"God made us for joy. God is joy, and the joy of living reflects the original joy that God felt in creating us." (St. John Paul the Great)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

the view from here


Check out what's in my backyard right now.

{pretty, happy, funny, real}


round button chicken

~ Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life ~


{pretty}

We have peony bushes here that I didn't know about --
they were done blooming when we got here last summer.
(I'd love to take some with me when we move --
any gardeners out there who can give me some advice?)


{happy}

We're very happy that Daddy's itinerary says he's coming home today!


{funny} and
{real}

Our Christmas wreath is still hanging by our front door.
But it matches the stonework so well, don't you think?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Ninety Degrees





Peter and Paul

http://blog.adw.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/245_0035162142_peter-and-paul-apostles1.jpg

Praise to you, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who in your great mercy
have given us new birth and hope
through the power of Christ's resurrection.

Through the prayers of the apostles Peter and Paul
may we who received this faith through their preaching
share their joy in following the Lord
to the unfading inheritance
reserved for us in heaven.

We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord.
Amen.

(Opening Prayer, Mass during the Day, Solemnity of Peter and Paul, Apostles)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Toward an Intentional Life

First say to yourself what you would be;
and then do what you have to do.

(Epictetus)

Appealing to my love of order, and realizing that we are moving into a house that is quite a bit smaller than the last house we owned, and smaller than the one we are currently living in, I picked up Organized Simplicity about a month ago. The title itself was appealing to me, but I've also seen it mentioned more than a few times around the blogosphere.
In 1967, Charles E. Hummel wrote and published an essay entitled Tyranny of the Urgent, stating that the "greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important." We spend so much of our energy and time putting out fires, answering phone calls and e-mails, and in the meantime, we let the most important things in our life pass us by. In the twenty-first century, many of us respond to the tyranny of the urgent. We let the things we value most take a backseat to whatever is begging for attention in the moment.
Hmmm ... that sounds way too familiar.

One of the steps toward living an intentional life that has been on my mind and heart (again) is to create a family purpose statement. This has come up over and over again through the years. I have started work on it, only to put it aside and forget about it. One of my goals this summer is to actually complete it, and create a family crest, before the school year begins. This is the third chapter of Organized Simplicity.

Now that the kids are older, it's been fun to involve them in the process. I sat down and "interviewed" each of the older three and Daddy, after answering the interview questions myself first. I asked them things like: What are the strengths of each member of our family? Collectively, when are we at our best and when are we at our worst? What could we do better as a family? What would we like people to say about our family and about our home? What is the main purpose of our home? What does our family look like in ten years? What is the purpose of life?

It was interesting to hear what the kids had to say, and comforting to know that, despite our lack of intentionality lately, Daddy and I are still largely on the same page. I was also happy that we were unanimous is our response to the question on the purpose of life: in its simplest form, "to get to Heaven."

The next step is to sit down, when Daddy gets home, and look at our answers together, see if we can identify any themes, develop a list of adjectives to encompass them, and start creating our statement.
In the end, the goal is to have a clear, concise, workable purpose statement that accurately reflects your priorities, your personality, and your vision for your family.... It will help you make decisions, feel confident about saying "no," and be a bit better at focusing on the important instead of the urgent.
So ... any advice? Have you created a family purpose statement and/or crest? Do you have a name for your home school or a motto? How did you get there? How does your purpose statement serve your family?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Snapshots Around the World: Tree

From Snapshots Around the World: "Three women, three continents, a shared love of faith, family, and beauty in small things. We share a picture every week from our corners of the world. We celebrate our lives which are so different and yet so similar."

Here's my "Tree." (Thankfully, it doesn't look like this right now, but it did for a really. long. time this past winter.)


I'm really enjoying this new blog. Won't you link up, too?

Prayer and Water

http://www.examiner.com/images/blog/EXID4865/images/walking_on_water_jesus.jpg

First of all, thank you to all who sent me kind words, encouragement, and prayers last week. I thank God for you.

One of the hardest things for me is to accept my own failings and weaknesses. I have in my head an idea of what life should look like and, when it doesn't, I get frustrated, mostly with myself. And it doesn't help that our graduate school life for the past few years has lacked order and balance and intentionality. Life has required hard work and flexibility for too long, it seems. I, who crave order, love goals and lists and statements of purpose, and aspire to living a balanced life, have spent my days putting out fires and dealing with the immediate needs of my husband, children, and household. Life has been about surviving.

And, now, how to regain what was lost? How to slow down again? How to be intentional? How to enjoy life?
We want life to have meaning, and want to be fulfilled, and it is hard to accept that we find these things by starting where we are, not where we would like to be. (Kathleen Norris, Acedia and Me)
Sometimes I get so caught up in my failings, so overwhelmed by how far I am from where I'd like to be, that I'm paralyzed, unable to accept the good because the better is always just out of reach.

This is what happens to perfectionists. At least this one.

Last week, after hitting (what I hope was) bottom, I took a first small step forward. (That in itself was a huge victory.) I needed to start from where I was, and take it one step at a time, this living intentionally. What is essential? The answer: To feed my soul and my body. Every day. Prayer and water. Part of my problem is that I haven't had enough of either one. And I can only take care of my family if I first take care of myself.

And so, I opened my Bible. I put down my spiritual reading and my journal and let the Word of God speak to me, feed my hungry soul. And I resolved to do the same tomorrow. No matter how difficult.

I filled my water bottle before going to bed. And I resolved (after the necessary morning coffee) to drink nothing else until that water bottle is empty. (Though I know all of the many benefits of drinking lots of water, I'm not a big fan and never have been.) And I resolved to do the same tomorrow. No matter how difficult.
Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible. (St. Francis of Assisi)
One day at a time. Perseverance in spiritual discipline. Small steps in the right direction.

Prayer and water.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Papa

As I was sorting through some photos this afternoon, I came across some of my Dad and his grandchildren, taken on his birthday two years ago. They cracked me up. So, in honor of his birthday last week and Father's Day tomorrow, I am posting them for your enjoyment.

We love you, Papa!


Friday, June 17, 2011

Seven Quick Takes - Volume 12

http://www.conversiondiary.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/7_quick_takes_sm1.jpg

-- 1 --

I haven't been writing much lately. Mostly because when I started this blog one of the main reasons I did so was to focus on the JOY in life, something I have to be intentional about because it doesn't always come naturally for me. And to be honest, I've been having a hard time lately. It's been a long year. And I'm spent. But one of the things I've come to appreciate about many of you, my fellow bloggers, is how real you are, how transparent, how not afraid to admit your failings and frustrations. And I've found encouragement and support here that I never imagined when I began this endeavor. Because sometimes life is hard. Sometimes life is messy. Sometimes we're mad and sad and crabby. Sometimes we need to whine a little bit. At least I do. I'm writing this post to get some things off my chest and, hopefully, to be able to move on and begin writing JOYfully again. Consider yourself warned and proceed with caution.

-- 2 --

Relocating to a new place can be an exciting thing, yes. But moving five times, preparing for the sixth, in eleven years, with four children, is not my idea of a good time. In fact, moving is probably on my top-five list of least favorite things to do. Even more so when one is preparing to move into a house one doesn't want. Yes, we finally found a house. The flooding in Bismarck forced our hand. Housing is becoming even harder to obtain than it was before the flood hit. And, as more and more people have had to evacuate, renting has become impossible. I do not like the house we bought, but we had little choice. I cried and pouted for two days after we made the offer. I was mad. I am still sad and frustrated. I am ready to be settled and all I can see is what needs to be done to this house to make it "fine" until we can find what I really want -- something bigger. It sounds petty when I put it in words. After all, it's just a house. I know being "settled" is a silly thing to want because life can change at any moment. But I'm giving up something I've looked forward to for so long, almost our whole marriage. Graduate school is finally over, it's time to settle down a little bit and stay put. I like to entertain and this house doesn't have a formal dining room or a big enough kitchen to have another family over for a meal. I don't like the four-level layout. I'll have to share a bathroom with my clothes-pile-leaving-toothpaste-gooping-non-flushing kids. I'll never be able to take a bath without scrubbing the tub first. I don't like having the television in the main room of the house, but there's really no where else to put it. I like to keep the toys out of the bedrooms (where they complicate bedtime and the morning routine) and the schoolroom (where they distract), but the only other option is the dungeon, which needs some major work to turn it into a suitable playroom. And where in the world are we going to put the girls' dance floor and the elliptical? The garage?

-- 3 --

That brings me to my next lament: Irish dance, or the lack thereof. I really miss watching the girls compete and perform, even more than I thought I would. It was so fun for me. And for them. And they're good. And they still practice at home at least four days a week. And Miss Rose, especially, still misses it terribly and sheds tears on a monthly basis. And I haven't had time to do anything about it. And I don't know if I should, as much as I want to. And what are the other options? (As an aside: This week, finally, I have an opportunity to write a letter in support of importing more certified Irish dance instructors to the United States. If you live in an area that does not have access to Irish dance, and you are interested, especially if you live in the Bismarck area, please let me know and I can tell you how you can help by writing a similar letter.)

-- 4 --

Not only have I not found a way for the girls to keep up on their Irish dance, besides practicing at home, I did not sign my kids up for a single activity this past year, and they have nothing on the calendar for this summer. The girls saved up for half the cost of horse camp, like they usually do, but I haven't done anything about it. They've asked about swimming lessons and camps, but I haven't done anything about it. And, the thing is, it would be good for them, to meet people and get out of the house, but it would also be good for me to get them out of the house for a while ...

-- 5 --

... because I feel like the worst Mom ever lately. I need a break. Is it okay to admit that I don't even want to be around my kids lately? What will people think of me if I say that? Please tell me that once in a while you get so tired of doing and saying the same things over and over and over that you just want to scream or flee. Please tell me that sometimes you're convinced that your children have to be either disobedient, stupid, or deaf -- there's no other explanation, like "they're still children and they're learning" -- and you hope they're deaf, because that seems preferable to stupidity or disobedience.

This is a typical mood for me in early summer, after a long school year and a long winter, made even longer this year by Mother Nature and our inability to get out of the house on occasion. I need a break. Usually all I have to do is attend the Minnesota Catholic Home Education Conference at the end of May/beginning of June, and that gets me all revved up for another school year, excited about the possibilities, confirmed in our choice to home school. I wasn't able to attend this year. Big mistake.

Instead I've been reading Homeschooling with Gentleness. Last week I read:
We can sum up very quickly what people need to teach their own children. First of all, they have to like them, enjoy their company, their physical presence, their energy, foolishness, and passion. They have to enjoy all their talk and questions, and enjoy equally trying to answer those questions. They have to think of their children as friends, indeed very close friends, have to feel happier when they are near and miss them when they are away.
And you know what I thought? That's not me. I can't do it. I need to put the kids in school.

And what's worse? My feeling like a terrible mother has translated into the kids feeling like they are terrible kids. Which makes me feel even more like a terrible mother. It's a vicious cycle.

-- 6 --

And I certainly can't do it alone. And that's how I feel lately. Alone. Yes, I have my faith -- if I didn't I'd be institutionalized by now. And, yes, I have met several wonderful ladies here in Bismarck. And for that I'm grateful. But it takes time to establish relationships. I miss my old friends -- the kind of friends you can drop in on any time, without doing your hair or changing from the shirt your toddler wiped her nose on, the kind of friends from whose refrigerator (and wine cellar) you can help yourself, the kind of friends you can whine and cry and complain to without fear they're never going to want to spend time with you again, the kind of friends from whom you receive hugs and unconditional love and support. I miss my spiritual director. I miss my dad's science lessons and my sister-in-law's art lessons. I miss the children's museum and the science museum and the historical society and the zoo and the parks. I miss the familiarity that comes with living in a place for a long time and knowing where to go and what to do when you need a change of routine. I miss regular haircuts. I miss my doctor -- I want more babies, but I'm scared here without her.

And I want my husband, who left for Italy on Tuesday and won't be back until July 1. I want to celebrate his accomplishments together. Yes, the dissertation is done! But the job is just beginning, and it's a big job, starting a new program. And we both want it to succeed. I want to work with him on building the Catholic Studies program at the University. But I also want to go on vacation as a family, a real, long, don't-have-to-bring-any-work-with-us-for-the-first-time-in-I-don't-know-how-long summer vacation. I want to enjoy being with my family again.

-- 7 --

The first part of Lent this past year I learned an important, I would have said at the time "life-changing," lesson. I learned the importance of gratitude and its role in bringing JOY to my life.

Perhaps the biggest frustration of all right now is that I am such a slow learner, so incapable of changing. I so easily forget what I know to be true and let my emotions rule. This lesson of simple gratitude, which brought so much joy, was so easily forgotten, and I can't seem to get it back. And I have a hard time accepting my failings. I have a hard time accepting God's unconditional love for me. I have a hard time trusting Him.

I learned that, "Life change comes when we receive life with thanks and ask for nothing to change." And yet I complain and long for something other than what I've been given. And I've been given a lot. Why can't I be happy that we have a house? Why can't I be grateful that my house is not being flooded? that my husband has a job? that I have four beautiful children who love me?

I could have written this, it so resonates in my soul:
In this wilderness, I keep circling back to this: I'm blind to joy's well every time I really don't want it. The well is always there. And I choose not to see it. Don't I really want joy? Don't I really want the fullest life? For all my yearning for joy, longing for joy, begging for joy -- is the bald truth that I prefer the empty dark? Prefer drama? Why do I lunge for control instead of joy? Is is somehow more perversely satisfying to flex control's muscle? ... Do I think Jesus-grace too impotent to give me the full life? Isn't that the only reason I don't always swill the joy? If the startling truth is that I don't really want joy, there's a far worse truth. If I am rejecting the joy that is hidden somewhere deep in this moment -- am I not ultimately rejecting God? Whenever I am blind to joy's well, isn't it because I don't believe in God's care? That God cares enough about me to always offer me joy's water, wherever I am, regardless of circumstance. But if I don't believe God cares, if I don't want or seek the joy He definitely offers somewhere in this moment -- I don't want God.... You have to want to see joy, God in the moment.... Only self can kill joy. I'm the one doing this to me.... The demanding of my own will is the singular force that smothers out joy -- nothing else. Pride, mine -- that beast that pulls on the mask of anger -- that is what snaps this hand shut, crushes joy. (from One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp)
And so, I struggle. I fall. I get up again. I count on my God, whose mercies are new each day.

And I ask for your prayers.

Thanks for listening,
Michelle

(For more quick takes, hopefully of the more upbeat kind, visit Jen.)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

{pretty, happy, funny, real}

round button chicken

~ Capturing the context of contentment
in everyday life ~


{pretty}

I received flowers today to "cheer" me
while I am spouse-less for the next fourteen days.

{happy}

This Baby loves, loves, loves slides ...

{funny}

... and she gets REALLY upset
if one of her siblings beats her to it.

{real}

The Baby woke up at 3:30 this morning throwing up,
which she continued to do about every half hour until 11:30.
Thankfully, things are now looking up.

But I'm ready for bed.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rome Sweet Rome

Hallie at Betty Beguiles is soliciting engagement stories.

This morning I dropped my DH off at the airport. He is, coincidentally, returning to the city where we were engaged, for the first time since we visited on our one-year anniversary, almost eleven years ago already.

Hubby and I had been friends for just over three years when he discerned his way out of the major seminary. We began dating in March of 1998. That September we left for Rome to help begin a new study abroad program for the University of Saint Thomas Center for Catholic Studies. (Little did I know what was hidden carefully in his pocket that long day of travel from the Twin Cities to Italy -- hint, hint, something expensive, round, and sparkly.)

On October 21, 1998, my twenty-third birthday, I found myself with my beloved at St. Peter's in Vatican City. He had intended to propose in the Blessed Sacrament chapel, but I was engrossed at the bookstore and the chapel was closed by the time we arrived. We went and sat by a fountain in Saint Peter's Square and he suggested we pray "our prayer" -- every night during our courtship, whether in one another's physical presence or on the phone, we prayed a prayer dedicating our courtship to Mary and asking her guidance and protection. Before we made the final sign of the cross, he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I, of course, said yes. And then we kissed for the first time. All in the arms, literally, of Mother Church.

I thank God every day for the blessing my beloved continues to be to me. It's been a hard year, but he continues to put up with me, and I continue to admire his faithfulness, his perseverance, his dedication. I am so very proud of him. And blessed to share my life with him. Now and until death do us part.

(As an aside, my DH will be in Italy until July 1. He is traveling with 120 Catholic high school students from the Diocese of Bismarck on a study pilgrimage. May I ask you to keep said pilgrims in your prayers: that they may grow in their love and knowledge of their Catholic faith and that they may all return safely to their families? May I also ask you to pray for me, who will be starved for adult conversation for the next seventeen days!?! Thank you. End of aside.)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Snapshots Around the World: Wildflower

a North Dakota sunflower in August

See more Snapshots Around the World. (Love this.)

Monday, June 6, 2011

the view from here

I think I've shared with you before, but in case you forgot, we live on a hill overlooking the city of Bismarck, North Dakota.


In case you haven't heard, Bismarck is flooding.


The first picture above shows Apple Creek last summer. The second picture shows a swollen Apple Creek last week. The Missouri River (below) is backing up into this creek.


A larger than normal snowpack in the Rockies and record rainfalls west of us have filled reservoirs, forcing the Army Corps of Engineers to release record amounts of water from Garrison Dam, 75 miles north of Bismarck, and open spillway gates for the first time since the dam was completed in 1953.


For almost two weeks, we have been helping our community prepare for flooding: moving people's belongings to the highest levels of their homes or evacuating them completely, babysitting, filling sandbags and building dikes.


The water came slowly at first.


But last Saturday morning, it was evident the water level was quickly rising in response to increased output from Garrison Dam, where the water level is approaching the top of the spillway gates.


Many are displaced. Many will lose their homes.


And the water is only supposed to get higher. It has been estimated that the water will rise 3 to 3.5 feet above flood stage. And remain until August.


Please remember those affected by this flooding in your prayers. Thank you.