was definitely FULL.

Part of why I haven’t blogged in so long is because just about every spare December moment was busy with kids, house stuff, and Christmas festivities.  My “real life” takes precedence over my “internet life”, as it should, and as it always will.  And I guess I want to find a better way to be present in both spheres, devoting better quality time to my writing while also reading more books and surfing Facebook less.  Why is it so hard to integrate the two?  I’m not entirely sure, but I’d like to become more proficient at it.  This morning for example I got up early and showered (and actually got ready!) before I had to get the kids up for school, which was a great change, I think, because now I’m not in my comfies all day.  (And I miss them.  Yoga pants, you are my favorite.)  A little step.  I’m also thinking about implementing a more disciplined schedule around here for myself, where there is time carved out for cleaning and time set aside for writing, so then I won’t feel like I’m always neglecting one for the other.  I feel much better at the end of the day when I’ve worked hard and accomplished things–even simple tasks like a freshly scrubbed shower or getting dinner on the table–so I’m hoping to waste less time online.  Famous last words, of course.

I’m honestly not much for new year’s resolutions because, let’s face it, they’re always cheesy and none of us keep them.  But I’m excited about what 2015 brings not because I have any specifically fabulous plans up ahead, but because it’s new, and life is inevitably interesting.  And I’m here in my little corner of the world, doing my thing, no different than I ever was though hopefully a little more experienced than I was a year ago at this time.  My overwhelming thought today is that relationships, friendships, love, grace, hope, Jesus–all of that is what matters most, far more than whatever life circumstances are presenting themselves at the moment.  So take some time for yourself, enjoy even the littlest of somethings today, call a friend, and Happy New Year!

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7 Quick Takes Friday {12/12/14}

stall-shoe-cabinet-with-compartments-brown__0105253_PE252355_S41.  I went with a friend to IKEA this past week.  I’ve had my eye on a shoe storage cabinet thingy for close to a year now but still haven’t bought it, for who knows what reason.  I visit it every time I’m in the store though.  Do you do this too?

 

0892.  This was admittedly last week but I’m sharing it anyway.  My  youngest daughter, Alice, assaulted Santa at my husband’s annual work Christmas party.  Screaming, crying, and trying to rip the poor man’s beard out.  He looks terrified.  He was terrified.  This is typical of the sort of thing that happens when the Heldts go somewhere.  Be warned.

 

3.  We had the stomach flu visit our house this week.  SO, so gross.  As in, I’m STILL airing out the victim’s bedroom.  Any ideas for something to help get the horrible smell out?  I guess if nothing else it masks the usual smell of dirty socks.  Yuck.

 

1134.  On Monday night we attended the anniversary dinner for the Christian Life Movement.  Now the CLM was originally founded in Peru.  And there’s this running joke about our friend Ryan (a consecrated layperson) because everyone always assumes he’s Peruvian, even though he’s not, and people are always asking him where he’s from and he says, um, Arizona.  And for whatever reason we were laughing about it that night and about how my girlfriend Alex and I are just as Peruvian as him, so then we took a picture with our priest who IS actually from Peru.  I know, it doesn’t sound as funny when you’re not there.  But here we are, and only one person in the picture is from Peru.

 

1265.  My big kids had their school holiday program this week.  As you know, we are former homeschoolers who entered the classical charter school realm this past Fall.  And oh my goodness I was confirmed again in our choice on Tuesday night as my children sang their hearts out to song after song, and recited their lines with precision and confidence.  And do you know what else?  There was a nativity play.  And songs about Jesus.  Courtesy of the public school system.  Boom.

 

6.  Yesterday I did pretty much the best thing ever: I put together TEN FREEZER MEALS.  I know. Awesome, right?  In the span of an afternoon I assembled ten delicious (and healthy!) dinners, which makes me oh so happy.  How’d I do it?  I’m an independent representative for Wildtree, a company that makes all-natural culinary blends and infused grapeseed oils.  When you buy a Wildtree freezer meal kit you get the organic Wildtree products, an organized grocery list, and set of ten recipes.  It’s so easy and simple!  I can’t wait to make the next menu!  And let me know if you’re interested–I can hook you up too!

 

1307.  So, so excited about this.  Fun announcement forthcoming.  Be ready.  Or something.  On a related note, would you consider subscribing to my blog if you don’t already?  And liking my page on Facebook?  You can use Feedly, Bloglovin, or your email inbox to keep up to date on what is happening here.  I’ve also begun a mailing list that you can sign up for on my sidebar.  No spam, just some fun updates and free tips on how I manage life with eight kids.  It took me forever to figure out this MailChimp thing so make it worthwhile, and subscribe!  :)

 

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Thanks to Kelly Mantoan for hosting!

The local parish

 

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After Mass on Monday night, we (along with dozens and dozens of our closest friends) celebrated the anniversary of the founding of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (or Christian Life Movement).  The movement began forty-three years ago in Peru, and our priest and several consecrated lay people at our parish are members.

The first time we ever attended our church, in fact–back before we were Catholic–someone approached us and asked if we were somehow affiliated with the CLM.  Which needless to say was confusing–what is the CLM, we wondered on the drive home, and why do people assume we’re part of it?  Back then we were just trying to figure out when to kneel and when to stand and which knee you were supposed to genuflect on, so obviously something like the Christian Life Movement was nowhere near being on our radar.

And though I’ll of course never know why someone thought that in the first place, I do now know that it was really a compliment of the highest kind.

It’s especially funny now, in light of the fact that our family was asked to share a testimony at Monday night’s reception dinner about the blessings we’ve received through our parish and the aforementioned Christian Life Movement.  

So we stood up front, all ten of us Heldts, and spoke about what being at our particular parish has meant to us.  Even three of my kids said a little something.  And it wasn’t anything fancy or profound, just our gratitude for what we have received there, which could never, ever be quantified.  Our dear church community is, simply, amazing.  We had five minutes to talk, but we could have gone on and on and on.

Something I’ve given a lot of thought to over the past several months is the very concept of the local parish in general, of investing and putting down roots in a particular place with a particular group of people.  Of building real, actual, meaningful community.  It has been so good for me, especially as a convert to Catholicism, to receive not only the Sacraments at my church but also friendship, accountability, and company for the journey.

And yet I realize this is not the case for everyone.

So tell me: do you spend a lot of time with fellow parishioners?  Is your local church a big part of your family’s life?  Why or why not?  Let’s get this conversation started!

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Friendship for husbands and wives

I recently read an article over at RealClearReligion, where author Mark Judge asserted that husbands and wives ought not expect to be, or function as, best friends.  Judge’s views are attributed to Edward Sellner’s work on the subject, based upon the old Jungian concept of “the double”.  Sellner includes this quote in a recent book he wrote on the subject:

“Every man and woman — whether one is straight or gay — carries within his or her soul this psychic pattern, expressed in the need for same-sex relationships of love, tenderness, intimacy, and joy.”

Interesting, right?  Maybe it’s the former Psychology major in me, but I think it really kind of is.

Judge sees little room or space though for a man’s “double”, or close male confidant, in modern Western culture.  He then goes on to argue that “today we have spouses who are emotionally and spiritually overburdened because they become each other’s sole support system.”

My initial reaction to the article–based on title alone–was admittedly defensiveness.  I thought, who is he to say my husband can’t be my best friend?  Aren’t marriage relationships and personalities unique, and can’t couples be close if they want to be?

Dr. Popcack even wrote a bit of a rebuttal over on Patheos, and points to what I think is the danger in taking Judge’s position too far.  He expresses my sentiments perfectly when he writes, “Marriage is the foundational unit of the family and family is the basic unit of civilization.  If you get marriage wrong, you get everything wrong.”  (Emphasis mine.)

And so in that sense, doubles be darned, if things aren’t good at home then not much else is going to be good.  The marriage relationship is the most important earthly relationship for a married couple, and therefore probably the one in which we should invest the most time and care.  Especially if we have children, there will be significant responsibilities and considerations at home, ones that might preclude a weekly night out or afternoon on the basketball court with the guys.  Wives need emotional and physical support from their husbands.  Mothers need present fathers who are about the daily, hands-on work of loving, training, and knowing their children.  The best way to achieve unity, and hopefully some level of happiness in the home, is for husbands and wives to be close, true, faithful friends.

But I would contend that Mark Judge, Edward Sellner, and  Dr. Popcack are actually ALL correct in their respective estimations of marriage and friendship.  Because best friends or not, husbands and wives can’t do life alone.

In spite of being a classic introvert, I’ll admit it: I need friends!  I need my people!  I assume you know what I’m talking about.  That handful of friends that you tell all your secrets to and spend lots of time laughing with, and with whom you can be yourself.  I don’t have siblings but, growing up, I never really missed not having them around–probably in part because I had such close friends to share shenanigans and Friday nights with.

Things change a little when you become an adult, of course.  Sometimes friendships are harder to come by or make time for.  We have definitely had seasons in our marriage where we did not spend a lot of time with friends–my husband was offered a great job right out of college, and so we moved away to beautiful Santa Barbara for a year upon getting married.  Rough life on the California coast, right?  Actually, it was kind of isolating.  As much fun as we had as newlyweds, eating out and seeing movies and sleeping in and strolling State Street, we didn’t have any friends nearby.  Nor did we make any.  We were kind of lonely.  We moved back a year after we’d arrived.

And that sweet couple on the left, in the picture with us?  Some of our dearest friends.  Living far, far away.  With whom we have spent many a late night playing cards, laughing until we couldn’t breath, and talking about everything under the California sun.  Oh, how we miss them!

So I’d say that overall, we married folks are happiest when we share the journey with other people. 

And happy, fulfilled married folks probably make for better spouses!  A positive, optimistic outlook on life is naturally going to allow for a more easygoing, forgiving, relaxed marriage.

The reason I felt a little uneasy about the original article’s assertion is, I suspect, simply because my husband and I are very close friends.  We spend a lot of time together, are equally invested partners when it comes to the domestic work of raising a family, and he knows everything about me.  We talk a lot.  We support one another.  It’s obviously different from a friendship with a girlfriend, but it is my most important relationship.  I honestly don’t feel like there are things I can’t tell or share with him, that must be reserved for other women only for fear of burdening or boring him.  He’s a good guy.  And I’d say that historically, one of the strengths of our marriage is our communication.  We communicate constantly.  We are settled and comfortable in our interactions.  It is, I think, healthy.

And it’s always been that way, he and I.  From the time we began dating, we were friends.  I was 19 and he 20, then.  We spent Thanksgiving together very early on, and he met my parents and friends, and someone baked a pumpkin pie without sugar in it and we have remembered and laughed about this around the table every Thanksgiving since.  We used to grocery shop together late at night, and I’d make fun of him for filling his cart with things like cheap soda and Budget Gourmet meals.  We’d spend time reading the Bible and discussing theology–I told him once that it was fine with me that he was raised a Lutheran and still identified with some of the historical Christian beliefs, but that I’D never be one of those weird people that baptizes their baby.  Cough.  We would play Tetris for hours on end on the old NES and laugh hysterically at Seinfeld reruns, and hike to the top of Bishop’s Peak.

And of course it was romantic love, too.  Though neither of us told the other at the time, we both knew very early on that we wanted to wind up married.  Then he bought me a ring and proposed on the beach and wrote me a song.  Once engaged we began openly and eagerly planning and dreaming for our future.

But friendship was at the core of our relationship.  Always.  And we are, dare I say, best friends.

My priest called me yesterday to ask if our family would prepare something to say at an upcoming event, about what blessings we’ve received by being a part of our parish.  When I asked him how long the remarks should be, he said three to five minutes.  And it’s funny because I’m fairly certain we could fill three to five hours–easily–with the joy and beauty of what we have found and experienced there.  Our home is so full of dear friends on special occasions, and my children have such wonderful buddies.  There is no shortage of delightful couples on our “to have over for dinner” list and I’m always up for time with a girlfriend.

It cannot be said then that we are lacking for true, authentic friends.  We spend time together and visit one another’s homes.  We laugh, cry, and pray.

And it is, without a doubt, a tremendous blessing.

Not only to my husband and me, respectively, but also to our marriage.

It is important to know we are not alone.  To walk alongside other people from whom we can draw strength, support and inspiration.  It is good for our children to see faith and life lived in community, to see that our family is part of a much larger family, and that we are called to love.

So can husbands and wives be best friends?  Well yes, yes they can.  In fact, I’d implore anyone contemplating marriage to be sure they’re marrying someone with whom exists a good, close, solid friendship.

But I would also caution against becoming an island, of being so “busy” that leisure and the simple joy of friendship are buried beneath the crushing weight of work and duty.  We need more men and women to say through word and deed that “I have time and space for you, because I value you.”  We need more parents modeling openness to others to their children.  We need mothers and fathers–desperately–to recover the idea of having fun, letting go, and enjoying life.

This need is at least partly met, I suspect, through the intimacy and comfort of extra-marital friendships.

Last Sunday night my husband and I got together, somewhat spontaneously, with several friends to watch the Broncos game–of course a most hallowed event in our neck of the Colorado woods.  I don’t much like football but I love my people and, as far as I’m concerned?  A game is merely an excuse to eat yummy food, hold sweet newborns, and have good conversation.  That particular evening was no exception, and after we’d left we reflected on how we know such great people, and how blessed we are to be in a season with such dear friendships.

It is, both literally and figuratively, good for our married souls.

Five Life Hacks for Millennial Moms

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Our generation is busy.  Oh, so busy.  There are things to do, places to be, children to bathe.  Many of us are homeschooling (or have children spread out over multiple schools, like I do!), or raising kids with special needs, or working an additional part-time or full-time job.  Or, perhaps you’re simply weighted down with the cares and concerns of being Mom.

And I know, because I AM a mom.  People often want to know how I manage life with eight children and, to be honest, it’s taken years to figure out a general system that actually works for me.  Trial and error for sure.  Because let’s be real–things that work for some people or during some seasons aren’t helpful to/during others, and I’ve learned to just ignore the stuff that isn’t relevant for me here and now.  I can only do so much.   But I have discovered some general principles I pretty much live by, and today I’m sharing a few things that have made all the difference in my having a happy home filled with happy people.

1.  Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Do you want to know the secret to taming the laundry, calming the sea of toys all over the floor, and reclaiming your sanity?  This.is.it.  Once upon a time we moved from California to Denver, and bought a charming little bungalow built in 1912.  Said bungalow was lovely and, thanks to an addition, fairly spacious–but did not have an abundance of storage space.  Bummer, right?  Actually, no.  Not at all.  That was probably one of the greatest things to ever happen to me–because I got so fed up with stuff spilling out of the few cabinets and shelves we DID have, I had to figure something else out.  So, I started scheduling pickups from the local thrift store.  Every.single.month.  And I got rid of things!  Bags and bags of things!  And do you know what?  It was liberating.  A fun challenge to see how many bags we could donate each particular month.  It’s something I continue to do.  So I may have eight kids, but I don’t keep an excess of bedsheets, blankets, clothing, home decor, or toys around the house.  We have the things we need and use, but that is all.  And, I’m happier, calmer, and better for it.  Simplification. It’s my favorite.

2.  Streamlined meal preparation.

I have battled the meal-planning beast for years now.  The truth is that I don’t love cooking, and this has historically been a problem because it’s something that simply has to happen.  There are ten of us living here.  We need to eat.  And I’m not comfortable with the regular consumption of totally processed or take-out food–not only is it unhealthy, it’s also expensive.  Plus we eat around the table together, all of us, every single night, and this is precious time that I want to use well.  So what is a mom who doesn’t absolutely relish spending hours and hours in the kitchen to do?  Well, I’ve figured out a way to streamline things and have gotten into a pretty great routine as a result.  And a huge part of this is Wildtree.  I have my own business putting on freezer meal workshops and helping families eat good food that is healthy.  Think organic, all-natural, delicious culinary blends and grapeseed oils, along with delicious, simple recipes.  Just season your meat and prepare.  SO YUMMY!  Wildtree has made a HUGE difference in my meal prep.  I’ve also figured out some great veggies that my kids love that I typically keep in the house–fresh sweet potatoes or Brussels sprouts roasted with a little olive oil, salt and pepper; a big green salad with peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and Costco’s Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing; raw veggies with hummus.  And I don’t stress out over the occasional quesadilla night because I know we’re eating well the rest of the week.

3.  Delegate to your kids.

People are always asking me how I “do it”, and I’m never entirely sure what “it” they’re referring to.  Something tells me no one is actually wondering what I use to clean the shower or what my preferred method of stain fighting is.  But one thing I always am very quick to say is that, ultimately, I DON’T do it, or at least not by myself.  We have always been very, very intentional in including our kids in the daily tasks of life–laundry, cleaning, table-setting, kitchen and dining room clean-up, tidying the house at the end of the day, bed-making, vacuuming and sweeping, even diaper changing.  I know.  It sounds like a lot.  My kids absolutely do a lot, but then, that is simply life in a home and family that runs smoothly.  I tell my children often that I can’t do it all by myself, and that life involves being a good steward of your things.  I regularly cite the old adage “many hands make for light work.”  And I think that while nobody really LIKES chores, everybody sees–on a daily basis–that when we work together, we are able to live in a home where there is space and time to play, think, and enjoy.  We don’t personally do a rewards system, because I think the reward ought to be intrinsic, but there certainly are ways to incentivize kids helping out.  Don’t believe the lie that moms have to do every little thing.  You really can give your kids responsibilities around the house, teach them how to take pride in their work, and cultivate life skills that they’ll take along with them.

4.  Prioritize tasks.

You really can’t underestimate the importance of figuring out what needs to happen most.  I honestly doubt there’s ever been a week when I have really, truly accomplished EVERY SINGLE THING ON MY TO-DO LIST.  And that’s okay.  Because somewhere along the way I figured out what really NEEDS to happen, and so I focus on those things–and anything beyond that is a bonus.  Obviously these things can shift around depending on the life phase or even week.  What are my “must-do’s” right now?  A clean kitchen.  Home-cooked meals.  A house that is tidy throughout.  Ish.  Swept floors–even if they’re not always subsequently mopped.  Clean kids wearing clean clothes.  Quality time with my husband in the evenings.  This doesn’t always all happen every single day, but more or less, it’s what I try to have accomplished.  And it only really works, because I delegate.

5.  Make time to make things beautiful.

This is subjective.  100%, completely subjective.  And, as with everything else, you can take it or leave it.  But it makes a HUGE difference for me, so I think it’s worth mentioning, because here’s the thing: being Mom is a lot of work.  It just is.  Even on those bare-minimum, we’re barely surviving days, it’s a lot of work.  And frankly, most home maintenance is a drudgery.  For me anyhow.  Oh how I love a clean house and a closet full of freshly-washed clothes, but confession of all confessions, I don’t actually enjoy getting it to that point.  So I have to make myself do these things, and find a way to get motivated.  It’s not always easy.  But do you know what can really help?  A new pillow for the couch.  Some curtains hung in the little girls’ room.  Word art for the wall.  Something, anything, to change things up and freshen the space.  Of course it could also be something for yourself–a funky haircut, or cute dress you find on clearance.  For whatever reason, we humans are prone to falling into ruts, but sometimes even the smallest purchase feels like a luxury, and gives us the motivation to keep going, keep trying, and take some pride in our home or our own selves.  It’s not about having a magazine-ready house or body, it’s about feeling good about our little world.

Thanksgiving 2014

My crazy family in our obligatory, annual, squinting into the sun Thanksgiving photo.

My crazy family in our obligatory, annual, squinting into the sun Thanksgiving photo.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Much to be thankful for here–fabulous family, good friends, our first Thanksgiving in our present house we bought to be nearer those family and friends, beautiful children who are doing well in just about every way, and an all-around happy life.

Today we’ve descended upon my dear parents’ home in Littleton for feasting and togetherness.  My favorites are the company, mashed potatoes and stuffing.  If my sweet mother and I get brave, we might even venture out to a store or two tonight.  Maybe.

I’m presently sipping coffee with Bailey’s so the day is definitely already a win.

As I’ve reflected recently on my life, unassuming and simple as it is, I’ve thought that maybe that’s the secret to staying happy–being about the small things.  It’s hard to pretend you’re above being silly, having fun, working hard, or making time for others when you have eight young children making noise and chaos all over your house.  It’s impossible to not see life as it really, truly is when you’re being covered in squeezy hugs and messy kisses all day long, and tucking sweet babies in at night.

Today I’m pretty much thankful for all of the things, but especially for the life that God has given me.  It is not front-page worthy, glamorous or particularly exciting, but it is just about the most beautiful life I could imagine living.  Thank you, dear readers, for being here and for making my piece of the blogosphere such an enjoyable place to be.

So from my home to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!

 

On faith and Ferguson

faithandfergusonIt’s hard to know what to say about something as big and important as this.

I don’t wish to comment extensively on the particulars of the situation in Ferguson, because I’m not interested in sparking a bloggy debate or in emoting about something that doesn’t presently directly involve or affect me.  Goodness knows there’s no shortage of that already going on.  Suffice it to say that, like people on either side of the Ferguson fence, I have found myself mentally shouting at my computer screen multiple times today.  I am, after all, human.

On the other hand, I DO want to write about the more general reality of what happens when something is complex.  That is the problem of social media today, that it cannot encapsulate or accommodate the various nuances and complexities of a situation.  If you woke up today and expressed concern over looting and mob violence, for example, then you clearly don’t care about Michael Brown’s grieving parents.  Alternately, if you jumped out of bed and pointed out the problem of systemic racism in our country, you are stuck in the past, playing the race card, and supportive of cop-killing.

And it’s ridiculous, all of it ridiculous, because the average American does care, I think, about good things like peace, equality, and justice.  Anyone with a pulse has a heart that hurts when they consider the pain of losing a child, of living in generational poverty, of being a member of a community that struggles and struggles against the crushing weight of inequality.  Most people also believe that we need to have laws, and order, and that police work is important and, dare I say noble, when done well and in the interest of the common good.  Is it always?  No.  But is it necessary?  I suspect most of us think yes, it is, on some level.

So why does everything have to be so polarized, so rooted in a juvenile either/or mentality?

Among other things, Ferguson reminds us that the world is overflowing with pain, heartache, suffering, and imperfect systems.  Nobody should wish that an 18-year-old’s life end the way that it did, or that his body be left in the street for hours.  OR that a police officer should ever have to pull the trigger for fear of being brutally attacked.  It is all just SAD.  And terribly messy.

It would do white Americans good to listen to what the black community is saying, to the pain in their voices and to their stories and experiences.  At the same time, we must not label as automatically racist someone who stands up and pleads for an end to the destruction of property, the fire-setting, the burning of businesses (many of them owned by black men and women), or the shooting of guns across a community already split wide open by pain and hurt.  Violence of this magnitude must not be the solution.

My dad is often fond of saying that there are no easy answers.  And, he’s right.

When I read and hear of the unrest in Ferguson and, ultimately, in the hearts of many Americans, I can’t help but think of Jesus, of His love and peace and calls for justice.  I can’t help but consider that God created human beings with dignity, and with the capacity for good, because HE is good.  I think of Christ’s Church, standing as a city on a hill, with outstretched arms of mercy and grace for any and all.  And, I think of our Blessed Mother, Mary–who watched her son die a gruesome death and suffered greatly for love of God and the world.  The hurts, slights, and stories in Ferguson are REAL.  There is anger and distrust and hatred and loss.  There is brokenness.

But of course this isn’t unique to Ferguson, is it?

This is part of the human condition, a reality of the human heart, the result of sin and evil in the world.  We don’t forgive, we choose disdain over love, we see us vs. them, we dismiss anything that we find too inconvenient to address.  It may manifest itself in racial issues but is certainly not limited to racial issues.

I live thousands of miles away from the epicenter of this latest rupture in the fabric of our culture, both literally and figuratively.  But I am a human being, as is every Ferguson resident involved in this sorry situation.

And so while I won’t add my ultimately irrelevant voice to the near-deafening court of public opinion on the tragic death of Michael Brown, I will beg my fellow Christians to remember to pray for peace-filled hearts.  To work towards the transformation of your respective communities.  To bring the hope of Christ into the margins and peripheries.  To combat loneliness and isolation on a very basic and local level.  To remember that people–men, women, children, and families–are hurting, and that we are called to be a conduit of healing and grace in a war-torn, hate-ravaged world.  

A world that is hungry for peace, dignity, freedom and safety.

A world that necessitates a slowness to anger and a compassionate willingness to listen.

A world desperately waiting for Christians who won’t walk away from the table, but who will instead sit humbly with them amidst the brokenness and ashes of painful complexity.  Who will listen and say it’s okay, we see the hurt, and we see the nuance, and we love you with the love of Christ.  Who conquers fear, death, and hate.  We will stand with you in your dignity.  And, we’re sorry.

 

What is love?

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My vintage crew in 2007.

Okay, folks: is Charles Manson REALLY getting married?

This is seriously so creepy.  Like really, incredibly, utterly disturbing.

Just when you thought someone couldn’t be as deranged as Manson himself, a young woman (with an uncanny resemblance to his followers back in the day) steps forward to marry him.  Sheesh.

Funnily enough the issue is not only making huge headlines for its obviously strange nature, it also has people asking about marriage itself.  Again.

I even found myself offering the Christian perspective on marriage in a Facebook conversation yesterday.  I don’t typically jump into the fray like that (and I confess I was terrified), but this was a friend who does not identify as a Christian, and who was inviting Christians to defend their stance on same-sex marriage–when apparently we’re okay with Charles Manson’s upcoming nuptials.  Her question was a natural and good one, I thought.

Now the obvious answer is easy: we’re NOT really okay with the Manson affair! It does not appear to meet the qualifications for a valid sacramental marriage.  People who look at the headlines and roll their eyes and say “What a joke!” are right to do so.

Of course Christians not of the Catholic persuasion might have a harder time explaining why exactly Mr. and Mrs. Manson are a problem– or perhaps they don’t think it’s fundamentally a problem–because they belong to a tradition that no longer espouses the historic Christian understanding of marriage and sexuality.  They would be in a tough spot defending an opposition to same-sex marriage while simultaneously excusing the Manson marriage.  (Although hypothetically speaking, were he not disallowed conjugal visits and were they not certifiably insane, Charles Manson and his girlfriend could potentially marry. But anyway.)

I have always loved how the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes marriage.  I am admittedly a book nerd.  I don’t know if you own or read the Catechism, but even if you’re not Catholic it’s an INCREDIBLE resource for profound spiritual wisdom and truth.  It is rich, deep, clear, and makes for a great read on just about any subject.  You can find it on Amazon or wherever you buy books, and I’d highly recommend getting yourself a copy!

Anyway, first it says this:

1603 “The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . . God himself is the author of marriage.”87 The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics. Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere with the same clarity,88 some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures. “The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life.”89

And then, this.  Isn’t this amazing?

1604 God who created man out of love also calls him to love the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love.90 Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator’s eyes. And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to be realized in the common work of watching over creation: “And God blessed them, and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.'”91

What astounds me about the Christian story, about God’s story, is that it all amounts to love.  That is the point.  That is the end-all, be-all.  Life is not primarily about finding happiness or security, living well, avoiding pain and suffering, or self-actualization.  Those may be by-products or secondary blessings or good things, but really?  It all goes back to love.  First, God’s love for us, and then our response of love for him, and finally the result of that, which is our love for other people.

And this is something that American Christians struggle to express to the modern world.  We kind of have the reputation for being anti-love.  No small number of observers think Christians are judgmental, puritanical, obsessed with sex, exclusive, hate-filled, reactionary, narrow-minded, busybodies, hypocritical, bigots.  People assume our primary goal is to somehow achieve political domination through the oppression of marginalized groups, like homosexuals, or the poor, or women vulnerable to abortion.  People think we are angry.  People think we do not love.

Why is this?  Many of these assumptions are unfair, and based upon ignorant stereotypes perpetuated by mainstream media and agenda-driven idealogues.  But some of them may be well-deserved, because perhaps Christians have not responded as well as they could have to issues of our modern times.  Maybe we have not fought hard enough for justice, or maybe we have forgotten how to be outwardly joyful amidst opposition or difficulty.

Maybe we have not taken the time to know, and then really love, people.

I’ve been thinking a bit about the same-sex marriage debate in particular because of what folks have been saying about these upcoming Manson nuptials.  I’ve been wondering about why the Christian message–Jesus’ love for the world–has been eclipsed by a set of moral do’s and don’ts.  I’ve been considering how Christians can offer the hope and love of Jesus to a culture increasingly tuning them out, and reducing them to little more than People Who Have Hateful Opinions About ______ People.

And, I have no real answers.

As a Church, the Church Jesus founded to invite human beings into a radical, life-giving friendship with God, we MUST somehow find ways to dialogue and pursue and engage.  We must be truthful and faithful to God’s plan for men and women, and encourage men and women that they were created with dignity and out of love.  We must live in light of the fact that chastity is a virtue, and a good one, and one that is for ALL people–not just for single men and women or gay men and women or men and women who’ve saved themselves for marriage.  We have to tell the whole story.

We have to somehow be willing to sit with the tension of our message being perceived as a paradoxical one.

We have to answer the question that every single person is asking, What is love?

What does love mean, what does love look like, how does love work, what does love cost?  Love is not a subjective, fleeting feeling born in the heart–it is instead the highest of virtues, it casts out fear, it tells the truth, it is not selfish.  Love is the very nature of God Himself.  And we know what love is because He not only told us, but showed us.  God-become-man.

Something Catholics say a lot is that love is a YES.  I never used to think of it that way but it is absolutely true.  Love begins as a yes to God, a response to His invitation into friendship and relationship and life, and of course translates into a yes to loving other people.  It will inevitably at one time or another cost, really cost, something–motherhood naturally comes to mind, because it is at once both a “yes” and a sacrifice.

When we adopted my sons, we went from being a family of three to a family of five.  As one would expect, we got  lot of “Why are you doing that?” and, when I became pregnant four months after my sons joined our family (taking us to a family of six), a lot of “Was this an accident?”  And when I answered no, a lot of dumbfounded looks.  What struck me most back then (and still does today) is that people were incredulous not so much because of the number of children we had, but simply because we were saying yes.  Being open.  Allowing love to grow and exponentially multiply, which it always does when a family is graced with new life.  Those early years of our marriage with four itty-bitty children were outright hilarious, but they were beautiful too.  If I could go back for a time, I would.  A three-year-old sister sneaking cookies from the pantry to distribute to two-year-old brothers.  Sloppy kisses and chubby hands welcoming a new baby sister.  Exhausted parents collapsing onto the couch at the day’s end, laughing at how ridiculously amusing our life was.

But there was love.  Always.

Any mother will tell you that true, authentic love doesn’t always look fabulous or feel easy.  Jesus’ mother especially.  And this is part of why the Christian story of love can be difficult to explain to a culture so driven by consumerism and hedonism–what feels good at any given time.  When something loses its usefulness, throw it away.  But love in action doesn’t always feel good.

I suspect that the best we can do as Christians is to just keep loving–really, truly loving.  First in our devotion to God and then in our homes, with hearts soft and open and saying yes.  And then for those outside of our immediate circle, loving them as best we can and gently sharing the TRUTH about what love is, when appropriate.  Inviting them in.  People can handle the truth.  A “yes” to the best things will often mean a “no” to many other things, but the incredible thing is that in living up to our human dignity, we receive life. 

I was speaking to a group of moms recently, and part of my response to a difficult question was simply that you will never regret following–or saying yes to–God.  Trite, but true.

When people argue about marriage now I always think about this question of love, and about how confused our culture really is.  Love is so rarely portrayed on television, in movies or by the media in general.  No one knows how to define it, it has been replaced by cheap sentimentalities and sappy platitudes, and has ultimately been isolated from its hard and gritty hands-on nature–the very thing that keeps struggling families together and doesn’t lose hope, and which endures suffering and doesn’t count the cost.

Embodied by Jesus.

Offered and freely given by the Church, through the Sacraments and Her people.

I suspect that Charles Manson and his bride, sadly, know little of the sacramental nature of marriage.  This “intimate community of life and love”, where “God himself is the author”, is “not a purely human institution.”  We religious folks–and no, not just Catholics, because it was clear at the recent Vatican meeting (with American representatives as varied as Russell Moore and President Henry V. Eyring!) that we’re not the only ones interested in the meaning of marriage–can graciously extend our hearts and our knowledge to others.  We can share this love with the world by not only loving but also by making ourselves approachable, available, engaging.

Joy is, ultimately, winsome.

Hope is, ultimately, winsome.

Faith is, ultimately, winsome.

I’ve never seen myself as a culture warrior, but I will gladly speak and stand for love and dignity, the natural rights of every human person.  I will do my best to have joy in the small things of my life, like little blonde girlies jumping together on my freshly-made bed, giggling every time they lose their balance and fall.  I’m behind on laundry and my brand-new sweatshirt has bleach stains all over it, and my big kids refuse to keep their rooms clean.  I’d love the blessing of another baby and yet I’m not pregnant, but I do have myself an Alice who’s just under two years old, and is about the most precious little thing to toddle the planet.

So in all things I have joy, and it’s real, because it comes from God.

Who is love.

And that’s real too.

And we should tell the world about it.