Wednesday, February 25, 2015

When Our Boys Remind Me That Laughter is Often the Best Medicine


I am writing this post mainly as a letter of sorts to myself so that I may read it one day in the future when all of the boys are grown and living on their own.  Just typing those words makes my eye swell with tears.

If I had a million reasons why I love being the mama of boys before last Sunday, I now have a million and one.

Sunday morning I woke up feeling very sick, and decided to stay home with Joseph from Mass and try to rest.  From the couch I could see outside.  The sky was very overcast, and the cold wind swirled around a dusting of snow that was just a couple of inches shy of being deep enough to go sledding.

The boys will be disappointed, they've been waiting all winter to go sledding. 

As I stared out the window into the grey, I felt my heart sink deep.  I cannot be sick, Lord. The sick cannot take care of the sick. Please, make me well. Please.

The past couple of weeks have been a bit of a blur.  Steve's Lyme symptoms are cycling hard again. He is miserable, and I am finding it impossible to separate myself from his pain and frustration.  (I will write more about this later.) My family needs me, I cannot be sick, Lord, there is no time!!

When Steve and the boys returned from Mass, they ate quietly and played games and watched movies downstairs so that I could rest.  I tried hard to sleep, but my restlessness could not be calmed.  I began to feel anxious, because I knew I needed to sleep so that my body could heal before Monday's demands kicked in. Joseph was in a mood, too.  He only wanted me.  Everyone tried to cheer him up, but he fussed and fussed for my arms.

I'm usually not so easily overwhelmed, but I caught myself fighting back tears several times during the day.  Not because I felt sorry for myself, mind you, but because I was consumed with worry. And, every vitamin, essential oil, herbal supplement, healing tea etc., etc. was not working to rid my aching body of the bugs!!

Okay, I was feeling sorry for myself. I do not know how to suffer well. This, I know!

Just as I had resigned myself to the couch, thinking I might try to read with Joseph on my lap, the rest of the boys came charging up from the basement like a herd of donkeys (if you can imagine). Oy vey.

When I heard them digging around for odds and ends in our junk drawer, and strategizing between bursts of laughter and grunting, I realized that they were trying to figure out how to take an old broken Nerf basketball goal and attach it to our back door.
Within minutes they somehow figured out how to McGyver the goal into place.  Shoe laces and duct tape forever, man.
For the next TWO HOURS I completely forgot that I was sick.  Steve and I were wonderfully entertained as we watched with side stitches while all of the boys challenged each other to the most crazy scoring attempts they could come up with.
Off the ceiling, over the wall,  from a headstand,....oh, we belly laughed so hard at their hilarious testosterone charged efforts to get that tattered foam ball through the hoop! I am sure that the roar from their celebration every time they made a bucket could be heard by every neighbor around the block. I saw glimpses into their future college days. This indoor Nerf competition will probably either morph into a drinking game or at least be a serious form of procrastination from studying.  Just keepin' it real.
Even Charlie pulled up a front row seat to watch the action.  He made himself a safe place in the corner with his little stash of snacks and a cup of juice.  Oh, Charlie. You are so loved! I have looked at these pictures a hundred times, they make me so happy.  Splatter stained pajama top, pants pulled up chest high (classy), bed head, bare feet (the best!), and all of his best expressions.  Pure goodness!
Dad obviously had to throw up a couple of shots, ya know, just to remind the boys who they get all of their athletic gifts from.
No basketball for me yet, mom, I'm working on my wrestling moves. I call this the cranial crunch.
I've been super anxious over the past months, praying every sort of prayer possible for the Lord to guide us to a home in the country, because the boys really need room to run and explore and hunt and camp and just be boys. Every chipped up wall and shredded carpet corner reminds me of that.   I worry over everything for them.

Sunday's events settled my heart down (a little).   The boys reminded me to choose contentment, find joy, and to make the most of the present circumstances. In doing so I am able to trust in the Lord's plan for our family and to believe He truly is taking care of our every need.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey - Leave it in the Ashes


For the past couple of months, every single time I've opened up my laptop to jump on the internet to grab a recipe or respond to an e-mail, I've been bombarded with the world's apparent obsession with 50 Shades of Grey. Tidbits about the movie, the books, blog posts and news articles about the movie and the books, the soundtrack, the actors are everywhere. And, somehow it's all so very news-worthy (which astounds me, given the current international political climate).

I understand that when over 100 million copies of a book is sold, it's going to garner some serious attention.  What I don't understand is why this book?

I haven't read the Fifty Shades trilogy, nor do I plan to.  And Hollywood would have to cut my arm off before I'd hand over the money for a movie ticket. That being said, I have spent some time skimming through multiple news articles and blog posts, all offering perspectives from both sides of the fence, because I want to be able to dialog with other women about the books, should the opportunity arise.

Nearly every article I've covered so far has been an evaluation of the books or movie, pointing out the grave matter in each, and why they story is a terrible offense against women, a false representation of love in any form and an serious evil that should be avoided. This is all very well and good, and I support every effort out there that attempts to persuade folks to donate their books to the dumpster or to think twice about seeing the movie.

But, honestly, I think that if we're really going to reach the masses who have already been sucked into the lie that 50 Shades is in any way a worthwhile read, we have to go so much deeper than a pure dissection of the story's parts and all of the things that are morally wrong within it.
The quote above, which originally came from author Arsene Houssene, are indicative of our culture's reaction to the Fifty Shades phenomenon.  100 million copies sold of any publication isn't a number reflecting pure curiosity or an avid reader's desire to expand his or her repertoire. 100 million copies of pornographic erotica successfully marketed primarily to women gives positive probability that there is indeed a God-shaped hole in all of us, a hole that, if not filled with Christ, can be filled with anything except Christ.


...Jesus, wearied as He was with his journey, sat down beside the well.  There came a woman of Samaria to draw water.  Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."  The Samaritan woman said to him, "how is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" Jesus answered her, If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him and he would have given you the living water." - John 4: 6-10

We are all, in some way, the woman at the well.  A woman who thirsts, but is often times content with quenching her thirst with the water that the world has to offer.  Sometimes we are so thirsty that we can be convinced that even the unclean water is that which will satisfy us. 

What is it that we thirst for? Happiness? Peace? To love and to be loved?

Maybe we simply thirst for a life different from our own.  For many of us, the life we live now is not the life we planned for ourselves.  Who, at the altar, expects to encounter such crosses as loneliness, abuse, the loss of a child, neglect, infidelity, illness or financial struggles along the marital road? Not one of us.  Or, for the single person, who had hoped by now to be wed but is not, the struggle is very real. Yet, when these burdensome hardships arise, if we do not have Christ in our lives to anchor us deep in virtue, it is easy to be swept away by the lesser goods that the world has to offer.

Being swept away by the temptation into any kind of diversion from the pain of our current situation can be so very powerful, because any comfort-seeking measure temporarily helps us to forget how much life hurts. And, forgetting feels good.  Whatever diversion we choose, whether it be the 50 Shades kind or something else, the end is always the same - it all leaves us thirsting for more.

As my heart felt pressed to reach out to the 50 Shades readers, the scripture from the gospel of John regarding the woman at the well unfolded in a new way for me.  I thought I knew the story so well, but as I dug deeper, I began to see Jesus in a way I had never seen Him before.  I saw a Jesus who came seeking not water, but a woman who was lost, a woman who thirsted, a woman whose heart's longings were deeper than the depths of the well.

We learn from the scriptures that Jesus traveled out of His way to Samaria.  He placed himself in a potentially scandalous situation in order to meet and to speak to the woman at the well. He was a Jew, and he was a man.  Jews did not mingle with Samarians.  Men did not gather at the well.  The well was a place for women to congregate, to socialize, to gossip. Even His disciples pressed Him with the question, "Why are you talking to her?" 

In His perfect wisdom, His perfect love for the woman, Jesus did not tell the her why having multiple husbands was wrong, he did not go into a theological or moral pontification over the gravity of her sinful pursuits.  He simply expressed to her that HE, the living water, is the only thing that can ever, that will ever quench her thirsts.

How beautiful this is.  
He came for her.  
He sought her out.  
He offered himself unreservedly to her.

In His humanity, Jesus could speak to the woman from a place of deep understanding.  He, too, had been tempted.  He, too, had known (and would know) great suffering. He did not withhold from her the firmness of truth: she was living a life of sin.  But, His visit with her was not simply reduced to a lengthy lecture over her indiscretions.  We know that she was deeply touched by His mercy, His understanding and His promise of a real, authentic, fulfilling love, because she ran into the city to share her story with others.

Could it be that Jesus knew that the woman at the well was already very aware that her life of sin was wrong, but what she didn't know, or rather, what she didn't trust was that the Lord could fulfill the longings in her heart more than anyone or anything else? 

Are we, the Christian women of today, perhaps walking in her very same shoes? When the disordered content of books like 50 Shades of Grey is not enough to shock us, to offend us (aside from the disturbingly graphic sexual content of the story, the psychotic character, Christian Grey actually uses a wooden cross as an instrument of torture on his victims) I have to wonder if the strong temptation to read on is more a matter of trust.  

Simply accepting the fact that reading the book is wrong isn't enough motivation to put it down. The reader, or any of us for that matter, must also trust that Christ knows our every thirst, our every longing, our every pain, and that He will go out of his way to meet us where we are and to love us through our pain, just as He did for the woman at the well.

It is not enough for someone to say to the anorexic, EAT! Your body needs nourishment, you could die if you don't eat.  It is not enough to say to the alcoholic, stop drinking! Can you not see how destructive your behavior is when you drink.  This is true for every single one of our sins for every single sinful temptation that we struggle with. Acknowledging the temptation and the sin is just the beginning (just as Jesus told the woman of her sin), but it is not the end.  The end comes when we open ourselves to the One True Lover of our Souls, Jesus Christ, and allow ourselves to receive Him, the healing water, the only water that will quench our thirst.

Tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, we begin the season of Lent.  This is the time of year when we are invited to step back and examine our lives and ourselves in relation to Christ.  For those of us who are Catholic, we receive the ashes upon our forehead, reminding us or our mortality, Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return

The ashes also represent everything on this earth that has no eternal value, the things that we cling to, the things that we believe satisfy us, but truly leave us thirsting for something more. 

This Lent, may we find the courage to let go of those very things that separate us from the love of Christ.  May we find also the strength to leave them in the ashes, so that our hearts might be open to receive Him, the living water, who has come for us, who will continue to go out of His way in pursuit of us, so that in His love we might find the deepest satisfaction of our every longing in Him alone.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Let's Do This!! Get Inspired to Love Like Paul & to Help the Coakley Family


A couple of years ago, a dear friend of mine was going through some very difficult life circumstances.  It was a privilege for me to come along side her, to help in any way possible during her long months of struggles and suffering.  I remember one day she took me by the hand and said, 
"If there ever comes a time when you, too, are in need of help, 
I want you to know that I'll be here for you."  

Well, that time of struggle is here, and so is she, and I am so thankful to have her in my life!

You all have a story like this.  

Without even hesitating you have reached out to family, neighbors, friends and even family in times of great need, and perhaps those very same people have come to your aid. You drop everything to make meals, take over car-pool, give a donation, open your home, care for a child, anything to help someone who's needs are greater than your own.

This love, this generosity is beautiful.  
It's what, as Christians, we are called to do...
  
Love one another as I have loved you.  ~ John 13:34
A couple of months ago our family came to know the story of another truly inspiring family who's father was in a battle for his life against a very aggressive cancer.  People all over the world were inspired to pray for Paul, his wife Ann, and their sweet children.

Paul lost the battle against cancer, but his legacy lives on through his incredible family and through all of us who strive to live Paul's tremendous example of love, generosity, faith and courage in our daily lives.
Would you like to know more about this precious family? Are you are wondering how you can support Ann with your prayers or financial resources? I encourage you to visit their website, Love Like Paul, and share in any way you can today! If you have a blog, or a social media page, please consider sharing the Coakley's story with your networks (links below).


Thank you for taking the time to read this, and for being here with me each and every week. 
You guys are the BEST!!

Paul's Story: Live Like Paul
Fundraising Website: Love Like Paul
Twitter: @livelikepaul1




Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Keep Going, Just Keep Going!...5 {Fitness} Favorites


Last week our family enjoyed the beauty of two incredible days where the temps climbed all the way up to seventy degrees. You better believe we dashed through the school work in order to spend as much time outside as possible, soaking in the blessing of the warmth - a welcome retreat from the confines of home!

I was also able to sneak in a couple of longs runs, which gave me a serious hankering for spring, and deepened my excitement for the two half-marathons I have on schedule for May.  Here are five awesome race training favorites...
Fuel! Fuel is a super important part of any fitness routine.  Whether you run, bike, swim, CrossFit, or hit the gym every day, fueling well and fueling smart can make all the difference in the world. One of my favorite fuels that is budget friendly, easy to make, good for you (and for your kids), and super yummy are these protein bites.  A good friend of mine gave me the recipe a couple of years ago, and I've been hooked ever since.  You can whip them up in a jiffy (no baking!)!

When it comes to working out, more important than fueling is hydration. Typically athletes think of staying hydrated during and after a workout, but it's really important to go into a workout already in a good state of hydration.  Your muscles are 80% water, so optimal performance depends on hydration. I love the Nuun line of products for so many reasons.  The Nuun All Day, or Nuun U Natural are great for sipping on throughout the day, and Nuun Active and Nuun Energy are perfect for endurance sports.  Our boys love the tabs and have been sharing them with their fellow athletes. I think we've inspired some Gatorade die-hards to make the switch!

/3./  Athlights
Do you love to run, walk, or bike outdoors in the evening? Me too! But, I see a lot of people out on the roads at sunset without any type of reflective gear on, and this is not wise! I came across an article in Runner's World featuring a product called Athlights.  They are little magnetic blinking lights that you can attach to your clothing, hats, fuel belts or bicycle. I love their versatility, that you don't have to wrestle with awkward or uncomfortable straps, and that kids can use them, too. Stick some to the fridge and they'll always be right there where you need them!

Setting any kind of fitness goal requires a good amount of grit and determination, especially if you're going solo.  I love to keep a Pinterest board full of encouraging fitness quotes that help me stay positive and to feel encouraged when training gets tough.  Our little athletes also enjoy reading them with me - bonus!

/5./  Sworkit
When the snow and ice keep me from getting outdoors, I move my training indoors.  We don't have a gym membership or a treadmill, and I'm not a big fan of exercise videos.  But, I really like the Sworkit app a lot.  It's mobile, user friendly, and you never get the same work-out twice.  You can choose between strength training, cardio, yoga, stretching, abs and more.  There's something for everyone at every level.  Every exercise comes with a visual demo, verbal cues for changing exercises, and a custom timer in five minute increments.  Added bonus? No annoying music.  Turn on your favorite jams and you're ready to go!

When it comes to exercise and goal-setting,
What keeps you going??


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Fifty- Two Kleenexes For the Love of Mr. Joseph


Man, am I glad Monday is over!

Yesterday was a DOOZY!  I actually woke up feelin' pretty peppy, kind of like, C'mon Monday, watcha got, watcha got?  Never taunt a Monday. Never.

About five minutes into my strut, Charlie puked on me. Let's just say that the day was a steady down-hill wedgie from that point on.  Thankfully, I found a bag of chocolates leftover from Christmas buried in the corner of the pantry, (good things come to those who are willing to dig) the ones I skillfully hid during my last tour of the Whole30. That, and a funny little list of child-friendly cursers sure came in handy for medicating my splitting nerves.

Of course nothing says stick it, Monday like cooking with wine, (supper preparations began promptly at 2:00 p.m.) and Julia Child's Beef Bourgingion did not disappoint! With three cups of wine in the sauce we  I didn't let a drop go to waste *wink-wink*.

Even though we have a mad case of the pukes and sniffles in this house, I don't want you to think we're all down and out around here.  There's always something to smile about, something to be thankful for, like this little fella:
Can you believe he's seven months already?? 
His recent hobbies include buffing up with the plank position which moves smoothly into a lightening speed crawl across the living room.  He keeps his toned yet cuddly physique extra squishy with plentiful helpings of rice cereal and milk.
Mr. fit is on a bit of a detour from his normal routine since the poor little guy has a terrible cold.  Oh, how he breaks my heart with his glassy, lovin'-eyed smile.  Nose running, eyes watering, and he still offers us all the sweetest grin on a minute-to-minute basis.
Last night, after all of the boys were tucked in soundly, I picked up a trail of tissues through the house - 52 tissues - to be exact. I know, snotty tissues strewn about the house, yuk, right? I'm not gonna win the Miss Sanitation award any time soon.  But, to me, the tissues were remnants of pure goodness left behind by the brothers for me to remember what is my most important work in this home, and that is to foster and nurture love.
No need for a pacifier, the bottom lip will due.
Fifty-two times yesterday the boys noticed that Joseph needed his nose wiped, and they gently and thoughtfully tended to his sniffles.
Ben is very camera shy, like his mama, so I had to sneak around the corner with my phone to snap these pics of him changing Joey's pj's.  He's always asking if he can help with Joseph, and is such a natural when it comes to caring for him.

I love to see the boys' tenderness and attentiveness toward him.  On Sunday afternoon I ran to town to purchase a few things that I knew we would need to get through the next few days. Before I left, Henry grabbed my arm before I sprinted out the door and, with serious urgency, pleaded on Joey's behalf for me to buy the kleenexes that have "wotion" on them, because the "wotion" ones are softer and won't make his nose red and ouchie.

What makes a 7 year old think of such things? He had no idea how his kindness flooded my heart with joy.

Beneath all the grit and grime, the rough and tough of boys there is a real sensitivity, and genuine desire to care for others, more so than I often give them credit for.

Although the days at home with the boys teaching school and keeping the house in one piece can sometimes be long and arduous, the very thing that keeps me from being completely overwhelmed is their love, and the beautiful relationships that are growing within that love.  What a gift to have a front row seat to it all.







Wednesday, January 28, 2015

40+ From-the-Heart {not from Target} Gift Ideas for Valentine's Day


I was inspired by two great loves to write this Valentine's Day post.  The first was my dad, who has always had a passion for small business, small towns, hard working people, the entrepreneurial spirit and generosity. I've always known him to be a faithful supporter of the "Main Street" businesses and, by his faithful example, he has taught his children to do the same. 

The second inspiration was the book, A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken. Just after getting married, I picked up a copy and quickly fell in love with every page of this beautiful story. It's deep, rich simplicity taught me to delight, in a new way, the precious reality that to love someone is not just to celebrate the things you have in common, but to selflessly embrace everything that you don't have in common, too.  To take a sincere interest in, and to learn about the things your spouse appreciates or enjoys in life is a beautiful act of love. What a joy to discover and come to know everything about the one you love, and to embrace that one soul with your entire being! 

What if this Valentine's Day, instead of the typical commercialized gift of chocolates or roses, we all decided to give something that not only said I love you, but also, I know you? To receive a well thought out gift from someone who truly knows your heart, your interests, your hobbies, your dreams, your goals (or at least your favorite college football teamis a glorious surprise, isn't it??

And, what if this Valentine's Day we all drove on past the Target parking lot and instead hit the Main Streets of America in support of those wonderful little businesses that are just waiting to share something with us, something unique, something special? 

Just think, no circling the big box store parking lots only to be cut off by a teenager driving a faster car than your mini-van. No long lines, no marathon sprinting from one end of the warehouse to the other in search of the perfectly mass-produced gift.  Instead, how about a friendly hello, may I help you, thank you for stopping in, and a hearty come back soon??! Mmmm....that sounds nice! 

Perhaps the loveliness sounds ideal but nearly impossible for so many of you busy moms out there. Well, if your life is anything like like mine, and the mere thought of keeping six squirmy kids away from the breakables makes you sweat, then you're in luck! I just happen to have a perfect little list of fantastic businesses you can support at home, on the couch, in your jammies, from your laptop. 


It's a virtual Main Street just for you!! 

A hearty thanks to everyone who took the time to link up their favorite Etsy stores on my Facebook page. You all truly know where to shop! Here's a visual perk of a few of my faves:
/1./ His and Her Puzzle Necklace from Your Charmed Life (Making a wish list for this site!)
/2./ Gold Heart Shoes by Bad Bebe
/3./ Screen Printed Tea Towel from Oh, Little Rabbit
/4./ Live Like Paul T-Shirt - please support Team Ann and Paul Coakley
(If you don't buy anything else this Valentine's Day, BUY THIS SHIRT!)
/5./ Beard and Mustache grooming set from One DTQ
/6./ J.R.R. Tolkien Cuff Links from Bridgie & Green  (Seriously?? How awesome are these??!!)
/7./ Neckties from Petite Peanut (I dare you to find anything cuter than a boy in a bow tie. Double dare.)

For the Littles
BKY Kid - father/son matching shirts (must. have. these.)
Penny Jules - beaded hair combs (lovely for the locks) 
Whole Parenting Goods (Um, everything here, please.)
Little Crane Headbands - simple yet adorable hair accessories
Wild Explorers - beautiful baby mocs for squishy feet
Mary's Knits - beanies for babies (You must see the photos on this page!)
Petite Peanut  - neckties for your dapper dude
Baby Jives Co. - sweet heart mobile

Clothing & Accessories
Jill Makes - unique jewelry pieces
Call Her Happy - tiny, sweet, embroidery hoop necklaces
Brag, Bling & Bows - the perfect bling for athlete mamas
Todd Borka - hand drawn custom portrait pendants
Ashcraft Creative - hand tooled leather goods
Your Charmed Life - personalized jewelry, key chains and guitar picks
WiReD - jewelry
That Chic Mom T's - Fun, quirky t's for moms
Gameday Couture - Super cute gameday wear


Paper Goods
With Joy Calligraphy - cards, decorative quotes and stationary
Dovetail Ink - beautiful artwork
Fancy Flamingo - burlap and paper banners
Klamoty Studio - custom cartoon style portraits
Best Design Land - instant download cards/wall graphics

For the Guys
Jude Landry Designs - graphic prints on paper and clothing
Bridgie & Green - J.R.R.Tolkien cuff links
Mintage Designs - rustic beer tote
One DTQ - beard and mustache grooming set
Your Charmed Life - personalized guitar Picks
Gameday Couture - Okay, so this is really for the ladies, but the guys will love it, too!

For Your Dwelling Place
Magic Crochet by Helena - cozy hug mug
Audrey Eclectic - beautiful American folk art
Do Small Things With Love - cross stitch
Lizzy Joe Designs - wine cork coasters
Ridge and Valley Metalworks - garden signs and home state love
Mixed Bag Sign Co. - creative quotes and designs for your walls
ME Designs - personalized name with bible verse
The Fair Line - fair trade goods

Faith Filled Gifts
Organic Mamas Shop - So many beauties!
(50% of your purchase goes toward helping the Coakleys!)
Blessed is She - devotions, prints, bible studies
Signs of Love - My morning coffee has just found a new mug!
The Crossmakers - handheld wooden crosses
Trendy Traditions - rosaries
St. Luke's Brush - mini saint figurines
Divine Designs - jewelry

A Twist on Traditional Gifts
The Little Succulent Shoppe - In lieu of roses, a heart shaped succulent wreath.
Artisan Chocolates - Because, there must be chocolate on Valentine's Day!
Treesnail - aaromatherapy + lip balm set


Do you have a favorite Etsy store or 
online business you'd like for us to visit? 
Please share it with us in the comments!