Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Five Month Photo Session With Joey and A Few Thoughts on the Virtue of Contentment

Look who's FIVE months already!! Can you believe it??
Yesterday morning, there just wasn't enough coffee in Kansas to get my brain in the right gear to teach Latin to my small posse of children, who are already way smarter than I am. So, I called for an extended recess, because executive powers are awesome.  The little diversion from school was spent snapping pics of Joseph, and hoping that one member of the posse would "accidentally" spill his juice on the Latin.
Before I knew it, all of the boys were on their hands and knees beside me talking to Joey in their sweet baby voices, trying to coax his famous grin.
Joey! Chubbikins! Festival! Jo-Jo! He loves all of his nicknames, everyday it's a new one.

I just love this series of expressions...
What? No, way, gurl! 
Ahhh, milk. Yeah, milk is my jam!
Did someone just say the "N" word? You know how I feel about naps.
I would be lying to you if I said that the past five months have been some kind of cake walk.  I mean my hair is still falling out and I'm developing some sort of eye twitch from a lack of sleep. Little Joey has done to us what babies do best, which is turn his parents upside down and shake 'em with all his might.

Last night Steve and I were laying on the floor with Joey between us, admiring his grin, the innocence in his laugh, the purity in his eyes, and while both of us were completely exhausted, we couldn't help but marvel over the way this little person, day after day, keeps us grounded, brings us back to what is most important in life.

I really treasure knowing that each of our children, particularly in their infant stages, have taught me something profound about life, about myself.  Oftentimes those lessons aren't easy for me to learn, because I'm a slow and stubborn student.

So, what has sweet little Joey taught his mama? He has taught me the value of being content in less than ideal circumstances.

In the past, after having a newborn, within a couple of months I am able to regain my footing with life and can keep up with the sprint with the boys, laundry, homeschooling, groceries, cleaning etc., etc.  I expected a repeat situation.

Not this time.

I am constantly aware of everything that is not getting done because I simply can't get to it. Rushing from this need to that responsibility to every demand, I am often out of breath and overwhelmed.

But, this guy is on a mission to help me....
From the floor where he's perched upon a blanket, surrounded with toys, Joseph pauses from the shaking and the chewing to look up at me, drool running down his chin, eyes full of that loving expression that only babies have for their mamas.  His sweet and gentle nature catches my attention, calling me out of the daily burdens. His charming presence speaks to my heart as if to say, "Here I am, choose me, be with me."

I didn't realize before Joseph came into my life, that perhaps I placed too high of a (prideful) value on my ability to keep our life in, not perfect but at least respectable, order before feeling content with myself as a mom and perhaps even with those around me.  For now, the daily tasks are so much bigger than my physical and emotional capacity to meet them. I have no choice but to find contentment in less than ideal circumstances.

The great blessing in choosing to be content in the present circumstances isn't that I am released of my will to try or to care, or even that I magically become okay with the house being a disaster, or having to serve cereal for lunch. Rather, it is in the freedom that comes from choosing to be content that I'm able to see life in it's proper perspective.

The moments throughout the day when I choose to pause from my work to cuddle with kiddos, read an extra story, engage in sincere conversation, or to simply sit and admire all of Joseph's soft, sweet squishiness is never, ever second to work in the order of priority.  Of all of the lessons my children have taught me, this one is perhaps the most valuable.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Our Family Pilgrimage to Father Kapaun's Home ~ 7 QT Friday

Hellooooo, Friday!! I've really been missing you guys lately, but just can't seem to figure out how to write and run the mothership at the same time.  Our household has been sick this week, so I'm wearing the nurses hat, too.  Since I'm only walking distance form the local bar (seriously, 2.5 blocks), I may be sneaking out tonight for some nerve tonic!

There are so many things I want to share with you guys in this little space, blog ideas abound. Despite the disorganized, dysfunctional life and the lack of time to write, in honor of Veteran's Day being this past week, I thought it would be a perfect time for me to squeeze in a little 7 Quick Takes about a beautiful excursion I took with the boys a few weeks ago to Pilsen, Kansas, home of Father Emil Kapaun, a chaplain of the Korean War, who died a POW in 1951.
A few years ago, my sister, Sara, and I were chatting on the phone and she couldn't wait to tell me about this wonderful little town, a quaint Czech community just north of Wichita, called Pilsen.  She shared with me the story of Father Emil Kapaun, whose cause for sainthood is currently under investigation.  I was so touched by his story and, after reading "A Shepherd in Combat Boots" (very much worth your time), I couldn't wait to visit Pilsen myself.

I don't know why it took so long for me to make the journey to Father Kapaun's shrine, but I can honestly thank my son, Benedict, for getting me there. He came home after school about a month ago and told me that his class would be making a pilgrimage to Pilsen. I was overjoyed with the news and knew that our whole family had to go. 

Before the news of the pilgrimage, I had been saying a novena to Father Kapaun for two intentions which were very close to my heart. Now, I felt as though I could truly unite my prayers to him in a very concrete way.  The timing was perfect. Don't you love Providence?!
It's an understatement to say that our family was changed by the trip to Pilsen.  From their earliest years, we have taught the boys that the saints, whom we ask often to pray for us, show us, above all, the face of Christ.  They encourage us to choose Christ and to love Him, to seek him out in all circumstances, in all situations. That truth sunk in deep during our trip to Pilsen.
The boys were able to connect with Father Kapaun in so many honest, yet profound ways.  Even Charlie, who stayed with me while I fed Joseph in the cry room during the presentation, didn't speak above a whisper while we were in the church.  All of his orneriness shines right through that grin, though!
Father Kapaun, no doubt, will soon be canonized a saint. 
Here are just 7 (of so many) reasons why our boys have come to admire this heroic soul:

1.  He was a small town farm boy, just like our boys.  The rolling tree-lined hills that flank the little community of Pilsen are picturesque.  Visiting there is like going back in time, it seems as though not much has changed since Father Kapaun lived there.  I am sure that the physically demanding work and dedication that the farm demanded during his youth were of great benefit to him during his military service.

2.  He led by example.  Many individuals have come forward with stories about Father Kapaun, and none of them talk about how he preached this our that, but rather how he loved and led by example, always encouraging and looking out for others before himself.
Inside the beautiful, historic St. John Nepomucene Cathlic Church
3.  He was a model of humility.  When we arrived at St. John Nepomucene church we spent the first part of the tour listening to a brief history of Father's life, a life full of details shared by a very warm and articulate woman, whom I could see truly loves Father.  She told story after story of how Father Kapaun saved many POW's from death by caring for their wounds, preserving their dignity by helping them bathe in the river, sharing his rations and praying with them and for them.
4.  He smoked a pipe.  On the outside, it seems to be a thing of little significance, but I think what it really points to is how very natural, how very human Father was, and those who served with him were drawn to this naturalness.  They were ultimately drawn to the person of Christ.

5.  He is the most decorated military chaplain in history.  Story after story is told of Father's bravery on the battle field, risking his life time and time again to attend to the needs of other soldiers.  He was known to run through enemy fire dashing between foxholes to deliver food, water, consolation and prayers to the men in the heat of battle.
6.  He was recently awarded the Medal of Honor, the most distinguished honor to be bestowed upon any soldier, living or deceased.  On the Medal of Honor brochure that was given to us on the pilgrimage, the  following was written about Father Kapaun:
As Chinese Communist forces encircled the battalion, Kapaun moved
fearlessly from foxhole to foxhole under direct enemy fire in order to provide
comfort and reassurance to the outnumbered soldiers.  He repeatedly crawled to 
wounded men and either dragged them back to the safety of the American lines, 
or dug shallow trenches to shield them from enemy fire.  As Chinese forces closed in, 
Kapaun rejected several chances to escape, instead volunteering to stay behind
and care for the wounded.
(Of all the memorabilia we were able to experience in the little museum, Father Kapaun's priestly garments were my most favorite.  Seeing them brought tears to my eyes.)

7.  The three miracles that have been attributed to Father Kapaun thus far have all occurred in the lives of young athletes, a soccer player, a pole vaulter, and a marathon runner.  I don't believe that this is a coincidence.  Their stories really had a great impact on the boys, especially Andrew.  

Three fantastic books on the life of Father Kapaun are:
A Saint Among Us (great for kids)

If you really want to make a pilgrimage to Father Kapaun's shrine, our diocese hosts a 70 mile hike from Wichita to Pilsen every spring.  I am hoping to make at least part of the journey this fall with the older boys.  You can learn more about it here.

Have a wonderful weekend, friends.  
Father Kapaun, pray for us!!


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembering Our Veterans - A Hometown Tradition

Veteran's Day will forever be a holiday that is near and dear to my heart. My father served in the Vietnam War, and is a noble patriot and hero to our family. Two years ago, after visiting my hometown during the holiday, I wrote a post in reflection and admiration of the beautiful way our city continues to honor our military on Veteran's Day.  I hope you don't mind if I share it again with you today.  If you should happen to see a veteran or person in military service, please, offer them your appreciation!
*       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *   
For many people, small town life has very little appeal.  Kids graduate from high-school, go on to college, and so few of them return to the place where their childhood memories were made.  I am one of those people. Maybe you are, too. Yet, I would have to say, that I wouldn't change the location of my upbringing for the world.  

I was reminded of how much I love small town America last weekend, when  I returned home with my own family to visit my parents.  Over the weekend, our boys went pheasant hunting with their dad, uncles and a few other family and friends. During their absence, my mother, sister-in-law and her two girls and Charlie and I headed to town to enjoy lunch together and to take in our town's annual Veteran's Day parade.
To an outsider, the worth of a place like Belleville might only be measured in the convenience of a place to get an ice-cream cone or use the restroom while passing through to bigger and better places. But, to those of us who have embraced small town life, there are beauties that perhaps only we can see and appreciate.  That sense of appreciation was rekindled in my heart as we cruised the town square stopping to visit with folks that I hadn't seen in years.  Strolling in and out of the downtown shops, everyone is happy to see you, happy you have taken a moment to patronize their store.  People remember you, and care to hear your story - where you live now, and how your family has grown.
Small towns appreciate and embrace traditions in a special way.  Like the tradition of celebrating Veteran's Day with a parade.  Standing on the curb, holding Charlie back from the action while the entries cruised by, I couldn't help but feel a bit sentimental over all of the parades I had enjoyed in the past at the edge of that very same street.  

It was a childhood joy to find a spot on the curb, to dash out into the waves of candy that rolled toward our scampering feet.  Enthusiastically, we watched the floats roll by, their decorations waving in the wind. Our hearts beamed with pride as we saluted the veterans, young and old, who rolled by, seated upon those floats.  They were there, not to be remembered, but to help us remember that freedom isn't free. 
In my teen days the honor of marching in the band, playing with pride the songs that everyone knew, The Marine Corp Hymn, The Caissons Go Rolling Along, and Anchors Aweigh, is something I will never forget.  We marched through great gusts of wind, the bitter cold even sleet and snow. No matter what the conditions were, we marched.
We played our hearts out for every Veteran who attended, who saluted the flag with pride, hearts over hands, tears rolling down wrinkled cheeks, eyes expressive of stories that none of us will ever know or even hope to understand.  I played for my dad, always hoping to catch a glimpse of him somewhere along the parade route. My hometown is smaller now, the band is fewer in number, the streets aren't as crowded as in past years, but thankfully the tradition of the parade continues.
No matter how you feel about war or what your political views are, let us not forget that it is not because of our government but because of our brave and selfless men and women in uniform who have courageously served our country that you and I can speak freely, worship weekly, and sleep peacefully at night.  Veteran's Day may have passed, but it's never too late to say thank you to a Veteran.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

For it is the Challenging Child Who Has Really Taught Me How to Love -In Thanksgiving For George on His 10th Birthday

Ten years have flown by since our "election baby" was born.  It seems like yesterday that I labored on the couch through the night with George, steady contractions waking me several times every hour. Both the pain of the contraction and the knowledge of what was to come roused me just long enough to say a quick prayer and to check the progress of the presidential elections.

If only I had a dollar for every time we have been asked if we named George after George Bush. Um, no. George Patrick Thomas was affectionately named after his great grandfather, George Splichal, a very kind, jovial, hard-working and pious soul.  I wish so very much that all of our children could have known him.  He was one of five boys (and one girl), and I have no doubt that grandpa is in heaven laughing daily at his view from up above of all the craziness in our very masculine home!
I try very hard on our childrens' birthdays to slow things down a bit, to take some time to give them extra special attention and affection. More than anything, I really just love to take long pauses throughout the day to watch them being themselves, to really watch them. I long to cement those sweet impressions of them in my heart and mind.  I cannot help but reach out to affirm them in specific ways, to ask them questions about everything from their favorite color to where they would like to go on vacation next year, I want to know them so well.

Monday was a particularly emotional day for me interiorly.  During those long pauses of watching, of conversation of admiration, I felt that the Lord was very close to me, fully aware of the push-pull movements between my head and heart.  Of all of the children in our family, George has sent me, more than any other, onto my knees and into the Father's arms.   I have always believed that children are a gift to their parents, gifts that are here in our lives to change us for the better, to bring us closer to God, to help us get to heaven. But, receiving those gifts isn't always easy.

The substance of this change that occurs in us isn't formed from a life of traveling down the parenting road of ease, but rather by the pathways that demand more and more and yet a little more of us.

I hope that one day George will read this and not feel shame or disappointment in himself because of my honesty but, rather, I hope that he will experience a deep sense of triumph and joy, knowing that he, with all of his wonderful strengths, and trying weaknesses as well, truly has a great wonderful purpose in this world, and it has been our privilege as his parents to nurture that purpose in him.

I think it's safe to say that every parent, to one degree or another, dreams of having perfect children. Who does not desire an obedient, intelligent, respectful, healthy, happy child in their home? Such desires are pure and natural.  When George was diagnosed with a heart defect at the age of two, when the severity of his asthma and allergies escalated as he grew, I wondered how we would be able to keep him healthy and strong despite such physical obstacles.

As he grew through the toddler years, it seemed evident that his health wouldn't be the only challenge for his father and me.  Without going into detail, I will say that if ever I have stood behind a closed door counting to 10, and pleading to God for super-abundant graces, more than likely George has driven me to that place.

I often find myself repeating to my own children those affirming words my parents spoke to me as a child growing up, "We love all of you children just the same, not one more than the other." But, to like each child equally? I confess with all honesty that there are days where I lack a serious fondness toward one or more of my sons.  That is human, isn't it? (Please, tell me it is.) Do you know what I mean when I say how wearisome it is to be with the unlikeable child day in and day out, your emotions and nerves being worn down by the constant discipline and teaching of that child?

In the midst of some pretty intense days at home with George, I have sworn out loud and under my breath, lost my temper, thrown up my hands, ranted breathlessly to a very patient husband, and for fleeting moments here and there wished for a different life.

She waves the white flag of surrender.

I hate feeling defeated. Feeling as though I am NOT the person to raise this child.
He is going to flunk out of school or end up in jail and it's going to be all my fault.
I have thought these very thoughts hundreds of times.

Polished blog of a polished life? Not here.
How easy it is to show love and affirmation to the "easy" child. But, to make the child who tatters our nerves and exhausts our minds and hearts every day feel loved, despite how we feel toward them at that that is the real challenge.

I cannot count the number of nights I have fallen into bed exhausted knowing that I did not make George feel loved, fearing that I would be facing the same challenges again tomorrow and again fail to help him in all of the right ways through this period of struggle that he is in.

We are not unlike our children in the real, sincere way that we need to be loved.  We need to know love most in the depths our sin so much more more than in our moments of success. God loves us, you and I, perfectly in this way. The mystery of such an abundant, free love is difficult to grasp, but cannot be denied.

Our children need to experience this selfless, disinterested love from us as parents, even when we  don't feel like giving it.  It is a love that looks like patience, like a firm desire to discipline, a discipline that is a calm and steady anchor in rough waters, a love that has compassion and not anger toward the child's weaknesses, a love that is not so easily offended or disappointed by the child's failure to accept and apply all that we teach them to be true and right and good.

I am such a slow learner, and it has taken me so long to embrace this way of love.  Still, I often fail at living and expressing such a love to my children, especially to George, my child who, over the years, has needed it most.
On his birthday, as I watched George work diligently on his school work, play baseball outside with his brothers and read quietly while I decorated his cake, I confessed to the Lord all of my regrets, my shortcomings as a mother to George, the shame I felt for wanting my son to be better and to do better for my sake, so that my life would be easier. 

I prayed the prayer I've prayed so very many times, "Lord, please fill in the gaps, the places where I have failed to fill my children's lives with Your love. Mend the cracks of brokenness I have brought into their lives through my selfish desires and actions."

It's amazing to me how we, as parents, are called to teach and to instruct our children yet, in their very being, they are the ones teaching us.  I cannot express how great is the force that motherhood has had on me, pressing me on to love in ways I never knew that I could, causing me to examine every nook and cranny of my heart asking often, what can I do for these little ones? How can I change to be better for them? Who do You need me to be for these little people, Lord?

Most often is not through great and extraordinary circumstances that we are shaped and refined into the people God desires for us to be, but through the normal, natural daily life. I am thankful to the Father for showing me that, for the abundant blessing of our children in my life, both the easy and especially the not so easy ones, for they are the souls who really teach me how to love every day.
{One thing I love the most about living with boys is that they are always playing pranks on each other.  Andrew filled George's gift bag with old socks and underwear, which gave us all a good laugh!}
What a beautiful gift it is to see your child finding his way through personal struggles and into the freedom and joy that a virtuous life can bring.  I am so proud of George.  He is becoming quite a virtuous young man, responsible, generous, and helpful to me in so many ways.  He loves Joseph so very much and is always first to volunteer to hold him. He has a beautiful passion for life, an adventurous spirit that never tires, and a pure and sincere desire to befriend every person he meets.
As we sat around the breakfast table, stuffing our cheeks with caramel rolls and scrambled eggs, each of us took turns recalling our favorite memories of George, one after the other, sharing those things that we admire most about him....

Andrew was first to tell George what he admires in him and that is his generous heart.  On Halloween night our family set out to go trick-or-treating together, but eventually we got separated as the boys wanted to run around with their friends.  As Steve and I eventually made our way back to the house, we found George, Henry and Andrew sitting on the porch waiting for us.  Andrew pulled us aside to tell us of how George greeted the trick-or-treaters who came to our door, but because we had run out of candy to give to them, he generously gave to them every single piece of his own.  We were deeply touched by his kindness.
{And, surprise! Another army cake!}
Hands down our favorite funny story about George was one that took place when we still lived out on the farm.  Loving to hunt and enjoy daily walks about the farm with his BB gun, George was becoming quite a marksman. Early one morning, however, we caught him kneeling down at his bedroom window with his gun pointing out of a hole that he had poked the screen. He was shooting at the rabbits that were nibbling the lettuce in my garden! Only George would think to do such a thing!
He still loves to hunt, and so buying hunting gear for him for his birthday was an easy decision. He was elated over the gifts!

The night before George's birthday, our family decided to attend the parish mission at our local Catholic Church.  Thankfully, we were able to go to confession prior to hearing the priest give his talk.  After confession, George walked quietly to the front of the church, lit a candle and spent quite a long time kneeling quietly to pray.  After the mission, Steve gently asked George if he wanted to share what he was praying about.  Smiling proudly he said, "Dad, I just asked the Lord to speak to me.  I told Him I was listening. I just tried to be very quiet so that I could hear Him."

I hope that as time marches on, these are the stories I remember most of our boys - the ones that reveal very best of who they are, and that every challenge, every pain, every struggle in sin that we have walked through together will be overshadowed by their victories in the battle for holiness.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Multiplication of the Loaves - My Trick to Baking For a Big Family

Don't you just love it when someone walks in your home and says, "Mmmmm, what smells so good??" Hearing those words is like getting a little pat on the back, a hug for the heart. Unless of course the good smelling stuff is a pumpkin spice candle or Mrs. Meyers Clean Day in action (I love that stuff!). But, if it's because you've been slaving away in the kitchen all afternoon, then you go on and bask in the sunny compliments!

No matter what horrific state of disaster our house may be in, I'm pretty much always in the mood to put on my blinders and bake. Baking is kind of like therapy for me. Pies, cookies and cakes are good, but bread is by far my favorite.

During the fall and winter months, the oven is pretty much on every day.  The cold temps always seem to wake up some kind of monster appetites in my kids, so serving homemade bread with most meals is a great way to fill those rumbly tummies.

{Sorry, gluten-free and Paleo peeps. If you have stumbled onto this post and are feeling left out, I've got something chocolate here and blueberry here just for you!}

Unfortunately, one loaf of homemade bread doesn't stretch very far in a family of 7 hungry men. Thankfully, I have found a way to bake several loaves at once in a very short amount of time. 

Now, before you go accusing me of getting all Martha Stewart on you, you should know that I would NEVER attempt to bake six loaves bread at one time unless I found an easy short cut of some kind, because, trust me, I value sanity more than nourishment.  
So how does all this happen, exactly??... Well...

A few years ago, a friend of mine invited me to a bread class called No More Bricks. (Don't ya love that? I mean, I have no idea what she's talking about, do you?). Of course I was all, sign me up, man (anything to get out of the house)! Let me just say that I am so glad I actually went to the class and paid attention, because our family has been enjoying the benefits of my attendance ever since!

Using the methods that Lori teaches in her No More Bricks class, the recipes/techniques she shares in her book, and the Bosch Universal Mixer, I am actually able to bake 6 loaves of homemade bread in a little less than an hour, from start to finish (with everything prepped and measured). Sometimes I mix up some dough and make cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls or other specialty breads, but most of the time, I just go for the simple loaves. Honey oat is our family favorite.

If you don't have a Bosh Universal Mixer (because seriously, who does.) don't worry! (I probably guilted my husband into buying it for me, poor chap. Oh, the shame. If you really, really need one, I suggest checking ebay first for the best deal.) You can still try Lori's methods and recipes using:
- Spiral Mixer
- Stand Mixer
- Food Processor
- Bread Machine
- Hand Method
She also has a tutorial on her website, so you can "take" the class in the comfort of your own home...unless you of course you need to get out of your home, then I suggest "taking the class" at a friend's house, preferably one who also drinks wine. 
{This is me just dumping away, not reeeally measuring.}
{Big ugly blob of dough about to become something beautiful.}
{Using my favorite tool to divide the dough into six smaller ugly blobs.}
{Shapin' it up into some cute little loaves to rise and bake.}

I think bread baking kind of freaks people out, because it seems hard.  I confess to disliking it prior to learning Lori's methods, because I'm kind of a "dump it in" or "throw it together" kind of cook, so exact measurements of anything stress me out. Lori's methods take the stress out of baking - and I mean it when I say, unless you forget half of the ingredients or leave your teenager in charge of the oven, you cannot screw this up.  Each loaf is soft, light, and incredibly delicious every single time - no bricks!

She does offer tips on making the most nutritious bread possible by grinding your own flour, but I'm just going to say right here and right now that adding "grind wheat for baking" to my weekly to-do list kind of makes my head explode.  So, I buy quality flours from this company (sprouted grains are awesome!) and freeze what I'm not currently using.

If you're the super creative/experimental/ambitious type, you'll love the section in her book that explains the various types of highly nutritious flours that are good for baking, which include quinoa, amaranth, spelt and oat, to name a few. As a bonus, her basic dough recipe can be used to make a variety of other breads, including rolls, buns and fancy twisty things.

Here are the links to all the goodies listed above:

Okay kiddies. That's all I've got for today!

What do you think? Do you have a preferred method or recipe for baking homemade bread?

{P.S. This is not a paid advertisement. Lori has no idea I dig her book and recipes.  I'm just sharing the good stuff with you, because you're awesome, and I like to share.}

Thursday, October 23, 2014

My Faith Was My Parent's Faith Until I Fell In Love - Celebrating St.John Paul II

On Wednesday we had a little party at our house!  It was a party I had been waiting for 9 years to celebrate! A party in honor of St. Pope John Paul II, whose feast day we honored with Polish fare, cold beer and an ample amount of joy, storytelling, and fond memories.
Polish Sausage (minus the kraut, because, boys)
Sweet Potato Fries
Kale Chips
Beer (because, it's the right thing to do)

Celebrating the life of John Paul II with our children is really important to me, because he is the person to whom I can truly credit my conversion.  Now, when I say conversion I'm not talking about anything mind-blowing here.  No juicy story filled with scandal, no miraculous healing etc., etc.  I was just an ordinary sixteen year old girl, living in my own little world, a world comprised of family life, school activities, friends, a job, and all the little happenings of the small town where I grew up, when something inside of me came alive.

Growing up, I had a great love and respect for my parents (still do!). From that love and respect came the desire to embrace the values that they taught me as well to love and participate fully in my Catholic faith.  Naturally, though, my faith was, to a large degree, their faith.  It wasn't until I had the privilege of attending World Youth Day in Denver, in 1993, that my faith truly became my own.
{Chillin' in Denver with the Bishop. Man, was I tan! That should explain the sunspots and wrinkles. Hello, Missy. Have you ever heard of SPF??}
I went to Denver not knowing what to expect, and not knowing much at all about Pope John Paul II, although I was terribly eager to "meet" him and to hear what message he had for us, his young flock. There are two wonderfully profound moments from that trip to the mountains that I will never ever forget, two sparks that would burst into flames of love for Christ and His church, flames that continue to burn brightly within my heart today.

The first moment was when we were gathered together in Mile High Stadium listening to the Holy Father speak to us for the first time (read his entire homily here).  He said, "Be not afraid!" Be not afraid to be saints, to share the gospel, to celebrate life and to defend it, to say yes to God's call for your life, even if it's difficult, even if you must suffer.

I felt incredibly encouraged by him.  He spoke to my heart as a father who encourages his child.  His words filled my soul in such a way that I couldn't help but soak up all of the love and encouragement he had to share. And, the fruit that came from actually paying attention and listening to him was -get this - that I wanted to know, love and serve Christ forever and ever and ever. That was a big thing for this little small town teenager!
The second "spark" moment took place at Cherry Creek Park where we had camped out the night before the Holy Father came to speak to all of us.  When he approached his seat on the stage and sat down, he covered his face with his hands and wept, completely overwhelmed by the cheering and chanting of the crowd who was so deeply moved by his presence, so dearly longing to show their love and affection for him.

He wasn't a celebrity, he was our Father, our Shepherd, and he loved us, he truly loved us.  I was deeply touched by his humility and sincerity.  He had spoken truth, and whether I understood the theological and catechetical roots of his preaching didn't matter. I knew that what he had to say to us was real and true and good and beautiful. I knew I could trust him.  Through him I heard the voice of Christ. His words resonated within me as a light casting out darkness, doubt and fear, and suddenly I could see life in a way I had never seen it before.

I'm typing this and that Sara Groves song "Something Changed" is rolling though my head. She sang it right (love her!):
Something changed inside me
Broke wide open, all spilled out
Till I had no doubt
That something changed...

I will always be grateful to my parents for encouraging me to make that trip to Denver so many years ago.  My faith journey from that time up until now certainly hasn't been a perfect one, but it is one that has been strengthened and enriched by the beautiful writings and teachings of St. John Paul II. He turned my plans to become a missionary and then teach in the inner city until the age of 40 (after which I might entertain the idea of getting married) upside down. Down. Down.
{Proof of Love. Proof of Truth}
I read Love and Responsibility and Muliaris Dignitatum (The Dignity of Women) and well, here I am celebrating the author himself with 6 kids and one fine husband!

It's really special for Steve and me to be able to share our mutual love for this beautiful saint with our children.  To show them photos of our marriage being blessed by him, our wonderful library filled with his wisdom, and to impress upon them the real tangible desire our Lord has for each and every one of us to become saints. He's some awesome proof of that.

I have to admit I was a little ill-prepared for the party.  Especially, because I should have THOUGHT to make the Pope's favorite dessert, Polish Papal Creme Cake.  (Look for that one next year!)  But, we did have somewhat of a Polish inspired dinner, and during school we:
- Colored this picture and also this one 
- Watched a You Tube clip of him speaking and
- Baked Polish cookies for dessert.
(FYI - these are NOT kolaches. Thanks to my daddy, I'm 50% Czech, so I know these things, trust me. I'll post more details on that very important culinary point of view later, because I owe it to my Grandma Blanche, who is in heaven and has probably met the pope and told him about her 
ah-mazing kolaches.)
The highlight of the party was watching the Royals beat the Giants in game #2 of the World Series. The boys had read in the Holy Father's bio that he was an adventure seeker. He loved being outdoors and was a great sports enthusiast.  Reminding them that our beloved saint was watching the game with us from heaven made them smile.
{Can we just pause for a moment of silence here for that smile?? Gosh!!}
Even Joey, who just so happens to have been given the middle name Karol, after Karol Wojtyla, had a splendid time!  But, maybe that's because he's basking in Grandma's love. Grandma, who is here helping me this week (cue the angels singing). Grandma, the one who "made" me go to Denver to meet the man who changed my life forever. Thank you, Grandma!
Happy Feast Day, Papa! We love you!