Sunday, June 11, 2017

My Interview With Thriving In the Trenches, and Why Modesty Means So Much to Me

As the mother of three little boys and four young men, summertime is always a busy, yet very exciting season for our family.  For me, personally, it's shuttling kids to baseball games, sports camps, running meals out to my hungry crew working in the field, and doubling down on purity talks with the oldest in our gang.

You read that right.

I have come to dread the fashion so typical of summer - short shorts, barely-there swim suits, high hemlines, etc., etc.  I dread it because everywhere we go, I mean everywhere, including church (which saddens me greatly), I see my boys constantly having to avert their eyes.  I sense their discomfort in the presence of any lady immodestly dressed, and my heart aches for them -  for them, and for the girl.

I never gave much thought to the importance of modesty and fashion until I became a mom and came to understand, with great intensity, the importance of my duty to raise our sons in the way of purity and virtue.

Modest dress wasn't really a topic my parents had to discuss with me as a young person. Knee length shorts, flannels, and waist-high jeans were what everyone wore back in the day (virtual fist bump to all my 90's homies out there!).  My mom and dad had more reason to be concerned about my choice of music and the obscene amount of hairspray I went through on a weekly basis, than they did about my choice of clothing. If you saw my bangs back then, you would understand.

So, when I was asked by Becky Carter and Megan Schrieber, the hosts and founders of the incredible podcast series, Thriving in the Trenches, if I would be willing to dialogue with them on the topic of modesty, I was both excited and hesitant.

Excited, because I truly enjoy writing and conversing with others on the topics relating to authentic masculinity and femininity, and how God has created us as men and women to be true expressions of his love and beauty in this world.

Hesitant, because I don't ever want my passions for, and expressions of the truth, to communicate a lack of sensitivity toward those who may not know that their choice of dress has a such strong impact upon the opposite sex.

Although the topic of modesty can cover a variety of facets, a few of which include modesty in speech and affection, I knew that Becky and Megan were hoping to dive into the arena of fashion, which can sometimes be a hefty topic, especially amongst mothers.

If you know me, you might be wondering why a mother with seven sons would even care to begin a dialog on modesty.  The reason why I care is the very reason why I accepted Becky and Megan's invitation.  I care about modesty, because I care about my sons.  I care about their friends.  I care about the girls whom they may one day have the privilege of dating and possibly even marrying.

I care about your girls.  I care about you.  I care about us.

I've written about modesty before, but as our sons are growing well into their teen and late-teen years, I'm becoming even more passionate about the topic.  If you're thinking I can't possibly understand how terribly difficult and frustrating it is to find modest, yet fashionable clothing for a daughter since I don't have one of my own, you are right!

I cannot fully understand, but, I can empathize!

The other day I popped into a local boutique in search of a dress for my son's 8th grade graduation. To my great disappointment,  I sifted through nearly a dozen racks before finding something that was longer than the tan line from my running shorts.  Every option prior to the one I found left me wondering, is this a shirt or a dress??

Ladies, if the answer to hat question is, it's a dress, keep shopping.

I've conversed with so many mothers over the years whose shopping expeditions with their daughters require an adequate supply of chocolate, wine, and Hail Mary's.  The struggle is more than real.

But I need you to keep struggling.

Please. Keep working, keep dealing with the eye-rolls and heavy sighs, the piles of ill-fitting garments on the dressing room floor, the non-stop marathon trek from store to store to store.

Why do I ask this of you? Because, in order for the boys in this world to become the kind of men your daughters need and deserve (not just in marriage, but in friendship, in work relationships, and in general every-day encounters), they need your help.

I need your help.

My husband and I take very seriously the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual formation of our sons.  Every day involves some kind of conversation with regards to the greatness - yes, the greatness of their calling as men to honor and uphold the dignity of every woman they meet. This is why neither belching at the table, nor form-tackling a girl for the last bite of brownie is ever appropriate (not that they do that, but they might if they had a sister).

I can go on and on about the beauty and wonder of a girl, how she is truly a masterpiece, made in the image and likeness of God, I can fill our son's minds with the highest theological truths of God's design for men and women, their complimentary roles, and what the role of man is in relation to woman, but none of it - I mean none of it will anchor into their souls unless the girls they meet represent that truth to them.

As women, we cannot speak beauty and truth into the hearts of men if our words and our actions, noble though they may be, are overshadowed by the cry for attention that comes from immodest dress. This is not meant to be a shaming or a criticism! I'm a daughter, I'm a woman, too. I speak this message to myself as well, and I share these points with a heart of love and encouragement!

Just as girls should never be criticized or marginalized for their emotional and sensitive tendencies (those are gifts!), neither should men be looked down upon for being visually attracted to women. God has placed this instinct in man's nature for a purpose, and though it is one that must be reigned by prudence and self-control, it has the potential to serve a wonderful purpose in healthy, respectful relationships.

This is where modest dress comes into play.  The mystery of modest dress not only shows respect and consideration for our brothers in Christ, but it also offers them the opportunity, or better yet, the challenge to get to know a woman.  Men love a challenge!

Guys don't need any help realizing how beautiful our bodies are.  Lack of imagination is not one of their weaknesses.  But they do need help seeing the beauty of our interior.  If what we truly long for is for a man to appreciate both our external and interior beauty, it is important that our choice of clothing ultimately directs a man's attention to our interior.

I witnessed a wonderful representation of this very fact a few weeks ago at a high school graduation party. While juggling our one year old on my lap and casually picking out the baked beans he had so generously smeared in my hair, I saw our oldest two sons conversing with a charming group of young ladies.  Each of them were modestly dressed in super-fun attire.  Their faces glowed with goodness and joy.

While our sons may have experienced severe deodorant failure over being tongue tied in the presence of such loveliness, they were eventually able to relax and be themselves, able to make eye-contact and carry on conversation within the group. Because they weren't distracted by anyone's immodest dress, they could be attracted to their goodness!

It's truly incredible to think that a woman's beautiful, yet modest presence alone is enough to make a man stand taller, think sharper, work harder, and pray for a whit and humor that will attract us to him! I call that powerful! I call that freedom - when we simply trust in the sincere goodness and beauty that God has created within us with as women, we do not have to act in opposition to our nature by dressing inappropriately, in order to convince a man that we are worthy of his kindness and respect. We simply just have to be ourselves.

Man will not rise up to the excellence he is called to by God, if we continue to diminish his potential with our lack of attentiveness to our own call to true femininity.  A world of ladies will spur on a world of gentlemen, and a world of gentlemen will give rise to a world of ladies.

Yesterday, I asked a wonderful friend of mine, a mother of teen girls, what she believes is the biggest hurdle for girls in understanding their personal dignity and how it relates to the way that they dress.

Her answer was simple: self image.

Her words are true.  I don't think any girl has ever not questioned her self worth at one time or another.  If girls do not feel good about who they are on the inside, they will naturally place a higher priority on the exterior image in order to achieve the sense of affirmation and attention they long for.

This is why I dearly long for girls to understand their personal sense of dignity, purpose, value and worth. Because when they do, the choice to dress modestly will come more naturally.  They will find that they can trust their gifts, trust who they were made to be, and in the end see that they have a great ability to inspire the men of this world to also be who they are meant to be - providers and protectors of the lives and dignity of women, men who honor, uplift, support, and acknowledge the treasure of womanhood in this world.

I pray my boys will one day become such men.

{If you care to listen to the podcast, here is the link: Modesty as an Act of Charity }

Monday, May 22, 2017

For Our Andrew: A Letter From Your Mama's Heart in Honor of Your 8th Grade Graduation

May 17, 2017

Dear Andrew,

Today the pace of our home has been alive with an energetic rhythm of both excitement and determination as we make preparations to celebrate your graduation.  Despite the busy hum of our enthusiasm, the voice of the Holy Spirit has spoken into my distracted soul, reminding me to find some quiet time with the Lord before the close of the day. So, here I am, writing this letter to you in the presence of our Lord, at the adoration chapel on the eve of your 8th grade graduation.  I have come to pray for many of our dear friends, family, and even strangers whose intentions I have promised to lift up, but I have come with greater intent to pray for you.

Over the past few days, with the realization that you have reached yet another milestone of life, my heart has been overwhelmed with feelings of both sadness and joy.  Sadness, because I am coming to understand, with greater clarity, that I cannot slow time down, nor can I live in the memory of your littleness, even though I so often wish to.  I do not expect you to understand this particular grief that every mother must endure, this loss of time with her children, and I only share it with you so that you may know how much you are loved. For it is as St. Gianna Beretta Molla said, "We cannot love without suffering, and we cannot suffer without love."

Intertwined with this grief is an immense joy that fills my soul as I contemplate, and fully acknowledge, the incredible young man you are becoming, and the great adventures you have yet to live in seeking out God's purpose for your life.  How fresh and beautiful are the possiblitlities that lie within one's youth! Your father and I can only encourage you to seek, with every ounce of confidence and enthusiasm you can muster, the dreams and goals that reside in your heart!

As you journey through the next four years of high school many people will tell you that you can do anything, or be anything you want to do or want to be.  Though they mean well, this is simply not true.  You cannot do anything or be anything you want, because you were not created to do just anything, you were created to do something! Something particular, something special! You have been graced with a very specific set of gifts and talents, and those gifts were given to you so that you may fulfill a very specific purpose in this life. You are to become the person God has created you to be, and it is in the discovery of that person that you will find a true freedom and an everlasting joy.

This may sound like a narrow minded way of thinking, but rather, consider it to be a narrow focus.  A focus which seeks the narrow path, a path that opens up into a vast and beautiful world of opportunity, of contentment, of joy, and above all the glorification of a good and gracious God who wishes to be known and to be made known.

In the years ahead, time and time again, you will also hear the words, "Be yourself," and "Believe in yourself."  I have no doubt that you will be anything less than your funny, kind, generous, thoughtful, hard-working self.  But, as for believing in yourself, remember that while self confidence is a vital component in our approach to success, it is a weak approach if not accompanied by an earnest belief in God at work within you.  

When He is the very root of your goals and dreams, when you anchor your efforts and determination in Him, all things will come to fruition as they should.  With this perspective, and through this act of faith, you will not only reap the fulfillment of hard won victories and personal accomplishments, but also the greater victory of a virtuous life...a life in which you come to understand and embrace the truth that the most enduring rewards are those that we obtain along the pathway to our goal, for they will far outlast the reward of reaching the goal itself.

Finally, my dear son, although you already have a firm and mature understanding of my last note of encouragement, I hope you don't mind if I share it once more.  Academics, athletics, GPA's, medals, awards....they will all come and go, shine then fade, be celebrated and all too soon forgotten.  But one thing that remains of upmost importance, above and beyond your goals and dreams, is people.  People matter most. 

Every opportunity, every work the Lord places before you is, of course, for you, but it is also for others. Others who need to be served, others who need a friend, a listening ear, a word of encouragement, a good example, or a prayer.  Remember these people. Remember also that you, my son, will need people, too.  You will need a friend, a listening ear, a word of encouragement, a good example, and prayers. Let these people love you in return, for they are Christ loving you. 

When I became a mother, the Lord spoke into my heart the wisdom that all our children have come from Him, and you and your brothers are all on a journey back to Him.  The next four years will be a grand part of that journey. No matter how smooth or rough the roads you travel may be, know with certainty that your father and I are here for you, that we believe in you, and in the Lord working in you, and we hope and pray that you will live life to the full, running well the race set before you! {Hebrews 12:1}



Thursday, January 26, 2017

Dessert to the Rescue: Toasted Snowballs in Homemade Chocolate Sauce

A couple of years ago, I made this dessert for my family for the first time.  Ever since then, they ask for it often (like, every day). The original recipe came from Susan Branch's cookbook, Autumn.  The recipe below is generally the same with just few slight adaptations of my own. This dessert can be made ahead of time, which is nice if you are having guests over. To serve, simply warm the syrup, make a puddle on your favorite dish and place a snowball in the center.  If you want to get fancy, serve with a mint leaf garnish on the side. Enjoy!!

To Toast the Coconut:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread sweetened coconut on a cookie sheet (I use about 1/2 bag for 1/2 gallon ice cream) and bake for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until toasted. Watch it carefully, it can burn quickly!

To Prepare the Ice Cream:
Note: If you can find cinnamon ice-cream at your grocer, that is the easiest way to prepare this dessert. I, however, have not been able to find it over the past couple of years, so this is my improvisation!

Soften 1/2 gallon of good vanilla bean ice cream, and scoop out the entire container into a large bowl. In a smaller bowl combine until well blended 1/2 cup (do not pack) brown sugar3 tablespoons of ground cinnamon (more or less to your liking) and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

Sprinkle cinnamon mixture over ice cream and stir until well combined.  You can use a stand up mixer with a paddle attachment if you like, but do not use a hand mixer.  Return to freezer until firm enough to scoop into balls that will hold their shape.

Scoop out 1/2 cup size portions into round balls and roll in coconut, giving each one a generous coating.  Store in an airtight container until ready to serve.  I like to make these ahead of time, but you can save this step until you are ready to serve if you like.

Homemade Chocolate Sauce Recipe:
 **You will never buy Hershey's syrup ever again!!**
3/4 c. milk (whole milk works best)
1 Tbs. real butter
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate (use a high quality baking chocolate)
1 1/2  c. sugar
3 Tbs. light corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla (Mexican vanilla is wonderful if you have it!)

Note: If you do not have unsweetened chocolate on hand, you may also substitute 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips and reduce the sugar amount to 1 cup, and the recipe will turn out fine.

Heat milk over low heat and melt butter and chocolate in it, stirring constantly until smooth.  Add in sugar and corn syrup and cook, stirring for about 5 minutes.  Stir in vanilla.  Serve hot or cold. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Any leftover sauce is best polished off during the kids' nap time, and pairs well with everything, including the crusts of leftover pb & j sandwiches caked in Cheetos dust. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

All the Thanks A Blog Could Ever Hold & Highlights of Our Holiday Homecoming With Steve

A million and more thanks go out to all of you who have reached out to us with love, support, encouragement, humor, hugs, pizza deliveries, and faithful prayers since my last post!

If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, then the way to a mom's heart is through a well-stocked freezer! A fantastic Meal Train was set up for us by Steve's sister, Jen, and words cannot adequately express just how thankful I am for this amazing gift. It has truly been a sanity saver for me. I swear I can hear angels singing every time I open the freezer door (or maybe that's just the happy hearts of our boys, who are eating like kings these days)!

You have nourished not just our bodies, but our spirits as well, as our mailbox no longer just holds bills, but also kind notes and beautiful, generous gifts that we can only hope to pay forward one day.

The body of Christ is real, people.  It is strong.  It is powerful. And, with all sincerity, I mean it when I say we have felt the outpouring of graces that flow between the Cross and all of you and all of us.

A million and more thanks. Sincerely.

An update on Steve...

He has good days and bad days.  The doctors explained to us that Steve would feel worse before he would feel better, so he actually welcomes the bad days, because when he feels awful he knows that the medication and supplements are killing the infections in his body, which is the name of the game with Lyme and toxicity. (The reaction Lyme patients often experience in response to their prescribed medications is called a Herxheimer reaction, which you can read about here.)

Some of you have asked why Steve is staying in Florida, and the answer is because the majority of his medications and detox regimens are administered to him intravenously on a daily basis, with the exception of Saturdays and Sundays. This strict protocol requires him to remain close to the clinic.

Thanks to the generous help and support of family, we have not been apart from Steve for the entire seven weeks of his absence.  The boys and I, (along with Steve's family) were able to fly to Florida over the Christmas holiday for a reunion.
 Joseph's primary love languages are feasting and smooching. His kisses are like super juicy.  He will be homeschooled until he's 30. Because, sheltering, that's what we do, right??
Sweet Reunion

With military-level amounts of strategic planning, and a solid zone defense, we were able to make it through the airport without losing any children or luggage, and we even managed to avoid being sniffed out by the canine unit, despite having beef jerky and Pop Rocks in our backpacks. Whew!

Steve is staying at a nice little apartment complex close to the clinic, so it was an adventure for the boys (not so much their mother) to experience apartment living for a few days.  They thought the tennis courts and pool were a reasonable trade-off for the lack of sleeping space.

Apartment dwelling was really just our normal frat house living times ten.  Extra cozy = extra stinky. I put in a request for happy hour with management, but haven't heard back from them yet.
During our visit Steve continued to receive his treatments in the mornings, which left most of our afternoons open for sight-seeing or hanging out at the beach.
As I scroll through all of the the photos I captured on our trip, I feel humbled by Steve's quiet strength and the very noble way in which he bore his pains so quietly, so as to try and maintain a cheerful atmosphere at all times for the boys.
His love for them, and for me, truly is heroic.

{Please enjoy this reel of yeller snapshots, while I research "how to set your camera for beach photography."}
Watching the kids bask in hours of carefree fun, enjoying the beauty of the beach and the warmth of the sun, was a great distraction from the weight of our worries.
We were the most fair skinned fannies out on the sand! Even our farmer tans from last summer had faded.  Sunblock me, baby!
The spoils of fishing victory. Yes, George asked if we could eat those baby hammerheads for supper. I'm tellin' ya, he is the next Bear Grylls. At least I know when he leaves for college he'll never be hungry. 

What a relief.
We all agreed it felt a little strange not being wrapped in fleece and slathered in chapstick over the Christmas break (but, we survived).  

Henry informed me that he would rather have sand down his shorts than snow up his coveralls any day.  

Chaffing vs. frostbite.  It's a toss up.
The beach is such a perfect place for kids.  They are completely entertained with the sand for hours at a time. If this were my backyard I would have time to take a nap and shave my legs.  Those are my big dreams these days.
The top two boys are getting really good at dodging the camera.  While I respect their mamarazzi denial wishes, at times I must insist on them taking turns being a prop for the littlest man.  

I call this one "whispies."  The oldest and the youngest and their matching beach blown hair-dos.  A perfect end to an imperfect post!

I just have to say thanks, again, for your prayers.  They are the momentum behind our every movement, propelling us forward, one step at a time towards Steve's healing! 

More updates to come...

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Our Lady Undoer of Knots & Our Decision to Send Steve to Florida

When I started this blog a few years ago, the idealistic part of me assumed that it would be a place to share family stories, pics of our growing boys, favorite books and recipes, and maybe a tidbit here and there about homeschooling and farm life.

There's always something my mothering heart longs to write about, because writing has always been a special kind of joy, a therapy after long days of diaper changes and dish duty.

But, over the past couple of years, as the length of time between posts has widened from a few days, to a few weeks, to now a few months, I am accepting that the emptiness of this little virtual space may become something permanent, as the order of priority and charity in my heart for our family has far exceeded anything I've ever been called to in the past.

Many of you have been asking about Steve and his current situation concerning his health.  So, while the baby naps, I will attempt to piece together a somewhat coherent explanation of the latest happenings with him.

Three years ago, Steve was diagnosed with Lyme disease.  Early on, many of his symptoms pointed to a possibility of ALS and MS, but thankfully we were able to rule out those diseases as possible diagnoses.  Since I have already written about Steve's journey with Lyme and trichothecene infections up to this point (which you can read about here, herehere, and here if you are so inclined) I will not go into more detail, but will try to catch you up on where he is now.

Since his diagnosis, he has seen a number of doctors of different specialties who have attempted to rid his body of the Lyme bacteria (specifically borrelia burgdorferi and babesia) as well as the toxins from mold (trichothecenes) which have infected his body through his work with hay and wheat straw as well as from our home, which we discovered a year ago contained mold in a small area in our basement, but has since been remediated.

The infections and toxins in his body have compromised his immune and endocrine systems, which has made many of his symptoms worsen.  The specialists he has seen in hopes of building those symptoms back up have had little or no success with their prescribed treatments.

A year ago we heard about a clinic in Florida that specializes in treating Lyme disease, toxicity, and really every kind of illness imaginable.  At that time we seriously considered sending Steve south, but since the clinic would require a relocation for an undetermined amount of time, we decided to post pone it as an option because we were expecting our seventh child, and we didn't feel that it was a prudent option due to distance, separation from family and finances.

Instead we chose to exhaust all medical resources within close proximity, including the Hansa Center, which proved to be of minimal benefit to Steve.  After our son, Blaise, was born last May, Steve's symptoms, most of which are neurological in nature (severe headaches, pain behind the eyes, electrical frequencies in the brain at night which make it impossible to sleep) but also include muscle twitching, exhaustion, memory loss and an inability to concentrate, focus, or articulate his thoughts, began to worsen.
Papa snuggling with Blaise just days before his departure.

I could see and feel that he was becoming so discouraged, even depressed.  It took every ounce of energy and focus for him to keep our hay brokerage business and custom farming operations going, all the while he remained so devoted and present to our family, which brings me to tears just thinking about it.

Like most Lyme suffers, Steve looks pretty normal, and he has learned to cope with his symptoms so well, that people rarely realize just how sick he is.  When I visit with others who are in his same shoes, they also find that it's just easier to put on a smile and trudge through the day than to try to explain to others how debilitating the infection really is.

In early November I decided to pray a novena to Our Lady Undoer of Knots. I have sincere trust in her great desire to carry our deepest, dearest petitions to her Son. On the final day of the novena, Steve's symptoms were the worst I had ever seen. I can't describe how painful it is to see him suffer so much.  That night, I left for a couple of hours to attend a party, and when I came back we spent a long time talking about a webinar that he had watched which was presented by the head doctor of the Sponougle Wellness center, the clinic in Florida he had considered attending a year ago. The webinar just happened to be focused on Steve's very symptoms, specifically the ones affecting his brain.

At the end of our conversation, we both knew it was time for us to take a leap of faith and send Steve to Florida for treatment.  Thankfully, the clinic was able to accept him as a patient, but we didn't anticipate that it would all happen so soon - he would have to leave before Christmas.

On December 4th, Steve and I flew to Florida and immediately jumped in to meetings with doctors, nurses, and other staff at the clinic.  We also set up an apartment close to the clinic where he'll be staying for the duration of his treatments.

After over 40 blood tests, several UA's and a Pet Scan were reviewed, the doctors were able to pinpoint the causes of Steve's symptoms and put together a comprehensive treatment plan to heal his body of Lyme disease, trichothecenes, petrochemicals (from years of farm and mechanic work), blood parasites (which are carried by mosquitoes, ticks, and flies - more on that later), and a low functioning immune and endocrine system.

I returned home from Florida on December 8th, the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  When my flight landed in Kansas City, I received a text of this image from Steve with the message attached:

Stopped at a church on the way home from the airport to attend holy mass this morning.  
When I walked in, this image of Our Lady Undoer of Knots was the first thing I saw.  

I knew instantly that it was a confirmation of our prayers.

There's so much more to tell. I will try to write more in the coming days about Steve's treatment and also our family's trip to visit him in Florida over the Christmas holiday.

With all my heart I thank you for every single one of your prayers and sacrifices offered up for Steve, and for taking the time to reach out to us through texts, phone calls, and Facebook messages. Your love and friendship is sustaining us!