Wednesday, October 28, 2015

And the Big Brother Club Gains a New Member

Hello, Joseph.  

Welcome to the Big Brother Club.

Sometime in May, you will no longer hold the title of Baby of the Family, but will move up the ranks to the honorary position of Big Brother.

Your promotion to Big Brother is a privilege, and it with it comes great responsibility.  We know that giving up your place as Baby will be difficult at times, but trust us, becoming a big brother is awesome.

Right now, as a 16 month old tot,  you have absolutely no idea what it means to be a member of something so special, but soon you will. And when the time comes, we will be right here to show you the ropes.  You're gonna be a great big bro, Joey, and one thing's for certain, you're gonna love it. 

We promise.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Running the Chicago Marathon & Why I Believe In Redemptive Suffering

I could never run a marathon. Heck, I couldn't even run a mile.
This is what most people tell me.  And what do I tell them?
 Yes, yes you could.
But, I don't say those words just to be kind, or because it's the polite response. I say them because I mean them.  And I mean them, because I believe them. And I believe them, because I have seen them to be true with my very own eyes.

Those "I could never run a mile" people were right beside me, and even up ahead of me at the Chicago Marathon.  They were ordinary people, just like you and me, all ages, all shapes and sizes, all abilities and strengths, putting one foot in front of the other one mile at a time.

Sometimes I think people have a stereotype of who runners are, and especially what they look like. But go and stand along the course of any race, and those stereotypes will be shattered.

Running a marathon really isn't all that special.  What is special is the reason why people run.  There's always that select few that are out there just for sport, to add another medal to their collection, to shatter a PR, to attain bragging rights, or the 26.2 bumper sticker badge of honor.

But, in my experience, those people are truly the minority.  The majority of us submit ourselves to eighteen long weeks of training inspired by reasons far bigger than a race, far bigger than ourselves.

Over the long, demanding weeks of training, I became very attached to those "reasons,"  because I carried them with me, every day, every mile.  Friends and family battling cancer, friends whose children who are fighting cancer, my husband and everyone out there who is enduring the horrors of lyme disease, the women who are contemplating abortion and those who suffer the traumas of abortion....the list of intentions that crossed the finish line with me was long, but I loved every one of them, and they became the very reason that I made it to the end.

It probably sounds strange to run for sake of others.  How can this even be possible? How can an intention be transformed into something tangible, something real? Redemptive suffering is a great mystery and no small topic to try to unravel.  I think it's best explained through the evidence of action rather than words.

At the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon I was humbled at the sight of a group of firefighters who ran the entire marathon in full gear.  Full. Gear.  Why didn't they just wear a fire fighter t-shirt, shorts and comfy shoes like the rest of us? They didn't do the easy thing, because, the easy thing was not enough.  

There's something within each of us that longs to unite ourselves to the suffering of others - it goes deeper than compassion, deeper than empathy, deeper than writing a check or donating to a cause. It's the willful, purpose-filled sacrifice, the taking up of the cross and placing it upon our own shoulders out of love for our brothers and sisters.

This is what Christ did. He did not wave a wand and say I have come to set you free.  He paid for our freedom, by willingly submitting himself to the agony of the cross. When we witness this kind of love, we cannot question it, nor deny it.  The desire that lies within each one of us to suffer for the sake of others, is Christ alive in us.

This is the mystery, that we can participate in His fount of love and mercy through our own suffering. And, that participation has the power to redeem not only others, but ourselves as well.  To share in the cross is indeed a mystery, but no less a gift, a very powerful gift.

For me, the discipline it takes to train for and run a marathon - the injuries, pain, and exhaustion - every ounce of it is an offering for particular intentions.  I can attach the physical sacrifice of running to my prayers, and those prayers are given a weight that deepens the intention.  A weight that they did not have before.

This unification of prayer and sacrifice doesn't just have to be in the form of running, it can be offered through any sport, through the sacrifice of time to volunteer, through fasting from food, television, Starbucks drive-thru -whatever it is that is sacrificial to you.  This is the beauty of humanity.  We are compassionate givers by nature, but the root of that desire to give is Christ alive in us, it's His grace at work, and He receives, with great joy, every tiny little bit of the offering we lay before him for the sake of others.

Last spring I was beginning to enjoy running more than ever.  This was a special joy for me, especially after having six children! It was then that I decided to sign up for the Chicago Marathon, a race I had wanted to run since college.

Also driving my ambition was the knowledge that I would be turning forty in October, the month of the race.  This was my way of telling the forties where to stick it!

When the time for the marathon finally arrived, my heart was aflame with gratitude, excitement and nerves.  I could not believe the goal I had set years ago was finally going to be actualized.  The morning of race day could not have been more beautiful.

At the half-way point of the race, I was under the two hour mark and confident that I would meet my goal finishing time.  Just one mile later, my confidence began to wither, as I could feel the ache of an old hamstring injury beginning to fire up.

No, no, no, not now.  You're fine.  You've got this, Susan.  Just keep going. You're fine.

Despite my mental pep-talks, the pain did not go away go away.  In fact, it worsened with every step. From mile fifteen on I decided to stop and stretch at every water station from that point to the finish. Resigning myself to reality, I shut my watch off, and let go of the goal time.

It became my mission just to finish.

Seeing Steve and the boys at mile 21 was such an incredible boost.  I ran over, threw my arms around Steve and fought back tears as I told him that my leg was on fire, and that I didn't know if I could finish.  He hugged me tight and told me to remember why I was running.

His words were everything.

Those reasons why I was running, the very people I wanted to help through my prayers and sacrifice helped me get to the finish.  They were my focus and motivation.

So, maybe you don't think you could run a mile....but I say you can!  And, I hope that if you do, and if you can find your reason for running that mile, and the next and the next, that you discover all of the blessings and joy that can come for running for reasons bigger than yourself.

I'd like to say thank you to everyone who was praying for me the day of the race, and also to those of you who took the time to message me good wishes.  
Your thoughtfulness was a great source of strength for me!

A little album of our journey to Chicago...

That guy behind us? That's the running stereotype I'm talking about.  Those speedsters make up about 0.043% of the running population.  I calculated it myself.

The day before the race we went to the marathon expo so that I could check in and pick up my race bib.  The expo was HUGE, the atmosphere was full of energy, and I think the boys were surprised at how many people were there - it was crazy! The highlight was seeing Team Hoyt - my all time favorite, most inspiring running story ever.

One of the most creative displays at the expo were the giant metallic block letters that spelled out WE RUN CHICAGO.  They transported the signed words to the finish line, it was an awesome display!  
Steve and I had to stand next to the "H" of course!  Do you like his shirt? I think it's been in my last five blog post.  We may have an issue here.  I promise, he does have other options in his closet.  My teen boys might be rubbing of on him, oh no!
After the expo experience, we treated the boys to the famous Chicago pizza.  I admit I cried tears of self-pity in my gluten free spaghetti while watching them shamelessly sip soda and beer with pizza sauce and cheese stuck to their chins.  These are the moments when running is stupid. 
The afternoon offered time for one big tourist event before Holy Mass.  We let the boys choose where to go, so we headed to the Museum of Science and Industry.
I was really blown away by the various fascinating exhibits at the museum.  Our favorite, though, was the feature exhibit on robots.  Andrew had a blast playing tic-tac-toe with this one.  I dont' have any pics of Ben - he's a camera dodger like his mama. But, he was there, I promise!
The evening before the marathon, we attended Holy Mass at Holy Name Cathedral.  This picture does not capture the beauty and magnanimity of the church's architecture.  After the homily, the priest gave all of the runners a special blessing.  I was really moved by his encouraging, faith-filled prayer over us.  His words completely affirmed my experience of running being spiritual.
Race morning was intense.  There's just no way to anticipate how grand the scale of this race is.  With 45,000 runners trying to stretch, fuel up, check their bags, and hit restrooms before the race, the atmosphere at the park was pretty chaotic.  This was my view at the start of the race.
Touring the city by foot was such a treat.  There was never a lack of visual interest. Chicago truly is a beautiful place to run.  Around mile thirteen we ran by a Planned Parenthood Clinic. Everything became silent for me at that moment.  I prayed so hard for the next few miles....
The entire race was charged with an indescribable energy.  With 1.2 million spectators attending, there wasn't even the slightest stretch of roadway lacking enthusiastic supporters cheering us on.  

I had heard that Chicago is a crowded race, but I didn't think it would be crowded the entire way, yet it was.  This was the only aspect of the race I did not enjoy.  Having people constantly surrounding me at close proximity made it hard for me to relax and catch my stride.

Steve bought me a really nice pair of wireless headphones for the race as a surprise, but I didn't use them for long, because the course was very loud, and there was music playing at almost every mile.
Trying to navigate the city by car along the route was nearly impossible, because so many roads were blocked off.  Steve and the boys had the brilliant idea to rent bikes and ride them to the various spots where they wanted to cheer for me.  I was so happy to get to see them four different times during the race, and they were happy to get a grand tour of some of the most historic and beautiful spots in the city!
At the finish line, I was really limping, and a very kind older gentleman (around 70, I'm guessing) offered to help me to the medical tent.  I was really touched by his kindness - especially since I wasn't the only one limping.  Thankfully, rest and a hefty dose of ibuprofen was all I really needed. When I look at this picture, I see the joy on my face is truly supernatural considering how much pain I was in. God is so good!!
My most precious "reason" of all to run. Keep the prayers coming - I hope that after my next marathon I can say that Steve has beat Lyme!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Andrew Moves up the Ranks to Teenager

Of all of the topics that I blog about, one of my most favorite is our children's birthdays.  It's always difficult to capture in words and pictures how a mama feels about her babies, especially on the the anniversary of the day that she suffered out of love to bring them into the world. (But, who's counting those 11.5794 unmedicated hours, right?)

Really, God has a great purpose for every single baby that is born into this world.  And, it is such a joy to see that purpose evolve in every single one of our children.
Sitting outside after the Chicago Marathon Expo, soaking in the sun.  This is his famous smile, the one that says, "there is so much in this life to be happy about."

Our son Andrew's birthday was last Sunday, the day we were in Chicago for the marathon.  It's impossible that he is already a teenager! When I signed up for the race, I didn't even look at the date. it was to be held. {I confess, it was a total, "I'm gonna tell my 40th birthday where to stick it!" spontaneous maneuver. *hangs head*}

So, when I received the e-mail that my name had been selected from the lottery, I had to do a double take when I read the bold-type date: October 11.  Because the race would fall on the same day as Andrew's birthday, I decided that I would defer and choose a different race to run.

But, when I announced my decision to the family, Andrew was the first person to speak up in disagreement, "Just do it, Mom! Go for it!"  It was then that we decided to take him (and Benedict) with us to the race.

When the birthday/race day arrived, I had to be up at 5 a.m. to eat and get to the starting line, so our traditional celebratory birthday breakfast had to be postponed until next year. Thankfully, Dad came to the rescue and found a donut shop just up the street from the hotel.  I received a text at the starting line with a photo of the boys stuffing their faces with bacon maple pecan caramel long johns. Hello!! I texted back, you may meet me at the finish with one of those, please!

To make the morning even more adventurous for Andrew, Steve rented bicycles for them to cruise around on through Chicago to get to the various points where they wanted to cheer for me.  There was an estimated 1.2 million spectators cheering on 45,000 runners, so I consider it Providence that I was able to catch my crew along the route several times.

At mile eight I was able to shimmy through the pack of runners over to where Steve and the boys were standing and give Andrew a big sweaty birthday bear hug.  I was just so overjoyed to see their beautiful faces that I couldn't help shouting over and over, "Happy Birthday, Andrew!"

I could hear the crowd around him congratulating him as well while patting his back and giving him high fives. The look of joy on his face was imprinted in my mind over the next 18 miles.

I literally could not wait to get to the finish line so that I could hug Andrew again, and join the rest of the crew in all of the birthday fun.  The journey to the finish line, however was a little delayed (more on that tomorrow), and I felt terrible that they had to wait on me to finish.
After we finally exited the park, we had a mile long walk back to the hotel.  Along the way, we passed a HUGE candy store called Dylan's Candy Bar.  Since we love not having dental insurance, why not buy some more cavities??!!  Truly we had never seen any store like it.  Three unbelievable stories of countless confections.  The boys freaked out a little when I told them they could fill up a bag of whatever they wanted.  People stared.  It was fun. Even Steve and I had fun walking (limping)  around looking at all of the lovely sweets.

Back at the hotel, we quickly threw our things together, I took my normal 3.2 minute shower so that could jet out the door to find a spot for lunch before cruising to the airport.

The rest of the day wasn't very birthday-ish.  Returning the rental car, navigating through the mass of people at O'hare and flying home late wasn't exactly Andrew's idea of a birthday finale.

Yet, he never once complained.  He was thankful for everything at all times, and was especially happy to have had the experience of seeing the beautiful city of Chicago.  But, my heart wasn't satisfied.  I knew that once we arrived home, the boys would help me plan something special for Andrew, and they did.

The next day, Andrew went to school and football practice.  While he was away, we set a nice table, put on our aprons and made his favorite meal - fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn and biscuits with honey butter.   It's the "nothing green" meal, that all of the boys love, but I rarely make it, because it takes so much time and turns my kitchen into a grease pit.

For him, it was totally worth it.
I knew that I would not have time to bake a cake on top of all of the craziness, so George had the fantastic idea of getting Andrew a Dairy Queen cake.  Andrew would eat a carton of ice-cream every day if I would let him!  So, this was perfect.
Turn it up, fam! Sing that Happy Birthday song like ya mean it!
Concentrating on the wish.  He let Charlie blow out all of the candles except for one.

When he walked in the door after practice, seeing the dinner table festooned with steaming dishes of his favorites and piles of gifts the boys had thought out just for him, he was over the moon.
Shopping for Andrew for any occasion is difficult, because he never wants for or asks for anything.  He is a very content soul.  One day I saw him looking at military style watches on Amazon, and I knew that would make a perfect gift for him.  When he opened it, you would have thought we gave him the rarest treasure in the world.

There is a wonderful quality in Andrew that others are naturally drawn to.  He is very kind and has a great sense of humor.  If I were to ask each one of our boys who there favorite brother is, every single one of them would say Andrew.

Henry went through a phase were he was afraid to sleep downstairs, even though he shares a room with George.  We would often find him sleeping bundled up in blankets on the floor next to Andrew's bed.  He told us that he feels safe with Andrew.  I will always remember that.

I have missed having him here as a part of our homeschool something fierce, but when I hear of the good that he is doing at school, that he is reaching out to the other students and caring for them, and that he is enjoying their friendship in return so very much, my heart cannot help but rejoice.

I have always said, and firmly believe, that our children are here to make us better.  Of course, that can be explained by the mere fact that children require us to sacrifice and love in ways that test our faith and strength.  But, it can also be explained by the witness of their purity, their goodness, and the beauty of their souls, shining out for us to see and embrace every day.  They challenge us to be better people by the very example of their life - this is God in them.

God has a great purpose for Andrew, and it is with hope that we look forward to that purpose being revealed to us, one birthday at a time.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Don Don and Hozzy Retire - Joey Goes For a New Do

Happy Monday, Friends! How was your weekend? It's really starting to feel like fall in our neck of the woods, which made a football-filled Saturday, and a little bit of yard work twice the fun.  Oh, how I love you, October!

The biggest event of  our my weekend was Joseph receiving his very first haircut.  I've been putting it off for weeks, because I just can't bear the thought of him growing up.  For me, cutting our baby's hair makes me feel like I'm putting him on a fast track to the teen years.

So what if he has a mullet? Who cares if it's wildly uneven and completely unwilling to be tamed? A haircut at this age is kind of drastic, don't ya think?

This is the unreasonable reasoning my brain has been doing for the past two months.  I really just want my boys to stay little forever.

Sniff. Sigh.

Joseph is incredibly sweet.  He endures the crazy affections of all of us so very patiently.  Smothery smooches, squishy hugs, relentless tickling fests, and the after bath grooming of his long locks by five ornery, giggling brothers is definitely something we will all remember about his baby stage.

His long, wavy, super-stylish hair has earned the littlest boy in the bunch a few nicknames.
In addition to this top-curl, he can also rock a pretty serious Donald Trump style comb-over, thus earning him the name, Don-Don.  This is NOT a political plug for Mr. Trump.  Sorry, Donald, Rubio/Fiorina is our ticket.
Oh, Don-Don. You would get our vote!
Woo-wee! We think this is what Mr. Trump looks like with bed-head, minus that adorable face.  
Then there's the Eric Hosmer mullet.  The first baseman for the Kansas City Royals might be able to make an 80's coif look cool, but it's not working for my sweet pea. 

The back of Joey's hair looks like Hozzy 24/7, which is probably the number one reason why I had to get over my maternal attachment to his baby locks and give him a trim.
Mr. Blue Eyes sat just long enough in his high chair for me to give him a nice little all over trim. Charlie stood by and handed Joey one Craisin at a time to pacify him while I snipped away.
Steve came outside after we finished, and Joseph spotted him right away, flashing him the biggest "check out my new do!" grin.  Don-Don and Hozzy have officially retired.