Friday, February 26, 2016

A Peek at My 28 Week Baby Belly & Why Being the Mother of Boys Has Made Me a Better Woman

Here it is, my 28 week preggo belly pic.  I know.  What belly, right? Oh, it's there, trust me, it's there. Even though Charlie is using his sibling for lumbar support, you can still see a bit o' the bump peeking out from behind the line up. I get points for that, right?
Oh, my boys.

And, could it be that there's one more little man curled up beneath my heart? We shall have to wait and see!

I love surprises. What's not surprising, though, is how many times per week someone stops me in a parking lot or grocery line, points to my middle, and asks if we're having another boy.  Even more common is the question, "Were you trying for a girl?" Or the comment, "Oh, you poor thing, you're terribly outnumbered."

My first thought is always, trying for a girl? Please, if you know one woman in this world who has tried SEVEN times to get a mini-me, I want to meet her, because I don't believe she exists.  

My second thought is always, If I could only tell you how mothering boys has made me a better woman in so many ways.

How is that, you say?

Well, let me begin by listing just a few personal improvements that have resulted from being immersed in a testosterone-filled dwelling all day:

1.  I am finally figuring out how to let sh** go.  
Sorry if that's a bit abrupt, but there's just no other way to put it, really. You know we ladies like to agonize over the teeniest tiniest little things.  We let issues of little objective importance bother us way. too. much.  We can learn a few lessons from the boys in this department of life. Boys get hurt, or angry or frustrated too, but then they get on their bikes and ride like the Tazmanian Devil around the block, they ram their Tonka trucks into into piles of building blocks a thousand times, they jump off the couch and over aunt Ethel's antique vase until they're sweaty and dizzy with confidence again, and then they go refuel with a snack and move on with the day, forgetting what even tripped their trigger in the first place.  I love that about them. And I love that their ability to stay focused on what matters is rubbing off on me, too.

2.  I am learning to forgive and forget. 
Boys are quick to forgive.  Yeah, they might have to duke things out in the alley for a bit, but those same flying fists soon become high fives and hand shakes. We're not like that, ladies.  We cry and then we cry some more, and we expect everyone in our camp to cry with us. On top of that, we remember every little last flippin detail about how we were wounded in the second grade by so and so on the playground, and we carry all that crap around with us all day every day. No wonder most of us are vertically challenged.  Wanna know how it feels to just get over stuff? Good, dang good.

3. I am giving up the phrase "nothing's wrong."
Because, most of the time, you and I both know that that's a load of crap.  Have you ever noticed how boys don't beat around the bush (unless they're in trouble, of course)?  They tell it like it is.  I'll admit that sometimes their communication lacks tact and charity, but their honesty is far better than that old passive aggressive response of nothing is wrong when the truth is, something really is wrong.  Boy have I found some serious freedom in just speaking my mind and heart with those I'm closest to - even at the risk of rejection or misunderstanding. Thank ya, boys.

I could go on, but it's Friday and you have laundry to ignore and wine to drink (I hope).  

I don't really begrudge the reactive sentiments of others toward our boy-dominant family. Part of me understands that their sympathies and well wishes for a girl are of good intention. The other part of me also realizes that our culture places a high value upon the optimal family, and that that ideal is often expressed in a one girl, one boy household.

So, being the mother of six, potentially seven boys, is likely to generate a variety of reactions, few of which, unfortunately, are of the affirming kind. (But I'm okay with that.  See #1 above.)

Yes, I am outnumbered.  But, as children are not meant to be trophies that we as women display on our shelf of "hear me roar" accomplishments, I do not feel it necessary to seek satisfaction or admiration in producing a particular sex (as if I have anything to do with that). Babies are not to be likened with pets that exist for our personal fulfillment or comfort.

Babies are a gift.

The purpose of their existence does not lie in satisfying a parent's personal ambitions or dreams. To even pursue the ambition of parenthood, all the while seeking an "optimal outcome" - whether that be two girls and two boys, or one boy and one girl, is in itself selfish in nature, because children are not given to us for us, they are given to us so that we might receive them in love, raise them in love, and prepare them in love to give love back to the world, and ultimately to the Lord.

I've experienced moments when I've thought, or even felt that it would would be absolutely lovely to have a girl in our family, for many reasons, one of which would be to have someone similar to relate to in feminine nature. But, it would be terribly short sided of me to focus on what isn't instead of focusing on what is.  That would imply that something (or someone) is lacking in our family, and that simply isn't true.

In fact, I cannot quite express in adequate terms how delightfully wonderful it has been to be surprised by the unexpected gifts that mothering boys has brought into my life (yes, even in spite of the awful teenage smells, devastation to the walls and furniture, and inability to use the flusher mechanism on the toilet).

Being surrounded by little (and big) men has not left me feeling isolated, inferior or alone.  On the contrary, the experience has made me ever more aware of my unique feminine gifts and as a result, has shaped me into better woman than I was before having children. Better because I have come to see the vital importance of authentically living my feminine qualities, and I hope that in doing so I might foster in them some of my own God-given strengths and virtues, while at the same time, allowing myself to be influenced by theirs.

I love to back over the past 15 years and see just how remarkably fruitful familial relationships can truly become when family members are encouraged to express and live the gifts of their very nature, though they be different, in a complimentary fashion.

It is a beautiful thing to witness my children develop in character, virtue and maturity, thanks in part to my feminine influences.  Those influences are exercised without diminishing, belittling, or reducing who my sons are in their masculine nature.  Their healthy, God-given masculine gifts are encouraged and affirmed, and those virtues that are weak or lacking in them are nurtured and encouraged by me, because they are natural to me.  One does not the place of the other, it's both-and.

Some of our juniors climb trees, shoot guns, are fiercely competitive, wrestle and duke to express love, and others prefer less of those things and a more thoughtful, reserved pace of life.  No matter what their passions or personalities, the boys all have common masculine strengths and traits that are very important for me to recognize, honor, and nurture in them in the most positive manner.  They can be themselves, and feel proud of their masculine identity, because I affirm those masculine traits in them through my words and actions. They in turn (hopefully) are open to recognizing who I am as a woman - different, but not competitive, a compliment to who they are, not a counterpoint.

Sure, my boys like for me to shoot a gun too, to jump on the trampoline, and contribute to conversation about tractors and pickups.  But they don't need me to be one of the boys.  

They need me to be me.

Gentle, yet firm.  Empathetic yet encouraging.  Clean, pretty (every boy thinks his mama is pretty), soft, and smellin' good, yet willing to roll up my sleeves and get dirty when it's time to get a job done.

The wonderful thing about males and females living up to their complimentary roles in the world is that it can be surprisingly harmonious, joyful, and fruitful (yes, despite our sinful natures).  This is all despite the heavy negative emphasis our culture insists on placing upon our differences.  (More good reading on that right here.)

Yes, we are different, not for the sake of comparison, but for the sake of complimentarity.  It's only when one gender refuses to authentically honor the God-given strengths specific to their nature in this complimentary fashion, preferring instead to demean or diminish the nature of the opposite sex, that tension between the two arises.

Several years ago, I attended a women's conference where Dr. Rhonda Chervin was the key-note speaker. She is a feminist to the core, but in the positive sense that she has a great passion to understand how God has created women with a very specific nature, and how He has given us particular strengths and particular gifts that are completely unique to our gender, all of which are meant to serve Him in tremendous ways in this world.

The great take-away for me from her teaching was that each person, male and female, possesses dominant strengths and virtues, and those virtues vary depending upon the individual, but are different according gender - and they differ for a reason.

God is the perfection of all virtue. He is the perfection of every masculine virtue, and every feminine virtue, without being effeminate.  God is father, Jesus is son. They are men, and they are the perfection of all that is good - which is what we as Christians are striving for in the spiritual life.

I don't become less feminine when I begin to embody and develop the virtues of courage, loyalty, persistence, and ambition all of which are typically dominant virtues in the masculine nature.  Rather, I become a more complete, more authentic woman. The same is true for men and their acquisition of the more natural feminine virtues such compassion, thoughtfulness, tenderness, and the ability to nurture others.

Please know that I am certainly not trying to stereotype men and women.  We all have different degrees in which we embody and express our masculine and feminine traits.  I am simply trying to point out the differences as well as the similarities of masculinity and femininity in hopes that you will recognize them as compliment, not counteractive.

If you were to describe the most natural traits of women, you might use words like empathetic, social, relational, sensitive, cautious, prudent, kind, and generous to name a few.  And, if you were to describe the most natural traits of men, you might say that they are energetic, loyal, ambitious, courageous, protective, fearless, analytical, and focused.

To truly become holy - a whole person in Christ - we must understand that God, in His wisdom, will stretch us and mold us through circumstances and relationships so that we might live our most natural virtues to the fullest, but also so that we might acquire and exercise those virtues which are least familiar, less natural to us.

I always think of Mother Theresa when pondering this truth.  Can you imagine anyone to be more gentle, nurturing, loving, or empathetic than her? She was truly the deepest, dearest expression of the beauty and power that can emanate from of an authentically feminine woman through and through. And, yet, she had an incredible sense of courage, loyalty, perseverance, stead-fastness, focus and ambition, all of which tend to be more masculine traits and were virtues secondary to her nature.

As she became more Christlike, who she was as a woman of God did not diminish or repeal others - it attracted them! It inspired them! Her very presence helped others to desire to become more Christlike, more holy, more whole.

This is the very thing that my sons have done for me, but only because by grace I have chosen to nurture their dearest masculine qualities, and come to embrace the tremendous good in exemplifying those feminine virtues, which are secondary to them, that they so desperately need to acquire in order to become fully alive in Christ themselves.

They have shown me how to quickly forgive, fearlessly try new things, remain loyal in friendships (despite differences), and maintain a persistent focus on my goals.  In turn, I hope to have shown them how to be sincere, empathetic, how to care for the needs of the littlest persons in our home, and how to exercise prudence and caution in certain situations that call for it.

When we choose to live in a mindset of comparison and competition with the opposite sex, we risk losing our authentic selves in the process.  We can forget to be ourselves, because we're so hyper-focused on being as good as, or better than others.  

It's all simply a waste of time and energy.  

As parents we are naturally going to encounter comments and reactions between opposing sexes that are marked with disdain and discord. That is normal, isn't it?  We can't possibly love and understand everything about the opposite sex because we are so different in nature, and aspects of those natures will always remain a mystery to us.  

But, we can appreciate and respect what is different in each other, and we can honor the goodness in those differences (which is Christ!), by upholding the dignity of one another through word and action, and especially through living fully the gifts proper to our own unique nature, be it masculine or feminine, with enthusiasm, gratitude, and joy. 

It is truly an honor to know that God entrusts these fine boys to my care, and should He find it fitting to give us yet another son, the blessings will only be multiplied.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Nothing Says Love Like an Italian Feast With a Side of Bingo!

The big windows in our kitchen give me a perfect view of our back yard where, this afternoon, three of our boys are busy putting up their tent and building football goal posts out of scrap wood for the evening scrimmage. 
Listening to them hammer away between laughs makes me smile, their industrious energy distracts me from the piles of odds and ends that remain scattered about the house, still waiting to be organized and put away.

Living deep in the trenches of our mold restoration duties over the past six weeks has completely changed my perspective on ordinary day-to-day living.  I can't describe how grand it feels to come up out of the darkness of burden and worry and into the light of hope.  

Even though our nest is still upside down, I'm just so happy to be back home with my people that the material chaos doesn't bother me much at all.  For three solid weeks I spent very little time with the boys, since the remediation of our home required all of my energy and focus from sun up to sun down. Now that I am able to whittle away at what work is left at night, I'm so thankful for the daylight hours that I get to spend with our children.

I don't think I fully realized just what a gift it truly is to be able to stay home with our children.  I thought I was appreciative of my stay-at-home mama life before, but gratitude truly knows no limits. My appreciation and joy is much deeper now.

Scrolling back through the past year of blog posts, I see the weight of struggle in my words. Blogging about Lyme disease and mold toxicity hasn't been a cry for sympathy as much as it has been a call of duty to reach out and share, encourage, and connect with others who might be suffering in the same way.

But duty isn't exactly fun, and I miss the real heart and soul of this little web space, which is truly summed up in the delights of every-day life: raising the boys (and all of the pictures and stories that accompany such a grand adventure), running, cooking, reading, romancing with the love of my life...all of the most extraordinarily ordinary things...

Things such as Valentine's Day.

Unlike years past when I put together a super-sweet plan for celebrating the holiday, this year I decided to wing it.  Instead of cooking up a huge meal and crafting all day, we drove the party wagon over to our parish where the high school youth group was hosting an Italian supper.  

Mama Mia, it was awesome!  We socialized with great friends, the kids got to stuff their faces with lasagna and bread and pie (so un-Lenten of us), and I was secretly happy to have a night off from the kitchen.

After supper, we jumped back in the p.w. and cruised back to town for bingo night.  
We sat in the back, back, way back.  Because Jophis has some serious screaming pipes, which he likes to spontaneously display at will. 
Dad's hair, compliments of Joseph climbing on the shoulder jungle gym until we were able to lure him down with some popcorn.
Prize for the world's worst phone pics is all mine. But, still, it's bingo.

Bingo is seriously the most underrated game in the universe.  

Some people call it gambling, I call it practical learning with potential cash rewards.  
Sideways bingo.  Much more thrilling than regular bingo.
I'm telling you, Bingo is a homeschool bargain.  For $26 and some change, our family was completely entertained for two hours. Charlie sat on my lap for nearly an hour and had no idea whatsoever that his little brain was actually "learning" letters, numbers and patterns all at the same time. 
Skittle rationing.

The older ones willfully exercised their math skills by calculating odds, and budgeting their pocket change for popcorn and cups of sprite. Topping off the academic evening was the lesson in humility that we all learned from coming ever-so close to the glory of calling out "BINGO!!!" But, being one little dobbed square short of victory, we had to contain our defeated moans and groans with mouthfulls of popcorn.
Despite our dreams of winning big at bingo being dashed, I did manage tobolster the  spirits of our men with some chocolate candy hearts wrapped up in notes of love and adoration.

Earlier in the day, I wrote a letter to each one of the boys telling them how much I love being their mom, and listing a few of the things I love and admire about each one of them.  I had a feeling that the older boys might think the gift was a little cheesy, but they all read their notes aloud and thanked me many times (with hugs) for their gifts. 

I will always remember their affection with such gratitude.

They even had a little gift for me:
They were so proud of the flowers they chose. Through big manly grins they proclaimed that the electric blue flowers were way more "love"ly than all of the boring red and pink roses at the flower shop.

I think they're right.  Those orchids have boymom love written all over them!
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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Giving Up the Crutch of Comparison - A Valentine's Day/Lent Challenge to Love Yourself

If comparison is the thief of joy
then the root of comparison is a deep need for trust...
and the courage to love ourselves.

If I asked you to make a list of things you love about yourself, I bet you'd struggle to come up with more than just a few.

But, if I asked you to make a list of the things you dislike about yourself, I bet you could fill up the page lickity-split.

If your pen is stuck in place on the "what I love about myself" list, then you're not alone. I'm right there with you. And, I'd venture to say that most women in this world are, too.

Why is that? Why do we feel this way about ourselves?

I started asking that question a couple of months ago, when I was up in the middle of the night, sitting on the living room floor keeping company with the dust bunnies and Christmas ornaments that had been ejected from the dilapidated tree earlier that day.

I was too angry and too frustrated to sleep, and this was not something that Netflix and a gin and tonic was going to fix. Although they're my favorite band-aids, they're not so hot at healing.

The feelings of grief and frustration had been building up inside of me for weeks, and as hard as I worked to stifle them behind a smile and a busy schedule, they could no longer be contained. I was tired of feeling irritated, tired of losing sleep.  It was simply time to deal with it.

How long is too long to wrestle with an interior burden? A few days, a few weeks, what about more years than you can count?  Ever since I can remember I've been dragging around the weight of comparison, a weight that has bruised my flesh, battered my heart and beaten me at every single mind game I'd every played against it.

For whatever reason, that very restless night I decided I couldn't take it any longer, and I wasn't going to leave the living room until I figured out how to fix it.

What I discovered, after about two hours, was that I couldn't fix it, not on my own, anyway.  God was going to have to fix it in me.  And, I had to trust Him, to do so.

Comparison never walks into your life alone, it brings along with it self-doubt, insecurity, and the disillusioned belief that every other mother, woman, wife, and friend has got it together - everyone except for you. (I've only been duped by that lie a thousand times, how about you?)

In the two hours that I was hunkered down with the dust bunnies I wish I could tell you that something radical happened, like I saw a light, heard a voice, or that the angel of reason appeared to straighten me out. Sorry, but no.

What did happen was more of a stirring than a strike of lightening. Isn't that just how God works?

I started to think about why it is that I feel like trying to be more so much more like others is better than being myself, the very person God made me to be in the first place.

Because, isn't that what we do when we make comparisons? When we measure ourselves against others?  It's a slippery slope.  Once we give in to those feelings of inadequacy or inferiority, because we believe that there's someone out there that we should be more like, we completely lose sight of who we are meant to be.

The truth is, there are better people out there - people with more talents, more skills, more opportunities, more friends, and more energy. There are prettier people, smarter people, funnier people, stronger, fitter, skinnier people, people with better ideas, better social skills, better marriages, better jobs...

Maybe they are our neighbors, our family, our friends, people at work, or people we just "know" online. Whoever they are, when all we can see is their "grass is greener" life on the other side of the fence, and we use that as a measuring stick for our own personal sense of purpose and well-being, we cannot possibly love and appreciate the person that God has created us to be.

Even more, how can God do a great work in us, when all we can see is everything everyone else is, and everything that we're not?

Looking at ourselves and the world isn't just blindness, it's madness.

How many times have you read a blog or walked away from Pinterest feeling like you're just not enough?  I see this play out all of the time on social media.  Women, you and I, announcing just how tired we are of how "this post made me feel this way or that," or, "she thinks she's such an expert," or "I'm tired of people telling me how to feel or what to do."

No one.  No one is telling us how to feel or what to do. We are the ones who allow it.  If we're going to open the doors of our hearts and homes to social media and the internet, then we'd better realize and accept that the internet is one big fat naval-gazing pit of opinions.

If what you read online motivates you in a positive way to become more virtuous, then read away my friends! Just realize that everything we give our time and attention to, be it the opinions, blogs, or the seemingly perfect pictures of others has an effect on us.

Those virtual experiences can either make us bitter or better.

Unfortunately, most of the time they can leave us feeling bitter.

How do I know? Because I see post after post of women apologizing, defending, and explaining in great detail exactly why we do certain things.  Why we homeschool or why we think homeschooling is lame, why we breastfeed why we think breastfeed is scandalous, because by golly everyone needs to know what we think, and hopefully, fingers crossed, someone out there will approve of us.

And just a little approval, just a little solidarity, might take the edge off of the stings of worthlessness and self-doubt, yeah?

Wouldn't it be nice to jump off of that roller coaster of comparison? To be free of those negative feelings toward ourselves? Well, I'll tell ya, it's not going to come from abandoning the web, although, that's not a bad place to start (at least try scaling things back a bit).

Roots of comparison run deep, so you gotta be ready to dig 'em up.  And that isn't easy, but it's possible, so very possible.

Do you want to know how I kicked the comparison crutch to the curb?


I decided to trust God. (Sorry if that's not what you wanted to hear, but it's the truth, y'all.)

There in the darkness, in the middle of the night, I embraced the truth that:
He made me.  And He loves me. A lot.

What would happen if I really allowed myself to trust that love?  And what if I loved Him back by letting go of who I think I should be (according to my little world of comparisons) and instead found rest in the truth that He knows better than I do.  That He does not make mistakes.  That He does not need me to look at everyone else to see who I should be, but look to Him instead. To please Him instead.  To let His approval and love for me be my source of confidence.

I want to challenge us - you and I - this Lent and this Valentine's Day to do something totally different than we've ever done before.

What if this year, for Lent, instead of giving up chocolate and Netflix, you joined me in giving up the crutch of comparison?

That means loosening your grip on self-doubt, self-criticism, and a shattered sense of self-worth. (See how all of those burdens begin with "self?"  That's pride, my friends, and pride is no good.)
That means finding the courage within ourselves and daring to believe that it's OKAY leave those burdens behind to make room for something better.  Something like real love, God's love for us, and an authentic love for ourselves.

Lent is a time to think less of self and more of others, especially more of Christ, right? Do you think if we take our focus off of ourselves and and put it on Him, that His love, His approval, His plans for us can be enough?

I do.

Now, how about Valentine's Day?

What if this year, for the first time ever, you decided to love yourself for a change? Um, err...what?  Self-love. Yeah, it's not as simple as it seems, is it?

To love ourselves doesn't mean following the "you deserve to be happy" mentality that the world promotes.  It's not about taking a fancy trip or buying a designer purse. It means loving yourself enough to look in the mirror each and every day, faults and struggles and sin and all, and choosing to believe that you are a child of a gracious, loving and merciful God who can make you better.

It means being patient with yourself and then extending that patience to others.
It means seeing the good in yourself, and then striving to see the good in others, no matter what your differences may be.  It means being okay with not being the best or even great at everything, but being just right at a few things, and using those just right gifts to serve others.

Today I woke up to the sound of my beautiful, happy, chubby baby calling out my name.  We strolled to the kitchen together, just the two of us, and stuffed our faces with blueberries and toast.  With purple lips he grinned and me, and his eyes sparkled with the most pure affection.  He loves me.  Just as I am.  And, that love is the Lord reminding me that my value rests not in being someone the world approves of but in being a child of God. Now that, my friends, is where my my courage and my confidence, not my comparison, should come from.


{Looking for a little written encouragement? I have found this book to be very helpful.}

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Eye Roll Like No Other - Jophis and His Mother's Genetics

Oh, Jophis.

Sweet, sweet, Jophis.

Jophalicious. Jo-Jo. Jofestival. Bananajo. Jo-da-man.  

All these crazy names we use with great affection to describe you and your big personality, yet none of them quite describe this:
Now that the baby of the family is rockin' close to thirty pounds, he thinks he's way too big to sit in his high chair and prefers to stand up and eat.  The other day, I gave him the serious look and told him in very slow, specific terms, 
Sit.......Down......Joseph.....William.....Karol (gives the ol' one eye stare).

Did he cry at my firm command? Nope.  Did he whine? Nope.  Did he growl? Nope. Spit his carrots? Not even.

He eye-rolled.

He stinkin' eye-rolled me.
Oh, this one was really good.  Practically all whites there.
Then, the moment comes when he knows we're all watching our little owl perform his optical tricks.
He's got us all in stitches.  His brothers, especially are wailing with laughter!
And, there it is - the grin - Mr. Blue Eyes cracks even himself up! 
Look at my teef! 
If there's anything sad to be said about this delightful little aspect of Joseph's personality, it's that his gift for the roll comes from me.  100%, no doubt about it. 
With the birth of every one of our boys, I've completely accepted that they will all most likely inherit their father's masculine traits.  But, deep down, I've also hoped that maybe they would also get a little something good from me. (Besides that rather large bite you see above.  What can I say, dentists love us.)
Like my love for music, for instance.  No takers yet.  They're pretty good shower singers, though! Or, maybe my affection for writing, reading, gardening, or running. Still waiting on those to bloom, too. 

To Joseph's future wife:  I'm sorry.  The eye-rolling.  I know, it's just...well, it just is.  Bad service at the Taco Bell drive through and annoying or unreasonable behaviors tend to set it off, just FYI. 

My best advise? Just roll with it. Ha!