Tuesday, September 30, 2014

On having a big family

Okay all of you sisters out there with big families, you know what I'm talking about when I say we get comments.  Comments from people of every generation, young and old, from every culture, and most likely from every language. I just am unaware of the non-English comments. :-).   The most common ones are, "you must have your hands full", bless your heart", "are you Catholic?", " I'm sure your older children are big helpers around the house", "Are you going to have more?" ( jaw hanging), and "Look mom, it's the Dougers!".  Most of the time, particularly if we are all out and about going out to eat, or going into a store, etc., we just get the stare.  Now I absolutely believe that people have good intentions with their comments, and I do not hold anything against them whatsoever. But I have to admit that it makes me very sad that we are in a place in history where having more than two children is out of the norm.  And it makes me sad that people assume that because we are Catholic, and have a big family, that it is simply because we do not use birth control, and just leave it all up to chance.  I do find myself getting a little defensive (At least feeling it, if not showing it), when explaining to people how we got here.  Explaining that there was a time when we were young, naïve, untrustworthy, and we had this preconceived idea that we had to plan out our entire lives. Joseph and I wanted two children, three at the most, a golden lab, and a house with the swing hanging from a big oak tree in the front yard.  I will admit that we just hung that swing up, but as for the rest of our plan, God worked on us.   When I meet young people that are just completely living in God's will, confidently, and with complete trust, I am amazed. Joseph and I had to grow into this.  We were led down a longer path, with many detours, some small mountains, peaks, and valleys. God put just the right people in our lives at just the right time.  And on this path, we learned to pray. And with praying, God worked on our hearts.  We have come to realize that there is nothing in this world as precious as a human life. As I have said before, where there is life, there is love. And God is love.  I have found myself ministering to young moms who are on the fence about having that third child, as I have met dozens of women who are in mourning of the fact that they permanently closed the door to have more children very early on. That could have very easily have been us. I remember Joseph being very nervous the first time I left him home alone with the two children, where as now I see a very confident father who would not hesitate in a second to grab all six kiddos and go for an outing. The changes I've seen in him as a father, and as a man of faith, completely move me and bring me to tears. And the changes I've witnessed in myself are plentiful enough to fill the pages of a book.  Often times we will be asked "and what do you do for yourself? You need to make you time!"   I can honestly say, that thought does not  cross my mind! Our joy right now is seeing our children succeed at life, and love on each other.  There is nothing like it to compare.  I remember when Joseph and I were young, we spent every weekend going out to dinner, working out two hours a day at the gym, seeing the latest movies, hanging at Barnes & Noble with our coffees. At the time, that felt like enough. But where we are right now, again, there is just no comparison.  I would never say that everyone should have a large family, but I would encourage each and every young family to keep that option open, and to constantly be praying about it.  I brought our three-year-old to a fitness play class yesterday, and ran into a young mom who I had ministered to just a year before. I remember her saying that they are done having children, after having two. I shared our story with her, just to give her a little bit of a different perspective. I cannot tell you how excited I was when I saw her yesterday, as she was so radiantly beautiful, and five months pregnant.  God is amazing!  With that said, today I am thankful for a beautiful family, but I know we never know what tomorrow brings. We never know how long any of us have on this earth. And we will never know the trials that are to come tomorrow. As parents, we pray, we love, and we do what we think is best as far as how we raise our children. We have not let fear affect our choices. As fear is not of God.  I can only promise all of you young mamas, that your love can be stretched, That your heart can be opened, and that you will never regret prayerfully considering growing your family. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Life Worth Living

I received a text the other day, informing me that there was a talk on NPR, specifically about down syndrome.  I raced to the radio, and was completely delighted by everything I heard.  It was informational, and so positive. I heard from professionals, siblings of individuals with DS, parents, and even from a young man who had the extra chromosome himself.  During the broadcast, people were tweeting in "there are more blessings than not", and were pleading with people to reconsider terminating their pregnancies.  The man conducting the interview mentioned that they have been having the same talk on this topic for the last few years, and that everyone interviewed has such positive things to say about this extra chromosome. The director of our local Down Syndrome Association group quickly chimed in that she has had more families who are prenatally diagnosed join the group, than ever before.  What an incredible correlation, that this community's large and loud campaign to advocate for life for individuals with DS, is proving soccessful!  As moved as I was to listen to this broadcast, I was equally saddened by the time the talk show was finished. The heaviness on my heart was in thinking about all of the little innocent babies who are being prenatally diagnosed with a condition, and without a loud advocacy group encouraging their life. I felt like crying out for all of those parents who will never hear that their baby's life is worth living, even if it's for a few hours, even if that child will never speak or walk.  Crying out for the parents that will not be told that their child will still have a purpose in this world.  If only we could meet those parents at the geneticists door, and assure them that they will love their baby. Assure them that regardless of the outcome, everything will be okay. It's amazing that our heavenly Father has not completely discarded us, with all of our blatant imperfections. He continues to love us, and gives us a chance at life.  Yet we come to a place where it is inter-woven in the fabric of our culture, that we can choose who is worthy of life, and who is not.  Today I am hopeful for more advocacy. I pray that every prenatally diagnosed condition gets a voice. A loud, confident, and bold voice that will stand up for LIFE. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

A lesson on gratitude

A dear friend and I were taking a walk this morning, when the subject of gratitude came up.  I loved hearing that she placed an equal level of importance on it with regards to teaching gratitude to children at a young age.  Reflecting on my life thus far, and what I am most thankful for, my dad is definitely high up there on the list.  Though I only had him on this earth for the first 10 years of my life, I have so many fond memories of him, and such a strong sense for who he was.  I remember his strong voice and boisterous personality. I can still close my eyes and hear him singing beside me in church. I remember his joyful smile and big daddy arms throwing me up in the air and hugging me.  I remember his playfulness, and can still see him barreling down that huge waterslide head first, arms in front of him,  at the young age of 60!  I'm grateful for all of these warm memories, but also for what he instilled in my brothers and I, gratitude itself.  Gratitude for anything given to us by others.  Gratitude for blessings from above. Gratitude for all the little things that are so oftentimes overlooked.  My father served his time in the Army Air Corps, in World War II, and lived through part of the great depression.  I remember him telling me about his favorite toy, which consisted of hooking paperclips together..... a choo-choo train.  Perhaps it was growing up with so little that influenced my dad to be so grateful.  And couldn't our culture now benefit from more gratitude today?  Just perhaps it would take some of the focus off of ourselves, and what we do not have.  Perhaps we could focus instead on how grateful we are for what we do have.  Rather than questioning our heavenly Father of why things have not gone our way, perhaps we could all be more grateful for His way.   Gratitude for His master plan and heavenly guidance, not to mention His eternal and everlasting presence.  Today I am grateful for life.  I'm grateful for my loving husband and six beautiful children. I am grateful for all of the friendships he has bestowed onto me.  I am grateful for good health, freedom, and food for our family. I am grateful for the 10 beautiful years that I had with my daddy. What are you grateful for today?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Less is more. Or is it?

     With most things in life, I've always taught our children that less is more.  As toddlers, when my girls would walk up to me adorned in several patterns and colors, three layers of tutus, topped with a bundle of sparkling necklaces, and a scarf to boot, I would smile and complement them on their beautiful choices. But when our oldest daughter got to middle school, it was time to teach her the truth. Less is more! Less eye make-up honey, and absolutely less electronic time, and don't forget less time with your friends and more time with your family please.  And the topper, less thinking about what other people think!  Yes. Less is more.  But like anything, I have learned that it depends on the subject when talking about less-isms. There are no generalizations in life. I think of Luke for instance. He's a perfect example of more is more. That extra chromosome number 21 has absolutely graced him in such a way that he enhances every life that he comes in contact with to date. I truly believe that.  Because with that extra chromosome, those around him bode extra perspective, extra acceptance, extra gratitude, extra joy, and extra Blessings.  An example, all of our children's first smiles brought complete joy to the room, without a doubt. When they grabbed their first toy, found their slobbery little mouth with their own hand, or tracked their mommy walking across the room with their eyes...all very exciting. With Luke, these "firsts" brought tears, as it meant yet another  developmental milestone was made. I'm guessing this is the case in families with any kind of disability within.  From the outside looking in, I would have assumed that those families were constantly struggling with the fact that their kids were not "typical".  I pictured quiet desperation and regrets.  Again, I was completely blind, and absolutely ignorant. In a society that prides itself in having children with top grades (4.0 is no longer the bar), who are all-star athletes, and artistically talented, It's hard to get recognition for other amazing attributes.  Children with disabilities themselves obviously have a long list of amazing gifts, including perseverance, positiveness, and pure affection. But what about what these kids are teaching us? It's like a multiplier affect!!  In God's beautifully orchestrated plan, these children were strategically placed in this world to create balance. To remind us that we ourselves are not perfect, and that our strength should come from our Father in heaven.  Only in His plan is there perfection. And with each human being He has created, there are gifts, or strengths.  Wouldn't a society benefit on emphasizing these, rather than focusing on one's shortcomings? In our children, we should be praising them for practicing compassion, empathy, kindness, and humility.  When our son joined "peer buddies" in middle school last year, he did not know what to expect when working with children with disabilities. He was quickly paired up with a nonverbal boy with autism.  Gabriel quickly learned that though nonverbal, this boy had such a charming personality. When Gabriel would walk down the hall and see this boy, he would always smile and wave at him.  The boy in return would run up to Gabe with a big smile, and wave right back. When the school year was over, and Gabriel and I were conversing about this, he mentioned that it brought sadness to him, for before working with these children, he unintentionally did not acknowledge them in the hallway.  And just one person waving at them, changed their entire demeanor.   The changes that I've seen in our children are astounding, since our family gained that extra chromosome. Today I am so grateful for more.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Attic

As all the kids returned to school last week, I made my way down the to-do list, which included cleaning through the children's clothes in the attic.  What a task, considering we have every size up to 13, in both genders. Yikes!!  All was going well, as most sizes were contained to one Rubbermaid container, until I reached girls, size 12/13.  I soon found myself surrounded by three containers full! Completely baffled, I started rummaging through all of Anna's middle school clothes.  It was a perfect blend of Abercrombie and Fitch, American Eagle, and Gymboree. Yes, Gymboree.  Then it all came back to me. Those initial middle school years, when they are still our little girls, but they are trying, yearning, seething  to catapult out of that nest. When we are trying so hard as parents to keep them sheltered and innocent,and their naïve teenage minds think they can embrace all that the real world brings them, not knowing what that real world is actually like. Hence I remember being so thrilled in the fact that we could still get size 12 in Gymboree! My excitement was never matched by my daughter's reactions.  So there was a lot of compromising in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. She never wore the Gymboree (though I obviously did not return anything, so I was holding onto hope) and I eventually let her wear Jeans and a couple of T-shirts from The "hip" stores.  Now in high school, I secretly smile every time I see my daughter going to my closet to borrow something. :-) And although I get after her for not always returning things, I am overjoyed in the fact that she has found on her own a conservative way of dressing and looking beautiful, and treasured. When she returned home from school on that attic clean out day, I looked at her in the eyes and apologized for trying to dress her in Gymboree at the ages of 12 and 13. She just threw a big smile back at me.   I think that she understood that I had good intentions.