Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Not Exactly What I Prayed For

People say you shouldn't have regrets.  They say that everything that happens in your life is a stepping stone that helped you grow into the person you are at that moment.  And for the most part I agree.  Many of the mistakes I've made in the past have eventually led me to where I am today.  But there has always been this one mistake that has haunted me for almost 9 years now.  It's one that I will always regret and always wish I could go back and change.

As mentioned in a previous post, I have battled mild depression on and off for years knowing that I will never be able to carry a child of my own again and that we had sinned greatly against our God.  I have prayed begged God to miraculously "undo" what we allowed our doctor talk us into after three high risk pregnancies.  We were young and not yet strong in our faith.  We knew deep down that it wasn't right, but we were ultimately swayed by the world, and it's corrupting views. "It's OK if its for medical reasons."  And we bought into it hook, line, and sinker.

About a year ago, I was at Mass.  Sitting in the front pew on the left side of the church, as we always do because all good Catholics have "their own spot", I was once again asking for forgiveness.  Deep down, I knew He had forgiven us, but I still hadn't forgiven myself.  I looked up at the stain glass window of the Annunciation like I always do and begged God once again for another miraculous conception.  At that moment, I saw myself standing in "my pew" with my family holding a baby.  I was so overwhelmed with joy at this vision that I had to control the tears.  I just knew that my prayer had been heard.  So month after month after month, I waited.  I knew it was crazy.  Why would God answer my prayer for a baby when we had chosen to "play God" so many years ago?

Today, I was sitting in my same spot at noon Mass. As Mass began, I stood up and looked up at that same glass window of the Angel Gabriel and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  That vision of me standing in Mass holding a baby in my arms came back to me as I looked down at the baby in my arms.  Once again, my heart was overwhelmed with joy and tears swelled in my eyes.  God had sent me a baby not quite like I asked for, but he sent me one to hold, to care for, and to love.  He had heard my prayer and had answered it in His own way.

I will always regret our decision.  I don't know that I will ever truly forgive myself.  But knowing that God has heard me and has answered my plea, I feel more at peace.  My "borrowed baby" is a reminder to me that God does hear and He does answer---in His time and in His way.

FYI: For those of you who do not know, I offered to babysit a friend's infant if she could not find a sitter by the time her baby was born.  Needless to say, she didn't find one because God had a plan.  This sweet baby joined our daytime family about two months ago.  As I write tonight, I realize that my vision at Mass and my offer to her happened right about the same time....God is good!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Daily Mass: My Spark

Over the years, I've watched friends and family jump on all sorts of diets, fads, exercise programs, etc.  And yes, I have latched on to some of them as well and do still faithfully take my "Juice Plus" to supplement my "getting healthier by the day" diet with full servings fruits and veggies in a capsule.  The newest craze that has taken over my Facebook news feed is something called Spark.  I have recently pondered whether I needed to add Spark to my life since everyone seems to be accomplishing everything on their to-do lists while running mini-marathons each day while my daily to-do list just carries over and only includes walking around the inside of my house monitoring schoolwork and chores!

But as I thought harder about this, I remembered that none of those "things" in the past really helped me get through my "whole" day happier and more fulfilled.  Sure, some of them made me feel better, some gave me more energy, some helped me get into better physical shape, etc.  But none really helped me get through all the trials of life and become a happier, healthier person spiritually.  As my "followers" (lol) already know, my family has been undergoing a life-changing overhaul.  I've been trying to figure out a point when things first began to make that big U-turn for us and haven't been able to nail it down.

But one big curve in the road came to mind this weekend as I thought about the awful week I had had.  It happened a few years ago when my son, about 8 years old at the time, challenged us to attend Mass everyday during Lent.  He had just made his First Reconciliation and was preparing for his First Communion. We had been drilling into his head the importance of the Sacraments and the grace you receive from them.  I guess he figured we needed extra grace in our family!  (We did.)  We had been attending Friday morning Mass already and really enjoyed starting our "weekend" off with the Holy Eucharist.  But I am NOT a morning person!  Ask my mom and husband!  I would have to literally drag myself out of the bed to make Friday morning Mass even though I knew I would be thankful I did once I knelt down in front of the altar, but how was I going to do this every morning?

I accepted his challenge mostly because you can't tell a kid, "No" when they are asking to go to Mass.  That's got to be a sin, right?  My husband came with us when his work schedule allowed, but I was ultimately the one dragging myself out of bed at 5:30 am every morning to attend 6:25 am Mass with three fairly small kids.  I always wanted to turn that alarm off and roll back over.  I did a few times and felt terrible when I was reprimanded by a 6, 7, and 8 year old when they realized we had missed Mass.  I then had to take them that evening after school and work, but it wasn't the same as starting our day off with Mass.  I needed that peace and calm first thing in the morning.

Fridays had always been a great day for me.  I was able to face whatever the day had in store for me much better than on other week days.  It was as if nothing could get in my way on Fridays.  It was the end of the work week and no one was going to mess up my happy day.  The rest of the week..... well, let's say I didn't handle situations quite so well.  I looked forward to Fridays like everyone else, always counting down the days---starting on Monday morning!

Amazingly, things seemed to get better on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays during that Lent.  I was able to handle pressures of life much better.  I began to notice a change in myself that Lent as well as a change in the kids.  This change was so great, that as soon as Lent ended, we started only attending Friday Masses again.  I was so happy to get my extra hour of tossing and turning in bed back....Ah!  Slowly, our hectic lives started back up.  My patience with people started to dwindle and pressures of ordinary life started to frazzle me once again.   The calm had ended except on Fridays.  Go figure!

Slowly, we began to head back to daily Mass one or two "extra" times a week at the request of the kids.  They seemed to understand that daily Mass equaled more serenity in our lives.  I had not yet "gotten it".  They understood the things that I had been teaching them about the Sacraments more clearly than I obviously did, since they were now going to weekly confession to receive the grace to do better and then challenged me to go more often.   How humbling is that!

Small, but great, things began to happen in our lives during those years. (Read previous blogs!)  But it took another Lenten challenge from the kids for me to realize how much more smoothly life seemed to run when we attended daily Mass.  So for the past couple of years, we have been attending Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning Mass as often as we can.  Not because we are "holier" than anyone else, but just the opposite.  It's because we are sinners and need that extra help!!  We know that we are not strong enough to do it alone.  We need those graces received in the Sacraments to get through our daily toils, to help us fight off the temptations of Satan, and to become more worthy of God's unconditional love.

Just like my friends can tell if they hadn't had their "Spark" one day, I can tell when I have missed daily Mass and the Eucharist.  Last week was a prime example; it was a terrible week!  It started with an out of town appointment first thing Monday morning and was followed by a migraine that kept me in bed for a day and a half.  Both keeping us from morning Mass.  Things just went downhill from there.  I found myself barking and yelling at the kids and my husband, something I hadn't done in a very long time!

I remember crying myself to sleep Friday night thinking, "What in the world happened to me this week?"  I couldn't really say it was an out of the ordinary week, nothing major happened in our lives, the kids weren't overly bad, no major problems, etc.  I just handled all of the ordinary happenings badly!  Very badly!  Saturday morning I woke up and realized that we had only attended daily Mass on Friday.  I had missed out on my "spark", the Holy Eucharist, that gives me strength to tackle my daily and weekly tasks charitably with love.  So, off I went to Mass this morning to ask for forgiveness and to get the "spark" of the Spirit to help me through my week. 

Attending daily Mass isn't some "miracle fix" to all of life's problems though.  Our life is still full of troubles, trials, situations, conflicts, and chaos!  Satan tempts us even more than before, or so it seems.  Daily Mass attendance doesn't make me any holier than any other mom, Christian, or Catholic around.  The Holy Eucharist feeds my soul which in turn helps me to tackle life with a little more grace, a little more tact, a little more patience, a little more understanding, but most of all, a LOT more love. 

As my son challenged me several years ago, I challenge you.  This Lent attend an extra Mass or two during the week, or begin your day with an extra 30 minutes of prayer, scripture reading, and quiet time with God, and see what a difference it can make in how you handle your ordinary daily tasks.  I challenge you to find your "Spark" that will help the fire of the Spirit burn brightly in you.

****Disclaimer to all of my Advocare friends, please take no offense!  I am still considering how much more effective I could be with both my "Spark" and yours.  I just don't want to wake up wanting to run 12 miles a day!  ;-)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Signs from God...Literally

A friend of mine posted a plea on Facebook asking God for a sign...preferably a billboard with flashing lights.  I laughed for a split second then remembered that He had sent us a billboard once!

Several years ago, I came to the devastating realization that we were never going to be able to have more kids short of a miracle. (I'm still praying for that miracle though.)  We began to talk about fostering and/or adopting another child.  We talked about it on and off for several months and then forgot about it.  Later, we took in a relative's child off and on while her parents tried to get their lives straight.  Once they did and she was no longer with us, that void came back in my heart.  So, we talked about fostering or adopting again.  This time a little more seriously.  I even checked out the class dates, the requirements, etc.  But my husband was not convinced that this was what we were supposed to do.  So, I continued to pray for a sign from God that would tell us what it was He wanted us to do.

Several more months went by, and we became friends with some foster/adoptive parents and began "hanging" out with them asking about the process.  We listened to their horror stories about the "system", the courts, and the biological parents.  Yet, we saw all the good that they were doing and wanted to do the good too.  We ran into other foster parents and saw several TV shows/movies that had unexpected fostering/adoption themes.  I read several articles that popped up here and there about fostering/aodpting as we continued to wait for our "sign".   Not getting any sign, we decided that maybe we weren't cut out for all the drama and heartbreak this would entail?  So, we put it out of our minds for awhile, and I continued to pray for the emptiness to go away.

Then one Sunday my husband calls me over to look at something on the front page of the newspaper.  I hate reading the paper and watching the news because it usually just upsets me.  I tried to get him to tell me what it was, but he insisted that I get up and come look for myself.  I reluctantly got up and walked across the room.   There, on the front page of the newspaper, was a HUGE article about the shortage of foster parents in our parish.  Wow, I thought, this was definitely a sign, right?  Well, my husband wasn't quite convinced yet.  Coincidence #1.  We talked about it some more and decided again it just wasn't for us.

Then one day it was just the two of us driving down the Interstate.  I'm not sure where we were going or what we were discussing or where the kids were, but I remember our conversation came to an abrupt halt.  We were both staring at a HUGE billboard along I-10 that was literally begging for foster parents.  You'd think that we ran straight to the OCS office to begin the classes right then, huh?  Nope.  Not us!  Coincidence.  Coincidence #2 according to my husband.   But I knew that my prayer had been answered and that this was what we were suppose to do.  Several weeks went by as we continued to discuss it, I looked up more information online and even called to sign us up for the classes.  Due to scheduling conflicts, we could not make that session.  We chalked it up as "not meant to be", and I tried to put it out of my mind.

I continued to pray for me, for us.  I was really starting to become depressed about the thought of never having another baby.  It didn't help that I was surrounded at work by all these new moms and pregnant women.  I prayed for God to please help us make a decision---for us to be on the same page, for us to know what He wanted from us.  I continued to bring up fostering or adopting, but we ultimately talked ourselves out of it every times.  We had a hundred reasons not to foster, but the three main reasons weighed heavily on our hearts were our three small children at home.  We knew we wanted to keep them healthy and safe---emotionally physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Did we really want to bring a child with so much "baggage" into our home to possibly harm our own children's well-being?  No, we agreed that we couldn't.  Besides, people would think that we were nuts? (Hmmm...recurring theme in my life?)

I continued to pray for God to help me find a way to "get over" the fact that I would never carry a child in my womb again.  Silently, I cried myself to sleep many nights praying for some miracle to happen.  I mostly prayed for God to physically alter our bodies to be able to conceive again and have normal, healthy pregnancies. That never happened, but God was still trying to answer my prayer for a sign.  I'm sure by now He was starting to get a little perturbed at us thinking, "What more do you need than a billboard?"  But we still couldn't "see" what He was trying to show us.  Maybe if He had used the flashing neon lights...

Great things began to happen in our lives.  My husband got a new job and was able to be home every night.  We had moved to the country and bought a horse which the kids loved.  We bought a bigger vehicle that would hold lots of kids.  We started spending more time together as a family.  We began to make wonderful changes in our lives.  Things were really starting to fall into place for us.  I was almost happy, but still felt something was missing.  Deep down inside, I knew what was missing.  It was all the other children that we had originally planned on having.  Depression began to sink in again when one day I get a call from my husband to come to the store he was managing in town.  I packed up the kids, and we headed into town.

He beckons me to come behind the store counter and stand where his stool and computer were.  He then makes me look out the window straight ahead over his monitor.  My heart sank and tears welled up in my eyes.  There, right in front of his store window, was a HUGE sign on the fence once again begging for foster parents!  The new building they had just built across the street from his store was the social services office.  Coincidence number 3.  Nope.  Answered prayer.  Finally, he knew without a doubt that this is what we had been called to do.  We signed up for the next session, attended it, completed it, and became certified foster parents. 

God does answer our prayers and even sends us signs.  Are our eyes opened enough to see them?  Are our hearts opened enough to answer Him when He calls?