Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Greater Good?

We are home from a whirlwind few days of celebrating and traveling. We, as usual, were abundantly blessed by the generosity of our family. Such thoughtfulness was put into gifts and we felt humbled that these wonderful people gave so very much. For many of them, that giving came at personal sacrifice of their own wants. My grandmother, in particular, is on a very, very fixed income having, as she says, outlived their retirement plans. But still she gave. To be honest, I look at the book and pajamas and puzzle she gave our daughter and wanted to say, "Grandma, please take these back and spend this money on groceries." I looked around at the gifts during all of our celebrations and was taken aback by just how much there was. I wish I could say that I was all humility and gratitude. But some of that time, I was mired in frustration at the excess. How much do we really need? How much is too much? How could that money have been spent to benefit those in need? If you read that and think, "Wow, Keri! Self-righteous, much?" you'd probably be right.

I was on the phone recently with someone who abhors the idea of giving gifts, saying "I'll just buy myself what I want." This woman is without any religious persuasion. Without much thought, I said, "but have you ever thought of what is does in the giver's heart to ponder a gift for you, to think of your likes and dislikes, to think of something that might make you smile? Maybe that's the purpose of all this giving, the softness that comes in our own hearts."

I thought of this over the weekend as I lamented what I perceived to be the excess. And then I wondered if I was right in my quick retort to my friend. Maybe the greater good is what happened to my mom as she worked a second job to purchase all these gifts. Maybe God was at work in my dad as he worked overtime on a fire engine as his back spasmed all day long to pay for these gifts. While I want to kick and scream and hand back even my most treasured gifts so that my precious family doesn't have to work so hard, I have to wonder if there is more at work here. Do I need to trust that while my desire for simplicity is indeed very good, is what is happening in the hearts of our generous, giving family the greater good?

This Christmas also brought some heavy sorrow to our family. Someone we all love dearly is walking a journey I pray I never walk and living with a shattered heart. Watching it was nothing short of brutal. During time spent talking with this sweet one, I wanted to spout off every single thing I learned about counseling and the stages of grief and healthy coping mechanisms (and very predictably did spout off as much as I could.) At one point during the weekend, there was a heated discussion in which I made some good, valid points. But the result was still very bad. After all had been hugged out and forgiven, I had to wonder. Despite my desire for this person to walk the path of the least pain, was the greater good what he will learn while walking that path? Or was the greater good even that I might have to practice one of the very tenets of the faith I profess, that of forgiveness?  My mom so lovingly said to me, "Keri, even though you were right, you were wrong." I was wrong because I couldn't (wouldn't?) see the hand of God in all of this. I was trying to, by my own power, orchestrate a resolution. You'd think by now I'd realize how that usually turns out.

As I reflect on this blessed holiday, I can think of so many other areas where a greater good could prevail. While I attempted to corral my wild child during 95% of Christmas Eve Mass, did I make an elderly lady smile, remembering her days as a literal shepherd? Did I make another mom feel less like an awful parent because I too was trying to keep my kid from tipping over the holy water?  While I thought of all the effort my in-laws put into hauling rocking chairs to Atlanta and the expense of that for a retired couple, will those chairs help me rock babies for years to come or be the site of heart to hearts with my husband?

This Christmas season was full of love and joy and giving and pain and sacrifice and hurt. But at every juncture, I can see where luscious fruit may grow. Maybe the greater good in every bit of it is that God is at work and by letting even the bad play out, He has the space to do HIS will.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

If I had a baby book....

I'd write down a few things that will remind me of  17 months~
  •  our girl is walking everywhere, if still like a little deer getting her bearings. I think I'll be sad when she walks normally.
  • Her favorite toy remains the red car given to her by her Aunt Rae Ann for her birthday. It didn't help that I went out of town and my dad took her on hour long rides 5x a day so she still expects that most of her awake time should be spent riding in this car. She climbs in it at 7am, expecting a morning walk and it is often the only thing to cure her post nap grumpy-ness.

  • she is OBSESSED with Brown Bear and Polar Bear, both pronounced like "bow bear." I can be vacumming, cooking or attempting a restroom break solo and she will follow me, holding up this book saying "read it" or "uh uh uh uh uh uh uh uh." I think I'll be sad when a day goes by that I don't read one of these books 25 times.
  • She is also obsessed with Mack, or more specifically, with driving that poor dog nuts. I kind of figure he has it coming to him, as much as he drives me bonkers. But the way he lets her sit on him, crawl over him, pull his collar and simply licks her face in return makes me think he's earning his spot in this house.

  • she is very interested in the stove and cooking. Clearly she did not come from my womb. This poses lots of issues when trying to make a home cooked meal for my family once a week. Not even baby einstein lures her to let me cook solo. "up, up" she says (sounds like upah upah) and then proceeds to blow on everything. It's cute, if inconvenient.
  • We took our first trip to the aquarium a few weeks back. I don't know who was more enthralled, daddy or MK. It was a great family morning and I'm sure we'll be back soon!

  • she got her first haircut 12/19/11. Her mullet was getting out of control, despite her father and memaw's love of it. How she did not get stabbed in the neck by the hairdresser, I'll never know. I should have taken photos but a) our camera died and b) it was all I could do to keep her from taking a shear to the eye. The results are cute though.

  • Mary Kate's namesake, Blessed Kateri, will become a saint. (MK was due on her feast day.) Yesterday, "The Vatican announced that the Mohawk-Algonquin woman born in 1656 and known as Kateri Tekakwitha has been deemed worthy of sainthood by the Pope. Pope Benedict XVI has signed the decree recognizing a miracle performed by Kateri, and she will therefore be canonized at a ceremony sometime in the future." More here about a great lady who I loved reading about as a child, fascinated by her faith and her courage among the members of her tribe.
  • Speaking of the Pope, we got the most beautiful gift from our friend, Father Tim, in Rome. We received a Papal Blessing on the occasion of both our wedding and Mary Kate's Baptism. It was a thoughtful, kind gift that took a lot of work on his part. We are blessed to have both of those holy men praying for our family!

okay, now that we are mostly caught up on my wild child love, we'll sign off. I hope your last week before Christmas is filled with joy and simply absorbing the wonder of your families.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

17 months of life-giving life

My precious girl,

One day I will tell you a story about a young woman who truly could not believe that God could possibly love her. She made mistake after mistake and didn't live her best life every day. She tried very hard but felt like she failed Jesus every day, the person she loved most. She had little understanding of grace and could not comprehend how someone so amazing, so perfect, could possibly love her.   And then,  July 9, 2010 happened.

Little girl, because of YOU, I am starting to get it. I am starting to get how someone could be their very worst self only to be met with unconditional love, forgiveness and adoration from their parent. On our most challenging days, around hour 14 of being together, neither understanding what the other wants, I take over dad's routine. I rock you and the second you tuck those arms under your belly on my chest, the second you let go of all that feisty-ness and wiggling and simply let me love you, in that very second I am overflowing with an indescribable love for you. And on days that are just the average level of challenging, when dad rocks his girl to sleep, I am usually awake before you are, waiting for the minute I can go into your room. No matter what the day before was like, I cannot wait to see you! Could it be that on days when I bark at daddy and snap at me-maw and don't bask in gratitude for this life, our God can't wait to see me, too?

Because of how I love you, I am starting to get how our precious God loves me (and you, though I never doubted that!) The most amazing thing is that He loves you and I about eighty gabillion times more than I love you, though I cannot conceive of how that is possible. My girl, the day we got you, I began a life-saving journey of understanding that no matter what we do, no matter what mistakes we make in life, no matter how far we roam in the wrong direction, we are loved beyond measure by Jesus. Also, it does not matter how much good we do, how many people we serve, how much we try to "be good." Jesus loves us not because we might be good, but because HE is good.

I intended a post all about your life at 17 months. But all I can think about today is how your life, in so many ways, saved mine.

I love you precious girl,

love mama

Thursday, December 15, 2011

(first world) life lessons

Lately I feel as if every where I turn I am supposed to absorb some piece of very important knowledge. I feel God desiring to teach, teach, teach while I would rather pass notes to friends or play MASH. Despite my best efforts to not learn, some things are getting through. So, in this very blessed season while we await that oh so special birthday, I am, indeed, learning.

I am learning that most of my "problems" are of the First World variety. Now, this is not to say that they don't deserve attention. I have done some pretty significant harm to myself by believing that my problems weren't problems and I needed to focus more on real suffering in the world. However, as Ross and I were praying the other night about stressing over MY CHRISTMAS CARD, I found myself saying "Lord, I realize this is a first world problem." Ross laughed and I decided that this danged Christmas card deserved no more attention. It was something on a check list that needed a little time, but certainly did not deserve the level of obsessing that I was giving it. Since that night, I have found myself gauging a problem by whether or not it is a "first world" scenario. If so, it gets the appropriate level of my attention. As a counselor once told me, "you can sit on the pity pot but don't forget to flush." This Christmas, I am learning to be thankful for how truly minute these inconveniences are and flush a whole lot faster.

As we have all learned during the trials of sleep training, sleep begets sleep. Well, apparently patience begets patience. Love begets love. Tolerance begets tolerance. As my sweet husband and I continue on our journey toward loving and serving each other, it turns out that the more I practice these virtues, the more natural they begin to seem. I am reminded of Romans chapter 5 where we learn that "affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope,and hope does not disappoint."  The more I do these things, the more I love him selflessly, the more I want  to do them.

I saw a beautiful family in Mass this week. The family of 8 took up the whole pew. By my (judgemental) observations, they appeared on the wealthier side. I sighed, thinking how easy it must be to decide to have a large family when money is not an issue. Of course, I have no clue what that family's situation is, but I started to go down the "I wish we had more and I wish we didn't need to consider money" hole. And just as that mom did to her son, God firmly pointed my neck back up to that crucifix. I have no clue what His plan is for our family but I do know that "He's got this." We work hard to be good stewards of His provision for us and try hard to make financial decisions guided by His wisdom. That does not mean He is going to reward us with financial gifts. I (think) I'm learning that by seeking Him, we will grow closer to Him and will feel at peace in abundance or in want.

When I got engaged, my Confirmation sponsor gave me one piece of advice. "Bite your tongue so often it bleeds." Now, I am aware that biting your tongue too often can have negative consequences as well, but I don't think I am wired to bite my tongue too often (ever) so that should not be a problem.  But recently I was frustrated with someone and I decided to take Ellen's advice. About ten minutes later, this person stopped and said, "I am really sorry. I was being selfish." All this time, I have thought that biting my tongue was simply a matter of picking my battles (metaphor overload here) and avoiding conflict. But I realized this weekend that what keeping my trap shut sometimes does is allow the other person time and space to evaluate themself. It does not always mean they will decide they were in the wrong, but it may give us the distance for real self-reflection instead of quick reactions.

I am in a season of idolotry. I read blogs and want to write like them. I see careers and hope to emulate them. I see homes and want to be able to buy one like them. I see ladies outfits and envy their ability to put together somthing so trendy and chic. I see people's faiths and wonder if I'll ever have as much "knowledge" as they do. Again, major first world issues. But identifying the error is the first step, right? Now, if I could spend half as much time praising God for what I have as I do wistfully dreaming of "more," I might wake up to see the mega abundance in my life. It's probably wrong of me to think about it this way because I know we do not have a vengeful God, but I feel a push to learn this lesson on my own before He deems it necessary to teach it to me!

I am feeling a bit like Martha these days. You know, Martha from the Bible, who is so busy doing God's work that she forgets to sit at His feet and simply be with him. Now, to clarify, nothing about catching up on Real Housewives episodes is God's work, but I do think I've made myself a tad too busy. So, to rectify this, I've joined a book study at Church :) While Ross and I continue to pray about where to worship, we have returned to the place we met, the Cathedral of Christ the King. I was happy to see a Monday morning study on Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World. I have studied this book in the past but feel that motherhood brings a new spin on it. The study is open to anyone, regardless of church affiliation, so let me know if you'd like to come along. Nursery is available (woop woop!)

I need to lighten up. Insert roaring laughter from family and friends and fainting from husband. I have blogged about this before but I will totally blame my first-born-ness and years of super sad social work for my slight eeyore complex. With the holidays approaching, a sense of humor will be integral to survival (1000 square feet+7 adults+one baby+6 dogs+one cat+ ONE ONE ONE bathroom= potential chernoble). The upside is that this will get my butt in a pew every day next week praying for patience and gratitude and a much needed heightened sense of humor.

And lastly, this fast paced season is teaching me what a good mother I was. You know, what a good mother I was BEFORE I had a child. I was going to insist that my child sleep with noise all around her so that she would learn to sleep with noise. She would never have chocolate or juice and dammit the kid would have manners above all else. Today I handed her bites of chick-fil-a brownie (yes, with nuts. Because I am the only mother who didn't know the 'no nuts' rule applied until two) washed down with apple juice. She is in her bedroom with a sound machine blaring and I don't even walk to my bedroom for fear that I'll wake the gremlin. She throws fits daily (but to be fair, says thank you when I give her the item I think she wants before she decides she doesn't want it and chunks it.) So, while MK's manners get a B+, my parenting stands firm at a C. Lesson: no more assertions about what I will or won't do when MK gets older. Morals and values are one thing, set in stone, but day to day parenting, whew.

If I don't get back on here before Christmas, may yours be full of joy, blessings and a big ole sense of humor!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Taking back the day, with a little help from Rudy

Outside of my very immediate family, few people know that I can be a tad mercurial. As a good Southern girl, I can fake it with the best of them. But on any given day, I can find myself going from happy to anything in the range of disappointed to livid. Sometimes there is legitimate cause, oftentimes not. This is not the problem, however. The problem lies in my inability to get out of that funk once I'm there. I will happily blame my rearing because anyone who has married into my family will testify that us Sullivans, while overall awesome, have a tendency to be, ahem, a tad moody. We get ourselves in a tizzy and some unlucky spouse gets to deal with us. Sunday was one such day.

I had a tiny disagreement with Ross that should have ended with a hug and carrying on about our day. But lawd knows I couldn't leave it there. Ross begged me to go for a run, clear my head, and come back ready to go to Mass. But I couldn't do it. I fought it, prepared to spend the afternoon angry about something that deserved no attention. Naturally, I became more upset that I was upset in the first place. Vicious cycle, you see.

I threw off my running shoes in defiance of the thing I knew would make me feel better. I tried to figure out what was making me upset. I laid my head on my husband's chest and told him in my most pitiful voice, "I don't feel like I'm accomplishing anything."

Recently I found out that unknown to me, my clinical social work license has expired and that I have to re-take a very difficult exam to renew it. Without the time to prep or any thoughts on if I would use it in these early baby-having years, getting it back isn't the best decision right now.  But I realized that in some way, I was letting those letters (that I never used in practice) validate me. Losing it meant that now I am just a stay-at-home mom. And the obvious deduction is that I am insufficient, inadequate, unaccomplished. Duuuhhh.

Ross listened to me whine and then quoted one of my favorite movies.

He patiently rattled off a list of my accomplishments this year, the least of which is a happy, smart, healthy little person. He hugged me while he told me that if I couldn't see the ways in which God used me, the ways in which God helped me help others, the ways in which God, himself, is validating me, then I wasn't ever going to learn.

He wiped my self-indulgent tears and told me to go run. I took a longer route and ran off this particular bout of funk. I ran away from the insecurities de jour and found myself thankful. It still took longer than I would have liked to flip the switch back to happy Keri, but I realized that with some TLC from the husband, some perspective that one of my favorite Irishmen also needed to hear, and a good long run, I was able to take back the day.

I am certainly hopeful that the next time I find myself in that gross place, I'll remember what turned it around today.

Friday, December 2, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday

--- 1 ---

As much as I feel like posting random thoughts is (for me) self-serving, random and kind of a cop out, I (a.) love reading quick takes posts by other people and (b.) have about a 2% chance of putting together a cohesive, coherent post that doesn't separate itself with bullets or numbers. Blame it on the kid. and the dog. and the house. and the job. and people.com

--- 2 ---

I blogged a few weeks back about having had one of those days. Today was another one. The toddler child has a nasty cough and perpetually running green nose. She is miserable and in the way of her mother all toddlers, the whole world needs to be aware of her misery. At one point, I was forgetting that she was sick and not just a heinous little creature so I put her in her room crying and closed the door. I then brushed my teeth, put on real clothes (that my husband laughed at when he came home for lunch) and applied some old, clumpy mascara. By the time I was finished, she was happy again and dad was home to help with an unsuccessful Christmas card attempt.  Feeling my patience wane with toddler creature and my husband's chuckle at my outfit and our inability to get a danged photo, I left MK with Ross and ran errands while he spent his lunch break with a happy, smiley child. Ross has been suggesting I run errands during his lunch break for a long time, happy to have some one on one time with his (always for him) happy child. HAD I KNOWN?! In the span of an hour, two dear friends took an errand off my plate (thank you Cristy and Natalie!), I went to the bank, Barnes and Noble, the gas station and McDonalds, all by myself. It was glorious and I am kicking myself for waiting so long to enjoy mundane errands and a large sweet tea and chocolate chip cookie all by myself. I came home re-energized and was smart enough to recognize the bone God threw me in friends helping and husband taking a turn at child-rearing. The scripture "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" ran through my head all morning. So, so true.

--- 3 ---

I am having a hard time getting in to the Christmas spirit. We have an advent wreath out and a couple of nativity scenes but I cannot get it in me to go buy a tree and decorate it. (Yes, a fake, pre-lit tree is in our future but cheapie here insists on waiting until after Christmas to buy it.) I just know that the second that tree is up, I will spend the better part of my days keeping doggie and baby away from it. And no, I don't have one of those oh so attractive gates to surround it. And no, we can't go buy one. See number 4.

--- 4 ---

I wrecked our new (to us) car. By complete accident, as in not on the phone or throwing a cracker at MK, I pulled out of a parking spot turning instead of straight back. I fought the pole and the pole won, to the tune of a few thousand dollars. Looovely. Now with the deductible and looming premium increase, I have put the kabosh on any unnecessary spending, holiday decor included. So, how to get all Christmas-y feeling with no decor budget and kind of a scroogy approach to a tree. Thoughts?

--- 5 ---

My husband. He is a big, huge, lovely old grace giver. He was upset for a few minutes about the car. And he has yet to look at it. But he has been a gem. Trusting my ability to handle such issues, he is standing back and is simply making himself available for advice if needed. The lesson for me: return the favor. I, put simply, SUCK at giving grace to my husband. Ask him how many times I have slid in a comment about his lost wedding ring or him getting us semi-lost in the Texas wilderness. It's not pretty. God has given me a tangible example of what grace looks like, I'm sure in hopes that I will model it. I really plan to do better in this area.
--- 6 ---

Holidays part one: SUCCESS! My fears about MK's sleeping and traveling were completely assauged. Despite a good bit of car screaming (totally normal), we had a really lovely trip to Greenville for Thankgsiving. She was worn slap out by grandparent and aunt and cousin love and napped easily each day. God totally answered my prayers in giving me some time to really enjoy our family and not be stressed about wild child. I am much more hopeful for a seamless Christmas holiday now.

--- 7 ---

I miss my old job this week. I love being home with MK and enjoy my part time work but I miss feeling important. I know, I know, staying at home with a babe is important.  But oh how long and tedious the days can be. Ross comes home and is all smiles and MK morphs into an angel and he can't see why the days are hard. I am happy for them that they get that sweet time and work hard to have most of the baby chores completed so they can have that special time together. While I miss those (mostly) fulfilling days as a social worker, I also know that I likely could not have done both jobs well. I am thankful that with some sacrifices, I don't have to worry that a sick patient or my precious girl got less than they deserved.

Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!